Learning to Make Peace with the Differences in Ourselves and Others

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.

Low Frustration Tolerance: Why Our Ability to Withstand Frustration is Telling

Managing anxiety, cultivating patience, and developing the ability to tolerate frustration are pivotal to mental and emotional health. Yet we see ourselves living in an increasingly impatient society with anxiety running rampant amongst people of all ages. As a counselor, I frequently see a low frustration tolerance present in clients. People with a low frustration tolerance struggle to tolerate unpleasant feelings and stressful situations. Unfortunately, if you struggle with a low frustration tolerance it will lessen your ability to effectively manage your life and relationships. Whether you suffer from an anxiety disorder, social phobia, or panic disorder, many times it is important to work on being mindful and slowing down. People with anxiety are especially apt to struggle with patience, uncertainty, tolerating discomfort, and negative emotions. Developing a high frustration tolerance means not going from 0-60 in a situation. It means learning it is best to respond, not react.  People with a low frustration tolerance struggle with managing the daily frustrations we all will inevitably experience in life. Frustration tolerance is the ability to overcome obstacles and withstand stressful events. Thus a low frustration tolerance is often a result of when a person feels what they want to see happen is being delayed or thwarted. This can be an external circumstance (experiencing a rainstorm during your beach vacation) or another person (your boss who keeps passing you over for a promotion). The resulting feeling is dissatisfaction from unmet needs or unresolved conflicts. Often our ability to tolerate frustration reflects our maturity. Personally, I expect to encounter some frustrations in day to day living (traffic, rude people, waiting on hold trying to get a customer service rep on the line, being told things I don’t want to hear, waiting for a table at a restaurant, etc.). I find many people struggle to accept these as just realities of modern life. None of us are immune to unpleasant experiences. cbt-vbk-12-638 In order to feel less aroused by stress, you must accept that problems are a part of life.  None of us are exempt from facing challenges and difficulties. Accepting this truth allows you to let go of the notion that something must be wrong if you’re feeling unhappy. Our feelings are fluid and fleeting. Just as we will feel positive emotions, negative emotions are inevitable. Sometimes the only way to get to the other side of negative feelings is to ride out the uncomfortable emotions. Frustration tolerance is a cultivated skill. We often encourage our children to develop grit and patience. Most children start out with a low frustration tolerance.  During the developmental and learning  process, they acquire the ability to face situations where they don’t always get what they want, whether it’s wanting to play with another child who does not want to be their friend, wanting cookies at the grocery store but their mother says no, or whether their ice cream has fallen and their parent doesn’t want to buy them another. However, as adults, many times we ourselves do not exhibit such patience and the ability to tolerate frustration. Some people struggle with accepting their desires will not always be met. They may be unable to take the wishes and desires of others into account. These people struggle to deal with uncontrollable setbacks. a1 We see people with a low frustration tolerance react with anger, rage or excessive melancholy, in situations that most people can solve internally and move on from. The ability to tolerate frustration is an important part of psychological well-being. If you find you are struggle with a low frustration tolerance, it may be beneficial to seek out counseling. frustration If you are struggling with frustration 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://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/erin-doyle-theodorou-nutley-nj/243617 Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou therapy, LLC

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

It’s NOT Me, It’s YOU: The M.O. of People Who Project

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Have you ever found yourself in a conflict with someone who puts their negative qualities on you? A person who describes you in the way that they themselves ARE? Have you ever asked someone to stop projecting their feelings onto you?

Or maybe you heard someone talk about someone they dislike; listing all the traits and qualities this person has that they cannot STAND. And you found yourself thinking hmmmm sounds a lot like you are describing YOURSELF. It is funny to me how often people cannot stand qualities in another person that they in fact possess.

Psychological projection is a common defense mechanism where people distort reality for their OWN benefit. Like a lot of aspects of human behavior, projection comes down to self-defense.

The truth is the problem is sometimes you, it is not ALWAYS someone else. For some of us this is just a given. We are all human, we are all flawed, we all make mistakes. I know sometimes I can be the issue or cause of a conflict I have with another. Yet some people can NEVER see themselves as the problem because this would be to threatening to their sense of self. A person who never developed a strong sense of self struggles with vulnerability which includes being able to admit to faults and mistakes.

I have found our coping strategies reflect our emotional maturity. Projection is an immature defense because it distorts or ignores reality in order for us to function and preserve our ego. It’s reactive, without forethought, and is defense children use.

Yet most of us would be hard pressed to think of people we know who don’t blame and project. Most “venting” includes a fair amount of blaming and projecting. We seem to be a society of complainers. There is nothing more American than complaining and blaming! Many people appear to do this habitually. Everyone does it from time to time. Rather than admit to a flaw, we find a way to address it in a situation where it is free from personal connotations.

Projection is part of our daily interactions. A common example is a person who gossips who accuses other people of gossiping. Or says things like well EVERYONE gossips. Instead of acknowledging their own character flaw, they transfer, or project, this behavior onto other people. The truth is everyone does not gossip.

The fact remains people tend to feel more comfortable seeing negative qualities in others rather than in themselves. Projection is a common defense mechanism used by people with personality disorders, addicts, and abusers. But all of us are guilty of it from time to time. Many of us get defensive when we are criticized. We all want to be self-aware, but some of us struggle to remain self-composed when we feel vulnerable. Projection is one way we may inadvertently react when we feel threatened by criticism.  Psychological projection is a defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotion.

For instance, you might tell yourself, “She doesn’t like me,” when actually you don’t like her. We might accuse someone of being angry and judgmental, being completely unaware that in fact we are. I have often found that in conflict, as in life generally, people so easily project their own shortfalls onto the other side. You effectively trick yourself into believing that these undesirable qualities actually belong elsewhere – anywhere but as a part of you.

Similar to projection is the defense mechanism of externalization, in which we blame others for our problems rather than taking responsibility for our part in causing them. It makes a person feel like they are a victim instead of looking at their role in creating the problem.

Take a moment and ask yourself: how does your world look to you? Is it hostile and anxiety producing? Filled with people who complicate your life and make it harder? Does it leave you with a sense that something’s missing? Or is it friendly and welcoming? Do you see the world as filled with opportunities for happiness and joy?

Your answers have nothing to do with the world.

Our worlds are a projection of our inner state. That’s right. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.” There is no objective reality which is why our perspectives and personalities are so vastly different. Take two people with two different histories and two different perspectives. They’ll see the exact same situation in two completely different ways.

If you find you are struggling with the state of your life or find yourself struggle with projection, counseling can be a great avenue to pursue. Understanding human conflict requires us to understand human psychology. And it is only when we understand the psychology that drives conflict that we can take intelligent steps to address it.

If you are unsure if this is an issue for you a good place to start is to examine the negative relationships in your life. Who don’t you get along with at work or in your family? Do you feel as though someone is out to get you? Try to determine where the animosity began. The truth is it is okay not to like everyone we meet. That isn’t realistic. It also isn’t realistic to expect to live a life free of conflict. Becoming more self-aware of how and when you are projecting can help you have less conflict in your life and better relationships. In some cases, you may find that speaking with a therapist will help you examine these relationships more honestly and openly than you are able to do by yourself.

To schedule a counseling session with me:

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Theodorou Therapy LLC

590 Franklin Ave., Suite 2, Nutley, NJ 07110

(973)963-7485

etheodorou@theodoroutherapy.com