7 Tips For Building A Better Body Image As An Adult

When you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a window, or see yourself in a new picture that a friend posts on social media, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

Are they generally positive (I look so happy!), or more negative (Well, at least everyone else looks good)?

If they are positive, that’s great! But if they’re not, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle to feel happy with the way that we look, especially when it comes to our bodies.

While getting older may bring with it a certain sense of self-acceptance and the ability to reject the unrealistic beauty ideals that we see around us, aging also brings with it a new set of challenges to our self-esteem. You know — the messages and products that encourage us to “minimize those wrinkles” and “cover up those grays.”

“You can be reading a magazine and on one page there’s an article about how to love yourself the way you are, and then you flip the page and there’s an ad for a diet plan or an anti-aging cream.

All of those messages can be discouraging. But making some tweaks to your thought patterns can help you get back on the road to a positive body image. Start with these ideas.

Show some appreciation

A good place to start is to refocus your self-talk. Rather than nitpicking over the appearance of your body, try recognizing and appreciating the amazing things that it does for you every day. Appreciate that your strong arms allow you to carry your child and the diaper bag and the groceries up the stairs in one trip. Or that your skilled hands prepared an amazing dinner.

Record the positives

Here’s a little homework assignment: Write down five things you love about your personality. Easy, right? You’re a great listener and incredibly giving when it comes to helping others.

Now list five things you love about your body. “For most people, it’s easier to do the first, but it’s equally important to do the second.” Putting your feelings into written words (the old fashioned way!) helps you process your thoughts and commit things to memory.

Create little reminders

Write positive affirmations, goals or words of gratitude on sticky notes or note cards and putting them in places where you’ll see them throughout the day – the bathroom mirror, your wallet or by your computer at work. Remind yourself of your positive qualities, skills and goals.

Commit to doing things that make you feel good

Life is about so much more than how we look. Yet, how we feel about our bodies can dictate our mood and our behaviors. Have you ever canceled plans when you’re feeling bad about yourself? Resist the urge. Spending time with friends who aren’t focused on body image may actually help quiet your own body dissatisfaction.

Studies also show that exercise, yoga and helping others are great self-esteem boosters.

Occupy your mind

“We have another exercise that asks people to live their life as if they had 12 months, 5 days, 1 hour or 30 seconds to live,” Dr. Peterson says.

“In these circumstances, you would most likely focus on people, places and things that you love and that make you feel good – not on how your body looks.”

Don’t fear the mirror

If you have unhappy thoughts about how you look, you might find yourself dodging anything that shows your reflection. But, “avoidance breeds avoidance.” Ignoring those unhappy feelings won’t make them go away. She suggests noticing those negative thoughts that come to mind when you see yourself in the mirror, and applying the above tactics to turn them around.

Shut down the comparison game

Comparing your own body to others’ may be the quickest way to send your self-esteem plummeting. Instead, objectively admire the good qualities you notice in other people, and make a point to compliment them – it will make both of you feel good.

Feeling good at all sizes

It’s beneficial to love your and appreciate body no matter your shape or size.

In fact, if you’re overweight and taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, research suggests that’s even more of a reason to work on building a healthy body image.

In one study of girls who were overweight, those with the highest levels of body satisfaction gained less weight after 10 years than those who were least satisfied with their bodies. Another study found that obese women who improved their body image were also better able to self-regulate their eating.

There’s no wrong time to work on feeling more comfortable in your own skin.

Need more help?

If you ever feel that your negative body image is affecting you in a distressing or disruptive way, reach out to schedule a FREE INITIAL CONSULT with one of our body image experts, info@hillarycounseling.com!

5 Secrets to Finding a Great Partner

My friend Katie met her husband-to-be, Tom, during orientation week in college. They were the couple everyone envied. They spent all their time together and they never seemed to argue. They had the same major and shared many of their hobbies. They liked each other’s families and friends. So it wasn’t a big surprise when Katie and Tom got married soon after graduation. They have two sweet kids, a boy and a girl. Katie stays home taking care of the kids and Tom has a well-paid job as an architect in a local company.

And last year… they got divorced.

Katie and Tom’s story is not unique. Almost every second marriage in the U.S. gets divorced at some point.

And yet, if Katie and Tom had been looking for a partner through a matching company, they would have been pretty much a perfect match for each other. But something didn’t go right.

What is it that Katie and Tom, and so many others, are missing? Why do our “perfect matches” often turn out to be less than perfect or downright disappointing?

The Unconscious Foundation of Your Relationships

In our research, we’ve found that there’s much more to true compatibility than variables like age, religion, culture, hobbies, attitudes, and beliefs. Part of the issue is that there’s a lot we do not know about ourselves, and not knowing ourselves sometimes gets in the way of successful relationships.

Everybody has a set of love stories, that is, a set of ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions about what a relationship should be like, how to behave in a relationship, and what the ideal partner should be like. But—we’re not consciously aware of our love stories.

So if you want to find someone who’s a truly good match for you, here are five keys that you need to keep in mind:

1. Your love stories influence every aspect of your relationship.

You have love stories in your mind that determine which potential partners you’re interested in and that shape your expectation of what a relationship should be like, how you should behave in a relationship, how you should interpret your partner’s actions, how you should interact with your partner, and so on.

Your love stories represent the essence of your life—the relationships of family members, neighbors, and friends you have observed since you were a child, your own experiences with other people, the stories you have read in books and watched in movies.

There is no objective reality; rather, it’s your stories that give your relationship meaning.

2. Happy relationships involve matching love stories.

Obviously, you’re not the only one with love stories; everybody else has them as well. But there are stories that tend to work better and others that are maladaptive. Additionally, some stories work better together than others. For example, if you have a fantasy story and are looking for a super romantic relationship with your own personal princess, but your partner is not so much interested in romance but rather in creating a relationship that runs smoothly like a business, ensuring you are making good money and have clearly spelled out duties that need to be fulfilled responsibly, both of you are likely to end up disappointed.

You and your partner do not need to have the same story, but for a happy long-term relationship, you will need stories that are compatible with each other.

3. Understand what you really want from your relationship.

The love stories you have given rise to what we call the “core components of love.” Depending on your love story, you may have a different need for:

  • Intimacy (that is, how close, bonded, and connected you feel)
  • Passion (that is, how much emotional and physical attraction, as well as romance you have in your relationship), and
  • Commitment in your relationship

The issue is—we often are not consciously aware of what we truly want, and where our relationship lags. Dig deep and figure out what you want from your relationship in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Does your partner want the same as you do? If not, try to close those gaps to make your relationship work and fulfill your own needs as well as the needs of your partner.

4. Your partner’s feelings for you matter less than you think.

In our studies, we have found that people often haven’t the foggiest idea of how their partner feels about them—and the people who participated in our studies were in stable relationships!

The point is, we can’t ever really know what someone else thinks or feels.

What matters to our happiness is how we want our partner to feel for us, and whether we believe they’re actually feeling that way. For example, your partner may feel that they’re very committed to your relationship. If you don’t feel that they are committed and consequently feel anxious or jealous most of the time, your partner’s factual commitment really doesn’t matter that much to your happiness.

Think about whether you have enough (or too much) of intimacy, passion, and commitment in a relationship, and if there’s a gap, act!

5. Your relationship needs to match your (and your partner’s) needs—not the expectations of those around you.

Your love stories determine the kind of relationship and partner you’re looking for and what you expect your relationship to be like. You’ll be happiest when you and your partner have compatible love stories and you meet each other’s needs. The expectations of those around you—parents, family, and friends—as well as those of society matter much less.

You have to realize that there is no wrong or right love story, and it’s all right for you to seek your happiness no matter what others think of your conception of a loving relationship.

The key to your happiness is finding someone whose love story is compatible with yours.

Looking to learn more about finding the RIGHT relationship for YOU? Contact us to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our relationship experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

 

Article By: Karen and Robert Sternberg, Ph.Ds

How High Expectations Can Lead to Disappointment, Depression, and Anxiety

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” ~Alexander Pope

I was sitting on the couch in my bedroom, at sunset, looking at the trees outside my window. I felt a profound sadness, frustration, disappointment, and desperation taking me over.

While I was staring into oblivion, all my expectations came flashing to my mind.

“No, this is not what my life was supposed to be. I was supposed to be successful. I was supposed to have my own house. I was supposed to be happy. What happened?”

What happened was that I am part of the majority, not the exception.

My entire life I expected to be the exception. I assumed that if I worked hard enough, I would succeed; if I did well in university, I would succeed; if I poured my heart and soul into something, I would succeed; my dreams could come true.

I had become a slave to my expectations, and they were ruining my life.

In my mind, things were supposed to be different. My great expectations were robbing me of happiness, because I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I didn’t have what I expected to have, and I wasn’t who I expected I should be.

The truth of the matter is that there are few people out there who are lucky enough to be living their dreams.

Most of us survive on crumbs of our expectations. We have a job, even if it’s a job we don’t like. We work from nine to five every day to pay the bills. If you’re lucky, you get to go on a vacation once a year, and for the very lucky, two of them.

Statistics show depression and anxiety are on the rise. I am part of those statistics, along with 350 million other people who suffer from the same hell I do.

How could depression and anxiety not be on the rise when we are constantly bombarded by repetitive messages that tell us about all the great things we can accomplish?

Of course giving people high expectations is what sells. If beauty creams advertised their products by saying, “It will moisturize your skin and that’s pretty much it,” not too many people would buy the product.

Marketing survives by raising people’s expectations. When the product doesn’t meet up with their expectation, disappointment follows. And so it goes with most things in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe that dreams can come true. The point is that we shouldn’t expect it to happen. If it does happen, it will be a nice surprise. But if it doesn’t and we’re expecting it, we are likely doomed for disappointment and frustration.

Of course it would be amazing if we could all live our great expectations, but we shouldn’t base our happiness and personal satisfaction on them, because there is no rule that says that we will all live to fulfill them. I know this might sound pessimistic, simply because it goes against everything we’ve heard.

We read great stories of people who defied the odds and became a success, but we never read about the people who did their best and failed. Their stories never become motivational quotes and bestselling books, because they didn’t make it.

We never hear their stories about how they put their heart and soul into something and failed, because that doesn’t sell books; that doesn’t sell conferences.

Many motivational books and personal coaches survive by raising people’s expectations instead of focusing on finding happiness with what they already have.

Of course meeting our expectations could bring happiness, but if we’re waiting to be happy for that to happen, we might be waiting a long time.

Maybe you’re not Anna Wintour or Mark Zuckerberg, and you don’t have a million dollars in the bank.

Maybe you’re feeling frustrated because parenthood didn’t turn out to be what you had expected (it’s tiring and demanding).

Maybe your job is not fulfilling, and at one point you expected you’d grow up to be somewhere completely different from where you are today.

I could sit here and write that you can change everything and you should fight to meet your expectation. I think you should, but you shouldn’t base you personal satisfaction and happiness on that.

I’m here to tell you that it’s all right if you didn’t meet your expectations.

Sometimes life throws curve balls at us, and for some reason or another life doesn’t go to plan. It doesn’t mean we have to stop working toward our goals; it just means that we can be happy regardless.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to focus on what we do have.

Capitalism shoves down our throats to strive for more, and we obediently follow, only to meet a brick wall and realize how frustrated we are for not being everything the system promised we could be.

Millennials in particular are battling this problem harshly.

We were sold the idea that if we went to college, got great marks, and did tons of unpaid internships we’d be destined for the stars. Instead, millions of millennials have a huge amount of debt from student loans and are finding it hard to find a job. I’m not even talking about their dream job—just a job.

Did you know that millennials have the highest statistics on depression and anxiety ever recorded in history? That’s mainly because we expected to at least have the quality of life our parents had. But things have changed, and now we are not even close to what they had at our age.

Our expectations were too high, and we live in a world where it’s harder to meet those expectations.

It would have been a lot better to break things down to millennials in a realistic way, and if some of them got to meet their expectations, then good for them. But for the rest, we’d know that not all expectations need to be met for us to be happy.

I know you might be reading this and thinking of all the expectations that you had that you didn’t get to live up to. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated and sad.

The best and easiest way to be happy is to work toward our goals but never expect for them to become a reality. It’s a paradox. It’s the duality of existence.

We need a goal and a dream to keep us motivated, but at the same time we need to not expect anything from life. That way, regardless of the outcome, we don’t become disappointed.

I know it kind of goes against the motivational quotes we read, and it especially goes against the greedy perception that has been incrusted in our minds. We are taught to never be content with what we have and to always strive for more. But this greedy mindset is what has many feeling frustrated with their lives.

I’m not saying that it’s good to get comfortable in mediocrity, but to push ourselves to be the best person we can be without expecting a great outcome. To do things because we love doing them, not because we’re expecting something.

It’s like doing a good deed expecting a “thank you.” If the “thank you” doesn’t come, you become disappointed. If you do it regardless of the gratitude, you still feel content.

It’s about being happy while working to be better, not by placing happiness on a goal. You find that happiness in your progress, in your daily life, in feeling grateful for the small things—for having food on your plate, a roof over your head, health, and loved ones to share your life with.

It is about coming to terms with the idea that your dreams might not come true. Making peace with life—that even if it doesn’t allow you to fulfill your dreams, it has given you life, and life itself is a treasure.

As the saying goes, happy people are not those who have the best of everything but the ones who make the best of everything they have.

Article by: Carol James of Tiny Buddha

Does Emotional Avoidance Fuel Your Eating Disorder?

“It seems like I’m actually experiencing my feelings, now that I’m no longer bingeing and purging my emotions,” my client in recovery from bulimia shared.

Eating disorders are believed to be caused by a combination of factors including, genetic, temperamental, and environmental influences.

However, one thing that almost all of my clients with eating disorders have in common is difficulty in expressing, processing, and coping with their emotions.

Emotional Avoidance and Eating Disorders

Emotional avoidance, is described as actions that are intended to prevent an emotional response from occurring, such as fear, anger or sadness.

People struggling with eating disorders often turn to their eating disorder behaviors in an unconscious effort to try to help themselves to “feel better” and to cope with difficult emotions or life circumstances.

For instance, for many people struggling with anorexia, their response when it comes to coping with feelings of anxiety, sadness, or loneliness, is to restrict their food. This may give them a false sense of “control” and specialness. For individuals with bulimia, bingeing and purging provides them a momentary feeling of comfort, “control,” or relief. For people struggling with binge eating, eating often feels like “an escape,” comforting, calming, or a way to numb out.

The reality is that eating disorder behaviors often provide short-term relief or satisfaction, and long-term feelings of increased depression, loneliness, and misery.

Let Yourself Feel

Eating disorder treatment involves a variety of tools and strategies for helping clients to reclaim their lives. However, one important element is helping them to learn how to identify, process, and cope with their emotions in ways that align with their life values.

Many of my clients struggle with being able to sit with themselves and their emotions. Often eating disorder behaviors are used as a way to try to regulate or distract from intense emotions.

I often say to clients that trying to suppress our emotions, is kind of like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It takes a lot of effort and eventually the beach ball will fly up above the water with force.

As a culture, we are often not taught to express our emotions. However, emotions serve important functions in our lives, as they are signals of things that we need to pay attention to.

There is a quote that I love from Norah Wynne, which says “Feelings will not kill you. No one has ever died from experiencing an emotion, but people have died trying to stuff them down.”

It’s important to share with clients that their eating disorder behaviors are often coping strategies that they are using to try to regulate their emotions. These behaviors may have helped them to get through some difficult and traumatic times, however they are also no longer serving them.

With treatment and support, people with eating disorders can learn how to heal their relationships with themselves, food, and their bodies.

They can also learn how to express and process their emotions, without the constant strain of trying to suppress or run from their feelings. Part of living a meaningful life is being able to experience all of one’s emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant.

One of the great privileges of doing this work is being able to see the light return into someone’s eyes, for them to be exploring their true passions and interests, for their brain space to be no longer ruled with thoughts about food and their body. Full recovery and living according to your true values, is completely possible.

An assignment to put this into practice:

What emotions (if any) are you trying to push down, avoid, or distract from?
What behaviors are you using to try not to experience this emotion?
How is doing so serving you, and how is it not serving you?
What would be on healthy way that you could process the emotions that you are experiencing, i.e. writing, an alterbook, talking to a friend, drawing, talking to a therapist?

Article By: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C,Founder of The Eating Disorder Center

Take Time To Reflect On The Past Year…

The end of the year is a time to reflect, take stock of the year past, and plan for the year ahead. Each year we share an article with 12 questions to help guide a year-end reflection. A year has passed yet it feels like a nano-moment since the last year-end reflection. Not surprising – our lives, work and society move at an unprecedented pace.

To help you take stock and prepare for the year ahead, take time to reflect on this year’s questions.

THE YEAR BEHIND

What went well? This is a staple question we ask each year. It’s far too easy to bypass the wins and the good that comes within any year. Take stock of what went well this year and know that nothing is too small to own, celebrate and bring forward as positive fuel for the days and year ahead.

What surprised you? The pandemic aside, life is always full of surprises. Whether for better or otherwise, the skills of the day are adaptability, heartiness, and resourcefulness. Reflect on the surprises that came your way – and then on how you responded. What do you notice about your ability to adapt and pivot within the unexpected?

What did this year teach you? Every experience for better or worse can be a ‘teacher’ if we use it well. How did you grow from your year? What insights, knowledge, skills were gained or reinforced?

What are you noticing or even having hunches about? Sometimes if feels like change comes out of the blue. But often there are early signs and/or hints abound. Think about the year past and your world of work (and life). What signs or even inklings of change need to be heeded? Where might the opportunities come from? What are you ignoring that can put you at risk? Paying attention with an open mind and some self trust can prepare you better for even the seemingly unknown.

What needs to be left behind? Old ideas, poor habits, and self-limiting behaviours – ahh, who doesn’t have at least a few of these? When life and work pressures demand the best of us it is a good idea to take stock of what’s no longer working and might be holding us back. Also, ask yourself if it’s time to let some doors close this year (if they must) and shift your energy to new areas of opportunity? Where do you need to discard ideas, strategies, and ways of doing things that don’t work any more despite your best efforts?

Wrap up your year with a name that fits: Give 2021 the distinctive, memorable quality it deserves by considering the stand-out experiences and lessons and complete this phrase: “2021 was the year of ___.

THE YEAR AHEAD

Where do you need to go next? Think about the changes showing up (internally and externally). What’s next for you personally and professionally? Even if you don’t have precise answers yet, staying in this question will keep you on your toes so that you can plan and pivot to opportunities more easily. To paraphrase the famous words conveyed by Wayne Gretzky, ‘Focus on where the puck is headed and skate towards there.’

How will you evolve in the year ahead? While you can’t predict the whole picture, it’s a good idea to get intentional in your development and identify new skills, experiences and knowledge that will help you grow. Visualize yourself at the end of 2022 and ask in what ways will you have grown? This is your chance to reflect so you can plan for this to happen.

What are your top goals? Now it’s time to get specific and concrete. Forget resolutions – they don’t work. But goals – if meaningful, relevant and backed up with a plan – can provide focus, direction, a sense of purpose, and energize you with new motivation. Got any goals for yourself?

Who will you connect with? Don’t wait for sudden change to test the strength of your network and relationships – invest now. Take stock and make a commitment to connect meaningfully, authentically with those important to you. Expand and/or deepen your professional and personal network and find ways to show reciprocity by giving back to others.

How will you navigate ambiguity and uncertainty? Ambiguity and uncertainty often comes with disruptive change. How do you cope (thrive) in the unknown? Those who do well tend to foster flexible, resilient, hearty mindsets – along with other skills. Take heed, if not yet natural strengths, know that we can all tap into our deep-rooted capacities to adapt, learn, and find heartiness even in challenging conditions. Start by setting the intention and then commit. Then don’t be afraid to seek support in developing these skills.

What’s your mantra for 2022: What stands out for you that marks your intentions for the year ahead? Create a mantra to hold on to this by completing this phrase: 2022 will be the year of ________.

Article By: Eileen Chadnick of the Globe

5 Tips To Be Happier Today

It’s gloomy outside of my window as I type. Everything is gray. The days are getting shorter. And at mid-life, there are all kinds of stressors! If you’re at all like me and could use a pick-me-up on this, the Monday after Thanksgiving (or, as my friend Becky Burch writes, The Monday of All Mondays), here are five Darwininian-inspired tips.

The evolutionary perspective on human emotions holds that our emotions, including happiness, evolved as they did to serve important evolutionary functions for our ancestors during the bulk of human evolutionary history.1 Under these conditions, largely when ancestrally modern humans lived in the African savanna in small, tight-knit groups, people experienced happiness when they encountered outcomes that would have been associated with survival and/or reproductive success. Such outcomes would have included, for instance:

-Finding a great new food source
-Creating something that is admired by others
-Natural phenomena such as a fresh water stream during drought conditions
-Sharing laughter and stories with family members
-Experiencing mutual love with a partner who is adoring, trustful, and attractive

As we experience the time of year associated with waning sunlight in North America, here are five ways to harness happiness based on this evolutionarily informed approach.2

1. Eat something healthy and yummy.

Under ancestral conditions, humans evolved to prefer foods that put fat on one’s bones, anticipating drought and famine. For this reason, we evolved to prefer foods that are high in things like carbohydrates and salt. Ironically, the modern food industry has hijacked these food preferences. And this is why places like Burger King are so good at making money but also at distributing food that is obnoxiously unhealthy.

For these reasons, eating something that is simply tasty does not always have happiness-inducing effects in the modern world. Tasty foods, such as chocolate chip cookies that are fresh from the oven, come with a price. And such foods might come with guilt from not being able to control one’s impulses.

Natural foods, which map onto the kinds of foods that our ancestors would have eaten before the advent of agriculture, can be tasty but they are also generally guilt-free. Find your favorite tasty natural treat today. It may be grapes, clementines, salmon, sweet potatoes, etc. Eat something tasty and natural today, and do it with a guilt-free smile.

2. Create and share something today.

The creative spirit is a basic part of our evolved psychology. We admire creative others and we tend to take joy in the creative process. Under ancestral conditions, creativity was widely respected, likely as it had all kinds of benefits when it came to surviving and reproducing.3 Further, creativity is an inherently social endeavor. And sharing with others is a critical piece of happiness in a species such as ours with sociality being so foundational.

When it comes to forms of creativity, the options are nearly endless. Write a quick story or joke to share with a friend. Or a poem that captures your spirit today. Or maybe draw something. Perhaps a doodle during that department meeting will emerge into something that makes you really smile. Whether it is big or small, I say try to create something every day. And share it with someone who will appreciate it. And maybe see if they will share back. Sharing creative products, no matter how small, provides a simple route to joy on a daily basis.

3. Get out into nature.

Sure, it’s harder to get out into nature when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Add a saturated schedule to this and you’ve got a recipe for staying indoors and doing not much of anything. But remember, for the lion’s share of human evolutionary history, our ancestors were outside constantly. We evolved to be surrounded by fresh air as well as both plant and animal life. Natural water features, sky, and sun were all regular players in the daily lives of our ancestors. As such, we evolved a strong love for nature that goes deep into our evolved psychology.4

It might be a two-mile run before work. Or a quick walk in a park near the office. Or maybe, if time allows, an intensive hike deep into the woods. But whatever your schedule allows, make sure to get some outside time with some elements of nature in it. Nature experiences famously go hand-in-hand with happiness.

4. Share and communicate with family members today.

As is true in many species, kin matter quite a bit in the human experience. From an evolutionary perspective, kin are those special people in the world who disproportionately share specific genetic combinations with ourselves. As a consequence, kin have an inherent evolutionary interest in our successes. This is why “blood is thicker than water.”

Think of a family member whom you get along with well and send them a text or give them a call. No agenda is needed. Just make sure that there are some laughs involved.

5. Make time for love.

In the human experience, love and happiness go hand-in-hand.5 For this reason, finding and cultivating loving relationships is a critical part of the human experience. And love has a way of facilitating happiness that truly cannot be matched.

Want to learn more about how you can FEEL HAPPIER? Reach out to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Glenn Gear, Ph.D, of Psychology Today

Relationship Tool…How Conflict Helps You Understand Your Partner

The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

Does this sound familiar? You think the conflict is about who is going to pick up your child after school. It’s going to be a simple decision—it’s either you or your partner. But, somehow, there is no simple resolution. The conflict seems bigger than that. It feels like something deeper is going on for one or both of you.

The conflict
Let’s use this scenario as an example:

Sam and Chris are discussing who is going to pick up their daughter from school. Sam says to Chris, “I can pick her up after school today.”

Chris says, “No, I’d like to pick her up.”

Sam comes back with, “You’re so busy at work today and I have the day off. I’m happy to do it.”

Chris persists, “You should enjoy your day off. I can fit it into my work day.”

They go back and forth like this for a while.

When the resolution for the conflict feels like it should be easier than it turns out to be, that is the indicator that there might be some dreams within the conflict at play. Step back and go deeper to the dream level.

Questions to gain understanding
To get there, Sam and Chris can ask each other these kinds of questions:

“Can you tell me what makes this important to you?”
“Does this relate to your background in some way?”
“Is there a deeper purpose or goal for you about picking up our child at school?”
“What do you feel about it?”
“What is your wish in this situation? What is your need?”
“What will happen if your dream isn’t honored?”

Chris might share that when they were growing up, Chris’s parents weren’t involved in the daily school pick=up. Perhaps because of this, Chris feels distant from their parents. Chris has decided to parent differently.

Sam might share concerns about Chris’s job stability and doesn’t want to interrupt Chris’s workday when Sam could do the pick-up without intruding on work. Sam might further express a craving for financial security because that was absent from Sam’s childhood.

Dreams within conflict
Consider two things. First, relationships are not better if they are free of conflict, and in fact, all relationships have some sort of conflict in them. Second, the purpose of conflict is not resolution. The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

With this conflict definition, understanding each other’s dreams within the conflict can lead to a successful conflict outcome.

Learning to recognize when there is this deeper dream level in a conflict will allow you to explore the dreams within the conflict and then move through the conflict more easily and peacefully.

Sam and Chris now understand each other’s perspectives more fully. Even if they still disagree, they’ve deepened their understanding of one another, they’ve grown closer, and they can come to a solution.

Article By: Jennifer Pesetky of The Gottman Institute

Man hiking

Can You Train Yourself to Become a More Optimistic Person?

The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!

If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?

The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.

The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!

As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.

Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.

This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.

The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!

Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:

1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).

This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!

2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.

Here are the steps:

  • Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
  • Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
  • Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
  • Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
  • Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.

If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.

When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!

For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.

Want help improving your own optimism? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”

Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf

Happy couple with a healthy relationship

Milwaukee Relationship Experts Discuss Dating After A Breakup

It can be very hard to get back into the dating world after a breakup or divorce. Some clients that I work with were in a relationship for a short time, and it’s not as hard for them to get back into the swing of things. However, for some who were in decades-long marriages, they are now out on their own trying to figure out the dating world. It can be daunting and scary, and some people give up after only a few tries because they feel overwhelmed.

There are some things to consider when you’re getting back into the dating world or even considering dating.

Getting “back out there”

First thing is to make sure that your friends and work colleagues know that you are ready to start dating again, since it always helps to have friends on your side. They may know somebody they could set you up with or suggest a coffee date with a friend of theirs who might be a good fit. It is good to think in terms of just getting to know new people rather than having to feel like it’s got to be an instant, lifelong connection. Sometimes it can just be meeting somebody new for coffee and striking up a friendship if there’s no romantic spark.

Swiping and clicking

These days roughly one-third of single people have an online dating profile. As you probably already know, this way of dating allows you to find and view people that you would never otherwise meet, and you can chat with them before meeting.

A downfall is that there can be too much choice in online dating. Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has done experiments revealing that an excess of options can induce indecision and paralysis in decision making. Her experiment involved jam samples at a grocery store. When they offered six types of jam as opposed to 24 types of jam, people were ten times as likely to buy jam from the smaller sample number.

This same indecision and paralysis can happen in online dating, so try to give yourself compassion and know that it’s hard work. You may consider hiring a matchmaker if you can afford it—they gather your information and preferences and find matches and then they also set up the dates, making much less work for you!

From message to meeting

Don’t spend too much time talking online—a week or two at the most—then meet to see if you have chemistry. Helen Fisher, noted anthropologist and consultant for Match.com, states that it is best to avoid long online exchanges. The only way to know if you have a future with a person is to meet face to face since “the brain is the best algorithm.” Laurie Davis, author of “Love at First Click,” recommends no more than six messages before meeting offline, since that gives you enough information to know if they are someone you’d want to date. Meeting someplace public is always the best option for safety reasons. Do post photos on your profile.

People still meet in more traditional ways also (work, neighbors, school, through friends), but no matter how you meet a potential partner, you still have to go on dates! However you meet, remember to ask open-ended questions. Also, remind yourself to be interested in your date rather than trying to be interesting yourself. See the Gottman Card Decks, and go to the Open-ended questions deck if you want some good ideas.

Don’t talk about your ex

Don’t talk about your ex-spouse or -partner! This is crucial. If your date asks you something about your past relationship then it is appropriate to give a brief response. Example: “We grew apart but we get along now when we need to talk about the kids.”

If it was a difficult separation or divorce then keep that very brief. Example: “It was painful and hard but now I am ready to move on and not dwell on the past”

If your date hears you talk about your “crazy ex” and you go on and on about it, that could be a red flag. Same goes if they hear you talking at length about how great your ex is and how you are best friends now—they are going to wonder if you may reconcile or they may feel you are not “over” that person.

Who can you trust?

I’ve had many people ask about how to know who’s safe and trustworthy when you are dating. I find it helpful in my private practice with single clients to go through some of the important points from the book “Safe People” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Here are some important things to be looking for when you consider safe vs unsafe people:

  • Safe people allow you to feel like an equal vs feeling like their parent or their child.
  • Safe people are stable over time vs being inconsistent.
  • Safe people have empathy and act on it vs being solely concerned with themselves (“I” not “we”).
  • Safe people want to mature and grow, and can admit when they are wrong, while unsafe people avoid working on problems, or admitting fault because they believe they are perfect.
  • Safe people are willing to earn your trust while unsafe people demand it without earning it.
  • Safe people can respect your “no” and honor your boundaries.

In addition: unsafe people apologize without changing their behavior, they blame others, they gossip instead of keeping secrets, and they show up only when they need something.

If you consistently find yourself drawn to unsafe people, then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. This can be addressed through personal exploration or even individual therapy. As stated in “Safe People,” this could be driven by the need to rescue that unsafe person, fears of isolation or abandonment, or even familiarity with negative relational patterns.

Dr. Gottman has done research on trustworthiness, and found the following five criteria to help separate those who are trustworthy from those who are not. These five criteria are from the book “What Makes Love Last.”

  1. Honesty. Do not trust someone who lies to you. Don’t come up with excuses for why they lied, or talk yourself out of your doubts.
  2. Transparency. Make sure they are an open book, and that they invite you to meet their family and friends.
  3. Accountability. Do they keep their promises and follow through on their commitments?
  4. Ethical Actions. If you are detecting immoral actions or if you are uncomfortable with their morals, then move on.
  5. Proof of Alliance. If they can demonstrate that they have your back, even in small ways, then that is a good sign. Do they take your best interests to heart instead of acting only out of self-interest?

Have fun, try to think about it as an adventure. Stay safe, and make sure you take things slow so that you have time to determine if they are safe and trustworthy. Remember, it is hard work, but it’s worth it. Good luck in your dating journey.

Article By: Stacy Hubbard, LMFT, The Gottman Relationship Blog

Woman meditating in nature

Body Obsession: How My Weight Consumed My Life and Why I’m Done Dieting

“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” ~Geneen Roth

I’ve spent so much time on the dieting hamster wheel that I am almost too ashamed to admit it. Throughout my teen years I went from one crash diet to the next. When this proved more than unfruitful and disappointing, I changed strategies.

The next twelve years I spent searching for the “right lifestyle” for me, which would allow me to shrink to an acceptable size, be happy and healthy, and make peace with my body.

You can probably guess that I never found such a lifestyle. And I’m sure that it doesn’t exist for me. I’m still making peace with my body, but now I know this is internal work. No diet or size can bring me to this place.

How This All Began

I first became aware that I was fat when I was four. We had this kindergarten recital, and regrettably, my costume didn’t fit, so I was the only one with a different dress. It was horrible. It didn’t help that my mother was very disappointed in me.

Years later, I started dieting at the ripe age of ten.

In my teenage years my focus was mainly on losing as much weight as possible, as quickly as possible. It was exhilarating to get praise from my mother and grandmothers. They were so happy that I was taking charge of my weight and that I could show such restraint and will power.

I sometimes went months on almost nothing eaten. Eventually, I’d start to get dizzy and nauseous, and I’d get severe stomach aches. I was hospitalized multiple times for gastritis. But no one made the connection between my eating and these conditions.

When the pains were severe, I knew I needed to get back to eating more regularly, and then the weight would return. You wouldn’t believe the disappointment this elicited in the ones closest to me. If only I could eat like a normal person, but not be fat.

I was told hundreds upon hundreds of times that if I didn’t find a way to lose the weight, I’d be lonely, no one would like me, I’d have trouble finding a boyfriend, and I’d have almost no chance of getting married. This was so heartbreaking. And I believed every word of it.

It became a major focus of my life to get my body in order, so I could be a ‘real’ girl.

When I turned twenty, I learned that my weight was all my fault. That I wasn’t doing enough. That I just wanted results, without doing the work. And that “there’s no permanent result without permanent effort.” So, I decided to find the sustainable lifestyle change that would lead me to my thin and better self. This was just another wild goose chase.

No matter what I did, the pattern was the same: I would lose ten to thirty-five pounds in about six months. And then—even if I doubled my efforts in terms of eating less and training more—I would start gaining weight and return to close to where I started.

Even though it was soul crushing, I didn’t give up. Not even for a day.

I was convinced that I just didn’t know enough, or hadn’t found the right diet for me, the right exercise, or the right combination. Or that maybe I was just doing things wrong, for some reason.

I hired trainers, dieticians, the whole shebang. It didn’t help.

This lasted more than ten years and took a lot of money that could have been spent better.

I was convinced that I was missing something. Obviously, the professionals knew what they were doing, and there was something wrong with me.

How Things Got Even Worse

When I got married, even though my husband and I were planning to wait a couple of years before having children, the pressure to prepare for pregnancy was on.

I went into crazy researcher mode and read every book on the best diet for pregnancy and ensuring healthy offspring.

It was 2016 and keto was in (as it still is now). I was convinced that keto was the way to go.

This was a turning point for me. First, because I was so determined to succeed at this point, and second, because keto is one of the most restrictive diets in existence.

I became super obsessed, and for two years. I couldn’t see that things were going wrong. Very wrong.

There were both physical and psychological signs. I just didn’t have the mental capacity to notice them. And regrettably, there wasn’t anyone around to point out that something was amiss. My environment was, and still is to some extent, more conducive to disordered eating behavior than to recovery.

On the physical side:

-My nails were brittle.
-My hair was falling out.
-My heart rate was slow.
-I lost the ability to sweat, despite the vigorous exercise I did.
-I was often tired.
-I was getting dizzy a lot.
-I was shivering cold all the time.

On the psychological side:

-I was irritable.
-I felt I needed to deserve my food, so I exercised compulsively, at least two hours and up to five hours a day.
-I had forgotten how hunger feels. I was eating on a schedule, and that was that. Not feeling hunger was even reassuring.
-But despite the latter, when I got to the bakery or the supermarket, I felt intense cravings. My stomach was tight, but I would start salivating strongly. And I would think about food for the rest of the day, weighing the pros and cons of ice cream and my rights to a little pleasure and indulgence in life. My solution was to order just the ‘right’ food online and go out as little as possible.
-I started avoiding my friends and family and any outings with food. I couldn’t risk eating anything if it wasn’t prepared by me.
-On the other hand, I was keeping some sense of normalcy, while cooking normal food and desserts for my husband. I don’t know why, but the pleasure of cooking was somehow enough, and I didn’t get cravings from this.
-I was also obsessed with food and thinking about what to cook for myself and my husband, and what great things we had eaten, but I could never have again.
-It was a torturous time. And even though my focus was on being my healthiest self, I had never been sicker in my life. I was suffering deeply.

How I Got Better

I can’t tell you I had a sudden realization about the errors of my ways. As I said, my whole environment supports the dieting mentality, and I had much more support in my dieting efforts than I do now in recovery. But still, I am managing.

I started seeing a therapist because I was lashing out at my husband, and I wanted to control my emotions better. By digging deeper into the issues underlying my anger I found a deep sense of inadequacy and not being enough. In the process of unravelling, I was able to make the connection that my problems with food stem from the same place, and I started working on them.

There are a few things that helped me most.

The first is meditation. Meditating has made a huge difference in my life because it’s enabled me to distance myself from my thoughts, and stop believing everything I think. This was huge.

It was important for me to observe this nasty, critical voice and to realize that it’s not mine. It sounded more like my mother. To distance myself from the voice and the emotionally charged image of my mother, I started seeing it like a mean, old witch. By associating a funny image with this chatter in my head, I was able to acknowledge it was there but go about my life, without engaging too much with it.

This has helped me treat myself much more kindly. And by being kinder to myself I started to accept myself more. I am human and not perfect. In some situations, I still start berating myself. But I catch myself quickly and don’t fall into the rabbit hole.

Second, I reached out for support from some trusted friends and started to go out more and observe other people. To my surprise, most people were not on the brink of death just because they ate pizza a couple times a month or because they enjoyed a drink or two.

Also, I started reading more books written by fat activists, and they have been of great help. They are full of humor, compassion, love, and understanding. They have helped me feel less alone, and I’ve benefitted immensely from their recommendation to normalize your view of your body by looking at images of other fat people.

For me, seeing other women of my size and finding them gorgeous and beautiful helped me accept myself more. Taking more pictures of myself, and getting used to how I look, was also huge for me. Because it’s very different from looking in the mirror. In the mirror you can look at just certain parts of your body and not pay attention to others. In a photo, you don’t have much choice.

This can be really hard at first. But it gets so much better.

Also, I found new ways to move my body and enjoy myself, and rekindled my passions for types of exercise I used to enjoy. This has made it so much easier for me to appreciate my wonderful body. I feel grateful for all I am able to do, every single day.

Choosing what to eat is still a battle sometimes. The disordered voices in my head are not abolished, as I said. But now, I can choose not to pay attention to them or believe them.

So now, when I am debating between pizza and fish with salad, I do a couple of things differently than before.

First, I ask myself what do I really want, and why. If I see that I am leaning toward the fish, but only because it’s “better for me,” I remember the sad person I was before. I remember how bad I felt when my life was ruled by rules. And then I clear the rules from my head and imagine what will taste better for me in this moment. And choose that option.

Of course, I don’t always eat pizza. I strive for balance and make healthy choices on the whole. The point is I don’t constantly deprive myself.

What helps me not fall into my old patterns is remembering the way I feel now. I know that despite being heavier, I haven’t felt happier and freer in my life. Not having that constant anxiety is my motivation.

It’s very hard, but I couldn’t be happier that I am going through this journey. I am connecting to myself, my body, and my wishes in a way I was never able to before. And I feel this is the most valuable experience.

I hope that if you’re battling with the same demons, you’ll win. I am rooting for you. And yes, it is possible.

Article By: Vania Nikolova, PhD of Tiny Buddha