Category Archives: Relationships

FOCUS

A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Old Rules in New Places

I spent most of last week with some folks talking about how personality and family relationships impact the way we operate in the world, how we handle conflict, and how we manage relationships. Here are some examples:

  • Maybe you have expectations that people will behave a certain way (and even act on that!) before you give them a chance to show you who they really are.
  • Maybe you’re in a new relationship and you realize that you manage conflict in a way that seems to make conflict worse rather than better.
  • Maybe you notice you have a hard time giving people feedback directly, and instead tend to communicate in passive aggressive ways.
  • Maybe you work hard to take care of others, but have trouble asking people for what you need.

These are just a few examples that I see commonly. Often, people develop these patterns because that’s what they were taught, either in families or previous experiences. One of our great qualities as human beings is that, especially in our early years, we adapt and figure out the best way to be OK in the situation that we’ve been placed in. If it’s a healthy/functioning environment, we learn mostly healthy ways of being. If there are challenges or the environment is dysfunctional in some way, we might learn ways of being that only work in the specific environment– they don’t translate well to the outside world. There are lots of psychological terms that we can use to describe this process, but I typically describe it to people as using old rules in new environments. We’re creatures of habit. We spent lots of years developing the rules that helped us to fulfill our roles in our families. So, when we get into an environment that operates differently, it can be a little hard to adapt. The challenge is that sometimes, the old rules don’t get us what we need. In fact, they may case more hurt than help. Here’s a thought experiment: think about a pattern or habit that seems to cause some conflict for you. Then ask yourself, “Why do I do this? Where did it come from?”  For many of us, that answer is either that our family did it that way, or the strategy was successful in some other past situation. But, that doesn’t it’s right for what you’re facing right now!

As adults, we tend to move into habit over adaptation. It mostly serves to keep us comfortable and save energy for what we see as more important things, but sometimes, we need to adapt again. In most situations where you’re feeling stuck, there’s simply a more effective way to get what you need or want. This may take some experimentation, or it may require a conversation with the people close to you- many times, they can tell you what isn’t working and what will.

Don’t ever become so complacent that you are not ready to handle the newness in your life! Things change, and in order to be best prepared for the changes, we have to be ready to adapt as needed. Many of us have been hoping and praying for newness- don’t mess it up by following the same old rules! Ask yourself: Are there some areas I need to adapt to be happy and fulfilled? Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19a

Who’s in Your Circle?

I ran across this quote not too long ago and it really rang true:

People inspire you, or they drain you. Pick them wisely. — Hans F. Hansen”

The people that we surround ourselves with have a huge impact on us, whether we realize it or not. Because we spend time with them, our friend circle impacts our thought processes, our view on life, our goal setting, and much more. But how many of us are really careful about choosing our circle? Sometimes, it seems that our friend group develops by happenstance and often that leads to great friendships. I would argue, however, that every once in a while we should take inventory to make sure our friends are reflective of the type of person we want to be and be around. Friends should motivate us, encourage us, support us, and challenge us. If you’re finding that you have a friend with whom you dread spending time, it might be time to make some adjustments! Here are some qualities of good friends:

  • They share your values
  • They keep you accountable for reaching your goals
  • They see things in you that you don’t see in yourself
  • They accept your faults but continue to push you and challenge you
  • They tell you when you’re wrong
  • They keep what you say in confidence at all times
  • They suspend judgment
  • They pray for you
  • You can laugh and cry with them
  • They always have your back

I’m sure there are other things we might want to add to this list. Hopefully, this also has you reflecting on the kind of friend that you are. Do you give this in your relationships? Have you been slacking as a friend? It’s not too late to turn things around.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Down with Codependency!

In church a few weeks ago one of the sermon points was about how codependency can negatively impact both individuals and relationships. I realized that we throw that term around a lot, but we may not really know what it means. Co-dependency is a term that comes from research and treatment of families in which there is a drug addict or alcoholic. In these families there are often people who protect the addict (and the family) against the consequences of the addition- this person is called the Enabler. The Enabler can be a child, spouse, parent, or sibling. They often act in ways that they feel are helping the person- perhaps lending them money, covering up the ill effects of poor decisions, lying about the addictive behavior to other family members, the list goes on. Well, co-dependency is not just regulated to folks with addictions- it happens every day in many of our families and friendships. Perhaps we know a friend is acting in self-destructive ways in their relationships, but we keep feeding into their ideas that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Perhaps we see a sibling misusing their money on frivolous things, but we lend them money whenever they ask, pulling out the “it’s none of my business” card.

The truth is, the people we love ARE our business. We are to care about them, love them, support them, AND challenge them when necessary. But it is not our responsibility to protect people from the natural consequences of their actions. Doing so prolongs the time that they continue to engage in destructive behaviors, and leads to stress and frustration for the people around them. A lot of Enablers do so because they feel an exaggerated responsibility to make sure that everyone around them is alright, often to the detriment of their own wants and needs. They are more likely to push things under the carpet in an effort to not cause conflict or “suck it up” even in situations where they are deeply hurt or disappointed. They may have even been told explicitly or implicitly (without words) that this is their role in the family. Co-dependency leads to people staying in destructive relationships longer than is necessary and can often lead to shame, guilt, and self-criticism. These relationships can be intense, and sometimes even exciting, but they are not healthy, and not sustainable.

Wondering if this is you? Answer these questions from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency

1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, you may struggle with co-dependency. It’s worth checking it out with someone you trust, even a mental health professional. Co-dependency is a difficult interpersonal dynamic but it is not impossible to overcome. The first step is vigilantly valuing your needs and and the validity of your experience. The second step is understanding that you are not solely responsible for the behavior, opinions, or needs of others. You get the final say in your own life, and you do not have authority over someone else’s.

 What are ways you can combat co-dependency?

  • Pay attention to yourself. Often, people who are co-dependent are so intent on other people that they pay little attention to themselves. Set aside some time on a daily basis to self-evaluate, tune in to yourself, and take a break.
  • Practice using your “no” muscle. Before you agree to do something, truly ask yourself if you have the time, energy, and/or desire to accomplish it. Prioritizing yourself does not automatically make you a selfish person.
  • Let go of some control. Sometimes people become co-dependent because they are trying to control every aspect of their family or relationship. It’s just not possible. Ask yourself: are there some things I can let go?
  • Prepare for backlash. Many folks don’t respond well to change. Sometimes, when you are in the process of getting healthier, people don’t like that you’ve changed your ways. It’s ok. As you become responsible for you and only you, the people around you are given the opportunity to do so for themselves.
  • Remind yourself of ways co-dependency can be harmful to the people you love- it keeps them stuck, it helps them maintain a stance of denial, it prevents them from maturing.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

Other Resources on Codependence:

Print:

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Battle
Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody, Andrea Miller, and Keith Miller
Codependence and the Power of Detachment: How to Set Boundaries and Make Your Life Your Own by Karen Kasey

Online

http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/signs-of-a-codependent-relationship

http://coda.org/index.cfm/meeting-documents/patterns-and-characteristics-2011/

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/ending-codependency-in-relationships-find-and-live-who-you-really-are/

Got Boundaries?

Last week, I shared 3 tips for working toward healthy relationships. Another one of the ways we can have healthy relationships with colleagues, friends, and family is (drumroll please) BOUNDARIES!   You may be wondering:

“Why boundaries would be so important? Aren’t relationships about connecting to people?”

Yes, relationships are about healthy connection. I can be fully connected to you when I am safe and whole. I am safe and whole when I have good boundaries. Boundaries help us to discern which relationships are helpful and fulfilling to us, and which would be hurtful and draining. They help us to love others and ourselves at the same time. So what do boundaries look like? Here are a couple of examples:
– you can witness a conflict between two friends, family members or coworkers without being swept into the drama
– you can love family member with an addiction or other issue without enabling and pepetuating their issues
-you can be supportive to a friend going through a difficult time without becoming overwhelmed by their pain
-you are aware of both your strengths and your limitations
-you can admit when you are deeply bothered by the actions of a friend or loved one and ask for a different response
-you can say no without apologizing for it

For those of us who are natural caretakers, some of the above feel like really difficult things to do. Some of us worry that if we say no, people will realize they don’t need us and move on. Some of us worry about facing the anger or disappointment of others.  Some of us worry that if we’re not involved in everything, we’ll miss something important.  Some of us wouldn’t know what to do if we spent some quiet time alone and we use frenzy to avoid ourselves.  Even Jesus set boundaries! Here are just a few:

-He didn’t allow other people to define who he was (John 1)
-He made it known that he wasn’t happy with inappropriate use of God’s temple (Matthew 12)
– He went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Luke 22)

Boundaries don’t make us bad people,  or bad friends, or bad family members. They are important for healthy, sustainable relationships.  When we don’t set boundaries, relationships can become overwhelming and destructive, even if they are loving. If this is brand new to you, take some baby steps. Is there something you’ve been bothered about, but have been keeping it in for fear of causing a fuss?  What about an activity or task you really don’t have time or energy for, but you feel obligated to do it. This may be difficult at first, but over time it can make for relationships that fulfill you rather than sucking the life out of you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!
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Right Relationships- You Choose.

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I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about relationships (my own and those of others) and I’ve been thinking about some ways we can make choices that support the health of our relationships instead of causing us to feel unfulfilled. This was really sparked when I was having a conversation with some folks about self care and people kept saying that others in their lives won’t “let” them take time for themselves. Let them? That is too much power for someone else to have over your life! We have to take responsibility for our part in any relationship. Most things aren’t actually one-sided, although they may feel that way. So, here are some choices you can make that support healthy relationships:

1. Ask for what you need. Remember that time you got frustrated because your friend or significant other didn’t do that thing you really wanted them to do? Think back: did you ask? Or did you just assume that they should know because you were dropping hints? People aren’t mind readers (even though we sometimes want them to be). When we actually express what we need, then we can hold people accountable for meeting our expectations. Now, this doesn’t mean you will always get what you need. People are imperfect, and sometimes, they are not willing to give you what you ask. But, if you ask, at least you know that you have made your request known rather than carrying secret resentment because your secret needs aren’t met. It’s just unfair! Let’s say you are meeting some friends after work and you’ve had a long day. During the meal, you sit quietly, pouting, while the others carry on a conversation cheerfully. You leave feeling resentful because you believe they should noticed that you were upset and asked you what’s wrong. Maybe. But you also could have just said “Hey- I’m having a bad day. I need to vent.” In one scenario your leave feeling frustrated, and in the other you potentially leave feeling better. You choose.

2. Have reasonable expectations.  Before you make those expectations known, do a little reflection. Is what you are asking reasonable based on the relationship you have with the person? Is what you are asking reasonable of a human being? How would you react if someone asked this of you? Here’s where compromise comes in. We can’t get 100% of what we want all the time, but we can recognize and be grateful for a loved one’s attempts to give you what you need. Imagine how you would feel if you tried to give someone something they needed and they responded in a way that made you feel it was not enough. Relationships are dynamic, whether they are familial, platonic, or romantic. Most situations are best resolved when people can find a way to meet in the middle. All or nothing thinking when it comes to negotiating needs in a relationship can cause resentment on both parts! You can choose to focus on the small percentage that doesn’t meet your expectation, or the large percentage that does. Relationships are a negotiation between imperfect people- we don’t always get it right. If you feel your expectations are appropriate, and it seems the person can’t or won’t work toward meeting you halfway, then there’s a conversation there too.

3. Take care of yourself. If you are an adult, you are responsible for making sure you are ok. Always. This doesn’t mean we don’t want or need others in our lives, because we do. It does mean that we shouldn’t place our physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness in the hands of anyone but ourselves. Sometimes, we depend on other people too much to make us happy, to the extent that we don’t have any resources when we are alone. Then, we get mad when that person wasn’t there for us in our time of need. We can’t expect one person to be there for us at any time day or night- that’s not the way human relationships work. Not to mention, this kind of dynamic can begin to have a parasitic feel, where one person drains the other. Not only does the person getting drained become more and more exhausted form the relationship, but the one doing the draining becomes more dependent and less self-sufficient. We can make our relationships healthier by attending to our own needs by setting boundaries as needed, understanding and preparing for the things that most stress and overwhelm us, and learning how to be content with ourselves when we are alone. This is something I have learned in my brief years being married. If I have a horrible day at work, I am responsible for taking some time to get myself together before I get home. I might go to the gym first, take a longer way home, or stop by a store to get myself in check a little bit. This doesn’t mean I don’t seek out support from my husband when I get home- I will if I need to. But it ensures that I don’t come home every day in a funk- that would impact our ability to connect after a long day. Sometimes this means saying the dreaded “n” word- NO! People will ask us to do things (especially those of use who are naturally caretakers) but it doesn’t mean you have to say yes! (imagine you are the recipient in point 2). “No” doesn’t mean you don’t care about your loved ones or that you don’t want the best for them. It means you are human and you can’t do everything all the time. It’s a way for you to take care of yourself and a way for those you are in relationship to understand that you have human limitations.

So, if you’re feeling unfulfilled, try making some adjustments and see what happens! More next week on negotiating boundaries.

What are some other reasons you think we can be left unfulfilled in relationships?