You Think What You Eat

You Think What You Eat

Scientists and doctors are starting to finally unravel how the gut functions and how that impacts other parts of the body, including the brain. This has yielded information on the trillions of bacteria in our guts that are collectively known as the microbiome. These bacteria play a role in supporting the immune system, producing certain vitamins, and digesting nutrients and food that produce neuroactive substances that eventually become neurotransmitters (the chemicals that our brains use).

Stress and Sex

Stress and Sex

Can sex be used as a stress reliever? Yes, many people experience sex as a great release during stressful periods. Some will even go on to say it improved their overall mood. But what happens when you’re overwhelmed with stress?

Rebuilding Emotional Safety: Fair Fighting (Part 1)

Rebuilding Emotional Safety: Fair Fighting (Part 1)

Generally, rules and guidelines are designed to provide structure and a working understanding of how to act/behave in any given environment (i.e. rules for sports, traffic laws for drivers, and behavior expectations for employees). The same principle applies to the rules for fair fighting when it comes to couples.

Social Media and Mental Health

I have been thinking a great deal about the connection between social media and mental health. More and more news stories and research articles are coming out discussing the perils of too much screen time for children and adolescents. We are now starting to see more studies being done on the correlation of adult use of technology and wellness. As technology becomes more intimately integrated into our lives, I am beginning to see its impact, positive and negative, across the lifespan. 

The impetus for this blog came from a comment my daughter made last week when she came home from school. She told me that some of her friends have cell phones. I asked how she knew this and she said they pull them out of their backpacks to see if their mom or dad called. This seems reasonable enough, except for one small problem. My daughter and her friends are in 2nd grade. 

From my viewpoint, it is a problem for small children to have their own cell phones, even if they are just for calling their caregivers. Where else would a 7 year old be but at school in the safe hands of the educators? What could they be doing other than learning and having fun with their teachers and friends? And why do we not trust the people whose hands we leave our children in every day to call us if there is any kind of problem? 

Additionally, the primary task of childhood is to learn and develop friendships. If children are allowed too much screen time, they cannot learn to have strong friendships, problem solve, and use all the creativity the young brain is capable of. They seek to be distracted constantly. I have been in many public places where I see babies and toddlers with phones and tablets in front of them. Yes, they are being stimulated by what is on the screen, but they are not taking in what is happening all around them. 

And when young children believe that what is happening on screen is more interesting than real life, they become adolescents and emerging adults who are consistently dissatisfied with their own lives. They grow to believe that everyone else is more attractive and successful, and those people are leading happier and more exciting lives.  Real life is not stimulating enough for them. As a result, they become depressed and anxious. The research is clear on this. 

This can and does last into adulthood. Someone shared with me a story about her own husband. They were watching a movie together one evening. With each commercial, this person saw her husband picked up his phone. She did not say anything in the moment, but decided to see if this would continue to the end of the movie. It did. Every time a commercial came on, her husband picked up his phone. She finally had to ask him why it was so difficult for him to “just be”.  

Our phones, tablets, laptops, social media, Netflix, etc are all useful tools. But I want to encourage all of us to think about why we use these tools and how often. When we hand our children a tablet at dinner or in the cart at the grocery story, why? If your adolescent spends more time on social media than in face to face contact with friends, what is going on there? If you find yourself picking up your phone during commercials or in traffic, what might you be avoiding? If you partner comments that you seem more interested in Facebook than being with them, how true is that? We are generally looking to be distracted from stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness, and many other “negative emotions”. 

For 1 week, I challenge you to track how much recreational time you and your family members or partner spend on technology. You might be surprised by the number of minutes (or hours). 

The impact of technology on our lives is substantial and we do not yet know what the future brings in terms of the benefits and costs to a more technologically advanced society. For now, evaluate closely how you use technology, how your children are using it, what you are modeling for them, and its impact on all of your relationships and your own well being. Is your usage consistent with what you value and what you know brings you joy?

Life after Trauma

After a traumatic experience, everything can seem pretty disorienting. If it was a recent traumatic event, it can make a life that once made sense feel unsettled and unfamiliar. If the trauma occurred during childhood or adolescence, triggers can cease for some time and then suddenly appear when least expected, bringing up a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. According to renowned psychiatrist and author, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, “we have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.”

Adults survivors of trauma tend to adapt to traumatic experiences by using any number of learned coping behaviors that have supported them while the trauma was occurring. Such tools range from disconnecting from themselves when provoked to burying their feelings when feeling overwhelmed or flooded by a triggering interaction. And while these coping tools can be very useful for some time, they are not sustainable in the long run and can leave you feeling emotionally drained.

Fortunately, many of the tools needed to repair these wounds are within our reach. One such tool is our brain or more specifically, the neurons making connections in our brain. According to neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay, neuroplasticity of the brain allows us to re-organize the brain under the right circumstances. When the brain is engaged and ready for change, neurochemicals are released, allowing the brain to make significant repairs.

So what does this mean for survivors of trauma? It means that there is hope. Given the right guidance, motivation, and support, a survivor of trauma can thrive and recalibrate a system that has been working overtime to protect itself.

So, here are a few things you can do now to help facilitate this change and start the healing process:

·       Understand that trauma reactions can vary from person to person. Some of my clients note that post trauma, they are noticeably more irritable or depressed, while others feel the effects of trauma as a pain in their chest or chronic fatigue. I also recommend that clients rule out any physical concern by consulting with a medical doctor.

 

·       Practice mindfulness. While this term may have been trending for the last few years, there is something to it. Taking a moment and google belly breathing. It’s also called diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing can be helpful when experiencing panic attacks and has been shown to slow down the heart beat and lower the effects of cortisol on your body.

 

·       Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Support systems are so critical in one’s ability to heal. If it is too difficult to reach out to a loved one, reach out to a local hotline, clinician, or to your local mental health communities. Most clinicians are more than happy to research and offer resources that fit your needs.

 

If you feel like your symptoms are interfering with your ability to deal with day to day activities, it may be time to seek professional help. Treatments such as EMDR and TR-CBT can quickly alleviate some symptoms, giving clients a better understanding of the healing process and allow clients to reclaim their ability to be present and at peace in their own lives. As an EMDR-trained provider, I’m happy to talk with you more about these options and what may be the best fit for you.

Unexpected Inquiries

Well, the day finally came. My four-year-old asked the dreaded question. Nothing to do with body parts or sex. My husband and I have always used anatomically correct terminology with her and have welcomed any question. However, until last week, I was hoping to have glossed over this particular topic. In fact, I had just had a conversation with my supervisor about her not inquiring. “Mom, when are we going to have more babies in this house? When I grow up, who will be with you and daddy? I want more than three people to live in this house.” GULP!

As much as I wanted to rush through this conversation, I knew I had to slow it way down to address all of her questions, and more importantly, acknowledge her and join with her in her sadness—along with mine. My daughter was my husband’s and my second IVF attempt and our chances with ICSI were only about 15%. I had always dreamed of a big family and longed for lots of children. Nevertheless, my body chose another path and after a grueling 8-month health deterioration, at the age of 38, I had to have a hysterectomy.

Back to my four-year-old, through our tears, I explained that mommy and daddy were only able to have one baby—which just so happened to be the best gift ever! I explained how she was conceived. I had many times before, but I believe her processing and the timing of her questions were different this time.  I said that an amazing doctor took one of my eggs and one of her daddy’s sperm and put them together to create an embryo and then implanted that embryo back in my uterus where she grew and grew and grew until her birth. She asked why we couldn’t do that again because she wanted to play with a baby. She knew only women could carry babies but didn’t understand why this woman could not. I spoke with her about my surgery, etc.

We spoke about having friends to play with and share toys. I do not know what all she was able to process and fully understand. I’ve always spoken to her as if she understood all that I was saying. Babies are born with all the emotions that adults have. They just can’t verbalize and express them the way adults can. And sometimes even adults can’t fully express our emotions in an appropriate or sound way. I’m grateful that my daughter was able to share her hurt and pain and ask the hard questions. I’m equally reminded how my infertility struggles and journey has never gone away. It’s always there. There are times when I’m able to go about my day and a thought pops up and it has no affect. There are times, however, when a wave of sadness washes over me. It’s in those times I must grieve and recognize this void and longing that will never be filled. Do those emotions mean I’m ungrateful for my daughter? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite. By going to and visiting that dark place, I gain my strength back. As Brené Brown writes, “When we acknowledge our pain, hurt, and grief, we get our power back.”  I, for one, would rather eat and tackle my pain than be eaten and tackled by it.

If you struggle or have struggled with infertility, reach out and talk about your pain and experience to a friend or therapist. Tell your story to a trusted person who uses both of their ears. Find someone who does not judge, shame, pretend to have all the answers, or wants to ‘fix’ you. You are not broken. Your body is not a defect. If you need help conveying your feelings or story in a way where you feel validated, heard, and/or understood, I’d love to work with you, and have you own what’s rightfully yours. Infertility is such a unique suffering and struggle. I encourage you to walk this journey with someone and not in isolation.

First World Problems

Many of my clients that are coming in for relationship work have pointed out that their issues are “first world problems” and they shouldn’t complain so much. My canned response is that if we’re only allowed to seek help if no one on this planet has it worse than us, we’re all in big trouble. My extended thought on the matter goes much deeper. According to researchers, relationship problems are some of the most difficult issues we as humans face. Even therapists rate them as among the most difficult problems to treat. As human beings, we crave connectedness and human interaction. When our primary means of receiving those things is interrupted, or worse, imploding, our whole world can feel like it’s spinning out of control.

Also keep in mind that one of the primary indicators of whether children are healthy and successful adults is whether they had healthy parents in healthy relationships. This is the primary reason I became a couples therapist in the first place. I believe healthy romantic relationships are the building blocks of a healthy society. So if you feel selfish about wanting help with your relationship, try focusing on what it can do for your [future] children. I truly believe the best thing parents can do for their kids is model what a healthy committed romantic relationship looks like.

Finally, don’t settle for mediocre. Don’t settle for roommates, housemates, or coparents. All these types of relationships can be functional, but they’re certainly not optimal. Studies show the average couple waits 7 years after a problem first occurs before seeking help. You can imagine how many layers animosity and resentment can get in the way of solutions by then. Do yourself and your family a favor and don’t put it off any longer. Seek help from professionals who have been trained specifically for your relationship issues. I’ve seen it make life-changing differences in people’s lives. It won’t be easy, but the ends definitely justify the means.

Two Little Words: I'm sorry

Those two little words, “I’m sorry.” If done right, they can repair and reconnect a relationship. IF. One has to say it with ownership. The tone and sincerity followed by action and behavioral changes also must occur. I’ve heard a LOT of apologies over the years. Some good and some not so good. Recently, numerous people told me about the show “Revenge Body” staring Khloe Kardashian. I know, please bear with me! Naturally, I was reluctant to watch, however, my curiosity got the better of me and I saw an episode, or two, or possibly more…The show is about one or two people wanting to take ‘revenge’ out on a loved one, be it an ex, close friend, sibling, or parent by working out with a celebrity trainer, eating well, and dealing with emotions they have suppressed. They basically transform their look. (I’m skeptical that all is well in a matter of 12 weeks, but that’s for another blog) These revenge-seekers are trying to get their perpetrators to see how much their words and actions have hurt them and wounded their core. What I find most intriguing have been the apologies. Here are a few: “I’m sorry ‘if’ I hurt you.” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “Why didn’t you say anything? (Never saying, “I’m Sorry.”) “I apologize ‘if’ what I did/said caused you pain.” “You know, we’ll do better. You’re beautiful. I knew you could do this.” “I’m sorry, but you hurt me too.”

            I’ll have to admit that these so-called apologies saddened me. Saying “If” or “But” are conditional words, dependent upon the other victim and what they have done. It would be equivalent to me being in a turning lane about to make a left and a distracted driver swerves into my turning lane and hits me and then blames me for being in the turning lane. “I’m sorry I hit you, but you shouldn’t have been there.” What?? Just like one shouldn’t say, “I love you but…” The words ‘if’ and/or ‘but’ discounts the person’s pain. They are not repairing and reconnecting words. They’re justification words, glossing over and claiming no ownership of one’s poor word choice, bad behavior, or unacceptable timing. When a spouse says, “Your name calling hurts my feelings”, acknowledge it. When she says, “It frightens me when you raise your voice in an argument”, own it. As he says, “I feel like I don’t matter when you give me the silent treatment”, address it. ‘Ifs’ and ‘but’s’ have a place, but not in an authentic apology where hearts need to start healing and relationships need to be mended.

            We’re constantly modeling for our kids too. They need to see us apologize to our partner and hear apologies from us. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. You don’t deserve to be spoken to like that.” Period. Leave “but you need to…or you should have done…” out of the apology. Explaining why behavior needs to change comes later. If you must, do the mantra, “I must be more emotionally mature than my 3-year-old” or however old your child(ren) are. We all have reasons to be angry, and some are very understandable! Repeating ourselves repeatedly, something gets broken, sleep deprivation, etc. Nevertheless, their behavior should not dictate how we own our poor behavior and apologize. They are kids. And we are the adults.

            What do you do when you find yourself stuck or unable to apologize for something you’ve done or said that has hurt someone else?

  1. Own your part. It might help to ask yourself, “If someone had done this to me or spoken to me like this, would it be hurtful?”

  2. Talk with the person whom you’ve hurt. Ask them to help you understand what they’re feeling or going through.

  3. Seek help. Having a therapist help you see different perspectives of a situation could enlighten you and not just in this situation, but in others as well.

I’m In a Relationship… So How Can I Feel So Alone?

“I try to connect with my partner, but he just shuts me down.  I have tried to share many times in the past the issues I have regarding my boss, but my partner just criticizes me for what I am not doing instead of listening to me.  Every time I talk to my wife, she just shames me for my decisions.  My partner is here, but I can’t talk to them.  I feel so alone.” 

Do any of the statements above sound similar to something you’ve experienced in your relationship?  Are you tired of trying to share your world with your partner and get shut down or shut out?  If so, you are in the right spot.  I hope my blog gives you a quick educational snippet of what emotional safety is and how, without it, relationships tend to suffer.

  1. What is Emotional Safety?
    Emotional safety refers to a state when an individual is able to be truly open and vulnerable in a relationship. When an individual feels emotionally safe, their social connections tend to thrive. When social connections are thriving, long-term relationships can be cultivated!

  2. How is Emotional Safety Disrupted in a Relationship?
    Threats to emotional safety in a relationship can come in all forms. From my experience, it is not the BIG arguments that cause couples to come into therapy. It is the SUBTLE threats that build and build over time that lead couples to question what has happened them. These subtle threats include: feeling attacked and then feeling the need to counterattack, shutting down, being judged, being criticized, and being shamed.\

  3. How Can Emotional Safety Be Rebuilt?
    Rebuilding emotional safety and reconnecting with your partner can be a daunting process. Here are just a few tips to rebuild emotional safety: effective communication, fair fighting, soft start up, acceptance, and love.

As research states, emotional safety is a key component of a long last relationship.  When a person’s mind and body feel safe, their connections and relationship tend to thrive.  If you and your partner are still feeling overwhelmed, please give me a call and I would love to help you rebuild the relationship you want and deserve!  

Communicating about Sex

Communication would be at the top of the list when discussing ways to maintain a healthy relationship. While there are other equally important skills you and your partner should have, communication remains as the highest trait in helping a relationship stay solid. This fundamental piece can determine how in sync you and your partner really are. Since communication is such a key element, why is it then hard to talk about sex with your partner? The answer to why we still tend to cringe towards this subject may be understandable.

Even though different forms of media are filled with sexual content nowadays, society still tell us conversations with sexual content is a “no, no”. It keeps persisting that sex is taboo. Altogether, this can be confusing and send mixed messages on how to approach the topic. You could feel stuck on what to do. Furthermore, there are additional contributing factors influencing your perception of sex. This includes: upbringing, religious beliefs, gender stereotypes, and any other influential origins you believe formed your perception. When considering everything, staying away from talks regarding sex seems like the easiest solution. However, think of it this way: If you and your partner feel that open communication should be implemented throughout all aspects of your relationship…shouldn’t sex be included too? Talking over what’s currently going on in your sex life or what ways it may have changed is a discussion worth having. No matter what the sexual issue contains, an open and honest conversation should occur. It can feel uncomfortable at first, but bringing up sex may be a vulnerable conversation that needs to happen within your relationship starting now.

In order to keep your relationship successful, your sexual health and experiences have to be prioritized too. If you’re like most clients I talk to, your sex life is less than ideal. Likely you’ve simply avoided the topic, hoping it will get better. Unfortunately you’re not likely to see much improvement without actually discussing the issue. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about communicating your sexual concerns. Remember: As you progress through life’s ups and downs, your sexual desires can also fluctuate. Maybe what was a turn on isn’t one anymore, maybe you’re experiencing a sexual difficulty that once wasn’t there before or maybe you’re wanting to explore something different. Whatever the matter is, your partner should know what is going on. In a healthy relationship, each partner is willing and open to share their sexual issues. They understand the importance of addressing and having a healthy sex life. You and your partner’s connection will only strengthen from it.

If you’ve never been good at discussing sex with your partner, you may benefit from seeking professional help, whether individually or as a couple. As a therapist with training and experience helping couples communicate regarding their sexual relationship, I’m happy to help.

What Makes Love Last? (Part 2)

John Gottman and Nan Silver co-wrote the book “What Makes Love Last?” In Part 1 of this blog entry detailing said book, I discussed the five ways to betray a lover. This blog will deal with the other five ways. The sixth betrayal to your lover is withdrawing of sexual interest. Most couples, during some time in their relationship,  get stuck in a rut or allow distractions from life, work, kids, or stress to cause intimacy to take a pause. However, when there are deep rooted issues, a dwindling sex life cannot be easily started again. Do you cherish your partner? Do you compliment their body or when they dress up? Every person longs to be seen, connected and validated. Do you see your partner? Withdrawing from sexual intimacy is wounding unless it is addressed in an honest and loving way.

 Seven, disrespect. “Whatever your partner’s communication style, if he or she implies that you are inferior, you are being treated with disrespect. A loving relationship is not about one person having the upper hand—it’s about holding hands.” Subtle slights and name calling are not helpful and are damaging.

 Unfairness is number eight. There should be justice and equality in the relationship. If money is spent on his big TV, then money should also be spent on whatever an equal value of gym membership or item she wants. Who does most of the housework? Who handles the finances? How is child-raising viewed? Some issues may seem petty, but as Gottman and Silver address, and as I have seen as a clinician, big problems arise if an agreeable balance isn’t struck.  It’s important to keep the dialogue open about these and other ‘fairness’ issues.

 Nine is selfishness. At times, it is essential that one partner forfeit their needs to help their partner. Resentment will take hold if one partner is untrustworthy of providing for the family. Some examples Gottman gives are pitching a fit because the infant car seat won’t fit into a new sports car, resisting on cutting work hours, opening a college fund (he wants a motorboat), and availability for sex. Seeking help can help uncover triggers of needs and fears.

 Lastly, breaking promises. Having a joint savings account for an agreed upon decision like buying a house or going on vacation and one person begins spending that joint money. Religion can be another sore spot if both had a practicing faith throughout their marriage, and now one decides to change faith or not attend church at all. Addiction is another devastating betrayal.

So what do you do if you’ve found yourself in any of these ten betrayals? Gottman and Silver say to put your feelings into words. It may be that you may not be sure of what you’re feeling. Express that to your partner. Let them know, “Yes, something’s going on. I’m not sure what I’m feeling. When I work through it, I’d like to talk about it.” That allows the other partner to be with you as you work through the issue/feeling. Chances are when you’re uncomfortable with your feelings or what is happening in the relationship, so is the other partner. Secondly, ask open-ended questions. Instead of, “Did you have a good day at work?” ask “So, what was it like at work today?” Open-ended questions are engaging and allow your partner to share more intimate details with you as well as you getting to validate and hear your partner. Then, follow up with statements that deepen connection. Lastly, express compassion and empathy. Try to go into an issue not wanting to ‘fix’ anything, but a calming presence and reassurance.

I encourage you to find a therapist who will help you gain the tools needed to gain a deeper level of trust with your partner and greater understanding of what it means to listen, be heard, feel validated, be more connected, and express love to your partner and in turn, feel a greater love as well.

Work and Home Life Balance

The title may look a bit odd to you because the more common phrasing is "work/life balance." That's never felt right to me as it implies that life is what happens outside of work. However, most of us spend more of our waking hours at work than we do anywhere else. We do life at work and, whether we like to admit it or not, work also bleeds over into home life as well. I believe we should be trying to improve ourselves in all areas of life, including work. Problems arise when we 1) carry our work stress/habits into home life, 2) carry our home problems into work, or 3) try and be our “work selves” at home with our family.

Work is stressful whether it’s a 70-80 hour week, a flexible schedule working from home, or a stay at home parent. It’s understandable that you would share that with your partner. The goal here is to not take it out on them. Relationships are, in part, about helping each other carry burdens. I encourage partners to include their partners in all aspects of their life, but remember they are your ally, not a punching bag. Asking them about their day and helping shoulder their struggles is just as important as them helping you.

Likewise, issues in your personal life can’t help but affect how you behave and perform at work. If the home life is less than ideal, you can’t just turn that off when you head to the job site. However, this is what close friends and colleagues are for. Choose people who are supporters of not just you, but of your relationship, and do life with them. Ironically most of us do this one much better than the first issue as we all know we need to perform well at our job or soon we might not have one. Just think if we viewed our relationships with the same level of importance and urgency!

Finally, we all have our work persona that we carry into the office. Whether that’s the boss, managing people, taking orders, being direct, etc, what works in the workplace rarely works at home.* Your partner needs a flexible, caring, empathetic partner, not a task-oriented, directive-driven workhorse. Be attentive to how your partner’s needs may vary from your own and be mindful of how the behaviors that may make you an effective professional may not make you the most lovable partner.

I say all this not because I’m great at it, but because I too struggle with these very things. The important thing is recognizing where you struggle and getting help. Whether it’s your partner, a close friend, a family member, or a therapist, find someone that can help hold you accountable to being better!

What Makes Love Last? (Part I)

“Are we going to make it?” And “Is this the worse you’ve ever seen?” are two frequent questions I get from my clients. When emotions are at a 10 and it feels like there’s no way out of the fight or crisis, it can feel like you’re drowning, and you’ve got only one big push to get that last breath before sinking down to the bottom. It’s scary. It’s exhausting. It feels very hopeless and isolating. Arguments can happen anywhere there is more than one person in the room. Two personalities, two opinions, and at least two ways of seeing something can correlate to miscommunication, which can lead to disagreements. Problems shift, however, when we stop seeing our partner as on the same team and begin to see them as ‘the other’ or ‘the enemy’. Reminding ourselves that ‘We’re in this together’ and to continue to fight the issue, and not the person, is vital to keeping this a fair fight.  

            Dr. John Gottman and Nan Silver wrote in, “What Makes Love Last? How To Build Trust And Avoid Betrayal” that *relationship killers are founded on two building blocks: deception (not revealing your true needs to avoid unpleasant conflict) and a yearning for emotional connection that seems unavailable from the partner. Trust is reestablished only when these areas are addressed and validated in one another. Gottman and Silver list 10 ways to betray a Lover. We’ll address five of them in this blog.

  1. One is having a shallow or conditional commitment. When couples ignore or avoid discussing deep issues, a shallow commitment is left. Intentionally talk about goals and dreams. It’s just as important as talking about the budget or the weekly and monthly calendar. Talking about our goals and dreams helps partners to feel like a team and seen as not just business partners running a household, but two committed people wanting a stronger bond and connection.

  2. Two, a nonsexual affair. If by what you’re doing, saying, texting, messaging, emailing or interacting/confiding in with another person would cause your partner to be uncomfortable, probably not a good idea. Be careful when you want to rekindle a past relationship on social media. In my experience, I have yet to hear someone in my office tell me that life was better because they chatted with an ex on social media or became ‘friends’. Innocent friendships are out in the open, encouraged, and have respected boundaries.  If you are turning outward to fill a void in the relationship, it’s time to turn inward and talk to your partner about your needs. Sometimes when you feel off in the relationship, so does the other partner.

  3. Lying is the third betrayal. Lies that are uttered to maintain the peace are a breach of trust.

  4. Forming a coalition against the partner is the fourth. When we turn to our family members and friends to gain approval or to alleviate our anxiety versus turning towards our partner, we do our relationship a huge disservice. Reparation can only happen when we keep our marital conflict in the marriage or in a confidential setting with a trusted therapist.

  5. Fifth is absenteeism or coldism. A committed relationship requires being there for each other both through life-changing traumas and everyday stresses. It also means sharing in the joys and good times as well. Remind your partner what a great wife or husband, mother or father, worker or person they are. “Atta girls”, and “Atta boys” don’t just apply to children. We, as adults, need affirming words and love pats too!

 

*Physical and emotional abuse is the worst kind of betrayal and is not in this list or being addressed in this blog.

Why Is It So Hard for Me to Say No?

Do you find it difficult to say no to friends, co-workers, etc. if they ask for help?  Do you tend to value other people’s happiness at the cost of yours?  Do you notice yourself getting worn out because you devote so much time to others and little time to yourself?  If you answered a yes to any of these questions, maybe the term people pleaser or yes man apply to you?

People pleasing behaviors can stem from different core issues, including low self-worth, the insatiable desire to be accepted and liked, and a history of unhealthy interpersonal relationships. 

Over time, people pleasing behaviors can lead to short and long-term problems.  It puts major stress on you mentally and emotionally, which can lead to physical health issues include changes in diet and sleep routine.

I am completed over-committed… I have no energy left to give.”

If you can relate to any of the concerns above and want to work away from people pleasing or saying yes to everything and everyone, here are a few tips:

  • Remember it is okay to say no!

  • Healthy boundaries are important.

  • Consider the value in saying yes versus the value in saying no.

  • Check in with your health and take care of yourself.

  • We all have a choice in what we do and don’t do.

  • You can be more helpful if you’re a healthier version of you.

If you are experiencing any of these concerns and have noticed it’s been a struggle to manage your commitments, please give me a call and I would love to help you establish some healthy boundaries and increase your confidence to take control back in your life. 


Grief Is Part Of Love

One of the greatest privileges about being a marriage and family therapist is getting to work with an array of people, backgrounds, genders, and various populations. While some issues may be similar, no two clients are the same. Pain is pain. When someone comes to therapy to work through their pain and grief, tears freely fall regardless of their socioeconomic status or zip code. We all hurt and we all need help.All grief is valid. My grief will look different from your grief, but “we all deserve to be heard in our grief, no matter what that grief may be.” Problems arise when we begin talking ourselves into believing that our pain is not as important as someone else’s. “Grief is as individual as love.” Sometimes, however, society can cause us to feel bad for feeling bad. Many people are uncomfortable with sadness and grief. They want happiness and smiles. So, instead of feeling held and comforted, we can feel shamed and guilt in our pain.Numerous times, clients want me to ‘fix’ them by removing their pain and grief. If only there was a magic wand to wave it all away! However, the only way to work through pain is to walk in it.  “Words of comfort that try to erase pain are not a comfort. When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better…To feel truly comforted by someone, you need to feel heard in your pain. It seems counterintuitive, but true comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away.” There is nothing wrong with feeling grief nor does sadness mean something is broken that needs mending. It is a healthy response to love and loss. “It means something important to you has been lost, and you have to identify what it is.”If you or someone you know is suffering and dealing with grief, let me encourage you to:

  1. Find a trusted friend who allows you to sit in your grief without feeling like you need to be fixed. Do you feel more love and kindness to yourself after seeing this friend, or stressed, unheard and worse in your pain after the visit?

  2. Find a therapist who will work with you on reducing the suffering. There is a difference between pain and suffering. The goal is to reduce the suffering.

  3. Check in with yourself. Note how you feel during different times of the day and under what circumstances. Note when you feel the tiniest bit more peace of being or calm.

  4. Remember your grief is not a test of love; it’s an experiment in love. It’s an experimental faith, experimental relationship with yourself, with this life, with grief, with pain, with love, with suffering—it’s all an experiment. It’s not a test. You can’t fail. You haven’t failed!

 Adapted from “It’s OK That You’re NOT OK; Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.” by Megan Devine.

Avoiding Assumptions

In my 15 years of seeing individuals and couples in therapy, I've heard just about every version of argument there is. Whether it's a blowup that started with the laundry not being folded or a walk out due to a direct insult, I've heard it all. I've found there's a common theme in all of these miscommunications: assuming. Once we get comfortable with someone and have been with them long enough, we naturally tend to figure out some of their patterns of thinking, behavior, and communication. Although this can be helpful in meeting their needs and being more efficient, assuming can also be devastating to relationships. What if you're wrong and you didn't stop to check? Then you might be responding to or arguing with a point that the other person never even imagined.It's also important to remember that we all come into relationships and arguments pre-loaded with our own baggage and insecurities. This means you're not just making assumptions based on your observations of your partner, but you're also seeing everything through your own biased filter. Ever heard the phrase "you see what you want to see"? Basically if you're convinced there's a way your partner (or perhaps people in general) talk or behave toward you, then ironically this is what you're likely to experience, whether it's objectively occurring or not. For example, if you believe that no one could ever truly love you because you yourself don't believe you're truly worthy of being loved, then you'll consciously or subconsciously always be looking for signs that those around you do not in fact love you. Even if you see 10 signs of love for every 1 wrong, you'll focus on the wrongdoing and dismiss the love. See how this could be dangerous in combination with our natural tendency to assume?Luckily I've had 15 years and plenty of training on how to thwart these negative patterns! I have four quick (but not easy) steps to avoid falling into the assumption trap:1) Check assumptions - The moment you find yourself assuming your partner is saying something hurtful toward or negative about you, ask before attacking! It also helps if you do this in a curious way (What did you mean when you said X?) versus defensive (So you're saying that I'm an idiot?). What if they had a perfectly harmless thought and just expressed it poorly? Good thing you checked!2) Lead with feelings - This is by far the hardest step because it requires the toughest thing to do in this world - being vulnerable. Leading with how their comment made you feel is far "weaker" position than lashing out and hurting them back. However, I struggle to think of a time when attacking back has ever led to positive resolution. Instead use a feeling to describe your reaction to their comment. If your partner truly cares about you, sharing how you're hurt is far more likely to get a loving response.3) Address hurt feelings - If your partner has done step 2 and expressed hurt feelings the last thing you want to do is argue feelings with facts. The temptation is to try and convince them why they shouldn't feel hurt and why you're not a bad person/partner, but all that does is serve to invalidate their reactive feeling. Instead accept that this is how they feel and address that feeling.4) Meta-communicate - This is a fancy term for communicating about communicating (Did I just blow your mind?). In other words, talk about where the miscommunication occurred and how. Discuss how you could have gotten the same point across without hurting the other person's feelings. If the communication went poorly, talk about how you can better handle a similar miscommunication in the future without it leading to a fight.There are many other communication skills, but these 4 will have you well on your way to avoiding assumptions. For more help fine-tuning your relationship communication, please reach out to a couples therapist near you. They are an invaluable resource and are there to help strengthen your relationship both in quality and longevity.

Depression and Connection, Part 2

In the last blog I wrote about depression, I promised more information on the relationship between connection and depression. Some of my clients have described depression as being like a black hole, or like a heavy and suffocating blanket. Others have described feeling as if the world is muffled or distant. Many go through their day with a smile on their face that they wear for the benefit of others; you may have seen that commercial for depression medication where the woman holds up a smiley face mask but behind the mask, she is clearly unhappy and disengaged. The imagery of these descriptions conveys a sort of darkness and loneliness. People who are depressed often feel alone. And they often do an amazing job of posing as a happy person. They struggle to believe that others could or would want to understand the depth of their pain, or that anyone would want to be around them if they knew the truth. Often, people with depression may feel they are “too much” and do not want to burden loved ones. As a result,  they turn inward and isolate, pushing away those that care the most. Putting on a smiling face and isolating oneself for the benefit of others is a huge problem in dealing with depression because it doesn’t work. Just to emphasize … isolation and pretending do not work!!! Those strategies don’t work because they serve only to deepen the depression. Isolation’s counterpart, connection, is what is needed. Often when one thinks of the word connection, the image of an in interpersonal relationship comes to mind. Connection to people is absolutely a main component of one’s well-being. Healthy, nurturing, and reciprocal relationships with others, such partners, friends, and family members have been shown to improve people’s quality of life and health. Good relationships make the ups and downs of life bearable because we have others with which to share both the joys and sorrows of life. Humans are not meant to walk alone. We thrive and accomplish more when we are in meaningful relationships.There are other kinds of connections that are important as well, such as doing meaningful work. Do you remember a time when you were so excited about a book you read, or inspired by someone’s story? Or that time when you knew what you wanted to do and couldn’t wait to get started? Or when you found yourself in a place that moved you so much, that you knew you needed more of that in you life? That is connection! It is connection to people, and it is also connection to that which helps you to know your place in the world and allows you to contribute something meaningful, something that gives you a sense of purpose and contributes to your broader understanding of life. Earlier, I said that pretending to be okay and distancing oneself from others only exacerbates depression. It reinforces ideas of being alone and unwanted. The reality is we need to be with others, especially when we feel at our lowest and most vulnerable. The support we receive from others, personally and professionally, is essential to recovering from depression. There are people who want to help. It may not be the first person you ask, or even the second and third, but there is someone in your life who will say, “yes, I want to be there for you”. So, no matter how murky the depression waters seem, or how deep the black hole seems to be, ask for help. Do the opposite of what you feel in those moments. Go to where the people are.