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G.I.R.L.S. – New Girls Groups Starting in June 2016!

G.I.R.L.S. – New Girls Groups Starting in June 2016!

New Girl’s Group Starting in June 2016

LifePaths counselor Erin Calvert, LPCC is starting girls groups in June of 2016.  [This is an old post – but we still occasionally offer these groups – please get in touch with us to find out when!]

Erin will be using the G.I.R.L.S. (Girls in Real Life Situations) curriculum which she has conducted multiple times for Denver Schools.

The groups are open to girls ages 6-18 and Erin will place the girls in groups of similar ages and interests.

On our main website you will find an introduction to the group from the workbook itself, as well as a pre-test that allows the girls to express interest in different topics to be covered.

Give us a call at 303-801-7878, or email us at info@lifepathscounseling.com for more information. We hope to hear from you!

Normal: What’s That? Am I Normal?

Normal: What’s That? Am I Normal?

Am I Normal?  What Is Normal?

I hear this question a lot. Most of the time, it is either because the person is worried about a reaction to a traumatic event of some kind – or when he or she is “losing it” trying to deal with a difficult person in their life.  What is normal?  I like to say that how we respond in difficult situations is often “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.”

I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase (I can’t claim it as my own), but I do remember it being extremely helpful to me and it has also become helpful to many others as well.

What do we mean by “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances?”

An example might be this: If a couple was in a car accident with their child, and their child was hurt – both of them would likely work together to deal with the immediate circumstances such as getting help, talking with the other driver and emergency responders, riding to the hospital with the child, and so on. In my example, let’s say mom was the one driving. Months later, she begins to feel anxiety (or even panic) every time she needs to drive her family anywhere. This might progress to the point where she is not able to drive at all because the sense of dread or fear is so overwhelming.

At some point, this mom may start questioning her own sanity. Logically, she knows that the danger of driving a car is no more than it was at any other time in her life, but she still isn’t able to overcome the fear. This is one way that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) shows up in a person’s life and can prompt the question, “Am I normal?” No, it doesn’t feel normal but it is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.

Another example might be a woman who has a co-worker who is very good at manipulation and who also wants very much to get a promotion that both of them are being considered for. The co-worker begins to quietly sabotage her in various ways such as purposely giving the woman incorrect information causing her to make costly mistakes in her work, or covertly causing interpersonal problems for her with other co-workers. The woman may then start to feel so anxious and apprehensive at work that she begins making mistakes without the “help” of her co-worker…and then questions her own judgment, ability, and emotional state as a result. Again, these are abnormal circumstances and her reaction is way too common!

The good news is that with a compassionate look at these situations, each person can find ways to change their situations and stop wondering if they are “normal.”

Does some situation from your own life come to mind as you read this? We would love to hear your thoughts or comments.

Photo courtesy of Nenetus and freedigitalphotos.net

Resilience For Well-Being and More

Resilience For Well-Being and More

Resilience and Well Being

Some things about the idea of “resilience” are obvious. When you have it, you can manage stress better. You have more of a sense of well-being.

I believe resilience also protects your physical health, and that the relationships in your life are overall more healthy and rewarding than they would be otherwise.

So, if you don’t feel like you have resilience, how do you create resilience for yourself?

Here are a few ideas to consider.

Check your thinking style.

Are you a positive or negative thinker? Negative thinking will erode your resilience. Fast.

You can use one of our free downloads to see if one or more of those ways of negative thinking fit you. First, check out these forms of negative thinking that we call “cognitive distortions.” Then you can use another one of our handouts on changing negative thinking to help yourself notice and then shift the way you think about things to be more helpful, rather than harmful.

There can always be a silver lining, even in dark and difficult circumstances.

Use curiosity.

Curiosity leads us to learn new things, to explore options, and to appreciate another’s point of view. Our choices open up when we look at the world through curious eyes and it creates a very different way of seeing. Creative solutions to problems may come to mind, and you may find more of a sense of hope and courage as you approach difficult situations.

Change what you can, let go of the rest.

One of my most important lessons in life has been about control. There is a lot in life that we can’t do anything about. Bad things happen and life doesn’t always go the way we want. If you can separate the things you can control, and the things you can’t – then you are able to 1) worry less over things you can’t do anything about, and 2) keep your energy for changing things you can control.

Try this question, “What can I control, and what is out of my control?” when you are faced with a difficult situation. It may seem like a simple question, but there is a lot of personal power in considering this. Just asking the question shifts your focus to more helpful ways of thinking and acting.

Accept that you will be uncomfortable sometimes.

Being able to tolerate the less desirable emotions we “get to” feel as human beings is an important skill. Yes, we try to minimize feelings such as anger or sadness but they happen to us all sometimes. If you can tolerate those emotions and accept that you’re going to have to feel them once in a while, it is going to help you have more resilience.

There are a few helpful things to remember to help yourself tolerate uncomfortable emotions. 1) You aren’t going to feel that way forever. 2) Emotions are feedback about what is going on in life and are important survival skills. Sadness helps us to gain empathy from others we care about, and connect with them, for instance. Fear tells us there is something to watch out for and avoid. Use your emotions, don’t let them control you.

Surround yourself with people who build you up, not bring you down.

To some extent, the people in our lives are mirrors. We reflect things back and forth between us about who we are and how the world is. If you have many negative people in your life, or unhealthy people, this is going to tend to bring you down emotionally, rather than build you up. The things we expose ourselves to in life are a big factor in how we see the world and that definitely includes the people we spend time with!

Take a look at the most important relationships in your life – family, close friends, work friends, neighbors. Who are you spending most of your time with? Do you feel comfortable, or is it more likely that you feel anxious, angry, or depressed after time with certain people? Limiting time with the people that bring you down, or increasing the time you spend with people who build you up can help.

Do you have other ideas about how to build resilience in yourself?

Photo courtesy of Iosphere and freedigitalphotos.net

Sacrifice and Service

Sacrifice and Service

Sacrifice and Service of US Military Men and Women

With today being Memorial Day, I am not only thinking of the sacrifices of so many men and women who have served in our military, I am also thinking of one particular person’s willingness to serve her country – my daughter. The point of this holiday is to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died serving in the military. My daughter will be coming home soon, and there are too many who will never get to do that. I have a tremendous amount of respect, sorrow, and gratitude for this. I also have seen many smaller sacrifices our military service men and women make. I know I couldn’t possibly capture all of what this means here in a blog post, but read on for a tiny glimpse into what life is like for our military and their families, from the perspective of one sailor’s mom.

I think we are all aware of these things on some level, but now that I’ve been closer to the experience, I have a whole new appreciation for the details of what each of these means:

They leave their home and loved ones.

Almost four years ago, I attended her Navy basic training graduation. We didn’t have a clear idea of what was in store for the next four years – for her or for us back home. We were not thinking about sacrifices – we were excited and hopeful.

There are no words to describe how fantastic it was to see that door opening, knowing that in seconds I was going to see her march in, and be able to give her a big hug very soon. For her, she had not only been away from home, friends, family and all that was familiar – she had been immersed in a whole new life full of hard work, no privacy, some sailor puking at any given time, pain, and lack of sleep.

Over the next four years she would go on two deployments and have countless additional days at sea for training and testing exercises. In port, days are long and the work is tedious. At sea, days are long, busy, and aircraft are launching off and landing back on the carrier at all hours. All through this – she missed a lot of special events like graduations, weddings, birthdays, and holidays. And constantly missed everyone back home. Yes, there are bright moments too like receiving a care package, or getting a day of liberty in a foreign port. But none of this takes away from being homesick and being away from people you love.

Difficult living conditions.

I had the great fortune to do what’s called a Tiger Cruise, which is when family members can live on the ship with their sailors for the last leg of a deployment, usually for a week or two. Mine was from Hawaii to San Diego a few years ago. It is a fantastic experience and also is an in-your-face look at how they live on deployments. I absolutely know there are worse conditions for soldiers and marines. But sailors don’t have it easy at all.

How in the world do the big guys fit in the racks to sleep? There wasn’t enough room for me to turn over easily and I nearly fell out of mine in the middle of the night the first night. The rack I slept in was about three and a half feet above the floor, and it was comedy in action watching me get in or out. The pallet can barely be called that at about four inches thick. I have no idea how those sailors do it on seven to eight month deployments.

It is amazing to see how well space is utilized on a Navy ship, but this also means that there is very little room for a sailor’s personal space–either for your stuff or your body. Tight quarters mean that tempers can flare pretty easily, especially near the end of a deployment. I have gained a whole new respect for how being in the military means you must be able to organize your self and your stuff and be able to function with the absolute minimum. The limited space also means there is simply very little room for comfort.

In port, the barracks are not much better!

On top of having to live like this, every sailor I’ve talked to simply took these things in stride. Yes, they complain sometimes and yes, they can get irritated with the conditions. But they also accept them and deal with it, and often they laugh about it. When asked about the living conditions, the response I heard most often was something like, “Hey, it is what it is.”

Not-so-great food.

This probably falls under “difficult living conditions” but I felt it deserved its own separate place in this list. I can’t imagine the level of effort that goes into keeping enough food on a carrier to feed 5,000 sailors, or what goes into getting it prepared three times a day. I never thought about this before I saw it in action. And as you might expect, the quality suffers a bit. When I was on the ship for a week, neither I nor any of the visiting family members I spent time with expected great food, and it wasn’t. We knew this was a working Navy ship, not Carnival Cruise Lines. But apparently they brought better food on board for the Tiger Cruise, and you would have thought we were having the best food in all our lives to hear the sailors talk about how great it was.

They are in harm’s way.

Every single person in the military knows that he or she may be called on to make that ultimate sacrifice. They know it every day, and willingly put themselves in harm’s way. I have to say that it has astonished me when I’ve asked any soldier, sailor, marine or airman about this. Without exception, every single one I have asked has brushed it off as if they are embarrassed to acknowledge how important this is. It isn’t living in denial, and it doesn’t seem like fear either. It is humility. And acceptance that this is what they committed to. This is part of why we call them heroes.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

I hope that my own gratitude for our military members’ sacrifices comes across here. If you are feeling this, too, you might be wondering what you can do to show it.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a care package – many military support organizations have occasional “packing parties,” especially as it gets close to the holiday season. If you are interested in learning more about this, give me a call and I’m happy to talk about it! Getting a package means a lot, especially on long deployments.
  • Say thank you – to any military service person you meet. They appreciate hearing it.
  • Contribute to an organization that serves the military community such as Give An Hour, or Wounded Warrior Project.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments, noticed I missed something important, or have a question.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have served, or are serving now.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

Forgiveness or Punishment: It’s Your Choice

Forgiveness or Punishment: It’s Your Choice

Forgiveness or Punishment: It’s Your Choice

Some people may hear the phrase, “Forgive and Forget” and feel unburdened by its lightness, and even follow the advice without a second to waste. Others might shudder at the idea, which is understandable. There is enormous pressure in that tiny phrase! To first insinuate that forgiving is so easy, and then to suggest that a person does so and subsequently forgets what hurt them: How rude! Forgiveness can be tough, so don’t let phrases or other people belittle your situation. We live in a world with so much beyond our control, but we do have total control over our own decisions, attitude and actions. Put simply, your forgiveness is yours, and only you can decide when or if you give it.

Choosing to forgive benefits you much more than the person who has hurt you. By choosing to forgive, you are allowing yourself a pathway towards a sense of peace. Holding onto hurt can feel like you’re living in a constant state of unsettlement, thereby affecting other relationships in your life and sometimes your health. When you forgive, in a way, you set yourself free. But you may have things, chains if you will, holding you back from forgiving.

Your chains might be:

Wanting revenge, or the other person to “pay” for what they have done. I’m sure we have all pictured ourselves as nighttime vigilantes making justice at some point or another. But the reality is that masking yourself and taking care of business isn’t totally legal, or logical, and lingering on the need for justice only keeps the problem contemporary, instead of letting it fade into the past like DaVinci’s first attempt at the Mona Lisa, the “Mona Uvula.” …It just doesn’t sit right.

Unhelpful beliefs about what forgiveness means, such as:

  • Forgiveness makes the offense okay
  • Forgiving means you are weak
  • Forgiving means you’re a pushover
  • Forgiveness must be earned with an apology or some kind of action
  • Forgiveness is not possible for this particular offense

On the contrary, forgiveness does not justify the offense, takes incredible strength to give, and is always possible to give, even if the person who hurt you is no longer around to receive it.

An illusion of control felt by holding back forgiveness. You may not even be aware of it, but holding back forgiveness can give you a sense of power, like having the last word in an argument. It may feel like you are punishing the other person this way, but whether or not they feel your “punishment”, you yourself are suffering from the anger and resentment. Remember that the true control is over yourself and the choice of forgiveness; the illusion of control comes into play when you feel empowered over the other person by your very real control of your forgiveness.

Whatever your chains may be, here are some bolt cutters! (or tools to help you forgive):

  • Consider what beliefs you have that could be holding you back. Challenge them. If loosening up on one or more of your beliefs could help you let go of hurt, why not try it?
  • Talk about it. Sometimes a little blah blah with someone you trust is all it takes to get something settled in your head.
  • Take care of yourself. Take some you-time. Decompress. Do or discover what helps you feel comfortable and at peace, whether it’s bubble bathing, a one-on-one session with a chocolate bar or three, nature walks, etc… Just focus on floatin’ that boat of yours.
  • Think about the things that are within your control and the things that are not. Think about how much more control you could gain over yourself and your feelings; by forgiving, you are NOT allowing the offense to continue to hurt you. If you really think about it, forgiving is putting your foot down on pain. Put the foot! (You can chant it to yourself, secretly, awesomely.) (Put the foot, put the foot, put it!)
  • Forgiveness, because it can be so difficult, is something to be proud of. Rewrite the story you tell yourself about what happened to include your own courageous act of forgiving. If you can taste the triumph, perhaps it’s time to eat it. (Forgive in real life.)

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. People are often harder on themselves than others, and the shame or guilt you feel might be preventing you from allowing forgiveness to bring healing. Just remember number four on the “tools” list: you don’t have control over the past (as time machines are not yet a thing), but you do have control over yourself and future choices. Choose to put your foot down on pain and let the healing begin. …Put the foot!

by Joanna Brewer

About the Author: Ms. Brewer works for LifePaths Counseling and is also a freelance writer and musician. If you liked her article, go ahead and subscribe to our blog to get notified each time a new article is posted. She will be writing more for us soon!

Well-being: Living Your Values

Well-being: Living Your Values

Living Your Values

The idea of “living your values” is one that I often talk about with clients and can be helpful in building self-esteem, improving well-being, working through tough situations in life, and gaining understanding in relationship problems.

What are your most important values? Do you use these to improve well-being?

Here are a few thoughts on “living your values.” Take what you like to improve your life in some way.

To start with, what do I mean by ‘values?’ These are personality traits, or the ways of being that are most important to you. They may be honesty, responsibility, creativity, or giving a certain amount to charity, or the things that are most important to you in life, such as your family or the work you do.

If you want to, you might explore Dr. Martin Seligman’s list of common values and find those that are most important to you by going to the Authentic Happiness website and find their 240-question VIA (Values in Action) Survey of Character Strengths. It doesn’t take long and after you finish you get a list of the 24 character strengths (values) in the order of importance to you.

Then, what do I mean by “living your values?” Is it:

LIVE your values? …or…

Live YOUR values? …or…

Live your VALUES?

It is all three?

When you LIVE your values, you make them extremely important in your day-to-day life. You demonstrate them, you act on them. If your family is important to you, then you do the things that demonstrate that to yourself and to them. If the work you do is important to you then you strive to do your best at it. If optimism is important to you, you show it in the way you look at life and the things you say.

When you live YOUR values, you don’t let others decide what your values are. YOU decide for yourself.

And when you live your VALUES you know them well and you let them strengthen your sense of self-worth. These characteristics are part of what makes you the unique person that you are and you honor that.

How does this translate to improving your life? Here are a few ways:

If your self-esteem is low or you want to strengthen your sense of well-being, make a list of what your values are. Why are these important to you? Consider how act on these values, and how you may not be acting on them. If there are areas you are not acting on them in a way that feels right for you, change that. Taking action in this way strengthens both self-esteem and well-being.

Is there a problem in an important relationship you have? If you can identify a difference in values between you and the other person, does this change how you see it? Sometimes when you can see it this way, it makes it easier to understand each other’s viewpoint. Does it present a possible solution or at least a compromise?

Are you having trouble making a tough decision in life right now? Perhaps it is a conflict between different values you hold. For instance, if a woman in an abusive relationship is faced with the decision to leave or stay, she might have multiple values in conflict. Personal safety and well-being may be values on one side of the equation, while honoring her commitment to the relationship (marriage vows) may be on the other. This creates a conflict, and makes it hard to decide what she must do.

How can you improve your sense of well-being by living your values?

by Catherine Wilson, LPC

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

What we can learn from Taylor Swift about self esteem and living life for all it’s worth.

What we can learn from Taylor Swift about self esteem and living life for all it’s worth.

Taylor Swift is definitely known for writing songs with a message. Her latest, “Shake It Off,” immediately struck me – it has a powerful message that goes right along with a lot of things I talk about with clients who are dealing with self esteem and self worth issues.

Did you hear the same messages I did?

When your self esteem is low, it is hard to be yourself. You might worry about what other people think, partly because you don’t think much of yourself to begin with. So why would anyone else?

Working on self esteem (and self worth) usually involves changing beliefs you have about yourself and about life itself. Through this you begin to appreciate and accept both positive and negative qualities you have.

To start with, here is a link to the video for Shake It Off in case you haven’t already seen it:

 

 

I love her spirit! And I think these lyrics carry some important messages:

Don’t worry so much about what other people think or say, be yourself. If you think about the people in your life that are important to you, are there one or two that you can really be yourself with? Doesn’t this feel great? What if you could do that all the time or at least most of the time anywhere you are? Taylor says, “haters gonna hate…” and this says to me that people will think what they will and that is THEIR problem, and you don’t have to make it yours.

There are lots of things about ourselves people don’t know. Sure, you don’t share everything about yourself with others. Why should you? You get to decide what people are allowed to know when it comes to who you are. So, if others don’t understand and then criticize you, does their opinion matter? No way. Because you know the whole truth about yourself, and you are the only one that really matters.

Things happen in life, keep on going. Sometimes life doesn’t exactly go the way you want. You make mistakes sometimes. And even when you don’t, sometimes events or situations in life aren’t very happy. Just shake it off! You don’t have to let this stop you from being who you are or appreciating who you are.

Try different things and you don’t have to be perfect! In her video, she’s trying several different types of dancing. Sometimes she’s doing it well, sometimes not so much! Through it all though her unique spirit and personality shine through. Does it matter whether she does it perfectly? No! She is having a great time, no matter what she does. She is making the most out of life. If you can find ways to do this for yourself it brings joy, and contentment, and well-being. And, people are drawn to you when you can really be yourself and enjoy life – this let’s your unique gifts shine through.

Enjoy life – we only get one shot at this. Why waste time getting down on ourselves when we could be enjoying life? If you are getting down about what others are saying, you are missing out on enjoying life when you do that, too.

I saw her in concert last year during her Red Tour. I loved it that she spent a few minutes in between songs to talk to her fans about being yourself, shaking off the things people say, and shaking off your mistakes. One unspoken message in those moments (and through her writing and interviews) is “I have to figure out how to deal with this stuff just like you do.”

If she can shake it off, you can too.

What do you think?

by Catherine Wilson LPC

Telephone Therapy: What You Need to Know

Telephone Therapy: What You Need to Know

Online Therapy or Telephone Therapy: What You Need to Know

Is doing therapy over the phone, or as online therapy, effective?

It can be, and we work with clients in phone sessions. There are a couple of things to consider before you go ahead though.

You lose some non-verbal cues. This is actually an important one for me as a counselor. Sometimes these cues are very important for me to observe and reflect back to you. For instance, there have been times when the look on a person’s face didn’t match what was being said. Exploring these cues can often lead to further insight that is valuable to you. Over the phone, you still have other non-verbal cues though such as tone, speed and volume in a person’s voice. A good counselor is paying attention to as much verbal AND non-verbal information as possible.

Privacy. There isn’t a guarantee of privacy when you are using the public network to communicate. This is true for phone calls, texts, emails and other information transmitted across the Internet and most people are aware of the possibility that any information could be captured. If you are going to discuss sensitive and personal information though, this is definitely something to consider. This post was originally written about 10 years ago and In the past few years, many HIPPA compliant options have become available.

Bad Connection. Although a lot of the time, we all must accommodate bad connections on the phone – cutting out, garbled voices, delay, a dropped call – if it happens during a therapy session it can be extremely disruptive. One lost word can change the meaning of what is being said. It is easier to be misunderstood. Both you and your therapist can usually overcome this by either initiating a new call, or being sure that you are in a place where you get a good signal.

Rules and Ethics. The rules and ethics governing counseling in your state, or your counselor’s profession, may limit how you can use telephone therapy.

At LifePaths, we make it a practice to only have telephone or online therapy sessions after at least one face-to-face meeting with a client.

Do the benefits outweigh the concerns above? For many people, the convenience and flexibility of being able to have sessions over the phone, by video, or some online therapy form, is valuable enough to go ahead. If you are able to, having phone sessions once in a while as opposed to all the time works out well.

Any other thoughts on the pros and cons of telephone counseling?

Catherine Wilson, LPC

Image courtesy of digital art and freedigitalphotos.net

LifePaths Counseling Center Survey

LifePaths Counseling Center Survey

Customer Survey – How Are We Doing?

LifePaths is sending out an online survey to past and current clients to get a feel for how well we are serving the people who come to us for help. Counseling is very private and personal though – so we had to be careful about a few important things first!

We wanted to be certain that asking for information from clients allowed for:

– privacy
– anonymity
– absolutely NO feeling of obligation to do the survey
– and, it needed to be as quick and easy as possible

Privacy

We took all the measures we could to protect the privacy of people responding. Everyone receives the same link for their counselor, and no IP addresses are tracked. Specific comments and individual results are only seen by the counselor and LifePaths’ Director and no one else.

Anonymity

I think a lot of counselors will ask clients (when it feels necessary): “How am I doing? Are we working on the things you want to work on? Are we making progress? Do we need to shift our focus at all?” For everyone involved in the therapy, the feedback you get from these questions helps to keep you focused on the goals. It may get therapy back on track, too.

Some counselors will also use a written form for feedback periodically. There are a few forms out there that have been used in research to study the effectiveness of counseling and counselors may use those, and some counselors may create their own form as well.

But what if you, as the client, aren’t quite comfortable telling your counselor directly that something isn’t going well? The counselors at LifePaths strive to check in periodically on how well counseling is going, but we wanted to add this anonymous way of giving us feedback, too.

I feel compelled to add this: if you are in therapy and something is not going quite right, please let your therapist know. The best way to address problems is directly. I believe that most therapists/counselors would be happy to get this kind of feedback – I know for sure that I appreciate this so much!! I would so much rather hear how things could change for the better, for you, rather than have you keep quiet about it for any reason at all. Oh, this could be a whole blog post all by itself!

No Obligation

This was also an important thing for us to consider. The relationship with your counselor is a very personal one; we wondered if our clients would feel some level of obligation to do the survey because of that. And we didn’t want that to be the case at all. So we’ve emphasized that this is completely voluntary. Multiple times. Really and no kidding – you are not obligated at ALL.

Quick and Easy

We definitely did NOT want to be a pain for anyone, so we made the questions as short and concise as possible and kept it to the most important information we were hoping to learn. There is a lot of space to elaborate if a person chooses, but this isn’t required at all. You probably could complete it all in five minutes if you wanted, or take much longer if you want to put in a lot of detail.

We appreciate and welcome any feedback – we want to do the best job we can for our clients. If you are or were a client and want to fill out a survey, and you haven’t heard from us yet, please get in touch with your counselor or with Cathy at info@lifepathscounseling.com to get a link.

Any thoughts on how you would feel about being asked to fill out a survey like this for a counselor? Or thoughts on what it would be most important to learn about how counseling is going?

Image credit courtesy of tiramisustudio and freedigitalphotos.net

Self Esteem

Self Esteem

The subject of self esteem comes up fairly often in counseling sessions, but lately it has come up a lot more than usual.

It is one of the best topics to discuss… there are so many things that influence self esteem, and so many components to consider. And simply having a discussion about self esteem brings it to our awareness, which often leaves a person with a sense of improvement (or at least a little more positive view) than before.

It can be a daunting task to “improve low self esteem” and many people struggle with where to start. I thought it may be helpful to talk here about the most common topics that come up and how those relate to feeling more positive about one’s sense of self.

Be Yourself – This is one of those ideas that is extremely easy to say, and not always so easy to do. How many reasons do you think people can come up with to avoid revealing their true thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, personality, etc. etc.?? Yes, there are a LOT. But if you can be at peace with who you are and be able to share that uniqueness with others, it can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our experience here in this life. This idea always brings Brené Brown to mind, and her most recent book titled Daring Greatly. In her light-hearted yet direct style, she encourages each of us to take that risk to show our true selves and see how much more rich and beautiful the relationship in our lives can be.

In a recent YouTube exploration of this topic, I came across the music video for Sara Bareilles’ song, Brave. The lyrics in this song emphasize this exact same thing, and what a beautiful way to demonstrate it.

You might enjoy this Sara Bareilles too:

 

Live Your Values – Each of us has this unique set of values, of varying importance, that is a part of the person as an individual. One of the things that makes my work as a counselor so meaningful and important to me is the honor I feel when people allow me into their world, to share in their own unique individuality.

The values I’m talking about can vary a lot but the most common ones I talk with people about are honesty, self control, optimism, kindness, courage, integrity, and open-mindedness.

We run into problems though as human beings when we make choices that do NOT coincide with our values. None of us are perfect, right? But we try. And when we feel like we are falling short, our self esteem can take a hit, we feel shame or guilt, we fall into depression or anxiety, and more.

When I say “live your values,” what I’m getting at is if you are not happy with choices you’ve made, simply start now to make choices that you are happy with. One moment and one choice at a time, start to move closer to living your values, whatever those are. Each choice may feel small but each one brings you closer to showing with your actions who you really are.

Understand the Influences in Your Life – The most important areas of influence on self esteem come from family, friends, and society. When we are children, our family has the most influence. A child who is given unconditional love learns to love himself or herself unconditionally as well. As we mature, our friends begin to have more influence and peer pressure, bullying, social media, school performance, how we dress, and so much more begin to become a significant part of how we define the thing we all “me.”

And then there is society. I equate this to some extent with our media, and I could go on and on about the effect our media has on a person’s sense of self, body image, how we should act as a man or as a woman, and so much more. But that is probably a blog post all by itself! My point in this is that if we can understand the multiple influences on self esteem and how this relates to how I define “me,” we can overcome negative influences and strengthen the positive ones. We can decide what is true and what is not true for…”me.”

Acceptance – each of us has aspects of our self that we like and some we don’t like. If you can get to a place where you accept ALL of who you are, there is peace and well-being and a sense of self-worth.

I hope these ideas have given you some things to think about. I’d love to hear thoughts on how this relates to you, or thoughts you have that expand on self esteem.

Year End Time for Self-Discipline, Self-Control

Year End Time for Self-Discipline, Self-Control

Self-control and will power seem to come up more often at the end of the year during the holidays and especially New Year’s.

Between overindulging at holiday dinners, overspending, or making yet another New Year’s resolution this year because we didn’t stay with it last year, it seems that a lot of people struggle with maintaining self-control. There are ways you can make it easier on yourself and increase your chances of success.

I’ve listed a few ideas below that have worked for me and for people I know. Pick what you think will work, not every idea here is right for everybody. And not every idea here will fit what you are trying to accomplish. Some are more appropriate for meeting goals and some are more appropriate for managing through cravings.

People want to build up their self-control for many goals: overeating/weight loss, to stop spending so much, to stop smoking, to change a bad habit, get an exercise plan going, and the list goes on.

First – the basics. Build your resilience by taking good care of your body. When you are functioning well physically you are better able to handle stress and challenges to your will power.

  • Take care to get enough good quality sleep
  • Get enough physical exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet – protein and whole grains help your brain to work at its best, and this will help you when you are trying to resist impulses.

I do realize that the irony of saying what I just did is that getting enough exercise and/or eating a balanced diet may be exactly the thing you are trying to build your self-control to accomplish.

Read on for more ideas!

Put it in writing and track progress with a calendar or journal. For some people, a goal is strengthened when we put it in writing. Whatever you use to track your progress, keep it with you so that you have it at the very moment you need to add to it, or check your progress because your will power is feeling weak. Make it as detailed as necessary. Make it fun or rewarding if you need to – if a happy face or gold star sticker on each day you succeed helps you, then use stickers!

Share it with someone who will help you hold yourself accountable. This can be a very powerful (and annoying) way to succeed at maintaining your self-control. Somehow, when someone else knows what you are trying to accomplish and asks you about it regularly, you feel more motivated to keep yourself in check. The pain of having to say “I gave in today” seems so much worse than the pain of maintaining your will power.

Break goals up into manageable segments. Sometimes when you can simply focus on “what is the next thing I need to do” it helps you not feel so overwhelmed. For instance, if you are trying to lose 20 pounds and that seems like a lot, break it up into one pound a week. Focusing on this smaller, yet progressive goal may help.

Write down the reasons the goal is important to you and what it means to you. If it works for you to keep track of your progress in a journal or on a calendar, this may be a good place to remind yourself of the reasons why you want to accomplish this goal. If you are trying to quit smoking, you could list all the different health reasons you should stop. When you remind yourself of WHY, it helps you remain committed.

Wait it out. A craving usually won’t last so if you can wait at least ten minutes the power should be diminished.

Forgive yourself when you mess up! If you are like most people, you aren’t going to resist every single time. Move forward, and make a plan for how you are going to avoid the same trigger, situation, or problem with keeping your self control intact.

Use distraction. A craving will eventually diminish, if you can distract yourself with something else – work on a project, go for a walk, meditate, something that would be considered “self care” – it can help you until the craving passes.

Gradually increase the time you exercise self-control. If you can’t just stop altogether, work on increasing the amount of time you stay with your goal, or avoid the craving. Practice over time makes it easier.

Reward yourself. Take time to congratulate yourself because this can be hard work!

Challenge negative thinking. If you find yourself saying “I am never going to be able to do this,” challenge it and find evidence to show yourself that you can, and you will.

Now I’m interested to hear what works for you. Any ideas to add?

Catherine Wilson, LPC 

Image credit courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Group counseling can be a great benefit for many reasons.

If you’ve never been in a group for counseling, you may be wondering what it would be like and if it would be helpful to you. Here’s some great reasons to try group counseling.

Support from others with the same goals. Groups are usually centered on a specific issue such as self-improvement, grief, depression or anxiety. When you work on an issue that is challenging you with a group, you are not only working with a skilled counselor but also with others who want to improve their lives in the same way. You are all working towards the same goals and offer support to each other. Group members often feel that the compassion and empathy they feel from others in their group carries a lot of weight because it comes from people who really know what dealing with that issue really means.

There are multiple perspectives to learn from. The others in the group are often at different stages in their work – this brings in the perspectives of people who have been where you are, allowing you to learn from what worked for them or didn’t. You may also be further along than others, allowing you to share what has worked for you and reminding you of how far you have come in your own work.

You help others, too. Group members will often feel a sense of satisfaction from being able to help others as well as feeling helped.

Lower cost than individual counseling. Group counseling usually is a lower fee than individual counseling, making it easier to afford this type of counseling, and allowing you to possibly participate longer than you would have otherwise.

You might have some concerns about being in a group for counseling.

One common concern is that it will be difficult to talk and share information with a bunch of strangers. I have noticed that it doesn’t take long before you realize that each person in a group is searching for ways of coping with the same type of things you are and it doesn’t take long before the group is talking about sharing with ease. The process of giving and receiving acceptance from others overshadows this concern within a short time.

A second common concern is the time commitment. Groups are often set up on a specific day and time and you are expected to participate in a minimum number of sessions if you join. You can always search for groups of a relatively short duration (we run groups that are six week commitments) for the topic you are interested in. You also may simply go ahead and join – group members often find that the structure and expectation of a group is helpful, and that the commitment to self growth actually fuels a sense of accomplishment and self esteem.

A topic of interest may already be on your mind, or you may be searching for a general self improvement group. Searching for a group through http://www.meetup.com, or with a Google search may be one of your first steps. If you are in the Denver area, sometimes groups will be posted on the events page at The Denver Post. And if you do have a specific topic in mind, you may find websites that deal with that topic, that list groups in geographic areas for you to choose from.

If you’ve been able to find groups at a specific site, feel free to leave a comment and let others know how to find it. I’d also be interested to hear of specific groups or any thoughts you have about groups in general.

Trauma In Female Veterans

Trauma In Female Veterans

PsychCentral posts a number of great articles but this one, see link below, about female veterans abuse caught my eye.

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2013/09/the-newest-face-of-trauma-female-veterans/

Blog post photo credit from source link above.

The article cites some startling statistics on sexual assault against women in the military. What really got me though is that the young woman portrayed in the article saw horrific things while deployed in Afghanistan, was in a vehicle that was struck by an IED, but the trauma that was most difficult for her was the sexual assault by her commanding officer that she couldn’t talk about. She felt she couldn’t talk about this because of an enduring atmosphere in the military that blames the victim and discourages reporting.

This is sad of course, and I know officially the military is trying to change this. A social problem as big as this often feels hopeless and it leaves you wishing you could do something while you also believe that nothing you do will make a difference.

I’m really going to ask the question though anyway. What could you do? I’m interested in your thoughts on this but I’m also going to add a few ideas as well.

If you are a counselor like me, you could sign up to provide pro bono therapy at http://www.giveanhour.org. Check them out, they are a great organization. As a counselor, this may give you an opportunity to make a difference, one person at a time. It may be someone who was the victim of a sexual assault. It may even be a perpetrator, consumed by guilt or shame.

Any of us could make a difference – one person at a time.

One “thank you” to a veteran or person active in the military.

One moment when you can vocalize support in some way for victims of sexual assault in the military to speak out.

One offer of support to someone you know who is or has been in the military, whatever that support may be…a listening ear, an acknowledgment of a job well done, or ??

by Catherine Wilson MA LPC NCC

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

What’s Missing in Your Weight Loss Strategy?

Counseling for Weight Loss Strategies

We have all heard this over and over – from friends, family, on television, in ads, and more.

People struggle to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. They have the science of it down – and it’s as simple as can be for most people – eat less, exercise more.

And yet, the extra pounds stay or they come back much too soon.

What is often missing is important changes in our mental state, whether that is our thoughts, our beliefs, or our emotional patterns.

You have some choices on how to approach this. Many people approach it from a self-help perspective and read books or get advice from others. Sometimes a person uses a particular diet or treatment. One thing you may not have thought of though, is to add counseling to these other methods to help achieve your weight management goals.

I’m not talking about nutritional counseling, which is greatly beneficial and a valuable part of any weight management plan. Many diet, weight loss and wellness centers have a nutritional counselor available and learning from this person helps you to understand the science of weight loss and weight management. It is information you need to succeed. In this article I’m actually talking about getting to the heart of what is holding you back. Working with a counselor can help you uncover what is blocking you from reaching your goals and learn ways to overcome it. This also gives you information you need to help yourself succeed at managing your weight for the rest of your life.

You may be wondering what kind of things you would talk about with a counselor when you are trying to lose weight.

Let’s talk about weight loss strategies in terms of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

Thoughts: – Discovering our common negative thoughts or distorted thought patterns can help change perspective in a healthy way. For instance, if you have a tendency towards using “all or nothing” thinking, you might chastise yourself after a small break from your weight loss strategy by saying to yourself, “I am NEVER going to lose the weight I want!” A more realistic and healthy way of talking to yourself is to say, “Okay, it was just one slip and it doesn’t mean I have completely derailed my strategy, I will do a little better tomorrow.”

Beliefs: It is a very unfortunate part of human nature that we tend to more easily believe negative thoughts, and the negative opinions of others, than we do the positive ones. It is as if negative thoughts are on a superhighway right to our core beliefs. Positive thoughts take a lot more effort to instill as beliefs about the self. The power our beliefs have is amazing.

Emotions: This one packs a lot of punch. Emotions sabotage our best efforts at weight loss in many ways. The term “emotional eating” is often used, and it describes the way we often eat because we are bored, angry, frustrated, lonely, sad, or any of the other uncomfortable feelings. It is very easy to get into a pattern of not being aware of whether you’re even hungry, and yet eating something – anything! – to soothe the discomfort you are feeling emotionally.

A counselor can help you discover where emotions, thoughts or beliefs may be blocking your weight loss goals. Working with a counselor can also help you stay motivated, provide someone to be accountable to, and he or she can also provide a compassionate and non-judgmental place for you to explore options that will work best for you.

Working with a counselor might also include talking about the following ideas:

Coping skills and self-care – Learning coping skills and self care are particularly important to combat emotional eating. We have a self-care handout on our website at http://www.littletonweightlosscounseling.com which may help you find ideas for self care that appeal to you.

Self-control – Learning self-control may be an area that could use some work, too. First take some time for introspection…which areas of your life are working well, and which are not? Can you identify differences that may be important – for instance if you can identify what helps you maintain self control in getting work done in your career, can you apply some of that to your weight loss efforts? You can ask others what works for them in areas that you struggle with. You can also try to gradually increase your ability to maintain self-control in difficult areas for you, a little at a time.

Other types of therapy/counseling – You may be a candidate for alternative types of counseling. Not every type of therapy works for every person, and there are many options. For instance, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has traditionally been used for trauma recovery such as with military veterans but in recent years the use of this type of therapy has been expanded to many other uses. Our counselors sometimes use a type of EMDR called Performance Enhancement to take a person to a higher achievement level in reaching their goals, whatever those goals may be. Another option may be engaging in a group for weight loss counseling, or a general self-improvement group.

Self-esteem – One area that is closely tied to thoughts, beliefs and emotions is self-esteem, and this alone has a powerful effect on a person, often in many areas of life. If you decide to work on self-esteem in counseling, you may find that this alone changes your outlook on weight loss and weight management, while also improving your sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

Any of these ideas may become a part of counseling for you. Your situation is unique.

Catherine Wilson, LPC

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Building Self Confidence

Building Self-Confidence Skills

I recently ran across a YouTube video the other day about building self-confidence.

I love TED talks – they are usually about 15-20 minutes and are delivered by speakers who are considered an authority on the topic they are discussing. Dr. Ivan Joseph makes a couple of great points in this talk.

One of these is that repetition is necessary to build self-confidence.

No one just decides one day to have it, you have to practice and take steps to create it. It is a skill!

The second is that self-talk is extremely important.

You need to make a conscious effort to eliminate negative self-talk and create more positive self-talk for yourself.

I hope you enjoy it too!

 

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Character Strengths Evaluation & Information

If someone asked you to list some of your character strengths as a person, would you be able to come up with a few? Any?

This is a question that tends to be difficult to answer for a lot of people. Often it is much easier to identify negative qualities rather than the positive.

This might simply mean that you are a modest person and it is uncomfortable to put a lot of focus on your strengths. Perhaps you feel that it isn’t attractive for a person to boast, and that this comes too close to feeling like you are boasting. And maybe it reveals low self-esteem. No matter what the reason, it can be helpful–and interesting–to explore your own strengths and think about how they may have come about.

This can help build self-esteem, or if nothing else it might help you in your next job interview!

One way to identify and appreciate your own good qualities and character strengths is to take the questionnaire I am about to describe.

It can be found at http://www.authentichappiness.com.

Once you are at the site and you have set up a login for yourself, scroll down until you find “VIA Survey of Character Strengths.” VIA stands for values in action, because our strengths reflect the values that we hold most important. There are 240 questions but don’t let that number worry you, it usually doesn’t take long to complete. When you are done, you will receive a list of 24 character strengths in the order of importance for YOU.

Your results can be used to reflect on what each of the strengths means to you, and how it may have developed and become as important as it is. You may gain insight from the ranking, or even be surprised that a particular one ranks higher than another.

Taking the time to answer those questions and reflect on your strengths can help you know yourself just a little bit better, and perhaps even find ways to utilize those strengths more in your life.

Is Emotional Eating the Reason You Can’t Lose Weight?

Is Emotional Eating the Reason You Can’t Lose Weight?

Emotional Eating and Dietings

Many of us have tried multiple diets, plans, and suggestions trying to lose weight. They often work and we do lose some unwanted pounds, but before you know it the weight comes right back. Emotional eating might be the culprit behind this for you, as it is for a lot of people that experience the same thing. If you can figure out your own triggers and take steps to avoid emotional eating, you can get right to the root of the problem and help yourself keep those pounds off for good.

First of all, what do I mean by “emotional eating?”

This means that instead of eating because you are hungry and your body needs nutritious food, you eat to soothe uncomfortable emotions such as boredom, anger, sadness, depression, or loneliness. These are only a few examples, but are the most common emotions that I have heard my clients and acquaintances say cause them to reach for chips, ice cream, a candy bar, or whatever is handy in the refrigerator or pantry.

Emotional eating can become a problem in managing your weight in a subtle way. There are two common reasons for this. One, a person doesn’t typically just start eating to soothe painful emotions on a given day. What happens is that you learn over time that you can feel better (temporarily!) if you eat when something is bothering you. Each time you were feeling stressed and a nice meal or your favorite snack made you feel happy for a while, this reinforced it. The second most common reason is that many of us have been socialized to look at food as something that is soothing, either through television and movies, or by growing up in a family in which food was part of the atmosphere when problems were solved. If you ever went to Grandma’s house for comfort after the family dog died and she made chocolate chip cookies to help you feel better, you know exactly what I mean.

After years of this these influences, picture yourself after a day at work in which your boss informed you that you have new responsibilities you will have to learn how to do without taking away any of the existing responsibilities you have, and you had a disagreement with a co-worker that didn’t end well. You arrive at home feeling tired, angry, worried you won’t have time to manage all your work, and wondering if the disagreement you had will change your relationship with your co-worker in a negative way. You grab a bag of pretzels to munch on while you think about what to have for dinner, and then notice there is only a little cheese left in its package so you finish that off, and a few chocolates from the bowl on the table taste good … and you can imagine that by now you already you feel better, and you haven’t even decided what to have for dinner.

Times of stress make us vulnerable. And each person’s pattern is different. You may eat more than you know you should at a meal, snack in between meals, discover that you’ve eaten an entire bag of chips while you were reading that novel, or something else.

If any of this sounds familiar, then the tips to avoid emotional eating I’ve listed below can help.

1) The first step is to identify the type of events and emotions that trigger emotional eating for you. When you can identify the most common situations that lead to emotional eating, you are more aware so you can consciously decide not to let that situation lead to overeating and you can prepare and plan alternatives to emotional eating such as planning a week’s worth of menus or taking healthy snacks to work with you. A food diary may help you identify the events and emotions if you use the diary to record a brief summary of daily events, emotions, and be sure to write down everything you eat. After a few weeks, you are likely to see some patterns.

2) Are there underlying problems? Long standing emotional issues, past traumatic experiences, depression, losses, or other issues can sabotage the best intentions in managing your weight. Counseling can help by assisting you in coping with problems in a healthy way.

3) Take care of yourself. Of course, it is important to take care of the basics of eating healthy, getting some exercise, and getting enough sleep each night. But what I mean by taking care of yourself is more about self-care, or making sure you have some time to relax and do activities you enjoy. Every day. This is particularly important during times of stress, even though this is when you are least likely to have time for yourself.

If you are interested in reading more about emotional eating, a good reference is Geneen Roth’s Breaking Free From Emotional Eating.

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Portia Nelson, Autobiography

Portia Nelson, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

This is one of my favorite poems.

You can find it many places online, but I chose the following link:

http://www.lessons4living.com/sidewalk_of_life.htm

It very simply captures how we progress and make changes to improve our lives and our selves, and how we gradually change attitudes and behaviors that are NOT working for us.

Enjoy!

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Brene Brown Ted Talk Video

Recently I ran across a great YouTube video of Brene Brown.

She gave a Ted talk on her work in researching the idea of shame, our need for connection, love and so much more, particularly in women.

You might enjoy her talk, too, at this link:

 

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

New Quiz – Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Take the quiz and learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

I’ve just added a quiz to my website, you can find it at the bottom of the web page referenced below:

(we need to redo this quiz – working on it!)