The Positive Influence of Affirmations

 

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” The way you talk to yourself can determine how you live. Incorporating positive affirmations into your daily walk and talk can profoundly influence the course of your life!

Do you realize how much you talk to yourself? You may be driving alone in your car, thinking about an interaction with a friend, and think, “I was stupid to say that”; or maybe you are looking in the mirror before a date and say, “I wish I felt more attractive.” Affirmations are sentences aimed to affect the conscious and the subconscious mind.  Every word we say to ourselves is an affirmation–the sad truth is that the majority of things we say to ourselves is negative. We focus on what we cannot do, what we are not, and what we do not look like. It is incredibly easy to get down on ourselves and practice negative self-talk. After all, we are our worst critics!

How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Can you imagine saying half of the things you say to the mirror to your child or your partner? Never! How we perceive and talk about ourselves and our situations set the precedent for how we live and interact with others. Not only that, a study was done in 2010 at the University of Arizona where researchers found that the power of positive thinking could beat depressive thoughts. By saying positive affirmations, subjects were able to change their thought processes, and some even reported that affirmations were the most influential part of their recovery process! Practicing positive affirmations can help us consciously flip the switch to start being the person we want to become.

Now let’s talk about how we can use our inner dialogue to build–rather than tear down–our self esteem. A positive affirmation is a brief statement, worded in the positive, said with confidence that can help you make significant changes in your life.  Okay so what do you do with these thoughts? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Consider your positive traits or abilities. Like I previously mentioned, we are our worst critics. We are so hard on ourselves; we only see where we lack, what we cannot do, how not skinny or smart we are, etc (especially in this day and age of social media, our negative comparisons are endless!). But you are unlike anyone else; there is only one you in the world. What are you good at? What makes you special? Write a little list of these qualities and make them into “I am…” or “I can”  statements. Examples: I am strong; I can learn new things; I am determined, I am hard-working; I am relentless; I am connected and comfortable in all environments, with all people; I find and enjoy the simple pleasures life is offering right now;
  2. Replace negative self-talk with your personalized affirmations. The moment you start paying attention to your inner-dialogue, you will notice how down on yourself you are. Make a sincere effort to cut out negativity towards yourself and instead build yourself up. Next time you are feeling discouraged thinking, “I will never be able to do that..” or, “I will never be good enough…”, instead say one of your positive affirmations. Examples: My challenges bring opportunities; I love myself and who I am; I love myself unconditionally; I allow only healthy and loving relationships into my life; How I feel matters, therefore I concentrate on aspects of life that make me feel good!; My mood creates a physiological response in my body. I am peaceful and positive!; I am in control of my thoughts and my life.
  3. Rewrite and repeat your affirmations daily. Watch this YouTube video of a father practicing affirmations with his daughter before she goes to school. This is a great example of how to start your day; look yourself in the mirror and build yourself up! Imagine the power that would come to you if you began every day this way! Whether you practice affirmations at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, or all throughout the day, be consistent. You might even consider writing your affirmations down on notecards or post-its scattered throughout your living and working spaces. Seeing these positive statements will only help reinforce and solidify them in your mind.

These three steps are simple: Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. As you begin to think about specific thoughts about your, over and over again, those thoughts will become beliefs and reality. Instead of limiting yourself with demeaning thought processes, make changes today that will enable you to reach your full potential. As you build yourself up, you will see that the small steps of adding positive affirmations into your life will influence you for the better. You will be a happier person, more comfortable in your own skin, and you will see that life is full of opportunities you can handle. After all, that’s the truth!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Creating Conversation Around Your Mental Illness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults experiences mental illness in a given year. That is 43.8 million people! You are not alone in this arduous struggle. Even though so many face this trial, there is often a great amount of shame that comes with mental illness that may inhibit you from telling people. This post will focus on how you can let others in.

Imagine if you had Ulcerative Colitis (an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract) and you told your family and friends about it. Your parents and friends would likely have many questions, would want to learn more about the disease itself, and discuss how they could help you. You would probably feel slight to no discomfort disclosing your medical condition and would welcome their help and support.

A mental illness is just as important and serious as a physical injury. Chemical imbalances that cause depression, bipolar, or obsessive compulsive disorder, are out of our control. Whereas we feel little discomfort sharing about a physical illness or injury, we often feel much discomfort and some shame around sharing our struggles with mental illness and thus remain silent. Last year, I wrote a blog post about taking the stigma out of mental illness and I stand by it. We have got to change the way we perceive and discuss mental illness! My purpose in this post is to give you a tangible first step to take. Instead of keeping it to yourself, reach out to your closest friends and family members. Not sure how to do that? Read on.

WHEN?

  • When you have a specific need. Maybe your friends have noticed your behavior being off. Maybe you need transportation to an appointment. Maybe you need your employer to be aware of your situation to receive accommodations at work. Maybe you need someone to be accountable to. Maybe you simply just need someone to talk to. Whatever the reason, it could be a trigger to help you summon the courage to be vulnerable and share your situation. It will make things easier for you in the long run.
  • When you choose. Disclosing something so personal needs to be done on your own time. Do not feel pressured or guilted by anyone (including yourself) to let people know on their timeline...do it for you, on your time.

HOW?

  • Set expectations. Prepare your listeners by informing them that you need their help and ask them to just listen. You might say something like, “There’s something going on in my life that’s been really hard. I need to talk to someone about it. Please don’t make light of it.”
  • Give a specific problem. There is no reason for you to beat around the bush. If you are having a hard time sharing your diagnosis, state how it began, or how you noticed a potential problem. “I started realizing something was off when I couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours at night. It’s been hurting my work and I feel out of control.”
  • Offer suggestions for support. People may feel unsure about how they can help you; it will be quite advantageous if you come prepared with ideas already in mind for how your support system can be there for you. You may want to request help finding a doctor or therapist (if one has not already been secured), rides to appointments/treatment, check-ins from family members, hugs from friends, listening ears from siblings, etc. Equip your people with specific ways they can assist you as you fight mental illness.

Mental illnesses are a challenge…period! Having a solid support system can help make things a little easier when things get hard. Those people you let in to your support system will comfort you when you feel alone, will be aware of what you are going through, will be able to check-in on you, and will provide a safe environment where you can honestly disclose what you are facing. Having that extra love and support will greatly aid you along the way.

Yes, letting others in about your mental illness can be daunting and scary, but all of the support, understanding, and accountability that comes with having others by your side will be worth it. I have helped many clients down this road, and the ones who take to treatment faster are those who have a support system to fall back on. If–even after reading this blog post–you are unsure about what to say or with whom to say it, please contact me today for help. It takes great courage to admit you need help, but you will reap positive dividends in the long run. Schedule a session with me today and we can take this important first step of forming your support circle together.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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How to Give The Perfect Valentine’s Gift

If there were a way that your partner could know exactly how to please you or let you know he/she loves you, would you want to learn more about it? Imagine how happy it would make you feel if your partner communicated love to you in a way that really spoke to you! Well, such a thing exists–it is called Love Languages. Dr. Gary Chapman has done extensive research to find solid grounding for these five love languages, and has even designed a quiz to help you discover how you receive love. Understanding your love language (and your partner’s!) can lead to meaningful changes in your relationship…and what better gift to give this Valentine’s season than individually designed love tactics?

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner…are you ready? As usual, Hershey’s Kisses are flying off the shelves at grocery stores, Tiffany’s diamond advertisements are abounding, and florists everywhere are selling overpriced red roses. Is that stuff really what your partner wants? Is she or he a person who likes gifts in the first place? Maybe you are stressing over getting the “the perfect gift” when all they would really like is an intimate dinner date with you. Or maybe you ladies are out there sewing into the night to make your man a quilt when he really just wants to spend some quality time with you. The thing about Valentine’s Day, and every other day, is that you need to know how your person receives love. Knowing your partner’s love language can help you communicate love and affection in a way that is personally crafted to speak to him or her.

I imagine many of you have heard about Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts”. These five love languages came after years of research and practice and according to Chapman, each of us fall into one of the five categories: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I plan to delve deeper into each of these love languages in further posts, but for the purpose of today’s post, I simply want to give an overview of each of the five love languages and hopefully inspire you to consider your partner’s love language this Valentine’s Day:

  • Words of Affirmation. This one is particularly common amongst the ladies. Those who receive love through words of affirmation need unsolicited, sincere, and frequent praise. Hearing that they are loved and–more importantly–why they are loved is the best gift you can give them. Insults and criticism can leave them shattered and are not easily forgotten. Gift ideas: Leave love notes around your living space, write a song, keep a calendar with reasons you love him/her for each day, record yourself praising him/her, etc.
  • Acts of Service. Those who receive love through acts of service will really appreciate it when you do something for them–cook a meal, wash dishes, take out the garbage, mow the lawn, change the baby’s diaper, paint the bedroom, etc. Bonus points if you surprise your partner with acts of service. Gift ideas: A coupon/IOU book filled with acts of service you will do; kidnap his/her car and wash/vacuum it; prepare a special meal (particularly meaningful especially if you are not the one to normally cook); wash the dishes, etc.
  • Receiving Gifts. Those who receive love through acts of service primarily feel loved when they are given a thoughtful present. They look forward to birthdays and holidays where they will be given gifts. These individuals are often expert gift-givers themselves, and take great pride in planning and giving meaningful gifts. They may feel materialistic or vain for receiving love through tangible items that often cost money, but there is nothing inherently wrong with this method of receiving love. Gift ideas: You have to pay attention! What is that one thing he keeps saying he wants? Which shirt does she have saved on her Pinterest board? Notice and remember things they say they want and get it for them. It could be a shirt, a purse, perfume, that Tiffany’s necklace, or something specific to their hobbies that they need (like a GoPro stick for fun filming or a new beanie for skiing.) Make it personal and sparks will fly.
  • Quality Time. Those who receive love through quality time really just need you and they need all of you. Meaning put your phone down. Turn the tv off. Tell your friends to wait. Spend undistracted time with your partner and you will fill their cups right up. The great thing about this love language is that you can spend quality time together in the normal course of your day; you do not need to go out of your way doing something special, nor do you need to buy anything.  Gift ideas: Make dinner, fold laundry, play a game, or even clean together, and you will find that your partner will satisfied and feel connected to you. Easy as that. Make a gift out of it by telling your partner he or she has your undivided attention for the duration of your activity. This does wonders for relationships!
  • Physical Touch. Those who receive love through physical touch need you close. They are huggers, kissers, back-rubbers, forearm ticklers, and snugglers. If you are distant, they feel an undeniable lack of connection with you. If you initiate hand-holding, cheek-kissing, or move cuddling, they will feel your love. Gift ideas: Try gifting a couple’s massage, offering a back rub to your partner, or planning a special, undistracted night in the bedroom. Just be close.

This was a brief overview of each of these five love languages, and it was in no way intended to be comprehensive. There are an infinite amount of examples to define each love language, just as there are as many gift ideas as there are humans on the earth. Tailor your expression of love to your significant other. If you feel unsure what your love language is (or what your partner’s is), I would highly recommend taking the quiz on the 5 Love Languages website. It is particularly insightful to take the quiz alongside your partner–you will learn how they receive love and will be able to tailor your expressions of love to how he/she likes to receive it. And as always, talk about it. Have a candid conversation where you sit down, take the quiz together and discuss how you can be closer through speaking each other’s love languages. Understanding how one receives love, and communicating about making it happen, can really take your relationship to the next level.

If you have been together for years, it may be hard to get out of your routine. Or maybe you have never had a serious relationship. Whatever the case, love languages can be applied to all relationships, sexual or not. You will be better able to communicate with your brother, your mother, your boss, and your neighbor by understanding and applying these principles. If you feel uncertain about how to proceed or would like specific guidance on how to speak your partner’s love language, I am more than happy to help. Please contact me today or schedule your first session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Life After Trauma

A traumatic experience can leave a person feeling broken, angry, hateful, useless, and/or depressed. With time and the appropriate therapy, survivors of trauma can go on to feel strength, forgiveness, empathy, purpose and happiness. Recovery is possible, and lessons learned in the furnace of affliction can go on to be a great strength in a survivor’s life.

Last summer, I wrote a post about being a secondary survivor: those who are the family or loved ones of someone who suffers a traumatic experience. I wrote about how difficult it can be for secondary survivors to watch their loved one struggle and deal with the aftermath of the trauma. I wrote about ways that secondary survivors can help their loved ones as he/she works to overcome their trauma, and offered specific suggestions for things to say to those who have experienced trauma. This post is dedicated to the survivor; although you may feel bruised and broken from the storm you have endured, as you look ahead, you can find your rainbow.

Let’s first define trauma. Trauma is broadly defined as something that produces psychological injury or pain. A traumatic experience can include (but is not limited to) divorce, rape, kidnapping, abuse (physical or emotional), natural disasters, fires, accidents, illness, bereavement, war, etc. Common reactions to trauma include anxiety, trouble sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, OCD, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), strained relationships, and unpredictable behaviors. In short, the aftermath of a traumatic experience can affect a person’s very being–including his/her daily walk and talk.

Although it may not feel like it immediately after the event, there is life after trauma. In fact, a difficult event can often lead to growth! We see this modeled in nature–majestic rainbows appear after torrential rainfall; butterflies emerge from their cocoon only after the caterpillar disappears as if dead in the cocoon; and even after the coldest of winters, flora and fauna reemerge or blossom for springtime. There are positive outcomes to come out of the wake of trauma; allow me to enumerate a few:

  • Recognizing strength. One of my friends experienced a horrible car accident where not only was she physically injured, but her friend’s life was lost. My friend’s rehabilitation took time, but she summoned the strength to face each day, took the time for both physical and emotional therapy, and is flourishing today. Trauma can teach us about our strength–how much we can endure and withstand giving in. Not only that, but once that strength is found, it is difficult to refrain from applying said strength to other situations. Survivors of traumatic situations tend to use their enhanced resilience to bounce back from opposition better than their pre-trauma selves.
  • Extending forgiveness. It takes incredible courage to be able to forgive the person who rapes you, abuses you, or crashes into you. But holding on to anger, hate, and frustration cankers the soul; when we let go of being wronged, we release bitterness and resentment that is poison to us. It is liberating to forgive, and often the forgiver receives more benefits than the person who is forgiven!
  • Feeling empathy. Experiencing trauma firsthand connects us to so many others who have faced hardship. Until we experience trauma, it can be difficult to really understand what other people are going through, what they are thinking, or what they really need to heal. The connection and compassion a trauma survivor gains provides a further source of strength, as well as, the ability to strengthen, connect with, and comfort others.
  • Finding purpose. Many survivors find that living through a traumatic experience awakens a passion or a deep purpose within them. Elizabeth Smart–who was kidnapped at age 14 and survived nine months in captivity–has used her horrifying experiences to become advocate and published author, traveling around the world bringing awareness to others. Sometimes, the darkest moments of our lives can inspire us to serve others.
  • Enjoying life. One of my clients has survived two deployments to Afghanistan. Although he faces understandable bouts of PTSD, he has found such vigor for living, and gratitude for life. To be alive in a functioning body is an amazing thing. Sometimes traumatic experiences help us enjoy aspects of life we had previously taken for granted.

Trauma is hard, scary, overwhelming. Surviving trauma, however, can teach you things you never knew about yourself, can help you comfort those similarly struggling, can awaken purpose and gratitude for living, and so much more. You may walk away from your trauma a better, changed person. As Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Often, those changes can result in positive growth.  If you can wade through the storm your trauma puts you in, you will be able to look around after the storm passes to see how far you’ve come, see the beauty in your struggle, and see all the more clearly where you are going. You may even see that hopeful spectrum of light Issac Newton classified as a rainbow.

It takes time and work–sometimes both physical and emotional–to get to the other side of trauma. I am a qualified and experienced advocate; I can help you work through the effects of trauma. Please contact me today or schedule your first session and let me guide you as you write your story of life after trauma.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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