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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A New Year, A New Opportunity for Personal Change

While I was at a New Year's party with friends, someone was telling me how excited she is about the New Year.  As she was telling me about the new and wonderful things she's anticipating, her enthusiasm was contagious to those of us around her.  It made me think about how our perspective about life affects our outlook on life, our enthusiasm (or lack of enthusiasm) for the things we want, and our relationships with other people.

A New Year, A New Opportunity for Personal Change
What Affects Your Perspective?
Your perspective on life is, of course, affected by your life experience.  It's a lot easier to feel optimistic if you've been fortunate in your life so far.  If you've experienced significant trauma or misfortune, it's understandable that it's not as easy.  

Temperament also affects your outlook on life.  By that, I mean that some people are naturally more optimistic.  It's part of their nature and they're more resilient when it comes to bouncing back from life's challenges.

If You Tend to Have a Negative Perspective, You Can Learn to Change
You Can Learn to Change Your Perspective
But even if you're not naturally an optimistic person (and it seems that most of us aren't naturally optimistic), you can learn to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings.  If you find that you tend to be mostly pessimistic, you can challenge yourself and ask yourself if your perspective might be distorted.  The goal of doing this isn't to be a "Pollyana" because, after all, that's just another distortion. Rather, the goal is to recognize that there might be times when, for whatever reason, your personal perspective might be getting in the way of what you most want in your life.

For people who tend to be pessimistic, their attitude is often, "What's the use of trying when nothing will come of it."  This keeps them stuck in their lives.  When they expect so little, they often don't even try or they give up before they reach their goals.  

Aside from trauma, depression can also cause you to feel pessimistic about your life.  There is much debate about what comes first:  Is it our negative thoughts that create depression or does depression cause negative thoughts?  I think there is no easy answer to this.  Often, it's a combination of both.  

Realizing that You Have a Negative Perspective Isn't About Self Blame
Sometimes, when people first become aware that they tend to be pessimistic, their first reaction is to feel ashamed, as if they're being blamed for these negative thoughts.  I can see where some people might feel this way because many self help books frame these issues in a way that can be interpreted as blaming the person who is unhappy.  But developing an awareness of your perspective isn't about blame.  It's a starting point to change, if that's what you want to do.  

I believe that even when you've experienced significant trauma and/or depression, you can still benefit from recognizing that your past experiences might be distorting your perspective about the future.  If you recognize this distortion, it offers you the possibility for something new.  Awareness alone isn't everything, but it's a beginning.

It's tough to challenge long-held beliefs, especially beliefs that you have about yourself.  Sometimes, it's  easier for some people to hold onto negative beliefs about themselves because it's familiar.  Change involves the unknown, to a certain extent, which can feel scary.  Many people who are stuck in an emotional rut are afraid to change because they fear that they'll fail and this will be further confirmation to themselves and others that they're "not good enough."

Our Perspective About Time
In Western culture, we tend to have a linear view of time, which is somewhat arbitrary.  With a linear view of time, the New Year becomes a marker for assessing our lives, where we have been, and where we want to go.  Some people prefer to do this on their birthdays rather than on the New Year.  Other people, who are more tuned into the academic year, tend to see September as their New Year, after the lazy days of summer and before the more dormant winter season.

Looking Back at the End of Your Life
But, no matter what your view of time is and whether or not you make New Year's resolutions, it's helpful to have some marker to assess your life so that you don't just drift along. One of the saddest things is to look back at the end of your life and say, "I regret that I didn't..." (you fill in the blank).

Getting Help
To avoid having a lot of regrets at the end of your life, take stock of where you are now, how your thoughts, feelings and experiences are affecting your perspective about your future and your relationships.  If you're feeling stuck, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional to help you make the changes you'd like to see in yourself.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my webs site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

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