Everything in Moderation (Is Not What I Thought)
Why is it that ice cream, chocolate, pizza, drugs, and alcohol are always so bad for us? Why is it that all the so-called “pleasures” in life are not good for us in excess? It appears only the things we love in life are those in which we must not overindulge!
Chocolate and bacon are not bad for you in moderation. A couple of glasses of wine or pints of beer is ok. Video games are fun entertainment in small doses. For all of us that remember how bad television is for our eyes, well that too is enjoyable in moderation. Even family gatherings and holidays with relatives can be fun in moderation! Many of life’s simple and extravagant pleasures are good when we consume them in balance. The Truism Center and its therapists emphasize balance by living a Truism Centered Life; one that is centered on your values and balanced by your evaluations of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. But what exactly does balance or moderation mean for me? What does it mean for my family? Partner? Children?
How do we know what is an acceptable limit for ourselves, our children, a loved one, or anyone with whom we love? What is the standard that we use by which to compare ourselves? When do 2 drinks become 3 drinks? When does 1 hour of television turn into 3 hours? The moment that we begin to justify our thoughts, behaviors, or emotions is the moment we have crossed the line in our minds and become unbalanced. In the field of cognitive psychology, this is referred to as cognitive dissonance; or the uncomfortable experience of having inconsistent or competing thoughts that are incompatible and go against our values. Our thoughts about something conflict with one another as it relates to our values.
Moderation, therefore, is not simply limiting yourself from having too much of something. It is not simply a number set in stone, and once you pass it you are indulging. Moderation is understood to mean that we exhibit self-control when we experience cognitive dissonance, and we choose to align ourselves with our values, instead of our actions moderating our values. Moderation sets the limits for us to stop justifying thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that do not match our values. Thus what is appropriate in moderation for one person may be different from what is appropriate in moderation for another person.
The Joke is on You (and Me, and Them)
When we experience cognitive dissonance, we often use a powerful defense mechanism in our minds known as rationalization. When we rationalize, we trick ourselves into believing that our current (indulgent) behavior is acceptable, or not as bad and unbalanced as it is.
Take for example speeding while driving a car. Your value or belief is that driving 5-8mph over the speed limit is acceptable. You even believe that driving 5-8mph over the speed limit in moderation is completely normal and that “everyone does it.” This is a value that was determined only by you and is only internally enforced by you. (Remember the societal value in this example matches the law. Society values the speed limit, not speeding, and asserts enforcement of the speed limit). You on the other hand hold this value of speeding by 5-8mph in such high regard that you practice it every day on your way to work or to drop the kids off at school. You even go so far as to verbally express your frustration about people who do not abide by your same standards yelling at those who go too slow or too fast! Yet, on days where you are running behind, you find yourself driving more than 8mph over the speed limit. You need to make up for the lost time to make sure you are not late, so you drive 10, 15, or even 20mph over the speed limit! You trick yourself into believing that today’s actions of speeding are justified because you do not want to experience the negative consequences of being late. When you are driving too fast, cognitive dissonance rears its head and tells you to check for cops because your actions are not matching your values. You have that uncomfortable experience of inconsistent and competing thoughts that are incompatible and go against your values. As such, you employ rationalization to defend yourself from becoming unbalanced and from contradicting your values. You trick yourself into believing that your actions were justified. In essence, your actions begin to moderate your values.
I Know My Own Body (Except When I Don’t)
The good news is that we innately strive to have our thoughts, actions, and emotions align with our values to some degree, even if we stink at it. We don’t typically try to put ourselves in a state of confusion and disarray. More often than not, we aim to avoid experiencing cognitive dissonance to maintain a centered and balanced life. We strive to understand ourselves, our thoughts, and our values. You might even have heard children say “I know my own body” in response to an adult questioning them about their intentions and emotions. We’d like to believe that we are capable of self-control. However, our good intentions do not always add up to good outcomes. We often find ourselves in the position of thinking that “we know our own bodies,” but truthfully, we do not.
No Hope for Me (is Not a Value I Want)
There is no hope for me! At times when we become unbalanced, counseling can help. Counseling can help us align our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions with our values. It is not uncommon for us to be confused or unaware of our values. We might even feel like we don’t know how to center our intentions on our standards. Moreover, maybe we don’t even know that we have principles, let alone live by them. Quite honestly, we might feel like we’ve lost touch with our beliefs and our hope in them because life has become so hard. We must compromise ourselves just to make it. You are not alone. There is hope for you!
I approach counseling with adults, teens, families, and couples from a person-centered therapy style utilizing cognitive-behavioral strategies within my framework of multisystemic reciprocal determinism (MRD). The goal in counseling is to bring you (and your loved one(s)) into a position where your values correlate to your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions healthily and positively. We accomplish this together through real, tangible, and purposeful help. Sometimes, a good kick in the butt from a therapist is all we need to become centered and balanced. Other times, we discover that we are unaware of our personal values and don’t even know where to start. That is true for many of us. All of us at The Truism Center are here to help you live a Truism Centered Life. There is hope, in moderation of course!