A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

Thoughts on counseling, healing, and creating the life you want

A Note of Thanksgiving

Most of the time, the posts I write here are artifacts of something that has happened to me as a therapist. My own emotional landscape is pulled and shaped by the challenges my clients and I have faced together over the week. This blog is strange brew of clinical observation and personal viewpoints.

But this week, I’m not seeing clients. My husband is attending a conference in Vegas, and I tagged along for a week of post-Thanksgiving Day rest and relaxation. The big event of my trip here has been realizing that I never have time to watch as much trashy TV as I would like. Could it be possible to love those “People’s Court” type shows any more than I do? I have been basking in the tawdry glow of fake small claims litigation for at least three days now. At night, I put on a fancy dress and play nickel slots until I panic about losing more than $20 and head back to the buffet. It has been the perfect, perfect vacation. But, it doesn’t really lend itself to blogging. Not this kind of blogging, anyway.

At Thanksgiving, as I was discussing our trip out west, a family member remarked, “Thank God you’re getting away–I don’t know how you do what you all day.” I think therapists hear that particular line of, “Ye Gads, I’d hate your job” commentary more than anyone except, perhaps podiatrists. And maybe dentists. But, I don’t understand that really. I can’t imagine doing anything other than being a therapist. I truly love it.

So, this blog is a thank you note to all the clients who have allowed me to enter their lives and share in their stories. I think the role of listening and bearing witness is a sacred one. I take it seriously. Too often in life, our most compelling stories–the ones that make us the most human–go untold. As a therapist, I get to hear those clients’ stories in the full color a safe therapy space offers. It’s true that I help clients process some pretty terrible things. But, my role offers me the opportunity to be present with people as they change their lives and throw off the shackles of trauma, anxiety and sadness. I get the honor of helping them reauthor stories that are disempowering and choosing new pathways for themselves. It’s like watching the sun rise every day I go into my office. What a magnificent gift! I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to be me for a day.

Thanks again for allowing me to join you in your journey.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Becoming the Change You Want to See in Your Marriage

 “When you make another suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you see that handsome devil over there to left? Yeah, I know, he looks a little like he might be able to kill you with his Jedi mind tricks.       Shoot, if I was going to put my money on someone who actually does have Jedi mind tricks, it would be that guy. Let’s all be really still and       back away slowly…

Just kidding. This is Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a Vietnamese buddhist monk who among other things, was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace prize for his work in non-violent civil disobedience. So, I think if anyone was going to know a few things about feeling justifiably upset and finding a constructive way to channel it, Thich Nhat Hanh wins.

I think often of my buddhist friend as I go into session with couples who are staging bloody rebellions within their own relationships. When the stakes are so high, the bitterness can grow exponentially. But, it doesn’t have to do that. You can relate to those with whom you disagree with kindness. Yes, even that fool you’re married to who left his or her socks on the floor for the 45th time this week. Thich Nhat Hanh says that the real antidote for anger is compassion. And I for one, think he’s right.

In my work as a couples therapist I always have the distinct pleasure of being obliged to see both sides of a story. Rather than viewing arguments as cause and effect, I see the troubles couples endure as circular. Each reaction begs the other, and when there are no changes in the cycle it begins to escalate out of control. So, it’s more important than nearly anything else to inject a difference into the loop somewhere. It sounds good, sure, but you must be wondering how to do something that lofty. What if you’re not feeling particularly compassionate? Where should you start?

1) Getting clear: When couples come to see me, they are usually fighting about fighting. That’s right, I said it. They have lost all sight of the original issues in a more meaningful way, and become fixated on the deficits in the communication. This back biting about one’s partner’s sparring technique leaves very little room for working on the underlying issues. Actually, it’s the easy way out. Most couples fight about fighting so that they can back away from more important things like feeling afraid, vulnerable, betrayed or unloved. Next time you start to have a rock-’em-sock-’em moment with your partner, take a step back and try to imagine why your partner might be feeling defensive. What more fragile emotion might this be covering? Does thinking about that more vulnerable emotion help you slow down and ask better questions?

2) You’re Always ____: If you want a really quick way to tick off just about every person I can think of, it’s to totalize their entire existence into a few catch words. Couples that live together get a good feel for the other person. The other thing we get crafty at quickly is developing a sort of relationship short-hand about one another. This sounds something like, “You always ____” or “You never___.” In all honesty, you probably know what you’re talking about when you note that your partner mostly does things in a certain way. But it isn’t helpful to lead your partner to believe that he or she is the sum total of a behavior or attitude you don’t like. Can you find evidence to the contrary? Can you present those differences in a way that inspire collaboration rather than defensiveness? Thich Nhat Hanh would be proud!

3) Can’t sit here: (Please say that in the Forrest Gump movie voice.) Many couples want to avoid issues that are disturbing. However, if this is the sort of on-going trouble that is getting you back up to fighting about fighting because you don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole, you need to address it. Some issues continue to surface because they speak volumes about how the couple supports one another and negotiates conflict with kindness. What is the worst thing that could happen if you bring out the issues that petrify you the most? What is the best thing that could happen?

Do you need a consultation about how to get your relationship back on track? Why don’t you give me a call so that we can build a plan for you today.

Your Partner in Healing,

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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When You're the One Holding the Smoking Gun–Infidelity Recovery for Dummies

Though I do lots of different kinds of counseling–from hypnotherapy to depression–the bulk of my day is spent in couples work. I have always heard that your clients will tell you what you’re best at doing, and that someday you’ll take a look around and recognize that the constituency of your practice is skewed in one particular direction. So, if the clients have spoken, I can shine my own apple that I’m a pretty bang-up couples therapist. My mama will be so proud.

One of my most important jobs as counselor who works with couples, is helping folks weather the storms of infidelity. I take this role seriously, because I can think of no other time in which relationships are more vulnerable. I will happily bet my life savings that most people don’t start out in their intimate relationships with the intention to cheat. Rather, affairs (both physical and emotional) happen when the relationship is weak and resolve is low.

So, what if you are the partner who has stepped out of bounds? Here is a quick primer for how to promote healing and get back on track together:

1) Talk and talk some more: Infidelity is a “you do the crime, you do the time” kind of endeavour. More than any other kind of rift in a relationship, it requires traveling over the same territory over and over again in conversation. If you would like a sure-fire recipe for making your partner suffer longer and more intensely, it looks something like you saying, “How many more times are we going to talk about this?” Your partner needs to know that you want the relationship to succeed so much that you are not going to back away from the suffering you have caused. The more open you are to talking about the affair, the aftermath and what the future will bring in light of the infidelity, the more healing can occur. I think almost all people who have cheated on their partners want to avoid those kind of ground zero conversations. And, in most cases it’s not because you’re a monstrous person who is too narcissistic to own up to what you’ve done. Rather, it’s because watching your partner suffer, and really connecting with that misery is horrendously awful. It’s the hardest thing I can imagine doing. However, a serious boundary has been breached. Without spending some time mending that dam, water will come leaking out of the edges all the time. It’s far better roll up your sleeves and attend to the mess day by day until it gets better and you can both move on with clarity. Otherwise, I can promise you with all certainty that it will be a longer, harder road.

2) Block, Delete, Unfriend: You probably didn’t end up cheating on your spouse because your affair partner sucks. Rather, that individual might be a really nice person who got mixed up with you in an unfortunate situation. I can understand that you might want to believe that you can be platonic friends after this–particularly if the affair was emotional with no physical consummation. This should always be an unexplored option. Even if you could be casual with the affair partner, you need to show your spouse that all non-essential contact (if, for instance you work with the affair partner and can’t avoid it entirely) has ceased. This means no texting, no messaging, no phone calls and for the love of God, no Facebook. No locking your cell phone unless you’re a CIA agent. Relationships in which trust has been destroyed require transparency to be rebuilt.

3) Go to therapy: I’m not just saying that. If your partner won’t come with you, go for yourself. Take a good, long tour of your own emotional landscape. Your partner will be grieving the death of the relationship he or she thought the two of you had. They are likely to say that the affair “hit me like a Mack truck.” Was that the case for you too? Were you entangled in a bad situation before you had even thought long and hard about the consequences? Therapy can help you explore how you express yourself in relationships and make clear patterns you may not have noticed yet.

If you have some questions about how to make your relationship and yourself better and stronger, why don’t you give me a call so that we can talk about it?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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The Benefits of Talking to Yourself

Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what to write for my blog entries. I will get this inexplicable urge to write, and some sort of inner push to put voice to screen. And then I say to the universe, “But I don’t know what I’m supposed to say today.” Do you ever have that too? Do you have that feeling that there is something to be stated, something that’s inside you to share, but you the inspiration hasn’t fully formed yet?

I’m working on the hunch that the drive to express oneself always predates any actual good ideas. So, I am sitting here with the itch to blog and no great idea how to scratch it. But, while we’re waiting, we can muse about something else that has been on my mind lately: the power of self talk.

You might as well monitor what you tell yourself, because you are your own best and most captive audience.

I have found that at the root of many of the emotional and spiritual troubles that nag at my clients is a voice that is relentlessly critical. That critical voice tells you that you are not good enough. It tells you that your anxiety is stupid or weak (thereby making you anxious about being anxious–not good). It tells you that you are not worthy of love (so you persecute or cheat the people who have the gall to love you). Or, perhaps worst of all, that small voice is silent altogether, leaving you rudderless and adrift.

I spend a lot of my time in session telling clients that they need to identify the messages that they are giving themselves and decide in a purposeful way if those messages are kind and constructive. This isn’t any kind of therapist hocus pocus talk. Rather, it is the only way I have found to be efficient in therapy or life.Most of us have tried bullying ourselves into good emotional health. We have responded to the mandate society places on us to be neutral and normal by barking pathological orders at the the most vulnerable portions of ourselves–our hurt places, our stressors. We are doing what seems like the most logical thing to do, but intimidating yourself into wellness usually doesn’t work. And, it makes you a mean, ornery cuss that nobody wants to be around. Let’s be honest here; unless you’re a real grade-A narcissist, you aren’t going to be any nicer to anyone else than you are to yourself. 

So, how can you leverage that on-going inner conversation?

1) Cultivate awareness: I really wanted to title this section “Come into the light Carol Anne.” Yeah, moving on. The first step in deciding how to change your thinking is to become aware of your thinking. When you get wigged out about something at work, school or in your relationship take a good listen to the common refrain in your head. Write it down. Write down every permutation of it until you get to a good stopping place.

2) What does it all mean: Now, this is the part that in which a therapist can be handy. What are the emotions underlying those thoughts? What is biggest, most terrifying thing that could happen if you don’t obey the behavior-oriented commands of the thoughts. Will you be seen as weak? WIll you be abandoned? Will you fail to reach your potential?

3) Fight fire with fire: I visualize our emotional systems (and physical systems as well in the case of anxiety) as giant Ipods. Somewhere up there we have a most-played list. We perform those greatest hits the most easily because they are the ones at the top of our behavioral repertoire, not because they are the most helpful. Changing your habitual ways of talking to and about yourself may not feel natural because you haven’t been doing it in any new ways lately. But, I promise that if you can put a few new tracks into your rotation, they will start to sound like they have always been there.

Wow, I feel better. Maybe I have said what I needed to say today after all. How about you? Is there anything you would like to come in and talk about?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

Pinterest:DrHollyCox

Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

Google +: Holly Cox

 

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