catalyst

Mirroring in Relationships: Manifesting and Maintaining Connection

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What does it mean to feel connection with another person? How do you know when you are building rapport in your interactions with others? For many of us, connection starts with body language and conversation when determining relatability and ongoing engagement. Engagement can lead to belongingness and belongingness is a crucial element of positive mental health and overall wellness. So why wouldn’t we want to pursue belongingness and connection in our relationships and throughout our lives in support of optimal wellbeing?

 

Monkey See Monkey Do

Connection can be measured externally in how we interact with one another, but also internally through brain activity. Mimicking one another, often described as mirroring, was first discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD and his colleagues when studying monkeys.  Rizzolatti recognized that there was similar, observable brain activity indicating pleasure when a monkey consumed a banana as when the monkey observed a researcher consuming a banana. This brain activity involving neurons, called Mirror Neurons, provided implications that our brain activity responds in relation to others, thus encouraging development of an empathetic response. A more recent article was published in the UK on research involving infants and their mothers. With eye contact, the brain waves in the infant responded and attempted to synchronize with their mother, implying efforts at deeper connection and communication, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge.

 

Bonding in Business

Mirror neurons are important for close relationships; however, they can be influential in working relationships as well. Business gurus have developed interpersonal programs to support connection and reciprocity in business interactions, including awareness of body language, eye contact, and mannerisms. These programs can teach a person to be more aware of cues in social interactions and introduce subtle mirroring behaviors to increase engagement, likeability, and reciprocity. 

Mirroring behavior in conversations is adaptive, such as noticing when one party begins to unconsciously mimic the other in their posture, speech, and/or gestures during an interaction. As you can see from the picture we’ve chosen above, several members of the group are mirroring one another in their hand gestures, indicating connection or attempted connection in the moment. When learning these interpersonal skills for yourself, you may experiment with subtly shifting your posture to mimic the other party, exploring any observable differences in the interaction, including how you each feel towards one another. Mirroring research shows that when you make subtle attempts to mirror another person, they will find you more approachable, likeable, and connected, all which can be valuable when conducting working interactions or achieving rapport.

 

Generational Gaps

Engagement in working and personal relationships can support successful interactions, and it can also change how a person feels about themselves, including shifts in self-confidence and self-worth. Jean Twenge, a Psychologist researching generational differences including mental health, substance use, technology, and social engagement, speaks of this in depth in her book iGen. Her book highlights the dramatic shift in social interaction away from face to face contact to more technology-based connection. Her book also highlights a possible correlation between technology and lack of belongingness, even when those surveyed reported, on average, more than three hours per day of technology use including social media. Twenge’s research identifies some concerns about connection, including individuals reporting minimal person to person engagement, low self-confidence or preparedness in social situations, and thus identifies questions needing to be answered around technology and mental health.

Regardless of how we measure it, connection is important. One way of encouraging connection is getting out in the world and finding people who have things in common. This can be a pleasant opportunity to engage over shared interests and build relationships. Identifying activities you enjoy can be a starting point to engaging others around shared interests, with organizations like Meetup.com bringing groups of people together around enjoyable experiences. Pushing yourself to get out and meet people can have a positive result, as belongingness and social interaction continue to be vital parts of what it means to be human.

“You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Brene Brown

Pursuing Purpose: What Feels Worthwhile

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Purpose. Impact. Fulfillment. All are meaningful words for a desired way of living we want to maintain in pursuit of a quality life. Society may tell us to find what we love to do and do it for the rest of our life. Individuals tell us to never settle and keep pursuing our dreams. Regardless of how it’s described, pursuit of purpose, passion, or fulfillment can be seen as the driving force behind our behaviors and identity within the world. Influential author and speaker Simon Sinek calls this quest for meaning, “finding your why.”

 

Learning Through Literature

So how does one start the journey in finding their why? For some, it’s engaging in reading material such as Simon Sinek and David Mead’s book, Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team, or exploring your leadership style with Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s Strengths Based Leadership. Perhaps you explore your personality through the Enneagram, which is increasing in popularity over the Myers Briggs Personality Test in its ability to develop insight into how we interact relationally with others from reinforcement in our childhood experiences. Any of these sources could support increased awareness not only of our strengths, but awareness of the psychological driving forces behind our motivation and resulting behaviors. A free version of the Enneagram quiz called EnneaApp can be found through the App Store with additional information and the formal assessment can found at the Enneagram Institute (enneagraminstitute.com).

 

Vetting Values

In addition to read and written assessment, another low-risk option for exploration of purpose and self-discovery can occur through values exercises. Ranking a series of values by level of importance can allow further insight of what motivates a person. By engaging in a values exercise, it allows one to check in on how important values are being experienced both in the present moment and how they can be improved in the future to support feelings of fulfillment.  A free, online resource to engage in exploration of your values can be found by completing the Life Values Inventory (lifevaluesinventory.org).

 

Core Beliefs and Cognitions

Engaging in the progressive work of processing behavior patterns and values can also be explored through therapeutic work. Identifying negative thoughts or core beliefs can create new connections and awareness between actions and reactions. Core beliefs can be described as our deepest, sometimes darkest fears or beliefs about ourselves, usually focusing on negative traits such as feelings of unworthiness, being unlovable, or feelings of failure.  When experienced, core beliefs can engage visceral reactions in the body including intense feelings of shame and fear. When explored through trauma therapy modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), healing can be accelerated and supported to re-write our views of negative beliefs to something more positive, thus improving self-esteem, functioning, and relationships with others.

Whether you engage in the above-mentioned exercises to improve self-esteem, discover your purpose, or develop new insight, know that self-discovery is an exciting, sometimes lengthy process to uncover passion and motivation.  However you go about engaging in “finding your why,” enjoy the process and be gentle with yourself as you uncover your recipe for success to achieve feelings of fulfillment and keep your passions alive!

“When you find your why, you find a way to make it happen.” Eric Thomas

Mandatory: Making it Worthwhile

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“I don’t want to be here. I’m not going to say anything. I don’t know. Why should I talk to you?” You may find yourself thinking or saying thoughts like these in response to pressures to engage from a program, family, or friends. Perhaps you aren’t ready to share what’s brought you here, or what the challenges are that you are facing in this moment. Perhaps you feel like your personal freedom has been taken away, your choice to participate of your own free will. Understanding that you may feel angry, resentful, or withdrawn, please consider the following in support of getting the most out of something that is identified as mandatory.

 

Blocking or Belonging

You may come from a different background or hold different values from those you come into contact with, so what brings people together in this process? Shared experience around homelessness, financial instability, substance abuse, conflict in relationships, or a lack support can help one feel less isolated and alone in their experience. Although each person’s story is their own, the feeling of connection to others and belonging can go a long way in having an experience feel less mandatory and more voluntary. When you observe others engaging in the program or group, you may find yourself asking:

  • Do I feel I can relate to others in the group?

  • Do I feel this community is healthy, approachable, supportive, and willing to engage me in this process?

  • Do I feel supported by staff and helping professionals to achieve my goals?

  • Do I feel comfortable opening up and working on myself in the presence of others?

For many involved in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they speak of the community as an equally powerful element as the 12 Steps in to their ability to actively participate in their own sobriety. Due to the friendships they make, they feel they have a connection to others in ways that feel encouraging and uplifting in moments of challenge or struggle.

 

Building Perspective

In addition to identifying a supportive community, how you approach the experience for yourself matters. Do you have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish both short and long term? Can you set yourself up for success in your work with others? When starting this process, it is helpful to understand basic needs as the foundation for progress. Educating yourself on how basic needs such as food, safety, and shelter provide the foundation of stability gives you permission to organize goals for success. Abraham Maslow, who identified this relationship in the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, emphasizes that only when basic needs are met can one focus on higher work around self-esteem, sobriety, and relationships.

 

Relational Rapport

When exploring relationships, research tells us that therapeutic rapport accounts for more than any other factor when measuring progress towards goals set in therapy. In other words, the therapeutic relationship, unconditional positive regard, and power of feeling seen, heard, understood, and supported has positive results on goal progression. If your past experience involves trust or mistrust, being aware of how therapy and/or relationships have helped or hindered you in the past can put current resistance and reluctance in perspective. A few questions that you may find helpful at ask at the first meeting with a helping professional include:

  • What kinds of clients have you worked with before?

  • How do you work with people who are uncomfortable with therapy?

  • What do you do with feedback from clients?

  • What can I expect from working with you?

All of these questions encourage healthy discussion around the therapeutic process and can provide insight into expectations and measurable goals when engaging a helping professional in your own growth process. 

Mandatory can feel restrictive and stressful when viewed as a loss of control or freedom. What better way to reframe it than to ask yourself, what can make it worthwhile? 

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

Action Over Insight: Why You Should Be Asking “What?”

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There’s the old saying that, “deeds are more powerful than words.” It means that action is just as important, if not more so than simply talking. Although finding insight and discussing your intentions are valuable, the more critical step is actually taking action. It’s also the hardest as it means committing to a path, course, or direction.

Also, it means taking a risk, with the haunting possibility of failure. Yet, an action also has the greatest chance of success. After all, if you choose to do nothing then there will certainly be no benefit. Therefore, consider the importance of action and why you should be asking “what?”

Understand Action and Empowerment

When you commit to action and focus on the “what” you are empowering yourself. You are the person who is choosing to do something. This is much more strength-based as opposed to letting others do things for you. Or, to allow events to direct you instead of you being the one to take direction. If this is new for you then taking action may be intimidating or even scary. However, it is also thrilling and exciting to be the one committing to action. It’s led to some of the defining moments of our history. For example, it was the simple act of refusing to move from a bus seat that sparked the modern civil rights movement.

Focus on the “What” Versus “What Ifs”

When considering action, it’s easy to get caught up in the “what ifs” rather than the “what.” For example, you may spin your wheels considering all of the possible outcomes of a situation. Although both the positive and negatives outcomes exist, it’s not uncommon to solely focus on the negative ones. In turn, this can quickly lead to inaction. Instead, direct your attention to the “what” and doing the action. Yes, considering the outcome of your decision is important. Yet, if you get too stuck on the “what ifs” then you will never actually do anything.

Know That There Is No Perfect Choice

Another problem that you might have is focusing on the “perfect” decision. If you don’t make the perfect decision, what could happen? The possibilities are endless, no doubt. The reality is that there is no perfect choice. There is simply the choice (or choices) in front of you. Therefore, decide what you can do right now. In short, choose your “what.” Otherwise, you will again be stuck in the zone of crippling indecisiveness.

Find Purpose with Your “What”

You may feel that you don’t have any purpose in life. Thus, you are listless, drifting about in the world. This doesn’t have to relate only to your professional life or job. It could have to do with anything in your life. Are you just waiting for something to happen? Maybe you’re waiting for life to come to find you, fulfilling your goals and dreams. Waiting won’t fill the void that you are looking to fill.

Instead, the fastest way to discover your purpose is to choose your “what.” The reason is that your “what may take you down a path you weren’t expecting, leading to new possibilities that you never even considered. Or, perhaps you discover that you have chosen a dead-end. So what do you do now? Make a new choice and take a different course of action. Both paths are ways to finding your purpose.

Be Willing to Commit

When you choose your “what,” you are committing to something. Despite commitment being a word you may frequently hear, do you truly understand its meaning? Committing to something means a willingness to stick with it, even with the ups and downs. It means being in it for the long haul and being dedicated to the action. It’s easy to be scared away from your “what” because of the commitment. Yet, committing is necessary in order to find success. When you are asking “what,” you are directing yourself toward action. Even if you decide later on down the road that it was the wrong decision, you’re still on a successful journey to your purpose. You can always make another choice. For now, being willing to commit to the “what” and to the direction you take.


Guest post written by Brenda Bomgardner, LPC, BCC, ACS

Guest post written by Brenda Bomgardner, LPC, BCC, ACS

After completing a successful 17-year career in Human Resources at a Fortune 500 Company Brenda returned to school to earn her master’s degree in community counseling and a certificate as a board certified coach. She then launched a private practice, Creating Your Beyond, LLC.  Working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and providing entrepreneurial guidance along with career coaching brings her fulfillment and joy. She is described by her peers as an expert on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Her new book, Sweet Spot: Finding Your Private Practice Groove with Principles for ACT, will be released in the summer of 2019. Chocolate is her favorite food group and adventure is her passion pursuit. She loves visitors and invites you pop on over to her website at Creating Your Beyond and take a look around. https://brendabomgardner.com  

Self-Sabotage: Significance and Strategies

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“Self-Sabotage is when we say we want something and then we go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby

You may find yourself after the fact, stating you don’t know why you did it.  Why you ended the relationship when nothing was wrong. Why you walked out of the job after only a month. Why you picked a fight and got kicked off the team. These are just a few examples of when someone may have engaged in self-sabotage. And the question is, why?

 

Under the Iceberg

Identified as the founder of Psychology, Sigmund Freud once described the mind as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg above water was our conscious or thoughts or feelings we are aware of, and accounts for roughly 20% of our mind. The other 80% under the surface represents unconscious, and represents things we are not yet aware of to better understand our behaviors.

Mark Tyrell, Self Help author of “Self-Sabotage Behaviour can come in many forms,” identifies four common reasons one may engage in self-sabotage.

 

#1 Anticipatory Grief

For some of us, the familiarity of failure is a painful, somewhat predictable experience. We may go through our world anticipating loss, or anticipating when something good, something we enjoy, is going to switch, fall, end, or fail. Perhaps you can relate to the following thoughts of anticipatory loss or end:

  • I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  • This is too good to be true.

  • What’s the catch?

  • Nothing good lasts for me, when will this go south?

Because these thoughts have a lot of power, you may find yourself engaging in a belief that you don’t deserve good things. Or that you are doomed to suffer and that failing is inevitable. Similar to self-fulfilling prophecy, you may find yourself predicting the outcome, and in this case, it’s negative. With these thoughts in mind, you may find yourself also subscribing in the second reason one can engage in self-sabotage.

 

#2 Control Freak

If we truly believe something good is going to end badly, we may want to be in control of the outcome. Have you ever found yourself thinking:

  • I’ll just end this relationship now, it’s less painful in this moment than when it ends months or years from now.

  • Better to leave this job before I get fired.

  • I already know they are going to say our friendship is over, so I’ll just stop talking to them and get it over with.

We may convince ourselves that feeling in control of the failure in this moment can hurt less than something that comes on suddenly, out of the blue, or later when our guard is down.

 

#3 Boredom

The experience of our guard being down and everything feeling predictable can lead to discomfort as well. Predictability can lead to boredom, which can also be a reason to self-sabotage. If we go from feelings of chaos and excitement to monotony and boredom, Mark Tyrell states, as one example, we may find ourselves picking a fight with someone for no reason at all. Perhaps just for the alive feeling we get from adrenaline and excitement. Do you find yourself engaging in any of the following:

  • Picking a fight when you aren’t upset

  • Looking for trouble in new environments

  • Engaging in substance use

  • Relapsing when no trigger is present

 

#4 Feeling Unworthy

Relapsing when not triggered can also be due to feelings of low self-worth. Maybe you feel you don’t deserve success or happiness and instead, engage by punishing yourself and setting yourself up to fail. This can represent the cornerstone of self-sabotage in wanting something and doing everything in your power to not achieve it, basically going the other direction from success. When explored further, many truly believe they “aren’t worth it” and engage in behaviors that prevent progress due to those negative beliefs.

 

#5 I’m Unprepared

One final example of self-sabotage to consider is the feeling of being unprepared. Perhaps you don’t feel ready to end a support program and so you relapse to remain involved with probation or the treatment community. An observation of those in the legal system is that they don’t feel they have resources on the outside, so they find themselves committing a petty crime to be reintroduced into the environment that feels most familiar. You don’t yet feel prepared to do this on your own and so you create a reason to not be on your own.

So where do you go from here? For many, just the awareness of why one engages in self-sabotaging behaviors can be a powerful process in exploring needs and change to more positive behaviors. Being aware that you are not alone in the reasons for self-sabotage and talking about the challenges can be a healing journey towards self-love, acceptance, and success.

For additional ideas of how to manage self-sabotage, you can check out Mark Tyrell’s “Self-Sabotage Behaviour can come in many forms,” at http://www.uncommonhelp.me/articles/stop-self-sabotage-behaviour/  

“In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.” Nikos Kazantzakis

Engaging Adolescents and Caregivers in Family Therapy

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“Do I have to do family therapy?”

Yep, that's such a common question I get from my adolescent clients at the start of therapy. Here are some other common questions and statements a therapist may receive in regards to parents and caregivers being a part of an adolescent's therapy process:

"So how much are you going to tell my parents?"

"I hate these family things; i just feel so awkward."

"Do I have to be in the room when you talk to my mom/dad/guardian?"

“I’ll talk to you, but I will not talk to my parents about this!”

“Why try, nothing is going to change!”

“They/she/he just doesn’t understand me.”

 

Do any of these sound familiar in your therapeutic work?

When reflecting on these common initial responses and questions about family therapy, it has been my professional experience that I see a clear pattern of fear, lack of trust and shame arise as barriers to adolescents getting their needs met by their caregivers. Additionally, many adolescents seem to have a common misunderstanding (and caregivers too) that family therapy is about pointing fingers and being the “problem” of the family. So with this in mind, I’m excited to share some strategies I use to build rapport, connection and trust with adolescents to empower them in engaging with caregivers in family therapy.

1) Be Transparent! In other words, BE REAL with your client. Adolescents are smart, clever and can read through any BS or tip-toeing going on in the room. I give them the direct and transparent version of confidentiality and expectations of what therapy entails. 

“I know you may or may not be wanting to communicate certain things with parents, but I want you to know what I must report immediately. Any safety concern including suicidal ideation/planning, abuse, neglect, witness to violence, and self-injury must be reported to caregivers or appropriate authorities. With that being said, there may be things that come up that you are not open to sharing but would be beneficial to do so in order to get your needs met from your parents/guardians. When this happens, I want you to know I will challenge but not force you, and together we can figure out the best way to schedule a family session around it when you are ready.”

 

2) Build trust immediately: I know this one is a given, but I start with every first session letting my adolescent client know that I don’t expect them to trust me right away in an effort to ease any tension or pressure someone might feel.

“I want you to know that I don’t expect you to trust me right away. Trust takes time and is earned so that’s exactly what we are going to do. We will take time to get to know each other. You can ask me any questions you need to about myself or the process. I’ll let you know if I can’t answer it for any reason. And I want you to know if I ever ask or discuss something that you are not ready to answer, you say so, and we will use the time for what you are ready for and need. This is your time and space, and I want you to feel safe.”

 

3) Share the responsibility and “workload”. It’s essential to dispel any myth or belief with the adolescent and caregivers that a) they are the problem child and b)your job is to “fix” them in some way. Again, this is where I use transparency in the first session or parent consult (as well as throughout ongoing treatment) to set clear expectations for all involved.

To caregivers: “I want you to know that if i’m working with your child, I’m working with you also.  In many ways, this work can be equal or more for the parent.  My job is not to “fix”. Rather, i’m here to provide assessment, education, skill-building and a safe space to process and build awareness so that you and your child can more effectively communicate, understand one another and connect in a meaningful way to address the barriers.” I always let adolescents know that I’ve had this conversation with the caregiver(s) as well so they know it’s a joint effort.

 

4) Empower the adolescent voice. I like to give my adolescent clients as much choice and opportunity to lead as possible when it comes to parent involvement. Here are a few different ways, I frequently go about this in session:

“Would you like me to check in with mom/dad alone or with you it the room?”

“Is there anything you’d like to share with mom/dad/caregiver from our session today?”

“Is it alright if we bring mom/dad in at the end to share any skills we worked on so they can practice it too?”

“Is it ok if I emailed mom/dad about (a specific one or two things from session) so that they can be more aware and better understand what you are going through or how to support you?”

“Is there anything you want to teach mom/dad today?”

“Would you like me to explain (specific pattern or skill) for you to caregiver with you in the room?”

“Would you want to do a family session with mom/dad on this? If so, when do you think you’d like to do it?”

 

5) Parent Coaching Sessions are a must! Along with letting parents and adolescents know that this is joint work, I let them know that some sessions will be just with the parent(s). I am transparent with the adolescent and parents about the purpose of these sessions from the start.

“These sessions with your mom/dad are NOT to report all that you’ve said or processed in session. Instead, they are an opportunity for you parent to explore their own barriers getting in the way of supporting or connecting with you. I will always let you know when i will be having a session with you parents in case you have any questions or anything you would like me to share or work on with your mom/dad.”

To caregiver: “These are sessions where you can explore challenging emotions, patterns, behaviors that you are struggling with that might be acting as barriers to your relationship with your child. The main goal is to empower you as a caregiver and strengthen your relationship.”

 

6) Provide Outside Resources to Caregivers and Adolescents from the start.

At the end of an initial session or consult, I provide at least one book and internet-based resource that will help parents get a head start on some of the topics and ideas we will be addressing in therapy. Throughout the process, I continue to provide both the caregivers and the adolescent ongoing supports based on what is coming up in therapy and what the family barriers may be.

Some of my favorite resources are:

Ted Talks: Especially for the adolescent and caregiver to watch together at times.

Wellcast videos: Here is one of my favorites, but they have them on all topics! I often show to adolescent in session and send to both caregiver and adolescent after session. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMIU-Uo8cZU

Phone apps: mood meter, calm.com, Headspace are just some of my favorites.

Books: there are so many; here are a few favorites

The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene Brown (also has great ted talks to introduce the concept of vulnerability and shame)

Whole-Brain Child, Yes Brain and Brainstorm by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Emotion Focused Family Therapy resources: This includes caregiver webinars and in-person workshops, book recs, links to articles, etc. All greatly support parent coaching and family work. http://www.emotionfocusedfamilytherapy.org and http://www.mentalhealthfoundations.org are two helpful websites.

Review/summary emails: These I send with adolescent permission to specifically review a skill, idea or new strategy that would be helpful for the caregiver or adolescent from session. This way, they can refer back to it as needed.

 

Engagement with adolescents and parents can be difficult at times, but I have found the more i’m able to focus on empowering families and setting clear expectations of what family work is and isn’t, the more willing adolescents and caregivers are to engage in the process. My goal is never to be the one the adolescents trust or “go to” the most, it’s to help them build that with their parent(s) or caregiver to be able manage their challenges and barriers in life in a sustainable and connected way.


Guest post written by Meaghan Burns Sablich, LCSW

Guest post written by Meaghan Burns Sablich, LCSW

Meaghan Burns Sablich, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Colorado State School Service Provider and clinical supervisor with 10+ years experience in the field. Meaghan received her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Denver with a concentration in Families and Children. Meaghan has worked in a variety of therapeutic settings including inpatient hospital, residential treatment center, day treatment center, schools, non-for profit organization and private practice. Areas of clinical focus include: depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, family therapy and parent coaching, grief and loss, school/learning concerns and self worth work.

Atlas Complex: The Weight of the World

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Have you ever felt like the weight of the world was on your shoulders? Like you have to take on all the projects, help everyone around you, just to maintain a sense of order? By modern standards, this experience is identified and defined as the Atlas Complex, thus describing a need to take on all the responsibility and all the stress of the world as you navigate through it. Why would one experience the state of mind that they must take on the world? There are many reasons that encourage the behavior of being responsible for everything around us, including internal and external factors that drive us to action in search of relief.

 

Need to be Needed

One external motivation for taking on the world can be our relationships. For some, the avoidance of conflict by saying yes to others’ needs is enough of a reason to take on more than we can handle, and to make do for the sake of friendship, approval, or respect. Connecting and helping others isn’t all negative, however when our own needs are sacrificed for others with no opportunity for self-care, resentment, burnout, and poor mental health can follow. So how do you know if you are experiencing symptoms of the Atlas Complex in the scope of relationships and boundaries? Below are some questions you may ask yourself:

  • Do you secretly resent the request to help but feel you can’t say no?

  • Do you feel like you are the only one who can help, so you say yes?

  • Do you feel like you have to say yes out of avoidance of conflict or judgement?

  • Do you fear disappointing someone if you don’t take on their request?

  • Do you need to be needed? Do you feel most worthwhile when helping others?

It isn’t uncommon to identify with one or more of the questions above when connecting with others. One way to check in with yourself around your boundaries is to explore how you are helping yourself in addition to others. Remember that you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. Similar to the airline directives about oxygen masks, you must first put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, implying you are no good to them or yourself if you aren’t conscious from lack of oxygen in trying to address others’ needs before your own.

 

Escalating Anxiety

Having solid definition of your boundaries with others can be important in having quality relationships and can also improve expectations of what you are able and willing to do to help. You may feel anxious enforcing new boundaries when they weren’t present before, especially if loved ones’ question or push back against new boundaries out of confusion around the change. Change itself can also be a trigger for anxiety. The Atlas Complex can be present out of a desire to control something because you feel out of control in other areas. For example, if you feel like you can’t control the declining health of your parent, you may find yourself controlling your living environment, cleaning compulsively, and snapping at your partner when small messes are left in the kitchen. This increased irritability and urge to control several things at once manifests in response to internal anxiety that isn’t as easily controlled, making things more difficult in your relationships, work, and home life.

Awareness of your anxiety can be a first step in addressing it in healthy ways. By being aware, you can track patterns and make changes in your thoughts or behaviors, which can then have a positive effect on your emotions. Below are some ideas of what you might say or do to address the anxiety you feel:

  • Change the scene. Try getting out or away from an area that aggravates anxiety to gain some relief or perspective on what’s happening in your life.

  • Move your body. Movement can help reduce anxiety in the form of exercise. Take a walk to think things through, which helps anxiety by both serving as light exercise and as a processing tool, giving you time to explore what’s happening that stresses you out.

  • Think happy thoughts. Studies show that how we interpret a challenge can impact our anxiety.  For example, if we think, “nothing will ever change,” our emotional reaction will feel heavier and more helpless than if we think “this is temporary, I can do this.”

  • Try coping skills. Taking a drink of water, breathing, listening to music, or healthy distraction can help address the anxiety you feel to make it more manageable.

Managing the Atlas Complex and all it represents can have positive effects on your mood, relationships, and life. Check in with yourself frequently to determine the motivation behind urges to hold the world on your shoulders and you may just find that the world looks and feels lighter than it once did.

“Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you.” Mary Lou Retton

Making Meaning of the Dance: A Journey Through the Couple Cycle

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“From the cradle to the grave, humans desire a certain someone who will look out for them, notice and value them, soothe their wounds, reassure them in life’s difficult places, and hold them in the dark.”
The practice of Emotionally focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection by Sue M. Johnson

The Tango, The Charleston, The Swing, and The Cha-Cha. Yes, I know these are famous dances, but I would like to talk about another kind of dance. Within a relationship we all long to move toward our partner. To sway in the rhythm of passion, and desire. We long to feel the power of true connection that comes with being able to say “I need”, and get a loving and empathetic response in return. The dance I’m speaking of is the common relational exchange called the Emotionally-focused Couples Therapy Cycle. Emotionally-Focused Therapy or EFT as it is commonly referred to was the forward and remarkable thinking of Dr. Sue Johnson. In the 1980’s very little in therapy was being done to explore the scientific concept of adult attachment, which is a stark contrast to this same time period when so much emphasis was being placed on the continued study of childhood attachment theories and models. As Sue begun to delve into the attachment science, she began to see a potentially incredible model that could not only address attachment injuries both from childhood, and adulthood, but could systematically uncover relationship fractures, and invoke new and lasting connections. According to the ICEEFT website using the EFT model leads to couples being to move from distress to recovery 70-75% while 90% of couples showed significant improvements.

So how does this beautiful, and empirically proven model work? Well then, let’s begin!!

EFT is made-up of 3 stages i.e; Assessment and Cycle De-escalation, changing interaction patterns, and creating new bonds, and consolidation, and integration.

STAGE 1: ASSESSMENT AND CYCLE DE-ESCALATION

  1. Ascertain primary concerns, and set couples goals. Then, explore relational history.

  2. Interactions, and patterns are explored, and delineated. Therapist supports and assists in seeing historical interplays that have negatively impacted the coupling.

  3. Partners comprehend attachment-related emotions. Couple first acknowledges covered emotions, and feelings, and discuss those emotions, feelings, and behaviors with their partner.

  4. Couple and therapist with analyze cycle, triggers, and behavior output which results in two defined roles which are pursuer, and withdrawer. Therapist will also be mindful to notice, and name triggers present in the cycle.



STAGE 2: CHANGING INTERACTIONAL POSITIONS AND CREATING NEW BONDING EVENTS

  1. Space is created for transparency in order to state attachment needs, for which partner had not received in the past, which cause bond fracture.

  2. Couple develops the ability to compassionately respond to identified needs, and begin to accept the hurt, longing, and emotions that have been impacted by their partner.

  3. As cycle awareness increases, and new cycle, and interactional goals are practiced new conversations and interactions present themselves, which increases likelihood of bonding experiences.

STAGE 3: CONSOLIDATION/ INTEGRATION

  1. Couple integrates techniques, communication, and transparency, as they discuss the old cycle, and practice the new one. Practice is done outside the sessions in their own environment that exposes them to their domain that has been a potential trigger. Work with the therapist explores issues that came from those practices, and post conversations.

  2. With heightened awareness of skills, and deeper bonds couple and therapist focus on the celebrating efforts, and future methods to enhance new found rituals. To safeguard couples success, and decrease history of emotional breaks safety risks are addressed and prepared for.

Real-life example:

In an EFT therapy session, a wife pursues her avoidant and emotionally absent husband. Her protest becomes a sense of loneliness, abandonment, and sadness that she no longer feels connected to her spouse. In the past she felt that she was assertive, and asking for her needs to be met, by demanding, yelling, screaming, and sometimes becoming violent. Over a period of time, her protests turn to withdrawal, as her pleads go unanswered, and she is tired of getting so big to be seen, but yet still remains invisible. “I want to be wanted, loved, and cherished”, so please stop avoiding me, walking away, and pretending that my yelling doesn’t mean more.

Her husband’s stark hallow shell, becomes empty, but rumbles underneath as a fire, and a quiet storm brews behind a cold and distant face. The separation turns from heartbreak to fury, as he doesn’t understand why his wife hates him so much and just wants to yell at him all the time. “I walk away because it hurts”! “I leave because my space no longer feels safe, and threatens any bit of quiet we have left”. “Why can’t you just see, that you are tearing us a part”.

She has grown, learned, and observed the hurt, and pain that both her and her partner are experiencing. This shared pain has given her a new perspective, and has gotten her closer to a man that she felt was lost. She has discovered that she can still be seen as she quiets the storm of her own pain, and brings her partner closer and shows him that loneliness that brought her right to the edge. He has found the passion, and strength to expose his vulnerability and deep need to be loved, and comforted without fear. His transformation travels from “you don’t care, and your cruelty is just too much”, to “this is really hard, for me, but I want to trust this feeling”. “Please be with me, and make me feel safe within this relationship”.

New cycles of closeness contact interactions appear and dissipate previously established cycles, criticize-defend or pursue-withdraw, withdrawer reengagement, or pursuer softening. As the partners experience the cycles together in safety and empathy these behaviors are reinforces, which leads to a positive and permanent change. Space for healing, and a new sense of having a brand-new safe haven sparks connectedness, and fulfillment previously missing.

“EFT can be thought of as a postmodern therapy in that EFT therapists help clients deconstruct problems and responses by bringing marginalized aspects of reality into focus, probing for the not-yet spoken, and integrating elements of a couple’s reality that have gone un-storied.”
Becoming an Emotionally focused Couple Therapist: The workbook by Susan M. Johnson


Guest post written by Jamie Benson MFT-C, M.Ed, EFCT

Guest post written by Jamie Benson MFT-C, M.Ed, EFCT

Jamie Benson MAMFT, MFT-C, EFCT, M.Ed has been providing therapeutic services to Denver area children, adults, couples and families since 2015. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage, Couples, and Family therapy, as well as a Masters Degree in Education with an emphasis on Applied Behavior Analysis. Jamie currently works at Allhealth Network in Littleton Colorado and her work is centered around at-risk populations, including human trafficking, homelessness, human services, PO/probation, and substance abuse.

Community Confidentiality: Supporting Collaboration with Consent

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“I cannot confirm or deny.” How do you maintain confidentiality for your client? It may seem easy enough when there is a clearly written, signed release or when your client refuses a release, thus declining collaboration at this time. However, what does it look like in the following situations?

  • Your client is involved in an open Child Abuse and Neglect case.

  • An attorney calls you saying they represent your client and would like copies of your client record for a disability claim.

  • An insurance company calls to report the client listed you as a provider and they want to know your diagnosis to award the client a life insurance policy.

  • You outreach an organization about who they serve. They respond by wanting to obtain additional information from you on the client you want to refer.

  • A referral source wants to know if their client called to set up an intake and begin services with you.

  • A community resource shares that your client scheduled an appointment with them for next week.

  • A foster parent wants to know why the parent isn’t engaging in services to reunify with their child.

  • A CASA volunteer wants to know if the family is working on their fighting in your sessions because they believe it would be helpful.

  • The spouse of your client calls asking you how sessions are going.

  • Your client acknowledges that their friend is also your client.

  • Their probation officer includes you in a group text or email to schedule a meeting on behalf of the client with several parties you don’t know.

These are just a few of what could be dozens of examples of sticky situations when it comes to maintaining your client’s right to privacy. Let us look at possible responses to the above scenarios to determine what could be best. And as always, seek consultation, supervision, or legal advice if you have needs or concerns.

 

Signed Release

When a third party reaches out to you by email, text, or voicemail, it can be helpful to notify your client and obtain a release in the next scheduled session. Notifying your client of the outreach you received can support trust and transparency in the therapeutic relationship. It can also help facilitate a discussion on the importance of getting a client’s written permission to respond to an inquiry on their behalf, whether it’s an insurance company, secondary referral, family member, or community partner.

 

Legal Requirements

Perhaps your client is involved in an open Abuse and Neglect case, diversion, or probation. These entities have been assigned to your client as part of a larger treatment plan to address a legal concern. Whether your client is mandated to complete therapy or the third party referred directly to you, there is a different level of confidentiality implied due to the collaboration needed from you to provide progress reports and updates as appropriate around your client’s engagement in services. If you client is resistant to signing a release, helping them identify the specific pieces of information to share—and thus restricting some information in the effort of privacy—can be helpful to the client’s anxiety about personal information that is disclosed to others. When submitting a progress report to DHS or probation for example, providing your client with a copy can also demonstrate a sign of transparency and trust in encouraging them to review it and provide feedback on their level of comfort with the material shared.

 

Sense of Urgency

The desired scenario is one of those mentioned above, where we have the client complete a signed release of information highlighting exactly what is released and for what purpose. However, there are times that a sense of urgency may arise in getting permission quickly to collaborate with a community partner in a timely fashion. Depending on the frequency of client contact including regularly scheduled appointments, you may need to get email or verbal permission over the phone from your client as a temporary measure in obtaining consent prior to a written release. Standard practice is to have permission in writing so email can feel slightly more comfortable than verbal permission to us as providers. Either way, documenting your client’s permission with intention to get a full release in the immediate future can be helpful in allowing collaboration and sharing of information under a time restriction.

 

Curbing Curiosity

Collaboration is a helpful component of therapy, within reason, to support and validate client efforts. It may become apparent that there are other parties involved who may want updates on your client’s progress. This could include caseworkers, probation, child advocates, other mental health providers, foster parents and more. Where it can feel confusing is when third parties know you are actively working with the client and make assumptions that you can share information in the spirit of collaboration. For example, the foster parent is wanting to know how the parent, your client, is doing in services in order to encourage their child of the parent’s hard work. The inquiry may feel innocent enough, however the foster parent is not your client, and is therefore not privy to this information without your client’s consent. Something as innocent as attendance or participation in services can be reported back to other parties and could result in information being misconstrued or shared without permission.

 

Encompassing Electronics

In an effort to not have information shared unintentionally with third parties, being mindful of how your electronic correspondence is recorded can be helpful. Being aware of emails with additional recipients or group text messages requesting scheduling of a team meeting can feel nebulous regarding confidentiality. Documenting your effort to send correspondence only to approved parties identified on a signed release supports your client’s wishes as well as ethics compliance. Providing disclaimers in your electronic signature in email composed on your computer or phone can also support limiting liability if information is sent to the wrong recipient or forwarded to a third party outside of your control.

 

Limiting Liability

Documenting each of your efforts to maintain confidentiality as a standard of your practice can limit liability. Obtaining regular releases yearly from your client can keep their record up to date. Utilizing encrypted email and electronic health records for client progress notes can restrict situations where their information could be compromised. When it comes to confidentiality in direct interaction with third parties, identifying a statement of “I cannot confirm or deny they are my client” can feel unhelpful, restrictive but necessary in not admitting unapproved information to family, friends, referral sources, or legal representatives without permission. This feels most challenging by phone when even acknowledging your need to obtain a release is admission of your client’s connection to you. For many, having to share that a release has been revoked can feel even more challenging. You may say something like “permissions have been revoked and we suggest you contact the person of interest directly” can provide enough information for them to understand you won’t be interacting with them further and prevents direct identification of your client by name or circumstance.

Communication with community partners is an intricate dance that can feel challenging when caught off guard by emails, texts, or phone calls asking for updates on your client’s work. Demonstrating your ethical capacity in delaying disclosure of information until a release is obtained can indicate your professionalism in the community and willingness to collaborate under the appropriate circumstance. Be sure to follow up with the community partner once a release is signed to further demonstrate your willingness to collaborate together. Lastly, thinking about the possibly scenarios that put privacy at risk and obtaining signed releases upon introduction to the client can streamline this process by simply asking who else is involved in their treatment or care. Having a scripted response ahead of time for situations where a release is not yet completed can support you in making the best decision to support client confidentiality and community engagement with consent.

Goal Setting: Measurable Motivation

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As the year comes to a close, you may be looking to the new year to create resolution or revisit goals in the hope of change. It’s a time to explore goals that are measurable and attainable; it’s a time to create small steps to build self-confidence to remain motivated and hopeful. Perhaps you say “I want to join a gym to help my depression.” You want to work out every day to help your mood but aren’t currently working out on a consistent basis, and not at a gym. So, you find it important to explore your motivation as well as the perceived strengths and challenges of reaching your goal. You learn that smaller steps can support success and agree to working on short-term goals to build confidence and to move towards your long-term goal of working out daily.

 

Monitoring Motivation

Why is it important to explore motivation around a goal? Research tells us goals around fitness and gym attendance peak in January and dramatically decline by February and March every year. Additional research tells us that we must do something consistently for a minimum of 30 days for it to become a habit. What this conveys to us as human beings is that we need to see results or progress to continue to work hard at a goal. You may normalize this for yourself in understanding the pattern of motivation. You may also explore research on the Stages of Change from Motivational Interviewing as a visual to support yourself in identifying strengths and barriers to change. By being open and honest with yourself, you will be setting yourself up for success. Ask yourself the following questions to fully discover where your motivation lies (and note the Stages of Change in parentheses):

  • What do you want to change? (Precontemplation to Contemplation)

  • What makes that a problem for you? (Contemplation)

  • Is it a big enough problem to want something different? (Contemplation)

  • How would you achieve the desired change? (Preparation)

  • What do you need to support change? (Preparation)

  • What would help you to begin? (Action)

  • How will you know when you are ready for change? (Action)

  • What would help you keep going? (Maintenance)

  • Who/What would hold you accountable?

  • What would happen if you don’t succeed?

By exploring these questions, you can identify any current strengths or barriers to succeeding and further explore what is needed to progress through the Stages of Change.

 

Make it Measurable

It isn’t uncommon for someone to identify a goal but not know how to attain it, thus remaining in the stage of contemplation. It becomes our responsibility to break down a long-term or larger goal into measurable, smaller pieces for it to feel worthwhile. Here are some examples of how to make it measurable when identifying a larger, more abstract goal:

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Smaller, more measurable efforts can support short-term goals blending into long-term goals over time. By identifying and writing down goals that are measurable, can be reviewed regularly, and can be celebrated when attained, the effort it takes to achieve these goals can feel validated and encourage motivation for the long-term work as well.

 

Accountability Buddy 

Motivation can be internal such as, “I can do this” or external, “she said I can do this.” Identifying a trusted support as an Accountability Buddy can help you achieve your goals. Accountability Buddies are selected as a support person who is aware of your goals and holds you accountable by remaining in regular contact with you on your progress. They may meet with you weekly, monthly or on whatever schedule can help you remain focused and present on the goals you are working towards. Sometimes Accountability Buddies have a similar goal and may participate alongside you, such as going to the gym with you three times per week. Not having to work towards a goal alone can serve as an incentive in absorbing someone else’s positivity when you begin to question your own motivation. You may struggle to recognize the small but important shifts in progress and begin to question why you are working so hard for minimal results. Perhaps they help you recognize the smaller changes that have taken place when you feel the seeds of doubt are planted, thus preventing you from giving up on a goal that is supporting healthy change. By identifying an Accountability Buddy that is supportive throughout the process, you can experience motivation and recognize goal progression, allowing the ongoing growth and change you desire.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Barack Obama.