counseling, goals, prosocialbehavior, psychology, self-help

Why We Love Putting People in a Box and Why We Should Reevaluate Our Views on Ourselves, Others, and Life In General

On this journey through life, we are different people at various points in our journey. Surely you are not the same person at 48 that you were at 18.

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Yet the people in our lives often view us as who we were when they met us. More often than not it will be a struggle for them to shift their perception of you. Once they view you a certain way, regardless of the changes and progress you make in your life, it may be a challenge for them to take you out of the “box” they put you in.

This is why if you ask five people to describe someone, you will likely get five extremely varied answers. We meet people at different points in time impacting our perception of the individual.

Even our own self-concept may be reflective of a point in time that no long holds true today. Ask yourself when is the last time you took stock of who you are TODAY not who you were years ago? Do you still view yourself as an extrovert because growing up you liked to go out and socialize but now you spend your weekends at home on the couch dreading the mere thought of going to a party? Do you consider yourself a career driven person but have not been in the workforce in five, ten, fifteen years? Do you view yourself as athletic but have not been in shape since your college years? Often we do not update our self-concept as we evolve through life.

There is no right or wrong here. But at different stages of our life, to an extent, our identity shifts. You are a different “you” as a child vs. college student vs. a young professional vs. a person balancing career and family vs. someone who is retired. Yet oftentimes we hold onto an identity that is no longer valid which can in turn create conflict within ourselves and with the outside world.

Our self-concepts are not always perfectly aligned with reality. Our perceptions of others are not either. While we all tend to distort reality to a certain degree, congruence occurs when self-concept is fairly well aligned with reality. 

Try to reflect on the following three questions:

  • Do you think your view of yourself is how other people view you?
  • Can you think of someone you and a friend view completely differently?
  • Do you believe most people are aware of how others perceive them?

Too many people live on auto pilot. Many of us do not reflect on our beliefs of ourselves, others, and life in general to see if they are still relevant or hold true to this day.

People use labeling as a tool to resolve the complexity of their environments. It is easier to put people in categories than take the time to analyze the complexities of the individual (complexities which we all have). It is simpler and easier to label and categorize. The same can hold true for the views we hold of ourselves.

Not only do we tend to stereotype people, but once we label someone, we fight like hell to keep them in that category. Even if the face of evidence to the contrary. This helps to mitigate our cognitive dissonance.  (Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance).

Ironically enough as clinicians we HAVE to use diagnostic labels to interpret clients’ behavior to bill insurance companies. I am not a big fan of such protocol but it is a requirement for insurance companies to cover services. I feel people are so much more than the categories we put them in.

Yet in private practice we are able to change the diagnostic label as a client progresses through treatment. In day-to-day life, it seems our labels tend to be more rigid and fixed.

We label people: talkative, outgoing, shy, kind, rude, evil, sweet, smart, dumb, hardworking, successful, not successful, rich, poor, the list goes on and on.

More often than not I find people do not like to change their long-held views or labels. Of themselves OR others. Once they made up their mind on WHO someone is–it is what it is.

Even if they experience discomfort in the face of evidence which is contrary to their preconceived views, they will work hard to twist the truth and to justify their faulty perceptions. To reduce the discomfort, they will often use a myriad of defense mechanism (ex. denial, projection, rationalization) to mitigate any cognitive dissonance between themselves and the target of their label/judgement.

We also do the same with the view we hold of ourselves. And of life in general (we see this play out all the time in political discussions).

Not everyone, but many people seem to struggle with changing how they view a person (or oneself) once their mind has formed an opinion.

It is like our mind is a file cabinet. When we see someone we unconsciously pull the file on that person. The problem is we may have not updated our files in 5, 10, 15, 20 years or more.

For instance, one woman I know has repeatedly pointed out to me a mistake a person had made in college. The thing is the woman in question is well into her FORTIES. Thus this person is judging someone based on a mistake made over 20 years ago.  The person was using this mistake, from twenty years ago, as a reflection on this person’s present day character. In reality, this woman was a totally different person in the here and now. This type of type casting is reflective on this rigid, inflexible categorizing, people have a tendency to indulge in. Perhaps you have your own examples coming to mind.

The thing you may notice is that people like to stereotype you. They are going to do all in their power to put you in a box based on how you look, where you work, and where you live particularly at the point in time they met you. This allows them to mentally file you away alongside the thousands of other boxes consuming their mental files.

I have seen this commonly occur in families. It’s all an inside job. The only way we’re able to look at the world is through our own unique lens.

The truth is, all of us are capable real and meaningful change, but we often criticize those who display it. For some, having people “figured out” is preferable to actually figuring them out.

People do not want to take the time to reevaluate a person or their relationship to said person based on the here and now. What compels us to define ourselves and others by often narrow parameters, putting us into categories? People are busy and people are lazy. It is convenient. Labels enable people to make what they believe to be useful generalization. We then use these labels to justify our own behavior in turn.

This can in turn make us feel we know what is best for other people. This is a side effect of our short-sighted judgments. This has been done to me and I know I have done this from time to time with others.  It’s one thing if someone’s actions and behavior are directed at us personally, but when those decisions aren’t,  intervening, will bring about anger and frustration. We use our labels and generalizations to rationalize our actions towards others.

Labels have a way of dehumanizing people. It is okay to have different values. Life is a lot more complex than many of us are willing to acknowledge. 

Yet when we think we know what’s best for someone’s else life, what we are essentially doing is failing to recognize we are all unique people with different values. Keeping people in a box helps us to feel in control. Thus instead of accepting someone as they are NOW, we fight to view them as something we are comfortable with. When we view a person as who they were ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, it can be hard to connect with them if we are not able to communicate with who they are in the here and now.

Do you see the issues that can arise with this type of thinking? Of stereotyping someone and imposing your opinion of what’s best? This type of thinking and behavior plays out often in our society including our political landscape.

Perhaps you have been there before. Someone hurts you and you decide they did it because they’re an evil or bad person. You disregard all evidence to the contrary. When someone else speaks kindly of them, you assume that person does not know the “real” them like you do. Or someone says something that threatens a belief you hold dear, so you decide they’re wrong. Maybe you view yourself a certain way and when someone says something that contradicts this view, you attack them.

We fight fiercely to hold onto our beliefs. We push hard to get people to act in a way we deem best. At the core, this is about feeling secure and comfortable.

Yet being emotionally and mentally healthy means not labeling other people and putting them in boxes that we file away. It means giving ourselves and others the freedom to change.

We are not meant to be put in boxes. As people, we are always growing, changing, and evolving (hopefully that is).

In a way if you are not growing, you are dying.

When we look around at other people, we tend to be naturally drawn to people like us. Conversely, we may be repelled by certain types of people who seem very unlike us. This is why change can feel so threatening. Again, we see this play out in the political realm. But for our own peace of mind we need to begin to see most people do not fit neatly into categories. Life is messy. Things change. People are constantly in flux. The world is constantly moving forward–whether we are on board or not.

As it relates to ourselves, progress is important to be being happy. As humans if we are not growing more often than not we are not going to feel fulfilled. Think of people who have not changed any aspect of their life in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years (maybe you are thinking of yourself). These people in all likelihood lack a vibrancy to them. The thing is growth has a sense of aliveness to it. What makes us feel alive is progress.

The time has come for us to start thinking OUTSIDE the box instead of forcing others (and ourselves) into a box. The time has come to begin making progress in our own lives and allowing others to evolve. Let us not continue to box ourselves or others in.

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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

 

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

6 Signs He Is Just Not That Into You

“He’s just not THAT into you.”

I remember the Sex and the City episode which played up this very popular early 2000’s catch phrase. I know you hate this phrase. I hate it even more. I think we hate it because we recognize that it IS indeed true– even when we are living in a fantasy world about it. Denial in dating is a common phenomenon.

I hate to say it. I apologize for saying it. But if a man is not calling you, it’s not because he has bad cell service or he is really tied up at work. He is not calling (or texting) because he doesn’t like you or doesn’t like you enough to make the effort.

Below are some telling signs he is just NOT that into you:

1)You always have to reach out to him FIRST. When a man is crazy for you, he is reaching out. Often. And with passion. If you’re always the one texting, calling, or messaging him first, and he never initiates a conversation – sorry but that’s a huge sign that he’s not that into you.

2)You have not met his friends. Or family. If a man is actually into you, you’re going to meet his friends and family. He is going to want you to be a part of ALL of his world (or at least give you the choice to be).

3) He Actively Flirts With Other Women.  This one is self-explanatory. Huge deal-breaker.It is disrespectful and gross. I expect a 16-year-old boy to do this–not a 36-year-old MAN.

4)He’s Never Trying to Impress You. Men who are smitten? They try to impress you at ALL costs. If no effort is being made to wow you, this speaks volumes about the level of interest.

5)The man treats you like an option NOT a priority. If he is repeatedly blowing off plans and you see him posting on Insta later that night with his pals? BYE Felicia. You should be his number priority. Of course for a man hanging out with his friends is important but breaking plans with you for them over AND over again? Nope!

6)He does not take you on REAL dates. A bottle of wine at his apartment and House of Cards binge? That is fun from time to time. But if you are looking for something more, guard your heart if he only wants to Netflix & Chill. Nothing wrong with but then you are probably looking at just a hookup with no strings attached.

6)You feel it in your gut. Ultimately, your instincts are going to tell you the truth. Ladies, deep down we know when a man is NOT feeling us. You deserve more.

If you find you are repeatedly attracting the wrong man, it may be time to talk to someone. A professional can help you get to the bottom of why you are attracted to unavailable men.

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, self-help

Managing Stress During the Holiday Season: It’s the Most Wonderful AND Stressful Time of the Year!

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Do you get stressed-out around the holidays? 

Thanksgiving is almost upon us which means the holiday season is about to be in full swing!

For many, this is their favorite time of year. Many look forward to the holidays and ending the year with a bang!

The holiday season can be full of joy and spending quality time with our loved ones…but it can also be stressful and full of angst. The holiday season is a time of year that often brings unwelcome visitors–anxiety, stress, and depression just to name a few–all of which can put a damper on one’s holiday spirit.

Stress is ever-present during the holiday season. And it’s no wonder. The holidays present a multitude of demands — demands we place on our self AND demands placed on us by others.

We spend endless hours devoting much time to decorating, shopping, baking, gift wrapping, cleaning, and entertaining. Unrealistic expectations run rampant during the time of year. Just trying to stay within one’s budget can be stressful in and of itself.

It is the most wonderful and EXPENSIVE time of the year!

During this time of year, people often resort to bad habits—they may overindulged in sweet and sugar cravings, dip into the booze and pharmaceuticals, and live on cup after cup of caffeine filled drinks such as coffee and soda to power through their never-ending to-do list.

Emotions can be all over the place. You may feel annoyed by meddling relatives, experience bouts of loneliness,  miss loved ones who are no longer with you, or lose patience with your children over their endless requests and demands.

Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your mental health. Being realistic, planning ahead, and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression.

Below are some strategies for managing the stress of the holidays:

1)Stay connected. As families change and grow, you may not all be able to be together on the holidays. People live on different coasts, other loved ones may spend time with their in-laws, and schedules may not allow everyone to be together in ONE place. Give people a call, send holiday cards, and do your best to stay connected even if you cannot physically be together. If you want to stay connected you need to do your part as well to stay in touch–even a simple “Missing you, thinking of you” text can go a long way to letting the people in your life know you care.

2)Don’t blow your budget–you can’t buy happiness for yourself OR anyone else. Design a budget and stick to it. How much you spend is NOT a reflection of how much you care. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to go big (big meaning expensive) on presents to make loved ones happy. It truly is the thought that counts.  The best presents to give are experiences–give loved ones Groupons such as to a paint class night or to try a cooking class.

3)Take care of YOU. Often during the holidays we are so focused on doing for others. It is also a trying time of year on us physically AND mentally— the days begin getting darker and colder (unless you live in a tropical climate-then LUCKY YOU), we eat more, drink more, sleep less, and are generally more busy. It is the recipe for the perfect storm on our emotional and mental well-being. Try not to abandon ALL your healthy habits. Try to get the proper amount of sleep, get some exercise in, and watch your diet during the work week. Don’t let the holidays be a free for all on your health. Come January 1st you WILL regret it.

4)Learn to say no. You do not have to attend every party you are invited to. You do not have to host your mother-in-law’s third cousins you never met before. You don’t have to drive to three different places on Christmas to not disappoint. Slow it down. Don’t allow the holiday season to run you ragged. Saying yes when you want to say no leaves you feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Nothing merry about that!

5)Lower your expectations. Cut yourself some slack. Cut others some slack as well. We are all doing the best we can. Things do not need to be perfect to be fun. Try for good enough and focus your attention on the real meaning of the holidays. Don’t let your annoying, crazy uncle get on your last nerve at the dinner table–this is why Jesus turned water into wine. Have a glass of red (heart health AND antioxidants), scoop on the salad, and try to have fun!

It is important to take control of the holidays before they take control of YOU.

Don’t let the holidays become something that spikes your stress levels to the max. Instead, take steps to prevent stress and depression that can arise during the holidays. Learn to recognize your triggers. Perhaps you worry about your family’s budget or demands placed on you. Stay mindful and take some time to RELAX. Keep in mind self-imposed demands tend to be especially tough, so try your best to mitigate the stress before it leads to a meltdown.

Even if you’re a easy going, laid back person, the holiday season can still be a trying time. Your stress level can go through the roof. Don’t be afraid to talk to a mental health professional if the holiday season has you feeling down or having a difficult time. A therapist can help you improve your coping skills so you can tap into the joy and peace that is all around you–and within you.

Happy Holidays!

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, self-help

Why You Should Try Meditating: Time to Take Yourself Less Seriously

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Are you someone who takes yourself VERY seriously?
Are you very identified with your mind and the thoughts you think?
Do you mistake feelings as facts?

Are you someone who feels you can’t GET control? Or do you struggle to LET go of control?

Maybe, you should give meditation a try.

Meditation helps the mind be flexible and understand that our notions of ourselves and people around us are more fluid than most realize.

You see meditating helps us to see our thoughts are just that—thoughts. We all think a bazillion a day–some rational, some irrational, some negative, some positive.

Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, tend to arise when we identify a bit TOO much with our thoughts and our mind. When we take our thoughts AND ourselves TOO seriously.

Personally, other people’s “thoughts” don’t bother me–but our actions and behavior have real world consequences. We are all free to “think” whatever we want, but how we behave towards ourself and others has consequences.

Our behavior stems from our thoughts. Thus if you want better results in your life, in whatever capacity that may be, you are going to need to change HOW you think and perceive your thoughts.

You see you are free to choose but not free of the consequences of said choice.

Becoming aware of your thought processes through the act of meditating can stop you from an acting in a destructive manner to your self and others.

The sad reality is so many people are psychologically and emotionally unconscious.

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Meditation gives you perspective. You begin to be cognizant of the fact there are different people, different perspectives, and different demands in life. What may be true for you, may not be true for me. This is not about right or wrong, a label that is derived in our MIND. This is about just what is.

When people try to “tell me how it is” I know that they are too identified with their ego. Emotional and psychological maturity entails a discovery that how it is is very much a subjective truth. You can’t tell me how it “is” because how it is for me is not something you have experienced. All you can do it tell me how you are (which most likely is close minded if you go around telling people how it is but that is a topic for another day 😉 ).

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Meditating can help you become aware of the thoughts you think and how you subconsciously may be letting your mind work on “auto-pilot.”

This shift can help your tremendously…if you allow it.

Everything changes. Our thoughts are ever-changing, our feelings, our emotions–all constantly evolving as we evolve through life.

In life–everything is temporary. We start to lose our ability for joy and happiness when we take our thoughts and selves so seriously.

Life is NOT as serious as we make it out to be.

Meditation helps us see the transcendentalist nature of life.

Below I share with you an interesting, brief clip of Eckhart Tolle on our addiction to thinking.

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, self-help

Panic Attacks: When We Fear Our Fear

Imagine…your heart is pounding. You suddenly feel like you can’t breathe. You wonder if you are dying and feel like you are going CRAZY.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it feels like to have a panic attack.

panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

What You Feel

A panic attack means you experience some of these following symptoms (from WebMD):

  • Feel like you’re losing control or going crazy
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • An out-of-body sensation
  • Like you’re choking
  • A fear that you’re dying
  • Tingling or numb hands, arms, feet, or legs

While extremely unpleasant, panic attacks are NOT life threatening.

As a clinician, I can see the anxiety become palpable as my clients describe this debilitating disorder to me in great detail. Panic disorder has a way of making someone live in terror of the next attack. You see the thing about people who suffer from panic disorder is they begin to fear their fear. A panic attack is an extreme form of fear that causes physical and physiological symptoms. But a panic attack is not physically or medically dangerous. You are not in ANY danger of dying when you suffer from a panic attack but in that moment you truly may think you are dying. It is THAT psychological painful.

Panic attacks can lead you to constrict your life out of fear of having an attack in a place where you perceive there to be NO escape. Unfortunately, when I work with people who suffer from panic disorder, I often see symptoms of agoraphobia present as well. I will see people refuse to drive, refuse to leave their house without a “safe” person with them (someone they can turn to for help if a panic attack arises), struggle with social situations out of fear of having an attack in front of people, refuse to be in crowded places such as malls and concerts, and be afraid of any activity that reminds them even remotely of their panic attacks.

This is no way to live.

Panic disorder is NOT a life sentence.

People who struggle with this disorder start to limit their worlds: being particular with where they will go and what they will do. They try to be as “safe” as humanly possible.

Vigorous exercise may become a no go because the rising heart rate reminds them of their last panic attack when their chest was POUNDING. Caffeine is treated like it is poison because of the jittery, sweaty, high blood pressure feeling it produces which brings about a flashback of their last panic attack. Going into a hot tub and starting to sweat? No way—I can pass out in here and drown, they may tell them self.

One’s thoughts become increasingly irrational with panic disorder.

Anything that produces symptoms similar to a panic attack (increased heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath) will be avoided at all cost. Driving on the highway where you can’t get off an exit for another THIRTY miles? NO WAY. I am not getting STUCK.

The thing is the fear of being stuck and or in a place of no escape is a form of “internal” claustrophobia~existing in one’s mind and not in the external world.

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You see panic disorder and agoraphobia go hand-in-hand.

IF you suffer from panic attacks on the regular, you may begin to fear you have will have another attack at the worst possible moment. In the middle of a presentation at work, waiting on-line at the store, driving on a bridge, flying where there is no perceived escape, at a social gathering–embarrassing yourself in front of many with nowhere to hide….

These fears can be so powerful you can begin to plan your life around them—allowing your range of experiences to become smaller and smaller. Your world becomes limited.

What can you do if you suffer from panic attacks?

Consider seeking treatment immediately. This is not something you should struggle through on your own. Counseling can help you with coping skills, relaxation techniques, and help you become cognizant of how one’s thoughts can amp up our body’s fight/flight response.

You see a panic attack is a response to something we view as threatening–even if in actual there is NO REAL DANGER FACING US. We can be triggered by other people, certain places, or the mere thought of facing down our fear.

During a panic attack, our body’s alarm response is triggered even in the absence of real danger.

Remember, you can overcome your panic disorder. When we avoid panic or treat it like our enemy, it will in turn ONLY get stronger. Don’t run away from that which you fear–it will only strengthen it. Accepting you struggle with anxiety is the first step to becoming better.

Acceptance drops our resistance.

Be gentle and kind to yourself. Don’t judge and criticize yourself for panicking. This will only make your more susceptible to an attack.  YOU ARE NOT WEAK.

This disorder is HIGHLY responsive to treatment. Taking care of your mental health should always be a top priority. 

And remember…this too shall pass. What you resist will persist. Do not try to fight the feelings of anxiety and panic.

Stay calm.

Breath through the thoughts and feelings.

Remember: 1) You are not going to die; 2) This is a panic attack and it WILL end — it will not go on forever; 3) Work to calm your baseline anxiety which will help reduce the severity and the duration of the panic attack — going to a quiet place, focusing on regulating your breathing, stating over and over again, even if you don’t believe it, “I will be okay, this too shall pace, I am safe.”

You WILL come out on the other side.

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Below I share with you a TED talk from my fellow UDEL alum, Summer Beretsky, on the struggle of dealing with anxiety & panic disorder.

 

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