Two Secrets for Making 2019 Your Year

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” —Earl Nightingale

What do we do each January 1st? We think about New Year’s Resolutions–hobbies we would like to pick up, physical feats we would like to accomplish, places we would like to travel… Some we achieve, some we abandon, and others we half-attempt and get mediocre results. If we want to make serious changes in our lives, build confidence, and grow as individuals, we need to have a plan. Without a clear endpoint in mind, we are wandering aimlessly. A plan allows us to proactively create our destiny, and our goals serve as the springboard.

Last year I wrote about the ins and outs of setting resolutions. Most of us are familiar with the process of setting goals; if you need a refresher course, check out the references included below.. Having or setting goals is not the hard part, though. The hard part is following through with and reaching our goals. We have all had a goal that went unreached for whatever reason. I want to focus this post on what we can do to stay motivated to reach our goals in 2019.

How can we stay motivated to reach our goals? To quote Zoolander, “What do we do when we fall off the horse? …We get back on!” I have two simple suggestions that will help us pick ourselves up and get back to work WHEN we may fall short of our goals:

  1. TRACK PROCESS, NOT PROGRESS. This is an interesting yet intentional combination of words. Have you ever gotten fixated with the before and after pictures of home renovations or of physical transformations? What these pictures do not show is the vast amount of time and effort that went into achieving those results. We must remember that progress is a process. Growth and improvement takes time! We are growing accustomed to thinking we should have a six pack after a week of clean eating or exercising. The truth is that progress takes much, much longer than we like or expect. Instead of obsessing over results, we need to track how many times we did what we said we were going to do. How many times did we get to the gym? How many times did we bring a healthy lunch to work? How much money have we put into savings? If we keep doing what we said we were going to do–going to the gym, eating better, spending carefully–we will inevitably get closer to where we ultimately want to be. 
  2. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION. Beating ourselves up for our mistakes and punishing ourselves for not reaching our goals will nearly always backfire. This promotes shame, which is limiting and uninspiring. When we are too tough on ourselves we actually hinder our ability to perform. Multiple studies (see references below) show that treating ourselves with more kindness is the best way to gain better results. Those who practice self-compassion are more likely to achieve their goals because they realize that mistakes are bound to happen, but that does not mean they should give up. As we implement more self-compassion into our daily walk and talk, we will find greater happiness, confidence, and progress as we reach our goals. (Look out for a post on self-compassion at the end of this month!)

Those who succeed in achieving their dreams always have one common characteristic: They never give up. This persistence is a mindset we can establish from the beginning and nurture throughout the journey of working towards our goals. Yes, we may fall down or fall short, but we cannot allow that to let us lose sight of what we are working towards. When we are tempted to give up on our goals, let’s remember to enjoy the PROCESS, and to practice a little more self-compassion. Just remember that every day is a great day to try again. Let 2019 be your year!

Something I love about the New Year is that it gives us courage to change. New Year’s Resolutions are revitalizing and we often find a great deal of motivation to do the hard things we may have been putting off.  If current addiction issues, unresolved trauma, or a strained relationship is not allowing you to make the changes you want to make, please do not hesitate to contact me today with questions and/or schedule a session with me. I absolutely love what I do, and have years of experience as a trained, qualified therapist. Please come see me this year and allow me to help you make 2019 your year!

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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Adding Sex to Your Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some suggestions to get you started scheduling sex:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Form of Self-care: Forgiveness

The Best Form of Self-care - Forgiveness - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistHave you ever wondered why it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive yourself? Unfortunately, there is no trick to learning to forgive oneself–it just takes time and patience. Even when we have learned how to offer forgiveness to others, forgiving ourselves is a difficult, yet crucial step we all must work through.

Forgiveness is a process that takes time. It does not happen overnight and may require varying amounts of time and steps for each individual. Regardless of how long it takes or how arduous the process is, I can assure you that it is worth it. Let’s start at square one. What does forgiveness mean? To forgive is to cease to feel resentment against and/or to grant pardon to an individual–including yourself. Forgiveness has many benefits including healthier relationships (with others as well as yourself); improved mental health; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression; a stronger immune system; improved heart health; and improved self-esteem. Not to mention how liberating it is to free yourself from guilt, resentment, and pain. Nothing but good comes from extending forgiveness!

I think we all know these things when it comes to forgiving others. But forgiving ourselves is a completely different story. Publilius Syrus once said, “How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.” I am sure many of you have experienced this yourselves; I have seen several clients stuck on this important phase of forgiveness, and it truly does take a great toll on their happiness.

Why is it so hard to forgive ourselves? When we have done something “wrong,” we register it in our nervous system. We hold on to it. We do not forget it. Did you cheat on your spouse? Hit a child in anger? Steal something? The list of potential human misdeeds is long. But then we start to associate definitive statements with our past mistakes. “I’m always saying the wrong things,” “I’ll never be able to cover my bills,” or “I’m a horrible parent.” This perpetuates into a negative cycle of self deprecation and self-loathing. It may seem obvious, but this process does not lead to growth or happiness. Along with forgiving yourself for whatever action or misdeed you may have committed, it is imperative to release those limiting beliefs as well.

Sharon A. Hartman, LSW, a clinical trainer at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Pennsylvania, works with clients struggling with forgiveness every day. She says that forgiving oneself is possibly the most difficult part of recovery. Countless studies show stress and anger can cause or worsen diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and various autoimmune disorders. “When resentment is interfering with your life, it’s time to forgive yourself.”

Just as it is helpful to break up the steps of forgiving others, forgiving oneself can also be separated into more manageable steps, as follows:

  1. Accept what happened. Move away from excuses and accept responsibility for what you did. Do not justify yourself or blame others that may have affected you. This is a difficult but necessary step.
  2. Establish your morals. We feel guilt or shame for actions done in the past because we were likely not acting in line with our current morals and values. This can be helpful in cluing us in to what we hold important and how we want to live. Consider your mistake an opportunity to define how you will (or will not) act in the future.
  3. Realize you did the best you could at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, so it is easy to critically evaluate past actions. But if you remind yourself that you were simply doing the best you could with what you had at the time, it will help alleviate some of the guilt and frustration you have towards yourself. (A warning: Earnestly evaluate whether or not your expectations are unrealistic or not. Refer to step number six about how perfection is impossible.)
  4. Consider creating a “re-do.” Sometimes I advise my clients to write down how they wish they could have responded or reacted in the moment. This gives them an opportunity to react to past events with their current morals/values, or perception. Simply write down how you would have done things differently if you could go back and do it again. In doing so, you will affirm that you not only learned from your past mistake, but that if you had the skills back then that you have now, you would have done things differently.
  5. Turn the page. The time will come, however, where you must accept that the past has happened and you have tried to amend past mistakes. No amount of re-do’s will change this. So turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. Without past mistakes and experiences, you would not be who you are. In a way, you can be grateful those experiences have allowed you to move on and truly forgive yourself.
  6. Cut yourself some slack. This is like learning to ride a bike. You were not perfect the first time (or even the tenth time) you tried. It took falling off, scraping your knees, feeling frustrated, and bumping up against curbs to learn how to ride. New behavior and thinking patterns are no different. Cut yourself some slack while you are experiencing a learning curve. Be patient with yourself. Remember that mistakes are part of the learning process. You are going to make mistakes. We all do.
  7. Move toward self-love. Think kind thoughts about yourself and show yourself some respect and compassion. Talk to yourself like you would your best friend. If we can speak to ourselves with love and kindness, and put ourselves as a priority, it reaffirms that we believe we are worth it. Recognize your strengths. Give yourself compliments. Surround yourself with supportive people.
  8. Appreciate progress. Recognize the steps you have taken in the right direction. The fact that you are trying to completely forgive yourself shows that you care about growth and integrity. Recognize when you make changes that move you to act and live more in line with your morals and values, and be proud of yourself for the progress you are making.

Sharon Hartman said, “We all screw up sometimes. Forgiving ourselves is as close as we come to a system reset button.” Holding on to guilt and shame because of past offenses can stunt your growth, relationships, and happiness. Forgiveness is crucial–especially forgiveness of the self. Because we know ourselves better than anyone else, we know our own weaknesses and faults, and it is easy to withhold that forgiveness. But I can assure you that extending that compassionate forgiveness to yourself will unlock doors of happiness and progression you have not been able to access previously. Remember that forgiveness is a process and requires time. It is different for everyone. If you have worked through all of these steps and you are still struggling to move on from past omissions, I highly recommend talking to a therapist. Please click here to contact me with any questions you may have, or feel free to schedule a session at your earliest convenience.

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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Finding Your Strengths

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

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

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

  1. Take time to understand yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Ask others to identify your strengths.

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

  1. Make said strengths easy to articulate.

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

I AM _________

I HAVE _________

I CAN _________

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

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

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

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

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

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Measuring Your Success

Measuring Your Success - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist - TypeLegendary basketball coach, John Wooden, says success is, “…peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Are you doing your best to reach your 2018 resolutions?

As April approaches (and with it my birthday!), I have been thinking about my goals for the year and how I am doing with them. How are your resolutions going? Do you remember what they are? Did you write them down to begin with? Maybe you have a list displayed on your bathroom mirror, and you are actively thinking about daily steps you can make to reach your lofty goals. Or maybe you fall into that ⅓ group who do not work on resolutions after the first month of the year. Either way, I am here to give encouragement, and provide some tips on how you can measure your progress.

Life is busy. We get so caught up in the daily grind of simple survival that we may overlook seemingly extraneous things–like wanting to pick up a paintbrush or get into an exercise regimen. How can we stay motivated to learn the skills we want to learn, accomplish what we want to accomplish, and ultimately become who we want to be? The answer is simple:

Baby steps each and every day.

I want this blog post to inspire/motivate/rekindle your desire to grow and improve this year. You set your resolutions for a reason! With your own persistence, consistency, and organization you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Let’s get started.

First, take a look at your resolutions. Yes, I list this as an actual step because many people have intangible goals floating around in their brain space. You must write them down! You need to be able to see your goals; there is something about the action of writing them out that makes you more accountable to yourself, solidifies your desire to learn new things, and helps you remember your goals (muscle memory, maybe?). So step one, if you have not already done so, write your goals down.

Next, break down goals into measurable steps. “Learn to play the guitar” is a wonderful goal in and of itself, but it is very broad and difficult to quantify. How will you know if you have mastered or even “learned” the guitar? I would like to introduce a simple method that will help you break goals down to actionable steps and give you baby steps for each and every day. This step is perhaps the most important phase of goal setting, for this is where you can set yourself up for success!

  • VISION. Begin with your overarching goal. Let’s say that “learn the guitar” is your vision.
  • GOALS. How will you accomplish your vision? (Notice that the following can all be checked off yes or no; they are quantifiable steps that are easy to measure!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
      • Master one song a month
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
  • ACTIONS. Now take each of your goals and break them down into smaller steps with set time frames to accomplish each by. (Yes, this takes time and organization. But this is truly what enables you to reach your goals!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
        • Research local music schools; find pricing options (by end of work week)
        • Call Dad’s friend and ask about his rates + availability (Wednesday @ 7 p.m.)
        • Find, clean and tune Dad’s guitar (before first lesson)
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
        • Nightly after dinner, 6:30-6:45 p.m.
      • Master one song a month (if we are just now redefining or re-dedicating ourselves to goals, start with April)
        • April: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (Key Signature G)
        • May: “With or Without You” (Key D)
        • June: “Brown Eyed Girl” (Key G)
        • July: “Silent Night” (Key G)
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
        • Practice basic key signatures monthly
        • Begin practicing “Silent Night” in July
        • Perform for a friend or small audience prior to family party in December
  • ACCOUNTABILITY. Who will you be accountable to? If you have a roommate, partner, sibling, parent, friend or coworker you are close to, consider telling him/her about your goal. Ask him/her to occasionally (or frequently–whatever will help you most) ask you about your progress. Often, knowing someone else knows about your goal helps motivate you to keep going when you are tired, busy, or discouraged. In fact, partner up–play guitar together or hit that yoga class with a friend!

Lastly, REGULARLY review your resolutions. Set a time to remind yourself of your goals. I have long preferred to do this early each Monday–after my morning rituals (like exercising, eating, and getting ready for the day) and before beginning my professional/scholastic duties. Having a set time to go over your goals makes them more prominent in your mind, schedule, and priorities, and helps you to achieve ultimately them. Plus, if you fall off the horse one week, you can reevaluate how to get back in the saddle. If you find your goals to be too easy or too demanding, you can adjust them as necessary. Having a regular check-in with yourself will keep you progressing.

Winston Churchill once said that success is being relentless. If you want to be successful, be relentless in your pursuit to achieve your goals and to become the best version of yourself. Only you know if you are exerting your best effort to reach those goal or not; are you happy with your progress? Is there room for improvement? If you are not on track to reach your goals right now, sit down, write your goals out, and divide each into quantifiable, actionable steps. I can assure you that this is one surefire way to both measure your success and achieve your dreams. And, as always, I am here to help however I can. Contact me or schedule a session today.

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

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Life After Trauma

A traumatic experience can leave a person feeling broken, angry, hateful, useless, and/or depressed. With time and the appropriate therapy, survivors of trauma can go on to feel strength, forgiveness, empathy, purpose and happiness. Recovery is possible, and lessons learned in the furnace of affliction can go on to be a great strength in a survivor’s life.

Last summer, I wrote a post about being a secondary survivor: those who are the family or loved ones of someone who suffers a traumatic experience. I wrote about how difficult it can be for secondary survivors to watch their loved one struggle and deal with the aftermath of the trauma. I wrote about ways that secondary survivors can help their loved ones as he/she works to overcome their trauma, and offered specific suggestions for things to say to those who have experienced trauma. This post is dedicated to the survivor; although you may feel bruised and broken from the storm you have endured, as you look ahead, you can find your rainbow.

Let’s first define trauma. Trauma is broadly defined as something that produces psychological injury or pain. A traumatic experience can include (but is not limited to) divorce, rape, kidnapping, abuse (physical or emotional), natural disasters, fires, accidents, illness, bereavement, war, etc. Common reactions to trauma include anxiety, trouble sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, OCD, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), strained relationships, and unpredictable behaviors. In short, the aftermath of a traumatic experience can affect a person’s very being–including his/her daily walk and talk.

Although it may not feel like it immediately after the event, there is life after trauma. In fact, a difficult event can often lead to growth! We see this modeled in nature–majestic rainbows appear after torrential rainfall; butterflies emerge from their cocoon only after the caterpillar disappears as if dead in the cocoon; and even after the coldest of winters, flora and fauna reemerge or blossom for springtime. There are positive outcomes to come out of the wake of trauma; allow me to enumerate a few:

  • Recognizing strength. One of my friends experienced a horrible car accident where not only was she physically injured, but her friend’s life was lost. My friend’s rehabilitation took time, but she summoned the strength to face each day, took the time for both physical and emotional therapy, and is flourishing today. Trauma can teach us about our strength–how much we can endure and withstand giving in. Not only that, but once that strength is found, it is difficult to refrain from applying said strength to other situations. Survivors of traumatic situations tend to use their enhanced resilience to bounce back from opposition better than their pre-trauma selves.
  • Extending forgiveness. It takes incredible courage to be able to forgive the person who rapes you, abuses you, or crashes into you. But holding on to anger, hate, and frustration cankers the soul; when we let go of being wronged, we release bitterness and resentment that is poison to us. It is liberating to forgive, and often the forgiver receives more benefits than the person who is forgiven!
  • Feeling empathy. Experiencing trauma firsthand connects us to so many others who have faced hardship. Until we experience trauma, it can be difficult to really understand what other people are going through, what they are thinking, or what they really need to heal. The connection and compassion a trauma survivor gains provides a further source of strength, as well as, the ability to strengthen, connect with, and comfort others.
  • Finding purpose. Many survivors find that living through a traumatic experience awakens a passion or a deep purpose within them. Elizabeth Smart–who was kidnapped at age 14 and survived nine months in captivity–has used her horrifying experiences to become advocate and published author, traveling around the world bringing awareness to others. Sometimes, the darkest moments of our lives can inspire us to serve others.
  • Enjoying life. One of my clients has survived two deployments to Afghanistan. Although he faces understandable bouts of PTSD, he has found such vigor for living, and gratitude for life. To be alive in a functioning body is an amazing thing. Sometimes traumatic experiences help us enjoy aspects of life we had previously taken for granted.

Trauma is hard, scary, overwhelming. Surviving trauma, however, can teach you things you never knew about yourself, can help you comfort those similarly struggling, can awaken purpose and gratitude for living, and so much more. You may walk away from your trauma a better, changed person. As Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Often, those changes can result in positive growth.  If you can wade through the storm your trauma puts you in, you will be able to look around after the storm passes to see how far you’ve come, see the beauty in your struggle, and see all the more clearly where you are going. You may even see that hopeful spectrum of light Issac Newton classified as a rainbow.

It takes time and work–sometimes both physical and emotional–to get to the other side of trauma. I am a qualified and experienced advocate; I can help you work through the effects of trauma. Please contact me today or schedule your first session and let me guide you as you write your story of life after trauma.

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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When the One You Love Most Hurts You

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistWhat happens when the person you would normally turn to is the one who betrayed your trust? You understandably feel deeply hurt, a great level of sudden distrust, and the desire to increase distance between you and this significant other. Partner trauma is real and it requires help in order to heal–both individually and in your relationship. If you or someone you know is experiencing partner trauma, help is available.

What exactly is partner trauma? Let’s begin by defining trauma. Trauma is the unique and personal experience of an event, a series of events or a set of enduring conditions that has the effect of overwhelming the person’s ability to integrate and regulate his or her experience at the levels of sensorimotor (body), cognition (thoughts), and emotion (feelings). In order for me to adequately explain the specifics of partner trauma, we need to take a step back and evaluate connection and our need for healthy, stable relationships.

At our core, we are all wired to connect with others; we begin as babies where we are entirely reliant on our caregivers. As we grow and gain independence, we look to others for comfort, guidance, support, and love. The children in Romanian orphanages, who are not given the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with caregivers and are deemed “unable to thrive” by healthcare professionals, are examples of how the lack of connection with others affects us greatly–physically, mentally, and physiologically.

We never outgrow our need for connection; adults need connection as much as small children do. As stated in my previous blog about connection, humans are wired for attachment! Answer the following questions about a significant relationship in your life:

  1. Will you be there for me when I need you the most?
  2. Can I count on you?
  3. Do I matter to you?
  4. Am I a priority in your life?
  5. Will you value me and accept me even with my imperfections?
  6. Will you stay close to me?

Answering yes to any of the above questions signals healthy attachment; whereas responding “no” to one or several could be indicative of relational trauma. When the person you once relied on, cared for, confided in, trusted and/or loved, no longer fills that role in your life, due to their actions, you are experiencing partner trauma.

Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces; your partner could be an addict, involved in an affair, or ignored your needs at a time you needed him or her the most, such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc. The common denominator, though, is that the stressor causes a traumatic attachment injury for one of the partners. The person you have leaned on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by. These feelings disrupt your relationship and your entire life. The person you have been the most vulnerable with may suddenly feel dangerous and unsafe. Relational trauma overwhelms the coping strategies you have in place and if not attended to, can appear to define you and how you see the world.

It is important to note that in the majority of cases, the person bringing the hurt into your life is not doing so intentionally; he or she is not trying to cause you emotional harm, although their actions have directly negatively impacted you. The deeper your relationship is with the one who hurts you, the more traumatic the experience and lack of trust will be. How you find out about the betrayal, how long it has been taking place without your knowledge, and your trauma history also factor into the symptoms you may experience. The following are some of the most common symptoms of trauma: fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, hypervigilance (excessive alertness or watchfulness), irritability, worrying/ruminating, intrusive thoughts of the trauma, tendency to isolate, difficulty concentrating or remembering, feelings of panic or being out of control, increased need to control daily experiences, difficulty trusting, feelings of betrayal, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, numbness, feelings of helplessness, minimizing the experience, feeling detached, concern of over-burdening others, under- or overeating, shame, shock, diminished interest in everyday activities, withdrawal, and preoccupation with body image.

Although relational trauma is not as visible as physical trauma–like being a victim of rape, bullying, or domestic violence–it leaves scars that take a great deal of time to heal. Relational trauma causes a ripple effect in all aspects of your life and influences how you see and treat people, yourself included. It is important to resolve relational trauma and work through it (both with your partner and also on an individual-basis) alongside a trained, experienced therapist. I have counseled many couples through varying degrees of relational betrayal and, while it is never easy, I can attest that couples that come out on the other side have some of the strongest marriages that I have seen. Everyone makes mistakes and we all need second chances. Healing is possible. Please contact me today to schedule your first appointment.

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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