Feb 03

UNDENIABLE INSECURITIES

What are your insecurities?  Everyone is insecure about something.  Some have more insecurities than others, but no one is immune.  Maybe your insecurity relates to your career, education, physical appearance, friendships, personal relationships, fears/failures, and/or physical disabilities.  No one is good at everything or has the perfect life.  We are all flawed in one way or another, but the bigger question is what impact do our insecurities have on our lives?  And what do we do about those insecurities?  Some individuals allow their inadequacies to consume and overwhelm them.  Our insecurities can debilitate us so much that we can’t function.  What causes insecurity?

There can be a number of things tied to our insecurities and the list is way too long to be all-inclusive, but suffice it to say that trauma, loss, abuse, bullying, mental or physical problems are some of the factors related to feelings of insecurity.  The key is learning effective and constructive strategies to deal directly with our insecurities.  Many individuals deny, repress, or avoid dealing with their insecurities and engage in destructive behaviors to cope with their pain.  Unfortunately responding this way only perpetuates and intensifies one’s insecurities.  Sometimes defensiveness, jealousy, people pleasing, emotional manipulation, and a superior attitude can be a sign of insecurity.  Time alone doesn’t take away insecurities; action is required.  What can we do?

For starters, we need to identify the areas of insecurity and possibly the origin of these feelings. Sometimes we need to confront the insecurity head-on discerning whether it’s tied to a perceived fear or an irrational belief.  Our thoughts can contribute greatly to our fears and insecurities and reframing our thinking can be extremely helpful.  We may need to learn new skills, improve on old skills, and/or accept our limitations as a means of confronting our emotional feelings.  Learning to communicate assertively and confronting conflict constructively can allay our feelings of inadequacy.  Identifying our strengths and abilities may ease our insecurities and help us in focusing on our positive attributes.  Surround yourself with supportive people and avoid people who exacerbate your insecurities.  Self-forgiveness and resilience are also valuable strategies to conquer insecurity.  Working on self-acceptance and recognizing that insecurity impacts everyone can normalize our occasional feelings of unworthiness.  Lastly, change your perspective and consider the positive side of insecurity; it keeps us humble.  Life is filled with insecure moments, don’t allow those circumstances to define you.

 

Jan 27

TWO SIMPLE WORDS

What are two words that lead to a happy marriage?  A recent study in the September issue of Personal Relationships found that couples who consistently say “thank you” were less affected by poor communication and other marital stressors.  Researchers from the University of Georgia interviewed nearly 500 couples and found that the expression of gratitude was the most consistent predictor of marital quality superseding financial well-being and communication styles.  Prior studies on gratitude have supported the above study results and suggest that gratitude is also beneficial for health and well-being.  The posture of gratitude has also been found to reduce the self-focus inherent in materialism.

Another study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology explored the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction.  Prior studies have shown that people who are more materialistic are generally less satisfied with life, but the authors from Baylor wondered if gratitude could buffer the negative effects of materialism.  They concluded that those individuals who appreciated what they have are better able to maintain high levels of life satisfaction.  In other words, being affluent isn’t enough to make you happy; you also need to be grateful.  How do we work on being more grateful and appreciative of others?

Some keep a gratitude journal and write down daily experiences, things and/or people that they are grateful for.  Others maintain a prayer journal and write down requests, but also praises when God answers prayers.  Occasionally I will ask couples to write down what they love about each other or what qualities in their spouse they fell in love with. Sometimes we overlook the positive and instead only focus on the negative.  Being grateful for what we have, who we have in our lives, and what we’ve accomplished provides a more positive perspective.  Think about the ways you’ve been blessed and the ways you’ve blessed others.  Work on recognizing and expressing gratitude with others so that it becomes more of a habit to be positive.

Jan 20

SAY IT AND LEAVE IT

Do you have a difficult time saying what you are thinking/feeling or do you have a hard time letting things go?  Maybe you can identify with both. There are those individuals who analyze situations, people, circumstances to death, but rarely speak their minds.  These people are emotional stuffers and would rather internalize conflict than share it with others.  Maybe they struggle with insecurity, fears, or assume their words are not going to be well-received so they’d rather keep the feelings or issue inside.  They operate from the mindset, “don’t bother saying it if nothing is going to change.”  Wrong!  We can’t predict others’ responses. The reason to share has less to do with others’ responses and more to do with releasing the negative emotions that are bottled up inside.

On the other hand, there are those individuals who can’t leave or let go whatever feelings or issue they have and choose to repeat themselves incessantly until they feel the person has heard them or a change has occurred.  The assumption is that if I forgive, let go, and leave it, I will be setting myself up for more pain and disappointment.  Remember we can’t change others’ behaviors and are only responsible for our own actions.  Fear and insecurity along with hurt, anger, and resentment can prevent people from letting go of their pain.  Letting go of negative emotions does not imply a healed and reconciled relationship, but it does allow for individual healing and releasing the internal burden that you’ve harbored.  Nagging and belaboring the point can create more frustration and bad feelings and will certainly limit the likelihood of a positive response.  So what do I need to do?

Work on being transparent, direct and open with others when you’re thinking or feeling badly about something that was said or done.  Occasionally we can let things slide when we’re irritated, but if the frustration lingers and lasts beyond a few hours, it may be time to share your frustrations.  Of course sharing them assertively and constructively will produce the best results, but focus on getting rid of the bad feelings regardless of the response.  Sometimes negative thoughts and feelings take up way too much space in our heads.  Decide to say it and leave it behind, but remember that this is a choice and requires intentionality.  Life is short and being consumed with negativity only adds to our already stressful lives.  Say it and leave it!

Jan 13

STUCK ON BLAME

Why do so many couples keep score or focus on each other’s flaws?  Maybe because it allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own issues.  Whether it’s your spouse, a family member, or friend, keeping score only perpetuates frustration and resentment.  Too many people expend too much time and energy identifying others’ imperfections which actually creates a sense of helplessness and powerlessness.  Unfortunately, our leaders, culture, and society model this behavior of blame over acknowledgment.  We tend to justify or defend our position even when we know that it’s wrong.  Some of us even become passive-aggressive as a means to retaliate when we feel wronged.

Keeping score, blaming others, or responding with passive-aggressiveness doesn’t work.  These strategies are ineffective and only create more distance and conflict. Some individuals prefer blame because it’s easier and doesn’t require taking personal responsibility or making changes.  Blame also enables some people to justify their own actions and feel better about themselves. Sadly, misery loves company and focusing on others’ shortcomings sometimes is all a person has to boost their own ego. Maybe you know all this and you’ve tried to communicate more directly to no avail.  It can be very difficult not to focus on others’ behaviors and issues, but ultimately we can only control ourselves.  The decision to focus on changing yourself is more empowering and increases the probability of success even if the choice is to ultimately terminate the relationship.  How can focus on changing ourselves?

We can focus on becoming a better person through our words and actions.  Taking ownership for our behaviors, apologizing when appropriate, and seeking to respond differently in the future are good places to start.  Reflect on your behaviors and ways you might alienate others and commit to making a change.  Identify positive traits in the people you love and respect and tell them about it.  Decide to forgive others and yourself instead of remaining stuck in the past.  Lastly, value and appreciate the people in your life rather than focusing on what is missing.  The best way to change others is by changing yourself!

Jan 06

2016: GO DEEPER, GET HAPPY

What does it take for us to be happy?  Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger researched the most important elements of happiness by following a group of white men for 75 years and concluded that good relationships keep people happy and healthy.  Specifically, he concluded that close relationships, high quality connections, and stable, supportive marriages all contributed to greater levels of happiness.  The researcher concluded that people who valued relationships with family, friends, and with community fared the best.  Many of his conclusions align with my clinical experience and observations over 25 years of private practice work.  If this is true, then why are our relationships more disconnected and more superficial which result in more unhappiness?

Let’s face it, relationships take time, effort and energy and some people would rather spend their time entertaining themselves or being entertained.  Healthy relationships require commitment and responsibilities that some prefer to ignore or reject.  Sometimes relationships even trigger conflict which requires communication, may produce uncomfortable feelings, and necessitate forgiveness.  I’ve heard people say, “relationships are too much work” or “being alone limits my exposure to hurt and disappointment.”  These statements have some validity, but miss the point which is that without healthy relationships we have less happiness, joy, and a sense of belonging.  As the study concludes, happiness comes from deep, personal, intimate, and meaningful relationships.  So how do we develop these relationships?

First, we need to take a look at ourselves and determine if we have unresolved anger, hurt, resentment, fear or guilt that may be holding us back from developing or nurturing relationships.  If we do have negative emotions getting in the way, it is our job to confront the feelings and let them go.  Easier said than done but worth the time and effort.  Another important part of this process of connection is creating opportunities to be around people through activities, groups, clubs, church, co-workers, and/or neighbors.  For some the most difficult part of connection is initiating contact and generating conversation.  Relationships grow over time, but grow quicker when you share more about yourself and express personal information at time-appropriate moments.  You’ll be amazed how others open up with you when you open up with them.  Set a goal for 2016 to meet a new person and deepen another relationship over the next month.

Dec 30

INSTANT GRATIFICATION

With the New Year approaching, many of us are considering which habits we need to give up.  However, we are accustomed to getting whatever we want (within reason) and not having to resist our temptations or urges since in our society everything seems acceptable and readily available.  The truth is that we live in a culture where everyone expects immediate gratification.  This is especially true with our dependence on the internet; people expect information, entertainment, and gratification without delay.  We get frustrated and sometimes bored when we have to wait for something or things don’t go as planned.  If the computer crashes or a particular site is down it feels like a catastrophe.  In general we’ve become more impatient with information gathering, decision-making and even with people.  As a society we often look for the quick fix and immediate result whether it relates to health, career, or finances.  Even in our relationships  we want to find the perfect mate quickly (think speed dating/internet dating) so we don’t waste time or energy.  Why are we in such a big hurry?  And what do we lose in the process?

Many are aware of the “marshmallow study” from five decades ago which measured children’s self-control and concluded that the ability to delay gratification is linked to a number of better life outcomes.  Specifically, delaying gratification is linked to higher intelligence, improved physical and mental health along with greater social maturity.  Is it more difficult today to have self-control and delay gratification?  Yes, especially with TV, video games, and the internet, not to mention our easy access to destructive habits related to retail therapy, pornography, gambling, alcohol/drugs, and food.  So what can we do to control temptation and delay gratification?

Obviously stress can make us more vulnerable to making bad choices and impulsive decisions, so managing stress through exercise, yoga, journalling or other techniques can be helpful.  Build a supportive environment and have a network of friends that have similar values and goals who provide accountability and encouragement.  Develop a game plan with clearly defined goals and share them with others.  Reframe your mindset so that you focus more on the journey and less on the outcome.  Many of us, myself included, need to learn to pause, be still, and practice being instead of always doing.  Find positive distractions like reading, board games, and puzzles, that enable you to practice delayed gratification.  Lastly, prioritize your objectives and reward yourself in positive ways when you meet them.  We will value our accomplishments and life more when we have to work for and wait for the rewards.

Dec 23

DISCONNECTED RELATIONSHIPS

Are you in a relationship that feels loveless, disconnected, or lonely?  Many struggling couples are either going through a detached phase in their relationship or are in a constant state of disconnection.  Certainly stress associated with work, children, finances, health, and communication or personality conflicts may contribute to this situation.  Couples often have different personality types and find these conflicts create a larger disconnect.  In some cases, couples habitually assume the opposite position and become entrenched in their beliefs.  Professionally, I’ve encountered many couples who develop a parent-child dynamic in their relationship.  Depending on the issue or topic, the wife might be the “parent” and the husband the “child” or they may switch positions under different circumstances.

Are you currently in a parent-child marriage?  For those of you who prefer a more visual explanation of a parent-child marriage, check out my YouTube video on this topic. The “parent” typically is micro-managing, controlling, nagging, demanding, aggressive, and can be belittling.  On the other hand, the “child” can be immature, impulsive, avoidant, passive-aggressive, defiant, and pouty.  Often the wife assumes the parent role on issues related to the children, parenting, and emotional-type topics while the husband is the parent with topics related to finances, work, or topics that more analytical in nature.  Obviously these are generalizations since men and women vary in their approach to conflict.  The main point I’m making is that assuming either the parent or child position when seeking to resolve a conflict is unhealthy.  Ideally couples relate to each other as two adults.

What does an adult-adult interaction look like?  Both parties respect each other’s perspective even when it’s different and seek to understand the other person.  Two adults communicate assertively (not aggressively, passively, or passive aggressively) and articulate their thoughts and feelings in a healthy and constructive way.  Adult couples avoid defensiveness, justification, and blame.  One of the keys to interacting as an adult is our ability to apologize, forgive, and let go.  Healthy couples accept each other’s differences and constructively work through conflict while remaining respectful and kind.  We connect when we’re able to successfully resolve our conflict, make our relationship a priority, validate each other’s feelings, and accept the differences in our personalities.  We can all do a better job in connecting through both our words and actions.  Think about the importance of all of your relationships and recognize the value in connection.

 

 

 

 

Dec 16

HOLIDAY LONELINESS

What makes the holidays difficult for so many?  Some of the holiday stress has to do with unrealistic expectations and the commercialism that we’ve become accustomed to over the years.  Unfortunately, it’s more about finding the perfect gift, decorating the exquisite tree, cooking the most delicious meal, and making sure that everyone is included.  We try so hard to have the “Norman Rockwell” holiday experience but in the process lose sight of the meaning behind the celebration and the significance of our relationships.  We should instead focus on spending time with the people we love and care about.  Sadly, some people don’t have connections with others and feel especially socially isolated at this time of the year.

A recent study done at the University of Chicago found that loneliness can cause health problems and increase the risk of premature death by 14 percent.  Ultimately, loneliness triggers physiological responses that make us ill.  Specifically, the study showed that lonely people had a less effective immune response and increased fight-or flight stress signal leading to adverse health outcomes.  The leading loneliness expert John Cacioppo concluded that loneliness is more than a feeling and can be a major health risk.  This time of year can intensify our feelings of loneliness since we tend to reminisce about the times when we were surrounded by our family or friends.  Some feel lonely even when they are around others because they lack a healthy or positive connection and remain detached.

The simple answer to this problem would be to surround yourself with people and get more socially active.  Although really not so simple as this may require you to push beyond your comfort zone and initiate contact and connection even when it would easier to stay home.  Sometimes joining a group, organization, taking a class, or volunteering can be ways to make connections and meet new people.  Confronting our fears and anxieties may be necessary to make connections, but the rewards are many.  As the study suggests, battling loneliness can improve our physical health.  In some cases, we may benefit from professional help since loneliness and depression are first cousins and often keep people immobilized.  Choose to be connected this holiday season and make the effort to reach out to those around you.  As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, joy comes from people not things.

Dec 09

TONE OF VOICE MATTERS

Has anyone ever told you that your tone of voice is upsetting?  Researchers at the University of Southern California recorded conversations of couples in marriage therapy and found that tone of voice was more accurate in predicting marital success than the actual words expressed.  The conclusion being that what you say matters, but how you say it may be equally as important.  This study used a computer algorithm to determine whether a couple will have an improved or worsened relationship based on the tone of voice.  Finding an objective measurement to discern the health of a relationship based on the way couples talk about and discuss problems is very exciting.  So what do we do with this information?

We often don’t pay attention to the way we communicate unless someone points it out to us.  Maybe we need to pay closer attention to our volume, pitch, and other non-verbal forms of communication and recognize that it has greater impact than we might realize.  The old cliché, “think before you speak,” may provide us with a checkpoint before we react poorly.  Often our emotions contribute to our non-verbal communication.  For example, we may make a sarcastic remark out of anger or hurt and avoid dealing directly with the underlying emotion.  When we inwardly identify and confront our feelings before speaking, we can  take out the poor attitude we might inadvertently express orally.

Often we communicate in a way to be heard and overlook the impact on others.  We may alienate others with our condescending or angry tone and don’t realize or care how this affects others.  Some people use their tone to keep others at arms length and protect themselves from being vulnerable.  Whether your motivation is conscious or not, decide to pay closer attention to how you say things and watch the improved response from others.  Remember the old EF Hutton commercial, soft-spoken, direct, and intentional can be more effective and prevent others from reacting poorly.  Our tone can make a big difference in our relationships, so take ownership to respond constructively and reap the benefits.

 

 

Dec 02

REALIZED SUCCESS

How does one determine success?  I guess you first have to decide how you define success.  For many, success is defined by professional achievements, material assets, social status, and fulfillment of goals/aspirations.  Not to minimize or discount any of those worthy accomplishments, I would define success very differently.  For me, success is achieved by finding purpose, experiencing passion, and connecting with people in meaningful and intimate ways.  Success is achieved through significance and having a positive impact on others’ lives.  You’d be amazed at the ways you can impact others either in a positive or negative way through small actions or words.

Our lives are so filled with tasks, projects, goals, and responsibilities that we can easily lose track of the interaction and relationships that exist around us.  Our society is becoming more fragmented and isolated which contributes to loneliness, depression, and stress.  We can accomplish much, but achieve little. We focus on the objective and outcome while missing the connection and process.  People that matter to us want to know we care and value them.  They often aren’t looking for answers, solutions, and advice, but instead are looking for understanding and compassion.  We completely miss the boat when we assume what the other person needs instead of asking them directly.  How can we approach life differently?

We can start by making more of an effort to spend time face to face with people who matter to us and listen to their thoughts and feelings.  Spend less time talking and more time listening.  Appreciate the value of others’ feelings and validate them through acknowledgement.  Success comes through people not material possessions or status.  When we impact others’ lives in a meaningful way and influence them through our behaviors or words then we can experience significance and fulfillment.

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