counseling, happiness, humility, prosocialbehavior, psychology, self-help

Low Frustration Tolerance: Why Our Ability to Withstand Frustration is Telling

Managing anxiety, cultivating patience, and developing the ability to tolerate frustration are pivotal to mental and emotional health.

Yet we see ourselves living in an increasingly impatient society with anxiety running rampant amongst people of all ages.

As a counselor, I frequently see a low frustration tolerance present in clients. People with a low frustration tolerance struggle to tolerate unpleasant feelings and stressful situations. Unfortunately, if you struggle with a low frustration tolerance it will lessen your ability to effectively manage your life and relationships.

Whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder, social phobia, or panic disorder, many times it is important to work on being mindful and slowing down. People with anxiety are especially apt to struggle with patience, uncertainty, tolerating discomfort, and negative emotions. Developing a high frustration tolerance means not going from 0-60 in a situation. It means learning it is best to respond, not react.  People with a low frustration tolerance struggle with managing the daily frustrations we all will inevitably experience in life.

Frustration tolerance is the ability to overcome obstacles and withstand stressful events. Thus a low frustration tolerance is often a result of when a person feels what they want to see happen is being delayed or thwarted. This can be an external circumstance (experiencing a rainstorm during your beach vacation) or another person (your boss who keeps passing you over for a promotion). The resulting feeling is dissatisfaction from unmet needs or unresolved conflicts.

Often our ability to tolerate frustration reflects our maturity. Personally, I expect to encounter some frustrations in day to day living (traffic, rude people, waiting on hold trying to get a customer service rep on the line, being told things I don’t want to hear, waiting for a table at a restaurant, etc.). I find many people struggle to accept these as just realities of modern life. None of us are immune to unpleasant experiences.

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In order to feel less aroused by stress, you must accept that problems are a part of life.  None of us are exempt from facing challenges and difficulties. Accepting this truth allows you to let go of the notion that something must be wrong if you’re feeling unhappy. Our feelings are fluid and fleeting. Just as we will feel positive emotions, negative emotions are inevitable. Sometimes the only way to get to the other side of negative feelings is to ride out the uncomfortable emotions.

Frustration tolerance is a cultivated skill. We often encourage our children to develop grit and patience. Most children start out with a low frustration tolerance.  During the developmental and learning  process, they acquire the ability to face situations where they don’t always get what they want, whether it’s wanting to play with another child who does not want to be their friend, wanting cookies at the grocery store but their mother says no, or whether their ice cream has fallen and their parent doesn’t want to buy them another.

However, as adults, many times we ourselves do not exhibit such patience and the ability to tolerate frustration. Some people struggle with accepting their desires will not always be met. They may be unable to take the wishes and desires of others into account. These people struggle to deal with uncontrollable setbacks.

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We see people with a low frustration tolerance react with anger, rage or excessive melancholy, in situations that most people can solve internally and move on from.

The ability to tolerate frustration is an important part of psychological well-being. If you find you are struggle with a low frustration tolerance, it may be beneficial to seek out counseling.

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If you are struggling with frustration in your life and would like 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, happiness, psychology, self-help

Becoming Your Ideal Self in 2020

Hello, 2020!

We are officially in the kickoff of the New Year. Welcome to the Roaring 20’s!

New Year’s Day can feel surreal. Many of us are probably in the midst of setting our 2020 resolutions. (Or recovering from the night before–a time well spent with family and friends celebrating the end of 2019).

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 2019 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 2020 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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If you are interested in scheduling a session with me and are a reader living 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, happiness, psychology, Uncategorized

Why Fall is a Great Time for Self-Reflection

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“If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection.
It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone.
Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.”
– Mitchell Burgess –

Autumn in the Northeast is a special time of year. Fall is an opportune time for introspection and reflection about life. As the leaves begin to change color, the days get shorter, leaves fall away, and colder nights start to appear – these all are the signs of a new change in the circle of nature. Fall is a bittersweet season–the leaves are beautiful but they are in fact dying. This time of the year with its picturesque beauty always inspires me to reflect. Similarly, to nature that follows its seasonal patterns, we also face constant changes in our lives.

While fall may seem a season of decline as we head towards winter, it is actually a good time to sum up the results of the year, set new goals and begin something new. To find yourself is a lifelong process–do you ever find yourself wondering how you ended up where you are? Often we avoid asking ourself the hard questions because they can bring about uncomfortable feelings. If you are not careful, not mindfully aware of where you are going, you could end up somewhere far from where you want to be.

Fall is the end of many things but it can also signify new beginnings. Autumn can be a time to see the colors, notice the details, explore nature, and find beauty in the moment. All of these changes going on around us can signal a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

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Self-reflection is defined as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.”

Too often we don’t stop to pause and take a deep breath. We keep moving. We live on auto pilot. We push through. We don’t stop to reflect. We stay in jobs that are (literally) killing us, relationships that zap our energy, circumstances that leave us stressed, unhappy, frustrated and tired.

We keep running on the treadmill of life thinking we don’t have time to waste. So we keep moving in order to keep up. But too often, we just crash and burn. That’s because the only way to keep up with the pace of life is to STOP. To hop off the treadmill. To reflect on what’s working and what’s not.

Self-reflection is a four step process:

  • STOP: Take a step back from life or a particular situation.
  • LOOK: Identify and get perspective on what you notice and see.
  • LISTEN: Listen to your inner guide, the innate wisdom that bubbles up when you give it time and space to emerge.
  • ACT: Identify the steps you need to take moving forward to adjust, change or improve.

It’s about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior and beliefs. Some questions to help facilitate the process:

1)Am I using my time wisely?

2)Am I waking up ready to take on the day?

3)Are my relationships healthy? Are the people I am allowing into my life the right people?

4)Am I where I want to be? If I am not, how do I get from where I am to where I want to be?

5)Am I taking care of myself physically?

6)Am I taking care of myself mentally?

7)Am I letting matters that are out of my control stress me out?

8)Am I achieving the goals I set out for myself?

9)Are there any beliefs that are limiting me?

10)Am I living my life according to my values?

If you find you are not happy with the answers to these questions of self-refletion, counseling can be a great avenue for helping you change the course of your life. If you are interested in scheduling a session with me and are a reader living 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, denial, emotionalimmaturity, happiness, humility, psychology, self-help

Letting Everyone Around You Grow Up

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I am a big fan of family systems therapy—specifically Murray Bowen. One of the pivotal concepts he posits is differentiation of self. Level of differentiation of self can affect longevity, marital stability, reproduction, health, educational accomplishments, and occupational successes. This impact of differentiation on overall life functioning explains the marked variation that typically exists in the lives of the members of a multigenerational family (Bowen).

Bowen also explores how the most trying part of becoming emotionally healthy is not over functioning in our relationships.

What do I mean by “over functioning?” By over functioning I mean doing your part and the other person’s “part” in maintaining a relationship.

I think the best thing you can do for yourself and other people is allow them to grow up.

What does it mean to let everyone around you grow up? It means to allow people to be who they are without you swooping in. From a Bowen family perspective, a true “grown up” is a self-differentiated individual–a person who has allowed themselves to grow up and allowed the people in their life around them to grow up (or not grow up).

The truth is some people are not personality wise able to grow up–but most people can, and most people will.

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Here are the steps to allowing everybody around you to grow up:

1)Stay connected to others but do not do MORE than your part. This is about knowing where you end and where others begin. 
We learn this growing up in our family of origin—if we didn’t learn that well, we can always go back and learn it. Counseling is a great avenue in processing through this emotional minefield. It is not easy for people who grew up in dysfunctional families. The message of self-differentiation is I care about you but no I cannot do that–the message being I cannot do more than I can or want to.  This is important for accomplishing self-differentiation.

2)Stop over functioning. If we attract underfunctioners–alcoholics, narcissists, takers, the self-absorbed, the immature, the needy, the demanding–we will be in a relationship system that pushes us to over function. We will find ourselves doing 150% or more of the work in the relationship. This allows these personality types to have a buffer to life’s realities. The truth is we give to others when we have that to give. But the truth is those of us who are overfunctioners, codependents, etc. tend to allow people to take from us when we DO NOT have it to give or do not WANT to give it.

Trying to be perfect is a form of over functioning. Perfectionism is a form of over functioning.

3)Stop figuring people out. The process of figuring people out is a form of over functioning. Now, I as a counselor, am in the business of “figuring people out.” But we should not do this in our personal relationships.  We figure people out because they do not want to do the work of figuring themselves out. Sometimes we figure them out to be more self-differentiated but often we are figuring others out to further the over functioning in our relationships. It is unhealthy. Figuring people out in our lives is a form of enmeshment. 

4)Stop over empathizing. Having and practicing empathy is not good for those who are not self-differentiated and well-defined (which is probably MOST of us). It is important to become more well-defined before we practice MORE empathy (hence why therapists are pushed to work through their own “stuff” to be effective in their practice). Focus on your thinking process, more than your feeling process to ensure you are not over functioning. Too often other people want us to over empathize and over sympathize to enable us to become enmeshed with them (remember, this is not a conscious process but subconscious). Do not over feel when it is the service of enabling or over functioning—a common issue with codependents. Start thinking more than feeling more.

5)Stop the enabling. Enabling is doing for others what they should do for themselves. It is taking the consequences or life lessons for others when they should be experiencing them themselves. Often, we over empathize and enable (especially with our children). In doing this, we are telling and sending them the message they can’t do life on their own–they are not strong enough, smart enough, capable enough leading to learned helplessness. Everybody has the same tasks in life as I do—we have to deal with unfairness, struggles, adversity, work, relationships, families, this is something we all have to deal with. NOBODY GETS TO OPT OUT and say nope, I can’t do it, so you need to do it! Our enabling helps and hurts at the same time. We often learn to enable at a very young age and from our family of origin. We need to root out this imprinting.

6)Focus on your own maturation process–your own self differentiation process. Look away from others and focus on yourself—certainly not in a selfish way but in a knowing yourself and becoming aware of yourself. We far too often become experts on OTHER people and NOT ourselves. Begin to become an expert on yourself!

Learn the lessons of self-differentiation. Learn more about that and how it works. When we are immature, we tend to focus on our fears and neediness AND others’ problems, issues, and immaturities. We need to get focused on OUR fears, our immaturity, and not get all focused on THE OTHER. We will be much more effective as people and be able to help in much more mature way.

7)Stop the one-sided relationships. If we have a relationship that is a combo of giver and taker, with us being the giver, this can become toxic and abusive. One sided relationships are the result of our low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, family of origin issues, fear of rejection, worthlessness, shame and reveal we are looking for love and acceptance from others –specifically others who are immature–no matter what the emotional cost to us. This is when it becomes a problem for us. WE CHOOSE RELATIONSHIPS THAT FIT OUR LEVEL OF SELF-DIFFERENTIATION OR OUR LOW SELF OR FEAR OF ABANDONMENT. Heal your self-esteem and you will heal your relationship choices and how you play your role in relationships.

8)Stop our illusions, naivety, fantasy thinking and feeling. We believe we can change others: FANTASY/NAIVETY. We believe we can make our parents be who we want them to be or fantasize if they will behave as we always wanted–an illusion. We put conditions on the relationship–if I only work harder, than THIS GOOD will come of it. If I do more, love more, become more–whatever the more “is,” I will change my spouse, my parent, my child, etc. No! Those are illusions. We need to root out the nativity in us. Learning about your own naivety is a good way to grow up. We continue to believe we have self-worth when everything points to us not having self-worth–this is denial. Our unresolved family of origin issues make us naive and immature because that is the family system, we grew up in. It is still inside of us regardless of our chronological age. To allow others to grow up, we FIRST must deal with our illusions and fantasy thinking.

9)Step down so other people can step up. Use the under functioning leverage for others to step up. Intentionally try to under function. This places the pressure, pinging, and systemic pressure on the other to step up. Or not. THEY MAY NOT. But the pressure is on THEM to GROW UP. If they don’t choose to, it is time for you to start dealing with your illusions and beliefs about the other. The best way to find out if they can change is you step down so they can step upIf they are not going to STEP UP that tells you something very important which you may not want to hear or know. But is important to our emotional health.

10)Get out of others way. If you’re a caretaker, fixer, overfunctioner, you’re getting in the way of others’ lives. The universe is trying to speak to them to grow up and be more mature and stop under functioning. We get in their way by stepping up too much.

11)Stop defending yourself with others. Defending yourself is a way that you enable other people not to look at themselves. Whenever you defend yourself, others don’t have to look at themselves because you are filling up all the noise with your defensiveness. Your defensiveness only furthers their denial and keeps the focus on you not them. Defending yourself will not bring about change in others but only will reinforce you on low self-image. REMEMBER DEFENDING YOURSELF EQUATES WITH ENMESHMENT. Do anything but defend yourself with those who do not want to grow up. Behave with boundaries, maturity, and calmly. More talking, more defensiveness, more explaining will only stress you out more and not accomplish your goal with the immature around you who do not want to grow up. If you stop the defending, they must deal with you and the situation more.

12)Exit triangles. Triangles are formed to keep the immature around us from growing up. If you told the other, time and time again, something you want them to know or understand and then you go to a third party and go communicate these things—now we have a triangle. Triangles are fundamentally unhealthy in relationships especially in families.

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Remember a person can have all the trappings of adult life–marriage, mortgage, career, kids. This does mean they are an emotional grown up.

Letting someone grow up is the BEST gift you can give someone. Letting yourself grow up in the best give you can give yourself.

These are just a few steps in the process of differentiation but there are probably many more. If you find you are struggling with any of the components of being an emotional grown up, counseling can be a great way to explore the differentiation of self-process.

If you find you are struggling with a self-differentiation in YOUR LIFE and would like 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, happiness, prosocialbehavior, psychology, self-help

Why Are People SUCH Jerks? Don’t Take it Personal!

“Why are people such jerks?” seems to be a wistful thought we all have contemplated from time to time. I know I have! Yet we often let other people’s “jerkiness” impact us far more than it really should. Oftentimes when people come into counseling, a significant portion of a session can be dedicated to venting/processing experiences regarding the “jerk or jerkS” in a client’s life.

Definition of jerk

1aan annoyingly stupid or foolish person was acting like a jerk
b: an unlikable person especially : one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded; a selfish jerk

It runs the gamut on WHO a jerk IS–it can be someone’s coworker, a person in one’s extended social circle, a boss, a family member. Jerks can appear in any realm of our life.

Clients will oftentimes wrap up a story they share with me about someone’s jerkiness with a, “Do you BELIEVE this?” regarding a person’s behavior or something that the jerk in question had the audacity to say. ACTUALLY, I do believe it–I have heard enough to know none of us escape people who get under our skin or act inappropriately. It is a common experience brought into the counseling room.

However, many people can adapt a jerk’s role in their life to what works best for them as to lessen the impact this person can have on them. Obviously, this is harder to do if the person in question is your boss or your mother. Other people get stuck in the indignant stage where they try to CHANGE the other person or start getting stuck in why someone is treating them so poorly.  Yet the more that people can recognize that the unhealthy behavior they experience from others is either unintentional or is more about said person rather than about them, the less they personalize the jerkiness of others and the less impact it has on them. A jerk’s way of being is usually about some flaw they have or distortion in their thinking. Unless you have done something significant, it is not about you.

I also think as you begin to recognize that other people’s bad behavior is about them, not you, you begin to depersonalize and detach from the rotten experience of dealing with a jerk (which we all inevitably will).

Jerks can be hard to understand. Who wants to conduct their life in such a negative manner? Especially since there is a lot of incentive for us to get along with others. For starters, humans are incredibly social beings who need positive, healthy relationships. In fact, there really would be no chance of society existing if people did not, by and large, cooperate with each other and get along.

Yet people often harm each other on purpose. As disgusting as that is.

Why is this? Why do people so often want to hurt and harm others? There are many reasons which I will go into below but for the most part, people are mean to others in order to feel better about themselves. A person who is a jerk gets to feel good at your expense.

SO, why are people such jerks?

I don’t believe most people are jerks. However, under the right circumstances, most people can act like a jerk.

Jerks are Noticeable

Often there appears to be so many jerks in the world around us, because the behavior of rude, obnoxious people tends to be more noticeable. One reason for this is probably the way our brains are wired—we are designed to pick up on possible threats to us and those we care about.  We are wired this way for survival. Another reason these people are more noticeable is that their behavior is often particularly hurtful and offensive.

Being a Jerk is often REWARDED

Perhaps the reward can be tangible such as a ruthless attorney being rewarded by making more money and developing a thriving practice.  However, it can also be rewarded with attention (albeit often negative attention) or escalation of conflict. It varies with each person what sort of reward is the end goal, although for the obnoxious behavior to continue there must be some sort of reward to the person exhibiting this behavior.

Why People Are Jerks

Intentional and Unintentional Reasons

1)Never socialized properly/lack of self-awareness. There are people who have poor social skills. They may not have been taught the proper social skills as children (ie MANNERS) or they may not have the experience with social interaction to have learned the skills. As a result, they may be awkward interacting with others. Some people may have little insight or awareness of how they and their behavior impact others. They might tend to be more concrete in their thought processes and don’t realize their behavior may be hurtful or rude. For example, a simple question such as “How old are you?” may not have much undercurrent of meaning but the person being asked such a question feels insulted.

2)Miscommunication. Communication is at the very least a two-way street. At any particular point, one person is conveying information and the other is receiving information. Problems can occur anywhere in the process. Ever hear the expression people hear what they want to hear? YUP. Miscommunication is when the individual conveying information makes errors in the process of communicating. Or selectively chooses what he or she takes in.

3)False Assumptions. When someone engages in assumption making, often referred to as “mind-reading” because they think they know what the other person is really thinking, they may sometimes react accordingly. For instance, the person who believes that the other person doesn’t like him/her may tend to interpret EVERYTHING the other person says as an insult. Reactions due to these assumptions may lead to more negative consequences such as the other person perceiving him or her as unfriendly jerk.

4)Self-protection. Meanness in the case of self-protection is due to a person’s inability to take responsibility for their problems and to do something about it. Healthier people among us try to recognize when they are mean, apologize and make amends, and try to make changes. Self-protection has many possible root causes to put on this defense. Low self-esteem being one. A person with low self-esteem may be hurting emotionally, and unfortunately, an effective way to feel better is to feel superior to someone else. So, there are a number of ways that this may occur—jealousy, passive aggressive escalation, projection, rationalization, the list goes on and on. People tend to be mean when their self-worth has been challenged and they are not feeling particularly good about themselves.

Sadly, insecurity drives much of the evil behavior in the world.

5)Controlling personality. Some people protect themselves by trying to control others. They are trying to create a comfortable world for themselves. In the process they may cause a great deal of discomfort for others and come across as a controlling jerk. People with controlling personalities can be trying to mitigate anxiety, struggle with a need to always be right, tend to be rigid in their thinking, and need validation of their negative world view. For some people who are miserable, validating or confirming their negative view of the world helps them to feel less miserable because they can feel good about their assessment: “See, people ARE only out for themselves.”

6)Reactive reasons. One of the most common reasons for meanness is due to emotional reactivity. In such situations the person may just be reacting without thinking through the impact of their reaction. Therefore, often their focus may not be for the purpose of hurting someone else although it can be. Also, the reaction can sometimes be quite severe and harmful. Therefore, it is included more towards the malicious end of the spectrum of why people are jerks.

6a)Frustration. When someone is frustrated with a situation, they may react in a manner to release tension. When this reaction is directed against someone else, it can be considered mean. For instance, a mother hits her shin against a piece of equipment in the garage and then yells at her son and blames him for stuffing the bin full of equipment.

6b)Denial. Another way of attempting to reduce stress is through denial. However, the process of denial can potentially be mean to someone else. You cannot accept the reality of who you are and how you act, and you slip into this defense mechanism.

7)Superiority. A person who struggles with feelings of superiority can lead to mean behavior that may not always be deliberate but can be very hurtful to others. Some people TRULY believe they are superior to others.

8)Mental illness. A person with a mental illness can be downright mean even if not intentionally doing so. For instance, a woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder who demands that her family engage in excessive cleaning of the house such as vacuuming IMMEDIATELY after they come into the house. If they don’t comply, she becomes very angry in her attempt to control them and lashes out screaming at her children and spouse.

9)Attempts to gain respect/attention. Some people confuse respect with fear. They believe that if they mistreat someone, they will gain respect. Other people are like the schoolyard bully–they never grow up and continue to hurt others in adulthood for the purpose of obtaining attention–even if it is negative.

10)Attempts to gain power. Power struggles exist all around us. We can see how making someone else hurt or react gives someone a sense of control over that person and allows them to feel more powerful. The attempt to gain power can be either direct and aggressive or it can be passive-aggressive. A real jerk way to behave!

To Sum Up

This was an overview of some of the many reasons a person acts like jerk. Unless you have done something tremendous, another people’s meanness is not about you.  Mind you, people who are mean will often find some minor thing that you have done to justify their meanness and blame you.

The main purpose of this post is to assist people in recognizing that meanness is often rewarded when the attack is successful. But it needs YOUR participation to be successful. In other words, if you feel bad about yourself, the meanness has been successful.

My suggestion is DO not participate. Recognize that unless you have done something that clearly hurts someone else, you are not the cause of the meanness. Likely you will see this person act nasty to many people—you are just one of many. Pity or feel sad for jerks whose experience of the world is small, negative, and limited.
One definition of the word mean is “small.” Mean people live small, think small, and feel small—the smaller, the meaner. They are likely to experience the consequences of their meanness and won’t live very happy lives.
  Focus on living your life and don’t get involved in the pettiness of mean people.

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If you opt to live your life consciously, you’ll find that a story acknowledging your hero’s strength to not be impacted by the meanness of someone else feels truer than one depicting you as a victim of someone else’s dysfunction. You’ll see that whatever your physical size, you really are a bigger person than any jerk out there.

If you find you are struggling with a jerk in YOUR LIFE and would like 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