Monday, October 31, 2011

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

There is an irony - the fact that Halloween, where everything is fun and games around ghosts, spirits, and haunted houses also marks the end of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Many survivors of domestic violence continue to be haunted by their experiences even after they exit the dangerous situation.  Statistics show that 1 out of 3 women will become or has been a victim of domestic violence. Men, women, and children are victims of domestic violence and abuse daily.

Below find some warning signs that a relationship is becoming emotionally and potentially physically abusive:
1- Becomes involved quickly and pushes for a quick relationship
2- Jealous and possessive, exhibits frequent calling and checking in behaviors
3-  Exhibits controlling behaviors
4- Unrealistic expectations
5- Isolates you from friends and family
6- Blames others for his/her problems, feelings and mistakes
7- Checks your phone for text messages and call history. May track you with GPS
8- Says his/her feelings are easily hurt
9- Cruel toward animals or children
10-”Playful” use of force during sex
11-Yells and calls you names
12- Subscribes to rigid gender roles
13-Sudden mood swings
14-History of battering
15-Threats of violence
16-Threatens to reveal personal or damaging information about you to your family, friends or employer

If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help from a professional and/or a trusted friend or loved one.  If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, please be non-judgemental and supportive and encourage the person to get help. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gratitude - It's Good For You

It's that time of the year when things are getting busy. Thanksgiving is about one month away, and before we know it, the holidays and new year will be upon us. This is a hectic time. It's easy to lose touch with self-care and we may take pause less often. What better way to give ourselves a break, especially with Thanksgiving approaching, than by acknowledging what we're grateful for. As it turns out, practicing regular gratitude helps boost our physical, social, and psychological well-being. More important, being grateful appears to be one of the major keys to happiness.

What makes gratitude so transformative? First, it brings us back to the present moment by teaching us to value something we have, as opposed to fretting about something we don't have. It allows us to notice the positives in our lives more mindfully, and move away from taking things for granted. Second, gratitude is a wonderful antidote to toxic, negative emotions. Try feeling resentful or envious while also feeling grateful - it won't work. Third, gratitude gives us perspective during negative life events or stressful times. It helps us take a step back and re-evaluate. And finally, by recognizing what has been given and provided to us by others, we can learn to see ourselves in a more positive light.

So how can we cultivate this important virtue of gratitude? Here are three simple tips:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Every night, jot down 3 things you are grateful for. This is like counting your blessings consciously and mindfully.

2. Accept lessons learned, even hard ones, with gratitude.

3. Make "thank you" a daily part of your vocabulary. Besides using it consciously with strangers (such as the bagger at the grocery store), also make it a point to sit down with a loved one and tell them why you appreciate them. It will do you both good.

Gratitude is an important part of emotional health and can also be one of the many techniques learned in counseling or psychotherapy. I am a Houston psychologist. For more information about my practice, visit

To read more about the gratitude research that inspired this posting, visit Dr. Emmons' article at


Monday, October 10, 2011

Negativity: Talking Back To Your Internal Chatterbox

Thousands of thoughts run through our head every day.  Just consider your own internal dialogues all day long – about your own actions, about others’ behaviors, about the world as a whole, about what has happened in the past, about what is yet to happen.  The way we talk to ourselves can be positive, negative, or neutral.  Or even a mix of all of those.  Self-talk is often a mostly automatic and even unconscious process.  These dialogues can turn very unpleasant – such as beating yourself up in the face of perceived “failure”.  

Needless to say, the way we talk to ourselves can give rise to many different emotions. For example, if you tell yourself that if you don’t do well on tomorrow’s presentation at work, then you’ll never get promoted.  Or if you feel like a conversation with a friend felt awkward and you find yourself wondering if they now think less of you.  Both of these examples of self-talk can result in feelings of anxiety or hopelessness.  The key about making self-talk more constructive is learning to be more gentle and compassionate in the ways we talk to ourselves.
Cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapists work with their clients to change negative self-talk into more rational responses.  The goal is that if we can start recognizing our own automatic negative thoughts and then turn them around, we can feel better about ourselves and the world around us.  Much research has been done to back this up as an effective form of therapy, especially for anxiety and depressive disorders. 
There are different categories of negative self-talk, and if you work with a cognitive or cognitive-behavioral therapist, you will get to know them intimately.  Below are some examples of negative self-talk (also called “cognitive distortions”) and more gentle alternatives.  Note that these are simple examples for illustrative purposes. 
1. Should statements:
  • Negative Self-Talk:  I should be able to deal with stressful situations better.
  • Better:  I know how to deal with stress and I am having a hard time right now.
2 .  Disqualifying the positive:
  • Negative Self-Talk:  I hate my life, it always is so difficult.
  • Better:  There are some things going on right now that are difficult and also some things that are actually going right.
3. Emotional reasoning:
  • Negative Self-Talk:  I don't feel good right now, so it feels like I can't handle anything.
  • Better:  I feel like I can't handle things right now and I know I can.
4.  Catastrophizing: 
  • Negative Self-Talk:  If I don't do well on this work presentation, my boss will think poorly of me, I'll never get that promotion, and eventually I'll be jobless and homeless.
  • Better:  Nobody's perfect.  I'll do my best on the presentation and know that less than perfect is not the end of the world.

If negative self-talk is ingrained in the way you think, and is regularly impacting your mood and relationships, you might consider working with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional.  Also look for a future installment on this blog about how to foster more self-compassion.  I am a Houston psychologist – to learn more about my services, visit 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Is Therapy for Me? Acute vs. Chronic Reasons to Seek Help

Most people seek out therapy or counseling during times of crisis – such as acute problems in love relationships, grief and loss, feelings of debilitating anxiety or panic, or urgent career issues.  However, many individuals are also confronted with chronic feelings of emptiness and lack of happiness.

Such individuals may have all material creature comforts but nonetheless feel that nothing truly makes them happy.  They may have the perfect partner, family, great friends, a fulfilling career.  But they struggle with the very real and human feeling that no outside influence is able to provide any true meaning to their lives.  Sooner or later they may come to the realization that they must search for meaning and happiness inside of themselves.

What is the meaning of life?  Where can we find it?  This question reaches further than any therapy.  But therapy or counseling can certainly help start or advance the journey to the answer(s).  I recommend that anyone who has suffered a lack of happiness for a significant amount of time should ask themselves these questions:

-   Have I lost the ability to feel joy?

-   Have I lost interest in activities or things I used to enjoy?

-   Do I feel guilt or resentment, but I don’t know why or against whom?

-   Do I feel anxious or restless for no apparent reason?

-   Am I obsessed with perfection?

-   Do I always have to be better or more successful than others?

-   Have I lost hope?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes”, it may be good time for you to explore the option of therapy or counseling.  The goal of therapy may not be to reach ultimate happiness, but rather to remove barriers and inhibitions on the way to finding it.

I believe the poet Rainer Maria Rilke captured the very human struggle to find meaning perfectly when he wrote: 

“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them now. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps, you will then gradually without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I am a Houston psychologist and I work with both couples and individuals.  Call me for a free consultation at 713-364-8328 or visit for more information on my services.