Shaping Love a Seminal-Study by Dr Sue Johnson

Source: drsuejohnson.com Any researcher knows that, if you aspire to be an ‘objective’ scientist, you are not allowed to be passionately impressed by your own research. I am now going to break that rule. It seems appropriate at the beginning of a New Year that my lab has just put out a new and rip roaring, cutting edge study (you can see it in early view in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy). This study is 25 years in the making and shows that we can now do something seemingly impossible – something that will speak to everyone who ever said to themselves, “Well what is all this love and romance stuff anyway and how does it work?” Which is pretty much everyone!   …Continue Reading  ...
Living Mindfully in the Moment

Living Mindfully in the Moment

We live in a society where more than 1 in every 4 Americans say they have a great deal of stress in their life. Stress is normal and is a necessary part of one’s daily life. Stress is a feeling that’s created when we react to particular events. It’s the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. How do you handle stress? When stress feels overwhelming does it paralyze you with anxiety, worry, fear or helplessness? Or does it manifest in depression, keeping you from letting go of the past? Can you instead bring your focus to the present, to ground you in the moment? The practice of mindfulness, founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, is maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune in to what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Here are a few key components of practicing mindfulness that Kabat-Zinn and others identify: Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions. Notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness. Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are fleeting and do not define you, an insight that can free you from...
Generating Gratitude This Holiday Season

Generating Gratitude This Holiday Season

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” – Cynthia Ozick When a person is asked what they’d do different if given a second chance and their response is I wouldn’t change a thing, this totally baffles me! Maybe it’s just me but there were several things I wish I handled differently. The most helpful shift has been to put judgment aside and look for the good intention behind seemingly negative behavior (especially of my husband and children). Looking for good (instead of focusing on negative) has made life so much more fulfilling. Robert Emmons,  Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UC Davis is renowned for his research on gratitude. He says “gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.” He offers the following tips to cultivate gratitude: Keep a gratitude journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. Setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable life theme of gratefulness. Remember the Bad. To be grateful in your current state, it is helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced. When you remember how difficult life used to be and how far you have come, you set up an explicit contrast in your mind, and this contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness. Reflect on Three Questions. “What have I received from __?”, “What...
Gratitude Generates Greater Happiness

Gratitude Generates Greater Happiness

The holiday season creates expectations for a festive and loving gathering with family and friends. Yet it’s often met with undue stress, disappointment, anxiety or depression. Maybe it’s fortuitous that Thanksgiving kicks off the season. We’re expected to be grateful. If this attitude of gratitude were adapted into our daily lives, might it bring greater happiness? As a psychotherapist, I often work with people suffering from anxiety or depression. One of my first tasks is to create a safe enough environment for the person to trust me enough to decrease the negative rumination. As they move away from their inner doubts and fears they’re able to view life more realistically. They eventually discover that there is much to be thankful for. Gratitude is defined as the feeling or quality of being grateful. It is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. They recognize that many times the source of that goodness lies outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. UC Riverside professor, Sonja Lyubomirsky, says in her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, that “Gratitude is many things to many people. It is wonder, appreciation, looking on the bright side of a setback. It is fathoming abundance, thanking someone in your life, thanking God and ‘counting blessings.’ It is coping, present-oriented and not taking things for granted.” Her research demonstrates that “expressing gratitude has several benefits. People...
The Five Languages of Apology

The Five Languages of Apology

Has a loved one ever hurt you and though they apologized, you weren’t able to put the offense behind you? Something about their apology was missing the mark. In their book, “The Five Languages of Apology” Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas found that “what one person considers a sincere apology is not necessarily what another person may consider a sincere apology. In essence, they have different languages of apology.” Apologizing is fundamental to having healthy relationships. The five are as follows: a. Expressing Regret: “I am sorry” The offended person needs to hear the words I am sorry. Those words convey ownership; that you realize what you did has hurt them deeply. It acknowledges and identifies their pain and ownership of your behavior. “Without the expression of regret, they do not sense that the apology is adequate or sincere.” b. Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong” Willingness to admit wrongdoing. Own it. Conveying that what you did was wrong, unkind or insensitive. Some people have a difficult time admitting they’re wrong. Saying I was wrong does not mean I am bad. It erroneously becomes tied to their self-worth instead of being linked with behavior. Everyone messes up from time to time. No one is perfect. As one comes to terms with their individual strengths and limitations without feeling ashamed, they will be better able to own the wrongdoing. c. Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?” A person whose primary language is making restitution requires that the offender express a willingness to do something to make up for the pain that was caused. (When you know what...

7 Tips to Help Children Manage Stress

Some children mange the pressures of school quite nicely while others find that too many commitments, conflict in their families and problems with peers can be overwhelming. The key to helping kids manage stress is to teach them to problem-solve, plan and know when to say yes and no to activities and commitments. It isn’t to “make everything smooth and comfortable.” Below are 7 tips to help your children manage stress successfully. 1. Stop over-scheduling. One of the biggest stressors for kids is being over-scheduled. Yet children are expected to do well in school, excel at extracurricular activities, come home, finish homework, and go to bed just to do it all over again the next day. Where’s the downtime? Kids need downtime to rejuvenate. Their brains and bodies need to rest. And they might not realize this by themselves. So knowing when your child is over-scheduled is important. 2. Make time for play. Allow children to play with no end goal in mind. Young children do this naturally. Combine play with physical activity, which is critical for well-being. Some ideas include: riding your bikes, throwing around the baseball, wrestling and hiking. 3. Make sleep a priority. Sleep is vital for everything from minimizing stress to boosting mood to improving school performance. If your child isn’t getting enough sleep it may be an indicator that they’re over-scheduled. If possible, keep TV and other electronics out of your child’s bedroom. 4. Teach your children to listen to their bodies. Try this: Sit in the car with your child, and press the gas and brake, and listen to the engine revving. Explain...
Helping Children Cope with Stress

Helping Children Cope with Stress

As the new school year is upon us, so does a wave of emotions for your children: excitement, homework, and sometimes stress. Stress is a normal physical response to events that disrupts the emotional balance in the body. Most of the stress comes from the demands of the environment (school, family, social) that are greater than one’s current level of coping. Everyone is affected by stress and each reacts to it in their own way. There are both “good stress” and “bad stress.” Good stress is that optimal amount of stress that energizes and motivates us to do our best work. It encourages us to develop effective coping strategies to deal with our challenges. This ultimately contributes to one’s resilience. Bad stress occurs when we feel overwhelmed and unable to move forward. Parents may be unaware of the stress their children experience. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that the following are common causes of stress for school-aged children: School: When their classroom lacks structure, have unclear or unreasonable expectations, or have an unrealistic fear of failure. Home: Lack of family routines, over-scheduling, prolonged or serious illness, poor nutrition, change in the family situation, financial problems, family strife or abuse, or unclear or unreasonable expectations. Peer-related: Having to deal with bullying, fitting in with the crowd, or moving to a new community. The following strategies from “Helping Kids Cope With Stress” Kids Health may be helpful: Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something’s bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. (“It seems like you’re still...

Working Together Strengthens Family Bonds

We’re in the middle of summer now, and you’ve likely had the children home for a good three weeks. Are you having the best summer ever? Or have you begun counting down the days to when they go back to school? In order for all of us to enjoy the summer it’s important that we pull together, divide the daily household workload, be considerate of one another’s commitments and celebrate life daily together. Including children in daily responsibilities teaches them realistic life lessons. Consider the following: 1. Give your children household chores. Chores given at an early age helps children build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance. It also teaches them how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs. Richard Rende, a developmental psychologist says “Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success. But ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success—and that’s household chores.” Chores, when done in the spirit of cooperation strengthens family cohesion. 2. Create a schedule. Children feel more secure when they know what to expect from day to day. Similar to a teacher, in order for the day to run smoothly, teachers have a daily lesson plan. At home the structure may be – children get up at a reasonable time,  help in preparing breakfast, cleaning up the living areas, then playing outdoors. Reading, indoor activity and lunch followed by quiet time / nap time. Also, make time to play and structure time to chill and relax. 3. Help your children develop a healthy relationship with time. Manage down-time...
Emotional Regulation Cheat Sheet

Emotional Regulation Cheat Sheet

No matter how good your communication skills, everyone experiences “emotional hijacking” when conflict affects their significant relationships.   First Step for Emotion Regulation: ASSESS the elements of what is happening ACTION: Stop doing whatever you are doing, so that you may reflect on your own experience EMOTION: Label the emotion you are experiencing in the moment. (a one word answer, such as anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, anxiety) THOUGHTS: What types of thoughts are you having related to the emotion?                a. All or None                b. Judgmental                c. Catastrophizing                d. Mind Reading                e. Assuming the worst                f. Time Traveling   Second Step for Emotion Regulation: Application of SKILLS ACTION: Inhale, expanding the belly, for a count of 3; Exhale, contracting the belly, for a count of 5. Repeat 6 times EMOTION: Validate it; Practice KIND – NON JUDGMENTAL- COMPASSION towards yourself for having the emotion. Say to yourself “It makes sense that I am having this emotion, based on….”         i. My history         ii. Anyone would feel this way in the same situation         iii. My current biological disposition (e.g. sleep deprivation, PMS, recent alcohol consumption, medical illness, other stressors) THOUGHTS: Let go of sticky obsessive thoughts, REDIRECT ATTENTION to the present moment.      a. Move attention to the physical sensations of breathing (see step 1b).      b. Next, notice the feeling of being inside your mind-body vehicle.      c. Hear...