anxiety, counseling, psychology, self-help, Uncategorized

Anticipatory Anxiety: Why We Need to Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Anticipatory anxiety is the anxiety we experience in anticipation of exposure to our frightening triggers. Anticipatory anxiety is a more complex problem than other forms of anxiety because in our attempts to avoid what we fear, we only make our fear and anxiety THAT much stronger. The only way to overcome anticipatory anxiety is to face your fear.

Anticipatory anxiety is a negative projection about an unknown outcome.

Common ways we cope with anticipatory anxiety?
-Drinking alcohol

-Taking anti-anxiety drugs

-Avoiding the source of our fear

-Seeking reassurance from others

If you struggle with anticipatory anxiety, you likely suffer from high negative emotions. You likely have high trait neuroticism. If you’re highly neurotic, it’s possible that you feel trapped by the trait’s maladaptive thought patterns, or struggle with depression or anxiety, both of which are more likely to occur in highly neurotic individuals. (If you are interested in finding your level of neuroticism, I copied and pasted a link to the Big Five Factor test that assesses levels of neuroticism as one of the fundamental personality traits).

https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/IPIP-BFFM/

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If you struggle with anticipatory anxiety, you are likely NOT open to new experiences. Anything that is not routine and within your comfort zone is going to spike your baseline anxiety levels. People who struggle with anxiety tend to be high in neuroticism and low on openness to new experiences.

If you struggle with this type of anxiety, you hate dealing with uncertainty. The problem with this is life is chock full of uncertainties. The thing is some people are okay with having a lot of uncertainty in their lives, and other people cannot stand even a small amount of uncertainty.

Some people may be temperamentally more “high-strung” and biologically more vulnerable to anxiety. It is important you seek treatment as left untreated it tends to worsen with age. Learning coping skills to mitigate anxiety is transformational to those who suffer.

Some common traits of people who are intolerant of uncertainty:

  • Seeking excessive reassurance from others: You want others to agree with you or reassure you. This might be asking friends or family their opinion on a decision that you have to make or asking for excessive support
  • List-making: As a way of eliminating uncertainty, some people will make long and detailed “to do” lists, sometimes several lists every day
  • Double checking: For example, calling loved ones repeatedly to “make sure” that they are okay, or re-reading emails several times to check that they are perfect and that there are no spelling mistakes
  • Refusing to delegate tasks to others: Many people who are intolerant of uncertainty will not allow anyone either at work or at home to do certain tasks; this is because they cannot be “sure” that it will be done correctly unless they do it
  • Procrastination/avoidance: Because being uncertain can cause anxiety, some people simply procrastinate or avoid people, places or situations. If you do not do something, then you don’t have to feel uncertain about it
  • Distraction: Many people who are intolerant of uncertainty keep themselves “busy” most of the day, that way, they don’t have the time to think about all the uncertainty in life

A common way we see anticipatory anxiety play out is in a common fear many people have which is of flying.

Here is how it plays out.

If you are phobic of flying, booking a flight might bring upon some anxiety. The week before the trip, your anxiety will likely begin to escalate. By the night before you are scheduled to fly, you may be on the verge of having a panic attack. In anticipatory anxiety, you imagine the future. You experience an imaginary airplane, not a real one.  You imagine what might happen if you get on the plane. You are at home, imagining one or a variety of imaginary in-flight disasters.Or feeling anxious about being trapped in a rocket ship (your own “internal” claustrophobia). You see stress depends upon imagination. Note I am saying you “imagine” because your imagination is creating the worst case scenario. Anticipatory anxiety has you amping up your stress response and mentally psyching yourself out.

When the day comes and it is time to leave for the airport you may feel like you are on the verge of a panic attack. Your imagination runs wild. You will continue to feel your anxiety escalate as you drive to the airport, go through security, and sit waiting for your plane to board.

Yet when you actually board the plane and take it off, you actually feel okay during the flight. This is because anticipatory anxiety is different from phobic anxiety. Yet while flying you may feel okay, if you were to think about scheduling ANOTHER flight, your anticipatory anxiety would ramp up. The thing about anxiety is it is often quite  irrational in nature.

Anticipatory anxiety is the fear and dread you experience before the event or situation.

It’s what’s at play when you spend weeks dreading the results of a doctor’s appointment, yet the news is benign and manageable. Or when you have social anxiety–you may struggle with the decision to accept or decline attending a friend’s birthday, but eventually give in and go, and have a great time!  “Why did I do that to myself?” you wonder.

Most people experience anticipatory anxiety, every once and awhile. This experience is the body’s normal response to perceived future threats. In the days and hours leading up to an important event you may be anxious and nervous, which is the stress response in action. It is anticipating the need to protect the body from threat or danger. Although this system is critical to our survival when there is actual threat or danger, it’s a big problem when there isn’t.

People who struggle with anxiety tend to have faulty cognitions. This is why CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can be so helpful in the treatment of this disorder. It is understandable that during times of high stress and uncertainty emotions run high. However, people who are anxious perpetually suffer from high stress and out of control emotions. Anxiety suffers tend to see things in black or white terms, in other words, as right or wrong, moral or immoral. They are not able to see the nuances and complexities of situations.

Common areas of anticipatory anxiety include:

  • Applying for a new job
  • Speaking in public or other performances
  • Going on a date or to a party
  • Joining a club, team or sport
  • Starting a job
  • Preparing for an interview
  • Going on vacation
  • Tests, projects and oral reports
  • Life changes: getting married, having a baby, buying a house, relocating, retiring

Underlying this sense of anxiety is the feeling that you cannot handle whatever it is you fear. It is a lack of confidence in your ability to cope.

Yet every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised immensely. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably. You realize you can handle WHATEVER life throws at you.

Being anxious leads to behavior that drives others away. When we struggle with anxiety we feel compelled to control other people and our environment. Anxiety leads us to manipulate others because we desperately need them to act in a way that feels safe to us or predictable. It is a self-defeating strategy as this type of attitude will act a repellant to healthy-functioning people.

Once you have this confidence, you are able to face challenges head on because you are not dependent on a particular outcome. You know no matter the outcome you can cope.

People who struggle with anxiety lack the confidence to cope with stress. Remember true security and confidence is knowing you can handle things. Underlying any anxiety disorder is a lack of trust in ourselves.

Think of it this way: IF YOU KNEW YOU COULD HANDLE ANYTHING LIFE THROWS AT YOU, WHAT WOULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT? The answer is: NOTHING!

Remember that the mind and body is designed to adapt. Too often people forget the inherent resilience of the human spirit. As long as you continue to face the things you fear, your anticipatory anxiety should subside. Short-term use of medications that calm anxiety may also be useful — talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you.

As long as you continue to grow and evolve, there will be new challenges and fears to face.

So the choice is yours. Grow, evolve, and face your fears OR choose to stay stagnant and in a bubble throughout your life. If you continue to do what you have always done, you will get the same results. If you want new results, you need to try a new approach.

Attempting to do anything new is uncomfortable and anxiety producing. This is a universal human experience. But anxiety is paradoxical–face the painful feelings now and feel incredible after or feel relief now and face the painful feelings later. We must push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Because in doing so we get to the other side: a place of genuine growth and a better version of yourself.

Remember coping with anxiety is a life long process. Be kind to 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

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

 

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anger management, counseling, emotionalimmaturity, forgiveness, loneliness, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, self-help, Uncategorized

Emotional Dysregulation: Can You Recognize An Emotionally Immature Person?

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Can you recognize an emotionally immature person? A person whose emotional age is far behind their chronological age.

Of course, this does not include children and adolescents. Children and adolescents are not expected to have a full grasp of their emotions. Part of their development process is learning how to regulate and control their emotional responses.

Yet once we reach adulthood, you will encounter two distinct types of people: the emotionally mature and the emotionally immature. You will be able to detect quite quickly the type you are dealing with.

Emotionally mature people master control of their emotions meaning they are emotionally regulated. Emotional regulation involves maintaining thoughts, behaviors and expressions within a socially acceptable range. Therefore, you are not going to break down in tears in public or in the middle of a tense work meeting. You are not going to start screaming at other people or make a scene in public. You are not going to hurl insults and name call your coworkers or clients. You are able to appropriately respond to life stressors. Emotionally immature people never develop this ability and tend to struggle with emotional dysregulation.

Emotional dysregulation is a term used in the mental health community to refer to an emotional response that is poorly modulated, and does not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive responses. Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include angry outbursts or behavior outbursts such as crying or melting down, high levels of anxiety, being inflexible, aggression towards self or others, inability to adapt, etc.

Emotion dysregulation is associated with many psychiatric disorders such as major depression, PTSD and C-PTSD, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder/borderline personality disorder, and substance abuse.

Emotional maturity is defined by the ability to control your emotions and take full responsibility for your life.  A large part of being emotionally mature is having the ability to handle anger, disappointment, fear, jealousy, resentment, insecurity, and a myriad of other feelings appropriately. Emotional maturity is defined when you have the ability to experience these emotions and then let them go. People who are immature seem to remain stuck in these negative emotions, unable to get past them.

Emotional maturity is the ability to see life clearly and accurately, and to deal with it. Often we may not like how it is but we are mature enough to recognize that it is what it is. We are not in control of much in life–including circumstances and other people. For many of us, this is just a given.

Emotionally immature people cannot do this-they often expect life to be easy or comfortable all the time and if it isn’t—they look at who or what is to blame. They often try to control others and their environment since they struggle to control themselves. These are very childish people in terms of their emotional responses.

No matter who we are, we will all eventually meet, perhaps at work or our extended social circle, an impossibly immature person.  The person may look mature, and have many adult responsibilities, but emotionally, they are still a child. A person who can at times present themselves appropriately but can turn on a dime acting hurtful, rude, inappropriate, tactless,and dangerously childish whenever the need suits them.

Emotionally immature people can be extremely challenging to deal with, because their ability to interpret and react to the variety of life’s challenges is often impaired.

Emotional immature adults are known to throw “adult temper tantrums.”  Whereas adults tend to stay calm, emotionally immature adults are quick to anger and rage. They cannot control their emotions much like a toddler. They can cry uncontrollably and be unable to hold themselves together when confronted with the slightest inconvenience or the smallest amount of stress.

Now this is to not say we all do not have our moments. None of us are perfect and we all will have our off days. What I am talking about here is a pattern of behavior over time.

Emotionally immature people tend to struggle with emotional dysregulating i.e. the ability to regulate their emotion responses.

Whereas mature adults, respond not react, immature adults are impulsive and can blurt out hurtful, tactless words.  Mature adults recognize sometimes it is better to say nothing than to say something we will live to regret. We are not going to flip out on our boss because we got passed on for a promotion or tell our sister to screw off because we are upset with her. We are able to think before we speak as to not make things worse for ourselves (and others). This is because people who are psychologically mature have impulse control. Emotionally immature people never cultivated such an impulse control.

Often for one reason or another, the person never quite grew up.

Below are the telltale signs of an emotionally immature person:

  • A person who is emotionally immature will: be reactive; see himself as a victim; act out his emotions (intense or gut reactions, like explosive anger, sudden crying, etc)
  • A person who, like a two-year old will throw temper tantrums because they are entitled to get their way even to the detriment of those closest to them (they feel they have the right to attack anyone who thwarts their wants, needs, goals)
  • A person who is be self-centered and concerned with self-protection; appear to always be justifying his actions to himself or others
  • A person will be manipulative; be motivated by fear or a feeling that he “has to” do something,” as well as a need to avoid failure, discomfort, and rejection
  • A person who whines & complains frequently or literally acts like a crybaby
  • A person who must be right and is incapable of hearing differing viewpoints
  • A person who escalates things emotionally
  • A person who loves to blame and name call
  • A person who has a low frustration tolerance. They are not able to deal with every day stress. As the result, they will become excessively emotional
  • A person who speaks recklessly without thinking about potential consequences (adults resist the urge to react in order to avoid shooting out hurtful words/action–they self-soothe). Such a person believes they can blurt out whatever they think or feel even if it hurts or alienates those around them
  • A person who bullies. Adults respect boundaries.  Emotionally immature adults do not
  • A person who has immature defense mechanisms. Children tend to regard the best defense as a strong offense.  Similarly an emotionally immature adult attacks anyone who expresses a viewpoint different from what they want
  • A person who is passive-aggressive. Subtle insults, sullen behavior, stubbornness, or a deliberate failure to accomplish required tasks.

As we grow up and mature, we learn that much of life we cannot control including other people and circumstances. We recognize life is constant change. The ability to adapt and evolve is a must.

We recognize much of life is unfair.

We do not get the job we deserve. We are passed over for the promotion. We have health problems. Financial problems. People we love pass away. Friendships fade, relationships end. People we love move away. We do not have perfect parents, the perfect partner. We are not perfect partners or parents either.

Yet there is a sense of humility in the emotionally mature. With emotionally maturity comes the recognition that many things in life are complicated. We develop the ability to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We humble ourselves when necessary. We also recognize most things will pass and get better. If we let them. But emotionally immature people cannot get out of their own way.

Emotionally mature people recognize the complexities of life. We will not always get what we want. We will be disappointed. We cannot always get our way. Things will not always go according to our plans. Other people will let us down. We will let ourselves down.

As a counselor, often what brings people initially into treatment is an ongoing struggle with an important relationship in their lives: spouse, child, parent, etc. Our level of maturity will determine how we manage everything in life including our relationships.

Emotional mature people are able to acknowledge others are entitled to live their lives the way they see fit, to not like us; to leave us. We understand others have the right to speak badly about us, or even to hate us. This is not to say we do not try to discuss it with the person at hand or make things better but we know that this is not always possible. As I wrote on a previous post, this is where it is important to be psychologically flexible.

Emotionally mature people recognize we are only in control of ourselves. This is where our power is. We can be agents of positive change or negative change, the choice is ours. Mature people recognize they are not entitled to anything in life. A mature individual does not lose control and give into irrational thoughts simply because they haven’t gotten their way.

As a clinician, it surprises me how many people growing up, were never taught coping skills. I have seen many people were never taught to self soothe or regulate their emotions. They never learned how to effectively handle the problems in their life or deal with stressors. Some people will not be able to cope with the difficulties of life and do not have the ability to face and overcome obstacles. These people will continue to exhibit childish behaviors.We all have our bad days but if you generally function as a grown-up, the more clear you are about what qualifies grown-up behavior, the more you will be able to stay a grown-up even when you are interacting with someone who is acting like a child.

Emotion regulation is essential for healthy functioning (Grecucci, Theuninck, Frederickson, & Job, 2015). If you experience emotion dysregulation, you should consider seeking qualified 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

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

Uncategorized

Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? Signs You Just Might Be.

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Ever wonder if you are a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)?

HSPs feel too much.

HSPs feel too deep.

HSPs are stressed out easily.

HSPs are extremely perceptive.

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Perhaps you already know you are a highly sensitive person. Perhaps, growing up, your mom or dad told you that you were “too emotional.” Maybe you are someone who can always pick up the vibe of the room and on the energy of others. Or you have friends who have told you that you need to be “less sensitive” and to “lighten up.”

Being a HSP, can be a gift AND a curse.

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If you are a HSP, you are not alone if you are. But you are in the minority.

Below are the signs you just may be a Highly Sensitive Person:

1.You feel what other people are feeling.

2.You have been told you are oversensitive.

3.It is hard for you to make a decision.

4.You suffer from anxiety. Or depression.

5.You need a quiet place to retreat to. Too much noise, too much light, too much socializing, it is all just TOO much.  You need space to relax and recharge.

6.You hate change. Change is hard for everyone but it is especially hard on highly sensitive people.

7.You hate conflict.

8.You overthink.

9.You cry. Easily and often.

10.You are an awesome partner, friend, and family member. One of your strengths is your ability to connect and have meaningful relationships.

11.You take things personally.

12.You often worry what other people are thinking.

13.Your feelings are hurt easily.

14.You get upset by other people’s Facebook posts.

15.You feel left out often.

16.You can read people’s body language and tone of voice.

17.You overthink.

 

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If you recognize yourself as a Highly Sensitive Person, the following may help you:
1)Learn your triggers. As a HSP, your are easily overstimulated and struggle with regulating your emotions. Try to reflect on times you feel especially triggered and what preceded these feelings. There are likely certain people, places, and situations that are  particularly upsetting for you.

2)Be actively aware of what you are feeling. Too often we operate on auto-pilot. Begin a mindfulness practice to stay in the moment. Much of anxiety comes from projecting ourself into the future. Depression arises from dwelling in the past.

3)Mindfully choose what to address and what to let go. HSPs can struggle with letting things go because their mind is hyperactive. People who are HSPs tend to be hypervigilant and notice EVERYTHING. You need to work on being able to block things out.

4)Focus on your health. Eat well, exercise, get a good amount of sleep. A healthy lifestyle is pivotal to good mental health.

5)Plan ahead. HSPs tend to struggle with anxiety. The key here is to plan ahead but not over plan. Leave room for spontaneity.

6)Be cognizant of people who drain your energy. Learn to recognize who the energy zappers are in your life. The Negative Nancy, the complainer, the attention seeker, etc. Limit your time with such personalities.

7)Speak with a counselor to learn better ways to cope with life stressors. 

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counseling, psychology, Uncategorized

10 Signs You Have a Victim Mentality

Before you can change an aspect of who you are, first you need to be willing to recognize it.  Are you someone with a victim mentality? A person with a woe is me attitude.  A person who NEVER is to blame for any of the problems in their life–regardless of their actions or words.  A person with a victim mentality feels the world is against them and there is nothing they can do about it. If you are not one of them, I am sure you KNOW one of these people–because we all know SOMEONE with a victim mindset and these people are extremely draining. These people are perpetual victims of their own making and victimhood is a way of life for them. It is a deeply ingrained habit and most of the time the person who embodies this mindset can’t see it in themselves. They may be able to see it in OTHERS, but not in themselves.  People with a victim mentality tend to lack self-awareness.  If you have a victim mentality, not only do you cause stress and frustration for those in your life, but create this experience for yourself. Are you wondering if this could be you?

Ten Signs You Have a Victim Mentality

1.You Feel You are Not Responsible. Pause that. Maybe YOU ARE responsible–for the good things that happen in your life, sure. You will take ownership of THAT. You may even take credit for other people’s successes in your life–your husband got a promotion? Well, of course he did, because I am a great wife! And I push him to succeed. Your daughter got a scholarship to a great college? Well, of course she did, great parenting! You may love to take credit for others’ successes including bragging about them like they are your own. You may even humble brag about your own successes (because who doesn’t). But take ownership for the problems in your life? NO WAY are you taking responsibility for that! Get out of here on THAT!

Get into a fight with your wife? She is being crazy and unreasonable. Struggling at work? Not my fault. My boss is a real jerk.  Your sister has been avoiding you because of how much you complain and create drama in the family? She is the asshole. Your doctor refuses to have you as a patient anymore because you have not lose the weight or quit smoking like he’s been telling you for YEARS? Not my fault he obviously is a jerk who is ONLY in this for the money, he doesn’t care about his patients!

See where I am going here? Nothing in your life is your fault–it is always others or circumstances beyond your control.  You do not want the weight of responsibility for anything that is not going well in your life.

2.You Feel Others are Trying to Hurt You. Let’s be real here. Most people aren’t against you. They are for themselves. Human nature is what it is. But if you have a victim mentality, any time someone says something that rubs you wrong or you feel someone doesn’t give you the attention you feel you deserve, you think they are out to get you. It wouldn’t occur to you that people are busy with their own lives and that not everything revolves around you. People with a victim mentality tend to be a bit paranoid–thinking Facebook posts are about them, an unanswered text is an assault of their well-being, a birthday gift that isn’t up to their standards is taken as a slight-I know they gave me this to piss me off. People with victim mindsets not only feel others are actively trying to hurt them, but they also feel others should do more of the work in the relationship. They feel entitled–they feel you should call them, text them, reach out to them, make plans with them, and so on and  so forth. They pass the burden of maintaining the relationship onto you. Often people with a victim mentality have rocky, unstable relationships. Of course–this is never their fault–other people are just self-absorbed, uncaring assholes. RIGHT.

3.You Blame Others. If you are in a relationship with someone who has a victim mentality, you can bet that any conflict will not be their fault. These are the people who notice YOUR changed behavior but do not have the self-awareness to notice how THEIR behavior made you change your attitude towards them.  In any conflict, they will expect you to change but feel they did nothing wrong. They would never think about changing their behaviors towards you to see if they garner a different response. These people often have double standards-they can be short with you, but if you respond in kind, you are the one with a problem. They can not call you but expect you to call them. They can say rude things to you but god forbid you say something snarky to them. I think you get the gist. The blame game is their favorite to play! These people have blaming others and coming off like the innocent victim down to a science.

4.You Feel Powerless to Stop or Change a Problem. You may feel other people just suck. Or life sucks. You feel there is nothing you can do to be a catalyst for positive change in your life. You are just a passenger in your own life. We all know this is bullshit. But if you are someone with a victim mentality this is your gospel.  It doesn’t matter what the problem is or who in involves. If it is a conflict with your boss, you may start looking for a new job instead of working on the way you interact with her. If it is a problem with your health, say your doctor has been telling you to lay off the cigarettes, you may just got to a new doctor who won’t give you grief about your smoking. If it is a problem with a friend, instead of trying to look at things from his perspective, you will just start taking tiny digs at him, hoping he gets the message that you are upset with him. People with a victim mentality feel they do now have the power to change the circumstances of their life and wait on others to step up.  Like the John Mayer song, they are waiting, waiting, waiting on the world to change.

5.You Hold Grudges. Nothing reinforces a victim mentality like a good old grudge. Victims LOVE to be wronged. Love it! Listen, if someone does you wrong, YOU have the power to change what kind of relationship you have with them (if any at all).  Some people really are just shitty. But the burden of their shittiness IS NOT YOURS TO CARRY! Do what you need to do but don’t stew in resentment or hold onto bitterness towards them. All that does is give another person power over you. Victims love to give away their power. Victims love to hold onto the feeling of being wronged.  This is just a way of life for these people. Yet it is not worth holding onto those negative emotions because then the person who hurt you is continuing to live inside of you in an emotional sense. When interpersonal conflict arises, try seeing things from the other’s person perspective, look at the role you played, try to work it out, and if not, it is time to move on. If you really did nothing wrong, be satisfied with that and get on with it. Don’t continue to stew in the horrible behavior of SOMEONE else. Don’t wait on an apology. Don’t wait on them to change their behavior. It is not your job to police the world. If the other person is truly despicable, you learned who they truly are, you have the option to change the role this person has in your life, and keep it moving. Don’t keep the negativity going in your own life.

6.You are Passive Aggressive. Nothing screams victim mentality like passive aggressive behavior. These people tend to have little confidence and do not have the courage to speak their mind directly, but they sure love to get their anger across in covert ways! Moodiness, sulking, indirect digs, sarcasm, eye rolling, the backhanded compliment, silent treatment, lying, manipulating, triangulating, getting others to do their bidding, and so on and so forth. These people pride themselves on their passive aggressive maneuvers. They see themselves as the puppet masters pulling the strings behind the curtain. If someone is being passive aggressive with you, they are not worth your time. Give your attention to people mature enough to say what they truly feel.

7.You are Selfish. Playing the victim is inherently selfish. Ever been around someone who needs to make everything about themselves? Even if it has NOTHING to directly do with them? These are the people who somehow manage to make it all about THEM and how it affects THEM. They love to garner sympathy–playing the victim card at any chance they get. Negative or positive attention–it is all the same for them as long as the attention is on them. People with victim mentalities are the stars of their own movie. It is impossible to get these people to see things from your perspective because they don’t care about your perspective. They care about how they were wronged, how it affected them, how they are hurting, how this isn’t fair, how they are disappointed, and so on and so forth.

8.You Love to Complain. Complaining is a way of life for someone who plays the victim. If anything it is an anomaly for you have anything positive to say. There is no topic on Earth a person with a victim mentality can’t complain about. Rarely do these people have a good word to say about anyone or anything. Complaining is as natural for them as breathing.

9.You Have Low Self-Esteem. Feeling not good enough is at the core of a victim mentality. These people feel weak and powerless.  People with low self-esteem tend to develop a victim mindset because they feel they do not have the self-efficacy to change–at least not to change themselves. However, they may feel they can try to change others. If they felt they could change themselves, they would not feel the need to blame circumstances, others, and a largely “unfair world.”

10.You Compare Yourself to Others. Listen, this one is tough—we live in the age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, where comparing yourself to others is easier than ever before to do.  All you have to do is scroll through your phone to see what others in your “world” are up to you at any given moment. Comparing yourself to others, and coming up short, is a catalyst for feeling like a victim. Why is their life so fun when I am home plopped on the couch?! Not fair! Comparison is also what causes people to try to victimize others when they feel they come up short. The sad truth is there is often a bitterness to a person with a victim mentality and comparing themselves to others is one of their many bad habits. Often enough, they find ways to invalidate the success of others and to feed their victim mindset–anything to perpetuate the thought that they got dealt a shitty hand in life.

As you can see, when you take on a victim mentality, you are pretty much giving up ownership and responsibility for your life. You also are giving up the chance to be happy.

If it seems like a victim mentality can’t be beneficial to living a joyful and fulfilling life,  so you might be wondering, why would ANYONE want to live like this? Because like anything else, there are payoffs.

Such as?

~Attention and validation. Victims love to complain and whine about their problems. Successful people rarely play the victim card. But for the people who play it, they use their victim status as an excuse for why they may have not achieved a great deal. Often it helps a victim bond with others over how they have been “wronged” and what an “unfair” lot in life they have been given. Victims often grip about how others are “evil” and “bad.” Of course, when others are wrong, evil, and bad, the inference is that they, as the victim, are “right,” “moral,” and “good.” A victim gets to be the hero, the “do gooder” in their own twisted story.  A “poor me” attitude gives people an artificial “high” from their sense of self-righteousness.

~Staying in one’s comfort zone. Victims do not need to change. Why would they? They did NOTHING wrong. There is certain sense of comfort in feeling like a victim. Victims hate change. These are people who love to maintain the status quo.

~Avoiding responsibility for your life. If you are a victim, you are not responsible for the world around you and you often blame others. Blaming others can feel so good. It absolves you from having take a good, long hard look at yourself when you are busy pointing the finger.  It also gives you a fall sense of superiority to blame others and the circumstances around you instead of taking ownership for ALL aspects of your life.

~It is a role from childhood and it feels familiar. Perhaps growing up you played the victim with your parents to get your needs met. Maybe you use to blame your siblings and scapegoat them to get your way. Or maybe you watched your mom play the victim card with your dad to get her way. A victim mindset is often rooted in childhood.

But now the time has come to change for the better. To become a person who takes ownership for all the things in their life-good OR bad. If you have a victim mentality, there are ways to begin to shift your mindset to a more positive way of being.

Strategies to Stop Having a Victim Mentality

1)Be willing to give up the so-called “benefits” of being a victim. The attention. The sympathy. The shirking of responsibility. Playing the martyr role. If you are playing the victim, you are headed nowhere good fast.  Begin to look for proactive ways to go after what you want in life. Be an agent for change. For example, if you are unhappy in a friendship, try to make the effort to work on the relationship. It may not be reciprocated (which you cannot control) but then at least you know where you stand. Do not keep on waiting for the person to reach out and then complain they don’t care. If you want a relationship to improve, you need to make the first move.

2)Stop complaining. I know it is addicting. We all have our moments where we complain too much but it is when it becomes a way of life–that is when it is a problem. It is so much easier to complain than it is to ACTUALLY do something. But habitual complaining is bad for your health–your mental AND physical health. Complaining is a quick way to make yourself–and everyone around you–miserable. Start to break the habit. Complaining keeps you from taking action. But worse it keeps you in a negative reality.  To quote Maya Angelou, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Sometimes what you need is an attitude shift more than any actual external change.

3)Stop living in the past. People with a victim mindset are often grudge holders. They can remember with great detail what you did to them…in summer of 2002. That’s right– I said 2002. They can remember vividly (and with fresh rage) the time their mom made them stay home on a Friday night from their favorite band’s concert– while ALL their friends were allowed to go. That was so unfair, they still think to themselves, 20 years later. They can remember when their parents spent more money on their little sister than on them at the mall. When they were 9 years old. NINE. They can remember when their high school boyfriend stood them up to go hang with his friends. Or the college professor who embarassed them when they fell asleep in class. These types of people remember EVERYTHING.  There is no perceived wrong a person with a victim mentality can let go of. Yet the time has come to stop living in the past and LET IT GO. No good comes from holding onto all that negativity. If is literally a cancer of the mind. If you are an adult, you need to accept that life is not always fair. Not just for you but for everyone. We all get the short end of the stick sometimes. Stop making things worse for yourself. One way you can begin to anchor yourself in the present is to start a mindfulness practice, which may be helpful, if you are someone who ruminates (which most “victims” do).  Try working on living in the present moment and leave the past where it belongs- in the past.

4)Take responsibility for your life. This one is kind of self-explanatory. Everything in your life is 100% your responsibility. That’s right-I said EVERYTHING. The good, the bad, and the indifferent.  If you are unhappy with something, it is time to either make a plan to change it or work on changing your mindset.

5)Know you always can choose differently. We are all one choice away from a completely different life. Stop feeling stuck. If you are stuck, you are choosing the status quo over the fear of change.

6)Get counseling.  I am biased with this one, I know. Yet a good counselor can help you process your hang ups from the past, look at the ways you are currently contributing to the problems in your life, and help you begin to shift your perspective.

7)Be grateful for all the good things in your life. It is hard to be a victim when you practice the art of gratitude.  Try to be grateful even for the bad experiences in your life–they have taught you many lessons. People who may have wronged you have acted as great examples of who NOT to be. Unfortunate circumstances can help to open your eyes to all the many blessings in your life.

8)Learn to forgive. Let go of the grudges you carry towards others. And yourself. Stop beating yourself up for choices and mistakes you made YEARS ago. Stop being angry for what people did to you. Everyone, including you, is doing the best they can. Anger and resentment are heavy burdens to bear. See how it feels to get the weight of anger and resentment off your back.

9)Help others.  Try looking outward. People with a victim mentality tend to spend a lot of time navel gazing and nursing their grudges. Victims tend to think over and over again about all the ways they have been “wronged” in life and are extremely focused on themselves. Try to do something to help and support others-it is hard to feel like a victim when you are focused on being there for others. Be a positive influence in someone’s else life–that is true empowerment.

10)Give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can. Most victims struggle with their self-confidence. Stop being so hard on yourself–beating yourself up does nothing but foster negativity and encourage you to keep the victim mindset.  If you feel negativity on the inside, you will inevitably manifest negativity, in your external environment.

The time has come to release yourself from your self-made prison. Take control of yourself and your life.  No matter what happens in life, you have the choice in how you respond. To live your best life, you need to see yourself as a survivor, not a victim. Once you let go of being a victim, you can begin to free yourself from all the negativity you have been carrying, for far too long.  Just remember, if you want to fly, give up everything that weighs you down.

counseling, psychology, Uncategorized

7 Ways to Overcome Self-Sabotage: How to Conquer the Enemy Within

Are you someone who gets in your own way? Someone who wants things in your life to be better? You have big goals. Big dreams. Yet something always stops you from getting the ball rolling. Perhaps you want to leave a bad relationship but can’t will yourself to do it. It’s not THAT bad, you may tell yourself as you roll over in bed praying your partner doesn’t touch you. Maybe you want to lose those last 20 lbs but can’t keep yourself from rummaging through the fridge once the kids are in bed.  I work hard, I deserve to treat myself, you think to yourself as you make yourself an enormous ice cream sundae. Or maybe you have been putting off looking for a new job for months now even though you know you are in a dead-end situation. I don’t want to write this cover letter or get back on LinkedIn. It is so boring looking for a job and so much work, you may mutter to yourself. That side hustle you want to start? Every weekend you tell yourself, next weekend I will start, I am exhausted-it’s been a long week, where’s the remote? Comfort eating, procrastination, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, self-injurious behaviors…these are all the common forms of self-sabotage we may recognize in ourselves and others.

But what about the less obvious forms of self-sabotage? Talking yourself out of something before you even TRY.  Comparing yourself to others. Being NEGATIVE. Ignoring problems. Being arrogant.  Lying (to yourself AND others). Gossiping. Chasing away healthy relationships. Doing what feels good NOW instead of what would be best for later. Being stuck in fear. Keeping unhealthy, toxic relationships in your life. Being addicted to your phone. Being too modest. And the list goes on and on.

There are a multitude of reasons why people self-sabotage.  But for many people who grew up in a less than perfect family or experienced a less than ideal childhood, the answer may lie there in how and why you self-sabotage.

During childhood, many of us experience pain of different kinds. I am not talking about the falling off your bike pain or getting hit in the head by a ball in gym class type pain. I am talking about emotional and psychological pain.  Even if we grew up in a relatively healthy and functioning family, we may have went to school and experienced criticism from our peers ie the bullies at school. No one escapes being emotionally hurt. It is a part of growing up and is a part of life.

I am not a big believer of blaming your parents or your childhood for problems in your adult life. Of course once you are an adult it is on YOU to take 100% responsibility for your life and the results you achieve. Yet many of us DO experience psychological pain during childhood–including from our parents who shape so much of our early worlds. And many of us are still being effected by their words and actions. While we may get picked on at school (which leaves its own type of scars)–it doesn’t resonate quite the same as when you get picked on in your own home.  Perhaps you had a perfectionist mom or a sharp-tongued father. They may have meant well and had your best intentions at heart–but their words still HURT.

It is likely you can still reflect back to the criticizing, the shaming, the way the words they said made you feel like you were not good enough.  A mom who told you, “Do you really need ANOTHER piece of cake?”  A dad who in passing let you know, “This won’t cut it, son–our family doesn’t GET B’s–you better smarten up.” They meant well. Most parents do. Mom wanted you to be mindful of your weight–maybe she saw you were gaining a few pounds and didn’t want you getting picked on at school. Dad wanted you to excel in school because he knew how competitive it would be to get into a good college and believed B’s just wouldn’t get you there.  Their reasons and intentions may have been good–but that doesn’t matter. Because when you experienced their words the underlying message was who you were was not measuring up to THEIR standards. As you grew up you began to internalize all those comments that didn’t quite sit right with you. 

Or maybe your parents’ words were NOT directed at you. But they directed negativity at themselves and you overheard and absorbed it. Maybe you had a self-loathing mother.  Perhaps mom often spoke of how fat she was, how she COULD have been this, or COULD have done that. Her words depicted she felt weak or like a failure. The message from her still resonates. Mom was not happy with herself and did not feel like she was ENOUGH. Children are like sponges and it is easy to internalize this type of caustic self-talk. If a kid hears their parent speaking of him or herself in a self-deprecating way, giving the message that they themselves are not good enough, how could they possible feel like they are good enough? If mom or dad aren’t good enough, no way I can be.

You may find as an adult, you are now your own worst critic. Telling yourself similar messages to which you heard from your parents as a child. You shame yourself when you eat just a LITTLE too much because mom always let you know girls aren’t supposed to eat a lot (which by the way ladies, we all know isn’t true because food is GREAT). Or maybe you never were quite able to get those A’s in school–no matter how hard you tried.  Doing well academically was just not in the cards for you (which is fine–school is not the only indicator of intelligence). Or perhaps you, like your mom, find yourself nowadays feeling not quite enough (a message that is sadly perpetuated in our society).  Worse, you may find that you are doing to your own children, what your parents did to you. Maybe you, like your father, find yourself getting on your son’s back about his grades not being “good enough.”  You don’t want to model this behavior for your kids. But you can’t help yourself.

Why do we engage in this type of self-destructive behavior? It does have its payoffs. Self-sabotage is a form of control. Even if the outcome is not what we desire, when we self-sabotage we are ensuring the outcome, albeit a negative one. It may not be the outcome we want, but nevertheless, we are in control of it.  We may find ourselves not only sabotaging ourselves but our relationships with others. For those of us who fear change, this can bring about a comfort of some sorts (better the devil you know, right). Change can be scary even positive change. Happiness can feel unsettling for those of us who are use to sabotaging ourselves. If you become happy, something can happen and it can be taken away. Maybe you don’t want to deal with the disappointment or loss of that feeling. Better to never have it than to have it and lose it, right? Success can seem threatening–once you achieve a goal then the struggle is on to maintain that level of success. This can be intimidating. On some level, you may even believe you deserve to fail.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

How can we overcome self-sabotage?
1)Become aware. Figure out the ways you are screwing yourself over. Reflect back on your life up to now including the way your family of origin is still impacting your day-to-day psychology. Human nature has a way of repeating the familiar even if it is negative and unhealthy. Becoming aware of the way your life history is repeating itself is a good first step to changing. Next, you need to stop the excuses and rationalizations. Stop telling yourself you don’t have the time. Often I hear people say they are too “busy” for something–but we are never too busy for what is important to us. Stop telling yourself it is “too hard.” Too often we psych ourselves out before we even start. We think to ourselves if we keep our expectations low, we can’t be disappointed, we can’t fail. This type of mindset tends to stem from childhood. Self-awareness is key if you want to end self-sabotage.

2)Become okay with not being accepted. It is a strong need for many of us to be accepted by others and “fit in.” Having a desire to be accepted can come at the expense of being successful in the pursuit of your goals. Maybe you had parents who weren’t very successful. Maybe most of your family and friends are struggling with making ends meet. Becoming successful may feel like a betrayal to them. Perhaps you feel if they witness your success, they may feel inadequate and reject you.  Remember these fears may not be conscious but subconsciously driving your behavior. The sad truth is the flip side of acceptance is rejection. It is easier for people to reject you or try to bring you down rather than work on building themselves up. On some level you may fear losing valued relationships in your life if you were able to successfully reach your goals and bring your life to the next level.

3)Become comfortable with uncertainty. We live in an increasingly fast paced world. If you want to thrive, you need to become comfortable with change, and things changing rapidly. If you resist change, you will only create suffering for yourself. The need for certainty is going to limit your ability to progress in life and guarantee you fail at  reaching your goals. Why? Because in order to have “certainty” things need to be predictable and stay the same.  Self-sabotage is a form of certainty–you know you will fail but you won’t have to deal with the stress of changing. You also don’t have to worry about the reactions you may receive from those closest to you as you become more accomplished. Even a spouse can become threatened when their partner starts making big moves.  These are sad truths we may not want to admit. Certainty over success can be a driving force for many of us. The need to be certain all but ensures you will sabotage yourself.  Avoiding uncertainty means trying to create an environment you can control, trying to control other people, and struggling to stay in control of yourself. Control is an illusion. We all like to think we can influence our environment and those around us but the fact of the matter is you can only control yourself. Thinking otherwise is a form of self-sabotage. Let go of your illusion of control if you want to put an end to your self-destructive ways.

4)Lose your self-importance. A prime psychological need is significance. Who amongst us doesn’t want to be important or feel significant? We achieve significance in different ways and what significance means is largely subjective.  But if you want to be important and significant, at the expense of all else, you have a recipe for disaster.  Why? Because to be the most important, you are inherently comparing yourself to others. To be the most important you either need to surround yourself with people with less ability than yourself (which is self-sabotaging in and of itself) OR pretend you have more capability than you do. Neither of these components lay the groundwork for bettering yourself.

4)Challenge your thoughts. We are creatures of habits. We think something for long enough, we are going to resist changing our perspective on it. Humans are lazy. We often don’t want to think (or work) too hard. Challenging your viewpoints can seem daunting. To overcome self-sabotage, you need to begin to look at the ways your self-talk has become negative. Are you a cynic? Do you write yourself and others off before even giving it a chance?  Figure out if your goals are obtainable–and if the way you look at things are grounded in reality. Listen, we all look at people who are Pollyannas as not living in quote, “reality,” seeing their over the top optimism as dooming them to failure. But someone who is a negative curmudgeon is not necessarily grounded in reality either. A lot of things in life are neutral and whether we deem it as good or bad is largely based on our perceptions.  If pessimism is what is driving you, you may want to reevaluate. Pessimism is a form of psychological self-sabotage. Try to find that happy middle ground between hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

5)Recognize your negative patterns and what drives your behavior. What are you triggers? Stress at work? Conflict with your spouse? Your kid not getting his homework done? What is the catalyst for you sabotaging your goals? It is different for all of us. I know when I have a really stressful work day, I come home and want to dive into the Ben and Jerry’s (with rainbow sprinkles and a cherry, of course, because that is LIVING). Yet I needed to learn a new way to deal with my stress to replace that negative behavior of coming home to pig out. For me, I found listening to podcasts on a topic I ENJOY on my drive home, breaks me away from whatever it was stressing me out that day.  What used to happen was after a stressful work day, I would drive home ruminating over what was upsetting me. All that did was amp up my stress level (and make me hungrier, of course). Figuring out your patterns of behavior is a must if you want to stop tripping yourself up. Finding new ways to cope with stress can also help to drop your baseline level of stress. It is interesting to me, as a psychotherapist, to see how many of us are struggling with our coping skills as adults.

6)Stop worrying about what isn’t yours to manage. Let other people manage their lives. Your friend who always calls with a crisis that lasts in a two-hour phone call? Let her work it out on her own this time. Your sister who is always asking you to help with her kids? Let her hire a baby sitter or ask someone else this time. Your coworker who asks you to help them  last-minute with their proposals? Let them know you don’t have the time this week. Your kid who has a project due tomorrow that he hasn’t even STARTED? Let him deal with the consequences for once instead of stepping in to get it done. Try staying in your lane and you will begin to feel a sense of balance in your life. We cannot continue to be everything to everyone.

7)Be selective in who you keep in your inner circle. The sad fact is there are people in our lives who don’t want us to succeed. Whether it is from their own insecurity, self-hatred,  or just the simple fact if they see you do better, somehow that makes them feel “less than” and they will go down a notch on their perceived hierarchy. Or perhaps there are people in your life who have you boxed into a certain role and they do not want to remove you from that box because of how it would make THEM feel. Whatever the root cause may be, it doesn’t matter. It is a nasty truth about human nature.  People feel envy and jealousy towards people–even people they claim to love. Think about the “friend” who knows your on a diet, yet offers you candy and chips every chance she gets. Or maybe she asks you to go to happy hour afer work when you JUST told her you are hitting up the gym.  It is even possible you start to see the pounds drop off and this “friend” is telling anyone who will listen that you are on diet pills or had liposuction to lose the weight. Anything she can to take away from your hard work and belittle your accomplishments. The reality is some people will always try to tear down others to elevate themselves. This is not good for the mind OR the soul. Keeping those people in your life is not going to support you being the best version of yourself.

Self-sabotage is preventable.  It often stems from our fears and patterns in our life that can be traced back to our early beginnings. Looking back at our childhood and the way it is still playing out in our lives TODAY can be a game changer. Looking at the people we surround ourselves with and if they are lifting us up or bringing up down is a must. Reflecting on what is driving us and a reevaluation to see if we have our priorities right.  It is time to end your self-sabotage by getting out of your own way.