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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.
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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.
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Collecting Data on Our Own Mental Health

One minute we might feel overwhelmed and stressed, as though we’re ready to snap at the first person we see, the next we may feel perfectly calm and relaxed, as though none of that really ever happened. Everyone experiences emotional highs and lows from time to time, but sometimes it can be hard to remember exactly when we felt a certain way or what motivated that emotional response. This is especially troublesome for those individuals who experience more extreme emotional shifts, or those who have been experiencing more lows than usual. In an attempt to move on, we may force ourselves to forget our emotional experiences, even if they were negative in nature. However, this is seldom helpful when it comes to working with a therapist. The therapist is there to help guide us through our thoughts and feelings. Through this constructive relationship, we aim, at least in part, to better understand why it is we are feeling the way we do, or why we are responding to those feelings in a particular way.

How to Assess Your Mental Health

Diagnosis for mental health can be extremely helpful. While some individuals find labels to be trapping, others may feel as though they are a relief. For many, mental health diagnoses allow a direct answer to a problem. With a proper diagnosis from a therapist or other psychiatrist, it will be easier to seek treatment for whatever condition the individual struggling with. Each set of circumstances requires a different approach based on not only the condition, but the individual’s unique needs.

In order to achieve a diagnosis, symptoms must first be accurately assessed to determine what exactly is going on with each patient. In order to do this effectively, we must learn to collect data on ourselves. What does this mean? If we want an accurate diagnosis we remember our experiences so that we can give our therapist the most accurate information on our symptoms. There are numerous sources from which we can collect data on our mental health status ranging from physical to psychological.

Below are a few key ways we can provide information on ourselves and what we’re going through to our therapists or any other healthcare professional from whom we are seeking help.

1. Physical Exams

Physical exams are often the go-to method of determining whether or not there is something wrong, or an illness to be cured. Even when it comes to mental health, a physical exam can be a good way to collect important data on one’s current state and overall well-being. Oftentimes, our physical health has a strong impact on our mood. If we’re feeling unwell physically, it will reflect in our mindset and start to show in our behavior. For example, if we’re feeling as though we’re catching a cold, we certainly won’t be very happy about it. However, for more prolonged or serious illnesses there can be a stronger impact on our emotional and mental states. Anything from a vitamin deficiency to physical illness or medication side-effects could be a culprit. Overuse of certain medications can also lead to depressive effects not unlike what is experienced when consuming substances like alcohol.

2. Record Daily Mood

The only way to determine patterns in daily behavior is to record one’s mood on a regular basis. We may feel inclined to forget our “bad days” in the hopes of moving past them. But the only way to truly move past them is to understand why they’ve happened and how we can successfully move forward. We must address our needs, not ignore them. Otherwise, they’ll simply linger in the backs of our minds, waiting to snag our attention yet again. Some questions to ask may include:

  • Am I enjoying things as much as I used to?
  • Does _____ cause me to feel the same amount of happiness/pleasure/fulfillment as it has in the past?
  • Do I feel upset more often than I used to?
  • Do I feel motivated today?

If the answer to these questions is more often “no” than “yes,” that may be a tell-tale sign of a mood disorder or mental health distress.

3. Keep Track of Other Observances

Some other things we might look out for as indications that something is wrong include:

  • weight changes
  • changes in sleep cycle
  • changes in energy levels
  • negative or impairing thoughts such as those of death or suicide
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • increased likelihood of agitation

Each of these markers can help our therapist determine whether or not we are in the stages of a developing condition like Major Depressive Disorder.

Therapy Can Help Improve Mental Health

Thankfully, there are a variety of therapy options available to suit our individual needs. The key is to form a new relationship with the thoughts and feelings that previously only seemed to cause us harm. We can accomplish this by either challenging or formally disengaging with these responses. However, in any case we must first have an idea of what we’re dealing with. By collecting data, we can acutely describe the symptoms we’re experiencing. From that, therapists and other healthcare professional can come up with a more accurate diagnosis. Only when we know what we’re dealing with can we determine what we need to move on.

To learn more about scheduling a mental health assessment with a psychiatrist or therapist at our Boca Raton office, please call 800-378-9354.
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Viewing Challenges Through a New Lense

Challenges help mold our character and contribute to our growth and development as individuals. Sometimes challenges can seem more like burdens. What if we changed our perspective and began looking at them as new opportunities? Perhaps challenges are the gateway to new and exciting transitions in our lives? Dr. Steven Joseph is a leading expert in positive psychology and a pioneer in the field of psychological trauma. According to Dr. Joseph,

“In everyday life we will be faced every so often with important decisions such as whether to take on a new challenge, like applying for a new job or starting a new course. Taking on such challenges is an important part of growing and developing as a person. The more we can test our limits and capabilities the more we will learn about ourselves. New challenges are opportunities for us.”

Accepting Challenges as Gateways to a Better Self

It may be difficult to see things from this perspective, particularly when we’re “in the moment.” After all, no one enjoys struggling or feeling stressed. However, challenges are a lot like fertilizer for a healthy soil. This soil is made from various ingredients that few people appreciate on their own, but when combined they create a surprisingly nourishing environment. From this,  some of the most beautiful creations can manifest. Likewise, in our own lives and experiences, challenges can provide the fertilizer from which we grow and thrive as individuals.

Embarking on a new challenge is almost always frightening, and understandably so! When we allow fear of failure to consume us we may make a habit of avoiding challenge altogether. After all, we can’t fail if we don’t try, right? Life in the shadow of fear is hardly fulfilling, just like a barren plot of land when compared with a beautiful garden. The latter requires considerably more work, particularly in maintenance and upkeep, but the rewards far outweigh the cost of the toil. By comparison, the barren plot of land requires little to no work whatsoever, but the results of that neglect are self-evident. Our lives are as beautiful and rich in variety of experiences as we make them. But first, we must understand that challenge is a necessary part of the bargain.

Avoiding Challenges is Not the Answer

Dr. Joseph says that “staying in your comfort zone out of fear is not always exactly comfortable.  By avoiding challenge, we don’t have the opportunities to learn about ourselves. We feel trapped as if we were leading a life that is not true to ourselves.” In fact, in many cases, avoiding challenge altogether causes just as much anxiety and fear as facing the challenge in the first place. This is because most of our fear comes from anticipation: the dread of something happening. By facing our fears and challenges head-on, we significantly reduce the opportunity for anticipatory anxiety. We are essentially telling ourselves “I’m going to do it, get it over with, and put my fears behind me.” Obviously this doesn’t mean acting without caution, but there is a great difference between behaving cautiously and hesitating to the point of avoidance.

Challenges are Opportunities

Challenges are not just obstacles, but opportunities. They can initiate change or inspire innovation. Dr. Joseph explains that “to lead an authentic life, we need to take on new challenges that stretch us and give us more opportunities to be ourselves.” This doesn’t mean living without fear. In fact, he suggests that authentic people do, in fact, feel fear, just like everyone else, the only thing that sets them apart is that they aren’t willing to let the fear control them. Rather, they face their fears, and come out stronger and wiser as a result.

Everyone has the opportunity to live authentically, just as we all have the opportunity to make choices and face our fears. A common misconception is that we have to do so alone, but there are numerous resources at our disposal to help us in surmounting personal challenges. Friends and family provide a supportive foundation on which we can rely to carry us through difficult times. In other cases, a therapist can also be a helpful ally in facing day-to-day obstacles both internal and external. Everyone feels fear, but we are also capable of overcoming that fear, and taking control of our own lives and choices. In this way, fear can transform into a kind of enthusiasm, from which we can learn to engage with our challenges and ultimately learn from them.

To learn more about speaking with a therapist in Boca Raton, call our office @ 800-378-9354.
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Setting Goals Helps – Here’s How it Works

One of the most important aspects of any positive life journey is setting goals. Learning to set the right goals can sometimes be as difficult as pursuing them. The most effective and successful goals are ones that are well-defined and targeted towards our own self-improvement. It is very important that we set goals that are specific so that we know how to approach them. When we develop goals that are vague, regardless of how they are intended to positively impact our lives, it becomes challenging to make them a reality. After all, we can’t travel unless we determine what path we’re going in. We may change course along the way, or determine new goals during our journey, but the point is that we need to start by having at least some established idea of what we want or the kind of person we aspire to be.

The Importance of Setting Goals

Regardless of context, well-defined goals are essential. This is particularly true in therapy, especially with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. In such sessions, it’s not uncommon for a therapist to ask their patient what their goals are, both short and long-term. When we determine what exactly we want in life, we can then begin to develop strategies to help us attain these goals. The information can also help therapists guide their patients in the most effective manner, by providing advice and support according to what it is they truly want and need.

Therefore, before we embark on any journey of self-improvement, we should first think about and set our goals. What are we trying to accomplish? Why? How important is this goal to us? What will we do to achieve it? And so on. This train of thought encourages honesty and authenticity, both with ourselves and with others.

What Makes a Good Goal?

So what exactly makes a successful goal? Below are three key characteristics of well-defined and attainable goals.

1. Importance

Truly significant goals are ones that are important to us. If we don’t truly care about our goals, the chances that we will actually meet them is minimal at best. Moreover, we should make sure our goals are truly ours. The most effective goals are ones that are personal and not imitative. We should be focused on what we want for ourselves, not what others want for us. When we establish goals that are important to what we want in our lives, we are more motivated and confident in our respective journeys. Dr. Seth Gillihan, clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania says that “when we know what we’re aiming for, we work harder, especially if we feel a deep connection with our goals.”

2. Specificity

The most successful goals are ones that are specific. We are more likely to achieve what we want when we know exactly what that is. In other words, we won’t reach a particular destination if we don’t know where we’re going and are instead meandering without direction. When we are specific in setting our goals we can also be more precise in how, when, and why we want to achieve them. We can even work to develop a flexible timeline, so that we have a better idea of when our goals have been met. Dr. Gillihan provides an example of the difference between wanting to “‘exercise more’” versus wanting to “‘exercise 30 minutes 3x/week.’” One is specific and measurable – we know when we’ve accomplished what we’ve set out to do. By contrast, the other goal is more vague and difficult to measure. What exactly does “more” mean? Once a week? Once a month? The more vague we are with our goals, the less likely we are to truly commit to them.

3. A Good Challenge

A third characteristic of successful goals is that they are appropriately difficult. We shouldn’t shy away from challenge, as long as it’s within reason. Goals with challenge inspire us to be persistent and, in essence, “fight” for what we want. On the other hand, goals that are too easy have a tendency to leave us unmotivated and unwilling to continue pursuit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, goals that are too difficult to attain make us want to give up, rather than continue pursuing them. Dr. Gillihan explains that “there’s a sweet spot in picking the difficulty of our goals. Too easy and we’ll be uninspired, like spinning in a bicycle gear that’s too small; too challenging and we’ll be disheartened, like barely turning over the crank up a massive hill.” Thus, when establishing goals we should aim for moderacy. Just challenging enough to be interesting without being overwhelming or stressful.

Change can only be successfully initiated when we develop an idea of what we want to change or what direction we want to grow in. Goal-setting is therefore essential to any self-improvement journey. Goals are, in essence, aspirations, which offer inspiration throughout any positive transformation.

Unhappy 20-something couple sitting on a small couch together.

Why, When and How Relationships End

Sometimes relationships just aren’t meant to be. Love has plenty of ups and downs, but increasing negativity can be a sign that a relationship is simply not working out. However, relationship problems can be complicated, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not it’s time to leave, or if staying in an unhealthy relationship is the only choice. In some cases, the former option is the best one for ourselves and our partner. Trying to maintain an ultimately toxic relationship can have numerous adverse physical and psychological side effects.

The Dangers of Staying in an Unhealthy Relationship

Studies have shown that staying in an unhealthy relationship rather than ending negatively impacts self-esteem, perception of self-worth, and overall ability to seek enjoyment in life. That being said, actually ending a relationship can be a very painful process, which is why many of us try to avoid it. In other cases, however, ending a bad relationship can be a huge relief. There are also instances where, rather than acting manipulatively or abusively, both partners have just gradually drifted apart. In this scenario, neither person may be right or wrong, rather their interests and personalities may have just developed separately from one another, and therefore they are no longer compatible.

Ultimately, while we try to maintain the relationships that are good, or have the potential to be, sometimes relationships that cannot be repaired must come to an end. This doesn’t mean that anyone has failed or that they deserve to be vilified. Instead, it’s better to perceive it as a change in life stages. As one door closes, another opens somewhere else.

The 5 Stages of an Ending Relationship

But how can we know if our relationship is meeting its end? As it turns out, there are a few signs to look out for that can indicate whether or not a relationship has run its course.In fact, psychologists from the University of Tennessee, Vanessa Handsel, Kathrin Ritter, and Todd Moore developed a scale this year to examine the stages that they believed to concur with the end of a relationship. Their main interest was actually to determine how long it normally took for individuals involved in violent relationships to be able to remove themselves from their situation. That being said, their scale is actually applicable to all individuals in unhappy relationships.

These researchers based their scale on a more general theory created by James Prochaska in the 80’s and 90’s. This theory suggests that major changes in life involve a 5 stage process. In essence, any big life change, including the ending of a close relationship, is more than just a simple yes/no or stay/leave dichotomy. The model, then, known as the “State of Change” model, assumes that there are certain steps which precede this change and those that follow it. By understanding these changes, we can better help those who are struggling in this difficult time. This model can also help therapists and counselors better attend to the needs of their patients who are undergoing a major life change and help them through the transition.

When tested in a study, the questionnaire based on this model, called the “Stages of Change in Relationship Status,” or SCORS, was found to be quite effective in determining where participants were in terms of their decision to leave their relationship. However, they also found that even those who believe they are ready to make the necessary change in their relationship may hesitate to do so when the time comes to actually make that change.

This in mind, the scale itself has been shown to be highly effective at determining what stage an individual is in with regards to whether or not they are ready to initiate a change, or they are set in staying in a toxic relationship. Below are the five stages that the researchers identified:

1. Precontemplation

At this stage, no change is really being considered. The couple is happy with the relationship as it is, and feel that there is nothing they would like to change. They also do not feel as though there is anything wrong with the relationship or anything they should do differently.

2. Contemplation

Here is when one or both of the partners begin to think about ending the relationship. They recognize that they are unhappy or that the relationship itself is unhealthy. At this point, they believe their relationship to be a problem, and they acknowledge that the relationship is having a harmful impact on them.

3. Preparation

Despite the difficulty they know they will face, the preparation stage is where individuals in a relationship begin to make plans to end that relationship. They may have even started trying to end the relationship or asking for help in doing so. However, they would like to end the relationship soon, even if they aren’t sure how to do so.

4. Action

This is the point of initiation. One of the partners has begun to try to end the relationship. This can mean that they’ve started talking less to their partner during their time together. They also may be thinking of their partner less and less, and instead prefer to spend time with others.

5. Maintenance

This stage means sticking with the relationship’s end. It may mean changing one’s daily routine to avoid contact with their partner, or avoiding places where they know they might run into them. Partners, or former partners, at this stage begin to get rid of any items which remind them of their relationship. They also declare that they will never revisit this relationship again. This is often the most difficult stage to achieve.

Understanding a Toxic Relationship Helps Avoid One

Knowledge of these stages and their resulting impact on an individual or individuals within a relationship can help those close to them provide the support they need during these challenging times. This information can also help therapists to develop accurate advice and strategies to help their patients cope with, process, and ultimately understand how they’re feeling as their relationship comes to a close. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn is that despite being in a relationship, both partners are also individuals, with individual needs that need to be addressed and taken care of. If the relationship itself doesn’t recognize and attend to this, then it is not mutually beneficial. In that case, if things are becoming one-sided, or if no one is happy, it may be time to end the relationship. Whatever the case may be, no one has to be alone.

To learn more about couples counseling or individual therapy in Boca Raton, call our office today @ 800-378-9354.
Picture of old statues in which a King appears to be shaming a woman.

Understanding Shame and How To Heal From It

One of the biggest and most powerful obstacles in psychological healing can be healing the feelings of shame. Shame is a powerful and insidious emotion. It hurts us from deep inside and causes us to forget our own strength and potential. Shame colors how we see ourselves and can even help us paint ourselves and our obstacles in a negative light. For example, some of us may feel ashamed for struggling with anxiety or depression. Although these obstacles aren’t our fault, we may still feel as though we deserve to be ashamed for having them. In situations such as these, feelings of shame can forgo any sense of reason or logic. Instead, shame is irrational and, ultimately, harmful.

The Magnitude of Shame

Shame is like a deadly virus. However, rather than attacking our immune system, shame attacks our capacity to love ourselves and one another. Repeated shamings can lead to the development of beliefs such as our own feelings are invalid. Speaker, counselor, and teacher, Dr. David Bedrick explains that “when we are shamed repeatedly, we are taught to think that our feelings are wrong and our experiences are delusive.” This can occur during childhood or even as an adult. Unfortunately, the result is the same either way: when there is no one with the necessary compassion to understand the validity of our stories and experiences, we may have a hard time believing them as well. This is the case even when we know our experiences to be true and authentic. Instead, Dr. Bedrick says, “we learn to distrust ourselves; we learn to deny our own truth, even to ourselves.”

Three Steps to Healing from Shame

Dr. Bedrick is a highly experienced practitioner of what is known as process-oriented psychology. This method is also known as Jungian psychology, as it follows the school of thought of famed psychologist Carl Jung. When it comes to dealing with excessive feelings of shame, Dr. Bedrick has found that transforming this negative mindset requires plenty of patience. However, more importantly, it requires the patient be willing to witness and listen in a truly powerful way – through seeing, feeling, and ultimately, believing. These three techniques are incredibly important for the overall healing process. Their significance and their roles in combating negative mindsets like shame are further explored below:

1. Seeing

According to Dr. Bedrick, the notion of “seeing” is on that is heavily synonymous with respect. He breaks it down thusly: “ 1) spect: to see, to view, to look at; and 2) re: to do it again. To see in a way that heals shame, is to look and then look again—to see what is not seen and affirm the unseen with our physical and verbal recognition.” In other words, we must learn to see beyond the surface of any situation to truly what is going on. This isn’t an easy task, but it’s necessary to develop the proper perspective. Seeing can sometimes mean visualizing someone else’s emotional state, but it can also mean simply acknowledging how someone else feels and trying to understand why they’re feeling that way. This makes the feelings seem important, justified, and perhaps most of all – believable.

2. Feeling

Dr. Bedrick says that “to combat shame, we also need someone to be moved by our experience. We need to not only ‘see,’ but feel and express those feelings.” To accomplish this, we must not only listen to these experiences but we must pay attention to our own feelings and how they respond. This is a necessary exercise in empathy. When someone relays a story of a time they were injured, we may respond visually by wincing, cringing, or furrowing our brow. These physical cues demonstrate that we are not only passively listening to their experience, we are also attempting to understand how they’re feeling by partially adopting their perspective. This response also shows that we are compassionate, which can contribute to an overall sense of validation. Causing someone to feel moved by sharing negative experiences lends those experiences a sense of much-needed legitimacy.

3. Believing

Speaking of legitimacy, one of the most important factors in dismantling shame is believing. Dr. Bedrick describes shame thusly: “Shame is a thief. It steals our belief in our experience and our belief in ourselves.” In this way, the only way to properly combat negative feelings like shame is by restoring belief, both in ourselves and others. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every word we say must be regarded as absolute truth. Rather, the deeper truth within our stories and experiences must be believed – the core of these experiences. More importantly, we must be believed in, not only by others, but also by ourselves.

Once again we return to the theme of justification. When we listen to an experience and offer our support without questioning its validity we are showing that we believe in that person. This can be an important part of their ability to combat their own feelings of shame and self-loathing. Belief without questioning in circumstances such as these is sometimes known as radical belief. Dr. Bedrick explains that “being radically believed changes something, because when people are shamed, not only do they experience not being believed from the outside, but they also stop believing themselves.” Conversely, radical belief can help them combat that sense of shame as well as help them develop a greater sense of self-love.

Shame Can be Treated and Healed

Together, these three pivotal qualities can help individuals realize their own significance and value. They also begin to realize that their feelings matter and are worthy of talking about. We deserve to be seen and heard. But most importantly we deserve to be understood. These qualities, whether practiced by friends in a casual setting, or by a therapist in a safe, protected one, can help alter the trajectory of someone’s life. They can heal shame, and allow us to grow in the ways we’ve always wanted to, but never realized until now that we deserved.

If you have questions about personal therapy in Boca Raton to address shame and low self-esteem, please call our office today @ 800-378-9354.
young woman experiencing negative emotions

Treating Depression with Behavior Therapy

Depression can be a daily struggle. It can make even the simplest tasks seem monumental. With depression, it can be difficult to get out of bed, even with all of the opportunities that await us. We may not enjoy things that we normally would, and we may feel as though we have no energy to spend time with those who would otherwise make us smile. Symptoms such as these are why depression is being recognized as the leading cause of disability in the world, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.

This report, which was reviewed in April 2016, reveals that “Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.” Additionally, they confirm that “depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.”

Depression is Highly Treatable

Thankfully, however, depression is among those diseases that are highly treatable, particularly with therapeutic intervention. One of the most successful treatments for depression is CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT focuses on grounding the patient in the present moment to decrease rumination and reliving unpleasant thoughts and experiences. It can also help patients change their thoughts and behaviors to improve their overall mood. In many cases, therapy alone can be effective against depression, but for some patients, a combination of therapy and prescription medication is recommended. The most commonly prescribed medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Medication can be a good way to reduce symptoms of depression but they don’t get to the root of the problem. This is where therapy is particularly beneficial. Therapy can help us understand what we’re feeling and lead us to possible reasons why. Through this, we can learn strategies to help better manage our emotions in a healthy and constructive way, rather than allowing them to consume us. However, there are a few things that we can personally do to help facilitate this process. Although depression can feel as though it has taken control of our lives, there are ways in which we can remind ourselves that we are in control: over our minds, our lives, and ultimately our happiness.

What is Behavioral Activation for Depression?

Known as Behavioral Activation, this treatment method involves focusing on altering certain behaviors to reduce depression. Behavioral Activation is a relatively low-cost and straightforward approach to combatting depression. To practice it, we must find activities in our lives which we enjoy, and which provide a sense of competence and importance. These feeling provide a sense of security, which depression is known for taking away. By using Behavioral Activation, we can identify which activities cause us to feel joy and fulfill us in the ways we need most. Below are a few strategies through which we can make the most of our Behavioral Activation. In this way, we can come closer to overcoming our depression.

3 Things to Try to Brighten Your Mood

1. Plan Activities You Enjoy

 Perhaps the most important step to the Behavioral Activation treatment method is to plan activities that are enjoyable and/or significant to us. Depression can make it hard for us to feel motivated to do the things we value, so it’s important that we learn to make time for ourselves so that we can establish a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It’s best to plan activities which produce some sort of reward which we enjoy. For example, planting seeds to grow a garden.

2. Take it Step by Step

When planning these activities it’s important to break them into manageable increments. If we try to take on too much at once we can become easily overwhelmed. For instance, we might decide to clean the house, but thinking of cleaning every room can be daunting. So instead, we may start by organizing some books, or doing the dishes. Starting with activities that are easier or more manageable allows us to enjoy ourselves more, rather than worrying about what we did or didn’t get done.

3. Be Accountable

When planning these activities we must make sure that we set aside an adequate amount of time for them, without cheating ourselves of the opportunity to engage in something we will enjoy. While struggling with depression it may be easy to forget sometimes the enjoyment derived from certain activities, but we can’t let the negative mindset of depression get in the way of our Behavioral Activation. Being accountable doesn’t necessarily mean being monotonous, nor does it mean being overly regimented. It just means that if we promise ourselves to do something we like, or something that is important to us, we hold to that commitment, and make time for us to do so. Basically, we are making a promise to ourselves to do something that will make us feel good. This commitment to our own happiness and well-being is a necessary step in overcoming depression,

In using Behavioral Activation, we are telling ourselves that activities we value are important. As such we are committing ourselves to making time to do things that we enjoy. We are reminding ourselves that we are important, thus our interests, passions, and ambitions are important to. Depression, though it may hinder our motivation, does not take away from our significance.

If you want to know more about seeing Dr. Mike or one of our therapists for treating depression in Boca Raton, give our office a call at 800-378-9354.
Young parents arguing while child holds her hands over her ears.

Tips on Better, More Authentic Parenting

The job of a parent isn’t easy. Despite our best efforts, we may find ourselves put in the position where we will have to make difficult choices. This means that there will be times where our children aren’t happy with us, but does that make us bad parents? The answer, in short, is no. Sometimes doing what is best for our children isn’t the same thing as doing what makes them happy. That’s not to say that we don’t aim to do the opposite, of course. Learning to be an authentic parent is a lifelong challenge. As parents, we also do what we can, when we can, to make our children smile. In this way, parenting can be like a double-edged sword. But the risks are always outweighed by the reward: building a better life and a successful future for our children.

When trying to guide and teach children, parents must remember to be mindful of what they say and how they say it. I’m sure most of us can recall a time at some point or another during our lives where our own parents ended up saying or doing something that hurt us. While their intentions may have been good, the memory and terrible feelings associated with it remain. These feelings may have even had a negative impact on our lives and/our choices, such as dissuading us from pursuing our dreams.

The Dangers of Being an Over-Protective Parent

More often than not, in instances such as these, our parents were merely trying to protect us from the unfortunate situation of having our dreams crushed or getting hurt. But in doing so, they may have unfortunately done the very same thing, themselves. No stranger to this sort of situation, Dr. Steven Joseph states that “Many people, when they think about their childhood, will recall times when their wishes, dreams, or aspirations were ignored, laughed at, or dismissed by someone whose role was to nurture and care for them.” An internationally-known leading expert in positive psychology, Dr. Joseph has heart many cases which resemble this exact situation. The reasons are almost always the same: “those parents and other adults say and do these things out of a misplaced desire to be helpful.  It may be that they genuinely think they are helping.”

As parents, we would never go out of our way to hurt our children intentionally. When we steer them away from something it’s because we’re trying to keep them safe. The problem lies, however, in our limited perspectives. In essence, we end up trying to guide our children towards what we feel is best for them, however this perspective only encompasses our point of view. In doing this, we end up trying to mold our children into the shapes we find most desirable, or, put in other words, we sometimes guide them down paths that we want them to explore, not the ones that they want or that will fulfill their needs.

Raising Children as Individuals

While our intentions may be good, noble, even, it doesn’t excuse our actions. As a parent, our lives will be full of tough choices but sometimes what is best for our children isn’t what we want. Rather, it is what they need. There will be times when these two vital things simply do not intersect, and we must be prepared for it when the time comes. To this, Dr. Joseph recommends something that he calls “authentic parenting.” This, he explains, “starts with the belief that each person is unique in what they bring to the world. Like an acorn that has the potential to grow into an oak tree if it receives the right amount of sunlight and nutrients from the soil, authentic parents do their best to care for and nurture their child so that he or she develops to their full potential.”

When we learn to see our children as individuals, and not just our babies, we learn to recognize their true potential, or what they can contribute to this world. In order to do this, we must learn how to listen carefully to their voices and learn to distinguish their superficial wants from their honest needs. Sometimes the latter can be lost in translation, resulting in their being unintentionally pushed by the wayside. By doing our best to understand their point of view, including their desires and wishes, and learning the difference between guidance and controlling, we can help to open up a whole new world of possibilities for our children, rather than just limiting them to a selection of preferred options. Our job as parents, then, is not to direct the lives of our children, but to enable and empower them to go in their own direction.

Learning to be an Authentic Parent

It all starts by showing interest. However, many of us are guilty of misunderstanding what that means. As Dr. Joseph explains, “Showing interest in your children is not telling them about your record collection or pushing them to play the sports that you liked as a child.  No, it’s about finding out what interests them and being interested in their world.” Showing interest is done by listening and asking our children what they think and feel, thereby demonstrating a genuine desire to understand them. In doing so, we can better support our children as individuals, and encourage them to be who they want to be, not who they think we want them to be. After all, we will love them no matter what. Therefore, we must allow them to be themselves.

Our children are ultimately going to follow a path that is different from our own, and that is perfectly fine. That being said, it can be difficult to provide advice when we don’t fully understand the direction they’re going, but we can still help by providing our love, support, and willingness to understand. We can help our children in developing the skills they need to navigate their own world, rather than focusing our energy on constructing that world for them.

It’s true that parenting can be challenging, but no one is perfect and mistakes are to be expected. Does this make us bad parents? No, so long as we learn from our mistakes and understand that an apology now and then doesn’t mean that we’re “losing” or that we’re incompetent. It just means that, like our children, and like our parents before us, we’re still learning. For life’s more difficult lessons, a family therapist can be a good method of learning new tactics and strategies of communication. They key is that we, and our children, are learning together, rather than growing apart.

For information about meeting with a family therapist in Boca Raton, 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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