The Happy Leopard (A Working Title)

lepardRight now, my biopic would be rated PG13. That’s a cumulative rating. Like most of us, my 20’s were mostly R-rated, filled with inappropriate behaviors that matched my intoxication with freedom by living a time zone away from my parents. As the distance grew, so did the level of responsible, irresponsible behavior. I was never arrested. I didn’t get fired from my job as a new teacher. I also didn’t treat my body with the level of care and respect that I should have…and I knew it.

A child is believed to be the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama, whom the lamas called “Kundun.” The boy matures in both age and learning, especially after his mentor dies.

Surviving those years allowed me to calm down and earn a PG rating of life. Life’s spotlight intentionally shifted away from me as my levels of self-care and self-love began to match the care and love I had for others. I became your favorite underdog biopic. Think Rocky or Kundun.

Now that I’m in my 40s, I am embracing the decade of f*#k-its. Like most of my compadres of the same age, my skin is stretched to the size that I’m comfortable in (metaphorically, of course) where attitude reign supreme whether deserved or imagined.  Just like Patch Adams, I celebrate the parts of me that caused the insecurity of my 20s and played up the sensitive side that brought me love (husband and son) in my 30s.

Your Identity Acronym

In order to help clients, I need to understand their biopics. Most therapists focus on one theory, cognitive behavioral theory (CBT), systems theory, just to name some popular ones. But, working with real clients means understanding how thoughts, feelings, biology, and relationships all factor into WHY they need help and HOW to help them. Thank goodness for Arnold Lazarus and his multimodal therapy acronym, BASIC ID.

  • BehaviorNo secret decoder ring necessary. Separate your thoughts from your actions. What are you DOING that is getting in the way of a goal? What can you DO to put yourself back on track? Basic Madlibs treatment plan: Give me a verb.

    I won’t lie. It is still a lot of fun using inappropriate words to fill these out.
  • Affect: This one is difficult because it is dependent on your emotional intelligence. Not only is the challenge identifying your feelings, but in order to understand and treatment plan for the conflict leading you into therapy, you need to work on the triggers for those emotions. You also need to put those feelings on a sliding scale, rage to irritation, sadness to depression, etc. The chain link of BASIC ID actually begins here by connecting the behaviors with the emotions; it’s the old chicken or the egg, psychology style.
  • Sensations: The focus is on the mind-body connection. Hands tingling, heart racing, limbs that seem to be slogging through a sea of Elmer’s glue just to walk to the door…Your feelings may be easier to understand by discussing their physicality. It’s important to focus on how your body responds when relaxing. Practicing mindfulness is essential to this aspect of therapy.
  • Imagery: I tend to think in pictures, so this one is easy for me. But, as you combine your actions, emotions, and physicality, memories will begin to stir. Before you flinch…GOOD memories are vital to any treatment plan. Connecting to past success in dealing with current stress is a major focus of my practice. It’s easy to lose sight of how many obstacles you have overcome on your own when you have to seek help from a professional to solve your current problem. Tapping into the memories of the “you” who can slay giants, at age 6 or age 60, builds up great momentum toward success.
  • Cognitions: Keep in mind, BASIC ID is not a literal, step-by-step process. It’s a clever way for therapists (and clients who want to learn) to conceptualize the presenting problem and create a treatment plan for A WHOLE PERSON. Your self-talk, self-image, and self-concept are words with immense power.
  • Interpersonal functioning: So many of my clients come to me because someone else told them they have a problem. Your support network is key. Learning who to have cheering you on and with whom a relationship has run its course is important to managing life’s stressors. How much those people have contributed to your overall mental health, or lack thereof, is essential to creating a path to a strong version of yourself.
  • Biological dimension: Horrible wife confession: I often tease my husband about having low blood sugar when he is a few items short on the “Honey Do” list. It is impossible to parse out the difference between the sensations of illness or medical conditions and those attributed to mental health illnesses. Are you tired because you caught the flu from your son or are you depressed? The beauty of this method of diagnosis and treatment is the permission for therapists to consider both with dismissing either.

Spark Note Summary

People are beautifully complex. The treatment models that try to disqualify thoughts and amplify feelings or focus on relationships without figuring out real sensations are limiting. The healing process truly begins, and lasts, when you can understand and accept all parts of you and your life. It’s not magic. It’s pretty basic…

A Reason, A Season, Or A Lifetime

I have a crew. We have been a dance crew, a tailgate crew, a movie crew…you name it, we have banded together to laugh and cry for the past 22 years. But, we didn’t start that way. "Hey! I'm not just a fair-weather friend. IWe met in college. (Go Cats!) To bore you with the backgrounds would sound like a logic puzzle: 2 of the crew were from NJ, all but one of the crew were roommates at one time, 2 of the crew majored in theater, 2 spent a year abroad in France, blah, blah, blah. We spent four years getting to know each other. At any given time, some were closer to me than others. The magic happened when the cocoon college years were over; that’s where the work began.

It should not come as a surprise that psychologists have studied the art of making friends. It should also not be surprising that their tips for making friends are eerily similar to dating tips. Like most topics, my take on friendships is a mixture of common sense and humorous practical tips.

First, There is a Reason

Mommy friends are a hot commodity. Once you become a parent, you develop an incredible need to find out if YOU are normal, THEY are normal, or LIFE will ever be normal again. The same can be true when you are starting a new job, moving to a new town, or starting a new hobby. Transition is the best chance to start a new friendship. Just be careful not to fall into a few pitfalls:

  • Self-deprecation will never make it out of a friendship’s honeymoon phase. Healthy adults celebrate themselves and their accomplishments,
    Fishing for compliments

    like rewards for surviving the teenage and twenty-nothing years of “ooops”. You are not looking for a cheerleader; you are looking for more a teammate.

  • Strangers don’t know where you’ve been or what it took to get where you are now. (Thank goodness!) New meetings with new friends act like a snapshot of this version of you. This is your chance to become the version of you that has been exiled to “what if world.”

Then, It Has Been a Season

After the reason becomes less urgent, you have accepted your role as a mistake-making, best-intentioned parent…or employee….or neighbor, the NEED for friends also becomes less urgent. You need to decide who you want to know better. You need to ask yourself if there can be more connection with your new friend than the context of your initial meeting. It’s also ok if your new friend becomes a new memory.

  • No more first date rules. You need courage if you want your new buddy to become a real friend. Religion, politics, past relationships…all topics are on the table. When we were younger, our views swung between the ones in line with our parents and those in complete, rebellious opposition. pile-of-shoesThe gift of cultivating friendships as an adult comes from living in the Big Gray World. Your ability to be close to someone with different views is a sign that you have a tremendous capability for empathy. After all, you have had more time than your younger self to wear more shoes…

With Enough Time, Friends Last a Lifetime

I have nothing fancy or funny to say about the depths of love I feel from my crew. It took time. Time together AND time apart. Those days, months, and years let you know if the friends you have made can be responsible with the most precious thing you have to offer…yourself. You cannot measure your friendships in secrets kept or capers completed. Frankly, it is not even important how often you see each other or talk on the phone. You have earned lifelong friends when the time apart has no effect on whatever time you steal together.

Spark Note Summary

Part of life’s roller coaster is choosing who is best to join you on the ride. As you change, you need to find new friends and reconnect with old friends. Accepting that is okay for friends to come and go gives you permission to have fun by meeting new friends. There is always a reason to grow your support network that will carry you through a rough season and become part of the family that you rely on for your lifetime.

“Take Care, TCB”

When I was in elementary school, my best friend and I shut ourselves up in her basement to beat Super Mario Brothers. super-mario-brosWe spent hours listening to Beatles albums (yes, albums…there was a fantastic turntable in that room) while entering secret rooms for unlimited lives to rescue Princess Toadstool from King Koopa. Double whammy of disappointment for my poor mother: I was becoming a gamer and singing every Beatles song I learned. As my mother said, “I didn’t like them when I was a kid; I don’t want to listen to them, now!” Her punishment was my education in Motown. Well played (literally), Mom. Sorry, dear readers, Motown is way better than the Beatles.

aretha-franklinAs I grew into my sassy teens, my mom responded with sassy Motown. See also: Aretha Franklin. Interesting fact: legendary Motown artist Otis Redding wrote one of Aretha’s greatest hits, “Respect.” More interesting fact: Aretha vamped some additional lyrics to put her own stamp on the song, including the oft-misspoken “Take care, TCB”.

TCB, Taking Care of Business

Respect becomes one of the most important values in the life of tweens and teens. Respect, or lack thereof, is the reason venom seeps out of your sweet child’s mouth and anger drips out of their noncompliant bodies. Moms and dads, what are our responses? Show some respect”  or “Respect your elders.”  My response? Take care, TCB:

  • Two-way street: Like all parenting, you have to model appropriate behavior.
    My boys walking, talking, and filling my heart the same way.
    My boys walking, talking, and filling my heart the same way.

    You have to show respect to your tweens and teens by starting to see them as their own, growing individual, separate from your husband’s sense of humor or your facial expressions. You have to shed all stories that start, “When I was your age,” and end, “I did the same thing when I was your age.” It is important to start talking and listening to your tween and teen to meet the new person they are becoming. This will deepen your relationship and earn respect, a necessary step when you have to play the “Mom card” or “Dad card” to prevent your growing child from making a life-changing mistake.

  • Consistency: Respect is a feeling of admiration for someone based on general behaviors or achievements. Becoming a parent is achievement enough to elicit respect from your children, your family, strangers, animals, etc.
    Definition of trust
    Definition of trust

    It is a hard job. Parenting tweens and teens means living your life under a microscope powered by your children. It becomes your job to say what you mean, mean what you say, and behave in a way that is consistent with those words.

  • Boundaries: Don’t get mad, but somehow in showing your child you are a person and learning who they are as a person, you have to maintain clear boundaries. You are still the parent. You are still the top dog, head honcho, and benevolent dictator of their lives. While your tween and teen is behaviorally toddling around, they need your no-nonsense rules and expectations to stay the same as they were when he was a toddler. This is no time to be friends.

Spark Note Summary

As a mom, I give myself a daily medal for keeping my son alive and happy. I am stockpiling all unused treasures to create a monument worthy if I achieve the next level, helping nurture a young man who is kind, observant, empathetic, and respectful. Because these values are crucial to the goodness of our children, it is really hard work. Using these tips to take care of business will help the job.

In Gut We Trust

I’m not sure when it became standard operating procedure to tell the story of how you met your spouse when you first meet people. My snarky retort for “how did you and your husband get together” is ALWAYS: “It’s an awful Nicholas Sparks novel, and I don’t look good in it.” It’s true. thI have known my husband since I was 19, dated him briefly when I was 21-22, but didn’t marry him until a decade later. We stayed friendly over the decade between “it’s not you, it’s me” and “I do”. He came for a visit in 2010. I cooked dinner. We laughed and were ridiculous until he left to return to his primary reason for the trip from Tucson to Chicago, a family visit. The second the door closed behind him, I called my best friend. “I think I just let my husband walk out the door.”

What!?!?! I didn’t know until….I knew!!

Common Memories and Legacies

I spent most of my 20’s learning how to trust my gut. I had spent the previous two decades relying only on my intelligence. I had lost touch with my instinct, my gut. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. There is so much focus on HOW you know WHAT you know, we have let our instinct diminish.

  • What Is It?: Our instinct is actually the primal part of the brain, commonly referred to as the subconscious, that kept us alert and alive during caveman times. Despite being ignored, your primal brain is responsible for your automatic responses to stimuli. Our brains have been hard wired over centuries to be afraid img_4029of some objects while understanding and accepting others.Here’s an example of (cultural) subconscious. While visiting my family in NJ, my son picked up a phone (that was not ringing) and said, “Hello!” Let’s do the math: I haven’t had a land line in 15 years, and my son is 4 years old. How did he know that was a phone?
  • Where Does It Come From?: Carl Jung would attribute that knowledge to archetypal memories, or a collective unconscious, that exists as the combination between instinct and archetypes. Consider how many people have a fear of snakes. Their instinct tells them to be wary of this creature as a potential sense of harm. Jungian psychologists trace that instinct to the snake
    "Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?" - Indiana Jones
    “Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones

    as a common character in world religions and mythology that deceives others. In fact, most of you probably took some form of the Myers-Briggs Personality test designed by Jungian psychologists; they are often disguised as employment surveys. Intuition is the second letter of your four letter personality profile.

  • How Is It Helpful? There was a comprehensive study documented by Kelly Turner in her book, Radical Remission, which recounts amazing stories of terminal cancer patients who survived by making decisions based on their intuition. The belief that a strong intuition can create positive situations and outcomes has even made its way into the world of business. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink uses the term “rapid cognition” instead of intuition. (I assume he wants to get the connotations of hippie-belief and mysticism away from his best selling books.) Card tricks, car buying, and marriage have all been researched through the lens of intuition. The results don’t change: people who are advised by their brain but decide with their gut are happier than those who out-think their instincts. 

Spark Note Summary

Your instincts are primal. Your primal self is emotional and relational. It will be easier to trust others when you trust yourself, trust your gut. The best way to nourish and nurture your gut is to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with our friends and family. (After texting, tweeting, and sharing this blog, of course…)

Marital Counseling by Elmo and Cookie Monster

My husband is a natural mimic. He doesn’t mean to, and he is spot on with his mockery…I mean, mimicry. He sounds like a native New Jerseyean after talking to my mother or even listening to me talk to her. He pronounces doom and gloom for the ground meat and vegetables he is making for dinner like the Manchurian from Iron Man 3 without knowing it.

cookie monsterThanks to our son’s unwavering love of Sesame Street for the past four years, more often than not, my husband now talks like Cookie Monster. For example,

Me: Honey, did you take out the recycling when you got home?

My husband: Me remember.

(Come on wives, shake your head from side to side with me…)

Ironically, I wrote a 25 page paper about the educational intentions of the Children’s Television Network when they created Sesame Street. I catalogued hours of watching Sesame Street on the TV in the basement of my dorm with a notepad to document the topic of each sketch and a stopwatch to time the longevity of them. It turns out, I was onto something. An article was published about one year ago that announced a study found that watching Sesame Street had the same educational efficacy as pre-school programs. Now that I’m back watching Sesame Street again, it seems as if they also have some excellent marital advice.

What’s Good For the Gosling Is Good For the Goose and Gander

family of geeseYou don’t need to have children to love the animated movies by Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks. Those studios have graciously given adults plenty of nuggets embedded into “kids’ movies” to make it acceptable for a date night with your partner or the bazillionth viewing with your toddler. Sesame Street has done the same. The lessons they teach pre-school children are remarkably poignant for couples.

  • Finding a common language: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, communication is the key to a successful marriage. Oh, wait! That wasn’t me! It was every marriage and family therapist that has walked the Earth since the caveman beat his wife over the head with a club. Sesame Street has a word of the day which gets defined in simple words and illustrated with three examples. These are not basic words. Chris O’Donnell did a great job explaining the word “activate” when he couldn’t find the right button to turn on the robot. Zack Efron taught Elmo the word “patience” with several examples of why they couldn’t run off to play basketball; then, the basketball explained another one. Translation: showing someone what a word means to you quickly closes the gap of miscommunication. 
  • Managing anxiety: This is not a “me” thing; it is a “we” thing. The point of marriage (and all other forms of long-term relationships) is to have a partner to help you when you are too tired, too stressed, or too overwhelmed to help yourself. Nearly every episode of Sesame Street has an idea to help calm down when you are overanxious.
    Click here to watch the video.
    Click here to watch the video.

    Sometimes Alan, the owner of Hooper’s Store, helps Elmo calm down by advising Elmo to put his hand on his chest to stop the ramped up speech associated with anxiety and breathe. Other times, there is a musical guest showing Elmo how to “belly breathe”. Yes, it is always Elmo. Translation: no good comes from behaviors and conversations bathed in anxiety; helping your partner calm down shows him/her you are working together to deal with the source of the anxiety.

  • Pay attention to the beauty of every day things: The older we get, the faster time seems to go. We rush to work. We rush home from work. We rush to tell our partners everything that happened between those times in the six minutes we have before parenting responsibilities take hold. (Insert deep breath, here.) Children are naturally curious. Telly and Elmo notice insects on the sidewalk and plant leaves on Sesame Street. Abby Cadaby sees practical magic with her “magi-goggles” in Lela’s laundromat and Gordon’s table. Translation: the reason the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, was a multi-million dollar best seller is because we let the details of life at work and home ruin both places; what if we slowed down long enough to see the sweet details of both places?

Spark Note Summary

The lessons we use to raise our children can be the same lessons we use to stop acting like children. Parenting takes a toll on marriage. Mr. and Mrs. lose their way when Mom and Dad take over. It’s a good thing to know that there is a way back… “can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”

Can ANYONE Follow the Bouncing Ball?

I’m not really a do-er. Don’t get me wrong – I’m really busy. (See also: a working mom.) multitasking momBut, when it comes to down time, I talk a good game. I would love to craft something that makes my house more of a home. I need to stretch and meditate during yoga to let the toxins out of my body. Instead, I’m a self-proclaimed couch potato. Except….

My fingers are busy…

They are fast forwarding shows on my DVR.

They are clicking on Facebook and swiping back to Angry Birds. (Don’t judge; I’m still playing Angry Birds and shunning all invitations to Candy Crush and Pokeman Go.)

They are tapping on Safari to load my tracking info from Amazon faster.

Like most Americans, I suffer from cultural ADHD.

Following the Code: Nature vs. Nurture

I am surprised how often I am asked about “real” ADHD. My answer, always careful not to offend, is that there have been a lot of environmental factors, our ever-growing technology, that may have contributed to the over-diagnosis of an actual struggle for thousands of children and adults.

I was first taught about ADHD when I was studying to be a teacher. It was the latest example of a real mental illness that had become mainstream due to the dedication of altruistic doctors who felt terrible about not recognizing this illness earlier. Added to the need to correct earlier mistakes was the near-immediate impact of an early drug; Ritalin showed a marked improvement in handwriting! kid writingNow, parents were demanding the miracle drug that calmed down their sons (yes, mostly boys) long enough to care about capital letters touching the top and bottom lines of their paper.

ADHD diagnoses rose 43% between 2003 and 2011. The newest version of the DSM (released in May 2013), the manual that details names and criteria for mental health disorders, has included new guidelines for diagnosing and treating adults. But, when you actually examine the criteria, you will see that ADHD is a very specific combination of struggles.

  • Inattention: Someone with ADHD must check off at least 6 of the following attributes for a minimum of 6 months. Not only does inattention have to last persistently and consistently, but these behaviors should rise to the occasion of being inappropriate for age or developmental level. Some of the qualifying behaviors are: failure to pay close attention/makes careless mistakes; doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly; doesn’t follow through on tasks; and losing things necessary to complete tasks (glasses, paperwork, etc.). I ask you: anyone know of a pre-teen who can’t check these boxes? That’s. Not. ADHD.
  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Another mega-list of behaviors that must add up to at least 6, over 6 months, and are not explained away by being THAT age. This list reads like a daily journal for my 4-year-old.
    The face of ADHD?
    The face of ADHD?

    I have actually met a four-year-old on ADHD medication; it’s hard to figure out how that toddler qualified. Here are some behaviors that may check boxes for ADHD: fidgeting, running and/or climbing, loud participation in “leisure activities”, and excessive talking or blurting out.

There is another set of criteria that involve caveats, like behaviors that interfere with typical activities and timelines for initial onset of behaviors. IF you can still qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, there are a bunch of permutations of that diagnosis. I think of these like the rules for spelling: “i” before “e” except after “c” and if it sounds like “ay”…

 Spark Notes Summary

Our big, supercomputer brains are always being rewired, by diet, supplements, medication, or age. Certainly, our fast-paced, technologically-driven environment can simulate a real mental health disorder. Unplugging your technology gives your brain its chance to unplug and slow down. Oh, and you know the bouncing ball on the screen that you follow to sing along favorite songs, I’m always two lines ahead…out of place and out of tune.

…All the King’s Horses and All the Kings Men, Couldn’t Put Humpty Together Again

adrienne rich
Words That Kept Us Going

I just spent the last few days with my sister wife. We are not Mormon. We were co-workers for four years where we shared a husband, hers by true love and marriage and mine by work. Notice the use of the word “shared”. We lost this incredible man not too long ago and way too soon.

Ironically, these same few days overlapped a funeral. Although the loss was family (by marriage), I was not sad or upset. I went to the service to give love and support to those who were related to him by blood and felt his loss deeply.  My distance lessened when I recognized the profound sadness all around me. There was a daughter estranged from the family for so long she was unmentioned and unrecognized during the service and burial. There was a widow of more than four decades of marriage lost to dementia; I wasn’t sure if she understood what terrible occasion we were marking.stages of grief

The grief and loss that comes with death always triggers discussions of the five stages made popular (to the tune of being available on WebMD and Wikipedia) by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Let me join the professional bandwagon  by saying…crap!

Picking Up the Pieces

The grieving process occurs all through your life. It is not just when there is a death. It is important to remember, and not belittle, that LOSS is an obstacle you have survived – from the moment you were not able to use your pacifier until the moment you were not able to remember your name. Keeping that in mind, here are some of the real struggles of grief and loss:

  • Identity: With my full opinionated support, my friend has never referred to herself as a widow. (I am cringing right now.) As I mentioned in an earlier blog about identity, so much of growing older is adding relational titles. When those titles are lost, sister, daughter, wife, the process that originally took the first two decades of your life (at least) needs to re-start. Who wouldn’t be angry about a second puberty?
  • Belonging: According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, maslowethis motivation, to belong in a group, is a vital stepping stone to developing a healthy self-esteem. Consider the losses in your life that were unrelated to death, my earlier example of a child’s loss of a pacifier. The demarcation that parents celebrate as a sign of maturity is met with the loss of confidence about self-soothing. Down the pyramid you go! Now, you have to search your environment for survival and safety again. We all do it. We just forget that from the perspective of a toddler, and some professional counselors, that loss needs to be acknowledged as evidence that you are strong enough and resourceful enough to survive all kinds of losses. Even a small loss can be used as fuel to get a small gain for a bigger loss.
  • Isolation: You lost your job. Becoming a parent wasn’t what you expected. Your child isn’t interested in playing Legos with you. All of these dashed dreams trigger the grief and loss stages. They also separate you from friends and family. person aloneYou have become the embodiment of fear — the living and breathing “what-if” monster. You shy away from people who shy away from you. Until you reinvent yourself, and choose whether your old friends should be your new friends, a self-imposed, community approved, isolation is in effect.

Spark Note Summary

Death is not the only reason we suffer from grief and loss. Each time we don’t live the life we expected, we have to reinvent ourselves. Bringing the successes and lessons learned from a past life into the next life (cue Indigo Girls “Galileo“), makes you strong enough to start again. You just have to start by salvaging the right pieces…

Becoming the Master of the Universe

As an in-home counselor, I travel…a lot. I was coming home from the city when I noticed a delivery truck on a side street. I was stuck in traffic, so my mind stayed with the relatively common sight for a while. I was a little amazed about how and why all of the strangers in their cars (in a neighborhood with a reputation for violence) all complied with a scrawny man directing traffic. He wasn’t a cop! He wasn’t even a crossing guard with an official vest! Then, it came to me. He. Was. He-Man!

he manStop shaking your heads, fellow children of the 80’s. You know exactly who I mean. He-Man, the Prince of Eternia, would “hold aloft his magic sword” and say, “By the power of Grayskull!” The glittering cloud that changed the boy-next-door to a muscle-clad, gentleman hero was not the real magic. The real magic happened when he held the sword, post-transformation, and said, “I HAVE THE POWER!” Yes! We can all have the power!

…The Power to Fight Depression and Anxiety

Self-efficacy is your belief that you have the power, the ability, to solve a problem and achieve a task. We have all experienced periods of wavering self-efficacy. That’s “normal”. For the approximately 40 million American’s suffering with anxiety and depression, self-efficacy is a key factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is not practical to teach self-efficacy. It is possible, however, to recognize when you are “psyching yourself out” by learning about some mind games you play with yourself. (We call these cognitive distortions around the professional water cooler.):

  • All-or-Nothing: things are in black and white categories. Your brain is starting to lose perspective and becoming too anxious to slow down.
  • Overgeneralization looks like a downward spiral

    Overgeneralization: a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Guilty as charged on this one; all it takes is for one thing to go wrong before I start “noticing” all of the things that have spiraled out of my control.

  • Mental filter: pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively. Those of you that live near nature will recognize this inability to see the forest for the trees. How can anything around you be manageable when all you see is the negative in front of you?

    tunnel vision
    Mental filters give you tunnel vision.
  • Disqualifying The Positive: positive experiences “don’t count”. Imagine someone who has won the lottery but trips out of the bank after depositing their millions; if experiencing this cognitive distortion, all that person will tell you about his day is how he embarrassingly tripped in public.
  • Magnification (catastrophizing): Exaggerate the importance of things; your “whoops”  or someone else’s “hooray” both register a 10+ on a scale of 1-5.
  • Minimization OR “binocular trick”: inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny. The opposite of magnification, this “skill” is the ability to evaluate your own desirable qualities, the ones everyone reminds you they love and admire about you, to a microscopic piece of shmoo on your ego.

You know which one of these, or two, or three, applies to you. If not, don’t worry. One share of this blog with friends and family will have them all running to you to tell you who you are based on what you do. Yay, family bonding activity?!?

Spark Note Summary

superheroYour supercomputer of a brain can convince you that you are capable of great things. It can also trick you into thinking that you are powerless to change. Recognizing those tricks will help you maintain a strong sense of self-efficacy letting your super brain persuade you to achieve super goals and embrace your inner super hero.


Wife Points for Mrs. Smarty Pants

Does any of this sound familiar?

Husband: Why are you crying?

Wife: Because I’m pissed off!

Husband: So, you’recouple fighting sad?

Wife: No. I’m just really upset. (long pause) Don’t you want to know why?

Husband: Sure?

Wife: I’m overwhelmed about everything I have to do and don’t feel appreciated.

Husband: (long pause)

Wife: (longer pause followed by a loud grunt..and possible stomping of feet and slamming of door)

This “fictionalized” conversation is common. As if it wasn’t hard enough to decipher the difference between upset and overwhelmed, now the Oxford Dictionary has added slang emotions! IMG_4812I’m happily validated that “wine o’clock” is now an acceptable time, but now I have to understand if I am can be “hangry” and “butthurt” on the same day. In my house, we created a points system. (Hey, I’m a highly competitive sports enthusiast. Remember my blog about The Queen of Tic-Tac-Toe?) My husband will give me “wife points” for coming home with a surprise steak or “Mom points” when I find a new way to trick my son into letting us put sunscreen on him before school. But, this is a silly solution to a real problem. Knowing, identifying, and conveying feelings is the real answer.

Smart in the Heart

Emotion cards I use often in therapy.

What’s more important than the names of feelings, are the functions of them. Some emotions serve to sound an alarm. The anxiety alarm goes off when an expectation is shattered, whether practical or not, your anticipated outcome did not come true. The anger alarm goes off when boundary is breached; your personal bubble constructed over a lifetime of experiences to keep your mind and body safe has been broken. Understanding this brief explanation has just raised your emotional intelligence (EQ), knowing what to do with this knowledge raises your EQ up another notch.

The idea of emotional intelligence has been around for decades. This psychological theory has even been adopted by corporate America to help their productivity. Basically, there are four areas of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness – You are able recognize and identify your own emotions. You understand how they affect your thoughts and behavior. Your self-confidence comes from knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Self-management – You are able to control the actions triggered by your feelings. emotional iqYou understand which feelings are impulsive and which behaviors are triggered when those feelings are present. You can manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people that may be different from your own. This includes the ability to pick up on emotional cues and feel comfortable in different social circles
  • Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain healthy relationships and communicate your feelings clearly. That intelligence inspires and influences others to manage conflicts.

Spark Notes Summary

The best way to have a happy life as a happy wife (or mother, or sister, or partner) is to understand what happiness means. Once that is figured out, you will be on your way to figuring out what the word is for the loss of happiness, the yearning for happiness, and the dream of happiness. Your feelings are unique to you; you have to know them as well as you know yourself. Otherwise, you run the risk of being too hangry and getting butthurt by foolish things.


no rulesIn light of the latest national tragedy, I’m going to break some rules.

Rule 1: Professional counselors are not prescriptive; we do not tell our clients what to do. Our role is to help empower our clients to help themselves.

Not this week.

Rule 2: Blogs, especially mine, are lighthearted and apolitical. It makes digesting clinical information easier. It is necessary to stay neutral so taking charge of your own mental health is manageable for everyone by not offending anyone.

Not this week.

Rule 3: There is no right or wrong in a therapeutic setting. Morality is individualized and learned from the unique perspective of our lives’ stories.

Not this week.

Managing the Tragedy to Prevent Trauma

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is not limited to soldiers. It is not limited to innocent people victimized by hatred. It is not limited to abused women and children. Although not a specific disorder, vicarious, or secondary, traumatic stress effects anyone who internalizes a horrifying event. First responders, counselors, clergy, and others associated with a helping profession are at the highest risk for vicarious PTSD based on the constant exposure to victims of tragedy. Sometimes, even well-intentioned parents can increase their children’s likelihood to exhibit serious mental health trauma.

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, some symptoms and conditions associated with vicarious or secondary traumatic stress include:

    • Hypervigilance
    • Hopelessness
    • Avoidance
    • Anger/cynicism
    • Sleeplessness
    • Illness
    • Fear
  • Exhaustion

do's and don'tsHere are some things “To Do” and “To Don’t” when processing the latest attack.

Don’t explain the event to your children. Not even in Seuss-speak. Not even in generic terms. (“A bad man hurt a lot of people for being different.”) Children gracefully lack the capacity to understand the concepts of “bad man,” “hatred,” or “terror.” These are moral grey terms that children don’t have the developmental maturation to understand. David Elkind, a gifted psychologist, beautifully illustrates this concept in his books.

Do teach them about other cultures. There are dozens of Cinderella-type fairy tales from different cultures. Reading these to your children helps erase the lines between “us” and “them” in order to educate a generation of “we”.


Don’t allow your children to listen or watch any news coverage. Keep them away from adult conversations, too. Children have no concept of time. There is a risk that children will believe the violence is always happening because they cannot comprehend why it is still being discussed (while wearing serious adult faces) by everyone around them.

Do allow your children to participate in the healing process using art. Drawings, paintings, and Play-Doh are great donations to abuse shelters and children’s hospitals. Let your kids play and create like children. Then, present your child’s love-filled projects to peers to brighten the lives of others and create one for themselves.


Don’t mistake vigilance for preparedness. Fire drills and tornado drills are legal mandates for schools to practice disaster scenarios; they are normal for children. Creating disaster kits, no matter how much fun they may be to compile and decorate, is not normal play time at home. Spending your time guessing what awful event from the past to prepare for in the future will guarantee a loss of enjoyment in the present.

moon landingDo slow down to notice the details of your daily life. Just like one man’s small step on the moon that symbolized a larger step for mankind, the little miracles of daily life will create the armor of optimism needed to power through the major catastrophes.

Spark Note Summary

It is ironic that the same ignorance that fuels violent hatred protects our children’s innocence. We cannot sacrifice the latter to fight the former. Our energy must be concentrated on taking actions that protect the optimism of youthful innocence. Sports venues, schools, and businesses participate in “a moment of silence” in the wake of a tragedy. We respect the loss of life with a moment of silence. We honor the life that is lost with a minute of action. #minuteofaction