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Unhealthy Thinking

Sometimes it can be easy to think that our thoughts don’t matter. They do! Our thoughts directly effect how we feel and behave.  This month, I thought it would be important to talk about our thoughts, and unhealthy thinking.  Below is a list of 10 common unhealthy thinking styles, or cognitive distortions.  Next month, I’ll talk about ways to combat these unhealthy thinking styles.

All or Nothing thinking (Black and White thinking): There is no grey area. “If I’m not perfect, I’ve failed.”

Mental Filter: Only paying attention to some of the evidence. “He doesn’t love me.” Meanwhile there is evidence to say otherwise.

Jumping to Conclusions (Mind Reading or Fortune Telling): Assuming that we know what the other person is thinking and/or predicting the future. “I know they think I’m a loser.”

Emotional Reasoning: Making the assumption that because we feel a certain way that it must be true. “I feel embarrassed, so I must be stupid.”

Labeling: Putting labels on ourselves or other people. “I’m stupid. They’re a loser.”

Overgeneralizing: Finding a pattern based on a single event, or making conclusions. “I did not pass this test, therefore, I will not go to college.”

Disqualifying the Positive: Discounting the good things that happen. “I got a 90% on a test, but I’m only going to focus on the 10% that I got wrong. So that part doesn’t count.”

Magnification (Catastrophizing and Minimization): Blowing things out of proportion or shrinking things to make them seem not as important. “He only hit me twice.”

Should/Must: Using critical words like “should” or “must” puts unhealthy expectations on ourselves, and makes us feel guilty or like we have already failed. “I should have known” “You shouldn’t have talked to her.”

Personalization: Taking responsibility or blaming self for something that isn’t completely your fault. “This is all my fault.”

Remember, we all do these, maybe even each one everyday! Awareness is the key to change. Be mindful of your thoughts, and how those effect your feelings and behaviors each day, and next month we will talk about ways to combat these thoughts.

Happy thinking!


Assertive Communication

To piggy back off of my last blog post, Fighting Fair, I thought I would talk about communication styles, and increasing assertive communication. Assertive communication is helpful in many situations: school, work, talking with your partner, talking with your children, talking with your parents, and many other situations! There are five different types of communication styles that we typically fall into to: Passive-Does not express feelings or opinions, rarely says “no”, accepts unacceptable answers in order to make up for mistakes, and pleasing others is primary focus. Indirect-Vague and apologizing in expressing feelings, says “no”, but then changes it, or apologizes, does not take action to stand up for own rights, and gives others what they want, but tries to undermine answers.

Passive-Aggressive-States feelings with a subtle insult to others, says “no”, but makes others feel guilty, manipulates for satisfaction, and says he/she is sorry, but then justifies mistakes. Aggressive- Attacks, blames, threatens, or insults others, criticizes or blames others, tries to dominate and “bully” others, says “no” often and feels anger, and looks for ways to win at the expense of others. *Assertive-Clear and direct statements of feelings, looks for ways that both persons can win, says “no” when needed and without feeling guilty, attempts to make up for mistakes fairly, and stands up for own and others’ personal rights.

How does one become an assertive communicator? Practice, practice, practice! “I” statements are a great way to start. Use this simple template when wanting to express feelings and needs in a way that is not criticizing:

I feel:___________________

When: __________________

Because: ________________

Can we__________________?

This allows you to find an answer together, and allows you to take responsibility for your own feelings and actions, without blaming others. Remember to avoid the word “you” if possible!

--Rachel Falbo, LPC, LMFT-A

Fighting Fair

With the holiday season just behind us, the idea of conflict, within families, came to mind. Conflict is inevitable, but how we experience that conflict can often leave us feeling damaged. However, conflict can be healthy and an effective experience, if we fight fair. There are three types of arguments: lose/lose, win/lose, and win/win. Often times we get stuck in the cycle of wanting to “win” the argument, and making the other person “lose”. Have we really won? The best resolution is one in which both parties walk away feeling heard, understood, and appreciated, win/win!

Here are 10 tips for fighting fair.

  1. Address one issue at a time, and be specific about the problem.
  2. Ask for and give feedback about what you hear the other saying.
  3. Think through what you’re going to say in advance.
  4. Don’t make assumptions about what your partner is thinking, feeling, or intending.
  5. Don’t hit below the belt.
  6. Describe the unacceptable behavior objectively.
  7. Own your feelings and decisions.
  8. Look for an answer together.
  9. Call a time-out if things get too heated.
  10. Use “I feel” statements.

AVOID - Bringing up every irritation at once, and being vague.
AVOID – Miscommunication.
AVOID - Impulsive lashing out.
AVOID - Mindreading.
AVOID - Hitting where it hurts.
AVOID - Name calling or labeling.
AVOID – Blaming.
AVOID - A win/lose ending.
AVOID - Pushing the other too far.
AVOID - Stuffing of feelings.

Remember that conflict is inescapable, but we don’t have to walk away broken and bruised.

--Rachel Falbo, LPC, LMFT-A

The Modern Family Caregiver

According to a recent study, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. are caregivers to an aging or disabled relative—4 in 10. That number is expected to rise as Boomers age. For some families, the responsibilities for caregiving an individual loved one is distributed among several members. For most families, the day-to-day caregiving responsibilities are borne by a single individual, often a spouse or child. Whatever may be the cause and course of the care recipient’s frailty (age, disability or disease), one thing is constant, to become a caregiver changes every relationship of the caregiver and everything that comes after. 

The very structure of family relationships change to accommodate the frail loved one. Caregiving is a role that “adds onto” existing roles. The caregiver must still be a parent to her children, wife to her husband (or verso), child to her invalid parent, employee to her employer. Some experts see this added role as “on top of” these other roles. I view it as replacing a very important role to the care of oneself. I frequently advise a client to carve out some time for self-care. One of the more common reactions is: “I don’t have time for myself!” In other words, “caring for others is more important than caring for me.”

Adding to the complexity of the situation, caregiving distorts family dynamics—how family members relate to one another. Families are far more mobile than in previous generations. Mom, who needs care, may live in Ardmore, OK. Four grown daughters are scattered around the U.S., only one living near Mom. It is usually that daughter, who assumes disproportionately the role of primary caregiver. It is common for the more remote relatives to raise objections to whatever caregiving plan is in place, leaving the primary caregiver feeling isolated and lonely.

Time spent providing care to a frail loved one can range from a 2-3 hours a month (early stage) to more than 40 hours a week as the care recipient loses more and more functional abilities. A survey of spouses of men with dementia reported that most of these women were able to sustain their own health and wellbeing for the first 2 years of caregiving. By year 3, the stress was beginning to take its toll. By year 4, many were reporting health issues related to their caregiving responsibilities and were taking medications, including medications for back pain, depression and anxiety. Often, by the time I see a family caregiver in my office, he/she is dealing with declining physical health and depleted emotional reserves associated with caregiving.

Self-neglect, inadequate support, and withering demands from long-term caring of a loved one are three factors that contribute to the sense of hopelessness and helplessness I have seen in many caregivers, individuals who initially entered their role with hope and love, determination and duty. However, it is not say caregiving inevitably results in “broken body; broken heart.” It is just that family caregiving has a steep learning curve. First, the entire family (not just the primary caregiver) must learn about the loved one’s illness, current level of functioning, the progression of the illness, and to be prepared to make adjustments for increasing demands. A second item on the learning curve is learning about resources available to the caregiver to help provide care to the care recipient. Resources include family, friends, and community resources. The third learning curve involves accepting one’s limitations. I recall when my own mother was ill, my sister said to me, “You know, Sharon, you don’t have to make these decisions alone. We [meaning my siblings] are here to help you.” Accepting help is not weakness, but wisdom.

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1190 Parker Square
Flower Mound, TX, 75028