Mood, Motivation and COVID-19

Mood and motivation often take a nose dive because of COVID-19 and all the problems of the pandemic. Shut downs, quarantine, loneliness, isolation, flashbacks, trauma triggers, bad memories, painful thoughts of the past…  I wanted to offer several suggestions and a couple of psychology concepts that might help. That’s me, I love talking about psychology. I’m eager to help. Continue reading “Mood, Motivation and COVID-19”

Is Now A Good Time To Start Therapy?

Yes, now Is a good time to start therapy, in case you were wondering. While you’re staying home, sheltering in place, quarantined, staying safe from COVID-19 coronavirus you have more time available. Negative thoughts seem to pop up more. As a result of the lack of variety, lack of social events, and boredom, it’s hard to distract from those negative thoughts. Therefore, as a therapist, I recommend dealing with them. I recommend that you start therapy now. Continue reading “Is Now A Good Time To Start Therapy?”

Coronavirus and Therapy: Stress, anxiety, flashbacks

THERAPY REALLY WORKS

In recent weeks of the coronavirus pandemic I’ve had clients say, therapy really works, I feel like I can handle this now. I am free, I feel so much lighter, I feel like I dropped baggage I’ve been carrying for years, I’ve learned to keep myself safe. These are paraphrases of the words of my clients at the end of a processing session. I don’t want to quote anyone directly and I don’t want to breach confidentiality so I won’t use clients’ actual words or scenarios.

STUCK AT HOME

Some people are introverts and happy to be working at home. They’re more productive than ever. Others are extroverts and are suffering. They’re missing seeing people. Video conferencing just isn’t the same. Some are having a hard time for other reasons. They’re anxious. Their moods are down. Some are worrying about death and thinking about God and religion. Some are totally distracted and stressed that they’re not getting enough done as a result. Finding it hard to focus. They’re wishing they had a separate space for their work. Missing their office, their facilities, public spaces. Wishing they could still go to the gym. Making a million trips a day to the fridge. You probably saw a meme about that, right? Client miss going outdoors. There’s a meme about borrowing a dog so you can go for a walk while on lockdown. 

Some people are lucky to be home during coronavirus shelter in place with their loved ones. But not everyone has that. Some only have their loved ones at home some of the time. Clients are feeling better when they get exercise. Some are going for groceries every day as a reason to get out of the house. Some are spending too much money on shopping. Others are spending too much time on social media. Some are feeling overwhelmed by the bad news in the media, so they’re shutting it off.

THERAPY CONCEPTS AND COPING SKILLS

When I talk with clients, we choose what to focus on in a session together. Often, a theme emerges early in the session. Naturally the theme that has come up most often in therapy has been coronavirus. Depending on what the client needs, I might present a concept like the window of tolerance. Then we might practice coping skills to help them get back into their window of tolerance. We practice imagining a relaxing place, containing bothersome thoughts, imagining their TV screen can play a nature channel and they can watch the Big Sur or Mexican beach channel, taking a one-minute vacation, being mindful, setting an alarm every hour to breathe 10 times and check in to notice what they’re feeling and thinking. 

RESOURCES

You can find these exercises and many more in Francine Shapiro’s book for practitioners on Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization (EMDR), Tapping In: A Step By Step Guide to Activating Your Healing Resources Through Bilateral Stimulation by Laurel Parnell, Fred Luskin’s books Stress Free for Good and Forgive for Good, The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris, a book about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World a mindfulness based stress reduction program by Mark Williams and Danny Penman and thoroughly researched at Cambridge University. You can find the meditations in the book at Mindfulness and Meditation Downloads . Yes, laugh with me. Humor is healthy. It’s true, I like to learn and read a lot.

PROCESSING PAINFUL EXPERIENCES FROM THE PAST

Getting back to the topic of working with clients, some clients noticed that what was so hard about being on lockdown in order to prevent the spread of corona virus was connected with the past. In therapy, I guided clients through processing. 

These past weeks in therapy, when clients needed to process how it feels to stay home because of coronavirus, it was because the current situation was brought up something that happened in their past. They made connections between the current situation and painful episodes in their past. For some, it was their childhoods. Of course their childhood comes up. The child from the past lives inside of us in our memories. That child self holds unresolved pain from the past. That child made decisions about how to respond to difficult situations that still inform the decisions they make today. When we process, clients gradually release the pain stored in the memories of the child. They begin to form a sense of what it would have been like to have parents who cared for them appropriately. We eventually learn to reject what was not healthy and form new beliefs, new thoughts and feelings and provide for ourselves what we didn’t get as children. 

BLOSSOMING

My clients did beautiful work. I often use the metaphor of a flower opening. I put the heels of my palms together and gently open my hands. Each flower opens in its own timing and has a unique arrangement of petals, its own beauty. For me, that unfolding reflects the clients’ process. Although I facilitate the processing, the clients direct where it goes and how it unfolds. In that sense, it is self-directed. The insights, wisdom, self-protective energy, strength, humor, healing and repair emerge from within the clients. The beauty of the process is so unique and so moving. I have had scalp chills, tears and laughter these last few weeks.

IF YOU NEED HELP SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULT

If you are not doing well and feel you need some coping skills to get through this difficult time of coronavirus or therapy with a trusted therapist to help you process your past, please schedule a free consult with me. 

SCHEDULE YOUR APPOINTMENT

Coping skills to the rescue: Compartmentalizing decreases stress, anxiety, trauma

I teach you ways to reduce anxiety, stress, or symptoms of trauma or PTSD before we start dealing directly with traumatic experiences using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). We spend a significant amount of time laying a foundation of strength and resilience before we start to work through the trauma. I do this by helping you build coping skills first.
Relaxation is the first coping skill necessary for dealing with trauma. Please refer to my blog on relaxation, if you haven’t read it already. I help you imagine a place to think of when you need to de-stress or to reduce anxiety. Call it your relaxing place or your one second vacation, your haven or refuge. (I avoid the words “safe place” because for many people who have experienced trauma, no place is safe.) Imagine yourself in your relaxing place whenever you need a break from the stresses of life or trauma.
I also teach other relaxation exercises like Fred Luskin’s Belly BreathingTense to Relax, the Big Sur Channel and the One Minute Vacation. Imagine a TV screen that shows relaxing scenes of nature, the waves crashing on the shore at Big Sur, quiet streams, mountain meadows, a favorite lake, forest, waterfall… Flip the channel whenever you feel like it. For 60 seconds, imagine yourself on a relaxing vacation.
Compartmentalizing is another word for the EMDR concept of containment. It is crucial to be able to stop thinking about bad experiences. When you start to deal with bad experiences, you need to do it in manageable pieces. You need to be able to do a piece of work and then stop until next session. You need a break! In order to take a break, you imagine putting the issue(s) or experience(s) into a container. I like to imagine putting my “stuff” into a bank vault. You put thoughts in the container and leave them there until you are ready to open the container again and do some more work. You’ve heard about people who are good at compartmentalizing. They leave thoughts of work at work. They enjoy their free time and their families. Thoughts of work do not intrude on their personal time. This is similar to the coping skill of containment. With practice, you get very good at containing bothersome thoughts. They stop intruding. You will notice that over time that there is less and less to put in a container. When you’re ready to process the past with your counselor, you can take the thoughts out of their container. They are at your command.
Who or what can come in here now and help you with this? Nurturing, protective, and wise ones are the next resource / coping skill I like clients to have. I help people think of who they would like to help them and build the ability to feel protected, nurtured and supported when they think of these people or beings. These imaginary resources help people feel better, less anxious, less affected by negative experiences, stronger, more capable, more able to perform in day-to-day life, as well as under pressure or in difficult circumstances.
Often, I refer to a book or website in my blogs. These are places that people can go to for further information. I really like Laurel Parnell’s bookTapping In for a thorough description of the process of “installing resources.” You can order her book at Tapping In. I also recommend Fred Luskin’s books on stress management, relationships and forgiveness. Find them here: Fred Luskin’s site or on Amazon, of course.

Trauma and the People We Choose

People are like puzzle pieces. They fit together in intriguing ways. I was talking with a lady with a history of domestic violence about her new boyfriend. She told me he had a past. I like to talk with my hands, so I made a fist with my right hand and a C with my left hand and gently, I showed how the fist fit into the C. The allusion to domestic violence was intentional. I was trying to make the point that it is hard to make good choices until you have healed from the trauma in your past.  Unfortunately there’s a thing called trauma reenactment: People choose other people to repeat their past trauma and drama. We do this until we’ve healed enough to make better choices. With a new gesture, I put my palms gently together to show how two people can come to a relationship whole and healed. One way to resolve trauma is through EMDR reprocessing therapy.  There are other forms of healing trauma as well. If you heal, it will help you make new choices and take good care of yourself.
Who knew? Puzzle piece parts have names, such as tab for the “outie” part of a puzzle piece and blank, for the “innie” part of a puzzle piece. Tabs and blanks interlock.

12 “Happiness Activities” and 10 “LifeSkills”

Have a look at the 12 “Happiness Activities” below and the 10 “LifeSkills” (aka stress relief or stress management exercises) below. I hope they’ll give you some good ideas for greater happiness in your life and ways to reduce your stress levels.
Sonja Lyubomirsky describes “Happiness Activities” inThe How of Happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want(released in 2008 by Penguin Press). The “LifeSkills” are covered in detail inStress Free for Goodby Fred Luskin (published in 2005 by HarperCollins). Fred Luskin worked on his ideas at Stanford University School of Medicine, Sonja Lyubomirsky at University of California, Riverside. We highly recommend both books.
Contrast and Compare Happiness Activities versus Stress Management Techniques aka LifeSkills. Joke. I’m not really suggesting a writing assignment. However, in all seriousness, I would love to hear from you about your impressions. For example, I would like to know, if a blog gave instructions, would you be likely to implement any of these on your own? Which exercises do you like the sound of best? Are you more likely to try a “Happiness Activity” or a “LifeSkill?” Would you rather call it a stress-reduction exercise or stress-management technique or something else?
Twelve “Happiness” activities from The How of Happiness:
“Expressing Gratitude,”
“Cultivating Optimism,”
“Avoiding Overthinking and Social Comparison,”
“Practicing Acts of Kindness,”
“Nurturing Social Relationships,”
“Developing Strategies for Coping,”
“Learning to Forgive,”
“Increasing Flow Experiences,”
“Savoring Life’s Joys,”
“Committing to Your Goals,”
“Practicing Religion and Spirituality,”
“Taking Care of Your Body (Meditation…Physical Activity… [and] Acting Like a Happy Person).”
Ten LifeSkills from Stress Free for Good:
“Breathe from Your Belly,”
“So Much to Appreciate,”
“Tense to Relax,”
“Visualize Success,”
“Slow Down,”
“Appreciate Yourself,”
“Smile Because You Care,”
“Stop Doing What Doesn’t Work,”
“Just Say No,”
“Accept What You Cannot Change,”
“No Time Like the Present.”
Both sets have a lot in common. My guess is that you would get very similar results over time, no matter whether you practiced your three best fitting Happiness Activities or a few LifeSkills on a regular basis.
What’s your opinion or experience? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Stress Management, Stress Relief and the Happiness Connection

Check out the exercises below and build your own evidence-based stress relief program.
My research got me really excited about the connection between stress management and happiness.  As you may have noticed, I am a bit of a nerd about evidence-based anything and especially stress management, stress reduction, stress relief, stress busting, relaxation, relaxation exercises, high blood pressure, executive burnout, professional distress; helping professionals, such as nurses, doctors, social workers, and therapists; teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, professors; overwhelmed mothers, stay at home fathers, those who are hopeless at the holidays, and suicide prevention.
The major theme that emerged is thatthe same exercises recommended to manage stress are included in the literature on happiness.  Does it make you ask, “What is the connection between stress and happiness?”
Wonder of wonders: when you feel like your stress is manageable, you get happier.  (Just so you know, I am in awe of the connection, honest.  I am a very enthusiastic person.  Sometimes it sounds sarcastic in writing when I don’t mean it that way.)  This stress management blog follows the link between stress reduction and increasing happiness.
There are any number of stress busting exercises out there.  Of course, they don’t work if you don’t do them.  And there’s the problem.  Sadly, Stanford University School of Medicine research shows thatmost people don’t do stress management exercises unless they spend at least three minutes going through them together with a practitioner.  That practitioner is me, and the purpose of this blog is for you to practice at least four stress relief exercises each week.
For the first week I recommend you focus on the four evidence-based exercises below:
1.  Belly Breathing
2.  Guided Relaxation
3.  Give Thanks / Gratitude
4.  Appreciate Your Self
They come from the Stanford Prevention Research Center and Fred Luskin’s book,Stress Free for Good, HarperCollins, 2005.  In class we use a blood pressure cuff (provided) to measure your pre- and post-exercise blood pressure and pulse.  Feel free to buy one to use at home.  They are available in most drug stores.  If you are into evidence, like I am, a blood pressure cuff is the most accessible tool to measure decreased stress.  Pulse is easy to measure with any timepiece.  Unfortunately, pulse alone is not a good indicator of reduced stress.  However, on the positive side, you can still accumulate evidence without instruments.  More than any scientific measuring device, you are an expert on yourself.  All you have to do is record the date and rate your pre- and post-stress-relief exercise level of stress/relaxation on a scale of 1 to 10 or 1 to 100.
If you get yourself organized with chart and blood pressure cuff at the ready and clear your schedule for 15 to 20 minutes, you can get through all four exercises below in one session.  If not, I highly recommend doing each one briefly any time you get a chance.  Instructions are below.
Date:
Exercise
Time**
Pre–Stress / Relax Rating
Pre BP
Post-Stress/ Relax Rating
Post BP
1.  Belly Breathing
2.  Guided Relaxation
3.  Give Thanks / Gratitude
4.  Appreciate Your Self
** It’s important to record the time, because blood pressure varies over the course of the day.
  1. Belly Breathing, 3 minutes
    1. Take and record pre-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
    2. Breathe air in slowly so your belly goes up and down for 3 minutes (but don’t hyperventilate!).  It might help to rest your hands gently on your belly so you can feel them lift as your breathe and fall as you breathe out.  Some sources recommend holding the breath for a count of three after breathing in and after breathing out.
    3. Record your post-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
  2. Guided Relaxation,  3 minutes
    1. Take and record pre-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
    2. Mentally talk yourself through physical relaxation from toe to crown of head.  Feel free to concentrate more on any area of your body that needs it.  Breathe whenever you want throughout.  Here’s an example.  If you use the following script, read it slowly and stretch it out over 3 minutes:
Breathe in and relax your toes… Wiggle them just a little bit and relax…  Let that go and breathe in and relax your ankles…  Now let that go and then breathe in deeply and relax your calves…  Let that go…  Breathe in and relax your knees.  Now let that go…and breathe in and relax your thighs…  Let that go…  Breathe in and relax your whole hip area, front and back…  Notice how you’re sitting and how that feels…  Shift your body if you need to, so you’re more relaxed… Breathe in and relax your stomach…  Let that go…  Now breathe in and relax your back muscles…    Really feel the breath expand through your belly and into your back muscles…  Now roll your shoulders a bit then breathe in and let them rise and fall with your breath…  Great.  Let that go and breathe in and focus on your upper arms…  Ok, breathe out slowly then breathe back in slowly and relax your forearms…  Now let that go and breathe in and relax your hands…  Wiggle your fingers ever so slightly…  Breathe in again and relax again.  Going back up your arms, breathe in and out slowly.  We’re getting to the neck, where people hold a lot of tension…  Breathe in and pay attention to how your neck feels.  Do this several times…  Using very small movements, gently move your head in a circle, and relax…  Now let that go and feel the muscles in your face…  Breathe in and relax…  Smile just a tiny bit with your mouth and breathe in slowly…  Relax and breathe out slowly…
    1. Record your post-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
  1. Giving thanks / Gratitude, 3 minutes
    1. Take and record pre-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
    2. Spend 3 minutes (or any period of time) thinking about all the things you are grateful for, and all the things you appreciate in life.  What are you grateful for?  Think of the categories do, be, have.  I am grateful that I can do ____________, that I have __________, that I am ______________.  Who are you grateful for?  Family, friends, heroes, people who have been kind, leaders, people who love you.  One of my favorite stories is about a mother who counted all her chickens, literally.  She had chicken for dinner every week when she could afford it.  She happily counted all the times she had chicken for dinner.  She reviewed her life, where she lived, the family gathered for the meal, and her life events by reviewing week after week, chicken by chicken.  (Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen, 1996, Penguin Putnam.)
    3. Record your post-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
  2. Appreciate all that you do and all that you are, 3 minutes
    1. Take and record pre-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
    2. Spend 3 minutes appreciating “the things that you do that are loving or helpful.”  Give yourself credit for all the times you’ve really tried, what you have tried to accomplish, even if you didn’t succeed, and your successes.  Keep Thomas Edison in mind.  He spent years developing the light bulb.  Someone else beat him to the patent, so he formed a joint venture, EdiSwan, with the other guy.  Even more important for beating stress, don’t focus on accomplishment, as much as positive qualities.  Reflect on the positive aspects of your character, who you are, the effort you make in your life, what you’re good at, and what makes you happy.
    3. Record your post-exercise blood pressure and pulse, and a 1-10 or 1-100 stressed/relaxed rating.
Date:
Exercise
Time**
Pre- Stress / Relax Rating
Pre BP
Post- Stress / Relax Rating
Post BP
1.  Belly Breathing
2.  Guided Relaxation
3.  Giving Thanks / Gratitude
4.  Appreciating Your Self
** It’s important to record the time, because blood pressure varies over the course of the day.
Chart notes:
  • Blood pressure is lowest during sleep, rises during the day, peaks in the afternoon or early evening, and then starts going back down.
  • The change between pre- and post-exercise blood pressure is the closest approximation of relaxation because blood pressure changes throughout the day.
  • If you’re into pure science, it is more reliable if take your blood pressure three times, one minute apart, both before and after the stress-busting exercise and  then take an average of the three readings.
  • A 1-10 rating has no exact middle.   It forces you to choose 1-5 or 6-10 whether you’re more relaxed or more stressed.  The middle of a 0-10 rating is 5.
  • 0 or 1 is the most relaxed possible and 10 or 100 is maximum stress, for uniformity.  That way we can discuss levels of stress and relaxation and our numbers will mean the same thing.
Listen, about suicide, I don’t mean to be depressing.  If you feel suicidal, I am concerned about you.  In the US, please call 800-273-8255.  It’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Your call will be routed to the nearest call center as soon as possible.  You will be on hold a bit, but please wait.  They will be glad you called.
If you’re feeling down or depressed, these exercises might help a little bit.  You might be pleased to hear that40% of your happiness is under your control.  With a lot of grit, you can actively choose to be happy.  If you’re consistent, and use your willpower, you can permanently change how happy your feel.
No one who knows about depression expects you to be able to put on a happy face if you are seriously depressed or having a depressive episode.  Your neurochemicals, those chemicals and hormones that run your mood in your brain, are overpowering.  Please, get help from a professional therapist or psychiatrist to get you over the hurdle of the worst of it.
If you’re moderately in control of your mood and you’re looking for something to pick you up, here are a couple more suggestions, over and above the stress-relief exercises:  Get in touch with friends.  Talk with family.  Reach out to co-workers.  The caveat:  Choose to connect with those who would respond with kindness.  Another happiness maker is to volunteer your time to those who need it.  Call 211 to find a place to volunteer.
To help prevent suicide, check this out:  Did you know that male teens, young men, dentists, veterans, emergency response personnel (EMTs, fire fighters and police), doctors, and guards are at greater risk for suicide?  Please express your appreciation to them.  Give them a boost at this time of year and later in the spring, when suicide is highest, ok?  You may save a life.
With regard to the Happiness Connection, there’s an evidence-based book calledThe How of Happinessby Sonja Lyubomirsky, Penguin Press, 2007.  It describes twelve happiness activities and guides you through selecting a few that are easiest to integrate into your life and most likely that you will continue to do them over time.  The happiness enhancing activities Lyuobomirsky suggests are very similar to activities that reduce stress!

Anger Management

We can get at anger a number of different ways.
It is important to understand that anger serves a healthy function. In Marshall Rosenberg’s book, The Surprising Purpose of Anger he wrote that the purpose of anger is to alert you that your boundaries have been violated and give you the energy to take action to protect yourself.
Explore your history. How did you learn to express anger? Then reflect in thought in feelings. Consider your values around anger. If spirituality is important to you, incorporate that in your reflections. Do you feel led to make a change? How would you like to be different? How would you like to express anger differently from what you learned in the past?
There are many ways to work on making a change and managing anger in your life. Typically in therapy, you and I would design a plan that would include some or all of the following approaches. One is cognitive: Control anger by using your brain. Find ways to manage your anger using coping skills. One coping skill is called the Rage Gauge. You remain mindful of your feelings and pay special attention to feelings of anger. You rate how your feeling on a scale of 0 to 10 or 0 to 100. Using this measure of anger, you develop warning systems and action plans to deal with increasing levels of anger. The warning system I like is a flag system: green, yellow, red flags to help choose actions. Some things to do to manage anger as you feel it increasing include such relaxation exercises as Breathe from Your Belly, or One Minute Vacation, imagine yourself somewhere relaxing.
Another approach is to understand your thinking habits and understand the way your body works when angry / under stress.  The Sympathetic System of nerves prepares your body to defend against danger.  The Parasympathetic System of nerves brings the body back into a calm state. To address the Somatic aspects of anger reactions, you begin with mindfulness. What body sensations do you notice when you’re angry? Our bodies have not evolved since caveman/woman times and our bodies are hardwired to respond to danger. The body reacts to anger and stress the same ways. Thus, to address the fact that despite our living a modern life in buildings with no life-threatening dangers, we are still equipped to return to our caveman ways. Evolution has not caught up. For that reason, it is helpful to practice managing your anger in session. The phrase, practice makes perfect is accurate. It applies to sports and all forms of training. Thus, when you practice anger management coping skills in session, you are more readily able to implement them in real life situations.
To augment the cognitive and somatic approaches, we also address your beliefs and values. How do you want to behave toward your loved ones? This is called Relational: What is my relationship with this person?  How do I want it to go when I one of us gets angry?  (Again history comes into play.
In addition to our fight or flight systems, that prime us to become angry, the way we grew up  shapes how we get angry and respond to anger. What is your trauma history? What are the triggers for anger? By desensitizing and reprocessing past events with an EMDR therapist, you can un-do the negative effects of your past. Ultimately, it is possible to stop reacting to triggers.

Style differences in couples and NLP

Style differences in couples can lead to misunderstandings. Body language, eye contact, or lack thereof, how fast or slowly you talk, the words you use, thinking styles, and how you act can affect your relationships with people.  

I learned to observe style differences in NLP training. However, the top web sites that show up on a google search are not at all helpful. So allow me to summarize some of the useful elements of neurolinguistic programming.

Rapport (French word, pronounced rap por): Good rapport is connection that feels good. You can often tell when people are in rapport because their body language is similar. For example, their legs look the same. They’re both crossed or not. Their bodies are in similar positions. For example, both might be leaning forward towards each other. Their voices are equally loud, they move the same, and they use the same level of vocabulary. If one swears a lot, so does the other. You get the idea. 

If you’re not in rapport, what can you do?

 

  • Observe:  You can consciously make the effort to observe the other person’s style.  How far apart from you do they stand?  How big is their personal space?  Do they talk with their hands?  What is their body position?  What is their energy level?  What are they talking about?  How do they process?  How do they make decisions?  How do they deal with conflict?  What motivates and inspires them?

 

  1. Match:  You can consciously make the effort to match them.  If they’re loud, and you’re not, raise your voice a little.  If they’re being intense, ratchet up your intensity a little.  People feel mocked if you copy them exactly.  So the idea is to think and act and move and talk a little more like them.  Modify how you are to match them a little.

 

In one NLP training the facilitator told a long story about bouncers at night clubs. Some of them are masters at rapport. The long and short of the story was that good bouncers match the body language of the rowdy customer just right and get them to de-escalate, calm down. They prevent fights; they don’t just stop them.

In one NLP training the facilitator told a long story about bouncers at night clubs. Some of them are masters at rapport. The long and short of the story was that good bouncers match the body language of the rowdy customer just right and get them to de-escalate, calm down. They prevent fights; they don’t just stop them.  

If you’re me you’ll talk about it. (Laugh with me here, because I enjoy laughing and I laugh at myself a lot.) I’m into psychology and body language and people and how they get along, or not. If the other person is leaning forward, I lean forward to match them. When it fits in the flow of things, I have meta-conversation about styles. For example, I might say, “Our styles are really different. I noticed that you like to think things through. When things get intense, you want some space to process. It seems like you need to feel your feelings and think things through on your own. You go to your room, and you calm down before you’re ready to talk with me again.”  

In a friendship when I’m getting to know someone, I might say, “You seem like you’re into family, and you enjoy adventure. I bet you would go to an amusement park with your kids at the drop of a hat.” 

There is a whole lot more to be said on this topic. But note that differences between the two people who make up a couple are important. At first opposites attract, but then, opposite become irritating. When things settle down in a relationship, people accept the ways that are different in their loved one. That doesn’t mean it stops annoying you. You just learn to live with it and laugh about it, in a kind way, together. 

One of my favorite couples therapists says that there is a circle of things we will always disagree about in a relationship. We just have to be aware of what’s in that circle and keep the conversation going about those differences. Believe me, disliking your in-laws does not necessarily go away, but together you can learn to live with it.

Stages of love relationships

Love relationships and the people in them go through stages. A couple may progress through the stages together or one person may be in a different stage from the other.
Symbiosis—spend time together noticing all the things you have in common, loving everything about the other person.
Differentiation—noticing differences and becoming annoyed with some of them. Arguing about issues. Growing awareness that you are unique individuals in a relationship together. In this stage you need to find ways to deal with differences and conflict.
Practicing—spend time focusing on oneself: work, activities, friends outside the relationship.
Rapprochement—the couple turns their focus back on each other and enjoys renewed closeness.
*This is a fairly technical book written for therapists. It is a relatively easy read. Bader, E. and Pearson, P.T., 1988. In Quest of the Mythical Mate: A developmental approach to diagnosis and treatment in couples therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel Inc.
Emilio Escudero has an excellent, useful summary of the stages athttp://emilioescudero.com/files/StagesInTheDevelopmentOfACouple.pdf

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

People often make reference to “a part of me.” We say things like, “One part of me wants to go on vacation and another part of me wants to work hard, get recognition, and make a lot of money.” Richard Schwartz and others combined family therapy with this concept of parts and created a new mode of therapy called Internal Family Systems, IFS. IFS categorizes the parts into the Self, managers, exiles, and firefighters.
The Self is a centered, compassionate, curious, confident, and respectful part of us. Ideally, the Self is the leader. It helps the parts come into balance with compassion and kindness.
Managers direct day-to-day activities and long range planning. They get us to work. They perform at work and in life.
Exiles experience emotional pain. They get triggered. They react and flood us with unmanageable emotions. They are kept in exile (metaphorically, in the basement), to prevent them from taking over and doing harm.
Firefighters prevent the exiles from breaking out of exile from that metaphorical basement. Sometimes firefighters take over and engage in negative behaviors to prevent exiles from overwhelming us. Negative behaviors can include bingeing and suicidal ideation.
Managers, exiles, and firefighters can have dysfunctional patterns. For example, we might have a hypercritical manager whose purpose is to motivate us to work harder but who makes us feel badly. When it is triggered, an exile might have a pattern of taking over and exploding with anger. A firefighter might fear an exile’s explosion and pre-emptively take over to prevent the exile from scaring everybody. Consequently, the firefighter might take over and binge eat a quart of Ben & Jerry’s in order to feel some sweetness in life and stuff the emotions.
In IFS, we identify parts and explore their needs, motivations, and patterns. We discover how the parts interact with each other. We help the Self become a compassionate, strong leader. If a part is stuck in the past, we bring that part up to date. When parts have a better understanding of themselves and each other, when they are up to date about our present lives then they can develop better relationships with each other. The end result is a harmonious relationship between the parts and a Self that leads.
Schwartz, Richard 1995. Internal Family Systems Therapy,page 85. New York: Guilford Press.
Internal family systems is an area of interest for me.