Tagged: psychotherapists

90-Day Self Love Challenge Part 3 of 4– Managing the Ego

I’m a regular guest on The Lillian McDermott Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, 9am EDT at www.whenyouneedafriend.com.  During last September’s show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully. Together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.  This blog covers the 61-75 days of that challenge.

“I am my own worst enemy.”  Are you at all surprised by how profoundly true that statement is?  Author Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now all problems exist in the mind.  It makes sense if you think that if its true happiness comes from “out there,” then it must be true all problems come from “out there” as well.

When we live our lives believing our happiness and sorrows exist outside of ourselves, beyond our control, it leaves us in the unfortunate position of feeling victimized, without power and control.  Being put in such a very scary position leaves us no other alternative than to defend ourselves from the inevitable and constant attacks from the world.  This is where the ego comes in.

The ego is a construct of our personality designed to protect us from the hostile world we live in.  The ego needs to defend, appear strong and in control to others, and most importantly, be right; because if you can’t be right in this world, then what have you got?

The ego is not a bad thing, really.  It just does what it does.  Some would say the tiger is evil for killing the beautiful gazelle.  Others say the tiger is good for it plays an important role in the circle of life.  But the tiger is neither good nor evil.  It just is.  So it is also true for the ego.

We can’t be ego free.  We have to accept we will always yearn with the desire to be right, appear strong and in control to others, and feel a need to defend ourselves from what we tend to expect is a hostile world.  We can learn how to manage our ego.  I remember clearly my prior addiction to being right. There was a time in my life I would die on any principle if I convinced everyone else I was right.  What a waste of time!  Rather than make me appear weak and out of control, giving up my need to be right actually helped me become a stronger person.

We did a lot of work in this area on the radio show. We did 15 days of exercises to help you recognize and manage negative ego responses. I will address days 75-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to http://whenyouneedafriend.com/category/90-day-challenge-to-self-love/ to learn more.

Disease or Dis-ease? Rethinking the philosophy of Addiction

The nature of addiction is not well understood in our society.  From the right, addiction is seen as largely a character defect; a level of laziness wherein the addict will not get her act together and pull herself up by the boots straps to take responsibility for life.  From the left, addiction is a disease rooted in genetics that leaves the addict largely helpless to his cravings.  He needs intense behavioral programming to help him stay in recovery and he must be ever vigilant, because his biology places him at life-long risk.

Depending on where we fall on the ideological scale, we largely accept these beliefs as fact. Even public funding supports these beliefs as most substance abuse programs are founded on behavioral principles and the philosophy that addiction is genetic and has no relationship to mental health.

I take issue with this.  From my own experience, I classify myself as an addict.  I’ve been addicted to many things in my life:  cocaine, anger, sex, cigarettes and diet coke, to name a few.  I don’t really struggle with addictive impulses now, nor have I for years.  Although I can never really compare my inner struggle to anyone else’s, my compulsions to indulge were very real and felt impossible at points to overcome.

I’ve never been to rehab.  I’ve never attended a 12-step meeting.  I don’t have any particular problem with any of those tools, but what I did do was dedicate my focus to establishing an improved relationship with myself.  I recently came across the book, Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, a well-researched account of how our addictive impulses are more about our lack of connection, our lack of bonding, much more than any genetic problem were are just condemned to live with.

This new discussion on the subject challenges both the left and right standards of thinking and suggests we can overcome addiction altogether by focusing on the key relationships in our lives and doing whatever we can to feel bonded and connected.  Personally, I take the theory one step further and suggest the most important relationship in our lives is our relationship with ourselves.  I know for me, the more I committed to a loving, respectful, bonded and connected relationship to myself, the less need I had for my addictions.   The struggle simply no longer existed.

Additionally, when I look back on times in my life I became more susceptible to my cravings, I can see how I had become disconnected from myself and it was through reconnection I emerged craving-free once more.

There are a lot of things you can be addicted to aside from drugs or alcohol.  Fact is, we are all either in active addiction or active recovery.  The only difference lies in the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.

90-Day Self Love Challenge Part 2 of 4– Developing Acceptance

I’m a regular guest on The Lillian McDermott Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, 9am EDT at www.whenyouneedafriend.com.  During last September’s show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully. Together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.  This blog covers the second 30 days of that challenge.

Aside from love, acceptance is probably what we want most in life.  Like love, we tend to look for it and crave it from others.  Also like love, I’ve found the most rewarding way to gain acceptance in this life is to accept yourself and not base your level of acceptance on what other people think about you.  This topic has been covered many times in books such as “What You Think about Me Is None of My Business”, but what has really helped me on this journey is Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

 In this book, the second agreement states verbatim, “Take nothing personally.  What other people do or say is a reflection of their own consciousness and has nothing to do with you, even if it is directed at you.”  I can repeat it easily enough, because I have said it to myself a billion times.

To say the 70’s and 80’s were a hostile environment for a young gay boy would be vastly understated.  I knew I was different before I had words to describe why.  So did the other kids.  I was even bullied and mistreated by teachers, while others just looked the other way while verbal and physical harassment occurred right in front of them.  Those experiences left me without a good sense of self.  When you hear something over and over again, you easily believe it.  It becomes your truth.  Since I didn’t have the skills to accept myself I became addicted to acceptance from others.

That’s where the Don Miguel Ruiz’s 2nd Agreement comes in – after much meditating on it, I was able to rewire my brain in a positive way and develop a more useful truth:  Other people’s opinions are just opinion, and not necessarily qualified ones.  Opinions are not facts.

We did a lot of work in this area on the radio show with 30 days of exercises to help you become more accepting of not only yourself, but also of others around you. I will address days 61-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to http://whenyouneedafriend.com/category/90-day-challenge-to-self-love/ to learn more.

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.

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.

Getting The Love You Want

Three things I want you to know:  1) Your relationship does not have to suck, 2) You actually do deserve the relationship you have always wanted, and 3) You actually can have the relationship you have always wanted.  Don’t believe me?  Say that whole first sentence aloud 3 times…does it seem a little more real now?  Don’t worry; keep saying it and it will.

Think about it logically. Why do you continue to tell yourself that you can’t have a good relationship?  Why do you continue to tell yourself that it only happens for other people?  Why should you be left out? Your mind might be coming up with a litany of reasons, but they are all really just negative self-evaluations based upon opinion rather than fact.

One thing I have learned in my 15 years of clinical practice is, if you are not in a relationship, there is a reason for it and you are the reason.  Somewhere, somehow, in the deep, dark recesses of your mind you are pushing potential, or current, mates away.  You know it’s true. If you are in a relationship that is not the relationship you want, there is also a reason for it, and yes, you are most likely the reason for that too.

If you are in a relationship that is not working well, you can transform your relationship by following these steps:

  • Make a commitment to never yell or call your partner names. Ever.
  • Make a commitment to make no disparaging or negative comments about your partner to friends, family, or in public.
  • Don’t tell your partner “how he or she is” or what is wrong with him/her
  • Stop talking and listen
  • Monitor how much time you spend during any given day focusing on what is wrong with your partner and/or relationship.  If it is more than a few seconds a day, it is too much.  Instead focus on what you like about your relationship/partner.  People live up to our expectations of them.  If you focus on what is right about your partner/relationship, you are liable to get more of it.

If you are not in a relationship and want to be in one, transform your life by following these steps:

  • Monitor your thinking about yourself, dating, your potential dating pool, etc.  If your thoughts are consumed with negativity and fear, it is the reason why you are single.  Make a commitment to think positively about dating and your possibilities.  Stop programming your mind by repeating phrases like “All men are pigs.”, or “All the good ones are taken.”
  • Stop looking at dating as a chore.  If you can’t get excited about it, at least try to see it as a means to an end…like college.
  • I used to tell my clients, “Mr. Right will never come knocking on your door, so get off the couch”, until a client of mine, who spent an a lot of time home alone, got involved with the guy who came to fix his cable.  True story.  They are still together, as far as I know.  So, now I say, “Never give up.  Anything is possible.”

Don’t believe me that any of this will actually work?  Have you tried it?  Go ahead and give it a try and come back to me and let me know how it worked.  It’s ok, I’ll wait. 🙂

Embrace Life’s Problems, rather than resisting them

Life is about problems. Period. Get used to it. Every day, whether you realize it or not, you spend most of your day confronting, and hopefully, solving problems. Most of us get tired of problem-solving. The whole activity often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and incapable, prompting us to unleash our inner 7-year-old and engage in avoidant behaviors, like procrastination, overeating, over-drinking, over spending, drugs, etc.

The problem is not the amount of problems we have, whether or not we have the talent, skills, and abilities to solve those problems, or the fact that we have problems at all. The problem is we want things to be different. We dream of a problem-free life, where every day exists to indulge our pleasures and fantasies, and we never have to worry about anything again.

Ain’t gonna happen. Ever. We would be much better served to accept that fact that every day there will be problems and challenges to face and that life is really just one big educational experience in which the main goal is to continually work on becoming a better problem-solver and life manager.

To help people get more used to this reality, I’ve developed an exercise that provides people with a road map for problem solving. I call it the “WAC” (pronounced “whack”) format. When faced with a problem, you only have three options at solving the problem: Walk away from the situation completely, Accept the situation for what it is, or Change the situation so that the problem is solved to your satisfaction. Hence W-A-C, or WAC.

This is the underlying guide for every single problem you can possibly face. It is not as hard to employ as it seems. The issue most people face, and what really makes most of life’s problems seem overwhelming and impossible is that we typically prefer to employ a fourth option, which is to complain about the problem, wish things would automatically be different without any effort on our parts, and/or someone else would come along and fix it for us.

We can go through our entire lives deluding ourselves into thinking that someday, maybe someday; this fourth “option” will actually prove to be the saving grace that makes our lives problem free. Some people go to unbelievable lengths, and spend an unbelievable amount on energy in the hopes of making it true. It just won’t work and always ends up in avoidant behaviors, feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and having mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, worry, stress, fear, etc.

You do have the talent, skills, and abilities to handle any problem that comes your way. Even you if don’t immediately know the solution, I can guarantee that someone around you does. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just have to be willing to face the problem head on.

Don’t resist life’s problems, embrace them. Honestly, to do anything else is just plan whack.

Benchmarking 1.2

In 1991, ten years prior to my working at ground zero, I was also in New York City. It was my first time being there, and while I was excited about going, it really wasn’t my decision to do go. My boyfriend at the time had begged me to take him to New York. He wanted to go back to visit, because he used to live there. The entire time of our relationship prior to that, he always talked about New York City. How much fun he had living there. How much he missed it. My most prominent memory of that trip was how miserable and depressed I was. I quickly found out that he had decided to look up all his old boyfriends during our visit, while he persuaded a platonic friend to show me around town. His friend’s name was David too, and he was a nice enough to show me around, but I was so completely miserable. I was totally in love with my boyfriend, but this trip was yet another example of me feeling utterly used and unloved in this relationship. While sightseeing, David and I went to the Metropolitan Museum and wandered around when I found this amazing room. It was a round room with a dais in the middle of it. Completely covering the walls was a 360 degree mural of the gardens of Versailles. The perspective from the dais is standing at the top of the cement stairs that go down to the main gardens and reflecting pool, with the palace behind you. It is a replica of your real view if you were actually standing there. It is a remarkable and beautiful painting. For some reason I could not figure out, I was completely enthralled with this room and sat down on the dais, looking all around. I was thinking about my life. What a piece of crap it had become. Here I was, in New York City for the first time. It should be one of the most exciting days ever, but I could only think about this horrible relationship I was in where we fought all the time where it often became physical. Now he was off doing who knows what, with who knows who, and I’m hanging out with some guy I just met yesterday all on a trip for two being completely financed by me. Now I need to point out, that I was 26 years old, I typically ran five miles every day, so I was thin and gorgeous, and because I was in the military, I was making pretty good money for someone with only a high school education. But that’s the point. I had everything to live for, but because I couldn’t see any positives inside me, I was ready to spend the rest of my life in a horrible relationship with someone who didn’t respect and/or appreciate me.

I got better.

Fast forward 10 years later, 2001. I am in NYC working at Ground Zero. I went up to the MET one day and immediately looked for that room. It’s almost if I wanted to share with it how much my life had changed since that dark day in 1991. I stood on the dais and took a deep breath in. As I exhaled, I became really excited as I connected that just six months earlier, in March, my husband and I took our first trip to Paris and I actually stood in this very spot that the dais represents: at the top of the cement stairs going down to the main gardens and reflecting pool.

Some times when we are in the middle of miserable, it seems most certain that things will never change and there is no way out. I was certainly convinced of that in 1991. I’m glad it didn’t stay that way, but I also can say that it wouldn’t have happened without me taking some sort of action for my own life. Misery, depression, loneliness, hurt, fear, and anxiety are all feelings that tend to freeze both our minds and bodies, and fool us into thinking that to do nothing is the safest way to avoid more of the same. THAT IS A LIE! When I finally ended that relationship, I was convinced I was making the biggest mistake of my life. No one else would ever want me, so the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t. This is also a lie. The urge to stay put, take no action, do nothing in the hopes of not disturbing the tiger that is your dark mood is the worst possible mistake you can make for yourself. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to act.

It is now 10 years after 2001, 20 years after that dark day in 1991, and my wonderful husband of 17 years and I are going to NYC this month for Pride. I hope we will go to the MET. I want to show him off to the room.

Benchmarking 1.0

Welcome To my Blog!

I wanted to start this blog to discuss ideas regarding mental health in general, information about seeking treatment, the different areas I specialize in, and my philosophy about life in general.

With the military operation against Osama Bin Laden that took place this month, my thoughts have been automatically been drawn back to the September 11th Terrorist Attacks, but even more so, about how my life has changed in the last 10 years.

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty regular guy just trying to make it in the world, with no special talents or skills, but when I think back over the last 10 years, I’ve been very lucky to have had some incredible experiences and opportunities.  On September 11th, 2001, I was actually working on a grant review for the Department of Health and Human Services in D.C.  Much like in NYC, Tuesday, September 11th was an extraordinarily beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky.  It looked to be like any other day working for the Office of Program Review, reading, reading, and more reading through grant applications.  After the attacks happened, the cell phone networks were overloaded and shut down and no one here in Orlando, or my family in Houston, could get a hold of me to see if I was ok.  Actually, I was on the complete other side of town from the Pentagon and in no danger.  Ironically, that week we were reviewing grant applications for programs treating children with traumatic stress.

Once I got home, I figured that story would be my only tie to the terrorist attacks.  It just so happened I had recently completed the certification to become a mental health responder for disasters for the American Red Cross, because my boss at the Mental Health Association thought it would be a good idea for all of the counselors to be crisis response certified.  Of course, it resulted in my being asked to go to New York City.  My boss wanted me to go, and I did.  I spent 3 weeks at WTC Ground Zero in October and November of 2001 working with the NYPD, FDNY, and construction workers at “The Pile”, which is what they called the work area in and around the collapsed buildings.

I think I could write a book about that experience alone, but it is not my particular point of this blog.  That period of time is a benchmark for me.  When I think back over those last 10 years, I can see so many changes. I was just finishing my Ph.D., I was still so unschooled in a lot of ways about the practice of therapy (although I thought I was pretty smart, lol), and I figured I would always be working at the Mental Health Association, because there didn’t seem to be any reason to leave.

Since then, I have worked in a residential treatment facility, served as the mental health team supervisor of an HIV/AIDS medical clinic, conducted in-home assessments for the State’s child welfare system, served as board president for the local GLBT chamber of commerce, served as board president for what is now the biggest GLBT Pride event in Florida, and built a very healthy private practice, of which I am immensely proud, all the while getting to meet some of the most interesting and inspiring people:  my clients.  I have really been all over the place professionally, trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up.  Some days that gets me down. On those days when I don’t feel like I’m at my best, I try to remember what I’ve accomplished, instead of focusing on the problems.  That’s what I call benchmarking.

I remember benchmarking as being one of the first therapeutic techniques I learned that I really responded to, and began teaching my clients.  We typically spend too much thinking about what has gone, is going, and will go wrong, but not enough time thinking about what valuable things we’ve learned from those experiences and what has actually gone right.  Some days it is harder than others, but I think you have to look at it as skill development.  It is the rare person that can learn to ride a bike of the first try.  Things get better with practice.  The more you practicing indentifying and benchmarking the successes or positive moments in your life, the better you get at it.   Which reminds me of a story… (to be concluded in the next post, Benchmarking 1.2)