Tag Archives: counseling

Do You Feel Like an Underdog?

Underdog

Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The Chicago Cubs.

These are a few of the underdogs many of us have rooted for. (OK, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you weren’t rooting for the Cubs, but millions of people were!) They are people who seem to have the deck stacked against them, but who persevere anyway.

Why do we love underdogs?  One idea is that we believe life should be fair, which leads us to favor the underdog. Underdogs are also perceived to work harder than their rivals. A team or entity that seems likely to lose is not, however, championed as an underdog if it has a lot of money or other resources. (retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/12/24/why-do-we-root-for-the-underdog/1699.html) That last statement might have thrown the Cubs’ underdog status in doubt, as they clearly had lots of resources at their disposal. Still, 108 years without a World Series win carried a lot of weight! [I will also say, as a side note, that it seems the statement excludes a certain presidential candidate from underdog status.]

I think another reason we root for the underdog is that we can readily identify with him or her. Of course, there are people who are used to success and expect to win, but many of us don’t. In fact, a person can easily feel like an underdog even when she isn’t one, just because she’s used to that mindset. I think experiences of being “one down,” particularly in childhood when we’re at our most impressionable, translate into a lifelong feeling of being an underdog. There is still a part of us that identifies with the powerless child we once were.

It’s no coincidence that characters like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are children fighting adults. This accentuates the seeming futility of their quests. Knowing how these stories go, we expect them to win in the end, but that doesn’t stop us from being afraid that they won’t. In cheering for them, we also cheer for ourselves and our own chances to triumph.

What are some of the challenges that you face? Do you believe that you can prevail, as you believe the novels’ protagonists (or the baseball team) can, or do you feel like you’re not good enough to rise to the challenge?

I’ve written before about Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. These ANTs tell you that you won’t come out on top. For instance, if you own a business, you question the worthiness of your product or service and wonder why anyone would want to pay you for it. If you aren’t self-employed, you feel “less than” other employees and assume someone else will always get the big project, promotion, etc.  If you’re on an online dating site, you figure that your profile will be overlooked by anyone worth dating.

The thing about ANTs is that they’re usually exaggerated or false; if there is some truth to them, there’s often something that can be done about it.

The next time you find yourself assuming you’re going to be the loser in a situation, step back and look again. Look at yourself as if you’re a friend who’s on the outside looking in. What are the chances that you’re right? Is there any truth at all to your belief? If there is, can you do something to improve your chances?

If you’re a business owner, look at your business history. Unless you’ve just started your business, I’ll assume you have succeeded in finding at least one customer or client, probably many of them. What was it that attracted them to you? Is that point of attraction still there? What can you do to make your product or service even more appealing? There’s nothing more empowering than finding specific actions that will help you to improve your chances of success.

If you’re worried that you won’t be assigned a big project or get a promotion at work, remind yourself of what has happened in the past. Have you been assigned projects or gotten promotions in the past? If so, did you rise to the challenge and do a good job? If you did, chances are good that you will continue to succeed and get noticed by your employer. Success breeds success, right? If, on the other hand, you haven’t been assigned big projects or gotten promotions (and there are projects and/or promotions to be had), or they haven’t gone well, look at what you can do to change that. Can you get more training? Can you speak up more on your own behalf? Can you take some initiative to show what you can do? If it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere in your current job, can you consider looking for another job?

And regarding online dating…as I tell my clients, there are lots of potential partners out there, and you only need to find one. What are the chances that there isn’t even one person with whom you are compatible? (Here come the ANTs again…take a moment to stomp on them. Look at this situation from the perspective of one of your friends. Would he or she say that there’s no one out there for you? Probably not!)

How will you rise to the challenge today (or maybe tomorrow)?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.

family-separated

In my last post, I wrote about the “committee” meeting inside a person’s head; the committee is composed of all of the critical voices that bring us down and make us question ourselves. The committee is at its most powerful when we don’t talk to other people about our negative thoughts. People who grew up in dysfunctional households typically have very strong committees. The committee thrives on the three main rules in a dysfunctional family, which are “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.”

First let’s look at “Don’t talk.” Members of a dysfunctional family don’t usually talk about anything important because it feels dangerous. If they talk about things below the surface, they might end up talking about Dad’s alcoholism or Mom’s verbal abuse. If they don’t talk about these things, they might be able to pretend they don’t exist.

Family members don’t talk to others about what’s going on, either, because it’s all a big secret. If it’s too dangerous to talk about things in the family, it’s even more dangerous to share them outside of the family. A dysfunctional family is very invested in making things look perfect on the outside, no matter what’s really going on. This brings us to the second rule.

The second rule that dysfunctional families follow is “Don’t trust.” Let’s say the father is an alcoholic. It’s likely that no one in the family trusts him because his behaviors are erratic, based upon whether he’s been drinking. He, in turn, doesn’t trust anyone else in the family, because they’re probably critical of his drinking, making him feel attacked.

Each member of the family feels some level of responsibility for what’s going wrong, which leads to a deep sense of shame. This shame contributes to the family’s isolation from the rest of the world. Who really wants to talk about something they’re ashamed of? It’s unfortunate that this leads to distrust of others, because people outside of the family can be helpful. They aren’t part of the family dysfunction, so they can offer a different perspective and resources that family members don’t have and probably can’t even imagine.

The third rule is “Don’t feel.” If you grow up in a dysfunctional family, you learn that your feelings usually don’t matter. Sure, you’re allowed to act happy, like nothing’s wrong. But it’s not likely that you’ll be encouraged to express feelings of sadness or fear. Expressing these things might seem to your parents to be indicators of what’s wrong in the family, and they can’t have that! Plus, they’re probably too wrapped up in their own worries to be concerned about yours. It’s also unlikely that you’ll be encouraged to express feelings of anger, particularly towards your parents. And don’t forget that sharing feelings can make you vulnerable to others; this is certainly not a comfortable thing in an environment where it feels like it’s every person for him- or herself.

What happens when you stop expressing your feelings? You lose track of them entirely! I start every session of my “Discovering ‘Normal’” counseling group with a feelings check. After a lifetime of ignoring feelings, it’s hard for group members to identify what they’re feeling, so I give them a chance to practice that in group. Remember that, as uncomfortable as so-called “negative”* feelings are, we need to feel them in order to be able to feel the “positive” feelings. It’s a package deal; you can’t feel one end of the spectrum without also feeling the other.

Did you learn these three rules in childhood? Are you still following them today? If so, what can you do to change that?

 

*I often tell my clients that there are no “positive” or “negative” feelings. There are only feelings that are more or less comfortable. All feelings are needed, even sadness and anger, and all feelings can be put to positive, as well as negative, uses. Think, for instance, of the women whose anger at losing their children to drunk drivers led them to form MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). They used the energy of their anger in a positive, life affirming, way.

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Your Mind Is a Dangerous Place

Committee signs

“Your mind is a dangerous place. Don’t go in there alone.”—author unknown

For several years I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment center in Crownsville, MD for women with addictions. Chrysalis House residents who spent significant amounts of time by themselves were regularly warned of the danger of “isolating.” Many of them had a problem with this, as they felt a need for time away from the other 20+ plus residents of the house. How were they to tell the difference between healthy solitude and “isolating?”

The difference, I think, lies in what is going on inside a person’s head when she’s alone. Twelve step groups speak of the “committee” meeting, meaning that a person’s unhealthy thoughts are getting the better of her. The committee causes isolation; solitude alone does not. Isolation, therefore, can happen even when a person is surrounded by other people.

What does the committee tell you? Nothing good! Here are some of the messages you may get from your committee:

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re going to fail.”

“Nobody likes you.”

“You’re unlovable.”

“You’re on your own.”

“You don’t have the right to exist.”

You’re not [thin, smart, rich…] enough.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

The committee plays a significant role in anxiety and depression. One reason that depression and anxiety tend to persist is that we use our minds to understand our world. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, your means of perceiving and interacting with the world is filtered through negative thoughts and feelings. This is the committee at work.

A great way to defy the committee is to get an outside perspective, possibly from a family member, a friend, a therapist, or a member of the clergy. He or she will be able to look at your situation more objectively and help you to see the flaws in your internal logic. If you are self-critical, talking to someone who cares about you will help to cut the committee down to size.

The committee uses a variety of techniques, often called cognitive distortions, to make you feel inadequate or just plain wrong. These cognitive distortions can also be called Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. There are different types of ANTs, including mind reading; fortune telling/catastrophizing; a negative mental filter; maximizing and minimizing; and all or nothing/black and white thinking. For more information on ANTs and how to “stomp” on them, sign up for my free “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” e-course by filling out the form on this page.

Choosing Recovery

The hand rejects alcohol

Alcoholism is not a choice. Recovery is.

Alcoholics are not bad people or moral failures. They do not choose to become alcoholics, but they are responsible for their behaviors. While they do deserve empathy and compassion, it is up to them to choose abstinence and, ideally, to seek recovery.

I usually write about the effects of growing up in an alcoholic family; I don’t generally write about the alcoholic’s own struggles. The two are actually very similar. An alcoholic is almost always the product of an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. Those who become alcoholics try to cope with the stresses of their upbringing by drinking. Ironically, an alcoholic drinks to gain some control over her life, only to lose that control to alcohol.

When I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment program for alcoholic and/or drug addicted women, one of the first things a resident did as part of her therapy was to write a goodbye letter to drugs and alcohol. The letters were written as if to abusive boyfriends.

This is quite accurate. Alcohol and other drugs do become an alcoholic or addict’s primary relationship, shutting out sober friends and loved ones. Like relationships with abusive boyfriends, the relationships with alcohol and drugs start out well, but gradually deteriorate into abuse. At that point it becomes very difficult for the abused person to leave because the abuser has such a strong hold on her.

It is difficult to choose sobriety. It is hard to give up that “friend,” that coping mechanism. It’s hard to overcome the habit of drinking. But it can be done, and only the alcoholic can make the choice to do it.

If you suspect you may be an alcoholic, you have a choice of recovery possibilities. Some people just stop drinking and never drink again, although this is often ineffective, in part because it doesn’t address issues that underlie the alcoholism.

A popular choice is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a 12-step program that helps people to become and remain sober. AA meetings can be found anywhere, and at pretty much any time, so it’s not hard to take advantage of this option. For more information on AA and a list of meetings in your area, visit www.AA.org. For those who object to the spiritual aspects of AA, there are other programs such as SMART recovery (www.smartrecovery.org).

Some people may seek individual or group counseling, either as an adjunct to a recovery fellowship or on their own. Both kinds of counseling can help you to identify underlying issues and triggers for drinking. There are advantages to each. With individual counseling, the entire session is focused on you and your particular issues. The advantage to group therapy is that you will be validated by a group of people who have similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences to yours.

If AA and/or individual or group counseling are not enough to help you to keep sober, there are more intensive types of therapies you might explore. One is intensive outpatient treatment (IOP). In an IOP, you attend group sessions several times a week, each session lasting at least a couple of hours, either during the day or in the evening. IOP, as with the group therapy I already mentioned, can help you to see that you’re not alone in your struggles. IOP also offers education about alcoholism and addiction.

The most intensive therapy for alcoholism is inpatient treatment, which involves spending a couple of weeks to a month or more in a residential treatment setting. This, of course, requires time off from work and other daily activities. It can be extremely helpful, though, because the longer you are away from alcohol, the better it is for your recovery. During inpatient treatment, you attend groups (educational and therapeutic), AA meetings, and individual counseling. Depending upon the program, you might also receive acupuncture and/or other adjunctive treatments.

If you are an alcoholic, try not to judge yourself too harshly. Remember that you are a person with a problem, not a person who is a problem. You did not choose to become an alcoholic, but you need to take responsibility for yourself and your actions and choose sobriety.

Why not make that choice today?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist and drug and alcohol counselor in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

 

 

When Facebook Isn’t Your Friend

I have several clients who are considering deleting their Facebook accounts. Shocking, isn’t it?

You know the benefits of Facebook. You can reconnect with friends from the past. (For instance, how many of you, like me, are now connected to people you hadn’t heard from since high school?) You can also keep up with the goings-on of people who are closer to you. And don’t forget all of those cute pictures of children and pets!

If you want to be outraged, there’s usually at least one link to an article about something really bad someone did to someone else. There are article links you may find funny or helpful, as well. There are posts that make statements you agree with, and ones you don’t (which you can critique, of course). There are as many quizzes as you have time for (“Which ‘Big Bang Theory’ character are you?” “What color best represents you?” etc.)

So what’s not to love? One thing is the amount of potentially productive time that is swallowed up by Facebook. You know you’ve done it—spent time on Facebook when you could have been doing something that actually needed to be done, or even something that you wanted to do. Sometimes, if you’re like some of my clients, part of that time is spent “cyber-stalking” old boyfriends or girlfriends, even though the “stalker” knows it’s best to just move on. It’s so tempting, though, and so easy to do…

The main complaint that I have heard from clients, though, is that Facebook doesn’t represent reality. People post their triumphs, their happy photos, and their “Aren’t I silly?” moments. They post things they’re doing that no one would have asked about. Sometimes they post updates about their health or that of their loved ones.

But where are the posts about their failures? How many people have you seen admitting to having wronged someone? How many people say, “I have a drinking problem and I’m afraid I can’t stop” or “I treat my spouse and children badly on a daily basis” or “I’m lost and don’t know what to do with my life”?

We know that Facebook generally isn’t the place for really deep self-revelation. For someone with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or a history of trauma, though, reading Facebook posts can make it seem as though she’s the only one who doesn’t have it all together. Everyone else leads a successful, happy life; she’s the only one who doesn’t get it. What is she doing wrong? Where’s the missing rulebook for life? These thoughts can make a lonely person even lonelier, or a person who feels broken feel even more so.

I’m not saying that you should abandon Facebook, but take some time to think about it and what it represents. Remember that if you base your opinion of others’ lives on their Facebook posts, you will get a very distorted picture. And, as always, remember not to compare your insides to someone else’s outside!

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

What’s Your Superpower?

My daughter loves the PBS show “Wild Kratts,” in which the Kratt brothers explore the amazing powers of various creatures in the wild. Often, the brothers point out that humans have so far been unable to replicate those powers. One example is the gecko’s ability to walk on walls and ceilings. (I won’t attempt an explanation of that ability here!)

Does this make you envious of geckos? It is a pretty cool ability, and it might be useful at times, but would it be worth trading all of our uniquely human abilities to get it? Of course not.

You may not envy geckos, but I’ll bet you’ve envied another person at some point in your life. You might be surprised at what or whom they envy, though—it might be you! As they say in 12-step programs, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside.” In other words, other people, even if they seem self-confident, may have more insecurities than you think.

For instance, consider Suzanne, who was at her daughter’s dance class. She noticed, as she had in the past, a couple of the other mothers who were considerably thinner than she was; she found herself envying them for this. This was put into perspective, though, when their conversation made it obvious that they felt self-conscious about their bodies compared to certain other women they’d seen recently.

I sometimes see other people and wish I had some quality of theirs—physical appearance, athletic ability, cooking or craft-making skills, etc. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to trade all of who I am for whatever that quality might be. Would I want to give up the job and the family that I love so that I could be that person? Would I want to give up my unique strengths and abilities? No, I wouldn’t.

Take some time to think about the qualities you wish you had. Then take some more time and think about all of the positive qualities and abilities that you already have. You may discover that you have superpowers after all!

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

What’s Your Role?

The child hides under a bed. Violence in a family.

Aaron got straight A’s in school and was a star athlete in three different sports. Lots of people at his school, both students and teachers, admired him. His parents were never satisfied, though, so Aaron decided that the things he was good at just weren’t enough.

Joe frequently acted out in class and talked back to his teachers, so he often got in trouble. Every time he had to stay after school for detention he had to walk the three miles home, no matter what the weather, as an extra punishment from his father.

Maryann was the youngest child in her family. She was often the focus of attention, and was frequently babied. She was considered the cute one, the one that everybody liked. All of this supposedly positive attention, though, only made her feel helpless and incompetent; it seemed that she was the only person who didn’t know what she was doing . She felt like she couldn’t take care of herself.

Amanda was afraid of her mother; she never knew, from one moment to the next, what mood her mother would be in. She might be kind and funny, or she might yell at Amanda or hit her, seemingly for no reason. Amanda learned to tiptoe around the house, avoiding her mother whenever possible.

Aaron, Joe, Maryann, and Amanda were acting out roles that can be found in alcoholic and otherwise dysfunctional families. Aaron was the family hero, the overachiever who nevertheless failed to get his parents’ approval. Joe was the scapegoat, the one who acted out and was blamed for all of the family’s problems. Maryann was the mascot, the one who tried to distract people from what was wrong in the family. Amanda was the lost child, who was basically invisible, even though she craved (positive) attention.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? If so, think about your family. Was someone in the family an alcoholic or addict (including workaholics, gambling addicts, shopping addicts, etc., not just drug addicts), or did someone suffer from a chronic physical or mental illness? If so, it makes sense that you took on one or more of these roles.

The question is, how are you continuing to act out your traditional role(s) today? Are you a perfectionist who never feels like your work is good enough (the family hero)? Do you have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs, or are you constantly in trouble at work, at home, or even with the law (the scapegoat)? Are you the person who acts as if everything is good and happy, and that nothing bad happened in your childhood (the mascot)? Do you find it hard to speak up for yourself and do you, as much as possible, blend into the woodwork (the lost child)?

Growing up physically does not necessarily mean growing up emotionally. We tend to repeat patterns in adulthood that we learned in childhood. What patterns do you have that you might want to unlearn? What can you do to express your true self, independent of the role(s) you were put into while growing up?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Don't Believe Everything You Think

Have you ever stopped to notice that not everything you think is correct? That’s a thought that doesn’t often come to us, because our brains are the only interpreters we have of what’s going on in the world. Of course we believe what we think!

Automatic Negative Thoughts (abbreviated ANTs) are  particularly destructive thoughts that need to be noticed and disbelieved. Let’s look at five types of ANTs: mind reading, fortune telling/ catastrophizing, negative mental filter, maximizing/ minimizing, and black and white/all or nothing thinking. I’ll use examples of potential ANTs I might encounter regarding my book, “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself.

Let’s look at mind reading first. Mind reading is something many of us learn early in life, often as a defense mechanism; we try to guess what other people are thinking. We can become convinced that we know what they’re thinking, not considering the possibility that our guesses might be wrong.

How might the mind reading ANT mess with my head regarding my book? Authors can be very insecure about the reception their books will receive. If I engage in mind reading in this situation, the ANT might say, “You know that people don’t like your book, don’t you? When they read it, they realize that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. The only people who are saying positive things about it are people who want to make you feel good.”

That brings us to the next ANT: fortune telling or catastrophizing. This ANT tells you that you know what’s going to happen in the future and that it’s going to be bad. In the case of my book, this ANT might say, “This book is going to be disastrous for your career. Not only will you not sell many books, but prospective clients who read it will decide not to work with you because they’ll think you’re incompetent.”

The third ANT is a negative mental filter. This will filter out all of the positives in the situation and only look at the negatives. For example, my book is available for sale on Amazon.com, and has been reviewed there. All except one of those reviews have been very positive, but if I use a negative mental filter, I will not notice all of the positive reviews; I will only look at the single critical review I received. The ANT will whisper in my ear, “Look at that negative review! That person didn’t enjoy your book or find it particularly useful. I told you that you never should have written it!”

ANT number four is maximizing/minimizing. Similar to the negative mental filter, this ANT will make any negatives seem huge and any positives seem very small. This ANT might whisper, “Ignore those people who said positive things about how much your book has helped them. I’m sure it wasn’t really that helpful. Think of all of the people who read your book but didn’t review it; I’ll bet they didn’t get anything good out of it at all, but they were too nice to say anything. Those people are the majority of the people who read your book, not the positive ones.”

Black and white, all or nothing thinking is the fifth ANT I will talk about here. This ANT sees things only one way. Things are either all good or all bad; there is no gray area. This ANT might whisper, “Writing that book was a total waste of time. Think of all of the hours you spent writing and revising it. There are a lot more useful things you could have done with that time. A book is only worth writing if it sells hundreds of thousands of copies, and there’s no way that’s going to happen with your book.”

You’ve probably fallen victim to each of these ANTs at one time or another. The important thing is to start to notice the ANTs whispering in your ear and to find positive responses to challenge the negative thoughts. The more you do this, the easier it will be, and the more likely that the positive thoughts will be the first ones that come to mind.

I have created a five-part e-course called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Five Simple Ways to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life.” You can sign up for that e-course at www.BeallPastoralCounseling.com. You can find out more about my book and order it by visiting www.FindYourMeTime.com. And by the way, those ANTs are lying; the book really is an invaluable resource that you will enjoy reading!

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

What’s Your Secret?

Family in front of home

“I believe that mothers should tell the truth, even – no, especially – when the truth is difficult. It’s always easier, and in the short term can even feel right, to pretend everything is okay, and to encourage your children to do the same. But concealment leads to shame, and of all hurts shame is the most painful.”

–Ayelet Waldman

Clarissa had the perfect family. Her parents had good jobs, she and her brother did well in school and participated in extracurricular activities, and they were all active in their church. It seemed that they always got along with each other, too.

Does this sound too good to be true? It was. Clarissa’s family had a big secret: her father, Jim, was a “functioning alcoholic.” He never missed a day of work because of his drinking, and he did his job well. He mostly drank at home so people wouldn’t know about it.

No one in the family talked about Jim’s drinking, even among themselves. Clarissa’s mother, Judy, did everything she could to avoid the subject. She got rid of Jim’s empty bottles. She put him into bed if he passed out from drinking. She came up with reasons to avoid social engagements so that he wouldn’t drink too much and embarrass the family.

Clarissa and her brother, Joey, went along with this. They didn’t talk about Jim’s drinking, either, especially to people outside the family. They just quietly made adjustments. For example, they never invited their friends over because they didn’t know if Jim would be drunk.

Despite their confident outward appearances, they had very low self-esteem because they took the shame of their father’s drinking onto themselves.

Was your family like Clarissa’s? Even if there was no alcoholic in your family, there are many other types of dysfunction that can lead to similar results.

If you recognized yourself in this description, how did your family atmosphere affect your childhood? How does it affect your present reality? What can you do to break out of the unhealthy patterns you learned growing up?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

What’s Your Box?

Woman in box

Mandy was the smart one. She got straight A’s. She was accepted into Harvard. Everyone understood that she was going to law school so she could join her father’s firm.

The problem was that no one asked Mandy what she wanted. From the time she was a small child her parents had put her in the “smart” box. Her siblings were put in boxes, too; her sister Jenna was the pretty one, and her brother Paul was the athletic one. The children didn’t question their roles; they were trapped in boxes that they didn’t know existed.

They had also been told what they were expected to do with their lives. Jenna was to become a model or, failing that, use her looks to land a rich husband. Paul was to get an athletic scholarship to college and either become a professional athlete or find a teaching job somewhere so he could coach.

We are all put in boxes as children, although they may not be extreme as in the example above. For instance, you might trip over a rug or bump into a door and be called a klutz. Or you might be called a scaredy-cat because of your fear of the dark.  You might cry a lot as a child and be called a crybaby. You may be called the good boy who never makes trouble, or the bad girl who’s blamed for many of the things that are wrong in the family.

Do you know what box you’re in? If nothing springs to mind, examine the basic “truths” you know about yourself. Consider the possibility that at least some of those truths were imposed upon you, hiding part or all of your authentic self.

Are you ready to break out of the box that’s holding you captive?

What will you do with your newfound freedom?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.