overcoming what other people think

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Oftentimes people will say ad nauseum that you shouldn’t care what other people think. My response to that used to be, “Easier said than done.” I think this is a sentiment that echoes with many people.

But during my self-revolution quest in the past five months, I began to ask myself, why is it hard to not care what others think and not take things personally? And that is a very loaded question… everyone’s answer to that would be different. But if I were to attempt to boil down the reasons in an overview, it would be this:

Family of origin. Any issue or problem in our relationships can be traced back to our family of origin. Why? Because that is where every human being learns how to relate to another human being–be it functional, or dysfunctional. Maybe you were abused, and in your search to feel like a “good boy” or “good girl,” you try to please others. Or maybe you were shamed by your parents or family when you attempted voice your thoughts or assert your individuality. Or maybe your parents pressured you to be someone who they wanted you to be, regardless of what you wanted or how you felt–so you learned other people matter above you. I could write a book on all the possible ways family can affect us. But bottom line, it is helpful to look at how your family may have taught you–explictly or implicitly–to care what people say or think.

Lack of personal boundaries. Although this can be traced to your family of origin, boundaries are important to mention because they affect us in our present relationships. When you have too rigid of boundaries, you don’t allow people in and you suffer a dearth of intimacy and social connection. On the flip side, when you have too open of boundaries, whatever anyone says goes, and you give up all power over yourself and your choices. Both extremes are dangerous spaces to be in. Someone with open boundaries will be the one who overly cares what others think, because they have not yet learned that not what everyone says is right or true (in actuality, a lot of what others aggressively claim can be flat out wrong or illogical). But people with open boundaries don’t consider that possibility, and operate with the belief that everyone else is right and true, and they are wrong. Boundaries are necessary in this light, because it is essential to know where you stop and the other person begins.

Lack of identity. This too can go back to your family of origin. But for whatever reason, a person has not developed a strong sense of self, so they depend on others for acceptance and approval–it is like the cocaine hit to your sense of self. But then it disappears, and the person looks for the next hit, the next person to give them approval. They conform to what “sounds good,” sometimes borrowing others’ identities to gain a semblance of stability. On the flip side, someone with a strong sense of identity may face criticism or rejection, but is able to consider each individual instance with rationality, judging what is true or untrue to them. They can support a viewpoint they agree with without hesitation, or they can reject another’s opinion without growing angry or reactive.

I write this in hopes that this may inspire others. I, like many others, cared what people thought–I would seek to please others and make them happy at the expense of myself, while growing reactive when people said hurtful things. My last relationship was a perfect example. But it is by enduring that dysfunctional relationship I realized how much my thoughts and behaviors were hurting me.

If I were to simplify the many lessons I learned from that experience, and provide some tips to others who may be going through the same journey as me:

1. Boundaries are essential to a healthy relationship, not just for the other person, but for you. You do not have to put up with hurtful or abusive behavior from others if it affects you negatively. Everyone has different tolerance levels, so find what yours is. Our well-being matters and it is up to us to take care of ourselves.

2. How people act or react to you is a reflection of who they are, NOT OF YOU. I would bold this one ten times more if I could. If you’re like me and have a tendency to blame yourself for everything, this is important to know. Even if by chance you are being hurtful to someone else, there are healthy ways of asserting yourself in those circumstances without disrespecting them. And it works conversely. How you treat others is a reflection of who you are.

3. Your thoughts and feelings matter. ALWAYS. What matters most though, is that you understand that within yourself. If someone disagrees and invalidates you, as long as you validate yourself, it won’t matter much what others say. Even if the person doggedly tries to convince you that you should feel something different, or that your needs are not important, remind yourself that that is untrue, because everyone’s needs, including yours, are always important.

4. It is okay to reject another person’s worldview. People have opinions, it doesn’t mean they are always right or true. If you’ve considered someone’s worldview and it does not resonate, then you are allowed to reject it. All of us are trying to find our truths, and not every shoe will fit.

There is hope for change, if you are willing to do the work. I personally am still a work in progress, but I feel like I’m arriving to a place in my life now where people’s thoughts and reactions don’t matter as much to me anymore. The reason for that is because I’ve taken time to know who I am, and in that knowledge, I feel assured in trusting myself and my judgments. Sometimes people are right, sometimes they’re wrong, but it really comes down to discovering yourself and what you stand for–then the answer you seek will come easier and clearer.

 

healing from narcissist wounds

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For months I have been toiling over a breakup I did not ask for, and healing from all the pain I had no idea I endured until I was released from my ex’s narcissistic clutches. Breakups operate much like losing someone to death in the emotions your grapple with–waves of grief, loss, anxiety, depression. It is like being thrown into the arena, forced to stare directly at your demons and fight for yourself. You feel your way around the dark, hoping and praying that light will find its way to you someway, sometime.

So understandably, I’ve been tired. Exhausted. But it’s a bone-deep tiredness, one I’ve had for years and years. It took this event in my life to help me realize how subconscious it was. I’m tired of helping and caring for people. I’m tired of giving and giving, while receiving very little in return. I’m tired of being made selfish when I ask. I’m tired of people expecting me to be perfect, to never express any “negative” emotion to save their feelings or ego. I’m tired of being shamed for my feelings. I’m tired of being so understanding, and people asking me to be so, when they have no empathy to give to me. I’m tired of not being valued. I’m tired of being made at fault for not feeling valued. I’m tired of being lacerated for having weaknesses. I’m tired of the emotional abuse. I’m tired of being the victim.

As a therapist, I knew where all this was coming from. I imagine this is how a doctor feels, when he feels a sickness coming on. Monitoring his symptoms and diagnosing himself, treating himself once he checks himself in the hospital. Just like the doctor, I’m in my own hospital, treating and healing my emotional wounds. So what is the cause of my illness? Family of origin. And the diagnosis? Dearth of self-love.

Even before all of the shit hit the fan, I knew this fact: it all starts in you. But it took shit hitting the fan for me to realize what that meant for me specifically in my life. I did not love and value myself. I saw myself as a piece of crap, so therefore, I accepted it when people treated me like crap. I saw my value predicated on how much I gave others, and if they weren’t happy, I was not deserving of love–which made me a perfect match to my narcissistic ex. But I did not even realize he was a narcissist until my own, post-breakup therapist diagnosed him… because I was so stuck in my low self-worth. I did not value my wants and needs, so I accepted it when he shamed me for expressing them to him. I sustained his verbal lashings and took on all the blame, because I did not love myself enough to trust my thoughts and gut feelings.

He is the kind who cannot see how his actions affect others–cannot even see past his own nose. He even told me on the day we broke up, “I don’t like how actions have consequences,” and “I don’t like you having reactions to things.” Aka, he lacks empathy. He projects his fears onto others and lashes out on them, because it is safer to lash out on someone else’s weaknesses than to look at your own. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions… he rationalizes and rationalizes so that he can be made the victim and others (me) are the bad one. He shamed me for my weaknesses and expected me to never express anything bad or negative. He guilt-tripped me, even if I was the one hurt. He has no awareness of how he hurt others, and if he does, engages in mind jujitsu to avoid taking responsibility. This is what we call a narcissist.

But you must always look at yourself, to see what allowed you to keep such a person in your life in the first place… asking yourself, what made me a complete match to this kind of person? Who does this person remind me of in my life? I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child. So I recreated an exact match to my family and past experiences. I sought what was familiar to me. Someone with higher self-worth would’ve seen his actions and said, “Okay, it looks like you have a lot of issues. Thanks for the memories, but you need serious help. I’m out.” I started at a low point as a child and thereon, and presently, it has been my goal to work myself up to that high point.

So what is the antidote? Self-love. And it’s more than just appreciating you strengths and talents. But it is also about loving yourself and giving yourself a right to have wants and needs, and to express them. It means giving yourself permission to not take all the blame for everything… and to blame others, rightly, for their own actions or wrongdoings. It means expecting to be respected by others and valued by those you love… and not keeping those who cannot do either. It means not internalizing every negative comment or blame people shove at you, and giving yourself permission to say, “I understand you feel that way, but that’s complete horseshit.”  It means accepting yourself fully, even the weaknesses, and being unconditionally present with every emotion you hold. It means not denying yourself the right to speak up for yourself… and maintaining ground even when someone pushes against you or worse, shames you. Because you know who you are and you have every right to be exactly that.

In all of this, I also want to add: while you take responsibility for your issues and actions, in the same vein, others are responsible for theirs. So if you’re anything like me, the constant giver or empath, resist the urge to pick up others’ baggage or responsibility, even if they guilt-trip or shame you for it. Because it is not yours to pick up. It is theirs. So leave it there for them… it is their choice to own themselves or not.

behind the facade

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It’s been mentioned, time and again, how social media can warp our perceptions of reality, in addition to increasing our anxiety and depression. But it is only a manifestation to a greater phenomenon: we often define ourselves by others’ actions and choices, based on where the herd walks.

Social comparison theory, formed by Leon Festinger, states that humans have an internal drive to evaluate their abilities and opinions, mainly through their comparison to others. Hence why it is not very surprising that social media becomes a means of ultimately evaluating ourselves and our lives, whether we realize it or not. We all want to know we are good in some way… whether it is a good person, a talented pianist, an attractive performer, an excellent engineer, a great writer.

For me, what is also wrapped up in appearing as if I have a good life, is the social expectation to be happy and positive all the time. I post pictures on Instagram of my delicious Italian dinner, or a selfie during a fun day out with friends. Yet again, my mind goes to the same bigger picture. I should be happy and positive and always good. Everyone around me comments on my wise words and my positive mindset, and gives me multiple likes for posts that show my rolling every setback off my back. Thus, the pressure builds and mounts, and soon I am burdened with the need to be a person I am not. Deep inside, I begin to cry out, why can’t I just be honest? Why must I pretend that I am okay when I know that in reality, I’m struggling to stay afloat?

And this is my reality: I’m not always okay. Perhaps I am strong, but I have my breakdowns when I feel quite the opposite. I have garnered many scars in my life, and they have made it difficult for me to overcome as I would like to. And honestly speaking, the setbacks are getting to me. Submitting my novel to multiple agents and receiving rejections one by one twist my insides with pain. I am discouraged and fearful, and losing touch with the passion others have frequently admired. The worst is when they say I should stay positive, not giving heed to the emotions and pain I express. The silent message is not lost on me: just get over it. The pain does not matter, just be happy and positive.

But it’s never that easy. If there is one thing I have learned in my work as a mental health therapist, it is that healing from pain is never as easy as “getting over it.” It’s okay to feel angry, sad, discouraged, fearful, anxious, nervous, etc. Those emotions matter too, just as much as the happy ones. Contrary to what we think, ignoring those emotions only make matters much, much worse. I have seen it too many times in others in order for me to say this with full certainty. It is the pressure, the facade that are now choking my passion, creativity and ability to overcome.

The herd has a tendency to lead people into a shallow, confined existence, one we never come to see until the nihilistic thoughts and empty feelings gnaw us from the inside out. Social expectations can silence us and severely restrict us from actualizing our true individuality and potential. But the antidote is this: we need to give ourselves permission to feel, to experience the full spectrum of emotions in this life. We need to allow ourselves to simply be who we are. We cannot live a whole-hearted life if we do not acknowledge our full humanity. We are wired to feel, and things won’t always be easy or good… so we don’t have to lie and pretend that it always is.

Sometimes putting down the facade, in whichever form we have, is what we need.

facing the unconsious

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The fear inside me grows heavier and heavier. All the darkness and pain scare me, yet I have no idea why. It’s as if I am staring into the eyes of a monster, but I can barely make out its face. It resides in the deep recesses of my unconscious, and my startling inability to discern its name, appearance or nature leaves me without any words. All I know if that when I sense its presence, I am overcome by a deep need to abort. I run the other direction.

And here, is where my insight falls short, my awareness runs out, my tendency to shift toward positivity breaks down. Nothing works. I am up against an enemy that I do not know.

Freud argues that our unconscious is composed of unrealized, and often socially unacceptable, desires and wishes, along with traumas and painful memories that our mind has worked to repress. Most of us are only aware of things existing on the conscious plane, unless our developed defenses are challenged and/or we work to build our self-awareness of the ways our unconscious leaks out in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Considering this, my current situation is pushing me up strongly against my normal defenses. I am sitting in the in-between, within the tension of what I want to do, and what is best for me. I am at the brink of self-sabotaging, and I know it, but the other, darker part of me is fighting for control, pushing me to run. Run from what? What truly scares me is my inability to answer that simple question. I don’t know. But here I am, pushing, running, numbing, kicking and scratching, anything to keep me from falling in too deep, from being captured and seen. If I move enough, never stay in one place for too long, I’ll somehow be safe. There is safety in my evasions. And this is why I cannot settle. There is something in the water that will get me if I do.

Nothing makes much sense, because logic and intellect sink like swords in quicksand when you are up against the creatures of your unconscious. There’s a reason why we are running away and repressing them in the first place.

There is one thing I do know for sure. In order to get to the healthier, better place, we have to venture through the thick of the unknown forest. We have to rise up to our monsters, our demons, and make the choice to push up against them. If we run, they win. If we repress, they’ll continue to control us in our ignorance. It’s so much easier to run… but by running, we are choosing to live in bondage. This is uncharted territory, and this is the difficult call: to trust, and to have faith. Trusting in God, trusting in yourself, trusting in the fact that despite the arduous nature of the journey, if you keep trekking, you will make it out of the forest. You will overcome someday. The call is for you to submit yourself to the unknown, and have faith that through all the dark and pain, you are reaching a better place, coming closer to a healing you so desperately need… closer to becoming a better you. The more you challenge and push up against yourself, the clearer your inner self becomes. The more control you end up gaining.

The journey, therefore, calls upon courage. Courage is not a personality trait, as some may believe it to be, but an act that anyone can do. It’s about making a choice. Despite fear, I will press forward. I will enter the tension and allow myself to be moved. Here we stand at the precipice, faced with our choice: to jump, or not to jump? That certainly is the question.

depression the beast

                             shado

Depression is a scary beast.

I know, not only because of my work with clients who suffer with depression, but because I struggled against the beast myself for 9 years of my life. This entry is an attempt to integrate both my professional knowledge and personal experiences, in case there are others out there who are looking for enlightenment.

My beast’s name was Dysthymia, often morphing occasionally into Major Depressive episodes (i.e., full blown depression). I thought I kicked it out of my life for good six years ago, only to have it come back this summer, rearing its ugly head and stomping over all the good I had been building in my life. It sucked energy and motivation out of me, squeezed out tears, took away hours of sleep. It whispered lies too, that I’m not good enough and I never would be, that I’m ugly and invisible, and not doing anything great with my life… even though logically, I saw that I was a therapist and doing much good. It even pushed me further, murmuring, “Maybe you should kill yourself. No one wants you. You’re not important. Why not just die?

In one of my classes, I learned that having had one depressive episode before in your life increases the likelihood of you having another episode.

Before my class, I thought because I was high functioning and doing well, I probably wouldn’t have depressive feelings again. I’m optimistic, I seek to see the glass half-full, and view failures and letdowns as opportunities to learn and grow. But looking back in retrospect at my depression this summer, I see how much I used my “optimism” to push away and deny my feelings. Pretend everything was okay, when subconsciously, I was in deep pain. But it was to no avail, because the pain eventually took over. It was so overwhelming I couldn’t keep smashing it down anymore. Soon my optimism was nowhere to be found, and I was buried underneath the shit pile of my negative beliefs and heavy, painful feelings.

I’m the type of person who learns things after she has gone through the experience. And one of the things I learned from this struggle was this: While having the guise of safety, in truth, denying our feelings hinders us, and really, makes the problem worse. I wish I could bold the last sentence 10x more, because this is so important. I see it in all of my clients and in the support group that I lead, this tendency in society to ignore our feelings (with the exception of the “happy” variety) and pretend problems do no exist… whether it is due to ignorance, shame, or a whole host of reasons. But just because you sweep something under a rug, doesn’t mean it disappears. It grows bigger and bigger, until it controls your behaviors, your perceptions. Akin to a cancerous cell, it will keep growing and if we choose to deny or do nothing, it will wreak havoc and may even take our lives.

My beast almost did when I was young. And it tried again this summer.

I realized that I couldn’t keep running away. I needed to face my feelings head on, even if it scared the crap out of me. Because the more I tried to kick the beast out the door, the more it tried to come back in. Hell, kicking it out gave it more power. Our fear of our feelings and emotions only fuel their control over you. The only way to regain control, is to stand face-to-face with your beast and deal with it. That’s the first step we need to take to get better; we will not go anywhere unless we face it, make eye contact with it, and say, “I won’t let you rule my life anymore.” I’m not saying it is easy. It’s fucking difficult. But the things worthwhile in life are never easy. And contrary to our happy delusions, life is full of struggles. Either we deny that fact and consequently suffer, or rise to the challenge and choose to live in the face of challenge.

I ended up seeking help, and was better off for it. I am consistently pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and still working through my issues. But now I’m allowing myself to feel, and telling myself it’s okay to feel. I’m human, and in a constant state of growth. Even though I had some good coping skills before, I need to build more to live healthier, and better equip myself if the beast comes back. Even if it does, it’s okay. I’ll be okay. I’ve made it this far, and I believe I will overcome. The beast loses power when I tell myself these things, and refuse to believe in its lies.

Seek professional help. Build a support system of people who can be there for you, including your family and friends. If depression is also your beast, I guarantee you that you are not alone in your struggle against it. It may not seem that way sometimes, but the thing is, a lot of us are good at faking it. And society encourages us to. But don’t keep smashing it down anymore. Allow yourself to feel, to be. Most of us can’t fight it on our own. We need to get help in learning how to fight.

80% of people who seek professional help are able to overcome their depression. And you can too.

kicking the depression stigma

                               behind_the_mask_by_ookami_seaempress

I hate the negative stigma in our society that comes with being sad and depressed, or struggling. As someone who works in the mental health field, I see how this stigma affects people every day. Recently I came across an article on Huffington Post about “types of friends worth keeping forever.” Although one can see it as a insightful article on the choice we have in making friends and the ones we “should” keep, there was one caveat that I found a little disconcerting. For one of the types, the article’s author wrote, “People who are upbeat.” She further elaborated on those who are the opposite, or not upbeat, “They are those folks who ruminate over every little problem in their life again and again — and yet never make one move to change their situation. They are Debbie Downers. And they bring me down. Misery loves company and downbeat friends generally are more interested in your bad news than your good news. People who are positive and motivated and optimistic and who lift up those around them are worth hanging on to.

Perhaps I am making it out to be more than it seems. And I can completely see the author’s intention in writing this. Upbeat people are nice to be around… they make you feel good. It’s good to have them in your life. However. Whether it is intentional or not (and I want to hope that it is not), just in the way she frames her words, she is implicitly encouraging the aforementioned stigma. These upbeat people are the “types of friends worth keeping,” and only those who are “upbeat” are “worth hanging on to.” I could not help but feel after reading that that one could easily read this piece and come away feeling they are “not worthy” to be a friend, or worth keeping to someone else because they are suffering with depression, or are struggling deeply and find it immensely difficult to “pretend to be happy.” Am I supposed to make you happy and talk only about good things in order to be a friend worth keeping? What if I am reaching out to you for support? Does that mean I can’t because it might bring you down? It’s as if I have to hide away my issues and pain, so I won’t be a “Debbie Downer” and bring people down, like this article writer. I need to find a way to put a mask on so people will accept me and want to be around me.

As a therapist trainee, I am seeing clients who suffer with depression, anxiety, relational issues, trauma, sexual abuse, the list goes on. And for many of them, I see them minimize their issues, feel left alone in their struggles (most likely by those who avoid “Debbie Downers”), and feel shame for feeling what they do. They constantly seek validation from me to know that it is okay to feel and think the way they do. I have found just by the act of validating my clients’ feelings, they feel greatly empowered… and it is because we are constantly de-validating each other in this society and forcing one another to “be happy.” And I can’t help but think, how would this society if we just allowed others to express sadness and suffering? What if upbeat wasn’t the main goal, but instead being authentic and genuine with ourselves and with others? Many of my clients would not be needing to come into my office, of that I am sure.

This is a long diatribe, but essentially what I want to get out is that I am not in agreement with the negative concept this article writer is (unintentionally) transmitting. What I do support is this: you are worthy as a friend and as a person, regardless of your mood, whether you are happy or sad. You are not a label (i.e., Debbie Downer). And you are NOT your emotion. You are a complex and beautiful person. You have a right to love and be loved, and you have a right to exist. No one else has the power to define you, except for you.

on grief

                               sunsett

Mourning isn’t a temporary process; it’s a lifetime one. Whether we’ve lost someone to death, broken up with a love, or had a falling out with a best friend, I think that all of us can imagine what mourning is like. The 5 stages of grief come to mind for many, but I think the concept warrants more elaboration. Something that I have come to learn in my own life is that losing someone in any context isn’t something that you simply “get over.” You cannot counsel children or teachers who were victims of (or lost loved one to) the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to “get over it.” In obvious ways, they may never “get over it.”

I am not speaking of complicated grief, or being so immersed in one’s grief to the point that life’s meaning is forever lost, which is a different issue. What I argue against, however, is the message we give in society or the expectation we push on others and even on ourselves to “get over it.” Because it is not reflective of the true mourning process. The reason I believe that mourning is lifelong, is because many losses are heavy and deep indeed, and cause our lives to shift in innumerable ways. It takes time to settle into a “new normal.” And once we do, we may be happy on some days and other times we may be stressed or anxious in our daily living. But there are certain moments when we are reminded of our loss and the old pain is scratched. It hurts. A tear or two (or many) fall. Our hearts feel the emptiness of that loss. But then we continue to go forward.

And those moments that remind us of our loss will always be there throughout our life walk… like on my wedding day, walking down the aisle without my father. Or when I reminisce with my mother, and that desire bubbles up, I wish I could hear my dad call my name again just once. Or when I see a man playing with his kids at the park or a daughter taking out her father to a nice Italian restaurant on Father’s Day. The old wound scratched, I feel the pain of what has been lost and will never be fully redeemed. But the thing I have come to find is that this process is normal… and maybe, arguably, more true than just the concept of 5 stages of grief. Acceptance (the last stage) does not mean we are done with grieving. If anything, these moments of grief peppered throughout our lifespan are to be expected.

We are not still tied down to our grief. Most of us are still able to live our lives. But grief will come up from time to time, and if we conceptualize of these moments as part of the typical grieving process, we won’t be burdening ourselves with the fruitless goal of “getting over it.” There is nothing to get over. There is nothing wrong with having our feelings come up again and to be missing the person we lost. The pain tells us how special that person was and how much we loved them; so of course, if we are reminded of their absence, it will hurt. But it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel the pain. We only do ourselves more harm by ignoring it. It is the tail side of the coin, in which heads is love. It is all inextricably part of the beautiful, and often unfathomable, human experience.