6 Simple and Effective Techniques to Curb Your Self-Defeating Perfectionism in 2021
The pursuit of perfection is the road to unhappiness.
Has anyone ever told you that you were a perfectionist? Perfectionism is a barrier to sound mental health and stands in the way of you developing sound wellness and wellbeing. But, have you ever tried to stop your perfectionism? People are quick to give off-the-cuff advice about things you should or shouldn’t do. Maybe they say, “Stop this”, or “Do that”, but it is rare that they follow their advice up with practical steps on how to change the habits they point out. In David Burn’s powerful and life changing book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, he spends a chapter outlining 15 practical techniques to overcome perfectionism. Our mental health counselors have chosen the top 6 of his simple and effective techniques that will help you to overcome perfectionism in 2021!
- Make a list of the Pros & Cons of being a perfectionist.
If you take some time to think about it, you might realize that your perfectionism isn’t really helping you. Have you ever stopped to wonder if your perfectionism does more harm than good? Perhaps you feel like it gives you an “edge,” but have you thought about the downsides? And what if you could perform just as well, or even better without it? Maybe it’s not that you’re successful because of your perfectionism, but rather that you are successful despite your perfectionism. The first simple tip is to take some time right now to write down a pros and cons list of being a perfectionist. You can do this on your phone, or on a piece of paper. Do the pros outweigh the cons? You may find that the advantages are pretty slim! If the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages, why don’t you give the advantages a second look and test them out.
The Pleasure of Perfection Experiment.
Try altering your standards in various activities so you can see how your performance reacts to high standards, middle standards, and low standards. You might be shocked to realize that by lowering your standards of perfection you will feel better about what you do and do it more effectively! Use the following experiment to test out the advantages of your perfectionism:
Believed advantage from your list of Pros: “My perfectionism makes me more effective.”
- Choose an Activity for example cleaning, reading, writing a report for work, cooking a meal for a loved one, or anything else in which you think striving for perfection makes you more effective.
- When you start that activity instead of trying to be 100% perfect, set the goal for 80% perfection, 60% perfection, or even 40% perfection.
- After completing the activity with a less then 100% perfection standard see how much you enjoy the activity and how well you completed that activity compared to before.
Now ask yourself, “Was I less effective? How much did I enjoy that activity?” You can try this with any task, and any standard of perfection. Give it a try and see what happens!
- Developing a Process Orientation
Another approach to curb your habit of perfectionism is to learn to adopt a processes orientation. Focusing simply on outcomes is a recipe for all-or-nothing thinking. When David Burns was a young therapist he held the belief that he had to do outstanding work with each client each session. When his patients benefited from a session he was on top of the world, but when a client responded poorly on the other hand, he’d feel miserable all day and tell himself he was a failure. Bringing this problem to his colleague Dr. Aaron Beck, he was told. “Imagine that you had a job driving a car to City Hall every day. Some days you hit mostly green lights and made great time. Other days you’d hit lots of red lights, and traffic jams and the drive would be much longer. Your driving skill would be the same each day, so why not feel equally satisfied with the job you did?” The Dr. Burns learned that instead of focusing on outcomes, he could focus on good, consistent effort at each session, regardless of how the patient responded. This process outlook guaranteed he could experience 100% success with the effort he put forth each day.
Emphasizing the process you are engaging in, rather than the outcome, provides a greater opportunity for learning and mastery. Appreciating your engagement, learning, and the effort you put forth on activities, protects you from your perfectionistic evaluation. It allows you to be more present in the moment, and to develop a sense of mastery. Try to focus on learning, development, and effort in activities you do, rather than a success or failure perspective. Ask yourself, what are some ways that you can focus on developing a process orientation in your life.
- Overcome perfectionism by setting strict time limits on all your activities for one week.
Place a time limit on how long you plan to engage in each of your daily activities for a week. This will help you focus on the flow of life and allow you to enjoy your time more fully rather then getting wrapped up in perfecting everything you do. If you want to be happy, set modest goals! Schedule your time in the morning and decide the amount of time you will budget on each activity. When the time is up, quit that activity whether or not you have completed it, and move on to the next project. Most people have a tendency to overestimate how much they are able to get done in a day. Your perfectionism likely becomes procrastination because you insist on doing everything so thoroughly. This means taking far longer than necessary to complete daily and weekly tasks. The result is an ever-growing to-do list that is never completed. At the end of the day you probably beat yourself up for not getting “enough” done. This is completely avoidable by more effective planning and placing time limits on activities. Instead of trying to completely organize your closet, set a time limit of 20-minutes each week. This way, you create a frequent habit, rather than a weekend cleaning frenzy! Planning your activities based on specific amounts of time promotes the development of healthy, sustainable habits, and helps you to move past your self-defeating perfectionism.
- Learn how to make mistakes.
Are you afraid of making mistakes? This may be holding you back from taking healthy risks! We can easily forget that mistakes are not all bad! This leads to trying to do everything perfectly. Mistakes give us an opportunity to learn, grow, and relate to each other. A powerful method for overcoming perfectionism is learning how to make mistakes. One helpful approach is to write an essay describing why it is both irrational and self-defeating to try to be perfect and to fear making mistakes. Writing a personal essay for yourself exploring why it is okay to make mistakes can help you to be more confident in your journey to give up perfectionism. Remember the world won’t come to an end because of a mistake you make! Writing a letter can be a tangible reminder that mistakes are okay, and that they allow us to learn and grow!
- Focus on your success’s not your failures.
Do you have a habit of only focusing on the ways you fall short? If you are a perfectionist, you probably have a tendency to focus only on the things you have not done perfectly, or that are incomplete. You end up ignoring and forgetting all the things you have done right. This can create an unhelpful and overly negative view of yourself and the world. It doesn’t make any rational sense to just focus on the things you have on your to do list, and completely forget all of the things you have already completed! Here is a very simple, but very effective technique to help you foster an attitude of appreciation and recognition for your accomplishments and successes both big and small.
Try this simple exercise to reverse this habit!
- Keep a piece of paper next to your bed.
- Before you go to sleep at night, go through your day and count all of the things you did right. Make sure to count all of them, nothing is too small!
- Write down that number of things you did right, or that you completed on your paper each day for two weeks and allow yourself to notice all the things you are doing right!
- Keep a weekly count of all the positive things you’ve done, and tasks completed.
This exercise will help you focus on the positives and have a more balanced perspective. Remember to count literally everything you do right! This might seem too simplistic, but just because it is simple, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. What do you have to lose?! Give it a try and see how you feel after two weeks.
- Use logic.
My personal favorite tool to use is this logical equation:
Premise One: All Human beings make mistakes.
Premise Two: I am a human being.
Conclusion: I make mistakes because I am a human.
If all humans make mistakes, and I am a human, then it follows that I will make mistakes because of my humanity. Logically you will and even should make mistakes. It’s in your nature! Next time you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, say to yourself, “I made that mistake because I am human,” or “That mistake just proves that I am human like everyone else,” or “Making a mistake doesn’t mean that I am a failure, it just means that I am a human.” Mistakes are a part of who we are; they are an essential part of our development.
You can take it one step further and ask yourself, “What can I learn from my mistake?” Write down one of the mistakes you have made and then list all the things you have learned from that mistake. Learning to appreciate mistakes helps us to realize that being perfect is not part of the human condition but learning and growing certainly is! In the words of David Burns, “If you were perfect, there’d be nothing to learn, no way to improve, and life would be completely void of challenge and the satisfaction that comes from mastering something that takes effort.”
The Pursuit of Perfection is the road to Unhappiness.
If you maintain a standard for evaluating your performance that you cannot ever meet you are going to make yourself miserable! If the standard of perfection doesn’t fit reality, why not give it up!? Perfectionism is founded on all-or-nothing thinking. Most of the time, it just steals our joy and satisfaction. If you look around you, how many things can really fit into an all-or-nothing mold? Is your room a complete mess, or are some (maybe even many) things out of place? Do you know anyone who is perfectly calm and confident all the time? All-or-nothing thinking doesn’t really fit life very often, and neither does perfection. Most importantly, you don’t need to be perfect to be happy. If you don’t believe me try this thought experiment, take a moment to imagine a time in your life when you were really happy. Close your eyes, and picture that moment in vivid detail. Now ask yourself, “What was perfect about that time or experience?” In all likelihood, nothing was completely perfect, but it didn’t stop you from being happy! You don’t need to be perfect. Just be you. This year, instead of seeking perfection, use these tips and techniques to focus on thriving as your own unique self.
This Post was adapted from Dr. David Burns book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.
Burns, D. D. (2017). Dare to Be Average: Ways to Overcome Perfectionism. In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy(pp. 345-375). Blackstone Audio, Incorporated.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 22, 2020 albert ellis, holidays stress reduction, irrational beliefs, Uncategorized0 comments
Cut Down on Stress by Cutting out These Two Words
Stop Stressing Yourself Out!
The Holidays are an easy opportunity to let stress bubble over and become full blown anxiety. Stressors are a fact of life, but a majority of the stress we experience is actually a result of the things we tell ourselves. Often, our anxiety is rooted in the unfortunate human tendency to take our hopes, goals and desires and morph them into what are called absolute demands. We take our wants and then mistakenly, and usually without realizing it, turn them into needs. Inevitably, we come up short and the result is a mix of shame, guilt, and anxiety. We fail to meet the rigid demands we place on ourselves, and then we beat ourselves up for not meeting these unrealistic and unachievable standards! The most common way we do this is by using the words “should” and “must.” Without realizing it, you are probably causing yourself a lot of unnecessary anxiety with these absolute should’s and must’s. If you want a stress-free holiday one simple and effective trick is to replace “should,” and “must” with flexible language.
When your thoughts are flexible and rational, you experience positive and negative emotions in a healthy and balanced way. Rigid and inflexible thoughts set unachievable standards, and when these standards aren’t met the result is extreme and dysfunctional emotions. With plenty of things to do, places to be, and relationships to manage, the holidays are a prime time for high standards and rigid beliefs to run wild. How often do you tell yourself you, should, must, have to, or need, to do something? If you find yourself using these words a lot, it might be a sign that you are stressing yourself out! The good news is that you can stop most of your worryin
g by recognizing your irrational beliefs, when we notice that we are making statements that begin with ‘should and must’ we know that we are using irrational beliefs, instead we should alternate those statements by replacing them with flexible and rational thoughts.
Should’s and must’s fall into a category of common mental mistakes that we all make called absolute demands. They are rigid forms of thinking that result in unhealthy negative emotional states like shame, guilt, anxiety and depression. Without realizing it, we take our preferences, hopes, desires, and goals, and turn them into needs. The fact is your wants are not needs. We say things like, “I need the approval of other people.” “I should be more successful.” Or, “I must be perfect in everything I do.” The result of our illogical jump in thinking is that these thoughts are not rationally based. When our thinking is not based on reality, things can quickly get out of hand! If our need’s for approval, success, or perfection are not fulfilled we experience it as a total catastrophe. Our rigid musts lead to extreme, and unhealthy beliefs, overgeneralizations about ourselves, other people, or the world. Everyone will express these must’s and should’s in slightly different ways, but here are some basic examples of what this might look like:
The absolute demand, “I must/should do well,”
Leads to the extreme conclusion “or I am no good.”
The absolute demand, “You must/should treat me well,”
Leads to the extreme conclusion, “If you don’t, you are worthless.”
The absolute demand, “The world must give me what I want, when I want.”
Leads to the extreme conclusion, “If not, it a horrible place.”
If we didn’t create these absolute must’s for ourselves, we wouldn’t experience most of our unhealthy emotional reactions. Other examples of absolute demands are have to’s, ought to’s and need to’s, but the two main forms of absolute demands are our should’s, and must’s. The fact of the matter is that there is no logical reason for these must’s and should’s. They are actually illogical, and the result of rigid and illogical thinking is more rigid and illogical thinking, leaving us in an emotional mess. If you think about the words literally, and from a rational perspective, anything that should be already is. If something must be then literally it already is that way. When we use should and must we don’t always literally mean what we say. The issue is that our brain doesn’t know that, and it reacts to the logic we use, thinking those things like success and approval are needs. We believe what we tell ourselves. The desires for approval and for success are very good and healthy human desires, but they are wants, not needs. The real need’s humans have are food, water, and oxygen, almost everything else is a preference or desire. The result of turning these preferences into should’s and must’s in our self-talk is unhealthy negative emotion, and dysfunctional behavior.
Respond to Your Should’s & Musts
In order to replace your should’s and must’s with flexible beliefs the first thing you have to do is pay attention to your thoughts. Try to notice all the times when you use these should’s and must’s. After you catch yourself, there are two steps to responding to your should’s and must’s with flexible beliefs. The first step is to tell yourself what your want is, and the second step is to acknowledge that you do not have to get what you want. For example, If I thought to myself “I should have woken up earlier today.” The effect of this thought is that I feel ashamed and guilty. I may even make the extreme conclusion, “I’m lazy and no good for not waking up earlier, this just proves that I am a failure.” The result of my thinking is unnecessary shame and guilt. I can respond by telling myself what I would have preferred to happen, and then acknowledging that I am still okay even thought that didn’t happen. I might say to myself, “I would have liked to wake up earlier this morning, but just because I slept in, is no justification to say I am no good.” I could even add, “On top of that, just because someone sleeps in once, does not mean they are completely lazy or no good! That is a huge overgeneralization.” This is an example of using this flexible and preferential language to address my should, and to dispute my irrational thought. The result of my flexible thinking is that I feel much better and feel motivated to do better next time.
Here are a few more examples of possible Holiday should’s and must’s:
Holiday Should’s and Must’s & Alternative “Preferential Thinking”
|Rigid Thoughts||Extreme Conclusion||Flexible Thoughts||Rational Conclusion|
|The Holidays are a time where everyone in the family should get along.||If not, it will completely ruin the celebration.||I would really like for everyone to get along, BUT there is a chance someone might not get along and it will be okay.||If there is a fight, it will be difficult, but it won’t completely ruin the celebration.|
|The Holidays are a time where everyone in the family should get along.||And, If not, it will completely ruin the celebration.||I would really like for everyone to get along, BUT there is a chance someone might not get along and it will be okay.||If there is a fight, it will be difficult, but it won’t completely ruin the celebration.|
|I must complete my holiday to-do list||And, If I don’t, I won’t be able to enjoy myself.||I want to complete my Holiday to-do list, But the world will not completely stop if I don’t.||If I don’t complete my holiday to-do list, I will be a bit disappointed, but I will still be able to enjoy my holiday|
|I must get the perfect gifts for everyone.||And, If I don’t my family will have a terrible Christmas and I couldn’t stand myself.||I want to get the best gifts I can for everyone, but It couldn’t possibly get a gift that is perfect in every way.||Even if I don’t get everyone the most perfect gift, I will be able to enjoy Christmas and I will be able to accept myself.|
|My significant other must appreciate the time and effort I put in to find their gift.||And if they don’t, it means they are a terrible partner.||I would very much like for my significant other to appreciate the time and effort I put in to find their gift, but I don’t have to.||If my significant other doesn’t appreciate the time and effort, I put in to find their gift, it doesn’t mean they are a terrible partner.|
|I should be more organized with Holiday planning.||And, If I am not organized, I am a failure.||I would like to be more organized with Holiday planning, but there is no universal law that says I must be more organized.||If I am not organized, it does not mean I am a failure, it just means that it is an area in my life that could be improved upon. It does not change my value as a person.|
|I must cook the perfect meal for my household or loved ones.||And, If I don’t, Christmas will be ruined.||I would like to cook the best meal I can, but there is no perfect meal. A good meal will be just as good!||Even if I don’t cook the perfect meal for Christmas, my family will still be able to enjoy the celebration, and I will still be able to be happy.|
We Stress Ourselves Out
We mostly upset ourselves by adopting dysfunctional and rigid standards and then when we don’t meet these standards, we beat ourselves up. We take our preferences, hopes, wants, and desires which are usually all good and healthy, and we turn them into absolute demands. For example, It is perfectly rational to want things to be easy, but when this desire for leisure becomes a need for everything to be easy, we can get overwhelmed when things are difficult. This type of rigid thinking creates extreme beliefs and dysfunctional emotional reactions. When we think irrationally, we upset ourselves. When it comes down to it, and we evaluate these demands on a rational level, they actually don’t hold much weight. This is a common mental mistake that we all make, but in order to stop our unhelpful thoughts, we have to pay attention to our self-talk, and adopt flexible language.
Unhealthy Self-Talk Makes You Stressed, Depressed & Anxious
Thinking is a habit, and learning new habits of thinking that are flexible and rational will result in decreased stress, and increased life satisfaction. This holiday season try to replace your demands with desires. Preferential language is flexible and accurate, and it helps us feel the way we want to feel, and really enjoy our experiences. Rational Thinking provides us with healthy and accurate interpretations of ourselves, the world, and others. Now that you know that your feelings are caused by your thoughts, you have to actually practice noticing and responding to these unhelpful thoughts. You have to start to stubbornly refuse to upset yourself! This is what is called thought disputation. If you want to be happy, healthy, and stress free, stop telling yourself things that aren’t true. Inflexible rules and demands result in unhealthy emotions, and create guilt, frustration, and unhealthy negative emotions. Pay attention to your thoughts, ask yourself “do I really “need” to do this?” “Is this thought really true?” “Is this thought Helpful?” If it is not, try to respond with a more flexible thought. By recognizing your inflexible, rigid thinking and replacing it with accurate rational thoughts you will create a climate of healthy self-talk. It’s especially easy to be hard on yourself around the holidays, but you deserve a break! One simple and effective trick you can do to lessen stress, and cultivate healthy self-talk is to replace your should’s and must’s with flexible, preferential language.
By John-Paul Dombrowski
4 Steps to Enhancing Immune Health During Pandemic
At this point, we are all aware that mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing help to protect us against contracting and spreading the Covid 19 virus.1 Taking this a step further, let’s ask ourselves: “What else can I do to prevent a viral infection? Does my diet and lifestyle really matter?
The answer is YES!!! The foundations of a healthy immune system start with a healthy diet and lifestyle. We are not powerless- Let’s discuss actionable steps we can take to protect our physical and mental health during this pandemic.
What we know: Scientists hypothesize that excessive inflammation, oxidative stress, depressed immune system, and an activate cytokine storm substantially contribute to the pathogenesis of COVID-192. So lets become a robust host!
4 CONSIDERATIONS TO BECOMING A ROBUST HOST
- Optimize Quality Sleep
- Reduce inflammation
- Eat a Whole Foods Diet
- Limit stress
Get Quality sleep
Sleep actually increases the ability and number of your white blood cells to fight viral infections more efficiently.3 On the other hand, sleep disturbance is associated with increases in markers of systemic inflammation.4
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Keep your bedroom cool & dark
- Avoid screen time and blue light exposure 2 hours before bed
- Wear blue light blocking glasses when using screens
Inflammation is a major feature in COVID-19 patients.2 Anti-inflammatory diets and melatonin causes a reduction in the pro-inflammatory cytokines.2 On the other hand, foods that are highly processed and/or contain chemical additives, trans-fats, oxidized fats and added sugars contribute to inflammation. 5
- Address blood sugar control
- Lower omega 6 fatty acid intake and increase omega 3 fatty acids.
- Eat melatonin rich foods like eggs, walnuts, oats, pistachios, pomegranates, and broccoli
- Avoid inflammatory oils: trans-fats, omega 6 vegetable oils like safflower, cottonseed, soybean, corn, canola
Eat a Whole Foods diet
80% of your immune system is in your gut. A high quality nutrient dense diet that focuses on eating whole plant-based foods that are rich in healthy fats and phytonutrients (multicolored fruits and vegetables) is foundational to decreasing overall inflammation.5 Nutrients found in whole foods plays a dual role in immunology, supporting immune surveillance while also reducing inflammation.5
- Eat a variety of color in your diet
- Incorporate herbs and spices like Turmeric, ginger, honey
- Focus on vitamin A, D, C, zinc, Quercetin (plant flavonol)
- Avoid processed foods and foods made with artificial chemicals
- Avoid sugar and alcohol
- Use targeted supplements suggested for you by your healthcare provider
Stress chemistry is inherently inflammatory.5 Physical activity helps to decrease inflammation at the right intensity (moderate levels effective at lowering inflammatory markers while intense exercise does not)5
- Do enjoyable physical activity (walking, yoga, dancing to music)
- Practice mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques (MBSR)
- Connect with others via phone calls and video chats.
- Take Epsom salt baths
- Diffuse essential oils like lavender
- Zhang R, Wang X, Ni L, Di X, Ma B, Niu S, Liu C, Reiter RJ. COVID-19: Melatonin as a potential adjuvant treatment. Life Sci. 2020 Jun 1;250:117583. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2020.117583. Epub 2020 Mar 23. PMID: 32217117; PMCID: PMC7102583.
- Dimitrov, S., Lange, T., Gouttefangeas, C., Jensen, A., Szczepanski, M., Lehnnolz, J., . . . Besedovsky, L. (2019, March 04). Gαs-coupled receptor signaling and sleep regulate integrin activation of human antigen-specific T cells. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://rupress.org/jem/article/216/3/517/120367/G-s-coupled-receptor-signaling-and-sleep-regulate
- Zhang R, Wang X, Ni L, Di X, Ma B, Niu S, Liu C, Reiter RJ. COVID-19: Melatonin as a potential adjuvant treatment. Life Sci. 2020 Jun 1;250:117583. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2020.117583. Epub 2020 Mar 23. PMID: 32217117; PMCID: PMC7102583.
- Yanuck SF, Pizzorno J, Messier H, Fitzgerald KN. Evidence Supporting a Phased Immuno-physiological Approach to COVID-19 From Prevention Through Recovery. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2020;19(Suppl 1):8-35.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 23, 2020 children mental health, wellness for kids0 comments
How to (P)raise Your Child
Kids are constantly begging for attention from parents. How you respond to their accomplishments and their success has a big impact on their emotional development and self esteem. Praising children through verbal encouragement and recognition can be one of the most effective approaches to teaching your child to develop good habits. It is one of the best tools you can use as a parent to ensure your kids learn important life lessons and learn healthy habits of success! Giving children praise is an important part of their development and will increase their wellness, but not all praise is created equal. In fact, some types of praise can backfire! There is a large and continually growing body of psychological research that has found that how you praise your child can have a significant effect on their sense of self-esteem and their psychological well-being! Perhaps most importantly, this research has found that certain praise can actually be harmful for your child! See what family therapists say is the best approach to raising emotionally resilient kids!
Not all Praise is Created Equal
Praise is the primary way that we reward children when they exhibit good behavior. When children demonstrate good behavior, rewarding them increases the likelihood that they will repeat that good behavior again in the future. This type of learning is based on the idea of positive reinforcement. We praise successes, both big and small, and try to build a sense of achievement and confidence in our children. Many parents hope that giving children frequent recognition and approval will build healthy habits as well as boost self-esteem. This is all done with good intentions, and may appear to make sense, but there is more to the picture of praise then you might realize! When we praise children, we are not just encouraging them, we are teaching them lifelong lessons about their own capacity for growth and development. If we believe that all praise is the same, we will likely fall victim to a simple mistake that can have lasting effects on our children and their development. All praise is not created equal.
Person-Praise vs. Process-Praise
Praise that focuses on the fixed traits or characteristics of a child is known as person-praise. The name is pretty straight forward; person-praise means that when children are successful, we praise their personal traits. An example of person-praise would be saying, “You are such a good student” when a child gets an A on an assignment. The second type of praise is called process-praise. When using process-praise, the praise focuses on recognizing the process the child carried out that led to their success. Rather than focusing on being a “good student,” which is a fixed trait, you would praise the process of work and dedication the child exhibited. An example of process-praise would be, “The time and effort you have been putting into to your school work has been awesome, and it really paid off on your test!” Process-praise teaches children that they have ownership and responsibility for their success. When your child succeeds, praise the process, not the person. Research has found that process-praise is one of the most effective and healthy ways to encourage your child, build resilience, and instill a strong sense of self-esteem.
When we praise our children, we are not just recognizing and encouraging successful habits. When we praise children, we are teaching them why they were successful. We either teach them that their success happened because of traits they have, or we teach them that they earned their success! Praising the child’s fixed abilities actually undermines their confidence and self-esteem. Often, as adults, we do not realize this, and we end up overemphasizing traits of the child rather than the things the child actually did to reach that success. We say things like, “You are so smart!” instead of saying “Wow, you have been working so hard at your school!” Praising the resilience and dedication that was part of the process of success is the key to fostering a healthy growth mindset and building a true sense of self-confidence in your child.
“Person-praise,” is the tendency to praise the fixed traits that a child possesses. Praising things like being pretty, smart, talented, good at math, intelligent, or a natural athlete are all examples of person-praise. When we praise these traits, we foster unhealthy beliefs about both success, and their personal worth. When we say things like “You are so smart,” or “You are such a good painter,” we are teaching children that they are praiseworthy because of fixed qualities that they possess. When a child is successful, and we praise their traits, we are telling them that their success is due to the traits that they have. This teaches them that the praise they receive is based on the qualities and characteristics they have, rather than the things they do. Research findings consistently demonstrate that person-praise reduces motivation, focuses students on their performance, and encourages them to compare their performance with that of others.
Praising these fixed traits influences the way children view themselves and their ability to change. Whether we realize it or not, we are teaching children to use all-or-nothing thinking, and to judge themselves and their abilities on fixed traits. This creates a “fixed mindset” and makes children more likely to limit their own potential and be harder on themselves when they fail. The lesson that they learn is, “I am successful because of the traits that I have and I can’t do much about it.” In praising the traits of the child, we teach them that success is something that happens to them, rather than something they can achieve. Instead of building self-confidence, we teach children to think with an all-or-nothing mindset.
Children learn to value the qualities that adults praise. In using praise that focuses on fixed trait’s, children learn that it is those fixed traits that adults’ value. In turn, they may come to believe that their value is fixed, based on the praiseworthy qualities that they do or do not possess. Rather than learning how to value themselves, children learn to evaluate themselves. Children learn to base their personal value on the number of good and praiseworthy traits they have and beat themselves up if they don’t measure up! Even though we are trying to build a sense of confidence by telling them how great they are, we teach children that their worth and success is based on a fixed set of characteristics that they cannot control. Ultimately receiving person-praise teaches the child all-or-nothing thinking and fosters an internal dialogue of comparison and self-criticism. In trying to build self-esteem, we destroy it. We teach children that their value, like their success, is based on their fixed traits.
When you focus on praising the process of success you emphasize the effort, dedication, and problem solving that the child used to succeed. Process-praise also includes recognizing and praising when a child asks for help in appropriate situations. Recognizing and praising the process, teaches your child that they have the ability to determine their own success and get through difficult situations. Process-praise teaches the child that they have self-control, and they have the ability within themselves to improve. It focuses on the good things the child does, rather than what qualities the child has. Focusing on things like effort, the investment of time, creative problem solving, persistence, and dedication are all ways to give process-praise.
As a parent, pointing out the free choices your child made gives them the opportunity to take ownership of those choices, and take ownership of their success! Praising the process of success teaches children that they achieved success through their problem solving, effort, and asking for help when necessary. This builds a true sense of accomplishment, fosters accurate self-confidence based on their experience, and develops a sense of self-determination. Children learn that their brains are flexible, and their abilities can be developed. Success becomes something children can achieve through hard work, diligence and practice, rather than something that happens to them. Process-praise creates a “growth mindset” which instills a sense of hope for the future and also teaches responsibility for actions. Praising things such as effort, problem solving, dedication, thinking creatively, and appropriately asking for help teaches the child that their worth does not depend on their traits or characteristics, or the approval of other people. It teaches them those habits are valuable and good, but success or fixed traits are not what give them value.
The idea of using process praise instead of person praise has been applied in schools and classrooms, but it is especially applicable now as many parents find themselves working as teachers aids in the “virtual classroom,” aka the living room! With some extra mental effort, you can learn to reframe unhealthy person-praise, to be focused on effort, dedication, and problem solving. Learning this type of approach can be difficult at first, so here are a couple of examples to illustrate the difference between person-praise & process-praise.
The Way You Praise Success Matters Most When Children Fail
Shortcomings and failures are an inevitable aspect of being human. We all experience failure in large and small ways, and our children do too! Whether we use process-praise, or person-praise has a tremendous impact on our children’s thinking when they experience these failures. If we teach our children to have a fixed mindset by telling them things like “You are so good at Math, good job!” then when they don’t do well they will assume it is because of their traits, rather than a lack of effort or dedication. Person-praise fails to teach children that they could improve through effort and dedication and they can learn better at math skills! When children experience continual person-praise, failure decreases motivation due to faulty beliefs about the reason for their failure. If they learn that success is due to personal traits, then failure is also due to fixed traits and there is nothing you can do about it. This ultimately results in children being less likely to apply themselves in classes, or areas where they struggle. Person-praise undermines self-control. Instead of realizing that they need to put more effort and time into math they label themselves saying, “I’m just not a math person.” or “My brain just doesn’t work that way.” Failure, like success, is falsely believed to be determined by personal traits, rather than effort.
Person-praise teaches children that if they fail, it is because they lack some quality or trait. In reality, it is due to the lack of a skill, lack of dedication, or poor problem solving. Skill, dedication, and problem solving are all flexible traits and can be developed and improved! Process-Praise teaches children that if they fail it is because of what they did or didn’t do, and that gives them the opportunity to adjust their approach. When we use process-praise we teach children that they can learn from failure and mistakes. Children learn that they have the control to adapt and learn based on their experiences of failure. Failure becomes an opportunity for growth, rather than a reason for harsh personal judgement.
Praise the Process, Not the Person
Remembering to praise the process can have a very beneficial effect on your children from infancy to young adulthood! It instills an attitude of growth and development. It also teaches them a valuable lesson about their own ability to overcome difficult situations through problem solving, dedication or asking for help when necessary. Praising the process of success in children creates a foundation for a sense of self determination, and healthy independence in adulthood. When praising your child, try to remember to focus on what your child did that made them successful, or their effort that helped them act in a praiseworthy way. Look for things like dedication, or creative problem solving, and encourage your child to continue working on those flexible abilities! By doing this, you can teach your child about their capacity for development and success, and you instill a healthy growth mindset! Just remember, praise the process, not the person.
Bayat, M. (2011). Clarifying Issues Regarding the Use of Praise with Young Children. Topics in Special Education, 31(2), 121-128.
Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. London: Robinson.
Henderlong, J. & Lepper, M. (2002). The Effects of Praise on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 774-795.
Maclellan, E. (2005). Academic achievement: the role of praise in motivating students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 6(3), 194-206.
Master, A. (2015, August). Praise That Makes Learners More Resilient. Retrieved from http://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Praise-That-Makes-Learners-More-Reslient.pdf
How to Detox Co-Parenting Conversations
Co-parenting is hard, there is no doubt about that, but it doesn’t have to be toxic! It is impossible to completely eliminate disagreements between two people trying to work together in any situation, but disagreement should not always lead to disaster. The key to co-parenting is learning to have healthy, respectful and productive conflict discussions. Today we are going to talk about how you and your co-parent can learn to detoxify conflict and have healthy conversations by removing the four most destructive conversation patterns.
Not all disagreements are equal
There are certain types of negativity that are so toxic that they bring chaos and frustration to all parties involved. This post is not about how to avoid fighting & disagreement; it is about learning how to fight in a healthy way! John Gottman is a family and marriage therapy expert and one of the leading researchers in studying what makes communication patterns healthy or unhealthy in relationships. Although his focus has been on committed relationships, his findings from over 40 years of research have been successfully applied to parenting, co-parenting, leadership and management. John Gottman discovered that there are four patterns of communication that destroy healthy, and productive conflict discussions. He called these the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.” It is nearly impossible to completely eliminate the Four Horsemen, but by learning to identify these toxic patterns of communication you’ll be better able to avoid unhealthy arguments and implement healthy and productive conversation alternatives.
One of the hardest things to remember in the midst of a co-parenting disagreement is that ultimately the disagreement is not about you and it is not about who is right or wrong. It is about your child (or children). When you don’t have healthy communication with your co-parent, your child is the one who is hurt the most. Learning how to healthily approach disagreements and disputes with your co-parent directly benefits your child! Not only do they learn that they are loved, but they will also learn that adults can have disagreements and still be civil and respectful. When disagreements between co-parents get out of hand, your child loses every time! Learning to be a better co-parent is about helping your child (or children) and providing them with a safe and nurturing environment. Now let’s get into the nuts and bolts of healthy and unhealthy conflict discussions.
What are the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are patterns that lead to unproductive conflict management, they are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Learning to identify each Horsemen means you’ll be able to avoid them and replace them with healthy antidotes! John Gottman has produced some the best resources on conflict management. We have adapted one of his guides to be relevant to you as a co-parent! It is important to be on the same page as each other, so after reading this guide, consider sharing it with your co-parent to establish the same ground rules for conversations.
Horseman No. 1: CRITICISM
Criticism involves bringing up an issue in a way that focuses on your co-parent’s character or personality flaws rather than on what you need them to do differently. Criticism implies there is something wrong with your co-parent, that he or she is defective or broken. The problem with this approach is that if you treat them like they are defective or broken, there is no room for growth as co-parents. Criticism may include blame, name-calling and a general character assassination. Criticizing your co-parent is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. Remember, a criticism is an attack.
Here is an example to help you distinguish between the two:
Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. You’re just selfish!”
Complaint: “I was frustrated when you were running late for our drop off and didn’t call me. We had agreed that we would communicate if one of us got held up.”
Antidote to Criticism: Use a Soft Start-up and Ask for Specific Behavior Change
The antidote to criticism is to use a soft start-up to ask your co-parent to change their behavior in some specific way.
Steps for a Gentle Start Up
- I Feel…
Begin statements with “I” instead of “You” to avoid blame. State how you feel.
Example: “I feel frustrated . . .”
- About What…
Describe the situation and not your co-parent.
Example: “I feel frustrated that you put our son into a sports league that plays on my weekdays without asking me about it.”
- I Need…
Let your co-parent know what you want (versus what you don’t want.) If you could wave a magic wand and get what you need, what would things be like? Instead of hoping your co-parent will guess what you need, or read your mind, tell him or her specifically what you would like.
Example: “I feel frustrated that you put our son into a sports league that plays on my weekdays without asking me about it. I would appreciate it if you would please communicate with me about activities that will affect my time before you commit to them.”
- Be Civil
Make requests civilly, adding phrases such as “I would appreciate it if…”
- Give appreciations for Parenting.
Notice what your co-parent is doing right and tell him or her. If your co-parent has done what you wanted in the past, state that you appreciated it and ask if he or she would be willing to do it again.
Examples of Criticism:
“You’re such an idiot.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You are so selfish!”
Antidote: “I was proud of us as co-parents at our child’s baseball game last weekend and I would really appreciate it if you would please communicate with me in advance about the commitments you are making so that we can continue to both show our child our support.”
Horseman No. 2: DEFENSIVENESS
Defensiveness is an attempt to protect yourself, to defend your innocence, and to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized. Research shows that defensiveness rarely has the desired effect of improving the situation. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your co-parent. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so destructive. There are two ways to be defensive: to counterattack or to whine (playing the innocent victim). Some people can do both at the same time.
Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility
The antidote to defensiveness is to take some responsibility for even a small part of the problem. By doing this, you can quickly reduce tension and prevent conflict from escalating. This helps your co-parent believe they are heard and understood.
Examples of Defensiveness: Your co-parent complains that you are often late to pick-up’s.
Criticism: “I am really tired of you losing track of time and being late to our pick-ups. You’re always late and I have other things I need to do!”
Defensive Counter-attack: “Can’t you get over it?! You always find something to be mad about. I’m never that late. Besides, you were the one who was late last time.”
Defensive Innocent Victim: “I wasn’t late on purpose. I had a meeting that ran over. You’re always picking out every mistake I make. No matter when I get there, it’s never early enough. I can’t do anything right.”
Antidote: “You’re right, I’m sorry for being late to the pick-up. I’ll try harder to be more aware of the time.”
Horseman No. 3: CONTEMPT
To be contemptuous is to put your co-parent down or to speak with scorn. It happens when you feel and act superior. It’s putting oneself on a higher plane, looking down from a position of authority with an attitude of, “I’m better/smarter/neater/cleaner/ more punctual, etc. than you.”
Contempt stems from a negative habit of mind, in which you scan the environment looking for your co-parent’s mistakes, rather than what you can appreciate about him or her as a parent. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt, and so is name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt is the most damaging of the Four Horsemen and is poisonous to a co-parenting relationship. It is virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your co-parent is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her as a parent. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict. Contempt is the single best predictor of unproductive disagreements and relationship toxicity.
Antidote to Contempt: Describe Your Feelings and Needs & Build a Culture of Parenting Appreciation
Underneath contempt is a need or want. In any type of teamwork, if these needs are not met over time it will become contemptuous. The antidote to contempt is to describe your own feelings and needs by using “I” statements. For examples, see “Steps for a Soft Start Up” in the Criticism section “I Feel….”, “About What…”, “I Need…”!
Building a culture of parenting appreciation is the all-encompassing antidote to contempt. When you feel valued and appreciated as a parent you are able to access positive feelings for your co-parent and are less likely to act contemptuous when you have a difference of opinion.
Building a Culture of Appreciation Includes:
- Expressing Appreciation: “I appreciate you taking the time to communicate about our child’s issues on the bus.”
- Expressing Thanks: “Thank you for making time to discuss how we can communicate better as co-parents.”
- Expressing Respect for Co-Parenting skills: “Even though we disagree I know that you want what is best for our child, and I respect your dedication to becoming better co-parents.”
Contempt Example: Your co-parent criticizes that you don’t compromise enough.
Contempt: “You never compromise with me about anything! I’ve made so many sacrifices for our son even so that he can spend time with your family! I moved my vacation around so that he would be able to visit with your family when they came into town! Now when I ask to change a weekend you won’t budge! All you think about is yourself!”
Antidote: “I feel frustrated about how we have tried to come to compromises in the past. I would like to take some time to talk about finding a better way to compromise. I want to be able to be more flexible, and trust that you will be willing to be flexible too.”
Horseman No. 4: STONEWALLING
Stonewalling occurs when you withdraw from the interaction while staying physically present. Essentially, this means not giving cues that you’re listening or paying attention; for instance, by avoiding eye contact and crossing your arms.
The pattern goes like this: The more you feel criticized, the more you turn away. The more you turn away (give cues to the speaker that you are not paying attention), the more your co-parent attacks. You feel your heart rate climbing and you’re afraid to say anything for fear of making things worse; however, by withdrawing and turning away from your co-parent you perpetuate a negative spiral in your communication and the issue remains unresolved.
In addition, research shows that stonewalling elevates your heart rate and releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to listen, think creatively and solve the problem constructively.
Antidote to Stonewalling: Self-Soothing Break, Then Re-connect
The antidote to stonewalling is to take a self-soothing break for at least 20 minutes and then re-engage with your co-parent when you feel calmer and are able to constructively express your views.
Imagine arriving to pick up your child and being met with a barrage of critical statements and demands such as, “You’re late again” and, “Why isn’t our daughter dressed appropriately for the weather, where is her jacked?!” You think to yourself, “This is never going to end. I don’t need this. If I tell her what I think, she’ll really explode. It’s not worth it. If I say anything it will just make it worse. Just keep your mouth shut.”
Self-soothe. You recognize that you can’t think clearly, are getting stressed, and you need to calm down. You tell your co-parent that you hear his frustration, but you need a break and will be available later in the day to return to the issue. After taking a break in which, you avoid negative thoughts and do something stress-reducing, like taking a walk or playing your favorite music, return to the conversation (or call) and listen to your co-parent’s concerns. This time, your co-parent is careful to bring up the topic in a soft way and you engage in a constructive discussion.
When taking a break, it is important that you communicate that you need to take a break and that you would like to return to the conversation. Try to let the break be at least 20 minutes, but not longer than 2 days. This gives your mind and body a chance to calm down. It is essential to communicate and follow through with a commitment to finish the conversation at a later time or day! If not, issues will go unresolved and will be more likely to pile on to a disagreement later on.
Remember your Co-Parent is Just your Co-parent
The Four Horseman have been consistently shown by research to destroy relationships. While it might not matter to you if you get along with your co-parent or not, it does matter to your child (or children)! Your ability or inability to have healthy disagreements with your co-parent has a direct result on your child whether you realize it or not! By learning to recognize the Four Horseman you can avoid their toxicity and embrace healthy substitutes! In order to employ the conversation techniques, we have just mentioned the first step is to ensure that your focus is on parenting. It is all too easy to become emotionally reactive and get drawn in by memories, past hurts, and frustrations, especially if you have had any type of extended history with your co-parent. If this happens you will lose focus and get pulled into the past. Remember that your conversations should not be about you or your co-parent as a people in general, they should be about you both as co-parents! Co-parenting conversations should be focused on the present issues and the future needs of your child! A helpful way to learn this approach is to reframe your perspective on how you view your co-parent. Try to look at them as just a parent, rather than an ex or someone with whom you’ve had a history. This is extremely difficult to do, but also extremely productive. Try to remind yourself a few times in your head before your conversations, “This is just my co-parent, the focus of our conversation should be on parenting.” Finally, one of the most important and difficult attitudes to embrace is that people can change. You can change, they can change, and your communication patterns can change! It may take time, and perhaps even some co-parenting therapy, but by applying these techniques and consistently remembering that your focus should be on parenting you can learn to be more balanced and have healthier and more productive interactions.
*The information in this post has been adapted from “Avoid the Four Horsemen” a handout created by The Gottman Institute*
By: John Paul Dombrowski Counseling Intern and Therapist at Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 1, 2020 clinical herabalist, clinical herbalist pittsburgh0 comments
Annie Fox Derek (She/Her/They/Them) is a clinical herbalist, animist, and folk healer. They have over 10 years of experience studying plants, first completing a BS in Plant Biology, followed by 4 years of study in clinical herbalism with Ola Obasi at the Well of Indigenous Wisdom School. Since then, they have trained with herbalists and folk healers from around the world, and devoted countless hours of independent study to learning the local edible and medicinal flora of western Pennsylvania. They also helped to start the Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People and have taught about herbal medicine and foraging to hundreds of people throughout Pittsburgh and beyond.
Annie promotes health sovereignty with the use of natural, sustainable, and often local plant and herbal agents, they encourage people to feel actively engaged and empowered in their own health and wellness. They believe deeply in the holistic nature of healing, the connection between mind, body, emotions, and spirit, and the profound wisdom and love that plant medicines have to offer each of us.
Are you wondering what to expect as a client or participant in a Herbal Consultation?
You can expect during an herbal consultation that Annie will ask you about your medical, mental health, and psycho-social or personal history to gauge exactly what barriers and strengths she may enlist in the optimization of your wellness. Annie is respected for her use a variety of clinical diagnostic tools to better understand your personal constitution. Following the session, they will create a unique wellness plan for you that includes hand-blended herbal formula(s), dietary/nutrition suggestions, and personalized rituals to help you on your journey towards wellness. Follow-up sessions will track progress and offer the opportunity to adjust herbal formulas as needed.
How long do Herbalist Appointments Last?
Each session is one hour long and can be offered in person in Pittsburgh or Telehealth. A typically duration of treatment for herbalist support can vary from 1-10 sessions depending on the severity of your concerns and the kinds of modifications that are utilized to strengthen and enhance your wellness. Appointments include the opportunity to order dried plants and herbs directly from Annie Fox Derek.
Annie specializes in deep listening, holding non-dual awareness, and cultivating loving acceptance, all with a healthy dose of playfulness. Their favorite activities include exploring local forests and swimming holes, participating in earth-based rituals and ceremonies, talking to plants, singing around fires, playing board games with friends, and hanging out with their feline companion, Nimbus. They are actively engaged in decolonization and anti-racism practices and carry this throughout their work.
Annie is available for telehealth and in-person consultations at the Pittsburgh Counseling and Wellness Center location.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 8, 2020 borderline personality disorder, Bowen Systems theory, healthy relationships, narcissistic personality disorder, Personality disorders, Unhealthy relationships0 comments
People with Personality Disorders Do This In Relationships
Differentiation of Self: Learning to balance Self Needs with the Needs of Others
We can all agree that balance is a key component to healthy living. Sometimes it comes naturally, but more often than not, balance is really hard to maintain. One of the most difficult places to find balance is in our relationships. If we want to find balance, it is worth taking some time to think about the things we are trying to balance between. Being in relationships is like walking a tightrope. There are some people who have a pattern of relating where they have not developed coping strategies that help them work through strong emotions. These people, often personality disordered as defined by their rigidness and complex unhealthy ways of understanding themselves and others, cut off anyone who challenges or counters them. We are constantly balancing between our own individuality on one side, and our desire for a sense of togetherness on the other. Whereas emotionally healthy people welcome differences in others, personality disordered people have not moved beyond the immature way of viewing the world that understands not everyone is the same. Entering into relationships fulfills the human desire for a sense of belonging or togetherness. Once we are in a group or relationship, learning how to navigate around individual differences often proves to be quite difficult. It is easy to succumb to charged situations and react based on emotions rather than a thoughtful choice. ‘Differentiation of Self’ is the ability to interact with others while, at the same time, regulating your own emotions. Think of how narrow your world would become if your default was to run away from every person who you cared about who said or did something you didn’t like. This is however the reality that individuals with borderline personality disorder and sometimes narcissistic personality disorder create.
Think about a disagreement that is currently causing you frustration in one of your close relationships. You probably share commonalities with the person you disagree with, but at the same time your individual differences create tension. What do you do? If you are afraid of creating distance in the relationship you might just blindly agree with the person. You wouldn’t lose your closeness, but you would sacrifice some of your individuality. On the other hand, you could cut the person off emotionally, and distance yourself in the relationship. This would allow you to maintain your independence, but you would lose your closeness and possibly the relationship. Both of these responses are irrational and extreme, a product of all or nothing thinking that are often related to several personality disorders. Neither of these options are really healthy. Each is an escape in reaction to the emotional pressure of disagreement.
Differentiation of self is an idea that describes the ability to regulate your own emotional climate rather than getting drawn in or overwhelmed by the emotions of others. It also has to do with a person’s ability to interact with others without losing their sense of self. This is because a well differentiated person is able to hold the tension between their needs and the needs of others without becoming overwhelmed and acting purely on the strongest emotional push. Someone who is “well differentiated” is able to realize the difference between their own emotions, and the emotions of the people around them. Their choices are thoughtful, taking their emotions into account without being ruled by them. They are able to find peace even in difficult situations and respond thoughtfully in moments of pressure.
Think of individuality and togetherness like two sides of a coin that are distinct, but at the same time inseparable. One side has to do with our concept of self. It is the aspects of our personal life and experience that make us unique and different from others. On the other side, we have a desire to share similarities with others, and to be a part of a group. This is the desire for togetherness, or a sense of belonging. When we are differentiated, we have the ability to enter into a relationship and not lose ourselves. We are able to identify our own emotions and thoughts when responding to tension in a relationship, and we do not react to the emotions of others, but rather intentionally respond. We do not give up ourselves to be with someone, but rather we learn how to truly be ourselves with someone. Learning to regulate our emotions in charged situations is the skill that allows us to hold the balance between our needs and the needs of others. It is a necessary to be able to experience tension in order to have difficult conversations. Healthy relationships rely on our ability to express ourselves in a way that is authentic to ourselves, and at the same time sensitive to others. Being well differentiated protects you from getting uncontrollably pulled in by your own emotions or the emotions of other people. Ultimately, it allows you to enter into relationships fully, in a healthy way, without having to sacrifice your sense of self or losing your own identity.
Differentiation of self develops in our family of origin as we learn how to view ourselves as individuals, but also learn to maintain intimate relationships. It was first described by Murray Bowen, one of the pioneers of family therapy and the founder of Family Systems Theory. He discovered that in a healthy family, members develop the ability to have a sense that “I am my own person, but I am also a part of my family.” Ideally, the family is the place that we learn this skill of balance and integration. In learning about the similarities that unite me to my family members, I am able to have a sense of belonging. In learning about my own uniqueness, interests, and beliefs, I learn that I am also my own person. The challenge of the family is to teach this balance to children and cultivate a balance between our head and our heart. When we don’t learn this balance, we learn instead to be emotionally reactive.
Emotional reactivity is the key distinguishing aspect between people who are well differentiated or poorly differentiated. Differentiation of self is an ideal that we aim for and being aware of how we react to others is the first step in becoming more differentiate. Learning to manage our thoughts and our feelings has a direct result on how we are able to authentically enter into and navigate relationship. If we are not able to differentiate our thoughts from our feelings, then we become vulnerable to being overcome by the pressure of other people, or our own impulses in the present moment.
What can we do about it? None of us are as differentiated as we could be. In fact, even Murray Bowen said that he would not consider himself perfectly differentiated! We can all chose to be dedicated to growing in differentiation. It will benefit us, our friends, our families and especially our close relationships. It is easy to get caught up in the past, or the future, but the only thing we can change is right now. Differentiation begins with thoughtfulness and consideration of the present moment. Why don’t you try to do a quick check in with your emotions? Take a few deep breaths. Just notice, what is it you’re feeling right now? Has there been any strong emotions welling up as you read this post? Just try to notice those feelings, the more aware we are of our feelings, the less likely they are to overwhelm us. By simply paying attention to the present moment we give ourselves the chance to be more differentiated. Next time you are in a frustrating situation with someone try to do the same thing, just notice your feelings. Pay attention to what your emotions are telling you and listen to them while taking a few deep breaths. Rather than reacting to the situation, try to respond thoughtfully after checking in with your emotions. If your knee jerk response is to ‘cut and run’ every time you experience an emotional reaction in a relationship, notice this too and try to adopt healthy self soothing techniques instead of running away from inevitable heightened emotions that come from having close relationships. The key to change is always and only in the present moment. By paying attention to the present moment we allow ourselves to truly enter into what is going on around us, without being swept off our feet. Relationships are difficult and require a lot of work. By paying attention to our emotions, we can learn to enter into relationships in a deeper, more meaningful way. Differentiation of self is what allows us to truly be ourselves in an authentic way, and at the same time meaningfully enter into relationships with others.
By: John Paul Dombrowski- Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg.
Foose, K. (2018, February 07). Differentiation of self through the lens of mindfulness. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/02/differentiation-of-self-through-the-lens-of-mindfulness/
Baney, D., 5, J., 3, O., 28, E., & *, N. (2015, September 14). Differentiation of Self. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://drbaney.com/category/differentiation-of-self/
Eight Concepts. (2017, November 22). Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: An approach based on Bowen theory. New York: W.W. Norton.
Nichols, M. P., & Davis, S. D. (2019). Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Hoboken: Pearson.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 6, 2020 Self Acceptance Enhancing Exercises, What is Self Esteem In Psychology0 comments
Will I Ever Measure Up?
Do you need to be approved of by others? Do you want to be successful in life? If you
have a heartbeat, the answer is probably yes. But there is a distinct difference between simply
valuing the approval of other people and basing your value on the approval of others. Like most
things in life, the devil is in the details. When we get those details confused, we find ourselves
anxious, distressed, and frustrated. It is our thoughts that cause our feelings, and if we
repeatedly tell ourselves we are not good enough, we are going to experience feelings of
worthlessness! Understanding unconditional self-acceptance can help us to establish a healthy
balance between what we want, and what we need. This post is about understanding how your
thoughts and words drastically affect the way you relate to yourself, and how you can sow the
seeds of unconditional self-acceptance. Unconditional self-acceptance is a dedicated choice to
accept that you are a human being with such uniqueness and complexity that you simply
cannot be given an overall total rating. Accepting this belief paves the way for interior peace
Where does your worth come from? One of the common answers to this question is
that your sense of worth is based on the confidence you have in your ability to accomplish goals
and maintain relationships. We call this self-esteem. Albert Ellis, one of the great American
Psychologists (and a native of Pittsburgh!) actually believed that the idea of self-esteem was
problematic. He once said in a lecture, “Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or
woman because it’s conditional.” If that wasn’t enough, he wrote a whole book called “The
Myth of Self-Esteem,” arguing this point! Self-esteem is too fragile to carry us safely though the
difficulties of life. Self-esteem is based on measuring up to some standard. What happens
when you fall short? What if you have trouble maintaining relationships? Does that mean you
are unworthy? We are all humans here, so it’s only a matter of time before we fall short of our
goals in one way or another! Placing your value in self-esteem is like going out on a big lake in a
paddle boat. As long as the sun is out and the weather is nice, you are in a good place. But as
soon as the conditions change, you find yourself vulnerable, powerless, and unfit to weather
the storm! Self-esteem places human value on a condition, but human value has to be put in
something unconditional. You can’t rate yourself on some measurement or condition. The more
you try the more anxious and distressed you will become! Unconditional self-acceptance is a
refusal to rate your whole self on some measurement, it’s a choice to accept yourself as a
human, even when you don’t like the way you feel, or the things you do. It is simply a
commitment to accept yourself with no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Understanding how and why we try
to rate ourselves can help us to stop this habit that causes us distress.
Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater
We are not taught to value ourselves; we are taught to evaluate ourselves. Placing
generalized ratings on ourselves and others is a lesson taught to us throughout childhood. As
we become socialized, we are told that whether we are good or bad is determined by our
behavior. In school children learn to think, “If I behave well, I am a good kid.” But, “If I behave
badly, I am a bad kid.” This thought develops into the belief,
“It is okay to make judgement about people based on their behavior.” We use this same logic to evaluate ourselves when we
succeed or fail to meet some standard. “If I behave well, I am a good person.” “If I act badly, I
am a bad person.” This kind of thinking is dysfunctional, illogical, and irrational. It is a common
mental mistake that all humans are vulnerable to make. You are not your behavior; you are so
much more. Stop throwing the baby out with the bath water! Stop throwing yourself out
because of your behavior. Humans are so remarkably complex that it is impossible to assign
someone, including yourself, a global rating. Think about one of the behaviors that make it
hard to accept yourself sometimes. Now ask yourself these questions:
Is my HEART that behavior?
Is my MIND that behavior?
Is my BODY that behavior?
Is my SOUL that behavior?
Are ALL my SENSES that behavior?
Are ALL my SENSATIONS that behavior?
Are ALL my THOUGHTS that behavior?
Are ALL my FEELINGS that behavior?
Are ALL my BEHAVIORS that behavior?
Are ALL my MEMORIES that behavior?
You are not a behavior, you are a person. You can rate your behavior, but you can’t rate your
whole self. There is rule called the part-whole fallacy. The rule is, you can’t judge the whole of
something by just one of its parts. If you got a flat tire, would you total the whole car because
one tire was in need of repair? Of course not, but humans have a tendency to do just that, we
assign general value judgments based on one aspect of our humanity. It’s just not rational, and
when you think irrational thoughts it causes emotional distress! You have to learn how to stop
Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Self-Talk
Rational self-talk is the key to developing unconditional self-acceptance. If the interior
conversations you have with yourself is filled with self-defeating, dysfunctional thoughts it is no
wonder that you become distressed! Thoughts cause feelings. If we repeatedly tell ourselves
that we don’t measure up, we will feel and act as if that were true. When we plant seeds of
inferiority in our mind, we reap feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-hate. Feelings of
acceptance do not come from being accepted by others, but instead they come from the belief
that we accept ourselves. Unconditional Self-Acceptance is a belief based on reason. When we
hold this belief, we express it in our thoughts and these thoughts cultivate healthy emotions. It
is the repeated thought of unconditional self-acceptance that constructs a personal interior
climate of peace, self-understanding, personal strength, patience, and authentic self-love.
What does this self-talk look like? Rational thinking is flexible, non-extreme, helpful,
logical, and based on reality. It leads to healthy emotions. Irrational thought on the other hand
is rigid, extreme, illogical, prevents you from attaining your goals, and is not based on reality.
For example, if you bombed a presentation for work, a rational approach would be to say to
yourself, “I did very poorly on my presentation, and now I feel embarrassed. But my value does
come from my ability to present, or the approval of others.” This thought is true, it is based on
what happened and the emotion you feel would be appropriate. You will probably be sad, but
it won’t throw you into a depressive episode. Being irrational you might say, “I did such a bad
job on my presentation, I am worthless.” This type of thinking is self-defeating and will cause
unhealthy feelings of self-criticism and contempt.
We continually reteach ourselves the belief that our worth depends on other people’s
approval or our accomplishments by the things that we say to ourselves. When we think
irrationally, we become extreme. We may take a healthy desire to accomplish something and
amplify it to an extreme demand. We say things like, “I need to send all of my emails today,
and if I don’t then I am no good.” When our demands are not met, we punish ourselves! When
we look at other people we may think, “You must treat me well, and if you don’t you are
horrible person.” Or, we make global evaluations about the world saying, “I must succeed in
life, and if I don’t it is because the world is a terrible place.” Telling ourselves irrational and
rigid demands sets us up for failure and frustration. We take these demands seriously, and if
we don’t live up to them, we make global evaluations about ourselves, others, or the world.
The more we use the words of absolute demands, the more distress we cause ourselves.
Instead of extremes like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘need’, and ‘have to’, try substituting more preferential
language like, ‘I’d like to’, ‘it would be preferable if’, ‘it would be helpful’, ‘it would be best if’, ‘ideally’,
Unconditionally accepting yourself makes all the difference! Next time you feel your mood
shifting or your anxiety mounting, pay attention to your thoughts. Rather than being rigid and
inflexible saying, “I need to send out all these emails today,” try instead being more rational
and say something like “I would really like to send out these emails today, but even if I don’t, I
as a person am ok.” Start repeating the simple phrase, “I am not my behavior.” Or maybe write
a note and stick it on your mirror that says, “My personal worth and value does not depend on
what I do, or the way people treat me. My worth and value is something that I hold within
It can be tempting to try to justify yourself, but you don’t have to. Unconditional self-
acceptance empowers us to be successful and to develop relationships in a healthy way that
encourages self-possession, honors our freedom, and affirms our dignity. Unconditional Self-
acceptance is a way of looking at ourselves that remembers, “I am not my behavior. I am an
unrepeatable, un-ratable, and dignified being. My value does not come from the approval of
others, or the things that I do. My value is inseparable from the fact that I exist. I chose to
accept myself unconditionally.”
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral therapy focus on the way that
our thoughts affect our behavior. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other
emotional disturbance and feel this type of counseling would be a good fit for you, call us at
412-322-2129. We would love to set you up for a counseling session with one of our therapists
trained in Cognitive Behavioral therapy.
Dryden, W., DiGiuseppe, R., & Neenan, M. (2010). A primer on rational emotive behavior
therapy. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Ellis, A. (2006). The myth of self-esteem: How rational emotive behavior therapy can change
your life forever. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Ellis, A., & Doyle, K. A. (2019). How to stubbornly refuse to make yourself miserable about
anything-yes, anything!London: Robinson.
I Am Not My Behavior. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2020, from
By John Paul DombrowskiLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 4, 2020 bowens system theory, triangulation, what is triangulation0 comments
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/
You may have heard the latest celebrity gossip regarding Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s relationship drama. If not, let me catch you up to speed – Jada openly admitted to having an ‘entanglement’ with a much younger man without Will’s consent or knowledge. This abruptly caused a firestorm across the internet with questions and jokes about ‘entanglements’ and what this all really means. Underlying this drama is an important lesson about relationships and specifically, ‘triangulation’ within relationships. An ‘entanglement’ is a form of ‘triangulation’. Triangulation occurs in a relationship when something or someone disrupts the flow of communication or emotions between the couple. Triangulation could be a manipulation tactic by one person in the relationship, but quite often triangulation happens when a relationship is struggling and without people even realizing it is happening or that they are facilitating it. In Will and Jada’s case, her ‘entanglement’ with a third person may have served to evoke strong emotions or bring previous relationship issues to the surface, forcing communication. However, it certainly doesn’t take an affair or an ‘entanglement’ for triangulation to occur.
What is triangulation? Originally, the concept of triangulation came out of Bowen’s Systems Theory which is a theoretical model used by some therapists to understand and explain family dynamics. In families, triangulation occurs when one or both members of a couple pull a child in to be the third point in the triangle. In this scenario, the child absorbs some of the stress of the relationship or acts as a communication device between the couple. This can occur in relationships where the parents are still together, but struggling in the marriage, or when the parents are separated but do not take the necessary steps to communicate while continuing to co-parent. At any rate, triangulation within a family system puts the child in an extremely difficult position.
More recently people have noticed another kind of triangulation within their relationships. Within the context of family and marriage therapy, we see many forms of triangulation, even where the third point isn’t a person at all, but rather technology, and most often a cell phone. Quite often, one or both members of a couple may avoid in-person, direct communication about difficult or sensitive topics and instead rely on technology to do the communicating. For example, one member of the couple may post or interact on social media to passively communicate with their partner. One or both members of a couple may utilize their cell phones as either a conscious or an unconscious distraction device. Or, one or both members of the couple may seek comfort from their cell phone rather than their partner, avoid intimacy to be on their cell phone, or just generally not be emotionally available because they’re on their device instead of present in the relationship. Some studies have shown that just the mere presence of a mobile device, even when it isn’t being used, can detract from face-to-face interactions. Effective communication is essential for a positive relationship and while triangulation doesn’t signify the end of a relationship, it is likely to lead to significant problems.
By: Lauren Aikin-Smith
Audrey Juhasz & Kay Bradford (2016) Mobile Phone Use in Romantic Relationships, Marriage & Family Review, 52:8, 707-721, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2016.1157123
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 13, 2020 exercise for gratitude, hope, Understanding Hope0 comments
When looking for the definition of hope, it’s difficult to find merely one answer. Throughout the history of psychology, there have been numerous attempts to define hope. Hope is a human universal, and being universal, it falls into an interesting paradox; while all people experience hope, each individual’s experience is personal, intimate, and unique. Because there are so many ways to subjectively experience hope, it is useful to have a universal definition that can be implemented across all experiences that call for hope. Positive psychology offers us a lens through which we can view this complex, yet essential, human experience.
Those who have made it out of the depths of despair and difficulty know that hope is much deeper than a simple desire: it is a deep longing in our heart for a better future. An understanding of hope allows us to cultivate better emotional health.
In psychology, hope has been given many definitions. The most comprehensive definition of hope is, ‘‘a process of anticipation that involves the interaction of thinking, acting, feeling, and relating, and is directed toward a future fulfillment that is personally meaningful (Stephenson, 1991).’’ It is not just a feeling, but a system of thoughts, feelings, and actions that bring us into the future while creating that future. Hope is a healthy habit that involves our will and our emotions. Hope can be practiced and developed. We might not always feel the emotion of hope, but these are the times when we truly have to choose to be hopeful.
Charles Richard Snyder developed Hope Theory which defines hope as “the perceived capability to develop pathways to desired goals and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways (Snyder, 2002).” Developing pathways refers metaphorically to the ability to read a map and to find the best route to a destination. Agency refers to the actual desire, driving ability, and confidence needed to reach that location. Taken together, these create a sense of positive future outlook. This concept of hope has been consistently validated by psychological study.
In recent studies in the field of positive psychology, research on hope has blossomed. Christopher Peterson is one of the founders of the movement and he explains, “Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living (Peterson, 2008).” Positive psychology studies human strengths and virtues in order to better understand how we can promote human flourishing. In positive psychology, hope is defined as, “expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about (Parks, Peterson, Seligman, 2004).” Hope is particularly important for human flourishing, and there is a tremendous amount of research to support this concept. In fact, hope has been found to be one of the two-character strengths most associated with life satisfaction and well-being(Gander, Hofmann, Proyer, Ruch, 2019) (Zhang, Chen, 2018) (Martinez-Martini, Ruch, 2014). Hopeful people are less likely to suffer from anxiety or stress disorders (Arnau, Gallagher, 2018) (Long, Gallagher, 2018), and if they do become anxious, those feelings tend not to overwhelm them. Researchers found that in a group of student athletes, higher levels of hope predicted superior classroom achievements. On top of that, hope predicted superior athletic achievements, and did so beyond various psychological states (self-esteem, mood, and confidence), amount of time practiced, and natural athletic talent (Curry, Snyder, Cook, Ruby, Rehm, 1997). Similarly, in a group of first-year law students, researchers found that hope significantly predicted better academic performance. Additionally, the same measures of hope predicted greater life satisfaction at the end of the first semester (Rand, Martin, Shea, 2011). Showing just how much of an impact hope can have on students, a 3-year long study of hope and academic achievement found that hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor Wood, 2010). Individuals high in hope tend to perceive obstacles as less stressful, are quicker to rebound from obstacles, and demonstrate resilience in response to challenging circumstances (Snyder, 2002).
So, what can you do to increase your hope? The answer is short and simple: be grateful. A recent study found that a brief gratitude-related writing intervention significantly improved the participants’ state of hope and happiness. Raising awareness of the good outcomes already present in our lives can uniquely inspire hope for future good outcomes and also make us happier (Witvliet, Richie, Luna, Tongeren, 2018)! The greatest opportunity to foster gratitude is in the present moment. Taking time to be mindful of the unique people, events, and highlights of your day provides an opportunity to step into gratitude.
Having hope is like creating a healthy relationship with the future. It requires thoughtfulness, and at times, a bit of work. It involves being able to identify pathways to achieve our desired future, and the ability to pursue those pathways. Hope is not something that happens to us: it is something that we practice. It is something that we strengthen, develop, and grow. In short, hope is a habit that makes us happy.
If you’d like to cultivate hope today, take a minute to try this exercise. First, think of a hope you have for the future. Now, reflect on a time in your past when you had hoped for an outcome, and your hope was fulfilled. You could do this in your head, on a piece of paper, or on your phone. Write about what you learned through having this past hope fulfilled in your life. As you reflect on this experience of hope, identify and name what you are grateful for and to whom you are grateful (Witvliet, et.al. 2018).
By: John Paul Dombrowski Counseling Intern
Curry, L. A., Snyder, C. R., Cook, D. L., Ruby, B. C., & Rehm, M. (1997). Role of hope in academic and sport achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(6), 1257-1267. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.117
Day, L., Hanson, K., Maltby, J., Proctor, C., & Wood, A. (2010). Hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(4), 550-553. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.009
Gander, F., Hofmann, J., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2019). Character strengths – Stability, change, and relationships with well-being changes. Applied Research in Quality of Life. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-018-9690-4
L.J. Long, M.W. Gallagher Hope and posttraumatic stress disorder M.W. Gallagher, S.J. Lopez (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Hope, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2018), pp. 233-242
Martinez-Marti, M. L., & Ruch, W. (2014). Character strengths and well-being across the life span: data from a representative sample of German-speaking adults living in Switzerland. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1253. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01253
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603-619.
Peterson, C. (2008, May 16). What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not? Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not
R.C. Arnau Hope and anxiety M.W. Gallagher, S.J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Hope, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2018), pp. 233-242
Rand, K. L., Martin, A. D., & Shea, A. M. (2011). Hope, but not optimism, predicts academic performance of law students beyond previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(6), 683-686. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.08.004
Snyder, C. R. (2002). TARGET ARTICLE: Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli1304_01
Stephenson, C. (1991). The concept of hope revisited for nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 16,
Witvliet, C. V., Richie, F. J., Luna, L. M., & Tongeren, D. R. (2018). Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(3), 271-282. doi:10.1080/17439760.2018.1424924
Zhang, Y., & Chen, M. (2018). Character strengths, strengths use, future self-continuity and subjective well-being among Chinese university students. Frontiers in Psychology, 29. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01040Learn More