Month: November 2016

Finding Motivation to Work

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Reader’s Question

I lost my job a few months ago and since then I’ve been unable to find the motivation to do, well, anything. I realized today that maybe what I thought was a pattern of behavior at work actually applies to my whole life. Namely: I flounder unless put under stress or a lot of responsibility. It seems counterintuitive to me, but I noticed it starting with the first job I ever had where I was just a lowly employee doing the bare minimum to get by. I felt listless. I was still a decent employee though, and eventually I was made manager — and as soon as I felt like I had control over something, everything changed for me. Almost overnight, I suddenly cared about what I was doing, would work extra hard, and was really involved in all aspects of it. I loved it and I really blossomed into a stellar employee. Any job since then has been the same: unless someone is really counting on me to handle something important, I can barely do anything.

My partner makes enough to support us and I’ve never really been in a situation where my monetary contribution is imperative. I hadn’t realized that perhaps it’s causing me to feel useless, and thus my life is lacking the responsibility I crave.

The biggest problem for me, though, is that recognizing the problem doesn’t help. It doesn’t help even though I know if I just forced myself to look for a job, a volunteer position, or ANYTHING that would promote those feelings of responsibility then I would start to shift back into my normal self. I just can’t seem to care. So how do I break the cycle? And why do I not just thrive under pressure, but require it?

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds as if you’ve discovered how stress is very much like an ocean wave. Like surfers, we look for the optimal wave that isn’t too weak or too strong to help get us to shore — upright on our boards. When stress is too high, we can often get consumed by the wave, or knocked off our steady footing before reaching our goal. Sometimes we just avoid the strong wave altogether for fear of falling and failing. On the other hand, when stress is too low, we often don’t have the momentum to reach our goals, and the wave fizzles out too soon — which it seems you are experiencing.

I think you’ve done some really effective reflecting, however, and are beginning to notice the patterns and your needs for an ocean with bigger waves. It’s not something within you, but rather the interaction between your needs and your environment that aren’t matching well. I also suspect that the circumstances of how your last job ended — not by your choice, it seems — may be making it even more difficult for you to find the energy to care.

Often when people lose a job, it can feel much like grief. The multiple losses experienced with a job loss, such as loss of structure, accountability, social connections, and a place to go every day, can be significant. When we experience a loss and are grieving, we often don’t feel like ourselves. We feel more sluggish, tired, have changes in appetite, feel isolated or have difficulty reaching out to others. Combining these difficulties with the pressure to find a new job can be even more debilitating. In these situations, it can be helpful to talk with a trusted friend or a mental health professional to process the loss, to engage in greater self-care, and to find ways to set the pressure to find a job aside until you’ve worked through what the job meant and what it means not to have it now.

After going through the grief process, it may also be helpful to find someone who specializes in vocational counseling — many counseling psychologists have had training in vocational assessment and development. A well-trained professional can work with you to explore your interests, abilities, and values to find a good person-environment fit for you that will be more inspiring and motivating. Work is an integral part of our lives and our identities — and exploring to find something meaningful and satisfying may be worth the time and energy for you now. Knowing more about yourself and how you might thrive on a bigger wave could be useful as you explore potential career paths.

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Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

Photo by Shumona Sharna – http://flic.kr/p/7Yhvxz – For illustration only

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Reader’s Question

My psychologist agrees that I have a lot of the symptoms associated with borderline personality disorder, but I haven’t been in any romantic relationships because I know I’d be a horrible partner. Does not being in a relationship mean I can’t have BPD?

Psychologist’s Reply

Not having been in a romantic relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have borderline personality disorder. BPD can seriously impact relationships, but there are many other important symptoms associated with this personality disorder. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, but typically there tends to be an unstable sense of self, risky or impulsive behaviors (often including things like spending, sex, suicide/self-injury or even substance abuse), significant mood swings, a chronic feeling of emptiness, frequent anger and outbursts and sometimes paranoia or feeling disconnected from the present moment. (To read more on BPD, see the NIMH overview.)

There are certain aspects of BPD that can really damage a relationship. Those with BPD often experience intense, frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. People with the disorder are often very sensitive and devastated by the feelings that come with loss and abandonment, whether the situation is real or just feared. These emotions are typically difficult for them and often lead to negative behaviors. For example, they may become inappropriately or disproportionately upset when their partner is late for lunch or doesn’t return a text in a timely manner. The fear of abandonment or rejection can lead to manipulative attempts to prevent the other person from leaving through the use of shame, guilt and anger. Persistent manipulation can easily drive their partners away, the exact thing they were hoping to avoid. The fear of rejection and abandonment can also contribute to high levels of distrust that could prevent the person with BPD from even wanting a relationship for fear of encountering those feelings. I’ve heard some with BPD even say they would rather be alone then potentially face those issues in a relationship.

Individuals with BPD are also prone to sudden or dramatic shifts in their views of others. These shifting views can often be very confusing for their partners, who wonder if they are loved or hated by them. Often they may idealize their caregivers or romantic partners and want to spend all of their time with them, quickly become attached, and share their deep personal secrets early in the relationship — only to suddenly shift and devalue the person. They may begin to feel the person does not care enough or put enough effort into the relationship and quickly become distrustful of them. Some studies have suggested that those with BPD have patterns of brain activity associated with disruptions in the ability to recognize social norms or modify impulsive behaviors and reactions.

Despite these issues, there is treatment available, including learning relationship skills that can help ensure a good, healthy relationship. There are proven and effective treatment strategies (like Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, and Interpersonal or Relational Therapies) that help those who struggle with the disorder. Even couples therapy can be used to help in addition to these. Many of those who suffer with BPD can experience repetitive disappointment and emotional pain from their relationships over time that lead them to strongly believe that love and commitment are out of reach. Try not to believe that. These valuable things are within reach for anyone, including those suffering with borderline personality disorder; it just takes commitment to treatment and partners who are willing to be patient.

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Overcoming Shyness

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Reader’s Question

Is it normal to still be painfully shy at almost 40? I have very few friends and live with my two kids. At work many of my colleagues have very little to do with me, and I tend to keep to myself a lot, as I get really nervous when I’m around too many of them at once. I avoid meetings and social gatherings in general since I sometimes just don’t know how to make small talk (which I also find to be a waste of time anyway). I’m also a bit boring, as I have no social life, and I’m also aware that I generally look very nervous, awkward and stupid. I sometimes get very depressed and anxious on Sunday afternoons as I know that on Monday it’s back to work again.

I would also like to meet someone new and start a relationship, but I have no idea how to go about doing it. I feel like I’m emotionally underdeveloped; I think I act like a school girl. I also feel very inferior to my peers who have well-adjusted families and active social lives. I often wish that I could be more like them. I feel really lonely sometimes. I just don’t know what to do with myself at this point in my life, and I feel myself becoming more and more reclusive and depressed. I know that I need to get out and interact with people, but I don’t know how/where to start and how to do it without appearing fake and nervous and stupid. I simply don’t know what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

To answer your first question, yes, shyness is a common personality trait and is normal, no matter what age. In some cultures, shyness is seen as a positive trait — but because Western culture is very outgoing, it can be difficult to feel as if others experience shyness as well. It’s also very normal to want to have one or two close friends, or to have deeper conversation with one person rather than making small talk with acquaintances. Some individuals find it helpful to know that others are like this, and that a construct called Introversion (from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, MBTI) exists. Individuals who score higher on the Introversion (rather than Extraversion) end of the scale often feel drained if they have to interact with many people or make small talk — they tend to get their energy from their own thoughts and ideas and can become easily overwhelmed at parties or other large social gatherings. Some introverted individuals are also very sensitive, and find support in books such as The Highly Sensitive Person [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] by Elaine Aron, PhD.

From what you’ve described, it sounds like you have some successful relationships — having had two children, having some friends, and being able to work in an office environment. You were able to form those relationships before, and I wonder whether anything may have changed in your life since then.

I can understand how difficult it can feel when the dread and fear set in when approaching situations that create worry and nervousness. If the worry is significantly interfering with your social, work, and other important areas, then it may be helpful to find a licensed mental health professional to rule out Social Anxiety Disorder and to help with increasing your relaxation response in social situations. They can also help explore the thoughts that are creating more worry (such as “I look nervous, awkward and stupid”) and the ideas that follow (which, for example, might be, “no one wants to be friends with me,” “others are just being nice to me because they have to be,” or “everyone’s looking at me and judging me”). A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can help to better sort through these thoughts and feelings and help you find ways to reach your goals for connection with others.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

All copyrights for this article are reserved to ask a therapist

Finding Motivation to Work

Ask Your Own Question! Reader’s Question I lost my job a few months ago and since then I’ve been unable to find the motivation …

Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

Photo by tedeytan – http://flic.kr/p/RRxBWN – For illustration only Ask Your Own Question! Reader’s Question …

When Trust Is a Problem

Photo by Lars Plougmann – http://flic.kr/p/6zyNNg – For illustration only Ask Your Own Question! Reader’s Question …