Seasons of Change

With the Fall weather approaching (much more slowly here in California than other places I’m sure), I’ve been reflecting on change. I have great neighbors moving away, I’m settling into a new office, and I’ve been forced to reassess certain parts of my life. The changes are real, and while some are great others have been really hard. I do my best to take them in stride, but I’m human too and I know I haven’t handled everything as gracefully as I could.

And I know I’m not alone, which got me thinking about the different ways we all handle changes in our lives. I think the biggest differentiating factor between what constitutes “good or bad” change is choice. When we are choosing to make a change in lifestyle, career, living situation—it’s a lot easier to feel positive about it. We can rationalize some of the sadness and discomfort because the end-game is aligned to what we want.

It’s so much harder when we are forced into change. Getting fired, being broken up with, getting a bad medical diagnosis—these are the changes we seek to avoid, and the ones that are always unwelcome. This is where we can struggle to find the positive spin, and for the most part that’s ok. I will always advocate to feel your feelings. Move through them as needed, but don’t get stuck in them.

One thing that has been helping me this year, as I look at all the upcoming change, and reflect on all the changes of the past is remembering that no matter how scary and big some of the shifts have been, I always survived them. Maybe at times we come out the other side a little worse for the wear. The hope is that we find meaning in the change—a lesson or a purpose for it happening. But even when we can’t, or haven’t made it to that place, we grow stronger. We learn that we can endure, and sometimes that is enough.

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When Life Isn’t Fair

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At what point do we start to realize that life isn’t fair? I think we are supposed to learn that lesson as children, but does it really sink in? So and so got the bigger piece of cake at the birthday party, but I got a longer turn in the bouncy castle. Maybe I cried, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I don’t really like cake (suspend your disbelief for a second), and so I didn’t notice the inequality in our slices. Maybe it makes a difference if I am happy for so and so because we are good friends and I know how much he loves cake. I can set aside my own desire for a sugar rush and stomach ache if it means seeing my friend happy. Or maybe I can’t. Or maybe this gets a lot more complicated when we aren’t talking about cake anymore.

This week a prominent E! Entertainment figure stepped down after learning her male counterpart made twice her salary for similar work duties and a shared longevity with the network. Several articles emerged commenting on pay discrepancy between men and women, and not a single one lauded this pay gap as fair. Had the difference between salaries been smaller, there may have been more of a debate, but 2 to 1 makes it pretty easy for outsiders to look at and say: That’s not ok. It’s uneven and unfair. And mostly, we as human beings believe things like that should be fair. I’m not here to spark political debate, but in 2017 equal pay for equal work is the only solution, and if logic is not your thing you can step away from this blog right now, it’s not for you.

Other things are not so black and white. “Life isn’t fair,” is one of the most ubiquitous phrases around, and yet there is an internal sense of believing that while at times life isn’t fair, if we are “a good person” and work hard, and are deserving of good things, there will ultimately be some payout or balance. Whether that’s true or not might take a lifetime to answer, and requires a much more in depth philosophical discussion than I am willing to take on in blog form with only two undergraduate philosophy courses to back up my thoughts. What I am qualified to talk about and want to address is what do we do when we are moving through an unfair point in life and really struggling with absorbing the feeling of unfairness. While we are supposed to “know” that life isn’t fair, feeling the effects of the unfairness is a whole other story.

If I try to put myself in the shoes of those around me, I can easily pinpoint a moment where they felt things weren’t fair: Why am I still single? Why can’t I just find a job that I love? Why can’t I have a better relationship with my family? Why can’t I get pregnant? If you’ve asked yourself any of those questions then you know there is a sense of being deserving of what you lack, and sometimes even more so. And in those cases, there is an unwillingness to just sit back and accept that maybe it’s just because life isn’t fair.

So what do we do?

Build your support system: Whatever it is that’s troubling you, you are not the only one going through it. Find someone who gets it. Like really gets it. Facebook is a great resource for support online, and there are endless niche groups that offer a place to commiserate. (Disclaimer: they are not all created equal so I recommend reading through past posts before adding your own).

Read: Go to Amazon, type your problem, and I bet there’s a book for that. Not all problems are created equal and having more in depth advice for working through your particular strife is going to help.

Redirect: Instead of being swallowed up by the part of your life that is unfair, spend some time reflecting on the part of your life where you dominate. Maybe your family tree makes you want to buy a chainsaw, but you have a great group of friends. Or maybe you’ve experienced more financial setbacks than the guy next to you, but you absolutely love your job. Focusing on the good is easier said than done, but is worth the added effort.

Therapy: If you’ve read any previous posts you already knew this answer was coming. Having someone to talk about the unfairness with is invaluable. Someone to sit in the pain with you, for as long as you need and who is not going to make you feel like a whiny child for truly lamenting the feeling.

So it is true: Life isn’t fair. But just because we have to say it, doesn’t mean we have to be ok with it.

 

Photo by Lisa via Flickr

Finding the Right Therapist

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In the journey to become a therapist it is a well-known phenomenon that a family member will inevitably say, “You could start with us!” The good-natured joke gets a laugh (the first 50 times), but at some point we have the obligation to clarify the ethical mandate: No treating friends and family. To be more specific, therapists should not see clients with whom they have a dual relationship. For example: Met in a daily yoga class, share friends or relatives, live next door to one another. The lines can get a little blurry, and in some instances dual relationships are unavoidable, but for the most part we all do our best to avoid circumstances that could lead to bias.

Over the years I have had friends and family approach me about how to find a therapist, and what they should look for. While the end decision is ultimately up to them, there are some options that can simplify the process when searching.

  1. Insurance or Cash?

Deciding this right off the bat will save you a lot of phone calls. If you are set in going through your insurance, you will want to only look at providers who are “in-network.” Your insurance company provides this list, and you can use that to narrow down. If your plan is a PPO, or you have great coverage, you can also look at providers who bill “out of network.” As a provider who does not contract with insurance companies (for reasons I can include in my next post), I always give the option of a “superbill” for PPO clients. This allows the client to receive some reimbursement directly from their insurance company. If you decide to forego using insurance, disregard the above jargon, and move to number 2.

  1. Start with a search engine

PsychologyToday.com is a great resource for narrowing down providers by region, specialty, and theoretical orientation. GoodTherapy.org is similar. There are several others, and one option is to google: Therapist finder. These sites have profiles of their therapists where you can get a feel for their personality and treatment style.

  1. What is your main reason for seeking therapy?

What are you experiencing that led you to this point? Search for someone whose specialty or area of interest is aligned with your specific need. Don’t seek out someone who works with complex trauma if you are dealing with career stress. If you are having marital distress, look for someone who specializes in couple’s therapy or relationships. All MFTs are trained in working with depression and anxiety, so if that is your area of need, you can look for someone whose message sounds welcoming to you.

  1. Choose a few

Make a list of 3-5 therapists who you think you would feel comfortable with, and start calling. Expect that most will return calls within 24 hours Monday-Friday. While most of us make it a practice to always return calls, there are some who won’t call back if they aren’t accepting new clients.

  1. Feel free to schedule with more than one therapist, and test the waters

 Studies have shown that more than anything, the most crucial aspect of therapy is the relationship. Therapists know this, and we want you to find the right fit. It is not uncommon to have a session or two to feel out the process, before committing. You will be invested in the process emotionally and financially, and you want to feel like you can share with this person. Don’t be afraid to be clear about what you want, or to ask questions. We want you to get the most out of this process.

If you are starting the searching process now, good luck! If you have follow-up questions or would like more details on anything I wrote, feel free to comment.

Photo Credit: Flickr

LIES

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There is a common misconception that therapists are lie detectors. Even in grad school, many of us feared not being able to tell when a client is lying, and not knowing how to handle it when they did. We learned a saying: If they bring the lie, you work the lie. Meaning: If the lie is how you want to spend your time, I will follow you down that rabbit hole. It is your time being wasted if that’s what you choose to bring.

Therapists are not specifically trained to distinguish when an eye twitch means lying and when it is allergies, but one thing that we are good at is remembering what you tell us. You get an hour of undivided attention, and it is in my best interest to remember what you tell me so that I can utilize all pertinent information. That means that there are times when stories don’t add up, and my red flag censor is alerted. Depending on what point we are at in therapy, I may ignore it, or I might express my confusion. I’m human too, and I want to be sure that I am remembering correctly, and not making assumptions.

To be fair, overt lies in therapy are rare. None of my clients are forced to see me, and due to the fact that they come of their own volition, I make the assumption that there would be no benefit to them lying to me. It is more likely that I encounter the lie by omission. These make sense to me. I am not in the business of forcing people to do anything, and I believe when people choose not to be truthful with me, it is because they are not ready to be truthful with themselves. When this is the case, I rely on time to do the work for me. Lies become exhausting, and truth will always find its way.

Photo from A Thought and a Half Blog

Jealousy

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As I think I’ve mentioned before, I love working with couples. I love the dynamics in loving relationships, and being a part of the healing that can take place in thoughtful communication. Most of my posts have a component of relationship dynamics in them, and I could probably write endlessly on the different dysfunctions I see.

Today I’m focused on jealousy in relationships. I find jealousy so polarizing because there are those who equate acts of jealousy with acts of love and those who abhor any hint of overprotective ways. I did a quick google search on the difference between jealousy and envy, and the consensus is that jealousy comes from a fear of being replaced or losing what you have (in this case your monogamous relationship).  I often find that within couples, the dynamics of jealousy are unbalanced. One person is always fighting the green eyed monster more than the other.

I have put feelings of jealousy into 2 categories:

  1. Internal Jealousy: This is the one that comes from the place deep inside you that does not feel good enough or deserving of the relationship you have. If you are resonating with this, think about what it is about you that feels unlovable. Do you feel unattractive? Mean? Unavailable? The upside of internal jealousy is you have control and the ability to work through these issues without allowing them to tear your relationship apart. Give yourself he gift of feeling good enough, and let go of the worry that someone else can replace you.
  1. External Jealousy: This one is a bit tougher. External jealousy comes from a partner who puts you in the situation of feeling jealous. Maybe she spends a lot of time outside of work texting a certain coworker and making sure you know about it. Maybe he talks constantly about the women at the gym who hit on him. If you have a partner who is doing this to you the first step is to stop taking the bait. I’m guessing it leads to a lot of fighting, and why? If your partner is dropping these hints, there is likely a reason. Maybe they are feeling ignored, and maybe they are looking for a way out of the relationship. Find a constructive way to explore why this continues to come up, and find a way to end the jealous cycle.

In either case, jealousy is the weed growing from an ugly root. Don’t let it be what fills your space!

Moody Kids

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In what I hope has been the long awaited return of my posts, I want to share some of my thoughts on moods. Moods are so subjective and nuanced, and without proper verbiage can be nearly impossible to convey. We even create new words to cover the complexity that exists in the realm of moods. Hangry is a personal favorite. I’m not just hungry, or just angry. I probably also have some annoyance about the delay of satiation. Hangry encompasses that overlap in such a perfect conjoint way. At this point I will admit that I have not yet seen the new Pixar film (bad therapist!), but I have been told it does a great job of navigating this in a fun and understandable way…more on that when I see the film!

What compelled me to write about moods today is a continual observation of parents. Most adults have a pretty good grasp on identifying their emotions. They can distinguish between happy, sad, tired, angry, overly stimulated. They let others know, “I’m having a bad day. I need a break.” They are competent communicators in this way. So where are they falling down on the job? Their expectation of their children to not have varying moods.

Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember feeling like I just needed time to myself and a day to do nothing. But being a small person and (like most kids are) at the whim of my parents, it was not always likely that the day’s activities aligned with my current mood. I was much more introverted then, and I needed time and space to refuel. When I did not get that time (due to school, extracurricular activities, social obligations, siblings who also had all of the above), it would often lead to a full on meltdown. I know for myself there was no external cue that signified buildup to this break, it would just happen one day. This led to my being labeled as “moody” and “emotional.” Now to be fair both of those are true, but that’s because I HAVE moods and I HAVE emotions!! Are we not all moody and emotional? Yes, but as adults we are more likely to caretake to these emotions (Hence, walking into work and proclaiming, “I’m having a bad day, I need a break.”)

So how can parents alleviate the stress of seeing their child go into full meltdown mode?

  1. Label their emotions for them: “You seem tired today.” “Do you feel upset with mom?” “You must be angry at your brother.” Kids learn language from us, and unless we give them a label, they may not even understand the feeling that is happening within them. Having a word for it reduces their internal anxiety.
  2. Create an opportunity for space: Not all children are social. That may be difficult for social parents to work around, but expecting your child to be the same as you is going to be difficult in more ways than this, so do yourself a favor and plan for breaks on your calendar.
  3. Learn who your child is as a separate person: It is easy to make the “mini me” assumption, but believe it or not, that little human is a completely unique being in his own right. Ask questions and discover that awesome personality, don’t make assumptions based on a few shared traits.
  4. Embrace the moods: We all have them. We are subject to external factors all the time, and none of us are going to live in a bubble. Anticipate that there will be reactions, and worry less that your child’s meltdown is a reflection of parenting. It isn’t.

Photo obtained from flickr.com Creative Commons