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Learning from the Past

You know how you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, even though you know it’s the wrong choice?  Freud called this the repetition compulsion:  we’re replaying some past conflict in an attempt to master it.  These days neuroscientists talk about well-worn neural pathways that were formed early in life.  No matter what theory you use to explain it, there’s no question that it happens.  And while it’s possible to break these patterns, it takes a lot of effort to do so.

I found out that my second article was rejected for publication.  I’m not used to failing, so it was a bit of a blow.  But unlike the first time, instead of rushing to eradicate this blemish on my record, I decided to do nothing.

And then I thought about how many hours I’ve spent writing these dumbed down relationship articles for less than minimum wage.  Ordinarily I would keep trying to prove that I can do it, I can give them what they want.  And I could master the art of answering questions like, “What do you do if your boyfriend is mean?” Or “What’s a cute text I could send to a shy girl to let her know that I like her?”  But why?  It’s torturous to give such superficial advice.

So I made an unprecedented decision:  I decided to cut my losses right away.  Me, the person who climbs psychological mountains for fun, knits complicated patterns, finishes tennis matches when I’m having an asthma attack.

I finally get what they mean by the phrase “pick your battles.”  I always thought it just referred to being selective about the things that you want to argue about.  Now I understand that it means that you have to save your energy for the things that are worth fighting for.

I have always spent my energy fighting for other people–my friends, my family, my clients, my romantic partners, random people who ask me for advice when they find out I’m a psychologist.  For the first time in my life, I’ve decided that I’m worth fighting for, so I’m just going to focus on what’s best for me.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

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