Month: December 2016

A happy couple sitting by the pool. Woman is kissing man on side of head as man smiles.

Could Your Relationship Benefit from Couples Therapy?

As the holidays draw nearer it can seem as though there are never enough hours in the day to get everything we want done. From decorating to gift shopping and planning get-togethers, we may find ourselves so wrapped up in seemingly endless preparations, that we consequently neglect other important things. Namely, ourselves and our partners. In fact, many relationships tend to suffer during the holiday season. After all, holiday stress impacts those closest to us as much as we are impacted. Because of this, tension within the relationship can be at an all time high, leading to an increased likelihood of arguments and fights. When both partners are stressed, it can be difficult to mediate the conflicts within the relationship from the inside. Sometimes, a having the help of an experienced couples therapist can be exactly what a relationship needs to thrive.

Guiding Relationships Through Difficult Times

As a result, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a couples therapist to help us through this challenging time of year, as well as through any other contentious periods we may face with our partners. As two separate individuals, we will not always see eye to eye, however, learning to communicate through these differences and disagreements can make the difference between a healthy functioning relationship and an unhealthy one. The role of the couple’s therapist, then, is to help facilitate and guide this communication to insure any problems are being properly addressed in a healthy and constructive manner. Still wondering why couple’s therapy is the best choice for maintaining a good relationship throughout the year?

Four Ways a Couples Therapist Can be Helpful

1. High Success Rate

Part of what makes couple’s therapy such a good choice for couples in need of communication guidance or conflict mediation is that it actually works. In fact, studies have shown that couple’s therapy is successful in around 70% of cases, where the couples report that attending regular sessions has actually helped their relationship. This effectiveness rate is similar to other forms of therapy. However, when looking to attend couple’s therapy, it must be understood that it is a specialty and therefore not something that any individual therapist can practice effectively unless they are properly qualified.

2. Don’t Wait

It can be easy to put ourselves and our relationships last on the list of priorities, particularly at this time of year. However, waiting is often the worst option. The longer we wait to mend our relationships the more likely they are to deteriorate, and rapidly! Even if things seem alright right now, a slight increase in conflict or a subtle yet noticeable rise in tension can be warning signs of what’s to come. As such we must learn to be proactive about taking care of our relationship and bridging any gaps in communication, which couple’s therapy happens to be excellent for.

3. Don’t Treat, Prevent

The best treatment for any problems within a relationship is prevention. As previously mentioned, waiting to address problems that arise does more harm than good. Conflict won’t just go away if we ignore it. While we might feel as though we’re avoiding small arguments in the short-term, we’re actually allowing problems to build up in the background. Inevitably, all of the disagreements and miscommunications we were avoiding will come to a head. To avoid this and to better prepare ourselves to mediate conflict we should enlist the help of a professional. Couple’s therapy is an effective means of improving trust, openness, and mutual commitment.

4. Not Everything Will be Perfect (and That’s Okay!)

There may have been a time when we dreamed of having the perfect fairy tale romance. But real life is far from fairy tales in many ways. There is no such thing as a “perfect” relationship. In fact, striving for perfection can put an unnecessary strain on ourselves and our partners. When we look for a perfect romance, we may become more focused on fulfilling a role of perfect partner than being ourselves and feeling comfortable with our partners in our own skin. Because of this, we should instead focus on being fulfilled and happy. Sometimes, we are likely to disagree on things.

Couples Therapy Can Improve Most Relationships

Couples therapy doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is a bad one, so long as those differing beliefs and opinions are discussed openly and respectfully and some sort of decision is made. Either we can make a determination on what path we’d like to follow, or we decide to respect our differences and move on. “To each their own” as the saying goes. Either way, there is nothing wrong with needing or asking for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, and asking for help is not an indication that the relationship is doomed or that we’ve failed somehow. Usually, quite the opposite.

Photo in black and white of a young man's arm grabbing the collar of another young man's shirt. Bullying.

Forgiveness Therapy for Treating Kids Who Bully

Bullying among children and teens has received drastically increased news coverage and awareness. This has proven to be both good and bad in terms of outcomes. On the one hand, bullying is a serious issue which needs to be address in order to maintain the safety, happiness, and well-being of our children in their daily lives. On the other, the increased awareness towards bullying and the extent to which it takes place brings to light a greater problem with today’s youth:  an epidemic of abuse and intimidation. Bullies are ultimately abusers. Their victims are their fellow peers, classmates, or even friends or significant others. Through bullying, they assert their power and dominance over those they perceive as weaker and less deserving of respect. This is a problem not only for childhood but also one that may persist throughout one’s life if not properly caught and addressed by parents and teachers early on. The good news: there is a new type of therapy for kids who bully that focuses on forgiveness and self-love.

Why Do Kids Bully?

There are several theories as to why children bully others, though it varies from person to person. Oftentimes, many adults and healthcare professionals alike point to a volatile upbringing or abuse in the home as a result of this negative behavior. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, many children who bully others may come from homes that seem perfectly fine and healthy. That being said, there appears to be one underlying theme that influences the behavior of nearly all young bullies: anger. The cause of bully behavior and victimizing lies in the anger of the child who is choosing to bully others. Therefore, in order to stop bullying, we must first find the source of and address the child’s anger.

Dr. Robert Enright is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a licensed psychologist and pioneer of the social scientific study of forgiveness. According to Dr. Enright, angry individuals tend to displace their anger onto others, which can result in behavior we typically associate with bullying. The anger, then, becomes more powerful as it is transferred from the abuser to the abused, who then abuses others in an attempt to rid themselves of these pent-up negative emotions. He explains that “anger as a source of inner disruption in the form of anxiety, low-self esteem, and pessimism all too often goes unrecognized.” As such, he believes that toxic anger, which may present itself as symptoms of anxiety or other related disorders which contribute to maladaptive behaviors, is actually the root of these problems but goes largely unnoticed or misdiagnosed.

Forgiveness Therapy for Kids Who Bully

To remedy this problem, Dr. Enright proposes a treatment method which he calls “Forgiveness therapy,” which has been empirically validated. This treatment can reduce and ultimately eliminate the aforementioned toxic anger. Dr. Enright refers to forgiveness therapy as a “paradoxical psychotherapy.” This is because “as the client discussed the unfair behaviors coming from others, the treatment focus shifts from the client’s symptoms to an exploration of who the offending person is.” This includes exploring the emotional wounds of that person and their doubts, fears, and vulnerabilities. Uncovering these may help them then understand why that person behaved in an abusive way. The point of this is not to encourage the client to forget the abuse or justify it, nor is the intention to stop them from pursuing justice for their poor treatment. Rather, to offer forgiveness is to offer goodness which that individual had been previously declined, thereby reducing feelings of resentment that may have otherwise continued building up.

According to Dr. Enright, “as the student’s pain subsides by seeing the inherent worth in the one who was cruel and by fostering compassion toward that person…so too does the anger within the one who bullies start to fade, and this takes away the incentive to bully.” Thus, in order to stop bullying, we mustn’t just look at the symptoms, but the underlying anger which is causing the behavior, which has been ignited by the misguided anger of others. Not only must we recognize this anger but we must develop a plan to reduce it. The best way to do this, Dr. Enright argues, is through forgiveness therapy.

Encouraging Forgiveness in Ourselves and Our Children

In encouraging forgiveness, we help take away some of the resentment that may have been lingering and festering inside the bully for who knows how long. A bully’s behavior is likely a response to unaddressed resentments they have been harboring. To effectively stop abusive behavior in kids and teens (adults, too!) we must learn to forgive and to teach forgiveness. As Dr. Enright states: “forgiveness therapy, as empirically shown, already has done its job. Now it is time to transport such therapy from the clinician’s office into the school setting for the good of those who bully and for the good of those who are the unwitting recipients of their pain.”

Find out more about Boca Raton therapy for kids and adults who bully @ 800-378-9354.
Young woman with ban-aids on her arm looking upset as a man's arms reach out for her.

Spot the Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Relationships can be a wonderful, mutually fulfilling means of growth and development for both partners. In a good, healthy relationship, we may feel as though our partner brings out the best in us, and we the best in them. We love and support each other, through the best of times and the worst. While every relationship has its ups and downs from time to time, in a healthy relationship we recognize that any disagreements can be mediated through good communication, patience, and understanding. In this way, while we may not always agree on everything, we at the very least maintain our love and respect for our partner, as well as their love and respect for us. However, unhealthy, abusive relationships are far less civil. In fact, one of the biggest indicators of a relationship being abusive is whether or not both partners are on equal ground. While this may be difficult to determine right from the start, ultimately where each individual stands in terms of the relationship’s power dynamics will inevitably manifest. If there is a significant power imbalance between partners, the relationship may very well become abusive.

The Abuser vs. The Abused – Understanding Abusive Partnerships

In abusive relationships, there are typically two roles: the abuser and the victim or abused. The abuser is the individual who tends to exert more power over their partner. When that partner does not comply with his or her expectations or demands, the abuser then lashes out either verbally or physically. On the other hand, the abused usually tries to do whatever they can to conform to their partner’s wishes in order to keep them happy. This can mean compromising their own wants, needs, beliefs, or values in doing so. While in some cases, both partners can share and interchange these imbalanced roles, more often than not they are relatively stagnant. In other words, one partner more often fulfills the role of abuser whereas the other typically remains in the role of abused. The occurrences of these roles between men and women are equally distributed, studies show, and one of the most common forms of abuse in relationships is that which is emotional. Furthermore, abuse can occur in any relationship, not just intimate. In fact, this relationship dynamic can manifest in relationships between parents and children, siblings, friends, and even in professional circles. The resulting effect is a severe blow to the abused individual’s self esteem. After all, when we’re told something over and over, regardless if it is good or bad, over a long period of time, we might be inclined to believe it’s true.

Four Signs You Are in an Abusive Relationship

But how can we know if the relationship we’re in is emotionally abusive? There are a few key signs to look out for:

1. Finding Fault

In an abusive relationship, the communication is almost always demeaning or humiliating. In other words, the abusive partner enjoys making their partner feel ashamed for something. This can occur through constant correcting or attempts at finding faults within their partner. In this way, the determination to point out mistakes is actually a way for the abuser to put their partner down constantly, usually in front of others.

2. “Overly-Sensitive”

Perhaps we’ve heard our partner or someone else’s complain that their partner is being overly sensitive. In some cases this can be indicative of an abusive dynamic. This is because abusive partners use teasing and sarcasm as a means of making their partner seem unintelligent or foolish. They then might say that they were “only joking” and that the person they were belittling through humor should learn to stop being so sensitive or “get a sense of humor.”

3. No Boundaries

A classic sign of an abusive dynamic is a fundamental lack of boundaries or privacy. Because abusive partners like to be in control, they may feel the need to be involved in every aspect of their partner’s lives, even if it makes that partner clearly uncomfortable. In addition, abusers also make their partners feel unsafe in truly expressing themselves by belittling, demeaning, or insulting their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. This effectively silences their partner and makes them unwilling to share their disagreement, even when they feel unsafe.

4. Control

As mentioned previously abusers like to be in control, however this extends far beyond just manipulating conversation. Abusive partners also feel the need to control every aspect of their partner’s lives including their financial well-being. Furthermore, they will often use physical tactics to enforce their control over their partner, including physical harm or intimidation, or withholding something like sex, money, transportation, etc. These forms of harassment ultimately result in the abused being unable to readily act or make decisions for themselves. After all, doing so may lead to some form of “punishment.”

The Dangers of Normality in an Abusive Relationship

Unfortunately, a common abuse tactic is normalizing abusive behavior. Abusers frequently attempt to normalize their conduct so that their partners feel confusion and self-doubt when thinking about whether or not they should confront them. This contributes to the well-known difficulty many partners have when considering whether or not they should leave their relationship. After all, do they deserve to be unhappy? Upset? Afraid? Their abuser may make them question these responses as well as their own sanity. In such situations, a therapist or licensed professional can be of tremendous help. In therapy, abused persons can receive the guidance and support they need in order to find safety.

Contact our Boca Raton office @ 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment with a local therapist who will help you cope with the causes and effects of an abusive relationship.
Young woman in a mustard colored shirt holding her hands over her face.

Learning to Overcome Negative Feelings About Self

Everyone has insecurities. As such, it’s not unusual for someone to have the occasional bad day when it comes to their self-esteem. When faced with these frequent negative feelings about yourself, we must be able to remind ourselves of all of the qualities and traits that we should feel proud of. Everyone is entitled to an off-day, once in awhile. But when these days grow more frequent, it may be a sign of some underlying trouble. That being said, we are most often kinder to others than we are to ourselves. The criticisms we save for ourselves is seldom something we would ever tell to someone else, particularly those we care about. So why don’t we care just as much when the pain is self-inflicted? When it comes to scrutiny or harsh expectations, we are often our own worst enemies. Instead, we should try to mend the relationship and turn animosity into generosity. In other words, we should learn to be our own best friends.

Negative Feelings Can Lead to Self-Abuse

Negative feelings about oneself rarely goes unaccompanied by abuse. In fact, clinical assistant professor of Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Seth Gillihan, explains that “negative thoughts and feeling about ourselves often go along with treating ourselves badly. For example, we might verbally abuse ourselves, deprive ourselves of sleep, eat poorly, or abuse substances that harm our bodies.” We may never think of harming one of our close friends or even an acquaintance, and yet when we feel negatively about ourselves we become much more likely to administer self-abuse. We are no more deserving of such treatment than anyone else, and yet we somehow feel as though we are. Negative mindsets such as these can have a harmful effect on one’s health, happiness, and well-being. We deserve to be happy and healthy just as we would hope for our friends. In this way, we must learn to view ourselves similarly. As a friend, not a foe.

Just as, if not more harmful is self-neglect. We might think to ourselves that if we just ignore ourselves for the time being that negative feelings will just disappear, but this is almost never the case. Placing emphasis on others can mean neglecting our own wants and needs, thereby contributing, not easing our bad spirits. Dr. Gillihan says that “we might be very considerate toward everyone in our lives except for the person who inhabits our own skin.” The problem is learning to view ourselves as someone of value. We are just as valuable as those closest to us, we just need to learn to see this for ourselves. Our friends and loved ones know this to be true, which is why they want what’s best for us. We are worth knowing and loving. However, this can be difficult to remember when we’re too busy talking down to ourselves or acting as our own abusers. No one deserves to suffer an abusive relationship, especially if they are fulfilling that role themselves.

Self-Abuse: A Vicious Cycle

Dr. Gillihan provides the following example to illustrate how negative self-treatment can affect one’s self-esteem and perception of self: “imagine being in a relationship with a friend, a family member, or a romantic partner who never asks how you’re doing. (Hopefully this is not your reality.) Imagine if this person never attended to your needs or did anything nice for you, and if s/he did, it was begrudgingly and with minimal effort.” Such treatment is almost guaranteed to have a negative impact on one’s perception of their own self-worth, which will only worsen the treatment in question. The same logic applies to self-inflicted negativity. When we treat ourselves badly, we are only contributing to the problem of our own negative emotions and low self-esteem, which only worsens the treatment in question. The only way to break the cycle is to realize that we deserve better. We deserve to be happy with ourselves and in our lives.

Fake It Till You Make It

But how can we break out of this dangerous cycle? Dr. Gillihan recommends that while changing thoughts can be helpful to some extent, the way to see real results is through changing our behavior. He explains: “even if we don’t feel it, we can choose to act as though we love ourselves. Act as if you’re someone who matters. We can, in fact, fake it, and the feelings often follow.” In other words, “fake it ‘till you make it.” This old adage holds more truth than we may have previously realized. When we alter our behavior, through reconditioning, we can also alter our mindset. We might start by treating ourselves to a nice lunch, whether at a dining place or homemade. In fact, we might take the time to thoughtfully plan our day, including time for at least one activity we truly enjoy. While running from place to place trying to complete tasks and fulfill obligations it can be easy to neglect ourselves along the way. We should remember to include time for what we want, not just what we need, and in doing so, build positive emotions towards ourselves through what we like. And perhaps most importantly, we should surround ourselves with those who help us become the best versions of ourselves, not those who bring us down. After all, relationships can have a huge impact on our happiness and well-being.

At the end of the day, we will always have ourselves. Therefore we must learn to love who we are. We are our own longest-lasting and strongest relationship and this relationship is one worth caring for and nurturing. While it may feel awkward at first, self-love is entirely possible. It doesn’t have to be forced, rather, it can grow organically through regular self-care and kind treatment.

To speak with a Boca Raton therapist about improving relationships, call our office @ 800-378-9354.
A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

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