Misleading Marketing Tactics: How Companies Use Psychology to Sway

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.

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

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.”

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 marketing tactics intended to foster false trust or play on subconscious fears.

Image by Aurore Duwez from Pixabay

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 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, 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

Marketers 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

Avoid this 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

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.

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.)

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 seductive siren song

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 effect – 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 misleading marketing tactics and #fakenews, stick with the facts and practice emotional intelligence; don’t be swayed.

5 Recent Research Findings on Health & Human Behavior

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!)

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

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 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


Hungry for more? Keep discovering!

Boundaries: Thoughts on Building & Maintaining “Good Fences”

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

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

“Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost

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!

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.

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

A recent study found that individuals with a “big picture” style of thinking made better decisions. (“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.

The following strategies promote “big picture” thinking:

1️⃣ 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:

2️⃣ Don’t deliberate for long

Research indicates that when weighing out options, it’s ideal to take small breaks. 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.

3️⃣ 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:

4️⃣ 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!


  • References
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  • → American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2008, June 12). Moderate Exercise Can Improve Sleep Quality Of Insomnia Patients. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080611071129.htm
  • → American Chemical Society (ACS). (2012, August 19). Good mood foods: Some flavors in some foods resemble a prescription mood stabilizer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 10, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120819153457.htm
  • → American Psychological Association. (2018, April 23). Let it go: Mental breaks after work improve sleep: Repetitive thoughts on rude behavior at work results in insomnia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423110828.htm
  • → Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. (2012, May 14). A walk in the park gives mental boost to people with depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120514134303.htm
  • → Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012
  • → Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. (2007, April 21). To Understand The Big Picture, Give It Time – And Sleep. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 17, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070420104732.htm
  • → Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081
  • → Curry, O., Rowland, L., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Open Science Framework
  • → Demsky, C. A. et al. (2018). Workplace incivility and employee sleep: The role of rumination and recovery experiences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000116
  • → The JAMA Network Journals. (2015, February 16). Mindfulness meditation appears to help improve sleep quality. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150216131115.htm
  • → Labroo, A., Patrick, V., & Deighton, J. served as editor and Luce, M. F. served as associate editor for this article. (2009). Psychological distancing: Why happiness helps you see the big picture. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(5), 800-809. DOI: 10.1086/593683
  • → Northwestern University. (2017, July 10). Purpose in life by day linked to better sleep at night: Older adults whose lives have meaning enjoy better sleep quality, less sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710091734.htm
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  • → University of Oxford. (2016, October 5). Being kind to others does make you ‘slightly happier’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 18, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm
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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.

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

Recently, an acquaintance told me about breaking up with his 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!)

(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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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!


8 Types of Liars

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

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

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 different sorts 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, sociopathic liars vs. occasional liars vs. white liars are all types of liars.

However, I’d been thinking about classifying liars on different terms. I conceptualize them on a spectrum, ranging from pathological (the worst type) to tactful (the least-harmful type), while taking into consideration the various reasons people lie.

In this post (which is not based on scientific research), I describe the 8 types of liars I’ve encountered, both as a professional counselor and in my personal life.

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 fluctuates and evolves 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 or 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 joke – 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 at the very end of the spectrum is that by possessing awareness, they at least have the capacity to change.

 3. The manipulative liar

They lie to get what they need (or 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 drinks?) 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 carry dark, terrible 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, a sexual predator who victimizes vulnerable youth or a secret affair with your brother.

5. The avoidant liar

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

They strive to avoid something 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 your white carpet blames it on the dog.

Avoidant liars are frustrating because they 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 may 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 could 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 so many times. (For example, after multiple retellings of a bar fight, the impressive liar begins to believe that he knocked out three bikers, when in reality, he broke his fist attempting to punch the bouncer.)

Impressive liars are mostly harmless, but can be annoying, especially when it’s obvious they’re 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 a lengthy explanation. The lazy liar streamlines the truth because it’s less complicated than giving the full narrative.

The lazy liar doesn’t leave out important details; instead, they opt to recount the movie version of the truth instead of 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 wasn’t on a separate sheet.”

Lazy lying is harmless. The lazy liar doesn’t leave out important details; instead, they opt to recount the movie version of the truth instead of 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 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, if the PowerPoint presentation you put together for work is dull, or if it might be considered clingy to send 19 texts (including “heart eyes” emoticons) to your new boyfriend who’s at the game with the guys.

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. 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 be past the well-meaning liar, on the very end.

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



Share your thoughts in the comments section!


What Counseling Has 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.

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

This is the second installment of how counseling has led me to a better understanding of people. (In Part One, I discussed 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 some additional truths and realizations that I gained through my counseling career.

What counseling has taught me (the second installment):

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 knew a client at a residential program with a talent for making 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 each a gratitude. 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 insights have you gained from your chosen career? Please share in a comment!

What Counseling Has 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.

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

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).

Why “Playing Hardball” Doesn’t Work

How can you consistently get great results with customer service representatives? Hint: “Playing hardball” doesn’t work. Instead, use seven basic counseling skills to get the best deal.

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC

Years ago, I was visiting new friends at their home to watch a college football game on TV. (It should be noted that I’m not a big sports fan, but my at-the-time boyfriend was.) The game couldn’t be viewed unless it was pre-ordered through the cable company, so the couple had had purchased the game ahead of time. We were all relaxing in the living room, eating snacks and chatting, waiting to watch some football. When the game didn’t come on as scheduled, they called the cable company… and much to my dismay, my male friend starting yelling and cursing at the customer service representative. I felt embarrassed, and couldn’t help thinking how awful it would feel to be on the receiving end of that call. (It’s not like it was the representative’s fault; they were trying to fix the problem!) At one point, my angry friend got too worked up and ended up handing the phone over to his female counterpart. I thought, Thank god! She’ll smooth this over. And then she proceeded to shout and cuss!

What is it that makes people think they can treat another human being like scum? Why do some believe that yelling, cursing, intimidating, or “playing hardball” is the way to go?

More recently, my husband and I went to a store to pick up an item he’d ordered online. He had previously called the store to ensure he’d be able to use a gift card for part of the balance, and was assured he could. However, upon arrival, we were informed that since his credit card had already been charged, there was no way to apply the gift card to his purchase. My husband was soooo mad! His typically easy-going, relaxed demeanor changed. He started arguing with the clerk; he was rude and sarcastic. Naturally, the clerk became defensive (and somewhat defiant). I wanted to disappear. My husband ended up paying full price for the item. The clerk’s day was probably ruined. I wondered if things would have turned out differently had my husband been his usual friendly self.

Why it is widely believed that “playing hardball” is the best approach for getting what you want?

Think about what motivates you to go out of your way to help; maybe you’re inspired to help someone because they’re friendly (and likeable). Or maybe you feel sorry for them. Maybe you want to help them because they’ve helped you in some way or shown you a kindness; you’re happy to return the favor. It’s less likely you’re motivated to help the angry guy who insults you. So why would it be different with customer service? Customer service reps are human, and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

In my experience, consideration and good manners (thanks, Mom!) go a long way. And I (almost) always get excellent results with customer service. Not once have I played “hardball” or yelled, cursed, or threatened. People typically want to help me. By utilizing one or more of the following therapeutic techniques, you can be more effective when returning an item without a receipt, requesting a lower interest rate, or asking your cable company for a better deal.

1️⃣ Unconditional positive regard

Instead of bracing yourself for the worst, anticipate that they’ll be able to help.

As a professional counselor, I value my clients while appreciating their unique perspectives and views. This principle can be applied to a conversation with a customer service representative. Approach them with respect. Be appreciative of their hard work. Treat them with kindness. Instead of, “I need this issue resolved,” try, “Hi [their name], how is your day going?” Instead of bracing yourself for the worst, anticipate that they’ll be able to help. Say, “I’m hoping you’re the person who can help me with…” It’s likely the person you’re speaking with will strive to live up to your expectations; they will be the person who can help you.

2️⃣ Empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand another’s perspective and sense their emotions, is crucial to all helping relationships. Empathy is not sympathy or feeling sorry for someone. Sympathy pities; empathy empowers.

Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing.

To illustrate, I’ll discuss empathy’s role in counseling. Imagine a client who’s afraid she’ll be deemed selfish or weak for contemplating suicide. She recently lost her job and is going through a horrific divorce. She feels worthless; she thinks the world would be better off without her. Empathy drops you into in her shoes and allows you to experience her anguish. To convey empathy, I’d say, “I can see you’re in a tremendous amount of pain. It’s gotten so bad, suicide seems like the only solution.” Empathy validates her suffering and recognizes that her pain is unbearable. Empathy has the potential to open the door for exploration and healing. (In contrast, the opposite approach would be to scold her, to tell her “it’s not that bad,” or to say she’s only looking for attention. All of those things are harmful and would invalidate her struggle.)

When applied to customer service, empathy acknowledges the experience of being a service representative. If you’re empathetic, you understand what they feel. You recognize the challenges of dealing with angry customers who yell or threaten (like my football-loving friends). Furthermore, it’s known that empathy promotes helping behaviors. Convey empathy by saying, “I can’t imagine what you must deal with.” Or “I imagine this job requires a lot of patience.” Empathy has also been linked to persuasiveness. On the flip side, if the customer service rep empathizes with you, you may have a better chance of convincing them to grant your request, at least according to one study.

3️⃣ Genuineness

With clients, I say what I mean. I share what I’m thinking or feeling. I’m myself, flaws and all. Genuineness promotes trust and strengthens the therapeutic relationship. When talking to a customer service rep, don’t put on an act. Don’t play tough and/or make threats. That’s not how you’d treat a co-worker or an acquaintance (at least, I would hope not?) And don’t play dumb. Instead of, “I had no idea my payment was late,” try, “My payment was two days late, but since this is the first time, would you consider waiving the fee?” You could also explain your situation: “Honestly, I’ve always been happy with your services, but since the rates went up, I’ve been thinking about canceling. I’ve researched [competing company] and they have better rates. I’m not sure if I can afford your services anymore.” The rep would probably be able to relate (and even empathize), which translates to a better outcome for you.

4️⃣ Using names

Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Using a name isn’t a basic counseling skill, but what it conveys is. Using a name conveys respect. It makes that person feel important and valued. Speaking a person’s name also commands their attention. In a counseling session, to make the greatest impact with my words, I’ll say the client’s name before sharing a thought. A name is powerful.

When navigating customer service, repeat the rep’s name after they introduce themselves to help you remember. (Write it down if you’re on the phone.) Use their name throughout the conversation. Someone who feels respected, important, and valued is more likely to help than someone who feels disrespected, unimportant, and unappreciated.

5️⃣ Patience

Patience is invaluable in counseling. I’m patient with clients who are guarded and with clients who aren’t ready to change. I’m patient in my sessions; I sometimes sit in silence, allowing for the time to process, contemplate, or sort through thoughts. I’m patient when a client isn’t progressing. (Change takes time.) Lastly, I’m patient with myself when I say the wrong thing or when it seems my efforts aren’t helping. (I remind myself that I’m human; I make mistakes. I can’t help everyone.)

Customer service requires patience. Hold times can be ridiculously long. It also takes time to connect with an actual human. And when you do connect, they could say you’ve reached the wrong department. They’d transfer the call to someone in a different department (who may then have to transfer you again). You’ll probably be placed on hold a few times (and have to explain yourself multiple times). The call could be dropped and then you’d have to start all over again. You may have trouble understanding a rep’s accent. They may be unable to help you if you don’t know your account number (or the first concert you attended, the name of the street you grew up on, etc.) They could ask for a PIN or password you don’t remember creating.

Alternatively, if you’re dealing with customer service in-person, the line could be long. There could be a crying baby nearby or a man with strong body odor standing in front of you. Or maybe the person behind you is in your “bubble”; they keep bumping into you. It could be too hot or too cold in the store. Once you get to the front of the line, the clerk could be new; they don’t know how to resolve your issue. You’d be asked to step aside and wait for the manager, which would take even more time.

Patience is an art; it can be cultivated through mindfulness and gratitude. To foster patience, anticipate that your customer service issue is going to take a considerable amount of time. Expect to run into some unforeseen snags. If you’re already rushed or in a bad mood, just skip it. Instead, make that call or trip to the store when you’re relaxed and have plenty of time to spare.

6️⃣ Humor

Okay, this one isn’t an official counseling skill, but it’s one of my counseling skills. What’s more, research suggests that when used appropriately (and never at a client’s expense), humor is a powerful tool for healing. In my experience, humor allows clients to open up and relax. It improves mood and helps clients to view their problems from an alternative perspective. Humor is an important coping skill and may reduce mental health symptoms. Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity. Also, never underestimate the power of laughing at yourself. If you can find humor in your flaws and life fails, you can forgive yourself and move on. (It’s refreshing to not have to take yourself so seriously.) Humor makes me a better counselor… and a better person.

Humor connects us; laughing together fosters positivity.

When talking to a customer service rep, use humor if possible. (“Does the warranty cover a four-year old’s mission to see if phones float?”) Poke fun at yourself or your inadequacies. If your issue is even the slightest bit funny, go ahead and laugh. For example, a year or so ago, I had a problem with my FitBit. According to FitBit, I was climbing hundreds of flights of stairs every day. I contacted customer service to report the issue. In my email I wrote, “Although I wish it were true, I can assure you that I have not been climbing hundreds of flights of stairs on a daily basis. Please assist.” They sent a new FitBit. Humor generates positive feelings; research suggests that a positive mood increases helpfulness. For in-person customer service, a smile may increase your chances of getting the help you need. A happy customer service rep is more likely to grant your request.

7️⃣ Remaining calm

Composure is the opposite of reactivity. An effective clinician is calm and serene; this promotes healing while reducing client anxiety. Moreover, it’s essential to remain calm in a crisis or with trauma work. Reactivity, on the other hand, is chaotic and ineffective.

When you react, you lose a small piece of your control. The more you react, the more out of control you feel. When fully escalated, you give up all your power; you’ve essentially handed it over to the person you’re reacting to. Furthermore, when emotions are heightened, the logical part of your brain becomes less active. You’re driven by your emotions.

In contrast, remaining calm enables you to respond instead of react. Maintaining composure will almost always benefit you in an argument. Similarly, it’s to your benefit to remain calm when talking to a customer service rep. If you get angry or upset, you lose effectiveness. Research indicates that when negotiating, people dealing with angry counterparts are more likely to walk away from the deal. Expressing anger has limited effectiveness when employed as a negotiation strategy. If you happen to anger the customer service rep, you won’t end up getting what you want, at least according to one study.

To increase your ability to regulate your emotions, practice mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises. Neurofeedback is another tool for training your brain to remain calm.

In conclusion, the best strategies for getting your needs met include respect, genuineness, and empathy. Use a customer service rep’s name throughout the conversation. Be patient. Increase your likability with humor; remain calm (no matter what). These methods aren’t infallible, but they’ll boost your odds for great customer service. (And if you still aren’t getting results, politely end the conversation, hang up, and call back to be connected to someone else.)

Do you have any tips for getting exceptional customer service? Share about it in a comment!

The Psychology of Motivation

What is the psychology behind motivation? This post examines the research on motivation and reviews the implications. The conclusion reached is contrary to what you may believe.

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC

What is motivation? According to Merriam-Webster, to motivate is “to provide with a motive.” A motive is defined as “something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.”

Motivation is highly sought after in today’s society; it’s the golden ticket to success. You would think achievement (as an end result) is motive enough, but this proves to be false. We desire success, but we’re unable to maintain our motivation. It dries up or fades away before the goal is reached. For example, a dieter is initially motivated by weight loss, improved sleep, and increased energy; these are all powerful motivators. But it’s not enough. Why?

If you look to Google, you’ll find countless sites claiming motivation “secrets” or hacks. How to Motivate Yourself in 10 Easy Steps. 7 Easy Ways to Motivate Yourself at Work. 5 Surprising Tips to Increase Your Motivation Immediately. Don’t be fooled. The shortcuts are appealing, but they’re not backed by research. Motivation is complex.

To learn what it is that drives us (and why that driving force is often short-lived), I reviewed the existing literature on motivation. (Hint: There are no secrets, tricks, or hacks.) As you read the following points, consider your goals and the role motivation plays.

1️⃣ Motivation can be intrinsic (arise from within) or extrinsic (influenced by outside forces).

Intrinsic motivation is rewarded internally. An example of intrinsic motivation would be pursuing the study of archeology because it holds a strong appeal or attraction. The behavior of engaging is the reward. Research establishes a strong link between interest and intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, extrinsic motivation refers to externally rewarded motives, such as writing a paper for a grade or performing well at work for a raise.

Practical application: If you’re looking for the motivation to achieve a goal, but lack the drive, add an incentive. Be creative. Choose rewards that are meaningful.

2️⃣ The presence of dopamine is related to motivation.

Studies have found that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a considerable role in motivation. More recently, researchers have speculated there are specific areas in the brain responsible for motivation.

To consider: A lack of motivation could indicate chemical imbalance, especially if paired with feelings of sadness or hopelessness, fatigue, or thoughts of suicide. If your lack of motivation is debilitating, you may be depressed. Seek professional help.

3️⃣ Self-efficacy and perceived competence are positively related to motivation.

Research indicates that if you believe you can accomplish something, you’re more likely to achieve it than if you doubt yourself. This is a reoccurring theme in motivation literature. Self-efficacy is key.

Practical application: Evaluate your confidence. Do you view yourself as capable? On a scale from 1-10, how confidant are you that you can achieve [insert your goal here]? You won’t maintain the motivation to lose weight if you believe you’ll always be heavy. Self-doubt is a motivation trap. To cultivate self-efficacy, focus on your past accomplishments and successes. Reframe negative thoughts. (Instead of This is impossible, try This is difficult, but manageable.) Increase your self-efficacy by setting – and achieving – one or two easy goals.

4️⃣ Having a sense of control leads to greater motivation.

If you believe that life “happens” to you or that you are powerless to circumstances, you have an external locus of control. (This is sometimes known as learned helplessness.) It’s difficult to sustain motivation with this view. We can’t control all the variables in life, but we can control our choices and reactions. We control who and what we allow to negatively impact us. This knowledge is empowering. It allows for motivation and can foster an increased sense of efficacy.

Practical application: List or think about some undesirable aspects of your life (rent, a car accident, a difficult colleague, etc.) Select one item from your list and then write ways you can exercise control. (For example, you can’t control a difficult co-worker, but you control what you say to them, how you respond to them, and so on.) Recognize that your decisions directly impact the quality of your life.

5️⃣ Outcome value is related to motivation. 

The greater the perceived value of an outcome, the stronger the motivation. If you value living in a tidy home, you will be motivated to clean. For someone who doesn’t mind a mess, a clean house holds little value.

Practical application: You want to save money, but struggle to see the immediate benefits. Create a list of all the ways saving can improve your life, both now and in the future. Consider what’s currently important to you. If it’s spending time with family, link that to saving money. (Extra savings mean you can afford to dine out or take vacations with your family.) By increasing outcome value, you may increase your level of motivation. Apply this principle to all aspects of your life.

6️⃣ Goals and deadlines are motivating.

Define your outcome with a measurable goal and place a time limit on it. By defining exactly what you want (I want to lose 10 lbs.) and then giving yourself a deadline (in 3 months), you’re creating a blueprint. Having a goal map makes it easier to stay motivated by providing direction.

Practical application: When you need motivation, first consider the steps required to accomplish your goal. Be as specific as possible. And then create a deadline. (Note: Deadlines can be flexible. If you don’t meet your deadline, it’s easy to give up, leaving you the opposite of confident and effective. Instead, if a deadline isn’t met, push it back a week. Be reasonable. Revise your goal if needed. Remember to be solution-focused.)

7️⃣ Money is a motivator.

Researchers discovered that cash is a driving force. Money is a classic example of an extrinsic motivator – and it’s effective. So how can you use this information?

Practical application: There are apps and programs that pay you to stay on track. An example is the Achievement app; you earn points for exercising, drinking water, sleeping, and doing other health-related activities. Once you earn 10,000, you receive $10. Additionally, the weight loss program HealthyWage pays you to lose weight. (Be careful – there’s also a chance you’ll lose money!) If you dread going to work, think about your paycheck. Lastly, to motivate employees, offer small bonuses or other cash incentives linked to performance.

8️⃣ Working together on a task enhances motivation. 

Working toward a common goal with a partner or a group seems to enhance motivation.

Practical application: This practice can be applied in the workplace or at school. Don’t work on projects alone; find someone who shares your enthusiasm. If you want to start an exercise routine, ask a friend (who also wants to get in shape) to hit the gym with you. It seems we’re able to inspire and motivate each other; when one person’s motivation wanes, the other’s kicks in.

9️⃣ The source of motivation changes as we pursue our goals.

There’s something called “promotion” motivation. We’re good at setting goals and feeling motivated. Initially. Then, somewhere along the way, our motivation switches. It becomes “prevention” motivation. For example, the promotion motivation for losing weight may be fitting into a certain pair of jeans. When the jeans fit, the motivation becomes prevention motivation. Prevention motivation is harder to sustain.

To consider: Have a variety of motivational strategies. Recognize that motivation will change as you pursue your goals.

🔟 Once something becomes a habit, it persists long after motivation is gone.

This may be the most valuable finding of all. With motivation, there are variables: Self-efficacy, deadlines, money, etc. A habit supersedes the variables. There will be times we lack motivation, no matter how effective we feel or how much we value the outcome. If we act out of habit, we don’t have to rely on motivation. Of course, the tricky part is creating a new habit. Habits, which are formed by repetition, reorganize information in your brain so that an action becomes automatic and is no longer tied to a motivational cue.

To consider: Researchers assert it can take anywhere from 15 to 254 days to form a habit. In addition to repetition, you must remove cues that trigger habits you’re trying to quit while adding cues that trigger desired behaviors.

In conclusion, there are many factors related to motivation including self-efficacy, outcome value, and financial incentive. Our motivation changes as we pursue goals, indicating the need for a variety of motivational strategies. We know that dopamine plays an important role and that there are structural regions in the brain responsible for motivation.

A friend of mine recently asked how I motivate myself to go to the gym when I get off work. “It has nothing to do with motivation,” I responded. “I just do it; it’s not optional.”

I’m fully aware I lack motivation. However, I recognize that motivation, while advantageous, is not a prerequisite for success. It’s too fickle; it lacks the staying power of habit and the might of determination.

Don’t rely on motivation to achieve your goals. Instead, invest in the determination it takes to form a habit.


  • References 
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