Archive for November, 2011

Be Sure to Include Yourself While Creating Holiday Memories!

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I remember working with a couple that had decided to divorce.  I was mediating what, hopefully, would be a fair settlement.  Part of the splitting up process was dividing their holdings, including the photo albums.  In this case the man, after looking at the albums, realized that he was not in many of the pictures.  He always took them.  He cried as he lamented that so many memories
were not recorded for him to look at and share with his kids.  He vowed that from that day forward he would ask that he be included in the pictures that were being taken.


A number of years ago we decided to give a special gift to my Mother for Christmas.  We asked friends and relatives to gather
pictures of her from as far back as possible. We then took the pictures and made a video out of them, with a musical overlay of some of her favorite songs. In her case one of the songs was Dean Martin’s “Memories are made of this,” which was one of my Dad’s favorites as well.  She loved the gift!  She invited many people to see it and look for their pictures in the video. Nostalgic tears were shed reminiscing over the many shared experiences with loved ones and dear friends.


My wife Sherry and I have always taken a lot of photographs and videotapes of our kids and various family experiences, such as birthdays, holidays, travels, first day of school, etc… Not too long ago we looked at some pictures taken years ago while on a Colorado ski trip.  While looking at the pictures our adult daughter commented, “Sure glad you took me to the orthodontist and
made me wear my retainer.”  (In time kids usually recognize why you were so “hard” on them at certain ages – and appreciate the effort. Good parenting is worth the wonderful adult that develops).  These pictures are truly family treasures!

Over the last couple of years we brought out those picture albums again, only this time for a different purpose.  Both Kris and Brittany went through them very carefully pulling our pictures to be used in video recording for their various wedding functions. They, as well as Sherry and I, reveled in these pictures of the wonderful memories we shared over the years as a family.

What kind of memories are you creating?  Are you capturing them for eternity?  The effort is worth it.  Holiday memories are
particularly special. Make sure you, and every other person, gets an opportunity to be in the picture. Smile!

Happy Holiday!


You and Your Lover (Spouse/Significant Other) Are Arguing: “Broccoli” to the Rescue!

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Do you ever get in arguments with your spouse or significant other?  You don’t! Then you must be a Trappist Monk living the vow of silence all your life.  Everyone else in the universe does have arguments, disagreements, differences of opinion in which a couple get angry, hot under the collar, pissed off at each other.  Not a good place to be!

Such confronting moments can escalate to yelling, put downs, and maybe even into hitting.  These moments lead to distancing, icey conditions, and resulting wounds.  Mean words are remembered for a long time.

In couples counseling I often have to intervene when couples start escalating the rhetoric while making their individual cases as to why the other person is wrong, hurtful, a scum bag, etc…  I remember once I even had to yell “shut up” to get the couples’ attention to stop the screaming. Emotions escalate when couples disagree and can spiral into a serious danger zone.  So what might serve
as an effective truce instrument?

“Broccoli” to the rescue! Over the years I have asked couples to promise each other and me that when they feel a discussion is getting out of hand and in danger of hurtful escalation to say the word “broccoli”. Why “broccoli”?  Because it is a nonsensical word in the context of an argument. Something must stop this couple before they reach the uncharted rough seas ahead.  Take a minute, stop reading, and imagine an argument going on between you and a special person. Now say “broccoli”.  Did you not smile at the absurd thought?  If you did not you have no sense of humor or you are just a mean person that nothing can divert you from “winning” an argument at any cost.

So, when the argument is going on who is the person to say “broccoli”?     What I say to couples is this: the person who is the most aware of what is going on, that is the most loving, that is the most intelligent, the most caring person: that is the person who will be able to initiate the “broccoli” rescue.  Now who would not like to be described in such a manner?  Thus, may it be a race to see who can say it first.

When “broccoli” is used as an intervention, the couple has agreed beforehand in my office that when the word is used, both individuals must stop talking immediately – no “last word”. They must go to separate rooms and chill down a bit.  No further discussion on the topic can begin for a minimum of thirty minutes. Sometimes, people need to wait to the next day.  Sometimes people table the discussion because it is too flammable until they next meet with me.

When the individuals calm down a bit which, hopefully, is soon, I encourage each to come back to the other with the statement: “Sorry, I didn’t handle that very well.”  When someone says that “I statement” defenses come down and each person realizes that the topic could have been discussed in a more mature manner. Too often, however, each person will come back by saying: “I wouldn’t have done X if you hadn’t done Y.”  The defensive offensive statement (understand what I mean here?) only re-engages the couple with angry disharmony.

Most arguments are over relatively trivial matters. After the dust settles from an argument most couples realize that to have expended way too much negative energy on the given topic du jour. If there is a topic that is important and there is a significant difference of opinion, let me suggest a way to handle it.  A would say to B that s/he wants to discuss an issue.  A time that is suitable for each is agreed upon.  This gives each person some time to calm down and rationally think through what his or her
opinion is on the topic.  Then each person should present the issue while the other person listens and does not interrupt.  If no agreement is reached, agree to disagree for the moment.  Next option would be to re-convene or bring it to a mediator.  A disagreement should not significantly negatively impact the relationship, which is the most important factor.

Remember, if it gets too hot, chill with “broccoli”!


What Does Thanksgiving Mean To You This Year? “Family” Is?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

We celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving this week. Thanks  giving.    Giving thanks.  Are you thankful?  Are you giving thanks to anyone?  I invite you to use this blog as an opportunity to reflect on what this holiday means to you.

Thanksgiving is different than other holidays.  It is not about gift giving, Easter eggs, patriotism, or religious practices.  It is about uniting, coming together.

Thanksgiving is about family.  No other holiday brings family together in quite the same way. Airlines and highways are crowded as family members assemble.  It is not just about that tasty turkey!

Walk down memory lane for a moment.  What was Thanksgiving like in your family when you were growing up? What was your family like?  Extended family?  What kind of family do you have now?  What people are considered “family” for you? How will you celebrate, or just get through, Thanksgiving this year?

As we grow older family members go off in various directions, physically and emotionally, for different reasons. Some remain close, others have little connection.  There are reasons.

Dysfunctional families, divorces, and deaths have left people bereft of available family members.  You may be glad some are gone,others are mourned.  John Bradshaw, a noted family psychologist, has written about “family of origin” and “family of
choice”.  For those who do not have a healthy connection with their biological and marital related family, they cancreate/choose a different kind of “family”. These family members may come from church, synagogue, recovery community/group, neighborhood, or “Cheers” tavern.

Thanksgiving can be a very lonely day for some if there is no “family” present for connection.  If you are in a position to invite such a person into your gathering, please do so.  Or, perhaps, go to a place that is serving turkey to the homeless or other less fortunate people.

Hopefully this Thanksgiving will be special as you are able to participate in a loving and welcoming “family” of one sort or another – and that you are giving thanks for that.  If not this year, perhaps you can create a better “family” to share in next year.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

P.S. I give thanks to you for reading my articles and giving me the positive feedback you so generously share.


“The unexamined life is not worth living”    Socrates

“Money Drunk – Money Sober”: Is “Retail Therapy” Your Style?

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Occasionally I meet with people, usually women (sometimes “metrosexuals”) who have come to the realization that their spending is out of control.  They are “spendaholics”. A recent book: MONEY DRUNK – MONEY SOBER, does an excellent job of describing the phenomenon and offering a pathway to better balance regarding the spending of money.

“Out of control”, out of balance, spending is a form of addiction.  It is a behavior designed to enhance one’s mood by bringing temporary pleasure to soothe underlying pain, something missing in his or her life. One client I worked with on this issue remembers starting her “unhealthy habit” back when she was ten and feeling unhappy and lonely.  She wrote in her diary at that time, “I had a great day – the purchases made me feel happy – in a weird way.”

In order to maintain their “spending habit” these people generally get pre-occupied with buying, tend to be secretive, sneaky, and isolate this area of their life from significant others in their lives due to an underlying sense of shame and guilt.  Sometimes they go to the other extreme and brag or show off their purchases. They are “hot stuff” and proud of it!  If the “outside” looks good enough maybe they can feel good on the “inside” – for a short period of time.  Another person calls this “golden handcuffs”.  It is  pathetic and pathological when a person needs excess money, jewels, clothes, etc… in order to feel good about oneself andcan, therefore, feel better (competitive) with those who have less.

The book MONEY DRUNK – MONEY SOBER helps people look at their spending style and see why it is such an important part of
their lives – pleasures filling up emptiness. It truly is an addiction in the way that alcohol, drugs, food, gambling   etc…are a temporary “fix” covering up internal pain and/or low self worth.

Most spenders, however, are in some defense mode such as denial or rationalization and, therefore, won’t “own” the problem. Like any addiction, one has to “hit the bottom” by maxing out credit cards, having a spouse say “that’s it, stop”, get tired of their own deception, or get healthier.

If you are open to seeing if you or someone you care about fits the mold, this book will be helpful.  The book offers tips for
spending more wisely, more open, and less compulsively. It takes a person with exceptional integrity and honesty to look in the mirror and admit the problem.  Sometimes a spouse’s perspective can be helpful in seeing the reality that exists. If the “shoe
fits” read/share the book and develop an action plan that involves spending limits, communication, and accountability.

Like any behavior spending needs to be seen on a continuum.  A person can excessively spend without being an “addict” per se,  but still using purchases as a way to feel good or show off. Not addiction. Not attractive or healthy.  Spending is an area to be looked at in the overall perspective of living well and wisely.


P.S. If you admit to this problem and work to change it,
please don’t transfer the addiction to something else.  Deal with the root cause.


Might You Be Obessive Compulsive? View the Types, One May Be You!

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Have you ever wondered if you had anobsessive personality?  Anyone ever said to you that you obsess over things?  How
about compulsive?  Let’s look at these disorders through the work of two highly regarded professors who have devoted
their professional lives to study these two anxiety disorders.

Dr. Edna Foa and Dr. R. Reid Wilson have authored an excellent book entitled:

I will highlight some of their observations.

First, a distinction between worry and obsession.  “Worries involve thoughts that produce stress and anxiety.  But the
specific uncomfortable thoughts involved in worrying change from one day to the next. … Obsessions on the other hand, are relatively stable worries: the same thoughts, images, or impulses come again and again and are distressing, frightening, and often shame producing . …Attempts to dismiss them are mostly unsuccessful.” Compulsions are attempts “to get relief from worrying and obsessions by adapting certain behaviors or thoughts.  These can be repetitious, unwanted, and hard to resist.” Simply put, according to Foa and Wilson, “Obsessions are thoughts and images that produce your distress; Compulsions are any actions or thoughts that reduce this distress.”

The authors list seven typical obsessive-compulsive symptoms by category:

1. WASHERS AND CLEANERS are consumed with obsessions about contamination by certain objects or situations.

2. CHECKERS are people who check obsessively in order to prevent a certain “catastrophe” from occurring.

3. REPEATERS are those who engage in repeating actions.

4. ORDERERS are people wh0 require that things around them be arranged in certain rigid ways.

5. HOARDERS collect trivial objects and find it impossible to rid themselves of these possessions.

6. THINKING RITUALIZERS usually enlist repetitive thoughts or images.

7. WORRIERS and PURE OBSESSIONALS  experience repetitivethoughts that are uncomfortable and quite upsetting.

Each category has many examples to illustrate.

The book contains questionnaires and an inventory to help you discover if you have this anxiety disorder. They are quite comprehensive.

What causes Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms?  Current research is still unclear. The “nature-nurture” question prevails. For some people there appears to be a biological basis but even then the “nurture” factor, the person’s environment, is able to cause or heal this disorder.  A person’s overall psychological make-up and self esteem often are contributing factors.

This book is meant to be a self help book but the authors stress that if you have a serious problem with this, and/or cannot make much progress, you need to see a professional mental health specialist.

The authors mention medication as an important aid in combating OCD. In my practice I find that for a most
successful treatment plan medication is needed – at least for the initial stages of treatment.

This is an excellent book for those who want to more deeply understand OCD. I do believe that professional guidance is
needed to direct therapeutic advance for this painful mental state.