I have the most interesting job. Why do I say so? Because I get to meet people of all types, ages, stages of life, jobs, etc., and each one has a unique story and a unique need. Anyone who comes to therapy I call courageous. Why? It takes guts to ask for help and to be open to having your way of thinking, feeling, living, etc. evaluated, challenged and, dare I say it: changed.
I talk to many 20-somethings. And I am always amazed how incredible they are. This week I met a young man entering medical school who impressed me as so caring, who is struggling with many demands on him to succeed, not all of which are his own. And an ongoing client, a woman, I met with this week who is struggling with 'becoming a better me'.
These folks are indicative of many who come to counseling. They are far from weak or, lazy. Many are stressed, depressed or anxious because they are doing too much or being too hard on themselves.
You see, every one of us has a level of 'mental health'. Just like a level of physical health. A level that is never static and constantly shifting. On one end one is openly suffering, physically and/or mentally. On the other, there are no at least outer indications of any 'illness'.
As I said, all of us are always moving around on this spectrum. We are starting to understand emotional illnesses in the same way. For example, the 'experts' canned the term hypochondriasis from the latest diagnostic manual. Why? Because of the obvious negative connotations. And, because it doesn't really capture the essence of someone struggling with being 'overly'' worried about his or her health. We now diagnose folks having these sorts of concerns with something called 'illness anxiety disorder'. Isn't this phrase more descriptive? And much less judgmental? It sure is.
In the same way, as I said earlier we are learning that mental illness exists on a spectrum where on one end we are as well as we can be and on the other end we are mentally unwell as much as we could be. And most of us are always somewhere in the middle. So when it comes to bipolar disorder, for example, which has a really negative connotation when we hear it, all of us who aren't diagnosed with it are bipolar too, but just on the normal side of the spectrum of 'bipolarity'. Right now, anyway. Fascinating, eh?
So back to my 20-something female client above. She's got a good heart. And because she cares, sometimes too much, she has depression and anxiety she'd like to better control. She's not physically hurting herself or anyone else. And yet, she's distressed. So she and I are having some very hearty discussions on how she might care a little bit less about 'hurting others' and care a bit more about not hurting herself. Because some of her thought content, that is - her interpretations of what others mean when they say certain things to or about her - is a bit tough on herself. How does she know for sure, for example, that when someone says she is a certain way they meant it like she understood it? The only actual way she can know for sure is to ask.
After our discussion, she realized that yes, the next time she gets into a similar situation and she isn't sure if how she interpreted a comment is accurate, she will 'nip it in the bud' she says and will ask. This is a great idea that will help her do two things: 1) allow her to better understand other's communication and 2) assert herself if/when necessary to be sure she is being fairly characterized.
For many of us, it's difficult to accept that we aren't perfect. Some of us worry so much about that, mostly because we worry too much what others are thinking. Social reputation is important, but again: it's an issue of balance: do you care enough or, too much? Too little? If we didn't care about our behavior at all, and how it affects others, we'd likely have few relationships. But we can also drive ourselves nuts (I know I didn't just say that did I?) trying to make a relationship perfect. We can stress out and tighten up too much, if we are often endlessly analyzing the way a particular interaction with someone else went.
Some of us also run into problems when we expect others to be perfect too. I know that I run into this issue with subcontractors. No, they never do seem to do the job I would do on something that I would do, as the business owner. It is a frustration I've had to deal with over the years. But I have to accept a certain amount of imperfection. No, not a lot, but it is a fine balance.
I've had to back up and try not to take my frustration OUT on them, while still setting a boundary that I pay them and I expect a good job. It's a fine line. After all, I don't think some understand (but they should they're self employed too) that what lies in the balance is the survival of one's business.
So, we need to learn to accept non-perfection in both ourselves and others. And this is why stress management is so important.
How well do you manage the areas of your life that are giving you stress?
I'd like to invite you to a complimentary, brief phone call to explore your stress points and how you might begin to manage them better. Just call me 410-967-3848 and we'll set a time that's convenient for you!