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Healthy Mental Health Means Being Yourself
Do you know who YOU are??
by Becky Whetstone, Ph.D., LPC
Take a look at your life – have any regrets?
Remember the dreams you had … were they big?
You’d be a best selling author, own your own company, be an artist, designer, real estate tycoon, the perfect wife or husband with the perfect relationship, living in the country, traveling the world, financially secure … doing whatever you wanted to do … not what you have to do?
Unfortunately – or fortunately -– we all have that nagging voice inside our head that seems to enjoy telling us what we should or could have done better. It’s sort of like a personal scale of justice, but it weighs what we have done on the left, and what we could have done on the right.
Which way is your scale tipping?
If you don’t like the direction your scale is leaning, what have you done about it … lately? It’s not too late to get yourself back on the no-regret track … but where and how do you begin?
There is a place to start, believe it or not. It’s that process that Oprah and Dr. Phil often talk about – finding out who you are and getting clear with yourself. Counselors often refer to it as becoming “authentic.”
After all, it’s our hang-ups and defense mechanisms that keep us from being able to take life by the horns and wrestle it to the ground – yes, with just a little tweaking, you can become rodeo champion of your world.
So what is it to be authentic? Well, here’s a material example – ever heard of an Imperial Faberge egg? Do you own one? If you’re not Queen Elizabeth II, a member of the Forbes family, Prince Rainier of Monaco or some fancy museum, probably not.
The Imperial Faberge Egg was first designed and created in the 1880’s by the jeweler, Peter Carl Faberge for the Russian Czar, Alexander, to give to his wife as an extraordinary Easter gift. The eggs were so stunning, that Alexander commissioned Faberge to make one every Easter, and after his death, his son Nicholas II continued the tradition for his wife. Between the two Czars, only 57 were made and are considered to be authentic. The highest amount ever paid for one of the eggs is $9.6 million, although one of the eggs that will soon be auctioned is valued at an estimated $24 million. There have been copies of these eggs made for years and sold for tens of dollars, and Faberge eggs continue to be designed and manufactured to this day that are sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars. But to get the mega-millions, the egg must be an authentic, genuine, Imperial Faberge egg.
Authenticity is the same way for people.
Think of yourself as a designer handbag. You may consider yourself an authentic Chanel bag that is made in France by the famous haute couture designing house and costs $800 or more, or you may think of yourself as a counterfeit copy made in China and sold at flea markets for 20 bucks. Which one is authentic? Which one is you?
As a person, would you prefer to be the authentic Faberge egg that is cherished and revered, or the fake that will probably end up tarnished and virtually valueless at a garage sale one day?
You may not care if a handbag or fancy jeweled egg is real or not, but when it comes to yourself, you should.
What does a person who is a “fake” look like? Well, she lives life as an actress playing the role of someone she is not. She may conform her attitudes to what her family or society deems is acceptable, all the while stifling her real personality for fear that she will be rejected. Apparently not being accepted by a majority of people is a terrible fate she is not willing to risk. She is as phony as the $25 Rolex you bought on the streets of New York that stopped working three months later and couldn’t be repaired, and almost as worthless.
Worthless in the sense of what this person could have achieved. She’s probably not making much of a difference in the world because she is too afraid of what the consequences might be. The person who chooses to live life pretending to be someone she is not is miserable to the same degree that she is not genuine, i.e. very fake = very unhappy.
How do you know if you are not the genuine Imperial Faberge egg you were born to be? If you wear a mask, surround yourself by protective walls that keep the real you hidden and protected, conform to what others expect, are afraid to speak out for what you believe in … then you’re just an egg – not an Imperial egg.
It is easy to know if we allow ourselves to play the game of being someone we are not, because we will feel the result -– stress, boredom, lack of energy, unhappiness, anger, depression and every feeling that is bad. Not being who you is one of the major causes of mental illness.
The following are some of the things that those who are not authentic do:
- You agree to do things you really don’t want to do.
- You accept the offer to chair the school fund-raiser even though you don’t want to.
- Your boss asks if you can take on another major project, and even though you don’t want to, you do it anyway.
- You spend time with people you don’t care to spend time with.
- You have a dog when you’d rather own a cat.
- You’re thinking of having children even though you don’t think you want a child.
- You spend vacations at the beach when you’d rather be visiting Paris or New York.
- You live in a house when you’d rather own a condo.
- You date people you don’t really care to date.
- You drive a car when you’d rather drive a truck.
- You prefer the city, but live in the country.
- Your mother wanted you to be a doctor, you wanted to be an artist; so you became a doctor.
- You take a plane on trips when you’d prefer to drive.
You chose a career for practical reasons.
Practicality isn’t a crime, but if you’re working at something you’re not passionate about, then you have fallen out of authenticity. In the authentic world, you do what you love for a living, and success generally follows. There is an old saying: “Do what you love for a living and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
You chose a life partner for shallow reasons.
You chose your partner for financial security, status, or physique – not because of his tremendous respect for you and the great warm, loving partner and friend he would make.
So there, now you know what the problem is, how do you fix it?
First understand that we are all born authentic. Think of every baby you see – joyful, exuberant, curious and loving. A tiny child’s natural state is that of being accepting and trusting. She is not depressed and has no worries or anxieties. She knows what she likes and she does not like. Not until she’s a little bit older will the baby begin to do things he or she doesn’t really want to do just to please others. (It’s ironic that we teach children that we value them doing what we want them to do, then criticize them when they grow up and can’t make decisions for themselves and be independent).
So we are born perfect –– joyful, with healthy self-esteem, knowing what we want and not afraid to express it – this is how we are before things happen to us that cause us physical or emotional pain. Once we learn that people can say and do things that hurt us, we begin to prepare a mask to hide behind, and build walls to protect ourselves. We become, shy, tough, withdrawn …
It’s not just what others say or do that cause us to take cover, we do plenty of damage to ourselves as well. When we go to school for the first time we have the opportunity to compare ourselves to our peers … and we often conclude that in at least one or more areas we do not measure up.
We decide that someone is better in sports, art, academics, or our looks aren’t even in the upper 50 percent, and that’s it. We tell ourselves we aren’t good enough and start playing the role of that person. Their body language and attitude will exude inferiority.
I once had a client tell me her life was ruined at age 6 when she decided she wasn’t as smart as the other kids. She took on the role of the underachiever … even though that’s not who she was at all.
Like my client, most of us create coping mechanisms such as becoming class clown, the bubbly girl, the angry bully-boy, or the obnoxious or quiet guy.
Take away the actor or actress in all of these children and you will find at the core the tiny child with an exuberance and joy for life. That’s where we need to be in order to be the best friend, family member, person, lover, husband, wife, or employee we can possibly be.
People who maximize their potential are often fearless individuals who accept themselves fully – just the way they are – for better or worse.
It really doesn’t matter how bad life has been to you. Perhaps you were treated horribly as a child, or you lost your family and grew up in foster homes. I’ve had clients who were sexually abused as children – some let it ruin their lives, others decided not to allow that to happen. The idea is that you can let the bad stuff keep you from happiness … or not. In the end, happiness is a choice.
So how does one begin on the journey of tearing off her protective layers and getting back to the passionate and life-loving person she was born with?
First, make the decision to do it. You have to want to, though. The process doesn’t work if you are doing it to please Mom, Dad, or that handsome guy who says to call him after you’ve done “some work” on yourself.
I recommend that you embark on this with the help of a counselor or spiritual guide. You can do a lot of it yourself by attending life-changing seminars – I once attended the Landmark Forum, which was extremely helpful – or you can read books on the process of healing and letting go of past hurts.
Second, state that you have a goal of becoming authentic. You want to live a life of integrity as the genuine Imperial egg you. Your desire is to live a bull-free life of honesty that is true to who and what you are.
That means if you are dating someone you don’t really care for, you have to tell him so. It means that when the handsome hunk calls and asks you to go snow camping, and you want to see him but not the snow, you tell him no thanks, but can he come to your house for dinner Friday night?
It means finishing the college degree rather than making excuses about why you didn’t. It means tying up the loose ends in your life, and then living a life of no loose ends.
Speaking of loose ends, if your ex wife still doesn’t understand why you left and still begs for closure, call her and tell her you’re ready to do that. Hey, who said being authentic is always easy? It’s those with hang ups that take the easy way out.
Now that you’re beginning the work, you may want to take certain personality tests that your counselor can give you to help you better understand the type of person you really are. When I started graduate school I took a test that told me I would be perfect as a journalist or counselor – I laughed because it underlined the fact that I was living the life I wanted – a sure sign of integrity and authenticity.
In addition, you can start making simple lists like the one below – the idea here is to find out as much about yourself as you can. Feel free to make your own questions, but for now, here are mine (The answers are examples I made up):
1. I love to: be outside, visit friends, have a dog, be involved in the community, be organized…
2. I hate to: physically exert myself, clean house …
3. I do not like, but can tolerate: the expense of fancy restaurants, profanity, cold weather, carpeting, gossip, laziness …
4. I do not like, and can not tolerate: camping, those who complain about the government and don’t vote, people dropping over at my house without calling, laziness, smoking, drugs, prejudice, being in debt …
5. I will never again: marry someone I’ve known less than six months, lie, do volunteer work, tell someone yes when I really mean no, be jealous …
6. If I could do anything in the world knowing I could not fail, it would be: go to medical school, grow a vegetable garden, be a recording artist, the mayor …
7. My favorite things are: to be with good friends, travel …
8. Things I wish I had more time for: my family, hobbies, reading …
9. Five things I will absolutely do in the next five years: Learn to play the piano, visit China, finish college, start a new career in the medical field, stop being judgmental, prepare a fancy Christmas meal with all of the trimmings, mentor a child.
Once you start doing this work, you will probably notice that you are a kinder, gentler, more understanding and caring person, but you are also a person who has healthy boundaries: You don’t go on dates with people you know you don’t like just to be nice, and if Suzie Jones still owes you $100, you will ask for it back rather than seethe in silence. If a person criticizes someone you care about and you don’t like it, call them on it.
You will be happier because you now fill your life with things you like and love to do, and minimize the things you don’t care to do. You may find that the time is finally right to prepare for a career that does more than pay the bills. Whatever you do, people will notice the change in you, and may even be wary or skeptical.
Being authentic means their wariness and skepticism will not affect you.
Once you start living an authentic life, your work will not be done, for this is more of a process than a destination. I highly recommend that you regularly water the seeds of your new authenticity.
You may find it necessary to weed negative people out of your life who prefer to hold your ankles rather than allow you to fly upward to a higher place.
Surround yourself with others who have done this type of work – most often you’ll know them when you seem them – they exude confidence joy and kindness.
Continue on your path of personal growth – there are numerous prongs and aspects of the process, and authenticity is the wonderful first step.
Dealing With Anger
Don’t pull your hair out — anger is normal. Still, all of us have to learn how to handle it in a healthy way.
by Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.
Anger is an emotion. And when we experience it, people describe feelings like: “My blood is boiling.” “I felt like I would explode,” or at its worst, “I felt like killing somebody.”
It’s normal to think or fantasize about doing bad things to people who have hurt us. It is not normal to act on them. So if you are thinking about letting the air out of someone’s tires, making crank phone calls, sending an anonymous hate letter, or having your toothless buddies from Shantytown teach him a lesson he won’t forget, do yourself a favor and don’t do it.
Still, being told to “just let it go” isn’t very therapeutic, either. So what do you do? Perhaps it’ll help to understand what’s going on when you’re
in the mode of, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!”
Anger is often activated by “feeling frustrated or otherwise restrained from pursing a goal.”* (1) We are most likely to be angry when we believe we have “SUFFERED UNJUSTIFIED AND INTENTIONAL INSULT OR INJURY.”*(2)
So there you have it – when life isn’t fair, we get mad, and that’s understandable.
At one time, it was believed that the best way to deal with anger was to express it immediately. That might have meant beating your fists against a pillow and primal screaming, or calling the person who did you wrong and giving him a piece of
your – uh – mind.
Now studies show that those things probably don’t help much, and can even make matters worse. as you risk the possibility of building yourself up into a frenzy.*(3)
Yep, that’s probably a BAD use of energy.
So take a deep breath, and try one nice, long exhale.(Get the hint, a deep breath may be the answer.) Instead of getting yourself riled up, researchers today advise cooling down BEFORE expressing yourself, not the other way around.
Try the old standby of counting to 10 … 100 – or 10 million if you must – BEFORE doing anything about it.*(4)
Remember, loosen your belly, and breathe! Ahh, I feel better already.
Now, take that energy and use it for good,not evil. Clean out your garage, detail your car, or go on an 80-day walk on a nature trail. Create a ritual of working out the anger through productive activity, and tell yourself that is what you are doing: “I am angry about this injustice, therefore I’m going to work it out through exertion while detailing my car.” After you have finished with the car, or whatever activity you choose, complete the process by soothing yourself. Any relaxing activity that you enjoy will do — a hot shower, soak in the bath, watching an
old movie … whatever it is. One friend I have works in the yard, takes a shower, puts on her favorite flannel PJ’s, then settles down in bed with a good book and falls to sleep. Going through this ritual processes the anger in a healthy and positive way.
References for Anger article …
1,3,4. “Psychology: In Search of the Human Mind,” by Robert J. Sternberg. Third edition,
Harcourt College Publishers, Fort Worth.(2001).
2. Averill, J.R. “Studies on anger and aggression: Implications for theories of emotions?”
American Psychologist, vol. 38.(1983).
Is it a Healthy Thing to Have Relationships at Work?
Fighting the urge for instant gratification = emotional maturity
by Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Is it OK to have a workplace relationship?”
My answer is, “It depends.”
When I worked as a reporter at the San Antonio Express-News between 1994 and 1998, I observed many workplace romances, and the company didn’t discourage them. As a result, their were quite a few couples who married and continued to work in the newsroom, some for many years. Because of that, I saw that office romances could work. They worked when each person was on the same level of the workplace heirarchy – both were reporters,or both were editors, not an editor dating a reporter. It worked when neither one of the individuals was involved with anyone else at the time – this meant they were free and clear physically and emotionally. With those kind of situations, there is and can be integrity to the relationship.
Think of the downsides to the office relationship – people will talk. On the one hand, I’m a major proponent of being true to yourself, but it is wise to consider if your professional reputation and potential to move up within the company might be compromised by dating someone you work with. Also, what if the romance doesn’t work out? Enduring workdays in the presence of the other can be a real drag.
What’s really at work here though is, seeing something and finding it attractive, and knowing that the negative outweigh the positives, and then doing it anyway. If the negatives outweigh the positives and you still choose to do whatever it is that’s not such a great idea, then you are a person who is into instant gratification. You want to be pleased now, and are willing to suffer the consequences later. That’s why we drop out of school, get into credit card debt, eat too much, and a lot of other things – because we want our pleasure now.
Living this way is a recipe for trouble. It’s a tell tale sign that you are emotionally immature. This is tough to say, but not being able to control your actions and acting on impulse for an immediate payoff is a real red flag that you aren’t living a life true to yourself, and that ultimately means you won’t be reaching your potential in life.
One of my favorite books is the “Road Less Traveled,” by the late Scott Peck, M.D. I recommend this book to anyone who is ready to peel away the bull and become who they truly are. One of the first topics Peck covers is the concept concerning delayed gratification. It’s a wonderful place to get started, and the best part is the book is on the shelf at almost every half price book store.