One of my clients came in the other day and was quite upset. About herself.
“Why can’t I just stick to my guns?” she asked aghast.
It’s something that happens to her quite frequently. She thinks she has an opinion about something, but as soon as someone else explains why they think differently, she sways over to the other side.
“It bothers me that I am so understanding” she concluded.
Indeed, her understanding of others regularly makes her forget her own point of view.
It’s the old story: it’s hard to just say no, put up a boundary and side with one’s own experience. Whenever another influence appears, your own position takes a back seat. We call it self defeat.
Of course, there is always the need for balance. Someone who blindly and continually insists on their point of view is not well adjusted either. Unevenness towards either side – too little consistence or too much – is undesirable.
We need to remember to put up a firm boundary towards others when we feel that we are taken over too easily.
How do we do that?
Awareness is the key, as always. When do you tend to get swept away by others? In a certain social setting, with your in-laws, your wife’s girlfriends, your high school buddies, your doctor?
People in authority have the most power over us – whether it’s a domineering relative, a store clerk or a cop. Any kind of uniform will usually do the trick.
Observe yourself when your determination begins to soften and the other person wins out just by the sheer volume of their words or their voice.
Put both feet on the ground, straighten your posture and stay firm.
Your have come to your own conclusions, and they are worth no less than anybody else’s.
Recently, one of my patients insisted that her boyfriend be able to read her every desire from her eyes. As she contemplated what it would be like to let go of this habit, she asked a question that gets to the heart of letting go: “Do you want to be right or do you want to he happy?”
We all have our attachments.
We get attached to the idea that our spouses should know exactly what our needs are. We get attached to knowing our way to work and get pissed off when the road is blocked. We get attached to things always going our way and feel stifled when they don’t.
Sometimes we have to literally let go of a relationship that is no longer a good idea.
When a friendship has run its course and feels chronically stale or exhausting. When an ex is moving on with his life and doesn’t have time for us anymore. When a relative is destroying himself with drugs or alcohol and we realize that we only sustain the addiction.
Life is difficult at times. There is no one who is spared. Pain is necessary so we can appreciate the joy of life. There is not one without the other.
The earlier we can accept that, the less we will suffer. Only then can we be free.
“What if my boss saw me do xyz and starts thinking less of me?”
“My brother-in-law made a snide remark about our cousin, what if he talks badly about me as well?”
“I overheard my mom saying I look fat in that dress, I feel terrible.”
Other people’s opinions can wreak havoc on our self esteem. We take their judgements at face value and allow a careless remark to torture us for a long time.
To some degree, the attitudes in our most important social groups provide orientation and structure. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about anybody’s opinion at all. But we also shouldn’t let somebody dominate our mental well being.
Self doubt is one of the most destructive forces for our sense of self. If another person plants the seed of self doubt in our minds and we get stuck in it, we may very well end up in a depression.
When you feel the effects of someone else’s words get to you, put up an mental barrier around yourself. Imagine a protective shield go up that prevents any negative influence from getting to you.
If it gets out of hand, remove yourself from the source of negativity.
Remember, it’s nothing but a person’s opinion. We give others authority over whether their remark get through to us. We have the power to reject them or allow them to find their way in.
Look at the larger picture. Considering the sphere of your town, your country, our whole planet, one small person’s words mean nothing.
Imagine you are an astronaut, looking back at the earth from space. This view renders all chatter, all the self importance of small minds meaningless.
It’s up to you what you want to do with it.
One of my patients came in this week in full workout gear, having biked from his home to my office. He smiled and relayed a message he got from a friend who is a psychiatrist: Instead of taking an SSRI-antidepressant, he recommended working out three times a week.
The effects, said the specialist, would be the same in cases of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
The message concurs with a recent New York Times article about how to motivate people to exercise. Most of us know first hand that the threats of weight gain and heart disease don’t do much to get us moving.
But as soon as mental health and happiness is addressed, people seem to pay attention.
Despite all the online manuals about “10 ways improve your night’s rest,” and so on, sleep is an under-researched topic. Writer David K. Randall is now trying to close the gap with his new book “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.”
In one chapter he focuses solely on the strange history of the bed, and how it influences relationships.
Sleep is a highly underestimated factor in a person’s day-to-day well being. When we aren’t rested, our capacity to contain frustration goes out the window. We get irritated, testy and blow every minor incident out of proportion.
It’s a bit like the infamous low blood sugar phenomena that most women will immediately recognize. When basic needs like sleep or nourishment aren’t met, the stress levels go up dramatically.
(On a side note: most temper tantrums in children go back to low blood sugar. I guess we as adults aren’t all that much more advanced…)
The use of the internet is pervasive in our culture. So much that the American Psychiatric Association is recommending further research on the condition called “Internet Use Disorder” in the upcoming diagnostic manual DSM V.
The disorder primarily refers to Internet gaming, however, it does include the criteria of “withdrawal symptoms when internet is taken away.” Sound familiar?
Addiction is not the only mental health condition that the internet can trigger. The other one is depression.
A recent article in the Scientific American suggests that people who rapidly move around on dozens of websites, engaging in fleeting contact, are most likely to get depressed:
“Peer-to-peer file sharing, heavy emailing and chatting online, and a tendency to quickly switch between multiple websites and other online resources all predict a greater propensity to experience symptoms of depression. Quickly switching between websites may reflect anhedonia (a decreased ability to experience emotions), as people desperately seek for emotional stimulation. Similarly, excessive emailing and chatting may signify a relative lack of strong face-to-face relationships, as people strive to maintain contact either with faraway friends or new people met online.”
It is the depth of emotion that is seen as critical for normal affect. The enormous amount of distraction that’s offered online seduces us into paying less and less attention towards a single topic — or people, for that matter.
Let me be clear – I’m not advocating for the uninhibited expression of fury and abuse here. Far from it.
But anger is a normal reaction to frustration and unfairness. And it has to be looked at honestly.
Especially in spiritual communities, anger easily becomes a bone of contention. We are supposed to love each other as we love ourselves (which may not be all that much to begin with, really), be kind and mindful and polite and so on.
The chronic repression of anger in childhood leads to compliant children; boys and girls who don’t know what they want because they were only there to attend to the parents’ needs — for example their need to have a “good boy” or a “sweet girl.”
When there is no room for anger whatsoever, it goes underground and expresses itself later in the form of uncontrollable outbursts or depression.
Probably because of the obvious psychological complexity of its main character.
Batman, AKA Bruce Wayne, lives through the trauma of watching his parents murdered in front of his eyes as a young boy. In order to find some kind of retribution, he becomes a superhero who tries to save his city, Gotham, from crime.
And not just that – he also picks a disguise that is reminiscent of what was once his greatest fear: the fear of bats.
As a kid he found himself trapped in a well, surrounded by fluttering bloodsuckers who seem to want to attack him. But as a young man, he wasn’t going to continue giving in to that fear. He wanted to overcome it.
The quest for who we truly are is as old as humanity. The search for consciousness, meaning and self-analysis dates back to Ancient Egypt where philosophy, spirituality and dream interpretation was thriving.
Mankind was always plagued by self-doubt and the search for a purpose. Who are we really? What is our core? How can we find out what we are about as individuals?
Some of us never fully developed an identity beyond what our parents wanted us to be. As children, we were fully at the mercy of our caregivers, and if they saw our only role in becoming what they needed us to be, our sense of self remains vague and unformed.
One tool how to learn about the self is the analysis of projection. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung used to say: “All the contents of our unconscious are constantly being projected into our surroundings.”
What does projection mean? It means that we see something in another person that is really in us.
Perfectionism is a culturally accepted and even desired ideal. We want our children to be perfectly adjusted. We wish our bodies were perfectly shaped. We want to find the ideal soul mate. We expect our athletes in the Olympics to perform perfectly. We want our minds to be absolutely still – at least when we so chose.
There is very little room for failure in our goal-driven society.
And while there is nothing wrong with trying to give the best we can, wanting to be perfect is an endeavor bound to fail.
In fact, it lies at the heart of much of the anxiety and depression we encounter every day.