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Archive for October, 2012

Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Relationships are all around us and they exist whether it is marriage, friendships, in-laws and coworkers and chances are there will be challenging times when we try to find ways to get along with each other. At some point there will be conflict within a relationship but it does not always have to be this way. When relationships become dysfunctional, finding ways to navigate through those can be challenging. Being around others who are healthy can bring value and joy to life. Lifetime friends and special people we identify with in our families can generate feelings of appreciation of both what we receive and what we are able to give. Healthy relationships are built on give and take and not all take and not all give. While there are numerous ways to evaluate a relationship, here are 5 ways that can help enhance relationships.

  1. Do you trust each other? Let’s face it, if there is no trust in any relationship then developing anything significant is halted at the trust gate. Trust puts a limit on how far a person is willing to allow another person into their life. Trust often puts up a wall that says “hold on right there, that is far enough until I get to know you better.” This is especially true in intimate relationships such as marriage. If someone gets married to another person out of feelings of obligation or guilt of disappointing the other person and trust is still an issue then guess what? Trust remains an issue. There have been situations when people have been married to each other for years with one partner still not trusting the other and live a life that is very veiled or what some may refer to as “living a lie.”
  2. Do you respect each other’s opinions when they are different? While this may be difficult to do when cheering for opposing teams or who to vote for in politics, this is more about the context or foundation of which the relationship exists. There are countless times when one person’s way of viewing situations in life does not match others. When this happens it often becomes grounds for dismissal of a friendship or even divorce. An example of an unhealthy way of viewing someone’s opinion is to evaluate the person as a “hater” just because they do not agree with you. A more healthy way says “I don’t agree with your view or opinion, but I respect you anyway regardless.” It goes along the old adage, “can we agree to disagree?”
  3. Do you encourage each other’s hobbies and leisure activities? Healthy encouragement can go a long way to build relationships. Being critical of what other people do create hurt and anger and becomes destructive. People who are genuinely supportive of each other want the other person to have fun and do things that bring joy and excitement to their lives. Sometimes this can inspire others to want to join in on the fun.
  4. Do you problem solve without name calling and put downs? Calling another person names is about tearing the other person down. It is a form of bullying and it is an attempt to control and take possession of the other person. Solving problems is about reconciliation and helping each other overcome an obstacle. Name calling and putting the other person down only creates feelings of resentment and anger and solves nothing. Disagreements become manageable when each person takes responsibility for their actions and move into a direction of equal balance in the decision making process.
  5. Do you allow each other their personal space? Having time to read, journal, listen to music, exercise and any other activity where a person needs time alone is critical in a relationship. This is about having “me” time. Being able to draw limits between the self and the world around us can bring a sense of calm and peace in our lives. It reduces stress and anxiety and brings a general sense of well being.

 

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Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

 

Over the past 11 years our nation has been at war. As of 9/30/2011 the Department of Veteran Affairs reported there is an estimated 22,234,000 United States military veterans. To put this in perspective the world’s largest military force according to the CIA Factbook, China, has 2,250,000 active duty personnel. The United States has an all active duty personnel at 1,450,000. The point is the United States has an enormous veteran population and most people know someone who has served or know someone associated with someone who has served.

The United States Army is reporting that in the first part of 2012 that suicide rates are at an all time high. This impact is being felt among all ranks and all socio-economic-cultural backgrounds. This is not limited to the guys on the front line trading bullets. The impact, stress and trauma of 11 years of war are deep and are reaching upper echelon. It would behoove the Veterans Administration to have a contingency plan gathering resources to offset and counter the assault that is currently taking place in their mental health departments. Their hiring practices have filters that screen out solid professionally licensed therapists that could be helping a lot more veterans than they already do. Almost 1/3rd of the 1.64 million returning service members are reporting mental health problems. The RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research in 2008 reported at that time that there were 300,000 veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and/or Major Depression and as many as 320,000 have experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury.

As an Infantryman and team leader I was taught the value of teamwork and how collectively helping each other creates cohesion and confidence. When others fall you help pick them up and keeping going, you keep fighting and you never quit. It’s dirty, it’s bloody and it’s painful, but you keep going. The idea is if one person quits it can cost the lives of the entire unit.

Awareness of what a fellow veteran might be experiencing is imperative and calls for community effort and teamwork. Knowing there are over 22 million veterans’ living among us is a staggering figure. While not all of them may have combat related problems or been through a combat scenario never discount that possibility. The threat of life is all it takes to have PTSD. Many veterans are humble about their service and do not share details about what they have experienced, and for good reason. Many of them do not want to recall the memories of past trauma and start reliving those memories they have locked away.

Adjusting back to life at home can be difficult and takes time. To return from deep in the abyss of war and military culture is challenging. It is more than readjusting from military life to back home; it is about adjusting to a new place altogether in a place called home. The veteran often finds that the world they left has changed on many different levels and readjustment at times can seem like an impossible task. Be patient, be kind, give them thanks and time to heal.

If you know of a veteran who is struggling with life, using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, seems distant, isolates, avoids family and friends, appears lost in the world, angry or threatens suicide do not ignore it. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Hotline. If the threat of suicide is imminent call 911 immediately.

 

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Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” -Spencer Johnson

Is there integrity in addiction? Absolutely, that is if the addicted person is willing to admit the truth that they have a problem. Integrity is about being honest with themselves about who they are as a person. Sharing the truth about having an addiction with others is also about having integrity. Being able to express who they are with a professional licensed counselor or addictions professional can take an enormous effort. In addition to licensed professionals are support groups such as Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and dozens of other 12 step anonymous groups. Depending on the specific problem a person is experiencing chances are there is a recovery program for it.

Often people suffering with addiction issues think they are all alone and when they begin to get honest with themselves reaching out for help they realize there are many more just like them. This builds fellowship and community knowing they are not alone. They can begin to build a sense of belonging and understanding they do not have to fight their battle alone. Even generals on a battlefield know that they alone cannot win a battle, it requires teamwork. In order for someone to step forward and admit they have a problem requires courage. When this happens the first victory of the fight has been won because the person has stepped past denial. It is remarkable how people who struggle with addictions admit that a huge weight has been lifted off of them when they seek others and confess their secret.

People suffering from an addiction experience a strong sense of shame and guilt. This often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, financial problems, marriage and relationship problems and at times homelessness. This person feels hopeless and lost and does not know what to do about it so they turn inward in an attempt to hide their true self from others. A low sense of self worth settles in. They may begin to withdraw from others and isolate. Nonverbal behavior includes lack of eye contact, a general downcast look and frequently turning away from others, especially family members.

If a person is facing some very strong feelings of guilt and shame the underlying thought is associated with the idea that if “I do not face anyone then I will not have to engage them or face my problems.” The other side of the coin is that the person is not ready to admit they have a problem and they are trying to protect the addiction. In this manner the addiction is being used to medicate some undesired feeling, thought or life stressor. Unfortunately some people never seek help and they begin to self destruct.

Recovery requires moving into acceptance to work on the addiction. Integrity requires a person to understand that this will be more than kicking a habit; it is about a lifestyle change. It is a dedicated unrelenting pursuit of healing leading to live a life of being true to the self. Fear of the truth of who a person really is conjures up feelings of being vulnerable, that they will be judged and become identified as a person in a negative way. This internal critical voice indicates to the addicted person that they are somehow fundamentally flawed. Perhaps a bigger question to counter act this thinking is who is not flawed? While this does not provide an excuse to keep damaging oneself, it does let go of feelings that a person must be perfect in their recovery or else they are some kind of a failure.

Recovery is often like learning to ride a bicycle, how many times does a person fall off, get hurt, get back on and try again before they learn? Sometimes it takes a while and it takes practice. Living a life outside of addiction is new and it is a new way of being in the world. The main idea is to be honest with yourself and then be honest with others and that is the integrity in addiction. It is about stopping the denial and stepping forward. It is okay. There are many that have done who are glad they did.

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By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

So real men do not need counseling eh? Neither are they supposed to cry when they get hurt, right? Oh, and now they are going to have to carve out their masculinity and put it on a shelf in order to seek Jesus right?

I find it amazing that hero and savior Jesus Christ, the King of the universe is seen weeping in the Bible. John 11:35 reads “Jesus wept.” It’s the famously shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus is seen weeping over the loss of his friend Lazarus. This is incredible; the man that came to save the world is seen by others weeping over a friend. Wait, what is going on here? The Messiah, the Anointed One is crying? The One who was sent to redeem all of mankind is crying? Um, dial this one in, Houston, we have a problem. The One who is supposed to be the exemplar of strength is having an emotional meltdown?

Okay, maybe this is a little overly dramatic but it shows us men something about ourselves. Jesus had compassion over losing someone near and dear to him. Jesus felt as a man what we men have, feelings. Guess what? It is okay to have them. So here we have it, Jesus, as a man who is strong enough to withstand a Roman soldier beating until bloody all over, picks up half a tree, carries it to the top of a hill and then he gets nailed to it to hang for all to see. Get the picture? I would be willing to bet that most men wouldn’t even survive each piece of this event separately.

I am trying to make a point that a man of such great strength to endure such masochism finds it perfectly acceptable to express his feelings in front of others. Jesus while fully man walking the earth expressed a full range of emotions and he did not shield himself from showing them. Anger in the temple, grief, joy, happiness, love, sadness, sympathy, gladness and the list goes on. How many times have you heard the expression “Don’t cry in front of others, it’s a sign of weakness?” Here is an alternative thought, compassion and empathy for others. Christ sets the example of a man who is not distant and cold and he is confident enough to cry in front of others.

Stuffing feelings and trying to gut out our problems leads to a whole host of other problems. Counseling is often a place people go when they want to be able to talk to someone where they can let it all out. If you are trying to play tough guy and hold it all in then guess what? It will come out. Where internal feelings decide to manifest themselves outward is the question. What do you do when you feel anxious, sad or joyful? How do you express these feelings? What do you do with them? How long before the ulcers show up? How long before depression settles in from feeling defeated? How long before alcohol and drugs numb out these feelings? How long before bitterness and sarcasm become a common style of dialogue costing you a job and losing a wife because the anger inside is eating you from the inside out? How long? Talk to someone. Quit trying to play tough guy and get some help. Stop living a lie. No one is going to judge you, call you names or think you are less of a man for improving yourself and putting first things first.

“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost

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By: Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Depression is not limited to certain people who are pre-disposed for it. Depression can happen to anyone. Studies indicate that one in four people will experience depression within their lifetime. There are key thoughts and behaviors that can be attributed to feeling depressed such as thinking (and believing) that everything is hopeless and that nothing is ever going to change. Feelings of worthlessness, being useless at work or in relationships and thinking the world is a terrible place casting blame on the self when things go wrong. These are negative thought patterns that contribute to depression.

There are also behaviors that contribute as well such as being frequently tired or low energy, disruptive sleeping and eating patterns. There is a loss of joy in life with the things that were once enjoyed. Avoidance of family and friends, sleeping most of the day and difficulty getting out of bed. There may even be painful physical complaints such as frequent headaches and backaches. At its worst people may isolate for long periods of time and turn to drugs or alcohol to help cope with the feelings of depression. Chemicals only exacerbate the situation further by eliminating precious serotonin from the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a natural antidepressant.

Breaking the cycle of depression requires movement. In a metaphorical sense, it is like heating water to a boil. Water without stimulation remains motionless and unchanged. However, if some heat (activity) is applied it energizes molecules creating more energy which creates more movement and so forth and so on. The first step is breaking the motionless cycle and getting movement going. Go to the park and feed the ducks or find some activity that requires getting up and going outside of the home. A simple walk around the block. Call a friend or family member and stop by for a visit. Take up a hobby that involves being around other people such as an art class or outdoor photography. The point is movement.

Breaking the cycle of depression through movement does several things. First it creates a distraction by challenging the often negative perception of the world around us and infuses something positive. It challenges depressed feelings that the world is not a terrible place where everything goes wrong or is bad. Challenge your thoughts of what you might be reacting to. Are you focusing just on the bad things in life without looking at the good? A good way to get negative thoughts out is journaling. Write down the bad thoughts and leave blank space after each sentence to return and write in positive alternatives.

While many of these strategies will work for mild to moderate depression sometimes there may be a situation due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, or chronic severe depression. If this is the case then talking with your doctor for possible antidepressants is highly recommended along with talk therapy.

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By Brian M Murray, MS and Christine Hammond, MS

On the way to a county wedding out of town, he is driving because she took too long to get ready and now they are running late.

Her.  [Great, he’s lost again for the hundredth time.  He won’t stop and ask for directions and now I’m going to miss the processional after all that hard work on the flowers.  See he doesn’t really care about what I do.  Oh no, what is he wearing?  He doesn’t really think that tie matches, does he?] Honey, I don’t recognize this way.”

Him[Gosh why can’t she just shut up, I’m tired of being talked to like a two year old.] “I’m going the way the GPS told me to go.”

Her. [Stupid GPS, doesn’t he know by now that it can’t be trusted?  Why can’t he just use some common sense for a change and follow the directions my Aunt gave us.  She went out of her way on a very busy day to send us special directions and now I’ll have to tell her that she wasted her time.] “I don’t think this is the way my Aunt recommended.”

Him. [Your Aunt, whatever, I got this.] “Look I’m going the best possible way.”

Her. [He always does this when it’s an event for my side of the family.  But if it was his side of the family, everything would be different.  Well, at least I won’t have to put up with his father making obnoxious jokes and his mother in her clown painted face make-up at this wedding.  Now I’m going to have to listen to my father say yet again just how many minutes we were late.] “Well then don’t blame me if we get lost.”

Him. [OMG, this woman is going to drive me insane!] “I’m not lost; I waited patiently for 15 minutes while you got ready.”

Her. [Patience, he calls stomping, ranting, and honking the horn patience!  I’ll give him patience. Try waiting for that stupid closet door to get fixed over the last year or how about cleaning out the garage.  He hasn’t done that in about five years and I haven’t mentioned it in six months.  Now that’s patience, waiting for 15 minutes so that I can look good for him is nothing and it’s obvious that he doesn’t even appreciate all my hard work.] “Look there’s a gas station.  Do you want me to ask for directions?”

Him. [You have got to be kidding me.  I know where I am going!] “Just a little bit further.”

Where is this going? Often in a marriage there are two perspectives in a situation and coming to an understanding of the other person’s point of view can be a challenging process especially when what is thought is often not what is said.  It’s kind of like shooting at a moving target, just when you think have your aim, the target moves.  Let’s explore how each spouse could have better handled the situation before, during and after.

Before.  Instead of fuming during her 15 minute delay, he could have taken the time to pre-program the GPS and compare the directions with her Aunt’s.  Then he could have called Aunt Betsy to answer the discrepancies prior to leaving.  She could have planned on being ready 15 minutes earlier instead of later by setting the time of departure 30 minutes in advance.  A wedding should be a fun event so with a little planning ahead of time, departing won’t be so stressful.

During.  Instead of projecting blame on each other, they could have taken responsibility for their own part in the delay.  He could have examined other options such as calling the Aunt while driving instead of insisting on driving on and being prideful.  She should not call her Aunt however, because such a move can leave him feeling invalidated.  Rather, she needs to find her happy place and keep her mouth shut.

After.  Arriving at a wedding after a heated argument is not the best way to greet a newly married couple.  Once harsh words are thought and spoken, the face will betray the mind and tensions will continue to rise.  Instead, before you step out of the car, take a moment to visualize the argument being left at the scene of the crime which is in the car.  Do not take it inside!  Consider the wedding to be a timeout of sorts or a healthy distraction, you can return to the argument when you return to the car.  You just might find that by the end of the wedding, most will be forgotten and the rest should be forgiven.

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“I know that the whole point—the only point—is to find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and fight for them, and refuse to let them go.” ― Lauren Oliver

Fighting for something you believe in can make a big difference in how far you are willing to go to make a point. Sometimes it can go so far as to begin to destroy your marriage or engagements and relationships. Couples often come into therapy fighting about what they want from each other rarely looking at the marriage as a whole. They would rather stand on their point than begin to communicate toward conflict resolution. When this happens it becomes difficult to set aside personal differences. In a relationship, how can a person begin to move into acceptance of their mate’s perspective without holding them in contempt of their own?

Often in disagreements there is a perspective coming from each partner of how they think things should be. It can seem like each person is carrying around an unpublished book of rules they expect their partner to adhere to. The end result leads to frequent arguments and resentment of being married to someone who will not see things their way. If the marriage is healthy it can withstand a fight or an argument every once in a while. It’s not a bad thing to air out grievances as long as it is done in a healthy respectful way.

If you find yourself in a marriage full of frequent arguments then perhaps it’s time to propose the question of what are you both fighting for? Are you fighting for yourself or are you fighting for your marriage? Sometimes they are both one and the same if the marriage is being challenged, for example, by infidelity, addiction or financial troubles. The difference is related to the perspective of how you view yourself and your spouse within the context of the marriage. If you are fighting for yourself chances are you have left your spouse out of the process and you will ultimately end up fighting the battle to save your marriage all by yourself. An example of this is trying to berate your spouse into compliance. If you are fighting for your marriage then the resolution becomes a situation where two people come together and collectively communicate their needs and expectations.

Chances are you and your spouse at one time in the beginning of your relationship took the time to communicate and fall in love with each other enough to want a lifetime commitment. If you are hitting hard times the same approach applies, take time to communicate with each other in a respectful manner exploring how to come to resolution and acceptance of your differences.

Remember, each person is often coming into conflict over unseen rules and miscommunication. Become transparent and break out the rule books and open them up for each other to examine. Share expectations and negotiate moving forward toward acceptance of each other’s position. At the heart of the matter is the marriage, collectively.

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