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Other People’s Stuff

Other People’s Stuff

Over the years, I have used an idea I refer to as “OPS” with my clients, which refers to what I call “Other People’s Stuff.” Admittedly, sometimes it is “Other People’s Shit” when it gets really damaging!

The idea behind OPS is that often when people say or do things that hurt us, or they make it clear they think something negative about us, it is actually OPS – meaning that it has way more to do with them than it does the person they are directing it at. And a fair amount of the time, it is about manipulating you.


Unfortunately, too many of us take on OPS and make it our own. We believe it.  We react to it. We take it on as the truth even if it isn’t true OR healthy for our own well-being.

But. You don’t have to take on OPS because it might not be the truth, or anything you really have to do something about.

Here are a few examples of what I mean, with some common reactions when we are taking on more than our own stuff.

OPS: Your friend becomes angry with you because you didn’t invite her to come with you and another friend to a movie. This is really about her insecurity and jealousy towards the other friend.

Unhealthy Reaction: You feel guilty, apologize and promise not to do it again even though you know those two friends don’t get along very well and it will only lead to more trouble for you and them.

OPS: Your mother asks you, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” in an obvious judgment that you are too overweight to be eating a second brownie. This is really about her poor body image and being too heavily influenced by mass media and advertising, and she might even believe that how you live your life can somehow reflect negatively on her.

Unhealthy Reaction: You feel shamed, it lowers your self-esteem, and you are certain you will somehow never be good enough. And you don’t even get to eat the brownie because you put it back.

OPS: One of your employees continually refuses to complete all the appropriate details in his reports, despite your repeated direction that he needs to make sure it is done correctly. It is really about his inability to deal with authority.

Unhealthy Reaction: You keep wondering what you are doing wrong that he keeps on missing important information in the work he does, and feel like you are a terrible boss and have trouble communicating.

To avoid letting OPS impact your self-esteem, or influence your choices in life, here are some things to do:

  • See OPS for what it is – When you can recognize it in the moment, you are better able to separate yourself from that person’s OPS and evaluate the situation more objectively.
  • Run it through your own filter – Challenge whatever it was someone just put out there. Do you know what they are thinking? Is it actually true for you if you consider all the factors? Just the question, “Is this true?” can help you to separate someone else’s issues from your own.
  • Decide what you think – There’s no need to carry the burden of what someone else thinks or does if you know it doesn’t reflect truthfully about you.   Decide one way or the other if what they think, said, or did has any merit.
  • Respond in a purposeful way – If it isn’t true, throw it away. Let it become completely separate from you, and give it a lot of emotional distance. If you decide that what they put out there is true and it’s something you need to work on, then figure out what you need to do to make changes and get started.
  • Have good boundaries – You can set limits on how people treat you, and you definitely can set limits on yourself and how much you let things get to you.

It is natural to try to figure out and solve problems between people, and it is also a healthy thing to consider things you may need to change in yourself to take care of the important relationships in your life.   Each of us has enough stuff to deal with, try not to take on other people’s stuff too.

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

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!

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


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.


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

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.

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

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: