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Common Themes in Therapy

As a Therapist, I often run into very similar themes again and again...This, I believe, is because so many of the things we struggle with as human beings are universal.  Although that's the case, so many of these things people struggle with are dealt with in silence - and with a belief that these issues are somehow unique to oneself - implying some kind of inherent or fundamental flaws. Because of this, many of these common themes are at the root of what makes us anxious, deeply insecure, or depressed.

Below, I've outlined some of the most common themes/difficulties I see in therapy.  I should emphasize that I have shared these because they are "common" (although not a given), and therefore do not directly speak to or about people I have worked with or currently do work with.  They instead, speak to the commonalities of the human experience and are intended to normalize the thoughts and feelings so many of us have. Understanding that what we are experiencing is relatively "normal" not only helps us realize that we are not alone and not "fundamentally flawed", but might be the first step towards conquering or dealing with these struggles in a more helpful and healthy kind of way.

Comparing Self to Others: This pitfall is the core of low-self esteem.  We compare ourselves to how we perceive others are doing based on however it is they seem to be doing in life.  We often rate ourselves in comparison to others doing seemingly "better" (with relationships, money, mental health, and so on) and too frequently focus on the areas we feel we are falling short in, instead of honoring our achievements and own unique journey.   Because we often do not see what it is that other people are struggling with, we assume that others are doing better than us. Social media has taken comparisons to others to a whole new level, as we are constantly exposed to what it is that others want us to see, know, and hear about them. 

More Compassion for others than Self: We are frequently relentlessly critical in our self-talk.  I often encourage people I work with to step outside of themselves and to give feedback, advice, or encouragement to themselves in the same kind of way they would support a friend.  In many cases, the compassion people extend towards friends, family, and even strangers exceeds that of the compassion and empathy one has been willing to extend to their self.

Wanting things to be different than they are:  One of the main causes of human suffering, I believe, is our inability to accept the world the way it is.  We want people to be different, we want circumstances to change, we expect things to be fair, and we want people to see things the way we see them.  We look back on things that have happened - and wish they hadn't happened that way. 

Existential Struggles: People of varying worldviews and religious beliefs struggle with the deepest of philosophical questions surrounding meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.  What's the point of this all?  Am I doing enough?  How can I make a meaningful impact?  Do I have a purpose - and if so, what is it? How can I live the kind of life that I can be proud of?

Distorted thinking:  Jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing, taking things personal, mind reading, thinking in black/white terms, and filtering out the good in things (and being left with the bad) are among a few and lead to an overly negative and not so balanced view of our circumstances.  Read more about cognitive distortions and how to challenge them, here.

Social Anxiety:  Even some of the most confident-seeming people struggle with social situations at times.  We get anxious meeting new people, struggle to find the right words at times, and replay conversations in our head that we wish had gone differently.  We fear how we are perceived by others and have a deep desire to "fit in" or to belong.

Imposter Syndrome: Many high achieving and successful people I have worked with struggle with feeling like a "fraud" professionally.  They doubt themselves and their ability, don't feel deserving of their success, minimize achievements, and expect that one day they will be exposed as the "fraud" that they really are.  They feel they have somehow managed to trick the world into believing that they are someone else - someone who has it all together - despite the experience, education, and credentials to back it all up.  

Intrusive Thoughts: This extremely common issue might be the least discussed due to fear of what others might think if they knew what really came to our minds.  Intrusive thoughts are distressing/unwanted thoughts that often lead people to believe there is something wrong with them.  Intrusive thoughts may be scary, violent, "socially unacceptable", disgusting, sexual, or embarrassing in nature.  These thoughts may pop into our minds unexpectedly for no apparent reason and can lead to anxiety or feelings of shame.  Although disturbing, these intrusive thoughts are normal to a certain degree and do not necessarily mean anything is wrong with us.

Insecurities: Although insecurities look different from person-to-person, even the most confident of individuals struggle with some level of insecurity in one area or another.  Some of the most common are related to: body image and different bodily features one might not be satisfied with, feelings of low worth, professional performance, social abilities, fears of how one perceived, issues surrounding emotional and physical intimacy, and open expression of emotions.

Difficulty being vulnerable: Although most of us have a desire to connect with others on a deep and meaningful level, we also often struggle to let others in.  Past hurts, losses, and fears of rejection sometimes cause us to seek safety and protection over connection.

Shame: The feeling of being bad, flawed, without value, or broken. It might be a feeling of judgement, embarrassment, or a sense that if others knew who we really were, that they would not be able to love us.  

Desire for control: In a world where so many things are outside of our control, we often look for our own ways to create a sense of control - even if ultimately these attempts to gain control only provide an illusion of control.  This need for control can manifest itself in many different good and bad ways and sometimes takes the form of perfectionism, anxiety when facing uncertainty, obsessive compulsive traits, manipulation of environment or other people, high levels of structure or organization, micromanagement, a desire to change or manage the behavior of others, judgement, criticism, or rigid routine rules.

Looking for therapy to address any of these common issues?  Reach out and we'll walk you through the steps to get started.  You can meet our therapists here, call/text 813-515-9602, hit the "request appointment" button below, or send us a message,and we'll be back in touch soon!

Float on Counseling, LLC is located in the Carrollwood area of Tampa on North Dale Mabry Hwy.

Joel Schmidt, MA, LMHC


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