How to Spot Fake News

According to Wikipedia, fake news is “false or misleading information presented as news. It often has the aim of damaging the reputation of a person or entity, or making money through advertising revenue.”

How can you spot false information, defend yourself against it, and prevent the spread of fake news?

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

How to Spot Fake News

“The news and the truth are not the same thing.”

Walter Lippmann (American Journalist)

Your Brain on Fake News

Many accept fake news as fact – providing that it matches up with their current beliefs. This is due to confirmation bias, the tendency to look for and accept information that supports and confirms (rather than rejects) existing beliefs. Confirmation bias occurs when people gather or remember information selectively, or when they decipher it in a biased manner.

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

    • COGNITIVE DISSONANCE CAN LEAD TO CONFIRMATION BIAS. ACCORDING TO THE THEORY OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, WHEN SITUATIONS INVOLVE CONFLICTING ATTITUDES, BELIEFS, OR BEHAVIORS, PEOPLE EXPERIENCE MENTAL DISCOMFORT. WHEN ONE’S ACTIONS OR THOUGHTS CONTRADICT THEIR BELIEFS, THEY MAY ATTEMPT TO REDUCE THE DISCORD TO ALLEVIATE GUILT, SHAME, AND ANXIETY.
    • AN EXAMPLE OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IS AN ANIMAL LOVER WHO FEELS GUILTY FOR EATING MEAT. AS A RESULT, THEY EXPERIENCE DISCOMFORT. TO REDUCE SHAME AND RESTORE A SENSE OF BALANCE, THEY MAY REJECT OR AVOID INFORMATION THAT PROMOTES VEGANISM OR CRUELTY-FREE LIVING.

Your brain happily receives and accepts information that aligns with your belief system while ignoring or distorting information that threatens your views. Research indicates that the effect is stronger for deeply ingrained and/or emotionally-charged biases and beliefs. Deep-seated biases/views that are formed early in life can be difficult to ‘unlearn’ because they reside in your unconscious mind.

To compensate for confirmation bias, a person must develop critical thinking skills and have a flexible (not rigid) thinking style. To challenge long-held (sometimes unconscious) prejudices, expose yourself to different viewpoints and perspectives. Also, question what you learned (or were told) in childhood.

Other ways to increase awareness are through assessment, such as the Implicit Association Test from Project Implicit, and training, such as the Implicit Bias Module Series (from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity).

By becoming self-aware, you gain ownership of reality; in becoming real, you become the master of both inner and outer life.

Deepak Chopra (Indian-American Author & Alternative Medicine Advocate)

The Misinformation TRAP

A second reason our brains are easily influenced by inaccurate or misleading information (even when we know better) is the result of routine cognitive processes involved in memory and comprehension.

When our brains are flooded with large quantities of information (i.e., the onslaught of news stories from multiple sources), we’re wired to quickly ‘download’ material rather than critically evaluate and analyze. This is the brain’s attempt at preserving its more complex functions. Later, the brain pulls up the readily available misinformation first because it’s easier to retrieve.

Moreover, research indicates that we’re more likely to believe fake news when both accurate and inaccurate information are mixed together in a source.

To avoid the misinformation trap, critically evaluate information immediately, always consider the source, and be aware of the brain’s difficulty with processing information that’s a mix of both fact and fiction.

Emotional Reactions & ‘Gut Feelings’

Emotions play a role in how we receive and process new information. Fear and anger are especially influential. Unfortunately, many people stick with their initial reactions or feelings instead of questioning the validity of a source. Attitudes towards a news source may also influence our automatic reactions.

On the other hand, individuals who rely on concrete evidence are less likely to be swayed by fake news. Researchers found that the acceptance of falsehoods and conspiracy theories was linked to having faith in intuition and/or associating truth with politics and power. Trusting our gut leaves us susceptible to misinformation. Alternately, relying on evidence makes us less likely to believe false news.

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

John Adams

To avoid being misled, notice any strong reactions you have, consider how you feel about the source, and rely on fact, not feeling.

Political Affiliation & Other Influences

Political affiliation influences how we process information. One reason for this is that strong identification with a political party generates a sense of belonging and loyalty. This leads to valuing party ideals over accuracy. Both liberals and conservatives are more likely to believe false information when it aligns with their political party.

“Blind party loyalty will be our downfall. We must follow the truth wherever it leads.”

Dr. DaShanne Stokes (Sociologist and Social Justice Advocate)

What’s more, political affiliation may impact how likely we are to spread false news on social media. According to research, Republicans are less likely than Democrats to have confidence in fact-checkers, and are therefore more likely to share fake news.

Interestingly, political affiliation may also predict how we react to false information about potential threats or hazards. Researchers found that conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe fake warnings and that liberals are more likely to dismiss false information about endangerment or risk.

Regarding gender and age, some research suggests that men are more likely than women to spread misinformation on social media as are individuals over the age of 65.

When it comes to politics and political news, be aware that partisan identity may lead to believing and/or spreading misinformation. Political views may also impact how likely you are to respond to warnings about potential threats and endangerment. Gender and age are additional factors that may contribute to the spread of fake news.

Check Your Source!

When you utilize social media sites for news, you’re less likely to consider the source and more likely to be misled by fake news. Social media sites like Facebook provide users with entertainment (videos, memes, etc.), community, an online marketplace, job postings, news, and more. The intermixing of content is what makes it difficult to discern fiction from fact.

“The information you get from social media is not a substitute for academic discipline at all.”

Bill Nye (Science Guy)

To reduce the impact of false information you encounter on social media, avoid using Facebook as your primary news platform, and when you do come across a questionable post, always check the source!

Closing Thoughts

In sum, there are many reasons why we’re susceptible to fake news, but there are also evidence-based strategies to avoid being misled.

STRATEGIES FOR SPOTTING FAKE NEWS

    1. 1) Use critical thinking
    2. 2) Remain aware of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance
    3. 3) Develop a flexible thinking style
    1. 4) Increase awareness of your own biases and challenge your beliefs
    2. 5) Rely on fact, not emotion or intuition
    3. 6) Consider your political affiliation and other influences (such as gender and age)
    4. 7) Avoid social media for news
    5. 8) Always check the source!

See below for links to a list of fake news hits (from Buzzfeed) and lists of websites that promote false information (from CBS, Forbes, and Wikipedia).

Fake News Sites

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

How to Deal with Rude Coworkers

Have you ever worked with someone who is consistently rude, passive-aggressive, offensive, or malicious? Incivility at work is increasingly common and on the rise. Rude coworkers, along with bullies and abusive employees, contribute to a toxic work environment.

Image by Androfal from Pixabay

What does workplace rudeness look like? According to Wikipedia, rudeness is “a display of disrespect by not complying with the social norms or etiquette of a group or culture.”

Examples of Rude Behavior at Work

  • Insulting or using derogatory language
  • Taking credit for someone else’s work
  • Asking inappropriate questions
  • Being consistently late and/or not calling to notify coworkers when running late
  • Leaving work early on a regular basis
  • Microwaving food with a strong or unpleasant odor
  • Interrupting or speaking over someone
  • Texting during a meeting or taking/making personal calls in a shared space
  • Sending passive-aggressive emails
  • Playing music or being noisy in a shared space
  • Eating a coworker’s food (or using the last of something and not replacing it)
  • Leaving messes
  • Borrowing something and not returning it
  • Wearing strong (or excessive) perfume/cologne

The consequences of workplace rudeness are widespread, including decreased motivation and productivity, increased distress, and demoralization. One study found that rudeness from a colleague can have a negative impact on stress levels and outside relationships (long after the workday ends). Another study found that victims of workplace incivility can become mentally fatigued; in turn, they are more likely to be rude to their coworkers, spreading the incivility. Additionally, we are more prone to make mistakes when subjected to rudeness.

In 2018, researchers identified four types of employees who are responsible for a toxic work environmentomitters, slippers, retaliators, and serial transgressors. They are counterproductive to a healthy workplace.

  • Omitters: These individuals lack the capacity to effectively self-regulate their actions. They unintentionally breach rules and policies.
  • Slippers: These are employees who occasionally engage in single acts of counterproductive work behavior, such as rudeness, eating someone else’s lunch, etc.
  • Retaliators: These are individuals who deliberately act in ways that are harmful to the organization (i.e., bullying, stealing office supplies).
  • Serial Transgressors: These employees engage in a wide array of counterproductive behaviors, such as undermining a manager’s authority or not following safety protocols.

All four of the above identified types can be rude, offensive, and/or malicious at work. Ideally, a manager reduces counterproductive behaviors (or removes the offender), but that doesn’t always happen, especially if the manager is ineffective (or is themselves the offender).


The following are tips for dealing with rude coworkers.

10 Strategies for Dealing with Rude Coworkers

1. Practice daily self-care. When running on empty, your ability to exercise self-control is diminished.

2. If possible, don’t engage with rude coworkers when you’re in a mentally bad space. Wait until you’re in a better mood; this increases the likelihood of having a productive conversation. If the conversation can’t wait, ask a trusted colleague to be present to provide support.

3. If the rudeness takes place in the form of interrupting or speaking over you, politely point it out as it is happening. Ask your coworker not to do it, and explain how the behavior impacts you. (Your request carries more weight with the added explanation.) For example, say “I lose my train of thought when you interrupt” or “I feel disrespected when you speak over me.” Speak up every time the behavior happens. (If you set a boundary, and then don’t adhere to it, it becomes worthless.)

4. Meditate. Meditation promotes mental health, reduces stress levels, generates kindness, and enhances self-awareness.

5. Don’t gossip about rude colleagues. This only contributes to a toxic climate. Instead of focusing on a solution, you’re adding to the problem.

6. When dealing with rude emails, either outright or passive (i.e., not answering a question, ignoring a request, using boldface or all caps, etc.), API! Assume Positive Intent. An email’s tone is easily misinterpreted. Also, before sending your reply, have a trusted colleague proofread the email. (And only reply if necessary; if you don’t need to respond, don’t!) If possible, delete the original offensive email from your inbox to avoid rereading it and experiencing the anger or hurt all over again; find a way to detach. Lastly, forward outright rude or offensive emails to your supervisor. Share your interpretation and ask for suggestions. To avoid sending a potentially rude email, provide a disclaimer, such as “I wrote this at 5 AM!” or use emojis and punctuation to convey emotion. (Sometimes, a smiley face makes all the difference.)

7. Seek training on dealing with difficult people and/or reach out to your EAP (employee assistance program) for resources.

8. Keep a gratitude journal. One study found that practicing gratitude at work increased employee attitudes and wellbeing. Employees reported engaging in fewer rude, gossiping, and ostracizing behaviors.

9. Report the rude coworker to your manager or supervisor. If you don’t feel comfortable with this (or if your supervisor is the offender), speak to your manager’s manager. If concerned it will be perceived as tattling, say that it’s something you would want to know if you were in their position. Explain that you thought it over carefully, and concluded it was important enough to bring to them. (You’ll be viewed as someone who wants to help, not someone who is tattling on a coworker for selfish motives.) Also, be sure to provide specific examples of the offensive behavior and how it affected you. Don’t complain; be as objective as possible. Finally, ask for their advice; this demonstrates that not only are you humble, you’re solution-focused.

10. Request to meet with the offender (in private), and openly share how their behavior impacts you. Use “I” statements, avoid accusing, and don’t assume malicious intent. Also, approach the conversation with lowered expectations; you can’t know how your coworker will react. They may become angry, indignant, anxious, resentful, or withdrawn. They might shout, belittle you, minimize, or deny any offense. They may refuse to talk, and walk away. Alternately, you might be pleasantly surprised at how the conversation unfolds. You may learn that your peer is going through a tough divorce or was recently diagnosed with cancer. (There could be a reason behind their “bad” behavior; hurt people hurt people.) They could even be unaware of their offensiveness. (For example, someone might not realize their tone is condescending.) At the end of the day, while the outcome may not be the one you hoped for, you at least did your part.


“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”

Eric Hoffer

In sum, the harmful effects of workplace rudeness are far-reaching. Incivility at work can negatively impact productivity, motivation, emotional health, and relationships. Rude behavior is also contagious; to avoid spreading incivility, practice regular self-care, including gratitude and meditation, and maintain self-awareness.


Marketing Tactic Traps

Marketers use psychological tactics to influence, convince, and even deceive consumers. This article explores some of the lesser-know marketing traps and how you can avoid them.

Image by Aurore Duwez from Pixabay

Marketing Tactic Traps: How Advertisers Use Psychology to Sway

I’m sure it’s no surprise when you Google “bathing suits,” and shortly thereafter, swimwear ads litter your Facebook feed. Wikipedia defines marketing as “the business process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers’ needs and wants.” But what about marketing tactic traps?

There’s an entire branch of research dedicated to understanding consumer behavior via psychological, technological, and economical principles. However, you may be less aware of misleading marketing tactics intended to foster false trust or play on subconscious fears.

Here’s a real life example: Recently, I used DoorDash to order breakfast from Silver Diner. I was shocked when the total came to nearly $70. Luckily, my husband was too; he suggested going directly through the restaurant. I selected the equivalent menu items and it was $30 cheaper!! DoorDash not only raised entrée prices, but charged additional fees on top of the delivery fee and tip. To think, I wouldn’t have compared prices had my husband not been (duly) outraged; I almost fell victim to “brand trust.”

Consider the companies you trust. Why don’t you question their products, services, prices, etc.? Are you brand-washed?

To avoid misleading marketing tactic traps, always compare prices, read reviews from verified buyers, avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry, steer clear of end-of-aisles deals, buy off-season, etc.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

This article explores a few lesser-known ways marketers influence consumers by using psychological principles (marketing tactic traps), and how to avoid them. When you, the consumer, know the science behind advertising strategies, you’re better equipped to make educated decisions (and will avoid feeling betrayed by a food delivery app!)


A false sense of health

Advertisers use health-related buzzwords like “gluten-free” or “organic” to lure buyers with an impression of being nutritious. In one study, consumers viewed items stamped with healthy-sounding catchphrases as healthier than non-stamped foods.

Real life example: Years ago, I accompanied a friend to the grocery store. In the dairy section, she grabbed a jug of whole milk. I knew she wanted to lose weight, so I suggested skim. Dubious, she expressed concern because it wasn’t “vitamin D-rich.” Had she consulted the nutrition facts instead of scanning labels, she would know whole and skim have equal amounts of the vitamin.

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

The Health “Buzzword” Marketing Tactic Trap

Avoid this marketing tactic trap by reading nutrition facts and ingredients before buying. (Sure, those Fruit Loops are made with whole grain, but the first ingredient is sugar!)

Beware of fast-paced music in a crowded store… it’s a trap!

Researchers found that consumers’ spending increased as the tempo of the music quickened. In addition to spending more, shoppers purchased additional items (instead of opting for fewer products at higher prices). Interestingly, this effect was only observable when the store was crowded.

To avoid this marketing tactic trap, remain aware of your environment when shopping and if possible, go when crowds are thin (or at least wear ear buds).

An unconscious fear of dying may lead you to buy more bottled water – and water bottle companies capitalize on it!

(Um, what? I thought the occasional 7-Eleven purchase of Deer Park was a combination of laziness and convenience on my part, not an ominous and looming fear of my fragile mortality.)

The Bottled Water Marketing Tactic Trap

In 2018, researchers asserted that “most bottled-water advertising campaigns target a deep psychological vulnerability in humans, compelling them to buy and consume particular products. Bottled water ads specifically trigger our most subconscious fear [of death].” It was also suggested that bottled water symbolizes something safe and pure – compelling when you want to avoid health risks.

Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay

According to the study, bottled water appeals most to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.

Whether or not this study withstands replication, consider a filter!

Don’t shop for beach gear on a sunny day

Save your shopping for poorer weather conditions. Researchers found that consumers place a higher value on associated products respective to the weather.

The rationale: It’s easier for someone to visualize the comfort of a fluffy beach towel or the shade of an umbrella when it’s hot and bright (compared to when it’s pouring rain), thereby increasing the desire to make a purchase.  Interestingly, this seems to hold true for sunny or snowy conditions, but not rainy weather. It was speculated that rain gear is typically purchased to avoid unpleasant conditions, not to increase enjoyment.

Be wary of the weather when shopping for that beach trip or ski vacation in the mountains; you may end up spending more than intended.

Marketing’s subtle siren song is a hidden trap!

If you’re not one who’s influenced by the “logical persuasion” of advertisements, you may still be subconsciously enticed by the “non-rational influence.” Different kinds of advertisements evoke different types of brain activity.

Even the wisest consumer can be “seduced.” Marketers both overtly and subtly influence our buying behaviors. Your brain will unavoidably betray you at times; you can either accept this or become a hermit. (You may also consider shopping where there are lenient return policies, but be wary of policies that seem too lenient, as this may be a ploy.)

The relaxation trap– don’t get too comfortable!

A 2011 study indicated that relaxed consumers perceived items at a higher value when compared to their less-relaxed (although not stressed) counterparts.

Image by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay

If you’re a bargain-hunter, stay alert to how you’re feeling before entering a store or searching on Amazon; otherwise, you may think you’re getting a great deal when you’re not. (And if you use social media, know that ads may have more sway when you’re sleepy.)


In the midst of marketing tactic traps, misleading ads, and #fakenews, stick with the facts and don’t be swayed.


For more research, see 5 Recent Research Findings on Health & Human Behavior.

Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

Research Findings on Health & Psychology

As a #researchNerd, I’m obsessed with new discoveries and scientific explanations, especially when it comes to human behavior. Here are five interesting studies that have been published this year (and it’s only April!)

5 Recent Research Findings on Health & Human Behavior

I’m something of a #researchNerd. I fell in love with my research and stats class in college. My undergrad study (on tipping behavior) was even published in a peer-reviewed international journal!

It was in grad school that I strayed from the research path to pursue a more clinical route (counseling).

Today, to satisfy my appetite for science, I subscribe to ScienceDaily, an amazing site that posts short summaries of the latest findings in health, technology, and society.

Here are some of the more interesting research findings from ScienceDaily in 2019 (and it’s only April!):

Recipe for Distress

February 21, 2019

We already know there’s a link between junk food and certain medical conditions (i.e. obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes), but more and more researchers are finding a strong correlation between diet and mental well-being.

In this study, researchers found that people who ate more junk food (sugar-sweetened snacks/drinks, fried foods, etc.) had higher levels of psychological stress.

Original Study: Mental health status and dietary intake among California adults: A population-based survey

Why Is It So Difficult to Move on after a Breakup? Because Science

March 11, 2019

It turns out, there’s a reason it’s hard to forget about all the good times with your ex or get that cringe-worthy mishap at work out of your head; it takes more brain power to forget than to remember. According to a recent study, it takes a “moderate amount” of brain power to intentionally forget something. (#worthIt)

Original Study: More is less: Increased processing of unwanted memories facilitates forgetting

“Killer” Style: Men and Women Serial Killers Have Distinct Methods

March 20, 2019

Are you being “hunted”? Or “gathered”? It turns out, male and female serial killers have distinct approaches when it comes to killing. Evolutionary science may explain why men tend to stalk their victims while women’s victims tend to be people they know.

Original Study: Sex differences in serial killers

All about that Bass (Or Not…)

April 3, 2019

…obese persons were considered “less human.”

This unsettling study revealed that individuals with obesity are not only stigmatized, but dehumanized. Researchers found that obese persons were considered “less human.” This type of attitude can lead to ridicule or discrimination.

#fightStigma

Original Study: Blatant dehumanization of people with obesity

A Million Reasons to Read to Your Young Child!

April 4, 2019

Researchers found a “million word gap” for children who weren’t read to at home. In fact, kids who grow up with books hear about 1.4 million more words than their counterparts by kindergarten.

Original Study: When children are not read to at home


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

Hungry for more? Keep discovering!

Developing Healthy Boundaries

Why is it important to set and adhere to healthy boundaries? How can you tell if yours are weak?

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost

Thoughts on Building & Maintaining “Good Fences”

When I picture a boundary, I imagine drawing a circle with a stick in the dirt… with me in the middle. I stay in; everyone else stays out. Boundaries are protective; they keep us safe. Without boundaries, you have no limits, no sense of direction. Without boundaries, you open yourself up… anyone can come in, with good or bad intentions.

If you have poor boundaries in a dating relationship, you could end up doing things you’re not comfortable with. Or, another example might be with your boss; if you don’t set firm limits, you could end up taking one extra tasks.

I once worked with a client who regularly violated his partner’s boundaries by yelling, “Phone check!” whenever he wanted to check his girlfriend’s cell. She’d hand it over and he’d review her calls/read her texts. It was a boundary violation for sure. Everyone has a right to privacy. (That being said, your partner never has the right to go through your phone, read your journal, request your social media passwords, etc. Those are all boundary violations; they could also indicate that the relationship is in trouble.)

Another way to conceptualize a boundary is to picture mosquito netting. It keeps the mosquitoes out, but it’s flexible and lightweight. It lets in air, sunlight, a cool breeze… A mosquito net is a healthy boundary. If you were to instead build a brick structure, you’d be doing a lot of unnecessary work and you’d probably still get bit.  

It’s best to be up front and honest about the boundaries you set (which requires assertiveness). With your boss, the first time he asks if you can stay late on a Friday, you might end up saying yes. (It’s probably just a onetime thing, right?) Seeing that you don’t say no the first time, he may continue to ask you to stay late or take on extra work. The alternative (boundary-setting) option would be to say (when he first asks), “I’m sorry, although I’d love to be able to, I have a policy against being away from home on Fridays. It’s family night at my house.” It’s unlikely he’ll ask you again because you very firmly (and politely) set a boundary.

On the other hand, if you’re passionate about your career, you could be flexible and stay late (especially if you’re hoping for a promotion or a raise) without feeling as though your boundaries have been violated. The important thing is to know where you stand (i.e. what your boundary is).

Equally important to setting boundaries is adhering to them once they’re established. There are people out there who love to test boundaries. A boundary is useless without follow through. Your boundary becomes meaningless if you say you’re not going to do something and then you do it anyway. If you tell your child “no candy before dinner,” but then finally give in after several bouts of dramatic tears, you’re sending a message. The message is “When I say no, I don’t mean it.” It’s important to be consistent with boundaries.

Signs of Weak Boundaries

  • A lack of assertiveness
  • Altering your personal values for someone (especially in a romantic relationship)
  • Having a sexual relationship with someone when you’re not ready
  • Not being able to say “no”
  • Trusting others quickly (when it’s not warranted)
  • Falling in love quickly or believing an acquaintance is your best friend when you only met the day before

Rigid boundaries, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. A person with rigid boundaries doesn’t trust easily or let others in. It would be difficult to be in an intimate relationship with a person with rigid boundaries.

How to Develop Healthy Boundaries

Firstly, know that it will take time. Be patient with yourself and don’t criticize yourself if you fall back into old habits.

Recognize (and accept) your right to establish and adhere to personal boundaries. Read one of Dr. Cloud’s books on boundaries or Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More. Personally, I like Co-dependents Anonymous’ recovery literature. It’s an easy read (four pages) and you can access it for free.

If you haven’t already, take time to clarify your values. You can do a values sort – there are plenty of free resources online. It’s something I frequently do with my clients. What’s most important to you? Family? Integrity? Kindness? Have unhealthy boundaries affected this value in the past? (If kindness is most important to you, and you identify as a “people pleaser,” consider all the times you’ve been unkind to yourself. Explore ideas for practicing kindness to both others and self.)

Also, deliberate on the behaviors you find unacceptable (in terms of how you’re treated). Looking back on past relationships, I dated men who cheated on me, called me names, were mean to my friends, and yes, even checked my phone. Completely unacceptable. At this point in my life, I have a zero tolerance policy.

When you establish boundaries, especially with those who don’t expect it (i.e. your mother-in-law or the neighbor who regularly lets his dog romp through your garden), anticipate some push back. It probably won’t feel good in the moment.

Practice assertiveness. Don’t back down. If someone is particularly resistant, don’t engage in an argument.  You don’t owe an explanation. You don’t even have to respond. Remain calm; walk away if needed. If it helps, pre-plan your exact wording. (“I’m sorry, but I’m no longer able to stay till 9 on Fridays. Unexpected circumstances at home won’t allow it.”) Be concise. Don’t be overly apologetic.

If the person you’re setting boundaries with is a significant other or family member, I’d recommend transparency. Let them know that you’re going to make some changes. Share how unhealthy boundaries have negatively impacted you. (Give specific examples if you can.) Don’t place blame. Talk about how healthy boundaries will positively impact not just you,but the relationship. It may still be difficult. There may be some tension; the relationship might feel strained. (And it’s okay.)

If you set boundaries and find them repeatedly violated; firstly, take a step back and reevaluate the situation. Have you been clear and consistent? If so, you may want to consider spending less time with this person or even ending the relationships. Unfortunately, while you can set boundaries, you can’t force someone to respect them.


In sum, boundaries are imperative. Skin is a boundary that keeps other organs in place; it shields our body systems from toxins, viruses, and bacteria that would otherwise be deadly. It keeps the bad stuff out (and the good stuff in). Healthy boundaries are our emotional skin. If you need a boundaries tune up, it could take some effort, but is well worth it. You’ll experience increased satisfaction in your relationships and will feel more confidence.Your overall well-being will improve; boundaries are freeing – by communicating your needs, it’s less likely you’ll feel angry or resentful. And lastly, you’ll find that others have a greater level of respect for you. “Good fences,” it would seem, are not limited to neighbors!


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

4 Strategies for Better Decision-Making

Individuals with “big picture” styles of reasoning make better decisions. Learn four strategies for “big picture” thinking to get optimal results.

A recent study found that a “big picture” style of thinking led to better decision-making. (“Better” decisions were defined as those resulting in maximum benefits.)

If you took the Myers-Briggs (a personality assessment), and fell on the “Intuition” side of the spectrum (like me!), it’s likely you’re already a “big picture” thinker. If you’re on the “Sensing” side, you’re more apt to examine individual facts before considering the sum of all parts.

“Big picture” thinking is a practical and balanced method of reasoning. It suggests taking a step back (zoom out!)… and looking to see how all pieces fit together for more effective decision-making.

The following strategies promote “big picture” thinking for better decision-making:

1. Get a good night’s rest

Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found that sleep is essential for “relational memory” (or the ability to make inferences, i.e. “big picture” thinking).

Before making a tough decision, sleep on it; you’ll wake up with a new perspective! In addition to healthy sleep hygiene, the following strategies have been found to improve sleep:

2. Don’t deliberate for long

Research indicates that when weighing out options, it’s ideal to take small breaks. For more effective decision-making, don’t deliberate for long periods of time or you’ll start to lose focus. If things become fuzzy, you won’t see the big picture.

3. Bay day = bad decision

One study found that a positive mood is related to a “big picture” thinking style. Good moods are associated with broader and more flexible thinking. A positive mood enables someone to step back emotionally, psychologically distancing themselves from the decision at hand.

If you’re feeling salty, hold off on making that decision. Instead, try one (or all!) of the following research-based techniques for boosting your mood:

4. Get a second opinion

Ask around to learn how others’ view your situation. Every perspective you collect is another piece of the “big picture” puzzle.

Seek opinions from those you trust (only those who have your best interests in mind). Make sure you ask a variety of people (especially those with whom you typically disagree). The end result is a broader and more comprehensive awareness of what you’re facing.


Employ all four strategies to optimize your thinking style and decision-making skills!


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

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3 Reasons We Keep Toxic People in Our Lives

Why do we keep toxic people in our lives? Despite the emotional costs, many people chose to remain in toxic relationships. This post explores the emotional reasoning behind not letting go.

Recently, an acquaintance told me about breaking up with his toxic girlfriend. Listening to his story, I both cringed and laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it. (Think The Break-Up meets Fatal Attraction.) His humorously-told narrative left me wondering, how on earth did it get to that?

It began when his at-the-time girlfriend “secretly” moved in with him. At first, she’d stay for a night or two, which eventually turned into weeks at a time, until all her stuff was there and my friend found himself with a live-in girlfriend. (It’s worth mentioning he’d seen a few “red flags” early on, but chose to ignore them… as we often do under the spell of infatuation.) Now living with her, he couldn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that she had some serious mental health and interpersonal issues. Furthermore, the relationship had taken a turn for the worse; they were constantly fighting.

So, my friend (wisely) broke up with her and told her to get out. And… she refused. (Really??) She claimed there was a law permitting her to stay since she’d been there for X amount of time. (Note: This is also when he found out she was homeless.)

He kicked her out of the bedroom (and she slept on the couch). To “encourage” her to leave, he took her parking pass, along with her new iPhone (which he undoubtedly bought in a more amiable era). To further “motivate,” he even shut off her cell service.

Despite his efforts, weeks stretched on; she continued to live (rent-free) on his couch.

To make a long story short… she eventually left. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post) … but not until the apartment manager and police got involved. (It turned out her tenant rights claim, while valid, was not actually applicable to her situation.)

My initial reaction to the whole fiasco was incredulity – Seriously, how could he let it go that far? – but after reflecting on past relationships… it was suddenly very easy to understand. (I’ve made my fair share of relationship mistakes.)

The reality is, it’s never as simple as “it’s over, get out.” Relationships require a certain level of emotional investment and commitment. Plus, there are multiple factors (such as debt, illness, or infidelity) that contribute to a relationship’s complexity.

Back to my friend… to be fair, the reason he remained in a toxic relationship was her refusal to vacate the apartment; his options were limited… but, instead of allowing it drag on, he could have taken action earlier.  Anyway, the story has a happy(ish) ending (for my friend, probably not his ex). He has his place back (hopefully a lesson learned) and got free blog inspiration. This post is 100% inspired by my friend’s toxic relationship. (Thank you for letting me share!)

3 Reasons We Keep Toxic People in Our Lives

(Apart from “tenant rights”) what are reasons we allow toxic or difficult people (friends, family, and/or romantic partners) to remain in our lives? Why is it so hard to let go?

1. Either You Need Them (or You Can’t Ignore Them)

A recent study suggests we keep toxic people around simply because their lives are intertwined with ours. For example, your aging mother-in-law, who degrades and insults you, lives at your home, despite the negative impact this has on your life. Your options are limited because your husband is unwilling to put her in a nursing home (and you may also depend on her for things, like childcare or help with the bills).

Another example would be toxic co-workers; you don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to your boss or colleagues, and you can’t entirely avoid them or refuse to talk about work-related stuff (unless you’re okay with losing your job). If pursing a new position isn’t practical, your next best option is to find a way to effectively deal with workplace toxicity.

That being said, you don’t have the power to change anyone else. To manage your reactions and interactions with toxic people, acknowledge the need for self-adjustment, including attitude and role. Examine your personal views. Lower expectations for others; accept that people will do and say things you don’t agree with… and it’s not something you can control. Once you’ve reached the point of radical acceptance, follow guidelines for effective communication (i.e. active listening, avoiding blame, being aware of tone and body language, reflecting for clarity, etc.) in conversations with toxic people, whether it’s your mother-in-law or your boss. By being proactive, you’re doing your part to avoid getting caught up in others’ toxicity.

In the face of unavoidable toxicity, I find switching to a “counselor role” to be a tremendous asset; I set aside my personal viewpoint, opening myself to alternative views, while seeking to understand (not judge) behavior. (You don’t have to be a counselor to do this!) I view individuals in terms of “what happened to you?” instead of assuming they’re malicious or intentional. (People act the way they do for some reason.) I don’t know what’s happening in a “toxic” person’s life or what they’ve been through. (Maybe that snarky co-worker is in an abusive relationship and lives in fear. Or maybe her son is in the hospital with brain cancer. Or, it’s possible she grew up in a home where her parents yelled and disrespected each other, shaping her view of relationships. The snarky attitude makes sense when viewed through different lenses.) While it’s never okay to be an asshole, I can understand why people are jerks. Somehow, this knowledge serves as an immunity when encountering a toxic person. Their behavior is the result of something bad that happened to them; it has nothing to do with me and I can choose whether or not to engage. They don’t have power to negatively impact me unless I give it up.

2. Toxic Love: It Feels Better to Stay

When Joe Strummer of the Clash sang the question, “Should I stay or should I go now?”; he knew the answer. (Note: Firm boundaries and healthy decisions aren’t the stuff of chart-topping hits.) We stay in unhealthy relationships or continue to hang out with toxic friends because it feels good (at times, at least). The boyfriend who yells at you can also be incredibly sweet and caring. Or your gossipy friend who talks about you behind your back also happens to be the most fun person you know. Despite the sense that it’s unhealthy, you (like Strummer) can’t resist. And like my friend, you ignore the red flags because you crave the rush or the intensity… or maybe what you desire most is the feeling of being wanted. (Despite the toxicity, it’s worth it, just to feel wanted… or is it?)

Beyond just feeling good, it’s entirely possible to deeply love a toxic person (no matter how wrong they are for you). You don’t want to give up on the person they could be; maybe you’re in love with their potential (or an idea of what the relationship could be). You believe it’s better to sacrifice your happiness (your dignity, your well-being, your independence) than to be without the person you love.

On the flip side, some people stay in toxic relationships because deep down, they believe they can’t do any better and/or the abuse is a preferable alternative to being alone. It could also mean they believe they deserve to be punished (which sometimes happens when a person remains in an abusive relationship for a long time). Or, they may reason that it’s better to hang out with a “mean girl” than sit and stare at the walls on a Friday night (with only the cat for company).

If you can relate to staying in a toxic relationship because it feels good or are afraid of being alone, carefully consider and weigh out the long-term costs of a toxic relationship. There are far worse and more damaging things than being alone. If the idea of being alone terrifies you, maybe it’s an indication that something’s not right… that you’re not okay. It could be a sign of low self-worth or could point to an intense fear of abandonment. It may also signify a lack of understanding of what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Lastly, an intense fear of being alone is associated with some of the personality disorders and/or could be the result of trauma.

3. It’s (So Much) Easier to Stay

Breaking up is messy and uncomfortable. In my experience, most people avoid conflict when possible. Despite conflict being a natural, everyday occurrence, it can feel unpleasant, even for those with expert conflict resolution skills. However, avoiding conflict in relationships does more harm than good. In a healthy relationship, it’s necessary to address problems in order to resolve them, thereby strengthening the relationship.

In a toxic relationship, conflict should not be avoided, but for different reasons. It may be easier to ignore the reality of your situation than to get honest, but this is detrimental (not only to you, but to your partner, who will never have the opportunity to change so long as you enable the toxicity to continue).

You may wish to avoid the emotional drain that accompanies confrontation, but in the long run, you’ll lose more emotional energy if you remain in a toxic relationship. (A steep, one-time payment is preferable to the ongoing, daily emotional sacrifices/abuses associated with toxicity; you’re slowly poisoned as time goes on.)

If you choose to end a toxic relationship, be realistic; it’s not going to be easy… and it’s going to hurt. A lot. You may love this person a great deal (and maybe you’ve long held on to the hope they’d change). Go into it with low (or no) expectations. When things feel unbearable, remember that the easy things in life matter little; the difficult stuff is what leads to personal growth, success, and resilience.

Conclusion

In closing, I’m sure there are multitudes of reasons people have for staying in toxic relationships; this post is by no means comprehensive. I’m also certain, whatever the reason, it seems justifiable to them. People don’t choose toxicity without some sort of justification (if not for others, than at least for themselves). Unfortunately, rationalizations don’t offer protection from harm. No matter the reason for remaining in a toxic relationship, it’s not worth the cost.

What are other reasons people have for staying in a toxic relationship? Why is letting go so hard? Share your thoughts in a comment!


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

  • References
  • Bar-Ilan University. (2018, January 17). Why we keep difficult people in our lives. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2018 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180117152513.htm
  • Offer, S., & Fischer, C.S. (2017). Difficult people: Who is perceived to be demanding in personal networks and why are they there? American Sociological Review, 000312241773795, DOI: 10.1177/0003122417737951

8 Types of Liars

Read about 8 common types of liars ranging on a spectrum from the very worst (the pathological liar) to the least harmful, the well-meaning tactful liar.

I find the psychology of lying fascinating. So, while browsing research devoted solely to falsehoods (on which I’ll write a future post), I started to reflect on the different types of liars I’ve met throughout the years.

This led to a Google search (“types of liars”) to see if it’s a thing. And it is… kinda – for example, there’s the sociopathic liar vs. the occasional liar vs. the white liar… all different types of liars.

The different types of liars can be categorized as ranging on a spectrum from pathological (the very worst type of liar) on one end, to tactful (the least harmful type of liar) on the opposite end (while taking into consideration, of course, the various reasons people lie.)


In this article, I describe the 8 types of liars I’ve encountered, both as a professional counselor and in my personal life.

 

Types of Liars

1. The pathological liar

This person lies constantly, for any reason, or for no reason at all. They don’t know when they’re lying and they’re incapable of being honest with not only others, but with themselves. Due to this, it’s impossible to have an authentic relationship with the pathological liar; their reality shifts on a whim.

What I consider pathological lying is what others may refer to as sociopathic. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), repeated lying is a criterion for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder (formerly known as sociopathy or psychopathy).

The pathological liar isn’t necessarily dangerous or cruel, but they’ll never be someone you can trust. The pathological liar, providing they have other redeeming qualities, is a suitable acquaintance, but never a loyal friend, partner, or spouse.

2. The intentional liar

This type of liar enjoys pushing your buttons. They lie for the fun of it – for the sake of entertainment. It makes them feel powerful and in control. The people they lie to are their pawns. They often desire an audience.

While the intentional liar is similar to the pathological liar in some ways, they differ in that they’re fully aware of their untruths. The intentional liar is the high school quarterback who asks the least popular girl to prom… and then tells her it was just a prank – in front of all his friends.

Sometimes, the intentional liar poses as a jokester, but they’re malicious and cruel.

They fib to get a reaction and then say (in a mean-spirited way), “I was just f—ing with you!” Sometimes, the intentional liar poses as a jokester, but they’re malicious and cruel. The only reason they’re not ranked higher than the pathological liar is that by possessing awareness, they at least have the capacity to change.

3. The manipulative liar

They lie to get what they want. They have an end goal and will do or say whatever it takes to achieve it.

They often use flattery or say what they think you want to hear in order to get a promotion, make a sale, get elected… or get in your pants.

Like the pathological liar, you won’t know where you stand with the manipulative liar. (Does she think you’re witty? Or does she like free dinner?) The manipulative liar is not malicious, but they can still cause harm. They have no place in your life.

 

4. The protective liar

They’ll go to any length to protect a secret, be it the murder of their lover’s wife or a demotion at work.

This type of liar is at times dangerous, but can also be perceived as noble; it all depends on what (or who) they’re protecting. They’ll go to any length to protect a secret, be it the murder of their lover’s wife or a demotion at work. They have no moral objections to lying as long as it serves their purpose.

They may protect your secrets as well, making them a loyal friend or spouse.

The danger lies in who or what they choose to protect. This type of liar may posses dark secrets that would shake you to the core if revealed. You’ll never know what they keep hidden and therefore, you’ll never (fully) know who they are. Their secret could be as benign as a childhood stutter… or it could be devastating and unspeakable, such as carrying on a secret love affair with your best friend or a past as a child sexual molester.

5. The avoidant liar

Instead of being straightforward, they make excuses or dance around the truth.

They strive to avoid anything they find unpleasant; instead of being honest, they offer partial truths or deflect. It could be that the avoidant liar is evading conflict or doesn’t want to complete a particular task. Maybe they don’t want to be judged. Instead of being straightforward, they make excuses or dance around the truth.

For example, the avoidant liar who opts out of a family dinner because they can’t stand their mother-in-law pleads a migraine. Or the avoidant liar who oversleeps and is late to work tells their boss they got a flat tire. And the avoidant liar who drunkenly spills red wine on the white carpet blames it on the dog.

Avoidant liars are frustrating because they often don’t say what they mean; you can never be sure if you’re getting the truth, a half truth, or a made-up excuse.

6. The impressive liar

They aim to impress. This person might not see themselves as a liar; they may not even realize they’re being deceitful. They fabricate to gain the approval of others. They may stretch the truth to make a story a bit funnier. They fake a feeling to seem more self-assured than they are.

Lying to impress is more of a habit than a conscious act. The impressive liar believes their own stories after telling them time after time. (For example, after multiple retellings of a bar fight, the impressive liar actually believes that he knocked out three burly bikers, when in reality, he broke his fist attempting to punch the bartender for cutting him off.)

Impressive liars are mostly harmless, but can be annoying, especially when they’re obviously fibbing. They pose little risk… but why spend time with someone who feels the need to pretend to be something they’re not?

7. The lazy liar

Sometimes, speaking candidly requires an explanation. The lazy liar streamlines the truth because it’s less complicated than giving the full narrative.

The lazy liar doesn’t share the full story; rather, they opt to recount the edited “movie version” of the truth as opposed to the 700-page book version.

For example, saying, “I was late because I grabbed the wrong report” is easier than “I’m late because after I grabbed the report, I realized one page was missing, and when I went back, I had to reprint the entire report because the page numbers were off and the heading was on a separate sheet. I then stopped to use the bathroom.” (Not worth the effort, right?)

Lazy lying is (relatively) harmless. The lazy liar doesn’t share the full story; rather, they opt to recount the edited “movie version” of the truth as opposed to the 700-page book version. (The only time lazy lying can be problematic is when the lazy liar deems a detail unimportant when it is, in fact, imperative.)

 

8. The tactful liar

They are considerate and well-meaning. They offer overly-optimistic reassurances when things aren’t going well and find themselves saying things like, “It wasn’t that bad” (even when yes, it was indeed that bad).

They’re pleasant to be around. Your plus-sized butt will never look fat in jeans and your disastrous dye job will be “edgy,” not “traffic-cone orange.”

What they lack in candor, they make up for in amiability.

You also won’t know when there’s spinach in your teeth, if your fly is down, when your breath is bad, or if your PowerPoint presentation was dull.

The tactful liar has the best of intentions; they don’t want to upset you or hurt your feelings. What they lack in candor, they make up for in amiability.


An honorable mention for the heroic (self-sacrificing) liar. This type of liar is exceedingly rare, which is why they’re not included with the eight more common types of liars. The heroic liar is similar to the protective liar in that they’ll go to extremes to protect, but in their case, they lie to defend (or safeguard) someone they love (or to save a stranger even, if they believe it’s the right thing to do).

For example, if two children (brothers) are playing, and the youngest breaks a lamp, the older (heroic liar) will take the blame to save the younger from a spanking.

The heroic liar’s place on the spectrum would fall at the very end, past the well-meaning liar.


Can you relate to any of the above liars? Maybe you’re personally acquainted with one (or several) of them?



Leave your thoughts in a comment and share this post with your favorite liars!


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

What Counseling Taught Me (Part Two)

Learn to be more effective in your personal and professional life! This is the second installment of how counseling has led to a better understanding of people. Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others.

This is the second installment of life lessons I learned through counseling others. Counseling has led me to a better understanding of humanity and myself. (In Part One, I discussed life lessons on calmness, silence, active listening, partial truths, and hidden agendas.)

Working with addiction and mental illness has gifted me with the capacity to better recognize why people do what they do, which in turn enhances how I relate to others. As a result, I’m more effective in my personal and professional life. I have a sense of peace and “okayness” in the world.

One thing I hadn’t previously considered was brought up by Quora user and mental health professional, G. Bernard (MA Counseling); he shared that counseling revealed the truth about change. “It has really reinforced that idea that people who want change will work harder to achieve it; those who are forced (legally, by parents, spouse etc.) probably won’t.” I agree with this 100%. People can’t be forced into change; and when they are, their efforts lack fortitude and it doesn’t last. Those who are internally motivated will fight for change, making it worthwhile and enduring.

Here are additional truths and life lessons I gained through my counseling career.

What counseling has taught me (the second installment of life lessons):

1. A new perspective

The DSM – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the “Bible” for mental health professionals) – uncovered a whole new world for me. Sure, I was familiar with mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, and anxiety before grad school. I took Abnormal Psych in college and even before that, I’d read books on schizophrenia, eating disorders, and other mental disorders. (Guess who did their middle school science project on schizophrenia? Me!) But my fleeting knowledge was laughable compared to what I found in the DSM; it provided me with information on every single diagnosable mental disorder. When I started working with clients, I was able to see how mental illness manifests in real life.

The more I learned (and saw), the more I was able to make sense of behaviors. Consequently, this led to me looking back on people I’ve encountered throughout the years. I realized how many of them had been struggling with a mental illness. (At the time, I probably just thought they were just a jerk, or acting inconsiderately.)

I also became more aware of the prevalence of severe mental illness and the way it presents in society. This led to increased tolerance and patience regarding behaviors I’d previous found annoying; I learned to recognize them for what they were.

Mental illness can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. By having an awareness, I’m more compassionate. Instead of judging, I observe. Someone who seems snobby may have social anxiety. That coworker who calls out sick every Monday may be struggling with addiction. A friend who never wants to go out anymore could be depressed.

Mental illness is everywhere if you know what to look for. I strive to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, which is better for my mental health.

2. Don’t give money to the homeless

I worked with a client at a residential program who had an amazing talent for creating clever signs. He’d use markers to write his message (“Will dance for food!”) on a piece of cardboard before grabbing his pail to hit the streets. He didn’t need the money; he received government benefits (funded by taxpayers). The money he earned panhandling funded his K2 habit or the occasional beer.

Many of the “homeless” people you meet are not homeless; they’re con men (or women) who make a profit on your sympathy. Most are either addicted to drugs/alcohol and/or severely mentally ill; they need treatment, not the crinkled dollar bill in your pocket. Giving your spare change isn’t helping that person. Instead, offer to buy a meal, give them a pair of socks, or hand them a bottle of water.

3. Telling someone what to do is not helpful

Giving advice rarely leads to lasting change.

There are a few different reasons why advice, no matter how well-meaning, isn’t helpful. Firstly, it doesn’t account for the person’s full experience or struggle; it could seem ignorant or insensitive. (For example, “Why don’t you just get a divorce?” is not helpful to a woman struggling with her husband’s infidelity; the problem is more complex than just getting a divorce. Children could be involved. Maybe she’s financially dependent on her husband. Maybe she’s still in love with him. Or maybe it’s against her religious beliefs.)

Advice also robs a person of the ability to solve their own problem. We need to learn to find solutions in life in order to grow and to be effective. If someone is always told what to do, they’re not going to learn to function independently.

Lastly, if advice is taken, and it works, the credit goes to the advice giver, not the taker. The results are less meaningful. Alternatively, if advice is taken and it doesn’t work, it becomes the advice giver’s fault. Advice deprives a person of being able to take full ownership of their actions.

If you own your decision and fail, the blame falls on you (helping you to grow as a person) or if you succeed, the triumph is yours alone. Either way, you’re better off finding your own solutions; this allows you to feel capable and you’ll become better at solving problems in the future.

4. The value of transparency and honesty

People like to know what’s happening and what to expect. I get better reactions from clients when I explain why I’m doing or saying what I am. I’m honest, and when I can’t be (or believe it would be inappropriate to do so), I tell clients exactly that. For example, if a client asks about my religion, I’d let them know I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal aspects of my life.

Personally, I prefer the company of others who are straightforward. I don’t like having to guess if someone is upset with me. I don’t like it when someone is nice to my face, but gossips when I’m not around. Those types of games are played by people who are insecure or who are attempting to manipulate you. Life is complicated enough. With me, you’ll know if your fly is down, and if you ask for my opinion, you’ll get it. (There’s much to be said for tact though!) Gentle truths are worth more than flattery. 

5. You can’t demand respect

It’s something that’s earned through words and actions, not freely given. Forced respect is not true respect; it’s fear or deception. And while I believe in treating everyone with respect, I don’t truly respect someone until I know what kind of person they are.

Furthermore, I’ve learned that if someone chooses to disrespect me, it’s not a threat. Respect is powerful, but disrespect? Feeble and pathetic. If someone is disrespectful, it won’t harm you or make you less of a person (unless you give it that control).

Throughout my career, I’ve been disrespected on many, many occasions by clients who don’t want to be in treatment (and even by colleagues with differing opinions). But my sense of self-worth is not dependent on how others treat me. As a result, disrespect from angry clients (or rude salespersons or drivers who cut me off, etc.) doesn’t faze me.


In sum, being a counselor is life-changing. I imagine many professions are to a degree, but I can’t picture any other job leading to such a deep understanding of humanity. Entering the mental health field is like having horrible vision and then finally getting glasses (except it happens over the course of years). I have an enhanced awareness of who I am along with an unforeseen sense of serenity. 

Every single client who’s shared a piece of their story has contributed to my awareness (and to my own personal growth), and I owe them gratitude for the life lessons I received. I’m more cautious in life, yes, but I’m also more compassionate. Instead of having high expectations, I have high hopes. I don’t attempt to control things I have no control over; and I don’t get angry over the decisions, views, or actions of others. Instead, I channel my energy into something more productive; I’m passionate and I’m an advocate. My beauty pageant answer to the stereotypical question is not “world peace”; it’s for everyone to have a deeper understanding of each other.

What life lessons have you learned in your career? Please share in a comment!


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

What Counseling Taught Me (Part One)

Counseling is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication. It’s also taught me about various aspects of human nature, from the brightest to the murkiest.

In grad school, I learned theories and techniques of counseling. I learned basic and advanced counseling skills; I practiced various interventions and methods. My professors taught developmental theories and multicultural competence. I took classes in career counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling; I studied research and ethics.

And when I accepted a substance abuse counselor position at a drug and alcohol treatment center… I had no clue what I was doing… or how to be a counselor. I went into my first year as a clinician with self-doubt and uncertainty.

Negative thoughts consumed me. I questioned myself and wondered if I was in the right field.

“Do I have what it takes to be an effective counselor?” 

“Should I have pursued a career in research instead?” 

“Should I have pursued anything instead?” 

“Am I capable of helping others?” 

Furthermore, social anxiety crippled my ability to relate to clients; being genuine was difficult. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to other “seasoned” clinicians, which only made things worse.

Gradually, my doubts and fears subsided; I felt more comfortable in my role. I accepted and settled into my new identity as a professional counselor; it was a good fit. I stopped trying to “fix” or control clients.

Anxiety no longer dictated my actions; I found a way to take ownership of my mistakes and accomplishments. Moreover, I learned to be okay with making mistakes. I accepted that I would never have all the answers. I let go of irrational beliefs that had previously plagued me. I thrived.

Today, I can reflect on my journey and on the positive changes I’ve made throughout the years. My chosen career is generous in that it’s supplied me with the tools needed for not only professional growth, but personal growth — success, emotional well-being, personal development, and effective communication.

I’ve learned a lot the past ten years. This post explores the discoveries I’ve made and how I apply that knowledge to my life. But before delving into what I’ve learned, here’s what a few other clinicians have said on the topic:

Nancy Lee, MA, LPCC, Psychotherapist in Aurora, CO

“Being a counselor has shown me that it’s possible to live on the edge of what I know and don’t know. In a single moment, I can feel strong and confident, yet small and humble. Counseling isn’t about fixing problems. It’s about believing in my client’s capacity to connect with their own solutions, insight, and growth.”

Robert Martin, M.Ed Early Childhood Education & Counseling, Francis Marion University

“There is no learning … if there is not a relationship… The foundation of counseling and teaching is [the] relationship. There must be a connection. The student must know that you care about them personally and it is ok to make a mistake … Consequences and corrections can be given, but always directed at the behavior [and] never the person … That you are only talking about their behavior when you correct them … and not them. They must feel that you respect them … and if you make a mistake say, “I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” … [Always respect] their differences, their hopes and weakness, their failures, their dreams, their divinity. There is nothing more important than this…”

Bridget Cameron, Artist, Depth Psychologist, Stress Counselor (1992-present)

“To accept people as they are, to be non-judgmental, to be directed by compassion, and to know how to be impartial so that I am fair-minded with all people and do not project any of myself into my client’s history and am non-attached to the outcome.”

In comparison, while I’ve learned much about compassion, connecting, and being okay with being wrong, I’ve also learned how to use counseling to be effective, both personally and professionally… and I’ve learned to be more guarded due to the darker aspects of human nature.


Here’s my list of small wisdoms, or, what counseling has taught me (the first installment):

1. How to remain calm

Emotion regulation was difficult for me as an adolescent and young adult. My emotions ruled me – lorded over me, even! Then, as a counselor, I observed emotion disregulation in clients. I realized how truly counterproductive (and ridiculous-looking) it can be.

I made a choice to stop engaging in negativity, with both self and with others. Feeding into an argument solves nothing, but the effort leaves you emotionally and physically drained. Luckily, my personal transition from chaos to calm was painless. By the time I learned how to remain calm, I was in my mid-20s; the intensity of my emotions had already naturally subsided. Today, calmness is my natural state.

2. Comfortable silence

In grad school, I learned to use silence as a counseling technique. Instead of filling up every minute of a session with reflections, open-ended questions, and paraphrases, we were encouraged to use “comfortable silence.”

Silence allows the client time to process and/or collect their thoughts. To me, it always felt horribly awkward (remember, social anxiety!) and wrong. I wanted to rush on to the next topic or to ask a question or… anything.

I’m not sure when it finally stopped feeling awkward. I just knew that one day I was sitting in silence with a client and it felt natural. Today, I use silence in my professional and personal life all the time. It feels nice to sit quietly and not feel pressured to talk.

3. Active listening

Counseling taught me to really listen. I learned to quiet my internal dialogue to hear and comprehend what’s being said. Instead of thinking about how I’m going to respond, I give my full attention to the speaker. I’m aware of body language and other nonverbals. Counseling has strengthened my communication skills.

4. Partial truths

Counseling taught me that people don’t always say what they mean. They often tell partial truths. There are many reasons for this: Fear of being judged, not fully trusting the therapist, feeling embarrassed, etc.

For example, a client who isn’t ready to change their drinking probably wouldn’t tell me they drink three bottles of wine every night. Instead, they’d offer a partial truth. “I usually drink a glass of wine with dinner, but that’s it.”

Partial truths are not lies; they allow for a certain measure of comfort. (A lot of people feel uncomfortable with lying because they were taught it was wrong, or possibly because they view themselves as honest – and honest people don’t lie.) Partial truths, on the other hand, don’t feel wrong (or less wrong, at least). Plus, they’re safe. A person can be partially truthful and still protect their secrets.

When I realized how common partial truths are, I changed the way I listened to clients… and to everyone. Instead of taking things at face value, I listen to what is being said while recognizing that much more is not being said.

5. Hidden agendas

I also discovered that there are plenty of people out there who seek counseling with hidden agendas. For example, a man sees a therapist, stating he wants to learn anger management techniques. What he doesn’t reveal is that he’s abusive to his wife. He recently lost control in an argument and pushed her down the stairs. She gave him an ultimatum: Therapy or divorce. He doesn’t believe he needs counseling, but he’ll do it to save his marriage. And he doesn’t tell his therapist this (of course). Why would he? It’s none of her business.

Both partial truths and hidden agendas happen outside of therapy (and for similar reasons). Words paint a very limited piece of the entire picture. People often show only what they want others to see while keeping their true motives hidden.

Because of counseling, I have a better awareness and understanding of why hidden agendas (and partial truths) exist. It’s not cynicism, but a form of acceptance. I recognize that half truths and hidden agendas serve a purpose. While I may never understand their purpose, I’m okay with it.

This awareness fosters caution; I’ll never be caught off guard.


There’s more to tell, but for the sake of keeping this post to a reasonable length, I’ll save my remaining insights for the second installment of this post (in which I’ll discuss giving money to the homeless and demanding respect, among other “lessons” from counseling).


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP