Category: psychology



Just posting a quick announcement to watch for my brand new ebooks releasing this weekend at http://www.freedomlifelove.com

Check out ‘Identifying and Understanding Abuse’ for helpful tips on understanding the abuse cycle and how to know whether the relationship is salvageable and how to end an abusive relationship if it is not!

Or perhaps you could use some helpful tips on ‘Managing Stress’. Watch for the release of both of these books this weekend on my website!

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And stay tuned for two more great ebook releases in the next month: ‘The Four Stages Of Boundary Development’ and another compelling book simply entitled, ‘Forgive’!!

 

 

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Couple Romantic HoldingThis month I am primarily going to be talking about marriage relationships, but these tools are great for anyone in a committed relationship to keep in mind to have a thriving, healthy relationship!

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will touch on how to love and respect each other, forgiveness, keeping the romance alive, and some basic marriage 101 things to keep in mind that everyone should know about marriage.

Today is more of an introduction, but an important place to start, as we lay down some ground rules about building and maintaining healthy boundaries in marriage. You may think… Boundaries? In Marriage? Why should there be any boundaries in a marriage? Hear me out, and determine for yourself if the following 7 ideas are important safeguards for your relationship.

happy romantic couple hugging1. Love

Ok, we’ll start with an easy one… Or perhaps this is the most difficult one of all. Hmmm. Food for thought! Love is perhaps the most important value in a relationship to sustain the relationship. Because love is not just the mushy, romantic moments together in a relationship. Neither should love be confused with sex. But sex is definitely an important part of keeping a bond between each other that reassures the other that they are loved! But love is more than this. A good goal is to discover unconditional love. Unconditional love is committed love. It is love that always maintains basic goodwill toward each other, even in moments of great conflict. Unconditional love is defined by doing what is best for the other, not necessarily giving them everything they want, but doing what is best as deemed by the one loving. It involves preferring the other above yourself, it involves protecting the other from thongs that may prove harmful or not beneficial to them. It involves compassion. It involves commitment to love even when the going gets tough, and the ‘loving feelings’ aren’t always there. It keeps it’s promise to love not only the good parts of the other, but to accept the ‘whole self’ of the other, which includes the less than perfect characteristics that annoy you from time to time, or the areas where they still need to grow in. As they are loving you the same way, this allows for mutual growth and benefit for both people, as true intimacy can be attained this way, and self esteem is nurtured as you learn that you are not merely loved for how well you perform, but you are loved unconditionally. This is a great boundary to set… To make a promise to love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in plenty or in want. Love is the glue that holds the relationship together. Don’t take it for granted. Keep the love alive!

Another passing thought before I move on… Couples who have a strong, mutual connection to God also tend to have a stronger commitment to love, as unconditional love is a strong commandment among many faiths. It is always esteemed as the most important value.

2. Honesty

Honesty is critical to having a ‘real’ and authentic, and trustworthy relationship. Dishonesty is one of the primary ways to break down both communication and the foundation of the entire relationship. Honesty is like one of the 4 pillars to build a relationship on. Without it, it breeds suspicion, lack of trust and safety in the relationship, and can single handedly destroy the relationship altogether.

Ask yourself this: why is it I don’t want to be completely honest with the person I love? Why do I feel I have to hide things about myself, or my bad habits, or whatever the case may be. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid will happen if you reveal what you are being dishonest about? What is the likelihood that when you reveal your secrets, what you expect to happen will actually happen? Not only will answering these questions reveal something about your own sense of integrity, or your weaknesses you struggle with, it may also reveal the weak points in your relationship. It may mean the person you are with is not loving unconditionally, it may mean you or your partner have an opportunity for growth. It could be your partner wrestles with grace for your flaws, or is looking for an ideal, perfect relationship, rather than a real relationship. It may be a perfect opportunity for growth. Intimacy is always blocked when truth and honesty are absent. Think of this as an opportunity for deeper growth in the area of intimacy. It may be an opportunity for growth for the one hiding things from the other. Is there a root issue there? Have you been rejected before and fear it again, event though it may not happen in this relationship? Are you blocking the other person in the relationship the ability to really come through and show you you are loved regardless? Examining Dishonesty reveals what is hidden. Honesty brings what is hidden to the light so there is an opportunity for repair.

Couple Holding Hands3. Faithfulness

It’s integral for a long term, committed, till death do us part kind of marriage. A commitment to faithfulness is a way to foster safety and trust within the relationship. It fosters protection, and paves the way for a deep and abiding trusting relationship. It guards the marriage from outside influences that could bring potential harm. It sets limits on outside relationships to preserve the bond between the couple. It brings assurance that this relationship is safe, nurturing, committed, and always ‘there’. It allows each other to rest in the reliability of the relationship. It nurtures love, and guards against fear. It holds each other in high esteem and treasures each others hearts, assuring each other “you are safe here”. It always protects, and preserves the bond between the both of you.

Couple Hugging4. Forgiveness

I will not go into great detail today as I’m dedicating a whole blog to it in a couple of weeks…. That is how important this issue is!!! Make your promises of how you will work through forgiveness. Remember basic goodwill toward each other even in conflict. Try to empathize with the other person and where they are coming from, or what they have endured. Evaluate what is beneath your anger to work on the root issues, rather than simply using the strength of anger as your protective barrier against the other. Remember that your job is to protect each other always, rather than protecting yourselves from each other. Remember to prefer each other, and this will help diminish the areas of conflict. If we are both looking out or the best interests of the other, we will have less to forgive. Stay tuned for my forgiveness blog in a couple weeks as I go into more details and practical tools to work through forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard work. But essential to keep the toxins out of the relationship!

5. Protection against intruders

I briefly touched on this when I talked about faithfulness. Theses two go hand in hand. You will need to set limits and boundaries on how close and connected you allow yourselves to become with outsiders to the relationship. Determine together how close is too close to outsiders to the relationship. This helps to guard against infidelity, affairs, deep emotional connections with others that tears away at the intimacy between the couple. If you find yourself able to be closet to someone outside the relationship that could potentially break down the strength of your committed marriage relationships, ask yourself why this is. Discuss it with your spouse first. This is where the values of honesty and faithfulness and love come in, to undergird and protect the safety of your relationship. Perhaps it is an indication of something that needs to change or grow in your relationship or that something has grown stale and needs to be revitalized. Guard against flattery from others. This is a commitment you need to make together that you want this to be an exclusive relationship. Say what you will about ‘open’ relationships, or friends with benefits or free love, but none of those things help build trust, safety, intimacy or assurance that you are truly loved… Which is a basic need and desire we all have whether we admit it or not. If you want to keep your marriage safe from intruders you need to come up with a strong plan of action, and your own values and boundaries to ensure the safety of your most important relationship to each other! This is a perfect segue to the next boundary:

6. Good communication

If you are able to clearly, honestly and openly be able to articulate your needs, desires, expectations, assumptions, beliefs, concerns, fears, etc than you are well on your way toward making your relationship great! Communication is important. Not just talking about the weather or what you did at work that day, but to connect heart to heart and share your real self with each other, this is the glue that holds it together. If one or both of you struggle with knowing what your concerns are, or how to confront and voice your needs, or to identify your needs, this will affect your ability to communicate effectively. Make it a goal to learn together effective communication skills. In fact, I will recommend a book for you to check out which identifies a lot of the problem areas in communication. I’m talking not just about what is said, but how it is said, or understood, or clarified. I’m also thinking of what is unsaid, and the verbal body language we make assumptions on and don’t ask clarifying questions to ensure we have received the right message. I’m talking about assumptions we make, which often turn into beliefs whether accurate or not. If you find you have trouble in the area of communication, and are committed to making it work – check out this book called “Love is never enough” by Aaron T. Beck, MD.Working Together

7. Working Together

Finally, make it a point to work together to resolve the conflicts, problem areas, weak areas, in order to foster growth and healthy, mature, deep and committed relationships that will endure the test of time. If only one of you is committed to making it work, one of your pillars has broken down. If you are both invested in making it work, you both have work to do. One person cannot carry the entire relationship. If you are the person not investing in making it work, why is that? Have you given up on love or basic goodwill towards your spouse? Is there a communication blockage that has caused you to give up? Are you open to outside help to give it another shot? Perhaps there is some piece missing that you have not yet identified.

Working together is incredibly important. If one of you gives up, it can be detrimental to the future security of your relationship. If you find that you don’t care about the future of your relationship, you desperately need to seek professional help outside of the relationship to see if the relationship is salvageable and whether or not you are invested enough to try and save it.

With a little work, your relationship will have the best chance for survival, healing, repair and the ability to thrive. Hopefully some of these tips help.

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Need some extra help?

Check out my one-on-one Relationship Coaching Program and get started today!

Katie Meilleur – Certified Relationship Life Coach


One might imagine in a fairy tale world that giving love and receiving love are actually quite normal, straightforward, and even… Simple? Yet, why is it that it is not always so in the real world? What is it that crosses the wires somehow and there is a malfunction, or a ‘short circuit in some relationships where receiving love is actually quite difficult?

First of all, let’s take a quick look at some basics. Everyone of us has different ways we ‘feel’ loved. According to Gary Chapman, author of “The Five Love Languages”, he narrows these love languages down to five categories: words of affirmation, touch, acts of service, gifts, and quality time. For those of you unaware of this book, you may already be having an ‘aha’ moment as an example floods your mind why you never feel loved by your husband when he doesn’t buy you roses, but if he spends lots of quality time with you and that’s not your primary love language, you barely notice his attention. Or on the other hand, if she’s always buying you gifts, but rarely massages your back, or runs into your arms for an embrace, if touch is your love language, you may feel unwanted or even unattractive to your wife.

And then there’s the gender differences of course. His needs, her needs, right? She needs to feel close (and yet her definition of closeness is different than yours, most likely!). He needs sexual intimacy. Her ideas of intimacy are slightly different. Yes, she wants sex, but she wants to bond in an emotional way, involving openness and communication, and he rarely understands what she means by that. He needs to feel respected, she needs to feel cherished and valued, like she is a treasure, not an object. She wants loyalty, faithfulness and commitment, he likes to provide and protect, and be valued for it. He likes to ‘fix’ the problem, to be valued for his insights, she wants him to just be a sounding board… He wants to counsel, she says “just listen!”.

With all of that going on, is it any wonder we ever have good working relationships at all. Especially with the opposite gender… Or a completely different personality type. Don’t let me even bring that into the equation! With all the differing personality types out there, it takes a lot of work and a lot of ‘preferring’ each other, a lot of asking clarifying questions to determine just how someone not only wants… But needs to be loved.

But that’s just the intro. Then you get into the baggage you are bringing with you from past relationships, and even your primary parental relationships might come with some set expectations of how things are to be, how one should love, etc. So we have individual love languages, gender differences in needs, bad breakups, and past experiences, what we were brought up with re: family values, ideas, etc, let alone coming from a family past that was abusive, or where there was a failure to thrive, neglect, etc. and then add on top of all of that, the ideal romantic chick flick of the fairy tale happy ever after story, with all the social requirements of perfect body image, the culturally defined expectations of what a man is to be, and what a woman is to be, some too good to be true, and others simply superficial, with no real guidance in learning how to give and really receive love.
Keep in mind, I am not bashing anyone, nor am I jaded by life, I simply see the facts and contributing factors that there are a lot of pressures and demands and ideals and expectations and assumptions… And don’t forget baggage- that we drag into every relationship we enter.

Phew. Tough stuff, and yet somehow, there are massive success stories and happily ever after tales after all. But they are HARD work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But when it comes to receiving love… There is a certain part of the population that generally has a real hard time with it. Giving may come a lot more naturally. When someone offers to pay for your dinner, is it easy or difficult to accept? Have you ever stopped to wonder why?

Are you reluctant, or feel incapable of asking for what you need or want? Can you express what you like or dislike in the relationship openly? Even in the sexual department? When you get what you want, are you satisfied, or is there still a hole inside? Like you are detached and disconnected from the happy emotions that usually accompany receiving an emotional need you have?

If so, there may be some of that ‘baggage’ we were just discussing going on beneath the surface.
If you lack the ability to truly bond and feel connected with another person, you may not have bonded with a primary caregiver in your early development years, or have undergone abuse of any kind. Neglect can cause a person to feel very isolated in their soul. Addictions can cause isolation, especially sex addiction, as it tends to rip apart the ability to really connect in an intimate way heart to heart, soul to soul, with your partner. Why? Because often deep shame accompanies it, which no one is comfortable to admit, and shame rips apart self-esteem. Low self esteem is a major player for sure, and can be for any number of reasons and begin at any time in life, usually accompanying some traumatic event. Rejection can tear at our sense of worth and esteem. On and on the list goes on. If you live with a split sense of self, like you can only project the ‘good’ or capable side of yourself, performing your way through life, you likely don’t connect very deeply with others as you wrestle to risk enough to let someone see the less than perfect parts of yourself.

I would highly recommend reading the book “Receiving Love” by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D & Helen Lakely Hunt, Ph.D for some great insights. Even if you are not the psychology nerd that I am and are not as much interested in “why” you feel you cannot receive love, there are some great exercises at the end of the book that you can practice with your partner if you really want to try and overcome the inability to receive love.

I will leave you with a couple of starter ideas that my husband and I have tried that really work.

One of the exercises we tried was to tell each other 5 things we were grateful for each day that the other person had done that we felt was loving.

Another idea is to create a gift list. Write down the things you want on your list (if you are working with a modest budget, keep that in mind while writing your list. Don’t make it unattainable. When you are finished, you swap lists and the other person is responsible to randomly give you that gift. If you both purpose to do this, it can be a very beneficial practice in allowing yourself to receive. It doesn’t even have to cost money. It could be “I would feel like it was a gift if you picked up after yourself and put your dirty clothes in the hamper!” or perhaps, dancing in the rain or some cities have the movies under the stars idea where they show free movies in a park that could serve as a free romantic night… The sky is the limit. The purpose is practice!!

Emotional flooding is another great exercise where you sit down with each other and just tell each other all the wonderful things you love about them, their natural abilities and talents, appearance, character qualities you admire, etc.

The book I just mentioned contains the above examples (I believe there is more to each assignment though) and many more.

Just remember this, if you forget everything else that I have said: you were created with divine purpose, in the image of God, loved by God, and were created to be loved, to be able to give and receive love, and no matter what anyone else says or thinks about you: you are worthy to be loved. Let go of that self critical voice affirming all the reasons you can’t be loved, and start changing the message: write a list of why you should be loved, why you are lovable right now, and have some compassion for yourself! The bible actually puts it quite well when it says to love others as you love yourself. In fact, most faiths share this golden rule. It is difficult to love others truly if you cannot see enough value in yourself to love yourself. If that seems too difficult, start with this: ask yourself “what do I like about myself?” and begin repeating those messages as affirmations regularly. You may be surprised how quickly you begin to see value in yourself. You are doing the work of building your self esteem. Don’t sabotage it by the self criticism. Pay attention to its voice as it creeps in, and let the sentence end midair as you breathe in an affirmation about your worth and intrinsic value!

Have a great weekend!


Confrontation is always a tricky subject. Either people fear it, and don’t confront when necessary, or confront far too aggressively or haven’t developed effective skills for dealing with anger. Confrontation is a difficult word and a difficult subject altogether. Before we go any further, let’s look at a couple of definitions for conflict, forgiveness and confrontation:

Conflict: To come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, in opposition, at variance. To clash. To fight or contend; do battle. Struggle, strife.

Forgiveness: To grant pardon for or remission of an offense, debt, etc. Absolve. To give up all claim on account of, remit an obligation, to grant pardon to a person.

Confront: To face in hostility or defiance. Oppose. To stand or meet face to face to acknowledge contradiction.

 

From Conflict to Forgiveness:

Conflict is inevitable in every relationship, simply because each of us has individual beliefs, values, ideas, preferences and the freedom of choice. When we ‘clash’ with another person’s perspective, we have conflict. Conflict can arise for any number of reasons, From misunderstanding or abuse, or power or control that one person asserts over another, to differing points of view, or values with an unyielding stance that one’s own opinion is always correct. As this is a loaded and very deep subject, we will not get too heavily in depth on either the subject of conflict or forgiveness, but we will stay on a high level looking at the concepts as an overview, with real practical assignments to help get you started in the right direction to dealing with conflict and forgiveness and effective ways to confront each other when differences arise, or when we have been hurt, or have been angered by the actions of another person.

First of all, conflict often arises when we feel we have been, or have legitimately been ‘hurt’ by another’s words, actions or behavior. Often the first emotion we feel is anger, or blame. Anger is a protector. It protects against hurt. It is a powerful emotion that enhances one’s sense of power when they feel injured by another party. We tend to see things in an all or nothing perspective when angry by seeing the other as the attacker, exploiter, or invader, while we see ourselves as the innocent victim. While this may be true in a small number of cases, (in which both parties will often know only one person is at fault), more often than not, as the saying goes: “It takes two to tango”. Although the level of responsibility for an offense may not always be equal, in most situations, especially close relationships with spouse, family, or friends, some of the responsibility lays with each party involved in the conflict. It is hard to see this when angered. A helpful tool for dealing with anger is to remember this acronym: F-E-E-L.

The next time you feel yourself getting angry or critical, try the following:
F – Focus – on yourself instead of your partner’s offense and remind yourself of what each letter means. Then remember to focus on what you are feeling beneath the anger.
E – Emotion – Determine what the emotions are that you are experiencing beneath the anger, for example, hurt, rejection, fear. This may help dismantle some of your anger.
E – Empathy – Remember to express empathy for the person you are in conflict with. Remember that they are not perfect and neither are you. When you are able to see you are not perfect either, you get of the judge’s bench and can now see your partner/friend, etc. as an equal participant who also hurts and feels. Try to understand where they are coming from, and feel empathy or compassion for them, to remember that you have basic good will toward each other.
L – Leave – If none of the above is working, leave the situation. It is probably best to discuss this with the person prior to an angry outburst as to how you will address conflict when you are angry. A good rule of thumb if you need to leave the situation because you feel you are losing control of your anger is to determine a length of time for a time-out from the confrontation. Ie. 20-30 minutes to cool down, so that you can address the issue when you are not as heated. Make arrangements to check in with each other every 20-30 minutes (or whatever time frame you set) to see if both of you are ready to resume facing the conflict without blowing up at each other.

Now that we have a basic background on conflict, and some healthy anger skills, let’s take a closer look at how to confront well. As we see by the definition of confrontation, it CAN in fact be a real battle or struggle, or fight or contend with another, which often seems to stand in stark opposition with forgiveness.

But let’s look at a couple healthy tools to confront someone while still respecting them.

Here are some things we can do:

1. Speak to others as you would like to be spoken to.

2. Remember to maintain basic goodwill toward the person you are in conflict with. Try to believe they have likely have basic goodwill toward you as well.

3. Attempt to empathize with this person. Try to imagine where they are coming from.

4. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Do not interrupt or make assumptions on what they mean. A lot of conflict is due to mis-communication, or misunderstanding of the intent of someone’s words.

5. Make sure you clarify what their intent is by repeating what they said back to them in the form of a question to ensure you properly understand the meaning they are getting at prior to jumping to conclusions. Perhaps you will even need to clarify what your definition vs. their definition of a single word may be. ‘Conflict’ to you may mean hostility, blame and shame, whereas to someone else it may mean sitting down together and carefully discussing differences of opinion while respecting each other’s individual perspectives.

6. Validate what the other person is feeling. They are likely not interested in your feedback, and will continue to escalate in temper if they do not feel heard or understood.

7. When all the wrinkles are sorted out from the first person’s side of the story, reverse roles and start the process over, allowing the other person a chance to have their voice heard. Basically, take turns. Work though one person’s issue first and then the other’s. This will keep things far less confusing and more structured and on track.

8. Love unconditionally. To the best of your human ability, try to respect the differences of opinion other’s have, and keep in mind that you DO care enough about this person or relationship enough to work at it by confronting it in an effort to make life with this person far less miserable, and perhaps even, remarkably better!

9. Do not attempt to confront while you are extremely angry. Sort that out on your own time
and find healthy ways of doing it so you can confront the offender when you have cooled off.

10. And again, take time outs when things get too escalated. Walk it off if need be. make a check in plan with your partner or spouse prior to the actual confrontation as to how you will deal with conflict when it arises. Stick to the plan!

11. And finally: Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. As much as possible, try and resolve it the same day. Wounds fester with more time to milk the wounds and can compound the situation. As far as it depends on you, try to live at peace with everyone. The reality is, some conflicts will not have a happy ending. After all, it does take two to tango. And each person has a right to choose how they will respond to the situation. (side note: there are some major life altering, devastating, catastrophic or abusive situations that will likely take much longer than a single day to work through and heal from relational injuries. These issues will obviously be more complex than a simple argument. You may need to seek professional help for more in depth and long term issues.)

David Ausberger has masterfully written a great book called “Caring enough to Confront” where he discusses alternate caring ways in which to confront well. He terms it “care-fronting” and suggests that “care-fronting unifies concern for relationship with concerns for my goals, your goals, our goals. So one can have something to stand for (goals) as well as someone to stand with (relationship) without sacrificing one for the other or collapsing one into another. This allows each of us to be genuinely loving without giving away one’s power to think, choose and act. In such honesty, one can love powerfully and be powerfully loving… The twin abilities of 1) concern for the other and 2) commitment to one’s freely chosen goals do not need to be sacrificed, compromised or conflicted. They can both be sought in harmony and healthful assertiveness. Care-fronting has a unique view of conflict. It sees conflict as natural, normal, neutral and sometimes even delightful. It recognizes that conflict can turn into painful and disastrous ends, but it doesn’t need to. Conflict of itself is neither good nor bad, right or wrong. Conflict simply is.”

One final piece of food for thought on the subject. Try to not use blaming words like “you always” or “you never”, rather try saying, “I feel” statements, remembering that you are only responsible or able to control your own actions and responses. Fixing blame never fixes the problem. Try not to avoid and hold your values, your partner’s and the relationship in an equal place of high esteem. Try to realize you are not always right, nor do you always need to get your own way. It is easy to point out “the speck in our brother’s eye” while ignoring the “log in our own eye”. Simply put, we tend to esteem ourselves as higher or better or more self righteous than others when we feel we have been wronged. It is rarely the case that only one person should take all the blame for a dispute. Have the courage and humility and willingness to look for your own part in the disagreement and quickly own it and apologize for your part in the problem. A little humility will do us all a world of good!

Have a great weekend!


Believe it or not, worry can actually be beneficial and even helpful if it moved us to take action to solve a problem, or gives us the motivation to complete a task by the deadline. But sadly, and most unfortunately, worry can also be the very cause of decreasing your ability to complete the task at hand, especially when you become centered around your worry, and pre-occupied with the worried thought that cripples your ability to do anything BUT worry!

You can become paralyzed by worry, and almost make a full time profession out of it! Sadly, it doesn’t pay well when it comes to salary! In fact the physical payoffs of worry can be really quite difficult to deal with and can become harmful to our bodies over prolonged worry. Some of us worriers are so used to worry, that we seek stressful situations out, because we don’t know how to function when not in a crisis.

Constant worrying can disrupt healthy sleeping patterns, keep you tense, edgy and jumpy during the day, and interfere with normal day to day routines.

Negative beliefs are often the culprit underneath the worry. It might be useful to dig a little deeper about what is just beneath the surface of your worry. Worrying about your worry only adds to the problem at hand. Worrying may feel like a form of protection to you, but it isn’t true, especially for chronic worriers, when worry leaves you less productive than you could be without it! But we love our coping mechanisms and we are used to them. And they are familiar to us, and what is familiar feels comfortable, even if it leaves you feeling the uncomfortable side effects of the worry habit.

Once you realize worry is the problem, you are halfway there to winning the battle of worry and taking back control over what you allow your mind to dwell on. The Bible has useful advice when it says do not worry about tomorrow for each day has enough trouble of its own!

I personally believe that worry largely has to do with the felt need to control something outside of your ability to control. Don’t mistake my opinion as being one from a distant observer of worry. I have wrestled with worry and anxiety at varying occasions and seasons of my life. I wrestle with anxiety currently in fact, and I need to frequently use tools to manage my emotions, thoughts and physical symptoms during this season of repair in my life. I will touch on some great tips next week for worry and anxiety.

Let me just touch on what is considered to be generalized anxiety vs an anxiety attack to clarify the differences, and help you chart whether you have occasional worry that is useful to you or harmful, and how to know when worry becomes anxiety and what type.

Generalized anxiety consists of chronic worry, like we just talked about, and nervousness and tension in the body. Generalized anxiety is quite simply stated: generalized. It is a general feeling of dread or feeling uneasy but not having a clearly stated aggressor. It just affects your whole life and it affects all areas of your life, everything from finances to career, to relationships, health issues, you name it! It is mentally and physically exhausting and drains you of energy you need throughout the day! It is difficult, almost nearly impossible to feel calm and relaxed. It disrupts normal life… But you have known it long enough to feel like it is normal.

You may have an anxiety disorder if you identify with the following symptoms:

Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge?

Does your anxiety interfere with work, school or family responsibilities?

Are you plagued by irrational fears but can’t get rid of them anyway?

Do you avoid every day situations because they cause you anxiety?

Do you believe something bad will happen if things aren’t done a certain way?

Do you feel like catastrophe or danger are lurking around every corner?

Do you experience sudden unexpected attacks of panic?

Symptoms of anxiety attacks include:

Surges of overwhelming panic

Feeling a loss of control

Feeling like you are going crazy

Hyperventilation

Heart palpitations & chest pain

Trouble breathing

Hot flashes or chills

Trembling or shaking

Nausea or stomach cramps

Feeling detached, unreal, numb, or removed from the present, stuck in a past traumatizing event.

Post traumatic stress occurs after a traumatic or life threatening event. It does not only include those who have suffered from an extreme accident, physical or sexual abuse, living in a war torn country, or being in the military exposed to traumatic war experiences. It can include anything that brings about the same symptoms. Some people experience extreme trauma after a break up of a significant relationship, or when they become aware of their partner’s cheating, rape, kidnapping, natural disasters etc.

If you feel a lessened awareness of yourself (dissociation, or experience flashbacks of a painful or traumatic event, experience changes in how you think or feel about yourself, disruptions in your level of feeling safe, loss of trust in yourself, anger, loss of self esteem, feelings of chronic emptiness, and feelings of helplessness, are withdrawn from other’s as a result, avoid situations or places that remind you of the event, experience changes in eating habits (weight gain or weight loss) just to name a few, you may be experiencing trauma of some sort. See the attached picture for some more common symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. To be diagnosed as having PTSD you must be experiencing your symptoms for more than 1 month in each of the following categories:

– Re-experiencing symptoms -flashbacks, nightmares, surging heart rate
– Avoidance and Numbing – avoiding places that remind you of the event, feeling distant or numb, difficulty feeling positive feelings such as love, happiness etc.
– Hyper arousal symptoms – outbursts of anger, being ‘jumpy’ or easily startled, difficulty concentrating
– Acute stress disorder – experiencing your symptoms for more than a month
– Your symptoms are negatively interfering with you work or relationships

Only a trained professional can truly diagnose you with PTSD, but if you identify with the summary of symptoms it might be time to make an appointment with your doctor and a PTSD therapist!

Stay tuned next Friday for tips on managing stress, worry and anxiety!

If you’d like to look at another great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will help bring control back into your life or my Trauma Recovery Program for training on tools to help cope with past trauma! And don’t forget, I also have a free monthly webinar on stress management, Sign-Up Today!! 

Cheers!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach


Last Friday I blogged about Stress Management by introducing some common symptoms that occur when one is under a lot of stress. Today I want to touch on what is happening in our physical bodies that brings about the symptoms we discussed last week.

The fight, flight or freeze response is how the body prepares itself to deal with stress and anxiety and even fear. Your cerebral cortex (the thinking part of the brain) sends an alarm to the hypothalamus, which then stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to make changes in the body to prepare itself for action -primarily, fight, flight or freeze.

The changes that occur are things like heart rate increase, muscle tension, blood pressure increases, metabolism. Blood is directed away from the digestive system and the extremities and re-directed toward major muscle groups that can help to fight or run.

In each stressful situation we face, our instinctual reptilian brain (which is the oldest part of the brain, responsible for instincts such as fight, flight or freeze) is activated and we instinctually respond with a course of action to deal with the situation, seemingly without thinking about it, as it seems to occur automatically, in a matter of seconds the fight, flight or freeze response is in action, directed by the hypothalamus to trigger the sympathetic nervous system to ready us for attack, alarm, or a perceived attack, readying us to fight the stressor, flee and avoid the stressor, or freeze up, unable to fight or flee.

We may not always freeze up, we may not always automatically fight, just as we may not always take flight from the stressful situation. It depends on each circumstance we face.

If you are afraid of public speaking for instance, once you get up to the podium, you might freeze up, unable to speak. Or perhaps you dance around the subject with your boss, trying to get out of having to do the speech (flight), or you face it head on and fight the butterflies in your stomach and do the speech.

Or if you need to confront a co-worker who is a bully at your work, perhaps you want to avoid the stressor and avoid taking shifts where you work with that person, or you simply feel anxiety the whole time you work with this person unable to confront the situation out of fear. Perhaps you decide enough is enough, I am going to report this bully and take action.

I am not saying ‘fighting’ is always the best choice in dealing with a stressful situation. For instance, if you do not have healthy confrontational skills and you end up verbally or even physically assaulting your irritating co-worker, perhaps fighting the situation via direct confrontation is not the best solution for you, and perhaps you should involve the management team instead.

In a situation where a burglar has entered your home with a gun and already shot someone in your home and he has not seen you, perhaps freezing is the best course of action to preserve your life. If he doesn’t see you and leaves, you can then contact the police and ‘fight’ the situation by taking action. But if the burger enters the area where you have chosen to freeze, it might be useful to look for options to get out and flee the area to avoid getting shot. This is a perfect example where all three responses may be needed at varying times in one situation, and your instinct will tell you what you ought to do. Perhaps you have the upper hand, and are able to come behind the burgled unaware and are able to knock him out and tie him up and take his gun away from him and call the police…. Another example of a fight response.

The point is, our bodies ready us for response and give us the extra boost of adrenaline and energy to face the stressful situation.

Long term stress can be very harmful to our bodies, over time, indicating that it is time for us to figure out how to manage anxiety and stress.

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for ‘rest and digest’ and is the part of the nervous system that needs to be activated to bring our bodies back to a state of calm after a stressful episode. I will blog more about how the parasympathetic nervous system comes into play next week as we begin to look at simple ways to manage our stress level.

And don’t forget, if you are relating to this, and feel like you need some additional help, Sign-Up Today for my montly webinar on stress management!!  If you’d like to look at another great resource, check out my one-on-one Boundary Development Program which will help bring control back into your life!

Cheers!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach


“From the brain and brain alone arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains and griefs.”

 – Hippocrates

Last Wednesday I blogged about some cognitive distortions, or lies that we tell ourselves, that when told repeatedly, become a pattern that eventually forms a belief. What we think about and dwell on, really DOES affect our beliefs! I also mentioned that I would discuss this week a little more in depth the research and studying I have been doing on the brain and how to rewire our brains from negative beliefs to become happier overall!

Breakthroughs In Modern Science

“Until recently, scientists believed that the human brain and it’s structures were formed during gestation and infancy and remained pretty much unchanged through childhood. You had a given number of neurons in a specific brain structure and…once you were done with childhood development, you were set in a mold. Your connections were already made, and the learning period of your brain was now over. In the last decade, however, researchers have found significant evidence that this is not so, and that something called neuroplasticity continues throughout our lives.” – Teresa Aubele, PhD, Stan Wenck, EdD, and Susan Reynolds. (Train Your Brain to Get Happy).

Neuroscientists now believe that the brain has the ability to change, to be molded, to repair damaged regions, grow new neurons and and get rid of old ones, to rezone regions that performed one task and give them the ability to assume new tasks and change the circuitry that weaves neurons into networks that allow us to remember, feel, suffer, think, imagine, and dream. Basically, our brains can continue to learn and achieve throughout the duration of our lives.

The part of my research I found most interesting was the recognition that we can rewire our brains from depression, worry, posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disease etc. to becoming happier. For instance, if you worry a lot, you are accessing certsin types of pathways due to habit. But habits can change! I guess old dogs can learn new tricks! You can learn to retrain your brain to quiet the nervous pathways and strengthen others so that you don’t automatically go down the worry path!

If your typical pattern to facing problems is to feel depressed, your brain will continue that habit. However, we can instruct our brain to come up with creative solutions to our problems, thereby opening new pathways for our brains to use instead. If you program your mind with images of you being happy, and visualize the desired images long enough, your brain will associate happiness with them as the brain is not completely reliable at distinguishing actual events from fantasy or perception.

“The more you ask your brain to think happy thoughts, the more your brain responds by forging new…neural circuitry to light up your happy board, and by weakening the neuronal pathways that drain your happy thoughts.” (Train Your Brain To Get Happy).

 “If you routinely dwell on your resentments, regrets, and other negative emotions, the neurons involved in that particular mental activity will fire busily at the same time and automatically start wiring together as well. This process will add one more bit of neural structure to feeling discontented, angry or sad. On the other hand, if you regularly focus on the good feelings around you and inside you, like kindness, compassion, empathy, and patience, then the neurons involved in those thoughts will wire together and take up more space, stitching together more hopefulness, confidence, and happiness into the fabric of your brain and yourself (and taking away space from the negative paths!).

Last week i talked about negative thinking. Here’s what happens when we get stuck in negative thought patterns. Negative thoughts literally can make our brains dysfunctional! Certain brain configurations cause people’s emotions to repeat themselves, without decreasing in intensity. If the thoughts and feelings involve sadness or despair, it can lead to depression. Our brains were not meant to function for prolonged periods of time on negative thinking. Getting stuck in negative thought patterns makes it harder for a person to rebound from negative thoughts and emotions which makes it difficult to control these responses.

It is important to think about what we are thinking about! As I mentioned last Wednesday, the bible was onto something when it says of our thought life that

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
Philippians 4:7-9

The authors of the book “Train your brain to get happy” most certainly agree that “on the flip side, being focused on positive, happy, hopeful, optimistic, joyful thoughts produces chemicals that create a sense of well-being, which helps your brain function at peak capacity.”

“Negative thinking slows down brain coordination, making it difficult to process thoughts and find solutions. Feeling frightened, which often happens when focused on negative outcomes, has been shown to decrease activity in the cerebellum, which slows the brain’s ability to process new information, and the left temporal lobe, which affects mood, memory, and impulse control.” (Train Your brain to get happy).

I can certainly identify with this. Whenever I am down in the dumps, it is more difficult to think of anything positive. In such times, when I try a “gratitude exercise” of trying to find 5 things I am grateful for that day, I struggle to come up with even one or two. But on a good day, I can think of so many things to be grateful for! As Napolean Hill said:

“As a man thinketh, so is he.”

Our minds have the ability to control what type of thinking we allow to go on. So go ahead… Get happy! Think some happy thoughts today! Dwell on the good things in life, even if it is a simple pleasure, like your favorite dessert, or a day at the beach, or your last vacation… Ahhh!!! Summer! Sleeping in, going out for breakfast with a good friend, reading a good book, watching a great movie, doing something kind for someone else, sitting by a fireplace in the winter, campfires in the summer, good uplifting music….

Think your way to happiness, feel your way to happiness, sleep well, eat well… Things will start to look up!

Some quick tips on good brain foods before I sign off for today… Whole grains, bananas, tuna, beans, barley, sweet potatoes, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts. Dark green vegetables and dark orange vegetables like carrots and yams are excellent choices. Red peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, even red wine are powerful antioxidants!

Cancer preventing veggies: Bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rutabagas, turnips, and watercress.

Brain superfoods: Salmon, blueberries, apples, nuts, quinoa, oats, soy, chocolate!!!!

On that note… I’m getting hungry! Gonna go raid the fridge and see what I can eat to get my brain happier!

If you’d like to look at a great resource, check out my one-on-one Personal Development Program which will help you overcome depression, unhealthy thought patterns and so much more!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach


Sometimes in life we go through events that are or at least seem catastrophic at the time, or we keep running across the same negative situation in life over and over again, and we begin to develop distortions in our thinking. We begin to believe things like “I must be cursed”, or “every decision I make ends in failure”, or “I’m not lovable because people keep abandoning me. What’s wrong with me anyway?” Sometimes we believe that we are a mistake, or that we are not beautiful enough, or strong enough, or good enough. Sometimes we believe it is our fault when someone else has wronged us. Sometimes we sabotage ourselves by speaking negative things about ourselves, such as “you are ugly” (talking to yourself) or “you don’t deserve any better, look at what you did… Believing we must punish ourselves for our mistakes, or even believing that God is punishing us for not having been perfect or making the right decisions.

Sometimes we involve ourselves in what psychologists refer to as ’emotional reasoning’, essentially meaning that we believe our feelings are actual fact. Sometimes we magnify a situation and believe based on our faulty understanding that the situation is bigger than it really might be. Sometimes we can’t see any positive possibilities because all we see are the negative situations. Sometimes we jump to conclusions before we have examined all the options, sometimes we catastrophize, expecting the worst case scenario to happen. Sometimes we take everything personal, or label ourselves based on our real or perceived mistakes. Sometimes we use polarization, or black and white thinking, clinging to extreme opposites, like all or nothing, great or awful, never or always. All of these patterns and more are what’s referred to as ‘distorted thinking patterns.’ Basically, the lies we believe.

Now I know on Wednesday’s I blog about my own experiences, my life, etc. Now part of that includes the things I’m thinking about. There have been two major things that have been occupying my attention over the past couple weeks or so, this subject of distorted thinking and cognitive reasoning, as well as researching…and now I’m really gonna reveal how nerdy I really am – the brain and new studies on how to retire and retrain our brains, remapping so to speak. Perhaps I will blog about that next week, as it does relate to this topic about how to change our belief systems.

I’ve been really trying to examine my own distortions and examining how certain repeat situations that occur in my life first build a faulty belief, and then solidify it over time as similar circumstances and life events seem to ‘prove’ my theories and beliefs are true. But as they say, “what you think is what you are.” Do we do it to ourselves by believing a certain way which ends up becoming a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy?’

But what good is it to believe myself unlovable for instance? Or that I will always be betrayed or abandoned? What good is it to self sabotage rather than to have self compassion, and nurture the areas that have felt wounded or betrayed? Does this not add more fuel to the fire?

How much does it benefit us to dwell on the negative beliefs and distortions we hold to so firmly as a belief system? Why do we allow experience to dictate the truth? Why are we often our own worst enemy?

Let’s take a quick look at some of the physical symptoms that can arise simply by worrying or choosing to believe and/or dwell on the negative circumstances in life. For instance we all know that worry, anxiety and depression can result from dwelling on the negative situations in life (albeit some depression is merely a result of lowered serotonin levels for sure), but how many of you are aware that harboring bitterness can cause certain types of cancer, or that self bitterness, self rejection or self hatred CAN be the cause of coronary artery disease or strokes? Fear, anxiety and stress can cause angina or high blood pressure, or heart arrythmias, or ulcers?

Anger, rage and resentment can cause all sorts of physical problems over time. Everything form hemorrhoids to tension headaches, to a lowered immune system, to gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or constipation, overeating, depression and insomnia. Of course, not all of these symptoms are ALWAYS a result of anger or fear etc. sometimes people have constipation because it is a side effect to a medication they are taking for instance. The point is, we are a whole being, spirit, soul and body, interwoven together so delicately and simultaneously complex. Is it any wonder that some of the issues in our spirit and souls would affect our health, just the same as a lack of physical activity does?

Perhaps God was onto something when he said to “forgive” those who have offended us, as he knew the natural consequences bearing such a heavy weight on our shoulders could have on our mental, emotional and physical health? Maybe there is good reason why the bible says:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”
Philippians 4:7-9

For more information on some root causes to physical symptoms, please check out Henry Wright’s book “A more excellent way to be in health”. I confess I started thinking about other possible causes to my back pain than something just ‘physical’ when the orthopedic surgeon looked at my X-rays and CT scans and MRI’s and could not see the reason why I would be in such severe pain with a mild degenerative disc disease. He did mention that it will get progressively worse over time and I may need surgery later on in life, but as he said he couldn’t see why I had such excessive pain, I think I had a little “aha” moment that maybe this was something spiritual, or a root of some kind of lie or belief system I hold onto. Like unbelief for instance. I have always wrestled to believe in miracles because my own experience had not experienced it personally. Perhaps I am stubborn, as I HAVE witnessed others become healed of diseases, but why does my own mind still reject this truth, this reality that it is possible? What is that faulty belief system I hold onto? These and other questions have had me on a quest to find out what other faulty belief systems I hold onto, what lies and distorted thinking patterns I believe, in an effort to reframe my mindset to believe the truth and not a lie.

I have been examining cognitive therapy to make connections between environmental changes/life situations interact with our physical reactions, thoughts, moods and behavior.

For example: environmental situation: death of a father. Physical reaction: cold sweats, pounding heart, breathing difficulty. Moods: anxiety, panic. Behavior: Avoiding places that remind you of him. Thoughts: ‘Something bad will happen to me.’ ‘He died young, and so did my grandfather, so maybe it runs in the family and I will die young too’.

The above example was fictitious… Not a personal experience of mine (although my father did die young, but I don’t hold onto that belief system).

The reality is, our thinking is very important. It is essential to pay attention to what we are thinking about. Our thoughts left to their own devices take on a life of their own, believing any wild connection they make with the circumstances and situations we encounter. Not only our thinking, but our emotions can rule us as well as mentioned earlier about believing that the way you feel reflects reality. Ie. “I feel frightened right now, so that must mean I am in real physical danger.”

Aiko Horman, a Japanese brain specialist, now in her 70’s, did extensive research on early childhood memories and trauma and how to re-route or rewire the brain to overcome painful traumatic childhood memories. There is now so much research on the neuroplasticity of our brain’s nervous system’s ability to develop new neuronal connections, to essentially work toward healing and retraining the brain. This is my intro for next week’s discussion on what I am learning about the brain’s ability to repair itself. But for now, let’s just leave it at this: negative thoughts can actually CAUSE our brain to be dysfunctional.

The good news is: our negative thoughts and negative emotions CAN be rewired, changed, healed. The brain is capable of regenerating itself for repair! Until next week when I get a little more in depth on how the brain works in conjunction with what we tell ourselves and choose to believe, I invite you to make a list of your own cognitive distortions, or the lies you believe about yourself, and hopefully over the next week or two I can unpack further what I’m learning and some tools to apply to rewire our brains! I’m super excited about this, because I have some of my own patterns of thinking that I desperately want to conform to truth.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Think of a situation you were in that caused you distress, anxiety, fear, etc. where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing? Describe the mood you felt (usually a mood is describable in one word), and what were the automatic thoughts that crossed your mind?

For instance, you might have been on a first date, and you were feeling like it wasn’t going very well, so suddenly your mood is nervous, or gloomy, etc, as you begin to think about your automatic thoughts like “He looks bored”, “He’s going to think I’m so clumsy because I’ve done one or two things over dinner that were clumsy while feeling nervous” or “This is the same restaurant I came to when my last boyfriend broke up with me”, etc. Pay attention to each of these things, your automatic thoughts, your mood, and present or past situations that may be acting as triggers to your current mood. Ask yourself the following: what was going on before I started to feel this way? What am I afraid might happen? What is the worst thing that could happen? What does this mean about how the other person feels about me? What images and memories do I have? All of these things help a person to begin to think about what you are thinking about and out the pieces together as to why you are feeling the way you do, or thinking what you are and what caused it. Oftentimes when we begin to examine our automatic thoughts we see how negatively or self sabotaging or self critical we really are. These automatic thoughts, left unchecked, can form belief systems that are untrue or debilitating to our self esteem.

This is precisely what I’ve been up to in my spare time – trying to determine my thinking distortions, find the origins, retrain my brain in its errors of reasoning, and understand other related factors, such as the mental, emotional or spiritual roots to physical ailments. It bears repeating… I’m a nerd. But I love it! Next Wednesday I will come back to this and explore it further…. I believe it’s an important subject to live a life that is full and meaningful. No point in believing lies when the truth sets us free. Negativity only causes us all sorts of harm.

If you’d like to look at a great resource, check out my one-on-one Personal Development Program which will help you overcome depression, unhealthy thought patterns and so much more!

Cheers!

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If you have any questions on today’s blog or would like help on taking steps forward, I’d love to hear from you!  Post a comment below or visit my website and register for your Complimentary Strategy Session to discuss your situation in more detail.

Katie Meilleur – Certified Life Coach

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