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A dose of inspiration

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." - Carl Bard

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something that we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. " - Frederick Keonig

"Stress is the trash of modern life- we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life." -Terri Guillemets

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Get What You Want Out of Life, Ladies!

What is it about the way that girls are raised that makes it so difficult for them to be assertive, even as grown women? Time after time the same struggles come up for my clients, whether it be regarding a romantic relationship, friendships, work issues, family, or anything else that they seem to come across in life. Girls are often taught to make others happy, "be nice", and avoid starting trouble. In addition, any feelings of insecurity, fears of being rejected or abandoned, and self-doubt intensify feelings of wanting to avoid conflict and keep the peace, so to speak. Although keeping things peaceful and avoiding arguments can be a good idea, when it is taken to the extreme, it can result in women being left without their needs met and feelings of resentment and powerlessness.

In talking about assertiveness, I think it's important to clarify what I mean. We're not talking about yelling at others or speaking up regardless of who may get hurt or be effected-that would be considered aggressiveness. When you're assertive, you're expressing your needs in such a way that you are clearly communicating what you want, need, or even don't want, by utilizing honest, straight-forward, and informative words. Using what is called "I" messages can help to communicate your needs in this way. For example, "I feel hurt when you start playing with your phone while I'm trying to tell you something important. I would appreciate if you can look at me when I'm speaking to you and let me know that you hear me." When you express yourself in this way, you are avoiding putting the other person on the defensive, and you're empowering yourself by expressing your feelings and what you would like to see change. People often utilize passive-aggressive communication when they get frustrated, such as saying something like "All you care about is that phone." Saying something like this is not productive and most likely will not motivate the other person to want to change. In summary, if you want someone to listen and understand you, get rid of that elephant in the room by being direct.

  • Avoid putting others on the defensive and don't attack verbally with yelling, cursing, insults, or passive aggressive comments. Don't dig up the past and talk about something they did 10 years ago.
  • Express your feelings about the situation at hand 
  • Explain what you would like to see change
  • Be respectful and speak with confidence. 
If you find it difficult to assert yourself when it's needed, you might want to consider speaking to someone, such as a professional or emotionally intelligent trustworthy friend or family member, in order to better understand why it is difficult for you to ask for what you want and need. Low self-esteem or experiences of lacking validation in your past may contribute to feeling that you don't deserve great things in life. Everyone deserves to be happy and have their needs met, sometimes it's just a matter of asking...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Standing Alone

Have you ever been through some sort of situation or dealt with something in your life that made you feel totally alone? You may have felt like it was wrong to get upset about whatever was bothering you, or you may have felt that you were the only one who has ever experienced this?

With 10 years of experience under my belt in the field of Counseling I can say with certainty that most people seem to think that they are the only ones that are going through whatever it is that they're dealing with. They (meaning most people) feel they are the "weird" ones and that there is something wrong with them for feeling the way that they feel. So many people think that they "shouldn't" be upset, that they have no right to cry, that what they're going through is either no big deal, or it is the end of the world. It's great when my clients seem to really feel comforted when I tell them that they are "normal" and that what they're feeling is valid, but do they really need me to tell them that? Why is it that we all need our feelings to be validated by someone else in order to feel okay? It has amazed me how this is consistent across the board---I'm talking about elementary, middle, and high school kids all the way up to middle-aged men and women. It's a shame that so many of us seem to believe that our feelings are not valid or that we are "crazy" for having problems or feeling anxious or depressed, but I think it's important for people to know that it's okay. You're not alone, as much as you may feel that you are. There is someone out there who has already experienced what you are experiencing, and someone has already found a solution (in most cases) to what you are dealing with. So hang in there, believe in yourself and your feelings, and find support, because it is always out there, whether in the form of a family member, friend, support group, organization, therapist, religious leader, etc.  The lesson here: you're just a human being like the rest of us, so stop being so hard on yourself. Accept that you have feelings, will go through challenges, and may need support like the rest of us. Don't allow yourself to feel as alone as a giant pink flamingo among a bunch of little ducks. Take care of yourself by getting the support and help that you need to get through the challenges that you face, whether they seem humongous or teeny tiny and insignificant.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

So THAT's Why He Acts Like That!

Have you ever had the experience where you were interested in a guy and it seemed liked he liked you but then the closer you tried to get, the further he seemed to move away? Or what about dating a woman who seemed to have trouble having distance between the two of you and would get upset when you seemed to need more time and space for yourself?  Maybe you're married to someone who is sometimes really sweet and attentive and then at other times becomes very critical and insulting.  Well after reading the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment And How It Can Help You Find-And Keep-Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, it all has become much more clear to me. According to the authors, we all (primarily) fall into one of three Styles of Attachment as adults- either anxious, avoidant, or secure attachment styles.  Although our relationships as adults are a product of many different things, including our personality, life experiences, and childhood upbringing, research has lead the authors to come to the conclusion that we all fit into a category which can help to explain how we will (or do) act in relationships. It can also help us to understand the types of people that we may be interested in and what the interactions will look like between us and our partners.

After reading the book I was able to better understand myself and many people from my own life, as well as better understand other couples that I have come in contact with.  The authors explain that we all have a need to have close and loving relationships and it is actually quite normal to have the desire to become dependent on another person. Society has taught us that it is not acceptable to need others in such a way that someone with an anxious attachment style might express, but it is healthy and biologically functional. They go on to say that avoidants are often not as happy as those from anxious and secure styles because they have a wall up which prevents them from being able to really get close to others. When two secure people get together, their relationship will be calm, comfortable, and full of open and effective communication. This does not mean that they will never fight and will have a perfect relationship, by any means. What it does mean is that both of the parties in a secure relationship will be able to use healthy communication to express their needs and wants and they will not feel personally attacked, threatened, rejected, or suffocated by the expression of needs or even disappointments. Instead, they will use the information to try to make adjustments in themselves or their relationship, as they are able to see that their partner's needs are as important as their own.

If you would like to see what adult attachment style you possess, I would suggest taking a look at the book as they have a questionaire and some great, detailed lists of qualities to reference.
For a brief understanding of the styles, consider these descriptions:
Anxious Attachment Style:
  • You become almost obessessed with thoughts of your partner (or potential partner)
  • You often feel insecure about where the relationship is going
  • You take things personal that they say or do and tend to over-analyze small details
  • You are afraid to leave your partner even if you are unhappy out of fear of not being able to find someone else
Avoidant Attachment Style:

  • You put high value on having independence and freedom, rather than feeling "tied down"
  • You feel yourself moving away from your partner when they give you too much attention or want to spend a lot of time with you
  • You tend to put an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend on a pedestal and feel that no one can compare or live up to their standards
  • You feel uncomfortable talking about what is going on in the relationship
  • You may feel the need to get away during an argument
There are also rare cases of Anxious-Avoidant Attachments in which the person may feel uncomfortable getting close but also has a fear of being left or rejected.

Are you doomed if you are not secure? No, not at all! It is just a matter of understanding yourself, your partner (or potential partner) and figuring out what works for both of you. If you are anxious and with someone who is avoidant, then it is important to be able to communicate with each other what you need and come to some common ground, for example, the avoidant person may need to express their desire to have some alone time on a regular basis, but will want to let their anxious partner know that it is nothing personal. It's imperative to be able to think about how your actions and the way you communicate your needs affect your partner in order to both be happy in the relationship and meet each other's needs. The authors of the book do explain that if an anxious or avoidant person gets into a relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style, the secure person often helps to sort of water down the sometimes extreme thoughts/feelings/behaviors of their partner. As a result, it is favorable to have one person in the relationship be secure, but it isn't absolutely necessary for success and happiness in the relationship.

The bottom line, after reading and understanding the main points of this book, is that it's invaluable to understand why you act and feel a certain way in the context of a relationship and to use this information to chose a potential partner or learn how to function better within an existing relationship.  I think these attachment styles can be generalized to understand people within the context of many different types of relationships, including family, friendships, and even work relationships. Once you become better aware of who you are, you have the ability to decide if you comfortable with what you bring to relationships, or if you would like to work on changing things about your needs and communication style. We are all a work in progress, but knowledge is power, for sure!

Has this article shed any light on your attachment style? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When It Suddenly Comes Together: Having An Epiphany

Have you ever experienced a moment of clarity when all of a sudden something that you never understood before about yourself or your family suddenly became crystal clear?  When you simultaneously felt 20 lbs. of weight lifted off your shoulders while feeling like an explosion of energy just occured in the room? Well this is how it may feel if you have an epiphany one day!

Not everybody has the opportunity to experience an epiphany that suddenly helps them to feel closure and answer the perpetually unanswered questions in their life, but if they are able to experience this, it can be life changing.  We all want to understand ourselves and the people around us, but it takes more than just wanting. Are you willing to face difficult memories? Will you challenge life-long beliefs and repetitive thoughts?  There is no ONE recipe for getting to this point but if you are willing to face fears and see things in a different light, from a different perspective, it is quite possible that you may have an epiphany of your own!

Now why would you even want to have an ephiphany? Well from personal experience I can say that it is amazingly freeing and enlightening to go through the process of reaching an epiphany. It was almost euphoric when I stumbled upon my own clarity.  From a professional perspective, I have watched clients suddenly light up like the sun when two pieces finally fit together in their mind. When it all suddenly makes sense. You can see it in their face, in their body language, in the genuine and satisfied smile that comes across their face as they discover answers that they may always have been looking for. Imagine finally understanding why you are the member of your family who always feels the need to lighten up the mood and make people laugh. Or you're the the one who everyone goes to for support but you never connected it to your role in your family before just this moment when it all comes together. Maybe the situation is that you always tend to date the same type of person but you never understand why you fell into this pattern. The clarity and peace of mind can help you to change a pattern for the rest of your life and seek out healthier relationships or have your needs met in a way that is more productive and healthy. Once you understand why you automatically function in a certain way, you are empowered to make changes for the better.

There are no guarantees that seeking professional assistance can help you to experience a life-changing epiphany, but you have a much better chance of getting to this point, and being able to make positive changes and new choices based on your new knowledge if you have the help of an objective and experienced professional.  Facing your fears, being willing to talk about and process your past experiences and patterns, and  challenging your current perspectives can lead you to treasures that you never thought possible. May you work towards an epiphany and light up the room too!
Have you ever experienced an epiphany that you would be willing to share in the comments box below?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Feel The Burn

Have you ever worked out really hard, or run so many miles that you feel pain in your muscles, either immediately or for the next day or two? It feels good to experience that pain sometimes, right? Your body is letting you know that you really got something out of that hard work and didn't sweat for nothing. Your muscles are growing and toning, and you are able to feel the healthy effects of your physical exertion.

Well, emotional growth is very similar. Sometimes in life we go through things that are difficult and may be very painful. Whether it be a fight with a friend or family member, a divorce or breakup, a loss, or any other painful situation, there is always something that can be gained from every situation. The hardest times let us have the opportunity to search inside ourselves for the strength and resiliency to get through it, and hopefully to come out of it a better person than we were before.

It can be much easier to just try to bury your feelings, tell everyone that you're okay, and try to ignore the situation and just move on. If you're doing this, however, you're missing out on a great opportunity to grow as a person. Whether it means learning a lesson about yourself, your behavior, or others, something can always be gained.  The pain that you're feeling could mean that a chord has been struck in you, indicating that this is a sensitive area that should be looked at further. It could mean that you are experiencing a "fight or flight" response and protecting yourself from perceived danger of some sort, whether realistic or not. Ignoring your emotions can be harmful to your health because you may be suppressing feelings that need to be expressed or communicated. At times, letting yourself "feel the burn" of your emotions can simply mean getting through a difficult time even if there is no opportunity for a change, such as when a loved one passes away.  You can still learn how to cope in a healthy way so that you will not have negative long-term consquences, and maybe next time you will feel empowered to get through the pain a little bit easier. Similar to feeling the physical pain of exercising, you may feel worse before you feel better when you decide to face your emotions and fears. In the end, however, you come out much stronger and capable of facing whatever gets thrown your way.

The next time you are experiencing emotional pain, ask yourself these questions to make sure that you benefit from the experience rather than either getting stuck in your pain or stunting your emotional growth.

  • Am I telling everyone around me that I am "Okay" but then feeling upset or crying in private?
  • Am I trying to bury myself with tons of distractors, such as booking every spare minute with social events, or working extra hours as to have little time alone?
  • Have I been drinking more than usual? Using substances to numb my feelings and escape?
  • Have I been sleeping more than usual?
  • Am I getting irritable towards others and taking out negative feelings on others without actually communicating to them what is bothering me?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to take a look at how you are dealing with your emotions and difficult times and consider exploring this further. If you're not comfortable talking to people close to you about these issues, you may want to consider seeking some professional help to figure out how to feel your best and clear your head. Everyone deserves peace of mind!

Friday, February 11, 2011

No More Excuses!

Have you ever caught a friend or family member making a million excuses for why they shouldn't do something? Maybe your friend decided they don't have enough money to travel, or it's too difficult to be in a long distance relationship, or they don't have the grades that they need to go back to school...Maybe you have even made some excuses yourself when it has come time to get out of your comfort zone and do something different, or when you are wanting to accomplish something big. When it comes to ourselves, we often describe it as being responsible, rational, or realistic. However you slice it, it is still walls that you are putting up and obstacles that are getting in the way of you reaching your goals and achieving dreams.  Have you ever had a moment when you realized that you actually reached a long-time goal or overcame a challenge? It's an amazing experience and it's what life is all about!

If you find yourself in that state of mind where you are coming up with a hundred and one reasons to NOT do something, I would like to challenge you to think about the reasons that you are giving yourself for not following through. Try asking yourself these questions to help identify if you are making excuses and letting fear rule you:
  • Have people been telling me that I am making a lot of excuses as to why I shouldn't do _____?
  • Do I get nervous or feel resistance when I think about working towards my goal or trying something different?
  • Have I felt this way before when I have come across a challenge?
  • Are these realistic fears that I am experiencing?
  • Have I ever seen or heard of anyone else being able to overcome these issues in order to accomplish ________?
  • If someone else can do it, why can't I?
What comes up for you when you start to think about other ways of looking at your situation? Is there ANY possibility that things could work out for you? What do others who care about you think? What is one small step that you could take to test it out and see if there is any possibility of things working out in your favor?

Please share your experiences with this exercise in the comments section and help to encourage others to go for their goals and dreams as well!
If you live in San Diego County, I'd be happy to help you work through these challenges personally. Please check out my website for more information and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are You Going to Eat the Fly or Speak Up?

Scenario: You go out to eat with friends and find a fly in your soup.

Passive response:  You don't say anything and eat a flyful soup. Yuck!
Aggressive response: You throw the bowl of soup at the server when she walks by and yell at her.
Assertive response:  You flag down the server and say something like, " Excuse me. It looks like there is a fly in my soup. I would really appreciate it if you could please get me a new bowl of soup. Thank you!"
Sounds easy enough, right? Well many people will not take it upon themselves to meet their own needs by being assertive about it. Sound familiar?

Learning to use assertive communication can help you to not only feel empowered, confident, and important, but it can also help you to get what you want, improve relationships, and reduce frustration. When you are having trouble expressing yourself, you may resort to being passive and letting others do and say whatever they want, or you may utilize aggressive tactics to bully others into getting what you want, or becoming angry and blowing up at others out of frustration.

There are many reasons why you may not feel comfortable being assertive, including:
  • You may have been brought up in a home where it was not okay to express yourself, including thoughts and feelings.
  • You may lack the confidence to express your own point of view and you may think that no one cares about your opinion.
  • You may be afraid of taking risks or possibly being wrong.
  • You may be in an unhealthy relationship where you are threatened for sticking up for yourself or expressing your own opinions.
While being passive may be the path of least resistance, it rarely gets people the result they are looking for. How can anyone really know what they want or need if they are keeping this information to themselves?  Although it might be easier if our family and friends were mind readers, they are most likely not. Therefore, it is really important to be able to express yourself in a way that lets the people around you know what you are thinking and need.  By screaming your thoughts and feelings to others, you are most likely going to cause them to either get angry as well, ignore you, or simply leave. Obviously being aggressive in the way you communicate is not the most effective, although people often express themselves aggressively because they may feel helpless in being able to get their needs met in any other way.  If you learn how to express yourself assertively, it can become a win-win situation!

Being assertive is a skill that can become easier and easier as you practice it, and the good news is that the more you do it, the better you will feel about yourself. This, in  turn, will help to reduce your need to feel that you must be passive because you will feel better about yourself and your rights to speak up.
Being assertive looks like this:
  • Use "I" statements to express your needs. In the fly in the soup scenario, you may just need to ask for what you need since feelings aren't involved in the situation. If you are dealing with a situation involving your feelings, you may want to say something like this: "When you said those things about me in front of my family, I felt really embarrassed. I would really like you to wait until we are in private to talk about personal things like that." Don't forget to let them know how you feel and what you need to change.
  • Remind yourself that your opinion is as valid and important as everyone else's. You deserve a voice just as they do.
  • You may have learned certain things when you were growing up, such as that you should not speak about your feelings, or been seen but not heard, but now that you are grown up you have the right to communicate in any way that works for you.
  • You will not get what you want unless you make the effort to calmly express your wants and needs.
  • Others will respect you more when they see that you believe your opinion matters and that you're not afraid to express it.
If you would like to work on your assertiveness skills, try it out first in a non-threatening environment such as a restaurant or store, and then move on to more personal and serious issues. Learn how to ask for that raise at work or say "No" to extra projects when you do not have the time to take them on. Cheers to the assertive new you!
Please feel free to share your experiences with us regarding assertiveness in the comments section of this blog post.