Monday, November 23, 2020

Nine Lessons To Learn From COVID-19


"You don't have to control your thoughts; you just have to stop letting them control you."

Dan Millman


The global pandemic has changed the way we live. Contained in our homes, we must reorient our approach to our colleagues, clients, family and friends. While you might feel a massive loss of control, there are some important takeaways to learn from this moment in time.

Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW, lead faculty for behavioral science at Northeastern University, says there are nine lessons we can draw upon for individual and collective fortitude.

Lesson 1: Intellectual humility is vital. We are not all public health experts. We are an evolved civilization with extraordinary advances in science and medicine and access to information. Dr. Lee says we must all consider the sources we rely on and how we transmit information across our spheres of social influence.

Lesson 2: Time-outs are not always punishments. We are creative, innovative, agile creatures. Moments of distress call us to rethink our typical routines and identify new strategies for coping and living. Dr. Lee says this pause might prove to be a return to creativity for many who might find it has been squeezed out during typical routines.

Lesson 3: We are more resilient than we realize. Humans are wired for resilience. Dr. Lee asserts that resilience can increase even during difficult times when we focus on activities that help to cultivate it. Join forces with people who co-nurture and provide reciprocal support.

Lesson 4: Kindness is contagious. While fear and illness itself can be contagious, so are acts of love and kindness. When we focus energy on helping those who are most vulnerable in times of crisis, the positive effects spread and strengthen our collective well-being.

Lesson 5: Challenges help us discover our strengths and resources. Dr. Lee reminds others that we have a host of internal and external resources to harness, including strong analytical and problem-solving abilities and people and places that provide solace and grounding.

Lesson 6: The basics are not basic. The elements of air, water, earth and fire are unparalleled. Spend time appreciating nature and get outside as much as is safe and possible, recommends Dr. Lee. Watch sunrises and sunsets from your window. Find ways to take in the elements.

Lesson 7: There are no wrong emotions. Pandemics can evoke powerful emotions, including fear, anxiety, shock and panic. Don't stress about being stressed. This is human, says Dr. Lee. Take time to name what is happening and consider what resources you can access to help you.

Lesson 8: Self-care is essential all the time. Crises can show us that we were previously running on fumes. There's no health without mental health. Proper sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise can go a long way towards boosting our mental reserves, notes Dr. Lee.

Lesson 9: Mindfulness helps us combat mindlessness. When we focus on the now and engage in a non-judgmental stance, it strengthens our resilience and capacity to enjoy what is and cope with what isn't. 

As you continue to adapt during these times, reflect on the lessons above and consider how you can help share them with your team members.


Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW is lead faculty for behavioral science at Northeastern University. She is the author of Reset: Make the Most of Your Stress and Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking. Dr. Lee has also given a TED talk called "The Risk You Must Take."

Monday, August 24, 2020


When people feel vulnerable, they hold back.  In relationships, this is the kiss of death.

As people, we are emotional beings, whether we like to admit it or not.  Male and female alike.  If we choose to hold back from expressing our feelings, then we are certain to endanger our relationship with our loved ones, family and friends.  We pay a heavy toll when we choose to do this.

Why Do We Fear Being Vulnerable?

In some cases, we believe, without a doubt, that we would be putting ourselves in a position of weakness, be defenseless and susceptible to a seriously, negative response.   We would be exposing ourselves to be a target of ridicule or attack.   It’s equal to losing control and putting ourselves at the mercy of someone else.  And there’s nothing comfortable about that!  So we earnestly avoid doing it, as if our lives depend upon it.

Where Did This Fear Come From?

Fear is a feeling of danger which invokes a fight or flight response.  When we are dealing with emotions, we usually choose to take flight!  Time and time again, this fear is traced back to when we were being raised as children.  For example, did you ever hear, or were you ever told:

·         ‘men don’t cry’

·         ‘girls cry at the drop of a hat’

·         Showing feelings is a sign of weakness

·         ‘Be a man’

·         ‘Suck it up’

·         ‘crying is for sissies’

·         ‘Be strong’

Or when we tried to explain our side of the story, expressing our feelings (and yes, being vulnerable), it wasn’t received well?  Were you punished? Made fun of? Or told you needed to ‘toughen-up’.  Remember, you were a child here.  You were learning the rules of life.  How to please adults.  How to conduct ourselves in our environment so that we received praise, not ridicule.  We were indoctrinated with the experiences, therefore the rules, of those influential in our life.   Right or wrong, as a child, we were absorbing the behavior and rules of those around us to survive. 

Here’s the Good News!

You’re not a child anymore, so ask yourself “do those rules serve me well now?”  Not likely.  So can you do anything to change them?  Absolutely!

Change the Rules!  You have the Power!

To show someone that you are vulnerable is actually a sign of strength.   It shows that you are comfortable with who you are.  That you have control over your thoughts and actions.  You are exhibiting self-confidence. 

As in any situation you are in, there is a possibility of rejection or a negative response but that doesn’t stop us from trying, does it? No!  We go to the job interviews, approach someone we are attracted to, try new things, meet new people.  We are vulnerable in all these situations.  But we don’t attach anything negative to ourselves for trying and possibly failing.  We accept the outcome whether they are negative or positive.  We believe we did our best.  If we are rejected, our sense of being is still intact (although perhaps a little bruised!) but we quickly get over it.  We shake off the negative feeling, chalk it up to experience and move on to the next adventure.  We’re okay.  This is proof that we are capable of being vulnerable and still maintain control.   It’s all good.  It’s all positive.

So try this:  look at your current relationship and ask yourself what are you holding back from expressing or showing?  What are the problematic topics you are avoiding?  Now ask yourself ‘why am I avoiding them?’  Is your reason based on fact?  Or is it just an unfounded belief? 

Psychotherapy Can Help

In my practice, I have helped many people overcome their fear of being vulnerable.  It begins with identifying where the fear originated, and then replacing them with positive beliefs building up your confident.  Because these emotions are deeply rooted, guidance is usually necessary to help you overcome your fear.  Together we will be on this journey. 

Monday, August 10, 2020


The trick in expressing anger is thus neither to ignore it and become a doormat, or to use it to establish the dominance of your own needs. First you must examine the angry reaction you feel to understand what lies at its source.

Questions you might need to ask yourself are:

Does the situation justify my anger?

What might my anger be telling me about myself rather than about the other person?

Do I have my own vulnerabilities, or past hurts, that are being activated by what the other person said or did?

Does my reaction appear out of proportion to what happened, or does it appear to be an accurate response to some legitimate harm or violation?

If I let my anger sit a bit, and gain a little bit more perspective on my feeling, does the feeling subside?

If I contemplate not standing up for myself on this issue, will I be doing harm to myself?

If after this self-examination you still feel angry, it might be a sign that a conversation needs to be had, or that assertiveness on behalf of yourself is needed.

How to Express Your Anger:

If such a conversation about your needs and demands is to go well, and if the objective is to remain in a relationship with the person who did or said something that was harmful to your well-being or your sense of self, you might want to wait to talk about it until the intensity of the feeling has subsided enough that you are not in the throes of it.

Anger has a way of empowering you with a strength and conviction that can disempower and invalidate the other person. The objective of a conversation about your needs should not be to get back at the other person by elevating yourself and devaluing the other person, but to reveal some of the values or vulnerabilities that were undermined or injured by what the other person said or did. If this can be conveyed in a way that maintains the respect and dignity of the other person, they are more likely to respond non-defensively, and genuinely hear what your anger is really about.

If maintaining the relationship is not a priority because what has happened has crossed clear boundaries, and is making you question whether or not you even want to be in a relationship, then exposing your vulnerabilities may not be the way to go. You may then instead want to use the information from your anger to set a clear boundary, to walk away, or to otherwise prevent more violations from happening. In such instances you may indeed need the power that anger fills you with in order to not lose your courage or back down when your anger tells you you should take a stance.

So Where Does this Leave Us?

Anger is not inherently bad but helps to define us and what we want or need in opposition to that which threatens us or harms us. By having access to anger we have access to a sense of self and this allows us to live a life where we are more in control of our destiny and of what happens to us in life. However, at times our anger can indeed be an exaggerated response that originates in a fragile ego or an unreasonable set of expectations we impose on the world. In such situations we may need to make more room for others rather than make more room for ourselves.

So in the end we end up in the same place as Aristotles who wrote:

“Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not easy”.

As with so many other of our feelings we both have to be careful not to shun them and be careful not to let them carry us away. We have to exercise control at times, but not so much control that we lose touch with what our feelings are telling us about what we need and who we are.

Written By:

Psychodynamic therapist, Dr. Rune Moelbak

About him: He is Rune Moelbak, Ph.D. a psychologist and couples therapist in Houston, Texas.

Monday, August 3, 2020


Anger is not just a problem to get rid of, but a message to you about who you are and what is important to you. Oftentimes, however, this important fact gets ignored because we live in a society in which anger is often considered inappropriate and uncivil.

For the most part we have learned to associate anger with destruction and aggression. We have likely felt its negative impact on our relationships or been ashamed about how our anger made us act. Maybe we have experienced the destructive impact of other people’s anger outbursts on us, or we have seen it turn violent and cause ruptures between people we love.

However, anger is not the same as aggression or loss of control. Aggression and loss of control can be the outcome of anger, but they more so indicate ways of expressing anger or reacting to anger than the feeling of anger itself.

Anger can really be said to cover a spectrum of emotions from frustration and slight annoyance on the one end to explosive rage on the other and can be said to involve a whole range of shades in-between. Sometimes in fact, it is only when we ignore the first signs of anger, or fail to catch our anger and express it when it is still just an indicator of annoyance, that we end up bottling it up to the point where we finally explode.

Anger Can Be a Necessary and Useful Emotion:

At its core anger alerts us to threats and tells us when one of our fundamental needs has gone unmet or has been squashed. In doing so anger makes it clear to us who we are. It tells us for example if our space has been invaded, if our freedom has been squashed, if our pride has been injured, if the way we see the world has been invalidated, or if our feelings have been ignored. It alerts us to the fact that we have been wronged in some way, or that we have felt slighted, mistreated, or diminished. By doing so it gives us an opportunity to correct a wrong or to put a relationship back on the right track. It tells us what we need in order to feel healthy and good about ourselves and happy about the environment in which we live our life.

The actions and initiatives that come out of this can in the final analysis help restore or repair a situation that if left unattended would distort or destroy a relationship, lead to resentment, avoidance, or distance, or result in outright harm to our well-being.

I know of no close interpersonal relationship, for example, that will not at some point involve moments of annoyance, frustration, and anger, and it is a sign of a mature relationship that each person can express when their needs are not being met or let each other know when something does not feel good. Anger is what allows us to know when this is occurring. It alerts us to the fact that something needs to be addressed so the relationship can adapt and remain good.

When to Express and Not Express Your Anger:

Not long ago I saw a thought-provoking Facebook post that asked: How do you express anger? And provided 1 out of 6 options. Do you walk away? Become silent? Shout? Cry? Beat? Or Smile?

I thought this post was evocative because it shows that just because you do not get loud, aggressive, or lose your temper, doesn’t mean that you are not experiencing or expressing your anger.

Anger that is not talked about is going to get expressed somehow, even if it is not being expressed outwardly. Research, for example, shows that suppressed or unexpressed anger can lead to long-term health problems and can even be one of main causes of depression.

In fact, anger that remains unexpressed, and therefore boundaries or needs that are not asserted, can only happen at the expense of one’s self.

If I cannot muster the self-defence to assert that another person’s negative accusations of me are unfair or unreasonable, I have no choice but to collapse into shame, guilt, or self-doubt. By abandoning my anger, or being too afraid to express it, I am therefore in fact abandoning or hurting myself.

On the other hand, my needs, expectations, and wants can in fact be exaggerated, and the anger I feel the result of a having too big of an ego and making too little room for others. In such instances, I do need to check my anger, and examine if my anger has more to do with me than with the other person.

Perhaps I tend to feel a deep shame about myself if my viewpoints are challenged, but instead of acknowledging and owning this, I angrily want the world to accommodate me and soothe my hurt ego. If the world always adapts to me, validates me, and tells me how great I am, I never have to confront my own insecurity but can maintain a sense of strength and power that prevents me from having to look at myself. Sometimes these kinds of deep vulnerabilities are what can lead to some of the worst anger outbursts, abuses of power, and attempts to control others. It reminds us that just because we are offended, does not make us right, and that others are not obligated to take care of our feelings. 

The trick in expressing anger is thus neither to ignore it and become a doormat, or to use it to establish the dominance of your own needs. First you must examine the angry reaction you feel to understand what lies at its source.

Continued in Part 2

Written By:

Psychodynamic therapist, Dr. Rune Moelbak

About him: He is Rune Moelbak, Ph.D. a psychologist and couples therapist in Houston, Texas.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Cracking the Code of Love

These are highlights from an interview between Shane Parrish (Farnham Street) and Dr. Sue Johnson.

The full interview is available here:

Dr. Sue Johnson is a researcher, clinical psychologist, and the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy. In this interview, they discuss how to create, protect, and nourish fulfilling sexual and emotional relationships.

In this discussion, they walk through the life cycle of human relationships, from early infatuation to dating, marriage, and beyond while taking short detours to explore many of the hazards that are common in each stage.

Sue talks about finding, sparking and rekindling connection with our partner, why emotional responsiveness is critical to a healthy relationship, and she shares the recipe to a great sex life that all the popular online and magazine articles are missing.

Here are a few highlights from their conversation:

Many of us have no idea. We don’t know what we’re looking for. We just don’t want to be lonely anymore and we want somebody to have fun with and we want someone to have sex with. We’re caught up in the society thing of girls are supposed to look like this and guys are supposed to look like that.

What I’ve always tried to tell my children is, you can be attracted to lots of people in a very superficial way and you’re going to experiment with relationships, you are, because you have to get to know this dance, and you’re going to make mistakes. But what you really need to do is listen to yourself and listen to when you feel safe and when dancing with someone is easy and makes you feel good, and when you can be vulnerable for a moment and that person tunes in and cares about your vulnerability. That’s the person to go with.

Of course, things go wrong and they fight, they hurt each other and that’s a relationship. If you dance with somebody, they’re going to step on your feet. They’re going to go left when you expect them to go right. It’s just the way it is. The point is, in a good relationship, you can recognize what’s happened and you can tune in and you can repair it. It’s emotional responsiveness. That’s the basis of a secure bond.

Emotional isolation is traumatizing for human beings. You’re not wired for it. It’s a danger cue for your nervous system.

Attachment tends to be hierarchical. We can love more than one person, but in terms of who you turn to when you really need, in terms of where you take your vulnerability, it’s usually hierarchical. We have our special one and most people want to be the special one for somebody else, and most people want a special one. That’s the person that you turn to.

Distressed relationships are always the same all over the world at every age. Where are you? Where are you? Do you care about me? Do I matter to you? Will you respond to me? Will you be there when I’m vulnerable? Am I safe with you? Where are you? Where are you? And when the answer is, “I’m here,” you can deal with almost anything.

Emotional responsiveness is an abstract word that captures a lot. It’s the ability or the willingness that someone has to tune into emotionally and to allow themselves to tune into your non-verbals or your words, and to allow themselves to feel what you’re feeling and who respond to that in a way that you feel that you matter.

You’re more vulnerable to the person you love than anyone in the world; That’s part of being in love. On the other hand, if it’s a good relationship, you’re safer with this person than anywhere else in the world. That’s the paradox of love.

Relationships are live things. They’re live moving organisms, and they’re like every other live thing. If you starve them of attention, and ignore them, and leave them on a shelf for years, then you turn around and try to pick them off the shelf, well, I’m sorry, but they’ve shriveled and died.

The best thing you can give your children is parents who know how to support each other and stand together and help each other. Not only that, but you give your children something more valuable by doing that. You give your children a vision of what a good relationship looks like.

Dr. Sue Johnson (Dr.Sue Johnson), a clinical psychologist and the developer of EFT or Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. The EFT model is considered to be one of the most effective evidence-based therapy methods available and is currently taught to over 3000 health care professionals every year. Countless couples’ relationships have been repaired and strengthened because of Sue’s work.

Sue is also the author of several books, including Love Sense and her breakout bestseller, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, which is hands down the best relationship book I’ve ever read.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Affair in Retrospect

The desire to find happy endings for sad human stories is probably lodged in most couples therapists' DNA. When the "sad story" is about infidelity that threatens a marriage, therapists generally aim for their favored resolution: saving the marriage. As a field, we've tended to think about this story in terms of a straightforward, three-part narrative:

 Part 1: A couple is shattered by the discovery of an affair and comes to see us.

 Part 2: We help them get through the immediate crisis, tend to the underlying wounds in the marriage, and then take a deeper look at childhood scars. We provide compassion and advice as needed, and encourage new trust, forgiveness, and intimacy in the relationship.

Part 3: As our preferred denouement, the couple leaves therapy weeks or months later, their marriage repaired, stronger, even transformed---or at least improved. We consider treatment a success; the couple has weathered the storm.

Of course, some couples refuse this neat storyline and, instead, use therapy as a gateway out of the marriage altogether. But, hopefully, they still live happily ever after.

I identified three basic patterns in the way couples reorganize themselves after an infidelity---they never really get past the affair, they pull themselves up by the bootstraps and let it go, or they leave it far behind.

In some marriages, the affair isn't a transitional crisis, but a black hole trapping both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity. These couples endlessly gnaw at the same bone, circle and recycle the same grievances, reiterate the same mutual recriminations, and blame each other for their agony. Why they stay in the marriage is often as puzzling as why they can't get beyond their mutual antagonism.

A second pattern is found in couples who remain together because they honor values of lifelong commitment and continuity, family loyalty, and stability. They want to stay connected to their community of mutual friends and associates or have a strong religious affiliation. These couples can move past the infidelity, but they don't necessarily transcend it. Their marriages revert to a more or less peaceful version of the way things were before the crisis, without undergoing any significant change in their relationship.

For some couples, however, the affair becomes a transformational experience and catalyst for renewal and change. This outcome illustrates that therapy has the potential to help couples reinvent their marriage by mining the resilience and resourcefulness each partner brings to the table.

All marriages are alike to the degree that confronting an affair forces the couple to re-evaluate their relationship, but dissimilar in how the couple lives with the legacy of that affair.

This article was written by Esther Perel.

Esther Perel is a Belgian psychotherapist who has explored the tension between the need for security and the need for freedom in human relationships. She has promoted the concept of Erotic Intelligence in her book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, which has been translated into 24 languages. Her latest book is: The State of Affairs, Rethinking Infidelity published in 2018.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


One of America's most beloved authors just told us her 'number one life hack' for lasting relationships

Dr. Brené Brown

Anybody who's been in — or out of — a relationship can tell you that they're full of miscommunications, misreadings, and other misunderstandings. 

You say one thing, they hear something else. Better yet, you project motivations onto them, drawing out conclusions about their behavior that they can't even understand.

Thankfully, "Daring Greatly" author Brené Brown — whose Ted Talk on vulnerability has over 21 million views— has been through it.

As she talks about in her new book about resilience, "Rising Strong, "a simple life hack can help anybody in relationship be better understood.

"If I could give men and women in relationship and leaders and parents one hack, I would give them, 'the story I'm making up,'" Brown told Tech Insider. "Basically, you're telling the other person your reading of the situation — and simultaneously admitting that you know it can't be 100% accurate."

It's a life-saver for a few reasons, she says: It's honest, it's transparent, and it's vulnerable.

According to Brown and the scores of interviews she did for "Daring Greatly" and "Rising Strong," vulnerability essentially provides the bandwidth for two people to relate and trust one another.

When you say "the story I'm making up," Brown says that it conveys "I want you to see me and understand me and hear me, and knowing what you really mean is more important to me than being right or self-protecting."

With those five words, you check the narrative in your head.

In "Rising Strong," Brown supplies a very vivid example of "the story I'm making up right now" in action.

One summer, she and her husband Steve took a long-awaited vacation with the kids in a lake in the Hill Country of Texas. The two of them go for a swim in the lake, and feeling taken with the deep joy of the moment, Brown says something very sweet — and very vulnerable — to her spouse.

"I'm so glad we decided to do this together," she says. "It's beautiful out here."

Her husband, she shares, is way better than her at putting himself out there, so she expected him to reply to her romantic bid with an equal force of affection.

But instead:

"Yeah, water's good," he replied.

She felt embarrassed, ashamed. And going against her conflict-oriented upbringing, she decided to make another bid for connection.

"This is so great," she said. "I love that we're doing this. I feel so close to you."

Again, deaf ears.

"Yep, good swim," he replied before swimming away.

Brown was nonplussed. This is "total horseshit," she remembers thinking. What's going on? I don't know if I'm supposed to feel humiliated or hostile.

Before they got out, she asked him to stop — saying that she kept trying to connect with him and he kept blowing her off.

Then, instead of being aggressive and self-protective, she opted for being kind. And she relied on a certain life hack she learned in her research.

"I feel like you're blowing me off," she said, "and the story I'm making up is either you looked at me while I was swimming and thought, Man, she's getting old. She can't even swim freestyle anymore. Or you saw me and thought, She sure as hell doesn't rock a Speedo like she did twenty-five years ago."

After a little time, Steve replied. He wasn't being distant to spite her; he said that he had been trying to fight off a panic attack the whole swim.

He explained that the night before, he had a dream where he was with their kids on a raft when a speedboat came screaming toward them, and he had to pull all the children into the water so they wouldn't get killed by the raging vessel. He didn't even know what his wife was saying to him while they swam; he was just trying to concentrate on his swimming and make it back to the dock.

Suddenly, it made sense to her: People on the lake do tend to get drunk on boats, and everybody who grows up around water hears about tragic boating accidents. And he felt like she would think less of him for not being able to prevent one.

After a little more conversation, it became clear to both of them: Brené was stuck in a "shame story" that she wasn't fit or pretty enough for Steve, and Steve was stuck in a "shame story" that he wasn't strong or capable enough for Brené.

But with making the leap of vulnerability symbolized in the story I'm making up, they were able to let go of the narrative they were telling themselves about the situation and actually see one another's perspective.

Five little words. Big difference.

Written by: Drake Baer of Tech Insider 

Dr. Brené Brown (born November 18, 1965) is a research Professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone. Brown's TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 30 million views. Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their children, Ellen and Charlie.