counseling, goals, psychology, relationships, self-help

Things to Give Up in 2019 If You Want to Be Happy

As we move into 2019, below is a list of things to give up in the New Year if you want to be happy. If you give up these things, you will experience more satisfaction and peace in your life. Take time to reflect on letting these things go forever.

new year

1)Negative Self-Talk. We all have our own unique “self-talk” and more often than not, as a psychotherapist, I find clients’ self-talk to be negative. People skew reality to be the worst possible scenario and in turn put themselves in a bad mood. I am a big CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) clinician and truly believe if a person changes their thoughts, they can change their life. If you shift your negative self-talk you can change your world view. Negativity steals happiness out of your life. No one likes to be around a Debbie Downer. No one wants to live inside the mind of a Debbie Downer either.

If you have an habitual inner critic you are likely creating significant stress in your life. This will take a toll on your mind, body, life, and loved ones.  What cognitive distortions do you turn to? Blaming, catastrophizing, personalizing, magnification, all or nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions?

Let 2019 be the year you begin to challenge your negative thinking. Remember thoughts and feelings aren’t always reality. Do reality testing—what evidence is there for and against my thinking? Are my thoughts factual or are they just my interpretation? Am I mind reading what other people are thinking? Am I jumping to negative conclusions? Is there another way to look at this situation? Is this situation as bad as I am making it out to be? What else can this mean? Try to put things in proper perspective for your OWN mental well-being.

2)Unhealthy relationships.  What constitutes an UNHEALTHY relationship? Any relationship that you do not feel respected, accepted, and safe. As we embark on a new year, do not bring unhealthy relationships into the new year. Anyone who lies to you, disrespects you, mistreats you, talks badly about you, makes you feel less than should be left behind in 2018. Life is short and hard enough without bringing people into your orbit who treat you badly. The sad truth is not everyone in your life wishes you well. Time to say adios to people who make you feel like you are hard to love.

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3)Gossiping. Stop manufacturing problems (which is exactly what gossiping does).  Complaining, bitching, ripping into other people. Do you truly think HAPPY people act this way? You are only creating misery for yourself by gossiping about others. You cannot feel good about yourself when acting badly. Of course there are certain people who are so toxic that they can bring out the worst in ANY of us (and unfortunately there is usually one of these people in any workplace, family, or social circle). Yet gossiping about everyone and anyone just start conflicts and assassinates other people’s reputation (more often based on lies and exaggerations).  Gossip is destructive to you and your relationships. If you cannot say it to someone’s face, you should not be saying it. Give up petty behavior in the new year and let good vibes flow. You will be a happier, healthier person for it.

4)Criticizing yourself (and others). If you are constantly finding fault with yourself and others, you can ensure you will be unhappy. A negative attitude cannot give you a positive life. We all have flaws and short comings. Are you constantly beating yourself up? Are you constantly criticizing other people’s looks, actions, words, on a regular basis? Unless someone is intentionally trying to hurt you (which sadly some people do have this mean-spiritedness in them), you should try to give people a break. We are all doing the best we can. People like to surround themselves with people who lift them up and make them feel good. When you are overly critical, you are your own worst enemy.

5)People pleasing. It is impossible to please everyone. You can try but you will drive yourself crazy in the process.  Have good intentions towards others but accept that you will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Make peace with this truth. People pleasing is an extremely unhealthy pattern of behavior. It puts a lot of stress and pressure on you. It causes you to seek external validation. True validation MUST come from within.

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6)Procrastination. Stop waiting on the things you want to happen in your life. Whether that is losing weight, getting a new job, making more money, cultivating healthier relationships. Start today. Even a small step is a step in the right direction.

7)Regret. We all have a few regrets but it does no one any good to focus on what COULD have been. We cannot find happiness in the past. Make peace with your past and begin to work on creating the life you want in the here and now.

8)Comparison. They do not say comparison is the thief of joy for nothing. Social media has given society a look into everyone’s lives but at what cost to our mental well-being? People are constantly comparing their lives to the lives of others. None of us have a perfect life. We all have struggles, difficulties, and pain.  We are all unique and started running the race of life at different starting points. Hence how can we possibly compare ourselves to others?

9)Approval seeking. A truly strong person does not NEED the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep. It is also a losing proposition as NONE of us can get the approval of EVERYONE. So why set yourself up for failure? What other people think of you is none of your business. What other people think is more about them than you anyway. The fact is we all have our critics and that is OKAY. Let go of the need to be liked by all if you want to be at peace.

10)Resentment. Nothing eats through the soul like resentment. Boy does it feel good to be self-righteous (as resentment is the ultimate self-righteous emotion). Yet resentment fuels anger and depletes joy. Thus your resentment is ONLY hurting you, not the target of said feelings. You cannot change the past or other people. But you do not need to continue to give your power away to someone. Let it go. Let other people deal with the consequences of their own actions but do not continue to punish yourself for another person’s mistake.

11)The belief you are not good enough. This is self-explanatory. Self-acceptance entails accepting all of you–the good, the bad, the ugly. We all have these components. Make peace with who you are. You are enough. If you feel you are not, it would be wise to get yourself into counseling. No one should go through life feeling less than.

12)Entitlement. The world (and other people) owe you NOTHING. None of us are inherently entitled or deserve more than anyone else. Ask yourself: Do you impose unrealistic demands on your family and friends? Do you feel sorry for yourself? Do you punish people for not doing what you want? Do you see other people as threats or struggle with compromise? If you do, you likely are struggling with a sense of entitlement. Entitlement is a road that leads to misery.

13)Close mindedness. Stop thinking in polarizing ways–black/white, right/wrong, good/bad. There are many ways to view the world and diversity is a part of life. It is a part of the RICHNESS of life. Being rigid in your thinking will cause pain (largely for you but also those you try to impose your inflexible ways on). Learn to go with the flow or accept that you will continue to suffer. By your own making.

14).Anger. Anger really is a self-important emotion. Often what underlies anger are things like wanting your way or believing you are right. The bigger your ego, the more likely you are to struggle with chronic anger. Humble yourself or be humbled.

15)Thinking you are not ready. None of us are EVER 100% ready for a new chapter. We need to learn to feel the fear and do it anyway.

16)Expectations–both your own and other people’s. Unmet expectations lead to a whole host of negative emotions. If you didn’t have expectations, you would just take life as it comes. Without expectations, acceptance of what is would be easier. Other people’s expectations for you are NOT YOUR CONCERN. Unrealistic expectations that you set for yourself? All this does is set you up for disappointment and pain. Stop holding expectations for others–thinking someone will do what is in your best interest, not their own is UNrealistic. Stop holding unrealistic expectations for yourself–all you are doing is setting yourself up for failure.

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17)Control. The only control you have is of yourself (and that is hard enough to master)–everything else is out of your control. Don’t worry though–the same holds true for us all. We all are ONLY in control of ourselves. Stop trying to control other people and your environment if you way to live a healthy, happy life. If you don’t like a person or situation— change your attitude or leave the person/situation—all else is MADNESS. You cannot change other people or control the world. But you do not need to subject yourself to people or situations that make you unhappy. Either way, the choice is yours.

18)Resistance to change. Life IS change. Either accept that truism or create suffering for yourself. Change is difficult but pivotal to survival.

19)Limiting beliefs. Stop limiting yourself. What is your life script? What do you believe to be true about yourself, others, and life in general? If you want something to change in your life you are going to need to change. Dream big, work hard.

20)Scarcity mindset. The scarcity mindset in the belief that there is only so much success to go around. This mindset leads to hyper competitiveness and thinking someone else’s success “steals” from your own success. This is complete nonsense. Try to shift to an abundance mindset because when people are genuinely happy for the success of others, their own happiness and success expands.

As this year comes to an end, if you find you are struggling with any of the aforementioned, counseling may be a great investment for the new year. There are many benefits of counseling: greater self-acceptance and self-esteem,  improved relationships, relief from anxiety/depression/other mental health conditions, and ability to overcome self-defeating behaviors. Everyone can benefit from therapy. (I am biased I know).

Wishing you all a Happy and Health 2019, my friends.

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, self-help

Psychological Rigidity: Why It Presents and the Benefits of Being Psychologically Flexible

If I asked you to think of the word “flexible” what comes to mind? Are you touching your toes? Doing a split? In a yoga class doing downward dog?

More than likely you are thinking of examples of PHYSICAL flexibility.

Most people know the importance of becoming and remaining physically flexible. But surprisingly very few individuals understand the importance of working on their psychological flexibility.

Psychological flexibility is the cornerstone to healthy, stable living. Any extreme form of thinking or behaving is a big red flag of a deeper issue to mental health professionals. Psychological rigidity is a growing problem in our society and tends to present in people who have personality disorders (or traits thereof).

In counseling, rigidity refers to an obstinate inability to yield or a refusal to appreciate another person’s viewpoint or emotions characterized by a lack of empathy. If you cannot empathize or relate to another person’s point of view this may be something to speak with a professional counselor about as empathy is the cornerstone of healthy interpersonal relationships.

Lack of empathy is HUGE red flag that presents when diagnosing personality disorders. Another tell-tale sign of a personality disorder is the tendency to perseverate, which is the inability to change habits and the inability to modify concepts and attitudes once developed.  These personality types are rigid, stubborn people.  They can talk about something over and over sometimes for YEARS on end.  You may be in their company and find them talking about the same person OR same issue ad nauseam.

In assessing clients for different psychological disorders, polarized thinking and behavior are two ways therapists can uncover a client’s true self, which oftentimes a client is strongly inclined to hide.

These personality disorders have traits that any well-trained therapists can pick up on right away even if the client is working hard to put on a facade and fool the clinician. These people give themselves away to knowing therapists, however, precisely because their behavior is so polarized  – characterized by a combination of extremeness and inflexibility. They act as if they absolutely must act a certain way all the time even when external circumstances would seem to require a something entirely different.

Being flexible is important in maintaining relationships. People change, circumstances change, life is fluid. People move, get married, have kids, change careers, get sick, retire,pass away.  Life is constantly requiring us to adapt. Psychologically rigid people resist change at the expense of their relationships and well-being.  Being psychologically flexible is important within the context of  strong, enduring relationships, but is also important for healthy functioning.

If you want to be in a long-term relationship or marriage, balancing the wants and needs of a partner along with one’s own interests requires compromise and the ability to adapt; both of which require flexibility. When conflict occurs, the level of flexibility that exists between a couple is tested.

People with personality disorders are hard to maintain friendships or family relations with let alone romantic relationships. Oftentimes the only way a personality disordered person can maintain a romantic relationship is to be with another disordered individual.

Personality disorders exist when these traits become so pronounced, rigid, and maladaptive that they impair work and/or interpersonal functioning. In seeing how people react to stress and conflict, one can see a personality disorder come out in its extreme form. The mask tends to totally drop and a person’s true character shines through.  People with personality disorders tend to escalate rather than deescalate conflicts. Voices are raised, curse words are spoken, insults are thrown,  and any sense of civility falls by the wayside.

A person with a personality disorder causes extreme distress for those people around them—they refuse to bend, refuse to be reasoned with, refuse to budge an inch. These people have difficulty knowing the boundaries between themselves and others.

Healthy personalities are flexible enough to account for these differences and respond accordingly. People with personality disorders refuse to adapt. If they are told not to do something, they will do something again just to make a point. These are very child like individuals. They will fight to the point of self-destruction.  Personality disordered individuals attempt to navigate the world with a rigid, inflexible approach.

There approach is considered maladaptive because it leads to distress, dissatisfaction, and failure. These unfortunate folks frequently experience stormy relationships and repeatedly find themselves in situations that lead to their unhappiness and lack of success.

Of course, we ALL have our issues, conflicts, and adversities that may cause us to be dissatisfied and upset. We don’t behave well all the time. Sometimes we annoy other people. We may be hurtful in a heated moment. But for many of us, this is an anomaly not our pattern of behavior. Perhaps you may be reading the traits of the aforementioned personality disorders and thinking yikes this sounds like ME. Don’t worry–in the perfect storm with an extremely difficult, toxic person we can all BE rigid and inflexible in defending yourself from their wrath. For personality disordered individuals this a pattern of behavior across the lifespan.

In other words, some storms are inevitable and some detours are difficult to resist for ALL of us.  However, in diagnosing a personality disorder, we are looking at the overall behavior of a person. A healthy person will disengage from unhealthy relationships while a person with a personality disorder will want to scream, yell, and fight it out until they are the last man (or woman) standing.

People who have personality disorders can express a wide range of emotions and behaviors that are considered detrimental to relationships, causing friends and family to withdraw from the individual. It is hard to be close and intimate with someone with a disordered personality.

People with personality disorders cannot see the forest from the tree. These people have to win, have to be right, have to get their way. Their psychological inflexibility is constantly shining through in their words, thoughts, and opinions. A person with a personality disorder with have a history of problematic behaviors and traits, starting early in life, observed across many different situations, over a long period of time, with different people, that cause significant distress. As you can imagine, these are not the most likeable of people.

Nevertheless, we all can have traits or behaviors of the psychologically inflexible from time to time. We can all work on bettering the way we function in life and in our relationships.

Even if you a relatively healthy functioning individual, increasing your psychological flexibility will cultivate more peace and joy in your life and relationships. Below are some suggestions for growth.

Simple Ways to Increase Your Psychological Flexibility

  1. Get out of your comfort zone. It will make you happier and more fulfilled. Happier, satisfied people tend to go with the flow of life. When I think of the word rigid I do not think of “happiness.” In order to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you need to first step out of your comfort zone. The less you need life to be a certain way, the happier you will be. In turn, the happier and healthier your relationships will be.
  2. Exercise. This one is self-explanatory.
  3. Learn and do something new. Inflexible people hate change of any sort. Routine is their friend. Travel to new places. Meet new people. Try new foods. Explore new hobbies. Don’t get trapped into the same monotonous routine.
  4. Meditate. I just wrote a post on the benefits of meditating and take yourself less seriously (ie being psychologically flexible). As a clinician, I find the most miserable clients are the most rigid and are literally STUCK (psychologically).
  5. See things as they are, but not worse than they are. Keep things in perspective. People with disordered personalities struggle to look at the big picture.
  6. Keep your mind stimulated every day.
  7. Seek counseling.

Just remember, psychological flexibility is at the heart (and in the head) of good mental health and resilience for all of us. And mental health is JUST as important as physical health.

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

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

counseling, psychology, resentment, self-help

Dislike vs. Hatred: Why We Feel These Emotions Towards Others

Carl-Jung-irritates-us-about-others

Why do certain people irritate us or rub us wrong while others don’t?

You can be the most loving, kind, down to earth, open-minded person on the planet and STILL get extremely annoyed by certain people.

There are billions of us on the planet. The fact is we are not going to get along with everyone.

I can remember years ago studying Carl Jung who famously said, “Everything that irritates us about another can lead up to an understanding of ourselves.”

This may be a tough idea to get behind for many of us. For instance, if we don’t care for someone who is selfish, we wouldn’t think we dislike this individual because we, ourselves, are in fact selfish.

Yet Jung purported that if you are open enough to the idea, what you dislike about others, can teach you about yourself.

I think it is easier to apply this when the shoe is on the other foot. What I mean by this is it is easier to apply this theory when other people project their negative qualities onto us instead of when we are projecting our negative qualities onto someone else. I remember a couple of times in my past when people projected onto me the qualities that were in fact their own. Before I was trained as a psychotherapist, in all likelihood I  would have reacted. Being in this profession, I am cognizant of when someone is projecting and knowing this, I feel no need to react (although  being human I do slip up from time to time and always kick myself for doing so)!

There is no need to react or defend ourselves against other people’s projections. Those projections are theirs. We do not need to OWN other people’s stuff.

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Usually when someone is projecting, they are trying to offload their negative qualities onto you.

Thus when someone is dumping their disowned feeling on you, if you are conscious enough, you cease the need to react at all.

The fact is everyone is your mirror. 

According to Jung, we all have a shadow self.

The shadow is irrational, prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else (Jung).

Our shadow is an innate part of ALL of us, yet the vast majority of us are blind to its existence. 
jung

Many of us do our best to hide our negative qualities, not only from others but from ourselves. Thus we often criticize and condemn others to ensure the focus does not fall our destructive tendencies and fault. 

Many of us are only conscious of our persona. The persona is the social mask we as individuals present to the world. It is the public image of someone.

johari-window

Underneath the mask we show to the world, our shadow remains unconscious and can wreak havoc in our life.

The Shadow is all the thoughts and emotions we repress as being socially inappropriate. Rage, envy, jealousy, schadenfreude (the pleasure we derive from another person’s misfortune).  This is all shadow material.  The more we repress shadow material, the more of a hold it has on us.

But what about if we are talking about people we don’t merely dislike but people we hate?

See when we dislike someone, we simply avoid this person. We don’t feel the need to rage about them, yell at them, fixate on them. We do not want to get into a back and forth with them. Dislike suffices. We just move on with our life and limit our contact with this person as much as humanly possible.

Hatred is a whole other animal. Hate often arises because we see another as an “enemy.” In this enemy we see a part of ourselves we hate. Yet whatever we hate about our “enemy” can be explained by simple fact: they trigger dormant feelings of shame and inferiority.

The more insecure you are, the more you feel attacked by others, regardless of whether they are in actual attacking you or not.

How insecure you are will play a factor in whether you merely dislike someone or if you hate them.

Dislike vs. Hatred

Let us differentiate between mere dislike and hatred. When you dislike someone, you rather NOT be around them. You do not want to interact with them because it is unpleasant. You do not wish ILL on this person and if anything you feel apathetic for them. Many you even pity them because you recognize how unhappy and miserable they are by their behavior. When you dislike someone, you don’t care to give them much thought or energy.

Disliking people is normal throughout life. Yet for the most part, we are going to be neutral towards people. We will not like them NOR dislike them.

Hatred, on the other hand, means you consider a person an enemy and a threat. Thus you are invested in their destruction. You wish ill on them and want to see them destroyed.

When you hate someone:

~you obsess over them. You will gossip and smear them to anyone who listens. You cannot let go of what they said or did.

~you feel good when something bad happens to them. If something good happens to them, you try to minimize it or dismiss it.

~you try to convince others of how horrible and evil this person is. You think people must know the “truth” about him or her. You desperately seek confirmation from others about how horrible this person is.

Long story short, the difference between hatred and dislike is the former involves time and effort while the latter involves apathy.

Personally, I have people I dislike but hatred to me is not something I allow myself to engage in because I am conscious of the fact it would just make ME miserable and unhappy. It also takes WAY too much energy and time to hate someone (and who has that?!) It destroys the person who feels it not the target of contempt and disdain. I believe is certain situations we all are capable of feeling hatred towards another person in passing but this emotion is not a fixture in our lives.

In psychologically unhealthy people, hatred may be felt by anyone who dare challenges their worldview or opinions (any famous figures coming to mind?!)

When you hate someone you feel compelled to verbally spar with them not because you want to win but you don’t want to lose. (Once again, people we hate trigger in us shame and inferiority). A person you just dislike, you don’t care to get into it with them. To you, it isn’t worth the energy. If you dislike someone, you aren’t being triggered by shame and inferiority. The person’s behavior just rubs you wrong (maybe they are in fact just obnoxious). And hey, if Jung has taught us anything, it is that we TOO can be obnoxious and rub people wrong!

Although most people would never acknowledge it, people who hate other people generally hate someone who they feel threatened by or triggers their feelings of inferiority.

You usually hate someone who exposes or highlights your issues, baggage, and insecurities. 

If you hate someone, you feel that this person is trying to expose your flaws to the world. Hatred is a very irrational emotion. The fact is most people are not interested in exposing your flaws (unless they are abusive or a bully). Most of us are just trying to hide our own flaws.

Hatred is a slippery slope. It is not wrong to get threatened or angry with other people, yet in taking it to the level of hatred, you are dwelling and ruminating on your own hate.

If we hate someone, we feel they are diminishing us. If you feel this emotion, it is time to begin the process of release.

Counseling may be a good place to start to weaken the grasp this toxic emotion has on you.

Hate will not go away on its own. You need to actively work at releasing its toxic hold on you.

Hate makes us want to fight. Dislike makes us want to not engage.

Hate makes us irrational. Dislike makes us rationalize.

Hate makes us want to smear the person to ANYONE who will listen. Dislike makes us not even care to mention the person’s name because they aren’t on our mind.

Hate makes us want to seek revenge. Dislike makes us avoid the unpleasantness of dealing with this individual.

It is possible to move from hatred to dislike.

Release the judgements.

Move on with your own life.

Being compassionate can mean walking away without saying ANYTHING. Often no answer is the best answer.

When we are at peace with ourselves, we stop being at war with others.

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

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822
tamanna@anewcounselingservices.com

 

counseling, psychology, Uncategorized

Who Are You? The fallout of being raised in a Dysfunctional Family

We all think we know who we are…right? But do we really? I can guarantee whoever you may consider yourself to be, you are MORE than that.  As people, we have a way of defining ourselves by our stations in life, the way others view us, our circumstances, and so on and so forth. Think about it. Do you allow yourself to be defined by others? By your spouse? Your family? Your friends? Your profession? Do you define yourself by the different “roles” you play: wife, mother, husband, father, son, daughter, friend, teacher, nurse? By your religious beliefs? Political party? If someone asks you who you are, what would you say?

Many people come to therapy in the midst of an identity crisis. Newly single. In a state of crisis because they forgot what it is like to “be on their own.” No longer able to identify as someone’s husband. Or wife. Recent college grad. No idea what direction to move in without the safety net of school and the identity of being a “student.” Empty nester. Kids have flown the coop and without the identity of “full-time mom” left to wonder, “Who am I now?” And the list goes on and on. As people, we tend to become so identified with our roles that we feel at a lost if we are to lose them. It is often during these times of change that we begin to question, “Who am I really?”

Many people have a shaky sense of self.  Even in the BEST of times or in the best of circumstances. Some people live their whole life without truly defining who their authentic self is. It is easy to get caught up in letting ourselves be defined by others or by the stage of life we are in. It is the path of least resistance to let our roles or circumstances in life define us. Yet we all have heard a common regret of the dying is that they didn’t live a life true to who they really are.  Be that as it may many of us do not even know who THAT is. Being asked to define who we ARE is a tremendous question…seems simple, but hard to grasp.

Developing a true sense of self is a pivotal part of becoming a mature, healthy functioning adult. It can take time and be challenging. Without a healthy sense of self, a person can develop anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems in addition to  physical health problems.

Defining oneself can be a challenge growing up in a functional family. Yet many of us grow up in DYSfunctional families which can make it especially hard to separate who we are from who our family is. Many people who come from dysfunctional families or have been abused struggle with this question. There is fallout from being raised in a dysfunctional environment because we often face emotional and psychological trauma during our upbringing. When you grow up in a dysfunctional household, parents can be substance abusers, emotional abusers, physical abusers, sexual abusers, or just plain TOXIC, with the scars remaining long after childhood is over.  While a person may have long moved away from their family of origin or developed some strong boundaries to deal with their interactions with toxic family members, the legacy of their upbringing follows them.  Especially since people who are raised in a dysfunctional environment may currently be dealing with some real mental health or emotional challenges due to their upbringing.

Don’t get me wrong. Not ALL adult children of dysfunctional families have emotional or mental health problems. We are all the best judge of our own experiences and many people overcome a difficult childhood with no bumps in their proverbial road. Yet oftentimes when people come into therapy, regardless of their presenting problem, the challenges they are facing can be traced back to the psychological fallout from their childhood.

When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, your family’s words, actions, and attitudes HURT you.  Because of this trauma, you grow up different from other children, often being asked to hide who you are to meet and service your parents’ needs. Dysfunctional means it doesn’t work, even if it appears like it does. The question may be for you not if your family of origin was dysfunctional but to what degree was the dysfunction apparent.

A dysfunctional family LACKS boundaries. Boundaries are what separate you from me and me from you. Boundaries are an important part of existing as a separate entity. Thus if you grow up in a family who lacks clear boundaries, this is going to impact your ability to develop a healthy identity separate from your family of origin.

You may be asking yourself, well how do I know if I grew up in a dysfunctional family? Below are some signs you are still being adversely impacted by your childhood:

  1. You take yourself very seriously and have difficulty having fun. People from dysfunctional families are hypervigilant to possible “threats” and are often scanning their environment. Oftentimes a dysfunctional home environment is unpredictable and unstable. Adult children of dysfunctional families struggle to relax and let loose.
  2. You constantly seek approval. I am talking to you people pleasers. Our early relationships impact our adult relationships. Often in dysfunctional families, children get parentified. Parentification is a role reversal where the child acts as the parent due to the emotional immaturity or psychological limitations of the parent.  Parentified children are inappropriately given the role of filling their PARENTS’ needs, instead of the other way around. And thus in many cases a people pleaser is born.
  3. You are either super responsible or super irresponsible. Dysfunctional environments are usually chaotic. Thus a child may overcompensate by becoming super responsible which carries into adulthood. Or the reverse may take place where the child “gives up”  because they feel nothing they do will make a difference (this can often lead to substance abuse in later years).
  4. You don’t know what normal is.  You may know your family is NOT normal but you don’t know what a healthy, functioning family really looks like.  You may even wonder if there are families out there who resemble the families you see of tv (such as my personal favorite family—Full House–90s tv family reference right there for you).
  5. You feel like a victim. Perhaps this is how you got your needs met as a child.  It is a powerful and manipulative way to get what you want. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, it may feel threatening  to you to directly ask others for what you want and need because as a child you may have been shamed for expressing yourself.
  6. You are extremely judgemental. Of yourself–and others.  You were not shown unconditional love growing up, and instead became judgemental.  Your parents may have put their judgements on you and others. In many ways you grew up feeling like you never quite measured up. Perhaps you were subject to criticism or verbal abuse and have internalized those messages.
  7. You lack self-control–binge eating, substance abuse, job hopping, bed hopping. You may have lacked structure in your family of origin–making it hard to develop discipline and self-regulate your emotions. You are impulsive and find it hard to manage long-term goals. You may be someone who sacrifices what you want most for what you want in the moment.
  8. You worry a lot about the future. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, you never know when the other shoe was going to drop. You may struggle with a chronic, low-grade anxiety. It is almost impossible for you to be at peace.
  9. You feel lonely. You never developed as an individual, always having to cater to the needs of the family system at large. Even when in the presence of others, you cannot shake a sense of loneliness within you. You may be hyperaware of the feelings of others but struggle to really identify and express what you feel.  It is common for adult children of dysfunctional families to be codependent.
  10. You fear being abandoned.  You couldn’t rely on your mom or dad–maybe mom or dad left when you were young or maybe they didn’t physically leave you–but left you emotionally. You may constantly be scanning your adult relationships for any sign someone, whether a friend or romantic partner, is going to jump ship on the relationship. You may even have a self-destructive side to your personality– creating situations that ensure people leave by being overbearing, controlling, overly critical. You struggle with self sabotage in life and in your relationships.
  11. You are reactive. This comes back to boundaries. You can’t tell where you end and someone else begins. Someone says something that triggers you and you react. (note I say you react, not respond. Reacting is impulsive whereas responding is thought out). You struggle with being tolerant of those who do not think what you think or feel what you feel. You grew up so enmeshed in your family of origin that you struggle with being differentiated as an adult in your relationships.

These are just some of a multitude of ways you can begin to see the effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family. To overcome our dysfunctional upbringing we need to first be able to recognize how it is still effecting us. All of these behaviors act as distractions to developing one’s true sense of self.

Once we understand how our upbringing is still present in our adult lives, we need to stop identifying with the roles we played in childhood. We coped using maladaptive behaviors when we were children because we needed to cope in a situation where we were largely powerless. Children NEED their parents to survive. If your parents are unhealthy or abusive, you most likely will develop maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with the pain and toxicity in your environment. Adaptive coping mechanisms improve functioning whereas maladaptive measures do not. Unfortunately as children, these maladaptive coping strategies can be quite effective in mitigating our pain and anxiety, at lease in the short-term. The problem is we often continue these maladaptive behaviors into adulthood. Once we recognize how the roles we played as children are still present in our adult lives, we then need to stop clinging to them. There is comfort in holding on to a familiar identity even a negative one.  Yet just like we outgrow pants and shoes, we can outgrow our families of origins. For many of us who get therapy or embark on a journey of self-discovery, you may realize you already have.  But to open yourself up to finding and becoming your true self–you need to recognize the grip your childhood still has on you. By loosening the grip on the past, it will open you up to many possibilities–including discovering who you REALLY are!

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