A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

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

Anxiety, Taking Care of Yourself and a Personal Story

I think there’s a certain beauty in being the underdog. Not that anyone would choose it for herself if she could. But, in my experience there is something formative about feeling like an outcast and deciding for yourself that something inside you is special enough to validate internally. Really, it’s a gift in dirty paper–a hard-won victory in charting your own course and a lesson in the importance of treating others with gentleness.

When I work with clients who suffer from anxiety, I share pretty liberally that I have also wrestled with that myself. I’m no stranger to panic attacks, or what is in some ways worse–the stigma of having everyone around you notice that you’re hanging on by your toenails, nervous and jarred to your bones. Inevitably,  when I tell my patients I know of what I speak, they express some polite modicum of surprise. I mean, here I sit as the cheerful expert–I’m probably just blowing supportive sunshine up their skirts to emphasize some clinical can-do attitude about healing. Nope, I’m saying it because I’ve been there and I have so much sympathy for just how hard it can be sometimes.

What I don’t share with clients is the story of how my anxiety and my underdog story began. It would be too long. And after all, these sessions are about the people consulting, not about the consultant sharing her life story. But, I think it’s worth noting here because hey, blogging is a one-way conversation for the most part. And, I hope it will help someone to understand that if you have been hurt, it doesn’t have to be an emotional life sentence. You can utilize it in ways you never could have imagined.

When I was in elementary school, I was an average kid. Neither shy nor outgoing, I hugged the middle of the pack with zeal, speaking up when I had something to say, and sometimes when I just hoped I was right. I raised my hand in class and did my homework. I was about as gloriously normal as a child could get. But, one year, that all changed. I had a teacher who had long-standing bad blood with my family, as happens sometimes in small towns. And, whenever she got the chance, she humiliated me in front of my peers. At first, I tried to please her with a child’s confidence that there was logic in the world and that it could be done. Because, after all, she was an adult and adults made sense. She made me stand in front of the class while she teased me. She told the other kids that they would be punished if they hung out with me–a promise she followed through on by making each child who befriended me solemnly walk over to his or her apple (our measure of good behavior) and punch a hole in it for every interaction. To underline her point that I was wasn’t very bright, she made sure that I could never really progress academically through the levels of achievement in the classroom, no matter how well I read or learned. And, she threatened that I better not tell my parents about the things she said. So, I didn’t.

Later that year I was diagnosed with Amblyopia, an eye condition for which I wore large, thick glasses and patches on my affected eye. Just in case I wasn’t different enough already, that sealed the deal. I felt like I was weird. I definitely looked weird, and because of the severity of my vision problems, I couldn’t see the chalkboard no matter how close to the front the teacher put me. Things in which I had previously excelled became difficult because I couldn’t see the lessons to follow them. Socially anxious? I was. To be honest, many times, I still am.

Happily, the following year, I had a wonderful teacher who did her best to understand and accommodate me. Nonetheless, I became withdrawn, a loner– afraid to tell her when I didn’t understand, and too weary emotionally to risk her rejecting me. Would I have been a sensitive sort of soul without those experiences? Who knows. It took me many years to embrace that sensitivity as part of my creative nature–a sort of emotional antennae that help me notice things others don’t and turn it into art, both conversational in my therapy room and literal in my writing and music.

IMG_5405I think it’s particularly difficult (and so necessary) for anxious folks to remember that the anxiety doesn’t dehumanize you. It doesn’t rob you of your many gifts. Rather, it paralyzes you in such a way that telegraphing those contributions out into the world becomes like swimming through molasses while having a heart attack. It’s obnoxious, and it can feel as though it diminishes the fact that all the things that make us unique and special are still there. But we can do something about it. We can begin by talking about ourselves with kindness instead of loathing. We can engage with folks who don’t look down their noses at our sensitivities. And we can treat others as though they are carrying their own burdens as well–with gentleness and kindness. That’s me and my friend Londa over to the left. She gets me. If you don’t have a few of those folks too, take it from me that you need to find your tribe. Sometimes, people won’t get you. But, that doesn’t meant that you’re not worthy of love, companionship and loyalty. It simply means that you have to keep looking until the pieces fit the right way.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we can take control of our bodies by regularly practicing meditation techniques that can help us hit the reset button more quickly when anxiety creeps up for an impromptu reunion. I consider it good emotional hygiene so we don’t get clogged and weighted. I practice Transcendental Meditation, but there are a number of other techniques that are equally helpful in getting you back inside your body and out of your head.

Would you like to begin to work through the knots that have made you feel bound up and anxious? Are you ready to regard yourself and your personal history with kindness and respect? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it. I’ll be waiting with a cup of tea.

 

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a 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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Marriage Therapy, Mixtapes and the Fine Art of Apologies

If you wonder what therapists think about when you’re talking to them (other than sometimes pining for the coffee fairy to deliver a latte during session) I’ll give you a little hint: we think about all the weird things we would like to do to get your attention when you’re stuck. For instance, I want to make clients mixtapes. True story.

Do you guys remember those? Back in the day before Itunes, you used to sit by the radio waiting for the stupid DJ to stop talking so you could record your favorite songs into a compilation of whatever you were feeling at the moment for your friends, or more poignantly, for your beloved. Talk about a little snapshot of your emotional landscape. You could convey all kinds of things like, “I’m a stalker” or “Hey, keep your chin up.”

eltonOne of the songs that would go on every embittered couple’s official Dr. Cox couples therapy mixtape is “Sorry Seems to be The Hardest Word” by Elton John. Cheesy? Perhaps. But, it’s just so true. Want to bask in vintage Elton goodness before reading on further? I suggest that you do, I think it sets the appropriate mood:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2e4NlnLr28

Folks come into couples work with an interior list of the things for which they would like their partners to account. Sometimes, they can’t even give voice to what those things are because they are deep, vulnerable issues. For instance, as Elton so dolefully points out, when sorries are in short supply and partners deflect responsibility, it can be easy to think that love has left through the back door. And, who wants to be on the hook for asking his or her partner for the most basic building block of the whole endeavor–affection.

So, here are a few tips for embracing apologies as the balm that they are:

1) There are Good Apologies and Bad Apologies: Yes, gentle readers, there is a certain anatomy to a reasonable apology. We have all been at some point on the receiving end of something that sounds like, “Well, I’m really sorry you’re so upset.” Yeah, that in no way conveys any sort of remorse for the action that caused the problem. It’s an artful dodge of responsibility that will essentially dig you more deeply into conflict. Relationship researcher Dr. John Gottman has found that in happy marriages, couples mutually accept influence from the other rather than resisting it. If your partner would like to impress upon you that the way you handled things is hurtful, you should not only listen, but ask questions about how he or she feels about it. This sets the stage for both parties to walk away with an understanding that the problem has been resolved and that there is integrity in forward movement.

2) Put Me in Coach, I’m Ready to Play: That was another song reference. Did you like how I did that there? One sure-fire way to be certain that your partner not only won’t accept your apology, but also won’t let go of the issue is to add “Can we just drop it now?” onto the end of it. Nobody wants to play ball with that kind of apology because the implication is that the one receiving it has been unreasonable in even needing one. It’s like the verbal equivalent of a gigantic eye roll. If you’re going to apologize, man or woman up, offer it, and allow the other person to respond at length. I know it’s tough to be twisting in the wind, waiting to find out if your partner will receive you as appropriately contrite. But, that vulnerability is a tremendous demonstration of intimacy and collaboration.

3) Accept Gracefully: This bit is equally important. Offering an apology (when it’s done well) is tough. Though it might be tempting to use this opportunity to bring up other thorny issues, it’s important to give your partner positive feedback. This will lay the groundwork that admitting fault is a safe thing to do in the relationship and that volatile information can be circulated successfully.

Do you need help figuring out how to apologize with sensitivity? Do you want me to give you a list of other things on my fantasy couples mixtape? (Hint: Leonard Cohen and the Civil Wars.) Why don’t you come on in soon so that we can talk about it. I’ll be waiting with musical accompaniment on hand.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a 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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Dating in the Digital Age and a Plea for Human Interaction

As I was packing up to go home on Friday night, I took one last look at my email and noticed an interview request from Men’s Health Magazine. It’s common for journalists to contact me from time to time with questions about some story or another. Heck, I love to do that kind of thing. Is it wrong that talking to these reporters lets me feel like I still have one toe in the waters of my press past? It’s a sickness, I know.

online datingAnywho, what the good people at Men’s Health wanted to know is how folks in Raleigh go about finding one another and making a love connection. I think this is an increasingly complex question in the digital age. Way back in Medieval times before Match, eHarmony, Tinder, Grindr and all their electronic cousins, we had to meet people in person first. This meant that daters had to decide in real-time if the whole complex ball of wax was worthy of a second look, via an actual interaction. Now, we get to shop for partners online with our wingmen and wingwomen beside us like we’re kids looking through a catalog for Christmas presents. I’m often not sure how I feel about that. Sure, it cuts out the folks who you think are too this or that. But, it also nixes the opportunity to be confronted with someone’s imperfections and to decide, in the moment when also confronted with their cool idiosyncrasies, that he or she might be kinda ok after all. I’m fairly certain that my husband and I wouldn’t have chosen one another from how we probably would have written our online dating profiles. I mean, who would have predicted a reformed goth girl and a reformed conservative guy would fall in love? Nobody who had ever seen anyone I had dated before, that’s for sure.

All of this was running through my head when I was talking to that nice lady from the magazine. Fortunately, she wanted to discuss real places and ways to find others who might be interesting to date.  I was relieved by this, because I spend a lot of my time talking about how to craft a profile that will make others want to actually meet you in the flesh. When did we start needing PR firms to manage our dating lives? What I told her, and I’ll tell you too, is that it’s so worth your while when new to a city (or when you just need to cast a wider net in your old city) to join groups. I know it’s tedious when you’re used to grabbing a glass of wine and browsing for your future babies’ daddies and mamas in your PJs. But, it ensures that you have a crack at meeting people you otherwise might have passed on by. And, it will enable to you evaluate folks as they come without wasting time dating clunkers and thinking to yourself, “But our profiles match so well. Let me just go on a few more dates with him/her despite the fact that my gut is telling me this isn’t going to work.” That’s not to say I don’t think that online dating is fantastic. I totally do. But, I also think that complimenting those efforts with opportunities to encounter folks who are wild cards is very important.

There are tons of places you can meet friends who might introduce you to someone great or perhaps meet that someone great directly. From pub runs in which you can socialize with your fellow runners over a beer to faith communities in which you can find someone with similar values, we live in a city with lots of places to meet your future Mr. or Mrs. Check out Volunteermatch.org and Meetup.com to get started. (See, you can do that in your pajamas. Score.) I have clients who do everything from dragon boating to spoken word poetry. They have activities to attend here. If they can do it, you can too. Please don’t be demoralized when online dating isn’t offering you tons of options. It just might mean that your greatness shines brighter in person than on the page and you need to bring the real, unedited you out into the real world.

Do you need help getting past relationships in perspective? Would it be helpful to talk about healthy criteria for new partners? Why don’t you come on in so that we can work on it.

You Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a 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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