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Growth Through Empathy by Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

I have been obsessed with personal growth for years.  This statement probably isn’t all that shocking being that I am a therapist, and growth is kind of our thing.  Being the self starter, type A personality that I am, I seek out ways to improve myself through my own actions.  I monitor my thinking, surround myself with inspiration and encouragement, read everything I can about self improvement, and then put that learning into action daily.  I develop routines for my self care, have a special space in my home that is dedicated to it, and I use all my tools in an effort to be my best self so I can live my best life.  But here’s the thing, all of that, it’s all about ME. Me, me, me, me, me. Don’t get me wrong I love me some me, but if my growth was 100% focused on me, I would probably explode.  

 

For our growth to happen, we must mature–physically, socially, and most importantly, emotionally.  Emotional maturity demands we think outside of ourselves, inviting others and their own emotions into our journey.  When we step outside of ourselves and our own needs, lending a piece of ourselves to another, we open up an opportunity for growth through that connection.  Acknowledging another’s validity as a human being is powerful, not only for them but for you as well. It is easier to believe other people see you as valid when you are doing the same to them.  The opposite is also true. If you view others through a critical lens, it is easier for you to imagine they too are seeing you critically and judging you as harshly as you have judged them. The growth mindset is based on a secure sense of self.  This security allows you to explore new ways of thinking, being, behaving, and connecting. The greatest way we can connect with another person is through empathy and validation.

 

Empathy may not come naturally for you, and that’s okay.  Thankfully, empathy skills can be taught and improved upon.  We can intentionally increase our empathy levels for other people and in doing so we grow personally.  We feel more connected not only to those around us but to ourselves as well. If you feel that being empathetic isn’t really in your wheelhouse, here are a few ways you can increase your empathy and validation skill set.

 

  • Imagine yourself in the same situation
    • For example, if a friend says they have been having difficulties with their spouse and tells you about one of their recent arguments, try imagining what that was like for him or her in that moment.  
  • Don’t try to fix the situation
    • There is no quicker way to shut a person down than offering unsolicited advice.  Allow yourself to imagine what being in that situation would feel like, but do so without trying to fix the problem.  Waiting until a person asks for your opinion on what to do shows that you trust them to know what they need to do to make this better, and you respect their choices and emotions.  
  • Don’t try to change their feelings about the situation
    • Like trying to fix something for another person, trying to change someone’s emotions will leave them feeling invalidated and detached. This can also create a false belief within you that you aren’t allowed to feel uncomfortable emotions or express negativity. Instead, allow the person to lean into their feelings without you having to save them from negative or uncomfortable emotions.  Remember they won’t feel bad forever. If that’s how they feel at the moment, trying to cheer them up will only drive them further away. You don’t have to agree with their reaction, simply allow it.
  • Use a generous hypothesis  
    • In any circumstance, we can practice giving others a generous hypothesis regarding their motives, background, reasoning, etc.  It can be so easy to do the opposite. “That homeless man isn’t even trying to get a job.” “You wouldn’t be in this bad relationship if you would just have a backbone and leave.”  “He’s always late for work because he is lazy and doesn’t have any work ethic.” These negative narratives we recite about other people can damage us internally, not to mention fracture any chance of a healthy and happy relationship with others.  Practicing generosity in our thoughts opens us up to more connected and positive relationships, not to mention we begin to believe others are also doing the same for us. “That homeless man looks kind even though he is clearly going through what has to be a difficult time in his life.” “She wants her relationship to be healthy and fulfilling so deeply that she is willing to stick with it even when it’s hard.” “He probably has a lot going on in his home life since he is late everyday.  It must be so stressful for him.” Changing how we look at others changes our own perspectives of ourselves–allowing continued growth.

 

I know it seems counterintuitive to use caring for other people as a personal growth tool.  It is kind of like the argument that there is no selfless good deed because doing something good for others benefits us as well.  But honestly, who cares? Being empathic and validating has benefits for us as well as others, and some of the best things in life are designed to help the many rather than the few.  Personal growth can not happen in a vacuum. Likewise, it won’t happen to us, personal growth has to be intentional, meaning we have to work for it. Change and maturity is not always comfortable or easy, but it is always worth it!

It’s Time for a Vacation: How Travel Helps You Grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time for a Vacation: How Travel Helps You Grow

by: Angela S. Taylor MA, LPC-S

It’s that time of year where we’ve all been cold and stuck in doors for seemingly way too long.  We’re longing for warmer days and some good outside fun. A lot of us dream of travelling to a great beach, exploring a new city, or taking a good road trip with numerous stops along the way, but many of us fail to put those dreams into action.  We feel like we don’t have the time, money, and/or the tasks to plan a vacation are just too daunting. But, the rewards of a good vacation are immeasurable! Here a few reasons why you deserve to travel and take that vacation you’ve been talking about for years:

  1.        You need (and deserve) rest.

You are constantly busy and moving.  In fact, our culture celebrates business that can lead to unhealthiness.  You’re juggling work, raising kids, being a partner, taking care of your home, being a friend, and the list goes on.  I know it feels like the last thing you have time for is a trip, but trust me. You will feel more energized and able to accomplish so much more when you give yourself a break and take some time to rest.  Your body and mind are exhausted, and you need time to regroup. You’ve worked hard for this and truly earned it!

  1.       Travel increases happiness.

Not only are you stepping away from everyday tasks, routines, and obligations, you are probably also getting some much needed outside time.  Hopefully, you won’t be doing as many chores and you’ve set aside work to focus on being present on your trip. You’re spending your days mostly away from social media, technology, and the mundanity that can feel suffocating.  At the same time, you’re getting the additional benefits that activity and the sun provide. While you’re enjoying the outside, your body is being flooded with serotonin and dopamine (those feel good chemicals we all need). Those chemicals are essential and lasting if nourished.

  1.       Travel shifts your perspective.

When we are moving about our lives and “getting stuff done,” our world can feel very small.  The small things tend to feel bigger, and the big things feel overwhelming. Every once in awhile, it’s good to force ourselves to see that there’s a bigger world out there.  It’s nice to see that other cultures have different areas of focus, and maybe that helps us really look at where we are expending our energy and if it’s placed in the areas that are truly significant to us.  Are those priorities what we want to continue to spend time on, or do we want to shift or change a little to push towards what is really important to us? Travel can help us solidify our beliefs about what is meaningful, change our perspective, or be some combination of those things.

  1.       Relationship Improvement

Whether you go by yourself, with family, or with your friends, your relationships can grow and improve when you travel.  If you are by yourself, you will get to know who you are on a deeper level when you figure out what you’re interested and how you navigate a new environment.  You will discover things you love about you and things you’d like to continue to build on. With friends and/or family, you will learn more about each other and have moments to talk and connect without outside factors tugging for your attention.  Maybe you will explore or try something you wouldn’t have had the courage to do on your own, or maybe you’ll learn new things about someone you love by seeing new passions emerge for them. All of these experiences will help you feel more confident, fulfilled, and connected.

  1.       It’s fun!

Vacations are fun!  There’s a whole world out there to explore and new adventures to be experienced around every corner.  Life can feel a little like groundhog’s day if we don’t stretch a little and get outside of our environments.  Vacations can show us how to live a little broader, take care of ourselves a little better, and show us that life can be a whole lot of fun if we spread our wings a little.  Trying new things that get your heart racing, seeing the beauty that is in our world, and meeting people with different perspectives only adds to our feelings of joy and fulfillment in life.  I think we all could use a little of that!

So get out there!  This is a great time of year to start thinking about where you will travel next.  Will you go to the beach, explore a new country, go camping, or take a long road trip to a different state?  Whatever you do, fully embrace it and take in each new moment. There’s so much out there left to see!

Fighting the Winter Blues

Fighting the Winter Blues

By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

 

Around the end of winter I hear a lot of people talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  Most people think that the disorder centers around feelings of sadness (much like the acronym suggests) occuring in a particular season, and often the true disorder gets confused with the winter blues.  

 

In truth, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a more severe version of the winter blues.  Clients report feelings of depression or lethargy that occur in a predictable cycle, such as every winter.  Sometimes this pattern is part of another condition, such as Bipolar Disorder (click for more information on Bipolar Disorder), but often these feelings can be a symptom of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  This is different from the winter blues, that a great number of people suffer from, in a few ways. For one, SAD doesn’t have to occur only in winter.  An individual can suffer from SAD during any season, but such episodes would be reoccuring during that particular season every year. The winter blues are also less severe than Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Our functioning and emotional range may be lessened, but it is not so depleted that it is causing significant detriment to our usual lifestyle.

 

No, the winter blues are something that creep up on us throughout the season and make us feel down, tired, annoyed, or frustrated.  Our hopefulness can decrease during this time period, and we can even feel low levels of depression as a result. For me, and a great number of my clients, the winter blues strike hardest in the month of February.  I had one client declare February the “armpit of the year,” and I am inclined to agree.

 

First off, let me say this for the shortest month of the year– it is not all bad.  Some of the most cherished people in my life were born in February. I’ve built a fantastically tall snowman on Valentines day, gone skiing for the first time, enjoyed housebound snow days with my kiddos, and celebrated joy with the most wonderful people.  That being said, I have also seen my greatest struggles during this last month of winter.

 

Why is February so ‘meh?’  What about this month pushes a button for so many people?  Well, here is what I have heard and concluded within myself.  January is over, the excitement of a new year and new possibilities has faded, and we are left with the realization that a magical wind did not bring the kind of sweeping changes we foresaw as the ball dropped.  Our resolutions are feeling harder and harder to achieve, and we now see how much work they can be. Or, we aren’t seeing the fruits of our month long labor of change and are disappointed.

 

Perhaps our relationship was in a difficult place pre-holidays and we put off dealing with that until “after” the holiday madness, but now it’s “after” and we must finally face those difficult conversations or painful choices.  

 

Logistically, this is a complicated month as well.  It’s cold, and it’s been cold for what seems like forever. February is often grey, dreary, and wet.  Getting outside and seeing our friends or enjoying ourselves takes a considerable effort. Bonus, in my house if anyone is going to get sick, like really sick, it’s going to happen in February.  Motivation can be elusive, football is over, baseball hasn’t started, interest payments from lavish Christmas gifts are now due and tax returns are still weeks away. Oh, and did I mention Valentine’s Day, with all the baggage that holiday can carry, is gonna fall right smack dab in the middle of all this?  It can all feel like it’s just too much.

 

However difficult this month may seem, especially now that I have painstankely pointed out the possible pitfalls, there is hope.  Here is how I combat the February blues and how I encourage my clients to do so as well.

 

 

  • Be Intentional

 

      • Don’t let dark days and difficulties sneak up on you.  Reactively making choices to difficult situations can distract us from those things that truly bring us joy.  
      • Make a plan.  I plan for February in December.  I look at the calendar for fun holidays (hello Mardi Gras) that I can celebrate with my family.  I put more effort into my evenings by planning enjoyable activities for me and for my family. We do many family game nights (winner gets a scratch off lotto ticket) and we buy more movies in the month of February than any other time of year.  Saturdays are a mix of organizing, baking, and fun outings (even when it’s hard to get out.)
      • I carve out intentional ways to connect with my spouse.  I throw in extra effort during February because I know we both need it, and I know how much happier I feel when I put forth the energy.

 

  • Make Self-Care a Priority

 

      • What things really help you feel like YOU?  Is it yoga?  Is it reading?  Swimming, chatting with friends, running, bingeing your favorite movies with a cup of hot chocolate?  Whatever you do that helps you reconnect with the joyful and authentic pieces of yourself, write it down.  Make a list of the things that fill you up and energize you.
      • Once you know what those things are, make them non-negotiable.  Your kids may have to wait 15 minutes for you to finish your morning workout before you make them breakfast, and they will survive.  You may ditch the laundry on Saturdays in favor of brunch with friends– it can wait. Remember self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity  

 

  • Cut Yourself Some Slack

 

    • When we foresee a difficult period approaching, it is imperative we be kind to ourselves.  Be generous with your inner praise and quiet the critical voice when it pipes up. Forgive your lack of energy or motivation quickly and offer compassion in the place of reprimand.  This is a hard month, more so than others, and it is okay to feel this struggle.
    • Like the guilt free self-care, allow your personal indulgences this month to happen with gratitude rather than judgement.  If you are going to splurge on a trip (maybe someplace warmer??), February is a great month to do so. Reward yourself for your efforts in a big way this month.  Remember these little celebrations and moments of joyful anticipation are the things that will carry you through to brighter days.

 

Lastly, remember you are not alone in your struggle.  As I mentioned earlier, many of my clients tell a similar tale of woe during February.  On the other hand, maybe February is awesome for you. Winter weather and hockey season may be your thing, and you are thinking this entire article isn’t for you at all.  Actually, these tips of preparation, self-care, and compassion work for any situation where you know it’s going to be a rough time. Maybe it’s just a few days you are dreading and you need a way to ease the hardship.  

 

Perhaps you don’t foresee any complicated time period coming up.  These ways of viewing the world can help you elevate the everyday rhythm of life as well.  Each and every person can benefit from prioritizing enjoyment and minimizing self criticism.  If a hard February turns into a harder March, and a painful April, reach out to us at Noyau.  We have been helping clients heal from hurt and cultivate more fulfilling lives for over a decade, and we can help you too.

 

Valentine’s Day: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

 

Valentine’s Day:  What’s Love Got to Do with It?

By Angela S. Taylor MA, LPC-S

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and the mixed emotions that people experience range from pure happiness and joy to utter disappointment and sadness.  It’s a day that the world tells us should be filled with outward displays of love for our partners, and we should definitely be partnered up. Being single is supposedly unacceptable and deeply saddening.  Even if you’re in a partnership, it’s difficult to measure up to the expectations of the perfect night, perfect gift, and perfect show of affection.

But…what if we made this day just about love?  What if it was a day that we dedicated to loving ourselves better? What if it was a day that we told and showed our friends and family how much we love and appreciate them?  What if we used the day to love on our community and our world? Now, that’s something maybe we can all get on board with.

Here are some fresh ideas on how to spend your Valentine’s Day:

  1.        Focus on self love and do some good self care today.  

-Take a bubble bath, get a massage, read that book you’ve been wanting to read, take a yoga class, etc.  Do things today that nurture your soul and help you remember you deserve to be taken care of by you (and maybe make a commitment to integrating this into your everyday life).

  1.       Celebrate your friendships!

-Let your friends know how special they are to you, and schedule time with them.  Go to dinner, do a potluck at someone’s house, grab a coffee, etc. Set aside your phone and truly focus on good conversation and connecting with the important people in your life.  And don’t forget to reach out and call those that live far away – a quick call or text can be truly meaningful and let someone know how much you really value having them in your life.

  1.       Love on your family.  

-We often forget to tell our parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews how much they add to our lives and how grateful we are for them.  This is a great time to take the opportunity to do this. Dig into old memories and maybe share with them one of the times that made you smile or a day they lifted your spirits when you needed them.  Share some laughs from growing up or simply just remind them that they matter in your life.

  1.       Community service.  

-Have you been thinking about finding a place to give back?  Today is a great time to look into what opportunities are around you and where you feel the most need.  Do you have a special skill you can offer or a population you feel passionate about right now? There are always places and events that need you, and this is a good time to get the process started.

 

These are just a few of the different ways you can celebrate Valentine’s Day whether you’re in a partnership or not.  When we lean into gratitude over the people in our lives, express love, and give back with kindness, it’s hard to not be filled with joy.  So make this Valentine’s Day your own. Don’t be swayed by what society tells you that you should be or should be doing and experiencing. You get to design your day (and your life) to fill you up with the love and joy you deserve!

How to a Counselor by Charity Hagains

Thinking of starting Counseling in this New Year?  

Tips for Finding a Therapist That’s Right for You

Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S

 

If this new year has you thinking about better self care, healthier habits, or just letting go of the previous year’s struggles, you may be considering starting counseling.  With that decision made, your next hurdle is to find the “right” counselor for you. It’s this phase which can lead people to feel anxious or stuck and often prevents them from entering counseling.  It can be difficult to know where to find a therapist, how to know if they are any good at counseling, or if you are going to feel comfortable building a relationship with them. While there is no fast way to know for sure if you are going to “click” with your therapist, here are a few tips to help you find your way towards a trusting and beneficial counseling relationship.

 

  • Do your research
    • Before your first session, you will have probably looked through dozens of therapist profiles trying to determine which counselor is right for you.  Some things to look for when you are reading through counselor bios are:
      • Do they talk about how they view the counseling relationship, and do you agree with their vision?
      • Do they have the necessary schooling and license? (LPC, LPC Intern, LPC-S)
      • Does their profile speak to you in some way that gives you confidence?
  • Be open
    • Some people feel like a therapist will only be able to relate to their struggles if they are of the same background or share similar life experiences.  While I understand the desire to see a piece of yourself in your counselor, I urge you to be open to counselors who are different from you. Most people enter counseling looking for new solutions to their problems or new perspectives on how to view their situation.  My clients are smart and thoughtful people who have already ventured down many avenues of problem solving. They have tried everything they know, and are looking for new ways to get them where they want to go. For that reason, a person with a very different background may be the best fit.  They will likely see your issue from a perspective that is foreign to you. Our training as therapists allows us to open ourselves up to view the world through your eyes, while still holding on to our own ways of understanding. Someone who is in a different season of their life, or comes from a different culture or background, may be able to see the answers a counselor who is “just like you” never could.
  • Trust your gut
    • The therapeutic relationship can often feel intimidating at first.  Some see the therapist as an authority figure, or they may worry the counselor will judge them if they are honest about their darkest thoughts.  These feelings are normal when entering counseling. However, if these feelings persist and get in the way of you being able to build trust with your therapist ask yourself a few of these questions:
      • When do I feel the most uneasy about going to counseling?
      • What is my counselor doing or saying that causes me to feel a sense of fear or distrust?
      • Are these feelings coming from within me or are they being sparked by something going on in the counseling room?
      • Do I feel comfortable enough to confront these feelings and talk to my counselor about them?
      • Do I feel that my therapist cares about me?
    • The therapeutic relationship is built on trust and acceptance.  Your therapist should help you feel open and at ease during your time together.  While it can take a few sessions to build rapport, it should come quickly. If it doesn’t it is imperative you discuss this with the therapist.  They should respond with sincerity and work with you on your terms to build a comfortable and beneficial relationship. Should they become defensive, blaming or angry, or if you just can’t form that bond with them, trust your gut and move on to another counselor who may be a better fit.  While counseling is not always comfortable and the therapist has a duty to confront some of your thoughts or behaviors (which may not feel good) it shouldn’t be a harmful or threatening relationship.

 

Whether you are entering counseling for the first time, or returning after a long break, you can expect your counselor to treat you with the utmost respect and care.  Our field is full of therapists who feel empathy and compassion on the deepest levels and we desire to connect with every client who honors us with their story. At Noyau, we focus on the therapeutic relationship and believe it has the capacity to heal, but what makes our work truly gratifying is seeing the relationship grow with our clients’ progress.  We see clients change in profound and meaningful ways before our eyes and we want to spread that feeling to everyone who seeks therapy. If you would like to know more about finding a therapist that is right for you check out our youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1jPPVAredcBmw-WimnOOyQ or give our offices in Dallas or Fort Worth a call to speak to our Counselor Match Specialist.

 

Dallas (214)706-0619 Ft.Worth (628)385-9540

5445 La Sierra Dr. Suite 200 1701 River Run Suite 805

Dallas TX 75231 Ft. Worth TX 76107

 

Call Noyau Today