Entries categorized "Marriage, Divorce & Family" Feed

What We Can Learn from the Two Biggest Mistakes Parents Make

I’m a parent and I know I have been guilty of making mistakes. Many mistakes. That’s part of the parenting process. We are all fallible human beings, yet hopefully we are sincerely Love-1833162_1920trying to do our best. Part of doing our best is being open to learning how to improve. Two of the biggest mistakes many parents tend to make is knowing how to listen to children and knowing what to control.

The first mistake is when parents cross boundaries and become controlling and overly intrusive in a child’s life (telling them what they think or what to feel, confiding in them like a friend, not respecting their bodies and personal space).

The other mistake is not controlling a child’s behavior.

Go ahead and re-read the previous two paragraphs to see if you can genuinely discern the difference. Some of you can. Some of you may have a hard time understanding the difference. That’s okay. You might have been raised that way or simply never learned. So, let’s give a clearer example.

Imagine your child doesn’t want to go to bed. You tell them it’s bedtime and they become physically squirmy and cry out with a whining high-pitched voice, that hurts your ears like nails dragging across a chalkboard, “I don’t want to go to bed.”

How do you respond?

It’s important to recognize that a child is conveying their feelings. Many parents bypass the child’s feelings and go straight into a battle of wills. Recognizing the difference between expressions of feelings and actions is one of the biggest causes of conflict between people (of all ages). If I tell you how I feel and you tell me not to feel that feeling, my defenses creep up. It’s a natural human response. I no longer feel safe and heard—and unfortunately very few people can genuinely listen when they are in a defensive/guarded state.

Let’s circle back to the child’s response. Is it at all possible, you (as the parent) feel triggered into a defensive stance when you hear any sense of perceived opposition to your authority?

While I’m going to share the lesson about listening and offer dialogue tips, the real key to the parent-child dynamic comes from a parent’s own defensive and fearful stance. Parents want to do well and can get afraid when their child doesn’t appear to listen. Some parents respond to that inner fear by becoming even more authoritative (aka bullyish to abusive) or they give in and falsely believe that leniency is love (aka neglect). Believe it or not, children thrive with clear rules and immovable boundaries. It provides a needed sense of safety.

To combat this fear, parents might need to do some inner work to cultivate calm confidence and consistency in the boundaries they employ. Parents can also benefit from learning how to listen (to children, to their own inner voice, and to other people). So, let’s go back to the child’s statement that they don’t want to go to bed.

Listen for the feeling. Try to empathize with their perspective for a moment. Of course, they don’t want to go to bed when everyone else is up. They might miss out on something important. They may even feel lonely and like they’re being banished into solitary confinement (especially if going to bed has habitually been precipitated with an argument…which sets up larger power struggles in the future). Once you’ve accessed their expressed desire or feeling, REPEAT IT to them so they feel heard.

“I understand you want to stay awake with us.”

Now, with confidence, remember you are their parent. You are in charge of their behavior. Not their feelings. Respond with the rule. (If you have been battling over this for quite some time, it will take a bit of time to re-establish a new norm—yet it will surprisingly go a lot faster when the child senses you are taking real authority without hurting, dismissing, or giving in to them.)

“It’s 8:00 and it’s your bedtime. Let’s go wash up.”

Note that it helps to create bedtime rituals where you join them in washing up and reading them a bedtime book. They feel less lonely and it helps positive bonding while fostering trust and future resilience. If they fall asleep before the book is over, okay. Yet, try not to get in the habit of waiting for them to fall asleep. One book or X min of reading as a consistent rule. If they are still awake, kiss them on the forehead and then leave the room.

If you’ve struggled for a while, hang in there. Be consistent. Be kind. Be fair. Be strong. LISTEN. Don’t confuse feelings and expressions of desire with action. REPEAT the feeling or desire you heard so people feel understood. Then appropriately reinforce a consistent rule. Respect their boundaries and feelings. Practice this with others. (Knowing that you don’t control other people’s actions, yet you do teach people how to treat you…more about that in a future post.)

The Tactics Narcissists and other Crazymakers Employ to Manipulate You

I hope everyone is having a great summer. It has been HOT here in Texas. With heat comes a lot of extra stress and studies have revealed that road rage and other stress factors can increase in the heat. Some of the reactions can be physiological as many get overheated, dehydrated, and their adrenals get overtaxed, leading to heightened emotional reactions. Sometimes, however, people are not nice at all. In fact, they can be downright crazymakers. Following is an excerpt about Crazymakers from my Ten Keys to Staying Empowered in a Power Struggle book. An updated and revised edition will be out soon. In the meantime, you can take advantage of an Amazon special this weekend and get a free e-version of the 1st edition. Click here to order. 

Read on to learn about the different type of crazymakers and the typical tactics they employ to manipulate others. Don't forget to check out my other posts on Psychology Today. Nine types of love, modern childrearing, communicating through conflict, and finding sanity in political chaos are a few of the topics.


A mother gave her son two ties for an upcoming family occasion. She then got mad at him when he showed up at the party wearing one of the ties. She wanted him to wear the other one. Years later after the son had grown up and married, he presented his wife with two dresses for their anniversary dinner. He then got upset with her for wearing the wrong dress of the two. A few years later, after they had a daughter, the wife accused the daughter of hugging the wrong parent first—even if the little girl switched whom she hugged each time.

Crazy-makers come in all shapes and sizes and can have good and bad intentions. Some know they are being manipulative and oppressive while others haven’t a clue. Some engage in tactics consistently and others provide intermittent surprise attacks. The challenge is to recognize the behavior, assess if it’s from a healthy or unhealthy place, and then employ the proper strategies to stay sane and empower yourself.

First, let’s look at the definition of crazymaking. Crazymaking is when a person sets you up to lose. Much like the example above—you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You’re in a lose-lose situation, but too many games are being played to help you reason yourself out of it. There is no rhyme or reason or emotional-understanding with a crazy-maker. Worse, when the behavior is stealth and so confusing, it becomes easy to feel crazy. It feels like you’re caught in a whirlwind of chaos with the life force being sucked from you as you are manipulated with nonstop crazy-making tactics.

Key: Consider if You're Dealing with a Crazymaker 


The granddaddy of all crazy-makers is the narcissist. Narcissists cannot empathize with anyone, meaning they cannot relate to another person’s feelings. They can only feel their own wants and needs. They are emotionally stunted, like a perpetual demanding two-year old. It is always about them. However, they can be extremely charming and charismatic, as they have learned how to be the greatest salespeople to get their needs met. These shallow con artists can charm and mimic compassion for brief moments in order to get their needs satisfied. They expect only the best and can be the most materialistic—demanding trophy-relationships, endless objects of success, only well-known acquaintances, top-notch services, lavish vacations, etc. They have disdain for emotions in others and often think even less of people close to them. They try to control everyone around them and will use every available tactic to gain control. Many high-ranking executives are narcissists and consequently tend to create a narcissistic culture in their company or division.


Another famous crazy-maker is the drama-cultivator. Whether histrionic or borderline or a version of other similar diagnosable personalities, the drama-cultivator is best known for their perpetual crises. They are like Chicken-Little screaming “THE SKY IS FALLING,” but they expect YOU to fix it. Now. On their time. On their terms. Some people do experience an excess of rough times (and statistically it’s true that A LOT of crises can happen in one burst), but the drama-cultivator has an overabundance of crises. Plus, EVERYTHING is a crisis for the drama-cultivator. They expend their energy AND YOURS by responding to crises. They cannot empathize with others because they are too wrapped up in their chaos. Yet, they need you and your energy and don’t want you to leave them, so they go to great lengths to get and keep your attention. Like a wounded child, they also swing from loving and supporting you to getting angry and detesting you. Their moods and responses are inconsistent and dealing with them feels like you are walking in a field of hidden landmines.


The final crazy-maker is the stealth-bomber. They are the passive-aggressives that look like roses compared to the narcissist and drama-cultivator, but beware of their sharp thorns. These highly dependent people try to please you, but the nice things they do have a cost. They are the martyr that keeps score. Like a stealth bomber, just when you think everything is okay, they get you. Their modus operandi is to sabotage you while they look innocent. For instance, they will commit to doing something when they really don’t want to do it and then consistently bail out at the last minute. Or they’ll conveniently forget. Perhaps they’ll run late and miss the deadline. Everyone has these experiences now and again, but stealth-bombers do it ALL the time and they get YOU to feel guilty about it. They will make up excuses with the most ambiguous details and then sulk and act like a victim if you get upset. They will conveniently lose items, forget dates, miss deadlines, ruin plans, and then become sad and withdrawn because they’ve tried so hard. Whether it’s a narcissist, drama-cultivator or stealth-bomber, it is critical to ascertain if your power struggle stems from one of these crazy-makers. If so, empathy and rational problem-solving will not work (although paying attention to your own hot buttons is still key because crazy-makers have a keen ability to immediately spot your hot buttons and use them against you). Additional strategies are going to have to be used.


It is imperative to know if you’re dealing with a crazy-maker in the first place. However, the tendency is to be a little blind to this possibility if it’s a loved one or someone close. People seem to resist such a notion, so they end up taking the person’s behavior personally. They believe that the crazy-maker in their life could change if they wanted to change. They also expect the crazy-maker to play by the same communication and etiquette “rules” as everyone else, but they can’t. Let me repeat that again—CRAZY-MAKERS DON’T PLAY BY THE SAME RULES AS YOU. They simply don’t experience the world in the same way. It is as if they are dancing to a different song. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and energy if you realize this now and stop trying to make the crazy-maker in your life dance to your song.


The double-bind sets you up to lose. It can be like the example in the beginning where the mother gives two ties to her son and then gets mad at him for selecting to wear the wrong tie of the two. It can also be as subtle as a person giving a scolding look while saying, “I love you.” Another example is the ever-famous situation with two siblings and report cards. One has made all A’s and the other all C’s and D’s. The parent responds with “I know you did you’re best. Not everyone can be as smart and great as Johnny who makes all A’s,” which puts both siblings in a double-bind with each other. Double-binds are negative messages disguised in a positive message or gesture. The insult about choosing the wrong tie is cloaked in the gift of the tie. The son is trapped because if he complains, she can say he doesn’t appreciate the gift. The “I love you” is coupled with an angry look, so one is prevented from addressing the look because the counter-argument might be, “But I said ‘I LOVE YOU’.” Finally, both siblings are in a bind from saying anything to their mother about the grades as the punch in the stomach is hidden with supposed praise. Double-binds happen all of the time. Start paying attention and you’ll be appalled by the frequency. Crazy-makers employ this tactic most often. So, what do you do? The answer lies in boundary strategies at the end of this section.


Crazy-makers are superior at giving inconsistent praise. Narcissists, drama-cultivators and stealth-bombers are adept at keeping you on your toes and getting you to beg for their praise. There’s even a scientific explanation for it. Inconsistent praise tends to elicit desired behavior the most. As an example, numerous animal researchers have discovered that the best way to train an animal is with an inconsistent reward. Yes, an inconsistent reward produces the most compliant behavior in animals. That is why gambling can be so addictive because it provides an inconsistent reward. We literally get hooked. Crazy-makers have somehow figured this out and provide the people around them with inconsistent praise. Sometimes they are just so loving, present and/or flattering that it feels good. Then it’s gone. Some people get hooked and continue to put up with crazy-making behavior because they are waiting for the payoffs—the praise. In fact, crazy-maker’s praise probably does feel better than the person who is consistent with it. But, like gambling, it can be an addictive high that also has a queasy, unsettling feeling to it along with a high cost.


Crazy-makers have selective memories. We all do, but crazy-makers are exceptional with it. They conveniently forget any problems you’ve had with them when they want something from you. Then they throw every wrong you’ve ever done in your face when they are upset with you. Like above, it’s inconsistent. You never know what your review will be like because you’ve learned that it depends on their mood. You know that the only thing you can depend on with a crazy-maker is that you can’t depend on them. They will hold a grudge against you and then expect you to forget any disruptions. They will manipulate like crazy and use their selective memory as ammunition.


Crazy-makers can not empathize. This is how you really know that you’re dealing with a crazy-maker because they will simply not be able to understand your feelings or situation. They might try to and give you a sense that they understand, but they can’t sit with it very long and generally turn the conversation back onto their feelings or situation. This is an important point. Empathy is a developmental trait. A child at 4 years begins to play with others in a more cooperative fashion for the first time. Prior to that, children play with themselves. If they are with other children, they are most likely playing in an individual fashion while sitting next to other children, referred to as serial play. That’s normal because they haven’t developmentally learned to share and take turns. Such skills kick in at around the fourth year. Empathy begins at this time as well. You’ll see evidence of empathy when you watch a child trying to calm down another crying child by giving them a hug. Typically, a crazy-maker personality has not developed empathy, so they are more like a perpetual two-year old at an emotional level. Knowing this is critical to protecting yourself in a power struggle with them. Keeping strong boundaries is key to dealing with a crazy-maker.

Learn what you can do to protect yourself from crazymakers along with other strategies for staying empowered in power struggles in my book. Order this weekend and get a FREE e-version on Amazon.

Understanding Despair, Grief & the Pain of Rejection

GriefFather of logotherapy and concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, said, “Despair is suffering without meaning.”  

Forlorn comedic writer and actor, Woody Allen, said, ““To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”

The Buddhist "four noble truths" state: 1) existence is suffering ( dukhka ); 2) suffering has a cause, namely craving and attachment ( trishna ); 3) there is a cessation of suffering, which is nirvana; and 4)there is a path to the cessation of suffering—nonattachment.

How ever you roll the proverbial dice, pain is an inherent part of life. From the moment we are born, both the baby and its mother are contorted into physical pains that are so intense, the mind is wired to suppress the memory of the pain.

The emotional pain that follows if the baby is abandoned or neglected can impede the baby’s self-soothing mechanisms and lead to a lifetime of more intense grief to losses—perceived or real.

There is also a hefty amount of research that suggests the cumulative amount of losses in one’s life can take a toll. Add aging, diminishing hormones and declining organ resilience and the bounce back to loss can be more challenging.

One thing I want to point out is that the pain from loss and grief is real. Many can imagine what isolation does when a person is subjected to solitary confinement. Or recall dogs that have been left in cages and begin chasing their tales and exhibiting other anxious symptoms. The loss from the death of a loved one or losing a job or the rejection of a cherished family member, friend, or beloved creates a similar dynamic.

To illustrate it with another example, there was an old Japanese experiment that demonstrated the impact of others on rice. Three jars were filled with fresh picked rice. One was placed in a dark closet by itself. The other two were placed next to each other. The words, “I love you” were taped to one jar while the words, “I hate you” were placed on the second jar.

After one month, the rice that held the words, “I love you” was still fresh and smelled sweet as if it had just been picked. The second jar of rice with the “I hate you” note had rotted, turning black and smelling foul. The observation is that loving attention can sustain us in ways that aid our health and longevity. Negative attention can harm us. This is where the lesson from the third jar comes into play.

The third jar that was segregated in a closet by itself had rotted almost immediately, and far sooner than the jar with the “I hate you” sign. Isolation, abandonment, and despair from loss can be real—and the most damning experience.

It can cause a host of ailments, including anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases—death. Death can be as sudden as heartbreak syndrome or suicide, or slower from a deteriorating illness.

Finding ways to process the grief and loss are as important as finding supportive relationships around you. It is also essential that you honor your own personal path to healing and give yourself space to realize there is no one right way or timeline.

Sometimes the people we most care about may be not be there the way we want or need them to be. This can happen because the pain and loss brings up their own losses or fears of losses, so they can’t handle your pain. Finding others with similar losses can help in such situations, along with support groups. Or finding new friends by seeking out passions and hobbies like, painting classes, sculpting, hiking clubs, bird watching, yoga, cycling, martial arts, and the list goes on. Fill in the list with something you’ve never tried!

Also, it is okay to protect your boundaries when people tell you “should” or “must” as in, “You should do…” or “You must do…” because those often signal that its their own internal scripts, or parental introjects, and many times it may not even apply to you.

The big thing is that being pushed to heal tends to backfire, so gently informing others that you’re not going to get over it (like in the death of a loved one) and that you thank them for trying can help teach them. In time, you’ll find and develop ways and relationships to help you get through it.

Acknowledging your pain, processing it, cultivating positive relationships, and finding meaning are the steps for healing and growth. Spirituality is often at the heart of the deeper healing—and studies reveal prayer and meditation helps to heal bodies and minds in innumerable and unexplainable ways.

Cicero wrote in 44 B.C. as he was approaching his own death, “While we are trapped within these earthly frames of ours, we carry out a heavy labor imposed on us by fate. Indeed, the soul Is a heavenly thing come down from the celestial realm, pressed down and plunged into the earth, contrary to its divine and eternal nature. But I believe the immortal gods planted souls in human bodies to have beings who would care for the earth and who would contemplate the divine order and imitate it in the moderation and discipline of their own lives.”

He proceeds to cite a number of great thinkers that believed the same thing. Whether it is belief in fate, the soul, an eternal heavenly place, or just the mystery of not knowing, the belief in a higher purpose tends to provide the deepest healing to the severest of losses.

Genius physicist, Albert Einstein, wrote, “There are only two ways to live your live. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

The death, loss, or rejection may bring pain. The pain is real and deep and through the journey of it, may the ethereal miracle of the shattered pain be like the seed that is destroyed to make room for the emerging plant. May your despair heal through all the necessary steps that lead to your personal and wonderful seedling.

Check Out My Posts on Psychology Today

I realize I've neglected my blog for a couple of months. I'm sorry to anyone that has missed new content. I just posted a piece on tips for managing a listserv (see below) and I promise to add more of my usual material on various counseling and psychology topics. To let you know, I'll also be focusing on evolution trends to correspond with my new venture, Keys to Evolution. If you have any requests for content, please don't hesitate to contact me at Kimberly@EncompassWF.com.

If you're wondering what you're missing on my Psychology Today blog, entitled "Counseling Keys," here's a peek. Please visit it and be sure to check back here soon. Thanks and Happy 2011!

Children’s Expectations: What Your Child Would Tell You if They Could

President Barack Obama says to live up to our children's expectations. Learn the top three myths about children and what they really expect--if they could tell you.

Read More

December 13, 2010

In Defense of Marriage


Examining why 50% of people stay married and what they get out of their lifetime commitment.

Read More




It’s International Conflict Resolution Day – How are you Celebrating this Day?

Conflict res day 2010_WEB_2Today is International Conflict Resolution Day. While started by the Association for Conflict Resolution five years ago, it became recognized as the International Conflict Resolution Day in 2006. One of the main goals of the celebration is to recognize that there are ways to solve conflict through peaceful measures.

When receiving my ACR training in mediation, the biggest thing I learned was to look at the problem differently. The key was to find a mutually satisfactory solution rather than drawing a line in the sand and focusing on differences. I was taught the same thing as a psychotherapist. There is a famous example that illustrates the point perfectly:

Imagine a neighborhood with inviting homes, well-tended yards and tall shade trees where children play together and everyone feels safe. You live in one of the homes and one day a new neighbor moves in next door to you. They are from a different country and their accent is so thick that you can’t quite understand them. You observe many different people coming in and out. You aren’t familiar with their culture and find yourself standing back to observe what they’re about.

One day you go in the back yard and begin picking oranges from the tree. The tree sits in the middle of the property line and you’ve always shared access to its sweet fruits. A woman comes out of the neighboring house yelling at you in a different language. You haven’t seen her before. You are flustered because you don’t know what she’s saying. You are in a hurry because you need the oranges for the dinner party you are throwing and oranges are one of the essential ingredients in the meal. You aren’t about to drop them as they are the last four oranges on the tree and you’re in a time crunch.

What you don’t know is that she, the grandmother, is also in the middle of making an urgent recipe that is a healing remedy for her son (the owner of the home). Her grandson just tried to pick the oranges from the tree, but he couldn’t reach them. He went in to get her help and then she saw you taking them and panicked. She also doesn’t speak English very well.

If you had realized her situation, you may not have felt so threatened. Moreover, you may have felt compassion for her as she was tending to her ill son. You may have gladly given her the oranges and even offered to help her in any way you could. On top of that, if you had realized that she only wanted the juice of the oranges whereas you wanted the zest (the peel), you both could have shared the oranges and been happy. 

Mediation, conflict resolution, peacemaking is about trying to find those solutions. It seeks to understand first before becoming defensive.

Conflicts generally grow out of something so simple – a misunderstanding. Then other people come in to defend you and before you know it, there are two mobbing groups against each other. That’s how war can originate

Please know I’m not saying that there aren’t genuine bullying types of people (sociopaths and other people with more extreme personality disorders) out there that have malice in their heart. What I am saying is that more often than not, people have genuine love in their heart and are motivated by that magic quality. So, the next time you begin to feel enraged or defensive with someone – seek to understand first. Listen with your heart and try to feel compassion for the other person or people. Hearts, by the way, speak all languages, so don’t let that deter you when encountering another person that seems different from you. You just might get love in return, which can only make life greater.

MOTHER__TERESA_167909eIn closing, I want to take a moment to remember and honor Mother Teresa for all the amazing peace work she has done in the world – and for the light she has modeled to the rest of us. She once said that she wouldn’t go to an anti-war demonstration, but she would attend a peace rally, so maybe we can also think of today as Peacekeeping Day. 

(Mother Teresa - 26 Aug 10 - 5 Sep 86)

"Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love."

First I Ate Chocolate Cake, Then I Ate Pasta - Reflections of an Empty Nester One Year Later

What happens when a single mother becomes an empty nester? I shared what I was experiencing before it happened in a post on  May 28, 2009 (Adapting to an Empty Nest and Sharing Parenting Pearls Learned Along the Way).  In the post, I described that I might have been feeding a few of my feelings with homemade chocolate cake. Today’s post shares reflections of my first year as an empty nester and a few things I learned about grieving, finding yourself, loving from a distance, and letting your children soar when they leave the nest.

Anyone who knows me knows that my daughter is the most important person in my life. We’re extremely close. I feel so lucky to be her Mom. She is my sun and fills me with meaning and purpose for living. My whole adult life has been spent making decisions around her. (What is the best food she can eat?  Do I let her watch TV or do I ban TV? What school is best for her? Which neighborhood is safest for her? What job can I take that provides me with benefits, security and time for her? What can I do to be a good role model? How can I be the best parent ever and not pass on dysfunctions from previous generations…etc., etc.).

You can imagine it was a little painful to see her go – especially when she was moving half a country away. Not so easy to jump in a car and make weekend trips.  Consequently, I felt grief and sadness. I also found myself at a loss for what I wanted in life. Sure, it was easy to fantasize and dream about things I could do in the future while living a practical life today that focused on being a good Mom (which admittedly brought me more joy than anything else I could do in life). Yet, now that “someday in the future” was here and I didn’t know what to do. I also felt too sad and numb to just immediately jump on the “pursue your dreams” train.

As a healthy response to this new phase in my life (after all I’m a counseling psychotherapist and surely know the best things to do in these kinds of situations), I decided to commit to doing everything the same for one year. In other words, I wouldn’t make any drastic changes. I’d allow the internal changes to naturally surface instead. I’d give myself time to grieve or do whatever I needed to do. I would not commit to anything that resulted in an external change as it might disrupt my full healing. It takes a baby 10 months to grow in the womb. Surely, it would take some time for me to grow into this new life phase.

The Change

It did take time to adjust. I kept focusing on seeing my daughter, planning for our visits, and was pretty certain that I hadn’t been impacted by her departure at all. I felt absolutely fine. Normal. Life hadn’t changed. She and I were just experiencing longer trips away from each other.

Denial. It’s a powerful psychological defense.

She and I were both changing. She was finding friends and learning how to adjust. She was blossoming and coming into her own. Her adjustment appeared smooth. Our first visits with each other involved big hugs and extreme joy followed by bickering followed by tears followed by long talks of processing some of the changes that were taking place. We were still extremely close, yet we were on these new journeys that included diverging paths.

I tried to remain busy. I felt like I was living life as I had when she was home. It wasn’t until five months after she left that I realized I wasn’t cooking like I used to cook (I love to cook, so this was a big deal). I was on the phone with my sister one day when I informed her that I was finally cooking. Then I looked down at the saucepan filled with homemade pasta sauce and realized I had only cooked pasta for the past four months, except this time I was making homemade sauce instead of getting it from a jar.

Those are the kind of realizations that shatter denial like a bullet to a windshield. Tears that wouldn’t come before finally drenched my cheeks. I sobbed and realized life had changed. She wasn’t going to come back and be my little girl that I would get to take care of every day. I had to stand up and take care of me now – and let her be the amazing young adult woman she was becoming. 

What I learned

In reality, she and I were both coming into our own. She’s pursuing her passion in school and loving it. I’ve received calls where she excitedly gushes, “Mom, I feel like I was made for this.” There’s nothing that makes a parent feel any better than hearing that kind of enthusiasm from their grown child. In addition, she has inspired me to revisit my own hidden passions and dreams. 

One year later, rather than clinging to the days of yesteryear, I am settled into the now.  The lessons I’ve learned to date are these:

·          Parenthood doesn’t stop, it just changes – and you have to change with it.

·          Dreams don’t die, some dreams just get started later in life.

·          A critical part of parenting means being the positive support to your children’s passion – the world is full of no’s and negativity, so provide the YES in their lives and be their ray of light.

·          Be real, truthful and vulnerable with your children and they’ll be the same way with you.

·          Set healthy boundaries that are consistent and firm and you’ll give your children a foundation stronger than the Rock of Gibraltar.

·          Love heals all wounds and patience is a necessity.

·          Change is part of life – responding to change from the inside results in growth.

·          What you eat can reveal a lot abut what what you’re feeling. 


When Things Go Wrong - Travel!

Have you ever noticed that summer comes at just the right time? Exhaustion from life’s demands seems particularly high around this time. It’s as if mental burnout rises alongside the rising seasonal temperatures (as experienced here in the U.S and definitely in Texas).  If you can relate, traveling is your antidote.

In today’s economy, vacations at home (“staycations”) have become popular. The downside to a staycation, however, (and, no, this is not a paid endorsement from a travel agency) is that you may miss something critical that a travel experience provides you—fresh perspective.

We get so wrapped up in daily rituals that we end up getting stuck in a box and then we feel overwhelmed with life. Tunnel vision is the result.

The solution to tunnel vision is getting out of the box of your everyday experiences and changing your surroundings. This allows you to see things from a different point of view and to gain a fresh perspective. You can discover alternative solutions that you would have never dreamed possible. Traveling is the best way to achieve it, as Kent Nerburn points out in his book, “Simple Truths.”

Travel, no matter how humble, will etch new elements in your character. You will know the cutting moments of life where fear meets adventure and loneliness meets exhilaration. You will know what it means to push forward when you want to turn back…you will understand that there are a thousand, million ways to live, and that your life will go on to something new and different and every bit as worthy as the life you are leaving behind.

Whether you’re leaving a piece of life behind or an old way of seeing a situation, travel can have a profound affect on you. It can reinforce deep bonds with your family and loved ones. It can open your heart and mind to possibilities. It can connect you to your inner passions and dreams. It can uplift your spirit and restore your energy. It can also serve to foster brotherhood with all of mankind.

Whatever is happening in your life right now—deadlines, relationship troubles, career challenges, grief, money troubles, parenting issues, crisis of faith, general malaise—go out and discover your personal solutions by traveling. Make plans for a real vacation. Leave for a weekend getaway. Learn new cultures. Go explore. Have an adventure. Then drop me a line (KimberlyATencompasswf.com) and tell me how it changed your life.

Bon voyage !

How to Master Dating, Love & Marriage: Cracking the Heart’s Hidden Love Code


Poets describe it as a kind of 3rd entity, like it captured someone…or someone caught it.

As giddy as love feels, what if I told you that you were responsible for the swooning feelings of love that seemed to have appropriated your senses? Like a great chef creating a wonderful stew, you have put all the ingredients into the pot. Time and temperature have their influences too—yet nothing would be there to cook without your initial configuration.

Here’s how it works. We automatically categorize all of the experiences with another person and are constantly assessing whether the experiences tally up against our subconscious love list. The heart’s hidden lock opens to the feelings of love when the right amount of experiences takes place with another person and the love list gets checked off.

The high from that initial rush of love is so intoxicating, that it’s no wonder we persist in playing the dating game in order to crack the heart’s code. Our reactions to the properly sequenced code are a forgone conclusion. It’s a pact we made in adolescence, listening to our families, friends, and watching endless romantic movies, and listening to similar narratives applied to an array of musical beats. We were conditioned and we are conditioned to playing the love game. No wonder it feels like a third-person. It is. We disconnect from our conscious mind and go into reactive conditioning mode. We follow and our head doesn’t understand. But, our body and soul have been so trained. They leave our shocked, misunderstood logical brain behind in the dust. It’s almost primal. We lose control because we never had it. It’s simply our pre-wired reactions taking over, almost like in hypnosis. 

Oftentimes, women tend to react stronger to love because they have engaged in more of the narratives than men, which is one reason romance movies get dubbed a “chick flick.” Men’s narratives are more diluted with other “manly/non-emotional” narratives, so they don’t get as lost in the primal reactions. However, they are more likely to get swept up in the primal reactive conditioning of sex. They are trained from birth to ogle a woman’s body and seek pleasure from it. This might explain why women, generally, prefer romance and men prefer sex. But take note that our times are changing and the narratives are also changing, so we may be experiencing a lot of blurred roles and role reversal.

Blurred roles or not, love’s checklist is pretty consistent. Think about your own dating experience and notice how dates that made you feel in love included the following:

>    Trust gets established by sharing personal information, maybe where some pain has been involved

>    Trust is reciprocated by complete acceptance of shared story, along with nonjudgment & support

>    A cat and mouse game is played to find the perfect compatible dance (one party will shirk if the other comes on too strong and vice versa…proper balance is determined through light jesting, debating, teasing, etc.)

 Showing acceptable vulnerability and caretaking responses

>   Painting an image of future goals to see if there’s a shared match/compatibility between both pictures

>    Physical and intellectual compatibility

The heart unlocks (or primal conditioning kicks in) when these items are checked offNote - Both parties must feel and meet conditions or else it is infatuation.

Like that simmering stew, these conditions require consistency. Anything that deviates from the picture (an inconsistency, warning signs, etc.) can get immediately dismissed to maintain the illusion of love or it can result in shutting off the feelings of love altogether. For instance, cognitive dissonance (denial) may prevent the mind from engaging to keep the intoxicating feelings of love in place. Conversely, the heart will close and love will evaporate if inconsistencies are examined or when items on the checklist begin to get unchecked (e.g. picture of future isn’t compatible anymore, support has been removed, judgment/criticism takes hold). Logic supersedes primal conditioning and the people move on. This can happen within as little as 10 minutes to as long as 10 or more years. The key is that love can only thrive when the condition of love’s checklist are met.

In closing, consider these conditions if you are in love, falling in love, or looking for love. They comprise the secret formula to a successful relationship and the gift of giddiness that complete love brings. Being aware of your hidden checklist also allows you to appreciate love from the logical, emotional and primal brain. Being aware from all of these perspectives may also help you overcome any denial that is keeping you in a false love/infatuated/dangerous love situations. Remember you are not a victim or a hostage of love—you are the Chef and master of your heart’s love.


A Self-Assessment to Help you get the Most from Love & Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Are you ready for it? It’s interesting because I’ve heard people rumbling about it for weeks—almost more than any other day of celebration. It seems to have created a lot of anxiety in people (single folks and those in relationships).

Some complain with “bah humbug” disdain, stating that the day is only a commercialized excuse to sell cards and candy.

Others are sad that they are alone and feel like it’s a day to make single people feel bad.

Still others are in love with the idea of love and seem more attached to romantic gestures and displays of love than the person they actually claim to love. 

There are more scenarios, but you get the picture. People everywhere have an opinion about a day that’s dedicated to the celebration of love. It’s no wonder as love is the essential feeling that ties us together, ensures our continued existence, and makes us feel better than the most high-priced drug. Some even call it a drug. Yet, at its core, it’s the most basic human need that can heal all ails. 

When an infant is given love and a secure environment, that love floods their brain and bodies with all the rich hormones and chemicals needed later in life for resilience, adaptability and intrinsic happiness. No wonder we spend so long chasing after the feel good safe experience—especially if we didn’t get the full dose of comfort we needed as an infant. This isn’t about blaming your mother though. It’s about taking steps now to give yourself what you need, so that you can approach your loved ones and Valentine’s Day with realistic expectations and attain the satisfaction you crave.

The number one challenge when approaching love (and Valentine’s Day) is that we’re often trying to get something we desperately desire that, in actuality, we can only give ourselves. Thus, we feel frustrated by our own unmet needs while feeling taxed by the demands from our loved ones. 

Note the vicious cycle—how can we give something to someone that they can only give to themselves while we feel simultaneously depleted? It’s like two racecars expecting each other’s engines when they were only supposed to enjoy the experience of racing with each other. 

To break the cycle, here’s the self-assessment to help you fill your own engine (your heart) so that you can enjoy the race (life/love/activities/making memories) with your loved ones…

ASSESSMENT - Take a piece of paper and divide it in two columns. In one column, write down all of the loving things you’ve done for others. It can span all time and all relationships. Be sure to include any loving acts and accommodations that you feel good about.  In the second column, write down the loving things you’ve done for yourself. Think about any dreams in your heart and actions you’ve taken to allow yourself to achieve them. Which list is longer? Write about any feelings and reactions you’ve had in examining the two lists.

How to Raise Your Child to Survive in Today’s Chaotic World

If you are a parent or have ever felt that emotions were something that could be destructive, please read on. This is perhaps the most important information I can share.

I received a comment about yesterday’s blog post, which triggered this response.  I addressed the concept of “fearmines” (fear buttons that trigger hidden emotional landmines). It may have been a bit oversimplified, but it was also right on target. Today, I’m going to get a little deeper and describe why hidden emotional landmines are actually at the heart of most of our problems today (crime, risky youth behaviors, depression, unemployment, divorce, greed, war) and how it all ties back into our emotional regulation system that was developed in infancy.  I’m also going to share what you can do to help your child develop a healthy emotional regulation system so that they can survive in today’s chaotic world.

Infants (and children) have brains and body systems that are not fully developed (e.g., nervous system, hormones, etc.). Because these systems are still in development, infants and children are extremely vulnerable and highly dependent. As such, babies and children rely on their parent/caregiver as an external system to regulate their care. In other words, imagine having half of a heart, half of a lung, half of a liver, half of a kidney, etc., etc, and needing another human being to compensate and basically act as the missing parts of the heart, liver, kidney, etc., etc. It’s more than co-dependence and completely needed for the child’s healthy growth. Just as the baby depended on the mother in the womb for survival and development, the infant and child STILL depends on the mother/caregiver after birth.

The emotional regulation system becomes disrupted when adequate care is not given to an infant and child. This includes ignoring a baby’s cries, telling them to shut up, or confusing their cries with something else (like shoving a pacifier in their mouth when they want their diaper changed). While we never respond to a baby perfectly 100% of the time, if the number of inadequate responses exceeds the adequate responses, then the baby forms a maladjusted emotional regulation system. This is also preverbal, so later in life some external stimuli can elicit an internal anxiety response that was felt as a baby but now doesn’t make sense for the grown adult to understand. Instead, they feel like something else takes over them (sometimes referred to as an emotional hijacking).

To recognize the symptoms of this disruption in an adult (or yourself) includes common responses like these: 

·                *Feeling like you can’t trust your emotions and that they can get out of control

·                *Denying that you have troublesome feelings

·                *Believing that relationships are not important or, conversely, never being able to be alone

·                *Always trying to be an ideal person that someone (or your parent) will love and finally approve

·                *Cutting off from others

·                *Constant relocating and/or job changes

·                *Battling or overpowering others and/or using others for your own gain

·                *Escaping through drinking, drug use, sexual addictions, food addictions, etc.

The challenge as parents is that we tend to fall back on our own unconscious learning and repeat the same behaviors with our children—which is how such patterns repeat themselves through the generations (generational transmission).

Not surprisingly these symptoms show up in society. Societal symptoms of maladjusted emotional systems form when enough people grow up without healthy emotional regulation systems (reinforcing the problem). Such societal symptoms may include:

·                *Focusing on external productivity over internal emotional states and healthy relationships (like over-focusing on what the child wants to be when they grow up; over-focusing on child’s grades in school; over-focusing on how much money someone makes, what kind of car they drive, etc., etc.)

·                *Chronic relationship disruption and emotional illness (which can be seen in rising divorce rates, escalating depression and other mental health related illnesses, increased crime, increased bullying behaviors, increased self-centeredness, decreased compassion and tolerance for emotion in others) 

A solution to this problem is to work on ourselves and form a new healthy emotional regulation system. Oftentimes, therapy does this because the therapist can sit with the person and affirm their feelings, allowing the person to fully feel their own feelings and then safely respond to them without judgment. This process helps to develop new neural networks of self-care (new emotional regulation systems). In addition, people can do this same thing for loved ones, join support groups, journal about feelings, obtain spiritual support, and do things that provide safe love and emotional healing. 

When the person is able to form a new healthy emotional regulation system, they are able to sit with their feelings (even the uncomfortable ones) and are more able to tolerate other people’s emotions. When that happens, they can also sit with their needy infants and children and better respond to their needs without anxiety, frustration or panic. 

Another symptom of a healthy emotional regulation system is relationship repair. Accepting that no one is perfect and conflict will arise is important to remember. The key is to be able to effectively repair your relationships after a disruption. The more immediate the repair, the more neural networks are formed in the healthy emotional regulation system.

As parents and people, it is critical to comprehend the extent that infants and children are dependent on us. We need to make them a priority and attend to them. This does not mean spoiling them with toys—it means being there, loving them, empathizing with their needs, and helping them to understand and attend to their emotions.

Children become out of control when we ignore them and get angry—putting them in time-outs when they aren’t developed enough to understand consequences. We also run into the trap of referring to punishment as “tough love” when we take away a privilege without taking the time to process our children’s feelings and fears and understanding what motivates them to engage in behaviors that may scare us.   

Finally, understanding that our societal values of productivity over relationships may actually be a symptom of inadequate infant/child care can help us to change the narratives that perpetuate infant/child/human emotional abuse. We are making strides in addressing emotional care as a society, but we’re not there yet. Perhaps the current economic problems, rising unemployment rates, risky behaviors in children (increasingly younger sexual promiscuity in children, “hook-ups”, self-abuse like cutting, bullying, school shootings, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide) will wake us up to the real war that we’re in—the war with ourselves and our own internal emotional regulation systems. Focusing on healing our internal war through love, compassion, empathy, healing, tolerance, awareness, and helping each other as a larger family (instead of isolated individuals in big houses) will surely help the next generations to develop healthy emotional regulation systems. Perhaps when that happens, global harmony (aka world peace) can actually be obtainable.

How the Hidden Blueprint of Childhood Directs Your Career


How can a damaged upbringing hurl you into career greatness?

You’ve probably heard of numerous examples where people have beaten all odds and succeeded in accomplishing their dreams. The subtle message in these cases seems to suggest that rough beginnings and hardships are the secret ingredients to success. That’s why I laughed and laughed when I heard the line “Don’t fix your Daddy issues!” on Samantha Who?, a former ABC sitcom starring Christina Applegate as an amnesiac who finds herself in a successful job but learns she wasn’t a very nice person to many people. The friend that cautioned her from getting to know her father better said that those initial family problems were exactly why she was so good in her job. (Clearly this advice isn’t so good for my job. But if you watch the show, you’ll learn she’s a much happier person by reuniting with her emotions and changing her former greed at all costs approach to life.)

Similarly, I’m often asked how our childhoods can affect our jobs—especially the risk-taking nature of an entrepreneur. It’s highly individual of course, but here’s a theory that can satiate your curiosity a bit. See if you can identify yourself in any of the following categories and learn how it impacts you, your loved ones and your career and  business ventures.

The attachment theory is one of my favorites and a lot of empirical research has given it more validity over the years. The simple description of attachment theory is how you initially bonded with your primary caregiver (Mother? Father? Adopted parent?) forms the basis of how you will interact (or attach) to everything else in your life. This can be a relationship, hobby, home, career and/or your business venture. 

Secure Attachment – The person who has a secure attachment received the perfect balance of love and nurturing from their parent. The parent was attentive to their needs and empathetic (could feel their feelings). The parent was not intrusive (bugging the baby even if the baby expressed displeasure) or neglectful (not paying attention to the baby). The securely attached person grows up with a sense of confidence, trust, and wisdom. They do not stay in situations that do not work. For example, they would move on if a relationship or venture showed clear signs of failure. Conversely, they would not just give up either. They would make the appropriate amount of effort. (Not everyone has this attachment style, but it’s something we can all learn to cultivate in life.

Avoidant Attachment – The avoidant person had a parent that was more neglectful. The parent could not empathize or was just so busy that they could not be as responsive to their child. Consequently, the child learned that being alone was normal. The avoidant adult is not as good with empathy. Moreover, they do not handle intimacy very well as it can feel suffocating and provoke anxiety. They prefer to keep a distance. This can translate into getting into relationships but not being very close (perhaps traveling or working a lot to maintain adequate distance). It can also mean growing tired of ventures and needing new things to do more frequently.

Insecure Attachment – An insecure attachment simply means that the parent swung from being available to not being available, leaving the baby confused and feeling more anxious about losing and/or attracting the parent. The insecure adult brings this underlying anxiety into their relationships and constantly battles with the fear of losing relationships and the desire to have distance. This person most experiences the tension of the togetherness and separateness continuum. In their venture, they may vacillate about what to do as a consequence.

Paying attention to your anxiety is key to healing the wound if you find yourself identifying with the latter two styles. Re-nurturing yourself can help shift you into a more secure attachment style. You can also go to a counselor or coach as this is one of the secret reasons such processes work. The bond you develop with your therapist or coach can form a new attachment style when your interactions are trusting, open and positive. 

(Stay tuned for the next blog post as it will discuss ways you can self-nurture and self-heal.)

Can Your Relationship be Saved? Signs Your Relationship is in Danger and What You can Do About It

There is no greater pain than the loss of a loved one. When a loved one passes, their death has a way of completely incapacitating you by enveloping your entire being with an unyielding suffocating pain, overwhelming sadness, and intense despair. But what happens when the one you love is still alive and the flame of your love – your relationship – is dying? I once had a friend cry to me and exclaim that her divorce was more painful than a death because the man she loved and ached to be with was still alive, right there before her eyes, but he chose to love another. It took her two years to heal. Now she’s remarried with children and living the blissful dream so many desire. But what if her relationship to her first husband could have been saved? Would it have been worth it? And if it could have been saved, at what point could things have changed?

The ending of any relationship, whether friendship, lover, even a relationship with a former job, can be devastating. Sometimes old abandonment wounds resurface when a relationship ends, making the pain even greater. In addition, people grieve the loss of a dream. People also blame themselves and/or the other person in an attempt to understand and logically deal with the loss. I’d like to suggest that no one is particularly to blame when a relationship ends. Rather, some relationships simply catch a disease. The key is to recognize the symptoms of the disease and try to catch it early with treatment. (Note-89% of couples seek help after it’s too late-preventative help works best.)

Couplefight To describe the symptoms of a diseased relationship, I’ll point out John Gottman’s findings. Gottman and his colleagues have studied relationships for over 20 years and have been able to articulate exactly what goes wrong in a relationship. It is this research that lets him identify—with 91% accuracy—which couples are headed for divorce. It’s not magic. He just understands the symptoms of a relationship in trouble. Following are findings from his research that clearly indicate the presence of what I refer to as a diseased relationship.

Relationship Disease Stage One-The couple begins to complain about each other. The honeymoon is over and now the little complaints begin to show up like fatigue. Getting treatment at this stage means recognizing the symptom, talking about it with each other, and making an effort share your feelings in a way that doesn’t come off like a complaint. If complaints persist, remedy immediately with acknowledgement of the hurt, and a kiss, tickle, laughter or some form of positive reinforcement of your love. Counseling at this stage is highly effective for curing the disease.

Relationship Disease Stage Two-Like a tickle in your throat and a low-grade fever, complaints have now escalated into down right criticisms. Now you’re attacking each other with little darts. Such criticisms sting more than complaints. Worse they leave little scars on your heart. Treatment is critical at this stage. Recognize and talk about it with each other. Try to reassure each other. Understand where the little scars have been placed and take responsibility for treating them. Give love, healing and support to each other. If a criticism has been launched, make immediate steps to repair or else you’re in danger of the disease taking hold. Counseling at this stage is effective for treating the disease.

Relationship Disease Stage Three-The fever has heightened and the disease has taken hold when criticisms turn into contemptuous remarks and silent treatment (Gottman calls it stonewalling). Grenades are launched at each other and repairs aren’t being made. Get help immediately if you’re experiencing these deadly symptoms. When left untreated, the disease takes over and sours everything in your life. The more you run from confronting the disease, the more it controls you. Worse, it truly begins affecting your health. Communication, love, healing, and genuine sharing are critical at this stage. Taking responsibility for the deep scars your grenades left in your loved ones heart is essential. They, too, need to take responsibility for the wounds they left in your heart. Healing cannot occur until the scars are illuminated and treated. Counseling can be effective at this stage for putting the disease in remission. 

Relationship Disease Stage Four and Five-This is where many couples seek help (if they seek help). The disease has taken its toll and is ready for emergency treatment. Contempt and silent treatment have now escalated into arming oneself with a perpetual defensive wall. Worse, damaging memories from former diseased interactions (unhealthy and hurtful fights that were never adequately repaired) have now cast an unfavorable light onto the entire relationship. You both talk about your problems more than you have fun. Dirty looks or unhappy expressions occur one out of five smiles or happy expressions (yes, Gottman has revealed that one bad apple needs at least 25 good ones to keep couples happy…one to five odds are a very dangerous sign). At this stage, serious attention needs to be placed on the relationship. Can it be resuscitated or are attempts to heal it futile? Seek help from a professional immediately. If there is danger in the relationship (the attacks have crossed into physical confrontations, threats, abuse), get immediate help to get out as the diseased relationship is now affecting your health and wellbeing. Please call 911 if you are in imminent danger.

If you’re experiencing a disease in your relationship or would like help preventing a disease from occurring in your relationship, please call me (Kimberly Key) at 512-617-6356 to discuss the best treatment method for your situation.

Adapting to an Empty Nest and Sharing Parenting Pearls Learned Along the Way

I ate chocolate cake for breakfast today. I fed my sadness. I’m not proud of it (although it was an exceptionally delectable piece of my homemade specialty). Yes, I break down and succumb to unhealthy measures to escape my feelings from time to time. As a counseling psychology professional, I’m just a little more aware of the implications when I do it. The trouble today? Looming empty-nest syndrome brought on by my daughter’s impending graduation.

My daughter and I are extremely close and I’m profoundly proud of her. I knew one day she would grow and flee the nest, but even now it’s surreal to me. We’ll get through it and I’ll be strong. I owe her that. She’s going off to college to pursue her dreams and I can only imagine how frightening it is for her to move away.

That’s where I draw my strength. Being strong and reassuring will help her when she’s feeling homesick. I say this because I know there are other mothers out there who are feeling just as crushed as I feel. I’m also a single mom of an only child, so I deeply understand the secret desire to hold on. Don’t. Let them fly and be proud. If you’re struggling, find support with other moms (in fact, feel free to contact me and let’s start a support group together!).

Having stated that, I want to take a moment to share some parenting pearls that have worked wonders for me these past 18 years. These pearls haven’t always been supported by my colleagues, but I felt convicted about how I was raising my daughter and followed my heart and instincts. Seeing her success and emotional maturity today confirms my choices.

1.             Love your child unconditionally.

Some professionals have suggested that I have loved/love my daughter too much. NEVER. I believe you can NEVER love your child ENOUGH. It is not enmeshment; it is a parental duty to put your child above and beyond everything else. Choices and decisions you make should be carefully weighed against their impact on your children.

Sidney Poitier brilliantly describes such sentiment in a scene from the 1967 drama, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” when his father complains about the sacrifices he made for him and Poitier’s character retorts that it was his job as a father to work so hard for his kids and family.

2.             Kids are spoiled by things, not your love.

Children become demanding when things (toys, money, monster-sized lonely houses, overstuffed playrooms, etc.) are thrown at them in place of the love and nurturing they need. Happy Meals have taught kids that they need to be entertained and given toys with each meal. You can teach them the opposite.

A trick I tried that seemed effective was when visiting a fast food restaurant (only on rare occasions did we go to such places), I’d share a burger with my daughter. No Happy Meal with toys and games. We’d get one burger and enjoy it under a tree at some park. She’d learn to share, spend quality time with me, and to not expect some flimsy toy with each meal. To this day, she still raves about our memories of getting a “big, juicy burger.” 

We also have formal dinners every night (most nights) and cook together. Lighting a candle at dinner makes it extra special. Such routines inspire joy, gratitude and reverence for life’s gifts.

3.             Consistency is critical when raising children.

Kids will naturally manipulate if they experience inconsistency. However, what most people don’t realize is that children actually feel insecure when rules are slippery. Therefore, reinforcing and being consistent with your rules helps to make your children feel safe and secure. They might still test your rules to see what they can get away with, but that’s just to know that they can count on you and a safe world.

Similarly, they need your yeses to be consistent too. Love and praise them and don’t back off of the good things you’ve promised them. Don’t say you’ll go to their game and not show up. Don’t promise to take them to the movies and then not go. Doing so shows slippery rules and you’ll teach them to be just as slippery and noncompliant (along with feeling heartbroken).

4.             TRUST your kids - even your teens.

If you’ve raised your children in a manner of loving consistency and not spoiling them, you’ve raised emotionally mature kids. As teens, you need to listen to their feelings and create empathy. Sure, they’ll go through emotional up and downs. Who doesn’t when one’s body is rapidly changing and hormones are fluctuating beyond belief? Love, support and listen to them.

If you distrust everything they say and set up a power struggle, you are sure to have a rough ride. Too many parents expect the worst and also expect their kids to be perfect. They see emotional reactivity as noncompliance when most of the time, kids really just need a hug and some reassurance to get through the changing chaos of their growth. My daughter’s and my conflicts have just melted away when we stop, hug each other, and mutually share what we’re really experiencing. After all, trust is a two-way street and empathy is the only bridge to peace and healing.

Writing this has been therapeutic for me as it allows me to look back on my daughter’s life, smiling and remembering all of it. Like eating the chocolate cake this morning, I haven’t been a perfect parent. I’ve been inconsistent at times and have definitely engaged in some battles of will. Overall, however, it’s been absolutely amazing. My daughter is the joy of my life and I know I did right by making decisions around her best wellbeing. She’s given back 1,000-fold too.

My best presents, my best memories, and my best accomplishments have been with and because her. Some might argue it’s enmeshment and I disagree.  It’s parenthood - the most important job I, and you, will ever have. My daughter is strong, loving, compassionate, communicative, mature, independent, and confident. She is also quite talented and creative. She needed love to feel safe. She needed trust to trust her own internal guidance. She needed freedom to learn independence. She needed consistency to learn self-discipline. She needed gratitude to grow spiritually and fuel her creative gifts. She is ready to flee the nest and achieve her dreams. So am I—with a deep breath, a broad smile, unshakable support, gigantic applause, and maybe a couple extra pounds.

What You Can Do to End School Violence

The recent shooting and killing of 15 people by a teenager in Germany this week brought back haunting memories of the infamous gun shootings at school campuses here in the U.S. Like so many who were alive to experience President Kennedyʼs assassination or the horrifying terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I have vivid recollections of my exact whereabouts when I learned about the shocking school shootings at Columbine, San Diego, and Virginia Tech to name a few of the bigger ones. Living in Austin, I also shudder at the recollections of the 1966 shooting from the University of Texasʼ tower. Then I read a National Crime Survey that reported a whopping three million crimes occur at or near school campuses in the U.S. every year. Two million of these crimes involve violence.
What can be done?
I believe the answer is three-part - It includes biology, family and community.
It has been reported that many of the assailants suffered from some sort of mental health issue. For instance, the teenager in Germany was said to have been treated for depression. While some mental health issue may exist, I want to make note that there is danger in blaming biology as the primary cause for violence. First, it can falsely imply that people who are being treated for a mental health issues like depression or schizophrenia are violent. That is generally not the case in these specific conditions. There are other mental health diagnoses that reveal more anger and violent tendencies, but those werenʼt reported in the media. The key is to get an accurate assessment and proper treatment. Having stated that, while an underlying genetic predisposition can exist, such conditions flourish in certain environments - which brings me to family and community (and what you and I can do).
As parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we are all modeling behavior in front of children. Children thrive when we listen to their feelings and when we praise them for what they are doing right. One bad apple spoils the barrel and many adults are guilty of heaping a barrel of bad apples onto kids. Try to put your noʼs in check and treat children like you want to be treated. Respect their feelings, their boundaries and try showing more empathy. Be sure to do this with the rest of the family as well because kids will imitate your behavior. Parents that fight, ignore, belittle, and/or treat each other with anything less than love and respect are basically telling kids to treat people the same way (remember - action speaks louder than words).
The reality is we could all do a much better job. When I see rising divorce rates (50% for 1st marriages, 64% for 2nd marriages, and 73% for third or more marriages) along with ugly custody battles and endless blame-gaming between parents, I canʼt help but wonder about the connection to this alarming research finding among high school boys - many boys thought it was okay to hit their girlfriend if she angered him.
Have we just stopped teaching our children about the basics of life? Do we send them off to school, buy them toys and gadgets, plop them in front of televisions and computers, and ignore their basic needs of love and affection? Have we stopped playing and sent them into competitive sports instead? Do we hound them about grades and getting ahead? Have we forgotten the simple pleasures and larger priorities?
We set the priorities at the family and community level. Right now we are undergoing economic turmoil. People have lost jobs, retirement, and savings. Thereʼs a shuffle to figure out what to do. This is an opportunity to readjust our values and priorities. If you are a parent that has been living in the rat race, stop now. Look at your kids. Find a way to focus on their basic needs first. I guarantee that your time and love is far greater that any toy or material item that you could buy them. Perhaps losing a rat race job could be the biggest blessing to rediscovering a real life with your family and finding work that matters. Maybe if you do this, there will be less angst in the world and more peace and love in our childrenʼs schools.

How to Choose the Perfect Valentine

Baby_cupid Valentine’s Day is almost here. Have you singled out your special sweetheart yet? Well before you start sizing up the candidates in your little blackberry, consider this: How you select your Valentine may very well indicate how you choose your life partner—and how you choose your partner can reveal your overall relationship success.


Rule #1 is to be selective—be VERY selective—don’t just run out and find a Valentine (or life partner) because a holiday is here; because everyone else is doing it; because you’re lonely; or because you feel ‘fond enough’ of someone.


To enhance your selectivity, use these tips for choosing the perfect Valentine (and/or life partner):


  • Friendship & Trust—you must feel safe with your Valentine and have a strong friendship that allows you to be your real self.


  • Laughter & Lightness—no relationship can endure non-stop seriousness. Find a Valentine that loves to play and laugh with you.


  • Attraction & Tenderness—love blooms with mutual attraction, but it also needs tenderness to keep your Valentine’s love alive and thriving (cuddling, caring about each other’s feelings and desires, genuine interest, real listening, etc.).


  • Values & Depth—your Valentine needs to match your values and depth level to keep balance in the relationship. Any imbalance in this area is destined to implode.


  • Meaning—you and your Valentine connect best when you have a shared story, purpose or reason that makes it feel as though you’re somehow destined to be together.


Be patient if you don’t have a Valentine that fits the bill. Remember, nature abhors a vacuum, so make room in your heart to allow your perfect Valentine to enter.


Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Can Love Cure War? Examining Biology of Love, 12th Century Rules of Love & Evolved Love

A-Red-Rose-For-You small

In honor of the anniversary of the end of WWI (90 years ago on November 7, the “war to end all wars” ended), this blog entry looks at love (the hopeful antidote to war) microscopically, across time and into the future.

Love is by far the most influential feeling a person can experience. Love has an extraordinary way of knocking people off their feet, away from their path, and causing them to behave in the most unexpected ways. It has been opposed to war (think 60’s slogan “Make Love, Not War”), has incited war (Helen of Troy myth) and street fights (West Side Story). Of course, many spiritual leaders say jealousy is not love. They say real love would not cause war, fighting, or anything negative. Real love rises above conflict and wants the best for everyone. If that’s the case why is love so crazymaking for so many people? The answer might be two-fold. There are some biological aspects to falling in love that actually create a chemical imbalance in people. There are also some perpetual myths about love that reinforce love’s dark side.


A quick look at the biological underpinnings of love reveals that the early stages of falling in love (or infatuation) triggers a release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. This increase of dopamine creates feelings of exhilaration, heightened focus, and increases one’s energy—which explains why, when people are falling in love, they might lose weight, become more active, can stay up all night talking with each other, and feel euphoric like they’re walking on a cloud.

One-way love (unrequited love) or rejected/abandoned love can wreak havoc on the impacted person’s serotonin levels (displaying significant drops in serotonin as high as 40%, according to research by Donatella Marazziti). Such drops in serotonin mimic obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and probably explain the stalking behavior of some jilted or obsessed lovers.

Long-term, committed love reveals an increase in the bonding hormone oxytocin and is responsible for feelings of security and contentment. At this stage, dopamine returns to normal, but oxytocin levels are heightened. This could explain why people don’t feel that excited rush of first love in longer-term relationships and often differentiate feelings of being “in love” with feelings of “love”…or confusing the chemical shift as an absence of love.

Enduring Myths?

On top of our ever-changing chemical reactions to “love," humankind is also conditioned to beliefs and rules about love. These norms/myths/narratives create behavioral responses that are deemed acceptable or non-acceptable by society. For instance, divorce was once unacceptable but has increased as society has accepted it as less taboo. Pursuing individual happiness is a new norm. Nonetheless, some myths are enduring throughout time. To illustrate, here is an excerpt of “rules” about love put forth in the 12th century. See how many apply today.

“The Rules of Love” by Andreas Capellanus, 1185

  1. The state of marriage does not necessarily excuse anyone from loving.
  2. He who does not feel jealousy is incapable of loving.
  3. No one can love two people at the same time.
  4. It is well known that love is either growing or declining.
  5. Whatever a lover takes from his lover’s will has no savor.
  6. A male does not fall in love until he has reached full manhood.
  7. A mourning of two years is required by the survivor.
  8. No one should be prevented from loving save by reason of his or her own death.
  9. No one can love save by the eloquence of love.
  10. Love is accustomed to be an exile from the house of avarice.
  11. It is unseemly to love anyone whom you would be ashamed to marry.
  12. A true lover only desires the passionate embraces of his beloved.
  13. Love that is made public rarely lasts.
  14. Love easily obtained is of little value; difficulty in obtaining it makes it precious.
  15. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of the beloved.
  16. On suddenly catching sight of the beloved, the heart begins to palpitate.
  17. A new love drives out the old.
  18. A good character alone makes someone worthy of love.
  19. If love lessens, it soon fails and rarely recovers.
  20. A man in love is always fearful.
  21. The feeling of love is always increased by true jealousy.
  22. A suspicious lover and the sensation of love is increased.
  23. A man tormented by the thought of love, eats and sleeps little.
  24. Everything a lover does ends in the thought of the beloved.
  25. A true lover considers nothing good but what he thinks will please his beloved.
  26. Love can deny nothing to love.
  27. A lover cannot have too much of his beloved’s consolations.
  28. The smallest supposition compels a lover to suspect his beloved of doing wrong.
  29. A man troubled by excessive lust does not usually love.
  30. A true lover is continually, without interruption, obsessed by the image of his beloved.

My thoughts

I believe there is another level of love—an evolved love—that many people are now experiencing. This kind of love can cure war. Through knowledge and psycho-spiritual growth, we can override our basic biological and cultural drives toward jealousy, insecurity, lust, and discrimination. By understanding the natural biological and cultural underpinnings of the dark and light side of love, we can step back and realize how our ‘primal’ brain and prevailing culture influences us and then separate those responses from a more higher-functioning and evolved response. That is where evolved love thrives—and we as a collective whole can unite and overcome war. As Blaise Pascal suggested, “The more intelligent a person is, the more originality is found in others. Ordinary people see no difference between men.” Evolved love is expansive, not constrictive or jealous, and let’s you love someone special while also seeing and loving the “originality” in people worldwide.

What to Expect in Divorce: 8 Stages of Healing

No one word can describe what it feels like to go through a divorce. People have different experiences. Some people are relieved while others are completely devastated. In fact, it's not uncommon to experience a little of both feelings in varying forms at different times. There is a light at the end of the tunnel of divorce. To help you know what to expect while going through a divorce, here are 8 common stages of divorce. Some people reach all 8 stages while others hover at lower stages until future relationships take them to the last stage.

1. Experiencing a roller coaster of emotions that range from numbness to intense feelings of anger, fear, pain, sadness and even joy, love, hope and excitement. The feelings continue to cycle until healing occurs.

2. Pulling away from others and almost obsessing exclusively on partner to seeking validation through an assortment of love interests or engaging in a serious passionate affair, with person having opposite characteristics of partner.

3. Grieving loss of identity and combined memory--divorce identity crisis.

4. Losing oneself in activities (work, play, gambling, eating, travel, sex).

5. Having moments of clarity and spiritual lifting followed by pain and then lifting and then pain...with each lifting time lasting a little longer and each painful return being slightly improved.

6. Slowly, an appreciation for partner and shared life creeps up. Some, but not all, can even attain the "lesson" learned from the experience.

7. After healing, a new identity reveals itself and old passions and interests are reignited.

8. An independence and confidence coupled with deeper humility and appreciation for others occurs.

6 Keys to Maintaining & Repairing Relationships

Our identity and self-worth is formed by the dialogues we share in our relationship circles. People give us meaning. They reinforce our value. That's why discrimination and unhealthy relationships are so destructive to our physical, psychic & spiritual well-being. As John Donne said, "no man is an island." At the end of the day, we are responsible for how we connect to others. Our interactions with people are circular which means how someone behaves can impact our response to them which in turn impacts their response back to us, etc. It also means that we have the power (and responsibility) to break the cycle by responding differently. Here are 6 keys to maintaining and repairing relationships.

-Listen (To truly listen means that you must suspend your thoughts and responses while the other person is sharing...the amazing paradox is that REAL listening begets real listening from the other person.)

-Check your body (Sometimes our neurological memory and primal brain takes over when we feel threatened and makes our evolved brain think the target of our distress is the other person...we can control this emotional hijacking by focusing on a bodily sensation and separating the sensation from the dialogue with the other person...another paradox, but it works.)

-Respect time-outs (A general response to the physiological distress is to walk away or take a time-out...while this can create feelings of abandonment in one person, try to hang in there and self-soothe until the person is ready to rationally discuss the situation and be emotionally present.)

-Repair as soon as possible (The longer the time out, the easier it is to sweep the matter under the rug. Resist this destructive temptation! Discuss and LISTEN to each other's side, providing empathy, validation and reassurance.)

-Keep healthy boundaries (Some people are too narcissistic or psychically wounded to be emotionally available. They will never be able to provide the kind of emotional empathy needed for a healthy relationship. In these cases, love from afar. Listen when you have to and offer your empathy without turning it into a one-way relationship. Maintain a healthy distance and protect your boundaries.)

-Stay connected (Human contact and relationships are essential needs. Stay connected with people. Cherish your relationships. Open up, share and grow with people. Remember success means nothing unless you have loved ones to share it with.)

(c) 2008 Kimberly Key

Emotional Closeness Key to Raising Daughters

Another study reveals differences exist in men and women. This one, published in The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, looks at family factors that contribute to social self-esteem in young college women. Kelly Gorbett and Theresa Kruczek from Ball State University examined several influencers (family adaptability, amount of time left in care of others, birth order, siblings, gender, and family cohesion) and discovered that family cohesion and healthy sibling relationships fostered later social self-esteem--a critical component of mental health and achievement.

What's interesting about this research is that it pokes a hole in the theory that cautions families against enmeshment, or being too close. Instead, this research finds that the close bond with daughters actually helps the daughters even more. Perhaps part of it is due to the fact that women's oxytocin levels increase (the bonding hormone) when they share secrets and are close. In contrast, men's oxytocin levels increases after sex--which may explain why men tend to run when women talk about problems. Women are seeking to bond and men may not understand that. Nonetheless, with a little patience and understanding men can increase their oxytocin levels by engaging in supportive and nurturing communication with their female loved ones. Men can also help by supporting and encouraging that close talk among the women in their lives. Women, take this as reassurance that all of that sharing and closeness that feels good with your daughters really is good for them.

Essential Parenting Advice: What Your Child Needs You to Know

Whether you're going through a high-conflict divorce; raising your child(ren) as a single parent; adopting a child; parenting as a step-parent; parenting after a relocation; (all of these previous examples indicate added stressors) or parenting in the most secure and healthy situation, here is critical information that EVERY parent must know. Please share this with a parent that you know if you don't have children. They'll appreciate it.

"A Memorandum from a Child"

Don't spoil me.
I know quite well that I ought not to have all that I ask for. I am only testing you.

Don't be afraid to be firm with me.
I prefer it. It let's me know where I stand.

Don't be inconsistent.
That confuses me and makes me try harder to get away with everything I can.

Don't make promises; you may not be able to keep them.
That will discourage my trust in you.

Don't fall for my provocations when I say "I hate you."
I don't mean it, but I want you to feel sorry for what you have done to me.

Don't make me feel smaller than I am.
I will make up for it by behaving like a "big shot".

Don't do things for me that I can do myself.
It makes me feel like a baby, and I may continue to put you in my service.

Don't let my "bad habits" get me a lot of your attention.
It only encourages me to continue them.

Don't correct me in front of people.
I'll take much more notice if you talk quietly with me in private.

Don't try to discuss my behavior in the heat of conflict.
For some reason my hearing is not very good at this time and my cooperation is even worse. It is all right to take action required, but let's not talk about it until later.

Don't try to preach to me.
You'd be surprised how well I know what's right and wrong.

Don't make me feel that my mistakes are sins.
I have to learn to make mistakes without feeling that I am no good.

Don't nag.
If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

Don't demand explanations for my wrong behavior.
Sometimes I really don't know why I did it.

Don't tax my honesty too much.
I am easily frightened into telling lies.

Don't forget that I love to experiment.
I learn from it, so please put up with it.

Don't protect me from consequences.
I need to learn from experience.

Don't take too much notice of my small ailments.
I may learn to enjoy poor health if it gets me extra attention.

Don't answer "silly" or meaningless questions.
I just want you to keep busy with me.

Don't put me off when I ask HONEST questions.
If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.

Don't ever think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me.
An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm toward you.

Don't ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible.
It gives me too much to live up to.

Don't worry about the little amount of time we spend together.
It is how we spend it that counts.

Don't let my fears arouse your anxiety.
Then I will become more afraid. Show me courage.

Don't forget that I can't thrive without lots of understanding and encouragement,
but complimentary approval when honestly earned is sometimes forgotten when it seems like a scolding never is.

Treat me the way you treat friends, then I will be your friend too.
Remember, I learn more from a model than a critic.

(adapted from Dr. Glasser's Schools without Failure)

I'll add these for children of divorce...

Don't insult my other parent.
It makes me feel unsafe and fear that you don't like me because I am half of them.

Don't make me choose between you and my other parent.
It tears me up inside and makes me feel like I'm in a war that I cannot win. I'm here because of both you. Choosing may force me to lie and manipulate in order to survive.

Take extra care of me through change.
I thrive with consistency. Disruptions and continued change cause harm to me, making it difficult for me to thrive and grow.

Please remember all the changes I am going through and take care of me without expecting me to take care of you.
I am constantly growing and having body aches. My brain is on overdrive as I learn at school and in everyday activities. These changes are happening so rapidly that I can get exhausted, leaving me little energy or know-how to parent you, so please parent me.

Don't fight and battle with my other parent.
Nonstop battles scare me and lead me to regress, get depressed, withdrawal or act, out and give me lasting wounds that are similar to a soldier at battle...especially because I'm not grown up enough to understand it or take care of myself through it. I need both of you to focus on me, not your resentments toward each other.

12 Relationship Rules for the New Year

Relationships are powerful in our life. Good ones can help us thrive and reach heights of happiness, depths of fulfillment and help make our wildest dreams a reality. Bad ones have the opposite effect. They can destroy the soul; deplete our energy, self-worth and resources. Medium ones have the potential to be good and those are the ones that can benefit from therapy...as long as both partners are committed to making the effort.

Try out these rules if you're in a relationship that could benefit from a little improvement. Print them out or email a copy to your partner and promise each other that you'll follow the rules. It's a great opportunity for the New Year.

1. I’ll face my emptiness; you need not fill me up.

2. I will trust, and I’ll tell you when I don’t.

3. I will be there; you can count on me.

4. I will tell you if I’m leaving.

5. I will let you know my thoughts and feelings to the extent that it is possible.

6. I will be vulnerable with you as often as I can.

7. I will disagree, and I’ll stay when I do and I’ll say when I do.

8. I will comment on my reality. I can speak aloud about what I see and hear.

9. I will take the consequences for what I say and do.

10. I'll be receptive to giving and taking.

11. I promise to respect your struggles and have compassion for yours as well as for my own.

12. I shall understand that my needs for intimacy may be different from yours and I can respect and rejoice that you have found your own creative expression.

(Rules are from “Rules for Relationships” tape by Marilyn Mason, Ph.D. April 17, 1990)

The #1 Reason Relationships Succeed

The hidden secret to building a good relationship with anyone (children, co-workers and loved ones) is listening. Hence the expression: "You're made with two ears and one mouth for a reason." However, in our fast-paced, technology-supported lives, real listening has become a lost art. It also explains why so many people feel hurt and defensive. People don’t feel heard and understood which can cause even simple communication to disrupt into a full-blown battle...or prolonged silence. We are all guilty of poor listening skills from time to time--interrupting, assuming what someone really means, or zoning out altogether when someone else is speaking--but we can do something about it and improve our relations with people. The key is to make a genuine connection with someone and really focus on what the other person is saying. Notice their facial expressions and listen for their feelings. You’re less apt to interrupt or think about your own response when you’re completely focused on what they’re saying and how they’re feeling. Doing this is called focused listening. I like to think of it as listening with both of your ears and your heart...which might explain why "ear" is in heart.

Understanding Depression

Clinical depression has been reported to affect 19 million Americans each year. Those are the numbers we know. Other research has indicated that only half of the people with depression seek help. Of those seeking help, approximately 74% are reported to see a primary care physician instead of a mental health professional. Depression was improved for about 80% of those who sought treatment. The bottom line is that a whole lot more people can receive help IF they seek it.

It's not always biological...
The cause for clinical depression can vary, as documented causes include Genetics and Biology, Situational (divorce, financial problems, job loss, loss of a loved one), Chronic (chronic abuse, discrimination due to gender, ethnicity, physical differences and abilities), Co-occurrence (co-occurring with other medical conditions such as post-partum depression after giving birth, lifelong illness or terminal disease), Side-effects (from other medications), Cognitive (negative thinking patterns and rigid belief systems), and Co-Morbidity (exists with other conditions like Personality Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).

Best treatment...
Because depression can be instigated from a number of causes (along with depression's ability to create a number of consequences in one's life such as difficult relationships, potential job loss, decreased self-esteem, etc.), the best treatment includes a mix of medication and psychotherapy and lifestyle/environmental changes. Ideally, one will find a therapist that serves as a kind of case manager that works in conjunction with a psychiatrist and/or primary care physician. Some of the best therapists take a holistic approach and can help you with basics like communication skills, financial responsibility and career counseling to deeper issues from family stress, thought patterns, and trauma and grief recovery.

Depression Symptoms...
First, there is probably something to investiagte if you're wondering about depression in yourself or someone else. Here's a list of symptoms you can explore, but talk it out with a professional for the best diagnosis.
* Changes in appetite or sleep (either more or less of each)
* Changes in cognition and activity (memory, speech, physical activity)
* Decrease in energy
* Loss of enthusiasm for activities, daily routines
* Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
* Difficulty thinking, making decisions or concentrating
* Recurrent thoughts of death or thoughts about suicide (esp. plans or attempts)

Having three or more of these symptoms is a cause for concern. Any recurrent thoughts about suicide or death is an urgent call to seek help. Talk to a professional about your symptoms and their length of time...especially if you've noticed an increase in any or all of your symptoms.

For more information about depression, check out Mental Health America. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention line at 1.800.273.TALK (8255).

When Sacrificing for Career & Children Hurts

When reading the news, I can always count on seeing a story that revisits some enduring debate. What diet is truly healthy? How much television is okay for children? Should Mom or Dad quit their jobs and stay home to raise the kids? The latest instigator to the last question is Leslie Bennetts, author of "The Feminine Mistake."

Bennetts asserts that leaving your job (regardless of gender) may hurt your career in the long run...and thus your family. One of the increasingly common scenarios she points to is when a middle-aged stay-at-home woman (or man) finds herself (or himself) divorced and suffering from decreased income potential that tends to result from a career hiatus taken to raise the kids.

What's interesting (and less discussed) is the parallel situation when a man (or woman) has dedicated his/her career to a company (sacrificing time with family, taking on health risks from chronic stress, making necessary moves for the job, etc.) and then gets laid off. A similar shock-grief-identity crisis takes place that can also impact income potential.

The reality is that men and women in both scenarios are dealing with valid dependency and identity issues that are made worse by their sacrifices. The real solution is getting congruent with one's values, having a sense of self that's outside of marriage, career and parenthood, and then making an investment of time and energy in each aspect of one's life--self, family, career, community...and spirit. My personal view is that it's a human mistake when any of these areas in our lives are sacrificed. We are role models for our children and what are we ultimately teaching them when we perpetuate the work OR family myth? It's about both work AND family (with self in tact). Perhaps more workplaces would provide better flex time if we, as a culture, embraced a commitment to work AND family AND self and stopped expecting the old paradigm of one breadwinner and one caretaker.

Before You Marry...

Think of June and June weddings often come to mind. A time of joy, it can also be a time of trepidation for many. After all, the U.S. divorce rate is at an all-time high. Many people cite the microwave & disposable mentality as a major cause. Commitment just isn't what it used to be--people change jobs more than ever (averaging more than 5-7 careers in a lifetime), people move more frequently, and divorce rates are high (more than 50% for first marriages and over 60% for second marriages). There's even an expression about "starter marriages" and now a TV show called The Starter Wife. So, why not feel hesitant and nervous about committing in marriage?? Still, there are some methods for predicting your marriage success. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists has issued a consumer update for marriage preparation describing measurable criteria for determining you and your partner’s compatibility. Actually, it describes the analytical process along with questionnaires that are given in premarital counseling. In my experience, few people that are "in love" and engaged are really willing to explore their passion through such analytical means. Fear of learning that there may be real evidence that a marriage is doomed to fail also keeps people from exploring compatibility issues. Why should they when the media, friends and society reminds them of their odds anyway?? With that in mind, here are some things to consider before you marry.

Get your finances in order. Make sure both partners are taking equal responsibility for the finances and that no one is left in the dark. Remember, when one overfunctions the other underfunctions. Keep balance in all the aspects of your life--especially money. To learn more, check out the many self-help books on money basics. One good source is Suze Orman.

Treat each other with respect. We teach people how to treat us. Be worthy of respect and give respect. John Gottman, renowned as the leading expert in divorce prediction, describes four killers of relationships (he dubs them the "four horseman of the Apocalypse") and they are all examples of disrespect--criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Think being mean, insulting, not taking responsibility and giving one the silent treatment.

Plan for disaster. This will seem counterintuitive and is highly debatable. However, since there is some legitimate fear about the longevity of today's marriages, why not consider a prenuptial? Think of it in terms of dealing with the worst-case scenario up front...while you both are in love and respect each other. It could even keep your marriage together because you've addressed the unknown and already demonstrated mutual caring and support even if the relationship transforms.

Perhaps my favorite piece of advice purported by Native American wisdom and other cultures and spiritual beliefs is to honor the mystery of love and to honor each other. Love is a gift, not something that can be demanded or even earned. It just is, so cherish and nurture it like a gardener tending to his beloved and delicate flowers. Good luck and best wishes to all the couples getting married, engaged, reunited, and recommitted!

No-Fault Divorce Under Attack

I recently attended training to serve as a communications facilitator for collaborative divorce. Sharing this news with people invariably resulted in a discussion about the pros and cons of divorce. I believe it's a complex issue and varies on a case by case basis. Nonetheless, people form their opinions from their personal experience and what the latest research claims. One such study, conducted at the University of Oklahoma and published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, created a lot of debate when it suggested that our Nation's high divorce rate (over 50%) was due to no-fault divorce laws. AAMFT provides their view about how Michigan and other states are trying to overturn the no-fault divorce laws.


Many marriage and family therapists settle back in their offices this week a little more enlightened (or confused?) after attending the annual American Association of Marriage & Family Therapists (AAMFT) conference held in Austin, Texas. The conference theme was "Nurturing Nature: Behavior, Genetics, and Therapy." Many of the individual break-out sessions related to the theme. In short, much of the presented research echoed something that’s been understood for centuries—emotions impact health.

While modern-day medicine expands to grasp this idea, the systemic concept has been drilled into most marriage and family therapists’ minds. We are trained to assess a person in the context of their family and relationship circumstances. Often, it is the dance people engage in that leads to certain behaviors, not just the individual by themselves. My bioenvironmental engineering training taught me the same thing. The environment is contaminated as the result of other actions and responds to those actions in an attempt to find some relief (while sometimes reinforcing the original action). Look at global warming. It gets hot and we turn on our air conditioners for longer periods of time. The concept is referred to as “systems” or “systemic thinking.” It’s holistic and circular, not linear.

I’m now going to share a little secret with you. When someone calls a therapist and wants the therapist to “help” a family member, a flag gets raised. Immediately, we are assessing the caller and hoping to get the entire family in the door so that we can understand the family dance. Otherwise the picture is incomplete. Here’s another nugget for you—the person that seems to be the “problem” in the family is rarely the actual problem. Instead, we call that person the “symptom bearer” of the family dance. They’re kind of like Hurricane Katrina blowing off steam during excessive hot weather. Families interact and impact each other’s emotions, which in turn impacts each person’s health.

Having said that, many holistic health opinion leaders (like Louise Hay, Christiane Northrup, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer) understand systems thinking (it’s holistic, right?). Moreover, they include the spiritual realm in their overall assessment (talk about BIG picture). But they’re not asking you to bring your entire family into the room, necessarily. Instead the focus is more personal by examining your thoughts, your energy and your spiritual connection (which to be honest is what a number of therapists will do as well). Healing comes from letting go of attachments and power struggles, seeking spiritual renewal, manifesting one’s destiny through positive thinking and loving connectedness. Many of these folks will be addressing such perspectives at an upcoming conference in Scottsdale next month (November 10-12), which has been aptly dubbed "Celebrate Your Life."

Whether you’re in the holistic health camp or you tend toward to a more scientific ("show me the proof") viewpoint, one thing is certain—systemic thinking is the new paradigm. We can no longer look at cause and effect. It’s relational.

This blog is about exploring these systemic relationships and the issues and therapeutic perspectives that impact your quality of life. Topics such as Home, Health, Parenting, Dealing with Parents, Understanding Cultures, Gender Issues, Workplace Issues, Jobs, Careers & Vocations, Aging, Love, Grieve, Fear, Spirituality—and the interconnected nature of all of it—will be discussed. Please feel free to submit questions or suggest any of your ideas as well.

Happy thoughts & healing to you! Kimberly