“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

Find a Happy Future

Upset I’d rather hide than try. I’m silent when it’s time to stand. Why do I impose a face of apathy when I’m scared? Maybe it’s time to stop covering what’s broken and start fixing. Maybe it’s not ‘maybe’ anymore. It’s time to value me more than security.

Stop estimating your future based on your present situation.  Nobody falls to the top they always climb.  We have heard many rags to riches stories.  Why can’t that story be yours?  Whenever we see someone great, and look at him or her thinking that they have some superior talent and they probably do, but the thing we forget is that they started out average.  Just like you and me.  It is their discipline; the action we take that separates great people from mediocrity.  Heroes and cowards are no different except it is how they choose to face fear.

I am a hypocrite because I don’t take advantage of my moments too.  I’m not as painfully honest, assertive, or as strong as I know others need me to be.  Too often I come home wishing I had handled my new challenge with greater courage forgetting the cost.

I write this as my mantra.  This is my new commitment to self.  I will not cower to the fears overwhelming inside.  I cannot be captain to my glorious future ahead if I do not weld my ship with vision undeterred.  We live in America, for crying out loud!  What blessings are ours?  It is possible and so I try.

And so, I am

Vulnerable enough to claim my pain,

Confident enough to laugh at myself,

Strong enough to admit my mistakes,

Humble enough to dare the impossible,

Meek enough to relinquish resentment,

Simple enough to love one more time.

And,

I am strong.

Hurt empowers me.

Failure fuels my fight.

Weakness births strengths.

Life’s hard, but I hit harder.

Written by Ryan Smith, LAMFT, Therapist, Center for Couples and Families – Holladay

Thoughts are Reality

You and me, we have magnetic power to attract what we want.  What we are becomes our reality.  It is not the other way around, such as ‘our reality makes us to who we are.’  It is, ‘who we are becomes our reality.’  What we think about will eventually manifest it.  The law of attraction is no less true in my life.  And I invite you to consider how your life has attracted what you first harbored inside.  When was the last time you thought something good and something good happened to you?  What about something bad?

In fact, tonight, I dare you to watch a movie and identify the emotion of that movie and then go straight to bed.  I bet you that your dreams will carry that same emotion of the movie you watched.  Your dreams will carry the emotions that you magnetized to yourself during the movie and you will most likely have a story line of behaviors and events in your dream that justify your emotions to some degree.  For instance, if courage was the emotion you may find yourself defending the defenseless in your dream while simultaneously facing your fears.

I say courage because that is exactly what happened to me.  I stayed up too late watching adventure movie trailers and woke this morning from a dream defending an innocent employee from an abusive drunken business owner.  I don’t usually watch movies and this is the first dream I can remember ever actually fighting and rescuing the defenseless.

           If this can occur in just one night, imagine developing a habit of positive thoughts and the positivity that will actually come to you, and not just in your dreams?  I have seen this in my own life, how I see myself, others follow.  This is partially true because others who see me differently, I ignore and do not allow their judgments to carry my attention.

           Another quick example is found in skiing.  I love skiing for several reasons, and one of those is how quickly the law of the harvest reaps it’s fruit.  Although I started skiing 8 years ago, I only went once a year and it was hard to see any improvement.  But 2 years ago, I purchased a season pass, howbeit late in the season, March, with only a month to spare.  Knowing my time was short I made it to the slopes six times in the remaining five weeks.  I skied more in the month of March and April of 2016 then I had my whole life.  And I was amazed how much I improved in not only every ski day but also every run down the mountain.  Each ski-chair lift was a time of meditation to push the limits from the prior run.  I challenged myself and not a day went by without falling and skis flying unclipped, eventually I confidently fell down Double Black Diamonds; I eventually snaked down with ‘S’ turns and catching air, not the kind you see on YouTube but none the less personal record-worthy notes for me.  The keys were that I enjoyed it, saw falling as part of the journey, kept practicing without judgment, and I believed I could ski like the other great skiers around me.

            This, no less than 10 year-old, probably taught it best.  Check it out below:

           No one is an island.  In order to achieve anything great, we all need the support of others.  Therapy is a personal relationship to the things we attract and authoring our magnets into what we esteem as success.  It is possible.  What great thing will you start attracting today?

Written by Ryan Smith, LAMFT, Therapist, Center for Couples & 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.

Responding to Emotional Disruption

Experiencing emotional disruption is a significant part of the human experience.  On a daily basis, each of us experiences emotional pain, discomfort, uneasiness, and sorrow.  However, we also experience satisfaction, joy, excitement, and fulfillment.
Emotional disruption is any emotional experience which moves us out of our emotional homeostasis. This means that any emotional movement, whether desirable or not, is disrupting from a place of emotional neutrality.
All too often, we place our efforts on attempting to limit, control, or otherwise minimize the emotional disruptions we experience.  Typically, we are socially conditioned as we move through our teen years and into young adulthood, to suppress our emotional disruption as to not impact others by our emotional experiences.  While this approach may reduce the impact we have on others whom we interact with socially, it causes an internal suppression of the self. Once this occurs, we rely heavily on our thinking to navigate our daily experience, while ignoring the internal emotional prompts which are designed to assist us in understanding ourselves and the world around us.
When we give ourselves permission to feel our emotional disruptions, we will greatly increase our capacity to self-regulate.  Once we can embrace the emotional experiences which come our way, we can reduce our hesitation to feel them.  Engaging with the emotional content, whether uncomfortable or inviting, allows us to combine our best thinking with our emotional experience to more effectively navigate our day today decisions and interactions with others.
Anthony T. Alonzo DMFT, LMFT, CFLE

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

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

Cleaning Out Your Marriage Closet – Couples Counseling

People are often worried about drudging up the past with their loved ones. There is controversy as to what is healthy for the relationship. People certainly don’t like to bring up an old fight when everything is going well. The issue is that we all have a closet of sorts where we hide everything that “isn’t worth the fight.” At first this closet is empty and the intention of putting things in there is good, you intend to talk about it later, it’s just not the right time.

The problem is that you enjoy the times you’re not fighting, who wouldn’t! You soon forget about what you’re storing in the closet, and you continue to throw everything “not worth the fight” into the closet. Your closet becomes full, and when you try to fit one more thing in there everything topples over. This is the fight of all fights, this is when you seemingly “loose it” out of nowhere about nothing and everything. This fight happens at a time when something was already “not worth the fight” and you were trying to put it in the closet. Therefore, you are probably not up for resolving everything in that closet either. It’s like if your junk closet toppled over just as company is coming over, you’re going to scoop everything up and stuff it back into the closet because you don’t have time to sort through it. This fight leaves everyone upset and confused and often nothing is resolved in this fight.

So how does one clean out this closet? Well its much like spring cleaning, you are going to take everything out and you begin to sort everything into categories. You evaluate if it is something that only happened once and will never happen again, if this is the case it truly isn’t worth the fight and can be thrown out. If it is something that continues to happen you need to address it, you will be bringing up the past not as a weapon against the other person, but as a justification for bringing it up as an issue. It is absolutely necessary that cleaning this closet is done at a time when your calm and you remain calm to be able to assess what the core of the problem is, what does their behavior tell you about your relationship with them. For instance, If someone is always late, how does their behavior effect you, why does it feel disrespectful to you and how does it create distance in your relationship, what is the message you receive about their feelings toward you. As opposed to judging their behavior as something you wouldn’t do and lecturing them about how it affects them.

When you clean out the closet you are transferring responsibility to the people it will be useful with. You will find that the cleaner your closet becomes the more clarity you will have in your relationships. Your intent in cleaning out the closet is not to change other people’s behavior, it is meant to change your relationships. You will find that some people will choose to become more distant because they are unwilling to make changes, but the relationships that become closer and the internal peace will be worth the distance in others.

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

Relationship Land Mines – How to Handle Them

All people have topics or behavior that are emotional landmines. I think of watching M.A.S.H seeing a big sign saying, “DANGER-MINE FIELD.” I love to picture this sign in my relationships. If these emotional landmines are going to be there I think it is essential for survival to create a boundary around the mine fields. I have found it courteous to set boundaries around mine, so that people have more freedom within a relationship with me. If people don’t set boundaries around their own boundaries I have to create boundaries to keep myself safe from their emotional landmines, unfortunately I don’t know exactly where the landmines are, so I have to create a boundary with large radius for extra safety. This is unfortunate because If boundaries are bigger than they need to be for the emotional safety this is limiting the potential for emotional intimacy in the relationship.

This is not only unfortunate for the person who “steps” on the emotional landmines, but also the person with the emotional landmines without appropriate boundaries. People thrive on relationships and connections. People who don’t create boundaries are absolutely terrified of being alone. Without knowing about emotional landmines, if you had the choice between land without blocked off areas and land that had nothing on it, the land without any blocked off areas seems more attractive, at least until you start walking over it! A person without boundaries want to attract people, and boundaries are not attractive. Their need for connection is not inherently bad, they are meeting this need in the only way they know how, because they haven’t experienced a long term intimate relationship as an example. Therefore, they have people around them who are avoiding a close relationship, or freeze to avoid any emotional landmines.

When you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t create boundaries, you will often find yourself apologizing without knowing how you’re at fault. If apologizing becomes your default to suppress emotional explosions, you will attract people who have a need to blame.  People who blame are only considering their own needs, people who apologize as a default only consider the needs of others. A healthy relationship will balance your emotional needs with the needs of others with consideration of the context. If this isn’t happening your efforts to get closer to people will result in resentments. If you’re thinking “if they only knew what I was really thinking, they wouldn’t love me.” You will feel lonely in a room of people who love you.

When you share your truth, unfortunately you do risk losing people in your life.  However, knowing that even the one person who stays loves every part of you, and respects you enough to respect your boundaries will be worth anyone you lose. This is the most difficult part of setting boundaries, you have to reach a point where you can accept losing a relationship all together in order to do what it takes to be a healthier person. Accepting that you could lose a relationship means that if they are uncomfortable with boundaries they may cutoff communication with you. When you respect yourself and you respect other people enough to show them where your boundaries are to keep you and them emotionally safe, you will begin attracting healthier relationships.

Written by Madison Price, MS, LAMFT – Therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families