counseling, emotionalimmaturity, psychology, self-help

How to Become Less Reactive: A Family Systems View

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The best way to not BE alone is to stand alone.

What do I mean? So many clients come to me and have experienced dysfunction in their childhood and felt lonely all their life. They haven’t had a chance or an opportunity to learn much about self-differentiation. In fact, they learned enmeshment, worried states, anxiety, trauma. Thus, being able to stand alone, which is so important for self-differentiation and relationships, is a must. It becomes a treatment goal.

Many people come into a counseling session and say, “I don’t want to focus on my past I just want to move forward.” 

From my perspective as a clinician, it is VERY difficult to move forward with one or two hands tied behind your back. I think a lot of folks who try to put their past out of their thinking or state it is of no value or no importance to be bothered with are actually trying to grow and chance it with one handed tied behind their back (or for some people with BOTH hands tied behind their back).

Clients may respond, “But isn’t that just in the past? How is that affecting me now?”  Maybe you don’t live with your family of origin now or may only see them but once or twice a year. Perhaps you have own children and are focused on the family you have created. Or maybe your parents are dead so in your mind, no need to bring up things from one’s childhood. Maybe you don’t believe in blaming your parents for what your current troubles are so you don’t even want to talk about them.  Or perhaps you believe you came from a wonderful family, so why bother looking at the past. The reasons go on and on for why clients do not feel the need to discuss the past.

So why is the past important? Because it IS the present. It is STILL in US. In a way we have a lifelong dialogue with our family of origin in us. If you don’t believe that, you don’t have to. Yet most people I know are prisoners to their past or rebelling AGAINST their past.

They have not found a way to neutalize or detach from their past. Neither being a prisoner to one’s past or rebelling from it is FREEDOM. 

I believe learning from and healing from our past is a way to navigate knowing yourself and how to interact with others.  Working through your past is how you become free from the emotional traps that are playing out in your present life. I have seen it happen time and time again. I believe dealing with the past is the way to REAL change. It leads to self-differentiation, something most of us don’t have enough of, which causes most of our problems in life.

The past IS present and IN you. Most people try to move away from their past, yet the best way is to move THROUGH the past and BEYOND it.

Many people grow up and develop an addiction to love and approval. Whenever we have an addiction to something, we never can achieve it or have it. We are always just searching for it.

Remember, loneliness is a result or symptom of unresolved issues from childhood. I try to show clients that the solution is often NOT near the problem. So, when people try to solve the problem of loneliness, they often get stuck onto other relationships that end up falling apart leading them to feel abandon, left, and with the scars of broken relationships. Thus what they seek after doesn’t happen.

Many of us fear being lonely and abandoned. Often those of us fear being alone, already experience it. Our fear pushes us into unhealthy relationships where what we fear comes upon us.

It is often our own insecurity that causes our relationships to fail. We are enmeshed, we are reactive.  We must resolve and deal with our fears to be healthier and have healthier relationships. This is a pivotal part of self-differentiation.

Standing alone with one’s self and giving up on one’s neediness for approval will result in true intimacy, true connectedness, and lifelong relationships. Self-differentiation is the key to connectedness.

The paradox of love and approval is if you need it you will not get it.  If you let it go, it will come to you. If you really want it then don’t need it. It needs to become internalized to us.

Remember, standing alone is NOT the same thing as BEING ALONE.  I believe the best way to be alone is to not stand alone. Self-abandonment is the root of all adult abandonment issues.  We were abandoned when we were young and then we continue that abandonment and we continue that abandonment of ourselves–we then look for someone to fix that abandonment when that fix is inside us.

When we learn connectedness with ourselves, we can then in turn connect with others.

You must be a self to have healthy relationships. You must be able to stand alone to be with others.  You need to be okay with yourself.

The goal in developing healthy relationships is to learn how to stop being so reactive. Our reactivity is what causes us to enmesh with those unhealthy people. Learn how to use your reactivity to learn new things about yourself and the relationship. Your reactivity can tell you a lot about how to proceed, what to do, and what to do with yourself. When I’m being reactive, I know it is not healthy and I am being immature. There is something deficient in me that causes this reactivity and I want to learn something about that.

How does one become less reactive and more self-differentiated?

To clarify, reactivity, as it relates to family systems theory, is when the emotional field of the relationship system “pings” one another and we become reactive as a result of it.

It is our deep emotional system that we often inherit from family of origin. It is often deep inside us.

Often it is subconscious and can be traced back to the pinging that went on within our family of origin. Now we can then in turn have conscious feelings that come as a result of being “pinged” but often how we act in relationships is automatic, subconscious, and reactive ways.

Therefore, it is important to explore this and work on becoming less reactive. Rather than dealing with feelings, which are important, we must focus on the primitive part of our emotional field that formed during our early years. It is here that our reactivity should be dealt with and resolved. If we want to have healthy relationships, we must do the work of working on our self and self-differentiation. We need to look at the underlying emotional field.

This emotional field is always working within us and is tricky. When it is triggered, we feel feelings and often “react” as opposed to “responding.” Often in counseling, a therapist will address a client’s “presenting” feelings but not address the client’s deeper “lizard brain” part of them–which is part of this emotional field. The lizard brain is the most primitive part of our self where we process feelings and emotions. If you change that lizard brain, you change that emotional field and you will change your sense of self.  Basically, Bowen Family System theory is this view that the deep emotional part of us, the limbic part of us i.e. the lower brain, needs to get changed and it in turn we can feel more mature and less reactive.

Changing the emotional system is the way to make meaningful change as adults—emotionally, behaviorally, and in relationships. Yet oftentimes in our family of origin we have a “fixed role.”

This fixed role is the way we are expected to function and perform in our family. If we don’t comply, we are often made to feel guilt, shame, fear. If you don’t do way your family system wants, you may find your mother, father, etc. are disappointed in you and in turn they withhold their “conditional” love.  With this conditional love being withheld,  you will in subsequently feel abandon. Thus, oftentimes, we take the path of LEAST RESISTANCE—we continue to stay in these fixed roles despite it not making us happy.

Our choices often are a fight or flight response. We can come and be mad at our family. Or we can withdraw in reactivity and not come around anymore because we don’t want to confront everybody.  One is too aggressive; one is too passive. We all find ourselves falling between those two sides when we can’t deal with the emotional minefield within us or playing out in our family of origin.

What do we do to become less reactive?

1)Observe. Work on observing not absorbing. We often absorb other people and relationship systems and then our functioning remains immature and the same.  Observe the pinging rather than think “I’m JUST my feelings and you are JUST your feelings.”

2)Listen more. Listen to you, listen to others. Resist absorbing the other person and their feelings, take a think more and feel less focus, identify and break the family of origin beliefs/values/rules AND roles. We challenge those innately when we become self-differentiated. Our authentic self may go along with our family of origin’s values, rules, roles, etc. If it doesn’t, we begin to resist it, slowly, calmly, and maturely. Over time that changes our lower brain and our functioning, and we begin to become less reactive.

3)Focus on deep change and the hard work of changing your INSTINCTIVE brain to raise your level of self-differentiation. Change your emotional functioning position in your family of origin. Bowen always talked about our family of origin imprinting on us the most–that deep level, that family brain. When we begin to change how we function there it will begin to change how we function in every other relationship. Increase your awareness when you are pinged and function more independently. Meaning if I am pinged, I need to resist doing what the other wants me to do and be my authentic self.

4)Act to be more of a separate self. Embrace your emotionally reactivity and embrace your patterns of distancing, over focus on others.  Remember it takes work to increase your emotional backbone and go without love and approval.

5)Deal with and resolve with your resistance to becoming a self. Oftentimes we have so many anxieties, fears about becoming our real self and we need to work on those. We need to work on those downsides of what we believe when we become a true self. If you can learn to resist the pull and push for you to remain in your allotted role in your family of origin and the powerful forces that want you to function as you always have, the system will eventually recalibrate to a higher level of functioning. This is best for everyone and will result in more authentic, healthier relationships.

If you are able to function at a higher level and be the more authentic you, many will not like that at first, including members of your family of origin. People find comfort in the familiar and may fight to keep you in the box they put you in. The key here is to allow the resistance phase and your family wanting you to change back. Eventually this will recalibrate your family and the relationship system. You will be more accepted–the newer you, the higher functioning, more authentic you.

6)Become more aware of your programing and emotional circuitry as you are connected to others—you ping them, they ping you. This holds true in all family systems. Begin to learn that system. You can then begin to make changes in it.

7)Define yourself—WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT DO YOU NEED? WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU PREFER? WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE? WHAT IS YOUR TRUE, AUTHENTIC SELF? That is who we want to be–it will calm our system down the more we choose to be that true, genuine self.

To become your true self requires strength of conviction, an understanding of the way family systems are organized, a sense of humor, and an ability to become more objective and strategic. 

Start small in defining yourself with others and your family of origin. Become more authentic in small ways that don’t challenge the system so much while staying confident you. You want to choose you while also not rejecting them. Watch and observe resistance in the relationship system. You will get pushback. Either ignore or say WE ARE JUST DIFFERENT or that is what I choose.

7)Become more of your true self with each person in your life. Do more self-care. Become more authentic in relationships. Work on discovering the difference in your life between fact and feeling. Many of us feel/think. We just have those feelings and it causes us to think in a certain way. We want to be able to separate what is feeling as opposed to what is thinking.  If we can separate our feeling and thinking processes, we will feel much more self-differentiated, calm, less reactive, etc.

8)Grieve the loss of love and approval. If we are addicted to love and approval, we need to grieve that because when we are being reactive, we are trying to get our “fix” of said love and approval.  Visualize being supported by you. Give to yourself what your family of origin was not able to give to you. If I am behind me, then others don’t cause all these reactions in me as much. I can stand there and be me with other people.

Self-differentiation is achieving the balance of staying connected while being yourself.

9)Think about this is–if everyone left you and you were left alone, what would you choose to do? If I didn’t need the love and acceptance of others, what would I choose to do?

10)Work at being or standing alone when interacting with others. Is it okay to be an island? Some people say nobody is an island, but I say everyone is an island! The healthy ones have bridges, walkways, and ferries that bring people in and out of your life. Every healthy man or woman is. I don’t mean a cut off island but an interconnected island.

If you find you are struggling with being reactive, consider seeking out counseling to help you better yourself and form better relationships in your life.

If you find you are struggling with reactivity 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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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

 

counseling, psychology, self-help, Uncategorized

Approval Seeking Behavior: Do You Need Approval?

It doesn’t take a genius – let alone a therapist – to conclude that the root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is a lack of self-esteem.

If you need other people to sign off on your choices, opinions, etc., you are on a road that leads to nowhere good. It is not healthy to live our lives for other people (as people-pleasers and codependents often do).

The issue that arises with needing approval is a blind submission to others—a form of servitude that can enslave you spiritually, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. It can lead to anxiety about whether or not someone will validate your self-worth by bestowing you with the gift of their approval. To live like this is to give control to others over your life. If you live and breath for others’ approval, this is demoralizing as you surely will not always be given said approval.

Approval seeking also leads down a slippery slope of doing something that is against your better judgment, but to gain said person’s approval. Instead of doing what you think is right you do what the other person wants you to do and feel bad about it in the process. This is not a healthy way to live. Now this does not mean that the opposite of approval seeking is being deliberately rude, difficult, or oppositional. These are polar opposites to avoid. Instead your choices should be driven by your values not your blind need for approval.

If someone doesn’t approve of you and your choices, that is THEIR problem. Not yours. Unless you are an approval seeker that is. I find as a counselor, if people don’t approve of who they are, they tend to seek out the approval of others.

Your life is YOUR life. It’s as simple as that.  At the end of the day you are the only person who needs to approve of your choices. This is what being a mature self-actualized person means. Your friends, family, coworkers have their own things to focus on and worry about. They have their OWN life to LIVE.  You need to focus on your own life while simultaneously allowing others to focus on theirs.

The truth is gaining someone’s approval is a false ego boost. It is getting someone to validate you because you are not capable of validating yourself. A healthy person becomes independent of the good AND bad opinions of others—they know all outside chatter is essentially noise. In becoming self-differentiated and emotionally mature, we live by our own values and principles.

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Listen, all of us care if people like us to some extent. Humans are social animals after all.  We all love validation and approval particularly if it is a person we truly respect. But if you are psychologically and emotionally healthy, you shouldn’t need it. But if you NEED people to like and approve of you, this is a different story. It is time to start reflecting on WHY.

Here’s the thing. You can’t control what other people are thinking. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. Because you CAN control what YOU are thinking. This is where your power lies.

When we constantly and endlessly aim to please other people, we’re seeking approval of self from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the external world to give us what we NEED to be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment and hurt. We set ourselves up to live a life we don’t necessarily want, but will fit with what other people expect of us. This is an inauthentic way of being.

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If you are doing the best you can with what you have, worrying if people like you or not is a waste of your most precious resource: your energy. If you are struggling with needing other people’s approval, counseling may be a good avenue to pursue. A good clinician can help you be okay without needing other people’s approval.

Ask yourself, “Do I value this person’s opinion?” and “Do they have my best interest at heart?” If the answer to both of those questions isn’t a definitive yes, then don’t worry so much about what they say or do.

At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t understand you or believe in you, it’s their choice—but if you keep waiting for their approval, it’s your choice. Don’t chain yourself, including your self-worth, to someone who does not value you.  You have to be able to accept the fact that some people might never understand you, respect you, or like you—and that’s OK.

If you find you are struggling with approval seeking behavior 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

anxiety, counseling, happiness, psychology, self-help

Why It is Time to Stop Ignoring Your Mental Health

As a mental health counselor, I am a bit biased when it comes to touting the importance of mental health. Yet there still seems to be an ongoing stigma that permeates our society regarding mental health issues and a sense of shame that persists for people who struggle with their mental health. What alarms me is that the stigma can keep people from seeking treatment. If you’re afraid of how your family, friends, or colleagues might react to a psychiatric diagnosis, you’re far less motivated to actually seek out help to get the diagnosis (and the accompanying treatment) in the first place.

Think about it. Would you be comfortable going to work and announcing you are struggling with depression? Or even coming clean to your close friends and family about emotional and psychological struggles–would you be able to share you have panic attacks with your loved ones? Or would you be embarrassed and try to hide this from those you love most? Admitting mental health struggles still seems uncomfortable and threatening for many in our culture. Enormous progress has been made but we still have a way to go.

It is something that frustrates me as I have witnessed firsthand how poor mental health can deteriorate the state of someone’s career, relationships, physical health, and life in general.

The fact remains that when someone comes down with a cold or stomach virus, the vast majority of us don’t hesitate to pop a pill or visit the doctor. But if we can’t seem to shake our endless worries or that nagging sense of worthlessness, we plug along as though nothing is wrong. We don’t care for our mental health with the same regard as our physical health (even though mental health can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, backaches, stomachaches, insomnia, etc). The relationship between mental health and physical health is now evident.

People with mental health problems, especially mild symptoms of anxiety or depression, often fly under the radar of their families, friends, doctors, coworkers — typically at great cost to individuals, families and society in general. Think about what a different world we would live in if people addressed their mental health issues before heading out into the world each and every day. Even if you’re able to work, fulfill family responsibilities and otherwise function in daily life, mental health problems can have serious consequences.

I truly believe mental health is just as important as physical health. Why? Because our mental health impacts every aspect of our life. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

Our mental health has a direct IMPACT on how we think, feel, and act. This means it impacts how we feel, think and behave each and EVERY day. 

Mental health impacts EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR BEING. It  determines how you handle conflict, stress & adversity. Your mental health impacts how you relate to others & yourself. Your mental health is central in the way you go about making choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Your mental health is integral to living a healthy, well balanced life. Mental health struggles do NOT discriminate—people from ALL walks of life can struggle with their mental well-being.

Good mental health means you’re able to cope with daily stresses and accomplish personal goals. You are not fearful of new experiences or an uncertain future.

People who are mentally healthy have

  • A sense of contentment
  • A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
  • The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
  • A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
  • The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
  • A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
  • The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem (www.helpguide.org)

Ask yourself–do you feel that you are as mentally healthy as you could be? There is no shame in struggling.  Having good mental health doesn’t mean you never struggle emotionally or do not experience bad times.

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Help is out there. The health of your mind if just as important as the health of your body. Counseling is a high-value–but temporary–investment in yourself.

Counseling is a proven process that teaches you how your mind works. Behavioral and emotionally interventions can and do help people who are struggling. Counseling helps you navigate your feelings, communicate better, build better behaviors, develop better relationships, build on coping skills, and relate to your thoughts differently so you can live the life you want.

Wouldn’t you like to learn how to handle your emotions better, boost your mood, and build on your resilience? This is YOUR LIFE after all. If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and still aren’t functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional 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