When people make the often-difficult decision to come into therapy, they are usually going through an incredibly tough time, and feeling a ton of undesirable feelings.
But sometimes those negative feelings are quite conflicting for them, because they seem to be heading towards feelings they very much want to feel more of.
For example, about a year ago I met with a client who came into therapy because her anxiety had been through the roof, but the cause of that anxiety was something she was doing that she thought she very much needed to do more of. You see, this client was beginning to experiment with the idea that she might be transgender. She was going out into the world as female for the first time in her life, though she was in her 50’s and the world had only ever read her as male up until she started to do this. She told me that she wanted her anxiety to go away, and when I asked what she hoped would replace it, she said happiness. She said that she had, for the first time in her life, gone out as female just a few weeks before our first chat, and she was more anxious doing that than she had ever been before. I asked her how she knew, though she was feeling so anxious, that she was doing something that was right for her, and she said because she also felt incredibly happy, a happiness she described as the first true happiness she thinks she’d ever experienced about who she was. I asked her what difference that happiness was making for her, and she said it was giving her the drive to keep doing this incredibly anxiety provoking thing, going out as her true self, to work through the anxiety and land in a place where that happiness was more prominent. She said she wanted to follow that happiness, wherever it might lead.
So, she did just that. And today she’s fully transitioned, and hasn’t felt that anxiety in months. She followed her happiness through the toughest feeling she ever had, and landed in a place she wouldn’t have ever gotten to if she was just trying to avoid the tough feelings of anxiety to begin with.
Sometimes you must pay more attention to the positive feelings than to the negative ones, because following the positive ones can give you the strength to move through the negative ones, and as a result help you land in the place that is most right for you.
Following happiness through the scary minefield, to the land of our desired outcome.
Rebekka Ouer, LCSW
When your partner breaks your trust, but you want to try and stay together, there are a few simple things you can both do to dramatically increase the chances that you and your partner will succeed. (And remember that simple doesn’t always mean easy.)
If the breaker of trust is humble, and I mean really humble, then they will admit they were wrong, and show a complete willingness to do whatever is necessary to keep the relationship and rebuild trust. When this happens, the relationship has an incredibly strong chance of trust building back as quickly as possible.
- Complete Transparency
Often, at least for a while, the partner who is trying to trust again needs their partner to be temporarily 100% transparent about their life for a while. This can mean offering their phone for inspection, giving passwords to social media, allowing their partner to track them using an app, etc.. But the level and duration of this sort of transparency depends on the couple and what they agree will be most helpful. Usually this helps the trust to grow, and that humility mentioned above helps here in spades.
If the partner who is trying to trust again can remember why they chose to stay in the relationship, and really work on forgiveness, they will be much less likely to lash out. This process is incredibly hard, and because it’s so hard you are bound to lash out from time to time, (another reason for the need for humility on your partner’s part), but if you can do your absolute best, and offer a little transparency about your efforts along the way, you’ll notice things getting better faster than you thought they could.
One of the hardest things to do for both partners when trust has been broken, is to be willing to be open and vulnerable about how you’re feeling, and, as the process continues, keeping that level of communication and vulnerability up. But healing only happens in vulnerable moments, and typically, at this point in a relationship a ton of healing is on the horizon as things move forward.
- Communicate about what’s working
As things move forward, you will start to trust more, and your partner will do and say things that really help that along. When they do, tell them. When you have a good day and you feel hopeful about things, talk about it and tell each other what you did to help that day to happen. When you have a weak moment and your partner helps pull you through, tell them. So they can do more of the same in future. Figure out what your specific formula is by telling each other what works.
That’s it. 5 pieces of a formula that is simple, but of course, not easy. Good luck, and if you want more help on this type of thing, counseling is always a good choice. Call me or another therapist and we’ll help you on your journey to rebuilding trust.
Rebekka Ouer, LCSW
One of the things I consistently tell my clients is that what I ask them to do between sessions will be simple, but not easy. The simple request I make, is to notice things getting better for them, notice the hopes they came into therapy to move towards, becoming a reality for them. And they always leave understanding that request and seemingly ready to go and pay attention, and yet when they come back in, they tell me it’s harder than they thought it would be. When I ask them, “What have you noticed?” or ” What’s been better?”, most of the time they struggle to answer, at least for a minute or two. And of course it’s hard.
We are taught from as early as kindergarten, to pay more attention to what we get wrong than to what we get right. If you picture a graded test, what do you see in your mind’s eye? Red x’s, right? Red ink pointing out the things wrong on the paper. From the time we start to learn how to learn, we are taught to focus on what we get wrong, and to then correct it. And in school, that might be quite useful, (although there’s a whole longer argument that maybe we can do that better, too.), but in relationships, with others & with ourselves, I believe doing the exact opposite is a MUCH quicker way to learn and thus get better.
When we focus on what we do right, we notice the impact it makes on our relationships right then and there. And in the moment, where, say, what might have been a huge argument turns instead into a useful conversation that you can build on and evolve from, if you NOTICE it going well, you can take note of HOW you did it, and what the person you love did in return to help it go so well, and in seeing how you succeeded, you’ve made a bit of a blueprint for yourself for how to keep it going in the future.
So, with your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, friends, and with yourself, I ask you to simply ignore the red ink. Ignore what you get wrong, and instead, pay CLOSE attention to what you and they get right, and HOW you got it right. And even, (especially if it’s your kids), tell them when they get it right, and watch that habit create for them, the ability to get it right more and more.
The good thing about it being simple but not easy, is that with practice, it becomes easier and easier, so then, one day, it’s both simple and easy, and thus, incredibly rewarding.
Here’s to focusing on the right answers for a change,
After election night, I came into the office wondering how I could possibly be helpful to my clients, who I knew were going to be feeling so much of the exact same dread and fear that I was feeling.
Where this country is currently going, the direction that we are pointing at this moment, is a scary thing to think about. And worse, most of us had absolutely no expectation that we would end up here. (I personally never thought a guy who said and did what he said and did could EVER win the position of the highest office in our land.)
What we do know, is that the worst case scenario for this country in the coming months and years, is truly terrifying, and the best case scenario is likely going to hurt a lot as it becomes reality. Even if some of what happens ends up going well, we know that much of the long-term effects will either hurt us, or someone we love directly in some way. We don’t know where we will land in 4(+) years, but we do know that where we are going will be painful at the very least, dire at worst.
‘So”, I asked myself coming into the office on Wednesday, “what in the world could I do to be helpful, knowing the truth of this?”
What ended up happening in my counseling sessions last week, was our conversations landed in a place around what my clients could do in the coming weeks, months and years to be as close to their best as possible, given the reality that times might start to get incredibly tough and their ceilings for their individual best-self might shift from where it’s been recently. Maybe, in the immediate future, each of us will be a little more angry, sad and/or anxious than we would be had the outcome been different last week. So, if that’s the case, (as it is for me and many), what then, is ‘our best’ in this reality.
What control do each of us have over what is to come, and what do our individual strengths allow us to do, to help ourselves, our communities & our loved ones.
So I decided, after my emotions calmed, I felt a bit less overwhelmed, and I moved closer to acceptance about the undeniable facts of our current reality, that this was what I wanted to write about today.
All that we can do, is to become our own individual best-selves and use our strengths to help us and others, however we can. For some that means writing, creating, putting our thoughts and feelings out there for others to see, feel and consider. (I am guessing that some of the most amazing artwork, books, plays, music, blogs, columns etc.. are about to start being created.) For others it means getting politically involved, locally or nationally. (Another guess, there’s going to be an amazing politician (or several) in years to come who says they were motivated by this election to get involved. And that person is going to change politics and our country for the better.) There’s donating to worthy causes that will likely see a drop in funding soon and for the foreseeable future, and there’s supporting ourselves and our loved ones by spending time together, talking, cooking, socializing, and spreading love.
I am planning on keeping a closer eye on politics, left, right & center, in the coming months and years, because I know that both staying informed of what’s truly happening and knowing that I am not alone in my views is important for me. Further, I know that seeing everything as clearly as possible, even the scary horrible stuff, helps me stay calm and feel more in-control. I want to be prepared, rather than blindsided.
So figure out for yourself, what do you, at your best, do best…. then go do it, knowing that if we all stay involved, doing our individual best, we will get through this as well as we possibly can. And that is VERY different than allowing this to make us our worst and maybe not getting through this at all.
From here to a place where we struggled but fought, is BOUND to be better than from here to a place where we whined and gave up.
Game on. Let’s go.
Recently, someone I care about has been having a very hard time. She has been pretty noticeably down, feeling stressed and sad, and for some pretty good reasons. She’s had a lot of friends get sick lately, and one recently passed away, and then she got injured herself. It’s just been a really rough few months.
I was with this loved one yesterday, and I noticed her laughing at something, then as she was cleaning her kitchen, she was humming a bit to herself and she got some small but good news, and she celebrated with her arms raised and a little shout. As I was leaving her company last night, I thought to myself, ‘she really seems like she’s feeling better.’, and then, I turned to her and I told her that I noticed her laughing again and smiling, and that it seemed as though she must be feeling better. She thought about it for a second, and she said, “Yeah, I guess I am!”, and then we bid each other good bye and I left.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and how we are typically really good at noticing when our loved ones aren’t quite themselves, when they’re feeling down or anxious, but are we quite as good at noticing when they bounce back? What difference might it make if we all paid a little closer attention to the better days we have, especially when we’re going through a rough patch?
Here’s to noticing that bounce,
When the supreme court legalized marriage for everyone…that very day in fact…I married the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. We have been together for 5 years, and had been engaged since month 7…but we were waiting for it to be legal….trusting it would happen sooner than later.
The night we got married, before we went to bed, I said that I wanted to start a kind of tradition; I wanted us to tell each other the best things about our day before sleep every night. She readily agreed, saying she thought that was a great idea, and we talked about it some more and ironed out the details. So our tradition is that for every year we’ve been together, every night we give that many ‘things’ we enjoyed about our day. So, since we’ve been together 5 years, we give each other 5 things, and on our 6th anniversary, we’ll move up to give each other 6 things every night for a year…and so on.
So I have to confess, this is not always easy, sometimes she’s tired before I’m ready to go to bed, sometimes one of us is sick (like the night after I had surgery and was still quite groggy from it), and other times one or both of us is in a pretty terrible mood (like the day I found out I was going to need that surgery)…but we have never once failed to do it. Every single night we each list 5 good things about our day…and if I’m in a terrible mood…she helps me a little, making suggestions from things she noticed about my day….and if she’s in a terrible mood I do the same for her…and as a result every single night we end the day on a note of appreciation.
One of the best things this has done for me, is that as something cool happens in my day, I am much more likely to take a mental note of it…so I can remember to add it to my list of 5. And that has added a positive jolt to many days, and it has forced me to take note of what I’m doing or what is happening that I like and appreciate. Another cool thing, is that if someone is with us around bedtime, like her niece or nephew, that person joins in, and we get to hear about the things they consider positive in their day.
Perhaps the coolest thing though…is that I feel like I’m more of a part of my wife’s day now…I know a bit more about her work and her colleagues than I did before, because she’ll tell me something positive about one of them, and this will spur a little conversation about something that we may never have talked about before starting this tradition.
So, my challenge to you, if you feel it could be helpful for you… is to start something like this of your own. With your spouse, kid(s), BFF, sibling…whoever and however you’d like. And if you do, I’d LOVE to hear about it. You can find Dallas Rainbow Counseling on FB or twitter and let me know how it worked.
This post is definitely going on the list tonight. 🙂
Rebekka Ouer, LCSW