Tag Archive for: Hillary Counseling

How To Cope With Grief During the Holidays

The swell of grief around the holidays is a common reason clients enter our therapy office this time of year. People often seek help for the immense sorrow that starts surfacing right around Thanksgiving.

When you’re grieving, there may be times when you want to participate in the excitement and joy but simultaneously don’t want to participate at all or feel guilty for celebrating.

Grief is complicated and unique for everyone. While accepting loss becomes easier over time, it is often something we carry with us forever.

If you’re wondering how to get through the holidays this year without your loved one, these strategies can help:

1. Trust That Grief Is Part of Healing

Time doesn’t heal the pain associated with a loss; it’s what you do with that time that matters. Grief is the process by which you heal. Experiencing the pain—rather than constantly trying to escape it—can actually help you feel better in the long-term.

So while it may be tempting to pretend the holidays don’t exist—or to numb the pain with alcohol—temporarily avoiding the pain only prolongs the anguish. Eventually, the holidays will get easier, but only if you allow yourself to experience the grief of going through them without your loved one.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

You certainly don’t have to force yourself to face every holiday event or celebratory tradition, however. If attending a tree lighting ceremony or participating in the office gift swap is likely to bring about too many painful memories this year, be willing to say no. Other people may try to convince you to participate, but you certainly don’t have to try to please everyone.

3. Focus on What You Can Control

There are a lot of things you can’t control about the holidays. You may be subjected to Christmas music in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or you may overhear your co-workers constantly talking about their holiday plans. While you can’t prevent those things from happening, there are some things you can control.

Think about what you can do to lessen the heartache when you can. It’s OK to limit your decorations or shop for presents online only. Pick a few things you can do to assert some control over the holiday cheer, and keep in mind that life goes on for other people and it’s OK that they’re happy to celebrate this year.

4. Plan Ahead

Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. So while Thanksgiving dinner may only last two hours, you could easily spend three weeks dreading it. Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish.

Often, it’s helpful to create an escape plan. Drive yourself to holiday functions or ride with a trusted friend who will take you home whenever you want. Just knowing you can easily leave at any time can help you enjoy the activity much more than you would if you felt stuck.

5. Allow Yourself to Feel a Range of Emotions

The holidays can bring about a wide range of emotions. You might feel joy, guilt, and sadness all within a few minutes. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking you should be happy or you shouldn’t be laughing.

6. Find a Way to Honor Your Memories

Create a special way to memorialize the person you’ve lost. Whether you decide to light a candle every night or eat your loved one’s favorite food, honoring your loved one can serve as a tangible reminder that although your loved one is gone, the love never dies.

7. Create New Traditions

Don’t be afraid to create new traditions this year too. It’s OK to get creative and do something a little out of the ordinary. You can also alter old traditions and make them fit better with the new phase in your life.

8. Do Something Kind for Others

Even when you’re in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer the world. Performing a few acts of kindness can be really good for a grieving person’s spirit. Donate gifts to families in need, serve meals at a soup kitchen, or volunteer to help people at a nursing home make holiday crafts if you’re up for it.

9. Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that you’re having a rough time may be enough, but you also may want to reach out for more support. Look for support groups or contact a professional counselor to help you deal with your grief in a healthy manner.

 

Want to learn about coping with grief during the holidays?  Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consultation with one of our experts, info@hillarycouneling.com.

Intuitive Eating Tricks for Halloween Treats

“Halloween” and “candy” are almost synonymous, and this can be a confusing time for us to know how to handle the sugar overload that’s heading towards us like a high-speed freight train, especially for those struggling with and eating disorder and working in recovery.

Most individuals spend their time thinking about costumes, decorations and haunted houses weeks before the big day but individuals who are recovering from an eating disorder are often inundated with thoughts of body image and weight disturbances when shopping for a Halloween costume and walking the candy aisles.

Shopping for a Halloween costume, navigating parties, and being faced with Halloween candy, treats and drinks are just a few of the many ways that Halloween can trigger your eating disorder in unexpected ways. Being mindful of these potential triggers and arming yourself with coping tools to support your recovery is vital. Whether you are trick-or-treating, attending a Halloween costume party or passing out candy with your friends, these triggers may creep up on you before you know it.

Halloween Treats and Binge Eating

Halloween in recovery can mean binge eating can be more likely during times of stress and increased anxiety. During this particular holiday, stress and anxiety may be caused by feeling pressure over Halloween to dress up, attend a Halloween party or potluck, pass out candy and purchase candy. From chocolate bars and candy corns to lollipops and gummy bears.  Halloween can lead to candy overload, which can lead to intense urges or action to binge. Depending on your eating disorder, you might have kept yourself from indulging in Halloween candy in the past; you might have binged on it after everyone had gone to sleep, or some combination therein. If you are still in recovery for your eating disorder it is recommended that you have a recovery action plan to help with the triggers.

Understanding your reasons for binge eating, along with learning how to deal with stress and anxiety through other coping strategies are beneficial to your health and recovery. Here are some tips for your recovery action plan to help you avoid binge eating on Halloween this year.

1. Practice Mindful Eating. This starts with allowing yourself to use all of your senses in choosing to eat foods that satisfy you while nourishing your body at the same time. You obtain the opportunity to acknowledge your genuine responses to food, such as your true likes and dislikes, without any judgement. Eat with awareness of your senses.

2.Remember to have regular meals/snack throughout the day. Try eating three regular meals and two snacks to prevent cravings that can lead to overeating. Have a game plan for the potluck. Meaning look at all the foods before you take a plate. Figure out which foods seems the most appetizing to you and which foods you know you are hungry for. Plate your food, allowing yourself to enjoy what you are eating. Give yourself permission to stop eating when you feel satisfied.

3. Feel empowered to use your voice and seek support. Identify who you support system is going be for the Halloween festivities. Strategize with your support system on what type of support you may need and what that will look like.

4. Practice Self-Compassion. When you start experiencing feelings of guilt and shame, practice self-compassion. Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? ~Kristin Neff

Halloween costumes and body positivity

There are many ways that Halloween in recovery can be challenging. Clothing shopping can be triggering for individuals who are in eating disorder recovery, especially costume shopping. Costumes tend to be on the skimpier side and our society tends to praise women who show more skin and wear less clothing on Halloween. Regardless of where you are in your eating disorder recovery, it is important to feel comfortable in any costume you wear. Whether it is a homemade costume or a store-bought costume, you should feel comfortable and exuberate self-confidence in your costume.

If you feel that a costume will trigger you to have negative thoughts then here are some ideas to try instead of dressing up; 1.  to try a different costume that you feel comfortable in 2. buy a Halloween t-shirt instead of dressing up 3. wear Halloween colors in clothes that make you feel good.

Regardless of where your Halloween takes you, the most important part is practicing self-care. This is at the root of most recovery-minded decisions. Self-care means spending time with people who support your recovery, and giving yourself permission to enjoy that Snickers!

If you feel like you would benefit from support when it comes to your relationship with food, reach out to us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE initial consult with one of our eating disorder therapists.

 

5 Tools To Reset Grief’s Anger

Grief and anger are often aligned. Anger is one phase within the theme of grief that is alarmingly unpredictable, erratic, and, when unexpressed, can eat up the interior of the gut.

The Grief Experience

Grief, a response to a loss of someone or something, creates an untenable yearning for what you’ve lost. Both anger and grief are unchosen experiences, sneaking up on you, often without warning, only creating responses leading to internal and external emotional combustibility.

Avoid Crushing Your Comfortable Ordinary

Think about this combustibility like a big bang that goes off and affects your mind, body, and psyche. Acting in consort, these two aspects do a great job at crushing any sense of normalcy. Or what I like to refer to as your comfortable “ordinary.” Together, they have the ability to overwhelm the senses, all the while creating emotional responses that are often unrecognizable. You may hear yourself saying “Did I just say or do that?” and, yet, all of it is part of life, part of loving, part of being.

As hard as you try, ignoring what comes up only works for a short time before it starts to come out sideways. What I mean by that is that your body or mind can feel out of it, as they hold the unspoken and hidden angers and grief.

How to Tame the Tiger of Anger and Grief

Acknowledge their presence. When you do that simple step, you create the necessary healing moves needed to feel better. It is getting to yes—I see you, I know you are there, and I can’t sleep you away, eat you away, or drink you away.

I know I can’t pretend anymore. It’s taking me away from me and the life I want to live.

Anger

Here are two questions to begin your intimate adventure into the relationship between anger and grief:

Why is anger one of the anchors in the phases of grief?
Why is it hard to temper its potency?
Like food, anger is an essential element to the core of our being. It’s primal. It’s an aspect of survival. In small doses, or when it shows up to support one’s primal survival mode, anger pushes at that which is unwanted or threatening to our sense of self. Grief is often an immobilizing experience. Anger interrupts the immobilization often inherent in the grieving process. Honor it, express it with intent to change the undermining status quo of grief, and stop being enveloped by the vortex of quicksand when long-haul grief is present.

Anger can awaken you out of complacency.
Anger can show you how you care more than you realize.
Anger can make you feel alive, especially when in the muck of grief.
Anger can expel feelings of anxiety.
Anger can be a powerful ally.
Anger Is Not Rage

For someone who has not expressed anger, and has kept it within themselves, its expression can feel like rage. Rage is blinding and binding and out of control.

Angry outbursts create combustible environments for anyone on the receiving end of a tirade. Often difficult to control, anger builds up when you’re not being true to yourself. It’s easy to want to blame others for the grief you feel. Usually, the grief you feel is not anyone’s fault. The experience of a loss is driven by the crude awakening that you are in this alone. It is your lone journey, and no one understands it the way you do.

Before lacing into someone, stop for a moment, take a breath, and reexamine the situation. Follow these next steps, and your anger and grief will be heard and tangled with so you can gain self-control and solace.

5 Tools to Re-regulate the Self When Anger and Grief Are Present

Hint: They do require your presence!

Survey is the first of The Three S’s, survey, stop, and select. It is important to mark what happens in your body and in your mind when the anger starts to emerge. There are warning signs, and they are most likely quite familiar to you. Identify the warning signs of grief and anger—hands sweaty, don’t feel heard by a friend, no appetite, angry at small things. Awareness is the first step to change. This is a body and mind scan.
Body is tight
Jaw hurts
Belly aches
Mind is racing
Mind unable to concentrate
Cold or hot sensations
These signs inform you of a danger zone of anger. Temper the experience by imagining the outcome. Is it the outcome you really want?

2. Now it’s time for the action of Stop, the second of The Three S’s. Stop is an interrupter. First say, “Stop it!” Take in a breath and release it and then:

Drink water
Leave the room
Call a friend
Listen to music
These seemingly innocuous interventions cause the brain to change the anger response it’s locked into. Awareness is the first step to change.

3. Select is the final of The Three S’s. You select the next action based on the preferred outcome.

Keep a journal or notebook with you to create a dreamscape depicting a different outcome: “I am angry about ____________ and this is what I can do about it _____________________________.”
I am alone in my grief, and I need to find support other than friends and family.
4. Learn to breathe. Sounds funny since breathing keeps the body alive, but this is a different type of breath. In five-second intervals, breathe in through your nose, hold the breath, and breathe out through your mouth. Do this exercise five times before letting loose. This will calm the nervous system and create a shift in the ways your mind and body are interacting with the anger response. Practice breathing even when not needed. It will be of greater use when the body knows the rhythm of the breathing exercise.

5. Get smart! Know the self. Your previous behavior is filled with chunky nuggets of information.

What are you yearning for? Name the points of hunger (what feels empty) and desire (what you want or need).

What helped you tame the anger and listen to the temperament of grief? Create a list of feelings that were specific to that occurrence.

Identify the following potential emotional responses that led to the anger and grief response. Jealousy? Regret? Sadness? Lack of control? The list of emotions is endless.

Do this and the conversation between the angry self and the yearning self (grief) will emerge.

The tough emotions of anger and grief are potentially unexpected allies. They will change you through an awakening process that is not chosen yet shifts the status quo into movement and emotional calibration and grace.

Looking for more help working through your GRIEF? Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consult with one of our experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Edy Nathan of Psychology Today

5 Ways Almost Everyone Misunderstands Emotions

Our emotions provide valuable data, but there are some ways virtually everyone misinterprets their emotions. This can lead to mismanaging your emotions or the situation they occur in. When you become aware of these, you can adjust so that you’re calmer and more effective.

Here are five common mistakes:

1. We think our emotions relate to the current situation when they relate to the past. Humans are learning machines. We don’t react to new situations as if we’ve never experienced the world before. We react based on all our prior learning experiences.

When we often experience an instinctive emotional reaction, that reaction isn’t just about the current circumstance we’re facing. We react to the ways right now reminds us of our past experiences.

When we feel big emotions, they can represent our body trying to protect us from events that already concluded long ago. For example, when you feel angry or slighted, your body might be trying to protect you from a time you weren’t respected or understood in the past, even if you are being respected and understood now.

Sometimes we feel shame in new situations due to memories of how we acted unskillfully in the past, even if we act skillfully now.

2. We assume other people’s emotions relate to us and the current situation. This is a similar point. When someone reacts emotionally, we tend to assume they’re reacting to our behavior and the current circumstance. But that person is also reacting to everything else. For example, in the work context, a reaction you get from a fellow human might be influenced by everything from their childhood experiences to the difficult interaction they had with their last customer to the email their boss sent yesterday about their organization’s current priorities to the micro-aggression they experienced on the subway that morning. All those triggers mix to determine the other person’s reaction to you.

This issue comes up a lot at work and also in romantic relationships. In couples, people often react in ways that relate to protecting themselves from past pain, whether from childhood or prior relationships.

3. We think emotions are a signal to start trying to reduce those emotions. Our culture tends to be comfort-obsessed. For example, if we feel hot, we expect to be able to crank our AC to remedy that. If the mattress we buy isn’t perfect, we return it. This comfort obsession also involves our emotions. We automatically see difficult emotions as a signal to start trying to reduce those emotions.

The problem is this: Much of what we instinctively do to reduce our distress makes our difficult emotions bigger. Even when we can “successfully” quell our big feelings, the cost is that those emotions, and the types of situations that trigger them, loom larger and larger in our lives. We end up devoting a lot of energy to avoiding certain emotions, which can get in the way of having the energy to devote to our other values. (If you’re anxiety-prone and managing anxiety is taking up too much of your life, check out these solutions.)

4. We usually fixate on only one emotion (and underplay what else we’re feeling and doing). Many of us have one dominant emotion (read more here). For example, some people rarely notice feeling angry but constantly notice feeling anxious, or the reverse.

Try using the word “and” more when you talk or think about your emotions. For instance, we rarely acknowledge when happy emotions occur alongside negative ones. For example, I’m pregnant, and I feel nervous about labor, and I feel excited about my baby.

It can also be useful to notice when multiple difficult emotions occur together, like “I feel anxious, and I feel angry.” Acknowledging multiple emotions can help you see a broader range of reactions you could choose from. Feeling anxious may not propel you to stand up to injustice, but noticing your anger might.

Third, you can acknowledge your emotions and behavior together, such as, “I feel anxious, and I’m doing competent, skillful behavior.”

5. We see emotions as either reasonable or unreasonable, justified or unjustified. People can suffer when they perceive they’re experiencing an emotion the situation doesn’t justify. For example, if you feel fearful or angry in a situation that doesn’t make everyone feel that way, you might think, “I shouldn’t be so scared of this.” Or, “I shouldn’t be so bothered by this. What’s wrong with me?” When this happens, you might conclude you’re not a mentally strong or skillful person, which doesn’t help you confidently choose a path forward.

It’s usually healthier to accept whatever you or someone else feels without judging whether it’s justified. This can help you become more curious about your own and others’ emotional worlds and less judgmental at the same time.

Which of these mistakes in interpreting emotions do you make? How might correcting these mistakes help you feel calmer and more skillful in managing your life and relationships? How could changing your approach to your emotions help you walk your values? (More on why this is an optimal response to stress here.)

Article by: Alice Boyes, Ph.D of Psychology Today

Looking for more help with your emotions? Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consult with one of our experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Hillary Counseling Is Moving to Milwaukee’s Third Ward

We’re EXCITED to announce that our business has outgrown our current office space. WE’RE MOVING our office to a NEW LOCATION in Milwaukee’s THIRD WARD! ⁠

We’ve been working hard to renovate a larger, multi-office loft that supports our mission, gives us the opportunity to partner with local businesses, and most importantly…serve YOU, our beloved clients.

Our new office is located in the Landmark Building, 316 N. Milwaukee Street, Suite 401. Guess what else is located here…Donut Monster, Fresh Fin and Brute Pizza. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone!

We will begin seeing clients at our new location on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.

Don’t worry, we know a lot of you have grown to LOVE the convenience and comfort of virtual therapy, so we will still continue to offer VIRTUAL SESSIONS with the option to meet IN-PERSON, as well.

For questions or details, message us at info@hillarycounseling.com. We’re excited to share our new space with you! Schedule a FREE 15-minute consult and check us out.

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!

Megan Anderson’s Finding Balance In Caring For Yourself And The Planet

It always starts with a 30-minute phone call. I introduce myself to the stranger on the other end and welcome them to the consultation process, quickly sketching out what to expect from such a brief interaction. Then, I offer up a gentle invitation. I ask for a glimpse of what brings them to therapy and wonder, “What was the moment you thought you might benefit from the therapy space?”

As a millennial therapist, I can only imagine how people may have responded to this initial bid for connection a decade ago. Lately, I increasingly hear strangers practically rattle off their experiences with anxiety and depression as a result of what is happening in the world around them. This happens before we even have our first official session penciled in the calendar.

Of course, these disclosures are understandable. The world has undoubtedly given us a handful of reasons to feel distressed in the last several years. Ever-growing fears regarding climate change are certainly on that list. The American Psychological Association identified this issue as one of many emerging therapy trends in 2020.

What I see unfolding in the therapy space mirrors recent statistics, especially as it relates to how climate change is explicitly affecting our mental health. Data from Climate Change in the American Mind (2021) indicates that most American adults endorse some degree of concern over global warming. 70% of the study’s participants report feeling at least “somewhat worried, and of those participants, 35% state they are “very worried.”

Beyond a sense of worry, people exhibit grief, despair, hopelessness, instability, traumatic responses, substance use, and suicidality in response to climate change and disasters. A global research study published in 2021 by The Lancet revealed that over 50% of young people surveyed also felt a sense of sadness, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. Most participants remarked that their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and overall functioning.

The climate crisis and its effects on our well-being are becoming a universal experience. We are far from alone in what we are facing. Neighbors, teachers, family members, and even therapists are walking through this messy landscape together. As we recognize this more, there are a few tangible strategies we can turn to lessen our distress and instill hope inside and outside the therapy space.

Lean into rudimentary mindfulness and self-compassion.
Take in what is happening in manageable doses. When your thoughts are too drastic, or the emotions that arise are too debilitating, repeatedly ground yourself in the present. How is climate change — or your thoughts about it — impacting you in this very moment? You may also gently invite yourself to turn away from these concerns for a little while. Remind yourself you can always come back to them later.

Capitalize on your emotions.
Deeply acknowledging the reality of climate change is overwhelming. If you notice energy stemming from your reactions to climate change, seize the opportunity. Our reactions have the potential to motivate us towards action, and creativity is a healthy response to both existential and climate crises. Find concrete ways to make different choices or enact change within your grasp. Consider looking at your daily activities and hobbies for ideas. There is no need to overdo it here; aim to be a “good enough” global citizen.

Create a sense of community.
Vow to have more conversations with familiar people about your hopes and fears related to climate change. If you find yourself in good company, try hosting a gathering of people in your neighborhood, identify the impact of climate change on your community, and brainstorm ways to directly make a difference where you live. These connections can foster catharsis, inspiration, and a sense of belonging, benefitting our mental health.

Whichever way you choose to anchor yourself in this world crisis, we must find balance in caring both for ourselves and the environment around us as we navigate something so significant.

Looking for more guidance? Contact us to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article by: Megan Anderson, LPC (published in the Daily Herald)

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