Codependency and How to Break Free From It

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We often hear the word ‘codependency’ in relation to intimate partners or family members, of alcoholics or addicts, but actually, codependency can occur in a variety of different situations. In general, the condition occurs when someone allows themselves to be manipulated and controlled by another person. You could be co-dependent if:

  • you allow yourself (often at an unconscious level) to be manipulated and controlled by another person;

  • you care for that person, to your own detriment;

  • you constantly sacrifice your own needs;

  • you lose your sense of self, identity and individuality.

You can think of codependency is an extreme form of self-sacrifice. It happens when a person takes caring for someone else to an extreme, looking after their needs at the sacrifice of their own. This behavior leads to an erosion of the self and leaves an individual open to manipulation and controlling behavior. In a sense, a person gives over their own will to another and their own desires become subservient to the other person’s needs. Because of this subservience, a codependent person will consistently accept poor behavior from someone, often because of the level of manipulation they are experiencing.

An Example of Codependency in action:

Cathy’s husband often behaves in an abusive manner and, over many years, he has literally (and figuratively) beaten her into submission. He has also used psychological abuse and bullying tactics to undermine her. Others that know her feel confused about why she doesn’t leave him. Why would she stay and experience such abuse? In her mind, she has devoted her whole adult life to him. Who would she be without him? She has invested so much of herself in him that she feels it would be impossible to live without him, in spite of how he treats her. After all, she loves him, she needs him and he is everything to her.

The feelings that Cathy is displaying are often seen in people who succumb to codependency, because they have a deep sense of unworthiness. They need love and affection and because of their own low self-esteem they will often do anything to get this sense of love and belonging. They do not value themselves or their gifts and so are willing to sacrifice themselves for another and accept the most atrocious behavior from the one they love.

At the Heart of Codependency You Will Find Denial

Denial is one of the most important defense mechanisms at work in codependency. A person with codependency has shielded themselves from the true reality of their position. They have been constantly manoeuvred, manipulated and undermined so that they do not believe they can manage alone. Because of this, their self-esteem is at rock bottom and it is as if they no longer truly act under their own will. Cathy has lost her individual identity and has become enveloped into her partner. Like a satellite to his planet, she exists solely for him, to her own detriment. Others around her see this, but she is blind to it. To hide from the horror of her situation, her mind has denied it is happening.

Identifying and Working through Codependency

Codependency doesn’t happen overnight. It happens gradually and increases in depth and momentum as time passes. If you see yourself as someone who always puts others first and constantly sacrifices your own happiness for others, then it is worth considering whether or not your relationships have aspects of codependency. To break out of the cycle of codependency, here are a few vital steps:

  • Look at how you behave in relationships. Are you consistently putting others ahead of yourself?. If you are, start to change this dynamic. Begin to put yourself first on occasions, taking small steps to simply be more assertive with your own needs.

  • Look for a support group: If you fall into a particular category (suffering abuse or being involved with an addict) open up to others about your fears and problems. This can help you to feel less alone and process your relationships through a new perspective.

  • Find a therapist: Whatever your level of codependency, it is likely that you will benefit from therapeutic support. This can help you begin the process to see yourself as an individual: You are not just a partner, son/daughter, mother/father. Begin to form your own dreams, goals, values and ambitions and make these independent of anyone else.

Breaking free from codependency is a challenging journey. It takes time and effort to begin to see yourself as an individual rather than someone who only serves others. But with time, and the right support, you can begin to break out of this damaging behavior. You can begin to build your self-esteem and feelings of worthiness and begin to flourish. Most important of all, you can begin to finally believe that you deserve to have your own life and that you are worthy of your own individual place in this world.


If you, or someone you know, would like help with processing potential co-dependency and ways to break free of it, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Grief and Loss: What does it feel like, emotionally and physically, and how can you help yourself during that time?

I’ve recently spent time with my aging mother and aunt on a vacation and recognize the impending experience of loss that will occur upon their death. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself or, as many do, tried to avoid thinking and feeling it. Grief happens to us all, and is not necessarily related to death (our own or someone else’s), but to situations and experiences coming to an end (loss of independence with physical illness, loss of a home to fire, loss of a job, empty nest experiences, etc). Loss and grief are normal feelings and phases we go through in life. It can be confusing, frightening, and painful. It also may help to make sense of some experiences you have already had that were confusing, but in the context of grief, may be understood differently.

Here I plan to focus on the experience of the death of another person, although it will still apply if you are grieving for another kind of loss (relationship, job, phase of life).

1. What is bereavement or grief?

Bereavement and grief are an emotional transition between loss and renewal. We have choices on how to manage this process, even though it may not seem like it at the beginning of the bereavement process, which can often be a very dark and lonely place.

2. Like with life, death can occur in so many different circumstances:

  • Some deaths are expected and we can prepare for them.

  • Other deaths are unexpected and come as a shock.

  • Deaths can be self-inflicted, due to natural causes, disasters or lives taken by others.

  • We may have a lot of information about what has happened, or not.

  • We may find out immediately, or not for some time.

  • We may have been in regular contact with the person, or not.

  • We may have parted on good terms, or not.

  • The person who has died may have lived with us or been in a relationship with us for a long time.

  • We may be sad about their death; we  may (also) feel a sense of relief.

3. What does loss and grief feel like?

While your experience of bereavement is as individual as you, there are also common themes which apply to us all:

  • We all move through bereavement stages, not necessarily in the same order or at the same speed.

  • The length and intensity of the overall experience depends on the nature of the loss and the nature of our relationship with the person who has died, the timing of death, our support network, and our previous experiences of death and loss.

  • Bereavement does not necessarily get more easy or difficult the more we experience it.

  • It can remain just as painful and devastating.

  • We can develop an inner trust, that the pain will lessen with time, and that we can continue to live in the knowledge that we will emotionally survive the loss and pain.

4. Look at grief as a process.

When you accept that your experience is a process, you may feel less overwhelmed and with a greater sense of control, and may be less at risk of getting stuck in these difficult and dark places. It may give you hope and trust that you can survive these emotions and develop an attitude and view on things, that might be helpful to you in your life with grief and in other difficult emotional times as well. This does not bring back the person or circumstances you may have lost, or reverse your health situation, but it can help you feel more settled and emotionally strengthened. Let me take you through the process:

Emotional signs of grief

The sensation of grief immediately after we learn of the death can be mental, emotional and physical (maybe like an electric shock, combined with feeling sick or breathless).

In that moment, which can stretch over days, weeks, even months, which can diminish and return from nowhere, in that moment not much else may seem to matter.

We often don’t have room or space for anything else, mentally or emotionally. We can be all-consumed by the feeling and struggling to comprehend or accept the reality of what has happened.

  • We feel denial: “This can’t be happening. How? It isn’t possible.”

  • In this state of disbelief we can feel isolated and isolate ourselves from others, who seem to move on, and tell us ‘time is a great healer,’ that ‘we will get over it,’ that ‘death is part of life.’ But at that moment, it seems nothing can help.

  • We may be angry with the person who has died and left us behind. Our anger may go toward others and ourselves.

  • We may bargain and blame, in an attempt to gain some control of the situation: ‘If only I had…,’ ‘If only they had...,’ ‘Why didn’t I…’

  • We may feel depressed, numb, lack motivation and feel overwhelmed.  Our energy, emotional and often physical strength is weakened. We may feel very vulnerable and extra-sensitive.

  • The thought of making funeral arrangements can feel overwhelming and may cause anxiety.

  • Everything seems too much, even our usual routines, and we may start to think or say ‘I can’t do this anymore/any longer.’

  • We are regularly confronted with reminders of them (photos, smells, clothing, letters, emails, food, a song, a location, a walk, an argument and so much more depending on the nature of the relationship), especially if we have lived or worked together.

  • Places where we spent a lot of time (eg our homes) together are constant reminders of their presence or lack of, and a way of life that has also come to an end.

  • Gradually we may start facing up to the reality that the other has died and that we continue living without them. We learn to accept and bear the pain with greater calmness than depression.

Physical signs of Grief (depending on the relationship)

  • Shock and stress reactions, like being on high alert (feeling jumpy, tense muscles etc.)

  • Your breathing may change and may become more shallow and laboured, or you may experience chest pain.

  • Heightened anxiety (a more consistent state of flight or fight, stomach churning and constipation or diarrhea, feeling sweaty).

  • You may experience tension headaches, difficulty in focusing and holding concentration, and disturbed sleep.

  • Your appetite and eating habits may change, which may lead to weight gain or loss.

  • Overall you may feel more tired.

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5. How can you help yourself?

Dealing with the emotional and physical aspects of bereavement can be very individual.

Some people prefer for a time to avoid reminders of the person and their death.  Others create their own meaningful ways of support, rituals, comfort and closeness. None of this is set in stone, and it can change over time.

Emotional Self Care

This is not an exhaustive list and you may have your own, very different, ideas. What is important is that you follow your intuition, and make time for allowing emotions to be felt and not simply pushed down and avoided.

  • Visiting a grave or other place of meaning regularly

  • Speaking with the deceased (in your head or out loud),

  • Meditate, pray or engage in any other religious or spiritual activities,

  • Looking at pictures, letters, listening to music, etc.

  • Keep a journal, draw or be creative in other ways.

  • Speak with someone about how you feel: a trusted friend, a counsellor or therapist. This can often be difficult because we believe that we will burden others or remind them of their own grief that they are experiencing.

  • Simply recognizing that your experience is normal and your own. Trying to ‘get over it’ only leads to a belief that grief is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ simply because it is uncomfortable.

Physical Self Care

Pay attention to your body, and take care of it in a nurturing, compassionate way.

  • For as long as you need, reduce stress, responsibilities and obligations.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Be aware of your diet, your alcohol intake if you drink, your smoking if you smoke and any other ways of self-medication and attempts to numb the pain. This will only delay the real grief recovery and may lead to additional physical and emotional complications.

  • Have a daily routine.

  • Spend time outside, in nature, and do some moderate exercise, like walking.

6. Summary

In cases where we mourn the death of another, the bereavement process is likely to be more difficult during the first year, while we go through various anniversaries or annual events of meaning to us, which we can no longer share with the person who has died.

As I said before, the experience of bereavement will be individual to you. It is normal for you however it is experienced. Try to avoid blocking your bereavement process by holding on to negative thoughts or pushing them away in avoidance. When you notice these thoughts and feelings, then notice them, as you might notice a cloud or storm go by. The storm will not stay forever.

If you, or someone you know, would like help with processing grief and loss, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

What Makes Decision Making So Difficult?

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Our decisions navigate us through our lives. This blog post isn’t intended to be a comprehensive explanation about decision making (it can be quite an in-depth discussion… power of experiences, language, cognitive processing, interpersonal dynamics, emotional state, etc…), neither is it a guide for how to make better decisions. I simply want to offer some thoughts about what I see as some of the reasons that decision-making can feel hard or even painful at times, and why some of us avoid or delay making decisions or get paralyzed in the process.

Either/Or Perspective

There may be times when a decision is a clear choice between two different things, but often what happens is we create an either/or split in our minds when making a decision, particularly when we’re anxious. At a very early stage of life (as small infants) we were overwhelmed with intense anxiety  and frustration (being hungry and tired) then developed protective mechanisms, a main one being the behavior of splitting experiences into good or bad. Check out a prior post on how splitting plays a role in our adult relationships. This stage never leaves us and in times of stress and high anxiety we tend to return to this position (paranoid-schizoid). When we’re in this state of mind we return to defences such as polarizing. Of course, this does nothing to help our anxiety, instead this kind of stark splitting generally makes decisions harder to make.

Loss

Some decisions are easier than others. Usually this is either because they don’t have a significant role in shaping our future, or they are reversible or repeatable. Generally, these decisions don’t put us in touching distance of our intense feelings about loss. In particular, life decisions stir up intense feelings of loss. It becomes evident (even if not cognitively) that the choice to say ‘Yes’ to one thing, inevitably leads to saying ‘No’ to something else. The older we get the more our lives narrow in direction and focus as we need to accept saying ‘No’ to some things that are beyond our control. This comes with a growing awareness of our own mortality.

How painful and paralyzing the loss of ‘other’ life choices is, will partly depend on our relationship with loss and how well we are able to tolerate the feelings stirred up by it.

Regret

Our decisions are our responsibility. We can all look back on certain choices we’ve made in our lives and wish we had made a different choice. Bound up with our feelings about this is our relationship to regret. Regret can be a very frightening prospect for some people. This is because of the way they might punish themselves if they feel they’ve made a mistake or got something wrong. This penchant for punishing is likely to be the way in which we were treated by caregivers for making mistakes. This self-punishing part of us is commonly called the Super-Ego based on Freud’s work. The severity and consistency that we feel punished or even tormented by our Super-Ego will affect how frightening it can feel to us. That fear might generate so much anxiety about making mistakes that it can paralyze us from making even the smallest decisions.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that we are making decisions all the time, often without thinking about it. Some decisions are obviously more significant than others and need to be considered more carefully. This process can be painful as it means taking responsibility for our choices and sometimes accepting losses. As difficult as it can be to avoid reflexive anxiety in cases of important decisions, it’s important to recognize the power it has to cause us to polarise our options with either/or thinking or attack ourselves with our regrets about past choices.


If you, or someone you know, would like help with processing anxious reactions to decision-making, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

The Present Moment... The Way To An Improved Mood?

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Being in the present moment is not as simple as it sounds. Often we believe we are in the present, but we are normally far from it. The truth is that being in the present is far from a natural state for most of us. Without even realizing it, we walk around with our heads caught up in the past (I can’t believe he said that, why did I do that, what will he think of that) or the future (how can I afford that, how will the meeting go, what if I fail the test on Friday).

Have you ever driven to a destination only to ‘come to’ when you get there, not having noticed any of the trip there? Our brains are so skilled at multitasking that we can be totally ‘up in our heads’ and still go through the motions of life. This, unfortunately, is the way we tend to lead our lives... so caught up with worries about the future and judgements on the past we don’t even notice what is passing us by.

As for being in touch with how we really feel, from an emotional standpoint, many of us are trained by our caregivers to not pay attention to our true emotions but, instead, to suppress and deny them. Do any of these sayings sound familiar? “Get up and shake it off,” “it’s nothing to cry about,” “There’s nothing to be scared of,” or “why don’t you go play your video games to take your mind of it.”

Because we get so used to avoiding our emotional experience and get the reward and reinforcement of the relief we feel when we do so, we tend to get stuck in loops of behavior. Therefore, it can be a very challenging and frustrating experience at first to start paying attention to the present. It might feel uncomfortable to recognize that your emotions aren’t as pleasant as you had been telling yourself, that you have pain in your body you’ve been ignoring, or that your thoughts are more anxious than you were aware of previously.

So why bother, then? Because the more comfortable you get with your emotions and thoughts, the more benefits you can have.

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Let’s look at several ways that present moment awareness can help your mood.

1. It gives you the power of choice.

Without present moment awareness, it’s very easy to walk around not knowing what you really think or how you feel about things. The thoughts we have, whether we are aware of them or not, lead to behaviors, often in an attempt to soothe ourselves and avoid feeling discomfort. Bringing awareness to how you really think and feel, while potentially overwhelming at first, ultimately gives you the power to then choose to act on those thoughts and feelings in an avoidant way or in a way that is more value oriented and meaningful to you..

2. It can help you see good things you were missing.

Often we are so distracted that we miss the good things going on around us or happening to us. We might not notice someone smiling at us, or doing something kind for us, or that our gardens have flowered, or that our children have learned something new. Awareness of these little things can bring appreciation, and these little moments can add up to a better mood based on a more balanced view of the world around us.

3. You can spot stress earlier and choose to deal with it.

If you develop your present moment awareness you are more likely to notice exactly when the stress starts because you will be more intune with your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, and then be able to choose to deal with it effectively before it takes over.

4. You tend to be more physically relaxed.

Present moment awareness includes paying attention to how our bodies feel, and this means you will notice things like muscle tension when it begins and choose to relax or otherwise adjust to it, not just paying attention when have a major injury that demands your attention. Another side-benefit of present moment awareness is that anxious habits like nail biting and skin picking tend to lessen because we are more aware of these behaviors rather than mindlessly performing them as a means of lessening discomfort.

5. You relationships can improve.

Being in the present moment doesn’t just make you available to your own thoughts and feelings, it means you notice those of others around you and makes you more prepared to allow space for them to exist. You aren’t busy thinking of your work obligations while someone talks to you, or what they said or did a year ago, but are more capable of listening and understanding. This means you can connect better, develop greater intimacy, and have a more satisfying sex life (being present allows for experiencing the moment in it’s entirety, while we are often worried about what could go wrong or what the other person must be thinking).

So, how do I practice noticing the present moment more?

Some common approaches recommended to make being aware of the present easier include paying attention to your breathing and/or doing a body scan (where you put your attention on how different parts of your body feel (tense, pained, relaxed). Other recommended activities for increasing your awareness of the present moment include tai chi, yoga, and meditation.

Present moment awareness is best worked into your daily routine. Without purposeful and intentional practice, your mind will go back to what it knows best and what has been the program for years (past thought, future thought, avoidance of emotional discomfort). You can decide to completely focus on any one activity, really, such as brushing your teeth, eating a bite of food, having a shower, or going for a walk. The secret is to try to notice all the sensations and feelings the activity creates and to put your mind only on what you are doing.

I would recommend to have a time set aside each day to practice mindfulness. Even just ten minutes daily would go a long way to help create the habit. See present moment awareness not as an instant fix, but as a good long-term plan for better well-being.

If you, or someone you know, would like help with increasing present moment awareness, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

How to Use a Self-Help Journal to Improve Your Moods

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Have you heard about keeping a ‘self help journal,’ but wondered how writing about your daily life could actually help with your anxiety and depression? Journalling can be far more than logging events. I want to shed some light on some new ways you can use journaling to ease anxiety and depression (as well as many other benefits).

1. Record Your Feelings and Moods.

Instead of just recording what happened to you in a day, focus on recording what you are feeling and thinking. This can serve a very practical purpose… you can track your moods. It can also slow down the thought process which is necessary to take what is happening in your mind to place it on paper. It leads to a greater level of contemplation about your experience. You can start to notice what is cueing your anxiety and depression that you hadn’t recognised before. And when you are feeling overwhelmed by low moods you can look back in your journal and remind yourself that you are not always this ‘way’ which adds a context of time to your experience and allows you to recognize things can and will change.

Are you someone that struggles to know or access your emotions? Keep trying... A surprising thing may start to happen... you may start writing things you didn’t even realise about yourself. The use of writing allows you to access different parts of your brain that don’t get activated simply sitting and ruminating on thoughts.

*Largest Benefit: Self awareness*

2. List Three Things You Are Grateful For Daily.

The idea of gratitude is something talked about frequently, but this is because it really works.

Write down three things you are grateful for each day, even if they are small things that only make sense to you. Making it an intentional act to write things that you are grateful for already sets your mind in pursuit of finding things throughout your day (just to make the journaling process easier!) and you will shift your perspective in the process. To magnify the power of this, try to actually feel grateful as you write them. If you can’t access any feeling, you might be writing down what you think you should be grateful for over what actually makes you feel good. This can redirect you to something more internal rather than what society tells you.

*Largest Benefit: Better moods and change of focus.*

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3. List Your Accomplishments.

Pride in our accomplishments and attributes can be a difficult thing to express outwardly or inwardly. The inner critic is so loud and persistent for some of us and pride tends to get mixed up with hubris or arrogance, so we avoid expressing pride in ourselves to others. This idea is actually influenced by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), allowing you to track what you actually do with your time, rather than rely on generalizations such as “I don’t do anything” or “I fail at everything” which  can lead to depression. Many of us tend to entirely overlook our own accomplishments, or compare ourselves to others so much we don’t recognise the effort we make in life. If you have a challenging day where you feel nothing got done, look for small things you take for granted. When this is discussed in session, what I often hear is “I shouldn’t be proud of things that I just should be doing.” Something similar occurs when I ask parents if they praised their child for doing something they asked them to do… “I don’t think I should have to thank them for doing something they should be doing already.” This mindset denies the natural reinforcement we gain from positivity and appreciation (internal and external). Recording what we achieve inspires us to keep achieving.

*Largest Benefits: set and achieve more goals and raised self-esteem.

4. Work On Balanced Thinking.

A cognitive therapy tool you can try in your journal is called a ‘thought record.’ You challenge your thought by finding its opposite, and the facts that you actually have to support both sides. This helps bring you back to a sense of neutrality with your thoughts which is the ideal place to remain. It can feel a bit tiresome at first, but it soon can become habit forming as you start to realise how much power you actually have to change your perspective and moods. Over time, the process becomes natural and you start catching and challenging negative thoughts in your mind.

*Largest Benefit: Thought neutrality and thought clarification*

5. Do a Brain Dump.

For this journaling technique, it can help to not use your actual journal but some loose sheets (or tear some pages out). Make a promise to yourself that you will rip up the pages afterwards... this creates a safe space for your unconscious mind to really unload. Write out anything and everything you feel, even if it feels childish, crazy, or mean. The page doesn’t judge and nobody is going to see it, because it all gets ripped up. Write fast, messy, outside the lines and you don’t need to read it after.

*Largest Benefit: Break through stuck emotions and increased calm*

If you, or someone you know, would like help with anxiety or depression, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Depression and Isolation

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“Misery loves company.” We hear it often...people who are suffering seek the company of others who are also suffering. But what happens after those people get together?  Does their level of misery change? If you take a moment to compare times when you felt miserable (“sad”, “unhappy”, or “depressed”) versus when you’ve felt happy, what’s been different? If you’re like most people, you may notice a difference in the kind of company you have in each case.

Many people feel happiest and at peace when they’re in good company. The kind of company that treats you with acceptance, respect, dignity, kindness, and compassion. We feel connected, included, valued, and a part of something. On the other hand, those who feel the least happy (or most miserable) are likely existing in a very different group...one in which they feel isolated, alienated, lonely, judged, misunderstood, unappreciated, disrespected, and mistreated or abused.

For many of the people I see in therapy, circumstances like these are common for those living in unhappiness and discontent. So this begs the question...does misery really love company? After all the conversations I’ve had with people struggling with various degrees of misery, I lean toward the opposite: misery actually hates company.

Misery Thrives in Isolation

A lot of people I talk to who say they struggle with depression note that when things are at their worst, they are persistently isolated and feeling very much alone. Although this can be seen as a “chicken and egg” problem, it’s fair to say in a lot of contexts that the intense sense of dissatisfaction that often comes with depression may be a response to isolation, alienation, or social exclusion.

In fact, there’s a recent theory of addiction being prescribed that suggests the reason many people turn to substances like drugs and alcohol is because they feel disenfranchised.  They’re struggling to feel that satisfying sense of connection that is often present when we’re feeling happy, and they use substances to cope. On top of that, when we look at how many people recover from substance abuse and addiction, we see how important supportive groups and communities are in that process. Twelve step programs like AA and NA can offer an accepting, positive social experience that stand in stark contrast to the sense of alienation and isolation that often accompanies substance use.

Social connectedness (or lack of it) is a good predictor of where we fall on the happiness/misery scale. The more we feel we belong, the more content we’re likely to feel. The more we feel alienated or excluded, the more likely we are to feel miserable and at odds with the world around us.

Why We Withdraw

When people have had negative social experiences, it makes sense for them to pull away from others. At first, isolation may seem like a preferable alternative to the hurt that could potentially come from getting close with others and have it end. Emotional pain never occurs in a vacuum...  it’s always a response to something, and very often related to our interpersonal relationships. When we isolate ourselves from others, we diminish the likelihood of being hurt more than we already have. Our mind will tell us fear-provoking stories in order to protect us from harm. In therapy, people have described how they’ve withdrawn for a whole range of reasons:

  • They’ve been hurt too many times by others in the past;

  • They’re fearful of being judged or misunderstood;

  • They’re concerned for other people’s wellbeing, not wanting them to feel burdened by their suffering;

  • They anticipate rejection from others, and choose not to chance it;

Social withdrawal usually serves us in avoiding negative responses from others... like beating others to the punch. Pulling away from those who might do harm or exploit our vulnerability before they get the chance to do so. In this way, isolating serves to maintain our dignity and preserve what sense of emotional safety we have, without it being further damaged.

The Downside of Isolation

People who withdraw from their social relations often describe feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, if they go out on a limb and take a chance at reestablishing connections and social supports, they risk further rejection, judgment, or abuse. On the other hand, if they remain withdrawn, they’re left to deal with the sense of loss and sadness that comes with exclusion and longing for connectedness. Many people carry on functional lives despite their withdrawal, but can’t shake the feeling of longing for something more. We have no control over how other people treat us, which is part of the reason why many people withdraw. Seeking out a therapist in these times is brilliant because therapists are far more likely to meet you with compassion, acceptance, and understanding (and if not, you don’t have to look far to find one who is). The relationship people strike up with a therapist can be pivotal in helping shift away from isolation toward exploring the possibility of finding safe, meaningful connections with others.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with feeling isolated and want help in working through the process described above, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

The Wrath of Perfectionism

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Throughout my time in session, I notice a common theme that comes to the forefront of many of the conversations I have with people. It often enters our talks through statements like “I don’t feel like I measure up”, and “It feels like nothing I do is ever good enough.” All of these statements lean toward a sense of impossible standards and self-expectations, which people understandably respond to with feelings of discomfort and distress. Through exploration in session, these conversations often lead to the naming of a particularly troublesome stance to view oneself and the  world: Perfectionism.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism seems to be a common thread in the Western World. Perfectionism requires people to strive toward impossible ends, only to be met with discouragement and dissatisfaction.  It is chasing a mythical set of ideals. If you were to fully commit yourself to living totally in line with perfectionism, what do you suppose that might be like? Since I hear about the experience often, I would expect that you would similarly receive limited joy from your efforts, and be satisfied with nothing you do. When we are held to perfectionistic standards, our efforts simply cannot be good enough, because the marker we’re striving to meet is beyond the bounds of possible.

The Roots of Perfectionism.

Since it is so much a part of our culture, it is a learned orientation to life. I often hear people say that perfectionism is something they were born with, but I encourage people to remember that it’s an ideal we’re taught early in life, and that some of us have had very forceful teachers. People I meet who find perfectionism to be particularly problematic have often been on the receiving end of harsh and persistent criticism at some time in their lives. That kind of verbal or emotional abuse can be like perfectionism in its most destructive form: negating people’s strengths and pushing a belief that they are inherently deficient. Unfortunately, there is no subtraction function on experiences and memories and those words cannot be unheard, so people with those experiences must learn to navigate perfectionism even after the abuse stops. Afterall, we learn to talk to ourselves through the way we were talked to in early life.

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Problems With Perfectionism.

Perfectionism prescribes a view of the world that is tremendously limiting, requiring us to look at things as “right” and “wrong”, “pass” or “fail”, “perfect” or “imperfect”. This black-and-white perspective implies that there is no room for the nuances, or “grey,” in between.

One downside to this perspective is that it doesn’t leave room for people to celebrate their efforts and experiences if they aren’t carried out “perfectly”. It focuses very much on the ends rather than the means, which ultimately are more meaningful. For example, a lot of people have told me about small victories and achievements they’ve accomplished, only to qualify them with a negative and critical, “Yeah, but…”  In this way, impossible standards cast a shadow on anything we might otherwise be proud of. It’s as if our competence is constantly on trial and every move we make is being used as evidence against us. By ourselves!!

How Do We Resist the Pull Toward Perfectionism?

We inherently resist what feels like oppression, and perfectionism is oppression from within that we learned from the world around us. Some people might remind themselves persistently that they can only do their best and nothing more. The repetitive nature of this correction to ourselves can be learned and ‘absorbed’ into our daily functioning. Others might take up interests or hobbies that go against the grain of perfectionist standards and expectations (painting, gardening, etc…). Anything that can focus attention on the means vs the ends and allow for appreciation of subtle imperfections as meaningful.

Some people’s emotional responses to perfectionism, like worry or sadness, might be looked at through a lens of resistance as a refusal to do certain things or go to some places where they’re likely to be evaluated by perfectionistic standards – such as a workplace, school, or spending time with others who might demand perfection from them.  These emotions are natural in response to the oppression of perfection, yet, they then lead to a natural “experiential narrowing” in which we only do those things in life that are comfortable to us

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Here are some questions that you might find helpful in regard to perfectionistic expectations:

--In what ways have you been encouraged to take up your perfectionistic way of living? Who were the main teachers of it in your life?

--If you were to devote your time to living up to perfectionistic standards, what aspects of your life might you miss out on?

--Which of your skills, knowledge, or abilities would most likely go unrecognized by a perfectionistic perspective?

--What are some ways that you’ve resisted being evaluated according to perfectionism, if even privately?

--What efforts and achievements would you be able to celebrate if you were to reject perfectionism altogether?  

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with the emotional aftermath of perfectionist thinking and want help in working through the process described above, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Emotions Get a Bad Name-It’s All About “The Context”

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Emotions can be difficult to understand, let alone talk about openly. They’re abstract, subjective, complex, and invisible. No two people feel the same emotion in exactly the same way due to no two people sharing the same experiences with the same brain. Many emotions are uncomfortable and others are highly sought after, but one thing is clear...they are a fundamental part of being human.

Many people seek therapy because they believe their emotions are a problem.  It makes sense...we’re given plenty of messages that invalidate our emotional responses to events in our lives. Parents that tell us that we “have no reason to be scared,” or “I had it worse in my day.” Friends that may say, “don’t worry about it, there’s a lot of fish in the sea” after a break up or the media that portrays us as flawed and abnormal if we aren’t persistently happy. In fact, our emotions are rarely considered within the contexts we experience them. Instead, they're considered as irrational ways of being that point to some underlying mental health problem or disorder. Emotions being placed into categories of ‘good or bad,’ and ‘positive or negative’ is a symptom of this perspective and it leads to us trying to rid ourselves of any uncomfortable emotions we experience at all costs (avoid, numb, distract, etc…).

Looking at Emotions in Context

One of the most extraordinary aspects of my work is watching someone’s perspective shift toward greater compassion and self-acceptance of their emotions. It’s common for a first therapy session to begin with someone saying that there is something wrong with how they’re feeling or that they ‘feel too much.’  As therapy progresses, we explore the context around their emotions as responses to their experiences, and it becomes clear that their emotions actually make a lot of sense and essentially confirms that they are human. It becomes increasingly apparent that there is a great deal of wisdom behind their feelings.

When we don’t describe the context surrounding an emotion, we’re far more likely to view our feelings with a negative bias.  Rather than seeing our emotions as responses to our experience, we see them as the result of apparent underlying psychological problems. Context helps things make sense and without it, the view looks distorted and our emotions make less sense.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

John is a 12-year-old boy attending middle school. About 4 months into 7th grade, his mother and teachers notice that he’s been increasingly sad and irritable. He’s increasingly withdrawn, taking less interest in hobbies and activities he was once excited about. He is frequently late for school, because he struggles to fall asleep and wake up in the morning. He tends to go back and forth between tearfulness and emotional flatness.

From a therapeutic perspective, John is likely depressed.  There is an underlying negative assumption that his emotional state is a problem and needs to be fixed. After all, it is interfering with his ability to function.

Now consider this: John’s parents divorced a year ago and conflict has been high between them. His father has been opting out of scheduled visits with John, spending time instead with his new girlfriend. When he does see John, he’s telling him to tell his mother that he’d rather be living with his dad. Finally, a group of boys have been bullying him.

After reading more about what John is responding to, did your perspective change at all?  Did it make more sense as to why he might be withdrawing, struggling with sleep, eating less, and is frequently tearful?  When we look at our emotions as meaningful responses to events in our lives, they become far more understandable and normal. In John’s case, I would be more concerned if he wasn’t responding to those circumstances as he is.  When we respond to adversity in these ways, it shows we have a pulse and are reacting to something that is important to us.

Emotions and Meaning

A big factor in why we feel the way we feel in response to events has a lot to do with the meaning or value we give it. Generally, the more important something is to us, the more intense our emotional response will be. Producing meaning is a very individual and personal process.   Take a grief response for example...the experience of loss could mean something very different to two people. One person could respond by shedding a few tears (or none at all) and feel “over it” after a week, while the other could be in mourning for years. It all depends on what the loss means to each person.

It’s way too oversimplified to conclude that the way someone is feeling is “distorted,”  “irrational” or even pathological. When we do this, we imply that people are deficient, and their responses are abnormal (the stigma attached to therapy is based on this). This is why, in my work as a therapist, I work to allow clients to avoid placing rules on themselves about ‘normal’ and help people heal on their terms, within the context of their very unique lives.

Emotions Are Valuable

Our emotions can work like a compass, pointing to things we need to consider and address in our lives. Instead of fruitlessly working to stop experiencing our feelings, we can look at the things our emotions are pointing to and make meaningful changes in those areas. Counseling and therapy can be helpful when it comes to understanding troubling aspects of our lives in a new way. Many people talk to therapists to redefine the meaning they make of events about which they feel distressed. For example, I’ve helped men who were subjected to sexual abuse as children, who then feared that they too would offend against children as adults. These men came to understand that their distress actually demonstrates that they take a firm position against perpetrating sexualized violence. Once they felt secure in that understanding, their levels of distress were far less disturbing for them. Examples like this show how understanding circumstances and our responses to them more thoroughly can help us increase acceptance and feel more comfortable with our emotions.


If you, or someone you know, would like help in working through the process of increasing acceptance and compassion of emotions, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

What Can Our Frustration Tell Us About Our World?

Frustration can be a very challenging emotion for many of us. Chances are, it’s a feeling that you’re all too familiar with (because you are human).  It’s been a part of our emotional repertoire since the moment we were born: we enter the world kicking and screaming and seeking something even close to the comfort we grew so accustomed to in the womb. For many people, this is the essence of frustration… to have a want, need, or longing for something that cannot be attained in that very moment. A lot of people seek counseling in order to address their experiences of frustration. They might feel like they have a low threshold for getting frustrated, or they may not like some of the things they do when they feel that way.

In this post I want to outline the practical reasons we experience frustration, and some strategies for keeping it under control.

-Why We Feel Frustration

As far as our range of emotions is concerned, frustration generally does not feel all that great, since it is inherently tense and unsettling. We experience feelings for very important and specific reasons. Emotions tell us about the world around us, and vary depending on the meaning we attribute to different experiences we have. Frustration is no exception to this.  Although it may not feel comfortable in the way more pleasurable feelings do, it alerts us to the reality that things are not how we would like them to be. It can point us in the direction of what is important in our lives. Frustration points to important things that need our attention, but which also require some effort to change.

-What Determines Your Level Of Frustration?

The bigger the meaning, the bigger the feeling. The more we care about the object of our frustration, the more frustrated we’re likely to feel. For example, we might feel only slightly annoyed if we misplaced something of little significance and couldn’t track it down. We are likely to feel far more frustrated if we misplaced our car keys and couldn’t find them anywhere, increasing if we need to be leaving the house in a couple minutes to get to work on time. The intensity of that frustration would reflect the level of importance to each person to be able to get to work on time. Again, frustration points to a longing for an outcome that just isn’t happening.

That last example also illustrates another factor that can have a whole lot to do with how you experience frustration: how urgent something feels.

-Is Frustration a Problem?

Something only becomes a problem when it interferes in our lives intrusively or stops us from achieving something that we want to achieve, so it is based on the individual. The feeling of frustration, although uncomfortable and stressful, it is often totally understandable when looked at in context.  Frustration, as with any emotion is the price of admission we pay for being human and living rich and meaningful lives. What we choose to do with our frustration (externalizing and taking it out on others, internalizing with negative self-talk) is often the determining factor in how much frustration poses a barrier to our lives (interpersonally or intrapersonally).

-Problematic Feelings or Problematic Actions?

Some emotions have a bad reputation because of how people behave when they’re feeling certain ways.  Anger is a good example... it’s very common for us to think that it’s bad to feel angry because we associate it with violence and other problematic kinds of behavior. This leads to classifying emotions as bad or good, positive or negative… then leading us to want to resist any kind of discomfort and emotion that brings it on. Frustration is not exempt from that list of blacklisted emotions. Some people do and say unkind things, which only adds to the negative reputation frustration carries. Contrary to popular belief, I think that all emotions can be helpful.  While it may not feel great to be frustrated, the emotional experience of frustration can tell us a whole lot about ourselves in relation to the world around us. In particular, the context in which we experience frustration can tell us:

  • What kinds of situations we feel challenged in

  • What really matters to us

  • Different aspects of our lives that may or may not be working for us

Not unlike other emotions, frustration can say a whole lot about our position on things in our lives.  From my perspective, this makes it a helpful thing to pay attention to, just like the sensations we experience when we’re hungry or thirsty. The dark side of frustration hinges on how people respond when they feel that way. In my therapy practice, people share stories of punching walls, destroying property, throwing and breaking things, putting others down and being aggressive, and even hitting other people. These are the kinds of actions that people take issue with when they say they have a problem with frustration.

-Responding to Frustration in Preferable Ways

In my practice, many of the people I’ve seen turn things around when it comes to their expression of frustration have had a few things in common when they first set out to make that change:

  1. They wanted to avoid behaving in those ways. This may seem obvious, yet not all of us recognize the impact of our actions on others.

  2. They realized they’ve been “bottling up” their frustration and not expressing it closer to when they first felt it.

  3. They believed that the fact that they sometimes felt frustrated was evidence of a serious character flaw. Often taught from their upbringing, being told that they are a problem or something is ‘wrong’ with them for feeling (frustration or any emotion).

They generally saw a meaningful improvement when:

  1. They realized there are alternatives to the responses they have used to achieve short term relief from frustration.

  2. They express themselves more calmly and closer to the time they first felt frustrated.

  3. They accept that frustration is an understandable response in the contexts they experience it, and they can accept frustration as a part of being human (as are all emotions).

As with any change away from a repetitive (and reinforced) behavior, it requires accountability and intentional effort from the person striving to do things differently when they feel frustrated.  However, acceptance of the emotion and commitment to respond in preferable ways allows the change to be made (we become more powerful than the automatic program we have grown into).

-Conclusion

Frustration can tell us when there are factors in our life to be concerned about, which puts you in a better position to address those things. If left unaddressed, some people find their sense of frustration to grow and become increasingly distressing. This is partially why frustration has developed a bad reputation, along with the fact that some people take up problematic behaviors when they feel frustrated. By acknowledging frustration as valid and expressing it in more preferred ways, it can really become a spotlight directed on those aspects of ourselves and our lives that are important to us.

What are some preferable ways you express frustration?

When has it been helpful to recognize the source of your frustration?

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with frustration and want help in working through the process described above, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Taking Care Of Yourself After A Panic Attack

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Panic attacks can be exhausting and draining. After a panic attack, it’s important to look after ourselves and to focus on self-care due to going through such a difficult experience. The physical symptoms could include:

“Racing" heart

Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy

Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers

Feeling sweaty or having chills

Chest pains

Breathing difficulties

Also, the emotional toll is high including sense of terror, or impending doom or death, and

feeling a loss of control.


What are some things to keep in mind after you experience a panic attack? Generally, it involves a focus on acceptance and then working toward grounding yourself to the present moment in order to allow your body to regulate back a state of calm.

-Proceed Slowly and Methodically.

When we have a panic attack, our heart rate and breathing speed up. Our brains can go at lightning speed, turning our thought process into a wave of garbled messages and we can lose connection with any one of the thoughts, let alone make sense of them. Once a panic attack is over and starts to subside, there is no need to rush straight into doing lots of different things. Simply taking a few deep breaths, sitting down, and taking stock of what we are doing in that moment for a few minutes can provide us enough space to get our feet under us before proceeding. When we do start going back to whatever it is we were doing, we can benefit from taking one thing at a time and focusing attention on it. If it feels like too much then we can stop again and take some more time out. A panic attack can leave us feeling really drained and very tired. It’s absolutely okay to do what we need to do to look after ourselves. Most important is to orient yourself to a direction and move, not to concern yourself with how much you get done.

-Hydrate and Nourish.

The sensation of drinking a hot or cold beverage can help to ground us to the moment, especially if we focus on the sensations we experience in the act. Panic attacks can often dry our mouth out and cause us to sweat which can leave us feeling dehydrated, so drinking can help with this too. Be aware that it’s best to avoid caffeine or alcohol after a panic attack because caffeine is a stimulant which can leave us feeling more anxious, and alcohol can be a depressant. Due to a panic attack, we can feel devoid of much energy afterward, so sometimes we can benefit from eating something to give our bodies energy it can use for recovery and regulation of hormones and brain chemicals released. Also, as with fluids, the sensation of tasting, chewing, and swallowing can give us something to focus on, which can help us to calm down and breathe more steadily.

-Reduce The Stimulation.

We often have stimulation coming at us from all sorts of places. This could include things like light, phone notifications, TV, a computer screen, conversation, the radio, the feeling of different clothes on our skin, and things that we can smell. All of this information flooding in can be overwhelming when we’re already incredibly anxious and dysregulated.The key thing to keep in mind is that we don’t want stimulation that is coming at us and random, we want to use our senses to come in contact with the world around us (we are in control). Trying to reduce the amount of stimulation around us can help us to feel calmer. We could do this by trying things like lowering the lighting, putting our phone on silent, turning off the TV, computer, or radio, and using a weighted blanket.

-Reach Out And Talk To Someone.

After a panic attack, talking to someone can often be helpful. It can be helpful to talk about things which could have contributed to our panic attack and could contribute to another panic attack. Having the space to talk to someone about what we’ve experienced and the thoughts we’ve been having can provide another perspective on our anxieties. It can also help us to problem solve and to find ways of coping with things that we’ve been struggling with. Sometimes we might not want to talk about our struggles and talking about something totally different can be a welcome way to refocus our attention. Everyone is different and there will probably be times when we don’t want to speak to anyone at all, but having a list of people we can call on gives us the option.

-Take Time To Reflect.

Once we’ve regulated ourselves through grounding and soothing after a panic attack, it can be helpful to reflect on what happened, either alone or with someone else. Reflecting on what may have led to the panic attack (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, environmental cues), the way we coped with it, and whether or not this way of coping was helpful, can help us to cope with future panic attacks in a way that is helpful to us moving forward. Reflecting on the way we coped with a panic attack can allow us to build on our helpful coping skills which will hopefully help us to phase out our less helpful coping mechanisms.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with panic symptoms, and you would like to build skills in self-care, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Mental Health Recovery Is Never a Straight Line

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When things go wrong with our physical health, we feel fairly certain that we know what to do and how to do it (rest, ice, medication, surgery, etc.), and fairly often this process is straight forward. Unfortunately, mental health isn’t so straightforward, and even more frustrating, recovery is hardly ever linear either and we don’t experience feeling better in a nice, neat, straight line. What are some of the reasons for this inexact progress?


Life Events Can be Unpredictable.

Life is mostly inconsistent and so many different factors add to the chaotic nature of our daily lives. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, there’s only so much that we can control. Our mental health can take a hit from the things that occur internally for us (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations), but also the things that happen externally in our outer experience. Often, our outer experience brings up certain negative thoughts and emotions, while our thoughts and emotions lead to a change in perspective about what events are happening in our lives.


Recovery Can Be Frustrating.

When we are struggling with mental health issues, lows can feel extraordinarily painful and crushing. We work so hard to move toward the life we want to live, towards good health and piece of mind, and those setbacks can really impact our hope and confidence negatively. We might find ourselves in a cycle of thought such as ‘I’ve tried so hard and things are still going backwards so everything is hopeless and I’ll never get better so there’s no point in trying any more’. It can be very easy to get into this cycle and very hard to get out of it again. Hitting a rough patch of events doesn’t mean that everything is hopeless and it certainly doesn’t mean that all of our hard work is for nothing, but we can be fooled into believing it when this is a persistent thought.


Mental Health Is Continually Changing.

We’re predisposed to measuring how depressed or anxious we are, and how this compares to some date in the past or how it compares to where we would like to be. This comparison and measuring is a very natural behavior, but if it isn’t done constructively, as in keeping a log or journal, it can lead to longing for rapid change when change is generally step-wise when it comes to mental health.


Not Understanding Our Stressors.

It often seems like there’s no logical reason for our mental health deteriorating, but there’s likely something, however small that has affected how we feel or triggered a reflexive thought (habits, boundaries being broken, lack of support, etc). Therapy can help with identifying what our triggers are and learn how to make sense of them, then how to handle them differently. The more knowledgeable we are about our stressors, the more prepared we are to make decisions which benefit us and are workable into the life we want to live.


Discounting Or Ignoring Our Progress and Changes.

We tend to get caught on a rollercoaster of ups and downs as we go through days and weeks and become hopeful and dejected based on the state of our mental health. We often lose sight of the fact that, despite the ups and downs, over the course of time, we are continuing to improve. Think of it in the way that looking at the stock market for a day, there are continuous ups and downs, but when you pull back and see the market over a longer period of time, the general direction is growth.

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Blaming Ourselves For Regression.

Sometimes we use our mental health as a way to beat ourselves up, which only leads to more difficulty in staying the course with skills and new behaviors. We didn’t choose to have depression in the same way that we don’t choose to have a stomach flu. When we punish ourselves for how we feel, it makes us feel worse and starts yet another cycle and a likely spiral downward in mood.


Difficulty Accepting Emotion and Discomfort.

Not being okay can be hard to cope with, and so desperately want to be okay, but it is okay to have discomfort and still do the things in life that are important to us. We often avoid discomfort through easy and quick distractions or escape activities, which leads us to never truly know how resilient we are and how well we can actually live with discomfort until it naturally leaves us. We don’t believe that it is possible to live a full and vital life in the presence of sadness and anxiety, so we wait to begin living until they go away. The problem is that they don’t go away because emotions of all kinds are a part of the human experience. Focusing on them and attempting to resist them leads to them staying around and turning into depression and chronic anxiety.

If you would like assistance in your journey through mental health recovery, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

7 Symptoms of Social Anxiety

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Social anxiety can leave a person feeling intensely fearful and awkward in, and around, social situations. Day to day life can be massively impacted and influence our interactions with others to the point where our relationships and even our work lives suffer. The anxiety often doesn’t end when the socialising ends either, we may find that we ruminate over things we’ve said or not said,or things we did or didn’t do. There’s a sensitivity to the thought of being judged, appearing rude or aloof, and of never really fitting in. We might find that we avoid social situations as much as possible which can lead to us feeling lonely and isolated. When we can’t avoid the social situation, we might find that we constantly go over and over what we might do or say in response to certain situations and conversations. Needless to say, it can be extremely exhausting.

1. Self-Consciousness

Excessive self-consciousness can take hold, particularly when we are in social situations. It can feel impossible to keep eye contact with the people we’re speaking to. We might find ourselves hiding behind our hair or behind the bill of a hat. Our speech can become quiet because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, or we might talk rapidly because we feel so nervous.

2. Intense Worry

Upcoming social events can cause havoc with the social anxiety we experience, causing us to feel intense worry. This could range from worrying hours before an event to days, weeks, or even months. We could be worrying about what to wear, who might be there, or what they might say and how we should respond, whether we will look or say something inappropriate or if we’ll fit in. Often we will worry about how we can get out of it or how we’ll be able to escape if we need to. It can be a never-ending conveyor belt of thoughts and “what if” questions.

3. Avoidance

Anxiety about social situations can bring about an urge to avoid them, which leads to what is called “experiential narrowing” as we lessen the activities and people in our life to only those that we feel comfortable with. It can mean that we miss out on events that we really want to go to. We might not see our friends or family as often as we’d like to. The thought of social situations can make us feel so unwell that going to them feels impossible.

4. Physical Discomfort

There are loads of physical symptoms that we could experience if we’re living with social anxiety. These could include things like feeling nauseous, sweating, increased heart rate, blushing, shaking, feeling dizzy, feeling faint, and diarrhea. These symptoms can feel embarrassing, and this embarrassment can increase our anxiety and make them even worse. It can be a vicious cycle.

5. Negative Thought Patterns

Social anxiety can cause us to have extremely negative thoughts about ourselves. Even if we receive 10 positive comments, and one mediocre comment, we will take the mediocre comment as a negative and run with it. We often have very low self-confidence and don’t think much of ourselves. We can feel like a burden and think that people don’t really want us around and are just ‘putting up with us’. Conversations we’ve had can play on our mind for weeks on end as we wonder if we got it ‘right’, or if we said/did something ‘stupid.’ These negative thoughts can overwhelm any positives we might feel about ourselves. The more we think them, the lower our confidence sinks, the lower our confidence sinks, the more negative thoughts we have. Another cycle takes place.

6. Safety Behaviors

We will often try to manage the symptoms of social anxiety by modifying our behavior. This could include things like making sure we always have someone with us or knowing how we’ll get home. Choosing to spend less time in larger groups and preferring smaller gatherings. While many of these behaviors can seem harmless and constructive, they still manage to leave us at the mercy of our anxiety. While others, like relying on alcohol to manage symptoms, can lead to (you guessed it) another cycle occurring in which alcohol becomes the predominant mode of relief leading to the need to increase the amount of alcohol over time used.

7. Difficulty Functioning When Others are Watching

Many of us find that we struggle to do things if there is someone watching us. This could include things like making a phone call, eating food, or standing at the copier at work. It could be based on walking into a room full of people on our own, putting our hand up to ask a question at an event, or trying to avoid a sneeze because we don’t want everyone to look our way.

Social anxiety is so much more than ‘shyness’ and it’s typically where fear of social situations is long-lasting and disruptive. It’s a fairly common condition that can start to affect us in our early years and is treatable with the right help and support.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with social anxiety, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.


Why Can It Be So Hard To Ask For Help?

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Have you ever struggled with a problem and had a sense that you could really benefit from talking to someone, but you had some reservations about opening up? Have you ever wished you could share your struggle with family or friends, but didn’t feel comfortable going to them?
Have you ever longed to say whatever’s on your mind, but you were afraid that you might burden whomever you opened up to?
So why do we think we burden others when we reach out for help?
1. A History of Negative Responses Stay in Our Memory
Some people who are hesitant to burden others with their problems are being very selective with whom they open up to because they’ve learned from past experiences. Many of my clients have decided to trust a professional, because the people they’re closest to in their lives have responded in unhelpful or off putting ways in the past. Some negative responses send clear messages about how burdensome some people find our problems to be.  I’ve known folks who have dealt with anything from grief to cancer, whose closest relations repeatedly remarked how hard their struggle was on them. They may make the issues people choose to discuss ‘all about them’ or turn the discussion into a competition of ‘who has it worse.’ They may also express how frustrated they are with the person expressing their issue ‘all the time.’
2. Avoiding Judgment and Rejection
Many people who are cautious of opening up to others about the challenges they face are doubtful because they know there’s a chance they might receive judgment or exclusion. When we’re heard and our feelings and perspectives are validated, we generally feel good (not surprising). On the other hand, when we’re met with judgment and exclusionary responses, we’re more likely to feel alienated and out of place.  
3. Discomfort With Receiving Help
Some people are so used to helping others that it feels strange and unfamiliar to be on the receiving end.  When this is the case, people can be understandably reluctant to reach out for help when they need it. Their identity is wrapped up in being the one that helps and not the one that receives it. Society’s view has been one that people who need help are “weak.”  Most of us are probably familiar with this perspective to some extent. People who are giving help are assumed to “have it together”, while the people receiving the help are regarded as needing to “get it together”, and are therefore deficient.  Of course, this is a really problematic and creates a climate of fear around opening up when outside help could make a big difference.

What Can Help Make it Easier to Reach Out?
When your experiences have led you to feel isolated and excluded by others when sharing your thoughts and feelings, finding a professional helper who you can trust makes sense. There are some circumstances when it may be worthwhile to go out on a limb and reach out to others already in your life. In reality, everyone responds differently to issues people bring forward, and not everyone opens up about their struggles in the same way.  For example, a lot of people find others to be burdensome when the sharing isn’t reciprocated or when there is little in the way of equity in sharing. Some people resent the helper role when it becomes a thankless job and their is little appreciation being given for their efforts. As people receiving help, we can actually do things to decrease the likelihood of our helpers feeling burdened:
1. Say thank you (so simple, but so powerful when it is genuine)
2. Offer your help and assistance to them in return
3. Let them know how much of a difference they make in your life.

These are some things to consider the next time you’re on the fence about opening up and sharing your struggles with someone you feel you can trust.  You may be presenting them with a kind of gift... a chance to be close to you, know you deeply, and to have their own ability to make a change in someone’s life.

What have been your experiences of seeking or giving help? Feel free to share in the comments below.

If you sense that your outlets for expressing your struggles in life are limited, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

The Power of Our Self-Critic

I notice self-criticism the most when working with clients struggling with depression, yet it is consistent throughout all of us to varying degrees. Someone may offhandedly say, “I suck at this” or “I look awful today.” When I hear this I picture that there’s an invisible bully beside them saying mean things to them… If the inner critic was a real person sitting next to us, saying “you suck at that” or “you look awful today” we wouldn’t subject ourselves to it, but when it is our own minds, we accept it as fact and accept it as a meaningful way in which to see ourselves. In this blog post, I want to explore the concept of our inner critic a little deeper.

Where does our self-critic comes from?

We might have learned it from people around us while we were growing up. Maybe mom often looked in the mirror and said things like, “I really look fat today!”, and without even realizing it we developed similar habits, assuming that this is a normal way to talk to ourselves (after all, our parents set ‘normal’ for us by their behavior). Or, maybe a parent, caregiver, or coach spoke down to us or criticized us often using accusations like:

“Maybe you’d get better grades if you weren’t so lazy.”

“You’d make more friends if you weren’t so quiet,”

“Maybe you’d have an easier time at school if you lost a few pounds.”

Even though these messages can be well-intentioned, they can imply that there’s something wrong with us...that there is something fundamentally bad about us, that our worth is conditional on our ability to achieve things, etc...Unfortunately, we end up internalizing these messages, making them our own and then assuming them to be true (after all, we were taught this was normal).

It’s also very possible that we learned to talk to ourselves in an overly critical way via messages we got from various societal and cultural influences. Social media, and media in general, leads to persistent opportunities to make comparisons with others and for others to be critical of us with little repercussion.

So what can we do about it?

1. Get to know your self-critical voice.

Knowledge and awareness is power. You may think you know your self-critical voice, but I would guess you probably aren’t aware of just how often it’s popping up in your mind. Your self-critical voice may come in short phrases, long rants, or even mental images. Try to challenge yourself to spend one day writing down all your self-critical thoughts or images. This will be difficult, since your self-critical voice is very persuasive and often seems to be giving you what feel like obvious facts. I often suggest putting a reminder or alarm in your phone so it buzzes every hour during your day, reminding you to check in and take note of your self-critical voice. Writing down your self-critical thoughts can also be helpful, because it can help you organize and clarify them, leading to a potentially more objective view. What subjects, themes, and patterns do you notice coming up? Does your self-critic have some favorite topics? Body image, your abilities as a parent, how you compare to your friends, or your skills at work or school? Knowing the themes will allow you to know your triggers and target the areas in need of more self-compassion.

2. Get to know why your self-critic is hanging around.

Most likely, your self-critic is trying to help you and protect you. The running commentary in our minds is basically a fear-monger. By understanding its function, you’ll be able to develop another voice or tool that can serve that function for you, but in a kinder, healthier way. Some possible motivations for your self-critic could include:

  • Your critic tries to enforce the rules you grew up with because that’s all it knows.

  • Your critic is believable because it sounds like your parents, and you regularly believed them.

  • Your critic expects perfection because if you could just do everything right, you might feel okay about yourself. Or, if you are perfect, people won’t have any reason to dislike you and you won’t be alone.

  • Your critic says you are incompetent to keep you from trying... that way you won’t feel the pain of failure.

  • Your critic tells you that people won’t like you so you won’t be hurt when they reject you.

  • Your critic predicts the worst so you’ll be prepared for it.

  • Your critic tortures you so you won’t make past mistakes that may have led to discomfort.

3. Identify how it’s getting in the way.

Even though your self-critic is trying to help or protect you, it’s a guarantee it’s not actually workable into the life you want to live.

  • Your self-critical voice prevents you from achieving what is important to you...it prevents taking calculated chances and leads to a limited number of safe experiences that you are comfortable in having.

  • Your self-critical voice makes you more critical of others because you are desperate to boost your self-esteem through being ‘better.’

  • Your self-critical voice causes you to often have a low mood and you could turn to friends or family members to make yourself feel better, putting a strain on your relationship.

  • Your self-critical voice makes it difficult for you to be vulnerable, so you avoid close and connected relationships.

  • Your self-critical voice makes you feel shame even when you make small mistakes, and as a result you spend time beating yourself up for the mistakes than actually learning from them.

By identifying how your self-critical voice is getting in the way for you, how it’s conflicting with your values, the life you want to live, and the person you want to be, you’ll build up strength in your ability to allow it to come and go without giving it any more attention than it deserves.

5. Develop an accurate assessment of yourself.

Try to list as many positive qualities about yourself as you can and then 3 concrete examples for each of those positive qualities. This can be difficult in the beginning because it isn’t the normal way of proceeding through life. It has the power to shift the focus from negative to positive, plus the examples allow the brain to transform positive qualities from a just a bunch of words into specific memories. In order to lessen the frequency and power of extreme and harsh judgments such as, “You’re such a loser” and “You’re so lazy,” try challenging the thoughts with a more balanced and accurate replacement. Acknowledge that the judgments are part of a pattern you have learned over the course of your life, then ask, what is my evidence that this thought is true? What would it take for me to call someone else a loser? Am I overly focusing on the negative? Am I generalizing from one negative trait to my whole self, or from one negative experience to my whole life?

6. Develop Self-Compassion

When we practice self-compassion, we take on an attitude of kindness and nonjudgmental understanding towards ourselves and our perceived flaws and failures, similar to the sort of attitude we might have towards a close friend or family member who is experiencing difficulties. Self-compassion is a more sustainable and healthy form of self-worth than self-esteem, which tends to be based on being as good or better than others. An important part of self-compassion is mindfully observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment, seeing them for what they are, and recognizing that we don’t necessarily have to act on them.

If you would like to have assistance in moving from self-criticism to self-compassion feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Depression: Why We Struggle to Trust Moments Of Happiness

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When we have depression, especially when we’ve had depression for a long time, it can be hard to trust any improvements in our mood.  Over a period of long term depression, happiness can essentially become unfamiliar to us, which leads to it feeling scary and unpredictable. We might not know how to cope with it, which is ironic because we long for it so much. I’ve put together some of the reasons that happiness can be hard to trust and some ideas for managing these feelings.

1) There is Comfort in the Familiar

As awful as depression can be, it can be comforting in some ways, because it’s familiar. Depression is a known and can feel almost predictable at times. As odd as it sounds, beginning to feel a sense happiness or lessening of the heaviness of depression can be unsettling, unfamiliar and overwhelming. It’s absolutely okay to feel scared and want to retreat back into depression… change is scary.

2) It Can Feel Like a Balancing Act

Feeling happiness can feel like balancing on a tightrope. When we have depression, we might become hypersensitive to any change in our mood, just waiting for things to go wrong again. This can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy occurring (when our own expectations lead to changes in behavior, bringing about the expectation). Recovery isn’t a linear process and we will have good and bad days. We might find that our bad days can feel a little more tricky than those of people without depression and fear can set in quickly when we experience an all too familiar state of mind.

It’s important to remember that it is okay if we’ve been getting better for a while and suddenly our recovery halts, or we begin to feel worse again. Keeping a sound foundation of self-care strategies and applying skills through both ups and downs is key to finding stability. Tracking moods can be helpful and there are many free phone apps that make this easier to do. It can be effective in allowing us to recognize when our mood is actually improving and may help in being able to trust the improved mood.

3) We Might Not Know Who We Are Without the Depression

Depression can creep into every part of our lives and it can begin to feel like it is almost part of our identity. Emerging from depression and beginning to feel happiness again can be confusing as we almost have to rediscover ourselves again.

4) We Want to Do Everything All at Once

We are tempted into doing lots of things the minute we begin to feel better because of the increase in energy or hopefulness. We doubt it will stay, so we may try to make the most of the improved mood while we have it. If we run head first into everything too quickly, it could become overwhelming and we could run out of steam very quickly, cueing a change in mood based on the belief that depression is ‘back’ when physical lethargy may be what we are experiencing. It can be healthier to spread the activities out and plan in some important down time.

5) It Can Be Hard to Plan

Once we feel a little better and can begin look towards the future again with hope, we are often unable to trust our mood enough plan things in the future. We might want to move forward with our career or relationships, but we don’t know whether our mood will dip again. Out of fear, we may choose to ‘wait and see’ leaving us consistently in a holding pattern, which can lead to depressed mood returning. It can be helpful to take some time to consider the things we’d like to achieve and the steps involved in getting us there, bringing in the support of those in our support system to plan contingencies if depressed mood returns.

6) The Support We Have Might Change

When we are depressed for a long period of time, we may get support from a variety of people. We might worry that once we begin to recover and feel happiness again, we could lose some our support. It can sometimes feel as though others see our mood improve before we do, and remove the support too quickly. At other times, we might be okay, but worry that if we begin to feel worse again the support we need might not be there any more.

7) We Might Not Feel We Deserve Happiness

Depression can rob us of our self-worth. It tells us that we don’t deserve to good things including happiness. Depression is lying to us...we absolutely deserve to feel the whole range of emotions. It’s our experiences in life and the ways we interpret them that lead to the belief that we are different from everyone else, but it can be important to remember we are simply fallible human beings deserving of all that life has to offer to us.

If you are struggling with depression (or you know someone that is and can benefit from the help of a professional), feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Why Do We Get Stuck in Abusive Relationships? The Power of “Splitting”

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Have you discovered that you’ve become stuck in an abusive relationship? Have you started to notice that you seem drawn to partners who mistreat you even though you keep telling yourself that it will “never happen again?” Is there something that makes you choose these relationships? Let’s take a closer look...

We hold on to abusive relationships to stay attached with our past…

Sometimes, we attach ourselves to an abusive relationship as a way of trauma bonding (loyalty to a person who is destructive). When we’ve endured abusive treatment in our childhood, it can be the only way we know how to receive love. So, there can be some comfort in staying attached to the abusive loved object. Later in life, abusive treatment keeps you stuck in feeling loved, because that might be the only familiar way you received love. So, you repeat the pattern of accepting abuse in exchange for getting love. As distorted as it sounds, holding on to an abusive relationship can feel like you’re being loved and can feel comforting.

On a different level, this can be a way of acting out an unconscious yearning to reunite with the abusive or a rejecting parent. A way of repeating or opening up your past wounds through mistreatment and abandonment. There are certain ways of coping/surviving an abusive home as a child and one is called “splitting.” In order to preserve the image of “the good parent,” the child “splits” off any bad feelings towards them, by internalising the bad as existing within them instead of in the parent. Instead of seeing the parent as mistreating them, they end up feeling bad about themselves (feeling worthless, unwanted, and unlovable). With the hope of feeling loved, the child maintains a fantasy of the positive image of the parent, by shutting out the bad memories towards the parent (splitting). These bad feelings stay repressed and end up forming the distorted way in which we see ourselves and our loved ones. Secondly, a person can attempt to “hold on” to the parent who mistreated them, by seeking abusive or unavailable partners, in order to remain attached to the parent. This pattern of searching for unmet love can be destructive to an person and can be difficult to recognize as happening without a trained professional to assist in growing a person’s awareness and insight. Let’s face it, at face value, this process can seem somewhat far-fetched, but it is a very real pattern of behavior. It’s just another fascinating way in which our mind protects us from very horrible experiences. The renewed splitting in our adult relationships occurs when we are triggered or reminded of our past feelings and physical sensations as they reoccur in our present relationships.

Those that have grown up in abusive homes and use splitting as a coping mechanism have a distorted perception of their relationship (either idealised or devalued). In a very “all or nothing” manner, they feel either “all good” or “all bad” about themselves and their partners. They struggle to see the good and bad aspects of a person at the same time. This leads to a very familiar rollercoaster of emotions by swinging from despair to euphoria based on the behavior of their partners.

Why you cannot let go of bad relationships…

Splitting is another reason why individuals stay stuck in bad relationships. In splitting, when people feel bad about themselves, they’ re ignoring all the good qualities about themselves; leading to a belief that they are not “good enough” in relationships. When an individual sees all the good traits in a partner, they are denying the unhealthy traits in the person. This can protect them from feelings of abandonment by only seeing the good aspects in a partner, ignoring the abusive aspects. A healthy relationship means you can see both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of a person.

Splitting can cause a person to hold on to a toxic relationship, because they acknowledge the positive image of the abuser (good), denying any mistreatment (bad), so they can satisfy their unmet needs to feel loved. As a therapist, my role is to help the person see the other part of the split, so they can make a clearer decision and see the whole picture moving from denial to action by bringing the ‘split’ back into one whole image. Often, splitting occurs in adult relationships, because the person is hoping a partner will get rid of the feelings of self-loathing or feelings of abandonment from past loved ones. Instead, they repeat the wound and re-live the pain, re-enacting the past, until these patterns are worked through in therapy.

You can see that our early attachment experiences in life have a great impact on the relationships we share as adults. Often, we don’t realize the patterns that exist in our current relationships, because they feel normal when they are similar to early abusive or dysfunctional periods in their lives.

If you think that you (or somebody you know) may benefit from learning more about the ways their abusive childhood keeps them stuck in abusive relationships as an adult, a trained professional can help. If you are in the Lancaster, Pa area, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Dissecting Anxiety

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Anxiety can be broken down into three main parts including thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviors. They can be so interrelated and instinctual, that they can be difficult to recognize as separate pieces of an overall experience. Let’s take a look at each one:

1. Thoughts

When we feel threatened, our attention is focused on the perceived threat (Perceived is the key word - just like the overly sensitive car alarms that we hear going off for no apparent reason). The threat can be real or nonexistent because it is difficult for our minds to differentiate between what is real and imagined since the images in our mind can be as vivid as what is actually happening in front of us. As long as we perceive it as dangerous, we are on high alert. Our perception of a situation mostly depends on what we say to ourselves about it. Anxiety-related thoughts revolve around themes of danger (physical, mental, or social), threat, or vulnerability.

Examples of anxiety-producing thoughts would be:

  • “What if I make a fool of myself in front of others?”

  • “Everybody will think I'm stupid.”

  • “Something is wrong with my body. What if that pain means I have cancer?”

  • “What if something happens to my child?”

  • “What if I fail this test?”

  • “What if my friend rejects me?”

  • “What if my wife is cheating on me?”

Our brain interprets these thoughts as a signal to get ready for danger, which leads to a preoccupation with focusing on survival, and difficulty concentrating on anything else. Students that are anxious about academic performance have difficulty focusing on the exam questions. People that are anxious about social situations struggle to follow a conversation. People with panic disorder are so hyper-aware of their physical symptoms that they can barely do anything but concern themselves with the sensations that they have. Those physical symptoms, by themselves, are another component of anxiety:

2. Physical Sensations

We have a Fight/Flight/Freeze response (the Sympathetic Nervous System). It’s evolutionary and hard-wired in us. When it gets activated, it causes your adrenal glands to release two hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline). This leads your body to respond in several ways:

  • Increased heart rate. This happens because your heart and vital organs need more oxygen and better blood supply to your large muscle groups..

  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation) - you need to breathe much faster so that more oxygen is delivered to major organs. This usually presents itself in the form of shallow breathing.

  • Feeling lightheaded. Once you begin hyperventilating, your body naturally reacts to  there suddenly being too much oxygen in the body. Another reason is that most of the oxygen goes toward the muscles, so there's a little less left for your brain, which results in a feeling of dizziness.

  • Numbness or tingling in fingers and toes because of the blood flow away from these areas.

  • Tightness in the chest. As all of your muscles tense in preparation for danger, the blood flows away from your extremities to the major muscle groups (from your fingers to your arms, from you toes to your thighs, etc.)

  • Upset stomach or nausea. Part of the stress response includes suppressing digestion so that all of the body's resources can be made available for emergency action. The energy is needed for other parts of the body.

  • Sweating. To cool your body and to make it more slippery so that it's more difficult for something or someone to grab you in case of a fight. (as unpleasant as it is to experience it, isn’t it pretty cool that this type of thing happens?)

  • Feeling unreal (derealization). Your pupils dilate when you feel threatened so that you can see better, which may lead to a strange feeling of “unreality.” It can also be brought on by the lack of oxygen flow to the brain.

As unpleasant as these symptoms may be, they actually represent the wonderful (and fascinating) survival system of your body. So, when clients with anxiety or panic describe some of these symptoms to me, I usually congratulate them for being healthy and functioning human beings!

3. Behaviors

When faced with danger, our natural response is to escape. After escaping, we usually feel relieved. In the future, we try to avoid the situation that we perceived as dangerous. When escape seems unavailable to us (which could occur in a matter of seconds), we may attempt to attack (basically, we are trying to kill the threat). Another response would be to freeze (or essentially play dead) in hopes that the threat will leave us alone and lose interest in us).

All of those components of anxiety (Thoughts, Physical Sensations, and Behaviors) are interconnected:

  • The more anxious thoughts we have, the more severe our physical reactions will be, and the higher our desire to escape and be safe will be.

  • The more physical reactions we experience, the more anxiety-related thoughts we will have, and the more we will try to avoid the situation.

  • The more we attempt to escape or be safe, the more we will relate certain situations to danger and threat (via our thoughts), and the more severe our physical responses will become.

All three components of anxiety create a vicious cycle, with each element influencing the other two. The good news is that, because they interact with each other so well,  if we address any one of the anxiety components, the other two will also start diminishing which can lead to more wanted cycles occurring.

If you think that you (or somebody you know) may benefit from learning more about anxiety and the way it impacts our lives, a trained professional can help. If you are in the Lancaster, Pa area, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

10 Common Problems a Marriage Counselor Can Help You With

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There are lots of reasons that couples may decide to seek help and get marriage or relationship counseling. There are some common themes that I encounter when couples seek help for their relationship. Some of the issues you might find yourself struggling with and might seek help for include:

1. Mental Health Problems

When one partner has a mental health issue, it certainly impacts them as a couple. Over time, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can take a toll. Other mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder can also interfere with a couple’s ability to maintain a healthy relationship. Couples can benefit from attending counseling together (and individually) to learn how to work together to deal with mental illness.

2. Grief

Grief comes in many forms. Whether a couple is grieving a miscarriage, loss of a child, or loss of a parent, it can be devastating to marriage. Grief can present itself in a relationship when there is a death, but often, it is grieving the loss of other things such as the loss of independence, loss of a hope or dream, or simply a major change in life that leads to a loss of emotional security. A marriage counselor can assist a couple in working through grief issues together so that their grief doesn’t push them apart.

3. Infidelity

Dealing with infidelity is a big reason for couples to seek help. Recovering from an affair or even deciding whether or not to try and work through an affair is complicated. Partners that stay in a relationship after infidelity can often experience heightened shame based on the thought that ‘something must be wrong with me that I didn’t leave as soon as I found out.’ A marriage counselor can help the couple address the underlying reasons or motivations for infidelity and to work through trust issues along with the many feelings associated with an affair.

4. Lifestyle Changes

Major changes in lifestyle can have a serious impact on a couple. Moving to a new area, making a big career change, or the birth of a baby can disturb the balance that was previously there between partners. Marriage counselors can help couples identify their expectations and work through changes to make transitions more smooth.

5. Addictions

Addiction is a common reason that couples seek help. Addiction doesn’t necessarily have to be to drugs or alcohol, but it can also take the form of pornography or internet addictions and gambling addictions. Beyond the benefits of a couples counselor being able to assist the couple cope with the presence of addiction in their relationship, individual or group therapy is often important for the addicted partner to focus specifically on the disorder itself.

6. Remarriage and Blended Families

After people have already been married and divorced once, people are more likely to be hesitant about getting remarried. According to statistics, the divorce rate for second marriages are even higher than first marriages. And for couples who already have kids, blending two families can be complicated. Marriage counselors can assist couples in making a smoother transition and also in addressing any barriers to remarriage.

7. Physical Health Changes

Physical health, or loss of vitality, can have a large impact on marriage and relationships. As each partner ages, they may experience a gradual decline in health which can interfere with their activities and their physical intimacy with each other. Other couples could experience a significant illness or accident that may drastically impact the individual as well as their marriage. If one partner is unable to work, contribute to household responsibilities, or help with daily activities, it can lead to marital problems if it is not addressed.

8. Communication Problems

It seems somewhat of a cliche (for good reason) that communication is one of the biggest keys to a happy, healthy relationship. When couples struggle with communication, it can make almost everything much more difficult. When couples struggle with communication, solving problems, making decisions, and resolving conflict calmly, can become a major source of stress. Marriage counseling can help couples learn new skills and recognize the cycles in which they get caught, that lead them to communicate poorly.

9. Parenting Disagreements

Different parenting philosophies can be a big issue for couples, and it can lead to a great deal of conflict. Marriage counselors can assist parents in learning to work together instead of competing with one another to be ‘correct.’ A marriage counselor can also assist the couple in recognizing the impact of their upbringing on how they interact with their own children and how this can happen subconsciously and undermine healthy parenting.

10. Just Not Feeling in Love

People also tend to want counseling when they feel the relationship has grown stagnant. I often hear couples talk about not feeling “in love” anymore or that they feel like companions or roommates rather than being deeply connected. Counseling can be a great way for couples to learn strategies to help them feel more attached and bonded and rekindle some of the energy that they may have lost through the course of their relationship.


If you and your partner are struggling with any of the issues described above and you would like some help working through them, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

The Myths Surrounding OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

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Do you wonder whether you may suffer from undiagnosed OCD? This confusion seems to be one of the factors that lead to people with OCD not being properly diagnosed and not seeking treatment. Here are some of the common misconceptions of OCD that contribute to the confusion about this often misunderstood disorder:

1. The difference between the everyday use of the word “obsessed” and its meaning in the context of the disorder.

When someone says they are depressed, we tend to know what they mean, even though that person may be simply feeling sad. It’s nothing like that with the word “obsessed.” When we say we are obsessed with a new friend, or a podcast, or our new shoes, we mean that we can’t get enough of it; we love it, and get a lot of pleasure from thinking about it. This feeling couldn’t be more different for a person who experiences obsessions as part of their OCD. Those obsessions are totally unwanted and disturbing intrusive thoughts, images, or urges. The key being unwanted. Those thoughts or images cause OCD sufferers large amounts of suffering, anxiety, disgust, and often shame. The everyday use of the word “obsession” is actually the opposite of what people with OCD experience.

2. The stereotypical image of people with OCD as clean freaks or neat freaks.

Not all people who wash or clean excessively suffer from OCD, and not all people with OCD feel the urge to clean. So how can you tell? To answer this question, think about the reasons you wash or clean, and how you feel after you are done washing or cleaning. If you take pride in being an organized and “neat” person and feel a sense of accomplishment after you are done, then chances are you don’t suffer from OCD. If, on the other hand, your urge to clean is a response to a strong feeling of fear, distress, or disgust and you feel that you must to do it or you won’t be able to go on with your day, then it may be a sign of OCD.

3. The idea that a messy person can’t have OCD.

As discussed above, a common misconception is that a person with OCD is a super-organized, perfectionistic “clean freak” who is preoccupied with making sure that everything is sterile and in its place. Even though a fear of contamination is a common obsession in OCD, there are other obsessions including:

  • Fear of harming yourself or others, or being responsible for causing a horrible event or making a dreadful mistake.

  • Unwanted sexual thoughts.

  • Religious and moral obsessions. Fear of offending God, being a “sinner,” or being an evil person.

  • “Just Right” obsessions, or awareness of an object or behavior that is not symmetrical, not “right” or not “correct”.

  • Hyper-awareness obsessions. The fear of being unable to stop paying attention to blinking, swallowing, breathing, body positioning, physical sensations, memories, or thoughts.

OCD “attacks” anything that a person values very highly, such as their morality, religious beliefs, and their health. You may have one (or more) type of obsession, but not have the others. This means that you may be preoccupied with intrusive thoughts that you are likely to accidentally stab a family member with a knife, or that you were involved in a hit and run accident and drove away without noticing, while having absolutely no concerns about cleanliness.

4. The fact that many of the thoughts that OCD sufferers experience as obsessions are the same as occasional thoughts that people without OCD may have.

Listen to this episode of the NPR “Invisibilia” podcast to hear examples of some of the intrusive “harming” thoughts that can show up in our minds.

Examples of intrusive thoughts are:

  • “What if I drop my newborn baby down the stairs?”

  • “If I come close to the railing of the balcony, I may jump.”

  • “What If I swerve the steering wheel onto the oncoming traffic?”

We may all have those type of fleeting thoughts on occasion, but what is the difference between people with and without OCD in terms of those thoughts? To put it simply, if a person without OCD experiences a thought like that, they will probably think about how weird the thought was and forget about it pretty quickly. When a person with OCD has the same thought, they will likely become extremely concerned, wondering why they would have a thought like that. They’ll think, “Oh no! What does that mean? Does it mean that I may hurt my baby? I’m dangerous! I shouldn’t be left alone with the baby.” They may then do things to prevent the event from happening, such as avoiding being left alone with the baby or stay away from the stairs. They may engage in all kinds of rituals that calm them down and prevent anything bad from happening. It’s the interpretation given to the thought that matters. If those thoughts cause you extreme anxiety and you start engaging with the thoughts and taking various precautions which takes a lot of your time and energy, then you may have OCD.

5. If a person doesn’t have any rituals, they don’t have OCD.

The absence of visible rituals doesn't mean the person does not have OCD. Often, people may have frequent intrusive disturbing thoughts that cause anxiety and they cope with their distress internally by:

  • Avoiding places or situations that may lead to anxiety. You may avoid knives (so you don’t stab), heights (so you don’t jump), being alone with kids (so you don’t harm them), etc.

  • Mentally reviewing in an attempt to be certain that no harm was caused by one of your actions.

  • Counting.

  • Thinking a positive thought in order to “neutralize” or “cancel out” a bad thought.

6. If a person with OCD can be convinced that those rituals are just silly, they will stop doing them.

Most people with OCD recognize that the rituals (visible or mental) do not make much sense. They would like nothing more than to free themselves from being consumed by their obsessive thoughts and compulsions. Telling them to just stop is not going to work. They need a specialized treatment program called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) that is administered by a skilled professional.

If you think that you (or somebody you know) may have OCD, it is important to get properly diagnosed by a professional. Please don’t allow the above misconceptions stand in your way.

If you are in the Lancaster, Pa area, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.

Depression: Why Do We Push Those We Love Away?

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When we struggle with depression, we often find ourselves withdrawing from our loved ones and sometimes pushing people away. We don’t always know why, and it’s not always a conscious thing either. But it can be confusing, painful and unsettling to us. It can be confusing for those around us, too, because if we don’t know why we’re pushing them away, they won’t know why either. The following are some potential reasons that those that have depression try to isolate and push others away:

1. We Don’t Think People Want Us Around

Depression leaves us feeling worthless and useless. People will tell us that they want to be around us repeatedly, but we won’t necessarily believe it because it doesn’t match the story in our head that we tell ourselves. We can’t understand why anyone would want to spend time with us because we believe that we have nothing to offer or that we will bring them ‘down’. When people do invite us to things, we tell ourselves that they are ‘just being nice’, asking us out of a sense of obligation or charity. And we definitely don’t  feel worthy of their time.

2. We Struggle With Concentration

It takes a lot of concentration to follow conversations. Anxiety can increase quickly when we worry about looking silly or rude, or losing track of what’s going on. The fear that we won’t be able to keep up can make us freeze or shut down. Faced with that fear, it’s easier to push people away than worry about having to do things that we don’t feel able to do. We don’t want to be anyone’s disappointment.

3. We Have No Energy

Lacking in energy is a major byproduct of depression and it can be tough when we’re alone, let alone when we are around others. We’re expected to talk. We’re expected to smile. We’re expected to join in and participate. We push people away because we don’t have the energy to be around them. Life can seem as if it is a never ending effort to determine what is worth spending energy on, and being around people can be unpredictable and causes us to retreat to safety.

4. We Get Easily Irritated

Depression can lead to a low tolerance level for things (the illness alone is overwhelming), and we might get easily irritated and annoyed. We might lash out at those around us, especially if they do unexpected things, or change things without warning. Sometimes the fact that we get irritated and lash out, can feel as though we’re pushing people away which feeds into the guilt we already tend to carry.

5. We Feel Like a Burden

Depression can fool us into feeling like we are a burden to those around us. Having no energy, struggling for motivation, and having low self-confidence can lead us to feel as if others take on a lot when they are in relationships with us. We don’t see ourselves as bringing any value to our relationship(feelings of worthlessness). We don’t want to share our misery with them for fear that it will worsen their mood. We see ourselves as a drain on those around us and we push people away because we don’t want to burden them.

6. We Don’t Want To Upset or Hurt Others

Sometimes, when our loved ones hear how awful we’re feeling, it can upset them, because they care about us. It can be hard for them to see us hurting or in pain. If we begin to feel suicidal, and share that with a loved one, we see the pain and worry in their eyes. We see them wondering what they’re not doing enough of to help. Our loved ones might struggle to understand why we feel the way we do. It might hurt them, and we don’t want that, because we love them. So we push them away. What they don’t see can’t impact them.

7. We’re Fearful of Getting Hurt

We’re scared that people will get sick of us and leave. If we push people away, they can’t leave us, because we’ve already left them. It’s within our control. Sometimes we’d rather be isolated than constantly worrying about when people will get fed up with us and leave.

8. Sometimes, It’s Just Easier

Sometimes we push people away because it’s easier than having to pretend we’re okay. It’s easier than having to confront how far we’ve fallen from the person we once were (shame). When we’re by ourselves, we can often fool ourselves that we’re ‘okay,’ but being around others can be an abrupt reminder of the fact that we’re far from it.


If you’re struggling with depression (or you know someone you love that is) and this list resonates with you and your internal struggle, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / gregghammond@restoringbalancelancaster.com and schedule an appointment today.