Category Archives: Self Care

You Didn’t Marry Your Parents (They’re Hiding in Your Suitcase)

You’ve probably heard the age-old line about how we all tend to marry our mother/father in some way. Maybe your mom was bossy/demanding, and you’re starting to notice that your wife can be pretty controlling and you never measure up. Maybe you had your dad wrapped around your little finger and you picked a husband who does everything you ask, but doesn’t seem to have any ideas of his own, and now you’re feeling bored.

The problem with these kinds of relationship dynamics is that they’re great at first. We love to feel comfortable in relationships, so we often end up dating and marrying people who make us feel things we’ve felt before. We seek what we know. And once we get comfortable, it’s hard to change things, even if it’s for the better!

Comfort in Discomfort

I can’t recall where I first heard this, but I can’t tell you how many times it rings true with my clients: “People tend to stay the same until the status quo becomes more painful or scary than trying something new.”

What this means for our adult relationships is that we likely had a particular way that we felt in our early relationships that we’ve carried into our romantic relationships. The feelings are not always good or bad. They can be anything- fear, comfort, apprehension, security, longing, inadequacy, etc.

Let’s take fear as an example. If your relationship with one or more of your parents consistently involved fear, you likely try to avoid fear at all costs. You may settle for someone less than ideal simply because s/he is not overtly threatening. Maybe your fear leads you to avoid being truly vulnerable, no matter how sensitive, gentle, and inviting your partner is around you. Maybe you take a more active approach and your fear has led you to be controlling in relationships, making sure that you manage minute details of the relationship (e.g. your partner’s schedule, their messaging habits, their social life, etc.). Whatever the behavioral response, it’s important to recognize where it may be coming from.

Emptying Your Suitcase

We all carry around a relationship suitcase from childhood. The trick here is to recognize what feelings or patterns you’ve carried around in your adult relationships, and be intentional about seeking something different and healthier. Staying present with your partner is a great first step. If you think you can trust them to be on your side and to be invested in improving the quality of your relationship, however poor your combined communication skills might be, ask them to monitor some behaviors for you.

Tell them about the old family baggage you found in your relationship suitcase, and that you’re trying to get rid of it for the sake of your relationship. Tell them the ways that you are trying to improve/adapt/change, and ask them to gently bring it to your attention when you start sliding into old habits. I tell all of my therapy couples that it’s important for them to start letting go of their history and start telling a new story. This requires forgiveness, eventually, and a good way to start down that road is to focus on personal humility and collaborative problem solving around these suitcase issues in the present moment.

No Shaming Allowed

When they call your attention to a problem behavior, they should only bring it to your attention, not judge you. There should be a collaborative feel to the whole process. No shaming allowed (by either of you). This is an opportunity to come together over a shared goal: having the most amazing relationship you can! The things you share in a vulnerable conversation are not allowed to be used as ammunition in future disagreements.

For that matter, past hurts/flaws are unhealthy forms of ammunition as well (again, history is a dangerous weapon!). Heck, if we’re calling it ammunition, let’s just put down our relationship guns and work together. Each of you should think of your job as being whatever your partner needs at any given time, and the work gets a lot simpler. If your focus tends to be on each others’ needs, negativity tends to diminish.

Suitcases Can Show Up Anywhere

Our family suitcase baggage can show up anywhere, but we tend to unpack most of our baggage with the people we’re closest with. This is often our spouse and our children. You might not notice it, but you probably have some similar relationship dynamics with your children as you do with your partner. Some of these may be good/helpful/healthy, and some might need some work.

If it’s a pretty mild problem, there’s a chance that you might be mainly responding to a recent difficult situation, and the problem may resolve once the situation changes. If not, and you happen to notice some unhealthy/unhelpful patterns in any of your important relationships, it’s time to do something about it.
Depending on how severe the problem is, you might just want to talk to a friend about it, or you might want to find a book, podcast, workbook, or perhaps more blogs like this one to give you some basic pointers. I recommend just about anything written by John Gottman that deals with successful relationships (e.g. What Makes Love Last?). For those looking for a religious/Christian perspective on healthy marriage, I recommend Tim Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage.

Will This Go Away On Its Own?

The reality is, however, that most relationship patterns don’t tend to go away unless we do something intentional about them. If the problem is severe enough, meaning that it’s having a significant impact in some major area of life functioning (work, marriage, friendships, parenting, finances, self-care), it may be important to reach out for some professional assistance.

If you think you might need professional help, that’s okay! No matter where you live, there are trained professionals who can help you through the change process. Try to think of therapy as an investment in not only you, but in your relationships and your future happiness.

If you haven’t noticed what’s in your suitcase, it’s probably sitting in your closet waiting for you to open it. Your loved ones probably already have a good idea of what’s in it. If you’re feeling brave, you might just ask them about it! Whatever you decide to do, do something. Who is going to be your first text/email/call? It’s never too late to start having better relationships, and you might as well start now!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Live your life in episodes

Did they find the body? Did she say yes? C’mon, Chris Harrison, who gets the final rose tonight?!?!!?!

I was remarking to my wife last night as we began binge-watching Designated Survivor, that you can tell when a show was made for TV, because they build in suspense by adding commercial breaks at critical points in the action.

Why is binge-watching so addicting?!

I can’t speak for you, but what I love about binge-watching shows on Netflix is the continuity of story, emotion, and drama. I love that there are no commercial breaks in the action. I love that I don’t have to wait a single second to continue having the emotionally engaged experience that I’m having. I don’t even have to wait between episodes, because Netflix now allows me to “Skip the Intro” to many shows! It’s literally seconds between episodes. It’s almost hard to tell where one episode ends and another begins. This is great when watching Netflix, but not for our lives and relationships.

What we lose by binge-watching our lives

Unfortunately, we often tend to live much of our lives as though we are starring in a Netflix Original show. We don’t build in breaks in the action. We don’t tend to slow down, digest what we just saw, heard, or experienced. We just push through to the next thing.

What would happen if you built in a commercial break in the action? What if you slowed down enough to talk to your spouse about that thing you’ve been worried about? What if you called that friend you’ve been meaning to get in touch with? What if you finally called a therapist to work through what happened to you a few years back? What if you said “no” to yet another request and just took a nap instead?

If we don’t take a break from the action, there’s no chance to process, sift through, and move on from difficult feelings, relationship struggles, and the drama, and sometimes trauma, of life. Sometimes we just need to be assertive with ourselves and others, and set up some healthy boundaries.

Live your life in episodes

As much as we may love to binge-watch our shows with no commercials, and no breaks between episodes, it’s not healthy to live our lives like that. Live your life in episodes. Yes, there will be common themes, and some story lines will follow from one episode to the next. But allow yourself some space, resolution, and healing, by not living it all at once. Breaks are healthy. Sleep is healthy! Saying “Yes” and “No” can both be healthy at the right times and with balance.

What about the bad episodes?

Even if you do this, your life will have some bad episodes. Perhaps you’ve made some bad decisions, or someone else made decisions that impacted your story in a negative way. Maybe there are some episodes you’d just rather forget even aired in the first place. Whatever your story may be, remember that you can choose to live your life in episodes. You can choose to move forward from those hurtful episodes to more joy-filled ones. Only you can make the choice to stop re-watching the same episode over and over. It may require some help, but you’re the only person with the remote control, and the only one who ever will.

Grab the remote!

It’s time to think about which episode you keep replaying, and whether you might need to start building in some commercial breaks to engage differently with the people around you. Think about what your next step is, and take it today. Maybe it’s calling a friend, a psychologist, or your satellite provider, or maybe it’s just taking a well-deserved, long-awaited nap. Whatever your step is, it’s time to pick up the remote control and make a change.

4 Ways to Keep Your Anger Managed

My morning started out just as exciting as always yesterday. I was downstairs, half awake with bed-head hair, getting Batman vitamins for my two pre-kindergarden aged boys, and vaguely listening to the TV as they crunched away on Honey Bunches of Oats, when I heard it again. Wisdom from a preschool cartoon. I’m amazed at how often this happens. With all the garbage we “grown-ups” watch, I’m reminded of the posters you see in classrooms stating, “Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten.”

This is obviously an overstated simplification, but I think of that saying sometimes when I hear the amazing life lessons that my kids are taking in passively as they watch silly cartoons. Yesterday (and today again) it was the Muppet Babies. If you stick around for the end of the video below you can hear the overproduced theme song that hasn’t left my brain the last 48 hours. I’m only slightly less sane than I was last week because of it.

Anyway, during yesterday’s episode, Animal (the wild and crazy Muppet that bangs away enthusiastically on his drum kit) got very angry. Animal’s “big feeling” turned him into a gigantic 50-foot-tall version of himself that had a negative impact on his best friends (Kermit, Miss Piggy, etc.). Does this sound like you at all? Maybe not the giant thing, but the part about your anger hurting those around you? If so, read on! If not, read on anyway, because you likely know someone who struggles to contain their anger. You might be able to better support them, and understanding their process might help.

  1. Catch your anger early. Unless you are very young or are neurologically/biologically impaired, there’s a great chance that this one step will make a dramatic impact on your  anger. So often we get ourselves in difficult spots, say things we end up regretting, etc. because we don’t respond to the first feeling we have. You get a little frustrated… or disappointed… or rejected. Feelings often start small, and only build when we don’t address them early. Let the feeling build, fail to seek repair in relationships, and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be impacted by the feeling transforming into something bigger and more difficult to manage down the road. Catch it early. Address it early.
  2. Feelings never last forever. Yes, if you fail to address it, your anger will build over time and come back to bite you. However, if you take steps to reconcile ruptured relationships and address the primary problem, you won’t experience the same negative emotional consequences later. Feelings come and go. They can be intense for a while, but they ALWAYS subside. Take some deep breaths. Pray. Go for a short walk. Meditate. Whatever you need to do to cope, do it! This will give your body the time it needs to come down from the angry high. For many people, men in particular, this often takes about 20 minutes. Once your body is calm your brain likely will also be calm, and you will be able to address the person/issue with more respect and wisdom than when you were agitated. If you’re in a relationship with a man who often gets angry, talk with him (*at a time when you are both already calm) about maybe taking 20-30 minute time-outs in future arguments to calm down before coming back to discuss the issue again. Big feelings don’t stay big forever.
  3. Lean into your support network. If you tend to get agitated easily, try to spend more time with people that care about you. They will build you up and put you in a better emotional space where you can handle life’s frustrations and disappointments. We often get angry because we’ve failed to receive or achieve something. Knowing you have the support of your closest friends and family can act as a buffer against any negative self-talk you might be tempted to engage in when life setbacks happen. Lean into the people who will continue to support you after you fail and go a bit over the edge with angry behaviors. They should also be challenging you to grow, but in a way that shows they love you and want good things for you.
  4. Finish unfinished business. If you have unfinished business with people, meaning that you have old wounds that have not healed, unforgiven hurts, unresolved anger, bitterness, or resentment, it’s time to let it go. I don’t mean that there should not be consequences for past actions, or that you have to like the bad things that have happened to you in life, or even like the people that have hurt you. What I mean is that you need to FORGIVE the people who have hurt you. (For a post all about forgiveness, click here). This means that you need to let go of emotional hurts from old wounds. Feelings serve a purpose in that they are informative, and can be motivating for us. But they can also get in the way if we hold on to them too long. Finish your unfinished business. Even if the person who hurt you has died, moved away, or simply refuses to respond to your efforts to connect. It takes two people to have an ongoing relationship. It only takes one person to forgive. Don’t let pride get in your way. You don’t need revenge (even though you might want it). You need forgiveness. Probably for yourself for some things, but definitely for the other person. This can happen in stages or percentages, but it does need to happen. Refuse to let other people have control over your feelings. Don’t let your life continue to be about them. Live your own story!

All told, managing anger can be relatively simple if we practice and utilize basic coping skills, keep anger in perspective, cultivate relationships with dependable social support sources, and move beyond past hurts by moving toward forgiveness. This process can be daunting at first, but if we make these actions ongoing habits, they get much easier over time. If you want or need help with this process, ask for it! Freedom from anger is often easier to achieve with someone walking the journey alongside you. Remember, big feelings don’t stay big forever. You just have to do your part to manage them.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Stop Shoulding On Yourself!!!

I wish I had an extra 5 minutes sleep each night for every time I heard someone say Should. My dark circles and gray hairs would slow their advance considerably! This word has led to more anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hopelessness, guilt and shame for my clients than any other single word I can think of. It’s messy. It’s ubiquitous. It’s pervasive. It is EVERYWHERE!!!

Now you may be wondering what’s so bad about this S* word? Aren’t there other S* words out there that are supposed to be worse? Words that will raise the maturity rating on an album or movie? Well, I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

What makes “Should” worse than other S* words?

What I’ve learned is that if someone tells me they’ve had a Shitty day, that their boss is a piece of Shit, their food tastes like Shit, their spouse made them feel like Shit, etc., that’s generally an expression of either disappointment or anger. Both of these feelings are unpleasant, but they can typically be resolved through a series of conversations with the offending person, forgiving the other person, or perhaps just eating at a different restaurant.

Should, on the other hand, carries a much different kind of burden. When we say “I should have said…” or “I should have known…” or “I should have been able to…” we are committing the cardinal sin of putting on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and wishing things could have gone differently, punishing ourselves for things that we cannot change, and generally putting ourselves in a hopeless position.

Personal costs of “Shoulds”

When we say, “I should always know the right thing to say/do,” or “It should never come to this,” or “I should be able to handle…” we are putting ourselves in a position where expectations may become unrealistic (see this post for more on how expectations can mess with your psychological well-being). This can only be resolved by confronting ourselves.

However it is used, I treat Should much more harshly than Shit in therapy. I couldn’t care less what curse words people use to express their feelings. If they’re being honest and respectful with me, I’m just glad to be having the conversation. But if they start using Should to talk about them or me, that’s something we need to discuss.

What can you do about your “Shoulds”?

I refuse to have my options limited by Shoulds. And it would probably be a good idea for you to start eliminating this toxic word from your vocabulary. You can get rid of Shoulds, but whether you do is entirely up to you. You have choices. To borrow a phrase I heard years ago in my training as a therapist,  stop taking away your own options by “Shoulding on yourself.”

If you find youself using far too many Shoulds in your life and have a difficult time using more positive, life-giving, freedom-inspiring language feel free to get in touch with me. I’d be happy to set up a time we can meet to discuss ways you can think and speak differently to have the kind of life you want.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Exercising is HARD!!! 2 simple steps to following through on your self-care and exercising goals.

I don’t know about you, but I find it terribly hard to start (and stick with) an exercise program. I hem and haw. I commit and de-commit. I do one workout and then stop. When I think about what has kept me moving forward toward my goals when it comes to exercise, two basic principles come to mind: 1) be consistent, 2) be accountable.

  • A chiropractor I know is very specific in his instructions to patients who need to lose weight or simply get into better physical shape for medical reasons: Don’t go more than one week without completing your exercise routine. That’s it. Sure, there are additional, patient-specific instructions about which exercises may be most helpful or best suited to a particular injury, body type, desired result, etc. But when it comes right down to it, Dr. Lindwall has discovered psychological gold. Habits are easier to break a second time once we break them the first time. This goes for starting a new (useful/healthy) habit as well as for stopping an old (destructive/unhealthy) habit. So whether you’re lifting weights an hour a day three times a week, taking a hike in your local foothills or woods every Saturday, or surfing some killer waves at your local sandy seagull sanctuary in the wee hours after sunrise, make sure to do it at least once a week. The further you get from the habit, the easier it is to stay away. Routine is just as important as self-discipline/willpower when it comes to exercise.
  • Some people may wonder why a program like Weight Watchers has become so successful and had such lasting results over the years with so many thousands of members. I believe there are three key elements: simplicity, financial commitment, and human accountability. The plan involves a “points” system that is easy to understand and apply. In other words, you don’t have to be a genius to lose weight if you use their system. Very little thought involved. Stick to your number of points each day and you’re halfway there. As far as financial commitment, I’ve noticed an interesting trend when it comes to how we use our time and money. I’ve had far fewer no-shows and cancellations from therapy clients when they are paying directly for services as opposed to having an insurance company or Medi-Cal pay for services.People tend to pay for things they value. Anybody can take a walk/jog around their neighborhood. Anybody can grab a gallon jug of water and do some bicep curls at home. But not many can do it consistently in today’s fast-paced, over-booked American culture. You pay for membership in Weight Watchers. People pay for what they value and are emotionally invested in. The human accountability piece is perhaps the most important. When we know someone else is going to ask us about our workout or, even better, exercise with us, we are more likely to follow through. Simple as that. Having a workout buddy (even just someone you message on Facebook each week to check in on each others’ workouts) can help tremendously!

Now, all I need to do is take more of my own advice! I’ll comment later tonight as to whether I did!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.