by Rachel Conrad, LMSW
How do we balance expectations for society’s measure of success with our own well-being? In a recent session, a patient told me how she felt stuck and unfulfilled. She explained that she landed what she believed was the perfect job after having graduated from an Ivy League school. She always thought she’d be happy once she achieved these goals, however, my patient says she has never felt so bleak. She says she feels lost and empty, and is unsure what she wants out of her life.
Why do we sometimes compare ourselves to others? How does that impact our experience of reality and overall fulfillment? As a therapist, I’ve come to realize that when we focus so narrowly on certain goals, we can forget our journey. This patient is not alone in her battle. Some of us adhere to messages from society that indicates a need to have it all together. On Instagram, Facebook and even Snapchat, people can portray their lives in such a way that presumes that they have reached their goals. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? What we often forget is that there are other aspects of this person’s life that they might not be posting.
Two therapeutic models may be utilized to help this patient gain insight into her negative thinking patterns. ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), characterized as a form of therapy that utilizes acceptance and mindfulness techniques with commitment and behavior-change ideas to increase overall well-being. I challenged her to accept where she was at the present moment. I explained that when we learn to let go of control, and focus on what we are experiencing in the present moment, without creating judgments or trying to alter the situation, a shift occurs.
The second approach, known as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), can be defined as changing and challenging maladaptive thoughts, cognitive distortions and behaviors by promoting emotional regulation with the hopes of targeting current problems. Her thoughts that things will never get better and that her life is doomed to that of one consumed with emptiness and isolation, are often the thoughts of my patient. I challenged the validity and utilization of these maladaptive statements by asking her if she had proof that things would never get better and to what facts did she base these beliefs upon.
Therapy is so stigmatized today. People believe that they need to reach a low, or hit their rock bottom to get help. Therapy is defensive against thought build-up and feeling that you are alone with your thoughts and problems. Therapy allows one to open up to a non-judgmental source, providing the patient with validation, and simultaneously, challenging beliefs that no longer add value to their life. I encourage you to step outside of the box, and think about your journey. Do you want a life that looks perfect on the outside, yet feels empty on the inside? On the contrary, do you want an honest, fulfilled life, where you feel your emotions (both positive and negative), and allow yourself to be vulnerable?