Category Archives: self
In this episode of Two Therapists Talking, we discuss the problem of being “too nice.”
Email us with questions or comments or ideas: TwoTherapistTalking@gmail.com
It often can seem like there is no chance of anything changing at all. You are totally stuck in the depths of sadness and loneliness. These negative thought patterns can feel insurmountable. I often consider these feelings like trying to run through molasses. This is what it can feel like to be depressed. You want to move and change, you want to feel happy, you want to engage in your life but you just can’t get there. It is hard and it really can seem like nothing you do matters.
However, there is an ever so small truth that often gets left out of the depression equation. That is that change happens one small step at a time. When you go in thinking that nothing you do matters or can change your situation, that is where the error occurs. You are not in control of your feelings they come up naturally as a response. However YOU ARE IN CONTROL of your thought and actions. When you have a strong emotional response, you have the ability to not follow it with negative thoughts and/or actions. Because if you do, it increases the negative feelings that make you feel stuck.
Hence, the smallest change of how you react to your emotional responses has a great impact on how bad (or not) you continue to feel. Because you can control your thoughts and actions you have the opportunity to make a change in your pattern. It may seem small but think about what happens when you feel bad and then add on it terrible thoughts about yourself and even take actions that harm you. It all just feeds into the negative pattern and you are stuck in a bad cycle of self-hatred. Instead, when you have a negative emotional response to someone, you can stop and decide to not follow it down with a negative thought.
You are having a bad work day and feel pretty sad. A co-worker comes in and is short with you about some paperwork she can’t find. You might respond thinking thoughts like: I am such a bad person, I can’t even get the files she needs, what is wrong with me? And then you feel worse, continue to pile on more negative thoughts, not take any steps towards finding the files, and then go home and isolate. All of this making you feel even more depressed.
Instead you can STOP this pattern and try something different so you can break the cycle.
In response to the same situation you can consider other alternatives like: Wow it seems like she is really stressed out, she has a lot of pressure right now I can understand why she might need help finding the file. You then decide to go help her find the necessary files and begin to feel good that you were able to keep perspective, help out, and go home in turn possibly even invite a friend over to talk and have dinner.
It seems so small but that little change in thought leads to action, which turns into a new pattern that is positive and productive. So just when you think there is nothing to do and that you are stuck. Remember that you are in control of your thoughts and actions and that you can take a negative pattern and turn it around. That small step is what starts to move you from a negative into a positive direction.
I recently watched a documentary about the origin of venture capital, Something Ventured. Specifically, I was struck by Don Valentine because while all the other investors were not interested in giving funding to Apple, Valentine saw something. He talks about the rough personalities he dealt with, the crazy conditions, and the in-fighting of the business. But beyond all that, before the world would forever change due to personal computers, Valentine was willing to take a risk.
It is known that VCs are risk takers but when all the other risk takers are not willing to move ahead, it is a scary proposition to believe in an idea that is beyond the current popular notion of acceptance or understanding. It takes a great amount of courage to go against the grain. It all sounds like easy enough cliches but when you really have to make a choice to go ahead with something you believe in or turn back, it is that moment what you are made of that comes to the top.
Valentine’s philosophy is one that I really appreciate: ”The world thrives best when individuals are left to be different and creative.” It becomes clear that if you want to do something new that you are going to get some push back from those around you. The people that are seeking to change the world are often not accepted. In fact, numerous people seeking venture capital have devoted themselves to a singular idea, to the exclusion of other things in life, that could shift the way we understanding our very existence. They believe in themselves so deeply, they will risk everything. That is a powerful concept!
I don’t expect that if you are reading this that you have millions of dollars to invest in new companies. However, I do expect that if you have a desire for something new or different for your life that you would do everything you could to make your vision become a reality. People might think you are crazy, they will judge you, it is possible they will even dislike you for your new idea/approach/concept but I encourage you to take that push-back as ever more reason to move ahead.
There is no way that you will ever be able to please the world but you just might be able to change it with who you are! It isn’t just okay to be different it is encouraged! Please… allow yourself to express, dream big, and be passionate about the life you live. It is that drive that will make this place better for everyone!
A client relayed a story of integration to me the other day:
One second she going about her day, the very next she was putting her cut finger under the water faucet. She felt the pain right away… but that wasn’t the part that got her. She was able to patch herself up quickly enough, however the negative thoughts that followed were not as easily addressed.
Thought after thoughts about her foolishness, distract-ability, and self-worth came tumbling through. From a mistake, the mindset was immediately about every inadequacy she had as a person. How is this even possible? It was an accident! These things happen. You live long enough, you run the numbers, and things are bound to occur.
She was caught in a very common negative thought pattern, where one small thing derails you and you end up feeling terrible about something small. Here is the rest of her story about how she is working on changing that:
She stopped herself and remembered that she didn’t have to chase down every emotion or thought. She realized in the moment that the self-talk she was so willingly participating in was not something that was actually doing any good. She took a deep breath and a few more for good measure. She felt her body center and came back to a more balanced state of mind. She had a choice… she could continue down this path of negativity or she could do something differently.
Notice that she didn’t have any expectation that she needed to feel or even think differently. She instead focused on what she could control right then and there. She stopped the autopilot of negativity, made the conscious choice not to attack herself further, and then went outside and took in the beauty of the clouds.
She still had that lingering feeling that somehow this represented all her worth (or lack there of). However, she also knew that logically this was not the case. Who she is as a person (her values, passions, and actions) is not based on a cut finger. It really makes no sense at all, however that is how old negative thought patterns work. They just no longer fit in to what is going on within your life.
The client would like to say that she won’t have these feelings ever again, however that isn’t very realistic, and she knows it. Instead, she looks forward catching these negative thoughts faster, shift them more fully, and work to no longer have this pattern as her default when accidents happen.
The way it works is when you know better (the hurt finger is not a reflection of self-worth), you do better (stop the negative self-talk and do something centering/positive), you feel better (emotional responses will align more fully with the situation). It isn’t easy to stop yourself and make the choice to do it differently, when in the moment you get little reward. You just want to not feel that way, but integration rarely hops-to in the way we want. It takes work to change the patterns that are so well-worn. The payoff however is great and the effort is worth it!
You don’t have to be trapped in the same mind-set. Mistakes will happen it is about how to grow from the experience that makes all the difference.
Clients want answers. I want answers. We all want answers! It is a given that we are curious to find out what is going on within us. And I’ll say something that one is probably not supposed to say as a therapist, “I wish I DID have the answers” perhaps better said: I wish I had the ability to quickly allow other people to find the exact answers they want for themselves. I really do. I wish I had THE right answer for each person that comes with insight, introspection, and curiosity. I would love to place my magic-therapy-wand (patent pending) upon their heads and grant them the wish of pure personal understanding.
I’m not morally or ethically opposed to the idea of helping this way. The reason being is that I believe that the answers differs for each person. I have yet to see any person exactly match the other in how they come to understanding of themselves and the world around them. That is what is awesome and frustrating about how insight and choice works.
There is no right answer that works for everyone. Even as you read this, there are people who will differ with the premise that there is no specific answer for everyone. See what I mean? What works for you may not work for another. You can have shared values, ideas, and methods of expression and still come to your path in a totally unique way.
So when you come into therapy and hear me tell you that I can’t give you the “right answer” I’m not just pulling out a therapy cliché. It is true. I don’t think that I can nor should provide the answer as to who you are and what you want and how to get there (save the magic wand possibilities now being tested in a secret lab). It is up to each person to dive deep, discover your own personal ethos, and move ahead in the face of it all.
Embrace that you may not have the answers right now… but that part of the adventure is seeking for them!
Imagine yourself within an isolation chamber up top a mountain overlooking a beautiful view. The music is playing and you are supposed to come up with an answer within a certain amount of time… and the question is:
What is the difference between isolation and solitude?
We tend to have an emotional response to these ideas. Isolation often feels forced… when we want to be around other people but for whatever reason we can not be. Where solitude has a lofty chosen alone-time feel of desired self-reflection. The elements can be the same… you are by yourself thinking your thoughts and feeling your emotions. But something shifts within your perception. One is scary and sad where the other is wanted and pleasurable.
Curious how similar situations can have such differing feelings within us depending on our perception.
So how does this happen? Well there is a lot of people out there working on the answer to this question. However, one of the main points is that we get to choose. We are in charge of thoughts we put upon a situation. We may not control the emotional response but we do have the ability to go in with an approach that can hinder or help these moments.
For instance, you are in a crowded room and feeling overwhelmed. You an decide that you want to pull back for a moment and regroup. You can physically and or emotionally do this, but it is a conscious choice to take a moment to breathe. You might feel overstimulated by the number of people and data points coming at you. Hence, you are deciding to isolate yourself as a way to gather your thoughts and feel strong about yourself.
Also you can find yourself sitting in your home on a Wednesday night wishing the phone would ring. It won’t. You see yourself moving into a place of sadness. You can decide to allow your own curiosity to become part of a time for reflection. You don’t have to push aside the feelings or create a distraction. Instead you can take this moment to introspect and experience the sensation of being lonely or alone. And then you can consider all of the moments, interactions, and people who care for you on any given day. Being grateful for the solitude you are experiencing now as a way to connect more fully with your own emotional states.
These are just two examples of how to turn you have the ability to turn any and every situation into an experience that works for you. You may want to be by yourself or you may not want to but none of that matters when you get to decide what perception you want to take upon any situation. You are in control of your thoughts and actions. When you know better of what you want, then you do better, and when that happens then you feel better. Deciding for yourself what things mean and having meaning for you is a huge step in gaining the strength and happiness you desire.
A friend of mine recently stopped me in my tracks by making an important point. She explained that while she was learning to share her thoughts and feelings with other people… that she was finding it was difficult to speak her truth to herself.
I took a long deep breath. It is amazing when you can express yourself to others, but what about unflinching self honesty? We are usually so outwardly focused with what others in our life will think or feel in response to what we share. We are fearful others will judge us (read: leave us in some way) and we don’t want that reality. We often tailor much of we say as a way to manage others. As we come to understand we can handle ourselves and the reactions of others , we find a new ability to interact in authentic ways. That is however, about dealing with ourselves in regards to others.
What about being able to do the same with your feelings about yourself? We spend a lot of energy trying to “not be” a certain way. There is a tremendous amount of effort put into changing who we are but what if all that pushing isn’t getting us where we want to be? What if it is so negative focused?
It can be a really rough proposition to sit with the reality that you might really be a brilliant sometimes, that it is possible that sometimes you really are beautifully creative, and even more dramatic is that sometimes you really and truly might be an amazingly great person. When we have those thoughts and feelings, we often create a defense to them… even if that defense is to think we are “always” something negative.
Not wanting to see the good is just as harmful as not wanting to see the areas we need to strengthen. Hence, if you are ready to speak the truth … allow yourself the time to have your thoughts and feelings where you do not judge them as negative or positive. They simply are what they are right now. Sometimes they are more and sometimes they are less. There is rarely an absolute in regards to ideas and emotions. We are complex creatures and things move and shift.
It is okay to acknowledge that you are “sometimes” all sorts of things. It is a part of you, not all of you, and to embrace that truth and share it with yourself. I assure you it can help you in all directions.
There is a “sometimes” in just about every context… just like “sometimes” you can allow yourself to be honest with yourself… even if it might include sometimes accepting the positive things about yourself too!
Many of us have a tendency to focus on the parts of our life that are not exactly as we want them. There is nothing unusual or wrong about this feature of our brains. We naturally pick out what is different, as a way to better manage the world around us and make changes. We need to be able to look at the data around us and assess what it is we need to do to keep ourselves happy, safe, and healthy!
However, there comes a point where we tip right over the edge of constructive consideration into negativity. I admit fully, that I at many times in my life, I have become best friends with anxiety and depression. They will happily keep you company when everything else seems just too much. But even the anxiety/depression combo is different from constant negativity. Having lots of fears and sadness still allows for moments of sweetness, tenderness, and positive acceptance.
So what is it about the negative that has such a pull upon us? My hunch is that we get used to feeling like nothing really going to bring us joy. We become comfortable in our discomfort with the world around us that for us to break beyond that becomes almost unfathomable to us. My goodness what would happen if we skipped…. declared our strengths…. smiled for no reason other than it feels good… or even played a game?
We all agree that having “fun” is good and important but many of us have no idea how that works. It can in fact be really scary to let down your guard if you have had past trauma. Yet, without the small moments of bliss … then we can’t even begin to change the patterns that were set in early on. Don’t we all deserve to take a bike ride and feel that air against our face and giggle with glee about some silly quirk? Isn’t there a point where you have struggled and hurt enough that you can just take a moment to breathe?
I won’t pretend to have a lot of experience with having fun myself. I often question the point of fun. And yet I still seek out something that relieves the stress, makes me laugh, or gets to step outside my hectic pace. I don’t have the answer as to why we should have fun or even what fun is… however I do know that without the full range of emotional response we are cutting ourselves off from a life we so richly long for! This is part of what got us to this point in the first place? Why continue to recreate a pattern when it feels so bad?
If for no other reason then to experiment with yourself, consider focusing on what brings you joy for a few days. Watch the world around you transform… it will I promise. Because, even for a curmudgeon like myself, the moment I am able to peel a label off fully without leaving any of the sticky residue… I feel a beautiful sense of ecstatic joy. It is a small sense of accomplishment that makes my heart sing. It will get my every time and I smile and think that I live a very charmed life.
It’s time to experience yourself in a new way… bring about positive thoughts and feelings…the rewards are instant!
Trust is a concept that we talk a lot about in therapy. But what exactly is it? Well that depends on the person…
There are many that believe that trust is about feeling comfortable. Others would say it is a matter of sharing secrets and keeping them. Some people consider trust to be about having your words and actions match up on a regular basis. All of these concepts and more are true.
The building blocks of trust are about our belief in another person to be there for us, protect our vulnerabilities, and follow through.
Yet when we talk about how to build trust or how to regain trust, it gets a bit more complicate.
What if you have made some poor decision or have trouble with boundaries and feel like you can’t trust yourself? Well, you start by looking at things that are not emotionally charged. You consider how you trust yourself to get things done, what kind of preferences you have, and how you feel when you are most secure and happy. These types of questions allow you to sort through the process you use to connect with your values. It takes some time but once you start to see a pattern of choice, expression, and authenticity you begin to immediately see how trust is created within yourself.
When you have been betrayed it is hard to know what to do. If you have experienced the acute feelings of mistrust, it is something that can shake you to your core. You relied on your abilities to judge correctly AND a person that you care about has mislead you. It is doubly heart wrenching.
How do you sort through it all? Should you protect yourself or open up again? What if the answer is both?
Being able to refocus on your needs and values is a huge part of the process of trust. You are not just looking at trusting another person you are looking at how you understand your own ability to trust. Consider what it is like to know what it feels like with relationships you do trust. There are signals that you send and that others send all the time that help you understand the mechanisms that you need to pay attention you. You know what are red flag behaviors from another it is about being more consciously attuned to them AND listening when these arise.
Building trust with others can be tricky. There is a balance that has to be created. For a while the understanding that was once a given is now tentative. You need to honestly look at what you need from another person and present it to them. Allowing the other person to know as clearly as possible what you need to get enough time, experience, and commitment helps you know when you are building trust directly. Just saying the words that you want to “build trust” don’t actually do much but stating what you want and need to the person that betrayed you gives you clarity and allows the other person to work towards actively regaining your trust.
TRUST IN THERAPY
There is typically an unspoken notion that you will simply trust the therapist. But why? If you are a benevolent person and typically allow yourself to be open until given a reason otherwise, coming and talking to someone new about private matters can be great. However, if you have experienced trauma, have had others betray you, or are unsure how to trust yourself then this expectation can seem almost too much to ask.
So, I do things a bit different. I ask you to begin to trust yourself, by seeing what you need to learn about if my approach to therapy works for you. You can share as much as you want as fast as you want or as little and slow as you desire. It is not for me to dictate what you feel comfortable with. Therapy is about creating a bond that is respectful and empowering and that can take time for some. Hence, paying attention to your own sense of what works for you is one of the biggest keys towards trust building.
Only you can decide if a specific person is someone you want and/or can trust. It takes time and experience and honest expression to create those bonds of trust. You are worth closely paying attention to so you can make choices that best fit you and your life.
Allowing your internal monitor to teach you… who and what you feel uncomfortable and comfortable with goes a long way.
One of my sweeties has a policy never to get involved with someone who has never had his heart broken. She believes quite strongly that there are certain things about yourself that you can only learn when your heart is broken, and that having your heart broken is the only way to discover whether or not you’re the sort of person who can pick himself up, put himself back together, and move on with courage and joy, or if you’re the sort of person who is destroyed by it.
I think there’s some value to that notion, though I don’t use it as a rule.
A few years back, I had a really painful breakup with a woman I fell very hard for and then, after investing a great deal in the relationship, discovered was a very poor partner for me. That relationship really brought home for me a lesson that I knew intellectually but didn’t know emotionally, which is this:
It is possible to deeply, sincerely love someone and still not be a good partner for that person.
That relationship also caused some nontrivial damage to one of my other relationships, and ended up changing the course of my life in ways that I still feel. I can’t say that if I had to do it over, I would never have gotten involved with that person at all, though I can say that I would have made different choices about what to do with that connection. But I digress.
There’s a socially sanctioned myth that says that love conquers all. It’s a deeply and profoundly silly thing to believe; love is a feeling, and a feeling can no more solve problems than it can refinish the sofa or put a new circuit breaker box in the attic. A feeling can impel action, can influence the way you make choices, but it can’t, of and by itself, do anything on its own. And making a relationship work requires more than just a feeling. It requires that the people involved make choices that are compatible and work toward a common end–which is extraordinarily difficult to do when those people have different goals, different priorities, different expectations, or even different internal templates about what they want their lives to look like. No matter what they feel.
And the feeling of love isn’t the only thing that influences our decisions. Other feelings, like fear or anxiety or anger, have a vote, too, and it’s not always the feeling of love that casts the deciding vote–even when that love is genuine.
The lesson that I can really, deeply love someone and we can still not be good partners for each other was probably the most expensive relationship lesson I’ve ever learned, and it’s completely rearranged my approach to choosing partners.
The approach I used to use, and I suspect the approach that many people use, was to keep a sort of internal list of “dealbreakers” that I’d refer to whenever I met someone who seemed interesting to me and who seemed interested in me. I’d kind of run down the list– Is she giving me the psycho vibe? Nope. Does she hold conservative ideas? Nope. All the way down the list, and if I didn’t hit a dealbreaker the answer would be “Cool! We should totally start dating!”
That isn’t the way I work any more. The dealbreaker approach “fails closed;” it assumes that if no dealbreakers are hit, then we should start a relationship, so if something later comes up that I didn’t know was a problem…well, I find out about it after I’ve already started to invest in a relationship with this person.
The approach I use now isn’t to keep a list of dealbreakers. Oh, there are some, to be sure; I’m not likely to date someone with a history of violence against her past partners, for example. But instead of keeping a list of dealbreakers these days, I keep a list of things that I actively look for–things that light me up in another person.
If I meet someone who seems interesting, and seems interested in me, I am more likely to ask the question “Does this person really light me up inside and bring out joy in me?” than “Does this person have some disagreeable trait that I don’t like?” That approach tends to “fail open”–the default is *not* to start a relationship unless there’s something very special about the person, rather than to start a relationship unless there’s something disagreeable about her.
That approach takes care of a lot of “dealbreakers” on its own, because a person who has the qualities that really shine isn’t likely to have the qualities that would be dealbreakers for me. For instance, a person who has demonstrated to me that she favors choices that demonstrate courage and integrity isn’t likely to be a liar.
It’s more than just taking the dealbreakers and flipping them on their heads, though. There are a lot of qualities on my “must have” list that wouldn’t have been reflected on my “dealbreaker” list.
So all of this is kind of a longwinded way to get to the qualities that DO light me up about someone. The things that really attract me to a person, without which I’m unlikely to want to start a relationship with her, include things like:
- Has she done something that shows me she is likely, when faced with a difficult decision, to choose the path of greatest courage?
- Has she done something that shows me that, when faced by a personal fear or insecurity, she is dedicated to dealing with it with grace, and to invest in the effort it takes to confront, understand, and seek to grow beyond it?
- Does she show the traits of intellectual curiosity, intellectual rigor, and intellectual growth?
- Has she dealt with past relationships, including relationships that have failed, with dignity and compassion?
- Is she a joyful person? Does she value personal happiness? Does she make me feel joy?
- Does she seem to be a person who has a continuing commitment to understanding herself?
- Does she seem to be a person who values self-determinism?
- Does she approach the things that light her up, whatever those things may be, with energy and enthusiasm? Does she engage the world and the parts of it that make her happy?
- Does she seem to demonstrate personal integrity?
- Is she open, honest, enthusiastic, and exploratory about sex?
- Does she communicate openly, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so?
There are probably more; the things that attract me to a person are in some ways a lot more nebulous than my old list of dealbreakers used to be.
In some ways, the approach I use now is an approach that relies on a model of relationship that’s based on abundance, not on starvation. A person who holds a starvation model of relationship, in which relationships seem to be rare and difficult to find, is not likely going to want to use an approach that fails open, on the fear that if he doesn’t take a relationship opportunity that presents itself, who knows when another person might express interest? If relationships seem rare, then why not jump at an opportunity if there seem to be no dealbreakers standing in the way?
The approach of seeking positive reasons to start a relationship, rather than looking for reasons NOT to start a relationship, means that I say “no” to opportunities that come by more often than I say “yes.” I have found that, for whatever reason, I tend to have a lot of opportunity for relationship, so there may be something to the notion that I have adopted this model of relationship because I can afford it.
But I do believe that holding an abundance model of relationship tends to make it true. I think that people who hold a starvation model of relationship often seem to be always searching for a partner, and that can really be off-putting; whereas in an abundance model, if you simply live your life with enthusiasm and joy and instead of seeking partners you seek to develop in yourself the qualities that you desire in a partner, then other people will tend to be drawn to you and relationships will be abundant.