How is talking about my problem going to help? 10 reasons why it is better than not talking at all.

1. Talking about issues forces us to put them into words and thus can focus the mind on important details of the problem. This works very well in all circumstances, but especially if you have trouble concentrating your attention or if your thoughts and feelings about the issue feel like they are all jumbled together. Talking about thoughts and feelings helps bring more clarity to the situation and may be of significant help in coming up with possible solutions.

2. Telling the story to someone else, instead of just telling it to yourself over and over (also known as ruminating), helps you sort out what is often a confused mix of thoughts, emotions, opportunities and challenges. In solving a problem, the first step is to lay out as clearly as possible its dimensions, i.e., its scope, frequency and intensity. Talking about it helps you take this first step much more efficiently.

3. Talking about something that is heavy on our mind help release tension. Most people say that they feel better, and think more clearly, after they’ve had a chance to talk about a bothersome issue. Although just talking about the problem isn’t per se a solution, it is that crucial pre-requisite to finding just the right approach to solving it.

4. Talking is often perceived as an unburdening of the mind. The exploratory process that is inherent to putting things into words not only helps a person understand subtle and often unnoticed emotions, but it also helps in discovering alternative ways to manage strong and often uncomfortable feelings.

5. Talking to someone who’s a good, unbiased listener puts the talker in a position to receive someone’s care, compassion and undivided attention. Any problem is usually made much worse if we feel misundesrtood and uncared for. There are times in which keeping things to one’s self (perhaps motivated by a false need for privacy) may be the worst possible choice.

6. Talking opens up the possibility of receiving some useful advice. It is hard to see things clearly and objectively from within (as in, “not seeing the forest because of all the trees”). Moreover, none of us have all the experience and wisdom needed to address a situation in the most effective way, especially when we are stressed, tired, depressed, or anxious. Talking to someone who’s trained to listen and to counsel may not be the easiest thing to do, but it is almost invariably one of the best choices.

7. Talking and exploring the problem with someone else can help develop ideas and look at all possible strategies and solutions. You’ve heard the saying, “there is nothing new under the sun.” This happens to be true of all things human. Chances are, your problem has been successfully solved by many other people with the same challenges and in the same circumstances. Talking about your particular situation may allow you to take advantage of someone else’s experience.

8. Talking to someone relieves feelings of isolation and aloneness. These feelings are often caused by the very special circumstances or characteristics of the problem itself, which can give us the impression that “nobody would understand it.” This feeling can cause a person to isolate, refuse to address the issue, or resort to alcohol or drugs in an ill-advised attempt to get some relief. Talking is a much safer and more effective solution.

9. Talking about a serious issue with a professional makes you feel better very quickly. The very fact that you’ve taken the steps to make the appointment, go to the counselor’s office, and talk about your situation has an immediate beneficial effect. Most people report “feeling much better” after the very first session of counseling.

10. It’s better than medication alone. Major studies have found an effect size (which is a measure of treatment benefit) of up to 0.97 for talk therapy. For antidepressant medication, the average effect size is 0.31.

Theo Pallake at Stresshacker.com

Top 11 reasons to love yourself

You must love yourself because…

1…you’re the only one you’ve got

You were born, you grew up, you became an adult…and there you are…you!  There’s no escaping the reality of it.  You are the only one in the world who is… you. Your uniqueness, your particular blend of talents, skills, shortcomings, idiosyncrasies, background, and experience is unmatched by anyone else on the planet. Doing something positive with this unique treasure of a life begins by accepting that you are the only one you are and will ever be.

2… it is a prerequisite to loving anyone else

If you are a Christian, and even if you’re not, you may have heard that Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  The key word in that sentence is the shortest word, the word “as.”  It means that unless you know how to love yourself, and are capable of loving yourself, you won’t know how to love anyone else, nor will you be able to.

3… it makes you happier

If you’ve ever wondered how some people just seem to be much happier than others with the way life is, and how they seem to manage their problems and adversities so much better, others have wondered the same thing. This has prompted a significant amount of research on happiness and on what makes it happen, what maintains it, and what it takes to have it.  While there are many factors that contribute to happiness, there is one characteristic of happy people that seems to be there across cultures, times and personalities: happy people do not hate themselves. Instead, they are rather fond of who and how they are, and many actually have a healthy love of self that doesn’t make them arrogant or conceited.

4… it adds to your lifespan

Happy, well-adjusted people seem to prefer lifestyles that add to their longevity rather than detract from it.  Perhaps one important explanation is that they cherish their lives, truly enjoy being with themselves, and are able to form lasting and secure bonds with others.  These are all protective factors that may help explain their longer lifespan.

5… it ensures better physical health

Loving yourself means first doing no harm. To the person who respects the fragility of the body, the need to ensure its optimal functioning, and the precious and irreplaceable gift of good health, harming the self is not even an option. This is why love of self generally leads to good decision-making skills on matters of alcohol and drug use, nutrition, exercise, medication, and risky behaviors. Love of self is also an extremely important component in avoiding major depression, in reducing the impact of stress, and in ensuring better mental health.

6… it agrees with those who love you

Sadly, many people who don’t care very much for themselves often argue with those who care about them. It is not unusual to see people suffering because a loved one insists on maintaining a harmful lifestyle, bad habits, and unhealthy behaviors. To accept someone else’s love, to accept that you are lovable enough for someone else to love you is the greatest joy for those who love you…and for you, too!

7… it helps you get over pain and hurt more quickly

A healthy attitude toward your life’s inevitable challenges comes from a good degree of self-confidence, which helps muster your available resources when the time comes.  Knowing that you can handle a crisis because you believe yourself to be strong, capable and good enough to manage it is the key to reducing the impact of the momentary hurts and pains of life.

8… you can’t be anyone else

Much effort and sorrow may go into trying to be someone you’re not. This effort produces very limited results at best, and at worst it can lead to tragicomic choices.  The reason?  It doesn’t fool anyone into believing that you are actually someone else.  Ultimately, everyone still knows that it is just you, trying to be someone you’re not. And how could it be otherwise?  Think about how much more credible and acceptable to everyone is to be just who you are.

9… it is easier than hating yourself

Hate takes a lot of work. I’ve heard it compared to a cancer that eats away at you from the inside. It is probably something very much like that, at the mental and often even at the physical level. Being unable to forgive yourself for your mistakes, being unable to accept your shortcomings, hating your looks, despising your personality…all this takes an enormous amount of emotional and intellectual energy that could be used towards more productive and enjoyable aims.

10… it makes you look better

When unhappy people are portrayed in movies, plays and novels they invariably are made to look unattractive either in obvious or more subtle ways.  Scriptwriters and authors put something in their demeanor, in their eyes, in their voice, in their mannerisms to indicate that we are seeing someone who is in pain. Self-loathing is visible to others: facial muscles are tense, actions are often contrived or insincere, and stress barely lives under the surface.  Contrast this image with that of someone who has a healthy love of self, and you will see someone who is comfortable with just being and who conveys this sense of comfort to everyone else.

11… it makes you more lovable by others

Who doesn’t love being with someone who can laugh, who can cry, who can be genuinely present?  And who doesn’t dread being with someone who’s always gloomy, depressed, unhappy, or self-critical?  The choice is yours to be one or the other.  Certainly, we all know that positiveness begets positiveness, love begets love, and happiness is truly contagious. Won’t you be that person who is so easy to love because you obviously know how to love yourself?

I need to change… right now!

Many clients who come into my office for help with relationship problems or individual issues are seeking a change of some sort, in themselves or in their situation, and they need the change to occur right now. It is not unusual for someone to come in and expect that one session of counseling, i.e. a conversation that will last about 45 minutes, will be sufficient to solve a serious problem, identify the change that is needed and make it happen right there and then. It is also not unusual for some clients to quit counseling after one or two sessions, because, in their perception, there is no change happening or no immediate resolution.

There are some inescapable, well-documented truths about the process of change. Here are six of them that are worth keeping in mind:

1. Change, of the psychological kind, is a process and not a sudden event. Old habits, bad habits, ingrained patterns, repetitive or automatic behaviors, unconscious beliefs or attitudes are notoriously resistant to change. Even with the best intentions and the best help, it takes time for psychological change to occur–certainly more time than one or two hours of counseling.

2. Change becomes necessary after a dysfunctional pattern that is causing distress and loss of functioning has set it for some time, often for many years and in certain cases since childhood. The dysfunction can be very entrenched: it stands to reason that changing it will require more than good intentions or a brief, superficial effort.

3. We are not always ready for change, even when we think we are, and especially not when someone else says that we are. I see clients who come in at the urging of a significant other, a parent or a friend, who by themselves are not yet motivated to identify the changes that are necessary and, more importantly, are not yet motivated to invest the time and effort that is necessary for the process of change to occur.

4. It takes an average of six to eight weeks to begin to see behavioral changes (i.e. for the individual to begin to act differently) from the time the psychological mofification of underlying beliefs and attitudes is well understood and accepted. This is independent of an individual’s motivation and intention, although when these are positive they facilitate change without necessarily speed it up.

5. All meaningful change has a cost associated with it. Included in the total cost is an investment of time, personal effort, and money. This cost may be seen by some as painful and somehow avoidable, however there is ample evidence in repeated, short-lived, and failed efforts to back up the old adage, “no pain, no gain.”

6. To be worth the cost, a change must be permanent. To be permanent, change must reach deep into the individual’s mind and emotions. To reach deep enough, time and efforts are required. To use the time well and make the effort count, hiring a good, experienced guide is very often necessary.

In a nutshell, to expect something worthwhile to change for a zero investment is a losing proposition. To initiate and sustain change and to be willing to pay the price for it, that’s the stuff winners thrive on.

Stressful Patterns: How Your Attachment Style Can Help or Wreck Your Important Relationships

When it comes to relationships, your attachment style can mean the difference between bliss and torment. But what is your attachment style? Where does it come from? How does it work? To understand the concept of attachment, we must go back to the cradle and to the world which the infant first inhabits. It is a world where primary needs (food, shelter, warmth, cleanliness, security, and human contact) reign paramount. Anytime the infant must experience hunger, disconnect, isolation and pain, a little trauma is the result. When those needs are frequently left unattended, a “primal panic” can be the result, depending on the length and severity of the deprivation. Of these primary needs, the need for closeness with other human beings is the most deeply felt by the child’s mind and spirit and it can be, at times, at least as important if not more important than physical needs. It is not unusual for couples in counseling to express their intolerable distress and deep sorrow about their disconnect from their partner. For example, Jennifer says, “I just can’t seem to reach him. That is why I get so mad. I feel so alone all the time. I can’t bear it.” Or Jeff may say, “She doesn’t even seem interested in talking to me anymore, let alone have sex. All she cares about is the kids. I really don’t have a wife.” These are adult manifestations of the same longing, a cry for help in the face of a painful deprivation of emotional needs for closeness and security.

A secure attachment style results from infancy, childhood and adolescence characterized by positive, attentive, and nurturing care. A secure attachment produces individuals who are well-adjusted, who can form and sustain long-term relationships, and who are not easily defeated by any difficulties that may arise between them and significant others. Far from being overly dependent on others, they can give and take from their relationships with balance and fairness, while remaining strong, confident, and truly themselves. In this sense, a relationship that provides secure attachment can become a safe haven, a secure shelter from life’s storms of anxiety and stress. It also provides a secure base from which to explore, change, play, learn, and grow. Amy says, “Whenever my fear that I may lose my job rears up, I don’t just get angry or overwhelmed. I know that I can always can go to him and get a hug. He is there for me. I can count on him.” A partner’s emotional availability and responsiveness is at the core of establishing secure attachments.

When the infant has the misfortune to experience a caregiver who is frequently absent or unavailable, this intermittent pattern of caring and not caring is traumatic, and produces an insecure attachment style. In time, this translates into a message of rejection, devaluation, scarce importance, as if the caregiver were saying, “Your needs do not matter to me, you are not deserving of my attention, and there is only a fragile connection between us.” When children experience this type of caregiving, their reaction follows a predictable pattern. First, there is distress, crying, and emotional pain, which are the only means available to the infant to get attention. In couples, this would have Marie say, “I cry, even poke him, and poke him again. I know I nag him. Anything to get a rise out of him.” When the frantic attempts to get attention fail, the symptoms of separation distress begin to appear: angry protests, dashed hopes, desperate disappointment, negative cycles of demand and distancing. In children, this can result in acting out behaviors, physical violence toward inanimate objects, highly physical “games” in which the anger of feeling neglected can find its expression. In adult relationships, this insecure attachment may produce angry demands for attention, or the starting of trivial arguments as a way of connecting with the other even if only in a negative way. In time, these cycles of angry pursuit and defensive withdrawal become almost infallible predictors of separation and divorce. Evidence-based research by Gottman has shown that the happiest couples know how to ask for what they need from their partner in a softer, more vulnerable way and they can stay emotionally engaged even when the other partner is temporarily unavailable or distressed. On the other hand, the stonewalling that signals a complete lack of emotional response between the partners almost invariably leads to anger, contempt and then to complete withdrawal.

What can be done to remedy this toxic situation? An understanding of attachment theory and the styles exhibited by each partner is the necessary first step. Understanding alone, however, is not sufficient. Explaining, offering advice and problem solving can only go so far in soothing a partner’s emotional needs. A more indirect approach that offers emotional recognition and contact, one that says, “I am here and I get you. I have your back. Do not be afraid,” is much more likely to be effective. I have heard many spouses complain that their partner is very quick to come up with a fix, when all they want is a loving and caring emotional presence.

Within the two basic attachment styles (secure or insecure), attachment theory further identifies three sub-types of insecure attachment: anxious, avoidant, and fearful/avoidant. In the anxious variant of insecure attachment, individuals become anxiously attached and are constantly worried about the relationship. They are flooded with anxiety and alternate between angry demands and the frantic pursuit of reassurance, which often has the effect of driving their partner farther away. In avoidant attachment, individuals learn (as a defense mechanism) to minimize their emotional needs, to numb their emotions and to focus on others matters, such as work or children. With their partner, they seldom acknowledge their needs and generally do not ask for emotional connection, which often produce anxiety and deprivation in the other partner. Lastly, some individuals exhibit a mixed pattern of behavior that combines anxious pursuit and fearful avoidance of closeness. While this can give a very confusing message to their spouses, “I need you desperately—don’t get near me,” it is quite often evidence of severe childhood, adolescence or adult trauma that was experienced in relationships with significant people. Often, these are individuals who were abused or violated by attachment figures and who are now caught in the painful dilemma of seeking comfort from someone whom they also fear as a dreaded source of danger.

In couples counseling, as well as individual counseling, an exploration of each partner’s attachment style can yield surprisingly accurate results and can help explain relationship difficulties, as well as offer a way forward toward healing and emotional fulfillment.

Don’t let a good crisis go to waste!

hangingonWhen adversity strikes and when it lingers on in our lives, it is easy to think that all of it is just a bad experience and that nothing good can possibly come of it. In fairness, there are situations that look just like that: hopelessly bad. Take for example an important relationship that won’t heal on its own, an otherwise bright child who doesn’t seem to follow the right path, a career that is going nowhere, an income that is simply not enough, or a personal problem that does not seem to get any better. All these are crises, mostly crises of growth whose resolution requires deep changes to be identified and implemented.

Nothing can focus attention more than a crisis staring at us in the face, except that… sometimes we are very good at denying, avoiding, numbing and otherwise doing our best to ignore the problem.  We muddle through, hoping and praying for a magic fix.

Not letting one of these crises fester, linger, and possibly get worse requires courage and faith that a better outcome is possible, even if such positive outcome cannot be discerned right now. Not letting a painful crisis go unattended means having the courage and the resolve to take full advantage of the opportunity (yes, opportunity) that the crisis is presenting to us.

How to turn a crisis into a win

We can do turn a hopeless crisis into a growth opportunity (and thus a win) thanks to several tools that are available to us:

  1. The pain and hurt of the crisis can provide a unique motivation toward change, the type of motivation that is just not there when things are going relatively well. Welcoming the hurt as a means to an end is the first tool.
  2. Discerning the emotional and the rational components of the crisis is the second tool. All crises have a rational side (the facts, the figures, the objective reality of what is happening or not happening) and an emotional side (the mixed feelings, the contradictory emotions, the confusing desires, the fears and hopes we might have). Knowing what is rational and what is irrational is a key to good decision-making.
  3. Identifying what IS must come before deciding what SHOULD BE. A good handle of the situation is the third tool. It is only by knowing what is actually happening, and verifying the accuracy of our information, that we can hope to ascertain what we would like to change. This is a step that cannot be bypassed.
  4. A fourth tool is managing our emotions in situations where the crisis is at its peak: during an argument, when trying to communicate our point of view or understand another’s, when resisting the temptation to shoot from the hip or doing more of what doesn’t work, by controlling anger and despair. Sometime the best course of action is doing less, not more, while working on an effective and perhaps difficult solution.
  5. Switching off the autopilot and taking the controls in our hands is the fifth tool. So many of the daily decisions we make are automatic, out of immediate consciousness. This is not necessarily bad, however when applied to a crisis situation the autopilot can take us but to one pre-programmed destination, i.e. to the pain, the emotion, the helplessness that we’ve felt all along.
  6. Working up options for change is the sixth tool. Here we might want to take advantage of any help that may be available to us: family resources, internet information, the advice of trusted and knowledgeable people, our own experience, the power of prayer. All these can help us work up a set of options from which to choose the best possible course of action.

The moment of truth

When the best option finally materializes in front of us, we may not recognize it right away but it is definitely there. Being open to the possibilities, being flexible in considering all alternatives, being aware of our strengths and weaknesses are key factors that permit us to discern the truth. Additionally, we must have a clearer idea of what is RIGHT in the situation, and not just consider what is easiest, least painful, cheapest, or feels good.

This is when a crisis becomes a win, when it is utilized for growth to its fullest potential: when we finally arrive at the solution, the truth, the change that makes all the difference. There is no greater feeling than to feel the personal power that comes from having considered all options and having made the right decision.