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.

Feb 15

WHY ARE MEN AVOIDING MARRIAGE?

Why is there a trend among younger adult males to avoid marriage?  Based on a study done at the University of Utah by researchers Nick Wolfinger and W. Bradford Wilcox, younger men in particular believe that they will lose their freedom if they marry.  The marriage rate in the US continues to decline.  The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that the number of adults who have never married is at a record high (20 percent), especially among younger male adults.  Ironically, there is significant research that shows the many benefits of having a spouse.  Specifically, married men earn more money, have better sex lives, live longer, and are happier.  Married women also appear to have some of the same benefits, but the impact is not as dramatic.  Why are men avoiding the commitment of marriage?

Some may fear losing control, freedom, and decision-making authority.  They may struggle with compromise and sharing, and prefer to do things their own way.  Others may live with mistrust and fear of being vulnerable and exposing themselves to the risk of rejection or emotional pain.   They may not believe in the institution of marriage and the assumed rules tied to this covenant.  Some grew up with bickering parents who never seemed happy and have vowed not to repeat that mistake.  Or maybe they haven’t matured to the point of being committed to one person.  Still others may feel that living together provides all the same benefits without the ultimate commitment.  They are convinced that the relationship can be equally as committed and connected without being married.  However, being legally bound to your spouse provides a deeper level of commitment on a practical and emotional level.  By design, one person can not just walk away easily when the going gets tough (as it inevitably will).

As mentioned last week, relationships are messy, but have great value as well.  Being in a long-term, committed relationship can provide security, stability, and comfort if it’s a healthy one.  Connection, companionship, and compassion are important to most human beings and do benefit our physical and emotional health.  However, it is still very important not to rely exclusively on your spouse to meet all of your needs.  We should have activities and friendships outside of our marriage that give us joy and fulfillment.  Otherwise we may put too much pressure on our partner to fulfill all of our needs and not have a life outside of work and marriage.  Living a diversified life creates more passion, energy, and excitement while taking the pressure off one person.  Live life to its fullest while maintaining healthy and appropriate boundaries and you will reap the rewards.

Feb 08

RELATIONSHIPS ARE MESSY

Why do some people prefer their pets over people?  If you think about it, pets are safer, less demanding, don’t argue, and provide comfort and love.  When you’ve been hurt, rejected, disappointed, or abused by people your tendency is to mistrust and stay disconnected.  Some have mastered the skill of relating to others superficially and avoid deeper attachment and connections.  They approach relationships with their protective armor and maintain a solid and impenetrable wall.  Others may struggle with social anxiety and find relationships to be incredibly stressful.  Avoiding relationships may also be related to not wanting to give up any control or not wanting to have any demands placed on you.

The reality is that all relationships can be difficult, stressful, conflictual, and at times scary.  We run the risk of experiencing hurt feelings, anger, rejection, and disappointment which is true even for healthy relationships.  Being able to have deep and intimate relationships requires one to be vulnerable, transparent, and emotionally expressive.  Letting others in and being open enables greater connection.  All relationships have conflict, but how you handle it determines the outcome.  Our relationships require consistent maintenance and nurture in order to thrive and survive.  When we put our relationship on “auto pilot” or allow it to get only the scraps eventually it will die.  In order for our relationships to flourish we need to accept that we’ll experience good and bad feelings throughout the lifetime of the connection.  The key to successful relationships is learning to talk through negative emotions respectfully while staying attached.

While relationships tend to be messy, complicated, and sometimes difficult, they are also the greatest source of happiness and joy.  Our ability to work through the tough times, take responsibility for our actions, apologize, forgive and let go can create a stronger connection.  When we accept our differences, communicate constructively, and learn to compromise we build trust and security.  Lastly, when we manage or, when possible, resolve conflict without sweeping it under the rug or lashing out we grow in our level of intimacy.  Life begins and ends with relationships; how are you doing with yours?

Feb 01

MARS AND VENUS

We think differently, feel differently, communicate differently, and even approach therapy differently.  A recent study presented at the British Psychological Society found that men want a quick fix from therapy and women want to talk about their feelings.  The study surveyed experienced therapists to determine if there are gender differences in response to the therapy process.  The results showed that while the women preferred to dig deeper and focus on feelings and past events, the men were looking for advice and solutions to their concerns.  Men don’t seek psychological help as often as women do and some perceive it as a weakness or vulnerability, despite the fact that men commit suicide at three to four times the rate of women.  So how do we get men into the therapist’s office and more comfortable with the process?

Generally speaking men are more comfortable when they are in control and solving problems.  So it’s best for a wife to let her spouse make the decision to pursue counseling, since the more it is pushed on him the less likely he will agree.  Seek counseling that is solution-based which includes specific strategies, homework assignments, and goals.  My therapy approach includes all of these and actively engages the person in the healing process.  Most individuals seeking therapy want guidance, direction, and a specific focus to manage or resolve conflicts.  Men don’t like feeling helpless or powerless so they prefer tools to give them a greater sense of security and confidence.  In fact, approaching therapy like working with a coach who provides advice on improving your game and developing new skills can be more palatable.

Women on the other hand prefer to talk things out and process feelings.  That’s why women, in general, are more comfortable with conflict and don’t seek immediate solutions like men do.  Women are better at identifying and expressing emotions than men which counseling often requires for healing and growth.  While men can more guarded and prideful about their feelings, women tend to be more open and receptive to sharing their feelings.  Of course these are generalizations and don’t apply to all men and women.

Ideally, therapy provides both solutions for change and opportunities to process feelings.  Therapists can benefit from understanding gender differences and from approaching therapy accordingly since some psychological interventions are more about talking and others about fixing problems.  Based on the above study, men do benefit as much as women from talking about feelings, but if this is the primary objective for therapy they are more likely to be put off.  Therapy works, if you actually do the work of therapy.

Jan 25

ELUSIVE CONTENTMENT

Why are so many of us not content with our lives?  Did we learn early on that being content is a form of laziness or giving up?  Some believe that contentment implies settling and not setting anymore more goals for the future.  Or maybe we are consumed with anger or fear which steals our peace.  Some of us, including myself, recognize the benefits of contentment, but are still constantly in the mode of achieving more and striving for excellence.  Many high achievers are very competitive and are constantly working to accomplish greater goals and thus operate from a never-good-enough mindset.  Let me suggest that being content and continuing to excel in life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  We can experience contentment while continuing to be goal-oriented and success-driven.

Contentment is a peaceful satisfaction with life and a happiness with things as they are now.  Personally, I believe that contentment is an internal state of mind and an attitude that we choose to adopt or not.  Often we are restless inside looking for the next thing to make us happy and not experiencing the level of happiness that we hoped for.  It may be that we focus more on our wants instead our needs which results in dissatisfaction since we can never fulfill all of our wants.  Why do people in some of the poorest countries have the greatest level of happiness and contentment?  I believe it is because their focus is on what they have instead of what they don’t have.  Some research suggests that their joy results from moral satisfaction and that they have stronger social connections which contribute to their happiness.

So what is the key to contentment?  For starters, develop an attitude of gratitude and focus on giving back.  We can have greater peace when we let go of our inner turmoil, forgive others, and embrace humility.  When we stop comparing ourselves to others and recognize our positive traits, our level of contentment will increase.  Another strategy to find contentment is by simplifying life and developing a minimalist mindset.  Focusing less on things and more on healthy relationships can bring satisfaction.  Also learning to be still, finding purpose, and developing an optimistic attitude will create greater happiness.  Lastly, believing that “I am enough,” can create greater inner peace.  Remember that contentment does not equal complacency and continue to learn and grow as a person.

Jan 18

LEARNING RESPONSIBILITY

Less responsibility and blame. These are words I hear frequently as a complaint about our children and young adults.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog, structure and consistency can bring about change and teach responsibility.  Sometimes this can be inconvenient and disruptive for parents, but it may be the only way to elicit behavioral change.  Other ways to create change are by fostering accountability, validation, and ownership.

Great businesses know that the only way to remain successful is to expect accountability from their employees. They provide training and support, conduct performance reviews, compensate good work, and provide coaching when improvement is required. Family life should be no different. Yet, parents often assume an all-or-nothing approach, either by micromanaging through over-protectiveness or providing no direction and then being intolerant of failure. Seek moderation in your style and approach. This paves the way for children to mature, gain self-confidence, and have an appreciation for the consequences of their actions.

  • Hold family meetings twice per month to review goals and objectives and discuss family issues that create conflict.
  • Provide constructive tools to achieve conflict resolution.
  • Teach your children how to save money so that they can make a special purchase and rely on their own resources to achieve a reward.
  • Take away privileges or objects for inappropriate behaviors to teach them that for every action there is a reaction. Be sure to take away something they value and choose an appropriate time-out location that has limited stimulation.

All emotions are good; the goal is to learn healthy and appropriate expression of them. We can’t protect our kids from the realities of life, but we can arm them with coping skills that will result in resiliency.

  • Allow your children to experience negative emotions, such as disappointment, sadness, hurt and anger.
  • Give them healthy ways to express and resolve their feelings instead of absorbing or squelching their emotions.
  • Validate their emotions through acknowledgment and acceptance even if you don’t totally understand why they may be experiencing these feelings.

We all have a desire to be involved in our children’s lives but sometimes take it too far. Too much involvement in our children’s lives can lead to less investment on their part for success.

  • Allow your children to come up with the idea for the science project and provide only direction and support.
  • Watch their self-confidence soar when they complete projects and homework on their own.
  • Let them know that their achievements are a result of their efforts. Internal confidence lasts forever!
  • Expect accountability, validate feelings, and encourage ownership.

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