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!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
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
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.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
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/
Langford, J., & Clance, P. R. (1993). The imposter phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment. Psychotherapy: theory, research, practice, training, 30(3), 495.
Sherman, R. O. (2013). Imposter syndrome: When you feel like you’re faking it. American Nurse Today, 8(5), 57-58.
Palmer, C. (2021, June). How to overcome impostor phenomenon. Monitor on Psychology, 52(4). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon. Online: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon
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.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
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.
I’m going to mess up.
I’m so stupid.
I’m a failure.
I did well that time, but anyone could have.
Does this kind of self-talk sound familiar?
In a world where we expect so much from ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a trap of not feeling good enough. The way we talk to ourselves when we fail to meet our or someone else’s expectations is important. In these situations, it makes a huge difference whether we provide some comfort, kindness, and encouragement to ourselves, or we turn to self-criticism. Unfortunately, too often, we choose the latter.
Where Does All This Self-Criticism Come From?
Self-criticism is an inner voice that takes a derogative stance when we don’t meet our expectations. It includes negative judgments of your abilities, physical appearance, intelligence, behaviour, even thoughts and feelings.
Rigidly demanding parents, teachers, culture or religion, unhealthy relationships, or friendships that undermined our confidence can all be the root of our self-criticism.
When we are young, we soak everything from our environment like a sponge; we learn about the world, about ourselves and other people from everything we see or hear. The messages important people in our lives send are crucial in shaping what we will believe and how we will behave. For example, if your parents had incredibly high expectations and harshly criticized you for every small mistake, their words may become an integral part of your inner voice, translated into self-judgment. They probably had good intentions – they wanted you to build working habits, to do well in school, to strive for achievement, and minimize mistakes, because they believed this would help you succeed in life and be happy.
This kind of self-talk was probably helpful to you at some point – in order to avoid punishment (both external, such as, for example, being forbidden to go out or watch TV for a month, and internal, which is more powerful – experiencing guilt and shame from failing to meet someone’s expectations), you did well, you achieved great things, and you derived a sense of pleasure from that.
So, not only that self-criticism became an integral part of how you talk to yourself earlier in life, but it’s also kept and strengthened because you may believe it’s a useful strategy. However, as you may realize now as an adult, although self-criticism may seem like it can serve certain functions, it can be psychologically devastating.
How To Tame Your Inner Critic (And Why It’s So Important)
Self-criticism is like living with a bully. That scolding voice that’s giving you a hard time over small things, always looking over your shoulder and keeping inventory of your mistakes, can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals and undermine how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism brings an overriding sense of not being good enough, can keep us from thinking realistically and from being present in our lives, and can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed.
By criticizing ourselves, we focus on our (many times non-existent, or at least exaggerated) weaknesses, or think irrationally. This moves us away from constructive evaluation and inhibits our capacity to be fully present and rationally and actively engage in our lives. Instead, we get so preoccupied with shame, guilt, and frustration that we may make even more mistakes and feel awful about ourselves.
An important thing is – you don’t have to be the victim of your harsh inner voice. Your thoughts have a powerful impact on how you feel and behave.
So how to be more friendly toward yourself when times are challenging? Here are a few tips and techniques.
1. Actively notice and challenge your inner critic
Sometimes, the little voice that puts us down is so embedded in our daily inner monologue that we don’t even notice how harsh it is. What we can do is to pay attention to what the voice is saying but not giving it the power over us. We can commit to notice it and treat it as someone who is unnecessarily rude or annoying, and actively stand up for ourselves, showing it how to be more kind.
Conquering that unrealistic, overexaggerating, harsh inner talk and replacing it with a soothing voice that is not only gentler and kinder, but also more realistic, is possible and more than beneficial. But it’s not easy. Proactively changing the way you talk to yourself may not feel natural immediately. And it’s okay – you are used to one way of thinking and it takes time to rewire your brain and create new pathways. The key is to catch yourself in those unrealistic and extreme statements and not let yourself get away with them.
You’re not good enough. – I don’t need to be perfect to be enough and loveable.
You’re so dumb – Whoops, I made a mistake. Let’s see how I can do better next time.
No one likes you – I don’t need to please everyone all of the time.
You will never make it. – This is really hard, but I believe in myself.
You never get anything right. – I haven’t figured it out yet. Learning is part of the process.
2. Develop a compassionate relationship with yourself
Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself with acceptance and understanding whether or not you behave intelligently, competently, or correctly. It’s having a friendly attitude and sending a message to ourselves: “I see you with your strengths and flaws and it’s okay, I accept the whole of you”.
This is a new concept for many people; it’s different from what we are used to. Thus, there are some misconceptions about it. Some people are afraid that, by being kind to themselves and refusing to engage in self-criticism, they will become lazy or self-indulgent. Others see it as a weakness, something that will stay in the way of their progress. We debunked some of these myths HERE, and provided some tips for practicing self-compassion, so you might want to take a look.
Like a good coach, self-compassion motivates us through love, kindness, and support. This helps us focus less on dwelling on our mistakes, and more on the present moment and moving forward. It is the opposite of self-criticism, which induces guilt and shame. On the surface, self-criticism can seem like it helps to motivate us to change, but in reality, it’s an inefficient motivator. First, because there is a high price to pay for it. And second, because self-criticism might keep us where we are for longer because we may be reluctant to admit our shortcomings, afraid of the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough if we do. In contrast, self-compassion provides us with emotional safety to see ourselves realistically and, from there, acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better.
3. What would you tell to your best friend?
Would you talk to your good friend the way you talk to yourself? When times are challenging and we feel bad, when we are dealing with failure or loss, the last thing we need is to be criticized. Instead, we need someone to help us see things from a realistic perspective and offer support, guidance, and reassurance.
You can be that friend to yourself. Thus, acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, make an effort to appreciate your uniqueness more, and offer caring and gentle words to yourself.
RAIN Technique for Dealing With Difficult Emotions
Sometimes, shame and guilt that come from self-criticism in situations when we make a mistake or fail at something, can be overwhelming for us. So overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything else, or move away from self-loathing and self-judgment. What we need the most in these situations is something to help us ease the emotional chaos first, and then slowly start overcoming these intense feelings.
In these moments, the RAIN technique can be helpful. It’s a mindfulness technique used to soften and de-channel negative thoughts and provide a soothing balm for emotional pain. It can help you be your best friend instead of your own worst critic.
Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be honest and acknowledge what you are feeling without trying to sweep it under the rug. Naming can also help, for example: “I feel worried right now” or “I feel so embarrassed for asking that question”.
“How am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?”
Step 2: ALLOW life to be just as it is
Accept that those thoughts and feelings are there, as part of your reality. No denial, no trying to remove or change them, no mental resistance. Just simply let them be there. This doesn’t mean you like them; it just means you are brave enough to face the reality within you.
“These thoughts and feelings are here. I can accept that, even if I don’t like it.”
Step 3: INVESTIGATE with kindness
Like a curious scientist, try to approach your state with interest and without judgment. You can investigate possible reasons you may be feeling this way, or ask if these feelings and thoughts are useful or in line with reality. Simply pause to ask questions so you can better understand what is happening.⠀
○ When did this feeling start?⠀
○ What triggered it?⠀
○ Have I felt this way before?⠀
○ What is this feeling trying to tell me?⠀
○ How realistic is my thinking?⠀
○ Is it helpful?⠀
○ What do I need right now?⠀
○ What can I do to support myself?
When you have an intense emotion, it can feel like it is the only part of you that matters at that moment. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. They come and go, and you can watch them like clouds flowing by. You are YOU, unique and complex, and this is just one of the countless experiences you had and will have.
You can use this technique to ground yourself and not feel consumed by negativity when everything seems just too much. However, we are all different which means that the same things don’t work for everyone or in every situation.
How do you deal with self-criticism? Will you apply some of these tips to your daily life? Let us know how it goes!
And be free to share this blog post with your friends and family on social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Aronfreed, J. (1964). The origin of self-criticism. Psychological Review, 71(3), 193.
Neff, K & Germer, C. (2019) Kind to me. Excerpt in Mindful, 6 (6).
Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Self–criticism, goal motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(7), 826-840.
Brach, T. Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN. Tara Brach. Online HERE
Do you ever wonder why you attract a certain “type” of people? Do you have patterns that you seem to repeat in relationships over and over again? Or maybe you noticed how the majority of your relationships unfold and end in a similar way?
This is not uncommon. All of us have a certain ‘style’ of connecting to others that we tend to repeat, which can result in similar patterns of outcomes throughout our relationships. These patterns are called ‘attachment styles’.
What Are Attachment Styles And Why Should You Care?
Attachment style is the way you relate to other people, the way you usually feel and behave in relationships in order to meet your needs. According to attachment theory that originates from research of Bowlby and Ainsworth, this pattern is established in early childhood.
Our parents have many different and important roles for us during our childhood. One of them is being an attachment figure through which we form beliefs and expectations on how relationships ‘work’ and what we should do to meet our needs for intimacy, belonging, and safety. Depending on the nature of our early relationships with our caregivers, we develop an attachment style that we, later, bring to relationships in our adult life.
Understanding your attachment style is a big deal because it can tell you a lot about how you relate to your friends, family, and romantic partners, what you do to meet your needs in relationships, why you may have specific insecurities, etc. Knowing your attachment style gives you an insightful perspective that can help you ‘break the pattern’ if you feel stuck or find yourself having very similar problems in relationships or repeating the same mistakes.
Although the way we behave in relationships has its unique elements for each of us, there are 4 most common global patterns of attachment in individuals:
Let’s take a detailed look at each of them and what kind of childhood patterns may they came from:
Secure Attachment Style
“It is easy for me to get close to others, and I am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
People with a secure attachment style tend to build stable, trusting relationships and feel relatively confident in them. They are comfortable with intimacy and don’t have a problem sharing their feelings or asking for help or support. In romantic relationships, they have their independence and also let their partner have their own, but are at the same time okay with depending on others and feel like they can trust them. They have a positive view of themselves and others and don’t have difficulties feeling connected or expressing love openly.
Secure attachment background:
- Parent is emotionally available most of the time and responds to the child’s needs in a loving, soothing way
- Usually, the parent is also securely attached and successfully balances firmness with warmth in their parenting style
- The child sees the parent as a secure base from where it can independently explore the world and then safely come back for comfort and nurture when it feels the need
- The child learns that it can get love and care from other people, that it is safe to give needed space to others without the fear that they will leave them, but that it is also safe to depend on others
Avoidant Attachment Style
“I find it difficult to trust and depend on others and prefer that others do not depend on me. Feeling independent and self-sufficient is essential to me.”
People with this attachment style can seem emotionally distant and rejecting in close romantic relationships. They are uncomfortable with intimacy and feel like people usually want to get closer to them than they would prefer. One reason for this may be the fact that their independence is very important to them, which is not a problem on its own; however, they tend to equate intimacy with depending on someone, which is why they may have trouble with it and try to avoid it. In a way, they believe that the only person they can fully lean on is themselves. Thus, they have a hard time opening up to others and don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
Avoidant attachment background:
- Although the parent usually meets all child’s practical needs, he or she often does not respond to the child’s emotional needs and can seem emotionally unavailable most of the time
- In times when the child needs extra support and comfort, like when they’re scared or in distress, the parent can react in rejecting ways – become annoyed, harsh, neglectful, criticize or ridicule the child
- The parent may discourage displays of strong emotions, both positive and negative
- The child learns that it’s not safe to count on others for emotional closeness and that he or she should be independent and take care of their own needs and emotions. As a defence mechanism, it can suppress their true feelings and basic needs for connection and intimacy
Anxious Attachment Style
“I want to be very emotionally close to others, but others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t love or value me and will abandon me.”
This attachment style is characterized by insecurity and worry about rejection and abandonment. Anxiously attached people are often preoccupied with what other people think of them and have a hard time feeling secure in their relationships. In their need to gain approval and feel safer, anxiously attached people often require reassurance and “proofs of love”. However, it never seems to be enough. They seek high levels of emotional closeness and can be very sensitive to other people’s moods and behaviours. It is not rare for these individuals to “cling” to their partner or try to control their actions. This can lead to behaviours that others sometimes see as demanding, needy, or overly emotional.
Anxious attachment background:
- Parents are often inconsistent and unpredictable – sometimes loving and caring, other times emotionally unavailable or highly critical
- Parents sometimes expect their children to worry about them and their needs, which is overwhelming for the child
- The child is frustrated and confused, so it tries to find ways to secure the love and support, but unsuccessfully. Their efforts sometimes give results, but sometimes not, and the child doesn’t know what to expect
- The child learns that it can get love and support from others, but also that it can lose those precious sources of connection at any moment
Disorganized Attachment Style
“I am uncomfortable getting close to others and find it difficult to trust them. I want to belong but when I become close with someone I get scared, so I back away.”
Research shows that this attachment style, in comparison with other styles of attachment, more often can result from unresolved trauma or abuse in childhood. It manifests as a strong ambivalence toward intimacy. People with this attachment style desire closeness and connection with other people; however, when they get it, they suddenly become distant and cold, or experience uncomfortable emotions and display some extreme behaviours. They seem to be in a constant state of internal conflict – they want to trust other people but feel they can’t because they are convinced they will get hurt, they want intimacy and also reject it, they ask for affection but then quickly get overwhelmed by it and push people away, etc. As a result, their behaviour can be unpredictable and their relationships, sometimes, very intense, “dramatic”, or unstable.
Disorganized attachment background:
- A very inconsistent and unpredictable parent(s), with sometimes extreme behaviours
- The child wants to go to their parent for safety, but the closer they get, the more fear they feel because the parent’s behaviours can be terrifying at times
- The child learns that intimacy is something simultaneously very valuable and very threatening. They crave it and, at the same time, see it as something dangerous that can easily hurt them. It is impossible to integrate these two views, which leaves the child in a constant state of internal conflict and distress
Good News – Attachment Styles Are Not Set In Stone
It is true that different parenting styles affect children differently, shaping the way they understand relationships. However, it is important to note that this relation is not so simple. Research shows that it is not so much what happens to us as children but rather how we understood and made sense of what happened to us that predict what kind of attachment style we will develop.
Furthermore, your attachment style may not be permanent. Some researchers indicate that attachment styles can change as we get older. More precisely, our attachment sometimes tends to lean toward more secure as we age. Researchers explained this as a result of changing ideas about goals, values, relationships, stability, and trust.
Other studies also indicate that our later relationships and life events can alter our attachment styles. For example, going through a bad breakup or a divorce, experiencing betrayal, trauma, or abuse, can change our outlook on relationships and, consequentially, how we behave in them, how much we trust other people, what we are insecure about, etc. On the other hand, being in a relationship with a secure partner, scientists believe, can improve our sense of security in a relationship. It makes sense – being with someone who is caring and attentive, who pays attention to our needs and shows us they’re there for us, and who does these things consistently, can change our idea about relationships and show us that they can be stable and that we can be loved the way we are.
The point is, it is not all black and white. Our attachment style can depend on many factors, not just our parents’ behaviour. Frankly, adulthood is complicated, and the paths that take us to it are super variable. Although science suggests that, one way or another, our early relationships have a life-long impact on us, it’s never a simple thing to understand the intensity or the course of that impact.
We are all unique. The way we act is not just simply who we are born to be; what we learned we can also unlearn, what holds us back we can change, and what brings us closer to others we can embrace.
What is your attachment style? Let us know in the comment section below!
Also, if you like this article and find it useful, please be free to share it on your social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1991). Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle. In C . M. Parkes, J. Stevenson-Hinde, & P. Marris (Eds.), Attachment across the life cycle (pp. 33-51). London: Routledge.
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.
Cassidy, J. (2008). The nature of the child’s ties. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (p. 3–22). The Guilford Press.
Hazan C, Shaver P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (3): 511–24.
Fraley C. R. (2018). Adult Attachment Theory And Research: A Brief Overview. Retrieved from: http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm
We all feel insecure from time to time in our relationships; it’s completely normal. However, some people feel like this most of the time, to the point where it becomes overly consuming for both partners. Knowing how to handle and manage insecurity in a relationship is something that can truly make a difference between a relationship’s flourish and failure.
Signs of Insecurity In a Relationship
Insecurity in a romantic relationship can feel like:
- The constant fear that your partner will leave you
- Feeling you don’t have enough to offer
- Ruminating about all the times in the relationship when you looked or behaved imperfectly
- Feeling like a fraud destined to be exposed
- Seeing yourself as boring, overweight, stupid, ugly…
- Feeling like you don’t deserve lasting love
- Experiencing guilt and shame often
- Being hungry for attention and reassurance, but even when you get it, it rarely seems convincing enough
- Switching between doubt, anxiety, anger, and guilt back and forth
- Consuming jealousy that leads to unhealthy thoughts and actions such as obsessively questioning your partner’s whereabouts, privacy violations, controlling behaviour, etc.
These feelings can especially exacerbate when we are in a relationship with someone we have intense feelings for. The more important the relationship is to us, the more we think we stand to lose. This is where our insecurities become super uncomfortable – they spike anxiety, fear, suspiciousness, anger, and other unpleasant and unhealthy emotions.
What Causes Insecurity In a Relationship?
At its core, insecurity usually comes from a deep sense of inadequacy. The frequent underlying belief is that we are not enough the way we are. That we are flawed, ugly, or unworthy of love. Often, this sense of “low worth” comes hand in hand with one or both of these unhealthy patterns – a harsh inner critic and the belief that others will love us only if we are behaving a certain way.
Acting strong, fun, compliant, agreeable, beautiful, hard-working, always there for others, whatever the set of criteria is, we may believe that it’s the only way to make our partner stay. Sometimes, this can even feel like tricking our partners into loving us. Maybe not explicitly, but somewhere between the lines, we may fear that the moment they discover our true colours, they will leave.
On the other hand, we may feel powerless before our inner critic that throws insults at us all the time. It may become so embedded in our daily self-talk that we are not even aware of how much of an impact it has on our overall self-esteem.
The Impact of Our Past to Our Current Relationships
All these beliefs are usually the product of our early experiences. They come from the ways we interpreted and incorporated those experiences into our belief system the best we could with the limited resources we had. Some examples of those early experiences may be:
- attachment styles we built with our primary caregivers, that we, later, transfer to our other relationships
- main messages we received from our environment that tailored deep beliefs about ourselves, other people, and life in general
- observing relationships around us and “learning” what we absolutely should and should not do to avoid ending up hurt
- hurtful experiences, like being rejected, neglected, or humiliated by someone we cared about
While it can be easy to blame our partner’s behaviours for our insecurities, the truth is, most of the time, insecurity in a relationship really comes from inside of ourselves. Indeed, being in a relationship with someone who regularly judges most of what we do can surely shake our confidence. Putting up with repeated criticism and rarely getting affection or appreciation from our partner can increase our self-doubt. But pay attention, the word is increase, not create. It may be good to remember that other people cannot make us feel or behave in a certain way. Only our thoughts and beliefs can.
Can Insecurity Damage a Relationship?
It is completely normal to feel insecure once in a while. In small amounts, it can even be beneficial at times, because it may motivate us to put more effort into our partnership. It is chronic self-doubt that can negatively impact our mental health and interfere with our relationships.
One of the key elements of successful romantic relationships is an authentic connection between partners. Deep connection comes from authenticity, and authenticity requires us to be open to showing our vulnerable side. To do that, we need to believe that, even with our vulnerabilities, we are still beautiful and worthy of love. In other words, we need to be comfortable with who we are, at least to a certain extent. Chronic insecurity can stand in the way of engaging with your partner in an authentic way by preventing you to be completely yourself.
Constant worry in a relationship can be mentally exhausting, robbing you of peace and happiness. Instead of enjoying the journey and having a good time with the person you love and care about, obsessive doubts can turn your head into a truly uncomfortable place to be. And like if that’s not enough of a pain, if you let your insecurities get out of hand and impact your behaviours, it can lead to a set of unhealthy interactions with your partner where you’re both unsatisfied and the relationship suffers.
We Fetch For Clues To Confirm Our Toxic Beliefs
For example, insecurity in a relationship can sometimes cause you to misinterpret some situations or to exaggerate problems. It may not sound intuitive but we, as humans, are constantly in search of clues to confirm our beliefs. This gives us a sense of structure and control. We have all kinds of beliefs, and most of them are accurate and help us organize and interpret information. However, some of these beliefs can be unhelpful and unhealthy. But our brains can be stubborn and instead of letting go, they seek to confirm those beliefs too.
In the context of relationships, this means that, if you believe your partner will hurt you, leave you, or betray you, there is a high chance that you will, consciously or unconsciously, try to find proof for your fears. This is a natural response to anxiety – you’re trying to feel prepared if the worst-case scenario happens. However, this causes your anxiety to spike up. Not only that, but this may even lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where you start behaving in a way that induces the exact reaction you wanted to avoid. Simply put, you may start finding problems where they don’t exist. This not only fuels your insecurities further, but also leads to unhealthy behaviours like putting your partner down, jealousy, accusations, and constantly asking for reassurance, just to name a few. All those behaviours push your partner away and disrupt intimacy and trust in a relationship.
How Do I Stop Being So Insecure?
Depending on where your self-doubts come from, there are several strategies and steps you can take to tackle them down.
1. Tame your inner self-critic
People with a strong inner critic know how hard it is to suppress the annoying voice that’s putting them down. Sometimes this little voice is so persistent and so convincing, that we accept it as our reality. Since it can be so loud sometimes, and so embedded in our thought patterns, the solution is not to shut it off; it’s often impossible. Instead, pay attention to what the voice is saying and then actively stand up for yourself. Treat your inner critic like a misbehaving child that you’re trying to teach how to be civilized and stop firing insults. This way, you’re becoming mindful of your self-diminishing thoughts, taking a step back, and then take an active effort to reframe them. It allows you to reject unhealthy attitudes toward yourself and accept a more realistic approach as an accurate reflection of who you are.
In the beginning, this kind of self-talk can feel a little bit unnatural, like you’re faking it. However, with persistence, it usually starts feeling less and less like labour, and more and more like something authentic.
2. Make a list of your strengths (short-term solution)
As an emergency boost to your self-esteem, it can be helpful to make a list of all your positive traits. This list represents what you bring on the table in a relationship. This is not the time to be modest – get creative and write down every positive detail you can think of. Maybe you have a gorgeous smile or you’re a good kisser. Maybe you don’t have a smokin’ hot body but you’re supportive and make your partner feel appreciated. Or maybe you’re not that funny but you’re trustworthy and, on top of that, a great cook. Nobody is perfect. But it’s important to know that it’s not necessary to be perfect to be loved. Imperfections are what make us human. Learn to love your uniqueness.
One important thing to have in mind is that this list does not represent the reason you deserve to be loved. It should just serve as a reminder of how many positive traits you have, because during the times of strong self-doubt, they are easy to forget. You, with all your quirks and experiences and scars and mannerisms, you as a unique human, are loveable. Let that sink in. Sometimes this is hard to accept.
3. Let go of conditions you imposed on yourself to deserve love
The underlying belief: “They will only love me if I am this or that” is what can often be seen behind insecurities in relationships and what fuels self-doubt further. On some level, when you hold this belief, you send yourself a message that you are not truly loveable at your core, for who you really are, but that you need to deserve love by doing certain things and behaving in certain ways. But you don’t. We choose our partners and our partners choose us.
Of course, you need to invest in a relationship for it to be healthy. It’s necessary to put work in your partnership to thrive. It’s good to do nice things for your partner, to show respect and affection, to build trust and make them feel safe and appreciated. But you don’t need to do certain things to be the person worthy of love. There is a difference between the two.
If we feel worthy of love only if we meet certain criteria, that feeling stands on an unstable ground simply because we will sometimes fail. Inevitably. Everybody does. This is why it’s important to start loving yourself for who you are and not for what you do. To recognize that you are enough. To realize that your partner is with you because of you (even if you’re super not sure about it right now). Self-compassion can be incredibly helpful with this!
4. Communicate with your partner openly and effectively
It’s important to get clear about what you and your partner both need in a relationship and discuss realistic and reasonable ways you can help each other fulfill them. Be aware that this kind of talk requires both partners to ditch defensiveness and assumptions, and be kind, honest, and open with each other. Intimate connection creates a safe environment in which you can work to overcome insecurities and meet each other halfway. Sometimes this is not easy, especially if there are perpetuating problems and frustrations in a relationship, but with mutual effort, it can be done.
Coping with insecurity in a relationship can be tough because it requires you to deal with your core beliefs and take an active effort to break the patterns that influenced your thinking for years. Still, with consistency, self-reflection, and effective communication with your partner, it is possible. And please remember that it doesn’t have to be a lonely battle. Support and help from someone you trust, like a friend or a therapist, can make it a lot more bearable. Learning to manage your insecurities will increase not only the quality of your mental health but the quality of your romantic relationships as well.
P.S. If you like this article or know someone who may find it useful, please don’t hesitate to share it on your social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Most of us want to be liked by other people. It feels great to know that others think good of us. However, when we believe that being liked depends on how much stuff we do for other people and how helpful we are, that’s when the problems arise. People-pleasers know this issue too well – the inability to say no.
Helping others can be really fulfilling, but if you do it at the expense of yourself, out of fear or anxiety, it becomes an unhealthy pattern of behaviour that can suck all your energy and negatively impact your relationships. You spend so much time on what you think you need to do that there is almost zero time left for what you actually want to do. In the end, you feel exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed, and even resentful.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. Learning how to say no and not feel awful after is absolutely possible. In fact, knowing how to set boundaries is one of the most important things in sustaining healthy relationships with others and yourself.
Why Saying NO Is So Difficult?
Early relationships can additionally influence “people-pleasing” patterns of behaviour in adulthood. In general, as children, we learn that saying no is inappropriate and rude. If you said no to your parents’, cousins’, or teachers’ requests, you’ve probably been told off for it. Over time, you associated saying yes to requests with getting approval and saying no with criticism.
You may have been raised to be a sweetheart who always took care of other children, especially if you were the oldest child in the family. An influence like this can lead to the formation of beliefs such as: “I am only lovable if I’m accommodating and helpful”. Or maybe you come from a family where emotional support was conditional and inconsistent. Thus, in the attempt to secure love from important adults, it’s possible you developed the underlying belief: “If I don’t do everything to make others happy, they might leave or stop caring for me”. Inability to say no can also stem from early experiences with highly-critical parents who severely punished their children, even for small mistakes. Such experiences can lead to beliefs such as: “If I don’t do everything right, I will disappoint others or be punished”.
Whatever the case is, your self-worth may have come to depend on things you do for others. This is a tricky thing because it forms a vicious circle with no satisfying solution. On the one hand, being unable to say NO can make you stressed, exhausted, and resentful toward others. On the other hand, saying NO might be a threat for your self-image and result in you questioning your decision, feeling bad about yourself, or worrying others will get hurt, angry, or disappointed at you. Either way, with this kind of pattern, you can’t win.
But there is a way to actually win, and that is – change the pattern. Here are some steps you can take to help you say no effectively and create space for a more intentional yes.
Step 1: Get To Know Your Priorities
If you don’t know what you want, it’s a high chance you don’t know what you don’t want. Identify what is important to you, and acknowledge what is not. We all have limited energy and time; decide where you want to direct those, and where you definitely don’t. Before you say no, you have to be clear that you want to say no.
There are, of course, things that need to be done, even if we don’t like it, like finishing that important but boring report at work. But there are also things that you are not obliged to do, like spending another two hours at work helping your colleague finish their task while you really wanted to spend that time at the movies with your significant other.
You can’t be all things to all people. Choose what and who the priority is, and invest your limited time and energy there. The rest gets your resources only in case you really decide it’s worth it.
Step 2: Know What Saying NO Is And Is Not
- Saying NO means you’re rejecting a request, not the person. Make clear to yourself (and to the other person) that you’re not rejecting them as a whole person; you’re just turning down their invitation. People will usually understand that it is your right to say no, just as it is their right to ask for the favor, and that your no doesn’t mean “I don’t like you” but simply: “Sorry, my plate is full/my priorities are elsewhere”.
- Saying NO doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Just because you say no to sacrificing your time and comfort to accommodate others doesn’t mean you’re unlikable, rude, or selfish. It means you’re thinking long term and saying no is a preventative act against self-loathing and resentment in the future.
- Saying NO is not a missed opportunity but a trade-off. Some people hate to say no because they feel like they’re missing out the opportunity. However, saying yes to something unimportant often means saying no to something important. So, instead of looking at NO as a missed opportunity, you can see it as a trade-off. You’re choosing the opportunity to do something you value more than the request. It seems like a fair deal.
- Your NO might be much less threatening than it seems to you. Research from Columbia University found that, very often, people whom others see as appropriately assertive mistakenly thought others judged them as being over-assertive. This effect is called the line crossing illusion. So, if you feel you might be confrontational, there is a high chance the other party doesn’t see you that way.
- Saying NO is a form of self-care and self-respect. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first if you want to have the energy to help others.
Step 3: Learn To Tolerate The Reactions Of Others
The reality is, with some people, setting boundaries will unleash some unpleasant emotions and reactions. There is a possibility they get angry or disappointed, especially if they’re used to you being always available and accommodating. Some might even try to cross your boundaries and continue to push to change your NO into YES. However, when you know this, you can be prepared to work to firmly maintain the boundaries that you have set.
Remember that you’re an individual to yourself and that everyone is responsible for their own reactions. Sometimes, deep down, negative response and unpleasant emotions of others are simply not about you. But even if they are, don’t overgeneralize and jump to conclusions too fast. If someone is disappointed or angry, it doesn’t automatically mean they will ditch you out of their life or think you’re an awful person. It means they are disappointed or angry in that particular situation.
If someone keeps crossing your boundaries even when you communicate them clearly and gets upset because you’re not ready to sacrifice your happiness for their comfort, it may be a good idea to ask yourself is it the kind of relationship you want to nurture in the long run. In the end, you want to surround yourself with people who respect you for who you are, not only for what you do for them.
Step 4: Learn Some Practical Skills For Saying NO
Here are some tangible tips for practicing saying a polite but effective no.
✔️ Express your appreciation. More often than not, when people make a request, it’s because they trust your capabilities or they like your presence. Thus, even though you’ll refuse the invitation/request, thank them for approaching you.
✔️ Be kind but firm. Being polite doesn’t need to lead to a YES. Simply expressing your NO with a kind tone can help the other person (and you) feel better about the situation. However, some people don’t give up easily and will test your persistence. In this case, it’s important to know that nobody can “make” you change your answer with their repeated requests; the decision is completely yours. It’s your job to set boundaries. You can be as decisive as they are pushy. This is a good opportunity to practice your assertiveness.
✔️ Give some reason if you want but don’t over-apologize. Some people find it easier to say no if they give a reason for it, and that is okay. If you feel more comfortable saying: “I’m sorry, I have something else in my schedule already” instead of: “Sorry, I can’t”, that is completely fine. Just don’t lie about it and don’t make up excuses, because that will make you feel even guiltier and possibly complicate your life further. It’s important to know that you don’t need the good excuse to say no – having your priorities elsewhere is enough. Remember, you’re not asking for anyone’s permission to say no – you already have the right to it.
✔️ You can take time to think about it. Sometimes we just babble out YES and commit to something we don’t want to because we feel pressured to give the answer right away. It’s okay to take some time to think about it. That way, we give ourselves the opportunity to answer from the logical and realistic point of view instead out of anxiety and desire to please. If you’re really not sure about the request, tell the other person you’ll get back to them when you think about it. Just make sure you actually do it in a timely manner.
Saying no is a new thing for many of us, and therefore takes practice and courage. But with time, it becomes easier and brings amazing benefits. You are unique, important, and valuable even when you say no to being everything to everyone and take time for yourself. Don’t be afraid to practice it.
What are your experiences with saying no? Share it with us in the comments below! And also, share this post on social media; some people-pleasers you know might be thankful.
Smith, M. J. (1975). When I say no, I feel guilty: how to cope–using the skills of systematic assertive therapy. Bantam.
Pagoto, S. (2012). Are You a People Pleaser? Psychology Today. Online HERE.
Do you feel like the same situations keep happening to you over and over again? Do you keep attracting partners that don’t fulfill your needs or you face the same problems in different relationships? Are you struggling with the same stresses and conflicts at work, or you keep losing your jobs? It’s like you’re a magnet for people who hurt you, or embarrassing situations, or bullies at work, etc.
I am sure that, at least once in your life, you have said or thought something like: “Why this keeps happening to me all the time?”. And really, why? Is it some kind of a mystic cosmic power that brings these experiences to your life? Fortunately, psychology has a more realistic explanation to why you keep entering the same unpleasant situations all over again. Let’s explore what actually happens.
Frameworks You Live By
From the moment you are born, you are in a survival mode. During your childhood, your little mind is programmed to absorb everything that is happening around you in order to learn and adapt to your environment. You pull in the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideals of those around you. By interacting with your parents or primary caregivers, you form certain beliefs about yourself, other people, and life in general. These beliefs are the product of the way you interpreted behaviours of your important adults and how they treated your needs, as well as things they were telling you about other people, rules, and life in general.
Of course, not all parents are the same. Thus, some will be convinced that life is a fight, you are not allowed to make mistakes and need to be perfect in order to succeed or be loved and appreciated. For others, life will be a scary and dangerous place full of people waiting to hurt you, so you need to be careful who you trust and never let your guard down. Some will, on the other hand, believe that life is easy and fun, that people usually have good intentions and that, whatever you do, everything will be okay in the end.
These belief systems become the frameworks we live by. They are like colored glasses that affect how we see everything unfolding in our lives. More importantly, these beliefs direct our decision making, condition our behaviour and, ultimately, affect how others react to our behaviours and how they treat us.
Now, imagine a situation that you’re going to a party where you don’t know almost anyone.
Version 1: You’re afraid nobody will talk to you because believe you’re boring or not good with new people. Consequentially, you will probably feel self-conscious and anxious, and enter the party acting awkward, standoffish and not so friendly. As a result, people will not be encouraged to come to you and start a conversation, which will only, in turn, reinforce beliefs you already had.
Version 2: You strongly believe that you’re an interesting person and others will be open to meet you. You think: “This party is going to be great”. People will probably be drawn by your openness and outgoing attitude and come talk to you, which also proves you were right in your beliefs in the first place.
This effect is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, a term coined by famous sociologist, Robert Merton.
Merton noticed that sometimes a belief brings about consequences that cause reality to match the belief. He defined self-fulfilling prophecy as “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true” (Merton, 1968).
In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that we hold about a future event that manifests because we hold it. Our expectations and predictions of what will happen impact our behaviour, which shapes how others see us and how they act toward us. In turn, they provide feedback we set ourselves to get in the first place, which serves to reinforce the original belief. Generally, this process is unintentional – we are not aware that our beliefs cause the consequences we expect or fear. And that’s exactly why it’s so difficult to tackle them down and start changing them.
Breaking the Cycle Can Be Hard…
Breaking the cycle of entering the same situations over and over again can be tricky, in the first place because we don’t see our fundamental beliefs as beliefs but as actual facts about the world. Subconsciously, it’s important for us to prove that our beliefs about how life works are “right” because it gives us a sense of security. If we “know” the rules by which the world functions, we feel like we can prepare and know what to expect. That’s why we filter information so they can fit our belief system. We rate experiences that are in line with our beliefs as an important “proof” that our frameworks are actually true, while we label those opposite to our frameworks as unimportant coincidences that won’t impact the way we see the world.
Over time, these patterns of thought and behaviour become our automatic response, a sort of a habitual reaction to circumstances. Researchers believe we have neural pathways in our brains that are reinforced by habit. The more you repeat the behaviour, the stronger your neural pathway for that behaviour becomes, and the easier it triggers the next time.
It’s like a forest dirt road – the more you walk on it, the more well-established it becomes. You have an automatic impulse to walk down that well-worn path, rather than on the grassy part. However, this dirt road often leads to the same destination. To break the cycle, you need to consciously resist the urge to stay on the road you know and start walking on the grass to a different direction. Over time, as you repeat taking the same route on the grass, another path will form and it will be easier to walk on.
One thing you can do to make the first step toward exiting the circle of “attracting” the same problems is to, for starters, let go of certainty. It’s important to understand that much of what you think you know about yourself, other people, and life, is more probably a belief and less probably a fact. It is a product of your upbringing and your past experiences. But the good news is that we can choose our beliefs and, therefore, change them.
You can start off by choosing a pattern that you want to break out of. Then, write down the past five times when it happened. List all the details about those situations – how did it happened, what led to it, why you think it happened. Now, try to find commonalities across these situations. In the end, try to find what part you play in these situations? Are there any behaviours that might have led you to the common outcome?
Here is a list of questions that might be helpful in discovering a pattern and your part in it:
- What keeps happening over and over again?
- How does it start?
- What happens next?
- And then what happens?
- How does it end?
- How do you feel after it ends? (John James, 1973)
This process is crucial for changing your patterns. It gives the opportunity to tackle down the reason you might have taken up a particular role and contributed to the outcome that keeps happening. From there, you can set up a goal – what you want to change and what results to get – and then map out a different path from the one you’re taking now.
It’s absolutely okay if you’re not able to identify the reason behind the same situations repeating in your life by yourself. A good therapist can help you figure out where you’re standing and how to proceed.
Please share your thoughts and experiences on the topic down below in the comments, it’s always amazing to hear it! Also, don’t forget to share this post on your social media.
You probably heard that self-esteem is one of the most important things for leading a productive, successful, pleasurable life. But the term is a little confusing – does it mean self-worth? Self-respect? How do you know your self-esteem is too low and how much of it is too much? What is the optimal level of self-esteem?
Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-esteem as “belief and confidence in your own ability and value”. Self-esteem is also often defined as “One’s own sense of self-worth or personal value”. What is problematic in this concept is that it refers to “worthiness” and “value” of the human being.
The Illusion of Self-Esteem
Let’s stop for a second and see what value means: “The regard that something is held to deserve”. Indirectly, the term “self-esteem”, therefore, suggests that holding ourselves in high regard is something to be deserved. It suggests that we need to have certain traits or do certain things to earn to be “worth” of respect and love. It inevitably includes self-evaluation. But here is the thing…
You are “worthy”, “valuable” and “deserving”, if you want to use these poor terms, simply because you exist, because you are alive. There is no such thing as “more valuable” or “less valuable” person. Achievements, skills, talents, or some qualities or lack of those can’t determine our human value, because our worthiness is already set simply by our existence.
It is important to note that self-esteem is a concept different from self-efficacy, which refers to how well you believe you’ll handle future actions, it represents your belief in your own abilities. Someone can be appreciated by many people, accomplish great things, be successful in several areas, and those are all amazing things that are certainly pleasant. You may achieve greater happiness or more efficiency by achieving your goals or by believing in your abilities, but that doesn’t increase your intrinsic worth, nor do your failures can lower your human value.
Chasing Self-Esteem Won’t Make You Happier – Maybe Even the Opposite
Another problem with the concept of self-esteem, other than the fact that it is based on non-existent, or at least unhealthy, premises of “worthiness” and “value”, is that it also obliquely requires comparison with other people. Evaluation can’t exist without comparison to some “standard” or some external object. Therefore, determining our own worth means we first have to compare ourselves with others. As Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) claims: “Self-esteem theoretically rests upon an often inaccurate and unstable global rating of the self in comparison to others”. This necessarily means that, to have high self-esteem, we need to feel above-average. You can easily see it in the simple fact that today, in our culture, being seen as average is considered an insult. But for every human being to be special and above average is logically impossible.
Trying to see yourself as better than others all the time is exhausting and can easily lead to self-criticism. To retain superiority, we have to meet very high standards. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip – which is inevitable because there are so many different people in this world and there is always someone better, smarter, prettier etc. – our self-esteem easily goes down.
For a long time, mental health professionals believed that high self-esteem is a predictor of greater happiness and life satisfaction. However, as much as this notion seems like common sense, research shows that there is no scientific evidence of a correlation between higher self-esteem and pleasurable living.
Another study states: “Self-esteem in the West is not based upon an unconditional appreciation of the intrinsic worth of all persons. (…) Research, in fact, demonstrates that high self-esteem displays associations with a broad range of psychosocial dysfunctions, including, for example, narcissism, poor empathy, depreciation of others, prejudice, aggression, and distorted self-knowledge”.
Okay, if not self-esteem, then what? Well, there is actually a healthier alternative to self-esteem that really predicts better mental health, greater life satisfaction, and overall happiness – self-compassion.
What Is Self-Compassion?
“Self-compassion means that the individual fully and unconditionally accepts herself whether or not she behaves intelligently, correctly, or competently and whether or not other people approve, respect or love her” (Ellis 2005, p. 38).
Self-compassion is the way of treating yourself – in a supportive and non-judgmental way, with kindness, understanding, and love. Being self-compassionate mean that you recognize previously mentioned notion about all humans having value simply by the fact they exist in this world, not by the set of traits and abilities they possess. Self-compassion encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, without forcing yourself to meet some high standards to feel that you are okay as a person. It allows you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view without evaluating or comparing yourself with others.
Why Nurturing Self-Compassion Over Building Self-Esteem?
Opposite to high self-esteem, studies haven’t found any negative effects of self-compassion yet. In fact, self-compassion predicts better psychosocial adjustment and resilience while avoiding the liabilities associated with high self-esteem.
Self-compassion gives us a more stable sense of self-love because it comes from within. On the other hand, as it’s based on comparison with others, self-esteem is unstable because it depends on external circumstances. This often results in having a more negative emotional reaction or protecting behaviours when people evaluate us negatively or even neutrally because we are trying to protect our self-esteem from collapsing. With self-compassion, in contrast, we don’t need to defend or protect ourselves from negative feedback, because we know that it won’t affect how we see ourselves as a person.
Self-compassion provides emotional safety to see ourselves as we really are. Instead of labelling ourselves as good or bad, as of high-value or worthless, we should accept our flaws with an open heart, take responsibility for our behaviour and choices, and still be kind to ourselves. It’s okay that we are imperfect humans leading imperfect lives, and we don’t need to strive to be “better” than others to love ourselves or hold ourselves in high regard.
Let’s face it – feeling insecure is draining! Insecurity in a relationship can be the main cause of jealousy, accusing, a constant need for validation, misunderstandings, and fights. In order to make your relationship work, you need to overcome uncertainties about yourself. Enjoying more of life and your partner will empower you with positive feelings.
What Can Help Me to Overcome Insecurity in a Relationship?
Insecurities can happen as a result of a rocky childhood, a relationship that went sour, or people with low self-esteem. No one is perfect, but we really don’t have to be. This article, by uncommonhelp.me, outlines quite nicely how to overcome insecurities in a relationship. Here’s the link to read more: http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/overcoming-insecurity-in-relationships/
Insecurities in a relationship can ruin even the happiest moments. Thus, discovering where your insecurities come from is important for resolving some issues you might have with your partner. Maybe your insecurities are coming from the type of attachment you developed throughout your life. Read our article: “How Attached are you?” to find out more.
What do you do to improve your self-esteem? Moreover, did you tell yourself you’re gorgeous today? Because you are!