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11 posts from February 2006

February 26, 2006

SELF-CARE IS VITAL FOR HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

I remember the first time I heard the stewardess on the plane tell everyone about the oxygen masks. She said, “For those of you traveling with small children, please secure the mask over your nose and mouth first and then assist your children.” I was pretty young when I heard this and remember thinking how selfish of the grown ups to let all the children die first (yes, I could be a bit dramatic back then). Looking back, I realize how common that thought was and still is today.

Many adults believe that taking care of oneself is selfish. They believe that their children, spouse, job, friends and family come first and then, if there’s anything left, it’s their turn. The problem with this is there is seldom, if ever, anything left. The person runs around pleasing everyone in his or her life while simultaneously neglecting him or herself. This eventually leads to resentment, physical illness, depression or failed relationships. If you are always busy taking care of everyone else, then there is no one home to take care of you. After a while, that gets really old, patience leaves, resentments build, and tempers begin to flare.

It does not serve you or your family to put everyone ahead of your needs. This just teaches others an unhealthy habit. Your loved ones will either learn to be needy and helpless, or to sacrifice their souls just like you sacrifice yours. Is this the message you want to give to them? If not, then learn to say no. Learn to slow down(specific techniques are given below), breathe and think about what you might want before you blindly run around doing what everyone else wants. You may be surprised to find that not only will you be happier, but so will your family.

Challenge: If you are someone who has a hard time saying no to others or runs around taking care of everyone else, then try one of the three rules below for the next week.
1. Unless it is an absolute yes, it is a no. Say no to everything that you’re not sure about, you need more time to decide on or that is a maybe. Unless you know it is an absolute yes then say No!
2. Wait 24 hours before answering. Tell your family you are working on setting limits for yourself and will therefore be taking 24 hours to decide what you will and will not do. This means they will have to be more planful in their requests, and you will have to be more selective in your answers.
3. Every morning for the next week commit to not doing anything for anyone else until you have done something for yourself first. This can mean meditating, working out, journaling, etc.

February 23, 2006

THE SERENITY PRAYER

The Serenity Prayer is a prayer many people are familiar with and use for guidance. It is common in 12-step meetings. The first part of this prayer is simple, spiritual and speaks volumes in only a few words. These words may help to center you on difficult days:

“ God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Challenge: Take a few moments each day to get centered, slow down and feel at peace. Five minutes each morning can make a significant difference in your entire day. Try it for a week and notice any changes.

February 20, 2006

I SURVIVED “SURVIVORS”

Well, I did it; I survived “Survivors”. Looking back, I’m not sure what was more powerful, doing my own work, or witnessing the work of others -- both we’re amazing. I’m slowly taking in the experience as each day passes. It seems as though each day I’m more mindful of the shifts I feel as a result. I feel more relaxed, confident and at peace with myself, all of which, I’m hopeful will stay with me for a long time to come.

It’s interesting how much resistance I often get from clients when I ask about their family of origin. Many don’t want to “go there”. The reasons vary: some think their past was great; some think it’s too painful; some struggle with feeling disloyal to their parents; and some just think it’s a waste of time and they want to move forward.

What this workshop confirmed for me is the difficulty inherent in moving forward if you have never addressed the past. I was made aware of not only the major ways our past impacts our present (e.g. abusive relationships, addictions, co-dependence etc.), but also the unending subtle ways it affects us (e.g. procrastination, self-sabotage, perfectionism etc.). If we refuse to address issues from our family of origin, these issues will become a life sentence for us, impacting every day of our future.

Looking at the past doesn’t mean we are bashing our parents. I believe that many parents, if not most, did the very best they could with the tools they were taught. And, often that was not enough. As children we take in our parents’ energy, messages (no matter how subtle or overt) and beliefs. We then bring these messages into our adulthood without realizing how damaging they may be. Subsequently, unless we look at them and heal them, we will continue to pass them on from one generation to the next.

This was one of the most powerful workshops I have ever attended. I believe it can be helpful for almost anyone who is struggling in any area of his/her life; do your own work so your children won’t have to do it for you.

Challenge: Begin to look at the unhealthy behaviors you are using currently and see if you can trace them back to your family of origin. If you rage, accommodate, are passive-aggressive etc., who did you learn that from? What messages were you given that fed into your feelings of self-worth? Be open to looking at the past as a way of opening doors into your future.

Note: For more information about Survivors take a look at The Meadows website: www.themeadows.org

February 16, 2006

ASK FOR NOTHING MORE THAN YOU ARE WILLING TO GIVE (Cornerstone #4)

Lead by example. If you want to be respected, listened to, and treated well, then you must respect, listen to, and treat others well. If you can’t give it, don’t ask for it.

When I was little my mother would constantly say, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” As a child this didn’t sit well with me. I believed that every once in a while I had the right to do unto others as they have done unto me. I believed that if I was mean to someone in response to him/her being mean to me, then that person would get what it feels like… and naturally s/he wouldn’t do it again. Now, many years later (well, not sooo many years later), I realize how wrong I was.

I don’t have the right to ask more of people than I ask of myself, and nor do you. This is true whether we’re talking about children, spouses, friends or co-workers. If we can’t control our anger, then how can we expect our children to control theirs? If we swear at our spouses, then who are we to get indignant if they swear at us? We have the right to hold others accountable to the same rules we hold ourselves -- nothing more, nothing less. It is therefore in our best interest to insure the example we are setting is the behavior we want to receive. If it’s not, we better change our example.

Challenge: Pay attention to the example you are setting in your life. If your loved ones acted like you, would that be good or not? If not, choose a key area to work on and set a new example. If so, move on to cornerstone #5 (and pat yourself on the back for doing good work).

February 15, 2006

“SURVIVORS”-- A JOURNEY TOWARD GROWTH

This week, I’m in Arizona attending a workshop called “Survivors” at The Meadows . “Survivors” is a workshop that targets family-of-origin work. It is powerful in helping individuals heal old wounds, let go of carried feelings and do the work necessary to insure we don’t pass our dysfunctions on to our children. Pia Mellody created this workshop and has written several books that highlight various issues worked on in “Survivors”.

Pia’s work, combined with the work of Terence Real, has changed my life, my effectiveness as a therapist and relationship coach and my continuing strides in being relational with everyone I am in contact with. I recommend “Survivors” to anyone wanting to break long-standing dysfunctional habits or to gain insight into how his/her childhood continues to impact his/her adult life.

I can’t stress enough the importance of each of us doing our own work. Healthy relationships start with us and work out from there. I firmly believe that the healthier we are, the healthier our relationships will be. And even though I find it so much easier to be in the therapist’s chair versus the client’s chair -- I’m glad I’m here.

Challenge: Commit to working on yourself. Buy Pia’s book (The Intimacy Factor) and begin immediately to work on your boundaries - - you will not find a more necessary skill to be in healthy relationships.

Note: You can find more information on both Pia and “Survivors” at themeadows.org

February 13, 2006

“WHAT IF” CONTRACTS

Is your partner great at saying s/he will do something, yet not so great at actually doing it? If so, it’s time to learn the skill of using the “what if” contract. This contract will help reduce your frustration with your partner and give you a new way to handle empty promises.

Contracts in general, help to minimize incorrect assumptions, unnecessary confusions and irresponsible excuses. They are pivotal in relationships. A regular contract is simply an explicit agreement between you and your partner. The agreement could be about anything from who’s going to wash the dishes each night to who’s going to call the plumber.

In contrast to the regular contract which simply states the agreement between you and your partner, the “what if” contract states the agreement as well as what will happen “if” your partner does not do what s/he agreed to do. It adds the consequence to the equation.

You can make a “what if” contract on just about anything. Some examples include:
· “If you don’t call the plumber by Monday, then Monday night you agree to call in front of me.”
· “If you would like to stay at a different hotel, then you will have to make the reservations. If you don’t, then we will keep the ones I made.”
· We agreed that if I wash the clothes, you would fold them, yet you haven’t been doing your part. If you don’t fold, then I will wash my clothes only.

If your partner has good intentions, “what if” contracts can be quite effective. They can help you to not feel so helpless, and they help your partner to be accountable. If however, your partner refuses to take responsibility for his/her contracts no matter what you do, then it is time to set bigger limits, seek outside help or re-think if this is the right relationship for you.

Challenge: If there is something you’re partner has repeatedly agreed to do, yet hasn’t done, then make a “what if” contract with him/her. If s/he agrees, then be sure to follow through with the “what if” part. If s/he refuses to agree and repeatedly doesn’t follow through, sit down and seriously think of the bigger picture. What will your next step be?

February 10, 2006

CAN I, AND/OR SHOULD I, TRUST AFTER AN AFFAIR?

Affairs inevitably shake the foundation of relationships, and always lead to a breach of trust. If your partner has had an affair, during your relationship, you have probably wondered two things: 1. Will you ever be able to trust your partner again and 2. If you can trust your partner again -- should you?

The answer to whether or not you will be able to trust again, in part, depends on you. I know many people who have been able to work through the broken trust created by an affair, and I also know people who were very clear they just couldn’t get passed it. Only you can say where you fall on this issue. However, I do know, that initially you will probably believe you will never trust again. You will most likely feel angry, hurt, betrayed and somewhat hopeless. These are normal feelings that can go away with time -- under the right conditions.

If you decide to stay and work on the relationship, the question inevitably becomes, “Should I trust him/her?” The answer to this largely depends on your partner. Earlier I said you could gain the trust back “under the right conditions”. The right conditions include, first and foremost, a genuine remorse from your partner for putting you through the affair. S/he has to be sorry for breaking your trust, take full responsibility for the affair and be willing to do what s/he needs to do in order to gain your trust back. If your partner is at all complacent, blaming of you or dismissive about the impact of the affair, this is not a good sign and you should not trust him/her unless this changes.

In general, is your partner acting trustworthy “in the present?” Is s/he completely honest with you about even the most minor things? This is pivotal to you trusting him/her again. If your partner is telling you little lies about “insignificant” things, this is a red flag; pay attention to it and don’t minimize it. Often, a person had an uneasy feeling well before they found out about their partner’s affair. Are you still having that feeling? Is your partner coming home on time? Is s/he answering e-mails and phone calls comfortably in front of you or waiting until you are not in the room? Does s/he get defensive every time you bring up your insecurities and turn it around on you? What is your gut telling you? Are you just fearful it will happen again, or do you feel the same feeling you felt months ago when your partner was in the affair?

In summary, couples can recover from an affair -- under the right conditions. You want to listen to your partner’s actions, not his/her words. If his/her words are trustworthy, but his/her actions are not -- run -- don’t trust!

Challenge: If you are struggling with trusting your partner, ask yourself what your partner’s current behaviors are telling you. Is your partner acting trustworthy currently in the relationship? If so, what do you need to do to help yourself let go and begin to forgive. If s/he is not acting trust worthy - - get help or get out.

February 08, 2006

WHEN REQUESTING CHANGE, LEAD WITH A GIFT

Asking your partner to do something different can be a difficult conversation to have. Many times it is so difficult that individuals fret and ruminate for hours, days or even weeks before saying anything. Unfortunately, all of this fretting often leads to one partner blurting out, in the heat of the moment, what they don’t like about the other partner. Not surprisingly, this is seldom an effective approach.

Leading with a gift is a skill that has the potential of taking the sting out of a discussion or request. It is when you start your discussion with a kindhearted truth; an acknowledgement or a compliment for example. So, if you wanted to ask your partner to speak to the children with a softer, more gentle tone, you might begin by leading with a gift such as, “I know you love the children very much, and you are under a great deal of stress…”(gift). This allows your partner to realize that you do not think everything they do is wrong; it also builds up your appreciation muscles – a necessary component in any healthy relationship.

When you use this skill you do not have to over do it, and do not make something up that you don’t believe. Be genuine with your gift, and use it as a lead-in not as a way to water down your message. For example, if your partner has been trying to help more around the house, yet left their clothes on the floor, you might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been helping out more around the house and I appreciate that. It would also help if you could put your clothes in the hamper before you go off to work. Would you be willing to do that for me? Thanks.”

Realize that like any skill, this is not a miracle maker, it is simply another way of acknowledging what your partner is doing while also making a request for them to do something they are not. When it works, be thankful. When it doesn’t, be proud that you tried something new and try it again in the future.

Challenge: Practice leading with a gift this week and pay attention to what you notice as a result. Does it take the sting out or is there no noticeable change? Under what conditions does it lead to the results you would like?

February 06, 2006

THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT ONCE WE…

I’ve heard clients swear things will be different once they -- get married, have children, change jobs or _____ (fill in the blank). Usually the rationalizations sound something like; “Once we get married he’ll realize how much he loves me and he’ll treat me better.”; or “Once we have children, he’ll be home more”; or “Once we get married, she’ll know I’m committed and she will trust me.” The person is so sure that things will be different, that they use marriage or children etc. as a solution to problems that have been a part of their relationship for a very long time.

This belief could not be further from the truth. The problems that exist in a relationship prior to marriage or children etc. only get compounded under the stress of marriage and children; they do not get fixed. If for example your partner has cheated on you throughout your dating relationship, then I can almost guarantee that s/he will cheat on you in your marriage. If your partner works all the time, barely calls, and puts you 2nd, 3rd or last in their life, then s/he will continue to work, not be around and put you anyplace but first in their life after you get married. This is not to say that people can’t change, however do not be blind to what is in front of you. If you have asked your partner to work on a particular behavior and they have said they would yet continue to do the behavior, then guess what? They will continue to do the behavior.

Marriage or children or re-location is not going to change a serious problem in a relationship. The only time change happens is when a person makes a decision to change and then works like crazy to make it happen. Until then -- if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…then it is a duck... and will continue to be a duck whether you marry it or not.

Challenge: Are there any relationship issues that are bothering you that you are not addressing? If so, be careful not to minimize them or think they will magically go away once you______ (fill in the blank). Decide to address them directly and come up with a plan; do not rely on magical thinking to be the solution because it won’t.

February 03, 2006

BE RESPECTFUL AT ALL TIMES TO ALL PEOPLE (Cornerstone #3)

All individuals have the right to be treated respectfully at all times in all situations. Learn to live by this value, regardless of how other people are behaving.

This cornerstone is often met with mixed reviews, with a number of people not agreeing with it at all. When I speak to couples about this, I hear comments like, “Why should I be respectful when s/he’s not?” or “So you expect me to do nothing and just sit there and take it? Tell him/her to stop and then I will!” Although they may believe in the concept of respect, their actions clearly show that respect is something that is transient – at best.

The problem with this thinking, I believe, is it feeds into the destructive notion that one person’s behavior is caused by another. This thinking plays out in couples (“If he wasn’t so irresponsible I wouldn’t have to yell”), parenting (“don’t hit other children” – SLAP) and on a larger scale, our country (torture is wrong…unless you force us to torture - then it is necessary.) This is an irresponsible notion and an excuse for rationalizing people’s hurtful behaviors. Disrespect is disrespect regardless of whether it is done in response to someone else’s outrageous behavior or not.

As much as it is difficult, exasperating, frustrating, and just plain, “crazy hard” to be respectful in the face of disrespect – it is paramount to healthy relationships. Being respectful is humane – nothing more, nothing less. It is every person’s right as a human being. It is your job to insure you honor that for yourself and others; without it you cannot have healthy relationships.

Challenge: Commit to take all-disrespectful behaviors off the table with your spouse, your children, and your friends. Refuse to name-call, scream, yell, put down or make mean spirited comments to anyone in your life and pay attention to what happens.

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