19Apr 2018

5 Steps to Change the Pattern

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Selfish, hostile, or emotionally unstable people wreak havoc in relationships – and they often attract other people who have unhealthy personality traits. However, as a relationship expert with over 30 years’ experience, I can say that people with negative personality traits can and do have successful relationships. After all, none of us is perfect – almost everyone has some undesirable personality traits.

Negative personality traits don’t “cause” relationship distress in most cases – it’s more about how we fit with a certain person and our partner’s personality traits. And it’s about how we interact and respond to each-other’s personality traits or quirks.

Unhealthy Personality Traits in Relationships

This is a list of the most detrimental personality traits – those that tend to cause problems in relationships. These are not necessarily “personality disorders,” which tend to be more rigid and pervasive.

  • Narcissistic – More than just selfishness, a narcissist is the center of his (or her) own world. Narcissists have a superiority complex, with a sense of arrogance and entitlement. Their need for admiration – to be seen as special – becomes a central focus in their relationships. They tend to be controlling and demanding. Since they come first, they are often insensitive to others’ needs or feelings. They generally don’t feel guilty about their actions, and have little remorse when others are injured by their behavior.
  • Irritable and contentious – This cluster of personality traits includes excessive anger, aggressiveness and hostility, blame and argumentativeness. These individuals tend to be judgmental and critical, and they may appear to be sullen and “moody”. Their partners often feel they have to walk on egg shells. A destructive relationship dance may develop when their partners become defensive or shut down, erecting a protective wall.
  • Passive-aggressive – This is a type of indirect anger or hostility. Passive-aggressive people are basically avoiding conflict while inflicting damage. They pout, they give their partners the silent treatment, they withhold love, connection and affection, and they make false promises. They tend to be stubborn, uncooperative, and they procrastinate. It’s a zero-sum game – nobody wins.
  • Disconnected and emotionally detached – These individuals practice emotional and physical distance in relationships. They seem emotionally vacant – or their emotional states seem shallow or superficial. They’re distant, withdrawn, defensive and over-protective. Or they may seem indifferent and uncaring. These traits are highly destructive in relationships. How can you have a relationship with someone who isn’t there?
  • Dependent and insecure – All of us feel insecure at times, and some dependency is normal in relationships. However, people who have excessive abandonment fears tend to be very anxious and feel unsafe in relationships. They may feel empty inside, or unworthy of love. They lack self-confidence, they may be indecisive, and they’re often inhibited. Shame – not good enough – is a core belief system. Their partners may feel pressured, responsible, and suffocated – and they grow weary with these burdens.
  • Dramatic – These individuals are emotionally volatile or unstable. They are unable or unwilling to regulate or manage their moods. They are often highly emotionally reactive, “making mountains out of molehills”. Their relationships become unpredictable emotional roller-coasters.
  • Victim mentality – Some people tend to get stuck in the role of the victim (often acquired from traumatic childhood experience). In this role, victims feel one-down, defeated, aggrieved, and disempowered. They often feel depressed, helpless and hopeless. But they don’t see themselves as responsible. In fact, many victims feel a sense of righteousness – like martyrs who don’t deserve their fate, and they often blame others for their circumstances. Their partners react negatively to the blame – or to the chronic unhappiness – and a destructive dance ensues.
  • Boundaryless – Similar to co-dependence, these individuals are generally dependent, insecure, and intrusive – or they’re controlling and demanding. Since they feel unsafe and unworthy, they compensate with manipulative behavior (often unconscious). These are the rescuers, the enablers, and the controllers. They don’t feel they can get their needs met any other way.
  • Irresponsible – These emotionally immature individuals may seem to be carefree, but they are often unreliable and unaccountable. They don’t show up or they show up late. They allow others to carry the weight of responsibility. And they may be impulsive and unpredictable (emotionally reactive; risk-taking behavior; erratic behavior). In relationships they don’t make or uphold commitments, they’re not responsive to other’s needs, and they’re not reliable team members or partners.
  • Addictive – Obsessive tendencies and compulsive behavior, which may include alcohol or drug dependence, sex and love addiction, electronic media, shopping, gambling, and other uncontrolled, unhealthy behavior patterns. The chemicals, substances and behavior often take precedence over the relationship. The relationship with the addiction comes first.

5 Steps to Change the Pattern

If you believe you always choose the wrong person, or you seem to attract unhealthy relationships, here are 5 steps to change the pattern:

  1. Awareness – We can’t change what we don’t see. A “searching and fearless” inventory (such as the 4th step of AA) is called for. I suggest a written review of all past relationships. Identify your partners’ personality and behavior traits (and your own!), both positive and negative. Look for the patterns.
  2. Acceptance – Practice non-judgmental acceptance. As Nietzsche said, we’re “human, only human”. Use positive affirmations and recognize that while you may have made bad choices, you’re not a bad person. Use #3 below to help with this process.
  3. Understanding – Most of our choices are made unconsciously – including the person we choose to be in relationship with. In our work with hundreds of couples we frequently see patterns that help to explain these choices. A close examination and understanding of your family of origin can be quite revealing. Specifically, what did you learn about relationships from your parents? How did they deal with the normal frustrations and conflicts of married life? Professional help from a counselor or therapist may be the key to unlock these questions.
  4. Evaluation – How do you determine who is really the “right” person for you? If you’re already coupled or married, how do you know if you made the right choice? Actually, in most cases, these are misleading questions. There really is no such thing as the “right” person. Certainly, we need to rule out the obvious deal breakers (e.g., you want children but he does not; specific religious requirements; active addiction issues; etc.). And of course you want to avoid some of the more serious unhealthy personality traits listed above. We know from years of research that the way we conduct ourselves in a relationship is far more important than any specific quality or qualities of our partner. So that leads to the most important step of all:
  5. Practice Skills – Our experience, and years of clinical research show that relationship problems are mostly caused by negative, emotionally reactive patterns that develop over time – not the specific personality traits of our partners. We can learn healthy relationship skills, often with the assistance of couples therapy. These skills include mindfulness, compassion and empathy, and reversing reactive behavior (responding with friendship, love, understanding, and open vulnerability). Other skills include negotiation, compromise, and boundaries.

Relationships can be quite challenging, especially when unhealthy personality traits collide with normal tensions and conflicts. The good news is that we can learn to choose wisely and practice effective relationship skills. For additional information, please contact us today.

29Mar 2018

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The 5 steps at a glance:

  1. Change Your Mind
  2. Healthy Habits
  3. Heal the Child Within
  4. Stay Connected
  5. Create Purpose

Almost everyone struggles with depression, anxiety and worry at times. Most of the time, these problems are situational or result from ineffective coping skills. Sometimes depression and anxiety can interfere with normal functioning and may require medication or more intensive treatments.

The good news is that most of us can manage – even defeat – depression, anxiety and worry using the following 5 steps:

1. Change Your Mind

We are what we think. The Buddha said that “All that we are is a result of our thoughts.” When we think dark thoughts, our emotions become clouded with negativity. We feel justified when we’re angry, even though the anger erodes our personal serenity. Obsessive worry and rumination results in one major accomplishment: anxiety. The first step in defeating anxiety and depression is to change your mind.

Here are some suggestions for Changing Your Mind:

  • Mindfulness – Practice awareness without judgment. Notice your thoughts and feelings from a place of detachment. Develop a daily meditation practice to help you detach from your negative thinking. Mindfulness is one of the most useful and effective coping skills.
  • Live in the moment – The great philosopher Lao Tzu said that “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
  • Use cognitive-behavioral methods – Keep a journal of your negative thoughts and look for the distortions. Write a positive re-frame for each negative thought. For example, a negative thought might be “I’ll never be able to do this.” The distortion is all-or-nothing thinking and predicting a negative outcome. The re-frame might be “I haven’t done this yet – I can learn to do this with practice and make progress day by day.”
  • Create a new story – When we’re depressed or anxious we’re imprisoned by an old narrative. It’s a story created by the mentality of lack – we don’t have what we need, we’re not good enough, or other people won’t cooperate. Practice a new belief system rooted in abundance. The old story is created as a result of childhood experience – see #3, below. The old story is the past – we can create a new story in the present.
  • Use affirmations – Write a list of your personal strengths. Add 2 or 3 strengths you don’t think you have but would like. Practice reading this list every day with the words “I am ______” before each word (e.g., “I am loving. I am responsible. I am successful.”).
  • Practice acceptance and forgiveness – toward yourself and others. Make a conscious decision to accept yourself for who you are. And forgive them their trespasses – your anger only hurts you in the long run.

2. Healthy Habits

Years of scientific research proves that lifestyle contributes greatly to depression, anxiety and worry. Unhealthy habits often result in unhealthy mental states. Conversely, proper self-care and healthy habits can help you defeat anxiety and depression. Such as:

  • Exercise – Did you know that studies show regular physical exercise is often just as effective as anti-depressant medications? Specifically, rigorous or intense exercise at least 5 times a week – including cardio (walking briskly, running, cycling, swimming) and weight-bearing exercise that increases respiration and perspiration.
  • Good nutrition – A balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with reduced sugar and fat content is associated with stress reduction, better sleep, and improved mood.
  • Sleep – A minimum of 7-8 hours is recommended. Sleep disturbance, such as insomnia, can be both a cause and effect of depression and anxiety.
  • Stress management – Chronic, high levels of stress is a major contributing factor in a great many physical illnesses and disorders. Chronic stress is highly associated with anxiety and depression. Effective stress management includes all of the healthy habits listed here, along with mindfulness practices, counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Chemicals – Avoid them or use them in moderation. Excessive alcohol and drug use, nicotine, and the misuse of certain prescription medications is known to result in problems with anxiety and depression.
  • Work-Life balance – All work and no play make Jack anxious and depressed. We are an over-worked society. Many countries that prioritize healthy work-family-play balance report fewer problems with anxiety and depression.

3. Heal the Child Within

Several recent studies have concluded that there are at least nine major causes of depression and anxiety. Only 2 of the 9 are biological. The World Health Organization, among other authoritative sources, declares that we must deal with the deeper causes of these disorders. What are the deeper causes of depression and anxiety? The answer is now quite clear: childhood trauma due to neglect, abandonment and abuse. To address these deeper causes, we must heal the child within, and develop better coping skills.

  • Ask not what’s wrong with you – ask what happened to you. Years of clinical research and experience teaches us that depression and anxiety result from negative childhood experiences.
  • Inner Child Work – Talk to the child within on a daily basis. Reparent the little girl or boy who lives inside of you. The inner child is not pop psychology – it’s not simply a concept or theory. No, there’s not a little kid running around inside of you. Modern brain science shows that the essence of the child lives in the neural network in our brains. And that child continues to experience emotional pain throughout our lives

It’s easy to talk to your inner child. First read my article “Who’s In Charge?” in our web site. The 2 best methods for connecting with the child within are visualization and journaling. Listen to the child and validate his or her feelings. Let her know that you’re there for her, that you love her unconditionally, and that you will always protect her. For more information about inner child work, contact us today.

  • Trauma Recovery – The child is traumatized as a result of neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Abuse may be verbal, physical or sexual. Even spanking may be a form of abuse. Children are also traumatized when they are over-controlled, experience excessive demands or expectations, or are manipulated into inappropriate roles (such as the “parentified child” – the child who becomes parent to other siblings or the parents themselves).

Trauma recovery work must be conducted by a professional counselor or therapist who is trained in EMDR or other trauma recovery methods.

4. Stay Connected

Not necessarily to your device! Rather, we’re talking about social and family connection. Many research studies now show the necessity and the significant health and mental health benefits of human attachment. People who maintain close, emotionally meaningful attachments to others are healthier and live longer, happier lives. And their rates and incidents of depression and anxiety are lower and less severe.

  • Social supports – Stay close to family, friends, co-workers and others. One of the primary symptoms of depression is social isolation – both a cause and an effect of depression. And anxious people are often socially avoidant. Positive attachments stimulate the production of stress-relieving hormones. Love and friendship is a natural anti-depressant. Take an active part in conversation, sports and fun activities, volunteer activity, cooperative projects, community involvement, and many others.
  • Love, romance, and affection – Possibly the best anti-depressant and de-stressor available. A prominent family therapist once said that every human being needs a minimum of 6 hugs per day. Bring love and romance back into your marriage. It doesn’t take much: flowers; a candle-lit dinner; a sunset walk on the beach; a Sunday picnic; unexpected love notes; a kiss that lingers a little longer…
  • Rehab your marriage (or relationship) – Depression, anxiety and worry are commonplace in distressed relationships. Try couples therapy or one of our Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives.

5. Create Purpose

A life full of meaning and purpose is a great antidote to depression and anxiety. There are hundreds of possibilities for creating purpose in your life, such as:

  • Acts of kindness – In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Dr. Deepak Chopra talks about “The Law of Giving.” He says “The more you give, the more you will receive, because you will keep the abundance of the universe circulating in your life.” Acts of kindness include volunteer work, community involvement and activism, and other philanthropic efforts.
  • Work – My father once told me that his work kept him from being depressed. Productive activity of any type is helpful in maintaining a positive focus – and to refocus away from anxious, worried or other negative thoughts and beliefs. If your daily activity or work lacks meaning, maybe you can change your mind, using the steps in #1, above.
  • Life plan – Do you have a plan? An old friend of mine, a prominent psychiatrist in Virginia, once told me you should always be looking forward to your next vacation (and a visit with relatives is not a vacation). Goals and plans give us something positive to look forward to. Your goals should reflect your primary values, closely associated with the kind of meaning and purpose you want in your life. Also, consider a volunteer vacation – visit a country or community that needs your help. Many such opportunities can be found online (visit sites such as www.gviusa.com or www.discovercorps.com).
  • Continuing education – When is the last time you attended a class, symposium or workshop? Adult education is available in most communities. Most colleges and universities offer free or low cost programs in many areas of interest (politics, art, history, finance, IT, etc.). Intellectual and creative pursuits improve not only your mind, but your state of mind (and mood states).
  • Spirituality – Transpersonal consciousness (beyond personal identity) and various forms of spirituality are comforting, and provide meaning and purpose in our lives. The regular active practice of connecting to higher levels of consciousness or a higher power has been shown to reduce problems with depression and anxiety.
  • Creativity – Art, music, design, and other creative practices engage parts of our brain helpful in mitigating against anxiety and depression. When we literally create meaning and purpose with these parts of our brain, we replace the negative and the worried with positive inspiration.

Our counselors and therapists are experienced in working with all types of depression, anxiety and worry. For further information, and to schedule a consultation, please contact us today.

12Feb 2018

3 Essential Relationship Skills

The Use of DBT to Create Effective Relationships

By John Imperatore, MS, Ed.

How are your relationship skills? When you experience relationship distress, what do you do? How do you feel, and how do you view yourself and others? Our relationship skills can determine how we feel, what we do, and how we see other people. We are social beings, and human connection serves as a foundation for security, love, and well-being. Our relationships are healthy and happy when we bring intention, authenticity, empathy and purpose to the way we engage with others. One empirically tested therapy approach that stresses the importance of relationship skills to reduce distress and improve lives is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT.

What is DBT?

DBT is a behavioral therapy which trains individuals to regulate emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and to manage relationships skillfully and effectively. The term “Dialectical” views truth as the integration of two opposites, both of which contain elements of truth. The best way to “be dialectical” is to avoid extremes and find ways “to walk the middle path.”

For example, many of us know that we need to accept life as it is. At the same time, we need to change our way of being to achieve unrealized goals. Do we need to accept things, or do we need to change? Each idea may be true, even though the concepts seem to be in conflict. In this example, the goal is to find a balance between the extremes of remaining the same and creating change.

DBT views change as constant and transactional, meaning we are influenced by relationships and our environment, and at the same time, we can create change in our relationships and environment. Using DBT as a framework, we are not seeking to be perfect or even right, but are striving to improve our lives. The use of DBT, along with couples therapy, is highly effective in creating healthy, loving relationships.

3 Essential Relationship Skills

Relationship distress can be avoided, and effective relationships can be created, by using a DBT approach called Goals of Interpersonal Effectiveness. The 3 goals are:

Objectives Effectiveness – attaining one’s objective in the relationship;

Relationship Effectiveness – improving the relationship with that person; and

Self-respect Effectiveness – respecting our self, our values or our beliefs as we engage with others.

Objectives Effectiveness

DBT tools include the acronym DEAR MAN to achieve a specific outcome in an interaction, or to deny requests effectively:

· Describe the situation

· Express opinions clearly

· Assert one’s needs and wishes

· Reward others when they respond in a positive manner

· Mindfulness – staying focused on the objective

· Appear confident with body and manner

· Negotiate by offering alternatives when needed

Reminder: Things change in every interaction. Sometimes the cost of getting what we need generates uncomfortable emotions, like guilt, or changes the way we are perceived by others. If our sole intent is to gain our objective, we may risk damaging a supportive relationship, or feeling like we compromised our values and belief system at the expense of short-term personal gain.

Relationship Effectiveness

To answer the question, “How do I want the other person to feel about me after we speak?” DBT offers the acronym GIVE: be

· Gentle with other, and be

· Interested in their point of view;

· Validate what they have to say, and use an

· Easy manner as you interact with them.

These simple steps are consistent with the Gottman Method of couples therapy. Dr. Gottman’s extensive research shows that a gentle approach used with validation and interest in your partner are major factors in marital success.

Improving the quality of our connection with others is an important objective. However, ignoring or undermining our needs at the expense of improving another’s opinion of us can trigger painful emotions like anger. And surrendering our self-respect may foster a sense of being undeserving.

Thus, the third DBT tool to minimize relationship distress and improve interactions with others:

Self-Respect Effectiveness

The acronym FAST provides a framework when the focus is to maintain our integrity, or stand up for what we believe is important. Be

· Fair to yourself and the other person, with no

· Apologies for your position (you don’t need to apologize for what you believe is right).

· Stick to your values, and be

· Truthful and represent yourself accurately.

Self-respect, or self-esteem, is an important objective in any interpersonal interaction. Always defending a position or belief may be perceived by others as controlling, causing them to be defensive or avoidant – contributing greatly to relationship distress. That’s why fairness, gentleness, validation and a true interest in their point of view can balance the FAST approach to self-respect.

Personal Balance and Relationship Effectiveness

DBT helps individuals find balance and long-term effectiveness in their relationships. To utilize these three skills, it is important to consider each one in every situation. In addition, context and personal priorities are important in determining which skill to apply. Moreover, it can be helpful to reflect on your relationship history to identify whether you have successfully balanced these skills over time or if you tend to “get stuck” focusing on one area or ignoring another. For example, if you are a “people pleaser,” you are likely too focused on relationship effectiveness at the expense of getting your needs met and maintaining self-respect and self-worth.

Finally, it is important to consider the difference between being right and being effective. A focus on being right indicates a rigid focus on self-centered needs – and results in making the other person wrong. In couples therapy, we identify being right or controlling your partner as losing strategies. We can avoid this unfortunate situation by remembering all 3 components of the DBT process.

Our Center specializes in the most effective methods for dealing with relationship distress. We offer couples therapy and marriage counseling retreats through our Connections program. For more information about DBT and couples therapy, please contact us today.

07Feb 2018


Life Lessons from Star Trek
≈ Star Date September, 2016 ≈
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD


Without followers, evil cannot spread.
Mr. Spock, Season 3

September 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Fifty years of Star Trek on television (five different series) with a new show, Star Trek: Discovery, due to premier on CBS All Access in January, 2017. And 13 motion pictures beginning in 1979, with the most recent release this past summer: Star Trek: Beyond. The original series, developed by screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry, was campy, sophomoric, and way ahead of its time. The moral and ethical philosophy of Star Trek includes 50 years of highly entertaining lessons on coping skills and social skills.

The United Federation of Emotional Intelligence

In Star Trek, Capt. Kirk, the commander of the Enterprise, is emotional, impulsive, and passionate. His emotional intensity is balanced by Science Officer Mr. Spock. Spock is half-human, but operates mostly from his logical Vulcan side. An effective balance between emotion and logic is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and effective social skills (which parallels the alliance of diverse species in the United Federation of Planets). And Spock’s logic often reflected an evolved level of moral and ethical principles – a hallmark of emotional and social intelligence. For example, when the Enterprise returned to the 20th century to save the humpback whales, he remarked that “To hunt a species to extinction is not logical.” To which, the 20th century marine veterinarian Dr. Gillian Taylor replied, “Whoever said the human race was logical?” This balance of emotion with logic is one of our most essential coping skills.

The appropriate expression of primary emotions like anger is another indication of emotional intelligence and good coping skills. Doc McCoy (“Bones”) would frequently express frustration and anger in a manner that was both authentic and endearing (“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”) This was a great example of using effective social skills to manage an emotional crisis.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The main premise of Star Trek is “…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…” One of our most important coping skills is to face our fears and “boldly go” toward the challenges and goals that will improve and expand our personal universe. Capt. James T. Kirk epitomized the no risk – no reward approach to life. He always believed in a positive outcome, and he would never give up. For Kirk, there was no such thing as a no-win scenario. Starfleet designed a simulation called the Kobayashi Maru to test the character of its cadets – the test was designed as a no-win situation. Kirk found a way to defeat the test, saying “I changed the conditions of the test. I don’t like to lose.” The Starfleet Academy questioned his integrity, but could never question his charming social skills – and his ability to get the job done and save humanity.

Aliens are Us – Diversity, Acceptance, and Inclusion

Star Trek aliens are a mirror in which we see the best and worst of ourselves—and one in which we see that we’re not as different from one another as we might think.
Alex Fitzpatrick – TIME’s Star Trek: Inside the Most Influential Science-Fiction Series Ever

Fifty years ago Star Trek explored the strange new world of diversity. The original TV series cast included a racially and culturally diverse group of men and women – many of them in leadership roles. In the fictional 23rd Century, the Star Trek crew found a galaxy full of diverse life forms. The show often emphasized the importance of social skills in sharing the universe with alien creatures. Positive, life-affirming social and coping skills such as non-judgmental acceptance, inclusive practices at work and in communities, teamwork, negotiation and compromise. Skills that seem to be practiced all too infrequently in our relationships and today’s world in general.

The Prime Directive

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive is a non-interference policy which prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. In our current world, this remarkable philosophy and practice is often ignored by governments, families, couples and individuals. As a social skill, non-interference respects the autonomy and free will of others. As a coping skill non-interference helps us maintain serenity and balance by practicing unconditional acceptance and positive regard for other people’s rights, opinions, and behavior.

Character & Friendship

I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.
Mr. Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

On the starship Enterprise, friendship and character always trump ego and explosions. That’s one reason why I’m a Trekkie. The best Star Trek shows and movies are character-driven. And what characters they are! Full of life, love, passion, and friendship – along with Vulcan morals and logical practicality. The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a prime example of friendship and effective social skills across the centuries. And the newest Star Trek movies faithfully replicate (pardon the pun for you Trekkies!) these wonderful characters, and the relationship chemistry in their friendship.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Capt. Jean Luc Picard was a great leader with impeccable character traits. His advanced coping skills were demonstrated beautifully when he accepted an alien presence on his starship, attempting to understand and negotiate with the unwelcome life form – instead of resorting to power struggles and phaser guns.

Sacrifice and selflessness

Many of the problems in our world today can be traced to greed, a sense of entitlement, ego and narcissism. In Star Trek, personality traits, communities, and evolved governments operate from a sense of mutual cooperation for the common good. Social skills such as sacrifice and selflessness seem old-fashioned today, but not in the 23rd Century. In a poignant scene in The Wrath of Khan, Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.” Imagine the possibilities for creating more satisfying relationships – and a better world – when we mindfully use this type of coping skill to solve our problems.

For more information about social skills and coping skills, or to set up an appointment for a consultation, please contact us today. And to all of our friends, colleagues and families, “Live long and prosper!”

26Jan 2018

To begin with, nothing (external) actually “makes” you confident and happy. We can only make ourselves (internally) confident and happy. When I started my first psychotherapy practice 30 years ago, I wasn’t confident in my abilities. To be honest, I probably wasn’t a very good psychotherapist! I was anxious and uncertain – certainly not happy. Over the years, with determination and experience, my confidence increased – as did my happiness. So the 2 are related – confidence and happiness – but not the same.

Confidence is constructed over time. It’s a faith-based initiative. When we have an expectation that we will do well, along with determination and a true intention to succeed, we set the stage for confident performance. The more I learned about my craft, and the more I took the risk of speaking my authentic truth, the more confident I became. Confidence can be viewed as a formula: a belief that you will succeed + the intention to learn and develop your skills + experience = confidence and competence.

Confidence is one ingredient of that other nebulous and misunderstood term: happiness. Personally, I’m most happy when I’m giving and receiving love. And I’m also happy when I’m confident in my work, when I’m listening to great music, watching first-rate movies and plays – and watching Hugo, our French Bulldog, running free with the other dogs at the beach on Sundays. Actually, just thinking about the much longer list of things that make me happy makes me happy! So that’s an important point: Happiness is more than a feeling or mood state – it’s a state of mind.

Happiness is a state of well-being. We create happiness when we live our lives with:

  • Meaning and purpose
  • Authenticity (being the highest version of your true self)
  • Gratitude
  • A belief in abundance
  • Challenging activity
  • Set and achieve realistic, meaningful goals
  • Close interpersonal connection with family and friends

One final thought about confidence and happiness: Life isn’t perfect, and we all experience loss and other painful events in our lives. Acceptance of these situations and feelings is an important key to recovery. When we let go of the struggle and focus on moving forward with confidence, we’ll be sure to experience happiness once again.