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Beyond Happiness: A Psychologically Rich Life Is a Good Life

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/202108/beyond-happiness-psychologically-rich-life-is-good-life

What we get from psychological richness that happiness does not provide.

Do you think a good life is a happy life? A meaningful life? It can be. But there is another dimension of the good life that, until now, has been vastly underappreciated. In an important article just made available online at Psychological Review, “A psychologically rich life: Beyond happiness and meaning,” Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and Erin C. Westgate of the University of Florida show us that psychological richness is the kind of wealth that can contribute to a truly good life.

Oishi and Westgate define a psychologically rich life as “a life characterized by a variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences.” They are not trying to tell us what should count as a good life. Instead, they are asking what kinds of ideal lives people imagine for themselves, and a psychologically rich life is one of the kinds of lives that people desire.

Happy lives, meaningful lives, and psychologically rich lives have some things in common; you don’t necessarily have to choose. But a psychologically rich life is distinct from those other two kinds of good lives.

What Are the Characteristics of a Psychologically Rich Life?

Three key characteristics of a psychologically rich life are variety, interestingness, and perspective-changing experiences. The “Psychologically Rich Life Questionnaire” taps those characteristics.

  • Variety: “My life has been full of unique, unusual experiences.”
  • Interest: “I have had a lot of interesting experiences.”
  • Perspective changes: “On my deathbed, I am likely to say ‘I have seen and learned a lot.’”

The characteristics of a happy life are very different, and include comfort, security, and joy. The characteristics of a meaningful life are different, too, and include significance and purpose.

Personality: What Kinds of People Lead Psychologically Rich Lives?

At least three personality characteristics typify people who lead psychologically rich lives:

  • They are curious.
  • They are open to experience (e.g., they have unconventional attitudes, artistic sensitivity, intellectual curiosity, flexibility, depth of feeling).
  • They experience emotions intensely, both positive and negative ones.

It is not enough just to experience intense emotions. You also need to think about those emotional experiences and try to make sense of them.

Personal growth, autonomy, self-acceptance, purpose in life, and positive relations are also associated with a psychologically rich life. The authors suggest that people leading psychologically rich lives do not just hang out with the same person or persons all the time or pursue one goal in just one domain of life.

People leading psychologically rich lives also tend to be more liberal. “Those leading happy and/or meaningful lives tend to prefer to maintain social order and the status quo,” Oishi and Westgate note, “whereas those leading psychologically rich lives seem to embrace social change.”

What Facilitates a Life of Psychological Richness?

Do you want to have a happy life? It will help if you have resources such as money, time, and relationships (in the broad sense of the term, not just romantic ones). Want a meaningful life? Having moral principles, relationships (in the broad sense), and consistency might help.

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If you want a psychologically rich life, it will help to have curiosity, time, energy, and spontaneity.

Certain kinds of life experiences are associated with a psychologically rich life. They include:

  • Spending a semester abroad, or just taking short trips in your everyday life
  • Challenging or dramatic life events

That last one is one of the more intriguing and unique experiences that can contribute to a psychologically rich life. People who have experienced catastrophes and tragedies might not say that their lives are happier as a result, but their lives probably would be psychologically richer. Divorce, for example, can be painful—but it can also change your perspective in a way that can be psychologically enriching.

What Do You Get Out of a Psychologically Rich Life?

People who lead happy lives get personal satisfaction. People who live meaningful lives get to contribute to society. People who live psychologically rich lives are rewarded with wisdom. For example:

  • They have a depth and breadth of knowledge.
  • They have complex reasoning styles.
  • They consider multiple causes for other people’s behavior.
  • They realize that what they know isn’t definitive and isn’t universal.

This wisdom, the authors believe, comes from the many different kinds of life experiences of people who lead psychologically rich lives, experiences that introduce them to different perspectives and show them life’s complexities.

In their day-to-day lives, people who lead psychologically rich lives engage in some novel activities, and not just routine ones. As students, they take more challenging courses and they care about actually learning things, and not just getting good grades.

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On their deathbed, the people who led happy lives might say, “I had fun!” People who led meaningful lives might say, “I made a difference!” People who led psychologically rich lives might instead say, “What a journey!”

Global Perspectives: The Good Life, in 9 Nations

Oishi and Westgate wanted to test their ideas in a variety of countries. They asked people in nine nations—India, Singapore, Angola, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Portugal, Germany, and the U.S.—to describe their ideal life. Then they asked them to rate that life on happiness, meaningfulness, and psychological richness (e.g., eventful, interesting). People in all nine nations typically rated their ideal lives as high on all three dimensions.

What if they had to choose just one? Happiness was the most popular choice in every country. Meaningfulness was next. Still, a nontrivial percentage of people in each nation, between 7 percent and 17 percent, said that they would choose a psychologically rich life, even at the expense of a happy life and a meaningful life.

Are Single People Especially Likely to Lead Psychologically Rich Lives?

The authors never compared people of different marital or relationship statuses in the studies they described. They did, however, mention this:

“According to Kierkegaard, a married person with a secure, well-respected job and children may have a happy and (in many respects) meaningful life, but not necessarily a life rich in diverse perspective-changing experiences. Although most people choose such a conventional, secure, and well-respected life, others… choose the esthetic wanderer’s life instead—unconventional, unstable, and uncompromising.”

Several of the characteristics and experiences of people who lead psychologically rich lives have also been linked to staying single or liking single life. For example:

  • Open-minded: In “The badass personalities of people who like being alone,” I reviewed multiple studies showing that people who like spending time alone, and people who are unafraid of being single, are more likely than others to be open-minded.
  • Personal growth: In a study of adults at midlife, more than 1,000 people who had always been single were compared to more than 3,000 people who had been continuously married. The people who stayed single, compared to those who stayed married, reported experiencing more personal growth. They were more likely to agree with statements such as: “For me, life has been a continuous process of learning, changing, and growth.”
  • Autonomy: In the same study, the people who had stayed single were more likely to agree with statements such as “I judge myself by what I think is important, not by the values of what others think is important.” In response to questions on the Single at Heart quiz, people who are single at heart are more likely to describe themselves as self-sufficient, as having personal mastery, and as wanting to make their own decisions about matters both small and large.
  • Adventurous: People who are single at heart may be especially likely to pursue their dreams. That could mean pursuing adventures or other intriguing opportunities, or choosing meaningful work over more lucrative work when they can’t have both, or being there for the people who mean the most to them.
  • They don’t put just one person at the center of their lives: By definition, people who are single at heart do not organize their lives around a romantic partner. They spend time with, and care about, the people they find valuable, without automatically prioritizing a romantic partner or a potential partner.

Can we conclude from the research that single people lead psychologically richer lives than people who are married? I don’t know about single people in general, but my own hypothesis is that people who choose to be single for positive reasons, such as the single at heart, would tend to experience more psychological richness in their lives.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/borderline-personality-disorder.htm#

If you have BPD, everything feels unstable: your relationships, moods, thinking, behavior—even your identity. But there is hope and this guide to symptoms, treatment, and recovery can help.

Illustration, bold colors, overlapping faces in profile

What is borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you probably feel like you’re on a rollercoaster—and not just because of your unstable emotions or relationships, but also the wavering sense of who you are. Your self-image, goals, and even your likes and dislikes may change frequently in ways that feel confusing and unclear.

People with BPD tend to be extremely sensitive. Some describe it as like having an exposed nerve ending. Small things can trigger intense reactions. And once upset, you have trouble calming down. It’s easy to understand how this emotional volatility and inability to self-soothe leads to relationship turmoil and impulsive—even reckless—behavior.

When you’re in the throes of overwhelming emotions, you’re unable to think straight or stay grounded. You may say hurtful things or act out in dangerous or inappropriate ways that make you feel guilty or ashamed afterwards. It’s a painful cycle that can feel impossible to escape. But it’s not. There are effective BPD treatments and coping skills that can help you feel better and back in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

BPD is treatable

In the past, many mental health professionals found it difficult to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD), so they came to the conclusion that there was little to be done. But we now know that BPD is treatable. In fact, the long-term prognosis for BPD is better than those for depression and bipolar disorder. However, it requires a specialized approach. The bottom line is that most people with BPD can and do get better—and they do so fairly rapidly with the right treatments and support.

[Read: Helping Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder]

Healing is a matter of breaking the dysfunctional patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are causing you distress. It’s not easy to change lifelong habits. Choosing to pause, reflect, and then act in new ways will feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first. But with time you’ll form new habits that help you maintain your emotional balance and stay in control.

Recognizing borderline personality disorder

Do you identify with the following statements?

  • I often feel “empty.”
  • My emotions shift very quickly, and I often experience extreme sadness, anger, and anxiety.
  • I’m constantly afraid that the people I care about will abandon me or leave me.
  • I would describe most of my romantic relationships as intense, but unstable.
  • The way I feel about the people in my life can dramatically change from one moment to the next—and I don’t always understand why.
  • I often do things that I know are dangerous or unhealthy, such as driving recklessly, having unsafe sex, binge drinking, using drugs, or going on spending sprees.
  • I’ve attempted to hurt myself, engaged in self-harm behaviors such as cutting, or threatened suicide.
  • When I’m feeling insecure in a relationship, I tend to lash out or make impulsive gestures to keep the other person close.

If you identify with several of the statements, you may suffer from borderline personality disorder. Of course, you need a mental health professional to make an official diagnosis, as BPD can be easily confused with other issues. But even without a diagnosis, you may find the self-help tips in this article helpful for calming your inner emotional storm and learning to control self-damaging impulses.

Signs and symptoms

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) manifests in many different ways, but for the purposes of diagnosis, mental health professionals group the symptoms into nine major categories. In order to be diagnosed with BPD, you must show signs of at least five of these symptoms. Furthermore, the symptoms must be long-standing (usually beginning in adolescence) and impact many areas of your life.

The 9 symptoms of BPD

  1. Fear of abandonment. People with BPD are often terrified of being abandoned or left alone. Even something as innocuous as a loved one arriving home late from work or going away for the weekend may trigger intense fear. This can prompt frantic efforts to keep the other person close. You may beg, cling, start fights, track your loved one’s movements, or even physically block the person from leaving. Unfortunately, this behavior tends to have the opposite effect—driving others away.
  2. Unstable relationships. People with BPD tend to have relationships that are intense and short-lived. You may fall in love quickly, believing that each new person is the one who will make you feel whole, only to be quickly disappointed. Your relationships either seem perfect or horrible, without any middle ground. Your lovers, friends, or family members may feel like they have emotional whiplash as a result of your rapid swings from idealization to devaluation, anger, and hate.
  3. Unclear or shifting self-image. When you have BPD, your sense of self is typically unstable. Sometimes you may feel good about yourself, but other times you hate yourself, or even view yourself as evil. You probably don’t have a clear idea of who you are or what you want in life. As a result, you may frequently change jobs, friends, lovers, religion, values, goals, or even sexual identity.
  4. Impulsive, self-destructive behaviors. If you have BPD, you may engage in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviors, especially when you’re upset. You may impulsively spend money you can’t afford, binge eat, drive recklessly, shoplift, engage in risky sex, or overdo it with drugs or alcohol. These risky behaviors may help you feel better in the moment, but they hurt you and those around you over the long-term.
  5. Self-harm. Suicidal behavior and deliberate self-harm is common in people with BPD. Suicidal behavior includes thinking about suicide, making suicidal gestures or threats, or actually carrying out a suicide attempt. Self-harm encompasses all other attempts to hurt yourself without suicidal intent. Common forms of self-harm include cutting and burning.
  6. Extreme emotional swings. Unstable emotions and moods are common with BPD. One moment, you may feel happy, and the next, despondent. Little things that other people brush off can send you into an emotional tailspin. These mood swings are intense, but they tend to pass fairly quickly (unlike the emotional swings of depression or bipolar disorder), usually lasting just a few minutes or hours.
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness. People with BPD often talk about feeling empty, as if there’s a hole or a void inside them. At the extreme, you may feel as if you’re “nothing” or “nobody.” This feeling is uncomfortable, so you may try to fill the void with things like drugs, food, or sex. But nothing feels truly satisfying.
  8. Explosive anger. If you have BPD, you may struggle with intense anger and a short temper. You may also have trouble controlling yourself once the fuse is lit—yelling, throwing things, or becoming completely consumed by rage. It’s important to note that this anger isn’t always directed outwards. You may spend a lot of time feeling angry at yourself.
  9. Feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality. People with BPD often struggle with paranoia or suspicious thoughts about others’ motives. When under stress, you may even lose touch with reality—an experience known as dissociation. You may feel foggy, spaced out, or as if you’re outside your own body.

Common co-occurring disorders

Borderline personality disorder is rarely diagnosed on its own. Common co-occurring disorders include:

When BPD is successfully treated, the other disorders often get improve, too. But the reverse isn’t always true. For example, you may successfully treat symptoms of depression and still struggle with BPD.

causes—hope

Most mental health professionals believe that borderline personality disorder (BPD) is caused by a combination of inherited or internal biological factors and external environmental factors, such as traumatic experiences in childhood.

Brain differences

There are many complex things happening in the BPD brain, and researchers are still untangling what it all means. But in essence, if you have BPD, your brain is on high alert. Things feel more scary and stressful to you than they do to other people. Your fight-or-flight switch is easily tripped, and once it’s on, it hijacks your rational brain, triggering primitive survival instincts that aren’t always appropriate to the situation at hand.

This may make it sound as if there’s nothing you can do. After all, what can you do if your brain is different? But the truth is that you can change your brain. Every time you practice a new coping response or self-soothing technique you are creating new neural pathways. Some treatments, such as mindfulness meditation, can even grow your brain matter. And the more you practice, the stronger and more automatic these pathways will become. So don’t give up! With time and dedication, you can change the way you think, feel, and act.

Personality disorders and stigma

When psychologists talk about “personality,” they’re referring to the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that make each of us unique. No one acts exactly the same all the time, but we do tend to interact and engage with the world in fairly consistent ways. This is why people are often described as “shy,” “outgoing,” “meticulous,” “fun-loving,” and so on. These are elements of personality.

Because personality is so intrinsically connected to identity, the term “personality disorder” might leave you feeling like there’s something fundamentally wrong with who you are. But a personality disorder is not a character judgment. In clinical terms, “personality disorder” means that your pattern of relating to the world is significantly different from the norm. (In other words, you don’t act in ways that most people expect). This causes consistent problems for you in many areas of your life, such as your relationships, career, and your feelings about yourself and others. But most importantly, these patterns can be changed!

Self-help tips: 3 keys to coping with BPD

  1. Calm the emotional storm
  2. Learn to control impulsivity and tolerate distress
  3. Improve your interpersonal skills

Self-help tip 1: Calm the emotional storm

As someone with BPD, you’ve probably spent a lot of time fighting your impulses and emotions, so acceptance can be a tough thing to wrap your mind around. But accepting your emotions doesn’t mean approving of them or resigning yourself to suffering. All it means is that you stop trying to fight, avoid, suppress, or deny what you’re feeling. Giving yourself permission to have these feelings can take away a lot of their power.

Try to simply experience your feelings without judgment or criticism. Let go of the past and the future and focus exclusively on the present moment. Mindfulness techniques can be very effective in this regard.

  • Start by observing your emotions, as if from the outside.
  • Watch as they come and go (it may help to think of them as waves).
  • Focus on the physical sensations that accompany your emotions.
  • Tell yourself that you accept what you’re feeling right now.
  • Remind yourself that just because you’re feeling something doesn’t mean it’s reality.

[Listen: Eye of the Storm Meditation]

Do something that stimulates one or more of your senses

Engaging your sense is one of the quickest and easiest ways to quickly self-soothe. You will need to experiment to find out which sensory-based stimulation works best for you. You’ll also need different strategies for different moods. What may help when you’re angry or agitated is very different from what may help when you’re numb or depressed. Here are some ideas to get started:

Touch. If you’re not feeling enough, try running cold or hot (but not scalding hot) water over your hands; hold a piece of ice; or grip an object or the edge of a piece of furniture as tightly as you can. If you’re feeling too much, and need to calm down, try taking a hot bath or shower; snuggling under the bed covers, or cuddling with a pet.

Taste. If you’re feeling empty and numb, try sucking on strong-flavored mints or candies, or slowly eat something with an intense flavor, such as salt-and-vinegar chips. If you want to calm down, try something soothing such as hot tea or soup.

Smell. Light a candle, smell the flowers, try aromatherapy, spritz your favorite perfume, or whip up something in the kitchen that smells good. You may find that you respond best to strong smells, such as citrus, spices, and incense.

Sight. Focus on an image that captures your attention. This can be something in your immediate environment (a great view, a beautiful flower arrangement, a favorite painting or photo) or something in your imagination that you visualize.

Sound. Try listening to loud music, ringing a buzzer, or blowing a whistle when you need a jolt. To calm down, turn on soothing music or listen to the soothing sounds of nature, such as wind, birds, or the ocean. A sound machine works well if you can’t hear the real thing.

Reduce your emotional vulnerability

You’re more likely to experience negative emotions when you’re run down and under stress. That’s why it’s very important to take care of your physical and mental well-being.

Take care of yourself by:

  • Avoid mood-altering drugs
  • Eating a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Getting plenty of quality sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Minimizing stress
  • Practicing relaxation techniques

Tip 2: Learn to control impulsivity and tolerate distress

The calming techniques discussed above can help you relax when you’re starting to become derailed by stress. But what do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by difficult feelings? This is where the impulsivity of borderline personality disorder (BPD) comes in. In the heat of the moment, you’re so desperate for relief that you’ll do anything, including things you know you shouldn’t—such as cutting, reckless sex, dangerous driving, and binge drinking. It may even feel like you don’t have a choice.

Moving from being out of control of your behavior to being in control

It’s important to recognize that these impulsive behaviors serve a purpose. They’re coping mechanisms for dealing with distress. They make you feel better, even if just for a brief moment. But the long-term costs are extremely high.

Regaining control of your behavior starts with learning to tolerate distress. It’s the key to changing the destructive patterns of BPD. The ability to tolerate distress will help you press pause when you have the urge to act out. Instead of reacting to difficult emotions with self-destructive behaviors, you will learn to ride them out while remaining in control of the experience.

For a step-by-step, self-guided program that will teach you how to ride the “wild horse” of overwhelming feelings, check out our free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit. The toolkit teaches you how to:

  • get in touch with your emotions
  • live with emotional intensity
  • manage unpleasant or threatening feelings
  • stay calm and focused even in upsetting situations

The toolkit will teach you how to tolerate distress, but it doesn’t stop there. It will also teach you how to move from being emotionally shut down to experiencing your emotions fully. This allows you to experience the full range of positive emotions such as joy, peace, and fulfillment that are also cut off when you attempt to avoid negative feelings.

A grounding exercise to help you pause and regain control

Once the fight-or-flight response is triggered, there is no way to “think yourself” calm. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on what you’re feeling in your body. The following grounding exercise is a simple, quick way to put the brakes on impulsivity, calm down, and regain control. It can make a big difference in just a few short minutes.

Find a quiet spot and sit in a comfortable position.

Focus on what you’re experiencing in your body. Feel the surface you’re sitting on. Feel your feet on the floor. Feel your hands in your lap.

Concentrate on your breathing, taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe in slowly. Pause for a count of three. Then slowly breathe out, once more pausing for a count of three. Continue to do this for several minutes.

In case of emergency, distract yourself

If your attempts to calm down aren’t working and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by destructive urges, distracting yourself may help. All you need is something to capture your focus long enough for the negative impulse to go away. Anything that draws your attention can work, but distraction is most effective when the activity is also soothing. In addition to the sensory-based strategies mentioned previously, here are some things you might try:

Watch TV. Choose something that’s the opposite of what you’re feeling: a comedy, if you’re feeling sad, or something relaxing if you’re angry or agitated.

Do something you enjoy that keeps you busy. This could be anything: gardening, painting, playing an instrument, knitting, reading a book, playing a computer game, or doing a Sudoku or word puzzle.

Throw yourself into work. You can also distract yourself with chores and errands: cleaning your house, doing yard work, going grocery shopping, grooming your pet, or doing the laundry.

Get active. Vigorous exercise is a healthy way to get your adrenaline pumping and let off steam. If you’re feeling stressed, you may want to try more relaxing activities such as yoga or a walk around your neighborhood.

Call a friend. Talking to someone you trust can be a quick and highly effective way to distract yourself, feel better, and gain some perspective.

Tip 3: Improve your interpersonal skills

If you have borderline personality disorder, you’ve probably struggled with maintaining stable, satisfying relationships with lovers, co-workers, and friends. This is because you have trouble stepping back and seeing things from other people’s perspective. You tend to misread the thoughts and feelings of others, misunderstand how others see you, and overlook how they’re affected by your behavior. It’s not that you don’t care, but when it comes to other people, you have a big blind spot. Recognizing your interpersonal blind spot is the first step. When you stop blaming others, you can start taking steps to improve your relationships and your social skills.

Check your assumptions

When you’re derailed by stress and negativity, as people with BPD often are, it’s easy to misread the intentions of others. If you’re aware of this tendency, check your assumptions. Remember, you’re not a mind reader! Instead of jumping to (usually negative) conclusions, consider alternative motivations. As an example, let’s say that your partner was abrupt with you on the phone and now you’re feeling insecure and afraid they’ve lost interest in you. Before you act on those feelings:

Stop to consider the different possibilities. Maybe your partner is under pressure at work. Maybe he’s having a stressful day. Maybe he hasn’t had his coffee yet. There are many alternative explanations for his behavior.

Ask the person to clarify their intentions. One of the simplest ways to check your assumptions is to ask the other person what they’re thinking or feeling. Double check what they meant by their words or actions. Instead of asking in an accusatory manner, try a softer approach: “I could be wrong, but it feels like…” or “Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I get the sense that…

Put a stop to projection

Do you have a tendency to take your negative feelings and project them on to other people? Do you lash out at others when you’re feeling bad about yourself? Does feedback or constructive criticism feel like a personal attack? If so, you may have a problem with projection.

To fight projection, you’ll need to learn to apply the brakes—just like you did to curb your impulsive behaviors. Tune in to your emotions and the physical sensations in your body. Take note of signs of stress, such as rapid heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, nausea, or light-headedness. When you’re feeling this way, you’re likely to go on the attack and say something you’ll regret later. Pause and take a few slow deep breaths. Then ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Am I upset with myself?
  2. Am I feeling ashamed or afraid?
  3. Am I worried about being abandoned?

If the answer is yes, take a conversation break. Tell the other person that you’re feeling emotional and would like some time to think before discussing things further.

Take responsibility for your role

Finally, it’s important to take responsibility for the role you play in your relationships. Ask yourself how your actions might contribute to problems. How do your words and behaviors make your loved ones feel? Are you falling into the trap of seeing the other person as either all good or all bad? As you make an effort to put yourself in other people’s shoes, give them the benefit of the doubt, and reduce your defensiveness, you’ll start to notice a difference in the quality of your relationships.

Diagnosis and treatment

It’s important to remember that you can’t diagnose borderline personality disorder on your own. So if you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from BPD, it’s best to seek professional help. BPD is often confused or overlaps with other conditions, so you need a mental health professional to evaluate you and make an accurate diagnosis. Try to find someone with experience diagnosing and treating BPD.

The importance of finding the right therapist

The support and guidance of a qualified therapist can make a huge difference in BPD treatment and recovery. Therapy may serve as a safe space where you can start working through your relationship and trust issues and “try on” new coping techniques.

An experienced professional will be familiar with BPD therapies such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and schema-focused therapy. But while these therapies have proven to be helpful, it’s not always necessary to follow a specific treatment approach. Many experts believe that weekly therapy involving education about the disorder, family support, and social and emotional skills training can treat most BPD cases.

It’s important to take the time to find a therapist you feel safe with—someone who seems to get you and makes you feel accepted and understood. Take your time finding the right person. But once you do, make a commitment to therapy. You may start out thinking that your therapist is going to be your savior, only to become disillusioned and feel like they have nothing to offer. Remember that these swings from idealization to demonization are a symptom of BPD. Try to stick it out with your therapist and allow the relationship to grow. And keep in mind that change, by its very nature, is uncomfortable. If you don’t ever feel uncomfortable in therapy, you’re probably not progressing.

Don’t count on a medication cure

Although many people with BPD take medication, the fact is that there is very little research showing that it is helpful. What’s more, in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medications for the treatment of BPD. This doesn’t mean that medication is never helpful—especially if you suffer from co-occurring problems such as depression or anxiety—but it is not a cure for BPD itself.

When it comes to BPD, therapy is much more effective. You just have to give it time. However, your doctor may consider medication if:

  • You have been diagnosed with both BPD and depression or bipolar disorder.
  • You suffer from panic attacks or severe anxiety.
  • You begin hallucinating or having bizarre, paranoid thoughts.
  • You are feeling suicidal or at risk of hurting yourself or others.

When Therapy Is Going Nowhere

Escaping the “Groundhog Day” Cycle

By William Doherty

May/June 2013

Although you can’t tell it from the cases that appear in publications and training videos, psychotherapy mostly involves talking to clients who like working with us, but find it hard to change. Eventually, rather than helping these clients navigate dramatic whitewater rapids, our main challenge becomes steering the clinical relationship out of the swamps and marshes where it can get stuck, sometimes for years.

Our long-term clients might have us banging our heads against the wall at times, screaming, “I can’t believe you’re making that self-destructive choice again! After all this time, haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?” But mostly, they elicit far less dramatic reactions. They’re cooperative, agreeable, and attached to us as therapists. They’re open to our insights and suggestions, fill a regular time slot in our schedule, and pay their bills. So what’s the problem? Nothing—except that not much goes on in sessions: no implosions or explosions, no breakthroughs or backslides, no itching to finish therapy and get on with life. It starts to feel like “till death (or retirement) us do part.”

Often when we begin with these clients, our early work generates some movement and change, but then a kind of stagnation sets in. This is the case with my couple who’s fully engaged in therapy sessions but “too busy” to try anything different at home, and the woman who uses sessions to recap the ins and outs of her week but never addresses any serious issues. Without much happening—with no real intensity or vitality—ease eventually turns to boredom, at least for the therapist. After months or years circling the same issues, we end up with what I call “Groundhog Day therapy,” named after the early 1990s film in which a burned-out TV weatherman played by Bill Murray is doomed to live through the same day, with the same events, over and over again.

So why do therapists tend to get stuck in clinical relationships where we spend session after session spinning our wheels? One reason is that these sessions ensure a predictable, paying slot in our schedule. Another reason, however, is that we usually don’t tell anyone about these cases. We reserve supervision or consultation for more compelling crises or direct conflicts in the clinical relationship. Groundhog Day cases, where no one is threatening divorce or suicide, lack the drama of standard consultation cases. We might worry that even our consultation groups will get bored of hearing about the same client who isn’t particularly miserable, but isn’t leading the life he or she wants, either.

Another reason we remain stuck with clients going nowhere in therapy is that most of us keep “progress notes” instead of tracking outcomes. I confess to this habit, especially when it came to a couple I’d been seeing for several years. When I looked through a year’s worth of their session notes, more than half of them recorded some improvement from session to session. But when I stepped back and asked the couple to evaluate the progress of their overall relationship, they concurred with me that nothing much had shifted. In fact, a mentor once told me that two-thirds of the records he reviewed for mental health hospitals reported progress, even for patients who never got better overall. As therapists, we like to think we’re making headway, and our clients want therapy to be worthwhile, but treatment sometimes shifts without our noticing it from change-oriented work that has an ending to long-term, maintenance-oriented work that doesn’t have an end point.

So what do you do when you find yourself with a Groundhog Day case? The commonest mistake—one I’ve committed myself—is what I call “lurching,” or making a sudden, unannounced shift in how you’re approaching the client. One form of lurching is shifting abruptly from a therapeutic posture of empathic support to one of hard-nosed challenge. I’ve seen frustrated therapists who’d been oozing nurturance for months suddenly blurt out, “You have a choice: you can stay miserable, or you can get a divorce.” These moves might temporarily shake the client up and reinvigorate the therapy relationship, but they usually end badly. Either the client forgives the unexpected rudeness and therapeutic homeostasis is restored, or the therapeutic relationship spirals downhill until the client fires us.

Another form of lurching is trying out a different, more dramatic type of therapy without preparing the client. It’s like when a physician moves from prescribing a simple acid reflux medication to scheduling major esophageal surgery without first stopping to reevaluate the diagnosis or overall treatment plan with the patient. For example, in one couples therapy case I consulted on, the husband wasn’t getting over his wife’s affair. The therapist, familiar with the current trendiness of traumatology in the field and having just taken an introductory course in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, jumped to initiate two trauma treatment sessions with the husband. Both of these sessions failed, and the therapist gave up on the couple.

In pulling a new technique out of her hat, this therapist failed to ask herself something basic: how could she uncover what might be causing the husband to cling to his grief and anger? She’d regarded the husband’s reaction as a symptom to be expunged, rather than part of a larger narrative. In a sense, she skirted the very heart of talk therapy. But she’s not the only one. These days, many of us are overly focused on the flashy public-workshop intervention in which the proponent of some new attachment-based, body-oriented, Buddhist-inspired, or neurophysiological-leaning approach enthralls us with a new method. When we throw all our energy into the latest fads in the field, we stop working at the essence of what we do: the routine conversational practices of psychotherapy—the skills that keep therapy moving from minute to minute and session to session.

The key to dealing constructively with stuck cases is to treat the clinical relationship pattern first, and only then to consider alternative treatment strategies. The following three steps detail a process I’ve developed, including the words I tend to use, for gently dislodging stuck clinical relationships, without lurching.

Set time to evaluate progress together. After asking the client for his or her priorities for a particular session, I say something like, “I’d also like to spend some time in this session looking at where you are currently in terms of the problems you came to therapy with, how far you feel you’ve come, and where our work is now.” We decide together whether to start with the client’s priorities for the session or with mine. I do this in a matter-of-fact way, not assuming a challenging mode, but letting the client know this will be an important conversation.

Assess where you are in the course of therapy. After listening to the client’s sense of progress and affirming whatever I can agree with, I ask follow-up questions that direct attention to the work we’re doing together. An example might be something like this: “Where do you think we are in terms of our work in therapy? Are we in the winding-down phase, the middle phase, past the middle phase?” This question implies that we aren’t going to be doing this work forever—that there’s a beginning, middle, and end, and that the client has a big say in determining the timing of our work. Generally, I accept whatever the client offers as an appraisal of our current stage of work.

Share your perspective on the “plateau.” In the third phase, I share my perspective on the plateau I see in our work. I’ll say something like, “As I’ve been thinking about our work, it seems to me that significant changes were coming in the earlier phases, which is common, and that we reached a plateau a while back. I don’t know if you see it that way.” Plateau is a more positive description than saying therapy is “stalled” or “unmoving,” and invites the client to join me in evaluating the recent results of therapy. I focus on “we” and “our work,” not just on the client’s individual movement. In this way, I acknowledge that I’m part of this system and have a role in everything that goes on; I share space on the plateau. With this framework set up, most clients agree that we’ve been circling around issues without much forward progress. I sometimes even say that I prefer to work intensively with people and take breaks from therapy, rather than stay on plateaus for too long.

For one couple I worked with, the pressure of coping with their son’s problems had brought them into couples therapy at the recommendation of an adolescent psychiatrist who was alarmed about how divided they were in dealing with their son. Of course, they had marital issues as well, including difficulty with emotional intimacy, which they were trying to tackle. But that phase of the therapy was slow going. They seemed to use the sessions well, but admitted to inertia at home, where they rarely followed through on what they’d learned in our sessions. Despite my best efforts to have them reflect on what might be blocking the energy for intimacy, therapy was bogging down.

Rather than escalate my efforts to break through with this couple, I did my “let’s evaluate our work” protocol, which led to a consensus about how therapy had progressed. We agreed that they’d learned to work as a parental team, with their son functioning better for it, and our sessions had given them insight into their marital issues, but without much change on that front occurring at home. I said that a plateau in therapy after good initial work is common, and that it gives us a chance to decide what to do next, including ending our work for now. They seemed relieved that I didn’t expect them to manufacture energy for changing their marriage. Earlier in my career, I might have increased my efforts to avoid failure and, as a result, bestowed a sense of failure on them. Instead, after one more session, we finished up with our heads held high.

These “Where are we now?” conversations don’t always mean an end to treatment. Sometimes they lead to reinvigorated therapy, as was the case with a woman who’d come to see me in crisis after a divorce. In the beginning of our work, she’d learned how to cope with her ex-husband and kids and to avoid some of the land mines in the divorce process. Gradually, however, I began to get the sense that I was serving more as a trusted confidant than a therapist. She mostly wanted to talk about the ups and downs of her week, along with routine complaints about her ex-husband. After we reflected on her progress and the plateau in our work together, she said she had more issues to focus on and wanted to continue our therapy to work on them. I then asked her the questions I put to all clients who say they want to continue: “What are your priorities for the next phase of our work? What do you feel a sense of urgency about?”

With these questions, I signal that I want a new contract if I’m going to sign on for another phase of therapy. In this case, since she’d reentered the dating world, the new contract was to work on finding a way for her to have both connections and boundaries in close relationships, and I was able to help her avoid her tendency to overinvest and then cut and run.

Of course, these conversations don’t always go this smoothly. Sometimes clients’ fears of abandonment and worries about making it on their own will surface. Fortunately, the emergence of these emotions can allow real therapy work to begin again, providing a new focus on issues of loss and autonomy.

Other times when trying to move from a plateau, it takes a while for the conversation to play out and a conclusion to be reached. In the case of a multiyear therapeutic relationship, for example, I may introduce the conversation, but suggest that we reflect on it over time by saying, “I’m not looking for any quick conclusion on this, but it’s good for us to keep track of where you are with what you came here to work on, and where we seem to be going now.” The idea here is to broach the subject while signaling that there’ll be no lurches or quick unilateral decisions. If the conversation is moving in the direction of ending therapy, I always indicate that we’re deciding on “stopping for now,” explaining that the door is open if clients want to come back for more work in the future.

My attitude is like that of a music instructor whose client has learned the basic scales and a few songs and is satisfied with that progress for the time being. I celebrate the gains and fully accept the client’s decision to put his or her energies elsewhere. We both know that there’s room for improvement, perhaps the potential to master Rachmaninoff, but that now isn’t the time. There’s no harm, no foul in taking a time out, even a permanent one.

This approach relates to Andy Christensen’s Integrated Acceptance model of couples therapy, which includes two phases: one geared toward helping couples change, and one geared toward helping couples accept what’s not likely to change. As psychiatrist David Burns points out in his recent Networker webcast “Motivating the Anxious Client” and his other work on motivation, when a therapist and client agree that not much is changing in therapy and the therapist accepts this reality and the reasons for it without trying to “sell” more change, the client is often paradoxically remotivated to change.

Common Mistakes with Therapeutic Plateaus

Another form of stuck clinical relationships involves the client who keeps making self-destructive choices, ones the therapist is on record as having repeatedly warned against. One therapist in a workshop I led talked about her long-term therapy with a woman who kept bringing new men home from AA groups, living with them for a time, and then feeling used and abandoned when they didn’t need her any longer. I don’t know how many sessions the client spent talking about this pattern and agreeing about how harmful this behavior was for her. She’d always conclude that she wasn’t going to do it anymore, and then, bingo, a few weeks later, there’d be a new sad sack living at her house. Another classic scenario is the woman who continually returns to an abusive husband or boyfriend in the hope that, this time, his apology indicates real change, or the married man who’s had a series of affairs and resists talking to his wife about his unhappiness in the marriage because he doesn’t want to deal with the fallout of those conversations.

The big challenge for these clinical relationships isn’t that the client is behaving in a self-defeating way—it’s the client’s life, after all—but that these individuals cling to therapy, desperately asking for help but declining to take the responsibility to extricate themselves from toxic situations.

In my own clinical experience, Cindy stands out. She enjoyed therapy and had inherited enough money to work or not as she pleased. She’d made strides in her single parenting—the kids were now raised—but continued to allow herself to be used by one man after another. Each time, she worked in therapy to extricate herself from the relationship, but whenever a new questionable character came along, she was impervious to my fervent attempts to get her to pay attention to the multiple red flags whipping in the wind. I’m not talking about subtle signals here: one man asked her for a good-sized loan after three dates, another offered to pay her younger daughter’s college tuition (never having met the girl) and then asked for a “bridge loan,” and yet another flirted openly with Cindy’s adult daughter. When I’d ask if she saw a familiar pattern, she’d reply, “Well, I have a different sense this time. I’m stronger, and this man is really not like the others.”

These are our Dr. Phil cases, when we want to ask, perhaps with a snarky, self-satisfied smirk, “So how’s that working out for you?” Except we’re not on TV. We’re caught up in an ongoing clinical relationship, and it’s important that we not make the following common mistakes:

Acting as if the client’s decisions reflect our competence. This is the central mistake behind most lapses in the therapist’s craft when working with challenging clients. The truth, of course, is that we’re responsible only for how we conduct ourselves in the therapy room, not for how our clients behave in their own lives. But it’s hard to hold on to our boundaries when we see clients drive their cars over cliff after cliff while begging us for driving tips.

Acting like disapproving parents. Schooled in avoiding direct advice, most therapists ask screwdriver-like questions such as, “What was going on in your mind when you invited another man to move in with you after meeting him just twice?” The client gets the underlying drift: The therapist thinks I’m an idiot.

Assigning pejorative clinical interpretations. When therapists lose their boundaries, feel overresponsible, and don’t really know what to do, they often default to poking at the function of the symptom with questions like “Why do you think you need men to treat you so badly?” When the client denies needing to be abused, the therapist doubles down: “If you don’t like it, then why do you think you keep putting yourself in this situation?” The client then translates this statement as You’re even more messed up than either us thought before.

Threatening to end therapy. Usually we fire the client in indirect ways like “I don’t see how this therapy is really helping you.” I know of one frustrated therapist, however, who said outright that she couldn’t work with a client as long as the client chose to stay in an abusive marriage. In another case, the frustrated therapist waited until a husband, following another marital argument in the session, blurted out, “We’re not getting anywhere in this therapy.” The therapist saw an opening and said, “If you don’t think the therapy is helping, then maybe we shouldn’t keep meeting. Why don’t you think about whether you want to continue and call me back if you want to schedule an appointment?”

Coming on too strong. In a number of my couples cases, one spouse’s individual therapist seemed to have taken such a hard position in favor of divorce that the client was too ashamed to continue therapy and attempt to reconcile the marriage. In reality, it’s unlikely that the individual therapist likes to promote divorce. Instead, I imagine that the therapist was sick of seeing no movement, but lacked a more skillful way of dealing with the impasse.

Listening too closely to the negativity of our consultation group. It often happens that a consultation group feels it’s listened too long to your stories about an impossible client and wants to put both you and the client out of misery. I remember a case consultation when a colleague leaned in toward me, lowered her voice, and said, “Maybe you should ask your client what she gets out of being so unhappy? What’s in it for her?” The problem here wasn’t her advice; it was the negative energy behind it that I inadvertently absorbed. Having consulted yet again on this particular client’s case, I probably should have carried a big sign with me when I walked into our next therapy session—Warning: Lurch Risk Ahead.

How to Get Therapy Moving Again

So how do we effectively shift gears with stuck clients who repeatedly make unfortunate choices? Here are some approaches I’ve learned from respected colleagues and developed to use in my own clinical work.

Return regularly to the client’s need to stay on course and honor the client’s stance. Virginia Satir used to talk about the two universal drives operating simultaneously in people in distress: the desire for growth, which means change, and the desire for stability. As therapists, we have to address both drives. For my client Cindy, choosing yet another inappropriate boyfriend gave her more pain, but reassured her in a way: even at age 50, I can attract guys, and I’m never without one.

In the case of a woman who can’t stop bringing home new men from AA meetings despite a series of disastrous relationships, I’d prepare myself to see something positive and honorable or wise and smart in her choices. For example, I might say, “You’re somebody who doesn’t want to give up on men, even though you’ve had bad experiences in the past. An important value for you is to bring yourself fresh to each new relationship and not assume this guy must be a jerk because some other guys have been jerks.” If she seemed to feel understood by this reflection, I might add, “And you believe deeply in AA and its philosophy, so AA meetings seem like a good place to find a man who’s making a fresh start in his life.” (I should note that actually believing what you say is critical to pulling this off.) As psychiatrist David Burns’s work with therapeutic motivation and resistance-to-change has shown, this exchange would almost certainly lead her to express the other side of her ambivalence: the dashed hopes, the feeling of being used, the sense of futility in making the same poor choice over and over.

When a woman continues to stay with an abusive partner, therapists often make the mistake of focusing solely on her vulnerability or her “codependency.” A better approach is to start by honoring her commitment to keeping her family together: “Lynne, I see you as someone who cares deeply about keeping your commitments to your marriage and your family. You know your kids love their dad, and you want to keep your family together if it’s possible. You’re not someone who cuts and runs when times get tough in a relationship.” Notice that there’s no but at the end of this statement. It’s important to let her take it in and talk with her about that side of her experience for a while without pouncing on the risk or pathology associated with it. If you can honor her commitment in this way, you’re telling her that you see her as a strong person who cares about those around her—and not as a helpless victim. If you work this side of the coin in a heartfelt way, she’s likely to be open to exploring the other side, which involves her feelings of not deserving to be treated better or her worries that keeping the family together may actually be harming the children.

Bookend major challenges with autonomy-granting comments. When challenging a client, it’s critical not to come across as a parent. If I feel I must confront clients about choices they’re making, I usually begin with words that acknowledge their autonomy. To a married man having a career- and marriage-threatening affair with a drug-using coworker, I said, “Doug, I’m going to say something challenging here. I’m going to offer it with an understanding that this is your life and that I don’t get a vote in your decisions. Here’s what I’m concerned about. . . .” Another way to set up these challenges is to start with something like, “I’m sure you’ve thought about what I am going to say.” The idea is to signal respect before getting pushy. After the challenge comes another autonomy statement such as “That’s just how it looks from where I’m sitting. You’re the one who gets to decide.” This bookend approach to challenges makes it less likely that the client will have a you’re-not-the-boss-of-me response.

When challenging stuck clients, use subjective, personal, and “ordinary” language. Saying things like “I see you enacting the same self-destructive pattern you learned in your family of origin” is therapy-speak and won’t resonate with the client. It’s better to use subjective phrases like “I’m worried for you” and “This is what I’m concerned about.” In an impasse, I say things like “I’m worried for you right now. I’m worried that a very positive part of you—your openness to each person who comes into your life—is getting you into one bad relationship after another. Each time this happens, you seem to go deeper into a pit of despair. That’s what I’m worried about for you.” This comes across as a personal, caring challenge delivered in human terms. It’s not a clinical insight subject to agreement or disagreement, and most clients can take it in. This kind of challenge is also not parental if it’s sandwiched between autonomy-granting statements. Step 1: I respect you as an adult. Step 2: I care about you and am worried for you. Step 3: It’s your choice, and I don’t get a vote.

Learn how to recover when you’ve come on too strong. Cindy, the woman who’d been with a series of mooching men, had started seeing yet another new guy who talked money early on. She knew well my concerns about her pattern and shared them. After a particularly challenging session in which my conversational craft had slipped into badgering, I knew I needed to do repair work.

So I began the next session by saying, “You know, I came on pretty strong last time with my concerns about this new relationship. How are you feeling now about the stance I took in our last session?” She acknowledged that my concern made her feel cared for, but she worried that she was disappointing me. We then processed the clear reality that I was skeptical about a choice she was making and talked about how we could live with that tension and still do good work together. In fact, she thought I was probably right, but then revealed for the first time that she saw herself as a “betting woman,” who was OK with long shots when it came to relationships. She thought she’d decline to lend money to this current guy, but would keep open the possibility that this could be a good relationship. This exchange helped repair a frayed clinical relationship, in which I’d almost become overresponsible and not therapeutic.

Stop pushing for change, and wait for another opening when life teaches lessons. Cindy and I moved on to work on ways she could keep as healthy an emotional balance as possible in a relationship I thought was basically unhealthy. At some point, one of us would be proven right by the outcome of the episode. The result was that most of my frustration melted away because I didn’t define my goal as getting her out of this relationship. Rather, I tried to help her learn what she could from the situation she’d chosen to be in.

Not having to defend her decision allowed Cindy to appraise the relationship realistically as it developed. She eventually came to focus on the fact that the man wouldn’t let her see his apartment. With my support, she dug in her heels on this one. I coached her on how to talk with her boyfriend about her feelings and how not to back down when he claimed his place was so shoddy that he didn’t want to disrespect her by taking her there. Finally, she decided to tell him that she wanted her loan repaid and that she wasn’t going to give him any more money, whereupon he disappeared from her life.

When we processed all of this, she saw clearly how she’d blinded herself to red flags that had come up in the relationship. Recently, about 15 years after we’d finished therapy, I got an email from her saying that her life was good, that she’d had better relationships with men in recent years, and that none of them had borrowed money from her.

Becoming a Therapeutic Craftsperson

If the risk for new therapists is falling on their faces because they’re still learning their craft, the risk for experienced therapists is being captured by our competence. We become habituated to the role of “pretty good therapist,” and we stop getting better. The research behind this idea is sobering: clinical outcomes aren’t related to the therapist’s experience level. Overall, experienced therapists have no better success than newbies. However, unless we can compare our work with fellow therapists on similar cases and find that others have succeeded where we’ve failed, we’re tempted to assume that when therapy falls short, the fault is with the clients. We might tell ourselves that they just aren’t motivated, that they have an Axis-II diagnosis, or that their marriage was doomed anyway. Often our colleagues help foster our inflated sense of capacity, rushing to reassure us that our clinical failures are either not failures or not our fault, because we’re competent therapists.

How do we avoid being captured by our competence? I’ve learned that the key is never to stop being a student. It’s hard to habituate while being a graduate student because there’s always something new coming at you; there’s always someone who knows more than you and is paid to teach it to you. The challenge after leaving school is to learn how to keep learning. Anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson’s research showed that dolphins figured out how to create novel jumps and flips when they realized they’d only be rewarded for originality, not for doing their old tricks. Bateson called this “second-order learning”—learning how to learn. Therapists, too, need to bring this type of learning into practice.

The therapists I’ve admired most in my career have been those who continually change and develop while holding onto the core of who they are as therapists. They’re interested in new models and new evidence, but not in serially reinventing themselves with each new fad. What I’ve come to see recently is that learning new models counts for little if therapists don’t continually improve their basic craft, the day-to-day skills of their work. Not focusing on the basic craft is like being a surgeon who learns advanced techniques without being good at making incisions and preventing infections.

Another strategy for avoiding decades on a clinical plateau is to be a perfectionist without being immersed in self-criticism. I always question whether I could have done better with a difficult case, but I rarely beat myself up over it. I experiment with the small details of therapy (like how to frame key questions) and with the structure and flow of therapy (like how to open sessions and to blend individual and couples conversations). I’m a sponge for nuance and details when I see master therapists share their work. However, I pay more attention to what they do—their craft—than to how they theorize it.

I get a rush when I pick up a gem from a colleague who has a skilled turn of phrase or way of structuring an intervention. For example, a colleague recently recounted a small intervention he’d made with a stuck case: he’d invited the client to begin sitting in a chair different from the one she’d used for years in the therapy room. The client’s energy in the session shifted noticeably, and my colleague capitalized on the new energy to move the work forward again. Talk about breaking the power of habituation!

These days, I’m having the most fun of my career trying to hone my craft in “discernment counseling,” a specialized way to work with mixed-agenda couples in which one partner is leaning out of the relationship and the other one wants to save it. What I enjoy the most is making adjustments in the protocol because a new wrinkle has shown itself.

Discernment counseling opens with a two-hour session that starts with the couple, then goes to each individual separately, and ends with each spouse sharing with the other the takeaways from their individual sessions. I’d always started out the individual spouse conversations by talking to the leaning-out spouse, assuming that this person is ambivalent both about the marriage and the counseling. I’d strive to build a connection and learn more about what’s driving this person out of the marriage, so that I could fold that into the individual conversation with the leaning-in partner, who presumably is already on board to work on the relationship. Sounds sensible, right?

Well, I began to notice cases in which the leaning-out spouses were quite clear about what it would take to fix the marriage and their role in the problems, while the leaning-in spouses were pretty clueless about the problems and not sure what working on the marriage would even entail. One leaning-in but clueless husband, for instance, didn’t realize that his temper and outbursts were a serious problem for his wife. In this case, I adjusted my thinking and met with him first to get a clear picture of what he understood, so I’d know how to proceed with his leaning-out wife. While I was talking with him alone, he had a revelation that led me to make another shift in my thinking: Why wait until the end of the session to ask him to summarize for his wife what he’d realized with me? Why not have him share the new realization with his wife right away? That way, I could fold her response into my individual time with her.

Rather than offering a commentary on my experience with discernment counseling, my point in relaying this story is to give an example of how I continue to hone my craft as a therapist. In this case, I saw where my approach was breaking down and experimented with a more successful alternative.

I find this kind of self-correction great fun, and I revel in sharing my experiences with colleagues so they can experiment with the change in protocol if it makes sense to them. Experienced therapists have had enough training to avoid serious undertows or completely capsizing the therapeutic conversation, but the more we strive to learn how other therapists practice the nuances of their craft, the more skillful we ourselves will be at navigating out of the bogs and marshes where our clinical relationships get stuck.

***

William Doherty, Ph.D., is a professor of family social science and the director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project at the University of Minnesota.

Photo © Morgan David De Lossy / Corbis



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10 Comments

Monday, December 21, 2020 11:35:29 AM | posted by Andre
Not much love in the comments so far, so I would like to add some. This article was very helpful and timely for me, helping me see my recent over-responsibility and tendency to lurch. It nicely makes clear my counter-transference about the progress of therapy, without developing my resistance. ;^) And searching my Evernotes, I see that I already studied this article two years ago. It proves the point that sometimes, like our clients, we are only ready to take in a certain amount at a time. Thanks Psychotherapy Networker, and Bill, for providing this lesson again. PS: You spoke of learning small tidbits from others. One tiny idea I will share, that came to me only with this reading, is perhaps using a scaling question (1-10) for the phase of the therapy, rather than speculations of “Are we in the winding-down phase, the middle phase, past the middle phase?” Those could inadvertently set up expectations or demand characteristics. What do you think?

Friday, February 28, 2020 6:24:32 PM | posted by Gottfried Brieger
I find it disappointing that the article does not address a key question in the client-therapist relationship. While medical patients are entitled to diagnoses and treatments as needed, the psychological patient apparently is not entitled to a diagnosis but will most likely be enlisted in a trial-and-error set of psychoactive pharmaceuticals. Never mind that many of these have serious side effects. Never mind that studies on the prolonged use of these drugs is rarely undertaken. Probably the most devastating practice is the ” professional secrecy” which shields the therapist from accountability. I have never seen a court case involving incompetence of a therapist. The patient does not live in isolation. His/her family and friends ned to know what is going on with the patient and what they can do to ameliorate the symptoms that the patient exhibits. When will we see accountability in this fraught (but well-compensated) field?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 10:44:50 AM | posted by margaret
Heartbreaking that in this entire article not once is the elephant in the room mentioned: these couple therapists are not utilizing a theoretical model for working with couples that works. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), pioneered by researcher Sue Johnson PhD has a 75-80% success rate with couples! Having a blueprint that works, having the stages of EFT to work with, having the EFT tango to guide me step by step, staying out of content, enjoying ongoing supervision and peer support for working with EFT and leaning in to process WORKS! If you are going to write as an expert on couples, please do your homework by going to www.iceeft.com to learn how EFT is dedicated to ongoing discovery and research, how it offers passionate teaching of the model, is constantly seeking ways for further advance effective psychotherapy with couples, and provides collaborative consultation to couple therapists in 45 countries and growing around the world. In summary, EFT gives us a theory, research findings, and a direction for successful outcomes. The research and results truly are remarkable. – Margaret Petersen MFT

Tuesday, August 6, 2019 12:02:19 AM | posted by Colonel Buck
Several years ago someone wrote in to Ann Landers inquiring about the chances of finding a competent therapist. She answered that it was about the same as finding a competent plumber, about 50/50. Incompetent therapists need to be hounded from the profession. Please report your experience on yelp dot com, and don’t be afraid to name names.

Friday, March 1, 2019 7:08:14 AM | posted by Anonymous
I have had my therapist of 3+ years recently try out a ‘lurching’ approach with me, and I have to say it has dramatically affected our therapeutic bond is a very negative way. I no longer trust him or feel comfortable sharing anything with him. Although we have discussed his error at length, and he has apologized, I cannot seem to move past this. After a lot of trying to figure out why, I am realizing that it is because that one action/comment on his part invalidated the 3 years of support and empathy he had shown. I guess it makes me doubt his sincerity or authenticity all along. I have decided to terminate therapy because I now see it is a completely fake process.

Thursday, October 11, 2018 9:57:48 PM | posted by Jose M Veiras
I don’t understand why they call it “Therapy” when is just a conversation without a plan. I get irritated when at the beginning of the conversation the therapist ask me How do you feel today? Or what’s in your mind today? I don’t want to feel better about my issues, I want to improve them.

Monday, August 27, 2018 2:25:26 PM | posted by Gayle
I really appreciate your posting here, as I am both a survivor (veteran MST and childhood trauma) and a former student of psychology (also one who worked in a clinical psychology lab as an RA who studied childhood trauma among foster kids). As adult survivors, we didn’t get the chance at treatment or even validation for the childhood or adulthood victimizations that have happened to us; no justice, lack of treatment close to the time of the trauma, etc. Maladaptive coping skills and maladaptive cognition tied to those maladaptive behaviors set in over long periods of time. Changing a survivor’s lifestyle is easier said than done for even the most seasoned therapists. As a survivor, I really appreciate those who can deal with or prevent their own secondary traumas from occurring when hearing survivors’ stories over and over again. I know I couldn’t do that, but I can do research, which empowers me. Much research on the subject of trauma has shown that externalizing behavioral problems, adjustment problems, and psychosocial problems are all related to post-traumatic stress (whether or not the survivor meets the diagnostic criteria of PTSD). The longer the time span between the traumatic event (most often, complex traumatic events and polyvictimizations across the lifespan by the time a client finds the courage to enter therapy as an adult), the harder it is for both the therapist and the client to find common ground in life-long and lasting life changes that will benefit the client. Most survivors are afraid of letting go of their maladaptive coping skills – but why? It’s the etiology of not only the trauma that keeps a person stuck, but also the etiology of why clients are afraid and/or unwilling to change their lifestyle in a more healthy, positive way. If the etiology of trauma is early childhood abuse, preverbal childhood body memories, emotional abuse, emotional neglect* (distinguished here from other forms of neglect), and separation trauma, and the etiology as well as history of maladaptive coping skills followed as a means to survive in an unsafe world that may re-harm them (which often gets reinforced by adulthood re-victimizations, the news, neighborhood violence, continued stigma on mental illness, and factors outside individual responsibility), efforts to suggest healthier ways of living might be visited by thoughts (cognition) such as, “I am a target unless I do these things to protect me or appear less of a target,” or “I will get hurt again, but I will do whatever I can to mask the pain if and when it happens,” or “I am afraid that if I do healthier things, I will feel anxiety, fear, and sadness more because it hurts to realize and grieve over all the losses in my life, and healthier coping skills reminds me of how hard my life is and how great it could have been had the trauma never occurred.” For me, these are issues that I was never able to address in treatment until recently. Sometimes getting at the etiologies of the reasons why clients are reluctant to change might unravel post-traumatic truths about their life, their self-worth, their losses, and their continued and ongoing traumas that persist in their lives (e.g., research has shown that neighborhood violence and poverty are not only connected with each other, but they are also forms of traumas that are often experienced by survivors of childhood trauma who wind up in poor neighborhoods with lack of resources to better qualities of life; they believe that this is as good as it is going to get, and that being healthy among some of the unhealthy persons who live in crime-infested neighborhoods could make them an easier target to be re-victimized, which victimology studies have also revealed to be statistically significant amongst the polyvictimized). Thus, not all of the thoughts of trauma survivors are irrational, and so treatment should include ways of understanding CULTURAL DIFFERENCES and SUBCULTURAL DIFFERENCES related to SES, race/ethnicity, regional cultural practices (e.g., crime-infested neighborhoods or neighborhoods with high levels of sexual predators). Understanding that the world is not always fair or just (i.e., the antithesis “just world” fallacy that most would like to blame the victim or individuals as primarily responsible for ongoing re-victimization or even treatment resistance), and understanding that there is some rational belief systems that are embedded within maladaptive coping, might help stir things along in treatment. To acknowledge this and then say that despite such rational reasons to remain in unhealthy situations or doing unhealthy things means that the client is not seeing his or her own self-worth, his or her own potential for self-actualization, etc. The remembering and mourning and grieving may have already passed, but depression is likely to ensue unless more humanistic and existential efforts are also addressed. If a person feels as though he or she is too old now to start a new and healthy life, or if healthier relationships are not possible with such a “damaged person” (e.g., negative self-talk), then, in conjunction with CBT or other coping skills, it is always good to mix in a bit of positive psychology, narrative therapy, sense-of-coherence, self-esteem building (not just assertiveness training, but also re-defining purpose and self-actualization). I understand that some therapists believe that positive psychology and self-esteem building might lead to increased narcissism, but this is not always the case. There is healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism that rarely gets addressed in clinical settings, and healthy narcissism goes a long way to building a person’s confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and mastery. Understanding how to meet a person where they are at in the stuck phase of treatment is important because post-traumatic sequelae is also traumatic. The trauma symptoms continue when trauma in other forms of non-victimization prevail; to the survivor, it feels like the same threat, and their self-worth and identity depreciate. For those who have a hard time with attachments (e.g., they appear forever attached to the therapist and cannot let go), they might feel the need to act out or so just to maintain the relationship; in such cases, they are afraid of healthier lifestyle changes because they are afraid of experiencing a “traumatic loss,” even though it would not be traumatic should they learn how to become independent and securely attached. I’ve known some survivors in groups admit this to us non-professionals, but they would never dare tell their therapist. That’s also what keeps some stuck. Other things that concern those who are more avoidant and less “needy,” are those who quit therapy prematurely or who don’t believe that life gets any better for themselves; they may fear getting close to “healthier” persons, or they may have healthy people in their lives and healthy attachments, but they make poor choices because they are afraid somehow that they’d be more of a target when healthier. There’s many different ways that survivors think in terms of lifestyle changes, and some of the post-trauma traumas might need to be addressed, also. It’s never a simple onion; there are layers within layers that must be remembered, mourned/grieved, processed, coped with, re-framed, and accepted before one can move on toward a healthier life. Hope this helps – from one trauma survivor and a former student of psychology (I admit I don’t know much, but I have the life experience of over 40 years to know what I’ve heard and seen among the survivor population). Kudos to you for posting this information and struggle!

Saturday, September 30, 2017 8:57:11 PM | posted by
I have been in an out of therapy for many years. I have been with my current therapist for five of those years. I see exactly where you are coming from and often have to ask myself these questions not the other way around. I have explained myself at least 3 times with her on these issues. She says I Don’t know? I have told her 2x now it is time for me to discontinue therapy Because I am doing better and can do Ok without her and we are only chit chatting now. It’s time to STOP therapy! Thank you for all your help. You have done well. Now I must fire you. Amen!

Thursday, September 21, 2017 11:01:59 AM | posted by Sally
From a patient’s point of view: Do therapists actually feel a sense of responsibility for directing their “non-suicidal/non-divorce” patients toward an end goal? Patients are paying you for a service. Period. You are either competent to provide that service or not. If a patient is able to be vulnerable and open with you – it’s your JOB to direct that toward a productive end goal and not just take their money and give nothing in return. The truth is – most therapists are just good/decent listeners that provide an outside perspective and follow up with some cliche but true run of the mill advice somebody can get from a self-help book. I think you have an obligation to let those patients know that they don’t need therapy and should spend more time with trusted friends.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017 12:57:00 PM | posted by
Great article…it has helped a lot to understand the problems I face as a therapist

Live help

How to Reparent Yourself

https://www.livewellwithsharonmartin.com/reparent-yourself/

Growing up in a neglectful or dysfunctional family usually leaves social-emotional deficits that follow us into adulthood. Learning to reparent yourself can help you heal and become the emotionally healthy adult you hope to be.

How to Reparent Yourself

Are you self-critical and overly harsh with yourself?

Or are you too permissive with yourself – not setting limits and allowing yourself to do things that are unhealthy or unsafe?

Do you ignore your feelings, have trouble expressing your needs or regulating your emotions?

Is it hard to treat yourself with love and compassion?

If so, learning how to reparent yourself can help.

What is reparenting?

Reparenting is giving your adult self what you didn’t get from your parents in childhood.

Children depend on their parents for a whole lot more than just their basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter). For example, we need our parents to teach us how to set limits for ourselves, how to identify, express, and manage our emotions, how to soothe ourselves, and how to treat ourselves with compassion. And if we didn’t get age-appropriate discipline, unconditional love, models for healthy relationships, or the skills to understand and manage our emotions and behaviors, we’re likely to struggle with these issues in adulthood.

Adults often think they should just innately have these social-emotional skills – but these are learned behaviors. In order to learn them, we need compassionate caretakers, role models, and safe opportunities to practice these life skills (ideally, before we’re out in the world on our own).

Sometimes parents can’t give us what we need emotionally. They can’t teach us about healthy relationships, good boundaries, self-compassion, and trusting our feelings – often because they don’t know how; no one taught them either. This is often the case in families experiencing Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), parental addiction, abuse, or other forms of dysfunction.

It’s not too late to learn these skills and give yourself what your parents couldn’t. You can reparent yourself and fill in the gaps between what you needed and what your parents could give.

Learn to reparent yourself

We can start reparenting ourselves by identifying what we need. What didn’t you learn in childhood? Which of your emotional needs weren’t met? Sometimes the answers to these questions are obvious and sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. Also, it’s common to uncover additional deficits as you begin to reparent yourself and learn more about emotional health and relationships.

Below are some of the social-emotional skills/needs that are often neglected in childhood:

  • Communication skills: The ability to express yourself clearly and effectively. The ability to resolve conflicts. Being assertive rather than passive or aggressive.
  • Self-care: The ability to identify your needs and meet them. Feeling deserving of care and comfort and the belief that your needs matter.
  • Awareness and acceptance of your feelings: Being able to identify a wide range of feelings and to see the value in your feelings.
  • Emotional regulation and self-soothing: The ability to manage your emotions – to calm and comfort yourself when you’re distressed, to respond rather than overreact or underreact to emotional situations, to tolerate unpleasant emotions, and use healthy coping skills.
  • Self-validation: Affirming your feelings and choices; reassuring yourself that your feelings matter, that you matter, and that you’ve done your best.
  • Boundaries and healthy relationships: Seeking and creating relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Voicing your expectations and needs. Caring for others and letting others care for you. Being emotionally and physically vulnerable/intimate with safe people. Recognizing unhealthy relationships and ending them. Enjoying time alone and not needing someone else to make you happy or whole.
  • Self-discipline or setting limits for yourself: Limiting unhealthy activities and creating healthy habits (such as going to bed on time, limiting how much you drink or play video games).
  • Accountability: You take responsibility for your actions. You apologize and/or make amends when you’ve harmed another. You learn from your mistakes. You encourage yourself to follow through on your commitments and goals. And you do all of this with compassion and understanding for yourself, not harsh criticism or self-punishment.
  • Self-compassion and self-love: Treating yourself with loving-kindness – especially when you’re having a hard time or made a mistake. Doing nice things for yourself. Saying kind, supportive, and uplifting things to yourself. Noticing your good qualities, progress, effort, and accomplishments and feeling proud of yourself. Generally, liking who you are and knowing you have value.
  • Resiliency: The ability to overcome setbacks, to persist, and to believe in yourself.
  • Frustration tolerance: The ability to accept that you don’t always get what you want and things don’t always go your way; being able to handle such experiences with grace and maturity (not throw a tantrum like a toddler).

How do you actually reparent yourself and learn these skills?

Learn as much as you can about the areas you want to improve. There are millions of free self-help articles available online and plenty of books on these subjects in the library or for purchase.

Look for role models and teachers. You can also learn a lot by observing others. Identify some people in your life who have healthy boundaries and manage their emotions well, for example. Make note of what they say and do. If you’re close to them, you can ask them for tips on how they set boundaries or soothe themselves.

Try a 12-step group. Working a 12-step program like Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Adult Children, or Alcoholics Anonymous can lead to tremendous growth and insights into your feelings and choices.

See a therapist. Therapists are experts in social-emotional skills. They can help you trouble-shoot and see your blind spots. They provide a safe place to practice new skills. And when your therapist treats you with compassion and respect, and models acceptance, validation, and emotional regulation, it’s both a corrective experience and an example of how you can treat yourself.

Practice A LOT. Parenting yourself isn’t easy!

Don’t expect perfection. Nobody manages their behavior, thoughts, and relationships perfectly.

And a few more specific suggestions:

  • Write in a journal.
  • Use a feelings chart to help identify your feelings.
  • Pay attention to your self-talk. Make a point of saying nice things to yourself.
  • Add more self-care to your routine.
  • Give yourself a hug or a pat on the back regularly.

Most importantly, remember that you can act as a loving parent to yourself and give yourself what you didn’t get in childhood. You can guide yourself towards a more loving relationship with yourself, develop better emotional and social skills, create healthier habits, and encourage yourself through life’s ups and downs.

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©2019 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. photo courtesy of Canva.com

Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves — imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.

One thought on “How to Reparent Yourself”

  1. Your library of resources is amazing and extremely practical. I commend you for being a voice in the darkness. Those of us who spent most of their lives trying to do better, or do more- to the point of exhaustion, we need to know we’re not crazy. We need to know there are words for what happened in our lives and that it’s really not all our fault.
    God bless you and thank you for your wisdom and insight!
    Ann Birdwell

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Self-Compassion

With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.

How to Change Your Attachment Style and Your Relationships

Summary

  • Attachment is the bond that forms between an infant and caregiver, and it affects a person’s ability to form stable relationships with others.
  • Some people are comfortable depending on others and are secure in relationships, while others are anxious about their relationships or avoid closeness.
  • It’s normal to become dependant on a partner to a healthy degree, but anxious and avoidant attachment styles in relationships can look like codependency.
  • It’s possible to change your attachment style with the help of therapy and relationships with others with secure attachment.
Chris Fraley, used with permission
Source: Chris Fraley, used with permission

We’re wired for attachment – it’s why babies cry when separated from their mothers. Depending especially upon our mother’s behavior, as well as later experiences and other factors, we develop a style of attaching that affects our behavior in close relationships.

Fortunately, most people have a secure attachment because it favors survival. It ensures that we’re safe and can help each other in a dangerous environment. The anxiety we feel when we don’t know the whereabouts of our child or a missing loved one during a disaster, as in the movie The Impossible, isn’t codependent. It’s normal. Frantic calls and searching are considered “protest behavior,” like a baby fretting for its mother.

Attachment Styles

We seek or avoid intimacy along a continuum, but one of the following three styles is generally predominant whether we’re dating or in a long term marriage:

  • Secure – 50 percent of the population
  • Anxious – 20 percent of the population
  • Avoidant – 25 percent of the population
  • Combinations such as Secure-Anxious or Anxious-Avoidant are 3 to 5 percent of the population.

Among singles, statistically, there are more avoiders since people with a secure attachment are more likely to be in a relationship. Unlike avoiders, they’re not searching for an ideal, so when a relationship ends, they aren’t single too long. This increases the probability that daters who anxiously attach will date avoiders, reinforcing their negative spin on relationship outcomes.

Secure Attachment

Warmth and loving come naturally, and you’re able to be intimate without worrying about the relationship or little misunderstandings. You accept your partner’s minor shortcomings and treat him or her with love and respect. You don’t play games or manipulate, but are direct and able to openly and assertively share your wins and losses, needs, and feelings. You’re also responsive to those of your partner and try to meet your partner’s needs. Because you have good self-esteem, you don’t take things personally and aren’t reactive to criticism. Thus, you don’t become defensive in conflicts. Instead, you de-escalate them by problem-solving, forgiving, and apologizing.

Anxious Attachment

You want to be close and are able to be intimate. To maintain a positive connection, you give up your needs to please and accommodate your partner. But because you don’t get your needs met, you become unhappy. You’re preoccupied with the relationship and highly attuned to your partner, worrying that he or she wants less closeness. You often take things personally with a negative twist and project negative outcomes. This could be explained by brain differences that have been detected among people with anxious attachments.

To alleviate your anxiety, you may play games or manipulate your partner to get attention and reassurance by withdrawing, acting out emotionally, not returning calls, provoking jealousy, or threatening to leave. You may also become jealous of his or her attention to others and call or text frequently, even when asked not to.

Avoidant Attachment

There are two sub-types: Dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. If you’re the former, you’re easily able to cut off difficult emotions. Narcissists fall into this category and those who repress their feelings. If you’re conscious of wanting closeness but distrust or are fearful of it, you have a fearful-avoidant style.

If you avoid closeness, your independence and self-sufficiency are more important to you than intimacy. You can enjoy closeness—to a limit. In relationships, you act self-sufficient and self-reliant and aren’t comfortable sharing feelings. (For example, in one study of partners saying goodbye in an airport, avoiders didn’t display much contact, anxiety, or sadness in contrast to others.) You protect your freedom and delay commitment. Once committed, you create mental distance with ongoing dissatisfaction about your relationship, focusing on your partner’s minor flaws or reminiscing about your single days or another idealized relationship.

Just as the anxiously attached person is hypervigilant for signs of distance, you’re hypervigilant about your partner’s attempts to control you or limit your autonomy and freedom in any way. You engage in distancing behaviors, such as flirting, making unilateral decisions, ignoring your partner, or dismissing his or her feelings and needs. Your partner may complain that you don’t seem to need him or her or that you’re not open enough, because you keep secrets or don’t share feelings. In fact, he or she often appears needy to you, but this makes you feel strong and self-sufficient by comparison. You don’t worry about a relationship ending. But if the relationship is threatened, you pretend to yourself that you don’t have attachment needs and bury your feelings of distress. It’s not that the needs don’t exist, they’re repressed. Alternatively, you may become anxious because the possibility of closeness no longer threatens you.

Relationships

Even people who feel independent when on their own are often surprised that they become dependent once they’re romantically involved. This is because intimate relationships unconsciously stimulate your attachment style and either trust or fear from your past experiences. It’s normal to become dependent on your partner to a healthy degree. When your needs are met, you feel secure.

You can assess your partner’s style by their behavior and by their reaction to a direct request for more closeness. Does he or she try to meet your needs or become defensive and uncomfortable or accommodate you once and then return to distancing behavior? Someone who is secure won’t play games, communicates well, and can compromise. A person with an anxious attachment style would welcome more closeness, but still need assurance and worry about the relationship.

Anxious and avoidant attachment styles look like codependency in relationships. They characterize the feelings and behavior of pursuers and distancers described in “Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners” and Conquering Shame and Codependency. Each one is unconscious of their needs, which are expressed by the other. This is one reason for their mutual attraction. Pursuers with an anxious style are usually disinterested in someone available with a secure style. They usually attract someone who is avoidant. The anxiety of an insecure attachment is enlivening and familiar though it’s uncomfortable and makes them more anxious. It validates their abandonment fears about relationships and beliefs about not being enough, lovable, or securely loved.

Anxious types tend to bond quickly and don’t take time to assess whether their partner can or wants to meet their needs. They tend to see things they share in common with each new, idealized partner and overlook potential problems. In trying to make the relationship work, they suppress their needs, sending the wrong signals to their partner in the long run. All of this behavior makes attaching to an avoider more probable. When he or she withdraws, their anxiety is aroused, pursuers confuse their longing and anxiety for love rather than realizing it’s their partner’s unavailability that is the problem, not themselves or anything they did or could do in the future to change that. They hang in and try harder, instead of facing the truth and cutting their losses.

Distancers need someone pursuing them to sustain the emotional needs that they largely disown and which wouldn’t be met by another avoider. Unlike those securely attached, pursuers and distancers aren’t skilled at resolving disagreements. They tend to become defensive and attack or withdraw, escalating conflict. Without the chase, conflict, or compulsive behavior, both pursuers and distancers begin to feel depressed and empty due to their painful early attachments.

Changing Styles

Although most people don’t change their attachment style, you can alter yours to be more or less secure depending upon experiences and conscious effort. To change your style to be more secure, seek therapy as well as relationships with others who are capable of a secure attachment. If you have an anxious attachment style, you will feel more stable in a committed relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style. This helps you become more secure. Changing your attachment style and healing from codependency go hand-in-hand. Both require the following:

  1. Heal your shame and raise your self-esteem. This enables you to not take things personally.
  2. Learn to be assertive.
  3. Learn to identify, honor, and assertively express your emotional needs.
  4. Risk being authentic and direct. Don’t play games or try to manipulate your partner’s interest.
  5. Practice acceptance of yourself and others to become less faultfinding – a tall order for codependents and distancers.
  6. Stop reacting. This can be a challenge because our nervous system is used to reacting automatically. It often entails being able to identify your triggers, unhook what causes them.
  7. Learn to self-soothe – all which is hard to do on your own. Listen to a YouTube exercise and read tips on self-nurturing.
  8. Learn to resolve conflict and compromise from a “we” perspective.

Pursuers need to become more responsible for themselves and distancers more responsible to their partners. Anxious types must learn to go slow in dating. Distancers need to uncover their vulnerability, honor their need for love, set boundaries verbally, and learn to receive. The result is a more secure interdependent relationship, rather than a codependent relationship or solitude with a false sense of self-sufficiency.

Particularly after leaving an unhappy codependent relationship, both types fear that being dependent on someone will make them more dependent. That may be true in codependent relationships when there isn’t a secure attachment. However, in a secure relationship, healthy dependency allows you to be more interdependent. You have a safe and secure base from which to explore the world. This is also what gives toddlers the courage to individuate, express their true self, and become more autonomous.

Similarly, people in therapy often fear becoming dependent upon their therapist and leave when they begin to feel a little better. When dependency fears arise, they should be addressed. They’re the same fears that keep us from having secure attachments in relationships and propels us to seek someone avoidant. In fact, good therapy provides a secure attachment to allow people to grow and become more autonomous, not less. Herein lays the paradox: The more autonomous we are, the more we’re capable of intimacy. Also, we can be more independent when we’re dependent on someone else – provided it’s a secure attachment. This is another reason why it’s hard to change on your own without therapy or in an insecure relationship without outside support.

Suggested Reading

  • The many books by John Bowlby
  • Mikulincer and Shaver, Attachment Adulthood Structure, Dynamics, and Change (2007)
  • Levine and Heller, Attached (2010)

© Darlene Lancer 2014

Differentiation of Self Scale

#1 Differentiation of Self Scale

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The theory is based on observations of how the family operates as a system over many generations in the natural world. The two most primary forces which each person must contend with are the force to be an individual, and the force to go along with others and be a part of the social group. The balance of these two forces in any individual differs over a life time.

The concept of differentiation implies the maturity in humans has a correlation with a biological process in cells. There is greater differentiation as a cell matures. The act of differentiation implies that one is moving in a direction to be a more autonomous self while still being a part of the social group.

Bowen developed a scale of emotional maturity so that we might clarify the variables and the process that lead to emotional maturity and its opposite emotional regression. The scale was designed as a map reflecting conditions. This scale was not designed as a diagnostic tool but that does not keep people from thinking it is a tool.

If it’s a tool it simply takes us beyond diagnostic labeling and beyond categories like normal, or diseased or even pathology. The scale enables us to see the process of functioning. It shows us that one’s functioning in a group is influenced to greater or lesser degrees by the anxiety we absorb and the level of maturity in the surrounding social group. Our functioning is more fluid than standard diagnosis leads us to believe.

This scale also highlights the interplay of two important variables, feeling and thinking. Yes, people at the lower end of the scale have more anxiety and less interpersonal skills to deal with the anxiety and therefore relay more on anxiety binders like drugs or anger to manage self.

Primarily the scale notes that those who are motivated can always make an effort to become a more mature self. Secondly, by noting the two sides of autonomy, the ability to be more for self and the ability to be for others, it highlights the way emotional fusion is handled in relationships.

When people are more feeling focused they may let go of principles and try to stabilize his or her life by agreeing or becoming more like others. This mechanism, fusion, does not usually lead to the development of a more mature self but could buy one a bit of time to think about what is it that I believe or stand for.

If one can use thinking to understand the meaning and consequences of their feeling system they are in the middle of the scale. If one can reliably use thinking to mange automatic emotional reactivity their life course will run smoother. If one is caught reacting to others and over relies on feeling to figure out how to be more comfortable, they will eventually arrive at the lower end of the scale.

At the lower end of the scale it is extremely difficult to where one person begins and ends in relationship to others. Using the understanding of how one person fuses or blends in with another is a construct that for the first time clarifies how one person becomes and or is influenced emotionally to be a part of another person. It can be as simple as finishing a loved one’s sentence or as cruel as force feeding or beating people because of how you feel. The confusion is between who one is and who another is. A funny movie that demonstrates fusion is a Woody Allen’s 1983 Zelig movie. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086637/

The concept of fusion allows us to see how important it is to have knowledge of one’s feelings and thinking. If one is not sure of self then the boundary between people can easily blur and will plays out in vast confusion in the important relationships. To move towards the upper part of the scale one has to know what it is I stand for and what it is I will do and further they have to be able to handle well their disagreements with others.

Some level of differentiation exits in all of us: the saint, the sinner and the schizophrenic. Differentiation is a “genetic like emotional and cognitive potential” that responds to changing conditions. It is the building ground for the emergence of the growing self. The goal is that a mature adult become a more separate self while being in good contact with important people in the family system.

The basic self is developed before the child leaves home. The central skill is the capacity to separate a functional self in important relationships. When this is done dependency and vulnerability to stress is reduced. The basic self has principles to use when life is hard and therefore can cope during adverse conditions. A more mature person is more flexible and resilient. These people have been able to integrate feelings, even difficult ones, with their thinking system and are therefore less reactive and more knowledgeable about their emotional vulnerabilities.

Even children develop beliefs about what is important and how to respond to demands from others. Feelings are emotionally rooted in our more primitive guidance system. They are subject to conscious awareness and therefore can help us to make quick decisions and express our capacity for feelings like love, joy and sadness.

There is no agreement as to the origin of moods or feeling states but most psychotherapy is directed to understanding this process. Some children have the capacity to watch moods and to self regulate, while others do not. Feelings and or moods often seem to have a life of their own. It is easy to see how some individuals continue to feel overwhelmed by feelings about their circumstances.

Thinking enables people to get a better handle on the influence of these states. However if thinking and feeling are not well integrated thinking can become a tool for obsessive feelings. This ability to understand both feelings and thinking is enhanced by neutrality. Emotional neutrality or the ability to accept what is, makes it possible for us to be aware without distortions.

It is the growth in the ability to manage one’s own internal world and accurately read the external world that enables one to adjust to changes in important relationships.

If one is well integrate then one can have more open relationships with others. There is less fear generated in listening and talking to important others.

The basic self is counterbalanced by the more socially aware or functional part of self. Dr. Bowen use to refer to the “pseudo self”. This is the part of self that is sensitive to needing love and approval, and the part that will push for giving in to others when the pressure from others to change goes up. The part of self that is people pleasing automatically responds to signals from important people. The more feeling oriented one is the more easily influenced by relationships and the need for love and approval. These people often adapt too much to demands and lose life energy.

Adapting to changing signals in the relationship field is automatic and may cause little trouble for most people. However when stress occurs it may be difficult for people to step out of familiar patterns and to think more for self.

The way that the relationship system is wired enables people to give and take emotional energy from one another. The lending and borrowing of one’s self, can easily lead to un-differentiation or fusion.

Relationship patterns in the past generations can give one a sense of how much lending and borrowing of self has gone on.

There are many methods available enabling one to regulate the use of emotional energy in the moment. Differentiation always leads one back to the management of self in important relationships. This is how one builds an emotional backbone for becoming a more autonomous and joyful self.

0 to 25– People in this range of intense fusion live with the greatest amount of life problems. They are vulnerable to symptoms. This vulnerability can be a function of genes plus emotional process. Major symptoms occur and people are dominated by fear reactions. Individuality is sacrificed so that the symptomatic one can easily adapt to or rebel from the larger system. There is no energy for life goals as people are focused on obtaining comfort or getting away from others. Even negative relationships can provide familiar patterns representing a distorted form of love.

The loss of a separate self in relationships to others (fusion) is an automatic multi-generational process. Many people in this range bear symptoms, which seem to enable others in the family unit to be freer of anxiety. A few in the family are freer as the anxiety is bound up in one or two people. This shifting of anxiety within a social system is a natural process. Some in the family are freer of anxiety while others automatically absorb the anxiety or negative focus.

25 to 50– People in this range people are still guided more by what feels right and are very sensitive to disharmony. Their lives can be more functional except in times of stress. In the upper segment there is an awareness of principles and that feelings and moods should not dictate a life course. However it is a struggle to stay on course when important others are mad or upset. More energy goes into relationships than into self-directed goals. These people can be “Peak Performers” if the relationship system is in agreement with the goals.

50 to 60– in this range people still have a challenge to say what they think and feel to important others but they are often willing to try. These people can adjust to changes in relationships without threatening others. In addition they can derive satisfaction from both goals and relationships with others. These people know the importance of having open relationships with both the nuclear and extended families. They are more neutral about others and about their own thinking feeling processes. The relaxed and open stance to others enables them to become more “Peak Performers” despite being different from the norm in the important relationship system.

60 to 100– people in this range can be defined as the most mature and autonomous whose families are also mature. Here we can leave room for future evolution and the lives of Saints and Prophets. Please let your imagination fill in the blanks.

Learn about Bowen Theory

https://www.thebowencenter.org/core-concepts-diagrams

Dr. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, originated his theory and its eight interlocking concepts. He formulated the theory by using systems thinking to integrate knowledge of the human as a product of evolution with knowledge from family research. A core assumption is that an emotional system that evolved over several billion years governs human relationship systems. People have a “thinking brain,” language, a complex psychology and culture, but they still do all the ordinary things that other forms of life do. The emotional system affects most human activity and is the principal driving force in the development of clinical problems. Knowledge of how the emotional system operates in one’s family, work, and social systems offers new, more effective options for solving problems in each of these areas.

On this page are resources to help you learn more about Bowen theory. In The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory, Michael E. Kerr, Director Emeritus of the Bowen Center, uses the experiences of a fictional family to illustrate and explain each concept. The contents of these pages are also available for sale as hard-copy or PDF publications, under the title One Family’s Story, For translations in other languages, please go to the Publications page.

In video, the Bowen Center offers access to recordings of Murray Bowen. The Basic Series features one hour lectures by Dr. Bowen. In The Bowen Kerr Interview Series, Dr. Kerr interviews Dr. Bowen on theory related questions.

The family diagram is an important tool in the application of Bowen theory. It was developed by Murray Bowen to create a visual depiction of the experience of multiple generations in a family. Read more about it below.

Questions: Contact us at info@thebowencenter.org

The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory

Bowen Theory Videos

Below are introductory videos describing the basic theoretical concepts of Bowen theory. These materials have recently been made available for free to make it easier for both new and old students to develop a basic conceptual foundation for what it means to see the family as an emotional unit.

Family Diagram

training-jurkowski.jpg

Murray Bowen, MD, developed and used family diagrams in his own research, in clinical practice, and in training other professionals. A family diagram is a graphic depiction of facts of functioning over several generations.  It is a tool for seeing the family as an emotional system, for recognizing patterns of reactivity that govern the lives of family members, and for observing the family as it adapts to circumstances of life.

Learn More

The Bowen Center offers a wide variety of training and conferences in Bowen theory.

5 Things Your Therapist Wants You to Know | Psychology Today

Source: 5 Things Your Therapist Wants You to Know | Psychology Today

 

An open letter about what we can’t always tell you.

Posted Feb 01, 2021

Photo by Leilani Angel on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Leilani Angel on Unsplash

Dear fellow human,

Thank you for reading this letter. I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive responses of people who want to know more about their therapists and the process of therapy.

Therapy is so often shrouded in mystery. Your therapist should be open with you about the process of therapy, what to expect, and give you the opportunity to ask questions. But because time in therapy is focused on you (the client), there might be some background assumptions you aren’t aware of. As therapists, there are things we want you to know, but sometimes can’t (or don’t have time to) directly say.

Here are five things your therapist wants you to know, but might not always be able to say directly.

1. We are also human.

Most people put therapists on a pedestal — almost like we are these superhuman, spiritual guides who never make mistakes and have perfect lives. Which is totally wrong.

If you’ve done this, don’t worry. It’s normal and perfectly natural to do with your therapist. Your therapist seems to have all the answers in therapy, so why wouldn’t they have all the answers in life?

It’s true that we are well-trained. As a therapist, I have interpersonal skills, insights into the human condition, skills to manage distress, and knowledge about how humans generally work. And yet nobody is perfect, and that includes your therapist. Sometimes we have a hard time taking our own advice. Sometimes we say the wrong thing. Sometimes we get ourselves into crummy situations and need to claw our way out — just like you.

We are human too. And it’s because of that human connection that we can help.

2. We rely on you.

Therapists try to make the therapy room an egalitarian space — a level playing field. And while there are times when the therapist is directing and making recommendations, we really rely on you.

We are the experts in our respective fields, but you are the expert on you. We rely on you to set goals, to be honest with us, and to tell us your experience. And we rely on you to show up and do the work. This doesn’t always mean changing, but it means coming to therapy with an open mindset willing to engage with your therapist and try new things — even when it’s terrifying.

We can’t change your life for you. We can’t make you accept yourself. We can’t single-handedly change your thoughts and feelings. We can guide you towards how to do those things, but the actual doing — that’s all you.

We rely on you as much as you rely on us.

3. Sometimes we try to do too much.

It’s not a secret that therapists get into the profession because we care. And we care a lot. We like to help others, and we want to help relieve suffering. And yet sometimes we try too hard to “fix” things.

Sometimes the situation can’t be fixed. Sometimes the suffering cannot be relieved. Sometimes you just need to sit in the pain and know someone is there for you.

Other times we try too hard to have the perfect answer or tell our clients what to do. In motivational interviewing, this is called the “righting” reflex. The righting reflex refers to a therapist’s tendency to tell clients what they should do to change. Unfortunately, this often increases resistance to the therapist’s suggestion and doesn’t capitalize on the client’s own self-wisdom and internal motivation.

Change comes from within you. Most of our job is to help you capitalize on your inner wisdom and skills to help you get to where you want to be.

4. We understand your suffering.

We all have personal experiences with suffering — we are all human, and suffering is part of the human condition. Although we may or may not disclose our own experiences, therapists get into this profession for a reason.

We know your suffering. We’ve experienced it too. We can never know your exact experience, but we want you to know that we see you. We see your suffering, and we care about your suffering. And we will sit with you in your time of need.

5. We genuinely care about you.

It’s not necessarily hard to believe that your therapist is a caring, compassionate person. But it’s easier to believe that your therapist generally likes people, but not recognize that your therapist genuinely cares about you. We want you to internalize that we genuinely care about you.

It is true that your therapist has lots of clients, and cares about a lot of people. And yet, we are like teachers — we remember all of you. We are able to pick out what makes you unique and connect with you in a meaningful way. We continue to think about you, even after our work has ended. I often find myself thinking out of the blue, “I wonder how that person is doing?”

We may not remember the specifics of what we talked about in each session, but we remember what we appreciated about each person we see. And we remember the overarching care we have for you — and wish you the best in your life.

And finally, as therapists, sometimes there are things we want our clients to know that we can’t directly say. Or we take for granted that our clients already know these things. But that’s not necessarily true or helpful.

It’s important to understand that your therapist is a human being who cares for you and wants you to succeed, in whatever form that takes. Your therapist understands your suffering in a unique way that only another human can. And therapy is better for it.

Most of us find it an incredible privilege to work alongside fellow humans. Thank you for opening yourselves up to us, and for allowing us to hold space for you to grow.

Warmly,
Your therapist

What Is the Goal of Psychotherapy? | Psychology Today

Source: What Is the Goal of Psychotherapy? | Psychology Today

Is therapy’s goal subjective happiness, objective well-being, or meaningfulness?

Posted Feb 09, 2021

Is there a general, final goal that psychotherapy should aim for? In a paper that raises this question, Thaddeus Metz considers three possible replies.

The first reply is that the goal of psychotherapy is subjective happiness. According to this view, psychotherapy’s goal is to make people feel subjectively well, without taking objective factors into account. Supporters of this view hold that the therapist’s end should be, for example, to diminish clients’ suffering, enhance clients’ sensations of happiness, increase their feelings of powerfulness, augment their tendency to judge their lives positively, or strengthen clients’ self-confidence, self-acceptance, and optimism.

Metz points at various authorities on psychotherapy, such as Winnicott and Jung, whose writings suggest that this is indeed their view of the proper goal of psychotherapy. This view also suits the fact that many people enter therapy because they are subjectively unhappy about various aspects of their lives. This view of psychotherapy also coheres well with the convention that therapists should respect their clients’ values.

However, Metz suggests that this view is problematic. Think, for example, of a heroin addict who has all the supply he could want, is happy about his addiction and doesn’t want to do anything else with his life. If the addict continues and even deepens his addiction through therapy it seems that the therapist may well be justified in feeling that the therapy wasn’t successful and didn’t achieve its goal.

The same would be true of narcissists who are pleased with their successful manipulations of others, of histrionics who manage to find others who give them the attention they want, or psychopaths who are content with their behaviors. The first reply seems problematic since it is plausible to hold that some therapies did not end successfully even if clients are, according to their own values, very pleased, and find or create the environment that cooperates with them.

Perhaps, then, we should opt for another reply: the proper aim of therapy is to enhance clients’ objective well-being, that is, to let clients have objectively good lives—lives that are good for clients not only because the clients see them as such. Again, Metz presents various authorities in the field, such as Erich Fromm and Abraham Maslow, who seem to have supported such a view on the final goal of psychotherapy. This reply has the advantage of not being vulnerable to the counterexamples above.

However, even if we bracket questions on how to identify objectively right values, Metz argues that the second reply, too, is vulnerable to some counterexamples. Consider a parent who decides to remain a few more years in an unhappy marriage because he or she knows that, in those particular circumstances, a divorce would be very harmful for the child. Metz holds that, in such a case, the therapy’s goal could well be to help the parent in carrying through this decision although it will not enhance but rather diminish the parent’s objective well-being.

Another example has to do with fighting for a just cause (e.g., joining the French resistance against the Nazis in World War II) although, through wounds, torture or death, this may well undermine the client’s objective well-being. Thus, supporting clients’ decisions to live in ways that may well diminish their objective well-being can sometimes be the goal of successful therapy. But this conflicts with the second reply to the question on the goal of psychotherapy.

The third reply that Metz examines is that the goal of psychotherapy is to enhance meaning in life. Metz explains meaning in life as having much to do with what it is appropriate to admire in the lives of others and oneself, what merits esteem, reverence and awe, or what one may justly take pride in.

Metz is generally supportive of this third view, which isn’t vulnerable to any of the counterexamples that undermined the previous two. A psychotherapist who holds the third view will not support the heroin addict’s decision to deepen his condition or the narcissist‘s efforts to manipulate unconfident others. But such a therapist will support the decision to remain some more years in the unfulfilling marriage and join the fight against the Nazis.

Metz seems to favor the third reply, and does not suggest any counterexamples to it. But perhaps some counterexamples could be found. Consider the painter Van Gogh or the poet Emily Dickinson. Their lives are considered meaningful thanks to their impressive artistic work. But this work, it seems, had much to do with their troubled lives. Van Gogh was distressed for significant parts of his life and suffered from delusions, psychotic episodes, and emotional breakdowns until he committed suicide at the age of 37. Dickinson was reluctant to meet people and, later, to even leave her bedroom. Many of her poems are about illness, dying, death, and unrealized love.

Suppose that therapy that would have helped these two artists to have subjectively happy or objectively good lives would have also led them not to create their art, that is, to have regular subjectively happy lives of objective well-being that are less or not meaningful. It intuitively seems to me that a psychotherapist would have done well to help Van Gogh and Dickinson to progress in this direction. However, this conflicts with the third reply.

Although Metz seems to favor the third reply, he is clear that the considerations he has presented are yet insufficient to substantiate the view that therapy has one single goal, and that that goal is to enhance life’s meaning. He hopes his arguments will facilitate further work on the topic. Moreover, he is open to the option of a pluralistic view that would take the general goal of psychotherapy to be a balanced combination of subjective happiness, objective well-being, and meaning in life. In some circumstances, one of these goals may need to be emphasized more than the others, and there may be some trade-offs between the three. More work on the proper end of psychotherapy, which also takes into account the hitherto relatively neglected option of meaning in life, is called for.

 

FREE – BounceBack Ontario – Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario

this is a great program that I mentioned to people if they have to wait a long time for getting into see me.  It is FREE and it is a new program by the Ontario government.  Click the link and look at it, please, :-).

Rory

Source: BounceBack Ontario – Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario

Research Suggests That Synchronicities Can Aid Psychotherapy | Psychology Today

Source: Research Suggests That Synchronicities Can Aid Psychotherapy | Psychology Today

Therapist confidence about using synchronicity correlates with outcome.

Carl Jung described the paradigmatic synchronicity during psychotherapy. Since then Jungians and others have recorded single cases. Recently investigators have carried out systematic research in the use of synchronicity during psychotherapy. Here’s hoping increasingly more researchers will study the ways in which synchronicity can become a useful psychotherapeutic technique as has Dr. Reefschläger in this report. (BDB)

Introduction

permission of Gunnar Immo ReefschlägerGunnar Immo Reefschläger
Source: permission of Gunnar Immo Reefschläger

My name is Gunnar Immo Reefschläger, and I am a researcher from Frankfurt, Germany. I focus on modern concept research in the field of Analytical Psychology. Moreover, I am a clinical psychologist, a psychodynamic-oriented personal coach, and currently, a psychotherapeutically and psychoanalytical candidate at the Institute of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in Andernach, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Having finished and released my dissertation in German in 2018, Dr. Bernard Beitman kindly encouraged me to publish my findings for an English speaking readership.

In the following, I would like to give you a short and concise introduction to some of my general findings. After giving you an example of a typical participant’s report of synchronicity that happened in the context of psychotherapy, I will explain how I came across Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, and how I conducted my study. Feel free to contact me through the links below if you have any thoughts.

A case of synchronicity in psychotherapy

First, I would like to give you a typical example of synchronicity that can happen in the context of psychotherapy. The following excerpt is from a case that can be found in my doctoral dissertation(1):

”A 16-year-old patient who is suffering from anxiety goes on a final school trip to Berlin. It is her first trip away from home; she feels fearful and excited at the same time. However, her feelings transform into being overwhelmed. She tries to contact me spontaneously by mobile phone. I almost never switch on my mobile phone, but exactly at this moment it is on and I can give comfort to my patient. As a consequence of this moment, our therapeutic relationship deepened as I saw her in our next session.”

We need more modern concept research: The way to my study

I became fascinated by stories like these when a friend gave me a copy of Hopcke’s book There Are No Accidents (2) where I read the term synchronicity for the first time. During my studies of psychology at school, I noticed to my surprise that there was very little research about the concept of synchronicity because it was labeled as “psychological non-sense“ by my behavioristic-focused psychology department. In general, Analytical Psychology and its Freudian cousin Psychoanalysis were discarded as non-scientific. However, I had the feeling that it was an important and crucial concept of psychotherapy that just needed to be investigated more since strange coincidences connect people in a way that can be useful for both patient and therapist and their relationship. Consequently, I looked for a psychology professor who would be interested in supporting my idea to give the concept of synchronicity an empirical foundation so it would be acknowledged as a valid therapeutic concept.

A first step to an empirical foundation of synchronicity: The study

For my study, I collected a number of cases where synchronistic moments happened in the context of psychotherapy. This first step took me a time period of nine months. My cases consisted of 1) personal interviews I had with therapists, 2) synchronistic moments that happened during therapy which were documented by articles, books, and literature, and 3) questionnaires that Jungian therapists could use as an alternative to personal interviews.

To get a high number of personal interviews, I reached out to all Jungian training institutes that were listed on the website of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (3) asking them if they would be willing to endorse my study and send a study invitation via e-mail to their members. Institutes in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland received a German version of my study invitation, all other institutes an English version. In addition to that, I sent out study invitation flyers to all Jungian institutes in Germany (Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich) via mail. Next, I also posted my study invitation online on several forums, groups on Facebook. For people who reacted to my invitation over Facebook, I asked them to give me some kind of proof that they had been working as a therapist (e. g. scan of therapy license).

For therapists who responded to my study invitations, I sent an informed consent form that needed to be filled out by both therapist and patient allowing me to use the provided material. I conducted the actual interviews face-to-face, via telephone, or via Skype. For therapists who could or would not telephone, meet me personally, nor Skype, I offered to send my interview questions via email, so that they could answer them in a written form. In the end, I conducted 12 interviews personally and I received 12 email responses, in which therapists answered my interview questions in a written form.

Next, for conducting interviews, I searched for already documented synchronicities that happened during psychotherapy. I used different keywords and keyword combinations (e. g. “synchronicity”, “synchronicity and psychotherapy”, “synchronistic”) on Google and Google Scholar to find cases that were documented. Books, dissertations, and articles that seemed to be possibly relevant for my interest, I read in-depth (5; 6). The length of an actual narrative was not important, however, I dismissed narratives that were too short (e. g. when it only consisted of one sentence). In the end, I found 22 narratives of synchronicities that happened in the context of psychotherapy.

Results

After nine months of collecting data, I had a total number of 46 cases/reports of synchronicities that happened in psychotherapy. Next, I looked at how these cases were presented and/or written. I analyzed the cases using several questions including: “Did the synchronicity include a dream, premonition, or a concrete statement/behavior?“ Or “Did the synchronicity happen over a physical distance or in a physical closeness?“ In this way, I had a total of 22 questions I asked the therapists I interviewed, or I answered them myself regarding the already documented cases. Most of my questions came from publications of my doctoral advisor Christian Roesler (7). Afterward, I tried to find out if there are any tendencies of all cases in response to my questions.

Here are some results I found: There were more synchronicities reported/documented 1) that included pre-monition than dreams 2) that happened in a physical distance, e. g. over several kilometers, rather than a physical closeness, e.g. over some meters 3) that happened not simultaneously, e.g. a person dreaming synchronistically of events occurring the next day, than simultaneously, e.g. a person knowing synchronistically what another person does at the same time. I also tried to look at several possible relations between my questions through statistical methods. My results show, for example, that there is a relation between a concrete, self-assured reaction of the therapist regarding an occurred synchronistic moment and a positive consequence for the therapeutic relationship. Moreover, the more secure, aware, and specific a therapist reacts to a synchronistic moment in the context of psychotherapy, the more likely it has a positive impact on the therapeutic relationship and the therapy process itself.

What needs to happen: More therapists need to know the concept of synchronicity

In conclusion, one can say that paying attention to synchronistic moments in therapies can be a beneficial factor for therapy if the therapist is trained and self-assured in the topic of synchronicity. Consequently, it would be advisable if the topic of synchronicity is being taught more in therapy training institutes, so that future therapists can recognize synchronicities better and see them as a potential source for additional therapeutic interventions, that can support the patient by experiencing even more meaning in his or her life.

Shadow Self and Carl Jung: The Ultimate Guide to the Human Dark Side | HighExistence

I really like the Jungian way of looking at things. I loved going to the Jungian groups in Halifax every Tuesday evening and watching films and then discussing the concepts.  The compiled works of Carl Jung were the first psychology books I ever read I believe.

Rory

********

Source: Shadow Self and Carl Jung: The Ultimate Guide to the Human Dark Side | HighExistence

How well do you know yourself?

If you’re like most people, you probably have a decent idea about your own desires, values, beliefs, and opinions.

You have a personal code that you choose to follow that dictates whether you are being a “good” person.

If there is any one thing you can know in this universe, surely it is who you are.

But what if you’re wrong?

carl jung shadow projection unconscious enlightenment cg jung shadow unconscious psychology psychotherapy

What if much of what you have come to believe about yourself, your morality, and what drives you is not an accurate reflection of who you truly are?

Now, before you launch into a, “Hey, you don’t know me, you don’t know my life, you don’t know what I’ve been through!”-style defense, ponder this for a second:

Have you ever said or done something really shitty, mostly on an impulse, that you later regretted?

After the damage was done and the other person involved was hurt, you couldn’t bury your shame fast enough. “Why did I say that?” you might have asked yourself in frustration.

It’s that “Why?” question that indicates the presence of a blind spot. And though the reason for your reaction may have been obvious (perhaps even “justified”), the lack of control you had over yourself betrays the existence of a different person lurking beneath your carefully constructed idea of who you are.

If this person is coming into focus for you, congratulations—you’ve just met your shadow self.

The Shadow: A Formal Introduction

“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”

— Carl Jung, Aion (1951)

The “shadow” is a concept first coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung that describes those aspects of the personality that we choose to reject and repress. For one reason or another, we all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like—or that we think society won’t like—so we push those parts down into our unconscious psyches. It is this collection of repressed aspects of our identity that Jung referred to as our shadow self.

If you’re one of those people who generally loves who they are, you might be wondering whether this is true of you. “I don’t reject myself,” you might be thinking. “I love everything about me.”

carl jung shadow who created god unconscious

Carl Gustav Jung

However, the problem is that you’re not necessarily aware of those parts of your personality that you reject. According to Jung’s theory, we distance ourselves psychologically from those behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that we find dangerous.

Rather than confront something that we don’t like, our mind pretends it does not exist. Aggressive impulses, taboo mental images, shameful experiences, immoral urges, fears, irrational wishes, unacceptable sexual desires—these are a few examples of shadow aspects, things people contain but do not admit to themselves that they contain. Here are a few examples of common shadow behaviors:

1. A tendency to harshly judge others, especially if that judgment comes on an impulse.

You may have caught yourself doing this once or twice when you pointed out to a friend how “ridiculous” someone else’s outfit looked. Deep down, you would hate to be singled out this way, so doing it to another reassures you that you’re smart enough not to take the same risks as the other person.

2. Pointing out one’s own insecurities as flaws in another.

The internet is notorious for hosting this. Scan any comments section and you’ll find an abundance of trolls calling the author and other commenters “stupid,” “moron,” “idiot,” “untalented,” “brainwashed,” and so on. Ironically, internet trolls are some of the most insecure people of all.

3. A quick temper with people in subordinate positions of power.

I caught this one all the time when I worked as a cashier, and it is the bane of all customer service employees. People are quick to cop an attitude with people who don’t have the power to fight back. Exercising power over another is the shadow’s way of compensating for one’s own feelings of helplessness in the face of greater force.

4. Frequently playing the “victim” of every situation.

Rather than admit wrongdoing, people go to amazing lengths to paint themselves as the poor, innocent bystander who never has to take responsibility.

5. A willingness to step on others to achieve one’s own ends.

People often celebrate their own greatness without acknowledging times that they may have cheated others to get to their success. You can see this happen on the micro level as people vie for position in checkout lines and cut each other off in traffic. On the macro level, corporations rig policy in their favor to gain tax cuts at the expense of the lower classes.

6. Unacknowledged biases and prejudices.

People form assumptions about others based on their appearance all the time—in fact, it’s a pretty natural (and often useful—e.g. noticing signs of a dangerous person) thing to do. However, we can easily take this too far, veering into toxic prejudice. But with so much social pressure to eradicate prejudice, people often find it easier to “pretend” that they’re not racist/homophobic/xenophobic/sexist, etc., than to do the deep work it would take to override or offset particularly destructive stereotypes they may be harboring.

7. A messiah complex.

Some people think they’re so “enlightened” that they can do no wrong. They construe everything they do as an effort to “save” others—to help them “see the light,” so to speak. This is actually an example of spiritual bypassing, yet another manifestation of the shadow self.

Projection: Seeing Our Darkness in Others

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Seeing the shadow within ourselves is extremely difficult, so it’s rarely done—but we’re really good at seeing undesirable shadow traits in others. Truth be told, we revel in it. We love calling out unsightly qualities in others—in fact, the entire celebrity gossip industry is built on this fundamental human tendency.

Seeing in others what we won’t admit also lies within is what Jung calls “projection.” Although our conscious minds are avoiding our own flaws, they still want to deal with them on a deeper level, so we magnify those flaws in others. First we reject, then we project. 

carl jung shadow projection unconscious enlightenment cg jung shadow unconscious psychology psychotherapy

One way that we all experience this dichotomy of rejection and projection, for example, is when we have a hard time admitting that we’re wrong.

When I was seven, I had the grand idea that my younger brother and I would run away. Nothing was particularly unpleasant in our home lives at the time; when my brother asked why we were running away, I simply shrugged and said, “Because all the kids do it.”

We packed our blue Sesame Street suitcase with all the essentials: cookies, toys, and juice boxes. After taking the screen down from our first-story bedroom window, we tossed the suitcase onto the ground below. I urged my brother to jump out first and, with complete trust in me, he did. As he crouched behind the thorny hedge just beneath the window, I swung my leg outside and sat poised between the safety of my bedroom and the open air of the outside world.

I looked at the cars driving by, suddenly aware of the boundary I was about to cross. On one side of the window I was safe; my mom knew where I was and I was doing everything she expected me to. On the other side of the window, however, rules were being broken. If she knew that we were going outside without her knowledge, our mom would surely kill us.

This moment of panic inspired in me a sudden need to retreat into the safety zone. I called down to my brother, telling him that I had forgotten something and would be right back—instead I hurried to tell my mom that he was running away. She scrambled outside, where she found him in the bushes, still waiting for me. The look of betrayal contorted his features as he gaped at me, and I parried with a self-righteous stare. He was grounded, while I became his “savior.”

While it’s easy to see my behavior as simply that of a shitty, mean sister (which, trust me, I have assured myself repeatedly that I was being), there was actually an entire invisible psychological process happening beneath the surface. As soon as I realized that my brother and I were doing something that wasn’t the fun and brazen endeavor I imagined and would actually land us in a massive heap of trouble, I had to devise a way to protect myself from the consequences.

My seven-year-old “big sister” ego identity wouldn’t permit me to admit that I was wrong—such an act would put my social status into question for me (and more importantly, my subservient little brother). Instead, I projected the wrongness onto my brother and ran to tell my mom. I suspect that my unconscious mind wanted to see the consequences of that wrongness played out in order to learn the lesson of how to avoid the trouble in the future… I just maybe didn’t want to experience those consequences for myself.

By projecting the deviant behavior onto my poor little brother (whom, I assure you, I spoil to death in our older age as penance), I avoided having to confront the dangerous behavior in myself. And this is something that, in our own ways, we all do.

In this case, being in the wrong was the thing I rejected in myself. Most people hate admitting when they’re wrong because doing so is accompanied by the uncomfortable emotions of embarrassment, guilt, and shame. Rather than confront the possibility of being wrong, therefore, people often go to extreme lengths to prove to themselves and others that they are right—even if it means hurting someone else.

Unfortunately, our impulse to avoid the unpleasant confrontation with the truth is so strong that we remain completely unaware of what’s happening. The mind ignores and buries all evidence of our shortcomings to protect itself—i.e. to prevent the experience of pain—storing it deep within our unconscious minds. This doesn’t make those thoughts, memories, and emotions go away, but it does put them somewhere we don’t have to “see” them.

Our conscious minds are where our ego personality dwells—the “I” that walks around every day talking to other people. When you think of who “you” are, this is the part of yourself you usually identify with.

However, that “you” is only the part of your identity that is visible to you. Your conscious awareness is like a light enabling you to observe what is happening inside your mind.

Beneath that conscious “light” is a whole world of “darkness” containing those very aspects of ourselves that we have strived to ignore. The ego is only the tip of the iceberg floating above the sea, but the unconscious mind is the vast mountain of ice lurking beneath the surface.

jung shadow iceberg unconscious carl jung https://highexistence.com/carl-jung-on-why-we-must-never-pass-judgment-when-we-desire-to-help/

(Source)

Much of that bulk consists of our repressed thoughts, memories, emotions, impulses, traits, and actions. Jung envisioned those rejected pieces coming together to form a large, unseen piece of our personality beneath our awareness, secretly controlling much of what we say, believe, and do.

This secret piece of the personality is the shadow self.

Origins of the Shadow Self

Our society teaches us that certain behaviors, emotional patterns, sexual desires, lifestyle choices, etc. are inappropriate. These “inappropriate” qualities are usually those that disrupt the flow of a functioning society—even if that disruption means challenging people to accept things that make them uncomfortable. Anyone who is too challenging becomes outcast, and everyone else moves on.

Now, we humans are highly social creatures, and the last thing we want is to be excommunicated from the rest of our tribe. So, in order to avoid being cast out, we do whatever it takes to fit in. Early in our childhood development, we find where the line between what is socially “acceptable” and “unacceptable” is, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to toe it.

When we cross that line, as we all frequently do, we suffer the pain of society’s backlash. People judge us, condemn us, gossip about us, and the unpleasant emotions that come with this experience can quickly become overwhelming. However, we don’t actually need people to observe our deviances to suffer for them. Eventually, we internalize society’s backlash so deeply that we inflict it on ourselves.

The only way to escape from this perpetual recurring pain is to mask it. Enter the ego. We tell ourselves stories about who we are, who we are not, and what we would never do to protect ourselves from suffering the consequences of being an outcast. Ultimately, we believe these stories, and once we develop a firm belief about something, we unconsciously discard any information that contradicts that belief. In the world of psychology, this is known as confirmation bias: humans tend to interpret and ignore information in ways that confirm what they already believe.

The problem is that literally everyone possesses qualities that society has deemed undesirable. People fall short of others’ expectations, have a temper flare-up, are excessively gassy, etc. The ideal individual in any society is one who lives up to impossible standards.

What no one wants to admit to others is that we are all secretly failing to meet those standards. Women wear makeup, men use Axe deodorant, advertisers Photoshop celebrities, people filter their personalities with photos and status updates on social media—all to mask perceived flaws and project an image of “perfection.” Jung called these social masks we all wear our “personas.”

“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

— Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion (1938)

Uncommon thoughts and emotions put us at an even higher risk of being alienated from society. Ideas that are challenging or contrary to social norms are considered dangerous and are best left unexpressed if one wishes to “fit in.”

Emotionally, any mood other than happy, or at least neutral, is considered undesirable. Rather than admit we are going through a difficult experience, thus making others uncomfortable with the knowledge that we are uncomfortable, we say that we’re fine when we’re really not.

Ironically, this need to avoid things that make us and others uncomfortable undermines our ability to confront and either heal or integrate them. And if this failure to heal is bad for us as individuals, the effects of that failure on a mass scale are catastrophic.

When our cultures were in their infancies, past humans beheld their more animalistic tendencies (murder, rape, war, etc.) with revulsion and fear. They developed a moral code, most often based on religious beliefs, about how the ideal, or “enlightened,” human should behave.

While these ideals were intended to be inspiring, giving humans a model for spiritual growth, they were challenging in their tendencies to go against fundamental aspects of human nature. In many ways this is a good thing, since a society that allows rape, murder, and rampant violence does not tend to be a very good one to live in.

However, our collective moral codes fall short because they only offer ideals. Religious and secular morals only tell us who to be, not how to become that person. When solutions are offered, they are bogged down in esoteric practice that the average person has a hard time understanding—at least not without years of mentoring and study, something that not all of us have the luxury to undergo. We can’t all be monks, after all.

carl jung shadow unconscious cg jung shadow psychology repressed projection psychotherapy enlightenment

We can’t all be this guy.

The result is that we struggle to change in ways that require us to suppress our base animal instincts without giving them safe outlets through which to manifest. In other words, we push our failures into the unconscious, where we can ignore them and go on pretending to be the people society wants us to be. We get to pretend to be enlightened without actually doing the deep inner work that it takes to move through the developmental process.

Enlightenment: The Shadow Formula

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

— Carl Jung

Jung’s proposed solution to this schism is for the individual to undergo “shadow work.” What we repress never stays repressed, it lives on in the unconscious—and, despite what our egos would have us believe, the unconscious mind is the one really running the show.

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow self and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

— Carl Jung, “The Philosophical Tree,” Alchemical Studies (1945)

Shadow work, then, is the process of making the unconscious conscious. In doing so, we gain awareness of our unconscious impulses and can then choose whether and how to act on them. We begin this process when we take a step back from our normal patterns of behavior and observe what is happening within us. Meditation is a great way to develop this ability to step back from ourselves, with the goal being to gain the ability to do this as we go about our daily lives.

The next step is to question. When we observe ourselves reacting to psychological triggers, or events that prompt an instant and uncontrolled reaction from us, we must learn to pause and ask ourselves, “Why am I reacting this way?” This teaches us to backtrack through our emotions to our memories, which hold the origins of our emotional programming.

Identifying triggers can be a difficult process due to our natural desire to avoid acknowledging the shadow self. Our tendency is to justify our actions after the fact, when really the best thing we can do is avoid acting reactively or unconsciously in the first place. Cultivating an awareness of the shadow is the first step to identifying our triggers—but before we can do that, we must first overcome our instinctive fear of our shadows.

Perhaps the biggest issue people face when confronted with the shadow is the question, “Am I a bad person?” Acknowledging the shadow means acknowledging that we contain darkness, a capacity for malevolence. As Jung wrote in Psychology of the Unconscious

“It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature.”

Jung indicates that under certain circumstances, all human beings have the capacity to do horrible, brutal things. And somewhat paradoxically, familiarizing ourselves with these dark potentialities and accepting them as part of us is perhaps the best way to ensure that they are never actualized. But again, it’s profoundly difficult to do this, particularly because we desperately don’t want to think of ourselves as “bad” people.

So, do taboo thoughts, hurtful actions, and the capacity to commit atrocities make you a bad person? No, not necessarily. Of course, everyone has a different definition of how “good” and “bad” people act—and those moral definitions are to some extent irreducibly subjective and arbitrary—but when it comes to the general consensus of “goodness,” you can make mistakes and hurt others without having an awareness of what you’re doing and still be a good person. Beyond that, once you acknowledge the massive potential for both light and darkness within each human being, the dichotomy of “good” people vs “bad” people begins to seem reductive and misleading. Above all, you’re human, and as such, too complex to be neatly categorized.

Nonetheless, the idea of being a good person is not without merit, and most of us intuitively understand that it’s a fine idea to move in the direction of greater self-awareness, self-mastery, and compassion. Doing difficult shadow work—recognizing and correcting our unconscious destructive patterns—is a crucial aspect of becoming a better person.

Once we identify the original sources of our psychological triggers (e.g. repressed fear, pain, aggression, etc.), only then can we begin to heal and integrate those wounded parts of ourselves. Integration, in Jung’s definition, means that we cease rejecting parts of our personalities and find ways to bring them forward into our everyday lives. We accept our shadows and seek to unlock the wisdom they contain. Fear becomes an opportunity for courage. Pain is a catalyst for strength and resilience. Aggression is transmuted into warrior-like passion. This wisdom informs our actions, our decisions, and our interactions with others. We understand how others feel and respond to them with compassion, knowing that they are being triggered themselves.

One aspect of integrating the shadow self is healing our psychological wounds from early childhood and beyond. As we embark on this work, we begin to understand that much of our shadow is the result of being hurt and trying to protect ourselves from re-experiencing that hurt. We can accept what happened to us, acknowledge that we did not deserve the hurt and that these things were not our fault, and reclaim those lost pieces to move back into wholeness. (For especially deep traumas, it is advised to work with a trained psychologist on these issues.) This is a very intensive and involved process and merits another separate article to cover, but those who wish to know more can find a myriad of information on the subject in books, videos, articles, and self-improvement groups.

Unfortunately, many philosophies insist that people can become enlightened without doing this deep inner work. The proposed solution within these philosophies seems to be to actively ignore unconscious impulses rather than to dig in and understand them.

Not trying to point fingers, but many of these philosophies come from Newer (*cough, cough*, Age) ideas, which often misinterpret ancient teachings to fit into the modern desire for convenience and comfort. I’d love to rip these teachings a new one in another article, but for now, it is good to be wary of anyone who insists that you can reach enlightenment without working on those parts of yourself that are messy and painful. Ultimately, you’ll have to use your own discretion to decide what resonates most with you—but don’t be surprised to find yourself facing a crisis if you opt to take the path of avoidance.

As Jung points out, we can’t correct undesirable behaviors until we deal with them head on. The shadow self acts out like a disobedient child until all aspects of the personality are acknowledged and integrated. Whereas many spiritual philosophies often denounce the shadow as something to be overcome and transcended, Jung insists that the true aim is not to defeat the shadow self, but to incorporate it with the rest of the personality. It is only through this merging that true wholeness can be attained, and when it is, that is enlightenment. 

carl jung shadow unconscious cg jung shadow enlightenment projection repression psychoanalysis psychology

The Jungian model of the psyche. Here the shadow self is referred to as the “shade.” Click image for more info. (Source)

If You Want to Save the World, Tend to Your Shadow Self

“If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against… Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”

— Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion (1938)

While shadow work is a rewarding way to cultivate a deep and intimate understanding of ourselves, and thus evolve as individuals, the truth is that the world needs us to embark on this journey sooner rather than later. The collective shadow houses society’s basest impulses: those of greed, hatred, and violence. If one person acting on these impulses can do a lot of harm to others, what happens when we act on them as a collective?

We can see the answer manifest in our world today. Unfettered greed leads to a stop-at-nothing drive to boost profits, which takes its toll on the Earth as we alter ecosystems and climate patterns to exhaust natural resources. Regional violence escalates in the areas affected by famine, drought, and climate disasters that irresponsible consumer practices, overpopulation, and industrialization create. The poor become poorer as corporate interests sway public opinion to form policies that benefit the rich at the expense of everyone else—especially those who are most disadvantaged.

We hate and fear what we don’t understand, prompting us to pursue violence against people rather than seek diplomatic solutions with one another. We project our own worst qualities onto our enemies to justify the violence against them. We hoard resources, ignore the suffering of others, and continue the patterns of behavior that pollute the world we all call home.

These behaviors are not exclusive to the Western world, or to the Middle East, or South America, Africa, or any one region or people. We all do it, either by participating in the entities directly involved in the conflicts, or by allowing them to continue through our own inaction.

While these large-scale problems may seem impossible for any one person to influence, we each have more power in this game than we may think. For all our discussion of the abstract power of societies, they are still made up of individual people. When two people connect, they form a relationship. A group of relationships forms a community, and the place where communities intersect is what we come to know as society.

Each of us is responsible for forming the social codes of our communities. Racism, for example, is a huge issue in the United States in the present moment and Americans are struggling to find a way to correct this prejudice and the inequality it creates. Whereas previously racism was a way to structure American society, modern Americans have decided this racial hierarchy is no longer appropriate. So, now, when people call out and denounce racism in their communities, they establish that racism is not an acceptable part of the social code. On the other hand, people who practice racism establish that it is appropriate, and people who ignore racism enable it.

Every day, you are building the culture of your community. When you smile at strangers, you promote a culture of kindness and connection. If you avoid making eye contact or speak to others coldly, you build a community based on distrust and animosity.

Our actions extend far beyond ourselves—they have a ripple effect on society as a whole. Consider cities like New York that have a reputation for being “rude.” Can a city really be rude? No, of course not—but all the individual people living there can.

Unfriendly communities are not hostile because of just one or two people, but because the majority of people act that way. When you have a large group of people living in close proximity all projecting and acting out their unconscious impulses on one another, the result is a toxic culture. People who hurt each other stop trusting one another, and without trust, communities fall apart and individuals become isolated.

However, this wave can be countered with a conscious effort to breed trust, connection, and kindness.

These connections rebuild fragmented communities, helping us to overcome our isolation and tap into a collective or community mentality. When this happens we stop thinking selfishly and start thinking empathetically and cooperatively. As loving, healthy communities connect with one another, they work together to create public policies that benefit more people, extend help to those who need it, and work to preserve the natural world they inhabit.

And this all begins with you.

When you work to heal and integrate your shadow, you find that you stop living so reactively and unconsciously, thereby hurting others less. You build trust in your relationships, and the people whose lives you touch open themselves to others, building even more healthy relationships. Even random acts of kindness to strangers will increase the likelihood that they will be kind to strangers in turn, which will lighten the mood of a community overall.

You hold within you the power to catalyze a ripple that will vibrate through the lives of the people around you. The world desperately needs more kindness, more trust, and more cooperation to heal divisions, address pressing global issues, and avoid catastrophes that could lead to the extinction of humanity and many other species. Doing deep inner work may seem like a self-absorbed process, but you’ll come to find that, at its core, it truly becomes about so much more than just you.

Save your shadow self, save the world.

Read Part Two of this series by Jack E. Othon.

A journey of self healing: Reinventing your Life

Source: A journey of self healing: Reinventing your Life

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 17. APhilosophy of Change

Seven Basic Assumptions

  1. We all have a part of ourselves that wants to be happy and fulfilled. (aka self actualization)
  2. There are several basic “needs” or desires that will lead most of us to be happier if they are satisfied: The need to relate and feel connected to other people; the need for independence, for autonomy; the need to feel desirable, competent, successful, attractive, worthwhile; the need to express what we want and feel to others; the need for pleasure, fun, creativity – to pursue interests and activities that gratify us; the need to help others, to show concern and love.
  3. People can change in very basic ways. Changing core patterns is extremely difficult. Our inherited temperament, along with our early family and peer experiences, create very powerful forces that act against change, they do not make change impossible. The more destructive these early forces, the harder we will have to work to change life traps.
  4. We have strong tendencies to resist core change. It is highly unlikely that we will change basic life traps without making a conscious decision to do so.
  5. Most of us have strong inclinations to avoid pain. We avoid facing situations and feelings that cause us pain, even when confronting them might lead to growth. In order to modify core life traps, we must be willing to face painful memories that stir up emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, and embarrassment. We must be willing to face situations we have avoided much of our lives because we fear they will result in failure, rejection, or humiliation. Unless we face these painful memories and situations, we are doomed to repeat patterns that hurt us. We must commit ourselves to facing pain in order to change.
  6. We do not believe that any one technique or approach to change will be successful for all people.
Creating a personal vision
Change is not just the absence of life traps. We must each discover who we want to be and what we want from life. It is vital to have this direction before going too far along the change process. Look beyond the elimination of your individual life traps to an image of what will lead you final to feel fulfilled, happy, and self-actualized.
Many of us go through life with only a fuzzy sense of where we are going. This explains why many of us reach middle-age or retirement feeling disappointed and disillusioned. We need a broad set of overriding goals to guide us. The eleven life traps are obstacles to reaching our goals, they do not tell us what each of us uniquely needs to be happy. Once you develop a set of life goals, you can begin to plan specific steps to get there. Approach change in a strategic way, not haphazardly.
You must discover your natural inclination, which includes those interests, relationships, and activities that inherently lead us to feel fulfilled. Each person has an innate set of personal preferences. Our best clues to recognizing natural inclinations are our emotions and our bodily sensations. When we engage in activities or relationships that fulfill our natural inclinations, we feel good. Our body is content and we experience pleasure or joy.
We must find out what makes us happy, without relying solely on what makes the people around us happy.
One
What is your vision of relationships that you want in your life? Clarify the ways you want to connect to other people. Consider intimate relationships. What kind of intimate relationship do you want? What is most important to you – passion and romance, a companion, a family? What are your goals in finding a partner? How important is emotional closeness to you compared to sexual excitement?
Relationships are almost a trade-off. What is most important to you in choosing a partner? What are the less important qualities that would be nice, but you would do without if you had to.
What kind of social relationships do you want? What kind of friends? How involved do you want to be in a social “scene?” How committed do you want to be to groups in the community? Do you want to participate in church? Do you want to be involved in the running of schools or in local government? Do you want to participate in support groups? How much do you want to socialize with people at work?
Emotional Deprivation, Mistrust and Abuse, Abandonment and Social Exclusion life traps are the biggest blocks to developing the kind of relationships you want in your life. Conquering these life traps will allow you to connect to people on a deeper and more satisfying level. Your relationship vision will guide you in fighting these life traps.
Two
What is the optimal level of independence for you? Autonomy gives you the freedom to seek out healthy relationships, and to avoid or leave unhealthy ones. You are free to stay in a relationship because you want to stay, not because you need to. Dependence or Vulnerability are the greatest blocks to developing a healthy level of autonomy.
Autonomy involves developing a sense of identity. You are free to be who you uniquely are. You will not lose yourself in relationships, living your partner’s life instead of your own.
Three
Self esteem provides a context of freedom. The defectiveness and failure life traps are blocks to attaining self esteem. Choose a life that enhances your self-esteem. How can you strive to feel good about yourself, to accept yourself without being overly self-punitive or insecure? What are your strengths and how can you develop them? What are the weaknesses that you can correct?
Four
Self assertion and self expression involves asking to have your own needs met and expressing your feelings. Asserting yourself enables you to follow your natural inclinations and get pleasure out of life. In what ways can you express who you are? Subjugation and Unrelenting Standards are blocks to self assertion. Passion, creativity, playfulness and fun can help make life worth living. It is important to be able to let go sometimes, to include excitement and pleasure in your life. Life feels heavy if you ignore self assertion and self expression. Change involves allowing yourself to fulfill your own basic needs and inclinations, without unnecessarily hurting those around you.
Five
Concern for others is one of the most gratifying aspects of life. Learn to give to other people and to empathize with them. Entitlement may keep you from showing concern for the people around you. It feels good to make a contribution. Social involvement, charity, having children and giving to children, helping your friends, these involve connection to something greater than yourself and your individual life. How can you contribute ego the world at large? Many religious experience provide this added dimension and fulfillment.
Goals of life are probably universal: love, self-expression, pleasure, freedom, spirituality, giving to others – this is what most of us want. However these goals often collide. For example, passion may conflict with stability, autonomy with intimacy, self-expression with concern for others. Set priorities and choose the balance that feels right for you.
Empathic self confrontation
Show compassion for yourself, while continually pushing yourself to change. Be understanding of your limitations and flaws. Remember the origins of your life traps and try to empathize with yourself when you were a child.
No matter how damaged you were as a child, this does not excuse you from taking responsibility for change. Childhood pain explains why change is so difficult and takes so long; it does not explain why someone allows destructive patterns to continue without working hard to alter them.
Have faith. Be patient. Some changes cannot be accomplished in small steps. They require a leap of faith, a high level of risk. Sometimes we met make major changes in order to grow. These include leaving a relationship switching careers, or moving to another city. You may have to surrender the of childhood patterns in order to grow into the adult you want to be.
Enlisting the help of others
It is going to be difficult for you to change without the help of some person who can see you clearly and realistically, because you will have trouble seeing your own distortions.
Unfortunately, turning to family and friends may not be an option for you. You may not have close family and friends or they may be too disturbed themselves to be of much help to you. Often family members reinforce your life traps, rather than help you change. If this is the case, consider seeking professional help.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 16. “I can have whatever I want”, the entitlement life trap

Entitlement Questionnaire

  1. I have trouble accepting “no” for an answer.
  2. I get angry when I cannot get what I want.
  3. I am special and should not have to accept normal constraints.
  4. I put my needs first
  5. I have a lot of difficulty getting myself to stop drinking, smoking, overeating, or other problem behaviors.
  6. I cannot discipline myself to complete boring or routine tasks.
  7. I act on impulses and emotions that get me into trouble later.
  8. If I cannot reach a goal, I become easily frustrated and give up
  9. I insist that people do things my way
  10. I have trouble giving up immediate gratification to reach a long-range goal.
Three types of Entitlement
  1. Spoiled Entitlement – You are indifferent to normal social expectations and consider yourself above the law. You believe other people should be punished when they violate social norms, but you should not be punished.
  2. Dependent Entitlement – When someone fails to take care of you, you feel like a victim. You feel weak and vulnerable. You need help, and people must give it to you.
  3. Impulsive – You act on your desires and feelings without regard for the consequences.
Origins of Entitlement

Weak Limits: Parents fail to exercise sufficient discipline and control over their children. Children are given whatever they want, whenever they want it. They are not forced to take responsibility and complete assigned tasks. Parents allow cildren to act out impulses such as anger, without imposing sufficient negative consequences.

Dependent Overindulgence: overindulge their children in ways that make the children dependent on them. The environment is so safe and protected and so little is expected of the child that the child comes to demand this level of care.

Counterattack for other life traps: overcompensation for other core life traps: Defectiveness, Emotional Deprivation, Social Exclusion.

Danger Signals in Partners

Spoiled Entitlement: attracted to partners who

  1. Sacrifice their own needs for yours.
  2. Allow you to control them
  3. Are afraid to express their own needs and feelings
  4. Are willing to tolerate abuse, criticism, etc
  5. Allow you to take advantage of them
  6. Do not have a strong sense of self, and allow themselves to live through you.
  7. Are dependent on you, and accept domination as the price of being dependent.
Dependent Entitlement: You are drawn to strong partners who are competent and willing to take care of you.
Impulsivity: Drawn to partners who are organized, disciplined, compulsive, etc, and who thus offset your own tendency toward chaos and disorganization.
Spoiled Entitlement Life trap
  1. You do not care about the needs of the people around you You get your needs met at their expense. You hurt them.
  2. You may abuse, humiliate, or demean the people around you.
  3. You have difficulty empathizing with the feelings of those around you. They feel you do not understand or care about their feelings.
  4. You may take more from society than you give. This results in an inequity and is unfair to other people.
  5. At work, you may be fired, demoted, etc for failing to follow rules.
  6. Your partner, family, friends, or children may leave you, resent you, or cut off contact with you because you treat them abusively, unfairly, or selfishly.
  7. You may get into legal or criminal trouble if you cheat or break laws, such as tax evasion or business fraud.
  8. You never have a chance to experience the joy of giving to other people unselfishly – or of having a truly equal, reciprocal relationship.
  9. If your Entitlement is a form of counterattack, you never allow yourself to face and solve your underlying life traps. Your real needs are never addressed. You may continue to feel emotionally deprived, defective, or socially undesirable.
Dependent Entitlement Lifetraps
  1. You never learn to take care of yourself, because you insist that others take care of you.
  2. You unfairly impinge on the rights of people close to you to use their own time for themselves. Your demands become a drain on the people around you.
  3. People you depend on may eventually become fed up or angry with your dependence and demands, and will leave you, fire you, or refuse to continue helping you.
  4. The people you depend on may die or leave, and you will be unable to take care of yourself.
Impulsivity Lifetraps
  1. You never complete tasks necessary to make progress in your career. You are a chronic underachiever, and eventually feel inadequate as a result of your failures.
  2. The people around you may eventually get fed up with you.
  3. Your life is in chaos. You cannot discipline yourself sufficiently well to have direction and organization. You are therefore stuck.
  4. You may have difficulty with addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, or overeating.
  5. In almost every area of your life you lack of discipline prevents you from achieving your goals
  6. You may not have enough money to get what you want in life.
  7. You may have gotten into trouble with authorities at school, with police, or at work because you cannot control your impulses.
  8. You may have alienated your friends, spouse, children, or bosses, through your anger and explosiveness.
The issue of motivation to change being low is a big one with the Entitlement life trap. Unlike the other life traps, this does not feel painful. Rather, it seems to feel good. It is the people around you who are in pain.
Helping yourself overcome entitlement problems
  1. List the advantages and disadvantages of not accepting limits. This is crucial to motivate yourself to change.
  2. Confront the excuses you use to avoid accepting limits.
  3. List the various ways that your limits problem manifests itself in everyday life.
  4. Make flashcards to help you fight your Entitlement and self-discipline problems in each situation.
  5. Ask for feedback as you try to change.
  6. Try to empathize with the people around you. Work on empathizing without getting defensive.
  7. If your life trap is a form of counterattack, try to understand the core life traps underlying it. Follow the relevant change techniques. Your Entitlement is all or nothing. Either you get everything you want or you are deprived; either you are perfect or you are defective; either you are adored or you are rejected. You need to learn that there is a middle ground, that you can get your needs met in a normal way.
  8. If you have self-discipline problems, make a hierarchy of tasks, graded in terms of boredom or frustration level. Gradually work your way up the hierarchy.
  9. If you have difficulty controlling your emotions, develop a “time-out” technique. Do not attack the person. State what the person has done that upsets you.
  10. If you have Dependent Entitlement, make a hierarchy of tasks, graded in terms of difficulty. Gradually start doing the things you allow other people to do for you. Start proving to yourself that you are competent.
Writing an entitlement flashcard
  1. Tune into the needs of the people around you. Try to understand how they are feeling. Empathize.
  2. Aim towards reciprocity, fairness, and equity as principles to guide your actions with others.
  3. Ask yourself if your immediate need is important enough to risk the negative consequences (e.g. alienating friends, losing your job)
  4. Learn to tolerate frustration as a means to achieving your long range goals. As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain”
Find appropriate ways of getting your ore needs met – ways that respect the rights and needs of others. You do not have to be so demanding, controlling, and entitled to get what you want. Give up your counterattacks. Start placing emphasis on intimate relationships, on trying to get your needs met through closeness with other people. Learn to ask for what you want without demanding it. Try being more honest with yourself. Be more open about who you are. Learn to say who you are, without trying to cover up, conceal, or impress.

Helping someone you know overcome limits problems

  1. Identify your sources of leverage. What do you have that he/she values? your respect? money? job? love?
  2. How far you are willing to go to get change? Would you be willing to leave your partner? Fire an employee?
  3. Approach the entitled person and express your complaints in a non-attacking way. Ask if he/she is aware of how you feel. Is he/she willing to work on changing?
  4. If he/she is willing, go through the other steps in this chapter together.
  5. If he/she is unreceptive, tell him/her the consequences if he/she will not try to change. Try to setup a hierarchy of negative consequences. Begin to implement them one at a time, until the entitled person is willing to work with you. Try to empathize with how hard it is for I’m/her o change, but remain firm.
  6. Remember that it is often impossible to get someone with this life trap to change. If you do not have enough leverage, you will probably be unsuccessful. Be prepared to accept the price of carrying through on your decision to push for change. Make a list of advantages and disadvantages of pushing for change by risking conflict and possibly ending your relationship. Make an informed choice.
Demonstrations of hurt are almost useless with an entitled person.
Studies have shown that the more distressed patients display when they come to therapy, the more likely they are to change. Until you overcome your entitlement, you will never fulfill your potential for love and work.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 15. “It’s never quite good enough”, the unrelenting standards life trap

unrelenting standards questionnaire

  1. I cannot accept second best. I have to be the best at most of what I do.
  2. Nothing I do is quite good enough.
  3. I strive to keep everything in perfect order.
  4. I must look my best at all times.
  5. I have so much to accomplish that I have no time to relax.
  6. My personal relationships suffer because I push myself so hard.
  7. My health suffers because I put myself under so much pressure.
  8. I deserve strong criticism when I make a mistake.
  9. I am very competitive.
  10. Wealth and status are very important to me.
The primary feeling is pressure. You can never relax and enjoy life. You are always pushing to get ahead.
Physical stress such as IBS and headaches are common. You might have high blood pressure, ulcers, colitis, insomnia, fatigue, panic attacks, heart arrhythmias, obesity, back pain, skin problems, arthritis, asthma, etc.
For you, life is only doing. Life is having to work or achieve all the time. You feel constantly frustrated and irritated with yourself for not meeting your standards. You may feel chronically angry, with high levels of anxiety. A major anxiety is time.

Three types of unrelenting standards

  1. Compulsive. Everything has to be perfect. Your surroundings are disappointing or you may blame yourself for your surroundings. Need to feel in control.
  2. Achievement Orientated. Workaholic. Any form of activity that you turn into work and enslaves you.
  3. Status Oriented. Excessive emphasis on gaining recognition, status, wealth, beauty – a false self.
The origins of unrelenting standards
  1. Your parent’s love for you was conditional on your meeting high standards.
  2. One or both parents were models of high, unbalanced standards.
  3. Your unrelenting standards developed as a way to compensate for feelings of defectiveness, social exclusion, deprivation, or failure.
  4. One or both parents used shame or criticism when you failed to meet high expectations.
Unrelenting Standard Life traps
  1. Your health is suffering because of daily stresses, such as over work – not only because of unavoidable life events.
  2. The balance between work and pleasure feels lopsided. Life feels like constant pressure and work without fun.
  3. Your whole life seems to revolve around success, status, and material things. You seem to have lost touch with your basic self and no longer know what really makes you happy.
  4. Too much of your energy goes into keeping your life in order. You spend too much time keeping lists, organizing your life, planning, cleaning, and repairing, and not enough time being creative or letting go.
  5. Your relationships with other people are suffering because so much time goes into meeting your own standards – working, being successful, etc.
  6. You make other people feel inadequate or nervous around you because they worry about not being able to meet your high expectations of them.
  7. You rarely stop and enjoy successes. You rarely savor a sense of accomplishment. Rather, you simply go on to the next task waiting for you.
  8. You feel overwhelmed because you are trying to accomplish so much; there never seems to be enough time to complete what you have started.
  9. Your standards are so high that you view many activities as obligations or ordeals to get through, instead of enjoying the process itself.
  10. You procrastinate a lot. Because your standards make many tasks feel overwhelming, you avoid them.
  11. You feel irritated or frustrated a lot because things and people around you do not meet your high standards.
You lose touch with your natural self. You are so focused on order, achievement, or status that you do not attend to your basic physical, emotional, and social needs.
You may want the perfect partner and be unable to settle for less. Once you are in a relationship, you can be extremely critical and demanding. You expect others (especially those closest to you) to live up to your standards. Without realizing it, you probably devalue them for not meeting the standards you set. These standards do not seem high to you, you feel your expectations are normal and justified.
You may be attracted to perfectionist partners or partners who are the opposite, relaxed and easygoing.
Changing Unrelenting Standards
  1. List the areas in which your standards may be unbalanced or unrelenting. (keeping things in order, cleanliness, work, money, creature comforts, beauty, athletic performance, popularity, status, fame, etc)
  2. List the advantages of trying to meet these standards on a daily basis.
  3. List the disadvantages of pushing so hard in these areas.
  4. Try to conjure an image of what your life would be like without these pressures.
  5. Understand the origins of your lifetrap.
  6. Consider what the effects would be if you lowered your standards about 25 percent. You have to learn that it is possible to do something 80% or 70% and still do a very good job. Between perfection and failure there is a whole gray area.
  7. Try to quantify the time you devote to maintaining your standards. Consider how important the goal is to your overall happiness, then allocate the most time to the areas of your life that are most important. Allot a reasonable amount of time to complete each task; then accept whatever level of achievement you have attained at the end of that time period.
  8. Try to determine what reasonable standards are by getting a consensus or objective opinion from people who seem more balanced.
  9. Gradually try to change your schedule or alter your behavior in order to get your deeper needs met. Learn to delegate.
Sample Advantages of unrelenting standards

  1. I can buy what I want.
  2. I feel special.
  3. People are jealous of me and want what I have.
  4. I can have almost any woman I want.
  5. I move in desirable social circles
  6. I make a lot of money
  7. I am almost at the top of my field
  8. I have won awards and prizes
  9. My house looks almost perfect most of the time.
  10. My house runs in an orderly way.
  11. My performance level is high.
what good is a spotless house when you are running yourself ragged to keep it that way and resenting everyone who gets in your way? What good is a top-level job when it leaves no time in your life for pleasure and love? what good are your creature comforts when you are too exhausted to enjoy them?
Sample disadvantages of unrelenting standards
  1. I am physically exhausted.
  2. I don’t have any fun
  3. My marriage is suffering
  4. I put too much pressure on my children. I don’t enjoy being with my children. They seem afraid of me.
  5. I’ve let a lot of close friendships go
  6. I don’t have any time for myself
  7. My health is suffering
  8. I am not happy.
Sample flashcard
I can lower my standards without having to feel like a failure. I can do things moderately well, feel good about them, and not have to keep trying to perfect them.”
Let go of your need for perfect order, achievement, or status in exchange for a higher quality of life and more fulfilling emotional relationships with the people you love.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 14. “I always do it your way!”, the Subjugation life trap

Subjugation questionnaire

  1. I let other people control me.
  2. I am afraid that if I do not give in to other people’s wishes they will retaliate, get angry, or reject me.
  3. I feel the major decisions in my life were not really my own.
  4. I have a lot of trouble demanding that other people respect my rights.
  5. I worry a lot about pleasing people and getting their approval.
  6. I go to great lengths to avoid confrontations.
  7. I give more to other people than I get back in return.
  8. I feel the pain of other people deeply, so I usually end up taking care of the people I’m close to.
  9. I feel guilty when I put myself first.
  10. I am a good person because I think of others more than of myself.
You experience the world in terms of control issues. Other people in your life always seem to be in control – you feel controlled by the people around you. At the core of your subjugation is the conviction that you must please others, that you must please parents, brothers, sisters, friends, teachers, lovers, spouses, bosses, coworkers, children, and even strangers. The only person you do not feel obliged to please – is yourself.
You feel trapped in your life. It is constantly meeting the needs of others with so much responsibility. Life loses its joy and freedom. You are passive. Life happens to you.
Two types of subjugation
  1. Self-sacrifice (subjugation out of guilt, want to relieve the pains of others)
  2. Submissiveness (subjugation out of fear, anticipate rejection, retaliation, or abandonment)
At one time, your subjugation really was involuntary: as a child. A child cannot withstand the threat of punishment or abandonment. But as an adult, you are no longer dependent and helpless. As an adult, you have a choice.
When your needs constantly are frustrated, anger is inevitable. You might feel you are used or controlled, or people are taking advantage of you, or you might feel your needs do not count.
Anger is a vital part of healthy relationships. It is a signal that something is wrong – that the other person may be doing something unfair. Ideally, anger motivates us to become more assertive and correct the situation. When anger produces this effect, it is adaptive and helpful.
Although there may be times when you display your anger directly, it is more common for you to express it indirectly, in a disguised fashion – passive-aggressively. You get back at people in subtle ways, like procrastinating, being late, or talking about them behind their backs.
passive-aggressive behaviors – procrastinating, talking behind other people’s backs, agreeing to do something and not following through, making excuses – all share the feature that they irritate other people, but it is difficult for other people to know whether the passive-aggressive person intends the irritation. Until you become more assertive, anger will continue to be a significant problem for you, even if you are not always aware of its harmful consequences.
Some people with subjugation learn to cope through counterattack. They become aggressive and domineering. By rebelling, they overcompensate for their feelings of subjugation. Rebels are not actually any more free than other subjugated people. They do not freely choose their interests or relationships; choices are made for them by the people they are rebelling against. “Why did the teenagers cross the road?” – “Because somebody told them not to”
You may have suppressed your own needs so often that you are no longer aware of what they are. You may have great difficulty identifying your own feelings and finds many of your inner states confusing.
Origins of the subjugation lifetrap
  1. Your parents tried to dominate or control almost every aspect of your life.
  2. Your parent(s) punished, threatened, or got angry at you when you would not do things their way.
  3. Your parent(s) withdrew emotionally or cut off contact with you if you disagreed with them about how to do things.
  4. Your parent(s) did not allow you to make your own choices as a child.
  5. Because your mother/father was not around enough, or was not capable enough, you ended up taking care of the rest of the family.
  6. Your parent(s) always talked to you about their personal problems, so that you were always in the role of listener.
  7. Your parent(s) made you feel guilty or selfish if you would not do what they wanted.
  8. Your parent(s) were like martyrs or saints – they selfessly took care of everyone else and denied their own needs.
  9. You did not feel that your rights, needs, or opinions were respected when you were a child.
  10. You had to be very careful about what you did or said as a child, because you worried about your mother’s/father’s tendency to become worried or depressed.
  11. You often felt angry at your parent(s) for not giving you the freedom that other children had.
Danger signals in potential partners
  1. Your partner is domineering and expects to have things his/her way.
  2. Your partner has a very strong sense of self and knows exactly what he/she wants in most situations.
  3. Your partner becomes irritated or angry when you disagree or attend to your own needs.
  4. Your partner does not respect your opinions, needs, or rights.
  5. Your partner pouts or pulls away from you when you do things your way.
  6. Your partner is easily hurt or upset, so you feel you have to take care of him/her.
  7. You have to watch what you do or say carefully because your partner drinks a lot or has a bad temper.
  8. Your partner is not very competent or together, so you end up having to do a lot of the work.
  9. Your partner is irresponsible or unreliable, so you have to be overly responsible and reliable.
  10. You let your partner make most of the choices because most of the time you do not feel strongly one way or the other.
  11. Your partner makes you feel guilty or accuses you of being selfish when you ask to do something your way.
  12. Your partner becomes sad, worried, or depressed easily, so you end up doing most of the listening.
  13. Your partner is very needy and dependent on you.
Subjugation lifetrap
  1. You let other people have their own way most of the time.
  2. You are too eager to please – you will do almost anything to be liked or accepted.
  3. You do not like to disagree openly with other people’s opinions.
  4. You are more comfortable when other people are in position of control.
  5. You will do almost anything to  avoid confrontation or anger. You always accommodate.
  6. You do not know aht you want or prefer in many situations.
  7. You are not clear about your career decisions.
  8. You always end up taking care of everyone else – almost no one listens to or takes care of you.
  9. You are rebellious  – you automatically say “no” when other people tell you what to do.
  10. You cannot stand to say or do anything that hurts other people’s feelings.
  11. You often stay in situations where you feel trapped or where your needs are not met.
  12. You do not want other people to see you as selfish so you go to the other extreme.
  13. You often sacrifice yourself for the sake of other people.
  14. You often take on more than your share of responsibilities at home and/or at work.
  15. When other people are troubled or in pain, you try very hard to make them feel better, even at your own expense.
  16. You often feel angry at other people for telling you what to do.
  17. You often feel cheated – that you are giving more than you are getting back.
  18. You feel guilty when you ask for what you want.
  19. You do not stand up for your rights.
  20. You resist doing what other people want you to do in an indirect way. You procrastinate, make mistakes, and make excuses.
  21. You cannot get along with authority figures.
  22. You cannot ask for promotions or raises at work.
  23. You feel that you lack integrity – you accommodate too much.
  24. People tell you that you are not aggressive or ambitious enough.
  25. You play down your accomplishments.
  26. You have trouble being strong in negotiations.
If you become more assertive and no longer willing to stay in a subjugated relationship, your relationship must either change to adapt to your greater maturity or it must end.
Subjugated people often work in one of the helping professions, particularly if they are self-sacrificing. You may be a doctor, nurse, homemaker, teacher, minister, therapist, or other kind of healer. one of the gifts of subjugation is acute sensitivity to the needs and pain of others.
Changing your subjugation lifetrap

  1. Understand your childhood subjugation. Feel the subjugated child inside of you.
  2. List everyday situations at home and at work in which you subjugate or sacrifice your own needs to others.
  3. Start forming your own preferences and opinions in many aspects of your life: movies, foods, leisure time, politics, current controversial issues, time usage, etc. Learn about yourself and your needs. Make yourself the source of your opinions, not the people around you.
  4. Make a list of what you do or give to others, and what they do or give to you. How much of the time do you listen to others? How much of the time do they listen to you?
  5. Stop behaving passive-aggressively. Push yourself systematically to assert yourself – express what you need or want. Start with easy requests first.
  6. Practice asking other people to take care of you. Ask for help. Discuss your problems. Try to achieve a balance between what you give and get.
  7. Pull back from relationships with people who are too self-centered or selfish to take your needs into account. Avoid one-sided relationships. Change or get out of relationships where you feel trapped.
  8. Practice confronting people instead of accommodating so much. Express your anger appropriately, as soon as you feel it. Learn to feel more comfortable when someone is upset, hurt or angry at you.
  9. Do not rationalize your tendency to please others so much. Stop telling yourself that it doesn’t really matter. Weigh the positives and negatives to decide which you prefer. Make a choice and communicate that choice.
  10. Review past relationships and clarify your pattern of choosing controlling or needy partners. List the danger signals for you to avoid. If possible, avoid selfish, irresponsible, or dependent partners who generate very high chemistry for you.
  11. When you find a partner who cares about your needs, ask your opinions and values them, and who is strong enough to do 50% of the work, give the relationship a chance.
  12. Be more aggressive at work. Take credit for what you do. Do not let other people take advantage of you. Ask for any promotions or raises you might be entitled to get. Delegate responsibilities to other people.
  13. (To the Rebel) Try to resist doing the opposite of what others tell you to do. Try to figure out what you want, and do it even if it is consistent with what authority figures tell you. Be more assertive instead of more aggressive.
  14. Make flashcards. Use them to keep you on track.
The best way to feel the subjugated child is through imagery. Start with an instance in your current life, and try to remember far back into childhood. Do not force the image to come. Who were you with? Was it your mother or father? Was it your brother, sister, or a friend? Your anger is part of your healthy side. It serves a useful purpose. It may be your only clue that there is something else that you want.
Examples on steps to “un-subjugate”
  1. Tell the paper boy to bring the paper to the door when it’s raining.
  2. Tell a salesperson I don’t want help.
  3. Don’t give my children any more money than their allowance.
  4. Ask Dennis to drive the children to school on mornings of my class.
  5. Tell Dad he can’t criticize the kids anymore in my presence.
  6. Take a full day for myself. Do things I enjoy, like shopping, reading in the park, seeing my friends, etc.
  7. Tell friend I am angry she is not pulling her share of the kids’ carpool.
  8. Tell Dennis how I feel when he criticizes me in front of other people.
  9. Tell Dennis it is not acceptable for him to criticize me in front of other people when I haven’t done anything wrong.
  10. State my preferences instead of just giving in to others.
Work on each item on your list starting from the easier ones. Your goal is to complete each item. Do not get defensive when the other person attacks you. Do not get lost in defending yourself. Stick to your point. Be direct. Do not make a speech. No one can argue with your feelings. State how you feel.
Changing the way you behave with someone changes the way you feel about them. It is hard to remain intimidated after you have dealt with someone assertively. Changing your behavior changes the way you think and feel about yourself. Positive behavior change creates self-confidence and self-esteem. It builds a sense of mastery.
Whatever the other person does, keep calmly restating your position. Do not let the other person trick you into becoming defensive. Stick to your point. Stay calm. Do not yell and scream. You are more powerful when you are clam than when you are screaming. Screaming is a sign of psychological defeat. Try not to attack the person. Simply state what they have done that has upset you.
Start by saying something positive and true. People can only listen when they are in a receptive state. Direct your criticism not at the person, but at the person’s behavior. Be assertive in your words, body language and tone of voice. Look the person directly in the eye.
Subjugated people frequently give up too soon on good relationships, claiming they are just not interested, the relationship does not feel right, something is missing, or there is not enough chemistry. As long as you feel some chemistry – even a moderate amount – give the relationship a chance. As you become more accustomed to your new role, the chemistry might increase.
Sample self-sacrifice Flashcard
I have the right to say “no” when people ask me to do unreasonable things. If I say “yes”, I will only get angry at the other person and at myself. I can live with the guilt of saying “no”. Even if I cause the other person a little pain, it will only be temporary. People will respect me if I say “no” to them. And I will respect myself.
Sample Submission Flashcard
What I want is important. I deserve to be treated with respect. I don’t have to let Dennis treat me badly. I deserve better than that. I can stand up for myself. I can calmly demand that he treat me with respect or the discussion is over. If he can’t grow enough to give me my equal rights in this relationship, then I can leave the relationship and find one that better suits my needs.
Give yourself credit when it is due. Change is much harder when you forget to reward yourself for the steps along the way. Try to keep looking back at how far you have come, rather than looking forward to how you have to go. When you make any change, no matter how small, take a moment to feel good about it.
Subjugation feels right to you. Your lifetrap is central to your entire self-image and view of the world. It is going to fight very hard for survival. You find comfort and reassurance in holding onto your lifetrap, regardless of its negative consequences for your life. You should not be discouraged because change is slow.
Reinventing your Life: 13. “I feel like such a failure”, the Failure life trap

The Failure Questionnaire

  1. I feel I am less competent than other people in areas of achievement.
  2. I feel that I am a failure when it comes to achievement.
  3. Most people my age are more successful in their work than I am.
  4. I was a failure as a student.
  5. I feel I am not as intelligent as most of the people I associate with.
  6. I feel humiliated by my failures in the work sphere.
  7. I feel embarrassed around other people because I do not measure up in terms of my accomplishments.
  8. I often feel that people believe I am more competent than I really am.
  9. I feel that I do not have any special talents that really count in life.
  10. I am working below my potential.
With the Failure lifetrap, the degree to which you use Escape as a coping style is often massive. People avoid developing skills, tackling new tasks, taking on responsibility – all the challenges that might enable them to succeed. Often the attitude is, “What’s the use?” You feel there is no point in making the effort when you are doomed to fail anyway. You procrastinate, you get distracted, you do the work improperly, or you mishandle the tasks you take on. These are all forms of self-sabotage.

Origins of the failure lifetrap

  1. You had a parent (often your father) who was very critical of your performance in school, sports, etc. He/She often called you stupid, dumb, inept, a failure, etc. He/She may have been abusive. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Defectiveness or Abuse.
  2. One or both parents were successful, and you came to believe you could never liver up to their high standards. So you stopped trying. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Defectiveness or Abuse)
  3. You sensed that one or both of your parents either did not care about whether you were successful, or, worse, felt threatened when you did well. Your parent may have been competitive with you – or afraid of losing your companionship if you were too successful in the world. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Emotional Deprivation or Dependence.)
  4. You were not as good as other children either in school or at sports, and felt inferior. You may have had a learning disability, poor attention span, or been very uncoordinated. After that, you stopped trying in order to avoid humiliation by them. (This may be linked to Social Exclusion.)
  5. You had brothers or sisters to whom you were often compared unfavorably. You came to believe you could never measure up, so you stopped trying.
  6. You came from a foreign country, your parents were immigrants, or your family was poorer or less educated than your school mates. You felt inferior to your peers and never felt you could measure up.
  7. Your parents did not set enough limits for you. You did not learn self-discipline or responsibility. Therefore you failed to do homework regularly or learn study skills. This led to failure eventually. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Entitlement).
Failure Lifetrap
  1. You do not take the steps necessary to develop solid skills in your career (eg. finishing schooling, read latest developments, apprentice to an expert). You coast or try to fool people.
  2. You choose a career below your potential (eg. you finished college and have excellent mathematical ability, but are currently driving a taxicab).
  3. You avoid taking the steps necessary to get promotions in your chosen career; your advancement has been unnecessarily halted (eg. You fail to accept promotions or to ask for them; you do not promote yourself or make your abilities widely known to the people who count; you stay in a safe, dead-end job).
  4. You do not want to tolerate working for other people, or working at entry-level jobs, so you end up on the periphery of your field, failing to work your way up the ladder. (Note the overlap with Entitlement and Subjugation)
  5. You take jobs but repeatedly get fired because of lateness, procrastination, poor job performance, bad attitude, etc.
  6. You cannot commit to one career, so you float from job to job, never developing expertise in one area. You are a generalist in a job world that rewards specialists. You therefore never progress very far in any one career.
  7. You selected a career in which it is extraordinarily hard to succeed, and you do not know when to give up (eg. acting, professional sports, music).
  8. You have been afraid to take initiative or make decisions independently at work, so you were never promoted to more responsible positions.
  9. You feel that you are basically stupid or untalented, and therefore feel fraudulent, even though objectively you have been quite successful.
  10. You minimize your abilities and accomplishments, and exaggerate your weaknesses and mistakes. You end up feeling like a failure, even though you have been as successful as your peers.
  11. You have chosen successful men/women as partners in relationships. You live vicariously through their success while not accomplishing much yourself.
  12. You try to compensate for your lack of achievement or work skills by focusing on other assets (eg. Your looks, charm, youthfulness, sacrificing for others). But underneath you still feel like a failure.
Excelling in other roles is a way of compensating for the lifetrap. Men might excel in sports or seducing women; women might excel in their looks or ability to give to others.
Changing your failure lifetrap
  1. Assess whether your feeling of failure is accurate or distorted.
  2. Get in touch with the child inside of you who felt, and still feels, like a failure.
  3. Help your inner child see taht you were treated unfairly.
  4. Become aware of your talents, skills, abilities, and accomplishments in the area of achievement.
If you have, in fact, failed relative to your peers:
  1. Try to see the pattern in your failures.
  2. Once you see your pattern, make a plan to change it. Acknowledge your real talents, accept your limitations, and pursue areas that play on your strengths. Starting is the hardest part. After that it will become easier.
  3. Make a flashcard to overcome your blueprint for failure. Follow your plan, step-by-step.
  4. Involve your loved ones in the process.
Sample Failure Flashcard

Right now I am filled with feelings of failure. This is a familiar feeling. I have felt it all my life. All my life I have avoided taking chances to become a success. All my life I have ignored my design potential even though teachers pointed it out and I did well in these kinds of classes and enjoyed them. Instead I kept setting myself up to fail by going after things I wasn’t good at.

My avoidance developed when I was sick and lonely as a child. When I fell behind, no one helped me to catch up. No one noticed. Running away helped me cope as a child, but it isn’t helping me now.

But now I’m on track. I’m trying to become a set designer. I have a good chance to succeed. I just have to keep myself focused on my path and on the fact that I’m making progress.

Don’t start avoiding again. That leads only back to failure. What is my next step? This is what I should be doing. Working on taking my next step.

The Failure lifetrap is one of the most rewarding to overcome. A whole area of life that is now fraught with shame and tension can become a source of self-esteem. But you have to be willing to fight. You have to be willing to close off your escapes and capitalize on your strengths.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 12. “I’m worthless”, the Defectiveness life trap ***

The Defectiveness Questionnaire

  1. No man or woman could love me if he/she really knew me.
  2. I am inherently flawed and defective. I am unworthy of love.
  3. I have secrets that I do not want to share, even with the people closest to me.
  4. It was my fault that my parents could not love me.
  5. I hide the real me. The real me is unacceptable. The self I show is a false self.
  6. I am often drawn to people – parents, friends, and lovers – who are critical and reject me.
  7. I am often critical and rejecting myself, especially of people who seem to love me.
  8. I devalue my positive qualities.
  9. I live with a great deal of shame about myself.
  10. One of my greatest fears is that my faults will be exposed.
The emotion that is most connected to the Defectiveness lifetrap is shame. Shame is what you feel when your defects are exposed. You will do almost anything to avoid this feeling of shame. Consequently you go to great lengths to keep your defectiveness hidden.
You feel that your defectiveness is inside you and not immediately observable. You feel completely unworthy of love. Feeling unworthy and angry at yourself is a large part of depression. You may feel that you have been depressed your whole life – a kind of low-level depression lurking in the background.
If your primary coping style is Escape, you may have addictions or compulsions. Drinking, drugs, overworking, and overeating are all ways of numbing yourself to avoid the pain of feeling worthless.
The origins of the defectiveness lifetrap
  1. Someone in your family was extremely critical, demeaning, or punitive toward you. You were repeatedly criticized or punished for how you looked, how you behaved, or what you said.
  2. You were made to feel like a disappointment by a parent.
  3. You were rejected or unloved by one or both of your parents.
  4. You were sexually, physically, or emotionally abused by a family member.
  5. You were blamed all the time for things that went wrong in your family.
  6. Your parent told you repeatedly that you were bad, worthless, or good-for-nothing.
  7. You were repeatedly compared in an unfavorable way with your brothers or sisters, or they were preferred over you.
  8. One of your parents left home, and you blamed yourself.
The Defectiveness lifetrap comes from feeling unlovable or not respected as a child. You were repeatedly rejected or criticized by one or both of your parents.
Defectiveness lifetrap is not usually based on a real defect. Even people who have serious physical or mental handicaps do not necessarily develop this lifetrap. The crucial factor is not the presence of a defect, but rather how you are made to feel about yourself by your parents and other members of your family. If you are loved, valued, and respected by your family members – regardless of your actual strengths and weaknesses- you will almost certainly not feel worthless, ashamed or defective.
Danger signals while dating
  1. You avoid dating altogether.
  2. You tend to have a series of short, intense affairs, or several affairs simultaneously.
  3. You are drawn to partners who are critical of you and put you down all the time.
  4. You are drawn to partners who are physically or emotionally abusive toward you.
  5. You are most attracted to partners who are not that interested in you, hoping you can win their love.
  6. You are only drawn to the most attractive and desirable partners, even when it is obvious that you will not be able to attain them.
  7. You are most comfortable with partners who do not want to know you very deeply.
  8. You only date people you feel are below you, whom you do not really love.
  9. You are drawn to partners who are unable to commit to you or to spend time with you on a regular basis. They may be married, insist on simultaneously dating other people, travel regularly, or live in another city.
  10. You get into relationships in which you put down, abuse, or neglect your partners.
You might avoid dating people who really interest you. You only date people you know you could never love. If you have the defectiveness lifetrap, be careful when there is very strong chemistry. You probably have the most powerful attraction to partners who criticize and reject you. They reinforce your feelings of defectiveness. Critical partners will feel familiar because they echo your childhood environment. Stop dating partners who do not treat you well rather than try to win them over and gain their love.
Defectiveness Lifetraps
  1. You become very critical of your partner once you feel accepted, and your romantic feelings disappear. You then act in a demeaning or critical manner.
  2. You hide your true self so you never really feel that your partner knows you.
  3. You are jealous and possessive of your partner.
  4. You constantly compare yourself unfavorably with other people and feel envious and inadequate.
  5. You constantly need or demand reassurance that your partner still values you.
  6. You put yourself down around your partner.
  7. You allow your partner to criticize you, put you down, or mistreat you.
  8. You have difficulty accepting valid criticism; you become defensive or hostile.
  9. You are extremely critical of your children.
  10. You feel like an impostor when you are successful. You feel extremely anxious that you cannot maintain your success.
  11. You become despondent or deeply depressed over career setbacks or rejections in relationships.
  12. You feel extremely nervous when speaking in public.
If you do form a relationship with a partner who loves you and whom you could love, there are many ways you can reinforce your defectiveness lifetrap within the relationship. Your criticalness can be a major problem.
You may try to devalue your partners. You believe a truly desirable partner will see your flaws and ultimately reject you.
At what point do you win her? I guess it’s when she starts to care about me.
 
You may find it difficult to tolerate criticism. You are probably hypersensitive to it. Even a slight criticism can lead you to feel enormous shame. You may vehemently deny that you have done anything wrong, or put down the person who is criticizing you. This is because to acknowledge any flaw is to let in a flood of painful feelings related to Defectiveness. Thus, you protect yourself by denying any flaw, mistake, or error. Your defensiveness and inability to take criticism can be a serious problem.
You tend to get bored with people who treat you well. This is your paradox: you want love so much, but the more your partner gives you love, the less attracted you feel. It feels alien to have someone you value value you.
One way to try to allay feelings of shame is by being critical. Putting down others make you feel better about yourself, at least temporarily.
Many people who attain quick success then become self destructive. Success is so discrepant from what they really feel that they are unable to maintain it. The pressure to maintain the success when they feel so bad about themselves become overwhelming and many fall apart. If you use success in your career to make up or compensate for feelings of defectiveness, then your sense of well-being may be quite fragile. Your whole sense of worth becomes built on your success. Any small deflation or failure may be enough to make you nervous.
Changing your Defectiveness Lifetrap

  1. Understand your childhood feelings of defectiveness and shame. Feel the wounded child within you.
  2. List signs that you might be coping with Defectiveness through Escape or Counterattack (ie. avoiding or compensating)
  3. Try to stop these behaviors designed to escape or counterattack.
  4. Monitor your feelings of defectiveness and shame.
  5. List the men/women who have attracted you most and the ones who have attracted you least.
  6. List your defects and assets as a child and teenager. Then list your current defects and assets. Play down qualities of the false self. Do not minimize your good qualities.
  7. Evaluate the seriousness of your current defects.
  8. Start a program to change the defects that are changeable.
  9. Write a letter to your critical parents. In this letter, try to stop defending them and just focus on being honest about what happened and how it made you feel.
  10. Write a flashcard for yourself. Remember to give yourself love and list qualities in you that are good.
  11. Try to be more genuine in close relationships. If you are too vulnerable try to protect yourself better. If you are not vulnerable enough, try to reveal more of who you are.
  12. Accept love from people close to you. You are very uncomfortable being treated well. It is so alien. You are much more comfortable being mistreated or ignored. It is hard for you to tolerate situations where people take care of you, praise you, and support you.
  13. Stop allowing people to treat you badly. Some continue to live or work with critical or unloving parents. It is strongly advised you do not continue close contact with a critical parent.
  14. If you are in a relationship where you are the critical partner, try to stop putting your partner down. Do the same in other close relationships. Face what you have done, forgive yourself, and change starting right now. Praise the ones you love, they have qualities that are valuable and deserve credit.
Success and status often become addictions. You try to get more and more, but you can never get enough to make you feel good. Success is a pale substitute for finding one person who really knows and loves you.
If you are always running away from your feelings of defectiveness – if you are always drinking, avoiding close relationships, or hiding your real thoughts and feelings – your lifetrap cannot change. Your feelings of defectiveness remain frozen.
Sample Flashcard
Right now I feel humiliated and inadequate. I feel surrounded by people, especially women, who seem superior to me in every way – looks, brains, personality. I feel their presence diminishes me totally.
But this is not true. What is really going on is that my lifetrap is being triggered. The truth is that I am worthy too. I am sensitive, intelligent, loving, and good. The truth is that many people have found me to be worthy of love. Generally I have not given people a chance to get close enough to really know and appreciate me. But believing what I say on this card will help me move in this direction.

Changing your lifetrap involves gradually improving how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how you allow others to treat you. Patients gradually feel better about themselves. Become less defensive and more able to take in love. Feel closer to people. Feel more valued and more loved.

Gradually you will come to accept that your defectiveness was something that was taught to you, and not something inherently true about you. Once you can open yourself up to the idea what your defectiveness is not a fact, the healing process can begin to work

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 11. “Catastrophe is about to strike”, the vulnerability life trap

The vulnerability questionnaire

  1. I cannot escape the feeling that something bad is about to happen.
  2. I feel that catastrophe can strike at any moment.
  3. I worry about becoming a street person or vagrant.
  4. I worry a lot about being attacked by a criminal, mugger, thief, etc.
  5. I worry about getting a serious illness, even though nothing has been diagnosed by a physician.
  6. I am too anxious to travel alone on planes, trains, etc.
  7. I have anxiety attacks.
  8. I am very aware of physical sensations in my body, and I worry about what they mean.
  9. I worry I will lose control of myself in public or go crazy.
  10. I worry a lot about losing all my money or going broke.
The primary feeling associated with the vulnerability lifetrap is anxiety. Catastrophe is about to strike, and you lack the resources to deal with it. This lifetrap is two-pronged: You both exaggerate the risk of danger and minimize your own capacity to cope.
Types of vulnerability
  1. Health and illness
  2. Danger
  3. Poverty
  4. Losing control
Origins of Vulnerability
  1. You learned your sense of vulnerability from observing and living with parents with the same lifetrap. Your parents was phobic or frightened about specific areas of vulnerability (such as losing control, getting sick, going broke, etc)
  2. Your parents was overprotective of you, particularly around issues of danger or illness. Your parent continuously warned you of specific dangers. You were made to feel that you were too fragile or incompetent to handle these everyday issues. (This is usually combined with Dependence)
  3. Your parent did not adequately protect you. Your childhood environment did not seem safe physically, emotionally, or financially. (This is usually combine with emotional deprivation or with Mistrust and abuse.)
  4. You were sick as a child or experienced a serious traumatic event (eg. a car crash) that led you to feel vulnerable.
  5. One of your parents experienced a serious traumatic event and perhaps died. You came to view the world as dangerous.
Danger signals in relationships
  1. You tend to select partners who are willing and eager to protect you from danger or illness. Your partner is strong, and you are weak and needy.
  2. Your prime concern is that your partner is fearless, physically strong, very successful financially, a doctor or otherwise specifically equipped to protect you from your fears.
  3. You seek people who are willing to listen to your fears and reassure you.
What is wrong with someone who will pamper and overprotect you. What is wrong with someone who will make you feel safe.
Vulnerability lifetraps
  1. You feel anxious much of the time as you go about daily life because of your exaggerated fears. You may have generalized anxiety.
  2. You worry so much about your health and possible illnesses that you: (a) get unnecessary medical evaluations, (b) become a burden to your family with your constant need for reassurance, and (c) cannot enjoy other aspects of life.
  3. You experience panic attacks as a result of your preoccupation with bodily sensation and possible illness.
  4. You are unrealistically worried about going broke. This leads you to be unnecessarily tight with money and unwilling to make any financial or career changes. You are preoccupied with keeping what you have at the expense of new investments or projects. You cannot take risks.
  5. You go to exorbitant lengths to avoid criminal danger. For example, you avoid going out at night, visiting large cities, traveling on public transportation. Therefore, your life is very restricted.
  6. You avoid everyday situations that entail even a slight degree of risk. For example, you avoid elevators, subways, or living in a city where there could be an earthquake.
  7. You allow your partner to protect you from your fears. You need a lot of reassurance. Your partner helps you avoid feared situations. You become overly dependent on your partner. You may even resent this dependence.
  8. Your chronic anxiety may, in fact, make you more prone to some kinds of psychosomatic illnesses (eg. eczema, asthma, colitis, ulcers, flu)
  9. You limit your social life because, as a result of your fears, you cannot do many of the things other people do.
  10. You restrict the lives of your partner and family, who have to adapt to your fears.
  11. You are likely to pass on your fears to your own children.
  12. You may use a variety of coping mechanisms to an exaggerated degree to ward off danger. You may have obsessive compulsive symptoms or superstitious thinking.
  13. You may rely excessively on medication, alcohol, food, etc., to reduce your chronic anxiety.
The section above has some flaws. I really don’t agree with number 8. And am not enjoying this chapter.

When you weigh the costs and benefits of taking a risk, the overwhelming factors you consider are safety and security. They are more important than any possible gain. Life for you is not a process of seeking fulfillment and joy. Rather, life is a process of trying to contain danger.

  1. psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to be made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. Your current mental state can affect how bad a physical disease is at any given time.

Curing the body is easy. Fixing the mind is hard.

Changing your vulnerability life trap

  1. Try to understand the origins of your lifetrap.
  2. Make a list of your specific fears.
  3. Develop a hierarchy of feared situations.
  4. Meet with the people you love – your spouse, lover, family, friends – and enlist their support in helping you face your fears.
  5. Examine the probability of your feared events occurring.
  6. Write a flashcard for each fear.
  7. Talk to your inner child. Be a strong, brave parent to your child.
  8. Practice techniques for relaxation.
  9. Begin to tackle each of your fears in imagery.
  10. Tackle each fear in real life.
  11. Reward yourself for each step you take.
The real reward to overcoming your Vulnerability lifetrap is the expansion of your life. There is so much that you miss because of your fears. The journey out of the Vulnerability lifetrap is a journey back to life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 10. “I can’t make it on my own”, the dependence life trap

Dependence questionnaire:

  1. I feel more like a child than an adult when it comes to handling the responsibilities of daily life.
  2. I am not capable of getting by on my own.
  3. I cannot cope well by myself.
  4. Other people can take care of me better than I can take care of myself.
  5. I have trouble tackling new tasks unless I have someone to guide me.
  6. I can’t do anything right.
  7. I am inept.
  8. I lack common sense.
  9. I cannot trust my own judgment.
  10. I find everyday life overwhelming.
When you have a decision to make, you solicit the opinions of others. You probably rush from person to person seeking advice. You change your mind a hundred times. The whole process just leaves you confused and exhausted. If you manage to make a decision, you have to keep asking for reassurance that your decision was right.
Alternately, you might seek the advice of one person in whom you have great confidence, and rely solely on that. That person is often a therapist. Dependent people do not like change. They like everything to stay the same.
You are either surrendering to your life trap or you escape to reinforce your life trap. You avoid the tasks you believe are too difficult. Dependence exacts a high price in terms of freedom and self-expression. But some dependent people feel entitled to have their dependence needs met.
Counter-dependence
This is hidden dependence. Overly compensates by fighting against core feelings of incompetence. Your fears pressure you to ever higher levels of competence, and you drive yourself to master every task. But you never give yourself credit and believes you are fooling people. You always discount your accomplishments and magnifies your errors or deficiencies. You overcompensate your feeling of dependence by behaving as though you do not need help from anybody. you are too independent. You force yourself to face things alone. This tendency to go the other extreme – to act as though you do not need anybody for anything is called counterdependence, and is a strong indication of the presence of the dependence lifetrap. counterdependent people refuse to turn to others for help, even when it is reasonable to do so. You refuse to ask for advice, assistance, or guidance. They cannot allow themselves to get a normal amount of help from other people, because it makes them feel too vulnerable.
If you are counterdependent, even though you do not acknowledge your feelings of dependence, at your core you feel the same as other dependent people. You may appear to be functioning well, but you do so at a high level of anxiety. It is the feeling underneath that gives you away.
The steps toward independence
  1. Establishing a safe base.
  2. Moving away from this base to become autonomous.
If either these two steps is missing, the person may develop a dependence lifetrap. If you never had a safe base, if you never allowed to rest securely in that dependent state, then it is hard for you to move toward independence. You always long for that dependent state. “feel like a child who is acting as if I am an adult”. Your competence and independence do not feel real to you – you are waiting for the base to collapse.
Origins of Dependence in over protectiveness
  1. The parents are overprotective and treat you as if you are younger than you are.
  2. Your parents make your decisions for you.
  3. Your parents take care of all the details of your life so you never learn how to take care of them yourself.
  4. You parents do your schoolwork for you.
  5. You are given little or no responsibility.
  6. You are rarely apart from your parents and have little sense of yourself as a separate person.
  7. Your parents criticize your opinions and competence in everyday tasks.
  8. When you undertake new tasks, your parents interfere by giving excessive advice and instructions.
  9. Your parents make you feel so safe that you never have a serious rejection or failure until you leave home.
  10. Your parents have many fears and always warn you of danger.
Origins of Dependence in under protectiveness
  1. You do not get enough practical guidance or direction from your parents.
  2. You have to make decisions alone beyond your years.
  3. You have to be like an adult in your family, even when underneath you still feel like a child.
  4. You are expected to do things and know things that are over your head.
You may be a “parentified child”. But underneath you did not feel secure and wished for the normal dependence of a child. Your normal is not everyone else’s normal. Wrong gauge.
Danger signals in potential partners
  1. Your partner is like a father/mother figure, who seems strong and protective.
  2. He/She seems to enjoy taking care of you and treats you like a child.
  3. You trust his/her judgment much more than your own. He/She maskes most of the decisions.
  4. You find that you lose your sense of self around him/her – and that your life goes on hold when he/she is not around.
  5. He/She criticizes your opinions, taste, and competence in everyday tasks.
  6. When you have a new task to undertake, you almsot always ask his/her advice, even if he/she has no special expertise in that realm.
  7. He/She does almost everything for you – you have almost no responsibility.
  8. He/She almost never seems frightened, insecure, or vulnerable about him/herself.
Dependence lifetraps
  1. You turn to wiser or stronger people all the time for advice and guidance.
  2. You minimize your successses and magnify your shortcomings.
  3. You avoid new challenges on your own.
  4. You do not make your own decisions.
  5. You do not take care of your own financial records or decisions.
  6. You live through your parents/partner.
  7. You are much more dependent on your parents than most people your age.
  8. You avoid being alone or traveling alone.
  9. You have fears and phobias taht you do not confront.
  10. You are quite ignorant when it comes to many areas of paractical functioning and daily survival skills.
  11. You have not lived on your own for any significant period of time.
The signs of counterdependence
  1. You never seem to be able to turn to anyone for guidance or advice. You have to do everythnig on your own.
  2. You are always taking on new challenges and confronting your fears, but you feel under constant pressure while doing it.
  3. Your partner is very dependent on you, and you end up doing everything and making all the decisions.
You avoid the part of you that wants a little healthy dependence, that just wants to stop coping for a while and rest.
Changing your dependence life trap
  1. Understand your childhood dependence. Feel the incompetent/dependent child inside of you.
  2. List everyday situations, tasks, responsibilities, and decision for which you depend on other people.
  3. List challenges, changes, or phobias that you have avoided because you are afraid of them.
  4. Systematically force yourself to tackle everyday tasks and decisions without asking for help. Take on challenges or make changes you have been avoiding. Start with the easy tasks first.
  5. When you succeed at a task on your own, take credit for it. Do not minimize it. When you fail, do not give up. Keep trying until you master the task.
  6. Review past relationships and clarify the patterns of dependence that recur. List the lifetraps to avoid.
  7. Avoid strong, overprotective partners who generate high chemistry.
  8. When you find a partner who will treat you as an equal, give the relationship a chance to work. Take on your share of responsibilities and decision-making.
  9. Do not complain when your partner/boss refuses to help you enough. Do not turn to him/her for constant advice and reassurance.
  10. Take on new challenges and responsibilities at work, but do it gradually.
  11. If you are counterdependent, acknowledge your need for guidance. Ask others for help. Do not take on more challenges than you can handle. Use your anxiety level as a gauge of how much you are comfortable taking on.
There is a saying in psychotherapy “It is the relationship that heals.” Find people to accept help from. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Trust and take risks. If there is someone in your life that you would like to trust, make sure it is a person who is worthy of your trust. Do not pick your partners foolishly. Do not pick people unless you are confident they will be there for you when you need them.

The journey out of the dependence lifetrap is a movement from childhood to adulthood. It is a trading of fear and avoidance for a sense of mastery – for the sense you can function independently in the world. Give up the exhausting struggle to get people to take care of you. Learn to take care of yourself. Learn to believe in your own ability to cope by mastering the tasks of life.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 9. “I don’t fit in”, the social exclusion life trap

The social exclusion questionnaire

  1. I feel very self conscious in social situations.
  2. I feel dull and boring at parties and other gatherings. I never know what to say.
  3. The people I want as friends are above me in some way (eg. looks, popularity, wealth, status, education, career)
  4. I would rather avoid than attend most social functions
  5. I feel unattractive – too fat, thin, tall, short, ugly, etc
  6. I feel fundamentally different from other people
  7. I do not belong anywhere. I am a loner.
  8. I always feel on the outside of groups
  9. My family was different from the families around us
  10. I feel disconnected from the community at large
The primary feeling is loneliness. You feel excluded from the rest of the world because you feel either undesirable or different.

Difference b/w Social Exclusion and Defectiveness. (One is external, other is internal)

The origins of social exclusion

  1. You felt inferior to other children, because of some observable quality (eg. looks, height, stuttering). You were teased, rejected, or humiliated by other children.
  2. Your family was different from neighbours and people around you.
  3. You felt different from other children, even within your own family.
  4. You were passive as a child; you did what was expected, but you never developed strong interests or preferences of your own. Now you feel you have nothing to offer in a conversation.
Sources of childhood and adolescent undesirability
Physical: Fat, thin, short, tall, weak, ugly, acne, physical handicap, small breasts, big breasts, late puberty, poor at sports, uncoordinated, not sexy.
Mental: Slow at school, learning disabilities, bookworm, stuttering, emotional problems.
Social: Awkward, socially inappropriate, immature, unable to carry on conversations, weird, dull, uncool
Social Exclusion Lifetraps
  1. You feel different or inferior to the people around you. You exaggerate differences and minimize similarities. You feel lonely, even when you are with people.
  2. At work you are on the periphery. You keep to yourself. You do not get promoted or included in projects because you do not fit in.
  3. You are nervous and self-conscious around groups of people. You cannot just relax and be yourself. You worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. You try to plan what to say next. You are very uncomfortable talking to strangers. You feel you have nothing unique to offer other people.
  4. Socially, you avoid joining groups or being part of the community. You only spend time with your immediate family or with one or two close friends.
  5. You feel embarrassed if people meet your family or know a lot about them. You keep secrets about your family from other people.
  6. You pretend to be like other people just to fit in. You do not let most people see the unconcentional parts of yourself. You have a secret life or feelings that you believe would lead other people to humiliate you or reject you.
  7. You put a lot of emphasis on overcoming your own family’s deficiencies: to gain status, have material possessions, sound highly educated, obscure ethnic differences, etc
  8. You have never accepted certain parts of your nature because you believe other people would think less of you for them (eg. You are shy, intellectual, emotional, too feminine, weak, dependent)
  9. You are very self-conscious about your physical appearance. You feel less attractive than other people say you are. You may work inordinately hard to be physically attractive and are especially sensitive to your physical flaws (eg. weight, physique, figure, height, complexion, features)
  10. You avoid situations where you might seem dumb, slow, or awkward (eg. going to college, public speaking)
  11. You compare yourself a lot to other people who have the hallmarks of popularity that you lack (eg. looks, money, athletic ability, success, clothing)
  12. You put too much emphasis on compensating for what you feel are your social inadequacies: trying to prove your popularity or social skills, win people over, be part of the right social group, have success in your career, or raise children who are popular.
Changing social exclusion
  1. Understand your childhood social exclusion. Feel the isolated or inferior child inside of you.
  2. List everyday social situations in which you feel anxious or uncomfortable.
  3. List group situations that you avoid. What makes you feel inferior? What is the worst that can happen?
  4. List ways that you counterattack, or overcompensate, for feeling different or inferior.
  5. Drawing on step 1-4, list the qualities in yourself that make you feel alienated, vulnerable or inferior. ex. drawing on differences instead of similarities is a problem.
  6. If you are convinced that a flaw is real, write down steps you could take to overcome it. Follow through gradually with your plans of change. Use imagery as dress rehearsals of successful social situations.
  7. Reevaluate the importance of flaws that you cannot change. Flaws pale compare to the person as a whole. Difference is appreciated. Find a balance between fitting in and expressing our unique natures.
  8. Make a flashcard for each flaw.
  9. Make a hierarchy of social and work groups you have been avoiding. Gradually move up the hierarchy. Stop escaping. Use positive imagery to practice performing well.
  10. When you are in groups, make a concerted effort to initiate conversations.
  11. Be yourself in groups. Having a secret is isolating.
  12. Stop trying so hard to compensate for your perceived areas of undesirability. If you are ashamed of a certain situation, you may counterattack and try to prove people otherwise. Showing off is false. Don’t try so hard to impress other people.
Sample flashcard
I know that right now I feel anxious, as if everyone is looking at me. I feel like I can’t talk to anyone. But it is just my lifetrap being triggered. If I look around, I will see that people are not looking at me. And even if someone is, it is probably a friendly look. If I start talking to people, in a little while my anxiety will grow less. People can’t really tell I’m anxious. Besides, other people are anxious too. Everyone is a little anxious in social situations. I can start by relaxing my body, looking around the room, and finding one person to talk to.
I’m starting to feel different from the people I’m with. I’m feeling like an outsider, alone in the crowd. I am holding myself back, becoming aloof. But this is my lifetrap kicking in. In fact I’m exaggerating how different I am. If I become friendlier, I will find that we have things in common. I jut have to give myself a chance to connect.
The journey out of social exclusion is a journey from loneliness to connection. Try to see it in this positive light. If you are willing to apply these change strategies, you will find that there are many rewards. The ultimate reward is a satisfying social life. You can feel part of a group or the community. This is a vital part of life, of which you are now deprived. Why miss out in this way?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 8. “I’ll never get the love I need”, the emotional deprivation life trap

Emotional Deprivation Questionnaire

  1. I need more love than I get.
  2. No one really understands me
  3. I am often attracted to cold partners who can’t meet my needs
  4. I feel disconnected, even from the people who are closest to me.
  5. I have not had one special person I love who wants to share him/herself with me and cares deeply about what happens to me.
  6. No one is there to give me warmth, holding, and affection.
  7. I do not have someone who really listens and is tuned into my true needs and feelings.
  8. It is hard for me to let people guide or protect me, even though it is what I want inside.
  9. It is hard for me to let people love me.
  10. I am lonely a lot of the time.
Emotional deprivation is what a neglected child feels. It is a feeling of aloneness, of nobody there. It is a sad and heavy sense of knowledge that you are destined to be alone. Emotional deprivation is a feeling of chronically disappointed in other people. People let you down. We are not speaking about a single case of disappointment, but rather a pattern of experiences over a long period of time. If your conclusion as a result of all your relationships is that you cannot count on people to be there for you emotionally – that is a sign that you have the lifetrap.
The origins of emotional deprivation
  1. Mother is cold and unaffectionate. She does not hold and rock the child enough.
  2. The child does not have a sense of being loved and valued – of being someone who is precious and special.
  3. Mother does not give the child enough time and attention.
  4. The mother is not really tuned into the child’s needs. She has difficulty empathizing with the child’s world. She does not really connect with the child.
  5. Mother does not soothe the child adequately. The child, then, may not learn to soothe him/herself or to accept soothing from others.
  6. The parents do not adequately guide the child or provide a sense of direction. There is no one solid for the child to rely upon.
Emotional deprivation is difficult to recognize unless you experienced extreme neglect. You might recognize the life trap in yourself only after you have asked yourself specific questions: “Did I feel close to my mother, did I feel she understood me, did I feel loved, did I love her, was she warm and affectionate, could I tell her what I felt, could she give me what I needed?” Emotional Deprivation is one of the most common lifetraps, it is often one of the hardest to detect.
Some people who have the emotional deprivation lifetrap avoid romantic relationships altogether, or only get into them for a short time. This is typical of the Escape coping style. It is probably in these relationships that your lifetrap is most visible. Perhaps you have a history of breaking off relationships when the person starts to get too close. Or you protect yourself from closeness by choosing partners who are unavailable. Or you choose someone who is there, but is cold and ungiving.
Danger signals in the early stages of dating
  1. he/she doesn’t listen to me.
  2. he/she does all the talking.
  3. he/she is not comfortable touching or kissing me.
  4. he/she is only sporadically available.
  5. he/she is cold and aloof (signs starting from high school)
  6. you are much more intersted in getting close than he/she is
  7. the person is not there for you when you feel vulnerable
  8. the less available he/she is, the more obsessed you become
  9. he/she does not understand your feelings
  10. you are giving much more than you are getting
When several of these signals are occurring at once, run – particularly if the chemistry is very strong. Your lifetrap has been triggered full force.
Emotional Deprivation Lifetraps in a relationship

  1. you don’t tell your partner what you need, then feel disappointed when your needs are not met.
  2. you don’t tell your partner how you feel, and then feel disappointed when you are not understood.
  3. you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, so that your partner can protect or guide you.
  4. you feel deprived, but don’t say anything. You harbor resentment.
  5. you become angry and demanding
  6. you constantly accuse your partner of not caring enough about you
  7. you become distant and unreachable
You might reinforce your deprivation by sabotaging the relationship. You might become hypersensitive to signs of neglect. You might expect your lover to read your mind and almost magically to fill your needs.
Some people with emotional deprivation lifetrap counterattack. they compensate for their feelings of deprivation by becoming hostile and demanding. These people are narcissistic. They act as if they are entitled to get all their needs met. They demand a lot, and often get a lot, from the people who become their lovers. You might be very demanding about material things. You might be demanding about anything except the true object of your craving, which is emotional nurturance.
Some children are neglected in both domains, emotionally and materially. No matter where they turn, they encounter deprivation. These children usually just give up and learn to expect nothing. (the surrender coping style)
Changing emotional deprivation
  1. Understand your childhood deprivation. Feel the deprived child inside you.
  2. Monitor your feelings of deprivation in your current relationships. Get in touch with your needs for nurturance, empathy, and guidance.
  3. review pas relationships and clarify the patterns that recur. List the pitfalls to avoid from now on.
  4. avoid cold partners who generate high chemistry
  5. when you find a partner who is emotionally generous, give the relationship a chance to work. Ask for what you want. Share your vulnerability with your partner.
  6. Stop blaming your partner and demanding that your needs be met.
Three kinds of emotional deprivation
  1. Deprivation of Nurturance
  2. Deprivation of Empathy
  3. Deprivation of Protection
You keep what you want a secret, then get angry when you do not get it. Keeping your needs secret is a way of surrendering to your lifetrap. You make sure that even though your partner is a warm person, your needs still will not get met. If you are with a loving partner, tell the person what you need.  Allow your partner to take care of you, protect you, and understand you. This can be frightening. It means making yourself vulnerable to your partner. You have become very invested in doing the opposite, keeping yourself invulnerable to protect yourself from disappointment. As a chid you had a good reason for this. You have probably had good reason to keep up this wall in many relationships since childhood. But ask yourself, “This time, is it different? Can I trust this person?” If the answer is “yes,” perhaps you should take a chance.
Your emotional deprivation lifetrap will not fall away suddenly. It is a matter of slowly chipping away at the lifetrap – of countering the lifetrap each time it is triggered. You must throw your whole being against the lifetrap – your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It is sad that the more you were damaged as a child, the harder you will have to work. This is one more unfairness in the string of unfairness against you. If you were seriously damaged as a child, you may need professional help.
You could easily access anger about the past, but it was very difficult  to feel the pain. You never saw yourself as responsible for creating relationships, always focused on how the other person was disappointing you, how the other person was letting you down.
Sometimes you are attracted to narcissistic men but now you must resist them. You must learn not only to give love but to receive love in return. It may seem funny that you will have to learn how to take love.

Reinventing your Life: 7. “I can’t trust you”, the mistrust and abuse life trap

Questionnaire

  1. I expect people to hurt or use me.
  2. Throughout my life people close to me have abused me.
  3. It is only a matter of time before the people I love will betray me.
  4. I have to protect myself and stay on my guard.
  5. If I am not careful, people will take advantage of me.
  6. I set up tests for people to see if they are really on my side.
  7. I try to hurt people before they hurt me.
  8. I am afraid to let people get close to me because I expect them to hurt me.
  9. I am angry about what people have done to me.
  10. I have been physically, verbally, or sexually abused by people I should have been able to trust.
Abuse is a complex mixture of feelings – pain, fear, rage, and grief. The feelings are intense, and they simmer near the surface. You may have volatile moods. You suddenly become very upset – either crying or enraged. You may space out and disassociate. Your emotions are numb.
Your experience of relationship is a painful one. Relationships are not places to relax and become vulnerable. Rather they are dangerous and unpredictable. People hurt you, betray you, and use you. It is hard to trust people, particularly the ones closest to you. Anxiety and depression are common. You may have a deep sense of despair about your life. Certainly you have low self-esteem and feelings of defectiveness.
Origins of the Mistrust and Abuse Life trap
  1. Someone in your family physically abused you as a child.
  2. Someone in your family sexually abused you as a child, or repeatedly touched you in a sexually provocative way.
  3. Someone in your family repeatedly humiliated you, teased you, or put you down (verbal abuse).
  4. People in your family could not be trusted. (They betrayed confidences, exploited your weaknesses to their advantage, manipulated you, made promises they had no intention of keeping, or lied to you.)
  5. Someone in your family seemed to get pleasure from seeing you suffer.
  6. You were made to do things as a child by the threat of severe punishment or retaliation.
  7. One of your parents repeatedly warned you not to trust people outside of the family.
  8. The people in your family were against you.
  9. One of your parents turned to you for physical affection as a child, in a way that was inappropraite or made you uncomfortable.
  10. People used to call you names that really hurt.
All forms of abuse are violations of your boundaries. Your physical, sexual, or psychological boundaries were not respected.
Abuse stirred sexual feelings and can make you feel confused and ashamed. You are not expected to protect yourself. Rather, your family was supposed to be protecting you. The feeling of not being protected is part of most forms of abuse. One parent abused you, and the other failed to prevent or stop it. They both let you down.
We all know what we should do when a stranger attempts to abuse us. We should fight back, we should get help, we should escape. All of these options become problematic when you are a child and the abuser is someone you love. At bottom, you tolerated the abuse because you needed the connection with the person. It was your parent or brother or sister. Indeed, it may have been the only connection you were able to get. Without it you would have been alone. To most children, some connection, even an abusive one, is better than no connection at all.
The abuser makes the child feel worthless. The abuser blames the child, and the child accepts that blame.
Abuse creates powerful feelings of defectiveness. It makes you ashamed of who you are. You are unworthy. You are not entitled to have any rights or to stand up for yourself. You have to let the person use you and take advantage of you. It feels to you as if abuse is all you deserve.
Dissociating may have been a way for you to remove yourself from the situation emotionally and just get through it. Dissociating also gives an air of separateness to an event – it seems to be happening separately from the rest of your life.
One of the most common Counterattacks for the Mistrust and Abuse lifetrap is to abuse somebody else. The abuse sometimes becomes the abuser. Many victims of abuse who do not actually behave abusively do have fantasies of abusing or hurting people. You may lash out at other people sporadically. You may enjoy seeing other people hurt. You may be manipulative or insulting.
Danger signals in relationships
  1. he/she has an explosive temper that scares you.
  2. he/she loses control when he/she drinks too much.
  3. he/she puts you down in front of your friends and family.
  4. he/she repeatedly demeans you, criticizes you, and makes you feel worthless.
  5. he/she has no respect for your needs
  6. he/she will do anything – lie or manipulate – to get his/her way
  7. he/she is somewhat of a con artist in business dealings
  8. he/she is sadistic or cruel – seems to get pleasure when you or other people suffer
  9. he/she hits you or threatens you when you do not do as he/she wants
  10. he/she forces you to have sex, even when you do not want to
  11. he/she exploits your weaknesses to his/her advantage
  12. he/she cheats on you
  13. he/she is very unreliable, and takes advantage of your generosity
You may find that you are most attracted to abusive partners. People who use, hit, rape, or insult and demean you – are the lovers who generate the most chemistry.
Life traps in relationships
  1. You often feel people are taking advantage of you, even when there is little concrete proof.
  2. You allow other people to mistreat you because you are afraid of them or because you feel it is all you deserve.
  3. You are quick to attack other people because you expect them to hurt you or put you down.
  4. You have a very hard time enjoying sex – it feels like an obligation or you cannot derive pleasure.
  5. You are reluctant to reveal personal information because you worry that people will use it against you.
  6. You are reluctant to show your weaknesses because you expect people to take advantage of them
  7. You feel nervous around people because ou worry that they will humiliate you
  8. You give in too easily to other people because you are afraid of them.
  9. You feel that other people seem to enjoy your suffering.
  10. You have a definite sadistic or cruel side, even though you may not show it.
  11. You allow other people to take advantage of you because “it is better than being alone.”
  12. You feel that men/women cannot be trusted.
  13. You do not remember large portions of your childhood.
  14. When you are frightened of someone, you “tune out”, as if part of you is not really there.
  15. You often feel people have hidden motives or bad intentions, even when you have little proof.
  16. You often have sado-masochistic fantasies.
  17. You avoid getting close to men/women because you cannot turst them.
  18. You feel frightened around men/women and you do not understand why.
  19. You have sometimes been abusive or cruel to other people, especially the ones to whom you are closest.
  20. You often feel helpless in relation to other people.
It hurts too much as a child to hope and be disappointed. You may do things to encourage partners to treat you badly and send out messages you are not worth treating well. You may swing to the opposite end and have a problem with aggressiveness. “The best defense is a good offense.” Since you expect the other person to attack, you make sure you attack first. You do not notice that time passes and you are the only one attacking.
Changing your mistrust and abuse life trap
  1. If at all possible, see a therapist to help you with this lifetrap, particularly if you have been sexually or physically abused.
  2. Find a friend you trust (or your therapist). Do imagery. Try to recall memories of abuse. Relive each incident in detail.
  3. While doing imagery, vent your anger at your abuser(s). Stop feeling helpless in the image.
  4. Stop blaming yourself. You did not deserve the abuse.
  5. Consider reducing or stopping contact with your abuser(s) while you work on this lifetrap.
  6. If it is possible, when you are ready, confront your abuser face-to-face, or send a letter.
  7. Stop tolerating abuse in your current relationships.
  8. Try to trust and get closer to people who deserve it.
  9. Try to become involved with a partner who respects your rights and does not want to hurt you.
  10. Do not abuse the people close to you.
You did not deserve the abuse. Stop making excuses for your abuser. You were not at fault. You were a helpless child. You did the best you could under the circumstances. It is important to be crystal-clear on this issue. No child deserves to be abused.
No matter what you were made to feel, the abuse did not happen because you were bad. That was a convenient excuse. Victimizers always devalue their victims. Awake from your feelings of defectiveness. Find the good child within you. Feel sympathy for this wounded child.
Get angry at the parent who did no protect you. Direct the anger away from yourself. Stop dealing with your anger in self-destructive ways. Use your anger to make you stronger.
You should have no shame about needing help. Reclaim the things that are rightfully yours – all the joys that are possible in supportive human relationships. The road out is long and difficult, but for that reason it can be one of the most rewarding. The road can bring you to what you have always wanted – to love and be loved.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 17. A Philosophy of Change

Seven Basic Assumptions

  1. We all have a part of ourselves that wants to be happy and fulfilled. (aka self actualization)
  2. There are several basic “needs” or desires that will lead most of us to be happier if they are satisfied: The need to relate and feel connected to other people; the need for independence, for autonomy; the need to feel desirable, competent, successful, attractive, worthwhile; the need to express what we want and feel to others; the need for pleasure, fun, creativity – to pursue interests and activities that gratify us; the need to help others, to show concern and love.
  3. People can change in very basic ways. Changing core patterns is extremely difficult. Our inherited temperament, along with our early family and peer experiences, create very powerful forces that act against change, they do not make change impossible. The more destructive these early forces, the harder we will have to work to change life traps.
  4. We have strong tendencies to resist core change. It is highly unlikely that we will change basic life traps without making a conscious decision to do so.
  5. Most of us have strong inclinations to avoid pain. We avoid facing situations and feelings that cause us pain, even when confronting them might lead to growth. In order to modify core life traps, we must be willing to face painful memories that stir up emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, and embarrassment. We must be willing to face situations we have avoided much of our lives because we fear they will result in failure, rejection, or humiliation. Unless we face these painful memories and situations, we are doomed to repeat patterns that hurt us. We must commit ourselves to facing pain in order to change.
  6. We do not believe that any one technique or approach to change will be successful for all people.
Creating a personal vision
Change is not just the absence of life traps. We must each discover who we want to be and what we want from life. It is vital to have this direction before going too far along the change process. Look beyond the elimination of your individual life traps to an image of what will lead you final to feel fulfilled, happy, and self-actualized.
Many of us go through life with only a fuzzy sense of where we are going. This explains why many of us reach middle-age or retirement feeling disappointed and disillusioned. We need a broad set of overriding goals to guide us. The eleven life traps are obstacles to reaching our goals, they do not tell us what each of us uniquely needs to be happy. Once you develop a set of life goals, you can begin to plan specific steps to get there. Approach change in a strategic way, not haphazardly.
You must discover your natural inclination, which includes those interests, relationships, and activities that inherently lead us to feel fulfilled. Each person has an innate set of personal preferences. Our best clues to recognizing natural inclinations are our emotions and our bodily sensations. When we engage in activities or relationships that fulfill our natural inclinations, we feel good. Our body is content and we experience pleasure or joy.
We must find out what makes us happy, without relying solely on what makes the people around us happy.
One
What is your vision of relationships that you want in your life? Clarify the ways you want to connect to other people. Consider intimate relationships. What kind of intimate relationship do you want? What is most important to you – passion and romance, a companion, a family? What are your goals in finding a partner? How important is emotional closeness to you compared to sexual excitement?
Relationships are almost a trade-off. What is most important to you in choosing a partner? What are the less important qualities that would be nice, but you would do without if you had to.
What kind of social relationships do you want? What kind of friends? How involved do you want to be in a social “scene?” How committed do you want to be to groups in the community? Do you want to participate in church? Do you want to be involved in the running of schools or in local government? Do you want to participate in support groups? How much do you want to socialize with people at work?
Emotional Deprivation, Mistrust and Abuse, Abandonment and Social Exclusion life traps are the biggest blocks to developing the kind of relationships you want in your life. Conquering these life traps will allow you to connect to people on a deeper and more satisfying level. Your relationship vision will guide you in fighting these life traps.
Two
What is the optimal level of independence for you? Autonomy gives you the freedom to seek out healthy relationships, and to avoid or leave unhealthy ones. You are free to stay in a relationship because you want to stay, not because you need to. Dependence or Vulnerability are the greatest blocks to developing a healthy level of autonomy.
Autonomy involves developing a sense of identity. You are free to be who you uniquely are. You will not lose yourself in relationships, living your partner’s life instead of your own.
Three
Self esteem provides a context of freedom. The defectiveness and failure life traps are blocks to attaining self esteem. Choose a life that enhances your self-esteem. How can you strive to feel good about yourself, to accept yourself without being overly self-punitive or insecure? What are your strengths and how can you develop them? What are the weaknesses that you can correct?
Four
Self assertion and self expression involves asking to have your own needs met and expressing your feelings. Asserting yourself enables you to follow your natural inclinations and get pleasure out of life. In what ways can you express who you are? Subjugation and Unrelenting Standards are blocks to self assertion. Passion, creativity, playfulness and fun can help make life worth living. It is important to be able to let go sometimes, to include excitement and pleasure in your life. Life feels heavy if you ignore self assertion and self expression. Change involves allowing yourself to fulfill your own basic needs and inclinations, without unnecessarily hurting those around you.
Five
Concern for others is one of the most gratifying aspects of life. Learn to give to other people and to empathize with them. Entitlement may keep you from showing concern for the people around you. It feels good to make a contribution. Social involvement, charity, having children and giving to children, helping your friends, these involve connection to something greater than yourself and your individual life. How can you contribute ego the world at large? Many religious experience provide this added dimension and fulfillment.
Goals of life are probably universal: love, self-expression, pleasure, freedom, spirituality, giving to others – this is what most of us want. However these goals often collide. For example, passion may conflict with stability, autonomy with intimacy, self-expression with concern for others. Set priorities and choose the balance that feels right for you.
Empathic self confrontation
Show compassion for yourself, while continually pushing yourself to change. Be understanding of your limitations and flaws. Remember the origins of your life traps and try to empathize with yourself when you were a child.
No matter how damaged you were as a child, this does not excuse you from taking responsibility for change. Childhood pain explains why change is so difficult and takes so long; it does not explain why someone allows destructive patterns to continue without working hard to alter them.
Have faith. Be patient. Some changes cannot be accomplished in small steps. They require a leap of faith, a high level of risk. Sometimes we met make major changes in order to grow. These include leaving a relationship switching careers, or moving to another city. You may have to surrender the of childhood patterns in order to grow into the adult you want to be.
Enlisting the help of others
It is going to be difficult for you to change without the help of some person who can see you clearly and realistically, because you will have trouble seeing your own distortions.
Unfortunately, turning to family and friends may not be an option for you. You may not have close family and friends or they may be too disturbed themselves to be of much help to you. Often family members reinforce your life traps, rather than help you change. If this is the case, consider seeking professional help.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 16. “I can have whatever I want”, the entitlement life trap

Entitlement Questionnaire

  1. I have trouble accepting “no” for an answer.
  2. I get angry when I cannot get what I want.
  3. I am special and should not have to accept normal constraints.
  4. I put my needs first
  5. I have a lot of difficulty getting myself to stop drinking, smoking, overeating, or other problem behaviors.
  6. I cannot discipline myself to complete boring or routine tasks.
  7. I act on impulses and emotions that get me into trouble later.
  8. If I cannot reach a goal, I become easily frustrated and give up
  9. I insist that people do things my way
  10. I have trouble giving up immediate gratification to reach a long-range goal.
Three types of Entitlement
  1. Spoiled Entitlement – You are indifferent to normal social expectations and consider yourself above the law. You believe other people should be punished when they violate social norms, but you should not be punished.
  2. Dependent Entitlement – When someone fails to take care of you, you feel like a victim. You feel weak and vulnerable. You need help, and people must give it to you.
  3. Impulsive – You act on your desires and feelings without regard for the consequences.
Origins of Entitlement

Weak Limits: Parents fail to exercise sufficient discipline and control over their children. Children are given whatever they want, whenever they want it. They are not forced to take responsibility and complete assigned tasks. Parents allow children to act out impulses such as anger, without imposing sufficient negative consequences.

Dependent Overindulgence: overindulge their children in ways that make the children dependent on them. The environment is so safe and protected and so little is expected of the child that the child comes to demand this level of care.

Counterattack for other life traps: overcompensation for other core life traps: Defectiveness, Emotional Deprivation, Social Exclusion.

Danger Signals in Partners

Spoiled Entitlement: attracted to partners who

  1. Sacrifice their own needs for yours.
  2. Allow you to control them
  3. Are afraid to express their own needs and feelings
  4. Are willing to tolerate abuse, criticism, etc
  5. Allow you to take advantage of them
  6. Do not have a strong sense of self, and allow themselves to live through you.
  7. Are dependent on you, and accept domination as the price of being dependent.
Dependent Entitlement: You are drawn to strong partners who are competent and willing to take care of you.
Impulsivity: Drawn to partners who are organized, disciplined, compulsive, etc, and who thus offset your own tendency toward chaos and disorganization.
Spoiled Entitlement Life trap
  1. You do not care about the needs of the people around you You get your needs met at their expense. You hurt them.
  2. You may abuse, humiliate, or demean the people around you.
  3. You have difficulty empathizing with the feelings of those around you. They feel you do not understand or care about their feelings.
  4. You may take more from society than you give. This results in an inequity and is unfair to other people.
  5. At work, you may be fired, demoted, etc for failing to follow rules.
  6. Your partner, family, friends, or children may leave you, resent you, or cut off contact with you because you treat them abusively, unfairly, or selfishly.
  7. You may get into legal or criminal trouble if you cheat or break laws, such as tax evasion or business fraud.
  8. You never have a chance to experience the joy of giving to other people unselfishly – or of having a truly equal, reciprocal relationship.
  9. If your Entitlement is a form of counterattack, you never allow yourself to face and solve your underlying life traps. Your real needs are never addressed. You may continue to feel emotionally deprived, defective, or socially undesirable.
Dependent Entitlement Lifetraps
  1. You never learn to take care of yourself, because you insist that others take care of you.
  2. You unfairly impinge on the rights of people close to you to use their own time for themselves. Your demands become a drain on the people around you.
  3. People you depend on may eventually become fed up or angry with your dependence and demands, and will leave you, fire you, or refuse to continue helping you.
  4. The people you depend on may die or leave, and you will be unable to take care of yourself.
Impulsivity Lifetraps
  1. You never complete tasks necessary to make progress in your career. You are a chronic underachiever, and eventually feel inadequate as a result of your failures.
  2. The people around you may eventually get fed up with you.
  3. Your life is in chaos. You cannot discipline yourself sufficiently well to have direction and organization. You are therefore stuck.
  4. You may have difficulty with addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, or overeating.
  5. In almost every area of your life you lack of discipline prevents you from achieving your goals
  6. You may not have enough money to get what you want in life.
  7. You may have gotten into trouble with authorities at school, with police, or at work because you cannot control your impulses.
  8. You may have alienated your friends, spouse, children, or bosses, through your anger and explosiveness.
The issue of motivation to change being low is a big one with the Entitlement life trap. Unlike the other life traps, this does not feel painful. Rather, it seems to feel good. It is the people around you who are in pain.
Helping yourself overcome entitlement problems
  1. List the advantages and disadvantages of not accepting limits. This is crucial to motivate yourself to change.
  2. Confront the excuses you use to avoid accepting limits.
  3. List the various ways that your limits problem manifests itself in everyday life.
  4. Make flashcards to help you fight your Entitlement and self-discipline problems in each situation.
  5. Ask for feedback as you try to change.
  6. Try to empathize with the people around you. Work on empathizing without getting defensive.
  7. If your life trap is a form of counterattack, try to understand the core life traps underlying it. Follow the relevant change techniques. Your Entitlement is all or nothing. Either you get everything you want or you are deprived; either you are perfect or you are defective; either you are adored or you are rejected. You need to learn that there is a middle ground, that you can get your needs met in a normal way.
  8. If you have self-discipline problems, make a hierarchy of tasks, graded in terms of boredom or frustration level. Gradually work your way up the hierarchy.
  9. If you have difficulty controlling your emotions, develop a “time-out” technique. Do not attack the person. State what the person has done that upsets you.
  10. If you have Dependent Entitlement, make a hierarchy of tasks, graded in terms of difficulty. Gradually start doing the things you allow other people to do for you. Start proving to yourself that you are competent.
Writing an entitlement flashcard
  1. Tune into the needs of the people around you. Try to understand how they are feeling. Empathize.
  2. Aim towards reciprocity, fairness, and equity as principles to guide your actions with others.
  3. Ask yourself if your immediate need is important enough to risk the negative consequences (e.g. alienating friends, losing your job)
  4. Learn to tolerate frustration as a means to achieving your long range goals. As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain”
Find appropriate ways of getting your ore needs met – ways that respect the rights and needs of others. You do not have to be so demanding, controlling, and entitled to get what you want. Give up your counterattacks. Start placing emphasis on intimate relationships, on trying to get your needs met through closeness with other people. Learn to ask for what you want without demanding it. Try being more honest with yourself. Be more open about who you are. Learn to say who you are, without trying to cover up, conceal, or impress.

Helping someone you know overcome limits problems

  1. Identify your sources of leverage. What do you have that he/she values? your respect? money? job? love?
  2. How far you are willing to go to get change? Would you be willing to leave your partner? Fire an employee?
  3. Approach the entitled person and express your complaints in a non-attacking way. Ask if he/she is aware of how you feel. Is he/she willing to work on changing?
  4. If he/she is willing, go through the other steps in this chapter together.
  5. If he/she is unreceptive, tell him/her the consequences if he/she will not try to change. Try to setup a hierarchy of negative consequences. Begin to implement them one at a time, until the entitled person is willing to work with you. Try to empathize with how hard it is for I’m/her o change, but remain firm.
  6. Remember that it is often impossible to get someone with this life trap to change. If you do not have enough leverage, you will probably be unsuccessful. Be prepared to accept the price of carrying through on your decision to push for change. Make a list of advantages and disadvantages of pushing for change by risking conflict and possibly ending your relationship. Make an informed choice.
Demonstrations of hurt are almost useless with an entitled person.
Studies have shown that the more distressed patients display when they come to therapy, the more likely they are to change. Until you overcome your entitlement, you will never fulfill your potential for love and work.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 15. “It’s never quite good enough”, the unrelenting standards life trap

unrelenting standards questionnaire

  1. I cannot accept second best. I have to be the best at most of what I do.
  2. Nothing I do is quite good enough.
  3. I strive to keep everything in perfect order.
  4. I must look my best at all times.
  5. I have so much to accomplish that I have no time to relax.
  6. My personal relationships suffer because I push myself so hard.
  7. My health suffers because I put myself under so much pressure.
  8. I deserve strong criticism when I make a mistake.
  9. I am very competitive.
  10. Wealth and status are very important to me.
The primary feeling is pressure. You can never relax and enjoy life. You are always pushing to get ahead.
Physical stress such as IBS and headaches are common. You might have high blood pressure, ulcers, colitis, insomnia, fatigue, panic attacks, heart arrhythmias, obesity, back pain, skin problems, arthritis, asthma, etc.
For you, life is only doing. Life is having to work or achieve all the time. You feel constantly frustrated and irritated with yourself for not meeting your standards. You may feel chronically angry, with high levels of anxiety. A major anxiety is time.

Three types of unrelenting standards

  1. Compulsive. Everything has to be perfect. Your surroundings are disappointing or you may blame yourself for your surroundings. Need to feel in control.
  2. Achievement Orientated. Workaholic. Any form of activity that you turn into work and enslaves you.
  3. Status Oriented. Excessive emphasis on gaining recognition, status, wealth, beauty – a false self.
The origins of unrelenting standards
  1. Your parent’s love for you was conditional on your meeting high standards.
  2. One or both parents were models of high, unbalanced standards.
  3. Your unrelenting standards developed as a way to compensate for feelings of defectiveness, social exclusion, deprivation, or failure.
  4. One or both parents used shame or criticism when you failed to meet high expectations.
Unrelenting Standard Life traps
  1. Your health is suffering because of daily stresses, such as over work – not only because of unavoidable life events.
  2. The balance between work and pleasure feels lopsided. Life feels like constant pressure and work without fun.
  3. Your whole life seems to revolve around success, status, and material things. You seem to have lost touch with your basic self and no longer know what really makes you happy.
  4. Too much of your energy goes into keeping your life in order. You spend too much time keeping lists, organizing your life, planning, cleaning, and repairing, and not enough time being creative or letting go.
  5. Your relationships with other people are suffering because so much time goes into meeting your own standards – working, being successful, etc.
  6. You make other people feel inadequate or nervous around you because they worry about not being able to meet your high expectations of them.
  7. You rarely stop and enjoy successes. You rarely savor a sense of accomplishment. Rather, you simply go on to the next task waiting for you.
  8. You feel overwhelmed because you are trying to accomplish so much; there never seems to be enough time to complete what you have started.
  9. Your standards are so high that you view many activities as obligations or ordeals to get through, instead of enjoying the process itself.
  10. You procrastinate a lot. Because your standards make many tasks feel overwhelming, you avoid them.
  11. You feel irritated or frustrated a lot because things and people around you do not meet your high standards.
You lose touch with your natural self. You are so focused on order, achievement, or status that you do not attend to your basic physical, emotional, and social needs.
You may want the perfect partner and be unable to settle for less. Once you are in a relationship, you can be extremely critical and demanding. You expect others (especially those closest to you) to live up to your standards. Without realizing it, you probably devalue them for not meeting the standards you set. These standards do not seem high to you, you feel your expectations are normal and justified.
You may be attracted to perfectionist partners or partners who are the opposite, relaxed and easygoing.
Changing Unrelenting Standards
  1. List the areas in which your standards may be unbalanced or unrelenting. (keeping things in order, cleanliness, work, money, creature comforts, beauty, athletic performance, popularity, status, fame, etc)
  2. List the advantages of trying to meet these standards on a daily basis.
  3. List the disadvantages of pushing so hard in these areas.
  4. Try to conjure an image of what your life would be like without these pressures.
  5. Understand the origins of your lifetrap.
  6. Consider what the effects would be if you lowered your standards about 25 percent. You have to learn that it is possible to do something 80% or 70% and still do a very good job. Between perfection and failure there is a whole gray area.
  7. Try to quantify the time you devote to maintaining your standards. Consider how important the goal is to your overall happiness, then allocate the most time to the areas of your life that are most important. Allot a reasonable amount of time to complete each task; then accept whatever level of achievement you have attained at the end of that time period.
  8. Try to determine what reasonable standards are by getting a consensus or objective opinion from people who seem more balanced.
  9. Gradually try to change your schedule or alter your behavior in order to get your deeper needs met. Learn to delegate.
Sample Advantages of unrelenting standards

  1. I can buy what I want.
  2. I feel special.
  3. People are jealous of me and want what I have.
  4. I can have almost any woman I want.
  5. I move in desirable social circles
  6. I make a lot of money
  7. I am almost at the top of my field
  8. I have won awards and prizes
  9. My house looks almost perfect most of the time.
  10. My house runs in an orderly way.
  11. My performance level is high.
what good is a spotless house when you are running yourself ragged to keep it that way and resenting everyone who gets in your way? What good is a top-level job when it leaves no time in your life for pleasure and love? what good are your creature comforts when you are too exhausted to enjoy them?
Sample disadvantages of unrelenting standards
  1. I am physically exhausted.
  2. I don’t have any fun
  3. My marriage is suffering
  4. I put too much pressure on my children. I don’t enjoy being with my children. They seem afraid of me.
  5. I’ve let a lot of close friendships go
  6. I don’t have any time for myself
  7. My health is suffering
  8. I am not happy.
Sample flashcard
I can lower my standards without having to feel like a failure. I can do things moderately well, feel good about them, and not have to keep trying to perfect them.”
Let go of your need for perfect order, achievement, or status in exchange for a higher quality of life and more fulfilling emotional relationships with the people you love.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 14. “I always do it your way!”, the Subjugation life trap

Subjugation questionnaire

  1. I let other people control me.
  2. I am afraid that if I do not give in to other people’s wishes they will retaliate, get angry, or reject me.
  3. I feel the major decisions in my life were not really my own.
  4. I have a lot of trouble demanding that other people respect my rights.
  5. I worry a lot about pleasing people and getting their approval.
  6. I go to great lengths to avoid confrontations.
  7. I give more to other people than I get back in return.
  8. I feel the pain of other people deeply, so I usually end up taking care of the people I’m close to.
  9. I feel guilty when I put myself first.
  10. I am a good person because I think of others more than of myself.
You experience the world in terms of control issues. Other people in your life always seem to be in control – you feel controlled by the people around you. At the core of your subjugation is the conviction that you must please others, that you must please parents, brothers, sisters, friends, teachers, lovers, spouses, bosses, coworkers, children, and even strangers. The only person you do not feel obliged to please – is yourself.
You feel trapped in your life. It is constantly meeting the needs of others with so much responsibility. Life loses its joy and freedom. You are passive. Life happens to you.
Two types of subjugation
  1. Self-sacrifice (subjugation out of guilt, want to relieve the pains of others)
  2. Submissiveness (subjugation out of fear, anticipate rejection, retaliation, or abandonment)
At one time, your subjugation really was involuntary: as a child. A child cannot withstand the threat of punishment or abandonment. But as an adult, you are no longer dependent and helpless. As an adult, you have a choice.
When your needs constantly are frustrated, anger is inevitable. You might feel you are used or controlled, or people are taking advantage of you, or you might feel your needs do not count.
Anger is a vital part of healthy relationships. It is a signal that something is wrong – that the other person may be doing something unfair. Ideally, anger motivates us to become more assertive and correct the situation. When anger produces this effect, it is adaptive and helpful.
Although there may be times when you display your anger directly, it is more common for you to express it indirectly, in a disguised fashion – passive-aggressively. You get back at people in subtle ways, like procrastinating, being late, or talking about them behind their backs.
passive-aggressive behaviors – procrastinating, talking behind other people’s backs, agreeing to do something and not following through, making excuses – all share the feature that they irritate other people, but it is difficult for other people to know whether the passive-aggressive person intends the irritation. Until you become more assertive, anger will continue to be a significant problem for you, even if you are not always aware of its harmful consequences.
Some people with subjugation learn to cope through counterattack. They become aggressive and domineering. By rebelling, they overcompensate for their feelings of subjugation. Rebels are not actually any more free than other subjugated people. They do not freely choose their interests or relationships; choices are made for them by the people they are rebelling against. “Why did the teenagers cross the road?” – “Because somebody told them not to”
You may have suppressed your own needs so often that you are no longer aware of what they are. You may have great difficulty identifying your own feelings and finds many of your inner states confusing.
Origins of the subjugation lifetrap
  1. Your parents tried to dominate or control almost every aspect of your life.
  2. Your parent(s) punished, threatened, or got angry at you when you would not do things their way.
  3. Your parent(s) withdrew emotionally or cut off contact with you if you disagreed with them about how to do things.
  4. Your parent(s) did not allow you to make your own choices as a child.
  5. Because your mother/father was not around enough, or was not capable enough, you ended up taking care of the rest of the family.
  6. Your parent(s) always talked to you about their personal problems, so that you were always in the role of listener.
  7. Your parent(s) made you feel guilty or selfish if you would not do what they wanted.
  8. Your parent(s) were like martyrs or saints – they selfessly took care of everyone else and denied their own needs.
  9. You did not feel that your rights, needs, or opinions were respected when you were a child.
  10. You had to be very careful about what you did or said as a child, because you worried about your mother’s/father’s tendency to become worried or depressed.
  11. You often felt angry at your parent(s) for not giving you the freedom that other children had.
Danger signals in potential partners
  1. Your partner is domineering and expects to have things his/her way.
  2. Your partner has a very strong sense of self and knows exactly what he/she wants in most situations.
  3. Your partner becomes irritated or angry when you disagree or attend to your own needs.
  4. Your partner does not respect your opinions, needs, or rights.
  5. Your partner pouts or pulls away from you when you do things your way.
  6. Your partner is easily hurt or upset, so you feel you have to take care of him/her.
  7. You have to watch what you do or say carefully because your partner drinks a lot or has a bad temper.
  8. Your partner is not very competent or together, so you end up having to do a lot of the work.
  9. Your partner is irresponsible or unreliable, so you have to be overly responsible and reliable.
  10. You let your partner make most of the choices because most of the time you do not feel strongly one way or the other.
  11. Your partner makes you feel guilty or accuses you of being selfish when you ask to do something your way.
  12. Your partner becomes sad, worried, or depressed easily, so you end up doing most of the listening.
  13. Your partner is very needy and dependent on you.
Subjugation lifetrap
  1. You let other people have their own way most of the time.
  2. You are too eager to please – you will do almost anything to be liked or accepted.
  3. You do not like to disagree openly with other people’s opinions.
  4. You are more comfortable when other people are in position of control.
  5. You will do almost anything to  avoid confrontation or anger. You always accommodate.
  6. You do not know aht you want or prefer in many situations.
  7. You are not clear about your career decisions.
  8. You always end up taking care of everyone else – almost no one listens to or takes care of you.
  9. You are rebellious  – you automatically say “no” when other people tell you what to do.
  10. You cannot stand to say or do anything that hurts other people’s feelings.
  11. You often stay in situations where you feel trapped or where your needs are not met.
  12. You do not want other people to see you as selfish so you go to the other extreme.
  13. You often sacrifice yourself for the sake of other people.
  14. You often take on more than your share of responsibilities at home and/or at work.
  15. When other people are troubled or in pain, you try very hard to make them feel better, even at your own expense.
  16. You often feel angry at other people for telling you what to do.
  17. You often feel cheated – that you are giving more than you are getting back.
  18. You feel guilty when you ask for what you want.
  19. You do not stand up for your rights.
  20. You resist doing what other people want you to do in an indirect way. You procrastinate, make mistakes, and make excuses.
  21. You cannot get along with authority figures.
  22. You cannot ask for promotions or raises at work.
  23. You feel that you lack integrity – you accommodate too much.
  24. People tell you that you are not aggressive or ambitious enough.
  25. You play down your accomplishments.
  26. You have trouble being strong in negotiations.
If you become more assertive and no longer willing to stay in a subjugated relationship, your relationship must either change to adapt to your greater maturity or it must end.
Subjugated people often work in one of the helping professions, particularly if they are self-sacrificing. You may be a doctor, nurse, homemaker, teacher, minister, therapist, or other kind of healer. one of the gifts of subjugation is acute sensitivity to the needs and pain of others.
Changing your subjugation lifetrap

  1. Understand your childhood subjugation. Feel the subjugated child inside of you.
  2. List everyday situations at home and at work in which you subjugate or sacrifice your own needs to others.
  3. Start forming your own preferences and opinions in many aspects of your life: movies, foods, leisure time, politics, current controversial issues, time usage, etc. Learn about yourself and your needs. Make yourself the source of your opinions, not the people around you.
  4. Make a list of what you do or give to others, and what they do or give to you. How much of the time do you listen to others? How much of the time do they listen to you?
  5. Stop behaving passive-aggressively. Push yourself systematically to assert yourself – express what you need or want. Start with easy requests first.
  6. Practice asking other people to take care of you. Ask for help. Discuss your problems. Try to achieve a balance between what you give and get.
  7. Pull back from relationships with people who are too self-centered or selfish to take your needs into account. Avoid one-sided relationships. Change or get out of relationships where you feel trapped.
  8. Practice confronting people instead of accommodating so much. Express your anger appropriately, as soon as you feel it. Learn to feel more comfortable when someone is upset, hurt or angry at you.
  9. Do not rationalize your tendency to please others so much. Stop telling yourself that it doesn’t really matter. Weigh the positives and negatives to decide which you prefer. Make a choice and communicate that choice.
  10. Review past relationships and clarify your pattern of choosing controlling or needy partners. List the danger signals for you to avoid. If possible, avoid selfish, irresponsible, or dependent partners who generate very high chemistry for you.
  11. When you find a partner who cares about your needs, ask your opinions and values them, and who is strong enough to do 50% of the work, give the relationship a chance.
  12. Be more aggressive at work. Take credit for what you do. Do not let other people take advantage of you. Ask for any promotions or raises you might be entitled to get. Delegate responsibilities to other people.
  13. (To the Rebel) Try to resist doing the opposite of what others tell you to do. Try to figure out what you want, and do it even if it is consistent with what authority figures tell you. Be more assertive instead of more aggressive.
  14. Make flashcards. Use them to keep you on track.
The best way to feel the subjugated child is through imagery. Start with an instance in your current life, and try to remember far back into childhood. Do not force the image to come. Who were you with? Was it your mother or father? Was it your brother, sister, or a friend? Your anger is part of your healthy side. It serves a useful purpose. It may be your only clue that there is something else that you want.
Examples on steps to “un-subjugate”
  1. Tell the paper boy to bring the paper to the door when it’s raining.
  2. Tell a salesperson I don’t want help.
  3. Don’t give my children any more money than their allowance.
  4. Ask Dennis to drive the children to school on mornings of my class.
  5. Tell Dad he can’t criticize the kids anymore in my presence.
  6. Take a full day for myself. Do things I enjoy, like shopping, reading in the park, seeing my friends, etc.
  7. Tell friend I am angry she is not pulling her share of the kids’ carpool.
  8. Tell Dennis how I feel when he criticizes me in front of other people.
  9. Tell Dennis it is not acceptable for him to criticize me in front of other people when I haven’t done anything wrong.
  10. State my preferences instead of just giving in to others.
Work on each item on your list starting from the easier ones. Your goal is to complete each item. Do not get defensive when the other person attacks you. Do not get lost in defending yourself. Stick to your point. Be direct. Do not make a speech. No one can argue with your feelings. State how you feel.
Changing the way you behave with someone changes the way you feel about them. It is hard to remain intimidated after you have dealt with someone assertively. Changing your behavior changes the way you think and feel about yourself. Positive behavior change creates self-confidence and self-esteem. It builds a sense of mastery.
Whatever the other person does, keep calmly restating your position. Do not let the other person trick you into becoming defensive. Stick to your point. Stay calm. Do not yell and scream. You are more powerful when you are clam than when you are screaming. Screaming is a sign of psychological defeat. Try not to attack the person. Simply state what they have done that has upset you.
Start by saying something positive and true. People can only listen when they are in a receptive state. Direct your criticism not at the person, but at the person’s behavior. Be assertive in your words, body language and tone of voice. Look the person directly in the eye.
Subjugated people frequently give up too soon on good relationships, claiming they are just not interested, the relationship does not feel right, something is missing, or there is not enough chemistry. As long as you feel some chemistry – even a moderate amount – give the relationship a chance. As you become more accustomed to your new role, the chemistry might increase.
Sample self-sacrifice Flashcard
I have the right to say “no” when people ask me to do unreasonable things. If I say “yes”, I will only get angry at the other person and at myself. I can live with the guilt of saying “no”. Even if I cause the other person a little pain, it will only be temporary. People will respect me if I say “no” to them. And I will respect myself.
Sample Submission Flashcard
What I want is important. I deserve to be treated with respect. I don’t have to let Dennis treat me badly. I deserve better than that. I can stand up for myself. I can calmly demand that he treat me with respect or the discussion is over. If he can’t grow enough to give me my equal rights in this relationship, then I can leave the relationship and find one that better suits my needs.
Give yourself credit when it is due. Change is much harder when you forget to reward yourself for the steps along the way. Try to keep looking back at how far you have come, rather than looking forward to how you have to go. When you make any change, no matter how small, take a moment to feel good about it.
Subjugation feels right to you. Your lifetrap is central to your entire self-image and view of the world. It is going to fight very hard for survival. You find comfort and reassurance in holding onto your lifetrap, regardless of its negative consequences for your life. You should not be discouraged because change is slow. 

Reinventing your Life: 13. “I feel like such a failure”, the Failure life trap

The Failure Questionnaire

  1. I feel I am less competent than other people in areas of achievement.
  2. I feel that I am a failure when it comes to achievement.
  3. Most people my age are more successful in their work than I am.
  4. I was a failure as a student.
  5. I feel I am not as intelligent as most of the people I associate with.
  6. I feel humiliated by my failures in the work sphere.
  7. I feel embarrassed around other people because I do not measure up in terms of my accomplishments.
  8. I often feel that people believe I am more competent than I really am.
  9. I feel that I do not have any special talents that really count in life.
  10. I am working below my potential.
With the Failure lifetrap, the degree to which you use Escape as a coping style is often massive. People avoid developing skills, tackling new tasks, taking on responsibility – all the challenges that might enable them to succeed. Often the attitude is, “What’s the use?” You feel there is no point in making the effort when you are doomed to fail anyway. You procrastinate, you get distracted, you do the work improperly, or you mishandle the tasks you take on. These are all forms of self-sabotage.

Origins of the failure lifetrap

  1. You had a parent (often your father) who was very critical of your performance in school, sports, etc. He/She often called you stupid, dumb, inept, a failure, etc. He/She may have been abusive. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Defectiveness or Abuse.
  2. One or both parents were successful, and you came to believe you could never liver up to their high standards. So you stopped trying. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Defectiveness or Abuse)
  3. You sensed that one or both of your parents either did not care about whether you were successful, or, worse, felt threatened when you did well. Your parent may have been competitive with you – or afraid of losing your companionship if you were too successful in the world. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Emotional Deprivation or Dependence.)
  4. You were not as good as other children either in school or at sports, and felt inferior. You may have had a learning disability, poor attention span, or been very uncoordinated. After that, you stopped trying in order to avoid humiliation by them. (This may be linked to Social Exclusion.)
  5. You had brothers or sisters to whom you were often compared unfavorably. You came to believe you could never measure up, so you stopped trying.
  6. You came from a foreign country, your parents were immigrants, or your family was poorer or less educated than your school mates. You felt inferior to your peers and never felt you could measure up.
  7. Your parents did not set enough limits for you. You did not learn self-discipline or responsibility. Therefore you failed to do homework regularly or learn study skills. This led to failure eventually. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Entitlement).
Failure Lifetrap
  1. You do not take the steps necessary to develop solid skills in your career (eg. finishing schooling, read latest developments, apprentice to an expert). You coast or try to fool people.
  2. You choose a career below your potential (eg. you finished college and have excellent mathematical ability, but are currently driving a taxicab).
  3. You avoid taking the steps necessary to get promotions in your chosen career; your advancement has been unnecessarily halted (eg. You fail to accept promotions or to ask for them; you do not promote yourself or make your abilities widely known to the people who count; you stay in a safe, dead-end job).
  4. You do not want to tolerate working for other people, or working at entry-level jobs, so you end up on the periphery of your field, failing to work your way up the ladder. (Note the overlap with Entitlement and Subjugation)
  5. You take jobs but repeatedly get fired because of lateness, procrastination, poor job performance, bad attitude, etc.
  6. You cannot commit to one career, so you float from job to job, never developing expertise in one area. You are a generalist in a job world that rewards specialists. You therefore never progress very far in any one career.
  7. You selected a career in which it is extraordinarily hard to succeed, and you do not know when to give up (eg. acting, professional sports, music).
  8. You have been afraid to take initiative or make decisions independently at work, so you were never promoted to more responsible positions.
  9. You feel that you are basically stupid or untalented, and therefore feel fraudulent, even though objectively you have been quite successful.
  10. You minimize your abilities and accomplishments, and exaggerate your weaknesses and mistakes. You end up feeling like a failure, even though you have been as successful as your peers.
  11. You have chosen successful men/women as partners in relationships. You live vicariously through their success while not accomplishing much yourself.
  12. You try to compensate for your lack of achievement or work skills by focusing on other assets (eg. Your looks, charm, youthfulness, sacrificing for others). But underneath you still feel like a failure.
Excelling in other roles is a way of compensating for the lifetrap. Men might excel in sports or seducing women; women might excel in their looks or ability to give to others.
Changing your failure lifetrap
  1. Assess whether your feeling of failure is accurate or distorted.
  2. Get in touch with the child inside of you who felt, and still feels, like a failure.
  3. Help your inner child see taht you were treated unfairly.
  4. Become aware of your talents, skills, abilities, and accomplishments in the area of achievement.
If you have, in fact, failed relative to your peers:
  1. Try to see the pattern in your failures.
  2. Once you see your pattern, make a plan to change it. Acknowledge your real talents, accept your limitations, and pursue areas that play on your strengths. Starting is the hardest part. After that it will become easier.
  3. Make a flashcard to overcome your blueprint for failure. Follow your plan, step-by-step.
  4. Involve your loved ones in the process.
Sample Failure Flashcard

Right now I am filled with feelings of failure. This is a familiar feeling. I have felt it all my life. All my life I have avoided taking chances to become a success. All my life I have ignored my design potential even though teachers pointed it out and I did well in these kinds of classes and enjoyed them. Instead I kept setting myself up to fail by going after things I wasn’t good at.

My avoidance developed when I was sick and lonely as a child. When I fell behind, no one helped me to catch up. No one noticed. Running away helped me cope as a child, but it isn’t helping me now.

But now I’m on track. I’m trying to become a set designer. I have a good chance to succeed. I just have to keep myself focused on my path and on the fact that I’m making progress.

Don’t start avoiding again. That leads only back to failure. What is my next step? This is what I should be doing. Working on taking my next step.

The Failure lifetrap is one of the most rewarding to overcome. A whole area of life that is now fraught with shame and tension can become a source of self-esteem. But you have to be willing to fight. You have to be willing to close off your escapes and capitalize on your strengths.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 12. “I’m worthless”, the Defectiveness life trap ***

The Defectiveness Questionnaire

  1. No man or woman could love me if he/she really knew me.
  2. I am inherently flawed and defective. I am unworthy of love.
  3. I have secrets that I do not want to share, even with the people closest to me.
  4. It was my fault that my parents could not love me.
  5. I hide the real me. The real me is unacceptable. The self I show is a false self.
  6. I am often drawn to people – parents, friends, and lovers – who are critical and reject me.
  7. I am often critical and rejecting myself, especially of people who seem to love me.
  8. I devalue my positive qualities.
  9. I live with a great deal of shame about myself.
  10. One of my greatest fears is that my faults will be exposed.
The emotion that is most connected to the Defectiveness lifetrap is shame. Shame is what you feel when your defects are exposed. You will do almost anything to avoid this feeling of shame. Consequently you go to great lengths to keep your defectiveness hidden.
You feel that your defectiveness is inside you and not immediately observable. You feel completely unworthy of love. Feeling unworthy and angry at yourself is a large part of depression. You may feel that you have been depressed your whole life – a kind of low-level depression lurking in the background.
If your primary coping style is Escape, you may have addictions or compulsions. Drinking, drugs, overworking, and overeating are all ways of numbing yourself to avoid the pain of feeling worthless.
The origins of the defectiveness lifetrap
  1. Someone in your family was extremely critical, demeaning, or punitive toward you. You were repeatedly criticized or punished for how you looked, how you behaved, or what you said.
  2. You were made to feel like a disappointment by a parent.
  3. You were rejected or unloved by one or both of your parents.
  4. You were sexually, physically, or emotionally abused by a family member.
  5. You were blamed all the time for things that went wrong in your family.
  6. Your parent told you repeatedly that you were bad, worthless, or good-for-nothing.
  7. You were repeatedly compared in an unfavorable way with your brothers or sisters, or they were preferred over you.
  8. One of your parents left home, and you blamed yourself.
The Defectiveness lifetrap comes from feeling unlovable or not respected as a child. You were repeatedly rejected or criticized by one or both of your parents.
Defectiveness lifetrap is not usually based on a real defect. Even people who have serious physical or mental handicaps do not necessarily develop this lifetrap. The crucial factor is not the presence of a defect, but rather how you are made to feel about yourself by your parents and other members of your family. If you are loved, valued, and respected by your family members – regardless of your actual strengths and weaknesses- you will almost certainly not feel worthless, ashamed or defective.
Danger signals while dating
  1. You avoid dating altogether.
  2. You tend to have a series of short, intense affairs, or several affairs simultaneously.
  3. You are drawn to partners who are critical of you and put you down all the time.
  4. You are drawn to partners who are physically or emotionally abusive toward you.
  5. You are most attracted to partners who are not that interested in you, hoping you can win their love.
  6. You are only drawn to the most attractive and desirable partners, even when it is obvious that you will not be able to attain them.
  7. You are most comfortable with partners who do not want to know you very deeply.
  8. You only date people you feel are below you, whom you do not really love.
  9. You are drawn to partners who are unable to commit to you or to spend time with you on a regular basis. They may be married, insist on simultaneously dating other people, travel regularly, or live in another city.
  10. You get into relationships in which you put down, abuse, or neglect your partners.
You might avoid dating people who really interest you. You only date people you know you could never love. If you have the defectiveness lifetrap, be careful when there is very strong chemistry. You probably have the most powerful attraction to partners who criticize and reject you. They reinforce your feelings of defectiveness. Critical partners will feel familiar because they echo your childhood environment. Stop dating partners who do not treat you well rather than try to win them over and gain their love.
Defectiveness Lifetraps
  1. You become very critical of your partner once you feel accepted, and your romantic feelings disappear. You then act in a demeaning or critical manner.
  2. You hide your true self so you never really feel that your partner knows you.
  3. You are jealous and possessive of your partner.
  4. You constantly compare yourself unfavorably with other people and feel envious and inadequate.
  5. You constantly need or demand reassurance that your partner still values you.
  6. You put yourself down around your partner.
  7. You allow your partner to criticize you, put you down, or mistreat you.
  8. You have difficulty accepting valid criticism; you become defensive or hostile.
  9. You are extremely critical of your children.
  10. You feel like an impostor when you are successful. You feel extremely anxious that you cannot maintain your success.
  11. You become despondent or deeply depressed over career setbacks or rejections in relationships.
  12. You feel extremely nervous when speaking in public.
If you do form a relationship with a partner who loves you and whom you could love, there are many ways you can reinforce your defectiveness lifetrap within the relationship. Your criticalness can be a major problem.
You may try to devalue your partners. You believe a truly desirable partner will see your flaws and ultimately reject you.
At what point do you win her? I guess it’s when she starts to care about me.
 
You may find it difficult to tolerate criticism. You are probably hypersensitive to it. Even a slight criticism can lead you to feel enormous shame. You may vehemently deny that you have done anything wrong, or put down the person who is criticizing you. This is because to acknowledge any flaw is to let in a flood of painful feelings related to Defectiveness. Thus, you protect yourself by denying any flaw, mistake, or error. Your defensiveness and inability to take criticism can be a serious problem.
You tend to get bored with people who treat you well. This is your paradox: you want love so much, but the more your partner gives you love, the less attracted you feel. It feels alien to have someone you value value you.
One way to try to allay feelings of shame is by being critical. Putting down others make you feel better about yourself, at least temporarily.
Many people who attain quick success then become self destructive. Success is so discrepant from what they really feel that they are unable to maintain it. The pressure to maintain the success when they feel so bad about themselves become overwhelming and many fall apart. If you use success in your career to make up or compensate for feelings of defectiveness, then your sense of well-being may be quite fragile. Your whole sense of worth becomes built on your success. Any small deflation or failure may be enough to make you nervous.
Changing your Defectiveness Lifetrap

  1. Understand your childhood feelings of defectiveness and shame. Feel the wounded child within you.
  2. List signs that you might be coping with Defectiveness through Escape or Counterattack (ie. avoiding or compensating)
  3. Try to stop these behaviors designed to escape or counterattack.
  4. Monitor your feelings of defectiveness and shame.
  5. List the men/women who have attracted you most and the ones who have attracted you least.
  6. List your defects and assets as a child and teenager. Then list your current defects and assets. Play down qualities of the false self. Do not minimize your good qualities.
  7. Evaluate the seriousness of your current defects.
  8. Start a program to change the defects that are changeable.
  9. Write a letter to your critical parents. In this letter, try to stop defending them and just focus on being honest about what happened and how it made you feel.
  10. Write a flashcard for yourself. Remember to give yourself love and list qualities in you that are good.
  11. Try to be more genuine in close relationships. If you are too vulnerable try to protect yourself better. If you are not vulnerable enough, try to reveal more of who you are.
  12. Accept love from people close to you. You are very uncomfortable being treated well. It is so alien. You are much more comfortable being mistreated or ignored. It is hard for you to tolerate situations where people take care of you, praise you, and support you.
  13. Stop allowing people to treat you badly. Some continue to live or work with critical or unloving parents. It is strongly advised you do not continue close contact with a critical parent.
  14. If you are in a relationship where you are the critical partner, try to stop putting your partner down. Do the same in other close relationships. Face what you have done, forgive yourself, and change starting right now. Praise the ones you love, they have qualities that are valuable and deserve credit.
Success and status often become addictions. You try to get more and more, but you can never get enough to make you feel good. Success is a pale substitute for finding one person who really knows and loves you.
If you are always running away from your feelings of defectiveness – if you are always drinking, avoiding close relationships, or hiding your real thoughts and feelings – your lifetrap cannot change. Your feelings of defectiveness remain frozen.
Sample Flashcard
Right now I feel humiliated and inadequate. I feel surrounded by people, especially women, who seem superior to me in every way – looks, brains, personality. I feel their presence diminishes me totally.
But this is not true. What is really going on is that my lifetrap is being triggered. The truth is that I am worthy too. I am sensitive, intelligent, loving, and good. The truth is that many people have found me to be worthy of love. Generally I have not given people a chance to get close enough to really know and appreciate me. But believing what I say on this card will help me move in this direction.

Changing your lifetrap involves gradually improving how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how you allow others to treat you. Patients gradually feel better about themselves. Become less defensive and more able to take in love. Feel closer to people. Feel more valued and more loved.

Gradually you will come to accept that your defectiveness was something that was taught to you, and not something inherently true about you. Once you can open yourself up to the idea what your defectiveness is not a fact, the healing process can begin to work.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 11. “Catastrophe is about to strike”, the vulnerability life trap

The vulnerability questionnaire

  1. I cannot escape the feeling that something bad is about to happen.
  2. I feel that catastrophe can strike at any moment.
  3. I worry about becoming a street person or vagrant.
  4. I worry a lot about being attacked by a criminal, mugger, thief, etc.
  5. I worry about getting a serious illness, even though nothing has been diagnosed by a physician.
  6. I am too anxious to travel alone on planes, trains, etc.
  7. I have anxiety attacks.
  8. I am very aware of physical sensations in my body, and I worry about what they mean.
  9. I worry I will lose control of myself in public or go crazy.
  10. I worry a lot about losing all my money or going broke.
The primary feeling associated with the vulnerability lifetrap is anxiety. Catastrophe is about to strike, and you lack the resources to deal with it. This lifetrap is two-pronged: You both exaggerate the risk of danger and minimize your own capacity to cope.
Types of vulnerability
  1. Health and illness
  2. Danger
  3. Poverty
  4. Losing control
Origins of Vulnerability
  1. You learned your sense of vulnerability from observing and living with parents with the same lifetrap. Your parents was phobic or frightened about specific areas of vulnerability (such as losing control, getting sick, going broke, etc)
  2. Your parents was overprotective of you, particularly around issues of danger or illness. Your parent continuously warned you of specific dangers. You were made to feel that you were too fragile or incompetent to handle these everyday issues. (This is usually combined with Dependence)
  3. Your parent did not adequately protect you. Your childhood environment did not seem safe physically, emotionally, or financially. (This is usually combine with emotional deprivation or with Mistrust and abuse.)
  4. You were sick as a child or experienced a serious traumatic event (eg. a car crash) that led you to feel vulnerable.
  5. One of your parents experienced a serious traumatic event and perhaps died. You came to view the world as dangerous.
Danger signals in relationships
  1. You tend to select partners who are willing and eager to protect you from danger or illness. Your partner is strong, and you are weak and needy.
  2. Your prime concern is that your partner is fearless, physically strong, very successful financially, a doctor or otherwise specifically equipped to protect you from your fears.
  3. You seek people who are willing to listen to your fears and reassure you.
What is wrong with someone who will pamper and overprotect you. What is wrong with someone who will make you feel safe.
Vulnerability lifetraps
  1. You feel anxious much of the time as you go about daily life because of your exaggerated fears. You may have generalized anxiety.
  2. You worry so much about your health and possible illnesses that you: (a) get unnecessary medical evaluations, (b) become a burden to your family with your constant need for reassurance, and (c) cannot enjoy other aspects of life.
  3. You experience panic attacks as a result of your preoccupation with bodily sensation and possible illness.
  4. You are unrealistically worried about going broke. This leads you to be unnecessarily tight with money and unwilling to make any financial or career changes. You are preoccupied with keeping what you have at the expense of new investments or projects. You cannot take risks.
  5. You go to exorbitant lengths to avoid criminal danger. For example, you avoid going out at night, visiting large cities, traveling on public transportation. Therefore, your life is very restricted.
  6. You avoid everyday situations that entail even a slight degree of risk. For example, you avoid elevators, subways, or living in a city where there could be an earthquake.
  7. You allow your partner to protect you from your fears. You need a lot of reassurance. Your partner helps you avoid feared situations. You become overly dependent on your partner. You may even resent this dependence.
  8. Your chronic anxiety may, in fact, make you more prone to some kinds of psychosomatic illnesses (eg. eczema, asthma, colitis, ulcers, flu)
  9. You limit your social life because, as a result of your fears, you cannot do many of the things other people do.
  10. You restrict the lives of your partner and family, who have to adapt to your fears.
  11. You are likely to pass on your fears to your own children.
  12. You may use a variety of coping mechanisms to an exaggerated degree to ward off danger. You may have obsessive compulsive symptoms or superstitious thinking.
  13. You may rely excessively on medication, alcohol, food, etc., to reduce your chronic anxiety.
The section above has some flaws. I really don’t agree with number 8. And am not enjoying this chapter.

When you weigh the costs and benefits of taking a risk, the overwhelming factors you consider are safety and security. They are more important than any possible gain. Life for you is not a process of seeking fulfillment and joy. Rather, life is a process of trying to contain danger.

  1. psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Some physical diseases are thought to be particularly prone to be made worse by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. Your current mental state can affect how bad a physical disease is at any given time.

Curing the body is easy. Fixing the mind is hard.

Changing your vulnerability life trap

  1. Try to understand the origins of your lifetrap.
  2. Make a list of your specific fears.
  3. Develop a hierarchy of feared situations.
  4. Meet with the people you love – your spouse, lover, family, friends – and enlist their support in helping you face your fears.
  5. Examine the probability of your feared events occurring.
  6. Write a flashcard for each fear.
  7. Talk to your inner child. Be a strong, brave parent to your child.
  8. Practice techniques for relaxation.
  9. Begin to tackle each of your fears in imagery.
  10. Tackle each fear in real life.
  11. Reward yourself for each step you take.
The real reward to overcoming your Vulnerability lifetrap is the expansion of your life. There is so much that you miss because of your fears. The journey out of the Vulnerability lifetrap is a journey back to life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 10. “I can’t make it on my own”, the dependence life trap

Dependence questionnaire:

  1. I feel more like a child than an adult when it comes to handling the responsibilities of daily life.
  2. I am not capable of getting by on my own.
  3. I cannot cope well by myself.
  4. Other people can take care of me better than I can take care of myself.
  5. I have trouble tackling new tasks unless I have someone to guide me.
  6. I can’t do anything right.
  7. I am inept.
  8. I lack common sense.
  9. I cannot trust my own judgment.
  10. I find everyday life overwhelming.
When you have a decision to make, you solicit the opinions of others. You probably rush from person to person seeking advice. You change your mind a hundred times. The whole process just leaves you confused and exhausted. If you manage to make a decision, you have to keep asking for reassurance that your decision was right.
Alternately, you might seek the advice of one person in whom you have great confidence, and rely solely on that. That person is often a therapist. Dependent people do not like change. They like everything to stay the same.
You are either surrendering to your life trap or you escape to reinforce your life trap. You avoid the tasks you believe are too difficult. Dependence exacts a high price in terms of freedom and self-expression. But some dependent people feel entitled to have their dependence needs met.
Counter-dependence
This is hidden dependence. Overly compensates by fighting against core feelings of incompetence. Your fears pressure you to ever higher levels of competence, and you drive yourself to master every task. But you never give yourself credit and believes you are fooling people. You always discount your accomplishments and magnifies your errors or deficiencies. You overcompensate your feeling of dependence by behaving as though you do not need help from anybody. you are too independent. You force yourself to face things alone. This tendency to go the other extreme – to act as though you do not need anybody for anything is called counterdependence, and is a strong indication of the presence of the dependence lifetrap. counterdependent people refuse to turn to others for help, even when it is reasonable to do so. You refuse to ask for advice, assistance, or guidance. They cannot allow themselves to get a normal amount of help from other people, because it makes them feel too vulnerable.
If you are counterdependent, even though you do not acknowledge your feelings of dependence, at your core you feel the same as other dependent people. You may appear to be functioning well, but you do so at a high level of anxiety. It is the feeling underneath that gives you away.
The steps toward independence
  1. Establishing a safe base.
  2. Moving away from this base to become autonomous.
If either these two steps is missing, the person may develop a dependence lifetrap. If you never had a safe base, if you never allowed to rest securely in that dependent state, then it is hard for you to move toward independence. You always long for that dependent state. “feel like a child who is acting as if I am an adult”. Your competence and independence do not feel real to you – you are waiting for the base to collapse.
Origins of Dependence in over protectiveness
  1. The parents are overprotective and treat you as if you are younger than you are.
  2. Your parents make your decisions for you.
  3. Your parents take care of all the details of your life so you never learn how to take care of them yourself.
  4. You parents do your schoolwork for you.
  5. You are given little or no responsibility.
  6. You are rarely apart from your parents and have little sense of yourself as a separate person.
  7. Your parents criticize your opinions and competence in everyday tasks.
  8. When you undertake new tasks, your parents interfere by giving excessive advice and instructions.
  9. Your parents make you feel so safe that you never have a serious rejection or failure until you leave home.
  10. Your parents have many fears and always warn you of danger.
Origins of Dependence in under protectiveness
  1. You do not get enough practical guidance or direction from your parents.
  2. You have to make decisions alone beyond your years.
  3. You have to be like an adult in your family, even when underneath you still feel like a child.
  4. You are expected to do things and know things that are over your head.
You may be a “parentified child”. But underneath you did not feel secure and wished for the normal dependence of a child. Your normal is not everyone else’s normal. Wrong gauge.
Danger signals in potential partners
  1. Your partner is like a father/mother figure, who seems strong and protective.
  2. He/She seems to enjoy taking care of you and treats you like a child.
  3. You trust his/her judgment much more than your own. He/She maskes most of the decisions.
  4. You find that you lose your sense of self around him/her – and that your life goes on hold when he/she is not around.
  5. He/She criticizes your opinions, taste, and competence in everyday tasks.
  6. When you have a new task to undertake, you almsot always ask his/her advice, even if he/she has no special expertise in that realm.
  7. He/She does almost everything for you – you have almost no responsibility.
  8. He/She almost never seems frightened, insecure, or vulnerable about him/herself.
Dependence lifetraps
  1. You turn to wiser or stronger people all the time for advice and guidance.
  2. You minimize your successses and magnify your shortcomings.
  3. You avoid new challenges on your own.
  4. You do not make your own decisions.
  5. You do not take care of your own financial records or decisions.
  6. You live through your parents/partner.
  7. You are much more dependent on your parents than most people your age.
  8. You avoid being alone or traveling alone.
  9. You have fears and phobias taht you do not confront.
  10. You are quite ignorant when it comes to many areas of paractical functioning and daily survival skills.
  11. You have not lived on your own for any significant period of time.
The signs of counterdependence
  1. You never seem to be able to turn to anyone for guidance or advice. You have to do everythnig on your own.
  2. You are always taking on new challenges and confronting your fears, but you feel under constant pressure while doing it.
  3. Your partner is very dependent on you, and you end up doing everything and making all the decisions.
You avoid the part of you that wants a little healthy dependence, that just wants to stop coping for a while and rest.
Changing your dependence life trap
  1. Understand your childhood dependence. Feel the incompetent/dependent child inside of you.
  2. List everyday situations, tasks, responsibilities, and decision for which you depend on other people.
  3. List challenges, changes, or phobias that you have avoided because you are afraid of them.
  4. Systematically force yourself to tackle everyday tasks and decisions without asking for help. Take on challenges or make changes you have been avoiding. Start with the easy tasks first.
  5. When you succeed at a task on your own, take credit for it. Do not minimize it. When you fail, do not give up. Keep trying until you master the task.
  6. Review past relationships and clarify the patterns of dependence that recur. List the lifetraps to avoid.
  7. Avoid strong, overprotective partners who generate high chemistry.
  8. When you find a partner who will treat you as an equal, give the relationship a chance to work. Take on your share of responsibilities and decision-making.
  9. Do not complain when your partner/boss refuses to help you enough. Do not turn to him/her for constant advice and reassurance.
  10. Take on new challenges and responsibilities at work, but do it gradually.
  11. If you are counterdependent, acknowledge your need for guidance. Ask others for help. Do not take on more challenges than you can handle. Use your anxiety level as a gauge of how much you are comfortable taking on.
There is a saying in psychotherapy “It is the relationship that heals.” Find people to accept help from. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Trust and take risks. If there is someone in your life that you would like to trust, make sure it is a person who is worthy of your trust. Do not pick your partners foolishly. Do not pick people unless you are confident they will be there for you when you need them.

The journey out of the dependence lifetrap is a movement from childhood to adulthood. It is a trading of fear and avoidance for a sense of mastery – for the sense you can function independently in the world. Give up the exhausting struggle to get people to take care of you. Learn to take care of yourself. Learn to believe in your own ability to cope by mastering the tasks of life.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 9. “I don’t fit in”, the social exclusion life trap

The social exclusion questionnaire

  1. I feel very self conscious in social situations.
  2. I feel dull and boring at parties and other gatherings. I never know what to say.
  3. The people I want as friends are above me in some way (eg. looks, popularity, wealth, status, education, career)
  4. I would rather avoid than attend most social functions
  5. I feel unattractive – too fat, thin, tall, short, ugly, etc
  6. I feel fundamentally different from other people
  7. I do not belong anywhere. I am a loner.
  8. I always feel on the outside of groups
  9. My family was different from the families around us
  10. I feel disconnected from the community at large
The primary feeling is loneliness. You feel excluded from the rest of the world because you feel either undesirable or different.

Difference b/w Social Exclusion and Defectiveness. (One is external, other is internal)

The origins of social exclusion

  1. You felt inferior to other children, because of some observable quality (eg. looks, height, stuttering). You were teased, rejected, or humiliated by other children.
  2. Your family was different from neighbours and people around you.
  3. You felt different from other children, even within your own family.
  4. You were passive as a child; you did what was expected, but you never developed strong interests or preferences of your own. Now you feel you have nothing to offer in a conversation.
Sources of childhood and adolescent undesirability
Physical: Fat, thin, short, tall, weak, ugly, acne, physical handicap, small breasts, big breasts, late puberty, poor at sports, uncoordinated, not sexy.
Mental: Slow at school, learning disabilities, bookworm, stuttering, emotional problems.
Social: Awkward, socially inappropriate, immature, unable to carry on conversations, weird, dull, uncool
Social Exclusion Lifetraps
  1. You feel different or inferior to the people around you. You exaggerate differences and minimize similarities. You feel lonely, even when you are with people.
  2. At work you are on the periphery. You keep to yourself. You do not get promoted or included in projects because you do not fit in.
  3. You are nervous and self-conscious around groups of people. You cannot just relax and be yourself. You worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. You try to plan what to say next. You are very uncomfortable talking to strangers. You feel you have nothing unique to offer other people.
  4. Socially, you avoid joining groups or being part of the community. You only spend time with your immediate family or with one or two close friends.
  5. You feel embarrassed if people meet your family or know a lot about them. You keep secrets about your family from other people.
  6. You pretend to be like other people just to fit in. You do not let most people see the unconcentional parts of yourself. You have a secret life or feelings that you believe would lead other people to humiliate you or reject you.
  7. You put a lot of emphasis on overcoming your own family’s deficiencies: to gain status, have material possessions, sound highly educated, obscure ethnic differences, etc
  8. You have never accepted certain parts of your nature because you believe other people would think less of you for them (eg. You are shy, intellectual, emotional, too feminine, weak, dependent)
  9. You are very self-conscious about your physical appearance. You feel less attractive than other people say you are. You may work inordinately hard to be physically attractive and are especially sensitive to your physical flaws (eg. weight, physique, figure, height, complexion, features)
  10. You avoid situations where you might seem dumb, slow, or awkward (eg. going to college, public speaking)
  11. You compare yourself a lot to other people who have the hallmarks of popularity that you lack (eg. looks, money, athletic ability, success, clothing)
  12. You put too much emphasis on compensating for what you feel are your social inadequacies: trying to prove your popularity or social skills, win people over, be part of the right social group, have success in your career, or raise children who are popular.
Changing social exclusion
  1. Understand your childhood social exclusion. Feel the isolated or inferior child inside of you.
  2. List everyday social situations in which you feel anxious or uncomfortable.
  3. List group situations that you avoid. What makes you feel inferior? What is the worst that can happen?
  4. List ways that you counterattack, or overcompensate, for feeling different or inferior.
  5. Drawing on step 1-4, list the qualities in yourself that make you feel alienated, vulnerable or inferior. ex. drawing on differences instead of similarities is a problem.
  6. If you are convinced that a flaw is real, write down steps you could take to overcome it. Follow through gradually with your plans of change. Use imagery as dress rehearsals of successful social situations.
  7. Reevaluate the importance of flaws that you cannot change. Flaws pale compare to the person as a whole. Difference is appreciated. Find a balance between fitting in and expressing our unique natures.
  8. Make a flashcard for each flaw.
  9. Make a hierarchy of social and work groups you have been avoiding. Gradually move up the hierarchy. Stop escaping. Use positive imagery to practice performing well.
  10. When you are in groups, make a concerted effort to initiate conversations.
  11. Be yourself in groups. Having a secret is isolating.
  12. Stop trying so hard to compensate for your perceived areas of undesirability. If you are ashamed of a certain situation, you may counterattack and try to prove people otherwise. Showing off is false. Don’t try so hard to impress other people.
Sample flashcard
I know that right now I feel anxious, as if everyone is looking at me. I feel like I can’t talk to anyone. But it is just my lifetrap being triggered. If I look around, I will see that people are not looking at me. And even if someone is, it is probably a friendly look. If I start talking to people, in a little while my anxiety will grow less. People can’t really tell I’m anxious. Besides, other people are anxious too. Everyone is a little anxious in social situations. I can start by relaxing my body, looking around the room, and finding one person to talk to.
I’m starting to feel different from the people I’m with. I’m feeling like an outsider, alone in the crowd. I am holding myself back, becoming aloof. But this is my lifetrap kicking in. In fact I’m exaggerating how different I am. If I become friendlier, I will find that we have things in common. I jut have to give myself a chance to connect.
The journey out of social exclusion is a journey from loneliness to connection. Try to see it in this positive light. If you are willing to apply these change strategies, you will find that there are many rewards. The ultimate reward is a satisfying social life. You can feel part of a group or the community. This is a vital part of life, of which you are now deprived. Why miss out in this way?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reinventing your Life: 8. “I’ll never get the love I need”, the emotional deprivation life trap

Emotional Deprivation Questionnaire

  1. I need more love than I get.
  2. No one really understands me
  3. I am often attracted to cold partners who can’t meet my needs
  4. I feel disconnected, even from the people who are closest to me.
  5. I have not had one special person I love who wants to share him/herself with me and cares deeply about what happens to me.
  6. No one is there to give me warmth, holding, and affection.
  7. I do not have someone who really listens and is tuned into my true needs and feelings.
  8. It is hard for me to let people guide or protect me, even though it is what I want inside.
  9. It is hard for me to let people love me.
  10. I am lonely a lot of the time.
Emotional deprivation is what a neglected child feels. It is a feeling of aloneness, of nobody there. It is a sad and heavy sense of knowledge that you are destined to be alone. Emotional deprivation is a feeling of chronically disappointed in other people. People let you down. We are not speaking about a single case of disappointment, but rather a pattern of experiences over a long period of time. If your conclusion as a result of all your relationships is that you cannot count on people to be there for you emotionally – that is a sign that you have the lifetrap.
The origins of emotional deprivation
  1. Mother is cold and unaffectionate. She does not hold and rock the child enough.
  2. The child does not have a sense of being loved and valued – of being someone who is precious and special.
  3. Mother does not give the child enough time and attention.
  4. The mother is not really tuned into the child’s needs. She has difficulty empathizing with the child’s world. She does not really connect with the child.
  5. Mother does not soothe the child adequately. The child, then, may not learn to soothe him/herself or to accept soothing from others.
  6. The parents do not adequately guide the child or provide a sense of direction. There is no one solid for the child to rely upon.
Emotional deprivation is difficult to recognize unless you experienced extreme neglect. You might recognize the life trap in yourself only after you have asked yourself specific questions: “Did I feel close to my mother, did I feel she understood me, did I feel loved, did I love her, was she warm and affectionate, could I tell her what I felt, could she give me what I needed?” Emotional Deprivation is one of the most common lifetraps, it is often one of the hardest to detect.
Some people who have the emotional deprivation lifetrap avoid romantic relationships altogether, or only get into them for a short time. This is typical of the Escape coping style. It is probably in these relationships that your lifetrap is most visible. Perhaps you have a history of breaking off relationships when the person starts to get too close. Or you protect yourself from closeness by choosing partners who are unavailable. Or you choose someone who is there, but is cold and ungiving.
Danger signals in the early stages of dating
  1. he/she doesn’t listen to me.
  2. he/she does all the talking.
  3. he/she is not comfortable touching or kissing me.
  4. he/she is only sporadically available.
  5. he/she is cold and aloof (signs starting from high school)
  6. you are much more intersted in getting close than he/she is
  7. the person is not there for you when you feel vulnerable
  8. the less available he/she is, the more obsessed you become
  9. he/she does not understand your feelings
  10. you are giving much more than you are getting
When several of these signals are occurring at once, run – particularly if the chemistry is very strong. Your lifetrap has been triggered full force.
Emotional Deprivation Lifetraps in a relationship

  1. you don’t tell your partner what you need, then feel disappointed when your needs are not met.
  2. you don’t tell your partner how you feel, and then feel disappointed when you are not understood.
  3. you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, so that your partner can protect or guide you.
  4. you feel deprived, but don’t say anything. You harbor resentment.
  5. you become angry and demanding
  6. you constantly accuse your partner of not caring enough about you
  7. you become distant and unreachable
You might reinforce your deprivation by sabotaging the relationship. You might become hypersensitive to signs of neglect. You might expect your lover to read your mind and almost magically to fill your needs.
Some people with emotional deprivation lifetrap counterattack. they compensate for their feelings of deprivation by becoming hostile and demanding. These people are narcissistic. They act as if they are entitled to get all their needs met. They demand a lot, and often get a lot, from the people who become their lovers. You might be very demanding about material things. You might be demanding about anything except the true object of your craving, which is emotional nurturance.
Some children are neglected in both domains, emotionally and materially. No matter where they turn, they encounter deprivation. These children usually just give up and learn to expect nothing. (the surrender coping style)
Changing emotional deprivation
  1. Understand your childhood deprivation. Feel the deprived child inside you.
  2. Monitor your feelings of deprivation in your current relationships. Get in touch with your needs for nurturance, empathy, and guidance.
  3. review pas relationships and clarify the patterns that recur. List the pitfalls to avoid from now on.
  4. avoid cold partners who generate high chemistry
  5. when you find a partner who is emotionally generous, give the relationship a chance to work. Ask for what you want. Share your vulnerability with your partner.
  6. Stop blaming your partner and demanding that your needs be met.
Three kinds of emotional deprivation
  1. Deprivation of Nurturance
  2. Deprivation of Empathy
  3. Deprivation of Protection
You keep what you want a secret, then get angry when you do not get it. Keeping your needs secret is a way of surrendering to your lifetrap. You make sure that even though your partner is a warm person, your needs still will not get met. If you are with a loving partner, tell the person what you need.  Allow your partner to take care of you, protect you, and understand you. This can be frightening. It means making yourself vulnerable to your partner. You have become very invested in doing the opposite, keeping yourself invulnerable to protect yourself from disappointment. As a chid you had a good reason for this. You have probably had good reason to keep up this wall in many relationships since childhood. But ask yourself, “This time, is it different? Can I trust this person?” If the answer is “yes,” perhaps you should take a chance.
Your emotional deprivation lifetrap will not fall away suddenly. It is a matter of slowly chipping away at the lifetrap – of countering the lifetrap each time it is triggered. You must throw your whole being against the lifetrap – your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. It is sad that the more you were damaged as a child, the harder you will have to work. This is one more unfairness in the string of unfairness against you. If you were seriously damaged as a child, you may need professional help.
You could easily access anger about the past, but it was very difficult  to feel the pain. You never saw yourself as responsible for creating relationships, always focused on how the other person was disappointing you, how the other person was letting you down.
Sometimes you are attracted to narcissistic men but now you must resist them. You must learn not only to give love but to receive love in return. It may seem funny that you will have to learn how to take love.
Reinventing your Life: 7. “I can’t trust you”, the mistrust and abuse life trap

Questionnaire

  1. I expect people to hurt or use me.
  2. Throughout my life people close to me have abused me.
  3. It is only a matter of time before the people I love will betray me.
  4. I have to protect myself and stay on my guard.
  5. If I am not careful, people will take advantage of me.
  6. I set up tests for people to see if they are really on my side.
  7. I try to hurt people before they hurt me.
  8. I am afraid to let people get close to me because I expect them to hurt me.
  9. I am angry about what people have done to me.
  10. I have been physically, verbally, or sexually abused by people I should have been able to trust.
Abuse is a complex mixture of feelings – pain, fear, rage, and grief. The feelings are intense, and they simmer near the surface. You may have volatile moods. You suddenly become very upset – either crying or enraged. You may space out and disassociate. Your emotions are numb.
Your experience of relationship is a painful one. Relationships are not places to relax and become vulnerable. Rather they are dangerous and unpredictable. People hurt you, betray you, and use you. It is hard to trust people, particularly the ones closest to you. Anxiety and depression are common. You may have a deep sense of despair about your life. Certainly you have low self-esteem and feelings of defectiveness.
Origins of the Mistrust and Abuse Life trap
  1. Someone in your family physically abused you as a child.
  2. Someone in your family sexually abused you as a child, or repeatedly touched you in a sexually provocative way.
  3. Someone in your family repeatedly humiliated you, teased you, or put you down (verbal abuse).
  4. People in your family could not be trusted. (They betrayed confidences, exploited your weaknesses to their advantage, manipulated you, made promises they had no intention of keeping, or lied to you.)
  5. Someone in your family seemed to get pleasure from seeing you suffer.
  6. You were made to do things as a child by the threat of severe punishment or retaliation.
  7. One of your parents repeatedly warned you not to trust people outside of the family.
  8. The people in your family were against you.
  9. One of your parents turned to you for physical affection as a child, in a way that was inappropraite or made you uncomfortable.
  10. People used to call you names that really hurt.
All forms of abuse are violations of your boundaries. Your physical, sexual, or psychological boundaries were not respected.
Abuse stirred sexual feelings and can make you feel confused and ashamed. You are not expected to protect yourself. Rather, your family was supposed to be protecting you. The feeling of not being protected is part of most forms of abuse. One parent abused you, and the other failed to prevent or stop it. They both let you down.
We all know what we should do when a stranger attempts to abuse us. We should fight back, we should get help, we should escape. All of these options become problematic when you are a child and the abuser is someone you love. At bottom, you tolerated the abuse because you needed the connection with the person. It was your parent or brother or sister. Indeed, it may have been the only connection you were able to get. Without it you would have been alone. To most children, some connection, even an abusive one, is better than no connection at all.
The abuser makes the child feel worthless. The abuser blames the child, and the child accepts that blame.
Abuse creates powerful feelings of defectiveness. It makes you ashamed of who you are. You are unworthy. You are not entitled to have any rights or to stand up for yourself. You have to let the person use you and take advantage of you. It feels to you as if abuse is all you deserve.
Dissociating may have been a way for you to remove yourself from the situation emotionally and just get through it. Dissociating also gives an air of separateness to an event – it seems to be happening separately from the rest of your life.
One of the most common Counterattacks for the Mistrust and Abuse lifetrap is to abuse somebody else. The abuse sometimes becomes the abuser. Many victims of abuse who do not actually behave abusively do have fantasies of abusing or hurting people. You may lash out at other people sporadically. You may enjoy seeing other people hurt. You may be manipulative or insulting.
Danger signals in relationships
  1. he/she has an explosive temper that scares you.
  2. he/she loses control when he/she drinks too much.
  3. he/she puts you down in front of your friends and family.
  4. he/she repeatedly demeans you, criticizes you, and makes you feel worthless.
  5. he/she has no respect for your needs
  6. he/she will do anything – lie or manipulate – to get his/her way
  7. he/she is somewhat of a con artist in business dealings
  8. he/she is sadistic or cruel – seems to get pleasure when you or other people suffer
  9. he/she hits you or threatens you when you do not do as he/she wants
  10. he/she forces you to have sex, even when you do not want to
  11. he/she exploits your weaknesses to his/her advantage
  12. he/she cheats on you
  13. he/she is very unreliable, and takes advantage of your generosity
You may find that you are most attracted to abusive partners. People who use, hit, rape, or insult and demean you – are the lovers who generate the most chemistry.
Life traps in relationships
  1. You often feel people are taking advantage of you, even when there is little concrete proof.
  2. You allow other people to mistreat you because you are afraid of them or because you feel it is all you deserve.
  3. You are quick to attack other people because you expect them to hurt you or put you down.
  4. You have a very hard time enjoying sex – it feels like an obligation or you cannot derive pleasure.
  5. You are reluctant to reveal personal information because you worry that people will use it against you.
  6. You are reluctant to show your weaknesses because you expect people to take advantage of them
  7. You feel nervous around people because ou worry that they will humiliate you
  8. You give in too easily to other people because you are afraid of them.
  9. You feel that other people seem to enjoy your suffering.
  10. You have a definite sadistic or cruel side, even though you may not show it.
  11. You allow other people to take advantage of you because “it is better than being alone.”
  12. You feel that men/women cannot be trusted.
  13. You do not remember large portions of your childhood.
  14. When you are frightened of someone, you “tune out”, as if part of you is not really there.
  15. You often feel people have hidden motives or bad intentions, even when you have little proof.
  16. You often have sado-masochistic fantasies.
  17. You avoid getting close to men/women because you cannot turst them.
  18. You feel frightened around men/women and you do not understand why.
  19. You have sometimes been abusive or cruel to other people, especially the ones to whom you are closest.
  20. You often feel helpless in relation to other people.
It hurts too much as a child to hope and be disappointed. You may do things to encourage partners to treat you badly and send out messages you are not worth treating well. You may swing to the opposite end and have a problem with aggressiveness. “The best defense is a good offense.” Since you expect the other person to attack, you make sure you attack first. You do not notice that time passes and you are the only one attacking.
Changing your mistrust and abuse life trap
  1. If at all possible, see a therapist to help you with this lifetrap, particularly if you have been sexually or physically abused.
  2. Find a friend you trust (or your therapist). Do imagery. Try to recall memories of abuse. Relive each incident in detail.
  3. While doing imagery, vent your anger at your abuser(s). Stop feeling helpless in the image.
  4. Stop blaming yourself. You did not deserve the abuse.
  5. Consider reducing or stopping contact with your abuser(s) while you work on this lifetrap.
  6. If it is possible, when you are ready, confront your abuser face-to-face, or send a letter.
  7. Stop tolerating abuse in your current relationships.
  8. Try to trust and get closer to people who deserve it.
  9. Try to become involved with a partner who respects your rights and does not want to hurt you.
  10. Do not abuse the people close to you.
You did not deserve the abuse. Stop making excuses for your abuser. You were not at fault. You were a helpless child. You did the best you could under the circumstances. It is important to be crystal-clear on this issue. No child deserves to be abused.
No matter what you were made to feel, the abuse did not happen because you were bad. That was a convenient excuse. Victimizers always devalue their victims. Awake from your feelings of defectiveness. Find the good child within you. Feel sympathy for this wounded child.
Get angry at the parent who did no protect you. Direct the anger away from yourself. Stop dealing with your anger in self-destructive ways. Use your anger to make you stronger.
You should have no shame about needing help. Reclaim the things that are rightfully yours – all the joys that are possible in supportive human relationships. The road out is long and difficult, but for that reason it can be one of the most rewarding. The road can bring you to what you have always wanted – to love and be loved.

How To Know When You’re Ready To Stop Therapy — And How To Do It

I like how this encourages the “discussion” around the topic.

Rory

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There are some do’s and don’ts of taking a break from or leaving your therapist.

Source: How To Know When You’re Ready To Stop Therapy — And How To Do It

Finding the right therapist is often likened to the dating process: It can be daunting, requires serious effort and is very fulfilling once you find the one.

And — just like in dating — knowing if, when and how to end or put that relationship on hold can be equally stressful. It’s nerve-wracking, confusing and can leave you wondering if you’re making the right decision.

The good news is: Therapists are trained to want you to stop.

“I think people get nervous their therapists are going to feel hurt that they’re leaving,” Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and author of “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,” explained to HuffPost. “Ours is the worst possible business model, because from day one our goal is how we can get you to be independent of us. We want you to be able to function without us.”

“Ours is the worst possible business model, because from day one our goal is how we can get you to be independent of us. We want you to be able to function without us.”

Growing out of your therapist can look many different ways, but there are concrete signs, and some of them exist outside the room, according to Meg Gitlin, psychotherapist and creator of the Instagram account City Therapist.

“I think it’s when the person starts internalizing your voice or is able to readily access the tools you have given them, when they come in and they say ‘oh, I was at my sister-in-law’s and I got into a tizzy about X,Y and Z but I was able to talk myself down and self-soothe,’” she said. “The things you practice and learn in therapy have no value unless you can take them outside of the room.”

Repeatedly struggling to come up with things to talk about in a session could also be a sign you’re ready to take a break, but Josephson warns against jumping the gun on that one.

“If you’re having a good week, it’s not a reason to cancel your therapy session,” she said. “Therapy is not a quick fix … But if you find yourself constantly coming up short of issues you really want to discuss I think it might be time to consider taking a pause.”

Taking a break or stopping altogether can feel scary, especially if you’ve been working with someone for a long time, but it can also be an opportunity to reflect on that work and see how it manifests in your daily life.

“There are many benefits of stopping or taking a break,” said Mark Aoyogi, director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver. “Reconnecting with your independence, practicing the skills you have developed, engaging in life with your deeper sense of self-awareness. It’s also a great opportunity for continued self-introspection on what has been learned, how to apply it and what works best” for you.

“If you are having apprehension about raising the topic of stopping with your therapist, that is probably an indication your therapist is not a good fit.”

As with anything, there are right and wrong ways to go about broaching the topic. The main one is: Don’t ghost someone who has committed time, care and effort into helping you. As Gottlieb puts it, it’s “a conversation.”

“We’re not going to keep you somewhere you don’t want to be,” she said. “At the same time, we’ll talk to you about where you think you’re at and what progress you’ve made and how you’re feeling. You can always leave and if something comes up you can come back ― our door is open. I think people need to feel really comfortable talking to their therapists about what they’re doing there and how long they’re going to be there.”

Importantly, Aoyogi said that if you’re seeing the right person, they will be supportive and understanding of your wishes.

“If you are having apprehension about raising the topic of stopping with your therapist, that is probably an indication your therapist is not a good fit,” he said. “I’m not sure therapy can be effective if you are feeling pressured to continue.”

Lifetraptest.com – lifetraps – Schemas

Source: Lifetraptest.com – lifetraps – life traps – schemas

Lifetrap descriptions (life traps / schemas)

18 LIFETRAPS

Abandonment Abuse
Approval seeking Defectiveness
Dependence Emotional depriviation
Emotional inhibation Enmeshment
Entitlement Failure
Insufficient self-control Pessimism
Punitiveness Self-sacrifice
Social isolation Subjugation
Unrelenting standards Vulnerability

SUBJUGATION

You feel that you need to please your loved ones, friends, colleagues and even strangers. You do not want to be tricky, but nice and comfortable, so you easily agree to things that do not seem to be particularly important to you. You may find it difficult to stand for yourself in both small and large matters. You let others control you more or less, because you want to avoid unpleasant consequences. You do not openly express your needs, because you do not see them important enough. You hide your anger to evade a conflict. However, the suppression of anger leads to accumulation of anger inside of you, which is usually dissolved either in a passive expression of anger as a small-scale revenge, gossip, slowing down, whining; or surprising aggressive temper tantrums. Anger can give rise to the desire to rebel and defy those who you consider as authorities (e.g. managers, spouse). You may attract people who are dominant and bossy, who will decide for you on how to act, behave or feel.

EMOTIONAL ENHIBATION

You have difficulty expressing your feelings and emotions spontaneously. You are embarrassed to express positive feelings of affection or caring to other people. You believe that emotions are better to be withheld and it is better to control yourself, especially in the company of others. You probably have a lot of accumulated anger and resentment, which has not been openly expressed. You may feel that you are like a pressure boiler that could erupt at any time, therefore you are trying control your feelings. In generally, you trust more your reasoning and logic than your emotions.
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FAILURE

You think you are doomed to failure, as if you are lacking some essential skills or abilities. You may have learned to avoid challenges or difficult tasks in the fear of failure. You might believe that you do not know enough or you are not able to do something, and that is why you are not taking tasks seriously. You might compare yourself to others and consider yourself a failure, inferior, or less talented than others. You think that the others have been more successful, and you do not appreciate your own achievements – there is always someone who has succeeded or done better. The effect of this lifetrap can be seen especially at the workplace. You might avoid career progress, taking challenges, promotion, committing or taking initiative. You may be trying to compensate for the feeling of failure with perfect performance and accuracy. The belief of being a failure will increase with each experience of failure.
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ABANDONMENT

Fear of loss of controls your life – you are worried about being left alone. You believe that your loved ones will die or leave you one way or another. You fear being left alone and will probably stick to your close people, but at the same time expel them from you – your worst fear is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Loss of fear induces a lack of confidence that comes out as control, possessiveness and jealousy. Addictions can be a coping mechanism for solitude making the anxiety seem more bearable. You will experience the the normal severance situations of relationships distressing and you do not feel confident that the relationship would last any breaks. You easily make wrong interpretations of other people’s intentions, based on which you may overreact, like when someone is not answering your call or text. Although the relationship is stable, it feels only temporary – as if it were constantly at stake. When you get desperate you might threaten with separation, as if to test your expectations – will the relationship come to an end this time. Losses you experience strengthen your beliefs that you can’t find any lasting relationship.
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APPROVAL SEEKING

It is important for you that all people like you, even strangers. You strive to please other people. Even if you would not like some person, you want that he or she likes you. You may make decisions thinking how your parents, your partner or your friends accept them. You may be afraid to do things on your own way, because you are afraid that might be accused or criticized. In a group you are trying hard to belong and you might transform yourself, depending on what you think others want from you. You hope that you would be liked, and therefore you aim to avoid conflict or hurting other people. You do not put forward your own opinions in fear of rejection, or you present strong opinions to test how others accept you. You may dress in a very conservative or acceptable way not to feel yourself different from others and to avoid becoming an outsider. You make a lot of effort in ensuring the people would appreciate you. You might acquire success, achievements, status, wealth or beauty, so that others could appreciate you. It is difficult for you to appreciate yourself for who you are, rather other people are a mirror of your dignity.
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ABUSE

You fear that other people will hurt, cheat, be violent, abuse or take advantage of you in some way. You probably don’t feel confident and safe but rather you see threats in in your relationships. It is usually hard for you to trust other people. You might have doubts about the intentions of others and you believe they will deceive you one way or another, sooner or later. You will not let anyone get close to you and you do not dare open up to in your relationships. You are careful and you may test whether other people are worthy of trusting. However, you may be attracted by people who are abusers and you let others treat you badly. Repeated emotional experiences of exploitation tend to confirm the lifetrap. This eats out your self-esteem, and you find it hard to get out of a relationship where you are mistreated.
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ENMESHMENT

You feel that you are so enmeshed with your parents or partner, that you no longer know who you are. It is hard for you to disagree with the parents’ or partner’s opinion, so generally you agree with them. You may feel that your parents or your partner live through you, as if you do not have your own life at all. You do not know what you want, what you need or what you feel yourself, everything is enmeshed with the other. If there is something you don’t tell your parent or your partner, you will feel guilty because it can offend or hurt the other. You have not been able to become independent enough of your parents.
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ENTITLEMENT

You view yourself as special and therefore legitimate for non-standard operating procedures. Your needs are more important to you than the needs of others. You are demanding and controlling toward others, and you want to do things the way you want. You have difficulty accepting resistance when you want something. You want to make sure that you get what you want, how you want and whenever you want. You get bored easily; the routine tasks are just not for you – you should not have to do them. You may break the law or the rules – for example, speeding in the traffic, by cheating in commercial transactions or taxation – because you believe that you entitled to do so. You like how you feel with this lifetrap, therefore, you may not see your own behavior as problematic, but people close to you see and feel it. Before long, however, may get you into trouble because of your selfish behavior. You may get into a relationship with a partner that you can dominate and mistreat. This lifetrap offers in many cases compensation for another lifetrap – usually defectiveness, emotional deprivation, social alienation or subjugation.
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PESSIMISM

You are a pessimist, and you pay more attention to negative than positive things in life. You tend to worry a lot about future events or situations. If things seem to go well, it seems only temporary. If something good happens you’ll expect that something bad is going to happen next. You fear that you may make wrong decisions that can lead to a crisis or a disaster. You worry about mistakes and therefore you aim to be as careful as possible.
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PUNITIVENESS

You are very hard on yourself and punish yourself if you act incorrectly. You are often angry at yourself and criticize yourself for your mistakes. You might think feel guilty or ashamed of how you’ve acted. You may be angry at yourself because you are sometimes weak, sentimental, or needy. If something bad happens to you, you might think that it was deserved, and you do not need sympathy or compassion. You may also be punitive to those around you. Your children may get an earful if things do not go as you please. You find it hard to forgive yourself and others you do not accept excuses too easily.
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DEPENDENCE

You feel that you are somehow unable to take care of yourself. You do not trust your own judgment. You need, therefore, other people to support you and to take care of you. You are dependent on friends and family – you are not an independent adult coping on your own. Probably you are still in close contact with your parents, who affect your life dramatically. Making decisions is difficult for you, you might be asking for advice and confirmation from others; you would change your mind many times, and still be unsure of your decision. You might avoid responsibility, initiative and challenging situations. You feel anxiety and despair if you have to take more responsibility than what you feel capable of having. Perhaps the only chance for you to survive is to team up with a strong partner, which will eventually make you even more dependent on others.
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INSUFFICIENT SELF-CONTROL

You are impulsive, you give your impulses the control of your life. You find it hard to concentrate for any length of time, because your mind creates impulses and would like to do something else. You have difficult time trying to control your emotions and your mind. You do not always think about the consequences of your actions, which will put you in to problems. You may run into problems with the authorities. Your life is more or less in chaos. You may find it difficult to express your anger constructively, which results in raging and other inappropriate behavior. Self-discipline and lack of boundaries can easily lead to addictions: drinking, smoking, excessive eating, sex addiction, internet addiction or other problematic behaviors. You start projects on a whim, but they are often left half-finished, and you have a number of them going on at the same time. In working life, your impulsiveness can lead you to repeated failures when you do not reach your goals. In relationships you may alienate people close to you with your behavior. You might feel drawn to demanding, systematic, and discipline people who bring a counterbalance to your lack of discipline.
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VULNERABILITY

You are often scared and feel insecure. You worry excessively about your health, accidents or financials. You might choose a partner who is strong enough to protect you from the risks. You suffer from anxiety or panic attacks; you are constantly more or less anxious, which makes it difficult to enjoy everyday life. You might rely on addictions in order to facilitate anxiety. You strive to ascertain that you are safe. Therefore, you have learned to evade risks: elevators, cars, travelling in the city or abroad, investments, or career opportunities; you would rather stick to the old which is familiar and safe. Fears are limiting your life and your loved ones who have to adapt to your fears. Constant worry and risk avoidance further enhance the feeling of vulnerability.
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EMOTIONAL DEPRIVIATION

You feel that no one will or can satisfy your need for love and care, and probably you feel often that no one really listens and understands you. You might avoid love relationships, relationships tend to be short or you protect yourself with falling in love with a person who is not available. You might fall in love with cold, rejecting and inhibited persons. Something in them attracts you strongly. Relationships often end after the high expectations with bitter disappointment. Perhaps the great desire that your partner will change and someday be able to fulfill your needs keeps you in relation with an unsatisfying partner. You might expect that the loved one should be able to read your mind and automatically satisfy your needs for affection and intimacy. You may not have ever considered expressing your needs, on the other hand you may withdraw from or be hurt if one is unable to meet your need for feeling loved. Repeated deprivation confirms the beliefs that you will never find a life partner and you will never get the love you need.
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SELF-SACRIFICE

You’ve learned to pay attention to the needs of others and your own needs can easily be left aside. If you put your own needs first, is likely that you feel guilt. You sacrifice your own needs so that you don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that you have not noticed enough the needs of others. You sacrifice your needs voluntarily, simply because the needs of others are above your own. You are empathetic by nature, and do not want others to feel any discomfort, you’d rather feel it yourself. You are strong and take a lot of responsibility and support the well-being of others. It easy for you to be compassionate and understanding towards others. You are usually listening to other people’s problems and you tell about yours just a bit.
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SOCIAL ISOLATION

You often feel anxiety in social situations and it makes you avoid them. You feel different and therefore not fitting in. With new people you feel uncomfortable and nervous and you do not really know what to say. You might be nervous about the situation and afraid of getting into the spotlight. Feeling anxious you are wondering what others might think of you. When you are upset you are unable to use your social skills, so you will feel insecure and withdraw. You may be accustomed to avoid social situations to the extent that it seems quite natural – but at the same time you need inside a closer contact with fellow human beings. In a group you may pretend you’re more like the others and you want to give a good impression of yourself. You might get into working positions, which does not require a lot of interaction. In Close relationships you’ll feel more confident and calm – you can be more truly yourself. The repeated experience of being an outsider makes you avoid more and more unpleasant social situations.
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UNRELENTING STANDARDS

You are highly demanding on yourself, although you will probably see your standards quite reasonable. You feel that you have to do something all the time, to get results, be efficient and keep things in order. You can’t be happy with yourself if you do not meet your requirements. Nothing ever seems to be sufficient; there is always something worth pursuing. The feelings of inadequacy, failure, inferiority and shame lurk nearby and strike hard if you can’t reach your requirements. You strive to avoid these unpleasant feelings, and it causes you anxiety and stress. Stress may arise in various physical symptoms – insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, ulcer or panic attacks. You find it hard to relax and just enjoy life. You may be mostly frustrated and irritated with yourself and others. To you, life is performing, and you believe that at the end it will bring to you a prize – freedom or perfection. The achievements, however, feel empty after all and you need to look for the following tasks and challenges. If you choose to succeed at something, you will probably succeed – however, you can’t stop to enjoy the success. Maybe you neglect your friends or loved ones – because you do not have the time to relax and give your time to the others.
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DEFECTIVENESS

Your existence is characterized by worthlessness which is based on the belief of defectiveness. You might talk about yourself with a degrading tone; you are critical, harsh and angry at yourself. As if you would have within you something shameful and disgusting, which needs to be kept hidden. Probably you hide your problems and mistakes, and avoid talking about them not to fell shame. You have to keep the real feelings and thoughts in secret, you do not want to others to see you as a sentimental or a needy human being. You present to people other than you really are and at the same time you are afraid of the disclosure. You are sensitive to criticism and critique, which may make you angry. Maybe you attack against your feelings of inferiority by being critical and dismissive of others – including your partner or your children. You may feel attracted to critical people who further increase you feeling of worthlessness.
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Five rules for approaching our feelings with greater wisdom and effectiveness.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/201911/building-emotional-intelligence-isnt-hard-you-think

David B. Feldman Ph.D.

Building Emotional Intelligence Isn’t as Hard as You Think

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Dozens of times a week, we ask friends, family, and even strangers, “How are you?” Given this fact alone, you’d think our society was very interested in how people feel.

But all of us know that this question generally doesn’t get an honest answer. Instead, most people reply with, “good,” “fine,” or at least, “okay.” If we’re really honest with ourselves, most of us would be a bit uncomfortable if we got a more genuine answer.

For many of us, it can feel risky to get in touch with our feelings, let alone to express them to others. I was recently speaking with a close friend who was genuinely hurt by something his father posted in a family chat room. He had been ruminating about it for days. And yet, when I suggested that he bring it up with his dad, his answer was straightforward: “No,” he told me. “We don’t talk about feelings in our family.”

Psychologist Marc Brackett, the founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, argues that this tendency to avoid feelings, though understandable, can be a real disadvantage.

In one experiment, Brackett and his colleagues divided middle-school teachers into two groups. One group was placed in a good mood by recalling positive classroom experiences, while the other group was placed in a bad mood by recalling negative classroom experiences.

Then, they all were asked to grade the same essay. The teachers who were in a worse mood scored the essay a full letter grade lower than those in a better mood. But here’s the real kicker: Most of the teachers said they thought their mood had no influence on their grading, even though it clearly had.

Whether we like it or not, our feelings affect our thinking and behavior. Being out of touch with these feelings just means we’re at the mercy of them. So, it behooves us to get to know them better.

Our ability to understand and regulate our feelings is what psychologists often call “emotional intelligence.” Luckily, emotional intelligence isn’t a fixed commodity, but rather something we can build by learning what Brackett calls “emotion skills.”

He has developed a system, organized around the acronym R.U.L.E.R., which has been used in nearly 2,000 schools across the world to teach such skills to children and teenagers. But it can be equally applicable for helping all of us develop greater wisdom about our feelings and use them to our advantage.

Here are the five skills you can start practicing now:

R: Recognize

The first step toward productively managing any feeling is to recognize that we’re having it. Although this may sound easy, it’s equally easy to ignore our feelings. Have you ever said, “I don’t care,” about a situation when you really did? Have you ever gotten a head or neck ache, only to later realize you were actually feeling emotionally stressed?

To better recognize our feelings, Bracket suggests using a technique known as the “Mood Meter.” At its heart, this technique involves asking yourself two simple questions:

  1. How much energy does this emotion have?
  2. How pleasant is this emotion?

Emotions can be high in both, low in both, high in energy and low in pleasantness, or low in energy and high in pleasantness. Emotions high in both energy and pleasantness include joy, excitement, and optimism, while emotions low in both include sadness and depression. Anxiety, anger, and frustration are examples of feelings high in energy but low in pleasantness, whereas calmness and contentedness are examples of feelings low in energy but high in pleasantness. By at least identifying in which of these categories our feelings fall, we lay a foundation for wisely dealing with them.

U: Understand

The next emotion skill involves understanding our feelings. In short, this involves asking the question, “Why am I feeling this way?” Because this wide-open question is notoriously difficult to answer, in his book Permission to Feel, Brackett suggests some more specific questions we can ask ourselves to figure out the reasons behind our feelings. Here are a few of them:

  • What just happened? What was I doing before this happened?
  • What happened this morning, or last night, that might be involved in this?
  • What has happened before with this person that might be connected?
  • What memories do I have about the situation or place in which this emotion occurred?

Understanding the causes of our feelings can help provide clues about how to address them. If I’m feeling anxious because my new boss reminds me of a person from my past who was cruel to me, I’ll want to deal with the situation very differently than if my anxiety results from a particular managerial decision my boss just made. Of course, it could be both—so it can take serious time and introspection to really sort out what we’re experiencing and why. Be patient and keep at it.

L: Label

It’s not enough simply to recognize and understand an emotion; we also can benefit from finding the right word to describe it.

Many of us have a relatively limited emotion vocabulary. Some of us stick with two words: bad and good. Others might have three or four: happy, sad, mad, and scared. Still others may not use emotion words at all, but prefer figures of speech like, “on top of the world” or “burning up.”

But in actuality, there are thousands of words to describe emotions in the English language alone. We certainly don’t have to memorize all of them, but Brackett suggests that more accurate labels are usually better for us. In his words, “We know from neuroscience and brain imaging research that there is real, tangible truth to the proposition that ‘if you can name it, you can tame it.’”

For a start, knowing precisely what feelings we’re experiencing can give us clues about how to manage them. Although you may recognize that you’re experiencing a negative, high-energy emotion, both “stressed” and “overwhelmed” might fit that general description. But which of these labels most accurately describes our feeling really matters, because they mean different things.

“Stress” generally means we feel that what we’re trying to do or handle exceeds our capabilities, whereas “overwhelmed” means there’s just too much of it, regardless of our capabilities. If we’re feeling overwhelmed, the best approach may be to reduce our workload the best we can, whereas if we’re feeling stressed, the best approach may be to upgrade our capabilities by learning new skills or reorganizing the way we do things.

E: Express

If the R, U, and L of R.U.L.E.R. are about getting into touch with our emotions, the E and R are about what to do with them.

There are lots of reasons we hesitate to express our feelings. Especially when emotions fall on the negative end of the spectrum, we may be afraid they’re inappropriate, will embarrass us, or will somehow injure the person we express them to.

According to Brackett, however, “Hurt feelings don’t vanish on their own. They don’t heal themselves. If we don’t express our emotions, they pile up like a debt that will eventually come due.” So it’s important to express them in some way.

But this doesn’t mean we should let our emotions run wild, saying everything that’s on our minds to everyone we wish. According to Brackett, the skill of expressing our feelings “means knowing how and when to display our emotions, depending on the setting, the people we’re with, and the larger context.”

If we’re feeling hurt by something our boss said, for instance, it’s in our best interest to express this differently than if a close friend said something similar to us. Depending on the level of trust, we may make ourselves more vulnerable to our friend than our boss, expressing our feelings in greater depth or detail. If there’s a good chance we could lose our job, we may even choose not to express our hurt at all to our boss, instead confiding in and seeking support from someone else.

R: Regulate

The final emotion skill involves determining how to cope with our feelings.

Whether or not we choose to express them, feelings impact us. Regulating our emotions involves dealing with them in a way that allows us to best meet our personal and professional goals—or at least prevent our feelings from interfering with them. This certainly doesn’t mean ignoring our emotions; as already discussed, this doesn’t work well. Instead, it involves learning to accept and deal with them wisely.

Techniques for helping us cope with our feelings run the gamut, and we should strive to use ones that work for us. Relaxation videos abound on YouTube and can help us soothe strong emotions. Meditation phone apps can be used to facilitate mindfulness, which may help us accept our feelings. Physical exercise can help us to “work out” our feelings and feel more grounded in our bodies.

But emotion regulation can also be very simple. “You can’t stand your neighbor? Avoid her,” writes Brackett. “Your parents are coming to visit and you don’t want them to see some of your more outré artwork? Hide it until they leave. You’re tired? Splash some water on your face.” The important thing is to acknowledge our feelings—not avoid them—and then take productive steps toward dealing with them.

Learning to be more emotionally skilled isn’t a panacea. It won’t eliminate all our negative feelings or bring about a constant state of bliss. Such goals are probably impossible. But part of emotional intelligence is realizing that our feelings aren’t our enemies. In fact, if we approach them wisely, they can be some of our best friends. Let’s all get to know these friends a little better.

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