Kill Switches of Happiness – Adjusting Expectations

Are your expectations hitting the kill switch to your happiness?

Throughout the years of working with couples and individuals struggling with interpersonal relationships, addictions, anxiety, depression, or simply adjusting to their ever changing lives I have witnessed the turmoil caused by unmet expectations placed upon themselves and others.  People tend to be strongly connected to their expectations, regardless if the expectation is positive or negative. In addition, many individuals will often times gravitate more consistently towards negative or positive expectations.

What is a negative expectation? Expecting the worst or expecting too little from an individual or situation.    The development of this thought process is often times constructed as a protective shield. For example some protective negative expectations are:

  • They will probably leave mepessimist.optimist.realist
  • This diet won’t work for me
  • I bet the cancer has gotten worse
  • My child will never be able to excel

These thoughts are often times justified with, “if I expect the worst I will be prepared and if the worst doesn’t happen I will be pleasantly surprised.” On the surface this appears to be a solid plan of attack. However, while expecting the worst to happen in the future we live in present despair of what may or may not happen, which may cause:

  1. Isolation and limited support – this negative outlook can often times push people away (aka Debbie Downer).
  2. Chronic irritability – moodiness is a natural emotional response of constant negative thinking.
  3. Limits potential and possibilities – people may not try or give up hope if they continually assume they cannot achieve or overcome an obstacle.

What is a positive expectation? Expecting perfection or too much from an individual or situation. This thought process is also often times developed as a measure of protection. Unfortunately behind this protective shield is a mountain of significant avoidance. For example some protective positive expectations are:

  • I have the perfect child that could never disappoint me
  • You are going to be great, with so many treatment options cancer is not a big deal these days.
  • Because my spouse truly loves me, they will understand and meet my needs (i.e. child rearing, frequency of intimacy, household chores, gifts, etc.)
  • Since I’m making such a big financial investment in this weight loss program I won’t cheat or struggle with staying on track.

In comparison to negative expectations, positive expectations also limit our ability to accurately experience the present moment. Expecting too much or perfection can lead us to avoid, or be ill-equipped to manage problems that may arise. While positive expectations are generally meant to be encouraging and supportive, they frequently cause the following reactions:

  1. Immense pressure on ourselves and others – The amount of pressure people can experience in response to positive expectations can be so intense that they are unable to enjoy their accomplishments due to residual amounts of pressure.
  2. Dismiss or overlook the realities in life, avoiding problems – Stunting healthy personal and interpersonal development that may come from addressing the realities of life.
  3. Frustration and unhappiness – Exaggerated expectations will eventually lead to disappointment, simply because not everything in life is going to be perfect or go as planned.

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow

The next time your happiness has been killed, or you just notice you are in a constant rut, stop and ask yourself, “What expectation in this moment is causing this tension?” Fight to not immediately defend or judge your expectation. Once you are aware of your identified expectation put it up against the following test:

  1. Is the expectation true?
  2. Is the expectation helpful?
  3. Is the expectation realistic?

What are the positive and negative expectations that are killing your happiness in the moment? If you or someone you know needs help filtering through personal or relational expectations contact me at Michael@ashenfeltercounseling.com. Stay tuned for 4 Expectations that are Ruining My Marriage and Career Success & Marriage Failure.

Inner Peace: A Natural Face Lift

“Soften your eyes. Relax your face,” I instruct my clients when we are working on deep relaxation in session. And the change is immediate and visible as the lines of tension fall away and a peaceful expression steals over them. When conducting this exercise with a roomful of people, the whole mood of the group changes. You can almost see everyone’s blood pressure go down! For you see, no matter how skillful the face lift, how costly the wrinkle cream, nothing can erase the look of stress, anger, sadness or chronic anxiety from a face when the soul inside is tense and troubled.  Inner peace is like a natural face lift. Continue reading

Andrew Solomon: Depression, The Secret We Share

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”

This is a moving and brilliant conversation about depression and it’s effects on the human spirit.  It’s is an illness, like any other, that impacts all areas of one’s life and ability to function.  It’s not merely just sadness or a bad day but an unrelenting dark cloud that drains away one’s ability to engage fully in their life.  Let’s work together to remove the stigma that prevents so many from asking for help!

[ted id=1894]

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality”

If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with depression, please know you are not alone and we want to help!  Check out our Depression Test to see if you or your loved one may be struggling with symptoms of depression.

Setting Goals, Sex & Living to 100-Interesting Articles from the Interwebs

For You – 

Most of us know that goal setting is essential to achievements and healthy living.  But goal setting is not always so easy or so black and white.  This article, 4 Ugly Facts About Setting Goals, is a great read on some of the challenges one will likely face when goal setting.  “Enter your goal-setting process with these evils in mind and you’ll knock ‘em dead.”

For Your Relationships – 

Can you be happily married and be in a sexless marriage? This is the question up for discussion in Psychology Today’s article, Can Couple’s Be Sexless & Happy?  One researcher  named in the article identifies 2 primary reasons for sex to disappear in marriage, childbirth and extra-marital affairs.  In our experience there are other reasons as well but that’s another post for another day.  This article also looks at options available to couples that find themselves in a sexless marriage.  If this is you and your spouse, you are not alone and we’d love to help you explore those areas that interfere with healthy living and a healthy sex life.  You can also find helpful tips on our series – Creating & Maintaining Intimacy

For Your Health – 

Eating a high fiber breakfast can help you live to 100

Want to live to 100?  A U.S. News Health article says if you incorporate these 11 healthy living tips, you just might live for a whole century.  “Researchers have discovered that centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they eat, move about, and deal with stress—the sorts of things we can emulate to improve our own aging process.”  As expected appropriate amounts of sleep and exercise as well as healthy diet recommendations are on the list.  But there are other more surprising factors too such as staying connected to friends and family, being conscientious, being less neurotic & never retiring.  Check it out to find out what you can do to live to 100!

 

Gru, Minions & Anxiety

The above video clip is one that far too many of us can relate to. You know that feeling when you’d rather blow torch a phone than make a phone call… Or you’d rather go shopping for hours on end than face the fact that your in-laws are coming in town.  Maybe it is fear of allowing your little one to spend the night with a friend that causes you to become that parent who will lie and say “little Johnny is too scared to spend the night,” all while little Johnny is in the background begging you to let him go.

There is a certain level of anxiety that is actually healthy and normal.  Anxiety that prompts you to prepare a speech before standing in front of a crowd is likely to prevent you from total embarrassment. Anxiety about a job interview, which prompts you to dress in more than a t-shirt and shorts is more likely to propel you toward employment.  However, when our anxiety becomes so intense that we are unable to give the speech, or we bomb every interview we attend (or better yet, bail before we even get to the interview) then there is likely a more significant problem at play.

In order to adequately talk about anxiety we have to differentiate anxiety and fear because often, these words are used interchangeably, but the reality is – they aren’t interchangeable.

Fear is the feeling that you get in the middle of a crisis, when you are faced with something real and tangible.

Anxiety is the feeling that arises when we begin to think of and fear things that may or may not ever happen. 

Anxiety is an elusive emotion that can quickly go from a normal level to spiraling out of control, as seen in our video clip.  Most of us experience a little anxiety when calling someone for a first date, but in the clip Gru’s anxiety went to such an extreme that he not only melted a phone, but it resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of fire and water damage, and worse, hurt the feelings of some of his minion friends.  Unfortunately, our own anxiety when left unaddressed has the capacity to do the same.

Anxiety disorders are the most common disorders in the U.S. with an estimated 41 million people struggling.  In addition to being incredibly common on their own, anxiety disorders are also seen as underlying issues which often trigger bigger problems such as addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and major depression.  Anxiety disorders are, however, very treatable.

If you struggle with anxiety, here are a few tips to help you get on the right track.  The first step is to get to a place where you feel safe both physically and emotionally.  Here are some ideas:

  • Take slow deep breaths – counting to 5 as you breathe in and again as you breathe out
  • Go for a short walk – even if just to the next room or down the hall at work, often changing your physical location can be very helpful
  • Practice self-care – a bike ride, a walk in the park, a hot shower, read a book, enjoy a cup of coffee, go shopping, enjoy a cookie, call a friend, get a pedicure, or play a video game.

** It is important to note here that self-care will look different for everyone and you have to find what is safe for you.  If you struggle with an eating disorder then a cookie is not a form of self-care, or if you struggle with shopping / overspending, then a trip to the mall is not a healthy or safe form of self-care.

Once you have gotten into a safe space, then it is vitally important that you track down the root of your anxiety. What triggered you?  What can you do to handle that differently in the future, or to avoid a triggering situation?  Identifying the root causes and how to deal with them can be very challenging!  Often finding a close friend, or a therapist, to help you through this process is a necessity to true recovery.

Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis in the country, but only 1/3 of those struggling get treatment – the sad fact about this… Anxiety is a very treatable struggle.  You don’t have to struggle forever, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.

If you think you or someone you love may struggle with anxiety, check out our Anxiety Test for a look at some very common symptoms.

Jennifer Smith, M.A., LPC-Intern
Supervised by: Tiffany Ashenfelter, M.A., LPC-S

Keys to Listening Well – Creating&Maintaining Intimacy

Our next two blogs focus will be on Improving Communication skills which will help with both emotional and physical intimacy.  Communication consists of two jobs, listening and talking.  For good communication that leads to deeper intimacy we need to do both well.

Even in the quietest homes there is constant communication going on.  Most of our communication is non-verbal, in the form of

  1. facial expressions,
  2. tone/volume of voice
  3. body language

So what do we do to improve our communication with one another?  It’s 2 fold, Listening Well and Talking Well – both of which require mindfulness of yourself and your partner.

Here are 5 Keys to Listening Well:

(Remember the non-verbals!)

  1. Make eye contact – this is one of the best ways to show someone you are listening to them as they talk.  If you are looking
  2. Direct your body to your partner – rather than facing the tv, turn toward the person talking, it shows them you are interested in hearing them
  3. Nod your head to express understanding and interest – rather than a zombie stare, nodding shows you are following them
  4. Don’t interrupt – don’t worry about trying to figure out your response, you will get a chance to speak too but your job is to listen now
  5. Reflect – Reflection requires your interpretation:  Imagine the conversation as a mirror.  Once they have finished their statement you reflect back to them what you just heard.  This is not PAROTING…Polly want a cracker.  No this is repeating their statement with a mixture of empathy and validation.

Remember that you want to be in tune with your partner and show them that you care what they are saying and you want to hear them.  After all, if I don’t show Michael that I care about him by listening well then we are

Good communication can prevent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.

more likely to experience misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.

Now, it’s hard to listen if no one is talking…yeah, like that’s ever a problem?!  Right?!  Well stay tuned, next time we’ll be discussing the keys of talking well.