Conflict

“Conflict is growth trying to happen.” — Harville Hendrix

We had this quote carved into the wooden ramp leading to Center for the Healing Arts until the ramp needed to be replaced. I try to remind myself of the meaning as often as I can. Sometimes it’s easier to do so than others.

As a therapist and as a human being, I am always learning about myself in relation to the rest of the world. I will also be the first to admit that I have my own resistance to the process from time to time. Recently, a growth opportunity has presented itself to me regarding my work. I am faced with a chance to grow as a therapist, and I am hesitant to make that leap. This is because the growth is coming to me in the form of conflict. It is not a CEU course I can take online or a workshop I can attend, it’s not the result of some extended meditation practice or journaling endeavor. This is conflict with another person. A chance for me to step through my triggers and insecurities and fears, and potentially grow from the interaction.

In my opinion, it’s fascinating that I do not have to give any other information than that. The details of the situation are irrelevant, and it could very well refer to a multitude of changes in my life right now. Any conflict that arises in my life, whether it be at work or home or elsewhere, results in a similar opportunity.

If you are like me, you might be conflict avoidant. This trait can take so many forms. Some of us are people pleasers, others— like me— put up walls when the conflict gets too close. I get to a place where my boundaries become rigid and used in a reactive method to protect myself. I directly or indirectly end the prospect for dialogue and my defenses become sharp. It’s often well-worded, which makes it even more justifiable. That doesn’t make it healthy.

I’m not suggesting abandoning all boundaries and accepting conflict in whatever form presents itself. We have our limits; burn out is real and not exclusive to therapists. Yet, we must be aware of our avoidance. Is it coming from a place of fear? If I avoid conflict because it is too uncomfortable, when do I give myself the chance to learn from it?

Conflict is growth trying to happen.

I’ve announced on social media and it only makes sense to share it here as well. I am in my fourth month of pregnancy. It was very planned. I am excited, and at the same time, I am absolutely terrified. Reading as much as I can on the subject has probably done just as much to confuse me as settle my fears, and the waiting game at this stage seems like torture.

I am certain that all my flaws will become readily apparent when I am raising a child. My impatience and wall building will not be appropriate methods of handling conflict when it comes to teaching, protecting, and nurturing a little one. The conflict that can be presented in parenting, between parents and kids and parents themselves is daunting. But there is growth there.

With enough time working with teens and the parents of teens as a therapist, as well as being a teenager who sought therapy, I see how the lessons we learned as kids reflect how parents raise their children. And those lessons don’t always work. The world we were raised in is not the same as the world kids are growing up in today. Change is mandatory, and not only on the part of the child. When kids trigger us, it is a clue to look deeper. Something in our childhood is triggered. There is healing to be done and growth is trying to happen.

I’m holding onto this logic as I get closer to motherhood. It’s not always easy to remember, but it certainly helps me to find the courage to address conflicts with diligence. Right now, I see conflict as preparation for what I might encounter as a parent.

Conflict is growth trying to happen.

It is difficult to remember this when conflict is in our face— when someone is being difficult, unwilling to cooperate, abrasive or mean, or when life is throwing challenge after challenge right at us. Yet we must remember if we are to take care of ourselves through this moment— if we are to be any more prepared for the next time conflict arises. Humans are not stagnant creatures. Our brains are not hard-wired.

Conflict calls out our complacency and requires us to change.

Good Enough

I’ve been stuck on blog entries for the last few weeks. Typically, I develop an update based on themes I’ve noticed in recent therapy sessions, pulling from them as inspiration. I feel productive and insightful sharing my perspective on subjects. Of course, it’s always nice to receive feedback.

Recently, I haven’t been able to pinpoint a theme. Nothing has really stuck out as something I could expand upon and offer as engaging content to an audience. In sharing about this challenge with other coworkers, I’ve realized I have fallen into an old pattern. I am placing an expectation on my content, pressuring myself to make something that I deemed as “good enough.” The bar has been set to some unknown level of insightful or interesting, because— and I admit this quite candidly— that will increase my chances of receiving positive feedback.

It’s unrealistic and unsustainable when I consider the initial purpose of writing. This is a creative outlet and a convenient way to share my ideas. If they happen to interest others, that is wonderful. However, if they do not and I have used that as a bar for my success, I have set myself up for failure.

Now that I am writing it out, this is a theme I see in my office all the time. A subtle method of self-sabotage to which so many— including myself— subject ourselves, the message of not good enough extinguishes our motivation. Before we’ve even had the chance to start a new project, goal, or dream, the needling voice in the back of our minds has doomed us. We can never be good enough, according to this pattern, and therefore anything we attempt will not meet our expectations.

“[Perfection] is the enemy of good.” – Voltaire

If you are a perfectionist like me, that is usually enough to stop you before you’ve even started. There is a misconception that perfectionists are overachievers and strive to out-do those around them. Some of that may be true at times. Perfectionists also tend to compete with themselves and their expectations, and if they believe they might not succeed or win, they don’t bother trying. It’s a crippling anxiety, literally preventing growth and healing from the wounds that caused it.

In my efforts to overcome this pattern, I must let go of my attachment a particular outcome. If I am open to possibilities and the chance that good enough might exist, I can discover more potential within myself and I can grow. I can personally nurture myself away from that perfectionism, which somehow deceives me into believing I should already have maximized all my potential. This pattern believes I have no room to grow. It’s misguided, and impossible.

We are all flawed, and we are all still learning. With acceptance of this, I can understand that making effort to try something, even if it might not be perfect gives me the opportunity to learn about myself and discover what I can create. If you notice this pattern within yourself, believe that good enough is a possibility. There is more potential there than in perfection.

Isolation and Solitude

I really like my alone time. In it, I can designate space for various hobbies, chores, self-work, and creativity. My most productive time is spent by myself, and that works for me. Often, I will even have my husband take my car with him to work so that I don’t have easy means of transportation to go anywhere. It’s a commitment to spending quality time with myself and I consider it solitude, peaceful and restorative.

That’s not to say that every day I designate to being alone is so fruitful. I’ll admit, there are days where I loaf around, marathon tv shows, or sit and play video games for hours on end. It brings a different feeling than days where I’m connected. Stagnant and stuck, it seems like my brain is fixated on staying distracted. When these days occur, it feels like time somehow simultaneously drags on and disappears. Effort is required to become unstuck from a day of isolation, requiring a mental push to step outside of complacency and back into productivity.

According to the dictionary, the words isolation and solitude are synonymous. Solitude is time alone, equated to loneliness, and isolation is the act of separating oneself from the rest of the world, deliberately being alone. I’m sure I am not alone when I hear something different in both words. Superman’s headquarters, the Fortress of Solitude, became a place where he found solace from the stressors of being a superhero, a place to collect himself and gain clarity. Though he quite literally isolated himself, it does not match the clinical consideration of the word. Isolation is reactive avoidance, shutting off outside influences without a mindful goal.

Those days where I fall into the pit of Netflix and video game marathons typically follow high-stress days at work or days that required a lot of social interaction. When I am not mindful in my method of recovery, I lose track of how to recharge. I know I am not alone. The topic of isolation versus solitude has come up with friends, peers, and clients and I share the same insights I have gathered.

If you are like me, you might also enjoy taking naps. But consider the quality of the nap you receive and the purpose for that mini-sleep-session. Is the purpose to boost energy and allow the mind to rest? Or is to waste an indefinite amount of time lounging in the comfort of sleep? Notice the difference—intentionality. If you are like me, you might also notice that a 30 to 45-minute nap leaves you feeling awake and refreshed. You might need to set an alarm to limit the nap to a specific time, and it helps if you have something to do when you get up. However, when that nap is a gamble, when there is nothing scheduled for when you wake up, it might go on for two hours, or more. When you wake, you feel groggy, irritated, and might even have a headache. It seems the only solution to the nap-hangover is to take another nap. What was gained from that use of time?

I’m not saying two-hour naps are never useful. If I didn’t sleep well the night before or if I’m sick, then I utilize that nap as needed. But I do so intentionally, just like alone period. Video games and tv-shows—or whatever you use to occupy your free-time— can still be used to recharge. Sometimes our brains need a break from so much thinking, planning, and self-work. I simply propose that deliberate use of that downtime, with the intention of restoring the brain, can help to create a balance between self-indulgence and self-care. Both are necessary, and moderation is key.

Heather Rashal, LMHC
Heather@CenterfortheHealingArts.com
407-657-8555 ext 6
Winter Park, FL

Opposites Attract

It’s an old theory that opposites attract, and as a couples therapist and a person in a relationship, I agree. However, that does not mean that a couple must have polarized interests in music, hobbies, political beliefs or the rest. Some level of commonality is necessary for a couple to thrive. In my opinion, the most drastic and compulsory differences occur in communication and emotional processing. These can be narrow individuals down to two categories: minimizers and maximizers.

Minimizers tend to avoid conflict by— you guessed it— minimizing the severity of the issue in their mind. Minimizers are likely to shut down during an argument or emotional discomfort, literally unable to find words to express themselves. They might hold inner logic that if they don’t interact with the problem, the problem will go away. It’s important to note that minimizers usually learn to handle conflict in this manner through childhood. As a kid, parents might have taught their child not to talk about family problems, to bottle up feelings by distraction rather than discussion, or to prioritize keeping the peace via silence rather than resolution. Children can learn this dynamic in many ways to a small child, and the impact is lasting.

Maximizers, on the other hand, take small problems and think them into much bigger ones, often (though not necessarily) becoming loud and vocal about their dissatisfaction. They can also be the one more likely to yell in an argument. Maximizers are more likely to want to talk about the issues at hand and become anxious, if not obsessive, with the unknown until that discussion occurs. As a child, maximizers learn that their needs, often the needs for love and attention, weren’t met unless they sought out the love and attention. That might have taken the form of crying, tantrums, or backtalk.

Imagine a parent who is in a bad mood and a kid who assumes it’s their fault. The maximizer child learns to make the parent their primary focus until they received concise information, perhaps by crying until parent comforts them, or even acting out and causing trouble to understand a parent’s bad mood. The minimizer child learns that the best method for handling an unhappy parent is to hide until the coast is clear.

Following the idea that two people in a relationship will tend to lean toward being a minimizer or a maximizer explains much of a couple’s progression during conflict and needs for resolution. Please note, individuals usually lean toward maximizer or minimizer, but this is not exclusive all the time. Both people attempt to balance the other, but each person’s maximizing or minimizing will be reactionary. The maximizer will justify their obsessions and blame the other person, while the minimizer will justify their avoidance, also blaming the other. Neither logic is particularly helpful for strengthening a couple.

Admittedly, I am a maximizer, through and through, and gaining the freedom to see through that tendency has been liberating. In the past, I would fixate on everything I was unhappy within my relationship. My partner could not do anything right because my expectations were rigid, and I took everything he did or didn’t do personally. It was exhausting for both of us. Though I justified leaving, I never did, and at some point, we went to couples therapy. We learned about minimizers and maximizers and healthy dialogue, and it saved us. I learned that I could not attempt to change someone else’s behavior to make me happy in a relationship. No one can make me feel anything; my expectations make me feel things. I discovered that my partner, in all his minimizing ways, can talk if I create a safe place for him to tell me he’s having a hard time. I learned that some of my complaints were irrational, and my expectations were unrealistic based on the type of human I had selected to be my partner. Though I stubbornly clung to what I wanted our relationship to look like for a long time, eventually I accepted what our relationship could be. I believe we are kinder and more compassionate toward each other now than we have ever been.

Most importantly, and this is a tool I take with me into every session and with every couple in my office, I learned to see the other person’s inner child. My partner’s tendency to minimize is something he learned at a very young age, and when I become compulsive about making him talk, it does not get me closer to what I want. I do not create a safe space for either of us.

The goal is for each person, whether minimizer or maximizer, to make a concerted effort toward meeting in the middle. In doing so, the minimizer can step up as the partner they want to be, and the maximizer can step back, no longer overcompensating to progress a relationship’s growth. While this process is not always easy, there is peace within it when we learn to soothe our own inner children.

Heather Rashal
heather@centerforthehealingarts.com
407-657-8555 ext 6    

Nature

I missed my blog update last week. The opportunity to visit a friend presented itself, and I took the chance to travel. We hadn’t seen each other in years and the time to catch up was long overdue, and in the process, I got to see Chattanooga, TN. I had never been there before, and I made some unique observations that I thought I might share this week.

As an Orlando native, I find my connection to nature is often lacking. From my experience, you’re forced to put in a little more effort to find those green and wild spots in Orlando. The closest beach is about an hour away, nature trails are on the outskirts of the Greater Orlando area, and even local parks are quaint amongst the suburbs. I often find myself left wanting. Flat land and excesses of brush between pine and palmetto trees doesn’t seem to meet my nature needs. And don’t get me started on the mosquitos. But also, don’t get me wrong, Florida has some amazing natural wonders. Beautiful beaches, and some with bioluminescent tours are nothing short of fascinating. Long trails take travelers through the wilderness of natural Florida. Even locally, we have sweet spots, like Mead Gardens in Winter Park or Leu Gardens for extensively maintained flora and fauna. Though these places are lovely, they are diamonds in the rough of suburbia, in my opinion.

But I find I am always enthralled with cities I visit that have such a strong connection to the nature around them. I certainly found that in Chattanooga. Nestled in a valley, surrounded by small mountains, the area cooperated with the earth. Houses were built on stilts into the sides of hills, and even the downtown area seemed unimposing on the land around it.

If you’ve been following the weather lately, you might know that Tennessee was in a state of emergency due to excessive rain. Flooding and landslides resulted from day upon day of steady drizzles. It was cold and wet when we arrived, and the city seemed to reflect it. Pedestrians were few and far between, outdoor activities were limited, and indoor attractions were bustling. We visited the aquarium the day after we got there, and it seemed to be bursting at the seams with families escaping the gloomy weather. My husband and I also visited caverns in one of the mountains, which must have still been too damp for the locals, as we were the only two people on the tour.

But we were so fortunate to have sun on the final day of our visit, and the town practically rejoiced. Birds sang louder that morning, light gleamed through trees into open windows, the air was still cool and crisp. We wasted little time before we got out to adventure and we were not the only ones. Even though the hiking trail we visited was still wet and muddy, we joined quite a few other families and groups to hike down to some extraordinary views. I’d imagine the residents had visited the trail before. The path seemed popular and well worn, but that didn’t stop members of the community from making their way out to visit again.

After our hiking excursion, we walked from my friend’s house to the downtown area to grab lunch. The streets were full of fellow pedestrians, walking on a large center bridge across the Tennessee River, dedicated exclusively 0to foot traffic. We walked right past the aquarium we had visited a few days prior, and it could have been a different location. Where there had been stragglers hurrying to get out of the rain, we found people sitting in the sunlight, some enjoying picnics they brought from home outside, and others wandering local shops and restaurants like us.

It was beautiful to observe the collective emergence of an entire city from its respective cave, and it gave me a lesson in my connection with nature. I don’t need malls or theme parks or money to meet this need, I need time and patience and willingness to look for those tranquil spaces in Orlando. They are here, and waiting, and brimming with life– I only have to find them.

Heather Rashal
heather@centerforthehealingarts.com
407-657-8555 ext 6    

Jinx

I often tend— to little avail— to withhold my enthusiasm in case life doesn’t go as planned (or hoped). I say, “I don’t want to jinx it,” or “I don’t want to get my hopes up,” and then I minimize my excitement or squash it entirely— as if me being happy about something could change the outcome. It’s unfortunate, I’ve realized, and dates to childhood experiences when I got excited about things and then found out they weren’t going to happen. As a kid, I didn’t have the coping skills to handle the disappointment, and when I shared my frustration, I often received messages in line with, “Well, you shouldn’t have gotten so excited,” or something to that effect. My little kid brain translated that as it being my fault it didn’t go the way I wanted, and therefore my unhappiness was also my fault. We didn’t get to go on that outing I wanted, I didn’t get the toy I wanted, or I didn’t get to have the quality time with that person I wanted to spend it with. That’s a lot of responsibility for a kid, that somehow my excitement could control the outcome of a situation.

In adulthood, I have realized it is a horrible way to look at things! Not only does it deprive me of joy for what very well may come to be, but if it doesn’t happen or doesn’t go as planned, I end up blaming myself anyway. I’m not suggesting anyone should always assume the best possible outcome. In fact, I’m saying the outcome doesn’t matter! If someone is excited or happy about something that might happen, I think they should experience that excitement or happiness. Celebrate the possibility.

I am relatively open about my recovery from addiction with clients and comrades, and I feel safe to share that here as well. I believe my experience helps me be a better therapist and the work I do on staying clean helps me be a healthier human being. There is a lot to be excited about on this healthy path. And yet, sometimes I notice myself not wanting to overstate my enthusiasm about my clean time. It’s not as significant a number as many others I know, and there’s this underlying fear if I celebrate too loudly, I will jinx myself. Somehow happiness means I will become instantly complacent, ruining my motivation and dooming me to a relapse. It’s not the most positive outlook, and I must remember that the point of this journey is not the destination. It’s what I’ve done to help myself, what I’m doing to continue, and where I am now as a result. If I can’t be happy about that, what’s the point?

When I picture myself getting to the desired destination in my life, and I see that I’ve lived in fear the entire way, the whole trip almost seems like a waste. When I allow myself to embrace the possibility, I am more likely to act as if it could occur and continue making decision in my life that encourage the direction of that positive outcome.

For now, it comes back to the moment. When I am overconcerned with the results, bogging myself down with what is beyond my control, I sacrifice my own joy. I must be mindful and responsible with my self-care, and part of that care is permitting that happiness. When my pessimism speaks up, reminding me not to get my hopes up, I must champion for my joy. I envision my inner child, thrilled about some new adventure that might come to be. Rather than telling her to tame her excitement, I must be the adult who guides her though it. In case the event does not come to occur, I must help her with the let-down. She can handle it. I’ve handled it before, and I can do it again. That fact alone should permit me to celebrate potential and not fear the outcome. Life is much fuller for it.

Heather Rashal
heather@centerforthehealingarts.com
407-657-8555 ext 6    

The Work

Continuing with the theme from last week, I wanted to share a deeper element of the theory of the relationship-with-self. My approach to treating myself like I would a partner started with this aspect, in fact.

It started with couple’s work. In helping couples heal, I have come to believe that if a couple is not working on bettering their relationship in some active way, they are inadvertently hurting their relationship.

As people change and grow and their individual needs differ, the needs of a relationship also change. The routines of daily life, stagnant as they may be, do not prevent people from adapting. Work alters us, even if it feels redundant, we are influenced by every interaction and task, instantly or over time. We also have interests outside of work, hobbies, and friendships that affect us as individuals. Those aspects influence who we are as people. Age is also a factor. Our brains develop as we grow older. We never stop changing due to neuroplasticity. New input adjusts the wiring of our brains and the habits we follow strengthen or deconstruct neural pathways. As a result, our needs within a relationship are fluctuating too. Even when it feels like everything is sailing smoothly, we may be unconsciously hurting our relationship.

When we settle for disconnect and patterns that feel unhealthy, we are damaging that bond with the person we love. When we sacrifice authenticity to avoid rocking the boat, or lie to ourselves about our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and the couple. We can invite our partners to grow with us or we can enable the status quo with complacency. I am not suggesting anyone should be brutally honest all the time, of course. It is so necessary to find out the healthiest ways of communicating which differ from person to person, and then practicing them with some consistency. It’s a lot of work. The work. And it never really ends, in my opinion.

The same applies within the relationship-with-self. If we are to treat ourselves like we are healthy partners, we must challenge ourselves to grow, identify our patterns and behaviors that aren’t always healthy, and to get to know ourselves a little more. That work can take so many different forms, just like it can with any relationship. Work in a couple doesn’t have to mean strenuous emotional conversations filled with tearful confessions, it can mean trying something new together, or a sharing of ideas, learning about one another. And so in an effort to learn more about ourselves, we might take on new creative projects, classes, or training, we might be vulnerable with someone and step out of our comfort zone. There are so many ways to work on this self-learning, and all require honesty. We must acknowledge and address whatever feelings arise as we step into new territory in order to be good partners to ourselves. If we ignore it, I believe we are essentially neglecting that person we love.

When we become stagnant in life and that inner reflection is moved to the backburner, we can unconsciously damage our relationship with the most important person in our lives, ourselves. If we are constantly changing, there is always more to learn. The adage that we must love ourselves before we love another is not inaccurate but means so much more. Love isn’t simply kindness and affection, love is curiosity and compassion. Love is interest and attention. It’s quite simple, and yet, we so often deprive ourselves of it when we do not prioritize our relationship with ourselves.

The work isn’t always pleasant or fun with an actual partner or within our own mind. It takes effort and energy. The status quo requires much less of us, and it can feel good in a self-indulgent way. Sometimes isolation and sadness or giving in to irrational and resentful thinking feels gratifying, though I think most would agree they do not feel healthy. When we get stuck in those places— which I believe are the undoubted destinations when we put ourselves on the backburner— it’s difficult to get unstuck. The amount of effort needed to get the ball rolling with healthy endeavors, self-care, and mending the relationship- with-self is much harder. Comparatively, if you stop talking to your partner for a week after a conflict, it might take a bit of time to regain their trust. There might need to be extra steps taken to show one’s commitment. The same applies here and that hurtle can prolong suffering.

I’ll call myself out as an example. I went an entire year without writing any articles or entries to this page. My inspiration was lacking, and I did not address what needs of mine were not being met. Instead, I dove into work in other ways that didn’t require me to look inward. My effort was successful for a while. I was productive and my productivity was rewarded, but I felt the massive hole that neglecting my writing left within me and eventually I suffered for it. I could only ignore the disappointment for so long until I realized I was talking myself out of writing out of fear of rejection, embarrassment, and because I lacked the energy required to put my thoughts into words. In my complacency, I only encouraged the negative messages I was giving myself. I finally realized that I was not doing the work as my partner-to-me by ignoring the problem when I settled into feeling stuck. I had to be a supportive partner to myself and provide encouragement, love, compassion and curiosity to get through the writer’s block. It wasn’t easy, but I set the intention and I learned more of myself in the process.

When I feel stuck, when I’ve forgotten about myself and succumbed to complacency, I must remind myself that I am worth the effort. There is so much more to know. I deserve a healthy partner (that is me) and I am capable of being that person.

Heather Rashal
heather@centerforthehealingarts.com    
407-657-8555 ext 6