Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Acceptance leads to Choices and Reduced Stress

Events and people cannot cause us to experience stress, anger and frustration unless we allow it. Since we are responsible for our thoughts, feelings and responses to whatever is happening, we do not have to change other people or events in order to feel okay.

We create our own psychological discomfort or pain when we resist, blame or become defensive about what is happening. When you think the only way you can feel better is by changing something, you will get caught in an emotional bind that creates more hurt, anger, helplessness and resentment. Acceptance is the first step in reducing conflict.

Acceptance does not mean giving up, giving in, becoming passive, or having no rights. What acceptance does mean is you stop resisting, accept how you feel, ask what you really want to happen and look for solutions. Acceptance means

  • I can choose different feelings based on my interpretation, beliefs and thoughts

  • I take responsibility for my life

  • I cannot be responsible for another person's choices or life

When you focus on what you want to have happen instead of dwelling on things you cannot change, your emotional response will change. Ask yourself the following:

  • What can I accept right now?

  • What am I hanging onto, fighting, resisting, or refusing to accept? Why?

  • What do I want to have happen? Create a vision of that.

  • What choices can I make to create this? What action will I need to take? What is within my realm of ability to do? What isn't?

Write down all your answers. Become aware of the words you use, such as "I can't, it will never happen, what's the use, I always fail, etc.". Words are powerful symbols that you brain and mind act upon and can keep you from acceptance and making new choices.

When our focus is on changing someone or something, we end up using force or manipulation to achieve our goal, resulting in anger and escalation of the problem. When we stop trying to force or change events, people or ourselves, we can begin to explore ways to achieve positive goals.

We can't change people or events. We can only choose to respond in a different, more productive way. Acceptance allows you to look at what you really want and find ways to accomplish that. As we explore options we can also examine the consequences of those options giving us more discretion over our choices and ways to evaluate their success.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

copyright 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stress Can Kill You

For those of you who are following my postings as contributing author on Author Haven, you know I have begun a new series based on the mangement of destructive stress in our lives. This will have complementary information.

We can't eliminate stress, nor do we want to. Stress enables us to get up in the morning, accomplish our goals and live happy and fulfilling lives. However, when we are overloaded with duties and obligations, under a lot of pressure, and feeling we have few or no choices, we become "dis-stresed". High levels of prolonged stress will turn into disease. In other words, unmanaged stress can eventually kill you.

There are many ways we can both reduce and manage the stress in our lives; simplifying, reducing clutter, setting goals and just saying "No". For some people just saying "no" is difficult. It is easier to avoid conflict, be agreeable and stay in the background than to express their feelings and opinions. For others becoming assertive may be considered undesirable because it is confused with being humble, putting others first and other good social graces taught in childhood.

Assertive behavior not only allows us to express our feelings and thoughts honestly and comfortably, but we become equal with others in our lives. It is saying "yes" to you. It is saying to yourself and the other person that you are just as important as they are. When we deny our self-expression and personality, we often become passive-aggressive and manipulative. And that kind of manipulation is based on dishonesty on our part and is hurtful to both yourself and your relationships.

Assertivesness is a learned skill. While it may be uncomfortable at first, as we practice it gets easier. You can be assertive without being unpleasant. In fact, when you are able to accept your needs and wants as legitimate, there is no need to become embarrassed or uneasy. It is when we do not accept ourselves, that we become either passive aggressive or aggressive. Aggressive people have low esteem and cover their insecurities by getting their needs met at the expense of other people.

Here are some ways to become assertive:

1. Do some "self" work. Explore who you are, what you like, your strengths and weaknesses.

2. Be honest with yourself. We often minimize our strengths and accomplishments while maximizing our weaknesses. Or we embellish what we do and who we are while ignoring or denying those parts of us that are less desirable because we might be rejected.

3. Practice setting boundaries. Boundaries say, "this is my time, this is my space, etc." We can still consider the needs of others, their time and their space.

4. Being firm does not mean you become aggressive. "I'm sorry, but this is my seat" or "I am returning this because it doesn't do what it said it would." You stay firm in your resolution.

5. When you are assertive, you can pick your battles, standing firm for those that are important to you and letting go of those that are trivial. It also allows negotiation.

6. Be specific when asking for something. "I want.... I need.... at (specify the time and place if relevant.) Make it a statement as though you expect it to happen. You can ask with a smile, and say thank you and still be assertive.

7. Expression of emotions keeps them from escalating. Take ownership of your feelings. "I felt hurt when you said that." or "I get angry when I am not allowed to enter the conversation. Would you please give me an opportunity to speak?" Refrain from saying "you made me feel..." as that triggers defensiveness. And we are responsible for all our responses to all things.

Marlene Anderson MA, LMHC, NCC

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mind the Gap

In London's underground stations you hear a mechanized voice say, "Mind the Gap", as you board a tube train. That "gap" between platform and train is usually quite small and as a tourist, after the novelty wears off, you take for granted the need to watch your step and the recording simply becomes one of those endearing facets of the London experience.

Neil Gaiman, in his book, "Neverwhere", artfully creates a more sinister reason for "minding the gap" in his fantasy story about London above ground and the London below. The "gap" no longer is a small precautionary hazard but one of lethal danger as an invisible cloud-like substance rises out of the crack, wrapping itself around the ankles of its targeted and unsuspecting traveler, ready to drag him into oblivion.

It is easy to develop complacency about the gaps that occur in our lives. Most of them are simply little daily obstacles we step over. But sometimes, those gaps take on the proportions of huge chasms, larger than life and so threatening that we remain rooted in place, stranded on the station platform while the train moves out. The "gap" has become insurmountable, a hollow place empty of inspiration and motivation, a place that threatens to swallow us up in mediocrity and depression.

What creates the difference between a small gap we easily step over and one that literally sucks out our motivation, confidence, and energy? Usually it is our interpretation and perception.

Our emotional responses to life are a result of our beliefs about ourself and the world. We form a string of thoughts that reflect that belief and then act upon them. When you hear yourself saying "I can't" or "there is nothing I can do about this situation", follow the thread of thoughts to the underlying belief. Challenge that belief. Who said you can't? How do you know there is nothing you can do? Who says there is only one way to do things? Distorted beliefs about one's worth and ability can take a tiny gap and make it into a huge chasm of doubt, fear, and anxiety, freezing us in place.

We make the choices that determine what we do. We have the ability to choose our responses to life. When we accept our circumstances, we are free to explore new options enabling new choices. We are responsible for our responses to all life situations. Challenging outdated, limiting and sometimes destructive thoughts and beliefs enable us to find new ways to move forward. Without challenging our thoughts and beliefs, our feelings will direct our behaviors. If we feel it is impossible, then it becomes impossible for us.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC