Ruled By Fear

Can You Teach Me to Become Fearless Again ?

by on Sep.22, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD, STOPPING ABUSE

I had not talked to her in at least two months. I had wanted to gradually break any dependency she had on me, because she finally had a family that loved her. Besides, I loathe dependency as it weakens the spirit, and causes a spiraling down-turn in one’s motivation, creativity and momentum to find one’s purpose in life, to be special.

Make no mistake, I am all for support and reliance on others as long as it is part of a plan to teach an individual how to help herself or himself. However, I see an ever-increasing desire on the part of some to create a dependency of others on them, all for the purpose of having control and power.

This is not a conspiracy theory, just one of those cycles in the history of mankind. Keep your eyes closed to this and you will find out the hard way.

If you are someone who has followed my blog over the years, then you might remember previous articles about this child who came to me for help when she was just ten years old. She was a homeless child, living in a cardboard refrigerator box, on the streets of “Gotham City”, having escaped the grasp of her prostitute mother and the certainty that she would be forced to settle for her mother’s life-style if she did not take her life into her own hands.

However, this was the real world, so although Joy [ her name of choice ] , had successfully separated from her mother , the following four years found her vulnerable to people of lesser conscience, who would emotionally, physically and sexually abuse her, because they could.

Working with her was so very rewarding for me, and yet very painful as I saw her relentless efforts to escape the almost daily reality of abuse that she had to endure. She seemed fearless and undaunted, maybe because in her eyes, she had no choice. This was survival. So if some guy at the bar offered her a meal for a feel, it was not who she was, but just what she had to go through. Through her eyes, miraculously, she saw every abuse as a motivator, as a stepping stone to finding a path off the streets and into the arms of a loving family. Many times I felt helpless as she
endured what I could not imagine at the hands of those whose selfishness and neediness would have destroyed the average child, or adult for that matter.

Once she was in a family, although not without complications, I found myself relieved but somewhat depleted, thus some time has passed since my last article. Then, last evening, she contacted me. After the usual chatting to catch up, this now fifteen year old said something that I found invigorating. ” Can you teach me become FEARLESS again ? ” Oh, she loved her new family for sure, but at the same time, she felt somewhat lazy and, listen carefully, DEPENDENT ! It was wonderful to have people looking out for you. It somehow felt good to have rules to follow and rewards for good behavior. It felt safe, and yet it didn’t, as she had become less reliant on her own skills to survive. Dependency can do that to the best of us.

We talked about her wanting to become a child advocate, a person who could teach others how to recognize and be less vulnerable to the manipulators, controllers, and in some cases, sociopathic types among us who prey on the perceived weakness of others. Now that was a discussion that I found motivating.

Do you long to be FEARLESS ?

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
The Benhaven Group, LLC
Blog: www.RuledByFear.com
www.PanicAttacks.com
www.ObsessiveCompulsive.com
www.RuledByShame.com
www.SelfEsteem.com
www.OneStepataTime.com

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Feeling Out of Control !

by on Apr.13, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Feeling Out of Control ?

Sheila had not driven on a freeway in twenty-five years, although she had never been in a major accident. Her anxiety and fear of having a panic attack had seriously limited her options and choices for both a social life and a more desirable career as she was always searching for alternate roads to travel.

Chuck was so caught up with his obsessions over germs that it all but paralyzed him from doing anything to explore his desire for a meaningful relationship or a more challenging career. How could he even think about making changes in his life with all these anxiety-driven fears dominating his thoughts ? What girl would give him a second look when she realized his life was ruled by these fears of contamination ?

Rick was a productive guy with a potentially awesome career, but his anxiety and compulsive rituals of checking everything from doors being locked to “repeatedly” searching for errors in his work had negatively affected his performance to the point that his job was now in jeopardy.

Patricia loved her job, but all of a sudden her ability to travel was threatened by these panic attacks that came out of nowhere !

So, if you have ever experienced panic attacks or the companion symptoms of obsessive-intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, I do not have to tell you how overwhelming these symptoms can become and how much they can affect your life. Panic attacks, which often seem to come from ” out of the blue “, can quickly become an all consuming and draining experience as they leave one feeling such a very real sense of being out of control.

What could be the reason or a source for these life-altering symptoms ? Not wishing to over-simplify, but to at least get you thinking about why this might happen, I would offer the following points for you to consider. One of the common elements with each of the examples I offered above is the issue of being an adapting personality type. In my opinion, being an adapting person, one who is aware of and sensitive to the reactions, thoughts and feelings of others around them, is a gift but can feel like a curse. While being aware and sensitive is a characteristic that could enhance one’s personal life and career, depending on the depths one has “learned” to bend and adapt to please others, one can lose their sense of self because of their dependency on approval and acceptance. In too many situations, there are many of us who have “learned” to depend too much on the approval of others to measure their personal worth and value, and their sense of identity.

Dependency breeds a sense of doubt in oneself. What do I really want to do with my life ? Am I truly exploring what I want, or putting all my energy into what I think people expect me to do ? Do I just settle, and stay below the radar, or do I challenge myself even when others say I should be happy with what I have now, so don’t rock the boat ?

Do I stretch and put more energy into being there for others while ignoring or seldom expressing my own needs ? Do I conform to the “shoulds” or do I experiment with potential options in my life ? Do I avoid conflict at all cost ? Do I push myself to prove my worth and value but hesitate to reward myself for a job well-done ?

If you have experienced panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive symptoms, please just consider that there are most often, in my humble opinion, reasons why this is happening to you. You may need to feel more in control of your life, which, if lacking, may cause you to experience panic and OCD which creates a more immediate sense of loss of control and at the same time may distract you from what is really going on.

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach

CEO: The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com ,
www.PanicAttacks.com , www.Self-Esteem.com

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Were You Manipulated by Somone Lately ?

by on Mar.17, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Were You Manipulated by Someone Lately ?

Let me ask the question a little differently. Did you ” allow ” yourself to be manipulated or controlled by another person today, or this past week  ?

Over just the last month I have heard some all too frequent and painful words pass by the lips of some half-dozen new clients who were experiencing Panic Attacks or Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms.

These anxiety symptoms can easily be over-whelming, and not surprisingly, had caused each person in their own way to avoid doing things in their lives that many would take for granted, like driving on the freeway, going into a large-box store, 
enjoying a social life, making changes in their careers or just leaving their homes… for fear of having an anxiety attack..

Here is just a sampling of what I have heard :

     ” I just feel numb emotionally, I just don’t feel joy anymore. When did I stop thinking, feeling and doing for myself. I am certainly not selfish, but I have really gone so far the other way on my life because I have been so dependent on approval from others. I hate this feeling !”
     
     ” I feel overwhelmed, and it is paralyzing as if I cannot move forward. And I am now realizing it is because I have conformed and run my life based of what I felt other people expected of me or needed from me. How pathetic is that ? ”

     ” I am so angry, actually more angry with myself for allowing other people to control my life and not doing anything about it .”

     ” I feel this sense of depersonalization, like a loss of awareness as to who I am and what I really think or feel because I have spent my life seeking approval from others. What am I, chopped liver ? ”

     ” I am “adapted out” …I am like a chameleon, conforming to the needs of others, putting my energy into them and with very little coming back to me.”

     ” I don’t trust myself because I have made bad decisions in my life, and each time I feel like moving forward in any area of my life, my anxiety symptoms get worse. ”

There are many  people out there who are selfish, self-centered and lack empathy for others. They are often those personality types who just like control, and possibly without realizing it, do not listen to you or consider your thoughts and feelings. They may take you for granted, may feel entitled or in other ways show disrespect. While I might argue that some of these very individuals have deeply buried insecurities themselves, these are personality types that often take advantage of, and consciously or unconsciously would manipulate and control you for their own agendas.

As you might have gleaned from the above comments, most of the people I deal with as a therapist are experiencing significant anxiety, mostly in the form of Panic Attacks or Obsessive-Compulsive thoughts and behaviors. In my opinion, at the heart of why many are experiencing  these mind and body numbing symptoms, is conflict. They are, no doubt, feeling overwhelmed by their symptoms, but at the source, more often than not, there are ongoing personal / emotional conflicts that are more fundamentally overwhelming, but being ignored or avoided. As they navigate through the sometimes choppy waters of life, attempting to not just survive, but find a meaning and purpose, they must make fundamental choices. In the case of the majority of my clients, they are more typically adapting personality types, Caregivers, Conformers, Perfectionists and Peacekeepers.

These adapting types seek approval, a sense of belonging and a feeling of acceptance and appreciation on one hand while at the same time trying to realize and care for their own needs to feel worth and value, a purpose and meaning for who they are and what they do with their lives. Often, they come to realize that their  dependency on approval has blinded them, causing them to ignore what they really think, feel and want to accomplish. The result is that they are not feeling emotionally  in-control of their lives.

Now, as suggested before, most do not realize this at first as they are coming to me initially focused on finding an immediate way to eradicate their symptoms, and I certainly understand why that is their priority ! However, once I am able to open the door for them to see that there is, most often,  a reason for all these ugly and dark symptoms, reality comes rushing back and stares them in the face which is why I hear the comments above.

So, stop and think: 

How many times were you controlled or manipulated today ?

How many times did you think something but said nothing for fear of rejection or embarrassment ?

How many times did you go along with someone you disagreed with only because you wanted to avoid a conflict or keep the peace?

How often did you find yourself going over-board to do for others, but did not express your needs?

How many people are there in your life that you really do not like but you still go out of your way to do for them because you want them to like you ?

How much have you given up of your self esteem and confidence because you have allowed yourself to become dependent on others for that approval or acceptance?

How many times did you join in on gossip even if you knew it was hurtful to someone else,  but found yourself sucked-in just to fit in and be accepted ?

How many times did people around you seem to dismiss your opinions, and just turned the discussion around to what they thought and felt ?

How many of your apparent friends tend to find fault or otherwise blame, shame  and guilt others, including you, when someone doesn’t agree with their position ?

How often have you allowed the  ” just be happy with what you have ” comments by others, even family, to interfere or totally derail some personal or career option that you dared to have a thought to explore ?

Why not take a personal inventory of your friends, family and others that you interact with in your life. How one-sided are some of these relationships ? How much emotional conflict is there in your life that you are just over-looking ?

Could you be allowing people to manipulate or control you ? 

If you dare to explore taking greater control of your life, I invite you to join us in our free on-line Support Group Sunday evenings at 9 PM, ET at www.OneStepataTime.com

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach

CEO: The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com ,
www.PanicAttacks.com , www.Self-Esteem.com

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Use it or Lose it !

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Use it or Lose it !

That old saying has often been one used to refer to one’s physical strength. If you do not exercise a muscle, it atrophies, or weakens over time. Even for a person who was in good shape after exercising every day, not continuing that regimen eventually leads to loss of muscle tone and endurance.

Sometimes, doing what is good for us is hard work. Even when there is a very desired and tangible reward for our efforts, often we falter and give in, settle or get comfortably-uncomfortable. Now just think for a minute about something you would like to do , change or accomplish in your life. How long have you thought about it and what excuses do you make to yourself for not moving forward ?

When I was talking with members in our on-line support group last evening, I went off on somewhat of a rant as I often do, as I witnessed a dynamic that I so often see. Many members had made some really positive efforts in the past to face their fears and overcome anxiety, panic attacks or obsessive thoughts. Some were able to see that they were indeed able to do things now that their anxieties prevented them from doing before. Others were just beginning the journey of truly discovering why they were having Panic Attacks or OCD, and what conflicts existed or what changes needed to be made in their lives.

I do not get frustrated as the moderator and Coach, but I feel their frustration, as I see the potential in each of them being squandered. I am anxious, in a good way, to see them experience success and realize that their anxiety symptoms are there for a reason. The sources for their anxieties must be discovered and meaningfully dealt with, along with learning to desensitize and take control of the resulting symptoms. Something I have pressed all my clients to realize is that it takes a huge effort to make the needed changes in their lives if they wish to really and honestly feel control over their anxieties, and their symptoms. It is so much easier to mask the symptoms with medications or alcohol, and when that fails, take even more. I am not saying medications are not helpful, and in fact they are often needed in the beginning because we have such limited faith in ourselves, but medications do not necessarily ” cure ” the sources of anxiety.

I believe it is very possible to take control of panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, but it is so easy to sabotage one’s efforts. Last night in the Support Group I was especially pointing out that even for those who had experienced some very real successes in facing their fears and not just of symptoms, their continued progress depended upon a continuing, consistent effort, with repeated exposure to what they fear, or they risked atrophy like the unexercised muscle. They have to challenge their fears and self-doubts until it becomes a new habit to feel in-control.

One member openly shared that after quitting his job and going full time to school to challenge his status quo, all the good things he felt for all his efforts faded within a month of returning to his old job due to need for sustaining income. I had suggested he continue with at least one class to keep some momentum going, but it just did not work out. He felt so good with the challenging classes he took and what he accomplished, yet once he left that atmosphere, he slipped back into the old mode of negative self-talk and self-sabotage. Why ? In his own words, “I did not embrace what I had accomplished !” So although he did experience good things, his perception of himself was not radically altered by the positive experiences. Two successful semesters do not neutralize a lifetime of negative self-talk and avoidance.

Another member who had been extremely limited in the distance she could travel outside her small comfort zone, worked hard for a while to stretch and over-come her fears so that she could work a rather good job. However, once accomplished, she settled into that new area of comfort and resisted further stretching and exposure to the point that she has restricted her growth again.

It IS hard work, but if it is something you really want to do, something you really want to change or accomplish in your life, you can do it, but you must identify the enemy, the Goliath that stands ready to thwart your efforts. That giant sabotaging enemy is your self-confidence, esteem, and the self-sabotaging self-talk that has developed and has filled your head since childhood. You need to recognize that you have pictures in your mind of yourself that restrict your personal growth. You must become fully aware of those pictures and thoughts and challenge them every day like a modern day David slaying Goliath. You must chip away at your sabotaging negative self-talk by exposing yourself in reasonably significant bites, not overwhelming yourself, but feeling some anxiety so you know you are accomplishing something significant for you. In my mind, I altered the story of David and Goliath where David would sneak into the enemy camp and gradually but persistently take from the enemies supplies so as to cause gradual diminishing of their strength. A plan, is a huge component of a successful campaign. That Plan must include persistent, step by step weakening of the negative thoughts by replacing them not just with positive thoughts, but with actions that defy the negative and work against past habits of avoiding and escaping. You must challenge your fears over a period of time and in a way that it becomes the new you. Like remodeling an older home, it is hard work and takes time, but it can become a thing of greater value and the best craftsmanship. You have to be dedicated to taking better care of yourself, not forsaking others, but making sure you are the priority. The result is that you will have more energy to put into other people and good causes because you are replenishing your needs.

Then your Plan MUST include a Support System of individuals of like mind and experience who have felt what you have felt so that you can each offer the needed support and keep one another focused, on-target and accountable. Our On-Line Support Group is an example of that which is needed as I find that family is often not the best support for an individual experiencing anxiety symptoms for a myriad of reasons.

I invite you to explore your options and consider taking on the challenge of joining us in out Support Group and developing a Plan of Attack to really take control.

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
Benhaven Counseling, LLC
The Benhaven Group, LLC
Blog: www.RuledByFear.com
Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com
www.PanicAttacks.com
www.SelfEsteem.com

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Intrusive Mothers ?

by on Feb.10, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD, STOPPING ABUSE

Intrusive people are always the most difficult to deal with in our lives, but when it is a mother, it is especially anxiety producing.

By intrusive, I mean a person that does not have boundaries or respect those of others, and that certainly can apply to a mother or mother-in-law in their behavior towards their own adult children. Let’s say, a daughter and her husband return from a well-deserved night away from the kids only to find that her mother
re-arranged the living room furniture while she was babysitting, or decided the that she knew better how their pantry should be set-up. ” Surprise, I took the time to set up your kitchen the way it should to be done, I know you will love it ! ” Or the mother comes over bearing a gift of a flower arrangement in colors that she likes and then proceeds to tell her daughter what throw pillows she needs to buy to go along with the new color scheme. Get the picture ?

It gets much worse ! I have seen situations where mothers will openly criticize the relationship that their son or daughter has chosen or how the grandkids are being raised.
What makes is so very conflicting and bordering on abusive is when the mother tries to guilt, shame or blame the daughter every time she does not approve of what she has done.
This is not about giving loving suggestions, but more so controlling and manipulating

So while the daughter and her husband now have children of their own and want to establish a new Christmas morning tradition of opening the gifts as soon as the kids awake with all their enthusiasm at its peak, the mother expects the daughter and family to pack up everything, bundle up the kids and trek over to mom’s with gifts and diapers because that was the tradition. When the daughter tries to nicely say that they will come later but they want to establish their own traditions, or even suggests that the mother come early to see the kids come down the steps wide-eyed and filled excitement, the mother says, ” You can do that after I am gone. Do you want to break your mother’s heart. I won’t be around that much longer ! ”

Intrusive people are most often very insecure below the surface, very needy of attention and yes, selfish and feeling entitled. Instead of celebrating someone else’s happiness or personal growth, they want to re-establish their importance, secure their position of being special.

Lacking somewhat in empathy, but suggesting they are the picture of that quality, the intrusive mother has a warped awareness of the needs of others, and does not often recognize boundaries as her needs dominate.

I have watched many a young married adult go through much conflict, bouncing between guilt and anger in their attempts to set limits and boundaries with an intrusive parent. Not surpisingly, such conflict can bring on anxiety symptoms, including full-blown panic attacks.
What the adult child of an intrusive parent should do, no, what they must do , is set those boundaries firmly and lovingly…and be prepared to be persistent and consistent.

” I love you mom and I know you mean well, but that is not how my husband and I want to do things with our children. Please respect my boundaries. ” Then repeat this without trying to defend your position, as the more you say, the more the intrusive person will try to manipulate and control.
I tell my clients dealing with intrusive mothers not to expect this lesson to be learned long-term. Most often, one has to be prepared to express this mantra each time the intrusive mother even shows the slightest move to cross a boundary. Intrusive people tend to not understand or have much insight into the sabotaging behavior, so it is the consequences that they learn. So when the adult child of an intrusive parent speaks in respectful and consistent terms and follows-through, the intrusive person will more than likely come to change their behavior, not because she truly gets it, but because she cannot over-rule the daughter with blame, shame and guilt tactics. Now, if instead, the daughter becomes angry and shows that anger, she plays into the intrusive mother’s hands. The mother will surely blame, shame and guilt the the daughter for any outbursts and then take control, unless the daughter is also a similarly intrusive person. Then all bets are off and I am out of there !

You can, of course, apply this approach to dealing with any instrusive person, be it a co-worker, a friend, sibling or stranger. This is not easy, but the effects that an instrusive person can have on your life, marriage, children and self-esteem is real, and it is one of the most important lessons to learn about dealing with difficult people.

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist

Benhaven Counseling, LLC

The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com
On-Line Suppoort Group and Newsletter: www.OneStepataTime.com

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Why Panic ?

by on Jan.26, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

I have often said that one of the more challenging pieces of the puzzle that truly needs to be understood and dealt with is finding the source for the panic attacks a client is experiencing, although I fully realize that the primary focus of the client initially is just getting rid of these anxiety symptoms and being comforted by hearing that this is not a sign that he or she is going crazy. 

Not knowing the source, which amounts to not understanding why this is happening, leaves a person feeling vulnerable and out of control. Not surprisingly, feeling “out of control” is how most people explain how the symptoms make them feel. Medications may lessen the severity of anxiety symptoms, but the haunting thought of them returning is anxiety-producing in and of itself. ” What if the medications wear off or just stop working ?”

As the therapist, I focus intently of listening to my client, getting a feel not only for a peek into their personality and its needs, but also to pick up on bits and pieces of his or her history to see if I can identify emotional conflicts that are more often than not an indicator of the source of the PAs. At times the conflicts and issues are easy to pick up on as I listen not only to my clients words, but more so, the emotions behind the words. At times I meet a client that is harder to read, not because he or she is resistant, but because the client’s personality is such that they tend to habitually blow things off, minimize issues because they feel it is just how life is for them. It is what it is !

One such client came to me as he was obviously in significant emotional pain over having these anxiety symptoms and it was seriously effecting his performing his job. That was a problem, especially because he was a very high-achieving young man, and had responsibilities for a wife who wanted a family. He had to get his act together, but just did not see why this was happening to him.

I pressed him further, and although a rather modest guy, he had in past years created business of his own and had been quite successful. However, although he did well for five years making six-figures and garnering considerable respect in his field, his company was subjected to the fall-out from the banking and housing crisis and the banks stopped lending, and his business died a sudden death. He moved on, because that is what you are supposed to do, and took a significantly lower paying job just to be a responsible person. When his very successful business ended, he was able to pay all debts, so he did not feel guilty, or a failure. I could hear something in his voice, and when i asked him whether he thinks of starting another business since he had proven to be quite good at it, his response was, ” Well, I have thought about it many times, but now I have a wife and we do want to start a family. I cannot take that kind of risk. I mean, I would love to do it, but it would not be fair to her.  And besides, every time I allow myself to dream about starting a business again and being my own boss, the symptoms get worse. How can I seriously think of creating my own business again when I am having these anxiety symptoms ! ”

Now there is a hint that would slap you in the face unless you had your head buried deep in the sand. Once we talked about it, he realized how conflicted he was between giving up on himself as an entrepreneur, and doing what was “right” for his wife and future family. And when he heard himself say that the anxiety symptoms seemed to increase in frequency or intensity whenever he thought about starting a business again, I could see the look on his face that said, ” Did I just say that ? Could my anxiety symptoms be a way of keeping myself from doing what I really love to do, be my own boss again ?”

Oh yes, he got it ! So besides working with some tools we discussed to deal with the anxiety symptoms whenever he felt them coming on, he realized that his best weapon against anxiety was to focus on the source. He needed to make a compromise rather than a sacrifice, a deal with himself to develop a plan and gradually create and take steps to build his business, but step by step so there was less risk.  His wife could be a part of his business. He was in conflict because he was giving up on a very critical piece of who he was and is, instead of focusing on doing what he wants and needs to do to feel in control of his life, but taking appropriate steps in palatable bites rather than leaps as he did when he had no other responsibilities.

What about you ?

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
Benhaven Counseling, LLC

The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

Newsletter and On-Line Support Group: www.OneStepataTime.com

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Challenge Your Fears or Settle

by on Jan.20, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Have you ever felt frustrated with nagging private thoughts because you have avoided doing things in your life that you always told yourself you would…only to put them off again and again ?

Have you always imagined speaking up for yourself but mostly go along to avoid conflict, only to feel anger within yourself for being weak ?

Do you pride yourself on always being there for others but feel that those whom you put energy into seldom seem to think that you have needs too ? Maybe it is because you dare not express those needs for fear of appearing needy !

Do you find your thoughts at times drifting back to earlier years when you made a few bad choices, and maybe when you find yourself contemplating some change or challenge in your life, those thoughts seem to appear to come to the surface more often and with more intensity as if to shut down any chance of moving forward ?

Do you find yourself dwelling and obsessing over issues and situations that seem irrational, so foolish, but seem to take control at times ?

Are there times when you feel the need to carry out some ritual like checking, doing things the same way all the time, or needing to repeat certain behaviors before you can move to something else ? Does the obsessing or the rituals seem to be interfering with you moving on in your life ?

Maybe this is happening due to anxiety and conflicts in your life. Maybe fear of failure, rejection or embarassment is a factor behind that anxiety or those conflicts. You and I have a choice, an option to really understand the forces of fear in our lives, and to create a game plan to face our fears and take control of our personal growth rather than avoid challenges and change so as to not nurture fear !

A large percentage of good people in our society experience significant anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive behaviors that all but rule their lives, holding them hostage to their thoughts and symptoms. They avoid doing things outside their limited comfort zone due to their fear of having more anxiety symptoms. The very aware individuals may see that whenever they allow themselves to dare think of moving forward in their lives, the panic attacks become more intense or the intrusive thoughts grow louder.

As a recent client put it to me, ” I have had a few successful experiences, and they felt good, but then I so easily fell back into my old way of seeing myself as weak, and then feel no motivation to stretch, to grow, to challenge. I want to better my life. I have frequent thoughts of doing more, but then I turn around only to see I am still in the same place I was before, comfortably-uncomfortable.”

In my mind, it is all about fear, and the choices we make, or do not make, which is of course, a choice !

It is a very uncomfortable issue to face, but realizing the degree to which our lives can be ruled by fear is the first step. We can blame our genetics,our environment and experiences of childhood, or other traumas, yet the stories of individuals rising above their handicaps, trials and tribulations, to attain great personal growth and sense of purpose always catch our attention and inspire, if only for a few minutes. However, isn’t fear mostly learned ? So why do some find themselves overcoming their fears to achieve, while so many others give in or use their anxiety symptoms as an excuse ?

I was discussing this with a fourteen year old girl who I am so proud to know, and who never ceases to amaze me with her ability to adapt and overcome, including at one point being homeless by herself on the streets at the tender age of ten, and being physically and sexually abused more times that I can even talk about without still choking-up. Yet just recently, she expressed how very happy she is now and what a wonderful Christmas she had with her new family. At one point she could imagine no future, expecting to die on the streets as every day was an exercise in survival. When on the streets, there was no time to give into fear because it was all about survival. Each day she had to choose to do whatever it took to survive, to find food, to find a safe place to sleep. Whether it was hiding in the library until after closing so she could sleep among the less-used rows of reference books that night, or finding a refrigerator box behind Home Depot that she could drag to some alley and use for that night’s shelter from the cold, she was strong and feisty because she had to be ! She made choices because there was no one to make them for her ! She spoke her mind because if she didn’t, she would be perceived as weak and she would not make it through the night. She did not have the option to avoid, and she knew that being personally strong was the only way.

So she could not be spoiled. She could not allow herself to be pampered, or become dependent. She did not have the option to be comfortable. If she screwed up, she took on the responsibility to admit to it, if only to herself, and then to learn from that experience.

And most importantly, she had a plan. She was going to somehow get an education, and get off the streets. That plan was her focus, and every step of that plan gave her more strength to take the next step. She never gave up her faith in God, did not blame God or mankind for her trials, and knew it was and is about having faith in yourself that comes from DOING what makes you stronger, not avoiding.

What is your plan ?

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist

The Benhaven Group

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

On-Line Support Group / Newsletter : www.OneStepataTime.com

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Feels So Good, Hurts So Bad !

by on Dec.01, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

You know what I mean by an “adapting” personality, don’t you. I am referring to those caregivers, conformers, perfectionsists and peacekeepers who value relationships with others, who bend, adapt and adjust in an effort to please others because, well maybe it just feels good to do so.

At least at the time it feels good because they treasure the approval, appreciation and possibly respect that they ‘hope’ to glean form being there for others. While many may rush to say they have great empathy for others, the adapting personality types truly do, but at some risk to their emotional well-being. They probably make up a third of all the people walking on the face of this diverse planet we call Earth.

So often however, many of the adapting personalities come to the slow and troubling realization that they put out a great deal of emotional energy into others, where the return on that emotional investment seems
to lessen, to dwindle, to be taken for granted over time. See, many of these adapting personalities are truly dependent, dare I say compulsive in needing that approval from others, to feel worth and value. The role of being there for others, fixing or taking care of those they perceive as in need, being so very productive and maybe avoiding emotional conflict becomes their goal, a primary purpose in life.

When the adapting personality types wake up to anxiety symptoms, even panic attacks, it is often a reaction to the realization that they have invested so much energy into being there for others,
needing that approval like the body needs blood, that they feel emotionally bankrupt, spent and depleted. Sometimes there is resentment and anger felt towards those whom they feel have taken advantage of all those efforts without reciprocating, but mostly they are frustrated and in conflict for allowing this to happen. Adapting personalities certainly do not want to appear needy, and they are not ! Adapting persons do not want to seem selfish or uncaring and they certainly do not want to be seen as angry, but let’s face it, if you put out more emotional energy than you take
in, someone is going to crash !

In fact, I see many of the adapting personalities in my work, and our joint efforts in therapy come down to helping them realize they can still be who they are, still enjoy being adapting and caring, but with a twist.
They learn to make better choices in those they call friends by identifying and setting well-defined boundaries with the ‘ blood suckers ” in their world, and yet, reasonable and more porous boundaries with those who appreciate, respect and return some of the energy.

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach

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At Risk…Your Self-Worth !

by on Nov.25, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD, STOPPING ABUSE

So I was talking to a very dear but struggling young lady who was sharing with me her excruciating pain and overwhelming confusion after being molested by a “man of the cloth”. I never get use to hearing such gut-wrenching stories of the dark side of mankind. This ” not so holy ” man manipulated this child of thirteen with kind words, then after molesting her, used the abuser’s most common tools to silence his victim, blame, shame a guilt ! Once she realized what his true agenda was, she was overwhelmed with fear as she felt trapped and paralyzed by his words :

” No one will believe you, so save your breath.”

” I am a messenger of God, so if you say anything, I will pray so that your little brothers and sisters will all burn in hell ! Do you want to be responsible for that happening ? ”

” I can tell that you liked some of what I did to you, it felt good didn’t it ? See, you wanted it ! ”

” Ah, you are angry with me, you feel hatred right now don’t you ? Hatred is a sin. God is angry with you feeling hate. ”

I have heard all this way too many times before as I have dealt with other victims of abuse. Yes, it makes me angry that some of those we share this planet with can justify and rationalize doing what they do to manipulate and control other innocent people for their personal needs and agendas.
Certainly one might say that this “unholy man ” has some sexual addiction issues, but regardless of whether his addiction is related to the need for sex, alcohol, drugs…or power, his lack of conscience, utter void of empathy, allowed him to cross the lines of decency.

As if the above scenario is not troubling enough, an even more flagrant example of manipulation and control was when I dealt with a father who had repeatedly, “emotionaly” and sexually abused his daughter up to the day she ended her pain and suffering at her own hands. He too used the tools of blame, shame and guilt not only to permanently silence his daughter, but also to emotionally paralyzed her aunt and uncle who swore to protect her. In the end, not wanting to truly admit how evil he was, they too fell victim to shame and guilt. Effectively silencing and eliminating any witnesses to his crimes of passion and abuse [ a long and painful story }, he walks freely even today.

Certainly, the above two examples might be labeled the actions of sociopaths for the degree or heights to which they could lie and abuse, justify and rationalize, and in the end, escape punishment. Neither had a conscience and therefore each was able to deny any wrong doing with a smile on their face and not a bead of sweat on their brow. In reality, further exploration into each case yielded a history of previous deception, abuse and manipulation, but you guessed it, never a charge was brought against either man in the past. They lied so effectively ! They manipulated their victims with blame, shame and guilt so cunningly, that there was no one who would speak up.

Each victim or witness was silenced because of their fear. That is what happens when a victim goes up against a person without conscience all alone.

Yet I also am witnessing first-hand that we, yes you and I, enable, I dare say allow or give power to those who would abuse, to those who would use their power to control and manipulate, whatever their addiction. Put aside the sexual abuse of the previous examples for a moment. The REAL damage was done as a result of the emotional and psychogical abuse and control. There are those who thirst for power and control over others, professing to do so for your own good. We live in an age where lies roll off the tongues of those void of conscience, where we have become complacent to open examples of manipulation, where evil is just ignored, and therefore, in a word, encouraged. Certainly our fears play a part in this avoidance, as in fear of reprisal, ending up on someone’s “hit” list, the fear of rejection or embarrassment. But make no mistake, don’t try to ” avoid ” the reality that one reason these people get away with what they do is because we do not rise up individually and collectively and say NO more !

Have you been witness to any person in power lying to you, deceiving you, manipulating you ? Have you doubted that person meant to lie, or tried to rationalize to yourself the person did not mean to deceive, but maybe was simply deceived by others, just didn’t know the truth ? Have you listened carefully to the words the potential deceiver uses to explain himself or herself ? Have you heard this individual use the tools of blaming others, shaming those who would question his or her past actions, comments or veracity or play the guilt card to distract you from the reality of whatever his or her agenda might be ? Do you think fear might at times blind you to the truth because it is too uncomfortable to see the dark side of mankind ? Do you feel how uncomfortable it is to face even the thought of dealing with someone who has little or no conscience, or even more painfully realize you have been duped by such a person you previously admired ?

Of course, you may not talk about it with anyone for fear they will find fault with your thoughts and feelings. By avoiding the issue, you are empowering people in your life who would emotionally and psychologically control or manipulate you and others just as the two persons I mentioned above. Oh certainly, the manipuation may not be a horrid as the examples I gave, nonetheless, the effect on your self-image is surely there. It is our self-esteem, self-respect and moral fiber that is at stake. When we do not take action against those who would lie to our faces, and manipulate without hesitation, it is worse than giving up an arm and a leg, as it is your personal sense of worth and value at risk.

Just a thought !

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach
dba, The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog : RuledByFear.com

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach
dba, The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog : RuledByFear.com

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Out of Control !

by on Nov.10, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Out of Control !

One message I have often repeated in my blog and newsletter is that significant anxiety symptoms, especially in the form of panic attacks or obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, often tend to sneak up on their victims. This is why, in my opinion,  so many of my clients have said, ” These symptoms just seem to have come from out of the blue ! ”
 
Well, I truly believe that these symptoms have a cause and therefore need to be treated not just with medications, but with a structured game plan  where therapy helps the suffering individual realize and deal with the causes as well as the resulting fears and symptoms.

The symptoms can be very overwhelming to be sure, and the natural want to control those symptoms leads most clients to medications. I fully understand and appreciate that fact. However, medications, although sometimes helpful, may curb or limit the symptoms, but I seriously question that they are actually treating the cause unless there is found a true medical source for those symptoms. Even when there are thyroid issues, hypoglycemia or other conditions that may predispose a person to anxiety symptoms, while those conditions need to be treated medically, I have not found that the panic or OCD stops after such treatment. Make no mistake, if true medical or neurological conditions exist, by all means they should be treated. I have just not found that to be the case for the vast majority of especially the panic attack or OCD  clients I have worked with during the past forty years.

As just another yet very vivid example of how anxiety symptoms can mask or distract a person from the  true sources for the pain they are feeling, I offer the following :

What I observed of this woman as she sat across from me for the first time was the look of full-blown terror painted on her face and of course  her tears of frustration and hopelessness. She  was feeling totally out of control physically and emotionally, and her husband sitting next to her felt helpless.

No, her focus was not on her panic attacks which she hardly mentioned. Understandably, she was focused instead on the horrible withdrawal symptoms she was experiencing week after week after she stopped taking Xanax. 

She seemed obsessed with making sure I understood that the symptoms she was feeling were real, that she was not making them up, so I just listened at first.
She felt her skin crawling, she could not stay focused  on any one thing as her thoughts ran away from her. She physically and mentally felt out of control, and was dwelling on whether she had some kind of brain or nervous system damage due to previously being on Xanax, at 3 mg. a day.

I knew I had to bring her to a point where I could help her to focus on why all this was happening, but that was a challenge as anything I said was not being heard over the dominant fear-based chatter going on in her head. I realized the withdrawal symptoms were real, but her fears and resulting anxiety were making all her symptoms worse.

So after listening to her intently, and showing acknowledgment and respect for all she was going through, I asked her…. ” Why were you put on Xanax, especially that high of a dosage, to begin with ?” She had to collect her thoughts and wipe her tears, and I could see that look on her face that almost cried out, ” What does that matter ? ” However, after a few seconds and with her spouse’s urging, she related a story of being  a rather perfectionistic wife, mother and loyal friend who was just helping neighbors through a difficult crisis in their lives when ” this anxiety just came over me ! ” She ended up in the ER, then being seen by the hospital’s house psychiatrist, and was placed on the rather significant dose of Xanax. From that point on, it became all about her unreal feelings while taking the medications, and the horrible withdrawal symptoms once she stopped the meds.

I brought her back around to the reality that, as the doctors had told her,  the medications would gradually work their way out of her system, and she should continue working with her PCP regarding her physical symptoms, but that I wanted to refocus on the true source of the anxiety, as her withdrawal symptoms had all but distracted her from the real problem.

So then she listened as I told her about herself, where I described her perfectionistic and caregiving personality which had run unchecked and unbridled for many years leading to her gradually overwhelming herself, and creating anxiety and panic attacks. In essence, I was describing a good person, well-meaning and caring, who was burning the candle at both ends. She sat there acknowledging that yes, she did tend to take on too much, and rarely could say no to anyone’s request for her help. Why not, it felt good to be needed and see herself as useful and well-liked ! How could that be a problem !

I could see her husband’s facial gestures and eye-rolling that all but said that his wife was minimizing the extent to which SHE OVER-EXTENDED herself all the time. She was addicted to pleasing !  However, without boundaries, that need to be needed and fix others had become a self-sabotaging path to disaster.  I expressed to her that this is less a disease, and more of a reaction to her habitual, compulsive pattern of overwhelming herself because her very positive personality characteristics had run amok and caused her to unravel.

Once she realized what had happened and truly embraced it, and that took some time and soul-searching, she learned to set healthy limits and boundaries. She learned she was not broken, and that she could be better than she was before, as she could still be who she was, but would make smarter choices. Her pain taught her to take better care of herself. Unfortunately, without pain, she would never have seriously considered change. Would you ?

She had to realize that all she had been through was not a sign of weakness, but a sign that corrections needed to be made where she created a greater balance in her life between being there for others and being there for herself. She was not needy, but she had needs. She was not selfish, but needed to take care of herself. She could be there for others, but knew where to draw the line so that the energy she put into others was better matched with the energy coming back.

Oh, she would still screw up at times and have little setbacks as old habits are hard to break, but she would catch herself and readjust. That’s how it works !

Just a thought or two !

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach
dba, The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

On Line Support Group: www.OneStepataTime.com

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