Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Better Than Before




I read the book, Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin for Blogging For Books . It's basic premise and question is, "how we change" and I believe her conclusion is that we change by developing and keeping good habits. She has a lot of practical advice paired with research for all her habits she discusses. 

She discusses four types of personalities when it comes to making habits, the upholder, obliger, the rebel, the questioner. She states she is an upholder and for upholders her material might be relatable. Her ability to empathize with those different than her seems to be a little bit short sighted. I am a rebel (according to her book) but I disagreed with rebels just breaking rules, struggling with discipline and being seen as lazy teenagers. Most people I know would describe me as very disciplined and mastering a habit has never been difficult for me. I like don't like the status quo and I enjoy breaking rules :) However, I know that discipline has it's dark side. 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked in treatment centers specifically for those struggling with eating disorders I was uncomfortable with all her talk about eating less sugar, exercising more and wanting to lose a few pounds. It felt so typical to me and completely unaware of a very large population who is so good at discipline and strict diets that they are now in treatment centers for starving themselves or over-exercising. I think I felt a bit protective of this population as she made it seem that everyone just wants and needs to lose a few pounds! (Does this have to be the American dream?!) I found the research to have many holes in it especially after working with nutritionists and diet techs in my profession. Anyway, I digress :)

I did enjoy her practical advice on organizations and un-cluttering her home. I did feel she might be over-functioning for everyone around her by offering to clean out their closets for them. It's one thing to do something for yourself, it's another to need to everyone to do the same as you to lower your anxiety or stress. 

I really enjoyed her previous book, The Happiness Project and I always think her goals on getting more sleep is absolutely admirable (and so important for everyone). It's always hard for me not to over-analyze an author whose book's genre is "self-help" especially when it seems that in order to be "happy" or "better" one needs to do all these things externally to create peace inside. I am more interested in books that go "inside" and because of this intentional soul searching and soul tending, are now able to change a few poor habits. Overall I did not love the book. I would probably rank this as a 2.5



Sunday, April 9, 2017

52 Books In 52 Weeks

Hello!

Spring is upon us and with it San Diego is experiencing a super bloom. I have never seen this place so green and lush with wild flowers sprawling all over.

I thought it is time to do a little update on my progress on one of goals Scott and I created in January 2017. Hopefully each quarter I will give an update :)

This year we decided to participate in 52 books in 52 weeks. We have both been out of graduate school for a number of years and also I recently passed all my state boards; so we figured we are in a unique place to accomplish such a feat. For one, we have the energy (because we are not studying) and two, we don't have kids (just a fuzzy puppy) so our evenings could be dedicated to reading over Netflix and Hulu. :)


On our vacation to the UK we were so inspired by all the beautiful bookstores lining the cobblestone streets (especially up in St. Andrews, Scotland) where tea was served and books of every category, genre and color weaved it's way around the room. We decided to make a list of all the genres of books we hoped to read and also created a few guidelines (I say guidelines because rules are a drag)

We decided we would each get to recommend 3 books to one another. And we also decided we get a maximum of 10 re-reads. (If we didn't have this guideline, Scott would read all 7 of the Harry Potter series probably three times).

Here are the categories we picked in no particular order:

Children Literature
Self-Development
Humor
Mental Health
Spirituality
Classics
Science
History
Biography
Finances
Memoir
Marriage
Poetry
Feminism

Scott and I picked our categories like we were picking team mates in gym class. Scott picked History and I picked Mental Health. He picked Biography and I picked Humor. We both picked Children's Literature because we loveeeeee it. We didn't pick 52 categories because we wanted to give ourselves freedom to read outside of these genres. Scott recently read a whole book on the former Padre's manager, Larry Bowa and I am reading a theory book on Internal Family Systems and neither of these fit entirely within our categories.

I was a little behind for awhile but right now I'm about caught up. I am 1/4 of the way done with meeting my 2017 goal!

Here are the books I've read so far:


  1. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink*
  2. Out Of Sorts By Sarah Bessey*+
  3. Flourish by Margaret Feinberg
  4. Sandy Toes by Robin Jones Gunn
  5. A Little Princess by Frances Hudgon Burnett*
  6. Spiritual Sobriety by Elizabeth Esther+
  7. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them by J.K. Rowling
  8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hudgon Burnett
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  10. Small Victories By Anne Lammott
  11. People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
  12. The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger
  13. The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns+
  14. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui *+

*Favorites (It is so hard to pick favorites)
+ Would recommend

P.S. Try not to be offended that I didn't recommend Harry Potter to you. There will be many in the world who will. 

P.P.S. I'm reading the Harry Potter series for the first time. #staycalm

Saturday, March 4, 2017

5 Ways to Recognize an Unhealthy Relationship

For just a minute imagine all your friends. Imagine the people you spend the most time with, the ones you call when you need to vent and who you text when  you’re upset. Visualize your circle, your community and to those you feel you most belong. Close your eyes if you need to. What are the qualities or characteristics that come to mind when you think of those you share life with? Are they funny? Smart? Artistic? Do they sometimes belittle what you say or do they have trouble communicating what they want? Whatever the qualities are; stay curious about them. As Jim Rohn says, “We are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with” so it’s important to take inventory from time to time regarding who we spend time with. They (you know those “they say” people, they’re smart) that in order to know what you’ll be like in 10 years all you have to do is see who you hang out with and that will give you a good idea of what kind of person you will be.



When NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) asked that I give a talk specifically on recognizing unhealthy relationships I was stoked! I love talking about relationships. I think I’m probably a bit of a buzz kill with my friends because I almost find it on the hobby spectrum, analyzing, assessing roles, seeing patterns, identifying cycles, discussing boundaries (so much fun!!!). So this past Thursday I talked about the 5 things that are signs of an unhealthy relationship. I (of course) made a  very long list of all the red flags, signs, and how to recognize un-health in relationships but I didn’t have 10 hours to speak, (I had one) so I had to figure out a way to trim it down. I landed on my 5 things that lead to an unhealthy relationship. I picked them because they are some of the most common ones I see among my clients as well as ones I have encountered personally.


1.     Criticism

According to the Gottman Institute a relationship that includes lots of criticism creates a very unsafe place for a relationship to survive. And by criticism I am referring to the expression of disapproval based off of perceived faults (yes just perceived). Gottman has discovered that there are four traits or qualities that will cause negative and unhealthy interactions in relationships, including criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. I picked criticism as my top one to focus on today because it is the most common one to pop up in my work with clients. Often there is some stonewalling or defensiveness but usually if people are really seeking help and treatment for their relationship they have learned to check those at the door. Criticism often comes up in different ways whether it’s criticizing someone’s cooking, their art, their body or intellect. Criticism is different than feedback. Feedback has an intention of being positive and helpful and is also requested when the relationship feels safe. Criticism can often feel like an insult and does not help a relationship grow or thrive.  Criticism is often linked to rigid standards, perfectionism and shame inducing behavior. It ultimately creates an insecure attachment in relationships where there is no safety or authentic intimacy.


2.     Physical, Verbal, Emotional, Sexual Abuse

I realize this one may sound like a no-brainer. Of course abuse is a sign of unhealthy relationships! But unfortunately knowing this and actually acting upon this knowledge and letting it change our relationship patterns is much easier said than done.  According to the National Collation Against Domestic Violence 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. So this shows that it is extremely common to be in an abusive relationship and often it is just hard to perceive. The cycle of violence diagram here shows how power and control can be a catalyst for abuse. Often it is hard for people to come to terms with accepting and (then getting help) that they are in an abusive relationship especially if there is no physical damage. Emotional and verbal abuse should be taken seriously and will never lead to a healthy and safe relationship. Many who experience psychological and emotional abuse experience depression and PTSD. It was only in 1993 that marital rape was finally considered a crime in all 50 states (which is crazzzzzzy) and was put under a sexual offense code.  So in a lot of ways, we are still learning and growing when it comes to understanding abuse and violence and how truly detrimental it is relationally.

3.   Poorly Differentiated Self

Differentiation is a term used within Bowen Family Therapy. It’s a theory that does a lot of work focused around the family system or an emotional unit. Differentiation refers to the ability to separate feelings and thinking. It is a process of self-definition and self-regulation. In life, we are constantly learning to balancing between togetherness and individuality, both of which can be tricky to do. So someone who is poorly differentiated may just become more and more like you the longer they date you for example. They may decide they like all your hobbies, your favorite colors and eat all the same foods you eat. Scott and I have a lot of similar beliefs and values and even some similar hobbies. But we also have some differences. He loves reading fantasy fiction and I have a difficult time engaging in that type of genre. He enjoys cooking but I think it’s stressful and annoying. I love staying up late and he is a major early bird. The fact that we are different in some areas is good, natural and normal. I don’t want to blend in to Scott and he doesn’t want to blend entirely into me. A person who is not secure in themself, relies on being the same in order to reduce anxiety. This comes up often in parent/child relationships as children become adults and learn how to interact with their parents from an authentic self. Things like having different politics, spiritual beliefs or even passions can cause the level of the anxiety in a family to increase. Bowen actually believes that “that people choose mates with equivalent levels of differentiation to their own. (We seek people at a similar level of development). Not surprisingly, then, the relatively undifferentiated person will select a spouse who is equally fused to his or her family of origin (equally sane or equally crazy)”

4.     Inability To Say No

One of the top ways I can spot an unhealthy relationship in my office or even in my personal life is how someone responds to the word “no”. Unsafe relationships are characterized by having no boundaries and a fear of saying no. Within this context generally there is a controller in the relationship and a person who submits to the control.  An easy way to spot this early on in the relationship is how a partner responds to someone’s sexual boundaries. If one person does not feel comfortable engaging sexually as soon as the other partner wants to this should be respected. If this boundary is pushed, mocked or ignored this is a red flag that there is little respect and an aversion to hearing “no.” With my clients I am constantly teaching them consent and what it means. Even little kids can come to understand their own personal boundaries or “bubbles” and begin practicing saying no. As BrenĂ© Brown says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” In order to have a healthy relationship it is absolutely essential to be able to say no.


5.     Not Communicating Wants and Needs

If there is one sign I can relate to struggling with most, this would be the one. I was in a very intense off and on relationship in my 20’s that seemed to embody this problem perfectly. Neither of us wanted to share what we wanted or needed. We were scared to be vulnerable and because of this we both tip toed around each other, guessing, hoping, mind reading and hoping that by some chance we’d figure each other out. Well since I don’t live in a chic flic this didn’t happen. (do you want to date a human or a mind-reader/psychic/fortune teller/someone magical from Harry Potter: you have to decide)
I can generally tell that a couple is devitalized by how able they are to express their personal wants and needs and desires (assuming of course they are not in an abusive relationship, now differentiated, able to say no).  In our American culture we are so preoccupied with appearing independent, hard working and “pull yourself up by the boot straps” mentality that we struggle with asking for help. It often causes us to feel shame to need help but the reality is we all need help. We all thrive better together. Unfortunately the media and many romance novels, or romantic comedies have made it look like we should be pursuing a relationship in which our partner can read our mind (they just always know how I am thinking and feeling). This is not our reality. We each have different brain functions and neural pathways and it is our responsibility to communicate how we feel and want we want. Assuming someone else will do this for us is under-functioning and not empowering. My husband and I practice this regularly and I think it’s so valuable and lo and behold we have found we have different desires and even sometimes needs and it okay (the sky has not fallen yet)! But we both have experienced so much security knowing we are each other’s safe place to share our wants and needs with.


Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Rewire your Brain after a Break-Up (so you can surviveValentine's Day)




I remember one February I went through a particularly hellish break-up, which according to research, is really frighteningly common. Sure break-ups are normal, most people have a few of them in their lifetime, but the scary part is the staggeringly high number of breakups that happen in February. In fact, more couples break up in February than in any other month with the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day being the most popular day on the calendar for couples to call it quits. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me two days before Valentine’s Day in Las Vegas, and I will never forget sitting slumped on the carpet in the hallway of the 11th floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino. 

Break-ups are rough but they are the absolute worst in February. When you go through a break up, all those “I feel good” chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin that are so prevalent when you were dating now start racing out of your system looking for the nearest exit. Your brain is literally depletes itself of good feelings, while cortisol, the stress hormone, rushes to move into the newly vacated real estate in your brain. 


This leaves you:

  • exhausted, because your adrenal glands are activated 
  • with a weaker immune system because dopamine and oxytocin actually help regulate that sort of thing 
  • quite possibly with head and body aches as inflammation in your body soars 
  • with an overall feeling of gloom and doom, because breakups suck and now you are sad.

But it’s not all bad news (I mean, it is mostly bad news but we have to find a silver lining somewhere right???) because the brain is made to heal itself and recover. Your brain literally knows how to create new pathways. While the month of February might be screaming at you to remember you ex every time you see another red heart or another special for a couples massage, keep in mind your brain is ultimately on your side. 

Here are five things you can do to help re-wire your brain while going through a break-up this month:


Pick Out A Mantra 

Whether it’s “this feeling will pass” or “I can do this,” mantras are powerful ways to stay present and mindful in the midst of chaos. And right now, your brain is in chaos. Repeat your mantra daily when you start to spin or feel anxious or fantasize about ways to seek revenge on your ex. As you repeat your mantra your brain will begin creating a new neural pathway that will be your lifeline when the gloom and doom hits. 

Try Something New
This one is a non-negotiable. Your brain is great with memories, especially emotionally charged memories. So the goal here is to create a new memory. Join a class and learn about art, music, or writing. Go on a trip to somewhere you’ve never been. Try a food you’ve never tasted before. Right now your brain needs new and novel experiences. Don’t be heading out to you and your ex’s favorite date spot or go-to coffee shop. At least for the first month, try something new and avoid the other stuff. There will be enough that will remind you of them (like the gaping hole in your heart). Don’t make it harder on yourself. 

Go Outside
According to this research getting out of the house and into nature can decrease blood flow to the subgenual pre-frontal cortex or the part of the brain that likes to obsess about stuff. If you want the part of your brain that loves ruminating to quiet down a bit consider getting out into nature. Take a hike, take a walk along the beach, or head to a local flower garden. Fresh air, new scents and a little movement in nature does wonders for the brain. 

Hang Out With Some Fur-Babies (read pets, not especially hairy infants…)
There are plenty of ways to volunteer when it comes to animals. The Humane Society offers many ways such as dog walking, pet bathing, administering medicine or cleaning out kennels to get involved. If you have a friend who has a pet, offer to take them for a walk. Pet owners (as I am one) love this. Sometimes you just need to snuggle with a fuzzy little dog or cat where you feel unconditional acceptance and love. When the brain feels safe and loved, the brain relaxes and this alone helps us to heal. 

Self-Care
I know many of these could fall under the “self-care” category but I want to address basic self-care such as eating, hydrating and sleeping. It’s easy to turn to coping skills that help us numb (i.e. drugs, alcohol, excessive shopping, under-eating or over-eating) but this is not the time to be cavalier about self-care, your immune system is already vulnerable. Lack of apatite might be normal after a loss, but your brain still desperately needs you to eat. The brain is made of fat and when don’t eat the foods we need, part of our brain begins to shut down. The same goes for sleep. When we don’t sleep there are all kinds of side effects such as increased blood pressure, impaired brain activity and a lowered immune system. If these things are not in place your brain will have trouble healing. Do what you need to make sure you have this part covered whether that’s reaching out to a trusted friend, a support group or a therapist.