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Best Therapist in Portland

my musings

Who is Running This Show?

Who is actually in charge of my life? Most of us would say I am. Most definitely. I want to (and should) take credit for my success. I did that! And most of us do (and maybe shouldn’t spend so much time at it) take credit for our failures. Of course I did that. We believe that we are lone agents, acting in the world without much influence at all. Free thinkers we are. 


But here is the thing. Scientifically speaking, that’s just not true. At least not exactly. 



Humans are social beings. Our brains are programmed to co-regulate with the people we are around (more on co-regulation soon). Our brains are programmed to actually synchronize with the people we spend time with. “Group-think” is a thing precisely because IT IS A THING. We tend to think and act and make decisions and even FEEL the way the people we are around do. In essence, we are the average of the people we spend the most time with. 




All of us. Even you. Even me. 


Research suggests that much of the variability in measurements such as grades or income can be accounted for by our friend group. Yep, your mom was right. Your friends are a bad influence. If we hang out with people who get better grades, we get better grades. Seems to make sense. But maybe it’s not as obvious that if we hang out with people who are more anxious about the world, we will be more anxious about the world. If we spend our time with people who complain about the price of bread, we will come to loath the price of a loaf. Misery loves company, but more importantly misery co-creates itself between two people. As does happiness. 


Many of us spend so much time in therapy looking inward. Why am I so unhappy? Why am I so this-or-that? What can I change inside of me to be more of that-or-this? And this is great. Really. It is the foundation of being able to experience life more in the way I want to. We can gain insights into our inner emotional lives and beliefs systems.


Sometimes we hit up against a wall in therapy where we realize if we change, we will lose our friends, or our jobs,  or worse, our partners. And this is pretty terrifying. The cost of getting healthier or happier is potentially losing the system that is around us. It feels like a no-win situation and so we stay stuck. Unhappy in our life, but also afraid to lose it. 


Part of this is that we can’t imagine feeling different or life being different than it is, and the proof is all around us. It’s hard to imagine I could be happy in a marriage, when everyone I spend time with is complaining about their marriage. It’s hard to imagine I could be a straight-A student, when my friends don’t care and all get Cs. I simply can’t imagine being capable of loving my work, when all of my coworkers and colleagues are grinding out the same awful routines with me. My brain is reflecting what it is surrounded by, fueling my view of myself, proving my existing beliefs and stoking my fear that whatever would happen if I change would definitely be worse than it is now. Even if I did get better grades somehow all my friends would make fun of me, go to parties without me, and then I would have to eat lunch alone, and THAT would be WAY worse than getting Cs. My friends agree. 


In therapy, we do get the opportunity to look at what we are feeling and doing in our own lives and map out what kind of changes we want. We take the time to heal our hearts and forgive ourselves and understand our past. We get to imagine how life can be different. 


And then we need to remember that much of actual change can be accounted for by our friend group, our environment, and external influences. And so at some point, when we have done all of that, we need to take a good hard look at our world.  We need to consider the people, places, jobs, cluttered living rooms and moldy yoga pants we are tethered to and make a change that creates a world in which we feel like the person we want to be. Consider the following examples. 


If you are thinking of getting divorced, have done all the therapy, worked all the angles, cried and thought and cried some more and then decided in your heart of hearts it is time to separate, then it is time to pick your people wisely. Tether yourself to people who have not only survived divorce but are THRIVING. Don’t think you know any? You do. I promise. 


Feel like you have been working and working and working on bringing more joy into your life, but all you and your friends talk about is how terrible everything is? Maybe you are on a text thread of complainers? Start a new thread, call it the “Joy Thread” and be VERY selective about who you invite. More time with the joy role models helps your brain map those neural pathways. 


Notice how you feel when your living room is clean versus when it is cluttered. Notice how you feel when you go out of your house with your new favorite kicks and fancy pants instead of your grungy yoga pants from seven years ago. Notice how you feel in the room where you have several plants, versus the room where you don’t. Notice how the pictures on your walls make you feel. 


Go through your house and Marie Kondo the heck out of it. Don’t worry…at this stage you don’t actually have to get rid of anything, I just want you to notice how you feel.  Not just with certain items or pieces of clothing, but with the vibes, states of order or disorder, smells, people, friends, sounds, podcasts, TV shows. Whatever it is that is coming into your sensory awareness. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice what it makes you think about. 


Ever put on pumped up music before a sporting event? Listen to a motivational speaker before doing a big presentation? True confession, I used to put on true crime podcasts while running in the wee dark hours of the morning by myself because it would make me run faster…yeah...literally scaring myself into a faster PR. Sidebar: this is not a therapist-approved technique. Don’t do it. But it worked because the things we surround ourselves with IMPACT US and our nervous systems. 


And just like I was choosing that scary podcast, we are choosing the grungy yoga pants, the anxious friend circles, the toxic work environments, the cluttered living rooms. We are the absolute average of the people we associate with. And our externals reflect our internals. So if you feel like you just can’t make it over the last hump in therapy, if you feel like something is holding you back…maybe, probably, there are some things you could do about that.  


Want a challenge? Pick one thing you can get rid of that is tethering you back to bad feelings. Or do a “friend audit” to really consider which of your relationships are helping you thrive. Pick one and make an investment. See what happens.


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