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Wait, I’m not Crazy?! Adults Who Grew Up in Dysfunctional Families

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If you grew up in an unhealthy or dysfunctional family, it has drastically and permanently altered the course of your life. It is absolutely vital to understand how, specifically, this affects you so that you can stand a chance to change patterns of unhealthy choices and behaviors that plague you and your adult life.

The bottom line is that it’s important to realize that you are not crazy. Rather, you grew up in a crazy or “dysfunctional” family which caused you to develop essential yet unhealthy survival habits. You also learned how to live with “dysfunction as normal” and are not used to a life without chaos. To gain freedom from your past, you need to learn exactly how this has impacted you.

How Do I Know if my Family was Dysfunctional?

A family is dysfunctional or unhealthy when one or more of the adult caregivers struggled with addiction, compulsions, codependency or bad behavior. These “bad behaviors” and the reactions others had to them permanently altered the way in which the family operated. The influence of these negative patterns invaded all aspects of the family life.

As a child, your emotional needs were often ignored. You came up with ways to cope and survive. However, these “rules for living” are ultimately self-destructive because they are designed for living as a child in an unhealthy family and not as an adult in a normal life.

Am I an Adult Child of a Dysfunctional Family?

People who grow up in a chaotic, unpredictable and unhealthy family tend to have extremely similar traits and unhealthy coping patterns. This is what sets Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families (ACOD) apart from other people. ACODs are different from people who were raised in other types of families. They tend to view the world in a way that is unique.

See if you can recognize yourself in some of these traits (not everyone will have all traits):

  • They never feel that they know what “normal” is.
  • They feel that everyone else has the “secret rules” for how to live as a healthy adult.
  • They don’t know how to live without chaos and crisis, a lifestyle pattern which is difficult to break.
  • They can have difficulty following finishing tasks and through with things.
  • They often judge themselves without mercy.
  • They don’t know how to relax and just have fun.
  • They may take themselves very seriously and be highly intense.
  • They have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  • They over-react to changes over which they have no control.
  • They constantly seek approval and affirmation.
  • They feel they are different and don’t quite “fit in” with others.
  • They are either super-responsible or super-irresponsible.
  • They are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
  • They maintain the lie that everything was ok in the family.
  • They are impulsive and jump into things without thinking clearly.
  • They have never grieved their lost childhood and struggle with underlying depression, anxiety or anger.
  • They erroneously believe that, with a little more effort, they can get others to love them.
  • They erroneously believe that, with a little more effort, they can get others to change.

Originally, the research on dysfunctional families was focused on alcohol. Over time, the term Adult Children of Alcoholics, or ACOA, became known. However, in recent years the understanding of dysfunction in the family has extended beyond alcohol. The new trend is to refer to those that grew up in such circumstances as Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. It doesn’t matter if the dysfunction in the family is major or minor; the impact is felt the same. Children end up developing traits that they will have to struggle with throughout their adult lives.

Not Knowing What “Normal” Is

Adult Children never feel that they know what normal is. They think they know; in fact, they believe that they know it better than anyone else, but they are never really sure. Such individuals are actually very practical people who have learned to survive in life on instinct. However, this leaves them feeling insecure about what is really the right way of doing things.

They simply have no experience with what is normal. Growing up, they never had the freedom to ask, so they never know for sure. Their goal in life is to keep others from finding out that they don’t know. Instead, they have to guess all the time, which ends up being hard, lonely work. They missed out on the discussions with their parents about how to handle things. They have no frame of reference for what is ok to say and to feel.

Difficulty Finishing Tasks

Adult Children have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end. They may have great beginnings, but then have problems with full follow-through, because they are doing several things at once and trying to do everything. They have problems pacing themselves, and their activities, tending to become exhausted with all that they have to do.

The real problem is that they are not procrastinators in the usual sense. They came from homes of an awful lot of promises. No one took time to sit down and say “that is a good idea.”

Avoiding the Entire Truth

Adult Children can lie with ease, or stretch the truth, even when it would be just as easy to tell the truth. The first and most basic lie is the family’s denial of the problem. They have a recognition of the truth, but also a struggle to deny it. There were also a lot of promises that also turned out to be lies.

Adult Children had to maintain the lie that everything was OK in the family when many problems were obvious. They may have lived in an “as-if family” that looked good, was even loving, but the alcohol, or other dysfunction, did not allow them to fully be a child. They learned how to lie by the experts.

High Standards of Performance

Adult Children judge themselves without mercy and have very high standards of performance for everything that they do. They also tend to do most of the work because they know that they do it the best.

When they were children, there was no way they were good enough. They were constantly criticized, often for things that made no sense. If one hears something often enough, for a long-enough period of time, you will end up believing it. As a result, one internalizes these criticisms as negative self-feelings.

Judging themselves negatively is one of the things that they do best. Judgement of others is not nearly as harsh as judgement of self. Black and white, good or bad, are typically the way of looking at things. If things are good, there is always the risk/fear that it won’t last. There is a great deal of pressure on Adult Children all the time.d

Inability to Have Fun

Adult Children have difficulty relaxing and just having fun or playing. It is difficult to sit still and relax. There is a need to be constantly doing something and keeping busy.

No one played with them or taught them how to play, or even what the rules for playing are. They are afraid to take time off to play; they have to be always on. They have to put all their efforts into keeping up and pushing ahead. Life is difficult and stressful because it is hard to just sit back and relax and say “it is O.K. to be me.”

Taking Themselves too Seriously

Adult Children take themselves very seriously, are impatient and have problems being flexible. The spontaneous child got squashed many years ago. They even disapprove of others acting silly. They have trouble separating themselves from work. They work hard at figuring out life and proving themselves.

Intimate Relationship Difficulties

Adult Children have difficulty with intimate relationships. They want very much to have healthy, intimate relationships. Yet they have no frame of reference for what is healthy. They carry with them the experience of “come close, go away.” The fear of abandonment gets in the way of getting close. They don’t feel good about themselves, or believe that they are lovable.

They feel ok only if someone else tells them they are ok. This gives the other person the power to lift one up or knock them down. A minor disagreement gets very big, very quickly for ACOA’s because of the issue of being abandoned takes precedence over the original issue. Fear of being abandoned or rejected brings on a fear of urgency. This sense of urgency makes the other person feel smothered, even though it is not the intent.

Difficulty Adapting to Change

Adult Children overreact to changes that they have no control over. Being in control is very important to them. They want others to be controlled and to do things right. Change in any schedule is difficult for them. They become irritable, easily upset when things are not right, and over-react to even minor changes.

The young child of the dysfunctional family was not in control. To survive, they needed to turn that around. They needed to take charge of their environment. The Adult Child learns to trust her/himself more than anyone else when it is impossible to rely on somebody’s else’s judgement. As a result they are often accused of being controlling, rigid, and lacking in spontaneity. It comes from the fear of not being in charge/control, if a change is made, abruptly, quickly, without being able to participate in it.

Depression and Self Image

Adult Children constantly seek approval and affirmation. As a result, they tend to be co-dependent needing to take on all the responsibility, do all the work, help others and forget their own needs. The message received as a child was very confused. It was not unconditional love. Instead, they were mixed messages. “Yes, no, I love you, go away,” left one confused and needy. Now, when positives affirmations are offered, it is very difficult to accept.

Adult Children have problems with anger and underlying depression and sadness which they may not recognize. However, depression is anger and frustration held inside. There is a sense of seriousness, underlying criticalness, and a negative response style in the tone of the person’s voice.

Adult Children have never grieved their “lost childhood.” They had to grow up too fast. They were the children who looked and acted like “little adults” even when they were very small children.

Feeling Different from Other People

Adult Children feel that they are different from other people and just don’t quite fit in. They have difficulty relaxing with others. They assume that everyone else feels comfortable and they are the only ones who feel awkward. They simply did not have the opportunities or time to develop social skills necessary to feel comfortable or part of a group. It is hard for Adult Children to believe that they can be accepted for who they are, and that the acceptance does not have to be earned. Feeling different and somewhat isolated is part of their makeup.

Over-Developed Sense of Responsibility

Adult Children tend to be super-responsible in everything they say and do. In essence, it’s easier for them to be concerned with the responsibility to tasks and other people than it is focus inward on themselves. One side-effect of this is that we don’t have to look too closely at our own faults. In terms of responsibility, they feel that there is no “middle-ground”. They are are highly intense people in everything that they do. There is a tendency to be perfectionistic, compulsive, obsessive, and have a need to have everything in order. They react to anything that is not done perfectly or cleaned up in the right way. They feel that if they don’t do something, it won’t get done by anyone else, or at least not done correctly. The philosophy is, “Work hard or do nothing”.

As adults, this tactic became a habit where we always assumed over-responsibility for others because it gave us an excuse not to look at ourselves. The discomfort of honestly looking at ourselves, our pain, and our losses was easily overshadowed by our inclination – our habit – of looking for others for whom we could be “responsible”. Meanwhile the unexpressed feelings and memories from our traumatic childhood continue festering, to be acted out repeatedly, producing a paradoxical mixture of us being “helpful” to others, while injurious to our True Self.

The Laundry Lists Workbook

One side effect of being so reliable is that saying “no” becomes extraordinarily difficult to do. In part, this happens because they don’t have a realistic sense of their capacity. Other times, it’s out of a fear that in saying “no”, others will think that they are incompetent. There’s also an underlying need to prove themselves, which runs in the face of being able to say “no”.

Sometimes, you will find an Adult Child who is just the opposite: Super-irresponsible. What’s of interest is that both are extremes and that there is no middle ground. Interestingly enough, during midlife there is a risk of swapping, where super-responsible individuals suddenly collapse under the pressure and become super-irresponsible; or the opposite – super-irresponsible people become fed up with their lives and change to being super-responsible. Again, it’s the extremes that are very noticeable.

Extreme Loyalty

Adult Children are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved. This loyalty is more the result of fear and insecurity. Adult Children believe that, with a little more effort, they can get “them” (others) to love them and change to be better parents/people.

Impulsivity

Adult Children are impulsive, jumping into things and then having to spend excessive amounts of energy cleaning up messes and problems. As a child they were more of a parent than a child, so they missed being impulsive as a child. This results in spending an excessive amount of energy needing to fix things they have caused.


How to Be an Optimistic Realist

love boundaries
love boundaries

Our priorities tend to shift during an unexpected crisis, whether we want to our not. And yet the problems of our life can’t remain on hold forever. How do we handle this added anxiety and navigate the issues we continue to face?

My philosophy for navigating any crisis is to be an optimistic realist: Mentally prepare for the best, yet strategically plan for the worst. All the while, keeping our eyes and ears open for any important themes that we can’t help but notice if we allow for genuine curiosity.

So, how do you do this? First, you must be optimistic in order to survive. It’s not stress that causes our problem; it’s how we react to stress that ultimately does us in.

Those that are so negatively affected by stress are referred to as Velcro people: When something bad happens to them, they get really upset and, by the end of the day, they are still in emotional turmoil. The catch is, stress sticks to these people like Velcro. Over-reaction is common. And it can have real long-term health consequences as well.

With Teflon people, when something bad happens to them, it slides right off. They aren’t necessarily unrealistic and talking about unicorns and rainbows, though: They make a plan for action and take comfort in the knowledge that eliminating uncertainty from the equation is a dangerous recipe for sustaining anxiety, not eliminating it.

Second, you must avoid talking yourself out of taking action to change your situation. One popular study shows that when other people remain seated in a room filling with smoke, only 10% will actually get up and leave the building! We are so effective at letting other people or circumstances talking us out of making any effective change in our lives. Complacence and tolerance becomes our plan of action by default, which is unfortunate.

Finally, you must be realistic and actually take action – any action. We can’t eliminate all the potential steps of uncertainty from the equation. Yet, in the end, no one is coming to save us from our troubles. It is up to us to take action and make the changes we want in order to take charge of the direction of our lives. In essence, any step forward is better than not taking any action at all.

Elicit all the help you need, of course: Friends, family members, therapist, and other trusted advisors. But in the end, things will only change in as much as we put our plan into action. Pick a direction, stick to it, and avoid making things worse by trying to solve everything.

My turn to ask: How are you navigating the primary crisis in your life?

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Why Solving Anxiety Makes it Worse

Most anxious people are aware that their thoughts are irrational but feel unable to stop themselves. Even the most calm-minded person can become its victim. There are some shocking truths regarding how we mistakenly try to deal with our anxiety:

  • How being intolerant of uncertainty in your life actually increases your anxiety – rather than reducing it
  • The real reason “worrying about worry” feels productive
  • Why we create more problems than we solve when looking for “perfect solutions”
  • How distracting ourselves from worrying or trying to just “think positively” actually backfires in the long run

If you have ever been tempted to seek anxiety counseling, odds are that you might be struggling with worry. Worry is a pattern of thinking that is persistent, repetitive, and uncontrollable. Worry mostly focuses on the uncertainty of the future. This intolerance for uncertainty is actually one of the defining features of our anxiety!

When we worry, we tend to predict negative or threatening results. We try to think about all the possible solutions along every potential choice. Ironically, mentally planning for every contingency actually makes our anxiety worse. When we are predicting that bad things will happen, what’s really going in is that we have trouble accepting uncertainty.

No matter how much we try to problem solve, nothing seems to reduce our overwhelming feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. However, we still feel uncertain and anxious because we can’t implement any of our solutions yet.

Intolerance of Uncertainty

Being intolerant of uncertainty is believed to predispose individuals to have mental health issues with anxiety, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Being intolerant of uncertainty also helps to maintain the disorder once it has developed. People without an anxiety disorder may not like uncertainty, but they generally tolerate it. They generally believe that if bad things happen, they’ll be able to cope.

People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are different. They believe it is unacceptable to be uncertain or to experience ambiguity. They are afraid that uncertainty or ambiguity will lead to negative outcomes or cause problems in general. They may also believe that it is irresponsible if they don’t try to resolve the uncertainty or ambiguity.

When people who struggle with anxiety receive ambiguous or uncertain information, they use maladaptive coping strategies to try to guarantee certainty. Their major strategies are worry and avoidance. Another strategy includes using safety behaviors, where they seek reassurance from others, over-prepare, gather excessive amounts of information, or repeatedly check or verify the safety of the information or situation.

For example, if Susan is going to a social event with some new acquaintances, she might be thinking, “What if everyone finds out I’m shy and stops talking to me?” This thought reflects her uncertainty about what might happen. Her attempt to cope involved the use of worry and avoidance in order to try to gain certainty.

Unhealthy Beliefs About Worry

When we have excessive anxiety and worry, we tend to have several strongly held beliefs about worry itself. Some of these beliefs are positive, and others are negative. For example, “Worrying will help prepare me for danger (positive belief)”, or “Worry is uncontrollable and potentially dangerous (negative belief)”.

Even when we experience worries as uncontrollable, we continue to worry. We continue to believe that worrying is helpful. So it’s important to understand our specific beliefs about the advantages and disadvantages of worry. For example, we might feel that worrying keeps us safe and alert. However, it can lead to more worry, make our mood worse, and get in the way of our relationships.

We Solve the Wrong Problem

When we experience constant anxiety, we tend to view problems as threats. We have low confidence in our ability to solve problems, so we expect a negative outcome if we try. As a result, we overcompensate in trying to create the perfect solution to our problems. Suddenly, instead of solving the real problem (our worry), we end up getting stuck and focused on solving what we are worrying about, and end up not solving the real problem.

In part, this happens because we keep trying to come up with a solution that we are certain will work. But if the problem we are concerned about is still in the future, we can’t immediately implement our solution. This means that we can’t be certain that our solution will work, so we continue to worry and come up with additional solutions without actually choosing one.

For example, if we’re not certain how to solve a problem, we might ask a friend what we should do. If we are given more that one solution to the problem, we might end up worrying about which one is the best solution. Even if we end up deciding what to do, we will continually second guess ourselves.

We Avoid our Feelings

Worrying can serve as a way to avoid threatening images, “Worst Case Scenario” thoughts, and distressing emotions. Worry is usually composed of verbal thoughts, such as, “What if my mind goes blank?” Worry tends not to be composed of images or visual pictures in the mind. We may try to think about something positive if we become aware of a negative thought or emotion, or attempt to “push” it away.

We may tell ourselves not to think about certain worries or criticize ourselves for worrying or having anxious thoughts. We may try to distract ourselves from our anxiety or negative emotions. These techniques tend to backfire and actually reinforce our worry and anxiety. We end up becoming addicted to avoiding the unpleasant emotions that stem from our worries at all cost. We fear that if we get too anxious, we’ll fall apart. Or we mentally tell ourselves not to worry over and over, and it’s no surprise that we end up worrying more, because we are still thinking about what we are worried about.

If You Don’t Say What Your Needs Are, You Become Invisible!

flower broken glass window

Many of us often wonder why our needs are never considered or why they are taken for granted. To fix this, we beg, plead, and try to do more, only to find that the more we do, the less we are noticed. Spouses, partners, and parents alike frequently struggle with this issue. The key to solving this puzzle is to learn a few simple concepts that can dramatically shift the balance of power and help to change the responses we receive from other people.

Helping is no Guarantee


Generous people often mistakenly believe that the more helpful we are to our partners or children, the better things will be. While this is true in some situations with the right mates or children, many others never respect the “too helpful response.”

Helping too much is also known as codependency where we “enable other people to never really change.” Codependency is where one does all the work, suffers all the consequences, and the other person does not grow or change at all. The codependent person ends up feeling exhausted, unappreciated, and overwhelmed.

Trying Harder is No Guarantee

Another mistaken belief is that, “if at first one does not succeed” in helping others understand our importance in the relationship/family, then doing more of the same thing (faster and faster) will finally solve the problem. This becomes the definition of insanity and results in our final exhaustion.

Reality Check: The more you do in any relationship or family, the more others will expect things from you. In fact, if you work harder, other people will start to think that you aren’t working hard enough.

Further, the more you do for others, the more ‘invisible’ you will become. This is because you are training them to take you for granted and ‘just being there doing your thing.’ In essence, you are training Pavlov’s dog all over again.

As time goes on, others being not even noticing what you are doing for them and all you have done for them. In reality, the less you do for them, the more they will have to do for themselves. Only then will they slowly come to appreciate what you have done for them.

Complaining about it, or pointing out what you do for them/the family, never works. Instead, listen to what they have to say and then respond by saying, “that’s a good idea, how will you make that happen (or what do you need to do to make that happen)?” This is called “tough love!”

Keeping Quiet is No Guarantee!

We end up borrowing from the dysfunctional rules of life to solve our dilemma. These rules are learned early on in our childhood and infiltrate our thinking and problem solving in our adult lives.

The four dysfunctional rules of life are:

  1. Don’t talk
  2. Don’t think
  3. Don’t feel
  4. Don’t do anything to change anything

As a result, we often believe that if we say anything, then the situation will only become much worse. Even if this is true, it’s not for the reasons you might think: There is a fear of standing up to others because they will “complain and find fault” with us. We end up mistakenly thinking that it is better to “keep the peace by keeping quiet” and saying nothing that might upset the other person.

Respect Comes from Clearly and Specifically Stating your Needs

The world seems to live by “the wild kingdom of relationships” where one “marks out their territory and boundaries” through the “butting of heads” in the “friendly game of playfulness.” What this requires is that you clearly, consistently, and strongly state your needs in concrete, black and white terms each time it is necessary.

This is what I call “David’s 10 People on the Street” rule. Think of your needs as specifically and clearly as you can. Imagine that you picked ten strangers off the street and described what you needed from your spouse/partner/family. If they do not all agree on what you mean, you have failed to be clear and specific.

For example, “being more aware of my needs” is a great thing to want, but extremely vague and open to wildly different interpretations of what that really means. However, “I want you to spend 15 minutes per day with me where we focus just on ourselves without any distractions” is harder to misinterpret. We resist being specific on our needs because we want the other person to “really get/understand us and our pain,” but this often backfires into feelings of blame, shame, and critical parenting.

Though others may protest, push back, talk louder, and so forth, it is important to remember that this is no more than the “wild kingdom butting of heads” which is a “test of the emergency broadcast network” to see if you can hold your ground. It will take time to bring about change by stating your needs consistently and concretely before others “start to really hear you.”

Many times we speak in a loud voice by not doing everything and solving all the problems while saying nothing. Others in the family will eventually say “what happened and why are you not doing (this or that)…”

Respect Comes from Standing/Holding Your Ground

Others will not respect you until you “hold your ground” no matter what others say to you. You have to start to believe in your abilities to be strong and consistent, even if you have to “fake it” at first. You also have to believe that you have a “right” to be considered and “heard” as an “equal” in the relationship and family.

It is also important that you “demand” that others respond as adults and equals in the relationship. That means that everyone has mutual respect for each other – and expects it from each other. If you are unable to “hold your ground” and “state your needs” you will become invisible, weak, feel internalized pain and anger, feel unappreciated, and depressed.

Complaining/Nagging Creates “Interpersonal Deafness”

The more you urge, complain, talk, nag, and so forth, the less others will listen or respect you. All of this creates a “terminal condition” known as “interpersonal deafness.”

Others stop listening and come to believe that all the other person does is complain and talk, so don’t take them seriously! They become “tone deaf.”

You have to “take a stand” and “hold your ground.” This can be done in nice ways rather than with “internalized anger.” There is risk in doing this, but without taking risks nothing will happen and others will never believe you! Not taking a stand or holding your ground can also cause problems with other relationships – not letting others get close, rejecting others emotionally, and “spewing” anger on them directly and indirectly.

It Takes Work to Become Visible

It’s true that some relationships/families are more difficult to deal with. However, there is no need to “fight for respect” from spouses who are selfish and unconcerned with others. You need to learn how to state your needs clearly, specifically, and in black-and-white terms.

Ultimately, every relationship requires that each individual feels good about their personhood and their ability to state their needs clearly and openly whenever needed. If you happen to have such a relationship, you are fortunate. If not, it is critical that you “move out of being invisible” and into “fighting to assert your needs in appropriate ways.”

Additional Resources

not nice
not nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent & feeling Guilty
stand up assertiveness
How to stand up for Yourself: assertiveness
assertiveness workbook
The assertiveness workbook

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Why Are Other People So Incompetent?!

incompetence one way

Have you ever noticed how other people seem to get in your way, cause more problems, or just seem to be so stupid and incompetent that it “makes your blood boil?” Having to deal with such people, and situations, is very upsetting. It seems like “there are so many of those incompetent people” out there. Understanding how to deal with these situations is critical to your own health.

Incompetence is… Everywhere

There are many examples of how the “incompetence of others” gets in the way of living your life:

  • The driver that pulls out in front of you without looking.
  • The “slow employee” who just does not “get it” or seems to need the help of others to guide him or her.
  • The “government employee” who seems to be caught up in rules, or is uninterested in providing services.
  • The store clerk who is unhelpful in multiple ways.
  • The people who just will not admit their mistakes.
  • “All those people who seem to make life difficult for us” and don’t seem to even know that they are doing it.

Ironically, it is really about how “those others” cause us to feel resentments, frustrations, and “get us upset” by the way that they approach life and daily tasks.

How The Incompetence of Other People Affects Us

It’s true that being around “incompetent people” can be overwhelming. Many times we feel that “if we could just shake some sense into them” and “point out the error of their ways” that, maybe, they would improve.

Being around incompetent people and situations “slows down our own pace of doing things,” causing us to be late, not get things done right, or just making our “lives difficult.” However, most importantly, getting upset over these type of situations causes our blood pressure to rise, muscles to tighten, pain to increase, and leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

Further, the more we allow ourselves to be upset over “the incompetence of others”, the more frustrated, resentful, impatient, and angry you will find yourself. Not surprisingly, this will spread into and infect other areas of your life.

The bottom line is that being resentful and upset over “the incompetence of others” will block your own progress in life. It will affect your ability to make changes, heal, have less pain, or improve your own relationships and life.

Can You Really Make Other People Less Incompetent?

One popular misconception is that we can change, control, or bring others “to the light and see the error of their ways.” However, shaking, yelling, being upset, and so forth, may tell them that you are angry and upset with them, but it rarely changes them.

We believe that if we force it hard enough, yell loud enough, and push it, that something will “get through to them.” The reality is that they will come to believe that you are the problem and they will not see their part in the situation. You may upset them, intimidate them, or frustrate them, but in the long run it will have little impact on changing them.

What is the Solution to the Incompetence of Others?

The reality of all of this is that your own frustrations with other people will cause you more damage than it will cause them. Even if you feel that you have a “perfect right” to “let others know” how you feel or think of what they have done, in the end it is not worth your time, upset, and energy.

You can become stubborn and dig in your heels, insisting that the world, others, bureaucrats, bad drivers, family members, and so on, are the source of the problems and need to change. However, it is smarter to “step back” and “take a deep breath” realizing that it is not your responsibility to solve the worlds’ problems or to set others straight.

Your only goal in life is to find ways of becoming less frustrated, resentful and upset. You have to focus on what you need to do to take care of yourself first. The more you focus on others, the more upset you will become.

The frustration and resentments are not worth it. All that is happening is that your body is becoming more activated, upset, tense, and tight, and will ultimately lead to an increase in your own health problems.

We all hope that we can control the world when we “grow up.” In reality, we have little control over what is happening to us in life. It is important to remember that those people who become the most frustrated, upset and resentful are not much different from the small child who is “throwing a temper tantrum.” It takes maturity, effort, time, and wisdom to step back and take things slower and with less upset.

You are not going to accomplish much with being upset except to “keep the soap opera” going. Let go of the drama of it all and just focus on taking care of yourself.

  • It requires dropping our need to be perfectionistic and having all the answers.
  • It requires pacing one’s self and the activities that one does.
  • It requires taking two deep breaths, dropping your jaw, and imagining feeling warmth and heaviness flowing from your neck to your toes.
  • It requires us to learn to be more patient with both ourselves and others.

Much of what we do in life are from learned behaviors that we have observed others doing in our past. It is time to learn new and more positive behaviors that are healthier and more realistic and relaxed.

If you find that you are unable to “let go of a situation,” then it is time to consider that you have an even bigger issue, and instead need to focus on finding help with your anger and frustration.

There are reasons that incompetent people exist and continue to function as they do. Volumes have been written about why this is so. However, the real issue is not about them; instead, it is about how your own reactions to the situation damage and enslave you and your life.

Remember, no one is perfect. All you have to do is to focus on finding solutions to problems for yourself, and only yourself. Stop rushing through your day. Let go of your fears about what will happen if you let go of your need to control life and other people.

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Additional Resources

peter principle
imperfectionist
angry all time

Why Don’t I Feel Normal Unless I am Crying or Upset?

flower broken glass window

What is a normal way to respond to problems? While this varies from person to person, sometimes our response itself creates and contributes to more of the chaos in our lives. Identifying a few key points may help smooth things along.

Overreacting to Life

Responding to life in a more healthy way is critical. We learn how to respond to the world from what we have observed our parents doing (or not doing). And we always move toward what we expect and know.

If our family was always in a crisis, feeling overwhelmed, and struggling, then we feel that this is the way we should feel.

  • When our family was always caught up in a “drama” and “uproar,” then we feel that to feel comfortable we have to do something to achieve the same “normal drama” in our lives.
  • When we find that our parents were always yelling at each other, at us, or at the world, then we tend to model ourselves after these behaviors.
  • When our family created a sense of panic, at times being there for us and at other times not being there for us, we continue to feel a sense of panic about “Will we ever be loved.”
  • When we note that one or the other of our parents are always codependently “saving” the other, taking care of them, putting up with the anger and upset of the others, denying their feelings, then we learn to do the same. Emotions “on a high” are fun, but they ultimately no nowhere!
  • When we learn that pain, suffering, tears, upset, being hurt, is what we observe our models doing in our early years, then we can never feel “normal” unless we in some way continue to reach out for relationships, and situations, that are painful – “sweet suffering.”
  • When our family “shuts down” all feelings and operate like “robots” who deny feelings, emotions, and only use “Vulcan logic” then we model ourselves after this and try to make others respond the same.
  • When “saving others” is the norm, then we search the land over to find someone to save, take care of, help to grow, and be “the diamond in the rough” that we can hopefully make into something.
  • Some people are just naturally just more dramatic, highly sensitive, and reactive, even without coming from a dysfunctional family. However, this can overwhelm you and others.

How to Restore Balance

You first have to admit that this is an inappropriate way of relating to others. You have to learn to live without drama and always having something happening – that is, no more “soap operas.” You have to tolerate uncertainty, not knowing how others feel and not always trying to make them “happy” or “nicer” or knowing how they feel about you.

You have to learn to live a more “boring” existence without the excitement of saving others or “solving problems.” Drama fills “the emptiness” you feel in yourself. You have to love yourself and realize that you don’t need drama to feel ok.

You have to know that you cannot save other people or change them. To do this, it’s important to stop thinking that others think and feel like you do. Stop being an “enabler and codependent” who does all the work, suffers all the consequences, having the other person not grow, while you end up being pooped and exhausted. You have to know that the person who has the problem (and needs you help) ultimately controls the relationship – not you!

You have to start to like yourself for who you are – not what you do. You have to stop looking to others to validate your feelings or sense of security.

You have to start to stand up for yourself and your thoughts, express them assertively, and draw realistic boundaries with others. You have to love yourself for yourself regardless of what others do or don’t do in your life.

You have to “tolerate not having control.” Let go and flow with it! You have to take risks and know that it is fine to risk even if it does not work out. You are not all-powerful. You are just you, and that is good enough.

Additional Resources

highly sensitive person
empath survival guide
highly sensitive parent

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Common Number 1 Priorities

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We all have priorities in life. When it comes to our emotions, there are basically four priorities that we tend to choose in life. However, it may surprise you that they all have unexpected consequences. What you end up doing will make others feel things that you cannot control.  You’ll also end up paying a price by focusing on what you want out of life, because you can’t have it all.  And ironically, you will have an Achilles’ Heel where you are the most vulnerable.

Seeking Comfort

If your number one priority in life is Comfort, it may surprise you that others may feel many things: Irritated, annoyed, resentful, impatient, bored, guilty, peaceful or even reassured.  The price you end up paying your priority is reduced productivity, missed emotional contact, and you may be more concerned with yourself.  What you’ll want to avoid most in life is stress, both emotional stress and pressure.

Seeking Pleasure

What if your number one priority in life is Pleasure?  Others may feel accepting of you, guilty, nervous, manipulated, confused or smothered. The price you’ll pay?  Stunted personal growth, your self-concept may be dependent on others, other people may take advantage of you, or you may just feel worn out.  You’ll end up avoiding rejection by others at all costs.

Seeking Control

Taking charge (Control) ends up making others feel challenged, bossed, put down, overpowered, unappreciated, defensive, rebellious, helpless, shut-out, dependent or (ironically) secure. The price is social distance from other people, reduced spontaneity, feeling personally rigid and not being able to be emotionally free with yourself or others.  If choosing this path, avoid unexpected humiliation at all costs, feeling trapped and embarrassment.

Seeking Superiority

The final priority is Superiority.  You want to excel and be better.  Yet others may feel inadequate, judged, overwhelmed, frustrated, criticized, reassured or inspired.  But you’ll feel isolated, never satisfied, overly responsible and over-burdened.  You’ll have the “Savior Syndrome” where you say, “I am the best one I know for the job!”  A constant fear of not measuring up will stick around, as will being excessively focused on growth and achievement.  For Superiority, the thing you’ll find yourself avoiding at all costs is feeling meaningless (an empty void that is never filled).

There’s No Free Lunch

The bottom line is that there’s no free ticket to achieving your emotional goals in life.  But knowing that there is no “safe path” forward, regardless of what you choose, is oddly freeing once you recover from the shock of understanding it.  This knowledge allows us to be imperfect human beings with contradictory behaviors and emotions, and yet there’s nothing wrong with us! The only alternative? To not have any priorities in life. And certainly, that’s not recommended.