By Jena E Pincott, published March 4, 2019 – last reviewed on March 8, 2019

Being tough on yourself, especially when you’ve gone in the wrong direction, can make you stronger. But when you can’t turn that voice off, it can limit your potential. Fortunately, there are proven ways to retake control.

Just minutes into her interview at the white-shoe law firm, Elena heard the voice, that voice, in her head. They see right through me. Biting the inside of her cheek, she gazed at the faces around her. I’m not one of them, it said. I’m a lightweight. It struck Elena, a recent law-school graduate, that she was the only woman in the room with the dark wood paneling and marble floors, the only face that might not belong in a colonial-era portrait gallery. She fumbled through the next three questions.

By the 30-minute mark, Elena was able to slide in a mention of her rank at the top of her class and her hands-on experience in immigration law. At last, her confidence was kicking in. That’s when a partner in a blue pinstripe suit waved Elena’s résumé in the air, and in a carefully neutral voice asked, “How wonderful that you’ve been involved in pro bono work for Honduran immigrants. Is that where your family’s from?” Unsure of his intentions, Elena gulped and nodded. That was an unlawyerly response, her inner voice complained. Now I’m definitely not going get a call back.

The second Elena stepped out the door, her internal critic was all over her. I’m blowing this, it said, and built a persuasive case for why her future in law wasn’t going to pan out, including a rehash of all the blunders she’d made in the last few interviews and the time her torts professor only half-jokingly told her that she was too emotional to be a litigator. I’m done.

Like many accomplished people, Elena feels she owes a lot to her inner critic. Her self-discipline, she believes, comes from the “succeed or suffer” mentality of that driving, sometimes derogatory taskmaster. The critic helped her win cross-country races, become the first in her family to go to college, and to pass the bar exam. It helped her seek out the support of teachers and bosses in the same way she always sought the approval of her ambitious, hard-driving mother. Most important, from Elena’s perspective, it has always helped her home in on her faults and weaknesses before others detect them.

But over time, the self-critic can take a toll.

Your Own Worst Enemy?

Too old, too fat, too lazy. A terrible parent, daughter, son, partner, citizen. Clueless. Thoughtless. Never good enough.

“You can’t ever stop ‘cracking the whip’ on yourself for fear that if you don’t, the disapproval and rejection that seems imminent will become your reality,” explains psychologist Leon Seltzer of Del Mar, California. “The stress is unremitting.” As a result, “When you do something well, you won’t jump for joy but merely breathe a sigh of relief: You’ve escaped from being criticized or censored.” But that relief lasts only until the next expectation presents itself. It’s the perfect setup for anxiety and depression.

Elena suspected that her internal critic might have been harsher than most, but she had always seen it as a net positive, especially as it pushed her through college and law school. But in the real world, where the path to success isn’t so well defined, it seemed to carry a different message. It made her feel she didn’t have the right pedigree or background, or maybe even the necessary competence. I’m an imposter, it said, whenever she entered the minimalist confines of a top-tier law firm. Not as smart as I think I am. After her fifth rejection, a previously unthinkable idea popped into her mind: Maybe she should just return to the family restaurant business, the life she had worked so hard to leave behind.

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By Sara Eckel, published October 14, 2019 – last reviewed on November 6, 2019

Sharing personal information brings people together and helps them like one another more. But in an age of self-disclosure, how do you know when you’ve gone too far—or when someone else has ulterior motives?

When Tom Kealy signed up for a day-long personal essay writing workshop in Berlin, the data scientist saw it as an engaging way to fill a Saturday. “I thought it would be good fun—trying interesting exercises, learning how to make something out of your experiences,” he says.

Then his classmates went around the table to share what they’d be discussing: a racist father, an S&M relationship gone bad, an abusive boyfriend. Kealy, slated to be the 14th of 15 in the group to speak, had planned to write about learning to draw. “By the time it got to me, I realized this was not the class I’d signed up for. As the day went on, I increasingly felt, Oh my God, this is way too much.”
One could argue that in a personal-essay class, each participant should be prepared for whatever topic arises, and Kealy suspects he was just unlucky that the subject matter in this particular cohort was so dark. But his gut reaction—whoa, TMI!—is one many of us know well.

We live in a time of unparalleled personal expression. Long-lost co-workers and high school acquaintances daily invite us into their homes and their psyches. Traditionally marginalized groups are speaking out. Victims are confronting abusers. Addicts are owning their pasts. The freedom to “speak your truth” and “give zero f*cks” brings a lot of benefits, but it can also lead to some thorny questions, like how much we should reveal about ourselves—and how much we should want to know about others.

Each of us tries to erect a boundary around the parts of ourselves we want to keep private, or at least shielded from those with whom we’re not intimate. Some people are more vigilant about raising those firewalls than others, however, which can lead to discomfort, if not open conflict, because it’s harder to keep others’ revelations out than it is to keep our own within. “We think about boundaries as a self-oriented concept: This is my boundary. But it’s not just a matter of what you’re willing or not willing to say, it’s also what you’re willing to let in,” says Mariana Bockarova, a psychology researcher at the University of Toronto.

In healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise, Bockarova says, we attune ourselves to others’ boundaries by making gradual “bids of trust.” For example, on a first date, you might confess that you’d had a tough day at work because your boss was snippy to you. “If the other person doesn’t say anything back, chances are you wouldn’t further extend,” she says. “Bids of trust are lessened when there’s no reciprocity. You’re suddenly not safe with this person.”

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By Lisa A. Phillips, published May 7, 2019 – last reviewed on May 17, 2019

From ghosting to orbiting and submarining, technology keeps elaborating on new ways for people to avoid the emotional labor of breakups. But that only keeps them stuck in anxiety and self-doubt.

I want someone I can talk to, create art with, and bounce ideas off,” Alice, an active member of the New Orleans arts community, told a friend one day. “I want us to be each other’s critic and support. I want somebody I love to dance with, someone I love to touch and be around.”  “That’s a tall order,” the friend replied.

Within days, at a meeting about a new theater project, Alice was introduced to Jonah, who had just moved to town and was looking to join the art scene. That very night, she took him to the closing party of a film festival, the first event of many they attended together. Not long out of a rough divorce, Jonah feared he would fall into a recent pattern of getting quickly obsessed, then putting up walls. “This doesn’t seem to be happening with you,” he confided.

Months later, a potential pregnancy prompted Alice to announce that if it were true, she would have the baby: At 40, she felt it might be her only chance. A pregnancy test proved negative, and when, the next morning, she reached for Jonah, he turned decisively away. Long, wrought emails followed. He wanted to cut the intensity without cutting her out but didn’t know-how.

Then they literally danced into each other at Mardi Gras and were a couple again by morning. But she always felt that he held her off. They broke up again, but he kept reaching out to her online, for advice, for perspective. She felt she was the most important woman in his life.

The gravitational pull of the relationship moved to Alice’s Facebook feed. Jonah tagged her on Game of Thrones updates; he shared articles about theater and social justice and others that tapped private jokes. He “made me feel that everything was all right, that he still needed me,” she recalls. When she tried to break off contact, he boosted the bytes of affection. She curated her own online presence around him. “Everything I posted, I thought, What would he think of this?” she says. “A picture of me looking fabulous, climbing a mountain, on some adventure.” She wanted him to see her moving on—the one thing she wasn’t doing.

Alice and Jonah were lovers for just a few months, but the long half-life of digital attention from a distance—”orbiting,” in today’s parlance—kept her hanging onto the hope of rekindling the romance for four years. She finally blocked him to purge him from her psyche and begin the search for a more palpable relationship.

Alice is scarcely unique. Increasingly, men and women find themselves stuck in a virtual spiderweb of contact, connected by keystroke, with exes lingering electronically, not merely visible through intertwined networks of friends but monitoring their online presence, sending off pale signals through likes and tags on social media posts—but not engaging directly. In this newest iteration of interest, rejection is both more continuous and more amorphous, difficult to define, difficult to get beyond.

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Dr. Bush is an integrative counselor and psychotherapist supporting individuals through personal, professional, and relationship difficulties, including depression, anxiety, mood disorders, sex and gender identity issues, relationship breakdown, bereavement, loss of meaning and direction in life. She draws on several therapeutic approaches, including Psychotherapy, which is particularly effective in addressing difficult life transitions that often result in an identity crisis, psycho-somatic symptoms, or a psycho-spiritual void – viewing them as a call for personal action with a potential for growth and transformation. Dr. Bush aims to understand your needs and explore possible solutions by helping you identify thinking and behavior patterns that may hold you back, while also drawing on your strengths and encouraging your personal growth.