Everyday Grace

thoughts and inspiration on emotional health by colleen p. arnold

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

The Drama Queen’s Guide to Opening Up Without Bringing Everyone Down

As a therapist, I’m always trying to get people to open up to their friends, or make new friends with whom they can be honest. We’re social beings, we need each other, and countless studies have shown that people with a strong network of friends tend to be happier.

We have a couple of things working against us in learning how to create this network and use it, though. Maybe you heard from your parents that you should keep your problems to yourself, and you’re not supposed to talk to “outsiders” about what’s happening in your family.

Or maybe your friends seem to only want to have fun and laugh, and their eyes glaze over if you start talking about your problems.

Maybe you’ve opened up before only to have well-meaning friends jump in with their obvious solutions to your problems, – as if you haven’t already thought of them.

Closing yourself off from people who genuinely want to be supportive can make you feel lonely and isolated. But sometimes we forget that opening up to others is actually a skill that we need to learn. Here are some tips:

1. Know Your Audience

Trust the right people. If you find yourself consistently disappointed in your friends’ reactions, ask yourself why you keep opening up to them. Could it be you’re hoping to draw them in, make yourself feel closer to them by letting them in on your deepest, darkest secrets? Are you testing the friendship? Maybe you’re subconsciously convincing yourself that opening up is a bad idea by trusting people who are going to disappoint you, thereby proving your hypothesis that opening up isn’t safe.

Whatever the reason, open up to people whom you really feel to be trustworthy.  Don’t lay everything that’s going wrong in your life on a new group of people whom you’ve just met (unless it’s a group therapy session).

2. Timing is Everything

I probably don’t have to tell you that having a deep discussion or telling a friend what’s going on with you at a rave or a loud house party is a bad idea. Other bad times include: as your friend is walking out the door on the way to work; on the phone while you or your friend is at work; or when your friend is really tired and/or upset about something else.

3. Do It in Person, Not Over Text

Please, please, if you listen to nothing else, please believe me that you should not have any kind of emotional discussion over text. Texting is for “I’m going to be 5 minutes late,” or “I’m at the fountain in the quad.” It is NOT for “OMG I’m really falling apart….” kinds of talks.

For one thing, your friend is not going to be able to convey the support you’re looking for over texting, no matter how empathically they type. For another, really explaining confused and complex emotions is very difficult to do over text. It’s difficult to do in any kind of writing. Heck, it’s difficult when talking, so don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to communicate such things with a tiny keyboard and your thumbs.

4. Insert Some Positives

If you’re with a friend who accepts you unconditionally and loves you just as you are, great. They’ll probably be OK with a late night rant about how every single thing in your life sucks. When with everyone else, you can still be connected and receive support – but it’s a good idea to make sure you aren’t 100% negative in your sharing. Hardly any situation doesn’t have some light side, and hardly any stage of life is all dark. What blessings can you count? What are you grateful for? Be sure to balance your sharing with a few of these, and it will help you maintain your perspective, as well.

And even BFFs like to hear what’s going well, sometimes.  A friend of mine quotes something she learned from another friend, “”You can unload anything you want, but if you don’t share both good and bad, then you have to start paying me by the hour.”

5. Be Clear About What You Want From Them

If your friends jump in with problem solving, and all you want is some sympathy, you have to tell them that. You can’t get huffy, stalk away and sulk (Well, you can, but it’s not productive and it annoys your friends). It’s perfectly OK to say, “I know I’m whining, but I just need to vent for a minute.” Most friends will be relieved that you’re not making the problem theirs, and will be happy to sympathize.

If you feel like your friends are getting tired of hearing all your problems, maybe it’s time to ask them. You could be projecting your own discomfort with opening up onto them, and assuming that they’re more uncomfortable than they actually are.

On the other hand, maybe they feel like you’re complaining a lot without attempting to change anything. Either way, it’s a good idea to check in with them. But, be prepared for the answer and try not to feel too hurt. It’s actually the sign of a strong friendship that they can give you feedback without you reacting defensively. A friendship like that can make both of you feel safer and more supported.

Image courtesy of: Andy Bernay-Roman


How Do You Know it’s Love?

In my office, seeing as many 20-somethings as I do, I see a LOT of infatuation disguised as love. Most of the time, clients think they’re in love with someone with whom they’re actually infatuated.

I find it very difficult to tell someone, client or friend, that what they’re feeling is infatuation rather than love. First of all, they don’t believe me. Second, they tend to feel offended, as if being infatuated with someone is something to be ashamed of. But mostly, I think they’re disappointed. Infatuation sounds so shallow and temporary. They really WANT to be in love, and what they’re feeling is so strong, they figure it must be love.

How do you tell the difference? It’s not easy, especially since true love often starts out with infatuation. That’s the fun part – you think about this person all the time, you might fantasize about a future with them, you get all wiggly inside when you’re near them. You’d like to spend all your time with them. Your desire is strong, and your hands (among other body parts) want to be touching them all the time. You’re feeling giddy and happy – life is great.

Infatuation is quick and easy. It doesn’t take much work. Hopefully, the other person is infatuated with you, too. (If they’re not, what you have is a crush). You enjoy how much you have in common and are fascinated by the differences. Infatuation is awesome, fun and short-lived. You can prolong it by not having much contact with the other person (i.e. some long distance romances can never get beyond the infatuation stage).

True love is reciprocal. You can’t really “love” someone from afar, it has to be a dynamic interplay between two people to count as love.* (Again, if you do love someone from afar, what you probably have is a crush).

True love means you know the other person well and intimately. You know their faults, their lives and their histories. You know what makes your partner difficult to live with as well as what makes it worthwhile to be with them. You know what sets them off, and you know what makes them feel loved.

True love lasts through struggles. You’ve been through tough times with this person and know you can make it out the other side together. You know how to talk about your inner life, and you care about your partner’s inner life.  You trust this person, and you do your best to be trustworthy for them.

True love takes time. It’s a deeper connection than infatuation. You both care deeply about how the other feels. You are entwined in all aspects of each other’s lives, and you’ve met his/her family and friends. You face the world together, as partners. Everything else orbits around the two of you in the center.

Infatuation is fun. True love isn’t always fun, but it’s always worthwhile. And once you’ve had it, it will be easier to tell the difference. I’m interested in your opinion – what are other ways you can tell the difference between infatuation and love?


*or the three of you…etc. Yes, I think you can be in love with more than one person at once. As long as it’s consensual on everyone’s part and there’s no secrecy, who am I to judge? But that’s probably a whole different post…. 

Image credit: nyoin on Flickr

5 Ways to Tell if Someone’s NOT Your Friend

We’re still on the theme of making friends and creating lasting connections. Many people in their 20’s (and older) come to realize that the people they’ve hung out with for years, whom they called “friends,” aren’t really friends.

Of course, there are different levels of friendships. You can be acquaintances, or even friendly, with lots of people. I believe that for the most part, people are good, honest and caring. But the ones you let into your inner circle really need to be trustworthy. Here’s a short list of how to tell who isn’t:

1. You always get drunk (or stoned, or otherwise anesthetized) together. If you’re friends with someone, you can do more than one thing with them, and you enjoy being around them when you’re both sober, too. The tricky thing about these people is that when you’re both high, you might easily mistake them for friends and even think you love them.

2. They talk crap about people behind their backs but are friendly to their faces. If they do this to others, it’s a fairly safe bet they’ll do it to you, too.

3. Somehow, you always end up listening to their problems. This is a tricky one, because friends do listen to and support each other. But it has to be reciprocal. If you find yourself always listening to their drama, but they don’t seem to have time for yours, they’re not really your friend.

4. They try to change you. I don’t mean your stylish friend who has a really good eye and is great to go shopping with. I’m talking about the people who try to get you to listen to their music and are crushed when you don’t like it. Or, those who keep trying to get you to get involved with their hobbies, their sports and their travels even after you’ve explained you’re not interested. It’s one thing to want to share something they love with you, but if they can’t handle that you have different interests, they’re not looking for a friend, they’re looking for a mirror.

5. They flake often, with many excuses. The excuses are often good ones – ones you can’t argue with (or verify). You may even catch them in lies but they can come up with some convoluted explanation about why it’s not a lie. They somehow fall short of really making it up to you or taking full responsibility for their actions. If you find yourself saying, “That’s OK, I understand,” a lot, you need to rethink how much you can count on this person. Of course, sometimes people really do have lots of complications in their lives, and you can still be their friend. But if it seems to be never-ending, with one thing after another for a long period of time, or if you start noticing that they avoid taking opportunities to improve their situation, you might need to distance yourself a bit from their drama.

Not everyone is trustworthy, and trusting the wrong people is a really common mistake – we’ve all done it.  But if you start noticing these signs, let them inform your inner compass and just watch. You don’t necessarily have to call these people out and create a fight, but it might be wise not to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with them.

Image Credit: h. koppdelaney on Flickr

Why You Care What Other People Think (and Why That May Not Be All Bad)

ImageI hear a lot of people worrying “I care too much what other people think.”

First off, do you know what we call people who really, truly don’t care what others think? Anti-social psychopaths. So stop judging yourself. We’re social creatures, and the way we learn appropriate social behavior is that we see others reacting to us when we’re inappropriate. If we’re normal, we take that feedback and adjust accordingly. It’s a good feedback loop.

However….part of growing up is developing an identity and deciding what kind of person we want to be and what kind of life we want to create. And we don’t want other people making those decisions for us – especially as we get older.

What we have to realize is that almost everyone has their own agenda, which is usually to make themselves feel OK about their decisions. When others are judging you and your actions, it may be because they’re not OK with their own actions and are therefore using their judgments of you to make themselves feel better.

George Carlin had a great line about this: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” It happens in parenting, too. Have you ever noticed that parents with stricter rules than you are control freaks, and parents with less strict rules “don’t know how to say no?”

The end result is that you’re going to get judged. That’s what people do. Deal with it. People who are more rigid than you are will think you’re a slacker. People who are less rigid than you will think you’re uptight. The only people who will think you’re perfect are the people who are doing it exactly the same way you are. And there’s no one who is going to do everything exactly the same way as you, so the bottom line is, no one is going to think you’re perfect all the time.

So….how do you stop letting the judgments of others dictate your behavior? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What would I do if no one had to know? Let’s say you live in a bubble where you didn’t have to deal with anyone’s reaction to your decision. Would you drop out of law school and go weave textiles? Would you wear leggings and flip flops because they’re comfortable? Answering this question will give you an idea of where you authentically stand on an issue.

2. Do I agree with the people who might judge me? Let’s take two women with small children. One really doesn’t care how she looks as long as she’s comfortable. The other is the put-together, attractively styled mom who I have to admit I’ve been guilty of judging before, because I’m more like the former. But, both ways of being are perfectly legitimate.

The first might ask herself this question and conclude: “No, in fact, I don’t want to spend much energy deciding what to wear and doing my hair. It’s just not that important to me right now.” The other might think, “I know my friends think I’m vain. But it makes me feel happier and more productive when I know I look put together, so that’s what I’m choosing to do for myself. It’s how I take care of myself as a mom.” Both of these mothers should feel comfortable with their decision. Their decisions are authentic and honest.

But if these two women were considering office attire, it might be different. For example, someone who’s been accused of dressing too casually at the office might conclude: “These people have been in business a lot longer than I have. They think that wearing a suit reflects a certain amount of professionalism that’s important for clients to see. They may have a point. “

In another example, how about: “I’m sorry Mom and Dad are furious with me for not coming home for Christmas, but we have to be fair and spend at least one holiday with my in-laws. We’ll be with Mom and Dad for 2 weeks this summer and I think that’s fair.”

Or, “Mom and Dad are furious with me for not coming home for Christmas. They’re putting me through college and I haven’t been home in a year. They may have a point.”

3. Believe you can tolerate disapproval. No, really, it’s not going to kill you. If your relationship with whoever you’re worried about is strong enough, it will survive differences in opinion. If it isn’t strong enough, do you really want to live the rest of your life doing whatever this particular person thinks you should do? If you have thought through your decision, stand strong. You’re making your best guess about the right road to take, and that’s the best any of us can really do.

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