Category Archives: Psychology

Should you always play it ‘safe’?

You may have heard the terms before “safe space” and “brave space.” The two have long been debated over—which space is the better place to be?

Being in a safe space means a place that is free of judgment, it is comfortable, and happy and free. It is a place where you can be you without any fear, or retaliation. You can speak your mind or act in any way you want. Being in a safe space might sound amazing. For some, it probably sounds awesome. I mean who doesn’t want to be comfortable all the time. Who wants to feel judgment? But being “safe” all the time has its downfalls. 

Growing as a person

Always being “safe” means never growing as a person. It means not expanding your views. It means not learning how to be a stronger person.  A brave space is a place where you are forced to step out of your comfort zone, to stand up for your beliefs, to have conversations. When you are brave you are taking chances, and learning to trust in yourself. Being brave gives you the opportunities to learn from mistakes, to open your mind. It is a good thing. It is these life experiences that turn us into passionate, kind, strong, humble people. It is these experiences that teach us who we really are deep on the inside. Conquering the things we fear gives us confidence, and shows us that we can persevere in the face of adversity. 

If we always play it safe, we are living a stagnant life. Playing it safe is boring, it is uneventful.  

That is not to say that we should always be forced into brave space. Sometimes it is good to not have to worry, to feel safe to be who we are free of judgment, to be as comfortable as we can be. But, I discourage clients from always being safe. You need to be brave sometimes, you need to challenge your inner-being. The magic happens when you step out of your comfort zone. 

I saw a quote once that said, “You go through the wars to become a warrior.”

Don’t hide who you are, rather peel off the coverups and let yourself shine. Show yourself that inner-strength that you never knew you had until you had to use it. We are all much stronger than we know. You are too beautiful and life is too short to always be comfortable. 

Connecting with loved ones at bedtime: It is good for your health

A healthy bedtime routine with the people we love can be a smart way to close off the day. To let go of stress, and rest peacefully.

Whether it is cuddles with a child, a bedtime kiss, laughing and talking with a spouse, feeling physically or emotionally connected to those we love can decrease cortisone levels and stress-related health risks. It is a routine that everyone in the home can look forward to, and it is a nice way to put some finality into the day…to know you are not alone in this busy life, and tomorrow is a new day. 

A psychological scientist at Wayne State University explored the link between cortisol levels—also known as the stress hormone—and physical health. Cortisol is present in nearly every cell of the body, impacting learning, memory, and emotion. It also helps to regulate the immune system. The scientist Richard Slatcher found the more connected to their relationships people felt, the healthier cortisol levels they had. 

A Healthy Bedtime Routine

Some ideas for a healthy bedtime routine may include:

1.) Exchanging “I love you’s.” This is a good habit to get into because as much as we feel we don’t need to always say it, it helps to hear it and know your children or spouse mean it. It is healthy for everyone. 

2.) Go to bed at the same time as your spouse. This provides time to reconnect, even if only for a few minutes. It is time where it is just the two of you. Even if it is a few exchanges about your day or some more intimate cuddle time, maybe a laugh or two, it is a good healthy habit and keeps you both on the same page. 

3.)Unplug. Bed is not the place for your phone or laptop. Leave that stuff at the door. This is time for your marriage, for your children. 

4.) Prioritize getting a good nights rest. Try to go to bed at an early enough time to get ample sleep. Better sleep means better mental and physical health, and better handling of stressful situations. 

5.) Don’t try to settle arguments. The old saying “don’t go to bed angry” is not always true. Not everything has to be fixed before getting some shut-eye. In some cases, it can be better to get some good rest and then reassess in the morning when you are refreshed and focused. 

6.) Take a few minutes to practice gratitude. Think about one good thing that happened in your day and share it with your spouse or your kids. It will leave the day on a happy note and improve overall mental health. 

Why you should stop asking ‘what’s wrong’

The next time someone is obviously upset or sad try asking them “are you ok?” or “do you want to talk?” Frequently in our culture, we say “is there something wrong?” or “what’s wrong?” And, while it may seem like we are asking the same thing no matter what words we use, the words we use and how our sentence is phrased can have a big impact.

Our minds are very receptive to language. We connect our sadness as “wrong” when we say phrases like “what’s wrong?” Being sad isn’t wrong, we just don’t feel happy and while that is not ideal, it is not wrong to feel upset. This is all part of the Relational Frame Theory (RFT), which is the psychological theory of human language. The theory argues that the building block of human language and understanding is “relating.” Therefore by saying to someone that is sad, “what is wrong?” they — and you— are in turn relating being sad with something wrong. 

Avoiding the ‘freeze up’

Asking “what’s wrong?” tends to make people freeze up and build a wall, and frequently results in a “nothing” response. The phrase itself stigmatizes our feelings, forcing us to only show our “happy” selves. It makes people internalize that the emotions they are feeling are wrong, and in turn, they ask others “what’s wrong?”. It is a never-ending circle. Instead, we should be saying things like “what happened?” , “What’s going on?” , or “How are you feeling?” in a tone that is compassionate and caring. 

While we may think what we say is going in one ear and out the other, it is actually being absorbed in the deepest depths of our brain. Same goes with what we say. By telling ourselves things and saying things to others we are conditioning our brain to think and feel a certain way. We are creating relationships between words and feelings that are not necessarily healthy or true. 

There is no doubt this is complicated stuff but there are lessons for us all here. By thinking about how we word things before we say them and de-conditioning ourselves to these common phrases we can change our mindset as well as that of the people we are interacting with. Words are powerful tools if used correctly.

The loneliness of being a perfectionist

It is hard to be perfect. In fact, it is impossible for everything we do to turn out exactly the way we want it to. It is impossible for everything to be perfect, leading to an immense and overwhelming sense of pressure for a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist means always striving to be the best at everything. To be on the top, at the pinnacle, and it is a very lonely place to be. There are many different kinds and combinations of perfectionists with two of the big ones being: overt and covert. 

Overt vs. Covert

The overt perfectionist has a strong want for order around them at all times. They have anxiety when things get chaotic and tend to want to always be “right.” The overt perfectionist fears failure and therefore won’t try things they might not be good at. They want to do everything they can to not lose control and believe abilities are pre-determined and not able to be developed. (SOURCE: huffingtonpost.com; Smith, A.W. (2013). Overcoming Perfectionism. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.)

The covert perfectionist often hides their perfection actions and thoughts. They have low expectations of those around them and act as if they want to be average or carefree but secretly want to the be the best. The covert perfectionist may choose to underachieve to avoid the pressure or competition with those that might be better at something. (Smith, 2013)

Regardless if you are a covert, overt, or a combination of both, the inner struggle of a perfectionist can be overwhelming. And, it is made even more difficult by the fact that those around us often find it hard to relate. Our peers have difficulty empathizing and understanding the frustration, the NEED to be the best. 

The perfectionist is often told to “get over it,” “no one is perfect,” “try harder next time,” or “it is not a big deal.” The result often leads to more mental stress, to depression, anxiety, and difficulty maintaining relationships. Our society views perfectionism as a positive quality. It leads to success in business and life, but there is a happy medium. There has to be a way to try hard, to work hard, but to also accept and let go when things don’t go as planned. When we study and study and study for the test and there are questions we still are not ready for, we need to accept we tried our very best and maybe next time we will take a different approach. 

If you are one of those people who consistently struggle with the urge to be perfect and to be on top, then it can be helpful to receive help from a mental health professional. Talk to someone who can not only understand why you feel the way you do but to help you with skills to curb these feelings and help you to live a healthier, happier life. Frequently clients also find it helpful to be in support groups, to find people who do know how to empathize with your feelings, to help you know you are not alone. 

Judgment Vs. Feedback: How to tell the difference

We often get upset when people tell us things about ourselves. We get defensive, we hold it in, we let it fester, and internalize our feelings. But, is it always bad? There is a difference between being judged by others and getting constructive feedback.

Feedback is usually given by people who have a positive relationship with you, they care about you—maybe it is your mom telling you to stop letting your child sleep in bed with you. It might feel like a judgment but really it is because she cares for you and your child and wants you to get rest and have a healthy relationship with your spouse. Or maybe a friend doesn’t think your hair looks good a certain way. Maybe he/she is trying to be helpful because they know how beautiful you were with a different style.

Judgment is often unkind

Judgment, on the other hand, is not about caring for one another and is often unkind. It is often people that don’t really know you and are just making statements they have no right making. It is the random person sitting next to at McDonald’s telling you to keep your kid quiet, not because you aren’t trying to care for your kid but because the person is annoyed. It is the man at the grocery store eye-balling you for reprimanding your child because he doesn’t agree with how you handled things, but it is not his business.

Feedback is the stuff we should take a few minutes to think about and if we don’t agree that is fine, but don’t let it eat you up inside. Judgment is the stuff you should let go of because it is not in your best interest and has nothing to do with genuine care for your health or that of your family’s. It is the stuff that is out of place and unnecessary.

Regardless, it is never a healthy habit to hold our emotions in and let them stew over time. That just makes you unhappy, increases stress levels, and doesn’t solve the problem. If you need help distinguishing between feedback and judgment, talk it out. Talk to a friend, a counselor, a family member. Express your feelings, don’t let them eat you up inside.

Teaching our kids healthy compassion

The other day I came across a blog post on the popular parenting website Scary Mommy. The post titled “Why I no longer tell my child to be inclusive and kind” is written by a mom who taught her child to always be inclusive especially to the child that was disruptive, had problems at home and was the child no one else wanted to include. The mother instructed the child to be “compassionate” because you don’t know what other people might be going through. In the end, the mother got a call from the school counselor who informed her that same child that her daughter was trying to have compassion for was now stalking her. The mother, as any mother would be, was upset by this news and decided to no longer tell her child to be all-inclusive. 

As a counselor, this post stopped me in my tracks. It raised some good questions and presented a topic I feel needs to be discussed. Rather than instructing our children to stay away or avoid compassion and empathy for others because of fear that the person might be a danger, or might not be a good person to associate with, we need to practice healthy compassion. 

Healthy Compassion

There is a difference between practicing discernment and boundaries with compassion. Being kind and having compassion for another does not mean letting that person do whatever they want. It does not mean condoning the bad or uncomfortable behavior. There is what we call blind compassion, which establishes no boundaries, and healthy compassion with boundaries. It is important that we teach our children to have an open mind about others and practice compassion because as the mom wrote: “we don’t know what other people are going through.” However, we need to make sure our children learn how to establish healthy boundaries with others. 

Being kind to others does not give them a free pass to walk all over us, or to treat us in ways that make us feel wrong or bad in some way. We can be kind but also let that person know that they can’t treat us that way. Teach your children it is ok to say “no,” and walk away or to tell an adult if an uncomfortable situation is present. Teach your children rules go both ways, it is not ok for them to hit or push or for them to be hit or pushed. These are important life lessons for all.

Finding YOU after pregnancy

You went through the whole nine (really 10) months of pregnancy and were excited, scared, anxious, elated about the new little human entering your life. Now the baby is here and you are consumed with sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and a profound loss of who you once were.

Having a child is a major life change—we all know this—but what can be shocking is that feeling that you don’t recognize yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore. It is important that you reconnect with your old self, embrace your new normal, and not lose sight of what is meaningful to you. Yes, of course, that new bundle of joy is your world and he/she is at the top of the list all day every day but you also need to care for yourself. By failing to take time for you—even if it is a short coffee outing with a friend or a solo trip to the gym—you are hurting yourself. If you don’t take care of you, it is a lot harder to take care of the others in your life.

It is common for moms to feel like that is all they are— “I am a mom, but what
else?” It is the new mom identity crisis and it can be rough. So what can you do to reconnect with yourself after pregnancy?

Reconnecting with YOU

1.) Connect with friends in new ways—Instead of late nights at bars or concerts,
meet your friends for book clubs, coffee dates, or playdates at the park. You need
to continue to have adult conversations and adult time, and support from others
who understand your challenges.

2.) Embrace a hobby—Maybe it is going for a run, hiking, knitting, painting, or writing…whatever it is that makes you feel alive and gives you a sense of accomplishment make time for it. It can be daunting to think about adding another thing to your list, but this stuff is important for you, your happiness, and the happiness of your family.

3.) Don’t compare— You are your own person. It does you no good to compare yourself to others. The mom guilt is there, we all have it but it is not necessary. You need to care for yourself, and you should not feel guilty that you are doing something for you rather than staring at your sleeping child for hours on end. It just hurts your soul.

4.) Ask for help — Don’t be afraid to ask a grandparent or a friend, or hire a part-time babysitter so you aren’t doing it all, all the time. If you are feeling like you could really use an hour away then take it. Losing your cool and your sanity isn’t going to be helpful for you or baby.

5.) Take care of you—Find time for that shower, or to get that haircut. Take naps when you are tired. Forget about the laundry, it will get done eventually. Take a deep breath. You will get through.

If you are struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed, depressed, sad, alone, or you just feel like you could use someone to talk to seek out a qualified counselor. And, know you will find yourself again.

Guilt & Shame: Whose Life is it Anyway?

Guilt, we all know that deep-down gut feeling and some of us know it all too well. We feel it all the time. About everything. But why? What real reason do we have to condemn ourselves to such feelings all the time? It is draining and it makes our life events less enjoyable. 

Clients come to me all the time telling me they feel guilty for taking a break, for actually using the vacation time given to them, and for choosing to stay at home when feeling sick or drained. I always ask them, what does that guilty voice say? Whose voice is it? And, whose life are you living? Is this your life, or the voice of life’s past?

Why do we feel guilty all the time?

1.)We want people to like us. We are people-pleasers.

2.)We are focusing on the “shoulds”— the stuff we tell ourselves we should be doing. We should be cleaning the house. We should be folding the laundry. We are comparing ourselves to what we think other people are doing with their time, instead of caring for ourselves.

3.)Perfectionism—we have a fear of letting people down, of not allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

4.)Childhood conditioning—we were taught as children to always put people first and to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like we are failing to live up to the expectations of others.

5.)Manipulation—we are susceptible to having our buttons pushed by other people. You are exhausted and desperately need a break, yet when your boss calls you to come in two hours early to work on a project you do it. 

Next time you feel guilty over caring for yourself, take a breath and think about that voice in your head. What do you really think of what it is saying? What would you say to someone else in your situation? This will help you to live by your own standards, rather than someone else’s.

You must take care of yourself before you can fully take care of you. If you find it difficult to care for yourself without feelings of guilt, then it may be time to seek out a licensed professional counselor to help. After all we are here in this world to live it, to enjoy it, and to enjoy those around us. If we are constantly consumed by feelings of guilt or shame for doing things that make us happy, then we can’t fully live. 

Are you really being ‘fake’?

Clients tell me all the time that they feel “fake.” They are not their “true selves” when they are at work or with certain groups of people. But, is that really being fake? I often ask my clients ‘what are they pretending?’ And, then I ask them to consider if it is possible to be an authentic person but be different in different contexts of life? 

Having an authentic voice in different environments is a flexible, adaptive personality trait. It is a desirable and positive skill to have as a person, and some people struggle their whole lives to attain such a skill. We are made up of many different parts that together make our whole selves. Just because we might act differently in different environments doesn’t mean we aren’t being true, we are just acting on that part of our personality at that time. Think of ourselves as being onions with many different layers. We are not two-dimensional. 

Maintaining strong relationships

Being able to adapt your behavior, improves your ability to make and maintain strong relationships with people. I think we can all agree that in many cases we should be different people at work than at home. There are things that we do or say or wear, in the comfort of our home, or with friends, that would not be acceptable in a place of business. There are also different groups of friends or family that we may act differently around, for example, you are probably going to be different with your grandma than your college roommate. That doesn’t mean you are being fake. 

The traits that make up our true selves, tend to be the moral ones—the qualities of ourselves that lie deep down.  The traits that have been ingrained in us since we were children—be kind, be truthful, don’t hurt another, don’t steal, etc. Those traits stay consistent across all situations. Those are the core of the onion. 

So, next time you fear you are being fake, take a minute to think about what you are pretending? Are you really trying to be someone else? Or are you just a different genuine version of yourself? 

When your wife “doesn’t love you anymore”…

We get it. It is earth shattering when your wife tells you something is wrong with your marriage. You might have thought everything was good and bam! You are blind-sighted. 

Rome doesn’t take one day to build. Things may have lost connection long before you noticed. Somewhere along the way, things got lost, and your wife doesn’t feel like she wants to—or can—open up to you. Resentment may have built along the way. Maybe you were too busy to notice she was acting different, more distant from you. 

Repairing what is broken

Take a deep breath, and consider these five tips:

1.)Don’t try to fix it. Fixing it is more about your own anxiety about what is happening with your spouse than your relationship with your spouse. Listen.

2.)Stop being defensive. Both parties had a role in the unfolding of this relationship. This is not one-sided and it does not help anything to think or act like it is. Accept and understand there are things both of you need to improve if you want to make this work. 

3.) Don’t ambush her. Every time you see her in the hallway or the kitchen don’t turn it into an in-depth conversation about the state of your relationship. It is no doubt a stressful time but there is a time and a place to talk. Find a time when you are both ready to sit down, and not feel pressured or rushed. Don’t make it constant.

4.)Don’t expect, or try, to jump right into the lovey-dovey stuff like before. Try for liking each other first. Things are not going to go from 0-60 in an instant. This stuff takes time. Instead take it slow.

5.) Don’t try to dig out alone. A qualified couples counselor can help you through it. A counseling office can provide neutral territory and a counselor can make sure the right questions are being asked. 

This is a difficult time, but marriage isn’t supposed to be easy. This stuff takes work and effort from both parties. Take the time. Talk. Listen. Open your mind to understanding. Come up with a plan. Call a qualified counselor, such as Women’s Therapy Institute where we can help.