My Election Choice

 

Almost there.  End of Election Day 2016.  In seriously considering how to be a good citizen in this election, I came across a sure fire one.  It’s research based, and all respected professionals agree with this one.

Communication in love = improved relationships.  

Yeah, that’s right.  I suckered you into reading this.  But why stop now?  This is good stuff!  

I’ve seen a lot of head-shaking and apathy this election season.  As a mental health specialist, I have been watching the behavioral and relational patterns of interactions, whether from leaders at a podium or the lay person on the street.  I actually DO see some really good communication patterns in some people who exhibit characteristics that follow.  But as I wrote about in a blog post entitled “Effective Communication” a few years back (right before the last election), the examples many of us see reflect abysmal communication styles.  Well, at least if we want to be respectful.  IF you’re attempting to minimize, disrespect, and emotionally distance, fair WARNING: do not read and apply the following.    

PAA

Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication styles have very clear results in various settings (in case you are wondering, passive-aggression can often be placed as a subtype under aggressive).  Assertive communication is based on mutual respect, regardless of how much you disagree with the other person.  Abusive language or behavior are out of the question.  Assertiveness always involves respect.  You may strongly state a point or quietly listen, but finding an assertive sweet spot is key- speaking the truth in love, and sometimes learning to just close the mouth.  

Check out the Mayo Clinic’s thoughts on this one, or for organizational settings, look at Daniel Ames’ research at Columbia Business School.  

Turning Towards

The famous marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that turning towards a partner (which is not passive/casual agreement, but a positive stance of staying invested in one’s spouse), is significantly correlated with couples who stay together versus divorce.  This means that in every “bid” that’s made for attention or connection, the masters of marriage turn towards the other person most of the time.  I think there’s a lot to learn by studying successful couples’ interactions- after all, these are the people who are able to somehow stick with the same person for YEARS!!

Distress/Uncertainty Tolerance

Distress Tolerance is the ability to manage high levels of upset (distress), while staying grounded.  Intolerance of uncertainty (IU), seen especially in OCD and anxiety disorders, can be successfully redirected by developing Tolerance for Uncertainty.  Maybe the most common misconception with these are similar to misunderstanding forgiveness: to forgive doesn’t mean to just smile and approve.  These all involve character-building at a deep level of maturity where a person can still hold to what is true, while at the same time having peace when the world around seems (or is) out of control.  

Understanding

Back to Gottman.  He joined up with Anatol Rapoport to form an amazing Conflict Blueprint.  It involves working hard to really “get” what the other person is saying, and it recognizes underlying longings- and respects them- in the other person.  READ: NOT the same as adopting their perspective.  Furthermore, Softened Startup entails bringing something of significance and/or pain to another’s awareness, while staying gentle and guarding against criticism, blame, and shame.  

These things are actually really simple.  But they take discipline and deeper metamorphosis to bring about in daily life.  What can you do when all around you people communicate with disrespect and contempt?  Be a difference maker by communicating in love.  

That’s my election choice.  What’s yours?

Sincerely,

Justin K. Hughes

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What A Year Off From Facebook Taught Me

Happy September (Recovery Month)! School’s back in session and vacations are over for many.  If you’re like most, you’ve been seeing everyone’s summer pics on facebook and Instagram. While you might expect this post, written by a Professional Counselor, to talk about the influence of social media on self-esteem or depression, I want to invite you into a more personal journey- one of compulsive behavior, learning, and communication.

The Back Story
Starting early in 2015, I had been recognizing for months how distracting my daily social media consumption was to me (especially facebook)- and how much time and emotional energy was being spent. And then a stroke of insight came- why not just stop? I didn’t have to make any extreme commitment or do a PR campaign. Why not just see what happened? And see what happened I did. With no end in sight, I stopped personal social media (facebook, etc.) use through May 2016.

My days started to become more efficient at work; I found creative ways to engage or disengage with people; I was less stressed over the high dose of negative news I was seeing; I let go of the pressure of having to keep up with posting or needing to respond; I focused on the core things that mattered as opposed to the (look, a SQUIRREL!) distractions.

I began to see how compulsive I had become, even a little dependent. I felt fear about missing out on something. I got a “hit” (or high) from that next new message or like or share in my notifications. I had worried if someone didn’t respond soon enough.

The Addiction Framework
In the addiction world, physiological dependence is two things:tolerance (more is needed to achieve the same result) andwithdrawal (I feel powerfully adverse negative affects when the “drug of choice” is removed). The treatment world has been closely watching the impact of using the internet, apps, social media, and the like- to see how it activates and affects the brain and body and mind in similar ways to substances. And we’re starting to acknowledge how behavior can trigger some of the same brain processes as a substance being ingested. DARN, I guess I can’t say, “Well, it’s not like I’m abusing drugs or anything.” Actually, sometimes I am abusing the chemicals already in my brain that drugs simply play with.  Varying levels of compulsivity exist, and my expertise in Professional Counseling focuses on providing help and hope when a person can’t break through their compulsive patterns.

Even though a year break taught me about my personal misuse of social media, don’t expect a crusade AGAINST social media from me today. As much as I benefited from my “vacation,” there were a few things I missed out on, too. I overlooked a few announcements (sorry for missing that birthday heads-up). I lost a bit of connection to the world around me. In essence, some communication was actually stunted for me. And I missed out on a little healthy distraction I find encouraging.

The Rest of the Story
My personal story may not be yours. Here are some observations:

The modality of communicating by tech IS effective and helpful for many.  We can complain all day about children not learning to communicate well because they “can’t even” (and I do believe that is a concern to be aware of as a parent).  However, social media can be helpful.

Social media is a communication platform. Whether we like it or not, things like social media are the new telegram or front porch conversation of years ago. And they don’t appear to be going away any time soon, only adapting and changing.

As with many things in this world, the actual vehicle of social media may be relatively neutral- what makes it egocentric, compulsive, and harmful OR helpful and relational, is likely thepurpose and motivation and heart behind its use.  I want to be “linked in” to the latter so I can live free, not compulsively.

Sincerely,

Justin

Further Reading:

Dr. Geraint Evans- “What I Learned in My Year Off Facebook”

Forbes- “Need A Break From Social Media? Here’s Why You Should Take One”

Setpoints: Why Being Negative Will Make You Stable

You’re surrounded by setpoints every day.  They literally keep you alive.  One of them is your set body temperature.  If your body drops or rises a mere 15% beyond your core temperature, death occurs.  Think of a setpoint like a reference point, a sort of boundary.  Medically, it’s called homeostasis.  The body regulates internal functioning (temperature, blood flow, oxygen) despite external circumstances.  The body is always seeking homeostasis.  So is the brain.  And you can intentionally take charge for your mental, emotional, and relational health.

Examples.

In our bodies, we break out in a fever when something is wrong- which is one way the body makes conditions unfavorable to viruses and bacteria- because they are temperature sensitive.  In addicts, their brains have faced an onslaught of dopamine rushes- and the brain counters it by producing less dopamine to balance out- even sometimes ELIMINATING dopamine receptors.  This is the brain naturally seeking to turn down a party that’s gotten too loud.

The system.

Balanced functioning (homeostasis), whether biological, technological, or psychological, will involve three interdependent elements that help reach homeostasis- all centered on a setpoint:

  1. Receptor– A sensing component that observes changes in the environment. The receptor then sends information to the Control Center.
  2. Control Center– determines an appropriate response, having a set range in place (setpoint).  Then the control center sends this information to an effector.
  3. Effector– Structures that receive signals from the control center and correct deviation by negative feedback, thus putting a system back into its normal range.

Remember from above how dopamine in the brain works with substance abuse?  But we can actually gain the upper hand by being active in our decisions- including making setpoints for ourselves.

Get negative.  

In order to bring a system back to normal, negative feedback is used to regulate it.  So when I say, “get negative,” or course I’m not telling you to have a negative outlook on life.  What I AM saying is that a system that is out of control will only be put back in control/order by it being regulated by setpoints, carried out by either an internal or external force- and this is negative feedback.

Okay, have I been sufficiently nerdy?  Let’s get practical!!

 

Samples.  Check out how William uses all three processes of homeostasis as a married entrepreneur with children, who is also dealing with some alcohol abuse (#2 in each is the setpoint).

Entrepreneur.

1) Financial accounts are reconciled daily by William (outside help oversees them weekly).  2) The business plan was developed with a setpoint of no greater than $100,000 debt.  Crossing $50,000 debt signals a problem and requires meeting with the board.  3) If the setpoints are not honored, the board has full power and autonomy to enact established strategies.

Temperature.

1) William’s two year old, Thomas, is running a fever- revealed by his behavior, and then it was gauged with a thermometer.  2)  If 24 hours pass with a fever over 100 F- or at any point it goes beyond 103 F- the setpoint has been crossed.  3) Visit the doctor immediately.

Remodeling.

1) Extra money was left over- discovered in the budget by William’s wife, Katie.  2)  They determine no more than $10,000 will be spent on a kitchen remodel.  The goal is $8,500; beyond the goal is a warning flag.  3) At the $8,500 mark, a conversation will be held with the contractor to hold to the budget.

Alcohol Use.

1) After running into various troubles with alcohol, William considered his personal/family values and health recommendations.  2) A setpoint was made: only 2 drinks or less daily.  3) If this line is crossed, the commitment is to have an entire month sober.  If this cannot be done, it is agreed on with his support team to increase treatment (e.g., go to a group, go to counseling).

 

Got the hang of it?  These steps can be applied to about anything, though I mostly use the Setpoints Exercise (click on the link below to access!) to help increase ownership and boundaries with addictions.  It’s a straightforward way to get honest with anything you are facing, the amount of help you need, and what supports can get you there.  This concept has helped assist many of my clients to face problems squarely, and in turn, to be more successful and realistic in addressing life challenges.  Give it a try!
Get your free SetPoint Worksheet, created for clients in my practice, by clicking here.

Psychological Money Sense

Tax Day 2015 = over (for most).  Whew.  Ready for some ways to boost your buck?

Would it surprise you that your emotional well-being really doesn’t improve by becoming wealthy?  There’s been a host of research in recent years that look into happiness and money.  Possibly the most commonly known one is theNational Academy of Sciences study on well-being and money.

This study’s now famous $75,000 mark suggests that a person’s emotional well being (how they feel day-to-day) AND their evaluation of life (their overall perspective of how they are doing) improves up to the point of earning $75k per HOUSEHOLD in the United States.  Beyond this mark, emotional well-being doesn’t significantly improve, though a person will evaluate their life as better if they earn beyond this mark.  To quote their findings, “We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being” (Kahneman, et al. 2010).

So what do “happy money” spenders do?  Research by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton in Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending (2014) reveals how money is spent makes the crucial difference in happiness.

  1. Buy Experiences.
    • Connect with people; target experiences over stuff.
  2. Make It A Treat.
    • Making something special and novel increases its enjoyment.
  3. Buy Time.
    • Make time to slow down and pursue what’s valuable to you.
  4. Pay Now, Consume Later.
    • First, don’t consume with money you don’t have.  Second, enjoy at a later point- anticipate.
  5. Invest In Others.
    • An incredible thing happens when we give: happiness.  “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, The Bible, ESV).

Looking for ways to understand this deeper?  Check out the links below.  Are you making the most of what you have?  Are you caught up in materialism and consumerism?  Today is always a great day to do something different.  Money is one of the many areas covered in my holistic approach to counseling.  Feel free to reach me to find out how hope and change might occur through professional counseling.

Yours Truly,

Justin K. Hughes, MA, LPC

Quid Pro Quo

In Latin, Quid Pro Quo means, “something for something.”  You scratch my back; I scratch yours.  Tit for tat.  It’s how the world runs.

Or is it?

In the business world, this often works.  Social psychology calls it “reciprocity.”  In relationships, well, this is where it gets fuzzy.  Relationships require sacrifice regularly; they require that you stick around, presuming it’s reasonable to do so.  In business, if someone doesn’t offer you a good deal, you can move on.  If you keep doing this with relationships, you will bankrupt your heart and anyone close to you quicker than ever thought possible.  Relationships involve the molding and holding of hearts.  Business involves the flow of money.

I have no beef against business and am personally very entrepreneurial.  However, I want to call to the table that many principles that work for business DON’T in relationships, which is partly why someone can be extraordinarily successful in the business world but trade in relationships as often as changing underwear.  The concept of reciprocity is fascinating, and I regularly utilize it in respectful ways when I consider how to build my practice, such as when I “add value” to interactions with businessmen and women by offering helpful counseling materials.  This, in turn, increases my odds of getting a favorable response.  Nothing wrong with it.  I attempt to not do it ONLY for this reason.  However, when I expect a certain response- demand it, even- I am not respecting a person’s freedom, uniqueness, or spontaneity.  And this is precisely the problem when quid pro quo is present in relationships.

Everyone from Hendrix to Gottman to Eggerichs (see references below) point out the necessity of proactive initiative in love- an active, intentional doing what’s best for another, choosing love over “balancing the budget.”  In fact, the eminent researcher John Gottman states the myth of quid pro quo in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2002): “But it’s really the unhappy marriage where this quid pro quo operates, where each feels the need to keep a running tally of who has done what for whom” (p. 15).

Isn’t this the definition of selfishness?  And it tears relationships apart.  I don’t know of anyone who says, “Yes, being completely selfish is good; I want to live by the principles of selfishness and teach my kids to do the same.”  No one really debates this.  How quickly this happens, though!  My role as counselor isn’t to point a finger; it’s to help uncover what’s holding clients back.  Consider how you might be “losing while winning,” holding grudges, keeping a record of wrongs.  These things are the opposite of contentment- and love.

Don’t wait for a person to do good to you.  That’s the whole importance of the Golden Rule and the Greatest Commandment.  If you wait around for the other person to “play by the rules” in loving you, prepare to be unsatisfied.  There will come a time (in EVERY relationship) when loving another becomes hard- when the brain-chemical high of newness wears off, when the attractiveness of another becomes the norm, when that little quirk that you thought was wonderful turns out to annoy the heck out of you.  If it’s left up to reciprocity, we’re screwed.

Disclaimer: I want to be very clear.  I am NOT suggesting anyone becomes a “doormat,” pushover, or passive.  I am not saying that you do not focus at all on yourself.  (Consider how eating food may be the most self-focused thing we do, but it is clear that if we don’t care for ourselves in that way, there might be a problem!  Self-care is important.)  Hopefully the heart of what I am passing on is clear: If a relationship fundamentally relies on quid pro quo, it will prove an unhappy ending.  Find out how to love others despite what they bring to the table, and reap the overflowing results.  If one person brings a feast to the table, not having the other person bring a feast doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yours.

References (the first two describe reciprocity):
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Business Networking that Works: It’s Called Quid Pro Quo by Forbes
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

Heart Attacks and Resolutions

If your heart condition were so bad that you had to undergo expensive ($100,000) coronary bypass surgery to improve it, would you change your lifestyle after the surgery?  Nope.  Not likely, at least according to a surprising study by Dr. Edward Miller at Johns Hopkins.  Miller found that 2 years after patients had a coronary bypass surgery, 90% did not change their lifestyle significantly (diet, exercise, stress, substance use).  90%!  Wouldn’t such an adverse event motivate change for the better?  Not necessarily so.

Being at the end of January as I send this out, many New Year’s resolutions have been made.  Fewer have been kept.  It is common sense that the resolutions we make mean very little without proper follow-through- whether at the gym, with eating habits, or in even more complicated areas, such as relationships.

When I’m humble enough to admit my own strengths and limitations (my human-ness), there are many things I cannot do on my own, many areas of life I CANNOT control.  But for those things I CAN change and affect, I ask myself:  Do I need additional support?  Help?  Growth?  Acceptance?  Is what I’m doing sufficient enough to bring the change I want?  Do I have the “horsepower” to do what I need?  In counseling, there are rarely quick fixes.  My job is mostly helping clients identify the how of change, not simply the what (i.e., how do I eat healthier versus simply identifying a need to eat healthier).  I regularly ask myself the following question that I also pose to clients: “Am I pursuing what is needed to bring about growth and health in my life?”

If you’re having trouble changing something, first of all, that’s okay.  Deep breath.  You will be less likely to change something if you get overwhelmed and caught up in helplessness.  If you ask all of the above questions and determine you need a little bit more than “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” (which is self-contradictory, by the way), passivity will lead to the same result- not even a heart attack can change that.  If it’s time for something different, only you can decide.  And if you hire me, we’ll get down to business.

Yours truly,
Justin

Myth Busters: Psych Meds Edition

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It is sad to see the person looking for a chemical fix to all their problems.  Equally discouraging is seeing marriages torn apart, lost dreams, and lives ended early- when psychiatric medication might have made a difference in the big picture.  Not “pro-meds” or “anti-meds,” as a mental health clinician I am “what is your situation, and could psychiatric medications possibly be a better option to what you are facing?”

Is it better if you don’t have to take medications?  Of course!  Why add anything to your body that’s not needed?!  But the question really is, do the possible benefits outweigh the likely risks I run in not taking medications?  Does the likely negative impact on myself and/or others suggest I would want to consider medications? Suicidal thoughts can lead to suicide, manic episodes can lead to marital unfaithfulness, addiction can lead to prison, anxiety can lead to ruined relationships, and ADHD can lead to job loss.

My paradigm on taking psychiatric medications comes from a framework that sees it as more of a philosophical and psychological decision in nature than it is about finding the “right scientific argument.”  There’s no perfection in science, and even the medical treatments we know and love involve a lot of guesswork and uncertainty.  We can’t know all possible interactions, side effects, and possibilities for every person.  What it often comes down to is risk and trust.  Taking Advil for a headache is a fairly low risk, with fairly certain outcomes- for some people.  Taking Abilify for Bipolar is less certain.  But if it works, is it worth the risks?

I submit to you that deciding to take medications really comes down to two questions: 1) Is what you are facing worth considering the cost/benefit of medication? 2) Are you willing to try something different? 

 

Top Myths On Taking Psychiatric Medications

If I take medication, it means I am crazy.

First of all, what is meant by crazy?  Most folks I talk with say ‘crazy’ is something along the lines of becoming “controlled” and losing their choice.   With psychiatric medications, this is a phenomenon mostly relegated to the movies.  Seeking a trained professional to affect biological changes in order to help a person with outcomes they desire isn’t crazy; it might be wise.

Also, the opposite of this myth may actually mean a person is in WORSE shape.  It is usually those who seek help who are healthiest; those who leave their problems to chance are most likely to be overcome by them.

I will become a drooling vegetable.

This is a movie concept, not a real world reality of Psychiatry (unless if there are illegal, wholesale abuses/uses occurring).

Psychotropic meds need to be taken if you are depressed.

This is the opposite, yet equally erroneous view that medications are always beneficial.  Sometimes they are not.

We really don’t know exactly how psychiatric medications work.

True.  This is absolutely true.  However, if we are to get honest about the process of research (and for that matter, science), we don’t know a lot about a lot of things.  Even in cardiovascular science and treatment, there are many unknowns.  Even in the treatment of heart disease, that formidable foe of American health, there are many treatments that have uncertainties as to how/if they will work on the individual.  But remember, the business we are talking about is saving lives.  And so it is with Psychiatric medication.  Saving and/or improving lives is the question.  If you know with certainty that taking medications will do neither, then there is no reason to take them!

When I am in session with clients, I don’t seek to win this (or really any) arguments by sheer data.  Most often, it comes down to our a) belief in what makes change possible and b) our willingness to change.  These choices we make are based on values, goals, perceived risk, and the beliefs we hold.  And each of us must decide for ourselves.

If I go to a Psychiatrist, they are just going to give me a pill.

To be fair, this does happen a fair amount.  But also to be fair, Psychiatrists have to gather a reasonable clinical rationale to prescribe, and there are many who do not recommend medications in every situation.  You have choice whether or not to follow the suggestions given and/or to get a second and third opinion.  To increase confidence in the process, bring up your concerns and ask around for the best Psychiatrists.

Medications will change who I am.

At their best, medications help address what is dysfunctional, not the enduring qualities of a person.  The prescribing doctor can track your symptom profile to determine- with you- whether or not a prescription leads to positive or negative changes.    Please remember that ANY medication used in medicine can cause unwanted effects- this is why it must be tracked and monitored, especially initially.

I will go crazy if I take medication.

Psychotropic medications are meant to help correct problems.  The higher risk of problems is when a person doesn’t take medications when they could help prevent or intervene with major issues.  If you are concerned about having a very negative reaction to a medication (whether due to Drug Allergies, past experience, or fear), consider setting up some supports such as regular follow-up with your psychiatrist, blood tests, and having friends/family monitor how you are doing when first starting on a medication.

There will be nasty side-effects.

Due to regulations, drugs used by Psychiatrists in the U.S. are highly researched to ensure that they do not create public health concerns.  That being said, there are certainly bad experiences and side effects that can occur.  In the end, it’s not a perfect science, and it comes back to those two questions of whether 1) what you are facing is worth considering the cost/benefit of medication, and 2) having willingness to try something different

I will become addicted.

If this is a concern, please raise it with your doctor, especially if you have a history of addiction.  There are MANY meds prescribed that are non-addictive.  However, it is true that benzodiazepines, sedatives, etc., have addiction risks.  Many patients can use these medications without becoming addicted, with a substantial improvement in their quality of life even short-term (e.g., through better sleep or less anxiety).

Psychiatrists force medication on their patients.

A respectable doctor will not force medication on you.  Unique, individual focus is made by seasoned professionals, including your involvement with the process.  The concept of against-your-will medication is mostly made up for entertainment/story purposes and rarely exists in the realm of actuality (even in the EXTREME situations where medication is forced, it is to guard a person from being a threat to human life, but this is not the usual we are discussing here).

Medications are a quick fix.

Some medications are only indicated for short-term use and all but do away with presenting symptoms when they are taken (e.g., panic).  However, medications do not change the environmental and personal factors that interact with your overall well-being, so those areas must be addressed for holistic improvement.  However, sometimes meds can help to get a person to a better spot as a co-treatment so other areas of life can also be improved.  Therefore, involving medications, personal work and change, spiritual growth, environmental adaptations, and so forth, a person will usually secure a greater likelihood of improvement.

I’ll have to take medication forever. 

Many medications are meant to be taken only for a time.  However, just like with other medical treatments, some clients will find that maintenance on medication really is the best approach.  This is usually only recommended when the cost of not taking the medication consistently is too high or risky because of the condition or problem being faced.

If certain prescriptions work for my friend, they’ll work for me. 

CONVERSELY: If prescriptions didn’t work for my friend, they won’t work for me. 

Each person is incredibly unique.  Whether through diet or exercise or blood pressure, people have to have different approaches and combinations to make their health the best.  Patience in the process is called for.

Caveats and Disclaimer:

Some of my readers are inevitably asking, “What about the wholesale problems with Big Pharma?”  “What about all the abuses with medications?”  That is another topic for another day; I do not deny there are some MAJOR issues and concerns to be addressed related to greed, regulations, and abuses.  But consider this article as a thought-provoker and encourager in the realm of appropriately administered and utilized psychiatric medications.

I am not an MD, nor do I give medical advice.  I offer feedback based on counseling experience and research.  Medical questions are to be handled by a medical provider.

Thanks for reading!

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes