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Everyday Therapy

Part 4: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

A Series of Articles: 4 of 6 – Ways to Increase Healthy Communication as Part of Developing and Reinforcing Long-Term Relationships.

Consider the following to further increase healthy communication:

  1. Consider the messages you were given throughout life and how each assists and/or hinders in communication. Then reflect on the deeper impact of your quality of life and your relationships. Positive messages support a healthy balance in building quality relationships.  Internal relationship issues that have not been worked through and processed have the propensity to lower quality of life and increase difficulty in developing the relationships and the connections individuals desire.  At times, mental health issues, (i.e., social anxiety, anxiety, depression, and/or trauma) will bring ongoing difficulties to communication and therein, quality of life.  Each of the mentioned factors are important to consider when working to uncover internal difficulties with communication. Many times, seeking out the support of a therapist will assist in overcoming difficulties, minimizing symptoms, and increasing coping capacities towards stronger communications patterns.

 

  1. Consider how others perceive your communication. Through each interaction verbally, using body language, and facial expressions, you are sending and receiving messages. Having a level of awareness of yourself and others is essential to developing healthy communication skills. This minimizes disconnect and increases healthy and productive dialogue. At times, partners in romantic relationships will invest the time into couples therapy to improve communication even if no issues exist. This is a proactive and preventative approach.  Considering the vast time spent together, this increases quality of life long-term.

 

  1. Proactive Listening- how well do you genuinely listen to others? Listening with the intention of hearing first and then articulating your point is essential. Additionally, developing the capacity to listen whether a person is excited, grappling with an issue, or discussing what happened throughout the day is a mindful process. For some, it’s difficult to quiet the mind. There may be underlying mental health issues, anxiety, ruminations, and/or a combination of issues with temperament and personality that would benefit from therapeutic intervention. Many times, once an individual seeks out therapy to develop the behaviors to adapt in an array of environments, symptoms become more manageable, which assists with decreasing layered complex issues in the future that are difficult to address.

 

  1. Humor is essential to life, without it, life lacks fun and is void of a beneficial and unique layer of human complexity. Engaging in humorous manners increases comfort and enjoyment.  Yes, there are vast differences in the types of humor individuals enjoy.  However, humor as a whole is beneficial in an array of situations and environments. For some, it takes time before you’ll have the benefit of seeing one’s humorous side. I use humor in my personal life, with clients, and in the classroom. I enjoy the development of building a genuine rapport with individuals, and developing a cohesive group environment in the classroom.  This assists with the learning process and allows individuals to show facets of who they are as humans and academically, which includes encompassing a level of humor in the process.  It takes comfort, mutual respect, and understanding communication styles to engage in humor. There’s a level of genuineness in humor that is difficult to find in other areas of life.  Coupled with the factors mentioned throughout, humor is a way to reinforce healthy communication and essentially build a deeper connection.

 

  1. Trust and safety are vital and once broken, difficult to repair and rebuild. It’s import for each person to be able to trust one another within each area of the relationship, including individual strengths and weaknesses.  For example, supporting the other through difficult times and vulnerability builds trust and safety. Additionally, feeling a sense of appreciation and pleasure for others during the achievement of goals and when positive aspects of life occur are healthy to the longevity of relationships.  At times, clients grapple with how to engage in communicative behaviors that support giving and/or receiving trust and safety.  There have been times where clients struggle with past relationships where there was a void of positive and supportive communication, manipulation was present, emotional neglect and/or harsh and abusive communication was experienced. Each are a source of pain and evoke self-protective behaviors.  Self-protective behaviors are a way for individuals to cope through pain and trauma.  Through therapy, individuals have the opportunities to begin to heal, learn how to set healthy boundaries, and develop trust in the self and overtime, other individuals- to work towards deeper, more meaningful, and fulfilling relationships.

In addition, it’s beneficial to have relationships where you’re able to share you as a whole human with many facets to unfold and share.  Self-disclosure and sharing personal information is difficult for many, it’s also an important factor in investing in relationships. Each person has a story to tell, and over time, sharing more facets of each person’s story with the other is meaningful to developing intimacy through the elements of self-disclosure, building a strong source of support, and investing in meaningful relationship where trust and safety are present.

Lastly, trust and safety assist in developing the capacities to compromise in healthier ways and with less verbal conflict, increase mutual problem solving, engage in healthy reflective behaviors, and increase intimacy through open communication.

In conclusion, article 3 of 6 and article 4 of 6 in the series encompass the importance of healthy communication as part of developing and reinforcing long-term relationships. Communication is complex, individual to each interaction, at times, difficult, and in the long-term, immensely beneficial. Each area discussed are important aspects of healthy communication. In any relationship, communication is vital to the quality and longevity of a relationship. COMING SOON: article 5 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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Existential GPS

31 Days of Change

by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

Ah, keeping our New Year’s Resolutions. We all talk a good game, but by the second or third week of January it all quickly goes downhill. So, what are your obstacles? How many of them are self-imposed? Are you better at making excuses than creating solutions? You’re not alone. Research demonstrates that most people fail to keep New Year Resolutions. Perhaps this year you can take a different approach.

Commitment is a choice. The moment you allow an excuse to become an obstacle is the moment you rob yourself of choice. And a life without choice is not really worth living. Rather than set some lofty resolutions, plan to use each day of January to think about and implement one lifestyle change that is realistic and obtainable. Meeting a goal, even a simple one, requires a major mind shift. Take a look below at my plan for the first 31 days of 2019. Perhaps some of my goals match yours? Join me. Email me at etalktherapy@gmail.com to let me know how you are doing throughout 2019 with keeping your resolutions. If some of my ideas don’t fit, then tweak them to suit your lifestyle. Keep them moving forward and never allow them to be far from your daily routine. Remember, most obstacles are self-imposed.  You have only yourself to blame if you can’t follow through.

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Download the 31 Days of Change Calendar and best of luck!! Happy 2019!! Feel free to drop me an email if you need clarification on any of these resolutions or goals. If you wish to explore or tend to your mental health needs in 2019, please reach out to me through email, phone or this website.

In good health,
Don

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

5 Great Reads for Winter

by Christy Gualtieri

In a few days we’ll be celebrating the arrival of 2019, but the end of the year offers a great opportunity to hunker down, find a few moments of peace and quiet, and lose ourselves in a really good book or two. Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures and can (and should!) be enjoyed year-round, but in case you’re in need of some recommendations, here are five of my favorite reads for this early Winter season.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

If you’re caught up in the stress of the hustling and bustling of the season, take a few minutes to grab B.J. Novak’s hilarious set of short (some are very, very short) stories. These tales are laugh-out-loud funny and will keep you chuckling as you remember them while you wait in an hour-long line to mail out gifts from the post office. Whether it’s a thoroughly-embarrassed hare challenging his nemesis, the tortoise, to a rematch race; a middle-school boy who finds out his rightful place in a sugar-cereal dynasty; or a Tony Robbins fanatic who will stop at nothing to make her fantasies a reality, you’ll bound to find a favorite.  And the shortest stories are easy to read in between moments of holiday insanity – definitely a plus!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Originally marketed to young adults – but great for readers of any older age – this thought-provoking, utterly dazzling work examines the importance of reading and literature as an unmeasurable gift to those who are suffering.  The novel takes place in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death (who, needless to say, has seen a lot of terrible things); he tells the story of a young girl who clings desperately to the life that reading gives her – even as she goes so far as thievery to obtain it.  It’s best paired with a warm blanket on the couch and an endless supply of a hot drink as you read!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

This is a favorite that I read every October; and although Halloween has come and gone, it still fits.  Fall in love, just as Ichabod Crane did, with the drowsy beauty of Tarry Town and its magical inhabitants, and shiver delightfully as you hear the story of the Headless Horseman.  The story itself is quite short, and makes for sumptuous reading. It bears little resemblance to the fantastical Tim Burton movie, but it’s a lot of fun just the same.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

An innovative take on President Lincoln’s life, this novel places its focus on Lincoln’s young son, who died at a young age of an illness, and his time in the “Bardo,” the space in time many Buddhists believe exists after death but before being reborn. Told by a fascinating cast of characters, it’s dark enough to keep you interested but peppered throughout with moments of levity – and gives you a lot to think about in those moments of time you have to yourself during the holiday crunch.

Wintering by Kate Moses

Another book that aims for a biographical touch, Wintering focuses on the life of American poet Sylvia Plath and the few years before her death at age 32.  Weaving through different time periods, the reader gains a sense of the frustration, loneliness, and sometimes despair of the anguished writer and her troubled marriage to English poet Ted Hughes; but the writing itself is intensely beautiful and razor-sharp, perfect for immersing yourself in during long wintry nights.

Check them out at your local library, see if you can catch a deal at your favorite book retailer, or ask a friend to borrow their copy! Happy reading!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

Existential GPS

You Will Be Visited By Three Spirits

 

An Existential Yuletide Greeting
by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?”

Scrooge. A word synonymous with images of a bitter, elderly man concerned more with greed than humanity; a cultural archetype of someone wanting nothing further to do with his species and one who has no use for words like “compassion” or “care.” Yet, on closer examination, Scrooge’s story reveals some remarkable insights for our modern times. There are facets to his narrative that are ostensibly universal, a playful commentary on the mores of the time, but he is more relevant today than ever.

On its surface, Dickens’ Victorian yarn can be simply read as “Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” However, there is much at stake for us in this tale. And so, it is in the spirit of the season, and in this brief blog format, I assert to you that Charles Dickens’ seminal 1843 work A Christmas Carol remains one of the finest examples of existential psychotherapy ever written (albeit in fictional form). The tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge opens a time and space for self-reflection for those who want to examine life in a meaningful and in-depth fashion. This is not about instant transformation for the client, positive psychology to sooth the therapist’s fears, or worse, wishful thinking from both parties. It is an existential crisis that is illuminated by one of the key tenets of psychotherapy – fear of death.

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

We all know the story, so it is here that I wish to briefly highlight the other side of Scrooge. No one arrives at a certain age without a back story and Scrooge’s history is one filled with disappointment and neglect. He is an ignored and isolated child abandoned even at Christmas. Scrooge knows pain all too well at an early age, and the world and its inhabitants are not to be trusted. People, above all, should be shunned. They are to be feared as they need and require emotional attachment and engagement. These qualities are easily dismissed by a young man whose growing trust in currency and greed will eclipse his life for years.

In the beginning of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge exemplifies one of the central canons of existential depression and anxiety, that one has always been this way, and one always will be. There is a loss of agency and caustic determinism quickly fills in this void. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points at the tombstone, Scrooge understands for the first time that life can be written differently: what seems to be etched in stone isn’t. The specter’s message is powerful; an opportunity for Scrooge to see what life on earth would be like after his death. Scrooge observes his own forgotten corpse as his peers minimize his demise. He watches in horror as strangers quickly sell his belongings, while mocking his death with no regard or mercy. In death, he can no longer be an agent of change. He is a spectator to a cruel and vicious world he created.  Yet all Three Spirits show him that he was and is agent of change as long as he is alive. It is through an encounter with one’s mortality that a fuller life may occur – to know death is to know life. Scrooge accepts the significance of death, so that he may live his final months and years embraced in the richness of his relationships with others.

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Illustration by Harry Furniss

Death anxiety is real; despite those in modern psychology who often relegate the subject of death to the closet of “let’s not go there unless we have to” (even by some seasoned practitioners who should know better). In short, beware the therapist who professes that the exploration of death anxiety is not particularly helpful in therapy. Yes, therapists can spend far too much time focusing on one area while neglecting another. It happens. Not every therapist is well-rounded enough to create a new therapy for each of her or his clients. However, that shouldn’t allow for a wave of “positivity” to sweep us away from Otto Rank’s maxim, “Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death.” Exploration of death and dying serves as a profound catalyst toward some remarkable life changes. It is the confluence of both past, present and future; an investigation of life by way of an awareness and acknowledgement of our finite time here on Earth. In this way, we are all a reflection of Dicken’s vision.

Thus, A Christmas Carol calls us to embrace some definitive questions, “How would the world be different if I were to die today?” and “Do I ever have a true sense of how many lives I’ve touched?” Scrooge’s story may, in fact, provide the answers. Our relationships with others are so intrinsic that our absence creates an entirely different existence – a ghostly existential vacuum, if you will.

In the Victorian era, people saw ghosts and had premonitions. It was a system of supernatural beliefs that was not uncommon. Freud came along and said that this was the result of repressed memories. The dead were reduced to misleading or damaged recollections that resulted in certain beliefs and behaviors. Ghosts haunted the mind, not the house. Yet, there is something within Scrooge’s narrative that calls to us, pushes us beyond cause and effect, beyond determinism, and reminds us that we can be responsible and compassionate with our life choices and that no person is indeed an island.

Be well, and remember to keep the spirit of this season in your heart today and throughout the year.

In good health,
Don

Photos courtesy http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/furniss/xmas.html#cc

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

In Defense of Kevin McAllister’s Mother

Warning! Spoilers ahead for the plot of “Home Alone”… which was released in 1990.  If you’ve managed to go this long without hearing how this movie ends and you think you’ll be upset reading about it…well, I wouldn’t read ahead!

My son loves the first Home Alone movie. This is his second year watching it, and I love to see him absolutely doubled over, laughing at Kevin’s elaborately planned house of terrors for his enemies. I’ve loved the movie since I was a kid, and it’s a lot of fun watching the next generation enjoy it, too.

One thing that has stuck out at me over the last few years is how much I’ve identified with Kevin’s mother, Kate. She realizes, mid-flight to Paris from Chicago that she’s left her son behind, and is absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to get back to him. With no sleep, no comfort, plenty of time on airplanes, and a hitched ride with Midwestern polka players in a rental truck, she finally gets home to him. The film is, of course, mostly about Kevin and his preternatural survival skills – but in a very real way, it’s also about his mother’s journey.

Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve cried every time I watch the film when they’re finally reunited. Because I get it: even though Kate endured days of intense anguish and physical discomfort, Kevin is too young to realize it. He just knows that she’s home now; and even if someone sat him down and explained it to him, he would mostly just be happy that she made it home. And that’s what parenthood is, really – consistently placing yourself in situation after situation that will serve to benefit your children and your family above what you need. It’s painful, yes, and more often than not, uncomfortable. And your kids might not know, or understand, or even care if they do understand.

But that is what refines us as people, I think. Think of all of the hardships you’ve had to endure. How did they change you as a person? They might have made you bitter; that’s fair. Or they might have made you anxious, or beset with worry. But they might have also helped you realize that you are capable of hard things, because at the end of the day, you are still here – and you are the better for it. Maybe you’ll think smartly about certain things now, or become more cautious or pragmatic. Maybe you’ll be more patient now then you were before. More understanding. Hard things help us to become better overall…but, it’s also better to experience them with help. If you’re going through a hard time and find it difficult to believe that you can be a better person from it, please reach out for assistance, in whatever way you need it. You will get through it with somebody. And you’ll learn from your mistakes, even if it takes a few tries to let it sink in.

I mean, Kevin got lost again like two years later, in the sequel Home Alone 2. But I’m blaming that one on his Dad. Kate remembered.

Until next time, be well!
Christy