Archive for June, 2016

A Fourth of July Reflection On the Core Values of Freedom, Respect, and Dignity.

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

JOHN J. STATHAS, Ph.D., LMFT

The song “America” written by Samuel Francis Smith begins with these words:

“My country ‘tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty.

Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died.                                                                                                               Land of the pilgrims pride.                                                                                                                                             From every mountainside.                                                                                                                                               Let freedom ring.

Martin Luther King in his “I have a dream” speech spoke these words:

“From every mountainside, let freedom ring. …When we allow freedom to ring … we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

Martin Luther King was a visionary, not without foibles, but a visionary appropriate to the times of America in 1963. His life was galvanizing to many, divisive to those who held on to their prejudices. Laws of equality emerged anew from his inspirational message.

John F. Kennedy was a visionary with statements such as this: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.  Space exploration and the Peace Corps were fruits of such a call to action. Over time many young people have responded to serve our country in the military.

Woodrow Wilson challenged Americans to a broader world perspective with these words: “You are not here merely to make a living.  You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement”.

Who are the visionaries and inviters among us?  Who are the dividers, the close minded, among us? Who are the people than can rise up beyond selfish and partisan perspectives that can be visionary leaders of the common denominator of shared human kind?  Who can see beyond the religious divisions of Christian, Muslim, and Jew; or the cultural and racial divides of blacks, whites, browns,  and reds; or the political chasm between liberals and conservatives?  Who can present and debate ideas without ridiculing, demonizing, and mocking those with different viewpoints. Who can rise above the petty and mundane, the short term gain, to inspire today’s “dream” – to let “freedom ring”  and be heard by those who want to create a better world.

The Fourth of July just celebrated, hopefully, will continually to be a reminder of the gift of freedom that we have and the challenges still before us as we continue to dream of a better world built on the core values of respect and dignity – especially in this chaotic and polemical world we live in.

The song  IMAGINE contains these words:

“You may say I’m a dreamer.                                                                                                                                            But I’m not the only one. I hope you join us.                                                                                                                And the world will be as one.”

“The unexamined life is not worth living”     Socrates

Couples, If You Must Argue Do It This Way!

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Most couples argue some. Some couples argue a lot. Differences of opinion are pretty normal between any two people. Just look at Facebook if you want to see a variety of opinions! To differ is okay. But what is important is how differences of opinion are shared and, hopefully, resolved in a peaceful and reasonable manner.

Dr. John Gottman, probably the foremost relationship expert in the United States, maintains that the strongest predictor of whether or not a relationship will succeed or fail lies in the way a couple deals with conflict. The following is a list of eleven ways that happy couples argue effectively. Read on! These couples:

  1. Commit to dealing with the problem. Some people are conflict avoidant, thus problems are not addressed within a reasonable time and, thus, will fester and deepen the divide between a couple. Both partners must be fully committed to tackling their problems.
  2. Attack the problem, not the person. Keep the focus on the issue to be resolved. Don’t take out your frustrations on the other person. The relationship is more important than being right or “winning”.
  3. Practice intentional listening. Tune in to the other person. Put aside distractions and be fully and respectfully present.
  4. Encourage honesty and transparency in communication. Make the other person feel safe so that s/he can be totally open with thoughts and feelings.
  5. Get all the facts. Too often people jump to conclusions and react without knowing all the facts. Be sure the issue and concerns are truly understood before going off in the wrong direction.
  6. List all the options. Approach your relationship problem just as you would do with one at work. Be objective, look at all the options, and work it through.
  7. Choose your best solution together. Remember, you are a team and a team solution needs to be resolved to minimize any residual hurt or angry feelings. Look for win-win outcomes.
  8. Look at the positives. It is easy in an argument to start focusing on the negative. What can you learn from this situation? How can you grow from this conflict so that perhaps the next time there will be less need for arguing.
  9. Let the other person save face. If you happen to be “right” do not embarrass or rub it in to your partner. That would be disrespectful and motivate your partner to detach from you.
  10. Never withhold love. Love is the single most potent change agent. Keep it present in the relationship. Again, the relationship is more important than any issue you may be arguing over. Life is about priorities!
  11. One more tip. When you are about to argue about something that could get quite heated, turn on your phone recorder. People speak more rationally and respectfully when they know they are being recorded.

Well, Respected Reader, do you have all this down? You may want to cut this out or make a copy to put on the refrigerator when you may need some assistance in arguing productively!

 

How To Create Joy In Your LIfe! Yes, Really!

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Yes, Respected Reader, you can create joy! One of the ways that “joy” comes into my heart is the song “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Go to You Tube and listen to it if you are not familiar with it or just want a  ”joy boost” for the day.

Marci Shimoff, with Carol Kline, wrote a book entitled HAPPY FOR NO REASON.  Ms. Shimoff  wanted to find out how to be happy without external factors being the influence. How do you find joy, happiness, from the inside out was her search. She consulted experts and scientific research.

Ms. Shinoff quotes neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin (hale alma mater!). Dr. Davidson states “Based on what we know about the plasticity of the brain, we can think of happiness as a skill no different from learning to play a musical instrument … it is possible to train our brains to be happy.”

Here are her five recommendations, along with my added commentary, to have a more joyful life.

  1. “Don’t believe everything you think”: We are hardwired for negative thoughts. Psychologists call this our “negativity bias”. For adaptive reasons we humans have an inborn tendency to register negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences more deeply than positive ones. These negative thought inclinations stimulate the areas of the brain involved in depression and anxiety. I practice and teach people to “change the channel”. When having negative thoughts use whatever means you have to change from the negative thought to a more positive one. Music often helps me do that. Thus the “Ode to Joy” as one example.
  2. “Notice the happy things in your life – no matter how small”: Because of our negativity bias, we need to overcome it by making a point of noticing everything good that happens: any positive thoughts – anything that you see, feel, taste, hear, or smell that brings pleasure. This attention activates the reticular activating system (RAS), a group of cells at the base of the brain stem that’s responsible for turning on your memory system and allowing it to bring anything important to your attention.
  3. “Choose the happier thought”: This is where optimists have the advantage. Optimists “see the glass full”. Re-framing helps here. Usually in any seemingly negative situation, there is something positive to be found and focused upon. People that can re-frame do that. Here is an example that I recently heard: “I don’t lose. I win or I learn.”
  4. “Tend to your relationships”: Choose to be around people who affirm and support you. Keep those who do not away from you physically and mentally. When you positively acknowledge, or are acknowledged, dopamine is released in the brain. It is a neuro chemical that’s directly linked to being happy. Choose wisely those to be in your inner circle.
  5. “Find passion and purpose”: People who find a passion and purpose to live are happier than those who just trudge through life. Purpose and passion can vary from mundane activities to sublime accomplishments. It is a matter of perspective. Your perception is your reality. Create one that is stimulating and motivating. Personally, I am grateful that my passion for my family and therapist/educator vocation give me a purposeful life – and JOY!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”    Socrates

A Father Has An Incredible Impact On His Children

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Father’s Day is another one of those days that bears some reflection time. “Who’s your Daddy” is a phrase used in many contexts in popular culture. This article uses the phase in personal familial context.

“Daddy deficit” was in the title of an article I recently read.  The writer, Allan Shedlin, writes about “daddying” and how it is more than a DNA deposit.  Being a daddy requires a lifelong commitment. Mr. Shedlin speaks of the “daddy deficit” in his own life and how it ultimately led him to make a “commitment to be exuberantly involved in the lives of the children I planned to have some day.”

What kind of  father did you have growing up?  Was he a good dad?  Was he present? Absent?  A nemesis to be feared?  A father’s imprint on a child is incredible and indelible.  He is your model, the prototype of what a father is.  How did your father influence your later reality, i.e. emotional well being, career choice, relationship skill sets, mate selection, parenting capability, avocational interests, etc…?

Everyday in my practice I speak with men who tell me of the impact of their father on them. Usually there is pain in their eyes as they speak.  Some, like Mr. Shedlin vowed to do if differently, many continued to do the same things that their father did.  Harry Chapin had a lot to say about this in his song “Cats in the Cradle”.  Most men are familiar with the song and usually get melancholy when hearing it:

And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon

little boy blue and the man on the moon.

When you comin’ home, Dad?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Another verse has the child saying:

I’m gonna be like you, Dad

You know I’m gonna be like you.

Well, dad never did spend time with his son and later on when he wanted to be with his grown up son, the son talked of being too busy, but we’ll get together some time.

And the father painfully became aware:

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me

He’d grown up just like me

my boy was just like me.

If you are a father, what kind of dad are you?  If you plan on being a father in the future, what kind of dad will you be, particularly if you are aware of your experience with you own father?

Mr. Shedlin says that “becoming a Dad was the most transformational event in my life; it has been one of life’s rare opportunities to make a direct connection to my heart and my soul”.  Personally, I can relate well to that experience.  My father was in the car business and worked many hours, including nights and Saturdays.  I never developed much of a relationship with him.  When I became a father I made a personal commitment that whenever my young children wanted to spend time with me, I would stop what I was doing and “be there” with them.  That commitment continues today, and would you believe that now that they are young adults they still want to spend time with me! I am a lucky man.

For those of you who are present and a positive influence in your child’s life,

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!  For those of you who have not been good fathers, fix it, so that next year you will warrant recognition as a good father and be honored and saluted with “HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates

“Ten Truths About Life That We Forget Too Easily!

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Are you a reflective person? Sometimes it is good to be reminded of some basics regarding our life. So often we are just putting one foot front of another as we plod through the seeming necessities on our path. Occasionally it is good to step back, quiet down, and reflect on what’s important and, perhaps, re-prioritize some facets of our life. Travis Bradberry has offered such an opportunity with an article entitled in this headline. I share his tenets and embellish with my own thoughts.

  1. “Being busy does not equal being productive”: Success is based on focused priorities, good time management, and pragmatic productive efforts.
  2. “Great success is often preceded by failure”: Mistakes provide learning opportunities to better do what you do or shift directions to have a better fit. I like this motto, “I never lose. Either I win or I learn!”
  3. “Fear is the No. 1 source of regret”: Fear stifles, shuts you down, stops you from making that move that may well lead to success. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”!
  4. “Your self-worth must come from within”: This is a big one! Too many people depend on their self worth coming from others’ affirmation or successes accomplished. You need to love and believe in yourself and use that self affirmation as the energy to move forward.
  5. “You’re only as good as those you associate with”: Choose to surround yourself as much as possible with those who care for you, inspire you, and motivate you to be your best self. Those who make you feel worthless, anxious, or uninspired need to be cut loose.
  6. “Life is short”: Each day is a gift, an opportunity. Make each day additive to your well being. There are no guarantees for tomorrow. Carpe Diem!
  7. “You don’t have to wait for an apology to forgive”: Life is more pleasant when you let go of grudges and forgive those who may have hurt you. Your grudge is stressful negative energy and just depletes you, without having any affect on the transgressor. Just learn the lesson so that you do not stay open to such a person that may well do it again. Boundaries are wonderful and necessary.
  8. “You’re living the life you created”: Anne Frank had a great quote, “Our very lives are fashioned by choice. First we make choices. Then our choices make us.” You need not be a victim of circumstances. No one can force you to make decisions contrary to your well being. You have created the conditions in which you find yourself. You, too, must move forward taking the necessary risks for advancement.
  9. “Live in the moment”: You cannot be happy if your head and thoughts are turned toward the past or so forward that you are missing the present time and its opportunities.
  10. “Change is inevitable – embrace it”: Staying stuck by continuing to do things that do not advance you is fruitless. Remember the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. “(Albert Einstein) Move forward with something!

It is my hope that you take a moment to reflect on each of these positive thoughts and see how well they fit your mindset and life choices.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”      Socrates