I often hear from my clients that they don’t know who they are. Part of the process of counseling is helping my clients define who they are and what that means. It is important to understand that our identity (who we are) is not stagnant. We are constantly changing and evolving as human beings. It is also important to understand that people are complex beings containing many dimensions. A combination of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences combine to make us who we are.
It has been my observation that most people identify who they are by the roles they play in life (father, sister, wife, parent, a profession). In reality, these roles do not define who we and are not stable over time. They describe what we are doing at a given time in our lives. If we define ourselves by our roles and one or more of our roles change, we lose our identity. I have experienced this and I found myself searching for an identity. Our identity cannot be tied to only what is currently happening in our lives.
Our identity cannot be tied to one event or period in our lives. This leads to being tied to the past. Example: the person at the high school reunion who identifies him or herself by their time in high school. Our lives are not a snap shot. Our lives are more like a feature film lasting many decades that include our accumulated experiences. We have our successes and our failures. We have all made mistakes over the course of our lives. It is important not to define ourselves any specific events.
Our identity is not determined by how others define us. Some people will like us and others will not. Some people will agree with what we say and do. Other people will not agree. Their opinions in many cases have little to do with who we are and more to do with who they are.
Who we are is an internal process and not about the external. For me, identity is what my values and beliefs are (and those have changed over the years). It is my thoughts and feelings as well how I perceive things (and myself) to be. From this I can determine my purpose in life and not have it determined for me.
After a significant amount of time away from posting in my blog, I have decided to put my mind back into writing more posts. I think the thing that holds be back the most is trying to say something profound every time I post. That is simply impossible.
I think that only serves to keep me from providing my readers valuable information and a better understanding of themselves and others.
I have been writing my blog for a few years and I have rarely spoken about myself and my own struggles. Having started my own journey of recover nearly 30 years ago, I have a great deal of experience and knowledge about all the skills I have shared with my readers. I have also learned from all the people I have counseled over the last 20 years. I hope that some of you have benefited from my blog.
One thing I have to keep in mind is the phrase: progress not perfection. No one, including me, has ever done this perfectly. I am a work in progress like everyone else who is in the process of change and growth. I suffered from chronic depression and addictive behaviors for most of my life as well as poor self-esteem. Although I have experienced a tremendous improvement in the quality of my life, I also have my struggles. I sometimes find it difficult to apply all the coping skills I know. There times I have to work hard to focus on the things I need to and stay in the present.
I have my own philosophy of life: Life is to be enjoyed. I work every day to make that a reality. One of the ways I stay focused is by writing this blog. It has great value to my life. I hope it has value to yours.
You have realized that something is not quite right in your life. You have become more aware of your anxiety or depression or some other issue that weighs heavily on you and negatively affects your life. You have become increasingly aware that something has to change because you can no longer tolerate living like this. What are you waiting for?
You have experiences that have haunted you for many years. You have tried to put behind you. You have read books and gotten advice from friends on how to overcome it. You have beaten yourself up for years about it. You have thought about getting help with the issue for years and understand that you cannot do it on your own. What are you waiting for?
Your drinking or other substance abuse has become more and more of an issue in your life. The damage continues to pile up. Friends and family keep telling you need to get help and deal with it. As much as you try to control it you find it impossible. You life is unraveling in front of your eyes. You know you can’t deal with it on your own. What are you waiting for?
You are very unhappy at your job and keep telling yourself you need to find another one. The economy has improved and it is easier to find a job. You have been thinking of continuing your education for a long time. You keep putting it off and continue to feel sad and anxious. What are you waiting for?
Your relationship is just not working. You and your significant other have one disagreement after another. There is more conflict than calm and happiness. You have worked hard to find ways for you both to get your needs met. The more you try, the more you realize your values, wants, and desires are not the same as hers/his. You know in your heart that the relationship will never be as fulfilling as you want. You want more. What are you waiting for?
Life is so short. The clock continues to move as you stay stuck in a place that you do not want to be. Fear stands in the way of finding a more fulfilling life. For the most part it is you that stands between yourself and having an opportunity to find the things you seek. Taking the steps to overcoming your fears is the only path. Moving forward one step at a time. Try not to look too far into the future. That’s a very scary place full all kinds of unknowns. You can deal with those when you get there. You are responsible for your own happiness. You are not responsible for the happiness of others.
Another year is about to come to an end. What are you waiting for?
Whenever someone famous commits suicide people are affected in different ways. There is usually the surprise and shock associated with the sudden death. There are the questions of why and how could they? Most of them have achieved success and wealth and have adoring fans. Why would a person who seems to have it all want to end their life? They live in the real world just like you and I.
When these people appeared in the public eye they seemed so happy and positive and full of energy. It seemed their lives were so easy and they were able to have whatever they desired. What we saw was just a snapshot of their life. What we saw was only what they wanted us to see. What we saw was actually fantasy and not reality. These celebrities lived in the real world as we all do. They all had a history of life experiences, tragedies, losses, as well as the happy times and successes. Some had medical issues. Others had mental health and substance abuse problems. It is not easy living your life in the public eye. It affects how others see them as well as making it more difficult to have stable relationships. They lived in the real world and what the rest of us see is merely an illusion.
Just like the rest of us, life sometimes gets to be too much to deal with. Feelings of desperation and helplessness and hopelessness take over. It seems there is no way out other than to put an ending to it all. They lived in the real world.
If you look at what you think their lives have been and compare them to your own remember that you live in the real world too.
I am certain you have heard of insight focused therapy. I imagine you know the phrase “hindsight is 20/20”. We seek to gain insight in order to understand our past and how it has affected us. And, somehow, by gaining insight we will change. We also tend to analyze our past actions or decisions and how they relate to the outcome or our current situation. We will likely say we made a mistake or say it was dumb or even that we were dumb to have done this or that.
The only value I see with hindsight is to see where we were as compared to where we are at that moment. With hindsight we have more information than we did when making a decision or taking an action. If we had all that information at the time we would have done something else. It wasn’t the mistake we may think it was. We make a choice based on the information we had at the time. When we view those things in hindsight we tend to make ourselves wrong and put ourselves in a negative light. That is never a useful exercise. This can be damaging to self image and self esteem.
Thinking of insight as a valuable tool to help us change our thinking for behavior may not be nearly as helpful as we might think. When I was in therapy I had the belief that if I only knew why I was the way I was and what made me that way, I could change and be happy. I figured that insight would be followed by change. I was so wrong. After a long time of seeking the “truth” I had hardly changed at all. I found quite the opposite. As I began to use healthier coping skills and was changing, I gained insight. I was able to see a comparison between the past and present and was able to understand things like never before. I believe that all the insight in the world won’t change thoughts or beliefs or behaviors. I think that challenging thoughts and beliefs what are not working is the path toward changing behaviors and improving the quality of our lives.
In summary: My verdict is that hindsight and insight are not all that valuable as a way to enable our change and growth as people.
Sometimes I share links that I believe deliver an powerful and important message. I urge you to read this.
I remember when I was much younger I was devastated that something I had expected to happen did not turn out as I thought. I was so angry that I decided that I would never have expectations again. That was a very wise thought and would have been very helpful for me to avoid tremendous disappointment and depression if I had followed through with that decision. I allowed my unmet expectations to cause me great emotional distress many times over the years. I really didn’t get that having expectations was complicating my life. It took many years and a great deal of disappointment for me to revisit having expectations.
One thing I learned over the years has to do with what I have control over and what I do not have control over. For the most part, only those things I do for myself and are not influenced by something outside myself are the things I can reasonably have expectations of the outcome. Even those things can turn out in a way I don’t expect. Anything that is not totally in my control I have little control of the outcome. Having expectations can give me a feeling of entitlement and can cause me to be in the role of the victim if the outcome is not what I had expected. If life does not meet my expectations it can have a negative impact on my self-worth.
We all have wants, desires, and preferences. Try to avoid having expectations.
One important part of having a healthy and positive attitude about life is having goals. It is important to have goals that are realistic and attainable. Short term goals are valuable and help to keep you on track and motivated to reach your medium and long term goals. It is also important to stay focused on the present rather than concerning yourself about the “what ifs.” The only thing that is real is the here and now. The future hasn’t come yet and the past is gone. The only thing you have any influence over is what you are doing now. Focus on what is in front of you. Complete that task and then move on to the next. You have a greater chance of reaching your goals this way. Reward yourself when you have met a goal or completed a task.
Fears may inhibit you from moving forward and completing the tasks you set out to do. Fears are about the future and only increase if that is what you focus on. To decrease your fear (of failure, success, how others will judge you, etc.) it is important to focus on what is right in front of you.
Expectations are a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. We have hopes and dreams and goals for our lives. But, the outcome (where we eventually end up) is not totally in your hands. Your life is affected by many variables that are totally out of your control. These variables directly influence whether we attain our goals or not.
To review: Set realistic and attainable goals for yourself. Have short, medium, and long term goals. Focus on the task at hand and the things you can actually control. Avoid having expectations of the eventually outcome.