What’s the #1 Thing that Sabotages Relationships?

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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For those of us who have courageously sat on the therapist’s couch, terms such as “co-dependency,” “differentiation,” “individuation,” and “holding on to yourself” may be all too familiar. The important point is, did we understand these terms and that they’re all essentially ways to describe aspects of emotional dependence? Did we identify how they’re operating in our lives? And did we take away tools to incorporate positive change in our relationships? If your response is, “somewhat” or “I’m still confused,” read on.

Am I emotionally dependent?

Many factors from childhood and adolescence play a part in promoting emotional dependence or inhibiting it. Some examples that interfere with our ability to foster a strong sense of self may include: needy parents, helicopter parents, instability in the family, trauma/loss in the family, low personal resilience, and high personal sensitivity. These factors all play a role in our ability or inability to foster healthy relationships and our degree of emotional dependence.

What emotional dependency looks like:

1. Wanting to constantly please others.
2. Putting others’ needs before my own.
3. Difficulty asking for what I need or want.
4. A pattern of taking what another person says to me as personal criticism.
5. Not being able to tolerate anxiety in relationships (often resulting in “giving in,” trying to control the other, or running away–literally or metaphorically)

Sound familiar? The price we pay for these learned behaviors is that we’re caught in a “catch 22.” Maintaining these patterns leads to communication breakdown, resentment, and anger with those we wish to be close to—especially those people who mean the most to us, like our romantic partners and family members. On the other hand, we may not know how to change, and we may fear our changing will result in the loss of relationships that are incredibly important to us.

The gift of close relationships is that they force us to confront our degree of emotional dependence. The greater my emotional dependence on another, the more I’m going to take everything personally, become defensive, and “lose myself” when I connect with those most important to me. The lesser my emotional dependence, the more I can stay connected to people I care most about while holding my ground—and not “run away,” try to control the other person, or people please.

A critical key to lowering our emotional dependence requires that we become aware of our anxiety and learn skills to soothe that emotion when it arises. This is the only way we can stand on our own two feet and bring more of our real selves to our relationships. Learning to do this isn’t an event; it’s a process we have to learn and practice every day, just like if we wanted to learn a new hobby. Getting support from someone who can identify our particular unhealthy patterns and help us to learn new skills is important.

As a marriage and family therapist, struggles with aspects of emotional dependence and the way it sabotages relationships are the most common issues I see. So the next time you need space or your partner or friend needs time alone, try to view it as the need to take care of oneself. As Gestalt therapist Walter Kempler said, paradoxically, if we want to get more personal, we must stop taking things personally.

I invite you to take the first step on a new path to healthier relating and the freedom to be who you were meant to be while staying deeply connected to those you love.

To sleep or not to sleep — 3 Myths & Tips to leverage your chances of a good night’s sleep

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

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3 Myths and Tips to Improve our Sleep:

As a psychotherapist, I am amazed by how many folks today are coming in with sleep issues. They have problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and falling back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. During the day, this translates to increased anxiety, difficulty focusing, and lack of energy.

Sound familiar?

Sleep is a tricky thing. And it’s become trickier in our fast paced, high achieving, high tech world that is a recipe for anxiety – sleep’s enemy. The following are some tips to improve your “sleep hygiene.” That’s right. Sleep has become a huge area of study with its own fancy nomenclature.

Myth #1: I can catch up on my sleep if I don’t get much tonight.

Sorry — wrong. The body’s Circadian Rhythms work like a personal, internal 24-hour “clock.” These rhythms regulate the body’s temperature, appetite, hormonal changes, and sleep cycles. The body wants the sleep rhythm to be reasonably constant. When we miss a night’s sleep, the circadian rhythm is thrown off and we pay for it by feeling drowsy, tired, and grumpy the next day. Most likely our anxiety will be higher, too. Sadly, there is no “catching up,” rather, the body has to regulate the rhythm again which takes a few days.
Tip #1:
Schedule your Sleep. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every night.

Myth #2: It’s so comfy that it makes sense to use my bed as a sleeping area, office area, eating area, studying area, and TV/Computer station.

Wrong, again. Psychologically, it is extremely helpful to our ability to transition to a state of deep relaxation and sleep well if our mind associates our bed with sleeping, and ONLY sleeping.
Tip #2:
Create a sacred space. Your bed and, if possible, your bedroom, should be a warm, welcoming, comfy place that is associated with nothing but rest and relaxation.

Myth #3: If I’m tired, my brain should be able to shut off the stimulation of the day and just go to sleep.

You can probably guess the answer. Yep, sorry, wrong again. It would be great if this were true, but unfortunately it’s not.
Tip #3:
Unplug. We cannot stimulate our brains with vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, television, computer trolling, and texting and think we can just turn it off and go to sleep. Our brain is highly activated by the stimulation and light involved in these activities. We need to stop these activities an hour or two before bedtime.

 

Anything else that will promote better sleep?

1. Keep your room dark when you sleep.
2. Turn your clock away from you and resist the temptation to look at the time if you wake up.
3. If you wake easily, consider getting a white noise machine.
4. Keep a notepad and pencil by your bed. If you wake up and feel you MUST remember something, write it down and “let it go” to be dealt with in the morning.
5. Make sure cold or other prescription medications aren’t interfering with your sleep.
6. Make sure caffeinated beverages are drunk several hours before you go to bed.
7. Prepare mind and body to relax. A warm bath or shower will help your body relax before sleep and soft music will nurture this state, too.
8. A glass of warm milk is helpful because it contains tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps induce sleep.
9. Once in bed, practice focusing on scenes or memories that are joyful/calming for you. If your attention wanders to something anxiety provoking, take 3/4 deep breaths and patiently return to those happy thoughts. You may have to practice this a lot if you’ve gotten into the habit of focusing on difficulties when you go to bed.
10. Create awareness of YOUR body’s need for sleep. It may be less or much more than someone else’s.

NOTE: Severe lack of sleep can be seriously debilitating, and we can become very depressed, suicidal at worst. If you or someone you know is dealing with severe insomnia, consult a doctor or clinician who has expertise dealing with sleep issues.

This Thing Called Therapy

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Counselor Advising Couple On Relationship Difficulties

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about therapy for a while but continue to find a reason not to take action:

– your husband, wife, partner won’t like it
– finances are tight
– what will you do with the kids?
– your job is taking everything out of you
– if you just wait, things will probably get better
– it’s too difficult to find a “good” therapist
– you can figure the problem out yourself
– you just don’t have the time–maybe next month, next year, when you finish …..

Sound familiar?

If you have little experience with therapy–or to be exact, psychotherapy–the idea can be scary, even overwhelming, so much so that rather than reach out for help, we can spend years living a life that is far from filled with the happiness and fulfillment we deserve. If our lives are chaotic, the evidence of something wrong is staring us in the face. However, often we have no idea of the cause of our sense of being stuck, sad, anxious or depressed; life may look fine on the outside; but inside we know something is wrong. Poor or absent parenting, trauma, and losses can undermine our ability to establish healthy boundaries for ourselves, set goals for our wellbeing and growth, and enter relationships that nurture us. Instead, we may develop self defeating behaviors that trap us in a never ending cycle that damages our sense of self and inhibits our confidence and ability to attract healthy partners, maintain loving relationships, and parent well.

The truth is that a ‘good” therapist is one that makes you feel comfortable, welcome, and safe to open up to. There are dozens of theories that therapists will draw on and perhaps one or more that they will specialize in, but the truth of the matter is that we sense when we have found the right therapist for that moment in time.  It may take several sessions for us to be able to share very vulnerable parts of ourselves, but usually if we follow our intuition in the first meeting, we know if we’ve found a good fit.

Therapists come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more formal, some more relaxed, more serious or less serious, listening oriented or action oriented, more directive or less directive, give assignments, don’t give assignments. Some therapists will have a fixed approach or style and others will have an eclectic style and adapt their expertise to best fit the client needs or wants. If you talk or meet with a therapist for the first time, you should get a really good feeling and want to go back. If this isn’t the case, don’t worry; call the next one on your list.

Helpful tips when looking for a therapist ….

1.  If you have insurance, call your plan to find out what your mental health benefits cover. Every insurance is different. Establish if you have an HMO or a PPO. Some have deductibles before the insurance will start paying for therapy.

2.  Ask your doctor, other health professionals, or consult community resources (your church or local associations) for referrals to therapists.

3.  On the Web search for therapists in your area or cross-reference referrals you receive to see if there is information about therapists in your area. Many post bios and may have websites.

4.  See how quickly the therapist calls you back. Ideally, you should receive a return call within 24 hours; if it’s longer than that, this may be an indication that the therapist has a heavy client load and may not be the optimal choice.

5.  Does he or she sound warm, friendly, and compassionate?

6.   If utilizing insurance, availability or financial considerations are a deal breaker for you, be up front about your needs or limitations. Better to find out at the start that something will or won’t work. If a therapist does not take your insurance, they may be open to a reduced fee that aligns with your budget.

7.  Keep in mind that good therapists will have your best interests at heart. If they don’t feel they are a fit for your situation or can’t work within your limitations, they will be honest and try to direct you elsewhere.

8.  Keep in mind that therapists have specialty areas such as individual therapy, family therapy, child therapy, working with adolescents, etc.  Don’t’ be shy about asking the therapist to talk about themselves, their experience, strengths and preferences. You are the consumer of their services and this is an investment of your time, energy and money.