Keeping the Peace This Holiday Season

Keeping the Peace This Holiday Season - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist“Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No. No. We’re all in this together.” -Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

The holiday season is truly magical. The snow, the lights, the presents, the carolers, the sightings of Santa Claus himself, and the amount of stress that accompanies such a wonderful time of year!  With the holidays come family meals and gatherings, and–for some–this is not all fun and games. Many families have one (or more) individual(s) who consistently manages to say something rude, spark controversy, offend others, arrive late, act inappropriately, etc. While most people are looking forward to decorating gingerbread houses, others are dreading getting around the difficult family member. If you can relate to this struggle with family, read on.

Regardless of how much you love your family, you are bound to run into an uncomfortable, annoying, or tense situation with a family member at some point during the holidays when so many personalities are congregated around the table. Here are four suggestions to keep the peace this holiday season:

Have realistic expectations. While it is good to hope for the best in people, you need to be realistic. If certain individuals have behaved a certain way for years, do not expect them to be any different this Christmas Eve dinner. When your Aunt Bethany makes her usual comment about your outfit or beard, be prepared to brush it off…because you expected it. Having realistic expectations of others will enable you to maintain your cool when they say something unnecessary or offensive. Because you expected it, you can choose to not let it ruin your evening.

Set boundaries.  This one has several parts:

  1. Conversations: Plan to keep conversation conflict-free by avoiding potentially sensitive topics. Politics and religion are go-to topics for immediate controversy, but each family has specific triggers that can (and should) be avoided at happy holiday gatherings. Get everyone to agree that there are topics that simply will not be discussed because they only bring out the worst in everyone. Setting boundaries like this will hopefully keep the conversation from veering into a minefield of divisive issues. I also highly recommend having a pre-rehearsed line or two that you are confident saying if someone is going against set boundaries. Something like, “This is something I would prefer not to discuss right now, it is too heavy and we should be enjoying the party!” or, “I totally understand you feel that way; even though I have a different opinion, I still respect yours.”
  2. Timing: Be firm with what time you are starting and start at that time. Let everyone know if they are late, dinner and/or the activity will still start on time. There are some people who may consistently late in order to make dramatic entrances, be the focus of attention, and to demonstrate dominance or control. Do not give them that opportunity!
  3. Activities: If a certain game or activity sparks contention, rule it out. I have friends who have decided they simply cannot play basketball on opposing teams because it inevitably gets too competitive and contention ensues. Or maybe for your family it is UNO. Just be sure to avoid activities that do not unite or uplift your family. Also, be sure to avoid excessive alcohol consumption during the festivities; it does not bring out the best in anyone!

Use humor. Everyone has a button that can be pushed to the point of irritation. Whether it is political views, a rough patch at work, a nonexistent dating life, or a slew of other possibilities, no one knows said buttons better than family members. The best way to deflect intentional jabs is with a witty comment. If you take everything seriously or personally, you likely will not even be able to make it through the appetizers and drinks before the holiday dinner is ruined!

Control yourself. At the end of the day, you cannot control your sister, your mother, or your Cousin Eddie. The only thing you can control is yourself. Accept that. You are in control of your reaction, your mood, and your responses. If you have tried all of the above suggestion AND people show up late, engage in controversial topics, or be outright rude, remember that you are in control of YOU. Monitor yourself; if you find you are getting worked up or irritated, physically remove yourself from a conversation, room, or group of people. Take deep breaths. Get active and play a game; it is difficult to be drawn into an argument when engrossed in an activity that requires concentration, physical activity or laughter. Be grateful; think about what you are grateful for to minimize frustrations. Practice tolerance; remember that even you have offended someone in the past. Lastly, forgive your family for not being perfect and for detracting from the festivities and move on.

The holidays come but once a year. Soak these last weeks of 2018 in and do not let any social toxicity get in the way of the holiday cheer. I can assure you that, as you go into your family gatherings having prepared yourself with realistic expectations and set boundaries, you will be able to to control yourself by using humor and monitoring yourself. These are simple, yet powerful suggestions that will equip you with the tools you need to enjoy any family gathering this holiday season. Should you have questions or find you need additional guidance or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or schedule a session.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays!

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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Making Room for Grief During the Holidays

This topic of grief and/or loneliness always seems to be increasingly relevant for many during the holiday season. In this post I will focus on these feelings, and how to let your grief have a healthy place in your life“Grief is two parts: The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” -Anne Roiphe

Last month I wrote about what I referred to as the “trauma of surviving”–or learning to live life after losing someone dear to you. Such loss may be due to divorce, a move, death, or any other change that results in a separation from loved ones. This topic of grief and/or loneliness always seems to be increasingly relevant for many during the holiday season. In this post I will focus on these feelings, and how to let your grief have a healthy place in your life.

A friend of mine recently told me about a movie on Netflix called the Babadook. A widowed mother is plagued by the death of her husband and simultaneously battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house. Although this is supposed to be a scary movie, the ending is applicable and relatable to the topic at hand. As the mother in the film avoids facing the reality of her husband’s death, the presence of the monster grows, and the complications in her life amount. In the end we see the mother well put-together and clearly in a different, more positive state as she takes food down to the “monster” that has been banished to live in the basement.  She is feeding or acknowledging the monster–or her grief–and by so doing, it is appeased. It stops tormenting her. Its malevolent presence diminishes and she is able to figure out how to live a balanced, happy life even after the loss of her husband. She lets grief have a place in her life.

While I have not personally seen this movie, I love the parallels that can be made between the monster and grief. Avoiding grief and acting like it is not there can wreak havoc on our life. It can and will weaken us and our important relationships. We must first, acknowledge it and second, work through it.

Acknowledge it.

The “monster” in the Babadook terrorizes the mother right up until the end of the film. She struggles sleeping, maintaining friendships, holding a job, and even keeping the basic elements of her life together. In the same way, grief can eat away at you if it is given the chance. A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the following emotional symptoms: Increased irritability, numbness, bitterness, detachment, preoccupation with loss, and inability to show or experience joy. While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

Grief is unavoidable after loss; the only way to overcome it is to give it place in your life–face it. Popular blogger Emily Meyers, a young mother of five, lost her husband to cancer and was left to care for their children on her own. She wrote a beautiful post about grief, and I have found great truth in these words:

“There is no ‘other side’ of grief. It’s never going to pass. You don’t ever ‘move on’ from it. You just learn to live with it. You absorb it. It becomes part of you. You simply adjust and change. You slowly but surely find how to navigate through your new normal with it. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. I’ll say that again: It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. You stop waiting for the storm to pass, and instead, learn to dance in the rain.”

I have some clients who, like the mother in Babadook, try to simply ignore their grief and “move on” without facing it. But again, just as the mother in Babadook, this does not and cannot work. As Emily Meyers said, you cannot simply move on. You must learn to live with your grief.  You must acknowledge it. Do not expect to move on from a life-altering loss without allowing yourself to bereave or grieve. Yes, I am telling you to be sad–it is okay!

Work through it.

The loss of anything important to you–a relationship, a job, an opportunity, a loved one– can cause feelings of profound grief. Sadness around the holidays–or any time of year–is okay. It is perfectly understandable and 100% normal to feel like you are not “over” your loss. What is important is what you do with your sadness. Acknowledging it is the first step, and once you have done this, you will need to work through your grief and process your emotions. For some, this may mean crying, writing in a journal, participating in a therapeutic hobby or activity (like exercise), talking with a friend, or counseling with an experienced, licensed therapist. The most important thing is that you take the time to work through your difficult emotions because they do not go away on their own. In my experience, I have seen that simply burying or ignoring grief only exacerbates the problem when it actually does surface. And it is sure to!

If the holidays highlight your loneliness or the absence of a loved one, this time of year can be especially difficult. Many of my clients find themselves in a slump around the Christmas season, and struggle to find something to celebrate. My heart aches for those who are grieving this year. I advise you to take my counsel to heart and acknowledge, then work through your grief. I know that by so doing you will find a place for your grief and will then be able to find a healthy balance of grieving and living life to the fullest. And, as always, if you need help facing or working through your grief, please do not hesitate to contact me today or schedule a 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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Getting Up With the Sun: Morning Routines

Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, started his days off asking himself, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?” Ensure that you are starting your day off on the right foot with a productive morning routine!

You snoozed through your alarm to work out, woke up late, had no clean underwear, got toothpaste on your shirt, grabbed a fast, non-nutritious bite to eat, and rushed into work. You meant to wake up early, hit the gym, have a protein-packed breakfast, and beat the boss into work, but–yet again–it did not happen. Does this sound all too familiar? If you feel you are stuck in a cycle of good intentions and consistently disappointing follow-throughs, this post is for you. By making a few tweaks and additions to your morning, you can be on your way to a happier, healthier life–one where you are in control.

Last month I posted about nightly routines and promised to follow-up with a post on morning routines. We all know that starting the day off on the right foot is actually quite indicative of how the rest of the day will go. A morning ritual or routine can consist of many activities; whatever you choose, consistency in those activities is the key to jumpstart your day!

The hardest part of starting a morning routine is just that, getting started–both literally and figuratively. Do you know where to start? What type of morning ritual do you want to have in place? What types of things do you want to do? I scoured the internet and read blog posts about all sorts of morning routines, and I found the following six suggestions to be the most recurring:

  • THE GYM. We all know someone who is slightly smug about the fact that he/she made it to the gym before the sun arose. While getting exercise in to start the day does come with various health benefits, there is an additional benefit we all could use:  Focus. A friend of mine who has dealt with ADHD her entire life recently told me she got through the most stressful job she ever had by waking at 5 a.m. to go to barre class. It calmed her down, helped her focus, and allowed her to wean off coffee–which, in turn, reduced her jitters. Hit the gym in the a.m., or simply get out for a walk. You will never regret it.
  • MEDITATION. I have written about the benefits of meditation. Though often used to slow down and relax (before bed, for instance), it can also be used to focus the mind and prepare oneself for productivity. Whether your meditation includes actual yoga and stretching, prayer, spiritual study or simple breathing exercises, being in tune with your psyche will start your day off on the right foot. Meditation lowers stress levels and boost productivity and creativity.
  • NUTRITION. This one will be different for all of us depending on preferences and allergies. Some may have oatmeal, chia pudding, a green smoothie, or maybe it will be eggs, toast and sausage. Give yourself nutrient-rich food and you will be sure to notice heightened energy levels. Fuel up in preparation for a productive day. Take a few extra minutes and pack some healthy snacks to take with you. And don’t forget the vitamins!
  • APPEARANCE. My dad always showers at night because he likes to go to bed clean; but then, he will shower in the morning as well. Showering in the morning wakes him up and helps him feel refreshed, awake, and ready for the day. Whatever you choose, be sure to make time to get yourself looking and feeling presentable. Shower/wash your face, brush your teeth, do any necessary ironing, coordinate your outfit and accessories, so that you can leave your house feeling good and confident.
  • GAMEPLAN. Many nightly routines include making a plan, schedule, to-do-list, etc. for the next day. The reason for that is to streamline that process in the morning. During your morning ritual, review that game plan for the day, add in any specifics, and prepare yourself for any responsibilities you may have. Plan what you will need to take with you when you leave the house, as well as anything you may need throughout the day. This may seem obvious, but taking the time to sit and plan this step will help you feel less like a chicken with its head cut off as you haphazardly grab things while rushing out the door!
  • PRODUCTIVITY. Get right to work. Instead of wasting time idly catching up on your Facebook or Instagram feed (which has been proven to decrease overall motivation and productivity when done at the start of the day), get to work. Start your morning routine immediately.  It will reduce your stress!

Here is an example of a morning routine:
5:30 AM: Wake up, put on gym clothes, contacts, drink 8 oz. ice cold water
5:40 AM: Hit the gym (M/W/F: Weights; Tu/Th: Interval Cardio; Sa/Su: Walk)
6:40 AM: Return home, eat protein shake, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, etc.
7:10 AM: 20 minutes of meditation/prayer/spiritual study
7:30 AM: Review goals and day’s schedule, prepare to leave
7:45: Leave for work

Remember, this is just an example. Your morning routine should work best for you and your lifestyle, and should incorporate your goals. I have covered the basic suggestions to fuel productivity and focus throughout the day.  While this post contains six of the most frequently occurring ideas on the internet, there are so many other options out there! Through my research in writing this blog, I found a neat website, My Morning Routine, where you can sign up to receive a brand new morning routine idea in your inbox every Wednesday. The key is finding what works best for you and implementing that into a pattern you can consistently and happily follow. Should you find yourself with questions or desiring additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. And be sure to tune in next month as I talk about ways you can use your morning and nightly routines to help you reach your New Year’s goals!

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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You Are Blessed: A Simple Gratitude Challenge

Simple Gratitude Challenge - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Therapist“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie

This is the season we always hear and talk about “blessings” and “thankfulness.” What does that even mean? Let’s start by defining gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to thinking only about what one wants or needs. Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude by simply counting our blessings and expressing gratitude through words, lists, or written letters of thanks. When gratitude comes from deep within us and is meaningful, it is a proactive acknowledgement that can increase our overall well-being, health, and happiness. Being grateful—and especially expressing it—is also associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.

We could all use these benefits in our life!  This is why I have put together and am sharing a little activity that I did recently. It really is not difficult to sit down and think of a few things we are grateful for. No matter what each of us have been through, we have things to be thankful for!

If I were to tell you to take a paper and number 1-100 and and write 100 things you are grateful for, it might take you a little while and seem slightly overwhelming… Instead, I have a challenge that will make you think about specific things, people, places, and experiences for which you are profoundly grateful. Let’s get started.

What I want you to do is take a paper and number it one through ten, ten times, leaving a space in between each grouping. Then, insert the following topics in the space you left, as headings:

  1. Write 10 physical abilities you are grateful for.
  2. Write 10 material possessions you are grateful for.
  3. Write 10 people (living or dead) you are grateful for.
  4. Write 10 smells and sounds you are grateful for.
  5. Write 10 things about nature you are grateful for.
  6. Write 10 things about today you are grateful for.
  7. Write 10 places on earth you are grateful for.
  8. Write 10 modern inventions you are grateful for.
  9. Write 10 foods you are grateful for.
  10. Write 10 life experiences you’ve had that you are grateful for.

This gratitude challenge is the perfect introduction into Thanksgiving, and will surely help us keep a positive perspective and a grateful heart. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can often get us feeling discouraged or less-than. Instead, let’s acknowledge and enjoy the beautiful blessings that surrounds us. This activity has helped me remember how much I have to be grateful for.  I know that when you do this challenge, you will feel grateful, too! Make time today for this activity!

Please feel free to reach out with questions, concerns, or to schedule a session. The holiday season is busy for everyone, but it is also a great time to get the help you need!

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 Affection To Your Agenda

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist“Great marriages don’t happen by luck or by accident. They are the result of a consistent investment of time, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, affection, prayer, mutual respect, and a rock-solid commitment between a husband and wife.” ~Dave Willis

Last month I posted about scheduling time to be with your partner sexually. In this post, I want to add onto this idea of scheduling time for your partner. Think back to when you and your partner were dating. How did you display affection? What did you do to let your partner know you were interested in him/her? Did you hold hands often? Give back rubs? Bear hug? Link arms when walking? Now let me ask, how are you displaying affection TODAY in your relationship? If you are like most people in a long-term relationship or marriage, there is noticeable decline in your level of PDA or even private displays of affection. So this post is all about amping that up to increase the connection in your relationship.

Here is the truth. The best relationships and marriages engage in a lot of touching…sex being only one form of touching. Yes, it is the one our minds typically go to first as the healing or unifying display of affection, but there is a great deal of power in non-sexual affection as well. Researchers and love experts, Gary Smalley and John Trent, have written that, “8 to 10 meaningful touches a day is really a minimum requirement for a woman to stay emotionally and physically healthy.” And the same is true about men; I have found through years of counseling that both men and women crave affection and want to feel valued!

Are you and your partner sharing 8-10 meaningful touches a day? Most of us are so busy with life that the answer to this question is an unfortunate no! If this includes you, start by asking your partner how they like to receive affection and share with them specific ways you like to be touched. Use the list below to help you and your partner brainstorm ways you each like to be touched. It is important to note that if one partner has experienced trauma, there may be some types of touch that are triggering for them.

  1. Rub his arm
  2. Kiss his cheek
  3. Put your arm around her
  4. Hold his hand
  5. Play footsies
  6. Rub his leg
  7. Touch her elbow
  8. Run your fingers through his hair
  9. Touch her back
  10. Give him a bear hug and hold on
  11. Run your fingers over her cheek
  12. Kiss his neck
  13. Put your arm around her waist
  14. Hug him from behind and put your cheek next to his
  15. Kiss her gently on the lips
  16. Squeeze his bum
  17. Touch your forehead to hers
  18. Rest your head on his shoulder
  19. Dance with her
  20. Whisper in his ear
  21. Sit close together
  22. Spoon in bed
  23. Give him a scalp massage
  24. Hold her face in your hands and stare into her eyes
  25. Squeeze his hand

I would recommend choosing one a day, and committing yourself to implement it into your relationship. Aiming to do one a day allows flexibility–you have complete freedom in deciding what you will do and when you will do it. As you increase your levels of affection, you will notice that it will become reciprocal–your partner will begin to do the same. It is as if you will light a match that will turn into a rolling fire.

By definition, affection means a gentle feeling of fondness or liking, which can certainly include verbal expression. Here are three ideas: First idea, challenge or schedule yourself to say, “I love you,” three times a day. Second idea, express love and adoration in public. Many couples, who have been together for a long time, eventually act like they are simply sharing groceries when in public. No! Go back to the dating days! Shower your partner with affection, both verbal physical, in private and in public. And the third idea would be to tell your partner he/she is handsome/beautiful at least once a day. Pretty doable, right?

Scheduling sex can provide needed closeness, but only if regular, loving touch is a normal part of the everyday marriage or relationship. Expressing affection to your partner is powerful and can set you on a path to both heal and strengthen your relationship. I urge you to take the time to schedule closeness today–whether that is sexually or affectionately. And if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to implement this counsel, please feel free to contact or come see 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 Trauma of Surviving

The Trauma of Surviving - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistDeath is inevitable, yet the loss of a close friend or family member is accompanied with a range of emotions. During this holiday season, and all seasons, it is important to recognize and address the trauma of surviving a loss of a loved one…because YOU are worth it!

Have you ever had a sibling or a roommate move out after living together for an extended period of time? If so, you have experienced what it is like to really notice someone’s absence; suddenly the house is quieter, the bathroom is sadly cleaner, and you feel oddly emptier. This experience, magnified infinitely, is similar to surviving after someone near and dear to you passes on. You become intensely aware of their absence, and it is often accompanied by unavoidable waves of grief and sorrow. This is a type of trauma.

A close friend’s mom passed away when we were freshmen in High School. I remember her putting on her game face, acting grateful her mom was free of cancer, but I knew my friend was a mess inside. I cannot begin to imagine how quiet her house must have felt, or how sad mealtimes must have been, or how many nights she must have cried herself to sleep thinking of all the things her mom would miss–graduations, marriage, babies. Losing her mom to cancer, at age 15, impacted this friend in ways she did not and could not understand at that time.

Everyone deals with death differently. My friend acted like nothing happened and continued living life as normal. Several years down the road, however, she snapped. She got into drugs, alcohol and risky sex, eventually got pregnant, and entered into a marriage she was not ready for or committed to. Years later, she cleaned up her life and is now in a different, stable marriage with additional children. After years of avoiding grieving the loss of her mother, she has started to confront her grief and I am encouraged she will continue to heal from the trauma of surviving the loss of her mother.

My clients, and friend, have taught me many things about the trauma of surviving, and I wish to share some of those with you today! As we enter the holiday season, past and present losses can be felt deeply and I want to give you some tools to help you navigate this season, and all seasons:

  • Talk about it–but only when you are ready. Let others in. Hibernating for a period of time is understandable, but eventually the time will come when you need to let others in. Start slowly by sharing with a few trusted people. Sometimes, this may be safest with a trained, experienced counselor or therapist.
  • Welcome the flood of emotions. Do not feel the need to “be strong” for anyone else. Allow yourself to feel the sorrow, the anger, the devastation, the relief…whatever it may be. Let that emotion have place in your heart and recovery.
  • Recognize you will need to recreate “normal.” Your life will never go back to how it used to be. That is the tragic truth of loss; it changes everything. But YOU and only you have control over the new normal you choose to create in your life. Let that empower you.
  • Do what you love with those you love. Practice self-care and self-love. Travel. Exercise. Pick up or make time for hobbies. Spend time with those you love.
  • Cherish the memories you have. Whether this means displaying pictures, making a photo album, or organizing family videos, celebrate the life and legacy of your loved one. By cherishing the time you did have, those memories can become more poignant, than the memories of the loss.
  • Give yourself time to heal. Recognize that grief is an emotion you need to process, and work through–just like anger, frustration, or resentment. Acknowledge the fact that your grief will be ongoing and that there will be harder days than others. Be okay with that and give yourself whatever time you need to heal.

Living through the death of a loved one is an incredibly traumatic experience, and it merits endless blog posts and conversations. Sometimes my friend will sheepishly admit through tears that she is not “over” losing her mother, and I have to remind her that it is completely okay! Navigating life without those we love most is and will be ongoing. It requires that we talk about it, give place for each emotion that arises, create a new normal, practice self-care, cherish memories, and give ourselves time to heal. I have a deep appreciation for those who live on after the loss of close loved ones; please contact me today and allow me to help you in the healing process. I am here for 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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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.

Resources:

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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.

Resources:

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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.

Resources:

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