The irony is not lost on me that, as a therapist, what I'm about to tell you seems to run counter to my profession's aim of helping people to improve their lives. What if I told you that self-improvement was a waste of time?
Wait, wait, wait . . . Hear me out.
It's no secret that the self-improvement industry, a $9.6 billion a year industry, is having it's day in the sun, and we're all supporting it in one way or another. Do you not have a gym membership, see a therapist, drink kale smoothies, and read, I mean, listen to Brené Brown on Audible? I do. I want to get better, too!
Nothing wrong with any of that by the way. I love smoothies. What concerns me is not the activity itself, but the premise that seems to be driving us in flocks toward a kind of salvation, which incidentally, never arrives. That premise is simple:
You aren't good enough as you currently are.
So you found the ONE!
The person you love to spend your life with. The one that you can grow old with and lean on throughout life's challenges. Congratulations! Now if only you can change them into someone different. Someone who fulfills your needs better, or makes you feel more understood, or remembers to take the trash out.
As a relationship therapist, I often hear clients describe frustrations with partners such as, "I keep telling them what to do differently and they just don't do it" or "if they looked at things from my perspective, they would realize that they were wrong and my way of doing things is the right way." Essentially, people are drawn to someone who is different than them, love these differences, and then once the excitement wears off, we wonder how we can make them more like us.
Often, when these differences create conflict people wonder if they found the right partner. This causes a lot of anxiety. In a reaction to that anxiety a partner might try to change the other partner by nagging, telling them what they can do differently, giving the silent treatment, or use a variety of other behaviors that are targeted towards changing the partner. This is often an unconscious effort to decrease their own anxiety about being vulnerable to someone who is different and to regain a sense of safety and security that most people crave in relationships.
"So now I have a better idea of why I want to change my partner, but I still want to change their behaviors." That's very normal reaction and I did promise solutions, so here are some suggestions:
1. Get curious
Once the inevitable conflict phase of a relationship takes hold, it's very common to disconnect from our partner on some level. Disconnection can look like taking space and avoiding your partner. Disconnection can also involve pushing away behaviors such as becoming clingier, irritable, demanding, testing your partner, and blaming them for issues in the relationship.
When you are so focused on looking at issues through your own perspective, you lose sight of the full picture. Get curious about what your partner's experiences of the relationship are like. Ask questions about how they are feeling, what they are longing for, and what makes them feel most loved. Rather than making a judgment, get curious about what their experience is like. Some of what they say may trigger more fears and anxiety within you. That is okay and is to be expected. Notice your own reactions and get curious about what those reactions mean for you.
Often a therapist, coach, and sometimes a close friend can help us explore the meaning underneath our own reactions. How does this change my partner you ask? When someone feels that they are being tuned into and heard, it is very common for them to drop their defenses, soften, and connect more. Everyone wants to feel understood and appreciated and by getting curious and listening to your partner, you are creating a climate in which they can receive that from you. Often this changes the tone of the dynamic within the relationship, which makes room for growth.
2. Conquer Criticism And Master The Compliment Sandwich
It is very easy to identify what other people could be doing differently. In fact the part of our brain that deals with Safety and Security is constantly scanning its environment for threats. Often, we react to perceived threats that are not actually dangerous and one of these reactions to the threat is criticism. Many times, someone hopes that by criticizing or pointing out with their partner is doing wrong, their partner will see the error of their ways and change. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Criticism is a connection killer. The person being criticized often feels hurt and misunderstood and may even rebel and continue the frustrating behaviors at an increased level. They may become afraid of losing their sense of self within the relationship and reject what is being said. If you think about a time in your life when you have been criticized, try to remember the emotions that came up. Most likely, they were not pleasant.
Instead of criticizing, what you want to do is use a strategy called the compliment sandwich. The structure of the compliment sandwich is you:
1. Share an appreciation
2. Then share what you would like to change (focusing on your own reactions)
3. Follow it up with something else positive such as an appreciation, validation, or what that change would do for you.
An example of a compliment sandwich looks like this.
1. I know you've been working a lot of hours lately and I really appreciate how hard you work to support our family. One of the things I love about you is what a hard worker you are.
2. I do find that I get very lonely when you're working so many late nights and I find myself missing you. I would love it if one night a week you were able to come home a little earlier so we could spend some quality time together.
3. I understand that you have a lot of work demands and this might be very hard to do, but if you could, it would really mean a lot to me. Something I really value about a relationship is how we can have fun together and I think that time would really give us the chance to enjoy each other a little bit more.
Using the compliment sandwich increases your likelihood that your partner will be able to hear you and perhaps even implement something that you're suggesting. It does not work every time and your partner may not actually be able to do what you're asking, however if they are, this helps to create a safe space where your partner will not be put on the defense and may be able to take in what you're saying.
3. Self Sooth
So here's the tough part. Your partner may not be receptive to making any changes. Or they might change certain behaviors on their own timetable. As long as their behavior is not abusive or dangerous to you, you may be able to work on some patience with the process. People have to take ownership of their own changes so it needs to be on their own terms.
The challenging part is to decrease your own anxiety and soothe yourself to increase patience while waiting for your partner to make changes. Also, soothing yourself can help you gain acceptance if your partner does not plan to make any of your recommended changes. Great ways of soothing yourself involve meditation, reading in fulfilling book, utilizing your support systems, getting a massage, going for a walk, taking in some nature, doing enjoyable activities that feed your soul, finding mind-body activities such as yoga or other forms of exercise to release some of our energy and increase our ability to be calm, etc.
The point is to do things that help you feel centered, so that you do not project your fears onto your partner. The more calm and centered you're able to approach your partner the less fear you will invoke in them. Relationships have chain reactions, and by managing your own reactions, you are in fact impacting your partner's reactions.
It is important to remember that you cannot change someone by criticizing or blaming them but by changing your approach and focusing on your own internal process you can change the tone of your relationship. Every action has a reaction, so the change can always start with you. By waiting for a partner to change it brings up feelings of being out of control, however when the change is within you, you have more control.
Often getting some support for this process can be very beneficial and can help us increase our insight. Support can be couples or individual therapy or can involve utilizing support from friends or family who are a friend of the relationship and support each partner equally. We may not be able to control how our partner reacts, but we can create the conditions for growth.
As human beings we all lose our way from time to time along the journey of life. We find ourselves feeling isolated and in pain and nothing that has worked in the past seems to help. I get it. I’ve been in the wilderness too. I am grateful to have found people along the way who have guided me back home to myself. If you found your way to this site you may have summoned up the courage and willingness to seek out a guide of your own.
It is a tremendous honor to serve as a supportive witness to the transformation of another human being. Through my own struggles and as a witness to the journeys of others I have come to understand that our stories are more similar than different.
Here is what I have learned:
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." - Dalai Lama
The state of peace is truly profound - peace is a way of being and a lens for seeing the world. For some, peace may seem like a fantasy, an idealistic dream, and yet, developing inner peace is truly the key to knowing fulfillment. So how do we do that?
Let’s start by looking at how many of us currently relate to peace:
Oftentimes, we have a tendency to make our external world responsible for our peace and happiness. For example: If this job happens, then I will be peaceful. Once I reach retirement, then I can be fulfilled. Once my significant other does exactly what I want them to do, then I will be peaceful. If my child gets into college, then I will be happy. Sound familiar? How successful have you found this strategy to create lasting peace?
“We are born with the capacity to dance together but not with the necessary training . . . It is exactly the same in relationships.” -David Richo
In David Richo’s How To Be An Adult in Relationships, he outlines five keys to mindful loving. These five keys are not just “nice to haves,” but are essential components of a healthy, individuated ego. When we do not receive these gifts, it feels as though something is missing, that we are incomplete, unlovable. But practicing these five keys, is what it takes to love and is what makes us lovable.
“My father turned to me as if he’d been waiting all his life to hear my question.”
What a beautiful expression of what it feels like to be truly heard and valued. There is no judgment in your listening because feelings are neither good or bad, right or wrong. The projections of ego can blur our focus on the other. Openly attending to what is being shared requires neutrality toward our own fearful or reactive states.
When we attend in this way, we elicit a sense of safety and trust in the other. This kind of attention cannot be falsified and must come from a genuine interest and curiosity. As Richo beautifully states, “The real you is an abundant potential, not a list of traits, and intimacy can only happen when you are always expanding in others’ hearts, not pigeonholed in their minds.”
“I am so terrible.”
“I can't believe I screwed that up again.”
“I am so ugly.”
“I am the cause of my own mistakes and unhappiness.”
Are you constantly hard on yourself? Do you find yourself saying negative things to yourself? Does it seem normal? You're not alone.
Underneath so much of our suffering lies our own self criticism and lack of self compassion and self care. So what can you do? Here are 5 simple things that will help you create more self-compassion in your life.
Let's face it. It's been a rough year for a lot of us. But for all the losses we've experienced, let's not forget what we've gained. Our minds tend to gravitate toward the most negative experiences. Our survival brains are always scanning for danger so that’s pretty normal. It takes an intentional effort to look at what’s going right. And the more we are looking for the good, the better we are able to see it. So take some time to catalogue the good in your life. It’s there if you look for it.
We can't know what 2017 will bring, but do you know who you will be? Will you be grateful? Will you be present? Will you be engaged in what matters most to you, and quick to drop what doesn't? Will you honor yourself and tend to your needs as though you would someone you loved dearly?
These aren’t resolutions. They’re simply you when you are living your values. We don't need to commit to a year of better habits or self-improvement because we can make a choice to live our values in this moment. In fact, that's the only time we can choose anything! And that’s good news because we can’t see the future. But we can see what is right in front of us, right now.
Written by Jiovann Carrasco, LPC-S
As the electoral votes came rolling in for Donald Trump in the late hours of the night, and panic began to proliferate my Twitter feed, I realized I have no idea who America is right now. My Facebook friend list is a happy collection of liberal-minded, college educated, city dwelling do-gooders and Austin is this cozy little blue oasis in a sea of Texas red. Looking at the red and blue patches on newsroom monitors in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, or Michigan, I realized that I’m a complete stranger to the people who reside in the rural regions of these states. Who are these people?
It’s easy to imagine the average Trump supporter as blatantly racist, uneducated, loud-mouthed, sexist and basically idiotic. That’s what seems to make the most sense to someone who regards himself as among the refined, civilized, and progressive members of our society. Us. Them. We. Other. Well, what good did that do? Maybe that dichotomy doesn’t exist after all.
How America shot itself in the foot.
Every time we reacted to his bigotry or idiocy, we added fuel to the fire. We gave him more and more press. Every time we shamed him or mocked him, he arose even stronger. The media that he claims is rigged against him basically gave him all the attention he didn’t deserve and made him a star. You don’t fight fire with fire.
I’m not even going to pretend to be bi-partisan in this post. I think a Trump presidency would be a terrible, terrible thing for our country and for the world. Not only do I have strong objections to the man’s character, I just do not agree with a single policy issue he stands for. Based on a number of factors, I simply do not believe he could lead our country with any measure of competence. And I honestly, don’t mean that as an insult. It’s just my honest and dispassionate conclusion.
That being said, I find it deeply troubling that our country is so vehemently divided politically. The fact that Donald Trump is the GOP frontrunner in this election didn’t come out of nowhere. His nomination is a painful and sobering indication that we are really falling apart as a nation. We’re hurting and we’re fearful. And we’ll do anything—ANYTHING—to resolve it.
When people are under tremendous economic pressures and feel their voices are consistently not heard, they will get behind someone who speaks their language and threatens to demolish their oppressors. And that is how they see Hillary and the establishment. It’s not necessarily that they don’t believe she will be a good president, but that she’ll be a president that will continue to ignore their concerns. And Trump, likewise, isn’t necessarily their dream of presidential decorum, but he’s a guy that once he’s in the White House, is really going to fuck things up. And that is their best hope. It’s desperate, and it’s terrifying.
Written by Fernanda Barcelo, LPC-Intern
Mandalas are everywhere these days — you might have seen one in your local yoga studio, in an adult coloring book, or maybe even tattooed on a friend’s body. But what do these intricate & beautiful designs actually represent?
Buddhist monks take days, sometimes weeks, to create delicate and astonishingly detailed mandalas out of sand. Careful to not breathe too hard or cough, they arrange the colorful sand grain by grain into a vibrant masterpiece. But what they do next is the most important step: after they are done, they wipe all the sand away and dispose of it. All of the diligent work removed without a trace.
About Our Blog
Here you will find articles contributed by members of our team. We hope to provide helpful information here to inspire mindful living and general wellness. The information provided here is not a substitue for professional mental health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need to speak to a professional regarding your mental health, please make an appointment.