Self-Compassion: A Neglected Form of Self-Care

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? We may notice our frizzy hair, crooked teeth, short eyelashes, thin lips, uneven eyebrows or a plethora of other things. Yet when others look at us, they are more prone to see what we overlook–that we are friendly, optimistic, outgoing, hard working, strong, resilient, creative, kind, sensitive, thoughtful… Why are we so much harder on ourselves than we are on others?!

I recently opened a “Marriage Minute” email from the Gottman Institute and read about self-love. This is something that has been on my mind over the last several weeks, and I thought it would be helpful to dedicate a post to a powerful form of self-care that we often overlook: Self-compassion.

Compassion itself is defined as the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” In order to have compassion, we must first notice that someone is suffering, and then we feel moved by their suffering so that our hearts respond to their pain. When we extend compassion, we feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means we offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Compassion is the realization that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Even though we all need it, self-compassion is so much easier to show someone else than it is to show ourselves! The time has come to focus on extending this kind of compassion to others as well as ourselves.

Practicing compassion towards ourselves is really no different from having compassion for someone else. Self-compassion is…

  • Acting the same way towards ourselves as we do others when we are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something we do not like about ourselves.
  • Being gentle with ourselves when confronted with painful experiences.
  • Cutting ourselves some slack instead of ignoring pain or judging ourselves harshly.
  • Being kind and understanding when confronted with imperfections.
  • Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating (punishing) ourselves with self-criticism.
  • Recognizing that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable.

To be clear, self-compassion is NOT self-pity (being immersed in our own problems), self-indulgence (unrestrained gratification of our desires), or self-esteem (our perceived sense of worth or value).  

Ultimately, self-compassion is an ongoing process of honoring and accepting our humanness, and recognizing that things will not always go our way. It is knowing that we will inevitably encounter frustrations, make mistakes, and fall short of our ideals. This is the human condition–a reality shared by all of us! The more we open our hearts to this fact–instead of constantly fighting against it–the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves and all our fellow humans in the experience of life.

Here is my challenge to you: The next time you are tempted to put yourself down, practice self-compassion instead. Recognize that you are doing your best, and that your effort is what counts. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate your progress. Be kind to yourself. I can assure you that implementing more compassion (towards yourself) into your life will have a powerful and positive effect on how you view yourself, others, and the world. Should you find that you need help working through self-deprecation, please do not hesitate to contact me today. I am always accepting new clients!

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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“Bookending” Your Day With Morning and Evening Routines

We are all aware of using either morning or nightly routines to be productive and either jumpstart our morning or end the day on a positive note. But how many of us use both morning and nightly routines with the intent of reaching our goals? In September, I wrote in detail about nightly routines, and in November I wrote about morning routines. In this post I want to combine the elements from these posts to demonstrate the powerful concept of “bookending” your days with morning and nightly routines in order to reach your goals. It’s almost 2019–it is the perfect time to start being intentional with your routines!

Let’s start by talking about the bigger picture. Many of us have goals or resolutions that give us a trajectory in a given direction–towards what we want to accomplish or who we want to become. In my opinion, goals play a necessary role in our growth; without them we will almost certainly fall short of our potential. On that same vein, just because we have goals written out does not mean we are sure to reach them. We need to be actively aware of what we are striving towards; that requires dedication and focus in order to reach them.  How many of us are giving our goals the attention they deserve?

Bookends are a support used to keep a row of books upright; without them, the books lean one direction or another, or fall down completely. Consider this analogy: Your day is like the row of books on a shelf, and the bookends, or supports, are the morning and evening routines.  A successful person’s morning and evening routines are the “bookends” of a productive life. How so? Because what they include in their routines ensures the really important things get done each day. While we may be unable to control what goes on in the middle of a day, we usually can control how we begin and end the day. We can take advantage of this fact by incorporating our most important tasks, actions, goals and/or behaviors into our morning and evening routines.

For example, many businessmen refuse to check email first thing in the morning–for fear of getting prematurely sucked into work. Instead, their morning routine consists of waking up, getting dressed, and dedicating an hour or so to working on important tasks or working towards a higher goal before going into the office. This may include reading, meditating, exercising, meal preparation, etc. These people are ensuring they accomplish what they want to before the chaos and interruptions of the workday get in the way.

For me, if I fail to exercise first thing in the morning, it is very unlikely I will be able to find time to exercise later in the day. So, daily exercise is part of my morning routine. Similarly, being a better journal writer is another important goal for me. If I do not set aside a specific time for journaling, it simply will not happen. Thus, I have incorporated journal writing into my evening routine (which also serves as a great way for me to unwind before bed!).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make or review goals, life plan, bucket list or resolutions
  2. Incorporate elements from step one into morning and evening routines
  3. Adjust routines as life happens (this will become even more vital when you have kids, not the other way around!)

Sounds simple enough, right? Here is a real life example: At the end of 2017, my friend made a goal to participate in a race during 2018 (step one). That goal could have remained written down for her to occasionally glance at, and she may or may not have reached it. But she decided to use her daily routines to reach her bigger goal. Each morning she would review her goals as a reminder for what she was working towards. She broke down her goal to run a race into achievable increments which she then incorporated into her morning routine of exercise (step two). Then, each night, she would make plans for the following day’s exercise goals, and so on and so forth until she was able to run, bike, and swim the assigned distances for her race. She successfully “bookended” her days to reach a goal by incorporating it into her morning and evening routines. She said it was exhilarating to accomplish something so seemingly unreachable through consistent baby steps! This is possible with any goal–whether it be increasing your physical flexibility, mastering a language, learning a new hobby, or traveling to somewhere on your bucket list. No matter the goal, you can reach it as you use routines to bookend your progress.

How can we possibly expect to reach our goals or cross things off our bucket lists if we are not actively working towards them? The concept of bookending our days with morning and nightly routines ensures that we will be consistently focused on our goals on a daily basis.  None of us want to look back and see that we failed to reach our full potential or have missed out on valuable experiences. Make your dreams a reality in 2019 by bookending your days with effective morning and nightly routines. By being intentional with your routines, you will make more progress than ever. And, as always, should you feel you need the help of an experienced therapist to become the person you want to be, schedule a session today. My door is always open–especially for those looking to make 2019 a fabulous 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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Life is Hard–Choose Joy

Life is Hard - Choose Joy - Cluff Counseling - Denton Therapist“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Life is hard. We all have bills to pay, relationships to strengthen, jobs to keep, and hardships to overcome. These things are constant. Similarly, the choice of how we will respond to those difficulties is always there. Will we choose to be frustrated, angry, sad, or apathetic? Or will we choose to be happy, cheerful, and strong, ready to face whatever life throws at us?

That choice is ours. We have to choose how we will respond to the rigors of life each and every day. Something I have been focusing on this year–and will continue to focus on in 2019–is being more joyful. Despite whatever circumstances you or I may find ourselves, we can each choose to seek joy. It truly is a choice! And that is a choice we can each make starting today.

But how can we do that? How can we rise above the stresses of life and the contentious times in which we live? Here are some simple actions that will help us in our endeavor to choose to be joyful

  1. Acknowledge worthiness. We each deserve to feel joy. No matter what imperfections we have, we are all worthy of joy and happiness. I firmly believe that life is meant to be enjoyed and that we are meant to be joyful creatures. Acknowledging that we deserve joy is the first step to letting it in.
  2. Stop comparing. Theodore Roosevelt was spot on when he said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The moment we stop comparing our efforts with those of another is precisely when we will be more content with ourselves. If we want to feel joy on a more consistent basis, we need to stop using others as our measuring stick. We must do our best and follow our dreams.
  3. Practice gratitude. This is one of my favorites. Practicing gratitude is so simple, easy, and accessible, but is also an incredibly powerful way to welcome joy into our lives. Whether we do so by writing what we are grateful for in a gratitude journal, a thank you card to someone who has made a difference in our lives, or by verbally expressing thankfulness, practicing gratitude is akin to seeking joy. There is a direct correlation between the two.
  4. Put a positive spin on your negative thoughts. Instead of “Ugh, I hate my job,” try to re-frame it into, “I’m grateful that I have a job so I can pay my bills.” Responsibilities that seem drab or inconvenient will suddenly be seen as a blessing or a conduit for happiness.
  5. Slow down and be present. This one is so important but simultaneously so easy to overlook. We often think that we will be happier with more–more money, more things to have, more things to do…that sometimes we get in the way of our own joy by overfilling and over-complicating our lives. In so doing we miss what is right in front of us. So slow down. Put the phone down. Be present. Find joy and happiness in what we currently have.
  6. Do what we love. Going along with number five, we need to do what we love. We each have twenty-four hours in a day, so we must be cautious and decisive with how we use it. Meditate. Focus on self-care. Practice a hobby. Paint, dance, cook, read, write, play basketball…whatever it may be, we need to do what we love. When we fill our lives with things and people we love, we are sure to feel joy.
  7. Connect with loved ones. Just as we sometimes fail to make time for the extracurricular activities we love, we similarly prolong or deny ourselves the blessing of being with those we love. Joy is much more likely to be found in a stimulating conversation with a friend or a family member than at the gym or the office. Meaningful relationships bring joy. In like manner, we experience joy when those we surround ourselves with inspire us to be better. When we connect with people who lift, inspire, and bring out the best in us, we cultivate joy.

Joy is not some fictitious feeling in fairy tales or something we can only feel a few times in our lives. No, joy is something we can find and feel each and every day. Joy is a state of mind, it is being content with where we are and with whom we associate. Joy can be constant; it is something we can feel whenever we choose to let it in.  Should you find that it is particularly difficult to feel even fleeting joy or happiness, please contact me today. It is estimated that 16.2 American adults experience some form of depression, and I am here to help decrease that statistic. My greatest goal as a therapist is to help each of my clients find the happiness they seek and deserve. My door is always open; click here to schedule a session.  Let’s welcome joy into our lives today and every day.

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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Keeping the Peace This Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

Set boundaries.  This one has several parts:

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

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

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

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

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays!

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

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Getting Up With the Sun: Morning Routines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love Languages: The Gift of Words

The words you say can lift, comfort, inspire, motivate, and remind others how special they are. Words of affirmation carry a weight and a distinctive power that can change everything. For those whose primary love language is words of affirmation, hearing why they are loved sends them straight to heaven. Read on to learn about how you can improve your relationship today by applying the love language of words of affirmation.

Just before Valentine’s Day last month, I posted an overview on the 5 Love Languages. I shared that the way to give the perfect gift is to tailor your actions to how your partner receives love.  Love languages are powerful; by understanding our partners’ inherent love language, we can start to tear down walls that come up in our romantic lives.There are five ways that people speak and understand emotional love–through words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch. In this post, I want to focus on a love language that costs zero dollars and that you can do anywhere–that is expressing love through words of affirmation.

Words of Affirmation:  The love language that uses words to affirm others.

In short, practicing the love language of words of affirmation means we express affection through spoken words, praise, or appreciation. This love language comes easily during the dating and courtship stages of relationships, but it tends to grow harder for the more seasoned couples. Whether you realize it or not, you have an arsenal of compliments just waiting to be given to your significant other. Even when you are fighting or angry with each other, there are positive things you can say about him/her (even if it is, “He is a very passionate person,” or, “She is great at voicing her opinions”). We can use our words to build up, validate, compliment, or express love and/or appreciation for our partners. For some, words of affirmation is their primary love language. They do not need lavish gifts or fancy surprises…they need your words. They need you to tell them why you love them, why you chose (and continue to choose) to be with them. They need to hear their strengths. They need to know what makes them special. And, just like you, they need to be expressed love in their preferred love language regularly.

You may think that writing a long love note everyday is too much and fear that you would quickly run out of words to write. Think outside of the box. While I firmly believe that a meaningful, heartfelt card is appropriate for special occasions, there are feasible alternatives for every other day of the year. Try leaving a sticky note on the garage door on your way out, write a lipstick message on the bathroom mirror, leave a note in his pocket or briefcase before work, call your partner during the day just to express love, send an email or a quick text, or simply look at your partner and express love.

As we have established, words have a powerful effect on those with the primary love language of words of affirmation. That power can be both positive or negative. Heartfelt love and appreciation can cause them to feel incredibly satisfied and content; conversely, rudeness, insults, and even a brusque tone deeply injure those whose love language is words of affirmation. That is why understanding and using this love language in a way that resonates with your partner will make a world of difference.

So how can you use this love language? Make your conversations meaningful. I do not mean that all of your conversations need to be deep or introspective (though there is a place for that). Treat your partner’s words like they matter–because they do! Stop what you are doing. Listen. Ask questions. Validate. Seek clarification. Express appreciation and encouragement. Apologize. Do not withhold compliments. Strive for present, meaningful conversation, and you will communicate that you love and deeply care for your partner.

Here are some prompts to get you thinking about how easily you can incorporate words of affirmation into your daily walk and talk:

Examples of words of appreciation:

  • I appreciate that you . . .
  • I couldn’t ___ today if it weren’t for you . . .
  • I am thankful that you . . .
  • I’m glad to have you as my (mom, sister, friend, etc.) because . . .

Examples of words of encouragement:

  • I believe in you because . . .
  • It impressed me when you . . .
  • The good news is . . .
  • When you need something to lift your spirits, just remember that . . .

Examples of words of empathy:

  • It must be really tough that you . . .
  • I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you to . . .
  • That sounds . . . Is that right?
  • I could see how you would feel that way because . .

Examples of words of respect:

  • Great job . . .
  • I’m so thankful to have you in my life because . . .
  • I wish I could ___ the way you do.
  • It makes me happy when you . . .
  • I’m proud of you for . . .

Every relationship has areas that work well and areas that could use improvement. Feeling more loved and appreciated is something all of us would like! If you do not know his/her (or your own) love language, I highly recommend taking the quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. Understanding love languages will enable you to directly and efficiently communicate how much you care about your significant other. If your partner receives love through words of affirmation, do not be overwhelmed. Remember, you do not need anything special to say more affirming words today. By simply tweaking what you say (and how you say it), you can drastically alter your relationship for the better. As always, should you need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, my office door is always open!

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

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The Positive Influence of Affirmations

 

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” The way you talk to yourself can determine how you live. Incorporating positive affirmations into your daily walk and talk can profoundly influence the course of your life!

Do you realize how much you talk to yourself? You may be driving alone in your car, thinking about an interaction with a friend, and think, “I was stupid to say that”; or maybe you are looking in the mirror before a date and say, “I wish I felt more attractive.” Affirmations are sentences aimed to affect the conscious and the subconscious mind.  Every word we say to ourselves is an affirmation–the sad truth is that the majority of things we say to ourselves is negative. We focus on what we cannot do, what we are not, and what we do not look like. It is incredibly easy to get down on ourselves and practice negative self-talk. After all, we are our worst critics!

How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Can you imagine saying half of the things you say to the mirror to your child or your partner? Never! How we perceive and talk about ourselves and our situations set the precedent for how we live and interact with others. Not only that, a study was done in 2010 at the University of Arizona where researchers found that the power of positive thinking could beat depressive thoughts. By saying positive affirmations, subjects were able to change their thought processes, and some even reported that affirmations were the most influential part of their recovery process! Practicing positive affirmations can help us consciously flip the switch to start being the person we want to become.

Now let’s talk about how we can use our inner dialogue to build–rather than tear down–our self esteem. A positive affirmation is a brief statement, worded in the positive, said with confidence that can help you make significant changes in your life.  Okay so what do you do with these thoughts? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Consider your positive traits or abilities. Like I previously mentioned, we are our worst critics. We are so hard on ourselves; we only see where we lack, what we cannot do, how not skinny or smart we are, etc (especially in this day and age of social media, our negative comparisons are endless!). But you are unlike anyone else; there is only one you in the world. What are you good at? What makes you special? Write a little list of these qualities and make them into “I am…” or “I can”  statements. Examples: I am strong; I can learn new things; I am determined, I am hard-working; I am relentless; I am connected and comfortable in all environments, with all people; I find and enjoy the simple pleasures life is offering right now;
  2. Replace negative self-talk with your personalized affirmations. The moment you start paying attention to your inner-dialogue, you will notice how down on yourself you are. Make a sincere effort to cut out negativity towards yourself and instead build yourself up. Next time you are feeling discouraged thinking, “I will never be able to do that..” or, “I will never be good enough…”, instead say one of your positive affirmations. Examples: My challenges bring opportunities; I love myself and who I am; I love myself unconditionally; I allow only healthy and loving relationships into my life; How I feel matters, therefore I concentrate on aspects of life that make me feel good!; My mood creates a physiological response in my body. I am peaceful and positive!; I am in control of my thoughts and my life.
  3. Rewrite and repeat your affirmations daily. Watch this YouTube video of a father practicing affirmations with his daughter before she goes to school. This is a great example of how to start your day; look yourself in the mirror and build yourself up! Imagine the power that would come to you if you began every day this way! Whether you practice affirmations at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, or all throughout the day, be consistent. You might even consider writing your affirmations down on notecards or post-its scattered throughout your living and working spaces. Seeing these positive statements will only help reinforce and solidify them in your mind.

These three steps are simple: Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. As you begin to think about specific thoughts about your, over and over again, those thoughts will become beliefs and reality. Instead of limiting yourself with demeaning thought processes, make changes today that will enable you to reach your full potential. As you build yourself up, you will see that the small steps of adding positive affirmations into your life will influence you for the better. You will be a happier person, more comfortable in your own skin, and you will see that life is full of opportunities you can handle. After all, that’s the truth!

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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Fork Your Way Into a Healthy 2018!

Healthy Eating Self Care - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistDid you know that around 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight? This scary statistic includes 30% of boys and girls under age 20! By understanding what specifically our bodies really need, we can aim to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle–both physically and mentally.

Many of my clients have goals for 2018 that include improving their physical appearance by focusing on a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, and boosting their stress management. While I am not a licensed health coach, this is pertinent information to me because physical health is closely tied to mental health. I, like you, am also working on bettering my diet and exercise regime in 2018. I follow several fitness accounts on Instagram for inspiration; just tonight, @soheefit shared her secret that slimmed her waist…There is no secret! The way we will see results is by eating well, exercising often, and regulating sleep and stress. We often fall prey to the latest trick or the newest laser therapy or the groundbreaking diet we hear about from friends or on social media, but, at the end of the day, those methods are not healthy or sustainable. We need to make lasting changes to our nutrition and exercising habits in order to see results. This is not news to you!

Have you ever felt discouraged or depressed, and gone for a walk or a hike? If so, it is likely you noticed that your emotional state improved as you got fresh air and let your heart rate increase a little bit. Our physical health directly affects our mental health. When we take care of our bodies, they take care of us. What specifically are you going to do in 2018 to take care of yourself (both physical and mental)? Exactly which “healthy habits” do you need to work on developing? As I mentioned previously, the three main things that influence our overall weight gain are: Diet/nutrition, exercise, and sleep/stress management. For the purpose of this blog, I want to focus on the first: diet and nutrition. Brian Regan, a comedian, has a skit where he mocks the food pyramid, saying nobody knows what on earth “legumes” are, and he pokes fun of the serving sizes saying no one actually keeps track of or ingests 6-11 servings of grains.

First, let’s clear the air about the “d” word…DIET. It is a dreaded word for many of us–especially those who have tried the South Beach Diet, a low-carb diet, SlimFast, Whole30, Jenny Craig, or any of the other millions of diet plans available nowadays. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that dieting typically does not work. Abstaining from eating major food groups is unhealthy, weight lost from pendulum dieting often comes back full-force, and then you feel overweight and discouraged. My recommendation is to fill your plate and your body with healthy options, while still enjoying what you are ingesting. Food is meant to be enjoyed! Take a moment to consider what you are eating and if it is what your body really needs.

In 2011, 19 years of food pyramid illustrations and teachings were laid to rest with an updated nutrition guide called MyPlate (see graphic below). MyPlate depicts a place setting with the recommended serving sizes for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy, to help us visualize exactly how much of which foods our body needs. The following are specific ideas for each food group, to help you get creative with what goes on your fork:

Choose My Plate - Cluff Counseling, Denton Therapy

 

  1. FRUITS: Adults ages 18-30 should eat around 2 cups of fruit a day. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, juiced, or pureed. (Click here to see a comprehensive list of the fruit options).
  2. VEGETABLES: Adults ages 19-50 should be eating between 2½ -3 cups of raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried/dehydrated, whole, cut-up, or mashed vegetables each day. Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.  (Click here to see a comprehensive list of all the vegetables you never even knew existed).
  3. PROTEINS: I think protein is the hardest to come up with ideas for (“um…protein powder?”). All lean cut and deli meats are protein, as well as beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, nuts, and seafood.  (Click on this link for the complete list of protein options as recommended by the USDA). Having an adequate amount of protein in your diet can often curb cravings and keep you full longer, which makes a world of difference in forming healthy habits!
  4. GRAINS: All bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. There are two types of grains: Whole Grains and Refined Grains–we want more Whole Grains than Refined Grains. Whole Grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm, while Refined Grains have been refined to have the bran and germ removed. Aim for eating whole wheat bread/rolls/tortillas, quinoa, oats, and brown rice (click here for the full list of grains). Little changes to the base of your diet and nutrition–your grains–will make a huge difference!
  5. DAIRY: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk-based desserts (ice cream, frozen yogurt, smoothies, sherbert) are some of the common foods that make up this food group. (Please click on this link for a thorough list of all possible dairy foods!) Men and women ages 19-50 need three cups of dairy each day–be sure to choose low-fat or fat-free options for the Dairy Group!

We live in a culture that often convinces us certain foods are either good or bad (which is a key component in eating disorders!) and that we are either a good or bad person based on what we eat. Carbs are not bad. Meat is not bad. Milk is not bad. Our bodies need the vitamins and nutrients available in each of the food groups, and–as we eat from each food group in moderation–we will find our way to a healthier lifestyle. Eating a well-rounded diet will affect the overall health of your internal organs, your cholesterol, energy level, self-esteem, skin health, relationships…basically your entire life. You know what they say, “Fuel well, feel well!”

Maybe you have a New Year’s Resolution pertaining to your physical appearance this year. The goal should not be getting thin, but getting healthy. Get healthy eating better in 2018. Start today by improving what is on your plate. Make it well-rounded, make it low-fat, make it healthy, make it fun! Eating healthy does not have to be a drag. You can do it! The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. If you need support to explore your relationship with food, contact me today and allow me to coach you through the process.

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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Eating Disorders 101

Eating Disorders - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistUp to 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Understanding this epidemic is the first step to getting help–either for yourself or for someone you care about.

Everywhere we look we see ads, movies, tv shows, billboards, and models all flaunting perfect bodies: skinny legs, impressive thigh gaps, flat tummies, chiseled abs, massive biceps. With social media at our fingertips, it is easy to compare our body to what we see in the media. Other times, social comparisons are not at the root of an eating disorder–it may be that you are watching you parents go through a divorce, or you did not make the cut onto the Varsity team, so you look for an outlet to feel some sort of control over your life. When controlling your food intake becomes extreme or obsessive, it is called an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are very serious; many young women and men die each year from complications associated with their disorder. Both genders can develop an eating disorder, although rates among women are higher than among men. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life.

Eating disorders are psychological conditions with both physical and emotional symptoms. The three most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (voluntary starvation), bulimia nervosa (binge-eating followed by purging), and binge-eating disorder (binge-eating without purging). Today, we will take a deeper look at each of these three types of eating disorders and discuss how to overcome them.

Anorexia nervosa
Those with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. People with anorexia nervosa weigh themselves repeatedly, severely restrict the amount of food they eat, and eat tiny quantities of a small variety of foods.  They relentlessly pursue thinness–it consumes their life. Common symptoms seen in those with anorexia is an intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, low self-esteem (one that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape), and a denial of the seriousness of his/her low body weight. The long-term effects of anorexia include but are not limited to infertility, thinning of the bones, anemia, muscle weakness, brittle hair and nails, severe constipation, low blood pressure, damage to the heart, brain damage, and multiorgan failure.

Bulimia nervosa
The next eating disorder I would like to discuss is bulimia. This is where the individual eats excessively large amounts of food and then purges by vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors. Unlike anorexia nervosa, those with bulimia nervosa usually maintain a healthy or relatively normal weight. Their binging and purging behavior gives them a feeling of control. Some of the negative symptoms include an inflamed sore throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel (plus increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth as a result of exposure to stomach acid), acid reflux disorder, gastrointestinal problems, intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse, dehydration from purging of fluids, and electrolyte imbalance (which can lead to stroke or heart attack).

Binge-eating disorder
Like the other types of eating disorders, binge-eating disorder involves a person completely losing control over his/her food intake. Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. Thus, those with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Symptoms include eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, eating even when he/she is full or not hungry, eating fast, eating until he/she is uncomfortably full, and eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment.

An eating disorder is considered a process addiction, meaning the person is dependent upon a behavior– instead of a substance– for power, control, or satisfaction. I have worked with many patients who struggle with various types of addiction, and I know that recovery is possible. When a mental illness (such as depression or anxiety) is present along with the eating disorder, medication may be needed. Lasting recovery for eating disorders may also include regularly working with a dietician in order to establish and maintain a personalized, healthy goal for caloric intake. These actions, coupled with regular counseling from a qualified therapist, will address the physical and emotional factors of the eating disorder, and can lead to a full recovery.

The earlier an eating disorder is detected and the sooner help is sought, the greater the chance for a full recovery. If you or someone you care about struggles with an eating disorder, now is the time to make a change. Health, happiness, and recovery is possible, and I am here to help. Please contact me today or click here to set up your first 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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