Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Relationships Deciphered

The purpose of this blog is to bring some clarity to the enigmatic nature of relationships through the in-depth examination of common relational impasses with the goal of increasing insight into our behavior and thought processes*.

In addition, this blog will discuss relevant topics in the field of psychotherapy in an attempt to educate and reduce stigma around mental health and psychotherapy in general.

*This blog is NOT focused solely on romantic relationships.

Perspective is everything!!!

We live life from our respective vantage points and have determined that what we see is correct. Deborah Tannen alluded to this when she suggested that we often assign noble intent to our own behavior and fail to do the same of others. It's important for us to be mindful as we navigate this thing called life. When I'm working with a client I will often have them describe to me what they see in the room without moving their head. They obviously describe whatever is behind me, that which is out of my sight. I challenge them by indicating they must be lying cause I don't see any of that from where I am sitting. This exchange helps them become aware of their behavior first and then their thinking. That what they see must be the only way to see things!

My goal with that exercise is to help them understand the concept of multiple truths. That, in life, most things are not so dichotomous. That is, black or white, right or wrong, or happy or sad. Instead we can be multiple things at once. We can be a father and a son, happy and grieving, excited and scared, etc. When we engage in all-or-nothing thinking, we distress ourselves when our frame of reference doesn't align with someone else's. It's this sort of irrational thinking that causes us to be anxious or depressed. Our inner bullies will convince us that if we're not perfect we're terrible, if we don't know something we're incompetent, or if I am unsuccessful then I am a failure. Learning to temper our judgments of ourselves and others is key to having healthier relationships with ourselves and those that come into contact with us. Clients have mentioned it is freeing once they can accept the idea that different doesn't mean negative. You can like mint chip ice cream and I can like cookies & cream, and we can still be friends. 

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Duck Analogy
Duck Picture.jpg

Albert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, suggested that anxiety was a, "crisis of the imagination." We can worry ourselves sick thinking about the potentially negative, or unpleasant, outcomes of a situation that hasn't happened yet. Anxiety is the uncontrolled rush of irrational thoughts that prevent us from thinking through situations. As a result we end up in a state of hyper-vigilance (fight or flight); very helpful in instances when our survival is threatened, not so much when we are standing in line at Whole Foods.

For someone that doesn't suffer from anxiety if can be tough to conceptualize what the experience is like. To assist with having more empathy and understanding I use the analogy of the duck. If you've ever seen a duck swimming on a pond, it does so with grace. It is a smooth, seemingly effortless, progression across the water. However, underneath the surface the ducks legs are paddling frantically to propel it forward. Anxiety is often like this. Individuals appear to have it together, when in reality their emotions are raging frantically. Their thoughts are future-oriented and ALWAYS predictive of some negative outcome. As outside witnesses we may experience their anxiety as resistance to engage in some activity (a friend that avoids going out), as anger (lashing out when encouraged to do something that seems positive), or as a complete breakdown over something minuscule in nature (passing out when needing to get a shot from the doctor). 

For sufferers of anxiety, these anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, can be triggered by any number of things (e.g., an exam, a presentation, a dog, high places, etc.) and are scary because of the fact that we aren't usually aware of the irrational thoughts that precipitate them. The feeling suggests to us that we are in danger and can be very confusing if we cannot immediately identify any real threat. The body has the same response to a threat regardless of whether or not it was real or imagined. Untreated anxiety can evolve into a full blown phobia or other anxiety related disorder. Therefore, therapy should focus on making us aware of our irrational thinking, providing us with evidence to challenge or counter our irrationality, and teach us skills to effectively reduce our anxiety and prevent it from becoming crippling.

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