Difference of Opinion

Similarly, to most people I’ve started to wonder how history will talk about this year and what will be remembered most from the 2016 election. In a few short days it will be time to get out there and vote. Regardless of what you believe I encourage you to do so. Most of all I have been thinking about what it means to have a difference of opinion. What does it mean to voice how you feel versus silently sit by and keep your opinions to yourself? More importantly, can people disagree so significantly and still get along?

Numerous people have spoken about politics on various forms of social media. Unless we ask someone we can’t know why they choose to post, tweet, or write about their personal beliefs. Based on what I’ve heard I think there are a number of reasons people speak up and express themselves this way. Someone feels confidently in their opinion and wants others to know where they stand. Sometimes that person wants to help other people think about something differently. Sometimes they might want to argue with the person who disagrees, either to persuade the opposite side to see their way or to remind themselves why they’re right in their own view. Another reason is because someone feels there are some topics they cannot silently sit by and merely witness. They feel the need to express how they feel because of how deeply they are affected by whatever is going on. Since these types of people don’t publicly discuss their opinion regularly when they do you know they mean business.

What about the people who don’t voice their opinions when it comes to controversial topics? Some of these people simply don’t care enough to debate with others. They don’t have the time to quibble with someone over something that doesn’t affect their day to day life. Sometimes these types of people rather not know where others stand. Once someone openly express their opinions you may have to face how different you are from that person. Especially, when it comes to family it can be easier not knowing when you disagree about certain controversial topics. Another possibility is that this type of person questions themselves and lacks self-confidence which makes it harder for them to want to defend how they feel about things. If you doubt yourself, you may also worry what others will think of you and want to avoid feeling judged. People may actively want to avoid any form of confrontation, it’s easier to be silent and talk to people in your life who you know see things similarly to how you see them.

There’s a third group of people, those who carefully choose who they speak to about certain things. This is because they already know where the other person stands. It’s wonderful if they see eye to eye on issues but maybe they continue the conversation even when they know there are differences between the two of them. This is because they genuinely want to start an open dialogue with the other side. They want to hear someone else’s opinion and try to understand where they are coming from, not because they want to change their mind but because they’re trying hard to continue a relationship with them even when they differ so vastly. Open dialogue can be difficult and takes openness, willingness, and a level of calmness from both people in order for it to work.

Having an opinion is great, it makes you who you are. If you think about how, when, and who you vocalize those opinions too you can learn more about who you are aside from what you believe.

I Feel Like an Outsider

People come to therapy to either work though a past or current problem. Part of the work includes opening up to the therapist and sharing intimate details of their life, sometimes even talking about things they don’t feel comfortable discussing with anyone else. Often times people feel as though they’re the only ones struggling. Here’s a glimpse into things that I’ve either felt or heard over the years:

I am not married
I am in credit card debt
I use food for comfort
I don’t like some members of my immediate family
I am depressed
I second guess myself constantly
I like being alone
I pay way too much attention to Facebook and get caught up in other people’s lives
I am not as religious as people think
I feel stuck in my life
I do not have children
I am afraid of intimacy
I am in so much pain
I think about having an affair
I am a jealous person
I am lonely
I am having marital problems
I don’t want to do this (living life) anymore
I hate the way I look
I get anxious in line at Whole Foods
I think I gossip about others so I can feel better about myself
I want to run away and start over somewhere new
I feel guilt for all that I have
This is not where I expected to be in my life by now
I use social media to make others think I’m doing better than I am
I feel like no one understands what it is like to be me

Maybe you can relate to something on this list or maybe you can relate to one of the many other things I didn’t include on here. I can guarantee whatever it is that makes you feel like an outsider is something that someone else somewhere is feeling too. People are ashamed to talk about negative feelings but it doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. You are not an outsider. You are not alone.

Waiting for the Wedding

Wedding season is at its peak and as a result I have been thinking about the pressure that comes with planning one. There are many decisions, both big and small, that must be made when a couple plans a wedding. Where to get married, whether to host a large or intimate event, color schemes, flowers, religion, and bridal party are only a few of the decisions people typically mull over. Some couples easily agree on what their ceremony and reception will look like while others make compromises because their partner comes from a different religious or cultural background. There may be the added element of dealing with family dynamics and concern over the way people don’t get along with one another. All of these are still only a fraction of the things that are given thought when planning a wedding. No wonder why people are stressed and anxious during this time. Let’s not forget that two people are also making one of the biggest decisions of their lives when choosing to commit, through marriage, to their partner.

Now that we’ve established that wedding planning is full of stress let’s talk about another prominent concern, one’s appearance. While both men and women may feel pressure to look a certain way on their wedding day women tend to be targeted more. For whatever reason there is an enormous amount of focus on women to be in the best shape of their lives on their wedding day. Every wedding magazine and website countdown mentions starting a workout regimen. Coworkers, friends, and family members inevitably ask the bride to be about her wedding diet. Some people may be direct and others may jokingly ask if she is shedding for the wedding. That mere phrase indicates how socially acceptable and expected it is for brides to lose weight before their wedding. This is a problem. This is a huge problem.

Getting married is a milestone event and hopefully a happy day for the couple who choose to make a commitment to one another. The couple and their love for one another should be the main focus. While weddings can be an amazing time to celebrate they represent one day in the couple’s life. One day. Our society encourages you to look your best on that one day and forgets to place the importance on how you feel that day. I hope that someone who is getting married feels happy, loved, special, and like themselves on their wedding day. As previously mentioned, weddings can be stressful, even without the added pressure of looking your absolute best.

For any bride (past, present, and future) I ask you to think about your wedding and why you felt or feel the need to be either your thinnest or most fit on this specific day. Is it for your wedding guests, your future spouse, yourself? Your wedding guests are there to party with you and to celebrate you and your partner. Your spouse loves you for who you are and for how you look every day of the year. He or she does not need you to be a certain weight, shape, or size. Are you feeling the need to look a certain way because of societal pressure put on women? Can you feel secure with how you look on your wedding day without hitting a certain number on the scale? You’re already under enough pressure please don’t add this to a long list of things that have to get done in order to have a “perfect” wedding day. People come to a wedding because they love and support the people getting married. People get married because they love the person they are choosing to spend the rest of their lives with. You deserve to enjoy your wedding day regardless of what size dress you’re wearing.

As people wait excitedly for their wedding day it’s possible to lose oneself and one’s priorities along the way. What matters most during this time is the love between two people and the future beyond the wedding day.

 

 

 

 

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

When we compare ourselves to others we take away some of our own happiness. Sometimes we get so caught up in what other people have that we deplete ourselves of all joy. I’ve written before about the dangers of facebook and the way people are left comparing themselves to others. While social media outlets contribute to the way we make comparisons I am also talking about the way this happens in real life. What happens when we compare ourselves to friends, family members, colleagues, and people we know?

Often times we compare where we are in this particular moment in life to where someone else is in his or her own life. An example of this would be the way someone (we will call this person Joe) compares his financial situation to someone else who is the same age. Joe feels like his colleagues have more money because they own property while he still rents a studio apartment. Joe gets stuck on the comparison and forgets about the active choices he has made. He loves to travel and goes on a huge vacation every year. He also loves living on the Upper East Side. Joe chooses to stay in a studio apartment because it allows him to live in a neighborhood he loves and has not considered buying property because he spends his money on trips. If Joe solely focuses on the financial comparison he can easily forget that he is enjoying his life too.

Sometimes we might be comparing someone’s current moment to a moment from our past. A friend of yours starts wedding planning and you’re left wishing you did things differently for your own wedding. Your cousin has a new baby and you start to question the way you comforted your own child when they were a newborn. Your colleague drops weight after being on a diet for a few weeks and you’ve been struggling to lose five pounds for the last year. Suddenly you are brought back to a different time in your life and begin questioning the choices that you made in the past. Trust yourself. There were reasons you made certain choices in the moment. Appreciate your choices and recognize what was going on for you in that previous moment. Furthermore, try to respect the person you’re comparing yourself to without placing judgment on them or on yourself. It’s okay if something different works for someone else. Think about why your choices worked or didn’t work for you and grow from the experience.

We can all fall into this trap of comparison. Unfortunately, the presence of social media leaves us falling deeper and more often. If you’re able to catch yourself while it’s happening think about stepping away from social media for at least a day or two. If a particular person in your real life stirs up some difficult feelings consider taking a step back from them until you can sort through what’s going on for you. Alternatively, you could try talking to them. Maybe they will admit they compare themselves to you and then you can both recognize what you each have.

It may feel difficult to stop comparing yourself to other people. It may take time to realize that you deeply hurt yourself whenever you compare where you are in your life with where you think someone else is in their life. You don’t know what struggles the person you’re comparing yourself to is facing. It’s important to acknowledge the way you are robbing yourself of joy when you compare to those around you, both through social media outlets and in real life. Try to appreciate what you have. Recognize that everyone has their own journey. Once we stop comparing ourselves to others we can live in the moment and better appreciate what we have.

 

 

I Don’t Have Answers

As a therapist I work with people to help them better understand themselves while also trying to make sense of the larger world we live in. We can focus on the individual and decipher out the ways they communicate to others or the patterns they continually, often unconsciously, recreate. Hopefully my clients learn more about who they are and sometimes learn more about the people surrounding them. I’m not the expert per se and I don’t pretend to know what’s best for others. Simply put, I am not anybody else.  I have not lived my client’s lives or their experiences. I have only lived my own. However, I am trained to listen and to ask the right questions so the people I’m working with can find the answers to what is right for them.

Occasionally people focus on places seemingly far away where war, corruption, and sickness all exist. Lately, the conversation has turned to what’s happening close to home, here in the United States. Shooting after shooting after shooting leaves both of us dumbfounded. While the conversation may incorporate the heated topic of gun control it goes way beyond that. The underlying issue and questions circle around hate. My clients vary from each other and from myself when it comes to race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. It’s not about my opinions or me but about the people I’m working with and how they try to make sense about what’s going on. We discuss crucial topics such as race, sexual identity, and religious beliefs. These are valuable conversations because they lead back to the individual in front of me. It opens the door for us to discuss their experiences, both past and present, and how those experiences influence their thoughts and feelings.

During difficult and sad times both my clients and myself are struggling to understand what’s happening in today’s world. We share confusion. We share sadness. We share disbelief. The therapy room ultimately remains a place for clients to have their own voice. After all, I don’t always have answers, explanations, or words of wisdom. I offer, empathy, kindness, and a place free of judgment.

At times it is impossible to help others find their own answers. Even though there may not be answers to the endless questions they ask I feel it’s important that they keep asking. Trying to figure out the world is another way of helping the individual to figure out him or herself too.

It’s OK To Be Selfish

The word selfish is defined as: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

The idea of being selfish has gotten a bad rep and is often used to criticize someone. After all, being selfish means that an individual is often unable to recognize people around him or her. I believe that when someone is selfish the majority of the time they can be difficult to be close to because the non-selfish person is left feeling unnoticed or devalued.

Have you ever thought about how it’s OK to be selfish? I would argue that being selfish can even be good for you and may at times be necessary. It is important to be able to put yourself first and do what’s best for you. If you’re always doing for others you’ll miss out on what you need.

Imagine that a friend asks you to dinner and you don’t want to go because you’re having financial problems. You say yes anyway. Maybe you’ll go and have an awesome time but then end up feeling stressed when your credit card bill comes in. Alternatively, maybe you’ll feel angry at having said yes and not be able to fully enjoy dinner. It’s not always easy to say no to people but what is the cost at saying yes?

It can be OK to go to the gym after work instead of meeting up with a coworker, friend, or family member. It can be OK to stay home alone and have time to yourself to decompress over meeting up with people. Some people re-energize through being around other people and some people need time to themselves. I recommend asking for what you need and sometimes allowing yourself to be selfish. You can be honest with others or you can keep the reasons to yourself. As an outsider, try to remember that someone saying no might not have anything to do with you.

When people say yes to please others problems may arise. Either they later resent their friend or themselves for saying yes or worse yet they become a person who consistently cancels on others and leaves people thinking they are selfish in the negative sense of the word.

Being selfish as a way to take care of you is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s sometimes necessary to be a little selfish. Taking time for ourselves makes us better people, parents, friends, partners, and employees.

It’s Not All About You

We, myself included, can easily forget that things are not necessarily a direct reflection on us. Sometimes people respond in a way that gives us reason to pause or upset us. Think back to an experience where a friend, colleague, or even a complete stranger said or did something that offended you. Our initial thought is to question ourselves. This is a natural response because if it’s something we’ve done to upset someone we can correct our behavior or explain ourselves. If it’s not about us then it’s not really in our control to fix.

Think about the following scenarios:

Someone isn’t as good of a friend to you as you hoped they would be when a close family member is diagnosed with a serious health condition. Maybe this person is not a bad friend but they have never experienced losing someone close to them and the thought of being in your shoes is too much to handle. Instead of being a comfort and a friend to lean on they shy away when you need them most.

A family member has a negative reaction when you share good news with them about your promotion at work. Maybe they feel stuck at their job so they point out all the negatives rather than celebrate with you.

A colleague responds harshly to a seemingly innocent question you asked them. Maybe that person was overwhelmed in the moment and could not handle any additional pressure.

One of your closest friends is not responding to your text messages. It may seem like it only takes two minutes to respond to someone but maybe that friend is extremely busy and he or she would rather wait until things calm down to give you the proper time to talk.

I use these examples as a way to help you think about what could be going on for the other person. At the same time, I think it’s important to remember that sometimes it will be about us and something we have done wrong. A friend may be annoyed or mad at you and not know how to tell you. Instead they act out. It’s not always easy to confront a problem. I encourage you to gently ask that person what’s going on. Let them know you care about them and you’re not sure if you did anything to upset them but you wanted to check in because something felt a little off. Remind that person that you want the type of relationship where you can both be honest with one another about how you feel. Hopefully, they’ll open up to you about what the problem is between the two of you or what has been going on with them personally. Even if they’re not ready to talk to you they know you care and are there to listen. Respect that.

People, especially those close to us, are not usually trying to be mean or hurt us. Try to think about what’s going on for the other person and also remember you have the right to express how you’re feeling and what’s going on for you.

One Of Those Days

In my experience most people spend their morning subway commute in solitude looking down at their phone. I wasn’t always a morning person so I understand not wanting to be bothered by anyone while on your way to work. Let’s not forget that rush hour also tends to leave the subway too crowded, filled with a strange odor, and either too hot or too cold. I tend to enjoy the heaps of people standing and sitting in silence.

From the moment I stepped outside this morning felt like one of those days. Leaving five minutes late is never great but especially less than ideal when it’s raining and you need to refill your metrocard. I was already asking for trouble. Since my metrocard was slightly bent I had the privilege of being charged for a new monthly while also having the machine tell me there was an error in coding. Translation: card won’t properly swipe at the turnstile and I paid for nothing. Looks like I will have to deal with the MTA later when I have more time. Fun times.

I finally managed to get myself on the train. Immediately I felt the stuffiness in the air but was also relieved that I was going to be on the move. As I’m grabbing the pole a man on the train bumps into my hand. I watch as my coffee mug (a cup of coffee everyday is an essential for me) falls to the gross subway floor. I stopped myself from saying I’m sorry because I realized it wasn’t my fault. He bumped into me. As I picked up my mug he looked at me and apologized. I felt relief that he didn’t shoot me a dirty stare implying that I am to blame. After all, some of my precious coffee spilled on his shoes. I remarked how it’s already one of those days. Instead of going back to the conversation with his friend he begins to talk to me. He tells me that he’s in a good mood because he got to spend extra time with his son that morning. He shares with me how incredible it is having his two and a half year old son tell him about his dreams from the previous night. Although I don’t know this man and will probably never see him again his smile was warm and seemed genuine. I have no idea what is going on for him but today he seemed pretty happy. Not only that, he apologized to me. At the time I thought it was his fault but who’s to say. Maybe I was juggling too much stuff and easily lost my grip on the coffee mug. It is only a cup of coffee so in the grand scheme of things it is irrelevant.

On another day maybe I would have stayed mad, maybe not. All I know is that today it made stepping in water (should have worn my rain boots), beating crowds at Herald Square, and spilling my coffee matter less. I kept things in perspective. This simple ten minute chat somehow made my entire day better.

I won’t deny that sometimes you need someone to listen to you vent and be angry or even irrational. But sometimes you need someone, even a stranger, to remind you of the bright side.

 

 

Making Friends Is Hard To Do

There’s an old song which reminds us, “breaking up is hard to do”. Everyone knows ending a relationship of any kind is difficult, even if you’re the one making the decision to end it. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to start a relationship? Whether you’re looking for a partner, best friend, a workout buddy, or a casual friend to grab coffee with at work, meeting that person might prove to be more of a challenge than you realized.

Having friends that are connected to your past is important. Friendships that stand the test of time are special because these people know who you once were as well as who you’ve become. What happens when these “older” friends are in different places in their lives than you and you two don’t have quite as much in common at the moment. You still love your friend but recently realized you need to connect with people who are in the same stage of life.

If your friends are married with children but you’re ready to hit up the town and party until 3:00am you two might not hang out in the same way or be up for the same thing. Or if you’ve moved to a new city your best friends might suddenly be 2000 miles away from you. It’s okay to branch out and meet new people who share your interests and live nearby.

Once you’ve decided you want to make new friends, following through might feel harder than you anticipated. Growing up people make friends through school, sports teams, youth groups, and other organized programs. It’s easier to meet people when you’re thrown into something and everyone there is also looking for the same thing. This is why college connects people instantly to others. Everyone there is starting fresh and is eager to meet new people and form strong bonds. So what happens when you’re in your thirties or forties and find yourself in need of new friends?

The truth is, making friends later in life can be challenging. It leaves you in a vulnerable situation and can stir up many insecurities you thought were long behind you. Suddenly you’re looking for cues through a text message to see if your potential new friend is actually sorry she can’t hang out or just not interested in getting to know you better. You’re giving deep thought as to whether or not you should friend someone on Facebook because you don’t want to seem too eager but you also want to continue forming a connection with your new buddy. You’re confused as to why you’re spending time giving thought to these questions when you previously considered yourself to be a confident person. You might find yourself simultaneously eager and anxious to make new friends which leaves you acting cautiously for fear of coming on too strong and pushing someone away. You may have found yourself in a situation where you need new friends but the people you’re meeting don’t have that seem need. As I previously mentioned, in earlier situations everyone shared the goal of meeting new people but later in life that might not be the case. So what do you do?

Start by getting clear about why you either need new or more friends at this point in your life. If you’re looking for people in similar stages in life, then find activities that can connect you with similar people. You can find hobbies you like and start joining clubs. Examples include a running group, an art class, a book club, a professional networking event in your area of expertise, or a mommy and me class. Even if you don’t meet people in the exact same stage of life as you you’ll at least find people who you have something in common with and can connect with on some level. Plus, the group will probably include at least one or two other people also looking for new friends who share common interests as them.

I encourage you to be yourself when meeting new people. You’re looking for people who you want to spend time with so trying to be someone else would mean you’re doing yourself a disservice. If someone doesn’t like you chances are you wouldn’t like them either. Why would you want to spend time with someone who didn’t appreciate you for who you are? Sometimes two people don’t connect. You might feel hurt if that happens but remember there are lots of other people out there who you will feel a connection with and you’ll get more from that person in the long run.

Sometimes making new friends is about needing someone who understands where you’re at in your life right now. These friends might turn into forever friends or they might simply serve a purpose in this present moment. Either way is okay. Friendships ebb and flow over time and you learn and grow from each new experience.

 

 

Love

Since today is February 14th, also known as Valentine’s Day, it is only fitting that I write a post about love. On this Valentine’s Day I found myself wondering how one can even begin to describe love. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a simple definition of love includes the following:

  • A feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
  • Attraction that includes sexual desire
  • A person you love in a romantic way

I think that love is such an intense emotion and therefore almost impossible to define. If I were to grade the Merriam-Webster dictionary I would have to give it a B. The definition is missing a few key elements.

First of all, the dictionary focuses more on love in either a romantic or sexual way. Love is about so much more than that. Love happens between friends. Love takes place between family members. Love is felt for one’s mentor. These types of love are too often forgotten. Valentine’s Day isn’t just about buying candy or flowers for your partner. It’s about appreciating all the various kinds of love in your life.

Love is not only about the strong affection you feel for someone. I would argue that love is about the dislike you sometimes feel too. Loving someone means loving everything that is wonderful about them as well as everything they do that irks you. The people we love will annoy us because they will let themselves be who they are in front of us. Part of love means letting your guard down and showing someone who you truly are. People are imperfect so forgiveness has to be part of love too. When we get to see the good, bad, and downright ugly side to someone and still want to be around them then you know the relationship is real. That is love.

The biggest piece missing from this definition of love has to do with time. I’m not saying that you can’t love someone quickly but in my opinion love grows stronger and deeper with the passing of time. One reason is because time allows you to get to know someone better and fully appreciate who they are. It also enables you to see how much that person is capable of giving you. Over time two people experience more things together, which means they’re able to see each other in various facets and realize they keep proving who they are to one another. Inevitably, they are constantly reaffirming their love for each other. I’m still talking about all types of love, not simply a romantic love. A child grows up and learns that their parents are human and fallible but continues to love them. A friend helps you through a death in your family and you realize how grateful you are to have them there. Your partner buys you your favorite chocolate on their way home from work because you had a bad day. The simplest or most extravagant gesture reminds you how much you love someone. Time helps us get to know someone better even if it’s someone we’ve known our entire lives.

On this Valentine’s Day let’s think about all the types of love that exist in the world and celebrate each and every single one of them.