Monday, November 23, 2015

The Thankful Heart: Cultivating the Gratitude Attitude

Don't you love to be around people who demonstrate an attitude of gratitude in their lives? As the season moves towards Thanksgiving, what a perfect time to reflect on what is right and good in our relationships, and our lives as a whole. At times I think we can overfocus on what we don't have in our lives that we want, and be largely oblivious to all the blessings.

It is important to thank people for the good things they do for you. No one likes to be taken for granted. Most adults, teens, and children that I have talked with about their personal lives this last 25 years in counseling feel wildly under-appreciated and under-encouraged. Parents are aften blown away with the positive response from their teens, for example, when they start noticing what their teens are doing that they appreciate.

Being grateful with your partner is important, too. What does your partner do that makes your life easier, more secure, healthier, or more fun? Your expressed appreciation will engender more loving feelings in the relationship, and help them to feel seen by you, not like they are part of the wallpaper. If your partner adds to your life, wouldn't you want them to know it, and have them do more of the things that hit the target with you?

I always share with teens that parents respond to encouragement and gratefulness from them as well. As a parent, it means so much to get feedback from your child that the effort you put into something made a difference to them.

Expressing sincere gratefulness is using your personal power to create good. You never know what it might mean to someone else. Think about the last person to express gratefulness to you. When was that? Who was it? I bet you remember.

Gratefulness can reframe the way you look at your day, your week, and your life. When you stop to consider the other people whose lives touch yours, you can spread the gratefulness around.

Think of all the people you could express thanks to... teachers, wait staff, your parents, your children, co-workers, people who work for you, friends. Don't assume other people read your mind, because they don't.

There are numerous studies that demonstrate employee morale and retention is also greatly improved by workers feeling valued and that their efforts and contributions are acknowledged. Extend your grateful appreciation to your workplace.

In the busy whirlwind of life, slowing down to make sure the people who make your life better know how you feel is especially significant. In these days before Thanksgiving, it's a perfect time to get your heart in the right place, and voice your feelings about what others do that means the most to you. Having a grateful attitude makes you a keeper. Even if there are lots or challenges, focusing on the blessings creates more mental health and well-being.

Open your heart to expressing your gratitude and have a beautiful Thanksgiving week. Life is so fragile, don't let your appreciation go unspoken.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Deal Breakers in Dating Relationships

What really turns you off to someone new?  Consider what you can not see yourself getting past with a potential partner. Would it be selfishness? Being rude to wait staff at the restaurant? Monopolizing the conversation so that you can hardly speak? Maybe you avoid people who are arrogant or inconsiderate.

Apparently, according to recent studies, most people find the qualities of laziness and being disheveled to be two of the top deal breakers when it comes to potential dates. After these two qualities, there are some differences in how women and men see potential dating partners and what turns people off.

Recent research on deal breakers in dating was published in the October 2015 online version of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which incorporated studies done by Western Sydney University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, Singapore Management University and Rutgers University. The Wall Street Journal featured their results in its' November 3, 2015 edition.

Researchers found women have more deal breakers than men do. Everyone has more deal breakers with a long-term relationship than a short-term one. People who consider themselves "a good catch" have more deal breakers as well. There are theories relating to evolutionary biology about why women tend to be more selective than men. Perhaps women are hard-wired to want a partner who is confident and intelligent enough to support her if she bears children.

The researchers administered a list of 17 negative personal traits to 5,541 single American adults. Each individual identified the traits they would consider deal breakers. "Disheveled/unclean" ranked number one for both genders, followed by "lazy" and "too needy".

Women ranked "lacks a sense of humor" as a bigger concern than men did. Men were concerned by women who "talk too much"  or with "a low sex drive". In long-term partner choices, both genders found anger issues, not being trustworthy, health issues and not being exclusive as deal breakers.

In the studies, here's how the rankings of turn offs broke down by gender:

Disheveled: A deal breaker for 63% of the men and 72% of the women

Lazy: A deal breaker for 60% of men and 72% of women

Too Needy: A deal breaker for 57% of men and 69% of women

No Sense of Humor: A deal breaker for 50% of men and 58% of women

Lives far away (more than 3 hours): A deal breaker for 52% of men and 48% of women

Lacks Confidence: A deal breaker for 33% of men and 47% of women

Too Much TV/Videogames: A deal breaker for 25% of men and 41% of women

Stubborn: A deal breaker for 32% of men and 34% of women

Talks Too Much: A deal breaker for 26% of men and 20% of women

Too Quiet: A deal breaker for 11% of men and 17% of women

It's important to identify and think through your own relationship deal breakers. You want to be reasonable, and not overly rigid. (Perhaps your wonderful partner will come with a cat or dog you hadn't planned on.) It is perfectly okay and valid to know yourself well enough to know what you just can't compromise on. Dating enough before settling down to do your due diligence and learn about yourself and what you can and can't bend on is key.

Even once you find the right partner, this might be a useful list for taking inventory of yourself in your primary relationship from time to time. Being the right partner is just as important as finding the right partner. Exercising self awareness and taking responsibility for being an interesting, confident, flexible, motivated, well groomed and relational partner is always a plus.

Monday, November 9, 2015

What Causes Shyness?

Shyness is easy to observe, but hard to define. It is sometimes described as being self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations, especially with new people. Those who are shy are often self-critical of their behaviors in social settings; shy people tend to focus on what they feel they do wrong, and project negative past experiences onto current and future ones.

There are various theories about how shyness develops: parent modeling, the relationship with the same sex parent who may have been anxious, critical, rejecting, or restrictive, difficulty attaching to a parent securely in early childhood, and a negative attributional style where individuals expect negative outcomes and feel they have very little control over outcomes.

Most shy people engage in negative self-talk. This is the equivalent of a pessimistic radio channel that's always on in your head, telling you to be anxious about new situations, because they are likely to go poorly. Socially anxious people tend to reject positive feedback about their social behaviors, and accept only negative feedback. Shy individuals often attribute social failures as having to do with something inside the self.

Genetic and neurological factors have also been linked to shyness. Studies have shown physiological and neurological differences between shy and non-shy preschoolers in how they process emotion. There was significantly more brain activity in the right anterior part of the brain (as measured by EEG) when shy children were exposed to video clips that elicit fear and sadness, as compared to non-shy peers.

When does shyness peak? Usually right around age 18, correlating with the end of high-school and launching into college, adult life, and leaving the social comfort of home. Some young adults really benefit to having some counseling support at this pivotal time, as a young adult engages in the task of creating a new social support system beyond parents and high school. It can be a time where young adults often feel especially lonely and/or vulnerable. There are shy college students for whom acclimating into the second semester or second year will naturally help in overcoming shyness, resolving their “situational shyness.” There are others who are likely to become consistently shy and lonely in what is known as “dispositional shyness.”

There are also gender differences in shyness. Studies show that shyness in young men is more likely to delay romantic relationships and increase their physical aggressiveness. In young women, shyness can inhibit same-sex interactions, or interactions between women, more than it does for shy men in relating to other guys. Shy men tend to avoid eye contact and not initiate social interaction with others. Women are more likely to experience difficulty concentrating due to socially triggered anxiety.

Shy individuals can benefit from intervention and support from a therapist. The most common approaches that a therapist can use to decrease shyness are cognitive-behavioral therapy (addressing negative automatic thoughts that restrict social behaviors), systematic desensitization (helping a shy client take gradual steps to increase their exposure to social situations while using coping skills to reduce anxiety), and skills training (which includes assertion and the use of positive self-talk).

While shyness sounds simple, it really isn't. There can be multiple causes, including one's relationship with their parents, extroversion/introversion, role modeling, insecure attachments in early childhood, genetic/biological predisposition, situational/stage of life factors, as well as the way we talk with ourselves about our ability to change other people's perceptions of us through challenging our own shy behaviors. Shyness, if not dealt with, can persist and impact an individual's quality of life and level of happiness.

Monday, November 2, 2015

How to Tell Your Kids You're Getting a Divorce

Children need to know what is happening in their family: here's how to have that difficult conversation you don't want to have. Read a recent Orange County Register article on telling your children about divorce here.