Dr. John Gottman, Author of “7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.”, wrote about what he calls the “4 horseman of the apocalypse”. He outlined how, if unaddressed, these behaviors can erode trust and security in a relationship. Look out for them in your communications.
Blame/Criticism– Blame and criticism increase defensiveness and derail problem solving.
Contempt– Use non-judgmental language. Contemptuous language like, “You’re so lazy! You never empty the dishwasher” will get you nowhere fast. Try instead, “I feel frustrated that I am emptying the dishwasher so frequently. I would like us to share this responsibility” The latter is a reasonable request. Try to label the behavior rather than the person.
Defensiveness– Defensiveness is usually a response to feeling blamed or criticized. Take ownership for what part you played in the situation and be open to hearing the reasonable request. Acknowledge what the other person is saying and the feelings they are expressing (validate where they are coming from). Address their request/concern rather than justify your behavior.
Stonewalling– Stonewalling is refusing to participate fully in the conversation or avoiding the discomfort. Instead, commit to hearing the person out. Stonewalling means you will never hear their reasonable request and therefore not be able to problem solve. If you feel overwhelmed, ask to pause the conversation for a short period of time and commit to returning when you are calmer.
For more information check out the link below or any of John Gottman’s books.
I love TED talks. I recommend them to my clients to watch between sessions to help them stay in a therapeutic mindset, and I also watch them frequently myself to stay up on what the great scientists and researchers of our time are doing. Here is an oldie but a goodie that I would recommend to help you understand the subjectivity behind happiness. Hopefully you walk away from this understanding a little more about how you have and are perceiving happiness in your life.
In the hours after a tragedy inspired by intolerance and bigotry, it is difficult for me to write. I want to be angry and sad, and simply feel those feelings until they dissipate and I’m swept up in the next wave of media and life. I want to sit and watch the news, safely in my home, without action, knowing that it would likely be a reaction to the senseless hate that our country has struggled to defuse. I want to send my “hopes and prayers to the victims and their families” in order to feel a little better about the world and how I experience it, but, I also know that that isn’t, and never will be, enough. Whether you are an advocate for the LGBTQ community or an advocate for civil liberties, wishes and prayers are not enough to stop the violence and intolerance that divide our nation and break our hearts. For real and lasting change to happen we must, as participants in the democratic process, engage mindfully and thoughtfully in the political and cultural dialogues that are happening right now. Have an opinion, listen to others opinion, validate and learn about the differences, and by the grace of God or whatever you believe in, love each other. So instead of just wishing and praying, educate yourself beyond the emotional reactivity we see from Fox News and CNN.
Usually, the hours after a terrorist attack the media turns toward dialogue and coverage about the attackers that further instigates fear and polarization between
“Us and Them”. This binary mentality prevents us from seeing the individuals within the “them” and leads to more polarizing actions rather than learning to understand, communicate with, and co-exist with “them.”
When we choose to do nothing but listen or perpetuate the hate and fear rhetoric, we are ignoring our responsibility and opportunity to heal. By all means, send your prayers to these people, but also know that actions like voting, donating time or money, or having dialogue with others that promotes understanding and tolerance will help move us in the right direction.
While I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, I have to let you in on a guilty pleasure of mine; I love watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Most reality TV leaves me scoffing, changing the channel or, commenting with ridicule and judgment (I can’t help it), but when it comes to viewing Kim K and the rest of the family I walk away from each episode thinking “huh, amid the chaos there is something going well with this family”. It took me a while to sift through the grandiose- ego driven aspects of the show to find what I consider to be 3 real strengths that they demonstrate that could be applied to family therapy.
Pit and Peak
In one episode, the family sat down to family dinner, something they seemingly do often, and over the course of the meal each member took turn talking about the “Pit and the Peak” of their day. In other words, they were all present to check in with each other and share their experience of the day. There wasn’t much problem solving going on, but that seemed to be okay. The purpose of the exercise was more to hear and be heard.
*How this applies to family therapy: Spending meal times together and disclosing how your day went can be a great way to understand where people are emotionally, as well as offer support and praise. When we check in (and do it often) we are better able to avoid personalizing someone else’s bad day and this reduces conflict.
Be Real (real assertive that is)
For those of you who watch (and I know you’re out there), it is clear to see that this family has no problem putting themselves out there. While it may be a bit narcissistic or over the top in the show, what is also happening is self-validation. The Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Kris are willing to be vulnerable and verbalize when they are dissatisfied with one another. Rarely does this family let things get swept under the rug. When they are frustrated they let the other know and this creates the opportunity (for drama) AND for resolution. Yes, there are many times where they do not demonstrate assertive clear communication, but they are willing to put themselves out there and work it out.
*How this applies to family therapy: Passive communication often creates resentment and stress in families. Practicing assertive communication (like letting people know how you really feel) on the other hand, leads to a higher likelihood that those un-met needs that are causing conflict, will be met. Families that can “Be Real” with each other in respectful and validating ways are more likely to resolve and rebound from conflict and build secure attachments to one another.
From creating their own music videos on family vacations, to wrestling, or playing pranks on each other, this family prioritizes play. No doubt that they are not short of drama or chaos, but their efforts to play and have fun with one another help counter balance the pandemonium and strife.
*How this applies to family therapy: When we forget to have fun with our families it limits our opportunity to learn and grow together. Play can be a stress relieving and bonding experience. With children, play can help them learn and develop various skills such as motor skills, cognitive skills, and social skills. Play teaches the parents to be patient towards their children and can have the added value of increasing the child or teens self-esteem knowing they will be attended to. Families who take the time to play together, are often more cooperative, supportive and have better and more frequent communications.
While I am not suggesting that we all start emulating the Kardashians, these few point may be work trying to incorporate into your family dynamics.
Muscle relaxation has always been a staple in stress reduction, but is often not something we jump to when we recognize stress or other uncomfortable emotions. In fact, we often unnecessarily carry emotional stress in our muscles long after a stressful event or situation has passed. To combat the negative effects stress has on our bodies and minds many researchers and clinicians suggest engaging in activities like yoga or deep breathing. When we hold tension in our muscles we are sending our brain the signal to release cortisol, the stress hormone. This is a good thing if we need to be primed for action, but can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health if we don’t counter act the cortisol after the stressful even has passed. In the fast-paced world we live in, with near constant stressors being thrown our way, it is rare that people can or do take the time needed to fully relieve their muscles of the stress impact, and thus it builds throughout the day.
Maybe you cant skip that stressful work meeting to go to a yoga class, but what if you could de-stress without leaving the office, or even de-stress in the stressful moment itself. You can. Here is a 5-step tip to help you tap into stress reduction throughout the day.
1- Check in with yourself throughout the day to see if you are feeling stress. Even little amounts of stress can have a big impact on your mental and physical health. Being aware of when we are feeling stress is the first step to stress reduction.
2- Rate your stress level on a scale of 0-10 so that after the muscle relaxation you can have a gauge of how it worked and if you need to take a few more seconds to relax and bring yourself further down the scale.
3- Do a body scan to assess how and where your body is holding the stress? Are you feeling tight, tense, pain, aching, fidgeting, or tingling? Are there any more subtle areas are holding tension?
4- Consciously release the tension of this area as you exhale. Imagine the muscle relaxing even if you can’t fully feel it right away. Drop your shoulders away from your ears, let your hips and legs rest heavy on the seat, and soften the muscles in your face and neck.
5- Repeat. Now that you’re more relaxed notice if there are other areas in need of relaxation.
This activity done frequently in short periods of time throughout a day may have a bigger impact on your stress reduction than that yoga class you’ve been meaning to get to. So the next time you get cut off on the freeway, overloaded with another task at work, or frustrated with your child notice how your body responds and let go of the tension in your muscles.
Believing positives about yourself when you feel crummy can be difficult and sometimes feels impossible. This is especially true for teens suffering from Anxiety or Depressive Disorders. Often times, teens, like adults, get stuck repeating or focusing on negative aspects or assumptions about them selves, and are resistant to looking for a more balanced or kind perspective. This constant self-criticism not only amplifies negative mood and behavior, but also makes it more difficult to see those positives that actually exist. To help counteract the negative self bias I hear from many teens I work with, I ask them to develop a “Positives List.”
Unfortunately for most, simply writing down positives is not a big enough step to actually believing those positives. The key step to making this process work is in writing a detailed account (1-2 paragraphs) about when, in the past, they actually demonstrated that quality or characteristic. I usually have them write 2 examples, but sometimes one is enough. When appropriate I also have them add when and how it impacted others or their environment positively. This process requires that they begin to search for actual memories to back up the positive they have listed, rather than just stoping with a word bank. Since the event has already occurred it is easier for the positive qualities to be substantiated.
In a TED Talk from 2012, Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy explained how our body language not only shapes our interactions with others, but how it can have profound effects on how we feel about ourselves. She suggests that by simply changing our posture for 2, yes only 2 minutes, we can dramatically shift our brains response to stress and begin to feel and act more confident.
Take a moment to notice your body language right now. Are your arms crossed in front of you or resting by your side? Is your chin lifted or tucked down? In her research, Cuddy and colleagues found that “closed” body language, like crossing your arms in front of you and looking down at the ground, can actually increase the release of the stress hormone cortisol in your brain. When we have higher levels of cortisol in our system we feel less confident and more reactive and avoidant. Cuddy found that by simply lifting the chin, unwrapping your arms from your chest, and lifting your heart, cortisol is deceased and testosterone begins to flood the brain. This is a good thing because testosterone can increase feelings of optimism, assertiveness, and confidence.
Is it really that simple? Yes. In practice with my clients, I have found that having them shift their body posture, or even having them get into a gentle and supported “heart-opening” yoga posture, can help them feel more comfortable talking about and addressing their issues and moods. Changing what signals your body sends to your brain changes how you feel about the situation and about your ability to manage it.
I offer this challenge to you, the next time you find you are holding your body in a “closed” posture, assess what your mood is. Then, for 2 minutes open your posture, elongate, spread out, and lift yourself up. Maybe even look at yourself in the mirror as you do this. Check back in and assess what has shifted your mood or perception.
Let your body teach your brain a simple 2 minute technique for stress management.
Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk by clicking the link below.
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In today’s media we hear more and more about the negative effects bullying has on Americas youth. As parents we do everything we can to protect our kids from help becoming the victim of bully behavior, but what if our teen is the bully? Here are 4 signs to look for and ways to empower your teens to take a stand against bully behavior.
Do you ever feel like communication with your teen is going no where? Have you ever wondered if your teen has a mom/dad filter that blocks out everything you say? You’re not alone. My favorite tip to help build better communication patterns with families (and couples) is using the acronym G.I.V.E.
Although it may not seem like it, your teens are watching your behavior just as much as you are watching theirs. Show your teens that family time is an important part of your family life by being consistent, enthusiastic, and engaged. Put away your cell phone and focus on the family if you expect them to do the same.
2) Make it a scheduled event
Pick a day and stick to it! Chances are your teen’s social life is buzzing with friends, school, and other activities, making a scheduled event increases the chances that your teen (and you) will fit it into the schedule. Send them a reminder a few days before and remember to tell them the day of that you are looking forward to spending time with them.