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Risk and Failure: What to Know About Measuring Life Risk

It is curious to me that so little has been written about the four-letter word – RISK.  Those who do not take sufficient risk in life, whether in pursuit of relationships or achievement, become frustrated and resentful people.  We all know those who have stayed too long, whether in a job, in a relationship, or in a neighborhood.

The endless moaning for “the good old days” often shines a mirror on an individual too afraid to change.  Young people find this enshrinement of the past difficult to understand because of their confidence in being able to meet any challenge and this confidence is usually undented by the many potholes in life.  A balance is necessary, however, between the overconfidence of the young and the frequent resistance and reluctance of the old. 

The focus of much of our national attention is presently on the scourge of drug addiction.  One wonders if the best description for the last quarter of this century is to describe the United States as the addicted society.  Food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or money has become a source of gratification and security that is short-lived and extremely costly.

There is a correlation between the reluctance to grow through exposure to risk and the need to tranquilize the mind and heart from the grimace of opportunity. 

We worship winners. In fact, being a fan of a winning team is somehow considered more noble by many than being one of the losing participants.

Here are some things to consider about healthy life risk:

  • There is such a thing as information overload.  As a culture, we have more access to knowledge than at any time in world history.  Such opportunity can spark inertia as much as achievement.  If the expectation is that one should not move ahead until one knows everything necessary, productive movement is stopped.
  • Collecting opinions on which way to proceed beyond three trusted sources can guarantee gridlock.
  • Failure is a teacher, not a judge.  The greatest personal cost of failure is in what we think it means to other people and, ultimately, what they think of us.  Test out the truth of this by listing your five greatest failures, as you perceive them, and then ask your best friend whether he holds the same perception of you.

Risk sharpens our capacity to adjust.  It is our adaptability as a species that has saved our behinds, not our worship of “the way we were” and the “Don’t rock the boat” philosophy. 

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Too Much Instruction is a Dangerous Thing

Too Much Instruction is a Dangerous Thing: Helping Your Kids Choose a Path

Here she is, entering eleventh grade, and her father interrogates her weekly, “…so what do you want to major in and where are you thinking of going to college?”

We have moved ahead these last years.  She no longer requires a winter temperature of 70 degrees as a college selection criterion.  Her father has reduced his home lecture schedule on the importance of choosing a major by fifth grade and determining promising career paths.  Some progress, at least.

But what is there to tell a son or daughter about the future, based on our own experience?  Is any of that personal, bloody, often boring learning time relevant to the offspring? 

Let’s see, what wisdom should I impart in my note in her lunch bag for the first day of college?

A Letter to My Dear Daughter on Her First Day of College

Dear Elizabeth,

First of all, it is okay to admit that higher education is often drier education.  Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers are not retiring to deliver any monologues in the classes you’ll be taking.  There will be a few teachers who touch the soul, but many are on automatic pilot.  So find the professors by the student grapevine that knows what they are doing and like doing it. 

Get the classes you need to qualify for what you are generally aiming for.  There is a great debate between education and vocational training, between learning to think and learning a skill.  Both are necessary.  Knowing computer programs and your way around the internet makes self-expression a whole lot easier.  Using a computer makes writing a lot less laborious.  At a more advanced level, keep checking to be sure you have the courses necessary to qualify for admission to the next level of study or the certificate and/or diploma required for practiced in the field of choice.

There is rarely enough said for steady persistence.  Expect that a few people or committees will decide you don’t have “the right stuff.”  Rejection hurts, but it doesn’t kill.  Learn what you can from the disappointment.  Even though your heart says no, share it with friends and family; it normalizes the experience and everyone has been rejected at one point or another in their lives.  Remember, too, the length of this game is a lifetime and, if you’re going to play, it’s never too late to score.

Look at what works for you.  Find your groove – it may take 25 years.  There needs to be a match between what you do well (talent) and what you love to do (desire).  Once you own that connection, good things will happen.

Finally, take the above and mix it with your own experience.  Use what works and discard the rest.



Well, that is what I would put in the note for my daughter’s first day of college lunch bag; but what would you tell her?  If you drop me an email, tell me your age so I can see if wisdom alters over time. 


Will Marital Counseling Break Up My Marriage?

Will Marriage Counseling Break Up My Marriage? 7 Signs Your Marriage Needs Help

Marriage can be challenging at times. Maybe one of the wedding gifts should be a therapy gift card to be used when things get tough.  Much like a new dining room table that gets scratched from constant use, relationships can also show wear and tear over the years. So how do you know if your marriage has hit a rough patch or it’s something more serious requiring professional help?

1. Poor Communication

When you are not able to talk about your problems. When It’s just too frightening to even bring issues up — from sex to money, or even annoying little habits that are being blown out of proportion, a therapist’s job is to help the couple become clear about their issues and to help them understand what they are truly talking about.

2. Your Sex Life has Significantly Changed

Most feel that when there is a loss of intimacy, there are problems. While this is true, it is also important to be mindful of either an absence or a sudden increase of sex in your relationship can signal danger. “If you have not been having regular or passionate sex and all of a sudden your partner behaves like a courting lover or wants to experiment with new activities that s/he has never expressed an interest in before, it could indicate that he is experiencing feeling of arousal that are not originating from his relationship with you!”

3. Holding on to the Past

It is a good idea to talk to a professional when there has been a traumatic event in your life, like the loss of a child or an affair — and one partner cannot let the past go. Whatever the situation, every person processes trauma differently.

4. A Reoccurring Issue

One type of red flag that usually can be greatly helped by therapy is an issue that has been difficult in the relationship from the beginning, but regardless of endless discussions, never seems to pass.  When you see that the same issues are coming up again and again in disagreements, it is a good sign they are not effectively being resolved and the couple is at a sticking point.

5. Finances

Disagreements over money are one of the top reasons couples find themselves in conflict. If your spouse keeps you in the dark about family finances or feels the need to control everything related to money, it may be time to speak up. You both need to be aware of your debt, monthly bills, the balance on your mortgage, how many savings/checking accounts your have, etc.  If your spouse objects, it’s time to see a counselor.

6. Kids

Yes, children are a blessing, but they can also add stress to your marriage, especially if the two of you are not a united front. Seek counseling if you disagree with each other’s parenting styles and frequently argue about how your children should be raised.

7. You Still Love Your Spouse

If you still love spouse and really want to make things work, and have not been successful, then consider finding a counselor. You need to seek advice before things escalate and you truly despise the other person. Be a proactive couple who strives to solve issues before they tear at the fabric of your deepest bonds of trust and intimacy.

Whether you choose to seek help or continue down your current path — be aware that counseling does not break couples up or even hold them together. Couples counseling is about helping the couple communicate better and understand what is going on.


Home for the Holidays: Your Survival Guide

Home for the Holidays: How to Survive the Holidays with Your Family

This recent Thanksgiving with extended family was not the Norman Rockwell picture that some of you may have experienced. The father-in-law of my niece was present and decided to poll everyone on who they voted for in this past election and would not be deterred or detoured off the topic. When that fell flat, he then decided to grill a family member on why that person married their spouse of 40 years and how accepting the family was of the spouse. Let’s just throw gasoline on that fire.

Some of you may have parents and family who have supported you 100% throughout your entire evolution.  They smiled when you got the Mohawk and dyed your hair purple in 8th grade, applauded when you dropped out of college to hitchhike through India, yelled, “Congratulations!” when you announced you were seriously dating someone 25 years older than you, and were the first in line to buy shares in the butterfly farm you developed in South America.

If that is your family, then this blog is not for you.

However, most of us have families who, though well meaning and loving, consciously or unconsciously tried to hold us back from becoming the person we needed to be.  They might have been subtle or blatant.  They might have shamed us, badgered us, withheld funds or love – all in an attempt to shape us into who they thought we should be.  And maybe you chose to live half way across the country from them so that you could finally spread your wings.  But now, you are heading home for the holidays.  You’ll be breaking bread at Thanksgiving or lighting the menorah for Hanukkah or opening presents under the Christmas tree with these same folks. 

Not in the top ten items on your bucket list, right?

Yet, on the flip side, these people do love you in their way and you do love them in your way.  So how can you survive or even enjoy this time together?  Here are a few tips.

4 Tips for Family Holiday Survival

1.  Pre-pave with Forgiveness

So knowing you’ll be seeing some folks that have been difficult for you, prepare yourself.  Rather than focusing on how irksome they still might be and how you can “defend”, spend some time using whatever forgiveness process works best for you.  Everything you see, everything you hear, every person you meet, you experience in your mind.  You only think it is “out there” and you think that absolves you of responsibility.  In fact, it is the opposite:  You are responsible for everything you think and everything that comes to your attention.

My insight that the above father-in-law is probably anxious and not very self-confident when he is out of his element gives me some compassion into his intrusive comments and topics of conversation. 

2.  Tell a New Story

Basically, take a situation and experience it from a totally different perspective.  For example, think of an incident from your past with one of your difficult relatives that still irks or upsets you.  Now, image that same incident, but put your relative in a duck costume.  See them waddling around, flapping their arms as they do whatever they did back then.  Give them a Daffy Duck voice as they speak to you and add silly sound effects.  Make this image of them as bright, colorful and big as you can. 

Trust me:  If you spend some time playing with your new, ridiculous version of the hurtful incident, the charge you will feel will start to disappear.  And you may even have some new insights into what was really going on at the time.

3.  Don’t Take It Personally

Everyone interprets life through their own filters and their own assumptions.  What another person sees in you has more to do with who they are than who you are.  When Uncle Warren insists that you’re a fool for trying to start your own business and that you should get a real job with benefits, he’s talking about his own fears and limitations, not yours.   My advice taken from Melody Beattie is: Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.  When you really start to understand this, rather than feeling insulted by what Uncle Warren has to say, you might instead feel curious and may even be able to enter into an interesting conversation about why he feels the way he does.

4.  Bring Yourself to the Party

Have you ever noticed that you can revert to who you were as a child when you return to the friends and family of your childhood?  We all learned to “play our part” in the family dynamic as children.  We were “the nice one”, “the smart one”, “the one who comforted mom.”  Whatever role we took on, we got really good at it.  Like riding a bike, our ability to play that part is still available and, when we go back home, we can slip into those old roles automatically.

As adults, we have grown and changed, hopefully, becoming more of who we really are.  Prepare yourself to enter your old family environment by reminding yourself of who you have become.  Make two columns on a sheet of paper, one titled, “Who I Was” and the other titled “Who I Have Become.”  Jot down the different characteristics of each. 

Now take it a step further by personifying those characteristics.  For example, if you were “timid,” what posture reflects that quality?  And now that you are “self-assured,” feel how that posture is different.  Do you speak differently?  Have different eye contact?  Note your “befores” and “afters” so that you can catch yourself when you slip into your old roles.

Just like giving an important presentation or getting ready for a big date, the key is in the preparation, not for the worst outcome of your family holiday gatherings, but the best possible outcome. 

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The Best Way to Fight With Your Teenager

The Best Way to Fight with Your Teenager

As children and teens and college students are home from school this summer, conflicts and bending and challenging the rules is more apparent. No parent looks forward to fighting with his or her teenage child. But the friction that comes with raising adolescents might be easier to take when we see it as an opening, not an obstacle.

No matter how good your overall family relationship is, fighting with your teens is a constant battle of wills.  How disagreements are handled at home actually shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship.  Also, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the house.  So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as a challenge to be resolved?

4 Ways Teens Fight Back at Their Parents

Research that suggested teenagers approach disputes in four distinct ways:  Attacking, Withdrawing, Complying and Problem Solving.

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.  But even those teenagers who take the third route and comply, simply yielding to their parents’ wishes, suffer from high rates of mood disorders. Further, teenagers who cannot resolve arguments at home often have similar troubles in their friendships and love lives.

In contrast, teenagers who use problem solving to address disputes with their parents present a vastly different picture. They tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go, two outcomes that would top every parent’s wish list.

So, how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as challenges to be resolved?

Compelling new research suggests that constructive conflict between parent and teenager hinges on the adolescent’s readiness to see beyond his or her own perspective. In other words, good fights happen when teenagers consider arguments from both sides, and bad fights happen when they don’t.

Conveniently, the intellectual ability to consider multiple outlooks blossoms in the teenage years. While younger children lack the neurological capacity to fully understand someone else’s point of view, adolescence sparks rapid development in the parts of the brain associated with abstract reasoning. This leads to dramatic gains in the ability to regard situations from competing viewpoints. There is also evidence that parents can make the most of their teenagers’ evolving neurobiology by being good role models for taking another person’s perspective. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.

While all this is good information, research findings rarely translate cleanly to the realities of family life. Conflict comes with heat, and we can only contemplate another person’s viewpoint when heads are cool. Imagine an adolescent announcing his plan to spend Saturday night with a former friend known for serious wrongdoing. Any reasonable parent might respond “Absolutely not!” and trigger an eruption, retreat or gloomy submission in a normally developing teenager.

An interaction that ends here is an opportunity lost. But hard starts can be salvaged and first reactions can give way to second ones. The parent in this scenario might soon find a way to say, “I’m sorry that got ugly. I need you to help me understand why you want to spend time with Mike when you don’t even like him that much. And can you put words to why I’m so uncomfortable with the idea of you hanging out with him?”

No parent or teenager can, or needs to, turn every dispute into a thoughtful consideration of opposing outlooks. And some families weather toxic battles that go far beyond the squabbles inherent in raising adolescents. Still, the balance of research suggests that garden-variety disagreements offer the opportunity to help young people better understand themselves and others, building in them the lifelong skill of finding room for civility in the midst of discord.

(Information in this article is attributed to The New York Times “Well Section” March 16, 2016)

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Angry young men

Anger - Managing a Powerful Emotion

Understanding Anger: How to Manage a Powerful Emotion

Last year you may have seen the disturbing video of ESPN reporter, Britt McHenry, belittling and berating a tow-truck company employee on that company’s surveillance camera. It was unsettling to see a successful, and very privileged, young broadcaster treating someone with so much less socioeconomic status with such disrespectful disdain. However, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we all have had moments in which we have behaved poorly with others, and maybe even demonstrated similarly ugly behavior.

You know the feeling. It's that rage you get when someone cuts you off on the highway; you just want to floor it and flip the bird. Anger is a corrosive emotion that can run off with your mental and physical health. So do you hold it in? Or do you let it all out? Anger doesn't dissipate just because you unleash it. Some insight into why we have it and how it works can help you better manage this raw emotion.

To respond effectively to anger, one needs to increase the comfort level around angry feelings. One can increase awareness of inaccurate ideas about anger and replace them with factual concepts about this powerful emotional response.

8 Misleading Ideas About Anger in Society Today

1. Anger is not an accusation.

Although anger is not an accusation, it is often accompanied by an accusation.  The accusation is the angry person's interpretation of the external event.  Anger can occur and be expressed without any accusations when all parties take responsibility for their own internal reactions.

2. Anger is not a sin, and a person who feels angry is not bad because of it.

Some people believe that experiencing anger means they are not living a Christian life. When you have the time, Google "Jesus and Anger" and you would be very surprised how often Jesus was angry.

3. Anger is not a behavior - often people confuse anger with aggression.

Aggression is a behavior and it is one way some may choose to express anger.  Anger is not violence.  Violence is a descriptive category of behaviors.  Your difficulty in responding to others has to do with the behaviors they may use to express their angry feelings.

4. Anger is not a weapon.

Many parents (without realizing it) may set their children up to fear anger in the same way they might fear a weapon, such as: 1) the child does something that the parent does not like, 2) the parent feels angry and expresses it by physically hurting or verbally berating the child, 3) this behavior is repeated and the child quickly learns to make the anger-pain connection, 4) from then on, the parent wields anger as a weapon of intimidation.  Another similar inaccurate impression of anger is the expectation that angry feelings result in punishment.

5. Anger is not an evaluation of your worth as a person.

Because another human being is angry about something you have done, does not mean you are worthless, stupid, unimportant, unlovable or lazy.  Anger is an internal reaction and another person's internal reaction has nothing to do with your rightness or wrongness as a human being.  It has to do with the chemicals being produced by the body because of the way one has interpreted events around them.

6. Anger is not a GIGANTIC mistake.

Nature did not err when it gave people a wide array of feelings - including anger.  Every basic emotion was built into the human species to survive and flourish (fight or flight).  Anger has helped humans since primitive times as the feeling state that directs us to fight when attacked by those bigger, stronger and faster animals.  Adrenaline produced by anger temporarily makes people stronger and faster, leveling the odds of combat.

7. Anger is not hot boiling water, and people are not teapots.

This alludes to the concept that anger is stored up and added to on a regular basis until it expands to such large proportions that it has to be vented or it will overflow. 1) Anger cannot be stored - anger is an internal reaction created by an overproduction of adrenaline and if a person stayed high on adrenalin he/she would be agitated, unable to sleep, and close to crazy within three days.  2) As a teapot, each outburst of anger would lower the anger level and with each outburst would be reduced until eventually almost gone.  According to the teapot theory, these are the people who ought to have spent all their anger, yet they are the ones who keep on aggressing.  3)  Anger needs to be vented to be reduced.  Anger was not given to humans so they could vent.  Venting fulfills no survival purpose.  As with every emotion, anger serves to sustain and enhance life.  Anger accomplishes this by providing the ability and strength to defend through physical altercation (fight off dinosaurs).  When the altercation is finished, the angry feelings recede, to be reproduced when necessitated by another danger.

8. Anger is not a chronic illness that needs to be managed.

Anger is an internal reaction whose main function is to defend the human being.  It does not need to be managed.  Instead, anger arousal needs to be identified when it occurs and used effectively, within the given social context, to fulfill its protective function.

Here Are the FACTS About ANGER:

  • Anger is a survival mechanism - anger prepares the body for battle.
  • Anger has many cultural and social functions. Anger acts as a social regulator because it is considered the appropriate feeling to have when the norms, mores, and laws of a culture are violated.
  • Anger functions as a social bond. When a group of people focus their anger collectively on an outside group, individual, or situation, the shared anger provides a connection for the members of the group.
  • Anger provides motivation when properly channeled. Anger is the body's energizer!
  • Anger is a method of communication. Anger always carries a message.
  • Anger furnishes psychological protection. Anger can be a means of physical protection and emotional protection.

So, who is responsible for what?  Well, anger expressed in a healthy manner usually requires the simplest of responses.  When two people have an angry encounter, neither, both, or either person may be responsible for the event that initiates the feeling process. From the moment the triggering event is over, who is responsible for what component of the feeling process is clear-cut.

The angry individual is responsible for the thought, emotion, and the behavior areas


The person responding to the anger is accountable for only one piece of the process - the reaction. 

No one makes anyone else feel angry.  Anger is an internal, chemical reaction that the person has learned to label.  It is their reaction and how they behave is their decision.  Emotionally healthy people intuitively know this and respond responsibly.


Why Can’t My Child Make Friends?

Why Can't My Child Make Friends: Common Reasons Kids Have Trouble Making Friends

A pretty 10-year-old girl sat across from me in the office tearfully struggling, “I don’t understand why I don’t have friends. Amanda’s (another girl in her class) teeth stick out like mine, but the kids will play with her, so it isn’t that. I am smart like Brad (another boy in her class) and he has friends, so it isn’t that. I just don’t know?”

Why can’t some children make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself, but if your child rarely gets invited on play dates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.

For kids of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with other kids and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem. It can leave him feeling alone and frustrated.

What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues. Sometimes communication skills or listening comprehension skills are lacking, which can make conversation difficult and sometimes there are a variety of other behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.

ADHD: Kids with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.

Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.

Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Kids with nonverbal learning disabilities may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humor or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.

Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.

Auditory processing disorder (APD): Kids with Auditory Processing Disorder may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.

Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem

Not all kids with learning and attention issues struggle to make friends. For some kids, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Kids with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:

  • Poorly accepted by their peers
  • Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
  • Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
  • Not chosen to play or join in group activities
  • Willing to conform to peer pressure

Kids can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.

It’s a very real issue because many kids with learning and attention issues do stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in other kids’ conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Other kids may react badly or turn away.

How Social Troubles Can Impact Your Child

Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many kids, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless.

It can be hard for kids to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.

Ways You Can Help

If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help.

  1. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.
  1. At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like playdates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.
  1. If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counseling. Counseling can help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.


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