While listening to the news on my drive home from work awhile back, I heard a story about a road rage incident. A driving student hesitated at a stop sign, and when she turned into a parking lot, the driver behind her followed her, got out of his car and started behaving aggressively.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll imagine this man was having a really bad day. Maybe he had just had some bad news about the health of a loved one. Maybe he just lost his job. Whatever the reason, being delayed behind a slow driver pushed him over the edge. Thankfully that incident resolved without major injury to anyone, but that isn’t always the outcome.
We have all likely experienced frustration while driving. Someone turned left in front of me suddenly, just this morning, when I had the green light. We don’t always take time to think about our response to these kinds of frustrating situations. Most of the time they pass without causing us any major difficulties, but sometimes our response isn’t something we feel good about, and we wish we could have handled things differently. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, there is the idea of the “cognitive triangle”, this triangle links our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and is at the heart of recognizing and changing our behaviors.
I imagine the driver from the news story pulled up behind the driving student and when she missed her turn to go, he began to imagine why this driver was holding him up. He may have thought she was a terrible driver, he may have thought she was purposely making him late. Then he likely started to feel angry that she was making him late. His anger and frustration built up, leading him to act out.
This cycle of thoughts, feeling and behaviors can feed on each other leading us to behave in ways we may not have intended. If we can find a way to stop the cycle, we can change our behavior, and how we feel about difficult situations we may be facing.
Imagine if this driver had pulled up behind the student, she hesitated and missed opportunities to turn, and he started to think about what a terrible driver she was. What if at that point he had asked himself, “What could another explanation be for this situation?”
Maybe he would have come up with the idea that she was a new driver (which was true), maybe he would have thought she was having a bad day. There are several possible explanations for hesitating at a stop sign. If he had taken a few minutes to consider other possibilities, it might have changed how he felt about the situation. He may have still been frustrated, but he may have also felt some compassion or understanding. Without feeding his frustration or anger, his behavior certainly would have changed. He likely would have continued on his way, and would have missed out entirely on the altercation.
Not all of us have problems with road rage. Most of us have thoughts or behaviors that cause us problems in some way or another. Learning to recognize the cycle of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors can help us change our trajectory. At any point in that cycle, we can stop and ask ourselves questions such as:
*What evidence do I have that this is an accurate thought?
*What could be another explanation for this situation?
*What are the advantages or disadvantages of how I am reacting to this experience?
*Am I blaming myself for something that isn’t my fault?
*Am I taking something personally, that actually has nothing to do with me?
Going through questions like these can help us take a step back to re-evaluate a situation and to help us change how we think and feel about it, which helps us change our behavior. We don’t have to stick with behaviors we don’t feel good about.
Every new experience is a new change for learning to do things differently. It’s okay to not be perfect right away, but with practice, we can change to be the kind of person we really want to be!
To most, compassion is a commendable quality. But for some reason, this quality is limited to “others” in our culture, not often for “oneself.” Lets explore 3 possible false assumptions that may prevent us from applying compassion to oneself.
1-Self Compassion means weakness.
Susan didn’t express any painful feelings while going through her divorce. She believed she had to be “strong for the kids” and power on no matter what. This meant putting herself last and ignoring any emotional or physical needs. When Susan fell apart 3 months after the divorce was final, she wondered why she was able to be “strong” in the beginning, but then suddenly became “weak and unable to handle even the smallest tasks”. What Susan didn’t realize is that instead of being a “weakness”,
researchers are now discovering that self-compassion is one of the most powerful influences of coping and resilience, that we have available to us. How one relates to themselves when the going gets tough- as an enemy or ally-is often what determines ones ability to cope successfully.
2- Self compassion is narcissistic.
High self esteem requires standing out in a crowd-or being “above average” in the American culture. The problem of course is that it is impossible for us to be outstanding, all of the time. When we compare ourselves to those “better” than us, we will always feel like failures. An example of
this is teen bullying. One teen told me “picking on wimpy nerds boosts my self esteem and makes me feel cool”. After many sessions he finally discovered he needed to focus on himself, and ways to feel more secure, rather than his demeaning behavior towards others. Narcissism usually results in exercising power over others; self compassion is the opposite-empowering oneself so there is no need to compare or put others down.
3- Self compassion is selfish.
Some confuse self care with selfishness and assume caring of oneself automatically means neglecting everyone else. As a therapist, I am always amazed when I meet people who consider themselves to be good, generous, altruistic souls, who are perfectly awful to themselves. Caring for oneself is actually the opposite: it’s one of the most important things you can do to have healthier relationships, and it does not mean you neglect loved ones! In reality, beating yourself up can be a paradoxical
form of self centeredness. When we can be kind and nurturing to ourselves, however, many of our emotional needs are met, leaving us in a better position to focus on others. Therefore, having self compassion equals the ability to have more to give others, not less to give others.
These 3 myths often stand in the way of caring for ourselves. More information and even classes on ways to improve self care can be found at www.mindfulnessprograms.com or web search (name of State) i.e.. “Utah msar”.
It’s a common saying that we should forgive and forget when someone offends us, but the truth is that there’s a little more to forgiveness than that. Throughout my years as a therapist, I’ve worked with many clients who struggled with the concept of forgiveness (what it means, how to do it, etc.). Whether it’s with minor offenses or severe abuse, we don’t always quite get the whole idea of forgiveness. I define forgiveness as ceasing to feel resentment toward someone who’s wronged us. Forgiveness is beautiful and can heal hearts and relationships, but I think we still may misunderstand it at times. Here are some common myths about forgiveness:
Loss and grief are some of the most powerful emotions we can experience and during the holiday season, symptoms of grief that have previously relented, might suddenly return. Such is the case with many clients I treat. For some, grief is new, for some their loss has occurred years earlier. Either way, the truth of loss is that we are never truly finished with grieving when someone significant to us dies. However, (and my clients challenge this!) there are many ways to live with the loss without suffering from it. Here are some suggestions to manage grief during the holidays:
1 – Create rituals and memorials of your loved one. It is helpful to draw on your personal spiritual and cultural beliefs to guide you in the creation of a meaningful remembrance. For example, one client put up a “Chicago Bulls” tree in honor of her son, who was an avid fan.
2 – Meditate by intentionally remembering both the happy and sad memories. Avoidance rarely works and leads to more suffering. Set aside time and space to do this meditation-either journaling, listening to calming music or looking at fun pictures shared with your loved one.
3 – Draw on your support system. Reach out to friends or others who share your grief and let them know this is a difficult time for you. Attend an event with them or just spend time with friends as a diversion. Isolation creates more suffering.
4 – Reconnect with a therapist or former grief group. Re-entering therapy for a session or two can aid in reminding yourself of tools used in grieving. Or just simply processing what you are experiencing with a professional can be helpful. Attending a grief group often helps as well.
5 – Change holiday gatherings to limit painful reminders. Maybe it’s time to gather for a breakfast instead of a traditional dinner that your loved one was the focus of. Having gift exchanges on a new day or omitting them and volunteering for a charity in behalf of your loved one can be very healing.
Using the above suggesting can decrease suffering. Of course there will always be a void when someone you have loved so much is no longer seen on
a daily basis, but many have found every year hurts a little less than the year before, and as one client stated ” I try not to focus on my own individual pain and try to focus more on the fact that those I have lost are no longer hurting”. Thinking about it that way can bring more comfort and solace.
Most of us understand that a relationship in which an individual tries to control or manipulate the other person is not a healthy one. And while no relationship is perfect, some have chronic patterns of manipulation that can be damaging to an individual’s emotional wellbeing and can likewise hurt the connection itself. But how can we spot such a relationship? We tend to think of obvious big indications of manipulation, but others are more subtle. Here are 5 signs to watch out for that may be evidence of a manipulative relationship:
1) You Feel Responsible for Your Partner’s Happiness
At the root of all of this is the quest for satisfaction and contentment in relationships. But if you feel personally responsible for your partner’s happiness, you may be experiencing some level of manipulation. There is a difference between being sensitive toward and aware of the needs of your significant other and feeling like it is your job to make that person happy. Do you feel like you have to do things perfectly, look a certain way, and complete certain tasks to please the other person? These are unreasonable expectations and may signify that the other person is (subtly) manipulating you.
Before I write about the benefits of therapy, let me be clear. Your decision to go to therapy (or not) is a personal decision, and it is yours to make. Some people are intimidated, nervous, excited, relieved, anxious, or even resentful that they even have to think about going to therapy in the first place. Oftentimes, it is all of the above and more! That is completely understandable and human.
So, if you choose, what is the benefit of therapy? Why face all of these emotions? Here are my beliefs and thoughts about the benefits of therapy:
Confidentiality. Have you ever been worried that your most vulnerable story will be told to others after you have confided in someone? Or worse, has that actually happened? Therapists are bound by confidentiality regulations to ensure your safety and privacy. A therapist cannot share your story with others without your express permission. This can be a relief to a lot of clients who want to explore their experiences, but aren’t ready for others reactions who are close to them.
Human beings are prone to mistakes, and we all have the experience of doing or saying something that has hurt another person (even someone we value and love). In order to repair those precious relationships, it is often necessary to apologize. But simply saying, “I’m sorry” is rarely enough. Here are 5 steps to giving a powerful, sincere apology:
1) Own Your Part
To truly mean that you are sorry, you need to own up to the specific thing you said or did that contributed to the other person’s pain. Take full responsibility for the part you played. Avoid general statements (“I’m sorry for whatever I did to hurt you”) or making reservations about the mistake you made. Have the courage to own up to your fault.
I’ll admit, I am a little bit contrarian by nature. If something is popular, trendy, and “hyped up,” I usually resist it. This may be why I don’t have a Facebook account, I refuse to love sushi, I haven’t read the Harry Potter series, I don’t watch American Idol or The Voice, (and I may or may not watch the Bachelor on occasion with my wife).
So, naturally, when all of my colleagues were raving about Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, I was just, plain, not interested: “Mike, you need to read her book.” “Mike, you need to watch her Ted Talk on Shame and Vulnerability.” It was like being told I need to try sushi for the millionth time. “I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam I Am!”
Last month I got an email from Utah Valley Magazine’s editor Jeanette Bennett inviting me to interview for their women’s issue for July/Aug. Over the course of the interview, photo shoot, and follow up, I’ve made a new life-long friend in Jeanette. I sure enjoyed sharing my passions with her…and with you.