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Respect Yourself

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on April 20, 2017 at 3:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Respecting yourself seems such an obvious assertion that it feels silly to say. Yet, in my many years of doing therapy, I frequently observe clients whose actions indicate a lack of self-respect. Even more surprising is that they initially don’t see it that way. Let me give an example, identity modified, of course.

HS is a kind woman in her early thirties who possesses excellent social skills and work habits. Nevertheless, when it comes to her older sister, she allows herself to be verbally and emotionally abused. She hears insults such as “Given your looks, what can you expect?” Or humiliating remarks stated in public like, “I wouldn’t trust my sister with that, she doesn’t do anything right.” Such assertions are outlandish, but HS takes them in stride. A long discourse could follow as to why she allows such mistreatment but at its heart is her lack of her self-worth. Her inability to stand up for herself starts with personal assumptions. She believes that standing up risks additional criticism and therefore is not worth the effort. She’s just not worth it.

When individuals allow others to directly or indirectly damage their personal integrity or dignity they are not respecting themselves. They lack the courage to stand up for themselves, at least in some situations with some people.

It is not just those who are abused who show a lack of self-respect. It’s the depressed or chronically sad individuals who lack the initiative to take control of their life; the individual who cares for others to excess at the cost of their own health; the spouse whose partner does not allow them to express their thoughts and opinions or controls their behavior. In all of these cases, we see a lack of self-respect, an unwillingness to stand up for their worth. The hard truth is that a person who does not stand up for their rights is rationalizing. They are making an excuse to avoid the risk of criticism, rejection or potential loss.

There are numerous reasons to work on regaining self-respect. Respecting yourself is a wonderful thing. Those who respect themselves are happier and more confident. Such individuals are more prone to be kind to others, kindness not motivated by a need to be liked or to please, but a wish to give to others. Those who lack self-esteem and self-respect, on the other hand, contribute to a never-ending cycle of worry about measuring up.

I’m obviously biased in recommending work with a therapist to build your self-esteem. Altering one’s self-perception is hard. Individuals often make temporary gains in replacing old beliefs with new ones, but sustaining such changes is difficult. Outside support and guidance can make a critical difference.

In my opinion respecting yourself should be your highest priority. Many people take better care of possessions like their car or their clothes than themselves. Still others put the needs of their loved ones before their own –- a seemingly admirable behavior that is undesirable in the long run. “Respect yourself” is a simple suggestion that can change your life. It should be taken seriously.

Gratitude Is Worth Much More Than Gold

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on March 30, 2017 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Jason, Chen, Juan, Kareem, or Alicia — people of every background tend to be happier if they embrace gratitude. Counting your blessings, savoring the positive and becoming sensitive to the good things in your life — even the favorable aspects of negative events — are all forms of gratitude. But, whatever its form, learning to be grateful has boundless benefits. Gratitude, regularly practiced, is highly related to happiness.

Gratitude changes the glasses through which you see the world. It reminds you that positive things are happening in your life. It provides balance when bad experiences, with their ability to dominate, threaten to control your attention. Gratitude, the quality of feeling thankful, allows you to remember and appreciate good experiences long after they are gone. It has also been found to reduce stress and improve health.

Research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky has performed multiple experiments that confirm the link between gratitude and happiness. In one study, participants were asked to write down five things they were grateful for, once a week for ten weeks. Another group was asked to write down five daily hassles or five major events that happened to them, once a week for ten weeks.

The findings were exciting. Not only did the “gratitude group" tend to be more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives, but they also reported “fewer physical symptoms (such as headaches, acne, coughing, or nausea) and more time spent exercising.” Other studies with both students and adults have revealed similar results.

How do you make gratitude a habit? Here's a simple way. At the end of each day write down two things you're grateful for. List things you appreciate in your life — your spouse, your children, the beautiful day, etc. A good trick is to place a paper and pen on your bed each morning. Do not allow yourself to get into bed at night until you have completed your daily list.

Writing out your grateful items is critical. The act of writing clarifies and cements them into your mind. Try not to repeat items. You may be grateful to be married to a wonderful spouse, but it's more beneficial to cite specific qualities. For example, "I'm grateful that my husband likes to cook" or "I'm grateful that my wife compliments me." By citing different qualities, you'll find that over time, you'll become far more aware of what a wonderful spouse you have.

Researchers have found that for some people daily listing can lose its punch after awhile, probably because the words become mere recitation rather than deeply felt. If this happens to you, try doing it two days a week, perhaps Wednesday and Sunday. Be sure you designate the days in advance. Whatever schedule you use, this is a simple but powerful way to increase your happiness.

Men, A Word to the Wise

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on March 11, 2017 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Sam is astounded at how long his wife talks on the phone. He’s not alone. Most men are bewildered at the feat, and many are secretly envious. Women are not just outlasting their male counterpart in phone time, but also in sharing laughter and closeness. Men may joke about the time women are chatting about “nothing,” but most understand that this is a well-established manner in which women bond.

This gender difference is not minor. Women have more friendships and deeper ones than men. And, not inconsequentially, women live significantly longer than men. A 2005 Australian longitudinal study of aging found that family relationships have little impact on longevity, while friendships increase life expectancy by as much as 22 percent.

Men differ in whom they have for their closest relationships. It is most often with the opposite sex. When men do have male friendships, they generally stay away from sharing personal information and feelings and save such information for their women friends. Developmentally this makes sense. In their early years men are taught to hide emotions that might show weakness. Given the macho ethos of strength and competitiveness, closeness is viewed as dangerous. Whether one accepts this developmental assumption, there is no doubt that men throughout the world have a greater tendency to compete with each other and a greater likelihood of hiding their emotions.

A second obstacle that men face is that women are taught to draw one another out, while men are not. Every woman knows, especially during their courting years, that enticing men to talk about themselves (it’s easy) is a means of attracting their interest. This female skill allows women to enter personal information territory, an area most men find largely out of bounds. For many men, this is not considered manly.

The lack of close male friendship contributes to the higher frequency of deep depression in men upon divorce or the death of their wife. Men, more than women, place their emotional eggs in their spouse’s basket. When their spouse leaves or dies, men find themselves feeling vulnerable. Their grieving period is shorter than women’s and their search to find a female replacement results in their tendency to remarry quicker.

The task of finding close male companionship is not easy for most men, especially older men. Older men of the current generation were focused on building their careers and attempting to be more involved with their children than their fathers were. Male friendship was often the sacrificed in the schedule.

Although most men do have male friends, their friendships are often based on mutual activities like sports or work. What they lack are close male friendships, intimate male friendships where they can share their fears and vulnerability and what is happening psychologically. It is here where we find the greatest benefits of relationships. It is here where the stresses of life find an outlet. Bottling up worries behind a wall of manliness is simply unhealthy. Ironically, the sharing of personal concerns in no way detracts from male stewards of manliness such as courage and perseverance. If anything these character strengths are fortified.

Opportunities to make new friends are countless: interests and sports activities, clubs, churches and educational programs, volunteering and even forming a group of your own. The issue is not opportunity, but making the effort to spend time one-on-one to deeply connect. It is the latter effort that yields the most dividends. Once again, if we look at the women’s world, we find that women’s one-on-one time talking about personal matters exceeds that of men. Small luncheons and similar settings are where these take place.

We men don’t want to be women. But we might want to follow their example in our own way when we realize that it’s a healthy and rewarding thing to do. Close friendships are too valuable a commodity to leave unnourished. Perhaps not on the phone but in many other ways.

Flaws and All

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on February 7, 2017 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I cracked a coffee mug yesterday. Not just any mug but one I’ve had for over 25 years. One that has nurtured me on cold winter days and when my heart was heavy.

In Japan there is a technique to repair pottery called Kintsugi that mixes gold, silver or platinum dust with lacquer. The Japanese have expanded Kintsugi beyond a repair method into a philosophy that venerates repaired objects as ones having enhanced character and value. This viewpoint overlaps with another Japanese philosophy, wabi-sabi, that celebrates the flawed or imperfect. Both approaches value keeping an object around even after it has broken, highlighting the breaks and repairs as events in life, embracing cracks as part of existence.

In the human realm the acceptance of perceived flaws is difficult. We expect perfection. It’s hard to recognize that we are in any way flawed.

Many years ago while in graduate school, I took my lunch in a greenhouse next to our academic building. Entering one blustery winter day I was astonished by the size of the enormous coleus before me. These vigorous plants, I was told, were the ones that had survived an earlier power outage and the accompanying low temperatures. It seems that they had been hardened by their stress, a common process in the plant world.

Power outages in life take many forms; unemployment, financial issues, major illnesses -- whatever the experiences, we all have personal losses. We struggle through these difficulties but it is those who learn from challenges who are stronger -- much like coleus that survives harsh temperatures.

Our strength is even greater, in my opinion, when we recognize personal failings, the cracks so to speak, in our personal makeup. Recognition of imperfections moves us toward emotional maturity. It opens the door to empathy and modesty. Empathy, by way of awareness that we all share imperfections, like bad habits, addictions, feelings of inadequacies, etc., etc. Empathy in realizing that everyone else struggles as well, appearances to the contrary. Recognizing our flaws also fosters modesty regarding our own accomplishments. When complimenting friends, I often hear that they would not have been successful without their spouse and friends, an implicit awareness that personal inadequacies need assistance.

Recognition of personal flaws can be considered the first step. A second step toward maturity is the acceptance of those imperfections. Of course acceptance does not preclude efforts to overcome them. As humans we may never fully overcome our “cracks,” but the effort is worthwhile. Nevertheless, like the technique of Kintsugi, the first step is repair. Like the philosophy of wabi-sabi, the second step is acceptance, flaws and all.

When we recognize our imperfections, work to repair them and then accept our imperfections, we go a long way toward a comfort with the complex “pottery” that we are. Accepting the cracks and repairs is wonderful in a coffee cup. It’s even better when we do the same to ourselves. When we do, we can be as unique as the hardened and glorious coleus.

A Mindset of Kindness

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on January 12, 2017 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)



When I teach classes on happiness, I regularly give students homework after each class. Homework such as: give five new compliments daily for 7 consecutive days, record three different things each day for which you are grateful, write down accomplishments that make you most proud, etc. Pretty straight forward, but surprising how each assignment gives a little happiness bump when done on a consistent basis.


Perhaps the most beneficial homework is the assignment to give five acts of kindness every day beyond your usual kind acts. This assignment forces students to look around, searching for opportunities to be kind. It creates a mindset. What follows is quite simple: a compliment, a favor or a small inconvenience in order to help another. Additionally, the giver receives pleasure from having taken the time to be kind.


When the class members share their homework, they regularly comment on how pleasant the effort is. Most remark that it is somewhat unfamiliar territory to actively search for opportunities to give five additional kindnesses every day, even though everyone believes themself to be kind. When I counsel those who claim to have poor self-esteem, I often ask them to state their positive characteristics. Most who lack self-confidence struggle with the question. However, if I ask directly whether they are kind, virtually everyone answers yes. Apparently all of us believe we are kind. It seems a major insult to be perceived as unkind.


How often we perform kind acts can be a rough measure of our emotional state. Happy people are most apt to be kind. Those who are sad, less so, but still capable of kindness. For those who are mildly depressed, a kind act is less probable. And for those who are truly depressed, kindness is likely to be rare. It is not that depressed people are inherently less kind; it is simply that depression narrows a person’s focus to the dilemma that they feel. Their emotional energy is concentrated on their issues.


Ironically, being kind can reduce sadness. When we feel sad, it is beneficial to force ourselves to increase our kindness. Not only does it give us a sense of satisfaction, it also cements and expands our network of friends—valuable contributors to our well being. One way to increase kindness frequency is to think of kindness as a privilege, to be on the lookout for opportunities to be kind. Think of a time when you were truly able to make a difference in someone’s life with a kind act. What pleasure you likely provided both them and yourself! Such occasions are more probable if we create an attitude to make them happen.


The one caution I have is against thinking big. Small kindnesses are more readily available. Little opportunities occur most often. I suspect that most of us would rather be around those who fill our life with abundant kindnesses than with only the rare big kindness. As silly as it may first appear, prompting ourselves to be kind may be wise. We can become so absorbed with daily activities that we fail to address this pillar of well being. Look for kindness opportunities. Such a habit can sustain a wonderful emotional state for you and those around you.

The Pleasures of Aging

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on November 18, 2016 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Of course everyone wants to live to be old when given the alternative. But few consider the positive nature of becoming “mature.” In our youth-oriented society the old are often considered washed up, depleted and inferior. The young, with their beauty and vigor, seem an obvious preference.

But there are marvelous advantages to getting old -- things to look forward to. Developments that cause most older people to say, “This is the happiest time of my life. There is no way I would trade this time for my youth.”

Without a doubt there are burdens that come with the years, such as aches, pains and more limited movement, but even with these encumbrances, maturity has its advantages.

A story I was told many years ago illustrates some of the most important. Two men were talking about their childhoods when one mentioned that he was born very late in his parents’ lives. When he was in his early teens, his father was in his mid-sixties. “Good grief,” the other exclaimed. “You missed the whole father bonding experience. You never got to play catch with your dad.” “On the contrary,” the other man replied, “I got to really spend time with my dad. He was retired. He no longer felt the stress of his job and had time to spend with me. We walked, he listened, talked and he was really there when I needed him.”

Most older people are less tense and worried than the young. The quest to conquer the world has passed. Their spark isn’t necessarily gone, but it’s not as urgent as it used be. There is less to prove. Accomplishments tend not to be so tied up with ego. Not true for every retired person, but true for most.

There are other characteristic patterns found with passing years. Many contribute to the greater sense of happiness that social scientists have repeatedly documented in older people.

Reflect for a second on the following words: wisdom, patience, perspective, knowledge, understanding, worldliness and thoughtfulness. Quickly judge whether you’re more likely to assign each word to the young or the old. Not a perfect correlation, but I would wager most of these fine characteristics would land in the older category more often than the younger one.

Or take the following aphorisms: “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” “This too will pass.” Again, the same quiz. Quick, no consideration -- just your immediate reaction. Place it in the young or old category? If you’re like me, these philosophies are much more likely to be placed in the older pile.

In particular maturity nurtures perspective. The experiences of life provide lessons, lessons not yet learned by the young. Older people have endured more trials and tribulations and they have survived. They know the difference between inconveniences and catastrophes. They know about failure, sickness, sorrow, loss and grief. They’re not fun but the older have gotten through them and will again. They’ve seen a lot and it’s not quite so frightening.

Another heightened characteristic is gratitude, a pillar of the happiness formula. Many older people appear to excel in it. Perhaps they know that the end of their lives is nearer and this increases their appreciation of the pleasures they have. Perhaps a greater incidence of friends and relatives experiencing physical problems makes their own troubles less significant and helps them appreciate what they have. Maybe it’s just an increased sensitivity to small favors because the big pursuits are behind them. Whatever the cause, older people tend to pause and count their good fortune more often.

Friendships, too, often take on added value. Time with friends is chosen, not obligatory. The responsibilities of children are less. The pleasures of grandparenting are hugely more pleasurable for most than the full weight of raising children.

Yes, for these and a multitude of other privileges, most older people do not wish to trade their lot for youth.

Your Bucket List

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on November 3, 2016 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Many years ago I received a postcard I still treasure. It was from a woman traveling in Europe celebrating her wonderful time –- a woman I hardly knew, but it nevertheless touched my heart.

The woman, probably in her early seventies, had come to a presentation I gave on dealing with pain and living well. After the presentation she joined a group of attendees who asked questions, but she lingered so we could talk in private.

She told me that she had recently been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer and was uncertain how to spend her remaining time. I asked her if there was anything she regretted not doing in her life and, without hesitation, she said she had always wanted to travel to Europe.

My presentation had promoted the importance of taking care of yourself and that, when done with some consideration, it is not only the best thing that you can do for yourself, but those around you. The underlying message was clear: when you are happy you are most likely to be kind and generous to the people you love. Given that message, my response was firm. “By all means follow your dream. You’ve told me that you’ve wanted to go the Europe all your life but always put it off. This is the time to do it. Would you rather die at home or travelling in Europe with your husband?” She chose the latter. Two months later I received the postcard, “Thank you so very much.”

Her question seemed simple -- what to do with the rest of your life. But, of course, it doesn’t feel simple to most people. In her case she still had to consider what medications she would need, her stamina and the impact on those around her.

Choosing what to do with your life and how to do it is something many struggle with. Life coaches, commencement speakers and parents are quick to give inspirational recommendations. My suggestion is more mundane and perhaps more difficult. It is to periodically sit down and write out whatever comes to mind regarding your life desires and then take steps, even tiny ones, to reach those goals.

Here are some questions that can help you to think a little deeper on the subject. What do you most fear losing? Your fears, just as much as your desires, reveal what is most important in your life. If you fear being alone, or losing a loved one, you might want to think about taking action to cement your other relationships further. Set up a plan with specific actions and attack it just as conscientiously as you might set out to land a job, get an education or arrange your finances. Relationships are certainly as important as any of those.

What makes your heart beat with excitement? Sure, living on an exotic island, winning the lottery or other glamorous things, but those should be erased from your list. They are probably pretty much outside of your control. On the other hand, there may be some that are difficult to pull off, like the trip to Europe for this woman, but are still plausible. These should definitely be given thorough consideration. Maybe they’re not as impossible as you’ve previously thought.

Another useful exercise is to imagine yourself 5, 10 or 15 years older than you are now. What would you like to have accomplished in those years? What would you regret not having done? These, too, need to be given serious thought. Analyzing small steps that can move you toward your desired goal is a good way to start.

I’m a big fan of personal mission statements. I’ve written many, revising and returning to them periodically –- often during times of uncertainty. They have helped ground me, reminding me what is most important in my life. In that sense they have helped me to regroup, even energize me to return to long-term challenges. Choosing goals that resonate with your deepest personal values and talents, whether you succeed or not, are likely to be worth the effort.

No matter what your age, there are things that can be done. Even dying well, as Morrie Swartz of Tuesday With Morrie fame and others have shown us, can provide purpose. Bucket lists are fun in movies. They’re even better if they’re yours and you have given serious thought to fulfilling them.

You Can't Fall Out of a Hole

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on September 23, 2016 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

There is probably no better way to appreciate what you now have than to recall when life seemed empty. There was a time in my life when I despaired that I would never find a suitable partner, a desirable job or get past my next paycheck. With my confidence low and my outlook gloomy, I wasn’t sure where to turn.

Then I heard a colleague say, “You can’t fall out of a hole.” It’s a thought I’ve since used in therapy sessions. When you’re in a hole, the reasonable place to look is up, but despair often causes some to look down, where they encounter only darkness. Not all people, of course, but most of us have had the experience at least once.

People coming to therapy often feel they have few options. They’re stuck in the proverbial hole. Happiness may not even be on the agenda although, obviously, that is what they want. To get some degree of happiness they may have to look not only at the source of their frustration (e.g., no job, partner, etc.) but also at the way they think about their difficulty.

Looking downward typically involves common characteristics: blaming others, yourself or circumstances that you can’t control. It may involve what psychologists call “mental filtering”, magnifying the negative and underplaying the positive. Each approach is a recipe for sadness, depression and anxiety.

Looking upward, getting out of a hole, requires constructive problem solving such as sharing issues with others, looking objectively at problems and being aware of what is and isn’t under your control. It means putting difficulties into perspective and getting the means to build a constructive ladder out of the hole.

Life’s challenges can range from a colicky baby to the sudden loss of a loved one. The associated emotions cover a panoply of feelings from depression, sadness, hopelessness, intense frustration, bewilderment and anxiety. Recall those feeling from one of your most stressful times. Recognize how overwhelmed you may have felt. Remember that you not only survived but also grew from the experience. Such a mental excursion should bring pleasure that you are not where you were before. Appreciate what you have gained in the process. For most of us we would not be the person we are today if we had not been “hardened” by the trials of life. Our ability to persist, to put things in perspective, and to value the truly important things in life is nurtured by the strife that we have overcome.

Take the time to write down those times in your life where you felt disheartened. Note how you felt at the time. Then give thanks that you are where you are now, enjoying the benefits of your hard work. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross summed it up well when she said: “The most beautiful people I've known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” 

The Power of Well Placed Rewards

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on August 13, 2016 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors gave me an interesting challenge. He had recently read B.F. Skinner’s book, The Behavior of Organisms, and, knowing of my interest in behavioral techniques, asked me to prove the practicality of Skinner’s research. I invited two other graduate students to work with me and we took up the challenge.

This was the late 1960’s and behavior modification methods had just entered the field of psychology. Consequently we wanted to demonstrate in no uncertain terms the power of these techniques. We choose the most challenging subjects and behaviors we could imagine for an experiment: permanently hospitalized back ward schizophrenic patients who were functionally mute. Functional mutism is where the patient still has the physical means of speaking but has behaviorally become mute. Our criteria were demanding -- records that demonstrated, categorically, that the subjects in our experiment were physically capable of speaking, but had not been heard to speak for a minimum of fifteen years.

Finding such well-documented patients was difficult, but in time we were able to locate 9 subjects, enough to examine three patients in an experimental group and three each in two control groups. Our measurement was the spoken word with all three groups beginning with the above stated zero words spoken in over fifteen years as our baseline.

In the subsequently published experiment, we systematically gave rewards (cigarettes, perceived to be ethically OK at the time) contingent upon a patient opening his mouth, pushing air out, uttering sounds and then words. Within three weeks our test group reached an average of 100 words spoken. Neither of the control groups spoke a word. One of the control groups was given the same number of cigarettes as the experimental group but not systematically dependent upon specific behaviors.

An interesting experiment, perhaps, but what does this have to do with happiness and well-being? A great deal if we take the time to examine our lives and analyze the reasons for our behaviors.

First of all, it’s important to note that we are hard-wired to seek pleasure and these pleasures or reinforcers come in many forms. Food, sex, attention and drink are obvious. But so are status, power and revenge. Behavioral psychologists assume that any well-ingrained behavior has a reinforcer, even if that behavior is maladaptive (e.g., excessive alcohol intake).

In the case of the mute patients in our experiment, not speaking was probably rewarded on their hospital ward. Speaking may have even felt punishing for the patients in question. By contrast, we provided a powerful reinforcer in the form of cigarettes given specifically for speaking. When the experiment ended and the reinforcers (i.e., cigarettes) were no longer given, the speaking behavior discontinued. We demonstrated the ability to modify an extremely well entrenched specific behavior -- functional mutism. To achieve full-fledged speaking in the hospital setting would require training the staff to apply behavioral techniques, a desirable aim but one beyond our means. Our goal was to persuade our professor and others and hopefully contribute to changing some of the practices within mental hospital settings.

Again, what does this have to do with happiness? Human behavior is obviously complex, consisting of a myriad of habits and patterns maintained by some form of reinforcer. Determining that reinforcer can be is tricky. In the experiment above it was easy to find a reinforcer. In the boring confines of a large mental institution, patients whiled away their time smoking, one of the few pleasures available. But what is the reinforcer for being polite, following traffic laws, voting? How about sending a birthday card, wearing particular clothes, trying something new?

Knowing your reinforcers is valuable self-knowledge. Not the simple reinforcers, like your favorite foods or drinks, but the more deep-seated motivators: a need to maintain a loving relationship, a drive for status, athletic superiority, praise from friends. An awareness of what “drives” you can be instrumental in guiding your life. The above research demonstrates the power of a strategically and systematically placed reinforcer. Self-knowledge that identifies your most powerful reinforcers can be invaluable in the choices you make.

Research shows that those who set life goals live happier lives. Taking the time to analyze and clarify what your basic motivators are and using that knowledge to structure your behaviors is one the wisest things you can do to maximize your happiness.

What Kind Of Glasses Do You Wear?

Posted by robertpawlicki68 on July 9, 2016 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Psychotherapy often requires clients to change the kind of glasses they wear. Not literally, of course, but as a metaphor for changing the way we “take in” in the world. Psychologists may call this “reframing” the problem but, whatever the descriptor; a new way of looking at an old issue is involved.

Changing your outlook is not easy. There are reasons we maintain the patterns we do. Most often the underlying reason is a belief, a benefit or a fear. Here are some simple examples where new glasses need to be prescribed. A client is working 90 hours a week and has over-committed on top of that. He is not enjoying life, feels overly stressed and has a number of generalized physical pains. His doctor says he’s killing himself working such outlandish hours, but he has a well-entrenched belief that he must work hard for the betterment of his family.

In therapy he reveals high perfectionist standards, beliefs that were developed in his upbringing by a very strict, demanding and critical father. Although that may be the origin of his personal standards, it is his current thinking patterns that are likely to be the focus of therapeutic attention –- that is, his particular kind of glasses. His present glasses provide the view, “My wife won’t love me unless I give her a beautiful home. I’m not a success unless I’m perfect the way my father expected me to be. I can only succeed if I work harder than everyone else.” Changing those glasses to allow for more imperfections, self-compassion and a mature identity would be a major but achievable goal.

His underlying fear of failure and his insatiable drive to succeed is camouflaged by a rationale concerning the betterment of his family. While his emotions are real, the patient’s personal sense of worthiness is based on satisfying his father’s standards, not his own and possibly not that of his wife. Changing the lenses through which he views reality would likely alter his behavior and his life.

Another common example involves glasses that deflect the positive and absorb the negative. This pattern is evident in those with poor self-esteem who focus on their deficits while underplaying their attributes. Such clients are virtually always capable, but their inability to acknowledge their positive qualities and to see only their perceived deficits is the real problem, not their lack of talent. Their glasses filter reality in a way that guarantees continued feelings of inadequacy.

Other clients permit a problem, be it a relationship or a temporary setback, to dominate their perspective. They allow themselves to become victims of circumstances. They forget previous life challenges they’ve overcome and become paralyzed by the problem at hand, overlooking the skills used in previous difficulties. Their emotional upset has fogged their lenses.

Still others believe that bad luck or people outside their control are dictating their lives. Their view underplays the portion of their problem that they can control and gives too much power to others. In each case, it is the perception through their glasses that is at the core of the difficulty.

Of course, problematic relatives, accidents and unhappy events can cause difficulties, but it is not the external issues alone that create our despair. It is how we view and manage these challenges.

When you’re angry, anxious, depressed or upset, you might want to check your glasses. Maybe it’s time to change your prescription.


robert pawlicki