A Common Marital Pattern

They say that opposites attract, but understanding how we differ can be enlightening.

Through the years, I have done a lot of marital counseling. Couples usually seek help because of frequent conflicts, emotional distance or to recover from one member’s affair. They may disagree on finances, parenting decisions, or decision making. Sometimes they schedule an appointment more as a preventative, because they see the potential of a serious difficulty. Sometimes, they have already separated, and are on the verge of divorce.

While the specifics will differ from couple to couple, one pattern seems to be quite consistent. Over-and-over, I have seen this pattern emerge, often in the first counseling session. As we talk about the nature of their communications and their conflicts, I see that one of them is an Internalizer and the other is an Externalizer.

These terms refer to their personality styles, their emotional vulnerabilities and their reactions to conflict. The traits seem to be consistent over time, and the pattern holds true in about 95% of couples.

The personalities have nothing to do with being an introvert and an extrovert. An Internalizer can be an extrovert or an introvert, as can an Externalizer.

The Internalizer:

An internalizer reacts to hurt by withdrawing. He gets quiet or distances when he is hurt. He tends to not talk about his feelings. The more he is hurt, the more distant he becomes. Occasionally, however, he will react with an outburst of anger, and it is often intense.

Internalizers hate conflict. Arguments, relationship or emotional discussions make them nervous. Because of their anxiety, they often have trouble thinking what they want to say. Their minds go blank during a discussion. Their most feared words are “We need to talk.” They may not get anxious about other issues, but relationship issues do trigger anxiety.

Internalizers are most sensitive to being criticized or feeling inadequate. They are vulnerable to feeling that they have messed up, or that they can’t meet the partner’s expectations. They perceive the partner as being hard to please.

The Externalizer:

The Externalizer reacts to hurt by getting angry, irritated or frustrated. Her hurt tends to turn into anger fairly quickly. She may try to talk about her hurt, but it often comes out more as frustration or anger.

While Externalizers don’t like conflict, they really hate non-resolution of problems. They want to address issues. They need to talk about the problem and the feelings it creates. They want to feel heard and understood. They get more upset when their partner avoids talking about the issues.

Externalizers are most sensitive to feeling rejected, unimportant or unloved. They tend to feel that the partner doesn’t care about them or their opinions. They see the partner as distant, detached or uninvolved. They often feel alone in the relationship.

You can probably imagine how these opposite personality traits could cause difficulties. When the Externalizer feels unimportant, she reacts with frustration or anger. The Internalizer perceives her anger as criticism, which he is sensitive to. He reacts by withdrawing. When he withdraws, she feels that he doesn’t care about her or love her, which makes her angrier. The vicious cycle continues.

These two personalities can learn to live together in harmony, but they have to understand what is happening. Each person has to understand his own tendencies, as well as his partners. Understanding that your partner is different from you and thinks differently can help. Trying to express hurt, rather than anger or withdrawal, can make a huge difference.

On Being Judgmental

Judging others can make us feel superior, but we need to wait until we're ready.

I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait. I imagine that it will be so satisfying. I’ve been trying to be patient, but it is difficult. I’ve seen others do it, and they certainly seem to enjoy it.judging

So, what am I talking about? I’m looking forward to being judgmental. I’m looking forward to judging everyone around me. First, I’ll turn up my nose to those who have messed up. Then, with my head pointed upward, I’ll be able to look down on those who have faltered. Finally, I’ll sneer at those who have stumbled.

The self-satisfaction will be sweet. The arrogance will be awesome. Like the kid, who is assigned the job of taking names while the teacher is out of the room, I will be sitting tall. My head will be scanning the crowd, searching for any infraction. My pencil and paper will be ready.

The advantages of being judgmental will be abundant. I will be able to feel superior. Looking down on someone will remind me that I am above them. I won’t have to examine myself, of course. I will be much too busy for that.

Unfortunately, for now, I’ll have to wait. I’m not quite qualified to be the name-taker. I fall short of the requirements to be judgmental.  But when I become perfect, I will jump at the job. That’s right, when I become perfect, I plan to become judgmental, and I can’t wait.

Hmmm, I guess I really can’t wait. You see, if I’m totally honest, I must admit that I’ve tried it out a few times. I’ve sampled that feeling of superiority that comes from judging others. I tried to resist, but the temptation was just too strong.

The bad thing is that practicing judgment prematurely isn’t completely satisfying unless I pretend. To make it work, I have to pretend that I’m already perfect. Acknowledging my own faults ruins the taste. Like the green apple, judging another before I reach perfection can be a bitter fruit.

So, I guess I need to wait to be judgmental. Until I reach perfection, I’ll have to remember that I’m in the same boat as everyone else.

The Loss in Loneliness

Loneliness or feeling disconnected from others can impact your mental and physical health.

We were created for connection. We are naturally social animals. It begins in infancy. From the moment of birth, the infant needs human contact and connection for survival. Years ago, we discovered that babies deprived of humanloneliness hurts mental and physical health connection fail to thrive, and sometimes die.

As humans grow, the impact of isolation continues. Disconnection from peers is a major reason for school dropouts. Teenagers, who identify themselves as outcasts, often slip into delinquency, other forms of antisocial behavior, violence or suicide.

In adults, extended loneliness can lead to depression, alcoholism, and physical illness. Studies show that a lack of social or family support can increase the risk of heart disease. It tends to elevate blood pressure, make the heart muscle work harder, and raise the levels of stress hormones. Loneliness can also heighten our perception of stress and cause insomnia.

So, is loneliness the same as being alone? Not really. Feelings of loneliness are experienced most acutely when other people are around us, but we feel disconnected. In his book, “Traveling Light,” Max Lucado points out that “Loneliness is not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

There are many potential causes of loneliness. As we get older, we experience the death of more-and-more relatives and friends. The older we get, the more likely we are to lose our core social connections. The feeling of disconnection is a major cause of depression in the elderly.

Sometimes, loneliness in adulthood can be traced to negative childhood events. Children who experience parental distance or rejection are more likely to feel lonely as adults. They tend to see themselves as less likeable or lovable, making them less likely to approach others. They may reject others before others have a chance to reject them.

Often, we feel lonely because of inaccurate perceptions. We do mind reading, where we assume others are thinking critical or disapproving thoughts about us. We assume they don’t like us or don’t care about us. We may assume we are disconnected, even when others like us or love us. We assume that we are different from others.

So, you were created for connection. Your mental and physical health will benefit from having positive relationships. Put some energy into reconnecting with old friends, strengthening current relationships or creating new ones. Don’t assume that they won’t like you or won’t have time for you. Make a call. Set up a lunch date. Start a conversation. You’ll feel better for the effort.

The Oppression of Other’s Opinions

Worry about other's opinions will increase your stress, and limit your life.

So, how much do you worry about other people’s opinions? Do you guage your choices or behaviors on what othersworry would think? Is your life measured by anticipation of their approval or disapproval? Does it limit your joy, your peace, or even your life?

 

It’s a common problem. We all do it sometimes. In fact, a total disregard of other’s opinions may be pathological. It can be one symptom of a sociopathic personality.

 

The habit may even have survival value. In primitive times, your survival depended on the approval of the tribe. If your actions earned their disapproval, you may have been ostracized from the tribe. You wouldn’t survive in the jungle alone.

 

Fear of disapproval may have served our ancestors, so it is a natural tendency. But today, it can do more harm than good. Worries about other’s opinions doesn’t protect us today. In fact, it hurts us because it creates significant stress. Imagining and fearing negative judgment creates the same bodily reactions as a physical attack. Our hearts race and breathing speed up. Our muscles tense, and our bodies release stress chemicals, which damage our organs and speed up the aging process.

 

So, let’s imagine that you have messed up. You made a bad choice or a mistake. You did something embarrassing. You imagine that everyone is judging you or disapproving. Let’s consider some reasons why such thoughts are a waste of time and energy.

 

Most importantly, you need to remind yourself that you are mind reading. You can’t read their minds. You don’t know what they are thinking. You may feel quite sure of your imaginings, but the ultimate truth is you don’t know. You are only imagining. Also, you are more likely to assume disapproval than approval. We tend to assume the negative.

 

Breaking the imaginary “others” into categories can be helpful. The people you’re worrying about can be divided into the following groups.

 

  1. Most others fit into the group of “don’t know or don’t care.” Many people don’t even know what happened. News of your mistake has not spread as much as you imagine. It has not been a focus of everyone’s conversation. Some may have heard about the mistake, but haven’t thought about it since. They are focused on their own life events and haven’t given your mistake much thought.
  2. A second, much smaller, group has heard of your mistake, and are busy judging you. They may take pleasure in gossiping about your mistake. They may feel superior because they haven’t made the same mistake. They may look down on you. But, do these people really count? Most likely, they are simply judgmental people. They like to judge and gossip. If they are judging you, they are giving someone else a rest. It seems to me that Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees, who were the most judgmental people of the day.
  3. The last group consists of those who have heard of your mistake, but view the event with caring and compassion. Their opinion of you hasn’t suffered. They are supportive and understanding. They don’t think less of you.

Try this mental exercise. Think of someone you like and respect. Now put them in your shoes. Imagine that they were in the exact same circumstances, and that they made the exact same mistake. How would you judge them? Would you think less of them? Would you be as harsh in your judgment of them as you are with yourself? I suspect not. The people in group 3 perceive you in the same way, and group 3 is the only one that counts.

Monitor your thoughts for worries about the opinions of others. Treat such thoughts as a bad habit, and remind yourself that such thoughts are destructive. We should always strive to do the right thing in any situation, but we shouldn’t allow our lives to be limited by the opinion of others.

Perception of Time as we Age

As we grow older, time seems to speed up. We'll consider possible explanations.

Does it seem that time passes faster than it used to? Do you find yourself making statements like “I can’t believe it’stime perception already Monday,” “I can’t believe it’s already April,” or worse, “I can’t believe I’m already 60.”

 

Perception of the time is interesting. Sometimes, time seem to fly by, and sometimes it drags on. Yet, the clock ticks off each second, minute, hour and lifetime at exactly the same rate. So, why does time seem to pass more rapidly as we grow older?

 

Changing perception of time with aging has been a topic of psychological research and debate since the 1890’s, but we still don’t fully understand it. There seem to be several factors leading to our sense that the clock speeds up as we grow older. A 2013 summary of research by Jordan Lewis in “Scientific American” presents several theories.

 

  1. We gauge time by memorable events.

    In our younger years, we experience more first-time events (a first date, first kiss, first job, marriage and the birth of children), than in our older years. The fact that those memorable events were packed into a few years may make those years seem longer. A year where everything seemed to be changing will seem longer than a year where most things stayed the same.

  2. The amount of time relative to one’s age varies.

    This theory suggests that we are constantly comparing time intervals with the total amount of time we have already lived. One year is 10% of a 10 year old’s life, but only 2% of a 50 year old’s life.

  3. Our biological clock may slow with age.

    Brain research suggests that there are several parts of the brain involved in our perception of time. It may be that some of these parts slow with age. Since the actual speed of the clock stays the same, we may perceive time to pass more quickly as we age.

  4. As we age, we may pay less attention to time.

    The phrase “slow as Christmas” doesn’t seem to apply when we are older. Young people seem to spend more time anticipating the future. Waiting for an anticipated event to occur (a birthday or Christmas) can make the time seem to move like molasses.

 

It seems to me that time perception with age is similar to time perception on vacation. Let’s say that you have a week at the beach. The first days seem to last forever. You feel like you’ve been there a long time already, and you still have several days to go. In the middle of the week, the time seems to pass more quickly. You begin to sense that the week is forging ahead. Then at the end of the week, the days seem to speed by. You feel like the week passed too quickly. After all, you just got here and it’s time to go home.

 

Life, like a vacation week, is a finite period of time. As we move closer toward the end of that time, we feel more like we just got here. The years seem to fly by. I guess it’s just one more reason to enjoy each moment!

 

 

The Exercise Cure for Depression

In addition to medication and psychotherapy, exercise can be a powerful treatment for depression.

Clinical depression affects about 15 million adult Americans each year. The illness is characterized by a persistent low mood, a loss of interest in typically pleasurable activities, fatigue, insomnia, poor concentration and feelings ofexercise cure for depression worthlessness. It is more severe and persistent than a simple down mood, and is one of the leading causes of disability and death around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Depression is usually treated with antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. Both have proven to be effective in helping most people. Antidepressants are not addictive and have relatively few side-effects. Several types of psychotherapy have proven to be effective, with Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy being the most researched.

But research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of a third treatment approach. We all know the benefits of physical exercise for our physical health, but recent studies have shown that it can be just as important for our mental health.

Several major studies have compared the benefits of physical exercise, antidepressant medications and psychotherapy for people suffering from depression. The findings show consistently that regular physical exercise can be as effective as medication and counseling for mild to moderate depression. People with more severe depression will often need a combination of the three treatment approaches. When the depressed person adds moderate exercise to their treatment efforts, the improvement can be dramatic.

Some studies have tried to determine how much exercise is enough to treat depression, but the results are still unclear. Some findings suggest that 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking, running or cycling, three to five times per week is necessary.

Any exercise creates a change in our body chemistry, including oxygen levels, neurochemicals and hormones. Some studies suggest that exercise mimics the effects of antidepressants. If you’re already taking an antidepressant, exercise can boost its effectiveness.

So, we know that physical exercise can help relieve clinical depression. The problem is that, when we’re depressed, exercise is the last thing we want to do. When we’re depressed, we don’t feel like exercising, we don’t even feel like getting out of bed. The idea of getting up and exercising for 30 to 45 minutes can feel like climbing Mount Everest.

So begin with small steps. Walk down your driveway or once around your block. Just walk around your house and go back inside. Try to move more inside the house. Any movement counts. Do what you can do at first, then try to increase gradually over time. It will take a little time to see results, but if you’re persistent, they will come.

Depression is painful, often debilitating and sometimes deadly. If you think you are experiencing depression, consult with your healthcare provider. Medications and psychotherapy can be very effective. But in addition to other treatment efforts, try to make yourself get up and get moving. You’ll be glad you did.

Holding On To Our Hurts

We worsen the pain and long-term damage when we hold on to our hurts.

What do you do when someone hurts you? Notice that the question is when, not if. Everyone gets hurt at times. It’s unavoidable. The important issue is how we respond to those hurts.holding on to our hurts

Some people strike back. Their hurt quickly turns into anger, frustration or irritation. The transition is usually so fast that they don’t even recognize the hurt. They only feel the anger. They may claim that they don’t feel hurt, just angry. I would argue, however, that underneath all anger is a sense of being hurt.

Some people hold their hurt in. They don’t say anything to the offending party. They just get quiet and withdraw. They protect themselves by distancing. It’s harder for them to hurt you if you distance from them. This distancing can be physical where you stay away from them altogether, or it could be emotional distancing where you just build a wall around your heart. Either way, you distance.

In many situations, the most effective response is an assertive one. An assertive response lets the other person know they their words or actions hurt you, but does so without being aggressive. Your tone and words are direct and serious, but not angry or attacking. An assertive response addresses the hurt without damaging the relationship.

But what about your long-term response to being hurt? Are you able to let the event go, or do you hold on to your hurt? Do you replay the event over-and-over in your mind? Do you continuously analyze what they meant, why they did it, or what you wish you had said to them? Do you find yourself thinking about it as you lie awake in bed?

Holding on to our hurts or anger creates several problems. Here are a few:

  1. Sustained anger or irritation creates harmful chemical changes in our bodies. When we experience resentment, irritation or anger, our bodies release cortisol. This chemical helps our bodies prepare to fight or flee when we are faced with physical danger. However, it is intended to be released as brief bursts, where we defend ourselves and then calm down. Holding on to negative emotions keeps the cortisol elevated, which damages the body over time. For example, research shows a clear connection between sustained anger and heart disease.
  2. Continued ruminating about a hurt can increase our general negativity. When we replay negative events in our minds, we are more likely to anticipate future negative events. We expect the worst. We tend to distrust others more. Our negative expectations of others can hurt other relationships.
  3. Repeatedly replaying hurtful events or analyzing them to death takes up valuable mental space. Our negative thoughts can ruin times we could have enjoyed. When we obsess today about a hurtful act that occurred last year, we give that hurtful person our afternoon. We don’t enjoy the afternoon because of our ruminations about the person who hurt us. And, by the way, that person is probably enjoying their afternoon without think about us at all.

So, the best immediate response to a hurtful act is usually an assertive one, but the best long-term response is always to let it go. It isn’t easy to let go of our hurts, but it’s always best for our well-being.

Making Everyday Tasks Pleasurable

With a little effort, you might be able to make your everyday tasks more enjoyable.

We all do them every day. We do them all day long. Of course, there are some exceptions, but they fill most of our days. They are literally our everyday tasks.
They differ for each of us. You everyday tasks might include driving to work, your actual work activities, preparing meals, doing laundry, yard work or house work. They fill up our “Things to Do” lists.
We usually think of such activities as necessary, but not fun. We complain about having to do these tasks. We may dread them. We certainly don’t think of them as pleasurable.
But what if we could? What if we integrated a bit of enjoyment in our everyday tasks? Since they make up such a significant part of our day, we might as well enjoy them. Here are a few steps to making your everyday tasks more pleasurable.
  1. Change your mindset. Your thinking can make a difference. If you perceive an activity as a chore or a drudgery, it will be unpleasant and seem to last forever. Perceiving the same activity as a blessing or an opportunity, can make it feel much more pleasurable. For example, you can resent having to buy groceries, or feel blessed that you have money to buy groceries and the convenience of a grocery store.
  2. Focus on some positive part of the task. Try to find some pleasant, interesting or beautiful aspect of the activity. For example, you might enjoy the view from your kitchen window, while washing dishes. Or you could focus on the scenery you pass as you drive to work.
  3. Add something positive to the task. Try to think of something nice you could do as you complete the task. Doing housework might be more pleasant if you did it while listening to music. Working on paperwork could be more pleasant while sipping a cup of coffee or a drink. I always listen to audiobooks while commuting to work.
  4. Plan to give yourself a little reward when you finish the task. Of course, these are everyday tasks to the reward can’t be too big, but a little break sitting on the porch can go a long way.
Of course, these are just ideas and may not be feasible in your particular situation. The point is to consider steps you can take to enjoy your everyday task a bit more. If you have to do them every day, you might as well enjoy them.
We all do them every day. We do them all day long. Of course, there are some exceptions, but they fill most of our days. They are literally our everyday tasks.

No Man is an Island

We owe a debt to so many. Consider the many ways you have benefited from others.


No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main.    John Donne

 

When we think of gratitude, we consider the many ways we have been blessed by God, and this is appropriate and good. But we also have reasons to be grateful to other people. Several years ago, I attended a workshop on Positive Psychology, which is the study of factors that make some people exceptionally positive. The workshop leader has us do a little exercise and I want to share it.

Sit down with a piece of paper and pen or pencil. You can try to do it in your head, but it won’t be as effective. Take the time to put thought into your response to each question. Try to stretch your brain a bit.

First, write down the names of people who have helped or added to your life in some way. You don’t need to write their full name, just what you would call them. This could include your parents, grandparents or other relatives, your friends or teachers. Try to include everyone you can think of who has helped you or benefited you, big or small. This list will be fairly long. Consider that you would not be who you are or where you are if these people had not been in your life.

When you’ve exhausted this list, write a list of people you’ve never met who have added to the quality of your life. This list could include inventors of things you use every day, like electric lights, cars, heating and cooling systems, television and radio, etc. It could also include the founders of our country and our democratic system of government, as well as the soldiers who have defended it. This list could go on forever, so just include the people or categories of people that come to mind in a few minutes.

Finally, make a list of those people who may have hurt you, but who did also contribute to your life in some positive way. This might include that abandoning parent, who did at least give you life. Or it could include an unkind teacher, who did teach you something of value. This may be the most difficult list, but it is important. Like it or not, we sometimes owe a debt of gratitude to even those we don’t like.

When I finished this exercise, I felt a renewed sense of connection to mankind. I am who I am because of so many. I owe so many a debt of gratitude. I think you will as well. You may relate to the words of Walt Whitman, who said, “I am large – I contain multitudes.”

 

The Dangers of Desensitization

There are some events that should never become acceptable.

As I write this, the FBI is investigating yet another mass shooting in America. Apparently, a lone gunman with a history of mental illness shot unarmed strangers in a Florida airport baggage claim area until he ran out of bullets. At this time, five people are dead and six are wounded.

The tragedy of the incident is overwhelming. We can only imagine the pain and loss. Some were preparing for a cruise. Others were meeting family.

There are more mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world. A CNN report from July, 2016, indicated that, while the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, we had 31% of all the world’s mass shootings.

And the frequency of mass shootings is increasing. An FBI report indicated that the number of incidents of mass shootings and the number of casualties have risen since 2000. The FBI defined mass shootings as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The time interval between incidents seems to be decreasing. An analysis from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that between 1982 and 2011 mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Between 2011 and 2014, shootings occurred every 64 days.

Of course, I’m concerned about the phenomenon. I question what it means. I feel compassion for the victims. I wonder what we can do about it, but I have another concern.

Are we getting accustomed to it? Are we becoming desensitized? You see, we get used to anything that we repeatedly experience. This is called desensitization. It applies to everything. Over time, we get used to loud noises, heavy traffic, warm or cold temperatures. We also tend to get used to hearing cursing and seeing sexual and violent content on television and movies. We are no longer shocked or appalled. Unfortunately, we can also get used to mass shootings if we see them often enough.

It seems to me that the attention given to this most recent mass shooting in Florida was a bit less than expected. Actually, I think that I have heard a little less shock, concern and fear for the last few violent events. Are we becoming desensitized to random, senseless acts of violence? Do we see it as just “one more shooting.”

I hope not. Some things should shock us. Some acts must remain unacceptable. We should be alarmed. We may not know what to do about the problem yet, but we can’t accept it as the norm.