The Traffic Light

Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future,

but from wanting to control it

Kahlil Gibran

 

If you live in NJ and commute you know that you will drive in traffic. You will stop and go and stop and go. If you have to do one of those jug handle turns in order to turn left, you typically race to make the light. Did you ever think what would happen if you didn’t make the light? What would you miss? Would you get a better song to listen to, would you make one more phone call?

One day I got stuck at the traffic light. (For the record, I listened to more music) I waited and waited and waited for the light to change to green. As I made the turn on to my next street, I saw a police car, lights flashing, zoom past me. I kept on driving. I saw where the police car ended up. There was a serious car accident right down the street. I thought, “Wow if I had made that light could that have been me in that accident?” The thought shook me and I continued my commute.

After arriving at my destination, I began to think about recent world events. What would have happened if I was on that New York street the day the bombs went off in Chelsea, or I had been on the platform the day the NJ transit train crashed in Hoboken? How do you explain the randomness of these bad things happening? How do we deal with this? If you think too much about these questions, you will never leave your house again. Your motto will be “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Staying home however isn’t the answer. I mean bad stuff happens in people’s homes everyday—accidents, falls, fires, robberies. That doesn’t sound any better, in fact it sounds worse.

What is the answer to the craziness of our world, a world where tragedies happen to both good and bad people? I mean we smile and smirk when karma comes back around and the bad people get it, but at the end of the day it’s hardly a victory. When the tragedies happen to good people, we are stuck, we are without words, we are without anything. There is nothing left to say or do.

Our lack of control in our life is frightening. We desperately want control. We want to know when people will die, so we can say our goodbyes at the right time. We want to know when we will be laid off so we can get our resumes out to land that new job. We want to know when our houses will sell so we can find the new house that we want. We never know any of these things in advance. We get upset, we get frustrated, and we get angry when we have no control.

We need to figure out how to handle our lack of control and how we can live our lives in a healthier, less anxious way. Here is a musical example of our fear and anxiety. The band Incubus, released the song “Drive” in 2000. It appears on their third album Make Yourself. Enjoy the song.

“Drive” gives us a clue for handling this fear and anxiety “I should be the one behind the wheel”. We’ll address this topic in greater detail in part 2 of this blog.

Remember change is possible.

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Happiness or Misery

It’s either sadness or euphoria

Billy Joel

 

It’s a new year. People make all kinds of resolutions. People will say “this is the year that I get into shape, or lose weight, or improve my self-esteem, or improve my marriage. People make these plans in order to make themselves happy. Many of these resolutions fall off of the table early in the year. This lack of success indicates to me that people are apparently content with their misery.

One of the leading causes for misery is expectation. An expectation, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “a belief that something will happen in the future” If it’s garbage day and my partner is in charge of garbage I expect that he or she will take out the garbage. When this occurs, everything is great. The problem occurs when I expect my partner to do something and it doesn’t happen. This expectation often leads to a variety of negative feelings. Let’s look at the following example:

Marie and Steve are married for 10 years. They have two children. Steve has an episodic alcohol issue—He doesn’t drink regularly, but when he does, he binges for days at a time. Marie has communicated her frustration, anger, hurt, disappointment to Steve about his drinking. She assumes that her communications will lead him to “get it” and he will stop drinking. Marie and Steve are having family over on Saturday night. She expects that after all of her conversations, that there is no way that Steve will drink. When she wakes up Saturday morning, she sees Steve passed out on the couch with a bottle of vodka nearby. She is livid, and screams at him at concert hall volume.

There is no doubt that Marie’s feelings are valid—hurt, anger, resentment, disappointment, fear, embarrassment. The problem however lies in Marie’s expectation—“we are having a family party, I’ve spoken to Steve many times, he shouldn’t be drinking” It is the expectation that creates her feelings.

Expectations are the things that we have the most control over, yet the thing that we want to change the least. It is way more fun to have a “you fest” …”you did this, you did that, you always do this etc”. It is much harder to look at our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors. We live in a world that we think is governed by the ways things should be. People should always stop at stop signs. People should wait on lines in grocery stores, airports, department stores. People should be courteous drivers. People should follow all of the rules of our society. We know however this doesn’t happen all the time. We get upset when these rules are bent, broken or destroyed. In relationships, we have the same rules. We expect our partners will follow these rules. (In the above example, Steve should not drink when Marie is having company) When partners don’t comply with OUR EXPECTATION, then we are justifiably hurt, angry etc. [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#00008b” class=”” size=””]We then then blame our partner. It is MY expectation that is the problem, not my partner’s behavior![/pullquote]

In order to change expectations we are going to invoke my favorite six letter word, “accept”. For more on acceptance (manny being manny blog. Acceptance gives us power over our thoughts, feelings, and behavior and produces the ability to let things go. If I accept the fact that people will not stop at stop signs, will cut lines, and will drive erratically, I will be less upset. Since no one decided that I was in charge to enforce these infractions (a scary thought if I was), I can just accept that people will not always act in ways that I like. They can break all the rules they want. In relationships the same concept applies. In our earlier example, If Marie accepts the fact that Steve drinks episodically, and that in spite of all of her lectures and discussions, he will drink again, she will not be as angry. (In fact if she changes her behavior, she’ll be more compassionate, and won’t take his drinking personally, but that’s another blog entirely!)

Marie gets to choose if she wants happiness or misery. If she looks at life with high expectations and very little acceptance, she will be hurt, angry, and resentful. She will have a great deal of misery which she is causing for herself. If Marie decides to make changes and work on being happy, she can have few expectations, and lots of acceptance. She has the power to do.

Change is possible.

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No Detours

Dedicated to LC who didn’t live very long but inspired many

Many years ago Linda was a client that I was working with. She was a very complicated young woman. She had chemical addictions, eating disorders and an assortment of other significant issues. Her chemical addictions were getting out of hand and she needed to go to detox. Linda agreed and assured me that she would go on Monday. On Monday, after she didn’t arrive at the detox, I called her and the conversation went something like this:

Me: What happened?
L :  You know
Me: You took a detour?
L:   Yes
Me: Ok, (pause, pause, pause,)but really you need to go to detox
L:   I know
Me: How about tomorrow
L:   Ok
Me: So you’ll call them now so you can get in tomorrow?
L:   Yes
Me: So you are going tomorrow?
L:   Yes
Me No detours?
L:  No detours

Linda did arrive at detox the next day, she looked like, someone who was on the highway to hell. She completed detox, but soon her multiple issues and continued detours led her to her final highway. She died way too young, unable to deal with many issues that she could not even speak about.

Linda’s detours sadly led to her undoing in a permanent way, but many people that I see don’t listen to their internal gps settings. They appear to be on the verge of getting better only to get off of “Healthy Road” and make several turns on to “Self-Defeating Avenue” or “Self-Destructive Boulevard”. These detours tend to last way longer than necessary and ultimately lead to lots of guilt, shame, remorse, and self-loathing. When people drive back and find “Healthy Road” they generally have to clean up the messes they made from their detour. As people start to clean up those messes they begin to ask themselves the following questions:

• Why did I do that?
• What’s wrong with me?
• Why can’t I succeed?
• Am I doomed to always do this?
• Can I be healthier?

When people bring these questions to my office, we need to do some probing for the answers. We need to look at how their detouring behavior is “wired”— that is what causes this behavior? Is it something from their past? Is it a long standing issue with their self –esteem? Is it from some traumatic event that has occurred? There may be hundreds of hypotheses about the reasons this behavior exists and the mechanisms that keep this behavior going. Once we have an idea about why a person may detour, then we need to identify how to change this. This can be a very painful process because some the issues have never been addressed. It takes great courage, patience, and trust to work through the pain.

Linda never got the opportunity to do this. Her detours to hell, ultimately led to her demise. Her fear and shame led her to take her secrets with her to her death.

As we head for the New Year, we can work to stay on “Healthy Road” with frequent turns towards “Self-Improvement Street” and “Feeling Better About Myself Avenue”. Whatever the issues are, they can be identified, and healed. No one needs to keep detouring from the right path.

Change is possible

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The Other Side

 

There is a light flashing on the answering machine. Wow. Could it be a referral? Is it someone I can see? Is it someone I can help? Will our schedules match up? I impatiently go to the message “Hi this is Lois, I got your name from Dr. Don Henry at St. Paul’s medical center. He said you specialize in couples therapy and addictions. I’d like to make an appointment” My heart races, my breathing increases. I’m a specialist? I am, I guess. I call Lois on the telephone. We discuss some of the clinical issues, insurance, and scheduling. I feel awkward trying to communicate the key points. I have to remember to tell her my address, give directions to the office, and tell her where to park. I successfully accomplish all of this and Lois and her husband Bill come in. I get to share my “expertise” with them. There are so many issues—Bill’s drinking, Lois’ control, and the impact on the relationship. Where do I start? Can I help these people? I’ve helped hundreds of people like Bill and Lois when I worked for someone else. But this is about my name, my reputation, my career, my future.

I see Bill and Lois and their multiple problems. They get better. My initial fears get smaller. Week after week, the phone keeps ringing. There are more messages. A man with an angry sounding voice named Tom, calls saying “I gotta come see you; my boss is such a jerk; he’s gonna fire me if I don’t come” He comes in, and over time, he’s not so angry. A sweet, soft sounding woman named Joan, calls to get help for her panic attacks. She comes into my office and is not as sweet as she sounds. In fact, she’s quite angry, in fact about everything. People continue to call and ask interesting questions “Can you see my son and not tell my ex-wife that he’s coming for therapy even if she calls you”? “Can I tell you a secret that my husband doesn’t know”? “Do I have to be honest during therapy, I mean tell you everything?” These questions and their answers all test my therapeutic skills and challenge my knowledge of both ethics and the law. (if you are scoring at home, it’s no, yes, and no)

Among the other new challenges is the business part of the practice. This includes billing, collecting, marketing and advertising I listen to my colleagues who share the ongoing debate ” I have too many clients to be part time, but not enough to be full time” I wonder ” Will I suffer the same fate?” “What if I do too good a job, and all of my clients get better?” “[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#9370db” class=”” size=””]What if the phone stops ringing?”[/pullquote]
What if the phone stops ringing? (It actually did once for a period of 12 days). Will I be like other therapists in private practice, here today, closing up shop tomorrow?

Over time, my fears get smaller, and more clients attend. I begin to realize that as a result of information that I learned from continuing education classes and from reading journal articles, that prospective clients want to find a therapist who has good clinical and interpersonal skills. They want to find a practitioner who is also human. They want to find someone who has the following characteristics:

Characteristics of desired therapists:
• Positive
• Shows empathy
• Respectful
• Genuine
• Non judgmental
• Keeps good boundaries
• Good interpersonal skills
• Is human
• Trustworthy
• Hopeful
• Sensitive
• Open to other viewpoints
• Self-aware

The above characteristics seem obvious to me, but many clients have reported that they have had poor or unsatisfactory experiences with previous therapists. Some are robotic. Some are non-communicative. Some only care about getting paid. I’m glad that’s not the feedback that I have received over these many years of being a therapist.

Time has passed; technology has given us new ways of communicating. We now have voice mail, text messaging, and email, all direct ways for new clients to begin their journey towards change. Over the last few years I have discovered that two trends have started to happen. I have been receiving calls from second generation clients. These conversations usually start the same way “you saw my mother/father some years ago and I would like to make an appointment.” It’s funny to see the adult version of a person who their parent once described to me. The other interesting trend is the returning client. This is a person who I met with more than ten years ago. Those conversations too have a familiar sound to them “Hi my name is Sue and I don’t know if you remember me but I saw you 15 years ago. You helped me so much then and I have some issues that I know you can help me with again.” These two trends are very gratifying to me because they demonstrate my beliefs about change. If two people work together on a problem, and there is good “therapeutic chemistry”, change will occur. This has been proven over my entire career. I am grateful to be a part of that chemistry.

If you are looking to find a therapist, use the “characteristics of desired therapists” list to find your person.

Change is possible.

 

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Types of Sexual Abuse

Types of Sexual Abuse

From Visually.

There are some interesting things to note here:

1)It states that people are 26 times more likely to drink and drug and 13 times more likely to become alcohol dependent–If you look at the data on sexual addiction Carnes 1998  cites 81% of sex addicts in treatment were sexually abused.

2) 1 in 7 women report abuse/28% or men were abused–interestingly these numbers are probably UNDER-REPORTED.

3) note the list of symptoms listed for abuse–these are very common presenting issues that people start therapy with.  In addition note that  anxiety/depression diagnoses are 3 times more likely

if you or some one you know fit the descriptions listed on this info graphic, PLEASE GET HELP

although it will be painful and scary, you can improve your life……

change is possible

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Old and New

When we do our spring cleaning, we find things that we forgot that we had. My cleaning was in cyberspace. I found some old blogs that are not on the changeispossible site. These “moldy oldies” were sitting at my first blog site on psych central. They are a little beat up with funky editing strikes in them, but content wise they provide us with some useful thoughts.

There are 3 old blogs to check out:

1) The 2 questions—knowing which questions to ask yourself is a great decision making tool.

The 2 questions

2) Inconvenient not tragic—a seemingly simple phrase that helps us to put our feelings in perspective. We can see the difference between waiting on a long checkout line vs. someone who unexpectantly lost a loved one.

inconvenient-not-tragic

3) I was thinking about you—very useful behavior for couples who want to improve their relationship.

I-was-thinking-of-you

In addition to these old blogs, there will be a few new blogs to expect in the coming months:

These include:

1) The traffic light—think a twilight zone in NJ story with a good self caring message.

2) Another tricky day– a Pete Townsend song that translates to how to handle our trickiest days.

3) A double feature of “Bobby Jean” and “Holding Onto Yesterday”. This music inspired grieving blog helps us to validate our own grief and move on to living in the present.

Finding old nuggets and creating new ones. A new definition of change perhaps.

Change Is Possible!

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Ends of Songs

t’s a random day of commuting. Sirius XM is playing on my radio. Like most other people I have to find the best song to listen to. I switch from one channel to the other—I think “hey that’s a great song, oh it’s over”. I get to another channel I think “wow I haven’t heard that song in a long while, oh it’s over”. I change stations again and again (good thing I have over 200 to choose from!!) and I keep hearing the ends of the songs I start thinking about what a weird commute this is—I’ve heard only the ends of many songs. I have heard no beginnings, no entire songs, only the ends. I start thinking about the significance of this—in our lives we want to hear whole songs– we want the entire relationship, we want the whole job story, we want to experience all lifecycle events. We don’t want the beginnings, and we certainly don’t want the ends.

Our storytelling metaphors are “once upon a time” followed by some middle event, followed by some struggle, followed by “and they lived happily ever after”. We close our books, we walk out of our movie theaters and have the “feel good” moments that we are supposed to have. When someone asks about the book, or the movie, we smile and say it was good. However, great filmmakers knew how to disrupt that pattern. When Psycho arrived in movie theaters, Alfred Hitchcock told viewers “no one will be admitted to the film after it starts”. This message told the audience you must pay attention to the beginning, the middle, and the end. The end of Psycho doesn’t leave us feeling good. It makes us feel disturbed. It makes us feel anxious. We may feel robbed of our traditional happy ending.

The end of life for most people is not a happy ending either. We know this movie–it is the most predictable story. If we ignore, deny, and don’t deal with our loved ones endings, we have all the confusion, anxiety, guilt and regret. We are the ones who are unsatisfied, we are the ones who feel bad. Like all other painful situations, we can go through the feelings or we can go around the feelings. I have worked with many people who mastered the art of going around the feelings. Through addictive behaviors or other non-helpful strategies, they didn’t deal with the pain. They numbed the pain. When the pain came back, they numbed it again and again and again. Their pain was gone, as long as they numbed it. When the time came to deal with the past pain, they had not only had the original pain but had the additional pain from their avoidance. Joe Louis, the famous heavyweight boxing champion of the 1930’s and 1940’s said “You can run but you can’t hide”. This is very true of pain, but it is more true of loss.

Endings provide us with many opportunities for change and growth. They teach us to overcome. They test our inner strength. They force us to look not only at the end, but the beginnings and the middles. If we only look at the end, we have pain, and loss, and sadness. We need to examine the entire relationship, the good the bad and the ugly. When we are able to do this examination, we get acceptance and we get closure. In the song by The Doors “When the Music’s Over” Jim Morrison writes “when the music’s over, turn out the light”. We may turn out the light, but we also get the whole song to sing again and again.

Change is possible.

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The truth shall set you free

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

Billy Joel

Honesty. A vital construct that improves the quality of people’s lives. Seemingly it should be easy for people to acknowledge their wrongdoings and say ” I messed up” However this seems to be harder than I think since famous people (Brian Williams, Lance Armstrong, #13) have the hardest time doing so. (This lying issue has been covered in an earlier blog–go to lies lies and more lies to read more)

Honesty in interpersonal relationships is critical to intimacy, growth and change. It seems to me that many people tell half-truths, white lies, and justify their dishonest behavior. As you would expect, the lies grow, the relationship gets further apart, until the big BOOM occurs. The truth that sets you free causes a boat load of pain to the other person.

Take infidelity. I have never worked with a person who wanted to be unfaithful to their partner. Distance and misery breeds close connections with another. Lack of communication and dishonesty breeds incentive to cheat. At the end, you have an unfaithful partner leading a double life of lies and deceit and an unknowing partner whose life will change dramatically when this affair is discovered. A simple remedy is in order– telling the truth. Saying “I messed up” or those seven difficult letters “I’m sorry” is far simpler than delivering a trauma laden truth bomb destined to crush everyone within a family!

Why don’t we do this? Why is it so hard to say “I messed up” or I’m sorry”. Are our self-centered ego’s so out of whack that we cannot deliver honest bad news and “feel bad” moments? Are we really protecting a softer fragile ego which would make us look bad? Are we so afraid of the shame and guilt that will occur?

Addicted people are aware that in order to have a meaningful recovery, people have to make amends. They have to say “I’m sorry”. They have to say “I messed up” They have to make the relationship better. They need to work on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is one of those words that we all think we know about, but we really don’t. In the most recent tragedy in Charleston, Arthur Hurd, the husband of his murdered wife said to the murderer, Dylann Roof ”I forgive you” . He added “I would love to hate you but hate’s not in me. If I hate you I’m no better than you.” In this moment. Mr. Hurd freed himself. Forgiveness is the elixir to pain. It does set you free.

In order to forgive, we have to be ready to do so. We have to be able to let go of bitterness and pain and hurt. It doesn’t excuse the injury; it makes us better because we’ve freed up the resentment and pain. In relationships this works best as a dual process. The offending spouse apologizes, the hurt spouse forgives. They then work on healing together. Forgiveness is very powerful. I can heal my hurts without another. I have to make the decision to forgive. Once I make the decision, I get my power back. I am no longer the victim; I am the victor. Forgiveness is the truth that sets ME free!

Change is possible.

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