Archive for November, 2012

Embracing Change, The Great Teacher

Monday, November 26th, 2012

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” -Andre Gide

What do things like asking loved ones for advice, reading stacks of self-help books, taking classes, searching for a good therapist, or hours of web-searching all have in common? You probably guessed it. There is something the seeker wishes to change. As a family therapist, I am called on for help with many different types of problems but all with the same goal–making changes to find greater happiness, deeper love, greater success in life, or fewer failures in love or work.

Change is a great teacher, although certainly unpredictable–sometimes harsh, sometimes exciting, often frightening or overwhelming. What makes change so difficult? Why is it so hard to sustain? What is it about change that the very idea of it can put fear into the hearts of otherwise courageous folk?

Given that change is an inevitable part of life, it makes sense that each of us figure out how to increase our capacity to rebound or spring back from change and loss, a concept now called resiliency by social science researchers. Although some aspects of resiliency are inborn, other aspects can be learned and practiced.

Just as individuals go through stages of growth and development from infancy to adulthood, so does the family move through the various cycles of life, including sickness, death and other losses. At each stage, and especially in crises, the relationships of each member to others in the family need to adapt and change.

The demands of babies and toddlers are vastly different than when kids reach school age. At first dependent upon adults for their very survival, children seek for more and more independence as they grow and mature. All of our relationships–between child and parent, brother and sister, partner or mate, adult and aging parents–must keep being redesigned to meet rapidly changing circumstances if they are to remain helpful and healthy.

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”  -Arnold Bennett      

Practice Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Reminder

Monday, November 19th, 2012

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.”    -Meister Eckhart

When Thanksgiving arrives each year,  just as the number of turkeys, stuffing mixes, green beans, and cranberries seem to grow exponentially, so do the conversations about gratitude. It is perhaps why it is one of everyone’s favorite holidays. The lucky ones among us feast together on wonderful food, surrounded by friends and family, and say thanks for life, for health, and for one another. No wonder we usually feel so happy!

Although Thanksgiving as a national holiday is a specifically American and Canadian tradition, it is actually celebrated all over the globe by many different names and types of rituals. Thanksgiving is the North American version of ancient harvest celebrations that have taken place for thousands of years wherever crops were reaped and sowed. Think of the Festival of the Harvest Moon in China or the yam festival in Ghana, Africa, or the Chu Suk in Korea. Expressing thanks is a universal urge and a human strength that can be cultivated, not just at Thanksgiving but on any day.

“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”   -Tecumseh, Shawnee leader

The world’s religious teachers, ancient philosophers, and indigenous people have spoken about the importance of gratitude for over a thousand years, seeing it as an important virtue to be cultivated and practiced. In religious traditions, the saying of grace before each meal is a way of thanking God for the food on your table. Most parents teach their children the “magic words” of saying “please” and “thank you”. We have always known intuitively that grateful people seem to be happier with their lives and also more able to confront life’s challenges.

But scientists were latecomers to this awareness. Only in the past ten years have researchers started to take …

The Myth of Happily Ever After

Monday, November 12th, 2012

We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck. But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness.” -Ellen Goodman

In spite of the headlines revealing the breakdowns and sordid secrets inside the marriages of the rich and famous, most Americans who tie the knot seem to have bought the prevailing myth of romantic love. None of us like to think of ourselves as one of them (those lying, cheating, no-good married types). No, as the song goes, our love is here to stay.

What is the harm, you might ask, in basking in the honeymoon love-will-conquer-all phase? The problem is that the expectations of marriage, when blown up to mythical proportions, leave couples believing they have failed when the proverbial stuff hits the fan. In truth, conflict and suffering come with the package, and can strengthen the trust and bond if the couple has the right tools to work with.

Far too often in my role as a psychotherapist, I have sat with couples in distress because one of them reports that he or she is no longer “in love”, and therefore must leave the relationship to find a more perfect love with someone else. Or the rejected partner tells the other to go ahead and leave, convinced that love, once lost, cannot be rekindled. How tragic that we have been so filled with images of romantic love that we think of it as something outside of our control. We wait for love, like a giant bird, to descend from some distant landscape and settle in our branches once again.

This destructive myth makes many believe that love, once set into motion, will carry us along through the complexities of life, if only we are lucky enough, or if we choose the right person. Not so, since conflict, disagreement, hardship and misunderstandings are inevitable in every close relationship. To build a strong, lasting relationship, love is better thought of as a verb not a noun.     …

Are You Fighting About Money? Stop Before the Kids Hear You!

Monday, November 5th, 2012

“Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them.” -Ogden Nash

Most people have heard by now that high levels of conflict between a couple can be destructive not only for their relationship but can cause lasting harm to children caught in the crossfire. As painful as divorce can be for kids, what we know now is that excessive, bitter fighting is what troubles kids–whether the family remains intact or not.

Some new research tackles this same issue from another angle. What is the impact on kids when they grew up in a household where their parents were constantly fighting about money? Although you might think it would make kids more cautious and concerned, (and it probably does this for some kids), unfortunately it appears to make them more likely to accumulate debt in their college years.

The issue of credit card debt among college students has been a growing concern over the last decade. Both administrators and teachers have recently seen more and more students dropping out of school, not because of academic failure, but for financial reasons, including credit card debt.

Adam Hancock and a team from East Carolina University recently published, in Springer’s Journal of Family and Economic Issues, the results of a study of 413 undergraduate students from seven different American universities who took part in the College Student Financial Literacy Survey.

Through an online survey, the authors inquired about a number of issues related to the financial education and climate of the students’ families. They asked not only about credit card debt and number of credit cards owned, but about the students’ level of knowledge about credit cards, loans, and personal finance. They also surveyed their attitudes about debt and about credit cards. They asked questions like, “Are they safe or scary? Are they too costly? Are you comfortable with only making the minimum payment each month?”   

They also examined students’ interactions with their parents when discussing finances as a family. Their work highlights that parents who argue about finances contribute to increasing …

How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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