As a solution focused therapist, I attempt to stay in the present as much as possible. I explain to my clients that the past is where Rumination can be found. Rumination is usually found on the couch hanging out with Depression. Ahhhh, those shoulda, coulda, woulda days. If only I had gone to college sooner. What would my life be like if I had kids later/earlier? Maybe if I had been born rich... Before you know it, Regret comes knocking at the door with Resentment close behind (you can always hope Depression doesn’t have the energy to get off the couch and answer). This often triggers an unhelpful cycle that accomplishes nothing other than dulling your mood and stealing your motivation. The past is a great place to visit for important life lessons and happy memories; however, if we overstay our welcome, we might end up in an unproductive “rut” that depletes our energy. Practicing mindfulness, regularly, can combat this cycle. This doesn’t mean to meditate everyday (although that would be dope as well). Mindfulness is simply described as paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Eating, showering, or taking a walk can all be practices in mindfulness. We can do anything “mindfully” by paying attention to our senses during the activity. If you are eating an apple, pay attention to the texture, the temperature, and the taste of the apple. Notice the feeling of biting and chewing. While taking a walk notice how your feet feel hitting the pavement or how your bare feet feel in the grass; feel the wind blow across your face or feel the warmth of sunshine on your skin. The idea is to pull your mind into the present moment; to let go of those negative ideas and feelings. Mindfulness practices are cheap, easy, and require nothing but focus. Stay mindful and happy! Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” -Marcus Aurelius
Don't worry. Part 3 of "who's keeping you stuck" is still coming. I just felt that this piece was necessary to post today.
Feeling “let down” by others (or ourselves) can be a trigger for a lot of people because disappointment feels unfair. Because disappointments are practically impossible to get away from, here are some helpful skills you can use instead of remaining gloomy or giving up…
Don’t set yourself up. Many times disappointment comes from having unmet expectations. We expect things to go a certain way, or we make plans, and often our reality doesn’t match our imagined outcome. If you remove expectations from the start, you will have less chance of being disappointed! Go with flow. Life isn’t good or bad. It just is. Our fantasies about how we would like things to be only cloud our ability to live in the present moment. We miss the beauty that is happening all around us. Stop expecting and start living.
Find the positive truth, reflect on what you can learn. If that doesn’t work, practice gratitude. Remember that when “bad” or unwanted things happen, we are the ones who choose what to focus on and how we respond. Finding a way to reframe a situation instead of impulsively reacting can build character. Practicing this skill often will make it easier to use when you need to. Our attitude often controls our view of a situation. Think about the last time you were really hungry and waiting for someone to go eat. Did the person you were waiting on take longer just because you were hungry and waiting for them? Doubtful. But you could absolutely see it that way. OR you could focus on the fact that you have someone to go eat with…that you can afford to eat when others can’t…etc. What is the worst thing that could happen if you decide to focus on the positive? (Note* A little self-awareness can come in real handy in moments like this. If you recognize that your mood is affected by your hunger, you can more easily reframe or practice gratitude.)
Radical acceptance is a skill to use in times when we are faced with situations that we CAN NOT change and that we must deal with. It is deemed “radical” because it takes quite a bit of work to accept things we don’t like. Much of life is out of our control, so getting upset (and staying upset) when things don’t go the way we’d like only adds to our feeling of discontent. If you can’t change it, accept it. Accepting does not mean that you approve; it only means that you have stopped fighting reality. This simple practice can help remove a lot of our unnecessary suffering.
Reach out for support
That’s what friends are for. A support system is a vital part to our continued growth and improvement. If you struggle using any of the above tools, reach out to a friend or professional to see if they can give you a different way to approach what you’re struggling with. People outside of the situation can often see the bigger picture and find helpful solutions we are unable to see (kind of a “forest for the trees” situation, if you will). Keep your team on deck for emotional emergencies!
Y'all know I love music, and I haven't posted a song to go with a blog in a while. Check out this beautiful ballad by Lionel Richie. You can find the lyrics HERE.
“The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off.” -Gloria Steinem
I shouldn’t have to say it, but people do things that don’t make sense all the time. Now, what I mean by this is that their outward behavior doesn’t seem rational to others. I’m sure they have good reason in their minds. Allow me to explain…
Most human behavior is influenced by a release of chemicals in our brains that create “feelings” or emotions. These chemicals have a reciprocal relationship with our conscious (and unconscious) thoughts and memories. This is part of what creates certain “states” of being…what we call mood or attitude. Mood and attitude influence behavior, AND behavior influences mood and attitude. Falling in love creates a “state” that impacts cognition (thinking) in such a way that you get, well, kinda stupid. Love really is, in a sense, blind and creates irrational ways of thinking and approaching certain problems. For more info on this, click HERE.
That being said, what kind of (irrational) thinking keeps people stuck in unhappy relationships? Here are a few common rationalizations I have come up with…
Unreasonable expectations. The fixer. It is very easy for our minds to create illogical expectations for ourselves and others. The problem with this is that disappointment often accompanies these expectations, especially in regard to expectations of other people[i]. Feeling like we can change someone else if we “try hard enough” or give them “the right kind of love” is not unusual in the social world. Sticking around until we find the right combination of tactics to change someone else is common. However, this is not only irrational, it could be considered delusional.
I mean, a special gift for knowing how a person should be AND knowledge of the tools they need in order to change. Sounds like superpowers to me. Now, I’m not saying that superheroes don’t exist. I consider myself a superhero on occasion. What I am saying is that we can’t change other people; no matter how much we might want to; no matter how much we think they need to change; no matter how much time we invest in trying to create their change for them. People change short-term with enough pressure, but change under duress doesn’t usually stick. People make long-term change when they want to change and when they are ready to do the work to create change for themselves. None of us can do it for them. I know, it sucks.
Resigned hopelessness. The settler. On the other end of the spectrum is the passive acceptance that it just won’t get better where you are or be better anywhere else you would go. This concept is related to “learned helplessness” which is well known to contribute to “stuck” behavior in people. Thoughts that accompany this pattern are things like “well, at least I know what to expect with him/her; why go start over with new crap?” or “who’s gonna want someone my age/with kids/that’s been divorced” or “if I stay around and deal with it long enough, he/she will see how loyal I am and finally change.” Again, this approach is ineffective because it does nothing to ease the discomfort or create change. Settling is related to lack of self-efficacy (don’t worry…there’s more on this in part 3).
Fear. What if… The anxiety related to this one is related to judgment and perception, so it may look different in different people. A few fears that might contribute to sticking…
Judgment from others. This could be related to “looking bad” in the social world. The thought is something like, “what if people reject me because they think I’m a failure?” Being thought of as someone who is an ineffective wife/mother/husband/father/partner may affect our social status. Just knowing this is a possibility may influence our decisions or behaviors.
Another fear is one of never finding a place to “fit” or not being accepted by anyone/anywhere. This is the place for the “what if it’s me?” and “am I just plain unlovable?” thoughts. This is a dangerous place to be. I’ll tell you why. Most people leave the first time they feel like this. They want to test the theory. I’m not happy in this relationship, so I will leave and find one that is better. Then, the next relationship seems to follow the same pattern. This validates the idea that it IS them. So they settle in and get comfortable. Except it’s not comfortable. It’s painful. I know at least one of you is thinking, “Well, what if I did that, like, a hundred times and the same stuff happened. Doesn’t that prove it’s me?” My simple answer is yes, but not in the way you probably think. It proves that you may need to engage in some active self-awareness to figure out what to change, not that something is wrong you[ii].
Stubbornness. Too much investment. Have you ever played a slot machine? You know that feeling you get when you begin to lose steadily?—that the next time has to hit! You don’t want to get up because you just know that lady eyeballing “your” machine will slide in and steal your winnings. Yea, that’s the same kind of feeling some people have with their relationships. They feel they have invested a lot of time and energy into a relationship. They want to make sure they get their money’s worth, so to speak. It’s almost as if they don’t want another person to take credit for their hard work. This again requires developing a new focus or perspective. If we concentrate on investing in ourselves, it is never a “waste” of time. One way to do this is to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.
I read a meme once that put this sentiment in a nutshell: Change is painful. Growth is painful. But nothing is more painful than staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.
So what can we do instead? How might we counteract these faulty ways of viewing relationships to build our happiness? Check back next week for part 3 to receive tips for building self-efficacy and self-awareness in relationships. You’ll also hear some ways to decide if you should stay and work, or accept and move on.
[i] See subsequent blog post on dealing with disappointment
[ii] There is nothing wrong with you. The world is not against you, either. Changing our perspective and learning how to be better should be parts of human development. Don’t take life lessons too personally. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
As a therapist who works with relationships regularly, I often come across people who claim to be “stuck” in a bad one. My words would be more like: people often stick to a relationship past its health and purpose. What do I mean by that? I’m so glad you asked…
As human beings, we are destined to be socially involved with each other. There’s even a special part of our brain devoted to recognizing faces. Engaging with and relying on other people has allowed us to preserve our species. I mean, it does take two of us to reproduce. Throughout our history we have kept each other safe and assisted each other in finding food and needed resources. We did this to help each other stay alive and well. Whether you want to believe it or not, people need each other. That being said, the world of humans has changed a lot over time.
We are now socialized to believe particular ideas and expectations of what a relationship should look like and how people should act in relationships. This type of judgment (I feel) is what impedes genuineness, builds subtle resentment, and interferes with moving through relationships in healthier ways. Judgment accompanies expectation; expectation often leads to disappointment. For example, many people hold an irrational idea that if the relationship doesn’t “work out” it is somehow their fault, or they have failed in some way. Many people take this idea to mean they are defective or that they need to fix something about themselves that is wrong. I do not believe that is the case most of the time. There are many reasons (discussed in future blogs) why we have a tendency to remain in “expired” relationships until they are just too horrible to tolerate any longer. The “rock bottom” in the relationship becomes the catalyst to change, and remaining in extended unhappiness for long periods of time will amplify any relief. In other words, we stay miserably patient waiting for our partner to change until the misery becomes too overwhelming. Then, when we exit the relationship, we confuse the feeling of moving out of unhappiness with the feeling of moving into happiness. We soon realize the grass is not greener on the other side as we deal with the same issues in new relationships. I’m just gonna be real with you…you gotta fertilize your own lawn.
Most people believe that falling in love is the end game. That’s the easy part! In the beginning, there’s all this courting and wooing each other. We try so hard to impress each other, and we take time to be sure the other person knows how much we care about them. It’s new and exciting, and all the songs on the radio are about your relationship. It’s the most awesome feeling ever!! Here’s the (not really) bad news. It will not stay this way. It’s impossible to maintain “romantic” or “passionate” love long-term. Seriously, would you really want it to stay like the beginning? Think about it. All that anxiety about what to wear, and how to smell, and saying the right thing; having to meet friends and parents, hoping to win their approval. All of that is beautifully replaced by the calm, safe feeling of being wholly accepted exactly as you are. Flawless.
Dancing the night away and long walks on the beach are wonderful. So are movie nights on the couch cuddled up with all your favorite snacks. The snacks your loving partner was able to get without having to ask what you wanted. So, let’s not run away in disappointment the next time passionate love begins to diminish. It may soon be replaced with a different type of love that is more stable and less selfish than passionate love.
People are drawn together because of an attraction. This is a physical attraction of some kind, obviously, since there is no way for two people to really know each other if they just met. Building a long-term relationship takes time…and skill…and work. We have all heard the saying love conquers all…except that it doesn’t. Love does not pay bills, love does not create agreement on every subject, and love does not take personal accountability for poor decisions or mistakes. These jobs are undertaken by each partner in the relationship. Like I said, relationships require work. Daily work. Nonstop work. Love is absolutely a key ingredient in intimate relationships, but love does not provide us with the skills necessary to resolve conflict or communicate effectively.
So how do so many people “get stuck” in relationships that are not satisfying? What reasons could there possibly be for individuals to stay when it’s time to go? Check back next week for "part 2" to read about some of the reasons people provide in defense of staying.
“Mom, I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” These are words heard on a daily basis from children of all ages. I have to ask myself, how can children be so bored when there are so many activities to do and things to explore in this world? Not to mention, the billions of toys and books that exist. Obviously, “kids will be kids,” and certain activities or toys might grab their interest for only a short while. Eventually, that activity may become dull, and a new interest will spring up. The problem arises when children get bored too easily and quickly due to conditioned overstimulation and the expectation of instant gratification.
How have children become conditioned toward overstimulation and instant gratification? One of the major sources is overuse of technology like cell phones, TV’s, tablets, video games…the list goes on and on. Children exposure to technology is beginning earlier and earlier, and some children may be developing a dependence on these devices. I used to see toddlers walking around holding tightly onto their favorite blanky or stuffed animal, and now it seems more common to see them clenching their parent’s phone or tablet for dear life. In no way am I saying technology is all bad or even damaging to children, however, it could be if not used in moderation. “Everything in moderation” is a helpful mantra that can be applied to children’s use of technology. When children spend too much time sitting in front of screens, it can have negative impacts on their life. Interacting only with a screen, takes away from engaging with peers and family, and therefore, can affect social skills and peer interactions. Practice makes perfect, and when children are too wrapped up in the latest app on the phone they miss out on social learning opportunities that can lead to underdeveloped social skills.
Childhood obesity is another major concern that can be linked to the overuse of technology. Changing the nutritional value of the breakfasts and lunches served in schools is not enough to truly impact childhood obesity. It is important to change behavior too. This means interacting with your children and playing a game of basketball or riding bikes together. Explore activities your child enjoys. Also, encourage them to engage in outdoor activities with friends in the neighborhood or set up play dates at a park. It is important for parents to be an active part of their children’s lives, which includes promoting healthy behaviors and routines as well as setting good examples for our children to follow. For example, if I am telling my 9 year old that she needs to spend less time watching television, and more time outside interacting with her peers in the neighborhood, but then I spend most of my days shut inside on the couch watching T.V. or playing on my phone, what type of message is this sending? Inconsistent messages produce inconsistent behaviors. We are not required to be perfect as parents, and we as adults should have freedom to do what we want; however, it is important to set a good example and to not just say, but SHOW our children the benefits of practicing healthy behaviors.
Instead of occupying the kids with technological devices so parents can have some down time, insist they pick up a book or play with the toys in their room. All children have an imagination, but if they do not utilize it enough it will not be as developed, and children might lack abilities to be creative in the future. Youth must be encouraged to engage in solo play and pretend. Teaching children to entertain themselves is not only a huge benefit to them, but it gives parents extra time to handle personal tasks.
Another large part of moderating time with technology is to help children stimulate their brains in different ways. Different activities such as exercise, reading, or imaginative play will stimulate different areas of the brain. If children spend too much time with their technological devices, they will not be able to exercise other areas in the brain that need attention and stimulation, especially throughout early development. It would be like going to the gym everyday and only doing curls with your right arm. It does not exactly seem like a wise decision, especially if we are looking to improve our overall physical health. The entire brain needs to be worked out as well, and this can only be accomplished by using different senses, sources of activity, and cognitive stimulation. To achieve a strong and healthy brain, parents must make sure their children are maximizing their brain workout and not spending an excessive amount of time in front of various screens.
Technology can be extremely helpful and informative, and it can also over stimulate young children with the constant bombardment of movements, sounds, and bright images flashing in their faces. Because of this constant stimulation, real life (which tends to move at a slower pace) is seen by children as boring and dull. Additionally, there are devices and apps where children can skip straight to their show and watch them whenever and wherever they want (with no commercials), which contributes to the instant gratification factor. This factor, in addition to overuse of technology, could influence young minds and train their brains to consistently crave the constant entertainment/stimulation technology provides. This expectation can take away from developing positive characteristics like patience and self-control. There are many ways to avoid the overuse of technology, but parents and children must be committed to retraining their brains and behaviors to increase their “mental strength.” Create a Healthy Foundation!
Guest Blogger, Rebecca Prolic, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate and the owner of Healthy Foundations located in Houston, Texas.
Many of the issues I see in practice involve how people feel about themselves. The most talented, funny, and beautiful people explain to me how much they hate who they see in the mirror. Some people can fake a smile or a positive attitude short-term, but this will deplete emotional energy quickly. Our self-image and confidence are critical to our success in life. How we regard ourselves is critical to our success because it impacts our relationships with others. Low self-esteem may skew our perspective so that we see the entire world in a dimmed way.
There are tons of websites and books that suggest ways to improve your self-esteem. These authors present many good ideas like increasing your exercise or practicing affirmations. But what happens when you go out into the world, and you are surrounded by unhappy people? How do you maintain those positive affirmations in an environment that feels stifling and perpetually negative? It seems to become more difficult to practice positivity and self-love in those types of situations.
We don’t even have to leave our homes. We turn on the television and see “beautiful” people with tons of cool toys (that we can’t afford) and we begin to compare ourselves and notice what we don’t have; we start to see how we are “less than.” What if I told you there was one big change that you could make to fight against this cycle of negativity? It is the first step to loving yourself and your life. It’s called practicing gratitude. I don’t mean just being occasionally grateful; that can still lead to complacency and feelings of entitlement. I am talking about actively and habitually practicing being grateful for all that you have. Here are a few things you can do to practice gratitude:
Gratitude Stone. Find a rock or stone that is small enough to fit in your pocket (or purse). Each morning put it in your pocket while saying something you are grateful for. (this could be a simple as being happy that you woke up that morning) In the evening, remove the stone from your pocket, and again say something else you are grateful for. This will start building a habit of being grateful and lead to a more positive outlook on life.
Volunteer. Volunteering to serve others is one of the best ways to practice gratitude. Helping people in need provides more opportunity to recognize all of our privileges. We are also able to see how “those less fortunate” have special talents and gifts to offer the world as we all do. Individuals are able to feel good about themselves while connecting with others which helps to increase self-confidence and self-efficacy.
Mentor Someone. You have skills that you are able to share with others. Why not share your passion with someone who wants to learn or who needs your support to reach his or her full potential? You could assist in shaping the next star athlete or expert pediatrician. This type of social involvement will also provide good feelings that increase your confidence.
Say Thank You. Sometimes simple words or phrases can have the most impact. People are often not aware of the impact they have on us unless we tell them. Practice gratitude by thanking someone who may not know what they have done for you. Buy a package of thank you cards to keep handy. When someone in your life goes out of their way to help you, send them a thank you card to brighten their day.
Maintaining a positive outlook on yourself and your life is sometimes hard work. It is your choice to value your strengths and your accomplishments. Start speaking to yourself as though you were talking to your best friend. Would you tell your best friend that she couldn’t go back to school because she’s not good enough? Would you call a person that you love ugly or stupid? Do the expectations you have for others match the expectations you have for yourself? Start “acting” like you are your favorite person in the world until you believe it. You are amazing! Look at all that you have overcome and achieved. You have so many reasons to be grateful. Practice makes perfect. Start practicing!
Check out this awesome song below performed by India Arie
When I was in graduate school, my mentor encouraged me to go “above and beyond” the other students so that I would be more competitive in my job market. When I became involved in the National Society for Leadership and Success, one of the requirements included attending several speaking events. These talks were often inspiring and encouraging, but the “oomph” would wear off by the time I was finished with all of my other obligations. Then, one speaker stood out. Mel Robbins’ talk How To Get What You Want - In The REAL World made a significant impact. I would like to share the main tip I took from her speech.
The Five Second Rule: Stop Waiting
The choices that we make are based on how we think. There are two ways to think: strategically or emotionally. If we can learn to think strategically in regard to future planning, we will be able to focus better on what we actually want and how to get it. This is the difference between acting and reacting, which will often predict positive or negative outcomes. Utilizing activation energy, or the physical force that is required to get you to do something, is the only way to get you moving in the direction of getting things done and getting what you want. Mel Robbins says that our brain confuses our decisions because there are too many choices, too much information, and too much fear and uncertainty that makes our brains just shut down. Of course, our brains would like to work on “cruise control,” with us sticking to the same routines and habits, doing the same thing the same way every day; so when we venture into different territory or do things a different way, our brain throws the “emergency brake” in an effort to reestablish its usual homeostasis (if you will). This will keep us practicing the same habits, which will keep us in the same place.
Change is the only constant. We have survived as a species because we are able to adapt to changes. It is the nature of who we are to grow and mature through our life. Some of us choose to remain in the same way of doing and thinking, and this may create problems. You are meant to be great! You are not meant to just get by or live day to day. Think about the access to resources most of us have these days. What an amazing time we live in where these resources are so readily available for people who are willing to take the risk and take initiative to achieve their dreams! You can outwit your brain and your fear. Use the Five Second Rule. When you are motivated to DO something that will lead you toward growth, start to take action on it within 5 seconds before your brain talks you out of it, even if the small step is to begin thinking strategically about a plan of action. There is no need to wait and to be afraid. There are 1440 minutes in each day. The time you are spending being unhappy about your station in life could be spent outlining objectives to get you where you would rather be. Time is the one thing we will never get back. It should not be wasted. Take the word “can’t” out of your vocabulary. The next time you think “I sure would like to go for a jog,” get up and grab your sneakers within 5 seconds. Lace them up and start running before you have had time to talk yourself out of it. There will never be a “good” time to start your own business, or get back in shape, or go back to school. The time is now! Start living the life you want to live before you think you can’t. 5…4…3…2…1…
Rachel Hensley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Master's degree in Family Therapy from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She is also certified as an Anger Resolution Therapist and runs a private practice in the Clear Lake area.