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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!  

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.  

Inside The World Of Infertility (Part II)

Like death or any hard topic, it may be difficult to talk with someone who is going through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infertility. We tend to go blank when we can’t ‘fix’ a problem. Here are some ways to be helpful and not so helpful during this painful grief and loss for someone.What would be helpful to say or do:

  1. Listen
  2. Say, “I’ve been praying or thinking about you.”
  3. “Hi.”
  4. “You’re not alone.”
  5. “I’m here.”
  6. “Here is my favorite meal.” Make sure it is in a dish or foil pan so they will not have to keep up with washing/returning the dish/bowl.

What would NOT be helpful to say or do:

  1. “There’s always adoption”.
  2. “You still have time”.
  3. “You’re still young”.
  4. “It will happen”.
  5. “You can always try again.” Or “Are you going to try for another?”
  6. “You’d be such a good mom/dad”.
  7. “Let’s pass all of our estrogen and eggs to ________.”
  8. One up the person’s grief story.
  9. “I remember when we couldn’t get pregnant and they couldn’t figure it out. It would have been better for them to have said we were infertile.” (All the while they have children or even if they do not, see #8).
  10. “I was reading about women’s eggs greatly reducing at 40.”
  11. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  12. “If it’s meant to be.”
  13. “At least you have 1. Be grateful for that!”

Believe it or not, I heard every one of these phrases, and occasionally, still do. Before spending time with someone who has lost a baby, had a miscarriage, is going through IVF, or is struggling with infertility, become educated. Ask yourself, "Is what I’m about to say helpful and sensitive to the other person?" This is an issue that cannot be 'fixed' or 'changed.'If you would like to discover ways to talk to a family member or friend about their grief and loss around infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth, reach out for help. Having an experienced professional help bring direction to your emotions as you express to your friend or family member that you are with them through this part of their journey would empower you to strengthen your bond with them. Also, processing through your own guilt, grief, and shame will help you to become stronger more well balanced individual.

Inside The World Of Infertility (Part I)

April 21st begins Infertility Awareness Week. For some of us, 1 in 8 to be exact, this reminder is more than a week long. It’s a daily, monthly, yearly, and lifetime struggle of awareness that our bodies aren’t doing what we need it to do. Few things are more heartbreaking and devastating to a family’s dream than getting a call from the doctor telling you that you and your spouse are unable to have a baby without IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). It’s a deep pain that hits the core and while, over time we manage, the wound never goes away. There are constant reminders, insensitive comments, and endless personal questions that come with infertility. Not to mention the financial investment, the physical and emotional pain, and the stress of timing the injections, blood work, pills, and implantation to the minute. It literally is a direct science!I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. My husband and I were celebrating our one-year anniversary in Dakota Beach. We had been gifted with a condo and were thoroughly enjoying the nice breeze and view of the ocean from our room when my doctor called me.  He said, “Melissa, your tests came back along with your husband’s. I hate these phone calls. I’m sorry to say that you won’t be able to conceive without the help of IVF. And even with IVF, the numbers don’t look good.” Instantly I stopped thinking and breathing. My mind was going a million miles a minute and shut down all at the same time. I apologized and asked him to repeat what he just said. He simplified and said, “These test results are showing us why you’re not getting pregnant.” He then gave me a name of an IVF specialist and encouraged me to call right away.Infertility does not discriminate. It happens to anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and SES. It even happens to therapists! Infertility can’t be wished away. It’s a grief and a pain like no other. And although everyone who struggles with infertility has their own story, feelings, and emotions surrounding events that only happen to them, there’s a special bond between those who share an IVF and/or infertility story.So, what do you do if you or a loved one has just learned you have infertility or continue to struggle with your empty womb or the waiting?

  • Listen to your physician. If they are not supportive and empathetic, find one who is. You need a good compassionate doctor who will walk with you in this journey.
  • Be kind to yourself. Take time to grieve. You have suffered a traumatic loss. Surround yourself with nonjudgmental and non-fixer people. You need to be able to express your feelings and be validated—not judged or fixed. Infertility is not a problem that can be solved. Some people believe that if IVF works and you get pregnant and have a baby—poof, you’re fixed! All is well. This is not the case. Yes, it is a happy and amazing miracle. But there are so many emotions,feelings, and hidden pains that need addressing.
  • Remember you are NOT broken. Just because there’s a part that may be labelled ‘dysfunctional’ does not mean you or your personhood is.
  • Find a therapist who will help you with coping skills to alleviate your suffering. Not take away the pain, but help in lessening it, help you in your grief, work through unmet expectations, and help manage anxiety if you are going through the IVF process. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for help.

Connection and Depression, Part 1

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that is involved in the functioning of multiple organ systems in the body. Commonly, it is known as the happy chemical. There is a strong correlation between low levels of serotonin and depression. This is a simple enough explanation and if that is in fact the case, then medication should do the trick. And indeed, medication can help ease the most severe symptoms of depression such as fatigue, decreased concentration and focus, sadness, feeling as if one is in a fog, and general apathy. Notice that I used the word “ease” when explaining how anti-depressant medication can address symptoms of depression. I use this word because anti-depressants are not a cure-all and because depression is a complicated condition. We know that serotonin is implicated in depression, but it is a chicken or the egg argument. Does depression happen because of an insufficient amount of serotonin, or is the production of serotonin impacted by depression?This is an important question because it tells us that managing depression requires a multi-modal approach. Think about it. If you are someone reading this blog right now that has suffered from depression, whether it is infrequent or chronic, what things made it bearable? Was it the great feeling you got from exercise? Or a lovely lunch with a dear friend? A successful presentation at work? Or being selected for a prized opportunity at school? And maybe it was as simple as a walk or eating your favorite ice cream. These events create pleasure,contentment, or a sense of accomplishment which in turn boosts our mood. And those momentary feelings are just that, momentary, when you have depression. Why is that? There are a couple of explanations. One being that people who are depressed are often extrinsically motivated. One who is extrinsically motivated seeks affirmation and approval from the outside world. Success and happiness are determined by the approval of others whether that is in the form of  praise, admiration, or the number of followers/likes/retweets on social media. On the other hand, a person who is intrinsically motivated experiences satisfaction with knowing they have done a good job or are a good person without lots of validation from the outside world.By itself, there is nothing wrong with being extrinsically motivated. Nor is it necessarily sufficient to only be intrinsically motivated. The reality is we need both. We need to know our worth without excessive amounts of validation, and yet it sure is nice when someone notices when we have done a good job. In my opinion, it all comes down to connection. Real, meaningful, life giving connection to others and to a life with purpose. People are healthiest when they know they matter and that what they do matters. People are healthiest when they enjoy relationships where they can be themselves in all of their multifaceted and complex wonderfulness. Do you have people in your life that help you to know you matter and are you engaged in activities or work that give you a sense of purpose? If the answer is no, and you are feeling depressed or anxious, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and seek new experiences and relationships. Psychotherapy is a great place to begin that exploration and uncover what might be holding you back. More to come on the relationship between connection, depression, and anxiety.

March Awareness Month

If you google March Awareness Month/Week, you will discover a plethora of things to be aware of! It’s Red Cross Month, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Brain Injury Awareness Month to name a few. But then if you scroll down, you will find a division of Awareness Weeks of March. Did you know that there was an actual National Sleep Awareness Week in March?! Anyone with babies and children are quite aware of our sleep, or lack thereof, awareness. There’s MS week, Down Syndrome Awareness Week. Here’s the one that caught my attention. In the U.K., they have a Tick Bite Prevention Week.Sunday, March 24th, starts the TBP week, and I guarantee you that I will be remembering that a country has claimed an entire national week to prevent tick bites. As silly as a Tick Bite Prevention Awareness Week sounds, if it allows families and pets to play outside with more awareness and precautions against tick bites preventing Lyme’s Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or other horrible and debilitating disease caused by a tick, then bring on the awareness!There’s a difference in being aware and being anxious. If I have forgotten to buckle my seat belt, my car dings at me. There’s no need to panic. I just put on my seat belt. If I notice myself feeling more frustrated than usual, I do a self-check to see what’s going on internally. Sometimes it’s due to being tired, needing to work out, needing to have a conversation I’ve been putting off with my spouse.According to the Google Dictionary, “Awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” What personal and relational awareness do you have? What keeps you in check with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being? What signs do you have that keep you aware? When you start having more negative thoughts about yourself or your relationship, does that cause you to pause and question where those thoughts are coming from? When was the last time you checked in with your family, had a family meeting time, and/or had a meal together without any electronics? When was the last time you self-cared, self-reflected, or had a date night?My hope would be that you are doing a weekly or bimonthly awareness of your relationship and yourself to avoid any chance of a relationship or self break down. If you find yourself needing help to work through the awareness you discover, know there is someone to walk with you and help you in your discovery journey. Being more intentional and aware in your living will create more peaceful and joyful spaces.

Fighting Fairly

If you are a sibling, have had a good friend, or ever been in junior high, you know all about insults. You know when someone insults you, you insult them right back. And not just any insult. An insult against all insults. You try to one-up their insult. Then they try to respond with an even greater insult. Until someone throws a mom under the bus with, “Your mom!”The perpetual hamster wheel. It’s all fun in games until someone gets hurt. When we get older, it becomes your wife shutting down or your husband leaving. Insult wars start with words and actions that spiral out of control until homes are wrecked, marriages become irreparable, and lives are left devalued.Long before the above scenario occurs, little offenses might be taking place. Maybe it’s laundry not being put up or a spoon not placed in the dishwasher. These are such little things. However, as we know, those tiny little snowflakes can cause quite a disastrous avalanche. It’s not about socks and spoons. It’s about feeling respected and our time being valued. When we don’t voice what our needs are and push our feelings down by telling ourselves it may be easier to just ‘clean it up ourselves’, the real issue goes unheard and unaddressed.Tension and conflict are not the issue in the relationship. It’s how we deal with the conflict and treat one another during those tense times that leads to hurt and devaluing one another. Fighting fairly means we are able to have concern for our partner’s feelings as well as having awareness of our own behavior. It’s saying, “We’re on the same team.” “I love you.” “There’s something I’d like to talk about.” Choosing not to participate in criticism (“You never…”), contempt, defensiveness (“It’s not me, it’s you”), and avoidance can lead to repair and change.In order to be intentional in handling conflict, we need to cultivate: curiosity, compassion, and (self-) control. Providing empathy to our partner’s feelings in a respectful manner, without the harsh tones, can do wonders. Ask yourself, “Where is my ownership in this fight?”  It might be a good idea to take a break and come back to discuss the situation. Reiterate to your partner that you want to discuss the issue, but you need some time to think about your words and process before the discussion. This will ensure that the ‘problem’ isn’t being avoided and that you are working to come to a resolution.If you have found yourself in the perpetual hamster wheel, reach out for help. We are trained to help you to get off the endless cycle of unresolved conflict and provide the tools needed to help you fight fairly. Create the space needed in your relationship to have conflict without the pain attached to it. Adapted by: Dr. John Gottman’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and Dr. Daphne de Marneffe “Put Up a Healthy Fight”.

Waiting Well

What do you do in the waiting period? The in between time? Some have defined the hyphen on a gravestone between the birth year and the death year as the person’s living years. What would you want people to say about the hyphen on your tombstone? Waiting comes in all forms. From waiting to file taxes, to waiting in the drive-thru line, to waiting for the doctor to return your call. We’re in a season when some of us are waiting for Christmas to get here while others are counting down to the minute when it is over.Waiting for Christmas is kind of easy because we know December 25th is coming. As well as waiting for the holidays and festivities to be over.  We know that, too, is ending. Some other waiting times can bring excitement. The joy of an engagement which (hopefully) leads to marriage. The anticipation of pregnancy which (hopefully) leads to a healthy baby.Nevertheless, what happens to your wait when you hear the bad news from the doctor? When you learn there has been unfaithfulness by your partner? When you begin feeling uneasy in your job? When life in and of itself is more ambiguous than certain? The hardest thing about waiting in these times is the not knowing what is going to happen in the in between and not knowing when or if it’s going to end. Or, at least end in the way you are wanting. You can work on yourself in the waiting. Instead of busying yourself, or losing yourself in social media, discover and explore inner peace.If you find your heart heavier than you’d like this holiday season, let me encourage you to take a first step BEFORE New Year’s. Before tomorrow. Start living and stop putting your life on hold until the resolutions begin. Anne Lamott writes, “You can’t buy, achieve, or date serenity. Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you.” GULP!

  1. If your relationship needs a tune-up or you feel like your communication could be improved, reach out to a therapist to help you in strengthening your communication skills and helping you find balance in prioritizing your relationship.
  2. If you want to work on your self-care, choose today to go for a walk or limit your cookie intake to 2.
  3. Make this week a new tradition or have a family game night or have a date night. Reconnect with your family. Designate an electronics free zone or time where everyone looks at one another’s faces and not the tops of their heads.
  4. If you’ve been ‘meaning to’ get back into attending church/synagogue/mosque, find a place to worship and feed your soul.

End this year better than it started in intentionally living, loving hard (including yourself), and being present. Why not begin focusing on changing the inside? “The courage to change the things we can means the stuff inside the snow globe, not where it sits on the mantel.”“Almost Everything: Notes On Hope” by Anne Lamott

Can I survive the holidays? (and please everyone)

Getting through the holidays can be notorious for being stressful for a variety of reasons.  Pressures to host, to get gifts, and see friends and family.  As a host, there are so many details and things to consider including: what you need to prepare for a holiday event (i.e. food and catering, house preparation, etc.), compiling the list of the people you need to invite, and then ultimately trying to set a time and date that works best for everyone.On the other hand, there are times you have multiple holiday engagements to which you are invited and you’re wondering how you’re supposed to juggle it all.  If you are invited to multiple engagements, you’re probably thinking “I don’t want to hurt their feelings if I can’t stay the whole time because I have another event I was invited to.  I just want to make everyone happy.”  Trying to take into consideration everyone’s feelings is hard and compounds the stress of the holidays, as most of us want to make sure everyone gets included and no one’s feelings get hurt in the process.I’ve had people tell me in the past that they had three events to attend in one day – like one at 2, one at 5, and one at 8 – or multiple events for an entire weekend.  I try to imagine their days hopping from event to event thinking how are you hanging in there?  People tell me they hate having to rush out from the event trying not to hurt the host’s feelings, but know they are hurting the next host’s feelings if they do not make it to their event.For couples, the same issue is compounded right?  I’ve heard couples complain about the difficulty in trying to please both sides of the family.  I totally get it!  Well the good news that I tell all my clients is that any holiday is ONLY twenty-four hours.  You WILL survive the day!  Just remember:

  • You cannot please everyone and that is okay.
  • It’s just one day and there is always time to celebrate with your loved ones.
  • Remind yourself what IS important.
  • Communicate and plan ahead of time!

If you are having difficulty or struggling navigating through the holidays, please give me a call!

Trauma and the Media

Often times when we think of trauma, we think of horrific events that happen to a person or to a group of people. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administrations (SAMHSA) define trauma as "an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being." Things like a natural disaster, war, rape, or a horrific accident. These types of incidents are what I like to call “Big Trauma”. Their impact is shocking and life changing in many cases. And then there are “Little Traumas” that are no less significant than larger scale events and these can include loss of a relationship or job, a medical illness, loss or change in identity, acts of prejudice, and other types of events that require adjustment or transition.“Little traumas” can also compound pre-existing trauma resulting in secondary trauma. Media is a major contributor to secondary trauma because of the prolific generation of information and images of tragic events happening across the world. For example, sexual assault survivors exposed to hundreds of stories and images of sexual assault become stressed as it may activate their own memories of previous assaults, sending them on a roller coaster of emotion and pain. Others exposed to these stories may have an epiphany of sorts - that something happened to them in the past they now have a name for or are just discovering how deeply a previous assault has affected them and their relationships.Interpersonal violence and tragic events of any kind lead to deep and lasting wounds. It changes a person and it changes the way a person processes the world.  For many, the world is no longer a safe place. It is very likely that you know someone who is a survivor of sexual violence. In fact, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and it is highly likely they will be assaulted or harassed by someone they know (NSVRC). Sixty-one percent of men and 51% of women have experienced at least one traumatic event in their life time (SAMHSA). The odds that you know someone who has gone through something traumatic in their lives is even greater.We can improve healing by helping survivors feel heard, understood, and believed. If you have been personally affected by trauma, healing is possible, whether the event happened recently or many years ago. Reach out for help. If you think you are experiencing secondary trauma due to media coverage, it is okay to pull away and engage less with social media and TV.  If you have a loved one or a friend who is struggling with trauma, support them. Be sure to listen attentively - listen to the feelings your friend or relative is trying to convey. Offer encouragement for the person to seek counseling and to get well. Extend your emotional support, patience and understanding.Whether you have experienced a “Big Trauma” or “Little Trauma,” all trauma has lasting effects and we are here for you.

Holiday Grief

The holidays are fast approaching. Turkey, family, trees and tinsel. “Children laughing, people clapping, meeting smile after smile...” That is, everyone who isn’t grieving, of course. The holidays are the hardest for those mourning the loss of a loved one, a shattered marriage, or a miscarriage. While everyone’s singing their “FA LA LAs”, people who are hurting just want lots of silent nights so they're not reminded of how unhappy they truly are. Or even worse, having to pretend they have moved on or ‘gotten over’ their baby dreams and Hallmark movie carriage ride romance.How will you nurture your grieving soul this holiday season? First and foremost, be gentle and kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to not celebrate. Yes, you read that right. If putting the tree up only feels like daggers to your heart, leave it down this year. If seeing Baby Jesus with his new mom displayed in a nativity set pierces your empty womb, keep them tucked away this year. Caring for your soul is more important than keeping up with traditions. Whatever does not promote healing and nurturing, leave it in its box this year. It could also mean that you need to leave a chair open and/or a place set for mom or dad to remind you of their love amid their physical absence. Light a candle or start a new tradition. Put the tree up in a new space or room and change up the lights and/or ornaments. Have a jammie day and stay in to watch movies or bake.Grief manifests itself in so many ways. While there is no right or wrong way to handle grief during the holidays, give yourself permission to decide what’s right for you as well as to change your mind. If you said ‘yes’ to a party or a dinner, and then you feel a wave of pain or sorrow hit, call and cancel if that is what you need to do. Reach out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes volunteering can help your spirits. However, make sure staying busy isn’t a way to leave your grief unattended. I would encourage you to find a therapist to help you process your grief if this is your first holiday season alone without a spouse or partner, divorced, or childless. Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you and your well-being MORE than family traditions. After all, we are in the Season of Love, and that includes loving yourself.

Addiction: Like a Stream of Water...

Imagine a stream of water flowing down an area of land…The stream of water touches everything in its path.  Everything in the water’s path is affected some way.  Soil is eroded and rocks are weathered away.  Once the stream passes, the area of land that the stream passes is never the same.  Like a stream of water, addiction has a powerful effect not only on the person struggling from it… it also tragically affects everything is the addicted person’s life including the person’s loved ones.  People who struggle from addiction often do not understand how their actions also impact the ones they love.When addiction is full blown, an addicted person will prioritize their addictive habits over anything else, which includes separating themselves from their loved ones and the activities they used to enjoy.  A wife may suddenly feel alone in her marriage or a best friend will feel they have lost a good friend. A sister may suddenly feel like she can no longer trust her brother after finding out he stole from her to buy drugs.Friends and family may experience an array of negative emotions as a direct result of their loved one’s addiction.  Addicted individuals can be very dishonest about their drug use and will even lie to cover up their usage.  Friends and family end up losing trust, feeling disappointed and lied to, and the emotional toll of a seeing their loved one struggle with the addiction can be overwhelming.As addiction continues, family roles can start to change too.  Typically, someone falls into the enabler role – the person who unknowingly or knowingly contributes to the addicted person’s substance use.  Other family members or friends may end up also becoming caregivers and focus on the addicted person’s needs, including the mental and emotional health.  A husband may suddenly put his needs aside in order to get his wife to her counseling appointments and remind her to go to her AA meeting.The list continues of the impacts of a person’s addiction on their family and friends, including financially instability (because money is spent towards supporting the addiction), exposing kids to negative influences and instability, health concerns, job loss, legal consequences, and even divorce.If you or someone you love is struggling from addiction or related issues, please contact me for help! The road to recovery and a healthier future is possible!

Infidelity - Clouded By Myth

According to couples therapists, infidelity is the second most difficult relationship problem, surpassed only by domestic violence. Most of the time, the other partner gets blindsided in the knowledge about their partner’s affair. Affairs do not have to be sexual for there to be infidelity. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust. “At least one or both parties in 50% of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship.” While most people want to be loving and dedicated to their partner, there obviously needs to be more awareness of the appropriate boundaries in friendships, work relationships, and internet interactions. Where are the lines between platonic and romantic feelings outside of the couple relationship? What are the signs or myths to look for? First and foremost, anytime there is a secret emotional intimacy, there is potential for an impending betrayal. Here are some myths encompassing affairs:Myth: Affairs happen in unhappy or unloving marriages/relationships.Fact: Affairs can happen in good marriages.Myth: Affairs occur mostly because of sexual attraction.Fact: The lure of an affair is how the unfaithful partner is mirrored back through the adorning eyes of the new love. Another appeal is that individuals experience new roles and opportunities for growth in new relationships.Myth: A cheating partner almost always leaves clues, so a naïve spouse must be burying his or her head in the sand. Fact: The majority of the affairs are never detected.Myth: The person having an affair isn’t ‘getting enough’ at home.Fact: The truth is that the unfaithful partner may not be giving enough.There is hope after an affair. If both partners are willing and wanting to stay together, here are some ways to bring about healing:

  1. Find a therapist whom you can trust and confide in. Make sure both of partners feel validated and heard in the therapy session.
  2. In order to rebuild intimacy, you must be willing to talk about the affair with the betrayed partner. “Trying to recover without discussing the betrayal is like waxing a dirty floor.”
  3. The aftermath of an affair can offer partners who are still committed to their marriage an opportunity to strengthen their bond. “Exploring vulnerability often leads to a more intimate relationship.”
  4. If you notice you and/or your partner turning outwards in the relationship instead of towards one another, seek help before bigger issues emerge. All relationships need tweaks and tune ups every now and then. Nevertheless, when the tweaks are not attended to, that leads to greater risk of greater damage.

Adapted from: Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.” By Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D.

What are your habits? Part 2, Complaining vs Caring

Has someone ever asked you "how is it going" and your response was "I have no complaints"? More than likely you have either said it or heard someone say it. Sometimes my follow is "even if I complain, it will not resolve anything." The best part of the conversation is someone is caring for your well-being even in the briefest of moments. Part 2 of the habits series is exploring complaining (disconnecting habit) versus caring (connecting habit). Complaining is defined as "feeling dissatisfied or frustrated with someone or something and communicating those feelings". Complain comes from the Latin word "complangere" = com (very much) + plangere "to hit the chest." This habit can drive a wedge between individuals if the habit of caring is absent. Caring is defined as "having and communicating a genuine interest in another or concern for another." Care comes from the Old English "caru" = trouble. Caring about another's troubles takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-sacrifice. In your relationships, determine which of these habits dominates your interactions. Are you disconnecting or connecting? Which habit are you using? Until next time, everyone. Remember, the choice is yours.

Premarital Counseling

Couples who invest in pre-marital counseling can make a huge impact on their relationship and marriage.  According to research, couples who seek pre-marital counseling report higher levels of marital satisfaction and decrease their chances of divorce.  If you and your partner are at the point in your life of wanting to get married or already planning to be married, it is worth considering committing to pre-marital counseling.  The benefits of pre-marital counseling can include but are not limited to discussing marital resolutions on hard topics (e.g. finances); improving communication skills; improving conflict resolution skills; outlining realistic expectations and goals; addressing past relationship ghosts and resentments; and identifying relationship stress factors.The pre-marital curriculum I utilize to lead my pre-marital sessions usually cover the following topics: identifying strength and growth relationships in the relationship; providing education on effective communication and conflict resolution skills; handling and balancing life priorities; financial management; intimacy; defining partner roles and relationship expectations; parenting and children; personality differences; and identifying short and long term goals.  My goal for any couple who engages in pre-marital counseling is to facilitate enriching and productive conversations about a variety of topics in order to make you and your partner feel more prepared and confident for your lifetime commitment.Take a few minutes with your partner to discuss these key points on:

  • What do we want the philosophy of our marriage to be?
  • What are our relationship strengths? What are our growth areas?
  • What are my expectations for my partner and our relationship?
  • What are our short and long-term goals as a couple?

The best thing you can do as a couple getting ready for marriage is to communicate openly, to validate one another, and to check in with each other daily.  Remember you are a team!

Coping with Grief and Loss

When you hear the word ‘grief’, what word or image comes to mind? Maybe death and tears? Or a funeral and a black suit/dress? While these images may pertain to the death of a loved one, grief and loss are more than just a one time/one-hour event. Grief and loss can occur from a fire or other natural disaster, the loss of a home or job, a car wreck or a medical diagnosis, a family cut-off or an abusive situation, divorce or break-up. It could come from realizing you’re not as close or in tune with your partner as you had hoped. Infertility and/or miscarriage can be a big source of grief and loss. In our society a miscarriage is not seen or treated as a death. There is no funeral or time off work. It’s one of the major silent and isolated sources of grief.There is one theme that coincides with all these areas of grief/loss: unmet expectations. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! My life was supposed to look like___!” But you’re here. Amid your pain, this is the journey you are on, and, comparable to life, grief is a journey! It is a present continuous verb that doesn’t stop. Unfortunately, grief is not something that can be checked off the ‘To Do’ list. Unaddressed emotions and unattended grief can lead to self-damaging/neglectful behaviors, additional stress and depression.Finding a supportive community to walk with you in your grief is essential. However, sometimes the best intentions or ‘advice’ from friends can leave one feeling even more isolated and/or alone if their words are demeaning to your grief. Here are somethings you can do in the midst of your grief to begin the healing process:

  • Begin to listen to your body and emotions. Recognize your breathing, stress levels, and temperament.
  • Ask for help. If going to the grocery store or running a certain errand is too overwhelming, ask a friend. Surround yourself with helpful and compassionate people who are not afraid to sit with you in silence or who will watch your child(ren) while you and your partner take time to spend time together to listen and talk with one another.
  • Be patient with yourself. Give yourself grace and permission for the grieving process. Grief manifests itself in many ways and can appear out of nowhere. Seeking a professional therapist who will help you work through your loss is a great place to begin healing. As you work through your loss, you can gain acceptance and resolution. Having an empathetic person joining with you in your grief can bring a sense of purpose and meaning again.