Monday, May 18, 2015

The Healing Power of Optimism

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ~Oscar Wilde
Optimism during difficult and challenging times can feel impossible.  Losing a job, a relationships that mattered to us, going through a divorce or a devastating life event can all bring up feelings of failure leaving you disappointed, demoralized and shaken to the core.  No matter how many times you hear that you'll be fine or that time will heal your wounds, the responsibility to set yourself free from the emotional ties to pain lies in you.  A big part of healing is how we perceive what happened and how that impacts how we see ourselves.

Guy Winch, Ph.D talks about wounds that are inflicted when we perceive we have failed at something, contributing to the challenges of seeing the glass "half-full":

"Failure makes our goals seem tougher and impacts our unconscious perceptions such that our goals seem further and more out of reach.  This then makes our abilities seem weaker.  Not only do our goals seem harder to reach but we see ourselves as less capable of reaching.  Our motivation is then impacted negatively because we fear that once again, we will be unsuccessful.  Think about the last bad relationship you got out of and telling yourself, "I won't do that again." We can become risk avoidant, meaning we stop taking risks, emotional or otherwise."

Change Your Perspective

Changing the lens we see the world through after a hardship isn't easy.  Memories, triggers, and feelings of self-defeat can permeate our thinking.  Dr. Winch offers ways to begin taking back control of our perspective and learning to be optimistic, in spite of any prevailing circumstance:

  • Fight the distortions and recognize that failure distorts your perceptions about the situation and your capacity to address it.  Don't buy into thinking you are incapable.  Adopt a mindset of persistence and optimism and refuse to give up!
  • Revive your self-worth - remind yourself of your strength.  You have greatness within you!  If you can't remember what your great qualities are, ask a friend or family to help you.
  • What does success mean to you?  In a relationship?  In your next job?  Reconnect with the reasons you are motivated in the first place.  What are the good things that make you passionate about that endeavor?
  • Be willing to take a risk, and many of them.  No matter what you have gone through, who has hurt or left you, or the personal losses that seem insurmountable, you will always have to take risks in life.  We gain resiliency when we learn to get back up after falling down.  Is there a different way you can approach it?  What can you do differently this time?
  • Get creative.  Creativity stimulates the brain in unique ways increasing feelings of well-being and self-confidence.  Remind yourself of the things you do well and then, go do them!  
  • Let go of what you cannot control - you won't win!  Focus your efforts on being more prepared next time and putting in the effort needed to be successful.  How can you invest yourself better?  
  • Reframe the failure as a single incident.  Avoid falling into the "this always happens to me" trap that leads to chronic pessimism.  Think about how it could be different next time and how you will meet a similar challenge again.  

"What we choose to embrace will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.  And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”  ~ Howard Zinn

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Words of Wisdom by Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep's Words of Wisdom...

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. 

I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. 

I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. 

I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. 

I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. 

Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.” 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Patterns in Relationships: 10 Rules for Friendly Fighting

Being in a healthy relationship requires understanding a few things: 1) You're not always going to get along (that's the stuff fantasies are made of) and 2) dealing with differences of opinion, styles of communication and learning how to "fight fair" are essential.

Let's face it - no two people think exactly alike.  Given that, your communication in a relationship will always require work.  Show up expecting something different and you will be sorely disappointed.  Most relationships in fact, fall into two categories:  Highly conflictual, or conflict-avoidant.  Which one are you in?  Do simple discussions easily turn into huge arguments?  Does talking to your partner drive them off into another room or behind a computer?  Do conversations ignite you or scare you?

In a healthy relationship you have to be able to agree and disagree, talk about what matters to you most without being judged, share your feelings while feeling safe to do so, and be able to take constructive criticism.  Someone who loves you should be able to tell you about yourself without it feeling like an insult.  When someone respects you, (and you respect yourself) you can take criticism and communicate about disagreements without feeling attacked and thus going on the defensive.  

Robert Solley, Ph.D. says that "High-conflict couples typically attack each other with “criticism and commanding, sarcastic comments.” Similarly, conflict-avoidant couples also may go on the offensive but then withdraw, or they may withdraw all the time."  So how do we learn to create connection from disconnected dialogue?

For starters, Dr. Solley recommends couples become in tune with their own vulnerable emotions such as sadness and fear and learn to articulate those feelings to their partners. In other words, say how you feel (the vulnerable part) while using "I feel" statements followed by an emotion and keeping the statement mostly about you.


I feel (emotion) when or because I (something mostly about you, not what they did to you).
I feel scared because I have a difficult time trusting people.  


You make me sick!  I can't trust you!  You are pointless!  We just have different opinions and that's it!

Below are 10 rules for friendly fighting by Maria Hartwell Walker, a licensed psychologist and writer.  She proposes that friendly fighting can actually strengthen your marriage instead of harm it.   

Ten rules for friendly fighting: 
  1. Embrace conflict. There is no need to fear it. Conflict is normal, even healthy. Differences between you mean that there are things you can learn from each other. Often conflict shows us where we can or need to grow.
  2. Go after the issue, not each other. Friendly fighting sticks with the issue. Neither party resorts to name calling or character assassination. It’s enough to deal with the problem without adding the new problem of hurting each other’s feelings.
  3. Listen respectfully. When people feel strongly about something, it’s only fair to hear them out. Respectful listening means acknowledging their feelings, either verbally or through focused attention. It means never telling someone that he or she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It means saving your point of view until after you’ve let the other person know you understand that they feel intensely about the subject, even if you don’t quite get it.
  4. Talk softly. The louder someone yells, the less likely they are to be heard. Even if your partner yells, there’s no need to yell back. Taking the volume down makes it possible for people to start focusing on the issues instead of reacting to the noise.
  5. Get curious, not defensive. Defending yourself, whether by vehemently protesting your innocence or rightness or by turning the tables and attacking, escalates the fight. Instead of upping the ante, ask for more information, details, and examples. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint. When you meet a complaint with curiosity, you make room for understanding.
  6. Ask for specifics. Global statements that include the words “always” and “never” almost always get you nowhere and never are true. When your partner has complaints, ask to move from global comments of exasperation to specific examples so you can understand exactly what he or she is talking about. When you have complaints, do your best to give your partner examples to work with.
  7. Find points of agreement. There almost always are parts of a conflict that can be points of agreement. Finding common ground, even if it’s agreeing that there is a problem, is an important start to finding a common solution.
  8. Look for options. Fighting ends when cooperation begins. Asking politely for suggestions or alternatives invites collaboration. Careful consideration of options shows respect. Offering alternatives of your own shows that you also are willing to try something new.
  9. Make concessions. Small concessions can turn the situation around. If you give a little, it makes room for the other person to make concessions too. Small concessions lead to larger compromises. Compromise doesn’t have to mean that you’re meeting each other exactly 50-50. Sometimes it’s a 60-40 or even 80-20 agreement. This isn’t about scorekeeping. It’s about finding a solution that is workable for both of you.
  10. Make peace. An elderly friend who has been married for 68 years tells me that she and her husband made a rule on their wedding day never to go to bed angry. They agreed from the outset that the relationship is more important than winning arguments. Sometimes this meant they stayed up very, very late until they came to a workable compromise. Sometimes it meant that one or the other of them decided the issue wasn’t really important enough to lose sleep over. Since they both value the marriage, neither one gave in or gave up most of the time. When one did give in or give up, the other showed appreciation and made a peace offering of his or her own. These folks still love each other after 68 years of the inevitable conflicts that come with living with another person. They are probably onto something.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2008). 10 Rules for Friendly Fighting for Couples. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2014, from

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Patterns In Relationships Part 16: Affection, Belonging & Emotional Support

"Hatred is better than Love concealed." ~ Proverbs

Affection is a basic need necessary for the healthy survival of all humans – note the word “healthy.”  As children and infants we can think of it as something we are dependent on from our caregivers in the same way we rely on them for food and shelter.  These needs are dependent because as infants we can’t meet the need ourselves.  When we get older we learn that we can provide some of the needs ourselves, such as learning to comfort ourselves through a tough time, and the ability to feed, clothe and provide shelter for ourselves.  But even as adults we still rely on others to fulfill certain needs that help us continue to grow, feel visible in the world and give our existence purpose and meaning. 

Companionship and belonging are typically met in a relationship but usually start in a family system.  In this dynamic and interaction we learn reciprocity, interaction skills and how to relate to others.  There is a sense of stability that is derived from knowing you belong and are wanted, needed and important to someone. When a strong sense of belonging is present in a relationship people are able to share their lives, struggles, challenges, hopes and disappointments while feeling held and cared for under the umbrella of stability.  Trust develops from the security of belonging that one gets from a healthy relationship.

Affection is a verbal and physical component to any relationship and a necessary one.  Those who grow up without it usually struggle to give it and/or understanding it’s importance and may have partners that find themselves emotionally abandoned.  In a healthy relationship affections shows up in positive affirmations for a partner, frequent hugs, the ability to have sexual intimacy (not just sex), and sharing of compliments.  All of the above reinforce our basic needs as humans to feel loved and cared for.   Statistics have shown that acts of kindness alone, such as providing shelter or food or basic necessities do not take the place psychologically for the giving or receiving of love and affection. 

Kory Floyd is an associate professor at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication devoting his career to studying affectionate communication.  One of his research studies focuses on how affection affects our health.  "Being affectionate is good for you," Floyd says. "Affection can be a simple, non-pharmaceutical, cheap way to reduce stress."  He also found that there are direct associations between being affectionate and the reduction of depression and stress.  “Highly affectionate people have better mental health and less stress. They also react to stress better," he says.

Emotional Support and Validation
Although most adults are capable of supporting themselves emotionally, it is equally important for healthy growth to receive it externally from our relationships.  Having emotional support from trusted friends, our partner or family reinforces that we are not alone in the world and that others will be there for us during difficult times, to cheer us on through our challenging moments as well as our triumphs and successes.   Validation boosts our confidence and encourages us to best our best which impacts overall emotional health in a positive way.  Validation also lets us know that we are “seen” in the eyes of our partner.

When It’s a Struggle
For some, meeting the basic relationship needs of their partner is a struggle.  It may feel unnatural to be affectionate.  Based on how you grew up, you may find it difficult to even reach out and hug your partner, or share your feelings with them.  Broken trust may play a larger role in your day-to-day interactions with others and may override your need for the love and care that most people instinctively yearn for.  What are the signs that you may need to work on bringing these basic relationship components back into play so that your relationship can survive?  Here are a few:

Little or No Touch Between You
Touch is the most powerful form of non-verbal communication that feeds emotional intimacy and demonstrates affection. Research shows that infants and children who lack physical stimulation fail to thrive and this doesn’t end once you become an adult. Touching infuses life into your relationship and reinforces trust between two people.  Touching stimulates your autonomic nervous system and wakens our physiology while creating a connection that serves as a bridge between you and your partner bringing you closer together.

Lack of mutual gratitude
Showing gratitude makes your partner feel cared for and appreciated. The positive impact of mutual, verbal expressions of gratitude on your relationship has a major impact. Gratitude is an expression of love and caring that strengthens your relationship.  How will your partner know that you appreciate all the ways that they show up in your life if you don’t tell them?

Mundane Communication/Superficial Talk
It’s easy to intellectualize the mundane interactions we deal with in life - who went to the bank, what happened at work, who left the lights on, what’s happening in the news, the latest thing you want to buy.  But if all your communication is about the practicalities of life and it’s various stresses you miss out on having deeper connection with your partner.  Couples in a healthy relationship are also able to share their feelings for each other, their desires, viewpoints on the relationship and the meaning the partner has in their lives. This is an important component to having intimacy and being able to share yourself with another in a deep and meaningful way shows you are capable of being vulnerable and trust that your partner can hold you in this space.

There’s No One On the Playground
Playfulness goes hand-in-hand with affection by its very nature.  Think of a father that picks up his son to tickle him.  There is laughter present, but there is also bonding that takes place in this interaction.  A relationship without playfulness feels like an empty swing set on a playground or the equivalent of a business meeting.  We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and at life to combat the seriousness that can turn a relationship that is trying blossom into an empty playground that no one wants to play in.

Affection, Belonging and Emotional Support are important and integral to any loving relationship and necessary for maintaining a healthy one.  Ongoing displays of affection feed your relationship the way healthy food fuels your body and makes our bond with another person stronger.  If your feel isolated from your partner and the connection you used to share, look at the ways you can infuse your basic relationship needs with new life!  Be well in your journey!


How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo

Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montegu

From Fear to Love: Overcoming the Barriers to Healthy Relationships by Raymond Kane

Monday, March 4, 2013

Patterns in Relationships Part 15: Say What You Mean

I was thinking recently about how social media has changed communication and our ability to not only talk to one another but to listen.  A couple I recently sat with was struggling with communication.  Every time a decision had to be made, they argued, had differing opinions they couldn’t get around and found it difficult to understand why they couldn’t just talk about it instead of fighting.  The fighting created distance between them, hurt feelings, and brought them into therapy on the brink of filing for divorce.  At one point, one of the partners expressed how he wished he could talk to his wife like he did to his computer, because the computer always did what he said.  He felt that if a computer could understand him, why couldn’t his wife?  This may seem silly to you, but it highlighted how far we’ve come in the communication spectrum where we have an easier time communicating on the internet than we do with our partners.  This goes for all relationships, friendships, partnerships and anything that involves two people listening to each other.

One of the biggest impasses to communication is not saying what is on your mind.  When couples come in for counseling, one of the foundations I ask for is that couples agree to say what they are feeling and not hold back, with the agreement that all opinions and feelings are to be listened to with respect.  All communication starts with saying what is on your mind.  When you hold back, stay silent and don’t speak to what you are really thinking you might as well show up to a tennis match with a broken racquet.   What resolution can you expect if you aren’t prepared to serve up your opinion or words?

Stop Dancing and Start Talking

Good communication starts with saying what you feel.  Many people struggle with this tremendously for fear that their words will fall on deaf ears, that they will be misunderstood based on prior conversations, or that they will be put on the defense for expressing themselves.  In many instances, they are right.  It’s difficult to have conversation with someone who is easily annoyed, jumps to conclusions about what you’re saying, isn’t really listening to what you’re saying or is dismissive of your thoughts.  Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. says this lack of communication and “toxic” negativity in dialogue can eventually destroy the love two people share.  So how do we begin to repair and improve communication?

In her book, “The Power of Two Workbook: Communication Skills for a Strong & Loving Marriage,” Susan Heitler and Abigail Hirsch suggest that the best way to get started is to “simply speak up, talk in positive terms instead of negative ones and to speak with requests rather than demands. “  She also encourages people to “stop hinting and hoping” and just start saying it.  Heitler points out that “hoping someone gets what you are saying is an alternative route to speaking up, and is silent wishful thinking.”  It also means that you are relying on someone to read your mind, read between the lines, and hopefully understand what it is that you want to say or what it is that you want.  Hinting is like dancing around the edges of the dance floor without ever getting on it.  You know you have something to say, but instead of saying it, you throw out a hint.  “I have so much on me right now, I wish I had some help,” is different than, “I feel so overwhelmed with my job and taking care of the kids, I really need you to help me out with them three days a week so I can get a break.”  See the difference?

If you are committed to your current relationship, or single and looking to make changes in yourself for your next relationship, effective communication has to be part of the foundation in order for you to be successful in it.  

Learning effective communication is no different than learning another language or skill - it only requires practice, a willing attitude and having the right tools to get you there.

What steps can you take today to say what it is you really want to say?  What small steps could you take to authentically voice your thoughts about something important to you? 


Jeffrey Bernstein, “WhyCan't You Read My Mind? Overcoming the 9 Toxic Thought Patterns that Get in theWay of a Loving Relationship