Sorry, You Can’t Have It All

So you want to have it all, eh? You want to have a killer career, the perfect kid, a hot and heavy marriage, a big house, a nice car, and travel the world in your free time? (Because you would clearly have so much of it). Oh and you are doing it ALL this while keeping a super fit body because what is the point of doing well if you are not looking good when doing it? Right? Sorry, to tell you this, but it ain’t gonna happen. The reality is none of us have it all. We may do a good job of making it appear that we do but behind closed doors something always has to give. When most people talk about “having it all,” they tend to focus on all the external stuff like having a big house or getting a new job or getting their kid into an Ivy league school. Many of us are controlled in life by all or nothing thinking–we feel unless we have everything going right for us, we have nothing going right for us. We live in a society that tells us doing more means doing better. We are told that all of us, if we work hard enough, can have it all. It is this type of message that will make us feel like our lives are never good enough. A few days ago I was talking to a friend about all the pressure to “have it all”–to be perfect in a sense. It is an idea we all take part in perpetuating in our culture. I always wondered to myself, who wants it all– that sounds exhausting. Yet haven’t we all felt this pressure? This pressure to have it all starts in our early lives. Growing up, in elementary school, we are stressed the importance of getting good grades, being the “Star Student of the Month,” and getting those academic awards of recognitions. By high school, academic achievement isn’t enough. By the teen years we are expected to be smart, good-looking, fit, well-liked, athletic, and at the top of the social and intellectual hierarchy. Later in adulthood-comes the career ladder–which we are expected to climb and climb rapidly. In our society 40 hour work weeks just don’t cut it and if you aren’t doing more than average in your profession, you are failing.  The treadmill of your career is where the elevation and speed keep going faster and faster until you literally feel yourself about to fly off. Add to that pressure to be a perfect parent (if you have children) and raise the ideal child. Welcome to adulthood, where the 24/7 nature of our lives, refuses to allow us to slow down. As you can see, from the time we are old enough to read and write, the pressure begins to have it all. In this day and age, it seems even more challenging than ever to even attempt to have it all–work is no longer left at the office, relationships are now supposed to both emotionally and financially fulfilling, parenting is competitive and all-consuming, and social media offers constant comparison to everyone in our social network. The truth is having it all is just a way of the thinking that arises from our desire to compete with one another. As human beings, we are wired for competition and comparison. The reality of human nature is that we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to everyone around us. He has a nicer house than me–but I bet he can’t afford it. She is better looking than me–but whatever I am smarter. That dude drives a Porsche-must be nice–but too bad he is too old for that car. She is younger than me–but I looked better than her when I was that age. That dude has a real nice body–but he should be because he doesn’t have any real responsibilities. If I had his time, I could live in the gym too. Sound familiar? Human nature has us always jockeying for position–with a side of rationalizing as to why someone is perceivably “better” than us is one facet it or another. So, better or not, we will figure out a way to feel like we have a leg up on the competition. This type of thinking has largely driven the “having it all” mentality. This mindset is unlikely to change anytime soon. But the reality is none of us can have it all. Anyone with even a working knowledge of economics knows about “opportunity costs.” I remember learning about opportunity costs in high school–our teacher used the example of going to college for four years vs. starting work right after graduation. Make money right away or make more money down the road. There is no right or wrong choice-it is up to you what your goals are. Basically, opportunity costs means that every choice you make costs you something else, even if indirectly. Thus going to college for four years is costing you four years you can be out in the world earning a full-time salary. Every day we have opportunity costs–sleep an extra an hour or haul your ass to the gym.  Perhaps you decide to drag yourself to the gym. Despite gaining the value of a good workout, you lose the extra hour of sleep. Taking advantage of one opportunity always means giving up something else you can have potentially been doing. So what is the answer to this dilemma? Perhaps the solution is as simple as accepting our own limitations and deciding what we truly value. Then we can prioritize our lives around those values.  We cannot be everything to everyone. Something has to give. I find the people who are struggling with trying to have it all are really just struggling with deciding what to give up. Everything in life is about priorities. You can’t have everything so you have to prioritize. Nevertheless try not worry too much about how other people live their lives and what they do because at the end of the day there is only so many hours in a day. We all face opportunity costs. Don’t buy into the axiom, “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce.”  Well, Beyonce also has a full-time staff to clean her house, take care of her kids, cook her meals, run her errands. She also has Jay-Z to look after (and to look after him closely if the Lemonade album has taught us anything). The truth is you have to choose. YOU. If you want something bad enough, it is going to come at the expense of something else. Most of us are never taught this truth–our society ingrained in us from our early years the notion we can have it all. We are largely raised to define our self by external metrics of success.  Some of these metrics are useful, some are not. We all get 1,440 minutes a day. It is up to you to decide how to use those minutes and how you measure your life.
If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me: Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC


590 Franklin Ave. Suite 2 Nutley, NJ 07110 973-963-7485

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. If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me: Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC


590 Franklin Ave. Suite 2 Nutley, NJ 07110 973-963-7485

7 Signs of Walking Depression (“Smiling Depression” or “High Functioning Depression”)


When most of us think of someone who is depressed, we tend to think of the most extreme form, which is people who suffer from major depression (also called clinical depression).  We think of a person who may be home, in bed, unable to function.  We may imagine someone who cries often or talks about suicide.  These are all symptoms of severe depression. This form of depression is usually marked by difficulty going to work, sleeping, eating, socializing, studying, or functioning at even the most basic level in day-to-day life. Major depression is a potentially deadly illness. A person with major depression may struggle with hygiene (it is too much energy to take a shower), making meals (even a sandwich can seem like too much work), or day-to-day tasks (leaving a sink full of dishes for days). This is severe form of depression but most people would notice these signs (or have friends or family who notice their symptoms) and would be more likely to receive help.

A much more common form of depression is walking depression. Depression exists on a spectrum and manifests itself in various ways. The “high functioning” form of depression is “walking depression” or “smiling depression.”  Walking depression’s symptoms can be tougher to recognize because they don’t fall under the picture of what most people think of when they think of depression. People with walking depression may work, raise children, socialize, travel, and even carry out all their day-to-day responsibilities. If you have children, who are not immune to this order, they can be honor students who play varsity sports and have lots of friends. Just because someone is successful does not mean they are not suffering. Walking depression does not discriminate by age, race, or gender. People with this disorder can be high achievers who are achieving remarkable things–but they are doing so with a general sense of misery. A person with walking depression is still getting up each morning, going about their day, going to work, and putting on the facade that everything is A-okay to their family, friends, or coworkers. A person with this form of depression can be very successful professionally, have an active social life, and even be well-traveled.  A person with walking depression may on paper seem to “have it all.” But there is a disconnect between the way their life appears and the life the person with walking depression EXPERIENCES. An individual with walking depression may even be MAD at themselves for feeling unhappy when they know there is no real reason to be.  Kevin Breel, who did an excellent Ted talk on this topic, describes depression perfectly, “Real depression isn’t being sad when something in your life goes wrong. That is normal. Real depression is being sad when everything in your life goes right.”  Having no reason to be sad but feeling sad is TRUE depression. You never know who in your life can be struggling because  a person with walking depression functions, even functions on a high level, but struggles on the day-to-day. People with this form of depression live with a profound sense of unhappiness.

Dysthymia, a chronic, low-grade form of depression, can go on for years untreated. Many people who suffer from this disorder may just think what they feel is “normal” and it is what “real life” is supposed to feel like. Their depression is not disabling in the way clinical depression is but it is still a serious disorder. A person with this disorder may not even know something is wrong because it does not impact their day-to-day functioning. Or they may know something is not quite right but can’t quite put their finger on what. The reality is there is still a stigma that exists in our society as it relates to mental health issues. Many people would never want to admit to THEMSELVES let alone another that they are suffering from depression. It may be because they would feel weak or it may be a blow to their ego or maybe they don’t “believe” in depression (whether for cultural, religious, or familial reasons). However, if you do not acknowledge or believe in depression, this does not exclude you from struggling with this disorder.

How do you know if you or someone you love might have walking depression?

1.Being moody and irritable. When our day-to-day life is a struggle, which it often is for someone with walking depression, it is harder to let things roll off our backs. A person with walking depression may snap at this littlest things or be very cynical in their thinking. The negativity they are feeling internally will spill out in different ways to their external world.  Things that would normally be annoying but no big deal to someone WITHOUT walking depression, can result in bursts of rage or anger in a person with walking depression. Think about it this way–reflect on a day where you woke up tired and in a foul mood. We all have these days. Even the healthiest among us can admit on days where we wake up on the wrong side of the bed, there are situations we would usually laugh off or not let bother us, that really get us going. This is what every day can be like for someone with walking depression. It is already taking everything they have to get through their day-to-day life, so when something rattles them, they have little or no ability to cope. All their coping skills are being used up just to FUNCTION in their day-to-day life.

2. Being lethargic. A person with walking depression keeps it moving…but boy is it a struggle. Work, errands, dropping the kids off at school, they may even hit up the gym. A person with walking depression may do a lot–but with a general feeling of blah. You may drink copious amounts of coffee yet not get the benefit of the energy jolt. Low energy or no energy is the new normal when you are struggling with depression. No amount of caffeine will overcome you melancholy. When someone is depressed their energy levels tend to be low or non-existent because they are struggling with deep feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and powerlessness. All those negative emotions that accompany depression tend to deplete a person’s energy.  Being in a perpetual negative state of mind takes a lot out of a person. It is not easy to live in a state of chronic depression.

3. Being rigid and unwilling to change. With walking depression, you try not to break your routine (examples: can’t stand the idea of traveling somewhere new, won’t quit the job you hate, won’t leave the partner you have fallen out of love with, don’t want to meet new people or go to new places, etc.). When you are struggling  with walking depression, it takes all you have to just get through the day. You may be unhappy with a certain aspect of your life but changing it would take energy that you just do not have. You don’t want to venture outside of your routine and comfort zone for fear the stress of the change would make you come apart at the seams.

4. Overeating or not eating much at all. Using food (or avoiding food) as a way to cope with your unhappiness. It can go either way depending on the personality type. Change in appetite is something to look into.

5.Unable to look forward to anything and a general sense of cynicism. Maybe your son is graduating college. Or you finally booked that trip to Hawaii you have been putting off for years. Maybe your daughter will be getting married next year. But you just can’t find the energy to care. Happy life events do not bring you joy. If anything you dread having to put on the show of “being happy” at such events. Even worse you feel resentful of the people in your life who DO seem to be happy. You wonder if they are “faking it” or wonder how anyone can so happy over something so trivial. You may suffer a lot of Instragram envy. Or Facebook envy. Or envy of your college best friend’s annual holiday card with a beautiful picture of her and her “happy” family. You try to rationalize why you feel as miserable as you do and simultaneously feel irked by people who appear to be happy.

6.Feeling chronic negativity towards others. This piggybacks a bit off the cynicism towards others. A person with walking depression can come off bitter. It takes so much out of them to just function, it can get them irritated if you ask the simplest thing of them.  A person with walking depression can come across like they  have a chip on their shoulder because while they are doing everything asked of them, they are doing it with a sense of irritability and resentment. They may speak negatively of others and negatively about life in general because of their struggle to keep it together. Remember, if you feel unhappy with your own life it is almost impossible to feel happiness for others.

7. Drinking more. Or self-medicating in some form. Prescription pills. Smoking marijuana. A person with walking depression might only feel a slight sense of relief after a couple of glasses of wine. Or a few puffs on a joint. Or whatever their poison of choice is. It is a red flag that you are struggling if substances are the only way you feel any sense of happiness.

What to do if you think you or some you love has Walking Depression?

  1. Seek help. A good first step would be to tell your primary care doctor who may prescribe antidepressants or recommend a psychiatrist/therapist for you to speak with. When you have walking depression, you may not have the motivation to seek help. If you recognize these symptoms in a family member or friend, try to push them to seek support. People with walking depression do not need to continue to suffer in silence.
  2. Tell your friends and family.  Reducing your isolation can help you overcome the disorder. Friends and family can be a source of great support (and who knows who amongst your social circle has gone through the same). There is no shame in struggling from time to time with your psychological health. A new movement to make physical health just as important as mental health is on the rise. We need to continue as a society to work to become a mental health stigma free country. Carrying the secret that you are not happy is a heavy burden to bear. Often walking depression is a consequence of living a life that you are not happy with. Let your loved ones know you struggle. Admitting the truth can be a relief in and of itself.
  3. Get exercise. Walking is shown to alleviate lower grade forms of depression and is good for overall health. In fact walking is one of the go to recommendations for milder cases of depression. Any form of exercise can help you to treat your walking depression.
  4. Meditate. Often when one is struggling with walking depression, they are very much a prisoner of their mind. One can be stuck ruminating (which is to think deeply about something over AND over). Ruminating tends to dig us into a hole–a hole of negativity.  Try just five minutes of meditating a day to begin to break the cycle. There are many great apps on your phone that can lead you through meditation for beginners and some great YouTube videos as well. I recommend downloading Headspace to your phone and watching “Meditation for Beginners” by Leo Gura from (his youtube channel is–lots of good videos on there).
  5. Journal. This can help you manage your symptoms and channel your thoughts and feelings. Journaling can help you clear your mind and make you more aware of why you are feeling what you are feeling. It can even be helpful to journal to find patterns in your thinking. If you are in counseling, you can use a journal to discuss patterns about your thoughts and behavior with your therapist.
  6. Lighten your load. Don’t spread yourself too thin! We live in an age where “being busy” is a badge of honor. If you are suffering from walking depression, you should try to really focus on self-care and see what responsibilities you can get off your plate. Chronic stress can be a contributing factor to your disorder. Less is more when you are struggling with walking depression.
  7. Develop gratitude. Practicing gratitude has been shown to influence one’s mood and increase overall happiness.  It can help you begin to shift your thinking from the negative to the positive.  Start every day thinking about three things you can be grateful for.

You don’t have to do all of these suggestions. Just try some. Or one. There is not one size fits all approach to treating depression. Walking depression is very treatable but the first step is acknowledging how you truly feel. And remember the serenity prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” I wish you courage.

If you are someone you love are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1800-273-8255.



590 Franklin Ave.

Suite 2

Nutley, NJ 07110


How to Deal with Difficult People

Difficult-People Difficult people. Who are they? The bully. The complainer. The negative nancy. The self-righteous. The ultra competitive. The master manipulator. The victim. The high conflict personality. And the list goes on and on. We all have such people in our lives that we need to deal with whether at work, in our families, or in our extended circle of friends. The reality is some people we come across in life are unreasonable and irrational. It is the very nature of their behavior and attitude that tends to leave us scratching our head. Difficult people have the ability to get under our skin. Even if we know and expect a person to act difficult, it can still be a challenge to observe instead of absorb their toxic energy. The difficult amongst us run the gamut on grating behaviors: being rude, hostile, demeaning, dismissive, overly aggressive, a know it all. Oftentimes, their obnoxious behavior pushes our buttons in ways we struggle to control. They can trigger our ego or our defenses. Who amongst us has not come across a person who has “being difficult” down to an art form? These people make us  wonder why anyone would want to conduct their life in such a way that elevates stress and conflict not only for others, but for themselves. So why do difficult people do it? For one, they get something out of it. If it is a coworker, perhaps we stop asking them to help with work. If it is our spouse, we stop asking them to help with the dishes. If it is a family member, we don’t ask them to watch the kids because we know they will have a song and dance about how they already do so much for us, and so on and so forth. There is always a payoff for difficult behavior. The other reason difficult people are so difficult is they get away with it. We don’t speak up because we don’t want more conflict or the headache.  We avoid them to not deal with their nonsense. Another reason difficult people are difficult? It was how they were raised. We all like to think we aren’t like our parents but oftentimes a difficult person was raised by a difficult parent who modeled such behaviors. Ever meet someone’s mother or father and thought to yourself this explains it all. This holds true with difficult behavior.  People often don’t even realize how ingrained behaviors are from their upbringing. difficult 3 How can you tell you are dealing with a difficult person? Below are some common indicators:
  1. Difficult people are hard to interact with. Whether this entails the difficult person constantly interrupting you, centering the conversation around themselves, or belittling your views & opinions, you are left with the feeling that what you say just doesn’t matter. These people often talk “at you” as opposed to “talk with you.”
  2. Difficult people tend to be intolerant of differences. In fact, they tend to be very annoyed by other people who hold different views. This may result in social gaffes because they are not tolerant enough of differences to not be offensive to others. These are the “my way or the highway” types.  Difficult people often need to be right and tend to be very rigid in their views. They prefer to be in the company of those who hold the same beliefs. Once a difficult person forms an opinion, their minds are closed. Even if you show a difficult person clear evidence they are wrong, they will become defensive. They often lack humor when it comes to differing points of view. There is no “agreeing to disagree” with a difficult person. Some difficult people share many traits of those with narcissistic personality disorder. They are thin-skinned and cannot entertain the possibility that they do not know everything. If a person seems closed off to hearing a viewpoint they do not agree with, they probably may be a black and white thinker. Black and white thinking is a common trait amongst difficult people (and those with personality disorders).
  3. Difficult people are selfish. Kids are ruled by their feelings. Adults are supposed to be able to think things out and weigh consequences. As we come to adulthood, healthy people have learned just because it feels good or it is what we want, doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Difficult people are driven by their wants and their own needs. Your needs do not matter.  Don’t get me wrong–difficult people can be very kind and warm-when it suits them. But if you stand in the way of them getting what they want, watch out! Healthy adults recognize others have needs and even if those “needs” conflict with their own, they recognize the rights of others to pursue their own goals. Difficult people often feel you should put their wants and needs before your own. Be very cautious of someone who acts like you should put them before yourself.
  4. Difficult people are controlling. Many are bullies. They have no problem using whatever means necessary to get you to do what they want. This kind of goes along with being selfish. Difficult people will often tell you what you “should” be doing. Big red flag! Healthy functioning adults do not go around offering unsolicited advice. Difficult people LOVE to offer unsolicited advice. They have an opinion on EVERYTHING.  Now, this is not to say from time to time, we all don’t put our two cents in to our friends and family. We do. However, healthy adults don’t put forth advice as a should or directive, nor do they act with a sense of authority.  Difficult people do. Remember, people who cannot control themselves try to control others. If someone is trying to control you, it is not worth discussing anything other than the superficial with them, unless you want to fall down the rabbit hole. Healthy people do not try to exert authority over others (unless it is appropriate: example a boss/employee, parent/child, etc.)
  5. Difficult people love drama. In fact, difficult people will often say they “hate” drama. If someone says this to you, RUN.  I am serious. Get out of there! People who do not love drama do not speak about their hatred of drama. People who are in actual “drama free” types exhibit behavior that would not allow much unnecessary drama to develop in their lives (such as proclaiming they hate drama). Saying you hate drama is a clear indicator you love it. Not only do they love it but often they will MANUFACTURE it for their own amusement. If someone is trying to suck you in to drama, try to stay out of their way. These types of people will always find someone willing to engage in their circus. Observe but do not absorb what is being thrown at you.
  6. Difficult people always have something negative to say about others. More so, they never have a positive thing to say about anyone. Ever. Try it out sometime. Bring up a person that you and the difficult person both know. Wait for a negative comment to fly out of said difficult person’s mouth. Difficult people are often gossips without a kind word to say about anyone (except maybe themselves).
  7. Difficult people tend to have a low frustration/stress tolerance. They are very reactive people. Difficult people are also often emotional children. If you say something that triggers them, expect them to often overreact or go on the defensive. It is very hard for difficult people to admit mistakes or stay calm in a heated discussion. Many times difficult people have developed inadequate coping mechanisms and will distort, deny, or blame the other. They just do not have the capacity or wherewithal to accept responsibility.
  8. Difficult people will say YOU are the difficult one. Project much?!  Difficult people are incapable of self-reflecting. Interestingly enough difficult people tend to be self-referential (where they make repeated reference to themselves–how THEY would do something or how THEY have done something–and of course they are always the “shining example” of how to act/be). If there is a problem, you can bet they are not going to take accountability. Most mature adults can look back at a conflict and see their role in it. Difficult people project their negative qualities onto you. I have actually had this happen to me before with a textbook difficult person–it leaves you wondering how anyone can be that distorted in their thinking—but believe you me, difficult people can and do live in their OWN reality. In my experience, you must have the sensibility to not be sucked into their projections. It is much easier said than done.
These are just a few of the many characteristics of a difficult person. One overarching truth: difficult people are inherently manipulative.  Usually they are playing for dominance and power in their interactions with people. This naturally will put us on the defense as we feel an intrinsic need to protect ourselves when we feel insulted or attacked. If you feel a need to defend yourself in a conversation with someone, take a step back to look at WHY. Healthy people try to have discussions, not arguments.  If you express a thought or feeling and the person begins a tirade on why you are wrong—you may be getting gaslighted (more on that later). Healthy people will listen to a person’s perspective, even if they disagree, without going on the attack.  We are the best judge of our own experiences. Healthy people do not invalidate other people’s feelings even if they do not agree. Difficult people try to bait others into reacting. These people are masters of figuring out our triggers and using them against us. Yet to deal with a difficult person you need to overcome your need to “protect” your reputation or “not let them get away with this.” Resisting the trap set by difficult people is easier if you stay focus on the big picture: these people are not worth the energy or the time to tussle with. Below I offer a few suggestions for how to stay sane with such energy sappers. How to Stay Present and Rational When Confronted By Difficult People
  1. Observe. Don’t absorb. DO NOT internalize whatever a difficult person tries to project or throw at you. Often difficult people are trying to unload their own negative emotions onto you. THIS IS NOT YOUR BURDEN TO BEAR. People can’t transmit their negativity onto you, if you do not accept it. Try to look at your dealings with such people as a science experience. Figure out which approach works best to neutralize them.
  2. Resist the urge to argue or win. THERE IS NO WINNING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE. They live for the fight. They do not communicate to find common ground or resolve conflicts but to “put you are in your place” or put you in a “lower” position to them. These people have fragile egos. Difficult people tend to always be jockeying for position in their interactions with people–and this position is to be on top. Many difficult people cannot stand to think other people have their number. They do not like coming to social relationships on a level playing field. This is why you always get the sense they are trying to keep you off-balance.
  3. Ask yourself, “Does this person really matter in my life?” If it is a boss or your mother, you will be more apt to figure out ways to “manage” the relationship. If the person is not a key part of your life, minimizing your interactions  with them would be the best approach. Avoid when you can, be polite but firm when you must interact. No matter what do not lower yourself to their behavior by acting in kind. These types of people tend to make us act out of character with their crazy making behavior.
  4. If you cannot avoid this person, ask yourself, “What is my goal in this relationship?”  Your goal might need some tweaking if it involves any EXPECTATION on the part of the difficult person. You can expect NOTHING with these types of folks. Your goal with difficult people should be to keep the relationship on an even keel as possible. DO NOT talk about any subject that can trigger them–if you know they are sensitive about their career (or lack there of),  do not talk about your recent promotion. If you know they are insecure about how they parent, avoid voicing opinions about things that have been successful for you with your kids. You might be thinking to yourself, but I don’t want to censor what I say or who I am.  I understand–but save who you really are for the people in your life you are close  with—toxic people will often take what you say and use it against you later. They will twist and distort what you say. These people are not safe vessels to share your true feelings with. It is not worth it to get into it with a toxic person. Saying less is more with these people.
  5. Practice detachment.  Detachment is where you observe not absorb the other person’s words, energy, or actions. Detachment does not mean you are rude or uncaring. It is coming from a mind space where you are still the polite, kind person you are but you are PROTECTING yourself from the toxicity of the difficult person. DO NOT take anything personal with a difficult person. Difficult people are not happy people. I repeat DIFFICULT PEOPLE ARE NOT HAPPY PEOPLE. Happy people do not go around trying to hurt or agitate others. With detachment, you come with a sense of boundaries and integrity when faced with the toxicity of another person. You are not going to stoop to their level but walk away if they are unable to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Do not allow yourself to be baited.
  6. Have compassion. I know you are thinking how can I have compassion for someone who makes my life difficult. But you should. Because as I said happy, fulfilled people do not go around trying to manufacture problems or inappropriately insert themselves into others’ lives. Happy people do not try to make other people feel bad about themselves. These people may be crazy makers but they also create misery in their own lives as well. SO next time, that nosy coworker is putting down your proposal or belittling your presentation, take a step back. People who are overly critical tend to be very critical of themselves as well. Have some empathy for someone who is SO unhappy with their own life, that they exude negativity onto others.
  7. Have a sense of humor. Difficult people can be pretty funny when you think about it. They are prone to social faux pas and putting their feet in their mouth.  Many times a difficult person has NO filter. Of course it is hard to laugh about rudeness or inappropriateness when it is directed at you! Nevertheless if you can keep it light and humorous, that is half the battle. You cannot take these people seriously (except to the extent of protecting yourself from them causing problems in your life). Try to chuckle to yourself when you are forced to share the same space with such people.
  8. See a therapist. If you really find there is a difficult person in your life who is driving YOU crazy, look into talking to a professional. A professional counselor can help you develop strategies for dealing with the crazy maker in your life. Professional counselors are trained to deal with people who exhibit  maladaptive behaviors or may have a personality disorder of some sort.
More on dealing with difficult people to come in further posts. I find many people seek counseling when they are struggling to deal with a crazy maker in their life. difficult 2 If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me: Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC


590 Franklin Ave. Suite 2 Nutley, NJ 07110 973-963-7485

Who Are You? The fallout of being raised in a Dysfunctional Family

We all think we know who we are…right? But do we really? I can guarantee whoever you may consider yourself to be, you are MORE than that.  As people, we have a way of defining ourselves by our stations in life, the way others view us, our circumstances, and so on and so forth. Think about it. Do you allow yourself to be defined by others? By your spouse? Your family? Your friends? Your profession? Do you define yourself by the different “roles” you play: wife, mother, husband, father, son, daughter, friend, teacher, nurse? By your religious beliefs? Political party? If someone asks you who you are, what would you say?

Many people come to therapy in the midst of an identity crisis. Newly single. In a state of crisis because they forgot what it is like to “be on their own.” No longer able to identify as someone’s husband. Or wife. Recent college grad. No idea what direction to move in without the safety net of school and the identity of being a “student.” Empty nester. Kids have flown the coop and without the identity of “full-time mom” left to wonder, “Who am I now?” And the list goes on and on. As people, we tend to become so identified with our roles that we feel at a lost if we are to lose them. It is often during these times of change that we begin to question, “Who am I really?”

Many people have a shaky sense of self.  Even in the BEST of times or in the best of circumstances. Some people live their whole life without truly defining who their authentic self is. It is easy to get caught up in letting ourselves be defined by others or by the stage of life we are in. It is the path of least resistance to let our roles or circumstances in life define us. Yet we all have heard a common regret of the dying is that they didn’t live a life true to who they really are.  Be that as it may many of us do not even know who THAT is. Being asked to define who we ARE is a tremendous question…seems simple, but hard to grasp.

Developing a true sense of self is a pivotal part of becoming a mature, healthy functioning adult. It can take time and be challenging. Without a healthy sense of self, a person can develop anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems in addition to  physical health problems.

Defining oneself can be a challenge growing up in a functional family. Yet many of us grow up in DYSfunctional families which can make it especially hard to separate who we are from who our family is. Many people who come from dysfunctional families or have been abused struggle with this question. There is fallout from being raised in a dysfunctional environment because we often face emotional and psychological trauma during our upbringing. When you grow up in a dysfunctional household, parents can be substance abusers, emotional abusers, physical abusers, sexual abusers, or just plain TOXIC, with the scars remaining long after childhood is over.  While a person may have long moved away from their family of origin or developed some strong boundaries to deal with their interactions with toxic family members, the legacy of their upbringing follows them.  Especially since people who are raised in a dysfunctional environment may currently be dealing with some real mental health or emotional challenges due to their upbringing.

Don’t get me wrong. Not ALL adult children of dysfunctional families have emotional or mental health problems. We are all the best judge of our own experiences and many people overcome a difficult childhood with no bumps in their proverbial road. Yet oftentimes when people come into therapy, regardless of their presenting problem, the challenges they are facing can be traced back to the psychological fallout from their childhood.

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, your family’s words, actions, and attitudes HURT you.  Because of this trauma, you grow up different from other children, often being asked to hide who you are to meet and service your parents’ needs. Dysfunctional means it doesn’t work, even if it appears like it does. The question may be for you not if your family of origin was dysfunctional but to what degree was the dysfunction apparent.

A dysfunctional family LACKS boundaries. Boundaries are what separate you from me and me from you. Boundaries are an important part of existing as a separate entity. Thus if you grow up in a family who lacks clear boundaries, this is going to impact your ability to develop a healthy identity separate from your family of origin.

You may be asking yourself, well how do I know if I grew up in a dysfunctional family? Below are some signs you are still being adversely impacted by your childhood:

  1. You take yourself very seriously and have difficulty having fun. People from dysfunctional families are hypervigilant to possible “threats” and are often scanning their environment. Oftentimes a dysfunctional home environment is unpredictable and unstable. Adult children of dysfunctional families struggle to relax and let loose.
  2. You constantly seek approval. I am talking to you people pleasers. Our early relationships impact our adult relationships. Often in dysfunctional families, children get parentified. Parentification is a role reversal where the child acts as the parent due to the emotional immaturity or psychological limitations of the parent.  Parentified children are inappropriately given the role of filling their PARENTS’ needs, instead of the other way around. And thus in many cases a people pleaser is born.
  3. You are either super responsible or super irresponsible. Dysfunctional environments are usually chaotic. Thus a child may overcompensate by becoming super responsible which carries into adulthood. Or the reverse may take place where the child “gives up”  because they feel nothing they do will make a difference (this can often lead to substance abuse in later years).
  4. You don’t know what normal is.  You may know your family is NOT normal but you don’t know what a healthy, functioning family really looks like.  You may even wonder if there are families out there who resemble the families you see of tv (such as my personal favorite family—Full House–90s tv family reference right there for you).
  5. You feel like a victim. Perhaps this is how you got your needs met as a child.  It is a powerful and manipulative way to get what you want. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, it may feel threatening  to you to directly ask others for what you want and need because as a child you may have been shamed for expressing yourself.
  6. You are extremely judgemental. Of yourself–and others.  You were not shown unconditional love growing up, and instead became judgemental.  Your parents may have put their judgements on you and others. In many ways you grew up feeling like you never quite measured up. Perhaps you were subject to criticism or verbal abuse and have internalized those messages.
  7. You lack self-control–binge eating, substance abuse, job hopping, bed hopping. You may have lacked structure in your family of origin–making it hard to develop discipline and self-regulate your emotions. You are impulsive and find it hard to manage long-term goals. You may be someone who sacrifices what you want most for what you want in the moment.
  8. You worry a lot about the future. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, you never know when the other shoe was going to drop. You may struggle with a chronic, low-grade anxiety. It is almost impossible for you to be at peace.
  9. You feel lonely. You never developed as an individual, always having to cater to the needs of the family system at large. Even when in the presence of others, you cannot shake a sense of loneliness within you. You may be hyperaware of the feelings of others but struggle to really identify and express what you feel.  It is common for adult children of dysfunctional families to be codependent.
  10. You fear being abandoned.  You couldn’t rely on your mom or dad–maybe mom or dad left when you were young or maybe they didn’t physically leave you–but left you emotionally. You may constantly be scanning your adult relationships for any sign someone, whether a friend or romantic partner, is going to jump ship on the relationship. You may even have a self-destructive side to your personality– creating situations that ensure people leave by being overbearing, controlling, overly critical. You struggle with self sabotage in life and in your relationships.
  11. You are reactive. This comes back to boundaries. You can’t tell where you end and someone else begins. Someone says something that triggers you and you react. (note I say you react, not respond. Reacting is impulsive whereas responding is thought out). You struggle with being tolerant of those who do not think what you think or feel what you feel. You grew up so enmeshed in your family of origin that you struggle with being differentiated as an adult in your relationships.

These are just some of a multitude of ways you can begin to see the effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family. To overcome our dysfunctional upbringing we need to first be able to recognize how it is still effecting us. All of these behaviors act as distractions to developing one’s true sense of self.

Once we understand how our upbringing is still present in our adult lives, we need to stop identifying with the roles we played in childhood. We coped using maladaptive behaviors when we were children because we needed to cope in a situation where we were largely powerless. Children NEED their parents to survive. If your parents are unhealthy or abusive, you most likely will develop maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with the pain and toxicity in your environment. Adaptive coping mechanisms improve functioning whereas maladaptive measures do not. Unfortunately as children, these maladaptive coping strategies can be quite effective in mitigating our pain and anxiety, at lease in the short-term. The problem is we often continue these maladaptive behaviors into adulthood. Once we recognize how the roles we played as children are still present in our adult lives, we then need to stop clinging to them. There is comfort in holding on to a familiar identity even a negative one.  Yet just like we outgrow pants and shoes, we can outgrow our families of origins. For many of us who get therapy or embark on a journey of self-discovery, you may realize you already have.  But to open yourself up to finding and becoming your true self–you need to recognize the grip your childhood still has on you. By loosening the grip on the past, it will open you up to many possibilities–including discovering who you REALLY are!

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in seeking counseling with me: Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC


590 Franklin Ave. Suite 2 Nutley, NJ 07110 973-963-7485