Over the Line! How Personal Boundaries Can Change Your Life

Do you ever feel responsible for the emotions or actions of other people? Maybe it’s your boss, your partner, the person you just started dating, or people in your family. Either way, you may find yourself avoiding difficult conversations, modifying your behavior, or changing your plans for the chance to win their approval, to keep the peace, or to maintain a sense of normalcy.

“You know I can’t talk to mom about losing my job. She’ll just freak out.”

“That extra ticket to the game sounds great but I can’t commit. It’ll just become a big deal with my girlfriend and it’s not worth the hassle.”

“Yes, I know it’s the weekend, but my boss expects me to reply to his emails even when I’m not at work. I don’t have a choice.”

Healthy boundaries, whether it’s saying “no” or having a hard talk, may seem unrealistic, harsh, or wrong to impose. This is especially true for people who might not have grown up with any. Boundaries may even seem selfish. It’s easy to think that creating and enforcing boundaries will cause direct harm to the people you interact with – and doing that will, indirectly, hurt you too. We’re all tempted to think that, but that doesn’t make it true.

These examples of boundary issues are all experienced internally, but they can show up externally as well. You may believe the people in your life are responsible for you; for how you’re feeling or what your experience of life is. Even if this isn’t how you consciously operate, it’s possible you function in such a way that contradicts that. See if any of these reactions or responses seem familiar:

“You don’t know how bad my day has been. I have every right to yell!”

“I know I just got paid, but I really need to borrow some more money from you.”

“You’ve always done my reports for me. I need you to stay late tonight to get these done. That’s not a big deal, is it?”

In all of these examples, the lines between what is and isn’t personal responsibility are blurred. The author Mark Manson defines healthy personal boundaries like this:

Taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of others.” He goes on to say that “people with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.”

If some of these examples are resonating – even uncomfortably so – you may be wondering where it all began. Even now, you might be thinking back on past relationships or interactions and remembering ways in which you became someone else – the person you thought they needed you to be. Or maybe you’ve felt like most things were someone else’s fault, and you may blame them for how your life has unfolded. How did you get here? It’s not like anyone chooses to have unhealthy personal boundaries, right? 

At some point in our development, we realize not all families are like ours. It may even be safe to say that no other family is exactly like yours. Maybe you began piecing this together at a young age or perhaps it didn’t occur to you until you were in college. When it happens, though, it’s a revelation. Some of what you mistook for normal may have been just the opposite. Although some of us grew up in homes with clear personal boundaries, others experienced guilt, manipulation, and a cycle of approval and disapproval that felt like a rollercoaster. For anyone in the latter group, it would be nearly impossible to not mirror those same unhealthy behaviors in your other relationships – no matter how old you are or how far away from your immediate family you’ve moved. 

Identifying your specific issues with personal boundaries is the first step towards repairing them – and they can be repaired. So much of the work we do together in the Social House community is built on spotting and addressing weak personal boundaries. Once we do, we’re able to begin the work of creating new, healthy boundaries. Transformation – from a person who believes they’re responsible for everyone else, or who believes everyone else is in some way responsible for them – is possible. In learning to say no, you learn that you are enough – just as you are. By understanding that you are responsible for your own feelings, you take ownership of your life. This is powerful, life-changing work. 

One final word from Mark Manson: Boundaries in relationships work both ways: they create emotional health and are created by people with emotional health. They are something you can start working on today with the people close to you and you’ll begin to notice a difference in your self-esteem, confidence, emotional stability, and so on.”

If this is the life you’re ready to live, we can help. Click here to contact us now. This is where the work begins.

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EMDR: What You Need to Know & How it Can Help

It is difficult to consider our own experiences with trauma – at least willingly. It’s easier to maintain some distance, to keep the thoughts and feelings at arm’s length, or to minimize them altogether. We can get tricked into a game of comparison and decide that our pain doesn’t meet the threshold of real trauma. That’s something reserved for the military, people who’ve experienced battle, who’ve lost limbs and loved ones, right? We advocate for soldiers with PTSD because we believe they deserve to be taken care of. The mental, emotional, and physical burden of war is too much for anyone to carry alone. But what about you? Why should you be destined to struggle through life with the added weight of your own posttraumatic stress weighing you down?

The reality is that trauma is bigger than a single definition and its effects are felt and processed in more than one way. Frequently, it’s our unresolved traumatic memories that are hardest to tap into and, for that reason, most challenging to address. How you feel about a recent event – even something as tragic as an assault – may be easier to process than the feelings of abandonment you experienced as a child when your parents divorced. At the same time, forever compartmentalizing all of your feelings is an impossible task. Those experiences inform one another. That’s why one painful moment is likely to trigger thoughts, feelings, and memories of other painful moments – even when they seem entirely unrelated to each other. This is especially true when past trauma – and the painful memories that seem to pop up unexpectedly and pull you right back into the experience – hasn’t been dealt with fully. Healing an open wound is impossible, but that doesn’t mean those wounds can’t be treated.

As psychotherapist’s, we’re constantly trying to find better ways of identifying and addressing things unspoken and unseen. Trauma is a prime example. Human beings have largely perfected the art of going through the motions. We’re pros at pushing our pain down and forcing a convincing smile. Career success, dream homes, new cars, vacations, and lovers can become coping mechanisms for our unaddressed trauma, and when those aren’t attainable or no longer work, we find other, more creative, ways of numbing ourselves into whatever will pass for not feeling. It takes work – intentional effort over a period of time – to confront the trauma behind the feelings. At the Social House Wellness Center, we use a technique called EMDR to help our clients do this most effectively.

First of all, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Now you know why we prefer the acronym. First developed in 1987 to treat PTSD, EMDR uses eight unique phases to treat unresolved pain by briefly focusing on a traumatic memory while experiencing bilateral visual stimulation. What we – and other therapists for the last 30+ years – have discovered is that 6-12 sessions of EMDR effectively reduces the vividness and emotion associated with traumatic memories. In one-on-one sessions at Social House, we walk through each of those phases with you in the following order:

  1. History-taking: This initial phase allows us to work together to understand your background and set clear objectives for treatment, including a specific memory or memories, current triggers, and future outcomes.
  1. Preparation: During this second phase, we take some time to explain the rationale behind EMDR, introduce the procedures we’ll be using, and practice some of the eye movement techniques. The goal here is to make sure you feel safe, comfortable, and equipped before initiating treatment.
  1. Assessment: The third phase allows us to take a closer look at the targeted memory and identifies four distinct qualities associated with it: image, cognition, affect, and body sensation. All will be important.
  1. Desensitization: In the fourth phase, we unite the targeted memory and the bilateral eye movements, repeating as necessary as we discuss the new thoughts or feelings that emerge in the process. Desensitization lasts until the memory no longer evokes the same heightened emotions.
  1. Installation: This fifth phase empowers you to associate the targeted memory with a stronger, more preferable, cognitive outcome. For example, while you may have always seen yourself as the victim of a certain event, this phase allows you to focus on how you’ve survived, overcome, and even thrived.
  1. Body Scan: Once the first five phases are complete, we use the sixth phase to take an inventory of how your body responds when the memory is reintroduced. Scanning, in this context, is simply the work of observation. Any disturbances that pop up or interfere are addressed before moving forward.
  1. Closure: In this seventh phase, we formally end the current EMDR session. In order to maintain the safe environment we established in the beginning, we put specific containment measures in place until the next session. 
  1. Re-evaluation: This eighth and final phase also serves as the first phase of the next session. It’s the appropriate time to look back on the recent work we’ve done together and to determine continued effectiveness. We’ll discuss any memories that have emerged since the last session and identify new targets to be addressed.

While it’s possible you may have spent years – even decades – avoiding painful feelings, associations, and memories, they haven’t gone anywhere. Burying your trauma isn’t a strategy. It will continue to rear its head in the worst ways and at the least convenient times. Don’t put this work off any longer. We’ve seen remarkable progress made in the Social House community by people just like you – people willing to put in the effort to achieve freedom by facing their past. You deserve it and we’re committed to helping you get there.

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50 Shades of Anger

When was the last time you got angry? If it’s been a while it might be hard to remember what caused it or why you got upset. Maybe it was recent – just this week, even – and right now you can feel your blood pressure spike just thinking about it. Anger is strange like that, isn’t it? On one hand, it can be fleeting and forgettable, and on the other, residual and explosive – even long after the fact.

What makes you angry? If you’re like some of us, it might take something major. If you and your partner were having an argument and – in the heat of the moment – you were called a hurtful name or reminded of an unrelated time you really screwed up, you’d probably feel a flash of anger. In your mind, especially in real-time, they made you angry. They provoked you.

Anger can also be the culmination of lots of little things, can’t it? If you’re not sure, just ask anyone who’s ever overslept – especially the night before something important, like a Monday morning meeting or an exam. Everything from the faulty alarm to their lack of coffee is a perceived microaggression until their rage is eventually unleashed on someone in traffic. Anger, in those instances, sounds a lot like a car horn and looks like a middle finger.

In all of these moments, it’s tempting to point at anger and misidentify it as the problem or the issue. To be clear, it’s okay to feel angry. Anger is a universal human emotion, and to not feel it from time to time would be unusual. So know this: anger is your right.

But understand the truth of this as well: anger is a secondary emotion. In other words, anger is not the primary emotion you experience when you get upset. Think about our examples above.

Arguments and misunderstandings happen, even in the best relationships. But when the disagreement devolved into insults and name-calling, you got angry. But what was below that anger? It’s likely that you felt hurt and shame, especially if something felt like a low-blow. Those were the primary emotions. And instead of being able to calmly state “that hurt me and made me feel ashamed” – both were repackaged as anger and you lashed out with equal force.

And is a fellow motorist really the source of your anger, not to mention the coffee pot or alarm clock? Of course not. Instead, you were probably experiencing embarrassment and fear. You were scared that your job, grade, or reputation was on the line. You were driving to work imaging that you’d be laughed at by your colleagues. Again, those are the primary feelings – the things we’re slow to admit – and anger is how we often express them.

If it all seems counterintuitive, you’re not wrong. When we give ourselves the time and the space to take a closer look at our anger, we’re guaranteed to find the real source lurking below the surface. It’s a lot like an iceberg. The jagged cap sticking out of the water looks dangerous, and for good reason: it will cause damage. But the iceberg is only the result of a much bigger, and much deeper, block of ice below.

It’s easy to play ship captain and spot the icebergs of anger in and around us. But what’s going on underneath it all?

Loneliness.

Grief.

Frustration.

Anxiety.

Regret.

Even rejection and disappointment can fuel feelings and expressions of anger.

Men, in particular, often find it more difficult to identify or name the primary emotions that trigger their anger. Many of us were taught – either implicitly or explicitly – to hide, suppress, or ignore our feelings – that’s what “man up,” “walk it off,” and “suck it up” really mean, isn’t it? That not-so-subtle messaging becomes a part of who we are and how we operate. It’s difficult to stop. That’s why anger is so prevalent. The real cause has been buried. It’s deep down below the surface. The only thing we see is the anger sticking its head out of the water.

So much of the work we do at Social House involves jumping into the water. That’s how we begin the process of understanding ourselves and all of our emotions – by seeing what’s below the surface. Anger is one of the best places to start. It has the potential to damage every aspect of your life – from your relationships to your career – unless you learn what those primary emotions are and how to process them. And there’s good news:

You don’t have to do that work alone.

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Telehealth: Our Answer to a Changing World

It’s difficult to not be concerned with the state of our world right now. It seems like everywhere we turn, and each time we refresh our Twitter feeds, we’re faced with change. COVID-19 has altered the way we interact, how we work, and when we leave our homes. These adjustments have been challenging for all of us. There have been economic impacts on a macro and micro level. Social distancing has made relating harder, and we may have even struggled with how we relate to ourselves. More than a few of us have spent more time alone in the last few weeks than ever before. Maybe that came as a relief, a chance to knock out a lingering to-do list (even if it included a lot of Netflix and Hulu), or even an opportunity to read, write, or reflect. At the same time, others have experienced depression, anxiety, or found themselves glued to the shifting narrative and numbers; absorbing the fears of family, friends, and co-workers. No matter where we fall on this spectrum, our need for community hasn’t gone away. It has only been heightened. At the Social House Wellness Center, we understand completely.

This pandemic has made several things clear, but one is especially worth highlighting: we need each other. We’ve taken that message to heart, and understand the importance of finding ways to maintain our presence in each other’s lives. With that in mind, the Social House Wellness Center will be offering exclusive teletherapy sessions on a full-time basis for as long as it is necessary.

If you’re wondering what teletherapy is, you’re not alone. In short, it’s exactly like our normal one-on-one sessions, but through your computer or smartphone – not unlike what many businesses are currently doing with remote workspaces and virtual team meetings. Think about it like FaceTime for your health and wellbeing. Our thought is that if employers are finding ways to continuing working through platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts, you should be able to continue (or even begin for the first time) the work of personal development. As you would expect, we use a HIPAA-compliant website to ensure that your privacy and confidentiality are maintained. Our platform even allows for sharing handouts and watching video clips. We’re also able to incorporate all of our existing intervention methods, including EMDR and play therapy, making this a safe, secure, and effective way of continuing counseling no matter who you are.

All of our routines are shaken up right now, but we know some of you are feeling especially displaced. Your plan may be to get back to San Antonio quickly, but for the time being, you’ve had to relocate. One of the advantages of teletherapy is that – for anyone still in Texas – our licensing extends to cover you. This is a big state, but thankfully it feels very small when the screen lights up with a familiar face or a voice we recognize. Whether you’re in Houston or El Paso, or any city in between, maintaining our connection is vital. If you’ve put off therapy in the past because the idea of sitting in a strange room was intimidating, this is the perfect opportunity to start. Find your favorite chair, get comfortable, and begin your journey.

It may be hard to know at this moment what next week or the month after will look like. We may be forced to adjust to a new normal – both as individuals and a society. No matter what, the Social House community at large is stronger together. We are here for you – in a different format, yes, but just as close as ever. Stay safe. Be well. We’re in this together.

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Food, Fitness and Feelings

In the work we do at Social House Wellness Center, relationships come up often. Whether it’s the one between partners, spouses, or parents and children, how we relate is important. The relationship you have with your mom, the toxic dynamic you share with a co-worker, even your way of talking to and thinking about yourself – these relationships all fall on a spectrum. Some are positive and promote growth, and others do the opposite. We’re all familiar with these types of relationships and the role they play in our lives. But there’s another type that’s important too. It’s rarely the first to come to mind, and for some of us, it’s a difficult one to discuss. It’s the relationship between diet, exercise, and mental health.

Before we move forward, we need to address some potentially unhelpful terminology. Because of trends, fads, and a litany of products pushed on social media, the word diet has become like any other four-letter word you might avoid saying in front of children. We don’t like it and for good reason. The idea of going on a diet is as appealing as going on a blind-date your parents set up, or getting a root canal. The word exercise isn’t much better. We tend to immediately think of our worst memories from high school P.E., of doing jumping jacks or being forced to run. And when we try to go to the gym or workout, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparison, to feel inadequate, and to quickly give up. Sometimes the heaviest weights to lift are the ones of our own making: expectation, regret, and shame.

We need a better paradigm – a way of thinking and talking about these ideas without the baggage. In place of the word diet, consider exchanging it for a concept like “what you give your body.” And while you’re at it, replace exercise with something as simple as “how you move your body.” Find some ideas that work for you, and get in the habit of bringing them to mind when you find the rest of the world using outdated and limited language. 

Using that as our foundation, what we give our bodies matters – and not just to a scale or how our jeans fit, but to our brains. We’ve all heard the expression “you are what you eat,” but a more accurate way of thinking about that is this: we tend to feel like what we eat. When we give our bodies what they need to function at a high level, and when we do that consistently, we tend to feel good. We have energy, focus, and mental clarity. It turns out, those foods we may have been told to eat as children are as good for our brains as they are our bodies. A 2015 article from Harvard Medical School underlines this with some key points:

  • Serotonin – the neurotransmitter that is responsible for our sleep, appetite, and helps referee our moods – is almost exclusively produced in our gastrointestinal tract. When you give your body the kind of food it needs – meals full of fruits, vegetables, good grains, and the right starches, proteins, and fiber – “good” bacteria are produced in your G.I. tract. Neural pathways that travel directly from your gut to your brain are activated, and you feel better.
  • Probiotics – those “good” bacteria in supplement form – have been shown to improve mental outlook, reduce anxiety, and change the way you perceive stress.
  • And finally, people who eat in a “traditional” way – think Mediterranean or Japanese – show a 25% to 30% lower risk for depression than others who stick closely to a “Western” diet.

This is powerful information, and it may intuitively click with what you already believe about food. But we also know that this relationship can be tricky. For a lot of us, stress doesn’t make us want to reach for an apple nearly as much as a bag of chips. You may keep a pint of ice cream tucked into the back of your freezer in case of an emergency. If your job is stressful and your default way of unwinding at the end of the day is fast-food on the way home and a few beers before bed, you’re not alone. Those neural pathways we mentioned earlier are formed for good or bad, for health or disease. We get to make that choice.

This much is equally true: when we don’t consistently give our bodies what they need, we won’t feel inclined or motivated to find ways of moving our bodies. These two work together, especially in the long-term. When your body is producing the right amount of Serotonin, and when you’re well-rested and fueling your body with the right balance of foods, you’ll have a kind of energy you may not instantly recognize. This is you, though – the “you” that may have been buried under processed food substitutes, refined sugars, and excess alcohol. Suddenly you feel lighter. Your thinking is quicker and clearer, and you feel a strong need to take care of yourself. Giving your body what it needs makes you very aware of what your body wants, and our bodies were designed to move.

This is the great news about how you decide to move your body: you never need to set foot inside a gym. Movement is free, and you can do it nearly anywhere. Your city park doesn’t require a membership to walk their track. The floor in your bedroom is a fine spot to roll out a mat and practice yoga. Are you unsure where to start? Countless videos on YouTube will walk you through it. You don’t even need weights to take control of your fitness. Functional movements like push-ups, sit-ups, and air squats (just to name a few), require a tiny footprint and can be done from home. Just like with how you feed your body, movement is about consistency. Reps will increase, flexibility will develop, and distance will be gained over time. You simply have to choose to do it – even when you don’t feel like it.

Several years back, the American Psychological Association published an article explaining some of the ways movement benefits our mental health. The list included things few of us couldn’t use more of in our lives, including:

  • Mood enhancement – active people are less depressed than inactive people, and exercise can be instrumental in preventing relapse. In many cases, exercise was generally comparable to antidepressant use in people with a major depressive disorder.
  • Anxiety reduction – because physical movement can produce many of the same sensations as panic (sweating, dizziness, dry mouth, increased heart rate), we develop a better sense of how to process those feelings in a safe environment.
  • A sense of accomplishment – since physical movement, especially if it’s been a while or we’ve never been very active, signals overcoming obstacles, pushing through difficulty, and completing a challenge, even if initially that’s just going for a walk.

At Social House, we treat all of who you are. This includes your relationship with what you eat, how you move, and when you do. We recognize that extremes in these areas – from overeating to repeatedly skipping meals, and from never moving to obsessive exercise – are equally unhealthy and potentially dangerous. We exist to help take some of the guesswork out of relationships, decision-making, and finding a healthy, sustainable approach to your life. We empower positive change, and don’t find any motivation in looking back on what you could have done, or should have done, differently. As they say, there’s a reason a car’s windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. So give your body what it needs, and allow it to move like it was made to. Your mind will thank you.

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Some Relationship Advice

If you’re reading this, you must have already heard that “communication is key.” It is a common suggestion for making a relationship work because it is crucial! Communicating about the good stuff is easy, but we tend to stop doing this as our relationship ages, and communicating about the bad stuff is hard and everyone avoids it! So what do we do about it?

COMMUNICATING THE GOOD

We’ll start with the easier one. In the beginning stages of a relationship, we have no issue with this one. We are constantly pointing out to each other what we love about them–some things we actually grow to resent about our partner. Think: “Oh my gosh, he’s so cuddly!” turns in to “OH MY GOSH he won’t give me my space!” I think a large piece of this that isn’t often associated with this topic is leaving space for independent time away from your partner. When we are able to pursue our independent passions, we become more confident, our partner is able to appreciate what makes us us, and this helps to contribute to compliments! It is very easy to fall into the trap of codependence and finding happiness only in your partner’s happiness, but I challenge you to continue (or restart) to leave time for yourself and the things you like to do that you loved before your partner came in to your life. I think this helps to make communicating the good happen more naturally. If this task seems too overwhelming, start by looking out for things your appreciate in your partner, and be vocal to them about it.

COMMUNICATING THE UGLY

I’m going to start this topic with something seemingly unrelated, so be warned!

Let me tell you about one of my bigger pet-peeves, then I’ll connect it to relationship advice, I promise!

Imagine you’re driving on a multi-lane highway. You see a car in the next lane start to slow down and speed up. You wonder, are they trying to come over to your lane? This continues for a bit. Eventually you decide to slow down and leave more room in front of you, and what-do-you-know, they decide to come over. If you’re like me, you might think, “If you’d used your blinker I would have known you wanted to come over and let you in ages ago! Do you expect me to read your mind?” If the other car doesn’t communicate to me that they want to change lanes by utilizing their blinker, how am I supposed to know?

You might see where I’m going with this. Many times I have one member of a couple come in to session very frustrated with something. For example, a wife is frustrated that her husband of ten years never helps with laundry. I ask, have you ever asked for help with the laundry? She answers, no, I want him to want to do it without me nagging him! For ten years she continues to wait for him to make the first move, without giving him warning of what she wants. I ask clients to consider: what do you want, what are you doing to get what you want, and is it working? This is a reality therapy principle, but it is very applicable to situations such as these where people are hoping their partner can read their mind. This client had been waiting years for something to change without doing anything that would cause change. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just communicate what you’re feeling? Who knows if her husband would then help with the laundry, but at least she would know that he knew it bothered her.

When you decide to communicate something that is bothering you with your partner, remember you must try your best not to come off as aggressive/judgmental, as their first response will be to go on the defense, put up their walls, and then aren’t able to hear you.

So try this formula:

When _____ happens, I feel ______. It would help if you _________.

For my aforementioned client, it might look like:

When the laundry piles up, I feel overwhelmed and like everyone is waiting on me to do it. It would help if you could help with the laundry when you notice it hasn’t been done.

Notice the difference between a more aggressive way of saying this:

You never help around the house. I am a maid around here, and I already have so much going on! Why can’t you ever do the laundry? You’re so selfish!

The second version went to extremes (“never”), was judgmental (“You’re so selfish”), and didn’t communicate how she was feeling or a plan of how to help. The husband is likely to be very guarded and respond in a similar manner–aggressive.

To summarize:

-Compliment your partner on the things you love about them. You can’t compliment too much!

-Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Let them know what is bothering you, how it makes you feel, and how they can help.

I hope this is helpful! If you feel like you need a bit more professional help communicating with your partner, reach out to a therapist. You’re investing in your relationship and your communication skills!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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Why can’t we be friends?

Quite often, I have clients that are having a hard time finding friends. This is often the reason why they have moved from trying to find informal emotional help (talking with friends and family) to formal help (me! a counselor). A good side effect of this is that my clients have started the journey of taking care of their mental health. But, a part of overall wellness is social wellness, and I want to help my clients achieve this too.

Especially as we enter our adult lives, it seems our chances to meet new people become limited. In this social-media driven world, many of us are becoming more accustomed to speaking with people online, which makes us more nervous to talk to people in person. It starts to feel weird because we’re out of practice. When you’re in a public place, you might feel the need to be looking at your phone so you don’t feel awkward. And if you can get yourself to put it down, you might notice that everyone around you had the same urge.

But how do we expect to meet new people if we never put ourselves out there? If we never start our first conversation with someone new, we can never develop it into a real friendship. But how can we do this if we don’t trust other people? Many of us (especially young women) have been warned not to trust the people who seem to be offering help, because they could have bad intentions (example: someone offers you a ride when you’re walking in the rain). But if we see everyone through this protective/paranoid lens, how will we give anyone a real chance? I don’t mean to say let your guard completely down. It is important to stay safe. But I would ask you to consider the trust you give to your Uber/Lyft drivers, think of what keeps you comfortable in those situations, and see how you can translate that into your outside life.

Many of us feel more comfortable starting with people we see more often. For example, coworkers at the office, other teammates on a sports-team/intramural, other members of a club. If we see them more often, we begin to trust them (same thinking that goes into advertising all over the place-the more you see it the more you trust it!). So think of the places you go often, or places you would like to go often (read HERE for what I think is an important first step to making friends), and how you could challenge yourself to reach out to others with similar interests.

For those of you who also are struggling with a mental illness, another safe bet is support groups. These are places where you have people struggling with many of the same things as you, and it’s a safe place to express your feelings without the fear that others will judge you or feel like you’re talking about something uncomfortable. In sharing these intimate parts of yourself, you might find yourself forming deep relationships with the other members.

Here are some examples of mental health support groups:

  • re:MIND (Formerly DBSA): Depression/Bipolar Support
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): a larger organization with more broad groups
  • Psychology Today: Where you can find groups put on by private therapists, usually at a cost compared to the former two usually being free, but are usually more specific groups and don’t always require a diagnosis. (Click “Find a therapist” and change the “therapist” field to “support groups”)
  • And of course there area always the addiction groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon (for family/friends of alcoholics). There are groups for almost every type of addiction, but they might not be in your area. They have pretty similar discussions, if you just switch “alcohol” with whatever your addiction might be.

Meeting new friends is all about getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there. There are more challenging ways and some more comforting. Try what you can, but before you do, read about the importance of dating yourself before making new friendly or romantic relationships.

Your listening ear,

Monique

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A New Way to DIY-Date Yourself!

DIY is all-the-trend now-a-days, but I challenge you to take it to an entirely different level. Although our society can be very independent compared to more eastern cultures, we have become very dependent on others to make ourselves happy. There is an ideal of being in a loving romantic relationship and also having a great friend group. These things are wonderful, but people without either one or both of these ideals feel incomplete. But what if you could learn to find happiness on your own? This self-sufficiency can help you feel more confident, and ready to take on the world!

I’ve mentioned it before, but imagine the urge you feel to look at your phone when you’re out in public. I think part of this is us thinking that we have to look like we’re not alone. Like we have a world of people to talk with on our phone, and we’re not the lonely people sitting in the restaurant by ourselves, or in the waiting room alone. But what if we felt comfortable with our own company? Would we look crazy or happy?

What are the things you’ve been waiting on others to be interested in to give yourself permission to do? What kinds of things have you been wanting to try but it is out of your comfort zone and you’ve been waiting for some support? Going to the museum? Riding horses for the first time? Exploring your city? Sitting in nature? Volunteering at the local animal shelter? Trying out yoga or a new exercise? Starting a new project?

All these things you might love but never allow yourself to do! But all this time it has been in your control, if you would just push yourself out of your comfort zone. And how funny it is that we aren’t comfortable with just being with ourselves. But when you can get there, when you love being with yourself, the pressure to find someone else to make you happy decreases. It becomes more natural and less forced to form relationships, and you will find that the quality of your relationships will improve.

What do you want to DIY?!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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Enigma of a Stigma

Merriam-Webster defines enigma as “something hard to understand or explain” and stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit.” I believe therapy’s stigma is quite the enigma. For some reason, mental healthcare is quite taboo and carries a burden of shame. Unfortunately, I often hear mental health professionals speak with discomfort when they admit (as if it was something to hide) they themselves have therapists. You would hope that we, who tell others it is okay to seek therapy, would feel comfortable “coming-out” as a client. I hope it is clear by now that I think EVERYONE can benefit from some therapy every-once-and-a-while, especially those who are therapists themselves. Most graduate counseling programs require their students attend counseling, if not they suggest it. It is understood that there is a benefit to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the couch. Besides this, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t had a goal they are working towards that could benefit from an outside, unbiased listening ear. Actually, I have met people without goals, and those are usually hopeless, depressed individuals who have given up on the possibility of something better. I’m here to tell you that there is always room for improvement! I find it very confusing why someone choosing to work towards their goals and be happy should need to feel embarrassed for doing such a thing.

So WHY does this stigma exist? I believe it is related to this (incorrect) idea that counseling is only for “crazy” people (something I dive further into in this post). People believe clients must be “psychotic” (another definition which people also have the wrong idea about). But beyond this, I think counseling has evolved over the years. I think counselors have begun to think more systematically, realizing that there are a multitude of reasons someone behaves or feels the way they do, such as relationships with friends, family, or their environment. It is for this reason that I believe people have realized that not only “sick” people can benefit from therapy. However, because people are not willing to divulge that they go to counseling, the Hollywood and old-time version of counseling remains in people’s minds.

Every time that a celebrity or well-known person admits that they put an effort into taking care of their mental health, I believe the stigma gets chipped away at a little bit more. Most of the time, these admittances are also accompanied by the divulgence of a diagnosis, such as Bipolar Disorder (Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato, Pete Wentz, Catherine Zeta-Jones), PTSD (Elle King, Lady Gaga) or Anxiety (Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Bella Hadid, Gina Rodriguez, Kendall Jenner, Emma Stone, Kim Kardashian West), Obessive-Compulsive Disorder (Camila Cabello, Amanda Seyfried), Borderline Personality Disorder (Pete Davidson), Substance Use Disorders (James Franco), Postpartum Depression (Chrissy Tiegen, Hayden Panatierre, Brooke Shields), Depression (Naomi Judd, Miranda Kerr, Kid Cudi, Jon Hamm, J.K. Rowling, Wayne Brady) and many more. Because of the stigma that surrounds these diagnoses, it takes courage to admit that you have been labeled with one. But, each time someone does, it feels just a little better for those average joe’s and jane’s that also have that diagnosis. They feel a little bit less crazy. It is for this reason that I do not want to belittle these steps towards de-stigmatizing. However, I do feel it is important to point out that you do not have to have a mental health diagnosis to attend therapy. I also feel the need to highlight that there are some “disorders” that have been more socially acceptable in the recent years, such as anxiety and depression, which is why you might see more celebrity names near those diagnoses. Unfortunately, others such as schizophrenia still carry many misconceptions that bring fear and stigma.

I could go on forever about this, but I would just like to thank anyone out there who has been honest and open about their mental health care. It is responsible, good for you, and nothing to be ashamed of. Thank you for trying to be happy!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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Do only crazy people go to therapy?

This is probably the most common thought about therapy I hear, and unfortunately one of the largest misconceptions. I have a few different thoughts about this, and please excuse my soapbox as this is one of the things I am most passionate about!

The dentist: First, I would like you to think about our society’s perception about our oral healthcare. Most of our insurances will cover two visits to the dentist per year, not intended to fix things that are wrong, but to prevent things from going bad, to keep us healthy. People are aware that if you don’t take care of your teeth, bad things like infections and oral diseases can happen. So to prevent this, everyone is on the same page about getting check-ups, and people don’t look at each other weird for saying they have a dentist appointment. Now, I would like to ask you why it is that our teeth are more important to us than our brains? Just as things going wrong in your mouth can affect other parts of your body’s wellbeing, the brain definitely has an effect on the rest of your body. Literally almost every function in your body is processed through your brain in some way. So again, why is it that we don’t think of taking care of our brain in the same way we take care of our teeth?

Imagine a world (that I’m working on making a reality) in which we think of our mental healthcare in a similar way we think of our oral. Imagine our insurances covering a few check-ups a year, where you can meet with a therapist and just check-in. Are you feeling stuck, or do you feel like you’re living your best life? Do you need to process something that’s been bothering you with someone completely unbiased and non-judgmental? These check-ups could help catch things before they got too bad. Many of us try to cope with stress by avoiding them, by brushing them under the rug or into a closet. That is, until it all comes busting out the seams and you’re forced to deal with it. But, at this point, it’s much more work to come back. What if we thought about preventing mental illness or crises in the same way we prevented cavities? What if, like parents make sure their children brush their teeth, they also made sure to check in with their emotional well-being?

But, don’t only crazy people go to therapy? Well, the short answer is NO! There are many different reasons people seek therapy. Sometimes it’s a diagnosable mental illness, such as Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety or Schizophrenia. But much more often it’s more common life stressors, such as transitioning different life phases or trouble in relationships. And while we’re on the subject, what is “crazy” anyways? Is it those diagnosable disorders? Again, it is my belief that these are results of a lack of prevention in the first place. So, if we continue to think of our mental healthcare in the same way we currently do, this will only make this thought true. If we keep thinking that only “crazy” people go to therapy, then by the time you are at your wit’s end and turn to therapy, you might be someone that’s made it to a diagnosis.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to wait until it’s bad. Think of checking in with a therapist every once and a while as a preventative tool to make sure you’re where you want to be. You don’t have to go to weekly sessions if you don’t feel like there is something you need to actively work on. But if there is, that doesn’t make you crazy. In my opinion, it makes you responsible and someone who cares for their health. Because remember, your mental health affects all of your other areas of wellness: social (your relationships), physical (your body is affected too! think about panic attacks), financial, and so on! Once we all start thinking this way, the taboo around mental health will start to fade. I believe this will set us up for more successful and healthy lives!

If you feel like I’ve got it all wrong, or have further thoughts on this topic, feel free to reach out!

Your listening ear,

Monique

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