Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Theodorou therapy, LLC
590 Franklin Ave.
Nutley, NJ 07110
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
590 Franklin Ave.
Nutley, NJ 07110
I am a big fan of family systems therapy—specifically Murray Bowen. One of the pivotal concepts he posits is differentiation of self. Level of differentiation of self can affect longevity, marital stability, reproduction, health, educational accomplishments, and occupational successes. This impact of differentiation on overall life functioning explains the marked variation that typically exists in the lives of the members of a multigenerational family (Bowen).
Bowen also explores how the most trying part of becoming emotionally healthy is not over functioning in our relationships.
What do I mean by “over functioning?” By over functioning I mean doing your part and the other person’s “part” in maintaining a relationship.
I think the best thing you can do for yourself and other people is allow them to grow up.
What does it mean to let everyone around you grow up? It means to allow people to be who they are without you swooping in. From a Bowen family perspective, a true “grown up” is a self-differentiated individual–a person who has allowed themselves to grow up and allowed the people in their life around them to grow up (or not grow up).
The truth is some people are not personality wise able to grow up–but most people can, and most people will.
Here are the steps to allowing everybody around you to grow up:
1)Stay connected to others but do not do MORE than your part. This is about knowing where you end and where others begin.
We learn this growing up in our family of origin—if we didn’t learn that well, we can always go back and learn it. Counseling is a great avenue in processing through this emotional minefield. It is not easy for people who grew up in dysfunctional families. The message of self-differentiation is I care about you but no I cannot do that–the message being I cannot do more than I can or want to. This is important for accomplishing self-differentiation.
2)Stop over functioning. If we attract underfunctioners–alcoholics, narcissists, takers, the self-absorbed, the immature, the needy, the demanding–we will be in a relationship system that pushes us to over function. We will find ourselves doing 150% or more of the work in the relationship. This allows these personality types to have a buffer to life’s realities. The truth is we give to others when we have that to give. But the truth is those of us who are overfunctioners, codependents, etc. tend to allow people to take from us when we DO NOT have it to give or do not WANT to give it.
Trying to be perfect is a form of over functioning. Perfectionism is a form of over functioning.
3)Stop figuring people out. The process of figuring people out is a form of over functioning. Now, I as a counselor, am in the business of “figuring people out.” But we should not do this in our personal relationships. We figure people out because they do not want to do the work of figuring themselves out. Sometimes we figure them out to be more self-differentiated but often we are figuring others out to further the over functioning in our relationships. It is unhealthy. Figuring people out in our lives is a form of enmeshment.
4)Stop over empathizing. Having and practicing empathy is not good for those who are not self-differentiated and well-defined (which is probably MOST of us). It is important to become more well-defined before we practice MORE empathy (hence why therapists are pushed to work through their own “stuff” to be effective in their practice). Focus on your thinking process, more than your feeling process to ensure you are not over functioning. Too often other people want us to over empathize and over sympathize to enable us to become enmeshed with them (remember, this is not a conscious process but subconscious). Do not over feel when it is the service of enabling or over functioning—a common issue with codependents. Start thinking more than feeling more.
5)Stop the enabling. Enabling is doing for others what they should do for themselves. It is taking the consequences or life lessons for others when they should be experiencing them themselves. Often, we over empathize and enable (especially with our children). In doing this, we are telling and sending them the message they can’t do life on their own–they are not strong enough, smart enough, capable enough leading to learned helplessness. Everybody has the same tasks in life as I do—we have to deal with unfairness, struggles, adversity, work, relationships, families, this is something we all have to deal with. NOBODY GETS TO OPT OUT and say nope, I can’t do it, so you need to do it! Our enabling helps and hurts at the same time. We often learn to enable at a very young age and from our family of origin. We need to root out this imprinting.
6)Focus on your own maturation process–your own self differentiation process. Look away from others and focus on yourself—certainly not in a selfish way but in a knowing yourself and becoming aware of yourself. We far too often become experts on OTHER people and NOT ourselves. Begin to become an expert on yourself!
Learn the lessons of self-differentiation. Learn more about that and how it works. When we are immature, we tend to focus on our fears and neediness AND others’ problems, issues, and immaturities. We need to get focused on OUR fears, our immaturity, and not get all focused on THE OTHER. We will be much more effective as people and be able to help in much more mature way.
7)Stop the one-sided relationships. If we have a relationship that is a combo of giver and taker, with us being the giver, this can become toxic and abusive. One sided relationships are the result of our low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, family of origin issues, fear of rejection, worthlessness, shame and reveal we are looking for love and acceptance from others –specifically others who are immature–no matter what the emotional cost to us. This is when it becomes a problem for us. WE CHOOSE RELATIONSHIPS THAT FIT OUR LEVEL OF SELF-DIFFERENTIATION OR OUR LOW SELF OR FEAR OF ABANDONMENT. Heal your self-esteem and you will heal your relationship choices and how you play your role in relationships.
8)Stop our illusions, naivety, fantasy thinking and feeling. We believe we can change others: FANTASY/NAIVETY. We believe we can make our parents be who we want them to be or fantasize if they will behave as we always wanted–an illusion. We put conditions on the relationship–if I only work harder, than THIS GOOD will come of it. If I do more, love more, become more–whatever the more “is,” I will change my spouse, my parent, my child, etc. No! Those are illusions. We need to root out the nativity in us. Learning about your own naivety is a good way to grow up. We continue to believe we have self-worth when everything points to us not having self-worth–this is denial. Our unresolved family of origin issues make us naive and immature because that is the family system, we grew up in. It is still inside of us regardless of our chronological age. To allow others to grow up, we FIRST must deal with our illusions and fantasy thinking.
9)Step down so other people can step up. Use the under functioning leverage for others to step up. Intentionally try to under function. This places the pressure, pinging, and systemic pressure on the other to step up. Or not. THEY MAY NOT. But the pressure is on THEM to GROW UP. If they don’t choose to, it is time for you to start dealing with your illusions and beliefs about the other. The best way to find out if they can change is you step down so they can step up. If they are not going to STEP UP that tells you something very important which you may not want to hear or know. But is important to our emotional health.
10)Get out of others way. If you’re a caretaker, fixer, overfunctioner, you’re getting in the way of others’ lives. The universe is trying to speak to them to grow up and be more mature and stop under functioning. We get in their way by stepping up too much.
11)Stop defending yourself with others. Defending yourself is a way that you enable other people not to look at themselves. Whenever you defend yourself, others don’t have to look at themselves because you are filling up all the noise with your defensiveness. Your defensiveness only furthers their denial and keeps the focus on you not them. Defending yourself will not bring about change in others but only will reinforce you on low self-image. REMEMBER DEFENDING YOURSELF EQUATES WITH ENMESHMENT. Do anything but defend yourself with those who do not want to grow up. Behave with boundaries, maturity, and calmly. More talking, more defensiveness, more explaining will only stress you out more and not accomplish your goal with the immature around you who do not want to grow up. If you stop the defending, they must deal with you and the situation more.
12)Exit triangles. Triangles are formed to keep the immature around us from growing up. If you told the other, time and time again, something you want them to know or understand and then you go to a third party and go communicate these things—now we have a triangle. Triangles are fundamentally unhealthy in relationships especially in families.
Remember a person can have all the trappings of adult life–marriage, mortgage, career, kids. This does mean they are an emotional grown up.
Letting someone grow up is the BEST gift you can give someone. Letting yourself grow up in the best give you can give yourself.
These are just a few steps in the process of differentiation but there are probably many more. If you find you are struggling with any of the components of being an emotional grown up, counseling can be a great way to explore the differentiation of self-process.
If you find you are struggling with a self-differentiation in YOUR LIFE and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Theodorou Therapy LLC
590 Franklin Ave, Nutley, NJ 07110
As a mental health counselor, I am a bit biased when it comes to touting the importance of mental health. Yet there still seems to be an ongoing stigma that permeates our society regarding mental health issues and a sense of shame that persists for people who struggle with their mental health. What alarms me is that the stigma can keep people from seeking treatment. If you’re afraid of how your family, friends, or colleagues might react to a psychiatric diagnosis, you’re far less motivated to actually seek out help to get the diagnosis (and the accompanying treatment) in the first place.
Think about it. Would you be comfortable going to work and announcing you are struggling with depression? Or even coming clean to your close friends and family about emotional and psychological struggles–would you be able to share you have panic attacks with your loved ones? Or would you be embarrassed and try to hide this from those you love most? Admitting mental health struggles still seems uncomfortable and threatening for many in our culture. Enormous progress has been made but we still have a way to go.
It is something that frustrates me as I have witnessed firsthand how poor mental health can deteriorate the state of someone’s career, relationships, physical health, and life in general.
The fact remains that when someone comes down with a cold or stomach virus, the vast majority of us don’t hesitate to pop a pill or visit the doctor. But if we can’t seem to shake our endless worries or that nagging sense of worthlessness, we plug along as though nothing is wrong. We don’t care for our mental health with the same regard as our physical health (even though mental health can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, backaches, stomachaches, insomnia, etc). The relationship between mental health and physical health is now evident.
People with mental health problems, especially mild symptoms of anxiety or depression, often fly under the radar of their families, friends, doctors, coworkers — typically at great cost to individuals, families and society in general. Think about what a different world we would live in if people addressed their mental health issues before heading out into the world each and every day. Even if you’re able to work, fulfill family responsibilities and otherwise function in daily life, mental health problems can have serious consequences.
I truly believe mental health is just as important as physical health. Why? Because our mental health impacts every aspect of our life. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
Our mental health has a direct IMPACT on how we think, feel, and act. This means it impacts how we feel, think and behave each and EVERY day.
Mental health impacts EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR BEING. It determines how you handle conflict, stress & adversity. Your mental health impacts how you relate to others & yourself. Your mental health is central in the way you go about making choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Your mental health is integral to living a healthy, well balanced life. Mental health struggles do NOT discriminate—people from ALL walks of life can struggle with their mental well-being.
Good mental health means you’re able to cope with daily stresses and accomplish personal goals. You are not fearful of new experiences or an uncertain future.
Ask yourself–do you feel that you are as mentally healthy as you could be? There is no shame in struggling. Having good mental health doesn’t mean you never struggle emotionally or do not experience bad times.
Help is out there. The health of your mind if just as important as the health of your body. Counseling is a high-value–but temporary–investment in yourself.
Counseling is a proven process that teaches you how your mind works. Behavioral and emotionally interventions can and do help people who are struggling. Counseling helps you navigate your feelings, communicate better, build better behaviors, develop better relationships, build on coping skills, and relate to your thoughts differently so you can live the life you want.
Wouldn’t you like to learn how to handle your emotions better, boost your mood, and build on your resilience? This is YOUR LIFE after all. If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental and emotional health and still aren’t functioning optimally at home, work, or in your relationships, it may be time to seek professional help.
590 Franklin Ave.
Suite 2 -Nutley, NJ 07110
Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable? For many people, the answer is a resounding NO.
Many of us prefer the easy road. We fear change, so we don’t push ourselves to the next level. We possess a natural proclivity to stick with the status quo, to resist the unknown, to stay comfortable.
Yet discomfort as a natural part of the human experience. If you’re uncomfortable with discomfort, you probably run away from uncertainty and change. But the fact is in today’s world you can’t run away from change! Change is all around us-everything in life is fluid.
We exist in an increasingly fast paced world. You either evolve or let the world pass you by.
If you can’t force yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace the discomfort of change, you will remain stuck. We all have people in our lives who fight like hell to maintain the status quo– people who have not evolved in ANY sense of the word—in 5, 10, 15, 20, sheesh in some cases even 30+ years.
There is no growth without change. The question is do you want to grow? Do you want to make progress in your life–in your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, your personal development? Or do you want to stay in the same exact place you were for many, many years?
It is easy to look at the people in our lives and see who IS changing and growing. We can just as easily look at the people around us and see who is the poster child of stagnation. Yet it is much tougher to take a good, long, hard look at ourselves.
Ask yourself–what has changed in your life since last year? Five years ago? Ten years ago? If you find the answering to this is “not much” this may be indicative that your growth game is NOT strong. If you stop growing, you are going to be unhappy.
The thing that often stops people from growing is their disdain of discomfort.
The truth is people often bolt at the mere sign of discomfort. But when you hide from the tough issues, you may play it safe and refuse to take risks. You may steer clear of difficult conversations at home and at work. Afraid of conflict, you may fail to challenge yourself or others, to greater performance and a better life. But when you expect discomfort as a natural part of life you do not overreact to it. You are not thrown off by it. The real issue facing our society is many people feel entitled to not feel any discomfort in their lives.
Being able to sit with your own feelings of discomfort without ACTING on them is a sign of emotional maturity.
Most people can’t even tolerate being uncomfortable for short amounts of time. This is why we see people disappear into forms of escapism and distraction— eating, drinking, drugs, drama, all kinds of addictions, or abusive behavior.
How often do we let discomfort stop us from being who we truly are or from living the life we dream?
Many of us are driven by the need to be comfortable at the expense of all else. There are people who crave security and certainty even if this consists of compromising on other goals they may have.
Many of us never even try because we are afraid to even start.
Because we all KNOW starting can suck. Whenever you start something new, it sucks. Not always, but quite often. You are the new guy at work, it sucks. You are the new student in school, it sucks. You are moving across the country to start anew, it sucks. You start a diet, it sucks. You start working out, it sucks.
Anything outside of our comfort zone can seem daunting.
Growth requires change. It requires discomfort. Ask yourself: are you comfortable with being uncomfortable? Can you go through the growing pains and make it out to the other side?
If you are going to win at this game we can life, it’s all about not letting your discomfort make you throw in the towel, not start the race, or give up in the middle.
You’ll get comfortable with being uncomfortable when you realize that pushing pass those feelings of discomfort and leaning into the discomfort is where you feel the most genuinely alive.
You will also be able to handle WHATEVER life throws at you. Being comfortable with discomfort is the cornerstone of self-efficacy.
If you find you struggle with being uncomfortable and see it have a negative impact on your life, counseling may be a place to start processing through those feelings.
To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649