Sunday, October 16, 2016

Letting Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

Is your past interrupting your present? Most people carry some wounds and beliefs from childhood, where you may have had negative things said to you by parents,siblings,friends or extended family. By becoming aware of beliefs we carry that no longer serve us, we can create new options.

There may be a nagging little voice in your head that you first heard in childhood. Perhaps this negative soundtrack keeps following you around in your adult life. Pretty much everyone has some self-limiting beliefs. Becoming aware of yours will help you be able to question them when they come up. Instead of taking them as fact, you can consider that they may or may not be accurate.

Self-limiting beliefs can hold you back from developing and advancing in your career. They can also cause you to limit yourself and restrict your choices, as well as making unsatisfying relationship decisions and fear-based patterns of behavior.

Each of us have these four emotional needs ( the four A's):





When we don't get these needs met sufficiently in childhood, we develop self-limiting beliefs that help us explain why. The most common self-limiting beliefs are:

I'm not lovable just the way I am.

I'm not worthy.

I'm not deserving of happiness.

I'm not good enough.

I'm a bad person because of something I've done in the past.

Limiting beliefs cause us to limit our opportunities for growth. They shrink our happiness and joy. They keep us stuck repeating the same old unhealthy patterns in our lives and in our closest relationships.Our limiting beliefs create negative feelings, and cause us to do less self-care, be more passive and to challenge ourselves less.

One effective way to move past limiting beliefs is to recall what you were praised for and what you were criticized for in childhood. Write the down and reflect on the messages you internalized that no longer suit you.Consider creating a release ritual such as burning your list of the limiting beliefs you want to let go of, or throwing a few stones that represent the limiting beliefs into a lake or the ocean or off a mountain. Thisceremony can mark you let the limiting beliefs go.

Daily meditation is another useful technique to help you connect with your true nature and let the limiting beliefs go. Before you meditate, ask yourself these 4 universal questions:

1. Who am I?

2.What do I want?

3.What is my purpose?

4.What am I grateful for?

Letting go of outdated beliefs that limit you allows you to think  about your authentic self, what you want to experience and give to others and how you can become a better and braver version of yourself. Being aware of limiting beliefs that we accepted can help us see situations more objectively, and allow us more freedom.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Healing the Heart Through Art and Music

Art and music can both be excellent mediums to help you access and process memories, feelings and experiences. I was reminded of this while working with one of my counseling clients recently who is learning to cope with a family member's life threatening illness.

Music can be a universal resource. It can help an individual who is grieving to process the loss, perhaps by evoking memories of music that reminds you of the beloved. A chill playlist on your phone or tablet can be the perfect way to calm down for 20 minutes when you are stressed, flooded emotionally and need to cool down so you don't lash out at someone you love. Then, when your cooler head prevails, you can productively discuss the issue with the other person involved.

Music is also a creative parenting strategy. Trying to help engage preschoolers with assisting you in cleaning up? Dealing with a grumpy, tired preteen or teenager in your car after school? Looking for subtle ways to lift your mood in the morning? Wanting to create a warm, loving atmosphere at home? Creative use of music can fit beautifully in each of these scenarios. Teens love to school parents while in the car commuting about what kind of music they like, and this is a great way to build a bridge to them emotionally. If little ones are squabbling, drown them out with the score to Hamilton. Music is also a beautiful part of a bedtime routine for parents and younger children.Think outside the box on your selections.

Music reaches us in amazing and deep ways. I can remember as I began my counseling career working with hospice patients, their families and a wonderful music therapist in a hospital and on home visits. Some patients were unresponsive until the music therapist brought out her auto-harp and played hymns or songs they loved as children. Patients who were unresponsive began to move a little or respond in ways that hadn't been seen in days.

I often use art---drawing, painting, collages and art projects--- while working with children and some teens who like creative activity as a way to help them relax and be able to access feelings in counseling sessions.It can make children and  teens less self-conscious while they are sharing.

We know that art, like music, can take you into a deeply relaxed state of mind where you can free up your ability to feel and express emotion. There are places that art and music can take you that words cannot touch. Here's a little art experiment to try on your own for using art to heal.

Find a quiet place where you can work uninterrupted with some paper or canvas art board and some acrylic paint in multiple colors.

Pick two colors to work with to express your feelings.

Paint one area of the canvas to represent something that is negative or difficult in your life now, and that you hold some upset or angry feelings about.

With the second color, paint a place that represents who else is involved in the situation that is upsetting you.

In another place on your canvas, paint about the consequence of this situation that is upsetting to you or that you are holding on to anger about.

Next, consider something in your life that brings you happiness, joy or light in your life right now. Think of something or someone you are grateful for. Paint a section to represent this positive element, person or situation.

If you wish, you can either reflect on what shows up in your painting, or share it with someone you trust.

Both art and music allow us a path into our interior life and access to emotions that might not be reached just with words. In the words of Victor Hugo,"music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." Painter Georgia O'Keefe wrote of making art that, "whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing." Think of creative endeavors with art and music as a tool and a resource to explore what you are feeling, process emotions and help you shift a mood when necessary, in a healthy way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership With Your Child

Don't we all want to raise children who become problem solvers, empathetic, collaborative and insightful? Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." In the busyness of daily life, it can be challenging not to just handle things yourself as a parent, and remember to involve your children or teens in problem solving with you whenever possible.

Ross W. Green, PhD, has a great new book that can give you examples of how to parent to build these traits in your children. Raising Human Beings: Creating A Collaborative Partnership With Your Child (Scribner, 2016) is the most recent book by Dr. Greene, who taught at Harvard Medical School for twenty years, and now is a founding director of the nonprofit group Lives in the Balance.

Ross Greene suggests we develop collaborative relationships with our children, where we have more influence than control. We need our children's input and feedback to effectively help them solve problems. We need to watch for when our children need help, but not offer it too soon, or preempt the child's ability to learn to solve problems themselves and grow stronger.

We want to be aware of helping our children develop their own identity, separate from ours. We want them to find healthy individuation. When that doesn't happen, Ross coins it "identity foreclosure", which is when a young person doesn't explore their own self-identity, but just blindly accepts the identity defined for them by parents. Instead, we want to support our children in creating identity achievement, where they have a well-defined self-concept and identity. We want them to know who they are as an individual, and what they believe, what they value and where they are going in life.

In parenting, we play a critical role by communicating with our child in a style that can make our influence useful and constructive in their life. We also need to be open to learning about parenting, life and the world through our children's input and unique contributions. If we can be balanced, calm and centered, we are more likely to be able to influence our children positively.

It's normal to have expectations for our children. If they aren't meeting our expectations, Ross suggests we involve the child in defining the problem and brain-storming some solutions. He suggests we remember that children want to do well and generally do well if they can. We have to deal with what we are dealt as parents. Instead of the parent deciding what the problem is alone and solving it alone, we do better if we involve the child whenever possible. As I work in counseling parents do implement Active Parenting, we find this collaborative style works better and gets buy-in from your child. In this book, Ross goes through a number of situations and plays out the parent giving a punishment versus the parent and child solving the problem together which is useful.

Our long-term goal is to build a collaborative, lifelong relationship with our children, and helping them prepare to be problem-solvers themselves. It's interesting to think about your own relationship with your parents when you were growing up. Did you open up to your mom or dad when you had difficulty with something as a child or a teen? If you didn't, it may have been that they were critical, angry, judgmental or anxious. If you did, it's probably because you could count on your mom or dad listening, collaborating, asking you for your thoughts or solutions and being encouraging. Let's be those parents who can be calm and collaborative. I appreciated that the author includes the college years of parenting in a collaborative style as well.

Perhaps no other role in your life will challenge you and polish you up as much as being a parent. No other job you do is ever more important. Playing our part well as parents is key, no matter what child you get. Being open to learning and becoming a positive influence is a pattern of parenting that could become your best legacy to your family. Ross Greene's book may help you get there.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Do Your Friends Actually Like You?

A new research study suggests that only about half of perceived friendships are considered mutual. The misunderstanding could be due to our own optimism or to the limited amount of time most people have for best friends. Either way, it's worth your time to identify your own true friends! Read the New York Times article here for more information on this research.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Being Aware of Your Own Blind Spots

Here is a great tool for understanding more about your blind spots in how you perceive yourself and how you relate to others: it's called Johari's Window. It was developed by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. They combined their first names (ala Brangelina or Kimye) to come up with this name for their concept. It's a useful construct to help each of us become more aware of ourselves and others.

Writer Anais Nin wrote that, "we don't see things as we are, we see things as we are." Luft and Ingham designed Johari's window to help us begin to see ourselves and the people close to us in a more complete way. They constructed four quadrants of perception that are organized to look like a four-paned window. Each of the four sections represents one area of perception. Those areas are:

1. Free/Open- These are bits of information we know about ourselves and everyone else knows about us, too. This would be things that someone walking by could tell: our gender, our age range, eye and hair color. These are facts that are commonly accessible to all.

2. Hidden- This is the information about ourselves that is hidden from others, and only known to ourselves. These are our "secrets."

3. Blind- This is the area of our perception where we each have blind spots, and other people we are in relationship with know some things about us that we don't know ourselves. This is the area where tremendous growth is possible if we are open to learning more about how we are seen and experienced by our partner, our children, our parents, and others we are close to. It is also an area where feedback, if delivered well, can spur us on to be more self-aware.

4. Unknown- This is the area of understanding about things that neither we or those closest to us know about us.

If you wish, you can use the Johari's Window concept to grow yourself and your ability to integrate what those closest to you can tell you about your blind spots. When we become more fully known in a relationship over time, we ideally self-disclose, share more, and hide less of ourself with "secrets." This causes what therapists consider "deepening"of a relationship.
We can also become open to giving and asking for feedback from the intimate other. Feedback should never be given in anger or to relieve tension. The best relationship feedback is specific, descriptive, and non-judgmental. It is focused on the here and now, not the past. Don't give advice to the other person, simply share your perception of their behavior, and how it makes you feel in the relationship with them. Only give feedback if asked.

What a wonderful tool we have to use if we are willing to ask those closest to us from time to time questions like:

When do you feel closest to me emotionally?
When do you feel most disconnected from me?
What behaviors do I do that contribute to you feeling closer? More distant?
How am I doing in my relationship with you?

If we can be undefended about feedback, we can develop to be more loving, available, and connected with those who really matter. It's almost like those we love hold the information about our relational blind spots, and can guide us to become better people if we are open to it.

Perception really is our reality. Johari's Window helps us to see that there are often several realities from a relationship perspective. If we think we are always right, we are probably not taking seriously enough the growth we can make by learning about how we look and how the relationship looks from the other person's view. You might ask for a little feedback this week, and learn a little about yourself. It's a shift that will make you better, more grounded, and real.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Middle School Years Hardest for Moms

The middle school years from grades 6 through 8 are a time of big transition for families as children become teens, deal with the hormonal changes of puberty, and move from an often supportive elementary school setting to the world of middle school where parents aren't as involved at school. A 2016 study of 2,200 mostly well-educated mothers found that mothers of middle school students also struggle. Mothers report more distress and less well-being when their children hit grades 6 to 8. Mothers of infants and grown children are happiest, according to the study, lead by Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor and researcher at Arizona State University at Tempe.

Researchers expected to find that mothers of infants are similarly stressed as the levels experienced by mothers of middle-schoolers, but they are not. The University of Arizona's research team believes this might be because infants are exhausting, but are also intensely rewarding to hold and cuddle. Middle-schoolers are usually not as rewarding or cuddly. Their developmental task is beginning to make them seek individuation from parents and push parents away.

Other factors probably also impact parents' levels of satisfaction. Many parents know their children's friends, classmates and a community of other parents and teachers. When the middle school transition begins, students often interact at school with minimal parent involvement, and moms may feel more disconnected as students share less about their world, their school experiences and their friends. A number of the middle school students I see in counseling long for the independence of being dropped off to see a movie or spend time with friends without a parent accompanying them. Parents can suffer a big fall from grace, as the big need that our children had for us in younger years begins to change.

Parents' confidence in their abilities to discipline, influence and communicate with their child all decline in the middle school years. It's important not to buy in to stereotypes about teens which lump them all together as negative. Friendships with other parents of middle school age children and parenting classes can really help mitigate the sense of distress and isolation, as well as normalize the developmental parenting shifts that are happening.

Parents of middle school students need to get support from each other as less emotional rewards come in from their children. It's also important to shift and continue to connect with children, but in different ways. For example, providing space for your teen or preteen to have friends over at your home and provide snacks but remain on the periphery. Continue to reach out to connect with middle- schoolers at dinnertime and in the car, and having them teach you some things when you can.

It's been said that preteens and teens are building a house of self, and that they need to be able to set some boundaries and separation from us in order to feel they are opening and closing the doors in their house.They let us in close at times and close us out at others. It's our job as parents to be there, be loving and interested and not too needy. Keep that in mind when your sweet child asks you to drop them off down the block from their middle school or high school so no one sees you. It's a bittersweet passage that is necessary so they can begin preparing to separate from us and begin those first steps towards becoming their own person.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Honoring Our Dads, Stepdads and Granddads

With Father's Day approaching this Sunday, I think it's time we all pause and reflect to honor good dads everywhere. Many times, Father's Day gets trampled on by Mother's Day, graduations, and spring birthdays. It's just not fair. Fathers and the other important good men in our lives who nurture, develop, inspire and support children, teens, and young adults deserve the spotlight all on their own.

Together, let's reach out to the men in our lives who make a difference, both to us and to our children, because they suit up, show up, and do the right thing. These are the good men who show us that women do not corner the market on nurturing and supporting others. They might be our fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles, or family friends. What they have in common is taking a loving concern for the young people in their lives, and doing all they can to be a positive male influence. We salute you. You make a huge difference.

Men and women are different, and we provide children and young adults with different things. I often think of it as women bringing children INTO the world and men taking children OUT into the world, helping them launch into the adult world, separate from their mother, and become a successful adult. All our lives, we benefit from having a positive, kind male role model we respect and can turn to for advice. It's not that you can't succeed without that support; it just makes it so much easier. It gives you a firm foundation. You have someone to ask about the exclusively male perspective on life, and ask for their input or guidance.

Good dads stay connected to their children, whether or not they are still married to that child's mother. They stay involved and actively engaged with their child or children all their lives. We hope that our marriages endure, but the parent-child relationship must endure all your life. In research by the Center for the Family in Transition in Mill Valley, California, Judith Wallerstein, Ph.D., and her team has done the longest study to date on outcomes for children of divorce. One of the worst things that can possibly happen to children in their parents' divorce is that their father disengages, in terms of emotional support, time, and financial support. I often caution parents I counsel not to do this. Parents who love their children stay involved, no matter what.

Grandfathers, stepfathers, and uncles can all be critically important roles, defined by who plays the role and how you play it. It's messy to get involved. You have to give---time, attention, listening, support. You can receive incredible rewards by becoming a positive male influence. You might be the only chance a particular child in your life has to know a honest, kind, nurturing, grounded man. Both girls and boys need the positive male adult energy to have successful careers and relationships later on.

This week, give some affirmation and applause to the good men in your life who nurtured and supported you, or who give that love and positive male role modeling to your children. Stand-up guys are sometimes taken for granted, but they really shouldn't be. Strong, kind, loyal and devoted men are an incredible blessing, both to good women and to building a wonderful next generation. We honor you for defining what a good man is really like.