License #: 091604
New York, NY
Master of Social Work
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
If you look through your baby book, you might see that "milk," "ball," or "gimme" are listed under Baby's First Words. Around age 1, we learn to communicate our wishes to those around us. If we're lucky, our parents use sign language to communicate with us before we’ve mastered our verbal skills. No matter what our native language is, verbal or otherwise, communication becomes the cornerstone of our relationships.
Why is it, then, that we adults have such difficulty communicating our needs, feelings, or vulnerabilities to our loved ones?
I need us to have more sex.
I feel hurt when you spend more time on the internet than you do with me.
I stopped talking to you because I really felt embarrassed that I forgot your birthday.
Doesn’t seem so hard, right? Wrong. What gets in the way of expressing our feelings? Pride, fear, and shame for starters.
Our pride often leads us to believing our partners are mind-readers. He should know that I want to spend time with him when he gets home from work. I shouldn’t have to say it. Or, she should know that I had a long day and just want to go on facebook to unwind. Should is a bad word; pride an even worse word. None of us are psychics, and we’d fare better in our relationships if we take the guesswork out for our partner and communicate our wants and needs.
In the Venn diagram of fear and shame, distress can be found in the overlapping area. We avoid distress like it’s the plague, because sometimes it feels that way. Has your stomach ever been in knots over expressing your feelings to someone? Have you ever had chest pain in the midst of an emotional discussion with your partner? It’s not the plague; our emotions can cause us physical distress. And when I talk about distress in terms of fear and shame, I’m referring to fear of rejection, humiliation, and embarrassment. Oddly, we tolerate one kind of distress (feeling rejected when we feel uncared for or feeling embarrassed when we make others feel uncared for) to avoid tolerating the distress of expressing our true feelings. See? It’s that difficult.
How can we swallow our pride, face our fears, and express our feelings to our loved ones? Practice, practice, practice. Start with something small, like, It would mean a lot to me if you kiss me goodbye when you leave for work. Or, It makes me really happy when you do the dishes after dinner. Try it. It can be truly liberating to let your partner, your kid, your friend know how they can improve their relationship with you. Later, on to the bigger topics like chronic dissatisfaction in your relationship (before it’s too late) or grudge-holding in your friendships. If you have trouble finding the right opportunity (i.e., your resistance is palpable), make an appointment to have the conversation. Something like Can we go for breakfast on Saturday morning? should do the job. Write a letter or an email. Get.Your.Feelings.Out.
The longer you bottle up your feelings, the longer it takes for your relationships to improve. Remember, no one is a mind reader (including the ones who put out a shingle and charge for it); it’s up to you to let those around you know how you feel. Use your words. Articulate your feelings. Communicate. If babies can do it, so can you.*
*Please note: This may sound easier than it is. Especially when you’re in a relationship with someone who might say, “No, I cannot go out for breakfast Saturday morning… if you are just going to bother me about (fill in the blank).” More on how to handle this in my next blog post...
No, it’s not your responsibility to worry that something terrible is going to happen to your loved ones when they leave the house. It’s not imperative that you be anxious about how others see you. And, I’m pretty sure that stressing yourself out about all the things you need to do next week is not something you need to make sure you do every single day until next week.
It’s just not your job (or anyone else’s) to worry. There, now stop worrying.
Did you? Of course not. I know, easy to say, not easy to do. Well, it might be easier than you think. It’ll take some work on your part, but with practice, you may see results and find some relief fairly quickly.
Although a bit of worrying can sometimes serve a purpose, chronic or excessive worrying and anxiety can be bad for your health. Experiencing anxiety may be genetic, environmental, or both. Whether it’s from a past trauma or experience, or a chemical imbalance in the brain, there are ways to take control of your anxiety and how it affects your life.
Speaking of control, it’s that I-have-no-control feeling that often leads to intense anxiety and worry. Worrying about anything from how the weather is going to affect our plans to how to prevent cancer from spreading in our loved ones gives us a sense that we can control the outcome. We can’t. What about when we worry about finances or how well we’re going to perform at work or in school? Do we have control over such things? We do. Great, so we can continue to worry about them. But we don’t need to.
This is not new information. Between this vintage Jack Lalanne segment, a newer cheat sheet version called The Worry Tree, and the ubiquitous Serenity Prayer, anxiety and worries could have been eradicated long ago. But like I said, it takes work. Just like those inspirational quote memes your friends post on facebook, if you don’t incorporate change into your life, the effects of such affirmations are fleeting.
The concept is simple; the execution is challenging, but possible. It begins with awareness, as does any change in behavior. Here’s how it works:
Notice the worry and ask, “What am I worried about?”
Then ask, “Can I do anything about it?”
If no, work to push the worry away, and refocus your attention.
If yes, make a plan of what to do and when to do it, push the worry away, and refocus your attention.
Let’s use the previous examples. You’re having an outdoor party, and thunderstorms are in the forecast. Worrying that your party is going to be ruined is your reflexive response. Checking the hourly forecast as often as possible is your flawed solution that gives you the illusion of having control. Can you do anything to stop the thunderstorms? No. Then stop. Refocus. But wait! Can you do anything to prevent your guests from being soaked? Yes! Get a canopy. Move the party indoors. Plan accordingly. If it’s not within your control, don’t worry about it; if it is, do something about it.
It’s hard, I know. But, I see its success every day with my patients. If it can work for them, it can work for you. Work is the operative word, but it works.
Of course, dealing with your worries in this way doesn’t address the underlying causes of your maladaptive coping mechanisms to defeat anxiety. A combination of a cognitive behavioral approach (as exemplified above) coupled with psychodynamic therapy (understanding the role of your childhood experiences) is like a 1-2 punch to conquer anxiety and excessive worrying. Medication gets an honorable mention.
Try the steps. Repeat daily. Quit your worrying. Don’t quit your day job.
Imagine waking up each day, feeling grateful for who you are and eager to get started on your day, ready to pursue your career and your relationships with passion. Unfortunately, for too many women that feeling is a fantasy. With the many roles and responsibilities women take on every day in their careers, relationships, families, and increasingly, in their online personas, it’s easy to lose sight of one’s identity and purpose.
BeHER Circles are made for women who are ready the write the next chapter of their lives. We help you develop the strategies and support to leave old habits behind and take bold steps forward in your life, career, and relationships. BeHER Circles include no more than eight participants and meet in person for 90 minutes every week for eight weeks.
At each session, a licensed, professional BeHER therapist will challenge each group member to give voice to her aspirations and talk about the things that are holding her back. Attendees are encouraged to listen to one another intently and help each woman shift her thought processes so she can move forward and grow. Through homework assignments and check-ins with the group leader, participants will have the opportunity to practice new behaviors and reflect on their progress.
New Circles begin in February and March 2017! Contact me for more information.
BeHER is about intention with action, a no-nonsense blend of psychotherapy, life coaching and straight up insight to help you realize and become who you know you are. BeHER's mission is to provide thoughtful, experienced, educated content and services to all women who are ready to live big, full, expressive lives. BeHER is about stepping back from the critical voices in our heads, the ones that judge and say we will never measure up. It’s about breaking free from old patterns and tuning in to this kinder, more forgiving, patient voice in our heads that is actually already there. BeHER is about drowning out the voices that keep you from moving forward and from hearing and trusting your authentic self. BeHER is your support, your cheerleader and your biggest fan.