Sean has had his ups and downs in the past, but he has felt relatively self-sufficient for quite some time now. He works, and he has family and friends. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty okay.
Recently, Sean has been feeling much more negative. He doesn’t know why. He feels like he doesn’t have an excuse to feel this way, because nothing has really changed. And yet, he feels so low.
Sean keeps finding himself focusing on the things he doesn’t have, rather than the things he does. Maybe he feels jealous of his friends once in a while, or maybe a movie reminds him of the things he’s lost along the way. Little things like these constantly turn up throughout his day and send him into a trap of negative thinking.
More than anything, Sean feels like he needs support. He wants continual validation that his friends and family care for him and are proud of him. He wants reassurance that his life is going in the right direction and that his efforts will bear fruit in time. When others don’t give him these things, or when he is stuck in solitude with nobody to reassure him, he breaks down and sinks back into negativity. He tries to reason with himself and pull himself back out, but the emotions overwhelm him.
Sean knows this is a problem. Sometimes he gets angry at himself for it. Ultimately, he wants to rediscover his lost sense of self-sufficiency, and he fears alienating his loved ones with his constant needs for attention. Sometimes he feels like a burden, and he wishes he could offer just as much positivity as he asks for.
OUT OF NOWHERE?
In Sean’s case, the first question to be considered is “where is this coming from?” If there’s no obvious catalyst to this change, then it’s probably in fact a positive one, even though it feels so negative. During transitional periods in our lives, when our minds already have a lot to adapt to, they shield themselves from our pain, and old problems are put on the back burner. That is to say, Sean probably had other problems to deal with, so his doubts and insecurities were put on hold, even though they were there the whole time.
Our psychologies are remarkable at repairing themselves quite automatically, however. When things are more peaceful, old problems become new priorities. This means that Sean can finally deal with these issues, which seem to reemerge with no apparent cause. The change Sean is experiencing is a transitional one. This is a questioning phase.
FROM DEEP INSIDE
Sean is troubled partly by insecurity and partly by pessimism. Let’s address the insecurity first, which we can see in his need for external validation. Sean is confronting the fact that he has not yet developed a strong sense of personal identity, which would allow him to validate himself internally. This is why he sinks so low when he has nobody to prop him up. When he has somebody to provide this support, however, he is in a better position to construct an independent sense of self worth. He will come to know and live up to his inherent potential, and he will accept and adapt to his inherent flaws.
The problem with external validation is that it is often unavailable. People simply aren’t always around. Even when it is available, it depends on Sean having a strong sense of social identity. If he doesn’t have one, he will have to develop it as well. Until then, Sean will be faced with insecurities regarding the opinions of others.
FORCING THE HAND
The good news is that these insecurities are a powerful and necessary motivator. They will force Sean to develop the identity that will help him make forward progress in his life. Up until now, Sean’s mind had been protecting him from these insecurities by making certain assumptions that he came to take for granted. His situation has settled, however, and Sean’s mind is opening itself up to this new and potentially threatening stimulus in the interest of confronting and adapting to it rather than sweeping it under the carpet.
This is a painful process, as adaptation often is; it has thrown poor Sean into anxiety and self-doubt. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is deeply promising. If Sean is able to respond constructively to this change, he will emerge with a heightened social sensitivity that allows him to enjoy deeper and more gratifying relationships. Not only that, but he will come to understand himself better through his interactions with others.
SUPPORT VS DEPENDENCE
The most important thing for Sean to do in response to this new challenge is to avoid becoming dependent on others at the expense of developing himself. Asking for help is the right thing to do, and it will allow Sean to grow, but only if he’s putting in his own effort too. He needs to embrace the difficulty of his transition, and refuse to become complacent in his expectations that there will always be somebody there to support him. There may come a day when the person supporting him needs help of their own. It’s a good thing that he hopes to someday rediscover self-sufficiency, but he should never feel ashamed to ask for help so long as he tries just as hard to help himself.
A NEW LEASE
The best way for him to help himself is to learn to be kind to himself. It may feel much easier for Sean to resign himself to his old ways of thinking. This is because it is a taxing, effortful process to overhaul your self image. The task is easier to avoid, especially when you’re feeling down to begin with.
Even so, it is overwhelmingly worth the effort. Sean needs to put in the hard work to find and identify with the positivity in himself, rather than defaulting a self-image which is critical and unsympathetic. He should also resist the natural tendency to become frustrated with himself. His struggle is very legitimate, and he needs to give himself the same time and patience he would give anyone else. All this is to say he should develop a sense of an inner parent. The parent must seek to console the insecurities of his inner child, as well as recognize his struggle and reassure him of his potential.
Additionally, Sean should be vigilant to avoid validating his self-doubt by imposing it on other people as he develops a sense of social identity. If he finds himself thinking that a particular person probably thinks negatively of him, he should step back and view the situation less emotionally. Talking to others about these doubts can give Sean a clearer view of how things really are outside of his perspective, which is muddied with insecurity. It is very possible that others are seeing him in kinder terms than he sees himself.
A SENSE OF DRIVE
Sean will find these changes difficult to achieve unless he is emotionally convinced that they are necessary. This is not the same as being rationally convinced. Although it is true that the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge it, Sean will be unwilling or unable to implement these changes until he feels that it is urgent to do so, even if he agrees that the changes would be to his benefit. If he feels this urgency already, it shouldn’t be a problem for him to implement sudden, dramatic changes. If he does not, he doesn’t need to wait for things to get worse. The better solution is for him to improve his situation incrementally, so that he has the emotional strength to pursue further improvements. Any change, no matter how small, counts as a start.
Although this is a difficult time for Sean, it also has the potential to be a very exciting time, during which he constructs a social identity for the first time so he can prosper from it later. For now, he should resolve to get as much value as possible out of the support of others. The next time someone says something kind to him, he should take that little dose of strength they give him and use it wisely. He should strive to believe the kind thing they’ve said, and become convinced of his value as a person.
It won’t all come together for him the first time. He’ll have to make a new habit out of this, and it will take some effort and bravery. But the good news is that he can start now, with the little dose of strength he is being given from these words. Just like everybody, Sean has inherent value and potential.