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I Only Do What I Want to Do: Taking Care of Myself and Others

“I only do what I want to do.” That sounds incredibly selfish, doesn’t it? Most of us would feel guilty saying that to ourselves, let alone to another person. Many of us were taught to be self-sacrificing. Do for the other person and not ourselves. People are praised for thinking of others first and putting their own needs aside. Years ago, I found that there was a fallacy in this thinking. As I was doing what others wanted, I did not give myself permission to do what I wanted – and I resented it and eventually resented them.  

The first time that this occurred to me was when I was in my thirties, married with three adolescents, working full-time as a teacher, and going to grad school. Our psychology professor had recommended that if we were going to be in the counseling profession, we should have the experience of seeing a therapist. At that point, I was feeling frantic. It was two weeks before Christmas, and I was finishing the academic semester. The house wasn’t decorated. No gifts were bought. And there were numerous discussions among family members about who was doing Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners.  

I was referred to a young therapist (a doctoral psychology student doing his residency). I remember spewing out my anxiety and confusion. I felt that I was being torn in a thousand different ways and I didn’t know how I could please everyone. After listening to this, he asked me a very simple question. “What do you want to do?” I felt as though no one had ever asked me that question. I am sure I had never asked myself, “What do I want?” It was always about what others wanted from me and for me. The question literally changed my life. I made the decision that seemed reasonable, doable and would make me happy without adding a burden onto other people. Everyone seemed fine with what I chose. I had a great Christmas. Most importantly, I also decided that I would never spend another holiday not doing what I wanted. All of these years, I’ve kept that promise to myself. 

After this, I discovered two things. The first was that, in pleasing myself, there were no resentments. I enjoyed what I was doing and I enjoyed others with whom I was with. Resentments are toxic to a relationship. How many times do we do things essentially to please another person but end up resenting them in the process because this is not what we want to do. For example, if I would have gone ahead and had Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner to please my mother, I’m afraid my resentments would have spilled over into our relationship. We see this in relationships all too often. One party tends to give to the other regularly and eventually builds a wall of resentment. After years of this resentment, the couple finds themselves in a therapist’s office because, in time, this behavior has destroyed the relationship. The less I resent someone or something, the more willing I am to do what others ask of me.

The second thing I learned was that I could make choices for myself as long as my behavior didn’t negatively impact the other person. For example, in the case of the Christmas events, I told my mother that I would have a very difficult time doing Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner because of the time crunch, but I would love to do New Year’s Day dinner with my family and my cousins, whom I really enjoy. Everyone seemed pleased and we had a great holiday. If I had offered no solution to the Christmas dinner dilemma, it wouldn’t have been fair to the other family members. My rule of thumb is that as long as my decisions do not negatively affect others, it is my choice to make. For example, if I go dress shopping with a friend and she insists that I buy a dress that I’m not really happy with because she loves the way it looks on me, I have the right to say that I appreciate her opinion but I much prefer the other dress. If I were to buy the dress that she chose, it would be to please her and not myself. 

Realistically, however, there are many things that we do that we feel we should do. I would suggest that if we could take the word “should” out of our vocabulary we would be much happier. We all have activities in our life that we don’t particularly want to do, but we know we need to do them. Very few of us enjoy mopping the kitchen floor, washing clothes, or paying bills. I may not enjoy these activities, but I know they are necessary in living an ordered life. I do want the peace of mind that comes when I’ve taken care of daily living activities, so I choose to do these things. I do not enjoy going to the Funeral Home, but I choose to pay my respects to my friend’s husband. While I may not enjoy doing this, it is something that I choose to do. This is not a “should” but rather a “want.” It is made out of an expression of choice.

The key word in this theory is “want.” What do I want? Many of us have spent much of our lives doing what others expected of us. We live and make our choices based on what others want. Many of us either have never asked the question of ourselves or, if we have, we don’t know the answer. Sometimes we don’t know because we’ve not allowed ourselves the question. This is either because of the guilt in putting the emphasis on what we want or no one was ever really interested in what we wanted. We didn’t know we had the option.  

I find that asking clients what they want is a key factor in helping their emotional growth. When they can’t identify these wants, we concentrate on what they feel. We can start by asking ourselves what is important to us. Is this activity worth my time or energy?  Is this something that I would choose to do? If they can start identifying their feelings, they’ll soon come to a recognition of what they want. Most of my turmoil that Christmas was that I knew what I didn’t want, but I hadn’t asked myself what I did want. I honestly didn’t know that that was an option.

What I’ve discovered through these years is that I have more choices than I thought. In some cases, when I no longer enjoyed an activity that I regularly participated in, I found ways to eliminate it from my schedule. I have also found that having a conscious awareness of the people that I value in my life allows me to be more proactive about spending more time with them. Acknowledging what I want allows me to make more definitive choices in my life. It has also forced me to look at how my choices affect others. All in all, knowing that I have the freedom to choose has given me the opportunity to experience a well-lived life. For that, I am very grateful.

Dating Apps and Today’s Relationship Anxiety

Marriage through matchmaking was the original form of courtship, recorded as far back as the Bible, but the concept of finding a loving partner and getting to know them through dating before marriage has only been in existence since the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This shift from parental and community decisions about who we spend our lives with to allowing freedom and exploration has never been as apparent as it is in this current era with online dating.

Dating online has had an interesting journey from the humble beginnings of paying for matchmaking services through match. com to its current state of freedom, hype, and confusion. Back in 2001, when match. com merged with love. aol, individuals paid $24.95 per month for a membership to take a survey and be matched with other singles with similar interests and values. Now people can hop onto one of countless, free “dating” apps, which all provide different ends. Most dating apps advertise as a way to help singles meet and find a life partner, but anyone who has ever explored them discovers they often have very different purposes. Certainly, there are a few people who meet their partners through these apps, but the more prevalent experience is that the apps provide some users with false hope and others with stories of frustration and even violation. 

For many Gen X-ers, Gen Z-ers, and other millennials, it has become obvious that the transition from meeting people at school, work, clubs, and bars to meeting them on the smartphone has had deleterious effects on the way we interact with potential partners. People are not only utilizing apps more, but they are becoming more averse to the “old fashioned” way of meeting others. Many younger people talk about the great risks inherent to meeting people at public places and saying things such as, “Well, they’re a complete stranger. Who knows what they may be like? I’d rather get to know someone first [via online chatting].”  

This change has impacted our public interaction in a way that has almost encouraged social phobia. The mentality that we can only feel safe meeting a potential partner if we text them for weeks in advance has led countless people down the rabbit hole of endless conversations that never led to an actual in-person experience. Contrarily, this behavior pattern has led many others down a dangerous path of false security with individuals who are pretending to want a connection when all that is desired is a sexual experience, are presenting as one person when they’re an entirely different individual, or the all-too-friendly bot profile which tries to trick app users into sending cash. 

In addition to these hazards, dating apps have enabled those who suffer from social anxiety to fully envelop themselves in a world where they never truly need to take social risks. They can gain the minimal social interaction they desire by interacting through apps, without ever actually meeting another person. They may feel socially fulfilled, but what they are truly doing is enabling their anxiety. Those who experience social phobia fear the scrutiny of others through social interactions, like meeting unfamiliar people, being observed while eating or drinking, performing in front of others, and acting in a way that is embarrassing. Meeting unfamiliar people, eating and drinking together, and risking embarrassment through personal exposure are all key elements of early dating. As exposure therapy has evidenced, engaging in behaviors that make one nervous, over time, lessens anxiety. Therefore, engaging in dating behaviors, safely and appropriately, inherently will help a socially anxious person gain control over that aspect of life and have more fulfilling life experiences. 

This is not to say that dating apps are all bad. They have merit in connecting others in ways unimaginable to past generations. If a single person wants to date and find a partner for life, dating apps can certainly be one option. However, users can be mindful not to spend too much time chatting online. Connect with a potential partner, find a safe public place to meet, and meet them. Daters can get to know potential partners in real life and make sure to set clear expectations for what is wanted out of the relationship. In short, today we can use technology to enhance dating, not to replace it.

Other options exist besides dating apps, though. It’s still possible to use more traditional routes of meeting a partner. If meeting at bars feels scary, singles can try connecting with a classmate or coworker – someone we can take our time getting to know, flirt with, and develop something special with in a structured environment. This may lead to building social skills, such as boundary setting, empathy, and cooperating, as well as reducing social anxiety. 

Finding a significant other in the real world can boost confidence. Real-life dating partners can see us for who we really are, not merely our internet identity, and this can feel incredibly validating. On the internet, we have time to come up with clever responses and confident self-statements, but in person we may be awkward and fearful that people will not take the time to get to know the real person that we are; this is understandable. But as we worry about deficits in our competence, we likely also under-appreciate what virtues and talents we actually possesses that may be attractive to a partner. By avoiding in-person relationships, daters can make ourselves inaccessible to growth opportunities, preclude further maturation, and becomes more dependent on the apps.

As daters, whether we choose to try dating apps or to engage with the people in our everyday lives, we must put our personal boundaries and respect first. To be sure, some people will be inappropriate partner options; they just aren’t the right fit. Others may actually be manipulative, deceptive, or simply unkind. But this does not mean we are unlovable or deserve mistreatment. Dating requires that we find the qualities in ourselves that make us unique and bolster them; bring them to the surface and show them proudly to the world. If we choose, we can promote this self-expression first through dating apps and maintain it throughout the process of making a real-world connection. Dating takes courage. Finding someone we want to spend our life with can take time – but this is OK. Though social media comparisons make us feel like there is a timeline for life, there is no rush.

Mary Fitzgibbons, Ph.D.

Mary Fitzgibbons

I am a licensed psychologist and the director of West County Psychological Associates (WCPA). I began this practice in 1986 after having worked in education for twenty years. Previously, I had been an elementary teacher, and then a counselor and Guidance Director at Lafayette High School.

Because of my familiarity with working with elementary and secondary schools, we, at WCPA, began working extensively with numbers of schools in the form of training and consulting with administrators and teachers through Care Teams, doing presentations for parents in regard to effective child rearing and consulting with various business and educational groups. I have also taught counseling/psychology classes at Webster University, Fontbonne University, the University of Colorado, and the University of San Francisco. 

One of the great joys of my life has been being able to practice therapy in a way that I believe has long-lasting and effective results. I believe that a good therapist never stops learning. I also believe that the efficacy of therapy comes from the relationship between the therapist and the client. The therapeutic relationship is the basis of what creates change. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with pre-adolescents, adolescents, adults, seniors, and couples. My hope is that this work has been helpful to my clients. I am fortunate in that it has also given me great satisfaction.

Amy Maus, MSW, LCSW

Amy Maus

I specialize in services to schools, including work within public, private, and parochial schools serving students of all ages. Frequently, I provide training to school staff, presentations for parent groups, and consultation and training for Care Teams. A particular joy of mine is providing presentations and workshops to school-related groups of all sizes. I also lead monthly consultation groups for area school principals, and serve as an on-site school social worker for schools that contract for weekly services. Working with students of all ages, their families and school staff has been the focus of my clinical work.

In addition to my work with schools, I am trained to and provide psychoeducational testing services for students age 6 years and older, focusing on issues related to ADHD, depression and anxiety, behavioral problems, and learning differences. Please see our Psychological Testing page for more information.

Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW

Amy Neu

I provide private therapy for adults, older adults, and caregivers who are facing a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief, coping with medical issues, dementia, and end of life.  I meet with clients for sessions in the office, virtually, or in-home/on-site depending on each client’s need. Traditional Medicare does cover psychotherapy, and I am a contracted provider. 

In addition to my work with individual clients, I provide on-site counseling, consultation, and education to staff throughout the continuum of senior living communities and home care agencies. I love speaking with professionals across disciplines about mental health and aging. Grief work is another passion of mine, and I facilitate groups for those experiencing grief and loss.

Murisa Begic-Gusic, Psy. D.

Murisa Begic Gusic

I am a licensed psychologist and provide comprehensive psychological evaluations and psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adult clients. I have extensive experience working with clients dealing with a wide range of pathology including mood disorders, anxiety, psychosis, autism, ADHD, intellectual disability, personality disorders, and trauma. I provide comprehensive psychological evaluations including diagnostic, psychoeducational, pre-adoption, disability, and clergy evaluations.

Angela Cook, BSW, MSW, LCSW

Angela Cook

I have over 25 years of clinical social work experience assisting individuals, families, and couples to find peace within themselves and their relationships.  Through extensive training and expertise, I enjoy helping clients empower themselves in successfully resolving issues related to: trauma, attention deficit, anxiety, relationship discord, depression, OCD, and emotion regulation. I integrate the following evidence-based treatment modalities as needed: Emotion Focused Therapy, Mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Play Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), Cognitive Stimulation, and Trauma Focused – CBT. I also provide presentations on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

I strive to establish a powerful, therapeutic, nonjudgmental alliance built on compassion and respect which in turn helps the collaborative process be much more individualized and strength-based.

Julia Covilli, MSW, LMSW

Julia Osborne

With mental health experience working with a multitude of populations, I currently am accepting clients with all clinical issues. I have enjoyed working with adolescent clients in the clinical and school settings, dealing in large part with school-related anxiety, and adult clients as well. My professional passions include individual, couples, and family therapy. Employing evidence-based practices, I frequently utilize cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy, to best suit my client’s needs. 

In addition to my schooling and ongoing training, I am receiving weekly supervision from a clinician who specializes in aging populations and grief work, which has been an invaluable resource.  

Bryan Duckham, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW

Bryan Duckham

I have been in practice for over 30 years treating individuals and couples. While I specialize in working with those struggling with depression and anxiety, I also enjoy working with couples who are experiencing conflict or want to enhance their relationship. My Ph.D. is from Loyola University-Chicago with a heavy emphasis on theory, especially psychodynamic, narrative, and family systems. However, I am very eclectic in my approach and can use behavioral and cognitive approaches as well as a depth psychology approach that seeks to heal underlying conflicts or ambivalences that are fueled by unresolved feelings and needs.

I have worked in a variety of outpatient mental health and treatment programs, including St. Anthony’s Hyland Center and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and I was the director of the FlexCare Treatment Program. In addition to maintaining my practice at West County Psychological Associates, I was an Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University before retiring in 2019 to devote more time to my practice.

Donna Garcia, MA, MS

Donna Garcia

As a former teacher, principal, and assistant professor, I work with schools who would like to strengthen their school environments in a variety of areas. I provide educational consulting services and professional development for principals and faculty, and workshops for students and parents. Workshops and professional development are tailored to meet the needs of individual schools. My training includes cultural competence, parenting cafes, and suicide prevention, to name a few. I am presently working on combining my previous educational experience with the world of social work.