Category Archives: Emotional Wellness

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.

Should you lower the bar?

Let’s face it: You’re not perfect, and nobody else in your life is either. The sooner we can all acknowledge that, the better. Our feelings in life typically revolve around expectations, and if we can learn to modify them we have a good shot at also modifying the feelings that follow.

Am I saying that you should lower the bar in your life? That you should stop striving for excellence? That you should aim so low that you are all but guaranteed success? Hardly!

What I am suggesting is that sometimes our expectations may not be useful. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. Goals are great. Intentions are important. Plans provide purpose. Expectations, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear when we don’t measure up, when we fail, or when we just don’t quite reach as far as we’d hoped.

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT EXPECTATIONS?

The problem with expectations is that they can make us believe that the only kind of success is complete/total success. In reality, there are gradations of success. Life is one big gray moment, slowly passing by with infinite opportunities for growth, acceptance, persistence, critical thinking, teamwork, and grace.

Seldom will we feel completely satisfied. Rare is the goal completely accomplished. And what happens once we reach a goal? How long will we sit around riding the wave of success? We need to start anew with other challenges/goals or our lives become stagnant.

“IF YOUR COMPANY ISN’T GROWING, IT’S DYING!”

Take a look at almost any successful business in America and you’ll likely find that they grow consistently over time. Rarely will a successful company stay successful if they plateau in their sales, membership, etc. Maintenance is not the path to success. Think growth. This mentality applies not only to business, but to relationships, personality, and careers. Always be looking for where you can be growing.

Just be careful that when you sit down to plan out growth/development in your business, marriage, church, family or peer group that you aim for what seems unreachable but hold yourself only to realistic expectations for what success will mean. Celebrate the small accomplishments along the way. See each moment as one in which you can claim success and move closer to your audacious end goal.

HOW CAN I APPLY THIS MENTALITY TO MY LIFE?

If you are at your limit for patience in your marriage and can’t see how things could ever be as good as you once dreamed, look for small moments to intervene. Don’t focus on how you want your relationship to be 5 years from now.

Find a small opportunity to be the change that you’d like to see in the marriage and go for it (try something as simple as counting to 4 before saying what you really want to say- this gives you a chance to reconsider saying something potentially damaging). Abandon your own need to see the finish line before doing something different, and accept a step in the right direction as success for the day.

If you are looking to grow your business don’t focus on your sales goal for  5 years from now. Definitely have that goal written down somewhere, but focus on what you can do today to increase sales.

How can you network with a colleague through social media in the next 10 minutes? What innovative strategy for marketing brainstorming can you insert in your next team meeting?

SUMMING UP

All said, you likely can’t reach the high bar you set for tomorrow by being anxious about it today. Take incremental steps and expect only that you will try your best, rather than that you will have the best outcomes. That part really is ultimately out of your control. People still have to choose you/your company over others. (If you find that you have to be in control most of the time and it’s getting in the way, that’s another issue to consider working on).

Letting go of expectations can be difficult. We want so badly to be successful. To be the best. To serve the most people. To reach our lofty goals. We want good returns on our investments of time energy, emotion, and expertise. Let’s just be careful that our desires don’t become expectations.

Acknowledge and accept your limitations. Set your goals at “excellent” and your expectations at “reasonable.” Keep striving for the best, but stay aware of how your expectations may be getting the best of you.

IF YOU’RE STILL HAVING TROUBLE…

You may have been trying like crazy to get control of your life but you constantly feel like an inadequate failure. Maybe you can’t seem to do anything right. Perhaps you want so badly to make things work in your relationships but it seems impossible to climb back out of the hole you’ve been digging. Maybe it’s time for a little professional assistance. Let’s work together to keep the bar high in your life but keep your expectations reasonable!

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.

 

Sadness is your friend: A lesson from “Inside Out”

Is Sadness really necessary? Shouldn’t we try like crazy to get rid of all the unhappy moments in our lives? While watching Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out the other day I reflected on the difficult truth that Sadness is as much a part of having a fulfilling life as Joy.

As a professor of psychology and a practicing Clinical Psychologist I am often asked, “What is a good goal for therapy?” Many will say generic, impersonal things like “Increased psychosocial functioning,” “decreased symptoms,” or perhaps simply, “be happier.” But none of these broad goals ever feels satisfying to me.

Is it best to just try to be happy all the time? Should I try to make the most money? Buy the most toys? See the most countries? Plenty of rich, well-traveled people will tell you that’s not going to make you happy all by itself. No, if I’m going to suggest to someone a generic goal for life or therapy I’ll tell them something like, “Be as authentically YOU as possible, as often as you can.”

(SPOILER ALERT) Toward the end of Inside Out the main emotion character, Joy, has the startling realization that feeling and sharing our Sadness is crucial to sustained happiness and relational connection. In order to heal from her pain, grief and anger Riley (the owner of the mind in which Joy resides) must first acknowledge her Sadness. Before she can embrace her difficult new situation and any good might offer, she must integrate her experience of multiple emotions without casting any aside.

All of Riley’s feelings are vital and provide her with important shades of color for her memories. Riley’s complex-and sometimes unpleasant-feelings allow her to have an authentic presence with the people around her.

But I believe the key takeaway is that it’s not just feeling our emotions that is the key. Sharing them is what helps create strong bonds of trust, connection, safety, openness and-ultimately-happiness.

If you’re having a hard time getting out of your head or really connecting with the important people in your life I hope you’ll reach out to someone for little help and encouragement.

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.

Forgiveness is NOT saying “It’s okay.”

We’ve all been hurt by someone. Perhaps it happened today, or it might have been 50 years ago. And just maybe you’ve been consistently hurt and been walked on by people throughout your life. (If you are continuing to be harmed by your perpetrator you need to take steps to extract yourself from that situation, even if temporarily. This is another conversation, but I would encourage you to consider learning more about enhancing personal boundaries, self-esteem, and self-respect as potential starting points for your journey toward safety in your relationships.)

It may have been someone close to you. It may have been a complete stranger. It may have even been an impersonal event like a natural disaster. Whomever or whatever you identify as the perpetrator of your pain, you may have never been able to completely move on. Perhaps there are unpleasant feelings that linger on the fringes of your daily existence. It may be that those feelings are strong enough to direct your every movement in life and relationships. If this sounds like you, chances are there is someone you need to forgive.

At this point you may be asking yourself, “Why should I forgive him/her? They don’t deserve it. They were inconsiderate. They insulted me. They embarrassed me. They took everything from me.” These may all be true. The problem is that as much as that person is all those things, or at minimum had a weak moment in which they hurt you, the event is in the past. By continuing to live in pain in the present and refusing to forgive him/her you are allowing that person to continue controlling your feelings. If you can bring yourself to forgive them, you free up yourself to take back control of your emotions.

If this last bit sounds unfair, you may have an inaccurate view of what forgiveness really means. Forgiveness does NOT mean condoning, agreeing with, or being okay with an event in which someone harmed you. It does NOT mean forgetting the event, its significance, or its consequences. Some dictionaries define “forgive” as, “to stop feeling anger toward someone/thing that has done you wrong” or “to stop requiring payment of/for” something (as in the government forgiving/eliminating your student loan debt once you have worked a certain number of years in an underserved area).

What does this really mean for you? It means acknowledging the event, making peace with your personal reactions to the event, and telling yourself (and possibly the perpetrator) that you’re moving on. You stop thinking that someday the perpetrator will pay you some penance to make you feel okay. It may never happen. You thus refuse to let the perpetrator/event control your feelings from this point forward, you let go of the desire to have them pay for what they did, and you stop thinking so much about that person/event.

Forgiveness can be an internal experience. It can happen when you are alone, and the perpetrator need not know you have forgiven them. They do not need to be present, or even alive for you to experience the freedom of forgiveness. Forgiveness is about acknowledging, learning from, and moving beyond the unwanted event so that you can begin living in the present. Every moment spent dwelling in the past is a moment of today that cannot be regained.

So why do you continue to refuse to forgive? Because you are still angry? Because they don’t deserve it? You may be punishing yourself, thinking that if you suffer constantly the perpetrator will see your suffering and understand the magnitude of their wrongdoing. Maybe they will finally grasp the depth of your pain and feel remorse. Maybe they’ll even change their behavior. Perhaps you can teach them a lesson and prevent harm to someone else?

The unfortunate truth is that, in all likelihood, the person to whom you are desperately trying to demonstrate your pain may be unaware of or indifferent to that pain. This is why your decision to forgive cannot be about the person you are trying to forgive. Once you stop hoping that they fall into a manhole walking down the street and decide to forgive them, you can choose to wish good things for them, pray blessings on them, or simply live as though they no longer exist. The thing is, forgiveness may be end up benefiting the perpetrator, but forgiveness is really about the forgiver.

Waiting until you feel like forgiving is another way to prevent moving forward. Given the degree to which you were (are) upset by this person, chances are good that you may never actually want to forgive them. It needs to be a conscious decision. However, it does not need to happen all at once. To be successful, you may need to move forward in small increments. It is okay to forgive a bit at a time, as you are ready (for instance, you may initially decide that you can forgive someone 10% and bump that number up over time). Remember that this process is about you moving forward, and it can only happen at your pace.

Finally, forgiveness involves grace, which must be given, not earned. In this sense, you never forgive someone because they deserve it. You forgive them because you deserve it. Ultimately you need to square yourself with the idea that you deserve to move on. That it’s better for you to move on. That it is okay to leave the past in the past and live in the present. The people you love will be grateful to have you back, no longer shackled to the emotions of yesterday’s drama and trauma, fully engaged in the moments spent with them. It’s time to think differently about forgiveness. Not as a way for your abuser to escape responsibility, but as a way for you to escape resentment and live in emotional freedom.

 

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.

(Dr. Everett Worthington has written several works dedicated to helping people achieve forgiveness. He speaks out of his research and personal experience (his mother was murdered years ago and he has worked to cultivate forgiveness in his own life). His books are definitely worth a read if you are looking to move forward with this process.)