4 Truths Forgiveness Has Taught Me

4 Truths Forgiveness Has Taught Me-Cluff Counseling, Denton Therapy

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

~Louis B. Smedes

Back in May I wrote a post on the best form of self-care–forgiving oneself. Today I want to address another important aspect of forgiveness–forgiving others. As a counselor, I see many clients who are working to forgive someone–whether it be a partner who was unfaithful, a parent who was neglectful, a sibling who was hurtful, a friend who was abusive, etc. Forgiveness is a very, very difficult topic to understand and even harder to apply. Yet I know and have personally experienced and witnessed its healing effects in my life and the lives of those around me. I have learned that forgiveness is an often misunderstood concept and so I wish to debunk these misconceptions by sharing four truths I have learned through my time as a counselor:

  1. You are not weak if you forgive. Some mistakenly think that forgiveness is a sign of weakness–that you are labeling yourself as a doormat, ready to be walked all over. Through all my years of forgiveness work, I have seen again and again the exact opposite! Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Indeed, some of the strongest individuals I have known and worked with have demonstrated great courage and strength to forgive their offenders.
  2. You will learn and grow from forgiving. Forgiving others teaches you about humanity, about how each of us makes mistakes. We will all have opportunities to forgive someone who unknowingly wronged or offended us. In such cases, we can learn from that experience and hopefully channel that knowledge into action so that we will never repeat the offense to someone else. Cherie Carter-Scott said, “Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.”
  3. Withholding forgiveness affects YOU more than anyone else. In cases where my client was the one wronged (through abuse, neglect, etc), I have witnessed immense suffering when the client has held onto his or her anger. The offender is often naive to the hurt the receiver of the offense carries, while the receiver is dealing with feelings of anger, hate, rage, sadness, depression, frustration, and a host of other emotions. I have seen a rebirth, a new light, about clients when they truly let go and forgive… as if they are free from a great burden! It is a beautiful thing. Without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation; no one wants to live like that–holding on to such heavy and unproductive feelings. So remember, forgiveness is not as much for the offender as it is for the one extending the forgiveness. It is liberating to forgive and move on. I stand with Harriet Nelson who said “Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.”  
  4. Your future can change if you forgive. In that same vein, when you are able to forgive, you change, and so does your future. Where you were once held back by resentment and anger, you are instead able to move forward, onward, and upward. Paul Boese rightfully said, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”

Allow me to be clear, forgiving someone who has harmed, hurt, or otherwise offended you does not mean that you let them back into your life. Nor does it mean forgetting or giving the message that what they did was okay. Instead, it means that you are choosing to let go of the heavy burden of resentment, and move on as a stronger, more resilient person. Though experiences like these are painful, you can come out on the other side with more strength, wisdom and compassion for yourself and others.

Forgiveness can truly set you free. But it is certainly easier said than done; if forgiveness was simple, this post would not be needed! Forgiveness can be a long road, but it is a beautiful one that is worth the journey. I would like to urge each of you, my readers, to try to practice more forgiveness in your life–even if by just forgiving the person who cut you off during your morning commute. And if you are struggling to let go of something deeper or heavier, I encourage you to contact me today and set up a session. Remember, you will benefit most from forgiving others!

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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Battling Baby Blues

Battling Baby Blues - Cluff Counseling - North Texas TherapyMore than half of new moms aren’t getting mental health support during or after pregnancy. Recognizing this problem may be the first step in changing it!

A few of my clients are new moms seeing me for postpartum depression, or another post-baby-related mental illnesses. I wish I saw more moms in this situation, though, because I know how common baby blues are. I recently read an article (included below in the resources section) about how more than half (!) of new moms are not getting the mental health support they need. This post is a call to action; my first hope is to inform my readers on the issue, and then urge them to get the mental health care they need–whether for themselves or for a loved one.

Some say that the solution can begin with the postpartum healthcare professionals–having them step up their game when it comes to screening for perinatal and postpartum mood disorders. Maven found that 54% of the mothers were never questioned about their mental health during pre- or postnatal care. The other half were asked, but never even mentioned feeling “off.” Of the small percentage of women who were asked about their mental health and who did raise concerns to their OB-GYN, 27% were given no concrete next steps to get treatment. There is clearly a gap in postpartum care!

In their defense, OB-GYNs are not trained in mental health, just as I am not trained in obstetric care. They are trained to get a woman through a healthy pregnancy to delivering a healthy child. But it seems our system is fragmented insomuch that OB-GYNs often do not know who to refer their patients to if the patients are having issues; there are many questions at play with insurance, in-network providers, specialty mental health providers, etc. I imagine it would be difficult for the OB-GYNs to detect the need for additional help in a brief, one-time postpartum checkup!

That is why the responsibility lies with all of us–with you and me, friends, family, partners, siblings, acquaintances and neighbors alike. We need to be aware of what is normal and what is not so we can encourage the mothers around us who may unknowingly need help to get medical attention they deserve. As a baseline, it is normal to have the baby blues for about two weeks after a baby is born. It is not normal, however, to be feeling sad and hopeless weeks later. Parental depression or anxiety can look like anger. It can look like fatigue. It can look like sadness. Here are some additional signs to watch out for:

  • Crying spells
  • Indecision
  • Feeling constantly down on oneself, being unhappy about being a parent
  • Losing interest in things once enjoyed
  • Thoughts about self-harm or suicidal ideations.

Depression looks different for different moms—which is why we need to talk about this range of experiences if we stand any chance of giving mothers the help they need. Giving mothers the resources and support to cope with depression is not just a maternal health issue, but one that affects every member of the family. Failure to detect mental health conditions during and after pregnancy has significant consequences: According to a 2017 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suicide is on par with bleeding and high blood pressure as a leading cause of death during pregnancy and during the first year postpartum. Even for those without suicidal ideations, maternal depression has been shown to alter the experiences of mothers and their babies for years to come!

Being aware of the warning signs and then encouraging mothers to seek the mental health care they need is the first step. The second step is ensuring that it actually happens. Although 33% of the moms surveyed who initiated conversations about their mental health with their doctors were referred to a therapist, 43% of them never followed through. Cost and time are barriers to many busy new moms considering traditional therapy, in addition to the obvious obstacle of getting out of the house with a newborn, and other children in tow.

Not only do I encourage anyone reading this to get the help they need, but we need women to talk more about postpartum mental health to raise awareness and promote better access to care. Talk about it–whether that is with your primary physician, obstetrician, mother, friend, or partner –let others know what you are feeling! If you are unable to physically go to a therapist, go online and seek out therapists who offer telehealth services so that you can receive therapeutic care in the comfort of your home.

For all mothers—know there is no guilt in feeling off or distressed. If you are struggling to feel joy during pregnancy or the postpartum period, speak up. You are not alone in this, nor are you a statistic. You are a strong mama who deserves to be heard and to get the help you need. Let’s support each other by knowing the warning signs and talking about maternal mental health. If you have any of the early warning signs mentioned above, please seek help. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you will feel like yourself again and will be able to be the mother you aspire to be. Please contact me today with questions you may have or schedule a session by clicking here.

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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Adding Sex to Your Agenda

Adding Sex to Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy“We all need attention, affection, and the feeling of being appreciated in our life, and it is great when you can give and get that from your partner on a regular basis.” —Lawrence Lovell

If you are like me, anything and everything important needs to go in my calendar. If I want to get something done, I need to write it down. I have found that if I do not make time for the important things, life gets in the way. I have to block time out for exercising, for religious worship, for sleep, as well as for my parents, friends, and other important people in my life. In like manner, scheduling intimacy is something I often recommend to clients because it can easily get pushed to the bottom of the list. I would imagine that you and your partner could benefit from penciling one-on-one time into the calendar!

This post will be the first of a two-part series on scheduling intimacy. This week we will focus on planning time for sexual intimacy, and the second Saturday of November I will post about scheduling time to be close to one another non-sexually.

When you are dating someone new, you are both willing to make sacrifices to create space and time for each other. But as time passes, life catches up. You may feel you are too busy and do not have time to read a book for fun, much less spontaneously have sex. For many couples, scheduling sex is the only way to ensure it actually happens. While it may be sad to recognize how life has forced sexual intimacy to take a backseat, I would encourage you to not get discouraged as you have the power to create a new sex life!

First, the refutation. Some couples are hesitant about scheduling intimacy because they envisioned their life as one overflowing with spontaneous passion. They feel that putting physical intimacy on the calendar can feel a little awkward, unromantic, forced, contrived. Additionally, they imagine that scheduling intimacy will make it more of a chore or a to-do than a pleasureful release.

While the above fits for some couples, this does not work for the majority of couples I have seen. Busyness and a life of passion often do not mix. If you wait until both you and your partner are overcome with passion, you will be sexually active much less than you want to be. To those that feel awkward about literally scheduling sex, I understand. Communicating sexually is awkward for most couples, so communicating about when to be sexual can definitely seem awkward!  One partner often has a higher sex drive and thus wants sex more than the other partner. Scheduling when to have sex is one way to honor both partners’ needs, while ensuring that sex is an active part of the relationship.

Relationship experts say scheduling intimacy can be a great thing for busy couples. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, Calif., advises scheduling intimacy for couples who have kids under 10 years old, as well as for couples who struggle with different sexual appetites and stressful jobs. She says these couples often put more of their libido into their careers and work, and when they come home, they are overcome with exhaustion.

Here are some suggestions to get you started scheduling sex:

Option one: Write it down. Put your partner’s name in the Friday night spot, the Wednesday lunch hour, or maybe the Sunday afternoon space after your religious worship. Instead of looking at it like yet another to-do, build anticipation for the event!  Consider scheduling sex similar to being excited for reservations at a new restaurant. Talk about it beforehand, think about it, send text reminders about it, get dressed up (or down) for it, etc.

Option two: For some, writing it down makes it too distant or contractual. If you would prefer, simply verbally agree on a day/time with your partner–and be consistent. Always schedule on the same day, but be flexible depending on your partner’s work schedule and mood.

Option three, a wider window: Try something like, “If I wake up before you and the kids on any given weekday, I will initiate sex with you” or “any naptime that the kids are all asleep at once is game time.” This will ensure that both people are showing that they are committed to their partner’s happiness, not just to the schedule. Making the window wider may actually increase the number of times you have sex because it is not so much pressure, but it is still scheduled in your mind and can keep you accountable to your partner.

Two final words of advice: First, give “freebies.” Freebies go both ways; if either you or your partner is not feeling it at your scheduled time, a free pass can be given. Neither of you want to force sex because that could be detrimental to your relationship! Then be sure to add in some physical affection (freebies) at unscheduled times. Second, plan your sex date around a time when both you and your partner will have the most energy: it may be an early morning before the workday begins and the kids wake up, or an afternoon session on the weekend.

Scheduling one-on-one time solely to invest in your relationship takes ongoing effort. It can be hard to say no to all the other responsibilities. Dr. Walfish says sex can become intoxicating; “Once it is scheduled, it becomes a part of your regular life. A lot of people can develop a desire for it once it becomes weekly. Then, they miss it when it’s not there.” By scheduling sex and committing to a schedule that works for the both of you, sex can become a valuable and enjoyable part of your relationship again. In fact, as a consequence of such schedules, good, natural and instinctive habits may well develop and thrive over time! Keep in mind that while sex is perfectly natural, it is not always naturally perfect. Like anything worthwhile, sometimes it takes work! If you and your partner have questions or would like additional guidance, I am here for you. Contact me or schedule a session today!

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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The Opioid Epidemic: Just a Prescription Away

Opiods - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family TherapyWhen a person takes a prescription drug for a nonmedical reason, it can quickly lead to addiction and the need for drug treatment. In fact, 25 percent of people who misused prescription drugs by age 13 ended up with an addiction at some point in their life.

One of my clients recently recounted some of the horrors of her childhood. When she was younger, her mother began misusing prescription drugs. My client remembered going with her mother to sketchy parking lots for exchanges, and her mother being completely under the influence of these powerful drugs. Every day when my client came home from school, she feared finding her mother passed out or dead on the bathroom floor. The addiction wreaked havoc on this family. It took years for the mother to get her addiction to prescription drugs under control.

The mother, of my client, was initially prescribed the pills to help combat her pain from a surgery. She never intended to terrify and permanently scar her children by what they saw when she was under the influence. But the temporary relief (or high) that the drugs gave her grew to be a necessity she could not live without. This is the case for most addicts of prescription drugs–they never intended to get hooked to the drugs meant to improve their health.

…But prescription drugs are powerful. Many people believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor. When, in reality, they are just as dangerous. Prescription drugs are legal and more accessible than harmful drugs. More people report using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined! Prescription drugs are in second place, behind marijuana, when it comes to illicit drug use. Additionally, prescription drugs often serve as gateway drugs–hooking people to the high and leaving them needing something stronger. Approximately three out of four new heroin users report misusing prescription opioids prior to using heroin!

Let me tell you the facts behind this opioid epidemic: The US makes up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes approximately 80% of the world’s prescription opioid drugs. 3.3 million Americans report misusing prescription painkillers. In the US alone, an estimated 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. Prescription opioid overdose rates are highest among people ages 25 to 54 years. Here are the most commonly misused prescription drugs:

  • Prednisone or Cortisone. Used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, allergies and many other conditions. Side effects: High blood sugar, increased chance of infection, and thinning bones (osteoporosis). Natural alternative: Raw, whole food diet.
  • Methotrexate ­& Other Chemotherapeutic Agents. Used to treat breast, head, neck, lung, blood, bone, lymph node and uterus cancers. Side effects: Fetal death, livery and kidney toxicity, lung disease, intestinal bleeding. Natural alternative: Whole food diet, natural oils, vitamin C, fasting,
  • Coumadin or Warfarin. This drug is an anticoagulant, or a blood thinner, used to prevent the blood clots from forming or migrating. Side effects: Hemorrhaging. Natural alternative: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, OPC 165 (all natural antioxidant blend).
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs. Used to promote excretion of bile build-up in intestinal tract to lower cholesterol circulation. Side effects: Inflammation of the muscles (myositis). Natural alternative: Whole foods, fish, spinach, avocado, oats, nuts, beans.
  • Prozac and antidepressants. Used to balance serotonin levels in the brain (serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, agitation, anxiety and sleep). Side effects: Nausea, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, sexual problems, blurred vision, constipation, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and more. Natural alternative: Regular exercise, therapy and a whole food diet.
  • Ritalin, Cylert, Dexadrine, Adderal. Used to increase, maintain or improve levels of alertness and attention. Side effects: Abdominal pain, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, dizziness, hypersensitivity, and suicidal thoughts. Natural alternative: Yoga, regular exercise, a musical instrument, whole food diet.
  • Beta Blockers and Calcium Channel Blockers. Used to lower blood pressure. Side effects: Shortness of breath, palpitations, congestive heart failure, increased death rate. Natural alternative: Reduce sodium intake and alcohol consumption, regular exercise, whole food diet.

I agree that natural alternatives are not remedies for severe medical issues like cancer. However, I believe healthy, natural lifestyle choices will enhance one’s overall health and can prevent further maladies in the future. When we are not supplying our bodies with proper nutrition, disease can manifest itself. This is usually when most people will resort to prescription drugs. These drugs only cover up the problem, but are never actually dealing with the root cause. The human body is a remarkable machine naturally built to function optimally on its own, but it can only do so when we provide it with all of the essential nutrients that it needs!

Taking a long-term medication that alters any of the body’s natural functions can be dangerous. But if taken for a short time and used properly, these drugs can be of great help, health, and healing to the consumer. I find it of the utmost importance to state that I firmly believe there is a place for prescription drugs. When used properly, they can alter and/or correct chemical imbalances and lessen pain to greatly improve one’s quality of life. Many (if not most) of my clients couple prescription medication with counseling to make leaps and bounds of progress in their lives. While I personally cannot prescribe medications, I support the proper usage of them, and often encourage clients to seek necessary medication in addition to attending therapy. Please contact me today if you would like to combine the power of properly used prescription drugs with personalized therapy. I am here to help you!

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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