Jul 20

BOUNDARY-LESS BREAK-UPS

Are personal boundaries disappearing? How do the digital age and the lack of boundaries correlate?  The British Psychological Society surveyed 1612 adults about relationship break-ups and the online behavior of former partners.  The researchers found that almost 40% experienced online abuse and found these experiences to be highly or extremely distressing.  Obviously, people are using the internet to express their negative feelings, often in inappropriate and damaging ways.  Many people believe that the internet allows for open expression of thoughts and feelings regardless of the impact or consequence of their actions.  Some have the tendency to share too much, turn off their filter, and use this forum to attack others.

Boundaries serve a purpose and provide healthy barriers to personal and emotional information and feelings that we all have the right to protect and keep private.  Unfortunately, some believe that the internet gives them a voice to share and are seeking affirmation and acknowledgment of their beliefs.  For some the internet is a weapon that is used for retaliation. Others are looking for sympathy for being a victim.  Regardless of the rationale, internet abuse is wrong, cowardly, and dysfunctional.  When people experience emotional pain they often look to ways to lessen it and sometimes select destructive and unhealthy mechanisms.  On occasion, people choose to inflict pain rather than deal with their own pain.

Of course relationship break-ups are painful, like any loss in life, but what we do with our pain determines the outcome.  What are some options other than lashing out and attacking a person digitally?  How about writing them a letter/email and expressing your feelings privately without posting it on the internet.  Work at sharing your thoughts and feelings assertively, respectively and constructively since the other choices make you look bad and don’t provide resolution.  Consider forgiving your ex, even if you are not able to forget, condone, or reconcile. Instead let go of the negative emotion and release them from your life.  Lastly, decide to move forward with your life and no longer fixate on the things that were done and said, instead learning from the experience and healing from the pain.  When you focus on revenge and retaliation you remain stuck in the pain and give it more power and energy.  Pain is part of everyone’s life, choose to handle it with integrity and grace; you’ll be glad you did.

Jul 13

MARRIED TO THE JOB

Do you know someone whose primary identity is work?  Maybe your spouse is that person and they don’t realize it themselves.  Their work identity could be based on their profession or it could be related to their role as a parent, but either way they are consumed with this identity.  It’s possible that work provides them the most rewards, accolades, and measurable levels of success.  In some cases people are really good at their jobs, but not so good at relationships so they focus almost exclusively on the area they excel in.  Other times work provides a wonderful distraction and avoidance from activities or relationships that people prefer to avoid.  In fact, some people are running as fast as they can away from their relationships, emotional connections, and commitments to people!

People have all sorts of obsessions, but work is often justified by the lifestyle, possessions, and opportunities it affords the family and is therefore tolerated.  Being out of balance with work, relationships, and life is a very common problem.  In some cases, the power couple are both striving to achieve great things and accomplish so much that they forget to take care of themselves and their family.  Life can be hectic, chaotic, and stressful enough but when you get trapped in success, there doesn’t appear to be any way out.  The mindset is that achievement, performance, and productivity rule and relationships function at a lower priority.

How do change your perspective?  It starts with valuing people more and shifting your priorities.  Another important component is moving out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to do things you’re not good at.  Relinquishing control and being vulnerable are also requirements for relationship building and divesting from work.  Find sources of purpose, fulfillment, and meaning other than work and diversify your activities.  Invest more in friendships and lean on others for a change.  Develop deeper connections with your family, friends, and faith recognizing that like most things in life the more you put in the more you get out.  What do you want your legacy to be?  Do you want to be remembered for your work obsession?  Maybe a better legacy would to be a person who impacted others’ lives and cared for people.  Life goes by quickly, don’t let yours be consumed  by your job.

 

Jul 06

ARE YOU LIVING WITH A MAN-CHILD?

Are you in a relationship with someone who hasn’t grown up?  That person who makes impulsive decisions, lives life on the edge, and avoids responsibility and commitment repeatedly?  The immature, rebellious, and boundary-less guy who consistently gets into trouble with his spouse and family for not following through on his promises and focusing more on just having fun?  It can be very difficult if not impossible to maintain a good relationship with this type of person.  He might overindulge in certain activities and seem oblivious to the impact or consequences of his actions on others. It should be noted that although I am focusing on men, women can be guilty of these behaviors as well.  Unfortunately, it seems we men have a greater probability of acting child-like in our relationships.  How does a person get this way and why does he choose to not grow up emotionally?

Without pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s discuss possible causes.  Of course parents play a role in our personality development and our behaviors.  In some cases, boys who grew up with parents who overlooked their inappropriate behaviors and rarely set consequences for their actions are more inclined to perpetuate immature behaviors.  Maybe their father modeled this same behavior and their mother allowed it, condoned it, and enabled it.  Or maybe they were the golden child and got away with misbehavior since they were so good at sports or excelled in school.  In their mind, the rules were different for them.  Maybe they weren’t held accountable, didn’t have chores as a child, and expected others to do for them.  I believe that enabling is disabling.  When we do too much for others, they don’t do for themselves.

So why do people prefer to perpetuate child like behaviors and what can you do to change them?  For many being a “child” takes less work and maybe it’s all they know.  Others are lazy and prefer to be taken care of instead of caring for themselves.  Regardless of the reasons, people can and do change.  What spouses and family members can do is stop picking up the slack for them and making excuses for their behaviors.  Call them on their immaturity and set boundaries so they can’t continue to engage in these behaviors with no consequences. You can also discuss your expectations and needs so that there is a clear understanding of what it takes to maintain a relationship. You deserve to be treated with respect and each person in a relationship needs to contribute equally to make it successful.  Lastly, decide to not be codependent and seek an interdependent relationship that allows for both parties to take ownership and responsibility for the health of the relationship.

Jun 29

EMPATHY CREATES CONNECTION

Are friendships and relationships stronger when empathy is shared?  An interesting study published in the Journal of Personality found that teenage boys who show empathy attract 1.8 more girlfriends than those who don’t.  Empathy is the ability to comprehend, appreciate, and understand others’ emotions.  Having friendships and good relationships are linked to positive physical and emotional health along with creating opportunity for growth and learning.  People who have emotional intelligence (EQ) understand what empathy is and have an easier time giving it to those they are close to.  So does empathy only apply to teenagers and relationships?  Absolutely not, empathy can build trust, connection, and respect in all relationships.  What prevents people from being empathetic?

Most people know that narcissists lack empathy and are typically self-absorbed.  Empathy requires commitment, connection, and a certain level of vulnerability.  In some cases, people have limited exposure and experience with empathy.  Others perceive empathy as a weakness and fear being hurt or rejected by being vulnerable.  Some even believe that empathy will expose them to deceit, betrayal, and manipulation. Personal and intimate relationships expose us all to risk and the possibility of rejection and hurt.  However, as we expand our connections, share empathy, and express our feelings, we deepen the relationship and potentially increase the magnitude of happiness.

Being empathetic requires a person to have the capacity to comprehend other’s feelings and truly care about their emotional well-being.  Being sensitive to others’ emotional pain and intentionally listening, genuinely caring, and having a desire to support, help, or comfort is all part of empathy.  Are we born with empathy?  Typically this is learned through observations and modeling of those people we trust, love, and respect.  We can acquire a greater level of empathy with effort and intention.  Building empathy can be achieved by identifying others’ feelings, validating emotions, and openly expressing compassion for others’ struggles.  When we’re empathetic our focus is off ourselves and on others’ feelings which can take some effort.  The bottom line is that empathy strengthens relationships, deepens connections, and allows for greater emotional intimacy.  Decide today to deepen your connections through empathy.

Jun 22

WEEDS KEEP COMING BACK

Why do you think you can’t get rid of the weeds in your life?  And why does the same weeds keep growing back?  Now don’t take me literally on the weed removal example, but I thought this may provide a good word-picture to illustrate a point.  We all have weeds or issues that impact our lives now and again.  Many of us want to destroy the weeds immediately and look for the fastest and most expedient way to eliminate them, which makes sense, right?  Unfortunately, the weed removal process doesn’t always complete the desired effect and eventually the weeds return.  The problem may lie in the fact that the root of the weed was never removed, and instead only the surface of the weed was cut. This looked good on the outside, but neglected the inside problem.  How do you treat the problems and issues that you encounter?  Do you only address the surface problem or do you get to the root?

People tend to address both physical and psychological problems in the same fashion.  They look for the quick fix and don’t want to put the time and energy into finding or confronting the root problem and cause.  Many of us look for help at a time of crisis but once the conflict is resolved they discontinue the efforts to change by stopping treatment.  Of course, at the next crisis, when people return to treatment their weeds have overtaken their entire yard and the task seems insurmountable.  Change is difficult for all of us and requires significant motivation and determination.  However, many of my clients are able to achieve real change by modifying their thoughts, actions, and personality and ultimately changing the way they live life.  Not an easy task for anyone, but the long-lasting benefits can have a dramatic impact on one’s life.

Our mental health needs require consistent care and maintenance.  When we neglect ourselves problems arise and grow rather quickly.  How do you deal with your stress, conflicts, and relationships?  When we feed our body, mind, and soul with positivity, activity, and connectivity we create good health.  Personally my greatest strength comes from my faith, family, friends, and fitness.  Acknowledge that we all have weeds that require attention and figure out which ones have roots that haven’t been removed.  Sometimes we have to dig deep to extract the root of the problem and may need a professional to help us figure out the origin of the conflict.  Take action and address the issues today before they proliferate throughout your life.

Jun 15

HORRIFIC GRIEF

Can any of us truly imagine or comprehend the overwhelming grief the victims and families are experiencing from the Orlando mass shooting?  Most likely the answer is no.  Most of us have experienced loss in our lives, but not in this way or through such painful and helpless circumstances.

Innocent people dying who were completely powerless and unable to get out of harm’s way is difficult to fathom.  No one can predict when, where, or how something like this will occur in the future which contributes to our fears and worries about living life freely and without anxiety.  Some people withdraw and isolate themselves from situations that they consider fear-inducing while others mask their emotions and deny the impact it has on their lives.  Others confront their feelings, talk openly about them, and approach life with a healthy amount of vigilance.  Let’s face it, we can’t control every aspect of life and we would be expending an inordinate amount of time and energy if that were our primary focus.

So why did this happen?  What would motivate a person to do this?  The media have called it a hate crime or an act of terror.  The recurring characteristics of suspects in violent rampages are the same – being a loner, embittered, angry/resentful, short-tempered and disconnected from society.  There are probably multiple factors and variables that contributed to this senseless act, but the frequency with which these types of incidents occur is both disturbing and puzzling.  Could it be due to the increased exposure to violence through the media and our desensitization to violence?  Or our increased ability to communicate our message/opinion for all to see/hear and ability to receive validation of our views, regardless of how hateful?

Understanding the reasons may be helpful, but more importantly, what are possible solutions to stop this recurring pattern of senseless violence?  Some focus on blame such as guns, mental health problems, government, religion, and/or the media.  We can either focus on blame or seek solutions to solve the problem.   What about restricting the availability of high velocity, multiple round assault weapons?  What about working to improve long-standing discrimination, intolerance, and even hatred towards people who are different, whether it be sexual preference, race, or religion by teaching and modeling compassion, empathy, and tolerance for all human beings?  Certainly providing more education, awareness, and resources for mental health problems would be helpful.  When tragedy strikes, it motivates me to stay more connected to my family and friends, focus on my faith, and take action when necessary and appropriate to keep my family, neighborhood, and community safe.  Let’s all take responsibility for positive change and not allow fear to stop us from living.

Jun 08

HIGH WORKER MORALE EQUALS POSITIVE RESULTS

Are you and your staff happy with the atmosphere at work?  A recent study from the Journal of Economic Research found that job satisfaction is linked to the financial performance of an organization. How content are you with your community, health, and home life?  Similar research has also found that workers’ productivity and performance improve when they are happy at work and at home.  A recent Gallup-Healthways poll found that unhappy workers in America cost their companies $300 billion per year in lost productivity.  Not only does unhappiness affect work productivity, but a 2011 Harvard Business Review article found that it also impacts workers’ creativity, commitment, and collegiality.  In addition to satisfaction in the workplace, research from the American Psychological Association shows that people want supportive personal relationships, healthy bodies and minds, a spiritual core and purpose for their lives.

When we are successful at achieving a healthy work-life balance and nurture our relationships, the research suggests that we’re happier and more productive.  Unfortunately, people and businesses don’t always foster and encourage this mindset and attitude.  Many employers create environments that feed competitiveness and criticalness based on fear or guilt.  They lose the team approach and instead create an “eat what you kill” mentality.  The morale, attitude, and mood of the company’s people turn negative, and productivity and performance suffers.  Not to mention that the turnover rate and absenteeism increase dramatically with this type of environment.  So what can we do to create a positive work environment?

As I mentioned above, people value relationships, even at work, and appreciate when they are treated with respect and valued as a person.  Spending time nurturing relationships and asking about the well-being of colleagues and employees rather than only focusing on work tasks is important and will yield positive results. We spend so much time at work, if we enjoy the people and the environment we’re more inclined to do a better job.  Happy workers don’t mind putting in the extra effort and going the extra mile on occasion.  We should reward our staff, appreciate their efforts, and acknowledge the value they bring to the company.  The bottom line is that relationships matter even in the workplace.  Make an effort to listen, affirm, value, and praise your staff and you’ll see the benefits.

Jun 01

TRIUMPHS AND TRAUMA

Why do many highly successful people often come from dysfunctional and unhealthy backgrounds?  Growing up in an environment where bad things happen and where you have virtually no control is a strong motivator to seek control over your future life. There is a determination to rewrite your life script and not be a prisoner to someone else’s dysfunction.  Also when you grow up with very little emotional support, encouragement, and love you typically seek other ways to fill the void and feel a sense of value and worth. Many of my patients with these types of backgrounds direct their energy into either academic or athletic achievement seeking to fill this emptiness. This excellence can lead to wealth, status, and fame.

Ironically, some siblings who grew up in the same abusive households respond very differently.  Why are some not able to change their life’s scripts while others use it as a motivator to succeed?  There is no simple answer to that question.  Maybe one person is more resilient or developed other support systems outside their home.  Or maybe they were blessed with some talents that they were able to successfully channel .  Some people have a mission in life to accomplish more than their parents and prove their worthiness through tangible means like material possessions or status.  Others grew up with very little power and control vowing to never be helpless, reliant on others, or vulnerable again.  They seek external validation since they never learned how to praise or accept themselves.

Unfortunately, many highly successful people from unhealthy backgrounds struggle with healthy attachment and emotional connections.  They learned early on that nothing good comes from emotions and compartmentalized feelings which makes it difficult to develop deep, personal, and intimate relationships.  They gained their worth through work, wealth, and abundance.  Relationships have little value in their world, unless it increases their status or esteem.  While the positive side of channeling trauma into prosperity, the possible fallout is relationship distress.  Of course there are those who have both career and relationship success, but this requires a healthy balance of time, energy, and attention to both areas of life.  Achieving this kind of accomplishment proves to create the greatest level of happiness and fulfillment.

May 25

WHY ARE WE SO ANGRY?

We seem to have evolved into an angry and hateful culture.  The anger is directed at our government, big business, organized religion, media, and even our own families.  We’ve been disgusted, appalled, horrified, and disturbed by how institutions and powerful entities have handled problems and conflicts.  The anger may come from feelings of betrayal/deceit, loss of control, or from tremendous fear regarding the direction and future of our society.  The incredible changes in the world that have occurred in the last 15 years as it relates to terrorism, the advancement of the internet, and the change in cultural norms have impacted us in a huge way.  Whatever the root of our anger, it is good to remember that anger is a secondary emotion and fear, hurt, and sadness often lay under the outward anger.  Our fears related to the future of our country and its leadership greatly contribute to the current,  simmering anger.

Unfortunately our anger has not been channeled for the good or resulted in positive change.  People tend to be more cynical, negative, critical, pessimistic, and downright apathetic these days.  We are more polarized as a nation and can’t seem to work together for the common good.  In addition, we have gotten caught up in the blame game avoiding taking responsibility at all costs.

So what can we do with our anger?  How can we use it for good?  It all starts with our immediate family which we have the most control and influence over.  If we can consistently be kind, supportive, and compassionate with the people we’re around the most, chances are they’ll respond favorably.  So much of our communication is in our delivery.  Using profanity, yelling, putting others down, or being overly critical and harsh only perpetuates anger.  Instead, find the positive in others and lift them up.  Practice smiling more often, even with strangers, and asking them how their day is going.  Don’t be in such a rush, let others go ahead of you, and spread good will.  In short, practice patience with others.

Of course, many people have strong opinions about what should be done with issues outside their own families. Most would rather voice their negative thoughts than take any action.  Some might say, “I can’t do anything about it,” which is just not true.  We can write letters, make phone calls, vote, volunteer, express a message on social media, and ultimately express ourselves.  Why would we chose to do this even if the outcome doesn’t change?  Because taking action helps reduce the anger and gives us some sense of control.  Another important way to manage our anger is to let go of the things we have no control over and accept our limits.  The serenity prayer summarizes this point best, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Don’t allow your anger to imprison you; free yourself from your anger.

May 18

SUCCESS TRUMPS EVERYTHING

Does your laser beam focus on success prevent you from seeing other aspects of life?  Do you find yourself thinking about work 24/7?  You’re not alone.  Many of my clients have spent their entire lives striving for success only to find that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  And there were multiple casualties along the way while they were attempting to achieve the ultimate success through financial wealth and security.  We can get so caught up in the success engine that we lose our peripheral vision and neglect or ignore the important people in our lives.  We assume that others can function without our attention, time, and connection while we are consumed with our journey to success.  We even attempt to justify and rationalize our behavior by convincing ourselves and others that we’re working hard to create something special for them, but at what cost?

Many of my clients have made their careers and material success a much higher priority than their relationships with family and friends.  They may feel greater comfort with skills in the workplace along with a greater sense of power and control.  On the contrary, relationships require more emotional awareness, sensitivity and emotional intelligence.  The therapy process typically includes awareness raising, modifying thoughts, expressing feelings, and ultimately changing behaviors.  When a person applies the same determination and commitment that has enabled them to be successful in their profession to improving their relationships transformation happens.

Ultimately the hope is that individuals redefine success and broaden their parameters.  Creating a lavish and affluent lifestyle with no one to share in it doesn’t sound very appealing to most.  Over the years of my work I’ve seen thousands throw away or destroy their relationships and put achievement over connection.  Modifying our priorities and being intentional about our connections to our spouse, children, family, and friends can enrich our lives and create greater happiness than our material possessions.  How much time do you carve out during the week to listen, share, and connect through activities and words with people you love?  Make a commitment today to value the people you care about and show it through your words and actions.  We need to show the desire and commitment to connect less with technology and more with people.  Relationships can last a lifetime while objects lose their value overnight.

 

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