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5 Suggestions for Setting Realistic Expectations for Yourself

Nov 08, 2017

By Margarita Tartakovsky

Everyone has expectations for themselves. We often assume these expectations are reasonable. Yet many of them are anything but.

We expect ourselves to work without any breaks. We expect ourselves to have the same level of—high—energy every day. We expect ourselves to experience the same emotions—calm and contentment. We expect ourselves to be fearless.

We expect that we’ll handle difficult times like a to-do list, said Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW, an attachment-focused therapist in Asheville, N.C., who specializes in working with individuals and couples as their families grow. We’ll be quick and efficient with our sadness—like we’d be with replying to email or cleaning the kitchen.

Or we become parents and still cling to the same expectations around work and productivity—except, as Gillette said, now we “are sleep deprived and in survival mode. Even for people without children, there can be an expectation of doing everything well, 100% of the time.”

Or we set expectations based on the lives of others. We compare ourselves not only to other people, but to many other people. Life transition and recovery therapist Jenn Fieldman, LPCS, worked with a client who hyper-focused on all the incredible things people were posting on Facebook. They were getting more work done. They were having amazing dinners with their spouse. They were working out every morning. They seemed like the “perfect” parents.

But Fieldman’s client wasn’t comparing herself to one person—she was comparing herself to the facets in at least five people’s lives.

We set super high expectations because “we idealize the ‘perfect’ outcome,” Gillette said. We assume that in order to feel successful, we need a specific result, she said. We need to get the promotion, or we’ve failed. We need to get an A+ on the paper, or we’re failures.

This is a hard way to live. It’s a lot of needless pressure. Even if we do reach the carrot, there’s always another bigger carrot around the corner. It never stops. We never stop. And it’s utterly exhausting. The tips that follow can help.

Get clear on your values. For instance, Gillette asks parents the following questions to help them identify their values (which you can adapt to your situation and life): “What do you want to show your child? What memories do you want to pass on to them? What are all the ways we can make that happen, without having to be perfect?”

Such questions help parents clarify where they want to place their intention and focus “to create an outcome that feels acceptable, even if it’s not the most ideal.”

Evaluate your expectations. According to Fieldman, also a marriage celebrant in Asheville, N.C., explore these questions on a regular basis: “What has the past proven to me about this expectation: Has it ever worked out? Has it changed over the years? What is sparking this expectation (fear of not being like others? Not being enough?)? If I wasn’t concerned about what other people thought of me, would I still have this expectation of myself? Do I truly believe this expectation is attainable within my time frame, the hours of my day, and the people who I have in my life?”

Quiet your fear. “Often unrealistic expectations are born from fear,” said Fieldman. She works with clients on gaining distance from their fear-based thinking. One technique she does is body scanning. “We hold so much fear in our bodies and we don’t even realize it.” Fieldman asks her clients to breathe in and out slowly while relaxing their bodies from head to toe—doing this every day, two times a day, for two to five minutes.

Specifically, say the words, “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out” as you relax your body. Pay attention to where you’re holding onto tension. When other thoughts arise, return to your breath. “This trains the body to accept openness and calm rather than making decisions and expectations from a fearful place,” Fieldman said.

Explore your not-enough story. Unrealistic expectations stem from the core belief that we are not enough as we are, Fieldman said. “When we live in this place, we are never truly living in the moments of our lives; we’re living in sadness from what we weren’t and fear that we may never be.”

We can start chipping away at this false belief by realizing that this is not our belief. It may be the belief of a caregiver who was convinced they weren’t good enough, either. It may be the belief of a childhood bully. Fieldman suggested asking yourself: “Whose story is this?”

“Realizing then that it is not our battle to fight, not our story to finish, we get to have our own story,” she said. And then, find a therapist to support you through this process.”

Identify the most realistic takeaway. Gillette encourages clients to consider the question: “If this could go well (with several things not working the way I want it to), how would that feel for me?”

She shared this example: Lots of parents put pressure on themselves for their child’s birthday parties or first day of school. In reality, these are imperfect, often messy moments: Your child’s best friend can’t make it to the party. The bounce house you ordered is suddenly not available. The first day of school is filled with mixed emotions, and various challenges.

So instead of focusing on perfect (i.e., unrealistic expectations), according to Gillette, you reflect on: “What do I want my child to take from this? How can I create an experience that allows for all of these factors to be present, and still consider it a worthwhile experience? Does the fact that it’s not perfect bring value to my life and to my child’s life?”

Sometimes, we worry that if we don’t set high expectations for ourselves, we’re somehow letting ourselves off the hook. We’re being lazy or unambitious. We’re skating through life. We’re not living life fully.

But that’s not true.

Setting realistic expectations actually helps us grow and become more flexible. It helps us savor life and embrace the messy moments, which often hold more meaning anyway. And if you’ve got kids, it saves them from suffering needlessly. Because sky-high expectations are the antithesis of self-compassion.

Originally published on PsychCentral.com on 4 Nov 2017. All rights reserved.

Why Seeking Reassurance Is a Good Thing

Nov 08, 2017

By John Amodeo, PhD

When we talk to a friend about a personal concern, what are we really seeking? Advice? Direction? Or maybe something else?

If we feel muddled about a difficult relationship or a job search, we might use a friend as a sounding board to sort things out. We may get clearer about what we want to say to our partner as we talk it out. We might blow off steam by venting about today’s political situation and find it helpful that others feel similarly.

We may not realize it, but often there’s a deeper reason we like to talk things out: we want reassurance.

More Than a Pat on the Back

If we think of reassurance as a pat on the back and being told everything will be fine, we might find it distasteful to seek it. We might believe we’re responsible for soothing ourselves and not want support from anyone.

If we expand our view of what reassurance is, we might be more inclined to embrace it. Wanting reassurance doesn’t mean we’re weak or indicate some character flaw. It doesn’t mean we’re experiencing self-pity or wanting someone to pity us. It simply means:

  • We’re a vulnerable human being
  • We need to have our feelings heard
  • We need to know we’re not alone
  • We need to know we matter — that we’re valued
  • We want a reality check to see if we’re on track

Sometimes people use the word “support” to describe what I’m calling “reassurance.” I have no problem using that word, but it might connote someone holding us up. “Reassurance” conveys the need to be reminded of something that some part of us knows is true, but that we don’t currently experience.

We may know deep down that we’re a good person, but we may need to be reminded. If the driver ahead of us flipped us off on the freeway, we might feel upset. We talk to a friend who reassures us that we didn’t do anything wrong; maybe the person was having a bad day. We feel better to get it off our chest and feel validated and reassured.

Or we may remember that we were driving a little too close to the car ahead. We might need some reassurance that even if we did, it doesn’t mean we’re a bad person. We might be reassured to hear something like: “Well, you didn’t deserve to be flipped off, but sometimes I catch myself driving too close. I try to pay attention to that and make an adjustment when I notice it. It’s hard to be mindful in every moment.”

Such a communication conveys that we’re all imperfect humans. We’re reassured that we can learn and grow from our experiences without beating ourselves up or being paralyzed by toxic shame. We feel less alone when we’re caught in the trap of our own inner critic. We’re reassured that it’s ok to be imperfect. We might feel a tad of healthy shame — just enough to get our attention so that we can learn something… and then move on with a little more mindfulness.

If we’re having a physical symptom that is troubling us, we might share it with a trusted friend. A false, unhelpful reassurance might be something like: “I’m sure it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.” A more helpful reassurance might be: “Well, I often worry about symptoms that turn out to be nothing, but I can understand your being anxious about it. If I were you, I’d get it checked out.” Such a message normalizes and validates our feelings. We may feel comforted as we let in someone’s caring and kindness while sharing something we feel vulnerable about.

We all need reassurance sometimes. We need to know we’re not alone. We need to be reminded that we matter.

Seeking reassurance doesn’t mean we’re weak. It takes strength to reach out. All of us do better with a little help from kind and caring friends.

Originally published on PsychCentral.com at https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/11/04/why-seeking-reassurance-is-a-good-thing on 4 Nov 2017. All rights reserved.

Which Intoxicating Distractions Keep You From Taking Care of Yourself

Nov 08, 2017

By Michelle Thompson for YourTango.com

We all get ‘drunk’ on something…

During a recent visit to my son’s college campus and the local bar, I had a flash of awareness as I watched many people drink over a few hours span of time.

It was Family Weekend, so there were lots of parents there with their kids (actually adult-age kids) enjoying the carefree college life, laughing, drinking, playing games and having fun. What struck me was how, almost universally, people went from clear-headed communicators to making less and less sense as the day progressed.

What You Need To Know About Taking Care Of Yourself Emotionally

I noticed their decision making got a little foggier — parent and child alike. The proclaimed intentions to take it easy with drinking for the day faded away and were replaced with challenges to chug and do shots. My thought was “they are going to hurt in the morning.”

But the more compelling thought that occurred to me that day was this: At least they can clearly see what impaired their judgment — the alcohol.

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I wondered, “Is there something I do, something I get ‘drunk’ on every day that impairs my judgment and interferes with my ability to make choices that are good for me?”

It wasn’t as easy to point a finger as you can when you’re drinking alcohol, but I did not have to dig too deep to see some potential culprits.

My curiosity was piqued and I began observing myself and others.

It quickly became clear that we all do things that intoxicate us, causing us to get distracted, lose self-awareness and stop taking care of ourselves, and we do them all the time without even thinking.

Within just a few moments of considering how I do this myself, I quickly identified a few ways in which I reliably “get drunk” and forget myself. Here are the first three that came to mind:

1. Praise and Appreciation for Helping Others (Or Just the Idea of Pleasing Others).

I may have an intention to do something for myself, like workout or meditate or take a walk, but somehow forget as I focus my attention on pleasing others. I can get distracted by the pleasure of receiving appreciation and praise.

Often I don’t even need the actual praise and appreciation. It is just the idea that I am pleasing others and that they will be happy with me that lure me away from focusing on myself. The allure of having others be happy with me keeps me from doing something purely for myself — which certainly doesn’t elicit praise from others; and, quite often triggers anger as I disappoint others in taking my attention away from them and placing it upon myself.

2. Relationship Drama.

This is a great one. Instead of taking care of myself, I get involved in the squabbles of family and friends or might even create one myself.

I get anxious when I experience people fighting around me and have become very attuned to discerning what is causing discord. One of my skills is being able to hold multiple points of view as equally valuable and I like to help others to appreciate each other’s perspectives. I like to swoop in and save the day and help people move back into harmony, which is not a bad thing altogether.

It is a problem when I don’t fulfill my own intentions for myself because I am busy “heroing” them and me.

I am protecting them from discord and myself from the discomfort of being in the presence of it.

On the flip side, I can actually create discord by getting caught up in noticing what others are doing wrong. I want them to change what they are doing to avoid future discord rather than noticing what I need to work on myself — like maybe stop trying to fix other people and fix myself instead.

3. Acquiring Knowledge and Learning Techniques.

I find this one to be the most amusing because I actually distract myself with myself.

This is one that I am probably least conscious of and have the hardest time noticing because I can disguise it as pseudo-awareness. I notice something in myself that needs to shift, maybe a belief I have that separates me from others rather than connecting me to them. For example, perhaps, “anger is bad”. I read books, listen to audios, do meditations, participate in workshops, etc. All directed at processing my anger.

I get drunk on information rather than actually DOING the work I need to do.

I KNOW that “anger is bad” is just a story I made up to make sense of the world when I was younger. As I mentioned, I am not comfortable with discord, to me anger was the reason for the discord. I decided anger was bad and that I should avoid it and keep others from getting angry.

Truthfully, the way to drop this belief is to get comfortable with my own anger and allow myself to feel it and practice being present while others express their anger. That’s it! Very simple. However, I often avoid feeling my own anger and instead distract myself with learning about all sorts of techniques for transmuting anger.

Those are my top three, but there are more. We all do it and we all get in our own way.

How do you determine what your source of intoxication is? It’s actually pretty simple. Notice when you had a plan to do something for yourself — be it of a physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, or intellectual nature — and then didn’t do it.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What did I do instead?
  • What feeling or experience did I fill myself up with instead of the experience I had planned on having?
  • Who or what was the object of attention instead of myself?
  • When do I see myself making this choice in the past? Is there a recurring pattern?

6 Subtle Signs You’re Burned Out And In Desperate Need Of Self-Care

These questions can help you to home in on what you use to “get drunk” in order to feel temporary relief, but ultimately impairs your ability to make the best choices, distracting you from doing what you need to do for yourself.

The objective is to notice what you do to forget yourself, NOT to identify things you should never do. There is nothing inherently wrong with the source of distraction. In my case, for example, praise and appreciation are wonderful and a source of connection; relationship drama is an opportunity to learn about each other’s wants and needs; informing oneself is essential to learning new skills and expanding awareness.

The important thing to notice is if you are engaging these activities from a place of awareness and clear intention or unconsciously slipping into a habit, distracting yourself in order to feel comfortable.

Once you have identified the pattern of intoxication, the easiest way to catch yourself in them is by noticing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensation clues.

What I mean by that is the feeling you have after you have gone away from yourself and made choices that weren’t in alignment with what you really wanted. In my case, when I am “drunk” on praise and appreciation for helping others, I notice that there is often an undercurrent of resentment with tension in my shoulders. It is particularly acute if I help someone and they still aren’t happy with me.

Other times it can be a feeling of fear accompanied by a churning stomach and the thought “I can never make them happy.” I also end up feeling sad, worn out and depleted if I am helping from intoxication rather than pure delight. These are clues for me that I am NOT making choices based on what is best for me.

Just be observant and notice what happens after you make a choice that is not in alignment with what you truly want and need.

Be easy on yourself and approach it from the perspective of an observer rather than a judge. It can actually be quite amusing to discover your elaborate unconscious scheme to avoid taking care of yourself. Sharing what you notice with a family member or friend can also lighten the load of your discovery.

Hearing yourself talk about it shines a light on it in and diminishes its power over you; because, once you have noticed it, you have the power to change your behavior. It may take a while, but if you commit to increasing your awareness and shifting the pattern when you notice it, slowly but surely you will intoxicate yourself less and less and make better and better choices.

This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: How To Identify The SNEAKY Distractions That Keep You From Caring For Yourself.

How to Help Anxious Kids Adapt to Change

Nov 08, 2017
By Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S

Nico loved having the same routine every day of the week. When his routine changed, he would get upset. His emotional meltdowns and rigidity were trying on him and his family. When changes occurred and he was tired, hungry or stressed, his ability to cope was absent. Nico’s parents began to notice that his behavior was also affecting his younger sister. She had begun to show rigidity and unwillingness to try new things as well.

All parents do their best to help their children feel happy, learn about life, and cope with change. However, there are some children who may show less flexibility because of anxiety or other mental and emotional difficulties. Some children are not able to self-soothe and they need extra help to do so. This can be challenging and distressing for parents as they see their younger children mimicking their older sibling’s behavior.

What is a parent to do? Teaching anxious children to become flexible may feel like an ambitious undertaking for an overwhelmed parent. Parents can learn to take small steps to help the whole family learn to adapt to change — an inevitable part of life. As you do, keep in mind the following:

The Fight or Flight Response

This is our natural body’s response when danger is present or perceived. Some children’s safety alarm (the amygdala in the limbic system) is highly sensitive when they struggle with anxiety. When the flight response kicks in, children may experience body sensations that feel uncomfortable or intolerable such as trembling, shakiness, tingling, wobbliness, sweating, restlessness, fatigue, heart pounding, or fear of losing control. These are sensations created by their own protective system within their body. However, because they don’t understand them, they don’t know how to handle them. When the fight response is underway, children may also have similar symptoms that are confusing to them. Their response may be aggression, which is manifested in different ways such as hitting, throwing, screaming, etc. Those body responses may also feel distressing, and children don’t know how to regulate them.

As parents are able to understand this innate response, they can help their children understand it as well. Sometimes children’s behavior may appear manipulative. This behavior indicates that something is amiss, and they also need extra help.

Whether children’s rigidity is due to a genetic predisposition, mental or physiological disorder, or a learned behavior, they need validation. They also need connection, and limit setting. Children can also learn to adapt to opportunities parents provide each day.

New Experiences

When individuals struggle with anxiety, the treatment calls for exposures. This means children can learn to approach new situations even when their anxious mind tells them to avoid them. Like all adults, children will try to stay away from anything that may bring up stress, discomfort or anxiety. It is a natural response to avoid anything they perceive to be challenging.

Parents are the best resource in helping children adapt to new and difficult situations. They can look for opportunities to expose them to new circumstances or revisit unpleasant ones.

With your example and support, your kids can learn to soothe themselves and help their body and mind adapt to change. Keep in mind that it is a process. Success consists in them trying, and you consistently encouraging their efforts. Here are some ideas that may be helpful in that process:

  1. Encourage your children to be curious when they try something new or hard. Children are naturally inquisitive. However, when anxiety is present, they may not be interested in new adventures. They may not be willing to explore the world that may feel scary at times. Validate their feelings and acknowledge that changes are hard. Suggest that when they give themselves a chance to try something new, they may find out that it is not as scary as it seems. As they try, celebrate and validate them.
  2. Praise their Effort. Even if they only tried something for a few minutes or even seconds, acknowledge their effort. You can say, “Ella, I noticed you worked really hard to … (whatever they were trying to do). This was hard, and you didn’t give up. I can see you are proud of yourself for trying.”
  3. Brave Journal: As children discover that they were not as scared as their mind (the mind coach) told them they would be, invite them to draw or write about their brave moment. Ask them how they feel about their adventure. Invite them to share their brave journal with loved ones to celebrate their efforts.

You can be creative and have fun as you help your child experience the world. Encourage them to try something new every day and see what happens!

Originally published on PsychCentral.com at https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/11/05/how-to-help-anxious-kids-adapt-to-change/ on 5 Nov 2017. All rights reserved.

How Gratitude and Mindfulness Go Hand in Hand

Nov 08, 2017

By Louai Rahal, MA

Think of someone with whom you have shared happy moments or someone who has supported you and been there for you. Write them a thank you letter and deliver it to them. In your letter describe to the receiver why you are grateful to have them in your life and explain how their presence has given you growth and happiness. In a 2009 study, when researchers asked participants to do a similar exercise, they found that those who wrote thank you letters and delivered them reported an increase in their level of happiness that lasted for up to two months. Expressing gratitude significantly improved their well being.1

If you prefer to experience gratitude without having to express it to others, you can keep a gratitude journal. Every day before going to bed, write down three things that you are grateful for. A 2005 study found that research participants who wrote about three good things in their lives every night for one week reported an increase in happiness that lasted for six months.2

Gratitude: Its Power and Its Limitations

The practice of gratitude sharpens our attention for the good and the positive in our lives, which helps us appreciate things that we tend to take for granted. Yet, despite the significant power of gratitude to improve our well being, gratitude has its limitations. It can help us notice the positive, but it cannot eliminate negative events from our lives. No matter how much we practice gratitude we are still bound to experience negative emotions like disappointment, guilt, vulnerability, and grief.

When someone suddenly loses a loved one, they cannot be grateful for their loss. Gratitude can help them focus on the beautiful memories they shared with their loved one and appreciate the past. But gratitude cannot eliminate the grief that they feel every day as they are having to live in a world where their loved one is not present.

Given the limitations of gratitude, the quest for well-being must not stop at this practice. We need to look into practices that allow us to react graciously and with acceptance to the many negative events and negative emotions that we are bound to experience in our lives. The practice of mindfulness meditation is promising in this respect.

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in the Midst of Misfortune

Mindfulness is based on the act of nonjudgmental awareness. It invites us to accept and observe our mental state and our external reality with compassionate and nonjudgmental attitude no matter how harsh it is. We cannot stop reacting to negative events with sadness or with pain, but we can stop reacting to pain and sadness with frustration and irritation. We can compassionately accept our moments of vulnerability and watch them gradually and naturally fade away.

As Williams and Penman (2012) have argued, it is not pain or sadness that are detrimental to our mental health, rather, the detrimental part is the frustration with which we react to pain and to sadness: sadness generates frustration which generates more sadness which generates more frustration and the mind slips into an infinite spiral of negative emotions. To end this negative spiral, we need to stop reacting to negative emotions with irritation and practice acceptance and humility: “Once you’ve felt [negative emotions], acknowledge their existence and let go of the tendency to explain or get rid of them, they are much more likely to vanish naturally, like the mist on a spring morning” (Williams and Penman, 2012). Just like moments of pleasure cannot last forever, moments of sadness and weariness cannot last forever either as long as we are not constantly feeding them.

A happy life is not a life that is free of negativity and irritation, a happy life is a life where negativity and irritation are not fed and strengthened rather they are graciously acknowledged and humbly accepted: “You can’t stop the triggering of unhappy memories, negative self-talk and judgmental ways of thinking -but what you can stop is what happens next. You can stop the vicious circle from feeding off itself and triggering the next spiral of negative thoughts” (Williams and Penman, 2012). The next time you feel an inner tension, a moment of vulnerability or desperation, do not get frustrated at yourself, do not wonder why you are experiencing this negativity, just take a deep breath and patiently acknowledge the experience and observe it as it naturally vanishes.

Gratitude allows us to notice the many blessings we have and distracts us from the many misfortunes that we face. Mindfulness helps us react to our misfortunes with grace, acceptance, and meditation. Together these two practices nurture the happier self within us.

Originally published on PsychCentral.com at https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2017/11/05/how-gratitude-and-mindfulness-go-hand-in-hand/ on 5 Nov 2017. All rights reserved.


  1. Froh, J. J., Kashdan, T. B., Ozimkowski, K. M., & Miller, N. (2009). Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention in children and adolescents? Examining positive affect as a moderator. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 408-422.
  2. Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410.
  3. Williams, M., & Penman, D. (2012). Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Hachette UK.
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