5 Signs You Know a Therapist Could Help You with your Relationships

 

Relationships are one of the most delightful and challenging aspects of life. The closer the relationship, the more our emotional buttons get pushed. When we experience intimacy with others, circumstances often challenge us in ways we are never stretched on our own. This is both difficult and a blessing. By giving us the opportunity to grow and change, relationships can also bring the chance to heal and shift into a whole new way of being. Whether this brings to mind a relationship you have with a friend, family member or significant other, opportunities to transform and flourish are abundant.

 

You may know that you need relationship help, but don’t know where to begin. Sometimes therapy focused on your relationship goals may be just what is required to get unstuck. Here are five specific signs that working with a results-oriented therapist could help you improve your relationships:

 

 1- You Have a Tough Time Communicating Effectively

 

Our communication skills affect the quality of our relationships. Maybe you often feel misunderstood by others. You may communicate in ways that make it difficult for others to understand you, such as by expressing too much emotion or sometimes shutting down. Perhaps your communication breaks down even more during times of stress.

 

Working with a therapist can help you develop new skills and strategies that will help you communicate more effectively. A therapist can teach you skills that will help you better describe, express, and assert your thoughts, wants, and needs, while at the same time, reinforcing the other person and ensuring they continue to like you and want to maintain a close relationship. (This is borrowed from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) DEAR skill. If you choose a therapist trained in the DBT model, you will have access to learning all the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills relevant to you and your goals.)

 

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 2- You Speak or Act Without Thinking and Hurt Those Your Care About

 

We all have times where we say something without thinking or get ourselves into a sticky situation as the result of acting impulsively. You may even intentionally lash out at those you care about without knowing why. If this happens to you often, it can harm the relationships you want to maintain, and working with a therapist can help.

 

A skilled, results-focused therapist can teach you to line up your behaviors and words with your values. Therapy can help you develop the skills to slow down and behave with intention. Becoming more mindful about your actions and words, and then learning new interpersonal skills and language, can help move you towards your relationship goals.

 

 3- You Have Difficulty Balancing Your Needs with The Needs of Others

 

Sometimes in an effort to maintain relationships, we sacrifice our own needs. You may be so focused on getting your needs met that you fail to compromise, and your relationship breaks down. In any situation, there are three things you need to balance. These include objective goals (what you want out of the specific situation), the maintenance of the relationship, and personal needs or self-respect. (See a qualified DBT therapist to learn more about these interpersonal priorities.)

A therapist can help you better discern your goals in different situations so that you can prioritize how you want to balance them. When your goals for your needs, the relationship and your self-respect are in equilibrium, you are more likely to be happy with the outcomes for yourself and your relationship.

 

 4- You and Your Partner Frequently Disagree and Argue

 

No two people can agree on everything. Everyone comes with their own life histories, personal values, opinions, wants, and needs. Each person also comes to the relationship with their own communication style. If you and your partner frequently disagree that can be okay if you are able to talk through those differences without consistently sacrificing your own or the other’s needs.

 

However, if it seems that your disagreements often lead to arguments, then you may consider counseling for help. In a safe environment, a therapist can help you to gain an understanding for balancing your own and your partner’s (or friend’s or family member’s) needs. A therapist can also help you talk through specific issues and diffuse ongoing conflicts.

 5- Something Big Has Happened for You, Your Partner, Or Your Relationship

 

Life brings ups and downs. When one person in a relationship experiences significant life changes, it can be challenging for the other. Sometimes relationships undergo monumental changes such as a transition from being single to marriage, during a loss (such as miscarriage), or if there has been infidelity or breach in a friendship.

 

Meeting with a therapist can help you and your relationship as you navigate through the changes. Therapists can provide an outlet for support, reflection, and accountability. A therapist can also help you learn how to work through problems and changes with your partner, balancing both of your unique needs and the needs of the relationship.

 

Find a therapist who you feel comfortable interacting with, where you feel safe to disclose information and try new strategies. Therapists well-trained in and practicing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) help their clients learn mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness skills to optimize handling conflict in relationships and interacting to bring more fulfillment and closeness.

 

To find out if therapy could be the right fit for you, speak with a therapist who specializes in DBT or helping people navigate their relationships and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 

 

 

 

 


Feeling Over-“stuffed”: 2 of 4

How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).

Part 2 of 4 of the Holiday Stress Survival Guide

 

The holiday season is here, and along with this time of year comes a lot of “stuff”! Yes, “stuff” can come in the form of things, objects, presents, toys, etc., but there is also a lot of emotional “stuff” that gets stirred up this time of year. If you are feeling over-“stuffed” and want to loosen the button on your emotional pants, read on for ways to cope. Part 2 of this four-part Holiday Stress Survival Guide focuses on relationships.

 

RELATIONSHIPS DURING THE HOLIDAYS

The holidays are a time when relationships come front and center. We often spend more time than usual with family members or those who are like family. We can find ourselves in a cocktail of a lot of face-time with people with whom we have a lot of history, and high stress, all while feeling rundown during these cold months and at the height of cold-and-flu season. Maybe not a mixture we would like to order often, but during the holidays, this is what we have on our plate.

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SKILLS FOR INTERPERSONAL CONFLICTS

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a well-researched therapy offering lots of skills that you can put into practice in real-time to get true results. There is a whole module in DBT focusing on Interpersonal Effectiveness. Here are some quick tips for applying some of my favorite Interpersonal DBT Skills to ward off (or decrease the likelihood of) interpersonal conflicts during the holiday season.

 

Be skillful, and ask for what you want, DEAR. DEAR is an acronym used in DBT that gives us a template for what to say when we would like to ask for something we want. It goes like this:

 

D – Describe just the facts, without judgment. This orients the person to what you would like to discuss.

Example: I’d like to talk about who is making each dish for Christmas dinner this year.

E – Express how you feel about the situation. Explicitly tell the other person how you feel. They may not know if you don’t say the words!

Example: Nobody has committed to bringing a dish yet, and since I am hosting, I’m feeling overwhelmed.

A – Assert what you want. Say precisely what you are asking. Don’t leave it up to guesswork. Be specific, direct and clear.

Example: I would love if you could tell me two dishes you will bring and let me know by this Friday.

R – Reinforce the person in advance for giving you what you want. Here, you are answering the question, “What do they get out of giving me what I am asking for?”

Example: If you tell me by Friday, you can choose whatever is your favorite to bring, and I will be much less stressed the next time we talk! (Don’t be afraid to use a little humor and an easy manner to loosen up the conversation.)

Practice writing out your DEAR ahead of time and then rehearse a few times before you deliver it. The beauty of this skill is that only four little sentences are needed to ask for what you want in a direct and assertive way. You can also use this skill to refuse a request, like a dinner invitation. Use the same steps but instead of “Asserting” a question, say “no” to the request. Try it!

 

VALIDATE (yourself and others)

Validation may be the most powerful interpersonal skill. Use it wisely! When used effectively, validation opens the doors of communication and closeness. Make sure that is what you want and you’re ready. I have seen validation break down walls that have taken years to build. It may be the most potent tool to affect change.

 

People often misinterpret what “validation” means. Validation is not a compliment, agreement, or approval. Telling someone you like something about them or think they are “right” is not validation. Validation is exhibiting that the other person (or yourself) makes sense. We display validation in many ways: paying attention, nodding, asking questions to clarify, making statements such as, “I understand why you feel that way,” or, “That makes sense.” In other words, validation is treating someone as though they make sense whether or not you agree with them or like what they are saying.

 

Validation of either ourselves or others is a mighty technique in diffusing conflicts. Once any of us feel understood and like we matter, we calm down and are less defensive. If you’re interested, check out my quick steps and worksheet for practicing self-validation. You can use the same steps on someone else.

 

Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!

Read the whole series

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 1: Holiday Stress

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 2: Navigating Relationships

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 3: Loneliness

Feeling Over-”stuffed” Part 4: Overeating

 

If you use any of the practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to contact@drbando.com. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.


4 Tips for Handling an Argument

Arguments are an inevitable part of life. If you ever have a relationship with anyone, it is very likely that at some point, you will disagree. Disputes are a normal and expected part of intimacy – whether you argue with your spouse or partner, business colleague or boss, or friend or even acquaintance, arguments are part of how humans connect, understand each other, and sometimes even bond. If, however, you find yourself getting into frequent arguments, your arguments get more intense than seems effective, or you struggle to resolve disputes, try these 4 Tips for Handling an Argument, to improve your communication and increase the probability you get the results that you want.

  1. Use “I Feel” Statements

If you are rolling your eyes because you’ve heard about “I” statements in therapy mumbo-jumbo self-help books before, please suspend your judgment and read on. “I” statements are not about being mushy-gushy, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” and only using language to appease the other person. Used correctly, “I” statements function to reduce the other person’s defensiveness and help you to get your point across clearly. Often, arguments are started or sustained by miscommunications and misinterpretations. Making statements such as, “you are a [fill in the blank with your favorite accusation]” or “you make me feel” put the other person on the defensive and make them unable to hear and understand you, let alone meet your needs. These kind of “You” statements can leave the other party feeling confused, criticized or blamed. That is a recipe for that person putting up their dukes and fighting back. Now, both of you are unhappy, and the argument is unresolved. Being mindful of your language and using “I” statements help you to communicate your experience without blaming the other person, greasing the wheels for their willingness and understanding. Start with “I feel” or “I want” or “I don’t like” and then describe the situation without judgment. (See past blogs on my website for more information about what Nonjudgment is and how to use it.)

  1. Lower The Intensity

If you have heard the phrase, “fight fire with fire” you may know it refers to the idea of responding to a fire by lighting another one.  Sometimes in an argument, we instinctively want to “fight fire with fire.”  We want to be the winner that convinces the other party to change their opinion, agree to our demand, or simply say those magic words, “You are right.”  The problem is that as you each raise your intensity to be the winner, it escalates the dispute, the argument can get out of hand, and no one wins. Next time you argue and observe yourself becoming more intense (louder voice, bigger mannerisms, harsher words), STOP. (This is a DBT Skill that encourages you to Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully.) Take a deep breath in the moment, take a break from the discussion if you need to calm down (and use Willing Hands or Half-Smile, some other DBT Skills that come in handy during an argument), and lower your intensity.  Ask the other party to do the same.  E.g., “Let’s both lower our voices. I’d like us to get through this together calmly and respectfully.” Then it can be possible to talk calmly as equals, hear each other, and respond effectively, working to get everyone’s needs met.

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  1. Take a Break

There is an old saying, “never go to bed angry.”  Although this statement probably intends to help resolve an argument, it can convey that when we argue, we must keep arguing until we resolve the disagreement.  This is simply not true, and it is not the most effective way to handle an argument.  If you are in an argument, sometimes the very best solution in that moment, is to take a break to calm down.  However, just walking or storming off can make the argument worse.  Instead, as calmly as you can, let the other person know that you need a break from the discussion.  Taking a break can give you each time to reflect, give your nervous system a chance to calm down, and help you to come back more clear-headed.  Negotiate a time to resume the discussion later.

  1. Practice Acceptance

Some arguments happen because we have different points of view.  You can get wrapped up in trying to make another person agree with your outlook.  Perhaps you even want them to adopt your opinions.  However, there are times you must “agree to disagree.” In other words, sometimes no matter how long or skillfully you talk, you will continue to have a different opinion from the other person. In those moments, you can practice the skill of acceptance. (Radical Acceptance is another DBT Skill useful in the midst of an argument.)  You will be accepting that the other person has a different viewpoint and that you may not be able to change it. Acceptance does NOT equal approval.  You do not personally have to approve of or adopt their perspective. Acceptance means that you accept the reality of the situation, even the parts of it that you don’t like. You let go of trying to change things that won’t change.

 

With these 4 Tips, you can practice handling arguments differently. Start with small, low-intensity disagreements and move to more emotional arguments once you’ve mastered some of these skills. If you often get into arguments, struggle to communicate, or feel unhappy in your relationships, you might seek the support of a professional therapist to help improve your communication and get more of your needs met.


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


The MOST EFFECTIVE way to change a habit

We have all been there. We want to exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by and we realize we haven’t made that change that we wanted at all. We just can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We might give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try just to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever change them.

Maybe we decide to finally get serious. We are disgusted with ourselves so we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a short time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by and we are sick of being restrictive and depriving ourselves, so we give in and indulge, feel stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

PUNISHMENT: the least effective way to make lasting change

This cycle of being stuck involves a very ineffective long-term change strategy: punishment. A punisher is anything that weakens a behavior, and when we punish a behavior (e.g., critical, harsh words or self-talk), we are decreasing the likelihood that the behavioral change will occur. A very important thing to keep in mind is that punishment is the least effective way to create long-term change. Punishment works to motivate and change behaviors only in the short-term, but has the opposite effect in the long run.

Let’s take a look at an example: Imagine that you want to exercise more. You have defined specific goals and know that you would like to walk for 20 minutes, four times per week. Currently, you are sedentary and hardly walk at all, and never for more than about 5 minutes. Let’s look at two different ways of approaching this change.

 Punishment: Whenever you think about exercising, you practically roll your eyes. You know that you do not do nearly as much as you should (judgment) and are disgusted with yourself for not doing what you know is good (judgment) for you. You plan to go for a 20-minute walk that week and when the time comes, you just don’t do it. It’s like you can’t get yourself to make it happen. You internally beat yourself up, make a mental note about how you’ve failed, and then push it away and try not to think about it. You stay stuck.

REINFORCEMENT: is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s look at another way of approaching this same problem, Reinforcement

You look at the REALITY of the situation and VALIDATE yourself: You know that walking regularly has been difficult for you but you also know that a value of yours is to be physically fit and strong.

You define a GOAL: You are aware that walking regularly (20 minutes, four times per week, specifically) will help you to move closer to this value.

You define SPECIFIC STEPS you can take toward that goal: You know that changes take time and practice, so you define some steps that you know you will be able to take in the next week to begin to lead you toward your goal. You set yourself up for success.

You notice judgments and turn toward REINFORCEMENT: When thoughts arise like “This should be easy”, “These are only baby steps”, and “I should be able to do more), you define them as “judgment thoughts”. You then shift your attention toward reinforcing what you are doing, instead of focusing on what you are not doing. You can use my Reinforcement Practice Sheet to help you reinforce each step you take. By the end of the week, your Reinforcement Practice Sheet looks something like this:

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In the above example, you have not yet reached your goal of walking 20 minutes, four times per week, but you are also no longer stuck. You will have gotten off the all-or-nothing roller coaster and have started to move toward your fitness goal. You will create an opportunity to make these steps a habit and be able to build upon them. By letting go of any judgments about whether these actions are “good” enough, you are able to identify steps that are possible for you to take, that are in line with moving toward your goal, and that give you an opportunity to use reinforcement.

A reinforcer is anything that strengthens a behavior. Reinforcement is presenting a reward (e.g., encouragement) directly after a desired behavior to optimize the likelihood that behavior will occur more frequently. Reinforcement is THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to achieve lasting behavior change!

How can you apply reinforcement? A reinforcer can be as simple as telling yourself, “Good job!” or “I did it!” You can give yourself a gentle and encouraging touch, like rubbing the back of your hand gently or giving your shoulders a hug. You can keep your favorite essential oil or lotion nearby and breathe in the aroma to reinforce the step you just took toward your values.

When can you reinforce? When you reinforce yourself is important. Your brain makes links and relationships. When we reinforce a behavior, the brain associates that behavior with something pleasant and we are then more likely to move toward it.

TIP: Make sure to reinforce as soon as you have engaged in the desired behavior. Do not wait! As soon as you do something related to the desired change you want to make, reinforce the hell out of it! Reinforcement greases the wheels of behavior change. When you reinforce desired behaviors right after they occur, the brain learns that engaging in that behavior is rewarding and over time, it becomes easier and easier for you to do these behaviors.

 

ADVANCED TIP: When the behavior you have been reinforcing becomes easy and you start doing it more automatically, only reinforce that behavior some of the time and start reinforcing new, harder behaviors. (Reinforcing behaviors only sometimes is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement helps to lock in a behavior. Once a behavior has been intermittently reinforced, it becomes very hard to extinguish that behavior.)

 

If you read this article so far, you may have sparked some new ideas. That may feel exciting, but it will not help you change anything. In order to create change, you must PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and then PRACTICE! some more.

 

Your CHALLENGE: Use the attached Reinforcement Practice Sheet to get started today. Decide what you want to change and fill out the worksheet with related behaviors.

  1. Choose actions that are possible for you to do this week. (Not behaviors that “should” be possible, and really aren’t. Choose behaviors you are able and likely to engage in.)
  2. Make sure the behaviors are specific (so that you know what to reinforce).
  3. Look at the back of the worksheet and choose how you are going to apply reinforcement. Pick a couple of options so that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can reinforce immediately.
  4. Be on the lookout for the behaviors you defined and REINFORCE! REINFORCE! REINFORCE! every time you try to practice engaging in these behaviors.
  5. At the end of your week, re-evaluate. Fill out a new Reinforcement Practice Sheet for the upcoming week and make sure to follow the above steps. Keep what worked for you this past week and tweak what didn’t.
  6. Last but not least, HAVE FUN with this! Life’s too short just to survive! Let yourself enjoy and THRIVE!

 

Life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando