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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The 5 Chairs of Grief

“Should you shield the valleys from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their canyons.” ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

No matter where you live, how old you are, what color your skin is, or your career choice, you will experience loss and grief at some point in your life. It is universal. Maybe it will be from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the diagnosis of a terminal illness, or a life-altering change. In hopes that I can help someone out there, I wish to share what one of my friends is experiencing in relation to the stages of grief.

A dear friend of hers recently passed away. She was young; she had a husband who adored her, an active one year-old daughter, a lively dog, a new apartment, a flourishing photography business, and an entire life ahead of her. Though she had experienced some fairly serious health issues during her short time on earth, no one thought the common cold would be what would ultimately take her while she slept. Her death shook the community, her family, friends, and many loved ones. She is deeply, deeply missed. In dealing with her loss, my friend has had to confront the five stages of grief in a very real, very personal way. 

The five stages of grief was introduced by a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She did research with terminally ill patients, and published a well-known book called On Death and Dying. Through her work, she identified five common stages of grief her patients all experienced–denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance: 

  1. Denial and isolation: This can’t be happening… Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, and numbs your emotions. You hide from the facts. Denial is the brain’s way of making sure you do not get too high a dose of grief before you are ready. 
  2. Anger: Where is God in this…? Reality and its pain emerge. You likely do not feel ready. The intense emotions are deflected from your vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family, or even yourself.
  3. Bargaining: If only we had gotten medical attention sooner… This is the need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements. Guilt often accompanies bargaining. You start to believe there was something you could have done differently to have helped save your loved one. You spend time reviewing how different scenarios would have played out, but it does not change your reality.
  4. Depression: She won’t even get the chance to see her kids grow up…Once bargaining no longer feels like an option, you face reality and are hit squarely with an intense sadness. You withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering if there is any point in going on. When loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that your entire life will be different is understandably depressing.
  5. Acceptance: This is my new reality and I need to learn to live with it… Reaching this stage of grieving is a gift not afforded to everyone. Although most people never stop missing their departed loved ones, the painful emotions they feel shortly after the death nearly always soften with time. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. It does not mean you are okay with the loss or that everything is “alright”; this stage is about accepting your new reality without your loved one. You learn to live with it. You accept that life has been forever changed and that you must readjust. You reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on yourself. Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. 


The only issue with these stages–what my friend has had to re-learn and what I witness in clients–is that we perceive them to be linear steps. First, you deny it. Then you feel anger. After that you bargain, and so on and so forth until we magically “accept” the loss and all is well in the world. But what happens when you find that you seemed to have digressed back to the first so-called “step” and am in denial again? In her grieving process, she found that she was not progressing neatly from one step to the other. This has helped her see and remember, in a very personal way, that these steps are more like symptoms–they come and go, worsen and lessen with time. And that is okay! 

I like to think of these stages of grief as five chairs. Shortly after loss, you may sit for a solid hour in the denial chair. Then you may get up and move in any direction and sit for any amount of time. Maybe you move from the “denial” chair to sit in “acceptance,” but then you might go back to the denial one for a minute–or anger, or any of the other chairs.  You might feel like you have worked through the anger of losing someone or something valuable, and feel surprised to be feeling anger again. You might think, Wait, I thought I worked through anger. Why is it back all this time later? It is okay. You simply moved chairs. That is normal and you are healing just the way your soul needs to. In your bereavement, you will spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. Contrary to popular belief, the five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. You will likely play musical chairs and move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. 

If you are experiencing grief, be gentle with yourself. Remember, grief is not a simple process with clean steps that you will complete before moving towards acceptance; rather it is often messy and tangled, with setbacks and delays. People who are grieving do not go through the stages in the same order and may not even experience all of them. So take your time; sit in whatever chair you need to as you work through your loss and know that it is just what you need. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me and schedule a session should you need additional assistance while coping with loss. 

Note: Kubler-Ross herself said that grief does not proceed in a linear and predictable fashion. She regretted that her stages had been misunderstood as steps. The five stages of grief were originally developed to explain what patients go through as they come to terms with their own terminal illnesses; only later were they applied to individuals grieving the loss of someone or something else.

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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Self-Care is for Men Too!

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~ Jean Shinoda Bolen

Everywhere you look there are articles, blogs, advertisements, and pictures about how women can become more beautiful or healthy or happy. Just as important, but receiving much less attention, is the topic of self-care for men. 

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve and/or improve your health. It has a renewing, refreshing, and sharpening effect. There are many practical benefits to regularly implemented self-care: Improved overall health, sharpened mental health, decreased stress levels, heightened focus, greater levels of resilience, broadened creativity, and a myriad of other advantages. 

Self-care has many faces. Women think of chocolate, sleep, massages, shopping, relaxing by the pool… When men think of self-care, they may not immediately picture a bubble bath with essential oils. So what’s a guy to do for self-care? Here are four practical suggestions:

  1. Make yourself a priority. Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe you really enjoy music: listen to your favorite album on your daily commute. Maybe you know you feel better physically and mentally when you exercise: take a few hours a week to get to the gym. Making time for yourself is not selfish, it is necessary to being at your best…which unavoidably seeps into every other aspect of your life! Making yourself a priority does not mean that you sit lazily on the couch, ignore the important people in your life, or allow screen time to absorb your stress.  It means being intentional with your time and doing what will refuel, refresh, and reinvigorate you for another day. Know what brings you joy, and be proactive about practicing or engaging with these aspects of your life. 
  2. Interact with others. Having meaningful relationships positively influences mental health. These relationships will allow you to share aspects of your own life and also escape from your day to day routine. This might mean grabbing wings during game time from Buffalo Wild Wings, going hunting or fishing, grilling or smoking the results of said hunting or fishing outings, shooting hoops at the gym, or a myriad of other options!
  3. Be healthy. Both men and women need to take care of themselves physically; this is self-care 101. By this I mean eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, etc. It might also include meditation, practicing gratitude, regularly assessing goals/resolutions, and any form of stress management. Additionally, be sure to make yearly doctors’ appointments with both your primary care physician and specialists (where applicable).  Take care of your body and brain and you will be better equipped to perform to the best of your abilities! 
  4. Recognize burn-out signs. We all have them. Maybe you get snappy, easily irritated, on edge. Or maybe you feel exhausted, lethargic, or depressed. Such symptoms may serve as warning signs that you need to put on the brakes and take a personal day. This is where you might return to number one and repeat the cycle of making yourself a priority, investing time in meaningful relationships, and taking care of your physical and mental health. As you do so, the time in between your warning signs and necessary “reset” will lessen because your manly self-care will become more instinctive and effective.

There are several reasons why men do not practice self-care regularly: First, it is not considered to be terribly masculine in our society, and some men worry it will make them appear weak if they take time for themselves. Also, some men might think it is not for them because not many men are promoting it. Lastly, and most commonly, many men may find it difficult to prioritize self-care with work/life being too demanding, or they may not understand the need. 

Self-care is not just an activity you simply schedule into your daily life (though that is a great place to start if you are not currently doing any self-care!). It is a mindset that requires listening to what your body and mind need, and then regularly practicing those things. As you put yourself first, foster meaningful relationships, live a healthy lifestyle, and avoid burn-out, you will see the many benefits of self-care. Women swear by it…and so should men! In fact, I firmly believe that many of the issues that we face in our relationships would be alleviated if we all simply practiced self-care! If you have questions or feel you need assistance implementing self-care into your life, please do not hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. You will not regret making self-care an important part of your life!

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 Life Defining Practice of Positivity

 Research is revealing that positive thinking is about much more than just being happy or displaying an upbeat attitude. Positive thoughts can create real value in your life and help you build skills that last longer than a smile.

Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
― Roy T. Bennett

Every single day you face a myriad of situations that will test and prove your outlook on life. Is your glass half-empty or half-full? Do you see changes as setbacks or opportunities? Do you see weakness as a nuisance or a chance to grow? Would you consider yourself to be more of an optimist or a pessimist? Regardless of where you currently stand, you can start today to implement positivity into your life. Everything from your work to your health to your relationships will improve as you try to see the world through an optimistic lens!

Here is the 101 on positive thinking. It helps with stress management and improves your overall physical health (even resistance to the common cold!), it increases your lifespan, lowers your rates of depression and stress, offers greater immunity and better cardiovascular health, and results in more effective and efficient coping skills during hardships and times of stress. In other words, there are no cons to positivity.

Positive thinking does not mean you simply stick your head in the sand and proceed to ignore all of life’s less-than-pleasant situations. No, quite the contrary. Positive thinking simply means that you approach said unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way: You assume the best is going to happen instead of expecting the worst.

If you want to be a more optimistic person, you can! You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time, patience, and practice…after all, you are creating a new habit. Here are some ways to start living a more positive lifestyle:

  1. Start small. If you want to employ more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about. This may be work, your daily commute or a relationship. Start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.
  2. Have checkpoints. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you are thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to put a positive spin on them.
  3. Positive self-talk. Self-talk is the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. This is where positive thinking often starts. Be careful to not say anything to yourself that you would not say to someone else you care about! Shed the weight that comes from thinking unkindly of others by speaking kindly to yourself.
  4. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, adequate rest, and a healthy diet can positively affect your stress levels. A healthy body and regulated stress will help you see the world differently.
  5. Try meditation. Recent research has revealed that people who meditate regularly display more positive emotions than those who do not. Meditation can result in mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
  6. Practice gratitude. It is easy to get caught up in the things that are wrong or that you lack in life. But instead, take a look around and count your blessings. Think about the many things you are thankful for. Making a daily list is a great way to practice gratitude!
  7. Try humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. Laughing at life will decrease stress!
  8. Play/decompress. Before a violin is stored, the strings are loosened. If it is put away with the strings tight enough to play, the strings will eventually stretch and snap. You need periodical breaks to have fun and decompress. You will be better able to see life from an optimistic viewpoint if you take time to blow off steam!
  9. Surround yourself with positive people (read: stay away from toxic people). Make sure the people you choose to surround yourself with are positive, happy, and supportive. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
  10. Be happy NOW. It is easy to think you will be happy when you get that promotion or move out of your apartment or when your kids are out of diapers. I know I am guilty of putting off happiness until I achieve some arbitrary goal. But you can be happy NOW. You can choose to be optimistic and see life with an optimistic perspective now!

If you tend to have a negative outlook on life, take heart. The fact that you are reading this post speaks to your motivation to be a more optimistic person. And it will happen–with practice and patience. You can learn to see life through a positive, glass-half-full lens. You will start to see setbacks, weaknesses, trials, miscommunications, and failures for what they really are: opportunities for growth and happiness.  Practicing positive thinking will also help you become less critical of the world and the people around you. You will notice that positive thinking will bleed into every aspect of your life–including and especially your relationship with yourself. Positive thinking really is the practice that will change your life…for the better! Please feel free to contact me or schedule a session for additional assistance.

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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Supporting A Loved One Through Alcohol Addiction

Each Al-Anon Family Group has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps of AA ourselves, by encouraging and understanding our alcoholic relatives, and by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics.

It can be so difficult to know your place if you have a friend or family member struggling with an alcohol addiction. You may not know what to say or how to help; you may feel like their addiction is straining your relationship; you may resent their choices. While it is true that you cannot force a person to get help for alcoholism, there are various ways you can support them and encourage them to seek treatment.

You have likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (or AA). In April, I wrote a post that detailed the basics of Alcoholics Anonymous. I tried to cover everything from what it is, to how it started, its main tenets, if it works, and how it applies to those who do not believe in God. I detailed the strength that comes from utilizing this specialized support group of complete strangers who understand the path of the alcoholic’s addiction.  This is a program of recovery for specifically for alcoholics; Al-Anon, however, is different. It is a program of recovery for people who are affected by someone else’s drinking, whether that be a friend or family. It is one of many resources available to support those indirectly affected by alcoholism. This post is dedicated to how you can support a loved one through alcohol addiction.

There is no one exact formula that will tell you how to support someone facing an addiction to alcohol. Every person is different and, therefore, each person’s recovery process will be unique. Some people may rely heavily on their support system and want to involve you in each step during treatment; others may be more reserved and may only come to you when they need a listening ear or want to talk. The best thing you can do for a loved one who is recovering is to motivate and support them every step of the way. Here are several specific ideas for how you can get involved and offer support:

  • Learn about his/her condition. Understanding that, over time, alcohol rewires a person’s brain and causes it to function differently, sheds light on why he/she cannot simply choose to stop drinking alcohol.
  • Know the warning signs. Some signs are recognizable while others are subtle. Several telltale signs of a potential drinking problem are irrational behavior, lack of interest in hobbies and ignoring responsibilities. (This step is particularly important for those who have not yet recognized the need for help to overcome an alcohol addiction.)
  • Offer to help research alcohol rehab programs and types of therapy. Deciding on where to go for treatment is one of the most important factors in a person’s recovery journey.
  • Attend support group meetings or counseling sessions with your loved one. This will give you insight to their journey as well as guide you in how to handle different situations. (AA meetings are generally open, which means you can attend with your loved one. These meetings offer a great deal of support and advice for living with someone who has a drinking problem.)
  • Attend Al-Anon meetings. Just as those facing alcohol addiction will attend AA meetings, you should attend Al-Anon meetings. Here you will find support as you meet others who also love someone with an alcohol addiction, and will be able to personally work through the 12 steps of Al-Anon. Visit this website to find a meeting near you.
  • Help with the post-rehab recovery plan. Be constant as your loved one navigates life as a recovering addict.
  • Be optimistic. Addiction recovery is a steady uphill battle that will come with victories and defeats. When setbacks come, try not to be critical and face the future with hope. When progress occurs, celebrate it and continue pushing forward.

Family and friends should understand that the recovery process can come with many ups and downs–for both parties. When things get difficult, remember that having a steady support system will make a profound difference for your loved one. Your support will surely influence whether or not he/she seeks help for their drinking problem, will buoy him/her through treatment, and will increase the likelihood that he/she will maintain sobriety after treatment. Your role is crucial!

More than 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than eight percent of those receive treatment.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a free resource available to all that will offer tools to both the individual facing the addiction, as well as his/her loved ones. Alcoholism affects everyone, including family members and friends of the alcoholic. This can damage relationships and cause you to feel a wide range of emotions like disappointment, anger, doubt and denial. Although your primary goal is likely to get your loved one help, be sure to get the help you might also need. In many instances, speaking with a counselor is helpful and even necessary. If you feel you could use professional help, I invite you to contact me today or schedule a session. Whether you are the one facing the addiction, or the one offering support, I am here to help you every step of the way!

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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#optoutside

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~ Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Summer is nigh upon us! Stores nationwide have their swimsuits and outdoor pools at the forefront of their aisles. Most places in the United States are warming up and there is a buzz in the air that comes from the excitement summer brings. I want to share some ideas to help you make the most of the great outdoors this summer!

But first, let’s go over the power of being outside. Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post called, “Outdoor Therapy: Nature’s Cure.” In it, I shared that studies are repeatedly showing that being outside has positive psychological and physiological benefits. Ecotherapy (also known as green therapy, nature therapy, and earth-centered therapy) is contact with nature and is a powerful new kind of therapy. This type of therapy with nature has been found to be just as effective against depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication! And the amazing thing about ecotherapy is that it is free. Not only that, but it is completely accessible to anyone at anytime!

I know what you are thinking. I have a job and/or kids and a life with so much to do that makes it impossible to be outside all the time! I hear you. I know that it is not easy to make time to do something elective. Regardless, we need to put down our paperwork, pause our housework, and turn off our computer and get outside. Yes, we have many obligations and responsibilities that demand our attention, and making time for self-care seems like one more thing to squeeze into our overbooked schedules (to learn more about self-care, read this post). I have personally found it therapeutic to walk a trail near my home multiple times a week. I am refreshed and rejuvenated when I get outside, breathe in the air, smell the fresh honeysuckle, observe the dogs and their owners, and feel my body moving (especially helpful since I spend the majority of my day sitting for hours at a time). I can assure you that you will be better off because of the time you spend outside!

The following 55 ideas will jumpstart your summer and up the time you spend outdoors (and none of them require a great amount of time nor a large amount of money):

  1. Walk your dog (or get a dog!)
  2. Count your steps. Iphones, outdoor apps, fitbits, and so many other technological advancements make it incredibly easy to use an activity tracker.
  3. Listen or watch for birds
  4. Look for shooting stars
  5. Camping (or glamping if that is more your style!)
  6. Hike or run a local trail
  7. Chase waterfalls, soak in some hot springs, or visit a local swimming hole, river, or lake
  8. Go fishing
  9. Plant a garden
  10. Pick fresh flowers outside
  11. Pick up landscape photography
  12. Have a picnic
  13. Go tubing, kayaking, or rafting
  14. Visit local farmers’ market
  15. Fly a kite
  16. Set up a hammock and relax!
  17. Have a bonfire (don’t forget the s’mores!)
  18. Go geocaching or letterboxing
  19. Go hot air ballooning
  20. Walk instead of driving (when possible)
  21. Ride your bike
  22. Take up mountain biking
  23. Rent local scooters
  24. Visit a new park
  25. Go on a run
  26. Walk a mile
  27. Explore a new neighborhood or houses under construction
  28. Dance in the rain
  29. Follow a rainbow
  30. Swing on a swing
  31. Play on a playground
  32. Go swimming (and jump off the diving board)
  33. Go surfing
  34. Watch the sunrise or sunset
  35. Try bouldering or rock climbing
  36. Visit a National Park
  37. Take a walk at lunch
  38. Sit on a sandy beach
  39. Plant a tree
  40. Outdoor BBQ
  41. Summer chairlift ride (preferably during the full moon!)
  42. Stroll around the city
  43. Play catch, basketball, kickball, or any outdoor yard game
  44. Get lawn seats to a concert
  45. Stand on a summit
  46. Go boating or sailing
  47. Listen to the ocean
  48. Organize an outdoor scavenger hunt
  49. Color with sidewalk chalk
  50. Wash your own car
  51. Participate in a park clean-up
  52. Try outdoor yoga (for the sunrise!)
  53. Collect seashells or build a sand castle
  54. Sand volleyball
  55. Set up an outdoor movie with a projector + sheet

Which ones will you do first? Consider making a list of these ideas (plus any others you might have!) and crossing them off as you complete them. Put them on the calendar and make them happen! Allow yourself to enjoy the beautiful warm weather this summer.

If you find yourself feeling frustrated with life, discouraged, or lonely this summer, I encourage you to reach for your tennis shoes before medication. Enjoying a healthy dose of mother nature does incredible good for both your mind and body.  I offer walk and talk therapy for some of my clients; it is amazing what can be accomplished when I spend just 20 minutes outside walking with my clients at the beginning of a session! Please do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule your first personalized 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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Alcohol Anonymous: Strength in Numbers

Alcoholics Anonymous

“When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away.”

~ Alcoholics Anonymous

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. While it may not lead to an addiction for some, it does for others. Alcohol has touched all of our lives in one way or another, whether it is personally or through someone we care about. Because April is Alcohol Awareness month, I want to dedicate a post to one of the most helpful, renowned support groups for those working to overcome an addiction to alcohol: Alcoholics Anonymous.

WHAT IS ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international group of men and women who have had or are working to conquer a drinking problem. AA is open to all races, politically neutral, self-supporting, and is available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements, and membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.

HOW DID AA START?

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who were both recovering alcoholics. In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous began as a community-based fellowship which encouraged sobriety for other recovering alcoholics. These two men developed the 12 steps to aid their attendees, and later introduced the 12 traditions to help further define the group’s purpose and achieve continuity for AA groups across the country (and later around the globe). AA paved the way for other support groups; today Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous are just three of the many groups that have modeled themselves after the AA meeting concept.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN TENETS OF AA?

The original steps are still intact and many former addicts credit the group with helping them through recovery. The 12 steps that govern all AA group meetings are presented in linear fashion, but participants see them as an ongoing circle. The following steps may be revisited until the recovering addict is comfortable in that stage of their recovery process:

  1. Admit powerless over alcohol
  2. Accept that a higher power, in whatever form, will restore your sanity
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and life over to a higher power
  4. Take a moral inventory of yourself
  5. Admit to a higher power, another human, and yourself the nature of your wrongdoings
  6. Accept that a higher power will remove your character defects
  7. Humbly request the higher power remove your shortcomings
  8. List people you hurt during your addiction and be willing to make amends
  9. Make amends to those people unless it would harm them
  10. Continue to take a personal inventory, and when you’re wrong, admit it
  11. Use prayer and meditation to connect with the higher power
  12. Carry the message of AA to other alcoholics and continue to practice the principles of the 12 steps in your daily life

DOES AA WORK?

Because AA is anonymous, some members of the group do not participate in studies since it could breach anonymity. Many want their participation in AA to remain unidentified, in line with the group’s original intention. Additionally, participants might not want to admit to relapse. A New York Times article stated that AA claims that up to 75% of its members stay abstinent.  Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book touts about a 50% success rate, stating that another 25% remain sober after some relapses. Though it is difficult to know just how effective it is, it is safe to say that many people have been helped by regularly attending AA. Just how effective depends on the participant.

CAN AA WORK FOR THOSE WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD?

The first time I read through the twelve steps, I was surprised how often God was referred to. While the faith-based program of AA may be effective for some, it does not work for everyone — particularly those who do not subscribe to God as a higher power.  Might I offer a solution: AA founder, Bill Wilson, encountered the term “higher power” in the book, Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James. In this book, James offers many examples from Christian traditions, as well as non-Christian examples. One of the best examples of “higher and friendly power” is borrowed from Henry David Thoreau walking in the midst at Walden Pond feeling a sense of connection to pine needles. He cited other examples of a “higher power” to potentially include moral principles, patriotism, civic engagement, and even a higher or better self. Therefore, the term “higher power” does not have to be a faith-based term and thus varies from participant to participant.

You could go to an AA meeting in Los Angeles, London or Lima and each one would be carried out in a similar fashion. This is because the steps and traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are the foundation for every meeting. In each meeting, members will get to know one another, discuss progress and relapses, and support each other through sponsor programs. Although it can be difficult going to an AA meeting with complete strangers and admitting to such a personal issue, it is the only place where every participant knows exactly how you feel. They have been where you are and can support you in your journey. That is powerful. To quote AA literature: “The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.”  This instantaneous bond cultivates a unique feeling of community and understanding that is incredibly helpful to those recovering from alcohol addiction.

The only real way to find out if Alcoholics Anonymous can help you is to give it a try. See for yourself if you think the help and support from others struggling with the same problem can help you stay sober. As Alcoholics Anonymous has no dues or fees, you have nothing to lose in choosing to visit a few meetings. I strongly encourage it. Call now at 877-600-9205 or go online and use a meeting finder to find a meeting in your area. Click here if you are local to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and could benefit from community resources. In like manner, if you feel you could use professional help, I invite you to contact me today or schedule a session to begin your journey toward recovery. I am here to help you along the uphill road of addiction recovery!

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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Intuitive Eating: Giving Your Body What It Wants

“Eating today has become this idea that the food on your fork can either kill you or cure you. It’s gotten to a point of almost religious fervor.” ~ Evelyn Tribole

Babies cry, eat, and then stop sucking when they have had enough milk. Children naturally balance their food intake from day to day — eating when they are hungry and stopping when they feel full. But adults have all types of stipulations on when they can eat, what they can eat, and how much they can eat. At some point, we stop letting their internal clocks guide us in feeding our hunger, and instead rely on society’s norms to guide our nutritional intake. Children have something to teach us about what, when, and how much we eat: It’s called following our intuition or intuitive eating.

In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, I want to talk about our relationship with food. There are so many diets today; Keto diet, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Dukan, Paleo, Vegan, low-carb and Atkins diets to name a few. There are all sorts of “fad diets” out there that eliminate certain food groups, have you count carbs, measure waistlines, and include a range of rules to achieve weight loss. And while [temporary] success may come from these diets, many individuals and dietitians in the country have found that more often than not, weight that has been lost that way does not stay off forever.  

Have you heard of intuitive eating? In 1995, two dietitians in Southern California grew tired of watching their clients see success in weight loss through dieting, only to gain it back over time. One of these dietitians, Evelyn Tribole, said, “We were banging our heads against the wall because the way we were working wasn’t working. We were sick of the insanity [our clients] were going through: They’d restrict themselves and lose weight, but then they’d gain it back and they’d blame themselves.” So she and her colleague, Elyse Resch, went back to the drawing board and their book, “Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program That Works” was born.  

At the time, Americans were just starting to realize how tiresome the shame and fear around food and ineffective weight loss was. In their book, Evelyn and Elyse encourage readers to do something that might sound backwards and dangerous:

Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when.

Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, which I urge you, my readers, to read, ingest (pun), and practice. In a future blog post, I will go over these 10 principles of intuitive eating in greater detail and offer actionable steps. For the purpose of this overview post, I wish to focus only one of these 10 tenets, the one that may surprise you the most about intuitive eating: No foods are off limits, and there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.

I imagine you are thinking, woah woah woah, this just sounds like a free-for-all. I see where you are coming from and I validate that concern. But step back and allow me to explain. Often times, the reason you and I crave pizza is because we tell ourselves it is a wonderfully delicious sinful indulgence. But if we look at pizza as what it truly is (bread, tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni)–not necessarily anything good or bad…just food!–then the guilt associated with pizza evaporates. Sure, you may gorge on pizza for the first couple days of eating intuitively (and preliminary studies have found this occurs frequently for those new to intuitive eating), but eventually the body will tell you it has had enough pizza and wants something else. It may surprise you how quickly your body will tell you to pass up the post-workout donut and instead eat something nutritious!

It is undeniable that different foods have different nutritional benefits. Tribole and Resch are not aiming to tear down public-health initiatives that tell society to eat vegetables. At the very root of intuitive eating is the training to teach you to pay attention to how food makes your body feel.  If you untangle food from the stress, shame, and labels that society has put on things you eat, how do you really FEEL eating that donut or that celery juice? The fact is that while you may fill up on Five Guys, if you truly pay attention to what your body wants, you will inevitably crave the variety and nutrition represented by the “healthy” foods you once had used as punishment in your dieting days.

Intuitive eating means breaking free from the yo-yo cycle of dieting and learning to eat mindfully and without guilt. Intuitive eating is about trusting your inner body wisdom to make choices around food that feel good in your body, without judgment and without influence from diet culture. You were born with the skill to eat, to stop when you are full, to eat when you are hungry, and to eat satisfying foods. Intuitive eating is a return to that instinctual skill.

Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss program. It is not a diet. It is a way of life, a complete paradigm shift with what you eat and why you eat it. It has been found to improve body image, to promote mindfulness practices such as meditation, and encourage exercise — all of which is intended to better attune people to their bodies. This will allow you to mitigate binge- and emotional-eating tendencies…by listening to your body!

Calorie counting, carb avoiding, and waistline measuring are miserable lifestyles. The lifelong pressure to diet wears people down and does not lead to a healthy relationship with food. Though I am not a certified dietitian, I have experience in helping clients struggling with rules and negative beliefs around what they eat. I have seen firsthand how effective and life-altering intuitive eating can be. If you need help working through unhealthy eating habits, I would be happy to assist you and point you to helpful resources. Please contact me or schedule a session today to get started on the path to a healthier relationship with both food and your body.

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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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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Living with Anxiety: 5 Suggestions to Thrive

Living-with-Anxiety-Cluff-Counseling-Lewisville-Therapist

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” -Leo Buscaglia

We all experience some level of anxiety from time to time. In fact, anxiety is a completely normal reaction to a stressful situation. The cold sweat of anxiety is the fight or flight response that kept our ancestors safe from grizzly bears and other dangers. That adrenaline rush still serves us well under some circumstances today; anxiety can even be helpful in certain instances! We worry about the common things in our lives–like finances, work, friends, and family–and this worry has the potential to help us make good decisions in these areas. Anxiety can motivate us, prepare us for things we have to face, and even give us energy to take action when we need to.

It is very possible, however, for anxiety to have an unmistakably negative affect. Serious anxiety may mean procrastinating to the point of being afraid to take a step at all. You may be so nervous about going to your child’s school to talk to the teacher that you do not go at all–you miss the appointment altogether. Your anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it interferes with day-to-day activities, it keeps you from going places, and from doing things you need to do. If you are experiencing worries that are excessive, uncontrollable, or irrational, and have been experiencing these worries for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.

Regardless of the level or intensity of anxiety you are experiencing, it is important that you manage it properly. Anxiety can take a serious toll on your mind and body. You may have trouble sleeping, eating, and concentrating. You may get headaches or have an upset stomach. You may even have a panic attack, a pounding heart, and/or a feeling of lightheadedness. So what can you do when you are feeling anxious? Here are five simple suggestions that you can do anytime, anywhere:

  1. Label your emotions. Figure out exactly what is bothering you by giving a name to what you are feeling. Naming an emotion is the first step in being mindful of it. This activates your prefrontal cortex and can help you balance and self-regulate by creating a relationship with the experience.
  2. Drop the story. Emotions are often driven by the stories you tell yourself. For example: You have an important presentation in class. Your anxiety escalates this assignment into a fantastically worrisome story where you mess up, everyone laughs at you, you fail the class, never graduate college, have to live with your parents forever… and on and on. My suggestion here is to drop the story. Separate the real risks and dangers that a situation presents and those your imagination is making worse. Cut out negative thoughts. No need to worry unnecessarily!
  3. Focus on the task at hand. What can you control? In the class presentation example, what you can control is your preparation and delivery. Try not to stress about peripheral factors–like how others may react or respond. It is a twist on the old adage: “Take control of the things you can, and accept those you can’t change.”
  4. Relax. Stop what you are doing and take deep breaths. Meditate. Do yoga or get some exercise–this is a terrific outlet for anxiety! As you focus on calming your mind and body, you will become more proficient with managing ongoing anxiety.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Feeling anxious is uncomfortable. A good dose of self-care can go a long way to bringing relief and perspective. This may mean practicing a hobby like painting, hiking, singing, baking, exercising, reading, taking a long bath or even sleeping. Whatever self-care looks like for you, make the time to take care of yourself.

Very often, it is possible to get past an anxiety cycle with the help of friends or family to help you sort out your problems. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it may be time for you to consider seeing a therapist, taking medication, or both. Anxiety is the most common mental illness among American adults–with women experiencing it at roughly twice the rate as men–and only half of those affected receive treatment.  Please do not be part of that statistic. Get the help you need and deserve in order to find happiness. Many of my clients face some form of anxiety, and I have been able to help them overcome the negative effects that come with this mental illness. If you or someone you care about could use help living with the effects of anxiety, please contact me today. Additionally, you can click here to schedule a session.

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

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