counseling, happiness, psychology, self-help

Becoming Your Ideal Self in 2020

Hello, 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It can be an emotional day come January 1st.

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

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

Perhaps you are asking yourself, how did a whole year fly by just like that? That in and of itself can feel unreal. Time seems to be moving more quickly with each passing year. It can seem like we were JUST starting 2019 not too long ago. It is a bit wild how the years seem to fly by, blurring together.

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

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

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

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

Each new year is a blank slate.

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

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

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

The end of the year can turn into a tailspin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steps to Achieving your Ideal Self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make 2020 the year you work hard, but work JUST AS HARD on self-compassion and being kind to yourself, as you stumble along the way to achieving your ideal self.

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If you are interested in scheduling a session with me and are a reader living in New Jersey:

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

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

counseling, psychology, self-help

Things to Give Up in 2020 IF You Want to BE Happy

As we move into 2020, below is a list of things to give up in the New Year if you want to be happy. If you give up these things, you will experience more satisfaction and peace in your life. Take time to reflect on letting these things go forever.

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1)Negative Self-Talk. We all have our own unique “self-talk” and more often than not, as a psychotherapist, I find clients’ self-talk to be negative. People skew reality to be the worst possible scenario and in turn put themselves in a bad mood. I am a big CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) clinician and truly believe if a person changes their thoughts, they can change their life. If you shift your negative self-talk you can change your world view. Negativity steals happiness out of your life. No one likes to be around a Debbie Downer. No one wants to live inside the mind of a Debbie Downer either.

If you have an habitual inner critic you are likely creating significant stress in your life. This will take a toll on your mind, body, life, and loved ones.  What cognitive distortions do you turn to? Blaming, catastrophizing, personalizing, magnification, all or nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions?

Let 2020 be the year you begin to challenge your negative thinking. Remember thoughts and feelings aren’t always reality. Do reality testing—what evidence is there for and against my thinking? Are my thoughts factual or are they just my interpretation? Am I mind reading what other people are thinking? Am I jumping to negative conclusions? Is there another way to look at this situation? Is this situation as bad as I am making it out to be? What else can this mean? Try to put things in proper perspective for your OWN mental well-being.

2)Unhealthy relationships.  What constitutes an UNHEALTHY relationship? Any relationship that you do not feel respected, accepted, and safe. As we embark on a new year, do not bring unhealthy relationships into the new year. Anyone who lies to you, disrespects you, mistreats you, talks badly about you, makes you feel less than should be left behind in 2019. Life is short and hard enough without bringing people into your orbit who treat you badly. The sad truth is not everyone in your life wishes you well. Time to say adios to people who make you feel like you are hard to love.

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3)Gossiping. Stop manufacturing problems (which is exactly what gossiping does).  Complaining, bitching, ripping into other people. Do you truly think HAPPY people act this way? You are only creating misery for yourself by gossiping about others. You cannot feel good about yourself when acting badly. Of course there are certain people who are so toxic that they can bring out the worst in ANY of us (and unfortunately there is usually one of these people in any workplace, family, or social circle). Yet gossiping about everyone and anyone just start conflicts and assassinates other people’s reputation (more often based on lies and exaggerations).  Gossip is destructive to you and your relationships. If you cannot say it to someone’s face, you should not be saying it. Give up petty behavior in the new year and let good vibes flow. You will be a happier, healthier person for it.

4)Criticizing yourself (and others). If you are constantly finding fault with yourself and others, you can ensure you will be unhappy. A negative attitude cannot give you a positive life. We all have flaws and short comings. Are you constantly beating yourself up? Are you constantly criticizing other people’s looks, actions, words, on a regular basis? Unless someone is intentionally trying to hurt you (which sadly some people do have this mean-spiritedness in them), you should try to give people a break. We are all doing the best we can. People like to surround themselves with people who lift them up and make them feel good. When you are overly critical, you are your own worst enemy.

5)People pleasing. It is impossible to please everyone. You can try but you will drive yourself crazy in the process.  Have good intentions towards others but accept that you will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Make peace with this truth. People pleasing is an extremely unhealthy pattern of behavior. It puts a lot of stress and pressure on you. It causes you to seek external validation. True validation MUST come from within.

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6)Procrastination. Stop waiting on the things you want to happen in your life. Whether that is losing weight, getting a new job, making more money, cultivating healthier relationships. Start today. Even a small step is a step in the right direction.

7)Regret. We all have a few regrets but it does no one any good to focus on what COULD have been. We cannot find happiness in the past. Make peace with your past and begin to work on creating the life you want in the here and now.

8)Comparison. They do not say comparison is the thief of joy for nothing. Social media has given society a look into everyone’s lives but at what cost to our mental well-being? People are constantly comparing their lives to the lives of others. None of us have a perfect life. We all have struggles, difficulties, and pain.  We are all unique and started running the race of life at different starting points. Hence how can we possibly compare ourselves to others?

9)Approval seeking. A truly strong person does not NEED the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep. It is also a losing proposition as NONE of us can get the approval of EVERYONE. So why set yourself up for failure? What other people think of you is none of your business. What other people think is more about them than you anyway. The fact is we all have our critics and that is OKAY. Let go of the need to be liked by all if you want to be at peace.

10)Resentment. Nothing eats through the soul like resentment. Boy does it feel good to be self-righteous (as resentment is the ultimate self-righteous emotion). Yet resentment fuels anger and depletes joy. Thus your resentment is ONLY hurting you, not the target of said feelings. You cannot change the past or other people. But you do not need to continue to give your power away to someone. Let it go. Let other people deal with the consequences of their own actions but do not continue to punish yourself for another person’s mistake.

11)The belief you are not good enough. This is self-explanatory. Self-acceptance entails accepting all of you–the good, the bad, the ugly. We all have these components. Make peace with who you are. You are enough. If you feel you are not, it would be wise to get yourself into counseling. No one should go through life feeling less than.

12)Entitlement. The world (and other people) owe you NOTHING. None of us are inherently entitled or deserve more than anyone else. Ask yourself: Do you impose unrealistic demands on your family and friends? Do you feel sorry for yourself? Do you punish people for not doing what you want? Do you see other people as threats or struggle with compromise? If you do, you likely are struggling with a sense of entitlement. Entitlement is a road that leads to misery.

13)Close mindedness. Stop thinking in polarizing ways–black/white, right/wrong, good/bad. There are many ways to view the world and diversity is a part of life. It is a part of the RICHNESS of life. Being rigid in your thinking will cause pain (largely for you but also those you try to impose your inflexible ways on). Learn to go with the flow or accept that you will continue to suffer. By your own making.

14).Anger. Anger really is a self-important emotion. Often what underlies anger are things like wanting your way or believing you are right. The bigger your ego, the more likely you are to struggle with chronic anger. Humble yourself or be humbled.

15)Thinking you are not ready. None of us are EVER 100% ready for a new chapter. We need to learn to feel the fear and do it anyway.

16)Expectations–both your own and other people’s. Unmet expectations lead to a whole host of negative emotions. If you didn’t have expectations, you would just take life as it comes. Without expectations, acceptance of what is would be easier. Other people’s expectations for you are NOT YOUR CONCERN. Unrealistic expectations that you set for yourself? All this does is set you up for disappointment and pain. Stop holding expectations for others–thinking someone will do what is in your best interest, not their own is UNrealistic. Stop holding unrealistic expectations for yourself–all you are doing is setting yourself up for failure.

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17)Control. The only control you have is of yourself (and that is hard enough to master)–everything else is out of your control. Don’t worry though–the same holds true for us all. We all are ONLY in control of ourselves. Stop trying to control other people and your environment if you way to live a healthy, happy life. If you don’t like a person or situation— change your attitude or leave the person/situation—all else is MADNESS. You cannot change other people or control the world. But you do not need to subject yourself to people or situations that make you unhappy. Either way, the choice is yours.

18)Resistance to change. Life IS change. Either accept that truism or create suffering for yourself. Change is difficult but pivotal to survival.

19)Limiting beliefs. Stop limiting yourself. What is your life script? What do you believe to be true about yourself, others, and life in general? If you want something to change in your life you are going to need to change. Dream big, work hard.

20)Scarcity mindset. The scarcity mindset in the belief that there is only so much success to go around. This mindset leads to hyper competitiveness and thinking someone else’s success “steals” from your own success. This is complete nonsense. Try to shift to an abundance mindset because when people are genuinely happy for the success of others, their own happiness and success expands.

As this year comes to an end, if you find you are struggling with any of the aforementioned, counseling may be a great investment for the new year. There are many benefits of counseling: greater self-acceptance and self-esteem,  improved relationships, relief from anxiety/depression/other mental health conditions, and ability to overcome self-defeating behaviors. Everyone can benefit from therapy. (I am biased I know).

Wishing you all a Happy and Health 2020, my friends.

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, psychology, self-help

A Different Version of You Exists in the Minds of EVERYONE You’ve Ever Known

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I have always found it fascinating the way people describe themselves. People’s self-views naturally tend to unfold in conversation. As a counselor, I get a unique opportunity to hear people be very forthright with their self-views, insecurities, and perspectives on self and others.

Personally, I find human psychology and people’s vastly different perspectives FASCINATING. Anyone who knows me knows I ask a fair amount of questions. I ALWAYS want to know more. I love hearing other people’s thoughts and perspectives, as I am curious to how other people think and view the world (explains why I went into counseling!)

Oftentimes, I find it interesting how differently two people can view the same person. It makes sense though because people meet us at different points along our life journeys. We all also bring our own unique lenses to our perspectives and opinions.
As humans, we exist on a continuum. We are certainly not the same person we were today as we were ten years ago, or for many of us, even a week ago, depending on what stage of life you are in.

It is not possible for us to grow in our relationships, careers, our mental and and emotional health, without evolving, whether we want to or not. We are ALWAYS changing–whether that change is progress or regression is a different story.

The fact is people may have one experience with us many years ago, and in their mind, we are the same person we were then, when that is not the reality for us or people that know us today.

The gist of this blog post is that the person you think of as “yourself” ONLY exists FOR YOU.  The fact is every person in your life, every person you ever meet has a different version of “you” in their heads.

We are not the same person to our parents, our siblings, our friends as we are to our coworkers, our neighbors, etc.

Thus, is everybody knowing a different version of you, does anybody really know you at all?

Often, I remind clients I work with that at the end of the day we only have so much control about how we are perceived. We all view life and other people from our unique vantage point. While I think it is important to acknowledge how differently we are perceived by others based on how rare or frequent their interactions with us, it is also important to remember people see us as it convenient for them for whatever narrative is running in their mind. We are often far off in our perceptions of self and others because of our own biases and NEED to view life in a certain way. 

I truly believe that the version of ourselves that exists in our minds is most important. We must live with ourselves day in and day out. We lack any control over how other people choose to view us, so it is a complete waste of time to concern ourselves with other people’s biased perceptions. That being said I find it helpful to also be mindful that our view of another may not be entirely accurate but tainted by our own biases.

The point is there is going to be choices and decisions we make that we will deem the right choice and acceptable, whereas others will deem unacceptable and inexcusable. I often help clients accept this truth especially teens and young adults who are struggling with their parents’ disapproval.

Part of human nature is trying to simplify complex, nuanced aspects of life, no matter how complicated the issue. Yet life is complicated and messy.

So, think about who you want to be. To yourself but also to others. What impact do you want to have? Our actions have ripple effect on everyone around us. Even the type of day we are having can have an impact on how someone else views us because that just happens to be the mood, we are in.

In counseling, many people want psychological advice. Many times, complaints are focused on relationship partners, family members, and coworkers, but hidden underneath it all is the question, “WHY DO I PUT UP WITH THIS?” But the deeper question is, “What kind of person am I to be in this situation?”

I always tell clients the key to be any meaningful change is answering the salient question of what kind of person do you want to be. There is ALWAYS a choice. The answer you give entirely depends on you.

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

It’s NOT Me, It’s YOU: The M.O. of People Who Project

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Have you ever found yourself in a conflict with someone who puts their negative qualities on you? A person who describes you in the way that they themselves ARE? Have you ever asked someone to stop projecting their feelings onto you?

Or maybe you heard someone talk about someone they dislike; listing all the traits and qualities this person has that they cannot STAND. And you found yourself thinking hmmmm sounds a lot like you are describing YOURSELF. It is funny to me how often people cannot stand qualities in another person that they in fact possess.

Psychological projection is a common defense mechanism where people distort reality for their OWN benefit. Like a lot of aspects of human behavior, projection comes down to self-defense.

The truth is the problem is sometimes you, it is not ALWAYS someone else. For some of us this is just a given. We are all human, we are all flawed, we all make mistakes. I know sometimes I can be the issue or cause of a conflict I have with another. Yet some people can NEVER see themselves as the problem because this would be to threatening to their sense of self. A person who never developed a strong sense of self struggles with vulnerability which includes being able to admit to faults and mistakes.

I have found our coping strategies reflect our emotional maturity. Projection is an immature defense because it distorts or ignores reality in order for us to function and preserve our ego. It’s reactive, without forethought, and is defense children use.

Yet most of us would be hard pressed to think of people we know who don’t blame and project. Most “venting” includes a fair amount of blaming and projecting. We seem to be a society of complainers. There is nothing more American than complaining and blaming! Many people appear to do this habitually. Everyone does it from time to time. Rather than admit to a flaw, we find a way to address it in a situation where it is free from personal connotations.

Projection is part of our daily interactions. A common example is a person who gossips who accuses other people of gossiping. Or says things like well EVERYONE gossips. Instead of acknowledging their own character flaw, they transfer, or project, this behavior onto other people. The truth is everyone does not gossip.

The fact remains people tend to feel more comfortable seeing negative qualities in others rather than in themselves. Projection is a common defense mechanism used by people with personality disorders, addicts, and abusers. But all of us are guilty of it from time to time. Many of us get defensive when we are criticized. We all want to be self-aware, but some of us struggle to remain self-composed when we feel vulnerable. Projection is one way we may inadvertently react when we feel threatened by criticism.  Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotion.

For instance, you might tell yourself, “She doesn’t like me,” when actually you don’t like her. We might accuse someone of being angry and judgmental, being completely unaware that in fact we are. I have often found that in conflict, as in life generally, people so easily project their own shortfalls onto the other side. You effectively trick yourself into believing that these undesirable qualities actually belong elsewhere – anywhere but as a part of you.

Similar to projection is the defense mechanism of externalization, in which we blame others for our problems rather than taking responsibility for our part in causing them. It makes a person feel like they are a victim instead of looking at their role in creating the problem.

Take a moment and ask yourself: how does your world look to you? Is it hostile and anxiety producing? Filled with people who complicate your life and make it harder? Does it leave you with a sense that something’s missing? Or is it friendly and welcoming? Do you see the world as filled with opportunities for happiness and joy?

Your answers have nothing to do with the world.

Our worlds are a projection of our inner state. That’s right. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.” There is no objective reality which is why our perspectives and personalities are so vastly different. Take two people with two different histories and two different perspectives. They’ll see the exact same situation in two completely different ways.

If you find you are struggling with the state of your life or find yourself struggle with projection, counseling can be a great avenue to pursue. Understanding human conflict requires us to understand human psychology. And it is only when we understand the psychology that drives conflict that we can take intelligent steps to address it.

If you are unsure if this is an issue for you a good place to start is to examine the negative relationships in your life. Who don’t you get along with at work or in your family? Do you feel as though someone is out to get you? Try to determine where the animosity began. The truth is it is okay not to like everyone we meet. That isn’t realistic. It also isn’t realistic to expect to live a life free of conflict. Becoming more self-aware of how and when you are projecting can help you have less conflict in your life and better relationships. In some cases, you may find that speaking with a therapist will help you examine these relationships more honestly and openly than you are able to do by 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

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