Good Morning!

Some of you might be wondering what happened to last week’s post (I hope), and I wanted to fill you in.

Last week I attended my first professional conference, The Evolution of Psychotherapy. Virginia Satir called it the best conference she ever attended; and though my experience with them is thus far limited, I have difficulty imagining a more enlightening and inspiring combination of professionals. I am walking away with a tired brain, but I am also feeling refreshed and ready to take on the challenges I have set for myself. I not only feel that the workshops will help in my growth as a clinician, but I am also excited to share with my readers the many thought provoking subjects, and my reactions to them.

If I was worried at all about keeping the ideas flowing, I now have a full notebook to pull from. I hope you are as excited as I am, and keep checking back to see what is happening in the world of psychology, and how I plan to translate that into reaching out to you.

Finally, I have some questions coming in, so I will be posting a ‘Dear Jacqueline’ later this week about managing parental relationships post-divorce. I imagine many of you have or know of someone who could benefit from this topic, so I am eager to give my feedback.

Thank you for reading, and as always feel free to share comments.

-J

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Dear Jacqueline

Dear Jacqueline,

 

            I seem to have a hard time around the holidays, especially watching Christmas movies. As much as I want to get into the spirit, it upsets me that all I see are perfect families. What can I do?

 

~ Anonymous

 

Dear Anonymous,

 

            I just want to start by saying that what you’re feeling is completely normal. The holidays can be hard for a lot of people, especially when it comes to family. These days there are very few cohesive nuclear families, and with divorce, blending, loss, and hurt feelings, it is not always feasible to celebrate the holidays as one happy unit.

            I don’t think there is any one answer as to how to cope, but there is some solid buffering you can do to make sure you’re holidays are enjoyable. First, focus on the positive in your life. Who is the support system that brings you love and happiness? That may not even include family, but it should not be discounted. Sometimes the best family members are great friends. If possible, try to surround yourself with those people and celebrate together.

             You’ve already acknowledged that family might not be perfect, and that is ok. One of the most difficult things we can do in life is accept people for who they are, and sometimes that means they might not need to hold a high place in your life. Depending on the severity, practice limiting your exposure to those individuals to whatever level feels safe for you. If avoidance isn’t a possibility, work on a game plan in your mind. Try to spend your time with those individuals as more of an observer, watching something play out. This is something to keep in mind, regardless of the holidays.

            Lastly, if you don’t want to miss out on the fun of watching holiday movies, try to include a few that show different representations of what family means. The Santa Clause shows a family that is struggling with divorce and remarriage (and is one of my personal favorites), and  The Grinch is a classic that focuses more on community as a whole rather than the nuclear family.

            I hope you find this helpful, and if you ever find that these feelings are becoming too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. And enjoy your holidays!

 

~ Jacqueline

I’m talking money, honey

I started this blog with a clear idea about what I wanted it to look like. In my mind I saw a forum for interesting topics, advice, and my own spin on how to approach daily life. This dream come to fruition has been exciting, but what I did not think about what the spacing of my topics, and how I would generate ideas on a weekly basis. The topic today is one that I wish I wasn’t writing, because talking about money is hard. That is my truth. I don’t like it, and because of that, I make the assumption that others don’t like talking about it either.

The reason I am forcing myself to write about it today is because it is no longer acceptable for me, as I grow a business, to avoid the subject of money. I have to talk about it everyday, and I have to get ok with it. So as I put this out to you, know that I am also challenging myself.

Personal finances are acceptable to talk about at certain times in certain places. In the workplace it is acceptable to discuss when you are being evaluated and asking for a promotion, but not usually appropriate to discuss over the proverbial water cooler. However, we know that this is not always the case, and certain environment facilitate the discussion of pay as a motivational tool (think commission based careers). Being in business for yourself and creating contracts with employees, customers, and individuals, it is crucial to be able to discuss pay and negotiations in a healthy way. I wonder how often personal opinion comes into play when offering discounts or incentives? As a therapist there is an added layer of challenge for most of us. We go into the business because we want to help people, but because of that we don’t always put ourselves first. It has definitely been a lesson for me to consider what my time is worth as I take on new clients.

In the home, money is a different story. I have witnessed several different dynamics when it comes to couples, and handling money in marriage. This is not to leave out those who are not in relationships, but in my experience, the individual finds his or her own path, and does not have to factor in another person’s needs, expenses, incomes, etc. That added layer presents the necessity for discussion. It is impossible to label all of the different dynamics, as each relationship factors in values, observations, and background in order to negotiate an agreed upon system. But in general, what I have viewed to most often be a successful approach is balance. Whether one or both partners work, the balance is struck in the division of labor, how the bills are distributed, and where the allotted savings come from. In these instances, both partners are made aware of where the money comes from and where it is going. There is shared discussion about major expenses, and there is generally a long-term goal as to what the couple would like to save for in the future. It is my belief that a shared goal is crucial in keeping both partners on track. Whether it is a first home, a vacation, a child, or retirement, that goal keeps them accountable to one another, and creates an alliance.

But, balance in personal finance is not always easy, and money is one of the leading factors in divorce. At the risk of talking in circles, I think this comes down to the difficulty in having discussions about finances, and it makes me wonder what feelings come up for others when discussing money. Whether it is guilt about overspending, worry about the future, fear based on childhood experiences with money, we all have emotions that get triggered surrounding this topic. My own goal is to fight through those emotions and to get to a place where in the right setting, money is not a taboo subject. I hope this is a challenge to others who might feel triggered by this subject as well, to look at where that feeling is coming from, and confronting it. Being avoidant about the subject is a disservice to a relationship, and leads to secretive behaviors, which are detrimental to a cohesive unit.

For those of you who do not have any negative feelings when it comes to discussing money, or feel you have found a healthy way of balancing finances in your relationship, leave us a lesson in the comments section.

Facebook and FOMO

            Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new diagnosis out there, but it isn’t in any of the books (yet). It is known as FOMO and it seems to be targeting a large number of young people. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: general sadness, anxiety, ruminating thoughts as to whether one’s life is interesting enough, and a misguided belief that other people are having more fun. Symptoms can be alleviated by ignoring social media.

            If you’ve ever been scrolling through Facebook and feeling not so great about the path your life has taken, you have experienced FOMO. If you noticed that two friends went to lunch and you didn’t get the invite, and your day was ruined, you have experienced FOMO. (The second one doesn’t seem to happen as much to the men out there does it?)

            FOMO is the fear of missing out, and while it is not a disease, it is becoming an epidemic. One which is more prominent in those whose primary source of contact with friends is via social media. Many of us are guilty of harboring jealousy for a friend whose life looks flawless. The keyword here is “looks.” The problem with using Facebook to gage a person’s happiness is that is can be so skewed or misleading. I am guilty of it too! It’s not like we all hurry to post a picture of that day we stayed in pajamas until 4pm, or rush to post a status update to remind people how monotonous our job has become. We all want to present our best selves, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

            However, I do become concerned when I notice an influx of clients who base their success or fulfillment on another person’s Facebook life. It is an easy trap to fall into. We are all aware that Facebook does not encompass every aspect of our own lives, but for some reason when we see it as a representation of another person, we don’t take that into account. We start comparing the quality of our relationships, the size of our birthday parties, the shape of our bodies, the success of our careers. The list is endless of the comparisons we make on a daily basis. Sometimes the comparisons can be a motivational factor.

            Some of you might be familiar with Maria Kang, a young mother who posted a picture of herself in a bikini with her young children, and the caption, “What’s your excuse?” She claims that photo was meant to motivate other young mothers, with the thought: If she can do it, so can I. The reactions she received were varied, and many were negative. Many women’s initial reaction was to think of the challenges in their own lives, and to assume Maria did not face those same challenges (genetics, full-time job, lack of support from spouse). Now I don’t claim to know what challenges she faces, but I do know that she did not post them on Facebook… until she received backlash. If we were to get caught up in that game with our own friends we would quickly learn that everyone’s lives come with hardships, and while one aspect might look appealing, it might not be worth trading for another.

            So my advice is this: The solution does not have to be drastic. I am not suggesting that we remove ourselves from social media altogether, or assume that everyone is being fake. But I do think that next time you are feeling the green-eyed monster start to creep in, take a minute to put things in perspective. Yes, I am upset she got a promotion and I haven’t, but I am working hard as well. Yes, their relationship looks great, but I’m sure they have fights too. Those quick little reminders will help you from snowballing, and will help you to remember that these are your friends, and their happiness is yours as well. 

Who is therapy for?

            I feel a shift in the culture. For a long time, therapy was seen as taboo. Tailored to damaged people with serious disorders. For people who couldn’t, “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” so to speak. I see that changing now. It is becoming acceptable to seek therapy, and I love that the experience is being talked about. I love that the phrase, “My therapist says…” has become silly and almost cliché. That means that seeking help or thriving for improvement is not something we have to do behind closed doors anymore. You may have even seen some therapy sessions being televised as entertainment. The reason this shift strikes me as such a positive is not just because it means I have a job; though that is a plus. I find it so great because it means therapy is no longer a market that is out of reach or out of touch with the mainstream population. What would be the reaction if you told your best friend you were in therapy? We can probably all recall a time or a moment in which therapy seemed like a necessary tool, and my guess is even as you read this you might have a thought floating around about why you might go (tough relationship, struggles with coworkers, bad anxiety, feeling stuck).

            So with therapy being accessible, increasingly affordable (either through health insurance, sliding scale providers, local agencies), and generally effective, what keeps people from scheduling their first session? My guess is fear. Fear of choosing the wrong therapist, fear of what might come out (Repressed memories are not as big of an issue as one may think. They are like quicksand–encountered by few), fear of what kind of commitment it will take, fear of change. All of these fears are completely valid, and at least one is experienced by nearly everyone who decides to start therapy. What I would love to do is alleviate one of the common fears: the first session.

            The first session is the scariest for lots of reasons. You are going to a new place and meeting a new person–scary. Scary if you were doing it under the best of circumstances. But usually you don’t decide to start therapy when things are going perfectly, you decide to start therapy when things are going downhill, and since the therapist knows that, it feels like a check against you. It isn’t. As a therapist, it is not my job to judge you, it is my job to work with you. I am not going to tell you how badly you have failed or what you have done wrong (that is something you’re scared of too, right?). The last thing I want to do is dig the hole deeper. So judge your therapist in the first session. Take control, and make it an interview. Ask yourself if you can be yourself with that person. Ask yourself if you can confront some big issues with that person. If the answer is no, then that therapist might not be the right fit. But try another one. We all set out in this field to help, and to give the best care possible, and if you don’t find the right person right away, you will eventually. The first session in an investment in moving forward, and you want to get a return on that investment. It will likely feel strange, but that goes away, and you are left with an amazing opportunity for growth and empowerment. 

 

If you are interested in scheduling a session, visit my website: www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com

 

And as always, feel free to submit questions via email to jacquelineplante.mft@gmail.com (Submissions will be kept anonymous).

Lessons & Lattes

Hello all!

For those of you who have not read the About section, I wanted to let you know that part of what I would like this blog to be is an advice column. 

If you, or any friends you know have questions that you would like answered about relationships, family, work, etc. you can email me. I will post the reply right here, and will keep you anonymous. 

Emails should be sent to jacquelineplante.mft@gmail.com

Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you!

Is Marriage Outdated?

            I have some bad habits. One of them is daytime television. Usually it is background noise, but today my attention was caught by a segment asking, “Is Marriage Outdated?” Is it? No one had asked me that before, and while my automatic response was NO, I wanted to take a minute to think about why I felt that way. I found myself seething at the young woman who insisted that because she could not be 100% assured that ten years from now she would still feel the same “spark,” she would never enter into a marriage.

            If only we all had that infamous crystal ball to assure us of every decision. I wondered why she would even brush her teeth if she could not be assured she would never get a cavity again. But I am getting off topic. What really bothered me about her attitude is that she is not the only one who thinks this way. So many of us want a guarantee of unadulterated happiness day in and day out. I’m not saying I’m not one of those people, but I had to ask: how realistic is that? If there is one thing that marriage can guarantee, it is a constant flow of give and take, and of ups and downs. Life gives us that as well. I don’t think anyone expects pure perfection out of life, but for some reason people expect that out of their relationships.

            I have seen many young couples who think that the fact that they have been, “fighting for so long,” or, “things have changed so much,” means that the relationship is ultimately doomed. One of the first things I always have to remind these clients is that there was something that brought them together once; maybe we can find it again. There aren’t enough good examples in the world about what working on a relationship looks like, because the five-minute media marriage and the torrid affairs/divorces are the things that get most of our attention. But I have seen successes and I have seen changes, and ultimately I have seen that committing to making a relationship thrive has led to happiness for both partners. The work is worth the reward.

            For people who are not sure about marriage, and are scared about what that level of commitment means, I think there are some safeguards that can be put in place to ensure there won’t be an insurmountable slump: First, know the person you are going to marry! It might sound like common sense, but I think age can sometimes bring a panic that the next one has to be the one. He doesn’t. Take enough time to talk about values and long-term goals, and make sure yours are compatible. Next, be realistic. Don’t put all of your happiness on another person. If you aren’t happy alone, no one in the world will be able to fix that for you. Marriage is more about giving than getting, and you have to be full before you can give anything away (is this sounding like another bad TV show to anyone?). My final piece of advice is don’t be afraid to reach out. Talk to others about what you are experiencing. Whether you seek professional help from a therapist or a religious advisor, or you vent to your friends over morning coffee, having others normalize and validate your problems makes them feel a lot smaller.

            So do I think marriage is outdated? I don’t think so, but now I wonder if I am in the minority.