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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Are Your Relationships Toxic to Your Health?

We all need our friends and family! Social relationships are as important to human health and happiness as food and shelter. Yet relationships can also have damaging effects. It is possible that frequent contact with toxic family members, hanging out with unhealthy friends, or staying too long in an unhappy marriage may actually be damaging your health. Conversely, isolating yourself can create chronic stress and unhappiness that harm your health as well. So the quantity and quality of your relationships are both very important to your long-term health and wellbeing.

The four scenarios below illustrate some relationship patterns that research has shown can be harmful to your mental and physical health:

Stressed by toxic families

Do you find yourself having anxiety attacks every time you make your annual trek back East to visit your in-laws? Do telephone conversations with your critical and demanding sister make you so frustrated that you start eating everything in sight? Do you feel drained and exhausted for days after your father and high-maintenance stepmother come to visit? Are you so frustrated with your spouse's sitting on the couch and not helping with the housework that you turn to alcohol to cope? Does arguing with your disrespectful teen over household chores give you a migraine?

Social pressure to be unhealthy

As an adolescent, did you experiment with alcohol and drugs because you wanted to be part of the "in" crowd? Did you and your girlfriends obsess together about being thin and having perfect bodies? Did you bond by doing extreme diets together, making yourselves throw up after eating, or taking diet pills and laxatives to speed up the process? Do you down 6 or 7 drinks every Friday night when you and your friends go out and party, black out, then have a hangover for the rest of the weekend? When you visit your family for the holidays, do you end up gaining 5 or 10 pounds from eating all the cakes and goodies they cook especially for you?

Taking care of everyone but yourself

Do you find yourself so tired from taking care of a house full of kids or your elderly parents or immature spouse—that you collapse into bed exhausted at the end of the day? Have you given up exercise and healthy eating, and the last time you saw a doctor was years ago? Do you spend all day fantasizing about curling up on the couch at midnight with a bag of chips and a tub of ice cream after doing the last round of laundry? Do you forget to eat, or eat only at the computer because you are struggling to balance your job with all of your family responsibilities?

Social withdrawal and isolation

Are you a single parent so busy working and taking care of the kids that you don't have a life of your own? Did you recently relocate away from friends and family because of your own or a partner's job change and now feel socially isolated? Is your spouse so jealous of or threatened by your friends and family that you hardly ever see them anymore? Do you spend most of your time on your own since your spouse or parent died? Are you so lonely that you feel like nobody would want to hang out with you, so you stop making an effort?

These scenarios illustrate four different ways in which social relationships (or lack of them) can be harmful to your health. Research shows that both the amount and the quality of your social relationships can affect many aspects of your health over years or a lifetime. People who are socially connected in large, close, and supportive networks of spouses, family, friends, and community groups experience strong health benefits, including resistance to disease, improved immune and hormonal functioning, less inflammation, better mental health, and longer lives. On the other hand, if your close relationships are chronically stressful, this may increase your long-term risk for heart disease and other serious illnesses.

How do relationships make you unhealthy?

Toxic relationships, stressful care-taking responsibilities, and loneliness can produce chronic stress that wears you down physically and mentally. Your immune system may become suppressed, you may experience inflammatory responses, or your body's hormonal balance may get out of sync. You may experience chronic anxiety, depression, fatigue, or muscle pain. In addition, chronic stress may produce negative emotions that lead to unhealthy behaviors in order to avoid or escape these states.  Stressful or demanding relationships may preoccupy your mind and consume your time so that you neglect your own health.

Another way in which relationships can negatively influence your health is by creating social pressure to engage in unhealthy behaviors like excessive drinking or compulsive dieting that, over time, can erode your health and happiness.

Relationships are important and we can't live without them, but it's important to evaluate whether by saying "yes"to others, you are also saying "no" to reducing your stress and maintaining good health. If this is the case, psychotherapy can help you learn new skills for asserting yourself and setting boundaries.
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Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Things You Should Know About Stress

Stress is a term that is over-used and yet so relevant to our daily lives in the 21st century. Most of us are rushed off our feet, trying to juggle work, kids, finances, relationships, and perhaps, giving support to elderly parents. These days the rules of our society seem to keep changing and we have to keep updating our expectations and fight negative thinking to stay afloat. Even in Marin, the healthiest county in California, we are not immune from the toll that chronic stress can take on mind, body, spirit, and relationships. 

 Some stress is inevitable, and can even help you to grow and become more resilient or spiritual. In coping with stress, you may expand your world view, relationship network, or coping strategies. Yet chronic stress that is uncontrollable, or for which you lack resources and support, is more toxic and can take a toll on your health by creating excess inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholestrol, or belly fat. Exercising to manage stress is essential and we, in Marin, are lucky to have sunshine, beautiful nature trails, and lots of accomplished mind-body experts to help us stay on track. On the other hand, the traffic, financial pressures creating by expensive housing and job shortages, and competitive environment for our kids      can create substantial chronic stress. Alcohol and marijuana use and binge drinking are, unfortunately, prevalent among teens and young adults in Marin.
I was excited to be interviewed by expert Nutritionist and Radio Host Corinne Dobbas, MS, RD for her radio show entitled, Eat, Live, Love, Thrive. Corinne is a fellow Marinite whom I met when we worked together on a weight-management program at The Bay Club. We helped many people lose many pounds using a practical, mind-body approach to managing stress and triggers for overeating, combined with excellent personal training and an intensive exercise program. 

Listen to the webcast below to learn :
  • The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Stress and Why Not All Stress is Bad
  • How to Identify & Deal With Situations You Can't Control
  • How to Set Realistic Expectations & Avoid the Perfectionism Trap
  • Why You Need to De-Stress in Between  Solving  Problems
  • How to Press the Pause Button on Negative Thoughts
  • Why Social Support is So Important

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Ten Mindfulness Quotes to Inspire You

Mindfulness is both the practice of meditation and an attitude to living that encompasses:

  • living in the present moment, 
  • being attentive to your own mental and physical states,
  • adopting an attitude of compassion, ‘non-clinging” and acceptance of what is. 

A growing body of research studies show the benefits of mindfulness for health, peace of mind, focus, and managing stress and relationships. Mindfulness is becoming more widely taught and used in business, education, and healthcare. For example, Google has a "mindfulness officer."

The quotes below will help you better understand the attitude of mindfulness so you can begin to practice it in your daily life.

1. Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes. - Thich Nhat Hanh

2. Mindfulness is about the present, but I also think it's about being real. Being awake to everything. Feeling like nothing can hurt you if you can look it straight on. - Krista Tippett

3. Mindfulness is about love and loving life. When you cultivate this love, it gives you clarity and compassion for life, and your actions happen in accordance with that.  - Jon Kabat-Zinn

4. Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t). – James Baraz 

5. Restore your attention or bring it to a new level by dramatically slowing down whatever you're doing. ― Sharon Salzberg

6. You cannot control the results, only your actions.― Allan Lokos

7. We use mindfulness to observe the way we cling to pleasant experiences & push away unpleasant ones. Sharon Salzberg,

8. Mindfulness meditation doesn't change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart's capacity to accept life as it is - Sylvia Boorstein

9. Open the window of your mind. Allow the fresh air, new lights and new truths to enter.  ― Amit Ray

10. Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.”  - Brene Brown
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Science of Relationship Commitment

Whether you are in the honeymoon phase of a new relationship or negotiating a challenging period in a long-term partnership, it's natural to wonder whether your partner is really committed to staying together.  Commitment is an important facet of a relationship because it allows you to share goals and dreams and to feel emotionally safer. It also helps you to stick it out when external stresses impact your relationship and things get rocky.  But what factors determine commitment?  Read below for the science of staying together.

The Investment Model of Commitment

The Investment Model (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978) of relationship commitment proposes that we stay committed to romantic relationships to the extent that

  • they meet and do not frustrate our needs (e.g., for intimacy, fun. security, excitement etc.), 
  • they are more appealing than other potential relationships or ways of spending our time
  • the breakup of the relationship would lead us to lose valuable resources (like time, money, housing, fun activities, or being part of a family or social group). 
Sometimes we stay in relationships that are not so satisfying because we would lose too much by leaving or because we don’t have any better alternatives. Or we leave relatively satisfying relationships because a more attractive (or resource-rich) alternative partner appears.

The Forecast Model of Commitment

A very recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Professor Edward Lemay of the University of Maryland suggests an alternative theory, called the forecast model of relationship commitment. 

This model suggests that our expectations of how happy we will be with our partner in the future determine how committed we are to our relationships, over and above the three previously mentioned factors. 

In other words, if we are going through a challenging stage in the relationship  (e.g., having a new baby or a difficult teenager, financial stress, fighting, or one partner needing to work all the time), we are more likely to stay if we think the relationship will improve and bring us happiness in the future. We are more willing to invest effort and make sacrifices if we see the potential for future gain.  But if we think things won’t improve or we don’t see long-term happiness with our partner, we are less likely to invest or to behave in ways that help the relationship. We may think about whether our partner wants the same things in life that we do, what type of parent they would make, whether we would continue to have fun together, and so on. 

The Research

Research studies found strong support for the three factors specified by the investment model and the additional factor of predicted future satisfaction suggested by the forecasting model.  Those who saw a happier future with their partner reported more commitment on a daily basis, and one year later. The studies also showed that when people anticipate more future satisfaction in the relationship, they are less likely to behave destructively.  For example they do less blaming, criticizing, and rejecting. They are also more likely to respond constructively to negative behavior by the partner.  These positive relationship behaviors are likely to enhance the stability of the relationship. The researchers concluded that.

 “People pursue relationships that are expected to bring pleasure and disengage from relationships that are expected to bring pain, and this can be seen in the effects of these expectations for the future on relationship commitment.”  p. 49

So, if you want your relationship to last, try talking to your partner about your dreams and hopes for the future of the relationship and paint a picture of the happy times you see ahead. 


Lemay Jr, E. P. (2016). The Forecast Model of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(1), 34-52.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Seven Essential Tips to Stress Less

1. Don’t Get Too Far Ahead of Yourself  

When you are stressed or anxious, your brain can get ahead of you, thinking about all the negative possibilities for life if things don’t turn out the way you want.  You may think about failing out of school, not getting into college, not getting a job, and so on. It’s really important to take a step back and ask yourself what specific thing you’re anxious about today. Then focus just on that specific stressor and what are the next steps you need to take to cope.

2. Breathe 

When you get stressed, your body goes into a “fight or flight response” as your heart rate speeds up, the stress hormone cortisol surges through your body, glucose and adrenalin surge through your brain and your body readies itself for doing battle or running away. The types of stressors our ancestors faced tended to be marauding lions and tigers, so these were appropriate responses at the time. But today they can get you off-track if the stressor you're dealing with is a chronic situation or one that requires careful thought. Taking slow, steady, rhythmic breaths (about 6 breaths per minute) helps your parasympathetic nervous system put the brakes on “fight or flight” and calm down as your brain and body start to perceive safety.

3. Stick to Your Healthy Routines 

Stress can interfere with your attempts to be healthy. Your body may start craving carbs, sugars, and fats as extra fuel or you may not take the time to eat regular meals. You may think you’re too busy to go to the gym. You may stay up too late studying or working and not get enough sleep, or you may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Research shows that exercise is particularly important when you are under stress. Regular exercise helps your brain to stay focused and avoid distraction, it gives you a boost of energy, helps you to sleep better, and protects your cardiovascular system from the long-term effects of chronic stress. Eating meals with fruits and vegetables  also gives you the nutrients you need to function at a high level and stops you from getting mid-afternoon dips in blood pressure or inflammatory effects of too much sugar. So taking time to be healthy will help you cope better with stress in the long-run

4. Interrupt Cycles of Worry and Rumination 

Feelings of anxiety and stress can narrow your focus of attention onto the stressful situation so it’s all you can think about. Your mind keeps worrying and ruminating about what grade you may get, what college you’ll get into, or the mean comment somebody made. It’s important to interrupt these unproductive worry cycles that drain your energy without helping you solve the problem. When you find yourself ruminating, get up and get active, read a book or watch a movie, do an organizational task or call a friend. It’s not so important what you do, but it is important that you don’t sit and ruminate and work yourself into a depression or panic. 

5. Remember that Stress Can Have an Upside

Not all stress is bad for you.  Stress that you have the ability to master can make you feel motivated and energized. Some stressors help you to grow as a person, learn new skills, find new resources, or develop new appreciation for what you have. Other types of challenges can build your confidence as you start to see yourself as a person who can cope with difficult situations or perform well under pressure. In one study, students giving a speech who were told to think of their body’s anxiety responses as signs of excitement performed better than those who were told to calm down.  

6. Become More Mindful

The definition of mindfulness is deliberately focusing with openness and acceptance on your inner experience. You stop rushing around on automatic pilot and take the time to see the colors, hear the music, feel engaged in your work, savor the happiness you feel in the presence of a trusted friend, or notice your stress building. If you can catch your stress early and stop to breathe, it’s less likely to turn into a migraine headache or sore shoulders.  If you can learn to just sit with negative feelings like sadness and anxiety, rather than shoving them down, they will pass through quicker. If you hear your body’s signals that it needs a break, you are less likely to get exhausted at the end of the day.

7. Don’t Automatically Believe Your Negative Thoughts

Your thoughts are just guesses, judgments, or predictions about what might happen. They aren’t necessarily true or even helpful. Stress and anxiety can create patterns of negative thinking that are overblown or too black and white. Don’t assume that nobody likes you or that you will do poorly, just because you think it. Put on an observer hat and look for objective evidence to determine if your thought is correct. Are there any situations in which the opposite happened to what you predicted? Are you well-prepared? Did you do well the last time? Even if a thought is true, it’s not always helpful to listen to it. So learn to watch your thoughts and decide which ones to pay attention to and which to ignore.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

50 Encouraging Things to Say to Yourself

We all need a bit of encouragement and inspiration sometimes.  In my therapy practice, some of the most common problems I see are clients being hard on themselves, getting caught up in negative thought cycles, not speaking up for themselves, avoiding doing the healthy things, or being scared to feel.  It is important to learn to be a good coach and a good parent to yourself.  If you never had a good parent who understood and encouraged you, you may not know where to start.  Here are some encouraging words you can use.  Pick your favorite ones and pin them on an inspiration board, put stickies on your fridge, or make a flashcard to carry with you so you can use it in times of stress.

  1. You’re doing the best you can
  2. Life isn’t always fair
  3. Just get started
  4. It’s OK to take a break
  5. We don’t always get what we want
  6. This too will pass
  7. Today is a new day
  8. It’s a bad day, not a bad life
  9. Other people have their issues too
  10. Stick to your healthy routine
  11. Keep your eyes on the goal
  12. You can’t control what you think, but you can control what you do
  13. Be kind 
  14. Allow yourself to feel
  15. Express your dissatisfaction constructively
  16. You can’t control what other people say or do
  17. Be authentic
  18.  It’s OK to set boundaries and stick to them
  19. You don’t have to please everybody
  20. Don’t listen to your judging mind
  21. Avoidance makes things worse
  22. It takes courage to face your own weaknesses
  23. Treat yourself with compassion
  24. Surround yourself with healthy people
  25. You can get through this
  26. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try your best
  27. You can learn and grow from your mistakes
  28. Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it
  29. If your old ways aren’t working, try something new
  30. Some things are worth being uncomfortable for
  31. You don’t have to tolerate abusive behavior
  32. Don’t let anyone or anything control you
  33. Find your own voice
  34. It’s OK to feel
  35. Vulnerability can be a strength
  36. Take care of your inner child
  37. Don't listen to critical voices; your own or other people's
  38. Look for love in healthy ways
  39. Stay grounded
  40. Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides
  41. You can learn to keep yourself safe
  42. Let your values guide you
  43. Ask for support when you need it
  44. Walk your own path but make room for others
  45. Follow your passions
  46. Get up again when you fall
  47. Don’t judge anybody without understanding their circumstances
  48. Everybody messes up sometimes
  49. Learn to forgive yourself
  50. Respect yourself and others

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Self-Compassion Can Make You Happier and Healthier

This week, I was interviewed by psychotherapist Jacqueline Stone from Sydney, Australia for her Wise Stress Mastery blog.  The topic was self-compassion. We spoke about how a mindset shift to self-compassion can be a turning point in therapy. Why do we struggle so much to treat ourselves with the same kindness and forgiveness that we extend to everybody else? 
A lack of self-compassion begins when you internalize the experience of feeling  unworthy or unlovable  Because of trauma or difficult relationships with childhood caretakers, you get stuck in the belief "I am not enough."  You believe that you are not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, attractive enough, emotionally stable enough, and so on. This type of negative belief paradoxically gives you some hope for an end to the pain.  If "I" am the problem, then there is hope for a different outcome if "I" could only change.  The problem is that this belief sets you up for failure when you attempt to change entrenched negative behaviors (like casual sex, overeating, drinking too much etc.).  The things you are trying to change are often behaviors, even if unhealthy,  that you also rely on to protect yourself from feelings of helplessness and emotional distress. For example, if you overeat to comfort yourself when you feel depressed, it will be difficult to give up overeating without having another way of dealing with depression. 

Lasting change takes more than willpower, but also being willing to experience uncomfortable feelings and finding healthier ways to tolerate and cope with them. You may need the unhealthy behaviors until you can learn healthier ways of comforting yourself or managing distress. When you don't succeed in acting healthier and taking better care of yourself, you may  begin to blame yourself for that as well, thereby compounding your own misery.
The way out of this Catch-22 is to learn and practice self-compassion, even if it feels awkward at first, you consider it wimpy, or you don't think you deserve it. 

Dr Stone noted that
"...during my years in this field I witnessed a recurring phenomenon. I kept noticing that self-compassion heralded a turning point for people dealing with stress and related challenges. I kept witnessing that when people were truly able to ease up on themselves and treat themselves as kindly as they treated those dear to them, the positive gains they made were striking."
In my Psychology Today article Why self-compassion helps you meet life’s challenges, I explain  why self-compassion works better than negative ways of motivating yourself.
  • It helps you realize how you overestimate your control over and sole responsibility for unhealthy patterns and negative outcomes. 
  • It helps you understand that ‘your feelings are not you’ and that just because you think something negative (like "I'm a loser") doesn’t mean the thought is true
  • It gives you a perspective based on "common humanity" or the sense that everyone is human and you don't have to be perfect
  • It helps you connect with unmet or unacknowledged needs that may conflict with your stated goals and block your progress
  • It helps you realize that failure is not final and that you can get up and start again
In the interview with Dr Stone, I also discuss some practical strategies to develop greater self-compassion. Click here to listen to the conversation.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Six Things Happy Couples Do Differently

Maintaining a happy, loving relationship  is hard work, especially when you are also juggling a busy career or parenting.  It is easy for even well-matched couples to fall into negative cycles or neglect to prioritize your relationship.  Misunderstanding each other, fighting over the small stuff, or taking your relationship for granted are common negative patterns that can erode relationship happiness.  Learn what research and clinical wisdom tell us about happy couples.  By adopting these patterns, you can prevent or end negative cycles and deepen your long-term connection with your partner.

Listen   -  Unhappy couples get into cycles of criticize/defend or nag/withdraw that end up derailing communication.  Nobody feels heard and understood, so there is no buildup of goodwill.  Happy couples are more present with each other and make an effort to listen and take each other’s needs seriously.

Create Intimacy - Unhappy couples are more likely to operate like roommates.  The whole focus is on errands and running the household.  The sense of being attractive and desirable to your partner gets lost.  Or unhappy couples may communicate mostly by fighting and arguing.  By contrast, happy couples prioritize emotional and physical intimacy, creating a positive self-reinforcing cycle.

Repair Fights - Unhappy couples don’t resolve conflict.  Arguments turn into hostile interactions or the silent treatment that goes on for days.  By contrast, happy couples reach out to each other after fighting to show they still care, even if the issue isn’t fully resolved.

Act Courteously - Unhappy couples don’t exhibit courtesy and sensitivity in the way they treat each other.  By contrast, happy couples don’t fight so dirty.  They communicate a basic respect and warmth for each other in lots of small ways each day.  They may hug goodbye, bring each other coffee or call to say they miss each other.

Have a Sense of Partnership - Unhappy couples don’t consider how their decisions are going to affect their partner, or they may hide important information from their partner to avoid a fight. This creates problems with trust. Happy couples act like partners.  They put the relationship and family first most of the time, even if they have to sacrifice some things they may enjoy as an individual.

Support Each Other’s Happiness - Unhappy couples don’t focus on making their partner happy or may be convinced that she will be unhappy no matter what they do.  Happy couples actively think about their partner’s happiness. The act thoughtfully, celebrate their partner’s successes, and they willingly to do extra work to help their partner move ahead.

If you are in an unhappy relationship, you may not be aware of your negative patterns or that there are things you can do to facilitate rapid improvement.  Couples Therapy can help you lessen negative behaviors and increase positive interactions that create loving feelings.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Negative Core Beliefs Ruin Relationships

Based on our earliest experiences with our caregivers, we form fixed beliefs and expectations about how lovable and deserving we are, how safe or dangerous the world is, and how we expect to be treated.  Psychologist Jeffrey Young and his colleagues call these rules of living and views of the world  “SCHEMAS.”  While not all schemas are harmful, those that are overly rigid, self-critical, fear-based, hostile, or negative can interfere with our lives and relationships. When these negative schemas are triggered, we lose touch with the present moment. Instead we react automatically according to these rules for living which are often fear-based, mistrustful, critical,and extreme.  Fir example, when triggered, you may yell at your partner or kids, get irrationally jealous, or feel too intimidated to defend yourself when criticized. 

Schemas play a huge role in relationships. Without full awareness, we are often drawn to partners where there is a "schema chemistry." For example, if you feel unworthy of love, you may choose a person who has a schema based on mistrust and is unable to commit. You then interpret their lack of commitment as proof of your unlovability. Therefore, the negative schema beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies because they prompt us to behave in ways that make the schema true or to choose people whose behave towards us in ways that match the negative schema.

What Are Some Common Schemas?

Some common schemas are:
  1. EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION - You don't believe that other people are capable of or motivated to respond to your emotional needs. You automatically take care of others or are drawn to partners who are unable to give (like narcissists) while building up resentment and loneliness over time.
  2. SELF-SACRIFICE - You feel overly responsible for the wellbeing of others.  You put your own needs aside in order to care for others and in so doing, don't give them the opportunity to experience consequences of their actions and change.
  3. VULNERABILITY TO HARM - You are not able to trust your successes, relationships, financial security, safety, or abilities, believing they can be taken from you at any moment and you won't be able to cope.
  4. ENTITLEMENT - You believe you deserve special treatment or that you have to fulfill every need and desires.  You believe the rules don't apply to you. You experience "wants"as "needs" and can get needy and demanding.
  5. DEFECTIVENESS - You feel there is something wrong with you, that you are unlovable, incompetent, or "bad."  You don't trust your own judgment and don't feel you deserve good treatment. You are drawn to people or situations in which you are treated badly.
  6. ABANDONMENT - You fear that partners or friends will leave you.  You may inhibit yourself and avoid showing your true feelings for fear it will cause others to reject you. You don't feel that loved ones can tolerate knowing how you really feel or who you really are. Alternatively, you may get jealous and controlling, which drives others away.

 Schemas limit our lives and relationships in the following ways:
  • We behave in ways that maintain them.
  • We interpret our experiences in ways that make them seem true, even if they really aren’t.
  • In efforts to avoid pain, we restrict our lives so we never get to test them out
  • We sometimes overcompensate and act in just as rigid, oppositional ways that interfere with our relationships.

How Schema Therapy Helps and What You Can Do

1. Schema Therapy can help you to figure out what your underlying schemas are and what the experiences were that created and maintained them. 

2. Schema Therapy helps you change the schemas by understanding and validating your core needs that weren't met in childhood or previous relationships.  

3. You learn to identify the experiences that trigger you and cope in healthier ways. You understand the the types of situations that trigger your schemas.  Some people may be fine at work but struggle in intimate relationships and so on.

4. You learn to connect with your "Healthy Adult" part that can stay in touch with your current strengths, skills, and inner resources and remind you of these when you get triggered.

5. You learn to rewire your brain by focusing your attention away from distorted beliefs, self-doubt,  and negative self-evaluations and onto underlying feelings and needs, self-compassion and behavior change.

6. Schema Therapy helps you stay present so you can focus on making healthy choices, setting boundaries, facing fears, or speaking up for what you want.

7. You learn to connect with and nurture your inner child and validate your own needs for intimacy, comfort, and authenticity.

8.  Schema Therapy can help couples untangle the negative cycles and reactivity resulting from schemas and return to ""Healthy Adult" mode during conversations.  In this mode, you can be more compassionate and understanding of both self and partner.  

9. Schema Therapy can help you choose better partners and friends that are more capable of fulfilling your needs. It also helps you have more realistic expectations of some people's limitations.

Even without the full therapy, these self-help tips can help you tune in to your schemas, work to connect with and Strengthen your "Healthy Adult" and begin being a better self-advocate today.

About The Author  

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a psychologist  in Mill Valley, California who offers individual and couples therapy to clients struggling with relationship issues and life stress.

Visit her Website for more information and ways to contact her:

Sign up to be notified of new posts on this blog and Dr Greenberg's blog on Psychology Today here:
Follow her Mindful Self-Express blog on Psychology Today

Follow Dr Melanie on Twitter@drmelanieg, or like her on Facebook

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Four Ways To Create Loving Connection in Your Marriage

When you walk down the aisle or move in with your partner, you may feel like you have finally found your "happily ever after."  In the earlier stages of love, surges of brain chemicals and hormones make you feel euphoric and increase your feelings of attachment and need for your loved one.  You are likely to idealize and see the best in your partner, perhaps minimizing their faults and ways in which you are incompatible.  Then, a few years later, reality sets in.  

How Marriages Lose Their Spark

Over time,  you negotiate the tasks of running the household, paying bills, seeing friends and family, working, and raising kids.  One day you wake up and realize that you and your partner haven't had a conversation in months that wasn't about finances, work, picking up kids, or household maintenance. You can't believe this grumpy or distant person was the loving guy (or woman) that you once knew. What happened to your "happily ever after?" 

If this cycle sounds depressingly familiar, it's because it's not uncommon, even in the most high-functioning couples.  Research shows clearly that marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of the first child and takes another dip with the birth of the second or third.  Luckily, it bumps way back up again when kids leave for college, if you can make it that long! While life with kids is meaningful and filled with happy moments, raising kids is a lot of work. If both partners work or one works long hours and travels or if family live far away, parents may not get a break. If you don't have kids, you're likely to take on demanding work roles that create stress and time scarcity.

Although this cycle is common, it is also destructive to your relationship and could lead to further deterioration if not addressed.  It's important to take stock of your relationship and start working on maintenance and repair. Houses are not the only things that require maintenance.  People do too.  If you ignore your partner's needs for long periods, you'll end up with a debit balance in the emotional bank account, which means that your partner's goodwill and patience could dry up.  

What You Can Do About It

Below are five small things you can do right away to begin restoring connection and positive feeling.  Of course, these are not substitutes for therapy and if problems continue despite these efforts, you may want to seek help.

(1)  Acknowledge The Problems & Own Your Share

If you have been blaming your partner for all of the problems, it may be time to take a good hard look at yourself.  How are you knowingly or unknowingly making things worse? Has anger caused you to withdraw and ignore your partner's attempts to connect with you physically or emotionally?  Do you go straight to anger when you discuss conflictual topics?  Is there an imbalance of duties such that your partner has to do way more than their fair share?  Are you spending too much money on things your partner doesn't consider important.  Now's the time to fess up, acknowledge how this contributed to the problems and make a commitment to change.  Once you've done this, your partner is more likely to do the same.

(2)  Make Shared Positive Experiences a Priority

If your interactions with your partner have been biased toward the mundane or negative, it may be time to inject some positivity and excitement back into your relationship. This may help you reconnect with the aspects of your partner that initially attracted you.  Research shows that long-term happy couples engage in new experiences together that are novel, challenging or lead to new learning.  So sign up for a ballroom dancing class or a meditation course, climb a rock wall together or go try out the Indian restaurant that opened down the street.  If money is tight, take a camping trip, go on a hike, or cook a special meal together. Shared new activities can help stir things up so your brain can get out of its jaded mindset towards your partner.

(3)  Notice and Acknowledge What is Most Important to Your Partner

Many of my couples therapy clients claim that their partners never listen to them and don't show interest when they talk about the events of the day.  While it's important to listen to your partner's concerns and worries, research suggests it may be even more important to show interest in the things that make them happy and to celebrate their victories, large and small.  When a partner doesn't show interest in the special day you had with your kid or the great speech you gave at work, you begin to feel unimportant to them and that they don't really know and appreciate you.  This sows seeds of resentment and misunderstanding.  Luckily, the cycle can be reversed if you begin to stay mindfully present and listen.  if you have errands or work that can't wait, schedule a time that day that you can be available.

(4)  Communicate Openly About Sex

Bad sex or lack of it can become the elephant in the room that doesn't get mentioned until one   Most people find it difficult to talk about their sexual needs or to admit openly that they don't desire sex as frequently as their partner.  Physical intimacy can be the glue that keeps couples together when they face problems in other areas.  On the other hand, problems in sex may really be problems in intimacy with one or both partners withdrawing because they feel emotionally neglected or disrespected.  Whatever the issues, it's important to discuss and negotiate differences in frequency, anxieties, barriers, and desires.  Keep the conversation positive and focused on what you want, not on what you don't want. Sex is an area of sensitivity and vulnerability for most of us, so tread carefully.

About The Author  

Dr Melanie Greenberg is a psychologist  in Mill Valley, California who offers individual and couples therapy to clients struggling with relationship issues and life stress.
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