anxiety, counseling, goals, psychology, self-help

Signs It May Be Time to See a Therapist to Get Help for Your Anxiety

Do you ever wonder if your anxiety is normal OR if it is time to seek out help for your symptoms? Shining a light on mental health issues helps to reduce the stigma that keeps many people from seeking support.

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder in America. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year (adaa.org).

EVERYONE gets nervous from time to time. It is quite common for people to experience anxiety at different point in their lives.

For instance, anxiety is a very normal response to stressful life events like going on a job interview, getting married, having a baby, moving, changing jobs or having financial troubles. Anxiety is a natural reaction to a situation we perceive as stressful or dangerous.

But when does anxiety cross the line from normal anxiety into an anxiety disorder? When anxiety becomes larger than the events that triggered them and begin to interfere with your life, they could be signs of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can become debilitating, but they can be managed with proper help from a mental health professional.

Anxiety disorders are HIGHLY TREATABLE if you are willing to take the first step towards seeking help.

Anxiety disorders can take many forms. Below are some signs you should consider seeking help for your anxiety:

1)If it keeps you from doing things you enjoy. When your world is becoming smaller because of your anxiety, this is certainly a sign you should seek help. Do you want to travel but suddenly feel the urge to cancel your plans because you are scared? Or do you feel too anxious to even book a trip in the first place because you are afraid to board a plane or be away from the comforts of home? Or you can only go to the same place for vacation because anywhere new and unfamiliar leads to high anxiety? Maybe you want to visit your sister but she lives two hours away and you are afraid to drive there. If your anxiety is inhibiting your life, it may be time to seek out professional help.

2)You are exhausted. Constantly feeling tired is a sign your mind (and your worries) are in overdrive. Worrying can lead to the point of exhaustion. Being easily fatigued can be a telling sign your anxiety is getting out of hand.

3)It is impacting your career. If you are so anxious, it is impeding your ability to function at work, it is time to seek out help. What are some signs your anxiety is severe?If you are finding that you are missing many days from work, frequently calling in late because your anxiety is impeding your ability to leave the house, or having trouble performing the normal day-to-day tasks of your job, it may be time to seek out some support.

4)You are isolating yourself from others. Are you feeling such anxiety that you are avoiding parties, going out, or interacting with family and friends? If your social anxieties are leading to isolation, this is a problem. If the presence of other people cause you to worry, you may feel the need to avoid putting yourself in situations where you have to interact with others you do not feel comfortable with. This is a sign your anxiety can be spiraling out of control.

5)Your fears keep you from performing essential tasks. Do you hate crowds? Get anxious waiting on lines? If your anxiety is keeping you from food shopping or going out in public, this is a sign your anxiety is disproportionate to the situation. If you can not perform day-to-day tasks because of strong, unrelenting feelings of anxiety, it can be a sign of anxiety disorder.

6)You are having panic attacks. The hallmark of a panic attack is extreme fear typically accompanied by rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, chest tightness, nausea and fear of dying or losing control. Panic attacks can be terrifying. Counseling can help you figure out the situations, thoughts, or feelings that cause your attacks (your triggers).

7)The anxiety is ongoing. If you have been experiencing ongoing anxiety, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life, ongoing anxiety is no,  unless it is circumstantial (you loss your job, getting a divorce, extenuating life circumstances that were unexpected, etc.).

8)You have physical symptoms–stomach aches, headaches, muscle tension, can’t sleep, dizziness, diarrhea, throwing up. Having physical symptoms on most days of the week is another frequent symptom of anxiety. There is no doubt that stress and anxiety can beat up your body. If your anxiety is causing you to become physically ill, you most certainly should seek out the care of a mental health professional.

9)Feeling irritable. Frequently, people with anxiety disorders experience excessive irritability.  Keep tabs on whether you’re blowing up at people or losing your cool. Do you let things that roll off other people’s back make you flip out? Are you unable to manage and control your emotions? It can be a sign you are emotionally dysregulated. Anger and irritability can be a sign of anxiety.

10)Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Sleep disturbances are strongly associated with anxiety disorders. Perhaps your mind starts racing as soon as your head hits the pillow. You’re thinking about your never-ending to-do list, that thing you should (or shouldn’t) have said at work, or how expensive your taxes are going to be this quarter. Then you catch a glimpse of the clock, and realize how late it already is which only further escalates your anxiety. Anxiety can lead to insomnia. If your anxiety is causing you to be restless and unable to get a good night’s sleep, you should speak to your doctor.

11)Your anxiety is impacting your relationships. Constant worry manifesting as any of the following: jealousy towards your spouse, your children becoming anxious themselves because you are rubbing off on them,  acting controlling towards others to mitigate your own anxious feelings,  avoiding friends and family at social events, and communication problems with others are ALL signs your anxiety has escalated to the point of a disorder. The good thing to know is that once treatment for anxiety is underway these relationship issues do improve as well.

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12)Using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Are you drinking more than usual? Popping pills to numb yourself out (especially if it not your prescription)? Many people who are suffering from severe anxiety will use drugs or alcohol to self-treat their anxiety symptoms.

If you are relating to many of the aforementioned signs, keep in mind, that anxiety is a very treatable disorder.

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If anxiety is interfering with your life, whatever they may mean to you, that is reason enough to speak with a mental health professional.

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If you anxiety is causing you suffering, you DESERVE to get help.

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, 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, psychology, regrets, self-help

Self Deception: How We Work Hard to Escape the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you know what you KNOW is RELIABLE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What truth about your life are you unwilling to admit?

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

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

What aspect of yourself do you avoid facing?

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

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

Overcoming the lies we tell ourselves is not easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you have a strong emotional reaction—pause.

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

Learn to respond NOT react.

Recognize when you are thinking irrational thoughts…and pause.

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

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

When you are unresolved about someone or something…pause.

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

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

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

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

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

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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

10 Habits of Highly Miserable People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

What are some common root causes of a miserable personality?

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

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

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

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

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

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

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com