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.

 

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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.