by DrTony

LIFESTYLE MATTERS

August 4, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

How do you manage stress?  What lifestyle best describes you?  A study, soon to be published in Molecular Psychiatry, from UC San Francisco looked at the impact lifestyle can have on the effects of stress.  The researchers concluded that healthy living can buffer against stress-related cell aging.  More specifically, they found that individuals who exercised, slept well and maintained a healthy diet were able to lower the effects of stress on our bodies.  They also found that stress accelerates immune cell aging and the lifestyle we lead can directly impact this process.  Of course, we’ve all seen people age dramatically in a short period of time especially when they’re under tremendous stress.  Look at our current and past presidents for a clear example of stress on aging.

Some of us can be couch potatoes, emotional eaters, and/or poor sleepers.  Which of these most affect you?  It may be all three, especially when you’re under stress.  The bad news is that stress is unavoidable and affects everyone.  The good news is that you can do something about the impact stress has on your life.  Join a gym, enlist an exercise buddy, put exercise on your daily schedule and make it happen.  A recent study found that running consistently can add as much as three years to your life.  Get moving!

We’re surrounded by food and need it to sustain our health.  Our problem often is the quality and quantity of food we consume.  Eating can be a social activity, but overeating may have more to do with seeking comfort from stress.  Confronting and resolving emotion either in conversation or through writing can reduce our need for excessive amounts of comfort foods.  We also may associate eating with certain activities like watching TV and numb our emotions with food through entertainment.  Limit the food you have readily available in your home and find distracting activities when temptation arises.  Sometimes flossing and brushing my teeth immediately after dinner can be a deterrent to eating more later that night.

Lastly sleeping without worrying, planning, and/or dwelling on something can sometimes be a challenge.  Try keeping a journal and dumping your worries on paper.  Engaging in an activity that relaxes you and helps to shut down your brain can also prove helpful.  Create a positive and soothing routine that helps your body slow down before sleep.  Avoid stimulating activities including the computer, rigorous exercise, disturbing or action packed movies, and news programming shortly before sleep.  Be healthy and live longer!

 

by DrTony

DOUBLE-EDGED PERSONALITIES

July 28, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Can you think of any personality traits that are good in one setting and bad in another?  Our personality can directly affect our personal and work relationships in a big way. Take a few minutes to think about your own personality traits.  Are you intense, sensitive, critical, passive, controlling, and/or outgoing?  Sometimes our traits serve us well at work, but create conflict at home. As I mentioned in last week’s blog some of us have very little awareness of our actions and their impact on others.  In some cases, we are rewarded for our traits at work and criticized for the same characteristics at home.  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.  The other common problem is that these characteristics are often manifested at extreme levels.

A recent article written by Trish Regan for USA Today discussed this very issue.  She mentioned CEO Dov Charney of American Appparel and his reportedly inappropriate behavior that eventually was reprimanded.  The writer concludes that “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 results of destruction to relationships.  Often the increased power and control associated with success combined with a sense of entitlement and arrogance proves to be a volatile formula for failed relationships.

The ways to prevent this scenario from unfolding 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 your strengths in your personality, but don’t allow them to be become weaknesses.  Living a good lifestyle is not necessarily living a good life.

 

by DrTony

CLUELESS AND CONFUSED

July 21, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Do you know people who are either too pushy or are pushovers and have no awareness of their behaviors?  Many of us have limited insight into our communication style, personality, and flaws.  A recent study from Columbia Business School by Ames and Wazlawek found that people seen as under-assertive or over-assertive think that they are appropriately assertive.  This study, to be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also found that those who were communicating with correct assertiveness mistakenly thought they were perceived as pushing too hard.  The study paired up developing professionals for mock negotiations over certain issues.  The researchers concluded that many people are clueless as to how they come across to their counterparts and colleagues.

So why are people oblivious to their behaviors and others’ perceptions?  In some cases people don’t pay attention to subtle or not so subtle cues from others.  We can be so self-absorbed that we miss the nonverbal expressions or direct feedback from others.  Maybe we don’t want to know what others think or we’d rather ignore others’ reactions so that we don’t have to change.  Living in today’s technological world, those who may have had less face to face contact have developed limited social skills.  Based on my experience many people would rather keep their head in the sand than acknowledge their  inadequacies.  Communication skills are no different.  The obvious problem with unawareness is that we can alienate others, tolerate more than we should, and/or avoid necessary change and growth.

How do we raise our awareness?  For starters, we need to find a trustworthy and reliable person who can be honest and direct with us.  We also need to accept feedback without being defensive and justifying our actions.  Asking for constructive criticism can be difficult, but this may help alleviate future pain and rejection.  Sometimes those closest to you may not be the best resource but instead try relying on someone who can be objective and unbiased.  Ask direct questions about the way you come across and the impact that you might have on others.  Be receptive to the feedback and use it to make changes in yourself.  Communication is a valuable skill and honing this capability will result in positive consequences.  We are all clueless and confused at times, recognize it and do something about it.

by DrTony

WHEN TWO ACHIEVERS MARRY

July 14, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Last week I discussed the achiever-connector marriage, but what about two achievers who are in a relationship?  As I’ve mentioned, we’re all different, which is good and bad, but our personality types do impact our marriages.  You might feel you are both an achiever and a connector, but chances are you’re more of one than the other.  If you’ve accomplished the 50/50 split of these two types than you’ve successfully reached a balance that most have not.  So what does marriage look like for two achievers?  Remember achievers tend to be driven, competitive, and goal-directed which has its advantages and disadvantages, but when you both have that same focus sparks can fly and conflicts erupt.

Dual Achiever relationships may never enter the therapy office since they feel like they have it covered and tend to handle problems independently.  Relying on others or even their partner for help may be difficult.  Unfortunately, many high achievers outsource responsibilities that have great value and meaning including child-rearing.  They approach the marriage like a business relationship rather than an intimate connection.  Of course not all achievers take it to this extreme.  So what can be done to make these marriages work?

Achievers do well with schedules and objectives, so pre-planning dates together works.  Also, agree upon rules about disconnecting from technology and focusing on conversation unrelated to work.  Achievers need to cooperate and recognize that you’re on the same team which involves mutual respect and shared responsibilities.  Recognize the strengths in each of you and learn to delegate based on those assets.  Since achievers are task-driven, introduce more enjoyment into your marriage by each person creating a fun list and selecting one activity to do each week.  Try initiating spontaneous affection and connect through intimate conversations.  The checklist of tasks never ends so decide to limit your time “doing” and spend more time “being.”  Watch a thunderstorm or sunset, play cards, have a glass of wine, walk the neighborhood, go for a night swim; these are just a few examples of connecting activities.  Use our advanced technology to connect with your spouse when face to face interaction is not an option.  Most importantly, value relationships over material success.  Research has found that materialism doesn’t produce happiness, but rather is a stronger predictor of unhappiness.

by DrTony

ACHIEVER AND CONNECTOR MARRIAGE

July 7, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

We are all so different.  We each have different personalities, expectations, and needs, yet we find ourselves in relationship with someone who has a divergent focus.  Why are we drawn to someone different from ourselves?  I believe we are attracted to aspects of our personality that we don’t possess.  In essence, we’re looking to fill our gaps/weak points through our partner and complement our position by finding someone who can assume roles we’re not good at.  For example, if one person in the relationship lacks social skills, then the other person may take responsibility for developing and maintaining the couple’s friendships.  This is not necessarily a bad thing-we can’t be good at everything-but when there is a clear imbalance and total reliance on the other person, problems can arise.

The last two weeks I described the attributes of “achievers” and “connectors” in relationships. These different attributes may cause misunderstanding in the relationship and over time may cause resentment. Both parties may feel that they are carrying the ball by themselves with certain activities.  All marriages have differences which can lead to frustration and anger; the problems arise when the partners either ignore the conflicts or attack each other.  Conflict that is not resolved or managed will result in deepening resentment and hurt which is often followed by detachment.  The good news is that achievers and connectors can be successful in their relationships.

The first step is awareness,that is, recognition by both partners that a problem exists.  Next comes an understanding of each others’ differences and a willingness to address the issues.  Gaining an appreciation and respect for your differences can help with the process of change.  Next comes working through the steps of conflict resolution:  identification, expression, validation, brainstorming, negotiation, compromise, and implementation.  Individually working on taking responsibility for your own shortcomings instead of relying exclusively on your partner can prove beneficial.  Lastly, recognize that both achievers and connectors typically have good intentions for their relationship but are unaware of how to achieve them together.  Practice over this next week engaging in a behavior that your spouse normally tackles and if your spouse also does this exercise reinforce them for stepping out of the box to do things differently.  The achiever might consider initiating a date, while the connector may limit their social media time as an example.  Find ways to be connected that suits both parties.

by DrTony

BEING A CONNECTOR

June 30, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Last week I shared what behaviors define an achiever, now what about the behaviors of a connector?  While achievers value success, connectors value relationships.  Of course, we might have a good balance of both qualities, but typically a person is geared more towards one or the other.  Connectors focus on people building, desire belonging, and like helping others.  They aren’t as competitive and don’t get stressed out by things like achievers do.  Connectors also have a greater ease in expressing themselves  and invest time and energy into developing and maintaining deep, intimate relationships.  They receive great comfort and joy from people rather than things.

The value of being a connector is obvious, but there is a downside when someone’s behavior is too skewed towards this approach.   The negative aspects of connectors occur when they try too hard to please others, overextend themselves, can’t say no, and fixate on what others think about them.  They place others above themselves, lose their own identity,  and have difficulties setting boundaries.  Their expectations of others may be unrealistic and they become disappointed, frustrated, and resentful of people, yet fear they’ll lose the connection if they speak up.

Connectors can work towards balance by working on expressing their needs assertively, become  better boundary setters, and by accepting that they can’t make everyone happy.  Also shifting their focus from finding purpose in others to other sources of meaning and fulfillment can make a big difference.  Building self-worth that is not exclusively tied to other people and can be achieved independently of others can be another valuable mechanism to become less dependent on others for happiness.

Both the achiever behaviors and connector behaviors have great value when approached in moderation. Next week I will discuss when an achiever is married to a connector, which is the most common scenario that I see in my practice.  I will also discuss the less common dynamics of two achievers or two connectors being married.

by DrTony

MARRIED TO AN ACHIEVER?

June 23, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

You know you are married to an achiever when they map out the Disney Theme park attraction schedule before leaving to maximize every minute of the experience.  Achievers tend to be leaders who are hardworking, confident, competitive, goal-oriented, driven, and who persevere through challenges.  These characteristics can be rewarded in the workplace and create positive opportunities for career success.  Achievers take the initiative and are driven to overcome obstacles that would hinder many. They also tackle problems head-on, operate independently, and are analytical in their approach.  Many great leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals possess most of these attributes which enable them to be successful in their careers.  Unfortunately many high achievers are not good at balancing their careers with their family/married life.  The characteristics that contribute to their success are not always conducive to good relationships.

Many high achieving types never leave work because they bring work home with them or can’t shut their minds off.  They may have difficulties following others’ lead and/or delegating.  Achievers tend to be hard on themselves and others with the expectation of perfection.  Their focus is on success building instead of people building.  They tend to be insensitive to others’ emotions and deny their own.  Cooperation, compromise, and empathy are not common characteristics of the high achievers.  Many achievers like to be in control of their own destiny and may react poorly when others are attempting to share in control.

The good news is that achievers can learn to balance their lives and adopt a new mindset.  Gaining an awareness of the characteristics that don’t bode well for their marriage and making a concerted effort to tone down some of these traits will make a difference.  Acknowledging the value of relationships and learning to recognize and express emotion can also create a greater connection.  Transitioning from work mode to home mode while adopting a noticeable difference in attitude, behavior, and demeanor will benefit the entire family.  Being a high achiever myself I recognize the sense of fulfillment from hard work, but I also appreciate the need for a balanced life and healthy relationships.  Balance breeds success.

 

 

by DrTony

THE FATHER FACTOR

June 16, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

How were you influenced by your father?  Was he loving, involved, detached, critical, or abusive?  We were all influenced by our fathers, good or bad.  In my initial assessment with clients I’m especially curious about this relationship and try to discern what they may have carried forward.  Parents can impact our self-esteem, emotional development/maturity, ability to show love/affection, and influence our decision-making with our relationships. Fathers have a tremendous impact on children’s development; unfortunately the number of fatherless homes has been rising.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of three children live in father absent homes.  The fatherless statistics are pretty incredible and very disturbing.  The suicide rate is 5X the national average for those who come from fatherless homes.  In fact, 63% of all suicides are from fatherless homes.  Fatherless homes also correlate with higher crime, teenage pregnancy, alcohol/drug rates, high school dropouts, behavior disorders and health problems.  There are multiple effects on society and families.

A study from 2006 by Howard et.al in the Journal of Family Psychology found that a father’s involvement can make a huge difference in a child’s development.  They found that when fathers were actively involved  children had better socio-emotional functioning, fewer behavioral problems, scored higher on reading achievement tests, and had greater academic functioning.  Being physically present is very important, but fathers need to also be emotionally engaged and involved in their children’s lives.  Modeling healthy and responsible behaviors as well as showing love to your spouse will help children.  Spend time getting to know your children, listen when they talk to you and offer mutual respect.  Be able to talk openly about emotions and model conflict resolution behaviors.  Show them love and affection consistently and not just when they’ve done something special.  Model a strong work ethic and balance that encompasses occupation, marriage, faith, family, and friends.   Lastly, spend time in their world and invite them into your world.  Children are like sponges and learn so much from our words and actions.  This is our greatest teaching tool.

by DrTony

LIFE AFTER DIVORCE

June 9, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Is there such a thing as a healthy divorce?  What does this process look like?  There certainly is a way to manage the emotional fallout and heal from the pain.  It’s important to recognize that divorce is painful for all parties.  The waves of anger, grief, guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear can overwhelm you when you least expect it.  Accept that these emotions are normal and be kind to yourself.  Researchers have found that people who are kind and compassionate to themselves have an easier time going through divorce (Sbarra D.A., Smith H.L., and Matthias, R.M. Psychological Science, 2012).  Cooperation, communication, and mediation with professionals can also make the divorce process healthier for everyone.  Sometimes writing a script of discussion items or questions can be helpful and can take out some of the emotion.

Divorce can be a traumatic experience for children and their adjustment is often determined by the level of conflict they are exposed to during and after the divorce.  Research suggests that ongoing parental conflict increases kid’s risk of psychological and social problems (Kelly, J.B., Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 2005).  Keep the lines of communication open with the children, (depending upon their age), provide honest conversations about the family changes and avoid throwing your ex-partner under the bus.  Kids do better when they maintain contact with both parents and know that the divorce is not their fault nor will it change the love that each parent has for them.  Divorce can create upheaval in a child’s life, so it’s especially important for parents to be consistent, provide a safe and secure home, and give them an opportunity to share their feelings.

The changes brought on by divorce can be overwhelming to adults too, so make sure you take care of yourself.  Stay connected to friends and family, get exercise, rely on your faith, consider a support group, find fulfilling activities/hobbies, and take the time to heal.  I encourage individuals going through a divorce to wait at least one year before entering another relationship.  It’s important to figure out what went wrong in your marriage so can avoid repeating any negative patterns in your next relationship.  Professional help can be very helpful in the healing process and create greater awareness for future relationships.  Eventually the goal is to forgive your ex-partner and yourself so that you can completely release them and let go of the emotional pain.  Start the process today!

by DrTony

FINDING SELF-AWARENESS

June 2, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What would life be like if we all had incredible self-awareness?  Self-awareness is an extremely crucial skill in relationships and life.  Think about it, recognizing and understanding our emotions can serve us well in our marriages.  Better yet, being able to express our feelings and share them openly with others can deepen our connections to people.  Our ability to identify, experience, express, and release emotions can create increased intimacy.  With increased self-awareness, people are also able to develop effective coping mechanisms.  Being cognizant of our moods and those around us give us an opportunity for change before the emotions overwhelm us.

Researcher and author Daniel Goleman has written much on emotional intelligence.  He believes that people’s success has less to do with intellect and more to do with character and emotional awareness.  In fact, Goleman is convinced that deficient emotional skills may be the main reason marriages fail.  The emotional skills that he’s referring to are empathy, emotional communication, reading social situations, and regulating one’s own emotions.  Managing emotions can be a full-time job and it should be, but over time the task usually becomes more natural.  So how do we raise self-awareness?

One exercise I use with couples to raise emotional awareness is selecting an emotion a day to watch for in yourself or others and then sharing it with your spouse.  We all experience between 10-15 emotions per day, but pay very little attention to them.  It may be helpful to ask yourself throughout the day what emotion was triggered by each experience and work on expressing it with someone.  Journalling can also be a way to increase our self-awareness through writing about our thoughts and feelings. When our self-awareness is raised we can enhance our relationships by paying attention to others’ verbal and nonverbal reactions to our interactions.  When we recognize the subtleties in our conversations and have greater awareness of our emotions, we can anticipate greater connections to people.  Awareness increases intimacy and intimacy increases passion.  Start paying attention and reap the rewards.