Sunday, November 25, 2012

Anxiety and Divorce: Holiday Style

Going through a divorce is tough, really tough. Going through a divorce during the holidays is excruciating. Everything you have known about the holidays changes, and if you have children it is complicated exponentially. There are few situations that inspire more anxiety than figuring holiday schedules for children and planning how you will fill the hours while they are with their other parent. Even if you do not have children, the holidays represent a death of the norm.

Grieving is normal and natural during this season. Your singleness is magnified by images of happy couples gathered with their happy children around the tree, while you try to figure how you will pay for gifts and groceries on an income that has been decimated. Not spending holiday time with the family that had become like your own can be a painful part of the loss that no one acknowledges.

There is hope for you if you are going through a divorce during the holidays. Despite the fact that nothing feels secure until the divorce is final, you can learn to thrive during the ambiguity. I know that thriving may sound like a stretch. If you are like many, you spend much of the time curled up in bed trying to sleep the time away until the divorce is final and all the arrangements are in place. 

Learning to live mindfully can help you begin to appreciate your life again. Even though it may feel like you have had a giant bomb thrown into your life, learning to live in the moment can help you get out of bed, put your feet on the floor, and start all over again.

The first step is learning to breathe again. Yes, you heard me, breathe. When is the last time that you took a really deep breath? When we are anxious and grieving we actually forget to breathe. When we focus our attention on our breath, and really notice how luxurious it feels to throw our heads back and take a deep belly breath, we become engaged in the process of life again.

Remembering the little things that we love about the holidays is a big step towards learning to thrive again. A glass of eggnog in front of the fire, the twinkle of the lights at night, the smell of the Christmas tree, the feel of the winter chill on your cheeks when you step outside in the morning are all precious moments if we notice them. It is REALLY noticing the little things, the special moments, that make for quality holidays. When you string together several special moments, you have created a lovely day. Once you have created a lovely day, then you have the pattern for creating a delightful holiday season.

Making new memories is another way to help you flourish during the season. Time with friends, a chance to travel, shopping or seeing a newly released movie can all become thrilling adventures if you reframe how you expect to experience the holidays. Engaging with other single people or joining in celebration with another family can begin a tradition that will provide you with beautiful memories. A nice bottle of wine and your presence may be all that is required in return.

If you are having a really difficult time I recommend that you volunteer at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. There are people everywhere who are in need of encouragement, of a warm body to remind them that they still matter, that they are important. It is amazing how connecting with those less fortunate than yourself can give you perspective on your blessings.

The game plan for thriving through the holidays as you are going through a divorce is to put one foot in front of the other. Do the next thing. Keep your mind in the moment. Do not think about the future, do not dwell on the past. Take a deep breath, and realize that right now, this very minute, is enough.

Carolyn Tucker LAPC is a psychotherapist and life coach at TRU Integrative Health and Wellness specializing in pre and post divorce support and anxiety. To find out more information call 770-789-0847 or see

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Truth About Discipline

 In my work with children and their families I have found that we often forget what discipline really is and what it is intended for. Discipline comes from the Latin word “disciplinare” which means “to teach”.  We so often associate the word with punishment and consequences but when we do that we lose sight of the reason we discipline our children. We discipline them to teach them. We need to teach them how to move around the world safely, treat others, treat themselves, and how to navigate various social situations. Ideally we teach them all this in a loving and supportive way so that they have healthy mental and emotional health.

People often equate discipline with punishment and consequences but this isn’t really what discipline is all about. Remember that discipline means to teach. We discipline our children not only with providing consequences to behavior, but also through setting clear expectations, setting limits, and modeling the behaviors we want to see. What we often don’t realize is that the way we discipline our children teaches them just as much, sometimes even more, than consequences and punishments.   How we respond to our children teaches them how to respond to others. An out of control tantruming child for example, needs a calm parent who can model and teach them how to calm themselves. I know this is WAY easier said than done, but it is so important for parents to find ways to teach their children what they are lacking in that moment…the ability to self soothe and words to express feelings . If we respond with a “tantrum” that consists of yelling, spanking, threatening, then how can we expect our children to behave any different.

We often forget that discipline doesn't just occur after a behavior. It happens all the time. Discipline is what happens when a parent intervenes before a behavior gets out of control. It is what happens when we give our child choices, or when we talk to them about our expectations in regards to their behaviors. Good discipline consists mainly of instructions and only a small percentage of actual correction of behavior.  It includes praising the behaviors we want more of not just correcting the ones we want to see less of.

Below are a few discipline basics:

  1. Use  praise  to increase behaviors you want to see more of. Praise should be used more than correction.
  2. Model the behavior you want from your children. 
  3.  Make clear what the unacceptable behaviors are as well as acceptable behaviors, provide options. So for a child that is running in doors one can say “running is not for inside the house, you can go into the yard and run there.”
  4. Consistency: respond consistently, have consistent expectations of behavior. All caregivers need to be on e the same page in terms of rules and expectations.
  5. Ignore unimportant misbehavior such as leg shaking, fidgeting, etc. The more rules you have the less effective they can be. Pick your battles for the rules that truly matter. Children bombarded with rules struggle because they are constantly being corrected/punished so it can lose its effectiveness. Try praising the behaviors you want more of  such as “you are sitting so nice and still” (for a child who is fidgeting). 

Remember that your child is learning about the world and how to navigate it. We often forget that when we learn anything we need to practice it and often have it explained to us more than once. Think back to learning to spell. I remember doing spelling drills and practicing the words over and over to learn and remember them. I didn't get them right after seeing the word just one time. We all need repetition to learn.  Try to keep this in mind as you are disciplining your child. They may have to make the decision to behave a certain way a couple of times before they get it "right".

Claudia Glassman, LMFT, RPT is a licensed therapist and Registered Play Therapist specializing in working with children and adolescents ages 2-17. To learn more about how she can help you and your child go to 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thriving Through the Holidays: Raising Expectations

The countdown is on. We have only 2 weeks until Thanksgiving, and 47 shopping days left until Christmas. I've seen Christmas decorations in stores for weeks now, and I'm starting to see all the tell-tale signs of the holiday season not just approaching, but being fully upon us: decorations in parking lots, holiday TV commercials, and a growing number of Pinterest posts of fabulous looking sweet treats and gift ideas.

People have a lot of different feelings about the holidays. Probably for most, there is a large variety of both positive and negative emotions surrounding this time. One of the interesting things I see concerning this "holiday season" is the way it tends to amplify and magnify our everyday emotions and life experiences. Those struggling with weight loss or trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle through out the year feel a stronger temptation in the presence of so many seasonal treats (haha, can you see what I'm focused on this year?). Those who have experienced the loss of a love one or a significant relationship feel a deeper sense of loss or nostalgia at this time of the year. Some are anxiously awaiting the birth of a child, enjoying a new relationship, or are experiencing their first holiday in a new home, and seem to notice the magic of every "first" through the holidays. There is the potential for so much joy, but also so much pain as we all balance the highs and lows of life and everyday living during this special time.

So it seems like an important subject to talk about. I'm beginning a series of posts concerning Thriving Through the Holidays. I will examine different topics and give you tips on handling difficult family relationships, healthy communication, memorializing those you have lost, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and tips for stress-management and relaxation (because one can never have too many of those!)

Lesson #1: I want you to raise your expectation for this holiday season.

I don't like when people say they are just going to survive the holidays. I believe that our words have more power than we often give them credit for. I want you to focus on not just surviving, but thriving through this season. So many times in life, we get what we expect. And we all know the old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So lets start by not expecting the "normal" level of holiday stress! Who wants to be "normal" anyways? I want extraordinary! I want to thrive this year, and look back on this season as the best holiday season yet. Thats my expectation. What's yours?

Liz Fava, MS, LAPC is a Psychotherapist focused on Relationships and Trauma at TRU Integrative Health and Wellness. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, visit 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Think Like a Therapist© is your lay source for becoming your own psychotherapist.  Think Like a Therapist© helps you learn about yourself and others as if you were actually in counseling—minus the time and expense. Your session begins now!  Think Like a Therapist© is not a substitute or service for the treatment of any mental health problems.  Please see a clinical mental health professional to address your mental health symptoms and illnesses. Copyright © 2012 Charles O’Connor. All Rights Reserved.

Think Like a Therapist©: Your Relationship, Part I

You tell me that you’re having relationship problems and would like to work on your “communication” to lessen the tension and conflict in your marriage.  Your previous experience in counseling was unhelpful and felt like a verbal wrestling match without a referee: You and your partner fought while your counselor said little.  Your couples counselor before was more active but got caught up in the details of your accusations.  Reflecting on these sessions you tell me that they served only to help you argue better.  You claim victory because from your perspective both therapists sided with you and not your partner.  With my encouragement, however, you’re honest with yourself— that this is not the outcome you had hoped for.  You and your mate agree to work with me, skeptical but very much in need of a professional who understands not only relationships but also the uniqueness of your partnership.   

            I begin by validating your distress and how exhausted, confused, and raw you both feel.  Anxiously, you add that it is your “communication” that must improve to save your relationship.  I assure you that you do communicate well.  You look at me puzzled and unsure of what to make of my response.  Let’s be honest: You don’t need me to communicate effectively.  You are already experts at sending clear messages through your criticizing, blaming, defending, and withdrawing.  After all, your gestures, like rolling your eyes, or sometimes what you don’t say through silence, speak volumes about how your feeling.  You get it and add, “We both want to communicate in a way that resolves and lessens conflict.”  Your partner adds, “Where there doesn’t have to be a winner and loser.”  I acknowledge your hopes and mutual goal of communicating in a more authentic, genuine, and loving way.     

            As a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), I have a different way of listening.  My training and experience allows me to hear beyond the content and details of your relationship—namely, the many reasons that your partner is at fault—to identify the unspoken need that you convey through these details—that you want a partner who is emotionally accessible, responsive, and engaging.  Instead of refereeing or judging who is right and wrong, I look for how you communicate.  This becomes the therapeutic foundation from which new, more rewarding ways of interacting emerge.  Because, after all, you know how to communicate; you’re just speaking a language that neither clearly expresses your need nor allows your partner to meet it.   

            I assess how you communicate by working to understand the interactional process that unfolds and results in conflict.  Common patterns between couples include: pursuing and withdrawing, mutual attacking, or mutual retreat.  You mention that there is a lot of criticizing and blaming that leads to defending and withdrawing.  You both are left feeling alone and upset due to the vicious relational cycle that you have co-constructed, meaning that neither one of you is to blame for the relationship that you have collectively created. 

            You come to understand the purpose of your behavior and how it contributes to your pattern of pursuing and distancing.  You learn that your defenses or behaviors are yoked to your vulnerabilities or emotions.  Your behavior is an expression of your emotional insecurities. When one partner pursues out of loneliness in a hope of not feeling so alone in the relationship, the other withdraws feeling overwhelmed and inadequate by the pursuer’s criticism and blaming.  The dance is complete when the pursuer feels rejected by the distancer’s withdrawal and either pursues more intensely hurling demands, threats, and insults or gives up and retreats emotionally.  The withdrawer is left feeling even more inadequate, like a failure, paralyzed, afraid, and angry.
            Your dance may look something like the following, where your loneliness (or any other emotion) is triggered and leads to your pursuit (or any other defensive behavior), which stirs up your partner's feeling of indadequacy (or any other emotion), which leads to his or or her withdrawal (or any other defensive behavior), in turn leaving you feeling lonely.  This interactional cycle will continue until successfully interrupted and replaced with a new pattern of relating.

           Loneliness --> pursuit --> inadequacy --> withdrawal --> loneliness
            Our session ends with your relationship deconstructed and you feeling hopeful it can improve.  You state you have an awareness of how your behaviors are tied together and how you each trigger one another’s vulnerabilities.  I offer to help you interact differently to replace the dance that you both agree has kept you miserable for too long.  Excited and eager you wait for guidance only to hear that we have run out of time.  See you next week!