How to handle it when you make a “poor” choice.

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There are going to be times when we’re tested by life…and found wanting. 

There are going to be times when we fail. 

When we make the wrong call. 

When we make a poor decision. 

There are going to be times when we don’t handle stress well. 

When we do things that actively work against our goals or contradict our values. 

It’s GOING to happen. It’s not a matter of “maybe” it will happen; it WILL, sooner or later. 

The question is, what do we do AFTER we stumble? 

We need to remember that our lives happen in long arcs. 

Yes, sometimes there are major choice points that can seem to make or break our destinies; but more often than not, our life results are the accumulation of lots and lots of little choice points. 

The temptation is to get really down on ourselves for whiffing on some of those smaller choice points. 

For example, I have the tendency to get absolutely vicious with myself when I make poor eating choices. 

When you’re in a certain headspace, it can seem like one day of going off-diet can seem like you’ve made the decision to absolutely ruin, absolutely negate, months and years of working hard to make responsible food choices and remain dedicated to your physical fitness routine. 

It’s at these moments that it is imperative we keep the long game in mind. 

Yes, you might have made a choice right here and now that isn’t the most aligned with your goals and values. 

But we need to remember that one choice is one choice. 

Back up and look at the pattern. 

Ask yourself: what can I do to make sure this choice doesn’t blossom into a PATTERN of behavior that undermines my goals and values? 

Ask yourself: what can I LEARN from this particular “failure?” 

Ask yourself: what factors contributed to my struggle to make a positive, congruent choice today? 

Nobody LIKES to make a “poor” choice…but our supposed “poor” choices can come with lots of useful data for us. 

The truth is, if we constantly made “good” choices, we’d essentially learn nothing. 

We’d learn nothing about how we handle stress. 

We’d learn nothing about what we need to cope more effectively. 

We’d learn nothing about what we need to feel good. 

The goal of all of this is always to cultivate experiences that feel good and make it easy for us to live our values. 

In order to effectively do that, we need to keep our eyes and ears (and minds) open to how stress operates on us. 

Making “poor” choices may not be ideal…but we don’t have to let those moments be a complete loss. 

Accept your momentary “defeat.” 

Refuse to get vicious with yourself. 

Figure out what this momentary “defeat” has to teach you. 

Then…get back up and brush yourself off. 

This has just been a bad moment. It’s not your entire life, or the entirety of who you are as a person. 

 

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Things I wish more people knew about abuse.

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Something I wish more people knew and accepted about abuse survivors is that they— we— often have complicated relationships with our abusers. 

Very often, abusers are friends, family, or otherwise entwined in a survivor’s social or familial system. 

Some people like to think that, if someone was abusing you, you’d whistle a halt to it right then, tell everybody about it, cut the abuser off, and then keep the abuser cut off. 

It very often doesn’t work like that. 

Survivors are often afraid to come forward. 

Sometimes they’re afraid of their abuser; sometimes they’re afraid they won’t be believed; sometimes they’re afraid of the fallout if they WERE believed. 

I know that I didn’t come forward because I assumed I would be blamed. 

I was a weird kid, and I was very often told I was a weird kid. 

I assumed that if I told anybody about the fact that I was being abused by my babysitter,  everyone would assume that this is just the sort of weird thing that Glenn says, who knows if it’s true. 

But then on the other hand, I had no idea what to expect even if I WAS then seriously. This guy’s family lived across the street. His parents (or his caretakers, anyway, I have no idea if they were his parents or his grandparents or what) were elderly. What was going to happen, would he be arrested? Would he have to move? Would we have to move? 

It all seemed overwhelming— a hassle and a headache for everyone involved. 

And I didn’t want to be the cause of MORE hassles and headaches for the adults around me than I already caused. 

It seems that I often see the accounts of abuse survivors questioned because they didn’t
“behave” like we assume victims “should” behave. 

Sometimes they continue to have associations with and relationships with their abusers, for a variety of reasons. 

One of the reasons why a subset of people disbelieve the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as kids was because those men continued to have friendships and professional connections to Michael Jackson for years after they say the abuse happened. 

As if that means anything. 

Any more than my reluctance to cause the adults around me hassles and headaches means I wasn’t abused. 

There is no playbook for how abuse victims “should” act in the aftermath of their abuse. 

You cannot tell, by looking at a relationship from the outside, what happens between two people behind closed doors. 

When I eventually DID tell my parents what had happened to me, several years had gone by. The guy had moved away from our neighborhood (I think he moved away from home, either for school or a military career). 

The fact that people don’t reveal their abuse within a certain time frame doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

There are lots and lots of reasons why people don’t disclose they’re being abused. 

Abuse happens in all types of families, all types of systems, and all types of cultures, and to people of all genders. 

The most compassionate thing any of us can do when we’re told of abuse is to set aside our preconceived notions about what it does or doesn’t mean to have been abused. 

Survivors are not looking for your judgment or your pity. 

Whether you think an abuse narrative is “credible” or not, literally doesn’t matter. 

Whether someone fits your personal notion of someone who “probably was” or “probably wasn’t” abused, literally doesn’t matter. 

No one is interested in your thoughts about how “likely” it was that abuse did or did not occur. 

Anyone’s judgment about the “likelihood” of an abuse narrative being “true” has literally no bearing on whether that abuse did, in fact, happen. 

There are lots of supposedly “unlikely” abuse victims out there. 

And there are lots of abusers who don’t fit into many peoples’ idea of what an “abuser” looks like. 

 

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You’re GOING to be affected by the world…and that’s okay.

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You’re going to be told, a lot, that you shouldn’t be a victim of your circumstances. 

You’re going to be told that YOU control your feelings and your destiny. 

You’re going to be told that life happens “for” you, not “to” you. 

And you’re going to be told that, if you’re not kicking life’s butt, it’s basically your fault— it’s because you’ve not “mastered” your emotions and reactions. 

All of which, sounds to me, like a lot of pressure. 

I mean, who are they kidding? 

The truth is, we are PLENTY affected by a LOT of things outside of our control— and that’s not a commentary on how much we have or haven’t “mastered” our emotions or reactions. 

I assure you: you can have near complete “mastery” over your emotions and reactions, and you STILL would be very affected by the things happening around you. 

It has nothing to do with “inner strength” or “willpower” or “focus.” 

We human beings are DESIGNED to interact with our environment. 

We develop in response to how our caretakers behave toward us growing up. 

(This is why abuse and neglect have such a profound impact on kids. It’s not just that abuse and trauma are painful; it’s that abuse and trauma actually impede the normal development of emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness skills.)

As adults, we are wired to respond to and interact with our environment. 

Even the most introverted people in the world have to interact constructively with the people, places, and things around them. 

The idea that we can somehow ignore what’s happening around us— like, for example, a public health crisis— and rely on our own “inner mastery” is a fantasy. 

Make no mistake, it’s a seductive fantasy— especially if we’ve been disappointed or hurt by the people around us growing up. 

(This is one of the reasons why the fantasy of complete self-reliance is pushed by the self-help industry— because self-help gurus know that their audience is disproportionately comprised of people who had traumatic or otherwise difficult upbringings.)

You are not “weak” if you are affected by what goes on around you. 

It is normal to be affected by and responsive to the people, places, and things around you— both in the big picture, and on very intimate levels. 

You don’t need to make “complete self reliance” a goal. 

Every time I talk or write about how we need to be wary of this fantasy of complete self-reliance, I get pushback from people who say that they’ve decided that the only way to keep from being disappointed or hurt by other people was to, in fact, become completely self-reliant. 

I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no level of self-reliance that is going to guarantee that you never get hurt or disappointed by another person. 

And in trying to cut yourself off from the rest of the human community, you’re going to be cutting yourself off not only from the possibility of being hurt…but the possibility of being helped, identified with, acknowledged, and healed, as well. 

I get it. I’m an introvert. I’m not nuts about the demands that a lot of interpersonal contact and interaction places on us. 

I get VERY annoyed when I see extroverts preaching about how the ONLY acceptable way to live life is with HEAVY doses of social interaction. 

The good news for us introverts is, we DON’T have to become experts at or completely comfortable with social interaction in order to live a productive, fulfilling life. 

But we NEED to make peace with the fact that we are going to have to develop skills, tools, and strategies to manage the impact that the world has on us— because we are simply never going to get to the post where we are unaffected by the world or other people. 

Being affected by the world is not a failure of will or skill. 

It is the human condition. 

And we can learn to work with it— rather than against it. 

 

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Book excerpt from “The Book of NO: Practical Skills and Strategies for Handling Rejection”

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Let’s be clear about one thing from the outset: you CAN handle rejection. By which I mean, rejection does NOT have to precipitate a meltdown that ruins your life. 

I know, I know. It may absolutely FEEL like rejection will, in fact, ruin your life. 

It may even feel like the ONLY rational— or possible— response to rejection is, in fact, to melt down. 

I’m not saying that what you’re FEELING is wrong. I don’t, actually, believe that FEELINGS are either “right” or “wrong”— they just are what they are. 

Feelings are kind of the human mechanism’s reflexive response to thoughts.

We might have a thought— or maybe not even a thought, perhaps just an impression— and, in response, our lizard brain gives us a jolt of “this is good news!” or “this is bad news!” feeback. 

We call those “jolts” of feedback “feelings.”

So feelings aren’t right or wrong. They are reflexive. 

We don’t ask for them— we really do just get them handed to us by our central nervous systems. 

Thoughts, however— thoughts can be reality testing as “right” or “wrong.” 

At least, they can to the extent that they are summation of checkable facts. 

If I have the thought, “I have a cat named Abbey Road who is sleeping within arm’s reach of me”— that thought is testable. It can be empirically verified. I can use my senses to confirm or disconfirm it. 

I can look for a cat. I can reach out with my arm and feel for a cat. I can say her name— “Abbey Road!”— and see whether she looks at me with her big, blue, Siamese cat eyes. 

(She did.) 

Granted, not all thoughts are as easily testable as that thought about my cat. 

We humans very often have thoughts that comprise not statements of fact, but value judgments that stem from our perception and understanding of fact. 

I might have the thought, “I’ve only written a page and a half today— I’m absurdly lazy for a supposed writer.” 

One part of that thought is testable— it’s entirely possible to check how much I’ve written today— but the other part of that thought is, by definition, subjective. 

Your mileage on whether I’m “lazy,” based on today’s output, will vary. 

Why am I telling you any of this? 

Because to understand our relationship to the concept of rejection, we have to be SUPER CLEAR on what thoughts and feelings are and aren’t, and what they mean or don’t mean. 

You know how I said, in the previous chapter, that at least one of the reasons why people respond so strongly to the experience of rejection is because it “triggers” them? 

Chances are, there are some people who had a reaction to that assertion— perhaps positive, perhaps negative. 

Some people might have had the thought, “Dr. Doyle is waaaaaay oversimplifying what happens with rejection.” 

Others might have had the thought, “Dr. Doyle is just plain wrong. This is all about ego. Why is he talking about trauma and triggers?” 

And still others might have had the thought, “Yup. Homeboy nailed it.” 

Which of those thoughts is correct? 

All of them. None of them. 

They’re all correct for the people who thought them, because they are thoughts of the subjective variety. When held up against a person’s understanding of the world and their value system sure, my assertion that rejection “triggers” people can be either “right” or “wrong.” 

And yet: here in the real world, EXACTLY OPPOSITE things can’t be simultaneously TRUE, can they? 

It sure seems they are. 

But that brings us back to that FEELING that rejection is the end of the world. That the ONLY possible response to rejection is to spiral, to melt down, to wither up. 

Depending on a number of different variables, you may or may not FEEL any of these to be true. 

But the “truth” of ANY of those feelings depends, to quote Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi, on a certain point of view. 

Here’s what I know: rejection, in and of itself, does not kill anybody. 

People’s REACTION or RESPONSE to rejection might put one in danger of death. But rejection itself is not lethal. 

It may be unpleasant. 

It may— and probably is— triggering. 

It may feel overwhelming. 

But the words and behaviors that actually comprise rejection WILL NOT kill you. 

That statement isn’t one of those “it depends upon your point of view” things. 

You can survive rejection because rejection is not, in itself, fatal. 

No matter what it feels like. No matter what your lizard brain is saying. 

We have to start from this premise: rejection, itself (i.e., independent of any behavior associated with rejection), is not a danger to my life. 

Notice what pops up in your body and brain when you read that. 

Do you suddenly get worried that I’m about to spend the rest of this book telling you that rejection simply “isn’t that bad,” oblivious to the fact that, sure, it may not be LETHAL, but it sure feels horrible? 

Do you suddenly worry that I’m about to tell you to “suck it up,” that everybody gets rejected, that the solution to handling rejection is to simply develop tougher skin? 

(If you are having a reaction like that, check it out: this is what getting triggered feels like.) 

Easy does it. In telling you, in absolutely clear terms that REJECTION IS SURVIVABLE, I’m not minimizing how painful rejection is. 

(After all, I’m the guy who is writing a whole book about how to handle rejection specifically because it IS so painful.) 

It’s just important to start out from a reality-based place where we can establish a baseline for the DANGER associated with rejection. 

What’s that? The “danger” of rejection? 

Yup. 

Just because rejection, in itself, is not lethal, doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous.

Rejection is plenty dangerous, emotionally— in much the same way that any trigger is potentially dangerous. 

When an event sets something off inside of us that yanks our focus away from where we would otherwise choose to place it, I consider that a danger. 

It’s a danger to our values, to our goals, and to our stability. 

So don’t think I’m in the business of minimizing rejection. Don’t think I’m about to spend chapter after chapter telling you to grow up or develop a thicker skin. That’s not my jam. 

So we’ve established that you can physically survive rejection, with your life intact— but what about emotionally and behaviorally? 

Well. Let’s talk about that. 

All we can do is what we can do. No more; no less.

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There are going to be times when you are misunderstood— and it won’t be your fault. 

There are going to be times when you’re unappreciated— and it’s not your fault. 

There are going to be times when others misplace their motions on to you— and it’s not your fault. 

But you’re still going to feel bad about it. 

Your brain is still going to try to make it SEEM like it sure is your fault— especially if the other person or people involved are convinced it is your fault. 

Many of us are highly sensitive to the words, actions, and reactions of others. 

Many of us have had to get used to walking on eggshells around other people— especially when we’ve had to deal with emotionally reactive people for years growing up. 

When we go for years with our central nervous system on high alert, it can’t help but affect the way we look at, experience, and deal with the world. 

That’s when our anxiety starts to become chronic as opposed to situational. 

That’s when we start feeling exhausted by the end of every day, because we’ve gotten used to having to essentially defend ourselves against threats real and imagined. 

Chronic anxiety is miserable. 

Especially when we’ve tried so hard to be on good terms with everyone. 

Many people have had the experience of becoming extreme people pleasers— they go through life doing and saying those things they think will cause the least amount of confrontation and conflict, because in their experience confrontation and conflict are terrifying and draining. 

Eventually it can get to a point where we feel like we are nothing more than our anxiety. 

It kind of becomes our identifying personality characteristic. 

We forget who we were before the anxiety— because we can’t actually remember a time when we weren’t loaded down with it. 

Managing the anxiety becomes the major project on our plate every day— so much so that we don’t have the energy for any other projects or hobbies. 

And, predictably, a life without projects or hobbies that are meaningful to us quickly spirals into a miserable existence. 

We need to remember that we ARE more than this anxiety we feel. 

We need to remember— or maybe learn in the first place— that we are more than other peoples’ expectations of us or reactions to us. 
Our lives might have been defined by our attempts to manage other peoples’ emotions and reactions and behavior toward us…but we need to remember that, in the end, we simply cannot control how others feel about us or how they behave toward us. Not completely, anyway. 

Accepting that is rough. 

Trying to define who we are, separate from our anxiety, is not easy. 

Doing so almost invites a whole new type of anxiety- worry that, if we let the other anxiety go, we’ll soon find ourselves in a vulnerable position. 

We need to let anxiety go in our own time, on our own terms. 

We need to be compassionate and patient with ourselves— even if that’s a foreign concept to us. 

And we need to keep in mind that all we can do is what we can do. No more; but no less. 

 

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Bullying and Forgiveness.

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I was bullied growing up. It wasn’t fun. 

I find that many of us who had difficult social pasts have complicated relationships with the concept of “forgiveness” and “responsibility.” 

It’s very similar to how many abuse victims have complicated relationships with how culpable they “should” hold their parents or caretakers, those who “should” have been protecting them when they were young and vulneralbe. 

On the one hand, the kids who were mean to me were, you know, kids. 

When we’re kids, we make poor decisions. Our brains aren’t developed. 

Cognitive science reveals that the development of moral reasoning is a complex, uncertain process. It’s very unclear when children, broadly speaking, develop enough agency to truly be responsible for their behavior like bullying. 

Today, I’m connected on social media with more than a few of the people who bullied me as a child. Many of them seem to have grown up to be responsible, reasonable, apparently kind adults. Some of them seem to be good parents, at least as best I can tell. 

That doesn’t change the fact that they were mean to me in grade school, junior high, and high school— and that my negative experiences with my peer group had a profoundly negative impact on me as I tried to have friendships, professional relationships, and romantic relationships later in life. 

Does the “me” of today have any right to hold those people accountable for how they behaved toward me thirty years ago, when all of our brains were underformed? 

I don’t know. 

How about those people who were enduring complicated lives of their own? Does that mitigate any of their responsibility? 

I don’t know. 

What kind of role did I play in what happened to me growing up? I was a tough kid to know, and probably a tough kid to like. As I endured years of bullying, I developed quite a protective shell that made it really tough to get close to me socially. 

Do I hold the difficult, moody, reclusive past “me” partly responsible for what happened, or is that just victim blaming? 

I don’t know. 

Here’s what I do know: the “me” of the past wouldn’t want the “me” of today to be held hostage to his pain. 

He wouldn’t want me to live in bitterness. 

He wouldn’t want me to hang on to resentment for the sake of honoring his pain. 

“Forgiveness” is a complicated subject for most people who grew up painfully. It means and implies different things for different people. No one can impose their beliefs about what forgiveness is and isn’t on to anyone else. 

It annoys me greatly when I see somebody opine that “forgiveness” is necessary to personal growth. I don’t know that that’s true. 

I think everybody has to decide for themselves if and when it’s time to forgive. 

That said: I absolutely see people refusing to even consider “forgiveness” as an option, because they think it’s somehow a betrayal of their past selves. 

“Forgiveness” gets even more complicated as a concept when we’re talking about active abusers, as opposed to peer group bullies. 

We all need to take our time and figure out for ourselves what forgiveness means to us. 

We need to give ourselves permission to forgive, or not, as we feel able and ready. 

We need to acknowledge our right to feel what we feel and need what we need, no matter how much time has passed. 

No one gets to tell you you “have” to forgive or forget. 

But don’t get tricked into thinking you “have” to hold on your pain in order to “honor” your past self. 

Your past self does not want or benefit from your current self’s suffering. 

 

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Don’t fall into a therapy rut.

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We need to be super careful to not fall into ruts. 

What is a rut? 

A rut is getting stuck. Getting stalled. Treading water. 

It happens to almost everyone at some point. You feel as if you’re not really making headway in a long term project, but you’re not necessarily regressing either. 

You’re just…there. 

One of my big concerns with people in therapy is to not fall into ruts. 

Falling into a rut in therapy or personal development is deceptively easy. 

It often happens after we’ve made some progress. We look back upon the progress we’e made, and we’re both satisfied and kind of tired…so we take our foot off the accelerator. 

Taking our foot off the accelerator is fine, of course…but if we’re going to back off, we need to be super mindful of how long it’s been, and we need to have a clear idea of when we’re going to start goosing the gas pedal again. 

Personal growth is hard work. Therapy is hard work. Healing is hard work. 

It’s very understandable for people to want to find reasons to kind of back off that hard work. 

It’s absolutely true that the pace of therapy and personal development ebbs and flows. The pace of life ebbs and flows. We shouldn’t expect healing or recovery to always be rocketing upward; of course there’s going to be some give and take. 

We just have to be mindful. We have to stay sharp. 

I’ve seen people fall into holding patterns in therapy after making big leaps of progress…and then stay in those holding patterns for literally years. 

The impulse to grow is very often in competition with the impulse to seek comfort. Both growth and comfort are parts of healing and recovery. 

But what happens with a subset of people is, they get comfortable with a therapist, or with a technique, or with a routine…and they lose the inclination to keep pushing forward. 

This makes sense for some people. Many people in therapy haven’t really had the experience of feeling comfortable and safe. When they get into a therapy relationship or a healthy routine that they can live with, it can feel like an entirely new world. 

It’s tempting to just kind of hang out in that world. 

But we can’t afford to do that indefinitely. 

I’ve done this myself. For years, I was seeing a very competent, very experienced, very wise therapist. We had a good relationship (we still do); and I know I very much got to the point where I knew that if I wanted to just go in and chitchat, as opposed to doing serious therapy work, my rapport with my therapist would absolutely allow me to do that. 

So I fell in a rut. 

It wasn’t permanent, and luckily it was something I eventually recognized and shook out of…but therapy is so expensive, in terms of money, time, and emotion, that we really can’t afford to just be hanging out with our therapist week after week. 

I don’t think people intentionally get stuck in a holding pattern in therapy. 

I think people find themselves feeling comfortable and safe— and that’s an unfamiliar, really cool feeling that they want to preserve and enjoy. 

So unconsciously, I think they push the “pause” button. 

The deal they kind of unconsciously make with themselves is, even if I don’t make any more progress in therapy, even if everything else goes to hell…I’ll still have this comfortable, safe, space and relationship to fall back on. 

Like so many things, it’s a tempting fantasy, especially if we’ve grown up lacking intimacy and attachment and consistency in our lives. 

But falling into a rut in therapy isn’t worth the illusion of comfort and safety it provides. 

Therapy and healing and recovery require us to continue to reach out, continue to work, continue to stay sharp, continue to push ourselves. 

We can pace ourselves. But we can’t get too comfortable for too long. 

 

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Don’t feel guilty if you happen to feel good right now.

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So at this point, you, like me, have probably seen dozens of posts about what a dumpster fire 2020 is turning out to be. 

You might have even made a few of those posts yourself. 

Social media assuredly has its downsides, but one of its upsides is that it gives us the opportunity to vent, and to have our feelings acknowledged and validated by others of like mind. 

(The research suggests that social media mostly connects us to others of like mind— which does create the “echo chamber” problem…but it’s kind of nice when it comes to expressing ourselves and feeling less alone.) 

The thing is, when every other post we see on social media is about how much of a dumpster fire this year or the world is; or how scared and angry people are at the current situation; or how hopeless and frustrated people are about the immediate future…it becomes a little awkward when we have something OTHER than negative feelings to report. 

I’ve talked to a few people recently who have expressed that they feel guilty for actually feeling good, making progress, or having positive life events occur during this time when everybody else seems to be unhappy. 

It’s a drag, but completely understandable. When other people are expressing— often colorfully and at length— how unhappy they are, it can feel like poor form to insert a positive experience we’re having into the mix.

If you’re feeling this way— awkward or guilty for having positive things happen to you or feeing good right now— you’re not alone. 

And that feeling of awkwardness is, in a way, kind of good news. It means you have empathy, which in turn means you’re not a narcissist or a sociopath. 

(I hope the narcissists or sociopaths following my page is relatively low anyway, but just in case you were wondering, the presence of empathy is a good indicator that you’re not.) 

Yes, it’s awkward to feel good or to have positive things happen during a time when the entire world seems to be on fire. 

But you don’t have to feel guilty. 

The fact is, no matter how bad things get out there, there will always be at least some distinction between your personal life and the big picture. 

Yes, the two are very intertwined. We’re very much a part of the whole, and what happens to the whole absolutely reverberates in our individual experience. The distinction between our lives and the life of the plant and its inhabitants is often a very thin one. 

But the fact remains that you can experience something in your life that may seem to run somewhat counter to what the majority of the world is experiencing. 

Some people had good things happen to them on September 11, 2001. 

Some people had good things happen to them on November 22, 1963. 

And some people are having good things happen to them right now, in the midst of this public health crisis. 

Why is it important to acknowledge this? 

Because we all need to realize that, no matter what’s happening in the world at large, we still have to experience and manage our own lives. 

Yes, we need to keep up with what’s happening in the world. Yes, we need to do our part to take care of our fellow humans and be part of global solutions as opposed to global problems. 

But we also need to take care of ourselves. 

I know I sound like a broken record on this point, but I’ll say it again: taking care of ourselves is not in conflict with doing our part to take care of our fellow humans and help heal society. 

The truth is we need to do both. 

We cannot neglect our own lives because we’re throwing all our energy into saving the world. 

I’ve met therapists, doctors, and first responders— people I consider genuine heroes— who have created absolutely miserable personal lives because they’ve neglected the balance between caring for themselves and caring for others. 

It does not serve the world for you to be miserable. 

If anything, you being miserable makes you less able to contribute to big picture solutions. 

Mind the distinction between your life and the life of the world at large right now. 

And don’t feel bad if you don’t feel as bad as every post on your social media feed. 

 

 

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You’re not going to separate your individual issues from your relationship issues.

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You’re not going to separate your relationship issues from the issues with which you struggle as an individual— or vice versa. 

I WISH it was the case that we could “quarantine” relationship and individual issues and problems. 

If that was the case, then we could work one each domain in nice, neat little packages of time and energy. From a therapy point of view, it would be so darn efficient. 

Sadly, that’s not the way it works. 

What we struggle with as individuals, will seep into our relationships. 

What we struggle with in relationships, will boomerang back on us as individuals. 

It’s really, really hard to create and sustain a healthy life if you’re immersed in toxic, exploitative relationships. 

It’s really, really hard to create and sustain healthy relationships if you’re daily wracked with depression, anxiety, or addiction. 

Mind you: that’s not to say that we need to “solve” our individual issues before trying to have a relationship. 

A lot of people seem to think that. They think that there’s no point in trying to connect with others if they’re struggling with something on their own— that such attempts to connect will only ever result in failure and disappointment. 

To the contrary: relatively often it is the case that we actually NEED certain relationships in our lives if we have any realistic hope of overcoming our individual struggles. 

As anybody who has benefitted from a therapy relationship, a therapy group, or a Twelve Step fellowship can attest, relationships can sometimes be the key that finally unlocks what we need to do and be to overcome our individual struggles. 

The point is, don’t think you can address individual and relationship issues in isolation. 

Don’t imagine that, if you want your relationships to grow and thrive, you can just keep putting off that depression or anxiety or addiction problem. 

Also don’t imagine that, if you want to live a productive, peaceful life, it’s possible to continue subjecting yourself to relationship dynamics that result in you feeling inadequate, lonely, and frustrated. 

Emotional and behavioral problems and solutions exist in dynamic systems. 

The word “system,” in psychology, means that what happens at one end of an equation, necessarily affects the other end. 

“Dynamic” refers to the fact that systems are always in flux. Something that is dynamic is always changing and changeable. 

Why am I telling you all this? 

Because I want you to have the best possible shot at solving— or at least chipping away— at your sources of unhappiness. 

And in order to do that, we need to be as realistic as possible about what creates and sustains our problems and challenges. 

If we get it in our head that we can somehow “quarantine” our relationship problems to our relationships, and our individual problems to ourselves, we’re not living in the real world. 

We’re setting ourselves up for failure and frustration. 

The good news is: once we concede that our individual and relationship problems coexist and interact, we can use that fact to our advantage. 

We can use our strengths as individuals AND relationship partners to help address both our individual AND our relationship problems. 

We can approach our problems from multiple directions— because we’re being realistic about the fact that our problems have multiple dimensions. 

The fact that our individual issues interact with our relationship issues turns out not to be the bad news— it’s actually the good news. 

But only if we unflinchingly see and accept the situation as it is— not as we’d prefer it was. 

 

 

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To help others, you NEED to help yourself.

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Caring for ourselves and caring for other people is very much not a zero sum game. 

But some people seem to think it is….which is a bummer. 

I’m a psychologist, and I got into psychology because of my interest in self-help. And both clinical psychology and self-help tend to emphasize the health and welfare of individuals. 

That is, they tend to be about making the life of the person who is in therapy, or reading, better. 

I strongly believe in making individuals’ lives better. It’s kind of my mission statement. 

(You think I’m kidding? My personal mission statement— which, by the way, is a thing everybody should have, i.e., a personal mission statement— is “to contribute to making as many peoples’ lives as possible, as awesome as possible.) 

But improving an individuals’ life does not have to come at the expense of improving the lives of other people, or working toward change in cultural norms and values. 

I’m not sure where we got this idea that it has to be a zero sum game, between improving our own lives and improving the lives of the people around us. 

In my view, those projects— working on ourselves, and helping other people— are inextricably entwined. 

One of the reasons I got into self-help when I was a teenager was because I was suffering. 

I’d been depressed for as long as I could remember— which was both a cause and an effect of the difficulties I experienced fitting in with the kids around me. 

On top of that, I was struggling with undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder— which meant that I was getting a lot of feedback that I was “lazy” and obviously “not trying hard enough” at school. Which confused me, in that it was my experience that I was exerting a GREAT DEAL of energy to function at school, and deepened my depression and anxiety. 

For years, I suffered with feeling pretty horrible, on a day to day basis. 

And while I was feeling horrible, I can tell you that my world pretty much centered on my own suffering. I just had no bandwidth or energy to really get invested in anyone else’s suffering— not that, at the time, I would have necessarily had anything to offer someone who was suffering, anyway. 

We can’t give away what we don’t have. 

It was only after getting into pop psychology, and FINALLY identifying some tools and skills to climb out of that emotional trench, that something interesting happened: I very suddenly became not just aware of the fact that there were a LOT of people out there who suffered like me…but I became passionate about helping them out of THEIR emotional trenches. 

I’m not sure I can adequately express how immediate and emphatic the connection was between feeling better, and strongly desiring to give other people the helping hand that self-help gave to me. 

Why am I telling you all this? Because it forms the basis of my strong belief that if we are to help other people, we truly need to help ourselves. 

And when we do find effective tools and skills to help ourselves, not only are we better positioned to help other people…but we are strongly, intrinsically motivated to do so. 

Lots of people reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. 

Many of the people who follow my work do so because they know what it’s like to hurt. 

Many of the people who are my friends, colleagues, and fans are in helping professions— and their passion for helping comes out of the pain they’ve experienced. 

Helping ourselves is not the opposite of helping others. 

It is a vital prerequisite. 

Is it the case that there are some people out there who are ONLY interested in helping themselves, and who couldn’t care less if anybody else’s life improved? Sure. 

But that doesn’t mean helping ourselves and helping others are in conflict. 

It just means they are in conflict for those specific people. 

I want as many people to be as emotionally and behaviorally healthy as possible. 

That means I have to walk my talk of staying emotionally and behaviorally healthy myself. 

And so do you, if you also want as many people to be as emotionally and behaviorally healthy as possible. 

Don’t buy into the falsehood that there is a necessary dichotomy going on here. 

Focus on making those goals complementary. 

 

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