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The Adolescent Brain

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By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

You may be puzzled to see why adolescents are taking risks and sometimes indulging in dangerous activities. You may feel like your teenage children have changed. It turns out that human brains undergo a reconstruction process during the teenage years, and “it does not finish developing and maturing until the mid-to-late 20s” (National Institute of Mental health, n.d.). Human brains grow to full size around 11 years old for girls and 14 years old for boys (National Institute of Mental health, n.d.). Still, neural networks have already begun reorganizing to have a sufficient network inside of their brains. During this process, they may act differently from previous years.

Their risk-taking behavior is also important from an evolutionary perspective. Adolescence is a significant time in our lives as we prepare to leave familiar territories, such as their families and communities, and venture into unfamiliar territories. Without these motivations to be adventurous, humans could be stuck in one place and could lose the opportunity to explore a different world out there. Teenagers are trying to form their tribes, so the opinions of their peers may matter more than their families’ opinions during this period.

However, how parents and other adults navigate these changes will impact how teens develop their brains. They will integrate their experiences, including interactions with adults, into their brain networks as integration. This is the time many teenagers start drinking, smoking cigarettes, or using drugs. Understand that teenagers are developing their brains even though you may not see it from the outside, so embrace “a thoughtful belief and value” (Siegel, 2012, p. 81).

Just saying ‘don’t do it’ is not enough. (Siegel, 2012, p. 81). For example, mentioning how cigarette companies are making money from manipulating their images to sell their products may work better than mentioning the adverse health effects (Siegel, 2012). Take time to have serious conversations. You may feel that they are not listening, but they are listening and watching you.


References

Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). The Teen Brain: 7 Things to Know. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-7-things-to-know/index.shtml

Siegel, D. J. (2012). Brainstorm. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/ Penguin.

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Hakomi: Character Strategies

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Character strategy is defined in Hakomi terms as approaches, patterns, and habits in the world someone created for “pleasure and satisfaction, given the nature of their particular core organizing beliefs about the world” (Barstow & Johanson, 2015, p. 2).

Character patterns manifest due to ongoing interactions of a developing child with her emotional/physical environment. These strategies and patterns can be perceived as strengths created by a child. In this perspective, character is seen more as a “function rather than malfunction. But a strength developed to the point of imbalance is also a weakness and every function overly developed in one direction leaves another direction undeveloped. For example, the strength some people develop to bear up under difficult conditions may leave those same people little sense of joy and lightness. In one of the patterns we study—the burdened-enduring pattern–the over developed strength of bearing up under blame leads to difficulties in taking responsibility and action” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 40).

The Hakomi character theory map evolved from prior “theories of Wilhelm Reich (1949), Alexander Lowen (1958, 1975), David Shapiro (1965), and John Pierrakos (1990)” (Eisman, 2015, p. 76). These theories wherein Hakomi gets its character theory model were “authoritarian and classically medical” in orientation, which means they perceived “strategic adaptions to developmental wounding” as an indicator of pathology, as unhealthy and neurotic (Eisman, 2015, p. 77). In Hakomi, character isn’t viewed “as a pathological digression, but as a creative attempt to assert one’s organicity—to find personal empowerment in an untenable situation” (p. 77).

In Hakomi, there are eight main character patterns (Kurtz, 1990, Eisman, 2015). Some individuals appear to exist primarily “in one or another, whereas others are more fluid” and can shift from one to another depending upon different situations, with “sometimes more than one pattern within” someone occurring in one situation (p. 79).

Eight Character Strategies 

  1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: One minimizes their self-expression or contact with others and takes shelter in thought or fantasies. 
  2. Dependent/Endearing: One seeks support through acting childlike.
  3. Self-Reliant/Independent: One activates self-support and relies on themselves; they seek challenges.
  4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous: One hides their weaknesses, insecurity and fear, they look tough and act important.
  5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative: One hides their true intentions, charms others and uses them to get what they want.
  6. Burdened/Enduring: One carries a heavy load, remains firm and patient. 
  7. Expressive/Clinging: One dramatizes feelings and events to gain attention and avoid abandonment.
  8. Industrious/Over-Focused: One works hard, keeps going and going, being overactive.

One can view “character patterns as interruptions of, or impairments in” the development of natural, social, and psychological functions (Kurtz, 1990, p. 46). “Impairment leaves the function truncated, distorted or incompletely learned” (p. 47). Here are “the missing core experiences” or experiences that want to happen for each character strategy (p. 47):

Missing Core Experiences

  1. Sensitive/Withdrawn: A sense of safety, being welcome, pleasurable interactions, and freedom from fear.
  2. Dependent/Endearing: Gratitude, abundance, nourishment, being cared for. 
  3. Self-Reliant/Independent: Receiving support willingly from others.
  4. Deceptive 1: Tough/Generous: Being authentic, showing vulnerability, freedom from being manipulated.
  5. Deceptive 2: Charming/Manipulative: Being authentic, accepting oneself as they really are, freedom from being harassed.
  6. Burdened/Enduring: An absence of pressure, responsibility or guilt.
  7. Expressive/Clinging: Love and attention given freely without a struggle.
  8. Industrious/Over-Focused: Love and appreciation, freedom to play and relax (Kurtz, 1990). 

References

Barstow, C. & Johanson, G. (1999). Glossary of Hakomi Therapy Terms. Hakomi Forum, 13, 2-5. 

Eisman, J. (2015). Hakomi Character Theory. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 76-90). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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What is EMDR?

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Coming to terms with adverse times in life is not an easy feat when taking it on alone. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique that helps relieve post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, and addiction. While pain from the past is a vital part of personal development, painful thoughts and memories do not have to remain as a cause of stress forever. It is okay to retain strong negative emotions about something from the past, but allowing it to remain a hindrance to wellness can quickly become a problem. This is where EMDR comes in.

In essence, EMDR entails utilizing REM-based eye-movements when thinking about traumatic memories to aid in processing trauma. One’s recollection of an event does not change; however, one’s perception does. Instead of feeling fearful or weak due to an event, one can feel confident or strong for surviving it (EMDR Institute). The process of EMDR starts with a review of one’s history and healing process. From there, specific memories are chosen and recollected in detail, going all the way to the physical sensations experienced in these memories. Periodically the therapist will ask the subject to identify emotions felt regarding these memories; over time, the sense of distress should fade away (Gotter).

Progress will constantly be evaluated throughout this process. EMDR has been found to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms in the long term with the added benefit of lacking the side effects that come with prescribed medicine. EMDR has a relatively low dropout rate and has not been found to worsen PTSD symptoms during treatment (Gotter).

EMDR is a powerful tool to further one’s wellness by prompting one to process their traumas and gain a more positive outlook on life. While difficult times cannot always be avoided, it is one’s mindset and attitude that allow for growth. There is no need to forget negative experiences, but rather remember them for what they are: the past. The past does not have to hinder anyone indefinitely. It is just as possible to use the past as a source of strength instead of a weakness.


References

Gotter, Ana. “What You Need to Know About EMDR Therapy.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 15 July 2019, www.healthline.com/health/emdr-therapy.

“What Is EMDR?: EMDR Institute – EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING THERAPY.” EMDR Institute, Inc., EMDR Institute, Inc., www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/.

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Has the Pandemic Caused More Drinking Problems?

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By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

During this quarantine time, it can be challenging for you to maintain your mental health. Researchers have found that drinking may be increasing since this COVID-19 pandemic started as a way to mask anxiety and fear from feeling uncertainty and avoiding facing reality.

If you are heavily relying on alcohol to forget the reality, obsessed about drinking, cannot stop drinking even though it is harming your health, you should talk to your primary care physician about your situation. If you are seeing a therapist, you can discuss your drinking habit. When you can be honest with yourself, you can best decide what to do next.

One significant sign that you may have a problem with alcohol is blackouts. There are two types of blackouts: “fragmentary blackouts,” where you only remember fragments of what happened while drinking, and “islands” where you don’t remember anything that happened (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2019). Blackouts are caused by high blood alcohol levels, which impairs your memory system in your brain. Blackouts are different from passing out. “During a blackout, a person is still awake, but their brain is not creating new memories” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2019). If your family members or close friends mention things you said and did while drinking and you don’t remember it, you may have had a blackout.

You may feel resistant to thinking of yourself as an alcoholic even though you have noticed that you have a problem. You may have the misconception that alcoholics are people who have lost everything and are not able to sustain themselves, which is not entirely true. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, both had well-paying jobs, but they could not stop drinking despite their declining health, financial problems, and family issues.

Alcoholics Anonymous facilitates a twelve-step program to help alcoholics acquire sobriety and stay sober. Much scientific research has been done about the effectiveness of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step program’s approach. As neuroscience is advancing, researchers are finding how this approach works from a neuroscience perspective.

Before the pandemic, you could go to an Alcoholics Anonymous in-person meeting to find a solution to your suffering through the support of others who have also struggled with alcoholism.

Fortunately, you can still join the program and get support through the many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held on Zoom. When you feel alone, I recommend you try to find a meeting and just be there. You don’t need to leave your home. You have no obligation, and no one will convince you that you are an alcoholic. You are the only one who can decide whether you are an alcoholic or not.


References

Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). https://www.aa.org
Blum, K., Thompson, B., Demotrovics, Z., Femino, J., Giordano, J., Oscar-Berman, M., …Gold, M.S. (2015).

The Molecular Neurobiology of Twelve Steps Program & Fellowship: Connecting the Dots for Recovery. Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome, 1,46-64. http://dx.doi.org/10.17756/jrds.2015-008

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2019). Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/interrupted-memories-alcohol-induced-blackouts

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder

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Healing from Intergenerational Trauma

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By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Can you imagine how your ancestors lived throughout different times in history?

The United States consists of many races and ethnicities, each with unique experiences, perspectives, and reasons for being in America.
We are all intrinsically tied to our families and our society. Imagine the days when we didn’t have social media or even phones. Back then, leaving your home, traveling across oceans to a new land, either by choice or by force, often meant being cut off entirely from your original support system.

“Social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma” (Van del Kolk, 2014, p. 82). But, when people migrate to a different place, they lose the social support needed to overcome stressful times. When stressors are not handled and processed properly, they can become traumas.

Stories of Holocaust survivors revealed a phenomenon called “intergenerational traumatic transfer,” in which unresolved traumas from parents are passed onto their children who did not experience actual traumas (Cozolino, 2006, p.231). There is a reason for that. More research shows that “psychological trauma disrupts homeostasis and can cause both acute and chronic effect on many organs and biological systems” (Solomon and Heide; as cited in Carey, 2009, p.21).

When people are traumatized, it causes biological changes inside of their bodies, which often causes behavioral changes. Traumatized people pass down their trauma “along through their actions and reactions” (Cozolino, 2006, p.231) to people close to them. When caregivers act based on their reactions to trauma, even if it’s subtle, these actions affect a child’s brain development resulting in learning unhealthy ways of interacting with the outside world. Unhealthy reactions become normal reactions.

Suppose you want to understand your own inherited family trauma. In that case, you could try to trace back your ancestry to find out who went through a traumatic separation from their original society and support system.

Psychotherapy can help individuals and families heal from trauma through a variety of modalities. Finding and nurturing a trusted social system can also help support you through your healing journey.

“Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe” (Van del Kolk, 2014, p. 81). You can step out from your familiar reaction patterns and start learning how to heal and live a healthier life in your new support group or your new tribe.


References

Carey, L. (Ed.) (2009). Expressive and Creative Arts Methods for Trauma Survivors. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingley Publishers.

Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Duran, E. & Duran, B. (1995). Native American Postcolonial Psychology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

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Hakomi: The Organization of Experience, Part 2

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“In Hakomi, we help our clients study how they create meaning and feeling out of events, that is, how they organize their experiences. Whole classes of experiences are organized around key issues like safety or being loved. To study these, we first focus on a particular present experience, like” muscle tension, a feeling, thought or an image. This experience reveals how experience is being organized and how to access the core material hidden underneath it (Kurtz, 1990, p. 11).

Two entirely different processes affect what someone experiences, including what is occurring externally around them and the tendencies and other elements that first convert these external events into primary sensory information, then into the nervous system, and eventually into conscious experiences (Kurtz, 1985).

To a large degree, “especially at the lower levels of conversion, these habits” are adaptive and not a problem. Still, it’s at the level of feeling and meaning that the conversion of events into experience can sometimes become unnecessarily inhibiting and painful (Kurtz, 1985, p. 3).

The organization of experience developed through one’s emotional-psychological history and is based upon mundane information and misinformation, beliefs, “and, at the deepest levels, memories of emotionally intense events, relationships, and interactions. These key beliefs and memories have the emotional power to create the basic habits with which we organize experience” (p.3).

In Hakomi, central organizing habits and memories are called core material. This core material strongly influences one’s personality with a significant impact on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The ways core material is organized can be noticed in even ordinary details of behavior if one observes carefully (Kurtz, 1985).

“The explicit study of the organization of experience is the very essence of Hakomi Therapy” (Kurtz, 1985, p.3).

In Hakomi, the therapist carefully protects “the emotional experience of the client, providing safety and support wherever possible” then within that delicate, supportive space, we initiate and assist the processes by which a client first becomes aware of and then begins to “change the habits which make some experiences automatically and unnecessarily painful, limiting and destructive” (p. 3-4).

All “therapies work with experience and its organization. But only a few work with it explicitly and consciously; call it that; make it primary; and have principles, methods, and techniques specifically designed to do so. Hakomi does” (p.4).

(This post is Part 2 of a two-part post titled Hakomi: The Organization of Experience. Read Part 1 here.)


References

Kurtz, R. S. (1985). The Organization of Experience in Hakomi Therapy. Hakomi Forum, 3, 3-9. 

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

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Taking Steps Toward Wellness in 2021

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Needless to say, 2020 spared no one of their fair share of challenges. With the New Year finally upon us, we’re all given the opportunity to look back on last year and reflect on the positives and negatives. News Year’s resolutions are a classic way to make an effort toward personal growth; however, they aren’t the only approach to achieving a more positive outlook for the year to come.

In fact, one could argue that putting yourself in the mindset for change is just as —if not more—effective than allowing positive change to affect your mindset for the better. A central theme of the New Year is evolution and fresh starts, so what better place to start than from within?

Step back and reflect

At times, resolutions can have an uncanny way of inspiring unproductive self-criticism and aren’t always the best solution. It’s essential to take a step back and look at the past year before making any serious changes. What did you struggle with? How can you use that knowledge to understand yourself better and translate it into a more successful year?

Be mindful of mental health

Many problems were exacerbated last year. Surveys have found that roughly 40% of adults struggled with mental health in the pandemic, if not as a result of it. Be mindful of the bad and the good because, more often than not, learning to adapt the way you look at it can be one of the best things you can do for your mental health and, thus, the changes you wish to make in the new year.

Check in on the reasons

Motivation is extremely sensitive to our perception of our problems inside and out. As muddled as it can get when we’re in a bad place, a healthy attitude can be extraordinarily helpful. You’re never obligated to view things positively all the time, but at the bare minimum, ensure you’re continually checking if your desire for change comes from the right place.

Be kind to yourself

At the risk of sounding trite, the past year hasn’t treated anyone kindly. It’s a great thing to want to engage in positivity and do better in 2021, but it’s also important to reflect on if you’re doing it for the right reasons. It goes without saying that self-care takes precedence over all else, even if many other things seem to pile up over it. While accepting yourself and the circumstances around you, there’s nothing like doing what you love to take the edge off. First and foremost, be kind to yourself.


References

“How to Prioritize Your Mental Health in 2021: Lifeworks Counseling Center.” Lifeworks, Lifeworkscc, 14 Dec. 2020, www.lifeworkscc.com/how-to-prioritize-your-mental-health-in-2021/.

“New Year Theme for Yourself 2021.” Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Foundation, 14 Dec. 2020, www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/
new-year-theme-for-yourself-2021
.

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Small Ways We Can Maintain Mental Health This Season

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Many of us are taking care of ourselves less this year, which is the last thing we need for our health and happiness. Whether we’re making changes to our routine or taking more time for self-care, the best thing we can all do for ourselves right now is to preserve a positive mindset.

No matter how well you may feel in the moment, there are many ways, however small they may be, you can help maintain your mental health and feel better this season and beyond.

Be Kind to Yourself

First and foremost, treat yourself kindly. Making an effort to value yourself and avoid self-criticism does more than you think. The way you perceive yourself ultimately affects how you feel and has a substantial impact on your self-worth (Harteneck).

Take Care of Your Body

Your body has just as important of a role regarding mental health. It’s been proven that proper diet and exercise significantly improve mental health. When exercising, stress-reducing and mood-boosting endorphins are released, lowering stress, anxiety, and depression (Harteneck). The same can be said for getting good sleep, which contributes to lowered irritability and increased concentration.

Surround Yourself with Love

Remind yourself what you’re grateful for and take time to do what you love. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always have to be a chore. A vital part of maintaining mental wellness is surrounding yourself with people and things you like. Spend time with supportive friends, family members, and groups that make you happy. Self-care comes in many forms and tends to be a gradual process that comes with adopting beneficial, healthy habits. Your happiness is a priority — treat yourself!


References

Harteneck, Patricia. “9 Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health Today.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Oct. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201510/9-ways-you-can-improve-your-mental-health-today

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Want a Stronger Immune System? Start with Self Love

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By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Do you know what to do when you feel uncomfortable or even despaired? If you struggle with indecision, it may come from your childhood.

The U.S. is an individualistic society where children “are encouraged to compete with each other to feel pride in their individual achievements” (Newman and Newman, 2009, p. 69) overtly and covertly. In contrast, there are collectivist societies, where children “are praised for behaviors that evidence responsibility for others” (Newman and Newman, 2009, p. 69).

Does this mean that children in individualistic societies like in the U.S. are not affected by other people? The answer is no. As your brain develops, it is shaped by interactions with your caregivers and other people around you. “Self and community are fundamentally interrelated” and “(T)he ‘me’ discovers meaning and happiness by joining and belonging to a ‘we’” (Siegel and Brayson, 2011, p. 122).

However, when your home was not a place where you felt happiness and love, your home became “a source of fear and emotional dysregulation” (Cozolino, p.231). If your caregivers didn’t validate your emotions and you didn’t feel understood even before you started speaking your language, as an adult, you likely depend on someone or something to soothe you when you face difficulties (Maté, 2010). These parenting styles and behaviors may be passed on from one generation to the next generation (Maté, 2010).

It’s never too late to unlearn what was passed onto you. Despite how you grew up and wherever you grew up, you can learn how to be kind to yourself. You can start learning how to regulate your emotions by interacting with your therapist. “We are hard-wired to be collaborative. When we are integrated interpersonally, we become integrated internally” (Siegel, 2012, p.34-6).

The good news for doing this is that “(A)cross the life span, relationships are an important source of vitality and they promote health in mind and body (Siegel, 2012, p.34-5). Also, “(E)mpathetic relationships help the immune system function well” (Siegel, 2012, p.34-5). Learning how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and other people promotes your overall health. It is not a quick solution, but the reward is enormous.


References

Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of Human Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Maté, G. (2010). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Newman, B. M. & Newman, P. R. (2009). Development Through Life. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Siegel, D. J. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal neurobiology. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

Siegel, D. J. & Bryson, T. P. (2011). The Whole-Brain Child. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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Here’s to Healing and Healthier Relationships

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Photo Credit: Anastasiia Vedmedenko

By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Healthy relationships do not always come easy; there is a degree of effort that everyone must put into them to function. Often, there is no direct “right answer” for the problems one may have with their romantic partner. There are, however, steps both parties can take to ensure a working coalition.

It is important to look for signs of relationship issues, such as excessive arguing, withdrawal, or a lack of trust. Sometimes such relationship issues are caused by “self-sabotage,” in which either partner severs opportunities to grow more intimate connections. This avoidance behavior often stems from fears of abandonment and low self-esteem. It takes a certain amount of courage to face issues with intimacy and honesty with their partner. Ignoring problems only creates more division and can aggravate resentment, and other negative emotions either partner may harbor.

Couples counseling is one great example of a way to increase communication and consequently create more harmony within the relationship. If both partners are willing to change and communicate their issues with one another without playing the blame game, there is clear hope for a resolution.

Relationships are a joint effort. Mending them can be tiring and taxing on one’s emotions, but as long as both are willing to work on it, it is a step in the right direction. Even if the relationship ends, it is best to know it ended with some sense of closure and clarity. There is always something to be learned from these experiences, so regardless of how things go, all one can do is pick themself up and carry on.


References

Beyer, Anna Lee. “Do Your Relationships Often Seem to Self-Destruct? Figure Out If You’re the One Who’s Been Setting the Clock.” Greatist, Greatist, 24 Sept. 2020, greatist.com/grow/relationship-self-sabotage.

Lancer, Darlene. “Signs of Serious Relationship Problems.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC, 19 Apr. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/201904/signs-serious-relationship-problems.

Manson, Mark. “6 Toxic Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Normal.” Mark Manson, Infinity Squared Media LLC, 8 Sept. 2020, markmanson.net/toxic-relationship-signs.

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