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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Have you ever said to a loved one, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t keep drinking so much?” Or, “If you loved us, you would stop taking those pills like you do.”

When someone we love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it is very difficult to understand how they could keep doing the hurtful things they do. But oftentimes we don’t even realize that the challenging, unloving behavior is directly connected to addiction. We may be in a state of denial and unaware of the drug and/or alcohol use, so the hurtful behavior translates to “they must not love me”. When we do realize that our loved one acts very differently when using substances, we can’t help but think that surely if they loved us, they would stop. When they don’t,  even after promising to stop multiple times, we simply feel that we are unloved and it is extremely hurtful.

As a counselor, I worked with young children of alcoholics/addicts for many years. Children often expressed that their mom, dad or sibling must not love them because of the mean things they said or did. The Betty Ford Five Star Kids Program which i360 hosts helps the children learn that love doesn’t have anything to do with it. Addiction is a disease. And through this program, the children’s staff use a clever story to help get this point across.

“There is a mama bear living in the woods with her cubs. They are getting really hungry, so she goes out of their den to find food for them. As she looks for berries and other bear food, she sees something silver shining through some leaves on the ground. She has heard stories about the silver thing and was always told to stay away, but she is so curious. She approaches it and paws at it. Nothing happens. She paws at it again, and WHAM!! Giant, sharp teeth tear into her leg and the mama bear howls in pain! What was it? A bear trap! ‘Kids, when the mama bear got trapped, was she thinking about her cubs? NO! All she could think about was the pain and how to get out of it. But, did she still love her cubs? Of course she did! When your parents get trapped by addiction, they still love you very much, but they are totally focused on the trap and how to feel better and get away from it. When she finally yells HELP, someone comes to help her get free, but she has to ask for help first.”

The children seem to grasp this concept and feel relieved when they hear this story, along with all of the other wonderful education and support they receive in the program. The children leave the program with a reduction in the shame they’ve carried and an understanding that addiction is a disease, and most importantly,that it is not the child’s fault.

Innovation360 hosts this amazing program quarterly and any child between the ages of 7 and 12 who loves someone who drinks too much or takes drugs qualifies. It is non-profit, so scholarships are available if the $400.00 fee is unaffordable. You can reach the program by calling 972-753-0552 or by going to www.fivestarkids.com.

The symptoms of addiction are lying, manipulating, denying, blaming, minimizing, projecting, etc. So, yes, it is very difficult not to take our loved one’s actions personally. The best thing family members can do is to get their own support and education about addiction. Innovation360 offers a parent support, counseling, Healing Starts at Home family program, and other services. These programs help reinforce the message that the addict or alcoholic cannot show consistent love when in the grasp of the disease. If they receive help and find recovery, it often becomes clear that they still love you as they learn to love themselves again.

Blog written by Pam Newton, M.S., LCDC – Newton@i360life.com

 

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Determining the Diagnosis: Are You Addicted to Technology?

Let’s not even mention the way it affects your personal well-being and life balance. We won’t talk about how it distracts you from investing in self care and personal responsibilities. Or go into detail about how it robs your relationships of quality time and depth. When it comes to excessive technology use, studies are showing that it truly affects people in a way that is entirely too similar to drug addictions. It not only impacts people’s lives and their relationships in similar ways, but also the brain.

Deeper things are happening in the brain when we overload on technology. Some of the brain’s impacted areas are those that provide the ability to emotionally connect, plan, organize, and get things done. Research has also revealed that dopamine is released in the brain while using certain forms of technology – which creates similar changes in the brain as drug use. This dopamine release can lead to similar patterns that an alcoholic experiences – craving, addiction, and withdrawal.  When you think about it, an addict or alcoholic prioritizes the drug of choose above all else. Above relationships, work, family, health, and even above their own well-being. They will continue to “use” despite harm, attempt to scale back without success, spend way too much time thinking about getting their hands on it, and need more to get the same “high”…The crazy thing is, these scenarios apply in a similar way to the person who excessively uses technology. Scary stuff, right?

How do you know if you are suffering from addiction to technology? Here are some specific questions to help you identify if it’s time to scale back and make some changes for the health of your own life and the relationships around you.

1. Do you often feel preoccupied with the Internet? Maybe you go into a meeting at a work and after an hour you just can’t wait to log in to Twitter. Maybe you find yourself perusing the web during dinner. If you are constantly thinking about previous online activity or anticipating your next Facebook session, this could be a sign of trouble.

2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction? Maybe what once was logging in to check Facebook once a day has become hours of time spent online. This happens with addiction – addicts may find themselves needing 4 or maybe 5 times as much alcohol to get that same euphoria they’d get after only a few drinks a year ago.

3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop your Internet use? Maybe you have tried the trick where you put your phone in the back of the car to avoid use at stop lights – but you just can’t get enough. It just sucks you in. . .

4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use? You just can’t wait to refresh, to check your email, to browse Facebook, and you can’t stand being disconnected for too long. Sounds like withdrawal symptoms for the drug user, right?

5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended? You look at your watch and all of a sudden three hours have flown by. And you didn’t get done the errands you needed to do. You didn’t go workout. You didn’t call your dad back. You’re running late to work.

6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet? This might sound far-fetched but it happens. You miss a deadline at work because you’ve spent too much time online, on Facebook, on Twitter – it’s eaten up the good half of your day and now your presentation won’t be finished. Or it won’t be finished well. Your work is suffering.

7. Have you lied to family members, a therapist, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet? You may have made up a story about what you were doing that took up your time and made you unable to go to social functions or spend time with family and friends. And that story didn’t involve technology, gaming, the Internet.

8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)? You may find that you don’t need to think about the situations in your life that are causing you grief, you just get to unplug and relax. But soon you have to go back to reality, right? What then?

Addicts neglect family, work, studies, social relationships, and themselves. An addiction to technology is a mind-altering obsession that can be found due to excessive use of video games, iPods, YouTube, facebook, and other evolving communication applications. At Innovation360 we provide help for this kind of addiction, and many other addictions and life struggles, in order to help people find more joy-filled lives. If you believe you are struggling with technology addiction, then this is a place where you can find your way back to a healthy, well-balanced life.

Written by Jennifer Updike, October 2014

Resources:

Psychology Today Article

Psychology Today Article

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Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail

A fellow therapist and I spoke to a group of about 50 people at the Adolescent Symposium of Texas this past February on the topic of “Failure to Launch.” It’s a term I’m hesitant to use as a stand alone because usually the first thing that comes to mind is the movie with Matthew McConaughey as a 30+ year old living in his parent’s spare bedroom. There is a kernel of truth in the movie as far as painting the picture of what not launching looks like, but there are deeper common factors that prevent a person from gaining independence and embracing the fullness of adulthood. Unfortunately, the cure isn’t just a dating relationship.

The teacher who writes this article certainly gives a good perspective of what failure to launch looks like from the vantage point of a teacher. She sees the beginnings of what’s happening when the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders aren’t allowed to fail. The article describes overparenting as being “characterized as parents’ misguided attempt to improve their child’s current and future personal and academic success.” The overparented children are simply being set up to lack the emotional resources needed to get through the inevitable failures and setbacks later in life. They are not being allowed to fail and learn from their mistakes or experience the educational benefit that consequences provide.

As clinicians, we don’t expect you to let your child fall on their face repeatedly while you watch, but we also don’t expect you to place a pillow under them every time they might appear to be tripping. Neither of these extremes will lead to what we like to think of as a fully emerged adult. Extreme levels of parental protection can actually be quite counterproductive.  But no parent will ever be perfect, so I’ll go ahead and release you from that burden. I’d encourage you to read the article, reflect upon your parenting style, and see if you are one who justifies doing your child’s school work for them. Are you overly responsive to the perceived needs of your children, or are you giving them a chance to address their own problems? It’s not only math and science that children are learning in this stage of life, but also responsibility, consequences, independence, and foresight.

If you or a loved one have a child that meets the description for “failing to launch,” please contact Innovation360. We’d love to work with them toward establishing a healthy, productive, and structured lifestyle with failures and successes that will boost their confidence in regards to what the future may hold.

Written by Danielle Fermier, LPC

Article reference from The Atlantic, by JESSICA LAHEY 

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The 10 Worst Things You Can Say to Hurting People

It happens all the time. Maybe it happened to you at church. Or at work. Or school. Or maybe it even happened to you in the WalMart check out line. During a time of hurt and pain, someone tried to reach out to you in comfort. But instead of hurting with you, they unintentionally said something incredibly hurtful to you.

Perhaps you had just lost a loved one, had a miscarriage, or informed someone about a struggle you had with an eating disorder or a particular fear. Maybe your soul was aching, and you needed someone to love you well. And in your time of need, the person you told dropped the ball. They used the moment as a teaching opportunity…a chance to bless you with their powerful and wondrous wisdom, when instead they could have used the moment to connect with and encourage you. And chances are, you have also done the exact same thing to others. Or even worse…you’ve said the following things to yourself.

The following list contains 10 common statements that can be incredibly hurtful, dismissive, and invalidating while walking through dark times with friends, loved ones, spouses, or especially those struggling with addiction. Some of these statements might be true, but they are rarely ever helpful to say during difficult times.

1.“Everything happens for a reason…” How narcissistic of you to purport that you are certain there is a reason “why” something horrible just happened. Perhaps you feel the need to make sense of all the bad things that have happened in your life by believing that a higher power arbitrarily causes pain and suffering for random reasons that you will never know. While this view might comfort you and help you sleep at night, it can sound cold and unfeeling to a hurting person who needs you to be present with them. Your grandiose theology is not needed.

But, let’s assume hypothetically that everything does happen for a reason. Saying the phrase won’t magically make a hurting person feel better! Hypothesizing a reason for pain is an attempt at ignoring the feelings you feel. It is a way to put a positive spin on something that isn’t positive at all. Perhaps years later you might find some good that came from a bad situation, but conveying this to a hurting person won’t lessen their hurt in the moment.

2. “It could be a lot worse…” Most of you would never say this to someone else…but you say it to yourself all the time. By doing so, you devalue your pain and your self worth, as if your pain somehow matters less because you aren’t homeless or starving. You would never tell a friend, “Get over it. It could be a lot worse!” But you say it to yourself.

Treating yourself this way puts you at huge risk. You may constantly help and take care of others, when you should also be caring for yourself. Neglecting to care for yourself causes you to bottle up your frustration and pain, believing that you don’t have the right to feel sad. Bottling these feelings up eventually leads to “emotional explosions,” or seemingly random angry outbursts, high and overwhelming feelings of stress, or moments of intense weeping and sorrow.  Take care of yourself emotionally by finding safe people with whom you can regularly communicate your brokenness.

3. “I’ll be praying for you…” Disclaimer: While there is nothing intrinsically wrong saying this, it can be used as an “emotional stiff arm.” You might as well say, “I can’t handle being sad with you right now, but I might spend a small portion of some future day praying for you…when it’s convenient for me.” Saying this in the Bible Belt is often much like saying “See you later!” or “Have a great day!” And how much time do you actually spend praying for someone after saying you would?

4. “I know what you’re going through…” or “I’ve been there before…” Many people think that saying these phrases will connect them to others, but it often alienates them from others. While you may think you had a similar experience, you will never know what it’s like to be someone else or what they are feeling. Every person’s pain is uniquely bitter to them. To purport that you have felt what a loved one has felt severely minimizes their pain. While their are times when people with similar experiences can bond through sharing their stories, making presumptuous statements about knowing how they feel can be incredibly dangerous.

5. “Give it over to God…” or “Let go and let God…” This is one of the worst phrases you can say to someone struggling with addiction. Most alcoholics have unsuccessfully tried time and time again to give their addiction over to God but simply can’t. These phrases assume that there is a magic formula or action that will somehow transfer their frustration and hurt to God and that they will no longer be haunted by their choices. Addiction isn’t an old TV you can give away at a garage sale.

6. “You should do this…” or “Have you tried…?” During times of intense pain, our loved ones rarely want or need us to “fix” their problems or offer solutions that they are clearly intelligent enough to think of on their own. It can be highly insulting to make comments that assume your spouse is an idiot who is incapable of generating logical options about what to do. When you feel that light bulb turn on and think you might have the most amazing idea of the century, just be quiet and present with the pain and anguish. It is so much more meaningful to sit in tough emotions with someone rather than throwing out intellectual “quick fixes.” Your ideas might be Einstein like, but not necessarily helpful in times of pain.

7. “Everything will be OK…” or “It will all work out…” Thanks for your omniscient prophecy Nostradamus. Spouting off ridiculous one liners like this assumes that your listener is an utter moron who has obviously temporarily lost the common sense to know that things will be OK. In many of our darkest times, we know that we will eventually “be” OK, but we don’t “feel” OK in moments of pain.

8. “Stay strong…” or “Keep your head up…” Common phrases used by men who have no clue what to do with their own feelings or sorrow. They often see their friends hurting and rather than sitting with them in their pain and silence, they make blanket statements hoping to alleviate that pain. But there really are no magical words to make pain go away. Perhaps the last thing your friend needs is to “be strong.” Maybe your friend desperately needs permission to “be weak.”

9. Saying nothing at all. Perhaps you carry the false belief that acknowledging someone’s difficult situation might burden them further or that saying nothing will make the situation less painful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Asking questions about what your loved one uniquely needs from you is always a safe way to show that you want to be intentional and helpful in any way you can. Get curious!

10. Making jokes. Slow down funny guy. While humor can help in some situations, people don’t necessarily need to be “cheered up.” Using humor can severely wound others by refusing to acknowledge the hurt in the room. Every joke can feel like a knife, being pushed deeper and deeper into a gushing wound that needs healing.

Being present in the painful moments with your loved one is an invaluable way of relating to them in their grief. We might never have the right words, and it’s okay to say just that. Be supportive, without offering ‘fix-it’ ideas. Don’t put a timeline on their grieving period, and simply recognize their loss or pain. Extend a bit of comfort, show that you have not forgotten, and show that you care.

Written By Doug Chisholm, LPC

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Reassessing your Big Gulp!

“I don’t drink. No, really, no hard liquor for me! I’m clean! …Oh, you mean beer? Well I drink beer every night.” Believe me, we hear that all the time. “I only have a couple of glasses of wine a night!” Seems innocent. Until you realize that when she pours herself some wine, her glass is full to the brim! “I only drink on the weekends.” Ok, fine. But on the weekend, he is getting so drunk that he blacks out and can’t remember a thing! Healthy? I think not!

At Innovation360, we encourage the act of “rethinking your drinking”.  Do you know what constitutes a “standard” glass of wine or cocktail? And how many standard drinks are in a container? For instance, when you think you’re drinking just a couple of beers at dinner, but those beers are 16oz bottles, those each actually contain 1.3 drinks. Check out this table below from Rethinking Drinking: NIAA which is based on how much pure alcohol is in a beverage:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I came across this article from USA TODAY and it reminded me that often, we are just uneducated on how much we are actually drinking. This articles talks specifically about how wine drinkers pour more than they realize, but we shouldn’t stop with wine. When poured in another glass, malt liquor, brandy, hard liquor, and spirits generally fool people when it comes to how much they are drinking. And that’s important to know when you are assessing your alcohol intake. You need to know how many drinks you are having in any given day and over the course of the week, and if you don’t realize you are actually pouring a drink and half each time you fill your glass, that is going to spiral into a big problem quickly! Knowing how much you drink is critical.

I encourage you to play around on this website to educate yourself on alcohol and your health. It is a great tool for discovering what your drinking patterns are and how risky they may be. What it really comes down to is whether your habits are harmful or not. Are you damaging relationships because of your drinking? Are you missing out on other things that bring you joy? Are other areas in your life suffering because of your drinking? Are you prioritizing drinking and obtaining alcohol over other, healthier opportunities?  If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug use, reach out. There isn’t a moment to waste! We are here to help guide you in the right direction – towards a better, healthier, joy-filled life.

Written by Lauren Barnett, Marketing Director

Resources: USA TODAY, Sharyn Jackson, The Des Moines Register4:47 p.m. EDT September 30, 2013 – Wine Drinkers Often Overpour, Study Says.

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Are you a Cell Phone Addict?

I get it. We are in 2015 and I haven’t met one person without a smart phone. I now see children getting their own cell phones at a younger age than I’ve ever seen before. My generation certainly didn’t get their own phone at the age of ten!  Many parents feel that is it a necessity once they start attending school all day, as if the school system that has been in place for a very long time is incapable of watching over the child. I laugh at the insanity of giving the responsibility of a cell phone to a child who needs help tying their shoes.

Then you have your average working person who relies on emailing and text messaging as a work tool on a daily basis. And there are those folks that are constantly reassured by repetitive finger swiping and button pushing all day long.  At restaurants I always notice those people that are waiting on a buddy to show up and to pass time they feel the need to get out their iphone because God forbid they be caught looking around and taking in the scene! And hey what about you? Do you find that you are perpetually checking emails and Facebook all throughout the day? Maybe you even get excited when your phone buzzes, demanding your attention and constant connectivity…There has to be balance though, just like with anything in your life. So what does that line look like and where do you place yourself when it comes to cell phone addiction and attachment?

Ask yourself these 6 questions to determine if you are crossing the line and heading towards addiction:

  • Does your cell phone prevent you from engaging face to face with the ones you love? I know alot of people that seem to prefer to busily bury their noses in their phones rather than to take the opportunity to visit with their spouses or friends, even when those friends and family are in the same room or sitting at the same table. At dinner last week I looked over to see a group of college aged girls all sitting together each with their faces lit up by their smart phones, seeking digital connection rather than sharing conversations with those they were with!
  • Has it left you lonely by creating a false sense of reality through social media? It really doesn’t matter that you have 1,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook. Or that 400 people follow you on Twitter. Because when push comes to shove, how many of those people will actually offer that shoulder to cry on, that free ride to airport, words of encouragement when you’re in need? But if your ‘scene’ is online, and your conversations are held via texts and Facebook, maybe you should pay attention to this word addiction.
  • Has it become the way you cope with negative or positive feelings? I wonder how then is that person who uses drugs and alcohol to cope so different from you? If you have a void in your life and are filling it with social media or spending your time rooting around your digital backyard for elusive bits of highly valued treasure to make yourself feel better, how is that so drastically different from the alcoholic who finds that booze helps with coping with the anxiety or depression? My hope is that your phone’s not an escape route but I ask because I’ve seen it happen.
  • Are you able to control when you use it, how much or how long you use it, where you do it, and with whom you do it? Can you put the phone away in a drawer for even an hour and not worry about what you might be missing out on? Would that cause you too much anxiety? Or do you always know where your phone is and have it within reach?
  • Can you fathom going to bed and waking up without looking at your cell phone first? Or maybe you are one that can exercise self control, moderation, and restraint…Like at dinner – do you compromise social etiquette by checking your phone constantly? I’d challenge you to put it away when it comes to outings with friends and family, dinner table time, and periodically throughout the day no matter what you are up to!
  • Are you able to leave your phone turned off while driving? Because otherwise you are compromising your own health! And that sounds like what any therapist would say to an alcoholic – you aren’t being safe quite frankly, and even putting others in danger through your own actions.

Using your cell phone on a daily basis can lead to a slippery slope. I bet if you took a brain scan of someone who is constantly connected, you would see a surge of dopamine, a pleasure-seeking chemical that drives us towards addictive behaviors, each time they got a new notification. Compare that to sex addiction or a gambling addiction. It stimulates the same part of the brain that rewards your body.

You must be disciplined and mindful of your time when you are around others.  It can steal opportunities to connect with friends and family that may never come back around. In some ways it is oppressive to think that we can be slaves to our phones. Being present takes work. Listening without thinking about a new text or email is difficult for those who find themselves constantly seeking to connect on some level. It leaves gaps in your current romantic life if you feel like your spouse finds the phone more important than being intimate with you, knowing fully that is not their intention but it is their action that speaks volumes. I could go on and on about the negative balance of cell phone use but I wont. I’m going to end by encouraging you to connect on a much deeper level with the one you love today and turn it off. See what happens.

Written by Kayla Proffitt, Life Development at Innovation360

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Yoga and the 12 Steps

I don’t fit in with the yoga scene. I mean, I appreciate health and homegrown, organic things. But I’m not much for silence. Being still and quiet can be tough…And then there is the stretching. I was always the athlete that got yelled at for getting injuries that stemmed from not stretching enough.

However, when I stumbled into a prenatal yoga class after being basically peer-pressured by my doctor, I found out that yoga isn’t just for yogis. And now, long after my wise MD all but shoved me down this path, I’ve realized that it’s also not just a form of exercise for pregnant women.

In fact, as I’ve allowed myself to explore this type of exercise, I’ve come to realize that yoga for me has been the missing piece. It’s always been immensely important for me to work towards living a free and abundant life. I have also chased after a theme of recovery in all areas of my existence through mind, body, and spirit; not wanting to ignore any of the three, thus becoming unbalanced.  I have sought out exercise, healthy [& delicious] eating, counseling, education, church, community, good sleep hygiene, etc… But it was yoga that finally brought the mind, body, and spirit together.

Leading a full and busy life – a new mother, a wife to an amazing man, a counselor and client advocate at Innovation360, a member of a home group at my church – I’m all about efficiency. Yoga is perfect. In one yoga class, I can focus on all three areas of mind-body-spirit. And it just may be the missing piece for your journey as well, whether you struggle with addiction, difficult relationships, depression, an eating disorder, or if you are on a spiritual journey of your own, or are purely pursuing a healthier lifestyle.

To speak specifically to one population, those walking through an addiction and/or striving towards a full life of recovery, I am grateful for yoga’s ability to address the biology, psychology, and spirituality relating to an addict. Not only does yoga provide this population with a physically healthy activity offering both flexibility and strength, but it also floods its pupils with opportunities to directly impact the struggles of an addict.

For starters, addicts often define themselves by their profound sense of being internally out of control. In my experience, yoga very directly addresses this, requiring you to become mindful, focused, centered, and internally quiet and controlled from the moment you slip off your shoes and step on your mat.

I’m also drawn to yoga’s application to the ol’ “first thought wrong” understanding of addicts – the knee-jerk, guttural, impulsive, and instinctive reaction of addicts – as it quiets the mind and teaches you to breathe through your experience. Whether that experience is a pose, the birth of a child, undesirable instruction, an uncomfortable emotion, a tough conversation, or a trigger/craving….yoga allows its students the opportunity to learn how to stay present and balanced, and also how to work through the up and downs of a given situation.

And in a manner that few other recovery approaches can offer, yoga teaches its students how to turn their focus inward to feel physical sensations otherwise unnoticed or previously ignored – to honor and recognize your body. How tattered, beaten, and ignored the body of an addict (every variety of addict – food, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, risk…) can be!! Engaging in self-awareness and returning your thoughts to that of honor and respect and awareness of your physical self –what a gift!

As such, yoga provides a very profound detoxification. A detox of mind, body, and spirit; offering time to meditate, center, pray, and heal. This daily (or even weekly or monthly) practice for release and healing is so necessary to continue growing and moving forward in your recovery.

And last, but possibly most importantly, addiction can easily be seen as the ultimate “leaving the moment” – checking out. Yoga at its core is checking in. Checking in with the reality of your spirituality, your physical body, your breathing, your thoughts, your emotions, and your present self.

At Innovation360, we encourage our clients to add this incredibly efficient tool into their pursuit of recovery. As we work towards cultivating spiritual and physical wellness, our therapists incorporate yoga into our Intensive Outpatient Program, an 8-week program for those struggling with addiction or mental health issues.  Even while working with clients through our individualized life development, our team can help clients plug into a yoga practice, and we can practice right alongside them! No need to be nervous if it’s your first time, we will try to touch our toes with you too!

Blog written by Nicki Cochran, LPC.

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Tell me a Story…

Tell Me A Story: The importance of saying YES! to your gifts…

Most nights, my daughter’s bedtime routine involves me telling her a story.  Lauren has very specific rules: the characters have to be “make believe” (no one you could meet in real life); the story can’t be a re-iteration of one she has heard before (no re-telling of Snow White cast in modern day times, for example); all the characters have to have actual names; and the story has to have a crisis or conflict that then is resolved.  Story time with her is a true test of my creativity!  I cherish these times of closeness, where she is tuned in and focused on my voice.  We lie side by side in her bed with the lights already out, and she is caressing her soft stuffed cat that’s been her “lovie” since birth.  My daughter’s responses to the stories always amuse me.  She will point out what she believes to be a character’s bad decision or a good choice. She will correct me if I get the names wrong.  She gets most upset if the story doesn’t have any real dilemma, drama, or conflict.  If that is the case, she will demand that I start over and re-tell the story to include a problem.  She is vocal in telling me that a story without a problem is “boring” and to her, it just doesn’t make sense.

The construct of a story speaks to us and moves us in ways that other forms of communication do not.  Because stories told to us aloud engage all of our senses, memory and emotions, they have power like no other means to affect not just our intellect, but our hearts as well.  Narrative Therapy helps capture that same power of story telling in order to create lasting change within us.  Over the years of working with families in therapy, I have become so encouraged by hearing each family’s unique story of strength, growth and resiliency.  When reflecting on how the family’s story has developed, I find that the crisis that has encouraged the family to seek treatment is similar to the crisis or conflict that Lauren longs for me to include in the stories that I tell her.  Over the years, I began to see a pattern of how families endure stressful times, and even grow closer together through them by being able to “make up” the story as they go…to improvise.  In fact, flexibility is one of the most important attributes of families who are resilient.

Improvising, however, is not just haphazardly and frantically trying different things to see what works. Beneficial improvising actually has a structure that facilitates its effectiveness.  I have learned more about the principles of effective improvising as I’ve participated in a local Improv Comedy class.  “Saying yes to the gifts” is one of the features of effective improvising.  Seeing obstacles, difficulties, and problems as gifts to be received and understood is an empowering perspective.  The alternative is to view distressing events either negatively or with apathy, both of which are draining to our energy and ineffective in helping us cope.  Negativity or apathy keeps the story “stuck”; nothing different happens.  Worse yet, it can add to the distress already being experienced.  So through principles of improve therapy, we want to help families understand the “bigger picture” of their story and how the current crisis can be used as a gift to help direct the next chapter of the story to a place of growth, deeper involvement in life, greater engagement with one another, and more meaningful discoveries about themselves as individuals and about their purpose as a family.  This is no easy task as it means respecting and deeply empathize with the pain and distress they are feeling, while at the same time, opening their eyes to the possibility of a crisis as a gift.  The pain deserves respect, yet it doesn’t have to be in charge of what happens next.

Going through this process with one family I worked with led them to a deeper commitment to change.  The family had been struggling with multiple addictions, trauma, conflict, and poor boundaries. A series of events resulted in their 14 year old son violating probation, which resulted in him being court ordered to Residential Treatment.  As the mother struggled through her sadness, guilt, pain and thoughts of “I must be a horrible mother for this to have happened”, we explored how her son being away from home might be a gift.  I will never forget her enthusiasm as she experienced the shift in perspective right in front of me.  She suddenly sat up straight, raised her voice, and exclaimed, “Actually, him going away has been a gift because it helped me see how unhealthy our relationship was!  So in a weird way, even his getting into trouble was a gift for us as parents!”  Because she was able to view the story in this way, she became more committed to working through relationship and parenting issues with her husband while her son was away, and continued to be committed to healthier relationship boundaries and coping mechanisms when he returned home.

To respectfully identify the “gift” of struggle and pain, the following questions can be helpful:

1)     How could this experience bring our family closer together?  How has it already?

2)     How could this experience help us learn more about ourselves?  How has it already?

3)     What is our family’s identity and what values do we find important?  How do those values shape how we want to respond to this struggle?

4)     What strengths have we used in the past that have helped us face struggles?

5)     What unique strengths does our family possess that are required to face this struggle?

6)     How could this struggle help us in areas that we may need to grow?

7)     What is the gift our family brings to others (our extended family, neighborhood, community and the larger world)? And how can this struggle help us extend the gift to others?

8)     How do we want to define the meaning of this struggle for us?

When families decide together how they want to define the pain and how they want the next chapter of the story to go, the motivation and energy they can then generate is astounding!!  And just as Lauren finds it satisfying when the crisis is resolved in the story, I am so encouraged when families begin to generate their own solutions and begin to see themselves as struggling towards growth, rather than just struggling.  Being able to use creative interventions to help families see the story more clearly, even working with families in their home, where they are most comfortable, has been an exciting new frontier for me. I am honored and encouraged as I see families face amazing challenges and rise above them, as they write new stories of healing, hope and strength.

Written by Stephanie Coker, LCSW

Innovation360-Dallas

What Are Your Blind Spots?

What Are Your Blind Spots?

I had a great response to my last blog, Blind Faith, where I detailed my adventures as a blind woman.  It led me to think about the fact that everyone has their own “blind spots” of one sort or another. There has actually been significant research conducted regarding this topic in the business world.   But in the therapy world, we usually call these blind spots “defenses,” and we believe that identifying them can be the key to helping someone improve their personal relationships.

According to author Claudia M. Shelton,  “blind spots” are patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that we often do unconsciously, potentially negatively influencing our relationships with others. As a counselor, I call these “blind spots” defenses. More simply, unconscious things we do that drive others crazy.  Blind Spots can become possible problems in our working processes and relationships, and if left unchecked, can become serious obstacles to our effectiveness and progress, especially in the way we relate to others.  Adolescents can easily point out the blind spots of both parents. Spouses know their partners’ blind spots intimately. What we may think people don’t notice about ourselves is usually common knowledge to those around us.

Some Truths About blind Spots

  • Every personal strength when overused has the potential of becoming a personal weakness.
  • Every personal weakness when developed has the potential to become a personal strength.
  • The environment we are in may influence seeing a personal characteristic as a strength or weakness.
  • Different people may regard what we believe are our strengths and weaknesses very differently from how we do.

 

How Does Being Unaware Hurt Us?

Being unaware of a blind spot is like carrying a time bomb. Others see our blind spot but back away when we give signals that we don’t want to hear about it. Some try to tell us that we’re doing something that bothers them, but we ignore it or become defensive. Sooner or later though, these blind spot defenses can harm relationships or prevent us from connecting well with friends, family, and co-workers.

 

What Are the Most Common Blind Spots?

  • Misused Strengths – These are strengths used too little or too much, or even used ineffectively. When I took a look at myself, I realized that some of my own core strengths could be interpreted in a negative way if I overuse them. For instance, in the work place, I often resort to humor as it comes natural to me. But if I overuse this gift, I risk colleagues perceiving me as someone who doesn’t take anything seriously. So I’m aware of how frequently I use humor, and when it’s the right setting.  I challenge you to peer into yourself…are you someone who is laid back and doesn’t get ruffled easily? Certainly that’d be a strength, as you are able to “brush it off” and not let little things alter your attitude. But do your friends view you as a doormat? Are you easily taken advantage of? Or maybe you are quite structured and organized? Great! But to the point that it’s hard for you to allow in creativity or incorporate in the ideas of others? Are people to nervous to ask you for help because they know you don’t like to alter from your daily routine and schedule?
  • Old Habits – This entails relying on behaviors that made you successful in the past that would no longer be effective. These are the most difficult to uncover because they are ways of thinking and acting that have become fixed and routine for you. Maybe you showed your love to your ex via acts of service – running their errands, taking out the trash, and ironing their clothes. But the new object of your affection just wants quality time with you and couldn’t care less about whether or not you did their laundry. Step back and evaluate what some of the engrained habits of yours might be. Maybe that route worked in the past for some time period; now you must reevaluate and alter the way you express your love, respond to your colleagues, treat your friends…whatever it might be.
  • Stress Expressed – How do we negatively express the stress we feel? How is our behavior under stress affecting others? Do you lack patience and thus snap at others quickly? If things are perfect, do we lash out? Maybe you notice that you start to speaker louder and faster when you are having a stressful day – does this make those around you anxious and not want to be in your presence? Possibly you become demanding and short tempered – and all of a sudden those around us seem more stressed. Do you act as if it’s a major interruption to your day if someone sparks up a conversation with you while you are trying to get work done? Do you tap your foot when waiting in line at the grocery store? I encourage you to reflect on how some of the things you do to manage stress may negatively affect others.
  • Unturned Radar – How do we misread other people, ignoring the non-verbal cues given and received? Are you a “close talker” – never noticing people slowly backing up as you talk to them? We’ve all had that phone conversation – the one we try and try politely to get hang up. The person on the other end just doesn’t take a hint. When you evaluate yourself, do you find there are areas in which it is more difficult for you to pick up on social cues? This can be a major turn off when relating to others. Try to be extra aware this week, what are some of the cues you might be missing?
  • Disconnection – How do we fail to communicate? Or communicate in ways that we don’t intend? What is your nonverbal language saying about your current mood? Is your sarcasm received well or are do people get offended? Do you think people can tell easily if you are not engaged or feel bored with the conversation? Are you slouched over and yawning? Try to be unbiased about the way you relate to others – for instance – when you are busy and rushed. What about the way you act towards strangers? Be conscious about how your mannerisms and nonverbal. Do you often imply ideas rather than just state them? Are you blunt or do you find it hard to express yourself? How do you think others perceive you and your energy?

 

Strategies for Identifying Blind Spots

  • Analyze yourself as if you were another person so you can depersonalize the process and be more objective.
  • Always start by analyzing your strengths; this gives you a positive outlook.
  • See your blind spots not as weaknesses but as behaviors that get in the way of fully using your strengths.
  • Gather information from others (close friends you can trust) about what they see as your strengths and blind spots.
  • Do not hesitate to ask people for information; the most confident people always ask for balanced feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Make it comfortable for people to share negative feedback with you.  Be grateful for their help.

 

Questions to Ponder

How do you define your greatest personal strength in your current work?  How might you overuse that strength in a way that it creates a blind spot that could limit your success? How do you typically act out your stress in the workplace or at home? If you identify blind spots that are creating challenges for you, consider reaching out to a therapist to help you sort through them and improve your personal and/or work relationships.

If you would like to explore your Blind Spots, go to http://www.whatsmyblindspot.com. You will be able to complete a survey and find out your Blind Spot Profile. I completed the survey and it was incredibly accurate.

Blog written by Pam Newton, LCDC

Innovation360-Dallas

Our Best Communication Tips for Couples

 “Communication can be clear or vague, open or guarded, honest or dishonest – it can even be spoken or unspoken – but there is no such thing as “non-communication!”  In fact, virtually everything we do in the company of others communicates something. Our body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and level of interest (or disinterest) all communicate something to the perceptive listener. In order to communication effectively and get our needs met we need to engage in both parts of the communication process: expressing ourselves and listening.” -Penny Foreman, LCSW
Tips For Communicating Well

 

In the midst of a heated argument is actually not the best time to share your concerns. You are worked up and will often say things you don’t mean. It may be best to write out your concerns in private and then share them with your spouse at a time when you feel calmer.Also consider the right time and place for communicating. It’s important to make sure you have enough time and minimal distractions to talk through everything – so don’t mention that you aren’t happy with your husbands parenting techniques or that you are “feeling lonely in this marriage” as you are rushing out the door for work…Steer clear of bringing up heavy topics when you are tired or hungry – that is a lose lose situation!

 

Don’t be mean or try to figure out who is at fault!  State your feelings honestly without being sarcastic or insulting to the other person.   Think about the impact of your words before you speak.  It is more important to talk about what you both need to do to solve the problem, rather than assign blame.

 

Stick to the issue on the table.  Don’t bring out the bag of past grievances and dump it on the table.

 

No name-calling, such as: “You are such a jerk!”  Avoid verbally abusing people.  Refrain from insults, put-downs, and expressions of disgust.

 

Don’t mind-read. If you don’t know how your partner feels or thinks, then ASK.

 

Incorporate positive statements and compliments along with your complaints.  This will soften the blow of any complaints or concerns and make your partner less defensive.

 

Remember you only have control over changing yourself, not others. You don’t have to wait for your partner to change.  You can go first!

 

Leave others out. Don’t bring other people into the discussion, such as:  “Even your brother thinks you are selfish!”

 

Avoid starting a sentence with “you”.  It sounds like an accusation or an invitation to fight (which it usually is!).  Stick to “I” statements.  Try the XYZ model for this type of communication:

  • I feel X
  • when you do Y
  • in situation Z
  • For example:  “I feel hurt when you criticize me when we are with our friends.”

 

To become a more effective listener, try some of these techniques:

 

Listen…don’t talk!  Be quick to listen and slowwwww to speak. Don’t interrupt mid-sentence. And listen to understand, rather than spending the time preparing for your defense.

 

Try to empathize.  Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes as you listen.

 

Think before you say anything in response, especially if you are having a strong emotional response.

Remember feelings are neither right nor wrong.  Your partner is the expert on his or her feelings and those feelings are their present reality. Feelings are not facts, but they are essential in understanding why your partner is responding to you in certain ways. You can spend a lot of time arguing about the facts and completely discount your partner’s feelings

 

Be aware of non-verbal signs and clues (both your own and your partner’s).  These include shrugging your shoulders, your tone of voice, crossing your arms, nodding, avoidance of eye contact, rolling your eyes, facial expressions, etc.

 

When responding, let your partner know that you heard what he or she said by using a feedback technique and restating what you heard.  Say something like “I think what you said was…” or “Do you mean that…”or “I understood you to say….”.

 

Listening and responding with concern and understanding of your partner’s feelings is often all she or he may need from you.

 

Don’t give advice unless asked for it, but be prepared to do some problem solving, if that is what your partner requests.

 

Most importantly, remember that all couples have their share of problems.  You are not always going to see eye-to-eye on things, but if you know how to communicate effectively, with kindness and respect, you can get through disagreements with positive outcomes and the love intact!

 

Written by Lauren Barnett, Director of Marketing