Careers Answers

How do I deal with child trauma that resulted into people pleasing and to set boundaries?

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised that the article below might mention trauma-related topics that include types of physical abuse & neglect that could be triggering. Hello Jem, this is an excellent question.  I am often working with clients who experience complex trauma, which is not necessarily overt physical abuse or neglect.  Many of us develop a layer of complex trauma because of a parent or parents were unpredictably supportive or angry with their children when they expressed their needs and tried to exert boundaries.  When you may have initially first tried to find your voice, with your family of origin, to set your boundaries and find your own strong identity which usually starts to happen around the age of 10 and continues throughout your teen years, you might have needed to shut it down to feel safe again.   This is a trauma response called "fawning" which allows a person to maintain engagement in potentially unpredictable and invalidating relationships.  Fawning looks and feels much like you describe.  It is a people pleasing that invalidates the persons individual needs, in favor of maintaining closeness at all costs and preventing potential problems and conflicts that almost always arise in relationships that negotiate and then respect boundaries.  This is harder for you to do because doing so may have a feeling of fear and anxiety connected to it, and, of course, it is usually a learned skill over many years developed in later childhood.  Many of us experience deep connections in our work relationships which then can take on a  similar dynamics to that in our families since we spend so much time together.  These relationships can actually trigger your trauma response since inherent in work is the feeling that it is threatening to your well being if you are not perceived positively. Of course, feeling guilty for staying in your lane at work, and not taking on other's tasks for them, and or, sharing with others your limits around time and energy, is not easy for you when you haven't practiced it!   It can certainly help you to understand how to communicate through this with others using techniques like reflective language.  This is something you can certainly practice at get better at at any age.  It can also help you to seek treatment that specifically addresses your learned trauma response.  This can be achieved in many ways depending on your style as a person and the way you process things in the world. I use psychodynamic principles as well as family systems frame works to help my clients gain a deeper understanding of themselves.  As they do this, much of the charge in their story begins to diminish by being seen, validated and clearly expressed.  Having words to put to your feelings and to be able to talk about it with others in your life, not just in your therapy, but with friends, romantic partners and even your family, is often the key to finding your boundaries and limits in your personal relationships.  This is a form of therapy that requires a commitment of time, and you may indeed want to give your therapy time, especially if you are carrying layers of confusion and family traumas.   A way to reduce your symptoms quickly, and can even be important to do in conjunction with traditional talk therapy, is using a treatment technique called EMDR, that helps clients rework their trauma response.  It is possible to find a therapist who uses EMDR in conjunction with traditional talk therapy.  Some therapists also use a form of CBT that focuses directly on their trauma.  This can also be effective depending on how you may prefer to work through your challenges.   In any of these methods you may expect to find a certain amount of self awareness and relief within a few months of care.  However, a deeper more lasting change in you often happens around 6 months of care and well into a year.   Sometimes you will uncover much inside you in the process of therapy that you will absolutely want to keep working on and you will realize that your personal growth is enhanced, you feel stronger in your life and your relationships and ready for change, and you witness how being validated in treatment effects you.  If you can, consider developing a therapy "relationship" to help you work through your childhood traumas.   I hope that this helps you make some choices for yourself in moving forward and I want to wish you all the best.  Thank you as well for asking such an important clear question. Warmly, Elise B. Jacobson, LICSW Social Worker
Answered on 07/20/2022

How do I stop overthinking?

Dear NG,   Thank you for your message and sharing.   I understand how difficult it is to try stopping your thoughts. I could imagine how hard you have been trying and how frustrating to feel that nothing is working.    We can't stop our thoughts, but the more we practice being mindful of the present, the better we can catch ourselves with our thoughts and develop an alternative response to them, and learn to let go.   During moments like this I remind myself the teachings regarding worries, it is consisted with a 2 part questions:   1. Is this problem within my control? If so, then this problem will be solved given time and the right intervention. 2. Would worrying about it make any difference? If not, then is it worth it to sacrifice our time and mental health worrying over something that (1. can't be solved anyway / 2. will be solved anyway)?   This is definitely easier said than done, therefore as a fellow human being, I am working with you to pay attention to what is good, what is kind rather than our worries.   Obsessive or consuming thoughts can make living miserable when you are plagued by them, but this very situation can become the invitation to transcend mind and be free of suffering forever.   Can you stop obsessive thoughts? - If you could, it would be great, but the truth is that it's slightly more complicated than just suppressing your thoughts which at-most you can do for a few seconds. Plus suppressing thoughts is even worse than enduring thoughts. It builds up a lot of negative energy inside.   So how to stop these stops thoughts? The secret to stopping these thoughts is to detach from the mind because You cannot fight mind with the mind. Let's look at this in more detail.   What Causes Obsessive Thoughts?   If you generated the thoughts, you could've controlled them too.   The truth is that you don't generate thoughts, the mind does. And the mind is on auto-mode most of the time.   You can see this for yourself; can you predict what you will think 30 seconds from now? If you can't how can you assume that you are generating the thoughts?   If you believe that you are your mind, that's a false notion again.   If you are your mind then how can you observe the thoughts? So you must be separate from the mind to see what the mind is doing.   The mind generates thoughts, which are mostly just energy forms. These thoughts pass through like clouds. We identify with some of these thoughts and obsess over them.   So in truth, all thoughts are just neutral energy forms; it's your interest or association with the thoughts that makes them obsessive. If you can understand this truth, you have taken the first step towards getting rid of obsessive thoughts.   How to Stop Obsessive Negative Thoughts?   If you are asking this question, ask yourself another question - "is this question not another thought? It's a thought about killing thoughts".   All your attempts at suppressing and stopping thoughts fail because you are using the mind to stop the mind. The police man and thief are both the mind; so how can the police man catch the thief?   So you cannot kill the mind by force. The mind dies its own death by the poison of disassociation.   What gives power to a thought? - Your interest. If you have no interest in a particular thought then it loses its hold over you.   You can try this out now. Let the thoughts flow through your mind but don't take interest in them. Just stay as a bystander or a watcher and let the thoughts float.   Initially you might have a hard time watching thoughts because of your inherent habit of associating with each thought that arises.   It helps to know that you are not your thoughts, that thoughts are just energy forms created in the mind. Why does the mind create thoughts? No one knows - it's just something it does, why bother. Do you ever ask why does the heart beat?   With a little practice you will get really good at watching thoughts and not involving yourself with them.   You will stop giving power to thoughts by not giving them your interest. Thoughts die immediately when they are deprived of this fuel of interest. If you don't associate with the thought or give power to the thought, it will wither away quickly.   What Are Thoughts?   Past events get stored as memories. Your mind conditioning and beliefs are also stored as memories. All this is unconscious storage; the mind does all this in auto mode.   Perceptions and interpretations are created in the mind based on its past "external" conditioning and also its natural conditioning (genetics). These interpretations, perceptions and judgments come up as thoughts in the mind, and they can be positive or negative depending on the mind's conditioning.   Thoughts are generated based on the past incidents/memories, future projections and interpretations on the present life situation. It's like a computer trying to predict or conjure up projection based on the data it has collected so far.   When thoughts are negative in nature (thoughts of worry, anxiety, stress, lack, resentment, guilt etc.) they produce resistance to the movement of your life, and this resistance is felt as suffering. Negative thoughts will always stand in resistance to the movement of your life, like blocks of stone in the midst of a swift current of water.   Life is a stream of pure positive energy and hence any negative thought will stand in opposition to it, causing friction which is felt as suffering in the body.   The thoughts in your mind gain power from your attention and interest. Your attention is the fuel for your mind. So when you give attention to consuming thoughts in the mind, you are unconsciously fueling it and thus attracting more momentum for these negative thoughts.   The momentum of negative thoughts in your mind will slow down, and ebb away, automatically when you stop feeding your attention to it. Stay as an open space of awareness without focusing your attention on the negative thoughts of the mind, and soon they will lose their momentum.   You can focus on the positive thoughts generated in the mind, and thus develop a positive momentum in your mind. Every time your mind produces some positive thoughts, e.g thoughts of love, joy, excitement, abundance, beauty, appreciation, passion, peace etc, focus on it, milk it, and give attention to it.   This will cause your mind to attract more positive thoughts and thus build a positive momentum.   Whenever the mind thinks negatively, don't give it attention or interest, this will cause the ebbing away of the momentum of negative thinking. It's really that simple. Once you understand the mechanics of how thoughts gain momentum in the mind, you will be in total control of your state of being.   The Practice of Watching the Mind   All you need to do to get rid of obsessive thoughts is to watch the mind without getting involved.   You will get really good at this with just a little practice. This practice, or "sadhana" as called in Hindu scriptures, is the root of awakening from the illusion of mind.   Without trying to understand this practice just implement it. The more you try to understand the more mind gets involved. Just watch the mind and you will soon see that you are not the mind at all.   That the mind is like a machine in your head that generates thoughts based on your attention/interest. Be free of your mind by depriving it of your interest. This is the only direct path of becoming free of the mind.   Please let me know if this is helpful, looking forward to talking with you more :) Jono
(MSW, LICSW, LMHC)
Answered on 09/29/2021

How to break the lack of motivation and start doing

One of the most common defense mechanisms that people have is the defense mechanism of avoidance. On the surface, avoidnace can seem like lack of motivation, lack of interest, or laziness. The way that we percive this avoidance can also have a huge impact on the self talk and perception that we have of ourselves. If we view a situation such as this with the label and mindframe of "I am lazy, I am unmotivated, I am inattentive" that can contribute to that negative self talk that is very common. It can be helpful when dealing with avoidance to name it to tame it, meaning that you name the fact that you are experiening avoidance in order to shift your thinking about the situation. Resonating with the feeling of "I am finding it challening to work on this right now due to my pattern of avoidance" I way less charged than the though of "I am too lazy/imattentive/unmotvated to get anything acomplished. I invite you to relfect on what may be coming up for you in regard to why you may find it psycholoigcally safer to avoid than to dive in. Perhaps there is a fear, either conciously or subconciously, of failing at the said task that you are working on. In a way, avoiding a task can make it easier to justify to ourselfs any fears that we have of what may happen. This can lead to a self fulfilling prochacy as well. I am afraid that this project will not be as sucessful as I hope it will -> That anxiety leads me to my coping skill of avoidance -> I put off working on a project due to that fear -> when I face deadlines I rush to complete work -> the quality of the work I produce is not up to my own standards due to rushing through that work -> I provided to myself that this project was not what I expceted it to be. Finally, I invite you to challenge any negative thoughts/assumptions related to that project. When you fund yourself thinking in those negative ways, talk yourself through some thought exercises to see if that thought is rational, is there evidence for that thought, are you making an assumption about that though, what are other possible outcomes, and what is likely to happen. This can also alieviate some of the stress/anxiety related to tackling projects and facing that avoidance.
Answered on 01/21/2021