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.

 

Healthy Scrolling: The Danger of Facebook

So many of us engage in harmful behavior every day without thinking about it or even realizing we are doing it. I call it “comparison scrolling.” We open up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, or dozens of other sites geared primarily toward facilitating communication among “friends” and often get to work breaking down our self-esteem.

So what’s the big deal with scrolling? How could that possibly be bad for me? The problem with our obsession with social media is that we are socially and biologically programmed to compare ourselves with others. This is useful from an evolutionary perspective in that we find out what we need to know about the “best” person in our circles. Knowledge like this can help motivate us to go to college, make more sales, update our wardrobe, get to know the latest fad that will grab attention at a party, and ultimately upgrade our social status. This can certainly be useful if you’re on the lookout for a new job, new romantic partner, etc.

Unfortunately, we tend to engage in this comparison behavior even when it’s not immediately useful. The problem is not always in the comparison itself, but in what is being compared. I heard someone recently describe social media scrolling as “comparing our everyday struggles to everyone else’s highlight reel.” There is so much opportunity to compare the mundane, boring, sometimes downright depressing reality of our everyday experiences, to the wonderful, delicious, fun, exciting, adventurous, and rare experiences of our “friends.”

Compounding this problem is the fact that it’s not possible to be intimately involved with each of the people you consider friends, followers, or connections across various digital platforms. If you were, you would know that while they are excited to share their amazing sushi lunch (while you eat a PB&J), trip to the baseball game (while you’re stuck working on a spreadsheet at the office), and first steps from their smiling toddler (while your kid just threw up on you and won’t stop screaming), that’s not the whole picture.

For the people you REALLY KNOW, you can get excited about the highlights on Facebook and not feel jealous or compare yourself because you know that going out for sushi with a friend means they will be staying up late writing a report. Their trip to the baseball game was for work and they spent the time there worrying about whether they were making a good impression. Their toddler usually cries more than your child and has a hard time sleeping through the night.

All said, nobody has it all together. Everyone has struggles. Keep this in mind when scrolling your feeds. Your life isn’t perfect. But neither is theirs. Social media doesn’t need to be about comparison. With the right perspective it can be about sharing in the joys, triumphs, milestones, and yes, sometimes the setbacks of everyone we call our friends.

You may find that you’re having a difficult time comparing yourself to others, finding that you always come up short. It may be hard to take that broader perspective and see both the good and the bad in others. Heck, you may tend to only see the good in others and only the bad in yourself. If this is you, scrolling through your feed is probably not your main problem.

If this is you, I’d recommend that you get some support. Talk to someone who can help sort out how and why you feel the way you do about you. If you need some help with this process, give me a call or find me at the website below. In the meantime, scroll with caution, and remember that it’s not about being perfect. That’s not even possible, so it’s time to get a new goal!

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.

My Baby Won’t Stop Screaming! 6 Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity at 3am

I’ve recently seen several posters with a sad looking infant and the phrase, “Never shake a baby. NEVER.” I’ll start by saying that I wholeheartedly agree that noone should EVER shake a baby.

I understand, however, why parents often feel tempted to do things that are physically dangerous for their children. It’s 3am and your baby is awake for the fourth time. She’s inconsolable. She won’t eat. She won’t sleep. You changed her diaper a few minutes ago. She just…won’t…stop.

As a parent, this is an overwhelming and all-too-common situation. It’s the nightmare scenario that is impossible to wake from because you’re never actually asleep long enough to dream! So what is a desperate parent to do? I want to share just a few possible approaches to handling this situation to help you feel a bit less crazy in those moments. I’d say not crazy at all, but as much as having kids is rewarding, it’s just a little crazy, right!? My ultimate hope, though, is that regardless of whether you feel better at 3am you will NEVER do anything that could harm your baby that you will immediately regret. Check out these strategies for getting through those sleepless screaming nights:

  1. Take a deep breath. It seems simple, but breathing is something we do without thinking and the way we do it can have an immediate impact on how we feel physically and emotionally. Try pressing your index and middle fingers against the vein in your neck and slowly breathe in and out. Notice the slight slowing as you breathe out instead of in. Quick, shallow breaths can raise your anxiety level and slow, deep breaths can lower it. Breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4, and then bring your focus back to your baby. Repeat as often as needed.
  2. Talk to yourself. Yes, I know I said that it can feel crazy at times being a parent, but that’s not the kind of crazy we mean here. Use “positive self-talk” to get you through the most difficult moments. Say (out loud) things like, “I can do this,” “This won’t last forever,” “This is only a phase,” or “She needs me to stay calm.” Be your own coach and encourager. Your child won’t mind the talking. Heck, they’re probably screaming anyway so it’s not going to wake them up. Your calm voice just may soothe them and help them sleep.
  3. If you have a partner to trade off with, do it! Parenting is always easier when the load can be shared. Talk with your partner about a plan for those rough nights when nothing seems to work. As is always the case in relationships, communication is key! It’s better to have your partner get less sleep because you passed the baton to them than to yell at or shake your baby.
  4. Try singing while you rock/bounce them (every parent knows the “bouncing baby walk”). Sometimes the difference in tone will calm them. Remember that they don’t know if you’re a good singer or not. They don’t care. They just like hearing that you are near and in control.
  5. Check for anything that may be bothering your child. Are they getting pinched by a zipper? Having a hard time breathing for any reason? Arm/leg stuck in the slats of the crib? One of your stray hairs wrapped around a finger, toe, or penis? In addition to being generally upsetting, these can each be dangerous to the baby in their own way.
  6. If all else fails, just walk away. Not forever. Not even for a long time. Just get yourself a quick break for 2 minutes to collect your thoughts and feelings. Generally speaking, crying is not bad for babies. It’s how they tell us the need something. We just need to make sure there is nothing dangerous or painful that is causing them to cry. Take a short breather and remind yourself that crying is their job. They’re communicating the best way they know how. In the long run it will be better for you and your baby if you make sure your emotions are back to baseline before trying to soothe them.

No matter what happens, whether the strategies above are effective for your child or not, remember that your baby is not trying to annoy you. They’ll have plenty of time to purposefully push your buttons when they’re 2, 3, or any of the teenage years! Right now they just need you to be a safe, calm presence that they can count on to meet their needs.

If you find yourself struggling with the constant demands of parenting, if it’s starting to wear you down physically and emotionally, or if there is anything in your life that needs work so that you can be the emotionally and physically available parent you want to be for your children, get in touch with me at 657-200-8080 to set up a consultation at one of my Orange County offices. You can also reach me at robertp@californiaalturavista.com.

 

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.

Photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonlooks/534225752/”>London looks</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com/”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>CC BY-NC</a>

Coping with Medical/Physical Disability as a Couple

In a recent session with a couple I was reminded of the importance of focusing on the CAN DO things in our lives. The couple was attempting to adjust to a medical condition that the husband was facing and all of the resulting individual and relational consequences that sprung up in the marriage. In difficult circumstances like this, whether  unexpected or planned, it can be tempting to pull away from your partner.

If we are experiencing shame or depression due to a decrease in functioning (general energy level, sexual performance, ability to help around the house, etc.) the first reaction is often to isolate. We don’t want others to see us at our weakest moments. This becomes a big problem when the functioning does not improve because we have then established a go-to strategy of hiding our pain and fear from the person who cares most for us.

If you are the partner in the relationship watching your partner go through the difficult physical transition, the problem is as much yours as theirs. When you said your vows you agreed that their pain would be your pain, their joys your joys. Certainly their transitions in life to different phases (new jobs, illnesses, etc.) are shared experiences as well. There are as many possible reactions to changes in our partners as there are people on earth. That said, there are two major general categories of response: moving toward, and moving away. If your strategy is to move away, to get space, to isolate, to dwell in fear and resentment, I can promise you that the long term picture for your relationship is not going to turn out the way you initially hoped.

So what can we do when a partner/spouse/loved one is unable to continue caring for and relating to us in the same ways as before? What can we do when, despite our best efforts, we are simply unable to perform tasks the way we used to when we were at full strength? There are just too many great ways to move forward to be adequately captured here. I hope you’ll consider the following three approaches as a starting point for coping together, rather than trying to “be strong for (insert partner’s name here)” and taking on the majority of the burden alone.

  1. Talk about it! One of the biggest difficulties for most couples I see in my practice is communication. Establish good habits around communication as early as possible. This means not just talking about the goings-on from your day, but how you experienced them. Did you have fun? Whom did you get mad at? Did you struggle with anything? These are sometimes difficult habits to establish when we feel too busy to even get through the basics of our day, let alone the associated reactions and feelings. But as difficult as it may seem, this is exactly what you’ll need to do when adversity strikes your marriage. Talk about the struggles. Talk about what you’ve lost. Mourn what used to be, and talk about what might be ahead. Validate each other. Support each other. Fears. Hopes. Sadness. Things you’re grateful for. These should all be part of the discussion. Not just what medications you are taking or what rehab strategies the doctor has recommended. Talk about it.
  2. Get support! A recent study¹ found that only about 2% of general medical practitioner communications with patients focused on positive coping and utilization of available resources. This is not enough! On top of that, about half of that discouraging 2% was from only two of the more than 20 doctors in the study. As a group, we professional healers/helpers need to help our patients/clients to focus more on what is positive and possible. Let me encourage you as a patient or partner of a patient to make the most of what is available to you. First of all, lean on each other (see #1 above). Second, make sure to take stock of the other supports around you. There is probably more available to you than you realize. Talk to your pastor/priest/rabbi. Reach out to family and friends. Find an online support group. Better yet, find an in-person support group. Talk to a therapist. (Yes, you can go to a therapist and not be in a relationship that’s on the brink of disaster). Check with your local library or community center. You never know where support may be found.
  3. Focus on what you CAN DO! If you are the partner personally experiencing a decline in ability, consider what options are still available to you. What activities are still reasonably within your abilities? Where can you go? How can you get there? What might you do once you arrive? If you love the outdoors and used to hike as a couple, where is there a park with a beautiful walking path you can tread leisurely down together holding hands? If you are the partner helplessly watching your loved one cope with the frustration of losing control of their body, take stock of what is still available. How can you encourage your partner to take advantage of their remaining physical abilities? What activities will you continue to do on your own (or, at minimum, without your spouse)? Will you still golf/hike/bowl/surf? Will you participate less frequently to accommodate your partner’s new set of abilities? What are you willing to give up to spend time with your spouse, and what would you like to continue even if it means doing things separately? The point here is to avoid feeling discouraged as individuals by embracing what is possible both from individual and relational perspectives.

As a final thought, it’s important to realize that where you are now, you may not be in the near future. Things may improve; they may get worse. Whatever the case, remember to come together during the changes. Discuss what’s happening, and focus on the positive CAN DO activities are there for the taking!

 

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.

¹Mjaaland, T., & Finset, A. (2009). Frequency of GP communication addressing the patient’s resources and coping strategies in medical interviews: a video-based observational study.BMC Family Practice, 10(1), 1-9. doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-49

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.

How to stop a tantrum without candy (and produce a pleasant person in the process)

You may have seen a child throwing a tantrum in a restaurant and asked the person next to you, “Why doesn’t that mom just take her kid outside? He’s making a scene!” Maybe he wanted the chicken nuggets and got sushi. Maybe he wanted chocolate milk and got regular milk. Who knows? The important thing is that your romantic dinner date has now been interrupted. So again, why won’t that mom just take that obnoxious child outside already?!

If you are a parent, you may be reading this and thinking, “Hey! I’ve been there before, and sometimes there’s just nothing I can do! My son just won’t let me have a meal at a restaurant in peace unless he gets his way.” Or, you may be thinking, “Even if I take him outside, when we come back in he’s just going to start screaming again if I don’t give him what he wants. There’s no winning with this kid!”

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, read on for some thoughts on how your child may be trying to train you, and how a shift in parenting style can minimize the frequency of these situations in the future.

Let’s first take a look at a simple example to illustrate how NOT to encourage positive behavior from your children in public. I was recently in the checkout line at a grocery store and there was a family of four in front of me. The parents, a grandmother, and a young girl of about 3 or 4. The girl, seated in the shopping cart, initially was calm and quiet in her request for some M&Ms candy. The parents said “No” and the girl was obviously displeased with this answer.

The girl then began to rapidly escalate her behavior from quietly asking for the candy to whining and eventually crying about not getting her way. Out of apparent embarrassment and a desire to quickly quiet their daughter, the parents said, “Fine. Just be quiet,” and put the M&Ms on the checkout conveyor belt. I cringed inside knowing the potential long term impact of their actions.

Anyone want to guess what this girl is going to do the next time she is in the checkout line? You guessed it: Cry for more M&Ms. If the parents continue to avoid temporary pain/embarrassment, what do you suppose the long term effect will be? What might happen when the girl is 16 and she wants to stay out several hours past her bedtime with her boyfriend the night before taking her SATs? How much power/authority will her parents have at that point to impact her behavior?

Sadly, the pain-avoidance behavior of these parents will have gradually stripped them of vital parental influence. They will have lost the power struggle via surrender. They did not establish themselves as authorities in their daughter’s life early on and consistently throughout her childhood/adolescence.

So what is a parent to do in this type of situation? Should you just let your son scream for an hour in the restaurant, disrupting the meals of dozens of other patrons? Should you buy the M&Ms but tell your daughter she has to wait until she is in the car to eat them?

There are clearly many ways for frustrated parents to respond that are potentially unhelpful. Fortunately there are also several responses that can be helpful and encourage prosocial, cooperative, desired behaviors. While there is no magic cure, no one thing you can do in all situations, there are ways to approach your child that may improve their behavior over time.

  • Keep calm (responding when your blood pressure is raised and the primitive, emotional part of your brain is activated will all but ensure that your response will not be optimal from a long-term change perspective)
  • If the situation permits, ignoring an unwanted behavior until it extinguishes (stops) on its own is preferable. I know this is likely an unreasonable strategy in many public settings, so please read on!
  • Stop doing what you are doing and focus completely on your child during this confrontation
  • Make eye contact by leaning/kneeling down to the child’s level. This reduces the physical intimidation factor and demonstrates respect (give respect to earn respect- modeling is an important part of their social education). This also increases the odds that your child is actually paying attention to you when you speak.
  • Establish the desired/expected behavior very specifically (“Taylor, I need you to sit quietly while we are in the restaurant.” or “We are not buying any candy today, Avery. Please sit down in the cart and use your inside voice.”)
  • Don’t be afraid to say “No.” to your child. They will hear this word often in life, and they need to be emotionally prepared to handle disappointment. This starts with you, and you need to get comfortable with their discomfort. (You should also get used to hearing them say No, as the toddler and teen years will be filled with many No’s from both sides!)
  • Respond to emotional outbursts with logic and consistency. This should, over time, demonstrate to the child that tantrums will not automatically result in their desired outcomes of excessive attention and getting their way.
  • If necessary (if the above steps do not initially produce the desired behavior), temporarily leave the situation, repeat the above steps, and request a commitment of compliance (“Are you going to talk nicely to your brother at the dinner table?”). Then head back inside and give it a go.
  • In all steps above, avoid bribing your child (If you do _____ I’ll give you ___). Establishing a reward for positive/desired behavior ahead of time can be useful, but setting it up after the child begins fussing can reward the fussing, rather than the desired behavior.
  • If everything above fails, it may be necessary to leave the situation permanently (at least for that day). Reevaluate whether your child was emotionally/ behaviorally/ cognitively ready to participate in the situation. Here it is useful to consider what kind of restaurant a 2, 5, 10, or 17 year old may be ready for. If we set a child up for failure in an overly demanding environment we have let them down. They have not failed us by simply acting in ways that are developmentally typical for their age. Expectations need to be appropriate.

There are obviously more steps that can be taken and many nuances to what you can do in the unlimited variety of complex situations in which your child (whether 6 or 16) may throw a tantrum. The above steps are a good starting place for most basic situations and can be useful even in some more complex settings.

Unfortunately there will likely be temporary sacrifices you end up making, such as avoiding a favorite restaurant, going to the movies, concerts, etc. while your child is not adequately prepared to accompany you. However, by consistently following through on the above steps you can give your child a fighting chance at being a respectful, reasonable, logic- and consequences-driven adult. With practice for them, and much patience from you, they may make progress much faster than you’d think!

 

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.

Photo credit: Mindaugas Danys; “scream and shout”, used under Creative Commons limited license

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.)

Why Therapists Go To Therapy

As a professor in a Marriage and Family Therapy training program I have had the pleasure of working with countless developing therapists. One of the things that has always struck me about many of our students is the diversity of reasons for which they joined the program. It is no secret that most therapists are, to use Henry Nouwen’s phrase, “wounded healers.” We mental health professionals are no different from the rest of the population when it comes to experiences of brokenness, hurt, remorse, doubt, and generally difficult life experiences.

One of the traits that often does separate mental health professionals is the specific training we have received in how to cope with and alter difficult feelings and circumstances. Unfortunately, all the training and schooling in the world are not enough to give us the experience that our clients have of being brave and vulnerable in sharing the darker, more troubled portions of our stories. This is where the idea of therapists going to therapy may start to sound less odd.

One of the many reasons therapists seek out personal therapy is to gain the experience of being “on the couch.” There’s really nothing like it. It’s exhilarating. It’s nerve wracking. It’s calming. It’s frustrating. It has the potential to be nearly everything you want in a relationship and at the same time, it’s not intended to last, however beneficial it may be. At minimum, it helps therapists to have empathy for their clients in a more direct, experiential way. This is invaluable clinical experience because they will regularly ask clients/patients to go through that same personal stretching.

Aside from the professional development reason above, personal therapy (whether individual, group, or couples/family) has the indirect consequence of helping clients by healing the healer. I’m a firm believer that it is not entirely necessary for a therapist to have been through the exact experience that their client has, but I do believe that it is important for a therapist to have struggled. With something. Someone. Anything.

People seldom come to therapy because life is going exactly as planned. I often say that in therapy there is no growth without tension or resistance. If everything is comfortable at all times, nobody is changing. Things will stay the same, and goals will not be met. It is important for therapists looking to join with their clients in their struggles to have wrestled with their own demons.

When it comes down to it, therapy is just people in a room talking, working out the details and struggles of life, trying to manage the difficulties and maximize the joys. Therapists who have successfully explored and endured their own hardships can feel more confident in their ability to connect with and facilitate healing for a wide variety of clients who may call for an appointment.

Bottom line: If we have learned to struggle with and manage our own difficulties we are typically better prepared to help others to do the same. The specific issue struggled with is less important than that we have struggled. If you are a therapist and have not experienced therapy from the couch side of the treatment room, you might want to check it out. Maybe get a recommendation for a therapist and get some unbiased feedback during sessions. Or perhaps join a therapy group for therapists and benefit from several experienced sets of eyes and ears every session. It will be great for you and help you to be even more effective as a clinician than classes, books, workshops and even clinical experience could ever do by themselves.

 

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.

Life is too short to not have satisfying relationships!