I recently sent my first child off to college and my second will not be far behind. With the reality of becoming empty nesters looming, my husband and I have discussed moving from our home we have raised our children in for the past seventeen years. This has prompted me to begin the process of cleaning and purging clutter that has accumulated in our house over the past two decades. I am a sentimental person and have a hard time parting with items that feel special to me, but as I began emptying out closets and boxes I began to realize that I might actually be a bit of a hoarder! Books and papers from grad school, cards from my wedding [both of which took place over 20 years ago!], finally found their way to the dumpster. I carefully weighed the value of each item I came across as I asked myself… “do I really need to keep this”?? As I opened each box I felt like I was reliving a chapter in my life, it was like the story of my life was unfolding in front of me. I found items from first jobs, graduate school, mementos from dating my husband and our engagement, notes from planning my wedding, information from buying our first house, keepsakes from having my first then second child, reminders of my life as a stay at home mom, papers pertaining to reactivating my license once I made the decision to return to work years later, the list could go on and on.
I went through each box and cabinet revisiting the different phases of my life, carefully choosing the items that felt important enough to follow me to the next phase. I could not pitch everything. I did not throw away all of the priceless papers, mementos, or wrinkled drawings that my now grown children brought home from their early days of school. The numerous letters and stories from my children when they were young declaring how much they loved me, definite keepers! As anyone with teenagers knows, it is highly unlikely you will hear much of these sentiments as they enter middle and high school! I came across letters from my husband when we were dating, gentle reminders of the past and what brought us together so many years ago, things that are sometimes hard to recall when dealing with the struggles and changes that come with a marriage or long-term relationship. And I can’t forget the box of completely unnecessary random “stuff” from my own childhood, old stuffed animals, old clothes, pictures and keepsakes.
Life presents us with many twists and turns, and even some of the most joyous moments paradoxically come with stress, anxiety, sadness and grief. As I experience and adjust to a new major life change, I can’t help but reflect on my journey and the previous major transitions in my life, the joys, the struggles, and how I have experienced and gotten through each one. I look back on my relationship with my husband, who I have now been married to for over 20 years, and reflect on the ups and downs we have had, the good times, the bad, and the struggles we have experienced and overcome as we have lived through many life stages and changes together. It’s a joyous time to be celebrated when two people get married, but very few people tell you how hard this relationship is going to be, and how much work is involved on an ongoing basis to sustain the relationship and the changes you will go through.
Becoming a mom was without a doubt one of the happiest moments of my life, but along with this also came some of the biggest changes and challenges I have experienced. Deciding to become a stay at home mom, and not only reinventing my day to day life but reinventing myself in the process, was no easy task. Many people who have not experienced this role may assume the life of a stay at home mom is a life of leisure. While I loved being available to spend my time with my young children and am thankful I had the choice to do so, I will tell you it is definitely not a leisurely life! It is a role that also comes with learning to navigate many challenging dynamics of its own.
Flash forward years down the road I found myself contemplating how to get back into the workforce. Having not worked in my field in 10 years the thought of putting myself out there was scary, overwhelming and very anxiety provoking. But put myself out there I did, and while going back to work and setting the goal to get my LCSW seemed almost impossible, here I proudly sit today as an LCSW in private practice, exactly where I had hoped I could get to so many years ago.
And now, I begin to face and deal with one of the most difficult things I have had to do in a very long time, sending my children out into the world on their own. This is not only a huge change in my day to day life, but also a major identity shift for me as my role in their lives changes drastically. Once again, I find myself facing this new challenge with mixed emotions, while there is a lot of sadness over this shift in my life, there is also a sense of curiosity and interest to see what the future holds for me and what is yet to unfold.
I find great joy in working with people trying to find new avenues in life, people who may be struggling with a major life change and identity shift, and enjoy helping them create their vision for the future. If you are facing a major change in your life it can help to have an objective ear and some added support to get through the challenges that come with these transitions. My personal and professional experience provide me with a great deal of knowledge when dealing with some of life’s major transitions. If you are struggling in your relationship, are getting married or adjusting to being newly married, ending a long-term relationship, contemplating divorce or going through a divorce, starting a family, becoming a stay at home mom or returning to work after years of staying home with your kids, contemplating a career change, sending a child off to school or becoming an empty nester, give me a call or send me an email. I would love to help you navigate this challenging yet exciting time of your life that is filled with many possibilities. call: 706-425-8900 or email: email@example.com
My daughter is a senior in high school. That means we have spent much of the past year focusing on ACT testing and scores, college applications, essays, etc., etc. On February tenth all of the hard work, anxiety and stress of this past year came to an end as she received her acceptance into her number one choice of schools, which also happens to be both of her parents’ alma mater, so to say we were all thrilled would be putting it mildly! But something else also happened once the dust settled, I realized that very soon my first born will be leaving for college, not only a huge life change for her but a major life transition for me. While the abstract idea has always been there, now it is staring me in the face and is something I can no longer ignore. What does that mean for me? The past 18 years my primary focus has been on parenting my kids, and in two short years they will both be in college. So part of my “job”, and a lot of my identity is going to change. While I will always be mom to my son and daughter my role in their lives will without a doubt soon be different. I am sad about my kids leaving home but I also realize once I have readjusted there will be many positive aspects of my new life, such as more time for me and my husband to do things on our own without worrying about 2 other people’s schedules, and time to begin focusing more on myself and consider other interests in my life I may not have had time for before. I joked as senior year started that I wasn’t quite ready for this but it was coming whether I was ready or not. Life moves on and changes are going to happen, whether we are ready or not! Getting married, starting a new job, moving into a new house, having a child, the list goes on and on, are all positive changes in life. But even the positive changes are stressful and can be hard to deal with. There may be mixed emotions, I can absolutely relate to feeling very happy and very sad at the same time as we approach graduation day. There might be feelings of loss, even about a much anticipated event, and there can also be an identity shift, all things I can currently relate to. Major life transitions cause stress, that is a fact. If you don’t take care of yourself the stress can lead to increased anxiety, health problems and even depression. During major life transitions it is important to pay attention to yourself and take care of yourself.
The following article by Dr. Shannon Kolakowski talks about ways to make the most of life transitions and has some good pointers on how to take care of yourself during major life changes.
I believe one of the most important things to do during any stressful time is to rely on your support system. It can be helpful to turn to supportive people in your life during these times. If you feel like you need some added support surrounding a major change or transition in your life give me a call or send me an email and we can set up an appointment, 706-425-8900 or firstname.lastname@example.org Beth Jackson, LCSW Alpharetta, Georgia
I recently came across an article titled: Good to Know: Why We Think the Way We Think by Pandora Maclean-Hoover. I am always intrigued by how people think and interested in helping them learn to view things differently, so I couldn’t help but be curious to read what the article had to say.
Have you ever wondered why you think the way you do? Which in turn leads to how you respond to a situation. In the article Pandora Maclean-Hoover says that “unhealthy thinking is, in large part, a function of negative belief systems, often installed by others and reinforced by our childhood experiences”. She goes on to say, “the longer we think a particular way, the harder it is to change our thoughts and beliefs”. As a therapist who operates from a psychodynamic approach I believe that one of the reasons we think and behave the way we do as adults is largely due to our childhood experiences. People frequently come into my office and get frustrated because they have decided they want to change the way they [fill in the blank] think, act, feel, etc., and they want it to happen NOW! They may have been coming to therapy for some time and think “what’s the point” I don’t see a difference. I often remind people…”you’ve been thinking this way for how long??? Be patient with yourself, it takes time to change, especially when you consider that you have been doing these things your entire life!” When you consider that this has been your frame of reference for your entire life then I think you can appreciate that it is going to take some time to learn a new way. I view therapy in these cases as a journey, definitely not a quick fix. I had a supervisor once who compared therapy to gardening, it’s like planting seeds and patiently waiting for them to grow. I have come to appreciate this process and encourage my clients to do the same.
For many of us our maladaptive behaviors served a necessary purpose in our childhood, they helped us cope with our circumstances and for some they actually helped them to survive. Unfortunately, as we grow up and continue with these behaviors (and why would we know or want to act any differently when these behaviors have served such a necessary function?) we find that they are no longer serving their purpose, in fact they are causing problems for us, primarily in our relationships. Change is not only difficult but it can be very scary too, especially when what you are familiar with and something that has served an important purpose throughout much of your life is what you are trying to change. I believe the first step to any type of change is awareness. I try to help my clients become more aware of their behaviors, and not to judge or feel shame about them, but to become more curious about themselves and why they behave the way they do. With this knowledge they can then begin to realize that they can make changes and that things can be different. I think Pandora Maclean-Hoover says it best: “Awareness is a starting place. The brain does not have a delete button for experiential files, but it is possible to update and integrate files. The password for reprogramming? Choice.”
Here is the article if you are interested in reading it: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/good-to-know-why-we-think-the-way-we-think-0908155
If you have been wanting to make changes in your life but don’t know where to start therapy can help! Contact me and we can work together to help you make the changes you want in your life. email@example.com or 706-425-8900 ext 712
Humans have a need for connection with other people. Relationships can be a wonderful, enriching part of our lives. While relationships can provide us with moments of great joy and happiness they can also be difficult and cause us a lot of stress and pain. Every relationship has conflict, conflict is inevitable and is not necessarily a bad thing. While it may not feel like it when you are dealing with the conflict, there are functional and positive aspects of conflict. Harville Hendrix, co creator of Imago couples therapy, tells us that “conflict is growth trying to happen”. While I would imagine most of us do not enjoy conflict, learning how to effectively manage conflict without causing damage to your relationships is an important piece to the success of any relationship.
John Gottman, author of The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, is known for his research on couples and predictors of divorce. One of the concepts he is well known for is what he calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which are essentially four behaviors that can be destructive to a relationship. The four horsemen are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. These are behaviors he has observed in couples that can be destructive and kill a relationship over time, he has found them to be consistent predictors of divorce. Gottman’s research has found that it is not the appearance of conflict but how conflict is managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. Gottman tells us that the first step in effectively managing conflict in your relationships is to identify and fight the four horsemen when they arrive in your conflicts. If any of the four horsemen should enter into the conflict and you ignore them he believes you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. While Gottman’s information may appear to be common sense, in the heat of the moment when emotions are heightened it can be easy to lose sight of how to “appropriately” react towards our significant others, and we can easily fall into these damaging traps of criticizing, becoming defensive, acting contemptuously and/or stonewalling.
While the majority of Gottman’s research applies to couples, I believe the four horsemen are important to be mindful of in ANY of our relationships. Our most intimate relationships tend to trigger intense emotions, both positive and negative, which may cause us to respond in ways we would not typically respond to an acquaintance. Whether you are interacting with a spouse, significant other, parent, sister, brother, daughter, son, close friend, etc… the four horsemen can be detrimental to any relationship. It is important to be aware of our behavior in the midst of conflict and pay attention to any sign of the four horsemen and what Gottman suggests as the antidotes to the four horsemen. These are important guiding principles to keep in mind when dealing with conflict in any relationship. When we are involved in a relationship with another person our behavior has an impact on that person, so it is important to consider how we are going to respond during conflict before reacting harshly to emotions and potentially damaging the relationship.
THE GOTTMAN INSTITUTE’S DESCRIPTION OF THE FOUR HORSEMEN
AND THE ANTIDOTES FOR EACH ONE OF THEM:
- CRITICISM: the definition of criticism is stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality; giving the partner negative trait attributions. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame. Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need?
- criticism: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
- antidote: “I’m feeling left out by our talk tonight. Can we please talk about my day?”
- DEFENSIVENESS: defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim hood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You are saying, in effect, the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.
- defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late, it’s your fault.”
- antidote: “Well, part of this is my problem, I need to think more about time.”
- CONTEMPT: contempt involves statements that come from a position of superiority. Some examples of displays of contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. The antidote is building a culture of appreciation and respect.
- contempt: “You’re an idiot.”
- antidote: “I’m proud of the way you handled that teacher conference.”
- STONEWALLING: stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, it is emotional withdrawal. The antidote is to practice physiological self-soothing in order to stay emotionally connected. The first step of physiological self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion. If you keep going, you will find yourself exploding at your partner or imploding [stonewalling], neither of which will get you anywhere. The only reasonable strategy is to let your partner know that you are feeling flooded and need to take a break.
Relationships are hard work, but the rewards of a positive relationship are well worth the work. If you are looking for support on your own or with someone you are in a relationship with to better manage your relationship contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-425-8900 ext 711. I can help!