The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more
If you grew up in a home with a parent who misused alcohol, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of never knowing what to expect from one day to the next. When one or both parents struggle with addiction, the home environment is predictably unpredictable.
Argument, inconsistency, unreliability, and chaos tend to run rampant. Children of alcoholics don’t get many of their emotional needs met due to these challenges, often leading to skewed behaviors and difficulties in properly caring for themselves and their feelings later in life.1
If you were never given the attention and emotional support you needed during a key developmental time in your youth and instead were preoccupied with the dysfunctional behavior of a parent, it may certainly be hard (or perhaps impossible) to know how to get your needs met as an adult.
Furthermore, if you lacked positive foundational relationships, it may be difficult to develop healthy, trusting interpersonal relationships later on.1
Children of alcoholics often have to deny their feelings of sadness, fear, and anger in order to survive. Since unresolved feelings will always surface eventually, they often manifest during adulthood.
The advantage to recognizing this is that you’re an adult now and no longer a helpless child. You can face these issues and find resolution in a way you couldn’t back then.1
Many children of alcoholics develop similar characteristics and personality traits. In her 1983 landmark book, “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” the late Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D, outlined 13 of them.2 “Dr. Jan” (as she was known) was a best-selling author, lecturer, and counselor who was also married to an alcoholic.
Based on her personal experience with alcoholism and its effect on her children, as well as her work with clients who were raised in dysfunctional families, Janet discovered that these common characteristics are prevalent not only in alcoholic families but also in those who grew up in families where there were other compulsive behaviors.
Examples of behaviors include gambling, drug abuse, or overeating. Other types of dysfunction, such as parents who were chronically ill or held strict religious attitudes, were also implicated.3
She cited that adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs) often:4
Guess at what normal behavior is
Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
Judge themselves without mercy
Have difficulty having fun
Take themselves very seriously
Have difficulty with intimate relationships
Overreact to changes over which they have no control
Constantly seek approval and affirmation
Feel that they’re different from other people
Are super responsible or super irresponsible
Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
People may tend to lock themselves in a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences.
A person’s impulsively can lead to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, the person spends an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
If you’re a child of an alcoholic, that doesn’t mean that everything on this list will apply to you. Though because the experiences have common features, it’s likely you will recognize at least a few items on Dr. Jan’s list.
The Laundry List
Before Dr. Jan’s book was published, an adult child of an alcoholic, Tony A., published in 1978 what he called “The Laundry List,” another list of characteristics that can seem very familiar to those who grew up in dysfunctional homes.5
Tony’s list has been adopted as part of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization’s official literature and is a basis for the article, “The Problem,” published on the group’s website.
Become “para-alcoholics” (people who take on the characteristics of the disease without drinking)
Become reactors instead of actors
ACoAs and Relationships
Many adult children of alcoholics lose themselves in their relationship with others, sometimes finding themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities, such as workaholics, who are emotionally unavailable.1
Adult children may also form relationships with others who need their help or need to be rescued, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. If they place the focus on the overwhelming needs of someone else, they don’t have to look at their own difficulties and shortcomings.1
Often, adult children of alcoholics will take on the characteristics of alcoholics, even though they’ve never picked up a drink: exhibiting denial, poor coping skills, poor problem solving, and forming dysfunctional relationships.
If you identify with the characteristics outlined in either Dr. Woititz’s or Tony A.’s book, you might want to take our Adult Children Screening Quiz to get an idea of how much you may have been affected by growing up as you did.
Many adult children find that seeking professional treatment or counseling for insight into their feelings, behaviors, and struggles helps them achieve greater awareness of how their childhood shaped who they are today.
The process is often overwhelming in the beginning, but it can help you learn how to express your needs and cope with conflict in new and constructive ways.1
Expert Source: Tamar Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: Four Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want (DaCapo Lifelong, 2012)
You owe someone you care about an apology. Perhaps you had an argument with your spouse in which you blew up and said things you regret. Maybe you neglected an important obligation, and inconvenienced and really angered the person who had to fill in for you. Or you did something selfish and thoughtless that wounded a friend.
Time has passed — weeks, months, perhaps even years — and you haven’t approached the injured party to apologize and make amends. Your initial resistance to saying you’re sorry might have been the result of an anger hangover or some other uncomfortable emotion. But now time has passed, and your procrastination hangs over you. The incident was difficult enough — now you have to come to terms with your delay and the other bad feelings it may have caused.
Owing an apology and not making it is a little like having a toothache: You think you can ignore the pain, but it has a way of gnawing at you, refusing to leave you in peace. How to get out of the trap? Psychologist Tamar Chansky suggests a few simple strategies for making amends.
Barriers To Overcome
Fear of the wronged person’s anger. We often procrastinate in the first place because we worry that the person we’ve wronged is upset with us and we’ll have to bear the brunt of that fury — made worse, of course, by the intervening time. Apologizing, we fear, will only stir up bad feelings. So we let sleeping dogs lie and accept the lesser misery of avoiding the situation.
Shame-based resistance. Many people resist apologizing, Chansky says, because admitting that they did something wrong activates their shame. They identify doing something wrong, and saying so, with being a bad person across the board. “And nobody wants to sign up for that,” she points out.
Apology as a sign of weakness. “Many of us have been raised to resist apologizing,” Chansky says, “because we’ve been taught that it’s a sign of weakness.” We may fear that the person we are approaching will see us as vulnerable and take advantage of us.
Residual resentment. “When we think that the other person was in the wrong, too, and actually owes us an apology as well, we may be reluctant to go first, or to apologize at all,” says Chansky.
The idea that your apology is too late. “Many of us were taught by our parents to apologize too quickly,” says Chansky. “We may have been forced to apologize before we were ready, before we really felt sorry. As grownups, then, we may think that the time that’s elapsed has diminished the value of our apology, that it’s become like stale bread.” We’ve missed our chance, we think, to really have an impact.
Fear that it’s not a big deal. It sounds counterintuitive, but Chansky points out that one barrier to apologizing might be fear that the other person has forgotten the wrong or the slight, or that the issue wasn’t a big one for him or her in the first place; if we bring it up, we’ll learn that we aren’t as important to that person as we thought we were. The result might be that we feel embarrassed and worry that we look foolish, “hung-up,” or obsessive.
Strategies For Success
Realize that a genuine apology usually takes time. Chansky points out that “instant apologies” like those our parents may have insisted we make can be premature and unconvincing if we don’t really feel sorrow or remorse. Part, or perhaps all, of our delay in saying we’re sorry may be the natural development of those feelings over time. It’s not an excuse for further delay, now that we realize we were in the wrong, but it’s a good reminder not to be impossibly hard on ourselves.
Think of time as your ally. If a lot of time has passed between the incident and the apology, Chansky says, the person to whom you owe the apology may actually value your action more, not less. “Given the time that’s passed, you could so easily have not apologized, but you did. The fact that you are making the effort now only increases the significance of the act. A sincere apology never ‘goes bad.’” Do not, however, use this as a justification for more misery-inducing procrastination.
Put your fault in perspective. “Being able to see the thing we’ve done as simply one action that wasn’t right, not a stain on our whole character or our whole life, can keep us out of the bog of shame,” says Chansky. “We’re apologizing for something we did, not for our whole existence.”
See openness as a sign of strength. Apology, which is the act of putting the real you forward — flaws and all — rather than hiding out in fear, is a sign of strength of character, not weakness. And, says Chansky, it will likely be seen as such by the person to whom you are apologizing.
Do it for yourself. “You’re apologizing not to get a particular outcome,” says Chansky, “but to do the right thing from your side and clear your conscience.” This will help you keep your equilibrium if the other person is angry, or if you find that what you did had less effect on the other person than you thought. If the person minimizes it, you can simply say, “I’m really glad you feel that way, but what I did has been weighing on me.” This attitude will also help remind you that even if the other person bears some blame for the problem between you, your responsibility is to take care of your side.
Use the steppingstone method. To handle the anxiety of speaking with the person involved, Chansky suggests not going directly “from silence to ‘I’m so sorry,’” but approaching the apology via a preamble. “You can begin by saying something like ‘There’s something I need to tell you, and it’s hard for me to talk about it, but I really want to.’ This helps you warm up, and it tunes the other person into your sincerity.”
Write and rehearse. Another method to reduce apology anxiety, according to Chansky, is to prepare by writing down what you want to say to the other person and rehearsing it. You won’t read what you’ve written or recite your apology in the actual encounter, of course — that needs to be spontaneous and heartfelt. But a little prep can calm you down a lot.
Keep a sense of purpose. “Nothing burns through anxiety better than a sense of real purpose,” says Chansky. “Rather than thinking about how scared you are to make the apology, or what the other person will say, ground yourself in the simple fact that you intend to do the right thing, no matter what.”
Dogs have been aiding and working with humans since ancient times, in everything from farming to hunting to protection and more. Service dogs, working dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals all fulfill important roles in their aid to humans, but the terms are not interchangeable. Each recognization is specifically defined, both in terms of the jobs undertaken and the legals rights offered.
What Do Service Dogs Do?
As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are individually trained to perform specific tasks and to work with people with disabilities. According to the ADA, disabilities can be “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The work of the service dog must be directly related to the handler’s disability. These are just some of the things a service dog can do:
Guide dogs help blind people navigate in the world.
Hearing (or signal) dogs alert deaf people to sounds, such as a knock on the door or a person entering the room.
Psychiatric dogs are trained to detect and lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode.
Service dogs help those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise physically limited. They may open doors or cabinets, fetch things their handler can’t reach, and carry items for their handler.
Autism assistance dogs are trained to help those on the autism spectrum to distinguish important sensory signals, such as a smoke alarm, from other sensory input. They may also alert their handler to repetitive behaviors or overstimulation.
Service dogs that are trained to recognize seizures and will stand guard over their handler during a seizure or go for help. What Rights Do Service Dogs Have?
The ADA mandates that service dogs have full public access rights, which means they are allowed to go places where are animals are forbidden. They can be brought into restaurants, stores, libraries, and other public spaces. They must be permitted in housing, even if other pets are not allowed. Service dogs are also allowed on airplanes and other public transport. One caveat: each airline has its own rules regarding service dogs. Most require that the dog sits on the traveler’s lap or at their feet. Dogs cannot block the aisle or sit in the emergency exit row. Service dogs are exempt from the pet fees that airlines charge.
What is a Working Dog?
A working dog is a purpose-trained canine that learns and performs tasks to assist its human companions. Detection, herding, hunting, search and rescue, police, and military dogs are all examples of working dogs. Working dogs often rely on their excellent senses of smell to help out where humans fall short. Just a few of the jobs performed by working dogs include:
Search and rescue. From missing persons cases to natural disasters, dogs have been an integral part in finding people in dire situations. Search and rescue (SAR) dogs can either use a scent in the air or the scent of a specific object to find who they’re looking for. They can be used in many different situations, including disasters, cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches. Bloodhounds are widely used in this role. Explosives detection. These canine heroes work with the police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and military to locate dangerous materials. The dogs go through an intense training course to learn how to locate and identify a wide variety of explosives and to alert their handlers of its presence. Breeds that excel in this kind of work include the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois.
Cancer detection. Believe it or not, scientists were able to train Labrador Retrievers to sniff out cancer in patients’ breath by smelling samples and sitting down in front of the one that was cancerous. Cancer cells give off different odors than regular cells and they change the way a person’s breath smells– a dog’s keen nose can tell the difference. In one case in particular, the Lab correctly diagnosed the disease 98 percent of the time, whereas a test that is commonly used found the cancer only 10 percent of the time. Allergy alert dogs. These dogs are trained to detect the allergen and its residue at schools, social events, and everyday activities and alert their owner. Their training is similar to that of a police dog learning to track scents or drugs. Breeds commonly trained as allergy alert dogs are the Poodle and the Portuguese Water Dog.
Since working dogs are usually specifically trained to perform certain roles in certain locations, they are not often subject to legal ramifications. When they are on the job, however, working dogs should not be approached or petted, as doing their job properly requires a high level of focus without distractions.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs play a different helping role than service dogs and emotional support animals. They aren’t trained to live with a specific handler. Rather, these are dogs that — with their human teammate (often the dog’s owner) — volunteer in clinical settings, such as hospitals, mental health institutions, hospices, schools, and nursing homes, where they provide comfort, affection, and even love in the course of their work. Therapy dogs are trained to be comfortable in new environments and to interact with different people. They should have a calm temperament, be unfazed by unfamiliar noises and movements, be comfortable being handled, and love people.
Do Therapy Dogs Have Legal Rights?
Although they are defined as comfort dogs and often used in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA and don’t have the same legal right to access in public spaces. There are no uniform state or national rules that regulate and certify therapy dogs, and different organizations have different guidelines. As a general rule, therapy dogs should be trained, insured, and licensed by the non-profit that’s offering their services.
Can My Dog Be a Therapy Dog?
If you’re interested in volunteering and think your dog may be a great candidate to be a therapy dog, organizations like the Alliance of Therapy Dogs test dog for their suitability and, if accepted, have guidelines that must be followed.
While it doesn’t certify therapy dogs, the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program offers their training program to organizations, and the CGC test is often a prerequisite required by therapy dog organizations.
What Do Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) Do?
Emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA. They may be trained for a specific owner, but they are not trained for specific tasks or duties to aid a person with a disability, and this is the main difference between ESAs and service dogs. This doesn’t minimize the support these dogs provide for people with a psychological disorder. They’re considered companion animals and ease anxiety, depression, some phobias, and loneliness. In order to be considered an emotional support dog, it must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder, such as anxiety disorder, major depression, or panic attacks.
What Rights Do Emotional Support Animals Have?
Unlike service dogs, ESAs have only limited legal rights and those typically require a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist. While they don’t have unlimited access to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act mandates “reasonable accommodations” for emotional support animals even in buildings that don’t allow pets. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to allow ESAs on flights, but travelers must have a letter from a doctor or licensed therapist. There may be additional requirements as well. Because so many people abuse the concept of an emotional support animal, including the traveler who tried to bring an “emotional support peacock” on board a United Airlines flight, airlines are tightening restrictions on emotional support animals. We can expect other commercial and public spaces to follow.
Butterflies at the start of a new relationship are normal. Hoping the attraction is mutual can be both exciting and distressing.
Yet after the initial courtship phase, if a person continues to feel anxious with a partner, it may be a sign of something different. Unfortunately, many people blame themselves for their anxiety, attributing it to personal insecurities or an insecure attachment style. But this isn’t always the case.
Insecurities are human, and a person’s awareness of his or her insecurities is usually healthy. An individual who realizes and accepts his or her flaws is typically self-aware and insightful. For example, Mia is ashamed of her financial issues. She informs her new partner that she feels inept regarding money management and, recently, scheduled a meeting with a financial advisor. Her new partner understands and supports her decision to try and improve.
On the other hand, a partner who uses insecurities to excuse wrongdoing in a relationship may be problematic. For example, Rachel says to Taylor, “I have trust issues. My last partner cheated on me, so I had a friend follow you to the club to watch you. It’s only because I care.” Utilizing a past hardship to excuse current mistreatment of a partner is a red flag. Playing the victim to evade accountability in a relationship is completely different than owning a deficiency and taking responsibility.
A person may also wonder if his or her attachment style is at the root of anxiety regarding a new relationship. A person who has difficulties trusting a trustworthy partner and who often reacts ultra-defensively, may have an insecure attachment style. Discerning attachment tendencies may be confusing but if a person reflects on several of his or her interpersonal relationships and regularly experiences complicated and uncomfortable emotions such as remorse, conscientiousness, empathy, insight, vulnerability, and self-awareness, he or she may be emotionally astute. Readily admitting fault, experiencing authentic remorse, and taking serious strides to repair a rift in a relationship may further indicate a person operates from a sturdy emotional base. This emotional fortitude usually stems from a secure attachment style.
Thus, if a person is aware of insecurities, and has a secure attachment style, the anxiety may be a result of his or her involvement with an emotionally unavailable partner. An emotionally unavailable partner frequently lacks conscientiousness. Insensitive acts often occur during the dating process and although these instances may seem like small occurrences, they often impact a person emotionally.
In addition, if a partner excuses his or her insensitive gestures, turns the scenario around on the person, and blames him or her for being “too sensitive” or “insecure,” the person may experience intense anxiety. Feeling shame for an intense reaction to a partner’s selfish offense tempts a person to immediately excuse the partner and take on the blame.
For example, Lisa texts her partner, Mike, on Saturday morning, yet Mike does not respond. After a few hours, Lisa begins to feel intense anxiety. She berates herself for feeling anxious. Perhaps Mike had a family emergency or had to go to work, Lisa thinks. She reaches out to a few friends hoping to round up a crew for lunch. Nobody responds. Lisa’s anxiety skyrockets. She worries that Mike stopped caring for her and experiences shame for feeling insecure.
After several hours, Lisa decides to take her mind off the situation by going for a run. As she runs through the downtown area, she sees Mike’s car in front of a brewery. Her stomach drops and she feels intense distress.
When Lisa arrives home, she receives a text from Mike. He indicates he went to brunch and stayed to watch the game. He also tells a funny story about Lisa’s friends teasing the server at the restaurant. Lisa feels nauseous. Her heart races and her hands get clammy. She asks Mike, “Why didn’t you invite me?” Mike casually says, “because you don’t like football. Don’t be upset. Don’t be like that. You are way too sensitive. I have to go. I have dinner plans with Robby.”
Stunned, Lisa tries to maintain perspective. Lisa attempts to see the situation from Mike’s viewpoint. “He isn’t required to invite me to everything,” she tells herself. “Maybe he is trying to get to know my friends because he really likes me,” she thinks. Trying to play it cool, she refrains from mentioning the incident to Mike again. Yet she continues to experience anxiety about Mike and then admonishes herself for feeling insecure and anxious.
The anxiety Lisa experiences in her relationship with Mike is not caused by Lisa’s personal insecurities or an attachment style. It is a result of Mike’s inability to be conscientious in the relationship. Mike only thinks about himself on the day of the game. He lacks empathy for Lisa and fails to consider how much it hurts to be excluded. In addition, Mike refuses to recognize his actions as selfish. He denies accountability, avoids feeling remorse, and turns the scenario back onto Lisa, unfairly accusing her of being “too sensitive.”
Because Mike lacks conscientiousness, self-awareness, empathy, and accountability, the probability that he will hurt Lisa again is strong. Thus, Lisa, fearful of being wounded again, feels anxious. She also doubts herself because she is “too sensitive,” as Mike says. Lastly, Lisa senses Mike’s disapproval and worries about losing his affection.
In Lisa’s situation, it is essential for her to evaluate her capacity for self-awareness, accountability, and empathy in relationships. If she maintains these abilities in other relationships, she is probably not the problem. Her anxiety may be data that her current partner is emotionally unavailable. Remaining with an emotionally unavailable partner not only causes anxiety, but it also dampens a person’s sense of self. The combination may take a toll over time. Confronting the partner and assessing the partner’s motivation to address his or her issues is also critical. A highly motivated partner may be able to improve, but a person should never sacrifice his or her own peace of mind, mental health, and sense of self. If the tendencies continue, it may be necessary to end the relationship.
No parent wants to see their child upset, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to react when your child is nervous or afraid. Do you hug them? Do you let them cry it out? There’s so much conflicting advice out there! Next time you’re faced with reacting to your nervous or fearful child, try these tried and true tips.
Do Be There For many children, your presence will help calm them. Hug them or hold them on your lap. Even holding their hand can help give them a sense of security and comfort.
Don’t Be Too Involved By telling your child exactly what to do or even what to say in stressful and challenging situations, they are not able to solve problems on their own or learn ways to cope by themselves. This doesn’t mean they’ll never need help, but you should let them try to problem solve first before offering a helpful hand.
Do Get Moving Physical activity can be calming during times of high stress. Running, doing cartwheels, or playing a game involving gross motor movements can help distract them from their worry or fear.
Don’t Avoid Activities When children constantly avoid situations that make them afraid or uncomfortable, their fears never go away. Try easing them into activities that make them nervous. You don’t want to expect too much at once because it can take them a while to conquer a fear. For example, if your child has a difficult time playing with other children at school, set up a playdate at home so they can focus on feeling comfortable around one child before being surrounded by all of their peers on the playground. By slowly helping them adapt, you can ease their fear and prepare them to cope on their own when they’re older.
Do Talk It Out Having the opportunity to express what you’re feeling is important, especially for children. Give them some one-on-one time and listen without judging or discounting their anxiety. The best time to talk it out is when they are feeling calm because they are able to listen to you more easily.
Don’t Overly Reassure Telling your child that “everything will be okay,” might actually confirm to your child that there is something to fear. While it’s hard to resist the instinct to reassure your child that everything will be okay, it might be best in the long run.
Do Allow For Expression, Even If They Can’t Explain Their Worries If your child has trouble talking about why they are nervous, there are other ways to start the conversation. Ask them to draw a picture or act out what they are afraid of with a doll, puppet, or stuffed animal.
Don’t Get Impatient Not knowing how to help can be hard and frustrating for parents, but don’t let those emotions show. Your child can sense how you’re feeling. Revealing your emotions could make your child feel like they’ve upset you, increase their nervousness, and make communicating more difficult. Try to set an example of how to react calmly to help your child feel calmer, as well.
Do Empathize Even if what they are afraid of seems silly to you, it’s important to show your child that you understand. Although they may not truly have anything to be fearful of, the emotions they are feeling are very real.
Don’t Wait Until They Are 100% Anxiety Free to Reward Their Behavior Encourage and praise small accomplishments. Being brave while facing things they are afraid of or are feeling nervous about is something to celebrate!
By facing up to death we can escape from the pettiness and paralysis of anxiety.
[Article revised on 27 April 2020.]
The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (detail).
In his paper of 1943, A Theory of Human Motivation, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that healthy human beings had a certain number of needs, and that these needs are arranged in a hierarchy, with some needs (such as physiological and safety needs) being more primitive or basic than others (such as social and ego needs). Maslow’s so-called ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often presented as a five-level pyramid, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs have been met.
Maslow called the bottom four levels of the pyramid ‘deficiency needs’ because we do not feel anything if they are met, but become anxious or distressed if they are not. Thus, physiological needs such as eating, drinking, and sleeping are deficiency needs, as are safety needs, social needs such as friendship and sexual intimacy, and ego needs such as self-esteem and recognition. On the other hand, he called the fifth, top level of the pyramid a ‘growth need’ because our need to self-actualize enables us to fulfill our true and highest potential as human beings.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Source: Neel Burton
Once we have met our deficiency needs, the focus of our anxiety shifts to self-actualization, and we begin, even if only at a sub- or semi-conscious level, to contemplate our bigger picture. However, only a small minority of people is able to self- actualize because self-actualization requires uncommon qualities such as honesty, independence, awareness, objectivity, creativity, and originality.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been criticized for being overly schematic and lacking in scientific grounding, but it presents an intuitive and potentially useful theory of human motivation. After all, there is surely some truth in the popular saying that one cannot philosophize on an empty stomach, or in Aristotle’s observation that, ‘all paid work absorbs and degrades the mind’.
Many people who have met all their deficiency needs do not self-actualize, instead inventing more deficiency needs for themselves, because to contemplate the meaning of their life and of life in general would lead them to entertain the possibility of their meaninglessness and the prospect of their own death and annihilation.
A person who begins to contemplate his bigger picture may come to fear that life is meaningless and death inevitable, but at the same time cling on to the cherished belief that his life is eternal or important or at least significant. This gives rise to an inner conflict that is sometimes referred to as ‘existential anxiety’ or, more colourfully, ‘the trauma of non-being’.
While fear and anxiety and their pathological forms (such as agoraphobia, panic disorder, or PTSD) are grounded in threats to life, existential anxiety is rooted in the brevity and apparent meaninglessness or absurdity of life. Existential anxiety is so disturbing and unsettling that most people avoid it at all costs, constructing a false reality out of goals, ambitions, habits, customs, values, culture, and religion so as to deceive themselves that their lives are special and meaningful and that death is distant or delusory.
However, such self-deception comes at a heavy price. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, people who refuse to face up to ‘non-being’ are acting in ‘bad faith’, and living out a life that is inauthentic and unfulfilling. Facing up to non-being can bring insecurity, loneliness, responsibility, and consequently anxiety, but it can also bring a sense of calm, freedom, and even nobility. Far from being pathological, existential anxiety is a sign of health, strength, and courage, and a harbinger of bigger and better things to come.
For theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965), refusing to face up to non-being leads not only to a life that is inauthentic but also to pathological (or neurotic) anxiety.
In The Courage to Be, Tillich asserts:
He who does not succeed in taking his anxiety courageously upon himself can succeed in avoiding the extreme situation of despair by escaping into neurosis. He still affirms himself but on a limited scale. Neurosis is the way of avoiding nonbeing by avoiding being.
According to this outlook, pathological anxiety, though seemingly grounded in threats to life, in fact arises from repressed existential anxiety, which itself arises from our uniquely human capacity for self-consciousness.
Facing up to non-being enables us to put our life into perspective, see it in its entirety, and thereby lend it a sense of direction and unity. If the ultimate source of anxiety is fear of the future, the future ends in death; and if the ultimate source of anxiety is uncertainty, death is the only certainty. It is only by facing up to death, accepting its inevitability, and integrating it into life that we can escape from the pettiness and paralysis of anxiety, and, in so doing, free ourselves to make the most out of our lives and out of ourselves.
Some philosophers have gone even further by asserting that the very purpose of life is none other than to prepare for death. In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates, who is not long to die, tells the philosophers Simmias and Cebes that absolute justice, absolute beauty, or absolute good cannot be apprehended with the eyes or any other bodily organ, but only by the mind or soul. Therefore, the philosopher seeks in as far as possible to separate body from soul and become pure soul. As death is the complete separation of body and soul, the philosopher aims at death, and indeed can be said to be almost dead.
“Live your life for you not for anyone else. Don’t let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself” ~Sonya Parker
I am a sucker for saying yes.
Sometimes I even find myself thinking “no, no, no, no” and then I blurt out “yes.”
Why is it so difficult to say the word “no”? It’s just a word, right?
After feeling trapped for some time by my excessive urge to be agreeable, it got me thinking.
I asked myself why it was so important for me to please everyone, to the point that I would feel resentful and stressed because of it.
I realized I was afraid of saying no because my biggest fear is rejection. I was afraid that every time I did this, I would disappoint someone, make them angry, hurt their feelings, or appear unkind or rude.
Having people think negatively of me is the ultimate rejection. Whether they say what they think of me, out loud or not, does not matter to me. It is the thought that they look down on me.
And so I realized exactly why I found it so difficult to say no.
I realize this is not just a challenge that I face, but one that many people go through every day. It’s a heavy burden to carry because with the urge to say yes also comes a lack of self-confidence and self-value.
If, like me, you’re having trouble saying no, this may help.
Saying No Doesn’t Mean You’re a Bad Person
Saying no doesn’t mean that you are being rude, selfish, or unkind. These are all unhelpful beliefs that make it hard to say no.
Learning where these beliefs have come from is a great way to learn to let go of them.
Did you ever wonder why it was so easy to say no when you were a little kid and why it has become so difficult now? What happened?
Well, as children, we learned that saying no was impolite or inappropriate.
If you said no to your mom, dad, teacher, uncle, grandparents, and so on, you were most certainly considered to be being rude, and you would have probably been told off for it.
Saying no was off limits, and yes was the polite and likable thing to say.
Now that we are all adults, we are more mature and capable of making our own choices, as well as knowing the difference between wrong and right. Therefore, no shouldn’t be an off limits word, but rather something that we decide on ourselves, based on our own discretion.
But sadly, we hold onto our childhood beliefs and we continue to associate no with being dislikeable, bad mannered, unkind, or selfish. We worry that if we say no, we will feel humiliated, guilty, or ashamed, and will end up being alone, rejected, or abandoned.
Knowing Your Value
The second step to learning to say no is realizing that you are valuable and choosing your own opinion about yourself over others.
I have learned that if you live your life depending on other people’s approval, you will never feel free and truly happy.
If you depend on other people’s approval, what you are basically saying is “Their opinion of me is more important than my opinion about myself.”
If your opinion of yourself is actually quite low, remember that:
Your problems do not define you.
It’s okay to make mistakes—nobody is perfect, and everybody does things that they regret; this is what makes us human.
What makes a person great is not their looks or achievements, but their willingness to love others, be humble, and grow as a person.
You are unique, valuable, and important. No one else in this world can offer what you can.
Is It Really Worth It?
The third step to learning to say no is deciding if saying yes is really worth it.
After committing to something, doubt eventually sets in and you may begin to think of ways you can get out of it.
And if you don’t have any good excuses, you then have to decide if you are going to tell the truth or come up with a lie.
Think about the anguish, stress, and resentment that saying yes has caused you. Wouldn’t it be so much easier and straightforward to just say no in the first place?
I remember this one time that I said yes to something and then later felt so bad about it that I ended up lying my way out of it. I still feel bad that I lied.
My boss called me one day and was asked if I could work the following Saturday. As usual, I blurted out a polite “Yes, of course, that’s no problem at all.” I actually had plans with my boyfriend, which I was really looking forward to.
Later, I found myself feeling absolutely terrible about having said yes and I wished that I had just had the guts to say no from the beginning.
Dreading the idea of having to work that day, I called my boss back with the best excuse I could think of. I told her that I had completely forgotten that it was my dad’s birthday that Saturday and that we had a family get-together (which was certainly not the case).
Looking back, I realize that it really isn’t worth it to say yes when you don’t want to. I have a right to say no and shouldn’t be afraid of letting other people down at the cost of my own happiness.
If you have also decided that it’s worth it to you, and want to learn to say no, try these simple yet effective tips for doing so with confidence.
Helpful Tips for Saying No
Be direct, such as “no, I can’t” or “no, I don’t want to.”
Don’t apologize and give all sorts of reasons.
Don’t lie. Lying will most likely lead to guilt—and remember, this is what you are trying to avoid feeling.
Remember that it is better to say no now than be resentful later.
Be polite, such as “Thanks for asking.”
Practice saying no. Imagine a scenario and then practice saying no either by yourself or with a friend. This will get you feeling a lot more comfortable with saying no.
Don’t say “I’ll think about it” if you don’t want to do it. This will just prolong the situation and make you feel even more stressed.
Remember that your self-worth does not depend on how much you do for other people.
Learning to say no has been one of the best things I have done for myself. Not only has it challenged me to overcome my fear of rejection, it has helped me to feel in control.
I don’t feel trapped, resentful, or guilty anymore. Instead, I feel empowered and free.
If you want that same feeling of freedom and empowerment, then take control, challenge yourself, and learn to say no
In this breakthrough book, clinical psychologist Lindsay Gibson exposes the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. You will see how these parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood. By freeing yourself from your parents’ emotional immaturity, you can recover your true nature, control how you react to them, and avoid disappointment. Finally, you’ll learn how to create positive, new relationships so you can build a better life.
We’re hearing more about the positive traits of empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is becoming more important than other intelligences (like IQ) at school at work and in life. In past generations these two words might both have fallen into the category of sympathy but empathy, sympathy, and compassion are not words that can be used interchangeably and one of these three is more powerful than the other two.
Empathy refers to feeling what another person is feeling. Sympathy means you understand what the other person is feeling even without feeling it yourself. Compassion means your feelings have prompted you to take action to relieve the suffering of another person.
Scientists have shown that mirror neurons, a part of the brain whose specific job is to have us mirror what’s happening with someone else, play a big role in both empathy and compassion. When you see someone smile these neurons prompt you to smile back. When you witness someone in pain it can cause you the same type of pain too. Having empathy is your ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. Sympathy happens when you may not on a visceral level experience the sadness or pain that someone else is feeling but on the cognitive level you understand the feelings of another. I’m not sad when my friend’s old dog passes away but I can understand that my friend feels sadness. Both empathy and sympathy are more about the person experiencing them than they are about the person who sparked the empathy or sympathy.
Compassion on the other hand comes from a Latin word that means “to suffer with”. When you are compassionate you are able to be aware of another’s suffering you have sympathetic concern to the level that you have been emotionally moved by their suffering then you wish to relieve that suffering and you act somehow in a way that is helpful.
Mathieu Richard, a french Buddhist monk says “compassion is unconditional love applied to the suffering of others”. His belief is that compassion has a powerful ability to heal; both to the one giving and to the receiver.
An important distinction between empathy and compassion is the effect on your personal well-being. Empathy and sympathy are both self-oriented. They say “I’m hurt too” and have you join the suffering or acknowledge that you see the suffering. Interestingly, research is showing that narcissists may have deficit in their mirror neuron receptors. Not only are they unable to mirror the emotional experience of another but they exhibit frustration when someone doesn’t mirror their emotional state. This is been referred to as a narcissistic rage. Of course very few people are diagnosably narcissistic but it seems empathy and sympathy are more about the individual wanting to be seen as a kind and understanding person than they are about actually being kind and understanding. Empathy and sympathy alone are not enough. Empathy pulls you down where compassion lifts you.
Experiencing empathetic burnout or empathy fatigue is common among people who spend their lives caring for others such as nurses or first responders. In the United States, a study has shown that 60% of the medical profession suffers or has suffered from burnout, and that a third has been affected to the point of having to suspend their activities temporarily.By the prolonged experience of feeling what others feel they actually burn out and become more anxious, depressed and stressed out. Compassion on the other hand doesn’t burn you out it, lifts you up.
Research shows that compassion and empathy take place in different parts of the brain and that by turning your empathy into compassion you can fight empathetic distress. The key difference lies in what you do after feeling the feelings evoked by mirror neurons. If you act, you lift yourself and others. If you get stuck in the emotion without positive action, you pull yourself down. The Greater Good Science Center has a quiz to measure how empathetic you are. I suggest you take it to see how much you are recognizing the emotions of others. The second and more important part is turning that empathy into compassion through useful action. See the bottom of the article for tips on how to do this.
Change Your Empathy and Sympathy into Compassion
1. Notice the feelings
2. Ask yourself how you can help. This doesn’t mean changing everything. What small step could you take to make the situation better?
3. Take action while staying in touch with your emotional barometer. If you are too emotionally overwhelmed start with a loving kindness meditation. This type of meditation is proven to increase well-being while decreasing empathetic fatigue.
If you’ve moved from empathy to compassion, I’d love to hear how you did it and what the results were. By sharing your story you inspire others to make positive change.
The Royal’s Mood and Anxiety Program cares for people with complex and persistent mood and anxiety disorders. This may include:
depression (depressive disorders),
bipolar disorder and related disorders,
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders,
or trauma-and stressor-related disorders.
We treat patients whose mood and anxiety disorders require highly specialized services. We also support community-based mental health care providers through consultation.
The Mood and Anxiety Program specializes in treating patients who do not respond to conventional treatment. This means that the patients we typically see have recurrent or chronic symptoms and have tried multiple treatment options that haven’t worked for them.
Most people who are seen in our program are here for short-term follow up. This usually means specialized mental health professionals at The Royal help clarify a person’s diagnosis and/or provide treatment recommendations. Some people proceed to receive allied health services in the Mood and Anxiety Program, but for most, ongoing care will be provided by their health care providers (i.e. family doctors) outside of The Royal.
Inpatient and outpatient units
For those who need the most specialized care, we provide more intensive treatment options, including outpatient and inpatient services. Our inpatient service is for patients who require intensive and prolonged care.
The outpatient unit works with patients to develop individualized care plans to help them better manage their difficulties, prevent relapse, and ensure they receive proper ongoing care after discharge.
Our philosophy is to approach care as a respectful partnership between the patient and staff, looking at a wide view of the patient’s situation. This translates into treatment that takes in to account your personal story, ideas and feedback.
Our team of professionals has specialized knowledge and expertise in both the medical and psychological aspects of mood and anxiety disorders, as well as social and vocational rehabilitation. Our program also works with family physicians and community mental health agencies as required to make sure that patients receive the best ongoing care.
Our outpatient services may also support patients referred by other hospitals or directly by community psychiatrists or family physicians. The clinic would work as a complement to the patient’s other mental health care provider to help prevent relapse and recurrence.
Referrals to this program need to be completed by a physician or nurse practitioner.
If you are interested in a referral for yourself or a loved one, please contact your physician or nurse practitioner.
If you are a physician or nurse practitioner looking to refer a patient, please visit our referral page to learn more about our inclusion criteria and to access our central intake forms. If you require assistance submitting your referral, please call +1 (613) 722-6521 ext. 6211.
Note to referring physicians and nurse practitioners: Referrals to The Royal’s Mood and Anxiety Program can be submitted electronically directly from your EMR if you have been set up with Ocean eReferral. Ocean eReferral is a regional program that offers an integrated solution at no cost for all primary care providers in Champlain with compatible EMRs (Telus PSS, QHR Accuro, and certain versions of OSCAR). Once set up, referrals can be initiated directly from the patient’s chart in your EMR, launching the appropriate electronic referral form and automatically populating it with much of the appropriate information for the patient and referring clinician. For more information about eReferral, please email: Champlain_eReferral_Team@lhins.on.ca
Before accepting an apology, you first have to determine if it’s genuine.
Suppose someone apologizes to you for harm they’ve caused, and it doesn’t quite “land.” Maybe it doesn’t sound entirely sincere—or you get a vague sense that the person delivering it just wants to wrap it up, but you’re not yet ready to move on. Or maybe they offer any of these notoriously bad ways to make amends:
A statement that contains a “but” (“I’m sorry, but…”) invalidates the apology.
Similarly, “if” (“I’m sorry if…”) suggests that your hurt may not have happened.
Vague wording (“for what happened”) fails to take personal responsibility.
Passive voice (“the mistake that you were affected by”) is squirming out of responsibility, too.
Too many words, explanations, and justifications crowd the picture.
As I write this, I struggle with the term “fake apologies,” because of course, no one can know for sure what’s in the heart of another person. But if you’re the recipient, you somehow have to figure out whether or not to accept an apology, which is hard to do if you feel uneasy and mistrustful and just can’t tell if it’s genuine.
For starters, a few words of regret usually won’t carry enough weight to build (or rebuild) trust. The words “I’m sorry” are not a magic incantation that instantly inspires faith in someone. If you’re not interested in repairing the relationship in question, you don’t have to worry about whether the apology attempt is sincere. Just move on.
But, if there is some trust between you, you probably don’t want to give up too easily. If you value the relationship, you have to determine whether or not this apology is an attempt to manipulate you and misrepresent feelings of regret. The question here concerns the person’s motives. (We’ll get to other kinds of inadequate apologies below.)
The potential apology could be less than sincere in any number of ways:
Source: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
He says the right words, but they’re pro forma (acting as required, but absent any real feeling for hurt he caused).
She simply wants the problem she created to disappear (but doesn’t care about healing your hurt).
He wants to avoid negative consequences of hurtful actions or inaction (rather than wanting to take responsibility for them).
They don’t believe they’re responsible but want interpersonal “credit” for making amends (putting you in the position of being the one causing a problem, e.g., “I said I was sorry—why are you holding a grudge?”).
She believes she’s done something harmful, and is preoccupied with her own guilt and only wants to alleviate that (rather than healing your hurt or repairing the relationship).
As they stand, these approaches are all pretty much doomed to fail. Unless they’re vastly improved, you won’t be healed and the relationship won’t be repaired.
You always may refuse to accept any inadequate apology. That’s your prerogative.
But, if you care about the person and you want to hold onto the relationship, you probably want to be sure about the person’s sincerity. What if the apology attempt is what I might call inept but well-meaning? Many would-be apologizers fall on their faces, not because of insincerity but because they simply don’t know how.
How can you determine the difference?
My suggestion: In order to find out if he means his unconvincing “I’m sorry,” give him a second chance to do it right and see what happens. Naturally, the key here is that you have to know what would be an effective apology, so you know what to ask for.
A Good Apology
Saying “I’m sorry” is rarely the first part of a good apology. Before saying anything, the other person has to understand your hurt. Usually, that means listening. So, ask her to back up and let you tell her about your experience of hurt, about how her behavior has affected you.
In this Step One, nothing about the apologizer is relevant: not her good intentions, good character, history of kindness, etc. If she’s not interested or unwilling to listen to you, you have discovered the shallowness of her regret. Her apology will remain partial and ineffective. If she can engage in a genuine attempt to understand, you are on your way to a real repair.
But that’s only the first step! There are four things that have to happen for the apology to be real and effective. Each one is necessary and none is sufficient by itself. If you and your would-be apologizer go through this process together, your relationship will not only recover from this hurt; it will be stronger.
The second step, to make a sincere statement of responsibility and empathy, is much easier if Step One has taken place—and much more convincing. Nonetheless, there are still several telltale ways for Step Two to go wrong, some of which appear in the beginning of this column. In my experience, most people need practice at these skills. If your apologizer has gotten this far with you, you can probably sense good-willed effort; nonetheless, your relationship will benefit from your holding high standards for this step.
The third step requires the person to make restitution, that is, to make up for the wrong or hurt. In relationships, these reparations can take the form of a “do-over,” a chance to get right what the person got wrong the first time. Often a sense of what needs to be done is reached via collaboration with you. Making it right requires a person to put her words or intentions into action. Reluctance to try again or to extend herself in this way is another sign that your apologizer isn’t really interested in making a thorough apology.
But Step Four, making sure it doesn’t happen again, is the pudding in which the proof lies. To be a trustworthy apologizer, the person has to change their ways or the conditions that led to the initial problem. Good intentions—or avowals to that effect—are easy, but rarely enough. It will take time for you to see if a true change has taken place, but a convincing plan helps you stay motivated to see it through.
Making your way through this process is energy-intensive for you both and its outcome only fully reveals itself over time. But if your apologizer follows these four steps, they will convince you of their sincerity. It’s the only way to know for sure.
Talk therapy encourages open and honest dialogue about issues that cause you distress. Through your relationship with your therapist, you’ll work to identify and understand how these stressors are impacting your life, plus develop strategies to manage the symptoms.
If you’re still on the fence about the benefits of talk therapy, consider this: About 75 percent of people who participate in talk therapy experience some benefit, according to the American Psychological Association.
Psychotherapy is a tool that therapists also use to facilitate counseling sessions. They can use this technique for individual, group, couples, or family therapy.
Benefits of individual therapy
In the case of individual therapy, the relationship between you and your therapist — which is fostered through talk therapy — is key to your success.
Individual therapy gives you a safe space to explore your thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
Unlike couples, family, or group therapy, individual therapy focuses solely on you. This allows for a deeper understanding of the issues and more time for developing coping strategies to help you handle difficult situations.
The goal of individual therapy is to inspire change and improve the quality of life through self-awareness and self-exploration.
Being in therapy can also:
help improve communication skills
help you feel empowered
empower you to develop fresh insights about your life
address relationship issues within the context of the family system
Unlike individual therapy, treatment isn’t just for one person — even if that’s the only member of the family working with the therapist. Instead, the focus is on the set of relationships that make up the family unit.
Some of the most notable benefits of family therapy include:
improving communication skills
providing help treating mental health concerns that impact the family unit (such as substance abuse, depression, or trauma)
offering collaboration among family members
developing individual coping strategies
identifying ways to find healthy support
Benefits of couples therapy
Think couples therapy is only for people having problems? Think again!
Marriage and family therapists are the first to say that couples therapy is an effective way to keep a relationship on track before it goes off the rails. But if the strains are real and communicating is almost impossible, going to therapy allows couples to meet with a neutral party.
One of the foundational goals of couples therapy is learning how to improve interpersonal dynamics. A 2016 research reviewTrusted Source suggest that couples therapy is an effective treatment when a couple is experiencing individual and relational distress.
Couples seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Some of the more common benefits cited by couples include:
decreasing the relapse rate or how often people experience mania and depression
increasing psychosocial functioning, which means improving abilities and experiences in day-to-day activities and relationships
A 2015 reviewTrusted Source reports that CBT is the most consistently supported psychotherapeutic option for treating anxiety disorders.
Benefits of online therapy
The way we seek help is changing as more providers move to online platforms. Just the idea of having options is one of the benefits of online therapy, or teletherapy.
Not only does this allow you to meet with a therapist from wherever you might be, it also gives you the freedom to choose the delivery method of that therapy. In other words, you can reach a therapist from your phone, an app, or online.
This may make it easier for you to find a counselor you connect and communicate well with.
The ability to get help for mental health this way means more people have access to therapy than ever before. It also helps minimize the stigma attached to mental health, and it gives you options.
If you’re worried about online therapy not being as effective as the in-person kind, consider the results from this small 2014 study. Researchers found that internet-based treatment for depression was equally beneficial as face-to-face therapy.
While over-the-phone and online therapy may not work for everyone in all situations, it’s an option to try.
Ways to find a therapist
Just as there are options to speak with a therapist over the phone, voice chat, and online, there are:
If you’re looking into therapy, another place to start is by talking with a general physician about getting a referral.
Working with a psychologist, therapist, or counselor in a therapeutic relationship gives you an opportunity to explore your thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior.
It can also help you learn new coping skills and techniques to better manage daily stressors and symptoms associated with your diagnosis.
Benefits of counseling
Explore thoughts, feelings, and worries without judgment.
Develop coping strategies for different situations.
Practice self-reflection and awareness.
Work on habits you’d like to change.
Improve, understand, and communicate about relationships.
Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.
Chiang K, et al. (2017). Efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients with bipolar disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176849
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.
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?
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
For friends and family of a person dealing with alcohol or drug addiction, detachment can be a difficult concept to grasp. In the context of the Al-Anon program, “detach with love” is the idea that the family has to let go of their loved one’s problem.
It gives you permission to let them experience any consequences associated with their drinking or drug use and focus on your own health and well-being.
The Importance of Detachment
If you’ve dealt with someone’s progressive alcoholism (severe alcohol use disorder) or drug use, it might be hard to imagine finding happiness while the substance misuse continues. This is especially true when you have tried everything possible to keep the situation from growing worse.
The stress and exhaustion associated with caring for someone with an addiction can be overwhelming. It may lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy behaviors or unsafe living conditions for your family.
The reality of living with alcoholism or any other addiction usually often means dealing with one crisis after another. While you may feel like you’re constantly in rescue mode, learning to detach relieves you of the responsibility to protect them.
Those who take part in Al-Anon long enough come to realize that detachment is important for the family’s emotional well-being. It also helps you understand that there is no way for you to control the addiction.
“Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. It is simply a means that allows us to separate ourselves from the adverse effects that another person’s alcoholism can have upon our lives.”
Detachment does not mean you stop loving the person and it doesn’t mean physically leaving (unless you feel the need).
Instead, it demonstrates that you don’t like or approve of their behavior. It is stepping back from all the problems associated with addiction and stopping any attempts to solve them. You still care, but it is best for everyone involved if you take care of yourself first.
Many times, family members find that they have become too involved with the addictive behavior. The Al-Anon program teaches people to “put the focus on ourselves” and not on the person with alcoholism or on anyone else. This is done through a number of key points that members pick up in meetings:
Avoid the suffering caused by someone else’s actions.
Don’t allow yourself to be abused or misused during recovery.
Avoid doing things for them that they can do.
Don’t use manipulation to change their behaviors.
Don’t cover up their mistakes.
Avoid creating or preventing a crisis, especially if it’s inevitable and may be the wake-up call they need.
For example, if your family member shows up for work late or missing it entirely becomes a habit, detachment teaches you that it’s not your responsibility to cover for them. It also applies to making excuses and trying to fix situations, as well as avoiding arguments.
By putting the focus back on yourself, you protect yourself from the abusive behavior and stop enabling it. It’s a way of taking some of the power away from them so they’re not able to manipulate you.
Ideally, detaching from this person will help them see how their negative behavior affects everyone around them. As Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous teach, it’s important to have the wisdom to know the difference between the things you can and can’t change.
Does It Really Help?
When you’re considering detachment, you might be concerned about what happens to your loved one after you detach yourself from them. Maybe you think all of the things you did over these years to “help” that will be wasted. Or, you might have fears about what crisis—jail, hospitalization, death, etc.—may be next.
Your concerns are valid and show your love and dedication to a person dealing with addiction. However, you have to put yourself and your family—especially if that family includes children—first.
As Al-Anon teaches, “Detachment helps families look at their situations realistically and objectively, thereby making intelligent decisions possible.” Al-Anon members also learn that no individual is responsible for another person’s disease or recovery from it.
This is very difficult and, on the clearheaded side of addiction, you probably know what should or should not happen, but this logic may be lost to the person with the disease. They need to want to change themselves and find the help needed to do that.
Your goal is to be there when they do need you and to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong when they’re ready for recovery. When you learn to detach, you can find relief from much of the pain, stress, and anxiety, and realize that you deserve to treat yourself right.
This will not happen overnight. It requires time, a lot of patience and love, and support to help you along the way. As they say in the program, “It’s simple, but it ain’t easy.” You don’t have to do it alone.
A Word From Verywell
There is probably an Al-Anon Family Group meeting nearby where you will find people who understand what you’re going through. It’s by no means an easy process to detach from a loved one with an addiction, so don’t try to go it alone. By sharing your experience with others who have been there, you can find strength and hope to help you better deal with the situation.
The scenario of financial abuse in marriage is all too common and all too chilling. But, what is financial abuse in a marriage?
According to financial abuse definition, it translates into one partner exercising control over the other partner’s access to financial resources, which diminishes the abused partner’s capacity to be financially self-sufficient and forces them to depend on the perpetrator financially.
A partner in an unhealthy marriage attempts to assert control by taking overall assets. The underlying intent of the financially abusive partner is clear: keep the spouse from having the means to leave the union.
When one spouse creates a situation in which the other spouse does not have access to liquid assets, financial abuse, also known as economic abuse, is in play.
Financial abuse is a very sick dynamic in a marriage.
Every expenditure is aggressively accounted for. Purchases at grocery stores and other venues are vigorously tracked, with the “buyer” given just enough money to complete the task.
Other expenditures like health care expenses, clothing, and the like are discouraged. If a partner does not comply with these rigid demands, there is a “price” to pay.
Let’s be clear as we begin to talk about spousal financial abuse and delve deep into the dynamics of a financially abusive relationship.
Any time the need for absolute financial control in marriage undergirds the actions of our intimate partners, there is a reason for concern.
Financial abuse by a spouse is a silent weapon in a relationship and comes with serious consequences for the marriage.
By taking stock of the early warning signs of financial abuse in the marriage, you can find ways to escape the trap of money abuse in marriage.
Let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of financial abuse in relationships, and consider some ways to counter economic abuse in marriage.
The obvious signs of financial abuse in marriage by husband or wife
1. Denial of access
If your partner does not provide you with free access to your money, this is a cause for concern.
While marital assets come from a variety of streams, they are marital assets. Not being able to access these funds when the need arises is a significant red flag.
2. Intense monitoring of spending
A spouse that requires a detailed expense report of marital finances, receipts, and anecdotal descriptions of your spending is a spouse with pronounced control issues. This hawk-eyed approach is one of the key financial abuse signs.
Further, requiring that you remit every penny of change after expenditure is an area of concern. Monitoring is compounded by the advent of digital accounts.
Because digital interfaces afford consumers “Real-Time” monitoring of financial transactions and balances, the scrutiny from the one perpetrating financial abuse in marriage can be even more pronounced.
These are just some of the glaring financial abuse in marriage facts.
3. Anger with spending that benefits the abused one
If you spend money on yourself for clothing, entertainment, food and the like and your partner goes nuclear, you have a problem.
There is nothing wrong with engaging in self-care and spending a little bit of money to make it possible.
Gauge the reaction of your partner when you report an expenditure. Is he furious? Run!
4. Your partner gives you an allowance
You are not a child “earning your keep” or attempting to curry some favor with your intimate partner.
It’s not okay for your spouse to give you an allowance.
Again, marital assets are marital assets. You are entitled to spend the marital money so long as you are doing it in a healthy and communicative way.
If you’ve been restricted to the predetermined, inflexible amount of financial support, something’s not right.
Further, if the “allowance” is taken from you, something truly unsavory and concerning is afoot. Don’t stand for it!
5. The significant other demands repayment
Your spouse/partner is not a savings and loan account.
When you make household purchases out of marital funds, it is quite inappropriate for the partner to ask for repayment of the funds. Unfortunately, this happens too often.
Further, some extremely nasty spouses demand interest on marital funds that are to be repaid.
Yes, it’s ridiculous and yes, you do not have to live with it.
6. The partner will not let you work
Often the financial abuse individuals endure morphs into something far more nefarious.
If your partner will not let you work outside of the home, the issue runs far deeper than finances. A dangerous situation exists if you are unable to leave home.
No one should ever feel restricted in this way. Even if you are made to feel guilty about working, be on your guard. You should never be made to feel shame about wanting to work outside the home. It would also be helpful to become aware of some key dynamics of abuse in a relationship and seek help.
7. The double standard
Sometimes an abusive partner will make a whopper of purchase with your joint money after you’ve bought something small for yourself.
A massive, unexpected purchase after a rough fight is an indicator of financial abuse. This is, of course, all about control.
Your abusive partner cannot stand the thought of you doing something good for yourself that reaches beyond them. They need to get over it.
What to do?
If you have experienced any of these tell-tale signs of financial abuse in marriage, you are probably dealing with other types of abuse in your marriage. Emotional abuse, physical abuse, and the like should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
If your situation resonates with any of these financial abuse examples, perhaps the most important thing to do is to create an escape plan for yourself and your dependents.
By nature, an escape plan will require a lot of behind the scenes, clandestine work. Store some money with a trusted friend or family member. Identify an emergency place of residence.
Let police officials know about the predicament of financial abuse in the marriage so that a file and response will be ready when you need it.
Gather your important documents, prescriptions, and the like and have them ready for quick retrieval should the moment of escape present itself.
First and foremost, do not hesitate to ask for help. Do not put yourself in a situation that provides few avenues for escape.
If financial abuse in marriage is your reality and your partner exhibits the red-flag characteristics of an abuser, then choosing to leave the abuser and establishing a financial plan for survival is a must-have.
I read about five or six articles about a parent’s addiction and how it affects the kids. there are many articles about alcoholism and how it affects the kids and there is even a group for children-adult children of alcoholics. But when it is food it is really difficult to find much. The article I have linked below is pretty good. It is pretty heavy-hitting emotionally as well.
Marriage is a big step in a relationship. It signifies the commitment and love you have for someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. But love isn’t always enough. There are questions to ask before marriage that go beyond love like children, dealing with conflicts, beliefs, finances and extended family. Explore 100 questions to ask before marriage.
Questions About Marriage and Children
Questions to ask your fiance about children before marriage include:
How many kids do you want?
What values do you want to install in your children?
How do you want to discipline your kids?
What would you do if one of your children said he was homosexual?
What if our children didn’t want to go to college?
How much say do children have in a family?
How comfortable are you around children?
Would you be opposed to having our parents watch the children so we can spend time alone together?
Would you put your children in private or public school?
Thoughtful questions deserve thoughtful replies which aren’t necessarily going to come instantly. If you and your partner are seriously considering marriage, set aside some time to have these conversations before marriage so you can be sure of what you both think and feel. Even if you have 101 questions to ask before you get engaged, this will give you plenty of opportunities to gauge whether marriage should be the next step in your relationship.
Trauma was always a word I associated with a catastrophic event: a car accident, a war experience, child abuse, or being a victim of crime. So, it was an “aha” moment to learn that symptoms of trauma, like depression, could be caused by repeated instances of emotional disregard. Childhood emotional neglect comes in many forms and is more common than one would hope.
Below are a few examples of emotional disregard:
Rachel, 8 years old, was scared to go to school. Her father repeatedly told her there was nothing to be afraid of and that she shouldn’t be a “scaredy cat.” Dad didn’t ask what she feared or spend any time trying to understand Rachel’s fear from her point of view.
Johnny told his mother he hated his little brother and was sorry he was born. The next moment, a hard slap across the face stunned him. Johnny was told never to speak in such a hateful way again.
Barb, age 12, kicked the winning goal in soccer. She got in the car riding high with emotions like excitement, joy, and pride in herself for playing a great game. Her mother, instead of matching her enthusiasm with a big proud smile, immediately pointed out the “ugly” red juice stain on her shirt. She was devastated.
When our emotions are invalidated, we experience a crushing insult. And, it evokes anger and even rage, depending on how young we were when the emotional neglect began plus how often it occurred.
David, a former client of mine, grew up with parents who bristled at emotional displays. As a child, when David cried, he was told he had nothing to be sad about or to “chin up!” When David was scared, he was told to stop being such a baby. When he was excited, he was told to cool it. When he was angry at his parents, they got insulted and left him alone. They never asked What’s the matter? How do you feel? or, Are you ok?
David, now 30, showed up in therapy with depression. Blaming himself for his anguish, he described a privileged upbringing with parents who provided well for him. Attending private schools and being given a generous allowance, he was truly grateful to his parents for their gifts.
We soon discovered that part of what led to his depression was the conflict between positive and negative feelings for his parents. He found it hard to validate his emotions. Guilt, an inhibitory emotion on the Change Triangle, left his anger, a core emotion, buried and festering. Most people don’t realize that we can be grateful to our parents for giving us life, financial security, and for making sacrifices, and, at the exact same time, feel angry at them for not meeting our emotional needs. This understanding helps us embrace our complex and conflicting emotional worlds.
As David grew from a teenager to a young adult, his depression got worse. This makes sense because his anger was still suppressed. To squash anger down, the mind enlists inhibitory emotions like anxiety, guilt, and shame, which are effective at keeping anger out of conscious awareness. But they also feel awful and undermine confidence and well-being. Furthermore, the cost of chronically suppressing anger is depression. The energy needed for vital living and outside engagement gets diverted to keeping rage pushed down so that we don’t lose control or lash out.
Healing Depression by Releasing Rage
One effective way to ease and even heal depression is by releasing the enormous burden of our visceral rage. How is this done?
Anger portrayals, a technique common in accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP), are extremely therapeutic. In a nutshell, anger portrayals guide a person in identifying anger in their body. Anger typically is felt as heat, energy, and tension. Then, by noticing and staying with the physical sensations inherent in the core emotion of anger, impulses and images emerge, like a movie. Allowing the movie to unfold in real time, the person gives themself permission to envision exactly what the anger wants to do to those who hurt them. In this way, anger comes up and out, and symptoms of depression remit.
Sometimes guilty feelings make it hard to validate and fully experience anger. In the beginning, when David first started to connect with his inner rage, another guilty part of him would leap up and stop the anger from coming up: “But they did so much for me. I’m so grateful for all the good things they did.”
There’s so much emphasis on gratitude these days that it is important to know that we can hold opposite and conflicting truths at the same time. “David,” I said during one session, “let’s fully validate the gratitude and love you have for your parents, and, for just right now, can we ask for the gratitude, love, and any other feelings you have to step back while we tend to the anger inside?”
Rage portrayals work because, as research shows, when it comes to processing emotions, the brain doesn’t really know the difference between fantasy and reality. Imagining what our rage wants to do and then carrying that out in fantasy allows the energy of the rage to come up and out. No longer are forces required to hold down that anger, so energy becomes available again for vital living. The best part about anger portrayals is that no one gets hurt because it’s all happening in imagination.
Depression is the beginning of a story, not the end. It is a symptom that tells us that something deep inside needs tending, be it anger, fear, sadness, or more. And when we tend to ourselves and our deepest truths, we recover stronger and wiser. We no longer need to fear our emotions but can use them along with our logic and reason to meet life’s challenges in the direction of our deepest wants and needs.
Patient details have been changed to protect confidentiality.
For the most part, men have two speeds — neutral and pissed. Experience demonstrates that the state of rage that plagues the majority of the male population is driven less by genuine anger and more by what might be characterize as covert depression manifesting as anger.
Covert depression doesn’t look like the depression with which we are generally familiar, especially to the people around a man who is in the throes of this particular emotional upheaval. Instead, what the people around us tend to witness is subtle irritation, road rage, explosive arguments, passive-aggression, slovenliness, self-sabotage supported by a failure to follow through and/or a faint sense of insecurity that leads to all kinds of shortcomings in performance — at work, at home, within society at large or even in the bedroom.
“Why anger”, you ask? I like to call anger the First Feeling because it goes straight to the root of the aggression that drives our instinct for survival. Because men are not great at filtering and expressing emotions or feelings, we typically express, or more properly act out, our experience of emotion as anger. The whole male dynamic of emotional experience–feeling, reaction and anger–occurs at a very primal and instinctual level. Men are, in some ways, hardwired for rage – it keeps us sharp. Problem …there are no more saber-toothed tigers with which to contend; the mechanism is obsolete.
For men, the key to deflecting this circumstance is recognizing and acknowledging our emotions. We do this by dissecting rage. Here’s an example: when you get cut off on the highway, you become angry. The reason that you become angry is because someone, in your mind (read: feelings), has compromised your safety, or crossed your boundaries. On the other hand, when your boss chews you out you become angry because you may feel his accusations are unfounded, or you feel disrespected or unappreciated, or you’re anxious about losing your job.
In both situations detailed above you experience anger, but the motivation for that anger is different in each situation. Learning to look at the experience of anger and recognize the underlying feelings and emotions, then expressing those emotions and feelings in a productive manner, diffuses the anger.
As this diffusion begins to happen, the covert depression that ultimately drives our general sense of anger and annoyance starts to take shape as a lack of fulfillment, or disappointment over broken dreams, or anxiety about being able to provide for our family, or performance at work or being a good husband or partner.
It’s not really necessary to understand the why or the how of our human condition or our social circumstances. It’s more important, once we’ve recognized what that circumstance is, to ask the question, “What next?”. I was in an airport a few months ago and saw an advertisement for what I believe was an investment firm. It was a picture of Tiger Woods standing in the rough and tall grass up to his knees. Hand drawn into the picture was a vertical arrow with a break in the line; the small piece at the bottom had a label that said, “10% what you did” — at the top, the label said, “90% what you do”.
In the case of covert depression, emotional success does not rely on the why and how, but more upon what we do next. Tiger Woods lifting the ball out of the rough and onto the green is a metaphor for men lifting ourselves out of our covert depression by both finding and feeling our feelings.
Deconstructing our state of rage leads us to a place where we can drill down into that underlying covert depression that is driven by the subtle sense of “less than” that is visited upon us. This leads to a deconstruction of the depression, and that provides a context for working through the issues that are driving the depression in the first place.