Jan 28

FACING VULNERABILITY

What prevents us from being vulnerable in our relationships?  The obvious answer is fear, but the more subtle reason may be shame.  Author and researcher Brene Brown has found that people struggle with a fear of disconnection which she believes is tied directly to shame and a feeling of unworthiness.  Many don’t feel good enough for connection and either numb themselves, seek perfection, and/or deny their needs in an attempt to avoid pain.  However, we can’t selectively numb ourselves which means that when we use food, alcohol, or drugs to feel less pain, both the negative and positive feelings are muted.  She believes that developing a sense of worthiness takes courage to accept imperfection, have compassion for self, and authenticity in our connections.  Ultimately believing, “I am enough” enables us to be vulnerable and experience connection.  Dr. Brown stated that, “when we stop caring what other people think we lose our capacity for connection and when we are defined by what people think we lose our willingness to be vulnerable.”

How do we embrace vulnerability?  For starters, accept that facing our fears of vulnerability is normal, ongoing, and difficult.  Being open, authentic, and self-disclosing results in vulnerability and connection.  We have to be willing to take the risk of rejection, ridicule, disapproval, and failure.  Acknowledging our emotions and being able to sit with them without looking for ways to avoid the feelings creates a greater opportunity for closeness.  Another necessary evil that many avoid is dealing directly with conflict.  Confronting, managing, and possibly resolving conflict with others enables emotionally intimate relationships.

Seeking to be vulnerable with people also requires us to apologize, forgive, let go, and accept ourselves.  We are less inclined to let others in when we don’t like ourselves and devalue our own worth.  Lastly, accept responsibility, swallow your pride and acknowledge mistakes since this will result in greater levels of connection.  Decide today to work at vulnerability and reap the benefits of deeper and more intimate relationships.

 

 

Jan 21

VOICE OF REASON

Who do you confide in?  Maybe you have a spouse, close friend, family member, pastor, or therapist to share your pain, conflict, and stress with or maybe not.  Some would rather suffer in silence than share their pain.  A recent study published in Health Psychology found that there is real power in friendships, especially for those who have lost a spouse.  Professor Bookwala and her colleagues concluded that friendships, even more than family support, help a grieving spouse to cope better than those who didn’t have a supportive friend.  Friendships can be less emotionally complex than family relationships and provide greater health benefits when these connections exist.  The ability to share our emotional pain can be cathartic, create deeper connections, and can lead to solutions to our conflicts.

In addition to unloading our emotional baggage, we all need a voice of reason.  Someone to set us straight or talk us off the ledge.  Sometimes we are too close to a situation or have so much invested that we can’t see the big picture and need a reality check.  Who do you turn to that will listen without judging, be honest in a caring way, and offer advice only when asked?  Let’s face it, finding that special person can sometimes be difficult.  Do they have our best interests in mind and have the ability to be objective?  Having a confidant, sounding board, and advisor can provide great value to your health and well-being.

Obviously, developing and maintaining friendships takes effort and time.  It also helps if we recognize the value in friendships.  We can meet people at work, school, neighborhood events, church, community organizations, clubs/activities, and through your children.  People need people and everyone has a desire to belong.  Our friendships grow deeper and more meaningful over time when we share personal and intimate information about ourselves.  Friendships also enhance our marriage and bring positive energy to this relationship.  Also emotions connect people, so sharing feelings is another good way to strengthen your bond to others.  Recognize the value in your friendships and nurture them by staying connected, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Jan 14

BEING RIGHT VERSUS HAPPY

How many of us are focused on being right even at the expense of our own happiness?   We may even cause ourselves more pain and turmoil just to prove a point.  Sometimes our pride, need for control, and/or insecurity gets in the way.  Fear can also play a part since we may be fearful of being perceived poorly, making a mistake, or being rejected by others.  We hang on tightly to control and can’t let it go. This is a common problem in relationships when couples get polarized because they both feel they are right.  Couples spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to persuade their partner to perceive things their way which in their mind is the only way.  The reality is that there are many different ways to view and approach life and fixating on only one way keeps us stuck and detached from others.  For many people letting go of their perspective, opinion, and/or mindset takes tremendous energy and courage.

We all have differences in our approach and attitude when it comes to finances, parenting, politics, religion, education, etc. but  we need to respect each other’s viewpoint and learn to compromise.  Author Alex Lickerman, M.D., who wrote The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self  believes that the art of compromising is the key to healthy relationships.  He contends that small compromises, which he calls microcompromises, add up to big issues.  Dr. Lickerman offers three solutions: accept that compromise is a part of all relationships (we don’t have the freedom to do what we wish), acknowledge responsibility and choice in our decision to be in a relationship, and lastly to view each microcompromise as a gift to your spouse.  He feels that the key to a healthy relationship is that “microcompromises are gifts that need to be exchanged rather than demands that need to be wrung from the other person.”  We also need to avoid keeping score on the frequency and magnitude of compromising since this will create resentment and detachment.

The irony is that there are times when we are right, but our delivery and presentation are horrible.  On occasion we may need to choose to say nothing and let sleeping dogs lie since our emotions might get the best of us.  Even though I often preach to speak your mind, be assertive, and communicate constructively, there are times when letting it slide or saying nothing is best.  Whether the conflict is of a personal or professional nature we should wait to respond, consult others, consider the consequences of our response, and capture the emotions rather than displacing them.  Personally, prayer helps me to reflect and discern the best approach.  Healthy relationships come from mutual respect, healthy compromise, and shared decisions.  Remember that accepting our differences works better than trying to change each other.

Jan 07

EVERYONE IS NOT A WINNER

A recent editorial in Florida Today sparked my attention when the author suggested that our nation is becoming a bunch of “wusses.”  The article implies that anxiety and fear consume our thinking and decision-making.  Are we teaching our kids to be soft, and how does this happen?  I believe this often starts with the parenting of our children.

Let’s face it, many of us are guilty of overindulging our children, and in some cases, parents’ rescuing behavior prevents their children from persevering and maturing through failure. We make another mistake when we don’t follow through and enforce consequences for bad behaviors. Some even take responsibility for their children’s failures and enable their destructive behaviors by bailing them out from poor choices. Not only do the children not learn from their mistakes, they miss the opportunity to grow through adversity. Instead, what some learn is how to defend themselves, blame others, and justify their position.  Remember, the more we do for others, the less they do for themselves.

The reality is that we grow more from adversity than we do from success.  What can we do to change things?  Resist the urge to catch your children before they fall. Recognize that mental toughness and resilience can be learned, but we have to step aside to allow it to happen. When we hold our children responsible for their actions, expect accountability, and encourage ownership, we can anticipate emotional growth and inner strength. Love your child through adversity, but avoid taking it away. Teach them coping skills to deal with conflict, negative emotions, and hardship.  Give them the opportunity to practice these skills in easy and safe situations so that they gain confidence to handle the more difficult circumstances.  Reward their efforts and trust in their abilities so that they learn to trust themselves.  Going from “wuss” to “winner” requires tenacity and determination through turmoil, which builds integrity, strength, and character.

Dec 29

SUCCESS FORMULA

With the New Year approaching, we all want to be successful in our resolutions, careers, and/or relationships.  What determines success in life?  Of course, it depends on how you define success.  For the first part of this blog, let’s focus on academic and career success.  Researchers at Stony Brook University found that early success significantly increased rates of subsequent success.  The more interesting finding was that greater levels of initial success did not proportionally produce greater levels of later success.  In other words, a modest initial success may be sufficient to drive future success.  Therefore, one factor related to achieving success is experiencing a taste of it which creates confidence and self-assuredness.  This assumption supports the approach of setting short-term, attainable, and realistic goals.  Success breeds success, but too much too soon may not be as helpful since individuals tend to not try as hard when success occurs too quickly and too easily.  Ownership of our achievements and believing in ourselves can also play a crucial role in the formula for success.

Another contributing factor has to do with personality, character, and attitude.  Dr. Arthur Poropat from Griffith University concluded that personality is more important to academic success than intelligence.  He found that the biggest predictors of academic success are two personality traits: conscientiousness and openness.  The researchers stated that not only do these traits lead to greater learning capacity, but they can be taught whereas intelligence is more difficult to teach.  Other aspects of personality that are tied to success are good impulse control, resilience, perseverance, and truthfulness.  Success-driven individuals have a mindset that they can overcome obstacles, achieve great things, and often have a laser beam focus on their goals.  Successful people also tend to remain open to learning more and value the feedback of others they respect.

Lastly, based on my clinical experience, success comes with achieving a healthy work-life balance and valuing relationships over material possessions.  Significance can have greater value than success.  Finding significance through impacting people’s lives in a positive way can be more fulfilling and rewarding than other forms of success.  You don’t have to be rich or famous to have significance.  Significance often comes from serving, sacrificing, and sharing, whether it is time, talents, or money.  We can have significance with the ones we love or complete strangers.  Consider how to have greater significance in your life.  Do it now, time is running out!

If you haven’t had a chance to check out my new book; “The Love Fight: How Achievers & Connectors Can Build a Marriage that Lasts,” the issues addressed here are covered in the book.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, relationships are my passion and anything I can do to foster healthier and happier relationships in my life and the lives of others gives me joy and fulfillment.  Starting the first of the year, I will be changing my weekly blog to be released on Wednesdays since so many of us are overwhelmed on Mondays.  I hope you like the change.

Dec 22

LOVE AND PERSONALITY

What will make a difference in our personality development?  A recent study published in the Journal of Personality with young adult couples found that their anxiety and insecurity significantly lessened over time when they were in stable long-term relationships.  The researchers assessed both neuroticism and relationship satisfaction and concluded “the positive experiences and emotions gained by having a partner change the personality – not directly – at the same time the thought structures and the perception of presumably negative situations change.”  In other words, love enables us to approach life with greater confidence instead of assuming the worst.  Although it is difficult to change an entire personality, the study supports the conclusion that negative thinking can be unlearned and having a stable relationship can be a factor in that change.  Likewise, these psychologists from the German Universities of Jena and Kassel concluded that even those who suffer from depression or anxiety can benefit from a positive relationship.

Of course being in a healthy, supportive, and encouraging relationship will have the most positive influence on personality growth.  We can learn from each other when we value and respect the other person.  I believe that learning is a life-long process that requires us to be humble, open, and grateful to those we learn from.  When we work on changing aspects of our personality, we will probably feel closer to the important people in our lives.  Change takes time, work, and energy, but inaction limits our ability to experience joy and happiness in life.  Accept each other’s differences in priorities, personality styles, and mindsets.  As it is written in Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  Love can make you stronger and more effective, if you let it happen.  Don’t be afraid to change, it’s never too late!

 

Dec 15

STRESS MAGNIFIED

Why do we experience so much stress during the holidays?  Let me count the ways.  There is the shopping, spending money, family drama, unrealistic expectations, and past memories, just to name a few.  We are all guilty of putting more pressure on ourselves to create the “perfect holiday” experience. Not only do we have added stress this time of year, but we also tend to neglect our health.  Our exercise falls off, we sleep less, and our alcohol and food intake increases.  The season often becomes the  “perfect storm” of stress when we lose sight of what is truly important.

Our increased stress can negatively impact our relationships.  In fact, stress intensifies aspects of our personality which we pass along to our loved ones.  For example, if we tend to be critical or impatient, during stressful times those traits are magnified.  We may alienate others at a time when we need their help and support more than ever.  Recognizing our stress and acknowledging its impact can be the start of change.  Shifting our focus can make a huge difference.

Work on sticking to a routine with exercise, sleep, and healthy eating habits.  The word for the month is “moderation” whether it is food or alcohol.  Schedule downtime to rejuvenate and regroup after a stressful day.  Watch a sunset, read a book, get a massage, or walk on the beach. Practice being still for a time.  Modify your expectations and accept imperfection in yourself and others.  Choose to forgive and let go of the painful memories of the past.  We all have trauma or loss from our past, but we don’t have to live with it forever.  Make a choice to let go of emotional pain that you can’t change perhaps through writing about it and releasing the negative feelings.

Lastly, focus on the most important aspects of the holiday and our relationships.  People matter more than things; joy comes from relationships.  Our relationship with God and the birth of his Son matters most to me.  He gives me hope and peace that I only receive from having a relationship with Him.  Faith and healthy family relationships provide comfort, joy, fulfillment, and security that we all need.  Make this season different by changing your attitude, actions, and approach. Let your joy be magnified.

 

 

Dec 08

PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES

We’ve all heard the expression “opposites attract,” but have you ever wondered why?  We may be looking for a mate that can compliment or complete us.  In some cases, finding someone different from us takes us off the hook for changing ourselves and shifts the responsibility to someone else.  Maybe the other person is better at some things that we’d rather not have to work at to change.  For example,  if our spouse is better interpersonally , we rely more on them to make connections.  Our recent book, “The Love Fight” discusses these differences in personality when achievers and connectors marry.  One spouse is focused more on achieving, working, and finding success through their career while the other person has a greater need to be connected and values relationships more than job success.

We are initially drawn to our spouse’s differences seeking a balance to our own traits and possibly wanting to be more like the other person.  But over time our enthusiasm wanes and we get more stuck in our ways, rigidly focusing on our way of doing things.  In some cases, our differences are amplified and the chasm grows wider.  When one person strives for greater career success while the other person seeks connection, the result is that over time the couple avoids and detaches. They focus more on fulfilling their own needs, especially if they discover that their partner has no interest in change.  The couple meets their needs independently of each other which pulls them further apart.

Our personality differences don’t have to be the downfall of the relationship.  Achiever-connector marriages can work.  For starters, we need to remind ourselves of our original attraction and accept our differences as an asset rather than a liability.  Recognize that we can grow and learn a new repertoire of behaviors when we find value in our partner’s differences.  Appreciate your partner for who they are rather than who they’re not.  When we’re open and receptive to modifying our priorities and expanding our mindset we will have greater connection and peace in our relationships.  Respecting each other’s differences and being flexible with the goal of compromise creates a positive connection.  Lastly, recognize that both achievers and connectors have value and purpose in relationships when they are successful at maintaining a healthy balance.

Dec 04

THE LOVE FIGHT

My new book, “The Love Fight: How Achievers & Connectors Can Build a Marriage that Lasts,” co-authored by Peter J. Weiss, MD, was released this week.  We are excited to complete this project! Our goal is to help couples understand and work through the conflict that results from differences in priorities, personality styles, and mindsets.  We describe the characteristics of achievers and connectors, recognizing that while not everyone is fully an achiever or connector, most people have a greater bent towards one or the other.  We discuss the pros and cons of both orientations, but more importantly, we outline ways to be successful in relationships and work.

The book offers insight into this challenging relationship dynamic and provides practical tools to heal and grow relationships. The assessments and exercises in the book are valuable resources for couples to evaluate their relationship.  Understanding the multitude of factors that can jeopardize or enhance a relationship can also be extremely beneficial.  True-to-life examples are included in “The Love Fight” to help people identify situations and characteristics that are so common in couples.

We believe the book can give couples hope, awareness, and strategies to save, nurture, and grow their relationship.  We hope you will decide to read the book which is now available on Amazon and consider writing a review.  Also if you like the book and believe it can provide value to others, please consider spreading the word through social media or any other means.  We appreciate your support and consideration.

Dec 01

RESENTMENT LEADS TO DETACHMENT

What happens to the negative emotions you experience in your relationships?  For many those feelings are internalized, suppressed, stuffed, and compartmentalized until they are buried so deep that they are difficult to extract.  The problem is that those feelings don’t go away over time, instead they require more effort to keep them hidden and suppressed.  Some people use alcohol/drugs, food, sex, spending, or other self-destructive behaviors to numb their feelings.  Others resort to choices that can be healthy but in excess are destructive to relationships like  busyness with work, family, extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, and/or rescuing others.  The underlying emotions don’t disappear with time or activity, but provide an avoidance of conflict.

All relationships have conflict and negative emotions, but what you do with those feelings is the key to success in marriage.  Often frustration and anger build over time and are followed by resentment, which is anger with a history.  Many of the couples I work with have years of unresolved emotion and conflict that they’ve either chosen to ignore or don’t have the skills to resolve.  Growing up with an abundance of conflict or no conflict, especially if we didn’t observe resolution can disable our abilities to effectively deal with disagreements today.  Avoidance of feelings often results in health problems, emotional difficulties, and relational conflict.  While healthy expression of emotion connects people, stuffing emotions disconnects people.  What can we do differently?

Recognize that we all feel both positive and negative emotions, and expressing those feelings constructively is an important skill.  Learn to say it and leave it without harping on the issue, but instead let it go.  Choose assertiveness over aggressiveness, passiveness, or passive-aggressiveness.  Decide to forgive, not necessarily forget, and don’t seek retaliation.  Remember the expression, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”  Sharing your negative feelings is more for you than the other person, therefore don’t make expressing yourself contingent upon their positive response.  Work at staying connected even at times of conflict through constructive expressions of emotion.  If all else fails, seek professional help before the chasm is too big to repair.

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