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
Everyone has times in their life when they feel depressed, but clinical depression is more prolonged and intense than just having a sad day once in a while. When you are in a depressive state, it can be a challenge to get out of, even when you’re tired of feeling bad all the time.
Most therapists and other helping people will encourage you to focus on positive experiences, thoughts, and people to help you get out of that depressive state and back to feeling good. However, it’s also helpful to think about some of the things that you can cut out of your life that might be contributing to your depression and making you feel worse. It can be hard to get motivated to do the all the self-care you’re supposed to be doing when you’re in the midst of an intense depressive state.
Cutting some things out instead of adding more to your to-do list can be one strategy to combat depression and start to feel better, so that you actually have the energy to take care of yourself. Here are some things that you can safely ditch when you’re feeling depressed so that you have more time and energy to focus on yourself and get to feeling better:
1: Social Media
We all know that social media can be a place of comparison and drama when it’s not being used properly. When you’re feeling depressed, social media can sometimes contribute to you feeling worse, especially if you get trapped into thinking that everyone’s lives seem better than yours or that other people seem to be happy and thriving while you’re not.
In reality, some people are putting their best faces, experiences, and attitudes forward on social media and not necessarily the full picture of their daily struggles. Others might be constantly posting negativity, berating each other publicly, or starting arguments with little chance for resolution on public forums. All of this can get overwhelming as you’re scrolling through your social feeds.
While it may be tempting to surf through all of your social platforms when you’re feeling down or bored, consider temporarily checking out of your social media profiles when you’re having a depressive episode. The point is not to avoid people or the world in general, but you’ll be better off connecting with people in person who support you rather than spending too much time on social media when you’re feeling down.
2: Toxic People
Most of us know at least one toxic person, and possibly quite a few. Toxic people are the ones that either contribute to all of the negativity in the world because they have negative energy overall, or those who directly speak or act in ways that are hurtful or damaging to those around them. You probably know who the toxic people are in your life if you spend a bit of time thinking about it. It could be the person at work who is always complaining about the office or their home life, or it could be that one friend who pretends to be supportive but in reality finds ways to cut you down or dismiss your feelings whenever given the chance.
If you have a toxic person in your life, feel free to limit your contact with them or cancel any plans you might have made if you are feeling depressed and know their energy would just make things worse. This is all part of having healthy boundaries, and boundaries are part of self-care. When you’re feeling depressed, cutting out time with negative, toxic people is part of getting through that depressive episode. You don’t owe time or attention to people who negatively affect your mental health, even if they are among your friends and family.
3: Excess Clutter
Sometimes when you are feeling depressed, your physical possessions can tend to pile up and your space becomes a physical representation of how you feel inside. Think of dishes taking over the kitchen, laundry taking over the living room, and clutter taking over your whole home. The prospect of cleaning everything up seems overwhelming, and the whole mess contributes to how overwhelmed, sad, and unmotivated you feel. The best strategy when this starts to happen is to tackle one thing at a time.
When you are depressed, you probably aren’t going to feel motivated to de-clutter all of your space, so think about just picking up one thing at a time. When you walk to the bathroom, grab something to throw in the trash on the way or the laundry bin. If you go to the kitchen to get a snack, put up one or two dishes from the dishwashing machine or wash one pot in the sink. Don’t think you have to tackle it all at once, but recognize that one small bit of progress is not too overwhelming to manage, and doing one thing can create momentum. You will likely feel somewhat better when your space isn’t overwhelming you too, so just focus on small tasks, and by the end of one day you will have made some progress.
4: Negative Self- Talk & Rumination
This can be a tough one to tackle, because the nature of depression is such that your mind finds ways to remind you of the negative outlook on almost everything that is happening, and it all gets tied in with the hopelessness and loss of motivation that you are already feeling. However, ditching negative self-talk and negative rumination is one of the most powerful things that you can practice to help combat symptoms of depression.
First, you need to notice the thoughts that you are having that are negative and unhelpful. Recognize when you are engaging in thoughts patterns where you are ruminating on thoughts, people, or experiences that are not helping you to solve a problem or move past an issue. When you are having repetitive thoughts, such as “I can’t do anything right, nothing I do will make a difference, everyone thinks negative things about me…”, then you need to take control over this thought pattern.
When you recognize these negative thought patterns, write down all of the negative things you are saying to yourself, and then directly challenge those thoughts. Make an argument to yourself about why these thoughts are limiting you and make a conscious choice to change those thoughts in a more positive direction. You can enlist the help of a good friend or confident, your therapist if you have one, or you can do it yourself. But don’t let those thoughts go unchallenged, or they will take over your mental space and push you further into that depressive state.
5: Extra Obligations
We all have obligations that we have to meet in order to keep out lives on track and running smoothly. Work, school, family obligations, and other responsibilities are a part of all of our lives. Sometimes, though, you can afford to let go of some of the things you typically feel obligated to do, especially if you are someone who tends to over-commit yourself to others or take on more than you can reasonably handle. If this is a problem you have, then these extra-obligations can feel like more opportunities for failure or letting people down, and when you’re depressed, that can take on extra significance. When you are experiencing a depressive episode, however, this is a time to trim down your extra obligations and focus on getting your basic needs met.
If you have a partner that can pick up some of the slack, then enlist their help when possible. If you need to cancel plans that feel too burdensome, that’s okay, just try to be conscientious and forthright towards people that you have made commitments to. You don’t have to over-explain everything, but it’s okay to let people know that you’re not feeling well and you’re not able to meet those obligations you’ve committed to.
This is not to say that you can abandon all of your responsibilities. If you start to just check out of everything, like taking too many days off work, not taking care of your children, or abandoning tasks that need to get done like paying bills then you might find yourself suffering from consequences that will make your depression worse. This strategy is about ditching the excess stuff that you can do without, like too many social obligations or over-committing to extra projects. If you find yourself struggling to complete necessary obligations that keep your life together, then it’s time to get some professional help with your depression.
Manage Depression by Focusing on One Thing At A Time
Managing depression usually requires multiple different strategies, and sometimes it feels like a beast that is too hard to tackle all at once. You don’t have to give in to the sadness and fatigue, though. Every day and every hour is a new opportunity to try something different, and it will be worth the effort you make to feel better.
When it seems like self-care is elusive or like no matter what you do you’re still feeling bad, then try to trim down what you’re focusing on. Thinking about everything all at once can be too overwhelming, so just try to think about one strategy at a time and give yourself credit for that. Abandoning your social media scrolling in favor of a walk outside or canceling dinner plans with that toxic person in favor of some time spent journaling or calling your more positive friend who lives across the country can make a difference in how you feel at the end of the day.
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.
This is the second post in my Relationship Series and will cover the importance of shared values in your relationship. Values are important in your partnership because values are going to help define what is important to you as individuals and as a couple. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything, but it is important that you agree on the issues that you define as most important.
We get our values from many different places. Our parents, our communities, our beliefs, and our broader culture all help to shape our value systems. The great thing about values though, is that as you grow and learn more about yourself and the world we live in you will get to decide what your own most important values are.
When you enter into a relationship with another person, you might find that you share a lot of common values and beliefs, or you may find that you clash on some issues. However, learning to refine and validate your own value systems will help clarify for you as a couple what is most important for your future together.
When I work with couples in therapy, we often spend time defining those shared values and learning how to use those values to strengthen the relationship and find common ground to work through conflicts. We do this by going through a few steps to explore and clarify those values. You can also work on clarifying values with your partner by processing what your most important values are, exploring how you developed those values, and deciding how important your individual values are to your relationship as a couple.
Look over the following values and number them 1 through 10 as to what is most important to you. You should do this individually, and then talk together about your responses and see if you both have similar priorities.
- Financial Wealth
- Career Success
- Political beliefs
- Free time
If you share a lot of these values and rank them similarly, this means that you have a great strength in your relationship that you can use to guide you when you have conflicts. If you find that your answers are extremely divergent, then this tells you that as a couple you may often have clashes over significant value differences, and it may be difficult to reconcile those divergent values.
How To Know What Is Important
Clarifying your own values can help you figure out if there are conflicts that you have been having as a couple that are not really in line with what your most important values are. For example, if Peace is a really important value to you, but you find that you are having a lot of arguments over things that are less important to you than peace, then this tells you that perhaps you have been placing too much emphasis and wasting too much energy on those conflicts.
Alternatively, if you are having significant conflict over perhaps the division of chores in the home, you may discover that Fairness is really important to one or both of you. While arguing over chores may seem petty from afar, if this is a value that is not being upheld in the home, this presents an opportunity to talk as a couple about how that value can be better incorporated into your relationship so that there are fewer conflicts in this area.
The good news is that you as a couple get to decide what is most important to both of you. Understanding what is most important to your partner as well can help you to find common ground and understand each other better, which will lead to better conflict resolution.
Where Do Your Values Come From?
Another important step in understand your shared values is to understand where your values came from. You may have learned to value certain things because of your parent’s values, or because of certain experiences you have had in your life.
For example, if you have ever experienced poverty or economic instability in your life, this could be an important part of why financial stability is important to you. While some people may say or believe that money is not important to the relationship, you may find that your individual experiences shape why your values may be different in some areas.
You may also discover that your own values do not necessarily line up with the values that society imparts on all of us, or you might discover that while your parents may have upheld certain values when you were growing up but you no longer share all their beliefs or values.
Ask yourself what values are important for you to live by, and then ask yourself if you are actually living by those values. If you find that you value respect, but you know that you have not always been respectful to your partner, then this is an area that you can start to work on so that you are more closely living by your own values.
Using Shared Values to Resolve Conflict
Once you have talked as a couple about what your individual and shared values are, then you can move on to discussing how to apply those values to the conflicts that you are having. Have a discussion about how any conflicts that you have had related to the values that you have decided are most important to you.
This may also mean that you recognize that a conflict you’ve had actually doesn’t reflect your values, which means that you can use that information to change how you resolve conflict in the future.
For example, let’s say an argument occurs because one partner brought home some friends late at night that their partner didn’t know or feel comfortable around. One partner may rationalize that they should be able to bring home whomever they want to their home, and feel irritated at their partner for getting upset. However, if through a discussion they can recognize that this act didn’t live up to their shared values of safety and respect, then they may be able to better understand their partner’s discomfort at the situation. Understanding the importance of shared values and the role they play in the strength of your relationship can help you both make decisions that are a good reflection of the values you want to uphold.
No one feels good when they fall short of their own values. We can often feel shame, embarrassment, or defensiveness when our actions do not match our own values. Recognizing that your values are an important part of who you are and making conscious attempts with your partner to center your shared values in your relationship will help strengthen your partnership and resolve conflict in a healthier way.
For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship” and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.
For other posts in this series, check out:
Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication
Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy
Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership
Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship
Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences
Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership
This will be the 5th post in my series on Cognitive Distortions. To read more about cognitive distortions and what they are, check out my first post in the series: Coping with Cognitive Distortions.
This post is about Control Fallacies, which are basically a distorted way of looking at how much control you have in a particular situation. The reason that this cognitive distortion is unhealthy is because when we misjudge how much control we have in a situation, we can either blame ourselves excessively for something that has happened, or we can misplace our power by thinking that we have no control over a situation, when you might actually have more power than you think.
Control Fallacies work in two ways: you either think that events in your life are totally beyond your control, or you feel that you are responsible for everything, even things you could not control. Both aspects of this distortion can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and distress. These feelings can cause you to think negative thoughts about yourself, leading to more distress and negative thought patterns.
“I can’t control ANY of this! I feel so stuck!”
The trouble with the first kind, thinking that things are totally beyond your control, can start to happen when you feel helpless and stuck. Perhaps you feel that you are stuck in a job that you hate, but you feel that you have no choice but to remain there. Or maybe you feel repeatedly taken advantage of by others who have used you, and you feel that this is just something that will continue to happen because you are a nice person.
The fallacy in this kind of thinking is that you are actually able of making changes in these kinds of situations, but you have convinced yourself that everything is out of your control, so why bother changing? This is problematic because by not changing and taking control of the areas of your life where you can, you may just be extending your own misery and missing out on the confidence you will gain from taking power back when you can.
Sure, there are going to be times that you really need to stick with your current job, because you haven’t been able to find a better option and you need the money or the benefits. That’s understandable. Sometimes, though, a person may just not have really put in the work to make a change, and then they tell themselves that they have no options. This is a way of avoiding doing the work by claiming that you cannot change anything. I’m not saying this is always the case, because there will be times when you truly don’t have any control. This may be the case if you have a contract for a certain amount of time, such as for those in military service, or those who do not have many job opportunities in the area they live in. For others, though, they may be avoiding making the changes they need to make because it feels too overwhelming, or they are not sure where to start.
Similarly, if you have noticed that certain things continue to happen to you, such as feeling like people are using you or taking advantage of your kindness, you may also have some control in the situation that you can exercise. This might be a matter of learning to set better boundaries with others, which can be difficult but necessary. Setting boundaries can be hard to do if you are not used to being assertive or telling people NO when necessary. However, when you trick yourself into thinking that you can’t change things because you have no control over other people’s behavior, you may be engaging in a control fallacy.
“This is all my fault! I should have done something more!”
The flip side of this problem is when you feel that you are responsible for things that are actually outside of your control, and thus you feel that you have constantly made mistakes or are always letting other people down. For example, you may feel guilty for not noticing a mistake that a colleague made, and then feel accountable when that mistake turns into a bigger problem. Or, you may feel responsible for your partner’s behavior, because you tell yourself that you weren’t supportive enough or didn’t make sure they took their medicine.
When you notice that you are taking responsibility for things that you actually had no control over, this is a sign that you are not assigning blame in the appropriate ways, or you are not giving others the responsibility that they should have. This can lead you to feel guilty about things you didn’t control, or that you couldn’t have avoided. These feelings of guilt can lead to inappropriate feelings or shame or a sense of overcompensation you try to apologize for things that were not your fault. For more on that, see this post on over-apologizing.
In this case, you need to learn to stop taking responsibility for problems that you didn’t create, and recognize that you are not responsible for everyone else’s behavior. It doesn’t mean that you relinquish all sense of responsibility for things in your life, just that you try to look at a situation and figure out if there was something you could’ve done, whereby you learn something that you can use to make better decisions in the future, or you let go of any sense of shame or guilt involved in situations that you couldn’t control. This might mean that you have to practice not apologizing for things that were not your fault, or it may mean that you have to give yourself permission to let go of the guilt and shame about events that you have associated as being your fault when they really were not.
How can I change these patterns?
When you start to recognize these control fallacy patterns in your thought process, you can work to change them so that you feel more in control of your mentality and more confident about your decisions. If you notice that your thoughts feel self-defeating, if you notice that you constantly think about all the barriers you have instead of all the opportunities you can look for, remind yourself that you have to make small changes before you make big changes. Look for the opportunities to make small changes first, such as setting better boundaries with the people in your life, or making a plan to change your career path. Recognize that while you may not be able to control all of your circumstances, you can still control your personal decisions and where you direct your mental energy.
If you have the opposite problem with this control fallacy and you find yourself blaming yourself for things inappropriately, practice asking yourself some questions to get a better understanding of if there was really anything you could have done differently. Ask yourself: “How could I have known what the outcome would be? Is there really anything I could have done differently? Is this a problem that is out of my personal control? Is there someone else in this situation that needs to take responsibility for their own behavior or choices?” Recognizing your own power in these situations and figuring out what you can do differently in the future will benefit you if you learn to stop this pattern of cognitive distortion and look at the situation more objectively.
For more on cognitive distortions, check out these other posts:
Cognitive Distortions 2.0: Disqualifying the Positive
Cognitive Distortions 3.0: Personalization
Cognitive Distortions 4.0: Emotional Reasoning