Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Does "Too Nice" Mean?

Is it possible to be nice to a fault? When asked directly, most people will say niceness is a strength; however, if being "too nice" has ever been someone's reason for rejecting you, niceness can feel more like a curse than a blessing.

Are you really “too nice” or are you striking up relationships with the wrong people? For a nice person, the "wrong people" tend to be those who are selfish, controlling, aggressive, cruel, need drama, or feel a relationship should involve struggle to be exciting. If you are "too nice" and you get involved with the "wrong person", you may find yourself staying with someone who cannot fully appreciate your strengths until you are ultimately rejected.

When people tell you that you are “too nice”, they are really saying something else. It's sometimes easier for others to label the problem as being “too nice”, rather than to bluntly tell you that you are coming off as:
  • Insecure, dependent, needy, clingy, or desperate
  • Conflict avoidant, passive, timid, weak, or a pushover
  • Fake, false, inauthentic, ingenuous, insincere or passive aggressive
  • Smothering, parental, condescending, or making them feel trapped
  • Inferior, sub-par, less than, unimportant, or boring

If you have been called "too nice", chances are you probably tend to take the lion's share of the responsibility in your relationships. Striving to please others at the expense of your own needs often leads to feeling under-appreciated, hinders personal growth, and devalues you in the eyes of others making your relationships unequal (see equity theory and social exchange theory). In addition, it keeps others from experiencing the consequences of their own actions, and subsequently from growing and learning.

Taking most of the responsibility in a relationship can actually come off as selfish and even condescending. Everyone likes to give and if you are "too nice", you may not be sharing that opportunity with others. You may be inadvertently sending a message that you feel others are incompetent, can’t do their share or take care of themselves, or should not/cannot function as an individual without your help.

Taking too much responsibility in a relationship can also make you appear less appealing to others. When you appear to work too hard in relationships, you may be perceived as less powerful and as a result, you may be undervalued. In addition, the less powerful you feel, the more attracted you are to people you see as very powerful, which perpetuates the cycle. The Principle of Least Interest says that the person who appears the most emotionally involved in a relationship generally has the least power.

Being "too nice" can set up a problematic pattern in a relationship. It may send a message that its okay for others to let you do all the work and that maybe you even prefer it that way. Some researchers have found that imbalances in power in relationships are related to greater dissatisfaction, psychological distress, instability, and conflict.

My practice in psychology has shown me again and again how important balance is. Instead of being "too nice", why not strive to be "just right"? Being "just right" in a relationship involves being:

  • Honest and assertive
  • Authentic, genuine, real
  • Respectful, kind and nurturing
  • Empowering - valuing the freedom and autonomy of yourself and others
  • Balanced and equal; letting others take responsibility when appropriate
  • Confident and trusting (but not gullible or foolish)

When you believe you are capable of and deserve balanced and equitable relationships, you are less likely to put up with people who do not appreciate you. Not everyone appreciates niceness as much as you think they should. It may take some additional patience and effort to find a partner that appreciates your unique strengths, but experience tells me there is more than one someone out there for everyone.

If you suspect you are "too nice" and you want to learn ways to create greater balance in your relationships, it may be time to consult a mental health professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy. You can also call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.

For more resources relating to relationships and other mental health concerns, please visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Emotional Regulation

Self-regulation, or the ability to identify and respond appropriately to internal needs, is being increasingly recognized as an important skill. It appears Americans may be getting worse at it. Researchers speculate we are over-regulating our children's lives and not letting them engage in the free, imaginative play that is essential to developing this essential life skill.

When a person with self-regulation problems encounters a stressor, they do not have the skills necessary to effectively respond to it. Self-regulation deficiencies can manifest in impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, low frustration tolerance, trouble initiating or stopping behavior, difficulty transitioning, sleep and eating problems, or aggression. Individuals may rely on unhealthy coping methods like abusing substances, avoidance, and self-harming behavior in an effort to regulate themselves. It is easy to see why self-regulation problems can have devastating effects on social, academic and work functioning.

In some individuals, problems with self-regulation result from deficient learning. In others it is due to problems with brain functioning related to heredity, congenital problems, or brain injury. Learning to regulate our emotions and behavior takes practice and some of us are better at it than others. If you suspect you have problems with self-regulation that are causing severe distress or impairing your functioning, it may be time to talk with a mental health professional about how you can make a change.

Emotional Regulation
One of the body's responses we must learn to regulate is emotions. We experience emotions as personal, subjective, unpredictable, and sometimes even illogical and confusing. Biologically speaking though, a feeling is nothing more than a response to stimuli involving physiological processes such as changes in pulse rate, respiration, and body temperature.

Though our emotions are biologically based, they are not necessarily reality based. Just because we feel a certain way, doesn't make it true. Despite all of this, our emotions feel very real to us and they color our perception of the world. Our emotions dictate our moods and shape our behavior.

If emotions were facts, everyone would feel the same in a given situation. But we know this is not true because emotional responses vary from individual to individual and from culture to culture. Emotions are impacted by our thoughts and beliefs about the world which arise from our heredity, experiences, learning, and environment.

There is wide array of emotions human beings can experience, but Robert Plutchik (1980) developed a theory showing eight primary human emotions that all other human emotions come from:
  • Joy
  • Acceptance
  • Fear
  • Submission
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Anger
  • Anticipation

Thoughts Lead to Feelings

How can it be that two people in the same situation can experience entirely different emotions? Consider this example of how our thoughts, and not necessarily facts, determine our feelings.

Situation: You see someone sitting at a table crying.
Thought: You think they must be sad.
Feeling: You feel concern and sympathy.

Then suppose you look down at the table and see the person is cutting an onion. Would your thoughts and feelings change? As you can see, it was the thought that dictated the initial feeling and not necessarily the reality of the situation.

This example shows that it is possible to regulate your emotions by changing the way you look at a situation. Just like a diamond, every situation has multiple facets. Our feelings about a situation can change depending upon the angle we choose to view it from.

Behavior Leads to Feelings

The way you behave can influence the way you feel. An example of this is exercise. When we engage in exercise, we often feel better afterwards, even when our situation hasn't changed. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can also change our emotions. This is partially due to the physiological changes that occur when we engage in these behaviors and it is also related to the meaning we make of them. Doing something you perceive as good or healthy can make you feel better about yourself.

Another example is the way facial expressions are related to emotions. All over the world, human beings use the same facial muscles when expressing certain emotions. Studies have shown that muscular feedback from a facial expression results in the experience of the emotion it expresses. Give it a try.

Yet another example is related to studies investigating "liking". Researchers found they could increase liking by having individuals participate in activities together that required cooperation toward a goal. Liking can also be decreased by involving people in competition with each other.

These examples show that you can regulate your emotions by engaging in behavior that decreases unpleasant feelings and increases pleasant feelings.

Feelings, Right or Wrong

Because our feelings are influenced by our beliefs and thoughts, we can sometimes be mistaken. However, this doesn't mean our feelings are right or wrong. I like to think of emotions as either adaptive (helpful) or maladaptive (problematic).

Emotions are adaptive when they:

  • motivate us and help us respond appropriately
  • help us make good decisions
  • help us remember important things
  • warn us of real trouble and identify opportunities

Emotions are maladaptive when:

  • They are too intense (out of proportion)
  • They last too long
  • We are unable to manage or cope with them
  • We respond impulsively or destructively based on them

When you take the time to identify and explore your emotions instead of reacting impulsively, you may be able to come up with alternative explanations that make you feel better or healthier ways to cope with the situation.

Emotions Can Be Powerful

Sometimes our emotions are so overwhelming or seem “unacceptable” to us, so we need to protect ourselves from them. This can be a positive thing in moderation. If we felt everything at full intensity all the time, we would be frayed and exhausted. Everyone uses emotional defenses as a way of coping and they are not unhealthy unless they are overused. The following are some common emotional defenses:

  • Denial – refusing to acknowledge your feelings
  • Identification – assuming the feelings of someone else you admire
  • Compensation – making up for unacceptable emotions
  • Rationalization – finding excuses for your feelings
  • Projection – attributing your own feelings to another person
  • Daydreaming – fantasizing to escape unpleasant emotions
  • Displacement – taking out emotions on something other than the source
  • Reaction Formation – behaving in a manner opposite of the way you are feeling
  • Regression – reverting to immature behavior to express emotion
  • Sublimation – directing feelings in a useful rather than unacceptable manner

If you feel you may be overusing an emotional defense, it may be helpful to take an honest look at your emotions and practice responding to them in a different way. The key to managing emotions is learning to recognize them, taking the time to explore alternative perspectives and explanations, and coming up with adaptive responses that you can put into action.

If you or someone you love is having trouble managing emotions, talk to a mental health professional. A good therapist can give you some tips and techniques for coping with overwhelming feelings. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy. You can also call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.

For more information on depression and other mental health issues, please visit my website, http://www.kctherapist.com/.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Path Toward Happiness: Help Others, Help Yourself

Researchers have found that one of the key elements of happiness is altruism or kindness to others. It turns out that most human beings get a boost from helping others and doing good things for the world. I have often suggested volunteering as a therapeutic tool for improving mental health; especially with conditions like depression, anxiety, and youth behavior problems.

Idle youngsters can fill their time with activities that help others rather than getting into trouble. At the same time they get a lesson in empathy and gratitude. For those suffering from depression, volunteering can distract from personal troubles, get people out into the fresh air exercising or socializing, and help them feel more productive and valuable. Individuals with anxiety will often feel more willing to push themselves for the sake of others moreso than for their own wellbeing. Doing good works can help anxious individuals confront fears, change perspectives, and provide a needed distraction from worries and concerns.

When I suggest volunteering as a therapeutic activity, many clients ask, "Where do I start?". They feel overwhelmed and constrained by time demands or self-doubts. But volunteer activities can take many forms and can be quite flexible and diverse, so something can usually be found to meet a variety of needs and circumstances. The following are some resources for finding volunteer opportunities that fit most any situation.

The Right Match
When choosing a volunteer activity, it is important to find the right match. VolunteerMatch partners with non-profit and volunteer organizations as well as select business leaders to make it easier for people to find good causes to connect with. Individuals can search using location, keywords, skills, interests or preferred partners with whom they wish to work. VolunteerMatch even offers Virtual Opportunities which have no set location and can usually be completed from home or using the Internet. This site provides tips for getting started in volunteering and contains stories from other volunteers to help inspire you to action.

Pressed for Time

The Extraordinaries website allows you to "micro-volunteer" for your favorite cause in just a few minutes using your cell phone or personal computer. This site allows you to select an organization, choose a do-good mission, and complete your mission all at the touch of a few keys. Some examples of missions include translating a nonprofit's Website into a foreign language, recording locations of potholes for municipalities, identifying birds for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and tagging images for the Smithsonian. They call it "anytime anywhere volunteering" and they even offer their own iphone application. Watch their inspiring YouTube video for more information.

Pay it Forward
The KINDED movement makes random acts of kindness easier to do and happen more frequently
. The site allows you to print out “KINDED cards” that "serve as licenses to do kind acts for people who might otherwise be wary". Each card has a unique code that can be mapped online allowing users to track how far their kindness travels. Their blog offers tips for overcoming the awkwardness of doing something kind for someone who may be suspicious of your motives and ideas for kind acts to perform.

Doing Good Together
All for Good is an open source application that makes it simple to give back to the community and find and share volunteer activities with friends and family. You can search for volunteer acitivities based on your location and interests and track their progress. You can also share your good works with friends and family and see what they are involved in. When I searched my location I found an opportunity to assist a horticultural therapy program with sales and garden upkeep, provide nursing assistance and non-medical services in an acute hospital program, and to help a children's program procure food, clothing and hygiene products, just to name a few.

Volunteerism is getting increased coverage in light of the numerous challenging facing the US in recent times. In order to aid in the nation's recovery, President Obama called upon Americans to make volunteering a way of life. In addition, The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act designated September 11 as a new national day of service. In light of this, the Serve.gov website was created to be an online resource for finding and creating volunteer opportunities in one's community. You can create and register your own community service project and read or share inspiring stories of volunteerism.

What are your volunteering stories and ideas? Has being a volunteer made a difference in your life or in the life of someone you know? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health issues and concerns.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Movies for Navelgazers

Movies that represent major life themes and lessons can inspire us to think more deeply about important issues. They can act as a springboard for discussion and further exploration with friends and family. Here are a few of my favorite movies that depict major life themes.
Forrest Gump

This movie provides a juxtaposition of competing themes. Life is a crapshoot, but we also have a destiny. Karma exists among chaos - kindness is rewarded, but there is also random pain and suffering. Wisdom can be found in the simplest of things. The power of kindness as well as the impact of cruelty really shines through in this movie. Best of all, its a feel good movie that leaves you feeling optimistic about life.

What Dreams May Come

This film is gorgeous with innovative cinematography for its time, but it is also a love story with relationships that endure and conquer. It's an interesting commentary on grief and loss and a reminder that life is fleeting and to appreciate you have. It depicts suicide as a selfish act that spreads destruction like ripples in a pond to everyone around, but also provides hope that no human being is beyond redemption. The meaning of life, love and death is explored all within the context of a movie that leaves you feeling good at the end. If you want to believe in soulmates, this is a good movie to watch.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

This movie is an interesting commentary on human (and not-so-human) behavior. Themes of rejection, abandonment and isolation are central as well as oppression, discrimination, fear and hatred of what is different. The child's undying quest for mother-love, even when its not reciprocated, is exquisitely and painfully portrayed here. And although the mother does a cruel thing, she isn't villianized. This is not a feel good movie and may leave you with a lingering sadness about the darker side of human nature.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is a movie with a complex message about relationships. One might wonder whether to feel hopeful or doomed at the end. Many of us have probably felt like erasing an ex from our memories and it was interesting to watch what might actually happen if we did. It leaves us with so many questions about destiny, free will, and the nature of love. Perhaps the message is "it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all". Not a feel good movie, but thought provoking.

Bastard Out of Carolina

This is an extremely disturbing move and not for sensitive viewers due to stark depictions of poverty and child physical and sexual abuse. It shows the complex forces that allow abuse to surface and escalate, even when others are aware its happening. It shows how a mother might choose not to protect her child and the devastating effects this has on family relationships. It is a story of survival. Viewers may walk away feeling changed and perhaps a little less innocent.

Garden State

This movie depicts how afraid Americans are of strong emotion and how many of us will do almost anything to avoid or escape them. More and more our culture sees emotion as a problem to be fixed. This movie shows the healing power of emotional awareness and expression. It illustrates how meaningless and colorless life can be without emotions and how rich and rewarding it can be when they are acknowledged. The characters are complex and entertaining and you may walk away feeling a little better about life.

Being John Malkovich

This is a movie about walking in the shoes of another person - the closest thing to perfect empathy. But, it turns into a nightmare for some of the characters involved. Issues surrounding gender roles, sexual identity, and privacy are broached. Overall a weird, wonderful film.

About Schmidt

This is a movie that will impact a person in different ways depending on age and station in life. Those in or nearing middle age may find it uncomfortable. Mid-life changes cause Schmidt to review his life and search for meaning. He learns the hard way that the things that were supposed to be important in his life were fleeting or shallow or pointless. His quest for a purpose goes awry, but the movie ends with a message of hope.

I'd love to hear about your favorite "psychologically minded movies". Feel free to send me a comment mentioning the title and describing the major themes. Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health issues and concerns.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Keeping Up with the National Health Reform Debate

As an American health care provider, I have a vested interested in the health care reform debate as it will impact the future state of health care in the US. I am especially concerned about my clients understanding and having a voice in the issues.

Unfortunately, it can be very confusing to try to get a grasp on the various permutations and iterations of the proposals and track their progress. It can also be frustrating to have ideas and opinions, but feel unclear as to how and where to voice them. I am providing the following resources in an effort to help clients and other health care professionals stay abreast of the debate, track progress and voice their opinions.

Summaries
House Committees on Ways And Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor (July 14, 2009) summary of the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act

American Psychological Association Health Care Reform Priorities

Resources
PolitiFact is a Pulitzer prize winning website that can help you check the accuracy of things you hear about the health care reform debate. It "is a project of the St. Petersburg Times to help you find the truth in American politics. Reporters and editors from the Times fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups and rate them on our Truth-O-Meter."

The Kaiser Family Foundation has several resources for following comprehensive health reform efforts available through their gateway page
The government's "Reality Check" website attempts to get the facts straight regarding its views on health care reform.

FactCheck.org
is a nonpartisan, nonprofit "consumer advocate" for voters that monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases.

Track Progress
Track progress, comment on and share H.R.3200 - America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009

Speak Out
The following is a list of key players in the health reform debate and how to contact them.
  • The White House Ph: (202) 456-1111 e-mail
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Ph: (202) 225-4965 e-mail
  • House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio Ph: (202) 225-6205 e-mail
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Ph: (202) 224-3542 e-mail
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Ph: (202) 224-2541 e-mail
  • Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Ph: (202) 225-3976 e-mail
  • Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee Ph: (202) 225-2002 e-mail
  • Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ph: (202) 224-2823 e-mail
  • Sen. Michael Enzi, ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ph: (202) 224-3424 e-mail
  • Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Ph: (202) 224-2651 e-mail
  • Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee Ph: (202) 224-3744 e-mail
  • Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Ph: (202) 225-4365 e-mail
  • Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee: Ph: (202) 225-3561 e-mail
  • Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Ph: (202) 225-2095 e-mail
  • Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., ranking member on the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Ph: (202) 225-4501 e-mail
The Importance of Mental Health Care
Said President Obama at a town-hall meeting in August in Portsmouth, N.H.,"...you know, mental health has always been undervalued in the health insurance market. And what we now know is, is that somebody who has severe depression has a more debilitating and dangerous illness than somebody who's got a broken leg. But a broken leg, nobody argues that's covered. Severe depression, unfortunately, oftentimes isn't even under existing insurance policies. So I think -- I've been a strong believer in mental health parity, recognizing that those are serious illnesses. And I would like to see a mental health component as part of a package that people are covered under, under our plan."

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health issues and concerns.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Positive Parenting

Positive parenting is a way to set expectations, instill values and live together as a family in relative peace while maintaining a resilient and satisfying relationship with your child.

An essential part of a positive parenting is developing a strong foundation of trust, love and respect. It will be difficult to interact with your child effectively without a strong foundation. If you fear you do not yet have this with your child, don't give up hope - its not too late to build one.

Building a Strong Foundation

Showing your love means spending quality time and playing with your child. This is not always easy for parents in a busy world. Quality time involves things your child enjoys and you may have to do some research into their likes and dislikes in order to figure this out. It may be as simple as showing interest in what they are doing at a given moment or as elaborate as spending a special day with them. What your child enjoys will change as they grow and develop, so it is a continuous process of observing and experimentation.

Show your respect through listening to and acknowledging your child’s feelings. When your child comes to you with problems, resist the urge to solve them for him or her. Be careful not to judge. Instead, support them in finding their own solutions. It is also wise to resist the temptation to talk down to your child or lecture them. If you wouldn't talk to a friend the way you talk to your child, then you may want to take a closer look at the words you choose and the tone you take with them.

Earn your child's trust through honesty. Kids learn by observation and can sense parents’ mixed messages. They will learn to mistrust you when they feel you are not being genuine. By the same token, remember you are a role model and like it or not, you lead your children by example. That is why it is important to practice what you preach with your child.

Reward Positive Behavior

Rewarding wanted behavior works better than punishing unwanted behavior because it is motivating and positive. When your child is small, try to catch them doing something good every day and praise them for it. After age 2, you may start to use a simple reward system. Rewards can be anything that is motivating to a child and this will change as the child develops. If you unsure what motivates your child, you can use their preferred behavior to reinforce a new positive behavior. For example, you can reward them with TV time for finishing their homework.

Start by reinforcing actions that come close to the desired behavior and as the child achieves mastery, the criteria for the behavior can be raised and the frequency of the reward can be decreased. A child can start to earn tokens or tickets toward a reward. In this way, they get immediate reinforcement, but the reward comes later after they have demonstrated a number of repetitions or an array of desirable behaviors. You must stay in constant communication with your child about the reward system to make sure it is working correctly and sufficiently motivating to your child.

Do not bribe your child. A bribe is giving a reward before the child performs the wanted behavior or stops the undesired behavior. Rewards are different from bribes in that they are earned and given after they do what you expected of them.

Using Discipline

It is preferable and more enjoyable for all parties to use rewards to reinforce good behavior. Still, there may be times when discipline is needed and it is important to be thoughtful about how it is used.

Set clear and reasonable expectations appropriate for the child’s development. Before age five children are not generally internally motivated to do what is right. Instead, they follow the rules in order to gain approval or to avoid consequences. They need to be taught what is right and what is wrong before they can be expected to make good choices.

If the behavior is unwanted, ignore it whenever possible. If ignoring is out of the question, be specific about the unwanted behavior and why you want it to stop. Don't label the child as messy, bad, lazy, or selfish. Instead, point out the specific behavior and tell them why it is not acceptable to you. Tell your child what they can do instead of the unwanted behavior. Give them choices whenever possible. You can also try to find out what is reinforcing the unwanted behavior and remove it.

Spanking or other physical punishment is not a good option for several reasons:
  • It teaches children to avoid getting caught rather than teaching them to do the right thing
  • It creates fear which works against a foundation of love, trust and respect
  • It teaches children it is ok to use violence to solve problems
  • You could physically harm your child if you’re angry
  • Spanking may be reinforcing to a child who wants attention
Time Out

Time out gets a bad rap because it is often poorly implemented. If you plan to use time out, be sure you fully understand its purpose and how to use it properly or you are bound to be disappointed.

  • Explain time out to the child well before you use it
  • Choose the right location to place your child in time out
  • Do not use time out in anger
  • Place the child in time out for 1 minute for each year of age until about age 10
  • Use a timer
If you’re angry, take your own time out – you need to be calm when using discipline.

Common Discipline Mistakes

Most of the common discipline mistakes involve inconsistencies such as:
  • Being unclear about your expectations or changing the rules without notice
  • Making promises or threats with no follow through
  • Giving in to tantrums or whining
  • Failing to reward appropriate behavior or accidentally rewarding inappropriate behavior
Other discipline mistakes may cause some damage to the parent-child relationship, such as:
  • Forcing a child to apologize, share or cooperate
  • Comparing one child to another or having them compete against each other for rewards
  • Trying to shame or embarrass the child
If you are dissatisfied with your relationship with your child or you are struggling with parenting, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Managing Anger

Anger gets a bad rap, but it is a normal and adaptive human emotion. It occurs when we:
  • feel out of control
  • believe our rights have been violated
  • think we are not getting our wants or needs met
Since anger is a feeling it is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. However, some of our behavioral responses to anger, such as aggressive or impulsive actions, passivity, and passive–aggressive behavior can be problematic. Anger can be an intense and powerful feeling and the reaction to that feeling may be either constructive or destructive.

Destructive effects:
  • Anger can muddle our thinking resulting in impulsive behavior and bad decisions
  • Responding aggressively to anger escalates it
  • Becoming passive or passive-aggressive in response to anger often leads to helplessness and resentment
Constructive effects:
  • Feelings of anger tell us that something is wrong
  • Anger energizes us and builds motivation for action
  • Responding assertively to anger empowers us and helps others understand us

What Causes Anger?

We tend to believe that other people, situations or events make us angry when actually it is our own thoughts or beliefs about people, situations or events that result in anger.

Here is an example of a problematic response to anger:
A driver cuts you off in traffic - you think "What a stupid jerk!" - you drive aggressively endangering yourself and others.

Here is an example of an adaptive or constructive response to anger:
A driver cuts you off in traffic - you think "I've made that mistake before. He probably didn't realize I was here." - you drive reasonably and arrive at your destination safely.

Managing Anger

Effective anger management means becoming more aware of your anger cues and what sets you off, identifying and challenging your angry thoughts before your feelings overwhelm you, and controlling your response to arrive at a better outcome.

Steps to managing your anger.

1. Understand your triggers and cues. Anticipate situations that make you angry and know how your body responds to angry feelings.

2. Identify your angry thoughts. Ask yourself why you are feeling this way and recognize the angry scripts that run through your head.

3. Challenge any problematic or unrealistic thoughts. Ask yourself if you are being reasonable and think of alternative explanations for the situation.

4. Change your response to your feelings of anger. Some options are to leave the situation, take a time out to calm down and think through your response, distract yourself with something positive so you can calm down, talk to someone about it, or ask for a change.

If you or someone you love is struggling with anger issues, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Learning Disability Videos from LD Online

Saturday, April 4, 2009

To Trust or Not to Trust

How do we know when we should trust someone? When our expectations haven't been met or we have been disappointed by someone we trusted, it can be difficult to trust again.

Trust is Adaptive

Human beings are born with the ability to trust because it increases our likelihood of survival. When we are in need, it is often to our advantage to believe that others can assist us and allow them to do so. Trust is openness to experience. People who are open minded and welcome new experiences learn more than people who close themselves off from the world. Trusting someone means that you are suspending judgment of them until you have enough information rather than prejudging them. It means that you are treating them as "innocent until proven guilty". Wouldn't you want to be treated that way?

Like anything good, trust must be used appropriately and in moderation. Too much trust, such as being foolish or naive, can make us vulnerable to danger. It is important for survival that we are able to detect true danger and avoid or eliminate it wherever possible. It would be foolish for a person to treat the ocean like a swimming pool or a lion like a house cat. We all learn through our experiences to detect risk and respond accordingly.

Trust Violations

If you were frequently disappointed or betrayed by important people in your life when you were a child, this might make it harder for you to trust as an adult. However, once you become an adult, you have some control over who you allow in your life and how you are treated. While a child is at the mercy of others, an adult can set boundaries and remove themselves from harmful influences. If you find yourself being disappointed and betrayed repeatedly as an adult, you must take some responsibility by asking yourself what role you are playing and how you can change it. It might be because you are:
  • surrounding yourself with untrustworthy people and ignoring the danger signs
  • maintaining rigid criteria for trustworthiness and over- or under-identifying trust violations
  • failing to communicate your wants and needs and assuming others should just know how to treat you
When You Need to Trust Smarter

1. Be trustworthy yourself.
Edward W. Howe said, "A thief believes everybody steals. " In terms of trust, this means that if you aren't trustworthy yourself, it will be very difficult for you to trust others. You can earn the trust of others by being reliable, living up to reasonable expectations, and following through on responsibilities. We tend to attract people to us who are like us, so if you endeavor to be trustworthy, you are more likely to attract honest people into your life.

2. Understand that you cannot make others trustworthy.
Being trustworthy comes from within and takes commitment. Being suspicious and putting lots of external controls on somebody does not make them honest, it only makes them compliant while they are within your sphere of influence. You cannot monitor anyone 24 hours a day, so if a person is untrustworthy, they are likely to revert to their natural behavior when they are out of your reach.

3. Assert yourself and set boundaries.
Communicate your wants and needs so that others know what you expect of them and how you like to be treated. Ask for clarification when you are uncertain and tell them when they have hurt you. Say "no" when you are not comfortable with something. Allow others to experience the natural consequences of being untrustworthy.

4. Weigh the risks and benefits logically.
Ask yourself what you stand to gain by making yourself more open to others and what the true dangers are of making yourself vulnerable. Research has shown that good social relationships are related to increased life satisfaction, better health and longevity. How many rejections and disappointments would be worth ultimately feeling happier, being healthier, and living longer? While rejection and disappointment are unpleasant, in and of themselves they will not maim or kill you. However, if despite the evidence, you repeatedly make yourself vulnerable to people who abuse you and hold you back from reaching your potential, then you are being foolish and exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.

5. Recognize that you cannot avoid all danger
Even the most cautious and wise individual will be disappointed or betrayed by others sometimes. Shakespeare said, "The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief" and "The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is, to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company." The first statement reminds us when we give someone our trust and assume they are "innocent until proven guilty", and that person betrays us, this is not a reflection on us, but a reflection on the other person. It is good information that allows us to make better choices about our relationship with that person. The second quotation reminds us that it is better to know early on whether or not someone is trustworthy. When we give people lots of opportunities to demonstrate their trustworthiness rather than putting many external controls on them, we come to know their true character.

To Trust or Not to Trust?

Although the decision to trust should be largely based on observation and an examination of the evidence, it is also based on emotion and ultimately requires a "leap of faith". Since none of us can read minds or see the future, there are no guarantees whether or not someone will be trustworthy or betray us. Only you can decide whether giving someone your trust is worth the risk.

If you or someone you love is struggling with trust issues, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recipe for Happiness?

Psychologists have been taking a growing interest in measuring happiness over the last decade. In retrospect, this seems to be a no brainer, but it is a fairly new approach for professionals who were historically more accustomed to focusing on life's problems in order to help people thrive.

Happiness is a subjective emotion involving sensations like pleasure and satisfaction, contentment, serenity, comfort, meaningfulness, optimism and hope. We do not yet know what causes it, but research has discovered that there are a number of things that are highly correlated with happiness.

One thing we have discovered is that happier people live longer. We have also discovered people with supportive relationships such as a spouse, friendships and family tend to be happier. Another important element is having meaning in life and goals to pursue.

We have also discovered what is not highly correlated with happiness - wealth. As long as basic needs like food, water, shelter and safety are met, more money does not appear to equal more happiness. This has long been the lore, but now we have data to back it up.

Fortunately, research has discovered that happiness can be increased and is not purely bound by our personalities or genetics. University of California, Riverside, psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD used the analogy of a successful diet. It takes focused effort and commitment to a lifestyle change to create sustainable happiness (Monitor on Psychology, April 2008, Volume 39, No. 4).
So what are some of the likely elements of a "happiness diet"?
  • Gratitude - being thankful for what you have
  • Altruism and kindness - helping others
  • Forgiveness - letting go of anger and blame
  • Optimism - focusing on the positive and fostering hope
  • Love & affiliation - have a loving partner, friends and/or family
  • Esteem - not comparing yourself to others
  • Self-actualization – setting reasonable goals and pursuing your potential
  • Finding meaning - discovering what motivates and inspires you, exploring your faith
Dr. Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness Website offers scientifically studied questionnaires measuring life satisfaction, love, personal strengths and happiness. A mental health professional or life coach may be helpful in assisting individuals toward their happiness goals. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Active Listening: The Perfect Gift

Looking for the perfect gift for someone special? Why not consider a gift that is precious and rare, appropriate for and appreciated by most people of any gender or age, shows you really care, and is absolutely FREE? Active listening is that sort of gift. Active listening is the type of listening in which the other person feels they have been truly heard and understood. It takes effort, its personal, and most people never have enough of it.

Active listening has many beneficial effects for both the listener and the speaker. It can de-escalate anger, clear up misunderstandings, strengthen relationships, decrease loneliness, focus attention, and enhance memory. Best of all, there are virtually no harmful side effects.

Active Listening Techniques

Passive listening techniques, such as facing the speaker, making eye contact, and restraining yourself from doing other things while the speaker is communicating, all help a speaker feel listened to. However, there are also several active techniques for helping a speaker feel you have truly heard them and understand what they are saying:
  • Paraphrasing is re-stating in your own words what you believe the speaker has said and checking in with them to be sure you got it right.
  • Clarifying is asking questions to make sure you really understood what the speaker was trying to communicate.
  • Empathizing is focusing on the speaker's feelings regarding what they are communicating.
  • Providing feedback means sharing your own thoughts, feelings, and impressions on what the speaker has communicated. It should be immediate, honest, and supportive and even if you disagree, it can be helpful to find at least a kernel of truth in what the other person has said.
Things We Do Instead of Listening

Unfortunately, we have all been guilty of doing other things when we could be listening. Sometimes this is because we are preoccupied or bored and other times this is because we are anxious or uncomfortable with what the speaker is saying. When our attention shifts away from the speaker and back toward ourselves or to something else entirely, the speaker can feel unheard. If you've ever had the experience of hearing someone typing in the background or watching TV while you are talking to them on the phone, you know what this feels like.

Some of the more common barriers to listening include:
  • Comparing one's own experiences to what the speaker is communicating.
  • Reading between the lines, assuming, or second guessing what the speaker "really means" rather than taking them at face value.
  • Formulating and rehearsing your response to the speaker.
  • Listening only to parts of the message (the parts that stand out to you) while ignoring other parts. One example is focusing on the aspects that you disagree with and arguing and debating about them.
  • Assigning value to what the speaker is saying (right or wrong, good or bad), rather than really trying to understand where they are coming from.
  • Daydreaming when something the speaker says triggers a tangential thought or memory.
  • Taking everything the speaker says and referring it back to your own experiences.
  • Offering advice on how the speaker can “solve” their problem rather than helping the speaker to feel understood.
  • Being right. Sometimes we get into the trap of needing to be right rather than really listening to the speaker's message.
  • Changing the subject or making a joke.
  • Reassuring or placating the speaker instead of becoming fully engaged in listening.
If an important relationship is struggling, try using active listening and see if you notice any beneficial effects. A good book to read about listening (on which much of this article is based) is McKay, Davis, & Fanning's Messages: The Communication Skills Book by New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.
Mental health professionals are trained to help people communicate more effectively and may be of assistance in improving listening skills. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Frustration and Patience

You are very hungry, but you can't get the lid off of the jar. You are running late and your keys are nowhere to be found. Your jaw tightens and you look up at the ceiling as that familiar and exasperating feeling comes over you - you are experiencing frustration.

Frustration occurs when we are trying to accomplish something, but our efforts are thwarted or our resources are insufficient for reaching our goal. The barriers may be external (such as a traffic jam or noise when you are trying to sleep) or internal (like unrealistic expectations or lack of skills), but the feelings are always unpleasant.

Frustration tolerance falls on a continuum from low to high. People who are prone to frustration tend to want or expect immediate gratification. Even minor delays and complications may cause great discomfort. Excessive or prolonged frustration can lead to passive-aggressive behavior, procrastination, prioritizing short-term rewards over longer term gains, and even anger and aggression. A small amount of frustration can be helpful if it ultimately leads to acceptance or increases motivation.

Patience is the ability to endure delay, obstacles or provocation without annoyance or anger. Patient individuals persevere calmly when faced with difficulties. Buddhist teachings tell us that patience is the antidote to anger and aggression.

Increasing Frustration Tolerance

  • Learn to be patient with yourself so that you can also be patient with others
  • Know your frustration warning signs and take action before losing your cool
  • Learn techniques for relaxing and calming yourself
  • Look at what you are thinking about the situation and challenge any faulty thoughts (ie. change your expectations, accept your limitations)
  • Build your endurance by starting small and working toward greater levels of patience
  • If something is frustrating you, take a break and come back to it later
  • Slow down, break the problem into smaller pieces, and approach it one piece at a time
  • Take an entirely different path toward your goal

If you or someone you love is struggling with low frustration tolerance, it may be helpful to consult with a mental health professional to learn more effective ways of managing this emotion. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.

Please also visit my website http://www.kctherapist.com/ for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health concerns.