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Extending Grace

Posted by KB & Associates, LLC on July 1, 2020 at 12:15 AM Comments comments (0)

 

 

One morning, after little sleep due to a particularly turbulent case from my on-call crisis counseling job, I spent several hours on the phone with various agencies trying to reach a resolution. Every time I placed a call, the same frustrating response would eventually come up, some flavor of: “This isn’t our department/ jurisdiction, you need to call this person.” Each time I received this response, which I perceived as a shifting of responsibility, I became more and more angry. To me, this case wasn’t just a name on a page. To me, these were actual people in a crisis, who I had been called to help by the police at 2 in the morning, people who were scared and confused, being kept in a holding pattern until another agency could take over.

 

As I reached out to each new contact, I could tell my frustration, anger and indignation were becoming more and more apparent. My responses were curt, my voice became louder and more aggressive, and I had to stop myself just short of screaming at the person on the other end of the phone.

 

Meanwhile, I was reaching out to my supervisor to keep them updated. At the time, their response only added to my frustration: “Try to extend them some grace.” Extend them some grace, I thought. Why would I do that? I want to scream! I want to curse! I just want someone to do their job!

 

 

One definition of grace from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary reads, “Approval, favor; mercy, pardon; privilege; disposition or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; a temporary exemption: reprieve.”

 

The word also has spiritual and religious connotations. In this sense, it brings to my mind the 1779 Christian hymn Amazing Grace, the words written by the poet and clergyman John Newton.

 

The story goes that Newton was, by his own accounts, a terribly wicked person. He served in the British Navy, and for much of his career was a slave trader. One night, the ship he was on entered a terrible storm, and Newton was convinced he would die. He fell to his knees and asked God to deliver him. After that storm, the staunch atheist rediscovered his faith and entered the clergy, leaving his old life behind. The lyrics to Amazing Grace are a spiritual autobiography for Newton, about how he found forgiveness and redemption.

 

However, one does not have to have a religious conversion (especially one as dramatic as Newton’s), nor even be spiritual to benefit from the concept of grace. If we examine Newton’s story with a more secular eye, there are a few takeaways:

 

There was a crisis incident: Newton was trapped on a boat in a storm and was legitimately fearful for his life.

 

There was a moment of reflection, recognition and realization: Newton reflected on his life, recognized his faults, and realized he could do better.

 

There was an appeal for outside help and forgiveness: Newton saw the crisis as beyond his control and sought outside help, while at the same time admitting his faults and asking for mercy.

 

 

We all have moments of crisis. Some are capital-C Crises, like a ship in a storm or a near car accident, while some are lowercase-c crises, like having an argument with a coworker or significant other (or in my case, getting the runaround from agencies). These are moments when things may seem to go from 1 to 100 quickly. Our blood pressure rises, we might sweat or shake, our emotions can teeter on going out-of-control. We hope we have few capital-C Crises, but lowercase-c crises can sometimes be a daily or weekly occurrence.

 

The concept of grace starts to come into play here. In those moments, we have the opportunity to reflect on what has come before. Thoughts like: We keep getting into the same argument; This traffic is terrible; I hate my job. And in that reflection, we have the ability to take a step back, and recognize our part in the situation: Well, I do tend to talk over them…; Well, I did flip that person off; Well, I was late on the deadline… And in reflecting and recognizing, we can realize who we really want to be: I wanted to fight with them. I don’t actually hate them; These other drivers are just trying to get home too; I’m burning out, I don’t really hate my job.

 

This requires some humility. It’s not easy to recognize that it’s not all about us, that other people have feelings too, or that we aren’t prefect. It takes an act of grace to admit our humanness to someone else. To look at our loved one and say “I’m sorry, this fight was my fault. I’m taking responsibility for what I did. Can you forgive me?” “I should let this person into my lane.” “I should talk to my boss about taking some time off.”

 

Each of these moments offers an opportunity to meet our humanness – in all the idiosyncrasies and imperfections – and to be motivated by it. We have the capacity to listen instead of talking over our loved ones; to be courteous to other drivers instead of giving into road rage; to take care of ourselves. It’s a choice to take the moment of grace, let it motivate us and run with it. We’ll never be perfect, but we can be better.

 

Grace is a two-way street. Sometimes you are the person asking for grace on your own little boat in a private storm, and sometimes you are the person extending grace to someone else. It’s also recognizing the humanness of others- that other people aren’t perfect and also make mistakes. Extending grace is giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s also hopeful and optimistic, believing the best in people and that we can all do better.

 

We can also extend grace to ourselves. Sometimes we fall short of our own expectations. We don’t do as well as we wanted, don’t work as hard as we wanted, don’t act in the way we wanted. We can beat ourselves up over our humanness and imperfections, or we can extend some grace to ourselves and recognize, I’m doing the best I can in this moment, or, I can do better next time. I’m only human.

 

 

After talking to my supervisor with her infuriating reply, I went for a walk. On the walk, I realized a couple of things. I was looking at the case only from my perspective. Yes, my perspective and intentions were valid – I wanted to help my clients – but I wasn’t leaving room for other people in that perspective. Yes, the calls were frustrating, but the people on the other end were being just as frustrated by the system as I was: tired, overworked, possibly burned-out, spread too thin. It wasn’t the other people I was mad at; it was the broken system. I could scream and yell at the people on the other end or extend some grace, give them the benefit of the doubt, that they were doing their best. And finally, I had to acknowledge that I was tired. I had next-to-no sleep, I was emotionally drained from the crisis call- in short, I wasn’t being the best version of me.

 

I went home, ate and rested. Then I started calling again. This time I let my frustration with the people on the other end go. My frustration with the system remained, but the people on the other end weren’t the system, they were working in it just as I was. At the end of the day, we were all on the same team, trying to help those who needed it.

 

As much as I resisted it, my supervisor was right. Sometimes we just need to recognize our humanity and try to extend some grace- to others, to ourselves, and be open to receiving grace from others when we need it.

It's Not Really About Dirty Dishes: 5 Tips to Strengthen Relationships

Posted by KB & Associates, LLC on February 18, 2020 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

We ultimately get into relationships because we are initially attracted to our partner physically and/or emotionally, and then stick around if we believe they can meet our needs (however we define those needs, be they emotional, sexual, or otherwise). During the first weeks and months, we put our best foot forward to show our partners ourselves in our best light. During that initial “honeymoon phase,” a kind of pseudo-intimacy forms, in which we get to know who our partner wants us to believe they are.

 

 

Wait! Are you saying they’re lying? In a way, but if we’re being honest, so are you- no one wants their brand-new partner to know they sometimes forget to floss or have a bad habit of throwing their dirty socks in the hamper inside-out. As humans, we are imperfect, but in a cloud of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, our brains tend to ignore the imperfections in our chosen mates, and our partners help us by conveniently omitting their all-too-human flaws. And when sex is thrown into the mix, oxytocin – the “attachment” chemical – further clouds our judgment.

 

 

Eventually we start to wake up and realize that our partner isn’t quite the perfect person we initially believed them to be- and they are probably realizing the same about you. So whether you’re just starting out in a new relationship or want to give your current relationship a level-up, here are 5 tips to help strengthen your relationship.

 

 

1. Communicating Needs

 

This one might seem cliché, but all relationships require open and honest communication as a foundation, so let’s start at the very beginning. This tip is also deceptively simple: we may think we are communicating clearly to our partner, but then we find ourselves bickering or fighting. Fighting can be healthy – and it’s important for couples to learn how to fight – but often fights break out over seemingly insignificant things (“Why can’t you just load the dishwasher like I asked?”), when what we are really fighting about are needs. Do you really need your partner to load the dishwasher- or do you need for them to listen to you and hear you? Is it really about dirty dishes, or about feeling you have taken on more than your fair share of domestic responsibilities around the house?

 

 

This tip requires some introspection. When you start feeling upset with your partner, ask yourself if you are really upset about this situation, or if you have an unmet need whose button was pushed by this situation- and if so, what is that need, and have you honestly and openly talked about it with your partner? It’s unfair to expect our partners to be psychics, so unless we fill them in on what our personal needs are in the relationship, they have no way of knowing what they are, or what they can do to fulfil them.

 

 

Instead of yelling about the dirty dishes or accusing your partner, a more productive approach might be to figure out why you are angry, and then calmly present your case to your partner in terms of feelings and needs. For example, “I’ve noticed the dishes are still in the sink. I feel that I’m not being heard because I have expressed that it bugs me.”

 

 

2. Picking Your Battles

 

Some things just aren’t worth fighting about in the grand scheme of things. Dan Savage calls these things the “price of admission.” Maybe your partner constantly leaves the toothpaste out, but if you take a step back and realize that overall your needs are being met in the relationship, it might be easier to just put the toothpaste away yourself. No one is perfect, and your partner is no exception. If you feel your relationship is strong otherwise, it might be worth it to just accept their annoying idiosyncrasies as “part of the package.” Let’s be real, it takes you less than a second to put the toothpaste away yourself, but a lot of energy to have the toothpaste fight (yet again) with your partner.

 

 

3. Responding vs. Reacting

 

Your partner told you they would FaceTime you at 7. It’s now 7:15. You find yourself getting angrier and angrier. You tap out a text full of righteous indignation. This is a reaction to the situation, full of emotion.

 

 

Take the same situation. But instead of jumping to anger-texting, you pause and think things through. They haven’t done this to you before, and you know they have been working on an important project at work. You send a message asking if everything is okay. This is a response.

 

 

Reactions are often over-the-top relative to the situation. Taking a moment to take a breath, objectively think about the situation, and respond to it, can keep you from starting unnecessary fights, and help you be more effective at communicating your needs.

 

 

4. Learn Your Love Language

 

There are 5 main ways people give and receive love. You and your partner may both be desperately trying to communicate love to each other, but if you’re not in-the-know, you may as well be trying to speak to each other in a different language. It can’t hurt for both you and your partner to take the quick quiz separately and then talk about your results. Then you can both try to gain fluency in each other’s native love language. Take the quiz here.

 

 

5. Taking an Interest in Interests

 

You might like going to the Opera; your partner might like playing Call of Duty. Although you have no desire to play video games, your partner will likely appreciate you taking an interest in one of their favorite pastimes. Who knows, you might even discover you like hurling turtle shells at cartoon go-carts. Even if you end up hating it, your partner will appreciate the effort, and you will walk away with a window into their world. At the end of the day, it might still be their “thing,” and that’s okay- you made the effort to understand something they value.

 

 

Sources:

 

(n.d.). Discover Your Love Language. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from

 

https://www.5lovelanguages.com/

 

 

Chapman, G. D., & Green, J. (2017). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago:

 

Northfield Publishing.

 

 

James, M. B. (2016, September 1). React vs Respond. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201609/react-vs-respond

 

 

Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2011). Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can

 

help you find – and keep – love. New York: Tarcher/Perigee.

 

 

Popova, M. (2017, July 3). The price of admission: Dan Savage on the myth of “the one” and the

 

unsettling secret of lasting love. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from

 

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/08/28/the-price-of-admission-dan-savage/

 

 

Wu, K. (2017, February 14). Love, actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and

 

companionship. Retrieved February 9, 2019, from

 

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-

 

companionship/

What to Expect When Starting Therapy

Posted by KB & Associates, LLC on January 9, 2020 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

"You made the first step, one that can be at once exciting, difficult, and scary: you made an appointment with a therapist. This can be the hardest part. Take a moment to applaud yourself for your courage. Then take a deep breath, because it will all be okay. But now what?

If you have never seen a therapist before, waiting for that first session can be nerve-wracking. It can be uncomfortable to think about talking about intimate details of your life with a stranger, or to admit that you are struggling with something. Perhaps someone else in your life prompted you to make the appointment, and you may be unsure of what you will even talk about with them.

 

Many people have misconceptions of what therapy will be like, or ideas from movies or TV shows. While every therapist – just like every client – is different, here are some general ideas of what you can expect from your first few sessions, and some tips for getting the most out of your therapeutic experience.

 

 

 

1. Dispelling Myths: What Therapy Isn’t

 

In popular media, therapists are often portrayed as distant and emotionless. The client will lay on a couch, facing away from the therapist, and spend a lot of time talking about their relationship with their mother or father or dissecting the meaning of dreams.

 

While some therapists do practice this brand of therapy – called psychoanalysis, based on Freud’s work at the turn of the century – most do not.

 

Generally, the therapist will sit facing you. While therapists strive to be objective, most do not take on a distant or emotionless stance; rather they will be warm, empathetic, and responsive to what you care to tell them. Therapists are human too, and most are focused on forming a therapeutic relationship with their clients. According to Carl Rogers, founder of Person-Centered Therapy, this includes congruence (being genuine and real), unconditional positive regard and acceptance (being nonjudgmental), and accurate empathetic understanding (striving to completely understand you and where you are coming from).

 

Some therapists may explore your relationship with your parents, but generally only if you want to, and only if they believe it is related to your reasons for coming to therapy. Similarly, many therapists do not spend a lot of time looking at dreams you have had, unless that is what you want to talk about.

 

 

 

2. What Will I Talk About?

 

The good news: it’s up to you! The bad news: it’s up to you!

 

Most people have a reason they seek out therapy, a part of their lives they are struggling with. Perhaps it’s feelings of depression or anxiety, or a problem in a relationship. In the first session, the therapist will probably ask you about your presenting problem, the reason you are coming to therapy. This may include symptoms, like trouble sleeping, change in appetite, or racing thoughts; they may ask questions to gather more information about the context, such as your support systems, family life, work life, and what you do for fun.

 

Once the therapist has a general idea of what is going on in your life and who you are, it will be up to you how fast or slow you want to proceed in telling them more about your issue and how it affects you, and how much you want to tell them about you and your life.

 

Most therapists would agree that the client (that’s you) dictates the direction and speed of sessions. You can talk about whatever you want, but if the therapist feels sessions are getting off-track, that is, moving away from what brought you to therapy, they may gently guide you back to the matter at hand.

 

 

 

Tip: Therapy works best when you are completely honest with your therapist, even if it’s uncomfortable. Remember that one condition, unconditional positive regard and acceptance? That means your therapist won’t judge you for what you tell them, no matter what. Therapists have also heard it all before, so even things you are ashamed of won’t shock them.

 

Besides this, therapists are ethically and legally bound by confidentiality: they aren’t allowed to tell anyone else what you talk about with them (with a few exceptions, such as if you reveal you are in danger of harming yourself or someone else).

 

 

 

3. How Long Will I Be in Therapy?

 

Like what you talk about in therapy, this is also largely up to you. (Note: If you are paying using insurance, your provider may stipulate a maximum number of sessions you are allowed. Check with your insurance provider or therapist to see if this is the case.)

 

Generally, you and your therapist will decide together how long therapy will last. Sometimes an issue can just take a few sessions – such as deciding whether you want to change jobs or go back to school – or many months can be spent processing traumas or grief.

 

When the therapist feels that you have gotten the most out of your time together, they may bring up termination- talking about ending sessions or cutting back to once every few weeks or once a month. Often, they will also offer maintenance sessions- allowing you to make one or two appointments should something come up for you in the future.

 

The short answer is, it’s up to you.

 

 

 

Tip: It is your right to end therapy whenever you feel you are done. It is best to be honest with your therapist and tell them if you don’t feel you are getting what you want or need out of your time together. In such cases, your therapist may switch to a different approach, or suggest other therapists you can try. In any case, the therapist will not take it personally if you want to end therapy at any point, but they may encourage you to continue in some capacity.

 

 

 

Mega Tip: Sometimes you just won’t “click” with a therapist, and that’s okay! It’s important that you feel a connection with your therapist, and that you are a good fit. After all, you’re telling them a lot of intimate information and may spend a lot of time with them. Again, it’s important to be honest with your therapist about this. Most importantly, though, is that you feel comfortable being vulnerable. It’s okay to look around for a therapist until you find one you really “click” with. Keep in mind, however, that it may take a few sessions to really warm up to each other.

 

 

 

4. Does Being in Therapy Mean I’m “Crazy”?

 

People come to therapy for a variety of reasons, from adjusting to changes in life – such as a move or losing a job – to coping with more severe issues, such as processing trauma or managing symptoms of schizophrenia. Regardless of your reasons for seeking therapy, you are not “crazy.”

 

There is a stigma in our society against those who seek therapy. But there is no reason to feel ashamed or to buy into society’s prejudice against seeking help. If you break a bone, you would go to the doctor’s; similarly, if you are struggling with some aspect of your life or your mental health, it is okay to go to a therapist. Indeed, if someone refused to go to a doctor if they broke a bone, you would wonder why they don’t want a professional’s help to heal; in the same way, there is no reason to struggle with life’s challenges or your mental health when professional help is available.

 

Therapists are trained to be respectful and objective, regardless of what issues a client may bring to therapy, or how relatively “severe” others may view the issues. Basically, if it is a real issue to you, it will be a real issue to your therapist, and they will never treat you as “crazy.”

 

 

 

This is a short list, but I hope it will alleviate some of your fears and misconceptions about therapy. If you feel worried about the first session and what you can expect, you can usually call your therapist’s office or email them and talk to them about their approach and what you can expect. They will be happy to answer any questions or to make you feel at ease with them and the process before you begin treatment."

 


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