Growing up, no one warned me about how much pressure and scrutiny an 18/19 year old was put under. I always just assumed that by the time I graduated high school I would know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. But graduation came and went, and I still had these huge life decisions hanging over my head. “What are you doing with your life,” “Where are you going to college,” “You know that career doesn’t make enough money to support yourself,” “You better start now or you’ll never go back to school.”
If it wasn’t difficult enough to make these decisions while pleasing myself, imagine the horror of making these decisions while trying to please every single person I ran into that asked these exact questions. Having the adaptable, people-pleasing personality that I do made these choices even harder. How would I please everyone? Hearing the disappointment in people’s voices when you tell them you aren’t going to college or you don’t have a major picked out can really eat at your brain; it sure did bother mine. Should I just enroll in college because it will stop the badgering of questions? I mulled these thoughts over often. I never could seem to escape the questions. It didn’t matter if I was at work or at church on Sunday; they always seemed to be there. And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the questions were coming from those with pure intentions, but I also don’t believe older people really understand the disapproval they show when you are 19 years old without a mapped out plan of what you are going to be when you grow up. It also didn’t help the fact that I seemed to be the only one my age who was having these issues. All of my other friends had left for school in other states, leaving me feeling alone and confused.
So there I was, 19 years old, not enrolled in college and working 30 hours a week at a job where I was not very happy. I decided to drive to the gas station after dinner one night in March. Gas was cheaper the next town over so I made the extra 10 minute drive, not thinking anything would happen. Everything was fine until I let my overactive brain cloud my judgment. Driving gives you time to think in silence, which can be good, I guess. For me it just gave me time to think about how much of a failure I felt as a daughter and person. I mean I thought my whole life was supposed to be put together already, I was so behind.
“I can’t breathe” I thought as my heart started to beat out of my chest. Staring at the dim brake lights in front of me I tried to focus on driving as my sweaty palms tightly choked the steering wheel. I didn’t know whether to pull over and turn around or keep driving. My throat tightened as it became hard to swallow and I sat in my car terrified. What the heck is wrong with me?
That became the new question. Obviously, I made it home safety and I would love to tell you that that was my first and only panic attack, but I wouldn’t be writing this article if it was. Shortly after that incident, driving in general became something of complete difficulty. It didn’t matter if I was driving three minutes to church, being in the car felt like an eternity. I battled with the thoughts that something was seriously wrong with me. I even made a trip to the emergency room one afternoon because my throat felt like it was suffocating me for hours on end with no relief. They sent me home with a packet on anxiety and some judgmental looks.
Anxiety. Panic attacks. How could this be happening to me? I’ve always done the right thing. Why would God allow me to go through this? What did I do wrong to deserve anxiety?
The pressure from home didn’t help my mental state. I love my mother dearly, but she didn’t and still doesn’t understand panic attacks and the effect they had on me. I could tell she was disappointed in me and herself for not being able to “fix” my problems. The thoughts of being a failure to her made my panic attacks even worse. I would cry at night – the idea of suicide entered my head more than once, but I knew it wasn’t the answer.
Life became very dismal and along with my anxiety came his buddy depression. I could barely make it through work and back home and my social life quickly diminished. Before too long I became house bound with panic attacks, no longer sleeping through the night, and deathly afraid to be left alone in fear that the next panic attack would leave me dead and alone.
By the grace of God, my story doesn’t end there. Life seemed impossible but somehow I was given the strength to keep fighting. During my sleepless nights I did a lot of research on panic attacks and methods to reduce them. I also began searching for some medical help. I met Psychologist, Gene Benedetto in the summer of 2013. After months of suffering alone, I was finally ready to reach out and try to figure out why this was happening to me. Talking to Gene helped put things into perspective. I realized that unlike what my brain was telling me, I wasn’t crazy and another people were dealing with the same issues I was having. I worked through a lot of personal issues sitting in his office. Although my mind was always somewhat distracted by the clock; waiting for what felt like an eternity for that hour to be up and to go back to the safety of my home. I visited Benhaven on and off over the next couple of months. It was difficult to see him regularly when I could not make the 15 minute drive myself. After Christmas, I decided I would not return. I had been put on Zoloft for my anxiety and it seemed to be working. The constant overwhelming feeling of choking had subsided enough to where I felt I could live a little and no longer felt the need to seek out help.
I didn’t realize until later on that I had stopped going to see Gene because I wasn’t ready to change. I wasn’t willing to put the effort into stretching and desensitizing myself to my anxiety symptoms. And I certainly wasn’t ready to open the can of worms that was causing all my issues to begin with. Anxiety became my new normal. I knew the limits I could live within to feel comfortable and as long as I stayed within them I could live my life just fine.
But after a while, fine wasn’t good enough. I was healing slightly, but I still didn’t feel like myself; just an anxious, unhappy version of myself that I really didn’t like too much. You see, if you don’t ever work on the root of the problem, the symptoms aren’t ever going to really disappear. Anxiety gave me an excuse not to answer the questions of my future, but having never dealt those issues never made them truly go away.
So time passed slowly as I adapted into a new “normal.” It had been a year and a half since I started having panic attacks and nothing had really changed. My meds did soften the effects of my panic attacks, but I was never willing to put myself in any situations where anxiety might arise.
That was until my boyfriend dumped me. It really is crazy how some of the worst things in life turn out to be for the good. So there I was alone, yet again. My first love, my best friend, my confidant left me without a reason to be seen. And I was crushed. I had so much banking on our relationship and I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore.
I was again faced with the question of what I would do with my life; no longer able to hide behind a stable, hardworking man who was willing to drive anywhere for me so that I was never uncomfortable. But this time, I was ready to answer that question. I was finally ready to push myself to do something. Not because my mom, my friends, or the random lady from church wanted me to, but because I felt confident in myself.
I quickly signed up for a dental assisting program in my area. I traveled back and forth to school the weeks before classes started, filling out paperwork and trying on scrubs. Most of those trips started and ended in phone calls to my mom who assured me I could finish those drives by myself. As I continued to make the drive to classes something miraculous happened, the drive no longer seemed overwhelming or impossible. I was finally able to start trusting myself to get in a car and drive places. I even began driving to my boyfriend’s house, after we started working through our previous issues.
Six months later, I finished my dental assisting program at the top of my class. It was a tough 6 months, but worth the effort. I also pushed myself to go on several interviews way outside my 20 minute drive comfort zone. I had never been more proud of myself than I was in those months. I had done this. I had made a decision and stuck with it, no matter what anyone else thought.
With that program completed and a job lined up, I finally felt ready to return to Benhaven Counseling. I was finally mentally ready to make the steps needed to continue to push myself into becoming a stronger person.
One of the first lessons I learned from Gene was breaking everything into steps. Choosing not to look at myself as a failure for not being able to drive to California and back by myself, but taking reasonable bites often until they built up to longer drives. I also began to take steps to learn how to distract myself. Couponing and donating the items to a local charity became my way to calm my fears before pushing myself to go further on a drive. I continue daily to make the conscious decision to push myself, not allowing my anxiety ever to control me again.
The journey has been tough and there are still many twists and turns in the days ahead, but for the first time in my life, I’m not completely worried about my future. I have learned that I can trust myself to make decisions and that it is okay not to listen to everyone’s “advice.” I encourage all those reading to take the first step if you haven’t. Confide in someone you trust about what you are going through. You are not alone in this and there are so many people around you that want to help.
I have begun writing in my blog again, and yes, I had taken a break. So I did some soul searching to determine why I was avoiding writing. At first I just told myself it was because I had been so busy with the Practice, but I knew there was more.
A few years ago, I began working with a homeless child of ten who had contacted me through my website, OneStepataTime.com. She would go to the local library in Brooklyn, where they allowed the homeless to use the Internet for twenty minutes, twice a day. Listening to people around her talk about taking life One Day at a Time, and with nothing but time on her hands, she did a search and found One Step at a Time, then decided to explore the chat room within the site.
When in the Chat Room, although no one knew she was a child, and homeless to boot, she made some friends who convinced her to talk to me. The rest is history, which I have written about in previous articles.
The problem for me, is that I expended a great deal of emotional energy attempting to help this child. Now, I do not regret that, as it was very rewarding to be a part of this child’s transformation. There were a number of people who selflessly worked together with me to help her find her way off the streets and into a loving family over the following two years. Although there were a number of significant crises we all had to deal with to help this young lady, working with her was undoubtedly one of the most meaningful things in my life. I have treasured memories from among the chaos.
A physician who ran a Free Clinic in the area one day a week was very instrumental in helping her, but I remember his words to me when I first contacted him. When I described this girl to him, and mentioned that she had run away from her prostitute mother, but had mentioned going to his Clinic on occasion, he knew just whom I was talking about. He then said to me, “You are looking for a great deal of pain and heartache getting involved with trying to help these people. The streets make them bitter and destroys their consciences, and moral compass. Even if she is an exception, if you do choose to get involved, once you do, you must be in it for the long-haul. Are you prepared for that ?” I said I was, but I knew what he meant.
So, I took it slow, tested her out a little to make sure she was not part of some scam, but she proved to be the most resilient, goal-oriented and determined child I have ever known.
Ironically, after many crises and conflicts, and more than her share of abuse, the physician who warned me about involvement, ended up adopting her into his already large family. How great is that ! I was thrilled !
I kept up contact with her to assist in her adjustment, as it would not be hard to imagine the TRUST issues this child had, even with me. But then, the family decided to move out of New York and start over elsewhere during Christmas of 2014, and all contact was abruptly ended. Yes, I was happy for her, but I felt something else that made me uncomfortable. I could not put my finger on it at first, but I also felt myself losing the enthusiasm to write articles.
Then I realized it was anger that I felt, not with the child, but with the physician who decided to cut me out of the picture. I could even realize why he did so ! He wanted to be the primary and only influence in her life now, and that sure made sense to me. But I was “adopted” by this little girl to be her pretend grandpa and to always be there for her. It was a promise she made me make to her as it made her feel safe. She even drew up pretend adoption papers that I had to sign and return to her, and that she told me was hung next to her legal adoption papers on her wall.
I realize that the anger was again, not for the child, but for the parents for not showing the “respect” I expected by just allowing me to know how she was doing, maybe receive a picture once in a while, and hopefully the opportunity to chat here and there. I had promised her, and her new father had determined it was alright to be a part of negating that promise, when he had so strongly admonished me to not become involved unless I was prepared to make the commitment.
Respect is a rather important need for many people, it certainly is to me, and I believe for those who have the ability and want to put energy into others, as this is gradually becoming a more selfish and sterile world. You do not always have to agree with what another person is saying or doing, but you owe and are owed respect.
Yes, I have sent a note to the physician expressing my feelings in very respectful but real terms.
I do not expect to hear anything back, but at least it is done.
Anyway, back to writing ! Now just to find the time…LOL.
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
The Benhaven Group, LLC
Destroyed by His Words !
He is a Narcissistic Sociopath, and although he is very real, I will give him a fictitious name, Lucius. Upon my exposing him for what he was, he actually bragged and boasted about the “tools” he possessed that allowed him to control and manipulate people, both in business and in his personal life.
Lucius recognized as a teenager, that the things he said and the way he treated people caused them to be “like putty in my hands, allowing me to mold them into thinking and doing what I wanted”. As he became an adult, his awareness of his power over people grew by leaps and bounds. No one was safe from his manipulation, even his own daughter.
Being an attorney who specialized in medical malpractice suites in which he was ruthless and gained a mind-numbing reputation, Lucius would explain how he got a dopamine rush, a surge of adrenaline, realizing the power he had over people. He used that power not just in building a rather successful practice, but systematically taking control of his wife, their sexual interactions and her life by making her a victim of abuse that weakened a once strong woman with a career of her own, turning her into an emotionally weak, dependent blob.
My stomach turned and I felt nauseated as I knew that there had been many a victim who fell prey to this man’s initial charm and gradual degrading of their self-esteem as he manipulated his potential victim’s thoughts and behaviors by using tools such as blame, shame and guilt. Oh he was good at it, and he knew it. The smirk on his face said it all.
Lucius knew that I was aware of what he had done to destroy his own daughter’s will to live, and what he was now attempting to do was use his skills of manipulation and control to shut me down. He calmly said,
” You do not know who you are dealing with ! I can and will destroy you ! No one will believe anything you say anyway ! ” He was using fear tactics, which he was quite accomplished at due to his lack of conscience.
Then he said something I will never forget. “Everyone has made mistakes. Every man and woman on the face the earth who has a conscience has something they regret, or have done or avoided something for which feel shame or guilt. I know how to find out about a person’s past, and I will find a way to take advantage of whatever weakness or fear that a person has and I will use that knowledge to take control ! ”
Yes, he was a narcissistic sociopath, but what is critical to understand is that the only real control he would have over his victim would be if he or she gave into their fear.
Someday soon I will share the rest of this true story.
Something I learned from all of this over time, and now forty years of practice, is that there are far many more borderline or full-blown sociopathic personalities among us breathing the same air we do, every day of our lives. Their narcissistic and self-absorbing care for themselves and superficial show of care and concern for others is of course a tell-tale sign. But their ability to lie to our faces, and effectively try to find and take full advantage of the weakness in anyone who would challenge them, has at times made them all powerful. One of the primary strengths, and at the same time weaknesses in some of us that make us potential victims to manipulation is that some we have a conscience, are capable of feeling guilt, and have less of an ability to recognize evil in other people.
When many of us come up against people like Lucius, we just want to walk away , avoid them.
What can you do to defend yourself from such people ?
First, be aware that many such people exist. Watch for the signs, as they can lie to your face without flinching. If you can feel something uncomfortable, don’t ignore what you feel.
Don’t be mesmerized by what other people say about this person, think for yourself ! There have been many times in history where the minds of intelligent people have been paralyzed by the charisma of a charming, well-spoken person. All the while, below the surface may smolder the agenda of a selfish, control-seeking personality. There are many instances in history, where a person with a charismatic nature, who speaks well and seems to have their act together, takes over the minds of others who may know better but avoid being the one to speak up. Although I admired much about John F. Kennedy, the “Bay of Pigs” issue comes to mind where it is reported that many in his Cabinet had serious issues and conflicts with his decisions, but never expressed their warnings.
Realize that many controlling and manipulative people will say what you want to hear, but do what they want to do. So listen to their language. Do they follow the rules of respectfully dealing with others, or do they have some uncanny way of creating diversions and chaos, and then do their deeds amongst all the chaos and before the smoke clears ? When questioned, do they really answer the concerns others express or turn to comments that are an attempt to make you feel that if you do not agree with them, you are somehow a racist, a bigot, or an uncaring person ?
Life can be hard at times, but good hard work and effort to better yourself builds pride and character. If someone offers you something for nothing, it is a pretty good sign you will end up with nothing,
If you are an adapting or approval seeking personality, you are easy prey for the narcissistic, manipulative personality types. They can smell the want for approval and acceptance in other people.
Once a person gets sucked into the space of the narcissistic sociopath, a dependency is formed on that person’s approval. Then, after becoming a victim, you may not be willing to admit to yourself that you were suckered, so you say nothing, and that avoidance causes you to feel even less in control of your life, which makes you even more vulnerable.
This phenomenon occurs in business as well as personal relationships. How many people do you know that are stuck in unhealthy marriages, where one of the partners shames. blames and guilts the other to silence their legitimate complaints ? Why do so many remain in those unhealthy, esteem destroying relationships for so long ?
Express yourself and your feelings about persons that your gut tells you are manipulative, controlling and lying, but don’t spew hatred. Speak respectfully and repeatedly, saying as an example “ I appreciate your thoughts and opinions, but I do not agree with you !” Then don’t get dragged into defending yourself as the other narcissistic or sociopathic personality type will surely try to convince you that you are wrong. Just repeat yourself !!! In this way you are respectfully expressing an opinion without feeling the guilt of being hateful or mean, thereby not triggering so much shame within yourself. I have had many a client who was a victim of emotional or sexual abuse, whose abuser would try to turn the shame and guilt machine on them big time by saying, “ See, you are feeling so much anger towards me right know, which makes you feel dark and ugly inside, so you are no better than me !”
So, think hard about this as the abuse may be more subtle, but it is still abuse when a person uses words to manipulate you. Don’t allow fear to rule your life, you deserve better than that.
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
The Benhaven Group, LLC
One of my adolescent clients who suffers with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, made a huge decision to share the fact that he suffered with OCD with a friend he believed he could trust. However, he was shaken by the response he received. ” OCD, oh sure, I have OCD too !”
My client knew that his friend had no clue what it was like to truly suffer from the instrusive thoughts and feeling compelled to carry out the compulsive behaviors. OCD has become an abused and overused label to the point that it is so in fashion, that it is infuriating to those who truly feel cursed.
OCD is real ! Yes, it can be treated, but it is a laborious and emotionally
painful experience working through both the symptoms and the sources, and the person suffering with OCD needs support and understanding while he or she works through the process to take their life back into their own hands.
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
The Benhaven Group, LLC
What a distasteful thought ! The mere thought that you would somehow make a choice of ” allowing fear to rule your life “, is offensive to imagine, but you know it is true.
I do not think anyone with a conscience can rule out all fears in life, as we do live in the real world with all its imperfections and yet all its possibilities. With that in mind,
we each make conscious or subconcious decisions throughout our day and our life to either challenge ourselves and our fears, or to avoid in order to create a sense
of safety, of perceived comfort, even if just for the moment, or a day. Somewhere, rolling around in your thoughts is the reality that avoidance eventually leads
to anxiety because we are reinforcing and empowering our fears.
Yes, as unpleasant the thought is that we allow fear to manipulate us each day, it cannot be denied. Whether it be avoiding rejection or the potential failure and embarrassment,
we too often repress what we think and feel, making excuses to ourselves rather than trying something new, or adapting to what we think others expect of us, even to the point that we may
lose sight of what we really want and need to feel ” in control of our lives “. Consider, that to a more significant degree than you may be ready to admit, your life and personal growth are ruled by your fears.
However, you can do a great deal about overcoming your fears, if you are attacking your fears in the right way !
In my opinion, most of the clients I see with significant anxiety, phobias, agoraphobia and panic attacks are intelligent, very well-meaning people with rich potential but often, in one
area or another in their lives, never learned to effectively set boundaries thereby creating a sense of imbalance, and therefore anxiety and conflict. So many of them are adapting
or approval-seeking personalities, where the want for approval and acceptance becomes a habit that they may not be aware of unless challenged. Whether manifested by being a Caregiver
who invests more energy into helping others but repesses his or her needs, a perfectionist who is so intent on performing and doing that he or she becomes overwhelmed and burns out,
a conformer who habitually adjusts and adapts to what he or she thinks others expect, or the peace-keeper who avoids conflict at all cost, there lies an underlying source of conflict, which leads to anxiety and often panic symptoms.
The good news ? Adapting or approval seeking personality types can make changes to take more control of their lives and thereby their symptoms.
The bad news ? It is hard work as it requires some uncomfortable self-reflection, and step by step planning and DOING ! A plan must be forged, usually with a professional therapist to guide
you and keep you on path. The temptations to give in to old habits and compulsions are strong, but through desensitization techniques and therapy that is reality based, thoughts, feelings and behaviors can be altered to a more healthy and self-esteeming point where one develops a greater sense of self, feels control over their previous anxiety symptoms, and most importantly, feels more control over their life.
How rewarding is that !!!
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
CEO, The Benhaven Group, LLC
As a therapist concerned as to what I see as a deterioration in self-esteem, moral strength and determination of many people I strive to help, I see a pattern that is so destructive in the fraying of the fabric in what once made America great.
It appears as if the Republicans are rolling over to the Democrats, which implies that they really are not seriously different in their agenda. These career politicians are playing games with our futures and that of our children. Politicians, and certainly our President, have learned to lie to our faces repeatedly, using blame, shame and guilt to silence any detractors. AND WE ALLOW IT !!!
Our Government has deteriorated to become like two divorced parents, in competition with each other, stumbling over their own feet trying to pleasure their already spoiled children. The children are the real victims, as more and more of them develop a sense of entitlement, sorely lacking a sense of personal worth and value or any moral compass, causing them to be even more needy and vulnerable to those who would control and manipulate them for their own selfish reasons. Without rules and consequences, a society will crumble under the weight of the dependency it creates.
This is the dawn of a serious and sad chapter in America. We as a country have lost our way because our leaders could not lead, at least not with the true health and well-being of our society in mind. It is a time when selfishness rules and even our leaders choose to incite conflict within its people in order to gain more power and control for themselves.
Our goal should be to help people help themselves, not create dependency !
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
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 ?
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
Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com ,
www.PanicAttacks.com , www.Self-Esteem.com
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
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
Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com