Thursday, February 01, 2018

Assertiveness vs. Being Unkind

The headline poses an idea that has been on my mind for some time. Working in the mental health field, there is an ongoing idea that people can address many social issues and realize goals by being more assertive.

Assertiveness, by definition "is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. In the field of psychology and psychotherapy, it is a learnable skill and mode of communication" (Wikipedia, 2017). 

I have witnessed some people take this full definition and apply it to better be able to communicate, interact, and achieve personal goals. Assertiveness gives a person the assurance that they are able to carry out an activity or conversation no matter what the outcome. It is an actual sign of self-assurance and confidence. However, in the definition, it does not include the assurance that the outcome will be favorable to the one who possesses this ability. On more than just a few occasions I have been witness to those who, in the name of assertiveness, assert dominance, speak unkind words, present entitlement as assertiveness, and damage relationships. In other words, being unkind replaced assertiveness. Why might this happen (notice, I say "might")? I would argue that it is a presentation of lack of self-assuredness and confidence. In fact, the behavior would indicate an internal struggle of "If I am not seen as right, do not attain that which I most desire, am not seen as intelligent despite my attempts, then I have no sense of value or self-worth." Thus, assertiveness gives way to forcefulness and aggression. Kindness is forgotten and the behavior becomes self-serving. 

On the other hand, true assertiveness is a demonstration of genuine self-respect and respect for others. One might say, it is a sub-category of being kind. While searching for a good definition of kindness, I found the following from "Kindness is the indispensable virtue from which most of the others flow, the wellspring of our happiness. ... Under its umbrella kindness shelters a variety of other traits - empathy, generosity, unselfishness, tolerance, acceptance, compassion - that are highly valued and easily recognizable" (Livingston, 2009). This description encompasses many desirable traits and characteristics that, I would argue, most of us wish to embody. In fact, to further the description of assertiveness, this definition of kindness could be added in place of the words "without being aggressive," because the kindness traits nullify aggression. 

Like all desirable traits and behaviors, they take practice. For some it is easier than others to be kind and kindly assertive. However, as Person-Centered Counseling and Humanism posits, all people are inherently good. So, it must be possible. 

Until next time... 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where Have I Been???? SELF-CARE!

It's been, undoubtedly a long time since I posted anything. I am certain that my three readers have been biting their nails while checking their blog feeds and emails just waiting for my next comments. Well, here it is...

Over the past 16 months I have had the opportunity to see many clients, attend great conferences (i.e. The Evolution of Psychotherapy 2017 convention), teach multiple classes, provide supervision to 24 different students, road over 1500 miles on a mountain bike, went on several trips (some successful, some not), and much more. In other words, I got even more busy. But, I digress...

Today's brief message is about the results of professional counselor burnout and secondary trauma, and how to work through it. A counselor who works with trauma is at risk for developing pathological symptoms by virtue of exposure to clients with trauma and difficult life scenarios. This can happen due to the severity of the situations and stories shared in sessions, or even because of similarities of the clients' stories and experiences to the counselor's own life. The signs for secondary trauma are not unlike post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and more. Ultimately, a professional counselor can begin to feel tired at the thought of seeing clients. Sessions may be interrupted by internal counselor struggle (countertransference). Ultimately, it can lead to compassion fatigue and/or burnout. Cynicism tends to be the final stage of burnout, which ultimately affects the client's ability to remain objective and to demonstrate empathy or compassion to their clients or even personal relations.

I know what you three readers are asking--how can I avoid this? The answer is very simple. Self-care. This means putting yourself personally and professionally at the forefront. Take time off periodically rather than waiting until you're exhausted. Focus on personal spirituality by maintaining a relationship with God or the Divine. Be physically active in any way. Check your attitude to see if it is adjusting towards being negative towards others. If it is, engage in your own personal introspection and practice for change. Or, see a counselor for yourself. Try to see people from a person-centered perspective--that all people are inherently good and trying their best; that they are worthy of affection and attention (yourself included); and be congruent and genuine with yourself and others.

Hopefully, you three will find some of this helpful. If not, file it away for a time when things feel rough.

Until next time...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Equality vs. Inequity

I once knew a man who made me think on what society preaches about equality and fairness. This fella wasn't raised in a wealthy home. In fact, one might say that according to his parents' career paths, and the amount of siblings in the home, and the cost of living at the time that they were lower class. They certainly would have qualified for food stamps, Medicaid for health insurance, or other welfare-based aid. But, his parents for whatever reason unbeknownst to him never went that route.

They lived modestly, meaning they had an older home with older furnishings, but all was functional. If things broke, his parents would figure out how to fix it or go without it. He and his siblings had clothes, sometimes not the newest styles, but they were clean. Their hair wasn't always cut, but it was the 80's and little boys always had messy longer hair.

The man said that his childhood was filled with outdoors activities, playing night games with neighborhood friends, building snow forts in the winters and much more. For years he played baseball using his dad's old glove while his friends had the newest gloves. He loved the old glove. It was well-oiled and functional with a deep pocket, and it was his dad's. He thought that because his dad used it, it must have some kind of "part" of him in it which is what made it such a good glove. He used it until it finally fell apart when he was in his early teens. He finally bought a brand-new glove with his own money that he used until it fell apart when he was 37 years old. He loved that glove just as he'd loved his first glove. It played a lot of games when he was a teen. It was used by his sister when she began playing softball. He used it again as an adult playing "old man's baseball" (i.e. softball). Like the first glove, it had memory to it and was special to him. It wasn't fancy, and it wasn't new...but, it did the job

His family spent a lot of times doing activities outside or traveling to places close to home. They found ways to enjoy all things with as little expenditure as possible. He remembers many trips to his grandparents (6 hour road trip) At the half-way point his dad would always pull into a McDonald's and buy each child (there were five kids) a hamburger and a fry to share. He honestly did not think about having any more than that, because he was happy for what he had. He recalls buying a Happy Meal the first time when he was 17, just because he could. :) He said "it wasn't all it was cracked up to be."

His father and mother taught him the value of hard work. Neither of them had completed a college education, but both were highly skilled and educated in other ways. His father moved up quickly in his employment because of these skills and because of "blessings" that he said were given from God. His parents taught him and his siblings by word and deed that nothing can take the place of hard work, trusting in God, and in being kind to everyone. These were teachings the man took to heart and continued to follow. He didn't rely on society or others. He relied on God and on hard-work, because it is what seemed to work for his parents.

As this man grew, his parents taught him the value of education and encouraged him and his siblings to go to college. They explained to him that they would not be able to pay for it, but it was up to him to get scholarships or to pay for it himself. Never once, did he think it was unfair. It just simply was as it was and he would do it. He found ways to make it happen. He went to school and graduated with very little debt with a Bachelors degree. He did it on his own. His parents told him he could and he believed it. He worked hard. He did his best to trust in God. He believed that kindness would help, and it did.

Then, this man went into a field that focused on public service and on helping individuals to better themselves. Somewhere along the line, he learned that there were others in poverty or in lesser situations who felt they could never get out. They believed that society had failed them and not provided them with enough opportunity to grow--that inequality had damned their progression--that life had not been fair, because they did not have as much as others. This didn't set well with him. He questioned,  "who ever said there existed a certain fair or equal amount of anything that all should require to live happily? Who has enough knowledge to truly judge what is fair?" If there was such a person they would have to be not only wise, but have all knowledge of every person in every situation, culture, lifestyle, race/ethnic group, etc. and know both implicitly and explicitly what they need so that everything is perfectly provided in a perfectly fair and a perfectly non-judgmental fashion. His reasoning for this thinking was that one may look at what he had or didn't have growing up in comparison to others and judge it as not being enough. However, to him it was more than enough. Therein lies a problem...fairness and equality are based on context and are individually measured, thus nothing can ever be equal. Thus, that means that those who say they do not have enough, may actually have enough to be happy just as this man had and continues to have. What's the difference between this guy and those who had the same, yet say it was not enough??? I could certainly provide my response, but then the reader would never think for themselves and figure it out.

Friday, July 08, 2016

To Be Nice...Or Not To Be

With all of the information coming out about the shooter in Dallas along with everyone's opinions on whose lives matter, I can't help but make a few comments regarding the matter, or the other shootings  or acts of terror that we have heard about in detail over the past several years.

Perhaps it is my professional training and experience or even my spiritual and religious beliefs, I can't help but feel sad about what happened in Dallas. I will try to explain why this is on my mind.

I was raised in a home where my father was an Officer of the Law. Yes, his last name is Law and he was an Officer, as well. I see the irony...but, I digress. My dad did not bring his work home with him when I lived there. I knew he was a Cop. I knew what he did, but I did not know what dangers there were. He kept us protected from them. I knew there were problems in the cities where we lived and where he worked. However, he did not talk about them. I'm not saying we didn't know about them, he just assured us that all was well. He did not return home with stories that had cynical undertones about people who committed crimes. There was no talk about racial stereotyping, about religious stereotyping, or really anything of that matter. In fact, the one resounding rule he had for us regarding everybody was "Just Be Nice." He would remind us when we were upset with each other or others, including people who didn't like us for our religion (this happened more than once), our hair color (I was a redhead as a child and was called a "dirty little redhead"), or even bullies, he constantly reminded us to "Just Be Nice." I'm not saying that he was telling us to lie down and just take it. Because, there were times when we needed to fight our own battles. Even then, after it was all said and done, he instructed us to "Just Be Nice." That's it!

Now, to say how this applies to the shootings and acts of terror. At the end of the day, these violent acts can be reduced to simple things. Fear, anger, and hate. Those geeks out there know exactly what I'm talking about when I say Master Yoda taught "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering..." These things are all part of the dark side. It is consuming. It is addicting. It feels good to be angry, because we feel powerful, strong, and justified in our actions. Fear, anger, and hate are primal and are built into our midbrain, the powerful part of our brain that controls the fight, flight, and freeze responses. When that wakes up, reason disappears. Our prefrontal cortex becomes dormant and Amen to reason and logic!

Now, what does this have to do with the prior paragraph about my dad's rule? Giving in to fear, anger, and hate is easy. Just being nice is hard. It's never easy to be nice to someone who hurts you, whether they did it purposely or not. Being nice will always be the most difficult thing to do unless you make it a habit. Habits are behaviors that come naturally with practice and persistence. It requires choice, which requires your prefrontal cortex to be engaged. That means, learning to control and/or manage fear, anger, and hate. Those three emotions come in many forms, though. Each individual has to be aware of what form they take within themselves AND  how they express it AND how it affects others (I personally believe we are accountable for that). Once again, this requires work and in some cases, HARD WORK! Some of us have past experiences or even personality traits that may predispose us to being afraid, fearful, or even angry. That just means that life has given us some things that we can work on. That doesn't mean that the person is bad or just means that they have some hard work. However, results do come with hard work.

That's all for today.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Help! My Teeth Are Falling Out!!!!

Dream Analysis

Teeth falling out...
Feeling like you're back in school and you're naked and you can't find your clothes...
A shadow or someone following you that hides in the shadows...
Apocalyptic and violent dreams...

These are common themes that we hear about in nightmares or dreams. Naturally, clients will tell me about their dreams, and not the happy fluffy ones where they fly around the world like Superman or are otherwise a hero. Typically, as counselors we hear the dreams that cause discomfort or fear. Some of them may be reoccurring. Some people want to understand them. Others even want to control them. Though I'm not a dream expert and don't analyze dreams from a particular theoretical model such as Gestalt therapy (i.e. "step into the dream or become the dream"), I have found that dreams can be easily understood, especially when they are of the nightmarish quality. Therefore, I'll give a brief explanation in this short article.

1. Examine the dream for its process first, NOT its content.

Many of us look at the dream for their exact content and try to find hidden meanings or revelatory information. Rather than that, look at the process of it. What does the dream feel like? What emotions are going on? What are the five senses that are experienced? Put aside the loose teeth and the school nakedness and look at the dream's emotional processes. There, you may begin to find commonalities such as feelings of shame, worthlessness, fear of the unknown, fear of vulnerability, etc. Write those emotions down as you review the emotional process. For example, a dream of the apocalypse is not likely a foreshadowing of doom and destruction. It actually can be a representation of fear of the unknown or fear of being harmed by the unknown.

2. Review your current life and what is going on and compare it to the dream emotional processes.

Let's face it, though life is good it has its downs. During those times we tend to fall into feelings of worthlessness, fear, anxiousness, depression, etc. This is a normal process and doesn't necessarily mean that something is terribly wrong. Sometimes, our dreams can be a reflection of our thinking and emotional processes. Sometimes, the dreams can teach us that "hey, you're not feeling okay right now!" You may already know that, but some of us do our best to ignore it. In this case, the dream is just trying to process your subconscious thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, our mind tries to figure things out for us or to bring subconscious concerns to our awareness for us to figure out. Nightmares may not mean that there is something wrong. It may just mean that you are human and have some work to do.

As you review your current life circumstances and compare them to the dream process, make sure to write them down or even say them out loud. This helps to make it real and can even decrease the anxiousness or fear surrounding it.

3. Ask yourself, "What can I do about it?"

If you learn that there are things that need to be worked on, make goals and follow through with them. If it's something you can't do yourself, ask for help! There's no shame in it. We're here to lift and buoy one another up.

In the case of severe nightmares that come about from may require professional help. If that is the case and you're looking for help, the database on is great! You can find a local compassionate professional to help you through it.

That's all for today.

Dr Law

Monday, March 07, 2016

I SUCK! But, at least I'm predictable...

Today's tagline is: I suck...but at least I'm predictable. 

Psychology is not the study of the mind. Rather, it is the study of the soul. As we delve into the soul we begin to find that human beings, despite how busy they become and how complex their lives are, they are fairly simple creatures. I tend to lean to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a template to gauge why people do what they do. It's fairly simple, actually. If you think about it, all behaviors have a purpose and typically they can fall into one of the 4-5 categories in Maslow's Hierarchy. Starting at the bottom there are PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS and going up from there is SAFETY, SOCIAL/ESTEEM, and finally SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Today, though, I want to speak briefly about Safety.

Safety, in my experience, is an umbrella term that encompasses all aspects of a person's life that makes them feel that life is comfortable, predictable, consistent, and stable. With a foundation of safety, which means that turmoil is minimal the individual believes that all is well. They feel and believe that their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual needs are aligned and sufficiently under their control.

Now, let's see how this principle of safety is not without a sense of irony. Take, for instance, an individual who is struggling with self-esteem, depression, anxiousness, obsessive compulsiveness, or ANYTHING where they feel that they are out of control. Here, you may find an individual who engages in covert behaviors (i.e. internal) that include self-berating, self-doubting, self-flagellation, etc. Their internal dialogue may be "I suck at this...I'm a failure....I'm not good at this....I'm a terrible person...etc." Not only do they say these things, but they may even seek out internal or external evidence for it. For example: "I suck at playing the trumpet, because I screwed up in the concert....I am a failure as a mother, because my child is struggling in school and I should have done more with him/her at home...I am a terrible employee, because my boss gave me negative feedback...etc." This internal process added to the seeking and finding of evidence leads to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and even sleepless nights. One would think that the results of this process might logically push a person to move away from such negative behaviors; thus enabling them to move up the hierarchy and work on their esteem, their social life and moving towards actualization. In some cases it does! However, in the cases that end out in my office it does not always look like this. In my opinion, this happens because the behaviors (internal and external) have a predictable and consistent result, thus logically maintaining a sense of ironic safety. After all, safety is a sense of stability and predictability. Therefore, why would the individual change when they know that their outcome will be the same and they have power over it?

Now that we've briefly unraveled this ironic sense of safety, one can see how it might be comfortable to remain in their unhappy state. So, one might ask how to help a person move from that state to a new state of safety. Truthfully, there are many ways. CBT or Gestalt therapy can help, person-centered therapy can help, existential therapy can help, and much more. Typically, it requires an empathetic ear that can help a person to become aware of their internal goings-on. Awareness can be a breeding ground for change that is brought on by the individual's will to seek a higher level of safety. Once they begin to move in that direction, then they need to be able to identify the progress, celebrate it, give themselves the proverbial pat on the back and develop their own self-efficacy (i.e. confidence). Then, their motivation to continue the new behavior can be internally driven. Finally, the new results can be just as predictable; just as stable; and just as consistent as the prior behaviors. Who wouldn't want that?

Dr Law

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Anybody Wanna Take a Selfie? Thoughts on Social Media and Texting

Oh my gosh...does everyone want to take a selfie with me?

I read an article today (see link below) that brought some raw feelings, as well as some opinions that I decided to blog about. Social Media is a fairly new concept for many of us (i.e. ten years old or less), but to the upcoming generations it is a daily influence. Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or blogging it is something that the newer generations will continue to use. For starters, I don't want any of my three readers to believe that this is an anti-social media blog. I use social media for my personal and professional life. Over time I have learned which subjects, topics of discussions, or people that I prefer to follow or to have follow me. I have also learned, by sad experience, that the ability to communicate effectively is not supportable by social media.

Many aspects of the human experience and how we communicate are lost in text. It is difficult to convey true emotion and even intention with mere words. Body language, facial expressions, context, mood/affect and much more are lost. There can also be a diminished sense of accountability when using social media as a means to convey opinions or feelings. People tend to be less afraid of conveying their thoughts, no matter the consequence, when there isn't an actual voice behind it. It's easy to write out opinions without worrying about how others might receive it. We tend to believe we are protected because there is no eye-contact with the communication.

However, this can be both helpful and destructive. I once had a client who had experienced severe trauma. She didn't feel comfortable talking about it, so she preferred writing it out in text. After a session of this, she was able to express herself verbally. It created a bridge for her and she was able to work through and resolve a lot of difficult experiences.

On the other hand, I have witnessed how social media and text can be very destructive, particularly with teens. Young teens may not have the social and emotional developmental capacity to judge what is appropriate or inappropriate to say over text or social media. It can lead to unexpected, unwanted, or even purposeful harm to others including bullying, social isolation, and much more. Once again, this is because social media and text can serve as a bridge to communicate things that normally would be very uncomfortable to say to someone's face.

When this is occurring, there is a very simple solution. If you are a parent or caretaker of a young teen, set specific rules and boundaries regarding text and social media use. Make it specific, make it individual to each person, and be consistent with rewards and consequences. Also, monitor  their text and social media use frequently. This is not an invasion of their privacy. They are young adults, not full-fledged adults. Guidance and boundaries will not harm their developmental growth. In fact, research shows that it helps them. Finally, know the applications that your teen is using. Some of them have specific settings that allow them to send direct messages or even quick messages that are deleted after viewing them for only a few seconds. You never know what they're being exposed to.

Well, I think that's all for today...