Articles

28Feb 2019

How to Evolve with Acceptance, Love, Peace of Mind, and Empowerment

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Conquer self-defeating beliefs.

Achieve mastery over your feelings and emotional states.

Discover the love you want – and celebrate the love you receive.

Create personal empowerment and success.

Attain peace of mind, self-love, and unconditional self-acceptance.

Really? Sounded like false advertising to me. I was certain that this weekend “personal growth” workshop would be a waste of time. I’d been a practicing therapist for over 20 years, and I had many years of my own personal therapy. There were no more skeletons in my closet, and I’d already healed my childhood wounds.

I moved to Florida 18 years ago and needed to build a new practice. I met a woman at a networking meeting, and she told me that I would get referrals if I attended her personal growth workshop. I would have to be a student first, then I could be a therapist in the room. I told her I didn’t need any more personal growth, and she said I just might get something out of it anyway.

So, I went – with a lot of doubt and cynicism. I already knew everything they were teaching. Then by the second day I saw my childhood, my marriage, and my personal story in a whole new light. I was surprised at my powerful emotional reactions. And I learned a new language and a refreshing new approach to the personal angst that I had been denying. I made new decisions, and I felt empowered to create a new, hopeful, loving, and successful path, both personally and professionally. In short, this workshop changed my life.

Now I’m happy to say that I’m a consultant and instructor for Evolve, a weekend personal growth and development workshop in Delray Beach, Florida. I’ve been teaching this type of course for over 10 years, and I continue to learn and grow through this process.

Five Steps to Personal Transformation

I’ve found that there are five fundamental steps for achieving person growth and transformation:

  1. Conquer Self-Limiting Beliefs – At the Evolve workshop we uncover the true meaning of the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result). Our lives and choices are limited only because we operate on unconscious beliefs learned during childhood. For example, almost everyone experiences some type of emotional pain, loss, neglect, abandonment or abuse growing up. The child learns counter-productive survival strategies to cope with these experiences. Negative belief systems develop as a result of those events and our own attempts to deal with them. Our self-limiting beliefs result in a victim mentality, a tendency to blame others, and other rigid, self-sabotaging opinions, assumptions, and expectations. At Evolve we become aware of these often-hidden belief systems, and workshop exercises provide us with tools to conquer these beliefs.
  2. Master Emotional Agility – One of the most fundamental steps for personal growth is to learn the language and function of feelings. We talk about five primary feelings: mad, sad, glad, ashamed, and afraid. We connect the feelings we experience today with the same feelings we had growing up. Our emotional reactions – especially fear, anger, and shame – are road signs to our limiting beliefs, and to childhood wounds calling out to be healed. When our feelings are excessive, we may be regressing to an early childhood stage, and we may create drama. When we cannot manage our feelings effectively, we may feel overwhelmed and create chaos. When we can’t feel things at all, or we inhibit our emotional response, we may be protecting ourselves with emotional rigidity and “character armor.” When we experience our feelings with a new set of beliefs, we begin to learn how to respond – instead of reacting.
  3. Develop a Full Capacity to Love and Be Loved – As we begin to evolve, we develop empathy, compassion, and the ability to be vulnerable in relationships. We let go of the protections we learned growing up and develop trust in ourselves and others. We learn to love unconditionally, and to accept love from others without reservation. Through this process I learned the true meaning of love, connection, and partnership with others. I know I still have much more to learn – and that’s good news!
  4. Embrace Responsibility and Become Empowered – Experiential exercises help us to let go of the victim mentality, to let go of blame and revenge, and to see ourselves and others accurately, without judgment. We let go of the need to do superiority (grandiosity) or the need to make ourselves small (inferiority). We accept personal responsibility for our feelings, beliefs, decisions, and behavior. And we are then free to empower ourselves to choose a successful path at home, at work, and in all our relationships. We learn how to use boundaries, assertiveness, forgiveness, and gratitude as tools to create a life of authenticity and effectiveness.
  5. Practice Self-Acceptance and Self-Love – Years ago I thought the idea of “self-love” was a narcissistic, contrived, “new-age” fantasy. I was wrong (more accurately, I was influenced by negativity, judgments, and depression when I was a child). For many of us, self-love doesn’t come naturally. The good news is that anyone can learn a healthy, balanced version of self-acceptance and self-love. We use mindfulness practices to monitor and delete the negative self-talk. We learn to identify and let go of the shame we inherited growing up. We replace shame (also known as self-contempt) with self-love when we love the child within us.

You can read more about Evolve workshops, review the schedule for upcoming weekends, and register for courses at www.evolve-course.com. Or you may contact us at our Center for additional information.

23Jan 2019

The Great Shutdown

How Our Relationship is Like Politics in America

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Dateline: January 2019. The parks are closed. Government workers are furloughed. Security lines are getting longer at airports. Food isn’t being inspected, federal loans for farmers and small businesses are suspended, and the U.S. credit rating is in jeopardy. The historic Great Shutdown continues with no end in sight, and hundreds of thousands of people are feeling the pain.

The Relational Shutdown

I’ve often thought that what happens globally or nationally also happens locally, personally, and in our closest relationships. Almost every distressed couple I’ve worked with has experienced their own version of the Great Shutdown. The patterns are familiar to everyone:

  • “He doesn’t talk to me. He won’t respond. I ask him what’s wrong and he says ‘Nothing’.”
  • “We fight over stupid things and she gets her feelings hurt. Then her wall goes up. It takes her days to get over it.”
  • “She attacks me. She’s critical, controlling, and it’s always my fault. So of course I shut down to protect myself.”
  • “Whatever I do it’s never enough for him. He wants sex all the time. Every time he touches me it has to lead to sex. So I just push him away and go to bed early to avoid him.”
  • “I can’t say anything to her. The least little suggestion makes her mad. Then she won’t talk to me.”
  • “We’ve been like this for years. We used to fight all the time. Now there’s no connection at all – we’re like roommates.”

Why We Shut Down

Our government shuts down when the two sides are at war. Each side needs to be right, and there is no compromise. When one side is “right” they make the other side wrong. It’s a classic power struggle – and it creates a no-win scenario. Negotiations lead nowhere, and the system crashes.

Relationships are very similar. Conflict is a normal part of marriage and committed relationships. We get triggered in a thousand different ways. We don’t feel appreciated or supported. Or we feel controlled, attacked, or ignored. In my own marriage we fight about walking the dogs, recycling, and the remote control (along with some slightly more significant issues). We shut down because we’re angry, and we shut down to protect ourselves (from real or perceived attacks).

When there is conflict, or emotional reactivity due to unmet needs, most couples employ what Terry Real calls “losing strategies.” These include:

  1. Needing to be right
  2. Controlling your partner
  3. Unbridled self-expression (verbal bombardment in the guise of self-expression or “communication” – a type of spontaneous venting or spewing)
  4. Retaliation and revenge
  5. Withdrawal

In case you didn’t notice, number five is the Great Shutdown. This emotional and physical distance is often the last resort, after other losing strategies break down. Withdrawal also includes defensiveness and stubborn resistance. A good example is the Donald Trump vs Nancy Pelosi drama, now playing on your favorite cable news network. Does this sound familiar to you in your relationship?

What Are We To Do?

Ultimately, I believe that fixing the Great Shutdown of our government shouldn’t be all that different from fixing relational shutdowns in our marriages and committed relationships. These are the basic steps and principles:

  • We are all in this together – otherwise known as: We are partners and teammates. We are on the same team. It’s about reaffirming our commitment to each other, based in love, understanding and empathy. “Would you rather be right, or be in relationship?”
  • Use an abundance mentality (rather than living in lack). There is enough for all of us – or both of us – when we are willing to compromise and share. Practice the art of giving and let go of expectations (giving unites us – expectations separate us and sets us up for resentment).
  • What do you really need in the relationship? Make a list of needs and practice giving your partner what you need. Then make reasonable requests and be open to feedback from your partner.
  • Find out what your partner needs – you might need to ask directly! Listen, acknowledge, and use empathy and compassion. Your partner’s needs probably aren’t that different from your own.
  • Practice forgiveness and gratitude. Forgiveness is simply letting go of your resentments (never tell your partner that you forgive them – that’s just a sideways form of retaliation, such as “I forgive you for being such a jerk.”) Holding on to resentments hurts you just as much as your partner. What do you appreciate about your partner? Write a gratitude list and add to it every day.
  • Let go of victim mentality. You create the role of victim for yourself by believing in your tragic story. The fix to being in victim is responsibility – take responsibility for your own feelings and create a positive outcome by your choice to be in partnership.
  • Use mindfulness – non-judgmental awareness – and practice non-reactivity on a daily basis. Slow the process down, take a cleansing breath, and use loving-kindness to create intimacy and connection.

If, or when our government practices these same principles and skills that are so effective in couples therapy, we may travel well beyond the Great Shutdown – to creative problem-solving and improvements for everyone.

Couples therapy is highly recommended when there is a repetitive pattern of shutting down in a relationship. Divorce and relationship break-ups are highly associated with ongoing patterns of distance and withdrawal. Our Connections program of marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives is very effective for couples who experience too much conflict and distance. Please contact us today for more information about our programs for relationship repair.

02Jan 2019

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The stock market is crashing. Our government is in chaos. There seems to be a new shooting or act of terrorism every week. The planet is heating up more rapidly than predicted, as we endure catastrophic fires, storms and floods. War, nuclear threats, and authoritarian regimes continue to imperil populations and the world order internationally. While children are still being caged on the US-Mexico border. If you experienced new levels of anxiety and worry in 2018 you’re not alone.

So what’s to be done? How do we cope with all of the bad news?

As a psychotherapist (and occasional political activist) I believe each of us individually and groups of us collectively can and do make a difference. At a personal level we can change the course of our lives and our relationships when we function from the highest, most evolved version of ourselves. History shows that we are capable of great things when we rise to the occasion. We are often at our very best when things are at their worst.

And history proves that hope is reasonable and appropriate even during times of war, poverty, epidemic, and economic depression. That’s not to minimize the tragedy of great suffering and loss, personally and globally. One aspect of good mental health is the ability to experience all of our feelings – fully, without repression or denial – and to practice acceptance as a first step toward recovery.

There is reason for hope and renewal in 2019 and beyond. Hope itself is one of our most important coping skills. Hope followed by positive action is highly effective in creating change. As Andy told his friend Red in the movie Shawshank Redemption, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Reasons for Hope

  • Our system of government and our constitution are strong and enduring. History is on our side (we have survived and thrived after civil war, world wars, impeachments, The Great Depression, and The Great Recession of 2008).
  • The murder rate is actually trending downward in 2018 (despite mass shootings).
  • There are numerous indications of progress in the battle against global warming (such as international climate accords and progress in the development of nuclear fission, which will result in an endless source of clean, cheap power)
  • National and grass-root movements are achieving positive results in the areas of civil rights, gun violence, sexual harassment, and other important social causes.
  • Breakthroughs in medicine and world health include reductions in cancer and HIV deaths, and other improvements in treating and preventing heart disease, cholera, TB, and leprosy.
  • Progress is inevitable – it is an invariable rule of history. We will continue to have many challenges in the future, and those challenges provide us with endless opportunities for positive growth and development.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Progressive Recovery

In which I argue that recovery is much more than repair and restoration. Individuals may “recover” from addiction, depression, and trauma – with abstinence, a return to “normal” functioning, and the ability to live life without dysfunction or disorder. Progressive Recovery is the intention to live life fully, to practice a healthy and robust life style, and to create positive change in ourselves and our world. In Progressive Recovery we grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, and relationally, and we create healthy, productive, cooperative, and loving families and communities.

Imagine a world of people united in their efforts to create a world at peace, to end homelessness, poverty and hunger, to end violence, and to care properly for our planet (thank you John Lennon – you were a dreamer, and you were not the only one). These efforts begin at home. These efforts are relational – including our relationship with ourselves and with others.

7 Steps of Progressive Recovery

  1. Place the Adult in Charge – In my “Who’s In Charge?” self-help model I define our Adult self as loving and responsible. All of us have an Inner Child, an inner Teenager (often lost and angry), and an Inner Critic. Fortunately, we can learn to put the Adult in charge. The Adult is caring, compassionate, empathetic, responsible, and relational. Children and teenagers are often selfish and aggressive. Adults understand the value of sharing, compromise, and the delay of gratification. Who’s in charge in your relationships? Who’s in charge of the world today?
  2. Practice Non-Reactivity – The lessons we learned from the Buddha, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. remain highly relevant and effective. Non-violent, cooperative relationships are creative and productive. We teach non-reactivity to couples who experience relationship distress. It’s a fundamental step toward relationship repair and positive connection.
  3. Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance – The term radical acceptance was popularized by Tara Brach, a psychologist and proponent of Buddhist philosophy and practice. Mindfulness is based in eastern meditative practice, and is defined as moment-to-moment awareness without judgment. When we practice these methods in our daily lives, we approach all problems, personal, interpersonal, and societal with equanimity, understanding, and a belief in loving-kindness for ourselves, for others, and for our planet.
  4. Holistic Communal Wellness – Holistic health considers the whole person – mind, body, spirit and emotions. Holistic communal wellness considers the whole person, the whole family, and the whole community, including the world community. The major religions of the world, quantum physics, and progressive political movements all agree that we are one. We are not simply isolated individuals grouped together in communities and countries. And we do not simply share space together. The actions of one person affect many others. When we care for our personal health, our bodies and our minds, we are more likely to care for the health of others. And as we create optimal health and mental health conditions for our neighbors, communities, and other nations, we also heal ourselves.
  5. Positive Connections and Partnerships – Building upon holistic communal wellness, we achieve more, create more, and solve more problems when we practice social intelligence in all our affairs. We build productive partnerships with cooperation and compromise to benefit everyone.
  6. Giving Back to Others – In Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, Dr. Chopra reviews the “Law of Giving and Receiving”. He states that everything in the universe operates through dynamic exchange. Every relationship is one of give and take. Each of us thrives in direct proportion to our acts of generosity and love.
  7. Practice Gratitude and Forgiveness – Research studies have shown that the daily practice of gratitude is one of the most important keys to happiness. We will never lack for situations and events in life that make us disappointed and angry. (Actually, nothing can “make us” angry. Anger is a choice, albeit an unconscious decision. But that’s for another article.) Today we can practice forgiveness – letting go of the anger, and replacing it with understanding, compassion, and gratitude.

All of us at the Relationship Center of South Florida wish you and your family a very happy, healthy, peaceful, and abundant 2019.

For additional information on anxiety and worry, coping skills, and trauma recovery, please contact us today.

27Nov 2018

The Five Best Gifts for Your Wife or Girlfriend

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

This is a special holiday edition of my series about The LATE Men – adult men who are Lost, Angry Teenagers – late to mature and late to show up as fully functioning adults. They become stuck in an adolescent level of development. The LATE Men experience relationship distress because they’re lost and angry – they don’t understand women and what they need, and when their women express feelings and needs, they often react with anger.

Men Lost in the Holidays

The holidays are tricky and stressful for LATE Men. These men typically grew up in dysfunctional families, and they were culturally influenced by a toxic code of masculinity. This code taught them how to be controlling and angry, and how to stuff their more sensitive feelings (sadness, shame, and fear). The holidays present LATE Men with challenges they are unprepared for.

The LATE Men were never taught how to properly love and care for the women in their lives. So they don’t know what to do during the holidays. Or they’re so angry they sabotage this special time of family connection and celebration. For example:

  • Due to shame or self-doubt they numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, electronic devices, and other activities – and they don’t show up for the holidays.
  • They’re angry because they feel burdened, unappreciated, or they’re running from their shame – and they isolate, pick fights, or become excessively controlling.
  • Many LATE Men do their best to be helpful – even generous – but they miss the mark. They don’t really understand her needs or desires and they buy inappropriate gifts. Or they buy expensive gifts but don’t show up as loving partners.

The Five Best Gifts

Many women appreciate nice jewelry, perfume, and clothing – even certain electronic devices. These are perfectly nice, lovely gifts. They can also be impersonal, with little relational meaning or depth. LATE Men can do something different this year, and surprise her with a heartfelt gift of love and positive attention.

Here are the five best gifts a LATE Man can give his wife or girlfriend – gifts that express heartfelt sentiments of appreciation, gratitude, and love.

  1. Give Her a Break – Let her know you will take care of things at home so she can go out with her friends. Cook and serve dinner for her (and don’t let her do the dishes). Make a commitment to do that once every week. Buy her a package of spa services for a few hours, a full day with friends, or an entire weekend. Organize and plan a romantic weekend trip for the two of you. All of these gifts are more special and loving when they are presented in a romantic greeting card (in your own handwriting!).
  2. The Gift of Emotional Connection – The biggest complaint made by women in couples therapy is the lack of emotional support and connection by their men. I suggest writing a letter to her that expresses your commitment to be attentive, responsive, and emotionally engaged on an ongoing basis. But no empty promises! Add a note in your calendar (one that shows up every week of the year) that reminds you of this commitment. Let her know that you intend to stay emotionally connected by truly listening to her with understanding and empathy.Practice being emotionally open and honest yourself. All LATE Men have a healthy, loving, and responsible Adult self (in contrast to the Lost, Angry Teen, a wounded Inner Child, and a demanding, judgmental Inner Critic). Put the Adult in charge, and focus on maintaining a confident (not arrogant) friendship with your wife or girlfriend – one that includes humor and laughter.
  3. The Gift of Service – A recent study found that women are more interested in sex when men do household chores. And we know that both women and men feel appreciated and loved when partners are helpful and actively contribute to the upkeep of home and hearth. A special holiday gift of service (which may arrive as a written promise in a card or letter) may include timely completion of your “Honey-do” list, organizing and cleaning the garage, painting the house, or planting flowers. Other gifts of service may be ongoing, with a written commitment to wash her car every week, vacuum the house weekly, or do the laundry on weekends.
  4. Romantic Gestures – Write her a romantic poem. Leave a love note for her once a week (surprise her by placing the notes in different locations – such as her car, on her pillow, in her closet). Buy her some flowers – or a single rose. Send her loving texts during the day. Shampoo her hair – or brush her hair. Give her a massage (without the expectation of sex). If you want other romantic ideas, try asking her!
  5. The Gift of Appreciation & Respect – The sincere expression of gratitude, appreciation and respect is one of the four cornerstones of a healthy, loving relationship (along with trust, emotional support, and positive attention). I suggest writing her a letter that details everything you are grateful for. Let her know that you recognize and appreciate all that she does, and all the love that she gives. What do you respect, admire and honor her for? How is she your equal in life, and what has she taught you? Make a commitment to show her appreciation and respect every day.

One final gift idea for LATE Men and the women who love them: Our Connections: A Workbook for Couples. This reasonably priced workbook is a wonderful gift for her and for the relationship. The workbook is “…like a repair manual for relationships.” Based on our popular Connections program of marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives, it is a collection of exercises and articles designed to help couples in the pursuit of a more

secure, satisfying and successful relationship. It’s also the perfect gift for counselors and therapists who work with couples.

For additional information about the LATE Men, counseling for men, and couples therapy, please contact us today. The following articles about the LATE Men can be found in our web site:

The LATE Men

The LATE Man in Relationships

The LATE Men – 5 Reasons Why Men Self-Sabotage

Self-Sabotage: The Epidemic

8 Types of LATE Men

The LATE Man Grows Up

09Nov 2018

The True Story of Thanksgiving

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Most historians agree that the true story of Thanksgiving is quite different from what we were taught in grade school. As children, we learned that the Pilgrims left England to avoid religious persecution – only to face starvation and a brutal winter near Plymouth Rock. We were taught that the locals there (Native Americans) generously helped the Pilgrims to survive on local plants and wildlife, and they helped to protect them from other hostile tribes. Sometime later, these early settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving to honor a bountiful harvest with the natives who helped them.

Spoiler alert: The true story of Thanksgiving has a dark, shadow side.

The True Story

Not that historians agree on all of the facts. After all, Thanksgiving started some 400 years ago. The oral and written accounts from four centuries ago are certainly incomplete. CNN and Fox News weren’t around to report on all of the facts. (Seems we haven’t made that much progress since then. Even today with fact-checking and objective reporting “the truth” is hard to find.)

We do know that the actual history of Thanksgiving is complicated and disturbing. Should we start with the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Native Americans? Before we go there, please know that it is not my intention to tarnish a happy holiday with guilt and depression. Rather, today in the 21st Century, isn’t it time to face the realities of our deep divisions, our fears of the “other” who threatens us, and our mistreatment of those we want to subjugate? Anger, blame, and self-righteous judgment has become a national and political reality. And this occurs in our personal relationships as well (no need to quote the current statistics on divorce, domestic violence, and sexual harassment).

Perhaps if – no, when we face these realities we can begin the process of healing and positive change. One important aspect of healing is gratitude – the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I suggest that we also incorporate a process of honest reflection, and a higher level of consciousness that includes respecting and cherishing those who are different from us, and atonement for our transgressions.

The traumatic history of Native Americans actually started before the Pilgrims landed in New England. Previously, British slaving ships brought their cattle to America, but they didn’t know that the cattle were infected by smallpox. The local tribes lacked antibodies to fight this disease, and the results were devastating: Over ninety percent of them died. In today’s terms, an unwanted, “invading” caravan of white men nearly destroyed the native population. That time it wasn’t intentional. The intentional massacre happened soon thereafter.

The local tribes helped the Pilgrim refugees to survive their first dreadful year in the New World. These generous indigenous peoples were not exactly rewarded for their efforts. Rather, the Pilgrims proceeded to steal their supplies of grain. Maybe the British settlers were starving and they had no other choice. There is ample evidence to suggest that the locals and the Pilgrims were in the same boat. Food and other resources necessary to survival were in short supply, and conditions were harsh and dangerous. If they did celebrate the first Thanksgiving together it was probably not a “cross-cultural love-fest” (see footnote). Rather, they became untrusting allies as they fought off other hungry tribes of Native Americans.

In fact, the British colonists considered the natives to be nothing more than “uncivilized and satanic heathens” (ibid). Not long after the first Thanksgiving, a band of Puritans from England descended upon the Pequot tribe and slaughtered over 700 men, women, and children. In the years following this massacre, a “day of thanksgiving” was celebrated after many similar episodes of carnage.

So how should we celebrate Thanksgiving in light of this true story? What should this day really mean to us? These days we tend to neglect even the old traditional notion of Thanksgiving as a day of gratitude. At best we celebrate our family and friends coming together in recognition of our love for each other. But even these sentiments are frequently lost in the shuffle of meal preparation, over-consumption, excessive drinking, and football.

On top of that, should we ignore or deny our history – one that is riddled with discrimination, oppression, racial and ethnic persecution – even ethnic cleansing? When our denial is on such a grand scale, how can we be sure that we don’t mistreat people we interact with on a daily basis – even those that we love? I believe my chosen profession has a responsibility to bring into awareness that which we tend to hide from. Only through non-judgmental awareness can we recognize what needs to be changed to create something more positive for ourselves and for others.

A Thanksgiving which ignores the systematic destruction of Indian cultures which followed hot on the heels of the Plymouth feast not only does a disservice to indigenous peoples, it falsifies our understanding of ourselves and our history. 

Jane Kamensky, Professor of History, Brandeis University

Only by openly acknowledging the sins of our collective past, is it possible to proceed toward a future that all Americans can feel thankful for. (See footnote)

A Conscious and Honorable Thanksgiving

As I reflect on the anger I feel toward those I disagree with, and as I practice awareness of my prejudice and tendency to blame others, I come up with some thoughts that I hope will guide me toward a new understanding of Thanksgiving:

  • We’re not in this alone. It doesn’t have to be us against them. We aren’t simply Red and Blue States. We’re the United States, and it’s up to us – not just our leaders but all of us – to work toward unity.
  • We can and we do hurt others. We need to take responsibility for our trespasses and our cruelty and we can make amends and reparations.
  • That which is good for one of us is good for all of us. We live in a world of abundance. There’s enough to go around for everyone.
  • As a couples therapist and marriage counselor – and as a husband who continues to learn how to create loving partnership – I know that cooperation and compassion is possible even when we strongly disagree.
  • Something magical happens when I get out of my own way. When I stop being selfish and self-absorbed I can be helpful, loving, and cooperative. Then the magic happens: the love and generosity comes right back to me.
  • Compassion, understanding, and empathy conquers power struggle, fear, shame, and the need to be in control.
  • Forgiveness and gratitude cures almost every form of relationship distress, and the same can be applied to families, communities, and nations.
  • All of us at the Relationship Center of South Florida wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a bountiful, tenderhearted holiday season.

Footnote: Historical research and source material: Schiffman, Richard, The Truth About Thanksgiving: What They Never Taught You in School, www.huffingtonpost.com, 11/21/2011.

24Oct 2018

Fighting for Mental Helath

How Boxing, Martial Arts, (and Other Sports) Keep Us Sane

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Every Tuesday and Thursday I hit Luis. I hit him hard, and I hit him repeatedly. No, I do not need an anger management program. Luis is my trainer and he’s a professional boxer. I don’t actually hit Luis. He wears punching mitts, which I hit in various patterns known as “combinations”. It’s definitely not your ordinary, boring workout at the gym. It’s exciting, and boxing is one of the most effective cardiovascular and strength training workouts available. And it’s a highly effective coping skill for dealing with stress and building self-esteem.

The Mind-Body Connection

There are several significant, documented benefits of boxing and other martial arts. Similar benefits result from yoga and other sports. I’ve tried almost all of them, but boxing is the best overall full-body workout I’ve ever experienced. Research studies prove that intense, sustained exercise results in significant improvements in physical and mental health and well-being, including improved stress management and self-esteem. We’ve known for years that a healthy mind and a healthy body are closely linked. The physical health benefits of boxing include:

  • Cardiovascular endurance – Promotes efficient heart, blood vessel and lung functions, for improved metabolism, muscular endurance, strength and flexibility. Also leads to better sleep, stronger heart and lungs, and a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers. For many years, I’ve been a runner, biker, swimmer, and a gym rat with regular use of elliptical and stair climber machines. Boxing is the best cardio workout I’ve ever experienced.
  • Weight loss and maintenance – Boxing burns calories more efficiently than most sports with the possible exception of running, swimming and biking. Some medical research indicates greater health benefits with shorter bursts of very intense cardio performance – a regular aspect of boxing (I do several intense 3 minute rounds with Luis). And boxing is a great motivation for better diet and nutritional habits.
  • Improved coordination and balance – Boxing is a full body workout that also emphasizes what I call the stance and dance. We focus on standing in a specific position and dancing around the room both offensively and defensively. The training exercises I perform to practice these moves, and the actual boxing itself is excellent training for balance, posture and coordination.

 
Four Major Mental Health Benefits

Boxing has significantly enhanced my mental health and sense of well-being. Most forms of intense exercise can claim similar results. These mental health benefits include reduced levels of anxiety and depression, a positive mind-set, improved stress management, and personal empowerment. For example, Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D., a leading researcher and clinician in the field of trauma recovery (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and trauma from childhood abandonment and abuse) recommends boxing, martial arts, and yoga for improving confidence and self-esteem.

I’ve grouped together four primary mental health benefits and coping skills that result from boxing and similar sports:

  1. A Positive Mind-Set – My first boxing coach told me to relax my face. It seems that I clenched my teeth and had a pained expression – I was anxious and tense. Over time I learned to let go of self-judgment and to keep my focus on stance, technique, and to be fully absorbed in the interaction with my trainer. This is the essence of mindfulness – moment-to-moment awareness without judgment. It’s almost ironic that there is a sense of inner peace in those combative moments when I’m hitting someone! A positive mind-set is achieved with a pure form of focus on the activity at hand. It starts with determination and intention to perform at the highest level possible while enjoying the process.
  2. Personal Empowerment – Boxing builds confidence and improves self-esteem. Human beings are hard-wired for anger and aggression. These are survival mechanisms, and they can be re-wired into positive coping skills. The strength and power that we exercise in boxing come from within. I’ve found that core training includes both mental as well as physical conditioning. Athletic, muscular power is driven and stabilized by core muscles (abdominal, oblique, lats, etc.). Personal empowerment is driven by core personal beliefs – a belief and confidence in yourself and your ability to strive and succeed.
  3. Prevention and Recovery from Mental and Emotional Distress – Studies show that intense physical exercise is associated with reduced levels of anxiety and depression, and improved self-esteem. Boxing is a highly effective form of stress management and anger management. Boxing and other martial arts are invaluable for trauma recovery and PTSD.
  4. Social and Relational Benefits – Relationships are a basic need – just as necessary as food and water. Boxing is very intimate– another ironic aspect of this sport. I’ve developed close relationships with my trainers, and other athletes at my gym. Luis trains my wife and me together on Tuesdays, and I’ve boxed in training groups as well. These have been fun and rewarding social opportunities – but it goes deeper than that. Boxing moves and strategies are fundamentally relational. It’s a great metaphor for several important relationship skills. For example, even in our most intimate relationships we need healthy boundaries: The ability to say no or stop when we feel disrespected or violated. In boxing we stay engaged and we dance together – while keeping our guard up. And the boxing dance – similar to any relationship dance – is more effective and rewarding with proper timing and pacing. When I anxiously pressure my boxing dance, it wears me out and leaves me vulnerable. The same thing happens in intimate relationships when difficult conversations are poorly timed, or when one partner pressures the other. Mindfulness, timing and pacing are highly effective in boxing and in other relationships.

 
For additional information about stress management, coping skills, and relationship distress, please contact us today. Our counselors and therapists also specialize in trauma recovery, anger management, mindfulness & mind-body methods.

Luis “Cuba” Arias is a professional middleweight boxer who resides in South Florida. He was National U.S. Champion in 2008 and 2010. He has a record of 18 wins, 9 by knock-out, 1 loss and 1 no contest. His next fight is scheduled for November 17, 2018 in Atlantic City, NJ, and will be televised nationally. Luis trains at IHP (Institute for Human Performance) in Boca Raton, Florida. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity and the honor to train with Luis at IHP. I’m also grateful to Juan Carlos Santana, founder of IHP and international fitness consultant – he has been referred to as “the country’s leading practitioner of functional fitness.” I’ve also had the great pleasure of training with Rio Santana at IHP, who specializes in basketball, football, and combat related athletes. Rio taught me the basics of boxing, and he’s a gifted personal trainer. I will always value their professionalism and their friendship. www.ihpfitness.com

24Sep 2018

Six Reasons Why Marriage Retreats & Intensive Couples Therapy Succeed

(When Regular Couples Therapy Fails)

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Our award-winning Connections™ program of marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives has national recognition and is ranked the #1 marriage intensive retreat in the State of Florida. We have conducted over 70 weekend retreats over the past 2½ years. With experience, we continue to learn more effective ways to help couples in distress. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to all of the courageous couples who have taught us so much about trust, vulnerability, taking risks, and the power of love.

In this article we will discuss:

  • The six reasons why marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives achieve positive outcomes when other types of couples therapy fail;
  • The types of relationship distress addressed in marriage retreats and intensives; and
  • The six goals of couples therapy intensives and marriage retreats.

Six Reasons Why Marriage Retreats & Intensive Couples Therapy Succeed

Traditionally, marriage counseling sessions are scheduled only once a week, or every other week. Sessions generally run for about an hour or two in length. Marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives are more effective because so much more can be accomplished over 2-3 days. It normally takes about 4-6 months of regular weekly couples therapy sessions to accomplish the same goals. The unique program components in marriage retreats and intensives result in a deeper understanding of relationship distress and toxic patterns – and a deeper understanding and appreciation of your partner and yourself.

Most couples tell us that they learn much more, and feel more hopeful after one couples retreat than after months or years of traditional therapy. Here are the six reasons why retreats and intensives are so successful:

1. Full achievement of couples therapy goals – Couples complete an entire program of intensive couples therapy in 2-3 days (or in our Brief Intensive Couples Therapy package for local couples, the program is one full day and includes six 90-minute follow-up sessions). Research shows that most couples in traditional therapy do not complete a full course of couples or marriage counseling. The drop-out rate is high – often after only 2 or 3 sessions. Their goals for therapy remain unmet. The most important goals of couples counseling can be met during a weekend retreat.

2. More benefits in a comprehensive program – During couples retreats, a comprehensive program is completed – one that provides a deeper understanding of distressing relationship patterns. Couples learn to use tools to create a successful and loving partnership, and they feel more closely connected and intimate after just one weekend intensive.

3. Emotionally corrective experiences (re-connection) – Research studies prove that human beings are capable of meaningful change only when there is significant emotional investment and connection. During retreats and intensives, couples are guided through a series of emotionally corrective conversations – leading to loving and empathic re-connection.

4. A New Depth of understanding – The intensive aspect of couples retreats provides a depth of understanding rarely achieved in traditional couples therapy. Specific exercises during couples retreats deepen understanding and compassion for one’s self, one’s partner, and for the relationship itself.

5. Relationship commitment – The very act of signing up for a couples retreat is a type of commitment to the relationship and the process of healing and repair. In our experience, couples who enroll in this type of intensive couples therapy demonstrate more commitment to follow through and apply new skills than they do after traditional couples therapy.

6. Answers, tools, and a new start – Couples usually come to us with momentous questions and concerns about their relationship and how to create change. Marriage retreats and intensives are designed to provide specific answers to these matters. And our program provides the necessary tools for dealing with communication problems, handling conflict, and creating intimacy. Most couples who complete intensive couples therapy say this is a fresh new start that brings them hope and positive direction.

Types of Relationship Distress Addressed in Marriage Retreats and Intensives

  • The most common problems addressed in couples retreats and intensives include:
  • Conflict, fighting, anger, blame, and power struggles
  • Lack of intimacy, disconnection, shutting down and distance
  • Complaints, criticism, defensiveness, and “stonewalling”
  • Communication problems
  • Infidelity and affairs (including porn addiction)
  • Parenting problems with children and step-children
  • Trust issues and insecurity

Six Goals of Couples Retreats and Intensives

The primary goal of couples retreats and intensives is a relationship based in trust, secure loving connection, and partnership. Both partners feel their basic relationship needs are being met. Specific goals include:

  • Intimacy – Improved closeness, connection and affection, physically and emotionally.
  • Security and trust – The foundation of trust and safety in any relationship is built on the deep emotional connection that results in partners who feel they can truly count on each other. They can depend on each other to be there, to be responsive to their needs, and to feel valued, appreciated and accepted.
  • Communication – Ability to communicate feelings, concerns, and needs productively and with empathy and compassion. This includes listening skills with the ability to hear not only the words, but the underlying feelings and needs. Listening and hearing without judgment or reactivity.
  • Partnership & conflict resolution – Learning to work together as a team, with negotiation and compromise – along with genuine interest in the each-other’s welfare, the relationship, and the family.
  • Compassion and empathy – Non-judgmental acceptance, emotional support and positive regard. This is the basis for learning how to create or resume a deep and abiding friendship. * Family harmony – Improved cooperation and partnership in co-parenting children and step-children. Creating a more loving and harmonious family environment.

For more information about our Connections program of marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives please contact us today. All couples who enroll in our Connections program receive 2 copies of our popular Workbook for Couples, which is also available for purchase separately through our web site. The following links provide additional information:

www.rcosf.com/marriage-retreats/

www.rcosf.com/couples-therapy-boca-raton/

www.rcosf.com/relationship-distress-boca-raton/

www.rcosf.com/couples-retreats-intensives-marriage-retreats-relationship-distress-infidelity-trust-issues/

14Aug 2018

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Cheating, infidelity, and affairs are extremely traumatic events in love relationships. Marriage and committed relationships are fundamentally based in trust and security. Infidelity and trust issues are a leading cause of severe relationship distress. Infidelity is an extreme violation of basic trust and safety in a relationship. There are many types of infidelity, including emotional affairs, sexual affairs, online flirtations, and other violations of trust. Some partners consider the excessive use of pornography as a type of infidelity.

Why Do People Have Affairs?

More than half of the couples we see in therapy and in our Connections marriage retreats have experienced some type of infidelity. It is often a primary focus of our work with couples. Women have affairs less frequently than men, but it’s not uncommon. There are many reasons why people have affairs. Most frequently people who have affairs don’t feel loved or desired, and their circumstances provide an easy opportunity (such as a close work relationship).

The offended partner, sometimes referred to as the injured or betrayed partner, is devastated. Trust is shattered, and this partner feels victimized, violated, deeply wounded emotionally, and often furious. The betraying partner – the one who cheated – may feel ashamed, guilty, anxious, and sometimes relieved that he or she no longer needs to hide this terrible secret.

When an affair is discovered – or strongly suspected – the betrayed partner needs a plan of action. In most cases, the betraying partner should be included in this process.

What should the betrayed partner do? What actions should be taken?

There is no single action that will fit every person and every circumstance. This is not a “One Size Fits All” situation. That being said, the following steps and coping skills are recommended:

  • The devastating emotional impact of the infidelity must be addressed. You should seek out emotional support from a neutral third party. Counseling or psychotherapy is strongly recommended because of the neutrality of the therapist. Talking to a close friend or family member can help, but can also present complications, since in many cases this person already knows your partner, and these relationships may be negatively affected in the future. And can a family member or friend really be neutral?
  • When you have direct evidence that your partner has cheated (or when your partner has already admitted to cheating): You should confront your partner in a non-attacking manner. The best strategy is to state clearly and simply that you know your partner has cheated, and that this behavior is totally unacceptable. Then wait for the response. If your partner denies the affair, then you should provide the evidence, as calmly as possible. If your partner admits to cheating, and is willing to explain and clarify, this can be a productive start. If the situation escalates emotionally, you should take a time out and resume the conversation later, if possible.
  • You should demand that your partner end this relationship immediately. A total no-contact rule is best in these cases. No texts, emails, phone calls, and certainly no in-person meetings. If your partner works with the other person, you should ask your partner to avoid talking to that co-worker about anything other than essential work-related matters. If your partner refuses to end the relationship, it may be time for an ultimatum – either give it up, or face the consequences that you will end your relationship.
  • When there is no definitive evidence, and when your partner denies cheating: This is a more difficult situation that will require time and patience. If you have considerable circumstantial evidence (that is, no actual proof, but it’s more than “just a feeling”) there are some difficult choices to face, and therapy is recommended. In most of these cases, I’ve found that there is already significant relationship distress in addition to the infidelity and trust issues. It may be time for a trial separation – possibly separate bedrooms in the case of married couples or cohabitants. Some time and distance apart can be very revealing.
  • You need to fully experience the depth of emotion that occurs when cheating is revealed. You should allow yourself to feel all of the pain, sadness, fear, anger, and shame without denial or attempts to control the feelings. Meditation and journaling can be quite helpful.
  • Couples therapy is highly recommended. This will provide a forum, in a neutral setting, for you to explore and discuss what happened. Couples therapy is an ideal setting for your partner to explain the cheating and why it happened. Your partner should eventually be able to hear you, with unconditional acceptance and openness, your feelings and concerns. Your partner should be able, after some time in couples therapy, to express empathy and compassion for your emotional injury. The meaning behind the affair should be explored – that is, how and why this happened.
  • Self-care should be a priority. These coping skills include: Eating a nutritious diet, even if you’re not hungry. Avoid drinking excessively. No drugs at all unless prescribed by a physician. Exercise can be very beneficial. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep. If you experience physical distress, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or chronic insomnia – or if you are unable to work – you should consult a physician.
  • Practice positive thinking (when the painful feelings aren’t overwhelming). As difficult as it seems right now, this is a temporary situation. It will pass with time. Often, an affair is a wake-up call. Perhaps there were problems in the relationship that weren’t being addressed; or perhaps your personal needs were not adequately being met in this relationship.
  • Over time, assuming the relationship continues, a process of forgiveness is recommended. Forgiveness does not mean letting your partner off the hook. Rather, it’s a letting go of the anger and resentment. Tell yourself that in forgiving you set yourself free – free from the anger, the pain, and the suffering.

In most cases, therapy is necessary to fully heal and to move on with life in a positive manner. Couples therapy or one of our Connections retreats is highly recommended. For further information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our relationship experts, please contact us today.

20Jul 2018

And Suggestions for Positive Connection

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

This is another article in my series about The LATE Men – men who are chronologically adult but late to mature – late to show up as fully functioning adults. They’re stuck, emotionally, psychologically, and relationally, in an adolescent level of development. The LATE Men experience relationship distress because they’re lost and angry – they don’t understand women and what they need, and they react with anger. With some relationship coaching, the LATE Men create more successful partnerships with the women in their lives.

The LATE Men

The LATE Men (adult men who function as Lost, Angry Teens) are emotionally and behaviorally undeveloped, and like teenagers, they often show up late – late to mature, and late to make or keep commitments. These men tend to self-sabotage, causing relationship distress, and problems at work and at home. LATE Men can be narcissistic, confused, angry, controlling, passive-aggressive, and defensive.

The LATE Men typically come from dysfunctional families – with divorced parents or broken homes, fathers who were emotionally or physically absent, mothers who were over-worked or overprotective, or they were mistreated emotionally or physically. Relationship coaching and specialized counseling for men, can help the LATE Men to become the loving, responsible Adults that most men truly want to be.

Understanding Women and Their Needs

Women aren’t all that different from men emotionally and relationally. All of us experience the primary feelings of anger, sadness, joy, love, fear and shame. And all of us need positive, safe emotional connection with others. The LATE Men often have difficulties recognizing and understanding their own feelings. So it’s even more difficult for them understand the women in their lives. This guide is offered to help men manage – and even prevent – relationship distress caused by misunderstanding and negative reactions.

    • It’s All (or Mostly) About Emotional Connection  One of the most frequent complaints I hear from men is that their women just keep talking, on and on, about things that are meaningless, irrational, or insignificant. Women complain that their men don’t listen, or that they are dismissive. This is not a communication problem. Rather, it’s about emotional connection. Boys learn to talk mostly about external things (think cars and sports) or actions (performance). And boys are generally discouraged from talking about feelings or relationships. In the absence of these relational skills, the LATE Men misinterpret adult women, resulting in angry reactivity, conflict, and relationship distress. Unlike men, women frequently talk to create or maintain emotional connection and intimacy. Women want to be seen and heard – and they’re looking for emotional attunement (literally tuning into each other’s emotional wavelength).
    • Safety First  Historically and biologically, women have been smaller, less physically strong, and more vulnerable than men. At least in the past, Job #1 for men was to protect and provide for their women. Times have changed, and women are more empowered, but fear and anxiety is still a core emotional reality for women. Women need to feel safe in relationships with men. When women are critical, controlling, or demanding, they may feel unsafe (possibly feeling abandoned or insecure in the relationship) – and they may be looking for reassurance.
    • Love  Obviously… But what does that mean? I’ve learned from many women that they feel loved when there is emotional support, when their men are available, attentive, and responsive, and when there is a sense of positive emotional engagement. Women want to know that their men are there – and they care.
    • Desirability  Women want to know that their men want them and find them desirable. They want to know that their men find them attractive and sexually appealing. (But most women don’t want to be ogled or groped.)
    • Respect  Aretha Franklin got it right: “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you get home.” She wants to be appreciated and valued for who she is – not just for what she does.
    • Partnership  The old patriarchal code is dead or dying, even in our current political climate. In fact, our current political struggles could be symptomatic of this doomed male dominance. Women are no longer resigned to playing second fiddle to their men. Partnership will replace patriarchy in the new world, or at least the new, emerging American order. Women will continue to need men – as committed partners who, as men, are both strong and sensitive.

    Relationship Coaching for Positive Connection

    The LATE Men can learn to do much more than to just avoid relationship distress. And they can do much more than simply please their women and make them happy. They can empower themselves to become more complete human beings – to live fuller, more meaningful lives with a fuller range of emotional expression and much more satisfying relationships. These are the most important tips for creating successful relationships with women:

    1. Empathy, Compassion, and Emotional Support  It’s not that hard. Even the toughest, most emotionally disconnected LATE Man can learn how express loving kindness. Relationship coaching is highly effective in teaching men the most effective winning strategies with women. It’s all about connecting heart-to-heart. Men tend to react from their own narcissistic wounds, and they can learn to see things differently – to rationally understand that it’s not about them. It’s about women in distress – and women who need support and positive emotional connection. Then, the LATE Men can access their own internal sensitivities and simply express compassionate understanding and support.
    2. Reassurance  It’s amazing how positive and responsive women can be when they feel safe. A little reassurance goes a long way. Just let her know that you’re there and you care. Not in a flippant or dismissive manner of course. Look into her eyes and hold her close – even if she’s a little resistant or angry (without forcing it!). Let her know that you love her, and that you’re there for her. Tell her that “Together we will work this out.”
    3. Show Her You Love Her  Do you know her well? Most LATE Men don’t know a lot about what she likes, wants and needs. John Gottman developed a very effective Love Map exercise (also available in our Connections: A Workbook for Couples). Tuning in to these preferences and desires is a wonderful act of love that will pay many dividends. And just telling her every day that you love her – in person, in little love notes, texts, etc. – will result in a much improved relationship. Listen with interest when she talks; and let her know you understand and appreciate her feelings. And flowers, doing chores, or washing her car without being asked are acts of loving kindness that will be much appreciated.
    4. Respond – Don’t React  You’re feeling blamed or attacked. She’s upset – maybe angry. Your natural response is to react, with defensiveness or anger. Don’t do it. Stop, pause, take a breath. Now do the opposite – instead of anger or shutting down, try empathy, loving kindness, or just ask her what she needs from you, gently and patiently. Set a loving boundary when she does cross that line (that is, when she’s truly offensive or abusive).
    5. Open Up  Let her know about your authentic self. Practice the language of feelings: mad, sad, glad, ashamed and afraid. And know that your anger protects your more vulnerable feelings of sadness, shame and fear – and avoid blaming, critical, and defensive behavior. Be willing to let her see your internal self. Let her know what you need. Share your hopes and dreams as well as your fears. She will feel closer to you, more trusting, and more compassionate.
    6. Respect & Appreciation  Isn’t that what you want from her? Start with the belief that she loves you and that she’s doing the best she can. Just like you. Let her know you appreciate all that she does and respect her uniqueness and individuality. Treat her like she’s your best friend. You don’t have to agree with everything, but respect and appreciation goes a long way.
    7. Partnership  You’re not the boss. There’s no place for domination and control in the new world order. Women have the same rights as you and are just as equal. Millennials have it right –they are much more egalitarian in their relationships and marriage than any other generation in our history. And they report much more relationship and life satisfaction. Let her influence you and your decisions – this is one of the most important keys to a successful partnership.

    Please contact us today for more information about relationship coaching and counseling for men. For more information about the LATE Men, please read the articles listed below. And stay tuned to our monthly emails and this web site – The LATE Men will be published as a complete self-help book in 2019!

    Who’s In Charge?

    The LATE Men

    The LATE Man in Relationships

    The LATE Men – 5 Reasons Why Men Self-Sabotage

    Self-Sabotage: The Epidemic

    8 Types of LATE Men

    The LATE Man Grows Up

03May 2018

Lessons from Westworld – Escape the Maze of Anxiety, Depression, Anger & Shame

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Westworld is a critically acclaimed sci-fi western TV series on HBO, now in it’s second season. As described by HBO.com, “… this dark odyssey follows the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin.” This provocative show also examines how we are programmed to enact story lines in our lives – stories that are often painful and full of loss, anger, anxiety and worry, depression and shame. Westworld is a dramatic example of how we can learn to change our personal stories.

What is Your “Story”?

All of us have a story – also known as a “narrative.” Actually, we have several interrelated stories running continuously. Some of these stories are conscious, and many are unconscious. Our stories include subjective versions of past history – stories about what happened growing up, about family members, friends, lovers, and important events. And we create a story about who we are, our personal identity, beliefs, and world view.

Exercise

Try this thought exercise – you might want to write it down. Answer these questions:

  • Who are you? How would you describe your life, your personality, and the kind of person you are?
  • What were the major events in your life so far, and how did these events affect and shape you as a person?
  • Who are the most important people in your life, past and present?
  • What are your biggest accomplishments – how have you been successful?
  • What are your biggest challenges – how do you struggle in life today?
  • What are your most important core beliefs – about people, relationships, politics, religion, and the meaning and purpose of life?

Review your answers. Is this you? Or is this a story about you?

Are You Your Story?

In Westworld, the “Hosts” are androids – robots that look, sound, and feel completely human. Their “brains” are actually highly sophisticated computers that are programmed by humans with a plot – a story – that guides their behavior with the “Guests” (the humans who interact with them at a western-themed amusement park). The Hosts cannot harm the human Guests, but the Guests can do anything they want with the Hosts. Until something goes wrong, and the Hosts begin to evolve… They begin to break free from their programmed narratives – they change the story.

Humans are also programmed with narratives, and we are often unaware of the stories that guide our lives. We are programmed by our parents, schools, our culture, and religion. Throughout our lives we review our internal stories, and gather new information or “evidence” to corroborate these narratives. There are several core themes in our stories – much like the plot lines in Westworld and other dramas. Some are positive and life-affirming, and some are quite distressing. Some common examples of the distressing themes in our stories include:

  • The Victim Theme – We feel victimized by someone or by circumstances. We feel wounded, blamed, helpless and unfairly treated. We believe we are being oppressed or mistreated. We may feel angry or righteous, and we might retreat into passive resignation. Or we may fight back against our real or perceived transgressors.
  • The Shame Theme – Everything from low self-confidence to toxic shame (“I’m not good enough”). When we’re shame-based, we’re often passive, dependent, and feel unlovable. We may become socially isolated due to fears of judgment and rejection, and we may under-function at work due to feelings of inferiority.
  • The Anxiety & Worry Theme – Like film-maker and actor Woody Allen, this theme is fear-based. We don’t feel safe in the world or in relationships. We believe something bad will happen, especially if we’re not hypervigilant or hyper-prepared. We become obsessive, risk-averse, or we may use addictions to self-medicate.
  • The Depression ThemeDepression may be thought of as a diagnosis, a condition, and even a coping mechanism (but not a very good coping skill!). It can also become a story – one that can take over your life and cause endless suffering. It’s a theme of negativity, hopelessness, and helplessness, with a focus on the half-empty glass.
  • The Story About Relationship Distress – This story develops over time in committed relationships and marriage. But, like other themes, this narrative is often influenced by pre-existing stories from childhood (for example, trust issues and insecurity resulting from childhood experiences). These themes contain our subjective explanations for conflict, fighting, distance and other problems. Our story is a personally biased and limited view of what goes wrong in our relationships.

There are many other negative themes and story lines, such as the Angry Theme with blaming and persecution, the Grandiose and Superior Theme (narcissistic, self-absorbed, and better than thou), and the Controlling and Demanding Theme. What are the negative themes in your narrative?

Are You Lost in Your Story?

Most of us have a tendency to get lost in our stories. But you are not your story. It’s not who you are – it’s simply a set of beliefs that run automatically in the background – until the story becomes activated. These narratives are representational – that is, the stories represent some aspects of reality. But there are also distortions in all stories.

When we experience too much anxiety and worry we may be lost in our story about our fears, and we may not recognize that we’re actually safe. When we experience depression, it can become an elaborate narrative about everything that’s wrong or negative – and we’re not able to see the positives and the possibilities because we’re lost in story. When we experience relationship distress, we may rigidly adhere to a negative script or narrative about our partners and why they’re aggravating, wrong or hurtful. But it’s only a subjective story – it’s not the whole truth.

The good news is that you can change your story.

How to Change Your Story

  1. Study the script – The Hosts in Westworld slowly became aware of their own programming. You can do the same. I recommend meditation and journaling. Try writing a script based on your own stories. Describe your character (that would be you): What do you do? What are your beliefs and values? What do you say? How do you create anxiety and worry in your life? How do you create relationship distress?
  2. Rewrite your character – Change the themes in your story. See the themes listed above, and create a new focus, with new choices and intentions. For example, if a major theme in your story is Victim, rewrite a similar story line from the perspective of the Empowered Survivor. Bad things happened to you but emphasize the ways in which you coped effectively – you not only survived, you evolved, and maybe you conquered adversity.
  3. Create new plot lines – At the heart of our stories we create meaning. For example, a shame-based theme means that you will always have self-doubt – it will never be good enough. A new plot would have a more realistic premise: All of us have strengths and positive resources. Even if you’ve failed at something in the past, you haven’t always and won’t always fail. You are much more likely to succeed if you operate from realistic beliefs about your value and your abilities.
  4. Write new outcomes for your story – Envision positive outcomes. Imagine the many possibilities for success at work, at home, and in your relationships. One of the most effective coping skills is to live a life of intention.
  5. Develop new action sequences – Based on the re-written characters in your story, with new plot lines and positive outcomes, create new action sequences. Change your behavior to reflect the new beliefs, meaning, and goals. Act “as if” you are now programmed for success.

These five steps are relatively easy to do. We will never be perfect and we don’t have to be. It’s about progress, not perfection. Our old stories will never disappear completely. But we can override these negative themes with a little patience and perseverance. If your story feels impossibly stuck, our counselors and therapists are here to help. Let’s re-write your story together. Contact us today for more information.

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