I’m Not Crazy! Overcoming the Stigma Around Therapy

“In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” ~ Johnny Carson

Therapist Help

Imagine the following scenario: You go running and roll your ankle. You hear a pop and are in great pain. It turns black and blue and swells quickly. You are concerned it is broken or seriously torn, but you fear going to the doctor for help. What will your neighbors say? Will they gossip about how weak you are for not just “getting through it” or figuring it out on your own? You decide to avoid the doctor, take some Tylenol, hobble around like nothing is wrong, and hope it will just go away on its own.

This example might seem foolish to you…why would you not go to the doctor?! It may seem downright silly to not get help when help is needed!  Likewise, when a person encounters trauma, addiction, abuse, or mental illness, it is of legitimate concern and often necessitates professional help like therapy. In the exact same way a broken or sprained ankle often requires the attention of a doctor, many mental health issues require professional help. And there is nothing wrong with that! 

Recently I had a client look me in the face and say, “I don’t belong here.” She felt she should not be in my office sitting on my couch getting help from a licensed therapist because she was not crazy. She had a fulfilling career, many dear friends, and owned lots of expensive things. She did not believe she fit the image, she had in her head, of someone who needed therapy. In short, she thought therapy was for people that outwardly looked like they did not have their life together and she was not one of them. It hurts my heart to hear the shame she, and other clients have felt for being brave and seeking help. 

When studying roadblocks to receiving therapy, Patrick Corrigan and Andrea Bink (2016) had participants report fear of being stigmatized was the leading factor for avoiding treatment. Participants feared they would be treated differently by their friends and coworkers, that they would encounter rejection or discrimination as a result of seeking out mental health treatment.  Most participants would hide their psychiatric status from coworkers, friends, and even family to avoid being the victim of stigma. Thankfully, in recent years–due in large part to social media attention around the stigma around mental health and therapy–it has become much more socially acceptable to receive mental health care. It is not uncommon to hear about celebrities and prominent figures seeing a therapist; many of them highly recommend it for every- and anyone! I applaud these men and women for using their influence to break the mold and speak up on the many benefits of therapy!

The latest statistics show that the amount of people seeking and receiving mental health support is increasing! In 2018, 47.6 million U.S. adults experienced mental illness…that is 1 in 5 adults! Thankfully, 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 and 64.1% of U.S. adults with a serious mental illness received treatment in the same year. 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016. Millions of Americans experience mental health challenges each year and millions are receiving help by medical and mental health professionals!

Going to therapy does not mean you are crazy. It means you are smart. Would you sit at home, alone, and let your broken ankle “do its thing” without getting help? No. You would make the proper appointments and follow the advice of the professionals so you could soon be running again. My hope, my plea, my job is to help my clients find lasting healing.  The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Eleven years people will struggle with an emotional “broken ankle” before getting help. Ouch! You do not need to suffer any longer. Make the call–get in to see a therapist today.

I felt sad for the client of mine, and any others who share her sentiments. Just because you receive mental health attention does not mean you are crazy. Just the other day a client, who begrudgingly started therapy at the insistence of their spouse, recently told their new employer that they thought everyone should go to therapy, after they experienced the personal benefits of therapy. While I acknowledge you may believe that going to therapy means you are weak, crazy, limited, hopeless, etc–these stigmatic ideas could not be farther from the truth. I know my clients: THEY ARE BRAVE. They are good people who see their worth. My clients–and those who seek help in other ways–are my heroes and I will always and forever shout that from the rooftops! We need to do away with any and all stigmas that therapy is just for broken, crazy people. It could not be farther from the truth! 

If you have been letting your emotional broken ankle heal on its own because you have felt you do not “belong” in therapy, the time to act is now. Allow a licensed, qualified, experienced therapist, to help you. Emotional health, healing and happiness are possible. Contact me today!

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

References:

Q&A: Why Did I Become A Therapist?

“We all have worth; sometimes we just need to be reminded of our worth!” -Melissa Cluff 


Many of us evaluate the previous year to decide what we want to continue to do in the new year and what we want to do differently. One of the new things I want to do is spend time answering some of the  common questions that clients and potential clients ask me. I thought I would start by answering one of my most frequently asked questions–one that is a little more personal: Why did I become a therapist?

First, let me introduce myself. Although I was not born in Texas, I consider myself a Texan.  The fact that Texans had a lot of pride did not hit me until I went to Brigham Young University and saw many Texas flags proudly displayed in dorm rooms. In case you were wondering, I have never used a Texas flag as a decoration, and I also do not own a cowboy hat! I grew up in a large family and it has continued to grow with the addition of in-laws and nieces and nephews. Texas is where I was raised and it is where I returned after receiving my Masters degree from Oklahoma State University. When I am not working in my private practice, I enjoy traveling, hiking, working out, family time, and attending concerts and musicals. 

Growing up I thought I would become a teacher since I liked to boss around my younger brothers and enjoyed helping my mother with her pre-k lesson plans. In high school, someone close to me shared that they had a positive experience in therapy and that I reminded them of their therapist. That comment was the catalyst for me to seriously think about counseling as a career option and I enrolled in AP Psychology. Around that same time, I noticed that I felt drawn to the people who I knew were experiencing pain. For example, I yearned to reach out to the siblings of a student who had committed suicide, and to a football player who had been involved in a car accident where the other driver, a fellow student, had died. I wanted to go up to them and say something, but I did not know what to say or if what I had to say would be received since I did not know them.

In college, I decided to pursue becoming a therapist; I felt the “call” to be a resource for those that carry seen and unseen pain. I majored in Psychology and was on the path to getting a PhD, since I thought that was the only route to provide counseling. During my Sophomore/Junior year, I discovered MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy), which was a newer field, and learned that I would be able to see clients after earning a Master’s degree. I was thrilled with this information! Relationships were something that I wanted to focus on in therapy and becoming a LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) would prepare me well and support my desired direction. 

Graduate school was difficult and I had to put more effort into it than I have ever had to put into anything previously. Luckily, I knew that grad school was the means to my desired end of becoming a marriage and family therapist; I pushed forward and graduated in 2007 with boxes of well-worn, 3-inch binders stuffed with annotated articles, and textbooks. I knew everything I needed to know…or so I thought! 

It quickly became evident, in my first counseling job, that I needed further training–namely in the areas of sex addiction and the related trauma. When I had saved enough money, I pursued my certification to become a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing). Those certifications increased my confidence that I could be a reliable resource for people in pain. I have continued to seek out training in areas that would help me better serve my clients, and that are of interest to me. Although I never loved school, I have loved pursuing higher education through additional certifications and training opportunities.

I have been in the field of marriage and family therapy since 2005 and my passion for it continues to grow! One of my most cherished roles, as a therapist, is helping the people in my office see that they are lovable and have worth. A paycheck, job promotion, or waist size does not give a person more worth; an addiction, a struggle with mental health, or strained relationship does not take away from a person’s worth. We all have worth; sometimes we just need to be reminded of our worth! 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share why I became a therapist. If you have a question for me, email me at melissa@cluffcounseling.com.

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

Therapy is the New Self-Care


“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.” ~ Fred Rogers

Life can be draining. We are constantly surrounded by a barrage of common, everyday stressors like financial strain; employment, unemployment or deployment; addiction; sickness; or familial discord. If we are not careful, life’s demands can overwhelm, frustrate, and discourage us. Self-care is a tried-and-true method prescribed by therapists and other professionals to help clients improve their overall health. And, thankfully, the recent focus on self-care has placed importance on taking stock in what you need to fill your cup, feel happy and less stressed, and be more capable of tackling life’s challenges. I have a suggestion that ticks all those boxes: Therapy as self-care.

Benefits to Self-Care

You may already have a self-care regimen. It likely includes bubble baths, rigorous workouts, spa days, creative or musical outlets, spending time outdoors, meditation, repeating empowering mantras, practicing gratitude… the options are endless. Self-care is the art of taking an active role in protecting your own well-being and happiness–especially during periods of stress. Self-care is how you unwind, how you recharge, how you work through emotions; it is how you connect with yourself and your inner needs. Self-care is beneficial for you and is always worth the time you put into it. 

Benefits to Therapy

Therapy gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself. Instead of repressing emotions, you work through them. Therapy connects you to the capable, grateful, calm side of yourself. Therapists are not there to solve your problems; instead, they help you develop tools for dealing with particularly tough emotions. Abraham Maslow once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Therapy gives you additional tools you need for when a hammer is not working. Therapy enables you to lead your best life, overcome any obstacles that come your way, and helps you take care of yourself so you can take care of everyone and everything that depends on you. 

Sound familiar?

The benefits of self-care and therapy are strikingly similar; that is because therapy is a form of self-care. Yes, therapy is yet another way to practice self-care! We often overlook or ignore it because of the stigma that therapy is shameful and should only be used as a last resort. This could not be farther from the truth! Therapy should not be a last resort, and it most certainly is not reserved only for those who have suffered a trauma or loss. Rather, therapy can benefit anyone trying to better manage the challenges of being a human in this complex world. Mental health and self-care are important, regardless of whether that includes regular girls’ nights out and yoga, or weekly therapy sessions and medication. We should never be ashamed of doing what we need to do to be healthy and happy so we can live our best lives and be our best selves. 

Yes, you could talk with your mother or best friend(s) about what is weighing you down (it might seem easier to talk with someone you know about your innermost thoughts and fears). Or, you could try therapy and see that being vulnerable gets easier with time — even easier, in fact, than confessing your musings to those closest to you. Your therapist will not judge or try to fix you, nor will he/she compare or one-up his/her own experiences with yours (like sometimes your friends and family might). Your therapist will listen and offer guidelines for how to navigate your complex emotions.  The skills you learn in therapy can be carried over into every aspect of your life. The ROI from therapy is unmatched!

Self-care is about setting aside time to understand your issues, take a break, heal, and empower yourself.  Doing planks while working out strengthens your core muscles. Repeating empowering mantras lifts you up. Going through therapy strengthens your hope that life can get better. Working with a therapist supplies you with strategies to deal with the bad days. Therapy is self-care; though I am biased, I might argue that therapy is one of the best forms of self-care. Start the new year right by adding therapy to your self-care regimen. Contact me today to get started!

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

References:

Keeping the Holiday Cheer All Year Long

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” -Calvin Coolidge

I have a friend who gets truly depressed when Christmas is over. On December 26th he is like a deflated little boy confronted with the fact that Santa will be at the North Pole for the next 364 days. I understand that the end of the holidays can leave us in a slump; we all experience it to some degree! The anticipation of the jolly occasions can leave us feeling a little blue when it has all passed. 

There are certain things we can do, however, to keep the Christmas cheer throughout each year. Might I make four suggestions for how we can do so:

  1. Create a photo book. Looking at photographs can remind us of happy times from the past, and can be a great way to make ourselves happy in the present. There are so many online hosts that make uploading photos to create a photobook relatively easy, affordable and painless. Such a photo book can be a priceless treasure that will bring you great joy and happiness all of 2020!
  2. Keep celebrating. Part of the magic of Christmas is traditions. Family traditions bind families together. You spend time together, create memories, enjoy each other’s company, and strengthen your bonds. In a recent interview with CBS, Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) recommends starting new traditions throughout the year–like the first day of spring, Groundhog Day, or this year we even have Leap Day! Find little milestones throughout the year and celebrate those with unifying traditions. You do not need the holidays in order to participate in traditions!
  3. Serve others.  One reason the Christmas season is so remarkable is because there is a natural tug to look outwards and serve others. There are food drives, clothing donations, fundraisers, Sub-for-Santas, treat deliveries, white elephant parties, gift exchanges, opportunities to volunteer and so much more. This service fill us with joy and peace; we would benefit greatly if this spirit of service carried over into the other eleven months of the year!
  4. Be a peacemaker. The holidays come with gatherings, which can lead to disagreement and discord. You may have had opportunities to be a mediator or a peacemaker this holiday season, and I urge you to continue in that pattern. If there is gossiping going on with your friends, do not take part. If there is complaining at work, point out the good. If the driver next to you has road rage, do not match it. Be a peacemaker. It will make your life and the lives of those around you infinitely better. 

I urge you to make the most out of this holiday season. Be present for your family gatherings. Pay more attention to people rather than things (or tasks). Savor the good food and the good times. And when it is all said and done, carry that happy Christmas spirit over into January-November of 2020 by revisiting photos, creating new traditions, serving others, and being a peacemaker. Doing this will be the best present you can give yourself. 

Happy holidays to you and yours! 

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

References:

A Guide to Thriving in the Holiday Season Single

During the holidays, single individuals have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships that they do have.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! This month is full of dinners, parties, events, service, and gatherings.  Because the holiday season is very couple- and family-oriented, it is incredibly easy for those who are single to feel down and lonely. I want to share some ideas for how you can make the holidays truly wonderful even if you do not have a significant other. 

Instead of focusing on your loneliness (which is easy to do), try viewing your singleness as a gift this holiday season. As a fellow single person, I believe that during the holidays, we have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships we do have. I have compiled a list of several practical ways to get started!

  1. Holiday dates. Sure, dating is hard, but there are so many fun activities you can do around the holiday season. Instead of shying away from dating this time of year, take advantage of it! Ask a friend, or someone you have had your eye on, on a fun, low pressure date. Nutcracker and cocoa? Sign me up!
  2. Volunteer. There are a million opportunities to give around the holidays. I encourage you to serve at a soup kitchen, participate in a food drive, volunteer at an animal shelter, be a part of Sub-for-Santa, or do whatever you enjoy to make someone else’s season better. Giving heals the soul and will certainly invite the spirit of Christmas into your life.
  3. Organize your space. There is nothing better than starting the new year feeling organized and less cluttered. Make your living space somewhere you want to be by cleaning and making it homey. You can also do some good by donating things you do not need to a local charity (or selling them to make a few extra bucks).
  4. “TREAT YO’SELF.” Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec would tell you to buy yourself that gift you have been eyeballing. Schedule a spa day. Pamper yourself with a nice massage, manipedi, facial, whatever will loosen you up. Treat yo’self!
  5. Take a solo trip. If you can swing it financially, think about doing some traveling by yourself. No need to plan a huge, expensive excursion; consider exploring a new city — even if it is just for a night or two. 
  6. Hand make/bake presents. If you have several people you need a gift for, consider getting creative and making something. Creativity is a healthy outlet and also a form of self-care. Plus who would not want a tiny loaf of your homemade zucchini bread?!
  7. Create your own traditions. You do not have to wait until you have a significant other to start a tradition. You can start practices that bring joy to your life, no matter your relationship status. Buy a Christmas tree for your apartment, host an annual holiday movie night, volunteer at a local homeless shelter… the options are endless! One of my favorite things is to simply turn off all my lights,  turn on my Christmas tree lights, and curl up under my Sherpa blanket at the end of a long day and watch a holiday movie. 
  8. Embrace spending time alone. Learning to enjoy being alone is a journey. And although the holiday season can be a lonely one, it is also a great time to reflect on yourself. With extra time off during the winter, you have an excellent opportunity to spend time with yourself, pursue your passions, and make goals. Take time to be introspective; you may find it helpful to journal and reflect on the highs and the lows of the year, and what you want the next year to look like! 
  9. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with being single. Everyone spends time being single. It is a natural stage of life, and some are in this stage longer than others. If you are feeling discouraged and are tempted to stay home, I urge you to be brave enough to go into spaces where you might be the odd one out. Try to embrace your stage of life without feeling jealous or bitter. You can desire the kind of relationship that someone else has without letting that desire drive you to bitterness. 
  10. Focus outward. Ask yourself, how can I make this holiday better for others? It sounds really basic, but I have discovered that focusing on other people’s happiness makes me much less concerned with my own. It is nearly impossible to feel bad about myself when I am taking care of others. 

Regardless of whether you are single because you have broken off a long-term partnership or have been single your whole life, I hope that these tips encourage you to view your singleness not as an inconvenience, but as a blessing–full of beauty and opportunities for growth.  Make the most of what remains this holiday season by volunteering, taking care of yourself, creating your own traditions, and spending time with loved ones. You do not need a significant other to have the best holidays ever. Happiest holidays to you and yours!

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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Dealing With Passive-Aggression in a Relationship: A Guide to Survive

All of us have at least one passive-aggressive person in our life. Maybe it is your picky mother-in-law, or your demanding boss, or even your overly sarcastic partner. You may be surprised to learn from reading this post that even you have moments of passive aggression. Take heart; you can learn to avoid those tendencies in yourself as well as deal with passive-aggression from the people in your life. Here’s how.

Passive aggressive behavior is when someone says or does something that on the surface seems innocuous, or even kind, but there is a hidden motive that is negative. Passive-aggressive people may blame others, feel resentful, resist suggestions, and avoid responsibility.  They struggle to communicate their feelings and needs. The passive-aggressive person represses his or her anger and is unaware of the hostility he or she may feel or conveys. Passive-aggressive people feel misunderstood, are sensitive to criticism, and drive others crazy.  The passive-aggressive partner is often difficult to be around; sulking, backhanded compliments, procrastination, withdrawal, and refusal to communicate are a few of the most common signs you may observe.

Okay, so you have identified someone in your life as someone who can be passive aggressive at times. Now what? Here are some tips (although the majority of these are directed toward partners, they can be applied to any and all relationships with someone acting passive-aggressive, including yourself):

  1. Stay calm. It can be difficult, but work to not react to your passive-aggressive partner.  Remain calm, notice what your partner is doing, recognize your anger triggers, and be proactive to avoid falling into a pattern of expecting something that never happens.
  2. Mind your words. When you nag, scold, or get angry, you escalate conflict and give your partner more excuses and ammunition to deny responsibility. You also step into the role of parent – the very one your partner is rebelling against. Do not be vague, drop hints, blame, or allow yourself to pay-back (for these are also passive-aggressive behaviors). Be careful to not label your partner as “passive-aggressive,” instead tell them what behaviors make it hard for you to connect with them. .
  3. Be direct. The best way to deal with a passive-aggressive partner is to actively assert your own needs and feelings in a clear way. Be factual, state your feelings clearly, use “I” statements, avoid emotional words.  
  4. Do not enable.  When you fail to hold a passive-aggressive person accountable for their actions, you unintentionally perpetuate their behavior. The remedy here is to hold your partner accountable for his/her actions. Help them follow-through. 
  5. Apologies are not pretzels. Meaning you do not need to hand them out freely. If your boss drops a passive-aggressive comment about you leaving at 5:30, instead of apologizing (unnecessarily) and giving a reason, keep your apology to yourself and ask if you are needed to stay late. 
  6. Speak up. This step will be hard for the  people-pleasers out there. At times, self-preservation from a passive-aggressive individual will require you to speak up. Instead of letting the passive-aggressive person in your life dictate when you have a dinner party, for example, you decide when the party works best for you. If the time you choose is inconvenient for the passive-aggressive acquaintance, encourage them to let you know their needs and their alternative solution; do not do it for them or stay silent yourself.
  7. Control your part. The only person you can control is yourself, so do not take it upon yourself to cure this passive-aggressive person you know.  Manage your own life and avoid getting manipulated. If you find it hard to spend great lengths of time with this person, limit your contact. Practice self-care and surround yourself with people who lift you up and bring light to your life. 

One important disclaimer: It is important to understand that more often than not, the person who is being passive-aggressive is doing so unconsciously; they are unaware that they are being manipulative and unkind. There are, of course, others who are purposefully passive-aggressive, and they are more commonly referred to as manipulative.

If you are a victim of passive-aggressive behavior, you are likely left feeling hurt, confused, wronged, unappreciated, unimportant, and maybe even guilty for feeling that way. If this is you, I advise you to put the steps above into action. Take care of yourself. If it is possible to have a direct conversation with the person affecting you, do so. And if you need professional assistance, please remember that my door is always open. While you may feel like you have no power to change things, stay calm and remember that you can speak up and not enable their behavior. You do not have to be a victim of passive-aggression anymore.   

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

References:

The Haunting of Trauma Past

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”

― Danielle Bernock

You experienced something traumatic. You lived through it. You thought it was now in your past. Then, suddenly, the memory of your trauma is plaguing you as if it happened yesterday. How can you deal?

Many of the clients I see for trauma experience this. They feel they are making progress, personally or in a relationship, when suddenly they are hit by a figurative train and feel like they are back to square one. In every case, I assure my clients that this apparent “setback” is normal and not any sort of sign that they have done something wrong. There are seven steps I advise my clients to follow when facing resurfacing trauma:

  1. Identify the triggers. Think about what may have brought the trauma back into the limelight for you. Maybe it was running into the parents of a deceased friend. Maybe it was returning to the site of an accident. Maybe it was reading a scene from a book or hearing something on the news that resembles what you went through. That is your trigger. 
  2. Notice your physical and emotional responses. Sometimes triggers are not as obvious as seeing something that derails you on the news. The strangest things can be a trigger, and these will be different for everyone based on the traumatic situation and the individual’s personality. Pay attention to what is going on around you when you feel upset or unsettled. Listen to your body — are your muscles tightening? Are you holding your breath? Are you clenching your jaw? Is your heart beating faster? Maybe you are experiencing changes like a loss of appetite or overeating, or you are having trouble sleeping (including oversleeping). Maybe you feel anxious, are having panic attacks, suffering from mood swings, feeling helpless, depressed, detached or disassociated. Knowing your personal responses can alert you to distress, giving you an opportunity to address the trigger quicker.
  3. Whenever possible, remove the trigger. In some cases, it is easy to turn off the news or avoid a place that brings up unsettling emotions/events.  But in other instances, it is uncontrollable or unavoidable. Focus on what is in your power and do that. Do whatever you need to do to put your mind (and body) at ease.
  4. Validate your emotions. Remind yourself that shame, embarrassment, or sadness over “relapsing” are negative emotions that do not help you in the long run. Instead, try giving room for your emotions. Sit with them. Let them be a part of you. Try not to push them away, as that can cause issues for yourself in the future. Acknowledge your feelings, experience them, and then — when you are ready — move forward with a positive mindset.
  5. Be patient with others. A dear friend of mine had a stillborn baby several years ago. To this day, she is hurt when people ask how many children she has. So if you are facing trauma again and someone says or does something that seems insensitive to you, remember that they may not know your story and mean no harm. And sometimes the people closest to you may say something hurtful. Everyone responds differently to trauma; consider teaching others what are helpful and unhelpful responses or actions for you so they can help you heal. 
  6. Practice self-care. This step always comes up! b is invaluable to healing. Take care of yourself. Find an outlet. Be creative. Take up a hobby or practice a dusty one. Journal. Exercise. Travel. Dig in to what makes you tick and you will find that that self-exploration and self-love does a world of good in helping youband find happiness. 

And step seven, whenever possible, seek professional help. Your trauma does not have to define you or your relationships. Trauma is complex, and affects us mentally, emotionally and physically in ways that often do not make sense. Seeking professional help, can aide you in understanding your trauma faster and lessen its impact. You deserve to get the help you need. I am trained and experienced in helping people face and work through trauma, using EMDR, inner child work and other modalities. I am here for you. Contact me today to get started.

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

References:

Yoga: Changing How You See Yourself

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – Bhagavad Gita.

Yoga is more than stretching, deep breaths and handstands. It is not just for those who are flexible or have good balance. It has been said that it can change your life. I decided to do some personal research for this post because I wanted to know more for myself. How could yoga change a person’s life so profoundly? The answer is that the physical part of yoga is only a small part of this practice, and when you truly understand and apply what yoga teaches, it can actually change your life!

Trees are a symbol in yoga. The body is a tree. The mind is a tree. The teachings of Ashtanga yoga itself is also described as a tree, and it has eight limbs:

  1. Yama. This first limb is your attitude towards the environment. It includes ethical standards, integrity, focusing on your behavior and how you conduct yourself in life. Examples are nonviolence, truthfulness, not stealing, and not coveting others. Essentially the golden rule–doing to others as you would like done to you.
  2. Niyama. This is your attitude towards yourself. It includes self-discipline and spiritual observances (like regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone), as well as cleanliness, gratitude, and surrender to a God.
  3. Asana. This is what everyone thinks of when yoga comes up–the physical postures. In yogic beliefs, the body is a temple of spirit, and caring for it is an important stage of spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas–also known as “flows” in yogi tongue–you develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
  4. Pranayama. In hindu yoga, this step is the regulation of the breath through certain techniques, exercises, breathing practices. Long term, this practice can help with anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, improved focus, and increased self-awareness.
  5. Pratyahara is sense restraint. This limb is about withdrawing yourself from any external information so you can draw attention internally to hear the sounds from within. The practice of pratyahara allows you to step back and take a look at yourself and objectively observe your cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to your health and which likely interfere with your inner growth.
  6. Dharana. This limb is centered on extended periods of concentration which then naturally lead to meditation. In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, you learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. 
  7. Dhyana. Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.
  8. Samadhi. This final limb is appointed to be integration of the other limbs. It is a complete stage of ecstasy. What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.

As you can see, the practice of yoga is so much more than stretching in downward dog. It is a journey of self control and self-enlightenment. It is being at peace with the world and striving to make it a better place. It is listening to your body’s needs and what the universe needs from you. It is a form of exercise that is incredibly beneficial for stamina, endurance and flexibility. It is the ability to be content with oneself as well as a degree of self-mastery. My favorite part about yoga is that it truly is a journey for each individual. Everyone is at a different level, and that is okay! This is the best metaphor for life; while one yogi is working on her lotus press, you might be working on not falling over in your warrior two lunge. Yoga teaches self-compassion; it teaches you to start where you stand and be grateful for each breath. It teaches you to honor all you do have and all you can do. 

Grab a mat, and give it a try! See what your body can do. Start by simply stretching to get more connected with your body. Then download an application, like Daily Yoga or Yoga for Beginners to get acquainted with some basic yoga poses. You may even want to find a yoga class in your area. And if you love it, buy a membership to a yoga studio, find a friend you can do yoga with, or discover another way to you can bring the practice of yoga into your daily life!  You will not regret it! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like to schedule a session!

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Teaching Your Little Ones The Art of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving (and the month of November in general) is a great time to focus on gratitude. The added emphasis on being “blessed” certainly inspires all of us to consider our bounty and offer thanks. It is a time of gratitude lists, service, and gifts. I want to focus on how you can get your children involved and inspire gratitude in their hearts!

By age two or three, children are able to talk about being thankful for specific objects, pets, and people. By age four, children are able to understand the concept of being thankful for immaterial things like acts of kindness, love, and caring. Regardless of how old your children are, you can always teach age-appropriate gratitude! The following are ideas you can implement around the holiday season and throughout the year to foster an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Say please and thank you. Our manners show that we do not believe we are entitled to anything and that we are grateful for the kindness of others.
  2. Help someone less fortunate. This could be your neighbor down the street, grandma, or someone you know who is in a tough spot. I have fond childhood memories of taking meals or gifts to members of my church who needed help. 
  3. Model the adage “Tis’ better to give than to receive.” Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store and challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. Or go the DIY route and make something; even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others!
  4. Volunteer service or donate to a nonprofit. Nonprofits serve people in need and at this time of the year they are always looking for volunteers, basic necessities, meals and gifts to give to those in need. Help out at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or non-profit. 
  5. Send out thank you cards or a letter. Express your gratitude for those who have served your or added value to your life. Encourage your children to write a letter to someone who has touched his life in some way or who has given them something. I highly recommend keeping thank you notes on hand and using them frequently!
  6. Intentionally look for awe-inspiring moments in your day. If the sunset is particularly beautiful, comment on it. If the sound of the baby’s laughter warms your heart, tell your children. Encourage them to look for their awe-inspiring moments and share them with you.
  7. Share your gratitude. There are a million different ways to do this; you can take five minutes at bedtime by asking your children what they are thankful for that day. You can go around the dinner table and allow each family member a chance to vocalize their gratitude. You can keep shared or personal gratitude journals. You can create a family gratitude list and post it somewhere visible. You can create a gratitude jar and share each entry at the end of the month. I even saw one idea of gratitude trees–where little leaves are written on with things the family is grateful for, and then hung from the twigs of a branch found outside. (This doubles as decór so win-win!)
  8. Compliment others. I heard a wise woman once say that withholding a compliment is prideful, so model sincere compliments. If you think it, say it! Share the things you appreciate about another person. Encourage your children to do the same. 
  9. Look for the positive. It is human nature to see the glass half-empty from time to time, and children are no exception.  Try to look for the silver lining; find something positive in frustrating situations and discuss it. When kids complain or gripe, it can be helpful to try to find a response that looks on the bright(er) side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason — it’s about perspective more than circumstance. 
  10. Take gratitude walks. While you walk, look for the simple pleasures in the day, such as the warm sun or the birds singing and express appreciation for them. Use this time to ask your kids what they are grateful for.
  11. Work through envy. Help your child work through any feelings of jealousy she may have. Envy can come when we are not feeling thankful for what we have, and are focusing instead on what others have. Easy access to social media surely contributes to feelings of jealousy and comparison!
  12. Have them pitch in when they want something.  When children take the time to save up and take ownership in a purchase, they gain an understanding of the value of a dollar by working toward what they want. It also teaches restraint and encourages them to appreciate what they have.
  13. Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime where they need to fit in homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. Without chores, children do not understand what it takes to run a household–they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. So find age-appropriate chores for your children. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, but allow your children to be grateful for the blessing of clean dishes or warm meals enjoyed in your home. 
  14. Let big kids take care of little kids: Surely you did not understand all the work that came with children until you had your own. If older children have responsibilities for their younger siblings, it fosters an attitude of gratitude towards you, their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework. 
  15. Talk about your ancestors: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My grandmother lived in the depression and to this day she reuses her plastic baggies and counts her pennies. I remember hearing stories of this amazing woman and feeling so grateful for the box of endless ziplocs. It really is the little things! (If you are not sure of your past, you can take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful!)

Studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. Being grateful benefits adults and children alike on a very basic level and can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent! It can help you live a happier, more satisfied life and with increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy and optimism. It also grants perspective to what really matters and improves relationships. There is no downside to gratitude!

Now it is my turn to be grateful: I am grateful for my health, my family, and a career I love. I am grateful for you, my faithful readers, and for such wonderful clients who trust me with the deepest, most vulnerable and beautiful parts of their lives. I am thankful I am allowed to live the life I love in helping people work through addiction, trauma, mental illness, and/or relationship issues. I am thankful for YOU. I am your biggest advocate! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. Let’s talk!
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 Conflict Ruins Your Cranberry Sauce

“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.” ~ Dalai Lama

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It is time to gather, to eat turkey and stuffing and rolls, time to admire the snow falling, set up the Christmas tree, sing songs, and shop online. Jokes aside, the holiday season is nigh upon us, and it really can be the most wonderful time of the year. If you are one of many individuals who greets the months of November and December with equal parts excitement and trepidation–due to family gatherings–I have just the tips for you. 

Though getting family members and friends together this holiday season may be joyful and rewarding, there also exists the possibility for a healthy dose of awkward moments, conflict, disagreement, and discord. Since you are reading this post on avoiding family drama during the holidays, I dub you a peacemaker. Regardless of whether or not you have been a peacemaker in the past, that of a peacemaker can be your role this holiday season. Here are seven tips to be a peacemaker during your gatherings this holiday season:

  1. Listen. The most glorious and selfless gift you can give your family is your ability to listen. It costs nothing, and provides wonderful feelings for all those who receive it. When a family member is speaking to you, stop what you are doing and listen. Consider that person’s feelings and then validate them. The gift of listening is a powerful and wonderful way of connecting with those you care for.
  2. Be self-aware. You can choose not to be reactive to what you are feeling. Be aware of how you are feeling from moment to moment; recognize if you are tired or anxious or under pressure to get something done. This will help decrease the likelihood of snapping unnecessarily at someone.  Take responsibility for your own behavior. If you make a mistake, apologize and make amends. If someone around you makes a mistake, be quick to forgive and forget.
  3. Count to 20. If you feel angry or upset, remove yourself from the situation for a few moments. Remember that anger is generally triggered by a cascade of events…not just one event. You must break the chain of events to curb your emotional reaction. This is why I recommend stepping out on the balcony and counting to 20.
  4. Acknowledge anger. In the presence of angry or upset people, acknowledge their anger. “Oh, Aunt Martha. I can see that you are upset. I would be upset, too, if that happened to me! What can we do to make things right?” People usually become angry and upset because they feel unacknowledged or disrespected. Simply acknowledging the angry feelings of a family member may work miracles in restoring peace.
  5. Designate off-limit topics. For my family, there are certain things we simply cannot discuss–not during the holidays or ever. We cannot talk politics. We cannot discuss local football rivalries. Sometimes, being a peacemaker will require laying ground rules about what can be discussed. Remind everyone that you are there to enjoy each other’s company and that none of you would want to do (or say) anything to jeopardize that.
  6. Host. If a neutral ground is necessary to have a peaceful family gathering, volunteer your space. Being Switzerland may require a great deal of work, but it will absolutely be worth it if someone who may have been on guard at Gramma’s house can stand down and relax at your’s. Remember, this is to be a holly jolly joyful season! 
  7. If necessary, be a mediator. If individuals start fighting or arguing, intervene quickly. Take one of them away and cool down with them. Acknowledge their feelings and find out what is upsetting them. Offer to mediate both parties. Let them exchange stories one at a time without interruption, explain what injustices they feel, and then ask them for ideas on how to make things right. There–in five minutes, you can be back to Turkey and eggnog, all because you helped each person feel heard.

This all sounds so obvious and common-sensical. Yet we fail to act this way year after year. We have habits of conflict that we carry with us, especially when we are with family or friends who know us best. What we really need are some habits of peace. The quick tips above are some of the habits of an everyday peacemaker. Like any other skill, they will be awkward at first. With a little practice, you will gain confidence that these tips work. Then you will have your habits of peace that you can employ in every season of the year, not just during the holidays.

May you have a beautifully harmonious holiday season as you engage your habits of peace in the company of your loved ones. Happy 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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