Finding Your Strengths

Finding Your Strengths - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistIf you’ve ever been asked the question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” in a job interview or on a date, you probably immediately noticed your heart racing. While acknowledging weaknesses can be quite easy, recognizing and articulating one’s strengths is quite difficult. Let’s change that, starting with YOU, today!

Just last week, I was talking with a friend who had been at a blogging conference. She took a class where they spent some time focusing on articulating one’s strengths…and it was super hard for her. She told me, “I can list off right now fifty weaknesses I have, and areas where I am trying to improve, but I cannot tell you one single thing I am good at!”

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why is it so easy to see the bad and nearly impossible to notice our strengths? I have not been able to stop thinking about this concept ever since, and so I am dedicating this blog post to discovering your strengths.

  1. Take time to understand yourself.

I have written previously about the power of journaling; it is a great way to become more self-aware and reflective about your abilities. First, look for skill-based strengths. Take several days or even a week to write things you spend your time doing; you may even rate these activities. From this, you may learn:

  • I enjoy doing laundry and cleaning. I am an organized, tidy person.
  • I find research papers interesting; I am driven to always be learning and growing.
  • I don’t love washing/vacuuming my car, but I clean it weekly. I am consistent.

Then, search deeper, and examine your values. Search for personality-based strengths. What is important to you? What governs your choices? Or if this is too abstract, think about individuals you respect and why; what traits do they posses that you value?

  • I let my waitress know she undercharged me last night. I am honest. Integrity is important to me.
  • Even though my life is busy, I found time to take the neighbors dinner to me because I try to be a kind, thoughtful person.
  • I really admire Marilee’s ability to give her full attention to others. That is something I am actively working to turn into a strength of mine.

Evaluating how you spend your time will tell you a great deal about yourself. Take the time to be introspective and you will discover things you did not already know about yourself.

  1. Ask others to identify your strengths.

I enjoy giving my clients the homework assignment where they ask others to help them identify their strengths. This is beneficial and insightful to anyone and everyone, and I recommend you give it a whirl! To start, think of people in every aspect of your life (work, old jobs, and former teachers, as well as friends and family). Send the individuals you’ve selected an email asking them to give you particular instances where they saw you use your strengths. Make sure to mention that these strengths can be skill-based or personality-based. You will likely be surprised by all you can learn about yourself from the perspective of others!

  1. Make said strengths easy to articulate.

Now, you likely have several ideas about things you excel in, but you may not know exactly how to articulate that. I would like to recommend fitting it into one of the following three phrases:

I AM _________

I HAVE _________

I CAN _________

If you enjoy talking with others, that can be, “I am personable.” If you are good at meeting deadlines, you could say, “I am punctual.” If you found you are able to remain calm in stressful situations– ”I can prioritize and manage stress effectively,” etc.

  1. Verbalize strengths. Repeat them. Believe them. Live them.

At the end of February, I posted about affirmations, and the strength we can summon by regularly affirming such powerful statements. Might I recommend repeating your I am/I have/I can statements? Set a time to regularly repeat your affirmations. Reminding yourself who you are and what you are good at is invaluable. Yes, we should never be complacent with where we are, and we should always strive to improve. Recognizing your strengths will help you capitalize on them and even strengthen them.

Everyone has gifts, strengths, and talents…everyone! They just take time to discover. Even though it is easier to recognize strengths when things are going well, It is just as important to recognize strengths in times when you feel discouraged or insignificant. You have worth! I urge you to seek out your strengths so you can be comfortable in your own skin, and build upon these to become the person you want to be. As always, should you need help in this regard, or with any aspect of your personal emotional health, my door is open. I thoroughly enjoy helping my clients build their self-esteem in order to be emotionally healthy. Please feel free to contact me today or simply click here to schedule a session.

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

Resources:

The Truth Behind the Increase in Teen Suicide

Smart Phones & Teen Suicide - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistBetween 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who suffered from depression increased 33 percent in large national surveys, and the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide leapt up 31 percent. The cause of these increased numbers is scary and unfortunately all too familiar!

Ninety-two percent of young adults ages 18-29 own a smartphone. We use our phones to remind us of Grandpa’s birthday, to help us find the nearest ATM, to write down our grocery lists, to send emails, and to waste countless hours on social media. In short, we use our phones for everything. I recently broke my phone (to the point where the screen was black and the entire device wouldn’t function), and it was amazing to me how useless and naked I felt without my smart device. The bottom line: We are too dependent on our phones.

As adults, our brains are fully formed;  we have jobs, kids, responsibilities, and life to focus on. Admittedly, we simply cannot spend all day everyday aimlessly scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram. But teens? Well. Their brains are still forming. Their self-identity and self-esteem is still very much pliable. Their ability to manage time and make choices is still developing. Yet, we give them a smartphone–with limitless ways to waste time–and expect them to be unaffected?

Research has found that teens’ brains are heavily affected by the drug-like symptoms that come with smartphones. In fact, some children and teens are being damaged–sometimes beyond repair. Studies have found a striking correlation between rates of depression and suicide among teens and the dreaded smartphone.  According to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 and 73 percent by 2015…which is exactly when the spike in teen suicide occurred. This increase in depression, suicide attempts, and suicide was found among teens from every background, every race, and every ethnicity in every region of the country. The common thread? Access to a smartphone during formative years.

It’s not just about having a smartphone, but about how the smartphone is used. Researchers have found that teens who spend five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely, than those who spend less than an hour a day, to have at least one suicide risk factor (such as depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

But why?

Let’s look at what is lost when teens are plugged in. For starters, much less time is spent interacting with friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the simplest ways humans find happiness. In a blog post from last May, I wrote about a Japanese concept called amae, which is the deep and innate need we all have to belong. We yearn for it, we need it, and without that feeling of truly belonging, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Next, being fixated on a screen causes and promotes further isolation, which is one of the major risk factors for depression and suicide. Then there is the likelihood of distraction, which leads to worsened performance in school, less sleep, and overall health. This is all happening before we even touch on the emotional drawbacks which include but are not limited to the deafening yells of comparison, the destruction of self-esteem and self-confidence, and the anxiety that will surely accompany the constant noise of a social media-filled world.

Some may say that depression and suicide are heavily influenced by genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma, and that the above statistics were caused due to those factors. Yes, it is true that some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in. But that many? Some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.

If you are wondering what can help remedy this massive epidemic, let me propose three things:

  1. NO MORE SMARTPHONES! If you are one of those parents shaking your head, thinking, No, I need my daughter to be able to call me or message me at any time. Sure, I get that. But why an iPhone? Would a simple flip phone–with calling and texting capabilities, but NO internet–not do the trick?
  2. Limit screen time. Okay. So you do not want to take your kid’s smartphone away. If this is your choice, I strongly recommend that you set limits and boundaries that include time frames for how often the phone can be used (hopefully less than two hours a day), that it not be used during class time, that it is not used inappropriately (like for “sexting”), that it be kept in your room at night (to encourage healthy sleeping patterns), etc.
  3. Be the example. Very recently, in Utah, there was commotion on Instagram because a middle school teacher, in a very religious area, asked her students, “What my parents don’t know about social media is…” These students filled in horrific things. The teacher took her story to the news. It went viral. A social media voice caught wind of this and created a conversation where kids, teachers, parents, grandparents–everyone–agreed that smartphones and social media are like drugs. Not only have we likely given the young a new, modern-day drug to rely on, but we are not helping! Our kids see us glued to our phones and they think that is the norm, they want to mimic us! While the conversation started out about the troubling nature of kids with smartphones, it came full circle to where the problem is the parent’s–both for enabling kids by giving them access to phones, as well as for showing them that it is completely okay to spend hours flippantly scrolling through Instagram. Be the example. Put your phone down and be present.

This may seem like an odd topic for a Marriage and Family Therapist to post about, but if we step back and consider the undeniable link between deteriorating mental health in teens and the use of their smartphones, it suddenly becomes all the more apparent why I care. Help your child stimulate his or her mind by scrolling a little less and tuning in to LIFE a little more. Help them cultivate and enhance meaningful friendships and relationships. Talk to them about how time wasted on their phones and social media makes them feel. Feelings of inadequacy, comparison, and discouragement need to be an indication that it is time to put the phone down. Help your children navigate their feelings so they can form productive habits and make good choices. Protect their mental health by decreasing screen time. If you have questions or need specific help, please contact me. I am happy to help!

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

Resources:

Designed by Freepik

Love Languages: Showing Love Through the gift of Service

Love Languages Through Service - Cluff Counseling - Carrollton TherapistThe old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ is most certainly true–especially for those whose primary love language is Acts of Service. This Love Language requires you to show your partner you love him/her through meaningful service. Read on for specific ideas you can incorporate into your relationship today!

For the first six months of 2018 I have chosen to focus on love languages. Last month I posted about Words of Affirmation and how–by simply tweaking what you say and how you say it–you can communicate how much you love and appreciate your partner. For April I have chosen to focus on Acts of Service as a follow-up to our last month’s love language. Acts of Service is a lot like what we focused on in February–the love language of gifts. The biggest difference between gift giving and serving is that Acts of Service is generally an action instead of something tangible. Through Acts of Service you can express deep love to your partner.

Showing love through Acts of Service is essentially doing something for someone that they would like. Those who receive love through acts of service will really appreciate your unsolicited kind actions–you cooking a meal, washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, changing the baby’s diaper, painting the bedroom, etc. All of these actions require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they can be meaningful expressions of love.

Dr. Gary Chapman tells a story about a couple he worked with who had been married for 15 years, Maxine and David. In one of their sessions, Maxine told Dr. Chapman that she was frustrated with her marriage because her husband always said he loves her, but he never showed her he loved her. He quoted her saying, “If David loved me, he would do something to show me.” Although David was telling Maxine he loved her, her love language was Acts of Service and not Words of Affirmation. Dr. Chapman taught David about the love languages (particularly Acts of Service), and sent them on their way. A month later, Maxine said their marriage was better than ever!

There truly is power in understanding how your partner receives love. If you are an Acts of Service person, give your partner guidance about ways you receive love through acts of service. Tell him or her, “It would really mean a lot to me if sometimes you would empty the dishwasher or change the baby’s diaper without me asking…” Offer general suggestions but do not make demands. Remember this: The mind frame of, “If you loved me, you would do ____ for me” (something specific) is manipulation. Be sure your suggestions are pure and unassuming. True acts of service are to be given voluntarily–that is part of what makes them so meaningful!

It can be tricky thinking of ways you can serve your significant other. Although I firmly believe that specific actions will vary from person to person, I would like to share some general ideas that most humans would appreciate as an Act of Service:

Examples of Acts of Service:

  • Take the car and wash / vacuum it thoroughly
  • Help with the dishes / laundry / yard work / chores / homework / cleaning / yard work / lawn mowing / dog-poop clean up / grocery shopping / meal planning
  • Prepare a special meal (particularly meaningful if you are not the one to normally cook)
  • Wash the dishes
  • Create a coupon/IOU book filled with acts of service you will do
  • Take the trash out
  • Iron the shirt that has been crumpled in a heap next to the iron for months
  • Offer a back scratch / foot rub / massage
  • Stock up on his/her favorite treats
  • Do the stuff he/she hates! Like killing spiders, filling the car up with gas, weeding, or scrubbing the shower

The Acts of Service Love Language is a lot like going the extra mile. You know the things your partner may not love doing (like folding laundry for instance) or might only rarely indulge in (like a backrub or a special meal). One of my good friends hates stopping to get gas with a car full of children; any time her husband notices that the car is low on gas, he will just take care of it. And it means the world to her! Small and simple actions like these are the things you can do for your partner that will speak volumes. That old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ is certainly true for those whose love language is acts of service !

Every relationship has areas that work well and areas that could use improvement. Feeling more loved and appreciated is something all of us would like! If you do not know your partner’s (or your own) love language, I highly recommend taking the quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. Understanding love languages will enable you to directly and efficiently communicate how much you care about your significant other.  If your partner is learning to communicate in your love language, offer gentle guidance and point out progress. If you are trying to speak your partner’s love language, be patient–it takes time to learn how to speak a new language. Learning to express love through acts of service can be fun because there are so many different ways to go about doing so…get creative! Pay attention to things your partner says he/she likes or would like, and deliver! Small actions can deliver a powerful message for those whose love language is Acts of Service. Should you ever need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, you know my office door is always open!

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

Resources:

Designed by Freepik

Emotional Support Animals At a Glance

Emotional Support Animals - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistEmotional Support Animals (ESA) are no ordinary pets! They serve to stabilize and/or maintain the emotional or mental health of their owner and their role is vital! I am a proponent for emotional support animals when they can truly fill an individual’s needs. Read on to learn more!

It is estimated that 68% of U.S. households (or 85 million families) own a pet. There are some instances, however, where the animal is more than just a “pet.” In these cases, the individuals rely heavily on their animal for mental and/or emotional support. Their animals are called Emotional Support Animals, and they play an important role in the very livelihood and stability of their owner(s). This post will be all about Emotional Support Animals and hopefully will answer your basic questions about Emotional Support Animals.

What exactly is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability or mental illness. The goal is for the ESA to help with or improve at least one characteristic of the disability.

Who can have an ESA?

In order to be prescribed an Emotional Support Animal, the person must have a) A verifiable disability, and b) A note from a physician or other medical professional (stating that the person has that disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the individual with the disability). ESA are typically used when the owner struggles with depression, mental health issues, autism, aspergers, psychotic disorders, or is a veteran/military individual dealing with PTSD.

When applying for housing with an ESA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) asks two questions:

  1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

Answering “no” to either of these questions means that a housing provider is not obligated to make a reasonable accommodation according to HUD. This may mean that the person does not meet the definition of disability or that the assistance animal does not help with symptoms of the disability. If the answer is “yes” to both, then HUD states the FHA requires an exception to a ‘no pets’ rule.

How does an animal become an ESA?

An animal does not need specific training to become an emotional support animal. There are several websites online where you can go to register your animal. Some organizations will send you a card, a bib for the animal, and/or packets of information (depending on how much you pay). Many of these organizations are not monitored by the government, however, so I recommend choosing one carefully so as to not get scammed.

Are Emotional Support Animals ONLY dogs?

While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be used for this purpose. Sometimes cats or other animals may be used by people with a range of physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities. There was a case in 2012 where a guinea pig was used as an ESA, and another in 2015 where a miniature horse was filed as an ESA. All that matters is that the animal needs to alleviate the burdens that come from physical, emotional or mental illness. Obviously, any animal that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others would be questionable (a wild or exotic animal that poses a greater risk of attack or disease to other residents could be denied based on this reason). The key indicator is whether or not the animal alleviates some part of the disability or mental illness.

Is there a difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Dog?

Emotional Support Animals are animals that provide therapeutic benefits to their owner through affection and companionship, where a Service Dog is specially trained to perform a task to help someone with a disability. For example, a blind individual will likely have a seeing eye dog–a Service Dog with training and a very specific function. Other examples include pulling a wheelchair or responding to seizures. Emotional Support Animals, however, do not need specialized training to handle a task. Further, Emotional Support Animals come in different breeds and animal types and are not just limited to dogs, while Service Animals are either dogs or horses.

Can I have more than one ESA?

Although I have not seen any cases dealing with the issue of multiple emotional support animals, the basic requirements for this reasonable accommodation would be the same. If a person were to claim the need for multiple emotional support animals, he/she would need documentation supporting this need from his or her physician or medical professional. The practitioner would need to provide documentation that each support animal alleviated some symptom of the disability.

WARNING

Unfortunately, people sometimes take advantage of the Emotional Support Animal system… using their “ESA” to get out of paying pet deposits, getting into certain housing where animals typically are not allowed, or even trying to fly for free with them. In an article, from The New Yorker, the author takes a turtle, a snake, a turkey, an alpaca, and a pig (separately!) all over New York and was allowed access to all things “non-pet” because she claimed (and showed fake letters from her “therapist”–an online reference who sent a letter over after she paid $140 to be evaluated) that these were here Emotional Support Animals. I want to be clear–while there are benefits of having an Emotional Support Animal, those should not be the driving force behind having an ESA. The intended use for these animals is to alleviate discomfort and provide meaningful companionship to those who truly need it. I do not condone cheating the system, but I fully support the idea behind and purpose of having an Emotional Support Animal.

It is possible that you or someone you care about could find an Emotional Support Animal extremely helpful in dealing with mental illness or disability. I urge you to contact me with questions or schedule an appointment today and we can discuss whether or not an ESA could meet your needs. I have seen Emotional Support Animals do great work and provide much needed comfort and stability to those grasping at straws for relief. Animals are smart and intuitive, and having an ESA can add much needed comfort and stability in the lives of those who so desperately need it.

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

Resources: