Folx, we have an issue. It’s a problem we all have, collectively. We, being the masses of us who avoid confrontation, who fear upsetting someone else, who feel it’s our duty to be easy-going enough that no one ever has a reason to dislike or be upset with us. The problem is our aversion to assertiveness.
To be clear, “we” don’t actually all have this problem. Particularly for people who tend to self-aggrandize or feel entitled to have their voices heard (sometimes constantly), this is hardly an issue. But are those the people we really want to hear from (all of the time)? No. Unfortunately, though, we hear from the entitled folx a whole lot.
But the people who tend to be more self-sacrificial or empathic to the feelings and needs of those around them tend to be much, much quieter. Yet, those are the ones we need to hear from. From people like you.
Last summer I read the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr, which I highly recommend for women everywhere. In that book, she illustrates the problem of playing small, and how to overcome it.
But this issue of not speaking up is not only a woman’s issue. Admittedly though, we have the vast majority of anti-asserters.
In my psychotherapy practice, I see people of all genders struggling with the issue of speaking up, asking for what they want, and saying how they feel. Keeping quiet and “keeping the peace.” But at what cost? The costs of this phenomenon are huge. Here are a few:
- emotional intimacy
- physical health
- mental health
- getting what you want from your relationships
It can be so hard to speak up in your relationships when you’ve been disappointed in the past, by the people you went to, to be vulnerable and express yourself with. If you’ve been ridiculed, humiliated, gaslit, abandoned. yelled at, or belittled. I see you. It’s especially hard for you. I know, I get it.
But the reality is that science now proves that the relationships we have are the most powerful indicators of happiness in life. They inform not only our emotional well-being but also our physical health. Check out this new book The Good Life, It’s based on the longest scientific study ever done on happiness. Know what they found about what humans need to be happy? Good relationships. Can we create good relationships without being honest about what we feel or what we want? Doubt it.
The good news is that it’s not too late and you’re not too old. You can always try again.
I am here to support you to find your voice, clarifying your needs, and discerning what relationships truly nourish your soul.
Let’s figure it out together. We can take as much time as you need.
“It’s for you!”
Over the last ten years in my private practice, I occasionally hear this request from new clients.
“Are you the kind of therapist who will call me on my shit?”
“Yes, I am,” is the short answer. But how I do that may not be exactly what you have in mind. The longer answer includes a few variables that I’ve learned really matter in this endeavor, such as:
- how long we’ve been working together
- how strong our therapeutic alliance is
- whether or not you are in a crisis or you’re in a more stable place in your life
As someone who has a semi-objective (I mean, who can really be fully objective, in these human bodies with all of these accumulated experiences, anyway?) point of view, I may be able to sense some of the patterns you’re perpetuating or some of the defenses you’re displaying more easily than you can. As your therapist, it’s my job to take note of these and to reflect them to you in a way that is empathic and understanding. It’s also my aim to provide you with some alternatives.
What Does Calling You on Your Shit Look Like?
For different people, the answer may look very different. If being “called out” is important to you, are you specifically looking for one or more of the following from me?
- Tough questions
- Specific coping skills
- Help with identifying the problems (the pattern of thoughts or behaviors)
- Highlighting inconsistencies in your values and actions or reflecting “bad” choices
- Challenging the excuses or justification you typically use
- Help developing a plan of action
The Issue of Accountability
Sometimes, when we rely on others to keep us accountable there may be some challenges with our own responsibility-taking. Strengthening this personal challenge to step up to the plate and take accountability on your own is a perfectly worthwhile therapeutic goal.
Developing your own sense of insight, or an understanding of how or why you’ve chosen (often unconsciously) the actions or patterns in your life is an important aspect of any therapy.
I am here to support and guide you in this process, and until you are able to do that work on your own, yes, that may look like me, calling you out, on your shit.
Depression is an incredibly challenging state of being. It drains your energy, takes the pleasure out of everything you do, and convinces you that there is no point in anything.
While it sometimes seems that depression arises out of nowhere and slowly takes over our psyches, the true roots of depression can come from a number of places. Let’s look at these three common sources:
- Unresolved Trauma
- A harsh, demanding or punitive Inner Critic
- Unexpressed anger that has been turned inward on the Self
I recently listened to an Attachment Theory in Action podcast in which Howard Steele Ph.D. provided some phenomenal definitions for trauma. He says:
Trauma is an experience that occurs when there is a gap between the demands of a situation and the resources available to handle that situation.
Traumatization is when children are overwhelmed with information or experiences they cannot understand. When this occurs, their self development suffers and they are traumatized.
Steele goes on to talk about how the most vulnerable years of life are the first 18 years. That children are really the most vulnerable population in need of advocacy and protection.
When we, as children, have experiences that are overwhelming and incapable of being fully understood, processed, and integrated, we are susceptible to traumatization. When this happens repeatedly, we are left alone to make sense of our experiences and, due to false attribution, we tend to misassign ourselves the blame. This alone can cause depression.
Trauma can be healed. It takes time to unpack and explore the many layers we’ve built over it, but it may be the most important thing you ever do.
A harsh, demanding or punitive Inner Critic
How you talk to yourself is everything.
Do you realize that you talk to yourself? Because we all do it, all day long and even (or, rather, especially) in the wee hours of the night. There are many people for whom that idea is foreign, but once we start to get quiet and bring our attention inward we can hear the stirrings of a voice that is always there, just below the surface.
This is why mindfulness is such a powerful practice. Because it gives us a structure and a way to gently “drop in” on our own self-talk and be curious about it.
Once we’re there what we sometimes find is a relentless authority figure whose mission is to keep us in line, prevent us from making a fool out of ourselves, or keep us small and unnoticeable. That voice is generally negative, demeaning, or cruel.
Hearing how you speak to yourself is sometimes a shock, and often a revelation. If you had an actual nay-sayer following you around 24/7, it’d make sense that you generally felt down.
Since this part of you never leaves (and often exists beyond your conscious mind) it can be incredibly challenging to change what is causing your pain. The good news is that Inner Critics are capable of being tamed and transformed from masters to servants with clear intentions, guidance, and practice.
Unexpressed anger that has been turned inward on the Self
We all get angry. It is part of our evolutionary design. When we feel that an injustice has occurred, or that we have been violated in some way, our adrenaline starts pumping to mobile us so we can take action. We are supposed to take action.
However, for those of us who have been conditioned to not take action, for example, those of us with a Subjugation or Self-Sacrifice schema, we do not express our anger. We pretend that everything is fine, and our anger gets swallowed down deep inside of us. It lives there, inside our bodies and festers. It often changes form from anger into resentment and sometimes, it becomes depression.
The good news here is that it is never too late to express what has been unexpressed. The rage from the injustices you saw or experienced as a child, or at any point in your life is still there. Expressing it can be an important part of your healing journey. As you release the pent-up energy and make space for something new, you may find that there is a world of sadness, grief, or creativity that awaits.
Got another gnarly root cause of depression to share? Leave it in the comments!