Sarah Schuster

@sarah_schuster | staff
Former Mighty editor // Current MSW student // In love with helping people tell their stories

What Your ‘Go-To’ Defense Mechanism Says About You

I’ve joked before that one of the reasons I’m able to remain fairly functional through hard times is that my defense mechanisms are stellar at working overtime. These defense mechanisms, defined as unconscious attempts to hide, suppress, or control conflict, help us deal with often hard-to-process realities, protecting our egos, our sense of self, our relationships, and the very fabric of truth we cling to in order to survive in this messy, messy world. In some ways, it’s good that we have these defense mechanisms – I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to function without them. Being constantly aware of all of the conflict and cognitive dissonance that comes with being human would be too hard, and sometimes we need defense mechanisms to help us keep going. Of course, you can’t defense-mechanism your way through life forever, and relying on them too much keeps us further away from our truth. If you also overuse defense mechanisms to block yourself from facing reality, I hope this “quiz” helps you understand a little more about which ones you use and what it might say about how you process the world around you. A quick note before we get into it: While it’s interesting to read about psychology, and I hope this is a fun way to learn about defense mechanisms, all psychology-turned-internet content should be consumed with a critical eye. I’d recommend you use this piece as a fun way to think about your own relationship with defense mechanisms, and make conclusions for yourself about what applies to you. What Your “Go-To” Defense Mechanism Says About You — A Quiz The following super unscientific quiz will take you through a scenario in which you find yourself in a tough situation. Choose which path you’d most likely take and we’ll let you know which defense mechanism you used and what it says about you. Part 1: Getting the News You’re out with a group of friends. One friend who has been giving you strange looks all night finally pulls you aside and reveals something she’s been dying to tell you – your partner has been cheating on you. She knows this because it’s happening with a mutual friend, who broke down and spilled everything the night before. You’ve been dating this person for five years and never suspected a thing. Upon hearing this news you: Immediately tell her there’s no way this is true and that you don’t believe anything she says. Even when she wants to show you proof, you shut it down. Tell her she must be self-conscious that her own partner is having an affair, and that “just because your partner would cheat on you doesn’t mean mine would.” Ouch. Immediately leave the situation and go home. When your friend calls to check in on you, you ignore her. Answer Key: 1. This is an example of denial , the unconscious version of putting your hands over your ears and singing, “Na na na na na na, I can’t hear you.” Officially, denial is avoiding unpleasant realities by ignoring or refusing to acknowledge them, and it’s one of our most primitive defense mechanisms. What it could mean when you take part in denial: Your worldview is so carefully constructed and has so little room for nuance and contradiction, any threat to reality as you understand it feels unbearable. If anything or anyone questions the narrative you’ve created about your life, it feels like everything would come crashing down, so you need to hold onto it for dear life and deny anything that calls it into question. If anything or anyone questions the narrative you’ve created about your life, it feels like everything would come crashing down. 2. This is an example of projection , or accusing others of processing qualities you feel self-conscious about. Another example of projection is when a parent projects their own insecurities on their child. If, for example, a parent grew up believing they were lazy, they may become hypercritical of anything their child does that appears like laziness. What it could mean when you take part in projection: If you project, you may have a hard time accepting your own faults, or have a lot of shame about what you consider your weaknesses. Because it’s too painful to accept the parts of yourself you’re still working on, it’s much easier to vilify and take it out on others. You may have a hard time accepting your own faults, or have a lot of shame about what you consider your weaknesses. 3. This is an example of withdrawal, or retreating into solitude to avoid painful emotions and situations. When you withdraw, perhaps to a comfort TV show or into isolation, you’re avoiding facing an issue head-on, and you’re especially not processing it with other people, which may feel too vulnerable. What it could mean if you withdraw: People who withdraw may have a hard time coping with big emotions, especially when other people are around. Instead, you prefer to process things by yourself, but this pattern of isolation can also prevent you from getting to the root of your issues, especially interpersonal ones. This pattern of isolation can also prevent you from getting to the root of your issues.   Part 2: Dating Again You’re single again for the first time in five years. After a few months, you feel hesitant but ready to reenter the dating pool. You haven’t finished working through how the betrayal in your last relationship affected you, but figure it’s worth dipping your toe back in and seeing what happens. What trap do you find yourself falling into? Going out and partying like you did in your teens and early 20s while seeking out emotionally immature partners who aren’t interested in anything serious, even though you know deep down that’s not really what you want. Following every relationship account you can find on social media and obsessively reading books and articles about monogamy and why people cheat. You’re convinced if you can really understand the mind of a cheater, you can prevent it from happening again. *You* become a complete player and start leading people on despite not being interested in a relationship. You start being dishonest with the people you’re dating and it gives you a sense of control. Answer Key: 4. This is an example of regression, or retreating to behaviors that were appropriate in earlier stages of development that bring easy satisfaction to desires or needs. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little regression, but it can be a way to avoid processing big “adult” problems. A note that “regression” isn’t always a defense mechanism, and it’s totally fine to enjoy things associated with being “younger.” What it could mean if you regress : You’re tired of managing adult responsibilities, both the literal, physical responsibilities and the emotional expectations that come with them. You want to express yourself in ways that relieve you of that pressure, whether that looks like having a mini tantrum when you don’t get what you want, or doing an activity that felt more “appropriate” when you were younger. You’re tired of managing adult responsibilities, both the literal, physical responsibilities and the emotional expectations that come with them. 5. This is an example of intellectualization, or creating emotional distance through rationalizing and using logic. You might fall into this trap if you were taught that getting good grades in school made you good, so now you believe life is a test you can pass if you just study hard enough and make sense of it. What it could mean if you intellectualize : It’s often hard for you to deal with the uncertainty of life – you want things to make sense and fall into a particular order. Unfortunately, emotions don’t work that way, and instead of facing the “illogical” nature of your emotions, you’d prefer to explain it away with a deep “understanding” of why you feel the way you feel. I’m sorry to tell you – our feelings don’t always have a thread of logic to follow, and sometimes we have to just feel them rather than try to understand them. You believe life is a test you can pass if you just study hard enough and make sense of it. 6. This is an example of identifying with the aggressor aka “if you can’t beat them, join them.” People who do this are attempting to increase their own feelings of worth by taking on the attributes of people they perceive to have greater “power.” In this example, someone who gets cheated on becomes a cheater because they’d rather feel like the aggressor than the victim. What it could mean if you identify with the aggressor: You want to avoid feeling weak or taken advantage of at all costs, so your self-image feels the most stable when you’re in a position of power. Because you’ve been made to feel small by other people, you try to emulate your bullies to never feel that way again. You want to avoid feeling weak or taken advantage of at all costs.   Part 3: Happily Ever After? It’s a decade later, and you’re in a happy, long-term relationship with a partner. Surely, the cheating that happened years ago doesn’t affect you now. Unless… A friend confides in you that their partner cheated on them, but that she’s willing to go to couples therapy to try to work it out. This absolutely infuriates you, and you tell her no one can come back from cheating and that going to therapy would be a waste of time. Every once in a while without thinking, you find yourself making a “joke” about your partner’s loyalty, like playfully asking what they were really up to last Friday night when they were with their friends. Your partner never finds these jokes funny, but it doesn’t stop you from bringing it up. You become everyone’s go-to friend for when they’re having relationship problems and need a good, old fashioned pep-talk. You love hyping up your friends, and find yourself devaluing their partners in a way that’s fun and makes your friends feel better. Answer Key: 7. This is an example of reactive formation , or developing attitudes and behaviors that are the opposite of repressed and unconscious desires. In this example, you may have a lingering sense of “what if” about how things worked out with a past partner who cheated, so it’s triggering to hear another couple is trying to work it out when you and your ex just called it quits. What it could mean if you engage in reactive formation: You have regrets you haven’t quite made peace with yet, or parts of yourself you haven’t quite accepted. In order to cope with this tension, you have a strong, negative reaction when you see people attempting things you wish you had done or living a life you unconsciously wish you could live. You have regrets you haven’t quite made peace with yet, or parts of yourself you haven’t quite accepted. 8. This is an example of repression, where painful or unresolved thoughts in your subconscious slip out through dreams, jokes, or statements. A classic example of this is the “Freudian slip.” What it could mean if you repress: Repressed emotions and thoughts want to come out – but they may be too painful to address head on. If you repress, you may have a hard time identifying your emotions, but find they come out in odd or unplanned ways. Repressed anger at a loved one might come out as snapping at a stranger, or insecurity about a relationship might come out in “jokes” about their loyalty. You may have a hard time identifying your emotions, but find they come out in odd or unplanned ways. 9. This is an example of sublimation, which means consciously satisfying “unacceptable” needs and desires through socially acceptable activities. An example of this is playing football to satisfy aggressive urges, or writing sad poetry instead of sending your ex a long text. In our example, lingering disdain for an ex-partner becomes a socially acceptable way to hype up your friends when they’re having relationship problems. What it could mean if you use sublimation : Sublimation is one of our most advanced defense mechanisms! Although it’s still important to address your inner conflicts head on, it’s a beautiful thing to find “productive” ways to process your unconscious feelings. Don’t get too caught up in the socially acceptable part of the definition – as long as you’re doing something that feels good for you and doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s OK. Although it’s still important to address your inner conflicts head on, it’s a beautiful thing to find “productive” ways to process your unconscious feelings. Reference: “Human Behavior in the Social Environment” by Anissa Taun Rogers

Nera Birch

When I'm Wondering If I Should Tell My Therapist I Hear Voices

Therapy has long been part of my life. My parents started taking me to a psychologist when I was 4 to find out what exactly was “wrong” with me. In third grade, I started seeing a therapist who turned out to be a very abusive and toxic person in my life for over 15 years. Ever since I stopped seeing her, I have completely avoided all therapy even though I desperately need it. I have trauma from both an abusive childhood and an abusive ex-spouse that I am having difficulty processing and I know talking to someone will help me. I am slightly worried about seeing another abusive therapist, although that is not the reason I have avoided finding one. My main concern has do to with one of my biggest coping mechanisms. My head is a very noisy place. I hear voices on a daily basis. I would say there is only one mean voice. Most of them are absolutely lovely. They talk me through difficult moments, keep me company when I’m lonely, and help me process my confusing emotions. Janis Joplin is my absolute favorite artist and her voice is often one that appears in my head during my darkest hours, which brings me comfort to no end. The good voices even do a pretty decent job at blocking out the mean voice, although there are many times it manages to slip through. My parents made me scared to talk about the voices in my head. They told me hearing voices, even positive ones, meant a trip back to the mental hospital the one and only time I brought it up when I was 12. A return trip to the mental hospital was and still is my greatest fear. Because of that, I have never told any of my doctors about the voices in my head. In fact, I would outright lie to them if they asked me if I heard any voices. It’s only been in the past few years that I have accepted it myself. I still get anxious talking about it even with my closest friends, much less a stranger that I haven’t even met yet. Right now, I am struggling with the decision about how much I should tell my therapist when I find one. I want to be honest about what is going on in my head. Otherwise, how will I get the help I need? Even though I love most of the voices, I would not mind getting some help dealing with the scary one. But I am very worried about getting a negative reaction from someone who is a professional. I know that I don’t have to stick with a therapist who isn’t right for me, but I am worried that I won’t allow myself to use the positive voices if a professional tells me that it is a harmful coping mechanism, even though I know for a fact that it is the best one I have. I know that finding the right therapist for my complex cornucopia of mental health needs might take a long time, but I think that if I can find the right person, my life will improve. And I know that the right person will be someone who respects me and acknowledges the fact that I am my own best advocate. Can you relate? Let Nera know in the comments below.

Demi Lovato Gets Real About Addiction in New Song 'Skin of My Teeth'

The last few years have been full of ups and downs for singer/superstar Demi Lovato, who is known for processing their very public battle with addiction through their music. Now, their latest song about addiction “Skin of My Teeth” goes back to their rock roots. The song isn’t just punk rock for being edgy — it’s calling out how we treat people with addiction head-on. In the chorus, Demi declares: I am alive by the skin of my teeth, I survived but it got harder to breathe. Asking why doesn’t make it easier, go easy on me. In these lines, Demi seems to be communicating how recovery is an uphill battle. Asking why they went back to treatment or relapsed doesn’t help them. Asking someone with addiction why they aren’t perfect and how they fell from grace again is like asking a patient with an illness why they aren’t better after treatment. Those questions aren’t helpful, and the why doesn’t always matter. The next part of the chorus hits it on the head: G*dd*mn it, I just wanna be free, but I can’t cause it’s a f****ing disease. Here, Demi expresses they feel like they won’t ever be fully free because addiction is a disease that needs to be treated. It is something they may have to live with for the rest of their life. There is something powerful about owning that. In the past, we’ve been exposed to false images about what it looks like to overcome and be “free of addiction.” The message that overcoming addiction is like escaping some evil world forever, that you have conquered it, and the battle is finished once you finally become sober is problematic. It’s a powerful statement: Demi says they want to be free from the pain that addiction has caused them, but they can’t because addiction is a disease. A disease that doesn’t have a one-time, fix-all cure. It doesn’t mean they are giving up or going back to their old ways — but Demi is acknowledging addiction is a journey they need to continue working on even when they’re sober. In the lyrics of verse two, Demi sings: I don’t need you to keep score. When I’m the one who’s at war. People with addiction are the ones fighting every day. They are the ones who are at war. They don’t need us to treat their addiction like a game where we keep score for them. It can feel like friends and family have a microscope over those we love with an addiction, waiting to see when they will “fail” again. Look, you messed up again. Why did you fall from grace when you said you were better? But who made us the gatekeepers on how to play the game of overcoming addiction? During the bridge, Demi says: I’m just tryin to keep my head above water. I’m your son and I’m your daughter. I’m just a product of the problem, I’m just trying to keep my head above water, I’m your mother, I’m your father. Demi explains that addiction can affect more than just people in the spotlight. Look at your son, your daughter, look at your mother and father. They also could be dealing with addiction. They explain they are just a product of the problem of how we discuss and treat people with addiction. Look to your loved ones — how would you treat them if they did or do deal with addiction? In an interview with Jimmy Fallon on Thursday, Demi shared they are proud they completed their upcoming album, HOLY FVCK, sober, and how empowering it was to make an album that make them feel fulfilled. No matter how we feel about Demi and other celebrities who are open about their addiction, how we talk about addiction matters. In her new song, Demi is powerfully taking the narrative back. What do you think about Demi’s new song? Tell us in the comments below.

The Difference Between Behavioral Therapy and Psychoanalysis

The first time I went to therapy, I was a college student who just thought I needed someone to talk to. And I genuinely did. I wasn’t talking to anyone about what was going on with my family, the anxiety and dissociation I was hiding with overworking, and the passive suicidal thoughts that were creeping into my head when I was walking to class or faking it at a party. For me, therapy meant talking to someone about all the things I felt like I couldn’t tell my friends. A place to tell my secrets. A place to finally be honest. A place to go when I truly felt like I had nowhere to turn. Therapy is, and should be, all of these things. It should be a place where you can be honest, let out whatever you’ve been carrying in your head, and talk about issues that are hard to discuss with your family and friends. When I was younger, I didn’t realize there were different types of therapy available, or that depending on what I was struggling with, I might have to “shop around” for a therapist (and therapy style) that was right for me. Depending on what’s available in your area or what your insurance will cover, you might not have the luxury of shopping around. But, if you are in a position to choose between a few or multiple therapists, it can be nice to know what you’re looking for. While this article won’t go into all the specific acronyms you might run into when scrolling through online listings of mental health professionals ( CBT , DBT , and EMDR , oh my!), we are going to zoom back to understand two different therapeutic approaches you might encounter. It’s important to note that many therapists nowadays have a more eclectic style, meaning they may pull knowledge from multiple ways of practicing. But, especially if you’re interested in specific kinds of behavioral therapy, it is important to find someone who is certified and experienced in the type of therapy you’re interested in receiving. Instead of searching through individual therapists, you might also try going through a mental health clinic or agency in your area that offers specialized group or individual therapy around a specific type of therapy. To get you started, here are the basics on two schools of therapy you might run into: psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy. What Is Psychoanalysis? For many, the word “psychoanalysis” brings to mind images of a person lying on a couch, interpreting ink blots, and describing their dreams to an old white man as he sits in a chair and takes notes. While this isn’t what psychoanalysis necessarily looks like today, it’s honestly not that far off from how it started. Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was, indeed, an old white man, who did have his clients share their dreams and deepest desires as he helped them uncover what was beneath the surface. Today, we understand that many of Freud’s theories and beliefs about human behavior are outdated and frankly sexist — do yourself a favor and Google: penis envy – but, he did contribute to our modern understanding of the subconscious. Think of that classic iceberg metaphor. Above the water is what we’re conscious of – our current thoughts, what we can observe in our world, what we remember, and (sometimes) how we feel. Underneath the surface, though, is an entire subconscious part of our mind that still influences our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. The idea is that by exploring that subconscious part of our mind, and breaking down the defense mechanisms that prevent us from accessing it, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our behavior, which can in turn improve how we show up in our lives. Therapists who take a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic approach, then, are interested in helping people discover what’s underneath the surface. As you work with a psychoanalytic therapist, they can help you make sense of what’s happening in your life now, how your current behavior might relate to past experiences, what mental blocks might be getting in your way, and how you can use this information to ultimately create a better life for yourself. Many modern therapists use a combination of approaches. When You Might Want Psychoanalysis Psychoanalysis is used to support people with a range of mental health concerns such as low self-esteem, general emotional distress, anxiety disorders, and depression. You might benefit from this therapeutic approach if you enjoy talking things out, exploring your past, and getting to the root cause of your issues. (Childhood trauma, fun!) The therapeutic relationship is also really important in this type of therapy, and sometimes just knowing you have someone to talk to every week about what’s going on in your life can have a positive benefit. Potential Downsides of Psychoanalysis While no therapy is a quick fix, psychoanalysis is known for being a longer or slower process. It’s not as solution-focused as other types of therapy, and might be frustrating if you have a specific issue you’re hoping to tackle now. What Is Behavioral Therapy? Behavioral therapy is less concerned about the subconscious mind. Instead, it focuses on aspects of self that are observable – namely, our behaviors, our environment, and the thoughts we have about our behaviors and our environment. If you’ve taken a psychology class, you’ve likely heard of Ivan Pavlov and his dogs; this experiment, which basically trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell using a concept called classical conditioning, is the most simple way to think of behavioral therapy. Behavioralists believe that just a dog can be trained to salivate when he hears a bell, most of our behavior – both positive and negative – is learned from external stimuli. Therefore, we can be “trained” to rewire these patterns of behavior using different skills. There are specific types of behavioral therapy that each add their own flair and set of acronyms (if you know, you know) to this general concept of “retraining” your brain. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) : Focuses on how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact with each other, offering strategies that help us challenge negative thinking patterns and resist negative behavioral patterns. It is often used for people with anxiety and depression. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) : A modified form of CBT, it was created specifically for people who struggle with intense emotions and interpersonal relationships. It’s most commonly used to treat people with borderline personality disorder. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) : A mindfulness-based approach, ACT emphasizes acceptance strategies and psychological flexibility. It’s a great option for people with anxiety and depression who want to focus on their values. Exposure therapy: T his type of therapy slowly exposes you to a trigger to help you become desensitized to it. It’s mostly used for people with specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and trauma. When you might want behavioral therapy: Behavior therapy can be a great tool when there are specific behaviors or thought patterns you’re trying to tackle. This especially might be a good option for people who like structure, want specific skills to help them tackle their problems, and who care less about exploring the subconscious motivation behind their behaviors. Potential downsides of behavioral therapy: As previously mentioned, much of the theory behind behavioral therapy has its roots in studies on animals, but alas, humans are more complicated than Pavlov’s dogs. If it’s not practiced with nuance, behavioral therapy can feel a little rigid and might not flow with your personality type if you don’t like being told what to do. Like with any type of therapy, there’s cultural considerations, and it’s important to acknowledge you can’t “retrain” your brain to solve problems caused by factors like racism, poverty, and other societal forces. The most important thing is that you’re getting the emotional support you deserve. Which One Is Right for You? The great news is you are not doomed to choose one over the other. There might be points in your life when you’ll benefit from a talk therapist with a more psychodynamic approach, and other points when you’ll crave a more structured, behavioral approach. It’s also important to consider what type of challenge you’re facing. For example, for those with OCD, exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of behavioral therapy, is typically recommended over psychoanalytic therapy. Your trauma history is also a consideration, and here you can find a list of therapies recommended for people with trauma. And if you’re someone who wants a therapist simply because you need someone to talk to, there is nothing wrong with that. As I mentioned before, many modern therapists use a combination of approaches, so even your talk therapist who seems more psychoanalytic on the surface might offer coping skills and behavioral interventions for you to try. The most important thing is that you’re getting the emotional support you deserve, even if that means looking for something entirely different. Either way, we’re rooting for you!

Signs You’re a Codependent Person – and How to Break Free

A couple’s therapist once told me and my then-partner a metaphor for relationships I’ll never forget. In a “healthy” relationship, she told us, making two circles with her hands and holding them out in front of her, each person is in their own hoop. As you go through life together, your hoops touch – supporting each other, witnessing each other’s tough moments and triumphs, and perhaps reaching out a hand when times get hard – but ultimately, each person still has their own separate, distinct hoop. If you, like me, have struggled with codependent tendencies, this metaphor might have made you realize you have totally gone through life jumping into other people’s hoops. If you can relate, you’re not alone. But before we fully dive in, let’s start here: There is nothing wrong with needing other people. For most of us, it’s actually vital to our survival. Needing emotional and even literal support from others doesn’t make you inherently codependent, and there’s nothing wrong with finding important connection and meaning in relationships. For those with certain disabilities and chronic illnesses, depending on other people is often literally tied to their survival, but that doesn’t mean those relationships are automatically codependent. Culture is also an important consideration, and what seems “codependent” in one culture can feel more typical is another. Codependency, like most things, can exist on a spectrum, and you may find familiar patterns in the description below – but don’t panic! Learning about codependency, and figuring out where we fit on the spectrum, can help us distinguish between the perfectly natural ways people need other people, and when that “need” leaves us jumping into other people’s hoops, abandoning our own needs, and finding worth and identity in one-sided relationships. So What Is Codependency Then? To understand codependency, it’s helpful to understand two related concepts: What it means to be codependent, and then what it means to be in a codependent relationship. People who are codependent don’t need the other people in a clingy way – they actually need to be needed . Codependent people are givers, pouring themselves into relationships to make them feel whole. Often, people who are codependent struggle with low self-esteem and an unstable self-image, so use relationships to fill in that gap. According to Mental Health America , people who struggle with codependency often take on a “martyr” role, and have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others. In one study about people’s lived experience with codependence, two major characteristics emerged. One, people who are codependent often feel like chameleons, meaning they shift who they are in the presence of others. This could look like being agreeable to a fault, adjusting your needs to meet the expectations of others, or seeing who you are only through the eyes of others. Two, people who are codependent reported living life to emotional extremes, making the emotional roller coaster that comes with dysfunctional relationships appealing, or even addicting. In these relationships, there is not a mutual exchange of give and take. Instead, the person who’s codependent may seek out people they feel like they have to “save,” often leading them to relationships which: a) give them a purpose and an identity, and b) fulfills their (maybe subconscious) desire to live in a space of emotional extremes. A relationship itself is codependent, then, when a codependent person pairs with someone who takes advantage of how they operate. This person, known as the “enabler,” enjoys that their partner bends to their needs, doesn’t want their partner to be their own person, and starts relying on their partner as much as their partner relies on them. While sure, in most relationships, sometimes a partner will struggle, and so one person may become the main “giver” for specific periods of time or for specific reasons. But in codependent relationships, the baseline of the relationship is off-balance. The way partners need each other is more intense and more tied to their individual self-worth. In codependent relationships, it can often be hard to tell where one person ends and the other begins. It’s also important to remember codependent relationships don’t have to be romantic, and this dynamic can exist between family members and friends as well. “ It’s OK to need other people, but you deserve to stand on your own.” What Are the Signs of Codependency? Codependents Anonymous, the 12-step program for folks who struggle with codependency, offers a helpful checklist of the patterns and characteristics of people who struggle with codependency. You can find the full list here , but below are some highlights. These traits are divided into five codependency patterns: People who fit the “denial” pattern of codependence often: “Have difficulty identifying what they are feeling” “Think they can take care of themselves without any help from others” “Do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted” People who fit the “ low self-esteem” pattern of codependence often: “Have difficulty making decisions” “Value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own” “Have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries.” People who fit the “ compliance” pattern of codependence often: “Are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long” “Compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger” “Are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.” People who fit the “ control” pattern of codependence often: Believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves Attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel Have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others. People who fit the “ avoidance” pattern of codependence often: “Act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them” “Allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.” “Pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.” If you feel like you meet any of these criteria, check out the full checklist and see how it resonates. How Do I Break Free From Codependency? If you’re a codependent person or feel like codependency traits are getting in the way of your relationships, first of all, I’m so proud of you. It’s cliché to say, but even being aware of the patterns you’re falling into is huge, and as they say, you can’t change what you don’t understand. As I do work healing my own relationship patterns, this quote from a writer who goes by @yung_peublo on Instagram really resonated with me. Next time you feel agitated Because you are falling back into past patterns, Remember that simply being aware That you are repeating the past Is a sign of progress So what do we do? I wish I had an easy answer for you. Below are some places to start. Understand that to work on your codependency is to work on your relationship with yourself. Read that again. Take a breath. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear. I know it’s easy to think that it’s just about finding the “right” relationship with the “right” person – and that will make all your problems go away. I’m sorry to tell you this, but that is just not the case. This doesn’t mean you should cut everyone out of your life, or that you need to leave your current relationship immediately. (Remember the disclaimer we started with – people need people!). But, it does mean you can’t neglect the individual work, and if you’ve been struggling with codependency, you might have to start with the basics. Who are you? What do you like? What do you value? Draw a self-portrait and surround it with words that describe you – not just the ways you benefit others. Journal to get to know your own thoughts and feelings, paying attention to your moods and how heavily they’re influenced by the people around you. Imagine a world where you don’t exist to serve others, but instead, get to be yourself. Get to know yourself a little better – you’re a great person to know. If you’re comfortable, self-disclose to the people in your life you’re working on your codependency. Teach trusted friends, family members, or a supportive partner what you’re learning about codependency, what it feels like for you, and what they can expect from you as you go on this journey. If you’re used to being the helper – the person who goes out of your way to support others at the expense of yourself – changing codependent patterns may feel like disappointing people. If you’re not used to expressing your own needs and feelings, changing codependent patterns can feel like starting conflict. So start small and practice on safe people. Say no to a request. Disagree with a friend. Pause before you find yourself “jumping to the rescue” or taking on the feelings of others. Instead of seeking out a new relationship right now (although no shame if you do), try to develop healthier patterns with the people who are already in your life, the people who are rooting for you, and the people who won’t take advantage of your codependency. Some people might not like the “new you,” or the “you” that you’re trying to be, and that’s OK. Part of this journey might be realizing who loves you for you, and who only loved what you gave them. Seek professional help. Just because you need to work on yourself doesn’t mean you have to do it alone! Join a support group. (Codependents Anonymous offers free meetings for people both face-to-face and online.) If you have access, talk it out with an individual therapist. Read books about the subject and connect with people who get it, including the following Mighty contributors who have written about codependency: 3 Ways I’m Working Toward Breaking My Codependency Behaviors How I Broke the Cycle of Codependency Why Codependency Is So Much More Than Being ‘Clingy’ 7 Steps to Help Untangle Yourself From Enmeshment Recovering From the Codependency of My Past Abusive Relationships It’s OK to need other people, but you deserve to stand on your own. It might feel uncomfortable to start fighting for yourself at first – to figure out who you are without pouring yourself into others – but you are worth fighting for.

What Is 'Behavioral Activation' and How Could It Help Your Depression?

Author John Green was grumpy when he posted a TikTok on the “stupid daily walk” he takes every day for his mental health – even though he never wants to. “Then when I’m actually taking it I’m always like, ‘Ughhhh fine, it’s enjoyable and good for me,’” he said, encouraging other TikTok users to stitch his video while going on their own “stupid walks.” @literallyjohngreen Take a walk with me. #walktoks ♬ original sound – John Green I hate to break this to you, but he’s onto something, and this practice is actually a legit therapy technique. Behavioral activation – or, in layman’s terms, doing something before you want to do it because it (annoyingly) might help your mental health – is a concept that comes from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic treatment model that’s all about how your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors relate to each other. Huge disclaimer before we get into it: Behavioral activation doesn’t mean going for a walk will “cure” your depression, and it should never be applied in a shameful or degrading way. Depression is a real and valid barrier to doing the activities we love, and practicing behavioral activation should never remind you of your Aunt Karen saying at a holiday party, “Have you tried yoga?” We’re working in a nuanced area here: Yes, research shows behavioral activation is found to be effective, and doing positive and productive activities can help break the cycle of depression, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, a magic cure, or should be applied flippantly. Below, we’ll get into what behavioral activation is, why it works, how to apply it – and why it should be practiced with a spoonful of grace and patience. What Is Behavioral Activation? Behavioral activation is a fancy phrase for a pretty straightforward concept: for some people, reducing “negative” behaviors and increasing “positive” ones can help them break out of periods of depression. I put negative and positive in quotes intentionally, because what counts as a “negative” or “positive” behavior is really up to you. For example, some days sleeping in is a joy. It’s fun to spend extra time in bed under the covers, scrolling on our phones, giving ourselves some much-needed TLC, and letting ourselves indulge in the comfort of our bed for a few extra hours. This could be considered a positive behavior, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying sleeping late. Other times, this same action of sleeping in feels more negative. Instead of staying in bed because we’re enjoying ourselves, we’re oversleeping because we don’t want to face the day. Because there’s no point in doing anything else. Because we’re actively avoiding life and responsibilities, and the bed is just a safer place as we grapple with the thoughts and feelings that accompany our depression. This type of behavior – the type of behavior that’s avoidant makes us feel shitty about ourselves, and is done out of self-loathing rather than self-love – is what behavioral activation attempts to reduce. Why Does Behavioral Activation Work? You might be familiar with this sequence of events: depression rocks you, zaps your motivation, and makes everything, even small things, feel so much harder. So to survive, you lean into comfort behaviors. Watching TV, sleeping more, scrolling on your phone… anything to distract you and make engaging in life not so hard. At first, these behaviors might not be considered negative! As we mentioned before, there’s nothing inherently wrong with sleeping more or watching TV – and some days, it’s nice to “give in” to distraction. It might be the only way you get through the day. These behaviors become negative, though, when they start taking away from our quality of life. One day of watching TV and ignoring our lives becomes two and then three. Soon, we’re missing calls and skipping social events because we just can’t move away from these safe behaviors. Little do we know, these behaviors we initially started for temporary comfort have actually reinforced our depression, taking us deeper into a depressive state. Depression loves it when we do this because it makes the depressive pattern in our brain that much stronger. Depression makes us engage in negative behaviors → negative behaviors make us feel like shit → feeling like shit reinforces our depression → depression makes us engage in negative behaviors… and the cycle continues. Behavioral activation works because it gets us out of this cycle, tricking our brain with activities that stop this depressive pattern in its tracks. It takes away some of depression’s power and puts it back into our hands. When depression is yelling at us not to engage in positive behaviors, there’s no better “F you” than doing it anyway. Even if we lack motivation in the beginning, we might finish feeling even a little better than we started. Avoidance only breeds more avoidance, and sometimes the bravest thing we can do is go on that “stupid” walk when everything in us wants to stay in bed. How Do I Use Behavioral Activation? Step one: Identify your personal “negative” and “positive” behaviors. The first thing we have to do is name which “negative” behaviors we want to reduce and which “positive” behaviors we want to increase. This could look like literally listing out, maybe hour by hour, what you do on a typical day with depression. For example, wake up at noon, scroll on your phone for 1-2 hours, watch a TV show, scroll on your phone again, have a few drinks, etc. Then ask yourself: what positive behaviors do you wish you were doing? If you’re stuck, start by thinking about your values. For example, if you value being social, some positive behaviors might include texting your friends, doing one social activity a week, or scheduling a phone call with someone you love. If you value spending time outside, positive behaviors could include going for a walk, visiting a garden, or even lying in the grass at a nearby park. Unfortunately, positive behaviors can include not-so-fun adulting stuff like cleaning our kitchen or putting a load of laundry in – activities that may not be inherently enjoyable but offer rewards in the long run. Step two: Rank the positive behaviors you want to start from lowest effort to highest effort. This part is important. Behavioral activation is not about forcing yourself to start running every day or keeping your home perfectly clean. We’re talking about starting small, and figuring out which positive activities will be the lowest effort with the highest reward. Some “low effort” activities could include: walking around your apartment for the length of one song, splashing water on your face, or texting one friend. Then, of course, you can work your way up, eventually challenging yourself with “higher effort” behaviors, like walking around your block, attending a social event, or cleaning your room. But we always want to start small, trusting that those “little wins” will snowball into bigger ones. Step three: Make a specific plan. Once you have your positive behaviors ranked from low-to-high effort, now it’s time to try them out! This could start by trying to do one low-effort positive behavior a day, or if that’s too much, one a week. Here are some ways to set yourself up for success. Choose a specific time and date Set a reminder on your phone Pick an accountability partner (could be a friend or a therapist!), and have them check in on you to make sure you actually did the thing Have a “plan B” to eliminate any barriers (for example, if you want to take a walk outside, tell yourself if it rains you’ll dance for a minute instead) Adjust our expectations: If you didn’t complete the task you set out to, maybe you have to think a bit smaller, or maybe there’s another barrier you need support with Be patient with yourself – this stuff isn’t easy! A Gentle Reminder Replacing negative behaviors with positive ones is no easy feat, and the whole point of behavioral activation is that we need help getting these positive behaviors back in our lives. Choosing to do behaviors when you don’t feel like doing them is a hard choice, and there’s nothing wrong with using other support – like medication or other forms of therapy – as you attempt to get your life back from depression. Because, really, this it’s all about. Living the life you deserve to live, and not letting depression dictate every second of our wonderful, messy time on Earth. So go for that walk. Do a jumping jack. Do one thing today to show depression who’s boss… even if it’s small, it’s a start.

What Is 'Behavioral Activation' and How Could It Help Your Depression?

Author John Green was grumpy when he posted a TikTok on the “stupid daily walk” he takes every day for his mental health – even though he never wants to. “Then when I’m actually taking it I’m always like, ‘Ughhhh fine, it’s enjoyable and good for me,’” he said, encouraging other TikTok users to stitch his video while going on their own “stupid walks.” @literallyjohngreen Take a walk with me. #walktoks ♬ original sound – John Green I hate to break this to you, but he’s onto something, and this practice is actually a legit therapy technique. Behavioral activation – or, in layman’s terms, doing something before you want to do it because it (annoyingly) might help your mental health – is a concept that comes from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic treatment model that’s all about how your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors relate to each other. Huge disclaimer before we get into it: Behavioral activation doesn’t mean going for a walk will “cure” your depression, and it should never be applied in a shameful or degrading way. Depression is a real and valid barrier to doing the activities we love, and practicing behavioral activation should never remind you of your Aunt Karen saying at a holiday party, “Have you tried yoga?” We’re working in a nuanced area here: Yes, research shows behavioral activation is found to be effective, and doing positive and productive activities can help break the cycle of depression, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, a magic cure, or should be applied flippantly. Below, we’ll get into what behavioral activation is, why it works, how to apply it – and why it should be practiced with a spoonful of grace and patience. What Is Behavioral Activation? Behavioral activation is a fancy phrase for a pretty straightforward concept: for some people, reducing “negative” behaviors and increasing “positive” ones can help them break out of periods of depression. I put negative and positive in quotes intentionally, because what counts as a “negative” or “positive” behavior is really up to you. For example, some days sleeping in is a joy. It’s fun to spend extra time in bed under the covers, scrolling on our phones, giving ourselves some much-needed TLC, and letting ourselves indulge in the comfort of our bed for a few extra hours. This could be considered a positive behavior, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying sleeping late. Other times, this same action of sleeping in feels more negative. Instead of staying in bed because we’re enjoying ourselves, we’re oversleeping because we don’t want to face the day. Because there’s no point in doing anything else. Because we’re actively avoiding life and responsibilities, and the bed is just a safer place as we grapple with the thoughts and feelings that accompany our depression. This type of behavior – the type of behavior that’s avoidant makes us feel shitty about ourselves, and is done out of self-loathing rather than self-love – is what behavioral activation attempts to reduce. Why Does Behavioral Activation Work? You might be familiar with this sequence of events: depression rocks you, zaps your motivation, and makes everything, even small things, feel so much harder. So to survive, you lean into comfort behaviors. Watching TV, sleeping more, scrolling on your phone… anything to distract you and make engaging in life not so hard. At first, these behaviors might not be considered negative! As we mentioned before, there’s nothing inherently wrong with sleeping more or watching TV – and some days, it’s nice to “give in” to distraction. It might be the only way you get through the day. These behaviors become negative, though, when they start taking away from our quality of life. One day of watching TV and ignoring our lives becomes two and then three. Soon, we’re missing calls and skipping social events because we just can’t move away from these safe behaviors. Little do we know, these behaviors we initially started for temporary comfort have actually reinforced our depression, taking us deeper into a depressive state. Depression loves it when we do this because it makes the depressive pattern in our brain that much stronger. Depression makes us engage in negative behaviors → negative behaviors make us feel like shit → feeling like shit reinforces our depression → depression makes us engage in negative behaviors… and the cycle continues. Behavioral activation works because it gets us out of this cycle, tricking our brain with activities that stop this depressive pattern in its tracks. It takes away some of depression’s power and puts it back into our hands. When depression is yelling at us not to engage in positive behaviors, there’s no better “F you” than doing it anyway. Even if we lack motivation in the beginning, we might finish feeling even a little better than we started. Avoidance only breeds more avoidance, and sometimes the bravest thing we can do is go on that “stupid” walk when everything in us wants to stay in bed. How Do I Use Behavioral Activation? Step one: Identify your personal “negative” and “positive” behaviors. The first thing we have to do is name which “negative” behaviors we want to reduce and which “positive” behaviors we want to increase. This could look like literally listing out, maybe hour by hour, what you do on a typical day with depression. For example, wake up at noon, scroll on your phone for 1-2 hours, watch a TV show, scroll on your phone again, have a few drinks, etc. Then ask yourself: what positive behaviors do you wish you were doing? If you’re stuck, start by thinking about your values. For example, if you value being social, some positive behaviors might include texting your friends, doing one social activity a week, or scheduling a phone call with someone you love. If you value spending time outside, positive behaviors could include going for a walk, visiting a garden, or even lying in the grass at a nearby park. Unfortunately, positive behaviors can include not-so-fun adulting stuff like cleaning our kitchen or putting a load of laundry in – activities that may not be inherently enjoyable but offer rewards in the long run. Step two: Rank the positive behaviors you want to start from lowest effort to highest effort. This part is important. Behavioral activation is not about forcing yourself to start running every day or keeping your home perfectly clean. We’re talking about starting small, and figuring out which positive activities will be the lowest effort with the highest reward. Some “low effort” activities could include: walking around your apartment for the length of one song, splashing water on your face, or texting one friend. Then, of course, you can work your way up, eventually challenging yourself with “higher effort” behaviors, like walking around your block, attending a social event, or cleaning your room. But we always want to start small, trusting that those “little wins” will snowball into bigger ones. Step three: Make a specific plan. Once you have your positive behaviors ranked from low-to-high effort, now it’s time to try them out! This could start by trying to do one low-effort positive behavior a day, or if that’s too much, one a week. Here are some ways to set yourself up for success. Choose a specific time and date Set a reminder on your phone Pick an accountability partner (could be a friend or a therapist!), and have them check in on you to make sure you actually did the thing Have a “plan B” to eliminate any barriers (for example, if you want to take a walk outside, tell yourself if it rains you’ll dance for a minute instead) Adjust our expectations: If you didn’t complete the task you set out to, maybe you have to think a bit smaller, or maybe there’s another barrier you need support with Be patient with yourself – this stuff isn’t easy! A Gentle Reminder Replacing negative behaviors with positive ones is no easy feat, and the whole point of behavioral activation is that we need help getting these positive behaviors back in our lives. Choosing to do behaviors when you don’t feel like doing them is a hard choice, and there’s nothing wrong with using other support – like medication or other forms of therapy – as you attempt to get your life back from depression. Because, really, this it’s all about. Living the life you deserve to live, and not letting depression dictate every second of our wonderful, messy time on Earth. So go for that walk. Do a jumping jack. Do one thing today to show depression who’s boss… even if it’s small, it’s a start.

Why The Age You Experienced Trauma Matters

Trauma knocks us down and changes our lives forever. Sexual assault, violence, neglect, emotional abuse – these experiences steal our sense of safety, flood our bodies with stress, and can take years to recover from whether we’re 5 or 55. There is something about childhood trauma, though, that not only shapes our mental health but our sense of who we are. There are no perfect answers to explain why trauma, even exposure to the same trauma, affects some people differently than others. According to the American Psychological Association, factors like family support, ongoing life stressors, prior trauma exposure, and psychiatric comorbidities all impact our ability to recover after a traumatic event. When children experience trauma while their brains are still developing, they may have fewer protective factors — and therefore risk more life-lasting consequences. If you experienced trauma as a child, this could explain why it seems to leak into everything you do in ways you might still be discovering. This is not to say experiencing trauma as an adult doesn’t have devastating, life-long consequences, or that your traumatic experience counts “less” if it happened later in life. But it is true that adults who experienced less childhood trauma often have stronger foundations to deal with the trauma adulthood throws their way. If you’re an adult who feels like your childhood trauma is who you are (instead of something that happened to you) here are four reasons this might be the case. Early Childhood Trauma Impacts Our Attachment Style The first relationship we have is between us and our caregivers. For most people, this means our parents. When you’re new to the world and trying to figure out what the heck is going on (being a baby is confusing!) how your caregiver initially responds to your needs sets a framework for your future relationships. We’re talking about big questions, like: Am I lovable? Am I safe? Will someone meet my needs? Do I even deserve to have my needs met? If you’re neglected during these early years or if your primary caregiver isn’t safe, it changes your answers to these foundational questions. This doesn’t mean someone with a secure attachment won’t be rocked by a breakup, struggle with grief, or take years or even decades to recover from a traumatic loss – but, if your needs were met clearly and regularly early in life, you may have an easier time navigating these relational changes. Although you may question it sometimes, overall you know: I am loved. I am worthy. I deserve to get my needs met. If for some reason you didn’t develop a secure attachment, your core beliefs may be different. For example, if you have an anxious attachment style, you may find yourself constantly questioning your worth in a relationship and fearing abandonment. If this is you, you might believe: I am unworthy of love, nobody loves me, I have to constantly prove myself to get my needs met. If you’re someone with an avoidant attachment style, you might struggle to be vulnerable with a partner. If this is you, your narrative might sound like: I am the only one who can meet my needs, everyone will let me down, emotional connection and vulnerability are dangerous. No one is doomed by their attachment style (I promise!), and it’s important to note attachment traumas aren’t always caused by abuse. The death of a caretaker, outside stressors, cultural factors, and other life circumstances can all impact how our attachment develops. Regardless, these early experiences can affect the quality of our relationships later on, which makes this type of early childhood trauma profound. Early Childhood Trauma Impacts Our Brain Development More than two-thirds of children will experience at least one traumatic event before the age of 16. Just like attachment trauma sets a framework for how we view relationships, early childhood trauma significantly impacts our brain development, rewiring our sense of safety, identity, and ability to regulate our emotions. A video by BrainFacts.org does a great job explaining how trauma impacts a child’s developing brain. As the video explains, some stress during our childhood is normal and even welcomed. It’s how we learn to solve problems, tolerate uncomfortable emotions, and develop skills to deal with stress later on. But if you were a child who was constantly under stress, perhaps because you lived in an abusive home, this likely disrupted the development of certain brain structures and actually increased your risk of developing stress-related diseases later in life. Specifically, our amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex – parts of our brain that help us sense danger, regulate emotions, and develop cognitive functions like empathy, impulse control, and decision-making – can all be impacted by childhood trauma. Childhood Trauma Changes Our Internal Narratives Even adults who’ve experienced trauma grapple with the why. Why would this happen to me? How could it have been avoided? What did I do wrong? For children who are still developing their ability to understand complex topics, this “why” is even more confusing – and part of what makes childhood trauma so insidious. If you were a child when you experienced trauma, depending on where you were developmentally, it’s likely your brain didn’t have the ability to make sense of your traumatic experience. For example, if you experienced a traumatic event between the ages of 2 and 7, that’s when you’re still developing the ability to see things from the perspective of others – so you literally think the world revolves around you. That means after experiencing a trauma, you literally couldn’t create an explanation you weren’t at the center of, so you concluded it had to be your fault. This self-blame, even if it’s subconscious, could be why childhood trauma survivors often struggle with their self-esteem and experience negative self-talk. Especially in cases of emotional abuse, the narrative of the abuser often becomes the internal narrative of the child, something many trauma survivors need to unlearn in adulthood. While adults who experience emotional abuse aren’t immune to its effects, they might have a strong enough positive, internal narrative to understand the behavior has more to do with the other person, and that the blame doesn’t fall on them. Many People Who Experience Childhood Trauma Are Retraumatized Perhaps the saddest fact about childhood trauma is this already vulnerable population is more at-risk of being retraumatized. This doesn’t happen to everyone. Some children may experience a “one-off” trauma, like getting into a car crash or the tragic death of a loved one. These traumatic events are devastating and, of course, can leave life-long impacts, but with the right support, most children can return to their previous levels of functioning and even develop resiliency skills in the process. For other children, the conditions that initially exposed them to trauma are often a breeding ground for more trauma exposure. For example, a teenager who spends most of his time outside the home to avoid an abusive parent may find himself more at-risk of violence on the streets. If a parent who neglects their child doesn’t teach them about boundaries with strangers, this child is now more at-risk of being revictimized by other adults. These repetitive traumas (and the chronic stress that comes with them) put young people more at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or even complex PTSD. The more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) you have, the more likely you are to experience negative outcomes. Childhood Trauma Is Not Who You Are For those still navigating a childhood trauma recovery journey, I hope that understanding why childhood trauma sticks to us the way it does increases the compassion you have for yourself. When you look back at yourself as a child – a child whose brain was still developing, whose environment led to more trauma, and who developed an attachment style they didn’t choose – please remember it was not your fault, and as an adult, you deserve all the support and love you need to heal.

Community Voices

Who do you hold on for?

<p>Who do you hold on for?</p>
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Community Voices

Sarah Schuster with my book

<p>Sarah Schuster with my book</p>
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