What would you do?

What would you do if…
You weren’t afraid of failing?
Didn’t care if people thought you were weird?
Really believed the things you say with the crowd at your weekly worship service?
Had six months to live? (and how do any of us know we even have that long?)
You would do something differently. You might stop doing something, start something else. You would shake up your life without much trepidation.
So, tomorrow (or in five minutes), do one thing a little bit differently…a little bit more as if you were free from fear, from the need for constant approval, from doubt.
Follow that up with one more little thing, one more step.
Maybe you will do something you didn’t think you could do, without worrying about others’ opinions, and find out your faith is stronger than you’d thought.

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Meet Them Where They Are

Three times each year, our parish runs Alpha, an eleven week program for people who are open to exploring the basics of Christianity, starting with elemental questions such as, Is there more to life than this?, or Why should I believe in God? The chair of the committee running this, and our other evangelization programs, was accosted by a fellow parishioner after Mass one morning. The parishioner had a list of grievances, particularly that the program wasn’t “Catholic,” citing various deficits, in the complainant’s mind, such as a lack of Marian theology. Besides her apparently unchristian behavior, she had missed the point of meeting people where they are. Many people are skeptical about the existence of God because they have been sold a bill of goods about faith and science being incompatible; it is hardly useful to wrestle them into a dialogue about the Blessed Mother and the Virgin Birth, or Transubstantiation. We must meet them where they are. They are wondering if there is a reason to believe in anything or any One, and rushing somewhere else won’t help; it simply truncates the conversation before it begins.
Just so, in our daily lives, we must meet people where they are…
It may well be that the child you permitted to walk all over you is now grown, or nearly so, and the rudeness and demanding behaviors that you thought were funny at age 2, and tolerable at age 4, are grinding you down now that the child is 18 or 21 or 30. It does little good to beat yourself up because you were not willing to foresee this problem; you need to deal with the situation as it exists, or choose not to (and continue to be ground down by caustic, toxic offspring). Attempting to have what you think is a perfectly reasonable conversation about your expectations and anticipating you will receive thoughtful, considerate responses is, well, sad and silly. You will have to meet them where they are: as a very large toddler who needs clear rules and near-immediate consequences. You will also have to have a plan as to how you will cope with an adult having a temper tantrum. There will be displeasure about any limits you set:
“We are no longer going to pay for your cell phone. You can come with me to [provider’s storefront] after work on [specify date] to switch the number to a new account in your name, or I will simply close that number.” You will hear how unfair this is, how unreasonable – you know how much their student loan payments are, right? – and how ridiculous and selfish it is for you to bring up their prodigious spending on entertainment and other technology.
“You are an adult, and this is our home. No more overnight guests.” Well, this is unfair, too; how are they supposed to, well, whatever? Other people’s parents are reasonable. Besides, it’s the 21st century; what’s next, bundling?
…and so it goes. You will get pushback and you will either stay firm – something apparently quite difficult, because if it came naturally, you would have put a stop to this behavior, oh, say, 20 or 25 years ago.
Many people are unhappy about the state of their marriages, and there, too, is a problem that is best met where it is. The typical couple puts their relationship almost entirely aside when children come along, neglecting it sorely, and then are surprised, dismayed and resentful at the state of things. They barely speak; they have nothing in common; each wonders, how could I have chosen such a miserable person? The relationship is anemic, neglected, and easily startled; like a once-beloved pet banished to the back yard pen for months or years, it hardly knows how to behave in the house. Treat it with gentleness, patience, and consistency. The friendship must be rebuilt; meet that process with good will rather than sarcasm and cynicism. Use Gottman’s research and books; use Chapman’s 5 Love Languages; use a good therapist: do something, be consistent, and begin at the beginning, with careful nurturing of the abandoned friendship. Perpetual complaints about what it “should” be like are worse than useless; just meet the marriage where it is.
You may need to meet yourself where you are, too.
You might like the idea of being physically fit, self-disciplined: the sort who enjoys vegetables and exercise. That’s all very nice…and, if it is not true, you will have to meet yourself where you are and begin teaching the actual you – not the imaginary, idealized version of you in your head – how to be self-disciplined, how to gradually become physically fit, and how to appreciate the subtle flavors of vegetables after assaulting your senses with however many years of packaged and fast foods.
Perhaps your vision for yourself is more spiritual. You might like the idea of yourself as a truly good person, the kind of person who enjoys engaging in loving service, doing without for others, and understands what it is people are talking about when they discuss having a “prayer life.” Meanwhile, you are stuck with a few rote prayers and still think Job and Jonah are supposed to be historical reports. Well, you must meet yourself where you are. If your spiritual training ended at 7, or after your Confirmation, Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah, your stunted spiritual age is where you begin.
Meeting ourselves, and others, where they are doesn’t mean “settling” unless you are content to stay there. It can mean having a real conversation, and a real chance for positive change. Flashes of insight are not change; they are the precedent of change. Change happens only where we are.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: So Much More than Positive Thinking

It’s more than just positive thinking

A smart, thoughtful person mentioned the other day, in conversation, that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) seems to be just “the power of positive thinking.” That’s probably what it sounds like when it gets boiled down to a sound bite…but in reality, it’s so much more. There are many excellent resources out there, so I won’t attempt to tackle the whole topic here. A brief example, though, on the difference between CBT and simple positive thinking, might help.

In CBT, we are indeed looking for patterns of negative thinking. These are identified, and then we dig down to the underlying thoughts. From there, the challenging and reforming of particular thoughts begins. Then comes the hard work of rehearsing those new thoughts.

Consider, for example, an adult who is very anxious about grades in college. This student is up late studying, preoccupied with grades, and anxious to the point of headaches and nausea before tests. The student feels terrible, of course. The top layer of thinking probably includes themes such as, “I have to do well,” or, “This is too important to fail.” The level of distress the client feels, though, seems out of proportion; the client is sick and nauseated over A- or B+ grades. Digging deeper, the client turns out to have buried beliefs such as, “Perfect or failure – no in-between,” or, “Hero or zero,” or, “No one loves a loser.” Thus, the A- feels like a failure and even a threat to love and security. Those aren’t conscious thoughts: no reasonable grownup thinks, “Oh, no one can love me because I got an A-!” It’s more of a personal belief, often acquired early in life, which became the background to many experiences.

You can see that trying to be “positive” about the top layer thoughts might seem silly: “Oh, it’s fine to fail,” or, “It’s OK for me to not do well.” The client cannot buy into that. However, a deeply held belief – that one is either perfect or a complete and utter failure – merits serious attention, and probably underlies many difficulties for this client. Thus CBT starts it work – which is much more complex than presented here – by seeking the foundational troubling beliefs that are leading to the negative thinking.

As I noted – this is a cursory glance at one aspect of CBT. It is a well-researched method of treating anxiety, OCD, depression, and other difficulties. If it seems as if it might be helpful for you, please see appropriate professional guidance.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 31/Day 31: Make it a great year: Ask for feedback…and use it

Some of us remember former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who would famously ask, “How am I doing?” and get loud feedback from everyday people nearby. That seems useful for someone who is a public servant. For most of us, just randomly asking strangers how we’re doing seems more irrational than reasonable.

We all have people close to us, though, who do have a sense of how we’re doing, and perhaps more than we do. “Jane” thinks she’s doing fine, and managing well, but her husband “Joe” sees that she is frazzled, irritable, and apt to burst into tears of helpless frustration every couple of days. Meanwhile, “Joe” thinks his Ironman training is going fantastically – and doesn’t realize that he is nodding off mid-conversation, grouchy and distracted during what little time he does find for family. The conversation is likely to become pretty unpleasant, very quickly, if they decide to sit down and tell each other what they need to do differently or what seems “wrong with you.”

It’s hard to do, but asking someone for honest feedback – someone whom you can trust to describe what they observe without slamming you or criticizing you – can be a real insight into how we seem to be doing. It’s information, after all, and, if you trust the source, it merits careful reflection – not immediate rejection. If Jane comments, gently, on Joe’s tendency to be exhausted and grouchy, he might tend to imagine he’s hearing a death-knell for his Ironman dream. No, he’s hearing that something about the balance of training, work, and home life is leading to his being so tired that the people who love him miss his (awake, ungrouchy) presence. How can he get some of that back for all of them, including himself? If Joe expresses concern about Jane’s seeming awfully stressed out these days, she is apt to hear still more criticism and feel defensive, when she’s really hearing concern.

Find one, or two, or three, people whose feedback you can trust to be in your best interest and fairly accurate…and at least take it into consideration. Better yet, sincerely try it on and see if it fits, and if so…use it.

Make it a great year!

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 30, Day 30: Make it a great year: Let go of having to have an opinion on everything

A lot of us grew up hearing well-intentioned grownups say things like, “Stand up for yourself! Your opinion is as good as anyone else’s!” This was supposed to build up self-esteem but it can end up creating narcissism or, if not to that level of pathology, a very disagreeable arrogance.

An opinion, after all, is supposed to be based on knowledge. It’s different than a preference, which is more a matter of liking something. So I might have an opinion that one kind of food is healthier (based on facts) but have a tremendous preference for another (based on its taste).

In Toxic Mythology (© 2015), I addressed this for a full chapter. You have no doubt encountered people who have opinions on everything, even if they have no real knowledge on which to base that opinion. An opinion, after all, is supposed to be based on knowledge and expertise. Its value (to others) comes from that knowledge and expertise.   I suspect that a lot of people feel anxious about not having an opinion, as if it means they are foolish, uninformed, or wishy-washy. If it’s something critical to your life, then you probably ought to be doing the homework to develop an informed opinion. If it is something about which you have no interest and no need for interest, why do you care? Is your insecurity about being judged leading you to pass judgment on things and situations about which you have insufficient information?

Punt on having an opinion when you’re lacking information. It’s easier than you might think:

“I don’t know enough about that topic to have an opinion. What are your thoughts?”

“I haven’t looked it into sufficiently to really have a full picture. What sources would you recommend?”

See, that was easy.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 29/Day 29: Make it a great year: Get better at recognizing trouble

In Toxic Mythology (© 2015), I spent one chapter discussing the difference between someone being “antisocial” and someone being introverted, quiet, or reserved. The terms are used interchangeably in non-psychology circles. Someone wants to stay home with a book instead of going out to a party, and their friends or family accuse them of being, “antisocial,” or, perhaps worse, a “Loner,” as if being naturally quiet was a dangerous character flaw leading, ineluctably, to pathology and dysfunction. Not so much.

As many of you know, “antisocial” is the newer term for what used to be called sociopathy or psychopathy. It means a person who is against (anti) society. The antisocial person (ASP, for short, here) feels no remorse or empathy and views others as merely a means to the ASP’s ends. Quiet/introverted people usually have very close relationships – with a few people. They like people, and they recharge their batteries via quiet times and discussions with one or a few, rather than many. An extrovert recharges by being around people. These traits are on a continuum; on one end is the rare, very highly introverted person; on the other, the rare, extremely extroverted person. We find most people closer to the middle, with a preference in one direct or the other. This is a biological trait, not something people pick.

Because ASPs can be charming, outgoing and generally fun to be around, a lot of people get fooled – and burned. Do some homework; learn to identify the warning signs that someone may be not as nice as they seem, and learn to differentiate between the kind, quiet person in your world and the person who is troubled and, possibly, troublesome.

That could make it a very, very good year!

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 28/Day 28: Make it a great year: Corral those bup-ponies.

Oh, admit it.

You’ve got bup-ponies.

You don’t think so?

Ask a little kid about why they did something wrong. You’ll hear things like,

“Yeah, bup-pony, he hit me first.”

“Bup-pony, she started it.”

“Bup-pony, it’s too hard to (clean my room, do my homework, feed the cat, etc.).”

Well, grownups have bup-ponies but we think ours are all very sensible and realistic, not like those imaginary bup-ponies that kids have. We have reasons, not excuses; we are rational, not defensive…Bup-pony, sometimes our reasons are not as powerful as we imagine. They are fears and excuses playing dress-up.

So make it a great year; get a lasso on those bup-ponies.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.