counseling

Interview in Counseling Today – Dating Anxiety

DatingCheck out my interview about how I work with therapy clients on dating anxiety and the stress of dating apps in the December issue of Counseling Today.

 

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Dating Anxiety Advice on Bustle Podcast

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If you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts about dating anxiety, be sure to listen to my interview on the Bustle Huddle podcast! I talk about how I work with clients who have dating anxiety and how to stay focused on being your best, most mature self rather than making someone like you. You can download it from iTunes or Spotify.

And as always, you can subscribe to my free tiny newsletter to read my weekly thoughts about anxiety, relationships, and mental health.

Family and Thanksgiving: The Art of Not Being Surprised

Happy Thanksgiving! This week I’d like to leave you with some thoughts about how to be a calmer, more attentive presence if you’re seeing family this week.

Most of us think that our families are factories that churn out anxiety, but the truth is that our families actually are built to manage anxiety. Families are anxiety-managing machines, and they do this pretty well most of the time. If they didn’t, evolution wouldn’t have given them to us. We would just pop out fully formed and be able to survive on our own.

One of the best ways to work on being a calmer and more mature presence in your family, especially around the holidays, is to simply observe this anxiety-managing machine (or, as Dr. Bowen might have said, the emotional organism) at work. And because there are really only a few predictable ways that anxiety-management works, it’s easy to spot if you know how to look for it.

If it helps you to think of this as a scavenger hunt (or a Bingo card!), then by all means go for it. Can you spot any of these processes at work in your family this week?

Distance

  • Who doesn’t show up?
  • Who shows up late or leaves early?
  • Who’s glued to their phone or the TV to avoid conversation?
  • When are superficial topics used to avoid sharing and connection?

Triangles

  • Who asks you for information about another person they’d rather not ask?
  • Who do you or others use as a buffer to avoid anxiety?
  • When do people gossip about another person?
  • When do people vent about another person?

Over/underfunctioning

  • Who is rushing around taking on much of the responsibility?
  • When do people assume that a person can’t do something without asking them?
  • When do people act less capable than they actually are?
  • When do people offer unsolicited advice or try to solve problems for others?

I could list several more categories, but I think this is a pretty good starter list. Distancing ourselves, pulling in another person, and taking on responsibility (or giving up responsibility) are all ways that a family will try and manage the anxiety in the room.

So what’s the point of all this observation? The idea is that the more you can be objective about your family simply doing what all families do, the less likely you are to feel attacked or to blame others. You won’t see heroes or villains—you’ll see the system at work.

I’ve used this example many times before, but one behavior I always observe when I go home to visit family is that my grandmother manages her anxiety by overfunctioning at meals. She will put extra food on my plate, even when I say no. Once I began to see this simply as her way of making sure we’re all okay, I could calm down a little. I didn’t snap at her when she put extra bread on my plate. I could simply let it sit there or kindly tell her that I didn’t need more food.

The art of not being surprised by our families is a skill that takes years to master, but what a difference it makes. The goal isn’t to teach people how to act differently. The goal is simply to see how you participate in all of these processes and to ask yourself, “Is this really how I want to act? Is there a different way I can be in relationship with these people, rather than just being another cog in the anxiety-managing machine?”

That’s the definition of differentiation—being inside of it and outside of the emotional process the same time. You can be a part of your family without being on this autopilot. You can choose how to respond with less reactivity. It’s hard work, but it starts by learning to not be so surprised when families do what they always do.

How can you start paying closer attention to how your family functions this week?

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Are the Virtual Interactions of Social Media Busting or Boosting Your Stress?

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Connecting with others is generally a good thing when it comes to our health and well-being. But can the same be said for our virtual interactions? The answer is a qualified “maybe,” according to psychologists and other experts who have studied the issue.

There’s evidence that the ability to connect with others via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media platforms, as well as text messages, can help strengthen social ties and keep us more attuned to our mental and physical health. But there’s also evidence that such interactions stifle human connectivity, lower our self-esteem, make us feel lonely and isolated, and just plain stress us out, says Emily Weinstein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who studies the effects of social media on young adults. “It’s both.”

Read the rest of my story at Everyday Health.

Counseling Today – Helping Clients With Post-Date Anxiety

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As a counselor, I have a front-row seat for watching anxiety develop in new relationships. It is truly fascinating to observe how quickly two people can become emotionally stuck together. A therapy client will leave for a week and return reporting that he or she has started dating someone new. This former stranger now has the power to make my client very happy or very anxious. Thanks to their phone, my client might spend all day analyzing a text they received — or worrying about the lack of one.

Read the rest of my essay at Counseling Today.

Filling in the Maturity Gaps

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Morgan came to counseling because of her boyfriend. He’d been seeing a therapist for the past several months, and she was impressed with his improved focus on his mental and physical health. When I asked her what she wanted to be different, she said that she struggled with low self-esteem when it came to her career and her appearance.

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Psycom.net – How to Control Anger and Frustration in a Relationship

courtney-clayton-361801-unsplash-349x233.jpgAs a therapist, I often challenge my clients to think about how their reactivity in a relationship gets in the way of who they want to be as a partner. So often we shut down, complain to friends, or try and control our partner as a response to our anger. While these strategies may feel relieve us in the moment, they are rarely effective in the long-term. Let’s take a look at four simple strategies for managing anger and growing maturity in your relationship.

Read the rest at psycom.net.

Measuring Maturity

When I first talk with potential therapy clients, I have two favorite questions that I like to ask:

  1. How would you know that things were getting better?
  2. How would you be functioning differently than you are right now?

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Most people can do a pretty good job at listing their complaints, discomforts, and symptoms. Describing a higher level of mature functioning, however, takes some thinking.  In a few weeks I’m giving a presentation about how I’ve worked on my overall functioning. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how I have measured my own progress as I work on myself. I’ve asked myself those two questions—how do I see things improving, and how have changes in my functioning contributed to this?

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Lessons from Eighth Grade

Pseudo-self is “pretend” self. People pretend to be more or less important than they really are, stronger or weaker than they really are, more or less attractive than they really are. A group can “pump up” an individual’s level of functioning to the point that he can do things he had been unable to do on his own. This higher level of functioning, however, is totally dependent on the group’s continuing support. – Family Evaluation, Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Michael Kerr

This week I went to see the movie Eighth Grade. The film follows Kayla, a modern 8th grader who publishes a series of positive, self-help videos on YouTube that display a pretend, opposite version of Kayla’s actual quiet, uncertain, and anxious self. Many reviewers have remarked that the film is an insightful commentary on how social media, the perfect selfie, and the lure of Internet fame have shaped today’s youth.

But as I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think the exact opposite. . .

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