The Gift of Counseling

 

Counseling is a powerful gift. It’s something we can do for ourselves to make our lives better, more joyful, more complete. I believe everyone can benefit from counseling.

Over the years, counseling has been lumped in with the medical model and its emphasis on fixing what’s broken.  To me, counseling fits better within the wellness model. The wellness model focuses on individuals taking responsibility for their own wellbeing and creating full and balanced lives.

When we look at counseling through lens of the wellness model, counseling is about achieving balance, a full life, and becoming the person you want to be.

Certainly counseling can help when you are in crisis. It can heal old wounds and help you resolve issues that stand between you and the life you want.

I’ve found that counseling is a powerful medium for people in crisis or not. A counselor can provide unconditional acceptance, empathy, and objectivity to help you understand yourself, your goals and dreams and the obstacles between them.

Through the process, you grow, uncover your own brilliance, and become more accepting and open to the people in your life.

One of the most powerful aspects of counseling  I have witnessed is the ripple effect it creates in people’s lives. The work you do in counseling often has a profound effect on your relationship to others and your role in the world.

Counseling, at its best, unleashes your potential and deepens your connection to others.         

Learn more about finding the right counselor for you.

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Honoring Anger

 

I grew up in a home where anger was scary. It was always present, just beneath the surface and it could be set off any moment like a firecracker. Like a firecracker, there was collateral damage if my siblings and I were too close.

I learned to retreat from anger or any emotion that might lead to anger including disappointment, frustration and irritation. I worked hard to avoid these emotions in others. At times, I went out of my way to placate others, working against my own interest. While I couldn’t avoid anger at home, I became pretty good at avoiding it elsewhere. I stayed away from situations that might engage those emotions. Because of this, my connections to others were limited. My relationships weren’t authentic because I fled when disappointment, frustration, irritation or anger inevitably bubbled up between myself and others.

As for my own anger, I ran from it, too. I knew from experience how destructive anger could be. I was terrified that if I became angry with the people I cared for they would leave me. I built a wall around myself for my protection and the protection of others so because I wanted to stay connected, and yet, within those walls I was alone.

What I’ve Learned About Anger

Through my own healing work I learned to look at anger differently.

  • Anger is important and it’s neutral. Anger just is. What we choose to do with it is what makes it scary or healing. Like all of our emotions, it’s an indicator. Anger lets us know our boundaries have been tripped in some way.
  • Sometimes we need to change something outside of ourselves, our environment or our relationship with someone, and sometimes we need to change something inside, how we look at something, or how we care for ourselves.
  • Anger doesn’t have to be the all or nothing force of destruction it was in my home. There are ways  to express anger while maintaing respect, caring and connection to others.
  • Denying anger destroys relationships. When discounted repeatedly, anger becomes resentment. Resentment is insidious and it’s a far more destructive force than healthy anger
  • Expressing anger when you feel it is honest. It’s a way of letting others in and showing them what’s going on with you. It’s also the first step to resolving the issue that tripped initially tripped your boundary.

Over time, I came to understand how isolated I had been in my relationships. The connection I experience with others is stronger now. Accepting that there will be anger between us sometimes and learning how to express it in a healthy respectful way has freed me to be more present in my relationships. Instead of investing my energy in avoiding negative emotions, I’m able to be more authentic with the people in my life and accept them doing the same.

If you’d like to learn more about healthy anger, I recommend starting with The Gift of Anger: Seven Steps to Uncover the Meaning of Anger and Gain Awareness, True Strength, and Peace and Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. Both are excellent resources and provide practical advice for appreciating and expressing anger.

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Couples Counseling for One

 

If your relationship is struggling, couples counseling can help. A relationship therapist can help build a bridge between you and your partner, resolve critical issues and facilitate better communication.

But what if your partner won’t go? Can your relationship benefit from couples counseling for one?

Yes. Seeing a therapist alone to work on problems you have with your partner may seem counter intuitive, and yet, it can be beneficial in the many ways. By choosing to work on your relationship alone

  •  You are modeling healthy behavior. You’re struggling so you seek help. Your reluctant partner may do the same after seeing your commitment and the relief it provides.

 

  • You can gain insight into your piece of the puzzle, and often, your partner’s as well. When you understand yourself better (one of the many benefits of counseling) you often experience a greater understanding, acceptance and appreciation of your partner.

 

  • You can care for yourself by gaining emotional support, stress relief and new coping skills.

 

  • You are communicating your commitment and investment in the health of your relationship. This may motivate your partner to increase his/her investment in the health of your relationship as well.

Learn more about finding the right counselor for you.

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When Your Mirror Is Broken

In an ideal world, when we’re born, our caregivers are emotionally whole. They care for us with attentiveness, responsiveness and nurturing. They make sacrifices for us when necessary. As we become aware of ourselves as separate from our caregivers, they reflect our image back to us, they show us who we are and who we  can be.

Ideally, our caregivers reflect a whole, loved, unconditionally accepted and valued child.

But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes our caregivers are so mired in their own emotional dysfunction that they can’t give us back a healthy image. So they give us back a broken one. Sometimes they reflect a shattered one.

There are many ways we understand ourselves to be broken when we see ourselves in a broken mirror. We may decide that we’re not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough or lovable enough.

This broken image and the beliefs we develop because of it become a part of our inner dialogue. We’re often minimally aware of this “self talk” but it’s impact is profound. We surround ourselves with people and experiences that reinforce the broken image with which we have become so familiar. We come to believe we are the broken image. It’s not that we like feeling broken, but it’s all that we know and we stay in spite of the pain because we cannot see another way for ourselves.

So how can you fix the mirror?

Become aware of your mistaken beliefs. Fold a sheet of paper in half. On one side list the messages you received about yourself as a child, spoken and unspoken. On the other side, write the truth about each of these messages. Were they projected onto you by a caregiver? Were they unfair? How have they affected your perception of yourself as an adult? How have they influenced your life?

Determine who you surround yourself with. Are they the people who see the good in you, appreciate you for who you are? Or are they the people who reflect the broken image.

Tune in to your self talk. What do you say to yourself when things are hard? When you’re frustrated? When you need help? These are often important insights into what we believe about ourselves and the messages we received as children.

Consider counseling. A good therapist can provide a healthy mirror and help you gain insight into the messages you received as a child. Once you understand what you believe, you are free to decide what you’ll keep and what no longer serve you. You are free to create new beliefs about yourself and your role in the world.

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The Importance of Being Unavailable

My sister and I recently met for a play-date and the converson turned to her increasing stress as she prepares for the birth of her second child, manages her clients (she’s an attorney) and attempts to be present and enjoy her family.

She talked about checking her email several times a day, taking business calls after office hours and taking on the responsibility for cooking, cleaning and hosting get-togethers with her husband’s family.  “For some reason,” she said, “I feel like I have to be available to everyone all the time.”

She hit on a belief many of us hold without even being aware of it. Often, this unconscious belief goes even deeper. We believe being unavailable destroys relationships. We’re afraid the people we care about may feel disappointment, anger, or frustration if we aren’t available anytime they call on us. And it’s true, we can all recall times we felt those things when someone was unavailable to us. It can be difficult to tolerate. And yet, being unavailable, setting time aside to tend to yourself and your priorities, is critical.

If we are always available, we become exhausted, overwhelmed, resentful and scattered. And the effort is rarely sustainable. When we cannot say no, we squeeze ourselves out of the relationship by making less and less room for our own feelings and needs. We may reach a point where we become so resentful, we end the relationship ourselves, or avoid it altogether.  

Always being available destroys healthy relationships.

If we strive for authentic, sustainable relationships with our families, friends, coworkers and clients, we must learn to tolerate others’ disappointment. We must recognize that being unavailable is necessary, even when others are resistant. That’s the nature of an authentic relationship. There must be room for both parties’ needs and feelings.

When we set limits on our availability, we are free to be more authentic, present and engaged with others.

So how do we become more comfortable with being unavailable?

  • Think about your own situation, when do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or resentful? List the tasks that come up. Think about what it would be like to give some (or all) of them up.
  • Think about your relationships, who do you really enjoy spending time with and why? Do you feel more of a give and take with this person? Is this person more accepting of your limits?
  • Take action. Rehearse it in your head and when the opportunity appears, stand for yourself and say “no”.  
  • Watch out for boundary pushers. There are people who believe you should always be available, especially to them. Recognize this as their issue. Prepare for a backlash when you are unavailable  to them.

As you practice being unavailable, keep your goal in mind. It may be uncomfortable at times. Being unavailable at times creates space for you in your relationsips

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(Don’t Try to) Feel Better

We want to feel happy and sometimes we do. But we feel many other things, too.  We feel angry, sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, envious or hurt. We may try to distract ourselves with food, alcohol, facebook or sex. We don’t like to be unhappy.

It’s okay, we’re built that way. When we’re uncomfortable, we seek comfort, when we’re hungry we seek food, when we’re cold we seek warmth. We strive to make ourselves more comfortable. It’s in our nature.

We’re uncomfortable with “negative” emotions. Anger, sadness and many other emotions have gotten a bad rap. These feelings are a part of the human experience because they’re important indicators. They signal that something is wrong. Maybe something needs to change, maybe we need to change. Maybe things aren’t going to change and we need to learn a new way of coping.

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What if we could learn to sit with uncomfortable emotions? What if instead of reaching for a cookie or our phones or a drink, we stopped and asked ourselves, what am I feeling right now?  

Rather than trying to make it better by distracting, we could make ourselves available and present when we’re feeling uncomfortable.

We could choose to look for the message in the signal.

It takes some practice. You can learn to sit with your emotions by doing the following:

  • Notice your feelings and emotions. Just check in with yourself. Notice what you’re feeling while driving, or while getting ready for work.
  • Don’t judge. Tune in to the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts”. Feelings are neutral, they only become problematic when you act on them.
  •  Recognize the difference between feeling and thinking. You may need to ask a few times to get to the feeling.

When we honor our feelings, we free ourselves from them. We experience them, we value them for the insight they bring, we let them go and we feel better.

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