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

counseling, goals, happiness, humility, prosocialbehavior, psychology, self-help

Are You a Good Person? The Litmus Test

Do you think you are a good person?

The mere fact you are choosing to read this means you’re wondering if in fact you are.

I find most people view themselves as “good.” Not perfect, but good. Most of us would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not regard themselves as a “good person.”

Yet how many people do you know that acknowledge the darker parts of their personality? Or their shadow self as Jung called it.

In short, the shadow is the “dark side”. Many people do NOT recognize the darker components of their personality.

Because most people tend to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of their personality, the shadow is largely negative. 

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The problem with viewing yourself as wholly good, without acknowledging your shadow self, is it can lead to unhealthy ways of coping.

As humans it is important to feel we behave and act in a manner that reflects our self-image. How can you stay congruent with your identity, if you view yourself as a good person, in absolute terms, when you inevitably do wrong? This leads to justifying bad behavior. It leads to distorting the truth and repressing emotions we do not have the courage to face.

When people view themselves as wholly good behave badly, they find ways to justify their behavior to themselves (and others) as to maintain their self-image of being “good” and keep cognitive dissonance at bay.

The truth is none of us are good people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We all are fallible, we all have moments of weakness, we all act out of character (this is distinct from people we may encounter with poor character who act this way over and over again over the course of our relationship with them). No one who walks among us does not behave badly from time to time. It is part of the human condition and part of why conflict is so common in our relationships.

Being a good person is a value many of us in all likelihood hold dear (narcissists and sociopaths excluded).

Yet how do we know for sure if we are in fact a good person? “Good” is a very relative term. There is no universal truth that defines what being a “good person” is and looks like.

Some people think they’re “good” because they don’t intentionally go out and harm others, and others believe they are good because they do superficial acts of kindness for others.

Yet if you believe yourself to be a “good person” program, consider the following questions:

Are you a good person if you hurt people but your intention was not to do so?
Are you a good person if someone tells you that you are causing them pain but you disregard how they feel?
Are you a good person if you constantly speak ill of others?
Are you a good person if you lie on your taxes? Lie to your spouse? Lie to your children?

Do you ever feel envy or jealousy towards other people? Do you feel resentment towards the people in your life?

Are you honest with yourself?

Are you a good person if you steal from the government? On whatever level you may be playing the game…
Are you good person if you cheat–on a test, partner, or someone else? If you cheat your company?

When you witness poor behavior in others (lying, judgement, dishonesty, self-deception), can you acknowledge those same impulses inside yourself?

Are you a good person if you wish bad on others?

Do you express rage and contempt towards others?

Do you consider yourself a good person without accepting the darker parts of your personality?
Are you a good person if you are unaware of the negative emotions that arise within you through the day?

Do you believe it is wrong to feel hatred towards the people you love?

In terms of behavior:

~Would you give up your seat for a disabled person or pregnant woman on the train?
~Would you stick up for someone being verbally berated?

~How often do you help someone with extra bags?
~Do you donate your time or money to causes outside of yourself?

~Do you hold the doors open for others?

~Do you offer words of encouragement and kindness freely to others?

All the questions give insight into your character.

Are you happy with how your answer these questions? Do you find you can make excuses for yourself to justify your OWN bad behavior/character flaws but have the habit of condemning others?

I don’t believe that any human being is bad through and through or good through and through. We all have some of each inside us.  I do feel people’s character exists on a continuum–with character disturbed on one end and being virtuous on the other end.

The truth is some people have more good in them than bad.

The truth is some people have more bad in them than good.

It is important to know which person you are dealing with at any given time.

Maybe you’ve experienced this before: Dealing with someone who thinks he’s much nice or kinder than he really is. It can be hard to manage and maintain a relationship with someone who is not as good as he or she believes himself to be.

It can also be hard for people to maintain relationships with us if we are not a good of a person as we believe ourselves to be.

You need to be aware of the good AND bad in you. And others.

Viewing oneself as “good” explains a wide range of common defense mechanisms– denial, minimizing/justifying one’s own “bad”behavior, lying, becoming defensive.

The fact is our character is NOT set in stone—we are all capable of growing into a better person IF we are able to adopt a realistic self-image. We need to be able to look deeply into our shadow self if we want to move beyond the darker aspects of our personality.

We can see everyone feels justified in their own shoes. Every action that a person takes take, good or bad, they can always tell themselves it is justified  – otherwise they would not be able to perform the act in question at all.

We all want to be our best, but many people wonder if it’s actually possible for people to become better–themself included. The answer is a resounding yes. There are always ways to improve yourself.

Some general suggestions for a path forward:
1)Support others. Contribute to things outside of yourself–the larger community. Offer kind words and encouragement to the people you encounter. Consider how your words, actions, and behaviors impact others. Do not enable the bad behavior of others at the expense of someone else. Do good and good will come back. We all eventually reap what we sow.

2)Let go of anger. Think before you speak. Words said in anger can only be forgiven, not forgotten. A mindfulness practice can help you to lower your baseline feelings of anger. Much of anger arises from ruminating over the past–past injustice, grievances, pain from long ago. Stress can up our ability to lash out in anger. Consider adopting stress management techniques to your daily routine.

3)Take care of yourself–mentally, emotionally, physically. Exercise, eating well, meditation, seeking out counseling…all lead to building a strong foundation for living a good life and empowering yourself to be a better person.

4)Learn to set boundariesfor others AND yourself. We talk often about setting boundaries with other people but you should have your own set of standards in how you will or will not conduct yourself. Example–you won’t scream at other people, curse people out, threaten people, smear people’s names to others, steal, cheat, etc.

5)Reflect on the following questions (Forbes):

~What, or who, is worth suffering for?

~What can my most aggressive judgments of others tell me about myself?

~Are my opinions of others fixed, or do they evolve? Is that fair?

~Does my daily routine reflect my long-term goals?

~What do the things I envy tell me about what I want to give myself?

~If I could meet the best possible version of myself in an alternate reality, what would that person be like?

If you feel like you are struggling to become a better version of yourself, counseling can be a way to figure out a plan for your life, moving forward.

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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, emotionalimmaturity, goals, happiness, psychology, self-help

Building an Emotional Backbone: A Family System Approach

Do you often feel taken advantage of by others? Is it a struggle for you to speak up for yourself? Do you find yourself saying yes when you want to say no? Do you feel the need to have other people’s approval?

Are you uncomfortable with asserting yourself? Do you get angry at how other people live their lives?

Do you find you allow yourself to be controlled by other people? Do you find yourself trying to control others? If you do, it is time to build up your emotional backbone.

I think there are many misconceptions about what an “emotional backbone” is.

Having an emotional backbone is pivotal to self-differentiation, a Bowen Family System concept. Self-differentiation is the ability to separate feelings from thoughts.

People who are poorly self-differentiated have difficulty separating their own feelings from other people’s feelings; they often look to other people to define how they think about issues, feel about people, and interpret their experiences.

A person who is self-differentiated has an emotional backbone–they do not look to their family, friends, or partner to define them. This means being able to have different values and opinions from other people in your life but be able to stay emotionally connected to them.

It is being able to lovingly detach from people who are not emotionally healthy and will inevitably impede on your growth and development. You cannot truly become self-differentiated and simultaneously participate in perpetuating dysfunctional relationship patterns.

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Developing an emotional background when raised in a dysfunctional family system is often difficult for the individual. This is where counseling can be very beneficial to becoming someone with a strong emotional backbone.

An emotional backbone is a sign of strength of character. It is an unwillingness to be used, to be taken for granted, to be mistreated, to be abused, and a firm commitment to uphold one’s beliefs and values.

Do you have a strong emotional backbone? Ask yourself the following:

1)Do you resent others?

2)Do you often complain to no avail? Do your complaints fall on deaf ears?

3)Do you avoid conflict?

4)Do you say yes when you want to say no?

5)Do you feel taken advantage of?

6)Do you feel unappreciated?

7)Do you allow your anger to build and come out in unhealthy ways?

8)Do you compromise your self-care?

9)Do you people please?

10)Do you seek the approval of others?

11)Do you allow others to mistreat you?

These are a job signs you may be struggling with developing a strong emotional backbone.

Oftentimes, I believe people confuse being louder, being stronger, saying things more angrily, speaking up without knowing how the relationship is going to be effected by your words, or speaking from the unhealthy part of oneself is having an emotional backbone. This is not what having an emotional backbone is.

Yet this is common in a dysfunctional family system which plays out in ALL our relationships not just with members of our family of origin.

This type of dysfunction often serves the status quo instead of being a catalyst for healthy change in our lives, causing the same unhealthy cycles to play out over and over again over the course of one’s life.

Switching between persecutor and victim is common in a dysfunctional relationship.  It goes round and round–certainly not my idea of having an emotional backbone. This is just people switching chairs at the same concert.

Persecutors criticize and blame the victim, can be very controlling, rigid, angry, and unpleasant.  The victim see themselves as powerless, helpless,  hopeless, and can want kid glove treatment from others.

A person with a developed emotional backbone sees themselves as able to determine the conditions of their life including what relationship patterns they will be an active participant in.

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Counterdepedents are controllers. Very much the persecutors.

Codependents are people pleasers. Very much the victims.

Neither have healthy, strong emotional backbones.

Many people who grew up in dysfunctional families find themselves in relationships with codependents and counter dependents. Codependents are people who come from the mindset of “I am not okay, you ARE okay.” Counter dependents come from the position, “I AM okay, you are NOT okay.”

This is based on transactional analysis. Below are the different approaches:

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Developing an emotional backbone requires a healthier approach, ie the “I am okay, you are okay” perspective. However, this is not likely with a person who is codependents or counter dependent.

I believe a strong, developed emotional backbone is crucial to having and maintaining healthy relationships. If you do not have an I am okay, you are okay approach you are going to perpetuate dysfunctional patterns in your relationships.

Most of us desire an emotional backbone–a strong sense of self, an ability to be less reactive, less shaken by conflicts, to be able to express our wants/need clearly, to stand firm with boundaries, to say no in a healthy way without guilty, want to reduce dysfunctional relationship patterns, to not undermine ourself, and to discover who we truly are.

To have a strong emotional background is to become WHO you truly are–not who others want or need you to need you to be. Only when you get to this point can you give and receive REAL love.

When we try to change ourselves from the outside in, we often feel defeated when we find ourselves back in our old ruts. We find we cannot keep the change going.

It can hard to catalyze change in our life and relationships if we are not self-differentiated. A person who is NOT differentiated will struggle with change.

For instance perhaps you are a person who knows YOU NEED to start to SPEAK up for yourself. Well-meaning family and friends often tell you to start speaking up for yourself.  But for you, it has always been a struggle for you to speak your piece. The difficulty is there is likely an entrenched pattern that exists in your relationships, with relationship imbalances, thus it can be risky for you to start to assert yourself. IF you speak up, that can cause problems and difficulties, especially if you are not prepared for how to handle other people’s reactivity.

If you do not know what your next step is, if you cannot predict possible outcomes, often that one little tip “you need to speak up” is not helpful. You need to be OKAY with ANY possible outcome as controlling other people’s reactions is not realistic. Knowing we cannot control other people is just a given for a self-differentiated individual, but for a person who has not achieved this level of self-differentiation, they work hard to control other people’s reactions and the outcomes of situations.

For example, a wife goes home to her husband and says she needs some time for herself. She is always taking care of the house, the kids, working. She read she needs to “speak up for herself.” Her friends and family have been encouraging her to start “speaking up.” Her husband, on the surface, allows her the time and agrees she deserves it. The wife decides to plan a ladies night out for the first time in YEARS. But then her husband ends up calling/texting her numerous times that night when she is having said time for herself out of his own anxiety, ruining her alone time, and the wife says it just isn’t worth it and ends up giving up on getting her needs met. No more ladies nights out for her!

Standing up for yourself is not going to be effective if you have not ALREADY done the emotional legwork on developing an emotional backbone. There is A LOT more to developing an authentic emotional backbone and a lot more going on than just “speaking up for yourself.”

To build an emotional backbone, you need to be able deal with the fight between us AND us–not between us and others. Not everyone will agree with your priorities but when you have an emotional backbone you know that is their prerogative. It is not going to impact how your choose to conduct your life. You live your life according to your values and beliefs, not needing and requiring the validation of others. You know anyone worth having in your life will respect you and your values.

This is true self-differentiation. This is having an emotional backbone.

Power and growth needs to happen within me before I can expect others to take me seriously, to respect me, to hear me, things need to happen within me. Often we do not do this self work, we just expect it to happen with OTHER people and then wonder why it doesn’t.

You need to take yourself seriously before you can expect others to take you seriously. 

Healing and recovering from your own demons will begin to stop the fight between you and you.

Others often take advantage of the internal fight we experience. The reason people who are self-differentiated can remain firm and set boundaries is because they do not feel too much guilt, shame, or fear abandonment because they already HEALED those parts of themself and their childhood wounds.

Feeling guilt, shame, and fear of abandonment are all signs of an undifferentiated individual.

Too much fear of rejection means you have work to do on yourself. The need for approval from others means you have a long way to go on your journey to self-differentiation.

How can you develop and strengthen YOUR emotional backbone?

One, we have to deal with the internal before we deal with the external. We have to do the work on ourself before we can begin to develop better relationships with other people in our life. Only when we have a healthy relationship with ourself can we have healthy relationships with others.

Second, it is important to recognize that to have an emotional backbone does not occur because we learned a few simple behavioral changes or assertiveness changes. To have long-lasting success, deeper issues and systemic stuckness needs to be addressed, which is why counseling can be such a real benefit.

Through counseling, you can learn to calm yourself in highly charged emotional relationship situations. If we cannot calm ourselves, we will fall back into the ruts of the past and our emotional demons will take ourself. Emotional regulation is a must to developing an emotional backbone.

Thirdly become an expert on YOU. I don’t mean become selfish. I mean become an expert on YOUR thoughts and emotions, NOT an expert on the thoughts and emotions of OTHERS. If you are caught up in trying to figure out what other people are thinking and feeling, you are in a state of enmeshment. It is NOT your job to figure out the emotional map of others.

Oftentimes, we are far too much an expert on others and NOT an expert on ourselves.

Fourth, we need to let go of our naive and immature illusions, which allows us to grow up emotionally (although many people don’t want to do this because it is hard to grow up emotionally). Our illusions keep us WEAK and SOFTEN our emotional backbone. Being emotionally grown up means managing our feelings, not trying to manage the feelings of others.

Having an emotional backbone means being willing and able to let go of getting our needs met by other people. To let go of our illusions that others can make us happy and fulfilled.

These illusions might be: I NEED my father to love me, I NEED my mother to be proud of me, I NEED everyone to get along to be happy and whole, I NEED my husband to think I am special to be happy, I NEED my kids to not hurt my feelings so I can feel good about myself, I NEED others to stop betraying me to be happy, I NEED others to follow my advice to feel happy, I NEED my wife to love me so I can be happy…..

Do any of these sound familiar? These are some of the illusions we have that keep up from having a good and healthy emotional backbone.

Emotional grown-ups own their own stuff and leave other people to take ownership of THEIR stuff. We feel empathy but know we cannot do the self-development work for others.

Fifthly, deal with any codependency issues, emotional fusion, enmeshment, all of which will be required to develop an emotional backbone.

People with an emotional backbone are able to love and care for themselves. They are flexible and do not need to be propped up by others.

Sixth, doing self-care can help develop an emotional backbone.

Self-care is an important part of our well-being.

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Being a self-differentiated individual with an emotional backbone is the foundation of having healthy relationships with one self and others.

The truth is when you have a strong emotional backbone, you are not trying to control others. Simultaneously, you are also NOT allowing others to control you. Before you can be with someone with an emotional backbone, you need to develop your own.

Most people are unaware if they are indeed conducting their lives with a lack of self-differentiation. They are not even conscious of how fused their feelings are with other people’s.

People may mature physically, have careers, get married, have children yet STILL be an emotional child. This is what much of Murray Bowen’s research and literature posits.

Lacking an emotional backbone is often due to unresolved childhood issues, the defenses one develops in childhood, and ongoing emotional pain.

I truly believe developing an emotional backbone is the cornerstone to a happy and focused life. It is crucial for having healthy relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners.

People with an emotional backbone are rational, follow through on goals, have equality in their relationships, have final say on their decisions, respect other people’s decisions, and KNOW what they think and feeling outside of the noise and chatter from others.

If you feel you are struggling with developing an emotional backbone, counseling can be a great place to start the process.

To schedule a counseling session with me:

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, 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