Category Archives: Self Help

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.)

Are you worth a second chance?

I watched the movie, “Seabiscuit” yesterday, and for any of you who have not seen it, I’d highly recommend it. While the film is well-acted, -directed, etc. it’s really the story that jumps out. At face value, “Seabiscuit” is a horse racing movie. I understand that 2/3 of you may have just tuned out, but stay with me for a quick minute here. If you look past the action/drama of the come-from-behind horse racing story, a much clearer picture emerges.

The foundation of the story is the constant struggle to overcome. The characters have all experienced a significant loss and are dealing with the powerful emotions of grief, depression, remorse, anger, self-doubt, and uncertainty. One of my favorite lines from the film is, “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” This is said at times when characters are experiencing others giving up on them because of their failures, flaws, losses, even poor state of health.

Surely most of us have felt pretty low at times. Perhaps you’ve gotten to the point that you wanted to (or did) give up on an important relationship, career, education, business venture, or marriage. Maybe you’ve felt “banged up” in life. If you’re at all like the characters in “Seabiscuit” you’ve probably felt the need to have a second chance at something, maybe at life in general.

One of the hardest parts of this whole “second chance” business is the need to be able to give yourself one. It won’t really matter how many chances others give you if you are unable to see yourself as worthy of receiving them. If someone gives you a new lease on life by forgiving you, asking you on a date, hiring you, etc. there’s not much chance that you’ll fully take advantage of the new opportunity if you haven’t first taken a crucial internal step.

It is imperative that, regardless of how many times you have let yourself or others down, you forgive yourself, accept yourself, or at minimum, consider that you just might do better the next time.  See the possibility of a different outcome. You may need to lean on someone else for this at first. This is about hope, and sometimes hope can be hard to come by.

The bottom line is that when it comes to second chances, to make the most of them you’ve got to start with yourself. Whether you ask for one or it’s simply given to you, a second chance is easy to waste if you haven’t personally entertained the thought that you can be, feel, relate and live better.

“Seabiscuit” is about overcoming. It is about community. A coming together of broken people finding their wholeness by being vulnerable with each other and trusting that they are better together. However banged up life has left you, remember that you’re still here. You’ve made it this far! I don’t know what your second chance looks like, but since you’re reading this, it seems life has given you one. It’s up to you how you use it.

 

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.