Whiteness and Therapy: Holding Ourselves Accountable

How to Manage Stress During Turbulent Times

Frustrated. Man in thoughts.

by Jaymie Meyer, NBC-HWC

“After every stressful situation, we become a little older,” said Hans Selye, the father of modern stress theory

“Stressing out” is what happens when we don’t handle stress in a healthy way. Stress and aging are closely related and the more stress you have, the faster your body will age.

So, how do we handle stress in a healthier way? Here are a few tried and true techniques to cope with unhealthy stress:

If you can’t change it, don’t worry about it.

When a situation has passed or is beyond your control, come to terms with it. Remember that you can’t always control situations, but you can control your reactions to them.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes:

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Honoring that space means recognizing and using that single, precious moment to recognize your next best step, which may be no step at all. It may be a pause. Using that space wisely allows us to avoid repeating thoughts and/or behaviors that keep us stuck and suffering.

Here are some other tools for navigating stressful times.

  • Focus on solutions, not problems.

Feelings around loss of control can cause stress to continue. When a problem happens, focus instead on finding a solution to regain a sense of regulation. Often the solution is a process, not a specific action. Here are a variety of processes that help reduce stress.

  • Redirect negative thoughts.

Program your mind to “take five”. Mentally revisit calm, positive images and experiences instead of letting negative ones get a foothold.

One way to do this is through meditation. There are a multitude of techniques including mantra, loving-kindness, mindfulness, and moving meditations. Like any skill, a mind/body practice must be done regularly, not just enlisted at a moment of crisis. Uninterrupted, dedicated practice over a long period of time builds resilience.

  • Take a deep breath.

Deep breathing helps to balance your hormones and increase oxygen levels while calming and minimizing your body’s response to stress. Practicing breath work daily (not just in the midst of a predicament) primes you so that you can breathe effectively when you need it most.

  • Move to mellow your mind.

Exercise works like a prescription that is designed to mellow one’s mood, but without the dulling side effects. As an added perk, research shows that fit people are biochemically less bothered by stress than those who are sedentary.

I recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of movement each day, alternately addressing flexibility, strength and aerobic training. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once. Studies show that a 10-minute session has as much benefit as longer sessions. If time is short, consider breaking it up.

  • Surround yourself with upbeat, positive people.

Emotions are contagious. Brain researchers use the term “mirroring” to describe how the brain reacts to people who reflect emotions, either positive or negative. Being around happy, uplifting people stimulates the brain to turn on happy emotions.

Watching the news, particularly during these turbulent times, can contribute to anxiety and depression. If you choose to stay informed, then do so, but understand that upsetting news takes its toll. Plan a way to detoxify by utilizing the recommendations here.

Jaymie Meyer is the Founder of Resilience for Life and a Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach. Her greatest passion comes from helping others realize the connection between mind, body and heart. Skillfully blending ancient wisdom with modern science, she supports clients in implementing useful, sustainable habits in the areas of stress reduction, weight loss and optimal sleep. She frequently presents the HeartMath Resilience Advantage workshop in San Francisco and NYC and offers 1:1 coaching online. More info: www.ResilienceForLife.com

Loving Kindness Meditation

by Jaymie Meyer, NBC-HWC Loving Kindness Meditation

We live in stressful times, some of which is not of our own making. Devastating events like fires, hurricanes and earthquakes have the ability to impact so many lives, including those who find themselves displaced, those who know someone directly affected, and those who find themselves feeling empathy for the suffering of all.

But even when disasters strike, people have a way of coming together to help one another. Many people refuse to slide into the grips of suffering and instead work to rise from the ashes, perhaps a bit wiser and a bit kinder.

Surprisingly, many people eager to offer a helping hand to those in need struggle to show themselves the same level of kindness they’re willing to extend to others. Through the practice of loving kindness meditation, we can learn to show ourselves greater compassion and self-acceptance.

What is Loving Kindness Meditation?

Loving kindness meditation is a meditative practice that focuses on several key tenets: compassion for oneself and compassion for others. It is a method to relieve suffering through expressions of kindness and love, and an acknowledgment that all people, including us, deserve a feeling of well-being.

Most practitioners of loving kindness meditation use a set of invocations during the process that help to focus on universal needs like safety, happiness, health, and love. Often these expressions – called Metta – are first directed towards oneself, as this builds the foundation upon which you can grow.

1. Sharon Salzberg, a leading Buddhist meditation teacher, offers the following words one may choose to use:

May I live in safety.

May I be happy.

May I Be healthy.

May I live in ease.

May I be happy.

2. Jack Kornfield, another renowned Buddhist teacher in the area of loving kindness, offers:

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be well in my body and mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

3. Lastly, another prayer from the Buddhist tradition which I have found useful:

May I be free from fear.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be happy.

May I be filled with loving-kindness.

To practice, select one that resonates with you. After addressing yourself, you can then offer the intention for other people in your life or anyone who may be in need. You can simply change the word “I” to “you”. Finally, you might offer your intention to all.

Here’s an example, using the third Loving Kindness Meditation above.

May I be free from fear. May I be free from suffering.
May I be happy. May I be filled with loving kindness.
May you be free from fear. May you be free from suffering.
May you be happy. May you be filled with loving kindness.
May all people everywhere be free from fear and suffering.
May all people everywhere be happy and filled with loving kindness.

As with all meditation practices, these are best recited when you can sit in a quiet space in a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths to help you center and relax, and then begin to silently repeat the words to yourself or speak them aloud if that feels useful. You may also silently repeat the Loving-Kindness practice anytime you are feeling overwhelmed, fearful or sad.

The Benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation

While all meditation has been shown to promote many aspects of health and wellness, loving kindness meditation goes a step further by teaching us to be more compassionate with ourselves and others. It also helps us to achieve a sense of peace while expressing our intention to aid (and acknowledge) those who are suffering.

The process is simple, but the effect can be profound. And it is easy to fit into our daily lives, letting us learn to be kinder to others and to ourselves.

Jaymie Meyer is the Founder of Resilience for Life and a Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach. Her greatest passion comes from helping others realize the connection between mind, body and heart. Skillfully blending ancient wisdom with modern science, she supports clients in implementing useful, sustainable habits in the areas of stress reduction, weight loss and optimal sleep. She frequently presents the HeartMath Resilience Advantage workshop in San Francisco and NYC and offers 1:1 coaching online. More info: www.ResilienceForLife.com

Self-Care Advice for Seniors and Caregivers

Photo by Huyen Nguyen on Unsplash

 

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the senior population will only increase with each passing year. Advances in medicine allow us to live longer, but many seniors find they cannot care for themselves like they could when they were younger. In fact, many people find they need the help of a caretaker to complete daily tasks. Most of the time, they use an informal caregiver. Informal caregivers are family members and friends who provide help and support without pay. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older during 2015.

Caregiving is rewarding, but it’s also very stressful. It’s not easy watching someone you love and respect lose their autonomy. Likewise, it’s very difficult to experience such a loss yourself. Practicing self-care enables seniors and their caregivers to handle the stresses they face while supporting physical, emotional, and mental health.

Invest in Insurance

It might not sound like traditional self-care advice, but getting insurance can actually give you peace of mind. Medicare is an invaluable resource for seniors. It helps cover the costs of medical expenses, which tend to take up the majority of a senior’s fixed budget. Staying on top of Medicare enrollment dates ensures seniors are covered throughout the year; however, basic Medicare plans aren’t going to cover things like vision, dental, and hearing. Medicare Advantage plans are developed by private insurance companies to supplement coverage for seniors at an affordable rate, though they do vary by state. The right Medicare Advantage plan can save seniors and their caregivers time, stress, and perhaps most importantly, money.

Try Out Yoga

Yoga has many benefits for seniors and their caregivers. It’s a gentle activity they can do together at home or in a social setting. The gentle movements and stretches that coincide with yoga alleviate pain and stiffness in the muscles. It also relieves swelling in joints, improving mobility and reducing arthritis pain. Even if the yoga sequence isn’t strenuous, the exercise instigates the release of endorphins and feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. When the body experiences a rush of these chemicals, it alleviates feelings of depression and anxiety. Finally, a major part of yoga is focusing on the breath and practicing mindfulness, much like meditation. Practicing mindfulness is good for seniors because it improves longevity, decreases feelings of loneliness, and slows memory loss. For caregivers, mindfulness relieves stress and centers them in a place of compassion.

Plan Quick and Healthy Meals

Seniors and their caregivers need ample nutrition to support their minds and bodies. However, caregivers may not always have time or energy to make healthy meals from scratch. That’s when freezer meals are a lifesaver. Freezer meals are easy to assemble and made with simple ingredients. They can be prepared in disposable cookware to cut down on the amount of dishes caregivers have to do once the meal is done. And perhaps best of all, they can be made for cheap, helping seniors and their caregivers live better for less.

Some great freezer meals for two caregivers should try include:

  • Roasted chicken and vegetables
  • Baked chicken fajitas
  • Turkey and sweet potato saute
  • Spaghetti pie
  • Chicken broccoli rice casserole
  • Baked ziti
  • Garlic pork stir-fry
  • Vegetarian chili
  • Lasagna
  • Twice baked potatoes
  • Crockpot beef stew

Millions of Americans act as the primary caregiver for a senior loved one. While caregiving is rewarding, it’s also stressful. Self-care is essential for supporting physical, emotional, and mental health. Seniors and their caregivers can benefit from self-care practices like practicing yoga and meditation, and nourishing the body and mind with hearty meals. Caregivers, in particular, should look into Medicare Advantage plans that cover health expenses regular Medicare does not. To save time, energy, and money, caregivers can make freezer meals ahead of time and turn to them when they are too exhausted to make a meal from scratch.

 

Kent Elliot

info@athomeaging.info

Blackout Poetry

Let’s have some fun!

I want to show you how to write an interesting poem in just a few minutes using ‘The Blackout Method’.

You don’t need to be a poet or an artist or even consider yourself remotely creative – the method will do it all for you!

Why show you this? Because it’s super easy to do and surprisingly entertaining. This exercise is a great reminder that engagement and satisfaction don’t have to exclusively come from big things like a career change or falling in love – but can also come from little moments of flow we can access whenever we like.

Get started with this video below (< 2 minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKpVgoGr6kE

Need more help?

From the Austin Kleon, author of ‘Newspaper Blackout’:

“What you’re doing when you’re making a blackout poem, in the words of Allen Ginsberg, is ‘Shopping for images.’ You want to begin by looking for a word, or a combination of words, that forms an image in your head. (Tip: the best images are usually made up of nouns and verbs.) You want an anchor – a place to start. If you identify this anchor, it’s easy to branch out from there.

Once you identify your anchor, you want to move around the page and find words and phrases you can link to that anchor. Try not to have a preconceived notion of where you want to go. Let the method take you for a ride.

Also: remember that Westerners read left to right, top to bottom. Poems read best and they’re easier to make if you follow this rule. For example, if you’re looking for a word or phrase before your anchor, it would be above or to the left. If you’re looking for a word after your anchor, it should be below or to the right.”

Also, don’t read the article beforehand! You don’t want to get swept up in the story and let it color your impressions of the words. Just scan for the words that jump out at you. (In this way, you’ll find your poetry will be a kind of verbal Rorschach Test, letting you see images your mind is drawn to in the words.)

That’s it! Don’t overthink it. Enjoy!

_______________

If you’re interested in learning about finding pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow”, check out this video below to see famed Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.

https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow

 

And just for fun, here are a few of my own blackout poems!

Derek Orth

ICF Professional Life Coach

Puzzles and Games Are Fun, But Are They Good for Your Brain Too? 

As a kid, nothing was more fun than a marathon game of Monopoly with your friends. But as an adult, playing games and completing puzzles can provide more than a good time. They can actually help to preserve and enhance your brain. Want to know more about how games are good for your health? Then keep reading.

How Games Help Your Brain

It’s no surprise that the stress relief you get from games and puzzles can help your health. Too much stress leads to anxiety, mental health issues, and other chronic problems. Some research even suggests that high levels of stress in middle age can lead to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s in later years. Stress damages the connections in the brain responsible for memory and cognition, which leads to severe problems in seniors. Recent studies have also shown that adults who engage in puzzle and game play have increased memory retention and cognitive function. This also means that these adults may be less susceptible to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. While games may not prevent these issues for everyone, they can certainly delay the onset or severity of these conditions for most people.

Memory Boosting Games

Since dementia and Alzheimer’s are conditions that deplete memories, it may be helpful for adults to incorporate games that enhance recall ability. For seniors, certain memory exercises may work better than others. Online brain training software from companies that have the research to back up their claims can be extremely helpful in building cognitive integrity and enhancing memory. Brain HQ has shown a high level of promise for helping older adults boost their brains. But adults of all ages can enjoy fun, memory-enhancing games by themselves or with others. Crosswords and Sudoku puzzles are extremely supportive of memory systems, and they are a fun way to pass the time in waiting rooms, airports, and long lines. Many newspapers still contain these brain games, but you can also download puzzle apps for your smartphone.

Other Brain-Boosting Activities to Try

If puzzles and games are not your things, there are still ways you can help protect your brain. Stimulating your mind can be as simple as changing up your regular routine to break your brain out of boredom. Opt to use your opposite hand for an hour or so for a simple way to challenge your cognition. If you spend some time alone, try having a discussion with yourself about what you plan to eat or tasks you need to complete. Be really descriptive and detailed as you vocalize your thoughts. Writing is another effective way to train your brain. Keeping a journal helps boost memory and comprehension in addition to a whole slew of other benefits. Writing your worries on paper instead of keeping them in your head can also reduce stress and make you more mindful, both of which are powerful tools in preventing early-onset dementia.

Additional Steps to Take to Preserve Your Brain

Puzzles, games, and cognitive activities are all instrumental in preserving your brain function. However, to help fight off the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, you will need to commit to other healthy habits too. First off, fitness is imperative in preserving your overall health as you age. Exercise benefits your body by helping you retain muscles and flexibility, but it can also ward off dementia in the process. One study found that women with more stamina during exercise had up to an 88 percent reduced risk of developing dementia. Another study points to a link between your diet and dementia and Alzheimer’s risks. Adults who stick to a Mediterranean diet may have a substantially reduced risk of developing either of these conditions. Since these diets are centered on lean proteins, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats, you may also see other health benefits as well. 

Kent Elliott

info@athomeaging.info

Coaching: Exploring the Possible, Together

We all could use a little help in our lives – not just to survive, but also to thrive and find true fulfillment. Right now, I’d like to talk a bit about the primary needs we as individuals are trying to meet, the challenges to meeting them, and how we can utilize a coaching relationship to most effectively support ourselves in overcoming these challenges and expand our belief about what is possible in our lives.

The 3 Primary Needs

Security, satisfaction, and connection.

These are the 3 pillars of each of our lives.

It’s easy to get lost in thinking of all the myriad choices involved in building a good life, that’s why it’s helpful to remember that it all comes down to this – security, satisfaction, and connection.

(Security) We want to feel safe – physically, financially, emotionally.

(Satisfaction) We want to be happy – doing meaningful work, learning, and growing.

(Connection) We want to love and be loved – in both our relationship with others and our feeling towards ourselves.

Simple enough, right?

The Challenge

Unfortunately, we know this is often easier said than done. We may have some challenges (both internal and external) arise which can impede our meeting one or more of these primary needs.

Here are some common examples:

  • You live in an expensive city and you want to improve your financial situation so you don’t have to worry about money all the time. (Safety)
  • You’ve lost motivation and you’re looking for a hobby, project, or career that will re-energize and fulfill you again. (Satisfaction)
  • You find yourself being critical of other people and yourself, causing you to feel isolated. (Connection)

If we want to thrive, we have to work out solutions to these types of challenges.

However, this can feel extremely daunting as we juggle all the various responsibilities we have just to keep life going. So oftentimes, these larger self-improvement projects get lost in the whirlwind of day-to-day concerns. We end up doing what we’ve habitually done, taking the familiar road, which maintains the results we’re currently getting.

The Solution

Good news!

In my experience as a life coach, there are two areas that have the most impact in helping people overcome their challenges: perspective and execution.

Many times, what limits us is our lack of perspective. We each carry around narratives about ourselves or about the world. These can be formed early in life, and might not always be serving us well in the present. They could be beliefs like “I can’t win, no matter what I try” or “I have to be a success or nobody will want me”. These stories are often operating just below the surface of our consciousness, informing our decisions and behavior at an imperceptible level. We can become rigid in our responses to a problem, seeing only certain solutions – usually only what has worked in the past.

But, we can widen our perspective – providing ourselves with more options and thus a better chance at discovering a solution to a longstanding or novel problem. With the help of another person inviting us to question our narratives and assumptions, we can explore strategies that may never have occurred to us. In doing so, we open up to the possibility of a better way. Suddenly, that wall blocking you becomes a staircase, new opportunities emerge, new mental connections are made and you’re able to put resources around you into the service of your goals.

The other area we stumble is execution. We may have a killer strategy for how to make more friends, save for retirement, or learn to play the guitar, but it won’t matter if we don’t actually put that strategy into consistent action. We tend to create goals that are either too ambitious or not ambitious enough. The first kind usually crater in frustration after a few weeks and the second rarely get off the ground for lack of enthusiasm. Goal setting is an art and we too quickly give up on when really all we need to do is adjust our plan so that taking action becomes sustainable.

Here again, having someone to work with can be beneficial. Firstly, if you’re accountable to someone, it greatly increases the likelihood of execution. You don’t want to let that person down. Secondly, this person can act as a mirror for you, reflecting back your actual results, and helping you to face what is or isn’t working as you put your strategy into action. In this dynamic, you can feel you aren’t alone – you’re part of a team dedicated to manifesting the kind of life you want to lead.

Coaching

For these reasons, coaching can be a very powerful tool for supercharging our ability to overcome challenges to meeting our 3 primary needs.

Why a coach though? Why not just reach out to friends and family?

Two reasons. Firstly, friends and family have an incentive to prioritize their relationship with you over sharing honest, but sometimes difficult observations and feedback. And these difficult observations are often the information we could most benefit from. A coach, on the other hand, has the impartiality to offer this criticism without the conflict of interest. They can say what needs to be said.

Secondly, friends and family have their own lives. The power of having another person to talk with is the consistency, knowing that every week that person is with you and ready to listen – to pick up where you left off and keep you on track. Also, your listener is 100 percent focused on you. You don’t have to devote half of the conversation to going back and forth between your goals and their goals. Also, it’s very easy for friends and family to see you struggling with a goal and want to end your discomfort, so they offer advice rather than thoughtful questioning which may enable you to arrive at your own answers.

A coach will be there every week ready to talk exclusively about your dreams and goals and help you find answers and support within yourself, ultimately empowering you to be more self-reliant.

See for Yourself

The Liberation Institute has recently started offering life coaching services to current and perspective clients in addition to its wonderful services in psychotherapy.

For more information click here and make a mention in the form that you’re interested in learning more about coaching.

Here’s to exploring what’s possible with more security, satisfaction, and connection!

                                                                                                                                                             Derek Orth           ICF Certified Professional Life Coach 

 

 

How a Safer Home Benefits Senior Wellness

The older you get, the more time you spend alone at home. Time alone isn’t all bad — it gives you time to explore new hobbies, catch up on reading, and simply relax in solitude. However, too much time alone can be dangerous for your physical and mental health alike.

Avoiding Isolation

The mental health impact of social isolation is well-documented: As the New York Times reports, it disrupts sleep, hastens cognitive decline, and increases the risk of depression. However, spending most of your time alone puts your physical health at risk too. If you’re living alone, who will help you up if you fall or get you to the doctor if you fall ill?

Getting help at home is one way seniors can reduce the risks of social isolation. Whether it’s a daily personal care attendant or a cleaner who stops by once a week, there’s reassurance in knowing someone is checking in on you. Having regular social engagements like a hobby meetup or church service is another way to increase social connection and find people to lean on in times of need.

The Importance of Home Safety

Increasing home safety is another important source of peace of mind. In a home modified to be fall-proof, seniors can spend less time worrying about safety. This is especially important if concern over falling has kept you from doing activities you once enjoyed. With a home designed to maximize safety and usability, you can enjoy an increased level of independence so your senior years are more active and fulfilling.

In many homes, safety can be achieved through simple modifications that don’t require extensive remodeling. By securing cords to walls and furniture, rather than letting them drape across the floor, seniors can eliminate a major fall risk at no cost. Removing area rugs and throw rugs is another change that increases safety and costs nothing.

Other inexpensive changes only require basic home repair skills. These include installing transition strips so you’re less likely to trip over door thresholds and replacing conventional light switches with motion-activated switches so you don’t have to walk across a room just to turn the lights on or off. This is especially important if you’re prone to waking at night to use the bathroom. If you use a walker or wheelchair for mobility, expandable door hinges add a couple of inches to doorways so you can pass through without resorting to an awkward side shuffle.

When It’s Time to Move

While these modifications can add a great deal of safety to a home, it’s important to recognize the limitations of your home. If you live in a large home with your bedroom on the second floor, no amount of tying up power cords is going to make your home safe for aging. Not only that, but maintaining a large home could eat up so much time and energy that you no longer have the drive to get out and socialize.

Despite the desire to age in a familiar home, sometimes moving is the wisest choice. Moving is an opportunity to eliminate safety hazards and buy in a location that benefits the senior years. By moving to a community that offers convenient access to retail outlets, healthcare offices, grocery stores, and other local services, it’s easier for seniors to stay active as they age.

To find a home that meets their needs, seniors should make a checklist of must-have features. The National Association of Home Builders’ checklist suggests additional features to look for. Filters for accessible homes make the search easier; search online for accessible homes in San Francisco, California, and you’ll find dozens of options with a median listing price of $1.31 million. Condos and townhomes tend to come in lower, offering a more affordable option for seniors looking to downsize.

It might seem like your living quarters have little to do with your mental well-being during your senior years. However, aging adults shouldn’t underestimate the impact of their home life. When you feel safe and capable at home, you’re more likely to be confident and connected beyond the walls of your home as well.

Kent Elliot, info@athomeaging.info

 

Taming the Dragon to Renew the Bond: Helpful tips for Couples.     

I once asked a friend who had been with her partner for many years, how did she make it work?  She said “every day, we make a choice to stay together and always put effort into our relationship.” Back then, I was single and still believing the fantasy that finding “the one” meant that I would live happily ever after. I wondered why she said they needed to choose to be together? If you were happy every day, wouldn’t it be an obvious choice? Yet, after finding the love of my life, getting married, having kids, and being together past the honeymoon phase, I’m finally starting to understand what she meant.

As it turns out, falling in love is not the answer to all problems in life. After years together, regular life sets back in and who you were, before the being extremely in love phase, starts to reappear. If you’re a person predisposed to depression, you’re still that same person even when you have a partner. If you can’t sit still and need to fill every waking moment to distract yourself from things deep inside that are causing discomfort, that will continue once the days of laying around snuggling are no longer on the to-do list.  If you’re a work-a-holic, alcoholic, prone to anxiety, filled with quiet rage, insecure, jealous, negative, (the list goes on and on) that part of you will eventually show up again.  And the hardest thing about dealing with it is typically it shows up at the same time as your partners issues showing up.

What I’ve seen in many of my couples clients is that one person’s issue is the very thing that triggers the other person’s issue. This makes it very challenging to heal in the relationship. Instead, the two issues become more like two caged up dragons released from inside of each person to blow fiery words and destructive actions all over, taking down everything built by love.  Humans are flawed. Most people have deep rooted issues from life before partnerships were created that eventually make an appearance, causing destruction in the relationship. Just like individuals need time for self care and healing, so do relationships, even if it’s only been a few years together.

What is not talked about in terms of falling in love is the amount of effort and nurturing required to keep your relationship healthy and supported. Turns out that maintaining love until the end of your time is not as easy as you think it’s going to be when you’re single. This is why there is a whole field of psychology dedicated to marriage, families, relationships, and how to make them work. Below are helpful tips from just a few of the experts in the Marriage and Family Therapy field.

Let go of whatever your caregiver did to disappoint or hurt you.

Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Relationships and author of the book Getting the Love You Want, believes that people select their mates by seeking “Imago matches,” who are individuals whom resemble their parents. People do this with the unconscious purpose of revisiting unfinished or unresolved issues from childhood. By taking time to resolve these childhood issues, partners can find a safe, passionate, and committed conscious relationship with each other. Without taking the time to resolve the issues, individuals continue to project past hurts onto their partner, expecting the partner to heal those wounds. It’s up to each person in the relationship to locate their past hurts or disappointments from their childhood and work towards healing it themselves.

Know how you attach.

By looking in to the past, couples begin to understand how their early attachment style is showing up with their partners today.  Through the research Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby did on attachment, four main types were created: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.   Emotionally Focused Therapy, created by Sue Johnson, focuses on understanding these types and the importance of rebuilding a safe emotional connection between partners which creates a stronger and healthier attachment bond.  In her book Hold Me Tight, she presents seven conversations that help couples identify negative and destructive remarks, and how to locate each others raw spots.  She also speaks about the importance of forgiveness for maintain the bond and connection.

Discover your triggers and figure out their alternatives.

If destructive emotions are at the heart of all issues in a relationship, tools for getting control of them are key to building a better relationship. By using mindfulness and distress tolerance, the book The High-Conflict Couple by Alan Fruzzetti teaches couples how to deescalate angry situations before it ruins the relationship. The author explains that identifying triggers, and alternatives to those triggers, helps people to respond to each other in a more respectful way.  To learn more about meditation and how it can help, visit Liberation Institute’s Urban Retreat Center (1227A Folsom) on Thursday nights from 7-9p for Meditation Heart Camp Therapy Group. (https://www.liberationinstitute.org/events)

“I statements” and “Active listening” are not the only answers.

While these tools may help improve communication between two people, they do not always improve the relationship. In the book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work written by John Gottman who started the Gottman Institute, he debunks myths like this and others, reminding its readers that “avoiding conflict will ruin your marriage” and “reciprocity is what keeps a marriage good” are simply not true. He shares that happily married couples may still have conflict and that keeping tabs on what the other person has done for you lately can be damaging because it stops one person from doing something nice for the other since the other person hasn’t done it first. He shares that most if not all marriages have arguments that cannot be resolved, and it’s okay.

We all have unresolved issues from childhood or past relationships that live inside of us like caged dragons. Ignoring them will not make them simply go away. If we take the time to become aware of when our triggers have unlocked the cage and let the dragon out, we can stop it from destroying everything. Self-awareness gives us the space to think before we react. It’s that very space where peace and tranquility in the relationship lives and if we can figure out how to pause before our emotions speak, then we can find a way to stay in that place with our partner even when upset or in conflict.  By understanding that no two people are alike, we can remind ourselves that sometimes, partners are simply never going to agree. And it’s okay. There is no need to continue telling the other person how you feel with I statements, and actively listening to their frustrated and repetitive response. If we take the time and put in a little extra effort in our relationships, we can renew our bond, strengthen our attachment and create a better relationship with our partner.

Elizabeth Hoke, MFT
Assistant Director
Liberation Institute

The Altruistic Brain – Part 4: Sex, Caregiving and the Virtuous Circle.

Is there a link between sex, generosity and caregiving?

According to Dr. Pfaff in his book The Altruistic Brain,  (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-altruistic-brain-9780199377466?cc=us&lang=en&) the possible neuronal basis of generosity is that it is intrinsically rewarding. He states: “Neuroscientists in Oregon found that using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the idea of charitable giving lights up the ‘reward center’ in the human forebrain.”

(As a fundraising professional, I’ve spoken to hundreds of donors about the value of compassionate caregiving at the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. Now I can tell them that they are experiencing “neural and hormonal mechanisms that promote prosocial behaviors” as a motivation for charitable giving!)

Given the premise that our brains evolved to be altruistic, rewards for altruistic behavior would theoretically reinforce that altruism. But why would altruism be rewarding from an evolutionary point of view? Simply put, much of our happiness depends on the quality of our social relationships. We experience pleasure through the well-being of others.

Close, loving relationships foster our physical well-being and are intrinsically rewarding.  Relationships that make us happy lead to altruistic decisions. According to Pfaff, “this decision to be altruistic is rooted in a person’s yearning to be together with another human being, that is, to engage in the type of reciprocal acts that contribute to human happiness.”

The primal reciprocal act leading to human happiness is sex. Big surprise! Sex leads to babies, which results in the profound reciprocal caring of mother-child and father-child. The neural circuits and hormonal stimuli that were evolutionary forerunners for the purpose of mating and taking care of the young lead to altruism and to subtler, more complex human relationships. Relationships build on relationships to form a web of caring.

Altruism and reciprocal acts of kindness can benefit not only a community, but also promote health, because they support friendship and personal connection. Medical and epidemiological studies have shown that having friends prolongs life and increases its quality, as well as improving our psychological well-being.

Being kind prolongs life and makes us happier.

Much has been written about neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change structurally in response to learning and experience.  Dr. Daniel Siegel, Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA , observes that “ We can use [the developing ability to focus on our inner world ] to re-sculpt our neural pathways , stimulating the growth of areas that are critical to mental health.”  Therefore, we can practice being altruistic, and by continued altruistic actions, neural patterns can become automatic. We can visualize a “virtuous circle.” We evolved to be altruistic. Altruistic behaviors are reinforced through our caring relationships that come from reciprocity.

This series of essays was developed in collaboration with Barbara Byrum – my altruistic dream come true!

Brad Byrum, MA
MFT Intern
 Supervised by Steven Dallmann MFT License #51178