What Makes Decision Making So Difficult?


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.


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.


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.


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 / and schedule an appointment today.

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


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.*

journal 2.jpg

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 / and schedule an appointment today.

The Wrath of Perfectionism


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


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 / and schedule an appointment today.

Mental Health Recovery Is Never a Straight Line


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.

graph 1.jpeg
graph 2.jpeg

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 / and schedule an appointment today.

7 Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety.jpg

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 / and schedule an appointment today.

Dissecting Anxiety

anxiety dissecting.jpg

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 / and schedule an appointment today.

Co-Rumination and Its Impact on Relationships

co rumination.jpg

Who do you turn to when you’re going through a challenging or difficult time? What do those conversations sound like? It can’t be overstated how important it is for us to feel socially connected and supported by the people around us, but not all forms of support are created equal. Also, the line between helping and hindering can be blurred, especially when conversations lean towards venting.

As comforting as it may be to have someone to turn to when you want to vent or debrief, it can be a slippery slope towards co-rumination. It’s possible you’ve never come across the idea of co-rumination, but chances are you’re familiar with rumination. When going through a difficult time, it’s common to repeatedly mull over events that took place (not to mention the ones that haven't even happened yet) and the things that were said (or not said). Sometimes this process can be helpful, because it can be a way of thinking things through, weighing our options, and figuring out new, creative solutions. On the other hand, it can also make us feel stuck and be less prepared to actually do anything constructive about the situation or the emotions we are experiencing. The deeper we are in a cycle of rumination, the harder it can be to recognize it’s happening and dig our way out.

This process can be even more difficult to spot when it happens in our closest relationships. Co-rumination involves repeatedly discussing and rehashing our problems and difficult feelings with someone else without coming up with a solution or resolution. The issue is, talking with a friend, partner, or family member about our problems can feel really good. It can make us feel supported, bring us closer together, and even trick us into believing we are doing something productive about our situation. Unfortunately, in the long run it can hold us back from moving forward and actually lead to worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression.

So, how can you spot co-rumination?

1. Know the signs

It’s important to recognize the difference between sharing and ruminating. Expressing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences is an important way to build closeness and trust in your relationships. But if you find yourself talking about the same experiences over and over again, particularly those that involve difficult emotions like anger, sadness, or envy, it can help to ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re caught in a cycle of co-rumination:

  • Is this a new problem?

  • Have I spoken about this before?

  • Am I predicting things that haven’t happened yet?

  • Do I have any new information that I haven’t shared or discussed?

2. Learn your patterns

With time, it will help to become aware of your patterns of communicating in times of high emotion. Certain topics are likely to bring on more venting or rumination and specific people may be easier to open up to.

  • Are there certain topics you tend to ruminate about (work, romantic relationships, family problems, finances, health concerns)?

  • Are you more likely to co-ruminate in certain settings (in person or on the phone, after or during work, while drinking alcohol)?

  • Are there certain people you tend to co-ruminate with?

How can you move from co-rumination to healthy processing?

1. Catch yourself co-ruminating and be compassionate

Becoming more aware of our behaviors and patterns can often be enough to help us move from co-rumination to finding solutions. The more you focus on recognizing co-rumination as it happens, the easier it’ll be to shift towards a more problem-solving approach. Why be compassionate with yourself? Judgement and self-criticism will likely lead to more emotional reactivity and lessened clarity of thought, which only makes finding a solution more difficult.

2. Weigh the short and long-term consequences

It’s important to validate for yourself the instinctual urge to relieve unwanted emotions, thoughts and sensations through venting, but, after the short term relief, co-rumination isn’t actually helpful for relieving the problem itself. In the long term, co-rumination has the potential to drive people away, especially when a relationship is unbalanced and conversations tend to be overly focused on one person’s difficulties or life.

3. Switch to active problem-solving

Ask yourself if there is a committed action step that can improve the situation right now, even in a small way. Actually taking action is more helpful than venting, not to mention that it is empowering rather than the victim mentality of venting. There will be times when there will be very little you can do to change your current situation or circumstances and this could be best handled by devoting energy toward those things in your life that you can control.

4. Strengthen your other coping strategies

The mind doesn’t like a vacuum, in absence of something to do, it will go back to what it knows. Trying to lessen your tendency to co-ruminate without having a replacement strategy will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed and likely feeling alone. It’s  important to find new ways to cope with whatever problem you are facing.

If you’re still struggling with how to determine alternatives to venting and this is leaving you overwhelmed, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

How ‘Why’ You Do Something is More Important Than ‘What’ You Do

It's All About the 'why' (2).png

In sessions on a regular basis, clients often are contemplating important decisions in their lives, such as whether to remain in a relationship with a significant other or with a friend, change jobs, continue therapy, or make any change to the routine of life. We sometimes go into problem-solving mode and consider practical factors, like the pros and cons of their different options, but I have found that focusing with clients less on the ‘what’ and more on the ‘why’ is where meaning can be brought to life circumstances and can allow for greater growth in understanding the reasons for hesitating when we have opportunity to move in a value-oriented direction. Often, neither of the options being considered are ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘right,’ or ‘wrong,’ but the motives behind them can be telling of how healthy or value-directed the decisions to be made are for them.

A couple examples may be helpful to show what I mean (one individually and one relationship based)

1. Imagine yourself with a decision to cancel plans to go spend time with friends or cancel and remain home. Like I was saying earlier, there isn’t anything right or wrong about the choices, but the reasons (the ‘why’) is important. Think about it this way:

a. You might be cancelling because you have had a busy week and you find ‘alone-time’ something that restores your energy, especially when you spend it engaging in hobbies or other activities that you enjoy.

b. On the other hand, you might be deciding to cancel because social situations are unpredictable (“who’s going to be there?,”what if there are new people there?”) and make you nervous and you’d rather not put yourself through that experience. Anxiety often triggers the urge to avoid (‘experiential avoidance’). Afterall, we grow to equate discomfort with survival and our aim is to avoid death, right? Unfortunately, avoiding something that makes us nervous can give us short-term relief, but it also reinforces the avoidance. How? Well, we avoid and feel better, so it is more likely that we will do it the next time. Our minds make sense of the pattern as basically, “I had to avoid that, otherwise it would have been a disaster (or awful, unbearable, etc).

In this example, the same behavior can be performed (one for self-care purposes and one in avoidance of an experience)

2. Imagine that you find yourself doing more than what you believe is your fair share in a relationship (inequity often causes instability). Over time, you find yourself feeling hurt or resentful. You may be tempted to withhold the effort you’re putting in for a while. Again, there is no clear ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choice, but I would suggest that you take a moment and ask yourself why; what would be your goal in reducing your effort? In this case the decision is not whether to decrease effort as much as it is about how it is going to be done (assertively or passive aggressively). Let’s take a closer look.:

a. You might be motivated to make things more equitable in order to avoid feeling resentful toward your partner in the future and you want to discuss it with your partner assertively to let them know how their help can be beneficial to you and the relationship. Partners are more satisfied in relationships when they feel they are equitable.

b. On the other hand, you might be doing it as a ‘test’ in hopes that they’ll notice your decision to do less, interpret your annoyance, and adjust their behavior (expressing more appreciation or doing their equal share). This can be risky...your partner may not recognize the message you are trying to send (assumptions are likely to be wrong) and/or they may not appreciate being tested in this way. The passive aggressive approach is done to avoid potential conflict (experiential avoidance).

The same choice of behavior can aim to prevent resentment in one case, or to test the relationship in another case.

The practice of taking a pause and asking ourselves ‘why’ may help you to get in touch with your underlying motivations (value-oriented or avoidance of an uncomfortable experience), so that you can make more informed decisions. This brings you closer to purposeful, intentional, and thoughtful responding (as opposed to reacting).

If you would like assistance in tuning into the underlying motives for your decision-making, I would encourage you to work with a professional to help you navigate this process.

If you are in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

The Dangers of Comparison and How to Deal With It


It starts when we are young and become more aware of ourselves and begin to notice how we are similar and different from others. It’s normal to compare and see how you may line up to others in various aspects of one’s self and life. It’s so deeply entrenched in our genetic makeup, because it was necessary to ‘fit in’ during Neanderthal times… otherwise, we would be exiled from the cave and susceptible to the real dangers of the world at the time, leading to death. Unfortunately, comparison can be a trigger for negative thinking and foster a never-ending stream of negative self-beliefs.  Even in learning environments we are often ranked and compared to others taking an exam, by GPA, or how well we complete tasks. It could cause a person to feel like they will never be good enough or measure up. As adults, such things are simply replaced by "grown-up" equivalents like money, material possessions and so on. Ironically, the most popular kids on the block are likely to be the ones who have the biggest need to compare themselves as adults, because they came to depend on the good opinion of others and on the ego-boost of being "first" or "the best", from a very young age.

The Dangers of Comparison:

  • Comparing Yourself is a Roller-Coaster Ride: Comparing yourself leads to your self worth being flung around by the opinion, words and actions of others. Even when you do feel better than others by comparison, the strength you gain is a temporary ego-boost. Once the ego-boost begins to fade (and it will), your insecurities resurface, triggering your need for outside reassurance and the ride starts again.

  • The Debilitating Need for Approval: If you compare yourself to others, you are likely to find that you also look to others for their approval. Needing the approval of others makes you second guess yourself and your decisions. It drains you of any sense of self and leaves you never quite sure of who you are and what you really want.

  • Comparing Yourself Fuels Your Insecurities: The nagging feeling of not being good enough, of needing the approval of others, of inadequacy, of envy, are all the result of comparing yourself to others. You can never quite feel good enough if your "good" is defined by the achievements of others. You can never quite approve of yourself if that approval depends on the opinion, words or actions of others. You can never quite be genuinely happy for the success of others when by comparison that success is greater than your own thereby making them better than you. You can never quite admire others' strengths when those strengths are the yardstick for your weaknesses.

Since comparing yourself to others is such a pointless and self-sabotaging exercise, the obvious question then is how do you stop it? The first step is to actually acknowledge that you actually do compare yourself. It may seem obvious, but you cannot change something if you do not acknowledge its existence.

Tips For Dealing with Comparison

  • Awareness: Most often we do these social comparisons without realizing we’re doing it. It’s a natural act and as a result it’s something that is done without consciousness. So the solution is to become conscious...bring the thoughts to the forefront of your consciousness by being on the lookout for them. If you focus on these thoughts for a few days, it gets much easier with practice, and soon it’ll be hard not to notice.

  • Stop yourself: Once you realize you’re doing these comparisons, give yourself a pause. Don’t berate yourself or feel bad...just acknowledge the thought, and gently change focus.

  • Focus on your strengths: Instead of looking at your weaknesses, ask yourself what your strengths are. Celebrate them and be proud of them. You don’t need to brag in order to have pride, so feel good about them and work on using them to your best advantage.

  • Be okay with imperfection: No one is perfect. We are all flawed human beings. Intellectually, we all know that, but emotionally we seem to feel bad when we don’t reach perfection. You can keep trying to improve, but don’t think you’ll ever be the “perfect person”. If you look at it in a different way, that imperfection is what makes you who you are, you can relieve yourself from a great deal of stress.

  • Learn to love being ‘enough’: If you always want what others have, you will never have enough. You will always want more. It’s an endless cycle, and it won’t lead to happiness. Learn to realize that what you have is already enough. If you have shelter over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back, and people who love you, you are fortunate. You have enough.

Comparisons can go hand and hand with depression and anxiety. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of comparison and using it to fuel negative thoughts and feelings, I would encourage you to work with a professional on returning to a focus on your true self and your strengths.

If you are in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

The Power of Vulnerability


One thing that has come up consistently this week with clients has been the concept of “Vulnerability.” To be honest, it comes up regularly. Vulnerability is a raw, authentic representation of ourselves and a willingness to expose our true selves and invite others in. Vulnerability is sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. When thinking about vulnerability, it’s important to understand the relationships between vulnerability, shame, and connectedness.

Connection is why we are here, ultimately why we exist, and what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Most often, the things that lead us to withdrawal from connection with others is shame. The belief that, if I am vulnerable and open with others, they will discover those things about me that make me ‘unworthy’ of connection. “If I’m really known, I will be rejected.” So when considering our experience with shame, vulnerability is often a risk of standing up to that fear and exposing ourselves to the possibility of unknown responses from others..Shame (and the fear of shame) leads to the urge to disconnect from others. We all have shame (except true sociopaths), so therefore, we all have the natural tendency to avoid vulnerability. It’s a self-protective mechanism for us.

The conundrum we find ourselves in is that even though we try to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable, there is a desire to have the type of relationships that assist and help us move toward vulnerability. No doubt, vulnerability feels risky and threatening; however, there comes a point when our efforts to protect ourselves can become destructive and cause us to miss the opportunity for a profound relational experience. In relationships, there is a need for boundaries and trust when vulnerability is wanted. These boundaries are important to help us manage the fear associated with taking this step. Judgment is needed to determine who the right people are, and then you can move towards more vulnerable interactions.

Helpful ways to work towards vulnerability in your relationships would include:

  1. Taking a moment to consider the efforts you make to protect yourself in relationships. Is the aim to create healthy connections or to remain unknown from those around you? If your answer is to remain unknown, then shame is likely getting in the way of meaningful connection.

  2. Identify the fear. Those that have worked with me in therapy will be well drilled in considering the underlying fear in their actions. Ask yourself, “what response do I fear from others after being vulnerable with them?”

  3. Accept that your fear is natural. Allow it to exist rather than focus on making it go away. Focus on the fear only gives it energy to grow.

  4. Focus attention on the value you have in connection, and then chose vulnerability rather than allowing fear to determine your actions. When we behave opposite of how we feel, and in this case seek others out, we discover a new sense of freedom and a way out of our shame.

  5. Establish trust and start slow. Try openness with smaller things and then after building trust with others, move on to larger things. For example, when you are asked “How are you?” try avoiding the automatic response of “good” and honestly contemplate the question before responding.

Entering into the anxiety and fear-provoking area of vulnerability, shame, and connection can be overwhelming. Consider talking to someone that can provide you a safe space to process your relationship to shame.

For help In the Lancaster, PA area moving toward more vulnerability and a more connected life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment.

Is Control Getting in the Way of Your Relationships? Part 2

control part 2.jpg

In the last entry we looked at the ways in which we exert control on others, ourselves, and our environment. Today, we look closer at what leads us to crave control and then, later, how seeking counseling can help in moving away from control and being at peace with the randomness of our lives.

What leads us to want so much control?

When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and very uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the growing awareness of our inability to control. From an evolutionary perspective, if we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival (if we could find a cave and secure the opening, we wouldn’t be attacked and eaten by a wild animal while we sleep). Our deep subconscious mind, therefore, gives us strong biochemical responses (fight/flight/freeze reactions) when we face some kind of danger, or in modern times, a perceived danger.

Other needs that lead to an urge for control include:

  • The need for a sense of certainty about the future.

  • The need for completion of unfinished things, so we don't have to worry about them..

  • The need to understand how things work and to avoid confusion.

  • The need for people (including ourselves) and things to be consistent and predictable.

Control issues may be related to:

  • Traumatic or abusive life experiences

  • A lack of trust

  • Anxiety

  • Fears of abandonment

  • Low or damaged self-esteem

  • A person's beliefs, values, and faith

  • Perfectionism and the fear of failure

  • Emotional sensitivity and the fear of experiencing painful emotions

Someone who struggles with a need for control may experience shame, anxiety, stress, depression, and a host of other mental health concerns.

Now that we have a greater understanding of how the urge for control is built in us, Let’s look at how psychotherapy can help relieve us from this heavy emotional energy drain.

How can Psychotherapy Help?

Addressing control issues in therapy involves unraveling and revealing the source of the need for control (which can be very different for each of us). In therapy we work together to address the underlying fear, emotions, or anxiety, and develop coping strategies. This process of increasing self-awareness can help a person begin letting go of the need for control.

Therapy can help a person identify the self-protective nature of the need for control (and realize that it comes naturally and is very normal, just not beneficial).

For example, maybe a person’s parents were absent or emotionally unavailable in childhood, or maybe their childhood home wasn’t a stable place. Emotional or physical instability and a lack of choices or independence can lead a person to seek control over other aspects of life. Recognizing and addressing this source of distress in therapy will help the person build the ability for self-compassion and embrace that part of themselves that needs protection and feels vulnerable.

How do you begin the process to heal?

It begins with finding out the “why’ behind the control issue.

Start with taking notice when your control stuff comes up so you can identify the self-protective nature it serves (what are you trying to avoid by seizing control? What is your fear?).

These are some questions to ask yourself in this process (remember to be compassionate and honest with yourself):

  • Why am I triggered or why did I get triggered? (not in a blaming or shaming way, but solely from a place of     curiosity)

  • When was the first time that I noticed this feeling present itself to me from my earliest memories and how did I cope with it at that time?

  • What about this situation feels similar to when I was a child?

Once you are able to identify when/where in your life this was created ½ the battle of control is over. Then you bring yourself into the present moment and go deeper:

  • Am I looking at the whole picture?

  • Am I reacting from expecting the worst from a situation?

  • What am I afraid will happen if I let go of control?

  • Am I really ready to let go of control?

  • Would letting go feel better than this?

  • What will I gain if I let go?

The answers to these questions can lead you to work toward addressing the fear which gives the urge for control its energy (control is just the symptom of fear) and also open yourself up to the possibility of a better way to move through life.

Consider talking to someone that can provide you a safe space to address the fears leading to the unhealthy urge for control.

For help moving toward a more peaceful life, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to make letting go of control a lot more comfortable!!

Click on this blog post’s title to like, comment, or share.

Is Change in Your Life Bringing Up Anxiety in You?

embrace change.jpg

We choose to quit jobs, get married, move to a new home, adopt a pet, but, of course, there are many life events we don’t choose—being laid off at a job, flooding, disease, an accidental pregnancy, or the death of a loved one. Yet we can still choose how we deal with and react to these occurrences in our lives.

During very tough times, our emotions run the gamut: denial, anger, rage, despair, numbness, isolation, desperation. In order to heal, we must feel. But we have a say in what we do with our feelings. There are no right or wrong reactions, only what serves us and what doesn’t.

It may feel helpful for you to be angry and express your rage; it may feel helpful to be alone for some time. What is crucial when moving through a crisis is maintaining your self-awareness.

Check in with yourself daily, possibly through meditation or journaling, and ask yourself:

“Where am I today? Is this helping me?” This act alone can bring about anxiety as it causes use to sit with emotions that we do our best to avoid, because they cause discomfort, but again, growth comes from moving through discomfort.

I think one of the best examples of how discomfort allows for growth and strength comes from an experiment run in the early 1990’s that was called Biosphere 2 (not to be confused with the Pauly Shore movie “Bio-Dome”!!) in which there was an attempt to determine if a closed ecological system could support and maintain human life in outer space. Researchers couldn’t determine why the trees that were growing in the system were limp and laying over on their sides… eventually, they figured out that, because there was no wind in the sphere, the trees remained limber and limp, because they did not have to resist pressure and adversity, which leads to them growing strong in our environment. Adversity leads to strength.  

Whether we like the situation or not doesn’t really matter—life-altering events will change us, in one way or another. Instead of tuning out to avoid the pain, dealing with and even embracing misfortune and its consequences gives us an active role in guiding our own change and growth.

Transitions from misfortune to growth can be alternately exhilarating and difficult, but it  will bring beautiful changes into our lives.

What change are you dealing with now, and how are you responding to it?

Post a comment (click on the blog title to enter a comment): How have you grown from a difficult experience? What was your biggest lesson?

Your challenge: Consider a difficult period in your life. List the ways you grew as a person or how people came together to help you. Can you feel some gratitude for that difficult experience for making you a stronger person today?

Navigating through change can be daunting and sometimes seem impossible. If you’re struggling to move through the anxiety of change, consider talking to someone.

For anxiety counseling, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to make change a lot more comfortable!!