counseling, goals, happiness, humility, psychology, Uncategorized

Is Comparison TRULY the Thief of Joy?

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Is comparison truly the thief of joy?

The tendency to compare ourselves to others is as human as any other emotion. All of us are guilty of this behavior from time to time.

Comparison is a thief of joy because it fosters competition more than affiliation. It is hard to develop close relationships or feel a sense of community with people when you view everyone as “the competition.” Sad to say when we engage in the game of social comparison, we are stuck dealing with comparison’s partner in crime: envy. And its ugly stepsister– jealousy. Neither of which lays the foundation for healthy relationships with one’s self or others.

When we compare, we compete. (And I am not talking about HEALTHY competition). Instead of celebrating other people’s strengths and gifts, we seek to tear them down because we begin to view them as a threat. Comparison leads to competition which requires someone be the winner and someone else the loser. 

In turn, we view others as competitors instead of companions. Instead of fostering a sense of community, we foster a zero sum game. This is not a game that is going to end well for our relationships.

Ask yourself–when is the LAST time you compared yourself to another? A family member? A friend? A coworker? Or think of the last time you checked your Instagram or Facebook feed. Which updates made you feel jealous or made you feel as if your life paled in comparison? Which posts make you feel smug or better than that person who posted it? Feeling superior OR inferior to another are two sides of the same coin.

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In comparing yourself to others to evaluate your own sense of self-worth, you will ALWAYS be losing. This leads to a “better than versus worse than” mentality and feelings of superiority or inferiority— neither of which helps us to build healthy relationships with others or feel happy with our self.

Yet human nature being what it is includes having a fundamental need to evaluate ourselves, and the only way many of us seem to know to do that is in reference to something else.

We compare our accomplishments with everyone else’s.  We compare our looks, our body, our Instagram likes, our college acceptances, our careers. We compare our weight with everyone else’s. The size of our house. The number of stamps on our passports.

You name it- we compare it. Comparison drives the underlying feeling that we are never ENOUGH.

Soon we are stuck in the mental loop that there is always someone else doing it ALL better than we are.

Another issue with comparison is we usually zero in one aspect of a person’s life and envy it.  It is usually an area where we judge ourselves the most harshly that we compare to others. Yet rarely when we compare ourselves to others are we looking at the whole picture — the good, the bad, and the unfortunate.

We look at the one aspect of a person’s life we envy without taking into account all the other components of the person.  Everyone has a few less than ideal aspects to their life. No one’s life is completely free of sadness, pain, loss, shortcomings, insecurities, or disappointments.

In life, we all are forced to play the hand we are dealt.

The point is not to be better than anyone else. All ANY of us can do is play the cards we were dealt the best way we know how. To try to become a better version of yourself.

In this game of life you will never reach a point where you are better than others in EVERY way and why would you WANT to be.

By indulging in comparison, we demean ourselves and those we are comparing ourselves to.

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When I assume someone is better than me because they earn a higher salary than me, I am diminishing my value to the number of zeroes on my paycheck. If I assume I have more discipline than someone who weighs more than me, I am diminishing someone’s worth to a number on a scale instead of looking at them as a human being.

Comparison has a way of creating problems when there is none. It plants seed of jealousy and envy within us that spoils our ability to connect openly and authentically with others.

Jealousy has a way of focusing on one thing at the expense of others. Jealousy gives an incomplete view of another person.  For  instance, envy ignores the hours of work that generated the high-level salary — the sacrifice of time that could have been spent with friends or family. It tends to overlook the years of schooling, studying, discipline, student loan debt, and sacrifices that preceded the success. It discounts the cost of the benefit.

It’s pretty easy to envy one aspect of another person’s life — his/her looks, talent, wealth, significant other, personality, or intelligence. It’s much harder to look closely at a person’s life as a whole and then envy another person’s life — a complete compilation of experiences.

Whenever I experience pangs of envy and I have to weigh everything at once, I tend to be more satisfied with my lot. Because if I want anything someone else has (his/her salary, ACTUAL career, education, self-confidence, weight, etc) I have to take everything else that comes with it — be it the high levels of stress, ill spouse, imperfect teeth, chronic illness, difficult child, or an alcoholic parent. Everyone has aspects of their life that are UNenviable.

Sure some people’s lives have more blessings and some have more suffering and loss. But every life has its ups and downs. Everyone gets some — some good and some bad.

Mind you, everyone’s “some” will be different.

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So if you’re walking down the street and a super fit 20-year-old runs by, you might instantly assess that, by comparison, you’re out of shape. Then you may note that you’re at least two decades older than the jogger and juggling the care of three children under the age of 5 with a  full-time job. You recall that you don’t have the same metabolism or time for exercise. Or maybe you realize you don’t even LIKE to run.

Maybe you are just starting out in your career and feel jealous of someone who is 10 or 15 years further along in their career. You feel pangs of insecurity at their lucrative career. Yet you know this person is older and further along in establishing their life. Or maybe when you think about it, you don’t want an EXTREMELY stressful career with LONG hours that just happens to be lucrative, in turn. In playing the comparison game, we usually do not look at the big picture. It’s apples to oranges comparison.

Our comparison-targets also tend to be those within our social circle. We don’t usually fixate on how our lot in life corresponds to that of Mark Zuckerberg, or to that of the homeless man sprawled on the sidewalk, but rather to that of our friends, colleagues,  family members, and neighbors.

In other words, the more similar or close we are to another person in some way we think is important, the more we tend to compare ourselves to that person.

The truth is comparison is a waste of our time. First of all, success is a relative term. “Winning” and “success” has different meanings for different people. Some might be excelling at one thing but is struggling in other areas of their lives.  Second, we are all on our own timelines and started at VERY different places in life–different advantages and disadvantages. Third, social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives. Not many people are sharing/posting about their failures and daily challenges.

Comparison is a short-sighted approach to life. It brings on feelings of envy and jealousy–two wasted emotions.  If we realize that there is always going to be competition, there is always going to be someone we believe is better than us, then we can’t lose. If we start to be happy and satisfied with our own unique gifts, talents, and strengths, we lose the need to compare ourselves to others. Only when you apologetically own who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly does comparison lose its grip on you.

If you find you are struggle with social comparison, counseling can be a good place to work through these feelings. Instead of trying to be better than others, focus your energy on being the very best version of yourself.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

 

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counseling, emotionalimmaturity, goals, happiness, psychology, self-help

Building an Emotional Backbone: A Family System Approach

Do you often feel taken advantage of by others? Is it a struggle for you to speak up for yourself? Do you find yourself saying yes when you want to say no? Do you feel the need to have other people’s approval?

Are you uncomfortable with asserting yourself? Do you get angry at how other people live their lives?

Do you find you allow yourself to be controlled by other people? Do you find yourself trying to control others? If you do, it is time to build up your emotional backbone.

I think there are many misconceptions about what an “emotional backbone” is.

Having an emotional backbone is pivotal to self-differentiation, a Bowen Family System concept. Self-differentiation is the ability to separate feelings from thoughts.

People who are poorly self-differentiated have difficulty separating their own feelings from other people’s feelings; they often look to other people to define how they think about issues, feel about people, and interpret their experiences.

A person who is self-differentiated has an emotional backbone–they do not look to their family, friends, or partner to define them. This means being able to have different values and opinions from other people in your life but be able to stay emotionally connected to them.

It is being able to lovingly detach from people who are not emotionally healthy and will inevitably impede on your growth and development. You cannot truly become self-differentiated and simultaneously participate in perpetuating dysfunctional relationship patterns.

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Developing an emotional background when raised in a dysfunctional family system is often difficult for the individual. This is where counseling can be very beneficial to becoming someone with a strong emotional backbone.

An emotional backbone is a sign of strength of character. It is an unwillingness to be used, to be taken for granted, to be mistreated, to be abused, and a firm commitment to uphold one’s beliefs and values.

Do you have a strong emotional backbone? Ask yourself the following:

1)Do you resent others?

2)Do you often complain to no avail? Do your complaints fall on deaf ears?

3)Do you avoid conflict?

4)Do you say yes when you want to say no?

5)Do you feel taken advantage of?

6)Do you feel unappreciated?

7)Do you allow your anger to build and come out in unhealthy ways?

8)Do you compromise your self-care?

9)Do you people please?

10)Do you seek the approval of others?

11)Do you allow others to mistreat you?

These are a job signs you may be struggling with developing a strong emotional backbone.

Oftentimes, I believe people confuse being louder, being stronger, saying things more angrily, speaking up without knowing how the relationship is going to be effected by your words, or speaking from the unhealthy part of oneself is having an emotional backbone. This is not what having an emotional backbone is.

Yet this is common in a dysfunctional family system which plays out in ALL our relationships not just with members of our family of origin.

This type of dysfunction often serves the status quo instead of being a catalyst for healthy change in our lives, causing the same unhealthy cycles to play out over and over again over the course of one’s life.

Switching between persecutor and victim is common in a dysfunctional relationship.  It goes round and round–certainly not my idea of having an emotional backbone. This is just people switching chairs at the same concert.

Persecutors criticize and blame the victim, can be very controlling, rigid, angry, and unpleasant.  The victim see themselves as powerless, helpless,  hopeless, and can want kid glove treatment from others.

A person with a developed emotional backbone sees themselves as able to determine the conditions of their life including what relationship patterns they will be an active participant in.

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Counterdepedents are controllers. Very much the persecutors.

Codependents are people pleasers. Very much the victims.

Neither have healthy, strong emotional backbones.

Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families find themselves in relationships with codependents and counter dependents. Codependents are people who come from the mindset of “I am not okay, you ARE okay.” Counter dependents come from the position, “I AM okay, you are NOT okay.”

This is based on transactional analysis. Below are the different approaches:

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Developing an emotional backbone requires a healthier approach, ie the “I am okay, you are okay” perspective. However, this is not likely with a person who is codependents or counter dependent.

I believe a strong, developed emotional backbone is crucial to having and maintaining healthy relationships. If you do not have an I am okay, you are okay approach you are going to perpetuate dysfunctional patterns in your relationships.

Most of us desire an emotional backbone–a strong sense of self, an ability to be less reactive, less shaken by conflicts, to be able to express our wants/need clearly, to stand firm with boundaries, to say no in a healthy way without guilty, want to reduce dysfunctional relationship patterns, to not undermine ourself, and to discover who we truly are.

To have a strong emotional background is to become WHO you truly are–not who others want or need you to need you to be. Only when you get to this point can you give and receive REAL love.

When we try to change ourselves from the outside in, we often feel defeated when we find ourselves back in our old ruts. We find we cannot keep the change going.

It can hard to catalyze change in our life and relationships if we are not self-differentiated. A person who is NOT differentiated will struggle with change.

For instance perhaps you are a person who knows YOU NEED to start to SPEAK up for yourself. Well-meaning family and friends often tell you to start speaking up for yourself.  But for you, it has always been a struggle for you to speak your piece. The difficulty is there is likely an entrenched pattern that exists in your relationships, with relationship imbalances, thus it can be risky for you to start to assert yourself. IF you speak up, that can cause problems and difficulties, especially if you are not prepared for how to handle other people’s reactivity.

If you do not know what your next step is, if you cannot predict possible outcomes, often that one little tip “you need to speak up” is not helpful. You need to be OKAY with ANY possible outcome as controlling other people’s reactions is not realistic. Knowing we cannot control other people is just a given for a self-differentiated individual, but for a person who has not achieved this level of self-differentiation, they work hard to control other people’s reactions and the outcomes of situations.

For example, a wife goes home to her husband and says she needs some time for herself. She is always taking care of the house, the kids, working. She read she needs to “speak up for herself.” Her friends and family have been encouraging her to start “speaking up.” Her husband, on the surface, allows her the time and agrees she deserves it. The wife decides to plan a ladies night out for the first time in YEARS. But then her husband ends up calling/texting her numerous times that night when she is having said time for herself out of his own anxiety, ruining her alone time, and the wife says it just isn’t worth it and ends up giving up on getting her needs met. No more ladies nights out for her!

Standing up for yourself is not going to be effective if you have not ALREADY done the emotional legwork on developing an emotional backbone. There is A LOT more to developing an authentic emotional backbone and a lot more going on than just “speaking up for yourself.”

To build an emotional backbone, you need to be able deal with the fight between us AND us–not between us and others. Not everyone will agree with your priorities but when you have an emotional backbone you know that is their prerogative. It is not going to impact how your choose to conduct your life. You live your life according to your values and beliefs, not needing and requiring the validation of others. You know anyone worth having in your life will respect you and your values.

This is true self-differentiation. This is having an emotional backbone.

Power and growth needs to happen within me before I can expect others to take me seriously, to respect me, to hear me, things need to happen within me. Often we do not do this self work, we just expect it to happen with OTHER people and then wonder why it doesn’t.

You need to take yourself seriously before you can expect others to take you seriously. 

Healing and recovering from your own demons will begin to stop the fight between you and you.

Others often take advantage of the internal fight we experience. The reason people who are self-differentiated can remain firm and set boundaries is because they do not feel too much guilt, shame, or fear abandonment because they already HEALED those parts of themself and their childhood wounds.

Feeling guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment are all signs of an undifferentiated individual.

Too much fear of rejection means you have work to do on yourself. The need for approval from others means you have a long way to go on your journey to self-differentiation.

How can you develop and strengthen YOUR emotional backbone?

One, we have to deal with the internal before we deal with the external. We have to do the work on ourself before we can begin to develop better relationships with other people in our life. Only when we have a healthy relationship with ourself can we have healthy relationships with others.

Second, it is important to recognize that to have an emotional backbone does not occur because we learned a few simple behavioral changes or assertiveness changes. To have long-lasting success, deeper issues and systemic stuckness needs to be addressed, which is why counseling can be such a real benefit.

Through counseling, you can learn to calm yourself in highly charged emotional relationship situations. If we cannot calm ourselves, we will fall back into the ruts of the past and our emotional demons will take ourself. Emotional regulation is a must to developing an emotional backbone.

Thirdly become an expert on YOU. I don’t mean become selfish. I mean become an expert on YOUR thoughts and emotions, NOT an expert on the thoughts and emotions of OTHERS. If you are caught up in trying to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling, you are in a state of enmeshment. It is NOT your job to figure out the emotional map of others.

Oftentimes, we are far too much an expert on others and NOT an expert on ourselves.

Fourth, we need to let go of our naive and immature illusions, which allows us to grow up emotionally (although many people don’t want to do this because it is hard to grow up emotionally). Our illusions keep us WEAK and SOFTEN our emotional backbone. Being emotionally grown up means managing our feelings, not trying to manage the feelings of others.

Having an emotional backbone means being willing and able to let go of getting our needs met by other people. To let go of our illusions that others can make us happy and fulfilled.

These illusions might be: I NEED my father to love me, I NEED my mother to be proud of me, I NEED everyone to get along to be happy and whole, I NEED my husband to think I am special to be happy, I NEED my kids to not hurt my feelings so I can feel good about myself, I NEED others to stop betraying me to be happy, I NEED others to follow my advice to feel happy, I NEED my wife to love me so I can be happy…..

Do any of these sound familiar? These are some of the illusions we have that keep up from having a good and healthy emotional backbone.

Emotional grown-ups own their own stuff and leave other people to take ownership of THEIR stuff. We feel empathy but know we cannot do the self-development work for others.

Fifthly, deal with any codependency issues, emotional fusion, enmeshment, all of which will be required to develop an emotional backbone.

People with an emotional backbone are able to love and care for themselves. They are flexible and do not need to be propped up by others.

Sixth, doing self-care can help develop an emotional backbone.

Self-care is an important part of our well-being.

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Being a self-differentiated individual with an emotional backbone is the foundation of having healthy relationships with one self and others.

The truth is when you have a strong emotional backbone, you are not trying to control others. Simultaneously, you are also NOT allowing others to control you. Before you can be with someone with an emotional backbone, you need to develop your own.

Most people are unaware if they are indeed conducting their lives with a lack of self-differentiation. They are not even conscious of how fused their feelings are with other people’s.

People may mature physically, have careers, get married, have children yet STILL be an emotional child. This is what much of Murray Bowen’s research and literature posits.

Lacking an emotional backbone is often due to unresolved childhood issues, the defenses one develops in childhood, and ongoing emotional pain.

I truly believe developing an emotional backbone is the cornerstone to a happy and focused life. It is crucial for having healthy relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners.

People with an emotional backbone are rational, follow through on goals, have equality in their relationships, have final say on their decisions, respect other people’s decisions, and KNOW what they think and feeling outside of the noise and chatter from others.

If you feel you are struggling with developing an emotional backbone, counseling can be a great place to start the process.

To schedule a counseling session with me:

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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counseling, goals, prosocialbehavior, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, self-help

10 Habits of Highly Miserable People

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It is often said that happiness is a choice. For a miserable person, they often choose to make themselves (and those around them) miserable.

The unfortunate reality is not everyone wants to be happy. Most people with such a disposition never seek mental health treatment. They do not think they are the problem but the problem is “out there” ie in the external world.

Miserable people often have a woe is me attitude. This victim mentality grates on those around them. This mentality is exhausting to be around. Miserable people are often allergic to responsiblity.  A miserable person believes people are always out to get them.  They often portray themselves as victims who should be rescued, deserving of our sympathy and attention.

Below are some common ways you can spot a miserable person:

1)They love to blame others. Miserable people are often martyrs—it works as a get out jail free card for taking responsibility for their own life. They love to make themselves miserable under the guise of “helping” others. Having a martyr complex essentially involves pointing the finger at other people or situations in your life and blaming them for your disappointments, unhappiness, and emotional turmoil. The reality is no one is responsible for your disappointments, unhappiness, and emotional turmoil EXCEPT you. We all experience these feelings, but we must learn to process our feelings and move on. Miserable people like to stay stuck in the cycle of blame.

2)They love to pick fights. Miserable people love to make other people miserable. Misery loves company right? People who are constantly unhappy love to take it out on other people. Some people are disputatious and repel people with their snarky comments, rude remarks, and negative demeanor.  If antagonistic behavior is an ongoing thing with someone, you are likely dealing with an habitually MISERABLE person.

3)They will get involved in other people’s drama. Miserable people often feel their life is boring. How do they spice it up? By getting involved in the drama of others. (Some go as far as to create drama between others to watch it unfold). Miserable people find drama energizing. Happy people tend to disengage from drama and the people who create it. For miserable people, drama is a way of life.

4)They always expect the worst (of themselves, others, and life in general). Life sucks and all the worst thing that can happen, happens to them, is the mantra of a miserable person. Miserable people often expect the worst of everyone even the people they claim to love. They think other people have bad intentions toward them. The truth is most people don’t have bad intentions but are flawed people. You can always tell a person with bad intentions because when called on their behavior, it gets worse NOT better. They will get more aggressive, more demeaning, more negative.

5)They hate people. This kind of follows from #4. All of us experience negative thoughts from time to time. But a miserable person will make it known how much they despise their fellow-man (which in all likelihood includes you). A miserable person never has a good thing to say about anyone. People are the worst, people are selfish, people are liars, are common refrains from a miserable person.

6)They are selfish. Miserable people put themselves first (but project that other people are selfish, ironic I know). A miserable person drives people away from them because of their negative behavior. Life is hard enough, most people don’t want to spend their time with a Debbie Downer. Miserable people only care about themselves and their own troubles. Only their perspective matters.

7)They are envious of other people. A miserable person is NEVER happy for someone else. Miserable people think someone else’s success or good fortune takes away from them. They view life as a zero sum game due to their scarcity mindset. Miserable people do NOT have an abundance mindset that there is enough love, success, and resources to go around. For them, life is dog eat dog.

8)They hate change. Miserable people hate anything new or different. Change requires effort and miserable people usually don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone. Miserable people will complain about feeling “stuck” but will refuse to do anything to change their circumstances.

9)They love to complain. Complaining is their favorite pastime. This ties in with the blaming, playing victim, and seeking attention/sympathy while playing the role of martyr.  Chronic complainers seek validation and sympathy from those around them. Woe is me. For chronic complainers, every person, every situation, is an opportunity to go on a fault-finding mission.

 

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10)They never do anything to improve their life. Most miserable go through life stagnant. The game of life is too hard so they refuse to play. Yet they resent people who are still IN the game.  The only game a miserable person plays is the blame game. Miserable people are addicted to unhappiness and it becomes a way of life for them.

What are some common root causes of a miserable personality?

  • Low self-esteem
  • The appeal of martyrdom
  • A belief that being miserable is inevitable
  • Underlying depression and anxiety
  • Feeling trapped by your circumstances
  • Living with chronic stress
  • Resistance to being healthy–physically, mentally, and emotionally

The truth is our thinking creates our feelings. If you are chronically unhappy, you need to take a look at your self-talk and how you think about others and relate to the world. If someone or something is truly making you unhappy, you can leave the relationship or situation. 

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Living in the free world, the truth is we ALWAYS have a choice. It may not be an easy choice or a simple solution. Yet you have the freedom to not need to tolerate mistreatment or miserable circumstances. 

If you find your struggling with feelings of misery or a miserable person in your life, counseling may be a great place to begin the journey to a happier life.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

 

 

counseling, goals, prosocialbehavior, psychology, self-help

Why We Love Putting People in a Box and Why We Should Reevaluate Our Views on Ourselves, Others, and Life In General

On this journey through life, we are different people at various points in our journey. Surely you are not the same person at 48 that you were at 18.

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Yet the people in our lives often view us as who we were when they met us. More often than not it will be a struggle for them to shift their perception of you. Once they view you a certain way, regardless of the changes and progress you make in your life, it may be a challenge for them to take you out of the “box” they put you in.

This is why if you ask five people to describe someone, you will likely get five extremely varied answers. We meet people at different points in time impacting our perception of the individual.

Even our own self-concept may be reflective of a point in time that no long holds true today. Ask yourself when is the last time you took stock of who you are TODAY not who you were years ago? Do you still view yourself as an extrovert because growing up you liked to go out and socialize but now you spend your weekends at home on the couch dreading the mere thought of going to a party? Do you consider yourself a career driven person but have not been in the workforce in five, ten, fifteen years? Do you view yourself as athletic but have not been in shape since your college years? Often we do not update our self-concept as we evolve through life.

There is no right or wrong here. But at different stages of our life, to an extent, our identity shifts. You are a different “you” as a child vs. college student vs. a young professional vs. a person balancing career and family vs. someone who is retired. Yet oftentimes we hold onto an identity that is no longer valid which can in turn create conflict within ourselves and with the outside world.

Our self-concepts are not always perfectly aligned with reality. Our perceptions of others are not either. While we all tend to distort reality to a certain degree, congruence occurs when self-concept is fairly well aligned with reality. 

Try to reflect on the following three questions:

  • Do you think your view of yourself is how other people view you?
  • Can you think of someone you and a friend view completely differently?
  • Do you believe most people are aware of how others perceive them?

Too many people live on auto pilot. Many of us do not reflect on our beliefs of ourselves, others, and life in general to see if they are still relevant or hold true to this day.

People use labeling as a tool to resolve the complexity of their environments. It is easier to put people in categories than take the time to analyze the complexities of the individual (complexities which we all have). It is simpler and easier to label and categorize. The same can hold true for the views we hold of ourselves.

Not only do we tend to stereotype people, but once we label someone, we fight like hell to keep them in that category. Even if the face of evidence to the contrary. This helps to mitigate our cognitive dissonance.  (Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance).

Ironically enough as clinicians we HAVE to use diagnostic labels to interpret clients’ behavior to bill insurance companies. I am not a big fan of such protocol but it is a requirement for insurance companies to cover services. I feel people are so much more than the categories we put them in.

Yet in private practice we are able to change the diagnostic label as a client progresses through treatment. In day-to-day life, it seems our labels tend to be more rigid and fixed.

We label people: talkative, outgoing, shy, kind, rude, evil, sweet, smart, dumb, hardworking, successful, not successful, rich, poor, the list goes on and on.

More often than not I find people do not like to change their long-held views or labels. Of themselves OR others. Once they made up their mind on WHO someone is–it is what it is.

Even if they experience discomfort in the face of evidence which is contrary to their preconceived views, they will work hard to twist the truth and to justify their faulty perceptions. To reduce the discomfort, they will often use a myriad of defense mechanism (ex. denial, projection, rationalization) to mitigate any cognitive dissonance between themselves and the target of their label/judgement.

We also do the same with the view we hold of ourselves. And of life in general (we see this play out all the time in political discussions).

Not everyone, but many people seem to struggle with changing how they view a person (or oneself) once their mind has formed an opinion.

It is like our mind is a file cabinet. When we see someone we unconsciously pull the file on that person. The problem is we may have not updated our files in 5, 10, 15, 20 years or more.

For instance, one woman I know has repeatedly pointed out to me a mistake a person had made in college. The thing is the woman in question is well into her FORTIES. Thus this person is judging someone based on a mistake made over 20 years ago.  The person was using this mistake, from twenty years ago, as a reflection on this person’s present day character. In reality, this woman was a totally different person in the here and now. This type of type casting is reflective on this rigid, inflexible categorizing, people have a tendency to indulge in. Perhaps you have your own examples coming to mind.

The thing you may notice is that people like to stereotype you. They are going to do all in their power to put you in a box based on how you look, where you work, and where you live particularly at the point in time they met you. This allows them to mentally file you away alongside the thousands of other boxes consuming their mental files.

I have seen this commonly occur in families. It’s all an inside job. The only way we’re able to look at the world is through our own unique lens.

The truth is, all of us are capable real and meaningful change, but we often criticize those who display it. For some, having people “figured out” is preferable to actually figuring them out.

People do not want to take the time to reevaluate a person or their relationship to said person based on the here and now. What compels us to define ourselves and others by often narrow parameters, putting us into categories? People are busy and people are lazy. It is convenient. Labels enable people to make what they believe to be useful generalization. We then use these labels to justify our own behavior in turn.

This can in turn make us feel we know what is best for other people. This is a side effect of our short-sighted judgments. This has been done to me and I know I have done this from time to time with others.  It’s one thing if someone’s actions and behavior are directed at us personally, but when those decisions aren’t,  intervening, will bring about anger and frustration. We use our labels and generalizations to rationalize our actions towards others.

Labels have a way of dehumanizing people. It is okay to have different values. Life is a lot more complex than many of us are willing to acknowledge. 

Yet when we think we know what’s best for someone’s else life, what we are essentially doing is failing to recognize we are all unique people with different values. Keeping people in a box helps us to feel in control. Thus instead of accepting someone as they are NOW, we fight to view them as something we are comfortable with. When we view a person as who they were ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, it can be hard to connect with them if we are not able to communicate with who they are in the here and now.

Do you see the issues that can arise with this type of thinking? Of stereotyping someone and imposing your opinion of what’s best? This type of thinking and behavior plays out often in our society including our political landscape.

Perhaps you have been there before. Someone hurts you and you decide they did it because they’re an evil or bad person. You disregard all evidence to the contrary. When someone else speaks kindly of them, you assume that person does not know the “real” them like you do. Or someone says something that threatens a belief you hold dear, so you decide they’re wrong. Maybe you view yourself a certain way and when someone says something that contradicts this view, you attack them.

We fight fiercely to hold onto our beliefs. We push hard to get people to act in a way we deem best. At the core, this is about feeling secure and comfortable.

Yet being emotionally and mentally healthy means not labeling other people and putting them in boxes that we file away. It means giving ourselves and others the freedom to change.

We are not meant to be put in boxes. As people, we are always growing, changing, and evolving (hopefully that is).

In a way if you are not growing, you are dying.

When we look around at other people, we tend to be naturally drawn to people like us. Conversely, we may be repelled by certain types of people who seem very unlike us. This is why change can feel so threatening. Again, we see this play out in the political realm. But for our own peace of mind we need to begin to see most people do not fit neatly into categories. Life is messy. Things change. People are constantly in flux. The world is constantly moving forward–whether we are on board or not.

As it relates to ourselves, progress is important to be being happy. As humans if we are not growing more often than not we are not going to feel fulfilled. Think of people who have not changed any aspect of their life in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years (maybe you are thinking of yourself). These people in all likelihood lack a vibrancy to them. The thing is growth has a sense of aliveness to it. What makes us feel alive is progress.

The time has come for us to start thinking OUTSIDE the box instead of forcing others (and ourselves) into a box. The time has come to begin making progress in our own lives and allowing others to evolve. Let us not continue to box ourselves or others in.

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To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

anxiety, counseling, goals, humility, psychology, regrets, relationshipadvice, self-help

Who is Your Ideal Self? 2019 is the Year to Be Happy and At Peace with Yourself

Hello, 2019!

We are officially in the kickoff of the New Year. It is the year before we head into the Roaring 20’s and you can bet next year will be a doozy, old sport.

New Year’s Day can feel surreal. Many of us are probably in the midst of setting our 2019 resolutions. (Or recovering from the night before–a time well spent with family and friends celebrating the end of 2018).

Goals are important. Setting goals give you a long-term vision and short-term motivation. Goals are what move us forward in life.

Personally, I am a big believer in writing down your goals. Research has shown that people who write their goals and dreams down on a regular basis achieve those desires at a significant higher level than those who did not.

I spent some time dedicated solely to jotting lists broken down into categories of different goals: Financial, Career, Health, Emotional Life, New Experiences, Intellectual Life, Relationships, Volunteer, To Do Around House, Family, Life Vision, etc. (Not going to lie, I LOVE making a good list).

Everyone would have different categories based on their life circumstances and values.

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It can be an emotional day come January 1st.

Mixed emotions may come about. We may feel overwhelmed about what are realistic, worthy goals to set for yourself.

While hope and motivation may be at the forefront of your mind, for others, there can be something so unsettling about the start of another new year.

Perhaps you are asking yourself, how did a whole year fly by just like that? That in and of itself can feel unreal. Time seems to be moving more quickly with each passing year. It can seem like we were JUST starting 2018 not too long ago. It is a bit wild how the years seem to fly by, blurring together.

For others, they can be facing feelings of melancholy about another year coming to pass. Another year where they did not achieve any of the goals they set out to accomplish. Or a realization that their life has long become stagnant. They cannot remember the last year where they did something new or different. They may feel unmotivated and uninspired realizing they have spent not just the last year but the last SEVERAL years procrastinating their goals. Many goals may have been lost along their journey through life.

The hard pill to swallow is a New Year can bring about the hard realization you may be stuck in a rut. Your life has become stagnant and you didn’t even realize it was happening.

As a therapist, the last couple weeks of the year, I find clients will often share renewed goals for the new year. But more commonly they will share with me the disappointments of the previous year.

Many of us view the beginning of a new year as the best time to make behavioral changes and overcome unhealthy habits. I know I buy into this time of year being an opportune time to catalyze change in my personal life.

Each new year is a blank slate.

Emotionally, a new year can be trying. It can feel upsetting IF we are not any closer to our goals or becoming the ideal person we hold in our mind (we all have this so-called ideal self–possibly a thinner, richer, smarter, more successful, more athletic, more charming, healthier, more ambitious version of ourself). If you feel this way, instead of building yourself up, you may spend New Year’s day beating yourself up over the failures of 2018.

The fact is we can never get rid of ALL the negative aspects of ourselves because those are very real parts of us. We all have parts of ourselves we struggle to accept.

We all have dreams we are chasing whether we share them with others or not.

The end of the year can turn into a tailspin.

Perhaps the last few months you have shelved even TRYING to become the ideal person you hold in your mind.

Perhaps you have even forgotten what your ideal self even looks like.

Yet goals that connect with our “ideal self” are most effective. The New Year presents an opportune time to connect with that ideal self.  When we RESOLVE to change, we feel better—more in control, more hopeful, more confident.

According to Carl Rogers, one of my favorite theorists, we ALL are constantly working towards self-actualization. According to Rogers, self-actualization occurs when we achieve our goals, wishes, desires.

According to Rogers (1959), we want to feel, experience and behave in ways which are consistent with our self-image and which reflect what we would like to be like, our ideal-self.  The closer our self-image and ideal-self are to each other, the more consistent or congruent we are and the higher our sense of self-worth.

But sometimes we lose ourselves on our journey to self-actualization.

This is why counseling can be a great first step to helping you get back in touch with the person you aspire to be. It can help you close the gap between your ideal self and your actual self. It can help get you back in touch with the REAL YOU, not the you who has been operating on auto pilot. A person is said to be in a state of incongruence if some of the totality of their experience is unacceptable to them and is denied or distorted in the self-image (Rogers).

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Steps to Achieving your Ideal Self

1)Reflect on your current self vs. your ideal self. What don’t you like about your current behavior? What accomplishments are you proud of? What are parts of your current self you would never want to change? What are parts of yourself that you have never seemed to be ABLE to change?

You are the life you lead–so choose your path mindfully.

How do you handle adversity? How you handle conflict? Can you keep your cool under pressure? How do you talk to yourself when you mess up?

What standards would you like to uphold going forward? What kind of person would you ideally like to be? Most importantly: WHY is it important to make these changes? Having a strong why is a MUST for lasting change.

2)Reflect on COMPETING GOALS. The fact is many of us have competing goals vying for our attention and time. We need to not be so hard on ourselves when we have to shift focuses. Life is truly a balancing act. It can be hard to strike a balance between being a good parent with a demanding career. Being social while being on a strict diet. Traveling the world while saving money. Managing our various goals can be TOUGH. You need to have flexibility in your expectations depending on what is taking precedence at any given time. Let go of absolutes in your thinking patterns–ALWAYS, MUST, SHOULD, NEVER.

3)What would you do–if money— was not a concern? For many people, money is a defining factor in their life. For others, it is a limiting factor. How differently would you live your life (if different at all) if money was not a factor? The answer can be telling.

4)What do you want people to say about you and your life at your funeral? Great parent? Good friend? Successful? Well-traveled? Kind soul? Did a lot of good for others? No answer is right. But how you answer this question reflects much on what you value in life.

5)Remember you ARE the life you lead. Ask yourself–what is your day-to-day life like now? Are you a dedicated parent? A career driven professional? Someone who makes time for loved ones? A fitness fanatic? Dedicated to healthy eating? Are you kind? Are you thoughtful? Are you having an impact in a positive way the lives of others? Are you well-read? Do you travel? Do you do the right thing? Do you sit by silently when you see someone being mistreated? Do you mistreat others? Do you mistreat yourself?

6)Remember you ARE how you spend your money. Ask yourself–do you value experiences over materialistic objects? Do you pour all your money into living the most extravagant lifestyle you can or do you live below your means saving for the future? Both are reflective of YOU AND YOUR VALUES. Do you spend more than you should? Do you save? OR do you feel well-balanced between the two?

7)Remember you ARE what you eat. Ask yourself—do you eat like you love yourself? Do you far too often indulge in processed food, sugar, and fried food? Are you committed to healthy eating? Are you committed to your health, period?

8)Revise your goals to better reflect your limitations and true capabilities. It is important to be honest with our positive and negative qualities. We ALL have limitations. Often our goals feel because we do not take said limitations into account. Be kind to yourself but be realistic. All unrealistic goals do is set you up for failure (and pain).

Most importantly: Our daily life IS who we are. How do you spend your days? If today, was your last day on Earth, could you say you are proud of the life you led? Are you happy with your day-to-day existence?

These questions may seem like a lot to think about and reflect on. The answers will be unique fo all of us and a reflection of our values. One caveat to keep it mind is we are ALL human. Do not expect to tackle EVERYTHING you set out to do all at once. We cannot expect to be our IDEAL self 100% of the time. Life happens (stress happens). None of us are always in a total state of congruence. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider speaking with a therapist who can help you unload and process through some of those feelings.

Make 2019 the year you work hard, but work JUST AS HARD on self-compassion and being kind to yourself, as you stumble along the way to achieving your ideal self.

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To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com