Aug 24

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT ME?

What do you mean it’s not all about me?  We live in a world of selfies, social media, and narcissistic outlets that reinforces the false pretense that it is all about ourselves.  Operating from that mindset seems very normal and natural these days.  We expect others to cater to our needs, assuming that our needs are more important than theirs.  Obviously, this way of thinking is neither realistic nor healthy. Why do we need such adulation, attention, and admiration?  And who can we blame for this?  Our parents, our culture, our government, our teachers/coaches, or maybe just ourselves.   Could it be that we relied so much on our parents for this ongoing recognition rather than generating self-worth and assumed others would provide it when we entered the real world?

On the other side of the same coin, others assume that it’s always their fault and blame themselves for everything bad that happens in their life.  In both cases, self-praise was never learned and positive reinforcement is constantly sought from others. People rely exclusively on external reinforcement and never learn ways to reinforce internally.  In some cases, they never received unconditional love and are determined to find it and affirm that they are worthy of love.  Or maybe they were taught that self-love and self-respect were bad and egocentric. Two ends of the spectrum but neither position is healthy or positive.  Everything is about finding a healthy balance.  Feeling the need to broadcast your positive attributes is unhealthy, but generating them through self-talk is healthy.

Unfortunately, many of us spend an inordinate amount of time comparing ourselves with others and perceiving that we don’t measure up.  We tend to focus on the one thing that we did wrong instead of the many things we did right.  Ideally we want to focus on our positive behaviors, learn from our mistakes, and let go of our past failures.  Most people are so self-absorbed that they don’t even notice when we mess up, so stop beating up on yourself and start focusing on ways to get better.  Also focus on your character and integrity more than your accomplishments and achievements since that will provide a greater impact on the people you care about.  Serving and helping others takes the focus off your need to prove yourself and produces internal satisfaction and greater rewards.  When you shift your focus from external to internal you’ll find long-lasting fulfillment instead of fleeting satisfaction.

Aug 17

HOOKED ON DEVICES

Why do we need social media to measure our success, compare our performance, or assess our worth?  Sadly we spend more time today connected to our devices than to people.  We never escape our jobs since we are always a call, an email, or a text away.  It’s no wonder that we love those vacations where we are out of the cell phone service area and are unreachable.  Social media consumes an excessive amount of our time and energy, yet we seek affirmation through our posts and pictures.  Our worth is tied to how many “likes” we get rather than the internal satisfaction of the post. We’re driven by the external rewards, praise, and approval instead of generating them from within.

So why do we base our value and worth on the number of contacts, likes, and positive comments?  For starters, our devices give us easy and quick access to a number of people and since we are not very good at delaying gratification this is a perfect venue.  We can also remain somewhat anonymous and detached from the process since we’re not engaged in a face to face interaction.  Some of us have become more comfortable interacting with a screen rather than in front of a person.  Maybe we feel less vulnerable or can be more honest with the screen message.  We prefer to confront the conflict or share the emotion with some sort of barrier between us and another person.

Relying on our devices to find self-worth, confront conflict and acquire approval is not the best approach and limits our personal connection.  Our laziness leads us to follow the path of least resistance and avoid the discomfort of everyday life.  We assume that our devices are a more efficient and effective way to deal with conflicts, build self-confidence, and connect with people.  The reality is that deeper connections and personal relationships develop from face to face interactions and self-confidence is an inside job, not based primarily on the feedback from others.

Think about how much time you spend with your devices.  How would you feel without access to a screen for a day, a weekend, or even a week?  I challenge you to consider taking one whole day or for those who can’t handle the withdrawal feelings, half a day to be without all of your devices.  How would you spend that time?  Consider watching a sunset, riding a bike, playing a board game, or even having a meaningful conversation.  We miss out on so much when we bury ourselves in our screens.  Decide today to take the plunge and replace your screen with a person, nature, and/or a physical activity.

Aug 10

OVER-PARENTING

What happens to children when they reach adulthood who were raised by a “helicopter parent?”  A recent study at Florida State University surveyed 460 college students ages 18-25 on their mother’s role in their decision-making during their childhoods.  The researchers concluded that those students who had a parent who made most of the decisions for them had a more difficult time handling adverse situations and had less self-confidence.  The students also showed higher levels of anxiety and depression, along with lower life satisfaction and poorer physical health.  The students didn’t learn mastery, coping skills, and how to deal with failure since their parents stepped in to fix situations that were stressful.  The movie “Failure to Launch,” typifies this scenario whereby the son never grows up or leaves the house because his parents enable him and stunt his maturity.  Of course, the parents have good intentions, but they prevent autonomy and self-reliance.

Sometimes parents feel guilty about something bad that occurred in their child’s life, like divorce or a loss, and look to compensate for a bad situation.  In some cases, the child or young adult has learned to manipulate and abuse the system or the generosity of the parent as a means of avoiding responsibility.  We can probably generate multiple motives on the part of the parents or child as to why they choose to be in a codependent relationship, but the bottom line is that it prevents healthy development.  Remember, we learn more from our mistakes and failures than our successes.  In our attempt to love, support, and help our children, the best thing we can do is to let them make their own age-appropriate decisions.  If we start early in their lives by giving them some choice or control over certain decisions then we can gradually expand their realm of self-reliance.

Sometimes it is very difficult for us, myself included, to allow our young adult children to make their own decisions, especially when we disagree with their choices and fear a negative consequence.  However, it is important to support and encourage them, but avoid preventing failure (unless safety is at risk) and teach them about resilience.  Another important skill we can teach and reinforce is how to cope with stress, failure, and conflict.  Modeling assertive communication, conflict resolution, and stress management strategies can provide them with awareness and hope that they can use the same skills.  Lastly, build them up, praise them, and help them to believe in themselves.  Confidence breeds confidence.

Aug 03

TRAPPED!

Have you ever felt stuck in a job, relationship, or situation and couldn’t find your way out?  Did you find yourself asking, how did I get here?  Many people end up in situations where they feel helpless or powerless to make a change either because of fear, anxiety, or guilt.  When they weigh out the options, none appears all that appealing and inaction becomes the default choice.  Some who feel trapped in a loveless marriage or a dead-end job can’t muster the energy or courage to move forward with their lives.  Another common situation that I encounter in my practice is a person who is “trapped in success.”

Success-driven individuals have worked hard their entire lives and have acquired lifestyles of abundance. However, they are stuck on the treadmill of work.  Many of these individuals do not have a healthy work-life balance and have neglected their physical and emotional well-being over the years.  Their marriage has also received the short end of the stick.  They are really good at working hard and making money.  Slowing down, modifying their priorities, and accepting mediocrity are not considered an option.  They have created expectations for themselves and their family through their accomplishments and wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone.  Giving up their lifestyle and downsizing are perceived as a failure.  So they press on, white knuckle it, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, the consequences to maintaining the status quo can have devastating and destructive consequences.  Marriages end, parent-children relationships are strained, chronic illness materializes. The good news is that there is a better way. The realization that change is possible and life can be less stressful and more enjoyable with a slight modification in approach is liberating.  Feeling trapped is different from being trapped.  Finding solutions to balance life and shifting your focus is feasible at any stage of life.  Reinvesting in your relationships and committing to disengaging from your electronics (such as turning your phone off during dinner) can be healthy solutions to the craziness of work obligations.  Some of us have to learn to delegate more often or even ask for help when we’re buried with work.  Others have to find a life outside of work and commit to growing that aspect of their existence instead of being consumed by success.  Lastly, we need to recognize that our expectations of ourselves and unrealistic demands we place on our lives can multiply our stress level.  Brainstorm options, reassess priorities, and liberate yourself today.

Jul 27

TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED

Life today is so unpredictable, chaotic, and turbulent that no one can imagine what the future holds.  Our political, economic, social, and healthcare systems are constantly changing.  We can’t predict when or where the next act of violence, hate, or terrorism will occur.  Ironically, even in unstable times, we tend to take for granted many of our blessings and assume that these are stable and constant.  As a result we presuppose that our health, job, family, friends, relationships, and even freedom and peace in our communities are intact.  When we become complacent, we tend to assume that paying attention to these things and people are not necessary and fall into an “auto-pilot” mentality.  In the process we may neglect and disregard those who are closest to us.

Many of us are coasting through life, seldom noticing the goodness or value in our relationships or achievements.  We may have lost our direction, drive, and desire to remain connected to people in an uncertain world.  Some have lost purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in their lives.  They also may have lost the ability to trust others and allow others to get close.  Instead some focus on the negative aspects of our society and fixate on the troubles that surround us.  Over time some become apathetic, detached, and sometimes depressed.  What is missing in our lives and how do we get it back?  How do we recapture the joy, peace, and contentment that we all desire?

For starters, limit your exposure to the news media since it perpetuates fear, anxiety, and sometimes anger.  Make a list of the things/activities and people who bring joy to your life and surround yourself with them.  Identify what you have accomplished and the people who you’ve positively impacted.  If you can’t generate much from the two lists above then start today focusing on and giving back by making a difference in others’ lives.  Develop a gratitude list and start thanking the people who have loved you and supported you over the years.  Send them a text, email, or call them.  Focus your energy on today and make the most of each day as if it were your last.  Stay engaged, connected, and involved with the people you love, respect, and care for by showing them that they matter.  Personally, I find great comfort and peace by leaning on my relationship with God and relying on His good news that he loves me and is in control.  The bottom line is to take charge of the factors in your life that you can control and give the rest to Him.  Challenge yourself to take action and appreciate all you already have.

Jul 20

BOUNDARY-LESS BREAK-UPS

Are personal boundaries disappearing? How do the digital age and the lack of boundaries correlate?  The British Psychological Society surveyed 1612 adults about relationship break-ups and the online behavior of former partners.  The researchers found that almost 40% experienced online abuse and found these experiences to be highly or extremely distressing.  Obviously, people are using the internet to express their negative feelings, often in inappropriate and damaging ways.  Many people believe that the internet allows for open expression of thoughts and feelings regardless of the impact or consequence of their actions.  Some have the tendency to share too much, turn off their filter, and use this forum to attack others.

Boundaries serve a purpose and provide healthy barriers to personal and emotional information and feelings that we all have the right to protect and keep private.  Unfortunately, some believe that the internet gives them a voice to share and are seeking affirmation and acknowledgment of their beliefs.  For some the internet is a weapon that is used for retaliation. Others are looking for sympathy for being a victim.  Regardless of the rationale, internet abuse is wrong, cowardly, and dysfunctional.  When people experience emotional pain they often look to ways to lessen it and sometimes select destructive and unhealthy mechanisms.  On occasion, people choose to inflict pain rather than deal with their own pain.

Of course relationship break-ups are painful, like any loss in life, but what we do with our pain determines the outcome.  What are some options other than lashing out and attacking a person digitally?  How about writing them a letter/email and expressing your feelings privately without posting it on the internet.  Work at sharing your thoughts and feelings assertively, respectively and constructively since the other choices make you look bad and don’t provide resolution.  Consider forgiving your ex, even if you are not able to forget, condone, or reconcile. Instead let go of the negative emotion and release them from your life.  Lastly, decide to move forward with your life and no longer fixate on the things that were done and said, instead learning from the experience and healing from the pain.  When you focus on revenge and retaliation you remain stuck in the pain and give it more power and energy.  Pain is part of everyone’s life, choose to handle it with integrity and grace; you’ll be glad you did.

Jul 13

MARRIED TO THE JOB

Do you know someone whose primary identity is work?  Maybe your spouse is that person and they don’t realize it themselves.  Their work identity could be based on their profession or it could be related to their role as a parent, but either way they are consumed with this identity.  It’s possible that work provides them the most rewards, accolades, and measurable levels of success.  In some cases people are really good at their jobs, but not so good at relationships so they focus almost exclusively on the area they excel in.  Other times work provides a wonderful distraction and avoidance from activities or relationships that people prefer to avoid.  In fact, some people are running as fast as they can away from their relationships, emotional connections, and commitments to people!

People have all sorts of obsessions, but work is often justified by the lifestyle, possessions, and opportunities it affords the family and is therefore tolerated.  Being out of balance with work, relationships, and life is a very common problem.  In some cases, the power couple are both striving to achieve great things and accomplish so much that they forget to take care of themselves and their family.  Life can be hectic, chaotic, and stressful enough but when you get trapped in success, there doesn’t appear to be any way out.  The mindset is that achievement, performance, and productivity rule and relationships function at a lower priority.

How do change your perspective?  It starts with valuing people more and shifting your priorities.  Another important component is moving out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to do things you’re not good at.  Relinquishing control and being vulnerable are also requirements for relationship building and divesting from work.  Find sources of purpose, fulfillment, and meaning other than work and diversify your activities.  Invest more in friendships and lean on others for a change.  Develop deeper connections with your family, friends, and faith recognizing that like most things in life the more you put in the more you get out.  What do you want your legacy to be?  Do you want to be remembered for your work obsession?  Maybe a better legacy would to be a person who impacted others’ lives and cared for people.  Life goes by quickly, don’t let yours be consumed  by your job.

 

Jul 06

ARE YOU LIVING WITH A MAN-CHILD?

Are you in a relationship with someone who hasn’t grown up?  That person who makes impulsive decisions, lives life on the edge, and avoids responsibility and commitment repeatedly?  The immature, rebellious, and boundary-less guy who consistently gets into trouble with his spouse and family for not following through on his promises and focusing more on just having fun?  It can be very difficult if not impossible to maintain a good relationship with this type of person.  He might overindulge in certain activities and seem oblivious to the impact or consequences of his actions on others. It should be noted that although I am focusing on men, women can be guilty of these behaviors as well.  Unfortunately, it seems we men have a greater probability of acting child-like in our relationships.  How does a person get this way and why does he choose to not grow up emotionally?

Without pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s discuss possible causes.  Of course parents play a role in our personality development and our behaviors.  In some cases, boys who grew up with parents who overlooked their inappropriate behaviors and rarely set consequences for their actions are more inclined to perpetuate immature behaviors.  Maybe their father modeled this same behavior and their mother allowed it, condoned it, and enabled it.  Or maybe they were the golden child and got away with misbehavior since they were so good at sports or excelled in school.  In their mind, the rules were different for them.  Maybe they weren’t held accountable, didn’t have chores as a child, and expected others to do for them.  I believe that enabling is disabling.  When we do too much for others, they don’t do for themselves.

So why do people prefer to perpetuate child like behaviors and what can you do to change them?  For many being a “child” takes less work and maybe it’s all they know.  Others are lazy and prefer to be taken care of instead of caring for themselves.  Regardless of the reasons, people can and do change.  What spouses and family members can do is stop picking up the slack for them and making excuses for their behaviors.  Call them on their immaturity and set boundaries so they can’t continue to engage in these behaviors with no consequences. You can also discuss your expectations and needs so that there is a clear understanding of what it takes to maintain a relationship. You deserve to be treated with respect and each person in a relationship needs to contribute equally to make it successful.  Lastly, decide to not be codependent and seek an interdependent relationship that allows for both parties to take ownership and responsibility for the health of the relationship.

Jun 29

EMPATHY CREATES CONNECTION

Are friendships and relationships stronger when empathy is shared?  An interesting study published in the Journal of Personality found that teenage boys who show empathy attract 1.8 more girlfriends than those who don’t.  Empathy is the ability to comprehend, appreciate, and understand others’ emotions.  Having friendships and good relationships are linked to positive physical and emotional health along with creating opportunity for growth and learning.  People who have emotional intelligence (EQ) understand what empathy is and have an easier time giving it to those they are close to.  So does empathy only apply to teenagers and relationships?  Absolutely not, empathy can build trust, connection, and respect in all relationships.  What prevents people from being empathetic?

Most people know that narcissists lack empathy and are typically self-absorbed.  Empathy requires commitment, connection, and a certain level of vulnerability.  In some cases, people have limited exposure and experience with empathy.  Others perceive empathy as a weakness and fear being hurt or rejected by being vulnerable.  Some even believe that empathy will expose them to deceit, betrayal, and manipulation. Personal and intimate relationships expose us all to risk and the possibility of rejection and hurt.  However, as we expand our connections, share empathy, and express our feelings, we deepen the relationship and potentially increase the magnitude of happiness.

Being empathetic requires a person to have the capacity to comprehend other’s feelings and truly care about their emotional well-being.  Being sensitive to others’ emotional pain and intentionally listening, genuinely caring, and having a desire to support, help, or comfort is all part of empathy.  Are we born with empathy?  Typically this is learned through observations and modeling of those people we trust, love, and respect.  We can acquire a greater level of empathy with effort and intention.  Building empathy can be achieved by identifying others’ feelings, validating emotions, and openly expressing compassion for others’ struggles.  When we’re empathetic our focus is off ourselves and on others’ feelings which can take some effort.  The bottom line is that empathy strengthens relationships, deepens connections, and allows for greater emotional intimacy.  Decide today to deepen your connections through empathy.

Jun 22

WEEDS KEEP COMING BACK

Why do you think you can’t get rid of the weeds in your life?  And why does the same weeds keep growing back?  Now don’t take me literally on the weed removal example, but I thought this may provide a good word-picture to illustrate a point.  We all have weeds or issues that impact our lives now and again.  Many of us want to destroy the weeds immediately and look for the fastest and most expedient way to eliminate them, which makes sense, right?  Unfortunately, the weed removal process doesn’t always complete the desired effect and eventually the weeds return.  The problem may lie in the fact that the root of the weed was never removed, and instead only the surface of the weed was cut. This looked good on the outside, but neglected the inside problem.  How do you treat the problems and issues that you encounter?  Do you only address the surface problem or do you get to the root?

People tend to address both physical and psychological problems in the same fashion.  They look for the quick fix and don’t want to put the time and energy into finding or confronting the root problem and cause.  Many of us look for help at a time of crisis but once the conflict is resolved they discontinue the efforts to change by stopping treatment.  Of course, at the next crisis, when people return to treatment their weeds have overtaken their entire yard and the task seems insurmountable.  Change is difficult for all of us and requires significant motivation and determination.  However, many of my clients are able to achieve real change by modifying their thoughts, actions, and personality and ultimately changing the way they live life.  Not an easy task for anyone, but the long-lasting benefits can have a dramatic impact on one’s life.

Our mental health needs require consistent care and maintenance.  When we neglect ourselves problems arise and grow rather quickly.  How do you deal with your stress, conflicts, and relationships?  When we feed our body, mind, and soul with positivity, activity, and connectivity we create good health.  Personally my greatest strength comes from my faith, family, friends, and fitness.  Acknowledge that we all have weeds that require attention and figure out which ones have roots that haven’t been removed.  Sometimes we have to dig deep to extract the root of the problem and may need a professional to help us figure out the origin of the conflict.  Take action and address the issues today before they proliferate throughout your life.

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