When You Feel Frustrated By Others, Remember This Wisdom From Brene Brown

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” ~ Brené Brown

My friend and I were recently driving on the freeway when a silver Jetta swerved around us, cut us off, and then sped away. As an overly cautious driver, my friend was frustrated and even angered by that person’s recklessness. After a moment, she said, “Maybe he’s running late for a job interview. Or maybe…he’s rushing to the hospital because his wife is in labor!” And just like that, her anger and frustration melted away as we came up with a million ways why this gentleman was, indeed, justified for driving so carelessly. 

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. In her book, Rising Strong, she walks readers through her research and presents the refreshing idea that people are simply doing the best they can. The above is just one example of assuming others are doing their best.  It means defaulting to the belief that someone’s intentions are honest, and not assume malice when there is uncertainty or doubt surrounding the circumstances. It means regarding someone as innocent until proven otherwise; retaining a favorable, or neutral, opinion of someone or something until the full information about the subject is available. In short, assuming everyone is doing the best they can is a benevolent way of looking at an often cynical world. 

It is not always easy to believe that everyone is doing their best, but the fact is that you and I rarely have the full picture. I was recently frustrated with a relative that never called me back, but when we finally spoke I learned that she had recently lost her job and was simultaneously going through an unexpected divorce. Similarly, I have a friend who bailed last minute on a BBQ a few weeks ago and I later found out his wife had been freshly diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. They were in the hospital undergoing an invasive surgery when he texted me.  In both of these scenarios, knowing a few more details completely changed my outlook! You and I rarely have the full picture. We do not know what is really going on in other people’s lives. We need to just trust that everyone is doing the best they can! And even if they are not doing their best…I would much rather extend the benefit of the doubt and be disappointed every once in awhile than live with a cynical outlook of others!

What does this have to do with self-care? Everything! Last year I wrote about self-talk, and I shared the power of self-talk–for better or for worse. You and I constantly have dialogue going in our minds, and the way we perceive others and the world deeply affects our reality, how we see others, and even ourselves. Here is why assuming others are doing their best is a great form of self-care:

  1. Assuming others are doing their best helps us see the good in them (and ourselves). You see what you are looking for. If you expect someone to be flakey, aloof, selfish, etc, you will find ample evidence of those traits. However, if you choose to trust they are doing their best, you will avoid self-fulfilling prophecies by seeing the good in others. When you extend the benefit of the doubt like my friend did, as we were driving, your heart will be softened. Instead of seeing the negative, we will see the good in others as well as their strengths. This will completely change your outlook and will help you be more understanding, empathetic and kind…even to ourselves.
  2. Assuming others are doing their best teaches you how to forgive yourself and others. If you work long enough at giving the benefit of the doubt to others, you will soon find that it is easier to extend it to yourself. If you make a mistake at work or burn the dinner in the oven, you will talk gentler to yourself because you know you are simply doing your best! Instead of getting offended at someone’s unkind words, you can forgive their thoughtlessness and move on, instead of being stuck in painful feelings. 

Everyone is doing their best. Everyone is living their lives the best they know how. And when you believe that, you see the good in others, in the world, and in yourself. There is so much good in the world! So next time you are tempted to think something negative about someone, practice giving the benefit of the doubt. Assume he or she is trying his/her best and you will be surprised how positively (and immediately!) it will affect your life. As always, should you have questions or be interested in scheduling a session, please do not hesitate to contact me 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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Exercise….It’s Not Just Good for the Body!

“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” ~ Socrates

One of my good friends detests exercising and will complain if I suggest doing anything remotely active together. Even though it is far from enjoyable for her, she cannot deny that exercising leaves a person feeling awesome and is totally worth the pain and hassle. I personally look forward to my weekly group training sessions with my physical trainer and frequently use these sessions in analogies with my clients.  I enjoy being active; the outlet of physical activity is invaluable. I find it so motivating and empowering when I am able to do an exercise or surpass a weight goal that once seemed impossible. There are a myriad of ways to exercise, and even more benefits that come from moving your body!

Exercise is defined as any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn calories. The most common include swimming, running, jogging, walking, biking and dancing. There are a million ways to be physically active; one day I will dedicate an entire post to listing as many ways to exercise as I can possibly think of!

For now, I want to focus on the benefits of exercising. Many of these benefits are not visible from the outside as working out affects humans physically and mentally. Here are just some of the ways being active will profit you:

  • Makes you feel happier. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, which help produce positive feelings. This is the feeling my friend who hates exercising admittedly enjoys. You cannot beat that post-workout high! 
  • Improves overall health. There are a million ways exercising benefits a person’s overall health. It burns calories to help lose or maintain healthy weight, as well as aides in the process of digesting food. Researchers say exercising fosters increased hydration and better dietary intake, which in turn positively affect healthy weight. Physical activity–like weight lifting–can stimulate muscle building when paired with adequate protein intake. Additionally, if you are exercising and stretching regularly, your flexibility will improve. This helps prevent injuries. Exercise also increases your heart rate, promoting the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. Another benefit to overall health from exercise is that it serves as a distraction from pain as it reduces your perception of pain. It seems counter-intuitive, but–when done correctly–exercising can be an effective way to manage pain. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, exercising helps maintain vital body functions like breathing and a healthy heartbeat. In short, these overall health benefits combine to provide a prolonged life!
  • Reduces risk of disease. Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease. Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, while decreasing blood pressure and blood fat levels. It can reduce your risk of certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and colon, breast, uterine, and lung cancer. Additionally, exercising boosts immunity and decreases your chances of developing (and getting stuck with) more common illnesses, like flus and colds. 
  • Increases energy levels and boosts productivity. Piggybacking off of #1, the endorphins released during exercise also fill you with energy. How many times have you come home from a walk or a game of tennis ready to tackle that pile of laundry or stack of paperwork? Research shows that those who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers.
  • Improves mental health. Exercising literally changes the part of the brain that regulates stress. Working out increases brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression.  Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety. Ever notice that you can start a workout feeling stressed and anxious, and end it feeling good? This is not just in your head. Exercise changes the chemistry of the brain by causing the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps quiet brain activity and minimize anxiety. 
  • Improves sleep quality. By being active during the day, the body is more ready to sleep at night. If you struggle with insomnia or other sleep-related issues, regular exercise is one of the first suggestions to better sleep because your body will be ready to rest. 
  • Boosts creativity. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards! It is as if exercising clears your mind and enables you to tap into your full creative powers. Don’t believe me? Try it!
  • Improves sex life. Engaging in regular exercise can strengthen the cardiovascular system, improve blood circulation, tone muscles and enhance flexibility, all of which can improve your sex life.
  • Improves mood and body image. Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A gym session or brisk walk can help. Interestingly, it does matter how intense your workout is; your mood will be improved from any kind of physical activity! Exercising will also cause you to experience a boost to your confidence and self-esteem.
  • It’s fun and social! Many of the women in my neighborhood get together regularly to exercise in the morning. This keeps us all accountable, but even more so is that it is fun to work out and strengthens my relationships with them!

With all those benefits to exercising…why are we not all working out right now?! I have experienced most of these benefits firsthand and hope you have, too. Let’s make a goal to start the next week by giving our minds and our bodies what they need…exercise! I wrote a post at the beginning of the summer where I shared some simple ideas to fit exercise into your day. I promise you will feel better for it! As always, if you find you need additional assistance, please contact me. My 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.

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The Link Between Insomnia and Mental Illness

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.”  ~ David Benioff (co-creator of Game of Thrones)

Surely you have experienced a poor night’s sleep. You wake up feeling unrested, groggy, like you got hit by a train… And the fun lasts throughout the day with slow reflexes, foggy brain, inability to concentrate, impatience, stress, worry, anxiety and even headaches. It is absolutely no surprise that sleep quality has a direct impact on your physical and mental health. Today I am going to highlight the connection between insomnia and mental illness, in hopes that those experiencing it can get the help they deserve.

Insomnia is defined as the inability to get the necessary amount of sleep to function efficiently during the daytime. It is a sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, waking up often throughout the night, having trouble going back to sleep, and waking up too early in the morning. In essence, insomnia results in feeling tired upon waking. Understandably, said fatigue can lead to difficulties functioning during the daytime and have unpleasant effects on work, social and family life. 

You likely already knew all of that about insomnia. But what you may be unaware of is that insomnia can be indicative of more serious issues, including medical issues like sleep apnea, or even mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sleep issues can even be a sign of an impending condition such as bipolar disorder. Many existing medical and mental health conditions can be worsened by sleep-related problems because lack of sleep slows recovery from mental illness. People with depression who continue to experience insomnia, for instance, are less likely to respond to treatment for depression. They are also at greater risk of relapse than those without sleeping problems.

Many people do not know there is an undeniable link between insomnia and mental health issues. More than fifty percent of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress, and many anxiety disorders are associated with difficulty sleeping. For instance, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is frequently associated with poor sleep. Panic attacks during sleep may suggest a panic disorder. Poor sleep resulting from nightmares may be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The severity of sleep issues can determine the type of mental illness a person my experience. For example, early morning wakefulness, low energy, inability to concentrate, sadness and a change in appetite or weight can be indicative of depression. A sudden dramatic decrease in sleep accompanied by an increase in energy (or the lack of need for sleep) may be a sign of mania

Poor sleep patterns can not only be indicative of mental health issues, but it can also significantly worsen them. Insomnia makes it difficult to process and react to appropriately to negative emotions. Severe sleep problems can decrease the effectiveness of certain treatments. Treatment of sleep disorders has also been studied in relationship to schizophrenia, ADHD and other mental illnesses. All of the scientific data shows the connection between medical and mental illnesses: good sleep is necessary for recovery—or prevention—in both types of conditions.

There was a research trial done where fifty-one percent of individuals who overcame depression after psychological treatment (therapy) or medication were still experiencing insomnia. Insomnia tends to persist unless it is directly targeted for treatment. Insomnia can either be short-term or long-term; short-term insomnia is very common and has many causes such as stress, travel or other life events. It can generally be relieved by simple sleep hygiene interventions such as exercise, a hot bath, warm milk or changing your bedroom environment. Long-term insomnia lasts for more than three weeks. This is when you need to be examined by a physician with a potential referral to a sleep disorder specialist (a psychiatrist, neurologist or pulmonologist who have expertise in sleep disorders) for assistance. A balanced diet, regular exercise, meditation and relaxation, good sleeping habits, herbal remedies, medication and therapy are powerful actions that can help relieve insomnia. 

Living with insomnia is hard. The constant exhaustion and inability to sleep is an ailment which may require medical attention to overcome. Remember that insomnia often comes paired with a mental illness. Only as you work through both ailments will you find lasting relief. But it is doable, and I am here to help! Please do not hesitate to contact me 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 Toll Lying Takes on Lovers

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” ~ Mark Twain

Lying begins early in life. Children as young as two begin lying when they discover how powerful their words are. Lying can come naturally; you say your friend’s favorite shirt looks great, knowing how much she loves the ugly thing. You lie in job interviews to increase the chances of being hired. You lie to your children, promising ice cream later if they eat their meal first (although you have zero intention of following through). While this type of lying is relatively benign, prolonged lying can undermine the glue that holds relationships together…trust. Trust is the expectation that another person will not hurt you when you are vulnerable, and humans thrive on having meaningful relationships founded on mutual trust. Take that trust away and you have an unsteady relationship. 

Let’s classify what a lie is. I see it as intentionally deceiving someone, omitting important information or only telling half of the truth. A wife may lie about how much money she spent. A husband may lie about what really happened on his boys night out. The husband I referred to in my previous blog post on gaslighting lied to his wife about turning the lights down (thus creating an alternate reality). A lie can be about anything–from what a person said, to what someone did (or did not do); from whereabouts to motives to goals to grades. The bottom line about a lie is that the truth is purposely left out. 

If you have been lied to by your partner, you likely feel anger, shock, resentment, disappointment, sadness. The whole thing leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. You might have a hard time saying it, but you also feel disrespected, humiliated…even violated. You have been because lying is a violation of your trust! Obviously, some lies are bigger and more devastating than others, but even small, little white lies that accumulate over time can make you feel like a punching bag.

Why do people lie?

According to Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a psychology instructor and clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health, misrepresentation and fibbing in relationships happens more often than you would think. Studies have shown that people lie frequently to those they care about most. Couples are telling each other little white lies all the time. But why? For starters, they have learned that telling the truth can sometimes start a fight. Although a little lie can avoid a fight temporarily, it is not worth the trust that is broken. Some people lie to save themselves from punishment or conflict, or to gain acceptance from a group or get something else they want. Others lie as a form of self-protection; they want to maintain their image or avoid blame or criticism. Sometimes it might just be easier and require less explanation to not give the full story.

You’ve been lied to. Now what? 

Let’s say you just found out that your significant other has been lying to you. You may wonder how to bring it up. Or if saying anything will even make a difference. Figuring out what the “right” thing to do in the moment is hard because you have been betrayed–which puts you on the defensive. Your instinct may be to lash out, or to humiliate them by calling them out on their lies. Although responding in these ways may give you temporary pleasure, they will not help in building the long-term trust you desire and deserve. Instead, try the following when responding to a partner who has been lying:

  1. Calmly point out the incongruity. Let them speak without becoming reactive and refrain from commentary until they have fully expressed themselves.
  2. Consider the why. Although you are understandably angry, instead try empathizing. See where your partner is coming from. People lie for a reason: insecurity, fear, shame, or because historically this was their way to survive and manage other past relationships. While none of this justifies the lie, trying to understand their perspective can help calm your own emotions and help you decide how best to proceed. 
  3. Establish boundaries. If you do choose to continue in the relationship, you have now established that lying is not acceptable.  Make it clear to your partner that you will only accept honesty. Encourage your partner to always tell the full truth, even if the truth may result in some hurt feelings (and then)…
  4. …Practice what you preach. Make honesty with your partner a conscious decision and a habit. Model the behavior you want your partner to exhibit. If you are ever tempted to fib or give an impartial truth (because many individuals tell small lies at time), don’t! Then give reason: “I am afraid you will be upset with me, but here is what I really think…” or, “It feels like it would be easier to lie to you, but the truth is…”; “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but since you asked, here is what I really think…” Talk it out. This will honor the boundaries you have established and create an open, safe environment. Hopefully this will inspire your partner to be truthful, too.
  5. Be consistent and patient. If your partner has been lying to you, remember that change is possible, but with time. Be patient with him/her and remember that consistent efforts to be truthful, even with the small things, will help telling the truth come more naturally. Continuing in this pattern will form a habit. When appropriate, remind your partner that the consequences of lying will never be worth the risk of being entirely truthful. For many people, finding a good, trusting relationship is a monumental life task. So if you have it, honor it, stick with it, be true to it, and be patient with it. 

Lies often start as self-preservation but generally turn to self-destruction. It is a fallacy to think that the consequences of telling the truth outweighs the risk of telling a lie; lies damage relationships. Research shows that small lies make it easier to tell bigger lies, which lead to more trouble. No matter the motive behind a lie, deceit is damaging to any relationship. Where lying creates distance and inauthenticity, telling the truth fosters trust and bonding, which strengthens relationships. So where trust has been lost, the most effective way for it to be regained is for the offender to understand the error of his ways, the vital need to be honest, and then to speak honestly, knowing you would rather have the ugly truth than a pretty lie. If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is struggling to tell the truth , please do not hesitate to contact me personally. My 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.

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Sticks and Stones Do Hurt…and So Can Words

Feeling insulted and damaged. Never measuring up. Walking on eggshells. These are just a few of many indicators of an emotionally abusive relationship. Emotional abuse is the consistent pattern of abusive words and bullying behaviors that wear down a person’s self-esteem and undermine their mental health. I want to help you recognize this often seemingly invisible, yet very real type of abuse.

The definition of abuse is regularly or repeatedly treating a person with cruelty or violence. In discussing abuse, physical abuse (like shoving, cornering, breaking and throwing things) is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Emotional abuse is often devoid of physical violence; it is speech and/or behavior that’s controlling, punishing, or manipulative. This can include withholding love, communication, support, or money as indirect methods of exerting control and maintaining power. Emotional abuse might also look like someone controlling where you go, to whom you talk, or what you think. Spying, stalking, and invading your personal space or belongings is also abusive because it disregards personal boundaries.

You may be experiencing emotional abuse if someone wants to know what you are doing all the time or requires you to be in constant contact; demands passwords to your phone, email, and social media (digital abuse); acts jealous; frequently accuses you of cheating; prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family; tries to stop you from going to work or school; gets angry in a way that frightens you; controls your finances or how you spend your money; stops you from seeing a doctor; humiliates you in front of others; calls you insulting names; threatens to hurt you, people or pets you care about; threatens to call the authorities to report you for wrongdoing; threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you; says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”; decides things for you that you should decide (like what to wear or eat); etc.

The most common form of emotional abuse is verbal, though it often goes unrecognized because it can be subtle. A client recently told me that she remembered a session from years ago when I stopped her now ex-husband from telling her to shut-up as she tried to speak. She did not even hear him say that, but she remembered feeling her body tense up. Research has shown that there is so much more to verbal abuse than people realize; in fact, some people are verbally abused on a regular basis without even recognizing it! Some forms of emotional/verbal use will undermine your self-esteem or make you feel inadequate as a way to establish hierarchy. 

Emotional and verbal abuse may be manifested outright or more insidiously in any of the following manners:

  • Using threats
  • Judging
  • Yelling
  • Patronizing
  • Criticizing
  • Lying
  • Blaming
  • Publicly embarrassing you
  • Ordering
  • Raging (showing violent, uncontrollable anger)
  • Belittling your accomplishments
  • Insulting your appearance
  • Digital spying
  • Tracking your whereabouts
  • Lecturing
  • Denying something you know is true (gaslighting)
  • Trivializing
  • Demanding respect (but not giving it)
  • Keeping you from socializing (isolating you)
  • Interrupting
  • Treating you like a child
  • Name-calling, even using derogatory pet- or nicknames
  • Disguising something hurtful or controlling by saying it in a loving, quiet voice, indirectly, or even concealed as a joke

Whether disguised as play or jokes, sarcasm or teasing that is hurtful is emotional and verbal abuse. There are innumerable signs of emotional abuse–unique to each couple and individual. If you fear you may be being emotionally or verbally abused, please seek help today. 

An emotionally abusive relationship can change you forever. You may feel powerless, controlled, worthless; you may question your memory, live in fear, change how you act to avoid upsetting your partner. Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety. This is no way to live. Help is available and you DESERVE it. If you suspect your partner, family member or friend may be emotionally abusing you, contact a counselor, an advocate or a pastor for assistance. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or visit their website (thehotline.org) and chat online with someone right away. I will be posting a follow-up blog discussing what to do if you are in an emotionally abusive relationships in the future. Please, do not suffer through emotional abuse. You and your happiness matter. My door is wide open; allow me to help you! Contact me 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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