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.

Jul 12

SUMMER FUN

What do you do for fun?  For many of us, fun is tied to activities, relaxation, and being with friends or family.  However, some people struggle with that question.  Sadly, some people have lost their ability to experience fun, pleasure, or excitement.  Holidays are just another day and celebrations are few and far between.  Sometimes depression, loneliness, or relational conflicts prevent them from experiencing joy or happiness.  Or maybe they are just “living to die” instead of “dying to live.”  They are marking time and going through the motions of life with very little passion or excitement.  You probably also know those who make the most out of every minute of life and are grateful for their time with the people they love.  How are you approaching life and are you able to experience fun and joy in everyday activities?

Much of our mood is tied to our attitude.  Of course we all experience highs and lows in life, but how do we respond to our lows?  Are we resilient and bounce back quickly when feeling down?  Most likely it depends on our coping skills and support network.  Healthy coping skills may include exercise, yoga, prayer, mindfulness, and journaling, just to name a few.  But another way to deal with difficult times is to reach out to others and ask for support, encouragement, and guidance.  Having a couple of good friends that you can count on can make a huge difference when you’re struggling.  Don’t let pride or fear prevent you from sharing your feelings with others since friendships often deepen through self-disclosure.  When good things happen share those times too.  Celebrate your success with the people around you and acknowledge their achievements too.

Sometimes experiencing fun requires us to be intentional and actually schedule fun activities, adventures, and excursions.  We all experience fun differently, so ask yourself, what is my idea of fun?  For some it might be snuggling up with a book.  Others may experience fun through some form of entertainment like a movie, game, concert, or play.  For me, fun often involves participation in a sport or physical activity.  Yet I also experience fun connecting with people, sharing stories, and creating new memories.  Being with positive people who value life and respect others and know how to have fun is enjoyable.  Meeting new people and hearing their stories can be fun, and even though this describes my profession, it never gets old.  Of course, experiencing new activities and sharing in those experiences with people you love can be especially exciting.  Figure out what fun means for you and start doing it more consistently; you’ll be reminded of the good gift of life.

Jul 05

REVIVING RELATIONSHIPS

Why do people wait until a crisis occurs before they seek help?  Many couples prefer to ignore problems until significant damage has been done.  Relationships take work and people would rather coast rather than put in consistent effort.  Think of relationships like a plants that needs watering, sunshine, and fertilizer to maintain life.  Many of the couples in my practice have grown apart over time and don’t realize how detached they are until they are forced to confront their problems. People put more time and energy into other activities and the relationship gets the scraps.  We cannot expect relationships to thrive or survive with little effort.  Couples lose their connection when every other aspect of life takes precedent.

If your relationship needs renewed connection, make the relationship a priority and invest time/energy to create a positive focus.  The importance of reestablishing a friendship and finding fun in the relationship will strengthen the bond.  Something as simple as talking to each other consistently and deepening the topics discussed will create a greater connection.  Working through conflict and finding compromise is essential for healthy relationships.  Being able to apologize, forgive, and let go of conflict increases the likelihood of relationship success.

Being open and direct about our relationship needs with our partner is important.  Trust and intimacy are often the most significant issues and figuring out ways to establish these into the relationship is important.  Trust requires consistency in words and actions, which is essential for any relationship. Being intentional about physical and emotional connection will deepen the closeness.  Lastly, investing time and energy into the relationship will allow it to grow and flourish with the result of a greater connection.

Jun 28

POWER EFFECTS

What are the negative effects of power on people?  In other words, does power affect a person’s physical being?  Of course we can identify many ways power can destroy relationships, produce narcissistic behaviors, and lead to self-destructive choices.  But can power directly impact a person’s brain functioning?  Psychology professor Dacher Keltner from UC Berkeley studied the influence of power and found his subjects were more impulsive, less risk-aware, and had limited compassion.  While Keltner studies behaviors, Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMasyter University in Ontario, studies brains and found that power impairs a specific neural process called mirroring which is tied to empathy.  Keltner describes this experience as “empathy deficit,” almost like a numbing effect on the psyche as a result of power.  An article describing this phenomenon, published in The Atlantic and written by Jerry Useem, suggests that power disables an individual from social and emotional awareness.

The studies mentioned above produce some fascinating conclusions.  As people gain power, their brain functioning changes and their emotional intelligence diminishes.  An interesting study would be to measure a person’s brain functioning shortly before they gain all of their power to determine if they are somehow “primed” for the above changes.  My experience would indicate that certain personality types are more likely to assume power positions and that may be a factor in their brain functioning.  We could argue the chicken or egg dilemma but the fact of the matter is that people in positions of power often lack empathy and compassion which can be measured by their brain functioning.

Who do you know personally or who have you read about in the news with this profile?  What implications does this have for a large company or our government?  Some powerful people lack remorse when found guilty of wrongdoing, defend their position vehemently, and lack compassion for the other’s plight.  In response, some companies have provided executives with “sensitivity training,” since many have lost sight of people’s problems, issues, and emotions.

What can be done to turn this phenomenon around?  For many powerful people, giving of their time, talents, and treasures helps ground them and possibly develops greater empathy for others less fortunate.  When we humble ourselves by engaging in activities that may seem beneath our pay grade we better appreciate what we have.  It also helps to focus on relationships rather than achievements since often those in power devalue people unless those people can elevate their status.  Focusing on faith and a belief that there is a power greater than ourselves can provide additional grounding.  Lastly, having an accountability person to call you out when you’re moving adrift and heeding their advice will neutralize some of the power effects.

Jun 21

CAN YOU FIX MY SPOUSE?

Often people come into my office with the hopes of “fixing” their partner.  The question commonly asked is how can I get my spouse to change?  Or occasionally it transfers to me and the question becomes can you fix my partner?  Typically this is code for my partner doesn’t want to change or I’ve been trying to fix him/her for years with little success.  During these conversations the focus is often on changing someone other than themselves.  While I am in the change business, people usually need some desire, motivation, and commitment to change other than the urging of their spouse.  My job is often to identify what needs changing, offer strategies to change, and detail the personal benefits from making the changes.  Sometimes having an objective professional give an impression is more palatable than a spouse.  Ideally both parties recognize that change needs occur in themselves and agree to work on the change process, but too often only one party will commit to change.

Many couples get stuck in the blame game and never move beyond that position.  If a person can find fault in their partner then they can be distracted from their own problems and justify their actions.  Some individuals agree to counseling out of guilt or fear, but are primarily motivated to change by external forces, which could be a spouse, children, finances, and/or societal acceptance.  The decision to work on changing oneself needs to be internally driven by self-respect and a desire to be a healthier individual.  Sometimes people believe that by ending an old relationship and starting a new one and finding the “right person”  their problems will  be solved, which is why the divorce rate is much higher for second and third marriages.  Until we acknowledge that we are part of the problem, the conflict will persist.  Often the root of the problem has nothing to do with your spouse and everything to do with you.

Whether the problem is lying, anger, unfaithfulness, substance abuse, or emotional immaturity, it doesn’t matter which issue you select, change starts with acknowledgement.  Resources for change are available once you’ve identified the problem(s).  Effective counseling involves learning tools, modifying thoughts, changing behaviors, and managing emotion constructively.  Homework is an important part of the change process.  Accessing articles, podcasts, video clips, and other reliable internet resources can prove beneficial.  People can and do change with the correct motivation and proper guidance.  If a dysfunctional individual chooses not to change, than the choice for the spouse to stay in the relationship is more difficult.  Either way change will need to occur to create a better life with or without that person.  Staying stuck in an unhealthy relationship can destroy self-respect.  Make the decision from a position of strength by fixing yourself first.

Jun 14

COLLEGE SUCCESS FACTORS

What determines a student’s ability to succeed in college?  And what can parents do to instill these characteristics?  According to a study at Rice University there are three factors that determine college success:  a sense of belonging, a growth mindset, and personal goals and values.  Currently most colleges rely on cognitive competencies to predict student success; the authors are suggesting that we assess other factors to make an accurate determination.  They suggest that students who feel like they fit in with the college environment, have an open mind to learning and growing in their discipline, and have specific goals and objectives for the future tend to have a greater probability of success. The researchers looked at student’s grades, retention, and graduation to measure college success.

So what can we do as parents to encourage these winning qualities in our children?  First we can exhibit them in ourselves.  When we develop a good support network and have people we can count on in our lives, our children may seek a similar connection network.  We may have these connections through a shared team, club, or activity or maybe through our occupation.  Or our connections could be made through our faith-based groups and services.  For some, connections are formed through similar interests and passions.  Personally, my passion for relationships, exercise, speaking, and belonging to a faith community have helped create multiple connections.  Likewise, being open to learning and growing daily is a mindset that works well for me.  Life is a journey and accepting that we are constantly evolving helps us be more resilient to change.

Success comes from having a plan, focus, and direction for life.  Finding your passion and using that drive to power you forward towards your goals will enable you to make it happen.  Unfortunately, many college students wander aimlessly through their college education without purpose and passion.  I believe participating in real world experiences and working in the field of interest helps a person define their direction.  I’m a firm believer in summer internship programs and practicum experiences to help a person discern their goals and objectives.  For me, success came from figuring out my gifts and matching them with my passion into a career.  My passion has been to make a difference by helping others in their relationships and life.  Do your gifts and passion fit well together? Model connection, growth, and defining goals to your children and if they learn those from you, they will go far.

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