It’s Complicated

relationships

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?

Can’t Win Them All

It’s funny how age doesn’t change some things in life. In one day I spoke with a tween and two adults about the exact same topic but three different counseling sessions. They had the same concerns, same challenges and the same solutions would work in all three situations. It made me realize that if we don’t learn better ways of handling things as kids and teenagers, we are probably going to still be struggling with the same life challenges as adults.

On that particular day, the topic that both young and older were dealing with was how to not allow other people to affect their happiness, self-esteem and behaviors. That’s a big dilemma for a lot of people. How do we not function like human sponges soaking up the opinions of others and to our own detriment? If we are ever going to be free from being emotionally brought down by others, there are a few basic facts that we must accept as reality.

1) Certain People Will Never Like Us

Harsh? No. Just a true statement. We can’t win all people over to be our friends or even to be cordial to us. For a variety of different reasons, some people will never accept us. They will gossip about us, complain about us and basically never let their guard down enough to find our redeeming qualities. They want to dislike or even hate us.  There are also those people in the world that need one person to be their target for releasing frustrations and sometimes that person is us. We must factor in our life mathematical equation people who won’t like us. By allowing this to be a normal part of being human, we will have an easier time when we run into those people who will not consistently be nice. We can, non-emotionally, put them in the Doesn’t Like Me box and happily move on. Who is on your list that doesn’t like you and are you learning to be ok with it?

2) It Isn’t Personal 

At times, folks are not our fans because of our own behaviors. We need to be willing to take an honest look at that possibility and correct ourselves where and when needed. But if after a personal inventory, we can not find a true valid reason for someone to be rude to us or intentionally try to cause us stress, then we must realize that their attitude towards us isn’t personal. There are a lot of reasons people behave the way they do. Sometimes it’s because they are jealous of something we possess and they don’t. Other times, they could be acting out of a subconscious dislike of someone else that we remind them of so we get the full brunt of their frustrations. If we are truly not causing discord, then we have to remind ourselves that it’s not about us but them. We might have to repeat this often in our heads. When people are mean, it’s easy to take it on personally but it’s incredibly freeing when we truly grasp that their attitudes are not personal to us. They are probably rude to many other people in their world too.

3) Be Aware Of Our Own Hurt Feelings

There are times when we react to rude people in a more amplified way because really, we wanted to be friends with them and they clearly don’t like us. Or if we didn’t want to be friends, maybe we were seeking out respect in the work place or a promotion we felt was ours but someone else received. When we interact with all people, but especially those who are rude to us, we have to be consistently mindful of our own emotional temperature. Are we well-rested or tired? Happy in life or chronically disappointed? Lonely or feeling included? All these factors play into how we approach other people and respond to them as well.

In a nutshell, if we don’t want to absorb all of the negativity that some people hurl towards us, we must learn these essential boundaries. Otherwise, we will internalize things that we shouldn’t and in doing so, our own joy and self-esteem will diminish greatly.

Drama Flies

relationships

Have you ever met a Drama Fly? You know, the type of people that buzz around creating drama where ever they land? These flies might be whizzing around the proverbial water-cooler at work or lazily hanging on the fence chatting it up with a neighbor or click-clacky talking on their cell phones. Their sole mission is to stir up drama because they can’t live without it. Life becomes too peaceful or stable and POOF! Off to flight they go to drop nuggets of word-goo at just the right time in order to set into motion a series of events that will get their blood pumping just a little (or a lot) faster.

Isn’t everyone in pursuit of a quiet peaceful life? Nope. That type of existence simply doesn’t work for some individuals. They are not to be demonized here but rather we are to gain a better insight into their actions and motives so we can avoid getting caught in their webs (if flies created webs, that is, but you get my point).

Drama flies. They can’t sit still long enough to allow their heart rate to lower to a nice rhythmic pulse. That’s super duper uncomfortable for these folks. Only in drama and chaos do they feel truly alive. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of starting a good war between people or maybe it’s the power that comes from flicking the first domino and watching the rest fall at their own touch. There are as many reasons why they do what they do, as there are flies out there in your world and mine.

So what is a person who doesn’t like drama supposed to do? Recognize the flies for what they are. We don’t necessarily always have the luxury of bringing out a very large fly swatter and taking care of the problem. We often can’t just cut off contact with people who create drama (fly swatter example) so instead we have to recognize when they start to hover and are looking for a place to land and vomit their gossip. Drama flies love gossip. They also love embarrassing other people or trying to ever so casually interject a backhanded put down. Maybe they think we don’t see it and sometimes we don’t, but often we do. I think we almost always feel it though. We may feel slightly more aggravated after we come in contact with them. If we can’t use a swatter and get away, bug repellent is a good idea. That comes in the form of not taking the bait the next time we are invited into drama.  Laugh it off, talk about something else or simply choose to not take to heart what the drama fly is saying are all ways we can repel the efforts to suck us in.

We must always remember that not everyone wants an authentic life so we have to be aware that statistics would tell us that we are very likely to come into contact with a drama fly sooner than later.

Do you know who the drama fly is in your life?

 

Alone But Not Lonely

“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape” – Hooks

I absolutely love this quote. I love, love, love this quote actually! Have you ever read something and it just perfectly captures what you have been mediating on lately? That is what this did for me. I came across it and just knew it was going to be a blog topic.

I think the reason it resonates with me so greatly is because as a counselor I am often asked to guide people into becoming more emotionally self-sufficient and self contained in general. Many of us were raised to believe that unhealthy dependency on others is actually normal and a sign of love. But it really isn’t. Unhealthy dependency leads to all sorts of lopsided relationships and is the breeding ground for more loneliness than ever desired.

The ability to enjoy solitude is a character trait that should be fostered; if it doesn’t come naturally. Some of us just hum well alone. We enjoy our times of quiet and reflection. Others of us are very uncomfortable with being by ourselves.  So far in life, I have experienced both sides of this fence. For many years I did not do alone well. At all. I was constantly seeking out companionship and actually dreaded the feelings and thoughts that came when the room got quiet. But in my old age (that’s a joke, I am only in my early forties and refuse to act old) I have really come to enjoy solitude. What made the difference in this shift? Peace of mind.

In order to do exactly as the quote above says, we have to work through the barriers to becoming comfortable in our own skin and with our own companionship. Folks share that when things quiet down too much, feelings of depression and anxiety start creeping in and they don’t like it. Therefore, they stay busy, busy, busy with people in order to keep unwanted thoughts from overtaking them. The first step to appreciating solitude is to work through the barriers that rob us of our enjoyment of it.

People who are comfortable with solitude will naturally have a smaller group of friends orbiting in their life and that has to be ok. When people don’t use others as a means of escape  they will have a few key people in their lives but it won’t be cluttered with vastness of companions who are enjoyed at varying degrees.  There is no need for a wide circle of friends and acquaintances when are not using people for our own emotional needs. Our friendships become about quality rather than quantity.

Being able to enjoy our own company leaves us room to truly love another person because we don’t enter into the relationship looking for a need to be met that is being falsely projected outward, rather than finding it within ourselves. Only emotionally healed people can really love another person unconditionally and completely.

Do you enjoy solitude or are there barriers to enjoying it that need to be removed?

Game of Cat and Mouse

couple's counseling

“It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do…”
– Wicked Game by Chris Isaak

Well, isn’t that the truth.

We have all witnessed either ourselves or others behave in very odd ways when love, romance and desire is in the room. Good normal sound thinking people become foolish and not always in great ways. Sometimes love induced foolishness is sweet and fun to be a part of or to watch in others. Sometimes love induced foolishness is downright ugly and toxic.

Foolishness comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s not recognizing when an emotional game is being played and only one person of the couple knows the rules. Wicked game indeed. The games people play within relationships are things that heartbreak, anxiety and ulcers are made of. As a counselor I have seen a dozen variations of the games that get played between two people who supposedly love and adore one another.

Sometimes people play a game of Cat and Mouse wherein they engage in a battle of pursuing and running away. Come close and flee.  Be emotionally and/or physically connected and then run away; while leaving the other one to take to the chase and pursue what was once enjoyed but has now vanished. We have to restrain from assuming that men are stereo-typically the ones who come close and run away, with women being the pursuer of the bonding that was shared. Women run too.

Now I do need to say that some form of cat and mouse is normal and even healthy for a couple. Every relationship includes times of the couple coming close and then needing to have space to give the relationship some breathing room. It’s great when both partners understand the need to maintain their individuality and interests separate from the couplehood. It’s especially great when both partners know that time apart is not intended to be an emotional Siberia or wicked game. Couples have to talk about how their time will be managed so that confusion and hurt feelings are not the outcome of what otherwise is a healthy component to a relationship.

The toxic version of Cat and Mouse involves calculated and deliberate attempts to control the emotions of another person and to maintain some sense of power within the relationship; one pursues emotional bonding and one runs away as a game. That’s not healthy.

If you find yourself in a Cat and Mouse relationship, I encourage you to watch for patterns and see how and when the Mouse runs away. Is he/she trying to manipulate your emotions or simply needs some time apart? If manipulation is the game, I suggest you immediately stop running towards the Mouse and deal with the situation.

Communicating how your partner’s actions feel for you is critical. Then wait and see what they do with that information. Married folks, don’t let this issue sit idle without being addressed. It is the type of behavior that will create the walls that separate you two. Single people, think long and hard about whether this is the type of life you want to live for years and perhaps decades to come because if the Mouse isn’t willing to change their emotional manipulations now while dating, it might be time to find another Cat who knows how to be in a relationship that is free from wicked games.