How free will is linked to a positive sense of self

Authenticity can come from having a sense of agency over our lives. (pic copyright: delcreations)

The extent to which we believe in free will can determine our sense of self – how we feel about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Diminishing our free will can trigger depression, anxiety and lower self-esteem. That’s according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers at Texas A&M University worked with two groups of 300 participants, giving them tests to examine the relationship between free will and sense of self, and between free will and authenticity. They discovered that people with low free will showed “greater feelings of self-alienation and lower self-awareness” as well as lower authenticity compared with the group who had higher free will.

“Our findings suggest that part of being who you are is experiencing a sense of agency and feeling like you are in control over the actions and outcomes in your life,” says lead author Elizabeth Seto from the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University. “If people are able to experience these feelings, they can become closer to their true or core self.”

My experience of working with clients in therapy bears out these findings. People can feel depressed, depleted and hopeless when they feel they have no choice over aspects of their lives. This can put them in a victim position from which they feel unable to escape. Things get ‘done’ to them, and they have little sense of any agency over their own lives. The process of being in therapy can help identify options, and instil a belief that they are in charge of their own lives. Sometimes that can start with a very small step, and gradually they can make more decisions in alignment with who they truly are – instead of looking to external factors for encouragement or validation.

I will leave the final word on this to Carl Jung: “Freedom of will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do.”

Why too many Instagram selfies can ruin your relationships

davanti selfie

Limit the number of selfies you post on Instagram if this causes conflict with your partner (image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net)

Post too many selfies on Instagram and it can have a negative effect on your relationships. The more selfies you post showing how happy you are with your body, the worse those effects will be. That’s according to recent research into the ‘dark side’ of Instagram use by Florida State University.

To investigate the consequences on relationships of posting selfies on Instagram, the researchers carried out an online survey of 420 people aged 18 to 62. One of the findings was that people with higher body image satisfaction (the mental image they have of their physical selves) were more likely to post Instagram selfies. While the selfie-lovers may be happy with how they look, there was a correlation between frequent posting and conflict in their relationships. This conflict manifested as jealousy and arguments – and, in worst cases, break-up, separation and divorce.

These negative relationship outcomes can arise from jealous partners becoming hyper-vigilant about Instagram use. The researchers explain: “We speculate that Instagram-related conflict might arise when users begin to monitor their partner’s Instagram selfie posting behaviours. Excessive online monitoring may then result in verbal disputes between romantic partners [who] may experience jealousy given the amount of likes and comments a selfie has accumulated on Instagram. It is also possible that Instagram selfie posts may capture other users’ attention, resulting in the development of online relationships with other Instagram users.” This can ultimately lead to relationship breakdown.

The researchers recommend limiting the number of selfies you post if it’s causing conflict with your partner. They also suggest exploring Instagram and social media use in couples counselling, especially where trust and betrayal are key issues.

The full research is ‘Instagram Unfiltered: Exploring Associations of Body Image Satisfaction, Instagram #Selfie Posting, and Negative Romantic Relationship Outcomes.’

Redundancy can create long-lasting trust issues

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can make it difficult for you to trust people again. (photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/pakorn)

Losing your job can create such deep scars in your self-esteem that it can take you 10 years to be able to trust people again. Not even a new job can heal the wound or help you regain a sense of self, according to a study of 7,000 British adults by the University of Manchester.

Social scientist Dr James Laurence found that being laid off can create “a decade of distrust” – and the cynicism doesn’t go away even when the person made redundant returns to employment. He said: “People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime. However, this work shows that trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world and this change persists long after the experience occurred.”

Losing your job can feel traumatic, especially if your identity and self-esteem are wrapped up in the work you do. Redundancy can bring up all kinds of feelings of failure and shame, and the study shows that the impact can be long lasting. When the sense of self is punctured, it can take a long time for the trauma to be processed and for the person to feel whole again.

If you’re suffering the effects of redundancy and would like to regain trust in others and faith in yourself, email or call Karen on 07956 823501 to book a confidential counselling appointment.

Stress: is kindness more effective than confidence?

Press forgiveness rather than punishing yourself. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles)

Press forgiveness rather than punishing yourself. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/stuartmiles)

Ever found yourself finding reasons to beat yourself up, believing yourself to be at fault, and wishing you could be a better person? If that’s a familiar (or daily) situation, then research is increasingly seeking to prove that being kind to yourself is far more effective than finding mantras for your self-esteem.

Being kinder to yourself, and finding more compassion for your faults and those of others, could help you deal more effectively with the daily stressors of life. That’s the main finding of research from Brandeis University on self-compassion.

The long-standing view has been that self-esteem is the cure-all, but the new view is that self-compassion could be far more effective in helping us cope with the stresses that bear down on us all.

Self-compassion is the ability to forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done, not blaming yourself or taking more responsibility than you should, and letting it go rather than dwelling on it. In other words, it’s the ability to cut yourself some slack.

The researchers asked people to rank their agreement to statements such as, “I try to be understanding and patient toward aspects of my personality I do not like” and “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies”. Resulting stress tests were recorded.

Tests showed that people with low self-compassion carried their stress from the day before into today, which made them more vulnerable to the effects of stress.

The researchers said: “It is easy for stress to build over time, and a seemingly small daily stressor, such as traffic, can impact a person’s health if they don’t have the right strategies to deal with it.”

My take on this? Forgive yourself for stuff outside your control – where possible. Beating yourself up in areas that have nothing to do with you, or have a detrimental effect, are to be avoided. This way of being can have its roots in childhood, and how you had to take care of a parent as a child.

For support and to work on forgiveness, call 07956 823501 or email davanticounselling.com

Can you ‘do an Oprah’ and let go of claustrophobic clutter?

davanti clutter“Knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want,” says Oprah Winfrey in an article about clearing her clutter. Big words, big aim – but not making anyone immune to the anxiety that goes with clearing out the clutter of our lives that can keep us stuck.

Even Oprah admits to feeling some anxiety – and wanting to buy back some of her stuff – when dealing with the emotional impact of saying goodbye to some of her most prized possessions. Ultimately, her instincts were that “instead of feeling walled in by stuff, [she] want[ed] to feel surrounded by calm”.

Having a vision for a cleared space is admirable. Many of us want to feel less ‘walled in’ by our clutter, but there can be so much invested in the objects we hold dear – especially if those objects belonged to someone who is no longer in our lives.

Oprah’s point is that our stuff doesn’t have to own us, but it can be so hard to let go. Who’s to say when it’s time to let go of a particular object?

Experience of letting go shows that you more you’re able to release to the world, the more the world is able to release to you. Hold onto the objects that you’ve paid a fortune for, but you have no further need of, and work out what you will get in return. Release objects to people who really need them, instead of hoarding them yourself, surely has to be the opportunity we’ve been given: to bestow on others the gifts that we have been given ourselves.

In Oprah’s words – assuming we’re not wanting for our basic needs – then “less actually is so much more”.

Bickering parents affect their kids’ mental health

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Unresolved arguments between parents can create insecurity in their kids. (pic courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/freedigitalphotos.net)

Parents who bicker in front of the kids, and fail to resolve their arguments, could affect their children’s mental and physical health, according to a report by relationship charity OnePlusOne.

The study looked at ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ conflicts and how they affected children. In destructive conflict, parents sulk, slam doors or make their kids the focus of the row. Constructive conflict is where parents resolve their differences during the argument.

Destructive conflict can have social, emotional and behavioural effect on kids. They might start to suffer psychosomatic pains such as stomachache and headache. The insecurity they feel can also affect their growth. Kids growing up in this way can be more likely to perpetuate these conflict behaviours when they become parents themselves. 

Report co-author Dr Catherine Houlston says: “If a child sees his or her parents in conflict then work things out, they understand it’s possible for difficult situations to be resolved, and they feel more secure.”

Happiness 2014: how about giving up trying to please other people…?

For 2014, why not commit to being true to who you are - irregardless of the other person's reaction...? (pic: istockphoto.com.castillodominici)

For 2014, why not commit to being true to who you are – irregardless of whether other people accept or approve? (pic: istockphoto.com/castillodominici)

Apparently doing less is more in 2014. If you want to be happy, that is. Or it is according to a new book by Todd Patkin, who is quoted in an article as saying we should make 2014 the Year of the Quitter. His argument has a lot of truths in it. He advocates:

  1. Letting go of relationships that drain you.
  2. Stop being nice to people just so you think they’ll like you.
  3. Forget thinking that being a workaholic is cool.
  4. Stop putting such high expectations on yourself.
  5. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else and what they’ve achieved.
  6. Don’t live your life just to please others.
  7. Stop trying to please your partner.
  8. Stop putting so much pressure on your children.

Seems that his advice is to stop having such high, perfectionist standards. People who try to please others also have high expectations of reward, gratification and gratitude. Unfortunately, the pressure can be on the recipient of such people-pleasing behaviours. If he/she is not perceived to be sufficiently grateful and adoring then the response from the giver can be one of huffiness and passive-aggression. I think the advice on points 2 and 4 are the most salient.

2, because if you are just putting a nice face on to people, then what happens to your real face? Why tell a lie or contort your real self in a self-imposed pressure to be liked? Trying to please other people, if it compromises your true nature or what is in your heart, surely has to be a lie? So why perpetrate it, just because you want to be liked by somebody or are scared of hurting their feelings?

And 4, because it is often the high standards we set for ourselves that lead to our inner sense of failure. We give ourselves to-do lists that, frankly, can be impossible to fulfil. Are they a stick to beat ourselves with? Or a way to stretch ourselves and reach greater depths and breadths within ourselves?

Sometimes the line between the two can be rather slim. Check which side you’re standing on, to protect and build your own self-esteem.

Ultimately, if we do what we can with what we’ve got at the time, who’s to say we’re not good enough…?