Things people say that make therapists cringe.

One of the strangest things about becoming knowledgeable about psychological health and well-being is sitting by and listening to people in the media – and daily life – say things that you know will reinforce damaging themes and behaviors that people struggle with – things that keep them from becoming emotionally healthy. I have always wished to have a high-profile platform where I can set people straight and make a true and lasting difference in the way our culture thinks, talks and behaves, ways that are more supportive and compassionate to self and to others

With that in mind, here are things I often hear that make me cringe, followed by my comments on why it is screwed up, and what we can do to make it better. Please share.

  1. She is so selfless, she always puts others first. Meant as a compliment, I see it as discouraging people to not engage in healthy self-care. The insinuation is, if you put yourself first – on any level – it is a bad thing, and that simply is not true. Self-care should be at the top of every adult’s list … I mean Number one, as we have to bring our best self to ourselves and our relationships, and you can’t do that without self-awareness and seeing that your needs are met. Managing your mind, spirit and body health on a daily basis is absolutely necessary, and no one should feel badly about that. Think about it this way … you are responsible for your happiness, no one else is, so what are you going to do for you to get yourself the peace and contentment we all desire?
  2. He is there for everybody no matter the time of day. Yes, and he is probably one of my clients in marriage therapy. His wife and family don’t feel like a priority because they aren’t. Some individuals thrive on being needed, and must be Superman-to-the-rescue when the phone rings, and there are many people who will have no problem letting you do that for them, when as adults, they could figure out how to deal with their problems themselves. Needing to feel needed, and taking action on every request without moderation, is a self-esteem disorder; people need to do it to feel good about themselves, when feeling good about yourself should not be defined by things that you do. Always make sure your and your family’s needs are met first.
  3. He is such a wonderful man, except for …. Consider this … all of us are doing what we were meant to at this point in time, and every life experience is a teaching moment designed to lead us to our life purpose. You may not like or approve of another person’s journey, but their journey is not yours. You get to live life your way, and you must let other adults be where they are in their lives. The key word here is: Accept people the way they are, flaws and all. P.S. We are all flawed and always will be. Until you aren’t, mind your own business.
  4. She would be so beautiful except for … Why does any one person get to decide what beautiful is? This type of scrutiny breaks the heart and spirit of the one being scrutinized, because all any of us want in relationships is to be accepted, wholeheartedly, just the way we are. How about viewing every individual as the unique and beautiful being that they are?
  5. I do it (interfere in my adult child’s life) because of my grandkids … No, no, no, grandparents! I often have adult daughters and sons drag their moms and dads in so I can teach them appropriate boundaries. It is difficult for gramps and grandma to understand that once their child is grown, it is no longer appropriate for them to offer unsolicited advice and scrutiny, or to interfere in any way, with their parenting or how they live their lives. If the grandkids are not being abused or neglected in a way that needs to be reported to Child Protective Services, and the adult is not in imminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else, stay out of it. Instead, stand by as a loving support, there if needed and requested.

The theme here is that many people seem to think they are the authority on how other adults should live their lives, and I can promise you, they are not. Therapists are trained to know what is healthy when it comes to individual and relational emotional and behavioral health, but even we don’t know it all. If you aren’t paying me for my opinion in a therapy session, or if I’m not choosing to write a blog designed to inform and help people, you will not see me scrutinize or comment on the behavior or status of my family, friends, or people that I hear about. I know how to stay on my side of the street where my business is, and not cross into other people’s business and offend their boundaries inappropriately.

Now for The Zinger: To cross into other people’s business and offend their boundaries inappropriately by offering unsolicited scrutiny, comments, observations, advice, would make me grandiose, which is arrogant. Arrogant people think they know better than others, they look down their nose in contempt at people for not being who they “should” be. This stance is never right, it isn’t conducive to healthy relationships, and it destroys the possibility of a healthy relationship. The only way to have a healthy adult relationship with another person is to bring yourself down to their level, the human level where all of us exist, with an open heart of acceptance and compassion.

The hardest thing about being a therapist is knowing what you know, and then seeing people hurting one another unnecessarily.

Note: Brittany Wong, editor of the Huffington Post divorce page asked me what are some commonly overlooked issues that affect relationships negatively, and I knew immediately what my answer would be. I sent her my comments for an article she is writing on the subject, but as usual I wrote an entire article myself … here’s the result.

Couples often come in to therapy complaining of communication, intimacy and money issues, but there’s another issue that is a big deal and almost always overlooked – it’s shame, or the terrible relationship a person has with their self.

Shame-filled people, and that’s almost all of us, believe at their core that they are defective and something is wrong with them. They beat themselves up for not being good, smart, attractive, athletic or charismatic enough, or for not fitting in. They’re easily injured emotionally, are manipulative, defensive and live life as phonies trying to be who they think they “should” be, rather than who they are. A certain segment of the shame-filled community just gives up on being an effective human being altogether.

Having a low opinion of yourself trickles down negatively to almost every aspect of marriage and ends up being the root cause of virtually every problem – from abuse, adultery and addiction to being dependent, boundary-less, a control freak, narcissistic and countless other dysfunctional ways of being. At the end of the day, a person who is shame-filled cannot have a healthy relationship with another person. That is why I yell from the rooftops that shame is the No. 1 cause of divorce in America and the world.

It really is true that if you don’t love yourself you can’t love anyone else. So another overlooked aspect of relationships is the absolute necessity to bring your best self in mind, body and spirit to your significant romantic relationship. That means if we want to be in a relationship and have it be healthy, we have to start with a healthy self. Bring your best healthiest self to the relationship, work to maintain that, hook up with a mate who is dedicated to doing the same, and you have a fighting chance at having a healthy relationship.

Instead, what I usually see is people who are not mentally, emotionally and physically healthy carrying a bunch of negative baggage into a relationship and then wondering why it doesn’t work. It all starts with each individual being as healthy as they can be.

I tell clients all the time that I practice what I preach. And you know what? Being healthy takes a lot of time and I have to plan for it. I have been working on my own shame issues for years, and feel that I am in recovery from the bad relationship I used to have with myself. I am now very good to me and make sure all my needs are met every day so that I can function well in every aspect of my life.

For my body and mind I know that walking at least 30 minutes a day is good for me physically, but also has proven qualities that enhance brain health and eliminate depression and anxiety. Why wouldn’t I do that? Well, to make it happen I have to get up at 6 am everyday so I can drink one cup of coffee (must have!) and then walk a 45-minute route near my house and still get to work by 9 am. That’s hard, because I am not a morning person, but I do it. The result is that I feel great and have plenty of energy, and I’m in a great mood for the rest of the day.

I’ve noticed that certain foods contribute to how good I feel during the day, and other foods weigh me down. So I take the time to cook healthy meals at home and pack them every morning to take to work. I almost never do lunch or eat take out.

During the day I work at a job that brings me joy, makes a difference on people’s lives and helps me make a pretty good living for my family. I always look forward to work, and am energized at the end of most days when I leave. When I get home I have a healthy relationship waiting for me that I spend a lot of time nurturing and taking care of as well. This contributes greatly to my quality of life, as do our two little dogs who make us laugh every day.

As I work through my days I pay attention to how I feel and keep doing the things I love, and eliminate the things and people who drag me down. It’s Mental Health Management 101. I have conversations with the people I need to so that we can get along, make changes and adjustments, and make our relationships better. I read about healthy relationships and mind and body healthy consistently so I can learn even more about awareness, mindfulness and how to be healthy in the midst of a busy life.

By 9 pm I’m heading off to bed. I was always a night owl, but I’ve changed it so I can get up at 6 for that walk and still feel good the rest of the day. I read in bed for an hour or so, and then call it a day. When the weekend comes I’ll get plenty of rest and exercise, and do the leisure activities and nurture the friendships I enjoy.

What I just wrote about takes a lot of time. Most people I work with have never even thought of working on shame, their relationship with themselves, or have ever thought for more than two minutes about the foods they put in their mouth or how to take action to have a great relationship. And you know what? It shows in how they feel, how their relationships work, and how happy in life they are.