Aug 26

VOLATILE TIMES

Have the crazy swings of the stock market made you anxious?  How about the random shootings or the government’s decision-making and policies?  Our stressful world and volatile times can wear us down and if we’re not careful trigger depression, anxiety, and/or overwhelming fear.  Sometimes we overreact which results in added stress and inner turmoil.  Our overreaction can also result in an impulsive or poor action that can have negative consequences.  Unfortunately when people feel “out of control” they often want to take immediate action to eliminate the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.  However when things around us are rapidly and unpredictably changing, often this is a time to be still and to reflect.  This helps us realize that often all we really have control over are our reactions.

Think about how this applies to relationships.  Feelings of being out of control often result in helplessness and powerlessness which can motivate us to either lash out or detach.  For example, if your partner makes a decision independent of your input, you may be inclined to attack which only provides them with more ammunition for not including you in the decision-making process.  Others may shut down, detach, and may decide to be passive aggressive and operate independently on other decisions.  When our emotions are heightened we are less inclined to solve problems and conflicts effectively.  Often I encourage couples to acknowledge their emotions, validate each other feelings, before proceeding to problem-solving solutions.  So what are healthy and constructive ways to deal with volatility, emotional turmoil, and stress in relationships?

Remind yourselves that you’re both looking for peace, happiness, and connectedness.  Hopefully you also accept that you’re allies and not adversaries, and do not have intention to hurt or harm each other.  Life is stressful enough without the added stress of an unhealthy and destructive relationship.  Commit to generating positive solutions to your conflicts and stop being defensive or blaming each other since that keeps you stuck.  Identify ways to work as a team and build each other up by acknowledging the person’s value and worth in the relationship  Seek stability in life by having a consistent workout routine, regular sleep schedule, weekly date night, daily prayer, time to connect with friends, and limit your media time.  Carve out time to acknowledge the good in your life and be grateful for what you have.

Aug 19

WHEN DOES HIGH SELF-ESTEEM BECOME NARCISSISM?

With so much talk of making sure our children develop self-esteem, it is easy to forget that not all self-esteem is healthy. Sure, we want our children to feel loved, confident, and valuable. Yet, sometimes we as parents unwittingly develop narcissistic tendencies in our children. Research has shown that narcissism is on the rise. People want to be seen and admired. They want to share every detail of their lives through social media. Is this really high self-esteem or something else?

Narcissistic people tend to have low empathy for others and a sense of entitlement. They have problems in their relationships because they lack self-awareness and struggle with taking responsibility for their issues. However, they can learn new ways of relating to others if they are motivated to change.

So how do we prevent our children from becoming narcissists? Research suggests that genetics and childhood experiences contribute to the development of personality disorders, of which narcissism is one.  In other words, like so many other mental health disorders, it probably develops through a combination of heredity and environment.  As parents, we can help by providing a loving home where children are valued but not put on a pedestal. They are part of the family unit but not more important than their parents or siblings. Their needs are considered and met but not consistently at the expense of others’ needs. Obviously, not everyone’s needs can be met equally all the time, but one person’s needs should not dominate the family’s resources.

Another way to develop healthy self-esteem is by encouraging volunteerism. Serving others through volunteer work takes the focus off self-absorption. It also helps children develop empathy for others and an appreciation for their own situation. Find a cause that your children are interested in so they will be eager to help. Family volunteering together is even better! The other aspect of curbing a budding narcissist is helping him/her identify and express emotions appropriately. Narcissists tend to hide insecurities through arrogance. Parents can build their children’s emotional intelligence and deflate the ego bubble by naming and suitably displaying their own emotions. Then challenge your older children to do the same. For example, if your son comes home from baseball practice in an angry mood, help him identify what emotion he is feeling and why.  Is he angry because he struck out? Is it really embarrassment or frustration that he is feeling? What can he do about these normal emotions?

Many of the narcissistic patients I work with in my practice developed these tendencies early on in life and have a difficult time acknowledging wrongdoing, accepting responsibility, and being vulnerable in relationships. They are so self-absorbed that they have very little insight into their problems. Being married to a narcissist can be very challenging, frustrating and at times abusive. The good news is that people can learn to identify emotions, regulate their emotions, and express their feelings constructively. Whether you are concerned about raising a narcissist or married to one, there is hope for change.

Aug 12

TRUMPMANIA

What is the intrigue?  And does media attention, even negative, work for a candidate?  The presidential debate last week was the highest rated non sports telecast in cable television history with 24 million viewers.  If you asked Donald Trump, he would tell you that his presence drew the large number of viewers.  Ironically, he may be right and he did have the most talk time.  So if  people did tune in to see Trump, what were they looking to see?  Maybe they appreciate his candor, political incorrectness, and ability to confront conflict with confidence.  Or maybe they find his outlandish remarks and unpredictability entertaining, similar to reality TV.  His vanity, lack of filter and insensitivity to others definitely alienate many voters.  So what do people find appealing in his approach?

For starters, he speaks his mind directly and unabashedly.  Even if you don’t like his position, most prefer politicians that don’t flip/flop and answer the questions directly without evading the inquiry.  Of course, he can be found to engage in some of the above, but less is refreshing. The down side may be that his delivery obscures the message.  While I am certainly not endorsing Donald Trump since I believe he has many shortcomings that would prevent him from being an effective president, he does raise issues worth discussing.  Many politicians today appear to be focused more on themselves and less on the people they serve.  The political fund-raising system also seems flawed since I believe that the biggest contributors often have the most influence on policy making and laws.

Unfortunately negative media gets the high ratings, but my hope is that people discuss, watch, read, and educate themselves about the various candidates so they make an informed decision when voting.  Optimistically, I hope that the viewing numbers for the first debate signify a desire to seek knowledge and be more active in selecting the best candidate.  We’re told to avoid discussing politics with others, but maybe that’s part of our problem.  Why can’t we have a respectful and civil discussion with others and maybe learn some things.  Sometimes we rely exclusively on the media and may benefit more from conversations with people who can be gracious and objective.  Listen more, talk less, and learn from others.

Aug 05

ADDICTION AND CONNECTION

The other day I was watching a fascinating TED talk by Johann Hari on possible causes and treatment of addiction.  He raises some interesting questions and quotes several studies along with anecdotal data to explain why he believes that our knowledge of addiction is all wrong.  Hari believes that addiction is largely not about chemical dependence, but more about the disconnection in our society.  We are less connected today than we were in the past in spite of our newest technology.  The depth of our connection is limited and more people today are isolated and lonely.  His belief is that connections enable people to recover from addictions and possibly prevent the problem from occurring.  This mindset fits with the notion that belonging to a support group like AA and having a sponsor to connect, guide, and encourage provides the necessary connection for abstinence.

Addictions are not my area of expertise, but I do work with patients struggling to manage their addictions on a regular basis. While I believe the above premise has validity, I don’t want to discount the chemical dependence component of addiction.  I’ve always felt that addictions were the result of misguided solutions to problems, but not the sole problem in and of itself.  The notion of disconnectedness being tied to addiction is intriguing and thought-provoking.  Being that my area of expertise is relationships, I’m constantly trying to understand why people disconnect and how to get them connected.  In fact, when couples deal with conflict in their relationship, disconnection is a common byproduct, often followed by destructive behaviors.  Do people today have a more difficult time with connection?

Connection begins with desire, commitment, and skills.  We connect through conversations and activities, but we first have to recognize the value in relationships and connection.  I believe most people have a desire to connect and belong, but don’t want to put in the time, energy, and effort to be connected.  Today’s society has made it easier to stay disconnected and avoid human interaction.  Although relationships require compromise, forgiveness, and trust, the rewards of being connected are innumerable.  Consider inviting someone to join you in watching a good movie, appreciating a beautiful sunset, listening to a live band, or attending a sporting event with you.  Life is richer when we are connected.

Jul 29

WORK IDENTITY

How does your identity at work impact your relationships at home?  Our work identity and role often fit with our personality type and character.  For example, a surgeon or pilot may be a perfectionist which is rewarded in their job and appreciated by those they serve.  Most people define themselves and find purpose through their work.  For some, work is the primary or even only way they find meaning and fulfillment in life.  Many feel secure, confidant, and comfortable with their work role but uncomfortable outside of their work persona.  Their career gives them a sense of  achievement, admiration, and even adoration that they might not receive elsewhere.  Can work meet all of your needs?

The problem with relying exclusively on work to meet many of your needs is that you may neglect other aspects of life.  Or you may find that your work persona is so comfortable that you bring it home.  Being unemotional and an exceptional problem-solver in your profession is highly valued and respected, yet your spouse values something very different.  We need to recognize that our work and home personas should be different since the relationships in our personal lives should be more intimate and connected.  Do you have a difficult time transitioning from work to home?

Sometimes having some time to decompress upon arriving home from work can help with the transition.  Many people bring work home with them or respond to calls/emails that are work-related which keeps them stuck in the work persona.  Engaging in conversation that is relational oriented and not about work can make it easier to get into the home persona.  Turn off electronics at dinner time or designate a time to shut down all technology to shift the focus to your relationships.  Find value in your home persona role and work on sharing power, control, responsibilities, activities, and emotions with your partner.  Lastly, maintain healthy boundaries with work through delegation, saying no, and being assertive.  Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

 

Jul 22

FROM TIGER TO LAMB

What has happened to arguably the greatest golfer of the century?  Tiger Woods’ game is worse than ever and everyone is trying to understand why.  It’s simple; his head has not recovered from the self-induced trauma.  Golf, from what I’ve been told, at the top level is primarily mental.  It appears that he has lost the prerequisites to winning: confidence, focus, and desire.  I’m not a golfer, but I do recognize when a person’s attention and self-assurance are gone due to a string of self-destructive choices and behaviors.  Negative thoughts and emotions can wreak havoc on a person’s life impacting their performance, concentration, and attention.  You don’t have to be a professional golfer to be overcome by bad choices which can lead to a spiral of perpetual pain.  While some attempt to deny, repress, or avoid the problems with distractions, others try solutions without much success.  Like Tiger, many of us have been lost at some point in our lives. What enabled us to find our way back?

Are we even aware that our life is spiraling out of control?  First we have to recognize that we’re on the wrong path and need to ask someone for guidance which can be very difficult, especially for men.  Acknowledging that we have veered from the healthy life path is hard to admit even to ourselves.  We don’t want to appear weak, vulnerable, or inadequate.  I often worry more about those who aren’t seeking professional help, but need to, than those who are in counseling.  Fear, pride, arrogance, and loss of control all contribute to avoidance of help.  It takes courage and strength to admit your problems and seek help.  Change is especially challenging if you’ve been successful in one aspect of life (professional) yet are failing miserably in a different area (personal).  Some don’t seek help until a crisis impacts every aspect of life.

None of us can avoid trauma, pain, suffering, and hardship but our resilience can determine the impact and magnitude of our agony.  We bounce back by dealing directly with our emotional pain, surrounding ourselves with a healthy support system, reframing our experiences, and taking charge of situations over which we can control.  Healing from bad choices requires consistency in choosing healthy behaviors, repentance, and an ability to forgive oneself.  Believing in a God of grace and mercy can help with self-forgiveness.  Lastly, set goals, persevere through hardship, and never give up on yourself.

 

 

Jul 15

ATTRACTION AND FRIENDSHIP

Do you find that people are more or less physically attractive once you get to know them?  How did physical attraction play a part in choosing your partner?  A recent study from Northwestern University published in Psychological Science found that couples who become romantically involved soon after meeting tend to be more alike in their physical attractiveness than those who get to know each other ahead of time.  Physical attractiveness appears to be a major factor in determining relationship formation unless we are friends first or know the person awhile before dating.  The researchers hypothesized that choosing a mate of similar attractiveness comes from a competition-based perspective while the length of acquaintance between partners can shift this dynamic.

This study provides some interesting thoughts about relationship formation.  It is interesting that physical appearance becomes less important as two people form a friendship and that the importance of equal matching fades based on the level of connection.  Becoming friends first and learning more about an individual prior to developing a romantic relationship can be beneficial for the strength and sustainability of a relationship.  Our personality and behaviors can impact our level of attractiveness and can only be explored over time.  In working with couples, I find that the “like” part of the relationship can impact their desirability and level of connection.  Building the friendship aspect of the relationship before or after marriage will enhance the level of intimacy.

Intimacy comes in many different forms, such as shared recreational or work activities, intellectually stimulating discussions, spiritual connections, and even going through a crisis together that pulls you closer to one another.  We sometimes take for granted and/or neglect the friendship aspect of our relationship.  Create opportunities for connection, take time for fun, and take action instead of just talking about change. Just do it!  Decide today that you’re going to grow and nurture the friendship part of your relationship and see what a difference it makes.

 

 

Jul 08

THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

Most people strive to be successful in life, but few recognize the cost.  Often success comes with power from personality traits that don’t bode well for relationships. Many highly successful people are praised at work for their drive, intensity, perfectionism, and risk taking nature, yet condemned for these traits in their personal relationships, especially when taken to the extreme.  Do you recognize any of these traits in yourself or others?

An article written by Trish Regan for USA Today discussed this very issue. She mentioned CEO Dov Charney of American Apparel and his reportedly inappropriate behavior that eventually was reprimanded. The writer concluded “the very personality traits that enable entrepreneurs to thrive early on – self-confidence, charisma and a willingness to be controversial – often prove to be their undoing.”  I couldn’t agree more with this analysis and personally witness in my practice the destruction to relationships. Often the increased power and control associated with success combined with a sense of entitlement and arrogance prove to be a volatile formula for failed relationships.

Not only can our own personality traits impact our career success, but also our spouse’s personality traits can influence our  accomplishments at work. A study conducted at Washington University in a forthcoming publication in the Journal Psychological Science found that the personality traits of our spouse play a role in determining our workplace success. The study assessed participants on five broad measures of personality and found that workers who scored highest on career success had spouses who had high scores on conscientiousness. Spouses with this personality trait took some of the workload off their partner, emulated good work habits, and helped keep their spouses’ personal lives running smoothly. The authors concluded that this personality trait reduced overall stress levels and allowed for a better work-life balance. This study also suggests that people who are success-driven may be better served to seek supportive partners with highly conscientious personalities.

The ways to prevent “success driven” traits from negatively impacting relationships come from maintaining humility, accountability, and respectability.  Leading a balanced life, giving back to others, and focusing on gratitude can keep us centered on others not just ourselves.  Also nurturing faith and accepting that there is a power greater than you will help you stay grounded.  Recognize the strengths in your personality, but don’t allow them to be become weaknesses.  Living a good lifestyle is not necessarily living a good life.

Jul 01

COMPETING EMOTIONS

The new movie “Inside Out” is getting a lot of attention and seems to be educating many on the purpose behind all emotions.  In the movie, “Joy” competes with “Sadness” and looks for ways to contain, ignore, or shut out that negative emotion.  Without ruining it for all who haven’t seen the movie, there is value in sadness too.  When we suppress our negative emotions we also subdue our positive feelings.  If you haven’t experienced sadness then you can not fully appreciate or value happiness.  Although everyone feels emotions, some choose not to share their feelings which limits their connections to other people.  As with most things in life, we only recognize the benefit of those connections when we either lose the person or experience the opposite feelings.

Often we grow, mature, and heal the most during those dark and difficult times.  The realization that negative emotions motivate and/or require change often creates new habits and behaviors.  All emotions are good, the question is what do we do with our feelings?  Can we allow both sadness and joy to have a voice and be heard?  What value can sadness have in your life?  Having lost both parents at an early age and experienced much sadness, I’ve appreciated joy even more.  I’ve also been able to use my sadness to understand and have increased compassion for others’ loss.

When we share our feelings with others we also enable them the opportunity to comfort, help, and connect with us.  Ironically the more we self-disclose and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the greater the likelihood that others will share about themselves.  Of course, we have to be selective about who we share with and our level of openness depending on the relationship.  The bottom line is that talking about our feelings, both good and bad, will allow for a fuller breath of experience.  We connect with others through our emotions, so decide to share your feelings to increase the depth of your relationships.

Jun 24

PERSONALITY AND CAREER CHOICE

How do we decide what to do for a living?  There are many influences on which profession we choose, of course, but does our personality type play a role?  Furthermore, does our career choice influence our personality or do we purposely choose a career that fits with our character?  For example, are people changed by success or do their traits drive them to prosper?   Based on my clinical experience, personality characteristics often determine our career choices.  For example, those choosing to work with computers may not enjoy interacting with people and prefer dealing with machines.  Some people enjoy high intensity jobs like working in the emergency room, while others prefer crunching numbers and having a consistent routine.  Our personality can also contribute to the spouse we choose, friends we attract, and places we live.

People who select careers that match with their personality types tend to be happier, more productive, and receive greater fulfillment. However, there may be negative consequences when aspects of our personality are reinforced and rewarded at work, but have detrimental effects on aspects of our relationships.  For example, being driven, intense, critical, and perfectionistic may be positive characteristics for our job, but not bode well for our marriage.  In fact, the very same traits that  propel people to achieve success often create destructive patterns in their relationships.  Marriage and career require different attributes that are sometimes conflictual.

The key to healthy relationships is working towards a good work-life balance, finding the middle ground, and accepting differences in personality types.  It also helps to be able to successfully transition from work to home and avoid treating family like employees/staff or carrying home the office persona.  Recognize that aspects of our personality can be adjusted or modified in different environments.  Healthy relationships require teamwork, joint decision-making, and mutually agreed upon solutions to resolving conflict.  Even though our personality contributes to our career choice, we shouldn’t assume that it works in all situations.  Reflect on your personality and consider which aspects work only in your career and which ones enhance your home life.  Decide to bring those relationship building traits home and leave the others at work.

 

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