Do you have a Personality Disorder?

Before joining TCG, I used to work in a behavioral hospital setting. It used to break my heart to see individuals feel so hopeless and helpless over their illness. They just couldn’t understand why the medications they were taking weren’t working despite trying so many different medications and despite reaching the maximum dosage. At times, individuals would turn to electric convulsive therapy (ECT) treatments. Half of the time, the procedure would yield favorable results, but sadly sometimes they would not.  It was during these times that I often wondered whether there is an underlying personality disorder.

A person’s personality is influenced by 2 main factors: 1.) environment including interactions with caregivers, and 2.) genes such as brain chemistry and structure.  A person can develop a personality disorder when they go through very stressful conditions growing up. Specifically, sexual, verbal, or physical abuse, neglect and abandonment, and instability during childhood. Additional risk factors for personality disorders are as follows:  a family history of personality disorders or other mental illness and being diagnosed with childhood conduct disorder. If any of the above applies to you plus you have tried multiple medications and reached maximum dosage to no avail, you may have a personality disorder.

There are many types of personality disorders, but there is one main criteria that individuals with personality disorders share---A pattern of thinking and behaving that is inflexible and unhealthy that it causes difficulties in personal, social, and work relationships. Many times, individuals do not recognize that it is their own maladaptive patterns of thinking and behaving that causes problems in their lives. This is where a therapist can be of assistance. As therapists, it is our job to point out to our clients their thought processes. We then let our client decide if this is a thought pattern they’d like to keep, adjust, or change while considering the natural consequences of their behaviors. As therapists, one of the foremost ways we help individuals is in helping them make conscious decisions and take control of their lives.  We are here to push, encourage, and support a happier and healthier you. 

How to Create a Work Life Balance

Many of us find a lot of meaning in the work that we do, whether we are paid a little, a lot, or somewhere in the middle. It gives us a sense of purpose, production, and ability to provide for ourselves and our family. Working hard can be an excellent thing for your mental stimulation, sometimes leading to longer and healthier lives. However, too much of any good thing can be destructive to our mental health, physical health, and relationships. Finding a balance between fulfilling a purpose filled job and being present in the lives of those you love is definitely hard, but here are a few tips that can help.

  1. Aim to be healthy, not perfect. Let go of your desire to do everything absolutely perfect at work. Most managers would say that a healthy and happy employee does the best work, not the uptight and stressed employee who aims for perfection.
  2. Set boundaries to unplug at home. In a day and age where we are always accessible by phone, set boundaries to turn your email off from 7pm-7am, for example. Most employers don't actually expect us to be reachable 24 hours a day, that is just an expectation we place on ourselves so get rid of that and be present at home when you're there.
  3. Have a daily practice of self-care. This can be mediation, yoga, exercise, reading, writing, or something else. Take 15 minutes a day to take care of you and you only.
  4. Learn to say NO. Perfectionists who struggle with work life balance often have a hard time saying no to new tasks at work that aren't in their job description. They also often over commit to social gatherings, creating an unending cycle of busyness.  
  5. Schedule downtime in your day, the same way you schedule meetings or a haircut. This can be alone or with family or friends. Treat this as a committment that you can't miss.

Most people won't get to the end of their life and wish they worked more or wished they had more money. On our death beds, we often wish for just one more day with our loved ones and today is never too late to start living like that.

'This is Us': Short Accounts

There were many victories in the latest episode “Vegas, Baby”. Kevin resists the temptation to drink, Toby connects with the Pearson brothers, Beth lets her heart make a decision, and Kate and Randall have a good heart to heart. The dynamic that stood out the most to me was Beth and Randall’s fight. Their relationship is one of my favorites on the show. Beth’s sass keeps Randall in line and Randall’s compassion draws Beth into forgiveness. Our idea of a desirable and ideal relationship might have less fights than Beth and Randall’s but their relationship actually models something very healthy. It has been proven that couples who fight more report more happiness in their relationship. This may seem backwards, but the concept of having “short accounts” benefits relationships. It’s the difference between having a long laundry list of things that are bothering you about your partner in the back of your mind and sharing with your partner when something bothers you. Think about it. Beth and Randall have been quick to bring up William staying at the house, the idea of adoption, Randall’s anxiety, Randall staying home and going back to work, and now the drama with Deja. They didn’t let these things fester and grow into something much bigger than they actually are. They confronted each situation head on. Now, it’s not always butterflies and daisies. They hurt each other’s feelings for sure. I can remember seeing the hurt on Randall’s face whenever Beth told him it was time to go back to work. But, not hurting each other’s feelings should not be the goal of a relationship. Don’t get me wrong, the goal is not to hurt each other’s feelings either! When we bring these things up we should do so with caution and gentleness. But, the unity and closeness that Beth and Randall share far out weighs not hurting each other’s feelings. Usually when we opt out of bringing issues up we store these things away in our brain. We stuff the emotions that follow the situation down inside of ourselves. This doesn’t make them go away. And then at the most inopportune time, like a volcano erupting, it all comes to the surface, most likely in a way that feels out of control. This kind of conversation rarely ends well. Let’s learn from Beth and Randall. Go ahead and hash it out. Have the courage to bring up that thing that’s been bothering you. Give your partner the chance to respond well to a concern you have. 

Some things to consider:

1. Do you tend to keep a laundry list of things that are bothering you in your relationships? How might you work up the courage to share with those you are close with about those concerns?

2. Have you allowed things fester in the past and then let your frustrations explode without warning? It might be helpful to think through the impacts of this behavior so that change is worth it to you.

3. Or maybe, you never really fight with your partner. Would you consider your relationship to be connected and close like Beth and Randall’s? How might you be more open and honest with your partner to create that closeness? 

Recipe for a Satisfied Marriage

Nowadays we all want the prescription to success. We want to be able to follow three simple steps and produce an amazing outcome. Unfortunately when dealing with marriage, the merging of two completely different lives, it's not quite so simple or straightforward. Marriage takes a lot of work and we know that nothing wonderful comes easy in life. While we can't truly give one recipe that works for all couples, here are a few helpful hints that most satisfied marriages embody.

  1. Laugh Often: Never be too old to be silly and laugh at the small things.
  2. Celebrate Often: We know that in today's worked it can be hard to focus on all the wonderful things of our life, job, spouse, or family. However, studies show that those that CHOOSE to acknowledge the positive live longer and happier lives.  
  3. Intentional Time with Meaningful Conversation- as with any relationship, the more time you spend truly focused on each other, the stronger your relationship will be. This won't just happen naturally if you have a demanding job, children, or aging parents to care for so schedule it in your calander and dont miss it.
  4. Surround yourself with an uplifting and honest social support. Have healthy couple friends who you spend time with regularly and are able to talk openly about your strengths and struggles as a couple.
  5. Dont depend on your spouse to fulfill ALL your needs. Being too needy, dependent, or reliable on someone else increases chances for disappointment and minimizes individualization in the relationship- which is a healthy part of any close relationship.
  6. Fight Fair- There will be conflict in any relationship, but when it occurs, make time to solve it. Talk about it, be respectful, and don't do or say anything that will create more heartache down the road.

Each relationship is different in what each partner needs and wants to be satisficed but these are a few common themes that can't hurt!

Empathy Skills

As mentioned in my last blog, here are several skills you can start implementing in any environment to grow in you ability to empathize. 

  1. Adopt the golden rule: As simple as it sounds, the notion “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” goes against our natural egocentric tendency. But if we start to filter all our actions through this lens, it will make empathizing that much more natural. Would you want to be asked how you are feeling? Would you want to be given the benefit of the doubt? Would you want to be greeted with a smile? Would you want to be know if someone was harboring anger or bitterness towards you? Would you want someone to do something nice or helpful without being asked? 
  2. Actively listen : This involves eye contact, being distraction free (i.e. put the phone down), attention to body language, providing subtle and encouraging feedback, asking for clarification and reflecting back what was said.
  3. Ask questions: We all know what assuming does, right? Just like snowflakes no two people are exactly the same and therefore no two people think the same. Prejudging someone’s motives or feelings based on your agenda or experience is fuel for miscommunication and frustration. In asking questions, also be willing to hear and accept the answer. 
  4. Validate : There is nothing worse then stepping out in vulnerability and being met with indifference. If someone is sharing their heart or if you are trying to understand someone else’s point of view or experience, a simple act of affirmation that you heard and desire to understand can make all the difference. Something as simple as “That must be tough….thanks for sharing…What I hear you saying…”For all you “fixers” out there - here is the easiest tool I can suggest!

Have an open mind : You many have heard, don’t speak about politics and religion in mixed company. Why not? Most likely because it becomes a conversation about who is right versus who is understood. Creating a safe space for others to share what they feel, believe and desire without being “corrected” is crucial for both personal and relational growth. Uniqueness is to be embraced. Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?

'This Is Us': Rehab 

Warning: This post will be filled with 'This Is Us' spoilers. Read at your own risk. 

As a counselor I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people impacted by the new hit show 'This Is Us.' I’m encouraged to see people connect with the stories of Randall, Kate, Kevin, Rebecca, and Jack. I believe healing takes place when we are able to see our stories connected to others’ stories. This is best executed in a real life, human to human relationship but I think it can also happen with books that we read and shows/movies that we watch. I’m hopeful that This Is Us will continue to spark conversation between family members and friends as we connect with the story we are watching unfold. 

I’ve heard people wonder if what we are watching each week is an accurate representation of an alcoholic’s struggle or what a family counseling session might really be like, so I thought it could be fun to unpack some of the themes we see show up in the show from a counselor’s perspective. I’m starting with Season 2 Episode 11 and move forward from there but will occasionally pick an episode from the past to cover. 

In Season 2 Episode 11 - The Fifth Wheel, the family has all gathered to visit Kevin at rehab. We see Kate rescue Kevin out of taking responsibility for himself on several accounts throughout the show. We see Rebecca, continue to wound Kevin with comments that seem to favor Randall. We see Randall pretend like everything's okay which actually makes things worse for Kevin. None of them do it on purpose. In fact they all think they are doing what is best for Kevin. What Kevin really needed was for everyone to be open, honest, and responsible for THEMSELVES, not him. We watch this drive Kate crazy. She couldn’t believe she had gone so long without speaking to her twin brother. Maybe this should signal to her that she has some work of her own to tackle. If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be afraid to take a look at yourself and question if you could somehow be contributing to the problem. Very rarely does one problem exist on its own.

After introductions are made at the rehab center Kevin’s counselor leads the immediate family into a family counseling session. This is one of the most realistic counseling sessions I have ever seen on TV. While it only lasted minutes and in real life would have lasted at least an hour, we got to witness the unfolding of emotions from each family member. Everyone gets defensive and the session gets pretty heated. This isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes things have to get to this point before people are willing to be genuine. The session wouldn’t have accomplished anything if everyone remained on their best behavior keeping their real thoughts to themselves. A counseling office is a safe place to let these thoughts out. Watching each family member express themselves we learn that everyone had their own perspective on what growing up in the Pearson household looked like. When a family is able get to the point where one person’s emotions are not a threat to another’s they create a space that is safe to feel and truly be themselves. We watch the counselor simply be the facilitator in this conversation. She points out things that the family might be blind to but she doesn’t set out to solve all their problems. This addresses a common misconception about counseling in general. The counselor’s job is in no way to work magic and fix the problems. The family has to decide what they’re going to do with this information. The scene that takes place outside on the park bench after the session may actually take days to occur in real life, but this is where the magic actually happens. Real change happens outside of the counseling office when the family makes new choices. 

Some things to consider:

Is there someone in your life making choices similar to Kevin’s? How might you be standing in the way of them getting better? 

If you were given the chance to say something to your family in a safe environment what would it be? 

'This Is Us': Family Counseling

Warning: This post will be filled with 'This Is Us' spoilers. Read at your own risk. 

Season 2 Episode 11 was too good for just one blog post. The part that stands out the most to me in this episode is the conversation that Rebecca and Kevin have after the counseling session is over. Rebecca’s response is one of the best a parent can give. Even though she is hurt by the conversation that just happened she acknowledges Kevin’s perspective. She takes responsibility for her part and realizes that there were probably things that could have been different. Here is what Rebecca did NOT do (and you shouldn’t either). 

She did not take 100% responsibility for the whole problem. If this problem is to resolve Kevin must address his part too. We have seen him be stand-off-ish and rude on several occasions as he grows. This is NOT Rebecca’s fault.

She did not jump into fix it mode and say she was willing to do whatever it took to make Kevin happy. Making Kevin happy may be next to impossible before he works through grieving his father’s death. 

These conversations happen A LOT in families. Adult children almost always have some sort of grievance about their childhood. This is normal. Parents aren’t perfect. They will make mistakes. They’re humans too - with their own set of emotions and issues. They won’t always know what their kid needs at any given moment. But, as we saw with Rebecca and Kevin, this conversation can go well. When it doesn’t go well the parent responding makes one of two mistakes:

Denial - “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re remembering your childhood all wrong. None of that happened.” (This response avoids any responsibility and denies that anything could have possibly gone wrong.)

Victimhood - “You’re right, I was a terrible parent. I can’t do anything right. I must have completely messed you up.” (This response cries out for rescue from the adult child and hopes that the adult child will erase all hurt because they feel such pity for their parent. 

Neither of these approaches work. The adult child will leave frustrated thinking their parent doesn’t actually care and without hope that the relationship can be redeemed. An acknowledgement of the adult child’s emotions will almost always diffuse the situation. You watch Kevin almost immediately soften up when he hears Rebecca admit that things may not have been as perfect as she originally thought. This was a parenting win for Rebecca for sure!

Some things to consider:

How might you give the gift of being acknowledged to your young child, adult child, or other friend/family member? 

The Art of Empathy

Good news! You don’t have to obtain a master’s degree, read a bunch of literature, or have an innate sense of ‘others come first’ to master the skill of empathizing. If you have ever been moved by a character in a movie, book or song, you have been practicing! Empathy by definition is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. 

We all grow up with our own unique, subjective view of the world and no two people, even two raised in the same home, possess the same experience. We tend to feel the uncomfortable emotions of fear, anger, sadness, cynicism or apathy when encountering someone else who doesn’t see or feel the same way about an issue. A good test of this is asking a group of people their view of a homeless man on the side of the road asking for money. You will hear a wide range of responses all because everyone is processing the encounter through their own long history of feelings, thoughts and experiences.

What would happen if each person stopped their initial judgment call and considered the homeless man’s experience before their own? A child when asked what he or she wants to be when grown up rarely responds with, “A homeless beggar.” This leads me to think that this was not the original plan the man on the side of the road had for his life. We live in a challenging, sometimes painful world and the more we assume other’s “should” think or feel the way we do in a situation gridlocks our ability to grow in our understanding and acceptance of others. Just like with any art form, practice makes perfect, and in my next blog I will share practical tools you can implement in your home, workplace, and on the side of the road. Stay tuned.

What is This Whole Therapy Thing?

We know that a lot of people have a lot of opinions about this whole therapy thing. Ironically enough, all too often the strongest of those opinions are from the people who have never sat in a counseling session. I have heard a lot of those opinions; "it's too expensive", "you're just paying someone to listen to you", "I dont want to be psychoanalyzed by a stranger" Trust me, I know it can be a bit scary to enter an office to tell someone you just met about your deepest emotions and darkest fears but don't let that normal anxiety taint your persepctive on what therapy really is.

If you were to show up in our office for your first counseling session, we wouldn't sit down in a stale room and awkwardly go through your entire history of trauma, regret, and shame. No! The therapy space is a mutual alliance built on trust, empathy, and evolves over time. Just like any other relationship, you have to spend time and create memories with someone in order to feel connected. And just like any other relationship, sometimes your personality connects better with certain people, and that's okay. Don't be afraid to acknowledge that. Building a strong working relationship with your therapist takes chemistry, committment, honesty, and time. All four of those elements you can expect to receive from your counselor from the moment you meet them.  

Another thing that this whole therapy thing is NOT, is that it's not Magic and your therapist does not have a wand. As silly as this sounds to write this, it's a false perception of many people wanting fast results after walking into this office. Remember that old saying that "Nothing good comes easy", well that can also be applied to ourselves and the work of making ourselves into the best version we can be. The best way to see change in your life is to be open to seeing opportunities for it. Sure, your therapist would help you see different perspectives whenever that trust bond has been established, but dont be fooled that the biggest agent of change in that room is YOU. You have the power to stear the course of your life and counseling can be an effective tool to help get you there.

Why Candied Hearts Won’t Sweeten A Soured Relationship

You do not have to try hard today to find gifts or pre-scripted sentiments to show the one you love how much you care. Buying a dozen roses or sugary sweets may be just the right gesture to communicate appreciation. But, if it contrasts the typical lack of attention and appreciation given in the relationship, it may be as futile as adding chocolate to soured milk. To avoid having your overpriced gift fall short, here are a few commitments you could make today to truly show your partner they are your Valentine.

  • Commit to being a life long learner - Getting to know your partner’s dreams, hopes, fears, and favorites is just as important now as it was when you first started dating. Your partner is not the same person they were when you first met so make it a priority to learn something new or updated about your partner at every opportunity.
  • Commit to consistent date nights - Lovers become roommates when they lack the excitement of new shared experiences and quality time. Creating a specific day/time where just the two of you can connect on an intentional level without the “business of life” will do wonders for fanning the flame of love. 
  • Commit to speaking your partner’s love language - If you do not know already, find out your partner’s love language. (Here is a quiz to help Then make meaningful efforts to show your partner you love them in their language to further develop intimacy and connection.
  • Commit to focusing on strengths and gratitudes - There are reasons you chose the partner you did. Intentionally reflect daily on those positive attributes of your partner’s character, personality and contributions as well as thank them often for the little things they do to show love and make your life easier.  

It is never too late to start making small changes to spark the love and passion in your relationship. Memorable Valentine’s days are great, but it’s all the gestures and efforts the other three hundred and sixty-four days a year that prove to your partner your love is not an artificial sweetener.