Why we Need to Stop Using the Term, OCD, Carelessly

Understanding Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Couples counseling san diego
I often hear people say, “I have OCD” or “I’m very OCD,” in attempt to describe their habits or desire for cleanliness and order. Many use the term casually and lightly, without fully understanding the implications and/or meaning of such a phrase.

I can’t tell you how many times I scroll through the internet and see things like: “I’m #SoOCD.” 

Well, I would love for it to stop.

The term obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is overused. In fact, it’s not even used correctly.

The disorder which involves symptoms of perfectionism, is in fact, Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) and not OCD. 

People generally have the best intentions- sometimes they are trying to be funny or find a way to describe a behavior; however, using OCD in a careless way is insensitive to those who truly suffer from this condition.

I have decided to write this blog for a number of reasons:
1) I want to educate the public on what OCD really looks like; 2) I am hoping to help people understand the difference between OCD and OCPD; 3) I would like to stress that some of the ways in which we use these terms can be damaging to those who have been diagnosed with one or both disorder(s) (e.g. we don’t need to put them into hashtag form).  

The Difference between OCD and OCPD

Without using too much clinical jargon, OCPD is a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of interest with perfectionism, mental control, efficiency, orderliness, or excessive attention to detail.

OCD is an anxiety disorder in which individuals experience recurrent, persistent, and undesirable feelings, intrusive thoughts, sensations, and images (obsessions). Many who suffer from OCD engage in unwanted behavioral rituals (compulsions) or mental acts in attempt to reduce anxiety. 

Despite the similarity in their names, OCD and OCPD, are two separate disorders. 

Diving deeper into OCD and Understanding Compulsions

According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), compulsions are defined as: “repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly,” (2013). 

Engaging in compulsions can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Although these rituals can be exhausting in nature, they serve a purpose. The compulsive behaviors are often an individual’s way of coping with distress. Engaging in compulsions can help an individual temporarily regulate and self-soothe. 

The downside of these rituals is that they are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to prevent or neutralize; and they are often excessive and sometimes debilitating. 

Symptoms of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe. If the condition is left untreated, it can impair and limit a person’s ability to function. 

A Word (or two) to the wise…

While I am trying to discourage using the term OCD casually, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that OCPD should be used in it’s place. 

Both disorders cause significant distress.

When we use these terms to describe quirks and personality traits, we are actually downplaying and minimizing the experience of those who truly suffer from these disorders. 

How can we create change?

  • Let’s start by being mindful about how we describe perfectionism and the desire for efficiency.
  • Let’s stop using OCD or OCPD lightly. We don’t want to minimize or make light of someone’s illness. 
  • Refrain from using the term OCD to describe yourself when you haven’t actually been diagnosed with this disorder.
  • Let’s educate our peers on the impact of using these terms. 
  • Let’s find alternate ways to describe the need for control and order. 

Together, we can shift the way that we talk about mental illness. 

If you or someone you love suffer from OCD or OCPD, please reach out today. Couples counseling in San Diego, individual therapy, and family counseling can help you to cope with these illnesses. 

Click on the link below and request a discovery call with me today and let’s do this together- one step at a time.





American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.


Miscarriage: A Dreadful Thought and a Painful Process- 6 Things You Can Expect After Losing a Baby

Miscarriage: A Dreadful Thought and A Painful Process
6 Things You Can Expect After Losing a Baby


Miscarriage. It’s not talked about nearly enough, even though 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. According to the Mayo Clinic, the actual number is likely higher because many miscarriages occur before a woman even realizes that she is pregnant. While there are so many fun books and apps geared towards giving birth and expecting, I have found that there isn’t enough literature on how to survive or even begin to process a miscarriage.

Because the experience of losing a baby is uniquely painful, many women are left feeling alone, devastated, and unprepared for the long journey of healing that lies ahead. Thus, I write this blog for every woman (correction, for every MOTHER) who has ever lost a baby. While I realize that nothing I write can heal your wounds, I am hoping that my insight into this process can be helpful.

Here are 6 Things you can expect after enduring such a loss...  

1) Insensitive Responses

Prepare for ignorant and insensitive responses- statements that clearly aren’t well thought out. While many people will respond in an appropriate and supportive manner, others may find themselves at a stand-still in terms of what to say. Sitting in heavy emotion and responding in an empathetic and gentle way isn’t something that everyone knows how to do.

During a time of crisis, it is common for many individuals to freeze, look for a solution, or attempt to find a silver-lining. For example, you may hear comments that start with “at least” (e.g. “at least you can get pregnant,” or “at least you lost the baby sooner rather than later,” or “at least you have other children,” etc.). This. Is. Difficult. While your family or friends may have the best of intentions, it can be painful to have others minimize your experience.

 2) The “Calm down” or “Don’t cry” Scenario

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “don’t cry” or “calm down” to a partner or loved one during a time of crisis. Prepare yourself for this type of response- whether it comes from an ER doc or nurse, a family member, or a complete stranger. It may happen and I am truly sorry if it does.

If you find yourself crying and someone tells you to “calm down,” embrace and own your outpouring of pain and emotion. It’s OK to cry (even the ugly cries are welcome). The last thing you need to worry about is slowing yourself down for the sake of someone else. People may be uncomfortable with emotion, but that is THEIR stuff. Try to turn to those who have historically responded in empathetic, safe, and loving ways.

3) The Dreadful “It’s Common” Statement

Prep for this gem of a comment: “it’s so common to miscarry.” Yes, it is common, but then again, losing a parent at some point in your life is common, too. Knowing that something is “common” doesn’t mean that it’s any less painful. Losing a baby is a devastating experience. It does not need to be minimized.

Should you find yourself engaging in a conversation where someone says “it’s common to miscarry,” do your best to ground yourself and try to tell that person that you just want them to listen (if that is what you truly need in the moment).

4) Psychological and Emotional Pain

I didn’t intend for the theme of this blog to be centered around doom-and-gloom, but I would like to shed some light on one thing: not everyone has a miscarriage in one day.

The process of miscarrying, sadly, can drag out for weeks or even months (as if losing a baby isn’t hard enough on the mind, soul, and body). While some women miscarry naturally, others may have to resort to taking medication and/or undergoing a surgical procedure. Emotionally and physically, all processes are sad, painful, and exhausting. There is no “good” way to have a miscarriage and simply taking an Advil doesn’t quite take care of the pain.

Bottom line: losing a baby can be a long and grueling process- both psychologically and physically. Don’t let anyone make light of your loss. Take as much time as you need to heal and recover. Your body will experience many changes and hormones alone can be the devil.

After the loss, surround yourself with those you love and engage in as much self-care as possible. Feel free to crush tacos, take a bubble bath, or spend a day in bed. Just. Do. You.

5) Profound Loss

Expect to grieve, make time to cry, and create space to mourn the loss of your baby, as well as the loss of your dream(s). You may have brainstormed names, you may have decorated a nursery, or you may have envisioned holding your little one in your arms.  Whatever your dream is/was, it can be terribly devastating to realize that you won’t see your dream to fruition. I am so sorry. Please know that the loss is not your fault in anyway.  

Expect that your heart will need time to heal, your mind will need time to process the grief, and your body may crave (and need) nurture from a loved one. You will most likely experience a wave of emotions as you go through the various stages of grief.

Whatever your process is, take care of yourself. Losing a baby is a profound loss and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

6) Relational Stress

Experiencing a miscarriage is not an easy feat for any couple. Even the most secure and intact relationships can suffer during a time of crisis. Miscarrying is a process that deeply impacts both partners. As such, you may want to engage in dialogues where you and your partner are able to discuss each other's feelings and needs.

If you feel as if you are both spinning your wheels or getting stuck, couples therapy is a viable option. If you do not have a partner, talking to a professional therapist can be extremely beneficial.

Tips for Taking Care of You:

  • Access your support system (you may need an army). If you don’t have a handful of people to lean on, try to turn to just ONE reliable loved one.
  • Remember, seek-out people who are SAFE. You need individuals who can sit with you in the pain- people who will not minimize your experience or judge your process.
  • Don’t let anyone tell you to “just try again.” We aren’t talking about buying a pair of shoes here. Sure, you may decide to “try again,” but even if you do, the loss can still be traumatic.
  • Engage in self-care. Find ways to take care of YOU throughout your difficult journey.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your heart.
  • Allow yourself time to heal and grieve. Take all the time that you need and don’t let anyone tell you that you should be doing something different.
  • Try not to blame yourself. You did nothing wrong.

If you’re struggling to heal from the loss of a baby or if you feel as if you don’t have the proper support, I would love to walk alongside you during your time of need. Request a FREE discovery call with me today and let’s do this together- one step at a time.





4 Considerations Before Piling More onto Your Schedule

4 Considerations Before Piling More onto Your Schedule

4 Considerations Before Piling More onto Your Schedule

4 Considerations Before Piling More onto Your Schedule

Finding balance, setting limits, and learning to pass on an opportunity is not an easy task. No one wants to miss out; in fact, many of us suffer from “FOMO.” Further, saying no to someone you love isn’t always easy and telling your boss that you need to scale-back on any additional time spent at the office is almost unheard of in the workplace.

Because saying no can be difficult and unsettling, many people find themselves taking on more than they should. As a result, many Americans experience high levels of stress. Stress has both serious and negative health implications. It has been linked to numerous physical and emotional disorders including, anxiety, depression, stroke, heart attacks, immune system disturbances, and hypertension.  

So how do you know if you are taking on too much? How do you know if you are at max capacity?

Here are 4 considerations before you pile more onto your schedule...

1) Are you listening to your inner voice?

Before you say yes to an offer, opportunity, or long-term commitment, make sure you are checking-in with yourself. Are you biting off more than you can chew? Does the thought of saying yes overwhelm you? Or does the idea of taking on an additional task energize or excite you?

Often times, people feel stuck, depleted, or stressed when they have too many commitments. It is important to know your limits and make space for your inner voice. If you feel as if you should say no, give yourself permission to politely decline. Chances are, your inner voice just needs to feel validated and heard. Trust me, the world will keep turning and your future self will thank you.

2) Do you have enough time to engage in the activities you enjoy?

If your answer is no, think twice before you commit to something. Although it can be difficult to decline an invitation or to (potentially) shut the door on an opportunity (e.g. for fear of disappointing others or for fear of missing out), it is sometimes necessary.

If you aren’t engaging in enough self-care, or if you find it challenging to manage and uphold your current commitments, you may want to reconsider adding one more thing to your agenda.

Remember, we can’t say yes to everything. If people are unhappy with your response, it is on THEM to find a way to manage their disappointment (no need to justify your decision or explain your position). Be kind, direct, and gracious- most people will understand.

 3) Is there something getting in the way of you saying no?

I get it. Saying no can be difficult (especially if you’ve noticed that you tend to people-please). We all have emotional blocks and things that get in the way of us turning down an offer from time-to-time.

If you feel as if you have a block, try processing that barrier with a friend. The sooner that you can identify it, understand it, and own it, the better off you will be.

4) Are you saying yes for the right reasons?

If you were to accept an offer or commit to working on an additional project, would you feel at peace with your decision? I realize that this is a tough question for many to answer because, as adults, we often have to do things that we don’t want to do. But for the tasks that you do not need to fulfill- for the things that you can pass on if you wish to- do you really need to say yes? Think about this for a minute.

If saying yes will ultimately cause you discomfort, resentment, or will complicate your life, lean into the part of you that is wanting to set limits. On the flip-side, if accepting an invitation seems like it would be a fulfilling or rewarding experience, feel free to say yes.  

So, what are the lessons here?

  • Know your limits, slow-down, strive for balance, and don’t be afraid to say no.
  • Saying no is OK. In fact, it is often healthy and empowering.
  • Everyone likes a “yes (wo)man,” except for the person in the mirror. Learn to take care of you- and learn to advocate for you.
  • If you have a barrier or block- name it, tame it, and start to claim it.
  • No one else is aware of your limits, so it is your mission (and your mission alone) to tell people when you can’t possibly do something.  

If you’re still struggling to say no or if you tend to say yes more than you should, I would love to support you in finding balance and solutions. Request a FREE discovery call with me today and let’s do this together- one step at a time.

“Once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed how much more life she had time for.” -unknown

Seven Things you Should Never Say to Someone who Suffers from Anxiety

1) “Just be Happy”

Although this simple phrase may seem harmless or even empowering, it isn’t helpful to say this to someone who is struggling to overcome anxiety. If people were able to “just be happy,” it’s safe to say that everyone would be content- with themselves, in life, and in relationships. After all, who would choose to live in a state of fear or worry if there was a better alternative? I have yet to encounter an individual who enjoys feeling uneasy, unhappy, or anxious.

Before you try to inspire those who are living with anxiety with a line like this, remember that individuals who deal with prolonged or chronic anxiety can’t just flip a switch and “be happy.” This is because in people who suffer from anxiety disorders, the brain circuity that controls the threat response for the body gets activated. At the core of this circuit is the brain’s amygdala, a small almond-like structure that codes some signals as alarming and then communicates with other parts of the brain to put the body on high alert.

The amygdala is remarkable. It is responsible for survival instincts, memory, and the perception of emotions. It helps to store memories of events and emotions so that an individual may be able to recognize similar events in the future. For instance, if you have ever suffered a bee sting, then the amygdalae may help in processing that event; and therefore increase your fear or alertness around bees.

When our senses detect a change in our surroundings that could be potentially dangerous, the amygdala is responsible for preparing the body for defense or escape (also known as, fight or flight). In individuals who experience prolonged anxiety, the amygdala may get triggered even when “real danger” is not present.

2) “You are in Control of your Emotions”

If only it were that simple. While we can work to decrease negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions or attend therapy to try to minimize painful emotions, it is utterly impossible to completely shift or alter our emotional responses.

If we were capable of changing the way in which our bodies respond to anxiety, then the 40 million adults in America who suffer would miraculously be able to overcome anxiety in the absence of treatment. Further, there’s a reason why the U.S. spends more than 42 billion dollars a year (almost one-third of the country’s mental health bill) on anxiety- it’s an illness that is tough to manage without the proper care and attention (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).

Because anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including a genetic predisposition, brain chemistry, personality, and life circumstances, controlling our emotions is just not probable. Seeking help from a mental health professional is more of an effective antidote in combating anxiety.

3) “It’s Not that Bad, I’ve had Worries in the Past too”

If you’ve said this phrase to someone who suffers from anxiety, chances are you had the best of intentions or you were just trying to relate. Worrying, however, is vastly different from experiencing anxiety. Worrying can lead to stress and is often unsettling, but prolonged anxiety can be debilitating. Individuals with anxiety disorders often seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses (e.g. difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, chest pain, trembling, vertigo, headaches, Gastrointestinal (GI) issues, or difficultly swallowing).

Think twice before you say “it’s not that bad” to someone who is anxious. This statement can be perceived as dismissive. It can result in your loved one feeling unsafe or misunderstood and it may send them into full-blown protection mode. Withdrawing or shutting-down is a common behavior in people who feel criticized or minimized. This is troubling because individuals who live with anxiety often benefit from psychotherapy. Thus, if a person does not receive the desired and much needed compassionate response from you, chances are, they will not seek the professional support that they may need and ultimately deserve.

Try saying this when you’re stuck: I don’t know exactly what you are experiencing, but it sounds painful. I can’t imagine what you are going through. Please let me know if there is something that you need to feel supported.

4) “Calm Down”

Helping someone to slow-down while they are in the midst of a panic attack can be a difficult, uncomfortable, and scary task (for all parties involved). When we are nervous or overwhelmed we usually try to find a solution or we look for something to say that might be calming or grounding. Telling a person to “calm down,” however, is not a phrase that I would endorse in this situation.

Try slowing your speech down and focus on listening to your loved one. Anxiety can breed more anxiety. If you are feeling helpless or anxious, as a result of trying to help someone who is struggling, try to speak slowly. Take deep breaths and converse in a soft and gentle manner. Physical touch can also be helpful (e.g. hand holding, hugging, etc.).  

5) “Get it Together” or “Suck it Up”

If you have ever uttered these words, please make a mental note to never say them again (to anyone- for any reason). These phrases can be extremely damaging. By saying “suck it up” or “get it together” you are essentially telling someone that they are: a) overreacting; b) their behavior or emotional response is unacceptable or unwarranted; c) they are “too much” for you to handle; d) they are being “dramatic” or “crazy;” e) they are weak and should learn to cope in better ways; or f) all of the above.

We don’t need to cut someone down during their time of need. Dealing with anxiety is hard enough. No one needs to believe that they are “abnormal” or “weak” in the midst of feeling scared. Please leave statements like this at the door. I doubt that you would ever want your loved one to feel attacked, afraid, or alone.

6) “There are People out There who are Going Through Much More”

Just because a person suffers from anxiety doesn’t mean that they doubt that others have issues and struggles of their own. It’s safe to say, that cognitively, we are all aware of the unique challenges and problems that others face. Knowing that people are in pain around the world (in the midst of dealing with anxiety), is far from helpful. You may think you are putting one’s pain into perspective, but in fact, you are dismissing their feelings and discounting their struggle. Bottom line: avoid comparisons. Life can be hard.

7) “What is Wrong with You?”

This statement falls into the “harmful and not helpful” category. Individuals who battle anxiety know that they are struggling- they don’t need you to point out that something is going on with them.

If a loved one appears to be having a tough time, do your best to remain patient and emotionally engaged. Ask them if there is something that you can do to comfort them. Please do not give advice (unless they ask for help) and avoid sending the message that they are “abnormal” or “out of control” just because they are struggling to find relief.

The good news is:
1) Anxiety disorders are treatable. Therapy and medication are several recommended approaches that can be effective in treating someone who lives with chronic anxiety.
 2) YOU can help someone who suffers from this condition just by changing your perspective, educating yourself, and/or altering your initial knee-jerk response.

So how do you best support a loved one who suffers from anxiety?

  • Remain patient, calm, and collected.  
  • Slow down while speaking to someone who is in the midst of a panic attack. If you become escalated or reactive, you will most likely send your loved one into a downward spiral.
  • Do your best to be empathetic and understanding.
  • Check-in with your loved one so that you can better understand how they would like to be supported. Some individuals may want a hug, while others may need a safe place to share.
  • Avoid statements that are critical in nature.
  • Strive to be a solid and safe place for them to land.
  • Don’t make their anxiety about you and your needs.
  • Put your judgement on a shelf and dig deep to find that empathy and compassion. I know it’s there.

Four Tips for Safeguarding your Relationship this Holiday Season

Four Tips for Safeguarding your Relationship this Holiday Season

For many couples, the holiday season represents a time of togetherness, joy, and laughter- at least, that’s what many of us hope for and envision. Although most couples attempt to minimize conflict, plan ahead, and compromise, the holidays can still get messy.

We’ve all experienced a not-so-merry December and it’s clear that relational stress, rigid ideals around holiday planning and functions, and family conflict (inside and outside of a union) can threaten even the most secure and solid relationships.

So why is “holiday terrain” so tough for couples to navigate? Is it because every relationship has a unique set of challenges and/or hot-spots (an Achilles heel, if you will) that get triggered as a result of the added holiday pressure? Is it because couples have different expectations and ideas around holiday traditions, plans, and gatherings? Or could it be that families often engage in a game of tug-of-war between partners? Regardless of the specific issue, it is vital that couples learn how to manage conflict in a way that is productive, safe, and supportive.

Here are four tips for safeguarding your relationship this holiday season...

1) Avoid pushing matters “under the rug”

Conflict during the holidays can be overwhelming for many couples. The hustle and bustle of the season can bring out the best in us, but it can also bring out the worst. We are often overworked and exhausted- and as such, it can be tough to make space for even the most merry of tasks. Because the season can be taxing, many people feel as if they do not have the energy or resources to discuss difficult topics with their partner. As a result, many couples table their issues.

What happens when we are unable to address important matters with our partner- when we avoid or “stuff” our emotions? When relational issues are ignored, couples often struggle to maintain a secure connection with one another. This is an issue because partners who do not feel securely attached are at risk of falling into one of three negative patterns (e.g., criticize-defend; attack-attack; or withdraw-withdraw). Bottom line: all three of these cycles can leave couples feeling stuck, hopeless, unhappy, and disconnected. Further, when a negative cycle takes over a relationship, repairing becomes difficult, escalation and reactivity can increase, and there is often a decrease in productivity in terms of finding amicable solutions.

2) Make space for your partner’s emotions

You may not understand your partner’s feelings, ideas, or perspective, but try to remember that their experience is still valid (as is yours). It’s not your job to judge, evaluate, attack, or defend. Your primary goal is to try to understand their emotions without discounting or minimizing their experience. Ask questions and be curious- reflect back what you hear and try to create a safe place for them to share. Many people just want to feel heard. Thus, before you try to “fix-it,” ask your loved one how you can best support them. Chances are, they just want you to listen.  

3) Stop defending or explaining a family member’s position

Do not explain, justify, or defend other people’s behaviors to your spouse- especially when it comes to your family. You are not doing your relationship any favors. When we become defensive or when we try to justify certain behaviors, we are often dismissing our partner’s experience (whether we intend to or not). As a result, your spouse may struggle to feel supported, heard, or valued in the relationship. Therefore, tread lightly. Your intent should always be to listen without defending.

4) Nurture your bond

The merging of two families can be difficult. Every family has their own set of traditions and schedules, as well as unique and special ways of enjoying the holiday season. Bottom line: you’re not going to please everyone and you (most likely) will not be able to attend every holiday gathering. Work together with your spouse to develop a schedule that works for both of you.

Find time to nurture your relationship and look for new ways of building a stronger bond. Spend quality time as a unit and engage in activities and traditions that make the TWO of you happy. You may even find that you and your partner want to create your own traditions this holiday season. The sky is the limit, here. Get creative, think outside of the box, and try new experiences with your spouse (e.g. let “Groupon” inspire you).

Looking for new ways to create connection with your spouse? Check out John Gottman’s “Love Map” cards. https://www.gottman.com/product/love-map-cards-for-couples/


3 Ways to Build a Deeper Connection with your Partner

1) Be all There- be Emotionally Engaged

Lets face it, this day and age it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find time to connect with our partners. Between technology, work, children, and extracurricular activities, our opportunities to deeply connect can be limited. So how can we take full advantage of our time with our partners? How can we ensure that time spent together equates to moments of deep connection?

For starters, you can consider this Jim Elliot quote: “wherever you are- be all there.” Although this phrase is applicable to a variety of situations, it is important that we view it from a relational standpoint- that we apply it to our adult relationships. Don’t just give your partner your time; give them your focus- your undivided attention. Listen whole-heartedly to what they are saying, reflect back what you hear, and encourage them to share both their dreams and fears. Ask questions and try to engage without “solving” an issue. Remember, understanding and empathy must always precede advice. If you can attune to your partner, they will most likely feel heard, valued, and safe in the relationship. And what does safety do, you might ask? When safety is present, people tend to take more emotional risks- they become more inclined to turn into relationships. Thus, being present will help strengthen your bond.

2) Promote Vulnerability within Yourself and with Each Other

Vulnerability is the cornerstone to any solid relationship. The unfortunate piece is that the word “vulnerability” often gets a bad reputation. Many people are afraid to be vulnerable for a fear of getting hurt or of feeling exposed. The truth is, however; vulnerability can help foster a strong bond and lasting connection.

Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, said it perfectly when she stated: “One of the reasons there is such an intimacy deficit today is because we don’t know how to be vulnerable. It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need. Vulnerability is a glue that holds intimate relationships together.” Although being vulnerable is not an easy feat, your relationship depends on it. The true meaning of intimacy is “into me you see.”

3) Attend to the Emotional Needs of the Relationship

We now know that the foundation for a deep connection and strong bond is based on nurturing the emotional needs of the relationship.  The emotional needs are comprised of three vital pieces: accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. Because we’ve already covered emotional engagement, lets talk about the other two parts.

Dr. Sue Johnson, researcher and founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), believes that we all want a positive answer to the following questions: Are you there for me? Can I reach you? Can I rely on you to respond to me? Do I matter to you? Essentially, we want to know that if we are in need of comfort, support, or connection, our partner will be there.

Here are some tips to becoming more responsive and accessible: 1) Make your relationship a priority. When your partner calls, answer the phone. When they cry, comfort them. When something is important to them, listen; 2) Pay close attention to your partner’s cues and show up for them during their time of need. Is it hard to tell what they need? Ask, and try to make it safe for them to share; 3) Don’t minimize or dismiss emotions. What may seem like a small deal to you, may be a painful experience for them. Validate what they are going through and do your best to let them know that they truly matter to you; 5) Follow-through. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Follow-through on your promises and commitments. Your partner needs to know that they can count on you. It’s that simple, folks.

Showing up for your Child: How to be Responsive, Accessible, & Emotionally Engaged During your Child’s Time of Need

Parenting is hard work, and over time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, under-equipped, and emotionally spent. As a therapist, it is not uncommon for moms to come into my office and say “I feel as if I am missing the mark on being a good parent,” “my child won’t listen,” or “my kid is being deviant and I don’t know how to stop this behavior.” If you have ever had these thoughts or have felt as if you are not getting it right as a parent, you are NORMAL. The truth is, when day-to-day stressors take their toll, it is often difficult to remember that your child is HAVING a hard time- they are not meaning to give YOU a hard time.

Most moms know how important it is to equip a child with the intellectual and social skills they need to succeed in life. They are also aware that rules, household structure, and education are important factors in helping children develop and thrive. However, kids also need to master their emotions. John Gottman, an internationally-known, Washington state-based psychology researcher, suggests that children who know how to make sense of and regulate their emotional world will enjoy greater physical health, increased self-confidence, better performance in school, and healthier relationships. Translation: helping your child make sense of their emotional world will only bring them closer to you.

Gottman’s book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting,” provides parents with a map- a map to help children become emotionally intelligent. By following the parenting techniques outlined in the book and in this article, you will experience a deeper connection with your child. You will also be able to redirect the “deviant” behavior and help your child to explore strategies to solving issues. Gottman breaks the emotional coaching process down into five simple steps:

Become aware of your child’s emotions — Many moms are able to see the positive emotions a child expresses, but coming close to a child who is scared, hurt, angry, or sad can sometimes be a challenge. Parents tend to tune-in to the “deviant” demonstrations (e.g. yelling, sibling rivalry, kicking, screaming, etc.), but fail to recognize which emotion is actually driving these behaviors (e.g. sadness, hurt, fear). Instead of trying to control or modify a behavior, sit down with your child and help them to express what is going on inside. Preschoolers often need help labeling their emotions. Teaching them how to express what they are feeling, and redirecting misbehaviors may seem tedious, but it is time well spent.
Tips: 1) Pay attention to your own emotions- be aware of when you are sad, happy and angry; 2) Understand that feelings are valid and a natural part of life; 3) Watch, listen, and learn how your child expresses different emotions. Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and posture.

Recognize emotional expression as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching — When children are “misbehaving” they are most likely having a difficult time and battling some tough emotions. Realize that negative emotions are not threats to authority, or something for you to fix or ignore.
Tips: 1) Pay close attention to your child’s emotions and try not to dismiss, invalidate, or avoid them; 2) Try to see these tough dialogues and emotional moments as opportunities for teaching, connection, and intimacy. It is OK to set boundaries and limits, but remember, in the words of Gottman, “empathy and understanding must always precede advice.” ; 3) Attempt to recognize emotions and let your child know that it is OK and safe to talk about his or her feelings; 4) Provide your child with guidance before emotions escalate into misbehavior.

Listen empathetically and validate your child’s feelings —Try to reflect back what you are hearing in an empathetic tone. This will let your child know that you understand their experience. They may be crying over spilt milk, and for you, that might seem ridiculous. However, for your child, it was huge. Remember, your child is hurting and you have the opportunity to comfort them and to help them feel safe. When a child feels emotionally safe and bonded with his/her primary caregiver(s), the world becomes a much safer place. The child then feels more comfortable exploring their world and they have an easier time regulating their emotions.
Tips: 1) Observations and reflections are more useful than probing or accusatory questions; 2) Avoid making judgmental or critical statements; 3) Maintain eye contact; 4) Avoid telling your child to stop crying; 4) Attempt to demonstrate that you understand what they are feeling.

Help your child find words to label the emotions they experience – Research suggests that this will help them soothe and pave the way for them to become emotionally intelligent.
Tips: 1) Set an example by labeling your own feelings and talking about them; 2) Spend time with your child and help them build a vocabulary for the various emotions; 3) Try not to tell your child what they “should” feel.

Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the issue- Emotional coaching isn’t about throwing out the rules and “giving in” to your child’s every need. It’s about listening, understanding, and working collaboratively with your child to solve the problem(s) at hand. It’s OK to have negative emotions, without having to accept the poor behavior that sometimes accompanies these bad feelings- children need to know this.
Tips: 1) When your child misbehaves, help them to express their feelings and understand why their behavior was inappropriate. It is vital that they know that their feelings are OK, just not the behavior. 2) Let your child know when they do something “good” or “right”- praise is a useful tool; 3) Spend more time with your child- and make household chores fun; 4) Encourage your child to express emotion, but set clear limits on behavior.

If you are doing the best you can to help your child feel loved, safe, and supported, you are “getting it right” with them. No one is perfect, but chances are, you are perfect in your child’s eyes. Remember to give yourself some grace and reach out for the support that you need- parenting is not an easy feat.

5 Quick Parenting Tips: Stop Yelling and Start Connecting

One of the biggest challenges that parents are faced with is the ability to remain flexible and calm when children “misbehave.” When we are hungry, sleep deprived, angered, frustrated, or disappointed, we often lose the ability to be reflective, and we can become limited in our capacity to choose our behaviors. Empathy and flexibility tend to go out the window, and yelling can become commonplace. Although it is difficult to slow down and rid ourselves of the “knee-jerk response,” it is not impossible. You have the tools you need to show up for your child, you just have to access them. This article offers five quick tips to help you slow down, and to retrieve the necessary tools. These tools will help you provide your child with the flexibility and structure that they need- without the yelling.

#1 - Down-regulate Using Filtering Questions

Down-regulation is an intrapsychic skill that parents can use to remain calm in the face of disaster. It is a process that involves looking inward, finding the right words for your emotions, and figuring out what you need in order to soothe. For starters, when you are feeling frustrated with your child, it may be helpful to ask yourself: “do I need to check in with myself?” Meaning, are you on the verge of losing control, yelling, or becoming emotionally unavailable? If so, it is important to know what is going on inside. Are you scared that your child is going to fail? Are you frustrated with your child’s behavior? Are your feelings hurt?

Once you are able to identify what you are feeling, ask yourself “do I need to bring myself down?” If the answer is yes, try to connect with your inner needs. You can do this by asking a third question; “what do I need to bring myself down?” Your plan may involve taking a time-out, going for a run, or talking to a friend or spouse to help calm your nerves. The overarching goal is to become aware of your own emotional world and personal needs so that you can be accessible and responsive to your child.

#2 - Make Use of Self Check-ins

Checking in with yourself is very similar to using filtering questions to calm down. Self check-ins involve getting to the core of what is going on within you. I encourage everyone to know your limits, be aware of your triggers, and try to come into contact with your feelings. Take an inventory of your day. Are there times where you feel more inclined to yell? What is driving your yelling? Are there any identifiable triggers? Is there something or someone that can help you return to an unruffled state? The goal of a self check-in is to get you to a place internally, where you can succeed or execute what it is that you want to do, without having to yell.

#3 - Self-Soothe

Let’s talk strategy, strategy, strategy! Before you yell, what can you do to self-soothe? If you don’t have a “plan of attack” or strategy in place, here are some suggestions: 1) do something physical; 2) take a time-out; 3) take a deep breath (or several); 4) go for a walk; 5) listen to your favorite musician; 6) journal; 7) pray; 8) or read a book. Unfortunately, eating doughnuts and shopping online are not considered to be healthy ways of coping.

#4 - Reach out for support

One of the biggest misconceptions that society holds involves the notion of autonomy. Many of us have been raised in families where we are encouraged to be independent, self-reliant, and “strong.” Unfortunately, for some, “strong” involves being able to go the distance alone- it entails living life without asking for too much help or relying on someone too heavily. The problem is, we all need help. Reaching out for support is perhaps one of the most effective ways that we can calm down. It means turning into our relationships- reaching out for our partners- and leaning on others when we simply cannot do it alone.

Talk to your spouse, share your feelings, and stay connected to friends and family. If you do not have a partner, find someone to talk to that you can trust. If you don’t always have the words, cuddling can be useful too. Research has suggested that cuddling kills depression, strengthens the immune system, and relieves anxiety.

#5 - Stay connected to your child

Once you have mastered the first four skills, try staying connected to your child. Eye contact, one-on-one time, and physical touch are important building blocks. Be curious with your child and don’t assume that you know what is going on for them. Try not to minimize their experience or invalidate their feelings. Our little ones are learning and growing- they are sponges. Lead by example and don’t forget to be empathetic.

When these steps don’t work, there may be a hidden block or obstacle. Very often, once these blocks are made known, life gets easier.