Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

by: Joel Christie

Admit it: sometimes you want to change other peoples minds. Sure, we love our slogans like "to each their own," but take a quick glance at Facebook or any number of talk shows and you'll notice people busy at work trying to change one another's minds. Hey, it's okay. We're kind of wired this way. Unfortunately, I think the way we go about it is often much more derisive than we intend.

Take any topic people disagree and also care about. That certainly includes politics, social issues, religious issues, etc., but you can find plenty of fodder in the supposedly mundane as well. Ever see a Facebook post like: "The new Jurassic Park was epic!!!" followed by someone quickly slinging a ninja star into the mix: "That movie was so dumb it made me wish the dinosaurs were real so that one of them would kill me and put me out of my misery. How could anyone like something so stupid? And P.S., it's called Jurassic World now, not Jurassic Park." And then a small internet war erupts.

What's happening here? It's more than just the need to have an opinion validated. It's the need for the other person to change their view so that it better fits with my own. Maybe this person feels uncomfortable with diverging views, thinks he or she know better than the other, or believes he or she is just trying to help. Or, perhaps this person just wants to conquer whomever he or she happens to disagree with because it feels good to be "right." But wouldn't it be cool if we were all a little better at talking to each other, and as a culture began to gain confidence that we could disagree and still like each other? Sure, some people are great at this, but I suspect many feel their choices are limited to locking horns or avoiding a heated discussion completely. But here are a few things I think can help people engage in disagreement with much greater potential for a fruitful outcome:

1.) Learn to be okay with disagreement. We say things like, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion," but in reality, divergent opinions tend to make us uncomfortable, producing anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion, and fear, which we often want to get rid of as quickly as possible. We think "Why don't they just admit that I'm right?? Then there wouldn't be a problem!" Yet most of us would acknowledge that firing insults or "logic" missiles at someone rarely changes their mind. More likely they fire back or disengage. So why do we do this?

2.) Become more aware of your own emotions. As we pause to mindfully notice our emotions, we become increasingly capable of deciding how we truly want to respond, rather than simply reacting out of our lower/reptile brain. The reptile brain handles the important job of protecting us from threats, but can also cut us off from empathy and a desire to connect with the other person. As you can imagine, this is even more problematic if both people are operating out of the reptile brain, confirming back and forth to each other, "You're a threat!" and "Yes I am and so are you!" However, by noticing what is happening within us, we can increase our ability to keep our upper brain regions involved as well, particularly as we make this a mental practice we strive to do over and over.

3.) Develop genuine curiosity for the other person's perspective. This doesn't mean you have to end up agreeing with him/her, but few things shut communication down faster than when it is obvious we don't care what the other person has to say. How do we demonstrate curiosity? Ask genuine questions, not "land mine" questions meant to reveal the other person's ignorance or stupidity. And then listen.

4.) Focus on your own experience rather than trying to prove all the reasons the other person is wrong/ignorant/stupid/etc. "I really thought Jurassic World was fun. It made me laugh several times, and had a bunch of cool looking dinosaurs eating people." In couples counseling, we often tell people to use more "I" statements, and I think a similar principle certainly applies here. Consider the difference between "I am feeling upset about this," vs. "You are really pissing me off."

5.) Admit that you're not necessarily open-minded on every topic. A good way to gage whether I am open-minded on a particular issue is to ask, "What might begin to alter my beliefs/ perceptions about this issue?" If the answer is, "Basically nothing," then this probably isn't one of the issues you feel particularly open-minded about. And that can be okay of course! But it may make a discussion with someone who holds a differing view quite frustrating. And if neither person is open to changing their views on the issue at this time, it's worth asking "What am I hoping will happen as a result of this exchange?"

6.) Revisit the question of, "Why is this issue important to me? What would it mean if my views began to change?" That doesn't mean you have to change, it means you are creating an opportunity to better understand yourself and your own beliefs. Include in these questions, "What don't I understand very well about this part of my beliefs?" And then feel free to explore, even conversing with people you may completely disagree with. Who knows, maybe you'll both discover something new and valuable.

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The Quips of Violet Crawley

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Joe No Mag liveBy: Joel Christie & Joseph Noecker

On the highly successful Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith plays the indomitable Violet Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. Known for her often scathing wit and old fashioned sensibilities, Violet, aka "Granny," is an immensely enjoyable character who exudes self-confidence, communicating her opinions and values with unashamed candor. Here are a few quotes from Violet, used as a backdrop to explore some concepts of mental health as she banters with Isobel Crawley, who she has reluctantly accepted as her confidant.

Violet: "Hope is a tease designed to prevent us accepting reality."
Isobel: "You only say that to sound clever."
Violet: "I know. You should try it."
Joel Christie's mental health insight: I love Violet's non-defensive posture here. Isobel calls her out for saying something she believes to be empty and needlessly gloomy. Rather than growing defensive or trying to explain why Isobel is mistaken, Violet takes ownership of what she said, enjoying her own ability to display wit if she so chooses, a great example of self-acceptance.
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet takes the opportunity to embrace ownership of her insecurities, thereby simultaneously reducing the power of their nature. It takes courage to self-expose a characteristic of which we are not so proud. However, as well Violet may be self-revealing an unwillingness to grow beyond this state by appearing to take some pride in her statement. Ego has a sneaky way to block our "authentic" growth.

Isobel: "How you hate to be wrong."
Violet: "I wouldn't know. I'm not familiar with the sensation."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: While Isobel states an obvious observation of the ego in all of us, Violet takes the statement further that indicates either an absence of separation between her ego and higher self – or a potential celebration of her conscious choice to live in the world of the limited view of the ego. Living in the land of ego can be quite satisfying in the moment but it never sustains. The hunger for "more" or the "best" or "smartest" rages on for a lifetime while living in this state. Of course, Violet also may slyly be making fun of herself. I find her quotes so enticing because of the inherent mystery of the meaning or perhaps dual meanings behind her quips.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: In refusing to ever allow Isobel to gain the upper hand, Violet is being a bit disingenuous here. We all know what it feels like to be wrong from time to time, unless of course we are dangerously disconnected from reality, which Countess Grantham certainly isn't. So why the front? I think in this case, Violet is simply reinforcing an old pattern that has existed between herself and Isobel for as long as they have known each other. Violet, the grand Countess, has a lot of her self-worth tied up in her important title, and a countess can't be shown to be wrong, can she? Her self-worth is threatened by the notion that she has made a mistake, which is unfortunate since mistakes are a common, normal, and even healthy part of life, providing us with the opportunity to grow.

Violet: "Why the lamentation? You don't have to see him if you don't want."
Isobel: "You make it sound so easy."
Violet: "There's nothing simpler than avoiding people you don't like. Avoiding one's friends—that's the real test."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet seems to be demonstrating a self-honest gesture in owning her feelings regarding others here while taking honest ownership of the stance that even friends can be excluded at times. We are exposed to her ability to access what she feels and her courage to express even when outside opinion may not support her views. Though I sense a potential disparity in her ability to access authentic feeling and actions as she distinguishes between strangers and friends. Violet is such a wonderful representation of our own inner struggles between authentic, honest interaction, empathy and feelings for others, and perceived societal expectations regarding relationships.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: Violet seems to be more comfortable setting boundaries than Isobel, apparently feeling little obligation or social pressure to spend time with people she doesn't like. She acknowledges that it is more difficult with friends, however, which raises an important mental health issue, since creating boundaries with the people we do like can be just as important or more so. Should I head to Vegas with all my buddies if I have a gambling addiction? Probably not. Being comfortable setting boundaries is a vital part of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, something that Violet seems to understand quite well.

Violet: "Principles are like prayers. Noble of course. But awkward at a party."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet speaks some straight talk here. She displays in one brief comment that many things about life have virtue but to the Ego and persona, remaining true to their value in all situations is at the very least, difficult and awkward. There is an underlying message conveyed here that "what others think" trumps all in most cases. This reflects an underlying insecurity dependent upon external validation for one to feel good about self.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: In mentioning the party/ social setting, Violet seems to reveal that the opinions of others are powerful forces in determining what she should or should not do in a given situation (which is certainly true for many of us). Yet there is a conflict here as well, since Violent seems to feel one's principles are indeed important, it's just that they become subservient if they might cause awkwardness. It's possible in the long run this dynamic could damage self-esteem, since avoiding social discomfort becomes more important than adhering to my own principles. In other words, it could leave me doubting I have the strength to stick up for what I believe in.

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What to do with Paradigms

What to do with Paradigms

by Joel Christie

We all have paradigms, those patterns and structures that shape our thinking and beliefs in certain particular ways, wherein we like some things, and dislike others, trust some sources, and distrust others, etc., etc.. It's inescapable. And though it might be tempting to label this as a bad thing (as some indeed have), doing so would merely be acting out of one's paradigm. Ha. No, the fact that we operate out of paradigms is neither good nor bad, it is simply one of our primary ways of managing thoughts and information.

Our paradigms affect the way we live of course. If I have come to believe that all oranges taste bad, I may in fact miss out on that one magical, extraordinarily lovely type of orange that I would actually totally enjoy. However, the overriding hostility I feel towards oranges in general also helps me avoid eating plenty of yucky bad oranges I don't like. (I like oranges fine, by the way. But I know some anti-orange people out there... You know who you are.) Regardless, we all do this. We may attempt to not do it, insisting, "But I am open-minded!" Ah. But in so doing we are nevertheless demonstrating a paradigm diligently at work making sure we aren't close minded. Again, there's no need to worry about the fact that you and I and everyone else operates out of paradigms.

But that is not to say that the content of the paradigms we develop cannot be harmful. Certainly it can be, and in a variety of ways. I could come to believe that exercise is nothing more than an annoying waste of time that leaves me feeling sore, sweaty, and generally gross. Why would I want to spend my time doing something that makes me uncomfortable and that I don't enjoy? That's stupid. Duh. ...Except that exercise is also critical for maintaining health, regulating chemicals within my body, assists in keeping me on a consistent and reliable sleep schedule, and giving me energy though out the day, the lack of which could contribute to depression as a result of a dopamine deficiency, and a general sense of lethargy, which I also don't enjoy. Not to mention that exercise allows me to be in good enough shape to run from a bear if I should happen to come across one. All good things. And all things I will miss out on if my paradigm tells me there is no point to putting in the hard work that comes from exercising. It might also prevent me from discovering certain types of exercise which I enjoy. Bummer.

Some aspects of our paradigms are formed consciously: "Goodness, this seminar on Shakespearean literature certainly has helped me rethink the implications of Macbeth, just as I hoped it would." But many aspects of them are formed subconsciously, which means I may lack awareness about why I believe what I believe/ want what I want. "Hmm, now that you mention it, what drove me to sign up for that seminar on Shakespearean literature in the first place? I mean, I know I like Shakespeare and all... but why? Did it have anything to do with the fact that my father often praised me for being 'As witty as Shakespeare?' Dear God, I'm nothing but a puppet!" And so on.

Regardless of how and why our paradigms are formed, we can be confident that they will deeply impact the decisions we make, the way we feel about ourselves and others, and the things we enjoy or don't enjoy in life. Examining our paradigms not only helps us understand ourselves better so that we have a clearer sense of why we believe what we believe, it can also open up space for us to challenge and change beliefs we may possess which contribute to depression, anxiety, poor self esteem, and plenty of other belief-rooted maladies. For those interested in such change, a good way to begin examining a paradigm is to ask myself how I came to believe something, and why I still believe it, or no longer do. Journaling can be one way to do this, or simply sitting alone with my thoughts. Conversation can also help me unpack my paradigms, though of course this means I will be rubbing up against someone else's paradigms. But that's okay! These why questions can lead to greater illumination, producing a stronger sense of self confidence and also indicating areas where I would like to see growth and change occur in those portions of my paradigms no longer satisfy me. And that can be downright life changing.

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The Cost of Our Expectations

The Cost of Our Expectations

by Joel Christie

Healthy expectations have the potential to create boundaries and direction within our lives, such as "I expect to be treated respectfully by others," or "I expect that my hard work will help me solve problems and achieve goals." If these things don't happen as I expect, it may signal to me that change is needed. Useful. Healthy. Good.

But let's be clear: many of our expectations are not only unhealthy, they are outright destructive. "I expect my boyfriend to take me to Paris every other weekend. A girl deserves to be treated right, doesn't she?" Or what about: "I expect my wife to buy me a Ferrari for my thirtieth birthday. She'll do it if she loves me." And this one: "I expect my kids to behave perfectly, in every situation, always. Forever. With no exceptions. Period."

See? Expectations can be trouble. You might think, "Well duh, of course those expectations are a problem because they're completely unreasonable." Ah-ha! But that's the real issue, isn't it? We almost always think our own expectations are reasonable. "I expect my kids to get straight A's—I certainly did, after all," might seem reasonable to mom or dad, but for the kid who is genuinely giving his or her best only to fall short, we could probably imagine those expectations feel quite different. "But she's not giving her best," I often hear parents say. So in this case, the unreasonable expectation might be that the child always gives her best. And yet do any of us always give our best? Of course not. But we tend to have this strange ability to muster up sympathy for our own tiredness, boredom, lack of effort, etc. Hmm...

When we say, "I expect," what we're really saying is, "I will not tolerate less than..." Not only can this set us up for frequent disappointment, it can also send a strong message towards those whom our expectations are aimed at that we will not accept them unless they meet our expectations. This not only feels lousy, it is also very hard on relationships. Have you been on the receiving end of someone's expectations that you were unable or unwilling to live up to? It sucks, doesn't it.

I've heard the objections to this. "So I'm just supposed to throw my standards out the window? Not hope for anything? Not expect anything of anyone?" Not at all! What it means is that we learn to shift our expectations towards being healthier and more realistic. If my son is struggling with math, and I come to realize that he frequently puts in considerable effort, my expectation can change from "Get straight A's" to "Keep on trying; I like that you're learning the value of perseverance."

Rethinking our expectations absolutely doesn't mean I suddenly become a doormat in my relationships, or that I am not passionate about anything. No, changing our expectations in this way means coming to understand that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and that sometimes I will feel disappointed by others just as they feel disappointed by me. In those moments, I can either choose to communicate how disappointed I am by the way this person has failed to meet my expectations, or I can express that I care about them. But it's tough to communicate both of these things successfully at the same time. (Often, a good indicator of which of these I am communicating comes from the way the person responds to me.)

The cost of expectations can be steep indeed. Parents who communicate to their children time and time again that they failed to live up to expectations might or might not end up with children who learn to perform and achieve as required. But their children will very likely remember that mom or dad didn't approve of them when they failed, making their love feel conditional. And it's much the same in our relationships as well. If what I expect from others is perfection, I will always eventually be let down. And so will they.

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Who Do I Think I Am? The Role of EGO in Relationships

Who Do I Think I Am? The Role of EGO in Relationships

by Joseph Noecker

What role does Ego play into our meaningful relationships?

The concept of the enlarged Ego within significant relationships takes quite a bad rap within our proverbial cultural identity. But what are we really saying about it and what are the ramifications of possessing this Ego in terms of relationship and is it truly large??

Well, let's take a look at the definition of Ego through the eyes of Carl Jung.
The Ego represents the sum total of our thoughts, ideas, feelings, memories, and perceptions of who we think and feel we are – or in shorter terms, the center of consciousness.
From where we stand in our personal lives, it is everything we can perceive about ourselves. Our roles, recognized traits, behaviors, and desires are wrapped up in this perceptual package. And perception is truly what is at play here. For our total make-up is comprised of much more than what we can see, feel, perceive etc... The Unconscious is a haven for all that we cannot acknowledge in our day-to-day conscious lives.

This is truly fascinating and yet totally understandable if you are now thinking this is confusing to grasp. For, to accept this is to admit that our Egos do not know all. And this has magnificent ramifications within our intimate and close relationships. For, if we do not know who are as individuals then how can we relate authentically with another – no matter how awesome he or she is.

So, let's get back to this "large ego" thing. When one says that another has a large Ego, what is really being said is that this person is putting too much stock in only what he/she can perceive about him/herself or is over-identifying with particular aspects of his/her life at the expense of less known and more unconscious areas.

Now this sounds like heavy stuff, does it not? But, the good news is that it really just requires a simple idea to live by.

We want to become more conscious about ALL that we are. This means paying attention to our emotions, daydreams, unexpected overreactions, night dreams, our patterns of relating to each other – all of those things that surprise our Ego or our sense of conscious understanding of our previously perceived definition of ourselves.

And it is difficult to do alone. So intimate and close relationships are potentially wonderful wellsprings to do this work while solidly building the foundation that our Authentic Self has been craving all along.

Jung said that that there is no such thing as a conscious, psychological relationship between two people that are in a state of unconsciousness.
The more that we grasp of our own unconscious, the more conscious we become. And it is in this state of consciousness that we are able to connect at the spiritual and intimate levels most deeply.

To the degree that we are conscious of our inner and outer world Self, (way beyond what our Ego wants us to think), we are able to relate to others more intimately, compassionately, authentically, and from a stronger foundation of trust.
We can learn to relate to each other from a position much closer to who we truly are versus just who we "think" we are.


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Conflict Can Be Less Awful. Seriously, It Can.

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by Joel Christie and Cynthia Morales

Few of us enjoy conflict. Maybe the debate team captain? Or possibly trial attorneys? But if we're being honest, most of us would say we feel uncomfortable, intimidated, and even afraid of conflict. But why is that? Cynthia and I are both counselors who work with HD Counseling, LLC, and we thought we would take a few minutes and explore the question: What is it about conflict that seems to be so unsettling for us as human beings?
[Note: This discussion pertains to non-violent, non-abusive conflict.]

Cynthia: To start I'll share my mental associations of conflict and they may resonate with our readers. When I hear the word "conflict" my mind immediately goes to problem, unpleasant, bad, defensive, and a feeling that I just want to avoid it. I get a twinge of anxiety, a fleeting wave of guilt and even a brief passing of irritability which come right on the heels of thoughts about some of my own personal experiences. Just by being mindful of myself in this way I quickly accessed some fear-based internal experiences related to conflict.

Joel: Great point about remembering past conflicts and how much they can affect us; times when I was hurt or felt like I "lost" or at least wasn't heard or understood. And depending on how I see these interactions, I might start to feel like my views don't matter very much. I might feel like I usually end up trampled, or possibly that I have to trample the other person if I want to be heard, respected, validated, etc.

Cynthia: Conflict can bring us to a pretty discouraging mental space, definitely. Your description suggests some valid reasons for conflict's bad reputation. When I think about why we fear conflict, I believe some of us learn to regard it as this terrible, awful, no good, very bad situation that leads to an even more terrible, awful, no good very bad situation. Some of us are programmed that way for legitimate reasons. Conflict itself has the capacity to threaten crucial aspects of wellbeing such as belonging, validation and self-esteem.

Joel: Yup.

Cynthia: We want to protect those things, and how we do so determines the nature of conflict. In a more defensive type of mindset, we may unknowingly be drawn into an argument with someone that has less to do with the issues at hand and more about securing power of our wellbeing. Hence the trample or be trampled approach you mentioned.

Joel: Earlier you also talked about a list of negative things we might associate with conflict, starting with the fact that it will involve some kind of problem. And if we don't think there is much of a chance that the problem gets better as a result of the conflict, I think that could be another reason we want to avoid it. That, and not feeling equipped to deal with disagreement and conflict, like you were saying.

Cynthia: That's a great point, Joel. Our beliefs and attitudes about conflict definitely influence our relationship with conflict. If we believe we aren't able to handle it, then that can leave us feeling pretty helpless about things, and even scared that things will get worse. When we view conflict through fear-based lenses, we perpetuate ineffective conflict resolution skills. However, conflict doesn't have to be seen that way. We can mindfully view conflict as an opportunity to achieve some important positive growth both within ourselves and in our relationships with others. It's the first step to being able to navigate the obstacle course that is conflict.

Joel: I think if we can remember our own durability before, during, and after a conflict, that helps a lot; being able to tell myself I am okay and that I still like myself even when someone disagrees with me. Am I putting too much importance on others validating me, when they are flawed human beings just like I am? Also, knowing that it's not automatically bad if the process of conflict is clumsy or uncomfortable. That's normal. But if I can't accept that I may have the added pressure of wondering why I can't be suave and perfect all the time. Hopefully, instead I can focus on listening to what the other person has to say while remaining true to my own beliefs and values (where that applies), and knowing that my own views do not have to be discarded just because someone else does not like them, or agree with them.

Cynthia: Absolutely Joel, and you conveyed a really empowering lesson about how we can embrace conflict.

Joel: I love giving empowering lessons.

[*Cynthia hits Joel with a half-full mug of coffee*]

Cynthia: Being mindful, compassionate and accepting of our experiences during conflict can lead us to being better prepared to work through it. Being less attached to the outcome of conflict also helps us to hear the person with whom we have conflict. It defuses that power differential I mentioned earlier and allows us to hold both our own beliefs as well as the other persons in a much bigger space of compassion. Conflict doesn't have to be so bad, huh?

Joel: It really doesn't, although the very nature of it—two people seeing things differently, and having those "at-odds" ideas or beliefs intersect—probably means that conflict will still be stressful for most of us. And I do think there are instances with certain people with whom it is wise to choose not to enter into conflict with. This doesn't have to mean cowering in fear, especially when we have that concept clear in our own mind: "I am making a choice not to engage in conflict with this person because I do not believe it would be productive or helpful. I am not running from them, or falsely acquiescing to what they want. I am simply not engaging in conflict with them at this time." Using your own good, discerning judgment, it might even be appropriate to tell the person some of this. Regardless, as Cynthia said several times, so much of this has to do with learning to control our own fear and being able to accept differences that may exist even after the conflict has "resolved." If we can do that, conflict will have much less of a negative impact on us.

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The Games We Play

The Games We Play

by Tyson Kuch Ph.D.

You see and hear about it almost everywhere you go – the games people play with one another. Most of us just want to be liked, but whether it's between two people meeting in a club or two partners in an established relationship, a lot of us become entangled in a strange game geared mainly toward winning and maintaining the attention and affection of someone we like. So, while friends gripe about it and online profiles express disdain against people who "play games," why do most of us continue with the charade? Do we believe that playing hard to get will make us more desirable and seem less desperate? Why, when most people see someone attractive in a bar/club would they rather stare them down than walk up and start a conversation? Do we believe that pathetic pick-up lines work better than speaking from the heart?

And yet, it seems as though we have both a desire for – but fear of – being noticed. So, when it's attention and affection we so desperately want, why do we hide ourselves behind the games we play? Perhaps we're just afraid of being authentic – as if we have something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is a curious irony that as badly as we want to be liked, we feel compelled to play the role of someone other than who we are. We play games with ourselves and we play games with each other. When we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to standards that we constantly rewrite in our own heads...we will do the same things with others.

That said, I believe there are two factors which interact to fuel many people's behavior (1) Greed and (2) Fear. We become greedy for things we want, but feel we cannot have. We fear uncertainty, and go to great lengths to both avoid it and convince ourselves that we understand our lives and the people in them, rather than accept the fact that ambiguity is a natural element of life and we may not always have as much control as we would like. Faced with confusion and uncertainty, our pulse quickens and uneasiness sets in. We make up stories and excuses to write off the things we can't explain rather than deal with the fact that life doesn't always make sense. We complain about not understanding why people act the way they do instead of just accepting it as fact. We blame ourselves when our partners don't act the way we think they should and sometimes we try to change the people we love rather than just accept them for who they are – blemishes and all. We lust after pleasures we feel will make us complete and give us lasting fulfillment. We believe that guy/girl we've seen at the club will give us the happiness that's been missing for so long. We believe that a higher paying job would help us to feel more fulfilled and successful. We fear alienation and go to great lengths to avoid abandonment – real or imagined. And we believe that being single suggests some flaw in our own character.

The problem for most of us is that once we get what we think we need, we begin longing for something else, once we realize that our void has not truly been filled... that we are not truly satisfied. We lose interest in what we've accumulated and for some people, we lose interest in the relationships we've cultivated. And so the game continues. We wake up in the morning with a new list of desires and a new list of things we feel compelled to accomplish...and yet no matter how hard we work, we are often left feeling deeply unsatisfied.

The way out is simple – stop fighting the current. Relinquish the idea that you have total control over your life and that it will unfold the way you imagine. Things are never as good or bad as you might imagine. People will always surprise or disappoint you. The world is entirely too consumed in itself to really care about how you're dressed. You are your own lifetime companion so don't abandon your own company through fruitless pursuits like drinking, drugging, or mind-numbing television watching. Get over your own insecurities and push your boundaries by talking to that someone you've been watching. Risk rejection rather than pretend to be someone you're not. Get over the fact that you don't have control over everything that happens to you, but know that you do have control over how you react to it.

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I "Like" Doing Things

I "Like" Doing Things

By Daniel M. Fisher Ed.S.

I like to tell my clients how, in order to overcome depression, they have to take action steps to accomplish this goal. Depression is an illness of the minimums. By this I mean it's an illness that takes away motivation, excitement, and interest in our lives for reasons we have a hard time putting a finger on and puts us in the mindset of "how can I get through my day by expending the least amount of effort or energy as possible." Some might disagree with this notion, but I find a lack of motivation and interest in once loved activities really shows up quite a bit and the rationale is "well I just don't feel like it." This is a very passive way of hoping to get out of depression and my question is always "Why would we aid in this process by succumbing to sometimes irrational ideas of avoiding the things we love or avoiding the social connections we crave?"

In pondering these ideas, I recently I found myself scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as I so often do, and "liking" things left and right. A friend of mine made a pithy comment about a celebrity, so, of course, I "liked" it. I saw a picture of a puppy licking an ice cream cone, so I "liked" it. Another friend posted about bicycles, so I "liked" it. Facebook, in its algorithmic wisdom, saw I had "liked" a post about puppies and then about bicycles, so naturally, they suggested that I "Like" the "I Love Puppies" page and "Bicycles" page in order to signify my undying support for these two aspects of my life. And you know what? I did it! I am not ashamed to admit, I love puppies and I love riding bicycles! What a wonderful turn of events! Now, all of the 312 people on Facebook who I've proclaimed to be my "friends" will now know even more about me and for some, our mutual interests will become even more intertwined. It's amazing. I have never felt so close to people in my life.

Only, no one is around. I haven't talked to many of these "friends," save for the occasional supportive "like," in years. I became a little sad in participating in my daily Facebook excavation and I got to thinking about this notion of "liking" things.

It occurred to me how Facebook and other "social" networks help create an illusion of activity and inclusion but accomplish, in many cases, the opposite. For me, sitting and "liking" something is similar to avoiding the actual real life social participation so many suffering from depression describe. It's not on purpose and social networks are a wonderful way to stay connected but, like anything else, it can't be our only form of social activity if we expect to maintain interpersonal relationships and activity levels necessary for overcoming or preventing our depression.

What does it all mean if I don't actually do any of the things I "like" to do? So what am I doing here sitting in front of my computer "liking" things and getting depressed about it when I could be out DOING things? I can only answer that with: "See you later, I'm going for a bike ride."

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Accepting Change

Accepting Change

by Joel Christie

Quick show of hands: how many of you like feeling uncomfortable or being in pain? For most people, change can be painful, scary, or even downright terrifying. Change often pushes us into the unknown, and though it can of course be positive, most of us still tend to resist it because it disrupts routine, moving us into a place of uncertainty where we are forced to adapt and learn anew.

Regardless, this much is certain: change happens. Changes are happening right now while you're reading this and drinking your coffee. Indeed, every second of every day, we are undergoing changes as our cells form and die, while new cells are made, replacing the old ones. These types of changes might not bother us much, because we probably spend little time pondering cellular reconfiguration. Yet this is nevertheless illustrative of the nature of life, pointing towards truths that may make us quite uncomfortable to dwell upon. (Like the fact that all of us are going to die someday. There's a rosy thought.) I don't mean this to sound ominous, but change is inevitable and inescapable. I might imagine I can prevent change, but ultimately I can't. And if I allow myself to believe I can prevent change, my brain may expend considerable mental energy trying to generate ways to stop change from occurring, only to discover again and again that changes happen anyway.

Now, certainly some changes are more within our control than others; changing my career, changing where I live, or changing my hair style. But then again, those same things might not be within my control if, for example, the company I work for downsizes and lays me off, or a hurricane destroys my house, or I lose my hair as a result of cancer treatments. And so often life seems to happen that way, tossing aside our carefully-made plans. How inconsiderate, right?

Here, like this: Our son's due date was September 25th. Well, apparently nobody told him the game plan, because late on the night of August 3rd I rushed wife to the hospital where we learned she would need an emergency C section, rendering the old due date instantly irrelevant. Our son Jack was here, and just like that everything had changed.

I wish I could tell you I handled this situation with zen-like calm, coolly reminding myself that change is a natural and ongoing part of life, and that there is no use yelling at God and the universe that things turned out unfairly, but basically I ran around like my hair was on fire, frantically checking with any doctor in sight to make sure my wife and child were okay, while intermittently crying and pacing around in small circles. You know, that sort of stuff. Because the truth is, I wanted to control the situation. I wanted guarantees that everything was going to be fine. And I didn't want to deal with all this sudden jarring change. The whole situation seemed wrong to me, and I hated the fact that my wife and son were stuck in the hospital, instead of getting ready to come home where they were "supposed to be."

But honestly, that was near the center of the problem: the notion of how things were "supposed to be." I had this cuddly, happy picture in my mind of a glowing new mom and dad heading home with their new baby. That was "supposed to be" us. But it wasn't. People told us over and over "It's not gonna be easy," and "Get used to the idea of never sleeping again. Ever." But nobody said anything about our son staying in the NICU for a month.

Frankly, it wasn't until I accepted that this was how things were that I started to feel a little more grounded. "Supposed to" didn't matter. I could ask my brain a million different ways why things had happened the way they did, but it wouldn't undo anything. On the other hand, accepting the situation would allow me to face what was happening rather than letting my mind spin through endless unanswerable questions about how things were supposed to happen. Don't get me wrong: I think it's okay to look back and ask why questions when we get steamrolled by the unpredictable hardships of life, and I think it's okay to wonder what implications the changes we are going through have for the future. But eventually, our minds also need to return to the present to face the here and now, no matter how scary it might be.

When our focus is on the present, we are able to ask different questions, questions that can ultimately leave us feeling more empowered since we can actually do something about the here and now. What can I do right now to care for my wife and son? I can offer love and support. I can go and bring meals back to the hospital. (As it turns out, hospital food isn't great, just FYI. What flavor is this Jello?) I can pray, or call friends and family, or run errands. And as I begin to see myself not only surviving but actively engaging this present state of life, my fear will gradually diminish. I may still feel sad or hurt or angry, but I can also be comforted and strengthened by the knowledge that I am facing this hardship, not shutting my eyes and wishing this wasn't happening. The change has already happened. And more changes will come. And since this is the reality of the world we live in, I want to move forward with these changes as they happen rather than wasting brain power trying to unmake a situation that cannot be unmade.

Oh, by the way, a month and a half later my wife and son are both home from the hospital, doing well, which is a change that I like very, very much.

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Take Some of the Teeth Out of Failure:

Take Some of the Teeth Out of Failure:

by Joel Christie MA, IMH #10972

Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern

Ever seen one of those competitive cooking shows? You know, where Gordon Ramsey or some other celebrity chef goes around berating the hapless contestants as they scramble and fail to meet his or her expectations. “What’s wrong with you? This fish is as bland as paper! It’s [expletive] disgusting!” And then of course the celebrity chef takes the dish and smashes it into the trash, as though it was so horrible that not even the plate could be salvaged for future use.
Granted, much of this is just camera play, with people being coaxed to act ridiculous so we can have a good laugh in our living rooms. The producers of these shows know that if the celebrity chef tasted the food and simply said, “It could use a little more seasoning, but basically, it’s pretty good,” they wouldn’t have many viewers. But I think there’s something to be gleaned here about how we see failure in this culture. Whether it’s talent shows, or fail blogs (a little “2012,” I know), or just office gossip, I believe there is this pernicious infatuation with failure that has steadily become infused into much of our culture’s mindset.
Or maybe I’m modernizing this too much, spinning this failure obsession like it’s a new development when it’s really not. Because on some level, failure has always been a big deal for humans, hasn’t it? Let’s dial it back 10,000 years when people were really into hunting and gathering. What might failure have meant back then? Well, if Og goes hunting and comes back empty, that’s bad news for the whole tribe, right? And it would actually be a huge problem if Og just shrugged and didn’t care one way or another whether he brought home a deer or not. No, Og realizes that failure matters. He needed that deer, and he didn’t get it. “Dang it. This sucks.” This part of us certainly hasn’t gone away: we still know that there’s something significant about failure. But I wonder if we have grown out of touch with what that “something” is.
Let me toss this idea out there: failure is normal. No, let me go a little further: it’s an unavoidable, inescapable part of life. Yet often failure is depicted as this life-ruining juggernaut which must be avoided at all costs. When someone screws up on one of these competitive cooking shows (or numerous other kinds of reality TV shows, for that matter), he or she did not simply “make a mistake”; no, they are exposed in dramatic fashion as a loser and as someone who does not have what it takes. “You are an idiot. You are pathetic. You are a failure.” And then the person is generally kicked off the show, almost like someone being banished from a tribe. (On “Survivor,” the producers take pains to showcase this as literally as possible.)
Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s just faraway TV Land, which generally doesn’t look or feel a whole lot like my life. (Gordon Ramsey isn’t going to chase me around the kitchen to chastise my subpar cooking.) But what about that anxiety I’m feeling over the report I have to turn into my boss? What about this worry I have about my upcoming test or presentation? Or what about those sales figures I’m not on track to meet? And on, and on.
Maybe the internal dialogue runs something like this: “If I don’t perform well and succeed, other people will realize that I wasn’t up to the task! And I’ll know it too! The evidence is all there! I failed! I am a failure!” (Hopefully the exclamation marks hammered home some anxiety.) Often when I have conversations with clients regarding what they feel anxious about, it feels like they’re trying to convince me that they really truly are hopeless failures; a kind of bizarre anti-resume. And my hunch is that they came to see themselves this way by gradually believing that the failures they experienced define who they are, or, perhaps even more importantly, what they are unable to do.
Let’s get back to Og, our hunter/ gatherer friend for a minute. I get the feeling he might be a likable enough guy. Okay, so Og didn’t get his deer. What’s that mean? Well, from Og’s perspective it’s probably pretty straight forward: “That sucks that I didn’t get the deer. I’ll have to try again because we still need to eat, and have clothes for the winter.” Seen this way, failure simply highlights the urgency of the situation. Action is still needed, but Og’s efforts haven’t paid off for the last few days, so maybe he decides to try something different. Or perhaps, Og remembers other times when he struggled to catch game for a few days, but was patient and eventually got back on track. Maybe it’s winter, and Og knows that winters are just sparse. He doesn’t panic because he’s failed before, and he knows he’ll fail again in the future. But he also believes he’ll eventually bring in some deer, and that keeps him going since he’s also experienced success in his life. The reality is that Og’s situation hasn’t changed: maybe the people in the Nuts, Roots, & Berries Division have been pulling double shifts to get everyone by, but Og knows the tribe still needs him to bring home deer.
Failure informs us that we are facing something challenging, which, paradoxically, should immediately create a spark of hope, since the mere choice to face a challenge requires courage and strength. We can recognize that in facing this challenge we have gained not only the opportunity for personal growth, having allowed our minds and ourselves to be exposed to this difficult problem. Problems are a workout for the brain and can make the brain stronger and more capable of handling discomfort. They can teach us to delay the need for immediate gratification, which in turn allows us to work through harder problems in the future. Unless… unless we start to see this process as pointless, or hopeless. Unless we start to believe that nothing useful or valuable is happening as a result of these problems, setbacks, and failures we’ve experienced. In that case we can become tempted to say it’s not worth it. Not just with this specific problem, or that one—because sometimes it’s good to walk away—but rather we can begin seeking to avoid challenges and risks altogether, since they might lead to that fiendish monster, Failure.
But when we stop facing challenges, I think that's when we really start to feel afraid. Then we no longer have the evidence in front of us to tell us we were strong enough and durable enough to face this difficult situation. Instead what we see in ourselves is someone who shrinks away from many of the things we want in life, and as someone who allows our fear of failure to act as a barrier, limiting us and boxing us in. We may come to resent ourselves for being weak, in which case we will have fallen into an unfortunate trap, believing that the only way we could feel good about this challenge was if we were strong enough to conquer it and be “successful.” But since we believe we're likely to fail, we instead run away, which only reinforces our belief in our own weakness, when in reality, failure is just a necessary part of growing stronger as human beings.
Being able to survive failure is what proves to ourselves that we’re resilient. Success may give us warm, happy feelings and convince us that we’re strong, but realizing that when we get knocked down we are also tough enough to get back up is what allows us to stare at problems and hardships without being petrified that these things will destroy us. “I’ve failed before,” Og thinks to himself. “But I’m still here. I’m still going strong. And tomorrow I plan on getting a deer.” (To cook for Gordon Ramsey. Sorry. Had to.)

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