What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

By Joel Christie

How do your kids see you? As someone who handles problems with confidence and figures things out? Someone who is patient with others even when you are frustrated? Someone who is in control of him or herself? From the time kids come into the world, they are absorbing how to do life from us, their parents. They're absorbing what anger, and problem-solving, and anxiety, and sadness, and happiness, and confidence look like. Little if any of this is done consciously, especially at first. It’s experiential. It’s feeling mom or dad’s gentle arms of comfort, or hearing them yell, or seeing their loving smiles. It’s the feeling of having your attention verses not having your attention. It happens when they see how dad reacts if someone treats him rudely, or when they ask mom yet another question at the end of a stressful day and she still manages a gentle response. It’s little pieces at a time that are building an encompassing experience for the child that will deeply impact how they eventually interact with and understand the world around them.

Often I hear parents tell me things like, “He makes me crazy!” or, “She won’t listen to me!” or, “There’s nothing I can do when they throw a fit like that in the store.” It offers insight into how these people see themselves as parents: Does this woman believe she’s equipped to handle this difficult situation? Does this man feel strong here? Capable? It’s unlikely, given the vast power they ascribe to their child while portraying themselves essentially as victims at the emperor’s mercy. This is not to say the shrill cry of your three-year-old will not effect you, regardless of how grounded and healthy your self image might be—indeed, it will physiologically effect you, spiking your blood pressure and giving you an immediate jolt of stress to deal with. But for those who recognize such moments for what they are—invaluable opportunities—these parents can learn to navigate these rough emotional waters and to exemplify the characteristics they most hope to increasingly see within their children: self control, confidence, kindness, respectfulness, gentleness, and even empowerment.

The thing is, regardless of whether the parent is cognitively aware of it or not, the child is going through an imprinting process here. He or she is experiencing how YOU experience stress in these moments. When your son is throwing a fit in the store, and you come roaring back at him, shouting for him to shut up, he might actually shut up for the time being, halted by fear or shock. But he will also vividly experience you displaying what happens when you feel upset or stressed or annoyed: you shout and yell. Or you ignore your child. Or you respond calmly bur firmly. Or you throw up your hands and look for the wine aisle. Or a thousand other ways, all of which will be experienced both by you and by your child.

It should not surprise us when our children exhibit behaviors and characteristics similar to our own. It should also not surprise us if our children can eventually beat us at our own game. For example, we may discover that next time we have to shout louder to achieve the same results, or worse that we end up escalating things beyond shouting, demonstrating our own inability to remain in control. But the inverse may also happen where we demonstrate that when our son or daughter loses control, that they still see in us a picture of someone who is calm but firm, safe, and able to handle the child’s tantrum without succumbing to one of our own. Our kids are absorbing from us all the time. So be intentional. “You were feeling some big emotions back there in the store, but we don’t yell at people and throw things. That’s not okay.” Yelling and shouting may achieve short term results, but the long term cost will likely be exorbitant.

I don’t want to offer a false portrait of reality here: this isn’t implying that if you can only

manage to act perfectly all the time and never lose your cool then you will have kids who are also perfect angels. You’re allowed to feel frustrated, annoyed, sad, and all the rest of it, just as your kids are. But this discussion doesn’t need to be about perfection: it’s about being more aware and making a commitment towards your own character growth to enable you to model the kinds of behaviors you want to see in your children. And also in yourself.

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The Cost of Our Expectations

The Cost of Our Expectations

by Joel Christie

Healthy expectations have the potential to create boundaries and direction within our lives, such as "I expect to be treated respectfully by others," or "I expect that my hard work will help me solve problems and achieve goals." If these things don't happen as I expect, it may signal to me that change is needed. Useful. Healthy. Good.

But let's be clear: many of our expectations are not only unhealthy, they are outright destructive. "I expect my boyfriend to take me to Paris every other weekend. A girl deserves to be treated right, doesn't she?" Or what about: "I expect my wife to buy me a Ferrari for my thirtieth birthday. She'll do it if she loves me." And this one: "I expect my kids to behave perfectly, in every situation, always. Forever. With no exceptions. Period."

See? Expectations can be trouble. You might think, "Well duh, of course those expectations are a problem because they're completely unreasonable." Ah-ha! But that's the real issue, isn't it? We almost always think our own expectations are reasonable. "I expect my kids to get straight A's—I certainly did, after all," might seem reasonable to mom or dad, but for the kid who is genuinely giving his or her best only to fall short, we could probably imagine those expectations feel quite different. "But she's not giving her best," I often hear parents say. So in this case, the unreasonable expectation might be that the child always gives her best. And yet do any of us always give our best? Of course not. But we tend to have this strange ability to muster up sympathy for our own tiredness, boredom, lack of effort, etc. Hmm...

When we say, "I expect," what we're really saying is, "I will not tolerate less than..." Not only can this set us up for frequent disappointment, it can also send a strong message towards those whom our expectations are aimed at that we will not accept them unless they meet our expectations. This not only feels lousy, it is also very hard on relationships. Have you been on the receiving end of someone's expectations that you were unable or unwilling to live up to? It sucks, doesn't it.

I've heard the objections to this. "So I'm just supposed to throw my standards out the window? Not hope for anything? Not expect anything of anyone?" Not at all! What it means is that we learn to shift our expectations towards being healthier and more realistic. If my son is struggling with math, and I come to realize that he frequently puts in considerable effort, my expectation can change from "Get straight A's" to "Keep on trying; I like that you're learning the value of perseverance."

Rethinking our expectations absolutely doesn't mean I suddenly become a doormat in my relationships, or that I am not passionate about anything. No, changing our expectations in this way means coming to understand that everyone has flaws and imperfections, and that sometimes I will feel disappointed by others just as they feel disappointed by me. In those moments, I can either choose to communicate how disappointed I am by the way this person has failed to meet my expectations, or I can express that I care about them. But it's tough to communicate both of these things successfully at the same time. (Often, a good indicator of which of these I am communicating comes from the way the person responds to me.)

The cost of expectations can be steep indeed. Parents who communicate to their children time and time again that they failed to live up to expectations might or might not end up with children who learn to perform and achieve as required. But their children will very likely remember that mom or dad didn't approve of them when they failed, making their love feel conditional. And it's much the same in our relationships as well. If what I expect from others is perfection, I will always eventually be let down. And so will they.

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Men and Stress, Please Don't Fix Me

Men and Stress, Please Don't Fix Me

by Peter Rivkees

Stress that is not dealt with is a real issue affecting just about every living creature on earth and can be managed successfully with a little bit of self-awareness and effort.

We all stress over money, work, and family relationships (yes your pets count), personal and family health, world events and everything that we hold as important to us. Research shows that almost 70% of us feel that stress has a negative impact on our physical health and mental health. Symptoms of stress that we can experience include anger, general irritability, fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns, addiction, passive aggressive behavior, depression and sexual dysfunction are but a few. We all experience stress in our own unique way based on our past experiences over our lives. When we were younger we may have dealt with stress by acting out with slamming doors, refusing to listen to our parents or eating an entire bag of Doritos and some of us in our adult years may do exactly the same things. How do you act when you are under a lot of stress?

My therapy practice focuses on the men so I'll share with you how stress directly impacts the lives of men and potentially every interaction in their lives. For most men we have been brought up to hide our emotions, do anything in our power not to appear weak and live life as if it were a continuous competition. We are the perfect candidate for physical and psychological issues directly related to stress. Most men are programmed not to ask for help when help is needed most, to keep up the bravado that makes us "real men". We are more apt to hire a golf coach to improve our swing than hire a therapist to work on our family, our marriage, our relationships with our children our career, our siblings, our boss or our coworkers. My wish for all men is not to be remembered for our golf handicap, but for the impact we make on those that are most important to us in our lives.

We would rather suffer in silence, saying "I've got it under control ", or take out our stress on those in our lives at home and at work. We have been conditioned, some will say brainwashed by our parents, media and any other sources from our earliest memories that "real men" get over it, don't cry or just don't get emotional. The truth is that every man, woman and child is born with the same set of emotions. We pretend not be afraid of anything, have an "I can conquer anything attitude", but in reality we are most afraid of discovering who we are and how we got to be who we are.

Discovering our inner self requires courage. The same courage that we have or pretend to have when facing the challenges of everyday life. Being a man in today's world is scary, frustrating and full of uncertainty. Changing our attitudes towards self-help and awareness will be an evolutionary versus revolutionary process and only you can start your journey of self-discovery. Dealing with stress through regular exercise, listening to music, reading, seeking professional help with a therapist are the leading activities to help relieve the symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, many men turn to negative harmful behaviors including alcohol/substance abuse, behavioral addictions like gambling, exercise and pornography that only lead to self-destructive behaviors and damaging relationships that sometimes cannot be healed. The unfortunate result of not dealing with or ignoring stress will often lead to feelings of shame, fear and loneliness.

I often use the phrase "hiding in plain sight" to describe how we often wear masks that hide how our inner self is truly feeling in contrast to the mask that we project to others. We may appear "fine" to all that we are connected to in our personal and work lives, but inside if asked "if you really knew me, you would know that I am really __________ " afraid, scared, lonely, suicidal, sad, angry, confused, depressed, an addict, a failure, in debt or whatever you chose to fill in the blank. If we could only recognize and be comfortable in knowing that we are not perfect and that all men could truly benefit from exploring ourselves without the self-judgment or external judgment that "men do not go to counseling unless they are broken" what a better life we could have. We would open up our hearts to others and demonstrate true compassion; we would be vulnerable with ourselves and with those that we love. We would be better men, better husbands, better fathers, better in life.

Learning and growth does not often come from a place of comfort. True learning and growth comes from a place of discomfort when we push through the uncertainty of not knowing the answers to life's questions or being able to fix any problem with our tool kit. Men want to fix any and all problems that are presented to us as soon as possible and we practically know the perfect fix before the other person has fully described what the problem is. Most people aren't looking for someone to fix them; most people would prefer someone to listen to, a shoulder to cry on, a hug or gentle reassurance that you are in their corner or just someone to sit next to in silence.

When I work with men, I understand that we are not accustomed to expressing emotions, that it is just really hard to admit to someone else, let alone ourselves that our world is not perfect. I want to create a safe environment built on trust so men can learn to understand what emotions are, how they feel, how to accept them, how to heal, how to communicate effectively, how to be angry, how to be sad and most importantly how to feel real joy and happiness. I choose to believe that our purpose is not to live a life hiding in plain sight; it's your decision to make as to what you can do to become a man that makes a difference in others' lives and to live a life that is full of all the rewards that you deserve.

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Questions about Purpose

Questions about Purpose

by Joel Christie

At one time or another, most of us have had wondered "What's the purpose of my life?" or "Do I matter?" These are not just midlife crisis questions. No, these kinds of questions will likely tug at us over and over throughout our lives. Even in this era of constant entertainment and distraction, the brain and the emotions it generates tend to return to such questions. I might enjoy watching Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead, but eventually I'll need a break. Something else. Something more. Same goes for riding roller coasters, or playing Monopoly, or sitting in that massage chair in the mall. Not that there is anything wrong with pleasure and fun, of course. But activities we place in the "fun" category may fail to satisfy that part of our brain that's asking questions about purpose. Unless, for example, I happen to love movies, and also happen to be a movie critic, wherein I perceive part of my purpose being to inform the good citizens around me of what's worth seeing, and what's putrid garbage, thereby striving to increase the overall artistic threshold of society. Or some blather along those lines. Whatever. It doesn't have to make sense to you. The important thing is that it satisfies that part of my own brain. That tugging insistence that I matter in some way.

It's hard to predict when this "tugging" will happen. Sometimes it's when we're feeling driven and strong. Sometimes it's when we're feeling low or unsuccessful. (And indeed, it is very hard to conceive of "success" at all without acknowledging we want things to end up a certain way, which quickly leads back to the concept of purpose.) People have mulled over these questions for eons. And as you have likely noticed, we have arrived at many different conclusions. Some are eager to tell you they've solved this dilemma. Some say it's different for everyone, or that it changes over time. Others have concluded that such questions are ultimately unanswerable, or else that the answer is "There is no purpose to life: not to mine, yours, or anyone else's."And yet, we find that throughout humankind, from one society to the next, people report that these kinds of questions circulate through their minds, sometimes subtly (such as vague feelings of depression or anxiety), other times with obnoxious persistence (like a guy who sits down to write an article on the subject).
So why does the brain do this? Why does the brain expend energy thinking about whether or not I, as an individual being that presently exists here in the year 2015, has purpose, and, perhaps more significantly, whether or not I am satisfactorily connecting with this purpose? Let's follow this existential rabbit hole a little further:

Maybe we find comfort in the notion that my life is bigger than just me. Maybe these questions are an attempt to make death less scary. Maybe having purpose is just a great antidote to boredom. Or perhaps it's just something that societies have propagated to keep people busy. But of course that only leads to other questions, like why it should matter to me whether other people in my society are busy or not, so long as they aren't trying to steal my sheep or burn down my grain fields, right? Regardless, the concept of purpose certainly is integrated into our societies, right from childhood. We could translate, "What do you want to be when you grow up" to be a kid friendly version of "What significance do you hope your life will someday take on?" or "Why do you think you matter, O young one?" Then again, maybe the subconscious reason we ask kids purpose-minded questions is so that they'll take care of us when we're old, bringing us all the way back around to basic needs again. Sheesh.

Okay, let's settle on this: there are lots of possible answers to the question, "What is the purpose of my life?" (And there are perhaps just as many possible answers for "Why does my brain care about whether my life has purpose or not?") The part that seems easier to clarify is that these purpose related questions are there. Some part of me wants an assurance that I matter. So what do I do with that?
Start exploring!

If you find yourself happily resolved on this matter, congratulations! But for those of you still pondering questions of purpose and meaning, I encourage you to take measures to explore them in greater depth. Anxiety and depression are likely byproducts when the brain is confronted by something it perceives as a significant problem, and the fear that your life doesn't matter or lacks purpose would qualify as significant for most people. Facing the issue will lead to not only greater understanding but also a reduction in fear (eventually) and an increased sense of empowerment, self worth, and lasting durable happiness that is not so dependent on whether or not you happen to currently be hang gliding or drinking your favorite beer.

"My life matters because..." can be a potential place to start this journey. What can you come up with? And if you're not satisfied, then feel free to seek ways to change this. Maybe help out at an after school reading program. Or patent that invention you've been tinkering with for the last decade. Or talk to your boss about taking on some different projects that match more closely with your passions. Write a novel (or an article on purpose). Go on a spiritual retreat. Whatever you decide to do, connect it back to that question you began with: "My life matters because..."

You're the one who needs to be satisfied by the answers you come up with. But even spending time considering this question should generate some measure of hope and satisfaction, particularly as you pursue the pathways that open up in response to the questions you're allowing yourself to experience. We don't have to "solve" a problem to start to feel more empowered. We just need to know that we are making progress on our journey. And if these purpose questions are indeed ruminating in your thoughts, perhaps it's because some part of you is eager to progress further along your own journey of discovery. If that's true, then you probably won't find the satisfaction you're seeking watching Downton Abbey or riding roller coasters. Not in the long run. Because your mind is hungry to better understand your purpose. So go explore. And when you find pieces of your purpose, grab hold of them with vigor.

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The Games We Play

The Games We Play

by Tyson Kuch Ph.D.

You see and hear about it almost everywhere you go – the games people play with one another. Most of us just want to be liked, but whether it's between two people meeting in a club or two partners in an established relationship, a lot of us become entangled in a strange game geared mainly toward winning and maintaining the attention and affection of someone we like. So, while friends gripe about it and online profiles express disdain against people who "play games," why do most of us continue with the charade? Do we believe that playing hard to get will make us more desirable and seem less desperate? Why, when most people see someone attractive in a bar/club would they rather stare them down than walk up and start a conversation? Do we believe that pathetic pick-up lines work better than speaking from the heart?

And yet, it seems as though we have both a desire for – but fear of – being noticed. So, when it's attention and affection we so desperately want, why do we hide ourselves behind the games we play? Perhaps we're just afraid of being authentic – as if we have something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is a curious irony that as badly as we want to be liked, we feel compelled to play the role of someone other than who we are. We play games with ourselves and we play games with each other. When we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to standards that we constantly rewrite in our own heads...we will do the same things with others.

That said, I believe there are two factors which interact to fuel many people's behavior (1) Greed and (2) Fear. We become greedy for things we want, but feel we cannot have. We fear uncertainty, and go to great lengths to both avoid it and convince ourselves that we understand our lives and the people in them, rather than accept the fact that ambiguity is a natural element of life and we may not always have as much control as we would like. Faced with confusion and uncertainty, our pulse quickens and uneasiness sets in. We make up stories and excuses to write off the things we can't explain rather than deal with the fact that life doesn't always make sense. We complain about not understanding why people act the way they do instead of just accepting it as fact. We blame ourselves when our partners don't act the way we think they should and sometimes we try to change the people we love rather than just accept them for who they are – blemishes and all. We lust after pleasures we feel will make us complete and give us lasting fulfillment. We believe that guy/girl we've seen at the club will give us the happiness that's been missing for so long. We believe that a higher paying job would help us to feel more fulfilled and successful. We fear alienation and go to great lengths to avoid abandonment – real or imagined. And we believe that being single suggests some flaw in our own character.

The problem for most of us is that once we get what we think we need, we begin longing for something else, once we realize that our void has not truly been filled... that we are not truly satisfied. We lose interest in what we've accumulated and for some people, we lose interest in the relationships we've cultivated. And so the game continues. We wake up in the morning with a new list of desires and a new list of things we feel compelled to accomplish...and yet no matter how hard we work, we are often left feeling deeply unsatisfied.

The way out is simple – stop fighting the current. Relinquish the idea that you have total control over your life and that it will unfold the way you imagine. Things are never as good or bad as you might imagine. People will always surprise or disappoint you. The world is entirely too consumed in itself to really care about how you're dressed. You are your own lifetime companion so don't abandon your own company through fruitless pursuits like drinking, drugging, or mind-numbing television watching. Get over your own insecurities and push your boundaries by talking to that someone you've been watching. Risk rejection rather than pretend to be someone you're not. Get over the fact that you don't have control over everything that happens to you, but know that you do have control over how you react to it.

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I "Like" Doing Things

I "Like" Doing Things

By Daniel M. Fisher Ed.S.

I like to tell my clients how, in order to overcome depression, they have to take action steps to accomplish this goal. Depression is an illness of the minimums. By this I mean it's an illness that takes away motivation, excitement, and interest in our lives for reasons we have a hard time putting a finger on and puts us in the mindset of "how can I get through my day by expending the least amount of effort or energy as possible." Some might disagree with this notion, but I find a lack of motivation and interest in once loved activities really shows up quite a bit and the rationale is "well I just don't feel like it." This is a very passive way of hoping to get out of depression and my question is always "Why would we aid in this process by succumbing to sometimes irrational ideas of avoiding the things we love or avoiding the social connections we crave?"

In pondering these ideas, I recently I found myself scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as I so often do, and "liking" things left and right. A friend of mine made a pithy comment about a celebrity, so, of course, I "liked" it. I saw a picture of a puppy licking an ice cream cone, so I "liked" it. Another friend posted about bicycles, so I "liked" it. Facebook, in its algorithmic wisdom, saw I had "liked" a post about puppies and then about bicycles, so naturally, they suggested that I "Like" the "I Love Puppies" page and "Bicycles" page in order to signify my undying support for these two aspects of my life. And you know what? I did it! I am not ashamed to admit, I love puppies and I love riding bicycles! What a wonderful turn of events! Now, all of the 312 people on Facebook who I've proclaimed to be my "friends" will now know even more about me and for some, our mutual interests will become even more intertwined. It's amazing. I have never felt so close to people in my life.

Only, no one is around. I haven't talked to many of these "friends," save for the occasional supportive "like," in years. I became a little sad in participating in my daily Facebook excavation and I got to thinking about this notion of "liking" things.

It occurred to me how Facebook and other "social" networks help create an illusion of activity and inclusion but accomplish, in many cases, the opposite. For me, sitting and "liking" something is similar to avoiding the actual real life social participation so many suffering from depression describe. It's not on purpose and social networks are a wonderful way to stay connected but, like anything else, it can't be our only form of social activity if we expect to maintain interpersonal relationships and activity levels necessary for overcoming or preventing our depression.

What does it all mean if I don't actually do any of the things I "like" to do? So what am I doing here sitting in front of my computer "liking" things and getting depressed about it when I could be out DOING things? I can only answer that with: "See you later, I'm going for a bike ride."

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