Back to School Basics: Let's Get Physical

Here’s a challenge: pick a fitness goal for this month for you and your partner.

 

Maybe you join a gym, sign up for a race, learn a new sport, find new hiking spots, join a local recreational sports league. Sky's the limit!

Potential benefits include (but aren’t limited to):

1. Stress reduction and confidence boosting. Who doesn’t want a more chill and more empowered partner!?!

2. Team building by having a common goal. Instead of being roommates or adversaries, join forces to meet a goal.

3. Infusing novelty and excitement into your routine and relationship. Novelty makes our brains feel good and keeps us happy and in the moment. A fitness challenge is a fun way to spice things up together.

4. More opportunity to be physically together and bond by sharing experiences, supporting each other through challenges, and lots of sweaty hugs!

Get out there and get physical!

 

Back to School Basics: Timeouts

In most relationships, emotions can get real hot real quick. We say something hurtful. Our partner hurls a hurtful attack back. And on it goes. Not only feelings get hurt, but relationships are hurt and foundational trust is ruptured.

A quick, basic strategy to stop hemorrhaging, buy time, and not make things worse, is to establish a safe word. This is a word you say to signifying that you are hitting pause, taking space, and interrupting the hurt spiral. The word can be anything. I had one couple who said "muskrat." It’s hilarious, and because it’s hilarious, it helped diffuse hot conflicts. Hard to yell and laugh at the same time.But lately, I have been a fan of using "ouch" as the diffusing word. It’s a little more accurate, a little more vulnerable and true (often anger is a secondary emotion to hurt), and it can soften the interaction.

From that point, take an hour and reassess. If you're still too heated to talk, say so. "Hey, im not ready. This is important, but I’m still to heated to communicate effectively. Lets check back in in an hour." That second part is important because often one person can feel anxious or abandoned by the space. Or couples can hit pause and not return to the conflict which only leads to festering, undealt-with, emotions. This strategy should be agreed upon ahead of time so that both parties can agree upon the words and the terms and what the intention is behind hitting pause. This may need some experimentation and tweaking as you go, but is worth a try to start to help you get unstuck from ineffective and hurtful communication patterns.

Need help getting started with this practice? Need help in other areas of your relationship? We can help. Call us today and start rebuilding your relationship.

 

 

Ladies, Put Yourself FIRST!

I know this is a generalization, however I see this all the time in my office and I am also guilty of it.  As moms, friends, daughters, wives, etc, we tend to put others before ourselves on a consistent basis. WHY?!?!?!?  

This is honestly a struggle for me since I have the helper gene nailed down pretty hard.  But the truth is when I put myself first, life is so much better.  I am able to attend to the others in my life with purpose.  I am more focused, more intentional, better attuned to them because I have taken care of myself and my needs.  I am not off in my head trying to figure out my next moves for dinner, laundry, my business, friends, family, etc.

Try it for one small day or half the day.  Make it all about you and see what happens.  I am very aware that when I am not first, things get chaotic and messy.  For example, I am writing this while staring at a basket of clean laundry that has been sitting there for 2 days.  My sink is full of dishes.  Those things can wait because right now, my personal life and my business projects are taking priority.  I literally decided the other day that I am focusing on 3 things: personal health, business health and family health.  Everything else is now on hold.  There is a lot on hold.  So many projects, books and shiny objects screaming for my attention.  If I let myself get sidetracked, then I get anxious.  Focusing on my top three is my new priority and it feels so much better. Take a look at my Self Care tip for ideas.  If you need help making yourself a priority, pick up the phone and call us.  We can do this journey together!

Back to School Basics: Put Away the Phones

We seem to intuitively know that building a bond takes intention and attention. You set aside time to date your partner, you take time to have a conversation, you keep phones away or on silent. You focus on your new love and limit distraction. You probably wouldn’t dream of talking on the phone or skimming your instagram feed on a first date. You don’t just get to build a bond with your partner, then sit back and coast. It’s a daily practice to nurture and maintain a relationship bond. Phones often gets in the way of the necessary attention to keep your relationship healthy! We're so busy paying attention to email and social media that we can inadvertently stop paying attention to the people in front of us. It’s easy to get lulled into comfort and complacency, but it’s that lack of connection and attunement that underlies a lot of conflict.  So here's some practical tips to help maintain that connection and limit some conflict by putting away your phones.

1. Make mealtimes phone-free times. This is good even if you're dining alone to practice mindful eating, but it’s especially important if you're with someone to use that time to connect, laugh, and share in the experience of the meal.

2. Establish a phone free schedule. I suggest turning off your phone/tablet/laptop the hour after you get home from work or the hour before bed. Use that time to talk and connect.

3. Add activities together that are incompatible with having phones out. This can be a walk in nature, playing tennis, sex, playing board games, etc. Do something together that encourages you to be present and connected and active.

 

 

An Emotional Family Tree

I like to make emotions, thoughts, and feelings tangible for my clients.  One of the ways I do this is by creating a genogram.  Think of a family tree but with emotions, events and patterns instead of pictures.  A good genogram provides a rich history of family nuances.  They help explain how patterns and problems evolve and why they are often repeated through the generations.  

During couples counseling, we talk about the merging of 2 cultures.  That’s true if you are from the same small town or from different countries.  Every person grows up in their own unique culture that often clashes with how their partner grew up.  If you grew up in a small southern town, you might be a polite person who is sensitive to social norms.  If you grew up in a fiery tempered Italian family, you might have a loud arguing family who lets the tempers flare and then regroups immediately with no ill will. Pairing people from these different worlds often causes some relationship issues.  But when we are able to map out the family structure on both sides, it becomes clear to both partners why the other acts like they do.  We get clarity but also understanding and acceptance.

The genogram has a myriad of different uses.  Monica McGoldrick, in her book Genogrmas: Assessment and Intervention, notes the many uses genograms serve:

-to elicit family narratives and expand cultural stories

 

-to reframe and detoxify family legacies

-to discover unique strengths and resources

-to look at key family or personal events that were life changing

-to sensitize clinicians to systemic issues

-to uncover sources of current dysfunction

-to find sources of resilience

-to place the current issue in the context of the family evolutionary patterns

The list really goes on and on.  The genogram shows patterns vertically and horizontally.  They expand your mind to see multiple patterns at the same time and how they impact one another.  Family patterns not only grow from past generations, but, according to Goldrick, via larger social structures like religion, politics, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, schooling, etc.

Genograms are fascinating.  They are colorful and have lines and symbols drawn all over them to depict emotions and events.  I once made a genogram in one of my drawing programs for a couple I was counseling.  It turned out to be about 5 feet wide and 2 feet high.  We went back multiple generations.  They wanted to stop the generational abuse from showing up in their children’s lives.  When we put it all out on paper, they were amazed.  After about 6 months of working together, they moved away from all those negative habits.  

If you have a complicated relationship or situation, examining your family through a genogram might shed a ton of light on the issue and help you solve it faster.  We keep gigantic sticky notes in the office and lots of colored pens to make the genogram a fun and enlightening experience.  Please call us today so we can map out your history!

 

 

Back to School Basics: Praise your Partner

People respond to praise. People thrive on appreciation and attention. We know this. We practice it freely with pets and kids. We lavish praise when we're smitten with a new love interest. And although we know that it works and makes others feel good,  we often neglect this behavior when in a long term relationship

"If I praise them all the time, it won’t mean much"

"I shouldn't have to praise them, they should just do it because it needs to be done"

"I shouldn't have to praise them, they know I love them."

"I shouldn’t ask for praise, I should be an adult with no needs"

On a behavioral level, praise reinforces behaviors. Want your partner to take out the trash? Ask and then say "thank you". Bonus points for expanding on a "thank you" with feedback on what the behavior shows you about the person's character, how it helps you, or how it makes you happy (thank you. That was so thoughtful of you/ it saved me some time so I could get other things done/ it makes me feel special").

On an attachment level, praise demonstrates appreciation and respect and reassures the other person that they matter. Attachment takes work and maintenance and consistent praise and gratitude helps build that bond and create a sense of safety and connection. This is vital for the health of the relationship. And all it takes is a moment.

You're welcome!

 

 

Advice From Mark Twain

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. But the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” - Mark Twain

You know these “small people”, they are competitive, jealous and live in a world of scarcity.  They are combative and often think they are the best, they know more or that their ideas or the only way.  Do you have somebody like this in your life or maybe several?  If they are friends, let them go.  If they are family, learn to set up some hardcore boundaries.  

Surround yourself with people who have your back, people who cheer you on and those who will give you a little tough love when you need it.  Drop the ones who fail you.  It’s like a load off your back.

If you happen to be in a romantic relationship like this, we can help you.  It might just be that your partner isn’t realizing the amount of damage being done.  I have worked with many couples where this is the case.  They think they are encouraging you to be a better person when you are happy just the way you are.  You partner needs to realize that they in fact are not lifting you up, they are stifling you and feeding your insecurities.  Let us help you deliver the message in a very clear way that your partner can hear and not take offense. Reach out to us today and start rebuilding your relationship.

 

 

How to Tell Your Partner You Want Couples Counseling

Telling your spouse or partner you want to go to couples counseling can be really tricky for some people. In fact, I often get calls from people asking this very question. They know they need help but aren’t sure how to approach their partner and they aren’t sure what to say.  Here are my suggestions.

 

First, make it about you. Do not make it about them. Try something like this: “I am having trouble communicating with you and think I need some help in figuring this out. I think it would be great if we both went together. We could get a few tips and some new skills. What do you think?” Or:  “I would love to learn how to approach you in a new way so that maybe you can hear me better. And sometimes I don’t do a good job of hearing or listening to you either.  Would you be willing to go to couples counseling with me?” Or: “Honey, we know we are both really struggling right now, we have the same fights over and over. I think this is at least a 50 / 50 thing between us and I think we could use a little help here. I don’t think either one of us is to blame. How would you feel about some couples therapy to get us both back on track?”

If you make it about the other person, you are assigning blame. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. Plus, the research shows that when couples are in conflict, it is almost always a 50 / 50 deal where no one person is more at fault.  

What’s best is if you can pinpoint the things you want to work on personally and name them.  Perhaps you want to figure out how to be more flexible, a bit more forgiving, not running away when things get tough, learning how to control your temper, not lashing out when the dish is left in the sink (it’s never about the dish anyway).

Another option is letting your partner know that you sense this pattern that gets played out over and over again and you want to figure out how to jump out of it before it takes over again.  Think of the pattern as a weapon that is wounding each of you.  We can lay the weapon on the table and disarm both of you.  When we know what we are dealing with (the weapon, the pattern), we can then tease it apart and put you both back on the path to success so that you can thrive in your relationship.  

Ready to start working on your relationship? Call us today so we can help you and your partner get back to where you want to be.

 

Dream Big

I have a friend who's doing her first 100 mile ultra marathon race this weekend. While this doesn't appeal to me, I'm in awe of the audacity to try to do 100 miles. I don't even like driving 100 miles! But that's beside the point. The point is, she has a goal that a lot of people, including herself at one point, thought was impossible. Actually, she has entered shorter races and not been able to finish. There is no concrete evidence that she will finish this race. And yet she persists. She's daring to dream and risk failing in order to reach her goal.

 

I have another friend who is hell bent on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. He needs a time that's faster than he's ever run a marathon before and he keeps having injuries pop up and interrupt his training. He recently got injured to the point of having to stop running for a month. But he's doing the rehab, reworking his training plan, and simply rescheduling his qualifying race. He persists. Hes daring to dream and risk failing in order to reach his goal.

While I may not want to run far or fast, I am challenged by my friends to dream big, push my limits, put my ego to the side and declare goals to my friends even if I may not reach them immediately. When I want to take the easy way or temper my goals with self limiting thoughts and fear, I think of them and push past what I think is possible. If she can run 100 miles, I can finish these notes, tolerate traffic, or climb a 14er. If he can try to qualify for Boston, I can write a book or plan a dream vacation.

You may not have athletic performance goals. Maybe you want to communicate better with your partner, start a new work venture, perform at an open mic, recover from an eating disorder, work through trauma, whatever. It’s important to acknowledge your audacious goal, find inspiration around you, and take the leap. You never know, you may end up being someone else's inspiration!

 

I Go a Bit Crazy When...

...My husband says anything like “I need you to…”  “I want you to…”, pretty much if it doesn’t sound like a request I get irritated.

 

I think Chad (husband) and I had about a one hour conversation yesterday around the whole subject of making a request vs. making a demand. He honestly can get a little flustered / totally overwhelmed by me and I know this so I try to temper myself. It doesn’t always work, but I try. Yesterday, we had a talk and I literally gave him the words to use with me so that he can get his way. I also told him if he doesn’t know how to approach me, to just say that and I can help out.

Sound stupid? Maybe, but it works. I just expect him to know then I am really asking him to be psychic which will never happen in a million years. So if you are expecting your partner to just KNOW because you have been together for decades, well dream on my friend. You might have to have the same conversation over and over. Lord knows we have. In fact, yesterday I told him I was going to have a laminated cue card made for him. I was joking but I’m also seriously considered it. I think I will do it and wrap a nice bow around it. His brain works differently than mine so I do need to tread lightly. He wouldn’t care if I said to him “I need you to…” or “I want you to…”, but I care.

It is in your best interest to figure out how to let your partner know how to communicate with you so that you get almost everything you want. In yesterday’s conversation, I gave him the roadmap to use so that he can get what he wants. Do yourself and your relationship a favor, tell your significant other how you need to be approached when they want something. It’s a million times better than guessing and ending up in an argument. Now, off to do some laminating!  

 

Adventures in Neurofeedback: A case study

I recently started working individually with a client who is dealing with anxiety and depression and has a significant trauma history. She has PTSD symptoms that include flashbacks, dissociation, and hypervigilance. This makes finding coping skills for the anxiety and depression tricky. Every time she tries to calm down with traditional skills like taking a bath or reading, her trauma gets triggered since she has associated being calm with being in danger through repeated instances of trauma.

 

We started doing neurofeedback to help calm her nervous system in a non traditional way. By noticing prevalent brainwave patterns, we could also think of ways to even them out that would help calm and distract her but not trigger trauma. Knowing what her brain needed, rather than what just sounds soothing, helped us develop a more effective tool box. After a few sessions and consistent skill practice between session, this client reported "feeling empowered for the first time." We still have a ways to go, but neurofeedback therapy will likely be a game changer for this client.

If you or someone you know is a good candidate for neurofeedback therapy, please reach out to me. I would love to see if I can help make strides in their therapy progress.

 

 

Podcast of the Week: Hello Freedom

Let's get this clear. I'm great and have a lot to offer (including my humility..haha). Part of what I can offer my clients and blog readers is my knowledge of resources. It would be selfish and harmful to have clients only rely on therapy sessions with me once or twice a week to get information and insight to work on themselves. Working on yourself is a lifetime of work and a daily process. More is more in terms of advice, differing perspectives, and knowledge. Sharing resources helps clients meet their therapy goals quicker and can help us dig deeper in session. In that spirit, I'm recommending podcasts.

Last month, I recommended Esther Perel's "Where Should we Begin". Where it is story and insight based. Terri Cole's "Hello Freedom" is more of a lecture with practical tools.  She is heavily focused on relationships, boundary setting, and healing childhood wounds through present day behavior change. She is direct and no nonsense. It can be challenging and dense information, which makes it nice that it comes in 15-30 min episodes. While men may benefit, she definitely targets women as her audience. If you have struggled with boundaries, had relationships with people who are narcissists or addicts, or just need a kick in the butt to stand up for yourself, say hello to "Hello Freedom."

The Messy Side of Clean Eating

Food can be complicated these days.

We are bombarded by messages about what's healthy and that can change on the daily. First, fat's bad...no wait, carbs are bad, fat is great, don't eat carbs just bacon and butter...all day...oh, but not coconut oil, it's the devil! Ok...maybe they don't say all that, but they might as well, at least then we'd know how whack those headlines are! So what are you supposed to eat to be healthy these days?

In the midst of all the noise, a lot of people have adopted "clean eating." Great. Reduce chemicals and highly processed food. That makes sense. And it does, but with all good things, balance is still needed and people can take it too far.  And that's where orthorexia can sneak in.

The National Eating Disorder Association states that someone who has "an “unhealthy obsession” with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity." (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa)

So how do you know you're dealing with orthorexia?

  1. Your gut nags at you sometimes when you're quiet and dialed in and whispers that something is off. Maybe even now you're fighting that voice or wanting to click to the next blog.
  2. Clean eating has taken priority over other values and goals and commitments. Maybe you don't go out with friends as much. Maybe you lie or make excuses to avoid situations where it's not organic or clean food. Maybe you're more focused on the food than the fun or connection in life.
  3. You're dealing with anxiety. Managing food or making sure you only take in clean foods makes you anxious. Or you have extreme anxiety or guilt over eating something non organic.
  4. Food takes on value and dictates your value. Food gets judged as "good" or "bad". And since you are what you eat, you label yourself "good" or "bad" based on what you eat. Maybe you've become judgy of others who don't eat like you. Maybe you punish yourself by being mean or super restrictive if you stray from your rigid rules.

Being healthy means being mentally healthy too. If the way you're managing your physical health is impacting your mental health, we can help. Contact me today. You're worth it!

Adventures in Neurofeedback: A case study

A client was referred for individual therapy for substance abuse, an eating disorder, and trauma. We started to work together after she had completed a stay in residential treatment. She is brilliant, funny as hell, and suffers greatly. We had been working for several months with traditional talk therapy using DBT, ACT, and Attachment Theory to promote change and insight and healing. She was making progress, but progress was slow, and trauma and emotional dysregulation kept popping up and making this client feel hopelessness and shame. 

So, I suggested we trial neurofeedback. We did two sessions per week. I used protocols to enhance SMR frequencies which help with creating a calm and focused energy and help with regulating sleep and mood. We also used Alpha Theta Training to address trauma in a gentle way. 

After a few sessions, she was more regulated and able to articulate thoughts and feelings in session. She was able to do tasks that previously felt overwhelming, like making phone calls, running errands, and walking her dog. This has built momentum as she's gained confidence and she now has found her voice with her partner and with work. She has made friends. She has described herself as happy. 

Another interesting result is that she felt pain in her neck and back that she had previously been numb to. Noticing the pain helped her take better care of herself and not get more injured. 

Trauma is now more easily addressed as she is more grounded and confident in her day to day life and as she is more able to articulate her experience rather than freezing or avoiding. 

The journey is not over, but she has made progress in the span of a few months that would have taken a few years with talk therapy alone. 

If you think neurofeedback may help you, feel free to call us or email. 

Freedom

In honor of the 4th of July, and because I love quotes, here are some wise words by wise people on the topic of Freedom. 

"Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain... To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices - today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it." - Kevyn Aucoin

"Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward." - Drew Houston

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor E. Frankl

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela

"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." - Joe Klaas

"The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first." - Jim Morrison

"You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down." - Toni MorrisonSong of Solomon

#Boundaries

If you're like me, you didn’t learn how to set appropriate boundaries as a kid. I knew that standing up for myself at home rarely went well, so honing my assertiveness skills wasn’t even on my radar. It wasn’t necessary. It was more necessary to wear a mask, people-please, bury my needs, and literally and figuratively "walk it off". So, when I started to work on setting boundaries in my life as an adult, I fumbled around a bit. 

I was helped by learning and practicing a DBT skill for interpersonal effectiveness called the FAST skill. It’s an acronym that stands for:

Fair: set boundaries that are fair. For us recovering people pleasers, it’s important to remember to set boundaries that are fair for ourselves. Of course, there is compromise, but its ok to take up space. If we aren't fair to ourselves and take care of ourselves and stand up for ourselves, we get resentful...and that's not a good look on anybody!

(No) Apologies: Don't apologize for your needs and feelings and boundaries. First, it’s not necessary. Second, it diminishes your effectiveness in setting a boundary because it sounds less confident. Third, it reinforces core shame and low self-worth when you constantly apologize for yourself. 

Stick to values: Don't use boundaries to avoid or manipulate. Don't people please to the point that you lose your values and sense of self. Let your values guide your boundary setting. 

Tell the truth: when setting boundaries, don't lie to protect someone's feelings or to avoid being direct (i.e. Don't say "I can’t go to your party because I'm sick" when the truth is that you just don't want to go or you double-booked yourself). Don't exaggerate the truth to justify a boundary or need. Don't minimize needs or feelings to avoid speaking up for yourself. 

This stuff is tricky. Give it a try. You won’t be perfect at first, but you're worth practicing. If you need more help setting boundaries, you can practice the FAST skill by getting in touch with us!   

Clutter as my To-do List

I do not know how to be an organized person.  I try desperately to make it happen and the next day it’s back to square one.  It’s terrible.  This morning I was again lamenting the fact that I have so much trouble organizing and my husband said that’s because you have too much paper.  Hmmm, that’s true.  But I told him if I put it away then I forget about it.  He yells, “EXACTLY! You use clutter as your to-do list!!!”  ohhhh.  Meaning all this stuff is a distraction from the really important stuff I need to do?!?!!?  UGH….

This is a really big ah-ha moment for me.  20 minutes ago I started putting everything away realizing that there are way too many distractions in my life.  I don’t need to leave my UGGs out in case it gets cold so that I remember to put them on. Yep, I do that.  I leave piles of books, papers, art projects, you name it so that I don’t forget about anything. I thought I liked seeing all my cool projects lying around, but it makes me completely anxious now that I think about it.  It really it just creates chaos in my mind and in my physical space. So today I am going to try doing one little thing at a time and we will see how it goes.  

It already feels so much better.  My clutter to-do list is way too overwhelming.  I am going to see how this experiment goes and will report back.  The anxiety is already leaving the building!  

Ahhhhhhh.