Friday, March 28, 2014

Do You Speak Love Languages?

Some books you read and never think about ever again. Some books you remember. Gary Chapman's classic book about relationships, "The Five Love Languages", is the second type. Chapman's book was published years ago now, but it has a simple but elegant idea which I still draw from when I'm coaching clients about improving and strengthening their relationships.

With couples, it is so important to understand the differences between the two of you and to grow to appreciate and work with them. Often people assume that their partner thinks, feels, or needs what they do. Surprise! They probably don't. You need to ask. This is a simple but incredibly important concept, that you need to love people you love in the way they can best receive it, not in the way that you like to give or receive it.

The concept of love languages is useful not just in couples relationships, but also in parent-child relationships, and other close family and friend relationships. It's an easy and fun conversation to start with someone you care about. How do you like to be shown that I love and care about you? Here's what I prefer from you.

Here are the five love languages:

1.Words of affirmation- verbal or written feedback about your significance to the other person. This could include encouragement, praise, compliments, and kind words that build the other person up. The words say, "I see you. I care about you. I appreciate you I value you. I cherish you".

2.Quality time spent together- this should be time spent giving that person your complete and undivided attention. Minimize all distractions. The attention should be individualized, perhaps doing something together you both enjoy. Make eye contact. Put away your cell phone, ipad, computer, or book. Focus on being completely present. Do active listening, where you ask questions to understand more deeply.

3.Gifts-they don't have to be expensive. It's more the idea that you thought about the other person. It could be as small as leaving your partner a pack of gum or chocolate they love, or bringing them a flower. For people who have this as their love language, anniversary and birthday gifts hold great meaning, and unexpected gifts on regular days really makes them melt.

4.Acts of service- some people like to be shown that their partner loves them by having them do a loving action. It could be filling your car with gas, or cleaning the house, or pruning the roses, or doing something kind for your aging parent. These are thoughtful acts that put love into action.

4.Physical touch- For optimal emotional and physical health and well-being,  each of us need to be touched and hugged in a loving way multiple times per day. Your children need it, and the adults that are close to you usually want it. To some people it is the most important way to be close and make them feel loved and needed.

Which language is your preferred way to receive love? This might be a fun conversation to have this week with someone you love. Whether it's your partner, your child, your parent, or a dear friend that you cherish, it always feels good to have someone take the time to find out what your currency is. Chapman's book gives lots of examples from relationships and is a fast and useful read.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Is The New 80: Aging Well

This week, feminist and activist Gloria Steinem turns eighty. She's still writing, traveling, and speaking. She gave an interview to the New York Times in which she explains her birthday celebration plans. They included a "This is What 80 Looks Like" benefit fundraiser for the Shalom Center of Philadelphia, followed by a trip to Botswana, including an elephant ride.

Steinem is honest about her age, and while she colors her hair, she hasn't succumbed to changing her face or wrinkles. She is still very actively involved in her causes. I wonder if it keeps her younger. It's wonderful that she feels such as sense of purpose at 80.

As more of us can expect to live longer, into our 80's and 90's, we have an opportunity to consider how we want to approach aging.

Here are some things to consider:

1.Your energy level changes, often by 50 and beyond. How can you learn to pace yourself, take rest breaks, and focus on the most important things to be spending your time on? One challenge is adjusting your physical activities as you age. As Michelle Obama turned 50 this year, she shifted from cardio work outs to more of a focus on flexibility, with activities like yoga. Having a social network that encourages movement is helpful, too.

2.What can you do to still stay active mentally? Use it or lose it is the key principle. Staying involved with other people is important, and not isolating. Steinem is a good role model in this way, by continuing to stay involved actively in issues and causes she cares about. I always want to explore with my patients who are considering retirement, "What are you retiring to do?"

3. The research team using the 8 decade study started by Dr. Lewis Terman from Stanford University and follow up studies by Dr. Howard Friedman and Dr. Leslie Martin, show that people who have a purpose, and a life path with an active pursuit of their goals live longer. A larger social network, giving to your community, and building and maintaining a close marriage and/or friendships can add both more years and more life satisfaction. These life decisions also help individuals bounce back sooner from disappointments and loss. Friedman and Martin term it creating a "persistent, consequential, and social life".

4. Establish social and emotional ties. In both men and women, having the ability to maintain close relationships helps you live longer.  While Steinem married once late in her life and is now widowed, in this Sunday's interview with Steinem in the New York Times, she mentions that she has a cherished network of friends around the world that she stays in frequent contact with. She has known many of them for many years since the Feminist movement began in the 1960's.

5. Developing your spirituality, faith, or religious beliefs can also increase life span. Friedman and Martin suppose that is has to do with the health benefits of prayer and meditation.

Developing multiple facets of ourselves, and a life that has several sources of meaning can help us transition more successfully as we move across the lifespan. If too much of our self-esteem is caught up in physical attractiveness or a high energy level, it puts us at risk for more difficulty with the aging process. Aging well is more than denying it, or botoxing out expression lines. Aging well means continuing to find our purpose and staying connected to others. Wrinkles and loss happen automatically as we age but wisdom, contribution, and connectedness are all choices.

(Note: The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight Decade Study, by Friedman and Martin (Plume Books,2012) is an interesting read.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Finding Your Happy Place

I realized after I spent some time gardening and planting new spring flowers this past weekend, how relaxed it made me feel. I also feel that way about getting lost in a great book. Do you know where your happy place is? Do you go there regularly to re-energize yourself?

When I'm doing life coaching with adults, I always want to find out what they do to relax, play, and recharge. In working with children and teens, I want to make sure they have an area of mastery outside of academics. Play is not just for kids. We all need to play and find the way to relax that feels healthy and right to us. I would like all parents to help their children identify what their natural happy spots are so that when they are stressed they can go there.

Engaging in some activity in which you are focused deeply on what you are doing, and lose awareness of yourself, can be healthy and a needed break for your mind, emotions, and spirit. All hypnosis is essentially self-hypnosis and takes you to a very deep level of relaxation where you aren't worried about anything at all. We take ourselves to that deeply relaxed hypnotic state when we are engaged in something solitary that we enjoy.

Your happy place or activity needs to be something that's easy to access, not unhealthy, expensive or addictive. They are as individual as our fingerprints. Here are some activities that might get you thinking about your own happy place:

Do you enjoy some kind of movement or exercise?

Does listening to music shift your moods? Sometimes I have patients create a playlist specifically to help them downshift and chill.

Do you like to draw, paint, or do some kind of crafts? Do you knit, crochet or needlepoint? Perhaps you could set up a little art area for you to retreat and be creative. This is not about creating great art, it's about the experience of creating and expressing.

Do you like going outside, riding your bike, going for a walk, observing nature or gardening? These activities help us connect with nature and put problems and stresses in perspective. Even Sigmund Freud had a daily ritual of walking around the Ringstrasse after dinner each night when he lived in Vienna (just skip the nightly cigar he smoked while he walked). We can create our own daily rituals that take us outside, like watering plants or a neighborhood stroll with your dog after dinner.

Think creatively about how you liked to play or relax as a child. Finding non-electronic ways to de-stress, shifting away from problems and stressors, even for a short break, helps recharge our human batteries. It helps us to relax deeply, lower our heart rate and blood pressure, and focus our attention outside ourselves and our problems du jour.

Challenge yourself to identify one or two of your happy places and go there this week. You deserve it. If you have children or teens, help them identify their own happy place and it can become a lifelong coping strategy when they are under stress.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Yelling Is the New Spanking (and Adults Don't Like It Either!)

This morning, the Orange County Register newspaper has a great article about the negative impact of yelling at children as a parenting style. The article suggests that just as most educated parents don't spank their children these days, (as perhaps we were in childhood), that screaming and yelling at children is also damaging to the child, their self-esteem and the parent-child relationship.

When I ask parents in counseling about a dictator style parent who spanked and/or yelled and how that impacted their relationship with the parent, usually they explain that they didn't open up to that parent, or confide in them when they had a problem. Often, yelling or spanking is about a parent feeling overstressed and losing their cool. Neither spanking or yelling are effective ways to discipline children or teens. Discipline has to do with teaching the child something and a consequence is usually a better way to go.

Remember, if you lose your cool with your child, that's probably all they will remember from the situation. They will likely be thinking about how mean you are, not about what they did.

Parents hold their child or teen in a kind of "empathic envelope", with much of family life occurring along the envelope's edge with parents letting children out for more freedom, or setting limits and pulling them back in. When you explode at your child, it's as if you blow up the whole envelope that holds them in a safe relationship with you.

Parents still need to be the co-architects of the family, and children need reasonable limits, with more freedom as they are making more responsible choices. If you don't know how to do this,  a parenting class or a few sessions with a family therapist can help you upgrade your parenting skills to be more effective. If you really want a child who turns out to think for themselves, be kind, responsible, and able to be close to other people and feel safe, your parenting is the path that helps get them there.

While we are at it, not only is yelling at your child a bad idea, but so is yelling in your relationships with other adults you care about. I think of yelling as primitive and unskilled behavior. We can do better. we owe it to our children and all our adult relationships to find healthier ways to manage our stresses, set limit , and communicate when we are upset.  Is yelling the new spanking? I sure hope so.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Power of No

I notice that it's sometimes hard to say "no." Women often feel they need to please others, and take on too much. Many parents do so much for their children that they forget to take care of themselves, their own finances, etc. Even in a good relationship, you need to be able to be your authentic self and  set a limit with a "no" at times. Children need to be supported in having a voice to say no sometimes.

Being able to say "no" makes your "yes" more meaningful.

It takes courage and bravery to know your own worth, and say no to mistreatment, verbal, physical, or emotional abuse.

Being able to choose no means you also consider your own needs.

Saying no at times allows you take back your own power over yourself, your schedule, your life, your relationship, or your finances.

Being able to say no may make other people respect you more.

It is healthy to say no to people who use or disrespect you. Think of it this way: it's your job to teach the people in your most important relationships how you want to be treated.

Good parents help children learn that they can have a voice to say no in some situations. We need to empower children to say no to bullying, and that their bodies belong to them.

It's a good idea to say no to people who are trying to deplete all your energy, or drain you financially or emotionally.

You can say no to other people's unrealistic expectations. I often try to remind my patients that people are allowed to ask you for anything. It's your job to say yes or no.

Women are often socialized to follow the feminine archetype of being selfless, always loving and giving. Sometimes we need to be supported in not giving until we bleed dry. We can take on too much for other people. We need to do self-care, and balance our concern for others with a healthy concern for replenishing ourselves and our energy.

You can say no to repeating old or unhealthy patterns.

Committed couples need to be able to say no to violating the sacred boundaries that protect your relationship. I like to see people be mature enough in a relationship to say no to choices that make it unsafe for your partner to stay with you. You can't be intimate with anyone you don't feel safe with. A partner who can't say no is dangerous to the other person.

As it turns out, being able to selectively say no is important: for our sense of self, to protect yourself and to be your own advocate in relationships.,