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

 

 

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counseling, defense mechanisms, emotionalimmaturity, forgiveness, happiness, humility, prosocialbehavior, psychology, self-help

Conflicts and Grudges: How Counseling Can Help You to Move On

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. There is no denying that.

Many people come into counseling because of an ongoing conflict in their life that is causing them great pain.

Are you someone who is able to resolve conflict? When conflict is mismanaged it can cause great harm. If you are not comfortable with your emotions or able to manage them during times of high stress, you will not be able to resolve conflict successfully.

An unresolved conflict can eventually harden to a pathological grudge if you are unable to confront and process your OWN feelings.

I recently worked with someone on processing deep rooted feelings of a long-standing grudge towards her father. Watching someone process through a wide range of emotions–from love to hate and everything in between is fascinating work. It really takes courage to confront the more vulnerable feelings under all the layers of anger and resentment.

If a person is feeling vulnerable the quick fix is just get angry.  Feeling sad, anxious, or vulnerable? Nothing is quicker to restore a false sense of power and control like anger!

Yet there is substantial collateral damage to our anger especially as it relates to our relationships. As a clinician, a grudge signifies to me a person who is not comfortable being vulnerable or losing that false sense of control. 

A little vulnerability is a GOOD thing. Being able to be emotionally open takes great courage. It takes strength to process one’s emotions and come out on the other side with a better understanding of yourself. Good emotional health is just as important as a good physical health. I have always believed releasing emotional toxins is JUST as important as cleansing your body of physical toxins.

I have found when you fail to process your emotions and experiences, you create triggers and emotional wounds within yourself. This can manifest in anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, rage, etc.

As a culture, we place much importance on measurable intelligence through grades, tests, degrees, income. Yet we do not focus enough on building emotional intelligence—being able to recognize your triggers, manage your feelings, or be cognizant of how you treat yourself AND others.

Emotional intelligence is vital to be a well-rounded person.

The truth is some of people’s biggest wounds are from childhood–towards their parents or others who have hurt them. People carry these wounds into adulthood, impacting how they are able to manage their relationships with others. Childhood wounds are easily triggered in adult relationships.

Your level of emotional intelligence comes into play when you eventually get into conflict with others.

Let’s be honest. Most (healthy) people do not enjoy conflict. Most of us know it is a part of life and while we may not enjoy it, we can understand why it is necessary. We accept that being alive means sometimes getting hurt and sometimes hurting others. It is best to move on and not waste much of your time OR energy on relationships that at the end of the day do nothing for you.

Grudge holders cannot do that. They believe their is strength in holding a grudge.

There is a reason the saying goes refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for SOMEONE ELSE to die. Grudges are irrational in their very nature. You hurt yourself thinking you are in actual hurting the other person.

Grudges arise from unresolved conflict. The truth is conflict is inevitable but if the conflict resolution process cannot successfully play out, this can lead to a grudge.

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Holding onto a grudge is essentially holding onto stress. It is also about disempowering yourself. You may be waiting on an apology or for the other person to do right by you. Yet when you are waiting on someone else to act, you are giving them person control over you. You are allowing that person to still effect your well-being long after the initial hurt has passed.

To a grudge holder, they feel holding a grudge gives them power when in actual holding a grudge is disempowering.

The fact is we ALL have been hurt by the actions or words of another.  But if you don’t practice forgiveness you are the one who pays most dearly.

Forgiveness is to embrace peace, hope, gratitude, and joy for YOU and YOUR mental well-being, not the person who you were hurt by.

In forgiving another person, you are taking away the power the other person wields in your life. It has nothing to do with getting another person to change his or her actions, behaviors, or words.

Unfortunately for a grudge holder forgiveness is not part of their repertoire.

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Just as haters are gonna hate, grudge holders are gonna grudge. Think of the Donald Trumps of the world—not only are they going to be SMUG about it, these personality types have a way of making their outright defiance a central part of their personality, wrapping themselves in self-righteousness. Grudge holders tend to be simplistic thinkers and childish. Remember as a kid, when you saw the world and people as good or evil? A person who can’t let go has never developed past this level of thinking.

To me, nothing was pettier than watching Donald Trump’s grudge against John McCain play out even after the poor man’s death. But at the heart of ALL grudges are pettiness and ego.

No matter how you slice it, it is not a good look. It means you have not developed a better way to cope with a trying life situation. It is an ineffective way of coping. It may be important to get yourself into counseling to process out those feelings and move past the hurt. A good clinician can help you take a more balanced approach in your thinking.

Do you ever ask what makes some people move on and other people hold onto a grudge for dear life?

I find people who hold grudges like the identity it gives them–of victim. Of someone who has been wronged.

I find grudge holders tend to be black and white thinkers—people who see people as ALL good or ALL bad, right/wrong, with them OR against them. Black and white thinkers cannot see people or life in a complex, more nuanced way. Often, they are what therapists refer to as “splitters.”

Grudge holders tend to think they are justified and their mistreatment of another is well-deserved and appropriate. Grudge holding is a very self-righteous state of mind. Grudge holders tend to like to PUNISH. Most times, both the grudge and the anger are disproportioned to the perceived wrong

Grudges tear families apart. Ruin lifetime long friendships. Destroy the people who keep them going because if you are holding a grudge that strongly against someone you are certainly not allowing peace, love, and happiness into your lives.

Grudges are not healthy. Yet being at the end of someone’s grudge is a whole other different beast.

The issue that can arise with being the target of someone’s grudge is that you may begin to think you did something wrong even when you didn’t I have seen this play out in counseling where clients begin to doubt themselves because of someone’s extreme reaction. Experiencing the ire of someone’s grudge can be extremely painful—grudge holders can be no holds barred when they want to release their rage.

If you feel you are in a never ending conflict, I recommend getting yourself into counseling. It can help you process these feelings and perhaps create a new perspective on an old problem.

If you find you are struggling with conflict in your life or are the target of someone’s grudge, here are some ways counseling can help:

-A therapist can help you learn to recognize people who can turn into grudge holders/people who like to manufacture conflict. People who are spiteful, judgmental, bitter towards others tend to be grudge holders (does a certain leader of the free world come to mind?) If they behave like that towards someone else, it will be your turn eventually. Learn to be cognizant of risky people who run in your circle.

-Counseling can help you process painful truths. Remember people who hold grudges may be unable to see their own role in the situation or face the pain they caused. It comes back to being able to be vulnerable. Grudges are typically about harmed egos after all and protecting those fragile egos. Know that a grudge holder will lie, connive, and do anything to protect and elevate their image at your expense.

-Counseling can help you accept the grudge holder’s perspective.  There is no right or wrong when it comes to perspective. Reality is different for all us–our thoughts color our perception and some people think faulty thoughts. As a counselor, I bear witness to this EVERY DAY. To a grudge holder, YOU ARE THE BAD GUY.  That is just how it is–it does not matter how irrational or outlandish another’s perspective is. Knowing this may help you accept the end of the relationship (do you really want relationships with people who view you as a bad person?)

-On the other hand, counseling can help you to be open to a reconciliation. Down the road, a person holding a grudge against you may decide they want you back in their life. Try to keep an open mind—see if this person is truly capable of hitting restart on the relationship. While change is unlikely we should never give up hope people can change for the better.

-Therapy can help you to appreciate this person’s ABSENCE. Move on. At some point, you must accept things will not change. Some relationships are beyond repair. Be honest–do you really want someone in your life who thinks so lowly of you? Life is short. Surround yourself with people who appreciate ALL THE GOOD you have to offer.

-Lastly and most importantly, remember it takes much more energy to hold on to hate than to forgive. Counseling can help you put your energy into positive emotions like love, kindness, openness and not negative toxic emotions like resentment and hate. Focus on all the loving relationships in your life.

Counseling is a great avenue for processing negative emotions and gaining a more balanced perspective. If you are struggling with an ongoing conflict in your life, a good clinician can help.

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

Are You a Good Person? The Litmus Test

Do you think you are a good person?

The mere fact you are choosing to read this means you’re wondering if in fact you are.

I find most people view themselves as “good.” Not perfect, but good. Most of us would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not regard themselves as a “good person.”

Yet how many people do you know that acknowledge the darker parts of their personality? Or their shadow self as Jung called it.

In short, the shadow is the “dark side”. Many people do NOT recognize the darker components of their personality.

Because most people tend to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of their personality, the shadow is largely negative. 

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The problem with viewing yourself as wholly good, without acknowledging your shadow self, is it can lead to unhealthy ways of coping.

As humans it is important to feel we behave and act in a manner that reflects our self-image. How can you stay congruent with your identity, if you view yourself as a good person, in absolute terms, when you inevitably do wrong? This leads to justifying bad behavior. It leads to distorting the truth and repressing emotions we do not have the courage to face.

When people view themselves as wholly good behave badly, they find ways to justify their behavior to themselves (and others) as to maintain their self-image of being “good” and keep cognitive dissonance at bay.

The truth is none of us are good people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We all are fallible, we all have moments of weakness, we all act out of character (this is distinct from people we may encounter with poor character who act this way over and over again over the course of our relationship with them). No one who walks among us does not behave badly from time to time. It is part of the human condition and part of why conflict is so common in our relationships.

Being a good person is a value many of us in all likelihood hold dear (narcissists and sociopaths excluded).

Yet how do we know for sure if we are in fact a good person? “Good” is a very relative term. There is no universal truth that defines what being a “good person” is and looks like.

Some people think they’re “good” because they don’t intentionally go out and harm others, and others believe they are good because they do superficial acts of kindness for others.

Yet if you believe yourself to be a “good person” program, consider the following questions:

Are you a good person if you hurt people but your intention was not to do so?
Are you a good person if someone tells you that you are causing them pain but you disregard how they feel?
Are you a good person if you constantly speak ill of others?
Are you a good person if you lie on your taxes? Lie to your spouse? Lie to your children?

Do you ever feel envy or jealousy towards other people? Do you feel resentment towards the people in your life?

Are you honest with yourself?

Are you a good person if you steal from the government? On whatever level you may be playing the game…
Are you good person if you cheat–on a test, partner, or someone else? If you cheat your company?

When you witness poor behavior in others (lying, judgement, dishonesty, self-deception), can you acknowledge those same impulses inside yourself?

Are you a good person if you wish bad on others?

Do you express rage and contempt towards others?

Do you consider yourself a good person without accepting the darker parts of your personality?
Are you a good person if you are unaware of the negative emotions that arise within you through the day?

Do you believe it is wrong to feel hatred towards the people you love?

In terms of behavior:

~Would you give up your seat for a disabled person or pregnant woman on the train?
~Would you stick up for someone being verbally berated?

~How often do you help someone with extra bags?
~Do you donate your time or money to causes outside of yourself?

~Do you hold the doors open for others?

~Do you offer words of encouragement and kindness freely to others?

All the questions give insight into your character.

Are you happy with how your answer these questions? Do you find you can make excuses for yourself to justify your OWN bad behavior/character flaws but have the habit of condemning others?

I don’t believe that any human being is bad through and through or good through and through. We all have some of each inside us.  I do feel people’s character exists on a continuum–with character disturbed on one end and being virtuous on the other end.

The truth is some people have more good in them than bad.

The truth is some people have more bad in them than good.

It is important to know which person you are dealing with at any given time.

Maybe you’ve experienced this before: Dealing with someone who thinks he’s much nice or kinder than he really is. It can be hard to manage and maintain a relationship with someone who is not as good as he or she believes himself to be.

It can also be hard for people to maintain relationships with us if we are not a good of a person as we believe ourselves to be.

You need to be aware of the good AND bad in you. And others.

Viewing oneself as “good” explains a wide range of common defense mechanisms– denial, minimizing/justifying one’s own “bad”behavior, lying, becoming defensive.

The fact is our character is NOT set in stone—we are all capable of growing into a better person IF we are able to adopt a realistic self-image. We need to be able to look deeply into our shadow self if we want to move beyond the darker aspects of our personality.

We can see everyone feels justified in their own shoes. Every action that a person takes take, good or bad, they can always tell themselves it is justified  – otherwise they would not be able to perform the act in question at all.

We all want to be our best, but many people wonder if it’s actually possible for people to become better–themself included. The answer is a resounding yes. There are always ways to improve yourself.

Some general suggestions for a path forward:
1)Support others. Contribute to things outside of yourself–the larger community. Offer kind words and encouragement to the people you encounter. Consider how your words, actions, and behaviors impact others. Do not enable the bad behavior of others at the expense of someone else. Do good and good will come back. We all eventually reap what we sow.

2)Let go of anger. Think before you speak. Words said in anger can only be forgiven, not forgotten. A mindfulness practice can help you to lower your baseline feelings of anger. Much of anger arises from ruminating over the past–past injustice, grievances, pain from long ago. Stress can up our ability to lash out in anger. Consider adopting stress management techniques to your daily routine.

3)Take care of yourself–mentally, emotionally, physically. Exercise, eating well, meditation, seeking out counseling…all lead to building a strong foundation for living a good life and empowering yourself to be a better person.

4)Learn to set boundariesfor others AND yourself. We talk often about setting boundaries with other people but you should have your own set of standards in how you will or will not conduct yourself. Example–you won’t scream at other people, curse people out, threaten people, smear people’s names to others, steal, cheat, etc.

5)Reflect on the following questions (Forbes):

~What, or who, is worth suffering for?

~What can my most aggressive judgments of others tell me about myself?

~Are my opinions of others fixed, or do they evolve? Is that fair?

~Does my daily routine reflect my long-term goals?

~What do the things I envy tell me about what I want to give myself?

~If I could meet the best possible version of myself in an alternate reality, what would that person be like?

If you feel like you are struggling to become a better version of yourself, counseling can be a way to figure out a plan for your life, moving forward.

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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

 

 

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

 

 

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