Sep 20

DENIAL IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

Most everyone has used denial as a way of coping with a traumatic event or distressing information.  Denial can be a good thing at times when it protects us from facing unbearable or shocking news.  However, some people spend much of their time in denial and avoid confronting their problems and pain.  For example, some deny illness, addictions, abuse, financial problems, and/or relationship conflicts.  Often people in denial won’t acknowledge their issues, avoid accepting the facts of the problem, and minimize the impact and consequences on their lives.  For many, confronting their pain makes them feel vulnerable or threatens their sense of control.

Most problems don’t go away with time; they need to be confronted and resolved.  We need to examine our fears and conflicts and consider the consequences of inaction.  Next we need to identify, experience, and express our emotional pain along with identifying any irrational or destructive beliefs that contribute to our problems.  Another strategy is to journal our conflicts and decide which ones we have control over and those that are out of our control.  We should problem-solve the control items and work on letting go of the no control issues.  It also helps to open up and share with others, maybe through a support group or in counseling.  Acknowledging our conflicts can help us move closer to healing our emotional pain.  Conflicts that remain in our head will never be resolved; it needs to reach our lips.  And remember we have to go through it to get through it.

Many people rely on unhealthy mechanisms to bolster their efforts of denial, such as alcohol or drug use.  Others assume a pollyanna approach to conflict and pain without directly addressing the issues.  The best tact is to avoid minimizing or magnifying the problems, but instead take a constructive and rational approach to conflict.  Be patient with yourself and focus your energy on generating a plan rather than denying the problems.  We can experience hope and a sense of empowerment when we formulate a plan and take action.  Trust in your ability to deal with pain and rely on your support network and faith to bolster your strength.

Sep 12

THE KNOW IT ALL

Do you know someone who has all the answers and feels compelled to share them?  Some people can’t contain themselves when they either have information to share or an experience that tops everyone else.  They may be impulsive, immature, insecure or maybe a little bit of all three.  Underlying anxiety may cause them to talk more and monopolize the conversation.  Some are uncomfortable with themselves and seek acceptance, affirmation, and attention from others.  Others have limited social skills and awareness which contribute to their inability to stop talking even when others give nonverbal cues that being quiet is their best option.  In my practice I often encounter people whose intellectual intelligence far surpasses their emotional intelligence.  These people’s insight into the consequences of their words and actions are usually blunted.  Another manifestation of low emotional intelligence is when people have a difficult time with intimacy and letting others get close so they use their knowledge as a defense or barrier.

How do you gently and respectfully express your concerns to your know-it-all friend or relative?  Obviously this person may have a hard time hearing your message and may react poorly.  Start by sharing their positive qualities and acknowledging the good in them before identifying the negative.  Let them know that communicating with them can be difficult at times and having all the answers tends to shut others down.  Let them know that people may harbor anger and resentment towards the know it all and lash out or detach.  The know-it-all can find themselves alone if they continue to alienate others with their knowledge and information.

The good news is that people can and do change.  Awareness is the first step, along with a desire and commitment to modify behavior.  Those close to the person can provide feedback and accountability, but ultimately the onus is on the person.  Of course it is fine to share knowledge and have a compelling or funny story to tell.  It only becomes annoying to others when that behavior happens all the time. Monitor the frequency and types of situations that trigger this need to top someone else’s story or provide information that others don’t know. Work on asking others to talk about themselves and listen more, talk less.  Let others get close by sharing vulnerable information about yourself rather than hiding behind the shield of knowledge.  Learning tools to manage anxiety and insecurity can also prove helpful.  Don’t allow it to push people away and destroy relationships.  Remember that knowledge is very different from wisdom.

Sep 06

DEFINING A GOOD LEADER

What characteristics does it take to be a good and effective leader?  With many of our leaders today seemingly focused more on self-interest than the greater good, it is a timely question.  A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that charisma is a good characteristic for a leader to have, but too much or too little hinders effectiveness.  Specifically they found that high charisma individuals lacked operational leadership skills, while the low charisma people lacked strategic planning skills.  The authors found that when leaders’ charisma and effectiveness were dampened, it often impacted their ability to cope with stressful situations. The researchers concluded that a mid range level of charisma produced the best leaders.

So other than charisma, what does it take to be a good leader?  Firstly, good leaders are excellent communicators who listen well, and take the time to understand others.  They are responsive and receptive to others’ input.  Successful leaders are proactive, visionary, and are committed to high standards of excellence.  They lead by example and can humble themselves to acknowledge mistakes and learn from failures.  Effective leaders are authentic, accountable, and have the ability to influence  others based on their integrity and passion.  Consistently practicing positive leadership skills requires patience, a sense of humor, and a positive attitude.  “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” —-Sam Walton

Ultimately, great leaders empower others through their words and actions.  Their energy and passion are contagious thereby motivating others to strive for greater success.  They treat everyone with the same respect and dignity they expect.  Great leaders remain constantly curious, eternally grateful, and modestly confident.  They value the people they work with and help others to be their best.  “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” —-John C. Maxwell

 

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Aug 30

CRISIS COMPASSION

Have you ever wondered why many people draw closer to each other at a time of crisis?  The horrific hurricane and flooding in Texas is an example of a situation that requires neighbors and communities to help each other.  The government can offer assistance, but their resources are limited and often not quick enough to aid everyone. There are multiple organizations that offer relief efforts to those affected, but this is an overwhelming undertaking and doesn’t always occur quickly or smoothly.  It has been wonderful to watch rescue efforts from citizens, boat owners, and neighbors in communities as they stepped up to help strangers who will be forever grateful.  Saving a life and possibly even risking your own life to make it happen is very impressive.  Many of these individuals are volunteers who chose to help their neighbors.  What’s in it for them?  Nothing!

There are many really caring, good and compassionate people in this world who have no agenda and are not self-centered.  Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event like this to witness this generosity.  Of course, these situations can sometimes bring out the worst in people.  For today’s blog let’s focus on the positive.  The irony is that when people go through a traumatic event together it usually draws them closer, even if it happens in a huge city like Houston.  In psychology circles, this is called “crisis intimacy.”   The term refers to how when a group of people face a crisis such as a natural disaster, the pain, loss, and recovery they share binds them together.  People tend to talk more, help more, listen better, and are more compassionate after such a life-changing experience.

Going through a crisis makes us more grateful for what we have and for the emotional support from our family and friends.  We tend to be humbled by an experience like this and appreciate the fragility of life.  We also realize how much we need people and value our connections even more.  Our faith is tested for some and strengthened for others.  We cry together, pray together, and complain together which all brings us closer together.  When we’re emotionally and/or physically vulnerable and share it with others, it tends to build deeper connections.  Life is filled with crises, but responding with caring and compassion for each other helps us heal quicker from the pain.  We’ll be praying for the state of Texas and hopefully learning from them that helping hands and caring hearts enable resilience and strength.

Aug 23

IT’S OK TO FEEL BAD

Do you ever feel pressure to feel good when you really don’t?  Often we are encouraged to put on a happy face and be positive even when it’s the last thing we want to do.  A recent study from the UC Berkley found that embracing your darker moods can make you feel better in the long run.  The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, looked at the link between emotional acceptance and psychological health. The researchers found that when we accept our negative moods it actually defuses them. The authors speculated that having a self-accepting attitude toward negative emotions prevents out sized attention to them or excessive judgement about them from piling up.  That which we resist, persists.  When we allow the dark feelings to run their course and don’t feel bad about it, we have a better response.

Yet many of us would rather suppress, project, or deny our feelings at all cost.  We use multiple outlets, many of them destructive, to avoid dealing with our emotional pain.  Sometimes we use positive outlets to distract from our negative feelings such as work, exercise, or care taking others, but the bad feelings don’t go away.  Time alone does not heal all wounds.  The study above reaffirms that running from our bad feelings or trying to fake them only make things worse.  Instead we need to acknowledge our emotional pain and allow it to flow through us.  What does that look like?

One way to address our emotional pain is through mindfulness, which is being aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and environment without judgement but instead focusing on the present.  Mindfulness allows us to stay focused on our surroundings and acceptance of the good or the bad as we experience it.  Certainly, another way is to share our negative feelings selectively with people who we love and trust.  Sometimes writing about our feelings either in a free-floating way or directly to a person can also be helpful.  When we accept our bad moods or attitude it enables us to appreciate our positive experiences too.  Remember the movie “Inside Out” when the Joy character wanted to eliminate the Sadness character, but eventually realized her value?  Those who suppress negative emotions often inadvertently suppress positive ones too.  Allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions and you’ll experience a fuller life.  Life is filled with highs and lows, but how you handle these experiences determines the outcome.

 

Aug 16

HIDDEN LIES

What keeps us from telling the truth?  Lying is common to human nature.  We all lie on occasion and there is often a purpose for lying.  In some cases, lying has become a habit or reflex that appears uncontrollable to the point that we lie about even the smallest things.  For others, lying is a way of controlling others or of sparing someone else’s feelings.  Lying can be a way to feel better about oneself and bolster a fragile self-esteem. It can also be an attempt to avoid conflict, punishment, and/or rejection. Lying appears in many different forms such as exaggeration, self-protection, gossip, controlling a response and lying by omission.  Research has found that the brain has to exert more effort to lie than tell the truth.  Of course, lying hurts and can even destroy relationships.

Compulsive liars typically have a long history of frequent and repeated lying even with no motive or external benefit from lying.  They typically have an inability to consider the consequences of their actions and experience very little or no guilt, shame or regret.  Pathological liars lack empathy, emotional responsiveness, and look to manipulate in an effort to gratify their own needs.  They often have a deficient or absent conscience and look for vulnerability in others.  For people with certain personality types, lying is more natural than telling the truth and they have become accustomed to avoiding honesty.  Sometimes they are even confused about what the truth is since they have convinced themselves that what they are saying is accurate and real.  Where did they learn this behavior and can they change it?

It is possible that they witnessed a parent or close friend modeling lying behavior and saw how this enabled them to avoid experiencing the consequences of bad behaviors.  Maybe lying was a necessary coping mechanism early in life that allowed them to avoid harmful punishment and severe consequences.  While it may have been adaptive in the past, that lying behavior is maladaptive today.  Change is always difficult, but can be accomplished through consistent and committed effort.  First the person needs to be aware of their lying behavior and openly acknowledge that the problem exists.  Next they need to find an accountability person that they can rely on to call them on their lying and hold them responsible.  They also need to consider the consequences of their behavior and the impact it has on others.  Journalling can be helpful especially when trying to understand the driving force behind the lies.  For example, if insecurity is the motivating factor, then figure out other ways to increase self-confidence.  Lastly, set positive goals and stick to a plan.  Honesty and transparency build trust which is mandatory for healthy relationships.  Quoting from the Bible, John 8:32, “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Aug 09

DON’T ALLOW OTHERS TO STEAL YOUR JOY

Do you know people who are determined to steal others’ joy? The adage misery loves company is sometimes true whereby others want you to experience their pain.  In some cases it has more to do with power and control.  They maintain power over you and control your emotions by manipulating you into thinking that everything is your fault. This leads to you feeling guilt along with your happiness.  Some people are chronically unhappy and hate to see others experience joy, especially if they believe they don’t deserve it.  Often those who seek to take another person’s joy have a void in their lives that they’ve been unable to fill.  We all know the person who tries to bring us down because of their own unhappiness.

So what causes someone to be a joy thief?  As mentioned above, some believe that everyone has it better than they do and are convinced that their misery is not their fault.  They also believe that they can’t do anything to change their situation and are completely helpless and powerless. Blame seems easier than change.  Some remain victims their entire lives, instead of recognizing their power to change.  We are all victimized at times, but can we work through the experience and heal.

Sometimes our guilt or our fear of disapproval prevent us from confronting those stealing our joy and we remain stuck.  In those cases, we need to choose not to feel guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong and decide that we can’t make everyone happy.  Also we need to accept that other people’s problems don’t have to become our problems.  We need to learn better boundaries and set limits with those individuals who try to suck us into their drama.  We can choose to be like teflon where everything slides off of us, instead of velcro where it all sticks.  Ultimately we want to separate ourselves from the negativity and misery that others want us to absorb.  Stop trying to fix problems or situations that the other person doesn’t want fixed and let go of your need to rescue the world.  Lastly, focus on taking care of yourself and allow others to do the same. Protect your joy.

Aug 02

DELIVERING THE MESSAGE

How do you share difficult information or confront conflict?  Which delivery system do you rely on and how well is the message received?  Often people need to share important feelings and information, but their delivery is aggressive, condescending or belittling.  They may be completely unaware of the impact that their delivery style has on others, or in some cases, they don’t care about the effect as long as they make their point.  Communication is incredibly important and can have major repercussions or create misunderstandings if the message is poorly expressed.  Many highly intelligent people have not mastered the art of communication and don’t realize the negative impact that they have on others.

In many cases we learn how to communicate from our parents, teachers, mentors, and peers, often adopting an approach that we deemed effective and/or easy.  The reality is that we may have only observed the delivery, but didn’t witness the consequences.  For example, we may have observed a person yelling or bullying someone to get their way and it seemed to work, but didn’t see the fallout and alienation that followed.  If the delivery is perceived as very negative, it may override the message and the person may tune out the point you were trying to make. The art of the delivery often determines the power of the message, not the message itself.  So how can you work on your delivery?

For starters, be aware of your non-verbal communication, especially your tone of voice.  Communicate the message directly and assertively while being respectful and sensitive to the person receiving it.  It may be helpful to script out the message and have a game plan before delivering it to the person.  With today’s technology many prefer to send a text or email over a phone call or face-to-face, but the former is too impersonal and possibly inappropriate.  Be sure to make the message clear and simple so that understanding it is easy along with allowing for clarification, if necessary.  Lastly communicate with empathy and compassion so that the other person realizes you value them more than the message.  People respond better when we validate their feelings and value their feedback.  The golden rule still applies: treat others the way you want to be treated.  When we focus more on the relationship and less on the outcome, others accept and respect our message.

 

Jul 26

THINK VERSUS FEEL

Are you a thinker or feeler?  Some people favor thinking over feeling because it fits their personality type and they are very good at solving problems.  Thinkers often get rewarded at work for their ability to analyze situations and identify solutions to conflicts.  They have the ability to stay rational and logical without allowing emotion to cloud their thought process.  They can be extremely effective and efficient when confronting situations that require a level head and a focused mind.  Certain jobs require thinking without feelings, like a surgeon or an airline pilot.  Some people also think to avoid having to feel.  Maybe thinking has served them well and allowed them to avoid vulnerability and emotional connections.  In some cases, showing feelings resulted in pain and negative outcomes in the past so they prefer to stick with knowledge and information.

The flip side of the coin is the feeler who is very comfortable with emotion and interpersonal relationships.  They may have the ability to think things through, but feelings have equal value in their decision-making.  Feelers recognize that their emotions can create a connection and find them to be meaningful and worthwhile.  Of course people who are comfortable sharing their feelings and sensitive to others’ emotions tend to have deeper and more intimate relationships.  Often feelers and thinkers end up in a relationship together.  They may have a hard time understanding the way their partner deals with issues.  Initially this may be what attracted them to each other, but over time it can become frustrating and even annoying.  We all think and feel differently and regardless of our preference there is no right or wrong approach, just different.  In a work situation thinking may be the preferred mode while relationally feeling is a better approach.

Both thinking and feeling have value and purpose, but too much of either can create problems and conflict.  Often couples that exist on opposite ends of the spectrum need to work towards the middle and find greater balance.  Learning to discern appropriate times when thinking is a better choice over feeling or vice versa is a valuable skill.  Couples need to avoid telling each other what to feel or think, instead working on validating their partner’s expression is a better approach.  Also accept each other’s differences and don’t try to change one another, but rather share your likes and dislikes, and allow the other person the option to change.  Some individuals need to learn to think less and feel more, while others should feel less and think more.  It can be a constant thorn in our side, or we can compliment each other with our differences .  Proverbs 27:17, As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Jul 19

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

Do you tend to attack or retreat when in a verbal confrontation?  Many of us choose one of these options and ironically, in relationships, each individual often selects the opposite position.  We either lash out or shut down when dealing with conflict.  Maybe we select the side that we learned from our past experiences or maybe we select the position that best fits our personality.  Consider the arguments you have with your partner; do you run towards or away from conflict?  Neither position is very effective or produces successful conflict resolution.  Polarization typically occurs when parties choose opposite extremes and very little compromise ensues.

As I’ve stated before, all relationships have conflict, but how you handle it determines its effect.  Running from conflict prevents resolution and usually causes anger and resentment.  Time doesn’t take away conflicts but allows them to fester and grow.  That which we resist, persists.  In some cases people develop physical problems, turn to addictions, and/or get their needs met elsewhere when they avoid dealing directly with conflicts.  On the other side, when people choose to fight, lash out, and attack, they alienate others and destroy trust or connection.  Remember anger is a secondary emotion and often those who attack are dealing with fear, hurt, and/or sadness.  The bottom line is that staying connected and nurturing intimacy is next to impossible if you are retreating or attacking at times of conflict.

Is there a better way?  A good alternative is to express feelings directly and honestly, but in a healthy and constructive way.  When we communicate assertively we use “I” instead of “you,” and make sure our tone of voice and our nonverbal behaviors are respectful and kind.  We focus on the behaviors instead of the character of the person and once we say it, we let it go.  Sometimes people feel compelled to repeat their message over and over again which causes the receiver to ignore their position.  Conflict is best dealt with face to face, not through text or email.  Be sure not to tell others what they should or shouldn’t feel since we own our emotions and can’t be told what to feel.  Lastly, recognize that conflict is a normal part of all relationships, so provide grace, be patient, and work towards compromise.  We can all manage conflict if we take responsibility for our own behaviors and stop blaming the other person.  Blame prevents change.

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