The Hobbit in us

I grew up on the Lord of the Rings books. I loved the excitement of exploring an unknown world through the eyes of JR Tolkien.  Taking the adventures with Frodo through Middle Earth allowed me to experience adventures and get a taste of life if it weren’t so… comfortable. I recently watched the movie about Tolkien’s real life, and even his life took me on a journey of struggle, loss, and meaning. I felt jealous of his adventures, even though he had so much hardship. Does it make sense to long for hardship in a world that is designed to make life comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I am fortunate to have a loving family, friends, and a meaningful career. I also recognize that I am very much reliant on basic comforts like electricity, plumbing, transportation, modern medicine, mobile phones, and even WiFi!  These technologies can make our lives healthier, richer, and allow us to see the world and meet new people. However, I can’t help but feel some disappointment in myself for being so dependent on these things. I wonder what life would be like without these comforts, would less distraction help us focus on what really matters?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the parallels to my faith in this search for meaning. God teaches us of suffering in Romans 5 3-4 “… suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”  Yet, sometimes our lives seem to revolve around avoiding hardship.

I’ve struggled to put this topic into a coherent blog, but it feels important because so many clients express desire for more meaning. As humans, we’re not designed to just sit back and consume life. Comfort is not the goal. We need to challenge ourselves mentally, spiritually, and physically.  You can start by removing something that creates false comfort in your life.  Try giving up a vises like social media, negative newscasts, Netflix, alcohol, or wherever you find false comfort. The discomfort in giving something up can create room for growth. Then, challenge yourself by doing something you don’t know you can do. Maybe it’s writing a song or running a marathon, learning a new skill, or starting a new career.  Make a difference in someone else’s life if you can. It can be as simple as a weekly phone call. Explore your faith at a deeper level and try to see how God in your life, today!

The Lord of the Rings stories carry powerful themes. Tolkien shows us that we can step outside our comfortable lives and live an adventure. Our adventures may not include dragons and magic, but we can explore ourselves, our faith, our communities, and we can impact the lives of others. It’s never too late to ask yourself, are you living your adventure?

Chris Guzniczak, LPC

Flower Mound Counseling

Bids for Connection

When couples come in for marriage counseling, the actual issues vary, but it usually involves falling out of love or not being able to communicate. Words used to describe the situation include phrases like; “we have nothing in common anymore, he/she doesn’t listen to me, he/she doesn’t care as much about me as (blank), or all we do is fight.”  Many marriage counselors will try to fix everything with communication skills. Unfortunately, this misses the root issue, which is lost connection.  Dr. John Gottman describes this connection through seven principles that successful couples use (whether they know it or not), in his book, “the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.”

While Dr. Gottman’s principles include a couple’s friendship, fondness and admiration for each other, shared purpose, and handling conflict effectively, the core is still connection. If you think connection is something that you just have with someone and should not have to work on, you are not alone. Unfortunately, you’re also not correct.  Over time, keeping connection strong, whether it’s intimate, friendship, or simply respect, inevitably requires effort. Dr. Gottman discusses how married individuals are always making “bids” for attention, affection, humor, or support, while the partners respond by turning towards, turning away, or ignoring the bid. As life gets stressful, married couples often shift their attention towards career, parenting, and other duties. When one or both partners deprioritize the relationship and those opportunities (bids) for connection fade, the couple’s friendship, admiration for each other, and shared meaning can fade as well if they don’t communicate through the changes.  

Dr. Gottman shares tools to help any couple grow deeper in their connection. Whether you have been married for one year or thirty, here are a few you can try:

  • Daily 30 Minute Stress-Reducing Conversation. The goal is understanding and validation, not fixing (unless asked).
  • Weekly One Hour “State of the Union” conversation. The structure of this meeting is:
  1. Talk about what has gone right this week in the relationship
    • Give one another 5 appreciations each
    • If a problem exists use the Gottman- Rapoport Intervention to discuss the problem
    • Ask one another the question, “What can I do next week to make you feel loved?”
  • Weekly Date: At least one hour for talking and checking in emotionally with one another. Try the Gottman Card Decks app
  • Daily Cuddle Time: Spend some time cuddling every evening; touching one another, putting arms around one another, holding hands, and kissing while you either talk, or watch TV, or a movie.
  • Rituals about sex. The book The Normal Bar found that couples who reported a satisfying sex life had a weekly date, kissed every day, said “I love you” every day, gave compliments, surprise gifts, and cuddled. Make courtship a priority.

Chris Guzniczak, LPC

Flower Mound Counseling

Why being Judged Really Doesn’t Matter!

I struggle to enjoy sports that require judges to score the athletes. It never feels like there is a clear winner because there is always room for personal judgement. Consider a diving competition. There are clear rules that determine the scores that a diver receives, yet there is always room for personal judgement. After all, judges are human.

All of us have a fear of being judged by others to some degree. We worry what peers, or family members, or even strangers think of us. Unfortunately, the simple truth is that humans do judge others. The real question is, does it matter?

I have a confession to make, I judge people. I may think that I’m judging people based on some agreed upon life rules (like a diving competition). Yet, I make the rules in my own head. So, when I judge someone, it says more about my rules than it does the other person.

Let’s say I drive a few miles per hour over the speed limit to stay with the flow of traffic. Today, the car in front of me is driving below the speed limit. Naturally, I judge this person (bad driver) because they should drive at least the speed limit, right? As you can see, I am judging another driver based on how I think people should drive.  What’s worse, is that when I’m in a hurry I expect drivers around me to be in a hurry! As ridiculous as that sounds, we all do it because we project our rules on everyone around us.

Sometimes I judge others based on my expectations of myself.  I’ve always been a hard worker, and sometimes I assume that everyone should always work hard. I judge others for not putting enough effort into various parts of life (school, work, health, etc.). The truth is, I have no way of knowing how much effort people give (I am yet to perfect mind reading).

A third way I judge others is based on my own insecurities. Sometimes, I’m insecure about being a good father and find myself being overly critical of other fathers. I might think that someone should prioritize one thing over another (projecting own rules on them).  We find comfort in comparing ourselves favorably to others.  

The worst thing I do is judge others that are different than me. I can’t help thinking that they should be more like me… When my thoughts go there, I try to get out of my own head so that I can understand their rules better.   

Too often, I catch myself judging others for not being… well, like me.  So, if you find yourself doing the same, try to be aware of those should thoughts and take a moment to understand your own rules. If you’re someone that worries about being judged, just remember that it’s more about them than it is about you.  After all, you live by your own set of rules!!

What’s in your Funnel?

I’m often asked for practical skills for getting unstuck when feeling anxious, depressed, or angry. Fortunately, there are some basic skills which have a tremendous impact on our emotional wellbeing.

One skill is understanding how thoughts and emotions are connected so you can change how you think about things. When we struggle, it’s hard not to blame the situation around us. Yet, even the most traumatic external events do not directly cause our emotions. They influence our emotions, but we always have a thought first. That thought represents our perception of what we experience, and that perception creates our emotional response.

When I talk to clients about perceptions, I imagine us walking around with a funnel over our heads. It reminds me of the novel, Insomnia, by Stephen King. In the book, everybody has invisible stems of light, lifelines, that beam up from our heads. In the book, the lifelines represent our actual life. The funnels that I imagine represent our truths. As we experience the world around us, everything enters our funnels which creates our perspective (our truth).

Here’s the kicker… our funnels don’t always represent actual truth. The wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) thing about our brains is that we take past experience, knowledge, education, beliefs, etc. into the present. While this helps us learn from the past, it also creates problems when we develop self-defeating beliefs. For example, if hardships in my life have me believing that I am a weak person, then that “truth” becomes part of my funnel. My perception of everything I experience includes my truth that I am weak.

So, in order to change the way that you feel, it’s important to focus on your funnel. You can start by writing down your specific thoughts when you feel bad.  Then, challenge those thoughts by looking for ways that you are twisting the truth. You might be focusing on negatives, blaming yourself for things out of your control, or assuming the worst. As you identify and shift your thinking, you can start to impact depression, anxiety, and other emotional challenges.

A great resource for leaning techniques to do this is a book called “Feeling Great,” by Dr. David Burns. If you are stuck in a certain unhealthy way of thinking, you may need to seek out a good counselor to help you get started.

So, what’s in your funnel?

Chris Guzniczak, LPC

Flower Mound Counseling

Life is like baseball…

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a trend in adolescent and young adult clients (16-24 year olds) self-describe as being a failure, or not good enough. They record feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, anxiety, and low satisfaction in life. Interestingly, I live in an affluent area of the country where most of these young men and women have supportive families, great educations, and seemingly endless potential. Often, these are high achieving college and high school students. So why are they so down on themselves? I’m going to describe what I see in a baseball analogy.

Imagine that your favorite baseball team has finally pulled together a great year. Everything comes together at the end of the season and they win the championship. Fans flood the streets with excitement! The players feel like they’re on top of the world, celebrating the accomplishment of beating the best. In the off season, the team adds a couple of pieces and grows in confidence to become the best team in the league. They win the championship again, this time as the favorite. Once again everyone celebrates in the success. In year three expectations are much higher.  Fans expect perfection on the field. The team plays at a very  high level, but it’s less about enjoying the season and more about winning the championship. Mistakes become unacceptable.  When they win, players express relief instead of excitement. The expectations completely change their experience.  

Now compare those baseball teams to what adolescents and young adults face today. Their grandparents were that first winning team. They succeeded against the odds. Most didn’t have college degrees, yet they persevered through a depression and learned to sustain and grow wealth.  Rightfully, we celebrate their grit and their success. In the next generation (90s, 00s), college education became the norm for many as young adults strived to exceed parents’ standards.  Home ownership, incomes (along with cost of living) grew along with financial independence.  They (we) are the second championship team. This takes us to the current adolescents. They are the third championship team. Just like previous teams (generations), they are trying to exceed expectations. These kids are no longer able to be the first to go to college, get a Masters, or find a steady career. They have to accomplish these things just to meet expectations to achieve what their parents achieved. They carry a pressure to excel in a life defined for them. They aren’t afforded the opportunity to fail (at anything) from a young age.  

It’s critical that we allow our younger generations to define their own success. It’s on us to set aside our own expectations, let them struggle through their own challenges, and live meaningful lives.  

Chris Guzniczak, LPC

Flower Mound Counseling