Replaying Bad Memories and Being Asked for Donations.

The following two articles are taken from Men’s Health Magazine, September and August, 2015, from a section entitled, “Am I Normal”.  Readers write in mental health questions and the magazine asks experts to respond.  Two articles recently caught my eye:

Question: “I constantly replay bad or embarrassing memories in my head…am I normal?

Answer: At the risk of adding “that time I wrote to Men’s Health” to your lousy-experience loop, this isn’t exactly typical behavior.  “Most of the time you should be able to reflect on the event and move on,” says Elizabeth Kensinger, PH.D., a professor of psychology at Boston College.  “It shouldn’t be the case that nearly everything reminds you of bad moments from the past.” The next time you find yourself running on the rumination wheel, grab a good friend’s ear and talk about how the memory makes you feel. Are you angry? Frustrated? Humiliated that you bared your soul to a national men’s magazine? “Verbalizing what we’re experiencing can sometimes help us control our emotions, minimizing the impact a past bad event has on us in the present,” says Kensinger.  If that doesn’t work, it’s possible that your obsessive thinking is a symptom of an underlying anxiety issue.  Time to see a professional psychologist.  Find one at

This is a common presenting concern in my office and it has been one I have struggled with personally.  In my early 40’s, after being in therapy, I devised a verbal stragegy/comment or statement I say to myself when I begin thinking obsessively about something embarrassing I had said or done.  The statement is, “At that time, that was the best I could do (as bad as it was).  If I were to be in that situation again, what I would say/do is…….” This statement does a number of things: First, it acknowledges or I acknowledge that I made a mistake.  It keeps me humble.  Second, it allows me to take advantage of the growing I have done since then be re-addressing how I would respond to the situation if I were to face it today.  Third, in doing so, I can forgive myself for not knowing THEN what I didn’t know THEN but know NOW. Finally, it helps me look forward to the future, versus the past.

Question: When I’m asked to make a donation to a charity, I just get annoyed….am I normal?

Answer: We’re going to assume you aren’t a millionaire.  For people with realworld wealth, the annoyance usually arises from the public nature of the ask. “There’s a lot of social pressure involved,” says Stefano DellaVigna, Ph.D. , professor of economics and business administration at UC Berkeley. “Being put on the spot can be very uncomfortable.” In a study he published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, DellaVigna found that when people were given the chance to avoid interacting with a charity solicitor, as many as 25% took the out.  And those who did give? They felt ambushed for alms and coerced into opening their wallets.  So the next time you find yourself facing a guy with a bucket and a bell or a cashier asking you to add an extra dollar to your total, just remember your most recent charitable donations, smile and feel free to decline.  Don’t worry: As the research shows, plenty of other folks will knuckle under and give to escape the guilt.


More later…..



The Courage to be Imperfect.

My daughter is mowing my yard this summer, while she is home from college.

This past year, she began struggling with anxiety, specifically the belief that she needs to do everything perfectly.  Be aware I told her I wanted to write this blog and she gave me permission.  Also, be aware, I have struggled with depression and anxiety myself, have been in therapy many times either directly or indirectly because of these and am on Prozac, for 16 years. I believe she get her anxiety from me.

Over the past school year, I become aware how deeply she struggles with the drive to be perfect. As many of you parents know from your own children, it was heart breaking to see her struggle as she did.  Anyway, as she began mowing for me, it occurred to me that I could “help” her with this struggle…by asking her to mow my yard IMPERFECTLY.

Imperfectly?  Yes, imperfectly….and obvious to everyone. I am talking about, for example, leaving a strip of yard, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE YARD, un-mowed.

Why?  For a number of very good reasons.

1. Mistakes lead to greater learning and as such, we should embrace them, not abhor them.  Think about this; little Johnny or Janie does a math worksheet in class and makes 5 mistakes.  The teachers examines the mistakes and re-instructs to child.  The child re-learns and soon can do such math problems correctly.  The mistakes lead to additional learning!  We could use them as a guide in our lives but instead, we shame ourselves for them…leading to anxiety.

2. Life doesn’t stop or end when we make mistakes.  So often, I see people believe they would die if they made a mistake or that others would reject them.  This is in most cases, completely incorrect. Yes, there are consequences for making mistakes, some big, some small.  But, the truth is most consequences from mistakes are small and if big, most can to address successfully with an sincere apology.  I am not advocating that you NOT check your work but I am suggesting there is a difference between checking your work and “stressing out” when checking your work.  And an excellent way to figuring out that life doesn’t stop if you make a mistake is to make one, on purpose, and then watch to see what does, or doesn’t happen.  Hence, “Gab, will  you mow my yard imperfectly?”.

3. Making mistakes on purpose also helps us address the question; “Am I a good person even if I make mistakes?”  This is a critical question for people to address.  I am a very good therapist but not so good with numbers…..just ask my Assistant, she reconciles my bank accounts!  Being able to know what I am good at and not so good at forces me to look at how I see myself and others in the world.  If I believe I am only a good person if I don’t make mistakes then I am “screwed” because I/we all make mistakes.  A lot of people believe this but are not aware they believe this.  Being forced to look at how they think helps them decide if that is how they want to think in the future or change. When people look rationally at this idea, “I must be perfect, I must not make mistakes.”; most recognize how irrational it is, reject it and look for another way of “being” in the world.  Then enters the idea of, “It is ok to be imperfect.” This approach, “It is ok to be imperfect.” it seems leads us to look for things we are good at; leading to an overall approach of (something like) “I’m not so good at somethings but that is ok because I’m good at other things.” which is much healthier than “I must be perfect at everything!”

4. Purposely making mistakes puts me in touch with the “yucky” part of myself, my humanness and I need to be in touch with that, as uncomfortable as that is.  Why?  Because it helps you by empathetic and compassionate with others (When you see that you make mistakes, you tend to be more compassionate when you see others make mistakes.).  Further, it keeps you from being arrogant (thinking you never make mistakes and at the risk of repeating myself, we all make mistakes!).  Further, we also realize that the stuff we label as “yucky” is often the BEST stuff in life.

So, I asked Gabrielle to mow my yard imperfectly.


More later…


Dealing with Regrets.

Characteristics of a Conscious/Health Relationship

The following information is from Harville Hendrix, from his book, “Getting the Love You Want”.

1. You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose – the healing of childhood wounds.  Instead of focusing entirely on your surface needs and desires, in a conscious/healthy relationship, you learn to recognize the unresolved childhood issues that underlie them.

2. You create a more accurate image of your partner.  At the very moment of attraction, you began fusing your lover with your primary caretaker.  Later, you projected your negative traits onto your partner, further obscuring your partner’s essential reality. As you move toward a more health marriage, you gradually let go of these illusions and begin to see more of your partner’s truth.  You see your partner not as your savior but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed.

3. You take responsibility for communicating your needs and desires to your partner.  In an unconscious marriage, you cling to the childhood belief that your partner automatically intuits your needs.  In a conscious marriage, you accept the fact that, in order to understand each other, you have to develop clear channels of communication.

4. You become more intentional in your interactions.  In an unconscious marriage, you tend to react without thinking.  You allow the primitive response of your old brain to control your behavior.  In a conscious marriage, you train yourself to behave in a more constructive manner.

5. You learn to value your partner’s needs and wishes as highly as you value your own.  In an unconscious marriage, you assume that your partner’s role in life is to take care of your needs magically.  In a conscious marriage, you let go of this narcissistic view and divert more and more of your energy to meeting your partner’s needs.

6. You embrace the dark side of your personality.  In a conscious marriage, you openly acknowledge the fact that you, like everyone else, have negative traits.  As you accept responsibility for this dark side of your nature, you lessen your tendency to project your negative traits onto your mate, which creates a less hostile environment.

7. You learn new techniques to satisfy your basic needs and desires.  During the power struggle, you cajole, harangue, and blame in an attempt to coerce your partner to meet your needs.  When you move beyond this stage, you realize that your partner can indeed be a resource for you – once you abandon your self-defeating tactics.

8.  You search within yourself for the strengths and abilities you are lacking.  One reason you were attracted to your partner is that your partner had strengths and abilities you lacked.  Therefore, being with your partner gave you an illusory sense of wholeness.  In a conscious marriage, you learn that the only way you can truly recapture a sense of oneness is to develop the hidden traits with yourself.

9. You become more aware of your drive to be loving and whole and united with the universe.  As a part of your God-given nature, you have the ability to love unconditionally and to experience unity with the world around you.  Social conditioning and imperfect parenting made you lose touch with these qualities.  In a conscious marriage, you begin to rediscover your original nature.

10. You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage.  In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner.  In a conscious marriage, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.

Variation on the “Our Father” Prayer.

I say three prayers to myself on the way to work every morning: the Our Father, the Serenity Prayer and the “Acceptance Prayer” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 449).

The Our Father I say is a variation of the prayer; a personal variation from a variety of retreats, religion classes, prayer, etc.

It is quite simple: Father, let your will be done.  Forgive me and provide for me as I forgive and provide for others.  And lead me not into temptation.

When I am really struggling, the prayer takes on an even more personal tone: Father, let your will be done.  Help me accept others, warts and all as I pray you accept me, warts and all.

Why put this on my website and what is it’s relation to therapy?  I see a lot of people in my office who, after considerable struggle, shame, guilt and fear, confess to having an affair.  Thereafter, few look me in the eye for a while.  Typically, I stop the session, ask them to look at me and tell them that… “I have been in counseling over 10 times in my life and for reasons you don’t know. For all you know, I had an affair myself. I am not here to judge you and found I made the best progress in therapy in the past when I felt the therapist was not judging me. I strive to be such a therapist. I know you feel bad about what you have done but it is what we do with our mistakes that really counts.  Now, let’s talk about your affair and what you have to do to get your life back on track.”

My variation of the Our Father helps me to remember I’m just as human and fallible as the next person and that my theology demands that I forgive that person who has hurt me if I wish to be forgiven.

Please also know…this recognition of my humanness and the need to forgive others if I hope to be forgiven is separate from the hurt and anger a person feels at being betrayed.  Above, I referenced a person having an affair.  I know the person’s spouse was very hurt and angry at this betrayal.  She had a right to her feelings and they needed to be recognized and addressed by her husband.  With time, she was able to forgive him.


More later…..

The Acceptance Prayer

In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, page 449, there is a “prayer” in the middle of the page, first new paragraph.  It reads:

“…And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.  When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.  Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.  Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober, unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.  I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.”

I pray that “prayer” every morning. It is actually just a description of how one person sees the world and their role in it.

I believe in what this prayer says…namely that I need to focus on how I react to the world, not so much on the state of the world or what others do in it.

I don’t believe this prayer says “Do nothing and accept anything the world or what others say or do to you or others.” Instead, it says look at what you do, how you react to the world when you react to the world.

There is also a theological stance in this prayer….that nothing happens by mistake, events are meant to occur.  I am not a theologian and I recognize my limitations in understanding the implications of this view of life.  But I do believe taking this view puts the person in a position to ask the question, “Why is this happening to me right now and how do I want to respond to it.”

I believe there is a definite connection between our struggles in living life and how we view the world around us.  Further, I believe we can always see a way that the “author” of the life events you are facing, be it God, “Nature” or “The Universe” is challenging us through such events, and what actions/reactions we could take to such life events.  Such challenges challenge us to grow, mature, become more responsible.

Think about this the next time you have a flat tire, your daughter brings home an “F”, your son gets a speeding ticket or your spouse does that thing that you have asked them not to do 157 times before.  Ask yourself what challenge might this situation be presenting you with to grow and if so, what would be the reaction you are being challenged to make that would require you to grow.


More later.

Depression and the Holidays

I have received a number of requests for comments on how to cope with depression during the holidays.  Consider the following:

1. Remember, your childhood memories of Christmas are of a time when others were looking out for you and your happiness.  Now, you are the one who maybe looking out for the happiness of others.  You can’t recreate that happiness you remember because you are not a child any longer. No one is creating Christmas for you. You are creating it for yourself and possibly for others.  Further, your memories were “recorded” by an infant brain.  You are an adult now, with an adult brain that processes experiences very differently.  So even if you could experience now, as an adult, what you experienced at Christmas as a child, you would process it differently and remember it differently.Let your memories of Christmas be just that, memories of your childhood Christmas and have faith that you are creating j0yful memories for your children without trying to recreate your Christmas for them now.

2. Set realistic experiences of what you can do this holiday season.  My “Christmas” is cooking Christmas breakfast for my daughters and the Christmas meal at my parents. Everything else is just….frosting!  There are other things I would like to do and will try to do but if other things interfere, I’ll not to those extra things and will not feel bad about it.

3. Discuss with your family which “traditions” they want to do versus trying to do all your Christmas traditions.  You may find that the “traditions” that you thought everyone loved are NOT that important after all.

4. Think outside the box with traditions.  Think of and invite other family members to think of new traditions that they/you would want to try and replace them with older traditions you/they don’t enjoy.

5. Who’s holiday is it?  I recently worked with a couple that celebrated 4 Christmas’; theirs, her parents, his parents and his grandparents.  That is a lot of work, with three kids.  I asked them when they would stop celebrating Christmas with his grandparents?  His response, “I guess, when they die.”!  Who is in charge there?  I see some of my sibs every other holiday and I understand why.  Others might not understand this reasoning but who is in charge of MY holiday?  I would hope it would be you and your significant other.

6. Be flexible with you do your activities.  This year I am decorating my tree on a Monday evening.  Why?  That is when my girls can be over so we can do it together.  Not exactly what I’d prefer but my Christmas is cooking them breakfast on Christmas morning.  Everything else is…frosting.

7. Continue your regular routine activities of your daily life during the holidays: get good sleep, take your medicine, exercise, don’t over-eat or drink…  Letting yourself get out of your routine will only worsen your mood during an already hectic time of year.

8. Set a budget for Christmas presents and stick to it.

9. Volunteer.  Depression is very selfish.  You are only aware of yourself and your suffering.  Volunteering gets you out of yourself and in most cases, puts you in touch with the less fortunate….enabling you to re-examine your lot in life.

People get depressed during the holidays for a lot of reasonable reasons: memories of abusive holidays in the past, realization of how few friends you have, recollections of unachieved goals one set earlier in the year, memories of loved ones passed, all the work associated with holidays…shopping, cooking, decorating, pressure felt to meet everyone’s expectations, etc.

Discussing such with a trusted friend or a professional may help put these in perspective.


Happy Holidays…


More later…..


You don’t have to Believe your Thoughts.

I sat with a young man recently who believed he could not face the anxiety of going to school..

A little background… A young man is his later teens, attending a local high school, in his junior year.  Some family history of anxiety.  Was very close to a friend, a childhood friend, who, during the summer, moved away with his family. “These two were like twins.”, his mother’s description of how close her son and this friend were.  His friend was very outgoing, smart, capable, etc.  The young man I sat with had used his friend’s social self-confidence to deal with/avoid his own social anxieties.

The young man had started this school year well.  He reported he quickly began feeling fear/anxiety as the first week progressed but he tried to ignore it.  It gradually became stronger.  By the start of the second week, he refused to go to school because of the anxiety.

His parents brought him in to see me.

Part of what we have done as we have worked together is examine his thoughts/thinking patterns.  I had him identify specific spots in the school/moments in his day when his anxiety was at it’s worst.  Then, I had him verbalize the thoughts he has when he experiences these spots/moments.  Finally, I had him tell me what he does when he thinks these beliefs…namely, refuse to go to school.

I defined the moments/spots as “Activating Events (A), the thoughts he has when he encounters them as “Beliefs” (B) and what he does after thinking his beliefs as “Consequences” (C).  A + B = C.  We encounter things (events, situations, feelings, even thoughts) in our day.  We have thoughts or believe certain things about these events/situations.  This then causes us to do or react in certain ways.

For example: (A) He sees his classroom doorway.  (B) He believes if he walks through it, he will be hit with a sea of faces, looking at him, thinking poorly about him. (C) He decides to not go to school.  A+B=C.

What to do…

I had him list the beliefs he has upon walking into the classroom and seeing his classmates look at him:

1. “They will think I am weird.”

2. “They will make fun of me.”

3. “I will feel embarrassed.”

4.” They won’t want to see me, wish I would have not come back to school.”

Then we examine each one.  How rational are these beliefs?  Have you ever encountered a situation like this before and still did what you needed to do anyway?  If so, what happened…did what you feared (irrational beliefs) come true or did the situation turn out differently.  Even if your beliefs are true, i.e., even if kids would think you are weird, are you weird?; Have you thought that of a kid before and later you found out they were in fact, not weird and you felt empathy for them or you befriended them?; etc.

Other examples of this examination: Have you ever been made fun of before and you lived?  Have you ever been embarrassed to do something, but did it anyway?  How did it work out?  Has a friend ever been out of school for a while and when they came back, did you welcome them or wish they had stayed out of school?

The point is to examine the thought rationally and help the person to see the falseness of their beliefs.  This, then, unlocks their ability to act differently in the situation.

I did a couple other interventions with him, along the same line.  I asked him to call some of his friends and ask them what they would think if he walked into class the next day.  I had him tell his friends the people  he thought would think badly about him upon seeing him walk into class and what they thought about that and what he could do about that.  I asked him to ask one of his friend accompany him to class or all of his classes, inconspicuously.  I asked him to think of what he would say to himself and what his parents would say to him when he mustard-ed the courage to walk into class.  I told him of the irrational thoughts I’ve struggled with and how I overcame them.  I had his parents tell him of the irrational thoughts they have struggled with. I did some in-office activities also, designed to elicit common fears and confront them.

The principles I use in this case are from Rational-Emotive Therapy, popularized by Albert Ellis.  Simply, we are bothered/paralyzed/inhibited/limited by, not events in our lives, but rather by the beliefs we have of events in our lives. Change the beliefs and we change our behavior/reactions to these events.

More later….


Happiness… as you age.

The following was taken from an article in the May 2013 edition of More magazine (“How to find happiness at any age”, by Lindsy Van Gelder).

Ms. Gelder writes, “As I got older, I found it easier to be happy…sometimes by appreciating things that were once barely on my radar….There is the theory that experience counts.  “You get more realistic, ” says  Dr. Corey Keyes, professor of sociology at Emory University, “You get to a point where you realize that a lot of your dreams haven’t come true…and that’s fine.  You stop thinking you have to be the leader of your company.  You realize you don’t have the perfect family or the perfect kids.  And …you know what? Your kids are ok the way they are.”

“Some neuroscientists believe we grow happier at least in part because of changes in the frontal lobes of our brains.  Teenagers, whose lobes are still developing, and older people, whose lobes have started to deteriorate, tend to discount bad news and believe it doesn’t apply to them – which makes them happier.  But where does that leave people in midlife? The unfortunate answer is: at the bottom of the happiness trough.  This notion – that midlife is harder than the years that come before and after – have serious support in the world of social science.  A study of half a million adults in 72 countries, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, found there’s a well-being “U-bend” in almost every culture: care-free young people, a lot of contented seniors and dismay in the middle.  The turn may happen at different times in different societies but the bobby pin shape remains consistent. (The authors have documented that there’s a similar midlife happiness dip for chimpanzees and orangutans.).

“If you’re in your fifties, feel free to cheer up: Your life will probably only get better.  If you’re in your thirties or forties, then, sorry, things may get worse before the sun comes out.  How soon life improves depends partly on your own attitude.  If you accept that maybe you’ll never be a member of Congress or open for the boss, you can shake off a lot of stress and angst.  Then go outdoors and admire the stars. “Happiness is best thought of as a skill.” says sociologist Christine Carter at the University of California, Berkeley.  Another quick route to happiness: Try to be realistic about your kids.  “Modern parents have really high expectations that our own parents didn’t have for a level of involvement in our kids’ lives and they take their children’s failures very personally.”


Things to consider…


More later….Feel free to comment…


Normal Fears

The following is taken from the book: What to do When Your Child has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, by A. Wagner.

Fears are so common a part of growing up that almost half of the children between the ages of 6 and 12 have seven or more fears.  Girls tend to report more fears than boys do at most ages.  But not all fears are a part of nornal development and not all of them are outgrown without assistance.  Knowing the normal course of childhood fears will help you gauge if your child is in a phase that he will outgrow or if you should indeed be concerned.  The following is a summary of fears across the lifespan.

1. Infants begin to ferar strangers around the age of seven months and outgrow this fear naturally around the second year of life.

2. Toddlers fear separation from their parents.  They may be afraid of loud or sudden noises and new, large or potentially dangerous things.

3. Preschoolers shy away from new, unfamiliar and overwhelming environments.  They may fear potentially harmful or dangerous things such as large dogs, snakes, the dark, bad dreams or imaginary characters such as monsters.

4. Elementary school children become aware of the real dangers of the world such as strangers, diseases, accidents, disasters and death.

5. During middle childhood, the focus of fears is on school-related events, particularly those involving academic performance and friendships.  Natural phenomena such as thunderstorms, earthquakes and floods are also worrisome.  Older children may worry about their parents getting hurt, dying or divorced.

6. Adolescent fears shift into the more abstract realm including the future, rejection in social relationships, moral issues, dating competence, independence and career choices.

7. Adults worry about the challenges of supporting themselves and the family financially, job satisfaction and stability, marital or dating relationships, children and parenting.

8. Fears pretaining to illness, pain, death, medical and dental procedures, doctor visits, natural disasters, wars and traumatic events can occur among children and adults.

School-aged children may also take to heart newly learned information pertaining to danger and safety.  As a parent, you may have encountered your youngster’s alarm and excessive vigilance after learning about the dangers of salmenella at school.  Suddenly, your previously “grubby” child became the epitome of hygiene, meticulously washing his hands and monitoring the entire family’s health habits.  Your initial delight in your child’s metamorphosis soon turned to dismay, as his constant queries and admonitions about cleanliness began to fray your nerves.  However, in most cases, there is a novelty effect present and the intensity of the preoccupations wears off in due time.