washington dc therapy

Let It Begin with Me

There’s a popular hymn, often sung at Christmas, that goes,

Let there be peace on Earth
And let it begin with me.

When I’m frustrated with someone, I sing a different version in my head.

Let there be maturity in this room
And let it begin with me.

Though less lyrical, these words remind me of an important principle. It’s the idea that better relationships start with changing the only variable I can manipulate—myself.

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25 Ways You’re Using Triangles to Manage Anxiety

A two-person human relationship is about as steady as a two-legged stool. We often look to family members, coworkers, and friends to calm us down when we’re angry, disappointed, or confused by another person. When we pull in or focus on a third person to manage our anxiety, we are activating what is called a triangle.

When you start to look for triangles in your day-to-day life, you’ll find them everywhere. How many of these examples feel familiar to you?

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The Trouble With Keeping Score

This week I’ve been thinking about how we keep score in our relationships. It’s a common complaint from therapy clients. “I always call my mother. She never calls me.” Or, “I don’t want to be in a one-sided friendship, where I’m always the one inviting him to go out.”

Keeping score is one way that we maintain distance in anxious relationships. A seemingly self-absorbed parent, an inconsiderate sibling, or a radio silent friend are convenient excuses to reduce contact. It’s easy to label one person as the problem, but often both parties are participating equally in the behaviors that maintain this distance (or sometimes conflict) that keeps them from a closer relationship.

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Are You a Mind Reader or a Mind Knower?

Are You a Mind Reader or a Mind Knower_

Sometimes Kathleen gets too excited and forgets that there are other children in the class.

My first grade teacher left this biting review on one of my report cards. It was a criticism repeated by many people to my parents and myself: my zeal for knowledge eclipsed my awareness of social norms. Aka, I talked too much.

I heard this message enough that I had the opposite problem by middle school. I don’t blame anyone, but I do think that this type of feedback made me more aware of how I was being perceived by others. Don’t be the girl who talks too much or raises her hand for every question. Everyone hates that girl. 
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Moving Mountains. . .of Underwear

I once had a therapy client who couldn’t get her unemployed husband to do anything. She’d beg him to apply to jobs. She’d lecture him about going to therapy. She criticized him for leaving his dirty underwear on the bathroom floor. You can guess how effective this strategy was.

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If you’ve ever participated in any communication training, you’ve been taught to use I-statements. You’re told that a feeling statement helps a person understand your point of view. “I feel X when you do Y.”  My client had tried this approach. “I feel sad when you don’t take care of yourself.” “I feel hopeless when you avoid looking for jobs.” “I feel angry when you leave your underwear in the bathroom!” All this did was dial up the anxiety in the relationship.

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