You may have heard the term co-dependency tossed around in discussions about unhealthy relationships. Usually people are talking about an unhealthy attachment to another person to such an extent that there is a crippling reliance on the support and validation they receive in that relationship. Codependent relationships can occur in the context of a romantic relationship, but these dynamics can also be present in family relationships or friendships as well.
Codependency was first recognized and defined in the context of people with addiction problems and the people who support and facilitate addictive behavior in their partners. However, the pattern has been expanded and understood more broadly in the context of any relationship in which one person’s unhealthy behaviors are accepted and propped up by the other person, who becomes an enabler of the unhealthy patterns.
How to Recognize Codependency in Relationships
To understand codependency, you want to recognize the signs of this unhealthy dynamic in relationships. People who tend towards co-dependency may exhibit the signs of unhealthy attachment in multiple different relationships, and they may repeat these patterns in relationships that they seek out. Often the person is seeking out emotional validation or looking for others who will enable their own unhealthy behaviors, including addiction, irresponsibility, or poor choices.
Some of the signs of codependency in a relationship may include:
- Manipulative behaviors that drain others of time, resources, and/or emotional energy
- Lashing out when others try to set boundaries and limits
- Creating justifications for unreasonable behaviors
- Acting helpless in order to make others feel responsible for helping them or solving their problems
- Becoming disappointed or depressed when others do not rescue them or give in to their demands, claiming no one cares about or supports them
- Using past adverse events or situations to justify current helplessness or lack of responsibility for their choices
- Using other people’s concern for their wellbeing to manipulate situations or extract resources from them
These patterns indicate that codependency has become a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with life’s problems or taking responsibility for life’s challenges. People with codependency often need professional help to understand their own behaviors and take control over their own lives.
Sometimes this means seeking treatment for addiction or mental health problems. Often, family therapy is needed as well in order to break unhealthy patterns in the family dynamic and help everyone establish healthier boundaries with each other. In some cases family members or enmeshed partners have to stop their own enabling behaviors in order to force change in the codependent relationship.
Understanding The Enabler in Codependent Relationships
An important part of understanding codependent relationships is also understanding the role of the enabler. You may wonder why a person would put up with such unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors from someone else. Yet for the enabler in the relationship, they are often getting a secondary gain from the dynamics in the relationship. A secondary gain is typically an unmet emotional need that is being facilitated by the codependent dynamics of the relationship.
To use the example of codependency in addiction, the enabler is often put in the position of facilitating the addicted person’s behaviors by providing money, shelter, rescuing them from unsafe situations, and helping to minimize the negative outcomes of the addictive behaviors. They may be asked to pay for legal assistance, treatment costs, or food and shelter. The enabler may find themself supplying drugs or alcohol, or picking them up when they are intoxicated, or taking care of them when they are hungover or recovering from a drug binge. Even when the addicted person’s behavior and needs become excessive and unreasonable, the enabler often continues to support and facilitate these needs.
Why would anyone allow themself to be manipulated or used over and over again?To start off with, the person in the role of the enabler likely loves and cares about the addicted person very much. It’s difficult to watch someone you love do things that hurt them, and most of us have at least some inclination towards helping those we care about. There may also be a very sincere desire to do whatever is needed to help this person recover from their addiction and improve their life.
However, in codependent relationships this desire to help someone you love becomes excessive and unhealthy. Often, the enabler is also using the relationship to fulfill their own conscious or unconscious emotional needs. They may have a desire to feel needed, or a fear of abandonment, or they may feel validated by rescuing other people. These emotional needs get fed when they become enmeshed with a needy and co-dependent person.
Enablers may also believe that they deserve to be mistreated or used, and may feel that they will not find another person who will need or want them. This desire to maintain the relationship despite the unhealthy patterns will allow the enabler to justify manipulative or even abusive dynamics within the relationship.
Relationships between an enabler and a codependent person can become quite destructive. Enablers have difficulty with setting boundaries and co-dependent people are quite good at blurring and crossing boundaries when it serves them. The needy behavior is reinforced because the codependent person receives attention and nurturing when they exhibit the unhealthy behaviors, thereby further incentivizing the co-dependent patterns.
To understand if you might be enabling codependent behavior, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there someone in your life that makes constant and sometimes unreasonable demands of your time, attention, and/or resources?
- Do you find it difficult to say “no” when they ask things of you?
- Have you covered up for mistakes or unhealthy behaviors such as drug use, accidents, or poor choices for this person?
- Have you protected them from feeling the consequences of their own behavior?
- Do you worry that if you do not rescue them they will abandon you or will suffer from the consequences of their choices?
- Do you avoid confrontation by giving in to their demands?
- Do you ever feel trapped in the relationship, with no good options for how to handle the problems that arise?
- Do you feel like if you don’t help them, no one else will and the person you love will end up alone?
It’s also important to note that both people in a relationship can be codependent. When this happens, both people are enmeshed in unhealthy patterns of facilitating each other’s bad habits while also depending on each other to feel needed and valued. They can develop a desperate kind of love for each other in which they only feel understood and valued by each other, and use their intense connection to justify addictive and maladaptive behaviors with and for each other. They enable each other and use each other as crutches to avoid change.
Breaking the Patterns of Codependency and Enabling
If these relationship dynamics sound familiar to you, then recognizing the codependent pattern is the first step in breaking up these maladaptive habits. These patterns can be hard to break because both people are getting something out of the codependent pattern. The enabler feels needed and validated, while the codependent person feels loved and cared for. Breaking these patterns may require professional help, and most definitely will require behavioral changes that include setting and respecting each other’s boundaries.
While the codependent person is often the one most in need of help and treatment, the enabler is more often the first person who has to change. This is because the codependent person’s behaviors are being reinforced by the enabler. Once the enabler decides that they will no longer facilitate those patterns, the codependent person has to either change or find a different enabler.
This means setting firm boundaries on what will and will not be tolerated in the relationship. Saying “no” to things that you have previously said “yes” to will usually cause conflict, so you have to be prepared to weather the negative reactions from the other person. For the enabler, this step is the part where things get difficult, because they fear they will lose the relationship and no longer feel needed or desired.
Individual, family, or couples therapy is often a necessary step in breaking codependent patterns and establishing healthier relationship dynamics. Whether you have struggled with codependency or you have been the enabler in the relationship, healthier relationships have to start with a willingness to change patterns and examine the emotional needs of everyone involved.
For more on healthy relationships and emotional intelligence, check out these other posts:
How to Identify Toxic Relationships
Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries
Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership
9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
Jealousy- it’s not a fun emotion to experience and it’s not exactly something to be proud of. Jealousy is a feeling of envy and wishing that you had something that someone else has, or even sometimes wishing that something bad would happen to someone who you perceive as having some kind of advantage over you. Everyone experiences jealousy sometimes, but it’s important to keep it in check to make sure that jealousy doesn’t cause you undue distress or problems in your relationships.
Why Do We Experience Jealousy?
Jealousy is complex, and can be triggered when people feel threatened in some way or have a fear of losing something, such as an important relationship. It can arise when people are competing for the attention of a third party, or when there is a perception that someone has something you don’t have, including some kind of advantage. These feelings can be triggered by competition in romantic relationships, family relationships, work relationships and friendships.
Humans can also experience jealousy when competing for resources and social capital. Social capital just means that certain qualities, such as appearance, financial resources, or personality strengths give people an advantage in the broader society. Our culture is predicated upon people being able to access resources that include things that increase our social and financial capital. This is why you can feel jealous, for example, if you think someone is more attractive than you, because it seems like they have an unfair advantage in being able to secure romantic partners, receive attention or favors, or even to be treated more respectfully or favorably.
There is plenty of research that backs up how people with certain qualities receive more benefits and advantages because of them. People who are considered conventionally attractive tend to get more job offers, make more money, receive more attention from potential romantic partners, more social acceptance, and even more leniency when in trouble. People who have more financial resources tend to have more power, fewer social problems, and yes, more leniency when in trouble. It stands to reason then, that people can look upon others who have these advantages and feel envious that they don’t have the same advantage.
It’s certainly not fair that subjective qualities such as beauty result in more advantages, just as it’s not always fair that objective resources such as money results in other advantages like power or authority or respect. However, given that we are all going to experience jealousy sometimes and we all have to live in the world as it is, it is worthwhile to gain some control over any tendencies towards jealousy you may have and build more resilience towards negative emotional reactions.
What To Do About Jealousy
While jealousy is a natural emotion to experience, it’s distressful and can take up too much of your emotional energy. Not only that, it’s also not very productive as an emotional state. It doesn’t help you improve yourself, it doesn’t help you feel better about yourself, and it doesn’t usually motivate you to work harder on your goals.
It can, however, motivate you to act irrationally, damage your personal relationships, and make you look insecure and petty.
One of the mistakes that I see people make sometimes is that they want someone else to make them feel better when they are feeling jealous. For example, they want their partner to provide more reassurance to them when they feel jealous of another person, or they might make baseless accusations about what other people are thinking or feeling when in reality their perceptions are rooted in jealousy rather than rational facts. This can cause damage in relationships because friends or partners get annoyed and fatigued when they have to constantly provide reassurance for reasons that seem irrational or rooted in insecurity and jealousy.
Combatting jealousy involves turning your focus back onto yourself so that you can stop wasting emotional energy on irrational jealousy. Here are 5 tips on what you can do to combat feelings of jealousy and keep your emotional state in balance:
- Practice Gratitude: First and foremost, practicing gratitude daily can help you feel less jealous and more secure. Increasing the gratitude you have for your life and relationships can help you to feel less threatened by others who may have resources or advantages that you don’t have. There are always going to be people who have more than you, or advantages that you don’t have. Yet in reality there is probably a lot that you can feel grateful for and there are others that have less than you. There may even be people who are jealous of you, though you might not even know it. Check out the link above for tips on how to cultivate a gratitude practice
- Acknowledge your strengths: While it can seem like other people have strengths, privileges, and advantages, you likely have all of those things too. Everyone has strengths, and you likely have advantages too in other ways. Take the time to recognize everything you have that enables you to be successful and helps you to move forward in your life. Make an inventory of your strengths that includes things that you are good at, what you like about your personality, things that make you unique, ways in which you’ve helped other people in positive ways, challenges that you have overcome, and compliments that you have received.
- Check your values: Understanding your values is part of being emotionally intelligent, because your values help to guide your choices and priorities. Vales can be things like love, family, security, fairness, responsibility, loyalty, and many other qualities that you want to embody in your life. Values can be helpful when you’re feeling jealous because more than likely being a jealous person isn’t something that you value or want to prioritize in your life. Think about the values that you want to have and the qualities that you want others to recognize in you. If how you’re feeling isn’t in line with those things, then it’s time to let go of jealousy thoughts and focus on living out your own values.
- Challenge your cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions are like mind-tricks that we engage in that often involve irrational thoughts that can distort reality and lead to negative emotions. Understanding these distortions can help you overcome jealousy by learning to approach issues from a more rational context. Challenging cognitive distortions involves recognizing irrational thought patterns and then practicing more rational and objective ways of thinking about situations and feelings. For more information on cognitive distortions check out the link above and the other posts in my series on the topic here, here, here, and here.
- Acknowledge feelings of jealousy: When you acknowledge that you are feeling jealous, you can disempower that feeling. People often deny being jealous, but that doesn’t usually help you feel any better. This doesn’t mean you have to tell the person you are jealous of how you feel. That may not be wise or productive, depending on the circumstances. However, even if you just acknowledge it to yourself or another close friend, recognizing that you are having a natural emotion that needs to be dealt with can help you take control of the feeling and confront it. Try to understand why you are feeling that way and what kinds of inadequacies you think you have that are triggering jealous feelings. Then, practice the tips above to put the focus back on being your best self and dropping the comparisons.
Releasing the power that jealousy has on you can be an effective way to build your own confidence and let go of negative emotions. Remember that the only person you need to be in competition with is yourself, and jealousy isn’t serving you in any positive way. When we acknowledge our more unpleasant emotions and work to think about them in more logical and healthy ways, then we gain the benefits of having a higher emotional intelligence. It’s not about denying that you ever feel jealous or pretending that you’re above it all. It’s about acknowledging that you’re human with the same emotions as everybody else, but choosing to not be ruled by those emotions or let them drag you into a negative emotional state.
For more information on Emotional Intelligence, check out these posts:
How to Build Emotional Resilience
Are You Using Selective Self Control?
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
4 Steps for Anger Management
When you have been through difficult emotional periods in your life, you know how hard it can be to pull yourself out of a depressive state or break habits that you know are bad for you. Yet you may also know that those difficult experiences have shaped who you are and made you stronger and more capable as a person. Emotional resilience comes from overcoming difficult times and continuing to move forward with your life, even when you may not feel like it.
What Is Emotional Resiliency?
Emotional resilience has to do with how well you cope with difficult emotions when they arise and how well you handle emotional challenges such as grief, anger, frustration, failure, or other problems. When you are emotionally resilient, you still have emotional reactions to the situations you may find yourself in, but you don’t let the circumstances overwhelm you or pull you down into a dark place that leads to self- destructive patterns. Difficulties can be managed, and they do not change who you are as person or what your core values and beliefs are.
If you feel like your emotions are often in charge of how you react to situations instead of you controlling your emotional reactions, then you may need to practice building up your emotional resilience. Strong emotional resilience can help you cope with challenging situations without becoming overwhelmed or wanting to give up.
How To Build Emotional Resiliency
Building emotional resilience can take time, partially because you have to actually experience challenges and struggles in order for you to become resilient towards them. Everyone eventually experiences feelings like grief, anger, frustration, and failure, but the circumstances which trigger these emotions depends on what is happening in your life at any given time.
When you do experience these feelings or are going through a challenging situation, keep these tips in mind to help you cope with those challenges and build emotional resiliency.
- Acceptance: This is a tough one for many people. Accepting circumstances as they are when you really want the situation to be different is always a challenge. However, the sooner you accept that something bad has happened so now you have to figure out how to deal with it, the quicker you can get on with your life and figure out how to move past the problem and towards the solution. Sometimes there might not be a solution, such as when you have lost a loved one to death or when a tragedy has occurred that cannot be changed. While you may experience other stages of grief such as denial, you ultimately must accept the circumstances, so practicing acceptance is a key component of emotional resiliency.
- Figure out what you can control: Sometimes you will not feel like there is much you can control when something bad has happened, but if you think about it and try to look for your choices, you may find the things that are within your control. When you figure out what you can control then you can empower yourself to make the best choices under the circumstances, and that will often lead to improvement in your emotional state.
- Let go of what you cannot control: After you have figured out what you can control, then you can practice letting go of the things you cannot control. That may be clear at times, such as knowing that something in the past has already happened and you can’t change it. Other times it may be more confusing, such as when you are unsure whether your efforts are going to pay off if you take a risk. Sometimes the only thing you may be able to control is your outlook and attitude towards the problem. Regardless of what’s happening, you will feel more resilient towards difficult circumstances when you learn to let go of any anger or resentment towards things you cannot control and try focusing only on what is within your own power to control.
- Acknowledge your emotions: Emotional resilience is not about not having emotions, but it is about understanding and accepting your emotions. You cannot move past an emotion if you do not acknowledge and accept it. For example, if you feel angry about something, but you don’t ever acknowledge or express that anger, then eventually it builds up inside you and turns into resentment and cynicism. Once you acknowledge that you feel angry and work through accepting the circumstances and choices that caused that emotion, then you can let go of it and move on to a calmer emotional state.
- Take responsibility for your actions and reactions: You cannot control what other people do or how they react, but you can control your own behaviors and reactions. When you take responsibility for your own actions, you will feel more in control, which will lead to more emotional resilience. There may be times when you don’t feel proud of your own behavior or reactions. You can still build emotional resilience when that happens though, by resolving to learn from your mistakes and make better choices in the future.
- Recognize when you are being self-destructive: Coping skills can be either healthy or unhealthy, and unhealthy coping skills tend to increase when you’re under stress or dealing with difficult emotions. Part of taking responsibility for your actions and taking control when you can is recognizing when your own coping skills are becoming self-destructive. This can happen when we start using food, or alcohol, or substances, or other unhealthy behaviors to cover up the difficult emotions we are experiencing. When the coping skills you are using are doing more damage to you in long run, it’s time to recognize that your self-destructive behaviors are just prolonging the painful emotions you need to deal with. Emotional resiliency comes from dealing with your emotions, not from covering them up.
- Stop ruminating: Rumination can become unhealthy when you are constantly dwelling on an issue or replaying scenes over and over in your head. You get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts and feelings that don’t help you move forward at all. Sometimes ruminating on a problem can be helpful when you are looking for a solution, but rumination becomes distressful when you become preoccupied with something and can’t move past it. When you are asking yourself questions with no real solution or answer, such as “What if…” or “Why did this happen..”, you can get caught up in cycles of rumination that leave you with no solutions. Instead, try asking yourself questions like “How can I change things…” or “What are my choices..” to try and find solutions. Focusing on those kinds of questions will help you build emotional resiliency as you work on becoming more solution focused rather than staying stuck in negative emotional cycles.
- Release feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame: This trifecta of emotions can send you on a downwards spiral of self-destructive behavior if you don’t learn to cope with these feelings and release them. This is not about absolving yourself from any blame when something bad has happened, but it is about being realistic about what you are actually responsible for and letting go of these negative emotions when they are not serving you well. If you examine these feelings, you may realize that you have been blaming yourself for things that were not your fault. You might need to recognize that you don’t have to accept responsibility for things you have been feeling guilty about. There might be other times when you do feel sincerely regretful about something you did, and in those times it is appropriate to acknowledge the feelings of guilt and blame. You may need to forgive yourself for things that you regret, or you may need to apologize when it’s appropriate. However, you aren’t helping anyone by drowning in guilt and shame or ruminating about things that are in the past and can’t be changed.
- Understand your own cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions are like little mind tricks that we all engage in sometimes, but that can distort reality when we don’t look at things in a rational way. You can build up more emotional resiliency when you learn to recognize the mental patterns you use that distort reality and keep you stuck in negative thought patterns. Learn more about cognitive distortions by reading the Cognitive Distortion Series I have on the blog.
- Practice gratitude: When you really feel overwhelmed and stuck in negativity, it’s always a good practice to come back to gratitude. Cultivating a gratitude practice regularly will help you build emotional resiliency by helping you stay focused on the positive things you have in your life and give energy towards more of those things. Even when times are really tough most of us have something that we can be grateful for. Many of us have more than enough to be grateful for, and while none of us is immune from suffering, we can all build emotional strength to help us cope with life and it’s struggles.
Emotional resiliency is a trait that you can develop, and like other areas of personal development, it is something that takes practice. The more you practice dealing with circumstances by choosing acceptance, gratitude and responsibility versus choosing rumination, negativity, and shame, the greater control you will feel over your life and your choices.
You will not always be able to control the circumstances and situations that happen in life, and you will not always be able to control the actions and feelings of others. However, you can choose to mentally shift your perspective in ways that will help you build up more emotional resiliency. Practicing emotional intelligence will help you be better able to handle emotions when they arise and help you feel more confident about how you are choosing to handle problems and circumstances.
For more about Emotional Intelligence, check out these posts:
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
Are You Using Selective Self Control?
4 Steps for Anger Management
Cognitive Distortions: Disqualifying the Positive
If you have a relationship with a toxic person, whether that is a romantic relationship, a friendship, or even a family relationship, you might often find yourself frustrated, drained, and confused about how to handle the situation. It’s hard to know how to set boundaries with people or know when to cut ties with someone that you care about. You may not recognize how toxic the relationship has become until you take some time to really think about the patterns that have been established.
What Are Toxic Relationships?
Toxic relationships tend to drain your energy, because the patterns of behavior from a toxic person can be confusing, hypocritical, and exhausting. Some people actually thrive on the conflict and drama that they create in their personal lives. The reasons why people do this are just as confusing, and usually not worth your time to try and figure out. It usually has to do with personal insecurity and poor emotional intelligence. Trying to change the other person or have healthy boundaries can be just as exhausting, because ultimately you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change, or who doesn’t see the toxic patterns in their own behavior.
There are many signs that the relationship you are in is has become toxic, which means you need to think about changing some things to protect your own mental health and establish healthier relationships with this other person. Again, this could apply to a friendship, a romantic relationship, or another personal relationship, even a co-worker or supervisor. The toxic person in your life may not display all of these sings, but they likely will display at least a few of these signs if their pattern of behavior is unhealthy.
Here are 10 things to look out for that indicate you are in a toxic relationship:
1: You get upset at this person, but then you end up apologizing to them for something else entirely. They have a way of turning arguments or disagreements around so that you end up feeling guilty for everything, even things that are not your fault. They rarely take responsibility for their own faults, and when confronted they turn the focus back to the person who is calling out their behavior.
2: You are constantly accommodating their needs, but when you need help or support, they aren’t there for you. Toxic people tend to latch on to other people who are givers and empaths, but they are often not willing to give support back to other people.
3: They make a lot of promises or agreements, but they rarely follow through with what they say they will do. They are willing to follow through with things that will benefit themselves, but toxic people will not prioritize other people’s needs, so if they see no benefit to themselves, they don’t follow through with their commitments.
4: They are constantly complaining, but they never do anything to change their circumstances. They may blame everyone else for issues, but never take responsibility for solving their own problems. You may find yourself caught up in trying to rescue them often or fix their problems for them. They start to assume that you will be there to fix things for them, and they may even become angry when you don’t fix their problems for them or bail them out from the consequences of their own behaviors.
5: They may be negative more often than not. They will avoid doing things because they insist that things will not work. They may avoid making changes because they always find barriers to making progress or changing their behavior. Even when you try to cheer them up or point out the positive in situations, they will still shut down any solutions you offer or refuse to acknowledge anything positive. It can be hard to be around people like this after awhile because they start to negatively affect your mood, too.
6: Toxic people may avoid issues altogether by denying that a problem exists, or avoid hard conversations by just saying they have nothing to say, or giving one-word answers when you are trying to resolve a problem or talk about an issue. They may also stall, saying that they will do something later, or wait for someone else to do it.
7: You feel like you have to walk on eggshells or watch what you say around this person to avoid an argument or problem. A toxic person may become highly defensive if you try to raise any issue that you want to talk about. They also may have a tendency to say things that are hurtful or condescending, so you become defensive too, so as not to find yourself under attack in some way.
8: They may expect you to read their mind, or know how they feel at all times, so that when they become upset you may be the one who gets blamed. You may find yourself trying to do the right thing, but no matter what you do, they end up finding fault with something you did or said. Toxic people can be extremely difficult to please, because they expect others to cater to them, yet they will easily find fault in others when mistakes happen or if they don’t get their way.
9: They may ignore your boundaries when you try to set limits with them, but they become upset when you try to enforce those boundaries. Toxic people feel victimized when other people set boundaries with them, and so even if you try to set healthy boundaries, they may not respect your wishes or accuse you of abandoning them when you try to stick to those limits.
10: They may make fun of you or otherwise say hurtful things, but if you get upset they accuse you of being too sensitive or of not being able to take a joke. When you stand up for yourself, they distance themselves from you to punish you for doing so. It might seem easier to just let things slide, even when you feel hurt, because trying to address how you feel will just result in an argument or more denials from the toxic person.
There are many other things that toxic people may do that are confusing, hurtful and unhealthy. Unfortunately it can be hard to set boundaries with people like this, and you may still care about them and want to continue to friendship or relationship. However, you need to remember that you cannot change another person, especially someone who does not see the need for them to change.
What To Do If You Are In a Toxic Relationship
Sometimes, you may be able to keep the person in your life, but you might have to cut back on how much time you spend with them. If you are in a romantic relationship with someone who exhibits these patterns, then you really need to consider whether you can continue to tolerate this kind of dynamic in your relationship. It is possible for people to change, but you might need help from a professional, and your partner has to be willing to look at their own toxic patterns.
If these patterns are present in the workplace, you may not have any choice but to try and find other employment, especially if the person is in a supervisory position over you. While you always have to carefully weigh your options when it comes to work, staying in a toxic work environment can cause long-term stress and contribute to a decline in your overall mental health and quality of life. When it is a co-worker you have difficulties with, you can try to limit your conversations to work-related issues and avoid contact with them outside of work.
Other times, when it is a family member or a person that you can’t or don’t want to cut out of your life, you have to start to adjust your expectations and limit how much time and energy you give to this toxic person in your life. Although it can be difficult, you have to ask yourself some hard questions about whether you can continue to spend your emotional energy in a relationship with someone who does not respect your needs or feelings. Setting boundaries and limiting your contact with toxic people are often the best strategies to avoid these relationships have a significant negative effect on your life.
For more information on setting boundaries and emotional intelligence, check out these other posts:
Emotional Intelligence Series: Setting Boundaries
10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence
9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People
In this post for my emotional intelligence series I’m going to focus on selective self-control. Selective self-control refers to our ability to control ourselves in some circumstances, but not in others. In some ways it can be a cognitive distortion because we often have more control than we realize, but we may be subconsciously choosing not to use our control sometimes, and this can become a problem, especially in our relationships with other people.
Selective self-control is something that I have to challenge my clients on sometimes, because while I understand that it can be hard to practice self-control sometimes, it is my job as a therapist to help my clients find their power and learn to utilize it, and self-control is about power. Selective self-control tells you that you can’t control your reactions to certain circumstances, and then you feel helpless about your ability to exert power over your own behavior.
When you feel powerful, you feel in control. However, feeling powerless often results in people acting or thinking in ways that hurt them more. One thing that I try to encourage my clients to do is to evaluate their choices based on how much power they have in a situation. By this I mean you have to constantly be assessing where you can use the power that you have and what you have to let go of when you don’t have power.
What Selective Self-Control Looks Like
A good example of our use of selective self-control can be found in the differences between how we act at work versus how we act in our personal life. Most of us know that we have to maintain our self-control in the workplace even when things get frustrating, or your supervisor has done or said something disrespectful, or you have to complete task that you find boring or pointless. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.
You know that if you refuse to do your work, or you talk back aggressively to your disrespectful boss that you will end up suffering some consequences that you might not be prepared for. You don’t want to lose your job, so you practice self-control in this environment in order to prevent back-talking or going-off on your supervisor, and you suck it up and do what has to be done because you want to keep your job. If you have ever had to do this at work then congratulations, you have self-control!
However, the same people who can control themselves at work and avoid negative consequences in that situation can find it difficult to maintain self-control in their personal lives. They may get frustrated with their partner or their children and start yelling or getting aggressive. They may slack off doing things that need to get done at home because there’s no one to dole out consequences if they don’t finish something. Or they may tell themselves things that aren’t true, like “I can’t control myself when I feel angry”.
If that happens to you, then you might be using selective self-control. It’s true that in a workplace environment you may not always have power, because you might have a supervisor or someone “above” you in the hierarchy that you have to defer to and listen to their direction. However, as adults we usually have no such person in control of us in our personal life. It’s our choices that control how we handle problems or resolve conflicts.
If the difference between when you can control yourself and when you can’t is based on whether there is someone there to dole out consequences, then you are selectively choosing to only respond to consequences, and then relinquishing your control at other times. This is using selective self-control because your self-control is based on whether you will suffer consequences or not.
The strange thing is, you likely have MORE control in your personal life than you do at work, because if you are an adult, then you mostly answer to yourself. Yet people often claim that they can’t control themselves in their relationships, in their daily habits, or in setting and following through with their own goals.
To further this example, I will expand on something that I saw fairly frequently when I was working with military families as a contractor. I would see sailors that would be excelling at work: getting accolades from their Command and moving into leadership positions, or at a minimum, they would be staying out of trouble at work despite working in very intense, frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming conditions. Yet when they would get home, they would have aggressive confrontations with their family, either losing their temper with their children or taking out their frustrations on their spouse.
When talking about the changes they wanted to make, they often stated that they felt out of control when they lost their temper and yelled at their spouse or their kids. They were able to maintain their self-control at work, pushing through very stressful conditions and duties, dealing with disrespect from their CoC, because they knew the consequences of losing control in that environment would be more than they were willing to pay.
Yet at home, there was no one there to deliver such consequences. The consequences they suffered due to losing control at home were mostly in the form of a loss of emotional connection with their spouse, which wasn’t an immediate and tangible consequence. This wasn’t enough to motivate them to maintain their self-control in the home environment.
There is another part to this problem of selective self-control, and that is the issue of diminishing motivation. We often lose motivation and lose self-control when we have been struggling to maintain control for too long. This happens frequently with dieters. You may start a diet, restrict your food choices, and try to control what you intake. You maintain control for a while, yet eventually, you break down. Why?
It takes energy, concentration, and motivation to maintain self-control. You have to resist your impulses, change your habits and swallow your pride at times. This always is going to require some effort. The more temptations, triggers, or stressors you experience, the more your self-control is diminished. This is why it can be hard when you have been maintaining control all day at work and then one more frustrating thing happens at home and you blow up at your spouse or raid the pantry. Researchers have suggested that self-control is a limited resource and that maintaining control at a high level depletes our self-control.
How to Master Self-Control
So what can we do? If we know that self-control is possible because we make choices to control our own behavior and resist our impulses all the time, but we also know that self-control gets depleted and staying too rigid for too long causes us to lose motivation for self-control, what is the solution?
Emotional intelligence is all about using our knowledge to help us make decisions about how to handle our emotions. So we have to confront the fact that our use of self-control may be selective at times. It’s not correct to say that you have no self-control when in reality you are using your self-control every day in different ways. Self-control keeps you from driving someone off the road when they cut you off, gets you out of bed when you want to sleep in, and stops you from burning the building down when someone steals your stapler. However, armed with the knowledge that we will eventually lose motivation to maintain that control we can take some preventative measures to help us build and practice real self-control.
Here are 10 tips to help you master self-control so you can practice and maintain your own power:
- Stress relief
When you’re stressed, you have less strength to resist your impulsive behaviors, so make sure you’re engaging in stress-relieving practices such as exercise, fun activities you enjoy, and looking at unhealthy habits that might be contributing to stress (such as lack of sleep).
- Practice Assertive Communication
When you are too passive, your feelings and frustrations will build up inside you, causing more stress and reducing your overall sense of self-control. Work on building your assertiveness skills so you feel more powerful in all areas of your life.
- Avoid Avoidance
Avoiding problems doesn’t make them go away, so try to practice addressing issues when they come up instead of avoiding them because you don’t want to face the discomfort of confronting the problem.
- Make room for rewards
If you never feel like your efforts at self-control will pay off, you’ll lose motivation, so reward yourself in positive ways when you’ve accomplished something you’re proud of. If you’re working on a long-term goal, set small goals that bring you closer to your big goal and then reward yourself periodically as you accomplish those smaller goals.
- Remind yourself of your goals
Keep your eye on the prize when it comes to those long-term goals and remind yourself what all this self-control is for. You’re practicing self-discipline so that you can accomplish a goal, whether that’s pushing for a health outcome or improving your relationship with your partner. Keep that goal in mind when you feel frustrated and want to give in to your impulses.
- Remind yourself of intangible consequences
Even if your spouse or partner can’t fire you, you can still lose their respect and affection. They might not leave you today, but if you can’t control yourself and understand the consequences of your actions, then you might lose the people you care about eventually. Remind yourself that just as goals can take a long time to come to fruition, so can consequences. People don’t usually leave their partner after one big argument, but they might leave after years of feeling intimidated or disrespected by the person who says they love them.
- Choose to be in control
Remember who has the power and who is on control. You won’t always be able to have control over everything that happens, particularly in the workplace or in other areas when you’re not the ruling authority. But you always have choices about how to conduct yourself and how to handle conflict that comes up. When you are in control, you will know it because you’ll feel confident about your choices. Often, it’s when people give in to their lowest impulses that they feel “out of control” or ashamed of themselves. Recognize your power over your own choices and discover what real power feels like.
- Build frustration tolerance
Little things are always going to come along that frustrate you. We all have to build frustration tolerance skills, which will help you from succumbing to road rage when someone cuts you off in traffic. Read more about how to build frustration tolerance in this post.
- Don’t try to be perfect
Think progress, not perfection. No one can be perfect all the time. Whether it’s with your diet, your career goals, or your personal development, making mistakes is how we learn and get better. Trying to be perfect will just result in that diminishing motivation phenomenon, so give yourself credit for your accomplishments and practice gratitude for the progress you’ve already made.
- Find your joy
Everyone deserves to enjoy their own life, so think about what brings you joy and try to work that into your life in any way possible, big or small. When you get to experience what brings you joy you will be more motivated to do what it takes to get you there again. This is the part where all your hard work and self-control pays off, so when you find your joy, revel in it and soak it up.
Self-control doesn’t have to be selective. When you give yourself credit for what you already know you can do you will feel more confident about your ability to maintain self-control. I’m willing to bet that you have practiced self-control in some areas of your life already, so you know what it feels like to suppress that urge to tell off your boss. You just have to apply the same skills you used then to other areas of your life. Practice these tips and build that mental muscle so you feel capable of controlling your impulses and building your own sense of power.
Anger is an emotion that we all experience, but learning to manage anger is an important skill to have when it comes to developing and practicing emotional intelligence. Part of having high functioning emotional intelligence is understanding and coping with all of our emotions in a healthy way, including anger. Anger management can be a problem for some people, but there are definitely some skills that you can work on to help with this problem if you are one of those people.
In order to build and maintain strong anger management skills, it can be helpful to look at where your anger is coming from, how you react to anger, and what you need in order to gain control of your anger. It is also important, though, to understand what anger is and why it is so hard to manage for some people.
Why Do We Get Angry?
Anger is an emotion, of course, but it is also what therapists sometimes term as a secondary emotion. This means that anger is an emotion that we experience in reaction to another emotion. For example, you can feel disrespected, and then feel angry about that. You could also feel frustrated, betrayed, overwhelmed, irritated, or in grief and feel angry in response to those emotions as well.
Part of anger management is learning to tap into the primary emotion that your anger is in response to. When you feel angry, you need to acknowledge and cope with that anger, but ultimately you will need to understand what the primary emotion is that you are having, because that is the emotion that still needs to be dealt with. Understanding WHY you are angry is just as important as learning how to react to that anger in a healthy way.
How to Build Anger Management Skills
When I work with clients on anger management, we work on managing anger through basically a 4-part process. Here is a breakdown of the process that we go through to learn anger management skills and gain control over anger:
- Learn what your triggers are
First you need to work on learning what triggers your anger most often. Whether it is situations that happen at work, small daily frustrations that overwhelm you, feeling disrespected by how someone speaks to you, or feeling ridiculed in some way, learn to identify what your triggers are so that you can be prepared to face them when they happen. You WILL get triggered in life, so we all have to understand what situations are most likely to cause us to react.
- Develop coping skills to deal with your reactions to anger
Everyone needs to have a good arsenal of coping skills to manage overwhelming emotions, including anger. You might need to practice taking a timeout to go for a walk when you feel out of control, learn deep-breathing techniques, go pound it out in the gym, or take up journaling as a form of self-expression. It is fine to remove yourself from a situation to give yourself a chance to calm down. Find out what works for your by trying some different things, whether that involves releasing that angry energy in an appropriate way or learning self-soothing techniques to calm yourself down in the moment when you feel very reactive.
- Understand the primary emotion from which your anger is coming
Once you’ve had a chance to calm down, you need to examine what the primary emotion is that you are reacting to. Did you feel disrespected by something that was said? Did you feel dismissed or ignored in some way? Are you feeling irritable because you are in grief? Learn to frame your anger as a secondary emotion and always try to identify what the underlying emotion is that you are having.
- Learn to express and address the primary emotion when addressing your anger or when in conflict with others
When you understand the primary emotion you are having, think about how to resolve the anger you are feeling by expressing that emotion in an assertive way. You can address the anger too, just be sure that you are not ignoring the root of the problem, or you will still feel angry, hurt, and frustrated. You might need to say something like “I feel angry because you called me an ugly name, which was hurtful and I felt very disrespected”. You are not denying the anger or pretending it doesn’t exist or isn’t valid, but you are taking it a step further by understand what triggered your anger and why you were having that emotional reaction. Ultimately, you need to resolve the feeling of being disrespected, not just the anger that was your reaction.
How to Know When You Need Help With Anger Management
Some people who experience significant anger management problems feel very out of control when they get angry. In extreme cases, some people even black out or go into explosive rages. When anger has become this overwhelming, it is important to seek professional help because your anger may be rooted in serious emotional traumas.
Sometimes anger becomes a reactive response over a long period of time because anger is an easily accessible emotion. We often deal with difficult emotions like rejection, fear, and insecurity by masking them with anger. Accessing and expressing that anger is easier and quicker than dealing with those other emotions, which can be scary.
Oftentimes it takes going through a process of understanding the very beginnings of your anger problem in order to heal and move forward. Anger can have deep roots that may have originated from childhood traumas, the type of messages you received from your family or by what you saw modeled in your home growing up. This means that you may have developed the use of anger as a coping mechanism when other forms of emotional expression were not safe for you.
When you are at the point where anger is affecting your relationships with people in all areas of your life, or has caused you problems in your employment and/or resulted in legal issues, you probably need to look into getting some personal attention from a therapist or from an anger management group to help you gain control over your anger. If you have faced significant consequences in your life due to anger, such as losing relationships, a job, property, or your freedom, then you need to seek help.
Having Real Control with Anger Management
You want to be in control of your anger, not have your anger control you. Being in control of your emotions rather than having your emotions control you is part of emotional intelligence. Sometimes we mistakenly think that aggressive expressions of anger put us in control because we can intimidate others into doing what we want or forcing them to listen. In reality, though, aggression towards others doesn’t result in real control. In fact, many people often feel ashamed about their behavior when then act out in aggression when they are angry.
If you find that you can control your anger at some times, but in other circumstances you feel out of control, then I would challenge you to think about whether you are using selective self-control of your anger management. For example, if you can control your anger at work, because you know you will get fired if you act out in aggression towards your boss (even though you may want to), but you then act aggressively towards your partner at home and say you can’t control it, then you might be using selective self-control.
If you can control your anger at work, then you CAN control your anger. You can use the same skills you have to use at work to keep yourself employed when you are dealing with problems at home. If you cannot control yourself regardless of the circumstances or potential consequences, then you probably need to seek counseling or other professional help in order to gain real control over your emotions and reactions.
The goal of anger management is not to never feel angry. The goal is to be able to express anger appropriately and without aggression towards other people. You can absolutely express anger in an assertive and appropriate way. You will actually feel more in control when you learn how to manage your reactions with strong coping skills, tap into the primary emotions you are reacting to, and express yourself assertively to address both the anger as well as the primary emotion you are having (ie: frustration, rejection, fear, or sadness).
Building a healthy response to anger will help you in all areas of your life, because you will be in control. When other people can push your buttons and you aren’t in control of your response, then it’s almost like they can control you like a puppet. Who is really in control at that point? You don’t want other people’s behaviors to dictate to you what your reaction is. Emotional intelligence is about understanding your own emotions and being in charge of how you react to those emotions, so practice using the 4 steps outlined above to help you gain control over anger and put yourself back in control.