A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

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

How to be a Conversational Designated Driver

Every now and again I get an abusive email. It’s never from someone I actually know. My real clients are amazing people–sensitive, kind and resilient. They value my time and their own and we don’t have any issues with keeping respect for one another really high. But, before someone becomes an actual client, there is a certain amount of calling or emailing back and forth to discuss our schedules, the fee and other particulars. Last week, a fellow disagreed with the fact that I charge at all (because hey, my children like to eat and stuff) and decided to let me know that through several vitriolic and extremely personal emails that covered everything from how I look to his perception of my moral compass. I wondered to myself as I read them, “Does this guy ever really think about what is going on in anyone else’s life?” If he had been sitting there with me in person, would he have dared to be this unkind?

When I have an interaction like this that riles me up, I always try to visualize the person doing something vulnerable. For instance, I picture their mothers holding them when they were babies or how the person might look in a quiet moment of doubt. This helps me realign myself to the fact that we’re all mostly just playing a big game of bumper cars with life–bouncing off of people and experiences that give us the feels and trying, with sometimes limited skill sets, to figure out what to do with all that. I have discovered in couples therapy, that when partners can step back and have sympathy for (not agreement with) what is going on with their spouses, they can make decisions that are more clear and intuitively guided.

Stuck conversations happen when you’re not sure if an issue can even be resolved or when you are afraid to tell your partner what you really think. If you suspect that you and your significant other are trapped in a quagmire like this, what should you do?

Offer to be the designated drive in that conversation.

This means that you will ask really good, open-ended questions without interjecting a lot of judgements or advice. You will purposefully steer the other person towards developing his or her own deeper understanding of a topic. It always helps you if your partner can get more clear about his or her motivations and desired outcomes, especially if you think you won’t like what those things are. It’s essential to be speaking the same language based on the same evaluative system. And, when you really understand, you can be more empathetic.

So, what does an open-ended question look like? Here are a few to get you started:

1) Tell me more about how you feel about___?

2) What scares you the most about the situation we’re/you’re facing?

3) How will you know we’re/you’re resolving this?

4) What is the best possible outcome to this conversation/event?

5) What do you think you need to begin to see ___clearly?

As the designated driver, you agree to provide not just a sounding board, but to actively take the keys and bravely give it a little gas. I think deeply meditative conversations like this in which the DD pushes for details and nuance take more patience and greater conversational skill than simply jumping in with suggestions.

Do you and your partner need a tune up? Would you like to learn more about how to really get your relationship engine humming? Why don’t you come on in 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 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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Paying Attention and Other Relationship Super Powers

I’m busy today, are you busy today? Sometimes it just seems as though life presents me with a a sheer vertical wall of responsibilities. During those times, my intention is to buckle down, develop a laser-like focus and knock it all out with style. But you know what actually seems to happen? I get totally overwhelmed with deciding where to start and instead play Candy Crush for seven hours. Seriously, let the irony of that sink in for a bit. The more I have to do, the absolute less I actually set about accomplishing. Sigh.

I am convinced that the endemic busyness of modern life is one of the direct reasons we are all on our phones and computers rather than connecting to others in real-time. I may not be able to get all my paperwork done, but I can engage in the rather parallel busyness of leveling up at my video game or liking all my friends’ Facebook pictures. We are so buried under feelings that we should be accomplishing something, we choose things to do at which we can get a win…even if they’re not the things we “should” be focusing on at the moment.

I think that’s just sad. Super, super sad.

This is affecting our relationships in the worst way it possibly could–by starving them of the moment-by-moment unadulterated attention they deserve. If you are present in body only your spouse will feel it. Sometimes, we are asked to multitask, and to put up with multitasking in our conversational partners so much that we accept it as the norm. And that, my friends is a crying shame. It’s the fast food version of care taking for one another rather than a nutritionally dense infusion of love and connection. Sure, McDonald’s will keep you alive. But you’ll feel gross.

Lately I have been asking my clients to take note of how they tune into one another when they are talking. I’m stubborn as a mule, so we’re really sticking on this topic for a good long while. Are you paying adequate attention to your partner in conversation? Here’s how you’ll know:

1)  There is strong eye contact.

2) You’re asking questions that directly relate to the conversation at hand and that keep information circulating. This is true especially if you think you know what your partner should do. Sometimes, people just want to talk. They aren’t ready for you to solve it yet. They will take your attempt to solve it as evidence that you are sick of listening to them. Don’t be that guy/gal that can’t just sit and listen.

3) You are listening not just for what the other person is saying but also what they mean. If    you’re not sure what he or she means you’re asking.

4) You are asking how you can help/know more/help move the body if that’s necessary. Just  kidding. Mostly.

Do you need some help learning how to attend to your partner’s needs in conversation? Are you ready to develop your communication X-man skills? Why don’t you come on in 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 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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How to Create a Theory of Change and Rewire Your Ambition

Back when I was in my doctoral program we all had to do something called a clinical defense. This is a memorable time in every clinician’s graduate career when you and your classmates huddle in the video lab like terrified refugees, poring over tapes of yourselves doing therapy, and hoping you’ll be able to mine out of those recorded hours demonstrable evidence of your clinical skill. Or, at least that you’re not a danger to the public. Then, you get the pleasure of standing before a panel of your professors and a roomful of your peers, pointing out the finer moments of your recorded life as a therapist, while saying lots of fancy terms like “homeostasis” and “paradoxical intervention.” Yes, it is absolutely as dreadful as it sounds.

Anyway, the point of this whole rigamarole was simply to demonstrate that you understood how to use a particular model of therapy appropriately, and more importantly, could articulate how you believe change happens for clients. We call that a clinician’s “theory of change.” For instance, my theory of change back then (and now too, actually) was that people are constantly in the act of writing stories about themselves and their lives in their heads. Some of these stories are socially constructed in tandem with the people we interact with and others we pen quietly inside ourselves. I think good therapy happens when we are able to get our hands on those stories and rewrite just enough of the plot so that you still recognize yourself, yet are decidedly stronger, happier and more effective.

Lately, I have been thinking that if that’s how massive, lasting change happens in therapy, is that how it happens in the regular world as well? What changes could people make if they woke up to the hidden scripts that govern how they live their lives and instead got some transparency on those storylines?

I’m willing to bet that if we did some mental archaeology around the things you are most proud of, we’d discover that there was something different about the way you tackled those problems than the manner in which you attack your daily, garden variety concerns. Remember that time you did the best presentation of your life? Recall when you lost 50 pounds? Pull out a pen and make note of at least 3 things you did differently while in the pursuit of those goals. Perhaps you got up an hour earlier to work out when you were peeling off those pounds. Maybe you psyched yourself up by reading inspirational quotes when you were pursuing you last promotion. Embedded in the architecture of those successes is your very own Theory of Change.

To figure out my own formula for transformation, I made a list of the variables that seem to be consistently different when I feel really good about my fire and productivity. Eureka! It turns out I do several things differently when I am working on making BIG changes in my life. These are, of course, idiosyncratic to my goals, but here they are so you know what I’m talking about when I ask you to break it down for yourself.

1) I Listen to Lots of Inspirational Books on Tape: When I am really jamming, it’s usually because I am feeding my brain all the time. I consider this priming the pump with others’ wisdom, so that when my own jewels pop up I recognize them. Though listening to Beyonce in the car is a pleasant distraction, when I’m trying to get intensely creative and directed, I need to be in a bubble of inspired thinking. In case you work this way too, my favorite book of the moment is Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All by Russell Simmons. The name of this book is deceptive–it’s really about living a robust, well-examined and kind life. If you need a bit of push in the direction of your dreams, give it a whirl.

2) I Keep Idea Journals: I think a lot. I think a lot about lots of different kinds of things. I’m probably like many super creative people; when ideas bubble up, I entertain them for a moment and then move on quickly to the next thing. Often, later in the day, I’m left trying to remember what that good idea for a book or website was. So, I always keep a pen and a notebook around to jot down these little half-formed bits and bobs. I have them in my purse, on my nightstand, scattered around my office and even in my car.

3) I Stay Up a Bit Later Than my Family: Now, I’m not saying this is healthy. Probably, I could use a hell of a lot more sleep. But, when everyone is awake, my quiet hours to meditate, write and think are in short supply. Since I’m a night owl, and my husband is kind enough to get our oldest son on the bus at the crack of dawn without waking me up, this schedule works for us. I find that when I don’t take this extra time to chase the muse my intellectual life stagnates and I become unhappy.

So, there you have it–an abbreviated list of the behaviors that support my own Theory of Personal Change. Want to figure out how to harness your skills to rocket forward? Why don’t you come on in 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 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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How to Cope When Anxiety and Perfectionism Become “Overkill”

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m more than a little bit of music nut. And, when I really sink my teeth into an artist that I love, I can become something of a super fan. Take, for instance, my multi-decade abiding affection for Colin Hay. He used to be the lead singer of Men at Work back in the 80s. As an aside, if that’s news to you: 1) Slap yourself around a little bit for missing out on lots of good tunes 2) Go download all his solo albums on Itunes. For Pete’s sake–I can help you with your mental health, but you’re responsible for developing a decent taste in music on your own.

Me and Colin HayJust because I need a public venue to share this photo, here is a picture of me and Colin Hay my long-suffering husband took a few years ago at a concert Colin did in Orlando. I *may* have waited outside the stage door like a psycho stalker in the hopes that he would come out and sign my CDs. And look at that, he did. Doesn’t he appear to be thrilled about it too? Just kidding. He was actually super, duper nice–the sort of person you hope your musical idols will be.

A few blog posts back, I mentioned that I secretly have mix tapes (or whatever the youngsters are calling them now–mixed MP3 lists?) in my head for various topics I address in therapy. At the top of my anxiety mix tape is a song Colin Hay first did with Men at Work titled “Overkill.” You can listen to it here in case this topic is of intimate concern to you:

In the interests of total disclosure, I can be an anxious person myself. When I was in graduate school, I had gnarly panic attacks that seriously threatened the thing I enjoy very most in the world–learning new stuff. A professor of mine called the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge “nerd joy.” I am a total captive to nerd joy on the daily. But, back then, I didn’t have any good tools for balancing my anxiety about the rigors of school with my single-minded drive to be the very best anyone can ever be at everything. I have been guilty of being a perfectionist of the first order.

The thing that anxious people seem to feel most about their anxiety (other than physically unwell because the body process of it sucks) is embarrassed. I know I was. A well-meaning instructor decided that I would become the class project in my doctoral hypnosis class. They were going to “fix” my social anxiety by focusing on me. Yeah, let me tell you about how well that worked. I considered dropping out after 8 years of college just to escape from those kind ministrations. And, the more upset I became that my anxiety was visible to others, the more my anxiety began to eat me alive and the more visible it really was. See how that works? Wishing it away with the utmost fervor you can muster only serves to make it more entrenched. Ugh.

When I see clients presenting with anxiety now, I can empathize with how helpless they feel to address their concerns. Most of the folks that end up in my office complaining about panic attacks and ruminations are extremely high-functioning people. They are smart, capable and have more than a little bit of a sense of humor about their anxiety. However, the more they try to apply the same fixes to their anxiety that they have used in other parts of their lives (study, attack and white-knuckling) the more they struggle. Hey, I’ve been there.

So, what do we do instead?

1) Quit Hating on Yourself: Seriously, it’s not helpful. Research has found that people who are socially anxious actually have increased empathic abilities and an elevated ability to correctly attribute other people’s emotions. That super power can shoot you in the foot big time if you get raw and overstimulated. There is some wisdom to learning that just because you observe something, you don’t have to attend to that thing. Maybe someone in the back of the room is bored by your presentation. Maybe Aunt Vicky doesn’t like your crab salad. Your energies are precious. Give yourself permission to ignore some stimuli and focus on the ones that are salient to your life.

2) Challenge Perfectionism: Perfectionism is not really about having higher standards than the rest of the world, though that may be a part of it, sure. Really, it’s an intrinsic terror of making mistakes and looking silly. Moreover, perfectionism is the thief of spontaneity because it is a form of rigid thinking that drives you like a little motor. When things “have” to be a certain way in order for you to function, you can no longer take joy in what you are doing and experiencing. And, you will make the folks around you miserable as well. Challenge your worst fears about what will become completely unmanageable if you aren’t perfect. And, please, don’t encourage perfectionism in your kiddos. Eventually, they will need to be able to choose their battles and process which things are more important than others. If they really can’t progress through the day unless their partners load the dishwasher a certain way, have you increased their happiness in life?

3) Meditate: There is no possible way that I can emphasize to you enough how important meditation has been in my life. I practice Transcendental Meditation and think it’s one of the absolute best ways for anxious people (well, and everyone really) to manage their health differently. You can learn more about that here: http://www.tm.org/. If that training is out of reach, you can come in, and I’ll teach you a similar technique. I know you don’t want to have to do something every day. I know you already have more than enough to keep you busy. But, do you have time to feel crappy? How much more could you accomplish if you devoted just 20 minutes to good mental health hygiene? Most folks don’t expect that they can work out once a month and have that suffice. So, as much as we would all like to be watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (is that just me?) it behooves us to set aside time to take good care of anxiety–a place where our emotional and physical lives intersect spectacularly.

Are you concerned that you’re not handling things as well as you have in the past? Would you like to develop new skills to evolve even more? Why don’t you come on in so 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 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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Texting, Facebook and Infidelity in the Internet Age

I’m really disappointed. The Jetsons promised me that by now I would be much closer to zooming out of my driveway in the sky and flying around in a fancy space car. Instead, on my way here today, I spent a tedious 30 minutes sighing and fretting in my decidedly non-airborne vehicle. Science needs to step it up a bit. But, while we’re waiting, lets talk a bit about the very real ways in which technology impacts our relational lives.

These days, most people who find their way into my office to address cheating have a good deal to say about how Facebook and their smart phones have aided and abetted their affairs. In fact, I can’t think of any couple that I have seen for infidelity in the past five years who were not left sorting out how  gadgets and social media acted as silent partners on the slippery slope towards becoming inappropriate. Why is it that when we’re staring at that screen, we may allow ourselves liberties we wouldn’t in person? Read on for some things to ponder as you decide if you’re getting yourself in deep waters with someone who isn’t your main squeeze. Here are the elements of dangerous electronic communications:

1) Immediacy: In days of yore, cheating was harder. If you wanted to contact the object of your forbidden desire in the evening, you had to call his or her home and risk the partner answering. In order to do that, one had to have made a really conscious, evaluated decision to step around boundaries. These days, it’s easy to fire off a message under the guise of a work-related (or volunteer-related, or child-related–insert how you know the person here) inquiry, while kind of wanting that conversation to continue to develop organically. If you are doing this, be honest with yourself about the type of communication you are hoping will result. Folks tell me all the time that their affairs “just happen.” However, when we deconstruct the history of that relationship, we are able to pinpoint a series of small choices that architected the connection rather intentionally. That doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. People who cheat rarely are. Instead they are, like all of us, complex people with complex motivations who could stand to develop some transparency between their intentions and their actions. As a matter of fact, telling a betrayed partner that you have no idea how the affair occurred is one of the very worst things you can say. If you are completely in the dark about how you began to stray, how could you possibly hope to reassure your partner that it won’t happen again?

2) Privacy: Imagine a husband and wife sitting beside one another on the couch. Each person has in her or her hand a marvel of technology–a microcosm of personal information and communication. You could be playing Candy Crush or posting pictures of your latest vacation. But, you could also be messaging your old flame from high school, “just to see what he’s up to these days.” Your partner would never know there’s something he should be objecting to, therefore there are fewer brakes otextn the momentum. Picture a boss giving a presentation. Employees are tapping away on their laptops. They could be taking notes on her third quarter plan. Alternatively, they could be texting a coworker inside jokes and planning to have an intimate lunch. Could the message you’re sending be interpreted as flirtatious or overly personal? Suppose either of your partners read the missives between you. Would you be upset or embarrassed? If you think that anything you’re sharing would be unsettling in the light of day (or a partner’s eyes) it’s time to reconsider the nature of the relationship you’re cultivating with that outside interest.

3) No Rough Drafts: When you are communicating in person, there are abundant opportunities to feel weird–things come out awkwardly and body language can be off-putting. But, when one is connecting electronically, you have a chance to reread and edit what you send, crafting it perfectly. Conversations had this way are often a best-case scenario, not the way either person participates in real life. Carefully curated communications can give the impression of a perfect fit between the two people talking. But, these moments in the affair bubble probably aren’t representative of what an open relationship with that person would be like.

Do you need some help untangling yourself from that invisible phone cord? Are social media and texting in danger of dismantling a relationship that you care about? I can help you get clarity and figure out what to do next. Why don’t you come on in 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 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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New Year’s Resolutions and a Freebie

elatedI love January. It’s the time of the year most fraught with possibility and pregnant with the momentum of all our freshly made resolutions. Call me cheesy, but I relish the idea of hitting reset. If you have fallen on your face the rest of the year, now is a socially sanctioned time to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back in the saddle.

I don’t know about you, but I have a host of resolutions that are hot off the press and ready to be put into action. Want to know what they are?

1) Volunteer More: At the end of my pregnancy with Lily Belle, I volunteered at the Raleigh Rescue Mission, a truly amazing organization that not only provides shelter for the homeless in Wake County, but also offers a program to help them get back in the work force. In addition, I provided free counseling for service people through the Give an Hour Program. Now that I am returning from maternity leave, I hope to get back in action with both these amazing groups. If you would like to find volunteer opportunities that match your interests, check out www.volunteermatch.org for a listing of local activities for every taste from animal welfare to assisting the elderly. Need more motivation to get out there? Numerous studies have linked volunteerism with lower mortality, lower rates of depression and increased happiness and satisfaction. In fact, altruism has a positive impact on immune function. See? Science says kindness does a body good.

2) Meditate More: I truly believe that learning Transcendental Meditation saved my emotional life. There is no better remedy for anxiety, stress or trauma than to learn to access your own wisdom while managing the attendant body processes that make those things so challenging to our happiness. Every single client that walks through my door suffering from overwhelm and stress gets some instruction in meditation. As a person who has suffered from panic attacks, I know how scary and humiliating it is when anxiety strikes. But, you can carry meditation with you–an internal Rx and emergency room available to you at any time. I have meditated in bathroom stalls, in my car and any number of places when I began to feel icky. But, what makes that work for me is the dedicated practice I put in daily. That consistency gives me great emotional muscle memory for that calm place, and also helps me regulate body sensations I don’t like. There are myriad ways to approach meditation. Find one you like and make it a part of your routine. It’s good mental health hygiene.

3) Practice Gratitude More: I have been kind of grouchy lately. Lily Belle is still up and nursing every 3 hours and I have been coping with a relapse of my Grave’s Disease. This means that I have needed to limit lots of things in my life, including my work schedule and my exercise schedule–two things that I love and in which I find joy. However, I notice that I don’t feel that well when I choose to focus on the things that are diminished in my life rather than the many amazing things that are delightful. That’s not just feel-feel good positivity either. Studies show that people who make an effort to focus on the things they are grateful for experience a host of improvements in both physical and mental functioning. Want a concrete way to count your blessings? Head over to http://thnx4.org/ and anonymously participate in a study that the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center is conducting about gratitude and social and emotional well-being. You get a free online gratitude journal and society gets an addition to the science of happiness.

As my first act of volunteerism, I’ll give a free, one-hour session to the first new client who can tell me the composer of one of my favorite pieces of music, the Lietenant Kije Suite. And……go!

Do you need some help formulating the exciting things you’ll be working on this year? Why don’t you come on over 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 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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How to Fire Your Couples Therapist in Three Easy Steps

I am always trying really hard to get myself fired. In fact it’s the goal of every session we have.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many professions in which a practitioner can invite her own doom so vociferously. But for therapists it’s true. Don’t get me wrong–we want you to come in for a tune up now and again because our clients are kind of like our coworkers. We get invested in your successes and want to know how you’re continuing to live inside all those great goals we set the first time we met. But ultimately, we want you to get off our couches and onto the road to happiness and contentment.

My clients are coming to therapy to gain a sense of connection and mastery in their intimate relationships. We are in relationship all the time; we can’t help it. Even if it’s just talking to the guy who made your latte this morning, human connection is a fact of your life. And, I would submit to you that the world would be a better place if we all made the same sort of genuine, kind gestures to everyone that we must develop with our partners to stay in a committed relationship.

S0 h0w can you put me out to pasture sooner rather than later?

1) Fail Willingly: If you want to show your partner that you’re committed to a happy, healthy relationship you also have to be committed to falling on your face sometimes. Ask questions to which you aren’t sure you want to know the answer. Then, ask more questions. It requires a fair amount of intestinal fortitude to really get deep with someone when you’re worried you may be the problem. They may ask you to do things that you deeply believe won’t make a difference. But what if they do? What if you failed trying to do something explicit rather than creeping along at the edges of your relationship furtively making changes you only hope might work because you haven’t vetted them with your partner? This kind of courageous intentionality is ultimately the only thing that will let you know if this union can survive.

2) Change Behaviorally: Motivational guru Tony Robbins says that, “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken an new action. If there’s no action you haven’t truly decided.” Sometimes, couples come to me on the cusp of separation to “just make sure we’ve explored every option.” That’s probably not a bad idea. But, simply showing up for session and chatting while you’re here isn’t going to cut it. We won’t have magical conversations that transform your relationship. Rather, together we’ll develop a magical set of tools that you can use to make big changes. But, if you don’t go out and truly do the things we’ve talked about–if you don’t change your behavior, you best not be out telling people you gave couples therapy a shot. I often make couples have the same old conversation in different ways right in front of me. It feels awkward but we have to get at change where it lives–in the doing of the thing. If you can have that conversation differently, really see a new reaction from your partner and commit to doing things differently outside of session too, we’re winning. It only has to work once for you to agree that change can happen. Then, you’re on the hook for carrying it forth into the future. What a delightful burden!

3) Give Unashamedly: There is a difference between being sacrificial and demonstrating compassion and generosity of spirit. Folks who have been taken advantage of in the past, or came from a family of origin in which they were made to feel like a chump for taking care of others have a hard time with this one. Nobody wants to extend themselves if they can’t say for sure that their nurturance will be reciprocated. It feels icky–and vulnerable. But, this kind of openness begets openness and develops a kind of circular reinforcement of caretaking. The risk you take to really take care of your partner in whatever way he or she needs is one that is worth it. It reinforces for you that you are a kind, effective partner. It reinforces for your partner that he or she is safe and loved.

Could your relationship use a tuneup as we head into the new year? Would you like to see how we can transform your relational habits into actions that reap real rewards? Why don’t you come on in 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 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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Anxiety and How to Shoot First and Aim Later

I have to admit that grace under pressure has not always been my strong suit. In fact, one could say that I might have been a bit high-strung in the past. In case you’re interested, I have written more about that here:http://www.lotustherapycenter.com/blog/?p=979. And yes, high-strung is the term nice southern folks use to describe that one family member who may bark at the moon.

Let me tell you one basic truth about those of us who struggle with anxiety–we all want to be absolutely assured that we have the perfect solution to the things we’re anxious about before we make any changes. True story. If there is a client who will do any amount of reading and journaling homework I assign, it’s an anxious client. However, when it comes time to make even small changes about which she can’t predict the outcome, we will have a full-on meltdown right on my comfortable couch. Now, why is that?

It’s because anxious people suffer from a peculiar kind of creativity–a really interesting aptitude to author a truly infinite number of things that could go terribly wrong and must be addressed before action can be taken. When this spiral happens, anxiety will always get you under its thumb. Your nervous, beautiful imagination will dream up more catastrophes than reality will ever present to you in a lifetime. Shucks. We’re stuck. When framed this way, one can describe even the most ardent perfectionism as a blessing and curse we high-strung folks manage daily. But dang, don’t you want us on your team for Trivial Pursuit? We squirrel away “just in case” knowledge like nobody’s business.

So what should you do about it?

1) Shoot First, Aim Later: I know this sounds counter-intuitive. However, the way that anxiety ruins your good time is by making you believe that you must have perfect responses to whatever stimuli bug you (public speaking, elevators, dating, poodles) or something truly horrific will happen. Unless you’re a fighter pilot or a brain surgeon, that most likely isn’t the case. You need to learn that you can flow with the moment and change course when necessary. Part of how we effect change in this situation is by creating opportunities to challenge the fear, deal with a need to redirect and then keep on truckin’.

2) Manage Body Processes: Many times, the scariest/most embarrassing/most frustrating part of experiencing anxiety is the body processes that come along with it. Sweating, blushing, racing hearts, shaking, stomach aches and a whole host of very physical symptoms can arise to support your brain’s deeply-felt idea that the world may end any second. This isn’t your body trying to pull one over on you–it’s just getting poised to be congruent with your emotional state. Lots of adrenaline would be fantastic idea if the threat were as urgently real as your feelings tell you it is. Therapy and meditation can teach you how to address those bodily sensations so they are not as embarrassing or scary any longer.

3) Develop a “True, But Not Helpful” Stance: It may be absolutely true that in the past you have had some sort of defining event that led to your anxious feelings. It may also be true that you have “always” struggled with a nervous temperament. However, it is not helpful to live your life only between the buoys of the negative things that have happened to you. There are other waters. It may be true it’s total jerk day at your office and every single person will heckle you when you get up to give that speech. But, it’s probably not helpful to prepare for only that outside shot. What if we were able to prepare for something else as well? Maybe only one person heckling? How would you work your speech towards the folks who may enjoy it?

Are you feeling a little nervous these days? Would you like a few more tips about how to increase the juicy parts of your life? Why don’t you come on in 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 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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Couples Therapy is Awkward and Other Non-News.

One of the greatest things that’s happened to me like, ever, was that time I wrote a blog post about a Duran Duran song and someone in charge of their official twitter account read it and retweeted it. I’m sure the person behind this personal win of mine was some sad-faced publicist for the band languishing in a grim cubicle out in California. But, I prefer to believe that Simon Le Bon was chillin’ by a pool in the Mediterranean somewhere when he happened upon my humble corner of the internet and thought to himself, “This woman is brilliant! I must share her wisdom with the world.” In case you’re wondering, yes, I have this daydream a lot and no, I’m not proud of it.

I think the word you’re probably looking for as you try to picture me staring off into space mooning around over a tweet is awkward. I can own it. I’m a big girl. As a matter of fact, I’m quite accustomed to more than a casual participation in not only my own awkward moments, but also others’ as well. In my work as a couples therapist I have the happy responsibility of being a party to some of the most embarrassing and uncomfortable conversations folks ever have.

Therapy chats are never awkward because my clients are weirdos. Rather, these interactions feel strange because I am asking you to have the same conversations you always have in a new way. It’s fairly common for me to ask clients to reenact a conversation that seems to go around and around without resolution. Then, we begin to reshape that argument into a fertile ground for new understandings.  Just as a spoiler, I tend to spend a lot of time encouraging new communication skills and interrupting some of your perfectly good points during this process. Folks can find participating in these reworked conversations scary for several very good reasons:

1) It feels weird

2) You can’t imagine that any new information can be mined from the same old conversation–even if it’s being had in a new way

3) If you suddenly participate in that conversation differently you worry that your partner will always demand this weird new way (that you’re not sure you can commit to yet)

4) You’re not sure you want to be vulnerable enough to have the conversation in a different way

5) You may have old communication habits from your life experiences or family or origin that contradict the new skills we’re developing

However, the good news is that everyone has the capacity to skillfully rework the manner in which they participate in their relationships. I have faith in you. So don’t worry that you’ll feel awkward when you come to couples therapy. I can guarantee you that you will. But, if you have the patience to tolerate the weird for a while who knows what great things can happen? Why don’t you come on in so 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 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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On Doing Yoga While Listening to Miley Cyrus

I feel like I should begin this blog with the obligatory “Whoo Boy, it’s been a looooong time since I posted.” Because, y’all, it’s been a loooong time since I posted. But, I have a few good excuses. Promise.

This has been a tumultuous summer. I spent most of it heavy with child, laid up on the couch bemoaning my swollen ankles and angry digestive system. A few times a week, I ran into my office to see clients who were exceptionally good sports about near-constant reschedules and the fact that I mostly showed up in questionably clean pajama pants and ragged flip flops. “Remember how I was wearing stilettos and a tasteful sweater set when you met me?” I would say. “Well, picture that now.”

Fast forward a few months and here we are in the crisp (sometimes) fall air settling in with our new daughter.  Dan and I thought she was going to be a boy. But, in a testament to the fact that life and technology can still surprise you, Magnus turned out to be Lily Belle. Since we didn’t have a girl name chosen, we took a good look at her and went with the first thing that seemed to fit. Lily Belle was the name of my grandmother’s favorite sister–a free spirit who, by all accounts, made everyone laugh, cursed too much and followed her gut. In other words, a perfect hero for our Lily Belle.

Given all this change, I’m in a contemplative place. Life is good, if noisy and chaotic. And, I’m trying to sort out how exactly I will manage to keep three children alive while attending to my writing, practice and health. But, these are good muddles–ones I am blessed to have. I was smugly contemplating that particular existential puzzle in downward facing dog when this happened:

Miley

Yes, dear readers, I was Mileyed.

I’m not exactly sure how, but “We Can’t Stop” has made it onto my otherwise carefully curated yoga playlist. I suspect I put it there by accident while attempting to shuffle some things around, and suddenly it burst forth from my Ipod as I was sweating on my mat. I have it lurking in my song list at all because Lily likes it. (Don’t judge. You know you jam out to it in the car when nobody is looking too.) Each of our sons has chosen but one magical song that lulls him into sleep. Fortunately, Ms. Thang also likes “Strawberry Wine” by Deanna Carter. Just those two. Ask me to sing either one of them in session sometime. I know all the words. Anyway…

The reason I’m telling you this story is to point out that sometimes, both literally and metaphorically, you can end up with a soundtrack you hadn’t expected. Life will offer you circumstances and people that you could not have dreamed of when you were setting goals for yourself. I suspect that one of the main paths to happiness is sorting out how to integrate those unplanned details into your journey. And, it is only by living from a place of curiosity and flexibility rather than fear that we can keep on heading in the right direction.

So, if you were making up the soundtrack to your life right now, what songs would go on it? Now that I’m back in the office, why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it. Maybe I’ll sing a little Miley for you.

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:

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