The patterns that build your reality.

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There are literally thousands of things we COULD focus on in our experience. 

Even when we’re sitting by ourselves, alone in a room, there are hundreds and hundreds of things we COULD focus on and think about. 

Every single minute of every day, our senses are overwhelmed with input. 

The things we could look at; the things we could listen to; the things we could feel and smell and touch. 

Most of what our brain does every day is filter all of this sensory input. 

Our brain has to make choices about what we’re going to notice, and what we’re going to ignore. It’s a cognitive process called “sensory discrimination.” 

One of the reasons why different people have such dramatically different experiences of life is that they have developed different patterns in what they pay attention to. 

Some people have gotten used to paying attention to everything that is broken in the world. 

They see every problem. They see every inconvenience. They see every part of every obstacle. 

Other people have gotten used to paying attention to everything that is threatening in the world. 

They see every danger. They see every accident waiting to happen. They see every tragedy in the making. 

Most of the time, we have not consciously chosen our patterns of focus. 

Our patterns of focus are usually modeled on what we saw our parents focusing on, how we saw our parents interpreting and responding to the world. 

This is one of the reasons why depression and anxiety seem to “run” in families: because children tend to mirror and mimic their parents’ patterns of focus that contribute to depression and anxiety. 

As well, most of the time we don’t fully realize how much our characteristic patterns of focus contribute to our struggles. 

If you’re constantly focusing on what’s broken and tragic, it’s hard to NOT be depressed. 

If you’re constantly focusing on what’s dangerous and unpredictable, it’s hard to NOT be anxious. 

This doesn’t just apply to what we focus on in the world. It also applies to how we think about our past. 

If we are overly focused on the ways we’ve failed in the past, it’s hard to build a self-image as capable and productive. 

If we are overly focused on times we’ve been rejected, it’s hard to see ourselves as attractive and worthy. 

Understand: there is a LOT more than our patterns of focus that contribute to emotional difficulties. 

Our genetics, our brain chemistry, and our life stressors all contribute significantly to our current emotional state. 

But our patterns of focus represent possibly the best opportunity for us to make an intentional, positive change in how we experience the world. 

When we’re talking about patterns of noticing and interpreting the world, all we’re talking about are habits. 

Repeated actions. 

We get “good” at habits for one reason: we’ve practiced them, over and over and over again. 

Any habit that has been learned, can be un-learned. 

This goes for patterns of mental focus, patterns of behavior, and patterns of relating. 

We can dig our way out of any hole the same way we dug ourselves into it: bit, by bit, by bit, by bit. 

Get curious about your patterns of focus. 

Get curious about what you notice— and what you ignore. 

Get curious about how attention shapes your experience of life. 

 

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A lot of this journey…sucks.

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I’ll spare you the suspense: you’re going to be frustrated with the pace of your recovery or personal development. 

It’ll move too slow for you. 

It’ll involve tasks that you won’t immediately see the point of (or, even if you DO see the point of them, you might think they’re STILL pretty stupid). 

And along the way in this process, you’re DEFINITELY going to get annoyed with me or any other therapist, mentor, or guru who is guiding you along the path. 

All of that is normal. 

I find it more than a little annoying when self-help types write about how the process of improving your life REQUIRES SACRIFICE, and then they CHALLENGE you to BREAK THROUGH YOUR LIMITATIONS!

Because the fact is, it’s both more and less complicated than just, “this process requires sacrifices.” 

Does recovery require sacrifices? Sure, it often does. 

I find a lot of truth in the quote, “Your new life is going to cost you your old one.” 

We DO need to sacrifice old habits and relationships and viewpoints that we may be attached to, or that felt comfortable. 

We don’t get to both move forward and keep everything the same. 

But it seems to me the reason these self-help types always stress SACRIFICE is mostly to make you more open to the idea of making a rather specific sacrifice: sacrificing your money, to buy their products and services. 

Honestly, most seekers I’ve ever met in therapy or personal development have been more than willing to make sacrifices in the pursuit of their goals. 

It drives me INSANE when self-help gurus treat their audience with condescension— as if the primary problem encountered by most seekers is that they’re unwilling to just SUCK IT UP and MAKE SOME SACRIFICES! 

(I’m here thinking of a specific self-help guy who loves to condescendingly tell his audience that what he’s selling “may not be for them,” and if they’re not ready to “really invest” in their personal growth, he advises they find another program.) 

The path to achieving goals and creating a productive life that feels good involves a lot of mundane tasks. 

It involves learning skills for emotional management— and learning new skills is often no fun. 

It’s not because you’re lazy or weak or uncommitted. 

It’s because NOBODY likes to learn new skills. 

We usually SUCK at new things. And learning how to manage our emotions is particularly HARD, especially when we didn’t really learn how to do it growing up.

Yeah. You’re going to dislike this project a certain amount of the time. 

You’re going to find it boring. 

You’re going to find me annoying. 

You’re going to be angry that you HAVE to learn these new skills in order to make your life work. 

All that is normal. 

The trick is to feel the annoyance, feel the boredom, feel the negative feelings that go along with the project of recovery or life development…and do it all anyway. 

Improving— or even saving— your life is more important than the inconvenience and discomfort that come with learning new skills. 

Your quality of life is worth the trouble. 

You are worth the trouble. 

 

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Making peace with your past self.

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We are not ourselves when we are responding to stress or trauma. 

Yet, we often expect ourselves to react to stress and trauma in cool, calm, and collected ways. 

In fact, we often seem to expect more from ourselves in times of stress and trauma than we would ever reasonably expect of anyone else. 

We often hold our past selves responsible for not knowing what we didn’t know at the time. 

We often hold our child selves responsible for thinking, feeling, and acting like children…when we actually WERE children. 

We often look back at past relationships and call ourselves weak and stupid for staying in them. 

We see how we’ve frozen up or “checked out” during periods of pain or intensity, and we are embarrassed or ashamed that we didn’t handle the situation “better.” 

Nobody is at their best during times of stress and trauma. 

During times of stress and trauma, there are neurological events that happen inside our bodies and brains that make it really, really hard to think straight. 

During those times we are overwhelmed with a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that make it possible to either fight, flee, or freeze…and it’s really, really hard to overcome that cascade of neurotransmitters and handle things in a cool, calm, collected way. 

It is not fair to look back at how we’ve reacted to pain and stress in our life, and judge ourselves harshly. 

The truth is, we did what we could with the tools we had. 

We didn’t know what we didn’t know. 

We couldn’t do what we weren’t emotionally equipped to do. 

Would it have been preferable if we did know how to get out of threatening situations back then? Of course. 

But when you’re in a situation where you feel trapped, where you see literally no way out, and when TRYING to get out would probably put you in even more danger…you can’t be expected to have invented options you just didn’t have. 

In order to build self-esteem now, we have to make peace with the past versions of ourselves. 

It is not your fault that you were in a situation that seemed unescapable at the time. 

It is not your fault that your brain switched into fight, flight, or freeze mode. 

It is not your fault that you dissociated and lost time. 

It is not your fault that you fell into unhealthy coping patterns when you saw no other options for managing what you were feeling— and there was no one there to teach you or model for you a different way. 

And it is not your fault that you can’t change the past now. 

What we need to do is meet the embarrassment and shame of our past with enormous, overwhelming compassion. 

What we need to do is get on our own side, and refuse to abandon ourselves— including our past selves. 

Your past self did the best they could. 

Your past self got you through it. 

Your past self felt very small and very alone, and had no real idea what to do with that. 

But it doesn’t need to be alone any more. 

You can be, now, the adult you needed then. 

You can be a place of safety and stability for that past version of you. 

You can develop and use the healthy, non-harmful coping mechanisms you didn’t have then. 

You can choose who you have in your life, and limit your exposure to certain people and situations now, in ways you couldn’t then. 

Trying to deny and disown your past self only alienates you from you. 

Yes, your past self holds memories of pain and shame…but it also holds the resilience and resourcefulness that somehow got you through it. 

You can make peace with you. 

And you can move forward together with your past self, without shame or regret. 

 

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Some non-marketable things I believe about recovery.

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Your recovery or therapy plan doesn’t need to be perfect. 

It doesn’t need to answer all the questions you have about living a productive or happy life. 

It doesn’t need to address every single area in which you experience pain. 

What is most important about your recovery plan is that it be doable and consistent. 

It needs to be comprised of things that you can and will do every day. 

It needs to produce results that are realistic and measurable. 

I will take an imperfect recovery plan that is made up of realistic, actionable behaviors that you can and will do CONSISTENTLY and can measure the results of, over a hypothetically “perfect” recovery plan that bears no resemblance to reality, any day of the week. 

My approach to recovering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction, is not dramatic or glamorous. 

No joke, sometimes I WISH I had some emotional and behavioral change system that is elegant and marketable, with a catchy name. 

(It’d certainly help me out as I try to build this “self help” career.) 

But I don’t. 

The principles of emotional management and behavior change that I believe in, the ones that I teach to my patients and clients, are nothing new. 

I didn’t invent them. 

They’re not perfect, and some of them aren’t even particularly well understood by research psychologists. 

(Good luck getting research psychologists to ADMIT that, though.) 

I believe in getting real about not just what causes behavior, what MAINTAINS behavior. 

I believe in being honest with ourselves about what we get out of supposedly negative behavior or painful feelings.

Every behavior is an attempt to scratch an itch, to fill a need. I believe in getting curious about what those needs are. 

I believe that a lot of people struggle in recovery because it’s boring and painful, and they’ve never been taught how to manage being bored and uncomfortable. 

We HAVE to figure out how to manage our behavior and our feelings even when we don’t feel like it.

(Especially when we don’t feel like it.) 

I don’t believe in “grit.” I don’t believe in “willpower.” I don’t believe some people are just “tougher” than others, and that’s why they succeed. 

I believe in skills and tools— and that ANYBODY can learn skills and acquire tools. Regardless of whether they are “tough” or have “grit” or “willpower.” 

I believe most people just want to feel good. 

I believe that many of us have been taught that feeling good is not an important or worthy project. 

I believe that people will do what they can to feel good— even if they have to compromise their principles and values to do so. 

Feeling good matters. It matters so much that people will throw all sort of caution to the wind to feel good. We’ll take all sorts of chances. We’ll make all sorts of sacrifices. 

To try to shame someone for feeing good is like shaming them for wanting to breathe. 

Don’t shoot for perfect. 

Shoot for doable. Shoot for consistent. Shoot for measurable. 

Don’t expect profound, blinding flames of insight and dramatic breakthroughs. 

Expect to chip away. Slowly, steadily, on good days and bad days. Just chip, chip, chip away. 

Now you see why I’m not a self-help superstar yet. None of that really fits into a flashy marketing campaign. 

But it will keep you alive and it will realistically improve your life. 

But don’t take my word for it. 

 

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Why we need to “pump the brakes” on pleasurable experiences.

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I first learned I had an “addictive personality” when I was a kid. 

When I was young, I— and my parents— noticed something odd about my behavior: when I found something I liked, something that felt good, I got very, very into it. 

As in, almost obsessively into it. 

I vividly remember that my parents actually had to set limits for me when it came to things I liked— whether it was movies, or TV shows, or foods, or…whatever. 

If left to my own devices, I simply would not stop indulging in whatever I was indulging in that made me feel good. 

I really would watch a movie, then rewind it, and watch it again. And again. And again. 

I really would eat bowl after bowl of cereal, until there wasn’t any left. 

Now, you may think, that’s just the kind of thing kids do, right? All kinds need some sort of parental intervention to make sure they don’t overindulge in things they like. 

This went a step beyond that. 

I would never, ever feel “full” of the things that I liked. 

I would never, ever feel satisfied. 

This pattern continued as I grew up. As a young adult, it led me to become obese, because I had extreme difficulty putting the breaks on my eating behavior. 

It led me to risky sexual behavior, because— even though I was, objectively speaking, a smart person— I had extreme difficulty saying “no” to potentially pleasurable experiences. 

Even if those experiences put my health and my relationships in danger. 

I know now at least part of what was happening. I was born with a genetic disposition toward both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression— meaning my brain has difficulty reliably producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which govern motivation, satisfaction, and happiness. 

As a result, I was constantly reaching out of myself for a “feel good” fix— and I didn’t have the inherent ability to push the “pause” or “stop” buttons when I actually found something that gave me pleasure. 

As I grew up, I experienced sexual abuse, and I was bullied— traumatic experiences that further impaired my ability to feel good or safe without some sort of outside “kick.” 

Why am I telling you any of this? Because it’s important to understand why I think we need to take care to sometimes “pump the brakes” on our pleasurable experiences. 

When we find something that feels good to us, our judgment immediately becomes compromised. 

Some people can manage experiences of pleasure far better than I was able to as a kid (or even better than I’m able to now)— but the principle still applies. 

We don’t think straight when it comes to things that make us feel good. 

We WILL find excuses to indulge in those things. 

We will bend logic and reason and our perception of reality to give us access to those “feel good” experiences. 

We will ignore red flags in relationships. 

We will justify behaviors that we wouldn’t otherwise find acceptable, in ourselves and others. 

Again: it’s not that everybody will have the problems I had, and still do have, in regulating their experience of pleasure and curtailing their behavior. 

Not everybody will go off the deep end and turn into an “addict” when they get a taste of feeling good. 

But when we find an experience that makes us feel good, it’s never, ever a bad idea to just pump the brakes. 

To take a step back. 

To take a deep breath, and survey the situation. 

In order to live a life of meaning and value, we need to frequently check in with ourselves and make sure we’re being authentic and honest about who we are and what we need. 

And we need to make sure we’re not letting experiences of passion or pleasure mess with our judgement. 

 

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The would-be brainwasher’s playbook.

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I strongly believe that we all need to get very familiar with the principles of psychological influence. 

There has been a great deal of research done on the tactics used by people who wish to get us to feel things and do stuff. 

There really ARE many people (and organizations, and institutions) who spend a GREAT DEAL of time trying to get us to think specific things, feel specific things, and do specific things. 

The list of people who wish to “brainwash” us for various reasons is seemingly endless. 

“Brainwashing” might sound like an overdramatic term for their attempts to persuade us…but I truly think it fits for one reason: those who wish to brainwash us aren’t terribly concerned about our consent. 

It would be one thing if people and institutions were all about providing us with information and options, and trusting in our autonomy and judgment to make good decisions. 

But that’s not how they operate. 

Many would-be brainwashers think that their agenda is too important to be left up to our judgment, or to attain our consent. 

And there is an entire category of would-be brainwashers who actively fear that if “consent” entered the conversation, they simply wouldn’t get what they wanted. 

And what they want, to them, is way more important than we make a “free choice.” 

So I strongly think we all need to be familiar with the principles of persuasion and influence. 

We don’t need to be paranoid or anxious. But we need to be realistic and educated. 

Luckily, it’s not hard to get up to speed on would-be brainwashers’ playbooks. 

The psychologist Robert Cialdini, in particular, has thoroughly researched and written about the principles of influence that seem to be more or less universal— and that are used, to one extent or another, by would-be brainwashers, from politicians running for president to Girl Scouts selling cookies. 

Cialdini’s principles include reciprocity (we tend to do things when we’ve had something given to us or done for us, and we feel obligated to return the gesture); commitment and consistency (we tend to do things that will help us feel consistent with who we believe we are, or which we view as following through on implicit commitments we’ve made); social proof (we tend to engage in behavior that has been visibly “validated” by other people); authority (we tend to do what we’re told by those we perceive to be in positions of legitimate authority); liking (we tend to do things for people with whom we feel an affinity); and scarcity (we tend to value things that seem scarce— whether or not they actually ARE scarce). 

The social psychologist Albert Bandura did pioneering research in the power observation and modeling has on our feelings and behavior— that is, we tend to do things we see modeled (behavior, in other words is “catchy” or “contagious”). 

There is an entire GENRE of books written specifically for men interested in attracting women for sex and relationships. It’s often called “seduction” or “pickup” literature, and, while it might sound cheesy, those books contain a great deal of “field tested” speculation about what men need to do and say to attract and manipulate women. 

(Notable among this genre are books by Ross Jeffries; “The Game” by Neil Strauss; and “The Mystery Method,” by— who else?— Mystery). 

The pseudoscience of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), while not the most robustly researched and validated body of theory, offers many real-world hypotheses about what word combinations, facial expressions, and even hand gestures can influence behavior in persuasive ways. 

So why am I telling you all this? 

Do I want you to read all of these books, and become an expert on persuasion? 

No. 

But I want you to be very clear on the fact that there are absolutely people out there who make it their life’s work (and very often their financial livelihood) to persuade, and even manipulate, you. 

I want you to at least Google the names and titles in this blog post, and achieve at least a nodding familiarity with these systems and techniques. 

I’ve seen far, far too many people walking around without a working knowledge of psychological influence and persuasion— and I’ve worked with many people who have been manipulated into unsafe relationships, poor decisions, and difficult to escape situations. 

It’s not our fault if we get manipulated or lied to. 

Some people are just going to manipulate and lie to us. It’s just going to happen. 

All we can do is what we can do— be as familiar with the techniques of influence as we can, and pay attention every day. 

 

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No, depression is not a “choice.”

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Lots of people have lots of perspectives on depression— what causes it, what it is, what to do about it. 

In fact, you’ll find people with VERY FIRM opinions on what depression is and isn’t. 

I’ve heard people say that depression is a “choice.” 

I’ve heard people say that depression is nothing more than a chemical imbalance in the brain. 

I’ve heard people say that depression is invariably the result of trauma or early attachment problems. 

And I’ve heard people reduce depression to a distorted patterns of thinking and interpreting the world. 

I think there’s validity to many of those perspectives— that many of them do add to our understanding of what does, or can, cause and reinforce depression. 

The one I have a problem with is the idea that depression is a “choice.” 

I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and “chooses” to be depressed. 

I think there are people who think, say, and do things that inadvertently deepen their depression— but I don’t think they do that because they want to be depressed. (I mostly think they do this because they don’t realize the connection between what they’re thinking, saying, or doing, and their state of depression.)

Some people assume that some depressed people exaggerate or fixate on their depression for “attention.” 

Believe me when I say: virtually nobody wants the kind of “attention” you get from being depressed. 

When you’re depressed, and when other people know about it, they usually DON’T flood you with sympathy or support. 

Do you know what happens most of the time when you let on that you’re depressed? 

People give you advice. 

So much advice. 

They mean well. Many of them really want to help. They assume that, since you told them you’re depressed,  you’re implicitly asking for their help to get out of it. 

The thing is, when we’re depressed, we’re often not in a position to take advantage of even the best advice. 

Among the most common symptoms of depression are lack of motivation and lack of energy and focus. 

Thus, when you’re depressed and people give you advice, it’s like telling a person who is already exhausted and dehydrated to go run laps. 

Then, when you don’t TAKE the advice— because you’re unmotivated, exhausted, and unfocused— it gets assumed that you must not really WANT to be anything other than depressed. 

If we’re really going to change how we feel on a consistent basis, we need to get real about depression. 

We need to stop beating ourselves up for being depressed. 

It’s not “weak.” Some of the strongest people in history have histories of depression. 

It’s not “stupid.” Very brilliant people have been depressed (in fact, some research suggests that especially intelligent people are actually MORE vulnerable to depression). 

And it’s not “attention seeking.” I’ve never met anyone who I’ve actually suspected was using depression as a strategy for getting attention. Most people I’ve known who are depressed— and I’ve known an awful lot, given my line of work– would strongly prefer to be left alone. 

When you’re depressed, I want you to be gentle with yourself. 

I want you to NOT demand that you be anything other than you are, or feel anything other than you feel, right now. 

I want you to quit playing tug of war with the voice in your head that says you “shouldn’t” be depressed. 

I need you to accept that you feel exactly what you feel, that you’re experiencing exactly what you’re experiencing right now…and that’s okay. 

Once we accept what IS…then we can start working to change it. Step by step, bit by bit. 

 

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Realistically changing feelings and behavior.

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Don’t try to feel all better all at once. 

Try to feel a little better. 

I know, I know. You feel miserable. You want to feel as un-miserable as possible, as quickly as possible. 

You want to get as far away from this feeling as you possibly can. You want to banish it. 

I get it. 

And I get that it might be profoundly unsatisfying to hear me tell you that I want you to make it your goal to nudge just a little to the right or the left of this current feeling. 

But that’s what I want you to do. 

If you’re overwhelmingly angry, I want you to focus on feeling just a little less angry. 

If you’re overwhelmingly sad, I want you to focus on feeling just a little less sad. 

If you’re doing self-destructive things all day, I want you to focus on refraining from doing self-destructive stuff for ten minutes out of a day. (You can still have the other twenty three hours and fifty minutes out of the day to do self-destructive things if you like.) 

If you’re doing all the drugs, I want you to focus on just doing most of the drugs instead. 

In psychology, we call this approach “harm reduction,” but what it really should be called is “real world change.” 

Because this is how we change in the real world. 

We change by taking baby steps. 

We shift our focus for finite, limited periods. 

Some people think it’s better to overhaul your life all at once— and I get why they think that. Overhauling a lot of things all at once is dramatic and stimulating and it’s how we see changes made in the movies. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not looking for changes that are cinematic. 

I’m looking for changes that are real and sustainable. 

If you feel one way, and I ask you to create a feeling state that is 90% similar to the way you’re already feeling, you KNOW for a fact you can do it— after all, you’re basically doing it now. 

Then, when you get used to that new feeling state, I can ask you to create yet another feeling state, that is 90% similar to the one you’ve gotten good at feeling, and again, you KNOW you can do it— because, again, you’re basically doing it already. 

That’s how we change in the real world. We nudge into a slightly different space; get used to it; then we nudge again. 

Over time, we’ve nudge, nudge, nudged our way to a feeling state that is entirely different from where we started out. 

It’s not dramatic. 

It’s not cinematic. 

Most of what I ask my patients to do is feel mostly the same— with little, consistent, intentional changes. 

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year…those changes add up. 

Canyons and caves aren’t formed all at once. 

They are formed over time, by the drip, drip, dripping of water. 

That’s how I want you to change your feelings and your behavior. That’s how we REALISTICALLY change feelings and behavior. 

Some days your progress will be barely noticeable— and that’s on purpose. 

Fast, dramatic changes are fast— but slow, steady changes stick. 

 

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I don’t think you’ve been “doing it wrong.”

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When you’re trying to improve your life, you’re going to get a LOT of feedback that assumes either you’re not trying hard enough, or you don’t know what you’re doing. 

Everybody’s going to have a point of view about what you “should” be doing. 

Everybody’s going to have an opinion on where you went wrong. 

Everybody’s going to have a pet philosophy or concept that, if you only embraced, you’d suddenly see the light and have a much easier time of it all. 

The self-help industry, in particular, is all about this paradigm. 

Pick up any self-help book on the shelf, and you’ll likely be treated to a description of the author’s perspective on where the reader has probably gone wrong in their life. 

What they’ve misunderstood. What they’ve not realized. What they’ve been mistaken about. 

It’s a natural enough place for many people to begin when discussing mental health, I suppose. 

After all, if you’re looking for help with mental health and personal fulfillment, I guess there IS an implicit understanding that you DID go wrong at some point, or that you ARE missing an essential piece of the puzzle. 

The thing is: I don’t think most people ARE “doing it wrong.” 

In fact, I think the big misunderstanding most people have when they get involved with mental health or personal growth, is that they think THEY are somehow to blame for their struggles. 

I don’t think you’re to blame for your struggles. 

I think you’ve had lousy programming and traumatic experiences. 

I don’t think you asked for those, and I don’t think you’ve been perpetuating them out of some self-defeating impulse. 

I don’t think the story here is how much you’ve gotten wrong or misunderstood. 

I think the the REAL story here is how you’ve managed to endure and survive and thrive— even if your experience has been imperfect. 

The big myth is that because you feel bad or because your’e behaving in ways other than you’d prefer, that you’re somehow damaged or bad. 

You may be wounded. But you are not damaged. 

You are actually remarkably resilient. 

Whatever it was that happened to you in the past: you survived it. 

I know, you may feel like you are damaged beyond repair, but look at the facts: you’re here, reading these words. You survived. 

How did you do that? 

What strengths did you draw upon? 

What skills did you use? 

What HELPED you do that? 

You might have come from a place where you had very few resources available to you, almost no help, everything working against you.

And yet, you endured. 

How did you do that? 

See, I don’t think you’re “doing it wrong”— and you certainly don’t need a lecture from a therapist or self-help guru about HOW you’ve been “doing it wrong.” 

I think you need to get crystal clear on what you’ve been doing RIGHT. 

I think you need to get crystal clear on how you made it through, despite everything. 

I think you need to get crystal clear about what your strengths and advantages and gifts are. 

I think THAT’S the story. I think THAT’S where the money is. 

If you’re looking to be told all the ways you’ve been doing it wrong, I’m not your self-help guy. 

If you’re looking to identify and build upon the undeniable strengths that have allowed you to create the success story you’ve already started creating: I’m on board with that. 

 

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It’s not a competition.

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Do not compare your struggles or suffering with others’. 

I’m not talking about sharing your experience. I’m talking about comparing. 

There is a subset of people who have an impulse to respond to others’ expression of pain with a comparison to their own. 

They look at others’ struggle, and they judge them to have suffered either more or less than they have. 

This doesn’t end well, for anyone. 

If they judge others to have suffered less than they have, they often wind up feeling resentful.

If they judge others to have suffered more than they have, they often wind up minimizing their own pain, thinking and feeling that they “shouldn’t” be struggling as much as they have struggled. 

It’s not a competition. 

There is no virtue to winning the “Pain Olympics.” 

You have struggled and suffered exactly as much as you have— no more, no less. 

Comparing your pain to others’ pain won’t change how much you’ve struggled and suffered. 

Sometimes we feel the need to compare our struggles with others because that’s how we’ve been conditioned to think about things. 

We’ve been taught that it can be useful to look at others’ suffering, to put our own in perspective. 

Over and over again I’ve seen people minimize their own pain by comparing it to others, and concluding that they don’t have a “right” to feel what they feel. 

Reality doesn’t care if we have a “right” to feel something. 

We feel what we feel— whether we “should” or not. 

Sometimes we’ve been told “inspirational” stories of people who have suffered greatly, which come with the moral of “if THEY can overcome their suffering, you SHOULD be able to as well.” 

It can be helpful to some people to hear stories of people overcoming pain to be successful. 

But it can also put pressure on us to “live up” to those peoples’ story…when their actual resources and needs and situations may be very different from ours. 

On social media, we see such comparisons all the time. They come from very political direction: “why are you so upset about (one type of suffering), but not as upset about (another type of suffering)?” 

No good comes out of those discussions. 

They only ever end with one person or group’s suffering being minimized and dismissed. 

Sharing your experience and empathizing with others’ suffering can be extraordinarily helpful. It can be soothing and encouraging to know you’re not alone. 

But avoid the temptation to turn sharing into comparing. 

How other people handled their suffering may or may not be truly comparable to how you’re handling yours. 

Whatever anyone else is going through, you STILL have EXACTLY what you have on your plate. 

Focus on what is in front of you. 

Don’t get distracted with counterproductive comparisons. 

You don’t have the time, energy, or need for it. 

 

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