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4 Things You Can Learn From Therapists

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4 Things You Can Learn From Therapists

In 2011 and 2012, I traveled the world in order to learn from the best therapists and psychologists. On my journey I met all kinds of astonishing individuals. A few of them had an inspiring and humbling mindset towards other human beings. These individuals were able to make someone feel appreciated, special and respected within only a few moments. At the same time they had a tremendous understanding of human interactions and how arguments or problematic behaviors arise.

During this time, I noticed that different exceptional therapists had a similar mindset towards their clients and people in general. Implementing these four mindsets in your daily life will help you to be more tolerant towards others, stay calmer during arguments and be more accepting when it comes to your own problems. Here are 4 things everybody can learn from therapists.

1. Even if you dislike a person’s behavior, you still can accept and appreciate the person.

Usually we dislike people because they behave in a certain way. We ultimately see the person and the person’s behavior as one thing. Therefore it is hard for us to appreciate a bully who beats other kids at school or sympathize with a person who lies to his friends. When somebody acts in a way that we do not like, understand or appreciate, we often dislike the person as a whole. Still, the therapists that I met where able to appreciate or even like people who did terrible things. This is based in their understanding that you can separate the person from his or her behavior. In a therapeutic context, this appreciation is necessary and builds the foundation for therapeutic work.

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Implementing this mindset in your everyday life won’t be easy, but it is tremendously valuable. You won’t easily be upset or angry with other people anymore. Also, it will be easier for you to give out criticism and easier for the other person to take it. Because when the other person senses that even though you criticized her, you still value her as a whole human being, she will be more receptive towards what you have to say.

2. You never know what’s good for another person.

“She would be better off if she leaves him.” “He should really quit taking drugs.” “Staying at his old job would have been much better for him.”

Do these sentences sound familiar to you? Probably yes! Most of us think they know what might be better for their friends or the people around them. We believe because we are looking at the person and his situation from an outside perspective, we can judge what is good for him and what not.

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The therapists I met were embracing a mindset called “Change Neutrality.” It describes the basic idea that you are neutral towards change. These therapists believe that they never know what’s the best for their clients. Of course they have hypotheses and ideas of what might be better, but they always tell themselves they never know for sure. They always view the client as the expert and their task is only to make offers to support them.

This humble mindset of not knowing what’s best for a person allows them to be accepting towards all kinds of behavior. They don’t feel the urge to push people towards a certain kind of behavior that is perceived as “good.”

Implementing this mindset in your daily life can take off a huge burden from your shoulders. Often, one feels responsible to help people to change. By understanding that you never know if it is really better for a person to change, you can relax and just accept how it is at the moment. Sometimes it is even necessary to make bad decisions to eventually grow and change, so by trying to change the person, you might actually take away these valuable experiences from them.

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3. Every problem was a solution, once.

When people are confronted with pressure or an uncomfortable situation, they try to find a way out of there as fast as possible. Although, in our society, it is not always possible to run away. When your boss is bullying you, it is often not easy to run, because it might be hard to find a new job. Therefore, instead of leaving the uncomfortable situation, you find a way to deal with it. You might get sick, and constantly oversleep to avoid him in the mornings or become a workaholic and be so good at your job that he has no reason to interact with you. For now you develop a great solution for this situation, but when your boss quits and you get a new boss who is nice and friendly, the constant oversleeping or becoming sick is not necessary anymore. So the behavior that was a solution to the prior uncomfortable situations now turns into a problematic behavior. Your behavioral patterns are not up-to-date anymore.

At this point a lot of people become angry at themselves because they don’t understand their own behavior and it seems irrational. Understanding that your behavior is not irrational, but rather just not up-to-date can help you to be more accepting towards yourself. Instead of blaming yourself as sick, stupid or irrational, you can be tolerant towards your own behavior and assume that at one point it was a very creative solution and is proof of your problem solving capabilities.

4. Behaviors are more dependent on the context than on the person himself.

When somebody acts in a certain way, we tend to think that he acts in this way due to certain characteristics of his personality. Given the case your boss screams a lot, you might think he is choleric. If one of your friends becomes very insecure around certain people, we might label her as insecure or shy. This is called the fundamental attribution error and shows that we tend to attribute people’s behaviors to their personalities rather than their circumstances or their context. However, numerous empirical studies show that a person’s context has way more influence on his behavior than his internal traits. Therefore very good therapists always ask for the person’s circumstances under which they show a certain behavior.

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You can implement this mindset in your every day life and keep yourself from judging other people’s behavior too fast. Instead of labeling behavior, you can explore under which circumstances it arose, and then this behavior just might make perfect sense.

Putting these mindsets to practice won’t be easy, so start with small steps. The first step is to simply notice when your old mindsets are at work. You could for example pinch your thumb and thereby be more conscious about what you are doing every time you say “You should really work out more often” (violation of mindset 2) or when you are angry at somebody because he behaved in an unlikable way (violation of mindset 1). Finally implementing these mindsets in your life will make you calmer and more tolerant, thus improving your life quality as well as the life quality of others around you.

Featured photo credit: Vermin Inc via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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