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Burden or Privilege?

streamI have written about the power of vulnerability a couple of times over the last few months because it is so near and dear to my heart. Why is asking for help so hard? Why do so many of us chose to suffer alone? We may lack that close connection with friends or family and worry that our imperfections would hurt the relationship. What if they think differently of us? We fear being a burden when we need emotional support. After all, no one likes to take on someone else’s burden, right?

We think of emotional support like a pitcher of water from which we pour each time we ask for help. Our friend pours a little bit out every time we need to vent or process something painful. If it’s something small, it might be a trickle. If we need them for something serious, it’s more like a fast pour. When the pitcher is empty, we assume that our friend has had enough of our burdens, or maybe they just can’t handle it any longer. We assume that they are too consumed with their own troubles to take on ours.

I challenge you to shift your thinking. Instead of a pitcher, imagine that your friend lives on a beautiful ranch. Your friend moved onto this ranch in order to share its beauty with friends and loved ones. When you ask for help, your friend gladly shares from the stream of flowing water that runs through the property. Sure, in times of drought, the stream runs a little low, but it always provides. Not only does the water last, it would sadly go unappreciated if no one comes for it.

You see, asking a friend for help isn’t about using up a limited supply of support (water). It’s quite the opposite. Opening up to a friend is like giving a gift because it is a privilege to be trusted with a friend’s pain. Even though allowing a friend to share in your pain feels like a burden, it’s actually the greatest privilege a friendship can receive.

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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

Hidden Emotions

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Do you find yourself feeling irritated and you don’t know why? Do you get anxious out of the blue?

Emotions can be a tricky thing…. Have you noticed how much you hate talking about feelings with other people? There is something about vulnerability that we (humans) hate. We do what we can to tuck any feelings like sadness, shame, and worry down deep where we can’t feel it. Whether it’s something traumatic like abuse, or something more gradual like not being happy with where we are in life, it tends to build up and eventually show up in our lives.

Sometimes, these hidden, unprocessed feelings resurface in the form of anxiety (maybe panic attacks out of nowhere). Other times, they resurface in the form of a much more familiar and comfortable feeling – anger. We tend to be much more comfortable with anger because it gives a sense of control and strength. It also hides our vulnerabilities.

One reason we’re not vulnerable with others is because most people don’t know how to respond. They aren’t comfortable sitting in pain with you. It’s more comfortable to try to comfort you or fix it.  It’s important to have someone in your life that you can talk to about how you feel.  Whether it’s a spouse, a family member, a friend, or a therapist, having someone with whom you can be vulnerable can change your life.

Often, when clients come to therapy for anger issues, we find deeper feelings that they haven’t dealt with (possibly for many years). Processing these feelings may mean taking the time to feel them again, from a safe place. Why? There is something freeing about being allowed to feel what you feel and not be judged for it. There is also something beautiful about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Just imagine, if you could just be you (the good and the bad). How would your life change?

Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

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

ANTs Come Marching

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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