It’s Complicated


Counseling clients talk  about wanting to move forward in some area of their lives; that’s why they chose to take the time and invest financially into figuring out some things for themselves. Life is complicated and many people get tired of feeling like they are burdening their family and friends with conversations about the same areas of needed growth. Finding a counselor that someone feels very comfortable with and has similar views on life can be a huge help to moving forward.

I will say it again, life is complicated. One of the areas that seems to stumble a lot of people is sorting through competing feelings. Our opinions and emotional ties to one topic can have several different, often opposing, viewpoints.  I see many clients who come into the office to talk about relationships. These are sometimes romantic but they are often also relationships with family members, co-workers or friends. People get tripped up when, within their own minds, they can’t sort out what they are feeling because there are so many different thoughts, like a bunch of bubbles floating through the air. 

To really grasp this idea, either take a good look at the picture above or better yet, go get some bubbles and blow some. Really look at the perfectly round, self-contained circles as they catch the breeze. They are not dependent on one another. Each one is completely autonomous unto themselves. Our feelings are often like this and we can have all these different bubbles of emotions and thoughts happening within us at any given time. When working with clients, I try to normalize the bubble experience and help clients be more comfortable with the feelings within themselves.

As an example, someone could believe that the time might be right to end a relationship. That client may have very different reasons that led them to this moment in time and more than likely, they ping-pong back and forth to all the different “bubbles.” One bubble might be that they have been in the relationship for a long time and therefore have much invested into the relationship working out for the long haul. But the bubble right next to that one is full of sadness because they feel overall very disappointed in the genuine connection within the relationship. Another bubble is full of the fun memories that the two people have created together. The laughter, the good times and the moments they share with only that person.  Floating near by is the bubble of resentment for hurts that have happened within the couplehood. There are usually many bubbles to sort through when someone is facing a possible break-up with a loved one.

I think it’s important that we start to become aware of the bubbles within ourselves. They may not be about ending a relationship but I am 100% sure that each and every one of us has our own set of bubbles. The question is whether we are aware of the discord within our own emotions. It could be changing a career or job, starting something new in life, ending something old in life or a thousand other variations. Do you know what your bubbles are filled with and on what topic? Do you feel the need have only the “right” bubbles floating and try to pop the ones that make you uncomfortable? Don’t feel bad. It’s a common desire to get rid of those bubbles or thoughts that don’t fit neat and tidy into how we see ourselves or what a nice person would think and feel. The problem with just trying to pop the bubble or get rid of unwanted thoughts is that unless we really grapple with the topic, just shoving down the emotions won’t really solve anything because guess what? The bubble comes back and floats around again and again. Simply wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. We must fully work through those things that rattle around in our brains.

Next time you see a bottle of bubbles, go ahead and grab it, open the top, get that slimy wand and blow some bubbles. Watch them as they exist separate and apart from each other. Then think about what emotions and feelings would be in each bubble you see. Then just let it be as it is; until you are ready to really look at the fact of whether there are more positive aspects or negative regarding a decision you need to make. Eventually what we need to do becomes clearer and clearer and then we can take the action we need to. Until that time comes, let all the feelings be separate and try not to force what is complicated to become uncomplicated just because it’s uncomfortable.

So, what are in your bubbles today?

Our Own Worst Enemy

self sabotage

The word sabotage may seem too strong when considering how we might treat ourselves but I really believe that it’s accurate for some situations. We do sometimes sabotage our own success or happiness. It’s just a fact. We subconsciously set into motion certain actions or words that we have a hunch will stop growth from happening and then we may be surprised when we don’t see our hopes come to completion. It’s a vicious cycle that some people sadly never orbit out of and find a path of true breakthroughs.

The question at the heart of it all is why? Why would we intentionally, albeit subconsciously, hinder our own lives? There are several possible underlying faulty beliefs.

I Don’t Deserve Good Things:

If in our heart of hearts, we don’t think we deserve to reach our weight loss goal or have an authentic loving relationship, we will do things that make sure we don’t receive these gifts. Many of us grew up with parents who encouraged our growth and the development of a solid self-image but for every child that was raised in an encouraging home, I believe there are more who did not. If we were not brought up to believe we  deserve goodness and can achieve it, then we will unknowingly sabotage our adult efforts. We have to come to a deep understanding that we were made to live a fulfilling life and it is our duty to give our best efforts towards that goal. Otherwise, we live with a nagging sense that happiness and personal growth are for other people but not us.

I Will Lose Loved Ones If I Change:

As a counselor I often hear people talk about wanting to make significant personal changes in their lives but they are very concerned about how those around them will respond. This is a real challenge for many people. If we go back to school and better our career, we may lose touch with current co-workers or if we decide to take an honest look at our dependency on alcohol, there is a high likelihood that our social circle would need to be altered in maybe some significant ways. We all know on a gut level that as we make radical or even semi-radical changes in our lives, things around us will shift and not all loved ones will be happy with the new us. I find this really sad honestly and should serve as a red-flag that perhaps some of our relationships don’t have our best interest at the core.

If I Try And Fail, I Will Wish I Had Not Tried At All:

To me this is probably one of the hardest of the self-sabotaging thoughts to identify and therefore hard for people to correct. We lie to ourselves and say that of course we want success in life so this concern is often buried way below the surface and requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves if we are going to pinpoint it as a reason for self-sabotage. This fear plays out in a manner that looks like minimal efforts when better efforts were possible. It looks like taking the slightly easier road all the time rather than going full speed into personal growth. Basically, it looks like laziness, half-baked efforts and slothiness (I think I just turned sloth into a verb but you hopefully get my point). Chronically giving less than our best efforts is the name of the game. We often see this in teenagers who are afraid to put themselves out there and maybe not meet the mark even after having tried really hard. This same thinking follows people into adulthood too.

Whatever the reason may be that we find ourselves being our own worst enemy, there are solutions and ways out of this trap.

Are you your own worst enemy? If so, do you identify with one of these faulty thinking patterns or have you developed a different one not listed?

From Anxious to Silent

Some of you may remember that several years ago I went on a four day silent retreat and came back raving about how wonderful it was and how everyone should immediately go on a silent retreat themselves. Well, I went again last Thursday through Sunday and I am back once again proclaiming that it’s a must do item on all To-Do lists.

I pondered what I should write about regarding the experience of entering into a silent retreat and what might be helpful information to share. I think the thing that stands out as the most powerful for me during this retreat was the personal journey I went on from the time I arrived Thursday at 5pm until I left Sunday at 11:30am. I will tell you, it was quite the ride.

I originally decided to go on another retreat because, well frankly, I was tired. Yes, even therapists get burning the candle at both ends and we fizzle out just like all other humans. It might even be more embarrassing when a therapist hits the ditch energy wise because we should know better but it happens nonetheless. So I arrived on Thursday late afternoon and during the evening dinner, retreat participants are still allowed to talk and the ladies I sat with were very friendly and very chatty. Both of which I was not feeling at the moment. Ever feel that way? I went on the retreat by myself on purpose. Sure, everyone goes silent after the evening meal on Thursday until lunch on Sunday but I still really needed to be in my own skin so to speak and therefore I went on the retreat without a group of friends. Me, myself and I were it.

Once I made it through the very animated dinner conversation, to which I smiled, nodded a lot and tried to keep my exhausted head down, we all went to the small chapel on the retreat property to start the first of several short discussions that would take place throughout the four days. The chapel was hot, humid and slightly crowded. Add that to my exhaustion and it wasn’t a good combination. Wham!! Full blow anxiety hit me right there and then. What?! I am a therapist, I shouldn’t feel panic attacks! What? I am in CHURCH (well, a small chapel but the same thing) I shouldn’t feel panic! What?! I AM ON RETREAT! I should most definitely not be feeling anxiety. For those of us who know what anxiety and panic attacks feel like, we know what to do when they arrive  – unwelcomed. I used all the coping skills I teach clients and sure enough, the wave washed away and the panic was gone. But the disappointment remained. It’s disappointing to realize that our bodies have to shout to get our attention.

After chapel, I made my way to my very small, very simple room that would become my sanctuary for the next few days. I was so revved up from being busy for months straight and the extra adrenaline pumping from the wave of anxiety that I was in no mood to be quiet or just sit and read. Luckily I had packed some technological “contraband” into the retreat in the form a portable DVD player and an Academy Award nominated movie. Snuggled in bed with my headphones (so as to not disturb my other dorm neighbors who were actually being silent) and the movie was really good entertainment. Day one of the retreat in the books and a panic attack added to it.

I awoke on Friday to the sound of the bell being rung outside that is intended to gently awaken the retreat participants. I had slept great and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep, so that’s exactly what I did. I ate breakfast, went back to my room and slept. Got up for lunch and then back for more quality time with my pillow. Got up for dinner and then returned for another great night of sleep. I did attend one of the retreat discussions on Friday but I was still in a sleepy haze so I couldn’t really tell you what was discussed but I am sure it had to do with God and prayer and being silent enough to hear Him. The silent retreat I chose to go to was at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House. I am not Catholic but the staff said it didn’t matter and I had already attended one there before and knew first hand what a wonderful experience it was going to be.  We all were there to get quiet enough to listen again.

With Friday being an eating sleeping blur, I didn’t really get much “accomplished” in the way of praying and mediating as I had hoped but I knew until I was more rested, I probably wouldn’t be hearing much in the way of spiritual things anyways.

Awoke Saturday to the pleasant dinging of the bell and as soon as I opened my eyes, I knew I was more rested. There hadn’t really been anything in particular that had drained my energy, other than the normal grind we all do between work and home and hobbies and friends and family and exercise and getting to a never ending To-Do list and so on. My love of reading after the house is all quiet for the evening probably strongly contributed to the level of exhaustion I felt and that habit was something I realized would have to change post-retreat.

So here came Saturday in all its beauty. I started noticing the birds chirping throughout the property, the small little flowers starting to bloom in the early Spring warming air and I felt more like my normal self. Clear headed and ready to get to the business for which I went on the retreat: gaining new insight and wisdom from getting quiet enough to hear again. Saturday was a beautiful day in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and I enjoyed every sun shining moment. I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in front of this fountain on the property.

blog pic fountain

The sound of the water and watching the fish swim was very peaceful and relaxing.

Slowly I began to pray and mediate on some questions I needed answers to and the solutions began to formulate in my mind. This was exactly what I had hoped the silent retreat would provide me. By Saturday at 5pm, I was back in my room and honestly, getting a little bored. I felt more rested, received a few key nuggets of wisdom and was ready to sleep in my own bed at home again. Oh, here, let me share with you what my dorm accommodations looked like:


Nothing fancy, right? Nope. But the dorms do have private baths and you don’t share with a roommate so I was fine. This small space became a cocoon to help me get away from the hustle of every day life. Back to Saturday at 5pm and I was ready to ditch the silent retreat a day early. Luckily I felt too lazy at that moment to pack all my stuff up and make the hour drive home because it was precisely that evening and Sunday morning that my “breakthrough” happened. If I had left early, I would have totally and completely missed the gift that was mine to be received.

Saturday evening and Sunday morning were times of making decision trees. By this I mean that I was rested enough and had prayed enough and read a fantastic book to help me gain new wisdom and I was ready to make a plan. I wrote out a decision tree for several key areas of my life. If this happened, then my next course of action would be that and so on. Saturday night I devoured the book I was reading and was in a ton of gratitude for the insight I was receiving. I slept great that evening too.

I woke up Sunday to the all now familiar bell awakening the participants. I packed to get ready to venture back out into the real world and wham! No, not another panic attack but my first chance to implement one of my new decision tree items. With a course mapped out before me, my decision was already made. I put it into place and knew it was the right thing. Coincidentally (and I don’t think it was a coincidence at all) I had taken with me three silver necklace pendants that were symbolic of something important to me. After the implementation of my first decision tree item, I walked to the end of the pier, said a simple “Thank you and Goodbye” and threw the three pendants into the lake. It was extremely freeing to watch them disappear into the water.

As I finished packing my car of my weekend belongings and drove off the retreat property, I knew I had left something on the campus. Not only was it the three pendants now in Lake Lewisville, but I left behind more than that; I left my tiredness, and anxiety. I gained sleep, peace of mind, implementation of a decision and excitement about the other decision trees I have yet to put into place but plan on as the right season shows itself.

I highly recommend a time of getting away from the noise of life and our own voices. As a quote I saw recently said “Get quiet enough so that you can really listen.” I wholeheartedly agree. Shhhh…..

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 07/31/13


Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) The highs and lows in life are very hard to understand but if we can embrace them as the normal cycle of being a human, then maybe we won’t feel falsely reassured during the highs and not as defeated when the lows hit. Whatever cycle we are currently in will change; in both directions and back again and repeat. It’s just life.

2) No one is all good or all evil. There are many shades of colors within people. We get to decide what colors are acceptable to us for those that we do life with in close proximity.

3) People go through emotional growth seasons in their lives and being along side someone, as support, who is changing and morphing into something better can be challenging for us but so well worth the outcome on the other side for those we care about and love.

4) Manage your money and don’t let it manage you. If money feels like it slips through your fingers quickly, write down everything you spend money on in a month. Not a budget. Just write down what was already spent and where. It’s a great first step to managing it better.

5) People may not love us the way we wish but they might be loving us the only way they know how to or are motivated to do. We have to decide if they are able to meet our love needs or not. Never try to insist that people change how they love. It’s an exercise in futility. Just watch and see what they do or don’t do through their own internal motivation. Politely ask for what we need but never demand it because even if it’s done after our demands, it comes with resentment from the giver.

What’s on your list? 

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 07/24/13


Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) Personal change is really hard for people. We will make all kinds of excuses and rationals for not doing what is in our long-term best interest. We have to be very careful not to extend a poor quality of living by doing mental gymnastics to justify keeping the status quo. If in doubt; ask a trusted close friend if you are making excuses and see what their answer is to you. The truth is that you probably already know without asking. Most of us do.

2) The summer between high school graduation and college is a challenging time for many young adults. As parents and family members, we need to be patient with the struggle of growing up. Not everyone is going to embrace the changes that come with ending high school and judgement is the last thing these young adults need.

3) The silent treatment in relationships is damaging and leads to all sorts of ills. If we have a problem with someone, we need to speak up and share it. Manufacturing silence is passive-aggressive.

4) Feeling lonely is a normal human experience. Not a feeling anyone particularly enjoys but the alone times are great for reflective soul searching and finding strength within ourselves that maybe we didn’t know we had.

5) Many parents have started the internal countdown to school and will do a happy dance after drop-off on the first day. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by 24/7 of kids during the summer and let’s try to appreciate every day we have with our kiddos. Before we know it, they will be gone to work and living in their own homes (hopefully!). Adult children at home is a topic for a blog maybe.

What’s on your list?