Friday, March 23, 2012

5 Reasons You Believe Life Always Sucks

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Do people call you depressing or pessimistic? Do you see good things in others' lives, but not your own. Do you engage in a lot of negative self-talk? Do you believe life sucks? Here are a few possible (and very common) reasons why:

• You're stuck in the past. Maybe life truly sucked at one point, maybe when you were young and impressionable. Is your life today the same? Of course not. It might not be what you always dreamed of, but can you honestly say there's nothing good? You woke up; thousands of people didn't. You're literate; millions aren't. Reframe this day and be thankful. It's a cliché but it's true: the past is the past, the future is uncertain, and today is a gift - that's why it's called the present!

• You believe you deserve pain. Maybe some cruel person told you that you were terrible. Maybe you're carrying around a load of guilt about something. Whatever caused it, you have this concept that nothing in life can possibly be good or fun or simple or rewarding. Have you truly done something that even God can't forgive? (Impossible.) Take out that garbage, leave it at the curb, and start healing.

• You accept the limits others impose. Worse, you accept them without question. This keeps you from aspiring to be more, although it doesn't keep you from wanting more. But since you don't think you're allowed to do or be more, of course it sucks that you can't have it! Time to re-think those limits - are they real or rational? Since when do others get to set arbitrary limits on your potential? Your destiny is in your hands! See the previous post on mind control!

• You believe drama must be part of life. Your life is spiraling downward because you've attached yourself to other drama addicts. Drama begets trauma. (You've watched enough "reality" TV to know it's true.) And it's your choice, but are you sure this is the route you want?

• You settle for less than you want or need. People settle because they're impatient, lazy, or have a near-zero sense of self-worth. Don't try to tell me you're impatient, because if you were, you wouldn't have read all this. And if you're lazy, you don't really believe life sucks because you're too apathetic to care. What's the worst thing that could realistically happen if you let somebody know what you need? Try it. It might be life-changing. We're all resistant to change - it's uncomfortable - but sometimes it's really for the best.

(You'd think that a person who believes life always sucks would have to be depressed, but that's not necessarily the case. This can be the person who is capable of holding two totally different beliefs at one time: "Yeah, life sucks, but I'm having a great time right now!")

If this is you, it's tough love time, cupcake. Get yourself up, get out of that victim mentality. What are you, five years old, and you have no control over anything? Your life sucks because - plain and simple - you allow it to. Upgrade your reality. Nobody's life is perfect all the time. Everybody has bills to pay, weeds to pull, some malady from a hangnail to heart disease. So? Those things have no bearing on how good life is. If you can't (meaning, choose not to) see the good, it doesn't mean life sucks. It just means your choices suck.

(Obviously, if this is not you, you're off the hook. Good job. And thanks for reading, anyway.)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Letting Others Do Your Thinking For You?

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Aka, mind control. Yep, the conspiracy theorist's dream - except it's a reality. People have argued this with me. "Wait," they say, "that's not mind control." Really? What do you call it when you give someone else control over your thinking?

In a previous post, I mentioned that members of fringe religions, network marketing maniacs, and cult groupies are all probable victims. Apparently I stepped on a few toes with that comment. So I'll explain it here and let you decide for yourselves.

I'm using Steve Hassan's BITE model of thought control. BITE is an acronym standing for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion - all aspects of mental processes that someone else can control.

Behavioral Control

• Is your wardrobe or hairstyle restricted in any way, or are certain styles or even colors highly recommended? Is "proper" attire subject to change? Is there a physical "ideal"?
• Are there dietary restrictions, suggestions, or guidance?
• Are you discouraged from socially associating with anyone "outside"?
• Are you expected to be available on-call, for excessive unpaid work, or to invest large amounts of time - especially to the extent that you have no free time?
• Are you expected to spend a lot of time with another particular person?
• Are there a lot of "suggestions" about who the perfect friend/spouse would be?
• Are you expected to always act as a representative in public and private life?
• Are you financially dependent? Do you need to ask permission for large expenditures?
• Do you regularly report thoughts, feelings, successes or failures to a superior?
• Is there a need for obedience?

(This category is the shakiest, because we willingly and intentionally alter our behavior in certain situations. So, if you're trying to get or impress a date or new boss, items here don't count as mind control! If this is the status quo for a certain person or group in your life, that's another story.)

Information Control

• Is information distorted or always changing to make it more acceptable? Is it twisted to make it align with agendas or policies?
• Is information deliberately withheld from you at times? Is it kept from others who aren't involved?
• Are there questionable ethics or downright lies when dealing with others who aren't involved?
• Are you discouraged (or prohibited) from seeking information about the person/group from outside sources?
• Are you forbidden to communicate with certain people?
• Is your access to media limited, or heavily supplemented by what you're "supposed" to read?
• Are statements from others taken out of context or misquoted to support the person or group?

Thought Control

• Have you started thinking as "us versus them"?
• Have you internalized the person's or group's version of "truth" as an absolute truth? Or can you still believe in alternatives?
• Are you encouraged to use loaded language or buzz words?
• Are you taught to use thought-stopping techniques (circular reasoning, changing the subject, repeating certain phrases) to return to safe ground when talking to outsiders?
• Do you use denial or rationalization to avoid facts that don't mesh with where you're at?
• Do you sometimes feel that you've done everything that's been asked, but it's not working, so the problem must be you?
• Are you threatened or punished if you ask the wrong questions or make a critical observation?

Emotion Control

• Is there an excessive application of guilt? Are problems always your fault? Are you threatened with exposure?
• Are you afraid to think for yourself? Are you unworthy of something?
• Is there no legitimate reason to leave? Would you be seen as weak, seduced, undisciplined, evil, or under some other influence?
• Do you seem to have more extremes of emotion? More highs and lows?
• If a group, are those who leave shunned? Do you fear being rejected by the group?
• Can you imagine happiness or fulfillment outside this relationship? Is it possible to reach the same result on your own?

WAIVER: I repeat, this is just a model. (And Mr. Hassan's model isn't without criticism. But it does a good job of showing the ways in which your thoughts can be controlled by others.) These questions aren't all-inclusive and there are probably all kinds of exceptions. This is just a list of very common ways other people (and groups) get you to let them think for you. There's no scoring, except that obviously the more that apply, the more you want to be careful and maybe consider getting help and getting away from the controlling person or group.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

5 Reasons You Feel Powerless

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Don't you hate those moments when it seems like the universe is conspiring against you? We all have those. Thankfully those times are relatively brief and few. Then we're back on our feet.

For others, it doesn't happen like that. It isn't that the universe is always aligned against them, but on the other hand, they're never quite standing on their own feet, either! That happens because they have no sense of power over their own lives.

Occasionally, life experiences bring people to a phase like this, but with a little time it's over and they move past it. But some people just seem to be stuck here. If you're stuck feeling powerless, here are a few possible reasons:

• You put lots of people on pedestals. They're just people, but you have an appreciation that's uncomfortably near worship. They can do no wrong, but when they don't do what you want, you've put yourself in a position of not being able to do anything about it. And in the meantime, since you've made them excessively (and falsely) perfect, you've made yourself excessively flawed and unworthy by comparison. On top of all that, if it's someone you know, you're giving them a lot of room to manipulate you (and maybe others) by constantly feeding their ego, making them think they're better and more important than they (and you) are.

• You willingly join a group that thinks for you. You let others make your decisions for you. Belong to a cult? Fringe religion? Hardcore network marketing? Signs of having sacrificed the right to make your own decisions. Many otherwise intelligent and confident people are willing to trade that for a sense of purpose and belonging. Is it worth it?

• You imitate others, in terms of fashion, career, lifestyle, attitudes, thoughts ... anything. Why are you afraid to express yourself? You were uniquely and wonderfully made. Only you have your set of talents and experiences. You can learn a lot by copying others, but only to a point. And what makes you so sure that those you imitate are those who a) know best about b) what's best for you? Shouldn't you be the authority on you?

• You ignore your own intuition. The "gut" reactions come from the limbic system - the whole "fight or flight" response - in your brain. The limbic system is the part that's the most keyed in to your senses. It's a really primitive system, but amazingly effective. Try ignoring the new-and-improved, more high-tech ego part of your brain. That part tries to help you avoid fear (and other unpleasantries like embarrassment or a sense of impending non-physical danger) by using denial. You may not be aware of what you're aware of, but your intuition is. Trust it once in a while, because it's nearly always right.

• You think fate controls your life. I'm not talking about faith in a higher power. Some people truly believe their lives are completely and randomly pre-destined, and there's nothing they can do to change, so it's pointless to take personal responsibility. What a lovely excuse.

What can you do? First, you aren't powerless. Even in these extreme circumstances, you have a lot more control over your life than you think. You decide which breakfast cereal to buy, when to go to the bathroom, which pen to use. Little things, yes, but baby steps are still steps. And just like babies grow to take bigger steps, you can, too.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

5 Reasons You Think Something Is Wrong With Other People

Are you one of those well-intentioned folks? You know, you spend a little time with someone and decide they're unhappy or unwell in some way. And you let them know, since you're concerned about their happiness or health or whatever.

And whether they appreciate your concern (aka, butting in) or not, they usually let you know you're wrong and they're fine. You may chalk it up to their denial. Cupcake, the one in denial is you.

Why do you do it? Pick a reason (or two):

• You feel responsible for other people's feelings. You've had a lot of practice being co-dependent. Even if you aren't any more, it's a habit to believe that others need you to care for them since they won't do it themselves. But it's a bad habit because it allows you to blame others for your actions. Ultimately, it makes them responsible for your life ... if they only felt differently, you shoulda/woulda/coulda done something differently, yada yada yada.

• You believe others are responsible for your feelings. If you worry, they should do something to make you feel better. This is just as incorrect as the above. People are only responsible for their own feelings. Your I-know-better-than-you belief keeps you dependent on others for positive feedback and incapable of feeling good on your own.

• You try to get others to live the life you want for them. Every parent does this to some extent, while their kids are kids. But you may be like this even when they're grown up. Or with people who aren't even related to you. Maybe your diagnosis is correct, once in a blue moon. But it's still not your life to control, unless you're a dictator of a third world nation.

• You equate worry with love. The problem is, worry is only worry. It's not even an emotion. It's a fear response. And fear is NOT love. You may also be pessimistic, overly critical, and have a tendency to jump to conclusions. Get over your past, because the anger and hostility over past hurts is coming out in weird ways.

• Projecting. There's something wrong with you that you don't want to face, so you pin it on somebody else. It's kind of an advanced form of denial. It's related to displacement. That's when you have some negative emotion (worry, frustration, anger) from one source but express it toward something else. Like having a bad day at work and then going home and kicking the dog (because it's relatively safe to express those emotions to something that poses no threat). This kind of behavior allows you to justify behavior that in any other context would be, at the very least, inappropriate, if not inexcusable.

Why do we do these things, especially to people we actually like and maybe care about? Well, humans are social creatures, so it's not like we're gonna treat our pet rocks like this. Actually, we're probably not even aware we're doing it.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect says, in essence, that when people are incompetent, they don't know it, because they're incompetent, and they think they're better. Similarly, when you're worried about something in your own life, but the strategies you use are ineffective, you don't realize it, because you're so worried. You reach the mistaken conclusion that it couldn't possibly be you, it's everyone else that has a problem. (Well, that or you're a psych major.)

But if you find yourself thinking that there's a real quality-of-life kind of issue with a friend/relative/significant other, double-check yourself. Are you sure this other person is really unhappy or unwell? Sometimes people are just tired, or bored, or their minds are on something else. (Obviously, you don't want to overlook sudden, unexplained weight loss or jaundice or a lot of talk about suicide - but if there's no obvious sign of a problem, how do you KNOW there is one?)

Here's your challenge: assume they're fine. Let it go for a month or two. At the end of that time, if there's still something you're seeing in them that truly concerns you, sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk about what you've observed and why it concerns you. Then let it go. You've said your piece and it's now the responsibility of the other person to do something with it. Maybe ignore it, maybe act on it, but the point is - it's out of your hands.

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