Apr 26

YOU MADE ME THIS WAY

Do you know anyone who chooses to blame rather than change?  Some people are stuck in the “victim mode” and seek to justify their problems rather than do something about them.  Sometimes they hang onto emotional pain from many years ago and choose not to forgive or release the conflict and emotional pain.  Life is all about choices and when we stay stuck in anger, resentment, and hurt, we choose to stay stuck in misery.  Many people believe that psychologists want to find fault in a person’s childhood to determine where to place the blame.  From my perspective, understanding the impact of our childhood experiences helps the healing process and identifies areas to make changes so that we don’t repeat what we learned.  But the point is not to blame parents or other people from the past.  At some point, as adults, we have to take responsibility for our lives.  Acknowledging trauma and pain from the past is beneficial as long as the objective is to seek healing, resolution, and closure.

Relationships are messy, painful, and sometimes unhealthy, but we don’t have to live in the pain forever and can learn ways to let it go.  Everyone experiences rejection, anger, hurt, fear, and sadness to some degree, but what we do with these feelings determines our level of resilience and our life path.  We can choose to blame our parents, ex-spouse, significant other, children, boss, society, whomever we want, and wallow in our emotional pain and remain stuck in suffering.  Or we can figure out options, develop a game plan, and take action.

Depending upon the situation, action might mean forgiving someone and letting go of the pain they caused.  Remember forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation, forgetting, nor condoning the person that caused the pain, but it does mean choosing to let go of the negative emotions.  Another action item is to figure out what you have control over and let go of the rest.  We can’t control others’ thoughts, feelings, or actions so use your time wisely and work on controlling yourself.  Decide that living in the present is healthier and a better focus than dwelling on the past.  We can learn from our past and decide how to do things differently in the present, but it’s helpful to limit our time obsessing about yesterday.  The past is history, the future a mystery, and the present a gift.  So decide today to stop blaming others for your misfortune and take action to create a better life.  We empower ourselves when we let go of pain from the past.  Do it now!

 

 

Apr 19

WALKING ON EGGSHELLS

Do you find it difficult to be honest and direct with certain people?  Are you in a relationship with someone who can’t handle the truth?  Some people are highly sensitive and react strongly to perceived rejection and criticism. They may over personalize the comments received or react based on residual emotion from past hurts.  We all struggle with fears and insecurities about something, but some of us allow these feelings to distort our thinking and influence our reactions.  People will sometimes anticipate and/or expect rejection even before it occurs and in some cases this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  For many these patterns of overreaction are rooted in past experiences and emotional pain.  Unfortunately, being in relationship with a hypersensitive person can make it hard to discuss difficult or conflictual problems.  When the person receiving the information overreacts, the person sharing is more inclined to shut down which creates more distance and disconnectedness.

Searching for the right words or best time to share can be taxing since we can’t predict the response of others.  Even knowing the person and appreciating their “hot buttons” may not be enough to avoid a meltdown or blow-up.  What can we do to avoid a bad outcome?  Sometimes asking a question first helps, “would you like me to just listen or are you looking for honest feedback?”  Or including a qualifier, “I’d like to share my thoughts and feelings and hope you won’t be offended.”   Another approach is to validate the other person before sharing the message, “I want to be open and transparent with you even though I recognize it might be difficult for you to hear it.”  Be sure that when you’re sharing something sensitive that your motive is good and it’s being shared out of care and concern.

Remember that so much of our communication is how we say it (nonverbal), not just what we say (verbal).  Our nonverbal communication such as tone of voice, facial expression, etc. accounts for 93% of our communication.  Be aware of how the message is sent and pay attention to how it is received.  The person receiving the message should work on responding and accepting the message instead of reacting immediately.  Avoid getting defensive or lashing out, think before speaking.  Maybe taking some time to process the message (24 hours) may help with the response and perspective.  Lastly, recognize that talking about difficult and conflictual issues is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.  Conflict like taxes is unavoidable, but how you deal with it can determine the outcome.

 

Apr 12

MARRIED TO MY MOTHER

Have you ever noticed that people often end up marrying someone with similar characteristics to their own mother or father?  Why is that?  Maybe because it is familiar and  there is safety and security tied to those relationships. Other times, people marry someone similar to a parent because they never resolved issues with that person and subconsciously are seeking resolution and closure.  So being married to someone like your parent can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the relationship that you had/have with that person.  Our brains tend to develop patterns and internalize scripts that are similar from childhood which shape our behaviors and relationship formation.

Some would say that being attracted to a partner who is similar to the opposite-sex parent is directly tied to attachment theory while others relate it to our unconscious mental models.  Whether we are looking to work out issues that were unresolved from childhood or are unconsciously drawn to the familiar, the pattern is a common phenomenon.  If we are seeking an intimate relationship, what can we do about this realization?  If you had supportive and loving parents then it may not be a problem, but growing up with a critical or emotionally unavailable parent may be problematic for your future relationships.

Taking more time to date a person and learn more about their personality can help you discern whether you are repeating an unhealthy and destructive pattern.  Deciding to date for a couple of years before getting engaged may be a good decision.  Also recognize that as an adult you have a voice and can confront conflict assertively without guilt or fear.  If you disagree with your partner in a healthy way and they react poorly, then this relationship may be dysfunctional.  It is important to be able to discuss life issues and share your honest feelings without being reprimanded or shut down.  In a healthy relationship the couple can have different perspectives and agree to disagree.  Healthy couples respect and accept their differences without fearing ridicule or condescending remarks from their partner.  Accept the positive similarities between your partner and parent while making an effort to change the negative connections.  Maybe addressing directly the parental conflicts from the past or responding differently than you did as a child would be a good start.  Awareness is needed before change can begin.

Apr 05

LIVING WITH A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE

What is it like to be in a relationship with a person who is passive-aggressive?  I would speculate that it is incredibly frustrating, and irritating. The typical passive-aggressive person tends to avoid direct confrontation but instead chooses to get back at the person indirectly and possibly covertly.  They don’t like conflict and would rather take their revenge in a less direct fashion, but certainly harbor their share of anger and frustration.  The passive-aggressive type will accommodate others’ needs and neglect their own at times while internalizing resentment and hurt when others don’t reciprocate.  The person in the relationship with the passive-aggressive is often confused, hurt, and possibly vengeful themselves.  In some cases, the passive-aggressive person is unaware of their behaviors and the impact on others, but often this action is taken intentionally.

Many of us learn communication patterns and styles from past experiences and role models.  If we were unable to speak our minds or confront conflicts directly, we may have learned to take a different tact to communicate and express ourselves.  We may have feared being honest and direct with others and anticipated the negative and punitive reaction we’d receive.  Many people prefer to get back at others in an indirect fashion so they can remain the good guy and not be perceived in a negative light.  In some cases people have assumed that their voice wouldn’t be heard or respected so they sought others ways to express themselves. There is a misperception that others will not realize the negative emotions behind the facade and will respond favorably.  A passive-aggressive type can smile on the outside yet fume on the inside.  So how do we deal with this type of person?

For starters, ask for clarification so that you can better understand what they are upset about and seek resolution.  It always helps to assume some responsibility for the conflict and to validate the other person’s feelings.  Maybe even give them permission to be upset, hurt, and angry while encouraging them to share directly their concerns.  If you respond positively to their negative feelings without defensiveness, justification, and blame, they may work at sharing their feelings more directly next time.  Let them know that it’s difficult to change behavior, to acknowledge wrongdoing, and to apologize if you don’t understand what you did wrong.  Also communicate with them that their emotions have value and matter to you so they don’t have to hold them in or express them covertly.  Lastly, let the passive-aggressive person know that when they are assertive, conflicts can get resolved much quicker and with less pain and confusion.  We all can benefit from being assertive more consistently since this type of communication brings people closer together.  Take action and positive results will follow.

 

Mar 29

BUSYNESS ELEVATES STATUS

We used to think that endless leisure time and an abundance of material possessions signified status, but times have changed.  According to a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Americans perceive busy people as having high status.  Today people who are overworked and never take a vacation are viewed as having a higher standing. The authors explored this issue further and found that even those using certain products and services that busy people employ raises their perceived status.  For example, using online shopping or grocery delivery companies to save time and cope with a busy lifestyle further elevated their standing.  The authors concluded that people believe that busy individuals possess desirable traits and therefore are in greater demand with higher status.  Ironically when they conducted the study in Italy they found the reverse to be true; Italians still view a life of leisure as representative of high status.

Some people work to live, while others live to work.  Many of the clients in my practice identify themselves through their jobs not through their relationships.  Work becomes the primary source of fulfillment and consumes an inordinate amount of time and energy.  It becomes very easy to lose healthy work-life balance and become absorbed in one’s job, especially if you’re good at it and receive significant rewards for your efforts.  Work is even more appealing when your relationship is unfulfilling and filled with conflict.  Sometimes people spend an increasing amount of time at work in order to avoid their spouse or anticipated turmoil.  Some would report that work is their safe haven, instead of their own home.  Obviously their relationship is in pretty bad shape for them to prefer work over home.

If this applies to you, you need to ask “what is my primary motivation for working long hours?”  Some people justify their work schedule because of financial obligations, others report that it’s the nature of the job, but maybe it has more to do with avoidance.  Either way working all the time isn’t the best or healthiest choice.  Consider delegating more and allowing others to help rather than assuming it has to be done by you.  Work on disengaging from work by avoiding checking emails, texts, or phone calls when you are at home.  Maybe you can give yourself only one hour to respond to work-related issues on a given day.  Lastly, consider diversifying your lifestyle and engaging in activities that are totally unrelated to work.  Join a gym, runners club, softball team, bowling league, cooking class, or any hobbies/sports that give you pleasure and fulfillment.  People respect hard workers, but they also respect those that can balance their lives and maintain healthy relationships.

 

Mar 22

ANGRY PEOPLE

How do you deal with angry people?  Do you ignore them, absorb or personalize their anger or lash back?  There are some people who always seem angry and continuously looking for conflict. We often treat those who are emotionally closest to us the worst and assume they’ll tolerate it or be more forgiving. Often their anger has nothing to do with the targeted person, but with whoever is the closest or easiest. Frequently angry people are struggling with other issues and emotions that their anger is covering up, like sadness, anxiety, fear, hurt, or insecurity.  Anger becomes their armor that shields them from getting close to others and being vulnerable.

Some people express their anger directly through yelling, arguing, and belittling, while others express anger indirectly through passive-aggressiveness, sarcasm, and ignoring the person.  Unfortunately social media has given angry and negative people a platform to express themselves.  They often find like-minded people who add fuel to their fire and fan the flame.  It can be very difficult to be around an angry person and even more difficult to love them.  Hugging a porcupine can be very painful.  We all get angry on occasion, but some people are chronically angry.  Even when a person has good reason to be angry, the way in which they express their feelings can influence others’ response.  When dealing with this type of person, the best solution is to walk away and realize that the battle they are fighting isn’t with you, it is with themselves.

Anger shuts down conversation which may be the objective of the angry person.  If you are in a relationship with a chronically angry person it is best to express your concerns at a time when their anger is under control.  Neither tolerating their anger nor lashing back are the best choices.  It may be effective to write a note and share your feelings, being direct without being offensive or hurtful since that will only justify in their mind their own anger.  Fighting anger with anger just perpetuates the problem; instead take an assertive stance and let them know the impact that their anger has on the relationship and your ability to be close to them.  Maybe they will consider counseling to learn healthy and constructive ways to deal with their anger and even uncover the root of this destructive emotion.  Angry people are often unhappy with themselves, their lives, and/or their choices and have decided to blame or displace their feelings on others.  Until they acknowledge their own anger and take responsibility for the impact on others, nothing will change.  You have to own it to change it.

Mar 15

WHY UNGRATEFUL?

What makes a person ungrateful?  A recent study from the journal of Cognition and Emotion found that people who value independence may be less likely to feel gratitude.  The study surveyed 500 participants and the researchers found that individuals who self-reported high levels of autonomy reported experiencing less gratitude after receiving a hypothetical gift from a friend.  A follow-up study found that highly independent people were more focused on presenting themselves well and less on supporting others.  The impact of this trait on relationships is rather significant.  Couples who focus on autonomy may have become accustomed to doing things themselves and are unaware of help from the other person.  Or maybe one person feels entitled and assumes that the other person will do for them without ever acknowledging the efforts.  Are people too busy or self-absorbed and expect others to meet their needs without any acknowledgment?

The conclusions from the above study are very interesting since independent people rarely ask for help and expect to tackle tasks alone.  They also may value self-sufficiency and focus primarily on their own issues and accomplishments rather than paying attention to others’ kindness.  In couple’s counseling, I often find that one or both parties get consumed in their own world and lose their ability to see beyond themselves.  They may inadvertently take each other for granted and not acknowledge the value of the person or of the relationship.  People sometimes lose sight of the goodness in their partner and instead focus on their shortcomings.  We are all guilty of focusing on what we don’t have, instead of appreciating what or who we have in our lives, sometimes until it is too late.  The autonomous person approaches life as an independent entity instead of a team player and may lack an awareness of others.  How can we be more grateful?

We can start by shifting our focus to the people and things that are good in our lives and intentionally acknowledge them.  A simple thank you note, email, phone call or text can go a long way.  When we interact with people, expressing a simple smile and practicing common courtesies can give people a sense of connection and respect.  We can learn to accept help from others and reciprocate when possible, but let them know how grateful we are for their efforts.  Unfortunately, our culture today rewards independence and autonomy to extreme levels whereby most neighbors wouldn’t dream of asking for a favor or help.  Let’s consider reigniting the importance of helping each other out and appreciating the value of others.  We especially need to acknowledge the good in our family and friends, not just in our heads, but by actually verbalizing their positive attributes.  Let people know that they matter and are appreciated.

 

Mar 08

PORN EPIDEMIC

Pornography is an enormous problem in society and has an impact on many aspects of life, especially relationships.  What makes it so dangerous is its availability, affordability, and anonymity.  Individuals addicted to pornography often isolate themselves, experience depression, irritability, anger, express denial or defensiveness when confronted and are overprotective of the technology with which they view it.   Some individuals experience a sexual dysfunction as a result of their porn addiction. Psychologist Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., who specializes in sexual addictions states that an “addiction is a relationship-a pathological relationship in which sexual obsession replaces people.”  Describing porn’s effect to a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Jeffrey Santinover of Princeton University said, “It is as though we have devised a form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before, usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes.”

Porn is big business and has a higher revenue than CBS, NBC, and ABC combined.  The power and money internet porn produces enables it to reach every corner of the globe.  Men who view it regularly report being less satisfied with sex and with their relationships.  Porn addicts tend to compare their partners with the images viewed and have a distorted perception of healthy sexual relations.  They completely lose the emotional connection associated with intimacy and are entirely fixated on the physical aspect of the connection. People who view porn often experience depression, anxiety, and loneliness along with less overall happiness and life satisfaction.  The chemical changes that occur from extensive pornography viewing is overwhelmingly addictive and many neuropsychologists refer to pornography as “visual crack cocaine.”  Our brain eventually desensitizes to images and habituates to them which leads to boredom resulting in the need for higher octane images.  For many, pornography is a way to self-medicate and escape vulnerability.

Recognizing that a problem exists and taking action are essential to managing this addiction.  Being able to set clear limits and establishing an accountability person along with restructuring one’s computer are good starting points.  It is also helpful to identify triggers, deal with emotions, and incorporate healthy strategies to deal with stress and conflict.  Some may benefit from attending a support group like sexaholics anonymous and consider a computer monitoring/tracking program like Covenant Eyes. Some studies have found a link of porn addiction and divorce.  Spouses of porn addicts experience betrayal, fear, anxiety, anger, isolation, humiliation, and mistrust which creates conflict and disconnection in a relationship.  Of course transparency and working through the emotional pain are important aspects to healing.  Couples will need to have open access to all technology accounts in order to rebuild trust.  The importance of communicating expectations, needs, and priorities are essential for deepening the connection.  Acknowledging the magnitude of the pain and trauma resulting from this addiction is necessary.  Working in counseling on the above issues can facilitate change and quicken the healing process.  It starts with acknowledging the problem and than implementing the solutions.

Mar 01

CO-WORKER COMPETITION

Are you able to discern who is competing against you in the workplace?  A recent study from Washington University in St. Louis found that co-workers had no clue who was competing against them and trying to edge them out of the job.  Some competitive cohorts readily show their aggressive nature while others act like they’re your close friend.  The researchers concluded that people tend to mask outward feelings of competitiveness in an effort to be polite and that they expect reciprocity.  The ideal scenario would be to promote a climate where there is friendly competition, but also boundaries that can’t be crossed.  To create a strong and cohesive team the researchers suggest transparency and uncrossable lines in an effort to maintain a healthy balance.  Be aware of what people do rather than what they say since this will probably be a better indicator of their competitiveness.

The workplace can foster healthy or unhealthy competition depending upon the way the organization’s reward system is structured.  An important factor to consider is the relationships among the staff and their level of trust with each other.  Sometimes businesses promote more individual competition rather than rewarding work as a team.  Work relationships can determine productivity, performance, morale, and ultimately cost.  If a co-worker worries about being stabbed in the back or thrown under the bus by a colleague then their level of fear and anxiety can impact their focus and effectiveness.  Sometimes workers compare themselves with their colleagues and harbor anger and resentment when they feel they’re not receiving comparable perks and recognition from their supervisors.  Ideally a system that rewards both individual and team performance can produce the greatest benefit.

All relationships, even those in the workplace, require direct communication, realistic expectations, the ability to resolve conflict and to build trust.  Work cohesion comes from creating a mission statement, incorporating team building exercises, and accepting diversity.  One suggestion for team building is to volunteer together as a group. Volunteering promotes connection.  Make your interactions with staff and colleagues, at times, non-work related and ask about their personal lives. This shows you understand that your team members have lives beyond the workplace.   Also be sure to celebrate the firm’s successes with the entire team.  Give your team feedback and let them know what they’re doing right, not just focusing on the negative.  People will work harder and longer for a person they respect and like.  In closing I’m reminded of a quote from John C. Maxwell, “A leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others.”

Feb 22

SHARING GOOD NEWS

A recent study of service member couples found that sharing good news resulted in better health and happiness.  The researchers found that supportive and responsive partners led to improved communication, better sleep, and reduced loneliness.  Veterans benefit from their partner sharing when good things happen and feel a greater level of intimacy.  While this conclusion seems obvious for most of us, we may not appreciate the degree of benefit.  Sharing good news is referred to as capitalization which is especially important in a supportive relationship. Why do some people struggle with sharing good news?  Maybe they want to remain humble, tend to be reserved, or don’t want to create envy in others.  Or maybe they fear someone raining on their parade or topping their good news with something even better.

Relationships benefit from sharing both good and bad news.  We connect through our emotional expression and openness.  Unfortunately, some choose to internalize or compartmentalize their thoughts and feelings.  They may lack emotional trust in their spouse and fear that sharing will result in disappointment or rejection.  This can result in loneliness, detachment, and resentment.  Many couples report feeling disconnected from their partner and settle for a “roommate marriage.”  They are convinced that nothing will change, but have chosen to stay for other reasons.

Let me make a suggestion.  Try to figure out your partner’s needs or love language and focus on providing that to them for a period of time.  Think of it like an experiment and decide to do it out of choice not obligation.  For instance, if you start sharing words of affirmation with them, writing thoughtful notes about what you love about them, and notice their goodness, will it make a difference?  Can people change when those around them change?  It may help them appreciate you more since you’re working on meeting their needs, but it can also raise your own awareness of the value of serving others and not being self-absorbed.  We can impact our loved ones in a big way when we intentionally work at loving them in the way they want to be loved.  Love grows when it is nurtured and dies when it is neglected.  Start now and watch it grow.

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