counseling, emotionalimmaturity, goals, happiness, psychology, self-help

Building an Emotional Backbone: A Family System Approach

Do you often feel taken advantage of by others? Is it a struggle for you to speak up for yourself? Do you find yourself saying yes when you want to say no? Do you feel the need to have other people’s approval?

Are you uncomfortable with asserting yourself? Do you get angry at how other people live their lives?

Do you find you allow yourself to be controlled by other people? Do you find yourself trying to control others? If you do, it is time to build up your emotional backbone.

I think there are many misconceptions about what an “emotional backbone” is.

Having an emotional backbone is pivotal to self-differentiation, a Bowen Family System concept. Self-differentiation is the ability to separate feelings from thoughts.

People who are poorly self-differentiated have difficulty separating their own feelings from other people’s feelings; they often look to other people to define how they think about issues, feel about people, and interpret their experiences.

A person who is self-differentiated has an emotional backbone–they do not look to their family, friends, or partner to define them. This means being able to have different values and opinions from other people in your life but be able to stay emotionally connected to them.

It is being able to lovingly detach from people who are not emotionally healthy and will inevitably impede on your growth and development. You cannot truly become self-differentiated and simultaneously participate in perpetuating dysfunctional relationship patterns.

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Developing an emotional background when raised in a dysfunctional family system is often difficult for the individual. This is where counseling can be very beneficial to becoming someone with a strong emotional backbone.

An emotional backbone is a sign of strength of character. It is an unwillingness to be used, to be taken for granted, to be mistreated, to be abused, and a firm commitment to uphold one’s beliefs and values.

Do you have a strong emotional backbone? Ask yourself the following:

1)Do you resent others?

2)Do you often complain to no avail? Do your complaints fall on deaf ears?

3)Do you avoid conflict?

4)Do you say yes when you want to say no?

5)Do you feel taken advantage of?

6)Do you feel unappreciated?

7)Do you allow your anger to build and come out in unhealthy ways?

8)Do you compromise your self-care?

9)Do you people please?

10)Do you seek the approval of others?

11)Do you allow others to mistreat you?

These are a job signs you may be struggling with developing a strong emotional backbone.

Oftentimes, I believe people confuse being louder, being stronger, saying things more angrily, speaking up without knowing how the relationship is going to be effected by your words, or speaking from the unhealthy part of oneself is having an emotional backbone. This is not what having an emotional backbone is.

Yet this is common in a dysfunctional family system which plays out in ALL our relationships not just with members of our family of origin.

This type of dysfunction often serves the status quo instead of being a catalyst for healthy change in our lives, causing the same unhealthy cycles to play out over and over again over the course of one’s life.

Switching between persecutor and victim is common in a dysfunctional relationship.  It goes round and round–certainly not my idea of having an emotional backbone. This is just people switching chairs at the same concert.

Persecutors criticize and blame the victim, can be very controlling, rigid, angry, and unpleasant.  The victim see themselves as powerless, helpless,  hopeless, and can want kid glove treatment from others.

A person with a developed emotional backbone sees themselves as able to determine the conditions of their life including what relationship patterns they will be an active participant in.

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Counterdepedents are controllers. Very much the persecutors.

Codependents are people pleasers. Very much the victims.

Neither have healthy, strong emotional backbones.

Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families find themselves in relationships with codependents and counter dependents. Codependents are people who come from the mindset of “I am not okay, you ARE okay.” Counter dependents come from the position, “I AM okay, you are NOT okay.”

This is based on transactional analysis. Below are the different approaches:

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Developing an emotional backbone requires a healthier approach, ie the “I am okay, you are okay” perspective. However, this is not likely with a person who is codependents or counter dependent.

I believe a strong, developed emotional backbone is crucial to having and maintaining healthy relationships. If you do not have an I am okay, you are okay approach you are going to perpetuate dysfunctional patterns in your relationships.

Most of us desire an emotional backbone–a strong sense of self, an ability to be less reactive, less shaken by conflicts, to be able to express our wants/need clearly, to stand firm with boundaries, to say no in a healthy way without guilty, want to reduce dysfunctional relationship patterns, to not undermine ourself, and to discover who we truly are.

To have a strong emotional background is to become WHO you truly are–not who others want or need you to need you to be. Only when you get to this point can you give and receive REAL love.

When we try to change ourselves from the outside in, we often feel defeated when we find ourselves back in our old ruts. We find we cannot keep the change going.

It can hard to catalyze change in our life and relationships if we are not self-differentiated. A person who is NOT differentiated will struggle with change.

For instance perhaps you are a person who knows YOU NEED to start to SPEAK up for yourself. Well-meaning family and friends often tell you to start speaking up for yourself.  But for you, it has always been a struggle for you to speak your piece. The difficulty is there is likely an entrenched pattern that exists in your relationships, with relationship imbalances, thus it can be risky for you to start to assert yourself. IF you speak up, that can cause problems and difficulties, especially if you are not prepared for how to handle other people’s reactivity.

If you do not know what your next step is, if you cannot predict possible outcomes, often that one little tip “you need to speak up” is not helpful. You need to be OKAY with ANY possible outcome as controlling other people’s reactions is not realistic. Knowing we cannot control other people is just a given for a self-differentiated individual, but for a person who has not achieved this level of self-differentiation, they work hard to control other people’s reactions and the outcomes of situations.

For example, a wife goes home to her husband and says she needs some time for herself. She is always taking care of the house, the kids, working. She read she needs to “speak up for herself.” Her friends and family have been encouraging her to start “speaking up.” Her husband, on the surface, allows her the time and agrees she deserves it. The wife decides to plan a ladies night out for the first time in YEARS. But then her husband ends up calling/texting her numerous times that night when she is having said time for herself out of his own anxiety, ruining her alone time, and the wife says it just isn’t worth it and ends up giving up on getting her needs met. No more ladies nights out for her!

Standing up for yourself is not going to be effective if you have not ALREADY done the emotional legwork on developing an emotional backbone. There is A LOT more to developing an authentic emotional backbone and a lot more going on than just “speaking up for yourself.”

To build an emotional backbone, you need to be able deal with the fight between us AND us–not between us and others. Not everyone will agree with your priorities but when you have an emotional backbone you know that is their prerogative. It is not going to impact how your choose to conduct your life. You live your life according to your values and beliefs, not needing and requiring the validation of others. You know anyone worth having in your life will respect you and your values.

This is true self-differentiation. This is having an emotional backbone.

Power and growth needs to happen within me before I can expect others to take me seriously, to respect me, to hear me, things need to happen within me. Often we do not do this self work, we just expect it to happen with OTHER people and then wonder why it doesn’t.

You need to take yourself seriously before you can expect others to take you seriously. 

Healing and recovering from your own demons will begin to stop the fight between you and you.

Others often take advantage of the internal fight we experience. The reason people who are self-differentiated can remain firm and set boundaries is because they do not feel too much guilt, shame, or fear abandonment because they already HEALED those parts of themself and their childhood wounds.

Feeling guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment are all signs of an undifferentiated individual.

Too much fear of rejection means you have work to do on yourself. The need for approval from others means you have a long way to go on your journey to self-differentiation.

How can you develop and strengthen YOUR emotional backbone?

One, we have to deal with the internal before we deal with the external. We have to do the work on ourself before we can begin to develop better relationships with other people in our life. Only when we have a healthy relationship with ourself can we have healthy relationships with others.

Second, it is important to recognize that to have an emotional backbone does not occur because we learned a few simple behavioral changes or assertiveness changes. To have long-lasting success, deeper issues and systemic stuckness needs to be addressed, which is why counseling can be such a real benefit.

Through counseling, you can learn to calm yourself in highly charged emotional relationship situations. If we cannot calm ourselves, we will fall back into the ruts of the past and our emotional demons will take ourself. Emotional regulation is a must to developing an emotional backbone.

Thirdly become an expert on YOU. I don’t mean become selfish. I mean become an expert on YOUR thoughts and emotions, NOT an expert on the thoughts and emotions of OTHERS. If you are caught up in trying to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling, you are in a state of enmeshment. It is NOT your job to figure out the emotional map of others.

Oftentimes, we are far too much an expert on others and NOT an expert on ourselves.

Fourth, we need to let go of our naive and immature illusions, which allows us to grow up emotionally (although many people don’t want to do this because it is hard to grow up emotionally). Our illusions keep us WEAK and SOFTEN our emotional backbone. Being emotionally grown up means managing our feelings, not trying to manage the feelings of others.

Having an emotional backbone means being willing and able to let go of getting our needs met by other people. To let go of our illusions that others can make us happy and fulfilled.

These illusions might be: I NEED my father to love me, I NEED my mother to be proud of me, I NEED everyone to get along to be happy and whole, I NEED my husband to think I am special to be happy, I NEED my kids to not hurt my feelings so I can feel good about myself, I NEED others to stop betraying me to be happy, I NEED others to follow my advice to feel happy, I NEED my wife to love me so I can be happy…..

Do any of these sound familiar? These are some of the illusions we have that keep up from having a good and healthy emotional backbone.

Emotional grown-ups own their own stuff and leave other people to take ownership of THEIR stuff. We feel empathy but know we cannot do the self-development work for others.

Fifthly, deal with any codependency issues, emotional fusion, enmeshment, all of which will be required to develop an emotional backbone.

People with an emotional backbone are able to love and care for themselves. They are flexible and do not need to be propped up by others.

Sixth, doing self-care can help develop an emotional backbone.

Self-care is an important part of our well-being.

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Being a self-differentiated individual with an emotional backbone is the foundation of having healthy relationships with one self and others.

The truth is when you have a strong emotional backbone, you are not trying to control others. Simultaneously, you are also NOT allowing others to control you. Before you can be with someone with an emotional backbone, you need to develop your own.

Most people are unaware if they are indeed conducting their lives with a lack of self-differentiation. They are not even conscious of how fused their feelings are with other people’s.

People may mature physically, have careers, get married, have children yet STILL be an emotional child. This is what much of Murray Bowen’s research and literature posits.

Lacking an emotional backbone is often due to unresolved childhood issues, the defenses one develops in childhood, and ongoing emotional pain.

I truly believe developing an emotional backbone is the cornerstone to a happy and focused life. It is crucial for having healthy relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners.

People with an emotional backbone are rational, follow through on goals, have equality in their relationships, have final say on their decisions, respect other people’s decisions, and KNOW what they think and feeling outside of the noise and chatter from others.

If you feel you are struggling with developing an emotional backbone, counseling can be a great place to start the process.

To schedule a counseling session with me:

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

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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counseling, psychology, self-help

Why You Should Try Meditating: Time to Take Yourself Less Seriously

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Are you someone who takes yourself VERY seriously?
Are you very identified with your mind and the thoughts you think?
Do you mistake feelings as facts?

Are you someone who feels you can’t GET control? Or do you struggle to LET go of control?

Maybe, you should give meditation a try.

Meditation helps the mind be flexible and understand that our notions of ourselves and people around us are more fluid than most realize.

You see meditating helps us to see our thoughts are just that—thoughts. We all think a bazillion a day–some rational, some irrational, some negative, some positive.

Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, tend to arise when we identify a bit TOO much with our thoughts and our mind. When we take our thoughts AND ourselves TOO seriously.

Personally, other people’s “thoughts” don’t bother me–but our actions and behavior have real world consequences. We are all free to “think” whatever we want, but how we behave towards ourself and others has consequences.

Our behavior stems from our thoughts. Thus if you want better results in your life, in whatever capacity that may be, you are going to need to change HOW you think and perceive your thoughts.

You see you are free to choose but not free of the consequences of said choice.

Becoming aware of your thought processes through the act of meditating can stop you from an acting in a destructive manner to your self and others.

The sad reality is so many people are psychologically and emotionally unconscious.

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Meditation gives you perspective. You begin to be cognizant of the fact there are different people, different perspectives, and different demands in life. What may be true for you, may not be true for me. This is not about right or wrong, a label that is derived in our MIND. This is about just what is.

When people try to “tell me how it is” I know that they are too identified with their ego. Emotional and psychological maturity entails a discovery that how it is is very much a subjective truth. You can’t tell me how it “is” because how it is for me is not something you have experienced. All you can do it tell me how you are (which most likely is close minded if you go around telling people how it is but that is a topic for another day 😉 ).

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Meditating can help you become aware of the thoughts you think and how you subconsciously may be letting your mind work on “auto-pilot.”

This shift can help your tremendously…if you allow it.

Everything changes. Our thoughts are ever-changing, our feelings, our emotions–all constantly evolving as we evolve through life.

In life–everything is temporary. We start to lose our ability for joy and happiness when we take our thoughts and selves so seriously.

Life is NOT as serious as we make it out to be.

Meditation helps us see the transcendentalist nature of life.

Below I share with you an interesting, brief clip of Eckhart Tolle on our addiction to thinking.

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

 

counseling, forgiveness, psychology, resentment, self-help

Forgiveness is Not Reconciliation

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Let’s say you have been WRONGED.

By your close friend, coworker, child, parent, spouse, or WHOEVER this person may be.

You had trusted them.

You counted on them.

They let you down.

They hurt you.

Now the pain flows through your body..

You didn’t deserve this.  It wasn’t your fault.

Anger, resentment, bitterness floods your mind, body, and emotions.

Now I ask…

CAN YOU FORGIVE?

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Forgiveness…it is something that many of us struggle with.

It is a topic many have strong opinions on.

I believe there to be many false beliefs about what forgiveness IS and IS NOT.

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One common misconception is people equate forgiveness with reconciliation.

Another fallacy is people think they need an apology in order to forgive.

Other people feel they cannot forgive because they cannot forget the wrongdoing.

Some of us do not want to forgive because we do not want to let the offender off the hook.

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Forgiveness is often misunderstood.

We hold the mistaken assumption that forgiving someone requires that we make up with whoever it is that hurt us. This is not forgiveness.

That is reconciliation.

You can forgive someone and not reconcile with them.

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Too often we carry into our adult life the simplistic understanding of forgiveness from childhood. When we are children, we think if we forgave someone we automatically were “friends” with them again. Forgiveness meant no more “bad feelings” and the person was welcome back into our life exactly the way it was before.

Forgiveness is not that simple. It is not that black and white.

We can forgive someone and not want them back in our life. Or forgive them and not want them back in our life in the same capacity.

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Forgiving is NOT weakness. It takes incredible strength to let go of an injustice and allow yourself to move on.

When you forgive, it does not mean forgetting or pretending something didn’t happen.

Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing bad behavior.

Most importantly, forgiveness is NOT reconciling. 

We can forgive an offender without reestablishing the relationship.

There are people in my life I have forgiven but who are NOT a part of my life. There are people I have forgiven who ARE a part of my life but not necessarily in the same magnitude as before. Forgiveness and subsequent reconciliation are quite circumstantial. The future of the relationship depends on many moving parts. All the same, forgiveness is ALWAYS for us–it is letting go of the anger, hurt, and negative emotions that follows from being wronged or betrayed.

Resentment hurts you more than those you resent. Why would you want to give someone who wronged you that type of power over you?

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Holding onto resentment is a very isolating space to put yourself in. While you are focusing on the past, everyone else in the situation is moving on with their lives.

Holding onto anger and bitterness can cause problems of their own accord–for you, not the offender.

Being able to forgive is a crucial part of healing.

When you forgive, you process and work through the hurt so you do not need to carry around the pain.

Holding onto pain, anger, and hurt only causes you heartache. It does not cause pain for the person who hurt you.

Reconciliation is an interpersonal process—-you have a dialogue with the offender about what happened, discuss your perspectives, explore the feelings of hurt, listen for remorse, and start the process or reestablishing trust.

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Reconciliation is a collaborative process. It involves the offending party admitting they did something wrong or harmful to you, showing remorse for what was done, taking ownership of the behavior, and seeking forgiveness. You cannot reconcile with someone who cannot participate in this process.

REMEMBER: Reconciliation is not possible if YOU are NOT willing to forgive AND the other person does NOT show remorse nor want to right their wrong.

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As you can see forgiveness and reconciliation are related but different processes.

Forgiveness does not require the offender to do ANYTHING.

REMEMEBER: You cannot forgive someone until you process the pain caused to you. You cannot forgive until you ACCEPT and are at peace with what happened.

Forgiveness is a freeing feeling.

I forgive because I want to be forgiven. I forgive because I do not want to carry the weight of someone else’s wrongs throughout my life. Anger and resentment are too heavy of a burden to bear.

We can forgive people who we don’t see anymore. We can forgive someone who feels zero remorse and will never apologize. We can even forgive someone who is dead.

Forgiveness does not require apologies. Or the other person to be involved.

Reconciliation requires the offender to participate. Forgiveness does not.

It is easier to forgive when someone apologizes and takes responsibility for their actions. However, many people are incapable of apologizing (whether due to reasons such as pride or a pervasive personality disorder or fear of being vulnerable). What we need to realize is we do not need the offender to apologize or take responsiblity to forgive.

Now in reconciling this is a different case. It will be hard, if not impossible, to rebuild a relationship with someone who does not take responsibility for their actions and cannot apologize for doing wrong.  You may not be able to reconcile with someone if this is the case. This is also out of your control.

But you can forgive them.

Forgiveness is in your control. It requires nothing from the person who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t equal reconciliation.

For our own mental well-being, we should forgive those who transgress against us. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should welcome them back into our life.

Forgiveness is NOT letting the offender off the hook. Forgiving is unhooking us from the offender and their offenses.

Reconciliation is when you take a damaged relationship and begin the process of healing it. If done right, the relationship can be stronger than ever.

One person can forgive yet it takes two people to reconcile.

REMEMBER: Forgiveness is on me. Reconciliation is on us.

Too often we hold off on granting forgiveness until the other person apologize. Or changes. Or recognizes what they did wrong.

But people only change if they want to. You cannot force people to have empathy or feel compassion. Or respect you. Or admit they were wrong or apologize. Only they have the power to change their perspective. Often, this is not going to happen.

I have realized sometimes people are just evil and mean-spirited. And there is nothing I can do about it.

Forgiveness is an inward process for my own well-being. Reconciliation is an outward process which requires all parties to want to reconcile.

Forgiveness also helps us grow in compassion. If we are at peace with ourselves, we do not feel the need to spew venom at others or hurt other people.

Recognizing the pain and unhappiness in the people who hurt us helps us to grant forgiveness.

A strategy I give clients to ease the pain of the past is to reflect on what must have been going on from the offender’s perspective to wrong you. Happy, well-balanced people do not intentionally hurt others.

Trying to be empathetic and recognize the deep rage, fear, and unhappiness that drives others to hurt people can loosen the grip of negative emotions holding you back.

Granting forgiveness will take the weight of pain and hurt off your shoulders. It is psychologically preferable to holding a grudge because bitterness works as a mental poison to you.

You do not need to stay chained to them. Forgiveness frees you and allows you to move on.

If someone is causing you unhappiness seriously ask yourself: Does this person respect me? Do they feel empathy and compassion (for me or ANYONE for that matter)? Is this person capable of REALISTICALLY seeing themselves? Of realistically seeing others? Sadly, the answer may be no.

When we forgive, we unburden ourselves from the hold of resentment, grudges, and seeking revenge. We do this for ourselves NOT for the other person.

We do not have to like the wrongdoer or ever see them again.

Forgiveness is to free the person who hurt us from our mind, heart, and soul.

We do not allow them to take up space anymore in our life–physically or mentally.

You have been mistreated and you DESERVE peace of mind.

Forgiveness is vital to moving on. It is ALWAYS your choice…yours alone.

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Have you been hurt by someone you love? Have you forgiven them?

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
tamanna@anewcounselingservices.com