Feb 25

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Do you know someone who is dealing with a loss?  Grief is the natural reaction to loss, but some avoid the grieving process and internalize the emotional pain.  We can experience loss from death, divorce, and/or other life-changing events that result in a grief reaction.  Our reaction to loss can impact our cognitions, feelings, as well as our physical, behavioral and spiritual being.  In many situations our defense mechanisms kick in to protect us from pain and fear.  For example, denial/repression may be used when a person is unable to cope with the reality of the loss.  Defense mechanisms become unhealthy when they become the predominate coping strategy and prevent us from dealing with reality.  Everyone deals with loss differently and there is not one standard formula for grieving that we need to follow.

Loss can be devastating, complicated, and overwhelming, especially when the loss is sudden or there is a lack of a support network.  Kubler-Ross described five stages of grieving including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We can move back and forth through these stages as the grieving progresses.  Sometimes an individual will get stuck in one stage and struggle to move forward.  As mentioned earlier, the course of grief is highly dependent on the individual based on their prior experience and coping skills along with their support systems and expectations.  Feeling helpless and powerless often accompanies loss until the bereaved is able to regain a sense of control in their lives.

The process of grief often involves waves of emotion.  Expressing and experiencing these feelings is part of the healing process.  In other words, we have to go through it to get through it.  In fact, suffering and healing often occur simultaneously.  Saying goodbye through a letter to the person who is gone can help with healing and closure.  Grief takes time, but also action to confront the anger, guilt, and/or depression. Journalling is one method people often find helpful. Seek a supportive grieving environment and adjust to the changes of life.  Remember that you don’t have to let go of the memories of the person, but you do have to let go of the emotional pain.

Feb 18

TRUE APOLOGY

Are you the type of person that never apologizes?  Or do you find yourself apologizing all the time?  Researchers have found that we apologize more to strangers than to our significant other and family, and most to our friends.  So why do couples have such a difficult time saying they are sorry?  Sometimes couples have too much pride and want to win the battle, in spite of losing the war.  In some cases, people fear apologizing because it makes them feel vulnerable and opens them up for possible emotional pain.  Control can be another factor in withholding an apology since some feel it weakens their position and power.  Men are less inclined to apologize unless they are convinced they’ve done something wrong while women offer apologies more readily.

Are there different types of apology?  An article written in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein describes six different types of apology with different levels of sincerity.  The most insincere one is the bully apology which manipulates the other person into some action and offers a band-aid for the offender’s bad behavior.  Then there is the too-late apology which comes days, months, or years later.  The contingent apology attempts to appease the other person, but fails to acknowledge or care what the misdeed was.  The defensive apology is the self-protective strategy whereby you justify your actions with the right words then use the qualifier “but”.  The strategic apology is offered up to stop the fight and quickly move on.  Lastly, the most sincere apology is the heartfelt one that accepts responsibility, regrets ones own actions, and understands the pain it caused the other person.

A genuine apology can go a long way in the healing of a conflict.  In most situations both parties have reason to offer an apology.  A sincere, comprehensive apology is more likely to produce forgiveness.  Ideally this apology includes remorse, acceptance of responsibility, admission of wrongdoing, acknowledgement of harm, promise to behave better, request for forgiveness, offer of repair, and explanation according to researchers from the University of Waterloo.  Of course including all of these components into an apology may seem overwhelming.   The most important aspects are remorse, acceptance, acknowledgement, and an effort for behavioral change.  It is difficult to accept an apology when the behavior never changes and/or  the offender doesn’t get the impact their behavior has had on the other person.  Lastly, a word of caution.  If a person is genuinely attempting to apologize avoid throwing in other wrongdoings and accept their imperfect attempts since it’s better than none at all.

 

Feb 11

HEARTFELT LOVE

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I thought I’d share the tangible benefits of loving relationships.  Cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D,. from Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute reported that being in a loving relationship is good for the heart.  People who are in close, emotionally healthy relationships tend to be physically healthier, more physically active, more socially connected, and are less likely to smoke.  They typically have lower levels of stress and are more proactive in their healthcare which has a positive effect on their cardiovascular system.  The opposite also applies in that people who are in conflict ridden relationships with significant negativity are at increased risk for coronary artery disease.

Healthy relationships require and benefit from regular feeding and nurture.  Consider giving the gift of praise, unconditional affection, and/or undivided attention.  Assume one of your spouse’s chores for a day or two or complete a project that they’ve been wanting you to finish.  Identify five characteristics that you love about your spouse and write them in your Valentine’s card.  Engage in an activity that your spouse enjoys while maintaining a good attitude.  Set aside uninterrupted quality time to talk about your goals, dreams, and vision for the year.  Write fun lists and be intentional about doing one item from each list weekly.

Be able to laugh and cry together; both have physical benefits.  Surprises can add excitement, passion, and fun to a marriage.  Take your spouse away for a night or set up an activity/event that your spouse will enjoy without their knowledge.  Be spontaneous and creative in your ideas to reignite the spark before the flame dies.  Work on forgiveness which helps in letting go of pain.  Value your  friendship with your spouse and appreciate his or her positive qualities.  Nurturing your marriage will remind you of why you fell in love in the first place.

Feb 03

SHARED POWER

What does it take to have a passionate, intimate, and vibrant relationship?  Finding the right balance of power in a relationship and achieving it can be very difficult.  Having power doesn’t necessarily involve domination or control, but instead should involve equality and fairness.  Researcher John Gottman believes that fairness requires flexibility and responsiveness to each other’s emotions and needs. Sociologist Pepper Schwartz found in her research that couples define a good relationship as having a good friendship based on mutual respect and equal dignity.  Respect means that each person’s opinion counts and is worthy of expression without the risk of negative consequences.  Another aspect of respect is being aware of and interested in the needs of your partner.  Shared power means sharing in responsibilities and having equal authority over major decisions.

In some relationships, couples undermine each other’s decisions and also get caught up in keeping score of how many tasks each person completes. Obviously this can create anger, resentment, and eventually lead to independent decision-making along with detachment.  In other situations, one person is continuously accommodating the other person and giving in to their demands.  They have lost or given up their voice and allow their spouse to make all of the major decisions.  The balance in the relationship is totally off and negative feelings develop probably from both individuals.  Couples can quickly become disconnected when the imbalance lingers.

So how do you achieve a balance of power in your relationship?  Being responsive to each other’s needs, feelings, and opinions though conversation, connection, and attention fosters equality in the relationship.  Practice mutual respect by allowing each person to maintain an individual identity and actively support the well-being of each other.  Shared power also requires  both parties to work at conflict management and replace defensiveness with listening and validating each other’s emotions. Lastly, achieving fairness and equality requires trust and the ability to be vulnerable without fear of attack.  Those in healthy relationships have learned how to share the power and value the input of their spouse.

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!

 

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