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Things We All Have in Common

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Today marks the annual “Bell Let’s Talk” day. The initiative, which started in 2010, aims to promote awareness about mental health issues and catalyze important actions related to reducing stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research, and leading by example in workplace mental health.

Previously, I’ve written about how to support loved ones with mental illness. Today, I wanted to take a different approach and discuss the experiences that I feel all of us can relate to on some level.

You see, I’ve noticed through being a therapist that regardless of someone’s age, race, socioeconomic status, and past experiences, there are things that almost every single person says in therapy—things they think are totally unique to them when, in reality, countless other people have uttered the same sentiments in my office. I don’t know about you, but to me, there’s something beautifully bonding and comforting about the idea that we might not be so different than we think we are.

So, here are situations and emotions I’ve heard almost every. single. person. describe to me, regardless of where they’ve come from*.

1. Thinking everyone else has life figured out.

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Many of us judge our success through comparing ourselves to others. However, this typically involves comparing our inner experiences to other people’s outer experiences, which can lead to totally inaccurate assumptions and conclusions.

The truth is, all of us are trying to figure things out as we go. There have been moments where someone has told me, “You’re so put together!” and I think to myself, “…are you kidding!?!?!” They might say that because they see me at work—dressed professionally, focusing on a task, engaging in small talk—but they didn't see me the night before enveloped by self-doubt about if I’m “good enough” at my job. Every single person on this planet has moments like this, they just typically happen behind closed doors. So, next time you start telling yourself how “put together” someone is, remind yourself that this is an assumption and that you are only seeing one slice of reality.

2. Loneliness

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Recent research shows that 1 in 5 Canadians feel lonely, which is thought to be due to a number of factors, including higher rates of divorce, stronger dependence on technology, sprawling urbanization, and living alone.

Know that even people with extensive support systems and active social lives feel lonely from time to time. This is partly because loneliness can be the result of what we tell ourselves rather than "evidence" that we aren't well-connected. Thoughts like, "No one understands me," "Why do I find it so hard to enjoy my own company?" and "What are others doing without me?" can stimulate feelings of loneliness even if you still have the same number of friends that you did yesterday.

Loneliness can also represent moments when we feel disconnected from ourselves, which is why I think it's often triggered during moments of boredom. So, we might want to ask ourselves, "What activity can I engage in right now that brings me joy?" Even if this doesn't involve another person, we can then feel connected to the parts of ourselves that we might forget about from time to time—our Creative Side, our Sporty Side, and more.

In moments of deep loneliness, it can also be helpful to remember the universality of this experience and show ourselves some compassion: This is a moment of suffering. At this very moment, thousands of other people are feeling this emotion, too. May I be kind to myself right now. This can remind us that even though we feel lonely, we are not truly alone in our experience. (To read more about how to handle loneliness, check out my other blog post).

3. Self-criticism

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Individualistic countries like Canada infuse a number of values into their citizens: uniqueness, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and independence. (Hell, it’s no wonder we feel lonely!) Many of us have also learned to motivate ourselves through “pulling ourselves up by the boot straps,” “sucking it up,” and “keep on keepin’ on.”

Practically every single person I meet in therapy admits that they’re extremely hard on themselves. It seems that we all have an Inner Critic who calls us names, judges us harshly, and thinks we aren’t good enough. It’s important to note that we have been taught this habit in our culture. This isn’t something unique to you, it’s a cultural phenomenon. The trick is to notice when your Inner Critic is showing up and diffuse it with compassion rather than criticism.