“What Is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me No More.”

The quality of our life is really the quality of our relationships. What am I doing to improve relationships in my life? I mean come on… we somehow think life owes us something but when was the last time you gave your heart? Yeah I get it –you’ve been snubbed. You’re a realist. Your ex walked out on you, your boss chewed you out before you had a time to explain yourself, your family doesn’t get you, and your stepfather is abusive.

But when was the last time I was the difference I wish I saw in the world? What do I really want? Do I want to hide the rest of my life or be seen? This is a serious question. It’s a question we all must ask ourselves. No one gets through life without having ample reason to cower over our fears. But what if this is the purpose of life? To overcome. To proved to ourselves that we are stronger within then the enemy without. To be brave. To love the unlovable.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds; it is consistent desire to choose faith over fear, action over inaction, integrity over dishonesty. A great spiritual leader was well known for his mantra proclaiming, “your future is as bright as your faith.”

And through this refinement process you get to the ability to let go of all barriers and choose your love and love your choice. You develop the ability to love beyond the emotion. This is my friend, is what it’s all about. To fight for your choice is the fruit of life. This is what makes all the pain of life bearable. To have relationships where you can place your soul’s desires in the cherished chambers of someone else’s heart. This is highest privileged of romantic love and this can also be experienced with family and friends.

This is why addictions are so detrimental because the addiction rules our lives and becomes the priority; they rob us of our true and lasting relationships. Why? Relationships thrive when they are placed as number one priority. And addictions deter and muddy this possibility, drive, and vision.

I moved 11 times to 7 different states before high school. And so, almost every year of my childhood I was relocated with my family to a different place. Between different states I moved, and sometimes to multiple times in the same state from Utah, Maryland, Indiana, California, Idaho, Illinois, and Virginia. None of these moves were in the same community, they were always hundreds of miles apart, although sometimes back in the same state due to my father’s schooling and civilian career choices (not military). I was lonely. School was traumatic and another reminder to my insecurities and inadequacies.  I clung to the hope that one day I could find and develop a best friend. And what I’m learning is that is not just one best friend; it’s anyone that has the seed desires to commit and discipline. Real love has a pragmatic and unromantic loyalty and that’s what makes it beautiful. Just like the pursuit of happiness is not a destination but a journey. A relationship with the desire to love beyond painful conditions is the richness of life. Somehow pain is actually needed to fertilize, nurture and grow to produce the fruit of great relationships.

When this is in place you can develop best friends. Below are 10 fruits of best friend qualities:

1.You feel honored to know them. There is this respect, “wow factor” about them.

2. Just seeing then brings a smile to you. You know you’ll laugh with them the moment you make eye contact.

3. Your favorite memories are with them. You have such a reserve of fun memories and you know things are only going to get better. You trust that anything between you will always get resolved; the love is stronger than anything rude you will say and do. And you have clear memories where they were there for you when others would have left and you did the same.

4. They expand your soul and teach you stuff… you’re a better person because of them.

5. You have a healthy motivation to be your best. There’s no fear. You know they are yours because your connection is that special. There’s a sense of loyal security and crazy spontaneity – a real bond of attachment. And you’re willing to give your life for them. That bond, your bond, it is worth more to you than life itself. You would sacrifice anything, and for some reason it doesn’t even seem like a sacrifice. The story of Christ’s suffering on the cross brings you to tears because you know you would do the same thing. You actually know His love.

6. Your relationship is the best. Your relationship far exceeds the external attraction of any activity, a common interest, any sex, any good looks, house, mansion, racecar, money etc.

7. You just “get” each other. You don’t have to explain things you normally need to with others because you have shared and similar pain, joy, and humor.

8. It’s amazing to you how quickly you’ll start crying or even laughing together.

9. You absolutely trust them. You only have to think, “Oh, that’s weird” when someone asks what crazy thing you’re doing. And you have this dialogue with yourself where your soul, mind, and body seem to disagree.  Your soul says, “of course, why not?” Your mind says, “You’re crazy.” And your body says, “What about me, you’re tired, hungry, too poor, …think of all the excuses.”

10. There is the sense that together you own the world. You can do anything. The world is your playground. The world responds to you rather than you reacting. You feel powerful together.

I have not met someone, or better said, I do not have a relationship where this is constant all the time but there are moments and roots that we have that form our foundation of respect, loyalty, and kindness that are deeper than the momentary disappointments. Like the song lyrics to Haddaway, “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me, no more.” Love is a choice beyond pain. Choose someone to love today. Not because they deserve it but because that is who you are. Love is your dignity. Love is the essence of you, and the relationships we create. I would love to meet and together help create deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships. Please give me a call.

Ryan Smith, MS, LAMFT, Therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

True Self Care Vs. Escapism

Have you ever felt burnt-out and desperate for rest, relaxation, fun, or connection?  But despite taking time to do something you thought would help you take a break and be ready to jump back into life, you still feel overwhelmed, anxious, and as though you have had no rest at all?  This may be a sign that you are actually engaging in escapism vs. true self-care. The key is being able to tell the difference between the two so that you can care for yourself in ways that give you the rest and relaxation that you need.  

What is Escapism?

Escapism is any behavior done to avoid or escape doing other important tasks.  It is running away from responsibility which is different from self-care that consists of assertively pursuing healthy activities that can rejuvenate your mental, emotional, and physical energy.  There are two primary types of escapism, Behaviorally Destructive Escapism, and Perceptually Destructive Escapism.

Behaviorally Destructive Escapism

Behaviorally destructive escapism includes any behavior done impulsively that causes physical, emotional, or relational harm to yourself or others.  These are behaviors with short-term pay-offs and long-term consequences. This can include drug use, excessive drinking, excessive video game playing, excessive eating, tv watching, impulsive shopping, excessive and risky sexual behaviors, excessive social media use, etc.  

Perceptually Destructive Escapism

Escapism can also occur based upon the attitude and perception with which you approach doing “self-care” activities. You may be turning a potential self-care activity into escapism as you continually judge yourself for taking time to care for yourself, feel guilty about taking time for yourself, and view the time you are taking for yourself as a time to escape and avoid what you really need to get done in place of feeling it is a time you are assertively investing in caring for yourself.

Escapism Results

Short-term you will know if you are falling into a pattern of escapism if regardless of how much time and effort you put into doing restful and pleasurable activities, you feel they have no positive impact on your overall happiness and are not helping to rejuvenate you in your everyday life.  Long term, you will begin to experience more frustration, overwhelmed feelings, resentment, and burnout concerning your life and relationships.

True Self-Care

Behaviorally self-care is any healthy and positive behavior that you do assertively to take care of yourself.  This can include simple things like taking a bath, spending quality time with a loved one, taking time to watch a movie you like, reading an enjoyable book, or working out.  It can also include more complex and extravagant things like buying yourself something you have wanted/needed or going on a vacation. Big acts of self-care are not better than small everyday acts of self-care, the key is to do consistent self-care.  This will help you to live a more balanced and happy life while also preventing burn-out.

Perceptually, the attitude with which you approach self-care is extremely important.  You will get the most out of that time when you:

  • Participate in activities or behaviors that are healthy, positive, and in line with your personal values.
  • Do self-care behaviors on a consistent/daily basis.
  • Allow yourself to be fully engaged in the self-care behavior, and practice mindfulness throughout that time.
  • Do not allow your self-care time to be infringed on by others casually, treat that time as important and sacred and not just something you do when there is nothing else better or more important to get done.

Self-Care Results

You will know you are accomplishing quality self-care when after participating in the activity/behavior you feel any of the following sensations and/or emotions:

  • Rested
  • Happier
  • More Fulfilled
  • Rejuvenated
  • Less on-edge/agitated
  • Ready to jump back into work and responsibilities

Additional Support

If you struggle with being able to get into a mindset that allows you to begin experiencing quality self-care, using free guided meditations on YouTube can be a way to experience quality self-care, and help to guide you into a more healthy mindset from which you can approach self-care.  

If you are really struggling to accomplish quality self-care, it is recommended that you work with a therapist to improve your ability to care for yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, on a long-term basis.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Beckmann DMFT, LMFT, BA
Therapist at the Center for Couples and Families – Holladay

Depression – Winter Blues?

Winter brings depression for many here in Utah. For some it comes on because of the shorter, darker days. For others it comes because of a change in diet (i.e., eating too much and too unhealthy at holiday gatherings) and moving less (i.e., not exercising or moving around outside. And for others it comes because of loneliness and feeling the pain of relationships not going well or relationships lost. No matter why you are depressed the fact still remains – you are struggling and not doing well. Lets talk about what to do when you find yourself feeling down during the winter.

  1. Move more – getting outside, even if its cold, can help you feel better. Find something that you enjoy and do it. Exercising at a local gym or community recreation center can feel good.
  2. Eat healthy – we often emotionally eat, eat because we are bored or because its a holiday. All of these experiences can leave us feeling worse than we felt before. Keep eating healthy. Rather than just restricting what you eat, try replacing unhealthy food for healthy food you like.
  3. Talk to someone – isolation is often a big precursor and proponent of depression. Talk to someone you like and share with them what you are going through. They might not have the answers, but it could feel good to let someone care for you.
  4. See professional help – there can sometimes be a negative stigma associated with getting therapy. Get over it. 🙂 Therapy has been shown to help those who are depressed. It can make a difference for you and your loved ones. Most all of my clients report to me that they are glad they got the help when they were struggling.

College: A Generation at Risk

A College diploma is a goal for millions of Americans, yet graduation rates have never been lower and those who do graduate take 6 years on average compared to the 4 years of previous generations.  Recent research has helped us understand that these dismal outcomes are not because students cannot handle the coursework, because the vast majority of students can grasp the academic content; rather mental health issues are now the prominent struggle in College.   

The statistics tell a rather grim story at first glance.  A study by the APA in 2017 found 

86% of students with psychological and learning challenges left school without a diploma. The CDC discovered that suicide is currently the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and this year, WHO found that 1 in 20 full-time college students have seriously considered suicide. 

There is one statistic, however, that gives hope to these startling facts.  94% of high school students with emotional and learning differences receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with the same challenges do so.  The remaining 74% still need assistance in navigating the new world of College life, but faced with logistical and financial constraints, Colleges will have to adapt quickly when it comes to providing services for the mental health of its students.  Currently, there is a nation-wide average of 2,500 students for every one counselor and this clearly isn’t enough. 

The good news, if you or someone you know needs help while in school, there are a couple of private and non-profit companies filling the gap in the state of Utah so please reach out for hope, healing, and help. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com

Boundaries With Others – How To Set Them

When you’re trying to create boundaries with people they will be tested. It’s like when cows enter a new pasture, they will knock their shoulder against the perimeter a few times to check out where their boundaries are and how strong they are. Cows are strong enough to take down barbed wire if they really wanted to, but they aren’t really testing if they can get out, they are testing if they are safe from the external world. Once they know that the boundaries are consistent and stable they feel safe and they graze in the middle. If the cows don’t have that consistent boundary they will rely on the cowboy to tell them when they have gone too far. The cowboy however doesn’t have consistent boundaries, they will only correct the cow when they notice the cow has gone too far, which doesn’t create a feeling of safety. People are the same when they have never experienced consistent boundaries, or they are experiencing new boundaries. People will test boundaries, not enough to break them but enough to trust that they are there to stay and to trust that they are there to keep them safe.

A lot of young adults who never experienced boundaries, because their parents wanted to be their friend. They have a great relationship with their parents, but they will tell me that they feel like they grew up as an orphan because they don’t have a secure home base. but they will tell me that they are afraid to explore and take risks as an adult because they can’t trust that they have parents who are watching out for them, to make sure they don’t make a mistake big enough to ruin their entire life.

It’s important that people are given the space to grow and find their own solutions within appropriate limits. When your setting limits the goal is not to get a specific outcome, rather the goal is to prevent a specific outcome. It is quite spectacular what people can come up with when their possibilities aren’t limited, but just the same we don’t want anyone hurting themselves or others in the process. Limits are set to prevent irreversible and/or irreplaceable damage, while still allowing people to learn how to cope with and improve from mistakes.

When cattle are being herded they have the instinct to turn around when they feel blocked, which can be disruptive to the flow and requires more work to redirect them back into the flow. To redirect a cow, you want them to feel pressure on their shoulder. If you are in front of them when you apply this pressure they feel blocked, if you are beside them when you apply this pressure they will simply turn a bit from where they shouldn’t be. People are the same, when they are told to stop doing what they are doing (and they don’t continue trampling over you) they will do a complete turnaround, even if this wasn’t your intention. If you’re only wanting a slight redirection from a no go zone you want to adjust your approach to let them know that you understand that they want to move forward, and you want that too, but you want them going forward in a slightly different direction.

Written by Madison Price, MA, LAMFT – therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

 

The Impact of Borderline Personality Disorder on Relationships

All too often, family members, friends, fellow employees, and even therapists become reactive, judgmental, and walk on egg shells when they interact with someone who displays characteristics of borderline personality disorder.  Let me start off by summarizing some of the core characteristics of the disorder, specifically focusing on those traits which play out in the interactions with others.

  1. Affective Instability – This is where those with BPD struggle to regulate their emotions in predictable ways.  Often, their mood does not match with expected life or social situations, thus making it difficult for those around them to understand or relate to the distress they are experiencing.
  2. Fear of real or imagined abandonment – Those struggling with BPD are often afraid of being rejected, abandoned, or left alone emotionally. These feelings are triggered when the potential abandonment is indicated, as well as times where it isn’t.
  3. Identity disturbance – It can be difficult for those with BPD to maintain a consistent sense of self. There is typically a variance of self-doubt, instability in self-image, and self-acceptance.
  4. Impulsivity – Due to the emotional and personal instability, impulsivity is often a regular occurrence for those with BPD. While this may not feel disruptive for the individual, it can be highly disruptive for those around them.
  5. Paranoid ideation and dissociative symptoms – In certain situations, those with BPD may struggle with feeling paranoid, especially in relation to how they perceive other’s intentions or motives. Also, they may experience dissociative symptoms, which is a disconnect from themselves, their reality, or their sense of self.

What we need to understand about personality disorders is that they are just that, disorders which occur within the core personality of the individual.  This is important to consider, because it is extremely threatening to the individual when a personality disorder is suggested, or when a diagnosis is made, especially since it is difficult to be “objective” about your own personality.  Because of this, it can be very threatening for someone experiencing symptoms of BPD to identify and accept that the symptoms are present in their life.

It is my professional belief that the symptoms of BPD are treatable, and that through treatment, people can reduce the identified symptoms to the degree that they no longer qualify for the diagnosis.  This perspective can bring hope to those struggling with BPD, as well as those who are involved in their life.  However, the process of therapy can be challenging, and typically requires long term treatment.

Selecting a therapist who can treat BPD effectively is an important step in the process.  The therapist must be able to accurately diagnose the disorder, as well as position themselves in the therapeutic relationship as to control for and manage the identified symptoms.  A careful balance between soliciting BPD symptoms and maintaining safety and security within the therapeutic relationship is critical.  Failure to challenge the BPD symptoms results in no change, while doing so without carefully creating a safe therapeutic relationship will typically result in early or even immediate rejection on the part of the client.

Once someone with BPD can effectively accept the diagnosis, identify how the symptoms play out in their life, and learn new ways of managing and responding to the symptoms, then they can focus on the primary relationships in their life, and work on how they relate to others in new ways.

Written by Dr. Tony Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Understanding Your Childs Anger and Depression

Children often show depression through anger or being upset. They don’t know how to be depressed and act out instead. Understanding this, as a parent, you can approach your child in the right way. You would approach a sad child different that you do an angry child. Children need validation for what they are going through. The difficulty is that they often don’t recognize what they are going through. If you do, or if you have at least an idea, you can model for them how to recognize it. For example, if you child is getting picked on at school and is having a hard time with it, you could say to them, “It looks like school is hard for you right now and that it’s making you sad”. This would be instead of saying, “Hey! Stop being mean to your brother and yelling. What is wrong with you!?” It helps when you approach your child and give them permission and space to feel sad. It’s easier to accept and work through with someone who gets it. It’s not as scary when someone is with you.

Counseling for children uses the same principles. Children often act out instead of expressing their emotions. In therapy, children are given something to do instead of just talking about what they are feeling. This is partly how they are able to express their sadness. It’s easier to do something hands on then to talk about their emotions through words.  A good play therapist will be able to help children express and experience their emotions through activities at first and then eventually through words.

Written by Dr. Triston Morgan, LMFT, therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

“C”ommunicating with Our Teenagers

We cannot NOT communicate. – Ray Birdwhistell 

Everything we do communicates something. It has been estimated that between 67-94% of our communication is nonverbal. What is non-verbal communication, you ask? It is everything except the words. It could be a grunt, a smile, a sigh, our smell, our jewelry, our clothes, whistling, the way we comb our hair, tattoos, the way we cook our food, piercings or the lack thereof, our posture, the nuances and history of a relationship, a stare at our son, a gaze at a pretty girl, the way we walk, our mode of transportation, hand gestures, or making googly eyes and funny sounds at a baby. We may say something, but our true intentions frequently will leak through our nonverbal behavior.  

The tone, the attitude behind the words when you ask your son to do something, communicates a whole lot more than the words that you verbally say. It is the attitude that he will respond to, not merely the words. Everything communicates. That is why the “C” in the title of this article is so large. Everything communicates something. We cannot NOT communicate. 

Even a dead person communicates. They communicate deadness.  

It is what is not being said that we pay attention to; this is why sarcasm is so dangerous. With sarcasm, there is a contradiction between the verbal and the nonverbal. Sarcasm is typically cutting. In fact, the word means, “to tear flesh.” For children, sarcasm can be very confusing.  

If you were to attend a communication seminar on learning “Effective Communication Skills,” you might come away with skills such as: having good eye contact, sitting on the edge of your chair, nodding and other non-verbal behavior to indicate you are listening. You might also learn about the importance of reflective listening. All these skills are important, however, do you suppose it would be possible to perform all these behaviors and not really listen in a caring way? And, if a person didn’t really care, do you think other people will be able to tell?  

Of course they can. 

“There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense – something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior.” i  This thing that is deeper than behavior is something philosophers have been talking about for centuries. Carl Rogers called it “Way of Being.”ii  

Martin Buber explains that there are two fundamental ways of being, two ways of seeing another person. The first way is as a ”Thou,” a person with hopes and dreams and struggles similar to your own.  The other way of seeing a person is as an “It.” This is where one objectifies a person. “If I see them at all, I see them as less than I am – less relevant, less important, and less real.”iii This is then also about you and your perspective. There is always a good chance that a person does not see things the way they really are; that person may be missing something. We must be willing to honestly look at ourselves and see what part of the problem is our own. “Might I be provoking the other person without even knowing it?” 

When we talk to our teenagers, we sometimes ask them questions.  We must understand that they do not merely answer our questions; they are answering a relationship. Our conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of a historical relationship.  They are answering a person, and with that person, comes an accumulation and history of their interactions. They answer according to the quality of their recent and remote relationship. 

For example, you might ask your daughter, “Would you take the dog for a walk?” She could respond in a variety of ways. She could ignore you. She could say, “of course.” She could tell you to eat rocks, or yell out while leaving, “maybe later.” On the other hand, if your daughter’s best friend (having a different relationship) said, “Let’s take the dog for a walk?” Your daughter may happily agree to take the dog for a walk. The relationship determines the interaction. 

In his book ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”iv Stephen Covey speaks of an emotional bank account we each have with our children. We must have enough positive interactions, thus building the relationship in our “emotional bank account,” before we can safely make a withdrawal (correction/discipline) without damaging the relationship. After all, we do not want to bankrupt the relationship.  When the emotional bank account is healthy, your child can take correction, knowing that it is coming from a place of love. 

The quality of the relationship determines our ability to be effective parents  

and our teenager’s willingness to allow us to influence them. 

 The moment a parent has a nasty verbal exchange with their teenager is not the time to try to immediately solve the problem. There are too many hot emotions for anyone to think clearly. If the relationship is generally good, waiting for a few hours, or perhaps a day to address the problem is wise. Time allows the parents and teenager space to see the situation clearly without the corrupting influence of these distorted and self-justifying thoughts and emotions.  

If the relationship has been rocky, time is needed for the relationship to heal. Part of healing process is deliberately working on developing trust again; another topic for another day. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

 

 

Medication Management and Mental Health

In my career in healthcare, I have seen far too many patients who have been prescribed medication and continue to take that medication faithfully; Yet after a time, they are not really sure why they are taking that specific medication or if it is even helping with the diagnosed issue.  

 What is missing for these patients? Medication management 

Medication management is the process of following up with the healthcare provider on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness of the prescribed medication therapy, discuss any side effects that may go along with the medication, and make adjustments in order to achieve proper dosing. In some cases, the follow-up may be to change the prescribed medication therapy, if it is not providing the desired outcomes. Medication management should be an ongoing process. It should include open dialogue between the patient and provider about the effects of the medication combined with any other therapies or treatments that may be in place. This is to ensure useful data is being collected, so decisions can be made based on the whole picture; not just the medication piece. 

When it comes to psychiatric and mental health services, the importance of quality medication management cannot be overemphasized. Not all people who seek psychiatric help will require medication. In some cases, amino acid therapy may be appropriate or continued therapy and counseling with regular psychiatric follow-up is warranted. If medication is prescribed, the patient should plan to see the psychiatric provider within 2 weeks (in most cases) for the first medication management visit.  Continued follow-up visits should be scheduled monthly, or as needed depending on the individual case. 

During these visits, the patient should plan on communicating openly with the psychiatric provider about their use of the medication, any side effects that they may be noticing, and any changes they are feeling in relation to their mental health diagnosis. At times, genetic testing can be used to pinpoint what medications are more likely to work for each individual patient. This testing can be used not only for patients who are just beginning psychiatric treatment but also for patients who have been prescribed medication therapies that aren’t working. The patient should also plan to consult with the psychiatric provider before taking any other medications. They should inform the provider of other mental health therapies being used or medical complications that may arise during treatment. The patient should expect the provider to ask questions that will direct and lead the conversation, so time is well spent and modifications can be made with confidence. 

Ultimately, the key to effective psychiatric medication management is open and continual communication between the patient and provider. At the Center for Couples and Families, our psychiatric providers strive to provide thorough psychiatric assessment, follow-up, and medication management. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

 

Divorce – Counseling

Once the decision to divorce becomes imminent, components of the family system must prepare for change.  As a marriage and family therapist, its always my initial response to determine if the marriage can be repaired.  However, when people choose to end the relationship, the best course of action is to remain engaged in a therapeutic process throughout the transition.

The couple will need to work with one another to at least determine how to make decisions required for the legal aspects of dissolving the relationship.  If a couple can manage this on their own, and collaboratively and respectfully complete and submit the required documentation directly to the appropriate State department, and implement resulting legal stipulations, then this is typically the least intrusive and cost-effective method for divorce.  However, most couples have a level of financial, family, possession, and interactional patterns and history to require a divorce mediator to become involved. Typically, within a few sessions, the mediator can direct a process which results in immediate and long-term legal conditions to best assist the couple in divorce.  

All too often, individuals facing divorce immediately discontinue therapy because the marriage is over.  This can be biggest mistake they make in the process, especially considering how many different aspects of their life will require adjustment and change.  While I do not request that the couple meet together in session once they decide to divore, I strongly encourage them to remain engaged in individual therapy, and if children are involved, to make arrangements for each parent to attend therapy with their child(ren) in order to work through the questions, fears, concerns, and aspects of change they will all face, and most importantly, how to establish a new relationship with each parent individually.

Finally, without each partner exploring how they contributed to the dissolution of their marriage, they will most likely repeat harmful interactional and communicative patterns in future relationships.  Even if individuals post-divorce do not have the current intention of entering into another relationship, they should engage in the work which would otherwise place them in a position where they can, in the most healthy way, be available to engage in a future relationship.

Written by Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE, Director at the Holladay Center for Couples & Families