Jun 29

EMPATHY CREATES CONNECTION

Are friendships and relationships stronger when empathy is shared?  An interesting study published in the Journal of Personality found that teenage boys who show empathy attract 1.8 more girlfriends than those who don’t.  Empathy is the ability to comprehend, appreciate, and understand others’ emotions.  Having friendships and good relationships are linked to positive physical and emotional health along with creating opportunity for growth and learning.  People who have emotional intelligence (EQ) understand what empathy is and have an easier time giving it to those they are close to.  So does empathy only apply to teenagers and relationships?  Absolutely not, empathy can build trust, connection, and respect in all relationships.  What prevents people from being empathetic?

Most people know that narcissists lack empathy and are typically self-absorbed.  Empathy requires commitment, connection, and a certain level of vulnerability.  In some cases, people have limited exposure and experience with empathy.  Others perceive empathy as a weakness and fear being hurt or rejected by being vulnerable.  Some even believe that empathy will expose them to deceit, betrayal, and manipulation. Personal and intimate relationships expose us all to risk and the possibility of rejection and hurt.  However, as we expand our connections, share empathy, and express our feelings, we deepen the relationship and potentially increase the magnitude of happiness.

Being empathetic requires a person to have the capacity to comprehend other’s feelings and truly care about their emotional well-being.  Being sensitive to others’ emotional pain and intentionally listening, genuinely caring, and having a desire to support, help, or comfort is all part of empathy.  Are we born with empathy?  Typically this is learned through observations and modeling of those people we trust, love, and respect.  We can acquire a greater level of empathy with effort and intention.  Building empathy can be achieved by identifying others’ feelings, validating emotions, and openly expressing compassion for others’ struggles.  When we’re empathetic our focus is off ourselves and on others’ feelings which can take some effort.  The bottom line is that empathy strengthens relationships, deepens connections, and allows for greater emotional intimacy.  Decide today to deepen your connections through empathy.

Jun 22

WEEDS KEEP COMING BACK

Why do you think you can’t get rid of the weeds in your life?  And why does the same weeds keep growing back?  Now don’t take me literally on the weed removal example, but I thought this may provide a good word-picture to illustrate a point.  We all have weeds or issues that impact our lives now and again.  Many of us want to destroy the weeds immediately and look for the fastest and most expedient way to eliminate them, which makes sense, right?  Unfortunately, the weed removal process doesn’t always complete the desired effect and eventually the weeds return.  The problem may lie in the fact that the root of the weed was never removed, and instead only the surface of the weed was cut. This looked good on the outside, but neglected the inside problem.  How do you treat the problems and issues that you encounter?  Do you only address the surface problem or do you get to the root?

People tend to address both physical and psychological problems in the same fashion.  They look for the quick fix and don’t want to put the time and energy into finding or confronting the root problem and cause.  Many of us look for help at a time of crisis but once the conflict is resolved they discontinue the efforts to change by stopping treatment.  Of course, at the next crisis, when people return to treatment their weeds have overtaken their entire yard and the task seems insurmountable.  Change is difficult for all of us and requires significant motivation and determination.  However, many of my clients are able to achieve real change by modifying their thoughts, actions, and personality and ultimately changing the way they live life.  Not an easy task for anyone, but the long-lasting benefits can have a dramatic impact on one’s life.

Our mental health needs require consistent care and maintenance.  When we neglect ourselves problems arise and grow rather quickly.  How do you deal with your stress, conflicts, and relationships?  When we feed our body, mind, and soul with positivity, activity, and connectivity we create good health.  Personally my greatest strength comes from my faith, family, friends, and fitness.  Acknowledge that we all have weeds that require attention and figure out which ones have roots that haven’t been removed.  Sometimes we have to dig deep to extract the root of the problem and may need a professional to help us figure out the origin of the conflict.  Take action and address the issues today before they proliferate throughout your life.

Jun 15

HORRIFIC GRIEF

Can any of us truly imagine or comprehend the overwhelming grief the victims and families are experiencing from the Orlando mass shooting?  Most likely the answer is no.  Most of us have experienced loss in our lives, but not in this way or through such painful and helpless circumstances.

Innocent people dying who were completely powerless and unable to get out of harm’s way is difficult to fathom.  No one can predict when, where, or how something like this will occur in the future which contributes to our fears and worries about living life freely and without anxiety.  Some people withdraw and isolate themselves from situations that they consider fear-inducing while others mask their emotions and deny the impact it has on their lives.  Others confront their feelings, talk openly about them, and approach life with a healthy amount of vigilance.  Let’s face it, we can’t control every aspect of life and we would be expending an inordinate amount of time and energy if that were our primary focus.

So why did this happen?  What would motivate a person to do this?  The media have called it a hate crime or an act of terror.  The recurring characteristics of suspects in violent rampages are the same – being a loner, embittered, angry/resentful, short-tempered and disconnected from society.  There are probably multiple factors and variables that contributed to this senseless act, but the frequency with which these types of incidents occur is both disturbing and puzzling.  Could it be due to the increased exposure to violence through the media and our desensitization to violence?  Or our increased ability to communicate our message/opinion for all to see/hear and ability to receive validation of our views, regardless of how hateful?

Understanding the reasons may be helpful, but more importantly, what are possible solutions to stop this recurring pattern of senseless violence?  Some focus on blame such as guns, mental health problems, government, religion, and/or the media.  We can either focus on blame or seek solutions to solve the problem.   What about restricting the availability of high velocity, multiple round assault weapons?  What about working to improve long-standing discrimination, intolerance, and even hatred towards people who are different, whether it be sexual preference, race, or religion by teaching and modeling compassion, empathy, and tolerance for all human beings?  Certainly providing more education, awareness, and resources for mental health problems would be helpful.  When tragedy strikes, it motivates me to stay more connected to my family and friends, focus on my faith, and take action when necessary and appropriate to keep my family, neighborhood, and community safe.  Let’s all take responsibility for positive change and not allow fear to stop us from living.

Jun 08

HIGH WORKER MORALE EQUALS POSITIVE RESULTS

Are you and your staff happy with the atmosphere at work?  A recent study from the Journal of Economic Research found that job satisfaction is linked to the financial performance of an organization. How content are you with your community, health, and home life?  Similar research has also found that workers’ productivity and performance improve when they are happy at work and at home.  A recent Gallup-Healthways poll found that unhappy workers in America cost their companies $300 billion per year in lost productivity.  Not only does unhappiness affect work productivity, but a 2011 Harvard Business Review article found that it also impacts workers’ creativity, commitment, and collegiality.  In addition to satisfaction in the workplace, research from the American Psychological Association shows that people want supportive personal relationships, healthy bodies and minds, a spiritual core and purpose for their lives.

When we are successful at achieving a healthy work-life balance and nurture our relationships, the research suggests that we’re happier and more productive.  Unfortunately, people and businesses don’t always foster and encourage this mindset and attitude.  Many employers create environments that feed competitiveness and criticalness based on fear or guilt.  They lose the team approach and instead create an “eat what you kill” mentality.  The morale, attitude, and mood of the company’s people turn negative, and productivity and performance suffers.  Not to mention that the turnover rate and absenteeism increase dramatically with this type of environment.  So what can we do to create a positive work environment?

As I mentioned above, people value relationships, even at work, and appreciate when they are treated with respect and valued as a person.  Spending time nurturing relationships and asking about the well-being of colleagues and employees rather than only focusing on work tasks is important and will yield positive results. We spend so much time at work, if we enjoy the people and the environment we’re more inclined to do a better job.  Happy workers don’t mind putting in the extra effort and going the extra mile on occasion.  We should reward our staff, appreciate their efforts, and acknowledge the value they bring to the company.  The bottom line is that relationships matter even in the workplace.  Make an effort to listen, affirm, value, and praise your staff and you’ll see the benefits.

Jun 01

TRIUMPHS AND TRAUMA

Why do many highly successful people often come from dysfunctional and unhealthy backgrounds?  Growing up in an environment where bad things happen and where you have virtually no control is a strong motivator to seek control over your future life. There is a determination to rewrite your life script and not be a prisoner to someone else’s dysfunction.  Also when you grow up with very little emotional support, encouragement, and love you typically seek other ways to fill the void and feel a sense of value and worth. Many of my patients with these types of backgrounds direct their energy into either academic or athletic achievement seeking to fill this emptiness. This excellence can lead to wealth, status, and fame.

Ironically, some siblings who grew up in the same abusive households respond very differently.  Why are some not able to change their life’s scripts while others use it as a motivator to succeed?  There is no simple answer to that question.  Maybe one person is more resilient or developed other support systems outside their home.  Or maybe they were blessed with some talents that they were able to successfully channel .  Some people have a mission in life to accomplish more than their parents and prove their worthiness through tangible means like material possessions or status.  Others grew up with very little power and control vowing to never be helpless, reliant on others, or vulnerable again.  They seek external validation since they never learned how to praise or accept themselves.

Unfortunately, many highly successful people from unhealthy backgrounds struggle with healthy attachment and emotional connections.  They learned early on that nothing good comes from emotions and compartmentalized feelings which makes it difficult to develop deep, personal, and intimate relationships.  They gained their worth through work, wealth, and abundance.  Relationships have little value in their world, unless it increases their status or esteem.  While the positive side of channeling trauma into prosperity, the possible fallout is relationship distress.  Of course there are those who have both career and relationship success, but this requires a healthy balance of time, energy, and attention to both areas of life.  Achieving this kind of accomplishment proves to create the greatest level of happiness and fulfillment.

May 25

WHY ARE WE SO ANGRY?

We seem to have evolved into an angry and hateful culture.  The anger is directed at our government, big business, organized religion, media, and even our own families.  We’ve been disgusted, appalled, horrified, and disturbed by how institutions and powerful entities have handled problems and conflicts.  The anger may come from feelings of betrayal/deceit, loss of control, or from tremendous fear regarding the direction and future of our society.  The incredible changes in the world that have occurred in the last 15 years as it relates to terrorism, the advancement of the internet, and the change in cultural norms have impacted us in a huge way.  Whatever the root of our anger, it is good to remember that anger is a secondary emotion and fear, hurt, and sadness often lay under the outward anger.  Our fears related to the future of our country and its leadership greatly contribute to the current,  simmering anger.

Unfortunately our anger has not been channeled for the good or resulted in positive change.  People tend to be more cynical, negative, critical, pessimistic, and downright apathetic these days.  We are more polarized as a nation and can’t seem to work together for the common good.  In addition, we have gotten caught up in the blame game avoiding taking responsibility at all costs.

So what can we do with our anger?  How can we use it for good?  It all starts with our immediate family which we have the most control and influence over.  If we can consistently be kind, supportive, and compassionate with the people we’re around the most, chances are they’ll respond favorably.  So much of our communication is in our delivery.  Using profanity, yelling, putting others down, or being overly critical and harsh only perpetuates anger.  Instead, find the positive in others and lift them up.  Practice smiling more often, even with strangers, and asking them how their day is going.  Don’t be in such a rush, let others go ahead of you, and spread good will.  In short, practice patience with others.

Of course, many people have strong opinions about what should be done with issues outside their own families. Most would rather voice their negative thoughts than take any action.  Some might say, “I can’t do anything about it,” which is just not true.  We can write letters, make phone calls, vote, volunteer, express a message on social media, and ultimately express ourselves.  Why would we chose to do this even if the outcome doesn’t change?  Because taking action helps reduce the anger and gives us some sense of control.  Another important way to manage our anger is to let go of the things we have no control over and accept our limits.  The serenity prayer summarizes this point best, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Don’t allow your anger to imprison you; free yourself from your anger.

May 18

SUCCESS TRUMPS EVERYTHING

Does your laser beam focus on success prevent you from seeing other aspects of life?  Do you find yourself thinking about work 24/7?  You’re not alone.  Many of my clients have spent their entire lives striving for success only to find that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  And there were multiple casualties along the way while they were attempting to achieve the ultimate success through financial wealth and security.  We can get so caught up in the success engine that we lose our peripheral vision and neglect or ignore the important people in our lives.  We assume that others can function without our attention, time, and connection while we are consumed with our journey to success.  We even attempt to justify and rationalize our behavior by convincing ourselves and others that we’re working hard to create something special for them, but at what cost?

Many of my clients have made their careers and material success a much higher priority than their relationships with family and friends.  They may feel greater comfort with skills in the workplace along with a greater sense of power and control.  On the contrary, relationships require more emotional awareness, sensitivity and emotional intelligence.  The therapy process typically includes awareness raising, modifying thoughts, expressing feelings, and ultimately changing behaviors.  When a person applies the same determination and commitment that has enabled them to be successful in their profession to improving their relationships transformation happens.

Ultimately the hope is that individuals redefine success and broaden their parameters.  Creating a lavish and affluent lifestyle with no one to share in it doesn’t sound very appealing to most.  Over the years of my work I’ve seen thousands throw away or destroy their relationships and put achievement over connection.  Modifying our priorities and being intentional about our connections to our spouse, children, family, and friends can enrich our lives and create greater happiness than our material possessions.  How much time do you carve out during the week to listen, share, and connect through activities and words with people you love?  Make a commitment today to value the people you care about and show it through your words and actions.  We need to show the desire and commitment to connect less with technology and more with people.  Relationships can last a lifetime while objects lose their value overnight.

 

May 11

MAKE POSITIVITY A PRIORITY

We all have good and bad aspects to our personality.  Unfortunately many of us focus on the negative and minimize the positive.  We tend to be our own worst enemies and beat up on ourselves for mistakes, flaws, and miscues, instead of reminding ourselves of our value.  Many of our personality traits are like double-edged swords;  they are both beneficial and detrimental.  Even narcissistic traits can have some value since a healthy level of narcissism can help shake off failures, create self-confidence, and instill drive/perseverance.  Of course, the downsides of that trait are a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement.  Can you think of some of your own traits that can have both a good and bad aspect to them?

We can become more aware of our personality traits that need to change from others’ feedback and through self-analysis.  Sometimes a sermon, blog, book, or TV/radio program can point out a characteristic that you can identify with and recognize you need to change.  On our journey through life we can constantly learn and grow through our experiences when we decide to use those experiences.  In fact, the key to success is not giving up when you fail.  Another factor is forgiveness since letting go of our past mistakes enables us to focus on our accomplishments.  So instead of focusing on the one thing that is negative (“perfect is the enemy of good”), pay attention to the many positive things that you have done.  Life is not a sprint but rather a marathon, so relax. You’ll get another chance to excel.

Sometimes it helps to make a list of 8-10 of your positive traits, write them on index cards, and every morning read the list to remind yourself of your positive attributes.  Once you’ve memorized the list, practice repeating that list in your head, using positive self-talk, and trusting that positive thinking leads to positive actions and outcomes.  For many of us identifying the positive in ourselves and others is very difficult, but over time it gets easier and more natural.  Make a commitment to find three positive things in yourself or someone else each day.  Remember we are what we think which translates into what we do.  Make positivity a greater priority in your life and reap the rewards.

May 04

WHEN POWER AND RULES COLLIDE

A recent article in USA Today highlighted a recent group of CEOs who violated their company’s code of conduct.  Many of the individuals, the most recent being Priceline’s CEO Darren Huston, were found to have engaged in inappropriate personal relationships with employees.  One can’t help but wonder, “Why would you jeopardize your career, lifestyle, and destroy your family when you have the world by the tail?”  Can power, success, wealth, and fame cloud our judgement and thinking that badly?  Or do most of these people believe they won’t get caught or can talk their way out of it?  Many highly successful people perform well, make their company incredibly profitable, yet misbehave and make some very bad choices.  Some may feel the rules don’t apply to them and that they deserve special treatment while others may minimize their misbehaviors and defend their position.

Power can make people crazy.  Whether the person is a CEO, professional athlete, celebrity, politician, physician, or entrepreneur, power, control, fame and fortune can cause people to choose self-destructive behaviors.  Some get bored easily and need the constant stimulation and challenges to keep the adrenaline rush going.  Others can justify their behaviors and claim that their amazing success entitles them to have whatever they want.  In my practice I witness how relationships are destroyed, violated, compromised, neglected, or damaged due to this common power failure.  Even subtle changes in workplace interactions and connections can compromise one’s position and effectiveness.  Trust is broken and respect lost when people use their power inappropriately and offend others with their words and actions. So can people change?

Yes, people can change, but only when the desire to change is there.  Some people don’t want to invest the time and effort to change or they are convinced change is not really necessary.  As part of my work, I am committed to making my patients aware of what needs to change and offer ways to make that happen.  Simply gaining awareness and sensitivity to others is a good start along with considering the impact your actions have on others.  Of course changing both thoughts and actions are part of the therapy process.  Also learning how to talk to people with respect and compassion which may seem simple, but some lack the skills.  In essence, learning people smarts and emotional intelligence can help relationships both at work and home.  Remember that positive connections with people enables us to have a greater significance and impact on their lives.

Apr 27

POWER COUPLES ON THE RISE

A recent article from the New York Times reported that marriages of equals is quickly rising. These are couples with similar education levels, career interests, shared passions, and similar goals for the kids.  Multiple reasons can explain this change including people marrying later, geographic flexibility, and advanced technology. In the past, in general, men sought homemakers and women sought breadwinners, but today high achievers seek those with the same aspirations.  Interestingly, couples today are focused more on companionship and tend to be with people more like themselves.  Ironically, when women earn more than their husbands they tend to compensate by building up their husband’s career or minimizing their own.

In spite of these egalitarian views, conflicts still arise in relationships where couples share in financial contributions, child care, and division of housework.  The conflicts may be over differences in perception, lack of appreciation or devaluing certain tasks over others.  In fact, although the power couple may both be driven to achieve, one may value relationships more than the other.  For example, working late on a project and missing time with the family may be more acceptable to one person than the other.  We all have our priorities but sometimes they aren’t aligned with our spouse which can create conflict.  Power couples may be aligned with their desire to achieve, excel, and succeed, but relationally there may be a disconnect.

In today’s hectic and rushed life we have such limited time to spend on our relationships and we need to figure out ways to maximize our time.  For instance, traveling to and from activities can be an opportunity to connect either face-to-face or via phone and share experiences.  Some couples prefer texting over phone calls, but recognize the limits of this and avoid deep or conflictual interactions.  One of the best ways to connect occurs when you shut down all electronics and intentionally disconnect from the outside world to be solely focused on each other.  Take turns planning dates and build the friendship part of your relationship by selecting activities that you know your partner will enjoy.  Spontaneity and surprises can also add some excitement and fun to the relationship as long as the objective is not selfish or self-indulgent.  Even individually spending time with same-sexed friends can help marriages since it takes the pressure off one person to meet all of our needs. Whether we’re similar or different matters less than how we adapt and assimilate into each other’s world.  You have to be a teammate first to be a team.

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