Monday, April 2, 2018

Time for Self Assessment?

Self Assessment
by Annie Nicol, MSW, LSW

               Have your ever caught yourself in an incident of road rage first thing in the morning? Perhaps you’ve snapped at someone in the grocery store line or been unnecessarily harsh with your kids. Chances are, there was something else going on in your life that made you react that way. On the way to work, you were nervous about your afternoon meeting. In the grocery store, you were late to pick your kids up from school again and felt that you would be judged by other parents. Maybe you had been reprimanded by your boss at work earlier in the day which resulted in being frustrated and taking it out on your children.

               We relate to our environment and the people in it through a lens of overall well-being. There are many factors that can affect our well-being, such as relationships, stress level, physical and emotional health, and feelings of competence at our workplace or school. If one of these factors is out of sorts, it can and probably will affect one of the others. 

               Self-assessment is a useful tool that allows us to look at each of those main “factors” in our lives and deal with them individually. In the situations described above, if the antagonizing event or situation had been coped with appropriately, there would be less frustration in other situations.

               This is where self-assessment comes in. We all have difficult days, and behaving badly makes us feel even worse. When you find yourself having a particularly rough moment, stop yourself before you enter a new situation. Do a quick self-assessment to gauge your overall wellbeing;

What has made me upset? What is the exact cause?

Does it have to do with the people I will be seeing next?

How can I respond appropriately to the people around me? 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Social Isolation

Social Isolation
by Annie Nicol, MSW, LSW

Autumn is quickly wrapping up and we soon we will welcome winter. Along with the beautiful colors and chilly weather comes the desire to curl up on the couch with blankets and binge Netflix. While that certainly sounds tempting, given the lack of warm weather and fun outdoor activities, be aware of the toll that social isolation can take on your body and mind!

1. Loneliness can damage your physical health by causing stress hormones to rise, which can lead to poor sleep and a compromised immune system.

2. Being alone for a long period of time without external stimulation can cause your brain to turn inward, which can lead to poor self-esteem without positive social reactions from others. When alone without encouragement and feedback from others, we often imagine the worst. 

3. Lack of vitamin D through sunshine and warm weather activities can already be a bummer. Allowing yourself to isolate and engage in “comfort activities” like lying around, eating, and watching TV can result in depression and weight gain, which can lead to lower self-esteem and increase the desire to socially isolate.

Despite the inner drive, it’s important to still get out there! Try to do these things each day to ward off the winter blues:

1.       Engage in conversation

2.       Exercise in some way

3.       Get out of your home environment

Enjoy the season and stay active- and encourage your family members to do the same with you!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Preventing the daily betrayal

Prevent the Damage from Betrayal in a Relationship

Prevent the Damage from Betrayal in a Relationship
When we hear the word “betrayal” within the context of marriage many quickly think of an affair or infidelity within the relationship.  While both of those absolutely are a type of betrayal, the reality is there are many more betrayals within a marriage- many of which “happy couples” do to one another often, even daily.   
Couples seeking counseling more often than not are doing so to help repair their marriage.  By proactively avoiding the following betrayal action, couples can work to PREVENT damage to the relationship.   Betrayal can be broken into 4 categories: Negative Ignoring, Disinterest, Active Withdrawal & Secrets.  

Stage 1:  Negative ignoring

This is where the beginning of the end often starts.  When couples (or one part of the couple) starts to turn away from the other intentionally it is the first sign of betrayal.  Something as simple as not responding when the partner says “wow – look at that!” or “I had something interesting happen today….”  Limited grunts or no response starts the division between partners and can build resentment.  This  ignoring the connection moments leads to less desire to connect which further and can distance the relationship.    
In this stage partners also can find themselves comparing their partners negatively to others.  “Amy’s husband never complains about this…..” or “Brad’s wife at least tries to work out.”   Even if those comments are not verbally shared with the partner, having the negative comparisons starts to divide a couple and create a negative thought pattern toward one another. From this, it is not a hard step to reach the level where dependence on one another lessens and it’s assumed the other isn’t there when wanted/needed.  This betrayal often appears as a mental laundry list of the partner’s shortcomings.  Mentally dwelling on  “my husband is clueless when it comes to knowing how I balance our lives” or “my wife has no idea what I do all day” may seem like a way to blow off steam but it’s actually a betrayal of the relationship. Too many of such thoughts and behaviors lead to larger betrayals found in stage 2.  
Stage 1: Negative ignoring at a glance
·         Turning away from the partner (ignoring chance for connection)
·         Negative comparisons and overall negativity toward one another

·         “Not there for me” mentality

Stage 2: Disinterest

When a relationship encounters behavior from stage 2, it is a more progressive form of betrayal. This stage requires the individuals to start to become less interested in one another and behave accordingly. They stop sharing as much with the other (i.e. the answer to “How was your day” is usually “fine” and nothing else.)  The desire to share time, efforts & general attention start to decrease.  Often times there is a shift from attention/energy and instead of sharing it with the spouse that same energy/attention starts to go toward other relationships (i.e. prioritizing friendships or children over spouse) or attention can go too much to distractions (i.e. social media, hobbies, involvement elsewhere.)  When couples are sacrificing less, sharing less and investing less with one another it is a dangerous zone to be as these disconnecting behaviors can become repetitious and lead to actual withdrawal from the relationship.

Stage 2: Disinterest at a glance

·         Avoid conflict and sharing.  Self-disclosure is minimal.
·         Connection attempts declines
·         Less dependency & investment in the relationship – spending time, energy, attention elsewhere

·         Sacrifice less for one another

Stage 3: Active withdrawal

Betrayal behavior from stage 3 is some of the most damaging to a relationship.  This stage is about actively withdrawing from a partner.  The behavior toward one another is often critical or defensive. Most people can identify this couple- unless it is them. The defensive and critical couple is quick to judge one another, they’re short, show frustration quickly and often verbally or physically show annoyance with the other over simple things not worthy of the response they get in this phase.  
Partners feel lonely in stage 3 even with one another as the communication has become so strained it’s difficult to connect again.  There is limited intimacy during this stage…and the desire to initiate anything romantic is non-existent.  One of the most common betrayals in this phase is the “trashing” of the partner to others. This not only is disrespectful but publicly is sharing the breakdown of the marriage, encourages others to choose sides and agree with the negative mentality and jump on the bandwagon.  Partners during this phase are quite likely keeping record of the shortcomings of one another, feeling lonely even starting to let their mind wander to “I wonder if I would be happier alone…. or with someone else….”  And when such thoughts and betrayals enter a relationship, stage 4 is not far away.
Stage 3: Active Withdrawal at a glance
·         Maximize partner negative traits & minimize their positive traits
·         Defensive and critical behaviors toward one another
·         Trash partner mentally or to others
·         Build resentment vs. gratitude  
·         Loneliness in relationship builds (vulnerability to others begins)
·         Partner refuses sex. (no passion/romance)

·         Mostly anti-relationship thoughts

Stage 4: Secrets

The Secrets stage is when the end is near. Betrayal has become a way of life in the relationship.  One or both parts of the couple is keeping secrets from the other. Things such as a credit card the other doesn’t know about or have records of, emails that aren’t known, social media accounts, lunches out, a co-worker/friend who has become more important than they maybe should have, activities throughout the day, the way time is spent online, financially or with colleagues.  The less the partners share- the more the betrayal builds.  This is true even if infidelity has not entered the relationship.  As the little fences of secrecy are built and living a transparent relationship becomes nearly impossible, the relationship goes from holding small secrets to major ones- and the betrayal builds.
Deep into stage 4, it is quite easy for a partner to cross boundaries and enter into another relationship. Usually, an affair is not about finding love with another partner but instead about finding a listener, affection, empathetic communication and respite from marital conflict.  When the stages of betrayal have become so entwined within a relationship, crossing boundaries to even more betrayal is almost a logical next step for partners.  

  • Stage 4: Secrets at a glance
  • ·         Don’t fight off other relationship potentials
  • ·         Little fences of secrecy are built up between the couple
  • ·         Actively turn to others to seek what is missing in relationship
  • ·         Cross boundaries – real betrayal unfolds and deception becomes a way of life

While the stages are listed in the order it’s possible for couples/individuals to jump throughout the stages with their behavior.  Paying attention to any betrayal step – regardless of what stage – is critical to the success of the relationship.  The more betrayal that is avoided within the relationship, the stronger it will be!  Paying attention to behaviors from self and partner are important. Self-awareness and willingness to honestly discuss when there has been a betrayal (or perception of one) is the only way safeguard against future betrayals and stop the actions from progressing through the steps.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Holiday Tips....for the introverts

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Cue to song...."It's the most wonderful time" feel overwhelmed!
For an introvert the thought of sleigh bells can be lovely....if enjoyed quietly without chaos.  The idea of a holiday meal can be wonderful....without the requirement to be hugged and surrounded by everyone and make small talk for hours upon end.  The concept of getting together with loved ones is wonderful...until there is no place to escape and the noise becomes deafening. 

Being introverted doesn't mean someone dislikes the holidays. An introvert is not a shy or anti-people person.  In fact they're not even socially anxious.  Being introverted means that someone is drained by too much time with others. An extrovert is energized by people, celebrations and crowds.  An introvert finds the exact opposite in such settings.  

As we approach the holidays- a time of gatherings, celebrations, masses around a table and crowded malls, stores & events - an introvert is sure to have that overwhelmed and drained feeling at least once.   Introverts want to be included, love their people and the holidays but know they must not push themselves too much or the stress gets in the way and they must find ways to re-energize. 

To help prepare you (if you're an introvert) or help a loved one (if you're hosting an introvert) consider the following:  

* Have a list of topics you're comfortable discussing planned in advance. This helps to combat the ambush of questions "tell me all about.....". Having a few one liner replies pre-planned helps to combat the requirement to instantly come up with small talk. For those hosting, don't ambush!   A simple welcome such as "I am so glad you're here. Happy Thanksgiving" is much more welcome than a "tell me all about what's happened since we were last together."  

* Know that it is OK to escape the room for a bit.  Pack a pair of walking shoes for any event.  The chance to escape for a brisk walk outside is not only a healthy option in the midst of mass eating but a welcomed chance for silence too.  Feel confident taking such a walk!  And if someone says they're going on a walk, don't include yourself in their chance for freedom.  

*  Find a way to be involved without feeling overly drained.  Offer to (or accept the offer to) run to the store for the forgotten cranberries.  Offer to/accept help to set the table (alone) or pour drinks.  Go outside to check on the fire or add wood. 

* Bring an activity that encourages quiet time together - or time alone yet with the group.  Large groups are prone to getting loud.  Bring an activity such as an old photo album to share or a puzzle.  You can hide in plain site but not feel so overwhelmed with the requirements to be overly involved.  

* Don't ask the introvert if they're OK.  Don't ask why they're taking an extra long restroom break or tell them they seem quiet.  They need time to regroup, re-energize and have a moment to handle the holidays.  In fact if you know an introvert is attending a holiday- provide ways for them to escape.  Offer them the chance to go into a separate room and read for a moment or encourage a walk.  By granting permission to escape they don't feel guilty doing so.

* It's OK to skip an event or leave early.  There should be no guilt in doing so.  Sometimes enough is enough and leaving when the energy is too low is the best option for everyone. 

These steps are true for children as well. A child doesn't always know themselves as well but parents need to protect them from feeling too drained at the holidays.  These steps can be helpful for children during the holidays: 

* Introverted children should not be forced to hug every relative (this is true for any child- but especially introverted kids.)  

* Don't encourage children to host their own show & tell time i.e. "Why don't you tell Grandma all about your....."  Allow children to share what/when they want.   

* Provide a separate room for children to escape to and have activities prepared for them such as coloring, a movie, permission to read a book or go outside alone. 

* Share the plans with the child in advance of traveling/attending events.  

* Be sure to leave enough time between events for re-energizing and down time. Going from one event to the next is very difficult, espeically for an introvert.  

And while the holiday get togethers are inevitible in many ways, allow yourself the chance to re-energize in ways you want.  Schedule the massage.  Read the book.  Take a long bath.  Sit in the silence with a glass of wine.  These are your holidays too!  

Best wishes & Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Headed for Hoarding?

The term “hoarding” is used today to describe everything from a messy closet to a collection of baseball cards. Although hoarding behaviors have existed for hundreds of years, the term gained national exposure with recent television programs portraying extreme cases. Let’s clear up the confusion by explaining what hoarding IS from a mental health:

·       Difficulty discarding things, regardless of monetary value
·       Inability to use home or rooms for intended purpose
·        This difficulty discarding is due to perceived need to save the items and the distress associated with discarding 
·       Keeping items results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use.
·       The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

·       Unresolved grief and loss - having things provides comfort.
·       Depression – lack of motivation and/or fatigue
·       Childhood trauma - having things provides safety vs people who do not
·       ADHD (unmedicated) – inability to focus on organization; things become overwhelming
·       Physical/mental disabilities – unable to clean or organize due to physical/mental conditions
·       Information Processing Deficits - learning disabilities in either visual and/or auditory perceptions
·       Difficulties with Memory early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s

Reasons people give themselves for not seeking help:
·       Embarrassment/shame/denial
·       Minimizing behavior (it’s not that bad)
·       These items give me a sense of safety and comfort.
·       Without these items I don’t know what to do with myself.
·       If I lose these items, my sense of loss and grief will overwhelm me.
·       I will not be able to cope.
·       I am just disorganized; I am not a hoarder
·       If I had a few days off, I could get this done.

·       Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – (CBT) – Change the way you think and it will change the way you feel and act
·       Exposure Methods
·       Reducing acquiring
·       Improve organizational and/or decision-making skills
·       Replace acquiring with other pleasurable activities
·       Learn problem-solving skills
·       Categorizing items and their uses

The above information is not a comprehensive illustration of hoarding causes, symptoms, and treatments and is not meant to replace a professional evaluation and diagnosis. If you have questions about you and/or a loved one or friend who exhibits similar behavior, please call our office for an appointment. Kala Johnson, MA, LPC specalizes with clients battling hoarding behavior and is available to help! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Transparency Needed for Infidelity Recovery

(As previously published on,  contributed by Bridges Counseling's Lesley Cross)
Recovery From Infidelity With Transparency- Possible?
Infidelity. Affair. Cheating. Betrayal.  They’re all ugly words. None of us want to even say them aloud. And certainly none of us want to use them to describe our marriages. After all, we vowed “till death do us apart”…
For many, those vows are truly that, a vow. But when infidelity enters a marriage, that line of the wedding ceremony is often quickly replaced with “as long as we both shall love” and then the march to the best divorce attorney begins.  

Infidelity doesn’t have to result in divorce

But this doesn’t have to be the case.  While infidelity  is often cited as a prominent cause for the termination of a marriage, it doesn’t really have to end it.  In fact, many couples who experience infidelity do not to let it end their marriage but instead to take the painful attack on their vows and turn it into a marriage strengthening opportunity.
Affairs don’t mean the end. Instead, they may lead to the beginning of a marriage you never had before- but with the same partner.

Things can never be the same as they were before

When working through marital struggles, couples often share (anything from communication to infidelity) that they “just want to go back to the way it used to be.”  To that the answer always is- ‘you can’t.  You can’t go backwards. You can’t undo what’s happened. You’re never going to be the same as you were before.” But this isn’t always a bad thing.

There is hope if both partners are committed to make the relationship work

Once infidelity has been discovered- and the extramarital relationship has been ended- the married couple decide they want to work on their marriage.  There is hope. There is a mutually desired foundation.  The path ahead can be confusing, rocky, difficult but the climb is ultimately well worth it for those dedicated to rebuilding the marriage.  Recovering from an affair is not an easy 1-2-3 routine for either parties in a relationship. Both people in the relationship suffer- differently – yet the marriage suffers together. One key component to recovery is full transparency.
Recovery From Infidelity With Transparency- Possible?

1. Full transparency within support circles

Couples undergoing infidelity recovery can’t do this alone.  The betrayed can’t suffer in silence and the betrayer can’t “get away” without the truth being known. The truth needs shared not only for accountability but also for support.  This is an awkward and emotionally challenging conversation to have with friends, family and colleagues- but if you’re going to make your marriage something it has never been before – you’re going to have to do things you’ve never done before.  Complete honesty is one of those things.  People around you will perhaps know that there is a struggle you’re facing. Share with them what that struggle is.  Sharing this does not need to be a bashing of either person but simply stating the facts.  “We are dedicated to saving our marriage and making it something we’ve never had before.  We have been rocked to the core by his/her infidelity. That relationship has ended and we are dedicated to this one.  We would appreciate your love and support as we work together on building our marriage to where it needs to be.”  You don’t need to answer questions or share intimate details but you need to be transparent in your history as well as your current actions towards your future.  Support of loved ones will be critical in the climb ahead.

2. Full transparency within the relationship

Transparency must exist between couples.  No question can go unanswered.  If the betrayed needs/wants details – they deserve to know them. Hiding the truth only leads to a potential secondary trauma later when details are discovered. These, too, are difficult conversations to have but in order to move forward, a couple must face the past with honesty and transparency.  (For the person asking the questions, it is important to also realize you may not want every answer and to decide what you really do/don’t want to know in order to heal.)  

3. Full Transparency with technology

Today’s word of social media and devices easily lends itself to relationship struggles, including ease of meeting new people and hiding inappropriate relationships.  Couples need to have access to one another’s devices. This doesn’t mean you use it, but the accountability of knowing passwords, security codes, and option to view texts/emails is important.  This not only helps build trust but also adds accountability within the relationship too.

4. Full Transparency with self

This is maybe the hardest to have.  The betrayer often wants to think once the affair has ended that things will be “normal” for them.  Wrong.  They need to realize why they had the affair(s).  What led to them? Why were they tempted? What prevented them from being faithful? What did they like?  Being transparent with ourselves is very difficult, but when we know ourselves truly, we can change our path to ensure we’re climbing where we want to go.
Full transparency is one of the hardest aspects to recovery. But with dedication, even when it is easier to conceal, transparency can help the relationship to take steps toward building a foundation of truth and strength.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How to connect the dots...

Image result for connecting the dots
Statistically speaking 39% of those reading this post have been in a counseling relationship in the last 2 years. 54% of us in our lifetime will seek counseling .  Despite this, the stimgma remains that many feel counseling is only beneficial for the times of trauma or those at  breaking point situations.  While these are both situations that warrant counseling, what we try to do at Bridges Counseling of Worthington is proactively help individuals in advance of the breaking point. The great thing is- we each have the ability to have a role in helping this too.  We don't have to say "you need help- get counseling...."  Consider these stories and how loved ones spoke up in times most needed.

To illustrate this, we want to share the story of some recent clients who have come to us.  (** All names have been changed to respect confidentaility.  And all clients have granted permission to share their story.)  

Client #1 - We’ll call her Sarah.  Sarah was not at the breaking point. She had a pretty decent life.  Like many of our clients,  Sarah is married, employed, a mother and involved in the community.  Also like many, she sought an outlet to talk about stress in her life.  That first outlet was her co-worker Kathy.  Sarah was sharing with Kathy some stories about what was going on at home.  This is pretty common.  We share with co workers over lunch or in the hallway the ups and downs of day to day. Nothing wrong with it- it’s even healthy.   Sarah wasn’t wrong in her conversations with Kathy, but after hearing the same thing 2 or 3 times from Sarah, Kathy- who knows of our office- was courageous enough to make the introduction possible.  Here’s how.  When Sarah shared the same story again about a home struggle, Kathy told her that she cared about Sarah and wanted to help but felt she wasn’t the right person to do so but she knew someone who she would suggest.  It started with her handing her our card.  A week later she followed up at lunch to ask if Sarah had reached out to our office.  She hadn’t yet but with encouragement, she did.   And now, Sarah has been working with one of our counselors for about 5 months. She is not the same person who walked in the door. She’s happier. More confident. Less stressed.  Her relationship with her husband is stronger. She feels she’s more capable at work and happier at home.  Without the introduction from Kathy, Sarah wouldn’t be on the path she’s on now.  And she reports her lunchtime conversation is much more upbeat with Kathy – which has helped their friendship too!

Enter client #2.  We’ll call her Emily. From the outside Emily has it all together.  Straight A student. Good family.  Involved with multiple sports where she’s often the MVP or leading scorer. Smile on her face.  Good friends.  Pretty.  Nice.  Well liked.  She’s got it all right?!   We would think so too until Emily walked in, shuts the office door, sits down and starts to cry and can’t stop.  Emily has pressure to succeed.  She’s overwhelmed with the fact she’s never failed. She’s overwhelmed with college applications and fear of letting others down and fear to let herself down.  She’s more than aware that she can’t continue to run at 150%   but scared if she stops that she doesn’t know what to do.  Failing is not an option, but she admits that she wants to live her life and stop the merry go round of constant pressure she’s on now. She doesn’t’ know what she wants, why she wants it and who she wants it for.  Emily came to us because her mom asked how she was and Emily broke down that everything was too overwhelming and she was a failure and couldn’t do anything right. Emily’s mom shared this with a friend who listened and then suggested compassionately that she would recommend Emily find a place to unload all of this and work back to finding herself and her peace. The friend connected Emily’s mom and our office via an email. It was brief and one line that just said “I want you to meet my friend who I CCed on this email.  I love her and I love her daughter.   I think you could really help them.”  The mom and one of our counselors connected, Emily came in and progress has started.  She has worked through a lot on her own, but also brought her parents a couple times to help their communication at home.  Emily has been accepted to a college of choice, she has stepped back from some of her activities that she wasn’t truly passionate about, she has reduced her stress, and found a place to  sort out everything she’s feeling during the overwhelming years of being a teen.   

Final client story we'll share today.  We’ll call him Brad.  Brad is married. Has a good job.  Wife has a good job. Married 5 years.  Brad called because he had just signed a lease on an apartment and was planning to move out and tell his wife he wanted a divorce that night.  He told his buddy this on the golf course that day and his buddy (a former client of ours) told him before he moved, he needed to call for counseling.  He gave him the number on the course and made Brad call before they went to the next hole.   Brad and his wife didn’t have a bad marriage.  There was no wrong doing.  He was just unhappy and had been for a few years.  Brad came in for a session and we quickly learned he didn’t want a divorce. In fact he very much wanted to be married to his wife- but he had been so unhappy the last couple of years (but never told anyone and admitted from the outside they were the Ken & Barbie couple) that he didn’t know how to get to a truly happy place so divorce seemed like the only option.  Brad and his wife started counseling together.  We found they both were not thrilled with the marriage but wanted to be.  They worked hard on their independent goals, their vision together, their communication and worked toward having the marriage they wanted.  It wasn’t quick and it took work. Brad did move out for a few months to that apartment to give them both space as they worked on their marriage, but he broke the least 3 months in and moved back in and can’t believe they ever considered divorce.  They’re happy, have strong communication, are involved with one another in ways they never were before.  While they got through the rough point through counseling, they’re actually still coming to counseling once each month as a “check up” to ensure they stay on the right path and use it as a booster shot they say.  They start  their evening with counseling and then go out on a date after.  They've been doing their counseling date nights for the past year.  They just shared last week that they’re expecting their first child at the end of this year! 

None of these people were at breaking point or victims of trauma. None of them are facing mental illness.  These are our colleagues, friends, neighbors and family.  And these are just three clients who have come through our doors.  And all of them are clients who may not have come if they weren’t referred by someone who cared enough about them to connect them to help.   

Just as we refer any other business in the community (realtors, car dealers, cleaners, laundry service, contractors)- we do so because we care about the person we are referring and we believe in the business we are referring to.  We want to connect a need and solution.  And we do so because we care.  There are people in all of our lives (39-54% of them actually) who may be looking for a way to connect the dots but aren't sure how to do alone. But each of us can help connect the dots!