Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Couples in Conflict

You love me…you love me not. I love you…I love you not.

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or any other chance to renew our commitment to our partner, have we ever stopped to wonder why these reminder events are such a marketer’s playground, or why when they come around each year we are suddenly able to find the time, energy, and money to drop whatever we would otherwise be doing to make plans for displays of affection?

Love isn’t easy, period. Love is not easy to come by, and it is not easy to keep.  And it is extraordinarily painful to lose, but couples who once were madly in love with each other fight, split, and divorce on a daily basis. They also spend months and sometimes years after the split still struggling to figure out why it happened and how to pick up the pieces and move on.

If it is not easy to love a deux, it can be traced back to our own difficulties with loving ourselves. We cannot love someone we do not know – and often, each half of a new couple comes into the relationship willing and able to spend more time getting to know the other person than getting to know themselves.  We don’t know why we get angry, or what triggers it. We tell new partners about how past partners have deliberately “pushed our buttons,” and then we blame those past partners for love’s earlier unhappy endings. We tell ourselves we are sure it will be different this time – new partner, new love, new beginning.

Until it starts happening all over again with our new partner, and we suddenly begin to smell a rat. We may then start to wake up and realize that, if the only constant in a recurring pattern is us, then we are the one who holds the power to change that dynamic rather than risk yet another painful loss.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), a powerful and dynamic therapeutic model that explores our inner world interactions in all their many parts, we learn that both in and out of love, we are multi-faceted beings.  We are fascinating, really – we have so many thoughts, so many emotions, so many memories, so many experiences. And within the context of a love relationship the environment is especially ripe for all of those thoughts, emotions, memories, and experiences to collide in our attempt to preserve the love we have while protecting ourselves from more pain.

IFS students soon learn that we have the Hurt Child, who remembers the very first breakup and wants to make sure she never, ever has to go through that again. We have our Inner Critic, who remembers past harsh words from former loves that hit too close to home, and reminds us that we are our own worst enemy and that any pain we have felt in the past is our own fault. We have our inner Champion, who will do battle to ensure that no interloper – even a loving one with good intentions – gets close enough to harm us. And we have the Blamer, who steadfastly maintains that, regardless of whatever repeatedly unfortunate circumstances may befall us, we have no one to blame but somebody else.

Couples in conflict can benefit greatly from becoming students of themselves, and IFS is a model uniquely well-suited to that exploration. In IFS couples therapy, each partner can start to learn how “pushing buttons” actually arises when an inner facet of self that bears past painful memories gets triggered into self-protective action by a partner’s comment or action. IFS’ self-awareness training enables each participant in the relationship to check their reactions against their inner awareness before responding in customary knee-jerk reaction ways to their partner. For instance, is the Blaming part of you judging your partner because it is easier than bearing the self-judgment of your own Inner Critic? Is the Hurt Child going away just when he should come closer because one hurt was enough, and when that original hurt happened he was a child and didn’t know what else to do but flee?

IFS training in the context of couples communication helps each participant to recognize that each of these parts is doing the best they can to protect us. We can then begin to learn new communication skills that start with self-awareness and self-evaluation. We can forestall knee-jerk reactions that may further damage our treasured relationship and create new patterns of interaction that are healthier, more mature, and more self- and love-affirming.

If you are feeling stretched and challenged by the dynamics of a valued love relationship, Internal Family Systems therapy can help. At Southlake Counseling, we have over two decades of expertise with guiding couples to salvage, restore, and rebuild the love they have worked so hard to cultivate. Contact us at and experience for yourself just how wonderful saying “no” to unhealthy conflict and YES to love and life can be!

Be Well,

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Who are you calling a “people pleaser?”

To a certain degree, we all struggle with the desire to please others who are in our life. While usually our eagerness to please aligns more closely with achieving an advantageous compromise that benefits both the other party and ourselves, there are times we may find that, in the choices we make, the benefits to the other party far outweigh our own.

When this happens on a consistent basis, we may be struggling with a common syndrome known as “people pleasing.” “Who me?”, we might catch ourselves thinking…or saying…when the subject arises. Yet while it can be painful to discover that we have been engaged in a habitual focus on others’ wants and needs to the exclusion of our own, what is more important is that we develop that awareness so we can make a different choice going forward.

If you have ever caught yourself worrying about what to wear, how to act, what someone is thinking about you or how you can change what someone is thinking about you, you have a taste of what people pleasing feels like.  

Let’s take a common example – you have just come home from work and you are looking forward to your one free evening of the week to rest, relax, and just take good care of yourself for a change. But when you get home, your daughter asks if her friend can please stay the night. Then your spouse informs you that he is no longer able to take your son to baseball practice because he has scheduled a guys’ night – and he knows you will understand even though this is the first you have heard of it. Your daughter is begging….your husband is looking at you with expectation that you will graciously pick up the ball he dropped.

Appalled at yourself even as the words come out of your mouth, all you hear yourself saying is, “Yes, of course – no problem. I’ll take care of it. Have a good evening, honey!”

This is people-pleasing at its finest. And it probably doesn’t feel very good either while it is happening or after it has occurred.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), we would call this the “People Pleaser Pattern.” IFS is a unique and powerful therapeutic model that assigns these different aspects or parts of our being different names and encourages the IFS therapist and student to work together to discern the roles each of these parts play in our lives and how we can work with instead of against them.

So in IFS therapy, we might look at the People Pleaser within and start trying to discern how it works in our lives by asking ourselves, “Does this happen all the time, with everybody, or just with a certain person or just a few folks?” “Or does it perhaps happen only in certain situations under certain conditions?” “What is triggering my desire to say ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘no’, from agreeing when I really disagree?” As we begin to seek and hear our own answers to these questions we are already on our way to understanding and then transforming our people pleasing behaviors into something more self-respectful.

Using the IFS therapy model, you will work to first understand your specific behavior, and then identify the motivation(s) you have for encouraging or at least allowing that behavior to continue. Next, you will begin to trace the behavior backwards to possible origins. Where did you learn that it was not safe to say “no”? Who rejected you because you stood up for yourself or expressed disagreement with their opinion? Did you lose a valuable opportunity because you were too vocal in a team-based setting about an important group decision? Rejection always hurts….and it will continue to hurt until you recognize it, acknowledge it, and begin to heal from it. IFS gives you this chance to identify and heal from past wounds that are still driving current choices and behaviors.

Next you will begin to learn how to work with your People Pleaser part so that you can understand how it is trying to protect you. The People Pleaser is not out to get you – it is simply looking out for what it has come to believe are your best interests. The more you can allay the fears that part of you carries within it and reassure it that whatever the outcome, together you can find another way to deal with life without having to people-please, the less that part will be inclined to go rogue when it feels you are in danger.

Finally, having established a more collaborative relationship with the People Pleaser part, you can begin to finally regain the power of decision in your own life. IFS offers you a powerful way to hear and respect what each part of you is trying to do to help you while still reminding them that in the end, the buck stops not with any one of them, but with YOU.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand that discovering and befriending all of the various parts of yourself can feel like a handful – when attempted alone. We want you to know you are not alone – we are here and we can help. Our caring, experienced and professional staff has more than two decades of experience in guiding individuals in their exciting journey to self-transformation. If you want to learn to say “no” to allowing past pain to overshadow current gain and say “YES” to all the fantastic possibilities that are yet ahead of you, contact us today at

Be Well, 


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Food is My Friend…or is it?

One of the areas of life that seems the most problematic in today’s society is the issue of food’s role and purpose in our lives. Is food fuel for the body? Is it an emotional warm blanket when we’re feeling down? Is it an expression of celebration that reinforces and even creates relationships? Is it a treat at the end of a long day?

To most of us, food is all of the above – and more. In past Monday Motivators, we have discussed how our attitudes towards and choices around food can and often do fluctuate frequently – sometimes even in the course of a single day – and how confusing and conflicting such fluctuations can be.

In the scientific principle known as Occum’s Razor, the “simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”  In the case of food, this principle would deduce that food is fuel for the body, plain and simple, no more and no less.

But try telling that to the part of us that wants chocolate cake when we’ve just experienced a breakup. Just try to explain that to the part of us that thinks the best way to motivate us to make healthier choices is to yell “good choice as usual, Lardo” when we are enjoying a bag of chips. Or how about when our date suggests sharing a decadent dessert as the perfect end to a romantic evening…how likely are we to explain to him or her, “Well, truffles aren’t an item my body really needs for nutrients so I’ll have to decline, but thanks anyway.”

Not at all likely, right?

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), we might instead begin to assign names to these seemingly disagreeing parts of ourselves, and then to decode what their real message, purpose, and role is in our lives.

For instance, the Inner Controller is always going to tell us what we think we need, rather than want, to hear – declining that truffle, using self-disrespecting language, doing whatever it takes to keep us on the dietary straight and narrow.

The Inner Indulger, on the other hand, will eschew discipline for pleasure every time. The Indulger loves romantic truffles, sees nothing wrong with a delicious bag of chips, and wouldn’t think twice about offering its suffering self some chocolate cake in recompense for a bad day.

The small gap or vast expanse that exists between the Indulger and the Controller is what students of IFS learn to call the “Pleasure Polarity.”  Managing the pleasure polarity, and more than that, hearing, affirming, and guiding the Indulger and Controller to learn to (gasp) get along is what a student of IFS will become adept at.

IFS students understand that each voice comes to us with a desire not to harm, not to degrade, but to support and protect us. As we walk the guided path of IFS, we will understand what our parts already understand – that we have needs that food can provide for, and that each part thinks it knows best how to care for us and meet those needs. We will perceive with tremendous clarity and newfound hope how each voice, in its own weird and wonderful way, has our best interests at heart – and is often willing to fight to the death on our behalf against another voice with an opposing opinion.

So how do we help these parts of ourselves stop squabbling and get along as they each seek the same goal – our wellbeing?

We have to first understand that each voice has a point. In between the Indulger and the Controller we find not just the Pleasure Polarity, but the Support Polarity and the Power Polarity. In the Support Polarity, we must balance the Indulger’s neediness and the Controller’s need for denial. In the Power Polarity, we must recognize our tendency to people-please against our desire to rigidly control ourselves and others.

When you become a student of IFS, you begin to walk the path of balance and moderation with wisdom, confidence, and self-compassion. You “get” yourself – in all your various parts – in a new and deeper way. You can make better choices when you understand that all of these parts or facets of you are all you – all valid, all worthy of a voice, all worthy of respect, appreciation, and satisfaction. As this understanding becomes established within, you become better able to evaluate the choices before you and make a fair assessment of each part’s needs, the airtime you will allow each to have, and your need to make sure that one is not over-indulged while one is ostracized.

Or, to once again apply the principle of Occum’s Razor, we could simply say that you will begin to realize that when a part of you hurts, you hurt. And when a part of you heals, you heal.

If you are struggling to balance the competing needs, demands, and desires you feel inside of you when it comes to making healthy food choices, Internal Family Systems can help. At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of experience guiding individuals to meet and exceed their food-related recovery, health, and wellness goals. Whether you are just seeking a tune-up in the New Year or part of your bigger picture for 2010 includes a complete overhaul in your nutritional lifestyle, we look forward to partnering with you to help you say “no” to inner conflict at the table and YES to your own healthy, happy, and whole life! Visit us at today!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: The Critic versus the Champion

Into every day a little criticism must fall.

This could be the motto of the part of us we might label “the inner critic”.

When we are listening to our inner critic, we may not feel much desire to go deeper in our connection with ourselves or go for our goals and dreams. We may hear messages like “I wouldn’t ask for that promotion if I were you – they’re just going to tell you ‘no’”, “He doesn’t like you – that is why he didn’t call you back”, “Nice try with joining a gym, but you know it isn’t going to help with your eating habits because you never change.”

From the outside looking in, the inner critic seems to have one function and one purpose only – to tear us down. The inner critic hates us – or so it seems. We may even catch ourselves wondering why we hate ourselves so much and what we have done to deserve such unkind messages that come to us so frequently from within.

And we probably wonder on an almost daily basis if the voice will EVER go away.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, we dig deeper into the origin and role of our own inner critic. We also look at why our inner critic gets louder at some times than others. And we explore why our inner critic often appears to affect us more than the inner critic of those around us appears to affect them.

Let’s take an example. Imagine that you are a junior in college, and you have excelled in all of your undergraduate coursework. Your professors keep encouraging you to take more challenging classes – they can’t resist reminding you repeatedly of the straight-A’s you achieved in your first two years. They continually tell you that you have far more potential than you are tapping into. Every time one of your professors starts down this line of discussion, you hear a voice inside you that says, “They are only saying that because they don’t know you as well as you do. Remember that time in fifth grade when your teachers convinced your parents to let you try out for that middle school for ‘gifted’ children and you flunked the entrance exam? No need to go down that path again – you’ll just be setting yourself up for failure a second time”.

Here, all of the outside proof seems to show that you have every chance of success. Your professors even point out that some of your fellow classmates who are taking the accelerated program didn’t score as high as you did in their undergraduate work. But you think you know something your professors don’t about your chances for success.

Certainly your inner critic knows that you are afraid to fail again. You were very hurt the first time you were rejected after you stuck your neck and your pride out to go for what you wanted. You will never forget the sting of shame and the disappointment in the eyes of your parents and teachers. Your inner critic reminds you continually of how painful that experience was.

But – just for the sake of argument here – could it be that, rather than tear you down, your inner critic is actually trying to protect you – or at least protect that fifth grade inner child who still resides within you – from even more pain?

Students of IFS learn to re-examine and in time re-frame their relationship with their inner critic. Whereas in other therapeutic approaches, you may have been encouraged to ignore or overpower your inner critic, with IFS you will learn how to befriend it. IFS opens the door to ask questions you may never have considered before, like, “What can I learn from my inner critic?” “What service is my inner critic providing to me?” “What part of me agrees with my inner critic and why?” “How can I let my inner critic know that s/he is heard and respected so rather than standing in my way, we can work together to achieve my dreams and goals?”

In time, using the IFS model, you will be able to introduce your inner critic to its new best friend, your inner champion. The inner champion gives the inner critic a new lease on life – literally. When the inner critic tells you, “You must be crazy to believe you are as smart as Professor So-and-So claims”, your inner champion will say, “You ARE that smart. You just got scared before when you took that entrance exam. So this time we will practice some relaxation exercises before tackling this new challenge before us. It is not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up that matters. Together, we can do this!”

IFS offers us a new way of life through giving us the chance to look inside ourselves and see, not a collection of bitter enemies, but a close-knit and loving family that simply uses different communication styles to express their love for us. Each part of ourselves exists for a purpose. Each deserves a voice. Each requires closure for past hurts and disappointments. Each needs and wants love and connection. And each part loves us – in its own way. With IFS we learn to speak the love language of the inner critic, the inner child, and the inner champion, and then we are better equipped to help each part learn how to work together and enjoy life as a team.

If you are struggling with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, discouragement, fear, anxiety, or depression in the face of the messages you hear inside you, IFS can help. At Southlake Counseling, we understand what it is like to feel like a house divided from the inside out. We have nearly two decades of professional expertise in guiding individuals through change and use the Internal Family Systems model to help achieve comprehensive health and well-being. To find out more about how IFS can transform your relationship with your inner critic and awaken your inner champion, contact us today at

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Just who do you think you are?

Ask yourself this deceptively simple-sounding question, “Who am I?” and you may find that questions like these are easier asked than answered.

For instance, who you experience yourself to be may change depending on who you are with. With your parents, you may find yourself dropping into some of the mannerisms, thoughts, and opinions you held as the child-you. With your spouse, you may experience yourself as an odd assortment of relational habits you attribute to either your mom’s or your dad’s influence. With your child, you may struggle to reconcile the deep love and enthusiasm you feel for being a parent with your own all-too-human personal desire for a return to the unscheduled free time and rest that you enjoyed as a single person.

Your sense of yourself may be equally fluid – and elusive – depending on where you are. Facing a schedule that includes a full day of work, a quick after-work visit to the gym, and a later dinner date, you may find yourself keeping company with a completely different you as you move through your day. At work, work-you is task-oriented, focused, forgetting to eat until the hunger in your belly yells “LUNCH!” and you quickly hurry off to check that item off your to-do list. At the gym, gym-you counts calories and berates yourself for your earlier choices as the treadmill spins. And at dinner, over a relaxing glass of wine, you witness how dinner-you casually shoves gym-you aside as you go for your favorite high-calorie dessert – tres leches.

So who are you? Which you is “the” you?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a new therapeutic discipline that provides a roadmap by which the intrapersonally inquisitive student can begin to find his or her own both accurate and self-respectful answer to this question.

Students of IFS recognize and accept that “the you” they are tempted to conceptualize as a single discrete identity is actually a diverse collection of parts called “sub-personalities”. These parts can range from the inner critic to the abandoned child to the people pleaser to the anger-monger to the scapegoat to the loving caretaker and so on. 

As students of IFS, we work to identify and learn from each part. As our investigation unfolds, we begin to perceive how each part relates to each other part within us in helpful and sometimes not-so-helpful ways. As we learn from each part about the memories, associations, assumptions, perceptions, dreams, goals, and aspirations it carries within it, we become more attuned to how that part subtly shapes and drives our conscious behavior. With this awareness, we can work with each part to transform for the better its relationship with the other parts of us, with us-now, and with the world around us.

The true power of IFS, however, comes from the compassion we begin to develop towards each part of ourselves. Once we know that part’s story, past, present, and persistent hopes for the future, we cease to resist or fight its involvement or influence and start instead to seek a common good. IFS promotes a deep inner empathy with and affinity towards not just us-now but towards all our parts, as we recognize that we have each been employing different means to achieve the same shared goals for acceptance, success, love, meaning, and joy in life.

Lest a student of IFS begin to suspect that they suffer from multiple personality disorder, however, there is one more important basic component of IFS work that is worth mentioning.

IFS practitioners recognize that we are at our core spiritual beings, centered in what IFS calls “the Self”. The Self is nurturing, stable, and full of compassion. The Self exemplifies the best us that we can be, and reminds us that as we learn to stay centered in our sense of ourselves as “the Self”, we are then able to begin to repair, restore, and re-energize our tangled relationships with each of our parts. As the Self, we can help our parts to heal, heal ourselves, and develop a relationship with our own life that is both inspiring and empowering.

At Southlake Counseling, we have invested more than two decades in assisting you with your personal growth and development goals. We are strong proponents of Internal Family Systems therapy as a powerful and effective tool to help you learn how to say “no” to self-limiting thoughts, behaviors, and relational patterns and YES to your dream of being the best you that you can be. If you are ready to explore how IFS can help you achieve your personal growth and wellness goals, contact us today at

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Interpersonally Speaking

Welcome to week four of our discussion about Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

Over the last three weeks we have addressed three of the four core modules that make up the DBT Skills Training –Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. For our final week of exploration, we will tie it all together with an adventure into the fourth and final module – Interpersonal Effectiveness.

For many students of DBT, interpersonal effectiveness can feel like the most challenging module of all, because even if we think that the issues that motivate us to seek out the help of therapeutic professionals are caused by other people, we eventually discover that they are best solved by strengthening our relationship with the most important person in our life – ourselves.

So in the first three modules of our DBT work, we get to examine our traditional mental, emotional, and relational responses to the day-to-day experiences we have in our own lives, and then from there we begin to explore how adding new skills can increase our self-confidence and efficacy in meeting our own personal goals.

In the final module, we get to “take our skills to the streets”, so to speak, as we apply our newfound intrapersonal skills to learning the art of interpersonal effectiveness.  For most of us, when we take a closer look at how we have been approaching and managing our relationships, we realize there is a lot of room for improvement. But if we have been faithfully studying and applying the skills we’ve learned in the first three DBT modules, by the time we get to the fourth module we have a foundation of confidence that allows us to tackle this final challenge with our awareness of the payoff for doing this hard work firmly in place.

So when we first begin studying DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness module, we begin with a self-assessment of how we have traditionally handled issues like conflict, asserting our opinions and preferences, and meeting our needs in relationship with others. We look at whether we have been able to attract and foster relationships that are healthy and stable, weather tough times while keeping the connection and respect we feel for ourselves and others intact, and achieve personal satisfaction and fulfillment in the midst of interpersonal growth and development.

We then begin learning new ways of addressing interpersonal issues we have identified as less than satisfactory.

For instance, let’s say your spouse has a habit of barking orders at you the moment you walk in the door. You are usually tired when you get home from a long day at work, and after fighting to make your voice heard with your boss and co-workers (an opinionated lot to say the least) you have little energy left over to make the same degree of effort with your husband.

But now, with your newfound interpersonal effectiveness training, you understand that not speaking up for yourself actually takes more out of you, and uses up more valuable energy, than staying quiet. The next time you come home and the barking orders commences, you lay a hand lightly on your husband’s chest, meet his eyes directly, and calmly and clearly say, “I am tired. I need to shower, change into my comfy clothes, and have something to eat. You are welcome to sit with me while I eat and unwind. But I cannot talk with you about what you need from me until after I have had a chance to rest a bit from my day. Do we have a deal?”

From there, depending on how your spouse responds, you can progress accordingly with rolling out your new interpersonal effectiveness skills. Furthermore, since DBT training is most often conducted through a combination of weekly individual and group meetings, with optional individual telephone sessions for added support, you have the support of an entire team who is working with you to help you refine, manage, and develop your skills for the benefit of all concerned.

So give yourself the gift of new, shiny interpersonal skills in the New Year. Relationships are the heartbeat of what makes life feel like living, what motivates to us to crawl out of our warm beds on cold mornings, what encourages us when our job doesn’t deliver on its promises or our boss has a bad day, and what keeps our chin up when the economy takes a nosedive or natural disaster strikes. We naturally turn to our relationships for support, comfort, meaning, and reconnection – to share both sorrow and joy – and to remind ourselves that all the hard work we do throughout the rest of each day finds its fulfillment in the rewards of our relationships with ourselves and others at day’s end.

At Southlake Counseling, we have been studying and teaching the four core modules of DBT for more than two decades. We have seen hundreds of amazing transformations as individuals have learned, participated in our groups and in individual therapy sessions, and emerged to experience all the wonderful benefits that DBT skills-building has to offer. If your New Year’s intentions or resolutions include strengthening and deepening your relationships with loved ones, colleagues, friends, and family, we look forward to hearing from you at very soon!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Dealing with Distress

This Monday finds us kicking off week three of the New Year. For those of us who made New Year’s resolutions or intentions, this is the week when we may be starting to see cracks in our resolve, chips in our optimism, doubts where just a few days before, confidence was our daily companion.

Enter “distress tolerance”. This technical-sounding term comes courtesy of Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Distress tolerance is commonly defined as an ability to refrain from resorting to impulsive behaviors to manage strong emotions.

Picture this: you are at home minding your own business, when all of a sudden your friend calls with some very disturbing news. She starts to cry, and before you know it you are tearing up with her. Her emotions continue to spiral as crying turns to sobbing, and by the time you get off the phone all you can think of is that you need a glass of wine. One glass turns to one bottle….several hours later you wake up on the couch and realize you have forgotten to pick up your son from daycare. You are overcome with shame at your behaviors, followed by fear for your son’s wellbeing, and then a growing anger and frustration directed at yourself. Again.

Worst of all, the painful and sad emotion you drank the wine to avoid having to feel and deal with has come back tenfold – and this time it has returned with several of its best friends in tow.

In this hypothetical scenario, we can see a classic pattern of distress-avoidance emerging:

  1. A situation arose during the course of your normal day which triggered strong emotions
  2. You perceived the emotions as intolerable
  3. You impulsively turned to alcohol (other impulse decisions could include substance abuse, binging/purging, spending, etc.)
  4. You experienced a reliable and thus “trustworthy” short term payoff from your retreat to the impulsive behavior
  5. You ultimately emerged from your attempts to elude your own emotions feeling even more out of control than before

This is just one of many scenarios in which cultivating improved distress tolerance skills can literally save the day. With distress tolerance skills training, you can learn to manage, feel, and release strong emotions without resorting to destructive behaviors.

DBT’s distress tolerance skills are designed to build resilience in the face of intense emotions we perceive as intolerable. There are four core modules of distress tolerance skills-building that are carefully designed by Dr. Linehan to build in positive copings skills where self-destructive tendencies used to rush in.

However, distress tolerance does not in any way translate into distress avoidance, and it is important to recognize that building your skill at tolerating emotion still requires that you feel and deal appropriately with emotions as they enter your sphere of influence.  In this way, you can think of distress tolerance skills-building as the safety net you need to begin to learn how to feel and deal appropriately and self-respectfully without fearing your own destructive tendencies.

At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of experience teaching and guiding individuals and groups in learning to implement the powerful principles and practices of DBT. We are the foremost provider of DBT-based individual and group services in the Lake Norman area, with a full range of services for females and males of all ages and from all backgrounds and walks of life. If you are determined not to greet one more New Year fearing what emotions each day may bring, contact us at for more information about how DBT can help you say “no” to distress avoidance and YES to distress tolerance – and your own wonderful LIFE!

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: Making Friends With Our Emotions

So here we are again, in week two of a brand new year!

How is it going so far? How do you feel about those New Year’s Resolutions you probably couldn’t resist making a week or so ago? Is the New Year already shaping up into all that you hoped and dreamed it would be – or simply delivering more of the same?

It is so tempting to study our outsides for telltale signs of change. We have grown accustomed to seeking exterior affirmation, confirmation, or negation of the changes we dream of making. We look around and either see positive changes or we don’t.

But in doing so, we consistently forget to remind ourselves that all real change starts within.

In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT for short, one of the four cornerstones of successful transformation lies in mastering the art of what founder Dr. Marsha Linehan terms “emotion regulation”. 1

Well, this sounds good, doesn’t it? But what does it mean?

The best place to start in conducting our investigation is to look at what is meant by the word “emotion”. According to a commonly-accepted definition of the term, an emotion occurs whenever there is “a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes.”

Put this way, the appearance of an “emotion” sounds sort of like a sneak attack, doesn’t it!? And since sneak attacks usually are not particularly pleasant or welcome experiences, especially when they are accompanied by frightening-sounding “physiological changes”, it is not hard to see how a system that was originally intended to serve as a reliable guide through life begins feels more like an inner enemy stalking and scaring us at the least opportune moments.

What is most important for us to recognize, however, is that when we begin to distrust and even fear our own emotions, it becomes increasingly hard for us to remember that we and not our emotions are the master of our lives.

Here is where learning the DBT skill of “emotion regulation” can come to our rescue. When we become skilled in emotion regulation, we can train ourselves to be less vulnerable to the continually shifting play of our emotional landscape. By applying DBT skills designed to enhance our ability to regulate our responses to our emotions, we become proficient in identifying and labeling emotions, identifying where we tend to become emotionally “stuck”, increasing our affinity for positive emotional states, bringing mindfulness into our emotional lives, and other wonderful life skills that can make the experience of feeling and experiencing our own emotions beneficial rather than detrimental to our growth and well-being.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand how challenging it can feel to forge an alliance with our ever-changing emotions. We also know that emotions in their essence are helpful guides and teachers that can lead to more fulfilling lives. Our professional and compassionate staff has more than two decades of training and expertise in helping you apply the life-changing principles of DBT for improved health, growth, and well-being. If you are struggling to understand and manage your emotions, don’t let another year go by before you take action on your own behalf. Contact us today at to say “no” to emotional distress and YES to your own full and vibrant life!

Be Well,


1 Marsha Linehan, PhD, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Founder

Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: The Helping Hand Mindfulness Extends

Well, here it is – the first week of a brand new year!

Exciting, isn’t it!

Or maybe a little nerve-wracking….stressful….already packed full of resolutions, expectations, old memories of what not to do from the barely-departed previous year (aka baggage), and more than a bit of fear.

Enter “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can facilitate the kind of positive life change that resolutions seldom do. Best known as one of the four core tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mindfulness is commonly defined as “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience”1.

How can mindfulness help you in 2010?

While resolutions and expectations are born of past experiences, and thus are colored more by painful remembrances of how we did not measure up to our own standards or others’ in the past, mindfulness keeps us anchored here in the present, which is the only place where any true change is possible.

The first step to using mindfulness as a tool for positive change is to be able to distinguish it from what we normally do. So let’s take a common New Year’s resolution as an example – a resolution to adopt healthier eating habits.

Without mindfulness, here is what you might expect to happen on January 2nd, when, full of good intentions and steadfast resolution, you approach the refrigerator. You open the door and stare in at the new healthy selections you just purchased, sitting there on the shelf next to last night’s party leftovers. Your hand shoots resolutely towards the healthy side of the shelf. Your mind says, “You know you won’t be able to keep this up. You might do okay for a few days, but sooner or later you are going to break your resolution. You might as well just go ahead and eat those party leftovers anyway. They are going to spoil otherwise, and it is wasteful to let perfectly good food spoil just because you are trying to eat healthier. You can eat the healthy stuff you bought tomorrow.”

Does any of this self-sabotaging dialogue sound familiar?

With mindfulness, you do not waver between the past and the future, trying to predict the probability of an outcome that is only possible here, now, in the present moment – an outcome that you are in charge of and are perfectly well-equipped to determine.

So now let us take the same example, but apply the tool of mindfulness to achieve a different outcome. There you are, standing in front of the open refrigerator door. Your eyes fall on last night’s leftovers, and then on the new healthy items you have just purchased.  Your hand reaches toward the healthy side of the shelf, already anticipating the crunch of the sautéed bell peppers with chicken and seasoning that you are going to make for dinner. Your stomach grumbles. You begin gathering all the ingredients to make your meal. Happily, you unwrap your new sauté pan that you got for Christmas, add a little olive oil, and start chopping vegetables. Thirty minutes later, you sit down for a lovely, healthy meal that is both delicious and satisfying. You clean up, and head into the living room to catch your favorite television show.

What just happened here? With mindfulness, you sabotaged your saboteur by simply staying present. You didn’t allow your mind to wander back to the past, which is forever out of your control, or to the future, which is not yet within your control. You stayed true to the reason you visited the refrigerator in the first place – to fuel your body with delicious, healthy nutrients per your New Year’s intention NOW, in THIS moment, to offer yourself the gift of healthy eating habits. You chose tasty ingredients, enjoyed putting them together into a meal, ate them with gusto while you were hungry, stopped when you were full, cleaned up, and moved on to the next activity you had planned.

Mindfulness hands back on a silver platter your power to make new, self-affirming choices in the present moment. Mindfulness is your best friend in a season too often filled with recriminations, regrets, fears, self-doubts, and atoning resolutions. The past is in the past, right where it belongs. And the future depends on the choices that you make right now, today.

So take mindfulness by the hand, and walk confidently and positively forward together in the present moment to greet the New Year.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand how New Year’s resolutions can often collide with last year’s regrets. This is why our staff of trained and experienced clinicians have dedicated over two decades to the study and successful application of Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) treatment methods. If you are struggling with maintaining a positive outlook about making good choices in 2010, we are here to help.  If you would like to learn more about Mindfulness or our DBT program contact us today at to learn more.

Be Well,


1 Marsha Linehan, PhD, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Founder

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Saying YES to Life in the New Year!

“Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful” is the opening line to a popular Christmas carol.

2009 has been a very rough year for a lot of us in an assortment of ways – financially, emotionally, physically….we have all been affected by the unavoidable shifts and changes in the world around us.

So as we meet here together for the last Monday in 2009, we may be tempted to carry that perspective into 2010. It is frightful outside, and it is easier, safer, better, unavoidable, to stay inside by the warm fire – instead of fighting for change. Well, yes it is. But does it work – and will it help us to say no to the fears and doubts that keep us feeling small and stuck and instead say YES to the life we really want and dream of living in 2010?

Don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a cozy warm fire, especially if you are surrounded by supportive loved ones and some hot eggnog or spiced cider. But we can’t make it into a lifestyle. There is always something that we can do now to change our circumstances and move in the direction of our dreams. We may not have power we might wish for to transform our outer environment, but we always retain the power to change the world within ourselves for the better.

To help us remember this as the New Year draws closer, we need to acknowledge now that 2010 will have its frightful days too. Some days we will be very tempted to stoke the fire, crawl back onto the couch, put off until tomorrow what we should have dealt with yesterday and still could today.

Acknowledging this, we may even now be considering what New Year’s Resolutions we want to make on January 1, 2010. But this may not be the approach that serves us best in saying “no” to what didn’t work for us in 2009 and YES to our ability to explore what does work in 2010.

The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they lack perspective –as do we when we are making them. For instance, we forget that they are year-long resolutions, just as full of ups-and-downs as any year will be, and only achievable over time. Resolutions rarely factor in the small, daily steps we need to get from here to there. They live in giant leaps – leaps which more often than not prove to be neither possible nor safe to attempt. Finally, resolutions often address our determination to change our outer circumstances, rather than focusing on the only place where we can ever hope to change anything – inside ourselves.

So this year, I would like to suggest that we forgo the traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of New Year’s intentions. Intention, unlike resolution, is flexible. Moreover, intention is gentle, recognizing that there is a bigger picture that adds up over time if we just stick with our intention for long enough. Intentions are also relational – recognizing that the good of each individual is only achievable by seeking not just our own good, but the good of those around us as well. Most importantly, intentions come from deep within us, forcing us to dig down underneath concrete goals like “get a new job”, “eat healthier”, or “fix the problems in a relationship” to find what stands in between us and our ability to achieve our heart-held goals.

So now, start thinking about the intentions you wish to pay attention to in your new year. Are you worried about cherished relationships? Ask yourself what you can do to better cherish yourself so that you will have more to offer to cherished others as well.  Do you long for greater equanimity in the face of situational difficulties? What can you do to identify what evokes feelings of peace within yourself, and include those activities in your daily schedule? Are you seeking financial stability? Maybe it is time to end the harsh inner criticism you have been feeding yourself in favor of simply asking for help to better understand and change your financial picture.

At Southlake Counseling, we are excited to see what the New Year will bring! We have been privileged over the last two decades to witness countless individuals’ inner transformations – transformations that have led to amazing outer shifts as well. Do you need help forming intentions and figuring out how to bring your dreams into reality? Are you still grappling with the fear, hesitation, and doubt that a hard economic year engenders in us all? Do you know that 2010 must be different, but are just not sure how to make the changes you dream of? Contact us at today. Together, we can help you say “no” to self-limiting thoughts and behavior patterns and YES to your own limitless possibilities for 2010!

Be Well,