Welcome to 2020! I acknowledge that not everyone gets excited about a new year, but I always feel rejuvenated and hopeful when January 1 hits. I enjoy taking some time to reflect back on the past year and recognize ways that I have grown. I try to give myself a generous portion of compassion for my mistakes, failures, and struggles of the past year and try to prioritize self-compassion in the year to come. For me, a new year is a time re-focus and take an inventory of how congruent my life is with my values. (more…)
I don’t know about you, but my relationship with exercise has always been a little rocky. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up as a gymnast, and then did competitive and high school cheerleading after that. I was an active little girl! As a nine and ten-year-old, I had four, four-hour long practices a week. That’s 16 hours a week of highly active practice! It never felt like exercise, because I was just practicing being a better athlete, and even though we had conditioning, I knew it was to make me a better. (more…)
Often, clients feel that they’re uniquely distressed, socially awkward, or “messed up.” Everyone else seems to have their lives together. Facebook and Instagram confirm their intuitions. Their peers are getting happily married, having beautiful families, landing dream jobs, and earning advanced degrees. Moreover, those peers seem to do it all smiling, with effortless glee and levity.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a client say: “I feel like I’m the only person who has this problem. Why can’t I figure it out when everyone else can?” Big data researchers, scientists who use the incredible quantities of data on the internet to make inferences about human behavior, have identified a phenomenon that might partially explain this trend. It turns out, people are generally much more forthright with the Google search bar than they are with their social media followers. In other words, there are massive discrepancies between the content that people Google and the content they create on Instagram. In this blog post, I will review a few of these findings that pertain to the pervasive feeling that we are uniquely messed up.
Myth 1: Everyone Else Has a Great Relationship
The most common words people use to describe their significant others on social media are “best,” “good,” and “beautiful.” The most common questions people search about their significant others on Google? “Why am I unhappy in my marriage?” “Is my partner cheating?” “Does my partner love me?” And researchers are able to identify that the people praising their significant others on social media are the same people airing their insecurities to the search engine.
As Jim Gaffigan said, “I’m not a calculus teacher, but I’m pretty sure everyone’s lying.” Relationships, as all can attest, are messy, difficult, often painful-but-worth-it endeavors. And perhaps most people aren’t lying about their relationships but simply hiding the challenging parts. The unfortunate consequence of this mass concealment is that it makes it all too easy to feel alone in the struggle.
Myth 2: Other People Have Lots of Close Friends
Recent evidence suggests that people now have fewer close friendships than at any other point in recorded history. This trend is more pronounced among young people in developed countries, including America. But you probably wouldn’t think this based on a review of people’s social media feeds. A cursory scroll through Instagram or Facebook reveals dozens of photos of people at gatherings and parties, enjoying outdoor adventure culinary fineries. People seem to live inside an American Eagle photo shoot. When pressed, however, in anonymous surveys about their social lives, many of these same people report feeling sad due to loneliness and having few friends with whom they would feel comfortable sharing personal information. We’re in, as some have called it, an epidemic of loneliness, one made all the more acute by the mistaken perception that one is alone in the loneliness.
Myth 3: Other People are More Normal, Moral, and Secure
Cognitive therapists often cite a “cognitive triad” that occurs in depressed clients. This refers to the tendency for depressed people to view themselves, the world, and the future negatively: “I am bad, the world is bad, and things will always be this way.” Often, when people struggle with depressive and anxious symptoms, they see themselves and their prospects in this distorted way. They assume they’re worse than others–less smart, worse looking, more sinful.
But the fact is, most people are pretty weird, at least if their Google search history is any indicator. The search engine reveals strange fetishes and fears. People keep sexual secrets, of course, but not just sexual secrets. Seth Stevens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, notes that body dissatisfaction is highly common, even for men. Prejudice against other races and against girls and women are also very common, even in liberal states and cities. The data online would suggest normalcy doesn’t really exist and that no one is all good or all bad. What’s more, just about everyone, even your most confident counterparts, hide deep insecurities about their appearance, performance, sexuality, children, integrity, and beliefs.
There’s an abundance of books and articles (some published on this blog) denouncing the habit of comparison. And that’s a good thing. Injunctions to avoid this habit date back, at the latest, to the 10 Commandments. In 1931, Bertrand Russell called the habit of comparison “a fatal one.” Still, humans have a biological propensity to compare ourselves to others. In an age with quick and heavily curated access not only to our friends’ lives but to the lives of celebrities, this propensity becomes more pernicious. What could be a source of connection–our shared struggle and strangeness–becomes a source of shame. Big data shows us that we’re more similar than it seems on the surface.
“True humility,” as Uncle Iroh put it, might be “the only antidote to shame.” And here I refer to humility as a species, an acknowledgement that to be human is to be somewhat whacky, a mixture of mistakes and victories. The poet Lauren Ireland wrote that “almost everyone is lonely, almost no one’s amazing.” Although this might sound pessimistic, I believe it’s an ode to the vastness of what we share. A host of clinical experiences has convinced me that dragging this shame into the light, whether with a therapist or some other trusted person or group, detoxifies it beyond expectations. The lies we tell ourselves grow weaker the more clearly we see them.
In the times when everyone around us seems to be enjoying “comfort and joy”, what are we to make of it when that isn’t our experience? (more…)
The fifth and final year of my doctoral program consists of an intensive clinical internship. That means I spent the beginning of this year, my fourth, preoccupied with the application process. Fifteen sites, fifteen cover letters, four essays, three letters of recommendation—the list goes on. Only when the process ended at the beginning of November did I realize how stressed I’d been. (more…)
Did you know you might be a perfectionist if you are a “non-starter?”
We talked about this in the Rediscover You workshop I attended this weekend, led by Monica Packer. Monica Packer is an entrepreneur who started out by overcoming her own perfectionism, which led her to use her new-found freedom and voice to create a popular podcast called About Progress, among other successful pursuits. Monica is about empowering people to overcome perfectionism and the barriers that stand in the way of their progress. I really enjoyed being inspired by Monica and connecting with a community of “fellow Progressors.”
So back to this non-starter point. I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. When I got tickets to this workshop, I honestly didn’t think I “needed” it as I believed I had completely out grown my perfectionism. I was really going for networking purposes. I honestly see myself as an evangelist for “embracing our humanity” and take pride in the lessons we can learn from allowing ourselves to be messy, imperfect humans.
But this non-starter point struck me…hard. This describes me in a lot of ways. The story I’ve been telling myself for years is that my life is too chaotic with little kids for me to step more fully into my dreams and ambitions. I feel protective of my role and time as a mom and have built some good boundaries that allow me to be pretty active in my children’s life while also working part-time. This feels like a personal truth, not just a story.
But what is also true, is that I want more for myself. I have visions of where I want to take my career and how I want to more effectively help people on their own journeys. Each year I witness myself downshifting more of this side of me to create more space for my family’s needs.
While it is important to me to do my very best to meet my children’s needs, I also know it is important to honor my own. If I don’t meet my own needs, I won’t have the reserves or capacity to be there for my family the way I want to. Each year I watch more and more of important parts of me disappear and I’ve begun to wonder if they’ll disappear completely?
But I never considered that an underlying process to this was perfectionism showing up in a new way. Because the dreams I have feel BIG and SCARY. It feels vulnerable to even acknowledge them to myself. It’s only been recently that I’ve been more open with close friends and colleagues about my dreams. But because I have this big wish, the fear of failure looms large. Immediately an inner-asshole-voice shouts, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
But Monica shared a very helpful perspective for me to digest: I am focusing too much on the outcome. Monica said, “It’s so much easier to become a martyr than to become the hero, who fails frequently, of my own story.” It so much safer to just let myself get caught up in the busyness of life and not start making the progress I want. She pointed out that a difference between a Progressor Mindset and perfectionism is that self-worth isn’t dependent on the outcome. A Progressor roots their values and mindset in grit, determination, discipline and passion, recognizing that the power and growth is in the trying.
As part of the workshop, I created a bit of an action plan to move forward with my dreams. This felt like a step in an important direction for me. I commit to continuing to lean into this so I won’t be a martyr of my own story or let perfectionism hurt my life again. I know this will require balance and mindfulness with my other roles, but I am excited about the passion, growth, and re-connection with myself that awaits!
Last month (October) is Infant loss awareness month. This is specifically relevant to me as I lost my son to SIDS, seven years ago. Each October 15th, people across the nation, hold a special remembrance for the babies they lost. One way we do this is through a national “Wave of light.” At 7pm, families light a candle in memory of their lost babies and keep the candle lit for an hour. I find the imagery of this “Wave of light” moving across the nation to be very touching. I love lighting a candle for my son and taking time to think of him, while also feeling connected to a greater community of grieving parents. (more…)
I had an experience nearly 20 years ago that I have reflected on over the years again and again. Have you ever had a moment in life that’s almost bookmarked in your brain, something you revisit and consider during different stages of your life? (more…)