Finding Balance in Relationships

A common struggle in relationships is finding the balance of supporting your significant other and ensuring your own needs are met. For some, there is a gradual shift in overcompensating for the significant other in a particular area, sometimes there is a significant life event that prompts the change, and other times, people find themselves in lifelong patterns in relationships that are unsatisfying and unhealthy.

In our fast-paced American culture, we have placed enormous stress on ourselves, and as our culture has changed, how we take care of ourselves has also changed. Here are a few strategies to help find balance in your relationships.

Step back and self-reflect. “If I don’t have balance in my relationships, do I have balance in my own life?” Make a list of your needs. Sometimes, it’s difficult to identify that those are. You can start with asking yourself: When do I feel peace and contentment? What is different during those times than the times I feel exhausted, drained, unappreciated, or confused?

Now that you have identified at least some of your needs, look at how you meet those needs. In our fast-paced culture, we are often so busy reacting to circumstances and others’ needs, that we lose sight of who we are as individuals and have put the commitment to ourselves last…if there is time or energy left. Let’s look at that question again…Now that you have identified at least some of your needs, look at how you meet those needs.

In a family systems approach, the family is seen by the interactions and roles that each member takes on as they contribute to the family unit as a whole. Family roles can be healthy or harmful. In a healthy and balanced relationship, the roles are mutually beneficial and flexible. When the relationship is not balanced, the roles are often rigid, inflexible and assigned. For instance, there may be a caretaker, scapegoat, dictator, person who is thought of as weak. It is usually not fulfilling to take on a rigid role for others, or to expect that from others.

Do something. It’s not a matter of positive thinking; it’s a matter of positive doing for you, (as well as others.) Put your own needs as a priority, and be responsible for meeting them. Work together with your significant other to see how your individual needs work together. How do you compliment each other? In a balanced relationship, each person brings their strengths to share, being vulnerable about the areas that are not strengths. In a balanced relationship, the individuals compliment those areas, not exploit them for power or position.

Be encouraging of others, but not responsible. Love is kind, gentle and encouraging. It is not, however, taking responsibility for the choices, behaviors and emotions of others.

Set appropriate boundaries. A boundary is an understanding of the expectations between people. In a balanced relationship, individual boundaries are mutually beneficial and respected.

Sometimes it is helpful to have an objective person help explore the difference between needs and wants, explore how roles and boundaries are affecting each member in the family (or relationship), and if patterns of behavior or roles that we fill from our past affect how we discern what is healthy and satisfying for us now.

I hope these thoughts help stimulate healthy and fulfilling choices in your life.

INSIGHTS FOR INTIMACY from the National Institute of Marriage, a Recommended Site for Marriages

The National Institute of Marriage has helpful tools to strengthen marriages. Below is today’s email as an example from NIM. Blessings for all your relationships, Judy

INSIGHTS FOR INTIMACY from the National Institute of Marriage

http://www.nationalmarriage.com

During a timeout, what does it look like to care for yourself? At NIM we suggest stepping through the 5 A’s of the Caring Cycle.

Aware – notice your personal alarm that signals a fear button was pushed.

Accept – the job to care for yourself and to understand your present experience.

Ask – God to bring perspective and understanding to the situation at hand.

Attend – by naming the fear, replace negative self-talk and mind reading with reminders of truth. Imagine what a best friend would share with you.

Act – with honor and integrity in a way that gives you the best opportunity to
experience what you want.

All Stressed Out and Afraid You’re Going to Blow!

According to the NIMH, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects approximately 6.8 million American adults. Women are twice as likely to develop GAD than men. GAD’s onset is usually gradual, and may occur at any age of life, although the years of highest risk are from childhood to middle age. 1

When dealing with anxiety, it is common to ask oneself “why?” There is no one cause for anxiety disorders, nor is the knowledge of how anxiety develops necessary to deal with the symptoms. It is true that understanding the type of anxiety and the cause of ones’ particular situation may provide some insight into oneself. However, whether you are dealing with panic attacks, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder, recovery is possible.

Bourne (2005)2 describes a comprehensive, multi-level approach for recovery: physical, behavioral, emotional, mental, interpersonal, and whole self. Physical encompasses breathing exercises, relaxation techniques such as yoga or talking a walk, aerobic exercise, and nutrition. Behavioral techniques refer to coping strategies to recognize and stop panic reactions, and desensitizing to specific phobias.

Emotional strategies include training to recognize and express emotions. I encourage my clients to use their talents and skills to express their emotions (ie, music, poetry, art, writing, dancing, etc). Most of us have some negative self-talk. Mental strategies include how to counteract negative self-talk, worries, or perhaps underlying erroneous beliefs to train us with more healthy thinking patterns. 3

Bourne’s (2005)4 fifth level refers to the interpersonal level….relationships. Some people are engaged in toxic relationships, while others may benefit from improved communication skills or conflict management skills. The last level of Bourne’s (2005)5 comprehensive approach, he refers to as the “whole self.” Poor self-esteem is common in those struggling with anxiety and/or depression. We learned our self-esteem, and we can replace it with new learning, and overcoming our inner critic. Whole self also involves awareness of our meaning and life purpose. A major life change, such as empty nest, can be a difficult time if our life purpose has not expanded or shifted. One’s spirituality is also an important core piece of “whole self.”

I find with my clients, that they have many inner resources that they may have forgotten or simply not developed. Some prefer to talk through a specific stressful situation; others want behavioral tools; and still others, desire more. I like to give my clients a variety of tools from which they can choose.

If you are struggling with anxiety or love someone who is, be encouraged that there is hope and  recovery. There are many tools to help overcome anxiety. Take that first step.

References

1 National Institute of Mental Health. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.shtml

2,3,4,5 Bourne, Edmund J. (2005). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (4th Ed.) New Harbinger Publications: CA.

Coping with Depression When Everyone Else has Joy

For some, Christmas is an exciting and joyous time of year. For others, however, Christmastime is painful and the most difficult time of the year. Whether it is painful memories, financial difficulties, loneliness, or other personal challenges, there are things you can do to help survive and yes, even thrive during the holidays.

1. Give your body healthy fuel. Just as your car would not function well if you used water or soft drinks, your body needs quality fuel to function at its best.

2. Get outside and move. Your body needs sunlight and movement. Take a walk. Enjoy a walk in the park or take a bike ride.

3. Be kind to yourself. What do you do well? How were you able to get through a tough day? It may have been difficult, but…you did it! Pat yourself on the back and give yourself credit for the things that you accomplish.

4. Recognize that if you are depressed, you likely do not see yourself in a realistic way. Remember seeing an old mirror? You know. One of those mirrors that is so clouded and distorted that you cannot make out the image? That’s what depression is like. You cannot see the image, especially yourself, in a clear and realistic way. Just accept that…for right now…maybe you can’t trust those negative thoughts about yourself.

5. Choose to believe that your depression will lift. Depression is like a dark storm cloud. It may be so dark that you cannot see the path in front of you. It may be so dark that you cannot see anything. But, it is a dark storm cloud. It has a beginning and an end. The clouds do lift and move on.

6. Do something outside of yourself. Have you ever been driving and encountered a storm? Sometimes you pull over and wait for it to pass. But sometimes, you can see a glimpse of sunlight at the edge of the dark clouds. Or, you might just continue driving because you know it will eventually end. During depression, one of the most effective things to do, is to choose to do something for someone else. You most likely know someone who has a need. If not, go to a nursing home and sit and play cards with someone who has no family, or to a homeless shelter and help serve a meal. Not only is this a distraction, but it just feels good to do something for someone else.

7. Let it be okay to seek and accept help. I am a very independent person. When I was very pregnant with our twin daughters, I decided I couldn’t stay home one more minute, so I decided to go to Wal-Mart. Big mistake. I made it into the store okay, but I honestly did not know if I was going to make it back to my car. (My husband is going to scold me when he reads this!) I must have looked pathetic, as a sweet older couple who must have been in their 70s at least, offered to help me back to my car. Okay, Lord….I got it! It was okay to accept help!

8. Don’t watch tv. Television shows and movies are not intended to make you feel better.

9. Choose to find humor. Whether it is in stories you read or write, or in people or nature you watch. Choose to allow yourself to be amused.

10. Choose life. The storm will pass. You probably remember a time when you did not experience depression. For some, you may never remember that time. But, you are worth the effort to make it through the storm. The dark clouds may come and go, but there are ways to protect yourself from the storm. Surround yourself with protection. Allow yourself to accept grace.

You are amazing! Have a blessed day, Judy

“‘For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”‘ Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Thanksgiving

Life is a journey of experiences. Every moment leaves an imprint on our psyche…on our soul. Sometimes, the imprint enriches our life. Sometimes, the mark feels like a blemish…a stain. The emotional pain of negative imprints can be motivating to energize an individual to bring about positive changes in their life. For some, the emotional pain is a dark and seemingly bottomless pit. For others, the mark is an ember, fueled by criticism, insults, and maltreatment. How is it then, that some can choose to shrug off the opinions and actions, while others are tormented by the relentless echoes of the past?

If you are facing this Thanksgiving with emotional pain, know there is hope and healing.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  Zephaniah 3:17

Isn’t it awesome that God takes great delight in His child, you! He wants to quiet you with His love. He rejoices over you with singing. During this thanksgiving, my hope for you is that you take a moment with your heavenly Father. Thank Him for the delight He takes in you, and enjoy the peace of His love.

Blessings, Judy

“Children Learn What They Live”

“Children Learn What They Live”~~

I have the best job in the world! I have the honor of watching my clients heal, grieve, gain hope and confidence, self-esteem and peace. Sometimes, my client is the woman who is broken…full of shame and self-hatred because of the atrocities she has endured. Sometimes, my client is the young couple embarking on their lives together…coming to seek how to blend their communication styles to honor and embrace with other. Sometimes, it is the small child who simply thinks differently than others. They don’t know how to verbalize what they are experiencing…and it’s frustrating for them…..and then…it’s oftentimes frustrating for the adults in their lives.

Dorothy Law Nolte, was a family counselor and author. Her famous poem, “Children Learn What They Live,” was ever on my mind today. As parents, we were blessed with these bundles of joy, which grow up all too quickly, and without an instruction manual! Life often seems to be sailing calmly along, and out of the blue comes a hurricane with words that shouldn’t be coming out of our sweet child’s mouth; or our child is experiencing frustrations or hurts that break our hearts, and we feel utterly helpless.

There is great wisdom in Nolte’s poem. It provides us a roadmap of what we can role model for our child to teach them the characteristics we hope for them. I am very fond of my clients. The parents of the children who see me are heroes. They step out of their comfort zone to say, “show me other ways….”

I do have the very best job! At the same time, am so humbled by the vulnerability and genuineness of my clients; and am so proud of their courage and determination. Just as we teach our young children, we as adults put one foot forward at a time….and try…and try again. We can use all of our efforts as positive teaching moments…being genuine with our children, and honest with ourselves. Many people believe that we should be flawless in the eyes of our children. The truth is that we are not perfect. At the same time, we can use our not-so-successful efforts to teach our children that it’s okay not to be perfect. That sometimes, even we make mistakes. Though those discussions with our children (young and not so young), we can model for them genuineness, courage and determination.

As our children were growing up I had a little magnet on our refrigerator with Nolte’s poem, “Children Learn What They Live” as a reminder to me when I became tired, frustrated, or overwhelmed, to stop and think about my parenting goals. As a matter of fact, it is still there today….a gentle reminder, “how can I use this experience for good.”

There are wonderful resources available for parenting. Our website, http://cornerstonecounselors.com, lists many resources that we have put together as recommendations for parents. Check them out and remember, we all learn what we live.

“Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte, PhD  http://www.empowermentresources.com/info2/childrenlearn-long_version.html

Welcome to my blog…musings for hope and healing

It’s hard to believe that summer is already over. I remember the first day of kindergarten for our son. His new school clothes, new shoes, book bag and school supplies. My anxiety was only surpassed by his excitement. He looked so small in the long line of kindergartners. As he looked back to us over his shoulder, his smile was a sign that he was ready and that everything would be okay.

This fall brings a new season to my life….my youngest children, twin daughters, have left for college. Much to everyone’s surprise, they chose to attend different colleges. As we drove away from the last campus, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. The car was very quiet and I felt helpless to protect them. At the same time, I was excited for each of them. They were each ready. They had chosen their college, decided how to decorate their dorm room, and packed their belongings. They are vibrant, talented and capable young women. Things will never be the same. I felt as I had the night before our daughter’s surgery….completely helpless. And yet, God’s words whispered to my soul…”I love her more than you can possibly comprehend. She is mine and I will take care of her.”

This year, our son packed his car and headed off to his junior year of college. As he left, he looked over his shoulder, smiled and said, love you mom. Our daughters smiled, gave me a hug for my benefit, and quickly moved back to their new friends. I am filled with pride and joy….and peace.

It is a new season. The leaves will soon turn rich colors and then fall to the ground. The clean white snow will cover the ground, and before we know it, spring will bring new growth.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6