An important first step in developing emotional health is becoming more aware of your internal emotional cues. Once you learned to recognize that you’re feeling something, the next step is to give a label to the emotion you’re experiencing. Interestingly, the very act of naming your feelings helps reduce the intensity of the feeling, making it more manageable.
Use this feelings word list to help you label your feelings and increase your feeling vocabulary.
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One of the things I spend time doing, explaining and reiterating with myself, as well as my clients with and without children, is emotional intelligence. If there’s anything that gets in the way of living a full, rich, and meaningful life, it’s our experience with our emotions. The ability to gain emotional intelligence is a key skill in allowing us to truly understand ourselves and our reactions to events around us, because those are the only things we can really control – ourselves and our reactions. As we enter a new school year and support the children in our lives with the changes that inevitably come with it, I am sharing a few key concepts related to emotional intelligence as a starting point for a successful year.
Emotional Intelligence is briefly discussed here by its popular advocate and author – Dr. Daniel Goleman. One of the first things he says is that Emotional Intelligence is that it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships.
Then, he lists 4 domains that create emotional intelligence:
Self awareness – knowing what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
Self management – handling distressing emotions in an effective way so that they don’t cripple you & tuning into them for what they can teach you – because even though they aren’t fun, they still serve a purpose and it’s okay to explore what that purpose is.
Empathy – knowing what someone else is feeling.
Social Interaction Skills – Putting it all together as a skill in significant relationships.
He then talks about how the part of our brain that allows us to do this is the part that grows the slowest – chronologically and developmentally – in our brains. He then goes on to talk about neuroplasticity which is basically the flexible nature of the brain as an organ. He mentions that our brains develop based on repeated experiences and he uses that as the foundation to encourage us to talk about self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skills with kids at early ages and in systematic ways.
There are a number of books that have helped revolutionize parenting in this respect and they have been really helpful to me, personally and professionally. One of the struggles in parenting that I have seen with other parents and caregivers is the habit we have of associating our ability to make sense of the world to our children’s abilities to do the same thing in the same way. On our lesser days, it can be frustrating when they don’t act like the little adults that many of us may have been raised to be when we were kids! Yet, when we remember Goleman’s words, we can remind ourselves that neurotypical children’s brains are not developmentally capable of verbally articulating the four concepts outlined above if they aren’t taught to recognize what the 4 concepts feel like and helped to identify when they are feeling any of the four concepts. That is our job as the adult in a child’s life.
The important thing that has helped me, the parents, and caregivers that I work with has been to understand that our kids feel a lot of things – good and bad – that they struggle to explain to us in words. Again, our job as parents, is to help them gain the vocabulary to do so. However, we can’t teach them what we don’t know or haven’t personally experienced, so it’s important that we practice becoming aware of our own emotional experiences, managing them, practicing empathy, and enhancing our social skills in the relationships that matter most to us, especially with the people who depend on us for guidance and support.
Emotional intelligence is probably the coolest thing to have in our backpacks as we head into the new school year! Find ways that you can sharpen your skillset and pass your understanding on to your kids by modeling healthy steps towards emotional intelligence.
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”.
As a child therapist, there is one thing I know about exceptionally intelligent kids: they are often misunderstood, and for good reason. Gifted children possess an inner world so rich and complex, that quite frankly, others just don’t get them. We tend to view gifted and talented kids narrowly, in terms of their performance: “Wow, Landon has a huge vocabulary. Jane made a fully functioning robot. Sam reads all day.” This is where we sometimes miss the mark. Yes, gifted kids think more, know more, create more, but to truly understand them, is to see how uniquely they experience the world. If the young gifted child could teach us, this is what she might say:
“My feelings are bigger and different than everybody else’s.”
Super Sensitivity and Emotional Intensity: Just as gifted kids’ thinking is more complex, so is their feeling. Teachers, friends, and parents often see their emotional eruptions as a sign of instability, when actually their ability to sense and feel on such a deep level is one of their greatest strengths.
“I don’t feel my age.”
Uneven Development: Gifted children’s intellect, social skills, and emotional self-control can progress at different rates. If you can imagine a child housed in an eight-year-old body, with the mind of a thirteen-year-old, and the social skills of a six-year-old, then you can begin to comprehend how complicated daily life can get for these kids.
“People don’t make sense and I’m the only one who cares.”
Deep Social Concerns: Gifted kids are often highly troubled by issues of suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. As such, they can react intensely when such things directly affect them or they observe this is the larger world. Most people will understand how an adult approaching mid-life could worry about the meaning of life, death, pain, and the injustice of the world, but when the 5th grader is crying about such issues during recess, it leaves most people rather confused and even uncomfortable.
“There is no one in the whole world like me.”
Profound Sense of Loneliness: A keen self-awareness accompanied by the feeling of being different can leave gifted kids feeling like aliens––it doesn’t help that their passionate curiosity and interests often do not match those of their classmates. Because of these difficulties, the school experience for gifted kids can be sometimes one of painful rejection.
Despite their many differences, gifted children have the same basic emotional needs of every other kid: they long to be accepted and understood. As parents, educators, and mental health professionals, we can help by simply listening when they try to show us that being exceptional does NOT always feel like a “gift.”
In my opinion, there are several of our societal norms that are alarming. Many of the values that our nation used to rate high on the list are slipping. Worst of all, this value shift has led to increasing health, social, and economic crises. It is my belief that if a person is not deliberate about how they want to become and how, they will get swept up in the societal messages and goals that lead to so much unrest and discontentment. Here are 3 books to date, which have shaped my person and helped me to be deliberate about what I am becoming:
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
This book teaches lessons that are applicable to almost all areas in life. This work is based in research. Most meaningfully however, I believe is the instruction on how to allow vulnerability in our lives to foster connection, creativity, and self-worth. If applied, the principles in this book can change the way you see yourself, and therefore the way you interact with and experience the world around you. Living this stuff makes you actually feel like you are living. Society doesn’t condone this kind of living, but people are responding to this research, which means we are hungry for something different than society is feeding us.
Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman
This book completely changed the way I treated my body and the way I saw my body. It, like Daring Greatly, is all research based. I had no idea the degree to which I had been mistreating my body with food. Since reading, and applying these principles, I feel happier, well rested, energetic, strong, and clean. It takes a lot of effort to do this, because society (even some in the medical field) goes completely against these nutrition ideals, but it is worth it!
The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Another area of peoples’ lives that usually needs a tune-up is personal finance. We live in a society that idealizes money to the point that many people go deep into debt in order to achieve an empty ideal. This book will make you rethink the way you earn and spend money. Most people aren’t thoughtful enough about how they earn or spend. This book teaches you how to make your money do what you want it to, no matter what your person goals may be. Security is the name of this game.
I hope these books are as useful to you as they have been to me. Happy reading!
You’ve probably been getting marriage advice since you first started dating, or even earlier! Some of it has been solicited and helpful, some of it has not. I hope, since you clicked on this article, that my advice can fall into the first category.
People, apparently myself included, are eager to share what they have learned about what works (and what doesn’t) in marriage. About half of the clients that I have seen over the past seven years have been couples.
Here is a link to an article I recently wrote on my blog understandingtherapy.com. It’s my #1 Marriage Advice that I have gleaned from observing and counseling distressed couples.
A catch phrase of today seems to be “be yourself”. There is a big push for people to be authentic, and to appreciate others for doing the same. While this is a positive and healthy idea, you might be wondering what it actually means. If you stop to think about it, the idea of knowing who you are and portraying that to the world can be complex and confusing, and is actually an ongoing and lifelong process. I recently had the opportunity to contribute to an article discussing this very topic. So, if you are like many others, and are constantly trying to figure out who you are and how to be true to that, visit the following link for some helpful tips and hints:
Relationship maintenance is one of the most important things couples can do to create and “maintain” emotional intimacy. This maintenance comes in many forms. Some couples have regular date nights. Others have daily talk time. Often times one or both people read self help books about strengthening the relationship. Many of the couples I work with, and come across in my personal life, ask me about books they can read that will give them skills to strengthen their relationship. Here are two books I think every couple, happy or in distress, should read.
The first is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book takes you through five ways that people show and feel love. The five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, service, and gift giving. This book takes you through the these five love languages and helps you identify which love language speaks to you. Read this with your partner. Once both of you are done and have properly identified your love language, share it with the other person. I use this idea in every couples session. The hope is that once you know your partners love language you can start speaking directly to what they need in the relationship. Someone who has the love language of quality time, but is given gifts will not feel properly loved and connected to their partner. This book gives invaluable insight into yourself and your partner that can strengthen every relationship.
The second is Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson. This is a fantastic book that teaches you about attachment and reconnection with your partner. It has seven fabulous “conversations” for you and your partner to work through. If you are looking for emotional intimacy with your partner this is the book you are looking for. It is educational and highly effective at healing past wounds within relationships. Even if you and your partner have a healthy and loving relationship this book can still be a tool in creating a stronger bond.
Many couples feel that going to therapy, or even reading books like these shows a weakness in the relationship. My frame is that attending therapy and reading books to better your relationship is a strength; it means you and your partner are willing to put hard time and effort into being better individually and together. These couples are the ones that have relationships that will last. Hopefully you have the time to pick up these two books and give them a try. Read them with openness along side your spouse and they can make a world of difference.
Difficult challenges seem to come in bulk- it’s a real phenomenon of life. These strange time periods in which there is a piling of negative events one on top of another is experienced so universally that we all say, “When it rains, it pours.” How do we outlast the down-pour?
Stress is a fact of life. Thankfully, some of it can be alleviated by honestly evaluating our priorities, relationships, behaviors, etc., and making different and healthier choices. But, some of it just has to be lived through. (Example: last week I was dealing with a horrendous tax audit chore when my car decided to break down, expensively. That was chased with an extended family emergency and a two day migraine… You’ve been there, right?) Stress is part of life, but misery does not have to be! If you choose to, you can navigate the rainy times of life healthfully and resiliently. You can, and should, honor your feelings and acknowledge that things suck sometimes. Write it out, talk it out, and don’t pretend everything is okay. But then give yourself a break and navigate the storm with confidence.
Write down as many pleasurable and relaxing activities that you can think of. Many of them should be free, in case of financially stressful times. Use this list to take care of yourself and wait for the sun to start shining again. Worrying solves nothing. Take a break; enjoy something. Get lost in a book. The problem will still be there when you’re done playing with your dog, trust me. Memorize some mantras that are empowering to you for times of emotional overwhelm. Positive self talk is everything when you feel fatigued from life! I’ll let you peruse some of mine if you need some ideas:
It’ll be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
This, too, shall pass.
I’ve survived a lot of hard things, and I’ll survive this, too.
Anxiety won’t kill me, it just doesn’t feel good.
I’m strong enough for this.
Everything changes. This is only temporary.
Finally, a few basic coping skill reminders: Get enough sleep!! Drink water, eat well. Take walks and breathe deeply. Get enough sleep!! Learn how to say ‘no’ to unwise time commitments. And did I mention, get enough sleep?!