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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone is doing their best. Everyone is living their lives the best they know how. And when you believe that, you see the good in others, in the world, and in yourself. There is so much good in the world! So next time you are tempted to think something negative about someone, practice giving the benefit of the doubt. Assume he or she is trying his/her best and you will be surprised how positively (and immediately!) it will affect your life. As always, should you have questions or be interested in scheduling a session, please do not hesitate to contact me today.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

“You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.” ~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Whenever you think of Valentine’s Day, you likely think about a fancy dinner and a bouquet of red roses. While that is one way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, there are so many others. A simple Google search for, “Unique ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day” will bring up a myriad of articles with fun (and even free!) ideas for you. I looked through several of these articles and saw suggestions like, “Have a bonfire!” or, “Go ice skating!” There are infinite ways to celebrate your relationship this Valentine’s Day, you really cannot go wrong! Because many may be single or may have recently lost a loved one this year, I encourage you to think about the holiday differently this year.

Make a paradigm shift away from roses and overpriced Italian food. If Valentine’s Day really is about spreading love, that applies to anyone you may feel love towards or appreciation for–a significant other, a parent, a child, a friend, a neighbor, etc. Instead of celebrating love or a romantic relationship, focus on celebrating someone important in your life. Treat it almost like his/her birthday. Consider–and then tell him/her!–what you admire, appreciate, and love about him/her. Think about his/her strengths, admirable qualities, and how he/she inspires you. Here are some prompts to get you going:

  1. Qualities you admire in him/her:
  2. Important lessons he/she has taught you:
  3. Favorite memory with him/her:
  4. Why or how you were initially drawn to him/her:
  5. A time he/she made you laugh memorably hard:
  6. His/her celebrity doppelganger:
  7. How he/she has helped you in your life:
  8. Where you would be without him/her:
  9. Something fun/exciting you will do in the future together (bucket list item?):

Those ten prompts are sure to give you ideas for how to celebrate that important person in your life. Doing this is step one.

Step two is then to tell him or her! This can be done in so many different ways; I recommend you try to deliver your compliments in a way that your partner is most likely to accept and appreciate. You can simply tell him/her face to face over dinner. You can write an epistle that can be read and reread. You can record a movie, write a poem, arrange a message in your letterboard, write it in chalk on their driveway, include it in a note with a simple gift…there is no right or wrong way. The key is to be direct and sincere in telling him/her what specifically you appreciate in him/her. Regardless of whether you are communicating your love and appreciation towards another adult or a child, everyone receives commendation well. This simple act can go such a long way! Children, especially, thrive on receiving positive affirmations and sincere praise.

Admiring strengths is one way that we can bring out the best in each other and grow together. When you are aware of someone else’s strengths, and communicate your appreciation, you help that person reach his/her full potential. Not only does research prove this, but I have seen it in countless clients! Seeing the good in others not only fosters feelings of love and appreciation, but it also begins a perpetuating cycle of looking for (and seeing!) the good in each other. And that is a wonderful place to be.

If you are feeling stressed by the thought of the impending Valentines Day, take heart. This is a free and easy but meaningful idea that you can implement this V-Day, 2019. Instead of celebrating love or a relationship in a cliché or expensive way, celebrate admirable qualities in someone important to you. This idea may be especially useful for anyone who has an important relationship that has undergone trauma, and who may be feeling unsure whether that bond is even worth celebrating. Regardless of your relationship status, we could all use a little more appreciation. This simple suggestion might be just what the (love) doctor ordered! Should you have questions or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me. My door is always open!

Wishing you and yours a lovely Valentine’s 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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Love Languages: Showing Love Through the gift of Service

Love Languages Through Service - Cluff Counseling - Carrollton TherapistThe old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ is most certainly true–especially for those whose primary love language is Acts of Service. This Love Language requires you to show your partner you love him/her through meaningful service. Read on for specific ideas you can incorporate into your relationship today!

For the first six months of 2018 I have chosen to focus on love languages. Last month I posted about Words of Affirmation and how–by simply tweaking what you say and how you say it–you can communicate how much you love and appreciate your partner. For April I have chosen to focus on Acts of Service as a follow-up to our last month’s love language. Acts of Service is a lot like what we focused on in February–the love language of gifts. The biggest difference between gift giving and serving is that Acts of Service is generally an action instead of something tangible. Through Acts of Service you can express deep love to your partner.

Showing love through Acts of Service is essentially doing something for someone that they would like. Those who receive love through acts of service will really appreciate your unsolicited kind actions–you cooking a meal, washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, changing the baby’s diaper, painting the bedroom, etc. All of these actions require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they can be meaningful expressions of love.

Dr. Gary Chapman tells a story about a couple he worked with who had been married for 15 years, Maxine and David. In one of their sessions, Maxine told Dr. Chapman that she was frustrated with her marriage because her husband always said he loves her, but he never showed her he loved her. He quoted her saying, “If David loved me, he would do something to show me.” Although David was telling Maxine he loved her, her love language was Acts of Service and not Words of Affirmation. Dr. Chapman taught David about the love languages (particularly Acts of Service), and sent them on their way. A month later, Maxine said their marriage was better than ever!

There truly is power in understanding how your partner receives love. If you are an Acts of Service person, give your partner guidance about ways you receive love through acts of service. Tell him or her, “It would really mean a lot to me if sometimes you would empty the dishwasher or change the baby’s diaper without me asking…” Offer general suggestions but do not make demands. Remember this: The mind frame of, “If you loved me, you would do ____ for me” (something specific) is manipulation. Be sure your suggestions are pure and unassuming. True acts of service are to be given voluntarily–that is part of what makes them so meaningful!

It can be tricky thinking of ways you can serve your significant other. Although I firmly believe that specific actions will vary from person to person, I would like to share some general ideas that most humans would appreciate as an Act of Service:

Examples of Acts of Service:

  • Take the car and wash / vacuum it thoroughly
  • Help with the dishes / laundry / yard work / chores / homework / cleaning / yard work / lawn mowing / dog-poop clean up / grocery shopping / meal planning
  • Prepare a special meal (particularly meaningful if you are not the one to normally cook)
  • Wash the dishes
  • Create a coupon/IOU book filled with acts of service you will do
  • Take the trash out
  • Iron the shirt that has been crumpled in a heap next to the iron for months
  • Offer a back scratch / foot rub / massage
  • Stock up on his/her favorite treats
  • Do the stuff he/she hates! Like killing spiders, filling the car up with gas, weeding, or scrubbing the shower

The Acts of Service Love Language is a lot like going the extra mile. You know the things your partner may not love doing (like folding laundry for instance) or might only rarely indulge in (like a backrub or a special meal). One of my good friends hates stopping to get gas with a car full of children; any time her husband notices that the car is low on gas, he will just take care of it. And it means the world to her! Small and simple actions like these are the things you can do for your partner that will speak volumes. That old adage of ‘actions speaking louder than words’ is certainly true for those whose love language is acts of service !

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 your partner’s (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 is learning to communicate in your love language, offer gentle guidance and point out progress. If you are trying to speak your partner’s love language, be patient–it takes time to learn how to speak a new language. Learning to express love through acts of service can be fun because there are so many different ways to go about doing so…get creative! Pay attention to things your partner says he/she likes or would like, and deliver! Small actions can deliver a powerful message for those whose love language is Acts of Service. Should you ever need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, you know 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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