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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Managing Your Anger So You Can Get the Relationships You Want

As anyone who has ever been pregnant can attest, you’re really not going to get the best sleep of your life those last two months before the baby comes. What you may, in fact, get instead is heartburn, a weird separated joint in your lower back and a host of other issues that lead you to do anything but count sheep at night. Not that I would be experiencing any of those maladies now…of course not. Motherhood is all rainbows and lavender-scented unicorns.

Yeah, right.

So, one day last week when I was literally customer number one at Bojangles while the rest of my family slept peacefully in their beds, I heard this song on the radio as I chomped my biscuit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_goEernujW8  (I included the one with lyrics just so you can see why I’m making a deal out of this.)

anxietyI happen to think that this is the most  depressing song on the face of the earth other than “America” by Simon and Garfunkle. Honestly, the songs that get me are always the ones that sound sort of simple and maybe even a bit upbeat on the outside of it. But then, as you get further in, you realize that a keen sense of resignation and loss can be embedded anywhere…in songs that don’t sound serious until you listen well, and especially in people who appear on the outside of things strong and together.

Many of the clients who come to me for anger management are here because they are very high-functioning people. At work they may be known as trail blazers and decision makers. They have managed to form partnerships, have children and in general manage their affairs in a way that most of us would envy. Except, it’s not that simple is it? I usually hear something along the lines of, “Doc, I feel like people don’t really respect me, you know? I just think I have to fight so hard to be heard. Why can’t people realize that I’m not angry all the time; I just often feel so pushed?” Or, sometimes they will say that they actually DO feel angry all the time. In any case, these feelings of volatility and an inability to get grounded seriously interfere in their happiness. Those emotions are even more confusing when their professional spheres encourage a different kind of direct aggression than their personal relationships can bear. What is successful in one context sinks you in another. As Aimee dolefully says in the song, “And it’s not going to stop ’til you wise up.”

So what can you do to wise up in your relationships without feeling like you’re chickening out on expressing the strength of your feelings?

1) Realize that Anger is Information: I hate to break this to you, but everyone gets righteously ticked. Getting angry is not a weakness and it doesn’t mean your saturday morning yoga class hasn’t improved the opening of your heart chakra. Rather, it means that you are a human who has felt threatened or slighted in some way and you would like to do something about it. The tricky part is owning that the feelings are yours and that you are then obliged to communicate them coherently. What do you need to communicate to the people around you that they will not be able to hear if you deliver it via the manipulations of rigid silence or screaming? How much more traction does clear communication about your feelings (even the scary ones) lend your position than shouting?

2) Realize that Other People Have Half the Information You Need to Make a Choice: Too often people ignore the power of asking a series of really great questions to your partner in argument. This is vitally important if the person you tend to be angry at most often is an intimate partner or a child. As they say, information is power. And, the more of it you have at your disposal the better you can hone your intervention. Extreme anger in which you don’t consult with the other person carefully leaves you more out of control than you were before. And, when you feel both slighted and rudderless it’s difficult to do anything but rage blindly. Before you become accusatory it might be helpful to know things from the person who angered you like:

*How were you hoping I would respond to this?

*What was your impression of what just happened between us?

* What is your worst fear about this disagreement? Your best hopes about how we can resolve it?

3) Have an Internal Standard of Behavior: My grandmother was unflaggingly polite in public. Even under the most dire of circumstances, no matter how badly she had been insulted, she kept her wits about her. When I pointed out to her that so-and-so had really deserved to be shown some colorful language, she would give me a quizzical look and say, “But sugar, why would I let that person dictate how I behave? They can’t even manage their own behavior.” I think this is an important truth. If you are associating with people who repeatedly put you in a position to step outside your values and raise your emotional volume to cope, the other person isn’t the one who needs to adjust. You are. Decide consciously who will be a constructive force in your life and who is attempting to dictate your behavior for you.

Do you need help figuring out how to fan the flames of passion and creativity rather than the flames of anger? 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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You Cannot Step into the Same River Twice and other Thoughts on Change

It’s uniquely beautiful here in Raleigh this time of year. Even now, I can hear the low hum of my children giggling in the green shadows of our backyard, the familiar sound layered over a springtime sonic boom of birds and busy insects. Anyone that can visit the south this time of year and not be sucked into the verdant commotion of it all has seriously disconnected from any ability to live in the moment. I missed this when I lived in Florida–the joyful rewards of a winter survived.

Even still, I spend an inordinate amount of my precious hours mourning the temperate balminess of the tropical landscape I inhabited for so many moons of my adult life. More importantly, I deeply miss the tribe of friends I had in Florida. When we decided to move back here to NC to be closer to family, I completely underestimated the fact that I would sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land. Maybe this happens to other folks too? Those of us who have left the confines of our home towns discover that you can come home again, but home isn’t the same as it was when you left because YOU are not the same as you were when you hit the road. I am always reminded of that Heraclius quote, “You cannot step into the same river twice.”  The waters are flowing both in the river and inside of  you. I don’t know how this works for you, but in me it instills a sort of restlessness. There is never really anywhere to which you can concretely return. Rather, you choose someplace that feels viscerally recognizable and then piece together who you are there vis-a-vis your memories and a plethora of new experiences.

It’s likely that I am dwelling on this idea of how and why we evolve because my pregnancy is nearly over and I am rounding the corner into the home stretch. Our family will contain the same four quirky people who left the sunshine state for novel adventures in a familiar place, but now we are adding a wild card–an unexpected blessing that has sprung out of our detour back to the geographical start of it all. I must admit that I’m feeling oddly philosophical about this coming phase of our lives.

Typically, my blogs are meant to offer some guidance based on my everyday experiences as a therapist working with individuals and couples. But this one is mainly personal–about living a life that is conscious and robustly examined. I think the world at large, even (and especially) through experiences we choose for ourselves, offers many opportunities to collapse our awareness rather than expand it. We do that to protect the soft, vulnerable parts of our spirits. And in so rolling ourselves into those tight, closed balls we protect against good change as well. Sometimes, good change looks like experiencing the pain we were hiding from and realizing that it is manageable after all. And, when we’re not afraid of it any longer we can focus deeply on other things. In a therapeutic sense, that means confronting trauma, betrayal, anxiety, depression and a host of other monstrosities. The shadow of the thing is always longer and darker than the actual substantive part of it. That is good news. It gives purpose and shape to our efforts to persevere and evolve.

So, we’re always changing, you and I…stepping into our old familiar rivers and finding them to be of different depths than we anticipated.  I wish you happy trails getting your feet wet in both the new tributaries and the ones that seem recognizable. I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful summer.

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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Duran Duran, Couples Therapy and Learning how to Shut Up

On Monday mornings I volunteer with a really worthy organization, the Raleigh Rescue Mission. (Just by the way, you guys should all volunteer too. They’re wonderful over there.) Now, when I’m trying to startle myself awake at 5 a.m. in the morning for my shift over at the mission’s front desk, I need some jazzy music to set the tone for not crawling directly back into bed. This week, however, my IPhone decided that I needed to listen to “Save a Prayer” by Duran Duran on repeat and I was too exhausted to be bothered with changing it. Besides, I know all the words.

duran duranWhat I have always liked about this tune is that the lead singer of Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon, describes it as a song that is not about romance but rather about, “seeing things as they really are.” Y’all can go look up the lyrics now and draw your own conclusions about what kind of realities he is describing. Yeah. I know, right?

I think the process of looking at things as they really are from your partner’s point of view is a tough proposition. For the most part, we all want to fight back against interpretations that aren’t favorable to us. But how can you mount a successful opposition or encourage collaboration if you don’t have all the pieces to the other person’s argument? You can’t. And for that reason, we all need to learn to shut it on up.

But why don’t we want to quiet ourselves enough to do that? It’s because we have the idea that listening thoroughly is in some way tacit agreement. That is, that if we entertain our partner’s lunacy all the way until they have finished saying what they want to convey, we will inappropriately give the impression that we concur. While that is a pretty reasonable fear, I find that it is not actually what happens most of the time. Rather, you clear the floor for an honest discussion. And, your partner will view you with a softer, more vulnerable stance. When you cut someone off to advise them of their insanity you end up fighting with him or her about the interruption rather than the issue. And that, gentle readers, is how good people end up fighting about fighting rather than addressing the topics on which they would like to get movement.

Sometimes people stay in fighting about fighting because they are afraid to address the real topics at hand. Couples must shift out of those kind of surface conversations in order to really get their fingers in the salient parts of the argument. If an argument about the dishes is really about feeling badly that your partner doesn’t see all you do, arguing about the dishes alone won’t cut it. If an argument about the frequency of sex really relates to a lack of emotional connection, arguing about how often to make love is just the representative doorway into that topic. When you find yourself lacking the ability to shut up ask yourself why that is. What are you afraid you will (or won’t) hear if you focus quietly on your partner’s complaints and agenda?

Do you need help becoming patient enough with yourself to listen well? Do you want to mine beneath the white noise and fighting about fighting to better see how things really are? 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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Small Changes, Marriage Therapy and Patching the Boat

Do any of you have the same problem that I have around the first of the year? Each December, when the bells of Christmas haven’t even really quit vibrating yet, I decide that this will be the year that I will take better control of my health. Not just a more finely tuned management, mind you. Nay, this will be the year that I finally screech across the finish line of the holiday season devoid of gluten and dairy with a six pack that rivals Jada Pinkett Smith’s. I will, masterfully, change the whole kit and kaboodle into a testament to willpower and angles rather than continue on as the voluptuary I suspect I might actually be.

Now, mind you, I am a therapist last time I checked, so I have enough horse sense and academic sense to know that this kind of totalitarian overhaul is a fantasy anyway. We mentally run ahead to the final result and chide ourselves for not embodying that larger end goal in the here and now. And, in our shame and frustration that we’re not there yet, we bite off more than we can chew. That always, dear readers, ends in choking or spitting it out entirely. There, sketched out for you, is the disintegration of a sloppily-laid plan.

In reality, the only way that change ever works is by making small, boring changes one at a time until they add up to a larger picture of evolution. Yawn, right? This isn’t just true of health goals–it’s true of all goals including the ones that people come to me to achieve–relationship goals.

Generally, clients are ready to run me out of the room with a stick about minute 20 of their first session. I’m surprised they don’t set me on fire sometime during the third session. This is because I will make of myself the biggest speed bump possible until a few simple changes are achieved first. I mean it. We’re not moving on into deep waters until I know the boat you’re traveling in doesn’t have holes in it any longer. Otherwise I’ll be a party to a drowning rather than a collaborative rowing off into the sunset. I refuse to set you up for that. Clients don’t realize this at first, but it’s not necessary for your therapist to help you create radical insights. It is necessary for her to give you the tools to invite and care take for those big revelations when it’s time for them. You know, teach a man to fish and all.boat

Good change, change that will stick is small, people. It’s really, really frickin’ small.

This isn’t just a theory on my part. This is the result of many years of attempting to figure out how to be good at what I do. So, what have a discovered that you need to know?

1) Hear no evil: Your partner will tell you what she or he wants you to change. This is a radical idea, I know. Most of you believe that many of the heated conversations you have about big things (family, work, infidelity, sex, romance, etc.) are so large and all-consuming that any appropriate starting point will be tremendously complex. Nope. Inevitably, when I ask clients what the first behavioral thing they need to see happen differently is, it’s something small. It’s usually along the lines of, “tell me he appreciates me more” “give me a hug when she comes home rather than jumping immediately into dinner plans,” “text me more during the day.” My hard sell is getting troubled clients to believe that if they do this small thing consistently and with heart big changes will occur. If someone is handing you the map to the treasure chest, why must you assume that it doesn’t actually mark the spot?

2) Touch me: You can say almost any delicate, scary thing if you look your partner in the eye and make some sort of physical connection with him or her. Clients laugh at me about this until I get up, come over to the giant ottoman in front of my therapy couch and have a conversation with them that way. They recognize immediately the instant attention and sense of rapport they feel no matter what silly thing I may be saying. It works at home. Make strong eye contact, put your hand on your partner’s arm and ask the same old thing. See what’s different.

3) Speak their language:  Though I kinda hate pop psychology books on the whole, the “Love Language” books make a really lovely point. You will demonstrate your love for your partner in whatever way you experience love. This makes sense. Folks who value acts of service will make their partners’ lunches, clean the house and quietly get tires rotated. That will be a fantastic match if your loved one is also an acts of service kind of guy or gal. However, if what she or he needs is words of affirmation, you can rotate all the tires in the world with no reward. That isn’t your partner’s language. He or she needs to have a conversational reward instead. There is no right or wrong to that. But, it you will be so much happier when you know what language you need to speak in order to get a relational win.

Do you need some help breaking your larger concerns into actionable items? Would you like me to show you how those small changes can lead you to a happier place? 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:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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A Big Announcement and the Importance of Unexpected Gifts

I usually update this blog quite a lot. I love to write and therapy sessions offer such fertile soil for topics. It’s probably impossible to go a day without something that I think might make a good entry. But I have been tired lately.

I’ve been tired and pregnant.

So…there’s that.

Dan and I have long been on the fence about having a third child. We hemmed and hawed and discussed the endless pros and cons of the situation. And, as good ol’ John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” I’m not sure John meant to apply that quote to the inconsistent use of birth control. But, nonethless, we have been blessed with the gift of a third, so far healthy, addition to our family. Delight that the universe just went ahead and made this decision for me not withstanding, I’m really ready to get this kid out of my tummy and into the real world. Even I am finding my sudden and oddly specific devotion to cornichons and gorgonzola cheese to be a bit tiresome.cornichons

Given the context of my life lately, I have been dwelling a bit on the nature of gifts. Not just the tangible kind we wrap up in a ribbon, but the unexpected little easter eggs life can leave for us when we are not expecting it. If you’ve read my last few blogs, you know I have been musing on how couples get out of problematic communication patterns and work their ways to something better. We’ve covered adequate apologies, listening well, kindness when you don’t feel like it and most importantly, questions.

The asking of good questions is a frequent topic on this blog because I think it is one of the single most essential skills you have in your arsenal. True story. I am often heard in session asking clients to repeat back what they think their partners have said with one important addition–at least one question. I usually require something along the lines of, “Is that right? Is there anything I missed?”

See, most people think that the easter egg–the gift–is in getting the interpretation of what your partner said right. That’s nice, but that’s not really it.

No, the gift is in asking the question.

An invitation to really explore yourself through conversation without interruption is a tremendous luxury. We all know we are connected to someone else when that person offers an intense, purposeful curiosity. It’s one of the hallmarks of courtship and that’s why we miss it so much. When I ask clients what they pine for most about their early days together they often say something along the lines of, “We could stay up all night just talking to one another.” You could do that because each person was a good steward of the conversation, building on what the other said with insight and questions designed to get to know one another better.

When you go into your partnership with the firm belief that since people change, you can never know everything about him or her, you work harder to keep the relationship connected. You ask good questions that keep you in the loop. I know we’re cooking with gas when longtime couples say to one another, “Wow, I didn’t know you felt that way.” That means those partners are open to accepting the idea that knowing one another is an ongoing journey, not a destination that we reach.

Would you like to learn more about what kinds of questions will help you remain connected to your partner? Are you making a run to Whole Foods and want to drop off some cornichons? 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:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

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