Running a social skills group for kids ages 7-11 has taught
me a lot about the benefits of flexible thinking. Flexible thinking in kids
produces turn taking, transitioning smoothly to new activities, and the ability
to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations.
Flexible thinking in adults also enables mental, emotional,
and behavioral adaptability. It is the ability to consider situations from
multiple perspectives, include context clues to inform decision making, manage
rising emotional responses in appropriate ways, problem solve, and balance and
prioritize competing desires and goals. Flexible thinking also allows for
spontaneity in our romantic relationships that can increase excitement and
Flexible thinking looks like letting someone else pick the
restaurant for dinner, cancelling plans to be with a friend or spouse who’s had
a difficult day, finding solutions to problems instead of ruminating on the
endless escalating spiral of “what if…” scenarios, truly listening to
understand what others are saying, and not telling your boss what you really
think of them when they take credit for your work during the company meeting.
Inflexible or rigid thinking in adults is often manifest in
all or nothing (Black and White) perspectives and doesn’t allow for nuances and
mitigating circumstances. Doing something because, “That’s how we have always
done it” is an example of rigid thinking. Other examples include not listening
to other’s ideas, struggling to consider the feelings and experiences of
others, and obliviousness to opportunities around us because we are locked into
our self-appointed expectations, rules or ideas about how something is
“supposed to be.”
There is a popular Huffington
Post article (“Reasons my
son is crying will crack you up!”) that is unknowingly
highlighting inflexible and rigid thinking. In each of these pictures, the
child is having an emotional meltdown because they are stuck on one thought and
the associated feeling so deeply, they become overwhelmed, abandon all reason
and rebuff efforts to console them; for example, “He wouldn’t fit through the
doggy door. Note the open-door right beside him.” With toddlers and adults
alike, inflexible thinking can lead to unhelpful and stressful situations.
As a caution, let’s be clear that not all rigid thinking is
unhelpful. There are areas in life that being inflexible is necessary and
protective. With regards to physical safety and personal and emotional
boundaries, it is advantageous to be rigid.
We all have times where we utilize both flexible and rigid
thinking, the important part is to identify where we, as adults, teens or kids,
could benefit from more flexible thinking.
Is there an issue with your friends or spouse
that keeps coming up, how could you change your perspective or response in the
situation to increase connection with that person?
What could be a different way to address the
issue? What about that issue is the real problem?
Could any of these same questions be applied to
work relationships and circumstances?
You need to be a pipe cleaner.
Here is a visual way to conceptualize flexible thinking. During
one of my first weeks running the aforementioned social skills group I came
across an activity highlighting the importance of and difference between
flexible and rigid thinking using a popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner and a piece
A popsicle stick is sturdy but rigid. Attempts
to bend the popsicle stick typically result in it breaking. Not helpful.
Pipe cleaners are soft and fuzzy on the outside,
come in multiple colors, bend easily, hold their shape and have sturdy wire in
the middle: the creative options are endless. They are so adaptable they can
bend to whatever the situation requires while maintaining their inner core
(read: personal values and goals).
A piece of yarn can barely hold any shape at
all, it’s too flexible. It can’t stand up for itself or hold a boundary and can
be easily manipulated with no resistance.
Thinking like a pipe cleaner allows flexibility, adjusting,
shifting, adapting and changing as needed without compromising our values. What
areas in your life are you like a pipe cleaner? Are there some relationships,
situations or events where you are more like a popsicle stick? Which of these
scenarios or people would benefit from you being more like a pipe cleaner?
Look for Flexible Thinking Part 2: Mental Health, where I
will review how flexible thinking impacts and effects our mental health.
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.
While it is perfectly healthy and effective in therapy to
disclose any personal information about your life to your therapist that you
desire, here are some things you do not want to be sharing with them:
Media Accounts: That’s right. Therapists are bound ethically not to have
any relationship with a client outside of the therapeutic one. Social media is
something you share with family, friends, and co-workers (maybe). You likely
don’t want your therapist seeing everything you post, and your therapist likely
doesn’t want you to see what they post in their private life. This could alter
the therapeutic setting. If your therapist has a professional or business
social media account, these are okay to follow, but not personal accounts.
The therapeutic relationship is a unique one, and for that reason, some clients
I work with feel a sense of gratitude and they want to communicate that. Some
clients feel the need to give a gift or “return the favor” in some way. I
always reassure my clients, the work we do together is not a favor, it is a
business arrangement and you already paid me. Therapists have an ethical
obligation not to accept gifts from their clients.
Your therapist should never be related to you, even if it isn’t by blood. This
comes back to that multiple relationships thing we talked about earlier under
number 1. People in your family already have opinions about you and a serious
investment in you. This would drastically impair their ability to be
therapeutic and your ability to feel the comfort of unbias. I would extend this
rule to close family friends or other significant people in your life.
to personal events: Though many people want to share the exciting and proud
moments of their lives with their therapist, this is best done verbally in
session. There is no need to invite your therapist to your wedding, baby
showers, graduation, or any other personal event in your life. Rather, come to
your next session with all the wonderful details you want them to hear about. They
will be happy to hear about it!
Yep, we’re going there. For most people, this is well understood. However, some
people feel very close and connected to their therapist and in rare cases start
to develop romantic feelings for them. Under no circumstances should a client
and therapist ever share intimate or romantic relations. For my professional
license, this boundary still stands if I am no longer seeing the client in
therapy. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t even consider this one.
There is someone out there who will understand you and make you feel safe that
is not your therapist.
While all of these boundaries were written to the client,
therapists have the ultimate responsibility to make sure that healthy
boundaries are taking place in their practice. If your therapist has breeched
any of these boundaries with you, it is time to have a conversation with them,
and likely seek a new therapist.
Boundaries help to keep us stay connected with someone while keeping the relationship in a healthy place. Often time’s boundaries are perceived in negative ways and only to push others away, but this is not true. “Some people will try to tell you otherwise, but boundaries have nothing to do with whether you love someone or not. They are not punishments, judgments or betrayals. They’re a purely peaceable thing. The basic principles you identify for yourself that define the behaviors you will tolerate from others, as well as the responses you will have to those behaviors. Boundaries teach people how to treat you and they teach you how to respect yourself.” – Cheryl Strayed (Author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail)
With this in mind I would like to invite to listen to one of my favorite podcasts that does a great job of discussing boundaries and a technique I find extremely beneficial called “Jello Wall”. A Link is provided below, but you may find them wherever you find your other podcast by searching Therapist Uncensored and listening to episode 81 “How Good Boundaries bring us Closer Together”.
Who has ever said yes to something but were internally screaming a no?
We all have people asking us for time, money, attention, physical or emotional connection, labor, and on and on. Helping others, giving them our time or attention is a good thing, so I want to clarify that boundaries are not just about saying no. Boundaries are about making thoughtful choices which allow us to say yes to the things we want to say yes to.
We humans are social creatures. We are driven to seek connections with others. Forming connections, or attachments, helps us navigate challenges in life. Much like a toddler will cling to her parent’s leg, step away to explore, then run back when they need reassurance. Saying no to a request goes against our need to connect with others. However, when we repeatedly say yes to things we don’t feel good about, we can end up neglecting our own needs. This turns an act of kindness that helped us feel good and brought us joy, into a burden that we feel resentful of.
Resentment is an interesting experience. It’s a low simmer, just under the surface, that tells us something isn’t right. Something about the situation feels off. We might feel taken advantage of, unheard, or manipulated. Each experience where we feel resentment adds a link in our chain of resentment. They build upon each other, and if we continue to carry the chain around, and add to it, it will get heavier and heavier. This resentment chain makes it difficult to want to say yes to anything, because we’re constantly on guard, looking to protect ourselves.
Setting boundaries allows us to set down the chain. When we can stop carrying it around, we’ll have more energy to make the kind of thoughtful decisions that bring us joy.
Why is it hard to set boundaries?
-fear on loss/abandonment/loneliness
-fear of anger
-fear of self perception (I’m a good person, good people sacrifice for others)
-fear of approval (will other people think I’m a good person?)
-guilt for disappointing or hurting someone.
Feelings of resentment, fear, or guilt are indicators that there is an area of your life that needs boundary work.
Here are three concrete tools for helping to establish boundaries in your own life.
1. Have a Plan
It can be difficult to think clearly if you feel put on the spot. Having responses planned out ahead can help buy you time to evaluate whether the request is something you are willing or able to meet. One example, “I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’ll get back to you” can buy you some time to evaluate if the request is something you have the time/energy/desire to meet.
2. Don’t Explain
Sometimes, in an attempt to soften our “no”, we offer explanations that may or may not accurately represent our true reasons for saying no. This can be dangerous as it gives the requester the ability to counter with an adapted request that may feel more difficult to refuse.
3. Offer an Alternative
Offer an alternative if there is one that you feel good about. “I’m not able to make that planning meeting, but I will write up my proposal and email it to you before friday”.
All of us have boundaries. Whether we communicate them openly or not, we are setting boundaries. Holding back, or acquiescing out of fear or guilt means we are setting an loose boundary that will likely lead us to feel resentment. Setting clear and proactive boundaries allows us to form relationships with others, free of resentment, and allows us a greater sense of peace and joy.
If you are struggling to set boundaries in your life, and would like help learning how to make changes to reduce feelings of fear, resentment, or anger, call and schedule an appointment with Alice. 801-944-4555.
Marriage is a wonderful change, but it certainly brings some challenges, not just for the couple involved, but also for the in-law relationship dynamic. I recently sat down with the Good Things Utah to share my top 3 tips for daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws:
A few months ago, I stood on the edge of a 15 foot cliff overhanging the ocean. Several family members had already jumped and were calling to me to join them. This may not seem like a particularly high distance to some, but it was high enough for me to activate an internal battle.
Part of me wanted to jump. The water was clear and beautiful. My family was having a great time in the water below. Part of me was afraid of hurting myself. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a theory that uses the idea that all of us have internal “parts”, which generally work together, creating the unique individual that we are. When our parts are not fully integrated, we can experience internal battles, which cause difficulty in our ability to function the way we would like.
IFS categorizes our parts as managers, firefighters, exiles, and Self.
Managers act as our protectors. They are manifest as controller, striver, judge, caretaker, passive, pessimist, planner, and self-critic. These managers work to keep things in our lives going smoothly to avoid pain or rejection.
Firefighters are also protectors, but do so in a reactive way, attempting to soothe our exiles through compulsive behaviors, distraction, or rage.
Exiles are the parts of us that hold pain and vulnerability. Our managers push them away to protect the rest of us from having to experience the pain, shame, dependency, neediness, worthlessness, or grief that exiles carry.
Our Self is the core of who we are. Our Self is calm, curious, compassionate, connected, confident, creative, and has clarity. When we are able to look at the world or situations with these eight “C’s” we’re working from our Self. When managers, firefighters or exiles take over we lose our ability act from our true Self.
As I stood on the cliff with my internal battle, I wasn’t able to recognize the various parts involved. Looking back on the experience, it’s much easier to identify the manager that created anxiety, the one that told me “if you jump, you’ll get hurt.” I can also identify the manager who told me that I had better jump to avoid being teased by my family. It was this manager who pushed through and reminded me that the cliff wasn’t that high, the water was clear, and that everyone else had jumped safely.
Often, the internal battles our parts engage in are of more significant consequence than whether we will be teased for not jumping into the ocean. Sometimes our care-taking managers prevent us from setting clear boundaries with others, leading to resentment or exhaustion. Sometimes our firefighters seek to soothe scared exiles by numbing with behaviors or substances that are not in line with our value system. When this happens, our managers beat up on our firefighters, and our firefighters respond by doubling down on their soothing behavior.
When we experience these internal battles, it’s tempting to try to ignore or reject the parts of us that seem to be causing the problems. Instead of ignoring or rejecting (which doesn’t work anyway), we can start a conversation with these parts to examine why they are behaving the way they are. We might discover that our firefighter is pushing us to lash out in anger in an attempt to protect our exiles from having to experience the pain of rejection that we’ve felt before. We might discover a manager who constantly tells us we’re lazy is really just terrified of becoming the thing it was called as a child. Understanding why our parts behave the way they do, we can begin to have some compassion for them. Compassion helps us soothe the internal battles and increase our ability to act as our true Self.
If you recognize some of these kinds of parts within yourself and would like help integrating them, call and schedule a session with Alice today. 801-944-4555.
Boy, has dating changed in the last 25 years! As a happily married person, I never paid attention to the struggles of my single contemporaries. However, as a widow of 3 years, I recently ventured back into the realm of dating and into online dating. Wow! That’s some culture shock for the uninformed. Now, I’m sure that there are people reading this that are wondering what my starting to date has to do with therapy? Well, since I am in the business of relationships, personal interactions, and self-concept, this is a very relevant topic as dating in this highly technological, swiping app, game of numbers age morphs these concepts into something much less personal…at least at first. How does someone that is unfamiliar with the “new” rules of dating venture in? I think it’s important to have a plan, not a set-in stone rigid plan, but a basic idea of what you want to gain from the experience.
What should this plan look like? What is your expectation? Are you wanting to meet friends? Date a lot of people casually? Get into a relationship? There are apps, groups, and websites devoted to all these scenarios plus any other variation that you can imagine. I’d suggest evaluating what your needs and wants are. Have you ever dated using the technological environment of today? Setting realistic expectations is important. Although you have access to many more single people than what you would likely have otherwise, there is still the need to weed out people that you feel would not be compatible with you or your lifestyle. For example, dating an atheist if you are very religious and seeking someone with the same quality. It would be unrealistic to expect someone to change their spirituality to such a degree…it’s an unrealistic expectation. Yet, it happens repeatedly in various forms, people often think that they will “change” a person.
What about the amount of time that you are going to dedicate to your dating endeavor? If you download the apps, you can be instantly and constantly connected to any potential “matches.” However, is this healthy? For me it wasn’t, I felt tethered and “on-call” all the time. A possible solution is to look at the website or app only from a computer or dedicate a set amount of time per day to dedicate to the search. Boundary setting early on can help alleviate the anxiety and stress that can accompany the online dating platforms and help you not feel so tied to an app.
What about when you do match with someone? Have you formulated a plan and appropriate boundaries within yourself to deal with inappropriate questions, comments, and expectations from strangers? What are you comfortable sharing with a virtual stranger? What information do you need to protect? What about meeting for the first time, do you have a plan in place to make sure that it’s a safe encounter? These are all things to be considered before any of those scenarios happen. Personally, I think that best advice I received concerning first meet-ups was to keep them short, make sure they are in very public places, and go in with no expectation other than talking to someone new for a few minutes.
You’ve made it to the first meet, and you are feeling self-conscious…yep, it’s almost like junior high all over again. How can you deal with the potential feelings of failure and rejection? Acknowledge them. I’d be amazed if anyone that has done an online dating meet or has been on a blind date hasn’t experienced these exact feelings; it’s natural to be nervous. Likely, the person you are meeting with is having these same emotions to some degree, why not just put it out there? This is a genuine and open expression of what is happening for you in the moment; be yourself, that is the person you want them to like.
Dating can be a scary and anxiety ridden experience. However, it can also be a fun “re-do” for something some of us haven’t done since we were teens. Setting reasonable expectations, having a good set of personal boundaries, and being self-aware can all help in making it a good experience rather than the nightmares you read about. Now, go be your best self, and get to dating!
The #MeToo hashtag (and the subsequent exposing of many high-profile figures as sexual predators) has given us as a society a lot to grapple with. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, some are questioning how appropriate it is for bishops to be talking about sexual matters with young people (particularly girls). I recently sat down with hosts Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce, and former LDS bishop Richard Ostler to talk about these critical issues for the Mormon Land Podcast. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
Why does this type of conversation take place in the first place? Why does the Church ask about sexuality at all? Part of our faith regulates sexual behavior, so there needs to be some questioning about that. Typically, bishops ask to what extent an individual is following the last of chastity for two reasons: the first is to grant a temple recommend (which requires a worthiness interview to determine whether the person is living the standards). The second is a general meeting that the bishop has with the youth about once a year to see how he/she is doing. What we may need to re-examine is the nature and the manner that these questions are asked in; how much detail is appropriate? How do we differentiate between issues like pornography usage, masturbation, or other sexual acts? What about cases of sexual abuse? All these nuances are important to consider in this very delicate subject of discussing sexuality with children.
In any given year, 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness of some kind (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.). Clearly, this is an issue that affects a great deal of us, particularly the loved ones of those suffering. And mental illness is more than just an individual problem; it is a family concern. Here are some ways to support a spouse or partner with mental illness: