Welcome readers! In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the team at CBT California is working hard to continue delivering high-quality therapeutic services and stay connected to our clients and their families. Our hope is that we are able to provide the support and the tools that people need in the midst of what may be a challenging time for many. In addition to maintaining services, our staff will be posting regularly on our blog, offering tips and unique perspectives related to coping with this crisis. We are glad you have found your way to the blog and sincerely hope that it speaks to you in a meaningful way!

Parenting During the Pandemic

It’s the last week of March and your child is on Spring Break. Because of COVID-19, every school has gone virtual and your child now must be educated completely online. Your child is home, you are home, and your spouse is home…working remotely or recently laid off. And now you must homeschool your child.

This seems like a really, really bad dream. And now, it is your current reality. Disclaimer: I am not a parent (yet). However, I have a doctorate in clinical psychology and have helped parents during times of crisis and chaos. Keep reading for tips on how to reduce your stress and your child’s stress through this time of uncertainty.

Be a “Good Enough” Parent

I know that parents want their children to receive the best education and finish the school year off strong. They also want to achieve their own goals, such as working even harder at work to get that promotion. However, COVID-19 has posed challenges for most parents at this point- like, how to homeschool their child when they never signed up for this task.

This may be a good month to practice being a “good enough” parent. You don’t have to be perfect. Your child will likely not learn everything they were supposed to this year, and they will likely be okay.

Manage Your Expectations

This is probably not the time to increase the expectations of your children. Whatever the case may be, now is time to perhaps give up on the fight of bedtime and eating healthy vegetables.

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  1. It is okay to choose your battles because anyone living in this close of quarters during this stressful time will be more on edge and irritable. You don’t want to enforce rules about how much screen time they get this week? That’s okay.

  2. To some extent, the structure will help provide consistency for your child and this is something they can exert control over in times when there is little to control. Work with your child to set up a routine- when do they want to have their screen time/homework time/ making brownie time? Involve them as much as possible in this process.

Self-Care, even for you Mom & Dad!

Yes, you deserve a walk around the block, 30 minutes of exercise, or even a glass of wine. Constant stress can get in the way of you being the most effective parent. Here are a few ideas on how to self-soothe without needing to leave the couch.

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Squeeze your hands into a fist. Take a deep breath in for 5 seconds, squeezing your hands tightly, and take a deep breath out for 8 seconds, completely relaxing your hands. Notice this relaxation for another 10 seconds. *move onto different body parts, continuing the same process*

  2. Use your 5 senses to improve the moment. Find what works for you to improve your mood for the moment. Smell essential oils, slather yourself in lotion, eat your favorite piece of chocolate, listen to your favorite song, or drive with your windows down are just a few examples. Commit to practice at least 1 self-soothing exercise a day.

During the pandemic, your buttons will likely be tested. Normalizing how difficult this time is for most parents may be helpful. You are not expected to do everything right, to teach them everything they need to know, and to land that job promotion this month. Take a step back, and prioritize the three most important factors to you and your family for the next 2 weeks. You may not check everything off on your list so managing expectations and practicing your own self-care will help you tolerate the current chaos.

-Erica Rozmid, Ph.D.

 

COVID-19 BLOG: HOLDING ALL THE THINGS

I remember the moment it sunk in that the virus was here, was a true threat, and was something that would change all of my expectations of what the next few months would look like. I remember the cancellation of my next girls trip, of stagecoach (my favorite event of the year), and eventually the closure of the kids schools. I noticed feelings of intense sadness, loss, and dread about getting through the spring without these events that offset the normal stress of life. Then came the fear - the fear that I would bring this home to my asthmatic son or my immunocompromised mother -the fear that my spouse would be laid off – the fear of so many unknowns. My guess is that all of you can relate to these emotions and that you have experienced your own set of unique fears and losses already. Those feelings are TRUE. Those experiences are TRUE. And sometimes it feels as if ONLY those things are true. And yet so many other things are true. I also found out this month that I will get to be home with my kids and for the next two or so months they will have their parents, their two favorite people with them all day, every day. I see my son barging into our bedroom every morning with the joy of Saturdays in bed with mom and dad, every day. I see my daughter striving each day to invent or perform, or help us in a way that makes us proud. I notice that I don’t have urges to spend money or watch TV and that instead I prioritize meaningful connection with others - whether it be in the cul de sac social distancing parties with neighbors, on a group zoom with friends, or on FaceTime dinners with my mom. And then I notice the fear that I or someone close to me may die. I notice the shame I feel when I snap at my children. I notice the guilt of eating 12 Robin Eggs instead of coping more effectively with my stress. And then I hold it all. My kids bring me joy AND they drive me nuts. This is incredibly scary AND it has forced me to narrow in on what matters most, which I am grateful for. I want to reserve resources to make sure my family is taken care of AND I want to be generous and promote kindness toward others. All of these things are true. So, I’m holding all the things. I don’t have to tell my self not to be scared and instead to be grateful. I can be both. I don’t have to get rid of my frustrations to love my children. I can hold both. And so can you. You can hold all the things. And as a result, we can gain freedom from self-judgment, from should and shouldnts, and from the shame that comes from telling yourself you are feeling or experiencing the wrong thing. We access the joy while we are in pain, the laughter while we are in fear, and love while we are angry. Your challenge: see how many truths you can find, how many experiences you can validate, and hold them all at the same time.

Pro-tip: when you get stuck operating in extremes, try adding a brief meditation to your day. Guided mediation can be found on headspace, calm, and various other apps and websites.

By Julie Orris, Psy.D.

COVID-19 BLOG: Dialectics & Coping

Okay, by now you have probably seen thousands of updates either by scrolling on your phone (guilty!) or you have been glued to your TV in order the get the latest updates about the constantly-evolving coronavirus. This is an emotional pandemic as much as it is a physical one.

Research shows that one’s mental health is implicated during a global disaster (Pfefferbaum et al., 2012). Coping with your stress and uncertainty during a global pandemic is vital to keep your mental health intact. Coping with stress remains difficult as there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

Anxiety = Perceived Danger

Uncertainty = Perceived Danger

Individuals who are anxious perceive that there is a threat of some kind. Scared to take a test because you fear you might fail? Don’t want to initiate a conversation for fear that you’ll be rejected? The perception of a threat IS anxiety. Uncertainty also causes anxiety because the anxious brain usually expects worse-case scenario and attempts to prepare for Plan A, B, C, etc.

Due to the uncertainty and threat that our world is facing, I am sure that our “anxiety baseline” is much higher'; that everyone’s stress levels are a bit higher, that everyone is a bit more on edge, and is having a more difficult time coping. People respond to stress in a number of ways.

Dialectical Tensions

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a treatment created by Marsha Linehan, is a comprehensive treatment originally designed for those who are suicidal. This treatment is now widely used and its effectiveness has been studied for those with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

The foundation of the treatment is based on dialectical tensions- the idea that extremes of a concept are opposite and the goal is to find the synthesis. For example, DBT treatment is based on Acceptance vs. Change, which are inherently opposites (i.e, accept that you are doing your best and know that you need to change to try harder and do better).

If you do not resolve the dialectical tensions, then you will suffer more and feel more miserable. The goal is to find the kernel of truth in both extremes.

Denial vs. Panic

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I thought of a dialectical tension that reflects how I’ve experienced others to react to COVID-19- denial vs. panic. People are heading to the stores and panic buying toilet paper and groceries- so much that grocery stores are out of stock of most products. People are waiting for hours in line to find no groceries available.

On the other end of the spectrum, people are in denial, and existing in the world, business as usual. When I was at the farmer’s market today (with using my 6 feet of social distancing), I heard someone say that COVID-19 is a stage and that this pandemic is completely made up. He then began to get closer to people, ignoring management’s requests.

The extremes are a dangerous place to live. It makes sense how people can go to one extreme to the next. Yet, we can become less effective in our life if we’re sitting at the extreme. Here’s how we resolve it!

Finding the Middle Path

Resolving the dialectical tension requires you to take a step back from the situation and adopt a curious mindset. Put your detective hat on for a minute and collect some evidence and the facts of the situation. Play devil’s advocate with yourself and find the kernel of truth in both extremes.

It makes sense why people are panic buying because of the uncertainty that if you are quarantined for 2 weeks, that you may not be able to leave the house. Because this is the first time we have ever been ordered the quarantine, there is so much uncertainty about how long this will occur, that others want to be prepared. On the other hand, there is no shortage of supplies, but by panic buying, we are creating more issues. So, there are others who are denial because they have not seen it impact anyone they know. They go by the saying “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

There is truth in both panic and denial. The synthesis of these extremes is justified fear- the fear that enables you to act most effectively while improving your emotional and mental health.

Step by Step Guide

  1. Label the extremes & the synthesis

    • Define what your denial or panic looks like for you and what the synthesis may be for you.

    • You can reach out to friends and family to help you if you feel that your emotions are getting in the way.

  2. Notice the urges you have (to buy food, to hang out with friends, etc).

    • Before acting on an urge, use mindfulness or another self-soothing behavior until the urge starts to decrease.

  3. Once the urge has decreased, act with intention and in alignment with the middle path.

-Erica Rozmid, Ph.D.

INTENTIONAL PARENTING: Using mindfulness to enhance parenting capabilities and improve outcomes.

Every night I come home from work and within 34 seconds of walking in the door, I have a 3 footer at my side chanting "mama, mama, mama, mama, look, mama, c'mere, mama, mama..., " and a 4 footer yelling from another room, "mama, I need you, can you help me..." On my worst, unmindful nights, I ignore the 2 year old until I firmly say "YOU NEED TO WAIT," and scold my 6 year old for not giving me time to settle in. Twenty minutes later we move in to making dinner and I begin cooking, chopping, pouring and plating while the two continue saying my name in concert trying to show me something, tell me something, or lodge complaints. Many nights, I am giving answers without understanding the question, giving cues that I am listening when I am not, and eventually raising my voice to say "guys, give me a minute!" If you are a parent, this scene is probably very familiar.

Mindfulness is defined by some as the practice of attending to your internal and external experience in the present moment without judgement. My experience tells me that mindfulness is a discipline, something that must be practiced in all contexts. The "practice" in parenting, is about shifting your attention from moment to moment in a way that allows you to focus on each task, each word, each child, and respond (not react) in a way that reflects your values and priorities. And this is no small feat. On my best days, this looks like sitting in my car for a moment before walking through the door. I turn my palms up, practicing an acceptance posture and bring my awareness to the situation I am walking into. I slow down my breathing, put on a half smile (just turning up the corners of my mouth, another cue for acceptance) and greet my children the moment I set down my purse. I carry around the 2 year old, responding to his questions and let him show me a few things on my way to the 6 year old where I get an update on her day. I then cue them both that I need to make dinner but I would love for them to help. I stop what I'm doing intermittently to answer questions or break up a fight - in a mindful way - in a way that communicates understanding while setting firm limits. And I am shifting my attention back and forth from dinner to the kids, with an acceptance posture and an intentional response. This is the ideal. Reality is somewhere between two extremes described here. Mindfulness is not about perfection, it's about the willingness to practice. For guided mindfulness practice, try the headspace app or freemindfulness.org.

Dialectiwhat?: Finding Gratitude Where You Least Expect It

There is something so energizing about gratitude. It’s almost as if, by thinking about something I’m grateful for, my brain thinks I have just won something – like the slot machine bells went off and the coins came pouring out. For that moment, I label myself lucky. I have begun to chase that feeling – the feeling of “winning at life,” as I call it. The more I look for it, the more I realize just how many opportunities there are to find it. The trick? Finding it where you least expect it…

Last week my friend’s father died suddenly. As I walked into greet her at the door of the funeral service, I felt the loss of my own father wash over me. The stitches from my wound popped off and the strain in my chest, the tightness in my throat, and the unwanted tears came rushing back. This is not a moment where I would expect to feel grateful. In fact, this is an experience that has, at times, made me feel quite UN-lucky. My father did not walk me down the isle at my wedding. He has never met my children. It has been easy for thoughts about unfairness and why-me-ness to creep in. But last week, when I hugged my friend at the door of her father’s funeral, I was grateful. Grateful that I knew what she was experiencing. Grateful that, like her, I had uncomplicated grief because my father was everything I wanted him to be. Grateful that I am someone who can tolerate that depth of emotion, cope effectively, and not be derailed by it. In fact, it was almost as if that depth of emotion drew me to the beauty, to the gift of that moment.

This morning I pulled into my indoor cycle studio and noticed the lot was full. The place looked like a Land Rover dealership that had acquired a few Teslas on trade-in. So, I parked my middle-of-the-road mom car on the street and walked to the studio. When I got there, some ladies were talking about the recent 4th of July holiday and how exhausting it was to entertain so many people. A woman mentioned having so many unused rooms in her house, which felt like wasted space when trying to entertain 100 people in her kitchen and pool area. And I started to go there – to that dark and grimy place in my head that is so familiar. Fortunately, after a few why-can’t – I’s and urges to look on Redfin, I stopped and recognized the opportunity. It wasn’t just an opportunity to be grateful for the house, the car, the family, etc. That’s the easy part. It was a chance to appreciate the meaning things have when I have to work for them. To see that special events in my life are, in part, given context by their rarity. I realized that I don’t want wasted space in my home. I don’t want to lose any more perspective than I have already lost by my own affluence – or my whiteness, my Orange-County-ness, or my able-bodiness. I can cherish this moment and be thankful that I overheard that conversation on the patio.

In the “big” and “small” things, find the gratitude. And hang on tight…

 

Dialectiwhat?: Turning the Mind Toward Acceptance

It’s 7am and I’m starting my morning routine with a smile on my face. I greet my babies, start the coffee, check my phone for messages, and put on my workout clothes. Things are as they SHOULD be…for now. My 5 year old is watching a show on her tablet (don’t judge me) until an error message pops up and she loses her mind, screeching in terror because IT’S BROKEN!!!!!!! (Why doesn’t this stupid thing not work the way it is supposed to? Technology sucks. ) I take a deep breath, turn on the TV (still not judging me), and the world is again as it should be. I pack the kids up, get them off to daycare, and head to my morning spin class. And things are exactly right. My favorite instructor is smiling up in front, the music starts, and I’m in my zone. It’s song 12, the final sprint, and Im looking forward to my cold towel and the satisfaction of completing a good workout. I’m riding like a champ until my legs are on fire and suddenly  a shooting pain through my knee knocks me down. (This cannot be happening. Spinning is safe, non-weight-bearing exercise and this SHOULD NOT be happening. I’m only 40 – everyone else in here is obviously fine. This is not fair). Recovering from this event is not as smooth. I get into my car, and suddenly the world is made up of idiots and assholes. A woman is texting and not getting out of the parking lot fast enough (Seriously? Are you seriously doing this right now?) I get home with 45 minutes to spare before I leave for work. I manage to get a shower, get something to eat, and get out the door in just enough time to make it to work. I have forgotten about my knee, and things are again lining up in a world that makes sense. My commute is only 10 minutes and I don’t start until noon so thankfully I NEVER have to deal with traffic. I get onto the freeway to travel one exit before getting off…and the offramp is closed, sending me on a detour. (WTF!! The ONE ramp I need on the ONE exit I traveled to get to work?!?! What are these guys even doing?? It doesn’t look like anything is broken. The freeway shouldn’t be closed.  Freeway construction is bullshit. Orange County is bullshit.)  I’m 5 hours into a typical day, and already I am flooded with evidence that things are not at all as they SHOULD be. You should see me on a day when the scale doesn’t read as it is supposed to…but that’s a topic for another day.

I’m not exactly sure why we, as humans, get so stuck in this trap. I know most of us were told “life isn’t fair,” but clearly that message, in its patronizing, invalidating tone, didn’t get in. Perhaps because even our parents didn’t really believe it.  What would it mean to get “unstuck” from the SHOULDS? While I have (clearly) not mastered this myself, I do have some ideas. If we can notice and label “nonacceptance” when it occurs, we then have an opportunity to turn the mind toward acceptance. Nonacceptance often shows up in familiar phrases like “this isn’t fair, why is this happening, this shouldn’t be this way, this is bullshit, this is unacceptable…” and the thoughts are usually followed by a spike of anger or frustration. If we are mindful of our thoughts, we will hear the nonacceptance. Or perhaps our first awareness is that spike of emotion. Either way, we now have an option to stop and “turn the mind.” Turning the mind is the willingness to mentally approach things in a different way. In this case, it’s the willingness to accept reality and acknowledge that things are just as they should be. We may not like what is happening, but we can eliminate the extra suffering by accepting that it is in fact happening. But what if something IS unacceptable? What if a child dies, or someone gets abused, or an innocent person gets sent to prison? These kinds of events are, of course, the most challenging to accept. Anyone would struggle to accept such a loss. And yet, there isn’t a single reality that doesn’t warrant acceptance. Nonacceptance is not a problem solving strategy. Saying something is unacceptable does not make it un-happen. When we are able to turn the mind, we will likely  notice a different emotion. Anger or frustration may be replaced by sadness. And when that is uncomfortable, our brain may go back to problem solving with nonacceptance. So we turn the mind back, over and over, sinking into acceptance. Not because we are “okay with it” or like it… because IT is.

Author: Julie Orris, PsyD

 

Glitch in the System: Emotions as truth

The emotional system can be as vital as a pumping heart when it comes to human survival.  Take fear, for example. Without fear, most of us would not have made it this far. We would have been curious about rattlesnakes, been entertained by driving at high speeds the wrong direction on the freeway at age 12, and saved a lot of money by taking up DIY tree trimming. But what happens when we have a glitch in the system, and our emotions can’t be trusted?

Parenting has made me increasingly aware what I would label “righteous fear.” I pride myself on avoiding risk. I have never been to the ER with my children, I haven’t been in a car accident since college, and we are right on time for every regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment. My ego-syntonic fear of the un-dangerous, however, has a cost. While I am allegedly mitigating risk as a hyper-vigilant germ detector/bad-guy barometer/building inspector, I am missing it. I’m missing my daughter’s laughter as she rides the 200 ft high swings at the fair. I’m missing my son’s excitement as he takes his first steps… on pavement.  I’m not always happy at the happiest (and germy-est) place on earth. My emotion is telling me that someone is going to die. And my body is preparing to help me prevent that from happening. The problem is, no one is dying, and I’m all geared up for nothing. Not only am I missing these moments, but I’m teaching two of the next generation’s finest that life is like a game of frogger and all we can do is hope to get across the street without getting hit. So what’s the solution?

The solution is, as always, recognize the glitch in the system. Once I realize I am stuck in fear, I can “act opposite,” throwing myself into the present moment. I can force the smile if I have to, which sends a signal to my brain that all is okay, and I can be free to enjoy the moment/take the trip/touch the railing on the jungle cruise… and no one will die. If I do this over and over and over, the fear becomes undetectable…until next time anyway.

Author: Julie Orris, PsyD
August 22, 2018

Dialectiwhat: Changing your mood by DRINKING your coffee.

I had my last sip of coffee 7 times this morning, which is unfortunately not uncommon. I looked forward to that coffee from the time my head hit the pillow last night to the moment I pressed “brew” on the Keurig. But somewhere between fighting to get a diaper on an angry toddler,  trying to achieve the perfect ponytail on my perfectionistic 5 year old, and arguing about the importance of eating breakfast, I drank my first last sip…and missed it. I missed the whole cup of coffee. My kids drank it for all I know. I went back, drinking the last sip several more times, each time disappointed when I was reminded that it was in fact gone. And now I have to wait until tomorrow to do it again.

There is plenty of evidence to show that two major players in the fight against depression are enjoyment and achievement. For some of us, the opportunities to build enjoyment into our lives are few and far between. Sometimes the best we can do is squeeze in a phone call with a friend, amazon prime a new body scrub, or swing by our favorite takeout place. If we are lucky, once in a while, we may even have a couple free hours to ourselves. But doing something we enjoy is only half the battle. The other half? Mindfulness. We have to actually DRINK the coffee – taste it, smell it, notice the sensation of it as it goes down. Otherwise, much like the tree falling in the forest….you get the idea. Cultivating mindfulness takes practice. Good news – your assignment this week is to do something you enjoy and practice escorting your attention back to that relishable moment when it starts to wander. Good luck!

For more on mindfulness: CBTC’s Dr. Sarah Rabinovitch provides FREE mindfulness resources including audio and video guided meditation and discussion on the practice and benefits of mindfulness at  gentlelovingpsychology.com.

Author: Julie Orris, PsyD
July 21, 2018

You Can’t Teach Love – Or Can you? How Evidence-based Therapies Masterfully Tackle Self-Intimacy

Years ago I worked with a early-40s adult female client named Esther (alias), who had sought out cognitive behavioral therapy to put an end to a decade of near unrelenting depression. Esther’s hopelessness often felt palpably immovable. “I’m unlovable and always have been.” “Everything I do turns into a rotting disaster.” “I should be punished for my stupidity.” Esther would constantly berate herself with the messages she had received as a small girl. Despite having a high-paying job, a usually fulfilling marriage, two beautiful children, and a content pet cat at home, Esther remained unconvinced that she was anything other than an unlovable failure. And while she came to therapy with some motivation to feel better, she had limited hope in her ability to do so. In the first few sessions, she often questioned, “How am I supposed to get better? I’ve hated myself for so long.” She continued, “Everyone talks about this fantasy goal of learning to love yourself in therapy. Ha! Some crap. You can’t teach someone to do that,” she balked. “You can’t teach self-love? Yes you can.” I replied. And I’ve subsequently thought much about how we indeed target and teach self-love and self-kindness quite intentionally and effectively at CBT California.  Let’s take a brief look at how cognitive behavioral therapy tackles this…

CBT is the front line intervention for depression and many other mental health concerns, backed by decades of robust research. At depression’s core is often a deeply dug core belief of “I’m unlovable.” Core beliefs are messages we learn often early in life, which come to define how we see ourselves. When the “unlovable” core belief is activated, it’s as if dark and gloomy-colored glasses come over one’s eyes. With these gloomy glasses on, you can imagine how difficult it would be to interpret events around you without this gloomy biased tint!

A compliment from a co-worker may lead automatically to thoughts like, “They are just being nice” or “They are probably saying that sarcastically.” A hug from a caring lover may be met with some anger or disgust, prompted by quick thoughts like, “Don’t touch me. I don’t deserve this affection.” And as you can imagine, these automatic thoughts can lead to deep sadness and shame. You may want to push people away and isolate—further confirming your unlovable belief. What a vicious cycle…

In CBT, we work persistently and patiently with clients to help you chip away at the negative automatic thoughts that pop up when those gloomy glasses are covering your eyes. Maybe the gloomy glasses have been on for years, and maybe they have slid on in the past month or two. In any occasion, we will teach you tools for challenging your thoughts – starting with the day-to-day ones, and moving deeper to challenge the core belief at the root. This will take effort and motivation, which we will help you cultivate. Eventually, with a big dose of compassion, support from your therapist and lots of practice, you can and you will become an expert at challenging the inaccurate belief that you’re unlovable. You will learn to reprogram your thinking and heart to full buy into a new (more accurate) belief, namely, that you are someone with worth. You are worthy of love. You really are. Everyone is. But of course we can’t convince you of this. It may be worth you exploring…

By the way, after 4 months of CBT, Esther looked at me in our last session and said, “I can’t say everyday is a joy ride—far from it. But I can actually say I like the person I’ve become these past few months. Well, I guess I mean, the person I’ve always been.”

Author: Sara Rabinovitch, PhD
May 30, 2018

How to always get what you want and keep others happy: Part II

If you read part I of this post, you know that it is in fact not possible to always get what you want and keep others happy. This round is for the folks who are more invested in the latter…and I won’t use the phrase “people pleasers” here because I don’t find that to be quite accurate. The reality is that we are all driven by our own emotion. Some of us have a stronger emotional reaction to disappointing others than we do to giving up something that we want. When that happens, we find the most relief in accommodating others, so that’s what we do. This is a great strategy if your goal is to regulate your emotion. But what if your goal is to increase self respect or get your needs met in a relationship? If your default is pressing the relief button and giving in to avoid disappointing others, you may be contributing to a long term pattern that will diminish self-respect, build resentment, and possibly allow others to take advantage of you. Sound familiar?

The key is finding balance. In order to balance your needs and the needs of others, you will need LOTS of practice tolerating that initial spike of uncomfortable emotion (probably fear or shame) when asking for what you want or saying no. Your brain will have to learn that this is, in fact, not a threat. Once your brain has learned there is no threat (after you asking for what you want or saying no many times and overriding that emotion), the emotion will lose its function and you will likely be habituated to the experience. In other words, if you are not driven by your emotion, you can become more balanced in assertiveness. The result? Well, you will just have to see…

Author: Julie Orris, PsyD
April 10, 2018

How to always get what you want and keep others happy: Part I

Just kidding (laughing face emoji). Not possible.

I was recently informed by a highly valid and reliable measure (a Facebook quiz) that my personality is 97% driven by my assertiveness. Truth be told, that may not be so far off. Sounds like a good thing, right? Yes and No. When I look back on early adult years and the struggles I had in relationships, I can see how my assertiveness got in my way. I am a naturally direct communicator and have always been bold in approaching others. What I was not so natural at was reading the impact I was having and thus how asking for what I want or saying no was taking away from the relationship. I hadn’t yet learned that just because others say yes doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a cost. I didn’t understand the nuances of someone tentatively agreeing to something or hinting at disappointment when I said no. I have learned the hard way that to be assertive AND have healthy relationships means being highly intentional about the words I use and acutely attuned to the impact on the other. That means, when I ask my husband to  pick something up on his way home from a 12 hour work day, I must add things like “I know you have had a long day,  and if you are too exhausted I can do without cilantro tonight.” It means that if I am going to say no to something I have to tell the truth about why I am saying no. And if I can’t tell the truth, then I probably shouldn’t be saying no (so I have to show up). It means that I have to tolerate distress and not address most things that bother me because the cost to the relationship outweighs the impact on me or the importance of, for example, getting someone not to chew so loudly.  I know that when I acknowledge the impact my request or refusal has on the other person, it makes them feel better about it. So I take the extra step. I say the extra words. And I repair when I forget.

For those of you struggling on the other side of the spectrum, stay tuned. Next time on the blog: “What if I say no and someone gets mad at me?"

Author: Julie Orris, PsyD
February 27, 2018

Dialectiwhat?: Keeping it Shiny

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am prone to anger. Yes, anger. Perhaps not the yelling, screaming, throwing, violent anger you are envisioning, but rather “what the crap,” “why the hell…,” “you can’t be serious,” kind of anger. Low level anger (i.e. frustration) is often activating. It cues me to stand up for myself or ask for what I want. It activates me to advocate for myself and others, and motivates me to fight obstacles to my goals when they present themselves. It is not, however, without cost. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose the level of emotion that shows up in our bodies. When emotion is intense, it can feel impossible not to act on it. And this makes sense, right? If one of the functions of emotion is preparing us for action, then my brain and body are doing exactly what they are supposed to. This means that unless I have the ability to change my anger, I am at risk for acting on it in ways that are not adaptive. I am likely to snap at my spouse, yell at my kids, or at the very least get stuck in what I call the “stompy stomp.” The stompy stomp is what happens when we “white knuckle” anger, trying not to create a conflict. My version is quite charming – a collection of loud sighs, slightly firmer drawer closings, sarcasm tipping from humorous to insulting, and covert eye rolls. While I’m certainly not proud of these behaviors, they make sense to me. Unless I actually eliminate the anger or significantly reduce it, I don’t stand a chance against my biological drive to act on it. So how do we change emotion?

Opposite to emotion action taps into the connection between our behavior and our brain. Researchers have determined that by acting in ways that are inconsistent with the natural emotional expression, the emotion will diffuse. And trust me, it works. If you have ever been mid-argument with someone and had to shut it down because someone else entered the room, you know what I mean. I call it “keeping it shiny.” It’s the skill most of us would use if we got in an argument with our spouse on the way to dinner with another couple. It’s as if you are forced to hold the perspective of the entire relationship rather than the past 20 minutes. You may find it useful to talk more to the other couple rather than engage so much with your spouse. Or you may just keep the topics far away from anything that would breed more conflict. You may have to put more energy in at first, but by the end of the night you may have forgotten why you were fighting in the first place. At the very least, you would have to work pretty hard to bring back all that anger.

So, next time you feel angry try following these steps:

Label the emotion
Ask yourself “if I act on this will it serve me?”
If not, act opposite to your emotion. Keep it Shiny!!

Author: Julie Orris, PsyD
November 29, 2017