is it gaslighting or disagreement

Am I Being Gaslighted? The Difference Between Gaslighting And Disagreement

“You are overreacting.”

“You are upset over nothing.”

“I never said that. You must be confused again.”

“You sound crazy.”

Have you ever heard something like this, especially repeatedly by one person? If it resonates with you, there may be a possibility that you were experiencing gaslighting.

Gaslighting became a buzzword that seems to pop up everywhere these days. The interest in the term grew so much that its search on Google rose by a whopping 1740% in 2022. This is more than twice an increase compared to any other search term this year. It’s not surprising, then, that gaslighting is proclaimed a Word of the year by the Merriam-Webster dictionary for 2022.

We live in an extraordinary time where we have more information about mental health, communication, relationships, and well-being than ever. This is, overall, a very good thing. It’s great that people are learning more about gaslighting, so they can recognize it and protect themselves. At the same time, when we use the word around so much, some misunderstandings may occur. It becomes important to make sure we know what it actually means, and also what it doesn’t mean.

gaslighting examples and red flags

So, what is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where one person undermines the other person’s reality and leads them to question their own perception and sanity, all the while dismissing their feelings. This tactic is common in emotionally abusive relationships.

By twisting the facts, denying, diverting from the topic, trivializing other person’s emotions and using degrading comments to put them down, one person tries to gain power over the other by twisting their sense of reality and making them question their ability to think rationally. Over time, the person who’s being gaslighted starts to feel anxious, depressed, withdrawn, confused, and unable to trust themselves. This is especially true when gaslighting happens in a wider context of abuse.

While anyone can experience gaslighting in any type of relationship, like in a workplace, in friend groups, or among family members, we most commonly discuss it in the context of romantic relationships.

What are some gaslighting examples?

So, what does gaslighting look like in practice? Sometimes it’s so subtle that we may not be sure if it’s gaslighting or mere disagreement. You may be wondering: “Am I being gaslighted?”. Here are some gaslighting examples and red flags in relationships that could help you identify it:

  • Dismissing your feelings and perceptions as invalid or even pathological. (“You sound crazy”)
  • Attempting to convince you that you should not trust your memory (“This must be another one of your crazy ideas. Think back to the situation when you remembered X wrong. This is the same thing”)
  • Pretending not to understand what you’re saying so that they don’t have to respond (“I don’t know what you’re talking about”)
  • Trying to change the subject in order to divert you from the topic (“Have you been talking to your friend again? Usually you get this kind of crazy ideas when you spend some time with her”)
  • Flatly denying that they have said or done something they obviously did. This happens often, it’s not a one-time thing (“I never said that. You heard that wrong. You are making things up. I would never do such a thing”).not every disagreement is gaslighting

Gaslighting red flags to watch out for in a relationship:

  • You find yourself always apologizing
  • You feel confused, question your perception and memory, and constantly second-guess yourself
  • Their actions don’t match their words
  • They deny your reality. When confronted by proof, they can become defensive and start attacking you
  • Degrading comments, questioning your ability to think rationally
  • You frequently wonder if you are too sensitive
  • You know something is wrong, but you just can’t point out what.

In a nutshell, gaslighting often unfolds like this:

That didn’t happen. And if it did, it wasn’t that bad. And if it was, that’s not a big deal. And if it is, that’s not my fault. And if it was, I didn’t mean it. And if I did, you caused it, and so you deserved it.

Gaslighting is extremely damaging for a relationship, but more importantly, for individual well-being. Over time, it can create the effects of confusion, brain fog, self-doubt, disorientation, fear, anxiety, feeling like you are losing your mind, difficulty making judgments or simple decisions, second-guessing your perception and memory, feeling like you are not good enough, that you constantly need to apologize. You may gradually feel more and more dependent on the gaslighter’s validation, emotional support, and “rational view”.

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms are experienced by people who already go through depression, high levels of anxiety, lots of stress, or who have low self-esteem, certain attachment styles, or unhealthy coping mechanisms to trauma. However, the difference with gaslighting is that there is another person who actively contributes to these symptoms occurring. If you don’t typically experience these feelings with other people, just with one particular person, then there is a higher chance that you may be experiencing gaslighting by them.

gaslighting in a relationshipHow to tell the difference between gaslighting and disagreement?

Not everyone’s perception of events is the same. We will sometimes disagree or have different views on what happened. We may even have strong opinions and reject the other person’s point of view. Still, it doesn’t have to mean it’s gaslighting.

So, how to tell if it’s gaslighting or just disagreement?

The main difference between gaslighting and disagreement is about power. In disagreement, the focus is on challenged viewpoints or hurt feelings. In gaslighting, the main goal is to take control over the other person by undermining their sense of self and making them question their own sanity.

Someone who uses gaslighting may try to convince the other person that they remember things wrong, that they are overreacting, and that, therefore, their view of the situation and their feelings are not valid. They may use the target’s “mistakes”, “missteps”, or “overreactions” to turn the situation around and cast themselves as a victim. On the receiving end of this behaviour, the person can feel disoriented, confused, and worn out. They start asking themselves if they may be imagining things or if they are even justified to think or feel the way they do. Gaslighting is usually not a one-time thing. Rather, it is used over time to belittle the other person into being controlled.

The focus of disagreement is explaining one’s point of view, maybe even trying to convince the other person to change theirs, but NOT convincing them that they can’t trust themselves. Disagreements often involve unpleasant emotions. They can involve tension, stress, and heated discussion, especially around specific topics and with certain people. However, if there is a pattern of disagreement exactly in situations when one side feels hurt and tries to let the other person know about it, then there is a high possibility there is gaslighting involved. why people use gaslighting

Are gaslighters aware of what they do?

Those who use gaslighting are people too. They usually use this form of manipulation to ease the anxiety surrounding the possibility of losing control and power in the relationship, or to protect themselves from feeling ashamed. Gaslighting serves as a tool to deflect responsibility, because in their world, taking responsibility for hurtful actions = shame and degradation. So, instead, they turn to tearing down the other person, all the while keeping them hooked. For them, gaslighting is a cognitive strategy for self-regulation and co-regulation.

Often, people who use gaslighting are very well aware of their tactic. They know it’s effective and they consciously use it to manipulate the other person and gain power. However, sometimes, they may not even know that what they are doing is manipulative and so damaging. They may be convinced that they are “just being direct” or that it’s a normal way to behave in conflicts. For many, gaslighting could be something they picked up from the relationships they grew up around.

Whatever the case is, if you recognize that you are experiencing gaslighting, it’s crucial to remember that you are not to blame for what you are experiencing. Whatever the reason behind gaslighting is, the other person is consciously choosing to behave this way, and there is nothing you are doing that causes this behaviour. It is something they do to protect their self-esteem and their sense of control. There are many ways to protect these things – and they are choosing the one that is harming you.

The most important first step toward protecting yourself from gaslighting is recognizing that it’s happening. From there, you can start making rational steps on what to do next, from working on your own well-being, to addressing the problem and setting boundaries, or maybe stepping away from the relationship. Talking to a mental health professional may also be beneficial, whether it’s in form of individual therapy or couple’s counselling. Recovery may take some time, but it is definitely possible to learn skills to overcome the damage gaslighting may have caused you.

 

Do you know how to spot gaslighting in relationships? How do you make a difference between gaslighting and disagreement? Let us know in the comment section down below!

 

Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.

 

Resources:

Abramson, K. (2014). Turning up the lights to gaslighting. Philosophical Perspectives28, 1–30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26614542

Catapang Podosky, P. (2021). Gaslighting, First- and Second-Order. Hypatia, 36(1), 207-227.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Gaslighting. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gaslighting

Miano, P., Bellomare, M., & Genova, V. G. (2021). Personality correlates of gaslighting behaviours in young adults. Journal of Sexual Aggression27(3), 285-298.

therapist is the right fit

How To Know If Your Therapist Is The Right Fit (+ 5 Red Flags)

Therapy is an incredibly valuable experience that can bring tremendous benefits to your life.

How much you get out of therapy depends on many factors, from how much effort you put into it to how good of a fit your therapist is for your needs and goals. Multiple studies consistently show that one of the strongest predictors of successful treatment is the quality of a therapeutic relationship between a psychotherapist and a client. In short, finding a therapist that is the right fit for you is one of the most important things for making progress in therapy.

Now, finding the right therapist takes investment – in terms of your time, energy, and finances. Thus, it’s natural that you want to know if you’re working with the right person, so your investments pay off. To make the process a little bit easier, in this article, we are going to discuss:

  1. What are some red flags telling you that your therapist may not be the best choice for you?
  2. How does it look and feel like when you and your therapist are the right fit?
  3. How to know if you are making progress in therapy?

Hopefully, these topics can help you save precious energy in finding the right therapist, or decide if your current therapy journey is going in the right direction.

Psychotherapy Red Flags: 5 Signs That Your Therapist Is NOT The Right Fit For You

Having a bad experience with a therapist is not so common. Research shows that 75% of people who enter therapy benefit from it significantly. Still, it is important to be informed about possible red flags of therapy. Finding them doesn’t always mean that you are working with a bad therapist (although this can be the case). Sometimes, it’s just a case of a wrong fit and someone else’s style and approach would feel better for you personally. But this feeling you have with your therapist is important, and is very informative about whether to stick with them or move on.

If you’re working with a therapist and feel something is off, maybe it’s time to think about discussing it with them or, eventually, finding a new therapist. There is nothing wrong with either.

Here are some things that may be telling you that you are not getting the most out of your therapy sessions.

signs of a bad therapist

1. You don’t feel understood

A good therapist should, first and foremost, be a good listener. If you often feel rushed, if your feelings are minimized or dismissed, it is a red flag.

Sometimes, because of various reasons such as cultural or religious differences, the therapist’s lack of experience with certain issues, or too wide disparities in personalities and views on life, it’s possible to feel like your therapist is not able to fully understand you. It may feel like they are asking the wrong questions most of the time or focusing on the wrong thing. Perhaps you wanted to point out something important but they keep talking about something else that you don’t find relevant, and this repeatedly happens in your sessions. If that is the case, it may be time to move on and find a therapist who you feel is better attuned to your feelings and needs.

2. You feel judged, shamed, or unsafe to share your authentic thoughts and feelings

It is completely normal to be reluctant to share your deepest fears, secrets, and vulnerabilities with a stranger, especially at the beginning of your therapy journey. However, if you feel like your therapist is “looking down” on your issues or tries to lecture you on what is right or wrong, that’s a sign that you should look elsewhere. Therapy should be a place free of judgment, where you feel safe and comfortable. A strong therapeutic alliance is the most pivotal thing for successful therapy. Thus, it is important to find a therapist who you feel accepts you, empathizes with you, and with whom you can be open and honest. If your current therapist is not that person, it may be time to discuss it with them, or try someone new.

3. They keep pushing you to talk about or work on something before you feel ready

Therapy is the place for you to safely explore your thoughts, emotions, memories, patterns… at your own pace. Your therapist will guide and nudge you in a certain direction, but they should respect your pace and your choices. Thus, they should respect if you express that you are uncomfortable working on some themes for now, no matter how important they think discussing them may be. If you feel like they are breaching your boundaries or trying to force you into talking about something you don’t yet feel comfortable working on, it’s a reason for concern.

therapist not the right fit

4. Your personalities are too different

Your therapist is not your friend, but your personalities still need to be compatible to an extent for you to feel like you two are the right fit. Some people like their therapist to use humour, some don’t. Some like their therapist to be informal, talkative, or quirky, others like more of a distanced or directive approach. Not all human beings fit well together, and that’s okay. An important piece of the “finding-the-right-therapist” puzzle is to find someone who you like and feel comfortable talking to.

5. You repeatedly feel frustrated after your sessions

It is not uncommon to feel less-than-great after some therapy sessions. Therapy touches on your sensitive spots and invites you to leave your comfort zone. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it’s a valuable one, especially in the long run. If your therapist is the right fit, you will usually leave your session feeling better about yourself than when you came in. You may feel emotionally drained or shaken up, but at the same time hopeful or with a sense that you gained some new knowledge. However, if you leave more than half of your sessions frustrated and feeling like you lost your time, it is something that needs to be addressed.

A good therapist will encourage you to speak up when something is not working and discuss with you openly about ways to overcome an issue. They will be highly motivated to make sure that your therapy sessions are beneficial for you. But sometimes, people just don’t “click” and that’s okay. You can take note of which qualities worked and which didn’t. That will be precious when finding your next therapist.

making progress in therapy

Psychotherapy Green Flags: 5 Signs That Your Therapist Is Right For You

Sometimes, we may not be sure what a good therapeutic relationship should look like. This is especially true if we have no previous experience or knowledge to compare it to.

What does it mean that your therapist is the right fit?

What does a good therapist do? How do they behave?

How should you feel with your therapist?

Sometimes, you can’t tell right away. It may take a couple of sessions for you to get comfortable and gain trust. However, after some time, it’s usually not too difficult to recognize if you’re with the right therapist – if you know what to look for. Below are some common therapist green flags that can help you determine whether a relationship with your therapist is a high-quality one.

Disclaimer: we treat it as a given that your therapist is appropriately trained and licensed. When starting therapy, always make sure to ask your therapist about their credentials. 

1. You feel understood and validated

An experienced therapist knows how to listen efficiently. They make you feel heard and understood. They ask the right questions to get to the underlying message behind what you’re saying. Even when they don’t share the same background as you, if they make an effort to understand and be mindful of all aspects of your identity and how it colours your emotions and thoughts, that’s a great sign.

With the right therapist, you feel like they “get” you – they follow your pace and help you gain new perspective. They summarize what you have said in a way that makes sense to you. They ask for clarification. You feel like your experiences are valid because they acknowledge what you say without judgment. You feel seen and accepted, like you can be true you around them.

Again, all these feelings may not come right away; sometimes, it takes a couple of sessions to adjust, gain trust, and get comfortable. Still, the goal is that your therapist provides a safe environment where you feel like you matter.

signs of a good therapist

2. Your therapist is gentle but challenges you as well

In therapy, you may show your vulnerabilities, fears, insecurities, all the sides you’re maybe not often showing to the world. Through this process, your therapist should be an ally. It doesn’t mean they will agree with you all the time. In fact, they may challenge your views or ways you behave, helping you gain new insight or face what you avoid confronting. But they will always do this gently, so you don’t feel attacked or exposed. If you see your therapist as someone who guides you, holds space for you to be yourself and explore what it means, and at the same time encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and face difficult things in your life, it’s your cue that they are the right choice for you.

3. You leave most of your sessions feeling better about yourself or with new tools

Therapy can be painful, uncomfortable, and challenging, because it is where you face your deepest vulnerabilities and memories, and learn to change long-standing patterns. That can be tough! Sometimes, you may leave the session frustrated, tired, or kind of upset. Occasionally, this is normal, and it’s okay to raise this issue with your therapist. If your therapist is the right fit, they will work through these issues with you or, possibly, adjust their approach.

A great therapist is not just a good listener, but he/she provides you with tools and support to change habits, develop new skills, or gain useful insight. They will help you leave most of your sessions with a sense that you have something to work with or think about between your meetings.

signs of a good therapist

4. In difficult situations, you think about what your therapist would suggest you do and find it helpful

At a certain point in therapy, when you’re facing a challenging situation, thinking about what your therapist would suggest or “hearing your therapist’s voice in your head” is natural. This is what is often called “internalization” of your therapist’s voice. The way they relate to you – with compassion, support, and acceptance – is how you slowly start relating to yourself. This is often a transitional period between your previous unhelpful self-talk and the stage where the voice that directs you toward healthy choices becomes completely yours. It’s a positive sign.

5. You notice a positive change in yourself

Therapy is a process. Positive change takes time; it will not happen overnight. Still, with the right therapist, you should notice some improvement after a while (say, after about 10-15 sessions. This, of course, varies greatly from person to person). Even if the problem you came to therapy with may not be solved yet, some positive change is a good sign that you and your therapist are heading in the right direction.

Also, it’s important to know that progress is not linear – some setbacks will occur. Sometimes, you will make different, healthier choices and use tools that you learned in therapy. It will feel great! Other times, you will slip and fall into your old patterns. This is completely normal. Through the process of learning, with support and new knowledge, you will be able to bounce back more quickly than before and relate to yourself in a different, healthier way.

So, what are some indicators telling you that therapy is working?

positive change in psychotherapy

10 Signs That You Are Making Progress In Therapy

There is no universal set of ways to measure progress in therapy and emotional healing. It is individual and depends on your personal goals and needs. Still, as an example, here are 10 common signs you might be making progress in therapy and heading toward improved mental health.

You…

  1. are not as much “in your head” as before
  2. listen to your body’s needs more
  3. start setting healthy boundaries
  4. are able to notice your critical inner voice and challenge it
  5. allow yourself to rest and take care of your needs
  6. are getting better at recognizing your emotions and allowing yourself to feel them
  7. feel your energy levels improved
  8. are more able to create space between an emotion and a reaction instead of being purely reactive
  9. engage in healthy habits more regularly
  10. have more trust in your abilities to cope with challenges.
  11. are having fun again

This, of course, is not an extensive list. It’s a list of common positive changes people experience in therapy. It is a result of putting in the effort to work through the things that hold them back, and doing so with the right therapist.

Notice how something like “being happy all the time” is not on the list. The goal of therapy is NOT to feel only pleasant emotions and stop experiencing unpleasant ones. Instead, the goal is to start relating to your emotions in a different, healthier way and, from there, start making positive changes in your behaviour as well.

Have you ever been to therapy? What is your experience? How do you notice you are making progress in therapy? We’d love to hear your thoughts; please be free to comment down below. Also, if you find this blog post useful, go ahead and share it on your social media.

 

Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.

 

Sources:

Hubble, M. A., Duncan, B. L., & Miller, S. D. (1999). The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy. American Psychological Association. Online HERE

Geller, J., & Farber, B. (1993). Factors influencing the process of internalization in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Research3(3), 166-180. Online HERE

Wampold, B. E. (2007). Psychotherapy: the humanistic (and effective) treatment. American Psychologist62(8), 857. Online HERE

myths about psychotherapy

8 Common Myths About Therapy (Debunked)

What really happens in therapy?

Thanks to the stigma surrounding psychotherapy that is still, to some extent, present in our society (although this is, fortunately, changing for the better), many people have never seen a therapist and are hesitant to do so, even if they could benefit from it. Add to that sometimes-inaccurate portrayal in the media, and it’s not a surprise why many people have a slightly distorted, or downright wrong picture of psychotherapy. This can discourage people from seeking help when they really need it, and further damage their mental health. Thus, it is important to talk openly about therapy and share accurate information. It can help combat reservations people may have about finding a therapist and getting the right kind of support.

If you’ve never been to therapy and you feel like something is holding you back, maybe it’s worth exploring if you believe some of the common misconceptions about therapy. Here are 8 common myths we’ve heard about psychotherapy (in no particular order), and truths that disprove them.

1. Therapy is for weak people

Maybe the most common myth about therapy is that seeking professional help means that you are somehow weak or flawed. Everyone goes through a rough patch from time to time; that’s part of life, and we don’t have to go through it alone.

But sometimes we try to do exactly that, afraid of what other people might say or what we would think of ourselves if we have chosen otherwise. The truth is that seeking therapy does not mean you are incapable of solving your own problems. Exactly the opposite! You are taking charge of your life by actively improving some parts of it with the help of a professional. You have enough self-awareness to realize that some things are not working the way you’d want them to. Instead of trying to prove yourself as tough, you are choosing to smartly and efficiently get where you want to be. You’re not letting fear hold you back. That pretty much sounds like the opposite of weak, doesn’t it?

misconceptions about therapy

2. You will be lying on a couch

Nowadays, this is very rare. Some psychoanalytically oriented therapists use this approach sometimes as a way to help the client speak more freely about their inner experience, but only if the client feels comfortable with it. Typically, a therapist’s office looks a lot like a living room, where you both sit at a comfortable distance, facing each other. Some therapists take notes during your visit (yes, as you’ve seen in movies :)), others leave that for after the session. It all depends on the therapist’s approach and style, and there are many different ones out there.

3. Therapy is mostly just you talking and the therapist listening. You can do that with a friend.

 While support from friends and family is amazing, sometimes that is not enough to work through some challenges. Your therapist is a professional with years of training, educated to treat cognitive, behavioural, and emotional problems, and will use many different techniques to help you deal with them effectively. Because of their long training and experience, your therapist hears things differently than a non-therapist. For example, you may be upset about others not following the rules, and your therapist may hear a fear of lack of control. Or you may be upset that your partner is going out without you and making new friends, and your therapist may hear a fear of abandonment.

It may look like a casual conversation, but a good therapist is trained to ask intentional questions to help you have a better look at your experiences and emotions and link them together. Exploring deep parts of yourself in a safe, encouraging, non-judgmental environment with the guidance of a professional who is (or should be) unbiased is much different than talking to a friend.

Moreover, a therapeutic relationship is different from all the other relationships in your life. The most obvious difference is that the whole focus of the relationship is on you and your well-being Even when a therapist shares something from their personal experience, it’s you and your goals in mind. A therapeutic relationship is deeply psychologically intimate but also strictly professional. Usually, you can’t be friends outside of therapy (or, at least, not during the course of treatment).

psychotherapy techniques

4. You have to have a major mental health issue or be in a crisis to seek therapy

People come to therapy for various reasons. Indeed, some of these people battle serious mental health issues and might benefit from medication. However, the majority of issues people come with are what you’d call “everyday problems”. Examples include managing stress, navigating transition and change, dealing with grief, finding a work-life balance, overcoming fears, improving relationships, etc. Moreover, many people look for therapy as a preventative measure, or as a way to maintain their mental health.

5. You will have to talk about your childhood

Not necessarily, and not if you don’t want to. There is nothing in therapy you strictly HAVE to do. If you don’t feel ready, a good therapist will not pressure you to talk about your past. Learning about your childhood can help in understanding the patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours you have now, the way you see the world, and the decisions you are making in the present. Our early experiences deeply and powerfully shape our beliefs about relationships, safety, and love. These beliefs further direct what we think we “have to do to earn” those things. Some of these beliefs and tactics serve us well, and some are inaccurate and unhelpful. Nonetheless, we carry them all into adulthood.

For example, if your caretakers encouraged you to “always put others first”, that being kind means accommodating other people’s needs, that saying “no” is rude and you earned punishment for that… you, as a child, quickly learned how to behave to gain their approval. Your nervous system shapes in a way that communicates: “putting others first=mom’s/dad’s approval=safety” and “boundaries and self-care=mom’s/dad’s disapproval=wrong, danger, abort!”. As an adult, you may tend to people-please, be an ‘overgiver’ in relationships, and struggle with setting boundaries. Even if you rationally understand that boundaries are important, your nervous system can still cling to the old patterns. This is why you may feel a knot in your stomach or your heart pounding when you are about to set some personal boundaries, even when you know it’s the right thing to do.

When you understand why you feel or behave a certain way in the present, where the root of the problem is, the path to change becomes clearer. You connect the dots, are more aware of unhelpful patterns in the present and are more able to replace them with more accurate, useful ones, that will serve you better right now.

how therapy works

6. Therapists have ready solutions for your problems and will tell you what to do

Although your therapist knows a lot about what is important for mental health in general, a path to good mental health can be different for different people. A therapist may be an expert in mental health, but the client is an expert in their own life. In therapy, they are two equals who bring their knowledge together to explore the issue and weigh options to find a solution that works well. A good therapist doesn’t work based on a ready-made formula, but tailors treatment around each client’s needs and goals. They won’t give you direct advice. Instead, they will empower you to identify and understand your blocks, and guide you toward finding what’s best for you and trusting your own decisions.

7. Therapy can solve problems in one or two sessions

Usually not. Just like you don’t get a six-pack after one or two sets of crunches, you most probably won’t completely solve the problem you came with after just one session. Therapy is a process. Sometimes it’s a short process, sometimes it’s a longer one, but worth the effort nonetheless.

8. You will always feel better after a therapy session

Many times, you will leave your therapist’s office relieved, hopeful, optimistic, joyful. Other times, uncovering your fears and insecurities, remembering your past, or facing your true emotions, can be a painful experience. Talking about something that has a high emotional impact can be stressful and leave you exhausted. Therapy encourages you to leave your comfort zone, and that is not always a pleasant experience. Sometimes, therapy is described as “a storm that leads into calm”. It is a process in which, at times, things become worse before they become better.

Thus, it is not surprising to, sometimes, leave your therapy session feeling drained. You need time to process and to let things you unpacked fall into their place. It’s part of the healing process. However, if after the majority of your sessions you feel worse, it’s important to raise this issue with your therapist.

 

Do any of these misconceptions sound familiar? What are some myths you’ve heard about psychotherapy? Please let us know in the comment section below.

 

Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.

 

Sources:

Kottler, J. A., & Balkin, R. S. (2020). Myths, misconceptions, and invalid assumptions about counseling and psychotherapy. Oxford University Press, USA.

Wampold, B. E. (2019). The basics of psychotherapy: An introduction to theory and practice. American Psychological Association. Online HERE

what to know before starting therapy

Everything You Wanted To Know Before Starting Therapy

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!

first therapy session

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.

what happens in therapy

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.

what to expect in therapy
Some of the questions your therapist may ask during your first session:

  • 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.

how to prepare for counselling session
1. Find the right fit

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.

is therapy worth it

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.

 

Sources:

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 services26(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 Sciences28(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

how to deal with mixed emotions

Why Having Mixed Feelings Is Not a Bad Thing

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.

how to deal with mixed feelings

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?”

torn between options

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.

You can…

  • 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.

contradicting emotions

Embracing Ambivalence

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.

when you have mixed feelings

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.

 

Sources:

Burton, N. (2012). Self-Deception II: Splitting. Psychology Today.

Schimmack, U. (2001). Pleasure, displeasure, and mixed feelings: Are semantic opposites mutually exclusive?. Cognition & Emotion15(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 Psychology60(2), 570-586.

Zimmerman, E. (2016). Is Ambivalence Healthy? Researchers Have Mixed Feelings. Stanford Business.

 

how to stop procrastinating

How to Overcome Procrastination (10 Tips Backed by Science)

Procrastination is something we all experience. You certainly know the feeling – staring at a blank page, having an assignment waiting for you, delaying starting a large project, and doing everything except what you are “supposed” to do. You carry around this heavy, dark cloud of procrastination, feeling miserable for hours or days, but you are still unable to make the first step toward getting it done. And even though you may be irritated, agitated, you can’t sleep… you can’t work either. Until finally, something happens, and you get it done. Often in a guilt-infused panic mode, at the last moment, but you get it done.

The quality of your work may suffer. The quality of your life definitely does.

But why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we procrastinate, even when we know we will feel bad about it? The answer to this question is not simple and goes much deeper than just “laziness” or “irresponsibility”.

Why do we procrastinate?

Contrary to what most people believe, procrastination is not about being lazy or lacking willpower. Since it’s such a widespread phenomenon, numerous researchers tried to get to the bottom of it and understand the roots and reasons behind it.

“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions induced by certain tasks – boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”

– dr. Piers Steel, a professor of the University of Calgary

There are many potential reasons for procrastination, but the majority of results of scientific studies show that they come down to three groups of explanations, or can be a combination of them. They show that, usually, procrastination may be:

  1. a result of our brain’s natural tendency to be more drawn to instant gratification than long-term benefits
  2. a habit we use to cope with stress and provide emotional relief
  3. a way to protect our sense of self-worth

Procrastination is not a time-management problem; it’s an emotion regulation problem. So let’s get deeper into it.

how to stop procrastinating

I Procrastination is something our brain naturally does

The brain is pretty amazing. It is probably the most complex thing humankind currently knows. And yet, it can sometimes seem, well, a little lazy. The problem is, our brains are programmed to be more drawn toward instant gratification than toward future benefits; they’ll rather take immediate satisfaction than focus on the big picture and delay pleasure for the sake of long-term goals. In general, we struggle with tasks that require effort now in return to future possible benefits. That is why it can be so difficult to stick to long-term goals such as weight-loss programs or saving for retirement.

An interesting study from UCLA showed that, when we imagine our future self, our brain’s activity is similar to as if we’re imagining someone else completely. In other words, when you imagine yourself a day, a week, a month from now, it’s like you’re imagining, say, a mailman or a worker you said “Hi” to once at a random store. A complete stranger. So, in a nutshell, an emotional part of your brain doesn’t really care about your future self as much as it does for your present self. Not even close.

Looking from this perspective, procrastination makes sense. It explains why it’s so easy to procrastinate, and why it takes effort and active attention to break the pattern and actually start working on something you know is important for your future self, but your present self doesn’t like doing.

procrastination worry guilt

II We procrastinate as a way to deal with stress

Here is a funny paradox – although we know procrastination, long-term, increases our stress levels and brings a whole bunch of uncomfortable emotions, initially, we may use procrastination as a stress-relief habit.

When we feel stressed, drained, overwhelmed, or we have a low level of frustration tolerance (low ability to tolerate unpleasant feelings or stressful situations), our brains may use procrastination as a way to gain some strength and energy in the present moment. If you have something stressful going on in your life, if your brain is filled with overthinking, worrying, overplanning, anxiety, high expectations, etc., and you have something boring or challenging to deal with, your brain may be like: “Are you kidding me?! I can’t deal with this too! Give me some break!”. So, we turn to procrastination as a way to try to lower the level of stress by doing something we find less overwhelming. Watching cat videos is much less demanding than making 15 phone calls, isn’t it?

Since your brain is, pretty shortsighted, it automatically turns to short-term stress relief, even though, long term, stress will increase due to procrastination. If this worked a couple of times, your brain may start adopting procrastination as a habit it can turn to when you need to deal with something you have no motivation for and your stress levels are high.

But what about situations when we procrastinate on things we love and value, those that are really important to us?

fear of failure

III We procrastinate as a way to maintain a good self-image

Here is an even funnier paradox than the previous one – when we really, really want to succeed, but are also very, very scared of failure, we may self-sabotage as a way to self-protect. In other words, we may use procrastination as both, a way to sabotage ourselves and, that way, preserve our good self-image. Let’s explain.

The self-worth theory of motivation asserts that one of our primary needs, as human beings, is the need to be accepted, by ourselves and others, and the primary way we see this happening is through achievement. In other words, we feel the need to be seen as competent and capable, because this gives us a sense of self-worth, and we are ready to sacrifice our other needs to preserve that image.

Basically, many of us have a simple model in our head that our performance determines our inner capabilities and our skills, which determine our success, and this success determines our self-worth, how we think about ourselves. Naturally, when this is the case and we are facing an important task, our anxiety and fear of failure skyrocket. Performing well on a task becomes crucial because, if we fail, it is not just the work we did that is at stake, it’s our self-image as well. But we still want to do it, it’s something we value and find important. So we have two strong forces battling inside us – a driving desire to achieve and a paralyzing fear of failure.

When the desire to succeed and the fear of failure clash…

We can strive for success, really want to do something, but at the same time be afraid of failure and what it means for us. When we are overly striving both away and toward something, we can feel stuck. This is exactly how people often describe procrastination – as being stuck, against a wall, feeling like having an obstacle they can’t get over.

When this is the case, we may use procrastination as a “middle ground” between these two motivations, a smart strategy to protect the picture of ourselves as capable individuals. If we procrastinate on a task that we value and care about, there are two scenarios:

  • If we fail, we have built a good excuse for ourselves – “Well, I didn’t have enough time to do it better. It’s probably not an accurate representation of my abilities”.
  • If, on the other hand, we succeed, we can say to ourselves how capable we are – “Wow, I succeeded despite such a short time I had”.

It’s a win-win situation. Except it is not, because we sacrifice our peace of mind and, often, the quality of our work.

So, how to fight this?

stop procrastinating

How to stop procrastinating?

The first step toward overcoming procrastination is to be aware of it. Procrastination comes in many disguises, from guilty Netflix nights to being “busy” and doing seemingly important tasks to avoid what is really important. It’s not always easy to recognize procrastination for what it is, until it’s too late. To overcome it, you first need to stop and notice it. The second and crucial step is unravelling what lies behind it. What is your, individual reason for putting things off? From there, you can take some steps toward managing those reasons and get rid of procrastination. Here are some suggestions and tips.

I Fight procrastination by training your instant-gratification brain

Sometimes, when it comes to doing things that we are not motivated or we don’t like doing, we need a little extra push to get things going. Two things can be helpful to overcome our brains’ automatic tendency to grasp for instant satisfaction:

Re-balance the cost-benefit analysis

Instead of letting the emotional part of your brain run the show, turn up your logical, rational side. Consciously make the benefits of taking action feel bigger and the disadvantages of the “pain of doing it” feel smaller. So, you want to focus on the reward of taking action or finishing a task and make it outweigh the pain of tackling it. For example, you can visualize how great it feels to tick it off of your to-do list, or tie finishing each step of a task to a treat, to something you’re looking forward to. Try experimenting and see what works for you to re-balance things and get started.

Bridge the gap between your present self and your future self

Be aware that your brain is short-sighted and that it sees your future self almost as a stranger. Thus, keep reminding yourself – it’s still going to be you. You, with your kind of thinking, your memories, your experiences, your problems, and if you don’t take action now, you’ll probably have another set of problems to deal with. Imagine if you had to face those problems right now – how would you feel? Really try to bring that feeling into the present moment. Uncomfortable? That’s exactly how you’re going to feel if you let the consequences of your inaction for your future self to deal with.

In a similar manner, when you set goals, while it’s important to imagine long-term benefits, make sure your present self knows what’s in it for them too. Find a way to make the process more enjoyable short term. Play with little rewards and see what feels good each step of the way.

II Beat procrastination when you are stressed and overwhelmed

Like any habit, procrastination can be broken, or changed. In short, every habit has three parts: trigger, response, and reward. In the case of procrastination, the trigger is stress. Your response is avoiding the task. The reward is a little bit of stress relief. What you can change in this cycle is your response. You are always going to have stresses in your life – you can’t change that, but you can acknowledge it and change the way you respond to it.

So, instead of seeking stress relief by avoiding a task (and then beating yourself up about it and becoming more stressed), you can:

1. Take the time to notice what’s going on underneath

Stop and acknowledge what is really stressing you out and taking your energy.

2. Avoid self-criticism

Forgive yourself for wanting to avoid the stress by procrastinating. There is no need to criticize yourself; that will increase the stress.

3. Identify the first step and use the “5-minute trick”

When we have to deal with something complex, it can be difficult to start because it can seem overwhelming. Finding the smallest first step that you can start with is usually helpful. A goal or a task like: “Learn Italian” is huge, and facing it in that form can feel paralyzing. On the other hand, “Search for an Italian language teacher and contact them” or “Go to the bookstore and buy an A1 Italian language workbook” seem much more manageable. To make it even easier, commit to working on the first (or any) step for only 5 minutes. Usually, you will find yourself continuing beyond that, but it’s a good place to start, because that is the most difficult step.

4. Find another way to get stress relief

Your brain needs some energy, and is trying to get it in an inefficient way – through procrastination. Make sure to compensate, but from a different source, something that is better and healthier for you. Promise yourself that after the work you do, you will do something to recharge yourself. This is not self-indulgence, but a reasonable way to look at your needs and provide yourself with enough energy to continue functioning efficiently.

 

To sum up, these steps may go something like this: “I procrastinate – I may be stressed about this and this and that – It’s okay, I need some relief, and my brain is trying to do this by turning to procrastination. Let’s change that. I will work on this for a limited amount of time, and instead of inefficiently trying to get some energy through procrastination, I will provide it to myself by doing this and this and that afterward”.

start working reach your goals

III Overcome procrastination when it comes from fear of failure

People who are very fearful of failure (and many high-achievers and perfectionists fall into this category) often have a kind of simplistic model in their mind: performance = ability = worth. Sometimes we procrastinate on things that are important to us, that we love and value, because we are scared to make a mistake and what that would mean for us and our self-image.

If you recognize yourself in this, here are a few things you can do:

1. Notice it for what it is and don’t let it slide

Ask yourself what is going on, what you’re afraid of. What kind of uncomfortable feelings does this task inflict on you? Then think about how realistic this kind of thinking actually is. Are you focusing on the negative or catastrophizing? Is some kind of black and white thinking present? Do you impose some “should” or “musts” on yourself? Talking to a therapist about it can also help.

2. Change your self-talk and tame your expectations

Catch criticism or perfectionism and realize it’s not helpful. Instead, you can look at things as an opportunity to experiment. Have a kind and friendly attitude toward yourself and approach a task with curiosity: “Let’s see how this will go” instead of “Everyone will think I’m a failure”. Self-compassion is incredibly helpful in this, you may want to incorporate it into the way you think and treat yourself.

3. Focus on your values instead of on your fears

Think about your values, what is important to you, and connect them with a task you do. How can you make this task less scary? Instead of focusing on what you are fearful of and why you don’t want to do the task, come up with a list of why you want to do the task, what is drawing you toward it, what is motivating you.

4. Challenge the performance–ability–worth relationship

You are more than your accomplishments. You don’t appreciate your friends because of their performance, academic or career success, but because of their other qualities, such as kindness, humor, loyalty, their ability to listen, their quirks and uniqueness. Our abilities and performance are connected, that’s true, but not always; there are many factors that determine our performance. We don’t always perform perfectly, even though our abilities may exceed what we show at the moment. It goes vice versa as well – admit it, there were situations in your life when you got lucky and got an A on a test when you really didn’t deserve it.

In sum:

Be mindful of your natural brain’s tendency to procrastinate and re-balance things.

Be gentle with yourself and find a way to de-stress in a healthy way.

Acknowledge the fear, and take it along for a ride. You got this.

Do you have some useful tips on how to deal with procrastination? Share them with us in the comment section below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please be free to share it with others.

 

Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.

 

Sources:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1001615

https://www.halhershfield.com/research-blog/saving-for-the-future-self-neural-measures?rq=Wimmer

https://hbr.org/2016/07/how-to-beat-procrastination

https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/10.1027/1016-9040/a000138

motivation for keeping new years resolutions

How to Get And Stay Motivated This Year

January is the month of new beginnings, new decisions, new choices. For many, the month of January, looking from the distance of December, feels like it’s going to be a fresh start, a blank page that will be filled with great choices we missed to make in the previous year. This time is going to be different. Right? But, with the year 2020 unfolding, it’s not uncommon that people struggle to keep up with their New Year’s resolutions. Somewhere along the way, they realize that sticking to their decisions is too difficult, or that those goals are not that important, or that “they just don’t feel like it”. What happens?

That strong urge for change that pushed us to make New Year’s resolutions – called motivation – faded away. This is not surprising – keeping high levels of motivation, in the long run, is tricky. Knowing a little bit more about how motivation works might help you achieve and keep your resolutions.

A Closer Look Into the Nature of Motivation

There are different definitions of motivation out there, but the majority basically boils down to this:

Motivation is a desire to act in pursuit of your goals. It pushes you to act, to behave in a certain way to get what you want or need.

You certainly felt this drive before, this urge to move and take action. It felt awesome, it pushed you toward reaching your goals, you felt energized and willing to engage – yes, in short, you felt motivated. But motivation is not easy to maintain. That initial spark fades away after some time and is, typically, not enough. That’s because motivation consists of three components:

  • Activation – the initial decision to make things happen
  • Persistence – the continued effort toward a goal despite the obstacles
  • Intensity – how hard you work for your goal

motivation

Further, there are basically two types of motivation:

Extrinsic motivation comes from an external source – to get a reward or to avoid punishment.

Intrinsic motivation comes from the inside, from within us – we do something because we enjoy it.

Both types of motivation are important. However, it turns out that intrinsic motivation is more powerful.

What does this mean for you? Only knowing that something is good for you is not enough to push you to make a change; a considerable reward has to be in play. This can be something external, like social recognition, money, or approval for example, or internal, like a sense of purpose or the feeling of deep fulfilment that comes from acting in accordance with your core values. Ideally, both should be present, but even one can be enough to push you forward through all three above mentioned components of motivation.

Staying Motivated Throughout the Year – Action Plan

In terms of New Year’s resolutions, if you want them to stick, the first crucial step is to turn them from a wish/decision to a goal. But it’s not just any goal; to keep you motivated, your goal needs to be a certain way to enhance the energy you need to get to the destination:

  • Optimally challenging – meaning you need to put the effort in, but it’s realistic and not too hard,
  • Specific – meaning your energy is directed toward a particular outcome,
  • Congruent with self – meaning your goal is in line with your values.

Once you have that set, you’ve established a strong foundation for working up toward the goal. Even if you slip up, it will be easier to bounce back from there.stay motivated this year

Additionally, here are 4 additional hacks that can help you get and stay motivated throughout the year:

1. Find your why

Nothing drives us like a strong feeling of purpose. The question WHY we do something is crucial, and if the answer is in line with our personal values, it is a huge push forward. To find out what your personal core values are requires tapping into your deepest self and asking: “What kind of life do I want to live?“. If you can connect your work and goals to your core values, it becomes a powerful source of motivation.

2. Focus on who you want to become

People interpret situations and difficulties in accordance with how they perceive themselves, and choose actions that feel congruent with their identity. For example, if someone believes that they’re a “loser”, sometimes they will choose actions that will reinforce this belief, and not choose actions that are incongruent with this picture of themselves because “it’s not for people like me”.

Thus, for increasing motivation, it can be more effective to focus on the identity – who you want to become – than on the ability – what you want to achieve. If you want to, for example, start going to the gym more often, the reason: “Because I’m (becoming) an athlete/healthy/good looking person” might be more motivating than: “Because I need to exercise more/have a healthier lifestyle”.

3. Set small milestones

Sometimes, setting a goal can feel intimidating because it looks too big to achieve. A crucial thing to not crush your motivation down is to divide large tasks into small, manageable parts, and do one at a time. Your brain will get a hit of dopamine every time you tick one small task off of a list, which will keep you motivated.

4. “CHOOSE” instead of “MUST”

A slight shift in the language can make big changes in the mindset. Sometimes the things we’re not motivated to do and see as a chore are, if we stop and think about it, the things that we are grateful for. “I have to go to work” and “I get to go to work” sound very different, don’t they?

And don’t forget – motivation is not a one-time thing. It has to be reinforced day after day. As Zig Ziglar wisely said: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

How do you keep yourself motivated? Share it with us in the comments. Additionally, if you like this post, please be free to share it with your friends and family.

Happy new beginnings!

Sources:

Armstrong, M., & Taylor, S. (2020). Armstrong’s handbook of human resource management practice. Kogan Page Publishers.

Hockenbury, D. H., & Hockenbury, S. E. (2010). Discovering psychology. Macmillan.

calm worrying mind and anxiety

One Powerful Technique to Ease Your Worrying Mind and Anxiety

Are you stuck in your head? Do you feel like you are worried about anything and everything all day long? Repeating the same scenarios in your head over and over and spiraling down the hole of anxious thoughts is tiring! We all feel anxious from time to time, but it is about how we deal with it that can make a difference.

Sometimes, worry can be a good thing. When there is a realistic possibility of failure or unpleasant things occurring, worry can motivate us to work harder, prepare and focus on what we can control. However, when it slips into rumination about the things you have no control over, it doesn’t lead to productive or practical solutions. Instead, it triggers unhelpful thought patterns and excessive worry that repeat over and over. It’s completely useless and simply frustrating. But how to stop?

Why Simply Telling Yourself to Stop Worrying is Not Helpful

Your excessive worry isn’t there without a reason. You bother yourself with worst-case scenarios and anxious thoughts because they give you a false sense of control. If you worry too hard, bad things might not happen, right? And if they happen, you’d surely be prepared?

Still, you don’t feel any better if the thing you were worried about really occurs, do you? Think about it.

Remember, worrying gives you a FALSE sense of control. We have a tendency to believe that rumination will bring a sense of relief, but it doesn’t because that tailspin has no end or solution, which just intensifies anxiety more.

Simply telling yourself to stop doing something is not enough because, as mentioned above, somewhere deep down you might believe that worry gives you some sense of control and relief. That’s why your subconscious mind doesn’t let go. However, this sense of control is extremely weak, and the damage to your mental health far outweighs that illusion of the “benefit”.

So the first thing you need to do is to consciously decide to give up on trying to control things you can’t control. Second, stop blaming yourself for feeling anxious. It’s enough you feel overwhelmed in the first place; you don’t need additional pressure. Simply telling yourself to stop worrying doesn’t work. So, what does?

Schedule Worry Time

It may sound counterproductive, but forcing yourself to worry during a specific time of the day may actually help you worry less. Studies consistently show that dedicating 15 to 20 minutes during the day to purposely obsess over things that worry you actually decrease the number of worrying thoughts during the day and helps to ease anxiety.

Rules are simple: schedule 15 minutes at a specific time every day to worry about your problems. Pick a time when you know you’ll be able to focus all your attention to worry without interruptions. However, try to make this time at least 2 hours away from your bedtime to avoid possible difficulties falling asleep.

Okay, now that you made your appointment with worry, spend some time with it. Dedicate your full attention to your anxious thoughts during those 15 minutes, without fighting them or trying to make them go away. Don’t try to think positive or to convince yourself these thoughts are unnecessary. Exactly the opposite – strive to come up with as many worries as you can, and try to be as uncomfortable as possible in reviewing them. If you run out of ideas in those 15 minutes, it’s important to not walk away. The goal is to fill the whole 15 minutes with worry, not a minute more or less. If you spent all your anxious ideas in the first 10 minutes, repeat the ones you already thought over.

When your scheduled date with worry passes, get up and go on with your day. You’ll meet your worry at the same time the next day, but not until then. Anxious thoughts will, of course, try to sneak in and occupy space in your head during the day. Just politely tell them that now is not the time, and they will have to wait until the appointment when you’ll listen to all of them. If they are persistent, instead of getting stuck in your head with them, try some of the mindfulness techniques like focusing on the outside sensations or on your breathing.

worry time to calm anxietyHow And Why Worry Time Works

There is a little mind twist here. You’re probably frustrated with not being able to run away or combat all those worrying and uncomfortable thoughts; it just seems there are too many of them all the time. However, when you turn tables around and purposefully try to find as many of them as possible, you realize three things:

  1. There are not so many of them after all,
  2. Facing your worries and letting unpleasant feelings those obsessing thoughts evoke is not so terrible or unboreable,
  3. In the end, worrying becomes boring.

These three things change the way you approach your worry and gradually ease your anxiety over anxiety. Instead of becoming all tense on the first thought of worry, you become to experience other emotional responses, like boredom for example. That creates space for making a distance from unhelpful thought patterns and for taking a more realistic perspective.

In the end, one important note: be persistent. Give time for change. When you start practicing this technique, it’s possible that your worry will intensify in the first few days, and it will be more difficult to resist rumination between worry times. That is frustrating, but also totally natural. Just keep up the practice. Emotional changes need time. However, if this technique stirs up extremely strong emotions in you after a week, stop practicing it. Don’t hesitate to ask for additional support. Your therapist will work with you to discover what lies behind your anxious thoughts and feelings, and find techniques and tools that suit you best.

Sources:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/16581710_Stimulus_control_applications_to_the_treatment_of_worry

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22977265

searching for your passion

Why Searching for Your Passion Is Not a Good Idea

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” the clichéd saying goes. However, is it really true?

There is a widespread notion in our society that following your passion is the key to a fulfilled and happy life. Well, it turns out this kind of belief is not only a myth but can be very limiting and even dysfunctional.

Your Idea about What Passion is is Probably Wrong

If someone would ask you what your passion is, what would you say? What are you wholeheartedly passionate about? *tick-tock* *tick-tock*…

The truth is, this question is triggering! The majority of people feel pressured to come up with a good answer, and if they don’t, they feel like something is wrong with them. Considering everything society and media constantly feed us, that’s no surprise. We’ve been told that finding our true passion is a secret to a purposeful and joyful life, and if we don’t discover what it is, well… we’re destined for misery. But that’s completely misleading.

The thing with passion is that it’s not necessarily something you do; passion is something you feel.

Passion is a full force of your attention and energy that you give to whatever is right in front of you.

– Terri Trespicio

Passion is a feeling you find within yourself. Sure, with some things this feeling is easier to experience than with some others, and with some, it never comes. However, it’s good to know that passion toward something is fluid; it can develop and fluctuate with time, different circumstances, and different knowledge and attitude toward that something.

find love in what you do

Looking for One and Only Passion = Fixed Mindset and Limited Experiences

One research found that, compared to people who see passion as a developing feeling through activity, individuals who believe people have a relatively fixed passion that just waits to be discovered have a tendency to quit more often when things become difficult or less interesting. That’s because they believe that, when you’re passionate about something, it becomes a boundless source of motivation and, as already mentioned, “you won’t have to work a day in your life anymore”. But that is not true; in any job, even the best one, there are certain things that are not so pleasant or fun. So, when things become difficult, and they will with anything you do at one point, a belief that it must mean “it’s not your true passion” gives you an easy way out.

As the authors of the research say: “Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry”.

Really, being obsessed with finding your passion can limit your experiences and prevent you from exploring some areas you might be really good at. Moreover, if you believe that once you find your passion it will all be sunshine and rainbows and that you’ll feel motivated all the time, it will almost certainly lead to disappointment after disappointment.

 

Instead of searching for your passion, be passionate!

All this, of course, doesn’t mean that if you know exactly what you’re passionate about, and you’re pursuing it, something is not right. No, if you’re happy with what you do, that’s awesome! That inner sense of excitement is something many people are searching for, and you’ve found it – we’re glad for you! J

For those of you with panic inner screaming: “I don’t know what I’m passionate about!”, know that it’s okay. Nothing is wrong with you. It’s great you don’t know, actually – that gives you the opportunity to explore and see how you can develop your passion. If something you do, let’s say a new job, doesn’t click right away – give it time. Try to become better at it and approach it with an inner sense of enthusiasm and interest.

Pursue your whole life with passion. Give special attention to everyday things, from paying your bills to doing your laundry or working out. Practice getting curious and becoming fascinated by little, ordinary things surrounding you. That, and not one special thing that you’re trying to discover, will make for an enjoyable and freeing life you strive for.

stop searching for your passion

Sources:

http://gregorywalton-stanford.weebly.com/uploads/4/9/4/4/49448111/okeefedweckwalton_2018.pdf

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tamiforman/2018/02/14/havent-found-your-passion-stop-worrying-and-do-this-instead/#41f1b3ff1908

 

holiday depression

When December Becomes Blue: Coping With Holiday Depression

The holidays are here! Yay…? While everyone around you seems joyful and excited, you may be wondering why you’re feeling so blue.

If you’re feeling depressed or anxious during this time of the year, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, the holiday season triggers feelings of sadness, irritability, loneliness, grief, depression, anxiety, and a bunch of other unpleasant emotions for more people than you think.

For some of us, holidays bring pleasant memories. For others, on the other hand, holidays have that sneaky nature of bringing some painful memories to the surface. Add financial pressure, tight deadlines, social obligations, or meeting with family members that you know will say or do something that stresses you out… Now it’s not so surprising that you’re not all that cheerful and excited for holidays, is it? However, there are ways to turn things around and feel different than this.

So, let’s try to make it a little easier this year. Here are 4 strategies for handling this end-of-the-year situation and coping with holiday depression:

*** 1. Let yourself feel. ***

Suppressing emotions is a road to depression. Emotional avoidance is one of the main causes of not only depression, but a wide range of psychological problems. Don’t be afraid of your feelings – they are already there in you. If you’re trying to avoid grief, loneliness, sadness or any other unpleasant emotion because you think it’s intolerable or dangerous or inappropriate, you’ll soon feel anxious about such emotion arising. Before you know it, you’ll invest so much energy in trying to suppress unpleasant feelings surfacing, that it will drain all your energy and become a negative experience itself.

It’s OK to cry and feel sad or lonely. Give yourself some time to sit with your painful feelings and to accept them. Acceptance can feel relieving – it means you don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of energy anymore on pushing your feelings away. So, let yourself feel. THEN – and don’t forget this step – do something nice for yourself.

*** 2. Create new traditions. ***

Putting on a brave face for others can be especially difficult when the world is blasting us with images of group hugs and the memory of your final hug with someone you love is all that you can think about.

– Suzanne Deges-White, Ph.D., Psychology Today

Holidays have a way of opening old wounds that we may try to forget about during the year. Also, sometimes, there is pressure to perform rituals and traditions that we may not necessarily feel connected to or comfortable doing. Some people even feel that, by changing the same old holiday traditions, they will somehow betray their loved ones who are no longer with them.

Instead of focusing on what once was, why don’t you try and create a new tradition? There are no hard rules on how your holiday should look like. It’s completely OK to get creative and do something out of the ordinary. This doesn’t mean you have to erase all the rituals that were once a part of your holidays; instead, you can reinvent them in a way that feels fun and comfortable for you and your loved ones, or even create a special new ritual that honours the person that is no longer there. Starting a new tradition can help create fresh memories of holidays, no longer overshadowed by the past.

*** 3. Keep Your Expectations in Check ***

These days, fairy-tallish photos and videos of happy people enjoying the holidays with their loved ones seem to be everywhere. Movies, TV shows, and social media set great expectations of how this time of the year “should” feel. What is important to have in mind is that reality is often different.

Everyone has their own version of the perfect holiday. However, when reality doesn’t live up to the dream, stress and disappointment kick in. It’s nice to have a plan for how you’d like to spend your holidays, including details about people, decoration, food, gifts, etc. It’s a whole other story if everything MUST be the way you planned it. Instead of losing your mind over a burnt tray of cookies or your cousin being late to the family gathering again, stop for a moment and change your perspective. Look at these missteps as opportunities to exercise your resilience and flexibility.

When you throw away all “musts” and “shoulds”, you’ll view things more realistically, and remove the pressure that’s causing you stress and negativity. Set your expectations aside and remind yourself to enjoy the moment.

*** 4. Go Outside and Give. ***

Whatever you do, it’s best not to withdraw yourself completely from social activities and holiday festivities. Isolation will almost certainly make holiday blues worse. Even when you’re in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer to the world. If you feel lonely, or like you don’t have anybody to spend holidays with, it doesn’t mean you have to stay alone. There are people out there that will enjoy your company much more than you think. So, get outside and do what you can to make their (and your) holidays more pleasant and less lonely. Kindness is such an incredible tool to combat sadness – yours or other peoples’.

Donate gifts to families in need, serve meals at a soup kitchen, or volunteer to help people at a nursing home or homeless shelter or wherever it’s possible in your city. Go outside and explore what new nice things holidays have for you.

And in the end, the most important thing of all: don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that you’re having a rough time may be enough, but you also may want to reach out for more support. There is a difference between holiday blues, which lasts only around the holiday time, and more severe depression. If the holiday season passes and you still feel the same, it’s best to consult a professional.

We know you got this.

Enjoy the holidays 🙂

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/201009/emotional-acceptance-why-feeling-bad-is-good

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-12-psychiatrists-holiday-blues.html

https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/holiday-stress-managing-expectations.aspx