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Archive for 2012

Paying It Forward

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

On Thanksgiving morning my family and I enjoyed a walk with our dogs before getting down to the serious business of cooking and football watching.

As we returned to our street my husband found a dollar bill in front of our house.  My sister called out that she saw another . . . and another . . .  and another.  Of course then we all began looking and $17 dollars later we wondered what was going on, thinking a child must have lost their money.  Checking with the neighbors and not finding the rightful owner, this was turning into a mystery on our quiet cul-de-sac, but I set aside the cash to deal with other pressing Turkey Day activities.

Black Friday rolled around and my sister, friend and I made our annual pilgrimage to the mall.  After a few hours of battling the crowd we headed to our favorite watering hole for bite to eat and a cocktail.  Without a reservation we had to sit at the bar, but we didn’t mind since visiting this establishment has become part of our annual tradition.  After the second bite into our burgers the bartender said she needed to slide us down a few seats to make room for another party.  Her abruptness in moving our food out from under us caught us off guard and we were a bit irritated, and had no choice but to comply.

The new party saddled up to the bar and placed their orders while we noshed and sipped, recovering quickly from our game of musical chairs.  When the bartender placed the check in front of us the man in the party that displaced us called out that he appreciated what we did and was picking up our tab.  Instantly we felt guilty for the irritation we felt and found ourselves giving thanks to him for his generosity.  After chatting with him for a few minutes it was clear that money was not an issue for him and he simply asked us to do something nice for someone in return.

Paying it forward is an age old concept of the beneficiary of a good deed paying it back to someone other than the original benefactor.

Several years ago Oprah had a Pay It Forward challenge where she gave audience members $1000 and a camcorder to capture them doing good deeds.  The stories that came out of those acts of generosity were incredibly touching.   Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a novel that was turned in to the “feel good” movie Pay It Forward, starring Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey.  Spacey, a teacher of 11 year old Osment, instructs the class to come up with an idea that would change the world.  Osment’s character comes up with the idea that for every good deed bestowed upon you, do three good deeds for someone else that they could not accomplish  themselves.

Indeed that sort of generosity would change the world.

By having money serendipitously thrown at me in all directions on this holiday of Thanks and Giving, I now am charged with how to pay it forward.  My son and I have already begun giving the one dollar bills away.  By carefully placing them in locations where people are sure to find them (napkin dispensers at restaurants, toilet paper rolls in restrooms etc), we are having great fun imagining the surprise on people’s faces when they discover their bounty.  Because of the gratefulness and generosity of the stranger at the bar, we are now looking for opportunities to be grateful and generous.  What a perfect start to the holiday season.

So why do I bring up this tale of gratefulness and generosity on a blog about mental well-being and healthy relationships?  Simply put, these are some of the basic ingredients for emotional balance and happiness.  Studies done of the expression of gratitude on a routine basis have shown that focusing on the positive things in life correlates with a higher level of psychological and physical well-being.

In Gottman Couple’s Therapy™ we teach couples the importance of giving appreciation, rather than allowing resentment and contempt to build in a relationship.  Being appreciative for what we have, rather than focusing on what we don’t have, can go a long way in charging your emotional battery in any relationship.

Acts of kindness help us to feel more connected to others and a feeling of connection is important for our happiness.  By being generous we are more aware of the good in our lives and we develop compassion for others.  Being generous can make one feel better about oneself (unless they have an ulterior motive to gain something in return) and raise their self-esteem.  No matter how you slice it or dice it, generosity and gratitude lead to improved well-being.

So if you are out and about this weekend and happen to find some money, consider that it may not be lost but a gift to be paid forward.  And when you do, see how it affects your mood and well-being.

Namaste,

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

6 Step Recovery Plan for Betrayal

Friday, November 16th, 2012

 

Even if you have never been in a relationship that involved an affair, the word itself invokes a deep feeling of betrayal in most people.  Being betrayed is a universal human experience, so on some level the Petraeus story resonates with all of us.  We all know what it’s like to have a knife jammed in our back, to feel the deep wounds of broken trust, to be blindsided and victimized by someone we thought we knew.

Betrayals come in all shapes and sizes, but the deeper the love bond, the deeper the wound of betrayal.  We often think of an affair as the only form of betrayal in intimate relationships, but according to Dr. John Gottman, breaches of trust occur in many disguises.  Can you trust your partner to listen to you when you are upset or anxious?  Can you trust that your partner will place a priority on your relationship, above his mother, friends, work?  Can you trust that your partner won’t abuse alcohol or drugs?  Can you trust that your partner is an involved parent?

But trust is not only important for love relationships.  We want to feel a sense of trust in schools, the workplace, our cities and nations.  A few months ago I experienced one such betrayal that left my head spinning.   Not only did I feel the weight of the injustice that was thrust upon me, I felt the negative feelings that follow any betrayal . . . anger, blame, self-pity and desire for revenge.   At the same time I had a strong desire to move towards forgiveness, because I knew that harboring that mountain of resentment was getting in my way of healing.  To add salt to my already festering wound, my seemingly guilt-free betrayer was happily moving forward, dismissing all of my feelings.

It was at this point that I knew I needed a survival plan.  No, not a survival plan, but a plan to thrive.   Here’s my six-step betrayal recovery plan:

  1. Allow yourself to fully feel your feelings.  You have been violated and trying to jump to forgiveness too soon won’t work.  Betrayal usually equates to loss of some sort.  No matter how scared you are of moving in a new direction, do not try to bypass the stages of grief.
  2. Find a healthy level of detachment from the situation.  If you need space from your betrayer, take it.  If you need self-soothing, do it.  Now more than ever you need to take care of yourself.
  3. Do not be more of a victim than you need to be.  Of course that other person wronged you in unimaginable ways, but identifying too much with your Poor Pitiful Pearl story will keep you stuck in your pain.
  4. Be careful who you talk to about your betrayal.  Some people will dismiss your feelings and side with the enemy, so they are not good confidants.  But neither are people who encourage you to wallow in your pain.  Finding a therapist may be your best option if your family and friends are favoring one side or another.
  5. Do not idealize the past.  Accept that there were troubles in that relationship.  Betrayals often arise because of conflict avoidance, meaning the betrayer (and possibly the betrayed) was having deep feelings they were not sharing.  This emotional distance is anything but ideal.
  6. Channel the energy of your painful feelings into self-growth.  Time does not heal all wounds, so don’t take a passive approach to healing.  While you are not responsible in any way, shape or form for the betrayal that occurred, you might be able to see how you participated in the damaged relationship that lead up to that event.  Work on becoming a better, stronger, more empowered version of you.  Create a better future for yourself, whether it is with or without your betrayer.

As the knife wounds start to scab over you may be vacillating between negative and positive feelings.  One minute you may feel better about the situation, the next you may get great joy out of envisioning bad things happening to your betrayer.  This is normal on the road to recovery.  While living through betrayal is a terrible feeling, try not to look backwards, as that is not the direction you are going.  You can choose to inch (or run) towards empowerment and then, and only then, will you feel healed and truly ready to forgive.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Fifty Shades of Foreplay

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Over the last few months I have had more than one person tell me that Fifty Shades of Grey has spiced up their sex life.

So out of curiosity I joined the ranks of people reading what is now being called “mommy porn”.  And that it is . . . erotica that goes to the edge of pornography, but not hardcore.  Women are exploring their sexuality and realizing they want to be more adventurous in the bedroom.

Erotic fiction is a way for women to explore their fantasies and they are getting turned on by the steamy sex scenes.  The use of sex toys, various positions, locations and submission/dominance scenes is offering some variety to dull sex lives.  In my opinion, probably the more important thing that Fifty Shades is providing is stimulating the brain and the vocal cords.  One of the biggest problems with dull sex lives is that couples do not think about, prepare for or get excited about sexual encounters with their partner like they did during the early phase of their relationship.  Typically during that phase sex is exciting.  Couples plan for it by buying sexy outfits, anticipate having sex and making sure that it happens . . . alot.   Over time these things wane as pregnancy and children enter the picture or as couples stop focusing on their relationship as a priority.

The book series is getting couples talking about sex.  Women are sharing the detailed sex scenes with their partners and talking about their needs and fantasies.  Having intimate conversation with your partner is one of the best ways to rev things up in the bedroom.  Talking to your partner about sex before, during and after the act is the best way to make sure your needs are met.  Sure, erotica can spice things up and be considered normal and healthy, but don’t lose sight of what is important in a relationship, and that involves lots and lots of talking.

Women often wonder what is normal and healthy regarding sex and don’t know where to turn to get answers.  John Gottman, relationship expert and bestselling author, along with his wife Julie, have developed a very good series on sex that guides couples to more intimacy and satisfying sex lives.  Check out www.gottsex.com for more information.  Dr. Laura Berman, psychologist and sexologist, also offers great information on her website and TV/radio programs http://www.drlauraberman.com/homepage

My mission is to help couples have the whole enchilada . . . an emotionally satisfying AND sexually satisfying relationship.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

 

 

Self-Esteem Boosters for Kids and Teens

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Positive affirmations are simple little sayings we can tell ourselves to build self-esteem.  They are positive statements about our traits, abilities and qualities.  Recognizing our value on this planet and having a strong sense of who we are helps to develop a positive “can do” attitude.

Most of us develop the bad habit of beating ourselves up over our mistakes and failures.  And we tend to listen to the teacher, coach or parent who belittles and criticizes us.  Often before we reach adulthood our self-esteem can be quite damaged and we find that all of our doubts and feelings of inferiority cast a dark spell on our confidence and identity.

The ideal time to begin affirmations is in childhood and the teen years.   Children need to be taught to be kind and loving towards themselves.  Adolescents are especially vulnerable to negativity and criticism because they are forming their identity.  Teaching them to do affirmations can help them better weather the storm of this confusing time.

Affirmations should be short and to the point, easily remembered and in the present tense.  Affirmations should start with “I am” and end with what you want to have in your life I am healthy.  I am creative and have a never ending supply of ideas.  I am capable of great things.  While these statements may sound vain, it is actually healthy to talk to yourself in this manner.  We tend to bring about in our life what we think about, so it’s best to set the stage for positive scenarios rather than negative ones.

Teens spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, either admiring themselves  or looking for  flaws.  This is the perfect setting for having them read and repeat affirmations.  I have come up with a way to help my pre-teen repeat affirmations.  I wrote out 30 affirmation cards, each with 3 different sayings.  Some reflected on physical or intellectual abilities, some were spiritual in nature and some IMG_0499were just plain fun.  I placed them on a memo holder and put it on the bathroom counter, surely to be found next time he was looking for a zit or admiring his smile.  Sticky notes would also work well but I like the reusable nature of the cards.

Once you have finished your affirmation cards for your child repeat the following:  I am a good parent.  I am boosting my child’s self-esteem.  I am loving.

Namaste,

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Fostering Independence in Your Adolescent

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

My husband and I are approaching our son’s budding adolescence in very different ways.

He really misses the days when our only child wanted to be with us, curled up with us on the couch watching TV.  He is melancholy about not being numero uno in his life and being ousted from that spot by a best friend.  Our child’s moods and changing interests have caught my husband off guard.  He wasn’t prepared for his own emotional roller coaster during this tumultuous time.

I, on the other hand, am not getting caught up in nostalgia.

While I loved all of those  things, I am loving the independence and growth our 12 year old is experiencing.  Maybe it’s because I clearly remember the exhilaration of being 12 and exploring the world, well, at least my little piece of the world.

Back in the dark ages we had much more freedom than kids today.  I remember the thrill of riding the bus into town by myself and being able to go into the department store all alone.  Riding my bike meant travelling all over and  doing crazy stunts and sometimes not coming home until after dark.   I could cook an entire meal without scalding myself or burning the house down and it made me feel very grown up.  My best friend was my constant companion and the crush I had on a boy named Jimmy was all-consuming.  Yep, 12 was pretty darn exciting.

What I don’t remember about being 12 was feeling incompetent or being criticized by my parents for my 12 year old-ness.  I’m quite certain I wasn’t as savvy as my memory recalls.  Truth is, I probably was quite nervous when I first rode the bus, ran home in the dark or cooked a meal for the first time.

I am forever grateful that my parents appreciated my independence rather than trying to keep me more child-like.  This wasn’t necessarily a well thought out  parenting strategy on their part.  They both worked and it was just assumed that the kids would step up to the plate.  It’s now different than in the dark ages, but I still want to impart a feeling of competence and acceptance in my child’s development.

Children always let us know one way or another that they are ready to take a leap in development, either with their words or behaviors.

It shows they are learning to reason and think independently. It is important for parents to realize that forbidding freedoms they are requesting makes them all the more appealing.  Keeping an open line of communication is my preference for handling these issues.  Because I don’t want to learn of behaviors ex post facto, I have worked hard at making it safe for my son to tell me what is going on in his world.  Reactivity and always saying no to their requests is a sure ticket to acting out, rebellious behavior committed on the sly.

My strategy is simple and involves only two words, “Yes, but . . . . “.

A few months ago he came home from school and asked me if he could have a girlfriend.  Ok, I have to admit my first reaction was a vision of some scantily clad tramp being very  inappropriate with my sweet boy, but I quickly snapped back to reality.  His nervousness in telling me was priceless.  He was reaching out for a little guidance and if I said anything remotely negative I would be closing the door on advice giving, forever.  If I said “no, you are too young” he would probably just seek advice from his friends and hide his girlfriend from me.  So I said “yes, but” and defined the limits of what a girlfriend means at this age.

We have had a million “yes, but” moments in the last few months.  Mom, can you leave my room now?    Can I go to Wendy’s for a Frosty?   Can I stay out a little longer?  These are terrific opportunities to allow for growth yet set appropriate boundaries.

Don’t get me wrong, we still say no too.  Safety is never a time to compromise, but don’t confuse normal, age appropriate risk with unsafe situations.  Our job as parents is to raise independent kids.  Of course they will make some mistakes, but if they are small, don’t worry.  On the other hand, what seems like a great idea to an adventurous 12 year old may make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  Oh the stories I could tell! The key is to not belittle them in the process of setting a firm limit.

I understand my husband’s feelings.  This is the age where we start to let go a bit and we move into unfamiliar territory.  It is bittersweet.  If we have done a good job of instilling values and have worked on keeping communication safe and open, letting go really means keeping them close by. The relationship between parent and child can blossom into one of mutual respect.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

Romance Novels and Rom Coms vs Real Life

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

I think there is a possibility I might get kicked out of book club.

Or at the very least I will be labeled a killjoy.  Call it a hazard of the job, but I just find it hard to embrace novels or movies with dysfunctional family drama or unhealthy relationships.

Last month I pointed out the sociopathic behavior of one of the characters and how the heroine of the story got revenge in an equally dysfunctional way.  I was disturbed rather than entertained.  In this  month’s selection I was equally disturbed by a two day torrid sexual affair that the character was convinced was her true love.  She carried the pain of the loss of that relationship for her entire lifetime.

I have a dear friend who refuses to see Rom Coms.  He says that the plot always makes it  permissive for the protagonist to have an affair. The character is made so likeable that the audience is cheering on the infidelity.  Humor is craftily woven into the plot making it easy to condone these behaviors, and since it always works out well for the main character, who cares that the relationship started dysfunctionally?

Well, I guess I do.

I embrace the idea of escapism.  We all need a break from our daily lives and these movies and books offer entertainment and talk around the water cooler.  Who wants to read about stable, healthy relationships that depict mutual love and respect.  We want those relationships in theory but we don’t want to read about them because they are well, uh, kind of boring.

The problem I find is that people with relationship difficulties often seek out the drama and intensity that is portrayed in the movies.  They get addicted to intense beginnings.  The problem is that intense beginnings often have intense endings.  Healthy relationships trade that intensity for the slow development of trust and respect.  Both parties know and  respect themselves enough to maintain good boundaries in their relationships.  By being honest with themselves and with each other, they can adequately deal with their  relationship struggles without being an abuser or a victim.

The seemingly boring plot development of healthy relationships lacks drama and intensity, but the trade-off is a true feeling of trust, validation, intimacy,   and love.  Unfortunately, they don’t teach “Healthy Relationships” in high school and many families are poor role models.  So without knowing what a healthy relationship is, people may actually believe that what they see in movies or read in books is the way relationships are supposed to be.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you find that your relationship is mirroring the drama of a romance novel or a rom com, it may be time for a tune up.  You may need to trade some of the drama for a healthy dose of reality and some guidance in healthy relationship behaviors.  Working towards healthy, fulfilling relationships is a key ingredient to life’s peace and happiness.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC, RD/LD

 


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