Do You Feel Like an Underdog?

Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The Chicago Cubs. These are a few of the underdogs many of us have rooted for. (OK, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you weren’t rooting for the More »

Are You For Real?

Some of my clients feel like impostors who will be found out at any moment. They feel like they aren’t really as good as other people think they are, and it’s only More »

Choosing Recovery

Alcoholism is not a choice. Recovery is. Alcoholics are not bad people or moral failures. They do not choose to become alcoholics, but they are responsible for their behaviors. While they do More »

Adult Role Plays

If you think you’ve escaped the role(s) you played growing up in your dysfunctional family, think again! Unless you’ve deliberately worked on escaping these unhealthy patterns, you are no doubt repeating them More »

Allowing Grief

Right now I’m sitting next to my 15-year-old cat, Willow, who is about to die. This is the worst part of having a pet—having to say goodbye. You, too, may know that More »

 

Do You Feel Like an Underdog?

Underdog

Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The Chicago Cubs.

These are a few of the underdogs many of us have rooted for. (OK, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you weren’t rooting for the Cubs, but millions of people were!) They are people who seem to have the deck stacked against them, but who persevere anyway.

Why do we love underdogs?  One idea is that we believe life should be fair, which leads us to favor the underdog. Underdogs are also perceived to work harder than their rivals. A team or entity that seems likely to lose is not, however, championed as an underdog if it has a lot of money or other resources. (retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/12/24/why-do-we-root-for-the-underdog/1699.html) That last statement might have thrown the Cubs’ underdog status in doubt, as they clearly had lots of resources at their disposal. Still, 108 years without a World Series win carried a lot of weight! [I will also say, as a side note, that it seems the statement excludes a certain presidential candidate from underdog status.]

I think another reason we root for the underdog is that we can readily identify with him or her. Of course, there are people who are used to success and expect to win, but many of us don’t. In fact, a person can easily feel like an underdog even when she isn’t one, just because she’s used to that mindset. I think experiences of being “one down,” particularly in childhood when we’re at our most impressionable, translate into a lifelong feeling of being an underdog. There is still a part of us that identifies with the powerless child we once were.

It’s no coincidence that characters like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are children fighting adults. This accentuates the seeming futility of their quests. Knowing how these stories go, we expect them to win in the end, but that doesn’t stop us from being afraid that they won’t. In cheering for them, we also cheer for ourselves and our own chances to triumph.

What are some of the challenges that you face? Do you believe that you can prevail, as you believe the novels’ protagonists (or the baseball team) can, or do you feel like you’re not good enough to rise to the challenge?

I’ve written before about Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. These ANTs tell you that you won’t come out on top. For instance, if you own a business, you question the worthiness of your product or service and wonder why anyone would want to pay you for it. If you aren’t self-employed, you feel “less than” other employees and assume someone else will always get the big project, promotion, etc.  If you’re on an online dating site, you figure that your profile will be overlooked by anyone worth dating.

The thing about ANTs is that they’re usually exaggerated or false; if there is some truth to them, there’s often something that can be done about it.

The next time you find yourself assuming you’re going to be the loser in a situation, step back and look again. Look at yourself as if you’re a friend who’s on the outside looking in. What are the chances that you’re right? Is there any truth at all to your belief? If there is, can you do something to improve your chances?

If you’re a business owner, look at your business history. Unless you’ve just started your business, I’ll assume you have succeeded in finding at least one customer or client, probably many of them. What was it that attracted them to you? Is that point of attraction still there? What can you do to make your product or service even more appealing? There’s nothing more empowering than finding specific actions that will help you to improve your chances of success.

If you’re worried that you won’t be assigned a big project or get a promotion at work, remind yourself of what has happened in the past. Have you been assigned projects or gotten promotions in the past? If so, did you rise to the challenge and do a good job? If you did, chances are good that you will continue to succeed and get noticed by your employer. Success breeds success, right? If, on the other hand, you haven’t been assigned big projects or gotten promotions (and there are projects and/or promotions to be had), or they haven’t gone well, look at what you can do to change that. Can you get more training? Can you speak up more on your own behalf? Can you take some initiative to show what you can do? If it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere in your current job, can you consider looking for another job?

And regarding online dating…as I tell my clients, there are lots of potential partners out there, and you only need to find one. What are the chances that there isn’t even one person with whom you are compatible? (Here come the ANTs again…take a moment to stomp on them. Look at this situation from the perspective of one of your friends. Would he or she say that there’s no one out there for you? Probably not!)

How will you rise to the challenge today (or maybe tomorrow)?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.

family-separated

In my last post, I wrote about the “committee” meeting inside a person’s head; the committee is composed of all of the critical voices that bring us down and make us question ourselves. The committee is at its most powerful when we don’t talk to other people about our negative thoughts. People who grew up in dysfunctional households typically have very strong committees. The committee thrives on the three main rules in a dysfunctional family, which are “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.”

First let’s look at “Don’t talk.” Members of a dysfunctional family don’t usually talk about anything important because it feels dangerous. If they talk about things below the surface, they might end up talking about Dad’s alcoholism or Mom’s verbal abuse. If they don’t talk about these things, they might be able to pretend they don’t exist.

Family members don’t talk to others about what’s going on, either, because it’s all a big secret. If it’s too dangerous to talk about things in the family, it’s even more dangerous to share them outside of the family. A dysfunctional family is very invested in making things look perfect on the outside, no matter what’s really going on. This brings us to the second rule.

The second rule that dysfunctional families follow is “Don’t trust.” Let’s say the father is an alcoholic. It’s likely that no one in the family trusts him because his behaviors are erratic, based upon whether he’s been drinking. He, in turn, doesn’t trust anyone else in the family, because they’re probably critical of his drinking, making him feel attacked.

Each member of the family feels some level of responsibility for what’s going wrong, which leads to a deep sense of shame. This shame contributes to the family’s isolation from the rest of the world. Who really wants to talk about something they’re ashamed of? It’s unfortunate that this leads to distrust of others, because people outside of the family can be helpful. They aren’t part of the family dysfunction, so they can offer a different perspective and resources that family members don’t have and probably can’t even imagine.

The third rule is “Don’t feel.” If you grow up in a dysfunctional family, you learn that your feelings usually don’t matter. Sure, you’re allowed to act happy, like nothing’s wrong. But it’s not likely that you’ll be encouraged to express feelings of sadness or fear. Expressing these things might seem to your parents to be indicators of what’s wrong in the family, and they can’t have that! Plus, they’re probably too wrapped up in their own worries to be concerned about yours. It’s also unlikely that you’ll be encouraged to express feelings of anger, particularly towards your parents. And don’t forget that sharing feelings can make you vulnerable to others; this is certainly not a comfortable thing in an environment where it feels like it’s every person for him- or herself.

What happens when you stop expressing your feelings? You lose track of them entirely! I start every session of my “Discovering ‘Normal’” counseling group with a feelings check. After a lifetime of ignoring feelings, it’s hard for group members to identify what they’re feeling, so I give them a chance to practice that in group. Remember that, as uncomfortable as so-called “negative”* feelings are, we need to feel them in order to be able to feel the “positive” feelings. It’s a package deal; you can’t feel one end of the spectrum without also feeling the other.

Did you learn these three rules in childhood? Are you still following them today? If so, what can you do to change that?

 

*I often tell my clients that there are no “positive” or “negative” feelings. There are only feelings that are more or less comfortable. All feelings are needed, even sadness and anger, and all feelings can be put to positive, as well as negative, uses. Think, for instance, of the women whose anger at losing their children to drunk drivers led them to form MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). They used the energy of their anger in a positive, life affirming, way.

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Your Mind Is a Dangerous Place

Committee signs

“Your mind is a dangerous place. Don’t go in there alone.”—author unknown

For several years I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment center in Crownsville, MD for women with addictions. Chrysalis House residents who spent significant amounts of time by themselves were regularly warned of the danger of “isolating.” Many of them had a problem with this, as they felt a need for time away from the other 20+ plus residents of the house. How were they to tell the difference between healthy solitude and “isolating?”

The difference, I think, lies in what is going on inside a person’s head when she’s alone. Twelve step groups speak of the “committee” meeting, meaning that a person’s unhealthy thoughts are getting the better of her. The committee causes isolation; solitude alone does not. Isolation, therefore, can happen even when a person is surrounded by other people.

What does the committee tell you? Nothing good! Here are some of the messages you may get from your committee:

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re going to fail.”

“Nobody likes you.”

“You’re unlovable.”

“You’re on your own.”

“You don’t have the right to exist.”

You’re not [thin, smart, rich…] enough.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

The committee plays a significant role in anxiety and depression. One reason that depression and anxiety tend to persist is that we use our minds to understand our world. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, your means of perceiving and interacting with the world is filtered through negative thoughts and feelings. This is the committee at work.

A great way to defy the committee is to get an outside perspective, possibly from a family member, a friend, a therapist, or a member of the clergy. He or she will be able to look at your situation more objectively and help you to see the flaws in your internal logic. If you are self-critical, talking to someone who cares about you will help to cut the committee down to size.

The committee uses a variety of techniques, often called cognitive distortions, to make you feel inadequate or just plain wrong. These cognitive distortions can also be called Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. There are different types of ANTs, including mind reading; fortune telling/catastrophizing; a negative mental filter; maximizing and minimizing; and all or nothing/black and white thinking. For more information on ANTs and how to “stomp” on them, sign up for my free “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” e-course by filling out the form on this page.

Are You For Real?

A Little Girl  In  Women's  High Heel  Shoes

Some of my clients feel like impostors who will be found out at any moment. They feel like they aren’t really as good as other people think they are, and it’s only a matter of time until the illusion is shattered and their lives fall apart. These people are highly competent and are by no means coasting and pretending to be someone they’re not. So why would they feel this way?

The answer comes from childhood. If a child deals with certain kinds of family dysfunction, she is forced to grow up prematurely. Possible sources of this dysfunction include parental alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic mental or physical illness, or narcissism. Having a parent who is absent physically or emotionally can create this dynamic, as well. Having a chronically physically or mentally ill sibling can produce similar results.

So if you’re a kid in a family like this, you realize you’re on your own. Your physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter may be met, but your emotional needs will not. It’s more likely that you’ll find yourself trying to meet a parent’s emotional needs, which is an impossible task.

What does this lead to? It usually leads to a kid who is very mature for her age. She is like an adult in a child’s body. As she grows up, she will probably be seen as someone who has it all together. She will be really good at taking care of problems and of other people; taking care of herself, on the other hand, will feel selfish. And heaven forbid that someone else try to take care of her!

This child grows up physically and takes on more responsibility in the world, but she’s still emotionally a child. Instead of being an adult in a child’s body, she becomes a child in an adult’s body. This is the reason for her feeling like an impostor. While she looks and acts like an adult, she feels like a little kid pretending to be an adult.

If you’re one of these people, the good news is that you’re not actually an impostor. While you are not grown up emotionally, the rest of you is grown up. You actually can do the things that others think you can. What you need to do is to reassure the part of you that is a child (your “inner child”) that you, the adult, are in charge, and she doesn’t need to worry about anything.

It may seem weird to think about a child inside of you, but everyone has an inner child. Treat this inner child like you would an actual physical child. You wouldn’t expect a child to take on adult responsibilities, would you? I hope not! That’s what happened to you when you were growing up, and it wasn’t good for you. You can treat your inner child the way you should have been treated when you were a kid, by making sure she is only responsible for what is reasonable for her. Your adult self can handle the rest.

There are many good books that can teach you more about inner child work, including John Bradshaw’s Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, Charles L. Whitfield, MD’s Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, and Cathryn L. Taylor’s The Inner Child Workbook: What to Do With Your Past When It Just Won’t Go AwayMy book “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself also includes inner child work.

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Choosing Recovery

The hand rejects alcohol

Alcoholism is not a choice. Recovery is.

Alcoholics are not bad people or moral failures. They do not choose to become alcoholics, but they are responsible for their behaviors. While they do deserve empathy and compassion, it is up to them to choose abstinence and, ideally, to seek recovery.

I usually write about the effects of growing up in an alcoholic family; I don’t generally write about the alcoholic’s own struggles. The two are actually very similar. An alcoholic is almost always the product of an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family. Those who become alcoholics try to cope with the stresses of their upbringing by drinking. Ironically, an alcoholic drinks to gain some control over her life, only to lose that control to alcohol.

When I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment program for alcoholic and/or drug addicted women, one of the first things a resident did as part of her therapy was to write a goodbye letter to drugs and alcohol. The letters were written as if to abusive boyfriends.

This is quite accurate. Alcohol and other drugs do become an alcoholic or addict’s primary relationship, shutting out sober friends and loved ones. Like relationships with abusive boyfriends, the relationships with alcohol and drugs start out well, but gradually deteriorate into abuse. At that point it becomes very difficult for the abused person to leave because the abuser has such a strong hold on her.

It is difficult to choose sobriety. It is hard to give up that “friend,” that coping mechanism. It’s hard to overcome the habit of drinking. But it can be done, and only the alcoholic can make the choice to do it.

If you suspect you may be an alcoholic, you have a choice of recovery possibilities. Some people just stop drinking and never drink again, although this is often ineffective, in part because it doesn’t address issues that underlie the alcoholism.

A popular choice is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a 12-step program that helps people to become and remain sober. AA meetings can be found anywhere, and at pretty much any time, so it’s not hard to take advantage of this option. For more information on AA and a list of meetings in your area, visit www.AA.org. For those who object to the spiritual aspects of AA, there are other programs such as SMART recovery (www.smartrecovery.org).

Some people may seek individual or group counseling, either as an adjunct to a recovery fellowship or on their own. Both kinds of counseling can help you to identify underlying issues and triggers for drinking. There are advantages to each. With individual counseling, the entire session is focused on you and your particular issues. The advantage to group therapy is that you will be validated by a group of people who have similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences to yours.

If AA and/or individual or group counseling are not enough to help you to keep sober, there are more intensive types of therapies you might explore. One is intensive outpatient treatment (IOP). In an IOP, you attend group sessions several times a week, each session lasting at least a couple of hours, either during the day or in the evening. IOP, as with the group therapy I already mentioned, can help you to see that you’re not alone in your struggles. IOP also offers education about alcoholism and addiction.

The most intensive therapy for alcoholism is inpatient treatment, which involves spending a couple of weeks to a month or more in a residential treatment setting. This, of course, requires time off from work and other daily activities. It can be extremely helpful, though, because the longer you are away from alcohol, the better it is for your recovery. During inpatient treatment, you attend groups (educational and therapeutic), AA meetings, and individual counseling. Depending upon the program, you might also receive acupuncture and/or other adjunctive treatments.

If you are an alcoholic, try not to judge yourself too harshly. Remember that you are a person with a problem, not a person who is a problem. You did not choose to become an alcoholic, but you need to take responsibility for yourself and your actions and choose sobriety.

Why not make that choice today?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist and drug and alcohol counselor in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Role Plays

Angry Woman Yelling At Husband

If you think you’ve escaped the role(s) you played growing up in your dysfunctional family, think again! Unless you’ve deliberately worked on escaping these unhealthy patterns, you are no doubt repeating them in adulthood or even taking on new ones.

A quick review from my last post: the roles in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family are the chief enabler (generally a spouse), the family hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. If you haven’t read that post, you may want to look at it so you know what these roles entail.

Many adult children of alcoholics unintentionally marry alcoholics themselves. They unconsciously see something familiar in their prospective partners. They tend not to notice red flags early in the relationship that indicate that they are involved with someone who is probably an alcoholic. They may eventually find themselves falling into the role their mother or father once played, that of the chief enabler. If you’re in this role, you may make excuses for your partner’s drinking, try to control his/her drinking, do your best to make the family look functional to the outside world, and feel resentful about everything you do because of your partner’s problem.

If, while growing up, you were the family hero, you have probably carried perfectionism and high achievement into adulthood. This gets you praise, promotions, and other kudos, but you probably still feel inadequate. It’s likely you think that if people only knew the real you, they wouldn’t admire and like you so much.

If you were the scapegoat, you may have internalized the idea that you were bad and that you were responsible for everything that went wrong. If you continue that role as an adult, you will still identify yourself as a problem. This may show up in different ways; you might be an alcoholic or drug addict, or you may even get in trouble with the law. But being a scapegoat doesn’t have to be this extreme. You may, for instance, marry someone who constantly criticizes you, triggering those familiar feelings from when you were growing up. You may also attract critical attention at work or elsewhere. This serves to reinforce the negative image you already have of yourself.

If you were the lost child, you probably continue to try to be invisible even as an adult. At work, you may not speak up even when you have good ideas. You may marry someone who is domineering, with you disappearing in his shadow. You probably go along to get along, agreeing with friends, family members, and coworkers in order to avoid making waves. You do your best to maintain peace.

If you were the mascot, you may be very outgoing, someone who is well-liked by many because of your charms. You love being the center of attention and make an excellent party host or hostess. You’re happy to share ideas at work and in personal situations, because you are confident that they will be well-received. You are not likely to be willing to acknowledge the bad or difficult aspects of life.

Which of these roles have you played in adulthood? Are they the same or different than the ones you played growing up? What do you like about your role(s), and what would you like to change?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Role Plays

Father Sits On Sofa With Children Smoking And Drinking

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family such as the ones I described in my last post, you fit one or more of the roles that are characteristic of these families. What role(s) did you play?

The first role, the chief enabler, was probably filled by one of your parents. If, say, your father was an alcoholic, it is likely that your mother covered up for him (calling his job, for instance, and saying he was sick when he was actually hung over). She did her best to make sure everything in the family appeared normal and happy to those outside the family. She also probably nagged your father repeatedly, trying to get him to give up drinking; no doubt she complained to him and to everyone else in the family about what she had to put up with.

Kids in dysfunctional families take on one or more of the other roles: the family hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. The same child may take on more than one role depending upon the situation. Each of these roles distracts from the family dysfunction in some way.

The family hero is the family success story. She is a high achiever who does her best to make her parents proud of her. It’s likely that she not only gets good grades, but also participates in multiple extra-curricular activities. While she gains the admiration of many outside the family, she will feel like she can never be good enough for her parents.

The scapegoat is the child who gets in trouble the most, often for being disrespectful, not doing well in school, possibly skipping school and/or drinking and using drugs. This is the child who seems to be the problem in the family; she is the one whose parents may take her to therapy, asking that the therapist fix her, when the real problem is the whole family system. She will, understandably, probably feel like a disappointment to the family.

The lost child is the one who tries to blend into the woodwork. She does everything she can not to rock the boat. While she craves positive attention, she is afraid of negative attention, so she tries to stay out of the way and be as invisible as possible. The lost child can seem a bit like the family hero if being successful is the best way to avoid unwanted attention from her parents. She may feel like she’s not worthy of existence and doesn’t deserve to take up space.

The mascot is usually the youngest child, often fitting the stereotype of the baby of the family. She tries to take attention away from the family’s dysfunction by being happy and fun, generally trying to make it look as if everything is OK. Later, if her siblings talk about the things that happened to them while they were growing up, she may deny that these things happened; she may even believe that they didn’t.

Which of these roles did you and your siblings take on? How did that affect you as you were growing up? And, just as importantly, how does that affect you now?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Early Losses

Little Girl On Swing

The losses I mentioned in my last post are, of course, not the only ones. For instance, what about the loss of things or people you never actually had? Do you consciously feel a sense of loss in those cases, or maybe just a vague sense that something is not right, or do you never even think about the fact that your “normal” is not that of most people?

I’m thinking particularly of the loss of a parent’s love and attention. Some children, for instance, have parents die before they’re born, or early enough in their lives that they don’t remember them.

Death isn’t the only way to lose a parent, though. I mentioned divorce in my previous post, in the sense of losing a spouse. But divorce also affects children. If divorced parents don’t share custody of their children, one parent may essentially be lost, even if he has not died. At times one parent will desert the family and rarely, if ever, be heard from again.

These are pretty obvious losses; one or both parents is/are physically absent. What happens, though, when a parent is physically, but not emotionally, present? Some possible reasons for this are chronic mental or physical illness, alcoholism or some other addiction, and frequent absences from home (traveling for business or working late, for instance).

Let’s look at chronic mental or physical illness first. Actor Alan Alda said, “I was a child, and my mother was psychotic. She loved me, but I didn’t really feel I had a mother. And when you live with somebody who is paranoid and thinks you’re trying to kill them all the time, you tend to feel a little betrayed.” He had a mother who was physically present in his life, but she was unable to give him the positive attention he deserved. In this case, the adult, rather than the child, became the focus of attention in the family.

Your parent doesn’t have to be psychotic for this to apply, though. Many times I’ve had a client talk to me about having a mother who was so depressed that she didn’t leave her bedroom for days on end; she didn’t take care of the kids or the house, so it became their job to do so. This can also happen with a parent whose chronic physical illness renders her unable to care for her kids the way they need her to do.

And then there’s the alcoholic parent. What do you do when your father is as likely to be drunk as not, and your mother focuses all of her attention on trying to fix him? What is left for the children? Not much. What they get, instead, is unpredictability and emotional and/or physical danger.

It’s possible for none of these things to be true, but for a child to nevertheless not have her needs met. There are parents who are too self-absorbed or too busy to parent their children. Or they may suffer from anxiety or a type of low-grade depression called dysthymia. In this case, it’s not as apparent that something is wrong. The parents are not obviously mentally or physically ill, but still they are unable, or unwilling, to give their children positive attention.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios? If so, you may want to read books on the subject and/or seek counseling to work through the issues that have resulted from your loss(es).

There are many books that may help you to better understand yourself and overcome the effects of your childhood. One is my book, Me Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself. Many other helpful books can be found in the “Resources” section at the end of the book.

If this post did resonate with you, what will you do to help yourself overcome the effects your childhood has had upon you?

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Allowing Grief

Depressed woman

Right now I’m sitting next to my 15-year-old cat, Willow, who is about to die. This is the worst part of having a pet—having to say goodbye.

You, too, may know that losing a cat or a dog means losing a beloved family member. Even if that’s not true for you, though, it’s likely that you’ve lost at least one person who was important to you. This doesn’t have to be through death. For instance, if another person who has been a regular part of your daily life moves away, it is still a loss. If you get divorced or separated, it is a loss. If your child goes away to college, it’s a loss.

At first people will probably be sympathetic, but after a while, they’ll get on with their lives. At times like this, you may feel separated from the rest of the world. Everyone else’s life has gone back to normal. How can they be so happy when you’re not?

I have had many clients ask how long it’s appropriate to grieve. There’s no easy answer to this. Grief often lasts longer than your family and friends think it should. They may ask you when you’re going to get over it. That doesn’t help—grief is not something you can just decide to get over. It can be hard to know when it’s time to let go. Allowing yourself to feel all of your feelings is one thing; getting stuck in them, unable to return to normal functioning, is another.

You will never fully get over your loss. Life will never be the same as it was before. But there are things you can do to help yourself in the grief process. In the case of a loss through death, of course, there is generally some sort of memorial service that will help you to begin to process your feelings. But other losses need to be processed in some way, as well.

You might write a letter to a person who has left. You may or may not decide to send it to that person; it can be easier to be completely honest about your feelings if you don’t send it. Journaling your feelings can be a great way to work through them. You might remind yourself of significant times you shared with the one who is gone. Even without a funeral service, you may decide to have some sort of ceremony or gathering to mark the change that has happened.

Whatever others say, don’t be afraid to take the time you need to deal with your loss. If you feel stuck in your grief, though, consider the possibility of some counseling. It can help you return to your life, even without things going back to the way they were before.

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Catching Snowflakes

Happy beautiful woman playing outdoor, trying to catch snowflake

My eight-year-old daughter, April, and I have somewhat different opinions of snow. She, of course, loves it. She loves stomping in it; she loves making snowmen, snowballs, and snow angels; she loves sledding; and she loves catching snowflakes on her tongue. And what’s not to love about a day off from school?

I don’t hate snow, but it doesn’t have quite the same charm it did when I was a kid. Yes, all of the things I mentioned are fun, and snow is beautiful. But it also has to be shoveled, cleared off of cars, and driven through. It turns to ice and it gets dirty very quickly.

What would happen if I tried to see snow as I once did, as April does now? Or what if I tried to experience it as if I had never encountered it before? This is what is called beginner’s mind—approaching something familiar as if it were completely new to you.

The exercise I mentioned in my last post in which you mindfully eat a raisin, exploring it with all of your senses, can be an example of the use of beginner’s mind. If you do that exercise, it is likely that you will experience a raisin as if you had never seen, felt, smelled, or tasted anything quite like it before.

So what’s useful about beginner’s mind? It can clear away your assumptions about an object, experience, or person and allow you to get a fresh perspective.

Beginner’s mind is useful in resolving relationship conflicts. When we know someone well, we have a history with that person. We make assumptions about what he is thinking, feeling, or doing based upon our previous experiences with him (or others like him).

What happens if that person is trying to change? It’s likely that you won’t notice the changes he’s making; you will continue to see and hear what you expect.

The next time you find yourself having that same old argument you always have with someone close to you, try approaching the situation with a beginner’s mind. Pretend that you have never met this person before. Try to take his words and actions at face value. Don’t bring your mutual history into your assessment.

See what you can learn from doing this; do you find that you have more compassion for him than you did before? Are you better able to understand where he’s coming from? Do your resentment and anger towards him decrease?

I invite you to try to use beginner’s mind to re-experience the world and your relationships. And maybe I’ll catch some flakes on my tongue the next time it snows!

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Be Mindful!

Enjoy The Moment sign with clouds and sky background

When was the last time that you ate a meal without doing something else at the same time? Can you remember a time when you drove somewhere familiar and were actually aware of where you were at all times? Have you ever been completely focused on your work while doing a household chore?

Most of us spend a lot of time focusing on the past or the future; we are rarely fully focused on the present moment, which is the basis of the practice called mindfulness.

When you are practicing mindfulness, you are not thinking of something that happened in the past or anticipating something that might happen in the future. You are completely aware of the present moment. You are observing, but you are not judging.

A basic exercise in mindfulness is to mindfully experience a raisin, engaging all of your senses as you do so. Click here for a demonstration of this.

The key to mindfulness as I use it with my clients is to observe without judgment. If you were my client, I would encourage you to develop an observing ego (self) that essentially “steps back” from the rest of your mind and just notices what is going on. This observing ego notices your thoughts, but does not label them as good or bad. It does not label you as good or bad, either.

This is related to what I spoke of in my post on meditation. While meditating, you don’t judge a thought that comes up, nor do you judge yourself for having the thought; you just notice it. Then you let it go.

You can do a similar thing with feelings. There may be times when you experience overwhelming, powerful emotions. It’s easy to be overcome by those feelings and to identify with them completely; they become your reality and you cannot imagine not feeling them.

This is where the observing ego comes in. This part of your mind steps back and notices the emotion without judgment. It knows that the emotion is neither good nor bad and that it’s not permanent; feelings, like ocean tides, ebb and flow.

Imagine yourself on a beach, experiencing the waves. Can you stop them from coming? No. Can you hold on to them and keep them from receding? No again. This is how feelings are. They come and they go. They will always come, but they will always go again. You will never be permanently stuck in a feeling, no matter how it might seem.

What do you think would happen if you ate an entire meal mindfully, or did a chore mindfully? And, more importantly, at least from a therapist’s point of view, what would happen if you experienced your thoughts and feelings mindfully?

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

Tag With Relax

Most of us often feel like we have too much to do and not enough time to do it, but this time of year can be particularly bad. If you want to relieve some of that stress, it’s the perfect time to practice meditation!

“Wait a second,” I can hear you saying, “How am I supposed to add more to my schedule when I’m already too busy? And how is that supposed to make me feel better?”

First of all, forget the stereotypical picture of someone sitting in lotus position for an hour, keeping her mind completely blank. This is not what meditation is for most of us.

You can meditate using any amount of time that you have. In fact, it makes sense to start for a maximum of five minutes while you’re getting used to it. You can gradually work up to a longer amount of time, but there’s no “right” length for a meditation session.

There are many kinds of meditation, but one of the easiest is a breathing meditation. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, preferably somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. It often helps to turn off the lights. Close your eyes or look at a neutral spot ahead of you.

Take deep, slow breaths, inhaling to the count of five, pausing, then exhaling to the count of five. You can either continue counting or just say “in” during your inhale and “out” during your exhale. Don’t expect to be able to keep your mind completely blank; thoughts will pop up. When you do have a thought, just notice it and let it go, like a cloud floating across the sky; then return to your breath.

Continue this for whatever period of time works for you. The more you do it, the more relaxed you are likely to feel, not only while meditating, but during the rest of your day, as well. At times when you feel stress coming on but you can’t meditate, just take some deep, slow breaths. This will help restore you to calm.

No matter how daunting meditation seems to you, it is a doable practice. You don’t have to be a Zen master to benefit from it. Why not give it a try?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

When Facebook Isn’t Your Friend

I have several clients who are considering deleting their Facebook accounts. Shocking, isn’t it?

You know the benefits of Facebook. You can reconnect with friends from the past. (For instance, how many of you, like me, are now connected to people you hadn’t heard from since high school?) You can also keep up with the goings-on of people who are closer to you. And don’t forget all of those cute pictures of children and pets!

If you want to be outraged, there’s usually at least one link to an article about something really bad someone did to someone else. There are article links you may find funny or helpful, as well. There are posts that make statements you agree with, and ones you don’t (which you can critique, of course). There are as many quizzes as you have time for (“Which ‘Big Bang Theory’ character are you?” “What color best represents you?” etc.)

So what’s not to love? One thing is the amount of potentially productive time that is swallowed up by Facebook. You know you’ve done it—spent time on Facebook when you could have been doing something that actually needed to be done, or even something that you wanted to do. Sometimes, if you’re like some of my clients, part of that time is spent “cyber-stalking” old boyfriends or girlfriends, even though the “stalker” knows it’s best to just move on. It’s so tempting, though, and so easy to do…

The main complaint that I have heard from clients, though, is that Facebook doesn’t represent reality. People post their triumphs, their happy photos, and their “Aren’t I silly?” moments. They post things they’re doing that no one would have asked about. Sometimes they post updates about their health or that of their loved ones.

But where are the posts about their failures? How many people have you seen admitting to having wronged someone? How many people say, “I have a drinking problem and I’m afraid I can’t stop” or “I treat my spouse and children badly on a daily basis” or “I’m lost and don’t know what to do with my life”?

We know that Facebook generally isn’t the place for really deep self-revelation. For someone with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or a history of trauma, though, reading Facebook posts can make it seem as though she’s the only one who doesn’t have it all together. Everyone else leads a successful, happy life; she’s the only one who doesn’t get it. What is she doing wrong? Where’s the missing rulebook for life? These thoughts can make a lonely person even lonelier, or a person who feels broken feel even more so.

I’m not saying that you should abandon Facebook, but take some time to think about it and what it represents. Remember that if you base your opinion of others’ lives on their Facebook posts, you will get a very distorted picture. And, as always, remember not to compare your insides to someone else’s outside!

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

What’s Your Superpower?

My daughter loves the PBS show “Wild Kratts,” in which the Kratt brothers explore the amazing powers of various creatures in the wild. Often, the brothers point out that humans have so far been unable to replicate those powers. One example is the gecko’s ability to walk on walls and ceilings. (I won’t attempt an explanation of that ability here!)

Does this make you envious of geckos? It is a pretty cool ability, and it might be useful at times, but would it be worth trading all of our uniquely human abilities to get it? Of course not.

You may not envy geckos, but I’ll bet you’ve envied another person at some point in your life. You might be surprised at what or whom they envy, though—it might be you! As they say in 12-step programs, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside.” In other words, other people, even if they seem self-confident, may have more insecurities than you think.

For instance, consider Suzanne, who was at her daughter’s dance class. She noticed, as she had in the past, a couple of the other mothers who were considerably thinner than she was; she found herself envying them for this. This was put into perspective, though, when their conversation made it obvious that they felt self-conscious about their bodies compared to certain other women they’d seen recently.

I sometimes see other people and wish I had some quality of theirs—physical appearance, athletic ability, cooking or craft-making skills, etc. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to trade all of who I am for whatever that quality might be. Would I want to give up the job and the family that I love so that I could be that person? Would I want to give up my unique strengths and abilities? No, I wouldn’t.

Take some time to think about the qualities you wish you had. Then take some more time and think about all of the positive qualities and abilities that you already have. You may discover that you have superpowers after all!

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

What’s Your Role?

The child hides under a bed. Violence in a family.

Aaron got straight A’s in school and was a star athlete in three different sports. Lots of people at his school, both students and teachers, admired him. His parents were never satisfied, though, so Aaron decided that the things he was good at just weren’t enough.

Joe frequently acted out in class and talked back to his teachers, so he often got in trouble. Every time he had to stay after school for detention he had to walk the three miles home, no matter what the weather, as an extra punishment from his father.

Maryann was the youngest child in her family. She was often the focus of attention, and was frequently babied. She was considered the cute one, the one that everybody liked. All of this supposedly positive attention, though, only made her feel helpless and incompetent; it seemed that she was the only person who didn’t know what she was doing . She felt like she couldn’t take care of herself.

Amanda was afraid of her mother; she never knew, from one moment to the next, what mood her mother would be in. She might be kind and funny, or she might yell at Amanda or hit her, seemingly for no reason. Amanda learned to tiptoe around the house, avoiding her mother whenever possible.

Aaron, Joe, Maryann, and Amanda were acting out roles that can be found in alcoholic and otherwise dysfunctional families. Aaron was the family hero, the overachiever who nevertheless failed to get his parents’ approval. Joe was the scapegoat, the one who acted out and was blamed for all of the family’s problems. Maryann was the mascot, the one who tried to distract people from what was wrong in the family. Amanda was the lost child, who was basically invisible, even though she craved (positive) attention.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions? If so, think about your family. Was someone in the family an alcoholic or addict (including workaholics, gambling addicts, shopping addicts, etc., not just drug addicts), or did someone suffer from a chronic physical or mental illness? If so, it makes sense that you took on one or more of these roles.

The question is, how are you continuing to act out your traditional role(s) today? Are you a perfectionist who never feels like your work is good enough (the family hero)? Do you have a problem with alcohol and/or drugs, or are you constantly in trouble at work, at home, or even with the law (the scapegoat)? Are you the person who acts as if everything is good and happy, and that nothing bad happened in your childhood (the mascot)? Do you find it hard to speak up for yourself and do you, as much as possible, blend into the woodwork (the lost child)?

Growing up physically does not necessarily mean growing up emotionally. We tend to repeat patterns in adulthood that we learned in childhood. What patterns do you have that you might want to unlearn? What can you do to express your true self, independent of the role(s) you were put into while growing up?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

What’s Wrong With You?

Woman looking through dirty broken glass

Probably a lot less than you think!

If you grew up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family, there’s a good chance you grew up feeling like you were just plain wrong or unfixably broken.

In your early childhood, when you still believed the world revolved around you, you learned to feel responsible for everything that went on in your family. At that age, you were entirely dependent upon your parents, so you couldn’t risk thinking there was something wrong with them. Instead, you decided there must be something wrong with you. Why else wouldn’t (or couldn’t) they meet your needs, including your need to be seen, loved, and nurtured?

Many people, rather than learning as they grow up that they are not really failures, continue to listen, without realizing it, to that hurt, self-defeating child inside.

This generally leads to a continued negative self-image; you notice your faults, but not your positive qualities. You make a big deal about the times you mess up, but barely notice the times you do something right. Even though you don’t really want to feel this way, it’s comfortable, because it’s what you’re used to.

You can change these negative thinking patterns, although it will take time. I’ve created a free 5-part e-course called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Five Simple Ways to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life” that will help you recognize and change your negative self-talk. You can sign up for it here.

It is actually possible to rewire your brain so you can think differently about yourself. Give it a try—what have you got to lose?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Thoughts to Destiny

Woman looking out a window

 

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

–Frank Outlaw, Late President of the Bi-Lo Stores

 

 

Wow…start with your thoughts and end up with your destiny!

This may seem unlikely at first, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I believe that positive thoughts tend to bring positive life circumstances, and negative thoughts tend to bring negative ones.

You’ve probably, at some point in your life, known someone who was like Eeyore: always gloomy and expecting the worst. What do you think it was like for that person? Did he or she have hopes and dreams? Were they realized?

You’ve probably also known someone who always seemed to have a positive attitude, always believing that things would turn out well.  How did things go for that person? Was his or her positive outlook rewarded by an overall happy and/or successful life?

Now think of yourself. Chances are that you’re neither of the extremes I described above.  You’re probably not negative all of the time, but you probably don’t always see the bright side of things, either. What are the situations in which you tend to be optimistic? What are the ones that bring out your inner Eeyore?

Take a week or so to track your thoughts and feelings in different situations. Keep a log of times that you notice you’re happy and optimistic, and times you’re not. At the end of the week, look over your log. What patterns do you see? Are there particular times of day when it seems easier or harder for you to feel good about your present and your future? What situations bring out the optimist or the pessimist in you?

Once you’ve found these patterns, be alert for them. When you’re feeling optimistic, do what you can to amplify and encourage your positive thoughts and feelings. When you’re feeling pessimistic, do the opposite: notice your negative thoughts and find positive challenges to them. Do what you can to turn your negatives into positives. The more you practice this, the easier it will be.

How will you change your destiny for the better?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Don't Believe Everything You Think

Have you ever stopped to notice that not everything you think is correct? That’s a thought that doesn’t often come to us, because our brains are the only interpreters we have of what’s going on in the world. Of course we believe what we think!

Automatic Negative Thoughts (abbreviated ANTs) are  particularly destructive thoughts that need to be noticed and disbelieved. Let’s look at five types of ANTs: mind reading, fortune telling/ catastrophizing, negative mental filter, maximizing/ minimizing, and black and white/all or nothing thinking. I’ll use examples of potential ANTs I might encounter regarding my book, “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself.

Let’s look at mind reading first. Mind reading is something many of us learn early in life, often as a defense mechanism; we try to guess what other people are thinking. We can become convinced that we know what they’re thinking, not considering the possibility that our guesses might be wrong.

How might the mind reading ANT mess with my head regarding my book? Authors can be very insecure about the reception their books will receive. If I engage in mind reading in this situation, the ANT might say, “You know that people don’t like your book, don’t you? When they read it, they realize that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. The only people who are saying positive things about it are people who want to make you feel good.”

That brings us to the next ANT: fortune telling or catastrophizing. This ANT tells you that you know what’s going to happen in the future and that it’s going to be bad. In the case of my book, this ANT might say, “This book is going to be disastrous for your career. Not only will you not sell many books, but prospective clients who read it will decide not to work with you because they’ll think you’re incompetent.”

The third ANT is a negative mental filter. This will filter out all of the positives in the situation and only look at the negatives. For example, my book is available for sale on Amazon.com, and has been reviewed there. All except one of those reviews have been very positive, but if I use a negative mental filter, I will not notice all of the positive reviews; I will only look at the single critical review I received. The ANT will whisper in my ear, “Look at that negative review! That person didn’t enjoy your book or find it particularly useful. I told you that you never should have written it!”

ANT number four is maximizing/minimizing. Similar to the negative mental filter, this ANT will make any negatives seem huge and any positives seem very small. This ANT might whisper, “Ignore those people who said positive things about how much your book has helped them. I’m sure it wasn’t really that helpful. Think of all of the people who read your book but didn’t review it; I’ll bet they didn’t get anything good out of it at all, but they were too nice to say anything. Those people are the majority of the people who read your book, not the positive ones.”

Black and white, all or nothing thinking is the fifth ANT I will talk about here. This ANT sees things only one way. Things are either all good or all bad; there is no gray area. This ANT might whisper, “Writing that book was a total waste of time. Think of all of the hours you spent writing and revising it. There are a lot more useful things you could have done with that time. A book is only worth writing if it sells hundreds of thousands of copies, and there’s no way that’s going to happen with your book.”

You’ve probably fallen victim to each of these ANTs at one time or another. The important thing is to start to notice the ANTs whispering in your ear and to find positive responses to challenge the negative thoughts. The more you do this, the easier it will be, and the more likely that the positive thoughts will be the first ones that come to mind.

I have created a five-part e-course called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Five Simple Ways to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life.” You can sign up for that e-course at www.BeallPastoralCounseling.com. You can find out more about my book and order it by visiting www.FindYourMeTime.com. And by the way, those ANTs are lying; the book really is an invaluable resource that you will enjoy reading!

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Optimize Your Life

Woman with apples

Because I have professional websites and a blog, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is important to me. But I have to remember that lifestyle optimization is just as important. Have you optimized your lifestyle?

I don’t know about you, but work takes up a lot of my life and my attention. That’s to be expected, because I’m self-employed and I love what I do. I enjoy sessions with clients, writing, and working on my online presence. But they’re not the only aspects of my life, and not the most important.

You may have heard people point out that, at the end of your life, you’re unlikely to say, “I wish I’d worked more.” Instead, you might look over your life and realize that you’d rather have spent time with family and doing other things that you enjoy.

It’s tricky, though, to balance attention paid to work, to your family and to yourself. You are not just your work role, but you are also not just a parent, sibling, or child.

How do you know how much time and attention to give to your job, your spouse/partner, your kids, your siblings, or your parents? How do you know how much time and attention to give yourself and your own needs? And what can you do to make that time as high quality as you can?

Can you work more efficiently and/or delegate tasks that you’re currently doing at your job (and this includes the work of being a stay-at-home mom or dad) so that you can spend less time working and stress about it less? Can you ask others in the family to do chores that you’re used to doing, and possibly de-prioritize some of the tasks that aren’t as important? Can you set boundaries with relatives, friends, or coworkers who demand an inordinate amount of time and attention from you?

Make an effort to spend as much enjoyable time with your family as you can. Family life shouldn’t be all about chores; fun and relaxation are just as important.

Don’t forget to include time just for you. Yes, it may seem overwhelming to try to find time for yourself on top of all of the other things that you’re doing, but it will benefit both you and the others in your life if you’re more relaxed and energized.

What’s the first step in your lifestyle optimization?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

Believing Is Seeing

Believing Is Seeing

Yes, you read that right: believing is seeing. If you believe something is possible, if you can picture it as being a “done deal,” it is much more likely that you will be able to achieve it.

For instance, a woman reviewing an exercise DVD on Amazon.com said that, thanks to working out with the DVD, she was “rocking size 6 skinny jeans.” Imagine you were considering buying that DVD, and your goal was to get down to a size 6. You know that this other person succeeded, so theoretically you can, too.

Can you picture yourself going into a store, picking out a pair of size 6 skinny jeans, trying them on, and looking fabulous in them? If you can picture that, don’t you think you’ll be more motivated to work out? After all, you’re more likely to go through all of the pain of the workouts if you’re reasonably confident that you’ll get the results you want.

You can do this with anything. If you want a new house, picture it in as much detail as you can, then imagine yourself going through your day-to-day activities in the house. If you want a new job, visualize the new place of work and picture yourself there, doing the new job. If you want more money, imagine yourself spending all of that money.

It also helps to be grateful for what you have. Maybe you don’t weigh what you’d like to, maybe you don’t love your job, maybe you’re having trouble paying the bills. You have to start where you are and work from there. Take the time to notice the things you appreciate about your current body, job, or financial situation; appreciation for the present can lead to even better things in the future.

What dreams can you make real?

Leave Me Alone!

Loki and Willow 2

We have a new kitten, named Loki, in our house. He has been a source of laughter, delight, and fun for our family. Everyone in the household loves him, with one exception: our older cat, Willow, who hisses, growls, and swats at him when he gets too close to her.

Being a kitten, Loki doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone. Despite Willow’s very clear “Leave me alone!” messages, Loki continues to chase her and pounce on her, wanting to play.

You may know people who are like Loki, who can’t take a hint that you want them to leave you alone. For instance, someone who is romantically interested in you may persistently pursue you even though you’ve tried to make it quite clear that you’re not interested in him.  What can you do to get him to stop bothering you?

Lana found herself in this situation.  One of her coworkers, Colin, wanted her to go on a date with him, but she wasn’t attracted to him. She thought he was a nice guy, though, and she didn’t really want to hurt his feelings.

At first she tried telling him white lies, like “I’m busy on Saturday.” That didn’t work, because then he just asked her about other days. Then she told him she didn’t believe in dating coworkers, which led to him giving her a list of reasons why it wasn’t a problem. When she told him she’d just gotten out of a serious relationship and wasn’t ready for a new one, he waited a couple of weeks and then started to pursue her again.

Lana finally realized that making up fake excuses wouldn’t work, because Colin would always come up with counterarguments. Much as she didn’t want to hurt Colin, it seemed she’d gotten to the point where she had no other choice but to tell him the truth. So the next time he asked her out she told him that she just wasn’t attracted to him and that the reasons she’d given before were just excuses.

This didn’t stop Colin either. He figured that she just didn’t know him well enough yet and that she could become attracted to him in time.  Every time he approached her, though, she repeated that she wasn’t interested in him romantically and never would be.

Unlike Loki with Willow, Colin did finally get Lana’s message, and they eventually went back to being just friendly coworkers again.

Is there anyone in your life like Loki? Have you been telling white lies to get that person to leave you alone? Is it time to come out and be honest with that person? If so, how will you do it? What will you say?

Remember that in the long run honesty is better for both of you; don’t feel guilty because you don’t share the other person’s feelings or point of view. It is your right to feel the way you feel, just as it is the other person’s right to feel the way he or she feels. You are not obligated to change your actions to fit someone else’s feelings.

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

What’s Your Secret?

Family in front of home

“I believe that mothers should tell the truth, even – no, especially – when the truth is difficult. It’s always easier, and in the short term can even feel right, to pretend everything is okay, and to encourage your children to do the same. But concealment leads to shame, and of all hurts shame is the most painful.”

–Ayelet Waldman

Clarissa had the perfect family. Her parents had good jobs, she and her brother did well in school and participated in extracurricular activities, and they were all active in their church. It seemed that they always got along with each other, too.

Does this sound too good to be true? It was. Clarissa’s family had a big secret: her father, Jim, was a “functioning alcoholic.” He never missed a day of work because of his drinking, and he did his job well. He mostly drank at home so people wouldn’t know about it.

No one in the family talked about Jim’s drinking, even among themselves. Clarissa’s mother, Judy, did everything she could to avoid the subject. She got rid of Jim’s empty bottles. She put him into bed if he passed out from drinking. She came up with reasons to avoid social engagements so that he wouldn’t drink too much and embarrass the family.

Clarissa and her brother, Joey, went along with this. They didn’t talk about Jim’s drinking, either, especially to people outside the family. They just quietly made adjustments. For example, they never invited their friends over because they didn’t know if Jim would be drunk.

Despite their confident outward appearances, they had very low self-esteem because they took the shame of their father’s drinking onto themselves.

Was your family like Clarissa’s? Even if there was no alcoholic in your family, there are many other types of dysfunction that can lead to similar results.

If you recognized yourself in this description, how did your family atmosphere affect your childhood? How does it affect your present reality? What can you do to break out of the unhealthy patterns you learned growing up?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

What’s Your Box?

Woman in box

Mandy was the smart one. She got straight A’s. She was accepted into Harvard. Everyone understood that she was going to law school so she could join her father’s firm.

The problem was that no one asked Mandy what she wanted. From the time she was a small child her parents had put her in the “smart” box. Her siblings were put in boxes, too; her sister Jenna was the pretty one, and her brother Paul was the athletic one. The children didn’t question their roles; they were trapped in boxes that they didn’t know existed.

They had also been told what they were expected to do with their lives. Jenna was to become a model or, failing that, use her looks to land a rich husband. Paul was to get an athletic scholarship to college and either become a professional athlete or find a teaching job somewhere so he could coach.

We are all put in boxes as children, although they may not be extreme as in the example above. For instance, you might trip over a rug or bump into a door and be called a klutz. Or you might be called a scaredy-cat because of your fear of the dark.  You might cry a lot as a child and be called a crybaby. You may be called the good boy who never makes trouble, or the bad girl who’s blamed for many of the things that are wrong in the family.

Do you know what box you’re in? If nothing springs to mind, examine the basic “truths” you know about yourself. Consider the possibility that at least some of those truths were imposed upon you, hiding part or all of your authentic self.

Are you ready to break out of the box that’s holding you captive?

What will you do with your newfound freedom?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

Do You Have the Time?

Woman with clock

“Women need real moments of solitude and self-reflection to balance out how much of ourselves we give away.” –Barbara de Angelis

Solitude? Self-reflection? Your may think, “That’s just something else I’d have to cram into my day!”

But what if it didn’t feel like a source of stress, but rather a time of release? What if you didn’t have to fit into someone else’s idea of how you should unwind, just do what works for you? What if you found a way to get some “me” time without it causing you even more stress? And what if you found a way not to feel guilty for taking that time?

For some busy women, solitude and self-reflection sound like heaven. Others may hate the idea. But we all have things we can do to help us to recharge.

It’s well worth it to carve out some time for yourself. If you don’t take time to recharge, you not only won’t have energy for yourself; you also won’t have energy for others. So if it feels selfish to take that time, remember that you’re doing it for the people close to you, too.

Find a way to delegate some tasks to others. Prioritize tasks and consider crossing some non-essential items off your “to do” list. Remind yourself of things you like to do, or explore new ones if you’re not sure. Then do them. Notice how much better you feel when you take time for yourself.

What will you do with your “me” time?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

Who Are You?

eye with question mark

How did you become the person you are?

We all come with our own personalities and inclinations. Our environments (particularly our families) then shape us further.

How has your environment influenced you? If you were lucky, you had a family that recognized you for who you were and encouraged you to become your best self. If you weren’t so lucky, your parents (and possibly siblings and/or others) paid less attention to the unique person you were and more attention to the person they thought you should be.

For instance, if you were a quiet boy who liked books, art, and music, you might have been steered towards sports to make you more “masculine.” Or, conversely, if you were a tomboy you might have been encouraged to do more “girl” things. If your parents hated school but you loved it, they may have discouraged you from pursuing the education you wanted. Or if your mother had always wanted to be a dancer, she may have forced you to take years of ballet even if you had two left feet and hated every minute of it.

You also learned from the behaviors you saw family members exhibiting, whether that was intentional or not. For instance, if your mother had low self-esteem, there’s a good chance that she passed that on to you. If she married an alcoholic, it’s likely that you have (unconsciously) been drawn to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities, too.

Think about the person you are today. What do you like and dislike about your life? How did you find the things you liked, and where did the disliked parts of your life come from?

Think back to childhood. What were your interests and skills back then? How many of them are part of your current life?

What can you do to make your life a better fit for the person you were meant to be?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Who’s Got Your Ear?

Woman whispering

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”—Epictetus

Sarah was a dental technician, but she dreamed of going to dental school and becoming a dentist. She shared her dream with the people around her but got no support. The other technicians talked about her behind her back and said she thought she was too good for them. The dentists in her office were all men and thought women were only qualified to assist, not be dentists themselves.

Her husband told her they’d spent a lot of money on her previous education, she had a perfectly good job already, and they couldn’t afford for her to spend the time and money required for dental school. Her parents and two sisters made fun of her and said she’d never stick with it, so why bother?

Sarah never pursued her dream.

Think about your relationships with the people with whom you spend the most time—family members, romantic partners, coworkers, and friends. What are these people’s attitudes? Is your spouse generally pleasant, or does he like to complain? Are your coworkers supportive, or do they like to gossip? Is your boss encouraging, or hypercritical? Do your parents and siblings treat you with respect, or like a child?

The people who are physically present in your life aren’t the only influences upon you. Think about what you do with social media—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. And what TV shows do you watch? Do you seek out media that support a positive attitude or a negative one?

All of these things can hugely influence your outlook on life, including your self-esteem. They not only affect what you try to do with your life; the thoughts and feelings that they trigger can mean the difference between success and failure.

How could things have been different for Sarah? Could she have stood up to the other technicians and the dentists, or found a way to mentally challenge what they said about her? Could she have made a case to her husband in favor of dental school? And did she really have to listen to and believe what her other family members said about her?

What are the positive and negative influences in your life? What can you do to encourage the positives and either change or eliminate the negatives?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Blowing Dandelions

Girl blowing dandelion

Every time I see my daughter blow a dandelion, my first thought is to remember how much fun I had doing it as a kid. Then I think about how the people who own nearby lawns will probably feel about all of the dandelions that will result from that simple act of childhood.

Dandelions are tricky. They are a lovely shade of yellow, and I’ve never met a kid that doesn’t enjoy blowing their seeds around. (Great strategy those dandelions have!) They can be eaten, and they even have medicinal properties. But yet, many homeowners consider dandelions a nuisance and go to great lengths to eliminate them from their lawns.

How is it that dandelions go from being fun to being a nuisance? And what other childhood joys take on a different meaning in adulthood? Think, for instance, about jumping on beds. It’s so much fun, and yet most adults will try to keep kids from doing it because of possible damage to the bed, not to mention to the child. Then there’s the child painting or drawing on walls. How many parents will stop to appreciate the art before scolding the child for messing up the wall?

In an earlier post (“The Dance of Self-Esteem”) I wrote about the self-consciousness and self-criticism that children learn as they get older. There is an innocence and spontaneity to childhood that gets lost on the way to adulthood. Just as kids are more physically flexible than most adults (my daughter can easily put both legs behind her head without even thinking about it), they’re also more flexible in other ways

Do you ever think that adults take life too seriously? Sure, we have a lot more knowledge about life’s dangers and challenges, and we need to have a sense of responsibility that kids don’t yet have.

But I think we can also stand to lighten up a bit. What is reasonable to allow for our children? Can they blow some dandelions or jump on the bed a few times? Can we allow them some time to be proud of their wall drawings before we tell them that they’re not allowed to draw on walls any more? And can we allow ourselves to be more spontaneous, too?

If you read “The Dance of Self-Esteem,” I hope you allowed yourself to dance. What childhood joy can you reclaim today?

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of YourselfThe book is available for all major e-readers (Kindle, Nook, iPad/iPhone/iPod, etc.); it is also available in print editions on both Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

The Dance of Self-Esteem

Woman dancing

Dance as if no one were watching
Sing as if no one were listening
And live each day as if it were your last.

Have you ever seen a child dance? I mean a really young child, too young to realize that people might judge her. She can be spontaneous and playful because she hasn’t had it trained out of her. She knows who she is, and she knows that she is good.

Fast forward a few years, though, and she probably won’t dance so freely. She will have experienced teasing. She will know that there are rules about what you should and shouldn’t do and about who you should and shouldn’t be. She will not be so certain about her goodness.

This fear of being herself will probably last a long time. During her teenage years she’ll be told she needs to be like everyone else. She’ll go to college, get a job, and somewhere along the line she may marry and have children. This first half of her life will most likely be spent defining herself in terms of the world’s expectations.

Somewhere in her forties or fifties, though, she may decide to reclaim her sense of being right, OK, and good just as she is. She may realize that life is, indeed, short and that she is no longer willing to conform as she once did. She will get in touch with her real self and be more willing to express that self.

Are you that woman? If you’re not, do you want to be? If your self-esteem is lower than you’d like, there are things you can do to improve it. It is possible to change your thinking and behaviors.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself dancing like the child you once were.

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

“Dead Poets Society” vs. “Angry Young Man”

Two masks

   “…you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”

—spoken by John Keating, Dead Poets Society

“I once believed in causes, too. I had my pointless point of view, but life went on no matter who was wrong or right.”

—Billy Joel, “Angry Young Man”

I was a freshman (woman?) in college when the movie Dead Poets Society came out. I was 19 years old, young and idealistic, still feeling triumphant about having decided to major in music (which I wanted to do) rather than math (which my parents wanted me to do).

I loved the movie. I loved the idea of a teacher who encouraged his students’ idealism. I empathized with the character who killed himself rather than give up his dream of being an actor. I cheered when the students stood behind Mr. Keating rather than give in to pressure to betray him.

Now, almost 25 years later, I no longer have the sense of self-importance that comes with that age. I can understand the cynicism expressed by Billy Joel in “Angry Young Man.” I realize that life isn’t as simple as I thought it was then.

On the other hand, I still love the movie. Writing this post encouraged me to pull it out and watch it again.

What is the movie’s pull? Why is it still one of my favorite movies? Because I still have that idealistic self inside me. I do still believe in “Carpe diem”—“Seize the day.” I believe that we each have a calling in life if we’ll listen for it.

So, as always, I come to the idea of balance. It doesn’t make sense for an adult to live as a complete idealist. It isn’t helpful, though, to go to the opposite extreme and give in to complete cynicism. Where is that middle ground of being realistic but also hopeful?

Where do you fall in the idealist/cynic spectrum? Do you like where you are, or would you like to make a change?

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

Are you wearing a sign?

Blonde Woman Holding Sign with Sad Expression

Do you ever feel like you’re holding a sign that says, “Take advantage of me”?

If so, you’re not alone. There are many people who find themselves the target of every advantage-taker around. They frequently find themselves listening to others’ problems, lending money, doing favors, giving rides, paying for meals, etc.

If you’re one of these people, you’ll probably end up feeling exhausted and resentful. The resentments will become particularly obvious if you need a listening ear, a loan, or a ride and find that the people for whom you have provided those things are not willing and/or able to do the same for you.

If you’re a giving person, these “takers” will probably be incomprehensible to you. How could anyone take advantage of another person like that? You wouldn’t dream of such a thing!

You will probably never understand how takers’ minds work. And there’s nothing you can do to change them, either. There are, however, things you can do to change yourself.

What you need to do is to change your boundaries.

If you do everything anyone asks of you whether or not you want to do it, your boundaries are essentially nonexistent.

Or you may have weak boundaries. For instance, you might say no to a request but give in if the requester is persistent.

If you have extremely strict boundaries, you may say no to everything.

The most helpful boundaries are strong but flexible, the in-between version where you’re able to say yes or no depending upon the situation.

When someone asks you to do something, take a moment to think. Is his or her request legitimate? Is it something you can grant without harm to yourself or others? Is it something you want to do?

Weighing the answers to these questions can be tricky. For instance, let’s say that your neighbor asks you to babysit so she can go to a job interview, but you were planning to spend time with a visiting friend who’s going home this afternoon. The request is legitimate and you can grant it. But you’ve got a legitimate reason to say no, as well.

The neighbor tends to be very needy and you’ve done a lot of unreturned favors for her, but she’s also been unemployed for a long time and her children are suffering because of it. The friend is one you’ve known since elementary school but haven’t seen in over a year.

Both courses of action are reasonable, but you can’t do both. What would you do in this situation? And what are some of the boundary issues in your own life?

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

Is It Better to Look Good or to Feel Good?

Sad woman looking in mirror

If you believe the media, it seems clear that the answer is “look good.” Look at the magazines in the supermarket checkout line, and you’ll see all of the photos of skinny models and all of the headlines touting ways to quickly and easily look like them.

But how many articles do you see about improving your mental health—dealing with depression or anxiety, for instance? Yes, there are some, but mental health is not nearly as “sexy” a topic as weight loss or muscle toning or which celebrities look good and which ones look bad this week.

What do you think someone would rather brag about—that she joined a fitness boot camp and lost 10 pounds, or that she has been going to therapy and is feeling significantly less depressed and/or anxious? I’m pretty sure that the weight loss story would win hands down. Of course, losing weight and getting in shape can help you to feel better about yourself, but there are plenty of people who discover that happiness requires more than just looking good.

It seems that, just like physical appearance is emphasized in our culture, appearing to be happy is considered more important than actually being happy. If you grew up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional household you probably know all about this. Chances are that your family looked happy and cohesive to the outside world, but was much different behind closed doors. It’s like a house that’s carefully maintained on the outside but that looks like a scene from one of those hoarding shows inside. No one is allowed to come in, because they might discover the family secret: that things are not as wonderful as they seem.

What do you do if you grew up in a family like that? Do you remain isolated, trying to cope with the aftermath of your childhood alone? Or would you consider reaching out for the support and encouragement that you should have had all along?

If you’re out of shape or want to lose weight, it does make sense to do something about it. And if you’re depressed or anxious it makes sense to do something about that, too.

What will you do to free yourself from your childhood?

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.

If You Knew the Real Me…

Anonymous Business Woman

 

Have you ever felt like an imposter who might be found out at any moment?

Do you ever wonder when other people will finally figure out that you don’t know what you’re doing?

Do you ever feel like everyone else got the instruction book to life and you didn’t?

If you grew up in an alcoholic and/or otherwise dysfunctional family, you probably said yes to at least one of the above questions.

When you were a kid, your parents probably didn’t adequately meet your emotional needs. In fact, you may have found yourself trying to meet their emotional needs instead. For instance, you may have tried to make a depressed or angry parent happy, or you may have tried to figure out what you could do or say differently so your parent wouldn’t drink.

If your parents were absent, physically and/or emotionally, you may have ended up trying to run the household—cooking, cleaning, and maybe even taking care of younger siblings.

This is way too much responsibility for a child, but you either didn’t know that or didn’t feel like you had a choice in the matter. You felt overwhelmed and inadequate. Your family probably didn’t talk to anyone else about what was going on at home, so you had no outside person to tell you that you shouldn’t be expected to do what you were trying to do.

Because of that you didn’t get the chance to grow up emotionally. And because you didn’t grow up emotionally, that child inside you is still feeling like she’s in over her head. This is the part of you that still feels incompetent and is afraid that everyone else will figure that out. This is the part that makes you feel like a kid no matter how old you are.

Once you realize this you can start to recognize the times that the child is coming out. For instance, you might find yourself acting like a 5-year-old child or feel unable to handle a situation that you as an adult are qualified to deal with.

When the child inside you comes out, gently acknowledge her and then tell her that you, the adult, can handle the situation and will take over; it’s not the child’s job to make it work. Once you start to make a habit of paying attention to this inner child it will become less likely that she’ll come out at inopportune times or in inappropriate ways.

What situations or people bring out the child in you?
Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.