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

how to maintain boundaries

What To Do When Someone Crosses Your Boundaries (Again)

Have you ever faced a situation where someone repeatedly violated your boundaries? Just ignored the limits you have set, despite your clear communication, and crossed the line again? Frustrating, right?

Relationships are extremely important for our well-being as humans. And yet, the vast majority of us have never been taught how to build and nurture healthy relationships.

One of the most important relationship skills is knowing how to set and reinforce healthy boundaries. Do you know how to do it? In THIS article, we explained in detail what personal boundaries look like and how to set them. But the question many people struggle with is – how to maintain my boundaries? How to hold my ground and protect my boundaries when someone repeatedly violates them?

“Boundaries are personal limits we define and communicate about what we will and will not tolerate. They are like guidelines for other people about which behaviours are welcome in interaction with us and which are not.”

Healthy boundaries are crucial for our well-being and a key part of any healthy relationship. They allow us to take ownership of our own lives and shape our relationships.

Setting boundaries is a skill that requires self-awareness, communication skills and, sometimes A LOT of emotional regulation. This is because many of us have been raised to (falsely) believe that:

pleasing others = kind & good

and
honouring our own needs = selfish & bad.

crossing boundaries

Thus, it is not surprising that many people find setting boundaries with others new and scary. But setting boundaries is not the hardest part. Sometimes, some people won’t respect them, and this is where it becomes really tricky. They may get angry, passive-aggressive, disappointed, they may try to manipulate or guilt-trip you into changing your behaviour, or just blatantly ignore what you have communicated and repeat unacceptable behaviour.

So, what do you do?

You need to respect your own boundaries for others to respect them as well

“What is important to understand is that, as much as boundaries sound like they are directed at others, they are, first and foremost, about you.”

Boundaries are not about making other people behave in a certain way. This is not within your power. Rather, boundaries are about making an agreement with yourself about what you will and will not tolerate. Thus, they are much more about your inner work, about how you relate to yourself, about giving yourself permission to respect and honour your wants and needs, than about how you communicate with others.

It may not be fair, but it is your responsibility to respect the boundaries you have set as much as it is the other person’s responsibility. This is also where your power lies. You are not left to the mercy of the other person’s will to change their behaviour – you have the right to decide what is best for yourself in response to their behaviour.

If someone is crossing your boundaries, you have several options, including:

  1. Restating the boundary
  2. Enforcing the consequences
  3. Accepting their behaviour and reshaping the boundary
  4. Disengaging/distancing yourself from the relationship 

what to do when someone pushes your boundaries

How to maintain your boundaries effectively

Often, when a boundary is crossed, people feel helpless or get angry and frustrated, but don’t know what to do beyond that. They may end up explaining their boundaries again (which is absolutely okay – some people need to hear it more than once to adjust to new behaviour. However, remember that you are not obliged to repeat nor explain more than once if you don’t want to). But if boundary violation is not followed by a consequence, it essentially communicates that your boundaries are flexible and that you will tolerate said behaviour (because, well, you do).

Setting boundaries consists of two crucial components:

words (expressing how you would like to be treated) and

actions (consequences if the boundary is not respected).

If any of these components is missing, your boundaries are not complete nor stable.

For example, you have communicated to someone that you don’t appreciate them being late every time you meet. You tell them that, next time, you will wait for them for 15 minutes, no more than that. If the next time they are late again, and you are still there when they show up 30 minutes later, your actions are not in line with the boundary you have communicated. Supporting your own boundary means leaving after 15 minutes of waiting.

respond to crossing boundaries

Thus, violations of your boundaries should be met with clear communication of what your boundaries are and then consistent consequences you have set. Take the time to know your own boundaries, state them directly to those involved, and protect them with your actions.

Important: when setting boundaries and consequences for their possible violation, only communicate those that you are ready to follow through. Otherwise, your boundaries may sound like (empty) threats, and this is not beneficial. Boundaries are not there to manipulate others into doing what we want but to openly communicate how we genuinely believe we deserve to be treated.

Just because you’ve let others cross your boundaries doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it

As children, we may have learned to allow crossing our boundaries because we were helpless and depended on the big people in our lives for survival. But as adults, unless in extreme situations, we have the power and responsibility to properly defend them.

And although it may sound simple, it is far from easy. It takes self-love and self-respect to believe and behave in a way that reflects: “I will not tolerate such behaviour. This is not what I deserve. I have the right to express my preferences and needs, and to honour them”.

how to keep your boundaries

Knowing your basic rights and also what is your responsibility and what is not can help you feel a little less awkward about keeping boundaries. When you choose to fully accept and believe in these rights and responsibilities, it becomes much easier to set and reinforce your boundaries.

Remember that:

  • It’s not your responsibility to make other people happy all the time
  • You are not responsible for others’ poor decisions nor is anyone responsible for your decisions
  • It’s not your job to rescue people from their big uncomfortable feelings
  • You don’t need permission to be who you are, think what you think, or care about your needs
  • You have the right to feel your feelings, whatever those are. Behaviours and feelings are not the same things
  • You have the right to say NO
  • It’s okay to spend time alone without explaining yourself
  • It’s okay to honour your needs and wants

What if someone keeps crossing my boundaries?

 Sometimes, despite clear communication, multiple warnings, and a change of behaviour from your end, some people will keep pushing your boundaries. Whatever their reason may be for that, remember that you have the permission to choose what’s best for you and your well-being.

It can be useful to ask yourself: If things stay exactly as they are right now and never change (and it seems like they won’t), what can I do to protect my well-being?”

Maybe you conclude that this boundary is something negotiable and that you are willing to make an exception with this person. It’s okay – your boundaries can be flexible. You are the creator of boundaries in your own life and you have the right to shape them however you find is serving you. If you are willing to compromise, make sure that you are doing so with protecting your well-being in mind, not out of a sense of obligation or to please the other person.

conversation about personal limits

Unfortunately, when someone is constantly crossing the boundaries that are very important to you, the best option may be to distance yourself from the relationship. It’s easier said than done, we know. Sometimes, for practical reasons, it may not be possible to end the relationship right now. Change and transition are often very difficult, even when we know the end result is something that will serve us. Ending relationships is painful, even the ones that don’t work well anymore.

Remember that a key trademark of any healthy relationship is respect, which includes respecting your boundaries. One of the great things about adulthood is that we have choices, especially in who we build relationships with and how we nurture them. You can choose your relationships, and it is perfectly okay to let go of those that don’t support your well-being.

In the end, keep in mind that setting and keeping boundaries is a skill. It can be uncomfortable, especially when you first start implementing them. It can also be triggering and intimidating to hold your boundaries and confront someone who is crossing them. You are practicing something different than what you’re used to – it’s completely normal if it feels awkward. It takes courage to enforce a new behaviour and potentially face the uncomfortable reactions from others or, eventually, distance yourself from the relationship.

The good news is that, over time, as you practice setting and holding boundaries, it becomes much easier and the reward it brings is priceless. So, hang on and commit – it will be worth it.

 

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

 

Sources:

Tawwab, N. G. (2021). Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. Penguin.

Gazipura, A. (2017). Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty… and Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, and Unapologetically Being Yourself. BC Allen Publishing & Tonic Books.

Faitakas, M. (2021). The Importance of Setting Boundaries. SMUJournal. Retrieved on 29th of May 2022 from HERE

setting healthy boundaries

How To Set Boundaries: 5 Steps + Tips To Make It Less Uncomfortable

Raise your hand if you ever tolerated someone’s unacceptable behaviour and made excuses for them because you didn’t know how to react, or you were afraid that, by saying something, you would be seen as rude or selfish.

Raise another hand if you repeatedly did something for someone out of obligation, and then resentment toward them grew because you felt taken advantage of.

🙌    🙌    🙌

It’s okay, many of us experienced such situations at some point. But if it keeps happening over and over again, if you feel resentful and taken for granted in relationships, if you repeatedly feel like others don’t hear or respect your wishes or needs, maybe it’s time to learn to set some boundaries.

In therapy and coaching, but also in general, we can often hear people say that they would like to learn to set boundaries but have difficulties with it. One part of the reason why they are struggling is that setting boundaries is, simply, uncomfortable. It often triggers feelings of guilt and shame, and it can be especially hard for people who identify themselves as people-pleasers.

Related to this, sometimes, they don’t know how boundaries are supposed to feel like. What is my responsibility and what is not? Is it inappropriate if I tell the other person he or she crossed my boundary in this situation? Do I have the right to set boundaries for this thing?

The third reason is that they don’t know how to set boundaries – practically. What to say to set a boundary? How to maintain it?

Let’s deep dive into all three and learn how to set healthy boundaries, so we can show up for ourselves and for others more genuinely and authentically.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are physical and emotional limits you create to define what are reasonable, acceptable, safe, and permissible ways for others to behave toward you. Healthy boundaries help you define where you end and the other person begins, what you will and will not hold yourself responsible for, and teach others what is and is not an acceptable way to treat you.

Boundaries can be about various things, for example: what are appropriate times for others to call or text you, can they come to your house unannounced, how much time or money you give, how others speak to you, how physically close you are comfortable to be with someone, discussing different topics like sex, politics, religion, personal experiences, etc.

In a way, boundaries are like rules. We all know that there are different rules in life, like having to stop at a STOP sign or waiting in line at the store, etc. Those rules are easy to follow – usually, there are big signs communicating the rule, like a bright red STOP or “Wait in line” sign at a cash register. Rules are clear. Not following them results in some sort of penalty, like a fine or social disapproval. These rules are in place to prevent chaos. Our boundaries have the same purpose – to prevent overwhelm and chaos in our relationships and protect our well-being. However, they are not so clear. We don’t have signs taped over our foreheads listing what we consider to be appropriate and inappropriate. We need to communicate this. And when someone violates these boundaries, we can set consequences.

Lack of boundaries:
  • Feeling like you’re not appreciated
  • Resentment in your relationships
  • Lack of awareness of your needs, which leads to burnout
  • Always saying yes to avoid disappointing others or feeling guilty
  • Feeling obligated to immediately respond to others and meet their needs
  • Feeling like you’re being taken advantage of
Boundaries:
  • Being aware of your needs and communicating them clearly
  • Saying no to things that you don’t feel comfortable doing
  • Connecting with others when you feel emotionally open to connect, not when others expect it
  • Having the confidence to speak up about how you want to be treated and placing consequences if that is not respected
  • Believing you have the right to preserve your well-being

Why Are Boundaries So Important?

Boundaries are necessary for the health and quality of our relationships. Without them, our relationships cannot thrive. Poor boundaries lead to resentment, guilt, anger, frustration, disappointment, and burnout. They indicate that we are not honest in our relationship because we are not free to communicate how we feel or what we need but, instead, act from the fear of disappointing others. So, boundaries are kind. They allow other people to understand how to best engage with us, and that is nourishing for our relationships.

Even more importantly, boundaries are crucial for our physical and mental health. They keep us safe and help us fulfill our needs. They give us a sense of agency over our physical space, our time, and emotional resources. Without them, our energy quickly gets depleted, leaving us exhausted, stressed, and hopeless. Poor boundaries can lead to other problems as well, such as having difficulties with decision-making or confusing our own wants and needs with others’ wants and needs. We may end up spending so much of our life doing what others want that we lose a sense of self, finding it difficult to identify what it is that we authentically want or don’t want.

Boundaries are an expression of self-care. Self-care is not just about how you eat, how much you exercise, or how much you rest. It is a much broader concept, referring to how you treat yourself, how you find balance, joy, play, and kindness toward yourself. Self-care is how you take care of your physical and mental health; setting and maintaining boundaries is an essential part of it.

How to Set Boundaries Effectively

Even though personal boundaries can be challenging to navigate, recognizing our limits and communicating them well is essential for our own well-being and for building healthy relationships with others. Here are 5 steps that can help you set healthy boundaries.

building boundaries

1. Understand that you have the right to set boundaries

Not only it is your right to create boundaries, but it is also your responsibility. You can’t control other people’s behaviour, you can only control your own. Hence, what you feel and need and how you want to be treated is not up to the other person to figure out, but up to you to communicate. Personal boundaries allow you to take ownership of your own life and shape your relationships.

Knowing your basic rights and also what is your responsibility and what is not can help you feel a little less awkward for setting personal boundaries. When you choose to fully accept and believe in these rights and responsibilities, it becomes much easier to set boundaries and let go of the guilt surrounding them.

Remember that:

  • It’s not your responsibility to make other people happy all the time
  • You are not responsible for others’ poor decisions nor is anyone responsible for your decisions
  • It’s not your job to rescue people from their big uncomfortable feelings
  • You don’t need permission to be who you are, think what you think, or care about your needs
  • You have the right to feel your feelings, whatever those are. Behaviours and feelings are not the same things
  • It’s okay for others to get angry or feel uncomfortable
  • You have the right to say NO
  • It’s okay to spend time alone without explaining yourself
  • Other people have every right to disagree with you or don’t like your decision

2. Identify what you need

In order to create boundaries, it is important to clearly define what you want and why. To set good boundaries, it’s often necessary to get in touch with your needs and personal core values. Sometimes, especially if you ignored them most of the time to cater to others’ expectations and demands, this can be challenging. Still, don’t give up. Small steps lead to big results. Here are some questions you can ask yourself that may help:

What is important to me?

How do I want my relationships to look like?

What are my goals?

What do I value in life?

So, it’s important to be clear about what exactly you want to change, why, and how. This will help you communicate your boundary clearly and stay the course when it gets through. Writing this down can also be helpful.

set personal boundaries

3. Communicate your boundary

Now comes the hard part – you need to communicate the new boundary you want to set. You don’t need to apologize for your boundaries – there is nothing wrong with saying no or asking for what you need. Many people worry that communicating their boundaries clearly and not apologizing for them will seem rude, selfish, or inconsiderate. However, you can communicate your boundaries with a sense of softness, compassion, and kindness, and still stand your ground. The key is to communicate your boundaries without criticism or contempt. Take ownership of your boundaries, without blaming the other person. Use “I statements” – keep the focus on your needs.

For example, instead of saying:
You keep calling me at inappropriate times when I’m at work. Stop bothering me during business hours.”
you can say:
“I am really busy during the business hours and answering calls at those times distracts me. If there is nothing super important, please don’t call before 5 pm, or I won’t be able to answer.”

One trick that can make kindly communicating boundaries easier is to replace “but” with “and”. This small language change implies that both things that you are communicating can exist at the same time. For example: “I love spending time with you AND also I need some space for myself” sounds different from: “I love spending time with you BUT I need some space for myself”, doesn’t it?

If needed, you can explain why you find it important to set this boundary, and frame it as a positive step for the relationships and/or for your well-being. However, avoid overexplaining, because 1. it may sound confusing, and 2. it may start looking like apologizing and imply that you don’t have the right to determine what you want and don’t want to do. But you do have that right, and you can own and honour it.communicate your boundaries

So, in short, how to communicate your boundaries:
  1. Be direct and clear. Say exactly what you need and what you want to change.
  2. Be warm in your communication. Replace “but” with “and”
  3. Don’t criticize or blame. Instead, focus on your needs and use “I statements”
  4. Explain why this is important to you. Don’t overexplain or apologize for it

These are some general rules about how to communicate your boundaries, but they will vary depending on the person you are communicating with and the nature of your relationship. Whatever approach you choose to use – gentle, firm, compassionate, short – knowing what you want as a result of setting the boundary is the most important thing.

4. Be prepared for resistance

Sometimes, people will acknowledge your newly set boundary and respect it. Other times, unfortunately, things won’t go so easy. They may try to argue, oppose, guilt-trip you into withdrawing your newly set boundary, get angry, or ask questions. In a way, it’s expected – they are used to one kind of interaction with you and now they are facing change. This kind of reaction is especially common with people who benefited from your lack of boundaries – you are now revoking that privilege, so it’s expected that they get upset. But if they had this privilege at the expense of your needs or well-being, they were never meant to have it in the first place.

Others reacting poorly to you setting boundaries is not proof that you shouldn’t have set them. Setting boundaries can be an uncomfortable process (for both sides), so be prepared for it. We’ll talk about this a little bit more in the last section of this post. What’s important to remember is that setting boundaries, however uncomfortable, is a valuable skill that you build over time and is absolutely worth the effort.

how to set boundaries effectively

5. Execute your new boundary

Boundaries include an action. Stating boundaries is a big step; however, it’s the follow-through that makes them effective. If you have set a boundary – asked the other person to change their behaviour, and communicated how you’re going to behave – make sure to stick to it. This way, you are showing consistency – to the other person and to yourself.

Of course, we all want others to respect our boundaries. However, we have to accept that, sometimes, it won’t be the case and we can’t make anyone behave the way we want. Boundaries are there to communicate and protect your needs, not to control someone else’s behaviour. This is why you need to set consequences for violating your boundaries, and give yourself permission to execute them. If someone is repeatedly crossing your boundaries despite multiple warnings and clear communication from your end, you have a range of options. Ask yourself: “If things stay exactly as they are right now and never change (and it seems like they won’t), what can I do to protect my well-being?” Maybe to distance yourself physically, work on emotionally detaching yourself, end the relationship…? Weight the benefits and risks and choose the next steps, just make sure that your mental health is your top priority.

Of course, your boundaries don’t have to be set in stone – you can change them or make an exception, it is your choice. However, if you bend your boundaries for some reason, make sure it’s serving your well-being. And no, “I feel bad pointing out someone’s unacceptable behaviour toward me again, so I’ll just adapt and put up with it somehowis not a good enough reason.

communicate your boundary

Why Do I Feel Bad For Setting Boundaries? Help!

Setting boundaries comes with tremendous benefits, both for you and the people around you. But the reality is – it requires tolerating uncomfortable feelings.

Most of us really want other people to like us and don’t want to disappoint anyone. Boundary setting can be especially challenging for people who try hard to please others, or who come from families where boundaries were not encouraged nor respected.

In some families, boundaries = disconnection, disrespect, or lack of love. This becomes a model an individual carries into adulthood.

If you grew up in an environment where there were frequent breaches of privacy, if you were punished for speaking up or saying no, if sacrificing your own needs and pleasing others meant being a good kid, you may be having troubles with setting boundaries as an adult. If you learned that taking care of your needs is selfish and always putting others first is selfless and compassionate, it’s natural that, when you stand up for yourself and set boundaries, however healthy they may be, guilt arises. Guilt doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing something wrong; it often means that you are conditioned to feel it in certain situations. Such as, for example, when you take time for yourself or prioritize your needs, or when people have uncomfortable emotions about your boundaries.

Let’s be real – sometimes, people won’t like your newly set boundaries and may have big feelings around them. What is crucial to understand here is what is your responsibility and what is not.

feeling bad for setting boundaries

Setting and keeping your boundaries are your responsibilities. You are responsible for the way you do it – what you say and how you say it. You are not responsible for other people’s actions.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s never pleasant to witness someone having uncomfortable emotions, especially toward something you’ve said or done. But their reaction is their responsibility, not yours. Let them have their emotions, they have the right to it. You can be attuned to others’ needs and care about their feelings without moving your boundaries. Feeling responsible for other people’s emotions doesn’t necessarily make you kind and compassionate. Instead, it can lead to rescuing behaviours, resentment, and unhealthy, enmeshed relationship dynamics.

So, if the question is how to set boundaries without anyone feeling bad, the answer is – sometimes, it’s impossible, simply because we can’t control other people’s emotions, however gentle and compassionate we are in our communication.

Just remember, others are allowed to feel uncomfortable. They can handle it, and so can you.

Setting boundaries is something that takes courage, practice, and consistency. How they look like and how they take place is different for everyone. It may take some time to figure out what kinds of boundaries you need, allow yourself to set them, and experiment with the most appropriate ways to implement them in your life, but your mental health and your relationships will appreciate the effort in the long run.

Where in your life do you need firmer boundaries? What do you find challenging when it comes to setting them? Let us know in the comment section down below.

Also, if you know someone who would find this article useful, please be free to share it with them, or share it on your social media.

 

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

 

Sources:

Barth, F. (2012). Boundaries and connections (pp. 25-44). Routledge.

Glover, N. (2021). Set boundaries, find peace: A guide to reclaiming yourself. TarcherPerigee.

Katherine, A. (2012). Where to draw the line: How to set healthy boundaries every day. Simon and Schuster.

Martin, S. (2019). 5 Tips For Setting Boundaries (Without Feeling Guilty). PsychCentral. Online resource HERE

gain confidence success

Stop Feeling Like a Fraud: Tips To Overcome the Imposter Syndrome

Oh, that nagging feeling that you are not good enough, that you didn’t deserve praise, that you just got lucky, that you don’t fit in…

Does this line of thought sound somewhat familiar?

„I feel like a fraud. What gives me the right to be in the position I am in now? I don’t have the abilities needed, I’m not competent enough, someone would be way better at this. It’s just a matter of time when everybody realizes this. And all the accomplishments I’ve made? Honestly, I was lucky. Besides, everybody could do it.“

Most people experience some self-doubt when facing new challenges. It’s completely normal, especially when we work on something new. However, when self-doubt is there almost constantly, no matter how much you have accomplished, it’s possible that you are experiencing something called the imposter syndrome.

The imposter syndrome is a feeling of chronic insecurity and doubt about your abilities, despite plenty of contrary evidence. It’s often accompanied by fear that you will be exposed as a fraud, or that your accomplishments are just a matter of luck, not your talent or abilities.

The imposter syndrome is very common among high achievers, who often have massive expectations from themselves and lean toward perfectionism. Research shows that around 20% of highly successful people experience this state very often, while 70% of people experience it at least once in their lifetime.

People who experience the imposter syndrome tend to:

  • attribute their accomplishments to luck or some external reasons, rather than their ability
  • believe that every task they take has to be done perfectly and rarely ask for help
  • be convinced that people are overestimating their abilities
  • feel like they don’t deserve success or praise for their achievements, and believe that other people are somehow deceived into thinking otherwise
  • fear to be ’discovered as a fraud’, that everybody will find out how incompetent they are

It’s not surprising, then, that the imposter syndrome is often accompanied by anxiety, perfectionism, and sometimes depression.

imposter syndrome

Where Does the Imposter Syndrome Come From? What Causes It?

Cultural influence

More and more people are experiencing imposter syndrome, and it comes as no surprise. Our society puts a huge emphasis on achievement. In our culture, there is often a pressure to “be the best version of yourself”, to accomplish, work hard, be competent and confident, etc. This can trigger self-doubt, especially when the majority is participating in this game. You see people around you and on social media who are always busy, accomplishing something, moving ahead, people who seem to know what they’re doing with their lives. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. What is easy to forget is that people tend to try to present themselves in the best light possible, even if that is not an accurate picture. When we overlook this, when we compare our whole story, our ups and downs, with someone’s highlights only, it’s easy to doubt ourselves, wondering if our abilities are enough.

Certain environmental factors can contribute to the imposter syndrome. A sense of belonging fosters confidence; genuine support can do wonders for our trust in ourselves. If you are part of a group where there are certain stereotypes about competence, where there is less support and positive reinforcement, or you feel like you don’t belong, there is a higher chance of developing signs of the imposter syndrome. Studies show that imposter syndrome is more common among racial and ethnic minorities.

Childhood experiences

People who struggle with imposter syndrome can come from different family dynamics. They are often children of parents who valued and praised achievement above everything else, and who believed that criticism is the best motivation. The imposter syndrome often has its roots in families where there is a lack of support, where the child gets harshly criticized for failure, but receives little to no praise for success because the parent believes that success is something that should be a norm, not something the child should be applauded for. Additionally, it is common for people who come from families where they always had to do what was expected from them, and they worked especially hard to please others.

In such circumstances, the message the child receives is something along the lines of: “I should always achieve, excel, be competent. It’s somehow never enough, but I have to keep trying. I am not enough the way I am, so I must work hard to compensate”. This becomes a perpetuating cycle in adulthood.

If this sounds like you, it is possible that, since you “learned” very early on that mistakes will be met with criticism, followed by feelings of shame, guilt, and unworthiness, you try to avoid such feelings by mechanisms that helped you in the past, such as working hard, perfectionism, trying to convince others that you’re a smart, competent person, etc. However, since you’ve rarely been praised for your abilities, it’s difficult for you to internalize success and genuinely believe that you are capable. Generally, the imposter syndrome is commonly a result of seeking self-esteem by trying to live up to an idealized image, to compensate for feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.

Beliefs about intelligence and success

Imposter syndrome sometimes occurs even without the above-mentioned family dynamic. For example, research shows that academic success in childhood in combination with parents and teachers who emphasized your natural intelligence, as well as a biologically higher susceptibility to anxiety, can contribute to developing the imposter syndrome later in life.

A common scenario is this: things went smoothly for you in elementary and high-school, you didn’t have to work hard and people around you adored your intelligence. But in college, or on a new job, where there are higher demands, you start struggling. Now that challenges are bigger and you need to put in much more work, you may start doubting your natural intelligence and your abilities, feeling like you don’t have what it takes to be successful after all. Because you learned that “how intelligent you are” = “how little you struggle with challenges”, when things are not so easy and you need to put in extra effort, you may start thinking of it as evidence that you may not be as smart and capable as you and/or others thought you were.

Indeed, studies explain this phenomenon. For example, research showed that people who think of intelligence as a fixed trait tend to follow “performance goals”, which means that they are primarily motivated by the wish to prove their intelligence and capability. This kind of thinking is often followed by shame, anxiety, and fear that others would see them as incompetent. On the other hand, people who see intelligence as a malleable quality are motivated by “learning goals” – their primary aim is to increase their knowledge and skills. These individuals react to failure in a more resilient way and rarely feel inadequate.

insecure about your abilities

How to Deal With the Imposter Syndrome

Fortunately, there are ways to beat this uncomfortable state. If the imposter syndrome is negatively impacting your health and your ability to properly function, it is important to seek professional help. Additionally, here are a few tips to possibly help you get out of your own way, decrease anxiety surrounding (dis)trust in your own abilities, and take ownership of your success.

1. Know that it’s not just you.

You may be feeling like everyone except you knows exactly what they’re doing, but that is not true. This feeling is common in the general population, but especially among high achievers.

2. Separate thoughts and feelings from facts

Your feelings are always valid. There is no “You shouldn’t feel like this” or “It’s ridiculous to feel this way”. You feel what you feel, and all feelings are okay. Emotions carry important information, they are there for a reason. However, that reason is not always something in your environment. Thoughts and feelings are internal events that don’t have to be (and often are not) 100% based in reality. Many times, our feelings come as a result of interpretations that are influenced by our past experiences, assumptions and expectations, fears and insecurities.

So, you feeling incompetent is not proof of your incompetence. You’re having a thought about being incompetent, which can come from a place of insecurity, fear, anxiety, butit is not a reflection of your objective abilities.

beat the imposter syndrome

3. Refrain from Comparison

Comparing yourself to others is a shortcut to feeling frustrated, insecure, and anxious. And not only does it usually leave us feeling awful, but it’s also pointless. How does comparing someone’s “spotlights” with your “behind the scenes”, which is how we usually compare, make sense? We are all different people with different “starting points”, different backgrounds, preferences, abilities, traits, entirely different lives. Perhaps a better choice is to, instead, invest that energy into learning and growing, in your own way.

4. Change the spotlight of your attention and reframe how you look at the situation

Someone once wisely said that the difference between misery and happiness depends on what you do with your attention.

Instead of putting an emphasis on all the mistakes you’ve made or on the fear of being exposed, you can do many other, more productive things with your attention. For example, you can make an effort to re-focus from trying to appear confident and competent and that way possibly prevent others from “finding out” what a fraud you are, to learning from others and from your mistakes, building your skills, and doing the best you can (whatever that “best” is for you – don’t set unrealistically high expectations!). Or, you can turn your attention to gratitude, all the great things, people, and experiences you have in your life. Or you can focus on catching yourself when you’re being overly critical toward yourself and challenge this kind of self-talk.

Shifting your attention like this is not easy, but it’s essential. Insight itself is important but doesn’t do much without applied, real-life work on changing the existing patterns.

Another interesting thing you can do with your attention is test your confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to find evidence that supports beliefs you already have, overlooking or discounting the evidence that is contrary to this belief. Your imposter syndrome uses confirmation bias to convince you that you are not capable and competent, making you see your mistakes and shortcomings, and overlooking or downplaying contrary evidence – your achievements.

How about you trick your imposter syndrome by playing the same game by testing its own weapon, but in the opposite direction? Actively work on finding the evidence that you are, in fact, intelligent, talented, successful, and good at what you do. Notice and write down big and small wins, remember and accept compliments and recognitions, be thorough at finding the evidence in favor of your abilities. With consistency, you may get surprised at how much your perception can shift.

5. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect.

Yes, you may believe that you have to be. But objectively, nobody is, and that is perfectly okay. You are a unique human. Imperfect and enough.

 

how to overcome imposter syndrome

Dealing with the imposter syndrome has nothing to do with minimizing mistakes and maximizing achievement, and everything to do with how you relate to yourself. So, it’s a process, it takes work, but it pays off.

In the end, here is just a gentle reminder. None of us:

  • have it all together
  • is 100% confident all of the time
  • have never made a mistake
  • is perfect

It’s called being human. It’s relatable. And it’s beautiful.

 

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

 

Sources:

Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine35(4), 1252–1275. Online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7174434/

Langford, J., & Clance, P. R. (1993). The imposter phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment. Psychotherapy: theory, research, practice, training30(3), 495.

Sherman, R. O. (2013). Imposter syndrome: When you feel like you’re faking it. American Nurse Today8(5), 57-58.

Palmer, C. (2021, June). How to overcome impostor phenomenon. Monitor on Psychology52(4). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon. Online: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon

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.

 

core-values

Personal Core Values – A Road To Meaningful Life

Had something like this ever happened to you?

  • Someone said or did something that you strongly disagreed with, but you didn’t say anything and then felt guilty about not speaking up?
  • You set goals and then failed to meet them.
  • You’re so busy pleasing other people that you don’t get the time to focus on what you want, and then you get angry at others?
  • You suppress what you want to do because it’s not “practical” or because you have so many things you “have to do”

If any of these resonate with you, the reason behind it may be that your actions were (or still are) not aligned with your core values.

What Are Core Values And Why They Matter So Much?

Core values are fundamental beliefs and principles that you find important in life. They highlight what you stand for, what drives you, what you see as valuable. They represent who you would like to be and how you would like to live your life.

When making different decisions, our core values give us direction. They should provide the goals and criteria that influence the path we take, what we choose, how we behave. We derive a sense of fulfillment when living in line with our personal values because our motivations and actions are aligned with what we see as important in life.

Choosing your personal core values is one of the most critical decisions when it comes to living a fulfilled life. When we don’t honor our values, we can feel lost, unmotivated, like something is simply “wrong”, and our mental and emotional state can suffer. On the other hand, intentionally creating a life that is in accordance with your values instead of automatically and habitually responding to what happens around you, without awareness and purpose, increases the chances of finding a sense of balance, confidence, and fulfillment.

personal values

How To Find Your Core Values And Make Your Life A Little Bit Easier

Many of us have no idea what our personal core values are. And in a way, it’s not surprising. In a society that actively asks us to conform, it’s not uncommon to focus on meeting other people’s expectations so much, that we lose sight of what is really important to us. Our core values get buried beneath what we think we should value.

So, turning your attention inward and engaging in an attitude of curiosity about what makes you tick and what you think is important, can help you understand yourself better. From there, you can make wiser choices, and do it more easily.

But how to do this? How to determine your core values?

One way can be to, for starters, pay attention to how you feel in different situations. What makes you angry, sad, frustrated, bored, happy, excited? Examine these situations closely – what is the main theme?

Here are some questions that can help you start thinking in that direction:

  1. If you could have any career, without worrying about money or other practical constraints, what would you do?
  2. What kinds of stories inspire you?
  3. What kinds of stories make you angry and upset?
  4. Think about three people you most admire. What is it that you appreciate about them the most?
  5. What are you the proudest of?

Sometimes, a wide list of core values can also help. A shorter list, like the one on the picture below, may be useful. Or maybe a longer one, like the one HERE, is something you find more helpful and inspiring.

What you can do is take a look at the list and select 10-15 values that most resonate with you. As you work through, you may find that some values you picked are similar or naturally combine. For instance, if you value community, generosity, and kindness, you might say that service to others is one of your top values. So, analyze your choices and try to narrow down the list, to combine the values into groups. What are the main topics? These larger “groups” you made – those should be your core values.

Regularly Revisiting Your Core Values Is The Key

Our brains loooove instant gratification. Humans are wired to avoid short-term pain and chase short-term pleasure. This is why you fail to resist eating that yummy cake on your fifth day of diet (again), or why it’s so difficult to give up smoking. Small things that give us instant pleasure or delay discomfort, but don’t serve us long-term, are something we all occasionally give priority to. We sometimes lose sight of our more important goals and of our higher values. This is why, if we want to make wiser, healthier, more fulfilling choices, it’s crucial to keep revisiting them, so that we bring them back to the front of our mind and keep ourselves in check. Try to be present and act from a conscious, deliberate mind most of the time rather than letting automatic responses guide your behaviour. In other words – act as a pilot, not on autopilot.

personal values

Of course, not every activity you do will match your values. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do. However, to have that sense of meaning and fulfillment, like you’re doing something “right”, you need to be aware of your value system and try to spend most of your time doing things congruent with it. If you feel guilty or empty doing something, if you don’t find any meaning in it, perhaps these actions are not meeting your values, or even worse, are going against them.

Values can change over time. This is also why it’s essential to check in with yourself from time to time about what you value the most and if you’re acting in line with it. This can help remove those conflicting feelings that sometimes arise as a result of not staying true to yourself or not having your values clearly defined.

What are your core values? Let us know in the comment section down below!

 

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

 

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-modern-brain/201909/the-real-issue-instant-gratification

Dahlgaard-Park, S. M. (2012). Core values – the entrance to human satisfaction and commitment. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 23(2), 125-140.

Sagiv, L., Roccas, S., Cieciuch, J., & Schwartz, S. H. (2017). Personal values in human life. Nature Human Behaviour1(9), 630-639.

self-criticism

How To Deal With Self-Criticism

I’m going to mess up.

I’m so stupid.


I’m a failure.


I did well that time, but anyone could have.


Does this kind of self-talk sound familiar?

In a world where we expect so much from ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a trap of not feeling good enough. The way we talk to ourselves when we fail to meet our or someone else’s expectations is important. In these situations, it makes a huge difference whether we provide some comfort, kindness, and encouragement to ourselves, or we turn to self-criticism. Unfortunately, too often, we choose the latter.

Where Does All This Self-Criticism Come From?

Self-criticism is an inner voice that takes a derogative stance when we don’t meet our expectations. It includes negative judgments of your abilities, physical appearance, intelligence, behaviour, even thoughts and feelings.

Rigidly demanding parents, teachers, culture or religion, unhealthy relationships, or friendships that undermined our confidence can all be the root of our self-criticism.

When we are young, we soak everything from our environment like a sponge; we learn about the world, about ourselves and other people from everything we see or hear. The messages important people in our lives send are crucial in shaping what we will believe and how we will behave. For example, if your parents had incredibly high expectations and harshly criticized you for every small mistake, their words may become an integral part of your inner voice, translated into self-judgment. They probably had good intentions – they wanted you to build working habits, to do well in school, to strive for achievement, and minimize mistakes, because they believed this would help you succeed in life and be happy.

This kind of self-talk was probably helpful to you at some point – in order to avoid punishment (both external, such as, for example, being forbidden to go out or watch TV for a month, and internal, which is more powerful – experiencing guilt and shame from failing to meet someone’s expectations), you did well, you achieved great things, and you derived a sense of pleasure from that.

So, not only that self-criticism became an integral part of how you talk to yourself earlier in life, but it’s also kept and strengthened because you may believe it’s a useful strategy. However, as you may realize now as an adult, although self-criticism may seem like it can serve certain functions, it can be psychologically devastating.

self-doubt

How To Tame Your Inner Critic (And Why It’s So Important)

Self-criticism is like living with a bully. That scolding voice that’s giving you a hard time over small things, always looking over your shoulder and keeping inventory of your mistakes, can seriously hold you back in reaching your goals and undermine how you feel about yourself. Self-criticism brings an overriding sense of not being good enough, can keep us from thinking realistically and from being present in our lives, and can contribute to feeling anxious or depressed.

By criticizing ourselves, we focus on our (many times non-existent, or at least exaggerated) weaknesses, or think irrationally. This moves us away from constructive evaluation and inhibits our capacity to be fully present and rationally and actively engage in our lives. Instead, we get so preoccupied with shame, guilt, and frustration that we may make even more mistakes and feel awful about ourselves.

An important thing is – you don’t have to be the victim of your harsh inner voice. Your thoughts have a powerful impact on how you feel and behave.

So how to be more friendly toward yourself when times are challenging? Here are a few tips and techniques.

1. Actively notice and challenge your inner critic

Sometimes, the little voice that puts us down is so embedded in our daily inner monologue that we don’t even notice how harsh it is. What we can do is to pay attention to what the voice is saying but not giving it the power over us. We can commit to notice it and treat it as someone who is unnecessarily rude or annoying, and actively stand up for ourselves, showing it how to be more kind.

Conquering that unrealistic, overexaggerating, harsh inner talk and replacing it with a soothing voice that is not only gentler and kinder, but also more realistic, is possible and more than beneficial. But it’s not easy. Proactively changing the way you talk to yourself may not feel natural immediately. And it’s okay – you are used to one way of thinking and it takes time to rewire your brain and create new pathways. The key is to catch yourself in those unrealistic and extreme statements and not let yourself get away with them.

You’re not good enough. – I don’t need to be perfect to be enough and loveable.

You’re so dumb – Whoops, I made a mistake. Let’s see how I can do better next time.

No one likes you – I don’t need to please everyone all of the time.

You will never make it. – This is really hard, but I believe in myself.

You never get anything right. – I haven’t figured it out yet. Learning is part of the process.

2. Develop a compassionate relationship with yourself

Self-compassion is a way of treating yourself with acceptance and understanding whether or not you behave intelligently, competently, or correctly. It’s having a friendly attitude and sending a message to ourselves: “I see you with your strengths and flaws and it’s okay, I accept the whole of you”.

This is a new concept for many people; it’s different from what we are used to. Thus, there are some misconceptions about it. Some people are afraid that, by being kind to themselves and refusing to engage in self-criticism, they will become lazy or self-indulgent. Others see it as a weakness, something that will stay in the way of their progress. We debunked some of these myths HERE, and provided some tips for practicing self-compassion, so you might want to take a look.

self-compassion

Like a good coach, self-compassion motivates us through love, kindness, and support. This helps us focus less on dwelling on our mistakes, and more on the present moment and moving forward. It is the opposite of self-criticism, which induces guilt and shame. On the surface, self-criticism can seem like it helps to motivate us to change, but in reality, it’s an inefficient motivator. First, because there is a high price to pay for it. And second, because self-criticism might keep us where we are for longer because we may be reluctant to admit our shortcomings, afraid of the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough if we do. In contrast, self-compassion provides us with emotional safety to see ourselves realistically and, from there, acknowledge our mistakes and try to do better.

3. What would you tell to your best friend?

Would you talk to your good friend the way you talk to yourself? When times are challenging and we feel bad, when we are dealing with failure or loss, the last thing we need is to be criticized. Instead, we need someone to help us see things from a realistic perspective and offer support, guidance, and reassurance.

You can be that friend to yourself. Thus, acknowledge your good qualities and abilities, make an effort to appreciate your uniqueness more, and offer caring and gentle words to yourself.

RAIN Technique for Dealing With Difficult Emotions

Sometimes, shame and guilt that come from self-criticism in situations when we make a mistake or fail at something, can be overwhelming for us. So overwhelming, that it becomes difficult to concentrate on anything else, or move away from self-loathing and self-judgment. What we need the most in these situations is something to help us ease the emotional chaos first, and then slowly start overcoming these intense feelings.

In these moments, the RAIN technique can be helpful. It’s a mindfulness technique used to soften and de-channel negative thoughts and provide a soothing balm for emotional pain. It can help you be your best friend instead of your own worst critic.

self-esteem
Here is how to use it:

Step 1: RECOGNIZE what is happening

Take a step back and observe your thoughts and feelings. Be honest and acknowledge what you are feeling without trying to sweep it under the rug. Naming can also help, for example: “I feel worried right now” or “I feel so embarrassed for asking that question”.

“How am I feeling? Where do I feel it in my body?”

Step 2: ALLOW life to be just as it is

Accept that those thoughts and feelings are there, as part of your reality. No denial, no trying to remove or change them, no mental resistance. Just simply let them be there. This doesn’t mean you like them; it just means you are brave enough to face the reality within you.

“These thoughts and feelings are here. I can accept that, even if I don’t like it.”

Step 3: INVESTIGATE with kindness

Like a curious scientist, try to approach your state with interest and without judgment. You can investigate possible reasons you may be feeling this way, or ask if these feelings and thoughts are useful or in line with reality. Simply pause to ask questions so you can better understand what is happening.⠀

○ When did this feeling start?⠀
○ What triggered it?⠀
○ Have I felt this way before?⠀
○ What is this feeling trying to tell me?⠀
○ How realistic is my thinking?⠀
○ Is it helpful?⠀
○ What do I need right now?⠀
○ What can I do to support myself?

self-esteem
Step 4: NON-IDENTIFICATION with thoughts and feelings

When you have an intense emotion, it can feel like it is the only part of you that matters at that moment. But you are not your thoughts and emotions. They come and go, and you can watch them like clouds flowing by. You are YOU, unique and complex, and this is just one of the countless experiences you had and will have.

You can use this technique to ground yourself and not feel consumed by negativity when everything seems just too much. However, we are all different which means that the same things don’t work for everyone or in every situation.

 

How do you deal with self-criticism? Will you apply some of these tips to your daily life? Let us know how it goes!

And be free to share this blog post with your friends and family on social media.

 

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

 

Sources:

Aronfreed, J. (1964). The origin of self-criticism. Psychological Review71(3), 193.

Neff, K & Germer, C. (2019) Kind to me. Excerpt in Mindful, 6 (6).

Powers, T. A., Koestner, R., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Self–criticism, goal motivation, and goal progress. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology26(7), 826-840.

Brach, T. Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN. Tara Brach.  Online HERE

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.

attracting same bad situations

Why You Keep “Attracting” the Same Situations Over And Over Again

Do you feel like the same situations keep happening to you over and over again? Do you keep attracting partners that don’t fulfill your needs or you face the same problems in different relationships? Are you struggling with the same stresses and conflicts at work, or you keep losing your jobs? It’s like you’re a magnet for people who hurt you, or embarrassing situations, or bullies at work, etc.

I am sure that, at least once in your life, you have said or thought something like: “Why this keeps happening to me all the time?”. And really, why? Is it some kind of a mystic cosmic power that brings these experiences to your life? Fortunately, psychology has a more realistic explanation to why you keep entering the same unpleasant situations all over again. Let’s explore what actually happens.

Frameworks You Live By

From the moment you are born, you are in a survival mode. During your childhood, your little mind is programmed to absorb everything that is happening around you in order to learn and adapt to your environment. You pull in the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, ideals of those around you. By interacting with your parents or primary caregivers, you form certain beliefs about yourself, other people, and life in general. These beliefs are the product of the way you interpreted behaviours of your important adults and how they treated your needs, as well as things they were telling you about other people, rules, and life in general.

Of course, not all parents are the same. Thus, some will be convinced that life is a fight, you are not allowed to make mistakes and need to be perfect in order to succeed or be loved and appreciated. For others, life will be a scary and dangerous place full of people waiting to hurt you, so you need to be careful who you trust and never let your guard down. Some will, on the other hand, believe that life is easy and fun, that people usually have good intentions and that, whatever you do, everything will be okay in the end.

These belief systems become the frameworks we live by. They are like colored glasses that affect how we see everything unfolding in our lives. More importantly, these beliefs direct our decision making, condition our behaviour and, ultimately, affect how others react to our behaviours and how they treat us.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Now, imagine a situation that you’re going to a party where you don’t know almost anyone.

Version 1: You’re afraid nobody will talk to you because believe you’re boring or not good with new people. Consequentially, you will probably feel self-conscious and anxious, and enter the party acting awkward, standoffish and not so friendly. As a result, people will not be encouraged to come to you and start a conversation, which will only, in turn, reinforce beliefs you already had.

Version 2: You strongly believe that you’re an interesting person and others will be open to meet you. You think: “This party is going to be great”. People will probably be drawn by your openness and outgoing attitude and come talk to you, which also proves you were right in your beliefs in the first place.

This effect is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, a term coined by famous sociologist, Robert Merton.

Merton noticed that sometimes a belief brings about consequences that cause reality to match the belief. He defined self-fulfilling prophecy as “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true” (Merton, 1968).

self-fulfilling prophecy
Source: psychologytoday.com

In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief or expectation that we hold about a future event that manifests because we hold it. Our expectations and predictions of what will happen impact our behaviour, which shapes how others see us and how they act toward us. In turn, they provide feedback we set ourselves to get in the first place, which serves to reinforce the original belief. Generally, this process is unintentional – we are not aware that our beliefs cause the consequences we expect or fear. And that’s exactly why it’s so difficult to tackle them down and start changing them.

Breaking the Cycle Can Be Hard…

Breaking the cycle of entering the same situations over and over again can be tricky, in the first place because we don’t see our fundamental beliefs as beliefs but as actual facts about the world. Subconsciously, it’s important for us to prove that our beliefs about how life works are “right” because it gives us a sense of security. If we “know” the rules by which the world functions, we feel like we can prepare and know what to expect. That’s why we filter information so they can fit our belief system. We rate experiences that are in line with our beliefs as an important “proof” that our frameworks are actually true, while we label those opposite to our frameworks as unimportant coincidences that won’t impact the way we see the world.

Over time, these patterns of thought and behaviour become our automatic response, a sort of a habitual reaction to circumstances. Researchers believe we have neural pathways in our brains that are reinforced by habit. The more you repeat the behaviour, the stronger your neural pathway for that behaviour becomes, and the easier it triggers the next time.

It’s like a forest dirt road – the more you walk on it, the more well-established it becomes. You have an automatic impulse to walk down that well-worn path, rather than on the grassy part. However, this dirt road often leads to the same destination. To break the cycle, you need to consciously resist the urge to stay on the road you know and start walking on the grass to a different direction. Over time, as you repeat taking the same route on the grass, another path will form and it will be easier to walk on.

…But You Can Do It!

One thing you can do to make the first step toward exiting the circle of “attracting” the same problems is to, for starters, let go of certainty. It’s important to understand that much of what you think you know about yourself, other people, and life, is more probably a belief and less probably a fact. It is a product of your upbringing and your past experiences. But the good news is that we can choose our beliefs and, therefore, change them.

You can start off by choosing a pattern that you want to break out of. Then, write down the past five times when it happened. List all the details about those situations – how did it happened, what led to it, why you think it happened. Now, try to find commonalities across these situations. In the end, try to find what part you play in these situations? Are there any behaviours that might have led you to the common outcome?

Here is a list of questions that might be helpful in discovering a pattern and your part in it:

  1. What keeps happening over and over again?
  2. How does it start?
  3. What happens next?
  4. And then what happens?
  5. How does it end?
  6. How do you feel after it ends? (John James, 1973)

 

This process is crucial for changing your patterns. It gives the opportunity to tackle down the reason you might have taken up a particular role and contributed to the outcome that keeps happening. From there, you can set up a goal – what you want to change and what results to get – and then map out a different path from the one you’re taking now.

It’s absolutely okay if you’re not able to identify the reason behind the same situations repeating in your life by yourself. A good therapist can help you figure out where you’re standing and how to proceed.

 

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the topic down below in the comments, it’s always amazing to hear it! Also, don’t forget to share this post on your social media.

 

Sources:

https://yaqeeninstitute.org/najwa-awad/why-do-bad-things-always-happen-to-me-breaking-the-cycles-of-negativity/#.XQZQfYgzbIU

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychology-writers/201210/using-self-fulfilling-prophecies-your-advantage

https://positivepsychology.com/self-fulfilling-prophecy/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860473/