woman walking on a back road
Don Laird

This is where I draw the line

Someone asked me recently for a short list of things that would be helpful in leading a happier life. I explained that happiness, like all emotions, is fleeting. Yet, I started thinking more about her inquiry. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked for such advice.  As therapists, we are trained ad nauseam that giving direct guidance of any kind is frowned upon and unwise.  However, there is a time and a place for directive counsel and the positive effects it can have for a person who just wants her mind to be quiet for a bit.  Often, people are so busy trying to change others around them that they forget that a firm set of boundaries will help settle even the most tempest mind.

So here listed are ten boundaries, not in any particular order, that can act as reminders. Think of them this way; if happiness is indeed fleeting and not a fixed destination then how I am opening myself up to the possibility of happiness, satisfaction and a quieter mind? These are not intended to be a road map, but rather some markers along your path that may be useful.

  1. It is not my job to fix others.
  2. It is okay to say “no.”
  3. I am responsible for supporting others, not servicing.
  4. I can only make myself happy.
  5. I am not responsible for the happiness of others.
  6. Not everyone has to agree with or like me.
  7. I have a right to my own feelings, including anger. It’s how I express those feelings that counts.
  8. I can search for my meaning and purpose without permission from another.
  9. I do not have to put the emotional needs of others ahead of mine.
  10. I am responsible for my feelings and actions.

Living a life worth living shouldn’t include sacrificing your happiness for others. Learning to value and be responsible for yourself and your feelings is not selfishness, it is an act of selflessness that is affirming and empowering. The worth of your day should not be contingent on whether those around you are “happy.” Yes, we do influence others just as they influence us, but their feelings are their feelings, nothing more you can do here. Being supportive and caring is not the same as being in service to another.

We often cling to unhappy lives because change is too frightening, but setting boundaries isn’t as scary or as complicated as it may sound. In short, real change only occurs when you attempt something different. Practicing the above list is by no means a sure bet toward a healthier or happier life, but it is a step in that direction.

If you’d like to discuss boundaries and relationships further or any other mental health concerns, please feel free to contact me or you can schedule an appointment with me.

In good health,
Don

Friendship
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 6: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 6 of 6 – The ‘You’ Factor in Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on developing quality relationships. Article 6 of 6 focuses on you, your identity, and your role in developing quality relationships.

How well do you know yourself?

Knowing yourself, the deeper meaning of who you are, and how to apply each to building and nurturing the quality of life you desire is a long-term and at times, difficult process. It takes work, vulnerability, comfort with you as a whole, with each of your facets, and strength. Learning about yourself (i.e., what you enjoy, dislike, how you plan, your work ethic, preferences for physical and emotional intimacy, desires, fears, anxieties, coping style, what you grapple with, and how you engage in relationships) is a key factor in the process of honoring who you are as a human.  Each impact you as a human, and how you engage in relationships. In addition, knowing your identity on a fundamental level assists in navigating the smooth, bumpy, and at times, roaring waters of a relationship.

Developing a deep understanding and commitment to who you are (and aren’t) as a person increases life satisfaction.  In addition, having a stable identity increases the probability of partnering with a person that is more compatible with you.  It’s human nature to desire connection with your partner, independence, interdependence, enjoyment of time together, a level of contentment, safety, and to feel fundamentally on the same page. At times, this is difficult to navigate; especially when negotiating through life, family, morals and values, goals, growth, change, and difficult times.

Part of knowing who you are is developing a strong sense of the following:

Consider the significance of each for you as an individual, and how each positively and negatively impact your relationship.

  1. What do you enjoy, what are your daily habits, and how does each impact your quality of life?

Consider how this supports you, your goals, and what this means for you in a relationship.

  1. What are your educational and career goals? How does this impact you in a relationship long-term?

Consider your goals educationally and professionally.  Then consider how this works with a long-term relationship and decisions on family.

  1. How often do you prefer to have physical intimacy in a relationship? What are you open to sexually? What boundaries will you set?

In addition, consider:  Whether or not your partner has similar preferences, and how to navigate differences in healthy ways.

The above takes time, a healthy self-disclosure-trust ratio (at your personal comfort and pace), vulnerability, healthy boundaries, and openness, as well as, respect. Have fun with it, if and when you decide it’s right for you.

  1. What is your comfort with emotional intimacy?

Consider your comfort with sharing the depth of your emotions and receiving your partners, eye contact, verbal affirmations, and how you express, feel, and give love and support. In addition, explore the meaning of giving and receiving of each in your relationship.

  1. What do you desire for yourself and in a relationship? Is this realistic long-term?

Developing realistic expectations for yourself, for your partner, and the relationship as a whole takes work and exploration. In addition, consider your approach to growth and change throughout long-term relationships.

  1. Check in on mental health.

Consider what you grapple with, how this impacts the ways you engage that may support and/or hinder progress as an individual and in relationships.

Consider how each affects communication styles, mental health, and attachments.

When issues are spilling-over and decreasing your quality of life and/or lowering life satisfaction- be kind to yourself and seek out support.

  1. Honoring yourself and your identity.

Explore what supports and strengthens you and your wellness as a whole person.  Then consider how to implement self-support and honor into your relationship with yourself and with your partner.

  1. Create and implement healthy boundaries.

Whether you’re repressing aspects of who you are, if you’re still figuring out your identity, or if you’ve given yourself permission to explore and honor who you are, you’re still you. Honor who you are by creating healthy boundaries and do so with integrity, respect, by being ethical, and doing no harm to others. Be humble, build awareness of your strength, and implement balance.

At times, it’s difficult to know what healthy boundaries are. The support of a therapist will assist you in identifying and implementing healthy boundaries that honor you as a human.  

  1. Do a self inventory.

Check in with how you’re treating yourself.  Are you treating yourself with kindness and self-compassion, engaging in self-care, honoring your identity, and checking in with how you feel?

Give yourself permission to take inventory of your relationship, your feelings, and the significance of each in your life. 

  1. Have fun in the process.

Engaging in fun is healthy for your brain, for you psychologically and physiologically, it lowers stress, and supports a sense of life balance.  You’ll feel refreshed and more ready to take on what’s important to you each day.

Learning and developing who you are (and aren’t) as a human supports you, your life goals, and allows for you to spend time with yourself in more enjoyable and authentic ways. You’ll feel more whole, more confident, more comfortable in your choices, and you’ll enjoy your relationships more.  With that being said, if you’re not there yet, give yourself permission to explore and uncover who you are in healthy ways- it will nurture and strengthen you as a whole human and each of your facets too 🙂

In conclusion, this series of articles was designed to give you insight into communication, respect, appreciation, attachment, relationships, and in giving yourself permission to develop and honor your identity moving forward. Relationships are work, including the one with yourself.  You’re worth the time, energy, and dedication it takes towards a healthier more satisfying life, identity, and in developing quality relationships.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

***

MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

Two women friends in an friendly embrace
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 5: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 5 of 6 – Attachment Style and Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on relationships. Article 5 of 6 focuses on attachment style. Secure attachment, anxious, and avoidant will be explored.  How does your attachment style increase satisfaction and/or increase frustration in your relationships? Your attachment style assists in determining how well you engage in and recover from disagreements, struggles, tolerating frustration, adapting to difficult and unfamiliar situations; including, how you feel during good times, positive times, and the important moments in your life that you desire to be present for.

As a therapist and relationship coach, I work with clients grappling with their attachment style and the contributing discomfort, anxiety, stress, isolation, and relationship issues. Your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style have the probability to motivate behaviors, impact interactions, and increase or decrease issues within your relationship.

Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with avoidant attachment have difficulty connecting emotionally.  For example, if you and/or your partner have an avoidant attachment style there is an increased probability of experiencing difficulty in trusting others; many times, this includes romantic partners.  During uncomfortable and difficult communication, you or your partner may cease communication, deflect from the issues being addressed, or retreat completely feeling confused and frustrated.

In a newer dating situation, a person may cease contact without explanation.  At times, a person in a romantic relationship will feel ‘if only, s/he will let her/his guard down.  It took past relationships to build walls and working to allow one’s guard down is complex and extremely difficult for a person with an avoidant attachment.  At times, the individual is unaware that s/he isn’t connecting; many times, s/he feels the same void you’re feeling, yet, has extreme discomfort in engaging in any level of vulnerability, openness, or trust.  Other times, the person doesn’t connect emotionally and whether on the surface or on a deeper level doesn’t seem to have the desire to connect.

It’s important for a person with avoidant attachment to ask whether s/he feels an issue is present. Then ask if the desire to connect, trust, and to learn to feel safe in sharing exists. Through therapy, you and/or your partner will have the opportunity to develop awareness to the issues that supported the development of an avoidant attachment, how to cope with and lower frequency of runaway cognitions that may not be beneficial in present relationships, and learn new ways to engage towards developing a more secure and mutually connected relationship.

Anxious Attachment

Individuals with an anxious attachment feel more fear and anxiety in relationships.  For example, if there is a disagreement or difficult communication, an individual with an anxious attachment style may continue to discuss the issues, and attempt to increase verbal engagement and communication.  It may feel that you and/or your partner continue the conversation after everything feels discussed- many times over, s/he may still desire to talk further. At times, you or your partner’s motivation is an unconscious attempt to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of safety by engaging.  S/he is attempting to connect. However, this leads to increases in feelings of anxiety and fear, runaway cognitions, ruminations, and decreases feelings of safety for the individual with an anxious attachment, and adds much confusion and frustration for each partner.

At times, an individual with an anxious attachment and an individual with an avoidant attachment will partner in a relationship. There’s potential for increases in frustration, conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding for partners that are an anxious/avoidant combination; this is more so when communication isn’t strong, communication patterns mismatch, and/or are difficult for one or each partner to understand. However, you are able to learn ways to increase communication skills, lower pressure, minimize demands, and lower the potential for emotional lability. In this environment, communication, understanding, and empathy for each partner is vital.  Couples therapy gives opportunity to begin to build awareness to internal feelings and motivations, how you give and receive love, and ways to increase emotional stability and safety.

Secure Attachment

Individuals with a secure attachment feel more security, confidence, actively engaged, and experience stronger feelings of trust in relationships. You and your partner are able to work through difficult and stressful issues with a level of reciprocal communication and responsiveness.  You’ll feel comfort in being authentic and genuine, and in feeling a level of acceptance towards and from your partner.  You and your partner have an increased probability in giving and receiving mutually, support is more easily embraced, and issues with communication are negotiated more successfully. Secure attachment carries into relationships with family and friends, and allows for a minimal preoccupation with being abandoned or with having the desire to create distance.  You’ll have an increased opportunity to develop a mature and long-term relationship with intimacy and the benefits of developing a healthier and more satisfying relationship.  It’s beneficial to allow flexibility, respect, support, and healthy boundaries.  Inevitably, there will continue to be stressors, tolerating frustration, and areas to work towards embracing, accepting, and working on as partners; this is part of being human.  However, working with a therapist to process your issues and develop a secure attachment benefits your romantic relationships and increases the quality of each area of your daily life.

Relationships consist of a combination of attachment styles and behaviors; each combination has the probability to buffer from or exasperate relationship issues and complexity. At times, you may experience more than one attachment style depending on the person you’re with, the type of relationship, length, and seriousness; however, most times, you’ll engage in a dominant style. Environments, genetic predisposition, past relationships, life experiences, and how you feel about yourself support your attachment style.

Temperament and personality impact attachment, communication, perceptions, and how you engage during difficult and positive aspects of life. Developing an understanding and awareness of you as a person and reflecting on where your partner is coming from allows for smoother navigation throughout the relationship.  Additionally, the presence of a fundamental connection and desire from each partner to learn and grow as a couple increases success and long-term satisfaction.  It’s important to be aware if you’re feeling that you’re having a relationship for two or if you’re expectation is for your partner to take on most of the relationship’s work and engagement. With that being said, take time to explore and build awareness to how each person gives in similar and different ways; it’s beneficial to make room for each.

In conclusion, developing awareness and comfort with your issues internally and in relationships is beneficial in working towards developing a secure attachment and increasing the quality of your relationships. Working with a therapist in a strong and supportive therapeutic relationship will assist in setting goals and giving yourself permission to develop a secure and healthy attachment, to develop trust, and heal from past relationship issues. You’ll have the opportunity to develop awareness as to what secure attachment is and is not, setting realistic expectations, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t in your relationship, setting healthy boundaries, and enjoying a relationship where you feel intimacy, connection, and security in a quality relationship.

COMING SOON: article 6 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

***

MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.

Women reading a book
Christy Gualtieri

Our Special Faults

“A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women.” – A letter from Father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

For Mother’s Day this year, my husband took our kids out to give me some much-desired alone time; and with my quiet house, I did what any sensible mother would do with two hours in a row of time on her hands: I watched Little Women (the BBC adaptation is especially lovely) and cried my eyes out. It wasn’t my first time seeing this version, but I particularly love the sweeping, gorgeous cinematography and how well Marmee’s character was portrayed, and one little bit that I hadn’t thought about much last time I saw it really stood out to me this time. It was in a letter the little women get from their father, who is serving as a military chaplain in the Civil War:

“…will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully…”

Bosom enemies? I didn’t really know what that meant, but I understood the concept of “conquering myself” – trying to overcome my faults in order to be a better person.  From what I understand, the term “bosom enemies” refers to those things which particularly harm us, those special vices that we tend to struggle with more than others. If I spend some time thinking about mine, I can come up with my list fairly easily, but what really struck me was the fighting them part.  I can identify and list what my vices are, but am I actively doing anything to fight them? I’ll admit, it’s taken me a lot of years to even figure out what the heck they are, thanks in no small part to the work I’ve done in therapy over the last ten years, but now that I know what they are and what to do about them, am I following through?

The answer is… not always yes.  

I do try, of course, but most times I’m just content with the idea that I know what my struggles are. I do forget, though, that just labeling it is not enough. I think there is a great freedom in knowing that we do have what it takes to conquer what’s worst about ourselves, even if we don’t have it yet. It’s a skill we can learn to develop, with time and patience and knowledge of who we are. We can start small too, and over time, we can grow out of – and eventually conquer – those things about ourselves that give us the most trouble. (Disclaimer: I’m not referring to the physical aspect of mental illnesses, like chemical imbalances and things like that that are treated with medication. If your condition requires medical treatment, please make sure to follow your doctor’s orders!)

So, what about you? What are your bosom enemies, those special faults” unique to you that you know you can change? How can you fight them? The girls of Little Women resolved hard to grow out of them, and as they grew up they succeeded! Their example still serves us well, 150 years later. We can do it, too! 

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Two women having a conversation with coffee
Christy Gualtieri

Words Matter, Choose Good Ones

I don’t know if this is a trait more particular to women than men, but when I am struggling with an idea or wrestling with my feelings, I like to talk about them. I need to use words to figure out what I’m thinking, like the words themselves help me navigate how I’m feeling about things. And last week was a tough week. I was grappling with some issues that were really near and dear to my heart and my community. And much like me, the people in that community dealt with those same difficult and confusing issues by talking.

But you know how it is when people talk: it can very easily go from “let’s work this issue out,” to “here’s a bunch of hurtful words.” The transition from mercy to gossip can be really quick, almost like a current. Before you know it, you’re swept away in the feelings of anger, disgust, and confusion that can threaten to swallow you whole if you’re not careful.

And, to be honest with you, it’s hard to be careful with what we say. It’s hard to think first and add to the conversation later. It’s natural: we want to be heard. We want to be validated, we want to be right. It’s hard to override that impulse to have our voices heard, even if the things we say can be hurtful or mean. I personally struggle a lot with where the line is between venting and gossip. But I do know that gossip hurts. I have gossiped and been the one gossiped about. And I have felt terribly on both sides.

But then, a wonderful thing happened. I called a friend of mine I haven’t spoken to in years (not on purpose; it had just been a while). I asked for advice, and I got some wonderful encouragement. I was challenged – but lovingly – and I was able to voice my concerns, and as I hung up the phone, I felt better than I had felt in days.

This is important: I didn’t see my friend. I spoke on the phone with them. But just the same, their words – those lifted me up. They were life-giving. They were affirming, and they made a difference.

What you say is important, and the words you use carry a great power to them, even if you don’t think so. And so I want to offer you a little challenge: for the next few days, make an effort to speak carefully. Just take a minute before talking – a small pause, not even a full minute – and even if what you have to say is difficult, try as hard as you can to say those words with love.  Then simply observe. Observe how you feel. Observe how the other person reacts.

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we aren’t good enough; that what we say doesn’t matter. But it does – even the small things (especially the small things). Thank you for all the times that your words have brought life, joy, and encouragement to another person. That will inspire them to speak in kind, and remember that their words will help you too, one day.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.