Most of us do our best to behave. We try to do the right thing, be polite, follow social/moral norms, and not harm others.
Yet punishment exists across society in as far back as history goes, albeit our ancestors doled out different forms of “punishment” then current society may permit (public stoning–not going to fly these days)! Evolution has instilled in humans the desire to identify and discipline wrongdoers. It is a part of our collective human nature. The reasons for direct punishment are clear. If someone wrongs you, retaliation reduces the likelihood that they will do it again. Additionally, if others see you retaliate, they will also be less likely to wrong you in the future.
When our goals are thwarted or we feel diminished in some way, many of us find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having a lot of negative energy to unload but not feeling able to direct it towards the correct person due an imbalance of power. Thus, we punish the wrong people, usually those closest to us, making them suffer to relieve our own suffering.
Of course, this process is not conscious. We wait for some way to rationalize our behavior by citing the wrong behavior of the person we are punishing, but if we look deeply we can usually trace our hostility not to what this person has done, but to an unfulfilled desire to retaliate against the person who has hurt us.
If this setup is familiar to you, try a different route next time. Instead of attacking the wrong person, openly admit to your hurt feelings and ask for comfort and support instead. You’ll feel a lot better, which is why you’re trying to punish your loved one in the first place, and you’ll be strengthening your relationship instead of decaying it.
It can be pretty tough to admit to feeling diminished, you’re exposing your soft underbelly not just to someone else but also to yourself by admitting you have one. But it’s preferable to blaming and punishing a person who doesn’t deserve it, in effect making someone else feel just as bad as you have been made to feel yourself.
How comfortable are you with being different? How comfortable are you with other people’s differences?
Take a moment and pause to think of the people you are closest with.
Do you find these people are like you in terms of beliefs? Political, personal, and otherwise? Do your friends have a wide range of perspectives and approaches to life? Or do you find your relationships center around a shared outlook and belief in life and how the world works?
Often when people come to counseling, the sessions are relationship focused, namely on relationship problems. As you can probably guess, differences lead to conflict rather than sameness in relational dynamics. I see clients time and time again not being able to wrap their mind around how a partner, friend, or family member acts or thinks as they do.
Yet the OTHER person is not the problem. It is the orientation towards differences that is likely at the heart of the issue.
Differences are part of being human. It does not make you unhuman because you are different. We have sameness and we have difference. As do all the people we meet and interact with. As does all our family, friends, colleagues, etc.
From a family system perspective, we have togetherness and separateness. We have individuation and connectedness. The goal of becoming self-differentiated is learning to balance these forces to manage our self and our relationships. The aim of counseling is to find a way to be more at peace with ourselves and others.
At the cornerstone of many relationship issues tends to be an inability to tolerate differences and manage our responses. Too much togetherness can lead to problems. Too much distance can equally lead to problems. A healthy balance leads to a stable life with healthy relationships.
Some people are afraid to be themselves because of the fear of how others will respond. They have grown up in a family where differences are not valued. Often not tolerated.
Often in dysfunctional families, we see the mindset of we should all think and feel the same way i.e., “group think.” Differences are not very well accepted if you did not hold the party line. There is a great value in sameness.
The truth is if you are self-aware, self-defined, and self-regulated you are going to be different from other people. AND THAT IS A GOOD THING. That is a human thing.
And if someone else is going to be self-aware, self-defined, and self-regulated they are going to be different from me. That is a good thing too.
Acceptance means we respect that other have a right to be their own unique persons. Our world becomes a lot more interesting when we learn to accept other people’s differences.
We can have differences while also being connected. Although for many people it is hard for them to connect with someone who is different from them because again their existence is based on sameness. So, if you are not the same as me then I need to exclude you, or we are not going to connect because we are not the same.
In counseling, I often point out to clients I will not believe everything everyone else believes. I will not feel everything else feels. This is a certitude that holds true for us all.
Accepting differences is a part of maturity and growing up. Accepting that not everybody is me. Developmentally, that is what teenagers look for me when they reach adolescence. Teens want to fit in and be around like-minded people which during that specific developmental stage is appropriate. It is not a permanent state to live in as we mature into adults.
Weaknesses or limitations that we all possess make it hard to make peace with differences in ourselves and others. Accepting differences means accepting others’ strengths without feeling inferior, meaning you do not feel less than the other person because they have a strength. Just like you do not feel more than the other person because you have a strength.
It is understanding that other people’s strengths mean nothing about my strengths. Their differences mean nothing about my differences.
That is where I think the therapeutic value comes in and can be helpful. Counseling can help you accept that they can be different and think different, I can be me and think differently. Many people in sessions struggle with worrying about what another person in their life thinks of them.
Accepting differences mean coming to accept other people are entitled to think as they will and for us to be unaffected by it. To accept we do not need to fight to change people’s perceptions of us. Thus, if they have a negative view of me, I am LETTING them have that negative view of me and I am not absorbing it. I do not think I am bad or stupid or worthless. YOU may think that. That is your right to do so. Those are your thoughts. In turn it gives me a greater amount of detachment and neutrality because I accept their differences. And their differences can be ludicrous especially in dysfunctional people. But that is okay. Those are their beliefs for whatever reason, but they are not my beliefs. We can observe rather than absorb them.
It is healthy to realize I am not you and you are not me. It is a helpful notion to have with other people. And it such a common struggle for people of all ages and from all walks of life.
If you are not comfortable with differences is leads to hiding, lying, keeping secrets in our relationships. Those are the difficulties that arise when we need sameness to feel comfortable.
I think part of maturing and getting older is accepting people think differently than I do, and they will. And that is okay.
A common way you know you struggle with accepting differences is when you try to change someone. We are not respecting differences if we are trying to fix others. It is not accepting the principle of we are all not the same.
The thing you must remember is accepting differences is not accepting the behavior.
If someone thinks harshly or badly about you, if I accept their differences, it does not mean I will stay in for the abuse. It means I now must make choices about how I am going to relate to this person. I cannot change them, and I have probably tried to many times. But I can’t—now what to do I do to position myself with them that has the least toxic effect? In turn you are accepting their differences by adjusting yourself to that reality. Then we care for ourselves more while respecting their differences.
We must remember there are not only differences in beliefs, but differences in how we react and respond. If you really want to get a reaction from someone, feel differently than they feel.
Feeling neutral can be seen as a bad thing as some. Because being neutral can be unsettling. People often feel more comfortable in emotional reactions because even if they are not healthy, they are familiar.
People may not like or accept this response. Reactivity may be what they are comfortable with. Remember, reactivity is lack of being okay with difference. Because if you are okay with difference, why would you be reactive to the other person? If you are okay with being neutral and with differences, you do not need to be reactive.
If I am okay with my position, I do not need to react to the positions of others.
They may not in turn have everything they want, but I do not have everything I want. Such is life.
Being okay with differences reduces the reactivity in our relationships. It leads to less conflict and more harmony.
Others can believe what they choose but I must then act accordingly. Oftentimes, we do not like the options of acting accordingly—it may mean boundaries, it may mean loss of the relationship, it may mean loss of finances, it may mean lots of things.
In counseling, people often ask how they can CHANGE the other person. Or struggle with accepting the other person WILL NOT CHANGE. Yet one of the best ways we can change a belief in others is not to be reactive to it. It is often counterintuitive and surprises the other. Thus, them having that belief is totally on them—they need to take responsibility for that belief and its repercussions.
It is also accepting that other people may not believe what you believe. People may challenge your beliefs and values. Yet I am not going to defend myself out of that belief—often when you are defending yourself, you already loss.
Defending yourself does not fix the true issue at play.
How much does defending oneself truly work? Often the belief comes from an irrational position, an emotional position, or a systems position. It is not coming from a LOGICAL position so giving all the facts is not going to change anything about what you believe, or the other person believes. We see this at play in the political arena daily.
This principle is not about forcing or changing differences, it is about RESPECTING differences. Even if those differences are illogical or irrational, we then just must decide how we will respond in turn. That is true emotional maturity.
As I frequently share with my clients, I cannot change others irrational beliefs. Thus, I respect that—those are their beliefs. I may not believe them to be true at all but that is okay. That is my belief. Now, what am I going to do?
Accepting differences can be both liberating and scary. Both emotions will come up the more you differentiate. You understand you are truly alone. When you experience the difference of where you end and the other person begins, it can get scary. But also, profound.
The person I have is me. Therefore, inner bonding work can be so important. Because really the only person you have is you. Yet this is true for us all.
There are other people we connect with. But we do have to learn to stand alone. That is a part of emotional maturity.
Counseling can be a way to develop the ability to cultivate respect for differences in our self and others. This can help all the relationships we have in our life including our relationship with self.
Have you noticed your stress levels have been on the rise as a result of COVID-19? If so, you are certainly in good company. Anxiety is a natural response to the unknown, nature’s way of trying to protect us by pushing us to resolve the uncertainty and figure out a solution to the problem.
In a situation, such as a national pandemic, stress is the normal human reaction. Fear and anxiety about this disease can cause strong emotions in adults and children alike. With news of rising death tolls, massive job layoffs, and orders from government officials to “shelter in place” we may be left feeling a bit shaken. It does not help to keep hearing that hospitals are running short on supplies nor getting contradicting information from different news outlets on this novel coronavirus. People can struggle to know WHAT to even believe is true.
People with pre-existing anxiety and related disorders are *especially* likely to a have a hard time during the coronavirus crisis.
We all react differently to stressful situations. Social distancing and self-quarantine can test the strongest amongst us. Dealing with at-risk family members, a roller-coaster economy, trying to juggle work, keeping your children occupied, and homeschooling all can all be overwhelming. Just simply adjusting to a new, unfamiliar situation can negatively impact you. Moreover, none of us know when this is going to end, which just adds to the psychological distress.
Stress, while not only an unpleasant emotional state, can also weaken your immune system. Reducing your stress is one of the best ways you can deal with this crisis. Hence it is more important than ever to boost your coping skills in order to improve both your physical and mental well-being.
5 Steps to Manage Stress
1)Get sleep and rest. Everything gets amplified when we are sleep deprived. Getting enough rest is more important than ever for both your physical and mental well-being. It is important to be well-rested to deal with the additional stressors impacting our day to day lives.
2)Exercise. Gyms may be closed, but it is still possible to take walks, play with your kids/pets, and workout at home. Endorphins can help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
3)Maintain a healthy diet. A bad diet can impact your emotional state. Be sure to help regulate your blood sugar throughout the day which will keep you much more even keeled. Eating well to help manage anxiety is commonly prescribed by doctors and mental health professionals alike. Lifestyle changes are simple but powerful tools in mitigating anxiety and depression, and are an essential component of an integrated approach to mental health.
4)Connect with others. Just because we are quarantining, it does not mean we cannot make a point to connect with others regularly. Isolation and lack of social connection can lead to anxiety and depression Zoom, Facetime, Skype, etc. are all virtual platforms to be utilized to check in with friends and family.
5)Let go of your need for control. As humans, we tend to want to control over our lives. Coronavirus guidelines are very much OUT of our CONTROL. Meditating, journaling, and starting a mindfulness practice are all ways to develop our ability to cope with this trying time. It is important we learn to manage and accept our lack of control at it relates to this pandemic. Tolerating uncertainty makes you less vulnerable to anxiety. Start easing back on certainty-seeking behaviors in your daily life.
Following these steps to manage your stress can add a sense of normalcy to your life. Maintaining a routine is pivotal. As humans, we thrive when we have structure.
In addition, anxiety tends to rise proportionally to how much one tries to get rid of it. I always loved how Carl Jung said, “What you resist, persists.” People try to distract themselves by eating, drinking, self-medicating, or binge watching tv more than usual. They may seek out reassurance on the internet or from loved ones. Other people obsessively check news streams, hoping to calm their fears and seek answers to their questions. While these behaviors can help in the short term, they can make anxiety worse in the long term.
Allow your anxious feelings, thought, and physical sensations to wash over you, accepting that anxiety is a part of the human experience. We are all in this together. Often health threats can trigger this existential fear we all have within us of our own mortality. Take a moment to step back and remind yourself that you are more resilient that you think.
If you are not able to manage your anxiety or depression on your own, please know help is available. If you find you are struggling to maintain close relationships, take care of yourself or others, or that your anxiety is interfering with your daily responsibilities, you might want to get professional help from your doctor or a mental health professional. If you are feeling helpless during this stressful time, it may be time to speak with someone. As a counselor, I am providing tele-health sessions, as are many other providers. It is important to take care of yourself and others around you during this unprecedented time.
If you are struggling to cope during this time and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (***tele-health sessions ARE being covered by insurance**):https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC