Nov 22

DON’T RUSH THANKS-GIVING

Why do most people sprint through life? We are constantly racing from one activity to the next and barely take a breath of air. The promise of technology was more leisure time; instead we have higher expectations and less patience when we have to wait. Often we look to future events that we want to be over and pray for time to pass quickly. We over-schedule, overcommit, and try so hard to fit in one more thing before we have to quit. Many of our activities are positive and worthwhile, but the intense pressure we place on ourselves is unhealthy or unproductive. Not to mention the fact that we miss the moment in our efforts to make the finish line. As the old expression, “stop to smell the roses” says, we need to stop our constant busyness.

Does society cause us to live a frenzied life or does it have more to do with our personality type? The answer is probably both since busyness is reinforced by society and may also fit very well with our persona. We may choose to stay busy to avoid or distract from a bad relationship or negative emotions. Or maybe our busyness gives us a sense of purpose and self-worth that we can only get from doing not just being. In some situations, busyness is unavoidable given the circumstances of life or lifestyle choices. Regardless of the reasons, rushing through life prevents us from experiencing the joy of today. We may not take the time to celebrate our successes because we’ve moved on to the next task or goal on the list. Life is a journey and an adventure, but sprinting through it limits our ability to appreciate what we have and what we’ve accomplished.

With Thanksgiving approaching, we can all benefit from reflecting on our lives and identifying what we are grateful for. We have all been blessed in many different ways either through our families, friends, work or church family. It could be we’re grateful for our health, our pets, God, or our freedom just to name a few. What are you thankful for or, maybe more importantly, who are you thankful for? Being still long enough to communicate your gratitude to another person can be very positive. Work on carving out time to connect with people and not always be task-driven, but instead people-driven. Setting aside time to meditate, pray, and/or truly listen to a loved one can make a difference. Lastly, share your time, talents and treasures with others in an effort to see beyond your own importance. Generosity breeds goodness.

Nov 15

ENMESHED RELATIONSHIPS

Why do people get over-attached and totally consumed with another person’s life? We see this pattern often with parents and children. The parent tries so hard to make the child’s life happy and stress-free, but in the process they may neglect themselves and/or do not allow their children to grow and learn on their own. Of course providing guidance, nurturing, and comfort is healthy and appropriate, but as the child gets older there should be less care-taking and more coaching. We want our children to succeed in life and we also want to protect them from bad experiences, but there is a fine line between a healthy loving relationship and one that is unhealthy and codependent.

Sometimes parents try too hard because they feel guilty about something the child had to experience like divorce, health problems, emotional difficulties, or a dysfunctional/uninvolved parent. We may inadvertently overcompensate because we feel bad for our child, but our efforts may hinder their ability to mature, deal with stress/conflict, and learn to master the skills necessary to respond constructively to bad events in life. We may fear that they are unequipped to deal with negative emotions and conflict on their own so we intervene. Unfortunately children may absorb that message which won’t build confidence in their own efforts. Of course, every situation is different, but ultimately we want our children, based on age-appropriateness, to master skills, learn how to deal with their emotions, and work through conflict. Even adult-aged children can sometimes be enabled, overprotected, and given too much based on our own unresolved issues. So what can we do?

If we are in an enmeshed relationship either with a child or another adult, it usually implies that we take on responsibilities that are not ours to take. For example, we pay for things or buy gifts in an effort to reduce the other person’s emotional pain or to show our love, but it prevents them from having to budget or pay for it on their own. Or maybe we assume a task or chore of theirs so they will stop their tantrum behavior or stop complaining. It can be very difficult to let our children fail or experience emotional pain, but not allowing that to occur can produce more problems, since enabling is disabling. We need to work on boundaries, limiting setting, and saying no. Also working through our own unresolved issues may help us in the ways we interact with our family. Sometimes being overly helpful is a way to avoid dealing with our own problems. Lastly, work on being assertive, direct, and approaching conflicts when they arise. This will produce better results in the long run. We love others not just by doing for them, but also by letting them do for themselves.

Nov 08

FUMING WITH SILENCE

Do you know someone who chooses not to talk when they’re upset or angry with you? Why do they approach conflict this way? The silent treatment is a passive-aggressive tact used when an individual doesn’t have the emotional maturity or security to handle the conflict in a more appropriate way. It is often used as a way to punish or detach from another person. Often people use this approach because they fear conflict or confrontation, or lack skills to communicate assertively. They fear the response or anticipate a negative outcome so instead they choose to disconnect. However, the silent treatment doesn’t work and only perpetuates the conflict. The longer the silence progresses the greater the resentment and hurt.

In some cases people use the silent treatment to control or manipulate others. The assumption is that if they hold out long enough the other person will agree with them or accommodate their needs. This is similar to a child who says, “if you’re not going to play by my rules then I’m taking my ball and going home.” Sometimes people with narcissistic tendencies will adopt this approach in an effort to shame or punish a person into doing what they want. When a person fixates on blaming others, they avoid personal responsibility which creates significant conflict in relationships. Being ignored is painful. What are some healthy options in response to the silent treatment?

The best approach will require you to not absorb the emotional pain and to not assume it’s all your fault. Instead of being like “velcro” (where negative emotions stick) opt for “teflon” (let emotions slide off). Try to remain positive and relaxed around the person and don’t allow them to ruin your day, week, etc. At some point it will important for you to let them know that the silent treatment doesn’t help with resolution of conflict, but instead pushes you further away. Choose to be assertive which is to be open, honest, and direct without being hurtful or mean. Take ownership of your mistakes, but don’t assume total blame. Lastly, let them know that talking through problems is a better choice than keeping them inside which punishes each other. Remember, you can only change your own behavior, not that of anyone else.

Nov 01

SURVIVING NOT THRIVING

Do you know a person who seems to be constantly embroiled in turmoil? What keeps us stuck in survival mode? Some of us seem to be dealing with one crisis after another and can never get ahead of it. Sometimes it feels like conflict or drama are a regular part of our lives. Could we be doing or not doing something that is keeping us stuck in turmoil? It is possible that we inadvertently create conflict or at least contribute to its existence. Some people grew up in conflict, turmoil, and dysfunction so it feels very familiar and comfortable in a strange way. We are often drawn to what we know and avoid what seems foreign and different. For some, conflict produces energy, challenge, and maybe even purpose. They seek turmoil in an attempt to fix what they couldn’t change during their childhood.

Unfortunately, surviving often implies just getting by and living with anxiety, stress, and fear that things won’t get worse. Survival mode is like living in a constant state of “fight or flight,” which wears down our physical and emotional being. Just surviving also enables us to have a built-in excuse for not thriving and accomplishing more in our own lives, even though fear and insecurity are probably the underlying factors. In some situations we take on too much and are too busy to achieve great things and find our true passion. Or we make bad decisions about relationships or work that create more turmoil than we can handle and we don’t have the strength or resources to pull out. Of course surviving is better than giving up or accepting defeat, but what does it take to thrive?

For starters we need to avoid getting in over our heads and trying to fix or solve everyone else’s problems. So having good boundaries and being able to say no will help. Finding our sweet spot and passion for life will enable us to thrive which takes time and planning. We need to take time to reflect, pause, and create a vision for our next year, five years, and lifetime. Obviously we thrive when we are functioning at full capacity so taking care of our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs is crucial to thriving. Living life to its fullest, realizing our dreams, and having a positive impact on others can help us thrive. Remember that thriving is not about wealth, status, power or control. It is about finding your niche and experiencing peace, joy, and fulfillment. Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.

Oct 25

POWER PERILS

How does power affect people’s minds?  We’ve all seen the latest unravelling of a power-driven individual  in Harvey Weinstein, the prominent producer, as the secrets emerge about his inappropriate behaviors.  This pattern is more common than some may think, where people in authority use their power to manipulate and take advantage of others.  They may believe that their position and status in life enable them to experience special privileges and not have any consequences.  Unfortunately, their wealth and prestige give them a sense of invincibility and many assume that the rules are different for them.  In some cases they may have one or more personality disorders that contribute to their inappropriate actions, lack of empathy, and entitled mindset.

Sadly, many who have accumulated tremendous wealth, fame, and power lack integrity, compassion, and humility.  They fixate on things rather than people and use others for their own satisfaction.  So often they are chasing the next opportunity to achieve more and further their empire, only to have it crumble either through their own self-destructive behaviors or life circumstances.  Or viewed through a different lens, this destruction could be a  wake-up call or an opportunity to live life differently.  All of us can easily get off track and pursue wealth over health or success over significance.  We sometimes seek power and control in an effort to be more secure and comfortable in life.  Whatever the underlying reason,  it still keeps us stuck in self-absorption and self-centeredness.  The irony is that wealth, power, and material possessions don’t guarantee happiness or fulfillment.  In fact, quite the opposite, wealth beyond a certain level actually results in higher levels of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life.  When is enough truly enough?

We don’t have to achieve epic things and accumulate millions in order to be affected by this phenomenon.  In fact, certain professionals that have a significant amount of power, control, and authority may be more susceptible to abuse of their position.  What are some alternatives or ways to deal with success differently?  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, giving of your time, talents, and treasures to your community can help moderate an obsession on wealth and power.  Significance comes from positively influencing others’ lives which in turn reduces self-absorption.  Look beyond wealth, fame, and power to find joy in life.  Our relationships and our faith can give us fulfillment, peace, and happiness abundantly more than our financial worth.  Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.

Oct 18

FEEDING FEAR

What feeds your fears?  Or excessive worry or rumination?  Many of us fixate on situations or circumstances that we have no control over.  Often our negative self-talk and “what if” mindset consume our brain and keep us stuck in perpetual anxiety. Our world  seems to be filled with traumatic events and natural disasters that contribute to people living on edge and experiencing  underlying tension. Stress can impact our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. One of the biggest problems is that many of us deny the impact that stress has on our lives and compartmentalize our conflicts instead of acknowledging them and working through the issues.

We can feed our fears by assuming we have no control and are completely powerless to control anything in life. The also negative, unrealistic flip side of that is believing that we can fix and change all things that impact our lives. Neither of those mind sets are healthy or productive. Watching news programs excessively and consuming online news and social media throughout the day can perpetuate anxiety, fear, and worry. I’m not suggesting that we never read or watch the news, but setting limits can help reduce the anxiety.  I suggest that many of my patients  establish a “worry time” and gather worries throughout the day (maybe writing them down), but save them for their designated time to worry. They can allow themselves 10-15 minutes to worry incessantly, but the time is best used to make a control versus no control list for each worry. The worries you have control over can be brainstormed for possible solutions. The no control list can be given to God, prayed over, and ultimately let go. I recognize this is easier said than done, but time and practice can produce success.

Sometimes our fears and anxieties are fed by the people around us. Negative,  cynical, and pessimistic people feed our stress. We may need to call them on it and/or limit our time around these people. In some cases our stress and anxiety come from overextending ourselves and not being able to say no to people, especially when it’s a worthwhile activity. This is an area I have to work at on a regular basis. We need to do a better job protecting our time and taking care of our own needs. Sometimes our fears come from our need to be loved and accepted. We can battle our fears by confronting our distorted thoughts and reframing our thinking. Many of our fears can be explained by the acronym FEAR, that is,  False Evidence Appearing Real.  Remind yourself that we can’t control everything or everyone and reflect on the serenity prayer which states it so well.  Take charge of your fears so they don’t take charge of you.

Oct 11

PEOPLE MATTER

Do you prefer working with things rather than with people?  Some people avoid dealing with people because they can’t control them, conflicts may arise and the emotional baggage may be too much to handle.  But in business and in life successfully interacting with people and recognizing their value can produce amazing results.  Our ability to work together as a team produces the best results, whether it be in our families, at work, in school, or at church.  Team players quickly realize that it’s not all about them and learn to work at being selfless.  I recently attended a fundraiser where Tim Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback at the University of Florida, was the keynote speaker. His positive message of elevating teamwork and character over selfish ambition reinforced, motivated, and inspired me to value people over things.  An added bonus was getting to hear Jeremy Foley (retired University of Florida Athletic Director) speak about the essential ingredients to develop a positive and effective team.

Successful teams respect each other and look for ways to build one another up.  We value and encourage input and direction from others, and instead of competing and comparing ourselves, we acknowledge each other’s accomplishments.  When we deal with conflict decisively but constructively we can foster healthy relationships.  Remember that even when people don’t follow our advice they are still observing our behaviors and watching for ways in which we deal with conflict and negative emotions.  We can achieve great things without compromising our integrity and values.  When we gather our team it’s important to find people who value others as much as themselves and aren’t consumed with arrogance.

The golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated works every time, as does valuing everyone equally regardless of their wealth, status, race, ethnicity, gender, or popularity.  When we look to help others excel in life and find ways to positively impact others it can produce great satisfaction.  We encounter people every day through our work, community, personal lives, and shared activities so we always have the opportunity to connect, listen, and build others up.  Although we live in an incredibly hectic and competitive culture that rewards busyness and productivity, we can learn to pay attention to the inner rewards of valuing people.  Let me encourage you to put your relationships first and value the people that surround you.  Our relationships are our legacy. We will be remembered for who we are, not what we do.  Choose to be the person who is remembered for your character, integrity, and warmth.  Life would be much better for all of us if we embraced this mindset and lived accordingly.

Oct 04

FINDING PURPOSE

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is my purpose?”  And how would I know if I found it?  Many people spend time, thought, and resources trying to figure out their direction, focus, and meaning.  Sometimes people feel like they’re just drifting, going through the motions, allowing external circumstances to direct their lives.  Similar to being on a raft in the middle of the ocean without a rudder, compass, or any way to guide the path.  The waves, wind, rain move the raft, but the person feels helpless and powerless to decisively take charge.  In life we may go through seasons of feeling rudderless while other times we have a clear path and understanding of where we are going and are actively engaged in the journey.

Discovering our purpose takes time, effort, patience, and trust.  First, we need to find out what we love to do, which is our passion.  Next, we need to figure out what we are good at (our strengths or talents) and if we can get paid for doing it (our profession).  And lastly, we need to find out how we can help others by what we do; this is our mission.  The intersection between those four areas will be where our purpose lies.  For example, I love to teach and counsel people so that they can experience a more fulfilling and joyful life.  In the process, I also feel called to help others in their efforts to help themselves.  My faith motivates me to give back and use my God-given gifts to help others find their strengths and use their abilities to overcome adversity.

We all have gifts, talents, and purpose, but some of us have a difficult time discerning what they are or how to implement them into our lives.  All of our personal and professional experiences help to shape our purpose, and it seems the negative ones tend to mold us the most.  We grow, mature, and learn the most during difficult times such that none of our experiences are wasted.  One way to discern your purpose is to be still, meditate, and maybe journal as a means of figuring out your goals, desires, and talents.  Asking trusted family and close friends for feedback on your talents can provide good insight.  Also taking action and trying different things can work to figure out the best focus.  Lastly, evaluate your emotional state and the significance that you’re having on others because this will surely help in finding your purpose.  Personally, it helps me to remember this: who you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.

Sep 27

CUTTING OUT PEOPLE

Do you or someone you know tend to sever ties too quickly or walk away from conflict before resolution occurs?  If you answered yes, you’re not alone.  Many people prefer to avoid conflict even if it means severing ties with a loved one.  They may be convinced that the other person will react poorly so they opt to detach.  For some, fear is the primary factor while others choose to hold a grudge and justify their disconnection.  In some cases the hurt feelings or anger grows and festers over time which only reinforces the decision to distance oneself.  The hope is that time will heal the wound, but it often doesn’t work.  The tumor mushrooms until it is excised.

There are other options available to us when we are hurt, disappointed or angered by someone we love and care about.  We can attempt to talk through our feelings constructively, validate each other, apologize, forgive, and let go.  Walking away from conflict is only positive when the discussion becomes too volatile or intense and respectful interactions are unlikely.  In that case taking a timeout works (for 30-60 minutes) as long as afterwards the conversation is revisited.  Sometimes conflict resolution is impossible and the expectations need to change from resolution to management.  Either way, the benefit of talking it through and attempting to achieve closure is the ultimate objective.

Some people walk away from conflict too quickly without allowing the other person to share their thoughts and feelings.  They would rather be passive-aggressive and punish with the silent treatment.  However, the harm that it causes us when we internalize negative emotions is greater than the harm it causes the other person.  The best tact is to allow each other to express feelings, acknowledge each other’s perspective, and let go of the pain.  It also helps if you trust that the other person does not intentionally or purposefully desire to cause pain.  Of course if a person is consistently hurtful, toxic, and destructive in their words or actions then terminating that relationship may be the best option, especially if they don’t have any desire to change.  Ultimately the best way to deal with conflict in relationships is not fight or flight, but instead seeking to understand and resolve.  We all can say or do hurtful things to those we love, but we can also have the emotional maturity and wisdom to forgive and resolve.

Sep 20

DENIAL IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

Most everyone has used denial as a way of coping with a traumatic event or distressing information.  Denial can be a good thing at times when it protects us from facing unbearable or shocking news.  However, some people spend much of their time in denial and avoid confronting their problems and pain.  For example, some deny illness, addictions, abuse, financial problems, and/or relationship conflicts.  Often people in denial won’t acknowledge their issues, avoid accepting the facts of the problem, and minimize the impact and consequences on their lives.  For many, confronting their pain makes them feel vulnerable or threatens their sense of control.

Most problems don’t go away with time; they need to be confronted and resolved.  We need to examine our fears and conflicts and consider the consequences of inaction.  Next we need to identify, experience, and express our emotional pain along with identifying any irrational or destructive beliefs that contribute to our problems.  Another strategy is to journal our conflicts and decide which ones we have control over and those that are out of our control.  We should problem-solve the control items and work on letting go of the no control issues.  It also helps to open up and share with others, maybe through a support group or in counseling.  Acknowledging our conflicts can help us move closer to healing our emotional pain.  Conflicts that remain in our head will never be resolved; it needs to reach our lips.  And remember we have to go through it to get through it.

Many people rely on unhealthy mechanisms to bolster their efforts of denial, such as alcohol or drug use.  Others assume a pollyanna approach to conflict and pain without directly addressing the issues.  The best tact is to avoid minimizing or magnifying the problems, but instead take a constructive and rational approach to conflict.  Be patient with yourself and focus your energy on generating a plan rather than denying the problems.  We can experience hope and a sense of empowerment when we formulate a plan and take action.  Trust in your ability to deal with pain and rely on your support network and faith to bolster your strength.