Cutting Shame Off at the Knees

Cutting Shame Off at the Knees - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist“Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” -Brené Brown

Regardless of age, gender or nationality, we all experience shame from time to time. Dr. Brené Brown, an author and researcher, explains in her book Daring Greatly, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” And that is what I want to focus on today–cutting shame off at the knees.

Dr. Brené Brown has dedicated her career to researching shame and vulnerability. She describes shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. The dictionary defines shame as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. We all feel it; in fact, it was recently found that even babies can experience shame!

It is important to note that there is a distinction between shame and guilt. While shame means, I am bad, guilt means, I did something bad. Shame is debilitating, it can shut us down or emerge in ways destructive to ourselves and others. The remorse and regret that can come with guilt, on the other hand, can motivate us to make adjustments or restitution, and create new paths.

Let’s talk about real life examples of shame. How many of us have ever scrolled through social media to see someone doing something we wish we could do–affording a luxury vacation, building their dream home, accepting a prestigious position, holding a difficult yoga pose, cooking a beautiful multi-course meal for friends, reaching 10k followers, etc? We all have. What was our next thought? For many of us it is, I could never do that, I’m not smart, rich or talented enough! This is shame. Shame holds us back and debilitates is. It tells us we are “bad,” which can prevent us from changing or doing better. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change or progress. Further, it can lead to addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders and bullying. Because of the powerful implications of shame, we must identify our feelings of shame, understand them and build healthy coping skills against it! Here are five ways to cut shame off at the knees:

  • Bring shame to the light. Know what it is and what it feels like. Recognize when it sneaks into life. TALK about it. Awareness is the first step!
  • Recognize triggers. Shame is good at hitting us where we are vulnerable. A new mom who secretly feels out of her depth is more likely to feel shame when her parenting style is questioned. A husband who worries about providing may see his spouse’s comment about the neighbor’s new car as an attempt to shame him rather than an innocent observation. We must know where our armor is thin and work to strengthen and protect those areas.
  • Stop striving for perfection.  Dr. Brown has said that perfectionism is like a process addiction–the more you do it, the more you feel compelled to do it. Perfectionism is a common ailment among many of my clients, and it is corrosive. It tells us nothing we do is good enough…so why try?  Perfectionism and shame go hand-in-hand. When we work to stop one, we will find there is not room for the other!
  • Practice positive self-talk. The first option for positive self-talk is positive affirmations. These are powerful; by voicing what we believe (or want to believe) about who we are, and what we are capable of, can decrease our feelings of shame. By literally repeating something (out loud) enough we will start believing it. The second option is simply speaking more kindly to ourselves. If we were to talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our children…we would never speak to them as negatively as we do to ourselves! Be kind. Practice self-love through our inner dialogue.
  • Deeply root self-worth. If we define ourselves by what we do, we put the power of our happiness in the hands of others. When separate what we do from our sense of self-worth we will find freedom. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can look at both praise and condemnation with the perspective each deserves, absorb any helpful critiques, and move on.

Shame is one of the most debilitating emotions humans can feel. It can stunt growth and corrode motivation. It is always looming. Unfortunately, we cannot “beat” or overcome shame once and be done with it. Instead, we must view our relationship with shame as ongoing: recognize when shame is creeping in (know our triggers), speak kindly to ourselves (affirmations), and remember that we are so much more than what we do or look like. Working to cut shame off at the knees is one of the most common subjects among my clients–everyone is feeling it! I fully understand that shame can get in the way of the important things and relationships in life. If you want to more fully understand how shame is holding you back, or if you have questions and would like additional help, I would be more than happy to assist you. Feel free to contact me 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.

Resources:

Sleep Like a Baby: Nightly Routines

Sleep Like a Baby - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

“Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.” -William Blake

Just like young children, adults thrive off of routines. Children learn that bedtime is near because they consistently have a bath, put on warm jammies, have a bottle, read a book, sing lullabies, rock in a dimly-lit room, etc. Adults can do the exact same thing–in principle–as they signal to the brain that bedtime is approaching. How? By consistently doing things that relax the body and mind around the same time each day.

For varied reasons, many of my clients struggle getting quality sleep. I have found the common thread to be that we work, do chores, or are on a screen right up until the very last minute of our day. We get in bed and expect our bodies to know that, like a switch, it is time to turn off! Then we get frustrated when we toss and turn for hours.

The key is to take the necessary time winding down to let our brain and body know it is time to sleep–essentially preparing ourselves to rest. Taking 30-60 minutes to decelerate at the end of a hectic day by doing things which calm our minds is one of the most helpful sleep habits to practice! The benefits to having a nightly routine are many; I would like to name just a few: First, we will calm our overactive minds. Second, as we decompress, we are preparing our brains to avoid rumination (contemplating or stewing over things when we should be sleeping instead). And third, by regularly repeating our nightly patterns, we will condition our bodies and minds to realize that it is bedtime, so it will begin to happen more naturally with time.

Everyone is different. There is no single set nightly ritual that will work perfectly for everyone. But here are some helpful guidelines as we begin creating a routine:

  • Switch off the electronic devices. These stimulate the brain, interfere with our internal body clock, can be addictive, and can induce stress (like by checking emails right before bed). Some sources even recommend leaving your phone in another room or switching it airplane mode in order to avoid EMF (electromagnetic field) emission. I would suggest turning off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Relaxation exercises: meditation, breathing & mindfulness. I have written before about the power of meditation as a form of self-care. Meditating before bed is particularly effective as it calms the mind and helps prepare us to slow down and sleep.
  • Wins/gratitude. Think through the day and write down the wins, the things that went well, or the things to be grateful for. It is powerful!
  • Read. I would dare to say that many of us have a goal or New Years Resolution to read more books–I know I do! Sneaking it into the nightly routine is a great way to reach your goals while simultaneously reducing stress and boosting brain power.
  • Listen to music. (Refer to number one.) Listening to calming, peaceful music can have a soothing effect which will prepare us for bed.
  • Write down worries and reminders for the next day. Prepare a to-do list for the next day. Get organized. Think through things that must be done, prepared for, or accomplished. Write it down. Then put it on the backburner and relax. Another idea: To avoid lying awake worrying about things that may need to be done or people to get in contact with, keep a notepad near the bed. Write those ideas and impressions down so the mind can let them go and sleep.
  • Have a relaxing drink or light snack. While it is important to avoid large meals before bed, having a cup of herbal tea or warm milk can be a soothing, welcome pre-bed ritual.
  • Bring your temperature down. The ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is between 65-72 degrees. The body associates a lowering temperature with a signal for sleeping, so avoid hot showers and cool down in order to wind down.
  • Spend time with family, friends or partner. For many, this time right before bed may be their only alone time with a spouse. Spend a moment talking and connecting with him or her as part of your nightly routine.
  • Don’t lie awake for hours. This is key: It takes most people between 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. We have to remember that if we are still awake after half an hour, it could be that we are not quite ready to sleep yet. Get up, repeat aspects of the nightly ritual, and try again after some time passes.

Here is an example of a nightly routine:
9:30 PM: Review day’s work, review goals (long term and short term), plan tomorrow’s schedule
10:00 PM: Get ready for bed; take vitamins.
10:15 PM: Write in journal
10:30 PM: Read a book
11:00 PM: Lights out.

The most important advice I can give is to be consistent. Whatever we decide to do for the nightly ritual, do it, and do it every night. Be consistent! If we start the wind-down ritual each night at 9:00 p.m., our bodies will quickly learn what is coming next, and the process will begin to happen more organically.

I fully understand that demanding work schedules or taking care of kids can make it difficult to take any time to relax at night. I can assure you that a nightly routine will not only help you fall asleep quicker, but it will help you sleep better. Additionally, if anyone regularly faces sleep problems, taking even just a few minutes on a nightly routine can work wonders! If you have questions or need additional assistance, please feel free to 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.

Resources:

Image by Phduet

Trichotillomania: The Hair-Pulling Urge

Trichotillomania The Hair-Pulling Urge - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistHave you heard of trichotillomania? This is a hair-pulling disorder that serves as an anxious response. The individuals with this disorder may sit to watch TV and involuntarily pull out all their eyebrows!

Just the other day, a friend posted on Facebook about the irresistible urge to pull out all her eyelashes. There she sat on her bed, smiling and eyelashless, asking for help. Do you or someone you know struggle with the urge to pull out hairs? If so, this post is for you.

What is trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania (pronounced tri-ko-til-o-MAY-nee-uh), is a mental disorder that involves recurring, irresistible urges to pull hair out from the scalp, eyebrows or other areas of the body. Those with trichotillomania know it is unnecessary (and painful!) to pull out hairs, but they often cannot stop on their own. This is different from the occasional urge you may feel to rid yourself of an ingrown hair or that one chin hair that plagues you. It is incessant. It never goes away. And it provides an odd sense of satisfaction. The common symptoms of trichotillomania include:

  • Repeatedly pulling out hair from the scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes (and sometimes from other body areas)
  • Tension while resisting or before the actual act of pulling, accompanied by a sense of pleasure or relief once the hair is pulled
  • Noticeable hair loss (bald areas on the scalp or other areas of the body)
  • Biting, chewing, eating, or playing with pulled-out hair

Many people who have trichotillomania also pick their skin, bite their nails, or chew their lips. Pulling hairs from pets or dolls or from materials like clothes or blankets, may also be a sign. Most of those with this disorder try to pull hair in private to hide the disorder.

For people with trichotillomania, hair pulling can be either focused or automatic. Focused is when the hair pulling is done intentionally in order to relieve tension or distress. Other times it is automatic–it simply happens without the person realizing what he or she is doing. Regardless of the intent behind the hair pulling, the result is noticeable hair loss, scarring and other damage (like infections) to the skin on the specific area where hair is pulled. Healthy regrowth may also be stunted due to excessive plucking. Regardless of whether the hair pulling is focused or automatic, it is indicative of a mental illness–an anxious response–that can affect anyone.

What causes trichotillomania?

Although it is unclear exactly what causes trichotillomania, it is likely due to a combination of genetics, age, stress, and other present disorders. More often than not, those struggling with trichotillomania also face depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. With such, anyone could be prone to this disorder. Studies show that the age of onset for trichotillomania is varied, but commonly manifests itself between 9 and 13 years of age. Trichotillomania seems to be more common in children than adults, but that is because adolescents and adults are more likely to hide the disorder and not admit their need for help. With preschool-aged children, both boys and girls are equally affected, yet 70-93% of preadolescents and young adults are female. There is no reported difference between ethnic groups.

Is there a cure for trichotillomania?

Without treatment, trichotillomania can be a long-term disorder. Symptoms can worsen over time with triggers such as stress and chemical changes (like hormonal changes of menstruation in women). Many clients with this disorder have tried for months or even years to stop pulling their hair without success. Relapses nearly always occur because this is such an involuntary and easy-to-practice disorder.

If you read and relate to this post, contact me today. I know that you want to stop pulling out your hair! So many individuals with trichotillomania feel embarrassed or ashamed by their appearance as a result of hair pulling. Trichotillomania is a habit and a mental health disorder you can work through to overcome, or help your child overcome.  As always, my door is open! Click here to schedule a session now.

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

Resources:

Hidden (and Not-So-Hidden) Threats to Marriage

Hidden (and Not-So-Hidden) Threats to Marriage - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family TherapyIn Western culture, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50, but then 40-50% of U.S. marriages end in divorce (with the divorce rate for subsequent marriages being even higher). Marriages are being attacked on every side, and I want to help you protect yours. This post covers the three greatest threats to marriage that can exist even before the marriage does.

I recently read an article from the Huffington Post about overlooked threats to marriage. This article resonated with me, and I found its contents to be refreshingly true. I cannot tell you how often I hear couples blame communication as the root cause of their problems in marriage. While there may surely be some truth to that, I have found that there were problems existing even before the couple got married or started communicating about bigger issues. Allow me to elaborate.

As a therapist, I can teach a couple a lot about how to communicate in an hour. It really is not complicated to follow simple patterns of listening, sharing, and responding. The real issue at hand is that we all enter into marriage with baggage–which is normal and to be expected. But then we take that baggage and expect it to either magically go away or to have our spouse wave a wand and fix it for us. When that does not happen, couples begin arguing, and they mistake their baggage as the inability to communicate as a couple. This is why communication in marriage is often seen as the common culprit for hurt or failed marriages. The following are the real threats to marriages today:

  1. We do not account for change.

    Yes, you fell in love with your partner back when he had a perfectly-chiseled six pack, or she had that flat tummy. Or appearance aside, maybe you fell in love with his/her personality 10 years ago, and things have since changed. Not accounting for changes that come with time will inevitably lead to resentment and frustration. We need to remember that time changes people. Think about it. You have almost certainly changed since you got married…and not all of those changes are bad! I would like to suggest that you appreciate your partner for who they are working to become, and not get attached to who he/she was when you got married.

  2. We do not have realistic expectations for marriage.

    I know too many girls who think they will never feel lonely or less-than or discouraged (or anything less than sublimely happy) once they get married. They think marriage is a cure-all. But the truth is that your spouse is bound to be an imperfect person and sure to do something that rubs you the wrong way–and you will certainly do the same to him/her. Life will get hard and you may feel disappointed and deflated with your marriage at times. That is normal! This is one of the biggest threats to marriage, and I will dedicate an entire post to unmet expectations in the future. The truth is that marriage, like any important relationship, takes work! It takes LOADS of work, time, and effort. We cannot expect this rich and deeply satisfying relationship to happen on its own. Expecting marriage to be easy is a sure-fire recipe to wind up disappointed. Plan on it being tough, but worth it, tiring but fulfilling.

  3. We lack problem solving or basic communication skills.

    Early on in life we learn to defend ourselves–it may be from other kids at school, from friends, or from our own family. We practice self-preservation and self-defense. We learn how good it feels to be right and we prove ourselves whenever we get the chance. When we get married, the arguments inevitably come. If we never learned how to practice openness instead of defensiveness, forgiveness instead of vengeance, apology instead of blame, and vulnerability instead of strength before marriage, we are bound to continue that pattern with our spouse. Learning basic problem solving and communication skills will benefit all relationships in your life, but most especially your marriage.

Regardless of our marital status, these are things we can all work on as we strive to be a better companion–whether that is now or in the future. Remember that people change (plan on changes happening in both your significant other, as well as, yourself); remember that no relationship is perfect (have realistic expectations for your relationship); and work on your ability to communicate and overcome disagreements. If you are already married or in a serious relationship, remember–it is never too late to adjust expectations and learn new skills, like communicating, apologizing, problem solving, etc. I can assure you that as you focus on adjusting these three areas, you will be prepared to have meaningful, long-lasting relationships.

These three threats to marriage are common. The good news is that there is hope. It is possible to account for change, to love who your spouse is now, as well as who he/she is becoming. It is possible to adjust expectations (in a healthy way) so that they align with your partner’s expectations. It is possible to learn new communication skills or problem solving strategies that will enable you to be more transparent with your spouse. As you seek to improve yourself and let go of some of that baggage you brought into your marriage, you will see that your marital communication will improve tenfold! You will be able to see eye to eye–or at least hear each other out!–and come to a conclusion that did not require raised voices, slammed doors, or hurt feelings. Your marriage does not have to be at risk. As always, feel free to contact me to overcome these three common threats to marriage today, and you will watch your most valued relationships flourish and exceed your greatest expectations!

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

Resources:

I Don’t Have Trauma…or Do I?

I Don’t Have Trauma...or Do I - Cluff Counseling - North TX Couples TherapistMost people associate trauma with terribly difficult and disturbing events like war or a natural disaster. Because of this, you may think you have never experienced something traumatic. However, any distressing event that falls beyond your normal scope of human experience can be considered traumatic! Odds are high that you HAVE experienced trauma. How have you dealt with it?

I was recently talking with a friend who told me she had never been through anything traumatic in her life. Although I knew she was referring to the fact that she had not experienced a death of a loved one, abuse, an accident, or something of like nature, I silently disagreed with her. While those experiences are incredibly traumatic for any individual who faces them, trauma is not limited to life-changing events like those. Trauma can happen every day in the normal course of your day without you realizing what you are up against. In this post, I will focus on the two different types of trauma and how we are all affected by trauma’s expansive reach.

Let’s start by defining trauma. What is it really? At its Greek core, trauma means to wound or to pierce. A search for this word will yield a definition much like this: “A disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset, an agent, force or mechanism that causes high distress.” Basically, trauma is intense emotional distress resulting from stressful life experiences. Oftentimes when describing trauma, it is divided into two major categories: Big “T” and little “t” traumas.

Big “T” trauma

Big “T” trauma, or complex traumas, are events that involve physical harm and/or a threat to life or physical safety. Big “T” trauma is trauma in its most severe form, and can often result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Examples of big “T” trauma include being in a combat/war zone, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, immigration, rape, sexual assault, abuse, death, sickness, moving, financial stress, a car/plane accident, etc. These are extraordinary and significant events that leave us feeling powerless, helpless, and as if we have little or no control in our environment. This element of helplessness is a key difference between of big ‘T’ traumas and little ‘t’ traumas–feelings of helplessness being much greater in big ‘T’ traumas. These events can forever alter a person’s life, and may influence our ability to make/maintain relationships, and function later in life. One big ‘T’ trauma can be enough to cause severe distress and interfere with our daily functioning–which is intensified the longer treatment is avoided.

Little “t” trauma

Little “t” traumas are life events that are more common experiences that, although upsetting to an individual, are less severe or dramatic than big “T” traumas. A few examples of little “t” traumas include being teased in elementary school, always being picked last for a team, divorce, death of a beloved pet, losing a job, or losing friends by moving from school to school during childhood.  It is not necessarily the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the individual’s experience of the event. If an individual experiences an event as life-altering or upsetting in such a way that it changes the way they think about themselves or others,  it is likely a little “t” trauma.

The term little “t” trauma does not imply, however, that the emotional impact of such an event is insignificant compared to big “T” traumas. The emotional wounds can be as lasting and severe as big “T” trauma wounds!

Trauma’s reach

Everyone has endured some sort of trauma in their lifetime. Both big “T” and little “t” traumas have a strong influence on our view of the world and shape how we cope in life. For example, the little “t” traumas of being teased by peers and being picked last for the team can leave us feeling inadequate or insecure amongst our peers. Big “T” traumas may leave us orphaned, severely dissociated, or less physically capable than we may have previously been. The four core signs of trauma include the following:

      • Hyperarousal: These symptoms can be difficult to manage and can vary from person to person. In general, hyperarousal includes having a difficult time falling or staying asleep, feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger, having difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance (constantly being on guard), and being jumpy or easily startled
      • Dissociation of body and mind: This includes feeling disconnected from oneself, problems handling intense emotions, sudden/unexpected shifts in mood, depression or anxiety problems, derealization (feeling as though the world is distorted or not real), memory problems, concentration problems, and significant memory lapses.
      • Constriction of body and perceptions: Which may include the skewed notion that the individual was responsible for causing the trauma.
      • Feelings of helplessness: The inability to act or think for oneself, or to act effectively.

When symptoms of trauma continue for more than three months, it is considered PTSD or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Fortunately, all symptoms are not permanent if addressed properly–which means that healing for both little “t” traumas as well as big “T” traumas are completely treatable. Receiving treatment can truly reshape the way we view both the world and ourselves!

Trauma is treatable

Treatment for trauma consists of specialized counseling techniques and practices that will help you cope and deal with trauma and its effects on your life. I use EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) , as well as Pia Mellody’s inner child framework to treat trauma. Because trauma contributes to negative thinking, negative behaviors, and difficult emotions, counseling for trauma can help you change your thinking and behaviors, which will, in turn, impact your mood. Counseling with me is a safe place where you can explore some very difficult issues that are hindering you from the life you want to live or the person you wish to be. If you think you may struggle with trauma, please reach out to me! Untreated trauma can lead to serious life consequences, the longer it is left untreated.

As always, the take away that I want you to remember (and cling to) is that treatment is available. Healing is possible! No matter where you have been, I can help you get relief from your trauma symptoms. Remember that everyone responds to traumatic situations differently; you may be experiencing only a few of the aforementioned symptoms, or you may be experiencing many. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his/her specific trauma event. What may affect one person may not affect another person in the same way. Counseling can help you explore your trauma and find the healing you may still need. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.  I look forward to working with you!

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

Resources:

8 Unique Ways to Practice Self-care

8 Unique Ways to Practice Self-Care - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist“Self-care is something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.”

-Agnes Wainman

In June I posted on “Mental Hygiene”, which was really a fun, new way to discuss mindfulness and self-care. I based my post off of a Podcast I heard from from Jody Moore that put a whole new spin on the concept of taking care of our minds. She compared “mental hygiene”–the ways we take care of our minds–to the ways we take care of ourselves physically, like brushing our teeth or exercising. I felt her analogy was very applicable and helpful in understanding the importance of self-care. Today I want to continue thinking outside the box by furthering that conversation and suggesting a few unique self-care ideas.

By definition, self-care is any activity that we deliberately do to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it may seem simple conceptually, we often overlook and do not practice regular self-care. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety, with a host of long-term physical benefits. It is also key to a good relationship with oneself and others. I am a firm believer that self-care done well can spill over into all aspects of one’s life–in the most positive ways imaginable!

I love writing about self-care. I dedicate one post a month to this topic because I want everyone to think about it more and even schedule regular time to take care of themselves. There is so much information and ideas online about self-care options; I highly recommend reading the resources I have included below as an introduction to self-care. Today I will share eight out-of-the-box ideas for things you could incorporate into your daily dose of self-care:

  1. Do something spontaneous. This will depend widely on your location, interests, and preferences. The underlying concept is to do something you have been wanting to do or have been putting off. Just do it!
  2. Do some demolition. Smash something! Make a mess! My good friends are remodeling their kitchen, and this required taking a sledgehammer and demolishing their existing island and tile countertops. It was exhilarating and therapeutic for them to release some stress and anger in the destruction process! You could also have a flour war or have a pillow fight. There may even be options available locally for you to visit an Anger Room or go axe-throwing; I have seen stuff like this on Groupon for Dallas!
  3. Try balloon painting! I have yet to try this, but it sure sounds intriguing. You fill balloons with paint, attach them to a sheet or a canvas, and throw darts to try and pop the balloons! In the end you are left with a unique and masterful art piece that was surely exhilarating and therapeutic to create!
  4. Lay on the ground. Try it. Lay on the ground and focus on what is above you. If you are outside, lay on the sidewalk, road, grass, whatever it might be. Observe the sky and the clouds or the stars and the moon.
  5. Stare at the wall. One of my good friends will literally stare at a blank wall for 10-15 minutes when she feels stressed. She says it is a simple, convenient, and free way to reset her mind and emotions! Don’t knock it until you try it 🙂
  6. Utilize religion or spirituality. So much of self-care focuses on activities like yoga or meditation or practicing a hobby that are integral religious or spiritual practices. Do some soul searching however seems most natural to you.
  7. Color. I have written previously about the benefits of using creativity and creative outlets as a form of self-care. As humans, we find creating something to be incredibly satisfying. While there are many options here, a few simple suggestions would be to try one of those non-permanent henna kits, a coloring book for adults, or even chalk art on your driveway. My adult clients love to do this!
  8. Follow-up with medical care. You know that super accomplished, productive feeling you get when you finally get around to something you have put off for awhile? Yeah, you will have that when you actually follow through with that routine check-up you have been dodging for months. Trust me!

Now, if I were to ask you not if, but how, you take care of yourself, do you have ideas for something new you might want to try? Give them a try!  You will find that taking time for you will recharge you, and fuel your productivity and effectiveness in all areas of your life. If you are regularly practicing self-care, but feel that you need additional guidance or help to reach your best self, I urge you to contact me today. Sometimes, talking things out with a licensed, experienced therapist can help you find needed direction in your life.

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

Resources:

Healing From Trauma: A Newer Treatment

EMDR - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistWith over 500 kinds of psychotherapy available today, one relatively new kid on the block has been widely heralded by the media, practitioners and mental health consumers. More than 60,000 trained clinicians believe in the power of EMDR–Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing–including me!

Just a few months ago, in June, I posted on my blog about anxiety. Did you know that an estimated 44 million American adults suffer from anxiety, and only one-third receive treatment? I shared nine signs that often indicate anxiety, and urged my readers to seek help for this treatable ailment. In today’s post, I wish to share one of the newer methods of treatment available today: EMDR.

What is EMDR?

It is more than likely you have never heard of EMDR. That’s okay! It is a relatively new form of treatment, and kind of a funky acronym. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it is a breakthrough therapy with a special capacity to overcome the often devastating effects of psychological trauma. It was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, in the late 1980s. Shortly after its discovery, an ever-growing community of therapists saw its power to transform lives, controlled research studies consistently demonstrated its efficacy and effectiveness, and many therapists sought training to become EMDR certified. Often therapists have said that EMDR felt like a gift to themselves and their clients, and they were eager to “pay it forward” by spreading the word to colleagues.

How did EMDR start?

Like many great inventions, EMDR was born out of serendipity. One day in 1987, private California practitioner, Francine Shapiro, went for a walk in the woods. She had been preoccupied with disturbing thoughts. She discovered that her anxiety lifted after moving her eyes back and forth while observing her surroundings. Intrigued, Shapiro tried out variants of this procedure with her clients and found that they also felt better. She concluded that trauma can be resolved naturally when a person recalls parts of disturbing experiences while stimulating the eyes (by moving them laterally). EMDR was born!

Initially, EMDR was utilized and studied as a therapy for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other anxiety disorders, such as phobias. Therapists have since extended this treatment to a host of other conditions including depression, sexual dysfunction, schizophrenia, eating disorders, addiction, and even the psychological stress generated by cancer. EMDR therapy is applicable to a wide range of psychological problems that result from overwhelming life experiences. Although I mostly use EMDR for trauma, I have also used it for certain situations where the client faces OCD or is working through fear.

How does EMDR work?

EMDR therapists begin by asking their clients to identify events or situations that provoke anxiety or fear in the present–like the painful memories of a frightening accident. After the history of related anxiety provoking events has been gathered and the assessment phase is complete, the therapist, with the help of a client, identifies a “target” event to start with. By leading the patient in a series of left-to-right, or lateral eye movements, as the patient simultaneously focuses on a disturbing memory, “bilateral stimulation” occurs. Basically the the brain’s two hemispheres synchronize, which allows clarity. A therapist may use her hands, or other EMDR developed devices, to stimulate these bilateral movements.

Dr. Shapiro and her associates developed a number of procedures for coordinating what she termed, “dual awareness,” or the unifying of the two hemispheres of the brain.  The procedures have been refined and validated through controlled research at several centers around the world. Precise and careful use of these procedures can lead to the safe processing of memories, where negative thoughts and emotions can disappear.

This is more than a set of techniques. The EMDR approach provides a model for understanding human potential–including how positive experiences can lead to adaptive living, and how upsetting experiences can lead to psychological problems that interfere with a person’s ability to meet life’s challenges. The EMDR protocol requires clinicians to carefully assess and prepare adequately, particularly for persons with histories of multiple traumas.  

It has long been assumed that it takes a great deal of time to heal from severe emotional pain. However, multitudes of studies have been done on EMDR which repeatedly show that by using EMDR therapy, people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy much quicker. Two particularly notable studies include one where findings indicated that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer had PTSD after only three 90-minute sessions; and another in which a whopping 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in just 12 sessions! In fact, there has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized by several important institutions (like the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense) as an effective form of treatment for trauma, other disturbing experiences, and even the more “everyday” experiences that bring individuals in for therapy (like low self-esteem, anxiety, or feelings of powerlessness).

I became interested in EMDR after witnessing the positive outcomes it had on my clients at an inpatient treatment center. I recognized that many clients, not just those with addictions, come into my office with trauma, and I wanted to find a way to decrease the power that the trauma had on them. This model of treatment works to decrease the intensity of emotions connected to a traumatic memory, and thus lessens the power these events have on them. I have seen EMDR work for countless clients. Two particular clients come to mind when I reflect on the power of EMDR 1) A young female adult, recently involved in a serious car accident, had trouble meeting the demands of her daily life after the accident due to flashbacks. Within 5 EMDR sessions, she was able to function like she had before her accident and the flashbacks had stopped. And 2) A client’s pet passed away which triggered the tragic death of her best friend as a child, which made sleeping impossible and caused her emotionally and physically shut-down. After multiple EMDR sessions, she was able to sleep throughout the night and started reaching out to friends (and even dating) again!

EMDR procedures should only be used by a fully trained EMDR clinician, who holds licensure in the mental health field. I have been fully trained in levels 1 and 2, and use this method on a regular basis. Just today I did three hours of EMDR with my clients! If you or someone you love could benefit from EMDR treatment, contact me today or schedule a session to be evaluated. I would be more than happy to give you an evaluation and offer the relief that can come through the effective administration of EMDR!

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

Resources:

Love Languages: Giving and Receiving Love

Love Languages - Giving and Receiving Love - Cluff Counseling - North Texas Therapist

“Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.” -Dr. Gary Chapman

For the past six months, I have been focusing on each of Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. In February, I gave an overview. In March, I focused on Words of Affirmation. April was on the Love Language of Service. In May, I discussed Receiving Gifts. June was all about Quality Time, and last month we finished up this series with Physical Touch. Each Love Language is unique with its own pros and cons, but all offer us insight into our lover’s expectations, wants and wishes. I am such a firm believer that understanding love languages is powerful, and can have a profound impact on our relationships. Today I want to end this series with a couple of important takeaways.

For which relationships?

When I say relationships, I do not only mean our romantic relationships. Heavens no! I mean that applying our newfound knowledge of each of the 5 Love Languages can affect all of our relationships! This stuff is for real. It will change how you interact with your boss, your mom, your sister, your children, your friends, your neighbor, etc.  I have found that I have been able to connect so much better with my dad as I have come to understand how he receives and gives love, and our interactions are much more meaningful now that I am trying to speak his love language.

Not always bilateral!

Point number two, these Love Languages are not bilateral. Meaning, the way someone receives love may not always be the same way in which they naturally express love. Here’s an example to piggyback off what I just said about understanding my dad better. Because of his upbringing, he is not an affectionate person…at all. He does not say lovey things, nor is he physically demonstrative; he has maybe hugged me five times my whole life. But he expresses his love for me through gifts–he is very thoughtful about my birthday and Christmas gifts, and always nails it by giving meaningful and generous presents. Conversely, he does not receive love through gifts!!  He receives love through Quality Time; he just wants me to spend time with him. So I sit by him when I go visit him, and we chat about life for a little while, or I plan a family get together for his birthday where we eat, laugh and play games. We are able to strengthen our connection that way, and it has done wonders for our relationship.

You may have noticed this about yourself–that you naturally give love differently than you receive it. Or maybe you reciprocate the love language that you like! I receive love by quality time (ex: meaningful conversation during an ice cream outing) and I give it through a mixture of gifts and service (ex: going to the peach orchards and bringing some to a friend). The point is to be aware of the 5 Love Languages and to apply them to your relationships. Explore them, talk about them, practice them! The more you do, the more proficient you will become in expressing love in whichever way your loved one receives love. And you will find that it is incredibly satisfying and effective!

Start today

Remember, all of our relationships (both romantic and not!) can be improved. Again, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of the Love Languages. I recommend reading the book, perusing the website, and/or taking the quiz that will help identify one’s primary Love Language. While I am no expert, I certainly subscribe to the 5 Love Languages, and would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about them. If you and your partner–or even you and your sibling, parent, or friend–are having a difficult time connecting and having meaningful interactions, I recommend evaluating each other’s Love Languages and coming up with suggestions for how to meet each other’s expectations. My door is always open for a session as well. Understanding and applying the 5 Love Languages to each of our relationships is powerful. I wish you the best of luck as you go and apply what you have learned through this series!

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

Resources:

Image by Freepik

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

No parent wants to talk with their children about pornography. It can seem overwhelming, uncomfortable, and maybe unnecessarily early–depending on the age of your child. While there may be validity to all those feelings, I urge you to communicate openly, honestly, and early with your child about the fallacies and dangers of pornography… before they learn about it elsewhere.

Children are now learning to use electronic devices at a very young age, and often stumble upon inappropriate pictures or videos. Like many others, you may be caught off guard and quite surprised by how early in your child’s life this happens. Upon entering puberty, pre-teens may be curious about sex and sexuality as their brain, body, and hormones change and develop. Your children may hear things in the playground or at a friend’s house. Inevitably, they will want to know more and asking Mom or Dad about sex can be embarrassing. You can be ready for this conversation by preparing some talking points and creating an environment of open communication. You will be grateful you did so!

Last month, I posted the first part in this two-part series on talking with your children about pornography. The world is different than it was 20 years ago; the ease and and convenience of viewing porn at our fingertips–plus the increased dependence on technology–is a recipe for disaster. We must adapt to the pervasive and dangerous drug that is sweeping through our internet, TVs, phones, and homes. It is everywhere. Your children will see porn; it is a matter of when, not if. My wish with this post is to help you prepare for when you decide to talk with your children about pornography. I know it seems like a daunting, horrible thing to need to talk about, and you may want to put it off as long as possible, but I urge you to read this post and mindfully consider what will be best for your child(ren).

Part 1 focused on 9 foundational points that will help guide you as you prepare for this conversation (or hopefully the first of many conversations) with your children. Click here to read that post in its entirety. To briefly summarize, those 9 points are:

  1. Build trust.
  2. Talk about it sooner rather than later.
  3. Prepare for it now.
  4. Explain why porn is problematic.
  5. Teach that porn is inaccurate.
  6. Treat pornography the same for your daughter as you would your son.
  7. Teach them (especially daughters) that their worth is more than skin deep.
  8. What to do if my child comes to me with a porn addiction.
  9. Make it an ongoing conversation.

Again, I recommend reviewing that post because I explained each point in greater detail that will offer clarity and guidance as you apply them. The most important thing about this talk is that you deliver it with the needs/preferences/personality of your individual children in mind. Follow your innate parent gut and speak with love.

What do I say?!

It is 100% natural to have no idea where to begin. Might I suggest that you begin by asking questions and then LISTEN. Encourage two-way conversation. Questions may include (but are not limited to) the following: What do you know about pornography? Do any of the kids at school ever talk about it? What do they say? Have you ever seen it? Did someone show it to you? Or did you find it yourself? You may be surprised and/or horrified by their responses, but try to remain calm. Reassure your child(ren) they are not in trouble. Try to find out how they found it and why they were searching for it. If they have seen it, ask when/where they saw it and how it made them feel. Then discuss those feelings.

Because children are generally pure and tender, they may feel “yucky” for what they have seen.

Explain to them that pornography teaches attitudes towards sex and sexual behaviors that are inaccurate and unhealthy. I highly recommend utilizing the suggestions found in Kristen Jenson’s book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Kids. She explains how to make it a comfortable conversation about what pornography is, why it is dangerous, and how to reject it. By explaining porn in a developmentally appropriate way (found in the book), young kids are able to porn-proof their own brains. If having this conversation is making you feel nervous, remember that professionals actually encourage parents to have this talk with their children. Avoiding the subject will only lead your children to satisfy their curiosity by searching elsewhere!

You may choose to discuss some of the false content portrayed in pornographic material (such as lack of respect and consent, violence, and dangerous sexual practices) to help them understand why you are concerned about them viewing it. Talking about these feelings will help them understand that this is for their protection and not just another rule you wish to impose upon them.

Then help them prepare for the future. Ask them what they could do if someone tries to show them pornography again and let them suggest options. Discourage them from seeking it out and encourage them to come to you with further questions. Explain that you will put protection up to help avoid further exposure in your home (through parental controls on smartphones, TVs, computers, blocking certain sites, installing filters, etc). You can even work with your child to find ways to protect against pornography! Your children might surprise you by agreeing with or even suggesting certain ‘house rules’, such as not deliberately visiting these sites, avoiding searches with potentially dangerous keywords, using devices in open areas at home and not behind closed doors, being offline by a particular time of night, no sleepovers, keeping phones in mom and dad’s room at night, etc. Together come up with consequences, and then as the parent, enforce the rules.

Okay so at what age do I do this?

This will depend on you. There is no hard and fast rule. Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, says parents can talk about potential issues as early as third grade, because even the youngest children can pretty easily find things like pornography online. I know several families who have this chat as early as eight years old. Basically, follow your gut. If you are thinking about this already, there is probably a reason! And remember my final suggestion from Part 1 of this post, to make this an ongoing conversation. Let your children know that you are always available and willing to continue the discussion, and encourage them to come to you before looking elsewhere. And as they grow and progress developmentally, I invite you to tailor this same conversation to their understanding.

No one looks forward to having the pornography chat with their children. But you must have this conversation in order to protect and prepare them. If you still have questions or concerns after reading this series on talking with children about porn, please feel free to contact me! Please remember–pornography is not just a male or an adult problem, it is a human problem. The children in your life need protection from pornography. They need to understand what it is, why it is harmful, and have a plan when they see it. And they need to have our support through loving, mentoring relationships, and know that we will be there for them when (not if!) they see porn. Keep it short. Be honest. Try to make it part of an ongoing and open discussion about sexuality and sexual development. Let’s have the wisdom, courage, and compassion to face this problem head on so that our youth will not have to face it alone.

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

Resources:

15 Minutes to a Happier You

15 Minutes to a Happier You - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples TherapistThere are so many things all around us threatening to tear us down or make us feel less than we are. The dangers of comparison through social media is ever-present, and sometimes we just need to reconnect with who we really are. This post contains an activity you can download and complete at your leisure that will surely help boost your positive self-image!

At the end of each month, I post about self-care. This is one of my favorite topics because it is something I believe in so deeply, and has a profound effect on our overall health. Self-care is a powerful tool that enables us to literally care for ourselves, both body and mind. Last month I wrote a post in which I compared self-care (also referred to as mental hygiene) to the things we do to take care of our bodies–like brushing our teeth, exercising, or eating a balanced diet. All of these affect how we function and ultimately view life. I highly recommend taking this last weekend of July to revisit your 2018 goals, and consider focusing on self-care.

Today I want to do something a little bit different than my normal quick blurb on self-care. I want to introduce an activity and invite you to thoughtfully complete it. It will not take more than 15 minutes of your time, and I promise you will find some satisfaction and meaning in it!

Below you will find a document ready for you to download. It is simple and straightforward. If you do not have a printer, or would prefer to write it out yourself, here are the instructions. Write out the following:

  • 25 things you’ve overcome or accomplished in life
  • 25 reasons why you’re a good, lovable person
  • 25 things that make your life beautiful (or that you’re grateful for)
  • 10 people that inspire you to be your best self (and how)
  • 10 things you want to work on, learn, or improve
  • 5 fun ways you will reward yourself as you progress (trips, food, gifts, etc)

Click here for the doc

And there you have it! You now have a 100 item list that is sure to boost your confidence and self-image. Focusing on your strengths, growth and talents is an essential part of self-care and positive mental image. I recommend doing a similar activity regularly–both to keep yourself humble and to boost your self-esteem. 🙂

Should you have questions or wish to schedule a session with me, please do not hesitate to contact me! I am only one click away!

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

Resources:

Image designed by Freepik