Sep 21

BAD THINGS GROW IN THE DARK

Like harmful mold and fungi, bad behaviors tend to grow and multiply when people are alone. Why is this?  Is it because we are ashamed of and embarrassed by our behaviors?  Addiction behaviors tend to increase when a person is alone and doesn’t have  feedback from another person.  The obvious one is addiction to pornography, but this also includes alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, and retail therapy.  Some will rationalize their behaviors and suggest that they are not hurting anyone but themselves.  This justification does not hold water since all actions have consequences and we are deceiving ourselves even as we hide our behaviors and lie to our loved ones.

The reality is that lying leads to defensiveness, justification, and blame which creates distance between us and the people we love.  It can impact our relationships, finances, and sometimes jeopardize our work.  The problems mushroom (grow in the dark) and cascade into a series of damaging and destructive choices.  We may even convince ourselves that there is no way out and decide that we have lost complete control of our behaviors. However, there is good news.  I believe that where there is life, there is hope.  We can change our behaviors, but first we need to recognize what needs changing and then learn how to make it happen.  Certainly commitment and motivation are required to change along with the belief that change is possible.

The first step is shining the light on your behavior and coming clean.  Hopefully you can be transparent with your spouse and also have an additional accountability person that will  hold your feet to the fire and call you on your actions.  Stepping out of denial and into acceptance takes courage.  Secondly, there needs to be a plan that you put into place, maybe an internet filtering program, an accountability program or a 12-step AA program that will provide support and monitoring.  For some, professional counseling will be necessary to adequately address the addiction while others may need an intensive inpatient treatment program.  Often addictions form from an underlying personal problem and identifying the deeper issues that contribute to the destructive behaviors can be helpful.  Surrounding oneself with a positive and healthy support group along with leaning on others to gain strength and encouragement is important.  Sometimes guilt and shame prevent us from sharing our issues, but these emotions also keep us stuck in our dysfunctional behaviors.  Living in the dark prevents us from fully experiencing the joy of relationships and life.  Shed light on your problems and embrace change, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Sep 14

MISSING THE POINT!

Have you ever sent an email or text that was completely misinterpreted?  This frequent occurrence is now supported by research.  A study done by Riordan and Trichtinger and published in the journal Human Communication Research found that friends are no better at correctly interpreting emotional emails than complete strangers.  Of course the participants in the study were confident that they and their friends could accurately discern the emotional content and intention.  The researchers also concluded that emoticons, all caps, or repeated exclamation points did not have a positive effect on accuracy.  Digital communication is an ever increasing form of interaction, yet the expression of emotion is often lost or misinterpreted.  Even if the emotion is accurately identified, the intensity level may be misperceived.

Most people rely on texting and emails to communicate information and logistics, but they may also use this form of communication to confront conflict and deal with emotions.  Some people have more conversation through electronic interactions than they do face-to-face.  As the above study suggests, people are poor judges of their emotion-detection skills leading to misinterpretation even with phone calls.  When we cannot see the other person the ability to pick up on subtle cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions make it difficult to effectively interpret emotion.  In our relationships a simple misinterpretation of an intended emotion can lead to conflict, frustration, and feelings of isolation. Research has found that 93% of our communication is nonverbal so when we’re unable to express the nonverbal cues in a text or email, the chances are high that the message will be misperceived.

Certainly communication via text or email doesn’t have to be eliminated, but the content should be limited to sharing information, not addressing emotional issues. Communication through the phone, FaceTime, Skype, and certainly face-to-face are more effective, personal, and enable better perception of feelings.  With more direct communication others stand a better chance of understanding us and responding constructively.  In essence, what you say is less important than how you say it.  Save yourself the frustration and annoyance by picking up the phone or talking with the person directly instead of relying on a less than optimal form of communication through a device.

 

Sep 07

WORK TIED TO WORTH

Do you know anyone who’s entire identity is tied to their work?  Now that Labor Day has passed let’s reflect on the impact that our jobs have on the rest of our lives.  For many, work success and achievement are the only ways to validate their worth and define themselves.  There is nothing wrong with taking pride in work accomplishments unless it causes neglect and devalues other aspects of life.  With today’s technology it is very easy to be connected to work 24/7.  For many the positive impact they have at work is acknowledged more often than their home contributions.  Of course the financial gain that work offers is a powerful allure that home life can’t offer.  We’ve convinced ourselves that work productivity and performance gives us a greater sense of importance and value.

Personally I recognize the tremendous value of work. I expend a fair amount of time and energy in this area too.  The question becomes how successful are we at walking away from work?  And do we balance life with our work and home commitments?  While we can receive great pleasure and joy from work, especially when we are able to make a difference in someone’s life, think about the cost and consequence to other areas of life.  Some people have successfully found that healthy balance.  Consider that the rewards from work are often time-limited and fleeting, whereas the rewards from personal life accomplishments can be life-long and even create a future legacy through the family and friends we’ve impacted.

The challenge is to turn off the work clock and mentality while separating labor from leisure.   Time management and readjusting priorities are necessary steps to take.  Setting an alarm on your phone may be one way of prompting you to end work and focus on family.  Another suggestion is to set aside time to decompress when you arrive home so that you can better transition to home mode.  The most difficult task is turning off all electronics and engaging into home life.  Setting boundaries, saying no, and not overcommitting ourselves can make this transition easier.  Finding passion and purpose beyond work can expand our sources of fulfillment and provide other ways to feel worthy.  Lastly, reconnecting and reinvesting in relationships can build our sense of belonging and confidence at a much deeper level than our work accomplishments.  Value work, but not to the point that it’s your only source of worth.

Aug 31

WHY FORGIVE?

Why is forgiveness so incredibly hard?  Divorce is a good example of an event that causes significant emotional pain and one in which it is so hard to forgive.  Many fear that forgiveness will result in increased vulnerability and future hurt so they select self-protection over letting go.  Others seek retribution and may have learned unforgiveness from their family of origin.  Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning, or necessarily reconciling with the other person.  Instead forgiveness is a choice and a process that takes time and effort.  Importantly, forgiveness is not contingent upon an apology or remorse, but a decision that is made to release the pain and heal oneself.  When one has truly forgiven another person, they no longer harbor bad feelings or have a desire to punish.

The benefits of forgiveness are numerous including improved physical and emotional health, and reduced anger, depression, blood pressure, and substance abuse.  Forgiveness empowers self, increases emotional maturity, and reaffirms self-respect.  Ultimately forgiveness enables the person to heal quicker, accept others’ imperfections, and avoid the role of victim.  Being able to forgive leads to greater understanding, compassion, and empathy for others.  Although, for many of us, forgiving ourselves is even more difficult than forgiving others.  When we continue to beat up on ourselves for past mistakes it keeps us stuck in emotional pain and turmoil.  It also makes it more difficult to forgive others if we can’t forgive ourselves.

There are many ways to forgive, but one of the most powerful strategies is to write a letter to the person who injured you.  The letter doesn’t have to be mailed, in fact, it may be better not sent.  The letter gives you an opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about situations, experiences, and events that caused tremendous emotional pain.  At the end of the letter you can decide if you are ready to forgive the person.  If so, share your decision to forgive, your intention to let go of the pain and need for retribution, and release the person so they no longer take up space in your mind.  Being able to confront the person and/or share feelings directly can be helpful as long as it is done constructively and you have no expectation for a positive response.  Accept your loss, let go of your need for more knowledge, and choose to forgive so that you can move forward with life.  There is tremendous healing power in forgiveness.  Who do you need to forgive?  Do it now so that it doesn’t consume any more thought, emotion, energy or time.

Aug 24

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT ME?

What do you mean it’s not all about me?  We live in a world of selfies, social media, and narcissistic outlets that reinforces the false pretense that it is all about ourselves.  Operating from that mindset seems very normal and natural these days.  We expect others to cater to our needs, assuming that our needs are more important than theirs.  Obviously, this way of thinking is neither realistic nor healthy. Why do we need such adulation, attention, and admiration?  And who can we blame for this?  Our parents, our culture, our government, our teachers/coaches, or maybe just ourselves.   Could it be that we relied so much on our parents for this ongoing recognition rather than generating self-worth and assumed others would provide it when we entered the real world?

On the other side of the same coin, others assume that it’s always their fault and blame themselves for everything bad that happens in their life.  In both cases, self-praise was never learned and positive reinforcement is constantly sought from others. People rely exclusively on external reinforcement and never learn ways to reinforce internally.  In some cases, they never received unconditional love and are determined to find it and affirm that they are worthy of love.  Or maybe they were taught that self-love and self-respect were bad and egocentric. Two ends of the spectrum but neither position is healthy or positive.  Everything is about finding a healthy balance.  Feeling the need to broadcast your positive attributes is unhealthy, but generating them through self-talk is healthy.

Unfortunately, many of us spend an inordinate amount of time comparing ourselves with others and perceiving that we don’t measure up.  We tend to focus on the one thing that we did wrong instead of the many things we did right.  Ideally we want to focus on our positive behaviors, learn from our mistakes, and let go of our past failures.  Most people are so self-absorbed that they don’t even notice when we mess up, so stop beating up on yourself and start focusing on ways to get better.  Also focus on your character and integrity more than your accomplishments and achievements since that will provide a greater impact on the people you care about.  Serving and helping others takes the focus off your need to prove yourself and produces internal satisfaction and greater rewards.  When you shift your focus from external to internal you’ll find long-lasting fulfillment instead of fleeting satisfaction.

Aug 17

HOOKED ON DEVICES

Why do we need social media to measure our success, compare our performance, or assess our worth?  Sadly we spend more time today connected to our devices than to people.  We never escape our jobs since we are always a call, an email, or a text away.  It’s no wonder that we love those vacations where we are out of the cell phone service area and are unreachable.  Social media consumes an excessive amount of our time and energy, yet we seek affirmation through our posts and pictures.  Our worth is tied to how many “likes” we get rather than the internal satisfaction of the post. We’re driven by the external rewards, praise, and approval instead of generating them from within.

So why do we base our value and worth on the number of contacts, likes, and positive comments?  For starters, our devices give us easy and quick access to a number of people and since we are not very good at delaying gratification this is a perfect venue.  We can also remain somewhat anonymous and detached from the process since we’re not engaged in a face to face interaction.  Some of us have become more comfortable interacting with a screen rather than in front of a person.  Maybe we feel less vulnerable or can be more honest with the screen message.  We prefer to confront the conflict or share the emotion with some sort of barrier between us and another person.

Relying on our devices to find self-worth, confront conflict and acquire approval is not the best approach and limits our personal connection.  Our laziness leads us to follow the path of least resistance and avoid the discomfort of everyday life.  We assume that our devices are a more efficient and effective way to deal with conflicts, build self-confidence, and connect with people.  The reality is that deeper connections and personal relationships develop from face to face interactions and self-confidence is an inside job, not based primarily on the feedback from others.

Think about how much time you spend with your devices.  How would you feel without access to a screen for a day, a weekend, or even a week?  I challenge you to consider taking one whole day or for those who can’t handle the withdrawal feelings, half a day to be without all of your devices.  How would you spend that time?  Consider watching a sunset, riding a bike, playing a board game, or even having a meaningful conversation.  We miss out on so much when we bury ourselves in our screens.  Decide today to take the plunge and replace your screen with a person, nature, and/or a physical activity.

Aug 10

OVER-PARENTING

What happens to children when they reach adulthood who were raised by a “helicopter parent?”  A recent study at Florida State University surveyed 460 college students ages 18-25 on their mother’s role in their decision-making during their childhoods.  The researchers concluded that those students who had a parent who made most of the decisions for them had a more difficult time handling adverse situations and had less self-confidence.  The students also showed higher levels of anxiety and depression, along with lower life satisfaction and poorer physical health.  The students didn’t learn mastery, coping skills, and how to deal with failure since their parents stepped in to fix situations that were stressful.  The movie “Failure to Launch,” typifies this scenario whereby the son never grows up or leaves the house because his parents enable him and stunt his maturity.  Of course, the parents have good intentions, but they prevent autonomy and self-reliance.

Sometimes parents feel guilty about something bad that occurred in their child’s life, like divorce or a loss, and look to compensate for a bad situation.  In some cases, the child or young adult has learned to manipulate and abuse the system or the generosity of the parent as a means of avoiding responsibility.  We can probably generate multiple motives on the part of the parents or child as to why they choose to be in a codependent relationship, but the bottom line is that it prevents healthy development.  Remember, we learn more from our mistakes and failures than our successes.  In our attempt to love, support, and help our children, the best thing we can do is to let them make their own age-appropriate decisions.  If we start early in their lives by giving them some choice or control over certain decisions then we can gradually expand their realm of self-reliance.

Sometimes it is very difficult for us, myself included, to allow our young adult children to make their own decisions, especially when we disagree with their choices and fear a negative consequence.  However, it is important to support and encourage them, but avoid preventing failure (unless safety is at risk) and teach them about resilience.  Another important skill we can teach and reinforce is how to cope with stress, failure, and conflict.  Modeling assertive communication, conflict resolution, and stress management strategies can provide them with awareness and hope that they can use the same skills.  Lastly, build them up, praise them, and help them to believe in themselves.  Confidence breeds confidence.

Aug 03

TRAPPED IN SUCCESS!

Have you ever felt stuck in a job, relationship, or situation and couldn’t find your way out?  Did you find yourself asking, how did I get here?  Many people end up in situations where they feel helpless or powerless to make a change either because of fear, anxiety, or guilt.  When they weigh out the options, none appears all that appealing and inaction becomes the default choice.  Some who feel trapped in a loveless marriage or a dead-end job can’t muster the energy or courage to move forward with their lives.  Another common situation that I encounter in my practice is a person who is “trapped in success.”

Success-driven individuals have worked hard their entire lives and have acquired lifestyles of abundance. However, they are stuck on the treadmill of work.  Many of these individuals do not have a healthy work-life balance and have neglected their physical and emotional well-being over the years.  Their marriage has also received the short end of the stick.  They are really good at working hard and making money.  Slowing down, modifying their priorities, and accepting mediocrity are not considered an option.  They have created expectations for themselves and their family through their accomplishments and wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone.  Giving up their lifestyle and downsizing are perceived as a failure.  So they press on, white knuckle it, and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, the consequences to maintaining the status quo can have devastating and destructive consequences.  Marriages end, parent-children relationships are strained, chronic illness materializes. The good news is that there is a better way. The realization that change is possible and life can be less stressful and more enjoyable with a slight modification in approach is liberating.  Feeling trapped is different from being trapped.  Finding solutions to balance life and shifting your focus is feasible at any stage of life.  Reinvesting in your relationships and committing to disengaging from your electronics (such as turning your phone off during dinner) can be healthy solutions to the craziness of work obligations.  Some of us have to learn to delegate more often or even ask for help when we’re buried with work.  Others have to find a life outside of work and commit to growing that aspect of their existence instead of being consumed by success.  Lastly, we need to recognize that our expectations of ourselves and unrealistic demands we place on our lives can multiply our stress level.  Brainstorm options, reassess priorities, and liberate yourself today.

Jul 27

TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED

Life today is so unpredictable, chaotic, and turbulent that no one can imagine what the future holds.  Our political, economic, social, and healthcare systems are constantly changing.  We can’t predict when or where the next act of violence, hate, or terrorism will occur.  Ironically, even in unstable times, we tend to take for granted many of our blessings and assume that these are stable and constant.  As a result we presuppose that our health, job, family, friends, relationships, and even freedom and peace in our communities are intact.  When we become complacent, we tend to assume that paying attention to these things and people are not necessary and fall into an “auto-pilot” mentality.  In the process we may neglect and disregard those who are closest to us.

Many of us are coasting through life, seldom noticing the goodness or value in our relationships or achievements.  We may have lost our direction, drive, and desire to remain connected to people in an uncertain world.  Some have lost purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in their lives.  They also may have lost the ability to trust others and allow others to get close.  Instead some focus on the negative aspects of our society and fixate on the troubles that surround us.  Over time some become apathetic, detached, and sometimes depressed.  What is missing in our lives and how do we get it back?  How do we recapture the joy, peace, and contentment that we all desire?

For starters, limit your exposure to the news media since it perpetuates fear, anxiety, and sometimes anger.  Make a list of the things/activities and people who bring joy to your life and surround yourself with them.  Identify what you have accomplished and the people who you’ve positively impacted.  If you can’t generate much from the two lists above then start today focusing on and giving back by making a difference in others’ lives.  Develop a gratitude list and start thanking the people who have loved you and supported you over the years.  Send them a text, email, or call them.  Focus your energy on today and make the most of each day as if it were your last.  Stay engaged, connected, and involved with the people you love, respect, and care for by showing them that they matter.  Personally, I find great comfort and peace by leaning on my relationship with God and relying on His good news that he loves me and is in control.  The bottom line is to take charge of the factors in your life that you can control and give the rest to Him.  Challenge yourself to take action and appreciate all you already have.

Jul 20

BOUNDARY-LESS BREAK-UPS

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

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

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

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