5 Ways to Support Mental Health this Holiday

5 Ways to Support Mental Health this Holiday

Many people struggle during the holidays for a lot of different reasons.  The holiday season may coincide with anniversary of the loss of a loved one, or may be a reminder of the estrangement or difficulty of family relationships. Despite the fact that these conditions are true for many people, suicides rates actually decrease during the holidays.  The CDC reports that suicide rates are lowest in December, contradicting much of the information published about depression during the holidays.

However, despite the fact that suicide rates may not be spiking during this time of year, it remains a fact that you or someone you know may be struggling emotionally during the holidays. How can we all be more supportive and make sure that our hearts and homes are open to those we care about this season? Just as importantly, how can we make sure that we remain connected and caring throughout the new year as well? Here are some things to keep in mind as you think about mental health awareness during the holiday season:

  1. Reach out

If you notice that someone you care about has withdrawn or if you know a person that struggles with their mental health, this is a great time to reach out to them and let them know that you’re available.  Ask if they have plans over the next couple months and let them know when you know you’ll be available.  Lots of people have events, parties, and trips scheduled this time of year, but letting those you care about know when you’ll be around will make it more likely they will reach out to you as well during those times.  It can be hard for people who struggle with their mental health to reach out for help, and they may be especially disinclined to do so during the holidays because they may feel that they are intruding on others during their holiday plans. For those that do not have a lot of plans, it may feel like an isolating time. One way to be supportive is to think about all of your friends, family, and neighbors, and ask yourself about who could use some company this holiday.

  1. Ask

As mentioned above, it is often hard for people with depression, grief, or other mental health struggles to ask for help when they feel isolated or sad. When you reach out to others, ask how they are doing and if they are getting their needs met.  If you know that they have been grieving or may be feeling upset due to an anniversary, invite them to talk about it if they want to.

  1. Respect Needs

While most people will appreciate your actions when you reach out to offer support, some people may need to have some personal time or withdraw from some of the holiday festivities.  This is not necessarily a bad thing. Isolation and withdrawal may be necessary self-care strategies for people who are struggling. These strategies only become unhealthy when people are thinking about self-harm or who want connection with others but are unable to have that connection for any reason. If someone tells you that they feel like they need some alone time, respect their decision but just reiterate that you are there if and when they need support or company.  Let them know that they do not have to talk about what they are feeling if they don’t want to, but that you can always just hang out to have some good times together as well.

  1. Re-engage

When people want some space, you can give them some time to have privacy, but this doesn’t mean you need to disappear forever.  You can reach back out after a couple weeks or after they have verbalized that they are ready for company or contact again. Just re-engaging with them may allow them to start moving past their seasonal slump. Again, this is a time when people who are struggling with their mental health over the holidays may be ready to be around others or enjoy company again, but they may have a hard time reaching out and asking for help if they have already asked for space.  Just remember that people’s needs change, and being open and adaptable is the best way to be supportive.

  1. Be Personal

Sometimes it can be hard to know what the right thing to say is to those who whom you know are struggling with depression, grief, anxiety, or other emotional struggles. The best way to approach this is to just be sincere and to be personal.  You don’t have to be vague or general when you talk about mental health.  You can ask about how they are handling the anniversary of their loved one’s death, or if they want to talk about the feelings that they experience during the holidays. You can also offer some of your own personal thoughts and about how you relate to or understand their feelings. That can be immensely helpful for people who may not know that others around them have similar feelings or struggles.

 

The most important thing to remember is that while the holidays are filled with joy and gratitude for many people, there are also those for whom the holidays can be challenging. Although more people are aware now of this problem, we sometimes don’t always know what to do to support someone whom we know might be struggling. Remember that you don’t have to have the solutions to all the problems to be helpful.  Just knowing that people care is sometimes the only thing that can make things better.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, where you can get crisis intervention, free confidential support, and resources for you and your loved ones.

Do you Apologize Too Much?

Do you Apologize Too Much?

There is a tendency that some people have sometimes to apologize for things that do not require an apology, or to apologize for things that were not their fault.  This is a habit that comes from a place of wanting to be considerate of other people, which is a good trait and a good quality to have.  However, when we over-apologize, it can have the effect making you feel responsible for things that you shouldn’t be responsible for, and this pattern can contribute to a lack of confidence in how you feel and how you come across to other people.

Some people are so accustomed to apologizing for everything that happens, that they feel awkward when they make the effort to NOT apologize when it’s not needed. This can be a people-pleasing tendency that has become an ingrained habit. Other times it may be a response to anxiety or fear of judgement, but it can manifest itself in ways that merely serve to contribute to overall anxiety. The tendency to apologize for things when you have done nothing wrong may make you feel like you are in a constant state of needing to attend to other people’s feelings and comfort, leaving you feeling as though your own feelings and comfort do not matter.

What’s the Problem with Apologizing Too Much?

There is research that suggests that women tend to apologize more not because they are too sensitive or because men have more ego strength, but because women tend to perceive more wrongdoing in their own actions, whereas men tend to perceive smaller offenses as not worthy of requiring an apology.  In other words, women tend to judge their own behaviors more harshly, leading them to find more scenarios in which they feel an apology is merited. Over-apologizing is not a trait only women experience, but it may be more likely to be true if you are a woman, particularly one who has been taught to attend to other people’s feelings more than your own.

Here are some scenarios in which you may have become accustomed to apologizing, but that do not actually require an apology:

  • Expressing remorse for something that was out of your control
  • Apologizing for being in the way when someone else bumps into you
  • Apologizing for being offended at something someone else has done to you
  • Apologizing for having feelings or for crying when you are upset
  • Apologizing when someone else interrupts you
  • Apologizing for making a simple request such as asking the time or a small favor
  • Apologizing for apologizing

All of these situations are scenarios in which either someone else should actually give an apology, or in which there is no need for an apology at all because there has been no offense committed.

For example, have you ever been confiding in a friend about a painful experience, and then when you started to cry, you apologized to your friend for crying? This is an unfortunately common reaction that many people have when they start to cry, and the implication is that you have done something wrong by becoming emotional when talking about a painful experience. However, in this situation your friend is probably not offended at all that you started to cry, and in fact you have done nothing wrong; you are  reacting in a perfectly appropriate way to an expression of your emotions.  Why is an apology required? For disturbing the peace? No, you do not need to apologize in this situation.

When you begin to realize that you do not have to apologize for reacting to situations in perfectly normal ways, you will start to feel more confident in yourself. However, if you start to practice asking yourself whether an apology is needed before you issue one, you might find that you feel strange or uncomfortable when you stop yourself from apologizing.

Isn’t This Just Being Polite?

No, apologizing when it is not needed is not a form of being polite. Some people have this tendency because they have been taught or socialized to believe that they should always make sure other people are comfortable, even when they are personally uncomfortable.  This is true in those cases when someone bumps into you awkwardly, but then you apologize for being in the way.  Sure, you’re trying to just be polite and diffuse the awkwardness of the situation.

However, this is almost an invitation for people to walk all over you. Maybe this will not manifest immediately in the present moment, but over time, this tendency to always present yourself as the one who’s in the way can begin to undermine your own confidence in yourself and shows others that you are not going to stand up for yourself when someone has wronged you. This is most problematic in the way that this habit contributes to your overall demeanor around others. It doesn’t mean someone is going to start bullying you immediately, but over time it contributes to the perception that you will not fault others when they take advantage of or otherwise harm you. You can be polite and kind to others without apologizing for other people’s offenses.

The more assertive way to handle it when someone else bumps into you is to wait for them to apologize to you, which is what would be truly polite, and then accepting the apology with grace by saying simply “Thanks, but I’m okay”, or “You’re excused”. The thanks is for the apology, the reference to being okay or excusing the other person is a verbal forgiveness for the offense of bumping into you. If someone does not apologize for bumping into you, you can either choose to ignore it, or say “You’re excused”.  This way the implication is clear that you are not the one who has done something wrong, but you are gracefully excusing the error regardless of the offender’s reaction.

Practicing this new habit in more inconsequential situations such as an accidental bump in a social setting will help you gain confidence for when you need to stand up for yourself in more consequential situations.  When you really need to speak up for yourself because of unfair treatment in the workplace, or when a friend has said something hurtful to you, you will be better equipped to handle the scenario confidently because you have been practicing accepting responsibility only for the things you are actually responsible for, and not letting others off the hook for their own offenses by taking unnecessary responsibility.

When Is an Apology Really Required?

Genuine remorse is a different experience altogether.  When you have done something for which you are truly remorseful, you should apologize. A genuine apology is an art in itself, and giving a sincere apology is an important part of mending relationships and living up to your own values. A genuine apology should first be sincere, it should explain why what you did was wrong, it should include acceptance of responsibility, and it should include an offer to make amends if possible.

You might need to apologize for snapping at your friend when you were actually upset about something happening at work, or for being late to an appointment where someone was waiting on you, or for not following through with a commitment you made to help with a project. Being able to verbalize a sincere apology is an important skill to have, and can go a long way towards reducing hostility in a relationship or for preserving your reputation.

However, when you apologize for things that do not require an apology, it can undermine your confidence and leave you feeling powerless when others take advantage of you. If this feels like a familiar situation to you, start by beginning to notice all the times you apologize, and begin asking yourself whether that was necessary.  Then start by trying to reverse this habit in those smaller, inconsequential scenarios, so that you can begin to build confidence in your ability to assess when an apology is really needed.  Just taking these small steps can go a long way in boosting your overall confidence and helping you to become a more assertive person.

9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People

9 Tips To Deal With Difficult People

Everyone is going to come across people in their life that are just difficult to deal with.  There are many different kinds of difficult people, and in order to have a healthy mindset and not let these kinds of people bring you down or derail you from your goals, it is helpful to be able to identify these kinds of people and learn how to manage their personalities.

Difficult people can make it harder to stay positive and get things accomplished, and they can occupy more of your mental energy than they deserve.  In order to combat these kinds of people, you need to first identify what kind of personality you are dealing with, and then have a strategy to cope with them when they come your way.

First, understand that difficult people are the way that they are because they have learned that behaving in a certain way works in their favor in one way or another.  Being difficult may mean that others do not criticize them, or that they get their way more often. They may have found that attacking others helps them avoid being attacked themselves, or they may feel more powerful when others acquiesce to their demands. Whatever their reason, they are usually immune to the normal ways of communicating with others because they have found a method that helps them feel better about themselves or get more of what they want.

Next, make sure you know what NOT to do when dealing with difficult people:

  1. DON’T take their behavior personally. Other people’s behavior is always about them, it’s not about you. Chances are they treat everyone this way, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are being personally attacked, even if it seems that way.
  2. DON’T try to mimic their behavior or beat them at their own games. This will usually add fuel to the fire and just stimulate more conflict.  Moreover, difficult people can be very manipulative and could use your actions against you.  This tactic rarely turns out well.
  3. DON’T try to appease them by trying to make them happy all the time to avoid conflict. Difficult people will tire of you when they figure out you won’t fall for their games, but if you feed them what they want, they will always come up with more demands to make.
  4. DON’T try to change them by rationalizing or appealing to their empathy. You cannot change others, you can only change yourself and how you respond to people and situations.
  5. DON’T give up. You will get better in time with dealing with difficult people when you become more confident in yourself and your abilities. This is about not giving up on yourself. You are free to give up on trying to change difficult people, though.

Finally, here are some tips to deal with a few different kinds of difficult people:

  1. Negative Complainers: Complainers are people who have a hard time trying to find the positive in anything. When they get something good, they find a way to find fault with it. When they receive a compliment, they shoot it down.  These kinds of people can be exhausting to deal with because they constantly need other people to prop them up and boost their ego.  They typically do not have much confidence in themselves, and they use other people to make up for this by constantly requiring the people around them to make up for their negativity. To deal with this kind of person, avoid arguing with them about their own terrible outlook.  Instead, respond with something like “It’s too bad you feel that way. When I feel like that I usually try to look for the positive”.  Don’t give them the solutions.  This reinforces their behavior.  Instead, turn their negativity around by encouraging them to come up with their own solutions.  If they can’t, just repeat that it is unfortunate that they feel so stuck.
  2. Aggressive People: Aggressive people try to intimidate others into doing what they want. This usually serves to keep attention off of them so that they don’t have to change. They expect that others will be intimidated into silence or will respond back with aggression, which helps them avoid responsibility.  The approach to take with these people is to stay calm, refuse to be intimidated, and remain assertive with your viewpoint. When you remain calm while they are losing their cool, they end up looking like the crazy person, and you look rational and level. They will eventually run out of steam, or get frustrated with their inability to make you break your calm, and they will have to calm down.  The key here is not to let their behavior influence yours.  I know it will feel difficult, but this is why you will gain the upper hand eventually. When others learn that they can’t bully you, they will eventually stop trying.  However, there may be times when you need to set boundaries by saying something like “I’m not going to engage further in this conversation until you are able to remain calm.  I’ll talk to you later.” Then, end it. Refuse to engage further until they stop the aggressive behavior.
  3. Snipers: Snipers are similar to aggressive people, but they use more subtle messaging and methods to attack you. They tend to be hostile and they make people uncomfortable by making snarky remarks, sarcasm, disapproving facial expressions, and other innuendoes to try and intimidate people.  This makes them feel more powerful and boosts their ego because inside they are actually insecure and need to make others feel small in order to feel good about themselves. The way to combat this kind of person is two-fold.  One way is direct confrontation. This requires that you are confident in yourself and your assertive skills.  You might say something like “That comment sounds like you’re making fun of me, and I don’t appreciate it”.  Some people will be so shocked by your ability to pull this off that it will stop their behavior. Another approach with this kind of person is the “kill ‘em with kindness” approach. No matter how rude and nasty they are, just respond with kindness and sincerity. Sometimes this approach works because kindness is disarming. It is hard for most people to be unkind to someone who is always kind to them.  This won’t work with everyone, so choose your approach wisely.  This is not about being fake, it’s actually about being sincere.  If you approach all people with love no matter who they are or how they treat you, you are being true to your own values, if those are your values. The kindness approach works for me personally, because it is literally just easier for me to be kind to others than to be snarky, but that’s just my personality.  I’m good at being assertive too when I need to be, but kindness is my default, so that’s where I often try to start.
  4. Avoiders/Silent People: Some people do not have the assertive skills to deal with confrontation in a healthy way, so they will avoid you when they are upset, or they will use passive tactics such as giving you sullen looks, or respond to your questions with “I don’t know” or “Nothing’s wrong”. These people can be hard to deal with because they require a lot of your emotional labor to figure out what is wrong, or they require you to be the one to fix things all the time when there is a conflict.  These people get away with not doing the work to fix problems by not talking or refusing to act.  It works because other people who are uncomfortable with silence or tension will do the work to fix things. The approach to take with these people is not to play into their avoidance. The sooner you confront the issue, the better. If you know what the issue is, ask questions that can’t be avoided, such as “I can see that you’re upset, so let’s talk about what just happened”. Calling them out on their behavior right away in an assertive but friendly tone can help resolve problems so they do not fester.  If, however, they refuse to engage or talk, then let it go and ignore all further behaviors.  If you try to talk to someone and they will not engage, then they just have to sit with their frustration and silence because they made that choice.  You do not have to continue to try and coax them into talking or go through enormous effort to cheer them up or get them to talk to you. Choose to go on with your life or your day and do not take responsibility for the inaction or avoidance that others choose.  When they see that their mood is not going to ruin yours, it becomes less effective to avoid talking.

 

You will not always get the outcomes you want when dealing with difficult people.  As stated before, you cannot change other people, you can only change how you react to them.  But difficult people do not have to ruin your mood, your day, or your life if you choose not to let them.  There may be some situations you cannot avoid, such as when you have a toxic boss or a family member that likes to ruin Thanksgiving.  But remember that your power lies in you being in control of your own behavior and your own reactions, and living true to your own values.

 

Are you an Empath?

Are you an Empath?

Human beings vary in their degree of sensitivity, by which I mean that there are some people who are highly sensitive and who feel emotions very intensely, whereas there are others who display little sensitivity towards others and who also do not seem to be as affected by their environment or the people around them.  Empaths are people who are empathetic and sympathetic towards others, and also experience the world as a highly sensitive person.

From Sociopaths to Empaths

There appears to be about 3-5 percent of the human population that fall under the category of sociopathic, which does not mean that they are all murderers, but does mean that they operate their lives in a way by which their primary concern is always about themselves, and they do not have the ability to see things from the perspective of others. They may feel very little true guilt or shame about doing harmful things to others. Another 1 percent is considered psychopathic, with higher percentages of both sociopaths and psychopaths found among criminal populations.

There is another end of the spectrum though, who are rather the opposite of the sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists, which is those who are highly sensitive individuals, sometimes referred to as Empaths.  Interestingly, highly sensitive people comprise about 20% of the population.  Empaths are a kind of highly sensitive person that extends their ability to experience the feelings deeply of others as well as themselves. Empaths are people who identify with and feel intense empathy towards others. This does not mean that they are inherently fragile or overly-emotional.  It means that they feel things deeply, think about things deeply, and take on the emotions and experiences of others as their own.

Who Are the Empaths?

Being highly sensitive is a temperament trait, not a disorder or a problem that needs to be solved. In fact, it is a trait that likely has some benefit as a survival trait, because high sensitivity exists in over 100 different species of animals as well.  For example, certain dogs may be more sensitive and empathetic, which makes them amazing companion animals and also great therapy dogs.  These animals, as well as highly sensitive people, are very responsive to small changes in their environment.

Empaths often find themselves worrying not only about their own problems and experiences, but the problems and experiences of their friends and families, people they may not even know, and the problems of the world at large.  While many people do think and care about these things, empaths tend to have a more intense personal emotional response to these things, and may find themselves exhausted at caring so much about everything.  Both men and women can be empaths, and highly sensitive individuals exist in similar rates in both men and women.

Empaths typically have the following characteristics as part of their general personality and constitution:

  • Highly emotionally responsive, ability to understand and respond to the emotions of others
  • Easily empathize with animals
  • May cry easily, even at seemingly innocuous moments, commercials or movies
  • Tend to be creative and curious, with a desire to learn about and understand the world
  • Susceptible to over-stimulation, such as crowds, loud noises, or over-work
  • May be inclined towards caring professions, such as nursing, mental health, or teaching
  • May burn-out easily and need reclusive time to recover
  • Tend to observe quietly and take things in
  • Mentally process information deeply and thoroughly

Empaths may often feel different than others, feel misunderstood, or have a hard time understanding why others in the world care so little compared to them. This can lead to a tendency towards introversion, although not all empaths or highly sensitive people are introverted. Many empaths have been told throughout their lives that their way of perceiving the world is wrong, or that they need to “get over” their feelings.  However, recognizing that you are a highly sensitive person or an Empath may help you to understand more about what your unique needs are by learning to value the traits that you have and use them as a strength.

What do Empaths Need?

Empaths tend to work well independently, and also work well in settings that are one-on-one with another person.  Workplace environments with a lot of people, or that are very noisy and simulating may leave empaths feeling drained rather than energized. Socializing may lead to similar experiences.  Knowing that certain environments will feel over-whelming and lead to feeling unwell may help empaths make decisions about career paths and socialization choices that will lead to more fulfilling experiences.

Empaths also may need to have down-time in between experiences that are overwhelming.  For example, after going to a party one evening, an empath may need to make sure they schedule time for solitude in order to recover and regain energy.  They may similarly need to schedule down-time after situations that require a lot of emotional energy, such as caregiving for others, volunteering for charity work, or even engaging with friends to support them.

Knowing if you are an empath may help you understand how to express your needs more assertively.  Empaths may often have difficulty asking for help or even saying “No” when others request help from them.  Their tendency is to try to solve problems for others, but this may sometimes result in the empathic person neglecting their own needs.  Learning to say no to some obligations or requests for help, and learning to schedule time for yourself in order to recover your sense of energy can have a positive effect on your overall mood and improve your ability to interact with the world.

As an Empath, recognize that your highly sensitive qualities are a strength, both to yourself and your community.  Sometimes, you may wish that you could not care as much because of how deeply everything affects you.  However, the world needs highly sensitive people who are attuned to others and who care about how others think and feel.  Empaths have likely long been the healers and the nurturers in human communities, and have been valuable to the societies they live in.  However, empaths can also learn to care as much about themselves as they do others, which they certainly deserve due to the value they bring to other’s lives.

Cognitive Distortions 4.0:  Emotional Reasoning

Cognitive Distortions 4.0: Emotional Reasoning

As part of my ongoing series about cognitive distortions, I’m going address Emotional Reasoning in this post.  Emotional reasoning refers to the mistaken belief that everything you feel must be true.  In this way, we can sometimes trick ourselves into believing that our feelings are facts.  To the contrary, sometimes our emotions cloud our judgement, and we don’t always read the situation correctly when we allow our emotions to affect our interpretation of the situation we are in.  Sometimes we need to step back from our emotional response to a situation and try to see if our emotions are taking us to a conclusion that may not be really true.

Here are some examples of emotional reasoning and thoughts that may occur when you might need to think twice about whether or not what you feel is really true:

 

  1. “ I feel rejected and hurt, and therefore you have rejected me”
  • In this case, someone may or may not have rejected you. A person may have been trying to set boundaries with you by telling you not to call repeatedly when they are unavailable.  Your feelings of rejection may be due to insecurities you have, but you also need to respect the boundaries other people set in their own lives and relationships.  Or perhaps you were passed over for a job offer, and you were one qualified candidate in a competitive position, but fell short of the final cut.  This doesn’t mean the company didn’t think you would have done a good job or that your skill set wasn’t valuable.
  1. “I feel like a bad friend, therefore I must be a bad friend.”
  • Sometimes you may judge yourself too harshly for making a mistake. Being human, you’re bound to do things you regret from time to time, but this doesn’t make you a terrible person.  When you do make mistakes, try to own up to them and repair the damage when you can, but don’t believe that you are defined by every mistake you’ve ever made.
  1. “I feel lonely, therefore no one cares about me”
  • It’s hard to face problems on your own when you don’t have much support from others. However, sometimes we can get to feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of reaching out to others when we feel vulnerable and need support.  Oftentimes, it’s easier to sit with our feelings by ourselves than acknowledge that we need help.  However it’s important to reach out to your support system when you can.  Sometimes, your friends and family may not know that you are struggling, but would want to be there for you if they could.  It’s important when you feel this way to step back from your emotions and try to account for the support that you DO have, even if it’s not in the most likely places.
  1. “I’m angry with you, therefore you must have done something wrong.”
  • Anger is difficult to step back from, but it’s very important that you understand where your anger is coming from and how much control you have over it. Sometimes we get angry with others for things that cause us distress, but often times anger is really a reflection of how we’re feelings about ourselves. For example, you may feel angry at your partner for not doing something you expected from them, but you never actually verbalized what you needed.  You feel angry that your partner didn’t anticipate your needs, but you may not recognize that it was your responsibility to communicate your needs to your partner.
  1. “I feel worthless, therefore I am worthless.”
  • Self-esteem can be a struggle if you have been suffering from a mental illness or have experienced trauma in your life. It can be hard to separate your feelings of low self-worth from your outlook on life, but this is where it’s important to take stock in what your values are.  Sometimes we give other people more courtesy than we give ourselves.  Whenever you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts about yourself, ask yourself who gave you those messages about yourself and if you would say those things to someone that you cared about.  If you wouldn’t tell someone you care about that they are worthless, than you shouldn’t say those things to yourself.  Feeling down or struggling with the situation you are in at this moment doesn’t mean that you have to listen to thoughts that make you feel worse about yourself.

 

Sometimes we get so caught up in our emotions that we choose to ignore evidence that goes against how we feel. So maybe your friend sent you an invitation to an event on Facebook, but because she didn’t reach out personally to make sure you were coming you still choose to believe she doesn’t really care if you come hang out or not.  Or perhaps  you become overwhelmed with a presentation you have to give at work, and take this to mean that you must be in over your head and you’re not cut out for the job, despite the fact that your supervisor picked you for the project.

If you think you might be engaging in emotional reasoning and you want to make sure you are not letting your emotions cloud your judgment of the situation, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Am I overlooking my strengths?
  2. Am I discounting evidence that would lead me to reach a different conclusion?
  3. Am I basing my conclusions on my emotions or facts?
  4. What would you say to a friend that was in your situation?
  5. Am I struggling to give myself the same advice that I would give to my friend?

These questions will help you evaluate your situation with more clarity and determine if emotional reasoning is getting in the way of your progress.  Emotions are important, and we shouldn’t just ignore them.  But keep in mind that relying on our emotions to guide us doesn’t always give us the full picture of what’s happening and what all of our options are.  Don’t forget that you are in charge of your mentality, even when it gets overwhelming.

For more on Cognitive Distortions, check out the other posts in this series:

Cognitive Distortions 3.0: Personalization

Cognitive Distortions 2.0: Disqualifying the Positive

Coping with Cognitive Distortions: Catastrophizing

How to Un-friend and Still Be Friends

How to Un-friend and Still Be Friends

Social media has changed our lives in so many ways, including how we communicate with our friends.  There have been many positive things that have come out of the rise of social media, such as reconnecting with old friends we haven’t seen or spoken to in many years, maintaining ties with people when you’re no longer living in the same area anymore, the ability to quickly connect and communicate with new friends you meet, and even connecting and communicating with people you haven’t met yet.  It’s been a great platform to share information, vocalize your views and opinions, or keep up with new happenings in the lives of people you care about.  However, social media can doubtlessly be problematic too.  With the rise of social media came the rise of cyber-bullying, the spread of fake news, and the virtual version of Un-friending.

In many ways, social media has complicated our friendships and other relationships.  Whereas you used to only have to hear your Uncle Fox ranting about politics once a year at Thanksgiving, now he may be blowing up your newsfeed with fake news every day.  Or worse, your best friend from high school hasn’t grown up much since then and is now engaging in unnecessary mudslinging and stirring up drama online, publicly hashing out her grievances and causing friction and conflict in front of everyone you’ve ever met.  Sometimes it’s easy to know when to un-friend someone online, such as in instances of cyber-bullying or malicious interactions with people you don’t really know that well or care much about.  However, at other times it can be more difficult, because you will still see this person in your real life at least sometimes, or because you actually value your relationship with that person and don’t want to lose them as a friend.

There are a few considerations you can use to determine if you should un-friend someone on your social media pages, and how you can continue to be friends in real life without having to lose a relationship that you value.  Ask yourself a few questions first to find out if you need to restructure your contacts or rethink your online relationships.

1: Do I interact with this person in my real life on a regular basis, or is this someone that I only see sporadically when we happen to be around a mutual acquaintance?

  •  If you don’t have a relationship with a person in your real life, and your interaction with them is mostly online, you don’t really need them bringing negativity into your online social scene.  It’s usually fine to un-friend this person without further ado and not worry about it, because you’re not really going to see them much anyways, and you both will probably benefit from less interaction with each other.  If you do engage with this person in real life regularly, you may choose to use a different feature to reduce their impact on your page.  On many social pages you can mute or hide the person so that you remain “friends” online, but you aren’t subjected to seeing their posts anymore.  Check your platform’s settings to see how you can utilize those tools.

2: Does this person typically make my day better or worse when I see their posts on my page? 

  • If someone is constantly posting things that annoy, enrage, offend, or otherwise sour your mood, you most likely don’t need them on your page. See the above reference to determine what the best course of action is in this case.  However, even if you don’t interact in-person with someone on a regular basis, if their posts generally make you happy because they are full of positivity, and you like keeping up with them and seeing what they’re doing, then it’s obviously fine to keep them in your feed.

3:  Do I believe this person actually cares about me and/or my family, or are they someone who wouldn’t be there for me in my real life if I needed some support?

  • Needless to say, if someone is making your day worse by being annoying, offensive, negative, or disrespectful, you probably don’t need them in your online life. However, if regardless of those things, you still value the relationship and believe they value it as well, then a careful approach is necessary.  You still have the option to mute or hide their posts.  If it doesn’t seem to be beneficial to have them on your page at all though, and you still want to preserve the friendship after removing them from your page, you can take steps to ensure the relationship isn’t damaged by the change in status.

 

If you want to remain friends with someone after un-friending, un-following, or blocking someone on your social media pages, then in person or phone contact is sometimes necessary afterwards.  This doesn’t mean you have to bring up the subject of un-friending them, but actually seeing each other or hearing other’s voices will reassert that the friendship is still valuable and you want to remain friends.  If there has been some kind of a significant conflict that played out in the social media world, particularly if it was public, then you may want to discuss the conflict and hash things out in person before writing the relationship off for good.  The important thing is that you make the effort to engage with the person after un-friending so that you both can recognize that you still care about the relationship.  If you are one who un-friended, it should be you that reaches out first.

There are times when this is unnecessary.   First, they may not have even noticed that you un-friended them.  There’s no point in making a big deal about something if you didn’t often engage in each other’s posts.  They may just think you haven’t been online much lately or didn’t notice that your posts weren’t showing up in their feed.  If they did notice or they bring it up, try not to make personal attacks.  Make a more general point about why you made that decision.  For example, if it was about politics, you can say “Listen, I just made the decision that it was healthier for me to reduce the political chatter on my feed because it was stressing me out”.  Or, if it was about because there was a public spat online, you can say “Look, I value our friendship and I didn’t want to continue to hash out our problems in front of everyone online, so I’d rather us talk things through in person”.

What if you’ve been un-friended by someone else?  First of all, don’t freak out or get offended.  If the relationship is meaningful to both of you in real life, you can still be friends or acquaintances and you don’t have to run in the other direction or escalate a conflict.  All of the above advise still applies, and sometimes the best way to repair a damaged online relationship is to make more of an effort to get together in person and/or via phone and focus on building real interactions instead of virtual ones.  If it wasn’t a very meaningful relationship in the first place, then it’s no loss and everyone can go about their business feeling better about the online friends they do have.  You can still see your uncle at Thanksgiving and seat yourself at the opposite end of the table like you always do.  Don’t let social media ruin important relationships that you value, but keep in mind that you certainly don’t have to allow people or posts on your newsfeed to make your day worse for no identifiable reason.  Now go adjust those settings!