The patterns and habits we learn and employ daily in our thought processes and interactions with others are often the culprits in keeping us unhappy as we pass through life. These processes and interactions keep us saddened, not reaching out for our goals, not feeling worthy of happiness and not relating to others as we would like. They keep us from enjoying healthy bonds with good friends and choosing partners who are good for us. They also keep us afraid when there is nothing to be afraid of and sad for reasons we don't understand. These same patterns keep us struggling to raise our own children, causing us family problems of our own, and wondering why that might not be working out very well. Worst of all, as we struggle day to day with depression and anxiety and unhealthy relationships, we don't have time to enjoy the life we have and we don't take time to create the life we would like to have because we think it is either not possible or we don't deserve it. We may even have been told by someone in our lives that we were destined to fail or that we "won't amount to anything".
If you have been struggling with issues for a while it is likely you have been told by someone to "think differently". I do not believe it is enough to be told to "think differently", especially when you don't see any reason to do so or if you do not understand why your thinking is the way it is to begin with. In fact, being told just to think differently often has the effect of making an individual defensive as they feel they are being criticized. They then dig in their heels deeper to the old thought patterns. They then often reject the depression or emotional help that they really need.
Identifying the exact way you were trained to think and react and then unlearning the negative aspects is the key. Believe it or not, a lot of the symptoms that are giving you trouble are the normal reactions of a healthy brain to unfortunate circumstances. Anxiety in the face of chaos or even danger is normal, not a "disorder". Depression and shutting down in the face of chaos or being overwhelmed with no strategy for relief is also a normal process, it is letting you know something needs an overhaul in your life. When it takes over your life, it is time to take control of it. I believe that understanding the difference between a disorder and a learned pattern is encouraging and instills hope in the reader. I have worked with clients who have been to many psychologists and other professionals just to come out with many negative labels for what is a perfectly normal reaction. It doesn't mean the reaction is comfortable, and the client is well served to eliminate it, but eliminating or relearning something is much more hopeful and positive than feeling like you have a disorder you can never overcome.
The following five problems are those most commonly seen in individuals who were raised in a dysfunctional family, and although they all have clinical names and sound like enduring lifelong difficulties, they can actually all be worked through with amazing results.
1.Anxiety and the Anxiety Spectrum of Disorders-Anxiety takes a toll on the body. Being on guard tires the system. Chronic anxiety has been related to high blood pressure, muscle spasms and pain, headaches, immune system weakening, gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers of the stomach, skin rashes and hives. Anxiety has a healthy place in our lives in order to protect us, but a little goes a long way. We are best served by getting it under control and using it only to our advantage, rather than letting it run rampant with us. Anxiety is a natural even but needs to be used as it was designed as a protective mechanism by the brain.
2.Depression- Depression has the power to rob us of all possible joy, and those suffering from any form of depression know that it can affect all areas of life. Our family life, productivity, career and social relationships become caught up in the downward spiral of mood and energy and render us feeling helpless. Not surprisingly, depression is one of the most common symptoms of adults who come from abusive or dysfunctional homes. Who wouldn't be sad if they had been physically or emotionally abused, made to feel like they didn't matter, or if they had never laughed and played as a child? Of course, a child who has been abandoned or lives with the threat of abandonment develops a depression and grief response. Depression is a natural reaction if you are never validated as an individual, are ridiculed regularly for what you're thinking, are called names, or live through endless put-downs or tirades of negativity. Feelings of helplessness actually translate into depression.
3.Attachment Disorders and Relationship Problems-Attachment is defined as a special emotional relationship that invokes an exchange of comfort, care and pleasure. These early experiences have an important influence on the development of relationships and our relationship behavior in later life.
4.Chronic Anger-This is somewhat self-explanatory, and typically individuals know if they are angry. However, there are some who do not. Road rage, sarcasm, put-downs and scoffing at others or at the world in general are usually anger-based. So can be spouting off continually about politics or what is wrong with the world. Masked as citizenship, the person may not even be in touch with where their anger is coming from or even that they are angry. When someone is self-righteous about how they are right and the world is wrong, they're hard to be around. Anger has also been shown in studies to be the unhealthiest emotion. The resulting problems can include heart disease or stroke.
5.Poor Coping Strategies- Poor coping strategies are those that we engage in to make ourselves feel better or to buffer ourselves from the outside world of stressors that are bothering us. They make us feel good for the moment but typically create bigger problems the longer we indulge in them. These can develop in relation to all dysfunctional parenting styles as we seek to alleviate our emotional distress.
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Dr. Sherman is a licensed Psychologist with 17 years experience treating adults and children with various emotional difficulties. Click on www.psychskills.com to learn more and get your free copy of "How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious & Unhappy-The 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People".
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