People love to make fun of the stereotyped therapy party line: “How does that make you feel?” Yes, it’s one of the biggest cliches in the therapy field, however what this question stands for still remains an important piece of psychotherapy.
When people come in for therapy, it’s generally because they aren’t happy with the way they are feeling, in one way or another. Whether it’s about relationships, depression, anxiety, stress, jobs, career, or any other areas of life, the reasons people start therapy is both to help the concrete, external situations, but overall it’s how these situations makes someone feel that matters most. Basically, if you’re feeling good about something, then you probably wouldn’t seek emotional help with it.
As we well know, while the holidays can be a source of joy for many people, the holidays are also a source of sadness for many others. If you’re someone who finds it generally depressing to check your Facebook wall and see all of the images of happiness, then imagine all the television shows and commercials, the decorations in stores and on people’s homes, the grocery stores, and shopping malls all reflecting the enthusiasm of your Facebook wall, with a joint holiday theme. It may sound nice if we’re living in your favorite holiday movies, but not if you’re someone who struggles just to get through the holidays each year without breaking down.
Some may try to act in an overly nice manner in order to avoid being seen with anger or hostility; some may try to speak with perfect grammar and vocabulary, so they aren’t seen as uneducated or immature; some may act more aggressively and tough in order to hide perceived weaknesses, such as caring, empathic, and loving qualities; some may be overly accommodating in order to cover up tendencies toward rigidity; some may try to appear more “businesslike” in an attempt to conceal a less organized and less adult version of themselves; some may show excessive happiness and heightened energy level while trying to prevent people from seeing internal feelings of sadness and emptiness; etc.
People often perceive life as a series of idealized milestone events, all of which have general time markers on them. Some learn to drive around age 16-18; at 18 they graduate high school and maybe go to college; at 21 they can order a drink; at 22 enter the “real world” or consider graduate school; maybe late 20’s early 30’s get married; couple years after, have children; then the extended period of work and family life; then children off to college 18 years later (with the repetition of milestones along the way for the children); then retirement around 65-70; then eventually, we’re done.
While obviously there are exceptions to these milestones, it’s striking for how many people this is the somewhat “solid” perception of life. The problem is, life isn’t usually so easily planned out, and when things don’t go according to this type of plan, it can lead to depression, anxiety, hopelessness, lowered self-esteem, and other manifestations of fear and disappointment.
Have you ever heard anyone use the phrase “hiding behind your computer?” It’s something that’s become increasingly common in the world of technology. People somehow feel safer and stronger to be mean, breakup, or communicate other negative emotions to others when they do it through email, text, IM, etc.
Why is this easier? It may not be the answer you think.
The obvious answer is that it’s less threatening to be mean — or disappointing in other ways — to a person when not face-to-face, or voice-to-voice over the phone. Some will say that they don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, or face the consequences of irritating or disappointing them — such as seeing their facial expression change, or risk being yelled at, or some other notable and visible reaction.
Assumptions have the ability to destroy relationships, and indeed they do just that. Assumptions can be direct, or indirect. A direct assumption is basically a thought that a person believes in, regardless of the validity of the thought. The thought may have no connection in reality, but the person assumes that the thought is true, and therefore responds emotionally based on the thoughts.
“Hello Health, I’m Depression. We may have met in passing before. I’m sure some of your friends know me well. But don’t worry, if we haven’t met, at some point we may cross paths. I like to meet new people, and I really like keeping up with those that I’ve grown to know well over time. Very few things make me happier than bringing a dark cloud over your life. In fact, if I really work hard at it, I can make you not want to get out of bed, miss work, or even make you consider ending your life altogether. I have a lot of power over you, and I love it.
Restaurant settings can set up a nerve-racking experience for first dates, whether it’s for lunch, a snack, coffee, dinner, or dessert. Especially for people who struggle with social anxiety, eating, or merely sitting face-to-face while meeting someone for the first time sets the environment for significant vulnerability. Add to this the issues of who orders, who pays, do I have food in my teeth, etc…a lot of potential awkwardness, unless you’re skilled and seasoned at dating.
Sitting at a table is basically the setup for a meeting or an interview. This nearly automatically signals a person to be on their best behavior, which is already a first-date issue without it being amplified by this setup. The anxiety is also magnified if you grew up in a home where meals were filled with manner criticism: “Chew with your mouth closed”, “Get your elbows off the table”, etc. Then there’s the problem of how much eye contact is enough or too much? For the dating expert, these may not be issues, but for the novice or the socially anxious, sitting in a restaurant with a first date presents many possible difficulties to overcome.
Stress is rarely something experienced as enjoyable, even if some people thrive on it. Unfortunately, stress is nearly inevitable, especially in today’s world. What people often don’t realize is that we have all the resources we need to be able to reduce stress. The challenge is to learn how to identify and use these resources.
Before being able to implement stress reduction techniques, we have to be able to recognize signs of stress. Some symptoms are more obvious than others. The more specifically we can understand our triggers — for example, not just knowing that work causes stress, but knowing what specifically in our work causes stress — the more we can do to prepare for stress, and ultimately reduce or prevent it altogether.
How many times have you heard someone refer to a person’s personality or character, saying, “He’s a strong man”, or , “She’s a strong woman”? In managing our relationship with ourselves and interpersonal relationships, it is important to understand emotions, associated behaviors, and overall character traits that hurt us more than they help us. These traits we carry or see in others impact how we view and treat ourselves, how we present ourselves to others, and how we view and regard others.
One problematic stereotype is what people generally regard as a “strong” person. It’s problematic because there is often an inaccuracy of how people label “strength” — which impacts the qualities we admire or idealize in others, as well the traits that we want to develop and emphasize in ourselves. When people refer to a “strong” person, the traits that are being pointed to as “strong” are often closer to grandiosity, contempt, rigidity, stubbornness, aggressiveness, and desire to control others. All of these traits hold similarities to bullying.