What does it mean to be successful in therapy? That's a tricky question because each of us has unique issues and success means different things to different people. And what brings someone into therapy is also a unique situation. To one person it might be to get along better with his spouse. For another, to explore why anxiety is ever-present in her life. For someone else, it's learning to deal with the emotional scarring of a difficult childhood. Everyone has a different issue, so everyone must have a different definition of what success means in therapy. Or do they?
Ultimately, even though we all have different stories, the one common question is: "Do I have less pain/fear/emotional upset, etc. since I've been working on myself in therapy? " I content that if that answer is Yes, then the therapy is proving successful. Everyone who comes to therapy usually has an issue they're struggling with in their life. Perhaps they can't connect effectively with their spouse. Perhaps they have panic attacks that keep them from living a full life. Perhaps their work-situation has become intolerable and they don't know what to do to make things better. Whatever the reason that someone comes to therapy, everyone wants wants the same thing -- relief. Relief from pain. Relief from fear. Relief from whatever is in his or her way.
That is why no matter what therapist you go to, no matter what help is given, it all comes down to this... has therapy helped relieve your pain? Like any process, it might seem worse at first as your explore old wounds, and what brought you to where you are now. However, ultimately, successful therapy means helping you alleviate your pain/fear, etc. It's about giving you back the things you lost. It's about helping you clear away the issues that are holding you back, and letting you move forward into a brighter future.
Most of us spend time thinking and reflecting about our lives. And some of us are disappointed, or feeling as if we didn't accomplish the things we wanted to accomplish. Well, guess what? We're not dead yet! If you have something that you've always wanted to do, but haven't, maybe now's the time. Did you ever want to write a book? Perhaps you wanted to go horseback riding, but haven't gotten around to it. Sky diving? Okay, let's not go overboard, but if you have a dream, why not? We sometimes think we have all the time in the world to do the things we dreamed of doing. Well, that's not true. We all get older, and the older we get, the more set in our ways we tend to become. But as I said at the beginning of this post, we're not dead yet! So... Why not go for it?
None of us know what the future holds, so if you have a list of dreams you want to accomplish in your lifetime, perhaps now's the time to get started. Remember, it's one thing to dream your dreams, but the real key is being able to take action. I'm sure there were many people who have had big dreams they never attempted. You don't have to be one of them. You can start actualizing your dreams, just by taking concrete steps toward them. So, what are you waiting for? The world is yours, you just have to get started!
How many times have you done something at the spur of the moment and then regretted it? Perhaps you got upset because of something a family member said to you, perhaps you snapped at a co-worker because you thought they had slighted you in some way... this is what happens when we react to things without having a chance to think about them and make a choice to how we want to respond. Much like a doctor hitting your knee and causing your leg to move forward, we often react to things that are said in a "knee-jerk" way. Yet, once we've had a chance to consider our actions, we might choose to approach them differently.
It is important to recognize the difference between reacting and choosing. When we make a choice to do something, it's usually a thought-out, reasoned decision. When we emotionally react, it tends to often be a quick emotional response to something that happens. A good way to judge the difference is by recognizing whether you are rationally choosing what you are saying or doing, or if you are compelled to do it, with your emotions guiding your actions.
Anyone who has ever responded quickly when emotionally upset can see the difference between a reactive response and a reasoned, thought out one. The key to making choices that work more effectively in our favor as opposed to our detriment, is waiting for the emotional upset to subside before choosing what we want to do about a situation (especially an emotionally charged one). By giving ourselves a "pause" to consider what we want to do, we give ourselves time to let our reasoning have a say in our response as opposed to relying wholly on our emotions.
We love spending time with our kids. We nurture them, we take them to school activities and they truly light up our lives. However, they can also help destroy our intimacy with our partner... and worse! As the kids grow, they can get in the way of your connection with your spouse. To get their way, they may play one parent against the other and try and challenge your authority. Let's face it, kids are wonderful, but they can also be a real difficulty in your life when it comes to maintaining intimacy and connection with your significant other.
Many parents subscribe to the idea that "the kids come first." This is fine in a loving, parental way of caring for your children. However, when it comes to the connection between two partners, it can be devastating to the relationship. Before the kids came along, you were each the primary person in each other's lives. Now that the kids are present, they compete to be "first." And this is natural. However, while the temptation may be to side with the kids and put them first, it may not be the best thing you can do for your family. Not only for your spouse, but for the kids as well.
Kids thrive when they have limits and feel safe. When you give them the power over a situation they are not ready for, they may no longer feel within their limits of safety and as a result, can feel out of control. This in turn can create a situation where they act out and behave badly. And the more you cater to them, the worse it can get. On the other hand, when you and your spouse work together, putting your connection first, and then jointly deciding the best ways to parent the children, the kids tend to feel more safe and secure. They know you've got their backs. This often means they act out less, and understand the boundaries they live within. Plus, the more you and your spouse create household rules together for the children, the closer the two of you will become. So, in reality, while "the kids come first" sounds great, keeping you and your spouse primary in the relationship actually works better for all concerned.
Often couples come into therapy when they're at the end of their ropes. They've tried everything and don't feel that there's anything else they can do to make their relationship work. So, in a last ditch effort before calling it quits, they decide to come in to therapy. Yikes! That's an awful lot of pressure. By the time most couples walk in the door, one or both of them are ready to walk out of the relationship. So, what's a therapist to do? We're not miracle workers -- we're not able to miraculously wave a wand and make things better for the couple. However, there's one thing very powerful that we can do. We can hold up "hope" for the couple.
What that means is, when a couple starts to give up on the idea that things can get better and they don't know what to do to fix the situation, we can maintain hope for the relationship. By doing this, we can help be the glue that at least holds the relationship together long enough for the couple to see if the relationship can be saved, and perhaps strengthened. Giving up is something couples often do long before they physically leave the relationship. As a result, by the time they're sitting down in a therapist's office, they have already exhausted most of their efforts to repair the relationship.
One of the reasons to actually sit down with a therapist goes beyond whether or not you feel you've done everything you can to make your relationship work. It comes down to having someone in the room who can believe in the possibility that the relationship can work -- that can be an advocate for the relationship. In this way, the relationship, as well as the two people involved in the relationship have someone to hold out hope for the situation.
I find it interesting that even though we all have plans and dreams and goals we want to accomplish, we often live our lives as if we have all the time in the world. And it's only when we're reminded of our own mortality that we realize perhaps we should actually start getting things done. I don't know about you, and what you've been putting off, but I realized today that I haven't updated this website blog in over 5 months. I would like to update at least once every few weeks and yet it's been 5 months.
I could go into a long explanation and justification about how "busy I've been" and how my life is "complicated" and how I've been meaning to "get it done," but the truth is, it's just one of those things that has slipped through the cracks. I believe the key to accomplishing our goals seems to be making ourselves clear on our priorities and then taking action. For example, if I knew that I would lose $ 5,000 for every day I was late updating this blog, you can be well-assured that I would have updated this blog long before now.
That's why priorities are so important. What have you not been accomplishing in your own life that you've wanted to do? What is sitting on your back burner that is something you'll feel better getting done? Wouldn't it be great to be able to buckle down and get your stuff done and off your list? Well, it seems to me that the first step is organization. Figure out what you want to accomplish and make a list. The next step is creating priorities. And once you've prioritized your goals, then a schedule of what hour/day/week you are going accomplish them would be next.
And then the last step is just doing it. Taking action may be the hardest step to actually begin, but it's also the step that is filled with the most pride and sense of accomplishment when it's been done. And it's not that hard to get started. All it takes is a little determination and a little self-motivation -- and you'll be surprised at how much more empowered you feel. I know I do!
Do you ever wonder if you're running your life or your life is running you? How many times have you found yourself stuck obsessing over something where you felt you had no choice but to be worried and stressed out? How many times did you wish you could "let it go," instead of continuing to obsess? For example... suppose a friend is short with you on the phone and has to go abruptly. This may cause you to worry that she is mad at you about something. Then, for the rest of the week you keep thinking, "What could I have done to offend her? What did I do?" You obsess about it and think about it and spend hours worrying about it. Then, the next time you speak with her, she apologizes to you for being abrupt, but she had a meeting she was late to and needed to get off the phone. She was never mad at your at all.
So what just happened? You wasted many hours being unproductive because your mind was convinced something was wrong. This is what happens when our lives start running us instead of the other way around. All of us worry at times... we all have stress... but it's how we deal with this stress that is the difference between being able to manage our feelings and having them run out of control.
Almost all of us have wounds from childhood that have shaped some of our issues as adults. That's why a small incident can trigger a much larger reaction. Have you ever found yourself overreacting to something and not knowing why? Perhaps your child spills his milk and you react more upset that you realized. Perhaps your husband comes home a little late, yet you become very angry and upset even though he has a logical explanation.
This stuff often happens because we are triggered from events in our past. Perhaps your mother yelled at you when you spilled your milk as a child. Perhaps your first boyfriend cheated on you. Then... the next thing you know, you are reacting very strongly to anything that looks like what happened in the past. These type of reactions are things we all face. However, it's how we deal with them that makes the difference between a life that we "choose," as opposed to a life where we just "react."
I believe the key is recognizing our triggers. Understanding where are reactions come from. In that way, we can separate ourselves from the trigger and by so doing, allow ourselves to not always react in ways that may be harmful to ourselves and our relationships. It's not easy to do -- especially at first -- but the more we can understand our motivations and where they are coming from, the less we will take out our own issues on our friends and family.
Wow, we're almost through two months of the year! It seems that every year our lives move faster and it gets tougher and tougher to keep up with the march of time. What if this year we made a conscious decision to slow things down just a bit in an effort to really focus on the things we want to accomplish. We tend to spend so much of our lives running from one activity to the next... whether it be school or work or family obligations... that we don't always spend enough time considering the path we're on and how we choose to follow it.
And here's where things require a bit of thought. What is it we actually value the most? What are the things that truly matter to us. Friends? Family? Our accomplishments? How do we spend our days? Is it in front of a computer screen decompressing? Doing the same activities day after day? If those activities are what we choose and truly make us happy, that's great. The important thing is to live our lives consciously. I don't know about you, but I know a lot of people (myself included some of the time) who kind of live our lives by default. We move from one activity to the next almost mindlessly because we've never taken the time to sit down and truly consider what it is we want to accomplish in our lives.
The good news is, that can change in an instant. All we have to do is start living more conscious lives. Lives where we question what we want. Lives where we give thought to what we want do accomplish and then take action. If you're completely satisfied with your life, that's great. However, if you have thought about wanting to make changes, you can actually do something about it. Today. All it takes is starting down the road -- a little at a time -- toward your goals. By clarifying what we want, and then formulating a pathway to achieve it, it's amazing what we can accomplish. And it all starts with living consciously. It all starts with a little thought and then taking a little action. And from that little action, who knows what big things can follow!
It seems to me that getting what we want is something we really should concentrate on this year. Why? Because each year we get older and often find ourselves dissatisfied with where we are in our lives. Why is this so? Is it because we don't have the dream job we'd like to have? Is it because outside pressures are making things difficult for us? Is it because we don't have enough time to concentrate on the people we love? Or maybe it's a combination of these. Whatever the reasons, I would suggest we work on finding a solution.
Often I hear that it's tough to be comfortable and happy in our lives because of outside pressures. People want us to be a certain way. They want us to conform to their idea of how our lives should be. And yet, when do we get to have things the way we want them to be? When can we stop feeling the pressure of our jobs, our families, our life's difficulties? Maybe we can start defining our own lives and choices today. Maybe today can be a defining moment in our lives.
I have an idea... Let's take a minute and really examine what we want in life. Let's think about it. What would you like your life to look like?
If you can't answer that, that's okay. Just give it some thought over the next few days. Because I believe that one of the things that holds us back from the life we want to lead, is that we're not really all that clear on what that life looks like. And once we're able to look at it consciously and really examine what we believe would make our lives better, then we can start working toward it. And once we start working toward making our dreams a reality, then I believe we can really start to set our own agenda and start living into the dreams we have for ourselves and our families. Happy 2016 everyone. Let's make this our year!
We've all heard the phrase, "unconditional love." But what does that mean? For example, what do we do when we find out our girlfriend is cheating? Is that okay because we "unconditionally" love her? Or what if our boyfriend bets away our rent money? Do we still stand by his side as we are evicted from our apartment? When our partners behave badly, how do we summon "unconditional love?" Do we even want to?
When we love someone unconditionally does it prove we are more highly-evolved human beings? Or does it prove we are doormats who are willing to stand for anything our partners dish out? I believe the truth is that unconditional love does not mean love without boundaries. We can love someone and still feel that we have choices based on the way they are behaving.
All too often unconditional love is seen as a license by the other partner to do whatever they want. Children do this all the time. They test limits. They don't feel responsibility to their parents' feelings. Yet, good parents make sure they are not doormats. They work with their child so that (s)he understands their responsibility in the family. And I believe people in relationships need to do the same.
After all, you may love someone with all your heart. However, if they place you in jeopardy by their inconsiderate behavior, lines have to be drawn. You may love them unconditionally, but they have to know there are limits to what we are willing to live with in our lives. And that's the real test. Each of us needs to understand what our limits are, so that we can create boundaries to take care of ourselves. When our partners are behaving badly or recklessly, we need to know what is important to us and make sure we are taken care of -- especially when our family members are not doing so. In that way, we can still love the people in our lives unconditionally, but not have to be victims of their choices.
David Schwartz, M.S., LMFT
David brings a wealth of life experience to his therapy practice. In addition to his therapy training, David has been a self-motivated entrepreneur for over 20 years, as well as working as a producer in the television industry.
David Schwartz, MS., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist # 87261 -
30961 Agoura Rd., Suite 215, Westlake Village, CA 91361