R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out What It Means to Me

I’ve often thought respect is the foundation of a good relationship.  Without respect, the other things we want from our relationships like trust, love, fulfillment and meaning all seem hollower.  Respect is a fertile ground in which trust and love and can grow abundantly.

Recently I found this great article written for school teachers about teaching trust to children.  The article explains respect should not be confused with obedience.  We may obey people we are afraid of, or for some reason defer to their authority.  That does not mean we respect them.  The article also states the best way to teach respect is to be respectful.  I find that very important as when I look around the world, I see many people displaying a sense of entitlement to the respect they “deserve” without acknowledging any responsibility to give respect to others. Here are some great bullet points about how to teach respect to your partner by first being respectful:

Be honest – If you do something wrong, admit it and apologize. Be aware of how your actions affect your partner and take responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

Be positive – Don’t embarrass, insult or make fun of your partner. This is as important when it’s just the two of you as it is in public.  We are programmed by society to shape behavior through criticism.  Just because it is common and everyone does it, doesn’t make it a good idea.

Be trusting – Let your partner make choices and take responsibility. I ask people all the time “what is the definition of trust?” People mistakenly believe trust is a confident belief you have for someone after they’ve proven worthy of it.  WRONG! Trust is about believing and being confident in someone without guarantee.  It’s also about forgiving people when they are truly sorry for having hurt you.

Be a good listener – Listen to your partner’s side of the story before reaching a conclusion.  How often do you interrupt or spend think about what how you are going to respond even before your partner has quit speaking?  Give your partner your full attention. Be aware of how your body language conveys interest and attention. If you are turned away doing something with your hands, I know you are not listening to me really.  Just saying you are doesn’t change reality. Learning to listen is a talent, skill and an art.  You have to practice it to become better at it.  It doesn’t happen without time, attention and energy.

Be polite – Use “please” and “thank you.” Be aware and respectful of your partner’s space. You can create a lot of happiness and contentment in your relationship simply by exercising basic politeness.

Be reliable – Keep promises. Show your partner you mean what you say.

These are basic, simple tips to use in your everyday life.  You can transform your relationship and your life just by practicing these every day.

If You Really Want It, Why Aren’t You Doing It?

I hear it all the time: “I know what I want to do, and I know how to do it…So why am I not just doing it already?” When you find you are procrastinating, feeling stuck, or avoiding making those changes you need to get what you want, here are some tips about what might actually be going on and how to turn it around.

FEAR OF FAILURE: Plain and simple, a lot of us don’t want to set a goal because we don’t want to fail. Losing weight, for example, is a common goal in therapy. We all know that losing weight requires a change in our diet and exercise.
To eat healthy, a lot of people go on a “diet”. That’s like putting a band-aid on a major wound. I suggest learning more about eating healthy, following suit, and considering it your “lifestyle” (permanent, or long-term) instead of a “diet” (temporary, or short-term).

A lot of us fail at exercise because we start our goals too high and then get disappointed when we don’t meet them or we do exercises we don’t like and lose our motivation. All too often we start out saying we’ll go to the gym 5 days a week. If you weren’t exercising at all before this, that’s an unrealistic goal. Start out at two times a week and see how that goes and build up from there. Make sure exercise is something you enjoy (playing volleyball, riding a bike, going for a walk, etc.). Add an exercise partner to increase motivation and accountability.

FEAR OF SUCCESS: This might sound crazy to you at first, but think about it. With success comes a lot of responsibility. Getting that promotion is going to create more work. Having a relationship demands compromises. Any success you can obtain is going to be work. And most of us want to find the easy button when it comes to responsibilities.

What you can do to overcome this obstacle is change the way you’re looking at the success. Instead of viewing it as creating more work, look at it as an opportunity to grow and become stronger. Enjoy the process and envision the end result.

FEAR OF CHANGE: The two most stressful changes a person can experience in a lifetime are marriage and having children. Most of the time (I would hope) folks are making these changes willingly. And still it’s stressful. Being successful in making big life changes takes planning.

Once you have a plan put together, you can make lists with deadlines and schedule the things you need to do in your calendar. Break tasks up so you don’t look at a list of 100 things to do and get overwhelmed. A little organization is all you need to feel more confident about the changes you want to make.

In addition to organization, you need the HOPE and the BELIEF that you can make the change. Correct yourself every time you hear yourself saying “I can’t” or giving excuses as to why it won’t happen. You have to think positive and convince yourself that you can, and will, do it.

Writing A Letter You’ll Never Send

In the age of email, texting, Facebook and Twitter, letter writing in the traditional sense has fallen to the wayside. Writing a letter used to be a major form of communication; long distance phone calls cost a lot of money, whereas a stamp was less than fifty cents. Writing a letter gave you time to think about what you were going to say, how you were going to say it and who you were going to say it to.

Nowadays, its so easy to pick up your smart phone and send a quick text, most of the time knowing that you’ll get a response back in a few moments. But what about the times where there are things you want to say, but don’t feel comfortable saying them? Or when the person you want to say them to is no longer around. How do you get that need to say what you need to say to them out of you?

Writing a journal is an excellent means of getting things out of your mind and off your chest. But sometimes, the things you want to say are directed at someone in particular; for example, an ex partner, a deceased parent, a friend you lost along the way due to too many differences. Some therapists use what we call the Empty Chair Technique, where you air your grievances and feelings, good or bad, to an empty chair where you imagine your particular audience member to be sitting. While often an effective form of therapy, it can feel awkward and unfulfilling to some.

When the Empty Chair Technique isn’t quite your speed, writing a letter that you will never send is another way to unburden your thoughts. Letter writing is private, intimate, and allows you time to think about what you’re going to say before putting it down on paper; or for some, to just let the words flow out of you until you feel purged of the negativity you’ve been carrying around. You can say whatever you want without fearing repercussions or painful exchanges between you and the person you’re writing to. While most therapists will advocate dealing with your problems as directly as possible, sometimes airing your concerns directly to that other person isn’t an option, yet you still feel the need to get those feelings out. In circumstances like this, writing a letter, or even a series of letters can be cathartic and can help give you that sense of unburdening that you may be craving.

Some people choose to burn the letters after they are written, as another form of purging. Some put them away in a box; some keep journals specifically for those letters. Whatever you find works best for you, do that. And in the event that the person you are writing the letter to is someone that you may have an opportunity to approach directly one day, writing them a letter now may help to organize your thoughts and feelings to help you approach them later on.

The Greatest Love of All

I’ve been focusing and concentrating a lot recently about the concept of self-love and how, exactly, does one learn to love oneself?  I challenge clients with this question often and just as frequently the response is, “I don’t know”, or “I don’t love myself and don’t know where I would begin doing so.”

Working on self-love is one of life’s most difficult tasks. Because it is such a difficult concept to understand, it’s why most people give up, dissociate from their lives in significant ways and develop strategies to run from themselves.  People running from the responsibility of self-love has resulted in our being the most in-debt, overweight, addicted, prescription-pill-taking, depressed society that has ever existed on the planet.

Hard? Yes.  Impossible? No.  Worth all the damage we do to ourselves to avoid the responsibility?  Absolutely not.  I have been posting a series of daily reminders on the BHC Assessment & Consulting Facebook page to outline self-loving steps.  You can “like” the Facebook page and follow along here: https://www.facebook.com/drdave0521.

First, you have to realize the work of self-love is a life-long journey.  You will never be finished.  That’s actually good news!  Imagine the longest relationship you will ever have in your life continuing to grow and get better, richer, more meaningful, rather than stagnant and boring.  Who doesn’t want that?

Second, you have to commit to the actions that create love: respect, acceptance, patience, value and consideration.  These may mostly be mental actions, but they are still actions.  You can achieve this by asking yourself, “How can I respect myself today? How can I accept myself today? Etc.”

The longer I live and study the human experience, the more I recognize this work of self-loving can make major headway in solving most of life’s problems.  It can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  It can help alleviate the effects of trauma.  It can probably even help alleviate the symptoms more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  At the very least, it can make life more livable.

Love is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Relationship Red Flags

We’ve all done it. Met someone, established a relationship and developed feelings for them, only to find out that they’re “the same as all the others.” We don’t often stop to question why every person we fall for winds up having the same and/or similar faults and problems as the last person.

It’s a combination of two things: what we’re putting out there that we want, and what we’re attracted to. Often, what we’re attracted to isn’t what we think. We go for the same types of people repeatedly because the qualities that we think we find attractive in another person are actually red flags for exactly the kind of person we say we don’t want. But we’re programmed to look for those things. As human beings, we crave balance. We often look for things in others that we lack in ourselves, because we think that by being around them, we will naturally become more like them. For example, maybe you’re shy and a little introverted, you like being around people but you’re more of an observer than a participant. The people you’re attracted to are generally outgoing, social butterflies. They exude a confidence that you wish you had. Over time, however, that confidence becomes arrogance, and a tendency to only ever talk about themselves, that social butterfly is suddenly out everynight- without you. They have excuses for all of it, but eventually, you realize you’ve been here before with other people in previous relationships, and you don’t like it.

Craving that balance is perfectly natural thing. But sometimes we tend to look for people who have an overabundance of those things we’d like to be ourselves, rather than just a healthy amount. The overabundance is a red flag. Too much of a good thing is rarely actually a good thing; it’s a sign that something isn’t right. But because we’re programed to be attracted to that overabundance, we find ourselves repeating the same patterns in our relationships.

So how do we break the pattern? How do we see those red flags for what they really are, instead of what we’d like them to be? That’s where the other part of the combination comes in we have to change what we’re putting out there. The people that have those red flags are programed to look for people who are attracted to those red flags; people who will put up with their potentially negative attributes because we think that’s what we want. And by the time we realize it isn’t, we’re already in over our heads and they’re getting exactly what they want. To change what we’re putting out there, we have to break out of our boxes. Rather than looking to others to provide us with the balance we crave, start creating balance for ourselves. Be the things we look for in others. Two people are not two halves of a whole; they are two whole people, and in order to be in a healthy, happy relationship, we have to first become that whole person on our own. Otherwise we will always be searching for someone to fill a void that can only be filled by first being happy and comfortable with who we are.

Dr. Dave’s Golden Rules

Doesn’t it seem ironic the people who seem to talk the most about not wanting drama in their lives end up creating a lot of drama around themselves?  People want their lives to be less complicated, less problematic and less having to put up with other people’s stuff.  Unfortunately, people often don’t realize how they are responsible for 90% of the drama they experience in their lives.  Honestly, I don’t have a lot of drama in my life.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and how I got here.  I certainly remember plenty of times when my life was more complicated, problematic, and drama-focused.  What changed?  I recently realized that, somewhat unconsciously, I was developing a perspective of interaction with the world which was actually helping me to reduce the incidence of drama in my life.  It’s about having good boundaries but I can describe it in three Golden Rules which I now live by.

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be:  The financial guru Dave Ramsey says to not lend any money to anyone ever.  He says if you give money to someone; give it as a gift, never expecting it back. I never lend anything to anyone.  Equally important, I don’t ask for anything either.  You have to give as good as you get.  Asking people to lend you stuff, not only creates a dynamic of “borrowship” that always has the potential to become problematic, but also has the psychological effect of teaching you to rely on others to solve your problems rather than yourself.  You are more resourceful than you think.  So is everyone else around you.  Give them the freedom to work things out on their own.  Besides, I don’t know many people who are anxious to relay stories of when they lent or borrowed money and it turned out well.  Leave it for the banks.

Don’t Take in Strays:  I mean this more in the metaphorical sense rather than the cat or dog who comes to hang out in your yard.  However, just like the cat, there are plenty of people who their apparent being in need of a helping hand has actually become an unconscious survival skill. You think you are acting out of the kindness of your heart but end up feeling used and taken advantaged.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in mentorship and giving people the opportunity and tools to grow.  I’m very careful to not put myself in positions where I will feel betrayed by my kindness.

Don’t Get Involved:  Probably the most important rule and most overlooked by general society.  Every day on Facebook I see situations where I could get involved, perhaps even be useful (in my opinion only probably), but I don’t because I realize it’s none of my business.  Every day I encounter face to face conversations where I could get involved, but again, realize it’s none of my business. I have found letting people work through their life issues without the benefit of my vast knowledge, experience and social know-how, is not only better for me, but better for them as well.

Here’s the reality:  people don’t want your advice or opinion nearly as often you think.  Then there’s the law of reciprocity:  If I give you advice, it automatically means (to you) I want the same from you. People may want your help and/or your money, but most of that is an unconscious survival skill that will not give you the anticipated good feeling and gratitude as a result.  Here’s another reality:  I can say with a high degree of certainty no one who knows me thinks I’m cold, a jerk, or even unhelpful. I’ve just learned to have good boundaries.

Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life

Your “reality” is really nothing more than what you notice about it and what you choose to focus on. Think about it.

Yeah, it’s July in Orlando and there will most likely be a thunderstorm with pouring down rain right as you’re leaving for work. And, yes, you left your umbrella at home. Again. And all that rain isn’t really helping that leak in your roof.

There IS all that.

But what about the upcoming beach trip you have planned with friends at the end of the month? What about that really nice compliment you got from your co-worker this morning?

Your attitude consists of which you focus on more – the negative or the positive. If you notice more of the negative, then your attitude will be negative. And if that’s the case, I can guarantee it’s impacting your life in a negative way.

But, then, we’re not trained to have a positive attitude. No one really teaches us that. So how do you make your attitude more positive?

1) Manage your self-talk. If you catch yourself saying something along the lines of: “That was a really stupid decision” or “I am so fat”– stop doing that. Ask yourself: “Would I have said that to the guy behind me at the checkout line?” If the answer is NO, you shouldn’t be saying it to yourself. (And, think about it, why are you treating the guy behind you in the checkout line better than you’re treating yourself?)

2) Every day, take time to list the things and people for which you are grateful. List at least 10 things before you get out of bed in the morning and 10 things before you go to sleep every night.

3) Don’t let one bad thing ruin your day. For example, if you wake up late, come up with a plan to let people know how late you’ll be and make appropriate arrangements. Don’t let it be the beginning of a series of events that cause you to spiral out of control.

4) When you come across someone or something you don’t like, challenge yourself. Maybe that annoying co-worker is an animal lover like you. Maybe that stupid meeting will be an opportunity to learn something new. It’s all in your perspective.

Once your attitude changes, you’ll see that a lot of other things start to change for the better, too. Instead of seeing the universe as conspiring against you, try imagining it conspiring for you – to give you what you want and need to be happy and to be the very best you can imagine. And, like magic, that’s essentially what starts to happen.

Committing to Therapy vs. Going to Therapy

Therapy is something I would recommend to anyone who wants to make a change in their life. That change can be anything from changing jobs, getting a divorce, coping with stress, to dealing with pervasive mental illness. Regardless of the reason you’re seeking therapy, one thing remains true: going to therapy and committing to therapy are very different things.

Going to therapy looks something like this: you make an appointment with a therapist, you show up on time, you talk to the therapist, you listen to the therapist, you leave, and return at a later date (a week or two, maybe month depending on your circumstances). But nothing changes. Your life stays the same. You’re regularly seeing a person who is an expert in mental health, and don’t feel any different.

Committing to therapy looks similar, but with one major difference: you take what you’ve learned in therapy and you apply it in the real world and in your everyday life. Sometimes, just talking about things with an objective third party is all a person needs. More often than not, that isn’t the case. The role of a therapist isn’t to tell you what to do to fix your problems. A therapist is there to help you identify and navigate the path to handling your problems on your own in a healthyand productive way. If you had to consult a therapist every time a problem came up, youwould be spending an awful lot of time and money on therapy. But therapy does not end when you walk out of the therapist’s office. A good therapist is an educator. They teach you the tools you need to deal with your problems and help guide you when you reach snags or obstacles that come up along the way. The ultimate goal of therapy, in most cases, is to not have to go to therapy anymore (at least not regularly), but to put into practice what you’ve learned.

As therapists, we can’t control what you do once you leave our office. Your life is your own, as are the decisions and choices you make. It is a conscious choice to truly invest yourself in the therapeutic process by taking the tools you are given and using them, trying them on, seeing what works and what doesn’t for you. The most important thing to remember about the therapeutic process is that change doesn’t happen overnight; trying the tools out once or twice is not enough, you have to make them part of your everyday life in order for them to be effective. And that’s what committing to therapy really means: taking the tools you are given, using them in place of the behaviors you’re trying to change, and putting them into practice.

Managing Your EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a governmental entity that regulates the way Americans interact with the environment, but we each have an individual “EPA” that governs how we individually interact with the environment. In that caseEPA stands for expectations, perceptions and attitude.  Whether you realize it or not, whenever you walk into a room you already have a preconceived notion of what’s going to happen, what the “climate” of the situation will be and how things will turn out.  In some cases it can be largely unconscious, especially in routine matters, but others can be very much in the forefront of your mind. Let’s take a look at how your EPA forms ideas about things.

Expectations – Do you think other people, such as your parents, friends, co-workers, supervisors, children, etc., put expectations on you?  How well do you live up to those expectations?  Do you care?  The fact is we put expectations on everyone around us and everyone around us puts expectations on us.  For either bad or good, we have to deal with these expectations every day.  Often they can be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting.  Frequently, relationships last in turmoil for years or become destroyed due to the pressure of expectations that never change.

Perception – I define perception as our tendency to see reality as a perfect construction from our point of view. In other words, we tend to believe what we believe is real.  Anything that defies that belief is suspect.  The real reality is reality is subjective.  I grew up in an era when we were taught as kids most of life is comprised of fundamental truths and undeniable facts and anything challenging that foundation is evil and against God.  There are still plenty of people who would prefer that than consider reality is actually subjective.  The reason for that is, in our search for individual meaning, we want something we can hold on to; something outside ourselves to believe in.  It makes us feel real.  Unfortunately, it also can make us very short sighted.

Attitude – this is how we feel about the reality we perceive.  If my perception of reality is pleasant, and my expectation is that reality will continue, then my attitude will be happy.  If my perception of reality is unpleasant because someone expects me to be someone I’m not, or do something I’d rather not, then my attitude is unpleasant.  Unfortunately for most us, we see our attitude as purely reactionary.  “I only feel this way based upon what is happening around me.  I have no choice to feel differently.”  If we choose to take an active role with our attitude, we can truly turn our world around.  I’ve often heard many times throughout my life, and seen it posted on Facebook many times, “Happiness is a choice you make.”  It’s a very hard concept to wrap your head around when things aren’t going the way you want them to, but the more I study and meditate on it, I realize it to be true.

So how can you improve your EPA?  Recognize the expectations of others are about them, not about you.  Think of them as a suggestion rather than a mandate.  As Madonna says, “Poor is the man, who’s pleasures depend upon the permission of another.”  Also take stock of the expectations you place on those around you?  Who is fighting you back?  Perhaps it’s time to look at those relationships in a new way to see what needs to be renegotiated. You have to realize what you are doing is not working. You also have to realize “reality”does not rest solely on our perspective of “what is.” Ask yourself the old question, “Would you rather be right or happy?” Additionally, know your attitude about your life every day is something you choose.  If you choose it to be reactionary, then you become a slave to it.  Own it and set yourself free.

Who Are You?

I have spent countless conversations with clients about the need to develop a good sense of self.  “sense of self” is one of those phrases often bandies about by people who don’t really know what it means.  They see it on facebook, and think, “oh, what a great thing to say to people when they seem confused!”

 

“It sounds like you need to develop a good sense of self”

 

It’s just like the phrase, “Being present in the moment”.  I hear people say that all the time, like it’s something that you just get up and do.  Being in the moment is hard, hard work.  I will spend the rest of my life trying to get halfway there.  It’s not a goal it’s a process of learning.  I find that every day, I discover new ways of being in the moment and recognizing the many ways I’m rejecting the moment.

 

Having a good sense of self is just as complex.  I gre up without having a good sense of self.  OF course, when you grow up in an outgroup like I did, it’s almost part of the bargain that you are plagued with self doubt and wrestle with your own self concept.  I remember as a little kid, watch cartoons on Saturday morning and seeing one of those educational shorts, where I was instructed to “just be myself”.  I remember thinking, “I have no idea what that means”.  Consequently, I could only interpret that as “There must be something very, very wrong with me.”

 

As an adult, I’ve listened to all the platitudes about self-concept development and tried to follow the rhetoric about becoming me.  I’ve tried to look at my values, understand what I believe in, and become more aware of all the roles I play in my life that identify me.  That’s all well and good, but I don’t think it helped me to really, truly understand who I am.

 

As most things in life, the answer is simple, but does not lie in the obvious.  What really helped me to develop a good sense of self are two things:  developing good boundaries and ascribing to clarity and integrity when communicating with others.

 

I used to hate to tell people “no.”  I want people to like me, so it became easy for me to assume that if “no” is oppositional and oppositional people don’t get liked.  It was extremely hard to change this behavior.  What felt like standing up to people (even though its often not that serious) made me weak in the knees and I was sure that I would push people away from me.

 

I also used to avoid saying things that need to be said.  I would allow people to behavior they way they want around me because it was so much easier than saying, ‘I;m not comfortable with that”.  Sometimes I would even agree with things I didn’t agree with because it seemed easier.  I thought to do otherwaise, would make me adversarial and adversarial people don’t get like.

 

So, I spent my life behaving this way not realizing the damage that it was continuing to do to my self concept, until I realized that I am allowing people to make me in their own image of who they think I should be.  There’s no getting a good sense of self from that!

 

I recently had a client tell me that he really didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore and was never really in love with the guy in the first place.  It just seemed like the other guy wanted to be in a relationship with him so badly, and it just seemed easier to go along to get along.

 

If you want a good sense of self, stop living for the convenience of others.  I’m no Pollyanna.  I know how difficult this can be.  People around you put a lot of pressure on you to be who they want you to be.  Every day of your life people will try to take your time, money, or attention.  That is a fact.  You can get resentful about it, you can let it overwhelm you until you are lost, or you can recognize the reality of it so you can learn to work with it.

 

When I started setting boundaries with others and dedicating myself to be clear with my word and speak with integrity, my sense of self came automatically.  Far from losing friends, I gained respect, which was an unexpected surprise. When I stopped living in the images created for me by others, it was easy to see myself.