Deep Breathing and Thinking of Values
by Guest Blogger T.
Take a deep breath. Sounds cliché, doesn’t it? How about combining it with thinking of your “happy place?” Still sounding cliché? For the longest time, I thought it did.
I had a major depressive episode last year. Having been through much worse in the past, I knew it would get better. However, that didn’t make the situation any easier. Trying to function was very hard. The only thing that helped at the forefront was sleeping and eating, which amounted to a temporary fix.
I have always been seeing an analyst, but I needed to really focus on CBT. I have also always been very aware of my emotions. I had one session of CBT and it flipped the episode upside down. Granted, I put in the effort. I started with deep breathing and thinking of my happy place. Last year was horrible at best, but my happy place came out of last year. Erica, my girlfriend, had a bad stomach virus and had to be at Cedars Sinai for a week. She loves pomeranians and I happened to find a stuffed animal one in the gift shop at Cedars. I brought it to her, and she was so happy. The greatest thing about our relationship is seeing her happy and how she lights up the room.
Now for the subject at hand. My happy place that I think of when I am bombarded by OCD thoughts is E. holding our fake pomeranian, smiling, and squeezing the dog while saying, “Snuggles!” Snuggles is the name of our stuffed animal. We have outfits for her and she has a collar with a tag. She is our good luck charm that can get us through anything. When I went through my episode last year, I would take a deep breath and think of E. smiling and holding Snuggles. I had to work on this a lot, however. In the past when I had a very hard time applying CBT to my situation, I had to constantly thought stop and replace because the symptoms were so severe. Now, I am doing great, but at times the thoughts can be hard to handle. I don’t just deep breathe and think of E once. I might have to do it 50 times to feel better, but it helps. The hardest thing that I currently work through is my obsessions with surfing. This past weekend, I surfed and left the water feeling like I didn’t surf well. But I applied my method and felt so much better. To conclude, there are times in my life that this method wouldn’t have worked due to being very sick. However, I have had a lot of recovery and can apply this daily now. Just remember that it is ok if you can’t apply this now. But make sure you keep in mind that it does get better. Thanks for reading.
by Guest Blogger T.
Enjoy these helpful insights for overcoming Obsessions, Compulsions and Anxiety. cb
One of the most difficult concepts in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to master is the idea of cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are the irrational thoughts that constantly bombard those of us with OCD. Conceptually speaking, shouldn’t it be easy to dodge these irrational thoughts? For the average person, the answer may be yes. However, mental illness clouds thinking, concentration, and makes it hard, if not impossible to function.
Each blog that I write will be how I have used the tools that I have obtained to push back against this painful condition. My goal is to help individuals manage their symptoms. Obviously, I don’t expect that something that works for me is going to necessarily work for everyone, but I hope to provide insight into how I have overcome this debilitating monster.
Now it is time to address the topic of this post, “Everyone is my friend, unless I am proven otherwise.” The underlying concept is nothing new in CBT, but I discovered how to use it on my own. As a corollary, the opposite of “Everyone is my friend, unless I am proven otherwise” is, “Everyone dislikes me, unless I am proven otherwise.” I like to keep reminding myself that there is a clear distinction between the two and the former makes me feel a lot better.
I have struggled with cognitive distortions my whole life, with respect to surfing. I have surfed my whole life and the cognitive distortion subset, called “mind-reading”, plagues me every time I am at the beach or in the water. The mind-reading presents itself by making me feel that everyone is thinking about me negatively. I have this very intensely and daily, so I thought that sharing of a way to manage this would reach a sizable audience.
Let me start with an example. Today, I showed up to the beach to go surfing. For the majority of the morning, I was the only one in the ocean. When someone entered the water, regardless of ability, facial expression, or age, to name a few, I immediately thought they hated me. This is my natural reaction that I am always living with. Taking care of this with respect to surfing started about a month ago, but I adequately applied it today. One of the individuals I saw had a seemingly upset look on his face. My gut reaction was to internalize it, but I applied the new tool that I have been using. I said, “well, he didn’t say ‘good morning’, but he is my friend and he is probably focused on getting his first wave (or what he will be having for lunch :)).” Honest to goodness, this actually worked! By applying this methodology, it has been a lot easier to get through surf sessions without getting my usual irritability.
Another place that I love using this methodology is in my car. As someone with OCD and anxiety, I think that everyone that is within 100 feet of my car is being rude, hates me, and is driving too close. So now, when I see someone driving erratically, I say, “well, they are my friend, but they seem to be in a hurry today.” Driving back from surfing today, I was able to apply this in the car. Someone was driving close to me, by my definition, and I started to get anxious. Then they proceeded to flash their high-beams to alert me to get out of the way. I normalized the situation, not for his sake, but for mine, by saying, “my friend seems to be in a rush. I hope he doesn’t get in an accident.” Once again, this worked like a charm!
I would like to conclude this post with something that should always be kept in mind, if using this technique. The reader should always remind themselves that it doesn’t matter if the person is really your friend. This is all about managing life with the cognitive distortion of mind-reading. Remember that the alternative is getting anxious, worked up, and potentially turning your thoughts inward and feeling worse. Thanks for reading.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
Do we see a bee flitting around a beautiful plant without flowers? No… the bee is wise and knows he will not find what he is looking for unless there is a blossom.
Do we see a butterfly landing on a cactus? Probably not, the butterfly is looking for water and minerals. Do these creatures exhaust themselves trying to get what they need in wrong places, or to force a plant to change its essential nature so that they can be satisfied?
Humans can imitate these humble creatures and look for what we want in a places where it can actually be found, and then be direct about getting what we want without injuring anyone else in the process. Grab a pen and paper if you want; here are a few steps to think about (this post contains the first two of four steps):
Exercise #1: Decide What You Really Want
Think about what you want in terms of the positive feelings you would experience when it is happening....
I want to feel secure; that is more true when...
I want to be happier than I am now… that is happening when...
I feel more secure in my relationship when …. is happening.
I want to be treated with respect in this way...
I want my children to be happy and healthy for example when … happens.
I feel …… when my loved ones are happy with me.
I want to be energized; I feel energized when …. happens.
I feel at peace when….
I need more freedom - that happens when...
Now you try it, think about what you really want - in terms of how it makes you feel.
"What I would really like is (fill in the blank)"
Because it makes me feel…
(Optional: share this with a friend)
Exercise #2: Notice Limiting Beliefs
Before this sentence is out of your mouth, you may already be saying:
But I can't have that because…
That's not going to work because…
I can't do that because…
That will never happen because...
I want you to notice and write down the reasons you believe you cannot have what you want and look at them. Hard. Realize that you are making powerful arguments in favor of your limitations. That's okay if you're saying I need to face reality, I get it, but I want you to realize that you are exerting powerful energy in favor of the opposite of what you actually desire.
As long as you are giving strong emotional energy and belief to these reasons (or Limiting Beliefs), you will not be able to get what you want. In the next post we will consider how to suspend Limiting Beliefs and allow more of what we want to flow into our lives.
Do You Love a Control Freak?
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
In spite of the fact that as humans we need intimate relationships to thrive and live fully, it's worthwhile to note that relationships are often a major source of frustration and pain.
It may be important for you to develop healthier strategies to avoid getting fatigued, burned out or developing physical or emotional symptoms if you are in a relationship with A Controlling Person. Let's call this person our beloved ACP.
Almost anyone in a family, workplace or any kind of group or 'system' can emerge as A Controlling Person. Often it's a partner, parent in-law, co-worker, boss or even a child who takes on that role in a family or group.
ACP claims to know what's best for you. He often starts sentences with Do you know what you need? and then proceeds to tell you, piling on unsolicited advice about sensitive issues like your weight, how you feel, what you want to do, or who you are. These comments can range from insensitive to irritating and abusive.
What can be most baffling is that ACP usually doesn't see himself or herself as controlling or insensitive, and seems completely unaware about the feelings and body language responses of others. He sees himself as only helpful and right.
ACP is often a perfectionist. He or she may feel, If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. He may be very hard on himself too, such as hitting the gym every day at 5 am, demanding a strict dietary regime, following a rigid set of self-imposed rules, being a clean-o-holic, germ-o-phobe, neat freak, moral police force, workaholic, etc.
Extreme cases of ACP may be classified as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, where a person is rigidly concerned with details, lists, rules and dominating others.
What to do? Start to teach ACP how to treat you. If you are struggling with an overly controlling loved one, here are some strategies to try.
1. Listen. Implement active listening phrases in the relationship such as I'm listening and Continue please to make sure everyone understands each other. (Remember, listening does not equal agreement, obeying or caving.)
2. Re-Direct. If you don't want to talk about something say, 'Thank you for sharing your opinion on that, I'll think about what you said, now I would like to change the subject."
3. Be honest. If something is insulting or doesn't feel good, say so in a polite way, talking about Yourself. This will help you keep from getting angry and resentful. For example, That really doesn't feel too good at all. If you're frustrated say so. I'm getting frustrated that I've asked to change the subject and we keep going back to that subject.
4. Be generous with praise and appreciation. This helps everyone stay motivated. A simple Thank You works wonders to get started.
4. Take space. If you are doing a good job on 1 to 4 above, and yet continue to feel belittled or criticized, it's perfectly okay to take space for a while rather than get into never-ending conflicts and arguments about the same subject.
Try something like, I want to be in a relationship that helps me feel good about myself... that's not really happening right now. I want to be in a relationship where I feel good and enjoy the present moments.
5. Hold good thoughts about ACP. Think about all the things you love and appreciate about that person when he's not around. And don't be afraid to say so next time you see him.
6. Schedule a session. Therapy can be very helpful in re-establishing healthier relationships with the controlling person in your life. We have lots of experience and will be happy to help you be more understood in your relationships. cb
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
Managing Advice From Grandparents
by Carol L. Meylan, LCSW
Here is a common scenario that young families are often dealing with:
“My parents stayed with us over the Thanksgiving weekend. I love them and they were thrilled to spend time with my baby. But the problem is that my mother gave me too much advice! She thinks she is the expert because she had four children and has helped my sister with her children.
She offers help with how I can get my baby to sleep through the night and how much I should be feeding her. I know she is well-meaning, but a lot of her advice feels like criticism.
She acts like the expert, implying I am wrong in the way I am taking care of MY OWN child. Sure, a lot of her advice is very useful, but other times, I feel like a child again. And this brings up some negative feelings about how overbearing my mother was when I was growing up. I really need help with this problem because while I want my parents to be involved with my children, I also want my husband and me to be able to make our own decisions”.
A healthy relationship with grandparents enriches the lives of parents and children. The entire family bond is strengthened when grandparents are able to joyfully engage with their grandchildren. But unsolicited advice from grandparents can sometimes feel judgmental or controlling and trigger resentment or anger. Here are a few ways that parents can create a positive and nurturing grandparent relationship:
1) Make the grandparents feel important and needed.
Assume that your parents are well-meaning and want to support you. So when you want advice or need help, ask them for it. Grandparents feel important when they are included in a discussion or can offer their own expertise. Be proactive in telling them how and when they can help you.
2) Maintain your boundaries – politely, lovingly and firmly.
Often grandparents don’t realize that they are overstepping their boundaries and thereby making you feel judged or criticized. So let them know when you don’t want to hear their comments. Try saying, “Mom, I know you did things differently when I was a baby. I need to make my own decisions about how to do things.” Or, “Dad, on this issue, I would appreciate you following my approach”. Remind them that parenting and medical advice has changed over the last three decades and that you are following the recommendations of your child’s pediatrician. Often, it helps to invite grandparents to a parenting workshop or pediatrician appointment, so they can ask questions of the “experts”.
3) Resolve your own issues.
If you have unfinished business from your childhood or unresolved conflict with your parents, now is the time to resolve it. Why let lingering negative feelings have an effect on you as a parent? Work through those issues now, so they don’t interfere with you creating your own happy family.
If you want to talk to me about what is going on in your family specifically send me a message.
Advice for Stay-at-Home Parents
by Carol L. Meylan
You fell in love with your baby and at some point, whether she was 3 seconds or 3 years old, you decided that you wanted to be at home with her. Children are delightful people – enthusiastic, entertaining, sweet – and being their primary caregiver can be a wonderful and satisfying experience. And yet sometimes, being the full-time, non-stop, never-ending parent doesn’t always make you happy.
You’ve given up your career for this new job and you don’t want to question your choice. But sometimes you may wish you had made a different decision! What is going on?
If you aren’t as happy as you thought you would be when you left your paid job, try to think about the following:
Remind yourself that parenting is a very tough job, and it is a job that's 24/7.
It is easy to be stressed and irritable when you feel like you have less free time than you did before you quit your job. Are you holding yourself up to the high professional standards you did when you were employed? Just for now, try to relax your expectations of yourself. When your toddlers are napping, allow yourself to recharge your batteries. You too deserve a nap or a chance to read a book for an hour. Remember, you are your own boss now and you get to decide how to allocate your time.
Give yourself praise and appreciation.
Being a parent provides joy and satisfaction, but rarely does a two year old say “Mommy, you are doing a terrific job. I think you do an excellent job of planning and executing our days”. Nope, there is little concrete praise and thanks from our “clients” in the early years. Instead, try to acknowledge yourself for all that you provide your children. Identify the ways you have grown and developed as a person. You may be amazed at how much more patient, kind, and genuine you are now.
Your self-image has shifted
You probably felt competent and skillful in your old job. You had the respect of the people you worked with; you had an area of expertise; and you interacted with a variety of people. And giving up one’s own income can be an emotional loss, even if your family income is secure. Be patient and kind to yourself as you let go of your old identity for your new important role. Use language that shows respect for yourself. Set goals for yourself so you can continue to feel a sense of accomplishment. If you would like to schedule individual psychotherapy let me know. I can help you get focused and gain perspective on the issues that are bothering you.
by Guest Blogger T.
In this guest post, T shares one technique
he uses to successfully manage mood and
obsession issues. I know you will enjoy his
insights as much as I did. cb
One of the cognitive distortions that I regularly fight against is mind-reading. So, when I started thinking negative thoughts, and as an experiment, I literally tried disarming the negative thoughts with a smile. In doing this, I started to progressively feel better throughout the afternoon. I immediately started forward-thinking that I am going to be smiling 24 hours a day! As an example, I started thinking negative thoughts regarding other surfers. Instead of getting really anxious about their negative thoughts, I just started smiling. Then another bad thought came, and guess what? I chose to just start smiling. I started to realize that the root of the negative thought is like a negative comment from someone.
I also realized that disarming with a smile can be just that…a smile! In my previous post, I disarmed with a smile and then had a mantra that helped me cope with the situation. So, I found another methodology that works for me! That is, to just smile and not attach any words to the situation. For example, if I am upset that someone on the freeway is driving erratically, instead of smiling and saying, “there’s my friend in a hurry”, what about just smiling? Saying “there’s my friend in a hurry” implies a relationship with the erratic driver. This may not be a bad thing, but what if they start behaving shortly thereafter on the road? Then, I assume that I would have mixed feelings about the situation. So, I am going to make an attempt to just smile.
I have to admit that I didn’t know that the result would be so profound. The feeling carried me the rest of the day and into the evening. I am in an applied mathematics graduate program and am in my final semester. I felt so clear in class that I literally had the most enjoyable lecture in the whole degree. I even wrote an email to the professor that read, “Thank you for your lecture tonight. I really wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and am really looking forward to the rest of the semester.” I have never written to a professor before, and I think I am displaying some aura of confidence that I hope the reader can appreciate.
Is Forgiveness the Goal?
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
In talking about betrayal, philosophers and therapists usually describe 'forgiveness' as a way to heal. However, I would say that forgiveness that is expected, automatic or forced is rarely deep and authentic.
If you are struggling with a situation involving forgiveness, it can be difficult when you want to forgive your someone, but still find yourself feeling resentful and angry. You can't will yourself to like brussels sprouts if you really hate them. You can't make yourself forgive someone even though you may want to, or think it's a good idea. It is similar to trying to force yourself to be in love with a person you are supposed to be in love with, or not in love with a person who is 'just a friend.' The opposite and complementary problem of course, is trying to force yourself to hate things you should not like, which may happen to be your actual and true favorites!
You can't automatically will yourself to forgive someone who has caused you pain and humiliation, just because you decide you should forgive that person and move on.
As much as you think you should forgive someone, and as much as you might try to force yourself to forgive that person, it can be hard to feel free and truly forgive. If you're not totally successful at being in a forgiving attitude all of the time,, you may succumb to beating up on yourself and feeling guilty because you believe you should forgive.
"Now I'm a bad person for not forgiving that person who did that to me in the first place... and messed up my life... and now I feel weak because I'm still feeling resentful and angry about what happened. And how did I get myself into this mess... and why can't I get over it, and get my life back to normal."
How can genuine Freedom occur (and in this context I would like to call Freedom and Forgiveness synonyms), if right now you are in a position of anger, disgust and utter revulsion? Here is an example of one way that a natural feeling of forgiveness can emerge.
A hurt partner may often feel very alone in their pain and suffering. Everything they believed about their world may have been shattered like a priceless crystal goblet. The unfaithful partner will need to listen, provide information, tolerate restrictions and questions, and empathize with emotional outbursts for awhile if the relationship is to be salvaged.
This is like looking at the shattered crystal shards on the floor and just being sad about the fact that the goblet is destroyed without trying to sweep it up, promise to buy a new one, explaining how it got broken, or that it's not my fault that it got broken.
Feeling understood is where the seeds of forgiveness are germinated. It may take many repeated experiences of seeing the unfaithful partner's sadness about the betrayal for the hurt partner to start to feel understood. You can't turn back the clock and erase what happened, but if the hurt person can feel understood and accepted in that place of anger and suffering, partners can start to feel close again.
If the unfaithful partner is willing to listen and understand how mad and completely upside down the world has become, the hurt partner will start to heal. This will take time. Patience and unplugging defensiveness is required to establish trust and safety. If you are expecting healing to take a month or six, that's probably not a realistic expectation.
Instead of encouraging my clients to forgive or use forgiveness as a goal, I help them find the tools to accept and communicate their True feelings whatever they may be. In that place of vulnerability we learn self-acceptance, and it becomes natural to forgive and re-harmonize relationships. This is one way a relationship can heal after betrayal and a relationship can be inoculated against repeat occurrences. Fill out the Contact Form if you would like help with getting more Freedom from negative emotional cycles.
What Happens in Couples Therapy?
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
Partners who come in for Couples Therapy
usually start with one of these situations:
1. Both partners want to try to stay together,
2. Both are sure they want to separate,
3. Both are wondering whether to continue the relationship,
4. One partner wants to continue the other doesn't,
5. Partners are separated and need help with relationship and/or kids,
6. Someone wants individual therapy first
As the first step in Couples Therapy, it is important to know approximately which category you fall into. In other words, we don't want to be doing 'reconciliation' therapy with someone who really wants an amicable divorce, but is afraid to say so. So, as in all things, it's important to be honest.
If you are very confused about the relationship, and not really sure you want to continue, Individual Therapy is probably the best option. If you are in a crisis or domestic violence situation, Individual Therapy is also best to start. This gives you a chance to really vent and problem solve, because if your partner is there you will always have to exercise some restraint, and maybe not completely tell the truth. Maybe your partner can come in later, but it is okay to get started at first by yourself especially if you're very unsure or in a conflictual situation.
If you are both quite sure you want to stay together and generally getting along okay, coming in together is probably best. In my office, I am flexible about both people being there, and Couples Therapy is usually a combination of individual and couples sessions. Some therapists require that both parties attend all sessions to avoid jealousies and the perception of hidden information or 'ganging up on'. We can do it however you feel comfortable.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
How much do you really want
to know about what happened?
Many people believe that discussion of affair details should be kept to a minimum. They think that talking about details may further damage the relationship.
However, it has been shown that if the unfaithful partner meets the hurt partner's need to talk about the affair, the greater the hurt partner's rebuilding of trust and sense of healing.
When the unfaithful partner is willing to discuss the situation in as much detail as the hurt partner needs, and answers questions honestly, more the relationship may grow and survive.
For this disclosure to work, the hurt partner must be able to listen and respond calmly. Emotional safety is extremely important in this situation, so when asking for affair details, the hurt partner must practice phrases like...
I'm listening, continue please,
Questions can be written down and answered a few at a time, or when it's safe, for example in a therapy session. The hurt partner must realize that becoming enraged by information they have requested negatively reinforces the unfaithful partner's willingness to be open. Processing rage in an individual session is a good idea.
Any lie discovered after the the basic story has been revealed pushes recovery back even further, because the hurt partner feels betrayed yet again. So the sooner that accurate details are given the better. Unfaithful partners do not need to fill in details beyond what is asked for. Research shows that very few couples dealing with infidelity develop a thriving relationship without help, so let me know if you want to try to make things better.
Discoveries, Disloyalties, Deceit
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
A 'love affair' may be more distressing than a purely sexual relationship to both men and women because if your partner is 'in love' with someone else, this does mean that the primary relationship is in jeopardy.
Betrayal of trust shatters emotional safety in the relationship. This is why people use words like "shattered" and "devastated" to describe their reaction to finding out about an affair.
The hurt partner may experience a series of powerful trauma reactions including rage, fear, confusion, difficulty with sleeping, eating, concentrating and basic functioning. A lot of crying, screaming and obsessively going over details or completely shutting down is probably normal. Nightmares and obsessive thoughts may go on for years according to some research. These symptoms may be similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In discovering that their partner has been cheating, many clients experience a shock to their sense of reality. "How could I not see what was going on?!" they shriek. Thinking they should have known what was going on, they beat themselves up not only for being cheated on, but being oblivious in the process. On the contrary, research has shown that affairs are not easily detected when the person is skilled at compartmentalization and/or lying or has a lot of time away from home.
The hurt partner's perceptions of reality during the time the partner was unfaithful often need to be completely reworked. This is a major reason there can be a need to know details about the affair. The hurt partner has been walled out of the unfaithful partner's secret world.
Fantasies of revenge sometimes can sometimes be a response to the helplessness and pain a cheated-on person may feel. He may insist, "I want him or her to know what it feels like!"
It is important to understand these are common reactions so you will know that your out-of-control emotions are normal in a situation like this. And you are probably not going crazy. If you are feeling like getting revenge, schedule a session, and be careful not to make the situation worse.
After the initial crisis, the hurt partner may be afraid to risk becoming more open or intimate and relatively small actions by the unfaithful partner can trigger hostility and total withdrawal. Or the hurt partner may not let up on rage and accusations despite the genuine remorse and efforts at repair made by the unfaithful partner.
If you're dealing with a situation like this, I'm going to go out on a limb and say "therapy is a must" and "healing is possible." Schedule a session, you'll feel better and gain important strategies to use during this pivotal time in your life.cb
by Cynthia M. Braden
This morning, I was asked to comment for a KFI radio news item (AM 640 in Los Angeles) on the signs being posted at the entrances to the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena. Signs are an effort to improve suicide prevention at that location.
Jo, the reporter wanted to know if I thought the signs were a good idea or if I thought it was being done too late, or something different should be done.
Here's the LA Times story:
What I wanted to say is that the signs need to convince the person who is about to jump, that someone really does care about him or her, and that someone will help them until their lives get better.
Oftentimes. people who try to commit suicide have already been in different kinds of treatment. They may have attempted suicide before. They may have been to psychiatrists and medical doctors and therapists and pharmacies. They have gotten hopeless because their lives just don't seem to be getting better in spite of all the treatment. Or that they can't afford treatment, or feel like they don't have access.
Most of the time, suicide attempters simply feel that nobody cares if they live or die. Or that their life and relationships are so frustrating or non-existent that it's just too much trouble to continue on. Sometimes they are facing legal or financial situations that seem completely hopeless.
If the signs want to convince a person that life is truly worth living. I hope a trained, live person answers the telephone number on that sign, and has the funding to offer substantial, longer-term help. I hope programs are in place to help people get back on track with lives that have gotten out of control.
Unfortunately, I know from experience that this is most often not the case. Most often chronically mentally ill people have nowhere to go, and end up on the streets. If we save people from jumping... keep them alive... that's fine, but how are we going to help this person improve his quality of life, and truly change things so he can be happy and functioning well within family and society?
Simply keeping people from jumping, so that we can feel better, while they're sleeping under the bridge instead of jumping off of it, is not a great solution.
Advice for R.M.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
"When my emotions get triggered about something... when I get upset, I don't know what to do with my emotions. I don't want to lash out. Help! What can I do when I'm upset about something?"
- R.M. Manhattan Beach
I wanted to answer this question from a reader because it is such a common problem.
We all get triggered. We have emotional responses to stimuli. It's a part of being human. Often we don't even know what's really going on, or why we have gotten so freaked out over something so trivial.
What has happened is that your fight or flight response has gotten triggered. The survival of you and your ego has gotten threatened.
Remember the ancient need for humans to run away from tigers, or defend against a neighboring tribe trying to kill you and take away your women and children?
As human beings have been evolving, we have needed the subconscious fight or flight response so we could be prepared to engage in physical activity (running away, fighting) to insure the continuation of our DNA. We are physiologically wired for this response to insure the continuation of our species.
Obviously this type of mechanism is no longer that adaptive as we are currently confronted with different types of threats to our safety and security. Instead of defending against tigers and sword-wielding natives, we do battle with identity theft and government regulations, car-mageddon, and insurance companies.
What we need now is a peace and relaxation hormone to be released when we're sitting in gridlock on a deadline still 5 miles away from our destination after leaving an hour early to make sure we arrive on time. Or dealing with a million different problems where extreme patience and perseverance are the responses needed for managing threats to safety and achieving the desired result in modern life.
Instead, the fight or flight hormone cocktail is released, our cognitive processes get hijacked by adrenaline, and we're struggling to manage our emotions, swerving in and out of traffic, arguing with back seat drivers, or soothing our anxiety by eating junk food, smoking, having an anxiety attack or pity party, or looking at porn on our i-phones while we're inching down the road.
It would seem more adaptive in our current environment, to have psysiological responses that promoted patience and persistence. For example... maybe an influx of a peace and relaxation hormone. Wouldn't that be better? Perhaps we are in the process of accomplishing this evolutionary adaptation at the present time.
Meanwhile, as we wait for that change to occur, here are some ideas to re-educate or
re-direct this fight or flight response into something more efficacious for modern life.
1. Slow down and notice that you are getting triggered. It's okay to notice that, and say to yourself...
I'm getting irritated right now ... I'm feeling anxious... I'm getting mad about what is going on here.
Be honest. It's okay to say you're angry if you are. It serves you better to tell the truth than be mad and kick the dog, so to speak... or develop heart problems and physical ailments when you try to suppress your emotional energy.
Allow yourself to acknowledge, I feel myself getting hijacked by adrenaline. I can feel myself ready to fight... my heart is racing or my gut is constricting. I understand that this is my body's unconscious way of responding to a perceived threat.
In your subconscious mind, this is no different than being chased by a tiger... your survival or the survival or your ego is threatened, and your body responds with a surge of physiological processes so you can start fighting or run away.
So, the first thing to do is:
Notice your response. The thing you're doing automatically without thinking...
Then ask yourself, what is this threat really about? What perception of a threat that I am dealing with here?
Next, know that you have a choice. That your conscious mind can and will can override these processes if you choose. You always have the power to choose. Don't believe the lie that you are a victim or helpless. It may take effort. It always takes a little time and effort to process an emotional response and learn new ways of reacting. Don't expect yourself to automatically get over something just because you want to.
Emotional injuries are a lot like physical injuries in that they take time to heal. Rest is a good idea if you have received an emotional or physical injury or other crisis situation.
Learn how to come into contact with how you are really feeling. Honor yourself and the other person by telling the truth about what's going on with you.
We have to risk being vulnerable and not making the other person wrong if we want to feel connected in our relationships.
Here are a few examples of re-scripting in common problem scenarios so that you honor yourself by telling the truth without making the other person feel attacked.
Instead of: You don't pay enough attention to me!
Try: I feel left out.
Instead of: Shut up!
I feel pressured and angry.
Instead of: Don't talk to me like that!
I feel judged. That doesn't feel good at all.
Instead of: How can you leave this here for me to do?!
I feel overwhelmed. I'm completely bummed out.
Instead of: You slept with that whore!
I feel humiliated and disgusted.
Here are more feeling states and sample phrases. If you can learn to recognize and tell the truth when you feel these things in your relationship, you will begin to feel more powerful and less angry and anxious.
Be honest about your needs and wants:
someone to listen to me
to feel that I matter to you
to know that you appreciate me
to feel adored
I like when I feel...
I don't like when I feel…
I like when…
I don't like when…
I hate when I feel…
Become a Better Listener
Use these phrases:
o Continue, please.
o I'm listening.
o Tell me more about that.
o I hear that you're saying __________________. Is that right?
o I'm confused.
o Can you help me understand what you're saying?
o I didn't know you felt that way.
(Instead of "You shouldn't feel that way… because telling someone what they shouldn't have a feeling that they do have... isn't going to work.)
o I'll think about what you said. (I don't like it, but I'll think about what you said.)
o Thank you for sharing that with me, I know it's not easy to talk about.
o I need a break now.
o We can talk more later.
I hope you enjoy experimenting with these tools, Consider it your lab where you experiment in your relationships. There are a lot of tools to work with, let me know if you need more help. Regular sessions of therapy will help you learn to implement these and other techniques.
Aspects of an Ideal Relationship
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
When a person says, “I really love him or her... I want this relationship to work out” what does that mean? In therapy, I often ask clients to do the Ideal Relationship exercise, where they describe and visualize what their ideal relationship looks like, independent of what might actually be going on in reality right now.
The first thing I have noticed is that attachment is often mistaken for love.
I may be deeply attached and inter-dependent with a certain person. This can be something sublime or deeply stressful and crazy-making, or somewhere in between. Nothing else in this life has the power of relationship to cause us to reach such heights of ecstasy and despair.
Because I am to a certain extent by necessity, dependent on this person for my happiness (we share children, property and businesses), it matters very much to me how this person behaves, what they think, who they talk to, how they spend their time and money.
If I am coming from a place of not-enough-ness, I may find myself going overboard wondering what he or she is doing, trying to control my partner’s behaviors, telling them how things should be done, demanding explanations. Even such personal things as what he is eating, or how much she wants to talk to her mother. So that I can feel better somehow.
If I am overly concerned about the appropriateness of my partner’s behaviors and attitudes, likes and dislikes, eventually he or she is going to get tired. It is too much to be responsible for another person’s happiness after a while. It makes a person feel so un-free when they feel monitored or judged. And isn’t that one of our core desires, freedom?
So, each person’s job is to know:
a. You are worthy, you are good enough, just as you are!
b. It's vital to practice acceptance toward yourself and others - you don’t have to require yourself or another person to behave a certain way so that you can feel good.
c. It's okay to focus on your individual happiness, what draws your attention, what inspires you… wherever your talents lie. Have faith in yourself, and move in the direction of things that inspire you. Move away from worrying about what someone else may be thinking, doing, saying, wanting you to do, or feeling about what you are doing. You are the only one in charge of your life and it's right that you should be free to think about things, and do things that make you feel positive.
d. That it's not helpful to explain or defend yourself - better to learn to tell the truth about how you feel, what you like and don’t like, what you want more of.
Focusing this way helps alleviate mood disorders, and helps you get more of what you want. It also makes you more attractive to your partner. Be sure to always focus on what you like and love about your partner, and try to basically ignore things that bug you. This is how relationships go the distance.
Time and attention may be the most valuable aspects of an ideal relationship.
If a person has time and attention for the things that are going on in my life, I feel valuable, I feel loved. Then I am so happy, I feel good, my love hormones are pumping, I want to please in return… a positive feedback loop is happening. I tell my friends my partner is fabulous. I’m not vulnerable to affairs.
On the other hand, If my partner doesn‘t want to listen to my concerns, or sends messages that he or she is not that interested in what I have to say, or outright criticizes me for my feelings, opinions or behaviors, I feel disrespected, unsupported, alone, and probably angry and stuck too.
It’s very easy to give your loved ones your undivided attention every day. Even just for fifteen minutes, give them your undivided attention with no agenda of your own. Just go with the flow of what’s going on with them. One of the best ways to show a person love is to give them your time and undivided attention for a brief while. This is not to make you exhausted with too much giving.
If attachment, freedom and attention are present in a relationship, it is natural that affection will be present too. What is more beautiful than that? That a person hugs and kisses you because they are motivated to. That they try to please and help you because they are motivated. Not because you have demanded or had a contract, or been passive aggressive or dragged them to therapy because you're not getting enough affection. If someone feels they are not getting enough affection, they should refer to the above. It is most often due to a lack of attention, acceptance and appreciation.
Practice working with these ideas and call me if you need more help!
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
"The only emotions you can heal are those you let yourself feel and fully express."
When we perceive that we have been insulted, threatened, disrespected or lied to, the person who hurt us may accept the blame, apologize and say, “I’m sorry.”
You want to accept their apology… you want to move on. There’s no point in holding on to a grudge. You don’t think you’re holding a grudge. You’re trying not to.
But you don’t feel resolved. It seems like you never feel fully resolved after a conflict. And maybe you still feel hurt… or manipulated… again. Maybe you’re carrying around a lot of unresolved hurt in your relationship.
It’s not that you want the person to grovel necessarily, but you want to feel resolved. Like the other person understands how you feel – and loves and respects you.
You want to accept his or her apology, but you are still angry, hurt or worried… and you don’t have the love and trust you used to… and that sucks.
Your biochemistry has changed too. Love hormones have stopped surging. Now, the fight-or-flight hormone is pumping. You feel on-edge, frantic… ready to fight… figure out a strategy… run away. All you can see are your partner’s faults and mad faces, and you’re nitpicking and bickering at each other at the drop of a hat. You feel resentful that your life has turned out like this.
Your relationship is starting to feel like the Leaning Tower of Pisa… precariously in danger of tilting an inch too far.
You want to feel better.
When you suppress your emotions, a few things may happen. See if any of these sound familiar.
•Aches and pains, feel sick or drained
•Angry outbursts that don’t seem connected to anything equal to the outburst
•Tossing and turning in the night, not sleeping well
The reason we’re experiencing these and other symptoms is often because of emotions that have not been expressed. Emotional energy has to go somewhere. When we suppress that energy and don’t express it, it stays in the body.
This is where we get many somatic expressions (symptoms in the body) such as headaches; digestive discomforts… all kinds of aches and pains, high blood pressure. Sometimes serious illnesses appear. Or, emotions may erupt in unprovoked, deflected or excessive bursts causing confusion and stress to everyone.
What do we do with our emotions? We all have them as surely as we all eat and sleep. And we’re all trying to control our emotions, too…. to do something with them. To stuff them down, or to feel them, or channel them in a way we believe is appropriate.
The next post gives the process.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
Following is a process for learning how to let our emotions be what they are and express them in a way that brings us closer.
In order to express our emotions, we have to risk being vulnerable. This can be difficult, because we often associate vulnerability with getting hurt. It can seem risky for us to allow ourselves to come into touch with our emotions.
In order to get over something, it is useful to risk being vulnerable and tell the complete truth about how we are feeling.
To start with, do this process by yourself. You can decide later if you want to talk about it, or write in a letter, but for now, when you are upset about something, start practicing telling the truth about how you are feeling… at least to yourself.
Do the following process:
Get to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
Express yourself at each level before moving on to the next.
Here are some statements to help get you started expressing yourself at each level.
Level 1: Express anger, resentment, blame
I hate it when…
I’m totally fed up with…
I blame you for…
I’m incredibly angry about…
This is why I’m angry about it…
This is not the time to be delicate with your emotions, this is the time to express the darkest, most nitty-gritty way you may be feeling. Once you have expressed all the anger, move on to Level 2, etc.
Level 2: Express disappointment, sadness, hurt
I’m so sad that…
I’m incredibly disappointed…
It makes me so hurt that…
This is why it hurts…
Level 3: Express fears, insecurities, bad memories
I’m so afraid…
What I’m truly afraid of is…
It scares me when…
It reminds me of…
Level 4: Express understanding, empathy, responsibility
I’m sorry that…
Please forgive me for…
I understand how difficult it must be for you because…
It is completely understandable that…
Level 5: Express intention, wishes, connection
I would like to…
I wish that…
I’m hoping for…
I forgive you for…
I really do love you, I care what you think about me.
I think it would be a good idea to...
I appreciate you because…
I love you because…
Once you have done this process, you have expressed the complete truth about you feel. Healing ourselves and our relationships depends on our willingness to go to every single level and learn to tell the truth. This is also often the sort of thing we do in the office in Emotionally Focused Therapy.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
"The world revolves around me, make me feel safe!"
To develop optimally, an infant needs to live in an atmosphere of trust. This means a feeling of physical comfort and a minimal amount of fear about getting needs met.
In other words, we don't want the baby to be wondering, "If I cry out for Mom, will she come and be mad or anxious?" "Or not come at all?"
It is important for the infant to learn that if he cries because he is hungry or wet, or maybe has a tummy ache or fever, or is just lonely and bored, a responsive and sensitive caregiver comes along quickly with a pleasant attitude to help. This promotes trust.
If I am a baby, I'm thinking, "Everything is okay here, I'm safe and there's someone to hold me when I feel like it. Hey, and definitely help me out if I'm wet or cold or hot or hungry or overstimulated!"
"Oh, and do something to keep me entertained… but not too much, okay?"
Doing the physical things to make a baby feel safe is pretty self-explanatory. However, if you are in a stressed-out world of your own, with work, other kids maybe, in-laws, money issues, fighting with your spouse, it may be hard to be emotionally present and responsive the way you would like.
Needless to say, if parents are fighting in the next room, this does not lead to a baby developing a sense of trust and solid attachment. This is not to make you feel guilty, but to suggest adjusting your behavior if you're doing this. Fighting within earshot of infants should be avoided even if you think they can't understand. Their physiology is affected and it causes stress. Exposure to this type of stimulus has been shown to cause changes in the brain. Need I say more?
Don't forget your vibe. Infants are expert at picking up a tone of voice or body posture or facial expression and having emotional responses. Learn to compartmentalize and focus on enjoying what you are doing in the moment. I like to do a symbolic gesture of locking my 'troubles' in the car. Why not set whatever crisis of the moment aside before coming into the house to interact with your family?
Try not to be overcommitted with activities at this time, you and your partner are going through a developmental phase of your own. Becoming parents and raising a family is a huge adjustment in and of itself, and the relationship needs time and attention.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
“Stop playing! Get to work!”
Has anyone given this message to her children?
“Get busy! Do something productive!”
In this article, we will explore the importance of free, child-directed play as an aspect of development, and understand a few things about the different kinds of play…
…Because everything is about play and fantasy when you’re a child, right? Even when you’re an adult too, but that’s another subject…
We can observe play behaviors in our infants soon after birth. The moment the swaddling is off, the newborn’s arms are flailing about trying to figure out how to get fingers in mouth while living in air instead of amniotic fluid.
She knows there is no milk in her fingers. She is playing.
Both solitary and interactive play evolve into abilities we need to be fulfilled in life. If play is advertently or deliberately suppressed, there can be difficulties in interpersonal relationships and achievement later on.
Here are things to know about play:
1. Solitary Play
The first type of play you may notice in your baby is solitary play. Infants will play with anything in their environment as well as their body parts. Fingers and toes are favorite playthings at the beginning of life. Infants may be happy staying alone in their cribs playing with their voices, their bodies or anything in their environment.
To facilitate solitary play, it’s fine to leave the baby in her crib or play pen as long as she’s not distressed. Some babies, when feeling securely attached, will stay in their cribs singing and fiddling around, rolling or whatever for long periods of time. It’s good to let her have quiet time as long as she’s not getting distressed.
Accidental ways of interrupting development of solitary play:
1) media such as television, radio, computer
2) arguing within earshot
3) too much rushing around
4) emotional tension
5) too many toys
Believe it or not, solitary play development in infancy and childhood helps people be able to work independently later on.
In the next article we will explore the next play skill: Onlooker Play
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
If you are struggling with non-compliance and aggression, here are a few things to consider:
1. When an adult hits a child, it makes him feel frustrated and impotent.
If you physically punish a child, guess what happens next? The kid goes to school and hits other kids. Or becomes withdrawn and fearful.
As difficult as it can be to parent an oppositional child, we have to figure out a better way than exertion of physical dominance for teaching and modeling. Physical force is useful and necessary at times, but as the go-to parenting technique, this is not going to produce the results you want.
2. Hurting your child with words does not help him to learn.
It's funny that sometimes we think that by being negative, we can motivate someone. Saying things like You'll never learn! your child hears that you basically think he is incapable of learning. Since you are the iconic figure of Mom or Dad, your words and your opinion are so powerful in the child's eyes.
The child thinks "Oh, my dad thinks I'm stupid, what's the use of trying anyway since I'm so retarded." This leads to low self-esteem and poor motivation, the opposite of what we are trying to do.
How do we then motivate our children?
3. Give reinforcement to desired behavior.
"What do you mean give reinforcement?"
Reinforcements are deliberate responses, based on principles of Behaviorism, to encourage certain behaviors in another person (or animal for that matter).
For example, some of the best reinforcers for your child are:
a. your undivided attention
b. you being proud of him
c. your exclusive time
Notice when your child is doing things you like and want to encourage. When he is giving you the behaviors you want to encourage, give him a. b. and c. above. This is Positive Reinforcement.
He is being rewarded and will continue the behaviors that he is being rewarded for.
If he says bad words and you get excited and start screaming... "Where did you learn to talk like that?! We don't say those things around here!!?" ...etcetera ad infinitum... Guess what, you just gave that kid so much reinforcement for the behavior you did not like (bad words)! He got to see your mad face. He got to see you hopping around losing control of yourself. He got a thrill. He got scared too. Better act like you couldn't care less, and continue to search for an iota of a positive behavior to start giving attention to.
If you have been engaging in fighting and struggling with each other, you are trying to un-do a negative feed backloop and start creating a positive feedback loop instead.
It can feel like trying to re-direct a giant steamroller going downhill. It is going to take a bit of effort to get the momentum moving more in the direction you want. But deep down children do want to please their parents. They want to be loved and accepted and encouraged. These are very powerful reinforcers indeed.
Negative Reinforcement is basically ignoring undesired behaviors as much as possible/safe. If the child isn't getting rewarded for his behavior, principles of Behaviorism say that Extinction will eventually occur. The behavior will stop if the child is no longer being reinforced for it.
Remember, negative attention and punishment are still attention and are powerful reinforcers.
If you need more help learning how to bring out the best in your child, call me or fill out the contact form.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
It can be enough to drive a parent nuts, when a kid for no good or apparent reason, decides not to go to school. I have noticed a few reasons why kids don't want to go to school even with our beautiful schools in Manhattan Beach and the South Bay. And several things parents can do to help. Trying different ways of looking at situations, and getting rid of shame and blame is a good way to start.
Here are a few things your child might want to tell you:
1. "I'm afraid to be away from Mommy and Daddy. "
When a young child doesn't want to go to school, he may be afraid to be separated from you right now. He may be feeling less secure in his attachment. This is often due to recent changes in relationships or stressful problems that may have come up for the family. If the child is hearing fighting in the evening or sensing an atmosphere of anger, tension or anxiety, he may wake up afraid to be separated from you. There's a sense that something bad might happen, or I might never see them again, and who will take care of me... if I go away from my parents. Learn more about separation anxiety.
1. When you have a quiet moment with your child (not when it's time to go to school), ask him something like "I notice you have been having a hard time going to school in the morning lately, can you tell me about that?"
Then whatever he says, let him talk and encourage him to continue telling you about it. Please avoid statements like: "You know you have to go to school!" "Everybody has to go to school!" "It's time for you to grow up now, stop being a baby!" "I can get in trouble with the police if you don't go to school!" Avoid all these types of statements. Try not to teach him anything in this moment. This is a listening moment not a teaching moment.
Instead, focus on the child and his process. Let him talk. Ask him to draw a picture about it, or put on a costume and act out something about it. Realize that young children are fantasy- driven. Their play themes demonstrate what's on their minds in a metaphorical sense and conflicts and challenges are worked out in play.
This doesn't mean that you are going to let him not go to school! It just means that you are slowing things down and understanding. Once he has thoroughly blown off steam about it, you will find him more willing to separate from you the next day. If you are trying to force or reason with him, it's probably not going to work.
2. Engage in child-directed play, 20 minutes a day (floor time)
Get on the floor with your child and let him be the director. (I don't mean sitting in front of the TV together.) Let him direct the play scenario. Sit, give him your undivided attention, observe his play, participate, but let the child lead. Follow along, or shadow him in his play themes. This helps the child develop a sense of competence and self-worth. He is learning that he is important to you. If you do this consistently, it should help in the mornings and save you from hours of dealing with tantrums.
Other problems leading to school refusal:
2. "The kids are mean."
Again, facilitate your child's expression, Let him talk about it. Try not to blame anyone or tell your child it's his fault, or not his fault, this leads to anxiety, fear and blame. Teach the child to identify and express how he feels. For example, I feel mad, scared, afraid, embarrassed... really, really mad. Have him draw pictures. Act out a play about it. Obviously, intervene with teachers as appropriate and never engage another child directly.
3. "I have a tummyache... I have a headache..."
Be aware that children will often complain about physical issues when they are feeling anxious or depressed. Realize that children understand their vulnerability, and if adults are acting unpredictably or have mean faces or loud voices, children experience a physiological fear reaction which results in emotional and behavioral manifestations. Helping the child release his emotional stress in an appropriate or creative way is the goal.
Try the floor time, and if you're still having a problem with your child refusing to go to school, come in and let's talk about it!
What to do About Nagging?
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
Communication Exercise for Couples
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
Now that you have survived Valentine's Day, I hope it went well and you feel rejuvenated in your relationship, with positive memories and good feelings to reflect on.
Even if everything didn't go as perfectly as you might have hoped, I encourage you to reflect on the the things you love and appreciate about this relationship. I wanted to give you a few exercises to help practice this attitude, so that you and your partner can understand each other better.
We all want to feel like our partner "gets" us. That they love and appreciate us. Here's the exercise...
1. Turn off all media, get rid of distractions
2. Completing the exercise over a meal is fine
1. One of the things I appreciate most about you is...
2. How can I show you more support and encouragement in the way you like?
3. When do you feel most appreciated?
4. What do you like best about our life together?
5. How can I help you feel more happy?
6. Are you worried or anxious about anything you would like to share?
7. Are you angry about anything right now?
8. I trust you most when __________________.
9. I feel great about us when ______________________.
10. I love you best when...
11. What is your idea of romance?
12. What is your idea of a good relationship?
13. I feel most attracted to you when...
14. Tell me about your fantasies and desires.
As you and your partner are listening to each other talk about these topics, notice it's focused on what we like, what we are wanting to create more of, and setting aside everything that's 'wrong' for the moment.
I hope you'll keep it light and positive. Practice the listening responses I talked about in the other blogs. If it starts to devolve into a fight, or you don't feel like bothering... we can help. It's worth the effort to try to make things better.
by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
You may say to yourself...
"The title of this post is annoying already!"
"Why should I have to appreciate him if he is barely doing what he should be doing!" Or worse he's uncooperative and stubborn, avoidant or even cheating. Or you feel like you're doing all the work, or nothing is working.
Here's the thing we have to understand as women. We really are wired differently than our man. He needs different things to be happy than we do. He wants to please you. Obviously you know when a man feels in love, he will do anything to please us.