Category Archives: Psychology

Unanswered Prayers

I’ve talked about my daughter before – her name is Charlie and she is almost 10 years old. She is awesome and I love her, but she has recently taken a turn for the dramatic (could it be teen hormones already?). Anyway… I was tucking her into bed the other day and she looked at me and asked, “Why doesn’t anything ever go my way?” (Like I said, a flare for the dramatic). We had a long talk about what it was that was bothering her and resolved her current crisis as best we could at 9 PM. I even added a little reality check about using words like “never” and “always”.

Everything seemed good, but it got me to thinking – we (all of us) have a tendency to assume not getting our way is always a bad thing. We assume if something else had happened, everything would have been better. Let me give you an easy example- a client was recently in a car accident. It wasn’t anything too traumatic, but there was car damage which is always a hassle. My client was in my office complaining how she keeps getting screwed by life and if she had only left 5 minutes later (or earlier) the accident could have been avoided. I think it is perfectly natural to feel this way, but it is important to remember things could have been actually worse. Maybe a different, more serious car accident would have occurred. It is impossible to know. We can waste so much time focused on what “might” have happened.

There is even a song about it. Do you know Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers”? Here is a peek, if you aren’t sure (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-13-greatest-country-songs-for-thanksgiving-20141125/garth-brooks-unanswered-prayers-1990-20141125). It’s all about a man who goes back to his home town and sees his high school girlfriend with whom he had so desperately wanted a future. The relationship had not worked out and both had moved on. When the singer looks around, he realizes how not getting what he wanted actually helped him to get what he really needed after all (wife, kids, happiness). The ways that not getting what we want actually serves us is not always so transparent or direct, but it is important to try not to spend too much time on what might have been at the detriment of what actually is.

My stepdad died about 12 years ago after a painful bout with pancreatic cancer. I was living on the West Coast while he and my mom were in Michigan. I got a call one day I should come home because the doctors determined he did not have much time left. I booked a flight for the next day, but he passed before I got there. For a fairly long while I was torn up about not having had an opportunity to say goodbye. I had this dramatic vision of a Hollywood deathbed goodbye where we shared our feelings (all good) and he peacefully went to “sleep”. I felt cheated of this. Over time, I became aware that his deathbed was likely nothing like this. He was not conscious and communicating. I was spared seeing him so ill. My last memory of him is not him sickly and weak, but up and about and teasing me. I was not cheated, but was spared. I did not get what I wanted, but it was for the best.

So, here is my takeaway – if you get frustrated about something that happened (or didn’t happen), remember it may have been in your best interest. Even if you can’t see how it is good for you, try not to dwell too much on what could have been (or should have been) and, instead, focus on what is. Try to make your “is” as good as you can.

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You are a Survivor

I’ve noticed something lately. I used to think people were “playing the victim” to be manipulative or to get attention and/or sympathy, but I think there is more to it. When you are the victim, you don’t have to change – you are doing nothing wrong. The bad thing is happening to you because someone else is doing something mean or evil or wrong or mean to you. They are the ones who need to change their behavior or be punished. You just get to be you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times someone is doing something to you that is horrible and undeserved and you did absolutely nothing to bring it on. That sucks. I get it. But, and here is the big but, you decide what you are going to do about it and how you are going to recover. You get to decide if you are a victim or a survivor. There is a lot more power and control over your life as a survivor than as a victim.

If a man beats a woman – that is terrible. He is a reprehensible human being and deserves to be punished within the fullest extent of the law (and maybe a little bit more). This woman has experienced something tragic and painful and, undoubtedly, feels scared and betrayed. Labeling her as “the victim” means she has no power over what happens to her next. It limits her. If she views herself as a victim, she may feel vulnerable. If she is a survivor, she can stand up and get out of the relationship. She can heal her body, mind, and spirit and rebuild her life.

If a child grows up in a home rife with abuse, he or she can be a “victim of child abuse” or a survivor of child abuse. Can you imagine how people selecting those two different labels might view themselves and their experiences? One is empowering while the other seems to minimize their power.

This isn’t just about abuse. We can become so firmly entrenched in bad or unfair things that are happening to us that we don’t look for a way out. The weight of the “bad” holds us down and almost smothers us. It is important to look around you to see if there is any way to make the situation better and, if not, how to find an exit strategy. A client of mine recently told me about the difficulties he was having with his supervisor at work. He felt she was unjustifiably critical of him and often ignored his requests for assistance. He reported feeling trapped by her and saw no way to “make her change”. We began to explore their interactions (through his report, of course) and he discovered he has a tendency to be defensive, argumentative and passive-aggressive with this supervisor. We discussed how his style of communication might be contributing to her treatment of him. This was not all on him – at least it didn’t seem so, but once we could identify how he was exacerbating the situation, we could problem-solve ways to (hopefully) improve their relationship. My client had been so stuck in his self-identified role as the victim of his mean supervisor he had not been able to recognize his own behaviors. He could not change what he did not recognize. When we become so firmly entrenched in our position as the victim, we cannot acknowledge changes we might make to improve the situation.

Let’s sum this is – if you are in a problematic relationship, look for ways you might be able to make It better. If this isn’t possible, look for your way out. Life it is too short to be miserable. You are a survivor.

No Time Like the Present – that means NOW

I need you all to explain something to me. What is this magical power that “Monday” seems to have? Ah! Everything seems to wait until Monday. A friend will talk to me about reinvesting themselves in working out – going to the gym, running in their neighborhood, biking to work, you name it – I am, of course, slightly intimidated and incredibly impressed by their commitment and drive. Then they say those three little words – no, not “I love you”, but of course they do, but “I’ll start Monday.” What? Wait a minute – why wait until Monday? Dude, it’s, like, Tuesday…

I have been guilty of this myself. Somehow there is this idea what any new change has to happen at the beginning of the week or it isn’t “official” or something. That is crap, I tell you, crap. You want to start something new? Want to make a change? Well, there is no time like the present. Start today. Right now. This minute. Don’t even wait to start tomorrow morning. Now!

You may be wondering why I am being so pushy – well, a lot can happen between now and tomorrow morning or Monday. A lot can happen between now and then that will interfere with you plans. It is too easy to keep putting things off until Monday, next month, summer, after the holidays, etc. Procrastination party of one! If you are motivated now and have created a plan – do it. I don’t care if you ate the junk foodiest breakfast on Earth this morning, you can still start your plan to eat healthier now. Spent a crap ton at the mall today? Well, you can start being more “fiscally responsible” right now.

So, the next time you are going to make a change in your life, please remember – there is no time like the present.

Post-Holiday Slump

A frequent complaint of patients in my office this time of year is something they call Seasonal Depression. This is a very real diagnosis and many people suffer from it. What I find, though, is many people who self-diagnose as Seasonal Depression are really experiencing a post-holiday emotional slump. Regardless of whatever holiday you may celebrate (religious or otherwise) there are a number of celebrations that occur during November and December each year. Due to these celebrations, we are disgustingly busy during this 6-8 week period and are often running from one social event to another. By the time we get to catch our breath, it’s the beginning of January. Now, if you live anywhere besides the Southernmost states or California, it is also a time of bitter cold and related household lockdown.

For most of us, after the excitement of New Year’s, there isn’t much new coming up until Valentine’s Day (and the emotional whiplash THAT holiday causes). I call this the post-holiday slump. We have been so busy with November and December that we don’t know what to do with ourselves and all our current free time. There is also, often, little to look forward to. This is my recommendation. Create things to look forward to. Plan a vacation. Schedule a meet-up with friends. Put a massage on the books. Find something to give you some excitement.

Post-holiday slump is typically short in duration – a few weeks, a month maybe. If you find it is lasting too long or the symptoms are too difficult for you to manage on your own or if you consider doing anything to hurt yourself or anyone else – get help immediately. Do not walk, run to your nearest mental health professional – in a pinch, call 911 or go to the local Emergency Room so you can get immediate help. You do what you can to manage your symptoms, but there is never any shame in needing help.

So… Your Friend is Transgendered – Now What?

I have gotten a number of emails, phone calls, tweets and general comments over the past couple of days about the tragic suicide of a transgendered young woman, Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn). Much of the focus of discussion has been on this young woman’s suicide note (you can link to it here if you haven’t read it or want a refresher http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note), her transgender status and/or her Christian parents’ refusal to accept/acknowledge that transgender status. I’ve been listening to criticism of her parents and debates over whether or not transgender is real. I don’t really care if you think transgender is legitimate or not (though I can tell you as a mental health professional it is), but what I can tell you is this young woman was in immense pain.

We need to do a better job of taking care of each other – especially our children who may not have adequate coping skills to manage life’s challenges. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon and rip her parents apart. If what has been has said about them is true, I do not agree with their parenting choices and wish things had been managed differently, but that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the need to keep an eye on one another.

What can you do if someone in your life is dealing with transgender identity (even if the person isn’t talking about suicide)?

  1. Talk to someone. I am not saying “out” them, but if you need to process through your own thoughts and feelings – talk it out. You can maintain their confidentiality while working things through. You may not know what to do to help. Ask for help! Talk to a teacher, a parent, a school counselor, a priest, I don’t really care who, but talk to someone until you get guidance. All too often, we avoid things that make us uncomfortable – you can’t do that here. This is too important.
  2. Be there. Talk with your friend or family member about what all of this means for them. Even, as in Leelah Alcorn’s situation, you are not “supportive” of transgendered identity, there are still “safe” topics of feeling lonely, sad, and isolated. This is still the same person they were before you learned they are transgendered. If he is a good friend, she will be, too.
  3. Refer to support groups (not just for your loved one, but for you, too). Knowledge is power!
    1. http://community.pflag.org/transgender
    2. http://www.glaad.org/transgender
    3. http://www.transgender.support/
    4. http://susans.org/
    5. http://www.iamtransgendered.com/SupportGroups.aspx

These are but a few of the online, national organizations available to provide information and support, both to the individual and to their loved ones. There are also countless programs available within your own community. When I worked at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), I became acquainted with their amazing program (http://www.chla.org/site/c.ipINKTOAJsG/b.7501767/k.5FBA/Transgender_Services__Adolescent_Medicine__Case_Management__Health_Education.htm#.VKSWvCvF_EY). Check out what might be available in your town.

  1. No matter what you might think or feel about transgendered individuals, do not make fun of, attack verbally or physically, or shame them. Doing any of these behind their backs still sucks – it’s just more cowardly. Remember life is hard enough for each of us without some jerk making worse. Don’t be that jerk.

Did I miss something important? What else might you recommend? As always, I am open to suggestions.

Drama only Belongs on the Stage

We’ve talked about toxic people in the past, you and I, and the toll they can take on you and your relationships. But when I asked my daughter for suggestions about this blog, she asked that I write about drama and the people who seem to enjoy creating it. It is kind of sad, really, that my 9-year-old is already picking up on this in others, but maybe that’s because she seems to enjoy creating it herself at times and that helps her to recognize it in others.

There are a number of different types of drama queens. (I use this term non-gender specifically, as there are just as many male drama queens as female – maybe more):

  1. The attention whore – This drama queen needs to be in the center of attention at all times. She always has an exciting story to share at the top of her lungs, so you couldn’t ignore her even if you tried. She is often extremely entertaining, so most of the time you don’t mind at all. She can be tiring over long periods of time, though.
  2. The chronically ill – I don’t mean people who are legitimately sick. This drama queen always has a headache or an upset stomach or a hurt foot or a sore back. You get the idea. There is always a complaint and she loves sharing it with you. It gets to the point where, instead of saying, “Hi”, you want to say, “So, what hurts today?”
  3. The pot stirrer – Ooooh, this queen is a sneaky one. She creates the drama behind the scenes. She tells Person A something about Person B and then tells that reaction to Person C. She then sits back to watch and see what happens. She doesn’t want to be involved in the fireworks, but sure enjoys the show.
  4. The exaggerator – I don’t think this drama queen even realizes she is doing it, but everything that happens to her is HUGE, at least when she tells the tale. Every date is epically good or bad, all disagreements are explosive, and all successes deserving of a parade. Her life is one of extremes which is exhausting to all involved.

If you see a queen, you don’t necessarily have to run screaming in the other direction – remember, sometimes they are fun. What you do need to know is with whom you are dealing. Know if someone in your life is a drama queen. It will help you to decide how best to interpret what she shares with you. Do you take it at face value or do you need to translate it through some anti-drama program to get the real deal? You may save yourself unnecessary time spent in an emotional wringer.

What do you think? Did I miss anyone? I’d love your suggestions about any underrepresented drama queens.

The Pressure that is New Year’s Eve

Here I sit, just one day away from New Year’s Eve, trying to figure out what I want to do that night. Now that I am “older”, I can look back on a wide variety of New Year’s Eve experiences – the high school events where we pilfered booze from our parents or hit up older boyfriends to buy for us; college where I worked in a bar (and therefore worked EVERY New Year’s Eve for five years); grown parties where we could buy decent food, good wine and a decent night out; and, finally, as parents where we celebrate with other families with kids in the under-10 crowd. With all of these diverse experiences, there is one thing that stands out – the less expectations I put on the night, the more fun I had. The amount of time I spent agonizing over what to wear, where to go, what to eat and who to hang out with was negatively related to how I good of a time was had. (Am I the only one who has been through this?)

Have you noticed this? When you expect it to be “the best night EVER”, it rarely is. Every little letdown becomes huge somehow. So here is my advice to you. Make whatever plans sound fun to you – game night with friends, night out at a club, quiet evening at home – I don’t really care what it is, but plan it because it sounds fun as is. Don’t create this perfect fantasy full of perfect moments. You are only setting yourself up for disappointment. You evening doesn’t have to be perfect. Your outfit doesn’t have to be perfect. Your friends don’t have to be perfect. Your date doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be.

Someone may be rude. The food may be burnt. The bar will probably be too crowded. You could spill on your dress. Your friend may puke (gross). And you know what, you will have fun anyway. So, what am I going to do this New Year’s? I don’t think I have fully decided yet, but whatever it is – it will just be.

The Saga of Loud Breathing Yoga Man

I went to Yoga class on Wednesday – not an unusual occurrence for me, I tend to go fairly often, but this was at a different time than normal. I walked in, took a deep breath and lay down on my mat to relax because I had 10 minutes to chill before class started. I lay there with my eyes shut, thinking about nothing in particular, just feeling kind of psyched I had been able to make it to an earlier class. I was, overall, happy to be there. I heard the instructor walk into the room, noticed her adjust the lights through my closed eyelids and began to rouse myself to join the class. That’s when I looked around and…ugh… the moaner/grunter was there.

Crap. Maybe I’ve mentioned this particular gentleman before – if you’ve taken a yoga class in the past, you may have had someone like him there. He is the guy who, rather than “breathing as a community”, waits a beat and then moans/groans – loudly. Really loudly. Every time. The studio where I take yoga is a relatively quiet place – an instructor softly speaking, people softly breathing and one loud moaner/groaner. (Can you tell I react strongly to this guy?) Here is the thing – I saw this guy and my immediate reaction was F this, I am outta here. I wanted to leave. I had gone from peaceful excitement about taking class to annoyance/avoidance in one glance. Then I had a bit of an epiphany. This guy doesn’t get to take this away from me. He wasn’t going to ruin this for me. I started to (internally) make fun of his noises and found myself being entertained by his ridiculousness. (I didn’t make fun of him overtly – I was annoyed, not rude.) I just smiled to myself and moved on.

Too often we allow people to have too much power over our lives. Have you ever gone to work and discovered you were assigned to work with a less than desirable co-worker and allowed it to ruin your day? Have you arrived at a party and noted someone you really didn’t like had been invited as well? Did it interfere with your ability to have a good time? These people don’t get to interfere with your life like this. Find a way to turn it around in your head. If they are annoying, make it funny for yourself. Focus on the people who you do enjoy.

I am not saying I will deliberately be seeking this guy out so we can take classes together in the future. I still really find him annoying and he messes with my concentration, but if I happen to walk in and he is there, he won’t chase me out.

The Truth about Santa

I have may have mentioned previously that I have a 9-year-old daughter. She is still a professed Santa-believer (though we have serious doubts she is really 100% on board vs. afraid of how things might change). My husband and I have had frequent talks about how to have “the talk” with her about Santa and when we should have that conversation. We have (maybe out of avoidance) opted to wait for her to come to us. We answer any question she may have, but are not seeking her out to burst her bubble. We’ve come close a couple of times. She has come to us in previous years and shared what a friend has told her about Santa. We’ve never “lied” exactly, but we have sugar-coated the truth, each year coming closer and closer to confessing.

The most recent conversation had to do with the Easter Bunny. We were sitting at Easter dinner at my husband’s restaurant (he had to work that year, so he wasn’t at the table – lucky Bastard to avoid this conversation). We’re eating dinner, having a wonderful afternoon. Imagine us, surrounded by families and enjoying a delicious meal when my 9-year-old looks up at me with her huge hazel eyes and asks, “It’s really you and Daddy who put out my Easter basket, right?” I nearly choked on my dinner! She’d be an amazing detective – totally blind-sided me and caught me unprepared. What does a psychologically-trained professional like me do? Once I could breathe again, I said, “Why don’t you ask your father.” Seriously? Why don’t you ask your father? I totally dropped the ball (and then punted it). As far as I know, she never asked him.

Well, this year we know we are living on borrowed time. She is 9, almost 10. She isn’t asking us, but is making end runs at other trusted adults in her life. Just two days ago, she was in a dance class with her most trusted dance teacher, the divine Miss Erin and slyly asked about Miss Erin’s Elf on the Shelf and whether she moves it for her kids or if the elf moves on its own. This amazing lady reiterated what we had always told her – something about Christmas magic – and Charlie moved on. So, I know it is coming. What am I going to do?

I have decided to be honest. There are letter suggestions out there (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/163959242659866164) and I love, love, love the sentiments of this letter and will include many of them when I finally have this conversation. I will not be writing her a letter (though this definitely appeals to my desire to avoid a potentially uncomfortable, awkward, sad conversation). It is important for me to tell her that Santa is about the spirit of Christmas and even though (spoiler alert) Moms and Dads tend to buy the Santa gifts, Santa is still about the magic of the season. I would stress the importance of allowing the spirit of Santa and Christmas to remain alive for others. (Unlike my older sister who blew the secret when I was only four – I still bear the scars of that psychological trauma). I will explain to her that, like Spiderman, with great knowledge comes great responsibility – she is responsible for allowing the joy to continue for other kids.

Now comes to million dollar question – when am I going to tell her? Well, I am defaulting to “the next time she asks”. I have a strong suspicion she already knows (or at least has a significant gut feeling), but I will allow her to address this as she is comfortable. I don’t feel it is my role to push her to believe or not believe any more. I am going to support her wherever she is and answer her questions as they are posed. The selfish part of me is hoping it isn’t for a couple more weeks – I would love to have one more Christmas with Santa intact.

Maybe it is a Little Bit You…

We’ve all heard those break-up stories – the couple sit there while one looks into the other’s eyes and explains they want to end the relationship. They try to let the other down easily and say those five little words, “It’s not you, it’s me.” What is this supposed to mean? It means the person ending the relationship is saying they aren’t able to be in the relationship despite the fact the person being dumped is fabulous and wonderful and a perfect person/partner. Do they actually mean this? Well, maybe/maybe not.

Look, harsh reality here – sometimes it really is you. Hearing this can spare you from having to hear these words again and again. I want you to pay attention to patterns even when they aren’t totally obvious. Do your relationships with boyfriends seem to end when you try to get too close too fast? This could be important information! Do you keep getting laid off from jobs as soon as they have an opportunity to downsize? Take notice! Are you struggling to connect in friendships and end up excluded with little to no explanation? Consider the role you may be playing in these relationships!

If you don’t notice these patterns, you are doomed to repeat them. Ooooh! Another saying is especially meaningful here – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana). If someone tells you “It’s not you, it’s me” take a moment and think it through. Maybe, just maybe, it is a little bit you. This doesn’t have to be a painful reality – it is information you can build on to make your life even more amazing. Use it. Learn from it. Make changes as necessary and leave your ex in your dust.