ANTs Come Marching

B40F5BE2-E90E-4CE7-AAF1-EEED1B24E6F4_4_5005_c

We know all about ants in Texas, especially those nasty fire ants! Since moving to Texas from Chicago twenty-two years ago, I am yet to walk through any field barefoot! In cognitive therapy there is another kind of nasty ANT and it stands for “automatic negative thought.”  We all succumb to ANTs from time to time. You know, that voice in your head that reminds you that you should have done something differently, or that things won’t work out. They’re fueled by experiences, world-beliefs, self-beliefs, expectations, and even genetics. Sometimes, these ANT’s can get debilitating and feed anxiety, depression, guilt, and anger…

While our feelings are undoubtedly influenced by things that happen around us, it’s the way we think about these things that actually controls how we feel. Let’s say someone tells you, “you look nice today.” You feel good because you accept the compliment as genuine. Later, someone pays you the same compliment, but you feel annoyed because you think she is just being nice. Your inner thoughts (perception) dictate how you to feel about the compliment (external event).

Well, that little voice that helps you interpret the external event… that is where ANTs come marching in. Interestingly, ANTs have more to do with what is going on within us, than with external events. In the example above, if someone compliments you while you’re feeling self-conscious.  The ANTs may sound something like this; “She is just saying that to make me feel better. She probably hates what I’m wearing! I should’ve worn something nicer today!”

You can learn to recognize ANTs because they follow familiar patterns. They (we) twist the truth in situations just to make us feel bad! Here are a few examples:

Should statements: Judging yourself (or someone else) with I should’ve done this, that.

Fortune-Telling: Predicting things will turn out badly with no evidence.

Mind Reading: Assuming you know someone else is reacting negatively to you (dislike, judgment, anger).

Discounting the Positives: Only recognizing the negatives in a situation (ignoring the positives).

All-or-nothing Thinking: Seeing things in black and white (perfection or failure) using words like “always and never.”

In “The Feeling Good Handbook” Dr. David Burns identifies the most common ANTs and recommends that you keep a mood log. When you feel down, write down the thoughts that keep rolling through your head and try to identify those ANTs. Then try to replace that thought with a more positive (and true) perspective.

If you find yourself feeling down, give it a try! Yes, actually write the thought down on a piece of paper (it makes a difference)and stomp those ANTs!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

 

When life is like a coffee cup…

A couple of years ago, I found my favorite coffee cup. I immediately noticed the cup’s vibrant colors that (I would later learn) magically add to my coffee’s richness in flavor. I loved the cup’s wide shape, and the weight of the cup sat perfectly in my hand. I’d been enjoying coffee for many years, but this cup somehow brought me joy every morning.

Well, all was good in my coffee drinking world until that fateful day. I dropped my favorite cup on the tile floor and a chunk broke off of it. My heart sank. I quickly grabbed the glue and began my repair. I did glue the piece back on, but the cup was different now. It didn’t look quite the same. It wasn’t as pretty to look at because you could still see the crack across its face.

Over time, something interesting happened.  I found that my coffee cup still added to the richness of my coffee. Friends would ask about my cup and I would take pride in explaining how I fixed the cup and continued to use it. In fact, I started to notice that the crack gave the cup some character. The cup was now unique. I learned to enjoy this cup even more than I had when it was “perfect.” It was changed, but I loved it even more.

This cup is a lot like our lives. Bad things do happen to all of us. We suffer loss of people and things that mean a great deal to us. Some of us experience terrible trauma. All of us make mistakes, some of which hurt ourselves or others. Suffering can be deep and take a long time to process. We desperately try to fix ourselves and find our old selves again, but this seldom works.  Why? Because we change when we suffer. Like that coffee cup, we now have scars and maybe we see the world differently. When we experience loss, a little bit of that feeling never really goes away. It’s hard to see that we will be okay even if we no longer feel like we did before life knocked us down. That is what makes all of us uniquely perfect in our own way.

If you’re struggling to find yourself after suffering through a period of your life. Instead of trying to become who you were before, remember the coffee cup and focus on who you are now.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

close up of coffee cup on table
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Mindfulness

Many of us feel dissatisfaction with our lives because we are always looking ahead (what can be) or looking behind (what could have been). We have this mindset that we will be happy as soon as a desire is met. We tell ourselves, “once I graduate, once I buy that bigger house,” and on and on. In the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff,” Richard Carlson says that we can find more happiness if we change the emphasis of our thinking from what we want to what we have (p 161).

Marsha Linehan Ph. D, originator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, describes mindfulness as being present without judgment. It’s learning to observe and accept our present feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and environment. Imagine observing yourself as a spectator (looking down at you from a balcony), objectively describing the scenario without judging (good, bad, blame).

Mindfulness takes practice (here is a link to some exercises)… For example, when you have simple tasks to complete (folding the laundry), try keeping your full attention on the task and observe all five senses.  Another option is to find a quiet place for a few minutes and experience the stillness (or focus on your breathing). In both of these examples, as distractions enter your mind, gently set them aside and refocus on your present. A good way to begin your day is writing down something positive in your life (or the upcoming day). I personally find that being thankful in daily prayer helps me stay present. Embrace opportunities for quiet in your life.

As you get comfortable with mindfulness (living in the present non-judgmentally), try to be more accepting of your worries about past issues or future events. Why on earth would I do this, you ask???  Fighting feelings like anxiety, sadness, and shame give them more power over you.  You can allow the feeling in for a specified time (say 10 minutes) to identify and process without judgement. Use your mindfulness skills to observe how you feel. Remember, that you are a like a spectator in your own mind, and you’re learning to separate those harmful feelings from yourself in the present.

Give it a try!! Live in the present and enjoy the ride!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Teens & drugs: What’s changed?

We’re seeing drug abuse increase in middle and high schools and it’s a reflection of an evolving culture of isolation.  In a good article recently published in Psychology Today, What Makes Teens Happier, Jean M Twenge Ph.D. compares to the correlation between happiness and various activities.  Of course, there are many other factors; drug potency and availability, pressure on teens, hyper-parenting, etc. Dr. Madeline Levine provides more depth in the society aspect in a couple of great parenting books. For this blog, however, I’ll focus on the “Now what?”

When should parents worry? There are clearly different degrees of danger and urgency.  That said, any teenage illicit drug use carries risks (overdose, addiction, reliance, behavioral, legal, etc.) and warrants parental involvement. Social use can quickly turn to coping. Adolescents are learning how to deal with relationships, failures, loss, and all of life’s punches. They need to learn from difficult experiences (not avoid them).  Remember, their brains are rapidly developing!

Having ongoing, open dialog, with your teenager is the first step. Have a firm stance but show compassion for their struggles and mistakes.

If your teen can’t stop on his/her own or if you see warning signs of deeper issues, rehab facilities offer the environment for change that needs to occur. I recently asked a friend, Eddie Fischer, who is in long term recovery and is also an advocate for adolescents, what changes have to happen.

First, surrendering to the fact that (s)he has lost control. It’s not “just” weed. Many people never get past this step. Just think about how hard it is to admit that you don’t have control.

Second, it takes a change of heart; recognizing that life’s meaning comes from places like faith, relationships, love, and service, which ultimately transform pain into purpose. It’s learning that being high isn’t the only way to feel better and turning to another for help after a bad day instead of struggling in isolation.

So, what can you do as a parent?

  1. Show your children Unconditional Love: Remember that addiction isn’t a character flaw, it’s a disease. This means showing compassion, not being a pushover.
  2. Get help: Many parents fear doing anything that will interrupt their child’s education and they fear the shame that comes along with the stigma of addiction. I’m a parent and I really get this. Unfortunately, if you’re at this point, your child’s life may be at stake. Maybe not today, but a year (or ten years) from now.
  3. Include therapy: This is hard! There is a lot of stuff to work out for your teen, you, and even others in your family. This is a disease that impacts the whole family.
  4. United parents (guardians): Use the EAR (Empathy, Assertiveness with feelings, Respect) technique. This may be the heaviest cross you ever carry together. Shift away from blame and towards understanding of each other.
  5. NEVER give up. There is hope, even when it doesn’t feel like it. MANY others get through this.

 

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Teenagers: Getting What You Want

Attention teenagers: Does it feel like you never get what you want. It’s like, no matter what you ask for, the answer is “no.”  Your parents never understand your point of view. Fortunately, you can impact future requests by developing skills to get what you want.

A counseling tool called DEAR MAN can be used to develop this skill.   You can hear an overview of the DEAR MAN technique on Marielle Berg’s podcast called “The Skillful Podcast.”

First, prepare for the conversation ahead of time. This helps regulate your emotions and keep a calm, confident demeanor (this goes a long way with adults).

I’ll share the DEAR MAN steps and then give an example:

D – Describe the situation (stick to the facts here). My tip is to consider the other’s perspective if you can.

E – Express your feelings. I feel statements work well.

A – Assert what you need. Be specific and clear.

R – Reinforce how this will benefit you AND the other.

M – Stay Mindful Stay focused on this request. Don’t get caught up in bigger topics.

A – Appear Confident Use confident body language, make eye contact.

N – Negotiate. Be willing to compromise.

I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of steps but it’s actually not too bad. Here’s an example:

Let’s say your parents want you to play club soccer next year and you really don’t want to play…

You: Mom, dad, (D) it’s time to sign up for soccer next year and I know you both want me to play.  (E) This year was really difficult for me.  I don’t feel enjoyment anymore and the energy that goes into playing really takes a toll on me. (A) I don’t want to play club soccer next year.

Mom: We’ve already told you that you have to play. It’s important that you stay active and you can’t spend all of your free time watching YouTube videos.

You: Well, (R) I can focus more on school and even look at art classes. I know that I’ll have more energy and be a happier kid which I think you might appreciate.

Mom: Last time we let you take time off of activities you sat in your room all the time and it’s not good for you to do that.

You: Well, (R/M) I know you want me to focus more on school and I know that I can. I also want to try the art classes.

Mom: You have to do something this summer. How about you at least join the recreational team for the summer only and see how it goes. Then we can look at the art classes in the fall.

You: (N) Yeah, I can do that.

I know this is a simple example, but the keys are; prepare, be clear, stay on topic, avoid getting emotional or argumentative, consider what’s in it for them, and compromise.

Once you master this, you can use it for the rest of your life to get what you want!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

What your spouse needs…

Have you ever looked at your significant other and thought, “I just don’t understand you?”  The differences between men and women can create complexities in relationships. Two books that I recommend to couples contain eye-opening truths that can radically improve the depth of a relationship. In the books, For Men Only and For Women Only, Shaunti and Jeff Feldhan describe (with remarkable accuracy) what men and women think, want, and feel. The authors conducted surveys, personal interviews, and other research with thousands of men and women.  Just consider how understanding each other’s deepest insecurities can improve how a couple supports each other.

A basic insecurity that most men feel is that they must be a provider and need to feel respected (even more than loved). They have a driving need to do a good job and take care of the family. It’s a constant reminder that he’s either achieving or that he’s not good enough. It’s the fear that everyone will realize he is not as good as they think he is.

Tips for women…

  1. Affirmation is everything (tell him he did a great job)
  2. Let him figure things out on his own
  3. Don’t tear him down (especially in front of others)

For many women a basic insecurity is the need to be wanted (loved). It’s more than a specific feeling after a fight or an event. It’s the need to be reminded because that voice in the back of her head keeps asking “does he even want to be with me anymore?” It’s noticing everything that is perfect about someone else and feeling personally unlovable.

Tips for men…

  1. Reassure her of your love (especially during conflict)
  2. She needs you to be present (yes, even during conflict)
  3. If she needs to talk about the relationship, listen without getting defensive

Why does this matter? Loving someone includes understanding what they need.  Whether you simply observe, ask, or do a little research, (s)he’s worth the effort.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

Value in suffering?

We spend a tremendous amount of energy (and money) trying to avoid suffering. Entire industries are built around helping people feel better.

Clients come into my office looking to eliminate feelings of anxiety, sadness, and other “negative” emotions that cause tremendous pain and suffering.  Often, clients fight (or bury) feelings without taking the time to explore them. Surprisingly, an important step in eliminating negative feelings involves accepting that they have value. Only then can clients understand when the feelings (sadness, guilt, anxiety) become unhealthy.

For example, let’s say a client (we’ll call him Carl) comes in with debilitating feelings of sadness and loneliness every evening. He wants to stop feeling his agonizing sadness.

Before challenging Carl’s sadness, we explore what his sadness reveals about his core values.  We find that his sadness shows how much he values deeper relationships. It also reveals his compassion for others and how he values accountability vs blame (when he takes on these burdens).  It also points to his nurturing personality and a need to help others. These are all positive core values that go hand in hand with Carl’s sadness.

We also explore any advantages of this sadness. Advantages of his sadness include protection from having to be social or doing things that are uncomfortable.  Carl’s suffering also allows him to empathize with others.

Once Carl explores the value in his sadness, he can work on it in a healthy way and change the way he feels. Why? Simply put, deep down Carl doesn’t want to give up his core values or advantages so he will resist efforts to eliminate his sadness.

We all experience this resistance but it’s typically not something of which we’re aware.  In TEAM therapy, Dr. David Burns calls this resistance the key to successful therapy. He calls exploration of the value in our suffering a “negotiation with a client’s subconscious.”

We put tremendous effort into avoiding suffering. How would our lives be if we eliminated all suffering? Perhaps a blog for another day!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC