Psychology Today: The Horror of Addiction

You found out that a loved one is addicted. You feel desperate, scared, and helpless.

Your family is in a state of shock. Nobody knows what to do. The media stories of overdoses, death, and failed attempts at recovery flood your mind. You’re terrified that your friend, brother, or wife will be the next statistic. Suddenly, nothing matters more than knowing your loved one is safe, healthy, and drug free.

We’ve all heard of tough love. What this means is being real about the situation. Confront the problem, and your loved one. If you’ve been enabling the drug abuse in any way, it’s time to stop. You may be unaware of the ways in which you’ve actually sustained the problem through your acts of love and kindness. You may have exercised patience, provided money, or looked the other way when behaviors seemed unusual. The process of addiction is a gradual one and can be unnoticed on a conscious level. Now that this information is unavoidable, do something different.

Deal With Denial:

Get treatment for your loved one. This requires willingness on the part of the addict to participate and invest in recovery. Often there is denial,anger, or blaming that occurs before an acceptance of the need for help. Stand your ground. Share your feelings about how the addiction has negatively impacted you and your relationship. Suggest that your loved one try substance abuse treatment for the sake of their own well being, and the well being of those who care for him.

Educate Yourself:

There are many levels of care and support in chemical dependency treatment. Find out about those. Begin with Detox, Rehabilitation, Partial Hospitalization, Intensive Outpatient Treatment, Outpatient Counseling, and finally AA/NA and Sponsors for support. Find providers of treatments that mesh with your loved one’s philosophies on life and spirituality, and recovery and well-being. 12 Step Programs are not the only game in town anymore. With a broadening spirituality in our culture, there are broadened approaches to recovery that are non-faith, non-religious, and empowerment based instead of disease based and the higher power model.

Get Support:

You need support too. Find a group to join. Al-Anon and Alateen groups provide “a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic recognizes the existence of a drinking problem or seeks help.” Start counseling to process the changes in your life as a result of the addiction. It affects entire family systems. You need to know how to adapt to create the most supportive environment for sustained recovery and recognize triggers and cues of potential relapse.

The Action Plan:

Encourage her to get evaluated and begin a program. Stay involved as much as she will allow. Often, treatment facilities have family activities that provide education and support. This eases the burden of uncertainty and shifts the focus from fear and anger to hope and understanding. Most of all, it reminds you that you are not alone. Many people suffer the consequences of addiction in this world of easy access prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and alcohol.

Keep Perspective:

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”

Believe in a positive outcome and continue to hold your ground.

Psychology Today: Confessions of an HGTV Addict

Confessions of an HGTV addict and how it mirrors psychotherapy.
I admit it. Although most of my waking hours are spent focused on my work, family, and hobbies, my Saturday morning guilty pleasure is watching an episode of Property Brothers, House Hunters, orLove It or List It on HGTV. They’re utterly decadent in this fast paced New York City race to the finish line—which inevitably keeps moving away the closer we get to it!
It’s been a few years since this HGTV affliction began—and with the passing of time it doesn’t seem to dissipate. To better understand the fascination and sheer pleasure experienced, I decided to take a closer look at the dynamic layers of content in each show.
To begin, all are about homes. Who doesn’t love home? It’s where the heart is. We rest, raise our families, build our dreams and futures, and bond with friends there. It requires constant maintenance and attention. It’s personal. It reflects what we value and is our sanctuary.

 

HGTV specializes in home improvement—whether through a renovation project, or buying and selling homes to upgrade one’s lifestyle. Regardless of the focus, there is a subtle educational piece about architecture, interior design, construction, decorating, geography, and home sale comparables and statistics.

Sometimes, you even get to go shopping with the homeowner or designer to pick out cabinets, furniture, flooring, and pillows! What more could a girl ask for? It’s an adventure in home improvement, and more importantly quality-of-life improvement…. and the latter is my business.

In my therapy and coaching work, the goal is self-improvement, creating an overall sense of well being, and developing healthy relationships. After all, relationships impact everything we do—at home, work, our children’s school, out on the street, and in the mall. The simple process of decision making for each individual and couple fascinates me, as they arrive at their new and improved life.

Typically, the process begins with what doesn’t work for them—i.e. they diagnose the problems. Then they consider their options, budget, and “must haves”—i.e. the treatment plan. They follow a process of generating ideas, active communication (speaking and listening),understanding the other’s statements, empathizing with their partner’s perspective, advocating for their own wants, holding clear boundaries, and conceding on things that that are less important to them (choosing their battles). There are ups and downs, disagreements, hopes and disappointments, and eventually harmony.

It’s a roller coaster ride! Take the Property Brothers, Drew and Jonathon Scott who are the perfect yin and yang brother team. Drew is the handsome realtor and designer. Jonathon is the hunky construction worker. They show a couple their dream home, which fulfills their every want, and just when they’re ready to sign the papers and move in, Drew smacks ‘em down with the harsh reality that they cannot afford it. The disappointment and defeat is evidenced on the couple’s facial expressions, limped body language, and the tone of voice in which they attempt to save face by accepting the bad news.

Reluctantly, the deflated couple succumbs to the idea of a fixer upper. Drew and Jonathon come through by the end of the show delivering their dream home better than the couple had ever imagined. Happy endings are all around! It’s Disney for adults.

This process mirrors the therapy process—in a very condensed form. Often, people don’t know what to expect from therapy or coaching. In a nutshell, we do what Drew and Jonathon do. We diagnose a problem, develop a treatment plan, design steps to resolve the problem or achieve the dream goal, and ultimately terminate treatment when it’s achieved and a better quality of life emerges.

Good therapy doesn’t happen in 30 minutes. It could take 30 sessions, or more. It requires a lot of patience, dedication, and a few roller coaster rides. So, will you hold tight to the safety bar, or throw your hands in the air and enjoy the ride?

 

Psychology Today: When Media Becomes Exploitation

 

This Olympics featured a phenomenal performance of the competitors in the men’s super-G. Many of us were riveted and delighted by the competition.

In the end, Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud won the gold medal, Andrew Weibrecht brought home the silver, and Bode Miller rounded out the podium tied for the bronze with Canadian, Jan Hudek.  It was an awe inspiring show of the world’s best athletes.

Finding Pain in Victory:

At the end of Bode Miller’s run, in the moment of victory and realizing that the sacrifice, sweat, and tears were all worthwhile, an NBC reporter, Christin Cooper saw an opportunity for raw emotion. Instead of reveling in the moment of Mr. Miller’s triumph, she greedily played on the emotions of a grieving man.

In case you missed the interview, here it is…

  • Miller: “This [medal] was a little different. I think, you know, my brother passing away—I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. So this was a little different.”
  • Reporter: “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?”
  • Miller: “A lot, obviously. Just a long struggle coming in here. Just a tough year.”
  • Reporter: “I know you wanted to be here with Chilly really experiencing these Games. How much does it mean to come with a great performance for him, or was it for him?”

Miller began to cry.

  • Miller: “It’s just a tough year. I don’t know if it’s really for him. I just wanted to come here and, I don’t know, I guess make myself proud.”
  • Reporter: “When you’re looking up in the sky at the start…it just looks like you’re talking to somebody, what’s going on there?”

Grief Overwhelms:

Most of us understand the power of grief. It sits inside taking a long time to overcome. We must greive with people that care about us. And, when triggered, grief can overwhelm, like a tsunami overwhelming a shoreline. It is to be done with loving people around.

In my mind, Cooper drew blood, as Miller broke down in tears, hiding his face from cameras. Clearly, he was overwhelmed by the reminder of his brother’s untimely death.

This great athlete’s guard was down. Fueled by the moment, Bode Miller was open for the praise and accolades of his win—not confrontation with possibly the worst loss of his life. In psychological terms, it’s calledcognitive dissonance. He experienced polar opposite feelings at the same time. It is a confusing and disconcerting experience. Typically, the most powerful feeling surfaces, trumping all others.

Grief Can Heal—Or Open Old Wounds:

A human being with the ability to empathize would have recognized the change in Mr. Millers’s tone of voice, the absence of a smile and expression of joy, and the welling up of tears in his lower lids well before this point. The moment of joy was stolen from him. Despite his medal winning run, he is a grieving man. And an honorable one. His response to the fury of tweets against the reporter were as follows –

“I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment”

“My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.”

Was this reporting or exploitation?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, empathy is the, “ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. The empathic actor or singer is one who genuinely feels the part he or she is performing. The spectator of a work of art or the reader of a piece of literature may similarly become involved in what he or she observes or contemplates.”

If this existed in this interview, why continue the questions about loss rather than gain? The moment was about victory, accomplishment, and the successful finale of a career.

Regrettably, this was missed.

 

Psychology Today – Got Relationship Blues?

146719-149047(Hint: Stop Criticizing)

Why endless criticism is doomed to failure.
Published on April 4, 2014 by Mark Banschick, M.D. in Psychology Today
 

Look at your relationship.

The problems seem obvious. But, what are the solutions?

Heather Edwards breaks down relationship problems into a digestible form,making it easier for you to do what’s needed to be happier.

The Good Relationship:

Sometimes the key to discovering what works best in a relationship is eliminating what we knowdoesn’t work. There are a number of scientifically proven actions that destroy relationships. John Gottman calls these the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” So let’s start there. 

Criticism:

The first is Criticism. Unless this is constructive with the intent of helping, it’s probably hurtful. In destructive criticism, couples will attack each other’s personality or character in an effort to prove who is right and who is wrong. It leaves both feeling angry and dissatisfied in the long and short run. These statements tend to start with generalizations, and include absolute words like “always” and “never.”

Contempt:

The second is Contempt. In this communication style, one partner will attack by name-calling, mockery, hostility, and negative or aggressive body language and tone of voice. Its intent is to demean and dis-empower the other person’s position and character. There are no happy endings when contempt enters the room.

Defensiveness:

The third is Defensiveness. When one partner feels like a victim, she may deny or make excuses for her behavior. Or, he may cross complain by lodging one of his own complaints in retaliation, or “Yes, but!” the original complaint in refusal of responsibility. It’s a very closed, blaming, andjudgmental way of approaching conflicts. And it doesn’t work.

Stonewalling:

The fourth is Stonewalling. When one partner stonewalls, he has shut down the conversationThe relationship store is closed for business. There is a stony silence, avoidance, and a withdrawal from communication. There may be a belief that the avoidance prevents a bigger blow up, but what it really conveys is icy distance, disconnection and smugness. It actually worsens the problem and sabotages thechance of resolution.

Learning From Happy Couples:

Happy couples have 5 positive interactions to every negative one. Gottman calls this the “Five to One Ratio.” Positive interactions are cultivated everyday in successful marriages. A few examples of easy ways to do this are giving a compliment, showing your appreciation for something big or small, reliving a fun memory, or doing something nice for the other person. The key to the most successful relationships is spending time being together and talking together. Share your ideas, experiences, and dreams with each other.

More sex = more joy. People are 55% more likely to report higher levels of happiness when they have sex two to three times per week. Having sex at least one time per week makes people 44% more likely to report happiness. The happiest couples have sex at least 2 to 3 times per month. The hormones released during sex create stronger bonds, warm fuzzy feelings, and a sense of relaxed satisfaction. What are you waiting for? Make sex a priority in your busy life.

Strong relationships have the Michelangelo Effect:

This means that one partner brings out the best in the other. It creates a sense of esteem and personal satisfaction in actualizing the ideal self. They also share new experiences, celebrate good news, and laugh together. So go for an evening walk, try a new restaurant, explore new places, relive a funny moment, and show enthusiasm for the other person’s accomplishments.

When in disagreement, their arguing style is open, considerate, and empathic. It includes active listening, humor, and affection. They even concede on certain points their partner makes. After all, one person can’t be right all the time! Plus, very few things in life occur “always” or “never”—except, of course, for sunsets and taxes.

Now you have an idea of what empowers relationships, and what destroys them. You may have recognized some of these positive and negative qualities in yours.

Remember that it’s never too late to make things better. If you and your partner are invested in enjoying a happy life together, then start employing some of the tips here—and try to change the negative oneswhen they surface.

_____________________

Psychology Today – The Fire of Love

143932-145410Do You Want A Better Love Life?  This article was published on February 12, 2014 in Psychology Today.  It was coauthored by  Mark Banschick, M.D.

We all want love.

We want to be seen, validated, treasured and wanted. And we want to give. We want the freshness of love to invigorate our lives and put the whole world into perspective.

Love is more than sex…more than adoration…more than warm memories. It is alive and vibrant, like a warm fire on a cold winter’s day. Keep it stoked and it stays alive. Let it lie fallow, and don’t expect it to last.

With winter upon us, we’ve teamed up with guest blogger Heather Edwards about kindling more love in your life. Good things need attention – it’s a lesson about happiness.

A Day of Love 

Consider our communal celebration of love: Valentine’s Day. For a moment we are aware again of  love notes, red roses, and heart shaped chocolates. Romance is awakened and we feel reconnected. 

Or, consider your anniversary… the moment when you both commited to each other. Or, a birthday, a time to openly value him or her. They all work, but what about the next day?

Isn’t love more than a two or three day holiday?

Imagine removing the pressure. What if instead, we mindfully loved more generously and openly in our everyday lives and relationships? Everyday. Stop wasting your time and energy searching for differences, problems, and sources of anxiety—they’re way too easy to find and obsess about! Shift your focus to what is positive, good, and loving.

Yes a birthday, an anniversary and even, Valentine’s Day, all count. But, the fire of love is found in smaller, less significant moments as well.

Love is a way of feeling. It’s a way of thinking. And, it’s a way of behaving.

Let’s take a moment to consider the ways we celebrate our relationships. Not for just for two or three special moments, but 365 days per year.

Acts of Kindness

Whether you’re the gift giving type or the favor offering kind, remember the ways you reached out to your partner when your relationship was new. What were you eager to do for that person, simply for the sake of making him/her feel good? How did you express tenderness, infatuation, and desire? Rekindle those moments. Take time to plan a meal, give a massage, or connect through sharing ideas, dreams, and plans.

Listen carefully to her. Let him know how special he is. Love can spiral up.

“I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” —W.B. Yeats

Seek Adventure

When your relationship was new, everything you did together was adventurous simply because YOU were new to each other. Some of those activities may have gotten lost in the shuffle of responsibility, boredom, or routine. Keep novelty alive! If you are not new to each other anymore, find activities that are unique. Get outside your comfort zone, together. After all, getting to know each other was exciting and challenging when there was uncertainty. The world is fresh for discovery. There are new places to visit, new nuances of sex, a special date to break the routine, a project you both share. Recreate that excitement.

“What we find in a soulmate is not something wild to tame but something wild to run with.”  —Robert Brault

Adults Can Play Too

Whatever your age, playfulness is inside of you. Watch lovers as they hold hands or prance through the snow. They are awakening an inner child. Allow yourself a careless laugh or a fun, awkward moment. Kids make life special all the time (and unfortunately, we often want to silence all the action), and grownups can as well. Love brings out playfulness.

Do something ridiculous together. Go on a walk for half a day without a goal in sight. Wear something kooky because its fun. Make sex an adenture. Or, perhaps, just sneak away from the kids for a romantic moment, like two jailbirds on the run. (Of course you love your children. But there’s time for grownups as well.)

Let go a little. There’s fire in there.

Give Space for Love

One of the lest understood dynamics in passionate love is a passionate commitment to letting your lover have some space when he or she needs it. You undoubtably know that it’s natural to take time, like its natural to bond. In fact, they are both active ingredients in a healthy relationship.

Ask any man or woman who feels crowded in by their partner.

It’s not pleasant and will not promote love.

A good fire, like a relationship, needs spaces to breathe. Otherwise, it’ll choke itself out.

Sometimes love is kindled in the rawness of great sex. Sometimes, it’s getting away together. And, sometimes it’s being apart. Sorry, there is no easy formula here. Just know that love is best when it comes freely.

Greater Intimacy

Some confuse intimacy with sex. Although they can be mutually exclusive, they are far better when shaken and stirred together in a loving cocktail of sensuality. Touch frequently. Express gratitude. Speak warm sentiments. Be vulnerable. Ask for what you need. Confide your fears and exert your power (in a loving way, not threatening). Don’t assume. Generously give space. And passionately enjoy closeness. Take risks. Share your innermost self.

“Warm me like sunlight and soothe me like rain. Burn me with passion and steal away the pain.” —Tyler Knott Gregson

If you’re lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, nurture it every day. Keep your feet on the ground, your head on your shoulders, and notice how your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife shares this journey. It can be a slow burn or a hot one, but love can be had.

Is there a special day of love? Yes, everyday.

 

Psychology Today – When Children Grieve

griefThis article was originally published in Psychology Today on February 3, 2014.  It is written by Heather Edwards and Dr. Mark Banschick.

The holidays are over. But, sometimes events stop us in our tracks. Death never leaves us; it’s one reason why we so urgently celebrate Hanukah, Christmas and the New Year. We have this blessed life to live. So we grab it.

Our guest blogger, Heather Edwards, tells us another tale. It is a true story about a child who lost a classmate. How are we to help children grieve? And, what do they teach us in the process?

A Child’s Sadness:

On Christmas Day this year, my 7-year-old cousin Evan began to cry in the midst of family merriment. A sudden full body sobbing experience had overcome him. He looked up at me; face soaked with tears and exclaimed, “My friend died today.  She’s in heaven now.”  He tearfully explained that his classmate lost her battle against cancer during the early morning hours of Christmas Day.

Evan had many questions, and many tears. He wanted to know if she is still in pain. He wanted to know if people in heaven can open their eyes. He wanted to know what they do up there and if she was alone and scared. He said he was sad for her family because of all the presents they had for her to open today. Now they won’t be able to share that joy. He said he missed her. He said it’s not fair and that she should’ve lived to be 100 years old, not seven. I was struck by the openness and range of concerns coming from this little guy in my arms.

Children experience grief, too. It can be painful for parents to witness. Their mourning process is similar to ours, only not as seasoned, jaded, nor familiar. What is a parent to do?

Allow the Tears & Give Lots of Hugs:

Tears are healing. Each teardrop releases the hurt and sadness. It allows the emotional process of grief and loss to flow and ultimately to release its grip on the spirit. You don’t want your child feeling that he or she has to protect you from real feelings. Children need to know that it’s okay to cry during the experience of death and loss. And that sadness only means that they care and love and empathize with others. This is a beautiful thing.

Answer Their Questions:

Children have a wild and wonderful imagination. Since they don’t have a mature vocabulary to express themselves yet, they use imagery and play to test theories and express themselves.  Their ideas and questions are fresh and curious.  Do your best as an adult upon whom they rely to encourage and satisfy those curiosities. It helps them grow, understand, and accept the many challenges life presents.

Have patience. And, listen carefully to the concerns behind their questions.

Validate the Wide Range of Feelings:

Children are expressive.  A normal grieving process involves “Five Stages of Grief”, according to renown psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. During grief it’s natural to experience a series of emotional stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Allow your child to feel sad, mad, confused, and cheated.  It’s normal and healthy to acknowledge, express, and let go of painful emotions.

Encourage Remembrance of Better Times:

Consider bringing your child back to good memories of their loved one.  Be sensitive when doing this because it may be too much at any given moment. Yet, these memories serve a purpose in balancing the good with the bad thoughts about loss. Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs about the afterlife, give them hope about their friend wanting the best for them even though they can’t be here to share life with them.

Provide Structure and Reassurance:

Keep their life as normal as possible. Stick to their regular daily routines. School attendance, mealtimes, homework, bedtime, playtime or sports participation all need to continue with the same structure as always. Children need this to feel a sense of normalcy and safety in their own life. Regularity is one way of doing this.

I know that Evan will be okay. He has a loving family that only wants the best for him.  His openness about his hurt feelings for his classmate and her family demonstrate his ability to trust, empathize, and grieve. His curiosity about heaven and whether he will see his classmate again one day is evidence of his ability to love and connect with others.

He is a little guy with big heart.

I wish children didn’t have to experience loss. Since they do, it’s our job as grownups to structure and validate their experience, and give them lots of love and hugs. One day loss will make a little more sense to them. Until then, they need us to create a safe, loving world for them to live in.

 

Psychology Today – Easy Tips for Keeping New Years Resolutions

140772-141776This article is published in Psychology Today by Mark Banschick and Heather Edwards.  It is entitled, “Break Bad Habits”. 

It’s countdown time!  The new year marks a fresh start for new beginnings.   Be prepared on January 1 to state your New Year Resolutions and stick to them! If your plan is to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, save money, or build your career or social network, then get started on developing a system for success that will work for you.

Resolutions without specific plans usually get pushed to the wayside by the demands of everyday life. Come April, they’re already out the window and down the street! Be prepared to keep your New Year Resolutions in 2014 using these simple tips for seeing them through to 2015.

Be specific: Define the details of your goals and make them measurable. For example, if your goal to is lose weight, how much weight do you want to lose? By when? If your goal is to spend less money and start a savings, how much money do you want to save? Set a deadline. Make your goals attainable, but not too easy. Setting goals you CAN achieve will keep you motivated.  Making them too easy isn’t really a challenge. The point is to stretch yourself to a higher level of functioning.

Make your goals personal: Stay true to your values and purpose. Do your goals come from a desire for improvement that are tied to your personal belief system? What is most important to you? The more personally meaningful they are, the more likely you are to stick to them and be successful.

Get a partner: Having a workout or healthy eating partner can help keep you motivated and on track. Design a supportive environment. For example, if you know that junk food and soda are your weakness, remove them from your home and replace them with healthy snacks and seltzer water. Remember, it’s nearly impossible to quit a behavior without replacing it with a new one. Find healthy alternatives. Start a progress chart. Record daily and weekly change. Write an accountability blog which others may be following.  Join a weight loss group or get a trainer.  IMG_6963

Believe in yourself: Your goals have to be important to you. Does it motivate you? Is it a value of yours? Is it a high priority? Do you have a sense of urgency about it? Can you imagine yourself 6 months from now, or a year from now, having succeeded in your goal? What does that look like? How did you get there? Retrace your steps to determine what you did to be successful in your future self. Do you have support?  If you believe you can do it, you will!

Put your goals in writing: Write them down in an “I Statement”. Put them in a visible place. Own them! This will serve as a reminder and motivator every time you see your personal statement. For example, if career development is your goal, “I will find a networking group in my field of interest and join it by February 1. I will seek out courses and sign up for at least one new class or conference in my field of interest by February 1.”. Stick these notes on your refrigerator or on your desk, in a high traffic area in your home or office. Set reminders in your phone. Review your goals regularly.

Replace self sabotaging thoughts with a positive mantra: Be flexible. Remember that failures are only temporary setbacks and great motivators for change. It’s never too late to get back on track. Even if you haven’t met your goal by your deadline, remember this is a process that takes time. Don’t confuse the destiny with the path. The path is meant to be savored, too. Each step you take will get you closer, even if its not exactly on schedule.  Remember, YOU CAN DO IT.

Now you’re ready to ring in the new year with a plan for a new you! Write your goals down. Be specific. Do some soul searching to determine what’s most important to you. Tell your friends. Get a partner. Set reminders. Chart your progress. Be patient. If you need more support, get a Life Coach, Counselor, or expert in the life domain you’re focused on to help you succeed. Happy New Year and New YOU!

Psychology Today – Five Secrets of Highly Successful People

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This article is published in Psychology Today by Mark Banschick and Heather Edwards.  It is entitled, “5 Tips for Success”.

Everyone has a unique life story. Family traditions, religious beliefs, and cultural norms differ and converge in a myriad of ways across people and places.  We embody our personal experiences and take them with us, wherever we go. We use our history as a road map through life. What’s familiar is comfortable and predictable.  The downside is, it can keep us stuck in old patterns that hold us back.

What if you took the road less travelled?  What if you could shed the part of your life story that is holding you back while developing those that propel you forward?  Well, you can!  Recalibrate the GPS.  Follow these five secrets to creating the life you want.

1. Large and In Charge.

You can effect neural firings and change the structure of your brain!  Daniel J. Siegel describes this neuroplasticity of the brain in his book, “Interpersonal Neurobiology”.  By choosing to focus on positive experiences, you can manage and regulate your neural firings.  The more you take in the good, the more naturally your brain will spontaneously notice it unfolding around you.  You can reap the benefits of positivity that otherwise may have been overlooked.  We’ve all heard the saying, “Smell the roses.”.  Rick Hanson also talks about this in his book, “Buddha’s Brain – The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom.”.

Notice when you feel your best, most confident, prolific self. Fully absorb the gratifying feelings that happen in these moments. Look for opportunities to experience successes and accomplishment. Spend a few minutes each day encoding positive feelings. This can gradually improve and change your brain structure over time allowing you to build momentum toward goal fulfillment.

2. Bring on the Love.

Lake Tahoe

Positive energy breeds positive energy. Laughter is contagious. The best therapy can be a hearty laugh with friends.  Notice your company when you are feeling your best. The more time you spend with positive people in a supportive environment, the better you will feel. Positive relationships are one of the essential elements of well-being in Positive Psychology, according to Martin Seligman. Well-being is proven to be more fulfilling than happiness. It’s comprised of positive emotion (pleasure, ecstasy, comfort, etc), engagement (in an activity or moment), positive relationships, meaning (belonging and serving something larger than yourself), and accomplishment. Spend time with those you love and cherish. Participate in meaningful activities in which you are industrious.

3.  Scared and Alone.

Certain circumstances and challenges seem overwhelming. They take us outside our familiar comfort zone or back to a previous stressful time.  They can create insecurity and threaten our self esteem. Being faced with a seemingly impossible task can stop us in our tracks. Here are a few ways to accept the challenge and assert your new empowered self!

– Jump right in! This is a method that typically results in finding that your worst fears didn’t come true …and were likely exaggerated from the start.

– Take “baby steps” toward your goal and celebrate your progress every step of the way. This will reduce your fear gradually over time with each new successful experience.

– Challenge  automatic negative thoughts by rating their validity on a scale of 1 – 100.  Chances are they are pretty unrealistic and invalid.  Replace them with rational thoughts.

– Mindfully notice your body and breath.  Breathe slowly.  Shift your attention between bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.  In doing so, you can regulate physical reactions that feel like panic.

– Notice the inner child holding onto fear in moments of self doubt.   Soothe him/her.  Use your wisdom to inform and calm that inner part of yourself.

4. Goodbye, Chaos!

New studies in neuroscience show that we are capable of achieving anything we want. The trick to this achievement is truly wanting it and believing you can do it!  We’re born with an amazing brain capable of learning and mastering more than we even understand. It’s not because we can’t achieve it, but because we don’t fully tap into our brain’s potential. Fears and anxieties might convince us that we can’t do math or we aren’t an artistic type. Brain studies demonstrate this to be untrue. Now more than ever, it’s evident that practice DOES make perfect! Tony Buzan talks about this in his book, “The Mind Map Book”. The more time you spend repeating the same exercise or thought pattern, the better you will perform it over time. With practice, you are strengthening the neural pathways responsible for mastering those thought and behavior patterns. So take a painting class or learn a new sport or language! If you believe you can do it, you will.

5. Hello, Dreams and Aspirations!

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”, Mae West.   Make the most of your life!  Imagine it as you want it to be. Notice what gives you energy. Get started on setting clear, achievable goals. If at first your goals seem too lofty, then break them down into smaller ones. Establish daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly targets. Remember that everything is a process. If it’s worthwhile, it probably takes a lot of hard work and a steady dose of time. Practice patience and flexibility with yourself while holding true to taking forward steps.

Begin mindfully acknowledging your extraordinary individual strengths and nurture them.   Notice your most challenging moments as opportunities for growth and empowerment and don’t shy away.  Clarify your strengths, challenges, and life goals. Overcome those old habits that stifle you.  Begin to design your best life.  It’s never too late to start creating the life you want.  In the words of John Cage, “Begin anywhere.”.

Choose the high road, the low road, or the one in the middle.  Just be mindful of what works and what doesn’t.  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to creating the life YOU want, but through mindfulness you can choose the actions that create positive change for YOU.  Leave fear at the door.  Embrace your future self.  In the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”.

 

Psychology Today – Difficult Divorce? 6 ways to get unstuck.

136891-136917This article, “Difficult Divorce? 6 Ways to Get Unstuck. – Divorce can work out for the best.”, was originally published on November 19, 2013 by Mark Banschick, M.D. and Heather Edwards, LMHC in Psychology Today.  It addresses the basic feelings of grief, anger, and fear in divorce followed by self care and planning for a better life. Read further for tips on how to navigate this challenging life transition…

When entering into marital bliss, nobody plans to get divorced. In fact, it’s the farthest thing from mind. The union is meant to be forever – through sickness and health, better or worse, sicker or poorer. Until death do we part… Or do we?

In this guest blog, Heather Edwards, a New York based therapist and life coach, provides six basic tips for getting unstuck from the shifting winds of a divorce.

The decision to get a divorce is a difficult and life changing one. It often comes after years of unhappiness and unending conflict. When a couple finally resigns to the idea of going separate ways, it hurts. And, it only takes one to decide it’s over.

Divorce is a death of sorts, and can initiate a ripple effect beginning with the married couple, traveling their children and families. How does one cope with the massive loss and minimize the collateral damage caused by the parting of the ways? Use these tips to recognize the emotional components of divorce; then consider developing a plan to get yourself to a better place.

Grief: Divorce can feel so sad it hurts.

It’s not what you planned for yourself, nor your family. You’ve lost the future you were counting on and the person you thought would share it with you. This experience deserves time and attention to allow a natural, healthy grief process to unfold. Recognize your pain and work on it. Find time to cry, but also make room for your normal responsibilities. Grief counts, like a tsunami of unhappiness, but it passes and routine still demands. Children, a job, exercise and even the dog, require attention. Grief is part of life, but it need not take over your life.

“… a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” – Carl Jung

Anger: It is a natural to feel anger as part of grief and loss.

You might feel angry at your spouse for all the reasons the marriage didn’t work out. You might even want revenge. Sometimes “getting even” or “punishing” the spouse plays out in the fight over assets or child custody. Acknowledge your anger but find a way to avoid destructive behaviors. Spending excessive time and energy on it can cause more pain and negatively affect you and your family. Identify the source of the anger and adjust your semantics or expectations to make room for acceptance.

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Fear: Uncertainty is unnerving.

There’s probably a myriad of questions swirling in your head about your future. Talk to a mediator or a divorce attorney to gain the information you need to protect yourself and your children. Sometimes an ex spouse can be difficult or worse. Knowledge is empowering. Remember that things usually get better. This is not only an ending. It’s a new beginning. Divorce is a difficult transition that leads to better days and happier times. It’s your opportunity to create the life you want with new-found wisdom and strength. Search for what you have learned and how you have grown.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

Develop a Plan: Try planning your new life with everyone’s best interests at heart.

Reach out to professionals with the tools and training required to help you make the best decisions possible. Mediators can be hired to create an “alternative dispute resolution” and help negotiate a settlement. Divorce attorneys can be hired to answer questions and legally execute details about assets and custody issues. Carefully consider your options.

“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” – Abraham Lincoln

Self Care: Continue to take care of precious cargo – You.

You need all the same rest, nutrition, exercise, and pampering as always! Go to the gym or take a yoga class. Eat healthy foods. Meet friends for lunch or after work. It’s crucial to feel good in order to continue managing all your normal responsibilities. Make an extra effort to carve out “me” time. Lean on your friends and family. It’s okay to ask for support and feedback about your changing life situation. If you need more support than they can provide – seek out a therapist, counselor, or coach.

Children First: If you have children, pay special attention to their emotions and needs.

Sometimes children feel responsible for the break up. Reassure them the divorce or separationis not their fault and that both parents love them very much. Don’t talk negatively with or about your spouse in front of them. Spend time playing and having fun with them. Their highest priorities are love and safety. And they need to see that you are safe and happy, too!

In the words of Muhammad Ali,

“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

Take Home Message:

Although it seems your life has been turned upside down, now it’s more important than ever to take good care of yourself and your children. Find a healthy way to grieve so that you can attend to the normal responsibilities beckoning you. Find support, lean on friends, family, and professionals that can provide you with what’s needed to get through these tough times.

Yet, each day that passes gets you closer to the life you want to live. Imagine the long term positive outcomes that will result from your resilience during this transition. And, continue being the best you can be! Recapture your dignity. Your children will notice…and you will feel better.

Psychology Today – Getting Unstuck: Kick Starting Your Marriage

136048-136019This article is published in Psychology Today by Mark Banschick and Heather Edwards.
When your relationship needs repair…
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Time to Kick-Start Your Marriage:It’s easy to get caught up in work, childcare, managing your home, and keeping up with bills. The day to day realities of adult life can be draining, and under these pressures, any relationship can atrophy.

Marriage Has Positive & Negative Cycles:

Most couples go through it. Communication breaks down, sexual intimacy becomes an after-thought, fun is infrequent, and empathy is a strain. Sometimes conflict and arguing escalates, or for others, the marriage starts failing as the couple resorts to living parallel lives. Either way, the negative cycle has replaced the life enhancing positive cycle that couples find when they turn love into an action verb.

Since the “D” word was not in your vocabulary when you got married, how can you flex and rebuild that svelte marriage muscle?

In this guest blog, Heather Edwards, a New York based therapist and life coach, lays out five ways to build positive energy back into your relationship.

Have Fun:

It sounds like the easy answer, but it’s always a good place to start.

Consider the ways you used to enjoy each other’s company. You used to play together. What did you enjoy doing most? Was it going to a concert, park, or favorite restaurant? Maybe it was taking a bike ride, getting a massage together, or walking on the beach. Whatever the activity, make a commitment to one new action that brings energy into your relationship. If being together feels stifling for you, it probably feels the same way for your spouse or partner. Any activity that doesn’t have some level of enjoyment in it will eventually be one you want to rid from your life. The same applies to your marriage. So start breathing fresh air into it!

Self Awareness:

Be aware of your needs.

What needs are not being met by your partner?  Respect, encouragement, acceptance, and trust are a few needs that can feel compromised when marriages break down. These higher-level needs are sometimes masked by the day to day gripes, nagging or avoidant behavior that can become commonplace. Recognize your own negative behaviors as destructive, not constructive, and question what need is suffering underneath it. That’s probably what’s motivating your bad behavior, not just the dirty socks on the floor. Consider ways to constructively express yourself.

Ending a negative cycle begins when you see what you are doing to each other.

Communicate:

Your partner is not a mind reader, nor does he or she have a crystal ball that will enlighten him or her.

That means it is up to you to say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you want your message to be heard in a non-defensive way, then you need to verbalize your thoughts and feelings in a way that is not blaming, judging, nor critical. Blaming and judging can lead to defensiveness and stonewalling. Criticism can lead to contempt and resentment—and that’s the negative cycle.

If what you want to build is openness, strength, and mutual support, then change the way you communicate. Rather than focusing your attention on your partners actions, focus on your experience of it. Own your feelings. Simply state what you feel when certain behaviors occur. Clearly and calmly ask for what you want. State, “I feel ___, because ___, and I want ___”.

Empathy:

Now that you’re aware of your true feelings, needs, and wants, consider your spouse’s experience of this problem.

All relationships experience power struggles. And, you know you are in one if either you or your partner needs to win at all costs. You may not always agree, but you need not make him or her feel stupid or crazy. When it’s about winning an argument, you both lose.

Hear the feelings words he or she is using. Notice the body language and requests made. Imagine how it feels to express oneself in the manner he or she is using. Practice walking in their shoes.  Check it out. It’s okay to let your spouse know that you recognize their struggle and that it’s real and valid. After all, you’re in this together, trying to find a way to live your lives better.

Intimacy:

Intimacy can be the barometer, or measure of pressure and change, in a relationship. Have you noticed your intimacy changing as stress, conflict, and detachment rise? Well, it’s an easy indicator that something is suffering badly and needs your attention. Identify the troubled areas in your marriage and apply all of the above interventions to them. Make improving your sex life with your spouse a priority.

Oxytocin, a bonding hormone that is released during sex, will bring you closer and increase warm, loving feelings toward each other. Just do it! Set aside time to nurture yourselves in this way.

Have fun reconnecting with each other!