Signs your therapist is messy AF

I will always be a champion of self-care, good mental health, and going to therapy.

But there’s a lotta bad therapists out there, honey.

We’ve all encountered mediocrity and unprofessionalism from time to time (okay, often), and the mental health profession is not exempt. Don’t get me wrong: some therapists are fantastic! Amazing! Life-changing! But, as in any profession: not everyone is good at their job. Bad therapy exists, and so do bad therapists. A lot of them.

Now, I’m not talking about egregious therapist transgressions such as ethical or legal offenses. If you’re a masochist, you can read all about those in the so-dry-it’ll-make-your-eyes-bleed APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.

No, this post is an abridged list of signs your therapist is unprofessional, messy, and probably mediocre…taken from both my own real-life experiences as as a therapy client over the years, as well as those shared with me by others.

So without further ado:

Signs your therapist is messy AF:

Spending the whole session talking about themselves. It’s not normal to know more about your therapist than they know about you. If you can handily rattle off the names of your therapist’s aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews…something is not right.

Eating during a session. I had three (count ’em, THREE!) therapists who ate during our sessions. One woman made loud and passionate love to a bowl of Wheaties while I poured my heart out about how people never give me their undivided attention. Not really. But the Wheaties part is 100 percent true.

Imbibing during a session. Some people are gonna fight me on this, but I don’t care. A sip of water for a dry throat here and there is one thing, but no one wants to see their therapist chug a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple just after telling the story of how their dog died in their arms when they were ten. (And if the beverage in question contains booze, you have my official and enthusiastic permission to pull an Irish Goodbye.)

Taking non-emergency calls during a session. Wheaties chatted up both the UPS guy and her daughter about their upcoming trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom during our 50 minute (and $160) session. Apparently, she never learned how to turn off the ringer.

Getting angry with you for wanting to work with another therapist. Provided you, the client, communicate your desire to part ways respectfully, a true professional will understand and support you in getting the help you need, even if it’s not them.

Telling you to get a divorce. At least not on the first phone call, for God’s sake!

Ghosting you. This goes double if you went to therapy to work through abandonment issues. Clients are supposed to ghost therapists, not the other way around!

Falling asleep during your session. “Zzz” is not an acceptable therapeutic insight. Time for Irish Goodbye: The Sequel.

Arriving late every session and getting upset when you bring it up. Messy and tardy = BYE.

Failing to have have a box of tissues within reach. This one applies to the therapists who shun Telehealth and insist on only providing in-person therapy like it’s (actually) 1999: leaving your client to cry and snot all over themselves on top of doing the emotional heavy-lifting isn’t just messy, it’s cruel.

***

You heard it here first, guys: life’s too short for bad haircuts, bad cheese, and bad therapists.

Of course, therapists don’t have to be perfect (no one is), but they do have to be professional and respectful of you and your time. If you have a quibble about something in therapy, you have the option of bringing it up and watching how your therapist responds: if they’re skilled and self-aware, they’ll at least try to leverage the issue into a productive, perhaps even restorative, conversation. And if they can’t do that, it could be the confirmation you need to keep it moving.

PS: Did I mention that this is an abridged list of messy AF therapist behavior?? There’s (unfortunately) more where that came from, but didn’t want to overwhelm y’all. Plus, you might have some messy therapist stories of your own, which I’d love to read in the comments! (Cuz I’m messy that way. 🙃)

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

Thanking Your Mind: An ACT Technique for Coping with Unhelpful Thoughts

As a clinical psychologist who practices CBT, I’m focused on helping therapy clients explore the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I’ve written about some of these ideas and techniques in articles about automatic thoughts, distorted thinking, and how to use mindfulness and thought records to recognize and challenge unhelpful thoughts. In addition to the aforementioned techniques, today I want to share an exercise from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is a type of treatment that focuses on accepting what is out of your personal control and committing to action that improves and enriches your life.

In his book The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris (the creator of ACT) describes an exercise called thanking your mind. It entails, well, thanking your mind when it tells you mean, nasty, hurtful or provocative things! But one of the keys of this exercise is to thank your mind using warmth, humor and playfulness…which is probably why I love teaching it to therapy clients.

Thanking your mind works by creating distance between you and your thoughts, giving you space to recognize that you don’t have to believe everything your mind tells you.

Let’s explore the Thanking Your Mind exercise with an example:

Imagine you got denied for a promotion you wanted at work. In the aftermath of this news, your notice your mind telling you some version the following:

“You didn’t get that promotion. You’re such a failure!”

First, let’s all take a moment to remember that just because your mind tells you something (and perhaps is able to do so in a very convincing manner), does not necessarily make it true. In fact, sometimes our minds can tell us things that are wildly untrue…like you’re a pink rhinoceros.

Really. Stop right now and think to yourself: “I’m a pink rhinoceros.”

Are you a pink rhinoceros? (If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are not).

Dr. Harris instructs us in these moments to simply respond with gratitude, warmth and humor:

“Thank you, mind!”

Why express gratitude? Why not curse your mind out instead?

Because by telling us these things, our minds are really just trying to keep us safe and alive. That’s what they’ve been engineered to do since the caveman days. The problem is, sometimes they’ll try to ensure our survival by spinning unhelpful, scary, super negative, or even untrue yarns and soap operas. They’re simply doing this in an attempt to protect us from some perceived threat. So instead of engaging with these thoughts when your mind creates them, try thanking your mind for having such a great imagination and trying to protect you (albeit in a not-so-productive way):

“Thanks, mind, for telling me I’m a failure. In fact, I’ve noticed you like to tell me a failure on a pretty regular basis (especially around performance review time). I guess it’s your way of trying to protect me, but I’m going to go with an alternative explanation (see my article on thought records) for why I didn’t get the promotion this time around. Good looking out, though. I appreciate you!”

Sometimes minds say the darndest things. So…thank you mind! And thank you, Dr. Russ Harris, for creating ACT!

Do you need to thank you mind for a story it’s telling you today?

If you want to learn more about ACT and ACT techniques, I strongly recommend getting a copy of The Happiness Trap. And if you want to put these exercises into action, you’ll set yourself up for greater success with a mindfulness practice that will allow you to improve your awareness of unhelpful thoughts. Download my free, eight-minute guided mindfulness mediation by clicking here.

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

Distress Tolerance Skills for Healthier Relationships

Photo by Mason Wilkes on Unsplash

If you identify as a person with an insecure (i.e. anxious, avoidant, or fearful) attachment style and have decided to begin your healing journey, you’re going to encounter some challenging emotions. Change is never easy, even when it’s positive, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, defeated, or just plan uncomfortable as you heal your attachment style.

Below, I’ve outlined three basic distress tolerance skills for coping with the challenging feelings that can arise along your healing journey. These skills are attributed to Dr. Marsha Linehan’s dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is an evidence-based, cognitive behavioral therapy that combines behavioral science with concepts such as acceptance and mindfulness. DBT teaches several techniques for handling a crisis/difficult emotions/discomfort, and these distress tolerance skills can aid in accepting yourself and the current situation. Let’s dive in!

Radical acceptance. Becoming angry, critical, or upset about something can create more pain, cloud your ability to cope effectively, and, more often than not, doesn’t actually improve the situation. An alternative approach is to use mindfulness (which, by the way, is a foundational tool in DBT!) to acknowledge the present situation without judging it or yourself. Fighting the moment and thinking it should be different (a lot of people tend to turn to blame of self or others when distressed) only serves to make you feel worse. Keep in mind that radical acceptance is not about “just thinking positive” or being happy about a difficult situation, but accepting it in order to spare yourself additional suffering. Adapting a mantra such as “It’s no use fighting the past” or “I can accept the present moment, even if I don’t like it” may be helpful in cultivating a mindset of radical acceptance.

Eight Minutes to Calm: FREE Guided Mindfulness Meditation

Distraction. Distraction can be an especially useful skill if you tend to engage in self-destructive behaviors (ex: using substances, self-harming, mentally beating yourself up) when emotionally triggered. Stopping destructive behaviors is the first step, and the ultimate goal is to replace unhealthy coping behaviors with healthier ones. Begin today by creating your Distraction Plan: a list of alternative, pleasurable activities you can use when distressed. Check out The Big List of Pleasurable Activities for ideas, or create your own. And don’t wait until you’re upset to practice these pleasurable activities…integrate them into your life through daily practice!

Self-soothing. Grounding is the number one tool I use when teaching clients to self-soothe. Grounding comes from the Seeking Safety program by Dr. Lisa M. Najavits, and is a set of simple strategies to detach from emotional pain. Grounding anchors you tot he present moment and reality by refocusing you on attention on the external world instead of your internal distress. There are many different grounding approaches, but the easiest one is probably the 5-4-3-2-1 approach, which enables you to turn your attention to your external surroundings, using your five senses:

  • Name 5 things you can see (ex: “I see my desk, my cat sleeping in the corner, the yellow curtains, the overhead lamp, books on the shelf”)
  • Name 4 things you can touch (ex: “I feel my feet on the floor, the fabric of my shirt against my skin, I can touch the desk in front of me and the wall to my right”)
  • Name 3 things you can hear (ex: “I hear the heater in the other room, the sound of the freeway down the road, the birds chirping outside”)
  • Name 2 things you can smell (I often recommend that clients carry a scented lotion or favorite scent with them for this one)
  • Name 1 thing you can taste (for this one, it’s helpful to carry some mints, gum or sour candy…anything you that jolts your taste buds!)

The above distress tolerance techniques can prepare you for intense emotions and enable you to cope with them with them in a more positive, productive way. As with all skills, they require consistent practice, and the more you practice these skills when you’re not feeling distressed, the easier it will be to access them in moments of emotional discomfort. Which one(s) will you add to your practice today?

What’s your friendship attachment style? Take the quiz and find out!

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

The people-pleaser’s guide to speaking up.

A lot of the clients I work with have been taught not to “rock the boat” in relationships, meaning they’ve received and currently implement some version(s) of the following instructions:

Don’t rock the boat by setting boundaries, because people will think your’e selfish.

Don’t rock the boat by asking for what you want, you’ll only make everyone else uncomfortable.

Don’t rock the boat by standing up for yourself, just grin and bear it – it’ll be over soon.

Many of us have been taught to hide, submerge, or deny our true feelings – maybe even our true personalities – in relationships. Taking a people-pleasing approach may appear to pay off in the short-term, but almost always results in longer-term damage. Why? Because it fosters the behavior of cultivating relationships based on inauthenticity…including our relationship with ourselves.

If you engage in people-pleasing behaviors and want to make a change, here are some tips for speaking up:

Don’t discount your needs. I’m going to assume that you know the difference between something you need and something don’t love, but can live with. People-pleasers tend to talk themselves out of their legitimate feelings, needs, and desires. Often, they were taught to disqualify their honest needs and feelings in the name of not making others uncomfortable or offended. The number one thing that tends to trip people-pleasers up in this arena is talking themselves out of what they need and pretending they are okay with something when, deep down, they’re not. Regardless of what you may have been told or taught, if you’re reading this right now, I want you to know that your needs matter. Your feelings aren’t stupid. You aren’t overreacting. You don’t need to just suck it up. Your needs and feelings are calling out to you for a reason. Honor them.

Expect to be uncomfortable. Any changed behavior is going to bring up discomfort. Sometimes we think that we need to feel a certain way in order to be “ready” to make a change, but in fact, the opposite is true: the behavior changes first, then the feelings follow. (And this can take awhile, so be patient with yourself.)

Practice mindfulness. Having a mindfulness practice and applying this skill as you’re shifting longstanding behaviors can give you an advantage in making different choices in the moment and provide you with a more rewarding transformation.

Identify the areas/relationships you want to focus on. Don’t attempt a complete behavioral overhaul at once. Instead, start small and build upon your early successes. What’s the first area/relationship you want to start speaking up in? For example, do you want to stop automatically saying you’re “fine” when someone asks how your day’s going? Set limits on phone time with a friend? Share your honest opinion about a book/TV show/movie instead of automatically agreeing with the other person? Begin with a small focus area for change and build from there.

The right people for you won’t want you to people-please for them. Remember that the right people for you, the ones who possess the skills for healthy relationships based on authentic connections, will actually want you to speak up and be honest. If they don’t, maybe they aren’t a match for you, and that’s okay.

That being said, prepare yourself for pushback. If you’re a people-pleaser I’m guessing that at least some of your existing relationships operate on the condition that you don’t speak up, that you submerge your feelings and swallow your needs. Prepare for some of the people in your life to push back, and do your best to stay the course as you begin shifting into a healthier way of relating.

Remember your “why.” Why do you want to make this change? How will it improve your life? For example, are you looking for friendships where you can speak freely and not have to worry about getting the silent treatment in response? Are you looking to trust yourself to have your own back instead of submerging your needs in the name of pleasing others? What relational (interpersonal AND intrapersonal!) carrot will keep you moving forward through the challenges and discomfort?

Think of speaking up as an act of mutual respect. If the situation were reversed, would you feel comfortable knowing that someone you care about was hiding how they really feel from you? My guess is you wouldn’t be okay with that level of inauthenticity on their part…you might even feel a bit disrespected. With that said, keep in mind that by not speaking up, you’re depriving others of the opportunity to build an authentic relationship with you, as well as assuming they can’t handle your feelings and your needs without giving them a chance to show you otherwise.

You get the set (or shift) the tone in your relationships. Just because your relationship has danced the tango forever doesn’t mean you can’t one day decide to start doing the merengue. You can shift the energy/tone at any time, and by doing so, the other person gets the chance to decide how to respond. Maybe they’ll choose to match your energy, maybe they’ll insist on the same old cha-cha as before, maybe you’ll come up with a completely new way of moving on the dance floor together. Or maybe you’ll shift away from that dance partner and find new people to dance with. Always proceed with kindness and empathy, but remember that you don’t need anyone else’s permission to enact healthy change in your relationships.

For many recovering people-pleasers, learning how to speak up is not just about improving their relationships with others, but also about improving (and in many cases, repairing) their relationship with themselves. The more you honor your needs and feelings, and act in accordance with what they’re telling you, the more trusting you will become of yourself. And the security that comes from knowing that, no matter what happens, you have your own back…is priceless.

What’s your friendship attachment style? Take the quiz and find out!

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

How to set & hold a boundary.

One of the most frequent issues that come up in my work with therapy clients is boundaries: How to recognize when boundaries are needed, how to set them, maintain them, not feel guilty for having them, and the list goes on!

Boundaries are the limits and rules you set for yourself within relationships. In order to have healthy boundaries, it’s important first to be aware of and prioritize your preferences, needs, desires, limits, dealbreakers, then communicate them to others. This article will explain how to reconnect with your emotions in order to recognize when a boundary needs to be set, and how to communicate and maintain boundaries in your relationships.

Let your feelings be your guide. In a recent post about people-pleasing, I wrote about how feelings are information. For example, if you’re sad, maybe it’s because you miss someone or lost something important to you. If you’re scared, maybe there is a threat in your presence and you need to get to safety. Often, feelings are trying to provide you with information for you pay attention to, including alerting you to the possibility that you may need to set a boundary. What feelings (i.e. anger, hurt, resentment, exhaustion, bitterness, etc.) tend to alert you to the fact that a boundary may be in order? Use mindfulness to help yourself recognize when these feelings are present and what they’re trying to tell you.

Pro Tip: Try not to wait until your feelings have reached exploding doormat stage before you finally decide to act on them by setting a boundary. You will have a much higher chance of success by being calm and levelheaded when setting boundaries, and/or setting them earlier rather than later.

Decide your terms. Be present with the feelings that have come up and allow them to inform your needs. Let them help you decide what needs to change in order for you to feel safe/better about a situation or relationship. For example: Do you need to say no? Stop giving as much of your time/money/advice? Take a break? Tell someone what they did upset you and not to do it again? Seek clarity? This part of the boundary-setting process may take a little time, so resist the urge to react immediately if you don’t have to.

Pro Tip: A key point to remember about deciding your terms is that no one else can do this for you. Why? Because they’re not you. The things they might be fine with might not be okay with you and that doesn’t make you less of a person. Try to be as honest with yourself as possible about your needs, limits, the things you can accept and the things you can’t, because only honesty with yourself will allow you to arrive at boundaries you need.

Communicate said terms to the appropriate parties. I could probably write an entire post about how to communicate boundaries to others, but for now I’ll simply advise you to use as much confident body language as you can, think about what you what you want to say ahead of time, be respectful (opening the conversation with something positive never hurts), and be open to the other person’s perspectives and feelings.

Pro Tip: Just because you communicate a boundary to someone doesn’t mean they’ll respect or even agree with it, and you have to be prepared for this. Remember that you can only control yourself, which brings me to…

Commit to having your own back, even when it’s hard. People who struggle with boundaries have a tendency to second-guess themselves and have trouble saying no. You may set a boundary with someone and they’ll receive it well…maybe even with appreciation. Alternatively, you may be met with pushback, denial of your reality, manipulation, guilt-tripping, or attacks on your character. People who already struggle with feeling they have a right to their feelings and needs can find themselves crumbling under the pressure from a negative or invalidating reaction. If this happens, remember that your boundaries are valid (they’re based on your needs, after all) and that you can’t get another person to change.

Pro Tip: Even though you can’t change another person or control their reaction to your boundaries, remember that you can still maintain your boundaries by choosing to continue to honor your needs or removing yourself from an unhealthy situation. You are in the driver’s seat!

Boundaries are a means of holding both yourself and others accountable, and a necessary hallmark of all healthy relationships. If you struggle with boundaries and want to improve in this area, I recommend the book Boundary Boss by Terri Cole. You may also consider enlisting a boundary “buddy” (someone who can encourage you as you practice this new skill and vice versa) or working with a mental health professional.

You can do this!

What’s your friendship attachment style? Take the quiz and find out!

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

4 tools for healing avoidant attachment

Imagine no longer panicking when people want to get closer or know you more intimately. If you have an avoidant attachment style, you are likely no stranger to the pain of feeling unfulfilled, isolated, and that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to please the people you care about. An insecure attachment style can predispose us to unhealthy relationship dynamics, but the good news is that we can heal our attachment wounds and move towards more secure relationships. In this post, I’ll cover four tools for jumpstarting the healing process if you have an avoidant attachment style.

Don’t know your attachment style? Take this three-minute quiz and find out!

  1. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the #1 tool I recommend for healing avoidant attachment. In a nutshell, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present with whatever is happening right now…with acceptance and non-judgment. It’s about noticing and observing (note that I didn’t say “liking” or “approving of”) whatever is happening, as it is occurring, and can be a foundational tool for positive change in your life. Mindfulness is a practice, and it requires practice as well. Download my free eight-minute mindfulness meditation and kickstart yours today!
  2. Focus on mutual collaboration in relationships. Being independent and self-sufficient is not a bad thing by any means. In fact, it’s probably helped you survive and stay safe thus far. A big part of healing avoidant attachment, however, is learning to use the other tools in your toolbox, one of which is collaboration. Take some time to write down two lists: the first being ways you can give support to your friends/partner/etc., and the second being ways in which you like to receive support from others. Once you have your lists, put the items into action! Healthy relationships involve a balance of mutual give and take, so don’t be afraid to let your friends know how they can support you, or to ask them how they like to be supported as well.
  3. Remind yourself of the good stuff. People with avoidant attachment can have a tendency to interpret others’ behavior negatively. Unless your friends/partner/loved ones give you concrete evidence to the contrary, assume they have positive intentions. Having a mindfulness practice (see #1 above) can help you recognize when you’re engaging in this behavior and thought records can be a great tool for challenging these beliefs. It may also help to remind yourself on a regular basis about why you chose your friends/partner/loved ones. What positive qualities drew you to them? Why are you grateful for them?
  4. Self-Compassion. If you have chosen this journey, remember that healing is an inherently imperfect process, and progress is not always linear (in fact, it almost never is). Try not to blame or criticize yourself for having an avoidant attachment style. Instead, focus on adapting a more loving, accepting attitude towards yourself, your needs and challenges in relationships. Remember that both your triumphs and setbacks are part of the healing process, and that no matter what happens, no matter how many times you stumble or falter, you are worthy…and you are probably doing better than you think.

Everyone deserves healthy relationships, including you. If you practice these tools consistently, you will be taking the first valuable steps towards healing your avoidant attachment and embodying healthier ways of relating to both yourself and others.

Source: Levine, A. & Heller, R. Attached (2010). New York, NY: Penguin.

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

4 tools for healing anxious attachment

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Imagine no longer chasing (or even wanting to chase) relationships with people who cannot love you in the ways you need. If you have an anxious attachment style, you are likely no stranger to the pain of unfulfilling, disappointing, drama-filled relationships. An insecure attachment style can predispose us to unhealthy relationship dynamics, but the good news is that we can heal our attachment wounds and move towards more secure relationships. In this post, I’ll cover four tools for jumpstarting the healing process if you have an anxious attachment style.

Don’t know your attachment style? Take this three-minute quiz and find out!

  1. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the #1 tool I recommend for healing anxious attachment. In a nutshell, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present with whatever is happening right now…with acceptance and non-judgment. It’s about noticing and observing (note that I didn’t say “liking” or “approving of”) whatever is happening, as it is occurring, and can be a foundational tool for positive change in your life. Mindfulness is a practice, and it requires practice as well. Download my free eight-minute mindfulness meditation to kickstart yours today!
  2. Self-Compassion. If you have chosen this journey, remember that healing is an inherently imperfect process, and progress is not always linear (in fact, it almost never is). Try not to blame, shame or criticize yourself for having an anxious attachment style. Instead, focus on adapting a more loving, accepting attitude towards yourself and your needs in relationships. Remember that both your triumphs and setbacks are part of the healing process, and that no matter how many times you stumble or falter, you are worthy…and you are probably doing better than you think.
  3. Revise your process for choosing relationships. Create an honest list of your needs in a relationship; you may want to consider making different lists for friendships, romantic relationships, etc.. Once your list has been made, spend some time reflecting on whether existing and/or new friends can realistically meet these needs. If the answer is “no,” acknowledge that this may simply be a matter of relationship incompatibility, not a reflection of your self-worth.
  4. Give “calm” friendships a chance. People with anxious attachment can sometimes find comfort in the familiarity of high-drama relationships, and may even find healthier, more secure relationships boring. The lack of rollercoaster emotions might feel unsatisfying at first, but try to stay the course and give yourself time to learn about the advantages of secure, consistent relationships. You deserve to know what safety feels like.

Remember that tools don’t work unless you work them…so put these tools into action today! With consistent practice, you’ll be on the path towards healing anxious attachment and embodying healthier ways of relating to both yourself and others.

Source: Levine, A. & Heller, R. Attached (2010). New York, NY: Penguin.

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

5 tips for becoming a better listener

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“The art of listening is so lost,” a colleague once said to me. Sometimes we find it easier to talk than to listen, but listening is a skill that, when used effectively, can improve the experience of both the listener and and the listened-to. Below are five simple suggestions for better listening:

Get clear on the objective. Ask the other person if they want you to just listen supportively, or provide suggestions/advice/feedback. Whatever they answer, do that.

Listen more than you talk. The ratio of them talking to you listening should be at least 2:1. This may sound simple, but can actually prove quite challenging for some of us.

Don’t try to fix anyone. Your job as a listener is not to fix anyone (spoiler alert: you can’t), your job is to be caring and present and supportive. Which brings us to…

Empathize. Nod your head, validate their feelings, show them with your body language that you are paying attention and that their feelings matter, even if you disagree with them. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Put Down The Smartphone.

Acknowledge and sit with your own feelings. Listening to someone might bring up your own emotions or reactions. Practice sitting with them while also sitting with the other person’s feelings. This is not always easy, but having a mindfulness practice can help.

Happy listening!

What’s your friendship attachment style? Take the quiz and find out!

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

The Exploding Doormat: Coping With Anger from People-Pleasing

“Exploding doormat” is a term I originally learned from someone who was working the twelve steps in Al-Anon. It refers to an individual (i.e. “doormat”) who has habitually bent over backwards, placed their needs last, given into people-pleasing tendencies for far too long…and “exploded” (i.e. become openly enraged and/or acted out) as a result.

Exploding may feel good in the moment, but it’s not a healthy, effective, or sustainable way of dealing with anger. While there’s nothing wrong with expressing feelings, by the time the doormat explodes, the amount of pent-up, festering anger may be disproportionate to the situation that triggers the actual explosion, and the person’s explosion can sometimes end up causing real harm to themselves and/or their relationships.

As a general rule, people-pleasers tend to bury their emotions in order to keep the so-called peace. Anger is one emotion that tends to be viewed as especially bad or dangerous in contexts where people do not know how to handle emotions productively. Many of my clients were taught that acknowledging, feeling, and (God forbid) expressing anger was always “wrong.” As a result, we have generations of adults who have no idea how to use their anger in positive, healthy ways. This article will explain how to manage and use your anger productively instead of exploding, stuffing, or turning it inwards.

“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”

– Malcolm X

Start viewing your anger as data: As I often tell my clients: feelings are information. For example, if you’re sad, maybe it’s because you miss someone or lost something important to you. If you’re scared, maybe there is a threat in your presence and you need to get to safety. If you’re angry, it might be because a need was not met, a boundary is needed, or a line has been crossed. Often, feelings are trying to provide you with information for you pay attention to. For these reasons, they need not be regarded as a threat, even if that’s what you were once taught.

Recognize the signs that anger is present: This may come as a surprise to you, but a lot of people have had so much practice stuffing or detaching from their emotions that they sometimes struggle to recognize their own feelings. If this sounds like your experience, start by paying attention to the physical sensations, thoughts, and behaviors you exhibit when you become angry. This worksheet may help.

Accept the anger: Once you recognize that anger is present, use mindfulness to get curious about your anger. As yourself: What is this feeling trying to tell me? Is there another feeling underneath my anger (such as hurt or sadness) that’s here, too? While you’re getting curious about the feeling, practice self-compassion by telling yourself: “There is nothing wrong with feeling angry; it’s a normal, human emotion. I am not bad for having this feeling, so I will not judge or beat myself up for it.” Contrary to what you might have been taught, you don’t have to run away, fight, or deny your anger. Instead, simply let yourself feel it. Don’t try to change how you feel or tell yourself you don’t have the right to feel this way. As I often tell my clients: all your feelings are valid, it’s what you choose to do with them that makes all the difference.

Decide on a productive action, then take it: In keeping with the idea that anger is data, practice using it to inform your next move. Maybe your anger is telling you that you need to set a boundary. Maybe it’s alerting you to the fact that you need talk your feelings out with someone, go for a run, or engage in another self-soothing activity. Maybe you need to say “no” or take a break. Once you decide what your anger needs, take productive action that aligns with this need as soon as you can. (Note that I said productive, NOT destructive, action. If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or others, this is your cue to reach out for support immediately.)

In summation, anger tends to get a bad rap, but it’s actually a necessary and important emotion that can serve as a catalyst for positive change in your life and the lives of others. How do you manage feelings of anger?

I don’t often lose my temper, but I often have to use it.”

– Dolly Parton

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This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.

4 strategies for dealing with difficult emotions

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash

The world can be a scary and confusing place. Life can be hard. People can be cruel.

For better or worse, difficult emotions are a part of life. So here are four strategies for dealing with them:

Feel, Don’t Resist, Your Feelings

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “No feeling is final” and the poet Robert Frost wrote that “the best way out is always through.” Listen to the poets – when it comes to difficult emotions, I think they know what they’re talking about. Even though you don’t like this feeling right now, attempting to shut down, resist, or block it out will only make things worse in the long run. As uncomfortable and annoying as this is, you will be able to process and move forward from your negative feelings if you first allow yourself to feel them. Using a mindfulness practice can help you learn how to be more present with your emotions. And remember: it is physiologically impossible for any feeling to last forever.

Be Kind to Yourself

You are a human being with flaws and failings, but that doesn’t make you bad or unloveable. Talk to and treat yourself the way you would a good friend who is going through a tough time. If you would never call a loved one stupid, don’t do it to yourself. You are probably doing better than you think. And even if you aren’t, you still deserve love, care and respect by virtue of being alive. So pick something something safe that feels comforting you (a hot shower, a walk outside, your favorite TV show) and then go do it. This is your permission to be kind to yourself. Today.

View Feelings As Information, Not Threats

I often tell my clients that feelings are information for you to pay attention to. For example, if you’re tired, it probably means you need rest. If you’re scared, maybe there is a threat in your presence and you need to get to safety. If you’re angry, it might be because a need was not met, a change is needed, or a boundary has been crossed. What might your feelings, as uncomfortable as they are to experience, be trying to tell you about your needs right now? How can you get this need met in a safe, self-compassionate way?

Reach Out for Support

You don’t have to go through this alone. Call up a friend who knows how to listen and share how you’re feeling. Then let them share how they’ve been feeling and practice listening to them. If you don’t have a lot of great listeners in your life, you can call 1-800-273-8255, chat with someone online by clicking here, or text HOME to 741741 to speak with someone who has been trained in the art of listening, available 24/7/365.

What’s your friendship attachment style? Take the quiz and find out!

Website Privacy Policy I Website Terms & Conditions I Website Disclaimer
This site is for informational purposes only. It isn’t intended to diagnose or treat any mental health problems and is not intended as psychological advice.
© 2022 Gina Davis, PsyD. All rights reserved.