Therapy is an incredibly valuable experience that can bring tremendous benefits to your life.
How much you get out of therapy depends on many factors, from how much effort you put into it to how good of a fit your therapist is for your needs and goals. Multiple studies consistently show that one of the strongest predictors of successful treatment is the quality of a therapeutic relationship between a psychotherapist and a client. In short, finding a therapist that is the right fit for you is one of the most important things for making progress in therapy.
Now, finding the right therapist takes investment – in terms of your time, energy, and finances. Thus, it’s natural that you want to know if you’re working with the right person, so your investments pay off. To make the process a little bit easier, in this article, we are going to discuss:
- What are some red flags telling you that your therapist may not be the best choice for you?
- How does it look and feel like when you and your therapist are the right fit?
- How to know if you are making progress in therapy?
Hopefully, these topics can help you save precious energy in finding the right therapist, or decide if your current therapy journey is going in the right direction.
Psychotherapy Red Flags: 5 Signs That Your Therapist Is NOT The Right Fit For You
Having a bad experience with a therapist is not so common. Research shows that 75% of people who enter therapy benefit from it significantly. Still, it is important to be informed about possible red flags of therapy. Finding them doesn’t always mean that you are working with a bad therapist (although this can be the case). Sometimes, it’s just a case of a wrong fit and someone else’s style and approach would feel better for you personally. But this feeling you have with your therapist is important, and is very informative about whether to stick with them or move on.
If you’re working with a therapist and feel something is off, maybe it’s time to think about discussing it with them or, eventually, finding a new therapist. There is nothing wrong with either.
Here are some things that may be telling you that you are not getting the most out of your therapy sessions.
1. You don’t feel understood
A good therapist should, first and foremost, be a good listener. If you often feel rushed, if your feelings are minimized or dismissed, it is a red flag.
Sometimes, because of various reasons such as cultural or religious differences, the therapist’s lack of experience with certain issues, or too wide disparities in personalities and views on life, it’s possible to feel like your therapist is not able to fully understand you. It may feel like they are asking the wrong questions most of the time or focusing on the wrong thing. Perhaps you wanted to point out something important but they keep talking about something else that you don’t find relevant, and this repeatedly happens in your sessions. If that is the case, it may be time to move on and find a therapist who you feel is better attuned to your feelings and needs.
2. You feel judged, shamed, or unsafe to share your authentic thoughts and feelings
It is completely normal to be reluctant to share your deepest fears, secrets, and vulnerabilities with a stranger, especially at the beginning of your therapy journey. However, if you feel like your therapist is “looking down” on your issues or tries to lecture you on what is right or wrong, that’s a sign that you should look elsewhere. Therapy should be a place free of judgment, where you feel safe and comfortable. A strong therapeutic alliance is the most pivotal thing for successful therapy. Thus, it is important to find a therapist who you feel accepts you, empathizes with you, and with whom you can be open and honest. If your current therapist is not that person, it may be time to discuss it with them, or try someone new.
3. They keep pushing you to talk about or work on something before you feel ready
Therapy is the place for you to safely explore your thoughts, emotions, memories, patterns… at your own pace. Your therapist will guide and nudge you in a certain direction, but they should respect your pace and your choices. Thus, they should respect if you express that you are uncomfortable working on some themes for now, no matter how important they think discussing them may be. If you feel like they are breaching your boundaries or trying to force you into talking about something you don’t yet feel comfortable working on, it’s a reason for concern.
4. Your personalities are too different
Your therapist is not your friend, but your personalities still need to be compatible to an extent for you to feel like you two are the right fit. Some people like their therapist to use humour, some don’t. Some like their therapist to be informal, talkative, or quirky, others like more of a distanced or directive approach. Not all human beings fit well together, and that’s okay. An important piece of the “finding-the-right-therapist” puzzle is to find someone who you like and feel comfortable talking to.
5. You repeatedly feel frustrated after your sessions
It is not uncommon to feel less-than-great after some therapy sessions. Therapy touches on your sensitive spots and invites you to leave your comfort zone. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it’s a valuable one, especially in the long run. If your therapist is the right fit, you will usually leave your session feeling better about yourself than when you came in. You may feel emotionally drained or shaken up, but at the same time hopeful or with a sense that you gained some new knowledge. However, if you leave more than half of your sessions frustrated and feeling like you lost your time, it is something that needs to be addressed.
A good therapist will encourage you to speak up when something is not working and discuss with you openly about ways to overcome an issue. They will be highly motivated to make sure that your therapy sessions are beneficial for you. But sometimes, people just don’t “click” and that’s okay. You can take note of which qualities worked and which didn’t. That will be precious when finding your next therapist.
Psychotherapy Green Flags: 5 Signs That Your Therapist Is Right For You
Sometimes, we may not be sure what a good therapeutic relationship should look like. This is especially true if we have no previous experience or knowledge to compare it to.
What does it mean that your therapist is the right fit?
What does a good therapist do? How do they behave?
How should you feel with your therapist?
Sometimes, you can’t tell right away. It may take a couple of sessions for you to get comfortable and gain trust. However, after some time, it’s usually not too difficult to recognize if you’re with the right therapist – if you know what to look for. Below are some common therapist green flags that can help you determine whether a relationship with your therapist is a high-quality one.
Disclaimer: we treat it as a given that your therapist is appropriately trained and licensed. When starting therapy, always make sure to ask your therapist about their credentials.
1. You feel understood and validated
An experienced therapist knows how to listen efficiently. They make you feel heard and understood. They ask the right questions to get to the underlying message behind what you’re saying. Even when they don’t share the same background as you, if they make an effort to understand and be mindful of all aspects of your identity and how it colours your emotions and thoughts, that’s a great sign.
With the right therapist, you feel like they “get” you – they follow your pace and help you gain new perspective. They summarize what you have said in a way that makes sense to you. They ask for clarification. You feel like your experiences are valid because they acknowledge what you say without judgment. You feel seen and accepted, like you can be true you around them.
Again, all these feelings may not come right away; sometimes, it takes a couple of sessions to adjust, gain trust, and get comfortable. Still, the goal is that your therapist provides a safe environment where you feel like you matter.
2. Your therapist is gentle but challenges you as well
In therapy, you may show your vulnerabilities, fears, insecurities, all the sides you’re maybe not often showing to the world. Through this process, your therapist should be an ally. It doesn’t mean they will agree with you all the time. In fact, they may challenge your views or ways you behave, helping you gain new insight or face what you avoid confronting. But they will always do this gently, so you don’t feel attacked or exposed. If you see your therapist as someone who guides you, holds space for you to be yourself and explore what it means, and at the same time encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and face difficult things in your life, it’s your cue that they are the right choice for you.
3. You leave most of your sessions feeling better about yourself or with new tools
Therapy can be painful, uncomfortable, and challenging, because it is where you face your deepest vulnerabilities and memories, and learn to change long-standing patterns. That can be tough! Sometimes, you may leave the session frustrated, tired, or kind of upset. Occasionally, this is normal, and it’s okay to raise this issue with your therapist. If your therapist is the right fit, they will work through these issues with you or, possibly, adjust their approach.
A great therapist is not just a good listener, but he/she provides you with tools and support to change habits, develop new skills, or gain useful insight. They will help you leave most of your sessions with a sense that you have something to work with or think about between your meetings.
4. In difficult situations, you think about what your therapist would suggest you do and find it helpful
At a certain point in therapy, when you’re facing a challenging situation, thinking about what your therapist would suggest or “hearing your therapist’s voice in your head” is natural. This is what is often called “internalization” of your therapist’s voice. The way they relate to you – with compassion, support, and acceptance – is how you slowly start relating to yourself. This is often a transitional period between your previous unhelpful self-talk and the stage where the voice that directs you toward healthy choices becomes completely yours. It’s a positive sign.
5. You notice a positive change in yourself
Therapy is a process. Positive change takes time; it will not happen overnight. Still, with the right therapist, you should notice some improvement after a while (say, after about 10-15 sessions. This, of course, varies greatly from person to person). Even if the problem you came to therapy with may not be solved yet, some positive change is a good sign that you and your therapist are heading in the right direction.
Also, it’s important to know that progress is not linear – some setbacks will occur. Sometimes, you will make different, healthier choices and use tools that you learned in therapy. It will feel great! Other times, you will slip and fall into your old patterns. This is completely normal. Through the process of learning, with support and new knowledge, you will be able to bounce back more quickly than before and relate to yourself in a different, healthier way.
So, what are some indicators telling you that therapy is working?
10 Signs That You Are Making Progress In Therapy
There is no universal set of ways to measure progress in therapy and emotional healing. It is individual and depends on your personal goals and needs. Still, as an example, here are 10 common signs you might be making progress in therapy and heading toward improved mental health.
- are not as much “in your head” as before
- listen to your body’s needs more
- start setting healthy boundaries
- are able to notice your critical inner voice and challenge it
- allow yourself to rest and take care of your needs
- are getting better at recognizing your emotions and allowing yourself to feel them
- feel your energy levels improved
- are more able to create space between an emotion and a reaction instead of being purely reactive
- engage in healthy habits more regularly
- have more trust in your abilities to cope with challenges.
- are having fun again
This, of course, is not an extensive list. It’s a list of common positive changes people experience in therapy. It is a result of putting in the effort to work through the things that hold them back, and doing so with the right therapist.
Notice how something like “being happy all the time” is not on the list. The goal of therapy is NOT to feel only pleasant emotions and stop experiencing unpleasant ones. Instead, the goal is to start relating to your emotions in a different, healthier way and, from there, start making positive changes in your behaviour as well.
Have you ever been to therapy? What is your experience? How do you notice you are making progress in therapy? We’d love to hear your thoughts; please be free to comment down below. Also, if you find this blog post useful, go ahead and share it on your social media.
If you are interested to learn more about therapy and experience it yourself, contact us today. We are here to help.
Hubble, M. A., Duncan, B. L., & Miller, S. D. (1999). The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy. American Psychological Association. Online HERE
Geller, J., & Farber, B. (1993). Factors influencing the process of internalization in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Research, 3(3), 166-180. Online HERE
Wampold, B. E. (2007). Psychotherapy: the humanistic (and effective) treatment. American Psychologist, 62(8), 857. Online HERE
What really happens in therapy?
Thanks to the stigma surrounding psychotherapy that is still, to some extent, present in our society (although this is, fortunately, changing for the better), many people have never seen a therapist and are hesitant to do so, even if they could benefit from it. Add to that sometimes-inaccurate portrayal in the media, and it’s not a surprise why many people have a slightly distorted, or downright wrong picture of psychotherapy. This can discourage people from seeking help when they really need it, and further damage their mental health. Thus, it is important to talk openly about therapy and share accurate information. It can help combat reservations people may have about finding a therapist and getting the right kind of support.
If you’ve never been to therapy and you feel like something is holding you back, maybe it’s worth exploring if you believe some of the common misconceptions about therapy. Here are 8 common myths we’ve heard about psychotherapy (in no particular order), and truths that disprove them.
1. Therapy is for weak people
Maybe the most common myth about therapy is that seeking professional help means that you are somehow weak or flawed. Everyone goes through a rough patch from time to time; that’s part of life, and we don’t have to go through it alone.
But sometimes we try to do exactly that, afraid of what other people might say or what we would think of ourselves if we have chosen otherwise. The truth is that seeking therapy does not mean you are incapable of solving your own problems. Exactly the opposite! You are taking charge of your life by actively improving some parts of it with the help of a professional. You have enough self-awareness to realize that some things are not working the way you’d want them to. Instead of trying to prove yourself as tough, you are choosing to smartly and efficiently get where you want to be. You’re not letting fear hold you back. That pretty much sounds like the opposite of weak, doesn’t it?
2. You will be lying on a couch
Nowadays, this is very rare. Some psychoanalytically oriented therapists use this approach sometimes as a way to help the client speak more freely about their inner experience, but only if the client feels comfortable with it. Typically, a therapist’s office looks a lot like a living room, where you both sit at a comfortable distance, facing each other. Some therapists take notes during your visit (yes, as you’ve seen in movies :)), others leave that for after the session. It all depends on the therapist’s approach and style, and there are many different ones out there.
3. Therapy is mostly just you talking and the therapist listening. You can do that with a friend.
While support from friends and family is amazing, sometimes that is not enough to work through some challenges. Your therapist is a professional with years of training, educated to treat cognitive, behavioural, and emotional problems, and will use many different techniques to help you deal with them effectively. Because of their long training and experience, your therapist hears things differently than a non-therapist. For example, you may be upset about others not following the rules, and your therapist may hear a fear of lack of control. Or you may be upset that your partner is going out without you and making new friends, and your therapist may hear a fear of abandonment.
It may look like a casual conversation, but a good therapist is trained to ask intentional questions to help you have a better look at your experiences and emotions and link them together. Exploring deep parts of yourself in a safe, encouraging, non-judgmental environment with the guidance of a professional who is (or should be) unbiased is much different than talking to a friend.
Moreover, a therapeutic relationship is different from all the other relationships in your life. The most obvious difference is that the whole focus of the relationship is on you and your well-being Even when a therapist shares something from their personal experience, it’s you and your goals in mind. A therapeutic relationship is deeply psychologically intimate but also strictly professional. Usually, you can’t be friends outside of therapy (or, at least, not during the course of treatment).
4. You have to have a major mental health issue or be in a crisis to seek therapy
People come to therapy for various reasons. Indeed, some of these people battle serious mental health issues and might benefit from medication. However, the majority of issues people come with are what you’d call “everyday problems”. Examples include managing stress, navigating transition and change, dealing with grief, finding a work-life balance, overcoming fears, improving relationships, etc. Moreover, many people look for therapy as a preventative measure, or as a way to maintain their mental health.
5. You will have to talk about your childhood
Not necessarily, and not if you don’t want to. There is nothing in therapy you strictly HAVE to do. If you don’t feel ready, a good therapist will not pressure you to talk about your past. Learning about your childhood can help in understanding the patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours you have now, the way you see the world, and the decisions you are making in the present. Our early experiences deeply and powerfully shape our beliefs about relationships, safety, and love. These beliefs further direct what we think we “have to do to earn” those things. Some of these beliefs and tactics serve us well, and some are inaccurate and unhelpful. Nonetheless, we carry them all into adulthood.
For example, if your caretakers encouraged you to “always put others first”, that being kind means accommodating other people’s needs, that saying “no” is rude and you earned punishment for that… you, as a child, quickly learned how to behave to gain their approval. Your nervous system shapes in a way that communicates: “putting others first=mom’s/dad’s approval=safety” and “boundaries and self-care=mom’s/dad’s disapproval=wrong, danger, abort!”. As an adult, you may tend to people-please, be an ‘overgiver’ in relationships, and struggle with setting boundaries. Even if you rationally understand that boundaries are important, your nervous system can still cling to the old patterns. This is why you may feel a knot in your stomach or your heart pounding when you are about to set some personal boundaries, even when you know it’s the right thing to do.
When you understand why you feel or behave a certain way in the present, where the root of the problem is, the path to change becomes clearer. You connect the dots, are more aware of unhelpful patterns in the present and are more able to replace them with more accurate, useful ones, that will serve you better right now.
6. Therapists have ready solutions for your problems and will tell you what to do
Although your therapist knows a lot about what is important for mental health in general, a path to good mental health can be different for different people. A therapist may be an expert in mental health, but the client is an expert in their own life. In therapy, they are two equals who bring their knowledge together to explore the issue and weigh options to find a solution that works well. A good therapist doesn’t work based on a ready-made formula, but tailors treatment around each client’s needs and goals. They won’t give you direct advice. Instead, they will empower you to identify and understand your blocks, and guide you toward finding what’s best for you and trusting your own decisions.
7. Therapy can solve problems in one or two sessions
Usually not. Just like you don’t get a six-pack after one or two sets of crunches, you most probably won’t completely solve the problem you came with after just one session. Therapy is a process. Sometimes it’s a short process, sometimes it’s a longer one, but worth the effort nonetheless.
8. You will always feel better after a therapy session
Many times, you will leave your therapist’s office relieved, hopeful, optimistic, joyful. Other times, uncovering your fears and insecurities, remembering your past, or facing your true emotions, can be a painful experience. Talking about something that has a high emotional impact can be stressful and leave you exhausted. Therapy encourages you to leave your comfort zone, and that is not always a pleasant experience. Sometimes, therapy is described as “a storm that leads into calm”. It is a process in which, at times, things become worse before they become better.
Thus, it is not surprising to, sometimes, leave your therapy session feeling drained. You need time to process and to let things you unpacked fall into their place. It’s part of the healing process. However, if after the majority of your sessions you feel worse, it’s important to raise this issue with your therapist.
Do any of these misconceptions sound familiar? What are some myths you’ve heard about psychotherapy? Please let us know in the comment section below.
Kottler, J. A., & Balkin, R. S. (2020). Myths, misconceptions, and invalid assumptions about counseling and psychotherapy. Oxford University Press, USA.
Wampold, B. E. (2019). The basics of psychotherapy: An introduction to theory and practice. American Psychological Association. Online HERE
Starting therapy can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what to expect.
○ What does a therapy session look like?
○ What am I supposed to talk about?
○ Will a therapist ask a lot of personal questions?
○ Will I have to talk about my childhood?
To make things a little easier and more familiar, this article is devoted to shedding light on common questions people ask about therapy. When we know what to expect, it becomes a little less challenging.
Therapy is an amazing journey in which you can:
- get to know yourself
- share different parts of your life you may not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else
- explore and understand how and why you do the things you do and feel the things you feel
- learn to navigate your relationships better
- work out a particular problem, like resolving a conflict, getting rid of some habits, mapping out a career change, etc.
- learn and practice new skills
- deal with emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, anger, mood swings, etc. that may be negatively impacting your life
- improve your ability to deal with stress or cope with change
…the list goes on and on!
Therapy is a safe space for you to explore and discover, understand and accept, learn and practice. There is nothing to fear, and many benefits to gain. But therapy also takes courage, effort, and financial investment, so it’s natural to be wondering if it’s worth it.
So, first things first, before making a call, you may be asking yourself – do I really need therapy?
Signs you may need therapy
❓ Is my problem big enough to ask a therapist for help?
❓ Is what I’m experiencing normal?
❓ Do other people seek therapy because of this?
❓ Would it be stupid to go to therapy for this issue?
❓ Should I be able to solve this on my own?
If similar questions crossed your mind before deciding to start therapy, you are not alone.
To save you some time, here is a short answer: There are a lot of reasons to start therapy, and all of them are equally valid.
There are really no hard rules or bad reasons for going to therapy. Whether you are facing some challenges you don’t know how to overcome or just need somebody to talk to – neither of those reasons is wrong.
Yes, it is true that people often seek therapy when they’re in a crisis or during stressful life events. But it is also true that many people seek therapy wanting to know themselves better and improve certain aspects of their lives, without being in a middle of a crisis. It’s okay to start therapy just because you feel like you would use a little extra help, even if you’re not sure why. That being said, there are some signs that, right now, it might be an especially good time to seek out therapy.
🔸 You feel stuck
🔸 You are highly stressed
🔸 You feel like your emotions are a mess and you have a hard time controlling them
🔸 You feel empty, unmotivated, and struggle to start or finish tasks
🔸 You lost interest in things that you previously found exciting or pleasurable
🔸 You can’t shake a bad feeling
🔸 You turn to dangerous coping mechanisms, like drugs or alcohol
🔸 You became “snappy”, lose your temper quickly, everything irritates you
🔸 You’d like help working through difficult family or relationship dynamics
🔸 You experienced something you feel you can’t process alone
🔸 You want to talk about something without being judged or bombarded with advice
🔸 You need a safe space
🔸 You are struggling with making a decision
🔸 Your issues are interfering with your daily life
🔸 You want to know yourself better
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it can give you a general idea about what kinds of reasons people have for going to therapy. Essentially, if you want to start therapy or think you could find value in this process, that is reason enough. Just remember – there is no wrong time to ask for help.
How to prepare for your first psychotherapy session?
Okay, so you’ve made a decision and scheduled your first counselling appointment. Now what?
It may be a good idea to define why you are starting therapy, and why now. Additionally, think about what you’d like to achieve with therapy, what is the desired state. This can help you and your therapist better define your goals and give you direction in your session. Still, if you don’t have answers to these questions, that’s okay. You and your therapist can discuss the problem together and explore what would be the best path to take.
It’s completely okay to feel nervous before your first psychotherapy appointment; many people experience this. Part of this uneasiness comes from novelty, and it’s a completely normal response to facing something new. Another part of it may be coming from expecting to talk about sensitive stuff, things you usually don’t discuss in your everyday life, and you may be worried that this is going to bring some strong emotions to the surface. It’s important to know that, although this is a possibility, you don’t have to discuss anything you don’t want or don’t feel ready to talk about. Additionally, a good therapist will know how to create a safe space for you to, eventually, want to open up and share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
What to expect on your first therapy appointment?
If you are going to see your therapist in person, make sure to come a few minutes early. If you are having an online counselling appointment, make sure you have access to a private space without interruptions. Prior to, or during your first session, you will fill out some paperwork that usually includes your personal information, medical history, insurance information, etc. You will also be asked to sign an informed consent.
The initial first few minutes of your session might look different with different therapists, but you will most likely spend them getting to know each other. Therapists are aware that most people can be nervous about their first therapy session, so many of them will start with some small talk and easy topics to get you to relax and be more comfortable. Then comes the main part. Your therapist will need to know why you are seeking therapy, some of your history, and your therapy goals.
- Do you have previous experience with psychotherapy?
- Does someone in your family have any mental health issues?
- Are you using any medication currently?
- What brought you to therapy?
- How long have you been experiencing these problems?
- What do you hope to get from therapy?
When answering your therapist’s questions, it’s important to be open and honest. Your therapist is not there to judge you but to support and help you. However, as previously mentioned, you are not obliged to disclose anything that makes you uncomfortable. Although everything you say in therapy is confidential (unless it poses a threat to you or others), it’s understandable that you don’t feel comfortable sharing your deepest vulnerabilities with a stranger. As your relationship with your therapist develops over time, a sense of trust will grow. But if your therapist is pushing you to answer or discuss something that you communicated you don’t feel comfortable with, it might be a red flag.
Finally, be free to ask questions as well. You may want to know, for example, about billing, insurance, their expertise or experience, or about your particular issue. This process is about YOUR personal growth, and you want to walk away feeling that you’re moving in a positive direction.
How to get the most out of therapy?
Finishing your first counselling session is a huge step. Good job! It is also the first step in many. It is normal if you feel especially tired or low following your first counselling session. You’ve started important work – unpacking and understanding your thoughts and feelings. This can be demanding. Give yourself some space and time to process. It is also common to feel more grounded, lighter, even ecstatic after your first (or following) therapy session(s). Having someone to hear your struggles without judgment and help you understand them can be powerful.
Therapy is a process that requires commitment, patience, and conscious effort. Don’t expect your problems to go away after one or two sessions – it is extremely rare. How many sessions you will need depends on many factors, from the nature of your problem to the coping skills you already have, your personality traits, support system, your relationship with your therapist, etc. Still, there are some important things you can do to speed up the process and get the most out of your counselling sessions. Here are 5 tips on how you can maximize your therapy journey.
Research shows that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is the #1 factor that influences how successful therapy will be. Thus, it is crucial to find a therapist that is the right fit for you. This means that you feel safe, understood, and validated with them, that their approach feels comfortable to you personally, and that you leave your sessions with a sense that you are making progress.
2. Work between sessions
You can gain great insight in therapy, learn useful coping skills, and know what is healthy for you, but if you don’t actually put it into practice in real life, there is little chance positive change will occur. Therapy is not a place where you will go to be “fixed” or told what to do exactly. Instead, your therapist will guide you and provide the tools, but you are the one who needs to put in hard work for it to be effective.
3. Be completely honest
It can be difficult to share your deepest secrets and emotions with someone. Even facing some of these inner contents yourself, alone, can be challenging. Still, the more honest you are with your therapist, the better. Your therapist works with what you give to them – omitting certain details or refraining from disclosing certain feelings or experiences can slow down your therapeutic growth.
4. Don’t be afraid to tell your therapist what is not working well
Your therapist works in your best interest, and they are trained to listen well and without judgment. Sharing your feedback about the process or doubts about the direction you are headed in therapy is precious for any good therapist, and it can also fasten your progress.
5. Be patient
Sometimes positive change comes quickly, and sometimes, it is slow and gradual. Give it time and patience, and notice small wins along the way. Still, if you feel like you are not getting much out of your sessions, it is completely okay to voice your concerns to your therapist.
Some other basics about psychotherapy
🔸 A typical individual therapy session lasts 50 to 60 minutes
🔸 Online therapy has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy. Online counselling and online psychotherapy can be especially useful for people who live in an area where the choice of mental health professionals is limited. It can also save you commuting time.
🔸 Not every therapist will be the right one for you. It’s a bit like dating – sometimes it’s a match, and sometimes it is not. Give it a few sessions to figure out whether you and your therapist are the right fit
🔸 What you say in your session is strictly confidential, with some exceptions that your therapist will communicate with you in advance
🔸 A therapist does much more than just listen. He/she will use many different techniques to help you explore the issue and reach your goals
A therapy session is a time designated for you only, and you can use it however you want.
It is a space for you to be yourself, share your concerns, and be totally honest without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings or embarrassing yourself. A good therapist will help you work through and feel safe, heard, and understood.
Therapy is a smart investment – in both present and the future. Does everybody need it? No. But it’s a valuable tool that can help anyone achieve their goals, solve problems, and improve their life.
Do you have any questions about psychotherapy? Write us in the comment section below!
Barak, A., Hen, L., Boniel-Nissim, M., & Shapira, N. A. (2008). A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Technology in Human services, 26(2-4), 109-160. Online access HERE
Munder, T., Flückiger, C., Leichsenring, F., Abbass, A. A., Hilsenroth, M. J., Luyten, P., … & Wampold, B. E. (2019). Is psychotherapy effective? A re-analysis of treatments for depression. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 28(3), 268-274. Online access HERE
Vandergiendt, C. (2020). Why Therapy? The Most Common Reasons to See a Therapist. Healthline. Retrieved online on May 28th HERE
Have you ever faced a situation where someone repeatedly violated your boundaries? Just ignored the limits you have set, despite your clear communication, and crossed the line again? Frustrating, right?
Relationships are extremely important for our well-being as humans. And yet, the vast majority of us have never been taught how to build and nurture healthy relationships.
One of the most important relationship skills is knowing how to set and reinforce healthy boundaries. Do you know how to do it? In THIS article, we explained in detail what personal boundaries look like and how to set them. But the question many people struggle with is – how to maintain my boundaries? How to hold my ground and protect my boundaries when someone repeatedly violates them?
“Boundaries are personal limits we define and communicate about what we will and will not tolerate. They are like guidelines for other people about which behaviours are welcome in interaction with us and which are not.”
Healthy boundaries are crucial for our well-being and a key part of any healthy relationship. They allow us to take ownership of our own lives and shape our relationships.
Setting boundaries is a skill that requires self-awareness, communication skills and, sometimes A LOT of emotional regulation. This is because many of us have been raised to (falsely) believe that:
pleasing others = kind & good
honouring our own needs = selfish & bad.
Thus, it is not surprising that many people find setting boundaries with others new and scary. But setting boundaries is not the hardest part. Sometimes, some people won’t respect them, and this is where it becomes really tricky. They may get angry, passive-aggressive, disappointed, they may try to manipulate or guilt-trip you into changing your behaviour, or just blatantly ignore what you have communicated and repeat unacceptable behaviour.
So, what do you do?
You need to respect your own boundaries for others to respect them as well
“What is important to understand is that, as much as boundaries sound like they are directed at others, they are, first and foremost, about you.”
Boundaries are not about making other people behave in a certain way. This is not within your power. Rather, boundaries are about making an agreement with yourself about what you will and will not tolerate. Thus, they are much more about your inner work, about how you relate to yourself, about giving yourself permission to respect and honour your wants and needs, than about how you communicate with others.
It may not be fair, but it is your responsibility to respect the boundaries you have set as much as it is the other person’s responsibility. This is also where your power lies. You are not left to the mercy of the other person’s will to change their behaviour – you have the right to decide what is best for yourself in response to their behaviour.
If someone is crossing your boundaries, you have several options, including:
- Restating the boundary
- Enforcing the consequences
- Accepting their behaviour and reshaping the boundary
- Disengaging/distancing yourself from the relationship
How to maintain your boundaries effectively
Often, when a boundary is crossed, people feel helpless or get angry and frustrated, but don’t know what to do beyond that. They may end up explaining their boundaries again (which is absolutely okay – some people need to hear it more than once to adjust to new behaviour. However, remember that you are not obliged to repeat nor explain more than once if you don’t want to). But if boundary violation is not followed by a consequence, it essentially communicates that your boundaries are flexible and that you will tolerate said behaviour (because, well, you do).
Setting boundaries consists of two crucial components:
words (expressing how you would like to be treated) and
actions (consequences if the boundary is not respected).
If any of these components is missing, your boundaries are not complete nor stable.
For example, you have communicated to someone that you don’t appreciate them being late every time you meet. You tell them that, next time, you will wait for them for 15 minutes, no more than that. If the next time they are late again, and you are still there when they show up 30 minutes later, your actions are not in line with the boundary you have communicated. Supporting your own boundary means leaving after 15 minutes of waiting.
Thus, violations of your boundaries should be met with clear communication of what your boundaries are and then consistent consequences you have set. Take the time to know your own boundaries, state them directly to those involved, and protect them with your actions.
Important: when setting boundaries and consequences for their possible violation, only communicate those that you are ready to follow through. Otherwise, your boundaries may sound like (empty) threats, and this is not beneficial. Boundaries are not there to manipulate others into doing what we want but to openly communicate how we genuinely believe we deserve to be treated.
Just because you’ve let others cross your boundaries doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it
As children, we may have learned to allow crossing our boundaries because we were helpless and depended on the big people in our lives for survival. But as adults, unless in extreme situations, we have the power and responsibility to properly defend them.
And although it may sound simple, it is far from easy. It takes self-love and self-respect to believe and behave in a way that reflects: “I will not tolerate such behaviour. This is not what I deserve. I have the right to express my preferences and needs, and to honour them”.
Knowing your basic rights and also what is your responsibility and what is not can help you feel a little less awkward about keeping boundaries. When you choose to fully accept and believe in these rights and responsibilities, it becomes much easier to set and reinforce your boundaries.
- It’s not your responsibility to make other people happy all the time
- You are not responsible for others’ poor decisions nor is anyone responsible for your decisions
- It’s not your job to rescue people from their big uncomfortable feelings
- You don’t need permission to be who you are, think what you think, or care about your needs
- You have the right to feel your feelings, whatever those are. Behaviours and feelings are not the same things
- You have the right to say NO
- It’s okay to spend time alone without explaining yourself
- It’s okay to honour your needs and wants
What if someone keeps crossing my boundaries?
Sometimes, despite clear communication, multiple warnings, and a change of behaviour from your end, some people will keep pushing your boundaries. Whatever their reason may be for that, remember that you have the permission to choose what’s best for you and your well-being.
It can be useful to ask yourself: “If things stay exactly as they are right now and never change (and it seems like they won’t), what can I do to protect my well-being?”
Maybe you conclude that this boundary is something negotiable and that you are willing to make an exception with this person. It’s okay – your boundaries can be flexible. You are the creator of boundaries in your own life and you have the right to shape them however you find is serving you. If you are willing to compromise, make sure that you are doing so with protecting your well-being in mind, not out of a sense of obligation or to please the other person.
Unfortunately, when someone is constantly crossing the boundaries that are very important to you, the best option may be to distance yourself from the relationship. It’s easier said than done, we know. Sometimes, for practical reasons, it may not be possible to end the relationship right now. Change and transition are often very difficult, even when we know the end result is something that will serve us. Ending relationships is painful, even the ones that don’t work well anymore.
Remember that a key trademark of any healthy relationship is respect, which includes respecting your boundaries. One of the great things about adulthood is that we have choices, especially in who we build relationships with and how we nurture them. You can choose your relationships, and it is perfectly okay to let go of those that don’t support your well-being.
In the end, keep in mind that setting and keeping boundaries is a skill. It can be uncomfortable, especially when you first start implementing them. It can also be triggering and intimidating to hold your boundaries and confront someone who is crossing them. You are practicing something different than what you’re used to – it’s completely normal if it feels awkward. It takes courage to enforce a new behaviour and potentially face the uncomfortable reactions from others or, eventually, distance yourself from the relationship.
The good news is that, over time, as you practice setting and holding boundaries, it becomes much easier and the reward it brings is priceless. So, hang on and commit – it will be worth it.
Tawwab, N. G. (2021). Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. Penguin.
Gazipura, A. (2017). Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty… and Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, and Unapologetically Being Yourself. BC Allen Publishing & Tonic Books.
Faitakas, M. (2021). The Importance of Setting Boundaries. SMUJournal. Retrieved on 29th of May 2022 from HERE
Raise your hand if you ever tolerated someone’s unacceptable behaviour and made excuses for them because you didn’t know how to react, or you were afraid that, by saying something, you would be seen as rude or selfish.
Raise another hand if you repeatedly did something for someone out of obligation, and then resentment toward them grew because you felt taken advantage of.
🙌 🙌 🙌
It’s okay, many of us experienced such situations at some point. But if it keeps happening over and over again, if you feel resentful and taken for granted in relationships, if you repeatedly feel like others don’t hear or respect your wishes or needs, maybe it’s time to learn to set some boundaries.
In therapy and coaching, but also in general, we can often hear people say that they would like to learn to set boundaries but have difficulties with it. One part of the reason why they are struggling is that setting boundaries is, simply, uncomfortable. It often triggers feelings of guilt and shame, and it can be especially hard for people who identify themselves as people-pleasers.
Related to this, sometimes, they don’t know how boundaries are supposed to feel like. What is my responsibility and what is not? Is it inappropriate if I tell the other person he or she crossed my boundary in this situation? Do I have the right to set boundaries for this thing?
The third reason is that they don’t know how to set boundaries – practically. What to say to set a boundary? How to maintain it?
Let’s deep dive into all three and learn how to set healthy boundaries, so we can show up for ourselves and for others more genuinely and authentically.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are physical and emotional limits you create to define what are reasonable, acceptable, safe, and permissible ways for others to behave toward you. Healthy boundaries help you define where you end and the other person begins, what you will and will not hold yourself responsible for, and teach others what is and is not an acceptable way to treat you.
Boundaries can be about various things, for example: what are appropriate times for others to call or text you, can they come to your house unannounced, how much time or money you give, how others speak to you, how physically close you are comfortable to be with someone, discussing different topics like sex, politics, religion, personal experiences, etc.
In a way, boundaries are like rules. We all know that there are different rules in life, like having to stop at a STOP sign or waiting in line at the store, etc. Those rules are easy to follow – usually, there are big signs communicating the rule, like a bright red STOP or “Wait in line” sign at a cash register. Rules are clear. Not following them results in some sort of penalty, like a fine or social disapproval. These rules are in place to prevent chaos. Our boundaries have the same purpose – to prevent overwhelm and chaos in our relationships and protect our well-being. However, they are not so clear. We don’t have signs taped over our foreheads listing what we consider to be appropriate and inappropriate. We need to communicate this. And when someone violates these boundaries, we can set consequences.
Lack of boundaries:
- Feeling like you’re not appreciated
- Resentment in your relationships
- Lack of awareness of your needs, which leads to burnout
- Always saying yes to avoid disappointing others or feeling guilty
- Feeling obligated to immediately respond to others and meet their needs
- Feeling like you’re being taken advantage of
- Being aware of your needs and communicating them clearly
- Saying no to things that you don’t feel comfortable doing
- Connecting with others when you feel emotionally open to connect, not when others expect it
- Having the confidence to speak up about how you want to be treated and placing consequences if that is not respected
- Believing you have the right to preserve your well-being
Why Are Boundaries So Important?
Boundaries are necessary for the health and quality of our relationships. Without them, our relationships cannot thrive. Poor boundaries lead to resentment, guilt, anger, frustration, disappointment, and burnout. They indicate that we are not honest in our relationship because we are not free to communicate how we feel or what we need but, instead, act from the fear of disappointing others. So, boundaries are kind. They allow other people to understand how to best engage with us, and that is nourishing for our relationships.
Even more importantly, boundaries are crucial for our physical and mental health. They keep us safe and help us fulfill our needs. They give us a sense of agency over our physical space, our time, and emotional resources. Without them, our energy quickly gets depleted, leaving us exhausted, stressed, and hopeless. Poor boundaries can lead to other problems as well, such as having difficulties with decision-making or confusing our own wants and needs with others’ wants and needs. We may end up spending so much of our life doing what others want that we lose a sense of self, finding it difficult to identify what it is that we authentically want or don’t want.
Boundaries are an expression of self-care. Self-care is not just about how you eat, how much you exercise, or how much you rest. It is a much broader concept, referring to how you treat yourself, how you find balance, joy, play, and kindness toward yourself. Self-care is how you take care of your physical and mental health; setting and maintaining boundaries is an essential part of it.
How to Set Boundaries Effectively
Even though personal boundaries can be challenging to navigate, recognizing our limits and communicating them well is essential for our own well-being and for building healthy relationships with others. Here are 5 steps that can help you set healthy boundaries.
1. Understand that you have the right to set boundaries
Not only it is your right to create boundaries, but it is also your responsibility. You can’t control other people’s behaviour, you can only control your own. Hence, what you feel and need and how you want to be treated is not up to the other person to figure out, but up to you to communicate. Personal boundaries allow you to take ownership of your own life and shape your relationships.
Knowing your basic rights and also what is your responsibility and what is not can help you feel a little less awkward for setting personal boundaries. When you choose to fully accept and believe in these rights and responsibilities, it becomes much easier to set boundaries and let go of the guilt surrounding them.
- It’s not your responsibility to make other people happy all the time
- You are not responsible for others’ poor decisions nor is anyone responsible for your decisions
- It’s not your job to rescue people from their big uncomfortable feelings
- You don’t need permission to be who you are, think what you think, or care about your needs
- You have the right to feel your feelings, whatever those are. Behaviours and feelings are not the same things
- It’s okay for others to get angry or feel uncomfortable
- You have the right to say NO
- It’s okay to spend time alone without explaining yourself
- Other people have every right to disagree with you or don’t like your decision
2. Identify what you need
In order to create boundaries, it is important to clearly define what you want and why. To set good boundaries, it’s often necessary to get in touch with your needs and personal core values. Sometimes, especially if you ignored them most of the time to cater to others’ expectations and demands, this can be challenging. Still, don’t give up. Small steps lead to big results. Here are some questions you can ask yourself that may help:
What is important to me?
How do I want my relationships to look like?
What are my goals?
So, it’s important to be clear about what exactly you want to change, why, and how. This will help you communicate your boundary clearly and stay the course when it gets through. Writing this down can also be helpful.
3. Communicate your boundary
Now comes the hard part – you need to communicate the new boundary you want to set. You don’t need to apologize for your boundaries – there is nothing wrong with saying no or asking for what you need. Many people worry that communicating their boundaries clearly and not apologizing for them will seem rude, selfish, or inconsiderate. However, you can communicate your boundaries with a sense of softness, compassion, and kindness, and still stand your ground. The key is to communicate your boundaries without criticism or contempt. Take ownership of your boundaries, without blaming the other person. Use “I statements” – keep the focus on your needs.
For example, instead of saying:
“You keep calling me at inappropriate times when I’m at work. Stop bothering me during business hours.”
you can say:
“I am really busy during the business hours and answering calls at those times distracts me. If there is nothing super important, please don’t call before 5 pm, or I won’t be able to answer.”
One trick that can make kindly communicating boundaries easier is to replace “but” with “and”. This small language change implies that both things that you are communicating can exist at the same time. For example: “I love spending time with you AND also I need some space for myself” sounds different from: “I love spending time with you BUT I need some space for myself”, doesn’t it?
If needed, you can explain why you find it important to set this boundary, and frame it as a positive step for the relationships and/or for your well-being. However, avoid overexplaining, because 1. it may sound confusing, and 2. it may start looking like apologizing and imply that you don’t have the right to determine what you want and don’t want to do. But you do have that right, and you can own and honour it.
So, in short, how to communicate your boundaries:
- Be direct and clear. Say exactly what you need and what you want to change.
- Be warm in your communication. Replace “but” with “and”
- Don’t criticize or blame. Instead, focus on your needs and use “I statements”
- Explain why this is important to you. Don’t overexplain or apologize for it
These are some general rules about how to communicate your boundaries, but they will vary depending on the person you are communicating with and the nature of your relationship. Whatever approach you choose to use – gentle, firm, compassionate, short – knowing what you want as a result of setting the boundary is the most important thing.
4. Be prepared for resistance
Sometimes, people will acknowledge your newly set boundary and respect it. Other times, unfortunately, things won’t go so easy. They may try to argue, oppose, guilt-trip you into withdrawing your newly set boundary, get angry, or ask questions. In a way, it’s expected – they are used to one kind of interaction with you and now they are facing change. This kind of reaction is especially common with people who benefited from your lack of boundaries – you are now revoking that privilege, so it’s expected that they get upset. But if they had this privilege at the expense of your needs or well-being, they were never meant to have it in the first place.
Others reacting poorly to you setting boundaries is not proof that you shouldn’t have set them. Setting boundaries can be an uncomfortable process (for both sides), so be prepared for it. We’ll talk about this a little bit more in the last section of this post. What’s important to remember is that setting boundaries, however uncomfortable, is a valuable skill that you build over time and is absolutely worth the effort.
5. Execute your new boundary
Boundaries include an action. Stating boundaries is a big step; however, it’s the follow-through that makes them effective. If you have set a boundary – asked the other person to change their behaviour, and communicated how you’re going to behave – make sure to stick to it. This way, you are showing consistency – to the other person and to yourself.
Of course, we all want others to respect our boundaries. However, we have to accept that, sometimes, it won’t be the case and we can’t make anyone behave the way we want. Boundaries are there to communicate and protect your needs, not to control someone else’s behaviour. This is why you need to set consequences for violating your boundaries, and give yourself permission to execute them. If someone is repeatedly crossing your boundaries despite multiple warnings and clear communication from your end, you have a range of options. Ask yourself: “If things stay exactly as they are right now and never change (and it seems like they won’t), what can I do to protect my well-being?” Maybe to distance yourself physically, work on emotionally detaching yourself, end the relationship…? Weight the benefits and risks and choose the next steps, just make sure that your mental health is your top priority.
Of course, your boundaries don’t have to be set in stone – you can change them or make an exception, it is your choice. However, if you bend your boundaries for some reason, make sure it’s serving your well-being. And no, “I feel bad pointing out someone’s unacceptable behaviour toward me again, so I’ll just adapt and put up with it somehow” is not a good enough reason.
Why Do I Feel Bad For Setting Boundaries? Help!
Setting boundaries comes with tremendous benefits, both for you and the people around you. But the reality is – it requires tolerating uncomfortable feelings.
Most of us really want other people to like us and don’t want to disappoint anyone. Boundary setting can be especially challenging for people who try hard to please others, or who come from families where boundaries were not encouraged nor respected.
In some families, boundaries = disconnection, disrespect, or lack of love. This becomes a model an individual carries into adulthood.
If you grew up in an environment where there were frequent breaches of privacy, if you were punished for speaking up or saying no, if sacrificing your own needs and pleasing others meant being a good kid, you may be having troubles with setting boundaries as an adult. If you learned that taking care of your needs is selfish and always putting others first is selfless and compassionate, it’s natural that, when you stand up for yourself and set boundaries, however healthy they may be, guilt arises. Guilt doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing something wrong; it often means that you are conditioned to feel it in certain situations. Such as, for example, when you take time for yourself or prioritize your needs, or when people have uncomfortable emotions about your boundaries.
Let’s be real – sometimes, people won’t like your newly set boundaries and may have big feelings around them. What is crucial to understand here is what is your responsibility and what is not.
Setting and keeping your boundaries are your responsibilities. You are responsible for the way you do it – what you say and how you say it. You are not responsible for other people’s actions.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s never pleasant to witness someone having uncomfortable emotions, especially toward something you’ve said or done. But their reaction is their responsibility, not yours. Let them have their emotions, they have the right to it. You can be attuned to others’ needs and care about their feelings without moving your boundaries. Feeling responsible for other people’s emotions doesn’t necessarily make you kind and compassionate. Instead, it can lead to rescuing behaviours, resentment, and unhealthy, enmeshed relationship dynamics.
So, if the question is how to set boundaries without anyone feeling bad, the answer is – sometimes, it’s impossible, simply because we can’t control other people’s emotions, however gentle and compassionate we are in our communication.
Just remember, others are allowed to feel uncomfortable. They can handle it, and so can you.
Setting boundaries is something that takes courage, practice, and consistency. How they look like and how they take place is different for everyone. It may take some time to figure out what kinds of boundaries you need, allow yourself to set them, and experiment with the most appropriate ways to implement them in your life, but your mental health and your relationships will appreciate the effort in the long run.
Where in your life do you need firmer boundaries? What do you find challenging when it comes to setting them? Let us know in the comment section down below.
Also, if you know someone who would find this article useful, please be free to share it with them, or share it on your social media.
Barth, F. (2012). Boundaries and connections (pp. 25-44). Routledge.
Glover, N. (2021). Set boundaries, find peace: A guide to reclaiming yourself. TarcherPerigee.
Katherine, A. (2012). Where to draw the line: How to set healthy boundaries every day. Simon and Schuster.
Martin, S. (2019). 5 Tips For Setting Boundaries (Without Feeling Guilty). PsychCentral. Online resource HERE
Oh, that nagging feeling that you are not good enough, that you didn’t deserve praise, that you just got lucky, that you don’t fit in…
Does this line of thought sound somewhat familiar?
„I feel like a fraud. What gives me the right to be in the position I am in now? I don’t have the abilities needed, I’m not competent enough, someone would be way better at this. It’s just a matter of time when everybody realizes this. And all the accomplishments I’ve made? Honestly, I was lucky. Besides, everybody could do it.“
Most people experience some self-doubt when facing new challenges. It’s completely normal, especially when we work on something new. However, when self-doubt is there almost constantly, no matter how much you have accomplished, it’s possible that you are experiencing something called the imposter syndrome.
The imposter syndrome is a feeling of chronic insecurity and doubt about your abilities, despite plenty of contrary evidence. It’s often accompanied by fear that you will be exposed as a fraud, or that your accomplishments are just a matter of luck, not your talent or abilities.
The imposter syndrome is very common among high achievers, who often have massive expectations from themselves and lean toward perfectionism. Research shows that around 20% of highly successful people experience this state very often, while 70% of people experience it at least once in their lifetime.
People who experience the imposter syndrome tend to:
- attribute their accomplishments to luck or some external reasons, rather than their ability
- believe that every task they take has to be done perfectly and rarely ask for help
- be convinced that people are overestimating their abilities
- feel like they don’t deserve success or praise for their achievements, and believe that other people are somehow deceived into thinking otherwise
- fear to be ’discovered as a fraud’, that everybody will find out how incompetent they are
It’s not surprising, then, that the imposter syndrome is often accompanied by anxiety, perfectionism, and sometimes depression.
Where Does the Imposter Syndrome Come From? What Causes It?
More and more people are experiencing imposter syndrome, and it comes as no surprise. Our society puts a huge emphasis on achievement. In our culture, there is often a pressure to “be the best version of yourself”, to accomplish, work hard, be competent and confident, etc. This can trigger self-doubt, especially when the majority is participating in this game. You see people around you and on social media who are always busy, accomplishing something, moving ahead, people who seem to know what they’re doing with their lives. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What is easy to forget is that people tend to try to present themselves in the best light possible, even if that is not an accurate picture. When we overlook this, when we compare our whole story, our ups and downs, with someone’s highlights only, it’s easy to doubt ourselves, wondering if our abilities are enough.
Certain environmental factors can contribute to the imposter syndrome. A sense of belonging fosters confidence; genuine support can do wonders for our trust in ourselves. If you are part of a group where there are certain stereotypes about competence, where there is less support and positive reinforcement, or you feel like you don’t belong, there is a higher chance of developing signs of the imposter syndrome. Studies show that imposter syndrome is more common among racial and ethnic minorities.
People who struggle with imposter syndrome can come from different family dynamics. They are often children of parents who valued and praised achievement above everything else, and who believed that criticism is the best motivation. The imposter syndrome often has its roots in families where there is a lack of support, where the child gets harshly criticized for failure, but receives little to no praise for success because the parent believes that success is something that should be a norm, not something the child should be applauded for. Additionally, it is common for people who come from families where they always had to do what was expected from them, and they worked especially hard to please others.
In such circumstances, the message the child receives is something along the lines of: “I should always achieve, excel, be competent. It’s somehow never enough, but I have to keep trying. I am not enough the way I am, so I must work hard to compensate”. This becomes a perpetuating cycle in adulthood.
If this sounds like you, it is possible that, since you “learned” very early on that mistakes will be met with criticism, followed by feelings of shame, guilt, and unworthiness, you try to avoid such feelings by mechanisms that helped you in the past, such as working hard, perfectionism, trying to convince others that you’re a smart, competent person, etc. However, since you’ve rarely been praised for your abilities, it’s difficult for you to internalize success and genuinely believe that you are capable. Generally, the imposter syndrome is commonly a result of seeking self-esteem by trying to live up to an idealized image, to compensate for feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
Beliefs about intelligence and success
Imposter syndrome sometimes occurs even without the above-mentioned family dynamic. For example, research shows that academic success in childhood in combination with parents and teachers who emphasized your natural intelligence, as well as a biologically higher susceptibility to anxiety, can contribute to developing the imposter syndrome later in life.
A common scenario is this: things went smoothly for you in elementary and high-school, you didn’t have to work hard and people around you adored your intelligence. But in college, or on a new job, where there are higher demands, you start struggling. Now that challenges are bigger and you need to put in much more work, you may start doubting your natural intelligence and your abilities, feeling like you don’t have what it takes to be successful after all. Because you learned that “how intelligent you are” = “how little you struggle with challenges”, when things are not so easy and you need to put in extra effort, you may start thinking of it as evidence that you may not be as smart and capable as you and/or others thought you were.
Indeed, studies explain this phenomenon. For example, research showed that people who think of intelligence as a fixed trait tend to follow “performance goals”, which means that they are primarily motivated by the wish to prove their intelligence and capability. This kind of thinking is often followed by shame, anxiety, and fear that others would see them as incompetent. On the other hand, people who see intelligence as a malleable quality are motivated by “learning goals” – their primary aim is to increase their knowledge and skills. These individuals react to failure in a more resilient way and rarely feel inadequate.
How to Deal With the Imposter Syndrome
Fortunately, there are ways to beat this uncomfortable state. If the imposter syndrome is negatively impacting your health and your ability to properly function, it is important to seek professional help. Additionally, here are a few tips to possibly help you get out of your own way, decrease anxiety surrounding (dis)trust in your own abilities, and take ownership of your success.
1. Know that it’s not just you.
You may be feeling like everyone except you knows exactly what they’re doing, but that is not true. This feeling is common in the general population, but especially among high achievers.
2. Separate thoughts and feelings from facts
Your feelings are always valid. There is no “You shouldn’t feel like this” or “It’s ridiculous to feel this way”. You feel what you feel, and all feelings are okay. Emotions carry important information, they are there for a reason. However, that reason is not always something in your environment. Thoughts and feelings are internal events that don’t have to be (and often are not) 100% based in reality. Many times, our feelings come as a result of interpretations that are influenced by our past experiences, assumptions and expectations, fears and insecurities.
So, you feeling incompetent is not proof of your incompetence. You’re having a thought about being incompetent, which can come from a place of insecurity, fear, anxiety, butit is not a reflection of your objective abilities.
3. Refrain from Comparison
Comparing yourself to others is a shortcut to feeling frustrated, insecure, and anxious. And not only does it usually leave us feeling awful, but it’s also pointless. How does comparing someone’s “spotlights” with your “behind the scenes”, which is how we usually compare, make sense? We are all different people with different “starting points”, different backgrounds, preferences, abilities, traits, entirely different lives. Perhaps a better choice is to, instead, invest that energy into learning and growing, in your own way.
4. Change the spotlight of your attention and reframe how you look at the situation
Someone once wisely said that the difference between misery and happiness depends on what you do with your attention.
Instead of putting an emphasis on all the mistakes you’ve made or on the fear of being exposed, you can do many other, more productive things with your attention. For example, you can make an effort to re-focus from trying to appear confident and competent and that way possibly prevent others from “finding out” what a fraud you are, to learning from others and from your mistakes, building your skills, and doing the best you can (whatever that “best” is for you – don’t set unrealistically high expectations!). Or, you can turn your attention to gratitude, all the great things, people, and experiences you have in your life. Or you can focus on catching yourself when you’re being overly critical toward yourself and challenge this kind of self-talk.
Shifting your attention like this is not easy, but it’s essential. Insight itself is important but doesn’t do much without applied, real-life work on changing the existing patterns.
Another interesting thing you can do with your attention is test your confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to find evidence that supports beliefs you already have, overlooking or discounting the evidence that is contrary to this belief. Your imposter syndrome uses confirmation bias to convince you that you are not capable and competent, making you see your mistakes and shortcomings, and overlooking or downplaying contrary evidence – your achievements.
How about you trick your imposter syndrome by playing the same game by testing its own weapon, but in the opposite direction? Actively work on finding the evidence that you are, in fact, intelligent, talented, successful, and good at what you do. Notice and write down big and small wins, remember and accept compliments and recognitions, be thorough at finding the evidence in favor of your abilities. With consistency, you may get surprised at how much your perception can shift.
5. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect.
Yes, you may believe that you have to be. But objectively, nobody is, and that is perfectly okay. You are a unique human. Imperfect and enough.
Dealing with the imposter syndrome has nothing to do with minimizing mistakes and maximizing achievement, and everything to do with how you relate to yourself. So, it’s a process, it takes work, but it pays off.
In the end, here is just a gentle reminder. None of us:
- have it all together
- is 100% confident all of the time
- have never made a mistake
- is perfect
It’s called being human. It’s relatable. And it’s beautiful.
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275. Online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7174434/
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Have you ever experienced contrasting emotions or ‘mixed feelings’ toward something or someone? Have you ever had a hard time making a decision because you had felt both positive and negative emotions toward the decision? Maybe you felt trapped, stuck, torn by two opposing forces?
If your answer is yes, what you have experienced is called ambivalence. It surely isn’t pleasant, but it’s an inevitable part of the human experience. It’s not uncommon for people to think things like:
“I have a great job opportunity, but I love my current job. It feels like, whatever I decide – to stay at my current job or to accept this new one – I’d regret it”.
“I love my husband, but I get attracted to other people. What is happening? Do I really love him?”
“My children bring me so much joy, but they often make me crazy. I want to spend time with them, but I also want them to leave me alone.”
There is nothing weird about these kinds of thoughts. People are complex beings, and with that comes the complexity of their thinking and emotions. Although we would like to have a perfectly clear picture of what we want and how we feel at all times, because of this complexity, it is not always possible.
Ambivalence is a state of internal conflict, experiencing both positive and negative thoughts and feelings about the same person or issue at the same time.
We all experience mixed feelings from time to time; it’s an inseparable part of human life. But it’s also an uncomfortable state, the one we often don’t know what to do with. Our minds like to be certain – that’s what helps us feel safe – and ambivalence brings just the opposite of that. Having seemingly contradicting feelings toward something can make us anxious and torn between options.
So, how do you get rid of ambivalence quickly and effectively?
A short answer is: you don’t and you shouldn’t. Instead, you learn to deal with it.
Ambivalence Is Not a Problem – Intolerance for Ambivalence Is
We, humans, are complex beings who walk around trying to put each other into neat little boxes – good/bad, right/wrong, mean/kind, etc. We are prone to black and white kind of thinking, trying to categorize people and experiences. This is normal to a certain extent – we are trying to quickly make sense of what is happening around us and predict what to expect. Simplifying life like this can be useful – in today’s fast-paced, over-stimulating world, our ability to filter, reduce, and simplify can help us properly function. However, if we are not careful or aware of this kind of thinking, it can carry an emotional cost.
The problem arises when we don’t know how to deal with mixed feelings. We say to ourselves: “These two things can’t go together, so which one will I choose? Which of these realities is “truer”? Which one wins, and which one will I deny and minimize?”
Extreme intolerance for ambivalence is called “splitting”. It refers to an inability to hold opposing thoughts, feelings, and views of other people and oneself. People who use “splitting” see the world in absolute terms, without any room for shades of gray. For them, depending on the situation, people are seen as “perfect” or “total failures”, something “always” or “never” goes right, etc. They seem to not be able to integrate the idea that, what we often consider as “good” or “bad” traits, can exist in the same object. This, as you can imagine, can cause problems in relationships. It makes keeping long-term, stable, healthy relationships almost impossible, and the ability to optimally regulate own emotions and moods incredibly difficult.
The problem, then, is not ambivalence itself, but our intolerance for ambivalence.
Having Mixed Feelings Is Completely Natural
What’s true is that we can hold multiple emotions and opinions at once, even the ones that look contradictory on the surface. They can exist together without canceling each other out. Emotions are states that come and go; they are not permanent. Having both positive and negative feelings towards a person and/or a situation is completely natural.
- love your children dearly AND still feel overwhelmed or angry with them.
- feel like you want to spend more time with your partner AND need some time alone.
- love someone AND know it’s not healthy to keep them in your life.
- compassionately understand what led someone to do the things they did AND still hold them accountable for their behaviour.
- believe in yourself AND still be afraid of failure.
- grieve AND still hold space for joy.
Being able to see and accept that people, circumstances, and situations, as a whole, contain both “good” and “bad”, is one of the defining features of mental health.
Having tolerance for our mixed emotions is beneficial for several reasons.
First, when we accept that we can have multiple, seemingly opposite emotions at the same time, we don’t invest so much energy in suppressing some emotions or trying to explain which of these are true and which are not. Instead, we can re-focus this energy toward accepting our experience, understanding ourselves, and making better decisions about complex life issues.
Second, when we accept our experience instead of trying to repress or run away from it, we can have a deeper understanding of ourselves and make better decisions about complex life issues. A straightforwardly positive or negative attitude toward something has a clear message: approach or avoid. With mixed feelings, we have the opportunity to review our goals and values and reflect on our beliefs. One study showed that mixed emotions are a sign of emotional depth, not indecision. It shows the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, which is often a reflection of emotional intelligence.
Third, intolerance to ambivalence is a relationship killer. One of the key elements of mature, healthy relationships is accepting the other person as a whole. We don’t have to like all aspects of someone’s personality to love them; in fact, it’s quite impossible. Mature love means being able to see different traits of another, to acknowledge that we feel positive and negative emotions toward these traits, and still love, appreciate, and choose this person. If we are not able to integrate both “good” and “bad” traits of another person into a whole, we may have an idealistic picture of what relationships should look like. This can create unrealistically high expectations, lead to “on” and “off” relationship dynamics, and put both individuals through emotional and behavioural roller coasters.
One Simple Tip For Dealing With Mixed Feelings
One way to do start building tolerance for ambivalence is to acknowledge that two seemingly opposing thoughts or emotions can exist in our mind at the same time. They don’t have to cancel each other out – make some room for both of them and, like a curious scientist, try to observe them without judgment.
What you can also do, then, is make a simple shift in language – replace BUT with AND. When we use BUT, we are implying that the two things between which the word BUT stands cancel each other out. However, when we use AND, we make room for all emotions.
For example, consider the difference between these two sentences:
“I love my husband but he makes me so angry sometimes”
“I love my husband and he makes me so angry sometimes”
Notice how the first has a worried, unresolved connotation. The air around the second one is, on the other hand, altogether different. One doesn’t negate the other; you get angry at your partner sometimes which doesn’t mean you don’t love him dearly. With “and” language, the tension stemming from the “but” language starts to dissipate. There are no angsty questions lurking, there are no dilemmas to resolve or apologies or justifications to be made.
Additionally, being clear with yourself about your values, about who you are, what you find important, and what you want to cherish in life can also help you resolve the state of ambivalence, or at least guide your decisions when mixed feelings are present.
Embracing ambivalence can open a whole new spectrum in your interactions with others and in understanding and accepting your own experience. Fulfillment and disappointment, love and anger, pain and pleasure, there is room for all of them. Instead of instantly labeling, we can get curious instead – about ourselves and others. With this idea in mind, with openness for all emotions, we can explore and better understand what is happening, inside and outside of us.
The world is not an either/or place; our lives are full of shades of gray.
Burton, N. (2012). Self-Deception II: Splitting. Psychology Today.
Schimmack, U. (2001). Pleasure, displeasure, and mixed feelings: Are semantic opposites mutually exclusive?. Cognition & Emotion, 15(1), 81-97.
Schneider, I. K., Novin, S., van Harreveld, F., & Genschow, O. (2021). Benefits of being ambivalent: The relationship between trait ambivalence and attribution biases. British Journal of Social Psychology, 60(2), 570-586.
Zimmerman, E. (2016). Is Ambivalence Healthy? Researchers Have Mixed Feelings. Stanford Business.
So, you and your partner just had a fight. Maybe it was around a small issue, maybe it was over something big, and maybe it was a perpetuating argument that has been repeating for months or years now. It blew up and a mixture of relationship poisons like harsh words, broken trust, shouting, contempt, criticism, silent treatment, resentment, hurt feelings, etc. left a bitter taste. But you want this partnership to continue. You want to repair your relationship, to restore connection between you and your partner, to get things back where they were or, more possibly, make them better. But at the same time, you don’t want to be hurt (again).
So, what do you do? How to heal a relationship after an argument?
According to Dr. John Gottman, most, if not all, couples argue, which is not a problem in itself. What determines the course of a relationship is how romantic partners see and handle those conflicts, how they relate to each other, and what they do after a fight to soothe and repair their relationship.
In other words, all relationships go through cycles of rupture and repair.
Ruptures in a relationship are inevitable…
When things are going well in a relationship, we feel respected, connected, and emotionally safe. We feel liked and appreciated, we are responsive to our partner’s emotions and needs, and feel like it is reciprocated. In short, we feel in tune with one another. Over time, this sense of mutual attunement contributes to building strong bonds and intimacy between people.
However, this harmonious state can be thrown off balance from time to time due to different factors, such as stress, insecurities, wrong assumptions, miscommunication, etc. We are not mind readers, no matter how finely tuned we are to each other’s moods and sensitivities. Mistakes and “misattunements” happen, and they can lead to ruptures in a relationship.
A rupture is a disruption of the emotional connection we have with a loved one. It can be small, like saying something insensitive unintentionally, or big and potentially non-negotiable, like a breach of trust. Typically, ruptures are colored with unpleasant feelings like hurt, anger, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, etc. No matter how much effort we put into a relationship, some ruptures will occur. What happens after the rupture is important. If left unaddressed and untreated, resentment can build and emotional intimacy weaken. However, if both partners engage in repairing, their relationship can not only heal but grow and thrive.
…Repairs are what matters
Repair attempts are any actions or statements that are aiming to prevent a conflict escalating out of control, or, in some way, aiming to extend the olive branch after an argument. According to Dr. Gottman, repair attempts are a “secret weapon” of happy couples, whether they are aware they are using them or not. They are an act of loving behaviour not only toward your partner but to the relationship itself. They communicate: “I care about you and about this relationship, so I am willing to be vulnerable and try to connect with you. I am not trying to win this fight, I am not against you. Instead, I want our relationship to win this fight. Please join me”.
All relationships are different, so repair attempts will vary from couple to couple. Some examples:
- Offering an apology (“I am sorry about what I said earlier, I didn’t mean it”)
- Statements that communicate you are still a team (“I love you”, “I know it’s not your fault”)
- Sharing appreciation (“Thank you for sharing that with me”, “I admire that you…”)
- Empathizing (“I understand”, “If I was in your shoes, I can imagine seeing things the same way”)
- Cracking an inside joke
- A small invitation to talk, like softly tapping a spot beside you, or offering them a drink or a snack
- A gentle physical touch, like holding their hand or offering a hug
It takes two to tango, and two to repair a relationship
Repair attempts take courage and insight, and need both partners in order to work. That’s right, both partners need to engage in repair for it to be successful, no matter who may seem to be more “wrong” or more “responsible for the damage”.
That said, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues tried to find the most effective kinds of repairs through a series of research. The problem was, they couldn’t find any consistency – sometimes the most beautifully crafted and honestly spoken apologies didn’t work, while other times, something that seems trivial, like a silly grimace, was very successful. They couldn’t quite figure it out until they started looking at the partner on the receiving end of a repair attempt. They found out that it’s not exactly the nature of the repair that makes it successful; it’s the willingness of the other partner to notice and receive those attempts.
Now, this willingness doesn’t stem merely from other partner’s mood or good will, but from a number of different factors, one of the most important ones being the “balance in their “emotional bank account” which, most simply put, refers to how much they have felt seen, heard, understood, and appreciated in the relationship, especially lately. But it’s not so simple of course – this balance depends, again, on both sides. It takes making deposits to the emotional bank (like responding to partner’s needs, showing interest in what’s going on with them, empathizing and being there for them, showing appreciation for who they are or what they do, doing small acts of kindness, etc.) and also recognizing these efforts. But that’s a topic for a whole another blog. Let’s get back to the practical stuff.
Usually, the responsibility for an argument lays on both partners, although it doesn’t always seem like that. However, sometimes one partner shares a larger portion of responsibility, and only after they may realize how much they have hurt their partner. If that’s the case, check out our article “How to apologize the right way after you hurt your partner“.
6 steps to repair a relationship after a fight
Now that you know that ruptures happen even in the happiest relationships, and that mastering the art of making and receiving repair attempts is crucial for healing a relationship, let’s see what you can do to de-escalate the tension after a fight with your partner and get your relationship back on track.
1. Take a time-out and explore how you feel
Repairing a relationship after a fight takes many gentle moves. However, it can be really difficult to be gentle in the heat of the moment or right after, especially when you feel hurt or angry. If you feel flooded with intense uncomfortable emotions, trying to resolve a conflict right there can be counterproductive – extend or escalate it, or even trigger a new one. Instead, in the aftermath of a heated argument, it may be best to give each other some time and space to take a breather and decompress. You can both use this time to process what happened, feel your feelings, and explore what this argument meant for you. This will be very important later when you sit together to resolve the issue.
A useful thing you can do to collect your thoughts and get in touch with yourself during this time is to follow a 3-step process:
- Do a brain dump. Like emptying the contents of a purse onto the table, spill the contents of your mind onto paper. All of it. Write down everything that you think and feel, without any particular order and without a filter. No matter if it doesn’t make sense, no matter if it sounds silly, just get it all out.
This technique is particularly useful and relieving when you feel overwhelmed by uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. The act of taking the thoughts out of your mind and seeing them on paper helps diffuse the issue and calm your mind a little, because there are not so many different thoughts bouncing around.
- Sit with your feelings. After you wrote down everything you think about (and you may feel drained but relieved at this point; it’s normal), make some room for your feelings. How do you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? Can you name those feelings? Remember, you can experience different feelings and they can exist at the same time. You can feel love and anger toward your partner, you may appreciate them and feel disappointed about what they did. It’s okay, it’s your space; let the feelings flow.
- Think about what your partner can do to help you feel better. Ask yourself – what do I need? What it would take for me to feel different? What is my partner’s role for this to happen, and what is my role? Clearing this out can set you up for a more productive recovery conversation.
2. Refocus from “Me vs. You” to “We vs. The Problem”
When people feel hurt, angry, betrayed, disregarded, or unrespected, they tend to either attack or put up a wall and dismiss whatever the other person is trying to communicate (or both). These are self-protective actions, and they’re understandable. However, in romantic relationships, they rarely lead to a productive solution. Self-protection might be the first impulse in the moment, but remember that your partner probably feels the same way, and it won’t take you where you want to be – connected and safe with each other again. So, what will take you there then?
One person needs to break this cycle and show courage to expose themselves to a certain extent, to be vulnerable, and re-focus from protecting themselves to protecting the relationship.
If you want to fix your relationship, you need to be on the same team. You are in a relationship not by force, but because you choose to be with each other. Your partner is not the enemy. You are not the enemy. You two, together, as a team, have a problem, that you may be able to fix together. But it takes someone to be vulnerable enough to take the first step.
Stepping back from a self-protection attitude and turning toward a relationship-protection frame of mind is not easy. In fact, it can be incredibly difficult, maybe some of the hardest work you can do as a couple. But it is the strongest tool you have for building your emotional bond and helping your relationship thrive.
3. Actively listen to your partner and validate their feelings
Feeling heard and understood is the need that lays in almost all conflicts. To fix the relationship after a fight, you can start a conversation by asking your partner to share their feelings and their point of view. For a moment, set aside your perspective, set aside judgment and prejudice, set aside the need to disagree and defend yourself, and just listen. Express interest in their needs, feelings, hopes, what hurt them, what they desire, what they lack. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. Ideally, you want to come to the point where you understand how the way they see things and how they feel make sense. Even if this is difficult, try to find something you can agree with or that you understand, and acknowledge that.
You can validate their feelings by expressing understanding: “I understand now. I would probably feel the same way if I were in your spot” or by repeating or summarizing what they said: “It sounds like you felt hurt by what I said.”
Validating your partner’s feelings at this point doesn’t mean you agree with what they said during the argument or with their point of view. It doesn’t mean they are “right” or that they “won”. It just means you are willing to show them that you are there for them, that you are ready to listen and understand because you care about what’s important for them. When you start listening with a goal to understand, not to respond, it fulfills the need to feel heard and understood, and does wonders for rebuilding trust, safety, and connection.
Hard? Yes. Effective? Yes, yes, and yes.
4. Share your side without pointing fingers
It’s important to share how you felt during the argument and how you experienced it. While doing this, it’s crucial to make sure you avoid blame and criticism. You can be in a conflict without telling the other person: “You’re bad!”
Focus on using “I statements” and avoid pointing fingers with sentences that start with something like “You always…” and “You never…”. For example, statements like: “You never listen to me” and “You don’t care about me” are a big no. And no, a crafty construction like: “You made me feel unheard” is not an “I statement”.
“I statements” are in a form of: “I feel – When – (bonus: Because)”.
For example: “I feel frustrated when I am constantly interrupted in a conversation” or: “I feel overwhelmed and upset when you yell at me during a conflict.” You can also add why this is so important to you, for example: “I shut down and it’s difficult for me to continue the conversation. Also, I feel scared when it happens and I really don’t want to feel this way with you.”
What “I statements” ultimately do is create a more positive and less hostile atmosphere for communication because they frame a situation as something to be solved together, instead of sounding like a complaint about the other person or an attack on their character. This way, you decrease the possibility of your partner becoming defensive and increase the likelihood of them truly listening to you and adopting that “same team” mentality.
5. If you haven’t already, discover what the fight was really about
Fights about little things are often not about those little things at all. A fight over doing dishes may be, at its core, about unmet needs, failed expectations, respect, etc.
For example, imagine a scenario where Partner I didn’t do the dishes (again!) and Partner II complains about it, which blows up into an argument. What may be happening for Partner I is not that they just don’t like doing the dishes, but that they felt angry and unloved. They may be overwhelmed at work and worried about their mother who is sick, and they had a super stressful day. So, they perceive complains from Partner II as a sign that they don’t care about their feelings. On the other hand, for Partner II, not doing the dishes after many complaints and conversations was a sign of disrespect; they felt unappreciated and taken for granted because they put in the efforts to change little habits that are bothering Partner I and make little sacrifices to make their life together more comfortable, but don’t feel the efforts are recognized or reciprocated.
So, the fight was, obviously, not about the dishes. It was about the deeper needs of feeling loved, respected, and appreciated. When we don’t communicate openly, we can easily overlook what is really going on, which can lead to miscommunication, resentment, and cycles of unproductive arguments without a real solution. So, in our example, when Partner I and Partner II discover what the fight was really about and which needs, wants, or expectations were not met, they can discuss together what they can do in the future to change that and help the other person feel better.
6. Work together toward finding a practical solution
Now that the situation calmed down and you shared your perspectives and feelings, try to come up with a solution that will prevent a fight like this from happening in the future. Discuss what both of you can do to help each other feel better about the issue. Ideally, you want to be able to put this topic to rest and move on, with both of you intentionally taking steps to stick to the plan you agree on.
In our previous example, Partner I can, for instance, make sure they share their feelings more often and communicate with their partner when they feel stressed. At the same time, they can show appreciation by noticing little efforts Partner II is investing in their home by expressing it with words and with initiating completeying some housework tasks, when they can. On the other hand, Partner II can make sure to check in with Partner I more often and make room for some slipups without turning to criticism. They can also set boundaries, make sure they don’t give over their limits, and don’t sacrifice their time and energy without it being necessary because it can lead to resentment. Both partners can also come up with a more detailed plan about what they would do and how they can discuss better if this problem comes up again.
If the same issue happens over and over again without a resolution you can both agree on, it may be wise to see a couple’s therapist. The right professional can help you tremendously in understanding your and your partner’s thoughts and feelings, emotional triggers and needs, identify the reason you’re stuck, and help you learn skills to better communicate and solve problems.
Disclaimer: All these tips refer to after verbal arguments. If your relationship is physically or emotionally abusive, try to find a support system and consider a safe escape plan. An experienced professional can help you get through it and guide you in creating a plan of the next steps.
An argument in an otherwise healthy relationship can actually bring you closer, if it’s handled the right way. If conflict resolution is done right, it can bring positive things, such as learning how to meet each other’s needs better, how to communicate more effectively, and how to adapt to one another so you can both thrive. Overall, it’s a process, but it can be a powerful one. Try it, and good luck!
If this article was helpful to you in any way, please be free to share it with your friends and family. Also, share some of your useful tips for fixing a relationship after an argument in the comments.
Procrastination is something we all experience. You certainly know the feeling – staring at a blank page, having an assignment waiting for you, delaying starting a large project, and doing everything except what you are “supposed” to do. You carry around this heavy, dark cloud of procrastination, feeling miserable for hours or days, but you are still unable to make the first step toward getting it done. And even though you may be irritated, agitated, you can’t sleep… you can’t work either. Until finally, something happens, and you get it done. Often in a guilt-infused panic mode, at the last moment, but you get it done.
The quality of your work may suffer. The quality of your life definitely does.
But why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate, even when we know we will feel bad about it? The answer to this question is not simple and goes much deeper than just “laziness” or “irresponsibility”.
Why do we procrastinate?
Contrary to what most people believe, procrastination is not about being lazy or lacking willpower. Since it’s such a widespread phenomenon, numerous researchers tried to get to the bottom of it and understand the roots and reasons behind it.
“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions induced by certain tasks – boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”
– dr. Piers Steel, a professor of the University of Calgary
There are many potential reasons for procrastination, but the majority of results of scientific studies show that they come down to three groups of explanations, or can be a combination of them. They show that, usually, procrastination may be:
- a result of our brain’s natural tendency to be more drawn to instant gratification than long-term benefits
- a habit we use to cope with stress and provide emotional relief
- a way to protect our sense of self-worth
Procrastination is not a time-management problem; it’s an emotion regulation problem. So let’s get deeper into it.
I Procrastination is something our brain naturally does
The brain is pretty amazing. It is probably the most complex thing humankind currently knows. And yet, it can sometimes seem, well, a little lazy. The problem is, our brains are programmed to be more drawn toward instant gratification than toward future benefits; they’ll rather take immediate satisfaction than focus on the big picture and delay pleasure for the sake of long-term goals. In general, we struggle with tasks that require effort now in return to future possible benefits. That is why it can be so difficult to stick to long-term goals such as weight-loss programs or saving for retirement.
An interesting study from UCLA showed that, when we imagine our future self, our brain’s activity is similar to as if we’re imagining someone else completely. In other words, when you imagine yourself a day, a week, a month from now, it’s like you’re imagining, say, a mailman or a worker you said “Hi” to once at a random store. A complete stranger. So, in a nutshell, an emotional part of your brain doesn’t really care about your future self as much as it does for your present self. Not even close.
Looking from this perspective, procrastination makes sense. It explains why it’s so easy to procrastinate, and why it takes effort and active attention to break the pattern and actually start working on something you know is important for your future self, but your present self doesn’t like doing.
II We procrastinate as a way to deal with stress
Here is a funny paradox – although we know procrastination, long-term, increases our stress levels and brings a whole bunch of uncomfortable emotions, initially, we may use procrastination as a stress-relief habit.
When we feel stressed, drained, overwhelmed, or we have a low level of frustration tolerance (low ability to tolerate unpleasant feelings or stressful situations), our brains may use procrastination as a way to gain some strength and energy in the present moment. If you have something stressful going on in your life, if your brain is filled with overthinking, worrying, overplanning, anxiety, high expectations, etc., and you have something boring or challenging to deal with, your brain may be like: “Are you kidding me?! I can’t deal with this too! Give me some break!”. So, we turn to procrastination as a way to try to lower the level of stress by doing something we find less overwhelming. Watching cat videos is much less demanding than making 15 phone calls, isn’t it?
Since your brain is, pretty shortsighted, it automatically turns to short-term stress relief, even though, long term, stress will increase due to procrastination. If this worked a couple of times, your brain may start adopting procrastination as a habit it can turn to when you need to deal with something you have no motivation for and your stress levels are high.
But what about situations when we procrastinate on things we love and value, those that are really important to us?
III We procrastinate as a way to maintain a good self-image
Here is an even funnier paradox than the previous one – when we really, really want to succeed, but are also very, very scared of failure, we may self-sabotage as a way to self-protect. In other words, we may use procrastination as both, a way to sabotage ourselves and, that way, preserve our good self-image. Let’s explain.
The self-worth theory of motivation asserts that one of our primary needs, as human beings, is the need to be accepted, by ourselves and others, and the primary way we see this happening is through achievement. In other words, we feel the need to be seen as competent and capable, because this gives us a sense of self-worth, and we are ready to sacrifice our other needs to preserve that image.
Basically, many of us have a simple model in our head that our performance determines our inner capabilities and our skills, which determine our success, and this success determines our self-worth, how we think about ourselves. Naturally, when this is the case and we are facing an important task, our anxiety and fear of failure skyrocket. Performing well on a task becomes crucial because, if we fail, it is not just the work we did that is at stake, it’s our self-image as well. But we still want to do it, it’s something we value and find important. So we have two strong forces battling inside us – a driving desire to achieve and a paralyzing fear of failure.
When the desire to succeed and the fear of failure clash…
We can strive for success, really want to do something, but at the same time be afraid of failure and what it means for us. When we are overly striving both away and toward something, we can feel stuck. This is exactly how people often describe procrastination – as being stuck, against a wall, feeling like having an obstacle they can’t get over.
When this is the case, we may use procrastination as a “middle ground” between these two motivations, a smart strategy to protect the picture of ourselves as capable individuals. If we procrastinate on a task that we value and care about, there are two scenarios:
- If we fail, we have built a good excuse for ourselves – “Well, I didn’t have enough time to do it better. It’s probably not an accurate representation of my abilities”.
- If, on the other hand, we succeed, we can say to ourselves how capable we are – “Wow, I succeeded despite such a short time I had”.
It’s a win-win situation. Except it is not, because we sacrifice our peace of mind and, often, the quality of our work.
So, how to fight this?
How to stop procrastinating?
The first step toward overcoming procrastination is to be aware of it. Procrastination comes in many disguises, from guilty Netflix nights to being “busy” and doing seemingly important tasks to avoid what is really important. It’s not always easy to recognize procrastination for what it is, until it’s too late. To overcome it, you first need to stop and notice it. The second and crucial step is unravelling what lies behind it. What is your, individual reason for putting things off? From there, you can take some steps toward managing those reasons and get rid of procrastination. Here are some suggestions and tips.
I Fight procrastination by training your instant-gratification brain
Sometimes, when it comes to doing things that we are not motivated or we don’t like doing, we need a little extra push to get things going. Two things can be helpful to overcome our brains’ automatic tendency to grasp for instant satisfaction:
Re-balance the cost-benefit analysis
Instead of letting the emotional part of your brain run the show, turn up your logical, rational side. Consciously make the benefits of taking action feel bigger and the disadvantages of the “pain of doing it” feel smaller. So, you want to focus on the reward of taking action or finishing a task and make it outweigh the pain of tackling it. For example, you can visualize how great it feels to tick it off of your to-do list, or tie finishing each step of a task to a treat, to something you’re looking forward to. Try experimenting and see what works for you to re-balance things and get started.
Bridge the gap between your present self and your future self
Be aware that your brain is short-sighted and that it sees your future self almost as a stranger. Thus, keep reminding yourself – it’s still going to be you. You, with your kind of thinking, your memories, your experiences, your problems, and if you don’t take action now, you’ll probably have another set of problems to deal with. Imagine if you had to face those problems right now – how would you feel? Really try to bring that feeling into the present moment. Uncomfortable? That’s exactly how you’re going to feel if you let the consequences of your inaction for your future self to deal with.
In a similar manner, when you set goals, while it’s important to imagine long-term benefits, make sure your present self knows what’s in it for them too. Find a way to make the process more enjoyable short term. Play with little rewards and see what feels good each step of the way.
II Beat procrastination when you are stressed and overwhelmed
Like any habit, procrastination can be broken, or changed. In short, every habit has three parts: trigger, response, and reward. In the case of procrastination, the trigger is stress. Your response is avoiding the task. The reward is a little bit of stress relief. What you can change in this cycle is your response. You are always going to have stresses in your life – you can’t change that, but you can acknowledge it and change the way you respond to it.
So, instead of seeking stress relief by avoiding a task (and then beating yourself up about it and becoming more stressed), you can:
1. Take the time to notice what’s going on underneath
Stop and acknowledge what is really stressing you out and taking your energy.
2. Avoid self-criticism
Forgive yourself for wanting to avoid the stress by procrastinating. There is no need to criticize yourself; that will increase the stress.
3. Identify the first step and use the “5-minute trick”
When we have to deal with something complex, it can be difficult to start because it can seem overwhelming. Finding the smallest first step that you can start with is usually helpful. A goal or a task like: “Learn Italian” is huge, and facing it in that form can feel paralyzing. On the other hand, “Search for an Italian language teacher and contact them” or “Go to the bookstore and buy an A1 Italian language workbook” seem much more manageable. To make it even easier, commit to working on the first (or any) step for only 5 minutes. Usually, you will find yourself continuing beyond that, but it’s a good place to start, because that is the most difficult step.
4. Find another way to get stress relief
Your brain needs some energy, and is trying to get it in an inefficient way – through procrastination. Make sure to compensate, but from a different source, something that is better and healthier for you. Promise yourself that after the work you do, you will do something to recharge yourself. This is not self-indulgence, but a reasonable way to look at your needs and provide yourself with enough energy to continue functioning efficiently.
To sum up, these steps may go something like this: “I procrastinate – I may be stressed about this and this and that – It’s okay, I need some relief, and my brain is trying to do this by turning to procrastination. Let’s change that. I will work on this for a limited amount of time, and instead of inefficiently trying to get some energy through procrastination, I will provide it to myself by doing this and this and that afterward”.
III Overcome procrastination when it comes from fear of failure
People who are very fearful of failure (and many high-achievers and perfectionists fall into this category) often have a kind of simplistic model in their mind: performance = ability = worth. Sometimes we procrastinate on things that are important to us, that we love and value, because we are scared to make a mistake and what that would mean for us and our self-image.
If you recognize yourself in this, here are a few things you can do:
1. Notice it for what it is and don’t let it slide
Ask yourself what is going on, what you’re afraid of. What kind of uncomfortable feelings does this task inflict on you? Then think about how realistic this kind of thinking actually is. Are you focusing on the negative or catastrophizing? Is some kind of black and white thinking present? Do you impose some “should” or “musts” on yourself? Talking to a therapist about it can also help.
2. Change your self-talk and tame your expectations
Catch criticism or perfectionism and realize it’s not helpful. Instead, you can look at things as an opportunity to experiment. Have a kind and friendly attitude toward yourself and approach a task with curiosity: “Let’s see how this will go” instead of “Everyone will think I’m a failure”. Self-compassion is incredibly helpful in this, you may want to incorporate it into the way you think and treat yourself.
3. Focus on your values instead of on your fears
Think about your values, what is important to you, and connect them with a task you do. How can you make this task less scary? Instead of focusing on what you are fearful of and why you don’t want to do the task, come up with a list of why you want to do the task, what is drawing you toward it, what is motivating you.
4. Challenge the performance–ability–worth relationship
You are more than your accomplishments. You don’t appreciate your friends because of their performance, academic or career success, but because of their other qualities, such as kindness, humor, loyalty, their ability to listen, their quirks and uniqueness. Our abilities and performance are connected, that’s true, but not always; there are many factors that determine our performance. We don’t always perform perfectly, even though our abilities may exceed what we show at the moment. It goes vice versa as well – admit it, there were situations in your life when you got lucky and got an A on a test when you really didn’t deserve it.
Be mindful of your natural brain’s tendency to procrastinate and rebalance things.
Be gentle with yourself and find a way to de-stress in a healthy way.
Acknowledge the fear, and take it along for a ride. You got this.
Do you have some useful tips on how to deal with procrastination? Share them with us in the comment section below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please be free to share it with others.
Heading to an intense job interview, facing an unexpected event that could change your life significantly, expecting important news… they are enough to kick anyone’s worry and anxiety up. It’s normal and expected. We worry about stuff we find important in our lives, such as finances, relationships, work, etc. Worry is a natural mechanism that can be helpful – motivate us to take action, come up with a strategy to improve our situation and solve the problem. However, as many of us know, it can get out of control and become unproductive, paralyzing, disruptive, and turn into full-blown anxiety. But where is the line? What is the difference between worry and anxiety? How much worry is too much?
People use these terms interchangeably, but being worried is not the same as being anxious. Although worry and anxiety are both associated with concern and discomfort, they manifest differently and their implications for our mental and physical health are very different.
Here are 5 things that can help you distinguish the two and answer the question: “Am I anxious or just worried?”
1. Worry is concrete and directs you toward problem-solving. Anxiety is vaguer and marked by rumination.
Worry is more specific than anxiety. When you are worried, you can pinpoint exactly what you are worried about. With anxiety, it’s not so easy – it’s more of a general feeling of uneasiness about a number of different scenarios. Thus, worry usually prompts us to act, to solve the problem, to use our coping skills, and build a strategy for dealing with a given situation. Anxiety, on the other hand, is paralyzing – it doesn’t direct us toward a concrete solution. Rather, we get caught in an endless spiral of “what ifs”, unable to come up with a solution.
2. Worry usually resides in your thoughts. Anxiety is all over the place – in your mind AND your body.
Worry and anxiety affect your body in different ways. Worry is usually limited to your thoughts that you can verbalize, such as: “I don’t know if I will be able to make it in time” or “Will I be able to pay rent this month?”. You may experience some unpleasant sensations in the body, such as tension and short-term emotional distress, but those are mild.
Anxiety, on the other hand, you feel both in your mind and your body, and pretty intensely so. The physical reactions can vary and can include tightness in the chest, pounding heart, sweating, rapid breathing, trembling, “knot” in the stomach, nausea, trouble sleeping or concentrating, etc. Together with worrying thoughts and an endless spiral of “what ifs”, it occupies our whole system, so it’s not surprising that when we are anxious, it can be really difficult to focus on something else.
3. Worry leads to thoughts you can typically keep in perspective. Anxiety makes you jump to the ‘worst-case scenarios’.
There is a logical component in worry – your brain is trying to protect itself from real and present danger. Anxiety has a wild imagination and brings you into a panic mode for things that, if you stop and think about it logically, or ask someone else, are not very rational. When you are anxious, you overestimate the risk and believe that you will not be able to cope with the consequences.
Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether our concerns are rooted in reality or if they’re completely irrational, especially when we are stressed. What can help us distinguish between worry and anxiety in these situations is the degree of our ability to control our concerns. Usually, a good sign that normal worry turns into anxiety is an inability to put the break on and get it under control.
4. Worry is temporary. Anxiety is more longstanding.
Worry is usually short-term; once we solve the problem or a concerning situation passes, our worry disappears. With anxiety it is more complicated; since it is so vague and intense, it can linger for long periods of time. Also, it is rarely satisfied – when one thing is solved, you start getting anxious about something else.
5. Anxiety often interferes with your daily functioning. Worry usually doesn’t.
If the levels of distress and discomfort are so intense that it makes it hard for you to function (to eat, sleep, concentrate, think about something else, etc.), it is a pretty clear sign of anxiety. Worry is uncomfortable, of course, but it is not as intense and it has milder effects on our physical and mental state.
Tips To Manage Worry And Anxiety
Experiencing worry and a certain level of anxiety is normal. However, when it comes to the point of disrupting your daily functioning – and even before that point – it’s time to react and take steps to decrease it and bring it back to manageable levels. Here are a few tools to try:
1. Schedule worry time
When your mind persistently goes back to the same worries, again and again, this technique can be very helpful. Simply, determine 15-20 minutes of your day that are dedicated to worrying only. This is your time to worry all you want. Outside this time slot, when anxious thoughts arise, tell yourself something like: “I see you, thoughts, but your time is scheduled at 8 PM tonight. I’ll meet you then.”.
Check out more about this technique in our blog post: One Powerful Technique to Ease Your Worrying Mind and Anxiety.
2. Pay attention and question your thoughts
Your anxious mind is not very rational, and will often lie to you and speak nonsense such as: “Everybody thinks you’re a failure”, “You can’t do this”, “You’ll never get this promotion”, etc. When you catch these thoughts playing in your head, stop and remind yourself that they are the product of your anxious brain. Then challenge them by asking yourself questions such as:
- How helpful are these thoughts?
- Are they really true?
- What is the evidence against them?
- What are some other ways I can think about this situation?
- What would I tell to a friend who had the same thought?
Remember, your thoughts are just that – thoughts. They are not always a perfect reflection of reality.
3. Stop jumping to an imagined future and connect with the present moment
There is an old quote from Lao Tzu, a famous Chinese philosopher, that says: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Although this quote oversimplifies both depression and anxiety (there are many different factors that contribute to them), there is some truth to it. An anxious mind is overly focused on what might happen in the future, spiraling down the hole of endless “what ifs” without an answer. This kind of thinking is unproductive and keeps us in the anxiety loop.
Taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness and focus on the present moment can help take your thoughts away from the past and the future, helping you re-center and think more realistically. If you’re interested to learn more about mindfulness and its benefits, our blog posts Return to Now: Living in the Present Moment and 6 Reasons Why Integrating Mindfulness Into Your Life Is Helpful might be a good place to start.
A few mindfulness techniques you can try:
- Mindful meditation
- 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, two things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Focus on your breathing – inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat until you feel calmer.
- Focus on your body and how it relates to the space around you. Feel the ground beneath your feet, how your clothes touch your skin, where you’re sitting or standing, etc. Then ask yourself: “What is wrong with this particular moment? Am I safe right now, this minute? Let’s go one minute at a time.”
4. What are your strengths?
We all face difficulties and hard times during our lifetimes; it’s inevitable. Sometimes our worries come true, and we need to cope with real adversities that come up. Fortunately, research shows that we are, usually, more resilient than we may think.
Resilience is the ability to move through adversaries and rise from them. It is a set of skills and psychological traits that allows us to cope with struggles and recover from them. There are some things we can do to build our resiliency and rise back from difficult experiences more quickly. Read more about it here: 3 Things You Can Do to Recover From Setbacks More Quickly.
In the end, it’s important to know when anxiety increases to clinical levels, so you can react promptly.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by severe, persistent worry that is excessive for the situation, and extreme avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations. These symptoms cause distress, impair daily functioning, and occur for a significant period.
If you are experiencing anxiety so often that it interferes with the quality of your life and impacts your physical and mental health, please do not hesitate to ask for help. There are proven and very effective ways to treat it and cope with it successfully, so you can be happier, more productive, more satisfied You.
How do you cope with worry? Share your tips with us in the comment section below.
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