Co-Rumination and Its Impact on Relationships

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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.

The Habits of Deeply Connected Couples


The Gottman Institute ( says that deep, intimate connections between couples are created ‘through hundreds of very ordinary, mundane moments in which they attempt to make emotional connections.’ These ordinary moments, sometimes called ‘bids’ are usually informal moments when one partner attempts to gain the attention of the other and have some sort of emotional connection. They can come in many forms including:

  • Affectionate Touching (reaching for a hand, a kiss, a hug, a back rub)

  • Facial Expressions (smile, rolling the eyes, wink)

  • Playful Touch (tickling, dancing)

  • Generous Gestures (opening a door, acts of service)

  • Vocal Gestures (laughing, sighing, groaning)

Turning toward your partner when they are asking for your attention in these ways is a key for attaining relationship success. This is the difference between demonstrating care for your partner by giving them your attention versus disregarding them. Some of the other traits of highly connected couples include:

1. Continuously Learning About the Other Person
If you come from the perspective that you can never really know your partner completely, you will find yourself curious to learn more. There will always be memories that your partner has that you will not know. But you can get to know your partner more by asking deep questions with genuine curiosity. For example, not just questions about events, but what the experience was like for your partner on an emotional level.

2. Sharing Intimate Knowledge of Yourself
Allowing your partner into your inner experience (thoughts, emotions, sensations) is allowing vulnerability into your life which can be difficult, but vulnerability is the pathway to connection. Deeply connected partners have a shared language of affection for each other or special ways of touching each other that have a shared meaning. Inside jokes, pet names, and playful teasing are ways that couples connect to each other on an intimate level.


3. Positive Interactions
Two important parts of a couple’s daily interaction is listening and play. Listening is when you are fully available to hear their words and the emotion behind it. Play is the choice that you make to have a moment of fun with your partner. Listening is a way to heal many old wounds that partners carry with them into intimate relationships from their childhood and from past partners. Active listening is a difficult skill. Many believe they are listening, but they aren’t truly doing it. Rather than giving your partner half of your attention, face them and listen intently to what they are saying. Deeply connected couples tend to share humor between them as often as possible. Actually, the use of humor (not sarcasm) or affection during conflict can be important to the health of the relationship.

4. Shared Values and Goals

This does not mean that you and your partner have to have the same opinions or beliefs about all aspects of the world, but instead that you and your partner have a shared story about what is important to you. You talk with each other in terms of ideas, values, goals and how they allow you both to trust in your future together. Deeply connected couples know that each person is capable of change over their lifetimes, but what rarely changes about a person are their deeply-held core beliefs. Deeply connected couples share many core beliefs, which strengthens the depth their relationship because they connect to each other on a meaningful level.

All of these traits have the combined power to increase trust and safety between partners which then allows for increased vulnerability. This starts a cycle that gives energy back and forth (vulnerability builds trust, trust builds more vulnerability=>CONNECTION)

If you’re still struggling with how to connect with your partner, communicate openly, or to build trust in your relationship, feel free to contact me please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

The Importance of Boundary Setting


In recent weeks, especially with the holidays bringing families together, boundary-setting has been coming up often, in and outside the therapy office. I notice that for many, “boundaries,” as a concept, seems to be confusing and not very clear as to what is meant by them. This can lead to relationship difficulty, because boundaries play out in so many facets of life. You might be asking yourself whether your own boundaries are adequate…. Try asking yourself the following questions…

  • Do you ever feel like you invest more than you receive in relationships with partners, family, friends, or even strangers?

  • Do you feel resentful, or that you are being taken advantage of in relationships?

  • Do you feel a little annoyed most of the time, or find yourself feeling as if you are mistreated?

  • Do you worry about the disapproval from others if you were to choose to say no or do what’s right for you?

  • Do you often feel compelled to “fix things” for those who are close to you (emotionally, or otherwise)?

  • Do you worry others won’t think you’re a good friend, partner, son, daughter, etc, if you don’t do what they are asking from you?

  • Do you fear that setting a limit would lead to argument or confrontation?

  • Do you say “yes” when you mean “no” out of habit, or just to avoid unpleasant interactions.

  • Do you go out of your way to ensure that other people’s comforts, wants, and needs are satisfied at the expense of your own?

While most people occasionally struggle with boundary setting, if these questions sound a bit too familiar, it might help to give your boundaries some re-working.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are a limit between you and another person. Simply put, it’s about knowing where you end and others begin. Knowing what’s yours and what’s not. It’s about acknowledging that every adult is responsible for themselves. Having a functioning boundary means taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, and definitely NOT taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of others. We have boundaries and we can regulate how impenetrable they are (meaning what we let in and out) when it comes to physical, mental and emotional aspects of ourselves and others.

Maintaining boundaries is like being the gatekeeper of your life in order to keep yourself emotionally safe and well. Imagine you are a house, with a front and back door. If you keep your front door unlocked and back door open all the time, anyone is free to walk in, do as they please, and stay as long as they want. On the other hand, if you keep the doors shut and locked with the curtains drawn, you end up isolated, and miss out on connecting with others. Many go from one of these extremes to the other and this causes a lot of emotional instability in relationships. We know that the healthiest type of boundary is one that is appropriately and purposefully open to some people, in some situations, some of the time, and closed to others, at other times. How well we communicate these boundaries can either protect or hurt relationships.

How Do You Set and Keep Boundaries?

  1. The first step tends to be to create time to get to know yourself, and practice feeling worthy of setting and maintaining boundaries. Often when we allow our boundaries to be crossed, we feel as though we are being generous, maybe because we feel (or have been taught) it’s the only way to be a “good person” or the only way to have worth or value in our lives. It’s important to recognize that being “worthy” does not come from our achievements or generosity toward others, but because like every person, we simply are!  Reinforce that you are worthy by being kind and compassionate toward yourself and taking good care of your emotional health. You may feel as though a good relationship means you take care of others at your own expense, and you hope they will take care of you in the same way in return, but this only creates boundary chaos. Instead,you can take care of you first. You may instinctively think of this as selfish, but it isn’t. By meeting your own needs, you respect yourself and the other by taking responsibility for your own well-being.

  2. The second step is about defining your limits. In other words, in each situation, ask yourself what you are responsible for and what is outside your scope. If your partner wants you to do something, ask yourself, “would I like to invest in my relationship in this specific way?” If yes, then you can do it within your boundary. Then ask yourself, “does this come at the expense of my well-being?” “Will my resentment grow if I do it?” If yes to either, there is a good chance this is outside your healthy boundary. Give yourself the power to own the choices you make, and avoid doing anything that you will come to resent. Make choices that you feel are right for you (not because you feel like you have to, fear the consequences, or think “that’s what it takes to be a good person”), but because you feel confident with the choice no matter what the outcome may be.

  3. The third step is to practice assertiveness! First noticing when your boundaries are being tested, then, communicating your opinion and decision firmly, but respectfully. For example, you might feel guilty because you don’t visit your family as often as they’d like. Make a personal choice about how often you would like to visit, and express your choice firmly to them. You are not responsible for how they feel about your choice. At work you might go above and beyond your job requirements at the expense of your own time with friends and family, which can lead you to burnout. Despite your fears (“what if I lose my job?”), you can start by setting limits on how often you work and communicating it assertively (saying “I am not available to work on the weekend”).  

To summarize, when boundaries are blurry or loose, we do things we don’t want to do, often at the expense of our well-being. This leads to frustration within ourselves and can damage relationships with others. Being responsible for minding our own emotions and actions rather than those of others is essential to keeping our relationships (and ourselves!) healthy.

If you’re still struggling with how to set and maintain your boundaries and limits, feel free to contact me please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today. Together, we can develop boundaries that can keep you feeling emotionally and physically safe.

Trauma and Your Relationship: How to Heal

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When you’re in a relationship with a trauma survivor, it is likely that you have become aware of a few obstacles that can be difficult to overcome, including that it is simply difficult to see someone you care about struggling with the impact of trauma or abuse (whether the trauma occurred before or during your relationship). Still, it’s possible to have a loving, healthy, and connected relationship.

The ability to allow your partner to feel safe and letting them know they can trust you are the key components to healing your relationship when trauma is a factor.

How Can Trauma Impact Your Relationship?

The answer to that question often depends on the type of event (or events) your partner has experienced. It could be anything from child abuse, rape, or combat, to a car accident. Each different type of trauma leads to different types of environmental cues that lead the survivor to re-experience and go into survival mode. Regardless of the type of trauma, there are certain obstacles that usually affect relationships.

Some of the most common hurdles you’ll face with your partner include:

  • They may have difficulty accepting love

  • Emotional distancing

  • Persistent doubt in your faithfulness and commitment to them

  • Over or under-reaction to conflict


It’s important to understand that trauma survivors need different types of support. They need to take care of themselves, and they also need certain elements from your relationship.

Let’s take a look at these two areas

  1. Self-Care for You and Your Partner

    Trauma survivors devote a great deal of energy to taking care of their own emotional, mental, and physical health. Everyone has a different way of doing this, but one of the best things a survivor can do is to have an amazing support system which includes you, as their partner. For most, professional help may be needed. Don’t ever try to force your partner into seeking out help, but instead, you can encourage it in a positive manner. Also, remember that while you’re encouraging your partner’s self-care, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Trauma is exhausting for both people involved, so take time for yourself  to make sure you’re healthy and emotionally prepared to support your partner. Don’t be afraid to seek out your own professional help. It’s not uncommon for partners of trauma survivors to need extra help, too.

  2. Supporting Your Partner

    There are many different ways you can be supportive of your partner after they’ve dealt with a traumatic event. A way to start is to educate yourself about the impact of trauma. The more you understand what your partner is going through, the easier it will be to heal your relationship. Communication is the biggest key when it comes to improving your relationship with a trauma survivor. The right kind of communication helps to provide comfort and safety. This can be done with a simple pattern known as ‘Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy.’ It can help to restore a feeling of peace and stability which is especially important when your partner is having a flashback or going through a very difficult time. Gently bring your partner’s attention to the present when they’re struggling with something from the past. When you’re able to remind them that they’re currently safe and secure, and this has the potential to calm them quickly.

Loving a Survivor of Trauma

Relationships are challenging to begin with. When you’re in a relationship with someone who has been through a traumatic experience, it’s even harder, but it’s not impossible to practice deep healing techniques that can help to heal wounds from the past.

If you’re still struggling with how to help your partner, or if your relationship is suffering due to trauma, feel free to contact me please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today. Together, we can develop effective strategies for healing.

Couples Counseling in Lancaster, PA: 3 Obstacles That Keep You From Getting Help

You’ve just had an all too familiar fight again, leaving you exhausted and feeling hopeless. You’ve reacted by going through the cycle of avoidance, ignoring each other, holding grudges, and then it repeats again in a few days or weeks. This time with added resentment.

Here are the complaints I often hear from couples:

  • “We just don’t understand each other – we’re never on the same page.”

  • “We don’t spend any time together”

  • “We don’t even touch each other anymore”

  • “We always argue about the same problems.”

  • “We don't  talk about our problems without getting defensive and attacking each other. We need help.”

Many couples in the Lancaster, PA area want to overcome their problems and know they need help, but don’t seek out couples counseling. And it’s often for a good reason. Here’s 3 reasons couples don’t go to counseling2

  1. Couples Counseling Feels Overwhelming. Many couples are afraid that couples counseling will make their problems worse. They’re worried their problem will come to the surface and they won’t be able to handle it. This fear of conflict is an obstacle that keeps couples from getting the counseling they need. We all have our own experiences with conflict in our lives. Maybe we were hurt or abandoned when arguments happened… maybe we learned to avoid conflict by ignoring, complying, or even trying to control others. Couples find it hard to imagine that conflict can lead to resolution and understanding. This is the goal of couples counseling, and working through fears of conflict is central to making progress.

  2. Couples Counseling Feels Exposing. Many couples don’t seek couples counseling because they’re afraid of being exposed...Afraid that something hidden will come to the surface such as hidden behaviors (pornography addiction, drug use, spending habits, etc..) will drive a larger wedge between them. We tell ourselves it’s easier to just keep the issue hidden, although, we know these behaviors often keep us from experiencing the connection and relationship we want with our partner. A skilled therapist will work with you and won’t reveal anything without your consent.

  3. Couples Counseling Is Vulnerable. Many couples don’t make the first call because they don’t trust the therapist. They are anxious that the therapist won’t honor their values as a couple, but instead push his or her own values into the relationship.

So the couple doesn’t move forward and they stay in a position of helplessness, fearing that no one will be able to help them and their unique issues.

What Couples Counseling Can Do For You.

If you can move past these fears, there’s possibility for change. Here’s what I see in couples when they take the first step and come in to therapy:

  1. Increased Empathy. When a couple slows down and talks (through Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy), I see them grow in their emotional connection. While the conflict doesn’t immediately go away, they grow a solid foundation of understanding and compassion for each other. Conflict (aggression, passive-aggression, sarcasm) can turn into disagreement with a structure and emotional safety. This comes as a great relief to many couples who can sense that they are now on the same ‘team.’

  2. Less ‘Hot Button’ Topics. Couples find that they have less topics that drive them apart as more things become openly discussible.

  3. Increased Co-Regulation. Co-regulation is a word that describes a couple’s ability to manage difficult emotions together. When couples feel connected to each other’s emotions, they can resolve conflict easily since they recognize that behind the each other’s opinions and beliefs is an emotion which gives it weight. Couples learn that they can stay connected in good times and difficult times.

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

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

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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.

Recognizing Unhealthy Relationships


As a therapist, I often see people in relationships who question if what they’re experiencing is abuse or just unhealthy. Many of us grow up in family homes in which unhealthy or abusive relationships were modeled by our caregivers, and often this leads to a distorted view of what is ‘normal’ in regard to how people in a relationship should treat each other. Relationship dysfunction tends to be handed down throughout generations for just that reason… we are only acting in the way we learned and don’t even know it is toxic… so it is no wonder that it is difficult to change. As with many things, the first step to change is the awareness of the problem.  So this begs the question, “How can you identify a healthy relationship versus an unhealthy (or even abusive) one?”

Signs of a Healthy Relationship:

  • Open and respectful communication between partners

  • Partners trust each other and they aren’t required to “prove” how trustworthy they are

  • Partners are honest with each other, but they still are able to have privacy (private thoughts/private moments)

  • Partners make decisions together, or with each other’s input

  • Partners enjoy spending time together or apart, and respect each other’s urge for time apart and individual interests

  • Partners talk openly about sexual choices, and each partner willingly consents to sexual activity

  • Partners have equal say about financial decisions, and each person has access to resources

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship:

  • Partners fight or completely avoid discussing problems when they occur

  • Partners use passive-aggressive communication or sarcasm to express themselves

  • Partners are not considerate of one another, or they may consider their needs more important than the needs of the other

  • Partners lie to each other

  • One or both partners feel pressured to engage in sexual activity

  • Only one partner is responsible for making decisions

  • Finances are not discussed, or only one partner is in charge of finances

Signs of an Abusive Relationship:

  • Partners communicate in a way that is threatening, hurtful, insulting, or demeaning

  • One partner doesn’t respect the feelings, thoughts, or even the physical safety of the other

  • One partner accuses the other of cheating or having an affair when it’s not true

  • One partner minimizes or blames the other for abusive behavior

  • One partner controls all decisions without the other’s input

  • One partner isolates the other from their family and friends

  • One partner forces the other to engage in sexual activity

  • One partner controls all money and access to resources

While conflict is normal in all relationships, arguments shouldn’t become attacks. If you’re unable to express yourself to your partner without fear of retaliation, you may be experiencing abuse.

If you would like to have greater clarity on the health of your relationship, 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 Haunting of Hill House” Part 2: Trauma and Its Aftermath

Traumatizing experiences shake the foundations of our beliefs about safety, and shatter our assumptions of trust. Because they are so far outside what we would expect, these events provoke reactions that feel strange and "crazy". Even though these reactions can be unusual and disturbing, they are typical and expected. By and large, they are normal responses to abnormal events.

Trauma symptoms originally evolved to help us recognize and avoid other dangerous situations quickly (before it was too late). Sometimes these symptoms resolve themselves within a few days or weeks of a disturbing experience. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but when many symptoms persist for weeks or months, or when they are extreme, treatment with a professional can be beneficial. On the other hand, if symptoms persist for several months without treatment, then avoidance can become the method used to cope with the trauma (and this strategy interferes with seeking professional help). Postponing needed intervention for a year or more, and allowing avoidance defenses to develop, could make this work much more difficult in the future.

We create meaning out of the context in which events occur, so there is always a strong subjective element in people's responses to traumatic events. An example of this would be in the case of disasters, where a broad cross-section of the population is exposed to the same traumatic experience, but  react with different coping mechanisms (both adaptive and maladaptive).

Some of the potential long term results of unresolved trauma include:

  • fear, anxiety, worrying or ruminating (intrusive thoughts of the trauma)

  • grief, disorientation, denial

  • hyper-alertness or hypervigilance

  • irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage

  • emotional swings – like crying and then laughing

  • Nightmares and flashbacks – feeling like the trauma is happening now

  • feelings of helplessness and a sense of being out of control

  • increased need to control everyday experiences

  • minimizing the experience

  • attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma

  • tendency to isolate

  • feelings of detachment

  • emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings

  • difficulty trusting and feelings of betrayal

  • difficulty concentrating or remembering

  • feelings of self-blame or survivor guilt

  • shame

  • lessened interest in everyday activities or depression

  • unpleasant past memories resurfacing

  • loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world; expectation of doom and fear of the future

  • becoming obsessive

  • increased use of alcohol and drugs

  • questioning faith or religion

“The Haunting of Hill House” is a wonderful depiction of the effects of personal and familial trauma with each of the children showing multiples of the symptoms discussed above. When families share a trauma, each individual reacts to it in a different way, but the family also reacts as a unit, often playing out dynamics and patterns that serve to keep the family stuck in an unbeneficial cycle. If Hill House is personified as a monster that feeds on its inhabitants, the family unit itself is also personified as a kind of organism that thrives on suffering in the form of co-dependency. As the show progresses, you see each member of the Crain family pushed deeper into private psychological terrors that manifest as terrifying ghosts. Themes of generational trauma, inherited mental illness, and the guilt and fear that accompany them, run throughout the stories of the Crain siblings and their parents.

Hill House follows two timelines: the Crain siblings’ horrific childhood, and a more intimate look at how that trauma and its aftermath have dominated their lives. The Crains have tried to hide and push down their grief (Theo through meaningless sex, Luke through drugs, Shirley through controlling her environment, Steve through denial) and each has maintained a facade in their relationships with each other, despite their shared trauma experiences. Trauma holds such a primal place for the Crains (just like all of us) and their perception of themselves that the siblings even argue about their right to claim and discuss their childhood (as if they can control it by taking ownership of it).

Most of the problems faced by the Crain family members (infidelity, shame, dishonesty, addiction, emotional withholding, obsessive behavior) are all fairly “normal” family issues (in the sense that pretty much every family can tick off one of them in their family tree). When trauma occurs, it exacerbates the family issues to different degrees. Each of those problems are painstakingly traced back to their childhood summer living in Hill House.

Because of the mysterious death of their mother, the Crain children have not been able to get closure. They haven't been able to properly contextualize their mother’s death.

Shirley takes a direct approach to dealing with the trauma . Along with the death of her mother, and the experiences involving the rapid death of an entire litter of kittens (interestingly, motherless kittens who eventually succumb to disease… just like the Crains being motherless and succumbing to mental illness). Shirley ends up sublimating (a coping mechanism meaning an expression of anxiety in socially acceptable way) her childhood fear of death into a career of ‘fixing’ dead bodies by becoming a mortician. She distances herself from the emotions of death by focusing on the exterior of the bodies.

Steven’s belief system protects him from reality and it serves to insulate him from his family and the past. By establishing his own narrative about what happened, Steven has been able to compartmentalize the trauma he has experienced, which is a very elaborate coping mechanism.

Theo absorbs the experiences of those around her with a high degree of empathy and this allows her to take on a large amount of emotional pain from others. She does her best to shield herself through the use of the gloves, her alcohol usage, blunt demeanor, emotional numbing, and the purely physical relationships that she has in her life.

Luke’s use of drugs is his way of numbing his memory of trauma. It seems likely that Luke also has a potential of arrested development (emotional) as a result of his trauma as well. As his parents gives him the bowler hat, they makes it a point to tell him that the hat signifies him becoming a ‘big boy’, but then the hat is taken away from him by the ghost of William Hill, symbolically leaving him in a regressed state.

Nellie, along with Luke, seemed to receive the brunt of the emotional scarring as a result of their summer at Hill House. Nellie has moved through life with a sense of emptiness and feeling invisible to others, especially her family. This is best portrayed in the scene when Nell becomes invisible to her family and despite their attempts to find her, she goes undetected. This best encapsulates the Crain family dynamic in relation to Nell as her feelings are continually deprioritized in relation to her siblings.

In the show, family is protection (both Nell and Luke use counting up to seven, the number of members of their family unit, as a kind of coping mechanism and a way to keep the ghosts at bay) but it is also a painful repetition of fears and anxieties that have no end. The family was unable to get the help needed to allow them to use the power of family relationships for healing. Thankfully, there is a sense of coming together in the end of the show, but unfortunately, it was decades delayed.

While trauma and its impact is a theme of “The Haunting of Hill House,” it is extremely important that those with trauma in their history seek treatment from a professional.

For help with processing a trauma in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

“The Haunting of Hill House” Part 1: The Stages of Grief

While I watched “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix recently, I found myself being more drawn to the symbolism more than the scary moments, recognizing that the ghosts, while scary, are just representations of the “ghosts” we carry with us through our lives and don’t ever want to face, but we know they are there… they follow us and haunt us... almost always brought on by trauma… I’ve convinced my wife to watch the show (I wanted to see it again!) and felt inspired to share some connections I’ve made to my role as a therapist and how they relate to all of us.

Obligatory Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t watched the show, go watch it now! I’ll wait!

Part One: The Crain Kids and the Stages of Grief

There may be a moment in the show when you come to the realization that each of the Crain siblings represent the stages of grief, and in this case, the grieving of their mother’s apparent suicide and the loss of an ability to lead a ‘normal’ life after the experiences at the house. Even more interesting is that they represent the stages from oldest (Steve) to youngest (Nell). If you are wondering what the stages of grief actually are, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally wrote about them in 1969 and her stages remain the ‘go to’ when trying to place grief in a framework. She named the stages as follows and she believed that they occured in this order, although current belief is that they cycle and the order is unique to each person:

  1. Denial: Somehow you must be mistaken, and cling to a false reality that is more acceptable to you.

  2. Anger: When the grieving person recognizes that denial can’t continue, they become frustrated and direct it toward others in their world. Often, there is a component of blame and victim mentality. "Why me? It's not fair!" or  "How can this happen to me?" are fairly common questions.

  3. Bargaining: The grieving person will attempt to essentially negotiate with the traumatic event. They might attempt to bargain with a higher power or attempt to adapt their life in order to put off facing the trauma.

  4. Depression: The grieving person may face their own mortality or come to believe that they have no reason to go on because of the loss in their life.

  5. Acceptance: The grieving person comes to acknowledge the trauma event as reality and there is some type of relief or catharsis.

Steven Crain as “Denial”: Steve goes through his life denying what he saw and experienced as a child at Hill House. He discredits any memories of ghosts in the house when brought up by his siblings, and he believes that they are all mentally ill, just like their mother which led to her suicide. Somehow, what he knows to be true has to have another explanation than the reality.

Steve’s denial is best represented when Steve’s father told Steve to close his eyes as they are escaping the house. Steve metaphorically, kept his eyes shut all the way through his life. Throughout the show, Steve is in the position to have to face the truth (Nell’s death, the clock repairer ghost appearing to him) until a point late in the show when his denial is broken and can’t be sustained any longer.

Shirley Crain as “Anger”: Shirley is a walking ball of anger. Angry with her father for leaving the home without her mother, at Steve for exposing the family to ridicule by writing the story of Hill House, and angry at Nell for repeating what happened to their mother. Shirley has spent a good deal of her life resenting the fact that she had to be the ‘mom’ of the family, because her mother left them and Steve wouldn’t accept responsibility (victim). Her life is out of control and she unsuccessfully tries to control it...the fear of being out of control comes out in anger.

Theodora Crain as “Bargaining”: Theo wears her gloves to keep herself from feeling (she has  adapted her life in order to avoid facing her trauma) if the gloves are a way to control her empathic skills (or telepathic, in this case). The gloves shield her from deep interpersonal relationships which she also does by limiting her relationships to one night stands. She lives her life in an attempt to avoid connection (the significance of being the middle child (loner, excluded) is at play here too), but later in the series, when she touches Nell’s dead body and feels nothing, she comes to a realization that connection (to something, to anything) is all that she wants. Her confessional speech to Shirley about feeling empty and wanting to connect with her life again after they run off the road is raw and powerful (giving me more chills than the ghosts!).

Luke Crain as “Depression”: When Luke discovers that his twin sister, Nell, is dead, he believes that he can’t go on living without her. Luke and Nell arguably experienced the worst of the horror in Hill House (compounded by their innate twin connection) and Luke uses heroin as a way of numbing his suffering (this numbing is very prevalent in people that feel flooded with emotional pain). He also has the obsessive tendency to count to seven (the number of family members) to build a protective wall around him to keep the trauma away. Even when he attempts to pull out of the depression through gaining sobriety for 90 days, the “floating man” follows him wherever he goes, reminding him of the pain he wants to avoid.

Nellie Crain as “Acceptance”: Nell is haunted by the “bent-neck lady” throughout her life, leading to high levels of depression and anxiety. Later, she comes to the realization that what she has been witnessing (the physical aftermath of a suicide by hanging) has been her all along in the future. After Nell ‘gives herself’ to the house in an attempt to reunite with her dead mother, she is able to reach a point of forgiveness of her siblings for what they have done in their lives to discount, minimize, blame, or exclude her. There is relief in her forgiveness...she’s no longer suffering with anger or depression. She tells her siblings at the end of the show, “Forgiveness is warm. Like a tear on a cheek,” noting that she loved them completely and she knows they loved her, despite their actions that have hurt her in the past.

While grief is a current that runs through “The Haunting of Hill House,” it is a significant factor in each of our lives from time to time. It can be something that exacerbates a mental illness or brings underlying mental illness into our awareness. If you are grieving the loss of something or someone in your life, please seek professional help to guide you through the grieving process.

For help with your grieving process in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

So, Where Should We Begin?

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Soooo….what are people supposed to talk about in therapy?  The past? My mother? The events of my week? My grocery list? My deepest, darkest fears?  Should I talk about my work stress or about my dreams or nightmares? Should I just talk about my feelings? How much information do I need to give for what I say to make sense? Is my therapist expecting something in particular?

Many clients, especially at the beginning of therapy, feel uncertain and anxious about which details of their life are worth sharing and what is not (mixed with fears that the therapist will judge as they expect others in their lives to do). Some clients may feel like they have to come up with interesting insights each session, or that they have to come prepared with discussion topics. Some may come to therapy with a more “wait and see” approach, but then start to doubt whether they’re accomplishing anything when there’s moments in which there is “nothing to talk about.”

Overall, there is no specific “one size fits all” approach, because each person is unique. The most important point is to be open with your therapist about your concerns and questions… even if it is “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!”... you might just get some welcome feedback. I’ve put together some things to consider when coming to therapy that can help lessen some anxiety you might have:

1. Everything is relevant.

Everything you talk about sheds more light on what it’s like to be you, and how you make sense of your world. It’s very helpful for your therapist to know what it is like to be you as he or she works to get to know you, and to understand better what your strengths, values, goals, and those things that keep you stuck. Note: If you find yourself running through mundane details of your week or hitting awkward silences, it may be a cue that there's a deeper issue you're avoiding. Ask yourself what it is you're not talking about and contemplate the fear of saying it. Push yourself beyond “it is what it is” or “whatever” and tackle some deeper questions.

2. If it feels important, it is.

Sometimes you may just not understand why something feels important, but you’ve had a reaction to it. It’s okay to bring that up.  You don’t need to know everything about a topic in order to start talking about it. Your primary task in therapy is just to be you at your most natural and genuine; your therapist is there to help you make sense of the themes running through your life and story and to help you identify if it has led you off the path you’re hoping to go in your life.

3. Pay attention to your gut.

We’re taught in life to suppress, minimize, and avoid our feelings, but if you notice that you have a strong feeling connected to something, that’s a good sign that it is important to you on some level. Rather than avoid the experience, bring it up and out. Chances are that the areas of your life that lead to strong emotional reactions will be the areas where therapy can help the most.

4. Some questions to ask yourself during the week between sessions.

  • “What bothered me this week more than it usually does?” “When was I surprised by my reaction?”  The things that trigger us often give us an insight into old wounds in our life that have not been resolved. They also may give you insight into ways you’ve adapted your life to avoid those experiences.   

  • “What things did I say to myself when I was upset?” By letting your therapist in on your harsh self-critic mind, you can begin the work toward understanding your self-concept and the ways in which you may have learned to to beat yourself up in your mind.  

  • “How do I actually feel in session?” “ What do I experience when I talk about certain things?” When do I feel disappointed in session? A confident therapist will be open to discussing these things with you, and will help you explore the ways in which therapy does or doesn’t meet expectations for you (this goes back to your uniqueness and unique experience). This can be especially helpful if you’re feeling that something you need is not being addressed.

Therapy is an investment toward the life you want to live. You can get the most return on your investment by making an effort to be yourself (warts ‘n all)... this vulnerability brings you closer to your authentic self.

For help In the Lancaster, PA area moving toward the life you want to live, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment.

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.

Try This 4 Step Process When Feeling Stressed Out

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Roughly two-thirds of Americans say they need help for stress in their lives. Having said that, it’s important to remember that stress itself is not the problem (it’s ever-present). Instead, it’s how we relate to stress. The stress response (Fight/Flight/Freeze) is critical to our survival and it is instinctual. Of course, most of us don’t experience life-or-death threats all that often. We usually experience stress reactions in response to thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations. If we’re actively engaged in worry about whether we can put food on the table or pass the final exam, the stress reaction activates and all the bodily systems involved in the process turn on. If the bodily systems involved in stress don’t slow down and normalize, the effects can be severe on our mind and body (high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia, chronic inflammation/pain, gastrointestinal issues, and a suppressed immune system).

Giving yourself space in your day to stop, coming down from the worried mind, and orienting yourself to the present moment has been shown to be enormously helpful in lessening the negative effects of our stress response. When we come back to the present, we’re more likely to gain perspective and see that we have the power to regulate our response to pressure.

So you might be wondering why the STOP sign? Here’s a short practice you can use at times throughout your day to step into that space between stimulus and response.

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Sometimes understanding and practicing mindfulness can seem difficult at first. If you would like some guidance and gain a deeper understanding of how it can help you, consider reaching out and scheduling an appointment. You can contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and we can work together to bring you back to the best place to be… the present!

The Language of "You" vs. the Language of "I."

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The most common problem that troubles struggling couples is, ultimately, their communication. The basis of their communication problems is that they tend to blame their partners, without always even knowing that they are doing it. There is an easy way to make sure that, when you communicate, you are not blaming or accusing, and that, instead, you are taking responsibility for yourself. This is by using “I” statements, and by avoiding “you” statements.The concept itself is easy to understand, and it seems like it would be a ‘piece of cake,’ but more difficult to remember to use when our emotions are involved. This is where couples often struggle. Under threat of feeling accused or blamed, the reflex reaction is going to be to go on the defensive at first and then turn around and attack back in retaliation (a type of unhealthy mirroring). This begins a cycle of hostile energy exchange that leaves, at best nothing being accomplished, and at worst, a long term pattern of avoidance of certain topics and resentments being held against one another.

When confronting a situation, I remind people to approach the situation from an “I” perspective, and avoid using the word “you.” When the word “you” is used in an emotional discussion, it is bound to sound like blaming almost as if the person is pointing a finger without actually doing it physically. To create a more comfortable, open discussion, it is better to begin by owning how you feel. The problem that people run into is that they forget to check in with their own emotions before starting these discussions, so that they can keep themselves calm enough to communicate more effectively.

In emotional situations, it is difficult to take responsibility, especially if you don’t think you are fully responsible. Somehow you want to recognize that emotional discussions go beyond “right” and “wrong.” Remember that most relationship issues are multi-layered, which means that both of you play a role in them. This is why it is good to remind yourself of this fact before you approach a problem yourself. In those situations that you plan to approach, you are able to best plan on how to approach it, what to say, and how to say it, because you are the one initiating the discussion. Before entering the conversation:

  • Check in with your own emotions to identify what it is that is bringing up your discomfort (usually something you fear).

  • Look at your own pride, and set it aside so that you can approach the issue as planned.  

  • Think about how you can respond to “hot-topic” comments in a way that does not fuel the fire.

    Then take a deep breath  (this can help slow yourself down), and begin by using “I” statements and continue using them throughout to reflect on your partner’s comments. For example use statements such as “I am trying to understand,” or “What I heard is….”

Try to pay attention to yourself (your thoughts and bodily sensations) so that you can recognize when you are taking things personally,

It can be more difficult when your partner approaches you with a problem that he/she has, because you may not be expecting the conversation to take place. If you are approached with a problem, follow the same strategy as when you initiated the discussion. The only difference when you are approached is to be extremely cautious and aware of your own defensiveness. Since you have not had the opportunity to mentally prepare for the discussion, it is much easier to take things personally. If you find that you are taking things personally, you can ask for a few minutes to process the information. It is fine to say that you are struggling with feeling defensive and that you need some time. This will also help to de-escalate an argument so that you can have a more open discussion  later.

When you have to confront a situation with your partner, or when you are confronted with a problem, show that you are taking responsibility by starting statements with “I”. This helps to show that you are not blaming or resenting the other person, but rather that you are owning what you think and how you feel about it all. This will help to open up a dialogue, rather than an argument. It depletes the need to defend, which then promotes making changes and growing together. After all, this is what being in a relationship is all about, right?.

Because the process of changing long held patterns of communication, I highly recommend you seek out a counselor or therapist to help you and your partner improve on these skills.

For couples, marriage, and relationship counseling in Lancaster, PA, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to improve your relationship!!

Toxic Relationships: How to Identify Them and What to Do


Many of the clients who I have seen (both individually and as couples) are in relationships that are full of arguing, drama, and constant stress. All relationships have their struggles, and all long-term relationships require consistent hard work and adaptation to grow and prosper. However, there is a certain group of relationships that continues on with this level of stress without relief. Oddly, many of the people in these relationships insist on continuing on in this way. I think this is largely in part to that fact that they do not realize that they are in this type of relationship, and that there is another way of living. It becomes normal with repetitive cycles that reinforce the negativity. I am writing this in hopes of helping people better identify if they are in a toxic relationship along with some suggestions to overcome this lifestyle.

Toxic relationships include:

  •  Poor Communication

  •  Mind-Reading (assumptions)

  •  Using Sex as Manipulation

  •  Repeated Derogatory, Dismissive, Spiteful, and Sarcastic Remarks

  •  Nagging

  •  Passive-Aggressiveness Behavior

  •  Lack of Trust

  •  Intimidation

  •  Using Money as Power

If you experience these on a daily basis, you are likely in a relationship that would be considered to be toxic. Detoxifying your relationship could require some of the following:

  •   Opening up Communication through Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy

  •   Setting Clear Expectations (limits and boundaries)

  •   Being Assertive vs. Aggressive, Passive, or Passive Aggressive

  •   Accepting Differences and Understanding the Motives of the Other

  •   Sexual Relations Built on Respect

  •   Stop Assuming and Use Active Listening Skills.

Sometimes, there is no avenue for detoxifying some relationships and the best course of action includes leaving the relationship completely. This can be very scary, intimidating, and complicated due to each person’s attachment styles, financial concerns, shared children, and even fear of increased aggressive behavior on the part of the partner.

Because of the difficulties people have with identifying that they are in a toxic relationship and the complexity of many of the issues associated with these problems, I highly recommend you seek out a counselor or therapist to help you and your partner improve on these skills.

For couples, marriage, and relationship counseling in Lancaster, PA, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to improve your relationship!!

Depression Does Not Discriminate

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The ugly truth about depression is that it doesn’t give a damn who you are. It does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity illness that can afflict us all at any time. Depression doesn’t care if you were the top in your class and graduated with honors, or if you were the most popular kid in school  and were constantly surrounded by friends. Depression doesn’t care if are a young child with loving, caring parents, or if you are the star athlete on your team. Depression doesn’t care if you just married the person of your dreams and have your whole life ahead of you, or if you gave birth to the healthiest, happiest, most beautiful child ever. Depression does not care if you landed your dream job, built the most successful company, or are a Hollywood celebrity like Dwayne Johnson. It doesn’t care if you make millions. You cannot buy it off.

Sometimes the thought is “if I only had ______, then I will be happy.” This faulty thought leads to always searching for the next item, the next dollar, the next promotion to seek happiness. But what happens when those things come to you and you still are not happy? You seek out more (something external to resolve something internal). It’s a never ending cycle that leaves us exhausted and empty.

Shedding some light on some of the famous people we see and imagine that they ‘Have it all” and envy their lives, can reveal another reminder that depression, and mental illness in general, do not discriminate:


“I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone.”

In a 2018 interview, actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says he’s battled depression multiple times in his life. The first came at 15 after his mother attempted suicide in front of him. His most severe episode happened after injuries forced him to give up his dream of playing professional football. Johnson encourages people with depression to ask for help, even if being vulnerable feels hard.


“We’re talking suicidal thoughts here, we’re not talking ‘I’m a little bit miserable.’ “

The author told Oprah Winfrey in 2010: “It's so difficult to describe depression to someone who's never been there, because it's not sadness, but it's that cold absence of feeling - that really hollowed-out feeling.”

Rowling added that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped her move forward. Rowling says she has never been ashamed of depression or of deciding to seek help.


“We live in a world where to admit anything negative about yourself is seen as a weakness, when it’s actually a strength. It’s not a weak move to say, ‘I need help.’”

Hamm has been open about his struggles with depression and says it was particularly rough after his father died when he was in college. In an interview with InStyle magazine, Hamm spoke about the benefits of therapy.


“I said to myself so many times, ‘Why didn’t I [get help] 10 years ago?’”

Phelps had an episode of depression “after every Olympics” beginning in 2004. After the 2012 Olympics, he says he spent days in his room with little food or sleep, thinking about ending his life. After that episode, he decided to get treatment. As Phelps talked with a mental health professional, he felt much better than before.

By questioning how it is even possible that people we believe should have nothing to be sad about, but do actually suffer from depression, we are actually sending the message that, if you have what we deem to be enough, then we don’t want to hear about how unhappy you really are, because you aren’t ‘supposed to be depressed.’ How often have you thought “what do they have to be sad about?” Doing so belittles over 10 million adults… the people going to work or school every day, raising their kids and taking them to Taekwondo, violin recitals, and sports practices, or showing up at school meetings…  all while suffering from depression every day.

If you or a loved one is experiencing depression, you are not alone. Depression can affect people from all walks of life. A therapist can help you improve your mood and regain your sense of self. There is no shame in getting help.

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

  1. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: My secret battle with depression. (2018, April 1). Express. Retrieved from

  2. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson shares inspiring message for people with depression. (2015, November 17). Today. Retrieved from

  3. J.K. Rowling contemplated suicide. (2008, March 23). Telegraph. Retrieved from

  4. Oprah Winfrey Show: “The Brilliant Mind Behind Harry Potter.”

  5. InStyle: "Jon Hamm on Life After Mad Men and Why Being Single 'Sucks.' ”

  6. Michael Phelps: ‘I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life.’ (2018, January 20). CNN. Retrieved from

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

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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!!

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Is Control Getting in the Way of Your Relationships? Part 1

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The ceaseless and never ending need for control can become overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and your overall quality of life.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

Sometimes, letting go of your tight grip of how you think things should be or how quickly they should come together, and simply letting things run their own course can be a very difficult task, but worth working your way towards. By releasing control and letting the flow carry you along, paradoxically, you gain more control of both your attitude and your response to what’s happening to you at the moment. When control runs your life, it can be exhausting on an emotional level and tends to lead to “control battles” with others in your life that demand their own level of control.

Examples of ways we exert control over others:

  • Micromanagement -the micromanager feels the need to have their hands into everything and doesn’t really trust that their spouse/co-workers/staff/children/friends will pull their weight or accomplish tasks. Therefore, the micromanager feels the need to constantly remind them (or look over their shoulder) to make sure the task gets done. They scrutinize every move and, after a while, the recipient starts to feel incompetent, anxious, frustrated, and angry.

  • Controlling intimate partners may keep a person from seeing or talking to loved ones or friends

  • Gaslighting - manipulating someone through psychological means into questioning their own truth and sanity.

  • Dishonesty

  • Over-protective or helicopter parenting

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, bullying, or taunting

  • Love withdrawal - removing affection or attention when someone does something of which you don’t approve (“the cold shoulder”). This is done to gain control through emotions such as guilt, shame, or fear of abandonment.

Examples of ways we try to control ourselves or our environment:

  • Disordered eating

  • Compulsive exercising

  • Self-harm

  • Substance abuse

  • Compulsive arranging, tidying, or cleaning

Do any of these sound familiar? Do you delve into controlling others or yourself? Do you feel controlled by others?

Working through the process of both letting go of control in your life, and setting boundaries with others that try to control you, can be both frightening and difficult, but it can be rewarding and it is absolutely possible. Consider talking to someone that can help you move through the process.

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!!

In Part 2, we’ll look more closely at what leads us to crave control so much and look more in depth on how psychotherapy can help with control issues in your life.

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Is Change in Your Life Bringing Up Anxiety in You?

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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!!

Emotional Responsibilty = Emotional Regulation

What if I told you that you could be one hundred percent in charge of your emotions? What if I also told you that no one has the power to make you feel anything unless you give them permission? How would your life change? Would you feel less stressed and frustrated? Would you spend less time worrying about what other people did or said? Would you be a much better friend or partner, because you could be more patient in difficult situations? Would you be less judgemental and give people the benefit of the doubt more often? Would you be happier because you could decide how you felt about something? Would you be much less easily offended because you would not take the opinions of other people so personally? Would you recognize that what has been said is just their opinion and that it has no control over you.

I want you to consider the following quote:

“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.“ — Epictetus

What he is saying is that you can be impervious to anything that anybody says, because you are in charge of your emotions, and basically nobody can make you feel anything without your permission...and when you recognize that you are the one who gives meaning to what somebody says or does, then you can decide what meaning you give to certain things, and how that is going to impact you and the emotions that it is going to create.

A simple example of this is if somebody cuts you off in traffic... Do you get angry? Do you take it personally? Do you get offended?  What if you thought about it differently… what if they were on their way to the emergency room and they cut you off, because they're trying to get there in a hurry, would your opinion about that situation and the emotion behind that situation change?

The actual event did not change, they still cut you off in traffic, but the meaning you gave it means something completely different.

Now, take another similar example… Say that you accidentally cut someone off in traffic and that person ‘flips you off,’ and you got really, really upset by that. Why would you get upset by that? They just lifted a finger… if you were trying to explain this to an alien, that just came to Earth, why that action of a person lifting a finger was so infuriating, why it made you so mad, it would almost seem silly… and the alien would think, ‘Wow, that other person has incredible power...they were able to control you by simply raising a finger. If they can control people with just a finger, that is an incredibly powerful person.’

So the next time you feel a strong emotion about something somebody says or somebody does, I want you to pay attention to the meaning you give it… I want you to pay attention to the thoughts behind it, and see if you can change it for the better. See if you can take back control of your emotions rather than allow the emotions to determine your mood or your behaviors.

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