by DrTony


December 1, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

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.

by DrTony


November 24, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Last week I discussed why some of us work too hard to help others, especially those that we love and care for the most.  One driving force that I neglected to mention is guilt.  We might feel guilty because of a divorce, an uninvolved spouse or ex-spouse, physical, emotional or financial hardship or some other trauma that our loved one had to endure.  We can very easily justify our care-taking behaviors based on their need and our love, but as you read last week it isn’t always helpful and may hinder the other person’s emotional growth.

An interesting study by Martin Day and Ramona Bobocel found that guilt actually produced greater sensations of  physical weight, reinforcing the metaphor, “weighed down by guilt.” Alternately, a study by Francis Flynn found that people who are prone to guilt work harder and perform better. Some distinguish between healthy guilt and toxic guilt, while others believe that unhealthy guilt is really shame.  Although guilt can be a good thing and occasionally provides the catalyst for change, self-respect and love produce lasting change in behaviors.

Author and clinical educator Dr. Brene Brown believes that guilt is healthy and shame is toxic.  Healthy guilt can serve a purpose in regulating our moral compass and can lead to positive behavior change.  On the other hand, shame causes low self-esteem and behaviors that reinforce a negative self-image.  Whereas guilt results from bad behaviors, shame comes from the belief that you’re a bad person.  Shame does not motivate behavioral change, but instead many shame-oriented people don’t believe they are capable of change.  So what can we do to manage unhealthy guilt or shame?

Identify the feelings, share it with others, let it go, and seek empathy from supportive loved ones.  Dr. Brown found that not discussing a shaming event can actually be more damaging than the actual event.  Sharing what’s going on in our minds produces therapeutic effects in the brain.  Reframing our thoughts shifts our focus from our character to our behavior.  Being kinder and gentler to ourselves with self-affirming statements will help.  Writing out our thoughts and feelings can be another valuable exercise in an effort to heal the shame.  Helping others and volunteering can also produce positive benefits.  Take action today to heal from your emotional pain.



by DrTony


November 17, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What is wrong with helping others out of love and caring?  Absolutely nothing!  However, sometimes helping others means neglecting yourself.  When we rescue or caretake others we may not have the time, energy, and/or resources to help ourselves adequately.  We may also harbor resentment and disappointment that those we help aren’t helping themselves.  My definition of codependency is taking responsibility for others emotionally, physically, relationally and/or financially when they are not taking responsibility for themselves.  A common consequence is that when we do too much for others, they stop doing things for themselves.  Helping others and being selfless is a good thing except when it disables the other person or results in our own self-neglect.  Why do some people focus on rescuing others to excess?

Focusing on meeting others’ needs can be a distraction from dealing with your own issues.  Sometimes we seek to fix and rescue others in an attempt to avoid dealing with our own baggage.  In some cases, we seek to rescue others to feel better about ourselves and to give us a sense of purpose and meaning.  Pride may prevent us from acknowledging our own flaws and keep us focused on others’ issues.  Sometimes our fears related to control, vulnerability, failure, intimacy and rejection can motivate us to focus on others’ problems rather than our own.  Lastly, anger and resentment from not getting our own needs met can keep us stuck in this unhealthy pattern of relating.

As I’ve already mentioned, serving and helping others can be a positive trait when balanced with healthy self-care.  What can one do differently?  Allow others to fail (including our children) recognizing that people learn more from failure than success.  Set appropriate limits and boundaries related to how much you do for others, especially when they’re capable of doing for themselves because otherwise they will feel inadequate and incapable, knowing that they need you to bail them out.  Learn to accept help from others and allow people to take care of you every once in awhile.  Lastly, take care of yourself, not selfishly, but so that you can sustain your own well-being and continue to positively impact others.

by DrTony


November 10, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Do you know someone who always finds someone or something to blame for their problems?  Our society seems to be afflicted with finger pointers and  people defending their position.  Personal responsibility has become a thing of the past while blame, justification, and defensiveness are more commonplace.  People go to great lengths to avoid accountability and ownership when they make mistakes.  Lying, manipulation, and deceit become part of their strategic plan to deny and avoid consequences for their actions.  This is especially true when the stakes are high and there is much to lose.  People in positions of power, status, and wealth are more susceptible to this pattern of behavior.  Why do people respond this way?

Fear is a probably the biggest factor associated with this behavioral pattern.  People fear losing power, wealth, status, respect, relationships, and control.  Others fear being vulnerable, intimate, and facing rejection.  For some, pride, insecurity, and humiliation get in the way of accepting responsibility.  Lastly, people would rather not change and accepting responsibility implies a desire to change.

Many couples with relationship conflicts would also rather blame than change.  They expend an inordinate amount of time and energy finding fault in each other instead of looking at their own issues.  In some cases, they project their problems on to their spouse rather than admitting their own inadequacies.  I experience this dynamic frequently in my practice and it creates tremendous frustration for everyone.  Trying to fix your spouse often creates resistance and resentment, and rarely works.

It seems paradoxical, but the best way to bring about change in your spouse is to change your own behavior.  Relationship conflicts are never entirely one person’s fault and require both parties to make changes even if one spouse has more changing to do.  Most people don’t like to be told what to do or how to change, so decide to take a look at yourself and make individual changes.  Even if your changes don’t elicit change in your partner, you’ll be a better person after the change and you’ll take away any excuses they might use to justify not changing.  Remember that blame gives up power, but change empowers you.

by DrTony


November 3, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Do you know of someone who struggles with commitment in relationships or in life?  It seems that younger adults have an especially difficult time making commitments.  The Pew Research Center reported that while today 50% of people marry, back in 1960, 72% married.  And the average age at which people marry today is at its highest with brides being 26.5 years old and grooms 28.7 years old.  Today’s society is geared more towards individualism and the acceptance of co-habitation is greater than ever before.  The scientific name for fear of commitment or marriage is gamophobia.

So why do people struggle with commitment?  Some have a tremendous fear of relationship failure and anticipate and/or create ways it could fail.  The high divorce rate and high levels of infidelity can certainly contribute to this fear.  In some cases, individuals have experienced earlier trauma and have unresolved pain that prevents them from getting close.  Others have a fear of being responsible for another person and tend to avoid deep and intimate attachments.  Lack of trust and prior abusive/unhealthy relationships can also contribute to the decision to stay disconnected.  Commitment phobes may love the chase, but not the capture.

The commitment phobe is constantly on the move, plans last minute, works/travels a lot, compartmentalizes life, and denies their issues, but instead blames others or circumstances.  The commitment phobe misses out on the fullness of love, relationships, and life.  Just like goldfish, people grow according to the size of the bowl.

So what can those with commitment issues do to change?  For starters, accept that this issue exists and recognize that no relationship is perfect or without conflict.  You may need to evaluate your view of your current relationship and modify expectations.  Facing fear and embracing uncertainty can be difficult, but the alternative is remaining stuck in limbo.  To move a potential romantic relationship forward, build on the friendship, making sure your values match, and trusting your judgement.  Committed relationships require risk taking and vulnerability but can come with great joy and happiness.  Or as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

by DrTony


October 27, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What personality type are you attracted to and does it determine marriage success?  Are opposites happier in a marriage?  Psychologist Portia Dyrenforth and colleagues conducted a large scale study of more than 20,000 participants to address the impact of personality types on marital success.  They looked at five personality characteristics to determine which had the most impact on relationship satisfaction.  Ironically, the similarities or differences between personalities had little effect on marriage satisfaction.  Instead they found that individuals who scored high on conscientiousness, agreeability, and emotional stability were the happiest in their relationship.  The other two characteristics that they looked at were extroversion and openness to experiences which didn’t seem to have the same impact on relationship satisfaction.  What’s most important is your own personality type rather than how that fits with your partner’s personality.

So what do you look for to find the perfect mate?  Assessing personality and observing behaviors often are not the first things that we look at when seeking a relationship.  Physical attraction, financial security, sense of humor, and displays of affection are important components we tend to seek in a spouse.  But based on the above study, being responsible, mature, and having integrity are essential characteristics for a satisfying relationship.  Whatever the ideal traits are to find in a potential mate, remember that your characteristics influence the level of happiness you experience.  We need to focus on changing ourselves so that we can be more conscientious, agreeable, and emotionally stable.

Can we really change our personalities?  Based on research, along with my clinical and personal experiences, I believe we can change aspects of our personality.  How much often depends on the individual’s motivation to change and the rewards for that change.  With motivation and the right tools, we can alter the characteristic patterns of the way we think, feel, and behave which contributes to our personality make-up.  Dr. Christopher Soto, research psychologist from Colby College, believes that personality is about 50% innate and 50% learned and noted that even small changes in a person’s personality can produce positive effects on relationships.  Change begins with awareness and then moves into specific action items to implement.  It’s never too late to change!


by DrTony


October 20, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What do female executives have in common?  A 2002 study done by Oppenheimer found that 82% of women in executive-level positions had played organized sports in middle, high or post-secondary school and nearly half of women earning over $75,000 identified themselves as athletic.  A more recent survey by Ernst & Young validated these results and found that 96% of women at the senior executive level played sports at some level.  This global survey highlights the important role of sports in the  development of leadership skills.  The behaviors and strategies learned through sports foster a mental and emotional toughness essential for the corporate environment.  Athletics creates discipline, intense focus, competitiveness, and builds teamwork.  Forbes writer Jenna Goudreau reported that, “The drive to win is arguably the most important predictor of business success.”

Sports can also build confidence, problem-solving abilities, and a positive attitude that can transfer to other aspects of life.  The feelings associated with winning and losing afford an athlete the opportunity to deal with adversity and learn resilience.  Athletes acquire a different mindset and often develop greater endurance and tenacity which can prove necessary in corporate America.  Competitiveness creates goal-directed behaviors and fosters coping skills for life.

Do you have to be an elite female athlete to be successful in business?  Of course not, but participating in sports or even just knowing about a sport can give you an edge in the business world and leadership awareness.  Personally I learned a lot from competing in sports at the university level and appreciate the value of perseverance and adopting a “never give up” mindset.  Whether it is the “thrill of victory or the agony of defeat” (quoting the Wide World of Sports) we learn tremendous life skills by competing in sports.  As research has shown, high-profile businesswomen often acquired the necessary characteristics to succeed at work through their athletic experiences.


by DrTony


October 13, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Are leaders born or made?  A study from the University of Illinois (Journal of Leadership Education, October, 2014) found that leadership traits can be taught, which supports past research suggesting that leadership is 30% genetic and 70% learned through life experiences.  Professor Keating teaches students confidence, skills, and motivation to lead as part of their leadership development program.  Professor Rosch stated “The definition we use in the course is that leadership is an individual influencing a group of people toward a common goal.”  We influence others through our interactions, relationships, and communications.  Unfortunately most of our leaders today have little or no training in leadership development.  Where is the leadership skills among high-ranking government officials, public figures, and so many who are in a position of power and control?

Unfortunately, many leaders today are more self-serving than self-sacrificing.  They lose credibility when they don’t manage their affairs and behaviors.  The character and integrity of some of our leaders is suspect since they often provide empty promises and aren’t always the best role models.  Poor leaders fail to listen, lack communication skills, and don’t encourage others, but instead micro-manage.

We gain respect by giving respect.  We also influence others not just by our words, but more by our actions.  Positive leaders are often driven, confident, passionate, and have a strong work ethic, but they also are resilient during stressful times.  Being honest, consistent, and maintaining a positive attitude are all part of being a good leader.

Great leaders appreciate the goodness in others, maintain an emotional awareness, and have an ability to inspire others.  Being creative, intuitive, and be able to think outside the box is also part of leadership.  The most effective leaders care about their people, maintain humility, and empower their staff.  Lastly, great leaders have vision, collaborate with others, and learn how to best utilize other’s strengths.  We are all given the opportunity to lead others whether it’s our staff, children, friends, or community, so make the most of these connections.  Remember leaders are not born, but made through hard work and effort.

by DrTony


October 6, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Do you believe that only perfection is good enough and anything less doesn’t measure up?  Being a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages depending upon your career. While we probably all prefer our surgeons, pilots, accountants, and air traffic controllers to be perfectionists, this trait can have negative consequences and detrimental effects.  A recent article by Professor Gordon Flett at York University concluded that perfectionism is a big risk factor in suicide.  Flett and colleagues summarized data that showed consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, and overgeneralization.  The article, published in the American Psychological Association journal Review of General Psychology, linked professionals in high leadership roles in certain occupations at heightened risk for suicide based on their external pressure to be perfect.

Trying to achieve and maintain perfection can be draining, time-consuming, and counterproductive.  Decision making becomes extremely difficult which can lead to “paralysis through analysis.”  Being so preoccupied with order and details can obscure the major point of activities and limit the joy.  Perfectionism can also have a negative impact on relationships since cooperation and compromise are often not part of the perfectionist’s repertoire.  Some believe that “I am unworthy unless I am perfect,” and operate from a “never good enough” mindset.  Many of us focus on the 10% negative feedback even when 90% was positive and have a difficult time receiving compliments. We erroneously believe that perfection will protect us from rejection, blame, and shame.

Part of changing this trait requires a new mindset which includes adjusting expectations, setting realistic goals, and appreciating good, not just perfect.  As part of my work with clients, I have them practice imperfection so they can desensitize themselves to a less than perfect outcome.  Also believing that we are loved for who we are and not for being perfect will give a sense of worthiness which can overcome the fear of ridicule.  Have the courage to not focus on what others think, but acknowledge that you are loved by God, family, and friends for who you are.  Cut yourself some slack, delegate tasks, learn to say no, laugh more, avoid using perfection for procrastination, and stop overgeneralizing mistakes to mean total failure.  Decide on a time frame for a project and move on after the time has expired, even if it is not perfect in your eyes. Don’t focus on the end goal, focus on the interaction and relationship building that takes place during the process. Lastly, accept your humanness and fallibility.

by DrTony


September 29, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

How you ever felt lost and alone?  We all have experienced this at times, but some live constantly in this state.  Some are victims of domestic violence, bullying, and/or emotional/verbal abuse.  Some keep others at a distance due to an overwhelming fear of rejection, abandonment, commitment, intimacy, and/or being vulnerable.  They trust no one and expect to be disappointed or hurt by everyone.  They are trapped in their own misery and too afraid to ask for help or acknowledge their pain.  Living in emotional and/or physical isolation can be depressing, but venturing out can trigger tremendous fear.

Can you imagine how difficult it is to for a victim of abuse to call for help given the typical feelings of fear, embarrassment, shame, confusion, and anger?  Who do I call and will they believe me or suggest that I’m overreacting?  What are the repercussions of reporting abuse either to a family, a friend, or law enforcement?  The statistics are staggering with 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men having experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.  Studies show that alcohol increases the incidence of abuse.  Fear can be incapacitating and prevent appropriate and necessary action.  Many of the fears are real, such as losing financial security, living arrangements, possibly friends/family, physical safety, and the ultimate fear, death.

The first step to helping yourself or a loved one is recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship since it can come in many different forms: physical, sexual, verbal and emotional.  Educate yourself about the cycle of violence, contact the domestic violence hotline, and have the courage to take action.  Making the decision to call the police and press charges if violence occurs in the household can be very difficult, but also necessary.  It is also important to have a safety plan that includes identifying shelters/housing options, and seek counseling.  Empowerment comes from knowledge/information, resources, emotional support, legal aid, and professional counsel.  Attending a local support group and reaching out to friends/family during the crisis can prove to be helpful. Taking a self-defense class, setting goals for yourself, and journaling can give you some confidence and control. Most importantly, trust your instincts/gut and don’t deny negative emotions that are an indication that this situation is unhealthy.  It takes courage to acknowledge the pain and heal from it, but the results can be life-changing.