Nov 30

CRISIS MOTIVATES CHANGE

Why do people wait until a crisis hits before taking action?  Often people assume the problem will go away or get better with time.  Sometimes denial overpowers any effort to make a change and people live more comfortably in a state of repression.  In other cases people are too lazy to change or feel incapable of making the necessary changes.  Other times individuals test the limits and see how far they can go before change is required.  Change is scary and can be challenging for most of us.  We are creatures of habit and many prefer to live with the status quo until they are pushed by circumstances to do something different.

Maybe your job situation has become tenuous or your marriage rocky due to some poor decisions.  People often choose to make unhealthy choices which leads to destructive behaviors until they are forced into change by their partner.   Sometimes a trip to the ER due to some medical problem that you’ve been ignoring has intensified and denial is no longer an option.  We tend to respond reactively instead of proactively.  Although a crisis can be a motivator for change, fear or guilt cannot be the long-term sustainers of change.  Fear and guilt tend to be external motivators rather than internal drivers and their power fades over time, unless an internal buy-in occurs.  At some point, the person making the changes has to make the conscious choice to modify their behavior for their own well-being, not because others want them to change.  Change is difficult for most of us, but it’s tougher when you’re doing it only for someone else and you’re not convinced that the change is necessary.

If you are impacted by a crisis or relationship issue, does your partner acknowledge the problem and agree to do something about it?  If not, change may initially have to come from you.  Ideally we recognize problems before they cause significant damage and address them right away.  Let’s assume we don’t, now what?  The first step is to identify the problem areas and assess the damage.  People can change their thinking, feelings, and behaviors when they take responsibility for their actions. When you find yourself in the same situation over and over or have a recurring argument with your partner this may be an indication that change needs to happen.  Stop ignoring the obvious, take action and believe that change is possible.

 

Nov 26

SUCCESS DRIVEN SURVEY

Do you wonder what drives people to success?  Of course we all want to be successful in life, but some of us are obsessed with success.  I’ve worked with high-achieving people for years and have discovered some possible drivers for success, but haven’t developed an empirical reason.  I’m asking for your help in determining what drives success.  If you would describe yourself as success-driven, then please consider completing the survey below.  If you know of people who fit this criteria please pass the survey on to them.  It should only take a few minutes and will help me in working with people to identify their success driven factors and ways to help them achieve work-life balance.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/788F2PY

Nov 23

OOPS-Part 2-SECURITY TIED TO SLEEP

Starting with the third paragraph, this is a continuation of the blog mistakenly published before completion yesterday afternoon. Maybe this is telling me I need more sleep during this busy holiday time!

What causes people to have disruptive and restless sleep?  A recent study paper provided by Society for Personality and Social Psychology found that having a responsive and supportive partner directly impacts one’s sleep pattern.  Most of us spend up to one-third of our lives asleep, but the quality of our sleep determines how much restorative value we get from it.  Restorative sleep occurs when people feel safe, secure, protected, and connected.  The results suggest that responsive partners can lower anxiety and arousal, and improve sleep which leads to happier and healthier lives.  In other words, when you think your partner understands and cares for you, your sleep quality improves along with your well-being.

Many of the couples that I work with complain that their partners don’t listen to them, value their feelings, or have compassion for their circumstances.  In fact, many individuals feel invalidated by their partner and assume they don’t care about their feelings.  Obviously this creates anger, resentment, and eventually detachment.  Couples grow apart when they believe or experience either non responsiveness or verbal attacks from their spouse.  We all want to be heard, respected, valued, and understood, especially from our spouse.  When we connect with our spouse, we feel a greater sense of comfort and security.

Life is extremely busy and hectic in a normal week, but add the holidays and overload quickly occurs.  We can make sure we take care of our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, but having a partner who steps up, helps out, and provides emotional support without having to be asked makes life a little easier.  Working as a team and knowing someone has your back can provide greater comfort and security, especially when they “get” you.  As we approach Thanksgiving, be grateful for the people who support, encourage, and validate you.  We are all in need of love and acceptance, especially when stressed out, overwhelmed, and feeling under appreciated.  Take the time to tell others how much they mean to you.

 

 

Nov 22

SECURITY TIED TO SLEEP

 

What causes people to have disruptive and restless sleep?  A recent study paper provided by Society for Personality and Social Psychology found that having a responsive and supportive partner directly impacts one’s sleep pattern.  Most of us spend up to one-third of our lives asleep, but the quality of our sleep determines how much restorative value we get from it.  Restorative sleep occurs when people feel safe, secure, protected, and connected.  The results suggest that responsive partners can lower anxiety, arousal, and improve sleep which leads to happier and healthier lives.  In other words, when you think your partner understands and cares for you, your sleep quality improves along with your well-being.

Many of the couples that I work with complain that their partners don’t listen to them, value their feelings, or have compassion for their circumstances.  In fact, many individuals feel invalidated by their partner and assume they don’t care about their feelings.  Obviously this creates anger, resentment, and eventually detachment.  Couples grow apart when they believe or experience either non responsiveness or verbal attacks from their spouse.  We all want to be heard, respected, valued, and understood, especially from our spouse.  When we connect with our spouse, we feel a greater sense of comfort and security.

Nov 16

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Do you know someone who lives life on the edge?  Someone who is a workaholic, risk taker, drama queen, adrenalin junkie, or fitness fanatic?  Some people are constantly pressing the envelope of life, testing their limits, and functioning outside of the box.  Why do people choose to live this way?  Could this be a sign of some sort of pathology? While it could indicate a psychological problem, it also may reflect that they can’t feel anything unless they live life at extremes. Their emotions may have been blunted over time leading them to choose intense activities to trigger intense feelings.  Why would people sign up for this approach to life?

Some individuals haven’t learned healthy ways to manage and regulate their emotions and are drawn to the roller coaster of feelings. This may be what they grew up with and therefore this feels normal, familiar, and safe even though others perceive it as unhealthy.  For example, growing up in a family where conflict and turmoil were the norm may trigger a desire to create this situation as an adult.   Do you know people who thrive on conflict? We might wonder what they get from that and the answer may be simple: connection.  Some people can only connect through conflict and have an inability to attach in any other way.  Obviously conflict triggers emotion, albeit negative, and sometimes even negative feelings creates a  connection.  Although conflict is a necessary aspect of life, some create it or feed it in an effort to keep it going.  Other times, people seek circumstances that require an extreme response because they get bored with their mundane lives and need some excitement.

So what if you fit the profile above and want to make a change?  The first step is to identify your thoughts and actions that create conflict and turmoil and attempt to understand why.  Could it be a way to get attention, rebel against the norms, or avoid being fully attached to people?  Maybe it’s the only way for you to feel alive and experience emotions fully.  Sometimes understanding the causes can help with the solutions.  Ultimately, the objective is to live a more balanced and connected life through constructive expressions of emotion.  If you exhibit poor boundaries in relationships and tend to be either overly enmeshed or totally detached, seek the middle ground by connecting with others in less extreme ways. Learn to find excitement through less extreme activities.  Learning to accept and respect oneself can also reduce the need to push beyond the healthy limits of living.  Lastly, find happiness and peace internally instead of seeking external validation.  Balance breeds success.

Nov 09

GROWING LIES

Have you ever noticed that small lies sometimes lead to bigger lies?  What happens in our brain that contributes to this phenomenon?  Actually, a recent study done at University College London found that telling small lies desensitizes our brains to the associated negative emotions possibly leading the way to bigger lies.  This study was published in Nature Neuroscience and is the first empirical evidence to support that self-serving lies escalate.  The researchers scanned the brains of 80 volunteers while they took part in tasks where they could lie for personal gain.  The subject’s brain’s response to lying declined with every lie while at the same time the magnitude of lies escalated.  The researchers concluded that small acts of dishonesty escalate into more significant lies which they connect to the brain’s blunted response to repeated acts of dishonesty and a reduced emotional response.

We all lie on occasion, but the frequency and seriousness of our lies may predict the consequences both physiologically and emotionally.  Based on the above mentioned study, lying takes our brains down a slippery slope and can lead to bigger problems.  This study mirrors the same principle for risk taking or violent behavior which is that repeated exposure can lead to desensitization and a blunted emotional response.  Over time, the brain adapts to the repeated behaviors and responds with less emotion.  We could correlate this conclusion with the formation or intensification of many other addictive or destructive behaviors.  In other words, we need increased stimulation or arousal in order to achieve the original high.  With lying it may not be achieving a high, but instead numbing our emotional reaction which can intensify the behaviors.

For couples, trust is a huge issue and without trust it is impossible to have a healthy marriage.  When the trust is broken due to lying or destructive behaviors it takes time, effort, and an ability to confront the emotional pain in order for healing to occur.  Time alone doesn’t heal all wounds.  Couples need to acknowledge the pain, understand the root cause, commit to behavioral changes, and ultimately forgive.  Trust is reestablished through transparency, consistency in words and actions, and maintenance of healthy boundaries.  Taking ownership of mistakes without defensiveness or justification and being remorseful with an action plan for change can help with the healing.  Couples need to increase their self-disclosure, be vulnerable with each other, and confront conflict constructively.  Being connected, sharing feelings openly, and making the marriage the highest priority will build trust.  Lying grows mistrust, while being honest and forthcoming keeps relationships strong.

Nov 02

WORK CONNECTIONS MATTER

Do you like the people you work with and does it matter?  A recent meta-analysis covering 58 studies and published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review showed that our health at work is influenced by our social relationships in the workplace.  In fact, this study found that both performance and health are improved through social connection and identification.  People might assume that matching one’s personality and skill set to a particular job is the key to a healthy work life. However, this study concluded that feeling a sense of belonging and community was just as important and reduced burnout.  Given the fact that we spend an average of one-third of our day on the job, our level of identification with the people or organization really does matter.

How can we improve our work relationships?  Treating our coworkers and staff with respect, valuing their opinions, and listening to their requests without judgement is a good start.  Remaining professional, even when our emotions are high, and avoiding personalization or lashing is also important.  We can notice goodness and praise positive behaviors.  Simply asking about the health and well-being of a coworker and their family conveys care and concern. Share a little of yourself with your coworkers. Notice I said a little. We all know some who share way too much. But sharing a small detail of a struggle with everyday problems will make you seem more human and therefore more personable.  Reward hard work either monetarily or through a simple gift of a lunch or gift card.  Most importantly, appreciate your staff and colleagues so that they recognize their value and support to the team.

Communicating directly, kindly, and assertively will foster better connections and respect.  Dealing with conflict can often be difficult in the workplace, but when you are able to acknowledge the other person’s position and feelings it is easier to work toward a compromise and resolution.  Discuss conflicts without defensiveness or blame, instead taking responsibility for your part and be able to apologize.  Ultimately you want to put your pride aside and let go of your need for control.  People will work harder for their boss when they like the person, respect them, and feel valued for what they do.  We all want to be appreciated and acknowledged for our contribution to the organization.  Of course people are motivated by money, but positive affirmations and acknowledgement go a long way.  Work can be more enjoyable when you have greater connections and value the people you work with.  Bring a positive attitude and reap the benefits.

 

 

Oct 26

ROOTS OF NARCISSISM

How does a person develop into a narcissistic personality?  Good question since no definitive answer exists.  Most of us have some narcissistic qualities, but only about 2% of the population struggle with pathological narcissism.  The possible causes are complex and complicated.  Is it nature, nurture, or a mix of both?  Studies have found that parenting with excessive pampering or excessive criticism can play a part.  Others argue that genetics or psychobiology determine the development of a narcissistic personality.  There are two different types of narcissism: the grandiose type and the vulnerable type. The grandiose type appears incredibly confident and superior to others while the vulnerable type presents as more sensitive and seeks out validation that they are special.  While vulnerable narcissists may develop from cold, controlling, or inconsistent parenting, the grandiose type results from excessive adoration and valuation.

Some narcissists grew up in families that valued status and success over relationships. They overcompensate for a lack of love and attention they received from their parents by appearing to have it all together.  Children who grow up with unmet emotional needs may have a difficult time with attachment while yearning for attention and admiration.  Another factor that has been correlated with narcissism is permissive or overattentive parenting.  Being told by others that you are special (over and over again) and can accomplish anything (regardless of the child’s true abilities) can create an inflated sense of one’s self. Failure to impose any discipline leads to children who don’t think the rules apply to them.  The explosion of social media and our self-absorbed culture also contributes to the development of this personality type.

So what can you do if you’re married to or in a relationship with a person who has some narcissistic traits?  Or have a child who is a budding narcissist?  Regardless of the label, the first step is accepting that the thoughts and actions of this person may negatively impact your relationship with them.  With children there is a greater opportunity to change their behavior since it may be a recent phenomenon.  Children need love and support, but overvaluing their worth can be harmful and misleading.  They also need discipline and consequences when their behaviors are inappropriate.  Avoid justifying their actions and minimizing their behaviors, instead be consistent, firm, direct, and fair in your parenting, focusing on their behaviors not character.

Narcissistic adults are more difficult since they are entrenched in their thought and behavioral patterns.  People can change, but how much is determined by their motivation and desire to be different and learn new ways of interacting.  Resources such as a book, podcast, and internet information can be helpful, but sometimes seeking professional counseling is the best option.  An objective, honest, and direct professional can identify specific behaviors that create problems and offer positive solutions.  Ultimately, the narcissistic type needs to learn humility, compassion, and empathy.  Talking less, listening more and valuing relationships over accolades or status can shift the focus from self to others.  Moving from being self-serving to serving others will benefit everyone.

Oct 19

ELECTION STRESS

How many of us are experiencing increased stress as a result of the upcoming election?  A recent survey done by the American Psychological Association found that 52% of American adults are stressed out by the upcoming election.  The study also revealed that the election produced equal levels of stress across party lines.  Our stress levels are heightened by the stories, images, and social media triggering fear, concern, frustration, and anger.  Many of us fear the unknown and feel powerless since we have such little control over the election results.  We may catastrophize the outcome of the election and anticipate worst case scenarios.  We are bombarded with negative, disturbing, and damaging 24-hour news that perpetuates our increased stress.

Our focus needs to shift to the things we have control over and let go of the rest.  For starters, we can limit our media consumption and turn off the continuous news feed and take a digital break.  Even limiting our conversations with family and friends about the election may reduce our level of conflict and stress.  Exert what control we have by taking the proactive step of voting since our voice does matter even if our candidate doesn’t win.  If we’re not comfortable voting for either of the two major candidates, then there is the option of researching and voting for one of the less well-known candidates. Take the time to make good choices when it comes to state and local elections which can impact our lives too. Consider advocating for an issue you support in your community or join a local group and increase your civic involvement.

Of course managing stress through exercise, spending time with friends and family, taking time for yourself, and getting proper rest will help with your coping.  Life will go on after the election and we will adjust to the changes.  Fortunately our political system has three branches of government so we do have stability through our checks and balances system.  Lastly, focus your attention on things and relationships that are stable and secure rather than fixating on the political turmoil.  Don’t allow election focus and anxiety to consume you about what might happen; instead reframe your thinking to “what is” and avoid predicting the future.  As the Bible reminds us from Matthew 6:34, “therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Live for today instead of tomorrow.  Don’t give up on America, instead make an individual difference through action.

Oct 12

POLITICAL BLAMING

Why is our society stuck on blame?  Watching the presidential debates brings this point into clear focus as the candidates spend  much of their air time cutting down their competitor instead of outlining a plan to improve our country.  Mudslinging must be easier to spew than discussing solutions to problems.  When we blame others it provides a distraction from the real issues and enables us to avoid addressing our own shortcomings.  Both candidates have spent a ton of money advertising why not to vote for their opponent, but very little on what they will do differently to strengthen our country.  The negative ad campaigns only reinforce our dislike, mistrust, and cynicism about politicians and our government.

The same accusatory banter and defensive posturing that our politicians exhibit often occur with couples in my office.  Both parties focus on what their partner is doing wrong and rarely identify their own shortcomings.  The amount of negative energy, blame, and drama that couples engage in keeps them stuck in a vicious cycle of misery.  For politicians, the term frequently used is polarization.  Both parties attack each other and justify their position through personal jabs and inappropriate comments in an effort to convince others that their opinion is valid and correct.  Why not convince the public through logical and rational strategies rather than hurling insults to undermine each other?

Of course everyone would like to vote for a candidate who has integrity, honorable character, trustworthiness, and genuine concern for our country.  When neither of the two major candidates (in my opinion) exude these characteristics, how do we vote?  Many of us are stuck in a quandary about who to vote for; should it be the lesser of two evils, the person who can do less damage, or maybe the person who aligns most with our values and beliefs.  The point I’m trying to make is that blame doesn’t work in politics or marriage since it evades the more important issue which is how can we change to improve our situation.  Blame perpetuates anger and bitterness which seems to be growing in our society and marriages.

At the end of the second debate both candidates were asked to identify something positive about each other which they did.  They seemed genuine in their comments and it was one of the few positive moments of the debate.  As in marriage, for politicians to work together they must treat each other with respect, seek compromise, and accept responsibility for their own shortcomings.  As a nation, we need to cooperate with each other, seek understanding of opposing viewpoints and have compassion for each other’s position.  We are much stronger as a country when we are united, not divided.

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