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


Seek to Understand

One of the most important aspects of a fulfilling life is the depth of relationships that we have with people around us. With each interaction, we have the opportunity to develop a more meaningful relationship. Easy, right?

Well, when you’re getting along it’s easy. But what about when you’re angry, or when you’re being criticized?  Do you know someone that you struggle to be around without getting angry or annoyed?  Do you wish you had a better relationship with someone close to you such as a spouse or a child?

Communication for more intimate relationships with those close to you requires empathy and compassion. It requires you to care as much about the other as you do yourself. The vast majority of arguments are over who is right and who is wrong.  Intimate communication means that you shift away from caring who is right, and instead try to understand what the other is feeling.  Just remember these three words; “seek to understand.”

This change of heart (and attitude) can improve relationships in your life immediately. Then, you can develop deeper communication skills through techniques like those found in Dr. David Burn’s; Feeling Good Together. WARNING: If you skip the change in heart and learn the communication techniques for your personal gain (like to win arguments), you will come across as patronizing or condescending (not good).

Try this:  Next time someone criticizes you, find the truth in what they said instead of defending yourself. Seek to understand what that person sees and feels. This simple change in heart will do wonders for even the most challenging relationships. Here is an example:

You have a rough day at the office and get home late from work and as you walk in the door;

  • Spouse: “You’re always late and I’m sick of waiting for you!”
  • Your reply: “I’ve had a long day and now you’re on me?”

Notice that you have replied defensively and have not validated the spouse’s feelings. Here’s another reply:

  • Your reply: “You’re right! I am late, and you have every right to be angry. It’s been hard on me too. Maybe we should talk about it?”

By seeking to validate and understand your spouse, you open the door for a much deeper dialog instead of arguing over who is right.

Give it a shot and be amazed by how good a change of heart feels!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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

God’s Love

Growing up, my family went to church every Sunday. Like many other teens, church didn’t feel especially relevant to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, I just didn’t feel (or see) His presence in my life.

The truth is, God’s relevance in the lives of teenagers today is stronger than ever. Teens in the US experience record levels of anxiety and depression, and quietly feel worthless for not being good enough.

Our perfectionist culture tells us that individual success, money, and power make us important. That happiness and self-worth require high achievement, and that anything less than the best is not acceptable (in anything). Just stare at that statement and think about how unrealistic and damaging (not to mention FALSE) it is!

I recently read a great little story called Twenty Dollars. The unknown author makes a great point about the value of our self-worth (even when we can’t see it).

What does this have to do with God? God offers hope by teaching us unconditional love. God does not demand that we earn a lot of money, get top test scores, or make varsity to be worthy. He teaches us that we don’t have to earn love. In fact, He welcomes our imperfections and our brokenness. God measures richness of our hearts, not our financial status, and it’s our obsession with status that ignites much of the anxiety and depression in teens. I came across an article on GotQuestions.org (long but well worth the read if your interested) in which the author provides a great explanation of what Jesus meant when he said “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30).

The bottom line, is that achieving our goals helps us live the lives we want and success feels good. Just don’t let achievements (or failures) define you. They don’t! They are simply things that you do, not who you are…

If you’re a young (or not so young) person reading this, and you don’t feel God’s presence in your life (yet), you can still learn from His wisdom… it can be life changing!!

The world scares me a little less when I remember that God loves me in all of my success and my failures. I try to love others the same way. I hope and pray for you to experience His love too.  The good news… you don’t have to earn it!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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

Hold on to your Power!

Imagine yourself driving to work one sunny morning. It’s been a good morning and you’re content (in your own peaceful thoughts). Then the car in the next lane aggressively moves into your lane ahead of you and the driver suddenly brakes! You break hard to avoid contact as the articles on your console (sunglasses, phone) fall to the floor. How do you react? Do you get angry or do you brush it off?

Every day, our interpretation and reaction to external events impacts the way we feel. You see, it’s not the actual event that causes us to feel a certain way, it’s how we interpret it. Imagine all of us walking (or driving) around with a big filter over our heads.  Everything that enters into our experience has to go through this filter. The filter is made up of our beliefs, past experiences, knowledge, personality, influences, where we live, etc.

When I experience something, my filter interprets what I just experienced.  In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), this interpretation happens though what are called automatic thoughts. Sometimes, my automatic thoughts allow me to experience something fully and productively, and other times my automatic thoughts are twisted so they impact me negatively. Through CBT, people learn to identify and impact these automatic thoughts to help them experience life in a healthy way and feel better.

Dr. Christian Conte (www.drchristianconte.com) provides a tool for changing the way we react and he uses the driving example (above). Dr. Conte suggests using a physical (or visual) reminder to remain in control. As your driving, your peace of mind is your power and you control it. You want to keep control of your power. Imagine that while driving, you hold this power in your steering wheel. So now, you physically have a grip on it when the car cuts you off and slams on the breaks. You have two options.

One option is to let your anger take over. You can curse loudly at the driver, waving your fist and honking your horn. You may think about how “bleeping” inconsiderate the driver is and how you can’t believe anyone would do that. In this case, you have handed over control of your power (your peace of mind) to the external event. You have tossed your steering wheel into the other car! You will probably carry anger for the rest of your drive. In fact, you may take it with you when you get to work, and even when you get home and tell the story at the dinner table. The anger still effects you all day long!

Your second option is to look at your steering wheel recalling that it holds your power (your peace of mind) and you don’t want to let go. Acknowledge that the other driver did something dangerous, but not on purpose. There are many possible reasons (maybe he didn’t see you, maybe he is in a hurry, maybe he is just a bad driver). Whatever the reason, the driver isn’t out to ruin your day. By holding onto your power, you can see the situation for what it is and not as a personal attack. You can react productively, and quickly return to your content state of mind.

CBT provides many tools to help us feel better.  Give this one a try next time you’re behind the wheel!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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

What’s Your Therapy?

As I lace up my shoes, a nagging voice in the back of my head reminds me of how busy I am. I am thinking about project deadlines and meetings I have in the afternoon. This same voice tells me that I really don’t feel like walking out the door and going for a jog. After all, I really don’t have time for this today and it’s too hot outside to run.  Fortunately, I recognize this voice and I know that when I step outside the voice will grow quieter. As I open the door and breathe in the fresh air, something happens. It’s like turning down the volume on the craziness going on in my head, and readjusting my attention to my surroundings. I can feel my mood lift as I notice the warmth of the air and the bright sunlight. Sure, it’s not perfect running weather, but it feels good to step outside, leaving my worries in the house as I close the door. I turn on my music and the beat takes me further away from the morning rush. As I jog out of my neighborhood, I notice how my legs feel, and how the warm pavement under my shoes presses against the soles of my feet. I notice the sound of wind blowing through the leaves and the birds chirping high in the trees. My breathing changes as I pull oxygen from deeper in my lungs and my whole body begins to warm up.

Over the next few miles, my thoughts may take me back to the busyness of life.  However, it’s as if everything has slowed down for me. I can think with better clarity as if I am looking down at my day from above.  I can organize my thoughts better.  Some days, my thoughts take me into deep contemplation, other days I just enjoy the run and listen to the music.

Running is therapy for me and we can look at the impact it has on my brain (specifically, the basal ganglia) for some possible answers why.  According to Daniel G Amen, M.D. in the book, Change your brain, change your life, “excessive basal ganglia activity resets the body’s idle to a revved-up level and can make people feel anxious, nervous, tense, and pessimistic”. Dr. Amen describes a few techniques to set your basal ganglia to a relaxed, healthy level. Three of these techniques are using guided imagery (a relaxation exercise), practicing diaphragmatic breathing exercises, and through meditation. These techniques all involve shifting attention to new senses, rhythmic motions and breathing, and relaxing (or refocusing) your mind. Similarly, when clients come into counseling for anxiety or anger, it often makes sense to begin with a mindfulness exercise to relax and lower the volume of the noise in our heads. Simple relaxation activities literally heal the brain!

One of the traps we experience when we feel down or stressed, is waiting to be in the mood to do something therapeutic. We think that once we feel like going for a jog, then we’ll go and feel better. This results in never grabbing those running shoes.  That’s why something that sounds so simple (doing something therapeutic for me), is in fact quite difficult for many of us to do!  We listen to the negative thoughts in our head that tell us we’re too busy, or too tired to do something for me.  But it’s the activity that makes us feel better, lifts our mood, and gives us more clarity.  Whether it’s the mindfulness of yoga, the peacefulness of prayer, or the endorphins from exercise we all need a dose of therapy regularly.

So what do you find therapeutic? What do you do to reset your basal ganglia (okay, that’s just fun to say). Whether you walk, read, pray, play music, dance, write in a journal, call a friend, or go for a jog, find activities that work for you. If you are feeling down or anxious, now is the time to start. If you don’t know where to begin, try out a couple of these simple relaxation techniques.  I’m not trying to suggest that this is the answer to all of the stress in our lives.  The human brain is complex beyond our understanding in many ways. But I promise you that a little self-therapy can only help you feel like YOU.  Ask for help if you need help, and find YOUR therapy!!

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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

Are kids really that stressed?

Have you ever seen this story play out?  A teenager, (we’ll name him Joey), comes home from school looking exhausted. He sits on the couch and gasps, “I’m so overwhelmed with school right now I just want to sit here and do nothing.”  Dad looks at him with a loving, but confused smile and says, “well, if you want to know what being overwhelmed feels like consider when I was you age and every day I had to walk 12 blocks to school, then work at the mill after school, then go home and clean the kitchen, and watch my sisters.”  Dad’s trying to make Joey feel better by reminding him that things aren’t so hard, and he’s got a good point about his own life being very difficult. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help Joey feel any better. In fact, now Joey can add guilt to the list of emotions he already has piling up in his head.

Are teenagers today really that stressed. Let’s look at a couple of the stressors in their lives. In the book, Stress Free Kids, Lori Lite says it perfectly; “With an unprecedented amount of pressure to give your children the best education, it’s easy to forget that your kids are incredible emotional, spiritual, social, and physical beings. Childhood should not be a stress-filled race to see who can read the most books, write the longest paper, and count to 100 in seven different languages.”

The strongest stressor in our teenagers’ lives is a culture of perfectionism.  Many great historians and business leaders have tried to teach us the importance of failure.  Examples include Abe Lincoln, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, and even the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Eloise Ristad said “When we give ourselves the permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” Yet, if we look at the criteria set forth by universities in the United States, we find requirements driving the exact opposite behavior. The expectation on students is perfection in the form of grade point averages and standardized tests.  These requirements have since permeated through our high schools, middle schools, and into homes. In fact, a number of recent studies have pointed to academics as the highest source of stress for teens. Well-meaning parents try to help, but often by helping they are only validating the need for perfection. While high achievement is a worthy goal, it is critical for teens to know that their achievements do NOT equate to their self-worth. Every child (and adult) on this earth is worthy of love and joy. Period.

Then, the stress of school is compounded by the social pressures kids deal with social media. Remember telling your kids this advice? “Don’t say anything you might regret in social media because once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.” While this is still sound advice (and I give it to my kids all the time), it has gotten more difficult to follow because digital communication has become the norm.  It’s literally how people communicate. While adults keep relationships with people on Facebook, teenagers are communicating via their own social sites, text, and apps.  This means that private conversations aren’t really private anymore. The pressure to have a positive social image is tremendous and too often, our kids are equating social image to their self-worth. Just look at Instagram streaks!  Kids (like adults) have fewer close relationships today and tend to rely more heavily on quantity vs quality.  Generally speaking, a stressed teenager with close friends has a healthy outlet to vent and share (and many don’t).

If you’re a parent of a teen and your reading this, you’re probably asking “well, what can I do?”  There’s an interesting paradox when it comes to helping people that are anxious or depressed. Simply put, the more you try to help, the less effective you are at actually helping.  Strange, huh? When a person feels really bad, they need one thing before they will feel better. I’ll give you a hint… it’s not a solution to their problem. It’s someone that cares enough to listen and understand how they feel. It’s someone to validate their feelings so that they know that they are not alone.

When a teenager walks in the door from school feeling overwhelmed with everything being thrown at them like; grades, sports, friends, college, work, social media, and (of course) parents, the patent’s job is to listen.  I mean really listen.  Put yourself in your child’s shoes and ask questions so that you really understand how he or she feels. Hear the truth in what your child is saying instead of discounting what you think is inaccurate. Don’t dismiss your child’s feelings as being dramatic or complaining. Validate how (s)he feels and give assurance that you understand.  Maybe say how brave (s)he is for working so hard despite everything being thrown their way.  Don’t jump into problem solving until your child wants your help.

If you are struggling with your relationship, the best thing you can do is to spend time together (even if they push back). According to a recent Gallup poll about half of US families eat dinner together most week nights. Be one of those families.

Lastly, let your children know that is is OK to make mistakes (and mean it). Striving for high achievement is important, but it becomes unhealthy when a child equates their self-worth based on achievements.

So, are teens really more stressed than they were fifty years ago? Let’s just agree that they have stress in different forms, and it’s as real as it was fifty years ago.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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