Marnie was scared. She couldn’t believe how mad she’d gotten at the kids just now. She felt like a stranger, watching herself unleash on them over something stupid. She’d told herself to stop, that they were just kids, but she hadn’t been able to. The words and the anger just kept pouring out. Thank God, she hadn’t hit any of them, though at one point she’d really wanted to. That’s when she’d felt herself snap out of it. Dear God, how could she even have thought to do such a thing?
Marnie had looked down at those two terrified little faces and, suddenly, saw herself looking back. She knew what that felt like. What was wrong with her? How had she ever let herself get so out of control? Dear God, Marnie thought, what if it happens again and I can’t stop? Who am I? Who have I become?
As you consider the effect of childhood abuse on your relationship with others, I ask those of you who are parents, or who have access to authority over children, to give thought to how those relationships may be affected. Do you find yourself doing or saying things you swore you would never do or say when you grew up? Or do you find yourself giving in to childish requests and behaviors to say no, all to avoid a confrontation? Do you find yourself trying to be a “nice” parent more than a “good” parent?
If the parenting model you grew up with was fundamentally flawed, you may be at a loss to determine what is normal and what is not, what is helpful and what is harmful. You may go to the opposite extreme to avoid any semblance of harsh behavior. You may be terrified of becoming a monster yourself. You may gain satisfaction from finally being the one in charge. I implore you not to shy away from examining your own beliefs and behaviors about raising children, especially when it comes to discipline.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 37 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
“We’re only human.”
Have you ever heard this? If so, what does it mean? People generally say this when they want to excuse a mistake or minor failure of some sort. It is to make ourselves and others feel better after a blunder.
Even so, many people struggle with the drive to perfection. These people will say they hate making mistakes. If we pin them down, and they think logically, nearly everyone will agree that all people make mistakes. Knowing that, many are still harsh with themselves – and sometimes others – when they don’t live up to their own (often unreasonable) standards.
What is this all about? Why such a struggle with being human? Several possibilities may underlie this tendency, namely:
- You’ve grown up in a critical environment
- You’ve been exposed to strong, external social messages that mandate perfection
- Fear based on past consequences
There are other reasons for the pursuit of perfection, but these are rather common. Pay close attention to the last example above. There is a key hidden there. Unrealistic expectations are often the adult, non-conscious response to other contributors to perfectionism. What does that mean? People who grow up in a critical environment or with strong social directives often develop unrealistic expectations. In other words, the first two reasons can cause the last one. When this happens, it is usually outside our awareness.
Unrealistic expectations cannot be met and therefore generally lead to guilt. Repeated, consistent, or intense behaviors cause our brains to develop something called schemas. A schema is a “way of seeing or doing something”. Categories develop and overgeneralizations can occur – a “once that way, always that way” mindset is formed.
In the most basic sense, schemas are lists of accumulated rules that organize, motivate, and validate our thoughts and actions. This can be helpful so that we don’t have to think everything through. However, not all schemas are accurate. For example, if someone moves the coffee pot and you try to go on automatic to where it used to be, you won’t find it.
Therefore, one key purpose of a schema is to make us efficient. Schemas power our routines, automatic actions, and core beliefs. Changing a schema can change our thoughts and behaviors all at once. Imagine that you have a schema in your mind that says, “I am worthless”. If that is the case, then if your boss does not give you a promotion, you will likely say, “See? I knew it! I’m not good enough.” You might withdraw, avoid the boss, and eventually leave the company. However, if your schema says, “I am worthy”, then when you do not receive the promotion, you may say to yourself “I am capable of this work. Perhaps there is something more I need to learn for this company.” Or “I know I can do this. Perhaps the boss missed something. I will check with him.” Words, thoughts, and behaviors follow our schemas and it usually takes conscious awareness to change this.
Think about this the next time you want a cup of coffee. Once you decide you want it, you just go for it. At no time do you think consciously, “left foot move, right foot move, left foot move, grab coffee cup, press button on machine” – right!? This is because the schema in your brain for “go to coffee pot” is established, non-conscious, and automatic. Therefore, a healthy level of performance requires a conscious watching. In the beginning, you may need to pay particular and consistent attention to multiple areas of your life. Over time, however, as your schemas change for the better, your skills will likely become more automatic and easier to use.
At The Center, you’ll find people who understand that perfectionism is a myth. They do not feel guilty for their humanity and they find joy in helping others reach that place. Pursuing excellence is healthy. Expecting perfection from yourself (or others) can be debilitating and steals joy and our unique contributions. We at The Center know this and will provide guidance on how to form more realistic expectations of yourself and others.
Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board Certified Group Psychotherapist at The Center • A Place of HOPE. The Center, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, co-occurring disorders and more.
Once you give up on the idea of a future where your addiction is “manageable,” you must contemplate a future without the addiction in any form. The question then becomes, “Who am I without this?” The addiction has been such an integral part of your life that you have difficulty imagining what life could be, who you could be, without it.
This point was brought home to me last year. I was working with a woman who was trying to overcome a prescription drug addiction. Amy was in the phase of recovery where she was ready to accept the negatives of her addiction but fearful of what life would mean without it. During this time, she got a card from an old friend. She said they’d drifted apart because they no longer lived in the same state. Their correspondences, Amy told me, were usually a yearly holiday missive giving a personal and family update. The midyear card came as a surprise and contained a picture of the two of them that was more than thirty years old. Amy showed me the candid shot of a group of teenagers and asked if I could pick her out.
As I struggled to avoid embarrassment by choosing the wrong person, Amy said it was a picture of her church youth group getting ready to take off for a day hike. When I didn’t pick her out right away, she gratefully let me off the hook and pointed herself out. She lamented how far she’d come from that young, smiling teenage girl. “I can’t remember who I was,” Amy said, “and if I give this up, I can’t imagine who I’ll be.”
I believe this question of who you’ll be without your addiction is a common one. Addiction has the power to co-opt the person you are and change you into someone different, altering your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. The person you were becomes a faded, distant memory. You may look in a mirror and feel unsure of who you were, ashamed of who you are, and fearful of becoming anyone else.
I think people are fearful of giving up an addiction because they believe they will be in pain without it. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in different ways, though rarely will they use the word pain. Instead, they say without their addiction, they will be frustrated or bored, anxious or afraid. They tell me the addiction, whatever it is, helps them overcome being depressed or angry. In the deepest throes of my overworking, my pain might have carried the name unsuccessful or failure.
Are you struggling with addictive behaviors and feeling depressed? Do you feel that your life is not in your control? The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and speak with a confidential specialist. Begin the healing process and have confidence that there is hope, and that joy is attainable.
The ding on her cell phone startled her. Puzzled, Beth wondered why she was getting a reminder. Reading the short text, her heart sank. She’d completely forgotten about the meeting. She’d agreed to help Kathy weeks ago but only because she felt guilty. Beth didn’t really want to go to the meeting, let alone stay and help Kathy clean up. This was going to put her seriously behind. Tonight was the night she was supposed to catch up on all the things she hadn’t done over the weekend, like laundry and buying that baby gift.
One small ding and Beth felt close to tears. There was too much going on, too much she had to do. She never caught a break, never got caught up. Beth prided herself on being the go-to person, someone people could rely on, which is why so many people asked her to do things. Didn’t they understand how much pressure she was under? Now all she wanted to do was run and hide. Lately, she wasn’t motivated to do anything, which is why last weekend came and went without the laundry getting done and the baby gift being purchased.
Beth had thought she would have time tonight to find some breathing room. Now time had run out—all because of this stupid meeting. She resented losing her evening and resented Kathy for having pressured her into saying yes in the first place. Checking the time, Beth started planning how to get out of the crisis. Forget the laundry; she’d make do.
Tomorrow was the baby shower and Beth had desperately wanted to find the perfect gift. Well, so much for the perfect gift; that would take time she didn’t have. If she shopped through lunch, maybe, just maybe, she could find something acceptable to pop in a gift bag. Janice would just have to be happy with whatever she got; after all, it was a gift. Beth figured she’d put a gift receipt in the bag and if Janice didn’t like the gift, she could just take her own time to go back to the store and get something better.
Time always seemed to be running out and Beth always seemed to be running after it. When, she wondered, was she ever going to get caught up?
Stress is not the ideal environment to make the best decisions. Stress skews your priorities and downsizes goals. Desperate, you make short-term decisions that have long-term consequences. Pressure starts to poison even the best of intentions. However, knowing what your priorities are and the goals you want to work to achieve allows you to take control of your time.
A stress-filled life can cause us to careen from activity to activity or distraction to distraction with little time to stop and think about what we are doing. We are so consumed with the what in our lives that we fail to recognize the why. Take time to stop and consider all of the whats in your life—what you are doing on a regular basis.
On a piece of paper, make two columns. On the left column, write down all the what’s. Next, assign each what a why, and write the why in the right column. Then, consider how your life would be if you stopped doing that what. As much as possible, be truthful and realistic about those consequences.
I hope that through this exercise, you can begin to identify the truly important and necessary things in your life and begin to make choices about what to continue, what to modify (or ask for help accomplishing), and what to end.
I encourage you to recognize how much control you have over your choices. Stress has a way of creating its own urgency through manufactured crises. Once you take back control of the priorities in your life, you can begin to reduce your stress level.
Without the false urgency of stress, you’ll be able to evaluate when to say yes and when to say no. When each yes or no is in line with the truly important, you’ll feel better about and energized by your choices. Life will become less about what you have to do and more about what you want to do.
When you are actively engaged in doing the things that give you purpose and meaning, your life has moments of joy. Saying no to the wrong things and yes to the right things becomes easier. Filled with these moments, stress has less room to maneuver in your life.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
Some people are auditory processors—they think with their mouths. Other people just aren’t wired that way. If you’re one of the latter types, I suggest actually writing out your script. You could write out your script by hand or on a computer. Journaling your story has great power, especially your struggles between the negatives and the positives at conflict within you. Each time you take time to chronicle a struggle, you contribute to the handbook of how to overcome and succeed the next time. In essence, you write your own self-help book.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, I encourage you to try journaling, just once. Consider this a baby step. You needn’t write everything down in the moment, but you can choose a time—perhaps when things calm down—to write and reflect on your experience. Put aside any anxiety about penmanship or grammar. Put aside any anxiety about others reading what you’ve written or what you’ve written not being good enough. Put down anxiety and take that baby step!
Once you start the habit of writing your own script, I think you’ll be surprised at the effect of this simple tool. If you’ve been reading from anxiety’s script for a long time, you’ll hear negativity in your head for a time. Hearing that voice doesn’t mean you need to obey that voice. Once that negative script starts, you can, like Connie, stop it in its tracks and assert your own script, using your own voice.
Think about the type of character you’ve been playing with your anxiety as the director of your life. Then ask yourself the following question: Is that really the type of person you want to be?
Anxiety has written a script where you play the part of a frazzled, anxious, suspicious, irritable, short-tempered, and easily frustrated person. How would your life change if you could change the part you play into a character who is relaxed and not anxious, thoughtful and not reactive, seeing the good instead of pointing out the bad, approachable instead of putting up barriers? How do you want to be perceived by the other players on stage? When you take control of your own script, you determine the part you are going to play and then you act accordingly.
I think you will find that once you start changing your script and resetting your stage, others may find the freedom to change theirs. Every time friends or loved ones have stepped onto your stage in the past, they have entered a darkened, cluttered stage of fear, tripping and falling over your anxieties.
Not only will your stage be much more positive for you, but those who enter into your life will also find a much brighter place! Instead of being afraid of what you’ll say or how you’ll react, when you relax, others may relax. Instead of assuming you’ll say no, others may regain the courage to ask to see if you’ll say yes. You never know, but your courage to make such a radical and positive change may encourage someone else to do the same.
If you are struggling with anxiety, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.
What do you think would happen if you revisited some of the old ghost towns that haunt your memories? What if you revisited the house where you grew up and were taught you weren’t a capable person? Maybe it’s the school where you were taunted and teased and picked last. Or maybe it’s a person and not a place — a person who withheld approval and affection, though you did everything you could to earn them.
Sometimes the life we live causes stress and sometimes the life we lived causes stress. Each of us is a product of our past. If that past is full of ghosts, that past will haunt the present. To determine if memories of your past are creating stress in your present, ask yourself the following questions:
- What negative memories seem to haunt me? Which events and the pain they caused are still vivid, as though they just happened?
- What words or voices from the past are still ringing in my mind today?
- If you find that past pain still has power over you today, you need to begin moving out of your past and into the present. Start moving out of your ghost towns by reminding yourself those days are over. You may have had no power to stop them negatively affecting your past, but you do have the power to keep them from negatively affecting your present. Even more, God has the power to redeem those negative events and turn them into good.
Think about the good things of the present and be thankful for them. Think about each of your abilities and gifts and how each has played a part in making you the unique person you are. You will have to make a daily decision to dismiss the hurtful memories of the past and concentrate on the positive things of today, until the past no longer controls your thoughts.
The choice is yours. It will require some risk and demand a deeper trust of yourself and of God, but that will only enhance your growth. In the end, all you will lose are your ghosts of the past. What you will gain is an opportunity to regain control of your life.
We all have the capacity to become what we were meant—created—to be. Our ghosts haunt us and keep us fearful. God means for us, through his power, to break free from the past. Do you believe God has the power and desire to do that for you? Can you say, like the apostle Paul, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14)?
If you or a loved one is struggling with hurtful memories from the past, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.