Psych Central Original articles in mental health, psychology, relationships and more, published weekly. 2017-02-22T15:10:39Z Suzanne Kane <![CDATA[10 Proactive Ways to Figure Out What’s Most Important to You]]> 2017-02-21T23:38:38Z 2017-02-22T15:10:39Z ]]> bigstock--131436794Life offers infinite variety, along with myriad challenges and opportunities. It’s easy to get lost in indecision with so many choices. You want success, yet wonder if you’re on the right path. You’d like to have balance in your life, but there are so many conflicts that you often find yourself spending energy too much in one direction.

What’s happening here is a lack of prioritization, of figuring out what in life is most important to you — and then acting upon it. While not life-threatening, a failure to identify what’s most meaningful to you can erode your quality of living. To ensure that you have the most opportunities to live a full, happy and productive life, you must zero in on your key priorities. Here are some ways to do just that.

Identify the most important people in your life.

When you care about someone, they’re important to you. Sometimes, however, we take loved ones, family members, friends and coworkers for granted. This does both them and us a disservice. By listing the most important people in your life, you make a conscious effort to recognize and value these meaningful relationships. Since man is a gregarious creature by nature, tending to those closest to you is a practical, effective way to make the most out of life.

Think about what you most enjoy doing.

For some, it may be arranging floral displays, trying out new recipes, walking at sunset with a loved one. Others may most enjoy sports and recreational activities, or reading books, listening to music, participating in spirited debates. Whatever you most enjoy doing is obviously important to you. It’s more than passing time or relaxing. If you take the time to identify what you like doing the most, you’re more likely to make room in your life to take advantage of those opportunities. In the process, besides identifying what is most important to you, you’ll also be acting upon that knowledge.

What qualities, skills or talents do you have?

Looking back at your life, what qualities, skills or talents would you say you have? When you were a kid, for example, were you great at marbles, ping pong, sledding, multiplication tables, spelling bees? Did you find you excelled in science or English or math? Are you skilled in carpentry, landscape design, building things, figuring out how to fix what goes wrong? Do you lose yourself in artistic expression, creating something from nothing? There’s a strong likelihood that what is most important to you is deeply embedded in these qualities, skills and talents.

List your highest achievements and accomplishments.

In line with analyzing what you believe you do best, take some time to jot down the successes you’ve had. It doesn’t matter if it’s a huge accomplishment or something minor. What does matter is the feeling the result gave you. When you’re proud and excited about your accomplishments, you experience joy and satisfaction in life. It’s also a good hint that these are important to you.

Ask your friends, loved ones and family members to list your best qualities.

You might think you know your best qualities or strengths, but you might over- or underestimate what you’re good at. Besides, you’re not very objective when it comes to self-analysis. That’s why asking those who know you best what they believe are your best qualities is illuminating. You might discover, for example, that you possess keen analytic ability, something you haven’t tapped or put to good use. Maybe it’s your compassion that is most impressive. Or, the fact that you listen well and are supportive of others in a way that’s empowering and uplifting. Once you know what these qualities are, you can decide what, if anything, you want to do to take advantage of them. There’s something here that’s important to you. Perhaps asking others to help you identify them is a painless way to figure this out.

While it might be challenging, you don’t have to sacrifice a goal because it’s too difficult.

One of the saddest things to witness is someone giving up just as they’re about to reach their goal. We’ve all done this, not that it’s anything we like to admit. Granted, some goals are incredibly challenging. They’re difficult, expensive, take an inordinate amount of time, or require resources and allies that are hard to come by. The secret to holding fast to a goal that seems out of reach is to parcel it into pieces. Take it apart and identify stages or steps. By focusing on the next stage instead of the end goal, it’s easier to make the effort necessary to see this phase through. Over time, you’ll pass through various stages on the way to the goal. That’s how you achieve even the most challenging goal.

You can still pursue your dreams and make ends meet.

Maybe you find yourself stuck in a job you don’t like. You took it because you needed the money and stick with it because things haven’t changed financially, or because you can’t see a way forward. It’s time to ditch this dead-end thinking and map out a plan to make changes that allow you to both pursue your dreams and take care of your financial responsibilities. It may be that you decide to back to school to get additional training or pursue or finish a degree. What you learn in the process, the people you meet, the opportunities you’re exposed to can make a profound difference in your outlook. In addition, be sure to maximize your leisure and recreational pursuits. If you love skiing, schedule some ski trips. If painting is your forte, get busy creating in the medium of your choice.

Deal constructively with the depression or anxiety and may have stood in the way of doing what you want.

Fleeting sadness or anxiety is a normal part of life. The emotions, while not without pain, can motivate us to make necessary changes. Prolonged depression or anxiousness, however, will only be alleviated with professional help. Perhaps medication and/or therapy is in order. If you find that these powerful emotions are standing in the way of doing what’s most important to you in life, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get the help you need.

Get past the feeling that you’re not good enough.

Most of us have felt the sting of disappointment, either that we didn’t live up to our own expectations or those of someone else. Overt or covert criticism, biting or harsh comments, the gradual shifting away of friends and colleagues just adds to the sinking feeling that we’re not good enough. Yet, others don’t define us and we should never allow them to act like they can. The only way to be good enough is to believe that you are. Since no one can make you do anything and only you make the decision how to live, choose the option that’s affirmative and uplifting. Select what gives you the best likelihood of achieving the outcome you desire. Give it your utmost effort, attention and diligence. If you do the best you can do, you’ll always be good enough. In fact, you’ll be better than just good enough. You’ll be right where you want to be.

What makes you happy? Do that.

Happiness is like sunshine. It makes you feel good, envelops you in warmth, and costs nothing. Yet, how many times do you walk away from happiness and instead involve yourself in some task or activity that’s boring, uninvolving, repetitive, endless or unproductive? If you want to be happy in life, think about what makes you happy. Find a way to insert that pursuit or activity into your everyday life. It might be walking in nature, working in the garden, whipping up a culinary delight, playing with the children, making love to your partner. Whatever it is, this is something important to you, something you value highly. Be sure to do it as often as you can, with full presence of the moment and joy that you can have this experience.


Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT <![CDATA[Codependency Causes Anger and Resentment: 8 Tips on Anger Management]]> 2017-02-21T00:08:55Z 2017-02-21T15:10:16Z ]]> Number 8 From Blue FeltManaging anger is essential to success in work and relationships. Codependents have a lot of anger they don’t know how to manage it effectively. They’re frequently partner with people who contribute less than they do, who break promises and commitments, violate their boundaries, or disappointment or betray them.

Symptoms of codependency, such as denial, dependency, lack of boundaries, and dysfunctional communication, contribute to anger. Because of dependency, codependents attempt to control others in order to feel better, rather than to initiate effective action. But when people don’t do what they want, they feel angry, victimized, unappreciated or uncared for, and powerless — unable to be agents of change for ourselves. Dependency also leads to fear of a confrontation. Codependents prefer to not “rock the boat” and jeopardize the relationship. Their poor boundaries and communication skills inhibit expression their needs and feeling, or do so ineffectively. Hence, They can’t protect ourselves or get what they want and need and feel angry and resentful, because they:

  1. Expect other people to make us happy, and they don’t.
  2. Agree to things we don’t want to.
  3. Have undisclosed expectations of other people.
  4. Fear confrontation.
  5. Deny or devalue our needs and thus don’t get them met.
  6. Try to control people and things, over which we have no authority.
  7. Ask for things in nonassertive, counterproductive ways; i.e., hinting, blaming, nagging, accusing.
  8. Don’t set boundaries to stop abuse or behavior we don’t want.
  9. Deny reality, and therefore,
  1. Trust and rely on people proven to be untrustworthy and unreliable.
  2. Want people to meet our needs who have shown that they won’t or can’t.
  3. Despite the facts and repeated disappointments, maintain hope and try to change others.
  4. Stay in relationships although we continue to be disappointed or abused.

Anger Gone Wrong

The truth is that anger is a normal, healthy reaction when our needs aren’t met, our boundaries are violated, or our trust is broken. But it can overwhelm us unless we know how to manage it. Codependents don’t know how to handle their anger. Different people react differently, depending upon their innate temperament and early family environment. Some people explode or attack, though they may regret it later, while others passively hold in their anger or don’t even recognize it. Most codependents are afraid their anger will damage their relationships. They don’t want to rock the boat and please, appease, or withdraw to avoid conflict. Instead, they stockpile resentments and/or are passive-aggressive. Their anger comes out indirectly with sarcasm, grumpiness, irritability, silence, or through behavior, such as cold looks, slamming doors, forgetting, withholding, being late, even cheating.

Some codependents may not realize they’re angry for days, weeks, years after an event. Difficulties with anger stem from our childhood role models. When parents lack skills to handle their own anger, they’re unable to pass teach their childhood to do so. One or both parents may have been aggressive or passive, modeling that behavior. If we’re taught not to raise our voice, told not to feel angry, or were scolded for expressing it, we learned to suppress it. Some of us avoid conflict if our parents fought frequently or we fear we’ll turn into an aggressive parent we grew up with. Many people believe it’s not Christian, nice, or spiritual to be angry and they feel guilty when they are. Unexpressed anger can get turned against ourselves, leading to guiltshame, and depression.

Anger can contribute to illness. Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Stressful emotions wear down the body’s immune and nervous systems and its ability to repair and replenish itself. Stress-related symptoms include heart disease (high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, digestive and sleep disorders, headaches, muscle tension and pain, obesity, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, TMJ, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Expressing Anger Effectively

Anger is a powerful energy that requires expression and sometimes calls for action to correct a wrong. It s expression needn’t be loud or hurtful. Handled well, it can improve a relationship. The following are some steps you can take:

  • First, recognize the signs of anger before they escalate. Become familiar with  how they manifest in your mind and body, usually tension and/or heat. Pay attention to repeated mental or verbal complaints or arguments, which are signs of resentment or “re-sent” anger.
  • Signs of anger can warn you to slow your breath and bring it into your belly to calm you. Take time out to cool-off.
  • Examine your beliefs and attitudes about anger and what has influenced their formation.
  • Acknowledge that you’re angry. Acceptance rather than judgment of your anger prepares you for a constructive action. Your anger may signal deeper feelings or hidden pain, unmet needs, or the necessity of an assertive, rather than reactive, response. (To learn assertiveness skills, read the examples in How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits, and write out scripts and practice the role plays in How to Be Assertive.)
  • Identify what triggered you. Sometimes, resentment is fueled by unresolved guilt. (To overcome guilt and self-blame, see Freedom from Guilt and Blame — Finding Self-Forgiveness.) If you frequently over-react and view others’ actions as hurtful, it’s a sign of shaky self-worth. When you raise our self-esteem and heal internalized shame, you won’t over-react, but are able to respond to anger in a productive, assertive manner.
  • Look at your contribution to the event. Assess whether you owe an apology. Acknowledging your part and making amends can help you grow and improve your relationships.
  • Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone or accept bad behavior. It means that we’ve let go of our anger and resentment. Praying for the other person can help you find forgiveness. (Read “The Challenge of Forgiveness.)”

Working with a counselor is a helpful way to learn to manage and communicate anger effectively.

©Darlene Lancer 2017

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW <![CDATA[The Attractor Factor: Why We Flirt and What It Means]]> 2017-02-19T04:23:23Z 2017-02-20T15:10:21Z ]]> bigstock--147070274Imagine this scene: two people walk into a room and immediately notice each other (cue the romantic music). They hesitantly take a few steps forward, smiling shyly. One runs fingers through tousled hair, while the other straightens a piece of clothing. One laughs nervously while the other coughs. Once they are within speaking distance, a conversation begins. The words, “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?” issues forth from one, which causes eye rolls from the other and a screeching needle on record sound.

Is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship or a potential disaster? Will they laugh about this when they tell the story of their initial encounter at their wedding or will they be grateful that it didn’t progress beyond that first awkward interaction?

Flirting is something people learn in childhood as a means of charming others or getting something they want without asking directly. It offers the opportunity to test the waters without diving in head first. How easy is it to say no the innocent look of a toddler who wants ice cream before dinner, especially if they say “Please.” in a tiny voice?  There are some who adamantly insist that young children aren’t engaging in flirtatious behavior since they contend that it sexualizes the child or the act of simply being friendly. Flirting may indeed be just that, a way of reaching out to get to know another.

As we mature, flirting carries with it a more intimate vibe. Body language takes the place of or is an embellishment for verbal communication. The ways we sit, stand, carry ourselves, the proximity and angle with which we approach another we find attractive either physically or emotionally, speaks volumes about our feelings.

There are numerous reasons why people flirt. According to Northern Illinois University professor David Dryden Henningsen, there are six different motivations for flirting and he characterized them in this way: 

  • Sex: trying to get into bed  
    • Fun: treating it like a sport 
    • Exploring:  trying to see what it would be like to be in a relationship
    • Relational: trying to increase the intimacy of a relationship
    • Esteem: increasing one’s own self esteem
    • Instrumental: trying to get something from the other person

The last one reveals a darker and more manipulative aspect of playful behavior as is indicated in  a 2007 survey of 500 professional women, in which 86% said they “would happily flirt with a male colleague if it meant they got their own way.

Innocent flirting took place at the end of the life of a happily married, 84 year old man. He was placed on hospice for end stage Parkinsons’ Disease that took its toll on this formerly robust athlete. Whenever he would meet a new female nurse, he would tell them how beautiful they were and asked them to kiss him on the cheek when they tucked him in for the night. Both he and his wife of nearly 52 years knew it was a harmless request and it put a smile on the face of the caregivers.

Jeffrey A. Hall, Ph.D has studied the art of flirting and it culminated in a book entitled The Five Styles of Flirting: Use the Science of Flirting to Attract the Love You Really Want. He identifies them as

  • Physical-Body language is a core aspect and those who score high in this realm connect quickly and have commensurate sexual chemistry.
  • Polite-Being mannerly and with an eye for ‘appropriate’ behaviors, these people tend to be more romantic with sustained partnerships.
  • Playful- There is little interest in romance or long term connection. People who score high are in it for fun and to enhance self esteem.
  • Sincere- Those who exhibit this style of flirting are interesting in developing deep bonds and emotional connection.
  • Traditional- This category is populated by those who view men as the persuers and women as the subject of their interest.

Hall’s original study, entitled Individual Differences in the Communication of Romantic Interest: Development of the Flirting Styles Inventory opened the door to deeper understanding of the various communication styles people posses.

Janet Singer <![CDATA[A Baby Has Died — What Should We Do?]]> 2017-02-19T04:22:00Z 2017-02-19T15:10:31Z ]]> crying eye. blue highkey versionIn our society, death is an uncomfortable topic — something most of us prefer not to talk about unless absolutely necessary. When the time does come, however, we are usually able to deal with the deaths of our parents, our relatives and our friends. Depending on our religions and/or our beliefs, we adhere to rituals to help us along this seemingly uncharted journey. These rituals determine what we should do, where we should be, how we should act, and in some cases, how we should feel.

But what if the person who died is a baby? What do we do — how do we act — now? This loss defies the natural order of things and stops us in our tracks. When I was in my early twenties, an acquaintance gave birth to a stillborn baby boy. I cried — and then I did what so many others have been known to do — nothing. I wasn’t sure what was expected, or what was proper. Every way I could think of to reach out to the grieving parents felt strange and awkward — not enough. And so I did nothing.

Little did I know at the time I would soon learn first-hand how misguided my inaction was.
Almost thirty years ago, my daughter Leah was born prematurely. She fought desperately to live but just couldn’t win the fight. She died in my arms at the age of six weeks — on Mother’s Day. Never in my life had I experienced such profound loss. Intense grief seared through me, tearing my heart apart and bruising my soul.

I was one of the lucky ones. I had a loving family and friends who stuck close to me. My husband was my rock. But still — many stayed away. I held no grudges. I understood — sort of. After all, as I said, I had made the same mistake. People just don’t know what to do.
While the death of any son or daughter, at any age, is a tragedy, the death of a newborn or baby comes with some unique issues. What was expected to be the biggest event and blessing in a couple’s (or single parent’s) life has turned, often in an instant, into their worst nightmare. Instead of bringing your baby home to the newly-decorated nursery so you can begin your long-awaited lives together, you find yourself faced with decisions regarding funeral and/or burial arrangements.

So what should we do when someone we care about has lost their baby?

First and foremost — be there. Genuine concern from the doctors and nurses who cared for Leah made the unbearable bearable. A friend of mine who lost her newborn baby ten years earlier was not so fortunate. Not only did she never have the opportunity to hold her baby, she was told by doctors to “forget about her and move on.” Her story was not uncommon forty years ago.

The support and love of my parents and immediate family kept me away from that edge I was so dangerously close to. Friends who continued to call even when I could not bring myself to talk to them let me know I was in their hearts. I learned the worst thing you can do when someone is hurting is stay away. I don’t care how uncomfortable the situation might be; we need to show each other we care. Call, send a note, drop by with food, flowers, a hug. You don’t know what to say? Don’t say anything. Words are overrated anyway. Just be there.

Be sensitive. While there is no right or wrong thing to say, try to think before you speak. One woman told me the story of her neighbor who dropped by to ask if she could borrow her bassinet since “you won’t be needing it anyway.” This is a great example of what you absolutely should not say. Another comment that should never be spoken is, “At least you have other children,” or “You can always have more children.” This is not about any other children. It’s about acknowledging a life lost way too soon and being there for the heartbroken parents.

Another example of being sensitive: If you have a baby yourself, ask the grieving parents if it’s too difficult for them to be around your baby or child. Everyone is different and most people will appreciate your thoughtfulness and will answer honestly. Obviously they will not be able to (or hopefully want to) avoid young ones forever, but in those early days, when the pain is so raw, we need to be aware of how our own actions and situations might affect those who are suffering.

Ask, “What can I do for you?”

Mention the baby by name. Most people don’t do this as they don’t want to upset the parents. But the parents are thinking non-stop of their child and likely want others to acknowledge his or her existence. If the grieving mom or dad wants to talk about their lost child, let them — even encourage them, to talk as much as they want. Let them cry. Cry with them. Listening — really listening — can be a wonderful gift.

You never “get over” the loss of a child. All these years later, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Leah and what might have been. But when my mind goes back to those dark days of unbearable pain, I remember the warmth and love I received from those who cared. All grieving parents deserve this.

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT <![CDATA[Relationship Killers: Anger and Resentment]]> 2017-02-13T20:06:53Z 2017-02-18T15:01:12Z ]]> pexels-photo-262145Anger hurts. It’s a reaction to not getting what we want or need. Anger escalates to rage when we feel assaulted or threatened. It could be physical, emotional, or abstract, such as an attack on our reputation. When we react disproportionately to our present circumstance, it’s because we’re really reacting to something in our past event — often from childhood.

Codependents have problems with anger. They have a lot of it for good reason, and they don’t know how to express it effectively. They’re frequently in relationships with people who contribute less that they do, who break promises and commitments, violate their boundaries, or disappointment or betray them. They may feel trapped, burdened with relationships woes, responsibility for children, or with financial troubles. Many don’t see a way out yet still love their partner or feel too guilty to leave.

Codependency Causes Anger and Resentment

Codependent symptoms of denial, dependency, lack of boundaries, and dysfunctional communication produce anger. Denial prevents us from accepting reality and recognizing our feelings and needs. Dependency on others spawns attempts to control them to feel better, rather than to initiate effective action. But when other people don’t do what we want, we feel angry, victimized, unappreciated or uncared for, and powerless — unable to be agents of change for ourselves. Dependency also leads to fear of a confrontation. We prefer to not “rock the boat” and jeopardize the relationship. With poor boundaries and communication skills, we don’t express our needs and feeling, or do so ineffectively. Hence, we’re unable to protect ourselves or get what we want and need. In sum, we become angry and resentful, because we:

  1. Expect other people to make us happy, and they don’t.
  2. Agree to things we don’t want to.
  3. Have undisclosed expectations of other people.
  4. Fear confrontation.
  5. Deny or devalue our needs and thus don’t get them met.
  6. Try to control people and things, over which we have no authority.
  7. Ask for things in nonassertive, counterproductive ways; i.e., hinting, blaming, nagging, accusing.
  8. Don’t set boundaries to stop abuse or behavior we don’t want.
  9. Deny reality, and therefore,
    Trust and rely on people proven to be untrustworthy and unreliable.
    Want people to meet our needs who have shown that they won’t or can’t.
    Despite the facts and repeated disappointments, maintain hope and try to change others.
    Stay in relationships although we continue to be disappointed or abused.

Mismanaging Anger

When we can’t manage anger, it can overwhelm us. How we react is influenced by our innate temperament and early family environment. Thus, different people react differently. Codependents don’t know how to handle their anger. Some explode, criticize, blame, or say hurtful things they later regret. Others hold it in and say nothing in. They please or withdraw to avoid conflict, but stockpile resentments. Yet anger always finds a way. Codependency can lead to being passive-aggressive, where anger comes out indirectly with sarcasm, grumpiness, irritability, silence, or through behavior, such as cold looks, slamming doors, forgetting, withholding, being late, even cheating.

If we’re in denial of our anger, we don’t allow ourselves to feel it or even mentally acknowledge it. We may not realize we’re angry for days, weeks, years after an event. All of these difficulties with anger are due to poor role models growing up. Learning to manage anger should be taught in childhood, but our parents lacked skills to handle their own anger maturely, and therefore were unable to pass them on. If one or both parents are aggressive or passive, we would copy one or the other parent. If we’re taught not to raise our voice, told not to feel angry, or were scolded for expressing it, we learned to suppress it. Some of us fear we’ll turn into the aggressive parent we grew up with. Many people believe it’s not Christian, nice, or spiritual to be angry and they feel guilty when they are.

The truth is that anger is a normal, healthy reaction when our needs aren’t met, our boundaries are violated, or our trust is broken. Anger has to move. It’s a powerful energy that requires expression and sometimes action to correct a wrong. It needn’t be loud or hurtful. Most codependents are afraid their anger will hurt or even destroy someone they love. Not necessarily so. Correctly handled, it can improve a relationship.

Anger and Depression

Sometimes anger hurts us most of all. Mark Twain wrote, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Anger can contribute to ill health and chronic illness. Stressful emotions wear down the body’s immune and nervous systems and its ability to repair and replenish itself. Stress-related symptoms include heart disease (high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, digestive and sleep disorders, headaches, muscle tension and pain, obesity, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, TMJ, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Unexpressed anger breeds resentment or gets turned against ourselves. It’s been said that depression is anger turned inward. Examples are guilt and shame, forms of self-hatred that when excessive, lead to depression.

Expressing Anger Effectively

Managing our anger is essential to success in work and relationships. The first step is acknowledging it and recognizing how it manifests in our body. Identify the physical signs of anger, usually tension and/or heat. Slow your breath and bring it into your belly to calm you. Take time out to cool-off.

Repeating gripes or arguments in our mind is a sign of resentment or “re-sent” anger. Admitting we’re angry, followed by acceptance, prepares us for a constructive response. Anger may signal deeper feelings or hidden pain, unmet needs, or that action is required. Sometimes, resentment is fueled by unresolved guilt. To overcome guilt and self-blame, see Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness.

Understanding our reaction to anger includes discovering our beliefs and attitudes about it and what have influenced their formation. Next, we should examine and identify what triggers our anger. If we frequently over-react and view others’ actions as hurtful, it’s a sign of shaky self-worth. When we raise our self-esteem and heal internalized shame, we won’t over-react, but are able to respond to anger in a productive and assertive manner. To learn assertiveness skills, read the examples in How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits, and write out scripts and practice the role plays in How to Be Assertive.

In the heat of anger, we may overlook our contribution to the event or that we owe an apology. Acknowledging our part can help us learn and improve our relationships.
Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone or accept bad behavior. It means that we’ve let go of our anger and resentment. Praying for the other person can help us find forgiveness. Read “The Challenge of Forgiveness.”

Working with a counselor is an effective way to learn to manage anger and communicate it effectively.

©Darlene Lancer 2017

Janet Singer <![CDATA[OCD, Worry, and Uncertainty — Then and Now]]> 2017-02-13T20:04:07Z 2017-02-17T15:02:39Z ]]> pexels-photoWhen I was a junior in college almost forty years ago, I spent the year studying abroad in England. Going overseas for college at that time wasn’t like it is now. No organized programs with groups; just go on your own, and find your way. And that’s just what I did. I had no cell phone, no computer, no email. No way except good ol’ fashioned snail mail to communicate with my friends and family back home. If urgent, my parents could contact someone at the university I was attending, but it would be an ordeal to track me down, and clearly would only be done in a bona fide emergency.

Over the years, as our own children have traveled the world, my friends and I have often wondered how our parents survived the uncertainty that surely came with this lack of communication. At least we have cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, Skype, and more to keep us in contact with our children, to make sure they’re where they should be, and that they’re okay. How much easier it is now than it was back then to be certain all is well.
But is it really? Surely, all this connecting might give us some peace of mind, but as we know, certainty is an elusive thing. We don’t really know for sure that all is well, or will continue to be well. And all this communication can backfire. “She sounded sad on the phone.” “I didn’t like the way he looked on Skype.” “Why is she on Facebook now when she’s supposed to be out with her friends?” Increased communication can be fodder for our worries, perpetuating that need for certainty that we crave. It’s so easy to worry now, because we have so much to worry about; we are constantly being fed new material.

What my parents needed to do back then was accept the uncertainty of not knowing what was going on with me, and just believe that I’d be okay. They had no other way to get through that year intact. In other words, they needed to learn to trust the universe. As author Jeff Bell says in When in Doubt, Make Belief, “Choose to see the universe as friendly.” This is a conscious choice, and something that is not always easy to do; but it’s necessary, I believe, for good mental health.

Maybe with this surge in our capacity to connect with one another and have access to all kinds of information, we have somehow lost the ability, or need, to believe in the universe. We allow ourselves to get caught up in worry over little things (such as our child’s facial expression on Skype). Of course this issue is a major one for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also something almost everyone can relate to on some level. We need to do what my parents, and certainly those who came before them, were forced to do: focus on the big picture and have faith that everything will be okay.

Shaun O' Connor <![CDATA[Is Depersonalization Disorder a Form of Enlightenment?]]> 2017-02-14T19:39:36Z 2017-02-16T15:02:36Z ]]> Happy celebrating winning success woman at sunset or sunrise staIn Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now he describes the moment when he became “enlightened”. It happened when he was a graduate student living in a bedsit in a suburb of London. Lying in bed one night, Tolle had a sudden out-of-body experience and what he would later come to interpret as a kind of divine awakening. As this article from The Guardian puts it: “He underwent a cataclysmic and terrifying spiritual experience that erased his former identity.”

And as Tolle himself recounts: “The nightmare became unbearable and that triggered the separation of consciousness from its identification with form. I woke up and suddenly realized myself as the I Am and that was deeply peaceful.”

Cases like Tolle’s sudden enlightenment are considered very rare in the Buddhist tradition. Typically, it’s something that monks train for years, even decades to attain and the intense practice involved is designed specifically to train and strengthen the mind. Enlightenment brings with it such massive and shocking realizations about the nature of self that to suddenly get there without years of training could, in theory, cause a person to be utterly overwhelmed.

Curiously, aside from his recounting of it being ‘deeply peaceful’, much of Tolle’s description seems to closely resemble the experience of sudden-onset Depersonalization. This condition is described as:

“a detachment within the self, regarding one’s mind or body, or being a detached observer of oneself. Subjects feel they have changed and that the world has become vague, dreamlike, less real, or lacking in significance. It can be a disturbing experience.”

Most people will experience depersonalization (DP) at some point in their lives; it is part of the brain’s natural defense mechanism and kicks in at times of intense trauma. Typically it is temporary and dissipates quickly of its own accord. But for some people, it can continue beyond the instance of trauma itself and become a chronic and ongoing condition.

As somebody who suffered with chronic DP for almost two years, I can vouch for the description of it being a “disturbing experience”. In fact, that’s putting it lightly. The feeling of being stuck in a dream state, behind a pane of glass with no way to navigate oneself back to reality, was a living nightmare. And chronic DP is extremely common — an estimated 1 in 50 people suffer from it on an ongoing basis.

So why is there is still a general lack of awareness of the condition in the medical community?

Well, unless you’re already familiar with the condition, it can be very difficult to describe and define. It therefore tends to get lumped by doctors into diagnoses of “general anxiety” or “dysphoria” and treated with antidepressants. This is in spite of the fact that young people are experiencing depersonalization more and more because of the popularity of stronger strains of weed (one of the most common triggers of chronic DP.)

DP’s relative intangibility as a condition often causes it to be interpreted in unusually abstract ways. There’s a popular theory that depersonalization is actually a form of enlightenment — that the sudden feelings of dissociation are related to the endgame of years of spiritual pursuit. Look on depersonalization forums online you will see this debated ad nauseum — people are frantically trying to make sense of their experience and wondering if what they are experiencing is some sort of ‘inverted enlightenment’.

It’s certainly a fascinating proposal — but here’s the problem with it:

Depersonalization is caused and perpetuated by anxiety.

Away from conjecture in online discussions, this is borne out by both scientific and anecdotal evidence. It can be brought on by various factors (a car crash / death of a loved one / bad drug trip / panic attack / PTSD, etc.) but they are all essentially traumatic experiences. Also, people recover from chronic DP all the time, invariably by addressing the underlying anxiety that’s causing it.

If we look at DP as a standalone disorder, without the spiritual connotations mentioned above, it’s actually quite a simple condition. When the brain perceives intense danger it flicks the DP switch on so that the individual won’t be incapacitated with fear and can extricate themselves from the situation. That’s why there are so many accounts of people exiting car crashes and burning buildings with no recollection of doing so. The anxiety and DP then (typically) dissipates naturally.

But it doesn’t always. If the DP is caused by a something non-physical (panic attack, bad drug trip, PTSD, etc.) the mind may not be able to ascribe the feeling to a specific visible cause. The person then focuses on the frightening feelings of unreality. This caused them to panic more, which increases the anxiety and depersonalization. This feedback loop can go on for days, months, years — and the result is chronic Depersonalization Disorder.

At one point during my time with DP, I fully convinced myself that it must be some form of inverted enlightenment. The problem is that at various times I was also convinced that it was:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Insomnia
  • Brain Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pychosis
  • Living in a dream
  • Purgatory

…etc., etc.

And in the context of my eventual recovery, each of those interpretations was just as useless as thinking it was enlightenment. Enlightenment seems to carry more weight because it’s the only interpretation that contains some sort of spiritual meaning, but that doesn’t make it any more valid.

What’s more likely — that 1 in 50 people are being struck down with unsolicited ‘enlightenment’ and that that number is increasing with time? Or that it’s a form of chronic anxiety that’s becoming more common because of drug use? All the evidence points to the latter.

Because of the confusion and intense introspection that depersonalization generates, the sufferer often jumps to far-fetched conclusions about the condition. But the truth is that depersonalization is no more linked to enlightenment than, say, sweaty palms or a raised heart rate. They’re just symptoms of anxiety. That’s all.

So what is the connection between Tolle’s experience and the experience of so many sufferers of chronic DP?

I would say that outside of the ‘suddenness’ and ‘detachment’ of both experiences, they actually have very little, if anything, in common and the categorization of DP as some sort of spontaneous spiritual awakening is at best, highly dubious.

As psychiatrist and depersonalization specialist Daphne Simeon writes: “People suffering from depersonalization disorder don’t appear at a doctor’s or psychiatrist’s office to explore mysticism, philosophy, or the deep blue sea. They make the appointment because they are in pain.”

Depersonalization disorder is caused by trauma, panic attacks and drug use — people get it every day and recover from it every day, and it’s becoming more and more common. We need to raise common-sense awareness of this crippling condition, and not ascribe to it a spiritual credence that it simply doesn’t warrant.

Peter Mueller <![CDATA[Ways to Get Involved in Your Child’s Life, Post-Divorce]]> 2017-02-13T19:54:22Z 2017-02-15T15:05:09Z ]]> baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369One of the greatest challenges after divorce is finding ways to spend enough time with your kids. This is especially true for fathers — a census report shows that just 1 in 6 custodial parents are dads.

That means there are a lot of fathers who don’t live with their kids — and according to a Pew Research Center study, this could deeply impact the relationship between father and child. The amount of time a father spends with his children drops substantially if the dad is living in a different home than his kids post-divorce. The findings from Pew Research Center show that while as many as 93% of live-in dads report talking with a child about a child’s day, or having a meal with their child, that figure drops to 31% and 16% for fathers living apart from their children.

Luckily, there are many ways in which single parents can go beyond live-in arrangements, in order to spend time with their children in a post-divorce setting. Living separately from your children simply means you’ll have to find new and creative ways to spend quality time together, and play an influential role in their lives.

Get Involved in Their Schooling

Single parent or not, it’s always important to be invested in your child’s education. A Center for Public Education survey found that two-thirds of American teachers felt their students would do better if parents were more involved in their education.

One of the easiest ways to get involved in your child’s schooling is to help with homework. The Pew Research Center study found that only 1 in 10 fathers living apart from their children help with, or ask about, their child’s schoolwork. With school being such a big part of your child’s life, it’s a natural place where you can get more involved.

There are various ways to become more involved in your children’s schooling, based on their ages. For preschool and primary school children, activities such as reading storybooks, supervising at lunchtime, and volunteering on field trips can be flexible, to fit with your existing schedule. For older children, consider volunteering yourself to help with a school sports program, tutoring, or giving a career talk. While getting hands-on in the classroom is a great option for young kids, volunteering for after-school events can be a less invasive way to show your children that you’re invested — especially as they enter what could potentially be tumultuous teenage years.

Volunteer with their Extracurriculars

After going through a divorce, it’s important for your children to have support as they move forward in their lives; this often means participating in new, or continuing extracurricular activities. As a single parent, you should play a role in making this happen. This is especially important for fathers, since during marriage, mothers were usually the ones who took on the most child care and supervision — about 12.9 hours a week, almost double the 6.5 hours of fathers.

Getting involved in the activities and hobbies your child loves is a great opportunity to connect, and spend time together. Find out if there’s some way you can volunteer with one of your child’s activities. Most extracurriculars offer plenty of ways for parents to help out — in fact, 3 in 10 parents of school-aged children have reported playing an active role in coaching a sport or athletic activity. Whether it’s becoming a Boy Scouts leader, coach of a sports team, or supervising a playground visit, volunteering in extracurriculars is a great way to stay connected with your child’s life. Just make sure your child and your ex are okay with your involvement!

Don’t Be Defined by Gender Norms

One of the most damaging things a parent (divorced or not) can do is to reinforce gender confines, with the concept that one set of tasks should be delegated to the mother, and the other set to the father. There should be no such thing as a “mom activity” and a “dad activity.” Does your child need someone to help with a woodshop project? Or, sewing a costume for the upcoming school play? Don’t shy away from helping, simply because you believe this is a job for the other parent.

In November 2016, an excellent video began circulating the web about a place called Daddy Daughter Hair Factory. It profiles Phil, a single father living in Florida, who didn’t let gender norms impact the quality time he spends with his daughter — and started teaching classes to help other single dads learn how to do their daughter’s hair. The next time your child needs help with a project or task, and you find yourself thinking it’s not a “dad job,” ask yourself: Why can’t I help with this? What’s stopping me? You may discover yet another unique way to spend quality time with your kids, and expand your own horizons as a parent, at the same time!

Plan a Vacation Away

Taking a small vacation together is a wonderful way to relax, and spend extra quality time with your child. If your divorce has provisions allowing you to take a trip with your child, hit the road for a weekend full of quality bonding.

Planning a road trip is a terrific opportunity to spend more time with your children; and the impact of that vacation will reach far beyond just the time you’re traveling. In the time spent with your child in the weeks leading up to the trip, make plans together and talk about the exciting places you want to visit. The road trip itself will be an excellent opportunity to make new memories, plus plenty of laughs playing road trip games in the car. Remember, there’s always value in family vacations, even if your family looks a little different now than it did before.

Take an Interest in Their Interests — and Vice Versa

Children are complex individuals, who develop their own interests and passions as they grow — make a point to explore what those passions are, and get interested yourself. Spend some time reflecting on your child’s hobbies, and the next time he or she is heading off to have fun, ask if you can tag along. You might join your child searching for insects in the forest, flying remote control helicopters in the yard, or building with Lego blocks on the floor of her bedroom. Your children will never forget the feeling of sharing some of their favorite pastimes with their dad.

On the flipside, if you’re a fishing enthusiast or a knitting fanatic, consider introducing your kids to your own passions and perhaps teaching them a brand new skill. Sharing hobbies with your child has been shown to increase their sense of self esteem and leadership skills. If your child doesn’t fall in love with your favorite activity, don’t sweat it — the fact that you tried exploring the hobby together is what matters. Try another activity next time; or maybe find one neither of you has done before, and enjoy the thrill of being beginners together.

While all parents can heed this advice, divorced parents should pay special attention, as the fear of parental absence can be especially high for children after a divorce. Even if your children seem to be adjusting well after you and your ex have split, make a point to find extra ways to show your kids that you’re there for them, no matter what. There’s no harm in becoming more invested and involved in your child’s life — in fact, it will likely make for a healthier and richer childhood for your young one, and a stronger relationship between you.

Suzanne Kane <![CDATA[Dealing with Pain]]> 2017-02-13T19:52:00Z 2017-02-14T15:10:47Z ]]>

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell

pexels-photoIt’s never easy to deal with pain. It doesn’t matter whether the pain is physical or emotional, what you feel is real. It hurts. You want it to stop. You try everything you can to get some relief. Sometimes your efforts pay off, while other times, they don’t. How can you effectively deal with pain so that you can have a little peace? Interestingly, according to some pain experts, much relief comes from psychological origins.

This sounds a lot like mind over matter and, in a way, it is. While it’s hard to imagine that getting your mind to a place where you don’t feel pain is possible, medical doctors and psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners, as well as meditation experts say it’s true. You can engage in mindful meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, prayer and other practices that can help you short-circuit the pain — at least for a while.

Looking at the Joseph Campbell quote about finding the joy inside and allowing that to ease your pain is a wonderful way of looking at meditation. Consider how this might play out in everyday life with this example.

Dealing with mounting stress and a confluence of negative events

You’ve had an incredibly stressful day. Things didn’t go well at work and you’re behind on a critical project. You didn’t have time to stop at the grocery store and the refrigerator is bare. There’s nothing for dinner. You’ve got a raging headache and the kids are fighting the minute you open the door. Not only that but your back is acting up again from an old injury. You just want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your face to try to block everything out. What can you do?

While it’s next to impossible to find any moments of peace with a busy household, if it’s at all possible, ask your spouse, partner, friend or neighbor to take over duties for a short while so you can do something proactive to deal with your pain.

  • Find a place that’s quiet — go for a walk, take a relaxing bath, sit in church or a spot in your garden.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Center in on some joyful memory or place.
  • Put yourself there and fully feel and experience what you see, hear and the emotions you feel.
  • Breathe in and out deeply.
  • Hold this feeling of joy and allow it to spread throughout your body.
  • Feel your pain dissipating as you relax and let go of all the toxic stress that’s built up.
  • Remain in this meditative state for at least 10-15 minutes.

Will this work the first time out? Probably not to the extent that you want, but with practice you will be able to mitigate the pain — emotional and/or physical — and find some surcease of the torment. After meditating (or praying, finding solace in nature, etc.) you can return to your duties and responsibilities feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Another way to look at it is that everybody needs a little me-time and this is an excellent way to do just that.

Dealing with emotional and chronic pain

What about unrelenting emotional pain or devastating chronic pain? Can meditation somehow help? Again, the ancient practice offers the promise of solace in this instance as well. Mindfulness meditation, one of the many forms of meditation, helps by bringing awareness to what we’re feeling and to the overall state of our body, mind and heart. As Jon Kabbat Zinn says, “Awareness transforms emotional pain just as it transforms the pain that we attribute more to the domain of body sensations.”

In fact, mindfulness meditation has been shown modulate pain to the point where there is no pain – even when feeling the same amount of pain. The practitioners in this study used a form of mindfulness meditation known as Shamatha or focused attention.

Other ways to deal with pain

Of course, meditation isn’t the only way to deal with pain. Some suggestions of the best ways to counteract or cope with pain include:

  • Waiting it out. Since much pain only lasts a short amount of time, hang in there and get through it.
  • Put distraction to good use. Getting your mind off the pain will not only help you cope, it may be enough to get you past the pain you feel.
  • Check out pain support groups. Who better to understand pain than others who’ve experienced it or are still feeling pain? This form of networking shows you that you’re not alone and offers the type of support and encouragement pain sufferers often need and welcome.
  • Make it a point to employ other remedies. There are many ways to mitigate pain, including deep breathing, yoga, exercise, eliminating alcohol and drugs from your life, engaging in biofeedback, taking walks in nature, prayer, pursuing a hobby you enjoy.

Adopting a hopeful mindset

With all the various techniques and methods to deal with pain, perhaps nothing is more important than attitude. Here’s where adopting a hopeful mindset can make an enormous difference. Instead of wallowing in pain, constantly thinking about pain, feeling anxiety and depression about it, embrace hope. It is possible to find your way through pain, to help lessen its effects and reclaim your ability to enjoy life. Even if there are some tradeoffs that must be made, life is precious. You deserve every opportunity to enjoy it to the fullest. To the extent that you cultivate hope, the more successful in this endeavor you’re likely to be.

Janet Singer <![CDATA[OCD and Black-and-White Thinking]]> 2017-02-14T18:22:15Z 2017-02-13T19:50:02Z ]]> Speaking TogetherObsessive-compulsive disorder is often accompanied by some cognitive distortions, which are basically inaccurate beliefs that usually make us feel badly about ourselves. One of the more common cognitive distortions that might occur with OCD is known as black-and-white (or polarized) thinking. When my son Dan was dealing with OCD but could still drive, this type of thinking was obvious. If he went 25 mph in a 35 mph zone and the driver behind him honked his horn, Dan was convinced he must be the worst driver in the world. Not a good driver who was going too slowly, but the worst driver ever. No gray, just black-and-white. Sometimes a humorous comment from me would make him see how ridiculous this thinking was, but more often than not, this is what he believed.

When I think of OCD and black-and-white thinking, the two really do make a perfect pair. One of the driving forces behind OCD is the need to know with absolute certainty that nothing bad is going to happen. What a perfect example of black-and-white thinking: Either I am 100% sure that I (and/or those I care about) am completely safe, or I am definitely in great danger. No gray, nothing in between.

But as we know, that’s not how the world works. We live in a world of gray. Dan is a really good driver who goes too slowly sometimes. We try to be safe, but accidents happen. Usually these accidents are no big deal, but sometimes they are. It’s unlikely, but they might even be catastrophic. Our world is uncertain.

Like plants in a greenhouse, OCD thrives on black-and-white thinking, and this cognitive distortion can even sabotage the treatment and recovery of the person with OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, by its very nature, is slow and tedious and often fraught with setbacks. A person with OCD who thinks in black-and-white might conclude: “I’m a complete failure at ERP Therapy because I gave in to my compulsions today. What’s the use? I’m never going to get better. I shouldn’t even bother fighting.” Because of this tendency toward black-and-white thinking, it is important for those with OCD to understand the difference between a lapse and a relapse as they pursue treatment. This knowledge could significantly impact their long-term prognosis.

I believe that for Dan, just being made aware of black-and-white thinking and his tendency toward it was extremely helpful. That’s just one of the many reasons to connect with a therapist who is experienced in treating OCD. He or she can help you understand and address cognitive distortions (as well as get rid of them) through the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This understanding is an important component of therapy and recovery from OCD. Indeed, all of us, whether we have OCD or not, could likely benefit from being able to think in shades of gray. The world is not black-and-white and once we are able to accept this fact, we can move forward and not only accept, but embrace, the uncertainty in our lives.

Jennifer Artesani, M.Ed., LMHC <![CDATA[How to (NOT) Give Advice]]> 2017-02-08T19:51:43Z 2017-02-09T15:10:09Z ]]> Gossip and controversyWe want to solve things. Puzzles, riddles, math problems and other peoples’ problems in life. When people come to us with a problem, it is almost instinctual to attempt to solve it. This is due to us wanting to help as well as our desire to solve problems. When we ourselves are not experiencing the problem, we actually have an advantage of seeing different perspectives and finding solutions more easily then the person experiencing it. So when others come to us to talk about a problem why do they seem to not want our “good” advice?

Try to think of the last time you were upset and wanted to talk about it. Did you want someone to solve your problem for you so you could be done with it, or did you want to vent about it and feel that your feelings were validated? Typically when others begin to vent to us about an issue, they generally want to let it out and feel validated. We do not usually take the advice of others (no matter how thoughtful it is) because we like being in control, especially when it comes to our own lives.

So what do we do when someone comes to us with an issue? This article will provide easy to follow steps of how to handle situations in which others “ask for advice.”

Ask Questions

Examples are useful so let’s start with one. Your friend comes to you and says they are unhappy with their job and they do not know what to do. If you were giving advice you might say “find a new job” “go back to school” or “you’re just having a bad week; you love your job.” While these are all possible solutions we did not really find out what our friend is thinking or feeling.

When others come to us with a problem the first step is to ask questions. Find out why they are having this problem and how they feel. If we asked a question such as, “what about your job do you feel unhappy with?” we could gain more information about the problem. They might say, “well I love what I do, but I do not like my hours.” If we had told them to, “go back to school and find a new career,” we would have accidentally given them advice that they would not have wanted. Their issue is not the job itself but the hours.

Now that we have more information we still do not want to solve their problem for them. We can keep asking questions to help them talk it out until they find their own solution. Try asking questions like “what kind of hours would you like?” and “does your career type typically have hours that you would like?” Our job is not to solve their problem, but we can help guide them to exploring the answers they already have just by asking them questions. They may not find their solution in that moment, but they will feel heard and validated when you show in interest in them by asking questions.

Explore Positive Qualities

Another tip to (not) giving advice is to mention positive qualities about the person. Let’s say our friend comes up to us and discusses their concerns about whether or not they should ask for a raise at work. Instead of telling them whether or not they should do it and how to do it we may want to start with building their confidence and letting them find their own way that they feel comfortable with. They understand themselves and their boss/work environment better than we do so they would really have the best solution for themselves. We could point out their positive qualities such as “I know you’re a very hard worker” or “you’ve been there for a while and seem great at taking on new responsibilities”. We have to be careful with giving them advice here because if we tell them to ask for the raise and it goes badly they may become upset with us. We want to be there for those we care about but we want to make sure when it comes to their life decisions we are putting the ball in their court. We can also use those questions we talked about earlier such as asking “when was your last raise?” or “what kind of mood does your boss seem in lately?”. These questions will help them reflect on the situation and guide them towards making a decision.

Discuss Possible Solutions

A tricky area of giving advice is the chance we take in accidentally shooting down a solution they have already come up with. If they state a problem to us we should start with asking more questions and mentioning their positive qualities. This gives them a chance to tell us what possible solutions they are thinking of. This technique can stop us from accidentally giving them a solution that goes against the solutions they have in mind. Imagine your friend tells you they are having problems with their spouse. They go into stories about how bad it is getting. We may start giving them advice on how to get out of the relationship or how they can do so much better. But what if they are leaving out the part that they do not want to leave them? By telling them to leave we may actually push our friend away from us because now they think we have a negative view of their spouse and their relationship. Love advice can be the trickiest of them all. The safe bet is to ask questions such as “what do you want to do?” or “what would staying with them feel like for you and what would leaving them feel like for you?”. By asking them about multiple options you are forcing them to think about the possible solutions rather than putting you in an uncomfortable situation in which you feel you need to make an opinion on the situation.

Sharing Similarities

When others tell us an issue or situation they are struggling with we often times will tell them about a time we went through something similar. This can be a helpful way to normalize what they are going through and help them to not feel alone. However, this is also a tricky area as there is a fine line between sharing to help them and making the story about yourself rather than them. When sharing similarities with someone we want to ask ourselves if we are sharing it to help them feel less isolated or to share our story because we want to talk about it. We all need time to vent and their story may have brought something up for you that you now want to share. However, this is not your time. We need to let others have their moment. By letting them have their moment we open the doors to having a relationship with them in which when we need to share they will be there for us as well. So if you’ve decided you are sharing because you think it will help them feel less isolated here are some simple rules to follow. Wait until they are done sharing and then make sure to focus on them by asking questions. Then share your story but keep it short and inform them as to why you are sharing it. Let them know you want them to know they are not alone. Inform them as to what solution you did in your situation and how it helped or hurt you but that this was the solution for yourself and they will need to find one that is specific and right for them. Make sure you do not make them feel that your solution is the right one for everyone. You are simply offering a perspective.

Offer Options

Sometimes others will literally ask us, “what would you do or what should I do?” We need to be careful here. They are asking for advice but we still have the option to not give them direct advice. Instead we can offer options. Offering options allows us to help them but without locking us into giving them a solution that they may not like or that they use and then it backfires. Let’s use an example to help. Your friend might ask you what you would do or what they should do in regards to whether or not they should quit their job. Unless you will be able to cover their bills you should not be making this choice for them. So try offering them possible options and asking them what seems right for them (this way they are in charge of making the decision and the choice is on them). You may tell them what you would do by stating it in a way like this “I’ve always practiced the rule of finding another job before quitting”. You’re not telling them what do but you are telling them something that you believe or that has worked out for you in the past. Also, instead of offering advice you can offer help. You could tell them if they do decide to quit you will help them with their resume. You did not tell them to quit you simply offered help if they decide to do so.

Steps to Not Giving Advice

Let’s break this down into simple steps to remember. When others ask for advice DO NOT GIVE THEM ADVICE. Instead try these steps:

  • Ask them Questions about the Problem and their Feelings
  • Point out Positive Qualities about them to build their confidence in decision making
  • Share Stories only to offer a perspective or help them feel they are not alone
  • Do Not make the story about yourself
  • Offer Options
  • Offer Help with the solution THEY decide.

The next time someone comes to you with a problem try to keep in mind they may not be looking for advice but simply to share their story with someone. Ask questions, validate their feelings, and mention positive qualities to boost confidence. Only share a personal story if it will be helpful but keep it short. Offer options or support but do not give them a clear cut solution with the belief or expectation that they should follow it or that it’s the only solution.

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW <![CDATA[Would Confidentiality Be an Issue If You Saw Your Podiatrist in Public?]]> 2017-02-06T20:39:37Z 2017-02-07T15:10:18Z ]]> Businessman Hiding From The PublicThis morning while standing in the front office of the counseling practice where I see clients, a woman came to the window, to fill out paperwork for her intake assessment. She wasn’t scheduled to see me, but exclaimed with delight that she knew me from Facebook and through mutual friends. I assured her that if I happened to see her in a social setting I wouldn’t acknowledge that I had met her face to face in the office. She smiled and said that if she ran into a doctor who might be treating foot problems, it wouldn’t be a big deal, so why do we place such constraints on mental health treatment? She wondered why there is such a stigma attached to seeking treatment in the first place when most people wouldn’t feel embarrassed to see a medical professional if there was a physiological need.

Mental health conditions are common among the adult population in this country. Per NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness), “One in 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In addition to a person’s directly experiencing a mental illness, family, friends and communities are also affected.”

Who You See Here, What Is Said Here, When You Leave Here, Let It Stay Here

I have a colleague who declines seeing clients who live in his town, since he wants to avoid running into them in a supermarket. I am aware that we live in such tight knit communities and are part of what I refer to as ‘overlapping soul circles,’ that there is a strong likelihood that I will see clients, former clients and potential clients in public. I have had that experience and when my son was young and I didn’t introduce him to those who approached me, since I would have otherwise, and said hello, he would respond with, “That person knows you from work, right, mom?” My response was always, “Can’t confirm or deny,” to which he would nod knowingly.

HIPAA laws were enacted to protect confidentiality within treatment protocol, as well as the fact that the person is in therapy. Licensed clinicians are not permitted to approach clients, have dual relationships (business interactions or friendships) with them or introduce them to other clients for personal or professional affiliation.

Dual Relationships fall into various categories such as social, professional, institutional and communal.  Each one carries with it the chance for boundary crossings or violations to occur. An ethical clinician will be mindful of ways to avoid such hazards.

One example:  A licensed therapist was working with a client in an outpatient substance abuse treatment program. Addressing the impact of multiple addictions were what brought him to therapy sessions. Shortly after beginning treatment, the therapist discovered that the client had begun to attend services at the faith community to which she belonged. When they spoke about it in session, she made it clear that she would not approach him, nor acknowledge where she knew him. He told her that this was acceptable to him and he was at ease with her acknowledging at least that they knew each other. He later chose to inform friends there that she was his therapist. The situation became uncomfortable for the clinician when they happened to encounter each other in a social setting that was not connected with the church. Before they had mutually agreed that he was ready to complete therapy, he had informed her that he had been maintaining sobriety and attending 12 step meetings, but arrived at the party with alcohol.  She spoke with him about that when he approached her and he admitted that he had been drinking and using again. She shared her concern that if he did indulge to the degree he had before, that he might leave the party intoxicated and drive home. That put her in a difficult position. He chose not to drink and left the alcohol there when he left the party a few hours later.

Another:  A therapist had attended a singles event in the home of a member of a meet-up. She had been speaking with three other attendees while standing in the kitchen. Two of the men walked back into the living room while one remained. He informed her that she had been on his treatment team in the psychiatric hospital where he had voluntarily sought care following a relationship breakup a year or so earlier. The therapist later expressed to friends that she felt a sense of discomfort and was not able to remain at the gathering much longer, where group games were going to take place, since she didn’t want to reveal much of a personal nature as she might otherwise.

Mental Illness in The Media: When Art Imitates Life

How does the media play into the stigma attached to mental health issues? Sensationalizing mental illness occurs in print, broadcast and theatrical media. Headlines that scream stories about the violent and unpredictable acts of those with distressing symptoms reinforce the myth that mental illness = destruction and danger. Movies that show the dark recesses of the minds of those whose lives are rendered unmanageable bring in the crowds. Some of them also misrepresent the treatment process with clinicians who run either of end of the professional spectrum; either they are over the top wonderful or horrendously manipulative and unsuited for their careers; using their own needs to supersede those of their clients/patients.

Shame is also a reason why people wish to remain anonymous in treatment. Somehow the idea that the brain needs care is an anathema, while reaching out for care of a cold or diabetes is acceptable in most cultures. A sense of weakness and ineptitude are part and parcel of a mental health diagnosis. A feeling of being broken or less valuable than those whose lives are on an even plane.

Ways to Push Back the Rising Tide of Shame

  • Realize that the line between mental health and mental illness can be paper thin and anyone could cross it at any time for a variety of reasons circumstantial, environmental, genetic or a combination of the three.
  • We don’t always know the struggles of another. Unless someone’s symptoms are obvious, it may seem that someone who is high functioning has no mental health diagnosis. Daniel Kaye has a responsible job to which he goes each day. He is happily married and has a precocious teenage son. He has many friends and is a published author. Unless you could see the man behind the curtain, you would never know that anxiety and depression were regular companions. He writes and speaks regularly and unabashedly about his experiences.
  • Accept that we are body-mind-spirit beings and sometimes find ourselves in crisis in any or all those realms and need support to heal and recover.
  • Know that recovery is possible. A client recently asked his therapist if she had ever seen someone who struggled as much as he did who rebounded. She assured them that she had.
  • Seek support, both personal and professional. You need not go it alone.
  • If you are a survivor of trauma, whether it is because of abuse or another life event, you may recognize that it wasn’t your fault and that you never need carry the acts of another perpetrated upon you.

Remember that you are no more your mental health diagnoses than you are that bunion on your toe to which you are hightailing it over to your foot doctor who now knows your shoe size.

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. <![CDATA[5 Benefits of Wintertime Family Time]]> 2017-02-06T18:33:39Z 2017-02-06T18:33:10Z ]]> bigstock--150802607 Poet T.S. Elliot may have said that April is the cruelest month but I have to disagree. At least where I live in New England, February is the worst. It may have the least amount of days but it seems to have the most amount of dreariness. We are often house-bound due to a wintry mix of sleet and rain, extreme cold or outright snowstorms. On such days, it’s neither appealing nor wise to spend much time outdoors — even for the most enthusiastic enthusiasts of winter sports. The term “cabin fever” gains new meaning, especially when the household includes young children.

The antidote, for parents and kids alike, is indoor family play. Yes, play. Being trapped inside doesn’t have to feel like a trap. It can be an opportunity to get to know our children better, to be closer as a family and to model that gloomy weather doesn’t have to mean gloomy people. Instead, family fun time can be fun for everyone. It can relieve the relentlessness of winter. It can lighten the mood of the adults, foster a sense of security and belonging for the kids and give everyone in the family the chance to experience the joy that comes from being part of the clan.

Playing on video games doesn’t count — unless family members are working together to defeat the game. Although organized activities on weekends or after school can get kids active and can help them develop social skills or creative talents, they don’t foster family togetherness. On a practical level, such scheduled activities aren’t likely to be available exactly when you and your kids are feeling cooped up on a gray February morning.

There’s a saying: “The family that plays together stays together”.  Don’t underestimate the importance of fun as a family. February (or any time we’re housebound) may make it less possible to send the kids out to the yard or park but it makes it more possible for families to reap the many benefits of playing together.

5 Benefits of Family Playtime

  1. Parents who play with their kids enjoy parenting more than parents who don’t. Let’s face it: Parenting is often hard work. It’s physically exhausting and mentally challenging. Just when you have parenting a two year old figured out, the kid turns three. The interests and tastes of young children keep changing. Adolescents confuse us and confound us with their “go away but pay attention to me” behaviors.Being silly together, getting on the floor to tussle, making clay sculptures, finger painting, or playing a friendly competitive card game lets us get involved with our children on a different, and positive, level.
  2. Fun time as a family brings everyone closer. Families that laugh and enjoy each other develop a sense of belonging and loyalty. Relationships between the siblings, between the parents and the kids, and even among extended family members get stronger. Fun times together help create a positive family identity. A collective bank of positive family memories can help family members cope when the inevitable challenges and even the tragedies of life come around.
  3. Playfulness fosters imagination. In a goal oriented world, we can forget that allowing for imagination, creativity and a little healthy distraction also has value. Fun time means it’s okay to be distracted. Cleaning a closet can be an archeological dig. Who knows what is lurking back there? Little kids may want to fool around with the hats or clomp around in the shoes. It’s okay. You can always finish the job after they are in bed.
  4. Members of families who laugh together tend to be happier and healthier. Sharing a good joke, as long as it is not at anyone’s expense, just plain feels good. Laughing together relaxes and connects everyone. It can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, boost the immune system, trigger those feel-good hormones called endorphins, lower blood pressure, protect oldsters’ hearts and even help us all live longer.  Researchers are finding that there is truth to the old saying: “Laughter is the best medicine”. It may not be the “best” medicine, but it sure seems to help.
  5. Play contributes to everyone’s mental health. The old saying “All work and no play makes Jack (or Jane) a dull boy (girl)” is true. A life of relentless routine and chores “dulls” a person mentally. A hard day at the office or a day of running around to do errands we need to (but don’t really like to) do can leave us depleted. The same is true for kids who have had a hard day at school. On a dreary February Saturday or snow day, it may be tempting to just fall onto the couch, grab the remote and watch some mindless TV. It may be tempting to ignore the fact that the kids are plugged into their phones or video games or TVs. Isolating and vegetating may seem like all any of you can do. Stop! The reality is that retreating into screens and away from each other is a prescription for depression and loneliness. Zoning out does nothing to improve our resilience or to support our mental health. Not so when we play. Play connects us. Play recharges our emotional and physical batteries. Research shows that playing even helps us come back to those routine and necessary tasks with new energy and a more positive spirit.

February may feel long but it does have a day for love and sentiment stuck smack in the middle. I don’t think that’s by accident. Valentine’s Day reminds us to love the people we love, regardless of the weather. Let’s make every day (or at least most of our days) include an affirmation of family love through family fun.

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Stan Rockwell, PsyD <![CDATA[Book Review: End the Insomnia Struggle]]> 2017-02-03T22:49:30Z 2017-02-05T15:37:00Z So much of how we live our lives depends on getting good sleep. If you have a poor night’s sleep, you feel tired all the following day, you may be […]]]>

So much of how we live our lives depends on getting good sleep. If you have a poor night’s sleep, you feel tired all the following day, you may be more irritable, and things just don’t seem to go right. At least  a third of us have trouble sleeping from time to time. When that trouble becomes chronic, our plight increases and can include anything from falling asleep at the wheel of your car to getting physically ill to hallucinations. Both my parents had sleep issues, and that problem was handed down to me.

It seems strange to me that something so essential can go so wrong. It can be very frustrating when you follow all the sleep hygiene recommendations, even have a sleep study, and still have trouble.  At times I would just ask my brain and mind in frustration, “Hey, you know life goes better when you get good sleep. What is the problem?”

The new book, End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step -by-Step Guide to Help You Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep, can help you find the problems and the solutions.

The authors, Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD, ABPP and Alisha L. Brosse, PhD, are both clinical psychologists who have extensive experience working with people who have sleep issues. Their approach is based on cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and acceptance and commitment therapy. This combination approach creates a nice balance for finding a way that works for you at this time in your life. They begin with an overview of how sleep works, sleep issues, and how the insomnia spiral comes to be. The emphasis is on sleep as a relationship, and relationships change with time and circumstances. We do have the ability to change the relationship.

An initial step is an extensive sleep diary that covers a few weeks so that you can start to see patterns and begin to look at interventions to change the relationship. The authors use the “3P” model of insomnia – predisposition to sleep issues, precipitating events that can trigger sleep problems, and perpetuating attitudes and practices that keep us in a problematic sleep relationship.

What I really like about this book is the authors’ flexibility. There is no “you must do this,” so you can find through experimentation what works best for you. That flexibility also comes in handy as you adapt to changes in your life that affect your sleep patterns. The authors found that those who had not benefited from CBT had either not worked the program (even though they thought they had — the sleep diaries and documentation showed they hadn’t) or they worked the program too well. The latter tried so hard and were so vested in it, that stress levels went up and sleep didn’t improve.

There is that paradox that at times the harder you try to accomplish something, the more difficult it becomes to achieve it. When you begin to relax and let it happen, things flow. That is where the acceptance and commitment therapy comes in. You develop the willingness to make the changes, including the willingness to not sleep as part of the plan to change your sleep relationship.

The authors use behavioral strategies, like stimulus control and sleep restriction, and cognitive strategies, like cognitive restructuring, changing self talk, and designating worry time. They give you many strategies and possibilities to individualize the program so you can find what works best for you. There are worksheets in the book and on the book website. There are also guided audio files on the book website to help with learning techniques such as willingness.

The authors help you to find what they call the “sweet spot” in sleep. You wake up rested and you are “sleeping to live rather than living to sleep.”  I know that when sleep becomes problematic, it can become a focus, and you fixate on how to get good sleep. As the authors point out, however, the harder you try to control sleep, the more it will control you. I found this book extremely helpful, particularly with the explanations of how sleep works, and how to change the relationship into one that is healthy rather than almost antagonistic as sometimes happens when relationships don’t go the way we want. The CBT and ACT methods that Ehrnstrom and Brosse outline are useful for work on any relationship. As the authors point out, our brain knows how to sleep, we just need to get out of its way. This is a very comprehensive guide to getting and maintaining a healthy relationship with sleep.

End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step -by-Step Guide to Help You Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep
New Harbinger Publications, October 2016
Paperback, 232 pages

Caroline Comeaux Lee <![CDATA[Book Review: The Assertiveness Guide for Women]]> 2017-02-03T22:46:40Z 2017-02-04T15:36:00Z I don’t want to make the situation worse. I don’t want others to think I’m controlling. I’m afraid the person won’t like me anymore. These are just a few of […]]]>

I don’t want to make the situation worse.

I don’t want others to think I’m controlling.

I’m afraid the person won’t like me anymore.

These are just a few of the reasons women might give for why they should not speak up. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of reasons why women, in particular, have not communicated their boundaries, values, or opinions. Thankfully, there is now a resource available to not only get to the why behind each woman’s lack of assertiveness, but also introduces the skills lead to assertiveness.

The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships fills a particular void on the shelves of self-help books; in less than 220 pages, Julie De Azevedo Hanks, PhD, provides women with a direct explanation of how to overcome their avoidance of being assertive. Her years of work as a psychotherapist, as well as her own personal experience struggling with finding her voice, support and influence the information. Hanks’ ultimate goal is “sharing what women themselves can learn and do to make it more likely that their feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants will be heard and responded to in positive ways.”

Hanks takes a few chapters at the beginning of the book to help the reader root out the why; why are they unable to assert themselves, to communicate their needs and wants? She explains the different attachment styles – anxious, avoidant, and secure – and explains how each plays a role in the assertiveness of an individual. She walks the reader through identifying their own attachment style as she references the styles throughout the text. According to Hanks, attachment style lies at the root of how we relate in our relationships with others. As attachment styles are developed very early in childhood, they each have a deep set of habits that must be shifted in order to develop assertiveness.

Moving beyond attachment styles, Hanks introduces what she has identified as five key skills to assertiveness:

  • Self-Reflection
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Soothing
  • Self-Expression
  • Self-Expansion

Each skill is explored in greater depth in its own chapter. Hanks defines and elaborates on what each skill is and what it looks like in practice. For instance, in the Self-Expression chapter, Hanks identifies three methods of Self-Expression: the Doormat, the Sword, and the Lantern. In the explanation of these, she provides what the “hidden payoff” may be for the individual, for instance, “A hidden payoff for the Doormat stance is the ability to blame others for negative things in your life, because they have the power and have made decisions you didn’t make.”

Finally, Hanks’ provides an acronym for how assertiveness works in action: OSCAR.

  • Observe the action
  • Sort thoughts and feelings
  • Compassionately Communicate
  • Ask Questions
  • Request Directly and Clearly

She walks the reader through each of these and clearly describes what these steps are. She also provides suggestions as to how to practice these steps; for instance, she reminds readers to use the formula “I feel ____ when you ____ because I think ____” when compassionately communicating with others.

The Assertiveness Guide for Women is not just a resource of information though. The “active” aspect lies in Hanks’ ability to tie-in “awareness exercises” for readers to work through that are specific to the information within the chapter. Hanks’ also references multiple resources and studies throughout her text which support the information she provides, all of which are listed in the back of the book.

Ultimately, Hanks’ The Assertiveness Guide for Women is long overdue. It is a sad truth that women are still being referred to in derogatory names because they are strong and outspoken. To avoid such treatment, there are some women who continue to shy away from using their voice to avoid “rocking the boat” or being labeled.

Some women likely have no idea what being assertive as a woman even looks like because they may have never had an example to model. Hanks not only provides that example through her personal stories or those of clients, but she lays out the path for doing the same. She removes confusion around the idea of “assertiveness” and ultimately lays the groundwork for profound growth within her readers. With a gentle tone, light humor, and clear thought, The Assertiveness Guide for Women is a resource with an unassuming presence but filled with power and insight.

The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships
New Harbinger Publications, August 2016
Paperback, 224 pages