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“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Anything that is human is mentionable and anything mentionable can be more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know we are not alone.” – Fred Rogers

I love this quote from Mr. Rogers; it is the epitome of what I believe as a therapist and strive to achieve with my clients. We are all human and we have immense capacity for handling emotions, but sometimes those emotions feel completely and utterly overwhelming. Having a person that we can trust can make those emotions feel more manageable and we might, just maybe, even be able to talk about them more openly.

 We all want to feel like we matter and that someone cares about us; that is a universal human desire. No one wants to feel like they are all alone in this life, but often that is a feeling that we experience. How do we combat those feelings of being alone, isolated, not heard, or not cared for? Connection. Connection to someone or something that allows us to feel seen, heard, and understood. Connection requires vulnerability and vulnerability can be scary. Let’s be honest, we have all probably experienced a situation that we chose to bury, ignore, or deny an emotion rather than risk being hurt by being vulnerable and sharing.

Many of us grew up with Mr. Rogers as our introduction into learning about feelings. He didn’t shy away from talking about the hard topics either: death, divorce, pain, rage, and anger all featured on his show aimed at children. His forthright presentation of issues that we, as human beings, all struggle with was not typical for the time where children were, largely, encouraged to be seen and not heard. How refreshing to help children, and the adults that we became, to learn to recognize, identify, and name the emotions that we were feeling and that it was ok to be scared, it’s human. And if it’s human, then it’s mentionable and manageable with a little help from our friends in the neighborhood. In the words of Mr. Rogers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Henley, Y., Saraf, P., Turtletaub, M., Holzer, L. (Producers), & Heller, M. (Director). (2019) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood [Motion Picture]. United States: Tristar Pictures.

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The Power of Humility

In my work with people from all walks of life and circumstances, the one thing I have found to be true in every case is that humility always aids in healthier interactions and higher quality relationships. Another observation, is that humility is not very easy to come by. We, as human beings, kind of stink at this humility thing.

So, what is this humility thing? Well, in my personal and very unofficial definition it means not viewing yourself (or anyone for that matter) as better than anyone else. It is throwing out the right vs wrong, better or worse than mentality. I think that the following two beliefs are an essential first step in maintaining humility.

  1. Remember that every single human being on this earth has had and will have an entirely unique experience. None of us can have the exact same experiences and views as someone else.
  2. Each one of those unique human experiences and vantage points are valid.

Not only do these beliefs lay the ground work for much kinder and constructive interactions, but it will ease you of the stress that comes from expectations to be right or better than. Humility might sound like this:

“I think it is like this, but I could be mistaken.”

“I want to try this, and I would love to hear what you would like to try.”

“Can you tell me what that is like for you?”

“I was mistaken.”

“I am sorry about the pain you are feeling due to my choice. Will you tell me more about it?”

       I challenge you to incorporate even one of these phrases into your conversations, perhaps with someone you haven’t been getting along with very well, and see how the relationship improves. Even if you don’t find the outcome you were looking for, kindness and softness are never wasted.

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We Need Others

Human beings are social creatures and need connection. Psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have suggested many reasons for why we need connection.  These reasons include: providing for physical and emotional needs, creating tribal safety, invoking social and economic efficiency, and offering structure for human development.

As I’ve explored this topic, I find our need for others is multifaceted. In mental health, there are overlapping influences, often termed the biopsychosocial model of health. This phonetic amalgamation promotes the importance of three overarching schools of thought: (1) our biology, (2) our thoughts and emotions, and (3) our social environment. Our social connections are no small matter. We experience social connection with family, friends, church relationships, clubs, and work situations.

One reason I feel we need others, is to create affirmation and validation for our life journey. As children, we look to authority figures for validation. At first, this person is usually a parent or guardian. When we enter our adolescence, we turn to friends. As adults, we may seek approval from peers, or authority figures such as church leaders, a spouse, or a boss at work. Marriage relationships uniquely create opportunities for seeking intimate affirmation and validation. As a therapist, I see couples desiring validation if they are “enough,” or if they are “doing things right.” These bids for validation are expressed in a variety of scenarios in the kitchen to the bedroom.

Eventually, we arrive at a place where self-confidence eclipses the need to seek validation from others.  When this occurs, we help support others, and our self-esteem is self-sufficient.  I don’t think this process is a bad thing. Instead, I feel the understanding we gain is helpful and includes three important concepts.

First, as other people bid for validation from us, we should feel complimented, as we are now a companion in their healing journey. Affirming another is an opportunity to support and honor the path and choices others make in a way that creates self-awareness and growth, confidence, and security while allowing for a space of safety.

Second, we need to know how hurtful rejection can be for those who seek for an affirming voice from us. As children, we are often told “no,” “don’t,” or “you cannot.” Usually, these commands are barked from parents who want to protect their children. However, as a conscience being willing to aid in the healing journey of others, an affirming voice such as “you can,” “you’ve got this,” or “I trust you,” is more effective.

Third, understanding your attachment style, or the attachment style of others can assist in explaining how validation and affirmation are expressed.  An assessment of how you engage with others can aid you and those you love to help establish securely attached relationships.  For example, some people will anxiously seek for attention, and others pull back when things get messy, avoiding receiving the needed help the connection brings.

As humans, we connect with others for a variety of meaningful ways. Seeking affirmation and validation is a human characteristic that moves people toward a place of self-confidence. We start by trusting the voices of others we trust, and then we move to trust our internal voice.  We do these in elaborate dances that deserve our attention and our nonjudgmental observation.

If you or a loved one needs help in understanding or seeking validation, please give me a call at 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment today.

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Repairing and Building Closer Relationships Through Play Therapy

https://kutv.com/features/fresh-living/clair-mellenthin-repairing-and-building-closer-relationships-through-play-therapy

Please follow the link above to view Clair Mellenthin’s segment with KUTV on Repairing and building closer relationships through Play Therapy.

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My Kids Are All in School….Now What?

It’s a story I hear about all of the time in my personal and professional life. “My last child is going to kindergarten, or first grade. Yay!! I’m going to have so much more time for other things!” And inevitably, a month later, I hear a very different story. “I don’t quite know who I am anymore. Or what I want to do with my time.” A lot of these women have been stay at home mothers, or work part time, while they have young children. Once the children are in school, their life changes quite drastically. They have more time to focus on themselves and their own interests. While this sounds like a time of liberation, a lot of women find it to be a time of high anxiety. 

For years, society has taught women that their primary, and sometimes only, role is to be a mother. Whether you subscribe to this mentality or not, it is very present in our society. Therefore, a lot of women take that role on as their only sense of self. As a mother, sometimes I find myself getting lost in child rearing. I have to remind myself that while I love being a mother and it is important to me, I can still have interests and passions outside of that realm.  This realization comes to light quickly when all of your children are attending school full time. So, to all of the mothers who are sending their youngest off to kindergarten/first grade, or to the mothers of young children that need to revisit who they are I challenge you to answer the following five questions.

  1. What do I like to do for fun?
  2. What do I do for self care that reenergizes me?
  3. What relationships would I like to strengthen?
  4. Do I want to go back to work, or work more?
  5. Other than being a mom what do I want to be known for in my life?

These questions can help guide you to some career choices, as well as just things you can do for yourself when you have the time. If you are having a difficult time defining who you are, and who you want to become in the future come into therapy. Working with women to find their inner strength is something I love to do! Good luck as your kiddos head off to school.  I’ll be at Wasatch Family Therapy with lots of congratulations and the tissues. 

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On Going Kids Social Skills Group

Wasatch Family Therapy is excited to announce this school year’s social skills group. This group is opened ended allowing kids to come into the group throughout the school year. There is a six session commitment, but children can stay longer, if needed. Groups are $50 per session, due at the time of the group. Please contact us at 801-944-4555 to register for the group.

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50 Wise Ways To De-Stress Your Life

People have many reasons for why their life is so stressful. Why they can’t de-stress. 
Why they feel so out-of-control. Why they believe it will just never change.

While many reasons exist, my experience is that people have three key reasons why they can’t seem
to de-stress their lives. Here are a few to think about.

1) My life is too complicated to change!
 
I’ve heard this reason or derivations of this excuse many times. Whether it’s multi-tasking a crazy schedule
or simply feeling there is nothing I can change, this line of reasoning hamstrings us.

2) Life never gives me a darn break!
 
While this reason sounds similar to number 1, it’s actually quite different. Whether it’s a mom who is
exhausted by their 3 kids or a dad trying to close that important deal to support their family, it’s exhausting.
By the way, these roles can be switched and aren’t gender exclusive. The point is, we need to SEEK a break in
our lives.

3) Stress keeps me young!
 
I’ve spoken with people who have told me that stress is “motivating” or that stress keeps me
“involved in life.” And yes, even that it “keeps me young.” The latter has been spoken with a knowing
chagrinned glance that it actually isn’t helping. Which actually begs the question of “how well is that working for
you?” The reality is, it simply is NOT helping.

Ideas That Work!

Here are 50 wise and proven ways to de-stress your lives (Hint: The hard part is actually making the time, not
in doing them!)
 
Read
Garden
Movies
Hike
Piano
Affection
Backpack
New outfit
Vacation
Work (job) less
Bucket list
Friends
Work out
Increase Intimacy
Get away
Spirituality
Sex
Travel
Education
Walk
Step back
Make Love
Change careers
Re-connect
Healthy Emotions
Trail Run
Date
Flower Garden
Exercise
Religion
Journal
Volunteer
Arts
Ski
Creativity
Crafts
Mountains
Yoga
Rock Climbing
Symphony
The Mighty 5
Bear Lake
Sunset
Opera
Sunrise
Thunder
The Beach
Work smarter
Self-care
Alone time
Switch it up!

There are easily 50 more ideas to add to this list. However, that’s not the point, i.e., to add more stress. The critical
point is that unless we make changes and do more for ourselves, we suffer. We’ll just experience more and more stress
that just simply perpetuates itself. That. Makes. No. Sense!
 
What makes perfect sense is choosing several of the items from my list and just doing them. Hiking is amazing in the
Wasatch. Watching a summer movie rocks. Journaling is helpful. Reading a book energizing!
 
And, I can (almost) guarantee that your stress level will drop. You will want to do more for yourself. Become fiercely loyal
to it!!!

Michael Boman, LCSW has 20 years experience in helping people de-stress and reconnect. Reach out to him at 801.944.4555,
if you feel this blog has moved you to want to take back your life.
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Are We Compatible? We Fight!

If you frequent the many on-line resources (message boards, blogs, advice columns, podcasts, etc.) related to dating, specifically dating at a more “advanced” age, you will surely encounter at least one article about “compatibility” in relationships. What exactly does compatibility mean? If you read all the advice on the internet, this post included, then you’ll find that there is a wide array of opinions offered. Opinions range from the alignment of interests and goals to the notion that there can’t be any disagreements or conflicts within relationships. However, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary compatibility is, “being capable of existing together in harmony”.  Dr. John Gottman (2016), the world-renowned relationship researcher, described compatibility as, “Agreeability and conscientiousness are the characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.” These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may be wrong” during a disagreement.”

It’s always interesting to me that couples often fear that they are incompatible if they encounter conflict within their relationship. Conflict and the ability to address and resolve it are important aspects to relationships; it says a lot about the relationship’s strength when a couple or family is willing to confront the areas of conflict in their relationships. However, there is a myth perpetuated by society and the media that “healthy” relationships are conflict-free. That’s an unachievable expectation that can be dangerous to a connected relationship.

How can everyone’s needs be met if unmet needs can’t be expressed because it is seen as starting a fight? You’ll notice I changed the wording in my last question from conflict to fight; I’ve noticed that many times the two words are used interchangeably. Fight, typically, has a negative connotation that denotes a level of aggression or force, however. While conflict simply implies a disagreement. Often though, couples and families see any form of disagreement as a fight and it can feel dangerous to the relationships. I teach my clients that it’s important to recognize that you can have a conflict/argument/disagreement and the relationship can still feel safe. How can you safely have a disagreement? I believe that if couples can set up a few rules to how they are going to “fight” that they can maintain safety, not just physical but emotional and psychological as well. Below I’ve listed a few of the boundaries that I recommend couples start with while encouraging them to add their own personal ones that are relevant to their situations:

  1. Use “I” and “me”- if it’s important to you than make sure you are keeping it about who it is important to. “You” statements can feel very blaming.
  2. Keep the volume in check- while some people’s voices get very animated and the volume increases as they get elevated, regardless if it’s from excitement or frustration, it can be very scary. No yelling and screaming!!!
  3. Keep the language respectful. Personal attacks on character, name calling, mocking, being sarcastic, condescending, or patronizing are all ways that can leave people feeling devalued and demoralized.
  4. Telling your partner how they do or should be feeling. Everyone is entitled to their feelings regardless of whether they make sense to others. Use this as an opportunity to be curious about your partner and their experience.
  5. Timeouts aren’t just for kids. A negotiated and stated 20-minute timeout to re-group and calm down can do wonders for a disagreement while reinforcing the importance of safety in the relationship.

Conflict is an important part of relationships, as Dr. Gottman said they introduce diversity and make relationships more interesting. Additionally, they can be used as avenues to deepen our connections with partners by exposing and discussing vulnerabilities. However, for a conflict to be an opportunity to grow it must feel safe for both parties to express those vulnerabilities. Fight for your relationships and connections, not against them!

photo credit: canstockphoto.com – dolgachov

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Am I an Empath?

An empath is often described as one who identifies with another person’s emotions as if they were their own. This personality trait goes beyond the usual definitions of relating to others.  For example, being sympathetic is merely understanding another’s experience.  Empathy moves beyond this definition, where somebody feels for or with another person.  Sometimes highly sensitive beings perceive what others are feeling so intensely their emotions are being pulled about with little understanding why.  This experience can be challenging for some because their life can turn upside down when family members or close friends experience the agitating cycles of life.

Despite this challenge, this form of empathy is often thought of as a gift.  I agree with this perspective.  Those who relate emotionally to the experiences of others in this fashion often assist in the healing experiences for others because they validate others feelings in meaningful ways.  Sometimes those who are empathic bridge communication gaps where language has no nourishment.

Recently neuroscientists have discovered the human brain contains specific brain circuit structures called mirror neurons.  These neurons primarily respond by interpreting the emotional state of others, then translating these experiences into mirrored responses.  This research provides scientific answers to how this process occurs.  Furthermore, the latest research describes how human beings experience and interact in their environment and how we are wired to connect.

If you’re very empathic and highly sensitive, what can you do to create emotional stability?  I recommend taking a moment in the morning to establish an emotional baseline.  As you feel a shift during the day, ask yourself, “is this mine?”.  It may also be helpful instead of thinking “why” are you feeling this way, ask yourself “who” may be feeling this that you are picking up on.  This isn’t to say all emotions belong to others.  When it is your emotions, it’s possible there is somebody in your social-field who is picking up on you whom you can connect with.  This reality of the human experience presents an ideal opportunity to become vulnerable and realize that you’re not alone.  After all, we are biologically wired to understand how others feel and experience the world together.

photo credit: canstockphoto.com – pressmaster

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Five Simple Steps to Keeping Romance Alive

If you are like me, you find “free time” to be almost a mythical experience. Then trying to create time for romance in your relationship, and it seems like we are living a straight fantasy. However, with today’s fast-paced world and technology every direction, it seems nearly impossible to have a truly romantic relationship. Often when I meet with couples, I hear, “We are more like roommates than a couple.” During my initial assessment and learning about the couple’s daily routine, I find that these couples are unintentionally avoiding what they want the most – intimacy.

    The best remedy for this lack of intimacy and romance is to make “intentional” time with each other and make changes that will create and maintain a loving and intimate relationship throughout the lifespan. Here are some of my prescribed remedies for keeping the romance in your relationship.

1-    Turn it off. Take the television out of the bedroom-this includes turning off the cell-phones. If you are not on bedrest, there is no need to have a T.V. in the bedroom. It takes away time that could be spent engaging in pillow talk, cuddling, kissing, and making love.

2-    Go on a date. It is fine to go to the movies now and then but when I say go on a date I mean GO on an intentional date where conversation can be had throughout. Take a long drive through the canyon, go on a picnic in the park or at a garden. Spending time together without a distraction of a movie or comedian allows time to rebuild intimacy and learn or re-learn about your partner.

3-    Hold hands. Staying close doesn’t have to be complicated. Touch is such a powerful tool for connection. Human touch is a basic primal need. We do not outgrow this.  Holding hands while watching your favorite show, walking around the neighborhood, or waiting for your table at a restaurant can create that closeness without a lot of effort.

4-    Don’t forget to play. Research shows that couples who play together have increased bonding, communication, conflict resolution, and report overall satisfaction in the relationship.  Play can be something spontaneous like a water fight while in the garden or tickle fight while doing housework, something planned like going bowling, or just sitting down for an old-fashioned game of cards. So, give yourself permission to get silly and be a kid again.

5- 5-second kiss. How often do you give your partner a quick peck goodbye in the morning or hello after work? Sure, that is nice, but it becomes routine and unpassionate. Holding a kiss for at least 5 seconds gives you that intentional purpose of showing your partner that you love them. This doesn’t have to be limited to saying goodbye or hello, you could engage in the 5-second kiss to say thank you for dinner or helping with the kids or just because you want to kiss.

These “remedies” are not a cure-all for all relationships. Sometimes there is an issue that goes a little deeper, and that issue is impairing your relationship. In that case, these simple steps aren’t where you need to start, and you may need to look into talking about it with a trained professional. If you need couples counseling, please call our office at 801-944-4555 to make an appointment. We are here to help.

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