counseling, emotionalimmaturity, psychology, self-help

How to Become Less Reactive: A Family Systems View

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The best way to not BE alone is to stand alone.

What do I mean? So many clients come to me and have experienced dysfunction in their childhood and felt lonely all their life. They haven’t had a chance or an opportunity to learn much about self-differentiation. In fact, they learned enmeshment, worried states, anxiety, trauma. Thus, being able to stand alone, which is so important for self-differentiation and relationships, is a must. It becomes a treatment goal.

Many people come into a counseling session and say, “I don’t want to focus on my past I just want to move forward.” 

From my perspective as a clinician, it is VERY difficult to move forward with one or two hands tied behind your back. I think a lot of folks who try to put their past out of their thinking or state it is of no value or no importance to be bothered with are actually trying to grow and chance it with one handed tied behind their back (or for some people with BOTH hands tied behind their back).

Clients may respond, “But isn’t that just in the past? How is that affecting me now?”  Maybe you don’t live with your family of origin now or may only see them but once or twice a year. Perhaps you have own children and are focused on the family you have created. Or maybe your parents are dead so in your mind, no need to bring up things from one’s childhood. Maybe you don’t believe in blaming your parents for what your current troubles are so you don’t even want to talk about them.  Or perhaps you believe you came from a wonderful family, so why bother looking at the past. The reasons go on and on for why clients do not feel the need to discuss the past.

So why is the past important? Because it IS the present. It is STILL in US. In a way we have a lifelong dialogue with our family of origin in us. If you don’t believe that, you don’t have to. Yet most people I know are prisoners to their past or rebelling AGAINST their past.

They have not found a way to neutalize or detach from their past. Neither being a prisoner to one’s past or rebelling from it is FREEDOM. 

I believe learning from and healing from our past is a way to navigate knowing yourself and how to interact with others.  Working through your past is how you become free from the emotional traps that are playing out in your present life. I have seen it happen time and time again. I believe dealing with the past is the way to REAL change. It leads to self-differentiation, something most of us don’t have enough of, which causes most of our problems in life.

The past IS present and IN you. Most people try to move away from their past, yet the best way is to move THROUGH the past and BEYOND it.

Many people grow up and develop an addiction to love and approval. Whenever we have an addiction to something, we never can achieve it or have it. We are always just searching for it.

Remember, loneliness is a result or symptom of unresolved issues from childhood. I try to show clients that the solution is often NOT near the problem. So, when people try to solve the problem of loneliness, they often get stuck onto other relationships that end up falling apart leading them to feel abandon, left, and with the scars of broken relationships. Thus what they seek after doesn’t happen.

Many of us fear being lonely and abandoned. Often those of us fear being alone, already experience it. Our fear pushes us into unhealthy relationships where what we fear comes upon us.

It is often our own insecurity that causes our relationships to fail. We are enmeshed, we are reactive.  We must resolve and deal with our fears to be healthier and have healthier relationships. This is a pivotal part of self-differentiation.

Standing alone with one’s self and giving up on one’s neediness for approval will result in true intimacy, true connectedness, and lifelong relationships. Self-differentiation is the key to connectedness.

The paradox of love and approval is if you need it you will not get it.  If you let it go, it will come to you. If you really want it then don’t need it. It needs to become internalized to us.

Remember, standing alone is NOT the same thing as BEING ALONE.  I believe the best way to be alone is to not stand alone. Self-abandonment is the root of all adult abandonment issues.  We were abandoned when we were young and then we continue that abandonment and we continue that abandonment of ourselves–we then look for someone to fix that abandonment when that fix is inside us.

When we learn connectedness with ourselves, we can then in turn connect with others.

You must be a self to have healthy relationships. You must be able to stand alone to be with others.  You need to be okay with yourself.

The goal in developing healthy relationships is to learn how to stop being so reactive. Our reactivity is what causes us to enmesh with those unhealthy people. Learn how to use your reactivity to learn new things about yourself and the relationship. Your reactivity can tell you a lot about how to proceed, what to do, and what to do with yourself. When I’m being reactive, I know it is not healthy and I am being immature. There is something deficient in me that causes this reactivity and I want to learn something about that.

How does one become less reactive and more self-differentiated?

To clarify, reactivity, as it relates to family systems theory, is when the emotional field of the relationship system “pings” one another and we become reactive as a result of it.

It is our deep emotional system that we often inherit from family of origin. It is often deep inside us.

Often it is subconscious and can be traced back to the pinging that went on within our family of origin. Now we can then in turn have conscious feelings that come as a result of being “pinged” but often how we act in relationships is automatic, subconscious, and reactive ways.

Therefore, it is important to explore this and work on becoming less reactive. Rather than dealing with feelings, which are important, we must focus on the primitive part of our emotional field that formed during our early years. It is here that our reactivity should be dealt with and resolved. If we want to have healthy relationships, we must do the work of working on our self and self-differentiation. We need to look at the underlying emotional field.

This emotional field is always working within us and is tricky. When it is triggered, we feel feelings and often “react” as opposed to “responding.” Often in counseling, a therapist will address a client’s “presenting” feelings but not address the client’s deeper “lizard brain” part of them–which is part of this emotional field. The lizard brain is the most primitive part of our self where we process feelings and emotions. If you change that lizard brain, you change that emotional field and you will change your sense of self.  Basically, Bowen Family System theory is this view that the deep emotional part of us, the limbic part of us i.e. the lower brain, needs to get changed and it in turn we can feel more mature and less reactive.

Changing the emotional system is the way to make meaningful change as adults—emotionally, behaviorally, and in relationships. Yet oftentimes in our family of origin we have a “fixed role.”

This fixed role is the way we are expected to function and perform in our family. If we don’t comply, we are often made to feel guilt, shame, fear. If you don’t do way your family system wants, you may find your mother, father, etc. are disappointed in you and in turn they withhold their “conditional” love.  With this conditional love being withheld,  you will in subsequently feel abandon. Thus, oftentimes, we take the path of LEAST RESISTANCE—we continue to stay in these fixed roles despite it not making us happy.

Our choices often are a fight or flight response. We can come and be mad at our family. Or we can withdraw in reactivity and not come around anymore because we don’t want to confront everybody.  One is too aggressive; one is too passive. We all find ourselves falling between those two sides when we can’t deal with the emotional minefield within us or playing out in our family of origin.

What do we do to become less reactive?

1)Observe. Work on observing not absorbing. We often absorb other people and relationship systems and then our functioning remains immature and the same.  Observe the pinging rather than think “I’m JUST my feelings and you are JUST your feelings.”

2)Listen more. Listen to you, listen to others. Resist absorbing the other person and their feelings, take a think more and feel less focus, identify and break the family of origin beliefs/values/rules AND roles. We challenge those innately when we become self-differentiated. Our authentic self may go along with our family of origin’s values, rules, roles, etc. If it doesn’t, we begin to resist it, slowly, calmly, and maturely. Over time that changes our lower brain and our functioning, and we begin to become less reactive.

3)Focus on deep change and the hard work of changing your INSTINCTIVE brain to raise your level of self-differentiation. Change your emotional functioning position in your family of origin. Bowen always talked about our family of origin imprinting on us the most–that deep level, that family brain. When we begin to change how we function there it will begin to change how we function in every other relationship. Increase your awareness when you are pinged and function more independently. Meaning if I am pinged, I need to resist doing what the other wants me to do and be my authentic self.

4)Act to be more of a separate self. Embrace your emotionally reactivity and embrace your patterns of distancing, over focus on others.  Remember it takes work to increase your emotional backbone and go without love and approval.

5)Deal with and resolve with your resistance to becoming a self. Oftentimes we have so many anxieties, fears about becoming our real self and we need to work on those. We need to work on those downsides of what we believe when we become a true self. If you can learn to resist the pull and push for you to remain in your allotted role in your family of origin and the powerful forces that want you to function as you always have, the system will eventually recalibrate to a higher level of functioning. This is best for everyone and will result in more authentic, healthier relationships.

If you are able to function at a higher level and be the more authentic you, many will not like that at first, including members of your family of origin. People find comfort in the familiar and may fight to keep you in the box they put you in. The key here is to allow the resistance phase and your family wanting you to change back. Eventually this will recalibrate your family and the relationship system. You will be more accepted–the newer you, the higher functioning, more authentic you.

6)Become more aware of your programing and emotional circuitry as you are connected to others—you ping them, they ping you. This holds true in all family systems. Begin to learn that system. You can then begin to make changes in it.

7)Define yourself—WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT DO YOU NEED? WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU PREFER? WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE? WHAT IS YOUR TRUE, AUTHENTIC SELF? That is who we want to be–it will calm our system down the more we choose to be that true, genuine self.

To become your true self requires strength of conviction, an understanding of the way family systems are organized, a sense of humor, and an ability to become more objective and strategic. 

Start small in defining yourself with others and your family of origin. Become more authentic in small ways that don’t challenge the system so much while staying confident you. You want to choose you while also not rejecting them. Watch and observe resistance in the relationship system. You will get pushback. Either ignore or say WE ARE JUST DIFFERENT or that is what I choose.

7)Become more of your true self with each person in your life. Do more self-care. Become more authentic in relationships. Work on discovering the difference in your life between fact and feeling. Many of us feel/think. We just have those feelings and it causes us to think in a certain way. We want to be able to separate what is feeling as opposed to what is thinking.  If we can separate our feeling and thinking processes, we will feel much more self-differentiated, calm, less reactive, etc.

8)Grieve the loss of love and approval. If we are addicted to love and approval, we need to grieve that because when we are being reactive, we are trying to get our “fix” of said love and approval.  Visualize being supported by you. Give to yourself what your family of origin was not able to give to you. If I am behind me, then others don’t cause all these reactions in me as much. I can stand there and be me with other people.

Self-differentiation is achieving the balance of staying connected while being yourself.

9)Think about this is–if everyone left you and you were left alone, what would you choose to do? If I didn’t need the love and acceptance of others, what would I choose to do?

10)Work at being or standing alone when interacting with others. Is it okay to be an island? Some people say nobody is an island, but I say everyone is an island! The healthy ones have bridges, walkways, and ferries that bring people in and out of your life. Every healthy man or woman is. I don’t mean a cut off island but an interconnected island.

If you find you are struggling with being reactive, consider seeking out counseling to help you better yourself and form better relationships in your life.

If you find you are struggling with reactivity in YOUR LIFE and would like 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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anxiety, counseling, denial, emotionalimmaturity, happiness, humility, psychology, self-help

Letting Everyone Around You Grow Up

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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.

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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 upIf 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.

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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):

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, 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, forgiveness, loneliness, lonely, psychology, relationshipadvice, relationships, resentment, self-help

Loneliness: Do You Ever Feel Lonely?

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What do you believe makes us happiest and most content in life?

Some people might say money and success. Accomplishments and material possessions. Fame and fortune.

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Research shows this is not true. True joy and fulfillment comes from good relationships and feeling connected.

Loneliness is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Loneliness is an emotional state we have when we feel disconnected. Our need for connection is ingrained in our DNA. Loneliness is a signal that something is not right. 

People have a fundamental need for inclusion, to be part of social circles, and for close relationships. We function best when our social needs are being met.

As someone who works in mental health, feeling lonely is a common experience that people report to me. I always ask clients if they feel lonely during our initial session. Nine times out of ten the answer is YES. I truly believe loneliness in our country is on the rise and may be the next public health crisis (if it isn’t already).

If you haven’t suffered from it, I guarantee you someone in your life has.

In this technological age, people are feeling more disconnected than ever from their fellow man.The feeling of loneliness or being detached from others is not just a human emotion; it is a complex emotional response to a multitude of factors.

Loneliness a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual. Because it has no single common cause, the prevention and treatment of this potentially damaging state of mind can vary greatly.

Loneliness represents a fundamental discrepancy between the relationships we have and the relationships we want.

Loneliness is a serious issue, as it can lead to despair and depression. It is often an emotion experienced by people who end up committing suicide. In my humble opinion, if I had to pick one thing that is key to living a happy life,  I’d say: strong, close bonds with other people.

The hardest times in my life have been overcome by the close bonds I have with my family and friends. The happiest times of my life have been THAT much more joyful because I was surrounded by the very same people. Connecting with others is a strong psychological need and is fundamental to our well-being.

Research shows loneliness can be more deadly than smoking or obesity. It can lead to a whole host of physical ailments. Loneliness does not harm just the mind but the body. Emotional pain lights up the same part of our brain as physical pain. An insult can feel just as painful as getting your hand slammed in the door.

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When someone says you broke my heart it is not just an expression. Emotional pain hurts. LONELINESS IS PAINFUL.

Loneliness is a state of mind. It is distinct from being alone which is a choice. Many people love to be alone–some people say they find solace in solitude, do their best work in solitude. Being alone is not synonymous with being lonely. We can be surrounded by people yet still feel quite lonely.

Loneliness is a silent killer. It is an epidemic. People, at alarming rates, are reporting being lonely. I think the nature of relationships has changed in the last couple decades and we have failed to adapt. We live in this “always on” society. We are always connected digitally but failing to connect emotionally.

The lack of empathy in our society is alarming. Many people unless forced to empathize will unfortunately simply not do it. Most likely because being empathetic requires being vulnerable. Being vulnerable opens us up to being hurt and judged. Therefore, for many being vulnerable is too great a risk to their emotional and psychological well-being.

Yet the cost of this lack of vulnerability and empathy…is loneliness.

The reality is we need to be able to connect and empathize with others to be truly happy and fulfilled. We need to expand our capacity for kindness and compassion to overcome said loneliness.

One key — maybe the key — to happiness is strong connections to other people.

What are some signs you may be lonely?

~Irregular sleep: sleeping too much, too little, or struggling with falling asleep

~Low-grade, chronic anger and feelings of resentment

~Change is eating: eating too much or too little

~Being addicted to your phone

~You get sick frequently–every cold, every virus

~Shopping alot

~You spend time with other lonely people

~You are constantly tired

~You feel depressed

~You are drinking more or self-medicating in one form or another

~Taking long showers

~You blow things out of proportion

If you read the aforementioned, and you are thinking, “Yes, I AM lonely — so now what can I do to change it?”

1.Help others — teaching, volunteering, caring for children, aging parents, or animals — all helps to mitigate loneliness. These are also suggestions I give my clients suffering from depression–to try to shift your focus from self to serving others in some capacity. It can do wonders for many common mental health ailments. Helping others can also alleviate feelings of loneliness. Prioritize and ritualize connecting with others.

2.Try to figure out what’s missing from your life. Do you have close friends? Are you close with certain family members? I am talking about genuine closeness where you talk about feelings and emotions, not just physical closeness. Are you and your partner communicating outside of the superficial?  Do you feel you contribute to the world and society? Do you have something outside of yourself you derive meaning from? Think long and hard about what you feel is missing from your life. The more clearly you understand what’s missing, the more clearly you’ll see possible solutions.

3.Be positive and open-minded. Are you struggling with negative emotions? Negative emotions like judgement, anger, envy, ultra-competitiveness, jealousy, guilt, resentment are all are warning signs something needs to change in your life. These emotions also hinder your ability to connect with others. People can pick up on your negativity and will steer clear. Loneliness in and of itself can make people feel more critical, jealous, judgemental, and negative. If you recognize that your loneliness may be affecting you in this manner, you can take steps to counter it. Counseling might be a great place to start the journey to overcoming your negative emotions and feelings of loneliness.

4.Ask yourself, “How am I relating to others?” Are you communicating to others you are a safe, trustworthy person to connect with? Are you judgemental and negative? Are you respectful of differences? Are you open to building close bonds with others or do you feel other people are not to be trusted? Do you look at other people as kind and warm or selfish and cold? How you view others is an important part of this process. Do you do your part in reaching out to others? Are you scared to put yourself out there? Take time to reflect on your self-defeating thoughts. Remember we all eventually reap what we sow in our relationships.

5.Learn to be at ease with yourself. Accept yourself. The good,the bad, and the ugly. Stop running from your perceived faults and shortcomings. Some people spend their whole life in non-acceptance of their whole self. If you live your life this way, you will inevitably feel lonely. You will not be at ease in your own skin. If you cannot accept all of you, it will lead you to feel you NEED others. Loneliness will follow suit.

6.Check your ego at the door. The ego always lead you to feel lonely. Do you find you feel superior to others? Or inferior to others? Two sides of the same coin both of which will ensure loneliness. When we feel lonely, we tend to blame external factors including other people. The best way to stop feeling lonely in your life and relationships is to examine your thoughts and world view. Is your ego in the driver’s seat? An out of control ego coincides with feeling “separate” from others and life itself. The very nature of the ego is separation. Our ego drives us to be very isolated. In order to be connected with need to be seen, heard, and valued. In order to feel this way, we need to be capable of making OTHERS feel seen, heard, and valued. It is a two-way street. If your ego is in the driver’s seat, you will almost certainly struggle with loneliness for as long as that is the case, you will not be capable of truly seeing, hearing, and valuing others.

I truly believe we can change this trend in loneliness. But first we need to figure out a way to address this growing empathy gap in our society.

Try asking someone how they are doing. Be brave and put yourself out there. But remember people can only meet you as deeply as they meet themselves.

No matter who you are, you’ve probably experienced the depths of loneliness at some point in your life. If you are feeling lonely, remember, this too shall pass. If you are willing to do your part. It’s no wonder that loneliness can be an unhappy feeling, because most people enjoy other people’s company, and feeling connected with those who are important in our lives. Addressing your loneliness could be the key to unleashing your healthy mind.

I believe with a little ingenuity we can all have the relationships we want and need.

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

How We Manage Our Shame

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In a previous post, I discussed shame and how OTHERS may try to shame us, the reasons why, and how shame has its roots in one’s upbringing.

Equally important is how we are able to manage our own feelings of shame towards ourself as it is pivotal to our well-being. Shame can undermine our relationships and often runs our lives without us even knowing. Shame is a silent killer if you are not able to recognize its powerful presence in your life.

Everyone experiences shame. For healthy people, the shame they feel passes.

For others, shame is an emotion they try to cover up with other emotions-anger, aggression, passive aggression, rage, envy, jealousy, anxiety.

Shame is something we may to try to project on other people–terrified of being judged we may attempt to point out the faults in others to keep the spotlight off our own imperfections.

Perhaps we become self-deprecating. We may shame ourselves as a way to acknowledge our faults and failures before anyone else can point them out.

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Shame can also be such a fundamental part of our experience that it shapes our sense of self and identity.

Many people who struggle with shame develop into one of the two distinct personality types: the narcissist or the codependent.  (A codependent cannot be a narcissist, but a narcissist CAN also be codependent). These personalities are based on an undefined self. In both, shame and control are intricately tied together. Narcissists and codependents rely on OTHER people for their sense of self.  Each of these personalities place a lot of importance on what other people think of them.

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The only way to over come these shame based personalities is to give up your attachment to control, you will find your shame disappearing.

For narcissists, they hide their internalized shame with an outward expression of arrogance, contempt, rage, and criticism towards others. Narcissists lack empathy.  These are people who very much live in fear of being found out. Narcissism is the mask they use to cover up their deep-rooted feelings of self-loathing and toxic shame.

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Narcissists are famous for unloading their shame onto others with insults and put downs. By making others feel bad about themselves, a narcissist can ease their own pain. Shame is the cause of their aggressive, mean-spirited behavior.

This shame based personality type truly feels they are right and you are wrong and that you are an idiot in comparison to them (obviously you feel GREAT being in their company).

A narcissist will battle to the death if they feel their sense of self (their false sense of self) is challenged. Narcissists can dish it out but hell hath no fury like a narcissist scorned!

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Another shame based personality type is the codependent. Codependents try to control their internal feelings by controlling other people, events, and circumstances.

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For codependents,  their shame is also internalized, but expressed outwardly in a different form than the narcissist’s.  Similarly, a codependent’s sense of shame leads to other painful feelings and destructive behavior. With codependents, their shame plays out in care taking, passive aggression, people pleasing, control, resentment, and non-assertive communication. Codependents can’t speak their minds and similarly to narcissists, have a tendency to blame others. Often they are martyrs who are proud of their giving, self-sacrificing, long-suffering, and a selfless devotion to you (something they will hold over your head when it suits them).

Codependents try to be puppet masters pulling strings behind closed curtains. They are super focused on others. Their desire to feel needed is intertwined with the desire to feel important.

Codependents vacillate between feelings superiority and inferiority. Shame can come out as jealousy, envy, or judgement of others. By diminishing others, a codependent gets a superficial boost to themselves and get to hide their feelings of shame from their self.

If you are ruled by shame you may find yourself isolated–from family and friends. You may be cut off from your own authentic feelings which for you are too scared to feel.

Both narcissists and codependents hate to feel their feelings and the subsequent vulnerability that expressing our true self entails.

Vulnerability is very threatening to narcissists and codependents alike.

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Codependents and narcissists as you can see are BOTH sides of the same coin.

Outside of the more extreme personality types of narcissism and codependency, shame can present in others way in our lives. Shame can affect how we function in relationships.

If you struggle with shame and control, you may find you either under-function OR over-function in your relationships.

While most people understand that balance is key to a fulfilling relationship,romantic or otherwise, it seems that many of us can’t escape the trap of either under-functioning or over-functioning.

Signs you overfunction in your relationships:

~You worry a lot

~You struggle with controlling behaviors

~You do for others what they can do for themselves

~You love to give advice (feeling a sense of responsibility for others and how things turn out)

~You are concerned with managing your image

~You moralize (moralizing is the tendency to harshly judge certain behaviors)

~You triangulate (triangulating is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead using a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle)

~You overparent—both your kids AND other adults (taking care of others is a way to keep you from having to pay mind to your own issues)

~You take on the role of care-giving

~You try to change others

~If someone does not stay in sync with you/agree with you (how you think, how you feel)–you can’t be friends or in a relationship with them

Signs you underfunction in your relationships:

~You set goals and don’t follow through

~You let your partner make the decisions

~You ask numerous people for advice rather than make decisions on your own

~You let others do for you things you can do for yourself

~You struggle with addictions-food, alcohol, drugs, etc.

~You frequently are physically or emotionally ill

~You become less competent under stress

~You are underemployed

~You self-sabotage

~You zone out to tv or video games

~You seem lazy or unmotivated to others

Whenever someone is underfunctioning, someone else is overfunctioning.

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Narcissism, codependency, overfunctioning, and underfunctioning all have their roots in shame based feelings. These are ways our feelings of internalized shame manifest in our lives.

Shame and control go hand in hand. When you give up your attachment to control, and instead choose compassion toward yourself and others, you will find your shame dissipate.

If you explore it carefully, if you navigate shame with compassion, you find the comfort that comes from no longer hiding from yourself—or keeping yourself hidden from others and the world.

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