Texting: Is it helpful or harmful to your relationships? A therapeutic look at one of America’s most popular forms of communication

Looking back over the past few decades, it is amazing to consider the ways in which technology and communication has dramatically evolved. My experience with the whole phenomenon began in middle school, when I discovered the bountiful gifts of the Internet.I remember it like it was yesterday… Spending a couple hours here and there in chatrooms while my mother periodically wandered in to read conversations over my shoulder (despite my incessant protesting). In high school, I got my first cell phone and began using numerous AIM screen names, spending a few months to a year with each until I outgrew it and registered a new one.  In college, I remember walking to classes and being fascinated by the amount of people talking on their cellphones. You became more of an oddity if you did NOT have a cell-phone in plain view than if you did. And you were equally shunned if you didn’t have an account on facebook, but that’s a blog for another day. Now, texting… texting didn’t blow up so-to-speak until around the past few years or so, I’d say. And while I could take each of these various forms of communication and offer my opinion as to how they have come to shape the ways in which we communicate in relationships involving significant others (and I probably will, in time, explore each in a blog post), today, I’m only going to focus on my experience, and the experiences I’ve gathered from others, with regard to texting.

In DBT (Dialectical-Behavior Therapy), Marsha Linehan offers the notion of Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind. Reasonable mind denotes your rational, thinking, logical mind. This mind state most appropriately handles things such as making plans, solving logical problems, following instructions, and managing things objectively. The second state of mind Linehan identifies is Emotion Mind, known as a state of mind that occurs when one’s emotions are in-control and running the show. Emotion Mind is beneficial for fueling various types of motivation. When driven by intense emotion, people undertake exceptional feats. It is our emotions that separate us from each other and make each of us uniquely different. 

So, what does that have to do with texting? Well, to better facilitate my understanding of texting’s pros and cons, I will metaphorically and literally utilize Linehan’s two mind states. Texting’s most easily identifiable pro is its ability to swap information quickly; yet, as with most things, its biggest pro is often inappropriately used. Texting can efficiently, and fairly successfully, communicate thoughts that occur in reasonable mind, without leaving much room for over-analysis or unnecessary speculation. “What time do you want to meet?” “Where are we meeting?” “Did you bring the book?” “There’s traffic” “It’s raining here.” “The meeting ran over.” “I’ll be late.” The list of appropriate phrase usage goes on and on. It’s hard to misunderstand facts and logistical details. My clients rarely come in to my office obsessing over what he/she meant by, “I have a doctor’s appt. tomorrow at 3pm” (What does he meeeeeeean?!?).

The problem arises when people start using texting to communicate thoughts that are born in Emotion mind. There are just too many opportunities for misunderstanding…and the lack of associated body language, facial expressions, and voice tones creates unnecessary and could-have-been-avoided anxiety. I’ve had clients recount distressing arguments that occurred entirely on texting, (“hold on, this was on text, let me just read you the conversation” [pulls out her phone]). A study by Albert Mehrabian concluded that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and only 7% has to do with the words spoken/typed. While these numbers might be challenged with regard to preciseness, the overall point remains that we are missing too many communicative cues when using text messages. This lack of cues produces a potentially damaging over-analysis of emotion mind texting, which seems to affect my female clients/friends more so than my male clients/friends. In my opinion, this excessive rumination has proven to lend itself, at times, to an increase in anxious and obsessive thoughts, and ultimately, a destructive and exhausting waste of time.

Does Emotion Mind texting have any benefits? As much as I don’t want to admit it, I have identified what I think are some benefits. Despite the aforementioned types of communication for which texting cannot account (body language, etc.), texting provides a certain level of security under which certain emotion thoughts can be uttered that might otherwise be fearfully stifled in an in-person or over-the-phone conversation.  While one begrudgingly gets off the phone with a loved one after being unable to voice his/her opinion on something, he/she might find it quite easy to send a follow-up text, expressing the very thought they could not find the courage to voice. However, while texting allows people a space to communicate hard-to-communicate thoughts/emotions, one could argue that this very seeming benefit is turning us into a society of cowards by reinforcing our inability to express ourselves in difficult interactions.

So, where do we go from here? It is my recommendation that one stick to using texting to fulfill the expression of reasonable mind thoughts. While you may feel more comfortable using texting to communicate difficult emotion mind thoughts, you strip yourself of the ability to grow and build mastery with regard to effectively handling and interacting in difficult situations with others. Furthermore, when you communicate emotion mind thoughts in text form, you open the door for potentially destructive misunderstandings and the possibility of turning an anxiety-provoking situation into an unavoidable anxiety-producing occurrence. Be kind to yourself, validate your fear, and choose to grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

DBT: Finding the Purpose…

Do things happen for a reason? Or is everything left to chance? Are there random occurrences? Does karma exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do things happen that just don’t seem fair? How am I supposed to see the silver lining when I suffer? How do I withstand what seems to be pointless pain?

I lost someone close to me last Fall. Not to death – he’s still here on earth. We just wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. I lost him from my everyday life. One morning after it occurred, I found myself overcome with grief as endless questions circled around my mind: “why should I have to endure this pain? Yes, there were so many good memories and I genuinely enjoyed all our time spent together. But were those memories – those good times – were they worth this pain? What was the point?”

Throughout my life, I’ve only allowed myself to become interested in partners with whom I could see a future. While I did see the possibility of some sort of prolonged exchange with him, what was the point of our interactions if we would end up very simply and sadly saying goodbye?

I continued to watch the thoughts swirl: “I should have never gotten involved. I should’ve turned back when I had doubts. I should’ve known.” The thoughts triggered embarrassment, which triggered more thoughts: “you were naïve again. You didn’t listen to your gut. You do this every time – when will you learn?!” The sadness and guilt deepened. I became awash in a sea of discontent, embarrassment, and frustration. All for what?! Why was I allowing these negative thoughts to consume and berate me? It was if they entered my psyche with baseball bats and crowbars and immediately went to work defacing my self-esteem.

Then, I remembered something helpful to me. It was almost as if a voice from beyond whispered into my ear, “find the purpose…” Ever since I began having intimate relationships it’s been difficult for me to let go of partners when the relationships end. It’s possibly one of the only areas in my life in which I experience a genuine repulsion to change. While I’m with someone, we develop a bond, a beautiful friendship. When the time comes for the relationship to end, I often hear myself protesting, “you mean I’m not only going to lose a partner but I’m going to lose one of my best friends too?!” So, a trick I learned along the way [of life], was to believe that everyone with whom I was in a relationship had come into my life to teach me something, to assist me in my personal growth, which would ultimately lead to a more wholesome life experience – a life experience I could then more efficiently share with a loved one down the road.

I ran through my list of past partners, noticing each of their unique purposes: to know the purest type of love, to trust more deeply, to be more adventurous, to appreciate the importance of maturity, to live a life free from substances, to be silly and laugh often, to take care of one’s mind and body. So what was his? I asked myself freely what was his purpose and the answer came almost immediately: to allow me the time and space to develop a comfort in being myself.

Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, has developed several helpful skills for cultivating the ability to tolerate distressing situations, one of which includes finding/creating a purpose. She notes that research has shown that creating a purpose for a difficult situation, even if the situation seems to be so blatantly wrong, can assist anyone in better managing the emotions associated with the event and in effectively navigating through it. Some situations we’ll encounter in life will seem outlandishly unfair, unjust, or wrong; however, we still have the power to find a purpose in it, whether it be something so concise as: developing patience, making one stronger, or giving one to the ability to connect with another in a similar situation down the road.

After realizing what I perceived to be the purpose in losing my friend, that crisp Fall morning, I felt a calm come over me. When at first I felt deep sadness in losing him, upon finding the purpose I felt as if perhaps I was still on the right path. So, next time you find yourself in a situation that sparks painful thoughts and emotions, see if you can find a purpose, a tiny light softly shimmering in a black hole of grief. Breathe deeply, be kind to yourself, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness: Building Mastery and Self-Respect

“Do you think it’s important to nurture genuine respect for oneself?” I would be shocked/stunned/mind-boggled if the majority of people to whom I asked this question replied with some variation of, “no, thanks, it’s been quite pleasant disrespecting myself and my beliefs and sincerely thinking that I am incompetent.” In fact, while it might be almost impossible to believe, most of the people who walk into my office voice some type of desire to feel good about who they are and at peace about the decisions they’ve made with regard to their interactions with others.

So, just how important is self-respect? Let’s look at a recent situation in my personal life that pertinently and efficiently reminded me of the vast importance of self-respect. Recently, I found myself in a situation with a friend that, over a two-week period, proved to be particularly distressing. Two weeks prior to this realization, I identified my need to express my feelings about his actions, or in this case, lack of action. However, I wanted the discussion to take place in person, not via some sort of electronic medium, and I wanted to find the appropriate time, a combination of desires that proved to be especially difficult to attain as day after day blew by.

Upon his most recent departure from an in-person interaction between us, during which I, again, could not seem to recognize this seemingly elusive perfect time, I found myself bombarded by uncomfortable thoughts/feelings. The most common thought: “You failed. Once again, he left and you did not say anything,” followed closely by the feeling of shame. Then, I watched, mindfully, as the thoughts/feelings cycled through my mind. Shame triggered the thought, “you’re weak, you’ll never find the right time. You’re using this right time notion to avoid talking to him,” followed closely by more shame, who brought with it its two acquaintances, guilt and sadness (nice to see you, again!).

And that’s when it hit me. Why wasn’t I eagerly having this seemingly necessary conversation? Well, that was a fairly easy one for me…fear. Fear that he wouldn’t like me. Fear it would ruin our relationship. Fear that he’d leave. And I didn’t want to discount, invalidate, or avoid this fear, as the fear of losing or damaging significant relationships in one’s life can be daunting, vastly uncomfortable, and even paralyzing. However, what was the cost? By avoiding the first situation of having a discussion due to potential negative consequences, I was causing other, very real, negative consequences to occur in the place of ones that had not even occurred yet, and might not even occur. Based on consequences that had a 50% chance of materializing (It might ruin our relationship, it might not. He might leave, he might not.), I was creating a second situation with a 100% chance of damaging my self-respect…and I still didn’t even know what might or might not happen in the first situation!

The founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, describes mastery as doing something that increases one’s feelings of competence, and sometimes, if you fail, doing it over and over and over again until you succeed. With regard to self-respect, Linehan notes that one builds self-respect when he/she acts in ways that support his/her personal beliefs, morals, and opinions. Mastery builds competence. Competence builds self-respect. Take the example of a newborn learning to walk. When little Joey takes his first steps and falls, what would happen if he never got back up? Would he ever learn how to walk if he never tried again? How would he feel about his walking abilities? Furthermore, would he be more or less likely to get up and try again if he were to succumb to his inundating thoughts of, “I’m a failure. I’ll never learn how to walk. All the other babies will learn how to walk and I’ll be stuck here, crawling on the floor, forever (insert sad-face emoticon here).” I’m concerned about Little Joey’s self-respect already.

It’s not easy to do things we perceive as potentially threatening, and it’s also not easy to deal with the inevitable thoughts/feelings that show-up when we don’t take action when we want to (or act when we don’t want to). And while the blow to our self-respect can be equally devastating, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn how to skillfully manage difficult situations.  So, the next time you find yourself in a particularly tough situation with another person, just remember this is probably not the last complicated situation/interaction you’ll be faced with in your lifetime… AND every difficult situation you encounter is another opportunity to build your mastery at effectively handling tough situations and to enhance and deepen your self-respect! Be kind to yourself, validate your fears, and grow.

For more information on me, visit my profile on psychologytoday.com

Julie

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Out with the Old, in with the New

Well, it is just about over. The wonderful, the horrible, the forgettable and the memorable, all are about to be bundled up and tucked away for another year.

And that is when it hits you.


The New Year. It is almost here.

Oh boy. Here we go again. Another set of resolutions. Another New Year’s diet (after all, more than seventy percent of women nationally resolve to lose weight each New Year, and you don’t plan to be the only one still clunking around in her size-larger holiday wardrobe come next July.)

Another whole year to (take your pick) dread/look forward to.

You would really like to look forward to the New Year, but you have so many regrets. You don’t feel done with this year yet. All those resolutions you made last New Year’s, and here is a new New Year staring you down, and you still haven’t finished last year’s list yet!

What to do?

The good news is, you have spent the last several months studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in a group study setting, and you are learning a lot from the four DBT principles about how to stay present for your life as it is, and how to choose peace over chaos.

You wonder if you can use the four DBT principles in this situation as well – it is a big situation, with a whole year’s worth of joys and regrets attached to it – but maybe DBT can help you sort it out.

First, you start by observing mindfulness through practicing radical acceptance – the total, unresisting acceptance of what is. You observe to yourself that today, the New Year has not yet arrived, but you are aware that it soon will. You observe that your mind is telling you there is lots of unfinished business to attend to – business you will never finish before this year ends and the next one begins. You notice that your mind is kicking up a whole pile of “should haves” and “ought tos” that it thinks you need to pay attention to.

You then decide not to care. You can’t control any of that. Today, your job is to live in the present moment, with what is. You remind yourself that what happened even one moment ago is no longer within your control…and that what happens in the next moment is not yet within your control….but what happens in THIS moment IS in your control. You decide that in this moment, you choose acceptance. Peace. Focus. Baby steps. Small steps forward.

You start to feel better.

But then your mind kicks up another round of thoughts, and this time your emotions go haywire. You are feeling, well, everything! Sadness. Rage. Loss. Grief. Hope. Excitement. Anticipation. Resentment. Fear. You remember that the DBT principle of emotion regulation has taught you to maintain objectivity by naming each emotion and witnessing it before choosing whether or not to engage in it. You catalog your emotions, but then choose to allow them to continue on by after you have given them names…like clouds making their way across the blue winter sky.

Simultaneously with this process, you are practicing the DBT principle of distress tolerance, as you use your skills in emotion regulation to name and then release your feelings rather than hanging on and becoming overwhelmed by them. With your newfound skill in distress tolerance, you simply allow the day’s events and emotions to unfold, focusing on the moment, remembering the bigger picture, and refraining from getting unnecessarily caught up in the temporary ebbs and flows of daily life. You are also, slowly but surely, releasing the present year’s old unfinished baggage by recognizing it, accepting it, then releasing it – as you do so, you are realizing that in the very acknowledgement of each stressor also comes its release.

Finally, you bring your new skills together in interpersonal effectiveness, interacting with yourself and others with respect, hopefulness, a degree of detachment, and yet the assertiveness to include yourself and your needs in the mix of any interaction you are having. You feel a burgeoning respect for yourself – no, this past year did not go perfectly according to plan, but yes, it did go, and yes, you are managing just fine in releasing what is unfinished and accepting a new gift of a whole year of life, love, and new experiences yet ahead.

You are proud of yourself. You are ready for the New Year. You are looking forward to today, and also to what lies ahead. And in this, the final, unexpected gift of the holiday season, you discover that you have turned your biggest holiday woe of all into an even bigger New Year’s wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy New Year!

Kimberly



Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Treating Yourself During the Holidays

When you think of the word “holidays,” the vision that comes to mind is of treats.

Specifically, holiday treats.

Specifically, those marshmallow chocolate sprinkled things your mother always makes….the ones with the mint centers and gooey tops.

And the peppermint ice cream with hot fudge that your family always has as a Christmas evening tradition. And the spicy-sweet popcorn mix with extra real butter for the night you watch “Twas the Night before Christmas” with all the kids. And the annual community-wide block party with the neighbor’s homemade fudge, and the home-fried doughnuts, and the…..

Your mouth is watering already. You have been SO good all year long…. for just such a season as this. While you can already see the New Year (and the New Year’s diet) looming, that dread can be put off for a month or so yet. You tell yourself that you will tackle the diet when you get to it.

To be honest, you are aware that you tend to indulge to excess during the holidays, to the point where you have an extra set of clothes waiting in the wings – all a size larger – and you dread New Year’s Day, when you have to squirm your way into something extra-tight to go to your annual family get together.

You’re just not sure what to do about it. Just the thought – not to mention the sight – of all those holiday treats, and you seem to lose all self control.

But this year, you have a new bag of tricks up your sleeve. You have been studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and your group leader has told you that using the four principles of DBT might help you.

Your goal is to maintain better self-control during the holidays, but balance that with a less restrictive, treat-aversive attitude throughout the rest of the year. Your group leader thinks that with some balance year-round, and a bit more willingness to indulge in treats here and there throughout the rest of the year, you won’t be as prone to excess when the holidays roll around.

You sure hope she is right!

You start by practicing mindfulness. As your table fills up with holiday goodies each night, you simply observe, with radical acceptance of what is, that they are maintaining a presence there. You feel that familiar craving deep in your abdomen. You witness yourself imagining how each treat will taste.

From there, you notice the frustration arising within you. You want all of the treats! Now! You feel stress – which ones should you start with? How many of each? What if you overindulge again and feel guilty like you did last year? You use your new emotion regulation technique to name each emotion as it arises – not engaging, but simply naming. Frustration. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Guilt. Shame.

As the emotions present themselves and you give them names, you are simultaneously practicing distress tolerance – the ability to stand in the presence of strong emotions without allowing them to overtake you. You accept that these are today’s events, like them or not, accept them or not. You choose to learn from (if not like) them, and to accept them by reminding yourself that you are stronger and wiser than any temporary disturbance that you may happen upon in the course of a day.

Finally, you use your newfound interpersonal regulation skills to remind yourself that food treats are not the only way you can reward and treat yourself. You can brew yourself a lovely warm cup of tea. You can invite a loved one for a brisk walk and watch the snowflakes fall while the moon shines above. You can pop in a good movie that you love to laugh at. You can draw a bath…or turn in early to get a few extra winks of sleep. You can read a favorite book or snuggle with your spouse.

In this way, you begin to relate to yourself as a whole being rather than as an emotion-driven stomach, and slowly, those cravings in your abdomen begin to unclench you and leave you in peace….turning a longstanding holiday woe into a true miraculous wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Self-Care During the Holidays

Your spouse just told you that your in-laws are coming to your house this year.

Again.

But what is different this year than before is that your cousins have decided to caravan down with them and come to your home for the holidays too.

Furthermore, since you have a large backyard, they have decided not to kennel their two dogs, one gerbil, and three cats. No need – your house has enough room for them all!

As your spouse relates all of this to you, you feel your blood pressure starting to rise.

You try to explain, but your spouse just doesn’t seem to get it. And it is little wonder that he doesn’t – you can still remember last year, when you envied him his stressful, hectic city job that allowed him to escape the bedlam and chaos that was your home this time last year.

He didn’t see how demanding his folks really are of you. He didn’t realize how worn out and exhausted you felt at the end of every day – how spent, and drained, and just ready for the whole thing to be over.

You are dreading it at a level you didn’t even think you were capable of. The holidays haven’t even started yet, and already you are ready for them to end.

Luckily, you have been taking a group therapy course in Dialectical Behavior Training (DBT) over the past several weeks, and what you are learning is giving you a fresh perspective on how to handle the family situation this year.

First things first – practicing mindfulness, you note your reactions to your spouse’s announcement. The rage. The frustration. The resentment. The air of finality to it – you are being told, not asked, if it is okay to host his extended family this year. You bring your newfound ability for “radical acceptance” to bear on the situation – calmly, you practice simply accepting the moment for what it is, rather than what your mind thinks or wishes it to be. First, accept. Next, work to change.

That accomplished, you pull out mindfulness’ trusty sidekick, emotion regulation. Using your new skills in emotion regulation, you begin to name each emotion objectively, like a witness or observer, rather than an active (and highly emotional) participant. Yup, that really is rage. Yes, there is frustration too. And resentment. Definitely resentment. Some sadness too – when will you and your spouse ever get a chance to enjoy the holidays just relaxing together? Okay, and relief is also coming up – because this year, you have a plan to use your new DBT skills to transform events in a way that includes your need for self-care and alone-time, as well as couple time and family time, into the mix.

Next up is distress tolerance. You realize you are feeling a lot of distress due to all the emotions suddenly arising and colliding within you. You take a deep breath, relax into an awareness of a bigger picture behind your momentary stress, and then let your breath out again, dropping your shoulders and softening your facial muscles as you do so. You remind yourself that you can deal with this situation, you do have it in you to find a workable solution, and you are okay, even in the midst of some significant emotional distress.

Finally, you begin to pull it all together into interpersonal effectiveness. Now is the moment when you will assert your needs – and household ground rules – with your spouse, sharing with him how you are feeling, what you need, and what you can and cannot offer to make the holidays with his family a success this year. You decide that you will initiate a calm, objective conversation with your spouse, free from excess emotion or last year’s holiday baggage, blame, or shame.

Still very calmly, you ask your spouse if he could join you at the kitchen table for a few moments to strategize. You share with him that you did not enjoy the holidays last year and have a plan for how this year’s time with loved ones can be different. You outline what you are willing and able to do to support his in-laws’ visit, and what you need from him in terms of his participation in the family holiday preparations. Then you ask him how he feels about participating in the ways you have outlined, and whether it is something he can commit to. You ask for his feedback as well, and together, you begin to open up to one another and admit that having the whole family in to stay is stressful for you both.

In other words, as you open up, mindfully, with calmness, centeredness, focus, and objectivity, sharing what you need as well as what you wish to offer to make the family holiday season a success, you give your spouse permission to do the same.

Together, using DBT as your guide, you begin to talk through creative ways to turn last year’s holiday woe into this year’s holiday wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly



Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Turning Holiday Woes into Holiday Wonders

Oh boy. The holidays are here.

Again.

You are not sure whether you have been anticipating this moment all year, or dreading it.

Or maybe a bit of both.

Nevertheless, here they are again – upon us for yet another season, and once again before we are ready for them to come. So now the question becomes not “where can I hide?” but rather “what am I going to do differently this year?”

That is what we are going to discuss in this month’s blog series “Turning Holiday Woes into Holiday Wonders.”

For our series, you have been my inspiration, because each one of the woes I have selected is one I have heard you share with me in private session year after year, right around this time.

For instance, you have shared with me how hard you find it to carve out time for self-care while feeling called to take extra special good care of others as well.

You have told me that sometimes it feels simply impossible to locate the fine line between treating yourself to holiday goodies and maintaining your physical health and nutrition.

And you have confided that you sometimes – often – find it incredibly difficult to release a whole past year’s worth of errors and triumphs only to discover an entirely new, sparkling fresh year sweeping down on you before you have had any time to prepare for its arrival.

So this month, we will examine strategies to turn each of these woes into wonders, one week at a time. To do this, we will revisit one of my favorite therapeutic approaches for recovery and life – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT for short.

DBT is a wonderful pathway to effective daily living authored by Dr. Marsha Linehan. The focus and goal of DBT work is to stay centered, present, open, and willing to do our best in every moment.

The teaching tools that DBT uses include mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Each tool builds upon and integrates with the others, and when used together can produce a centered, balanced, present-focused approach to daily life during the holidays and at every moment of the year.

So before we begin our “woes to wonders” adventure together, let’s just take a quick review of each of the four key DBT tools we will be using:

  • Mindfulness training equips us to take back control over our mind’s thoughts and our reactions to those thoughts
  • Emotion Regulation teaches us to name and experience our emotions without allowing them to overtake us
  • Distress Tolerance cultivates our ability to stay present and focused for each moment of our lives regardless of what the day may bring
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness helps us to develop assertiveness skills to ask for what we want and need in safe, healthy, and affirming ways

It is easy to see how each of these tools becomes particularly essential during the heightened energy and emotion the holiday season ushers in. During the next few weeks, we will look at how to apply each of these skills to transform a traditional holiday woe into a true source of delight and wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly

You’re Talking, But Am I Really Listening?

You’re talking, but am I really listening?  

Too often couples are seen in therapy due to communication problems. Phrases like, “he/she just doesn’t understand me,” or “I just don’t feel like he/she is listening to me,” are all too common phrases.

Many times when we are in heated discussions with a loved one, we are thinking about what we are going to say next, or trying to jump in to get our point across. Subsequently, we are not being “mindful” of what the other person is saying. Being “mindful” is being fully present in the moment you are in just as it is unfolding in front of you.  If while your loved one is speaking, you are thinking about what you are going to say, you are already in the future and not in the moment.

Mindfulness is a skill that is the core of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It’s a skill that requires practice because our society tends to promote being “mindless” by encouraging multi-tasking. One way to get started in becoming more “mindful,” or more fully present in the moment when having a neutral or pleasant discussion, (for both parties) with your loved one is to focus on what they’re saying, pay attention to their tone, and focus on understanding. If you feel the urge to “jump in” to assert your view, just notice that urge, but bring your attention back to what your loved one is saying. Feeling understood and listened to are powerful tools in strengthening relationships.    

Shannon T. Brewer, M.A., L.P.A.

Love and Support in Action

On a recent weekend I had the great fortune of being at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Charlotte. Every year I’m amazed at the wonderful outpouring of support and love that I see at that event. I believe that 16,000 people participated and 1.6 million dollars were raised, of which 75% stays in the Charlotte area. As I was surrounded by all the love and support generated by all those people walking and running for their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, and friends, I thought about what a great way to “cope” with a sometimes devastating illness.

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Skills Training, the module on Distress Tolerance teaches various skills used to cope with painful situations and/or emotions. DBT operates on the principle that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. One of the skills featured in DBT is ACCEPTS. ACCEPTS is an acronynm standing for Activities, Comparisons, Contributing, Emotions, Pushing Away, Thoughts and Sensations.

Fundraising, walking and/or running for a cause such as the Susan G. Komen is an excellent example of something that involves Activities, Contributing and Comparisons, which is why an event like this and others like it are such a huge draw for so many, on so many levels. If you would like to learn more about DBT and the skills training group contact Southlake Counseling for more information.

In good health,

Shannon

Shannon T. Brewer, M.A., L.P.A.


Acceptance and My Dear Friend

In my DBT groups, I teach skills to help clients cope with challenging or distressing situations in their lives, without making things worse. One of the skills that we work on is Radical Acceptance, which means acknowledging reality, accepting it for what it is, without judging it good or bad.  I share with clients that I understand how difficult it can be to radically accept certain things, and that this acceptance is the only way they can let go of suffering.

So now it has come time (yet again) for me to practice what I preach.  I received a phone call this week from one of my dearest friends in the world, and through tears and gasps, she told me that she has been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, metastasized to her liver to such an extent that the doctors say they cannot remove the tumors.  This is an extremely healthy and vibrant young mother of a precious 5-year-old, no family history of cancer, no risk factors whatsoever, and she’s one of those friends I can count on one hand – the true ones – so I’m supposed to accept this?

Trying to recover from the shock and wrap my mind around this devastating news, I pull out the “Radical Acceptance” bullet points I give to my clients when I tell them that accepting some things is very difficult…and I start to wonder if they feel as helpless and overwhelmed as I do right now. The first bullet point reads, “Freedom from suffering requires acceptance from deep within of what is. Let yourself go completely with what is. Let go of fighting reality.” Hmmm…I’m not sure I’m ready to accept this from deep within. You see, this is my friend Lea Ann. She is more like a sister to me, she “gets” me – we are so much alike we can finish each other’s sentences, so this feels too close. We’re like Lucy and Ethel, and I don’t remember either one of them ever having cancer. Letting myself accept this somehow feels like giving in, and I seem to remember my clients saying the same thing.

Another bullet point reads, “Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to accept the pain.” Okay, this one makes more sense to me. I’m no stranger to pain, and I’ve learned to feel what I feel when something is painful instead of avoiding it or pushing it away. Pain is there to teach us something, to inform us that we need to pay attention to what is going on, so what is this pain telling me?  I don’t have to search hard for the answer – my pain is there because Lea Ann is vitally important to me. She is the person who came to my side, dragging her husband and daughter, when my grandmother was in the hospital in Kentucky and I needed some answers. She was there with me when my dad died, and flew to be with me when I felt like falling apart a few months later. This pain is reminding me that what she has done for me is be there, and this is what I can do for her now – I can show up. This gives me purpose and something to do, so I start to feel better…slightly.

The last bullet point in the list reads, “To accept something is not the same as judging it good.” Oh…so I don’t have to like what is happening to Lea Ann in order to accept it…this is comforting. I hate what is happening to my friend and how it is affecting her sweet family. I hate what she will have to endure in order to have some hope of a more favorable prognosis. I hate feeling powerless and angry and sad all at the same time, and this radical acceptance thing tells me I don’t have to like it to accept it. So I go to work on accepting…

Radical acceptance reminds me of the Serenity Prayer, and I pray it a lot these days:

            God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

            Courage to change the things I can,

            And the Wisdom to know the difference.

I know I cannot change my dear friend’s diagnosis nor the challenges she is facing, but I can be courageous enough to be there for her, offering all the support I can in friendship and love, which is exactly what she has always done for me. I am reminded of all the times my clients have been challenged to separate what they can change from what they can’t, and I feel more compassion than ever for how difficult this can be.

Most people aren’t familiar with the rest of the Serenity Prayer. The next lines read:

            Living one day at a time;

            Enjoying one moment at a time;

            Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, and we can’t do anything about it until it gets here, so we might as well live in today. My friendship with Lea Ann has been blessed with enjoyable “moments” when we both howled with laughter and silliness – our Lucy and Ethel moments. Racing down Michigan Avenue before our favorite stores closed, betting on the horses at Keeneland with no idea what we were doing, jumping off a ski lift and getting stuck on the highest gondola in Canada, and savoring the times we’ve shared dessert. Such moments are the ones I remember and return to when hardship does come, for I know such is the reality of the ebb and flow of life.

If there is anything I’ve learned from my friendship with Lea Ann, it is that the most important thing I can do is be present, and live. Show up instead of sitting back, experience instead of analyze, accept instead of worry – say YES to life.

With sincere hope that my journey can inspire,

Debbie