counseling, emotionalimmaturity, psychology, self-help

How to Become Less Reactive: A Family Systems View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we do to become less reactive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you find you are struggling with reactivity in YOUR LIFE and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

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

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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counseling, psychology, relationships, self-help

Is Your Perception Off? How Problems of Perception Can Hurt Your Relationships and How Counseling Can Help

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

I think many of us have heard that quote before….and to some extent it seems to hold true.

As a counselor, I find people often seek counseling because they want help in bettering an important relationship in their life. Clients may be bewildered to how an important relationship in their life has gotten to where it has gotten. Whether it is their spouse, family member, colleague, or a friend, I find clients will frequently claim to have NO idea how they got to such a bad place in the presenting troubled relationship.

Most of our problems in our everyday lives, including our relationships, arise from our inability to understand the power of perception and how this can affect one’s life, experience, and relationships.

It is the job of a therapist to guide clients to a better understanding of themselves and to a better understanding of how others may be experiencing them. Counseling requires the clinician to dive into a client’s worldview and challenge any cognitive distortions he/she may present with that may be causing conflict in their life.

I think we can can all agree it is much easier to see the problems in perceptions of others than it is to see in oneself. If you’ve ever listened to someone’s description or opinion of you and it sounded completely foreign, you probably found yourself wondering where on earth this person was coming from. Yet ask yourself, are you able to recognize when your opinion seems off base to another or when someone else has NO idea where you are coming from?

Do you feel you are cognizant of your words and actions–specifically the impact they may have on others?

People, more often than they care to admit, say and do things without thinking out the consequences of their words and actions. Maybe you find you are guilty of this as well. Most of us are from time to time. Being able to make amends when our behavior has a negative impact on another is the hallmark of emotional maturity. But before we can do this we need to develop a sense of self-awareness and how our behavior impacts others. This is why counseling can be so beneficial to everyone at one point or another over the course of their life.

As a counselor I find myself frequently asking clients regarding their behavior, “What were you hoping to accomplish by THAT?” This answer can very telling to the motivations behind what a person says or does in relation to other people. The sad truth is people often act against the very thing they are hoping to accomplish in their relationship.

In life, we often say things or do things without paying mind to what we are hoping to accomplish.

I find as a clinician if you can’t understand why someone is doing something, look at the consequences of their actions, whatever they might be, and you can in turn infer the motivations from the consequences their actions are bringing about.

Thus if someone is making everyone around them unhappy and you are scratching you head as to why, their motivation may be very simple—to make everyone around them unhappy including themselves. The fact is many people do not act in their best interest as head scratching as that may be.

Then there are people who are too easily ruled by feelings, impulses, and fleeting thoughts. Children have this luxury. Adults do NOT.

As an adult you are free to conduct yourself as you wish. But natural consequences are to follow. Thus if you tell off your boss, expect to be fired. If you drink and drive, expect to be arrested. If you eat 5,000 calories a day, expect your pants to not fit. If you mistreat someone, expect than to exit stage left out of your life. Insert bad behavior and negative consequence here.

Natural consequences are the inevitable results of our actions. The Buddhist religion refers to this as “karma.” Christianity refers to this as “reaping what you sow.”

In counseling, the clinician works with the client to figure out how their actions, words, and behaviors lead to the current state of their relationship. One of the many benefits of counseling is it challenges a client’s perception/cognitions (As a counselor, I am a big fan of cognitive behavioral therapy which entails cognitive challenging, cognitive restructuring, and cognitive reframing, which is a therapeutic process that helps the client discover, challenge, and modify or replace their negative, irrational thoughts ie their PERCEPTIONS).

The truth is everyone sees situations differently and based on what they interpret, their actions will be a perfect match for what they see. The problem with this is some people have faulty perceptions. In the end our perceptions form our reality.

This is why relationship conflict is inevitable and common. We are bring own your unique lens and worldview to everyone we interact with and to every relationship we have.

Counseling can be a helpful resource to figure out a way to mend a trouble relationship–whether with a spouse, partner, friend, coworker, or family member. Therapy can help you better understand how the relationship has unraveled to this point.

It is important to realize that perception is quite a self-centric and individualistic process. Allowing your perception to interfere with your feelings and the way you interact with others can be problematic if you are off with how you are perceiving things. When you are stressed, overly emotional, or suffer from some sort of mental illness or personality disorder, your perception is almost guaranteed to be off.

Through the counseling process, you can begin to unravel the many layers your world view and if you struggle with any problems of perception.

A common issue I see in counseling, is that some people can be led down the rabbit hole of worrying about how OTHER people perceive them

I gently remind clients we can’t control how others see us. But being mindful of how we’re perceived — and whether it matches with how we see ourselves can lead us to reflecting on behaviors we might consider changing.

Counseling brings the focus back to you and YOUR perceptions–not other people’s thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. All of which we are powerless to control.

Through the therapeutic process, your clinician can help you see many of our problems are caused by faulty ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. It is the therapist’s toolbox to help you challenge, reframe, and restructure how you view problematic relationships in your life–for your benefit, so you can adopt more positive, functional thought habits.

Counseling can also help you function better in your relationships.

The fact is most of us are not trained on how to listen or how to challenge our own perceptions. People attempt to validate their own perceptions—even if they are faulty! People selectively interpret what they see on the basis of their interest, background, experience, and attitudes. If you want to interact effectively with someone, to influence them, first you need to be able to listen to them and perceive them accurately–outside of your own projections, biases, and possibly misguided emotions.

Although it may seem overwhelmingly difficult to change your own ways of thinking, it is actually like any other thing you hope to get good at – it is hard when you first begin, but with practice, you will find it easier and easier to challenge your own negative thoughts and beliefs.

For instance, say you and your partner are having the same fight over and over again. In your mind, it is ALL your partner’s fault. If ONLY he (or she) can see they are in fact wrong, everything would be okay. Let’s be real here. People get into fights because neither side thinks they are wrong thus having this line of thinking is not beneficial to you or your relationship.

This is where cognitive restructuring can come into play to help you. THIS technique involves identifying a situation that leads to stress, anxiety, anger, and the thoughts and feelings that arose in that situation.  Working with the clinician, you work to examine the thoughts you have and in turn determine what is true about them and what is not true about them.  The final step is you work with the clinician to develop an alternative and more balanced thought and determine how you will feel (outcome) when you adopt this new way of thinking.

Cognitive behavioral therapy emphasizes three main components implicated in psychological problems:  thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By breaking down difficult feelings into these main component parts, it becomes very clear where and how to intervene.

If you are struggling with managing your relationships in your life, it may be helpful to work with a clinician to examine the way you think. CBT works to identify unhelpful thinking patterns and devise new ways of reacting to a problematic situation.

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The power of reframing is undeniable. A change in perception of how you view things that others say to you, instantly helps you release tension. If you continue to operate on auto pilot without reframing your perceptions, what you actually experience is NOT the way the person experiences him or herself. You are experiencing your perception of the person–which may not be grounded in reality but clouded by your emotions and feelings.

More importantly when we dedicate the time and energy to work our perceptions and the way we experience life, we learn to focus on the now. Too often our perception is clouded by the past or future acts which have no meaning to the present moment at hand.  Only NOW matters in our interactions with others. Yes, there are times we need to process through and discuss the past with others or figure out a way to move forward, but this is all do from the space of NOW.

Too many people get stuck in the past. Or project their mind into worries over the future. Both cause problems in our perception of the here and now.

Perception forms the foundation of your life. YOUR reality. Which may not be the reality of other people in your life. If you can become mindful of every person you interact with has their unique lens of how they look at the world, it can help you better navigate the relationship. When you change the structure of your perception, you change the structure of your world.

If you find you are struggling with a valued relationship in your life, consider giving counseling a try. It might be just the thing you need to transform your life and relationships.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

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

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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counseling, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, self-help

Is Your Relationship Happy and Healthy?

Do you ever wonder if your relationship is a happy and healthy one?

If you are worried about the state of your relationship, you are in good company. Whether you have been together for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or 30+ years, it is completely normal to evaluate the status of your relationship from time to time. Whether you are newlywed or refer to yourselves as old Ball ‘n’ Chain, every relationship has its share of ups and downs

A happy and healthy relationship is not based on one factor. While it is safe to say the happiest long-lasting relationships probably don’t have affairs, fly off the handle over leaving the dishes in the sink, or lie about secret bank accounts, one can say that a long-lasting relationship requires the acceptance that neither you nor your partner are perfect.

Below are some signs you are in a happy and healthy relationship with your significant other:

1)Your feel content and satisfied most of the time. Your relationship with your partner should make you feel loved and secure.  There are growing pains in any relationship. As we progress through life, we change and evolve. We are certainly not the same person at 55 we were at 25. Yet change requires growth, and growth is sometimes not easy.  In fact, some growth is downright painful, especially when it affects the way you feel about a key relationship you have come to rely upon as a source of connection, stability and enjoyment. Being able to change as individuals and evolve together as a couple is important to a healthy and happy relationship.

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2)You make each other want to do better and be better. People change and forget to tell each other is a common reason relationships fail. In a happy, healthy relationship you are encouraging each other to become the best versions of yourself–mentally, emotionally, physically, financially. Open, ongoing communication is key. There are a LARGE number of people who are willing to stay in a unfulfilling relationship because the thought of change is too scary. This is no way to live. You need to put in the effort to BE a good partner if you want your partner to do the same in turn. The good news is that pain can be huge motivator for change, so be willing to embrace the discomfort. As a couple, you shoot be rooting for each other to succeed in every facet of life. Change is never easy but if you can overcome the inevitable obstacles you will face together, your relationship will be stronger than ever when you come out on the other side.

3)You have a good physical connection including intimacy–emotional and physical. Sex is very important to a happy, healthy relationship. Sexual passion is something that may have peaks and valleys, but passion for each other and for their relationship is constant in happy relationships. Being able to be emotionally vulnerable is equally as important. Being able to let one’s guard down and be vulnerable is a key to a healthy and happy relationship.

4)You share laughter and have a similar sense of humor. Having fun together is at the foundation of any great relationship. Being able to laugh often with your partner is a sign of a gratifying relationship. Laughter is truly the best medicine but it is also the cornerstone of a strong bond with your partner. Laughter plays a part in the initial attraction through weathering the bumps of any long-term relationship. Humor is incredibly important in romantic relationships.

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5)You may not always agree, but are both committed to doing what is best for the greater good of your relationship. Relationships are tough and you have to be committed to doing what is in the best interest of your relationship even if this is sometimes at the expense of your own personal wants/desires. There will be competing interests vying for priority in your life from your career to friends to family, but your partner always need to be at the top of your priority list. If you put your partner first, your relationship has the legs to last a lifetime. Putting your partner first needs to become a habit in your relationship.

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6)You feel good about how your manage your life together. In other words, when you know what to do and what’s expected with you, you tend to be happier both yourself and with your significant other. When you and your partner feel unhappy with the allocation of chores, the stress in your relationship increases tenfold.  Couples fight just as frequently about who does what around the house as they fight over finances. So figure out what works best for the two of you. Maybe you do the laundry, but he takes the garbage out. You do the food shopping, but he takes the cars to be serviced. You and your partner should define whose job it is to do what.

8)You know how to recover from a fight. Even in the best relationships, conflict will happen. Happy couples talk. “Agreeing to disagree” is a refrain to become comfortable with because not ever problem has a viable solution. Having empathy for the other person is crucial in any relationship. You need to protect your relationship from things that can hurt the integrity of you, your partner, and your relationship as a whole.  Happy couples are not concerned about who’s right or wrong, as they regard themselves as a team above all else, and what is important to them is doing what is right for the greater good of their relationship.

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9)You have a shared vision for your life, even if you both have individual goals you are pursuing. Having a vision for your life together is essential. Do you and your partner set aside time to discuss goals–individual and shared alike? Making time together for planning, intention, and strategic thought as you move into the future together will bind you closer together and give you shared goals to work toward as a couple.

10)You accept each other for who they are—the good, the bad, the ugly. This one should go without saying, but there are many couples who love one another but don’t actually like one another. Happy couples accept each other’s imperfections because they are able to accept their own imperfections.  Perhaps more telling is that people who consider their partner to be their best friend are almost twice as satisfied in their relationships as other people. Loving someone for who they are is easier said than done but just as we wanted to be accepted with our shortcomings and all, we need to be able to provide the same to our partner.

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If you identify your relationship lacking in many of the aforementioned characteristics, I encourage you to seek professional counseling to address these issues and give you the resources to create and maintain a healthy relationship.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

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

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com