Empowerment

You Can Do This! Overcoming Your Inner Critic

Have you ever listened closely to the way you talk to your self? It can be a little scary. Most of us grossly underestimate the extent to which a critical inner voice is doing most of the talking, and the barrier that this habitual opponent creates in our lives. Now, we all need a push now and again, to hold ourselves accountable, to be better, to do better, to care more, to live in line with our values and our potential. This can include some tough love, lest we fall into the snares of an unfulfilling life ruled by complacency and instant gratification. 

That being said, we must understand that we have everything to gain by protecting ourselves from the spiritual pollution of negative self talk.  As my spiritual teacher, Michael Berg says, speaking negatively, which includes about ourselves “puts a shell around our soul.” And this shows up physically as well. Brain research confirms that a self attacking inner voice sets us up for anxiety and depression. 

ONENESS WITH ONESELF IS THE FOUNDATION

The idea is like this: Before we can create a oneness with our dreams and desires, and a oneness with others, we must create a oneness within ourselves. Yes, we want to grow into a more loving and compassionate person.  So what’s the foundation? A relationship towards oneself filled with kindness, encouragement and self love. We don’t grasp how valuable we are, simply because we exist. Appreciating our value, believing in ourselves beyond logic, this is how we grow and change best.

QUESTIONNAIRE: AWARENESS IS KEY

So let’s get practical and talk about what negative self talk can really sound like. Awareness is the first essential step.  Here’s a questionnaire to help you begin identifying where you and your inner critic stand. Please be honest with yourself. Your inner critic won’t like to be discovered but your soul will be thrilled.  0=never; 1= rarely; 2=sometimes; 3=often; 4=all the time (The higher your score the more care and priority I would recommend you place on healing your self talk.)

When I listen inside, I can hear myself…

—  Judging myself harshly in a way that I would NEVER speak to a friend, colleague or anyone I truly care about. (e.g., I’m so stupid; Never good enough; I look awful today; Why can’t I be more …; I’m so disorganized; I’m so bad; It’s all my fault; I did well, what a relief.)

Comparing myself to others. (e.g. They are so much farther along than I am; Why don’t I have what they have; Well I do that better than them.)

Repeating a message I received growing up, from someone toxic or a  dynamic. (e.g., You’re so annoying; You have to make them happy or they will leave; You are not worthy of love; When you’re thin, everything will be good; That’s a hobby, not a real job.)

Saying extreme statements about my character when disappointed in myself or a circumstance (e.g., I’m a terrible mother; I suck; I have nothing to offer; I’m blowing it.)

Panicking when I don’t live up to a fixed identity, like a Good-Person image. (e.g., I better do this for them or they’ll think I’m unkind; Oh no, they are not going to see that I have it all together.)

Discounting my gifts, skills and credentials. (e.g., There’s no way I can do that, I’ve never done it before; My success doesn’t feel genuine, I feel like an imposter; I’m not really that smart; I’m sure there are others who could do it better; I’ll come off like a fool.)

Anxiously needing to resolve conflict or move forward on a project or issue. (e.g., If I don’t email right away, they’ll think I’m irresponsible; I better fix this Now; Oh gosh they will think I’m terrible, I need to explain myself.)

Preoccupied with how I look. (e.g., Ugg I hate how my stomach looks; With these thighs I’ll never find a date.) 

Second guessing myself and my decisions, day to day and long term. (e.g., You should have done it faster; You wasted so much time; You idiot, you could have handled that so much better; Maybe my way isn’t the right way.)

Shaming messages when I’m not perfect, approved of or make a mistake,  (e.g., I have to be the best at this; They have to accept me; I just can’t make a mistake or I’m a failure; shame on me for not being tougher; I better not even try because I might fail; I’m bad at the core)

ABOUT SHAME: HEALING ONE’S INNER CHILD

Before we go on, I feel we need to spend a minute on shame.  Especially related to our internalized and shaming messages (#3 and #10 above), it’s important to appreciate and not judge your inner critic. Likely, to protect from feeling judged, shamed or rejected in some fundamental way by caregivers, many of us develop an attacking way of relating with oneself to protect from the shame awakened by anything that resembles failure. If we can manage to control our behavior, our bodies, our image — or judge ourself first—  then we create a temporary (and illusionary) feeling of safety.

As a recent article in Psychology Today put so well, “There's one thing the inner critic doesn't offer: Room for growth. All too often it sends us back to a zone where we find ourselves safe, but also stuck.” Today we have beautiful healing approaches that gently and powerfully help us to emancipate the child within, reparent him/her to not need those coping mechanisms, and the accompanying belief systems, like the child once needed to survive.  (See Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Somatic Experiencing, Internal Family Systems, and EMDR)  

THIRD PERSON SELF TALK: A TECHNIQUE FOR SELF DISTANCING

The main technique for overcoming negative self talk I want to share is a cognitive approach called SELF DISTANCING and it’s based on ground breaking research by Ethan Kross, of the University of Michigan's Emotion & Self Control Lab.  By replacing the first person pronoun, I , with non-first person pronoun, You, He/She, or Our Name, we can gain emotional and psychological distance which allows us to speak to ourselves more like we would to a friend or someone we care about.  Haven’t you noticed how it’s more clear when it’s about someone else’s life.  Kross goes on to show that getting out of our first person mindset reduces the activation of the right amygdala, the emotional part of the brain— but at no extra cognitive expense.  So this simple technique has great implications for unhooking us from the vicious cycle of negative self talk. Here’s an example of Gabriella new at giving presentations:

First Person (negative) Talk:

I am worried about giving this presentation. I’m afraid I won’t be good and powerful and that participants won’t want to continue.  I’m afraid I will be a disappointment. The other presenters I respect in my field do such a good job and what if I am just not that good at it. 

Third Person (affirming) Talk:

Gabriella, you can do this.  You know this material and everyone who begins something new feels uncomfortable. What you will be sharing is something you deeply believe in and the most important thing is doing your best and coming from your heart.  Gabriella, people will feel your passion and that’s the energy that makes the most difference.  More than concepts.  You can do this and you don’t have to be perfect.  That’s not possible and not the point. 

Rather than trying to shut down the inner critic or analyze the emotions underneath, Kross and his colleagues suggest trying to make this simple grammatical manipulation of first person to non first person self talk. And since negative self talk is a habit often decades in the making, be prepared to practice, and practice! I have tried this myself and love it. Even writing this blog has taken this technique to a new level for me personally. I would love to hear how it works for you.

Overcoming Survivor’s Guilt

Three suicides. One week. All connected to the tragic aftermath of mass shootings. I was asked to speak about survivor’s guilt today, when the loss is unthinkable, when the trauma, unimaginable.  We all want to understand how we humans respond to such overwhelming pain and grief. How can we care for ourselves, Heaven forbid, to find meaning and embrace life again. How we can care for those around us?

Survivor’s guilt, a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), shows up much the same way that traditional PTSD does. That is, nightmares, flashbacks, sleep problems, irritability, numbness, meaninglessness and helplessness. Many develop suicidal ideation and impulses.  Those who fair the most poorly and ones with a history of depression, childhood trauma, low self esteem and little social support.  The trauma becomes a compounding experience and often a wake up call to deal with the root issues still wreaking havoc in one’s psyche and nervous system.  

It might sound oversimplified for anyone who has experienced devastation and tragic loss, but below are some suggestions.  

  1. Counseling and mental health care are key.  Every living thing has the energy of healing within, but we often need another human to hold the space to help us awaken that healing energy. Not just at the beginning, but long term, it’s imperative to have mental health check ups and regular support for un-peeling the layers of grief.   We lost our nephew in 2006 and it wasn’t until 2016 that his mother realized all the layers of grief she had buried, escaping into old and outmoded coping mechanisms.  Watching her embrace her recovery process 10 years later is a true testament to the resiliency we possess at the core and to the power of spiritual and personal growth.

  2. Connected to counseling is the importance of processing, rather than suppressing emotions; and identifying and transforming the cognitive patterns and belief systems that might be feeding the guilt, depression, helplessness and despair. 

  3. Don’t be surprised if your unresolved issues show up on the table. Consider this an opportunity, not an easy one, but a true chance  to excavate that which has likely weighed you down for years. 

  4. Allow yourself time to grieve.  Be patient and self loving. Everyone’s process is unique and not to be judged or compared.

  5. Self care is essential and top of the list.  This could mean spending plenty of time with those you love, being in nature, caring for your body, taking your spiritual life to the next level, and all of the above to tend to the deep emotional wounds.

  6. Lean into your routine.  This can help prevent you from falling lower than you can manage and also keeps you connected to other people and the world of life around you. 

  7. Be of service as best you can. Do your best to seek meaning and purpose.  Invest yourself in something you believe in, something that will add value. When we come from a place of sharing and kindness, we benefit far more than those on the “receiving” end.   When empty, you might not be able to give the same as when you feel full. Yet it’s important to push yourself and go against the justifications as to why you can’t or shouldn’t share. 

  8. Deepen into your spiritual path.


When speaking about survivor’s guilt, of course, we must address the guilt aspect.  Why did I survive and not them?  Maybe I could have done something more? I missed opportunities while they were alive to do more, show more, give more. These feelings are common and normal responses to grief overall, but especially strong when the loss was sudden and tragic, much less violent.  A powerful remedy for survival’s guilt is to understand that much of what you’re feeling is a coping mechanism to try and cover up the true vulnerability that is inherent in being a living human being, especially when it comes to deep loss. While I believe we can actually taking charge of our lives far more than most of us grasp, we must also embrace the humility that comes with that which is bigger than us.  The trick is to keep our hearts open while at the same time facing our vulnerability.

Guilt is different than responsibility. Guilt weighs us down, makes us want to do less, speaks lowly messages inside our heads and demotivates us. The energy of guilt comes from a negative force and places a boulder on our back which becomes the foundation for a tower of sadness, shame, anger, and blame. Even when we do good things, but from a place of guilt, we won’t feel inspired or connected to life.  Responsibility, on the other hand, while it might come with feeling the pain of our own missteps, missed opportunities or loss— the energy shifts from passive to active.  From beating oneself up, to “I can do something positive now.”  It’s an energy force on the side of empowerment drawn from the essence of our unlimited soul. When we give from wanting to take responsibility, we come from fullness which opens the gates to the creative mind and blessings flow. So check your thought patterns when you notice feeling guilt, and ask yourself: How can I turn this into something practical, proactive? How can I take responsibility for some aspect of my life, because I believe in myself?”

When it comes to supporting others, don’t be afraid to be vigilant about asking personal questions related to how they are doing.  How are you sleeping?  Do you have nightmares? What kinds of thoughts trouble you the most?  Do you feel like yourself? If you feel concerned about them, be willing to set up an appointment and go with them to a counselor or psychiatrist. Sometimes we need a hand in ours to take brave steps. Be patient, knowing that grief and trauma can feel relentless.  Do your best, then let go of the rest. 

May we all be there for one another and may our days be filled with blessings, even amidst the pain and tragedies of life.  

Do You Have A Problem With Your Phone? The Benefits of Unplugging

As I gather the items I need to write this blog—my glasses, computer, glass of water— I watch myself grab for my phone.  There is nothing that I need on that device right now.  Other than the experiential example of what so many of us find all day and all night— that our phones have become an appendage, what co-author Russell Clayton of the University of Missouri describes as “The Extended Self.”

Of course, I’m not here to say we shouldn’t have phones. That would be ridiculous, given the tremendous benefits they provide and the reality of the species-level transformation that a life “plugged in” has created.  At the same time, we shouldn’t just throw our hands up (or our faces down). We have reached a dangerous level of tolerance for our phone dependence, our egos normalizing by way of joking, avoiding, resigning. 

I always like to write about what is real and true for me, and I know that my relationship with my phone often serves as a barometer for my relationship with myself, and my love for life. The truth is that when we cross over the line and our phone use becomes a problem, there are dangerous implications for our brains and our bodies, for our mental health and relationships, for our capacity to create true happiness and to enjoy the blessings we are meant to receive as a soul.


I have learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah that where our attention goes is exactly where we go, this is who we become. So how can we tell if we are placing too much of our attention in our phones? How can we tell if our phone use is a problem in our lives? I suggest 3 important steps: 

  1. Educate Yourself on the criteria for and side effects of excessive phone use.

  2. Observe Yourself on how your phone use affects your energy and makes you feel.

  3. Unplug Yourself to create a daily and weekly sabbatical.


Let’s start with the first step, educating yourself.  According to the National Institute of Health, the criteria used for drug addiction can also be used for our mobile devices.  More specifically, take a look at this list below of indicators for a phone problem. Check off how many of these are true for you:  

  • Conscious use of phones in dangerous situations or in prohibited contexts (e.g while driving)

  • Excessive phone use that causes social and family conflicts and confrontations, as well as loss of interest in other shared activities

  • Continuing the behavior despite the negative effects and/or personal malaise it causes

  • Excessive phone use causing noticeable physical, mental, social, work, or family disturbances (e.g eye strain, symptoms of withdrawal, stress, and anxiety)

  • Chronic impulsiveness to check your device

  • Frequent and constant checking of phone in very brief periods of time causing insomnia and sleep disturbances

  • Increase in use to achieve satisfaction or relaxation or to counteract a dysphoric mood

  • Excessive use, urgency, need to be connected

  • Need to respond immediately to messages, preferring the cell phone to personal contact

  • Abstinence, dependence, craving

  • Anxiety, irritability if cell phone is not accessible, feelings of unease when unable to use it

(Front Psychiatry. 2016; 7: 175.


3 KEY SIDE EFFECTS: Let’s go a little deeper with our understanding of side effects from phone dependency.

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  1. Pleasure vs Happiness. The semantic difference between pleasure and happiness is subtle but the implications are huge, on the brain and the soul. I love this chart from a recent Business Insider article which helps us to see in the brain how pleasure seeking activities, like excessive phone us, create short term highs (dopamine) while fulfillment seeking activities generate farther reaching and more lasting contentment (serotonin). Phone use taps into our already vulnerable tendency to seek short term, pleasure-seeking gratification.

  2. Mindfulness. If we are having trouble keeping our attention fully in the present, taking in the world and people around us, then one culprit could be the time spent in the online world. Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth found that happiness and being present in the moment are directly linked. We know this right? But the research is mounting that being mindful and in the present leads to greater self esteem and lower perceived anxiety and stress. When it comes to our phones and mindfulness, recent research has shown that smartphone involvement decreases our capacity for mindfulness.

  3. Anxiety/Depression. Late night phone use in particular has been linked to increases in depression and declines in self esteem and coping ability. Phones OUT OF THE BEDROOM are becoming the new “buckle up for safety.” Also leaning on the depression side, a recent survey showed that those considered frequent social media users experienced 2.7 times higher rates of depression that those of less frequent users.

  4. And here are some of the other the side effects: Insomnia, Inability to Focus / Complete a Task, Stress and Restlessness, Relationship Stress, Eye Strain, Neck Pain, Social Anxiety, Escapist Behavior, Dependence on Digital Validation (Newport Academy)


HEALTHY UNPLUGGING HABITS

How can we protect ourselves from the illusion that the online world is more compelling, beautiful and filled with endless routes for joy and awe than the real and messy world of nature, people, opportunities and those dreaded “pauses in between”? 

  • Observe Yourself. As I mentioned above, self observation is a key step.  And please be brave and give yourself permission to be honest with yourself.  We have the answers within us and have everything to gain by putting in the effort it takes to nestle into our internal silence and listen. Here are some questions you can ask yourself: 

    • Before you go for your phone, ask yourself, do I feel empty, bored, anxious, lonely, insecure, vulnerable, restless, unworthy? What might I be trying to escape?

    • While on your phone, try pausing, taking a deep breath and ask, Is this really where I want to be right now? Is this best for me?

    • When you get off your phone, check in again. How is my energy? Do I feel happier, more fulfilled and creative, more worthy or peaceful, I am more in love with my life? Or do I feel more empty, frustrated, disappointed in myself, tired, wired, restless?

  • Create Distance Between You and Your Phone (Physical and Emotional)

    We need to create boundaries. Sometimes we need a definitive structure to combat our brains’ firing temptations. Here are some ideas:

  • Pick a specific bedtime for your phone, put it to bed and then LET GO.

  • Buy an actual alarm clock and put your phone to bed in another room

  • Create a weekly Sabbath for yourself - 24 hours with no phone. It’s a life saver.

  • Feed your soul with whatever helps you connect to something bigger in life.

  • Write down your offline passions like nature, crafts, people, animals, athletics, dance, music, poetry, writing a letter.  

  • Partner with a friend to keep you accountable. 

  • If you really need more help, you can try programs like Catherine Price’s 7 day challenge.


The Tidying Up Craze: Create More Joy, Empathy and Better Connections

I always know where I am in my life, within my self, by looking at these three areas in my home: my closet, my desk, and my refrigerator.  If I am neglecting my self in some way, or feeling overwhelmed, I’ve learned it’s time to start emptying and organizing. Bit by bit, I begin sorting and cleansing my way into a sense of control and confidence, outside and in.

According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, our home is a manifestation of our soul — a place to park our soul at the end of the day. We want to use our home as a reminder of how our consciousness should be. It’s up to us to create the energy in the home and to make it a reflection of us. Creating balance and order around us helps us do the same in our consciousness. Author and home organizer, Regina Leeds, puts it more bluntly, "Your crap and your clutter is what's going on inside of you." Don’t we all know and feel that

This month, nearly every major publication and network is talking about author, Marie Kondo and her Tidying Up series on Netflix.  Who doesn’t agree that tidiness makes us feel better?  And yet many do not grasp the extent, and the far reaching impact positive impact of decluttering? So what are the benefits of creating order in our home?  And what is the best approach to declutter with joy and balance (and that we can sustain)?

The Psychological, Spiritual and Relationship Benefits of Tidying Up

We know it from experience, but research confirms that those who move from clutter to tidiness experience not only a decrease in stress but an increase in their ability to process information and to focus on their goals. Order also helps us feel more creative, hopeful and more confident we can achieve our potential. 

Order can awaken it’s own brand of simple joy. We find a serenity that comes with less stuff. The key is balance. While it can be a happy and beautiful experience to buy a new dress or gadget, or to treasure a sentimental item, there’s a flip side to “too much” and not being sensitive to how each item affects us. Without balance, and developing what Marie Kondo describes as an empathic sense of what sparks joy, we can stuff ourselves into emptiness and guilt.

Even if it doesn’t reach the proportion of a full blown hoarding crisis, too much stuff can easily become an addiction, a distraction, an escape from connecting with our bodies, our loved ones, our pain, our self and the truth within our soul.  We are energy seekers by nature, and in a consumer society, it’s easy to turn to the illusionary solution of accumulating more stuff when it’s something much deeper that brings lasting joy. Decluttering opens up the space to connect from within—or as my daughter, Andrea Glik, LMSW, likes to say, “come home to yourself.” 

In our relationships, chaos in our environment can easily get in the way. In large part because it’s harder to connect with ourselves much less another. Ask anyone with young children about this one.  I remember that time in our life, back in the day, and listen to the struggles of many young couples who can’t seem to catch up. Not only from the hectic and relentless running around of those little joy machines, but just from the mess and disorder itself. It can be difficult to find that open space to connect. The key is finding a way to make the tidying up process light and fun, and not just on the shoulders of one person. It’s about creating an attitude of empathy, gratitude, and mutual care towards your home, your items, and especially the people with whom you live and love. So now let’s talk about the how …

Best Practices for Tidying Up

According to Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, she recommends the following rules:

RULE 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.

RULE 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

RULE 3: Finish discarding first.

RULE 4: Tidy by category, not by location (e.g.,clothing, books, papers, kitchen/bath, sentimental)

RULE 5: Follow the right order.

RULE 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

Here are 7 Tips to not only help make the tidying up more joyful but also SUSTAINABLE:

1. ACCEPT YOUR OWN RHYTHM

Make perfectionism the first thing you discard. Each person is unique and that’s in the beautiful design of our universe.  While some decide to make the clearing and tidying process an intense and concentrated project, I find that each person needs to find the rhythm that works for them.

As most of us do, I wear many hats and I continue to make choices that demand from me, stretch me and require constant change.  This makes my days and sometimes evenings quite full. That being said, I can’t say that full time organizer fits in my hat closet. So what works for me is to grab snippets of time wherever I can.  One fridge-drawer here, one under-the-sink-cabinet there. Maybe it’s the sock drawer before work and the underwear drawer after. Usually mornings work better for me because clearing out and tidying up often requires more decision-making energy than we realize. Sometimes there’s a time for going all in and devoting full days, but I don’t recommend the all or nothing mindset. 

2. MAINTAIN BALANCE

While a neat house reflects a person who takes good care of themselves, too neat can show obsession or lack of presence or warmth. I suggest reflecting within, using the extremes of “mess” and “over-neat,” as a gauge for where you are.

3. CREATE A SPACE THAT REFLECTS YOU

Our home should be a reflection of us, not who we think we should be or what others think. When decorating, organizing and tidying, ask yourself, “IS THIS ME?”

4. AWAKEN MINDFULNESS AND COMPASSION 

The Kanmari method is most well known for the invitation to ask oneself, “Does this item awaken sparks of joy?” Answering that question requires listening within and being present in the moment without any judgement about what you might hear. Try inviting self-compassion and self-acceptance, right where you are now. Also consider carefully you’re personality and attention style. Some are organically orderly in their way of processing information and life. Others are more expansive in their attention span, and this can affect your relationship with the space around you. So please be gentle with yourself if consistency and keeping order is naturally a struggle. 

5. WORK ON LETTING GO—OF ITEMS AND EMOTIONS

When cleaning out our things, its a powerful opportunity to listen to our feelings, especially when we find ourselves having difficulty letting go of items. Pause, take a few deep breaths and pay attention within to the emotions the item brings up or what you’re feeling at the very idea of discarding it. The idea isn’t to feel forced to give precious things away. We must honor our truth when it’s useful, authentic, joyful or meaningful for us to keep an item in our home, in our life.

That being said, oftentimes we hold onto things for less than joy-sustaining reasons. For example, you might feel guilt for not having used an item enough, or fear of not having what you need at a later time. Maybe your ego voice is bombarding you with should’s or I need this to feel good enough. Remind yourself, You are always enough. Sometimes we don’t let go of an item because we don’t realize the drain on our consciousness that keeping it really causes, especially if it’s from a person we need to move on from or some other aspect of our past.

You might need to add soothing and cleansing rituals to support your tidying journey, especially to make it a way of life. Examples include: opening a window, lighting a candle, burning sage, spraying essential oils. If you’re really struggling to let go, a counselor or close friend might offer the support and strength you need. Whatever it takes to help you LET GO— whether of the items that do not spark joy or the emotions that keep you stuck. Remember, on the other side of letting go awaits your new and more joyful, loving, and authentic life. 

6. SAY THANK YOU 

Every living thing or object contains sparks of the Light of Creation itself. Many spiritual pathsteach this beautiful idea. When clearing items away, I love the idea of openly thanking the item for however it served you before you say goodbye.  This can assist with the letting go and moving forward into your present life, with newly refreshed goals and dreams. 

7. TIDY WITH RESPECT AND UNITY IN MIND

One of the gifts Marie Kondo brings to tidying up is the unconditional respect and acceptance she injects into the process— towards the tossed away items themselves, towards oneself and towards the others in the home.

In the Down-sizers episode, Marie shares, “It’s very important when you’re tidying to respect each other. Having a family of my own, and being a mother and I think the things in our house and all the family members in a home kind of function the same way. We each play a role and we only have a limited amount of space and we all need each other.”

Protect Your Relationship From Holiday Stress: The 4C Approach To Closeness

“We almost break up every year after Christmas,” my client announced. “We go to multiple Christmas’s, and at the end, we’ll declare (if we’re not breaking up) ‘next year we’re leaving town.’” The holidays can be a loving, joyous time for couples, and yet, they can run our stress high and patience thin, trigger old family issues, highlight our different needs and approaches, and quite honestly awaken the “what about me” consciousness. All this can add up to a massive wedge in our most important relationship. 

Sometimes our greatest angst comes from the gap between our expectations— the “should be’s”— and our reality right in front of us. Difficulties and unmet expectations are not only normal, but an inherent and valuable part of our “growing upward” in life.  We become better, stronger from the challenges we face, especially when we own them! We create deep fulfillment when we dive into the darkness and bring out the Light. And anyone in a deep and lasting relationship should know the hard earned and quite miraculous process that it takes for two separate souls to un-peel their ego layers to become one.

Preparation is key for couples to navigate their relationship during the holidays, and this starts with a commitment to going into the holiday as partners. Many outside forces can invade your togetherness but the more you prepare, the more protected your bond will be. I like to suggest openly identifying the potential sources of strain or conflict that the holidays might pose.  COUPLE EXERCISE #1: Take a look at this list below and scope out any hot buttons. Then use THE 4C APPROACH to strengthen your partnership. 

List of Potential Stressors

  • Increased work load, feeling overwhelmed and not clear about how to divide and share the added tasks 

  • Socializing differences (I don’t want the party to end vs I can’t wait to go home)

  • Loyalty to your family and pulled about dividing time among each side, and step families

  • Differences in culture, religion, or spirituality

  • Emotional pain and lack often stirred up from childhood making us more vulnerable and reactive

  • Certain people we are anxious to be around, like In laws or parents or siblings

  • Financial strain and different values on how much do we spend on gifts/food  

  • Alcohol and the need to talk about consumption 

  • Additional compounding life challenges like illness, loss, financial bills or work uncertainty

The 4C Approach to Closeness During the Holidays

1. CONSCIOUSNESS: Take Control of Your Holiday, Don’t Let the Holiday Control You

I learned from the great Kabbalist, Rav Berg, that “consciousness is everything.” Meaning, the seeds we plant with our thoughts and intentions directly influence what will grow and manifest. The first limiting thought to challenge is, “I don’t have control over my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.”  Catch this one quickly and replace with, “I create my relationship, my holiday, my happiness.” Let’s take the client I spoke about earlier, who has made great strides in claiming her power. She now approaches the holidays as a spiritual growth game. Her intention has moved from how can I change my family or get them to love me to how can I see the good, be more compassionate and learn to listen. Further, how can I wake up and first thing, appreciate my partner.  I love this story of taking control of your holiday, your relationship…your life. 

2. COMPASSION: Accept Yourself, Your Partner, Your Reality With Love

Acceptance and compassion go hand in hand, and paradoxically, they provide the best platform for making personal changes and inspiring others to change. To embrace and be with your self, your beloved, and your unique reality together— with acceptance and trust that for good reason, you need to be here in this moment—this opens your heart, and you can just feel the lightness pour in. If you’re feeling heavy or emotionally reactive, a pause is a must. Sometimes that means stepping away from your partner, taking a shower, going for a walk, looking at the sky, sharing in some way—these can all shut down the limiting force of the ego and make room for the bigger picture. Set your intention to awaken compassion within, beg if you have to, and do for yourself that which brightens your soul. I’m a huge fan of self compassion.  As Louise Haye says so well,  “Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself.”

3. COLLABORATION: Go Into the Holiday as Partners  

When we choose to invest in a committed relationship, our lives become interdependent. Our togetherness becomes an entity. If one partner’s gain puts a hole in the galley, then the whole relation”SHIP” goes down. This puts us in a vulnerable position, because we must create a oneness when we often have divergent needs or desires.  But this is the beauty in the dance of love and intimacy—navigating our own individuality alongside our growing capacity to care more for the other’s happiness than for our own.  Taking it one step at a time, we can use the holidays to begin negotiating and taking turns when our own dreams and desires don’t line up.  This collaboration can center around conversations (be careful they’re not “controler-sations”) on the following kinds of topics: 

  • Effectively sharing and negotiating the additional workload common during the holidays

  • Respectfully considering the traditions and values from each partner when creating your own

  • Balancing the religious and spiritual meaning and practices associated with the holiday

  • Showing care and support when our partner’s are stressed or emotionally vulnerable. “This means being supportive, even if you think his or her perspective is unreasonable,” (Dr. John Gottman) 

  • Being sensitive to personality differences when it comes to attending parties and gatherings 

4. COMMUNICATION: Calmly Make Sure Both Are Heard

One of my favorite communication exercises to do with couples in my practice is the Dream Catcher by Dr. John Gottman.  It’s a turn taking, structured exercise that with great practice and self control can become more integrated into how we relate to our partners.  Rather than pushing our point, calling the other out in some way, the focus is on creating a safe haven of authenticity where each partner feels seen and heard.  The listener spends around 10-15 minutes asking questions like:

  • What do you feel about this issue? 

  • Is there a story behind this for you? 

  • Does this relate to your childhood or background in some way? 

  • What do you need with this issue? 

  • Tell me why this is so important to you? 

  • What do you wish for?

  • What would be your ideal dream here?

  • Is there a fear or disaster scenario in not having this dream honored? having this dream honored?

  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you?

COUPLE EXERCISE #2: Pick one of the hot buttons that stood out from the list of stressors above and take turns being the speaker and the listener. The problem might not be solved, and that’s okay.  The purpose is to care enough to catch one another’s real dream and desire. Many need a counselor to help prepare them for this level of listening. You’ll know you are ready for this exercise as a couple if after your heart is filled with love and you feel closer.

Below is the FOx2am show on this topic; and here are 2 links with communication resources. Communication and fighting fair tips, and more about the Dream Catcher.

Self Care When National Headlines Trigger Old Trauma

Self Care When National Headlines Trigger Old Trauma

What can you do if painful memories have come to the surface as a result of the sexual assault Kavanaugh hearings, or any other “me-too” news that rings true to home. First and foremost, BE KIND TO YOURSELF! 

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

Sibling Rivalry or Sibling Bullying?  When Does it Cross the Line and What Can Be Done?

So much attention, rightfully so, has been paid to bullying in the schools. Yet family researchers have recently found that bullying inside the home can actually cause as much or even more damage to children’s mental well being—even into adulthood. 

Depression in Men: What's at the Root and How to Help

Depression in Men: What's at the Root and How to Help

I am hoping to shed light on the often undetected signs of depression in men and what tends to be at the root. And most importantly, offer some tools for healing depression and lifting oneself into a life of happiness.

Self Care for the Winter Blues

Self Care for the Winter Blues

Regardless of what our external environment naturally dictates — whether it’s the harsh winter or any other challenge in life — with the right tools, we have the inherent capacity to become the cause of our own well being and happiness — true leaders, if you will. The key is SELF CARE ... that empowers your body, your mind, and your spirit.

The Danger of Comparing: How to Live Happily Being You

The Danger of Comparing: How to Live Happily Being You

As Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist at University of North Carolina, puts it in his interview with Psychology Today, “Social media has created a life-long adolescence.” The best news of all is that we have a choice in the matter and possess within us everything we need to“feel good in our own skin and be happy with who we are.” 

Master Your Thoughts, Master Your Life

Master Your Thoughts, Master Your Life

Here are a few truths and facts about the impact of what we allow to dominate our minds— drawing from both science and ancient spiritual wisdom. Then we’ll bring this into practice, with tips and suggestions for taking charge of our mindset.

Job Happiness

Job Happiness

I believe passionately that how fulfilled we feel in our work, especially the extent we feel in line with our values and calling, is paramount not only to our emotional and spiritual well-being, but most definitely to the quality of our relationships.

Loving Your Body: It's All In Your Mind

Loving Your Body: It's All In Your Mind

Self-love and acceptance influence our peace of mind and joy far beyond our typical understanding and starts first with identifying what is going on in our heads. We often don’t even realize our inner thoughts and the way we talk to our selves about our bodies, and this leaves us vulnerable; we can’t change what we can’t see. A common term among body positive writers is “It’s our mind that bullies our body.”

The Strength in Vulnerability: Raising Sons Who Know How They Feel

Being vulnerable can be difficult for anyone, but especially for men. While girls receive plenty of messages to keep their feelings under wraps, recent research continues to show how far society's masculinity soundtrack takes boys off course from connecting with their emotional side. I read an article this week in the New York Times called, Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls by Andrew Reiner. Even I, already sensitive to this issue, was blown away by the studies Reiner cited showing the damaging stereotypical messages boys receive to “man up,” often in concealed ways and starting as early as infants. 

 
 

From the get-go, even before our son Jeremy was conceived, I felt a strong sense of purpose to raise a boy freed from the limitations of macho-based confidence. From the moment he was born, my parenting thought process was guided by this desire — to help our son be comfortable with his vulnerable emotions, nurture his innate empathy, and appreciate the true strength and courage in being real.

Our society often reinforces a belief system that resilience means suppressing emotions, pushing our way through. Susan David, a Harvard psychologist, says the opposite is true. Rather than suppressing difficult emotions and thoughts, we thrive by becoming Emotionally Agile, meaning “to be with ourselves and our emotions.” 

How do we start teaching our sons they can have vulnerable emotions? Here are some tips to consider:

LISTEN WITH EMPATHY
Make it safe to share feelings.  The best way to do this is to listen without rushing to a solution or judging. Sometimes our own fears get in the way and we get reactive when our kids feel upset.  Just reflect and let the boy or man in your life know you understand.  Be on the lookout for signs of fear or sadness, disappointment or insecurity.  Ask open-ended questions, like “You seem upset, what’s going on?” “How was your day — what was the best and the worst part?” Actively listen, validate, show you understand and that you want to hear how he feels. It’s always good to show trust and belief in him and his ability to grow stronger from this experience.

MODEL EMOTIONAL OPENNESS
When we ourselves are comfortable with our emotions and our pain, and can express our needs and feelings in a proactive way, kids watch and pick up on this healthy emotional vibe. I asked Jeremy today, now 21, for his perspective on how we (hopefully) taught him, as a boy, to be in touch with his emotions. He texted, “The way you guys live. Anytime something is on your mind you guys tell it how it is— so we can understand, adjust and change if it’s a recurring thing.”  Jeremy continued “ … to sit down and talk about things together, be it planning or issues that come up, this made for an evident culture of not holding things in.” While our kids still groan to us when they tease about our family meetings, apparently they were a good thing. 

TEACH EMOTIONS 101
Find opportunities to drop little emotion lessons in here and there, first and foremost that emotions are not something to run from or fear.  For example, something I learned from the wisdom of Kabbalah, “It’s a strength to 'be with' our pain and not run from it.” Another tidbit of truth: "When we get our feelings out, we feel more in control and less likely to blow up in the wrong place or in the wrong way.”

ENCOURAGE MUSIC, ART, LITERATURE, NATURE, ANIMALS, SPIRITUALITY
Our culture can send messages to boys that the liberal arts side of education is a feminizing idea. Boys have been known to tease and judge each other for these interests. Look for little seeds of interest in the arts or nature, animals or music — and pour on the support.  Our son is convinced that his passion for music, and being encouraged to pursue his musicianship, helped him connect to his softer side. He said, “it was easier for me to find my emotions through music.”  Sports and video games have their place but they don’t typically open your heart the way the arts and nature do. If spirituality or religion is a part of your life, being open with this in your home, sharing about your journey & what you are learning-- this can help encourage inward turning.

BUY HIM A JOURNAL
Journaling is the tool I suggest most for my clients, more than any other tool, across age, gender and the personal or relationship issue that brings them in. Don’t push it, but suggest a journal or log.  Writing our thoughts and feelings down awakens the inner communication channels — and can make it easier to express to others once you’ve gotten more clear of your own inner voice.  Identifying our thoughts and feelings can give us a greater sense of control making us less likely to respond with our knee-jerk reaction. 

REMIND HIM TO SPEAK FROM HIS HEART
When my husband and I first got married, I soon noticed that it was hard for him to be real.  He would ask me for advice on giving a talk at work or writing a card to a friend or family.  All I had to say was, “Speak from your heart.” And the perfect message would come through.  

FIND A GIRL MENTOR
Whether that’s an older sister, a neighbor or cousin, having a girl close to your son’s age in his life can really make a difference.  Not his mom who is miles away generationally, a young positive girl mentor can teach your son how to treat a girl with respect and sensitivity.  If she’s mature enough and willing, she can help model how it’s cool to talk about feelings sometimes. 

Being Real Is Good for Your Health

Being Real Is Good for Your Health

Living authentically is not for the faint of heart.  It can be scary and vulnerable to address our emotions and frailties, to look at ourselves honestly and to be more real with the people in our lives. That being said, not addressing our emotional side, along with not being true to ourselves, comes with a heavy burden — on our mental health as well as on the fulfillment and satisfaction within our souls.

Establishing Boundaries and Being True to Yourself in Your Close Relationships

 Establishing Boundaries and Being True to Yourself in Your Close Relationships

We are people who need people. We simply cannot reach our true potential without being loved. The paradox is that to attract the right kind of person into our lives, one with whom our love can grow and grow, we must first have a strong connection with our self and the light we possess inside. Only when we are emotionally independent, when we let go of the desperation and intense “need” for someone else to validate or want us, to praise or make us a priority, do we build the proper platform on which to actually draw the love we so desire.

New Year’s Resolutions? 4 Secrets Behind Those Who Succeed

New Year’s Resolutions? 4 Secrets Behind Those Who Succeed

The essence of our being is DESIRE. We don’t move a finger without it. Desire lifts us out of bed in the morning, propels us forward day after day, year after year. Why is it so easy to create a wish list of goals and yet so hard to follow through - especially long term?

How Happy Couples Deal with In-Laws: Tips for the Holidays... and All Year Long

How Happy Couples Deal with In-Laws: Tips for the Holidays... and All Year Long

Inherently tricky to navigate for many, in-law strife shows up most especially between mothers- and daughters-in-law. And pouring into the mix the degree of conflict and division from our unprecedented election year 2016, the views and dynamics among all family members- especially in-laws, makes for quite a vulnerable time. Here are some tips to help make the holidays and this relationship go more smoothly this year, and from now on.

Michael Phelp's Comeback: The Psychology and Lessons From His Rise and Fall ... and Rise

Michael Phelp's Comeback: The Psychology and Lessons From His Rise and Fall ... and Rise

Michael Phelps is swimming in Rio, appearing stronger than ever, athletically and mentally. But he has traveled along quite a journey. As privileged and fortunate as high-profile, successful athletes can be, they also have their own burdens to bear. Any human who achieves what Michael Phelps has, coupled with a great and public falling and then rising, becomes a valuable inspiration for us all.

Body Confidence: 8 Tips to Feel Good about Our Body

Body Confidence: 8 Tips to Feel Good about Our Body

How do we overcome the preoccupation and stress when our appearance matters too much, when we feel shame about our bodies, when by comparison to others, we never feel “enough?” Here are 8 tips to help build a loving and positive relationship with our body, which begins with the power of our mind…