Archive for July, 2015

Men: Attuned Or Clueless? It’s A Difference Maker!

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Not too long ago in a counseling session a woman said to me in front of her husband, “I feel like I’m a part of a business transaction”. She went on to elaborate that her husband did not make her feel special. He was not affirming, validating, or connecting with her. He was clueless –definitely not attuned. The husband responded by saying that he was doing the best he could. He did not know how to change but was open to learning how. We are working on it – and he’s getting it!

Attunement to another is not an easy concept to understand or put into practice. Attunement is a heightened awareness of what is going on in your environment. It is particularly pertinent relative to a special person in your life. A man attuned to a woman asks: “Where is she physically? Where is she mentally and emotionally? What can I do to make her feel more loved and appreciated? What are her needs and desires? I am with you”. The woman will then feel her man to be present  – attuned.

Does that sound to you, Respected Reader, as some airy-fairy psycho-babble? I hope not. If it does you are in serious need of a “tune up”! Attunement is a present to the other by maximizing your presence to him or her.

Some people are genetically more gifted toward this capacity than others. Some people are more sensate oriented. They see, feel, and touch more naturally than others. Their heart, their being, opens up more easily.

For those not so gifted in the area of attunement there are ways of developing it – if one is committed to work on it. Usually emotional barriers need to be overcome so that emotional connection can take place. For some these barriers, defenses, are strong and resistant to opening up.

One of the joys of my practice is helping to bring down this hardened façade which keeps a person clueless and not fully present, attuned, to the other person. More often than not it is men who present the greatest challenge. Most women are wired to be more emotionally present. Yet, many area not. Aculturation has a lot to do with this. “Big boys don’t cry – don’t show emotions – they are a sign of weakness”.

Love is the door opener – particularly where there is no defense needed. For example, with one man I asked him to talk about his son. As he was talking his eyes welled up with tears. His wife was present and she saw that this “hard ass” man could soften. She held his hand and he hugged her. Connection – attunement – filled the room.

Music, hugs, massage, meditation, nature, some readings, can be avenues leading to greater personal attunement – both to self and with another. Verbalizing caring thoughts and feelings, and observations, to a loved one can help make that connection. A caveat here: criticism kills attunement possibility. Walls go up. Door closed!  Attunement opens that door. It is inclusive. “I am with you in a loving way”.

I hope this writing has helped you understand and practice this loving act. When present in this manner you and the one you love rise to a higher level of consciousness. It is worth the effort!

Children Change Your Life Dramatically!

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

If you have children you know this.  However, you may need some assistance in adjusting to having a family, instead of just being a couple.  If you do not have children, and are expecting to in the future, take good notes!

The adjustment to marriage, living with someone day to day, is a challenge for most people.  When you add kids to the equation it becomes far more difficult.  I would like to highlight some of the impact areas.

1. Sleep:  You get less.  You are interrupted in the middle of the night often with your child saying, “I’m scared” or “my tummy hurts”. Or, your teenager comes in past curfew and has not called.  Who gets up to address the problem?

2. Careers: Who works outside of the home for income production?  One?  Both?  Who stays home, or leaves work, when a child is sick?  Are you able to attend your child’s school and extra-curricular activities?

3. Responsibilities in the house:  Who does what?  Does each partner feel the other is carrying his or her part of the load?

4. Sex:  Less coupling, more solo.  Exhaustion, tensions, lack of privacy and time take their toll.  Making sex a priority, scheduling if need be, and locking the door help to keep amorous activity somewhat alive.

5. Money: Expenses go up!  Tighter budget management is mandatory for most couples.  It is staggering how much it costs to raise children.

6. Communication gets more challenging:  Differences of opinion become more pronounced.  Each parent has his or her own model from a previous family of origin.  “This is the way my parents did it and I turned out ok” is a frequent mantra.  A new “our” model needs to be developed incorporating the best of each parent’s perspectives, in addition to enlightened parenting tips from qualified sources.

7. Fun and travel:  The previous style of spontaneous socializing and mini vacation trips give way to more planned and constricted trips. Planning becomes more necessary.

8. Grandparents:  The role of grandparents can present “issues”.  How involved do they want to be?  Do you want them to be?  When do they visit?  How long?  Where are holidays spent?

9. Health:  Because of less sleep, usually less exercise, more exposure to “bugs” that kids have, both parents’ health generally gets worse.  A more sedentary life leads to extra pounds, altered body shape, and higher cholesterol if you don’t make this a priority.

10. Home is messier:  Because of many of the above reasons the home is less tidy.  This may or may not present an issue, depending on whether a “neatnik” or “slob” exists in the household.

11. Divorce: If the above factors are not handled well with respectful communication, compromises, and appropriate sacrifices by each, divorce possibilities increase.  And with children, divorce is much more costly, painful, and ugly.

Children certainly present challenges to each individual and to the marriage.  But if you address each other’s feeling and issues in a constructive manner, you will be forever grateful that you have been blessed with children.

Personally, I could not be happier with the two wonderful children my wife and I have been fortunate to raise.  They are now young adults and the experience of sharing life with them now and in the past has been extremely enriching.  May you be as lucky!

What TO Say, And What NOT To Say To A Depressed Person

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Most people have days or decades of being depressed. Depression is painful and distancing. It may well be awkward to talk with someone in a depressed state. Because of this awkwardness many people do not know how to talk with a depressed person. This discomfort can lead to saying inappropriate and not helpful things.

Before getting into specific comments let me offer you this overview of things to consider:

  1. Be prepared to listen openly without judgment. The depressed person is feeling vulnerable and needs to feel safe psychologically. Feelings just are. Listening to them and acknowledging them as valid is the first step in helping a person heal.
  2. Honor the person’s right to feel their emotions whatever they are. Do not try to change or fix the person’s perspective.
  3. Be supportive and affirming. Point out whatever you can to affirm your faith in them and give them a renewed sense of self confidence and hope.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask safety related questions. It is a way of expressing care and support.
  5. Ask them what you can do to help. Depressed people often feel hopeless and do not reach out for help.

The following are things NOT to say to a depressed person:

“There’s always someone worse off than you are.  No one ever said life was fair. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. So you’re depressed; aren’t you always.  It’s your own fault. Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days. Haven’t you grown tired of all this me-me-me stuff yet? Suck it up. Cheer up. You have to be strong for your kids. It’s all in your head. Just think, there are others worse off than you. What’s your problem? Quit whining. You just need to give yourself a kick in the rear. I thought you were stronger than that. Have you been praying, reading the Bible? You just need to get out more. Get a grip. You don’t look depressed. Why don’t you smile more? You brought it on yourself. Your problems aren’t that big. You need a hobby. Well, we all have our cross to bear. You don’t like feeling that way, so change it.”     The list of inappropriate comments could go on and on. This should give you a general sense of what NOT to say to a depressed person.

On a positive note, “less is more”, but there are some basic statements that can be made to a depressed person that are helpful and supportive:

  1. “I’m here for you. You’re not alone in this.
  2. You matter, you are important to me.
  3. Let me help. Do you want a hug?
  4. You are not going crazy.
  5. There is hope.
  6. When this is all over, I’ll still be here and so will you.
  7. I can’t really understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion.
  8. I’m not going to abandon you.
  9. I love you (if you mean it)
  10. We’ll get through this together.”

Depression is challenging, both for the person going through it, as well as for that person’s significant others. Being able to be present to a depressed person in a caring way, saying helpful things, takes some effort but it is well worth it. You can be a part of a person’s moving through depression and on into a happier state of mind.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”  Socrates

Religious? What Type? Why? Spiritual?

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

As a mental health specialist who assists people in creating a healthy and productive life I find that what a person believes has a lot to do with personal success and happiness. Spiritual beliefs are part of most peoples’ belief system.  Having studied philosophy, theology, the Scriptures, and Christian Church History, I am particularly interested in finding out why a person believes what s/he does and to what degree it influences his or her behavior.

Most people believe in the religion/spirituality that they were brought up in. It is part of one’s enculturation. Some people change/convert to another religion for various reasons, oftentimes because of a spouse. Few people really examine in depth what they believe and why.  If they did it would probably rock their soul.

Would you be interested in some spiritual examination? Starting with God. The concept of God has gone through many changes over the years.  (Suggested reading: “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong).  So,too,  have many doctrines changed over the years. Even in the short two thousand years since Jesus’ birth, the concept of church has changed. Christian denominations have split off with various denominations having different books in the Bible, and different interpretations. For example, trying to explain why there are two versions of creation in the book of Genesis.  Some Church people believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus, others say Communion is just symbolic. Some people say Jesus had brothers and sisters, others say he was an only child. Some say Mary was a Virgin, others say no way. Some denominations say you only need faith to get to Heaven. Others say it is about good works. Historically two saints differed on that issue and some denominations reflect such opposing views. Some denominations believe, or have believed, in Purgatory and Limbo, that you would commit a mortal sin and go to hell if you ate meat on Friday, masturbated, or practiced birth control. Some denominations say drinking and dancing are forbidden.  More recently there is the denominational debate about homosexuality being a sin and that group going to hell or whether gays should be allowed to marry. The list could go on and on if you want to look back in history and see the various differences that exist in religions. I make note of these things not to be critical of any one religion but to point out how many beliefs and practices have changed over time or have differences of beliefs and practice among different denominations. These beliefs affect how you think and act in your everyday existence.

It is evident that there are many spiritual traditions and religions out there. All religious traditions are based on faith. By definition faith means that it is not provable. That’s why the great theologian Kierkegaard spoke of the “leap of faith” beyond reason.

Perhaps there should be less arguments, debates, and wars over who has the “right” religion and what the “right” way to practice one’s faith. Perhaps spirituality could be simplified which may lead to more unity among people of good will.

What is the core of spirituality?  The following prescription, offered by an anonymous author, may be partial indicators of how truly spiritual people behave.


  1. Increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
  2. Frequent attacks of smiling.
  3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature.
  4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
  5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than based on fears from past experiences.
  6. An unmistakable ability to live in and enjoy each moment.
  7. No interest in judging others.
  8. A loss of interest in being judged or judging yourself.
  9. An increased awareness of little things.
  10. A love for all beings.

Perhaps Jesus had it right. Maybe spirituality is not that complicated. The good life is about Love. He summed it all up in this prescription, “Love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself”.  (Matthew 22: 35-40) Or, perhaps, “Do to others as you would want them to do to you”. (Luke 6:31). How about this suggestion?  “By their works you will know them.”  (Matthew 7:16).  Perhaps over the course of history the essence of spirituality has been distorted by beliefs and practices that have nothing to do with a viable spirituality. Simple may be better than complex. “Less is more”. At least there probably would be less debate and squabbling!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”    Socrates

Retail Therapy: “Money Drunk – Money Sober”

Friday, July 10th, 2015

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 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 and can, 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.


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.