counseling, happiness, psychology, relationships

Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family: Whose Life are You Really Living? Are You Self-Differentiated?

Since my days as a counseling graduate student, I have ALWAYS been a fan of Bowen Family Systems theory.

Bowen Family Systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally.

Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact. Families so profoundly affect their members’ thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same “emotional skin.”

People solicit each other’s attention, approval, and support and react to each other’s needs, expectations, and upsets. The connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent. A change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in the degree of interdependence, but it is always present to some degree (Bowen Center, 2019).

Bowen really explores the differences between healthy functioning families and dysfunctional families.

There are several characteristics that are generally identified within a healthy, well-functioning family. Some include: support; respect is abundant for all, privacy is respected, love and caring exists for ALL family members; an emotionally safe environment is present, new members are welcomed, people go gentle on the teasing and sarcasm, the family provides security AND a sense of belonging; OPEN lines of communication exists; the family system ALLOW members to change and grow, and the family makes each person within the family feel important, valued, respected and esteemed.

A dysfunctional family, on the other hand, is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and abuse (physical or emotional) occur continuously and regularly, leading to other members to accommodate such actions.  Dysfunctional families don’t cope with stress in a healthy manner.  Blame is plentiful in a dysfunctional family. Poor communication is the norm. Boundaries are disregarded and habitually crossed. Rather than dealing with the stress that is causing problems, dysfunctional families lash out at each other.

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you are more likely to struggle with self-differentiation than if you were raised in healthy family systems unit.

Some signs you are part of a dysfunctional family unit (from Wikipedia):

  • Lack of empathy, understanding, and sensitivity towards certain family members, while expressing extreme empathy or appeasement towards one or more members who have real or perceived “special needs.” In other words, one family member continuously receives far more than they deserve, while another is marginalized
  • Denial(refusal to acknowledge abusive behavior, possibly believing that the situation is normal or even beneficial; also known as the “elephant in the room”
  • Inadequate or missing boundaries for self (e.g. tolerating inappropriate treatment from others, failing to express what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment of self and others)
  • Disrespect of others’ boundaries (e.g. physical contact that other person dislikes; breaking important promises, not respecting someone’s wishes; purposefully violating a boundary another person has expressed)
  • Extremes in conflict (either too much fighting or insufficient peaceful arguing between family members)
  • Unfair or unfair treatment of one or more family members due to their birth order, gender, age, family role, abilities (may include frequent appeasement of one member at the expense of others, or an uneven/inconsistent enforcement of rules)
  • Disrespect towards family members including shaming, displays of contempt, bitterness, ridicule, judgmental statements, demonization/dehumanizing, belittling, hypocrisy, excessive criticism, excessive gossip

Mind you, no family is perfect, even the functioning ones. Dysfunction exists on a spectrum.

Yet often in dysfunctional families members are very often enmeshed. Enmeshed families are rigid systems where boundaries are generally not respected. People in enmeshed families don’t know where they end and another family member begins. This is a hinderance to the differentiation process.

In an enmeshed family, control is usually an ongoing issue. Enmeshed family members often try to control how other family members think and act while simultaneously fighting off perceived attempts of feeling controlled themselves in how to think and act. Live and let live is NOT a mantra in an enmeshed family.

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Have you ever heard someone complain about the “drama” in his or her family? Chances are that the family fits the profile of the enmeshed family, in which each family member feels obliged to react to whatever is going on in the lives of other family members, effectively multiplying the tension.

In an enmeshed family, you will be made to feel guilty even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Any step outside the unspoken rules of the family system will be met with resistance.

Guilt, shame, abandonment, ostracism, and rejection are all seen in a dysfunctional family as methods of keeping members “in line” with conforming and behaving within the family systems unit.

Ask yourself the following…

Do you ever catch yourself defending yourself to other family members (your choices, beliefs, feelings, decisions)?  Are you expected to defend such? Are new members welcomed in? Is everyone with the family system overly involved in the lives of each other with little privacy? Is change frowned upon? Does a parent tell one child that they are their favorite? Are emotions contagious–if someone is angry, it rubs off on other family members? Do people form coalitions and gang up on other family members? Are you made to feel guilty for saying no? Are parents best friends with their (still underage) children? Are parents overly involved with their children and their activities? These are all signs of enmeshment.

What happens if you are the process of self-differentiation and de-enmeshment from your family? You will in all likelihood be met with resistance. Often anger and guilt to follow.

The truth is some people live their whole lives UNdifferentiated from their family of origin.

It can be too painful to self-differentiate, depending on the level of dysfunction, within the family system.

When you attempt to begin the process of differentiation, the reaction you receive from family members can be too much for you to handle, depending on where you are at in your personal development.

Am example is the following.  Imagine you grew up with a mother who wanted to know EVERYTHING about your life–a behavior that continues well after you are into adulthood.  Maybe your mom feels ENTITLED to know anything she wants about you (She is your mother after all! As she would readily point out if you resisted–ie the GUILT tactic).  Mom repeatedly asks you personal questions about all aspects of your life–despite the fact you are 45 years old with your own wife and kids. Mom’s MO is to grill you with questions regardless of how personal they may in fact be. There is no line mom won’t cross!

Maybe you begin counseling to figure out a way to set boundaries with mom. The therapist gives you strategies to how to better manage the relationship. Next time, you see mom for Sunday dinner, she, BEING the woman she is, asks you a question on a topic you feel uncomfortable with discussing (your income, your marriage, how you are parenting your kids, insert uncomfortable topic here). Maybe you usually answered whatever question asked by her (ie the path of least resistance) but this time you respond by saying you feel uncomfortable. Maybe your mother replies you are being too “sensitive” (a common rebuttal in enmeshed families when you set a boundary). She may even ask why you are being so “difficult.” You reply calmly to mom that you understand why she is curious but you are not interested in talking about said topic today (or EVER  for that matter but today works in this example).

After Sunday dinner, a few days pass…you start to feel relieved that you were able to set the boundary with mom.

But then your sister calls. Your sister shares with you that your mom has been complaining about you being “overly sensitive” and “difficult” lately with her (in dysfunctional families “triangulation” is common).

Mom, you see, is annoyed with you, for setting a boundary. For not playing her game as usual. Thus she is now venting to your sister about you, hoping your sister relays her displeasure with you. That such displeasure will get you back in line because change destabilizes dysfunctional family systems.

This is a prime example of triangulation.

Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead using a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle. Triangulation may manifest itself as a manipulative device to engineer rivalry between two people, known as divide and conquer or playing one person against another (Bowen Family Center).

Being labeled something disparaging is par for the course in enmeshed families when you start the differentiation process. Change and growth are NOT welcome in such family systems. Often, once you stop playing the family system game, you are criticized. This is part of trying to get you to change back and not continue self-differentiating.

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If you are wondering how self-differentiated you currently are, I copied and pasted Bowen’s Scale of Differentiation below.

Bowen’s Scale of Differentiation:

0……………………..25……………………..50……………………..75……………………..100

0-25

Can’t distinguish between fact and feeling

Emotionally needy and highly reactive to others

Much of life energy spent in winning the approval of others

Little energy for goal-directed activities

Can’t say, “I think….I believe….”

Little emotional separation from their families

Dependent marital relationships

Do very poorly in transitions, crises, and life adjustments

Unable to see where they end and others begin

25-50 (many people are here)

Some ability to distinguish between fact and feeling

Most of self is a “false self” and reflected from others

When anxiety is low, they function relatively well

Quick to imitate others and change themselves to gain acceptance from others

Often talk one set of principles/beliefs, yet do another

Self-esteem soars with compliments or is crushed by criticism

Become anxious when a relationship system falls apart or becomes unbalanced

Often make poor decisions due to their inability to think clearly under stress

Seek power, honor, knowledge, and love from others to cloth their false self

50-75

Aware of the thinking and feeling functions that work as a team

Reasonable level of “true self”

Can follow life goals that are determined from within

Can state beliefs calmly without putting others down

Marriage is a functioning partnership where intimacy can be enjoyed without losing self

Can allow children to progress through development phrases into adult autonomy

Function well–alone or with others

Able to cope with crisis without falling apart

Stay in relational connection with others without insisting they see the world the same

75-100 (Few function at this level)

Is principle oriented and goal directed–secure in who they are, unaffected by criticism or praise

Is able to leave family of origin and become an inner-directed, separate adult

Sure of their beliefs but not dogmatic or closed in their thinking

Can hear and evaluate beliefs of others, discarding old beliefs in favor of new ones

Can listen without reacting and communicate without antagonizing others

Can respect others without having to change them

Aware of dependence on others and responsibility for others

Free to enjoy life and play

Able to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of stress and pressure

Able to take responsibility for their own destiny and life

Maybe you are reviewing this scale and finding your are less differentiated then you would have previously thought. What to do now?

Counseling is a great outlet to pursue in beginning the differentiation process.

a1.jpg Once again, please excuse grammatical, writing errors. This blog is more about the content (I am not Charles Dickens here).

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

If you find yourself struggling with enmeshment, I find the following articles to be helpful resources of starting the process of de-enmeshing.

Resources:

https://drbaney.com/category/differentiation-of-self/

https://ct.counseling.org/2018/02/differentiation-of-self-through-the-lens-of-mindfulness/

https://theallendercenter.org/2017/10/the-differentiated-self-healthy-relationship/

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counseling, happiness, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, self-help

Why We Should Not Take on Other People’s Problems: A Counselor’s Perspective

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Have you ever found yourself growing frustrated because “that person just won’t listen to my advice,” or because “don’t they seem to recognize how they are hurting themselves by acting like that,” or because “I can’t believe someone could be so irresponsible.”

I know I am guilty of this from time to time.

These are coming refrains we say to ourselves when we are in the midst of taking on other people’s problems. Maybe we feel compelled to solve the problem for our loved ones.  We can’t stand to watch them make a mess of themselves or their lives.

Yet we have no choice BUT to let other people live their lives. However they see fit. Without us making choices for them.  Or telling them what we THINK is the right choice. The bottom line is we cannot make ANYONE do anything they do not want to do.

We all, at least on an intellectual level, know that we do not have control over ANYONE but ourselves. Yet on an emotional level it can be hard to accept. One of those truisms of life I think we all struggle with from time to time.

As friends, family members, romantic partners…we can support, listen, encourage, ASK if someone wants our advice or help (but with the acceptance they may in fact NOT want our advice or help). It is then our job to respect the response we get regardless of it is the one we hoped for.

When we offer unsolicited advice, we alienate and annoy those around us. We also in turn frustrate ourselves when said advice is not taken.

The world is a tough place and you are not doing anyone any favors by solving their problems for them.  We can’t live other people’s lives FOR them. This can be especially hard to accept as a parent.

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How do you KNOW if you might be taking on someone else’s problems?

-You think about them AND their problems all the time.

-You talk about the problem. ALOT.

-You surrounded yourself with needy people.

-You feel you listen to everybody but NOBODY listens to you.

-You feel a strong sense of obligation to help others even when they don’t ask.

-You ignore your own problems because it is less painful to focus on OTHER people’s problems.

-You feel unhappy even though on paper nothing is wrong with your life.

-You feel the need to be validated by others.

-You find yourself experiencing a simmering resentment.

-You have been referred to as a peacemaker, helper, or fixer.

These are just a few signs you may be struggling with taking on other people’s problem.

How to be supportive without taking on another person’s problem is a fine line to walk.

Sometimes our desire to help, fix, or be the hero clouds our judgment.

Even when we KNOW what someone we care about is doing is unhealthy, self-destructive, bad, wrong, insert value judgement here, the challenge for us is respecting when they are not opening to hearing it or doing anything about it. If we cannot offer that respect, all we do is cause misery. For them AND ourselves.

People are free to mess up their own lives without us swooping in to save them. Trying to solve other people’s problems usually makes it worse, not better. Often we inadvertently create a whole other host of problems in the process.

Problems can only be solved firsthand.

You may be thinking, “isn’t it your job as a counselor to help people with their problems?” and the answer is yes, of course. To help them. Not to do it for them. The reality is if someone doesn’t want to do anything about the issue, there is nothing anyone can do to change them. Unless they want to change. As soon as you or I or any of us think it’s our responsibility to “fix” another person, we are in trouble.

My role as a counselor is to facilitate the process–but it is a client’s journey, just as anyone’s journey, is their own.

Does it ever drive me crazy? Absolutely.

Ultimately, I believe everyone has a right to lead their own life as they see fit.  We all have a right to our own choices, beliefs, behaviors. We are also responsible for the CONSEQUENCES for those choices, beliefs, behaviors.

As a counselor if someone is not ready to heal, grow, and face the truth of their life, I believe in respecting their autonomy (which is one the key ethical principles counselors follow).

If you have felt completely frustrated and hopeless about trying to solve a problem, it may not be a problem for you to solve.  It may be you are trying to solve another person’s problem. Or it might not be a problem at all but a truth that needs to be accepted.

If you find you have been trying to change or fix people and their problems for years,  how do you get off this roller coaster ride? Counseling can be a great avenue for you to sort through what drives this need. It can be difficult to stop the compulsive desire to fix other people.  Trying to solve other people’s problems takes its toll on a person.

Practice taking a step back.

Remind yourself you have your own beautiful life journey to attend to.

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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

counseling, happiness, psychology, self-help

Not Everyone Wants to Be Happy

One of the most common goals people express is their desire to be happy.

As Americans, our Declaration of Independence speaks to our  right to the “pursuit of happiness” ie our RIGHT to chase whatever our subjective happiness may be. We have a right to PURSUE happiness but obtaining it is not a given.

As a culture, we spend boatloads of money trying to figure out what EXACTLY personal happiness means to us. For Americans, happiness is almost an OBSESSION. The desire for it is woven into the fabric of our culture but in other parts of the world happiness is held in less esteem.

Often people turn to counseling with the objective “to be happier” at the end of the treatment process. Many of us search for happiness like the holy grail.

But happiness as a goal is not desired by all. The truth is not everyone wants to be happy.

Now many people would deny that being the case. I find most people readily admit to others they WANT to be happy. But their thoughts and actions denote otherwise.

People often destroy their own happiness.  THEY themselves destroy it. It can be painful to watch someone behave in such a self-destructive manner.

It plays out in a familiar fashion.

People hold onto relationships (romantic, familial, friendships) that make them feel bad. People continue in jobs that make them miserable. People give their power away to others–allowing other people to make them feel less than or ruin their days. People treat others poorly then wonder why they are lonely. People hold onto bad habits at the expense of their mental and physical well-being.

People negatively judge others. People negatively judge themselves. They think they need to be perfect to be loved. They seek the approval of others but do not give such approval to themselves.

People commonly obsess about the past. People often worry about the future. People frequently ruminate over things they can’t change–namely anything in the external world outside of themself.

People let their ego grow out of control. People procrastinate their ambition. People keep toxic people in their life. People continue being their own worst critic. People push people they love away.  People give up before they even start.

The truth is many people at a certain point in life settle. People settle for a life that does not bring them the happiness they desire. The moment a person chooses to settle is the moment them begin a slow death on the inside.

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As a counselor, if a client tells me that want to be happy, my automatic response is, WHAT does happiness mean for you? Because the truth is happiness can look quite different depending on who you ask. Happiness is not one universal outcome.

So why isn’t someone happy with their life?  The answer is often simple. Many people are not happy because they don’t really want to be. 

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I am not talking about people who have extenuating tough life circumstances: homelessness, unemployment, cancer, clinical depression, etc. I am talking people with no EXTREME trying life circumstance in their current day-to-day life.

I believe many of us know someone on paper who has no reason to be unhappy-financial secure, healthy, good relationships, etc. But when you are around them, you can tell you are in the presence of a person who is unhappy despite seemingly positive circumstances.

Many of us scratch our head to understand why someone who seemingly has it all going for them seems so UNHAPPY.

Of course, we never know what mental health struggles a person is facing behind closed-doors.  And for those people we should have the utmost compassion.

But for other people…they are not happy because they are pursuing conditional happiness. Conditional happiness is everything goes your way and you are happy. Almost everybody attempts to do it this way but this approach doesn’t work.

Just think about it. As soon as one thing does NOT go your way, which is inevitable, you will be unhappy. Thus the odds of being happy from a mindset of conditional happiness is low. There are too many external factors we cannot control.

Unconditional happiness–having the mindset that you will be happy DESPITE the fact everything does not go your way. This is more conducive to living a fulfilling life. You will be happy FOR THE MOST PART no matter WHAT because your happiness is not dependent on the outside world to affirm it.

Can you tolerate that? Can you feel a sense of happiness REGARDLESS of what is going on in the external world? Can you feel happy even if you do not like the circumstances of the outside world?

If you are dependent on the external world to be a certain way to be happy, you are going to live a very unhappy life. We need a cultivate a sense of happiness that is not dependent on the external world complying with our wishes. Having rules and conditions on other people, on outside circumstances, and the world at large is a recipe for UNhappiness.

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

Do you ever say to yourself, “I will be happy WHEN……fill in the blank” (when I lose weight, when I get that promotion, when my son graduates high school,  when my parents get along, when my spouse retires, when I have enough money in my bank account, etc.).

If you are living with a “I will be happy WHEN” mindset you will NEVER be happy.

You are creating dogmatic rules for what you need to be happy, many of which are dependent on other people OR the external world to give it to you.

The key to overcoming this approach is to focus on WHY you need certain things to be a certain way to ALLOW yourself to be happy. You can live your whole life waiting on circumstances to align and the day will never come. Putting your happiness on hold is doing a disservice to you and YOU alone.

Some tips to help you:

1)Remind yourself of all the blessings in your life. Too often we focus on the one thing we DON’T have instead of all the things we DO have. “First world problems” is something I will say to myself when I find  myself getting down on something that on a global scale is irrelevant.

2)Remember at any time you can lose one of the blessings YOU do have. Someone you love. Your job. Your health.  We need to start appreciating the IMPERFECT things we do have while we still have them. Life throws curveballs.

3)Disengage from people who steal the happiness you DO have. The Negative Nancy. The Debbie Downer. The Sour Sally. The Judgmental Jane. Pretty much anyone who does not seem to wish you happiness (in all likelihood they do not wish happiness for themselves either). Make sure you surround yourself with a good support system.

4)Don’t let disappointment destroy your happiness. We all get disappointed from time to time. It is an unfortunate part of life. Check your expectations and see what role you had in setting yourself up for said disappointment. Let go of hurt, unfulfilled expectations, and disappointment. You are not doing this for the outside world but for YOU. Do not give your happiness away to anything OUTSIDE of YOURSELF. Take positive steps to improve but enjoy yourself in the process.

The question is DO YOU WANT TO BE HAPPY? Or do you want to continue to live your life with conditional happiness? The choice is yours.

The bottom line is this: YOU and YOU alone are responsible for the conditions of your life. So instead of putting your happiness on hold, find opportunities to be more fulfilled. Not tomorrow but TODAY. If there are not opportunities, CREATE opportunities. Life, as we all have heard, is more about the journey than the destination.

Stop waiting for circumstances to be “just right” to allow yourself to be HAPPY.

And if you need help with this, counseling is a great place to start on your journey to unconditional happiness.

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

counseling, psychology, regrets, self-help

Self Deception: How We Work Hard to Escape the Truth

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People deceive each other all the time but how often we deceive ourselves is less often acknowledged.

The only way others can deceive you is if first you deceive yourself.

We fool ourselves into believing things that are FALSE and refuse to believe things that are TRUE. This is the basis of all self-deception.

We lie to ourselves about the smallest details–about how much we REALLY ate today to how much we weigh on our driver’s license.  We lie to reflect our aspirational goals. We lie to uphold social ideals. We lie about our most important life choices-why we picked a career path or married our partner.

The truth is your mind is inherently self-deceptive. If you ever studied philosophy, you likely studied Rene Descartes. He did an interesting thing in that he began his philosophy by doubting ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.

Everything would come under doubt, under skepticism. The point is he, like many other philosophers, pointed out something about our mind: it is a self-deception machine.

How often do you question the beliefs you hold as true? Have you ever challenged your thoughts and ideals?

Your own mind…the extent of its self deception..can be incredible. There are many ways our minds deceive us. So many ways that to list them would be endless.

The scary part is your mind has complete power of you. The number one mistake people mistake is assuming their mind can be trusted. That their feelings can be trusted. Both of which are fluid. This is why developing self-awareness and a mindfulness practice can be so pivotal if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or any ongoing strong, negative emotions.

How do you know what you KNOW is RELIABLE?

Your mind will use every opportunity to deceive you to protect you from pain. Many truths are painful.

In our day-to-day lives, we lie to ourselves about hard truths we do not want to face. Our declining health. Our dwindling job prospects. Our aging reflection. Our growing waistline. Our passionless life. Our unloving family. Our poor financial decisions. Our child’s bad behavior. Our feelings of depression. The list goes on and on.

The truth often hurts. Often if we are forced to face the truth, we attack the messenger. 

In self-deception, we hurt ourselves and those around us by refusing to live authentically.

We lie to ourselves about the way we mistreat others. We lie to ourselves about the way we mistreat ourselves.

The truth is self-deception is a way of escaping from reality. Living in a world where we do not have to fact our real problems. The hard truths. To take a long hard look at how our life has turned out. To honestly look at the state of our relationships–including the most important one we will ever have which is with ourself.

Self deception is a popular mechanism people use to prevent themselves from feeling shame or guilt while at the same time allowing themselves to escape from something that they don’t want to face.

It is a way for people lie to themselves and justify bad behavior. To rationalize inaction and the inability to follow through. The failure to make the call. The excuse for never getting started.

Self deception can take many forms: denial, rationalization, repression, dissociation.  People push away any opposing evidence of a truth they do not want to admit. It is much deeper than outright lying, exaggeration, white lies, or twisting the truth. Self-deception is more complicated and often a subconscious response to a threat.

Consider the following example. A person drinks too much. If someone points out that there is an apparent drinking problem, the person in turn gets angry. Not angry at themself but at the person who points it out. He denies the drinking problem and goes on the attack for the mere suggestion of such a thing.

Yet the person in question drinks every day. Perhaps they have gotten a DUI or been arrested because of behavior taken when intoxicated.  Maybe he drinks on the job or has been let go from a job because of coming to work drunk. This person is not lying when he says he is not an alcoholic but truly believes they are not an alcoholic. Because to admit such a truth to himself would be too painful to bear.  Thus despite all evidence to the contrary, this person refuses to accept the truth.

As a counselor, I am frequently confronted by the fact that people often lie. Not to others. But to themselves. A much harder type of deception to admit or recognize. It takes much psychological strength to be honest with ourselves. I believe self-deception to be a big part of why many people are unhappy in their lives.  The truth is many people don’t have the emotionally wherewithal to face the truth and deal with the consequences of said truth.

Too often people fool themselves into believing something is true when it is false. People lie to themselves about the trivial but also about life altering realities. Refusing to see their job is killing them. That their mother is unloving. That their partner is abusive.

It is much easier to recognize self-deception in others than in ourself. Thus why as long as your mind can fabricate enemies for you to fight against that is great. It is a great distraction from having to look at yourself and the life you are living.  This is why some people seem to always be in conflict with others. It helps keep them from having to face themselves. They keep the focus external to avoid their internal struggle.

Recognizing the lies people tell themselves is easy. Have you ever been an argument with someone and they said something totally and utterly false with such conviction it almost took your breath away? Perhaps you could not tell if they were just a truly skilled liar or if they truly believe the lies the were telling. Self-deception can run deep.

Too often we can see where someone else is living a life, but cannot see such in ourself.

We have a basic need to think well of ourself. The easy way to have a positive self-image is to hide our defects.

Understanding the psychology of self-deception can help you to comprehend why some people can do horrendous things yet feel totally justified.

We see this play out often when it comes to discussing opposing political views. You can show someone facts to the contrary of what they believe. Even if the face of undeniable evidence, they refuse to believe it. It is amazing the lengths people will go not to face the truth.

Self-deception can ruin your life if you do not recognize it. The mind wants to a construct a reality for you that keeps you comfortable. To keep you safe. To keep you from experiencing pain.

People need to understand the mind’s ability to self-deceive. It can construct illusions that are indistinguishable from reality.

Your mind governs everything: your motivations, desires, likes, dislikes, emotions, your sense of certainty, sense of doubt, you memories, your narratives, your judgments, criticisms, how you derive meaning, what you focus on, what you consider real, what you consider false.

I ask you to reflect long and hard on the following:

What aspects of yourself are you afraid to take a long hard look at?

What truth about your life are you unwilling to admit?

What lies are you telling yourself about the relationships in your life?

Who in your life have you been avoiding facing the truth about?

What aspect of yourself do you avoid facing?

In what ways do you use escapism to avoid reality? Binge watching tv, video games, drinking, drugs, emotional eating, smoking, etc.

Answering these questions can be painful depending on where you are at in your life.

Overcoming the lies we tell ourselves is not easy.

Ask yourself, how do often do you just believe whatever your mind tells you? Part of cognitive behavioral therapy includes challenging your cognitions–the thoughts you think on autopilot. A central part of CBT is looking at our cognitive distortions: how the thoughts we think DECEIVE us.

Polarized thinking, black and white thinking, all or nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, emotional reasoning…just a few of the ways our thoughts may deceive us.

We deceive ourselves to avoid the givens of life: we will be hurt, people will let us down, we will let ourselves down, people we love will die, we too will eventually die…

As adults, we will most want to lie about painful psychological realities we experienced as children and how it affects the adults we are today.

Maybe as a child, your parents divorced. The breaking up of your family almost destroyed you…

Perhaps you had a parent who made you feel unwanted or unloved….as an adult, you fear intimacy and are hypervigilant of rejection.

Or maybe you had a parent who made you feel less than. Now as an adult, you make others feel less than to keep the attention off yourself.

Maybe you felt ugly as a child. You learned to eat in response to emotional pain. Now as an adult you are overweight because you eat for reasons other than hunger.

Or perhaps a kid you watched your parents constantly fight making you HATE and AVOID conflict. NOW as an adult, it is a struggle to even acknowledge negative feelings.

Although each of our childhoods are unique, what we learned in childhood will be exemplified in the lies we tell ourselves as adults.

Understanding our self-deception is the most important thing we can do to live a fulfilling life. Only when we accept who we truly are can we begin to change.

We are responsible for our lives. To lie to ourselves is to cheat ourselves of living an authentic life.

Do you compromise yourself to avoid the pain of facing the truth? Reflect on the ways you deceive yourself on a daily basis.

Self deception leads to pain and regret. We make choices with harmful consequences to ourselves and others. We choose not to change even when it causes pain to ourselves and those around us. We use self-deception to justify such behavior.

When we don’t take responsibility for who we are we hurt ourselves and everyone around us.

How do we start acknowledging the lies we tell ourselves and become more honest? The first step is self-awareness. Become an observer of yourself.

When you have a strong emotional reaction—pause.

When what you say doesn’t match how you act—pause.

Learn to respond NOT react.

Recognize when you are thinking irrational thoughts…and pause.

Recognize when your emotions are overriding your rational mind…and pause.

Often we becomes so focused on others in our lives. Why they said this. Why they did that. Never looking at our contribution to the relationship or the role we played.

When you are unresolved about someone or something…pause.

Ask yourself…what does my reaction to this situation say about me? As we become more honest and aware we become more responsible for our choices. The need to self-deceive lessens as we are living a life more true to ourselves.

Not changing when confronted with the truth is a choice. We worry about what facing the truth may mean.

The best way to overcome self-deception is counseling. It will be probably the only relationship in your life that exists solely to benefit you.

Confronting our self-deception is a lifelong process. If we are courageous enough to change, life will offer us new opportunities to understand ourselves. There is always more to learn.

Be more honest. Choose to become more honest with yourself. Choose to live the most fulfilling life you can–you only got one.

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

counseling, goals, prosocialbehavior, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, self-help

10 Habits of Highly Miserable People

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It is often said that happiness is a choice. For a miserable person, they often choose to make themselves (and those around them) miserable.

The unfortunate reality is not everyone wants to be happy. Most people with such a disposition never seek mental health treatment. They do not think they are the problem but the problem is “out there” ie in the external world.

Miserable people often have a woe is me attitude. This victim mentality grates on those around them. This mentality is exhausting to be around. Miserable people are often allergic to responsiblity.  A miserable person believes people are always out to get them.  They often portray themselves as victims who should be rescued, deserving of our sympathy and attention.

Below are some common ways you can spot a miserable person:

1)They love to blame others. Miserable people are often martyrs—it works as a get out jail free card for taking responsibility for their own life. They love to make themselves miserable under the guise of “helping” others. Having a martyr complex essentially involves pointing the finger at other people or situations in your life and blaming them for your disappointments, unhappiness, and emotional turmoil. The reality is no one is responsible for your disappointments, unhappiness, and emotional turmoil EXCEPT you. We all experience these feelings, but we must learn to process our feelings and move on. Miserable people like to stay stuck in the cycle of blame.

2)They love to pick fights. Miserable people love to make other people miserable. Misery loves company right? People who are constantly unhappy love to take it out on other people. Some people are disputatious and repel people with their snarky comments, rude remarks, and negative demeanor.  If antagonistic behavior is an ongoing thing with someone, you are likely dealing with an habitually MISERABLE person.

3)They will get involved in other people’s drama. Miserable people often feel their life is boring. How do they spice it up? By getting involved in the drama of others. (Some go as far as to create drama between others to watch it unfold). Miserable people find drama energizing. Happy people tend to disengage from drama and the people who create it. For miserable people, drama is a way of life.

4)They always expect the worst (of themselves, others, and life in general). Life sucks and all the worst thing that can happen, happens to them, is the mantra of a miserable person. Miserable people often expect the worst of everyone even the people they claim to love. They think other people have bad intentions toward them. The truth is most people don’t have bad intentions but are flawed people. You can always tell a person with bad intentions because when called on their behavior, it gets worse NOT better. They will get more aggressive, more demeaning, more negative.

5)They hate people. This kind of follows from #4. All of us experience negative thoughts from time to time. But a miserable person will make it known how much they despise their fellow-man (which in all likelihood includes you). A miserable person never has a good thing to say about anyone. People are the worst, people are selfish, people are liars, are common refrains from a miserable person.

6)They are selfish. Miserable people put themselves first (but project that other people are selfish, ironic I know). A miserable person drives people away from them because of their negative behavior. Life is hard enough, most people don’t want to spend their time with a Debbie Downer. Miserable people only care about themselves and their own troubles. Only their perspective matters.

7)They are envious of other people. A miserable person is NEVER happy for someone else. Miserable people think someone else’s success or good fortune takes away from them. They view life as a zero sum game due to their scarcity mindset. Miserable people do NOT have an abundance mindset that there is enough love, success, and resources to go around. For them, life is dog eat dog.

8)They hate change. Miserable people hate anything new or different. Change requires effort and miserable people usually don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone. Miserable people will complain about feeling “stuck” but will refuse to do anything to change their circumstances.

9)They love to complain. Complaining is their favorite pastime. This ties in with the blaming, playing victim, and seeking attention/sympathy while playing the role of martyr.  Chronic complainers seek validation and sympathy from those around them. Woe is me. For chronic complainers, every person, every situation, is an opportunity to go on a fault-finding mission.

 

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10)They never do anything to improve their life. Most miserable go through life stagnant. The game of life is too hard so they refuse to play. Yet they resent people who are still IN the game.  The only game a miserable person plays is the blame game. Miserable people are addicted to unhappiness and it becomes a way of life for them.

What are some common root causes of a miserable personality?

  • Low self-esteem
  • The appeal of martyrdom
  • A belief that being miserable is inevitable
  • Underlying depression and anxiety
  • Feeling trapped by your circumstances
  • Living with chronic stress
  • Resistance to being healthy–physically, mentally, and emotionally

The truth is our thinking creates our feelings. If you are chronically unhappy, you need to take a look at your self-talk and how you think about others and relate to the world. If someone or something is truly making you unhappy, you can leave the relationship or situation. 

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Living in the free world, the truth is we ALWAYS have a choice. It may not be an easy choice or a simple solution. Yet you have the freedom to not need to tolerate mistreatment or miserable circumstances. 

If you find your struggling with feelings of misery or a miserable person in your life, counseling may be a great place to begin the journey to a happier life.

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