The Warning Signs of Suicide: How to Tell if Someone is Suicidal

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How to Deal with Difficult People

How to Deal with Difficult People

Do you find yourself constantly drained from having to deal with difficult people at work or at home? Are you fed up trying to reason with people who seem as unmovable as a mountain or are always expressing their anger? Did you know you can learn ways to protect yourself, get what you need, and control your own negative emotions? With counseling and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), you can learn how to deal with difficult people. Here are five DBT skills to try the next time you must deal with these challenging situations.

The Telltale Traits of Difficult People

The characteristics of a difficult person can depend on the type of person they are in normal circumstances. Remember, sometimes people have difficult personalities, and sometimes a person is difficult because of circumstances. Perpetually problematic people often have one or more of the following traits:

Aggression: they antagonize, pick fights, are hostile, project emotions, are contrarian, and refuse to compromise or find a solution.

Callousness: they lack empathy, sympathy, and self-awareness.

Arrogance: they are narcissistic and hyperbolic, generally exaggerating their situation and crisis, and are reluctant to see other sides or perspectives of the issue at hand.

Dishonest: they are manipulative, play the victim, are suspicious, forgetful, unclear in communication, and sometimes lie or lie by omission.

In order to understand how to deal with difficult people, you need to know the truth:

  1. You can’t change a person’s behavior.
  2. The only way to deal with difficult people is to change your own behaviors.

A therapist trained in teaching DBT can provide you with techniques to alter your own responses to life’s challenges.

If you think you might be a difficult person, a therapist can help you, too!

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a talk therapy and education program based partially on the techniques of cognitive behavior therapy. DBT focuses on teaching real-world applicable skills while acknowledging that life is complex, emotions can be contradictory, and feelings can fluctuate. Dialectical behavior therapy offers excellent training on how to deal with difficult people because it focuses on social relationships and emotion management.

DBT is divided into four focus areas:

  1. Emotion Regulation
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Distress Tolerance
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness

The skills learned in each of these four components can be applied to encounters with those hard-to-deal-with people.

5 DBT Skills for Dealing with Difficult People

The next time you find yourself in a situation in which dealing with a difficult person is unavoidable, try using these five dialectical behavior skills.

Skill 1: Validation

Almost all humans have a hidden need for wanting to be understood and accepted. This is called “validation.” Validation is a powerful tool for creating empathy, sympathy, and a bond with people. It lets the other person know that you are listening and that you are trying to understand their point of view. It is not validating the unvalidatable or agreeing that what they are saying or doing is accurate.

Validation reduces anger, negative reactions, and pressure to “win” the argument.”  Examples include:

  • Repeating what the other person is saying to validate their emotions: “It sounds like you are mad at me because you believed I lied to you” or, “It sucks that it happened to you.”
  • Admitting your mistakes: “I understand that not taking the garbage out after I told you I would has upset you.”
  • Understanding their core message: “I think what you’re saying is that you want me to finish my to-do list by the end of the day. Is that correct?”

Skill 2: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is more than meditation. It is the act of consciously keeping your mind in the present moment without judgment, which gives you a better chance to control your reactivity and reduce suffering and fear.  Many times, when we deal with difficult people, we allow ourselves to operate on “auto-pilot.” If we are mindful of our feelings and emotions while dealing with an arduous situation, we are more likely to achieve a better outcome.

Here are a few ways to deal with difficult people using mindfulness:

  • Come back to the present moment by focusing on the sights, smells, and sounds around you.
  • Take deep breaths to control physical responses and stay calm.
  • Be aware of rising emotions and let them go by like clouds in the sky.
  • Allow yourself to be silent so you can really listen to the other person.
  • Be conscious of the tone and volume of your voice.
  • Be aware when the situation becomes too much to handle and you need to take a break.

Skill 3: Cope Ahead

DBT teaches emotional regulation, and one of the skills learned is known as “cope ahead.” This skill allows us to prepare for confrontations with difficult people while helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Coping ahead requires us to vividly, fully imagine and rehearse encounters we are likely to have. Here are the steps to using cope ahead skills:

  1. Fully describe the situation. Let’s say you have a difficult coworker who doesn’t do his job and is unpleasant to be around. You are having a meeting with him in two days to discuss his behavior, and you use the cope ahead skill to prepare. Write down or think about all the facts of the situation: how many times he has called in, shown up late, or found checking his phone instead of taking care of customers.
  2. Decide on the skills you will use to deal with this difficult conversation. Maybe you will focus on mindfulness, validation, and active listening. Write out in detail how you will cope with your emotions and urges as well as his emotions and outbursts.
  3. Imagine the scene as vividly as you can. The more you can feel the possible emotions, like anxiety, the more prepared you will be if you encounter them.
  4. Rehearse the encounter. This may seem awkward at first, but write down or imagine how each part of that meeting could go. Rehearse your actions, your reactions to his potential emotions, how to cope with new problems that may arise or worse-case scenarios. Immerse yourself in ‘how to deal with difficult people' skills and feel the emotions that occur.
  5. Rehearse relaxing after the situation. Emotion regulation is important before, during, and after each difficult situation.

Skill 4: G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T.

One of the tools taught in DBT under the interpersonal effectiveness component is G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T. In all the ways we are learning how to deal with difficult people, this skill is the best way to de-escalate intense situations and help you keep your self-respect. G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T. stands for:

G: (Be) Gentle

When having a conversation with a hard-to-handle person, avoid physical and verbal attacks, rising to their level of emotion, judgments and use of the word “should”, threats, and mockery.

I: (Act) Interested

Listen actively and keep your face soft and approachable. Try to see things from their point of view. Don’t interrupt. Try to maintain eye contact and be patient.

V: Validate

As previously discussed, validation is key when dealing with overly emotional and problematic people. Use both words and actions to convey that you understand, or are trying to understand, the other person’s perspective. Their feelings are as valid as your own.

E: Easy Manner

Deescalate by using a little bit of humor. Smile if it seems appropriate. Keep your manner light and easy. Be softer in your tone and words. Try to be diplomatic.

F: (Be) Fair

Be fair to the other person and yourself. It is important to validate your emotions and experiences too. Try to treat both yourself and the difficult person equally by respecting boundaries. It is okay to set limits.

A: (No) Apologies

Don’t apologize for asking for something that you need or for just existing at all. You are allowed to have your own beliefs and opinions and to disagree with others. Remember, don’t validate the invalid.

S: Stick To Your Values

Know your own values and don’t abandon them to placate a difficult person. You have your values and integrity for a reason, and you don’t have to give those up because someone else is becoming a thorn in your side.

T: (Be) Truthful

Dishonesty makes people difficult to deal with, which is why you want to be truthful. Don’t exaggerate or make excuses.

Skill 5: Radical Acceptance

You know the truth: you can’t change the behavior of a difficult person or the facts of a difficult situation. You can, however, practice radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is “...the complete and total acceptance of reality. This means that you accept the reality of a situation in your mind, heart, and body. You stop fighting against the reality and accept it.”

This acceptance of truth does not mean you like the situation or condone the behaviors of others. It simply means, “it is what it is at the moment.”

Here is a possible scenario on how to deal with difficult people using radical acceptance:

  • The situation: Every holiday, my uncle comes to dinner and inevitably brings up unpopular political beliefs and racial comments as loudly as possible.

That is what happens, and it just is, whether you like it or not. Now that you have accepted this inevitability, you can focus on other skills:

  • Coping ahead: Write down the emotions and urges you have when you are around your uncle. Practice how you will react and whether you can avoid him.
  • Validation and G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T.: If he is unavoidable, you can still validate his feelings and your own. “Uncle Doug, I can hear that these issues are very important to you. However, I find it uncomfortable when you express these opinions during dinner.”
  • Mindfulness: Be aware of your body’s clues. Are you present with yourself and the moment? Are you getting tense and angry? Mindfulness will help bring you back to the skills you have learned.

At some point in our lives, we will have to deal with difficult people. We can make these encounters more pleasant, goal-oriented, and safer by using skills learned from dialectical behavior therapy. Contact the mental health professionals at Goodman Psychologist Associates if you want to learn more ways to deal with difficult people or if would like to address other issues. We can help you live life to the fullest!

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Can My Marriage Be Saved?

Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Benefits of Couples Counseling

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times - always with the same person.”

Mignon McLaughlin

When our relationship with our significant other feels broken, some may see divorce as the next step. However, more couples are realizing that unhappy marriages can be mended. The divorce rate for Americans has decreased from roughly 872,000 in 2010 to about 630,505 in 2022. Couples counseling is one reason spouses can stay together. By getting professional help, couples can work through specific issues safely in a relatively short time. The question isn’t “Can my marriage be saved?” but “How can we save our marriage?” With the help of a qualified therapist and a mental toolbox filled with the following 8 skills, you and your partner will likely be able to repair the damage to your relationship and have a successful marriage.

Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Four Requirements

If you have a troubled marriage, the best thing you can do to save it is to get couples counseling. Marriage therapy doesn’t mean that you or your partner have failed. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means you are invested in the marriage and want to improve your situation together.

A marriage is a living entity. In couples counseling, the marriage is in therapy, not the individuals. There are no sides taken because both spouses are on the same team. Unlike traditional therapy for individuals, the most effective couple’s therapy does not plumb the unconscious or seek to identify the psychopathologies causing people to behave in destructive ways. Couples therapy works best when it focuses on the perpetuating patterns that are driving couples apart and what positive steps each person can take to change them.

There are some prerequisites that the marriage team (you and your spouse) need to agree with to have positive couples counseling results. These are:

  1. A common goal of repairing past and present relationship damage.
  2. Both partners have to put in equal amounts of time and effort.
  3. Both partners must commit to doing whatever is needed to solve the problems in the marriage.
  4. Both partners must understand damaging the marriage means you’ve damaged the trust between each other.

Marriages are saved by reconstituting the trust lost between each other. The damage is often done to our expectations and faith in ourselves and our spouse. Trust is the foundation of any successful partnership. For marriage, trust expectations may be expressed as:

  • You trust your partner loves you.
  • You trust your partner to keep their vows.
  • You trust your partner to tell you the truth.
  • You trust your partner to have your best interests at heart.
  • You trust your partner is communicating their needs to you.
  • You trust your partner respects your boundaries.
  • You trust that you are safe with your partner.
  • You trust that your partner trusts you.

If trust is broken and ignored, small issues become big problems fast.

How Can My Marriage Be Saved? 8 Skills For a Successful Marriage

Can a marriage be saved just by going to marriage counseling? Maybe, but there is hard work ahead in counseling sessions, and you need tools to help you fix problems. Couples need to learn some essential interpersonal skills to step back from the brink of divorce and rebuild trust in each other.

Skill 1: Listen to Hear, Don’t Listen to Reply

Communication is key to any relationship. However, most couples find the problem isn’t a lack of communication but feeling unheard. Bad communication contributes to an impaired partnership. We are often too busy thinking about what we want to say next that we don’t hear what our partner says.  Try to listen without judgment.

Skill 2: Speak Honestly

Speak to your partner with vulnerability, honesty, and respect. Don’t assume they know what you need or what you mean. Although speaking honestly can create anxiety, the truth really can set you free and establish new bonds of trust.

Skill 3: Put Your Swords and Shields Down

Use “I” statements to avoid directly accusing your spouse of wrongdoing. Try not to take a defensive position when listening, either. Instead, try to relax and control your primitive, reactive side so you can listen without taking things personally. If something your spouse says really does hurt you or makes you angry, calmly explain to them how you feel and why you feel that way.

Skill 4: Validate Each Other

Don’t try to fix your partner's problems. Let them speak and empathize with them. Sometimes, we just need commiseration and a partner who understands. You don’t have to agree with your partner’s statement, but you can validate their feelings about the experience they are describing.

Skill 5: Learn How to Apologize

Sometimes simply saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Resentment can build if the person who did something wrong doesn’t feel truly remorseful for their actions or doesn’t understand the full impact of their behavior.

An effective apology shows remorse, repairs damage to trust, and makes amends. If the spouse who was wronged gets an effective apology to their satisfaction, the relationship may be repaired. Apologies need to include empathy and compassion, the admittance of the mistake, and genuine remorse. Both partners need to understand the impact of the offending behavior and the repercussions on the trust bond. This isn’t about assigning blame, either. Apologies are done with the intent to heal and move forward.

Skill 6: Don’t Play the Blame Game

Couples tend to blame each other for the current state of the marriage. While the other person may be responsible for some issues, you are likely responsible in some way too. We can work on our behavior and come together to build a stronger union.

Skill 7: Forgive and Forget

Learning to truly forgive and forget is another skill couples can use to save a marriage. If you have received a satisfactory apology and amends were made, don’t hold your partner’s mistake over their head. It may take time for you to truly forgive your partner for their transgressions and rebuild trust bonds, which is ok.

Skill 8: Understand Your Partner’s Needs and Your Own

You need to know your own needs for a successful marriage. Respect each other's boundaries and solidify your non-negotiables. Boundaries and non-negotiable examples include:

  • Types and frequency of physical affection
  • Whether or not to have children
  • Parenting methods
  • Religion in the household

Can My Marriage Be Saved After Infidelity?

Yes, saving a marriage after infidelity is possible.  Infidelity does not always lead to divorce. Sometimes cheating can be a conduit for a better relationship if the unfaithful person and their spouse work with a therapist. The tricky part is determining whether the couple wants to stay together for the sake of staying together or if they truly want to move past the indiscretion. However, there are key things that need to happen for the spouses to move forward. These include:

  1. The person who was unfaithful needs to work on making the repairs to the marriage. They can begin by expressing true remorse for breaking the marital bond and hurting their spouse.
  2. The repairs made by the offending spouse need to be adequate and to their partner's satisfaction.
  3. Rebuilding trust after an extra-marital affair can take time. Allow space for healing and processing thoughts. 

Considerations Before Divorce

Before jumping straight into divorce, you need to consider all aspects of ending the marriage. Of course, the priority will always be the safety and well-being of all parties involved in the relationship.

Should you stay together for the sake of the children?

This depends on everyone’s physical and mental health. If you are screaming and fighting in front of the kids, seek couples counseling. Children are deeply affected by aggressive behavior, and you may be doing more harm than good.

Other considerations to make before divorce include:

  • Have you both done all you can to save the marriage?
  • Remember why you both got married and why you fell in love.
  • Do the positive aspects of your relationship outweigh the bad?
  • Consider the legal, financial, and living arrangement challenges of divorce. Always get legal advice before pursuing anything in the court system.

The Benefits of Couples Counseling

Couples counseling has many advantages, but the biggest benefit is having a safe space and a mediator to help you resolve conflicts. Couples counseling also provides instructions on how to use relationship skills to make the marriage work.

A relationship therapist will help both of you learn to take the middle path between your needs and your partner’s needs. Both spouses will learn the art of compromise when applicable, so you can each bend a little to reach a common goal. A therapist can help both people in a relationship see their partner’s perspective and develop empathy for what they are experiencing.

A therapist will also help you address issues as they come up. The best time for couples counseling is before problems begin so you both have the skills needed to deal with future conflicts and keep the marriage a priority.

Couples Counseling and Positive Results

You should be able to tell early on if the therapy is helpful. Within the first couple of sessions, each partner should feel that the psychologist or relationship expert understands his or her point of view and is actively structuring the sessions. The relationship should be improving in five to eight sessions.

People in couples counseling have over an 80% success rate. However, research shows that going alone to individual counseling for marital problems increases the chance of divorce. That’s because the client is telling only one side of the story to an empathetic therapist. In addition, therapy can become a gripe session about how unhappy the person is in the relationship. The absent partner looks even more like a monster, exacerbating the couple’s polarization. That is not to say you can’t have individual therapy sessions for relationship problems. For example, suppose one partner’s depression or commitment issues caused the discord. In that case, that person might benefit from individual counseling to work on those personal issues (though if the marital problems came before the depression, couples therapy is the way to go). It can also be helpful to bring in your partner for a session or two of individual counseling.

If you and your partner want to save your marriage, or if you want the skills needed to prevent problems in the future, consider making an appointment with one of our specialized therapists. Goodman Psychologist Associates has expert couples counseling therapists with well over 50 years of combined experience. Call 1-630-377-3535 or visit our appointments page to schedule a session today.

Learn More: Resources from Goodman Psychologist Associates

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Being Right or Being Happy: The Consequences of Anger in Your Relationship

The Consequences of Anger in Your Relationship

Anger is a primal emotion that all of us have experienced. While there are positive and negative effects of anger, the feeling itself is neither good nor bad. What matters is how we respond to anger. The consequences of anger can profoundly affect the course of our lives with our partners. When we mismanage our anger, we can damage not only ourselves but also those around us. For people in relationships, it is vital to understand your anger and how to fight fair with your significant other.

Anger And Expectations

Almost every culture on Earth assigns unwritten rules to everyone on the gender spectrum. These "rules," also known as social norms or mores, are what society accepts as expected behavior. For example, a standard social norm is not sitting next to a stranger in a movie theater unless no seats are left. There are social norms about anger, too.

Masculine or "male" anger mores allow for externalizing anger through rage or frustration, and it is expected that men are assertive, independent, or aggressive.

Feminine or "female" anger mores are the opposite. In our society, women are expected to be very emotional when happy, sad, excited, or afraid but are not socially permitted to show anger, so they internalize feelings of rage and frustration.

Generally, everyone on the gender spectrum gets angry with the same frequency and intensity as everyone else. People also don't always deal with anger in the way society expects, either. Masculine-leaning people don't get mad more often; they are just allowed more leeway to express it. And while research shows that feminine-leaning people may stay angry for longer, it is usually because they are encouraged by societal norms to repress it.

These anger behavioral expectations can complicate relationships with friends, families, co-workers, and significant others. When dealing with anger, it is helpful to understand these social norms and review your own expectations, so that compassion starts at the most basic level.

Anger and Your Relationships

There will be anger in every relationship. No one agrees about everything all the time. Couples commonly fight about communication issues, money, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. But some fights come from something deeper that gets projected onto the significant other or ourselves. Outside influences that create stress or anxiety, personal issues, or a cycle of anger from your family of origin can create unhealthy ways to respond to anger or anger mismanagement. The problem isn't anger itself; it is expressing anger appropriately.

Positive Effects of Healthy Anger in a Relationship

The positive effects of healthy expressions of anger in a relationship are:

  • Stronger relationship bonds
  • Opportunities to learn more about your partner
  • Growth and change for the better
  • Increasing the overall happiness of everyone in the relationship

Negative Effects of Unhealthy Anger in a Relationship

The negative consequences of expressing anger inappropriately can:

  • Build resentment
  • Build walls between partners
  • Force couples to drift apart
  • Lead to infidelity, distrust, separation, or divorce
  • Create a bad example for children in the household
  • Perpetuate cycles of anger
  • Create feelings of danger
  • Result in physical abuse and emotional, mental, or sexual abuse

A Note About Abuse: Abuse is never ok. If you are experiencing any abuse in your relationship, seek help immediately. Call the police or reach out to Goodman Psychiatrist Associates at 1-630-377-3535 or The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

The foundation of any working relationship is trust. When we get angry, we get defensive. We build walls between us and the person(s) we love if we don't stay open, honest, and show vulnerability. Instead of seeing an angry partner as someone who may need help, our defensive stance forces us to engage negatively, and the anger escalates.

Signs of Mismanaged Anger

Mismanaged anger is any anger that repressed, suppressed, or expressed in a negative way or with negative consequences. There are real-world consequences of becoming so full of rage that you lose control. You can lose your relationship, your job, friends, and freedom. You can spot mismanaged anger by watching for some of these signs, that range from subtle to extreme:

  • Making impulsive choices when angry
  • Ending friendships or relationships over minor issues
  • Overwhelming pessimism
  • Hurtful, sarcastic, snarky comments
  • Changes in the way we think or problem solve
  • Disproportionate responses to small issues, over-reacting
  • Physical symptoms or health problems like headaches and stomach issues
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Explosive rage
  • Nitpicking
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression

Anger De-Escalation

De-escalation is the first step to conflict resolution in every relationship. It stops the fight from getting worse and allows the parties involved time to calm down and reflect. You can de-escalate a situation by doing the following:

  1. Make sure you are safe by respecting personal space and keeping distance between you and your significant other.
  2. Remove yourself from the situation with a time frame by saying, "I need a breather; let's meet in the living room in ten minutes," or "I need to calm down. Can we talk about this before work tomorrow?"
  3. Mitigate your body's physiological responses. Try practiced, controlled breathing to lower your respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure. Visualize calming, happy memories. Clench and unclench muscles throughout your body, starting with your feet and working upwards. Cool your body with a fan or cold water on your face.

Conflict Can Be Healthy: Here’s How to Fight Fair

We know every relationship will have arguments. However, learning to fight fair by expressing anger or frustration appropriately will create positive relationship effects and avoid damaging the relationship and the people involved. Use these tips to express your feelings:

1. Identify The Real Problem

Are you really upset that your partner forgot to replace the empty toilet paper roll, or are problems at work creating stress? Or are you more upset that your partner doesn't seem to listen to you when you continually remind them to do this chore?

2. Learn Your Triggers

Triggers are words or actions that "push your buttons." Common triggers are being interrupted, feeling disrespected, injustice, or reminders of past traumas. Triggers create an immediate emotional response, so learning what your triggers are and how to control them are essential skills for anger management.

3. No Judgements and Use "I" Statements

Listen to your partner without passing judgment. Attempt to understand what they are trying to tell you without becoming defensive. "I" statements represent feelings, not facts, and therefore you aren't accusing the other person of anything, which could make them defensive and less likely to listen. Use "I" statements like "I feel that you aren't respecting my choices" rather than saying "you don't respect my choice.”

4. Pause

The age-old adage "think before you speak" is excellent advice. In the heat of the moment things can be said that are damaging, hurtful, and may never be forgotten. Pausing also helps you be mindful of your own emotions and reactions.

5. Get Help

Anger is one of the most challenging emotions to regulate because it affects ourselves and the people around us. Anger management and couple's counseling provide safe and effective methods to manage our anger and strengthen relationships. Get help immediately if abuse is involved.

Above all else, remember you and your significant other are on the same team. Don't keep score, and try not to feel the need to be right or "win" the fight, because what is most important is that you and your partner feel respected and safe.

Trying to gain control and change anger behavior on your own and failing time and again becomes a shaming and depressing cycle, but there is hope. Contact us to schedule a consultation for anger management, couple's counseling, and family or individual therapy today.

Perry D. Weingart, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist working in the St. Charles and Oak Brook offices. He is a skilled marital and relationship counselor and with a particular interest in anger management.


How to Deal with Fear

What we do with scary information is my point in writing today. Patients frequently express to me that they just do not know what to do with a problem facing them: whether it’s a worry about their job, their marriage, their child, etc. 


How to Stop Regretting Your Decisions

How to Stop Regretting Your Decisions (And What to Do When You Feel Regret)

You’ve made a plan. You’re going to do it. Maybe you're going to the gym tomorrow, you're meeting a friend for dinner, or you're finally going to ask your boss for that raise. But then something crops up, and you end up doing exactly what you didn't intend—sitting on the couch and letting another day pass you by while you feel guilt and regret.

If you're wondering how to stop regretting your decisions, the short answer is twofold: make choices you won't regret and accept your choices for what they are. In other words, when you set out to talk to your boss, go to the gym, or hang out with a pal, follow through. Likewise, whenever you do something, follow your values to avoid actions you'll later regret.

But for most of us, the answer is a bit more complex. When procrastination and willpower come into play, our choices are less black and white. Here's how to avoid the anxiety that can come from making decisions and how to stop regretting your decisions once you’ve made them.

Why Choices Overwhelm Us

Most choices aren't binary. No answer's clearly right or wrong. Decisions are often complicated, and life can throw roadblocks our way.

Perhaps you planned to talk to your boss today about that promotion, but then the quarterly numbers came in, and you realized that your timing wasn't right. Maybe you planned to go to the gym, but you're feeling rundown, and self-care was a better choice for your body. Or maybe you had to cancel on your friend because another obligation came up or you weren't feeling emotionally up to social interaction.

When we have a lot of goals, even positive ones, we can start to feel overwhelmed, and it can trigger a “shut down.” We might make poor or impulsive decisions to do what feels good or comforting in the moment, rather than actions that will move us toward our targets. Then those feelings of anxiety and regret creep in, and the circuit is complete. We play it over and over, beat ourselves up, feel guilty, ashamed, or sad.

So how do we make the right choice? How do we discover our inner motivation and make decisions that won’t lead to regret? And what about those bigger regretful choices—when we make a mistake and feel bad that our actions hurt someone else?

No matter the size of regret, they still take up energy and brain space. Little regrets may feel like "no big deal" on the surface, but then we can find ourselves fixating on them and replaying them over and over. It all relates back to anxiety. When we experience anxiety, it prevents us from seeing things in proportion. We have a harder time measuring how big the problem really is and how much it will (or won't) impact our lives. How many of us have replayed a cringy comment or embarrassing gaffe over and over when we know that probably no one noticed, or it's already forgotten?

When we experience anxiety, we have difficulty distinguishing between little inconsequential choices like, “should I wear this outfit today,” and big life choices like, “should I accept this job offer?” If all our problems—big and small—occupy the same emotional weight, we can easily get overwhelmed.

Make Decisions You Won’t Regret

If you’re wondering how to stop regretting your decisions, there are a few exercises and tools you can employ to help you feel less overwhelmed by choice.

1. Identify Internal Triggers

When we feel overwhelmed by the decisions on our plate, it can help us to identify those internal triggers that make us feel overwhelmed. For example, when we believe that every decision must be the "right" one, even small decisions can paralyze us.

When you start feeling overwhelmed by choices, take your emotional temperature. How are you feeling right now about this decision? Try to examine where your emotions are coming from and how they may cloud your choice. Think of the bigger picture. Will this matter in the long term? When short-term emotions overtake long-term considerations, consider how you would advise your best friend. When we step back, we can gain some clarity on the situation.

2. Break it Down

When there's a problem you can't seem to let go of, it can help to break it down. If something is really bothering you, or you regret a decision, break it down, examine it, and tackle the solution piece by piece. You may have heard the saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." If your problems and regrets feel insurmountable, pick an action you can take now to bring forth a resolution. Break it down into 4-5 pieces and set a timeframe to tackle each.

Breaking down your problem may be as simple as triaging your regretful choice to see how you could prevent it in the future. For example, if you feel bad you didn't work out this morning, consider the steps you could take next time to get out the door and break a sweat. Maybe it means putting your running shoes by the bed, queuing up a favorite playlist, or even sleeping in your workout gear. Find ways to motivate yourself next time and write today's setback off as a learning opportunity.

3. Do Some Research

Faced with an important choice? Carefully research information before you decide to avoid regretting your choices later. When we educate ourselves upfront about something, we go into the situation with greater clarity and knowledge. We often have more significant regrets about decisions that have gone awry if we didn't consider all our options beforehand.

It's also important that you consider the sources of your information. Look at multiple sources and try to make decisions not to please others but rather to focus on the best possible outcome. For example, your father-in-law may offer advice about the type of car you should buy, but it can also help to read Consumer Reports, research the background, and get a vehicle you actually like.

4. Weigh Your Options

Once you've researched your decision, write it down. Make a simple pros and cons list. It may seem like a silly exercise, but it can be an unbelievably powerful tool when we're trying to make a choice. As you write the list, really assess the impact of your choice. Is this such a big problem or decision? What priority should this take?

Once you’ve written down your pros and cons, the decision often becomes quite clear, and you can move forward with confidence. None of us can predict the future, of course, but when you’ve done your due diligence, you will likely feel comfortable no matter the ultimate outcome.

5. Phone a Friend

Still struggling with worry about a potential regret? Ask for insight from a trusted person, especially someone who will hold you accountable. When we're worried about a past decision or a potential problem, we can find ourselves stuck in a feedback loop. We start thinking about our regret, and it reinforces our sense of hopelessness and helplessness. It puts us into "freeze mode," where we have tunnel vision and can't see the positive options or benefits.

A good friend can help us get back to the moment and put things in perspective. Often, they can remind us that we can handle what life throws our way, and they can help us break down our problems into manageable pieces.

Getting Beyond Our Regrets

So, you've made a decision, and you have remorse. If you procrastinated or avoided a task, how can you reframe it to help you let go of these regrets?

Consider reframing your choice to take a break as self-care rather than a failure. See your decision as an opportunity to recharge and look forward to the energy that you will have once you're firing on all cylinders. We all need a break sometimes, both mental and physical. Athletes know the importance of rest days when they're training—it's during those breaks when the body repairs muscle and gains strength.

We need days when we're structured and busy and days when we relax and rest. During our downtime, we encode our memories and refresh our emotional bandwidth—we process what's going on in our lives. Then when we come back, we're even stronger than before.

Mindfulness and being present and aware of the moment can help us clarify our decisions. It can help us stay focused, channel our attention, and be aware of our motivations and senses. Mindfulness is also a good tool for pushing aside intrusive thoughts, so we can stop replaying those regrets over and over. Finally, it helps us improve the emotional capacity that we all need to deal with everyday problems.

When we make decisions, we shouldn't fear regret too much. Feelings of remorse are an inevitable part of life. If you can say you live without regret, you may not be having enough adventures (or you may be rationalizing missteps and not examining your responsibility when things go wrong). When we anticipate regret, we tend to overemphasize how much we will feel. Often regret is quick and sharp. It hurts, but then it passes.

So, when you make decisions, think carefully and dispassionately with as much valid information as possible. Weigh it against your beliefs, and then go for it. If you regret it, well, keep in mind, there's always another choice to make down the road. Nothing in life is certain, and we don't need certainty to make decisions. We harness intuition and confidence when we accept that certainty doesn't exist. When we embrace uncertainty, we drop the angst.

But what about those big poor choices that we regret? Well, we all make mistakes. It's undoubtedly regretful and painful when our actions hurt someone else. One way we can avoid these big mistakes is to live within our value systems. If we've done something that's not in those values, assess how we can prevent a similar error in the future. Many of us fail to recognize that the things that really bother us and fill us with regret are the actions outside of who we truly are.

Align with your values and move forward. Is forgiveness part of your value system? It's crucial that you extend that forgiveness to yourself as well. We may need to apologize, make amends, and work to ensure we don't do something regretful again, but mentally beating ourselves up over and over leaves us stuck and unable to move on.

If you feel fretting about regrets has turned into rumination, it may be time to get help. Rumination is deeper than fretting or worry. It is when we think of the same thing repeatedly without relief. The constant worry of rumination can become distressing and start to interfere with your day-to-day life.

Fortunately, a trained therapist or counselor can understand and help you put things in perspective. Therapy helps us figure out why things may have unfolded a certain way. It can help us align our values with our behaviors and examine our thought patterns. Counseling can also offer us coping strategies to improve our mental bandwidth and move forward without the paralyzing sense of overwhelm.

If you need assistance working through feelings of regret, please reach out. We have a team of trained practitioners ready to listen and help you move forward with assuredness and confidence.


Dealing with Emotional Pain

How to Deal with Emotional Pain: 3 Ways to Feel Better Today

Emotional pain can stop us in our tracks. It can feel unbearable—almost physically painful at times—but unlike physical pain, taking a pain reliever and getting rest doesn’t make emotional pain go away. If you’re wondering how to deal with emotional pain, you aren’t alone.

Some emotional pain can stem from a major life change or disruption like a breakup, a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. When we can pinpoint the trigger of our emotional pain, it may help us to recognize that it’s part of the natural grieving process. Grief hurts.

Sometimes, though, the emotional pain can feel like it's too much to bear. It may last for months and may start to disrupt our day-to-day activities. When this happens, it's time to reach out for support. Whether the emotional pain comes from a life change or is more nebulous in nature, talking to a professional counselor can get you through. Reach out today to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists so that you can deal with emotional pain in a manageable way.

Why Emotional Pain Happens

Anyone who's experienced the deep emotional pain of a loss or trauma can attest that it hurts. Sometimes that hurt is so intense that it feels physical. In fact, it's not uncommon to experience physical manifestations of emotional pain.

When we're going through an emotional upset, we may have headaches, stomach pains, and digestive issues. Our sleep may be disrupted, and we may find that we're unable to focus on work or our usual activities. As a result, our performance can suffer in our jobs and personal lives.

We may also find that we don’t have much of an appetite, or some people may turn to comfort foods—feeling an almost insatiable desire to eat ice cream, cookies, chips, bread, and other carbs (they trigger "feel-good" serotonin in our brains and help us feel relaxed). Other people may turn to less healthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, or drugs in an attempt to numb and deal with emotional pain.

When we experience emotional pain, we can even experience real, physical symptoms. For example, as discussed in Scientific America's article, What Causes Chest Pains When Feelings Are Hurt?

“According to a 2009 study from the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland, activity in a brain region that regulates emotional reactions called the anterior cingulate cortex helps to explain how an emotional insult can trigger a biological cascade. During a particularly stressful experience, the anterior cingulate cortex may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve—the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest, and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea.”

Those gut-wrenching, heart-achy feelings aren’t in our heads. They’re actual bodily reactions to the emotional discomfort. When we grieve or experience a loss, the physical sensations can be particularly strong and overwhelming.

At the same time, our brains are looking for patterns and reasons for the loss. We may find ourselves going through the stages of grief during a breakup or job loss, just like a death. We might experience "magical thinking” where we believe our thoughts, feelings, or actions might have inadvertently caused something to occur. We may try to rationalize and find a sense of control over the situation. Often, we may look for somewhere to put the blame or think, "If only I'd done something differently."

We may also experience guilt over what happened, or we may find ourselves feeling deeply sad, tired, and listless. It's not uncommon for those experiencing emotional pain to feel overcome with emotion suddenly. One minute we're standing in line at the grocery store listening to a song, and suddenly we're in tears.

During grief, sorrow, and emotional pain, we may also find that we feel anger. We might feel abandoned by our loved ones, unsupported in a situation at work, or enraged at our ex. All these complex emotions can come in waves—one moment we’re fine, and the next moment we’re ready to scream, cry, or both.

Emotional pain is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. It's essential that we feel grief and allow ourselves space to experience the emotions. However, when we don't know how to deal with emotional pain, or it becomes destructive and ever-present in our lives, it may be time to reach out. Whether our pain happens because of a loss or we're not sure what has caused our pain, a professional can provide the supportive space to talk through our problems.

Should we discover that our emotional pain is caused by depression, or if it’s a reaction to circumstances in our life, we can still find relief. While working with a therapist or counselor, it can also be helpful to try these three techniques to alleviate emotional pain.

3 Tips for Dealing with Emotional Pain

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation are helpful practices for addressing many different mental health concerns, including emotional pain and depression. When we're mindful, we bring our brains back "online" and help ourselves reorient to the moment. Instead of ruminating on the past source of our emotional pain (or worrying about the future), we look at the present. Even if these pockets of mindfulness are brief, they can help us find relief and deal with emotional pain.

Meditation and mindfulness are easy to learn. There are helpful apps out there like Headspace and Calm that can guide us through the process. There are also many resources online, including free videos on YouTube that can help you get the hang of mindfulness and meditation.

Practice mindfulness anywhere—at home, at the office, in the classroom. It doesn't require anything extra. To give it a shot, we can try to take several deep breaths, focusing on the air coming into our nose and out of our mouth. As we breathe, we can observe our thoughts and feelings. Rather than getting caught up in a thought, we allow the mind to acknowledge it and let it flow by.

Unlike depression and grief, which can trigger catastrophizing thoughts, mindfulness helps us feel calm and relaxed. We focus on the here and now rather than asking what if.

We can also try a mindful walk outside. During our walk, we can do a mental inventory. First, focus on what we see for one minute. Next, spend a minute focusing on the sounds we hear. For the next minute, focus on a physical sensation—like touching a tree, rubbing our fingers on a leaf, or taking off our shoes and walking through the grass. Then focus on the smells in the air, like the scent of flowers, trees, cars, even someone's cooking as we walk by. Repeat this sensory inventory for the duration of the walk.

2. Get Creative & Cerebral

Another way to deal with emotional pain is to focus on stimulating our brains in other ways. Therapy can often be part of the cerebral or cognitive approach (hence, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). During CBT or talk therapy, we often identify negative thinking patterns and counter them with a more positive perspective.

But in addition to therapy, engaging our brains in other positive pursuits can help us deal with emotional pain in a positive, forward-focused way. When we're learning about a new subject, reading a book, or attempting something new, we use a different part of our brain. We do not forget the subject of our grief (which is often a fear during a loss—we don't want to "get over" someone we love). Instead, we're shifting our brains a little to allow ourselves a rest and to focus on other thoughts.

Journaling can be another technique to help us get our creative juices flowing and start to help us deal with emotional pain. Write out feelings, compose a letter to someone, or look for journal prompts that can help us explore some of the complicated emotions we’re experiencing.

Other outlets such as drawing and coloring, playing music, dancing, or photography can also be excellent ways to work through emotional pain and sadness. While something like dancing may feel challenging (or even impossible) at first, we can channel some of the frustrations and energy into our movement.

Exercise is a great coping tool and can have other benefits for our bodies as well. Again, the thought of going for a jog may seem absolutely out of our range at the moment. But slipping on comfortable shoes and taking a brisk walk around the block, or even doing some jumping jacks in our bedroom can help us start to see positive benefits and boost our mood.

3. Supplement Support

Grief, sorrow, depression, and emotional pain often feel very lonely. We may believe that no one will understand what we're going through; we may feel guilty like we can't offer emotional support back to our friends, or we may feel like we're worthless and people don't want to be around us.

When our brain is experiencing emotional pain, these irrational thoughts can feel very real and insurmountable. But it’s crucial that we find a support system. A therapist or counselor is an important part of the journey, but friends, family, and other people can help too.

We can look through the people in our lives and choose a few key people who might provide a sense of support and empathy. It's important to remind ourselves that we aren't a burden. Part of feeling better is asking for and accepting help to get us through this difficult time. Eventually, we can pay it forward when we're feeling more up to it.

If we can’t readily identify a friend who could support us, consider a family member, a teacher, a coworker, or someone from church or our religious practice. Emotional support can come from many different places, so explore social circles to find a connection.

Even talking to and hugging a pet can be therapeutic and helpful to get us through a difficult time. We can walk the dog or play with a cat and feel less alone. Animals can also remind us to be mindful—after all, they live in the moment, and it can be an excellent example of how we can shift our thinking too.

Most importantly, realize that if you aren’t sure how to deal with emotional pain, you don’t need to go it alone. There are ways to get the support you need to help you move forward to a brighter future. Reach out today to schedule with one of our practitioners. We're ready to listen and help you find ways to feel like yourself again.


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