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Understanding Grief and Loss. How to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One

After Losing a Loved One

After losing a loved one, there comes the chain reaction of gifts, cards, meals, and calls. Friends and family of the bereaved feel the need to help and do something. This solution-focused thinking is helpful initially, however, the grieving are soon forgotten about as everyone else resume their lives. This perpetuates the stigma associated with grief and loss. There is a belief that grief is temporary. That there must be a solution to your grief and pain; the sense that we must make ourselves feel better shortly following the funerals, wakes, dinners, and remembrances. We are faced with the impossible task of “moving on”, even though “moving on” seems to impose some kind of illogical time limit.

Feeling Stuck and Unable to Move On from Grief? It’s Normal

As someone who lost loved ones early on in my life, I was at a loss for how to go about the “moving on” part. I was grateful for all those who helped me during this experience, but it seemed like I was a haze of the person I was before and after the losses. This “stuck” feeling seemed to be a new part of my identity, one stuck in the past, not quite ready for the future.

As a clinician, I have found this is a common experience for others and I understand what clients are going through. Clients say that this stuck feeling is almost synonymous with their grief, and this feeling of being unable to move on comes and goes along with other difficult “phases” or emotions of grief. Grief is not just a series of stages but is a part of one’s identity which needs to be shared with those around you. As a counselor, I work with individuals to try and incorporate their grief into this new period of life; one which includes transparency as well as connecting with and working through uncomfortable feelings and changes.

In the book, “It’s OK that you’re not OK”, Megan Devine redefines how society sees grief and what exactly we can do when faced with our own grief. She explains that, “you don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief. You need someone to see your grief, to acknowledge it. You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life”.

This powerful statement examines how a lot of times we are at a loss for how we, as a society, handle loss. Rather than just sitting with our pain, we problem solve. There is no solution. Grief is messy, hard, and eventually will become a part of one’s identity. So, let us re-examine how we think about grief, let us sit with our emotions, let us sit with our grief and all that entails. In order to progress further, Devine states, “We have to find ways to show our grief to others, in ways that honor the truth of our experience. We have to be willing to stop diminishing our own pain so that others can be comfortable around us”. So how do we move forward instead of moving on? Possibly with a spin on the “stages of grief” and a more authentic look at what we need as human beings.

“The 5 Stages of Grief”

The “stages of grief” are often talked about as a broad guideline to use when confronted with a loss. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, finally acceptance. These emotional experiences are broadly supposed to give some insight into grieving, thus allowing for better understanding and empathy.  While these steps might be helpful as a template of understanding, the grieving experience does not follow a linear progression. As a counselor, I ask my clients what they need during this time in their life? The answers vary, from needing extra support on the anniversary of a loved one’s death or to simply taking time out of one’s day to honor that person in a way that feels good for them.  Others do not know what to do with their grief, to which, we spend time discussing. The point is to ask for help no matter how much time has passed since the death of a loved one.

There should be no expiration date on needing help and being compassionate with one’s self.

Loss is loss and when it comes to the grieving process, we might be better served by following a more Buddhist-centric philosophy. This would be one that assumes that life is painful at times, and that there is much to be learned about ourselves and the world around us by not only experiencing but by embracing that pain.

 

If you’d like support and counseling for grief schedule an appointment with Reed Allen

How to Keep Desire and Sex Alive in Long-Term Relationships… Particularly in the #MeToo Culture

Conventional Society and Sexual Desire

When it comes to sex in heterosexual relationships, there’s a societal convention and some genetic wiring for men to initiate and be in charge; but, women and their bodies are the object of attention. In relationships, women expect and like their men to make the first move while also being narcissistically focused on their bodies and how they look. It is with sex, society puts women on a pedestal as goddesses and disparages them at the same time, sometimes simultaneously.

The last year brought necessary and great attention across the world to sexual harassment and sexual assault with the #MeToo campaign. This ignites an important topic: the effects of women being intensely sexualized their entire lives and it’s impact on women’s sexuality in romantic relationships and how to balance this with needs of cultivating desire in long-term relationships.

#MeToo. Why Woman Struggle to have a Positive Body-Image

By adulthood, women have a long-complicated history intra-relationally with their bodies, their sexuality and have learned that being desired can be hazardous. As teens, female bodies being to change and the comparison between themselves and others begins alongside wanted and unwanted attention from boys and men. In the early teen years, the building of self-confidence or insecurity and unworthiness has already begun and been underway. By adulthood, all most all women have experienced some form of sexual coercion and 1 in 4 have been raped. Sadly, women are physically and emotionally vulnerable solely because of their gender. The sense of vigilance and suspicion that understandably develops interferes with their relationships with their bodies, sexuality, self-esteem and within their romantic relationships. Also see our blog on #MeToo, One Year Later.

A Note to Men

It is the responsibility of men to understand the aforementioned and how to balance this with needs of a relationship which include making your female partner feel desired. Woman need to feel wanted and irresistible, within their romantic relationships. No matter how long you’ve been in your relationship, this key fact will never change and it’s an essential ingredient to maintaining a hot sex life in a long-term relationship. Though, how you make your partner feel desired is largely based on what she enjoys and her history in order to determine what makes her specifically feel safe but also passionately desired.

It’s important to have intimate communication in your relationships about what feels good for your female partner and what makes her feel both respected and safe but irrevocably desired. This includes her likes with flirtation, touch and what arouses her which are central to have as on-going parts of long-term relationships as well as what she doesn’t like.  

And women, it is your job to take back control by raising your self-esteem and improving your relationship with your body and sex. To begin to learn what you like, what you don’t, what your boundaries are, and to be able to assert and share this clearly with your partner.

Words of Advice for Men and Women… but mostly Men

Orgasms are not what make sex so great. Yes, they’re great, but, the goal shouldn’t be to get your partner to climax. Instead, focus on making your partner feel wanted. This is easy to do if you’re enjoying what you’re doing during sex when it comes to pleasing her. If you’re not enjoying yourself, chances are, neither is she. If you’re both having fun, feelings of desire and being wanted will naturally rise, and the intensity and passion will be there. Creating feelings of desire are truly what is needed for great sex.

Furthermore, desire can and should be cultivated outside of the bedroom.

Sex therapist and author Stephen Snyder, M.D. discusses simmering as a key ingredient in keeping sex in long-term relationships lively. Simmering is getting you and your partner excited, even when having sex isn’t an option, and then leaving them to “simmer” until later. Dr. Snyder writes, “This generally means no orgasms, no rhythmic stroking, no heavy breathing. Nothing that’s going to leave you too frustrated after you have to stop… In sex therapy we often counsel people to enjoy brief moments of arousal together for no reason at all, except that it feels good.” This can mean a long embracing hug before having to leave for work, touching each other before bed, a note leaving the mind to wander, or a deep kiss before dinner. “Simmering helps cultivate the right kind of erotic climate in a relationship. Most couples’ erotic climate is sustained more by simmering than by sex. Plus, simmering is a perfect way to make your partner feel desired.

Lastly, another way to spark desire includes words of affirmation such as “I love the sound of your laugh.”, “I’ll be daydreaming of you all day and can’t wait to see you after work.”, “Your intelligence is sexy; it turns me on”.

Desire – A Strength Based Approach

If a woman can develop a more positive relationship with her body she can begin to take back control in her sexual life increasing her ability to be more sexually aroused, independent, self-validating, have a greater ability to climax as well as feel more comfortable initiating sex. As Dr. Snyder puts it, “You don’t have to be a sex therapist to know that a woman’s sexual enjoyment strongly depends on how she things she looks…”

Men, it is your responsibility to aid in this process for your woman. She is going up against years of scrutiny by society and needs your support. Lastly, initiate conversations with your partner about what they like and don’t like related to flirtation, arousal, foreplay and sex.

If you’d like support cultivating improved communication or re-igniting desire in your relationship connect with us for couples counseling.

#MeToo, One Year Later

“#If only I could save you. #If only I could help you remove that weight from your tired shoulders and become the joy of an unburdened you. My prayer for all survivors of sexual assault. #MeToo” — actress Alyssa Milano, later tweeting from inside the hearing: “I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.”

In October 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral. Women in mass numbers bravely took to social media to speak out about the abuse of power, sexual harassment and assault they’ve endured their entire lives. Women no longer stood down and caused a widespread and fierce movement both nationally and globally.

Like clockwork, just one year later, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing has intensely impacted the world and women everywhere are triggered. The National Sexual Assault Hotline double their average Thursday after Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies and the Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline numbers tripled.

But women are not just triggered they are angry, motivated and ready to fight…

Founder of the MeToo movement, Tarana Burke via Twitter writes, “These men are wholly uninterested and unmoved by this woman’s words…Dr. Ford has to talk about the worst trauma of her life in front of them. This is the reality of being survivor of sexual assault in this country. #WeBelieveDrFord #WeBelieveSurvivors #metooMVMT”

Give me the Facts:

No matter how you’re feeling about the Ford Vs Kavanaugh case, let’s get some facts straight. National statistics from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center report:

  • 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
  • Only 2% of sexual assault accusations reported to police turn out to be false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other types of violent crime.
  • 43% of victims did not report because they thought that nothing could be done, 27% thought it was a private matter, 12% were afraid of the police response, and 12% felt it was not important enough to report.
  • The majority of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, such as homes and offices.
  • Sexual assault is often motivated by hostility, power and control, not sexual desire.
  • Sexual offenders are “ordinary” and “normal” individuals who come from all walks of life. People who commit sexual assaults are not obviously creepy, abnormal perverts or people who could be easily identified and avoided.

Women have been sexualized their entire lives. Society puts women on a pedestal as goddesses and disparages them at the same time, sometimes simultaneously. Sadly, women are physically and emotionally vulnerable solely because of their gender. The sense of vigilance and suspicion that understandably develops interferes with their relationships with their bodies, sexuality, self-esteem and within their romantic relationships. Today, more than ever, it’s time for change.

Women – It is your responsibility to

Support your fellow sisters in their fight to have self-worth, positive body imagine, confidence, sexual freedom, pride in their sexuality, and independence. Fighting sexual harassment means helping women not just punishing men.

Have a Voice. When harassment or assault occur it is your duty to provide a voice when those we love can’t bear to confront the reality of being sexualized, scrutinized for our bodies or taken advantage of. This includes a voice of emotional support as well as support to aid in your fellow sister’s reporting and coming out.

Get yourself, or your loved one, into counseling to work on your relationship with yourself, your body and your sexuality. The best ammo we can have is feeling strong and powerful mentally, emotionally and physically. Survivors of sexual assault struggle with shame, terror, guilt, depression, anxiety, PTSD and detachment from their bodies. Starting counseling can be scary but it helps.

Get out and vote. ‘Nuff said.

Men – It is your responsibility to

Check your privileges

Examine your own life and the ways in which you may have accidently caused women in your life to feel uncomfortable. Or how you talk about women when they’re not around. How does this perpetuate women being sexualized, scrutinized or treated as objects? 

Think about all the things you have to do each day to protect yourself from sexual assault. Then consider what women do on a daily basis: carry Mace, park in well-light areas, don’t jog at night, don’t jog with headphones, don’t go into an elevator alone with a man, don’t take the first floor apartment, be careful not to drink too much, hold keys as a weapon when walking alone, don’t make eye contact with men on street, make assertive eye contact with men on the street…

No longer turn a blind eye; stop being a bystander. “A man’s legitimacy as an ally to women is only fully expressed when he is an intentional exemplar and fierce watchdog for the behavior of other men.” – Courtney Connley, CNBC

Talk to the women in your life. It is your responsibility to talk to the women in your life as the ubiquity of these issues are clear. Ask if this has happened to them and what happened. Listen, empathize, ask how you can help.

Make sure your romantic partner feels safe and comfortable with the way you make her feel desired, the way you touch her, or the way you initiate or have sex.

Participate in the social media campaign with #HowIWillChange

Conversation, education and activism towards changing the culture of treatment towards women, sexual harassment and assault is upon us. Women and survivors everywhere are ready to set the world on fire with truth. They are ready for change. Together with bravery, strength and unity a fierce movement is upon us. Silent women will be no more.  #WeBelieveYou

 

 

I Should be Happy but I’m Not…

When is the Right Time for Counseling?

Not only is the stigma around therapy still very much alive, we also impose strict guidelines on ourselves about when we are allowed to ask for help. Our self-imposed rules about seeking individual or couples counseling have one thing in common and that is that we are unlikely to see therapy as a preventative measure for our own wellbeing or the wellbeing of our relationships. And even when in counseling, people tend to be embarrassed that their in therapy and don’t publicly share.

Individuals believe they should be happy, but feel guilty that they don’t. When asked, “What brings you in?” individual clients may respond with self-judgment about seeking out therapy. Couples, on the other hand, are afraid that talking about what’s “wrong” in counseling does more harm than good to the relationship. Moreover, couples wait too long to come in and small repairable bumps turn into large potholes of resentment and disappointment. We sometimes hear, “We’re not married, we shouldn’t need couples counseling?” Or “We tried to work it out on our own; we didn’t think it would get this bad.” As a couple, we feel that any time we decide to seek out a therapist it suggests that our relationship is faulty and that choosing therapy implies we are in the wrong relationship. Overall, we believe times have to be very tough to legitimize therapy. 

Societal stigma continues to direct how we feel about counseling today. The belief that therapy is for people who are weak and can’t fix their own problems is outdated. Counseling is hard work and takes strength, courage, vulnerability, and stepping outside of your comfort zone for the betterment of yourself and your relationships. It’s time to remove the shame around wanting to improve your happiness with your life and relationships and stop the notion that if you have good friends that you shouldn’t need therapy. While support from loved ones is important, counselors are highly trained and well versed in treating cognitive, emotional, relational, behavioral and existential issues.

Our thoughts continue to be influenced by the arbitrary belief that happiness equals the absence of issues and that problems should only be addressed when they have become so destructive that they are visible to the world around us. As people and a society, we are so focused on fixing things and finding quick solutions to problems that we tend to forget that issues and problems usually evolve over time. Problems build up. We are quick to forget that we have the power to take preventive steps before going to war with others and ourselves. After all, we don’t think twice to dissolve our daily dosage of Vitamin C before the first sneeze, but we make ourselves wait until we are mentally exhausted to consider taking the first step to addressing our mental health needs.

Best time to start therapy

For that reason, the best time to start therapy is not when we are in the midst of a crisis but when we’re in a state that can foster self-awareness and insight. Why not seek counseling and course correct smaller issues that will help you be happier and more content before they get worse for yourself or the relationship?  It is time we consider therapy as a tool that has the possibility to prevent us from reacting harmfully during a crisis, that teaches us how to build healthy and lasting interpersonal relationships, and that introduces us to skills that can help us when life is hard.

This is not to propose that psychotherapy is for everyone or that everyone even needs it. However, it suggests that we consider therapy more as crisis prevention than crisis intervention. Most of us will benefit from exploring and processing our emotions and thoughts within a space that is designed to be reflective, validating, non-judgmental, explorative and empathetic. Most of us will discover hidden struggles and others will simply have the benefit of hearing an unbiased professional perspective to help inform their coping and decision-making. In any case, it is the hope that you consider and allow yourself to seek out therapy without having reached your breaking point or feel you are in the wrong relationship–indulge in the benefits of a good therapeutic relationship through good and bad times.

Click here to learn more about our Counseling Specialties

 

Navigating a Relationship with a High Functioning Alcoholic

Being in a relationship with someone who is a high functioning alcoholic (HFA) can feel lonely and confusing. You may feel that something is wrong but because there are so few outward signs of trouble, it is hard to both name the problem and know where to start to fix it. 

Identifying who might be a high functioning alcoholic can be difficult, particularly because many of the things we think about someone who struggles with alcohol use include an inability to keep a job, always intoxicated, and spending all their money on alcohol-  may not apply. HFA are certainly impacted by their use of alcohol, but because the negative consequences can be less obvious and less visible they likely will be in denial about those consequences and the need for treatment. If your partner seems unconcerned, you may worry you are overreacting or nagging. Additionally, because drinking alcohol is such an accepted part of may people’s social lives, it is easy to rationalize or justify using, making it hard for you to feel like you can speak up.

What specifically about your partner’s use is setting off alarm bells for you?

6 Signs of a High Functioning Alcoholic

  1. Is it because it seems they are using alcohol as a way to deal (or not deal) with problems and feelings?
  2. Drinking moderately most days of the week whether to relax or wind down?
  3. Are they usually drinking alone?
  4. Does it seem like they are having to drink more and more to get the same effect?
  5. Are they drinking more than 3 drinks a day or 7 a week for women or 4 drinks a day or 14 drinks a week?
  6. Does their drinking cause you to worry about their health and safety or your health and safety?

If so, you might be in a relationship with a high functioning alcoholic- someone who both struggles with alcohol, but is also able to fulfill work, social, and familial obligations most or all of the time. Though you may still doubt yourself, if you think there might be an issue, there is a good chance you are right. One in seven adults is believed to have an alcohol use disorder.

If you suspect your partner may be a HFA, it is important to create time and space for yourself to assess what your needs are in the relationship. This can be incredibly hard, especially when so much time is spent on the acute needs of your partner, but figuring out what your boundaries, fears, and non-negotiables are is necessary in order to determine what to do next. This also allows you to identify what supports you will need as you set out on whatever the path is to addressing your partner’s use. Those supports could be family, friends, a support group or connecting with a therapist. Because there is often so much silence and shame around addiction, knowing that you are not alone in this process and that you have places and people you can go to is vital.

Once you have figured out what your needs are and put your supports in place, you can move forward with implementing a plan. The plan could be talking with your partner about your concerns and discussing possible treatment options.  The plan could be staging an intervention for your partner where family and friends talk about the impact of their alcohol use with the goal of getting your partner to accept help. The plan could also include deciding that you do not feel able to remain in the relationship if your partner does not enter treatment, successfully reduce consumption or stop using.

No matter what you decide, knowing that decision was informed by a thoughtful process of engaging with yourself and what you need from your partner in order to feel healthy, happy, and whole will help you find peace with whatever the outcome is.

If you would like support in this process, many of our clinicians like, Alexandra Backis, at NSC successfully work with individuals and couples struggling with substance use or recovery.

 

Intuition vs. Anxiety: What is Your Gut Telling You — and Should You Trust It?

All day and every day, our minds chatter. With all this noise, listening to your gut and deciding whether to trust it is a challenge. If you’re experiencing hesitation around trusting your instincts, you’re not alone. In deciding to trust your gut, it’s important to first ask yourself another question: Where is the gut feeling coming from – intuition, fear or something else entirely?

What is intuition, and how does it differ from anxiety?

Intuition is defined as “the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning” (Puiman, 2017). It’s that ambiguous knowing. It’s a culmination of all of your rational mind, based on all your experiences, that are too much to decipher individually in a fleeting moment. Your intuition comes as a sixth sense. Anxiety, meanwhile, is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event” (Dictionary.com, 2018).

Intuitive thoughts focus on the present, and they tend to feel neutral or calm. Anxious thoughts relate to the past and future, and carry a sense of dread and nervousness.

Your intuition, ironically, is often precisely what’s giving you anxiety. There are times when your intuition is telling you what you need to do, and it’s completely against what you think you should be doing. The “should” voices come from anxious parts of your identity – the people pleaser, the overachiever, your tendency to avoid conflict and change. When your intuition tells you things that contradict those other voices, we can run into trouble.

 

Trusting your intuition is a decision.

Following your intuition instead of your anxiety is a decision. But it’s an extremely difficult decision when anxiety is present. We’ll often experience subtle emotional and physiological cues that indicate a “hunch” about something – that’s your intuition talking. When you’re anxious, the physiological responses related to anxiety take precedence over intuitive feelings. Studies have shown that our decision-making skills suffer as a result of anxiety. Anxiety causes us to feel less confident, be less trusting of others, and to avoid taking even the most necessary of risks. Even with safe and simple decisions, anxiety still has this damaging effect.  

To follow your intuition, you first need to get in tune with your anxiety and learn to differentiate between the two.

 

So, what do I do?

When anxiety or fear is being triggered, there’s an overwhelming swirl of thoughts and emotions. So, give yourself a break, and take a moment to pause. Breathe. Allow immediate reactionary thoughts to settle, and the uncomfortable emotions to simmer down. Once you allow yourself stillness, you can start the process of untangling your anxiety from your thoughts versus your intuition. Intuition can be quiet, compared to thoughts, and it needs your trust.

Observe which thoughts carry emotion: Pay attention to the decision you’re pulled toward out of wanting that discomfort to go away, and which decisions are grounded in instinct. The decisions that keep you safe immediately but don’t always take care of you in the long run are likely being made out of fear and anxiety. The decisions that challenge you in the moment, but feel right and set you free in the long run are likely being made as a result of your intuition.

 

Breakup Talk

Sex and the City, Season 6 eEpisode 7, Berger’s breakup posit to Carrie

How to have the breakup conversation

The build-up to the breakup talk is awkward, uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking… should I keep going? It hovers day after day over you as you try to decide “When’s the best time?” and “What do I say?”. Naturally you don’t want to cause someone pain or feelings of rejection. But, no matter what, your anxiety about the breakup talk comes from a place of caring, a place of love; and, it’s okay to embrace the anxiety and move forward. We all know ending a relationship sucks. So let me share some things to help you through this process.

You don’t need a “good enough” reason to justify wanting to end a relationship.

If you’re sure you want to end things, you’re allowed to no longer be into the relationship. Don’t pick a fight or wait for your partner to screw up so you can have a “good enough” reason for ending the relationship. While this may make you feel justified or better about ending it, this is really just manipulative. It can cause your partner more pain as they blame themselves for the ending or carry around the notion that if they didn’t mess up then the relationship might still be intact. It’s okay for you to have the talk based on your needs for when you’re ready to end things.

It’s okay to have boundaries during your breakup conversation.

Don’t let the conversation drag on for hours and become an emotional tornado. This is painful for everyone. You do need to give your partner some time to digest the information and ask questions and get answers. However, don’t let this drag on for hours. Instead, create healthy boundaries. Allow time to have the talk, give space for Q&A and then wrap it up. For longer term relationships, the injured party might need time to digest the information and work through the shock. So what does this mean for you? It means, you might have the breakup talk, with the same questions and dialogue a second time once your ex has some space. Don’t be surprised by this. When emotionally upset, our thinking and processing of information greatly decreases. It’s normal for your ex to need the conversation again for their own closure. So here’s the boundary, keep the first conversation to an appropriate length and if you’re willing, allow for a second conversation.  Keep reading… let me explain.

Why a second conversation?

The person doing the ending of a relationship is much further along in the processing of the relationship being over. However, the injured party is not in the same emotional place. Allowing a second brief conversation, if needed, gives your partner the respect to process the ending, verbalize concerns questions and feelings and get their closure as well.*Every relationship is different, so this may not be the right course of action if the dynamics of your relationship weren’t healthy.

Plan ahead for “the talk” and the weeks after

Prepare what you want to say, and, yes, this should be in person, to decrease your anxiety and aid in being compassionate, respectful, clear and succinct. (Refrain from listing flaws or details about what you don’t like about them.) Use I statements versus we as this will leave room for your partner to disagree with your points. I made this decision because xxx. My concern is that xxx. When you get pushback or shock from your partner validate their feelings. I can see where you’re coming from, I understand what you’re sharing. I also have loved spending time together and have so many great memories and at the same time xxx. I know this is difficult, but I’ve decided it’s best to end the relationship.

Also, consider what you want the weeks or months after the breakup to look like. This can be decided together if your partner’s willing to discuss this. If not, share what your vision is. This way, your ex and you know what to expect which creates predictability and an essence of control. Example: I care about you/love you and think it’s best if we aren’t in touch for 3 months. Not hearing from me doesn’t mean I don’t miss you but I need to work through this breakup and being in communication will be too difficult.Areas to consider: contact vs no contact (we support no contact at NSC for various reasons click here for more: Ugh, I texted my Ex!), social media, mutual friends, living arrangements, how/when to exchange personal belongings, etc.

There’s no perfect time for a breakup but there is a loving way to end a relationship. In summary, here’s how to end a relationship gracefully:

  • End the relationship (in person) when you want to end it, don’t drag it out or use avoidance techniques
  • Be concise, clear. State your desire to end the relationship,
  • Provide the reasons from a heart-centered space. Don’t place blame or detail faults or flaws. State or discuss the boundaries and expectations for the coming weeks/months. 
  • Lastly, say your goodbyes with love, kindness and strength.

An Open Letter to Introverts

Large, crowded bars. Sold out concerts. Meeting new people. Presentations at work. Grocery shopping on Sundays. Talking on the phone. Birthdays. Birthdays. Random, impromptu social gatherings. Dating apps. Honestly, dating in any capacity. Small talk. Feeling that desperate need to be alone.

If you shuddered at any of the above, you know some of the stressors attached to introversion. While introverts don’t necessarily dislike social situations, they dislike what comes afterward- exhaustion. For introverts, socializing without mental prep is like running a marathon without training. A few minutes in, you realize this was a big mistake. Images of your couch flash before your eyes. Running on fumes leftover from all of the energy that socializing takes, you try gracefully to navigate the course without appearing like you’re out of shape, and would rather be anywhere but there. When this happens, introverts often come off as unapproachable, disinterested and even snobbish at times, creating a world of misunderstanding.

Because of that misunderstanding, being introverted can mean feeling awkward, out of place, or “the odd one out”in what is otherwise a largely extroverted world. More specifically, sometimes it can create social anxiety. Worried what others are thinking of you, you develop an egocentric mindset that makes it feel impossible not to shed a metaphorical spotlight on yourself. While on the outside you appear to be engaging in social conversation, your brain is actually hovering above the scene, picking it all apart, preparing you for what to say next so you don’t present as awkward or disinterested. Introverts, at times, suffer in front of the public eye- assuming they’re being judged, picked over, gossiped about. This constant inner dialogue is exhausting. However, what you’re failing to realize in these moments is that it’s not others who are judging you- it’s you. And it’s keeping you from
being where you are.

 

Extroversion is rewarded in our culture, making it all the more important for us to celebrate the unique qualities and undervalued aspects that introversion yields. In Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet”, she defines introverts as people of contemplation who enjoy others’ company but are also comfortable with solitude. While you may not have the most clever quip to contribute in large conversation, introverts strengths are being patient, empathetic, analytical, reflective, innovative, great listeners, creative and thrive in more intimate settings. You’re also great at reading people and can be quite skilled at conversing. You’re not intimidated by silence. You’re comfortable being alone, traveling solo and discovering new parts of yourself to connect to.

 

Large or busy social settings will never be your favorite, but they’re inescapable- and avoiding them only reinforces and validates irrational voices in your mind. As an introvert, it’s important to keep in mind all of your strengths and unique attributes. It’s even more important to validate your anxiety- anyone entering a situation that they’re not particularly excited about ultimately feels a sense of dread. Furthermore, know that unlike extroverts, you simply are not energized by large groups of people. And that’s okay- finding energy on your own is far less of a hassle, anyways. The only thing you can do is prepare with recharging yourself, and practice, practice, practice.

What support? Our clinician Alexandra Butler has expertise in working with introverts.

Loneliness. Tips to Help

Loneliness, have you felt it before, that unsettling feeling deep in your core?

It is said you can feel lonely even among a room full of people and even in a relationship with your ‘closest’ companion. While many of us are surrounded by others most of the time, loneliness, ironically, is felt by a wide range of people on a regular basis. Phew, you’re not alone! (Pun intended.)

Furthermore, studies show with the advancement of technology loneliness is a growing epidemic as we connect more to our phones rather than each other. However, loneliness isn’t about not having others around you, it’s a mental and emotional state of being or feeling unconnected intimately with others. Loneliness causes you to feel empty, alone, uncared about, unworthy and/or inadequate. Often times, this also renders us to feel pessimistic about finding the connection we’re needing in the future.  Woof, that’s some heavy sh*t.

Plus, here’s something you may not know, research by Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad and others show that loneliness is not just hazardous to one’s psychological wellness but it’s also as risky to one’s health as smoking or obesity!

Factors that contribute to loneliness including physical isolation, a new job or city, a breakup or divorce, bereavement (loved one or pet), rejection, or it can be the side effect of low self-esteem or depression. But, there is no single common cause for loneliness. So understanding what your loneliness is about and where it’s coming from requires you to take a closer look, ask yourself hard questions and self-reflect.

It’s important to know that it’s not about the quantity of social interactions that protect you from loneliness but the quality. Having 2 or 3 people that you can confide in, connect with and lean on may be enough to aid against lonely feelings.

So what should you do to combat loneliness, here are some tips to help get you through:

  • Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. It’s your job to figure out what. Do you avoid getting to know others on a deeper level? Do you fear rejection? Do you push others away? Do you not reach out when you need support for fear of burdening others? Are you trying to connect with the wrong people? Once you figure out some of the deeper questions, create a plan to work through the difficulties. Sometimes a counselor may be helpful for this.
    • Find the motivation to change by considering how loneliness impacts your life, mentally, physically and emotionally.
  • Log off of your social media and instead of using text nurture your social network by using Facetime or try to meet others in person.
  • Foster new relationships. If you don’t have individuals to meet in person with, try not to let your thoughts be pessimistic about the future. Consider engaging in community service, using Bumble’s Best Friend app, join a pet sitting or dog walking service, using Meetup.com, or join another activity in an attempt to meet new people.
  • Fight the urge to isolate. This can validate feelings of unworthiness, emptiness or fears that things may not change.
  • Learn to differentiate the feeling of loneliness from alone time. Having alone time is important to cultivate a relationship with yourself and offers peace, relaxation, and freedom.
  • Acceptance. We all experience lonely feelings sometimes, it’s a natural and normal emotion to experience. It may come and go just as other emotions do. However, if you’re experiencing more chronic feelings of loneliness please seek help from a mental health professional.

Why Do I Put Others First?
Adults who Grew Up as Parentified Children and their Emotional Neglect

“My family is so screwed up.” How many times have you heard someone say that? While all of our families are unique, there’s a typical family dynamic that I think we can all agree on: adults are the ones in charge, and they take care of the kids emotionally, physically and financially. Through this process, kids will have time to emotionally develop, and be ready to approach adulthood in a healthy, sufficient manner when the time is right. However, when this dynamic reverses, it turns into our parents feeling more like friends, or worse, people you need to take care of- and that’s when it becomes a problem.

Formally known as parentification, this phenomenon can grow into a form of emotional abuse and neglect in which a child becomes the parent or caregiver to their own parents or siblings.  Not only will these kids tend to be the caregivers in their relationships with their parents, they’ll probably adopt their parents’ responsibilities as well- like household chores, taking care of other children in the household, etc. Why does this happen? Circumstances leading to a parentified dynamic all have one thing in common; a child starts behaving this way, simply, because others aren’t.

Many parents are well-intentioned in sharing personal issues with their children. They may want to grow closer with them, teach them the harsh realities of life, or give them opportunities to exercise their own judgement with you.  However, this can actually be harmful to their overall emotional well-being. A child lacks the reasoning skills and emotional intelligence necessary to navigate an adult’s issues, and even more simply, to feel responsible to hold them. Whether they’re depending on their children to shoulder the burden of financial difficulties, marital distress, addiction, trouble with other kids in the household, personal insecurities or just feeling out of sorts, this can create a major burden for children to bear. While sharing difficult experiences with your kids every now and then is okay, regularly using your child as your confidant can be dangerous. If parents are depending on their children to be emotional supports for them, they are hindering:

  • the emotional validation necessary for a child to develop securely with healthy coping skills,
  • the ability to learn to self-soothe,
  • the ability to put their needs first verbally or behaviorally over others,
  • and the space to gain emotional intelligence.  

The burden of confusion and responsibility that comes with a parentified lifestyle at such a crucial time of development leads them to distrust their interpersonal world, implicating a rough road ahead in their relationships. As an adult, parentified children will likely act similarly to how they did when they were kids- taking care of others, meeting others more than halfway, neglecting their own needs, etc. When that heightened (and often times, unwarranted) level of caretaking in adulthood isn’t reciprocated, in time, they’ll feel confused, angry, resentful, and may isolate or shut down. At the same time, they’ll often feel uncomfortable with reciprocity, because of how foreign and uncomfortable it is to get their own needs met, leading them to subconsciously seek out dynamics and relationships where others depend on them.

There’s no doubt that this dynamic is disheartening, and feels like it’s beyond our realm of control to change. In reflecting on your relationships with different family members, though, it’s important to remember that these dynamics aren’t normally created on purpose. While relationships shift and change naturally, we don’t have to wait for that- take initiative. It’s never too late to figure out what your needs are, where your boundaries are, and start setting them.  

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