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Vulnerability.

By Beth Tellez, LCSW

Vulnerability.  Wow, that word can stir up a series of emotions for many people!  Fear is often a common reaction in therapy when the very notion of vulnerability is mentioned.  When given the space to explore fear, however, we find that it is simply a defense mechanism in action attempting to keep us safe from anticipatory emotional exposure.

Fear may try to tell us that vulnerability is too painful, scary, or even a demonstration of weakness.  If we look to Vulnerability Expert, Brené Brown, her research tells a very different story.  Brené’s years of research resulted in this incredible notion that she so eloquently describes in her best seller books: Vulnerability actually breeds connection with others.  Additionally, the monster emotion – shame, when spoken in a place of empathy, simply cannot exist!

Imagine the freedom and healing that can come when you allow yourself to sit in an empathetic space with a trusting individual and explore your own vulnerability.  Not from a place of weakness, but of empowerment and freedom.  Imagine rather than running from your problems, you learn to move into vulnerability with compassion and grace for yourself and others.  Instead of staying stuck in your hurt, you use the power to heal. Just imagine.

If you are interested in learning more about vulnerability and connectedness, visit Brené Brown’s work at her website: www.brenebrown.com.

If you would like to visit with a qualified therapist about your needs, please contact us today!

Coping with High Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, and OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can occur in many realms and may lead to serious mental health issues. An obsession is an unwanted, intrusive thought. This type of thought may present itself as an idea, image, impulse, urge, or memory that you experience as unwanted and distressing.

A compulsion is a behavior designed to reduce and avoid the discomfort that comes from your experience of an obsession. The behavior may be physical such as washing or checking or it may be mental such as reviewing or neutralizing. The disorder impairs functioning and reduces quality of life. The lost time attending to your obsessions and compulsions can create obstacles in relationships and difficulties with employment or education.

Everyone has anxious moments and irrational thoughts, but people who are chronically anxious are in a highly sensitive state most of the time. They feel a deep urge to protect and follow their obsessive thoughts even when they don’t make sense. Other stressors that can exacerbate OCD may include: other mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders. Also insomnia, family issues, work issues, financial issues, and medical health issues can heighten the prominent obsession. Our obsessions tend to link to what we care most about.

Common intrusive thoughts include repeated thoughts of hurting self or others. Post partem depression combined with intrusive thoughts leaves new parents feeling isolated. Fear of talking about thoughts leads to more fear of being misunderstood perpetuating a need to isolate and remove self from relationships. This confusion and detachment harms bonding and connectiveness with others. Automatic thoughts do not necessarily result in actions or need for protection, but more likely a need for guidance and support. Trained professionals are able to offer tools to minimize risks and further complications.

The following are some other specific types of OCD. Most OCD sufferers have 2-3 obsessions interfering with behaviors and relationships. Here is a brief outline and description.

Contamination OCD: Washing hands and taking excessively long showers to rid self of illness or germs. Also avoiding contact with surfaces contaminated by known germs.

Responsibility / Checking OCD: A compulsion to check that no irresponsible behavior took place that could lead to a catastrophe – often exemplified by locking doors, checking correspondence and monitoring safety measures excessively.

Harm OCD: Focuses on unwanted, intrusive, violent, or tragic thoughts of harming self or others. This may be heightened in post partem depression.

Sexual Orientation OCD: Is rooted in the fear of not being certain about sexual orientation paired with the fear of never being able to have a relationship with a partner whom you feel genuinely attracted.

Pedophile OCD: Obsessions of being a predator of children that is debilitating to every aspect of functioning due to the most unspeakable thoughts.

Relationship OCD: Difficulty in tolerating uncertainty about the quality of a relationship and genuineness of your feelings.
Scrupulosity OCD: Targets people who place a high value on religion, rules, laws, or existential meaning.

Hyper Awareness OCD: Typically involuntary excessive awareness of breathing, blinking, swallowing, sounds, songs, or memories.

As trained therapists at Pinnacle Counseling we are skilled at guiding clients and their families in recognizing obsessive compulsive disorder and making recommendations for reclaiming a healthier lifestyle and increasing quality of life. Some tools to explore are acceptance, mindfulness (staying present in the moment), challenging our thoughts and creating a structured approach to managing compulsions. A medical practitioner may also recommend a pharmaceutical approach. Unwanted thoughts, distorted thinking and compulsive urges don’t need to be overwhelming forever. If you’ve tried different treatment options with little success, don’t lose hope. Call us today 479-268-4142 for an appointment.

Managing Social Anxiety

If you’ve ever experienced significant fear and anxiety in a public setting, you know that social anxiety is very much a REAL thing! Most of us experience some level of anxiety from time to time, which is very common. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health states that 1 in 5 of us experience anxiety regularly (www.nimh.gov).
Anxiety can often interfere with our daily lives. Social anxiety, however, can be debilitating. The intense fear of being around people in public can cause a person to avoid certain settings and connections with others, placing limited expectations on their lives. There are several steps we can take to weaken the impact that social anxiety may have on us. Let’s take a look:
Step 1
Recognize it – We want to be aware of how social anxiety shows up for us. Is my body talking to me? Is my heart racing? Is my chest tightening? Are my hands trembling? When we recognize how anxiety presents itself, we can then acknowledge it.
Step 2
Address it – Once we acknowledge that symptoms of social anxiety are present, we can use simple coping strategies to decrease the intensity. Strategic breathing is an easy, free, tool that can be used anywhere, anytime! The 4-7-8 breathing technique assists with shifting us from a “fight or flight” state to a more manageable one. You can watch a short, simple video here to learn more about this quick and effective tool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5yrOlGDbk.
Step 3
Collect evidence – I may feel unsafe, but am I really? That “fight or flight” response is built in to our physiological makeup to keep us safe. Thankfully our bodies have this built in “bells and whistles” tool available to protect us. Sometimes, those alarms go off, but we’re actually not in harm’s way. It’s just our body attempting to keep us well protected. A simple check-in such as, “is there PROOF I’m unsafe?” may do the trick to remind your body and your brain that things are actually ok and you can give permission for the bells and whistles to settle.

Using mindfulness to better acknowledge and accept your thoughts and feelings is a great coping tool to help us better manage our anxiety when we’re in social or public settings. If you’d like more information about how to utilize mindfulness and other tools to decrease symptoms of anxiety, contact us today at 479-268-4142!

The Holidays – Fa la la or Bah Humbug?

Tammy Kennedy, LPC
EFT Trained Relationship Counselor

Are you exceedingly happy to see the holidays are “finally over”? To some the holidays are Great! But to others the holidays can be stressful and even dreadful!

The holidays can be stressful to all of us from time to time, but when there is added stress in the home, the holidays can be dreadful. When we feel disconnected in our relationship and we’re arguing about everything, the holidays can be a nightmare. The holiday get-together with the in-laws from hell is not typically met with happiness and cheer. Maybe your in-laws are amazing, but you and your spouse are contemplating separation and you haven’t yet told your family because after all, you’re just contemplating it, right? Nothing’s been set in stone and you don’t want to raise unnecessary fear – these types of scenarios don’t make the holidays pleasant. Difficult situations lead to the need for difficult conversations and we don’t like difficult. We tend to avoid these conversations all together, but they can loom over our heads for months and sometimes even years. We avoid these conversations because they lead to uncomfortable feelings and we don’t want to feel uncomfortable. Yet Feel and talk is precisely what we need to do so we can begin to move forward to a happier place with one another and perhaps even greet the holidays with cheerful thoughts.

Tough conversations like these can be much easier aided by a trained therapist. Sue Johnson developed a therapeutic approach to couple’s counseling that teaches couples to talk in ways that encourage their partners to hear and listen in ways that encourage them to talk. In her approach, therapists teach couples self-awareness to recognize and understand their own triggers for unwanted feelings and other-awareness to recognize and understand the effect our behavior has on others. How can we begin to change if we don’t see there’s a problem? When we allow ourselves to be open and talk to one another – really talk to one another, we can learn things about one another we never even knew were important. This changes the way we see and understand one another. Understanding is the key to wisdom. We can’t possibly understand one another if we can’t really hear one another. We want to connect but we can’t begin the process of change until we understand and see ourselves from our partner’s perspective. This process is difficult – we must step out of “self” and step into “other” to see “you”.

Sue Johnson’s therapeutic approach to couple’s counseling is called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and it is rocking this nation. Research shows that EFT counseling has satisfaction ratings as high as 70% even 2 years after therapy ends. Couples report their relationships continue to improve with time as they continue to implement the skills they learned in therapy. Dr John Gottman, a leader in couple’s counseling, admits that Dr Johnson’s approach is “exactly what we needed in marital therapy” stating that his model of couple’s therapy has all the laboratory data to back “what makes marriage work and what doesn’t” but states that Dr Johnson’s approach takes the research to a deeper level. Dr Gottman states that Johnson’s approach gives failed marriages “a new chance for connection, an emotional connection”. This new level of connection gives couples a new roadmap to follow to resolve their differences in ways that lead to deeper more meaningful connections thus more satisfying relationships.

Feeling overwhelmed?

It’s so easy to get to that place. We’ve all been there. Life ‘gifts’ us obstacles from all angles, leaving us feeling tired, stressed, even defeated. Let’s take a look at some steps toward balance and stress relief:

  1. Take a step back and evaluate the circumstances.
    • What is contributing to me feeling this way?
    • Is any of it in my control?
  2. Make a move:
    • Step away to allow yourself to physically calm down.
    • Distract yourself with a brisk walk, or a good book.
  3. Find a tool that works:
    • A big belly breath is cleansing! Try deep breathing to help soothe your body and your mind.
    • Visualize a safe and peaceful place.
    • “Return to where your feet are” – Grounding exercises can be very helpful when we become overwhelmed with things of the past or worries of the future.

It’s so important to remember that our thoughts dictate our feelings. Work to shift your thoughts so that you can feel more at peace and less overwhelmed by the stressors that come your way.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and would like to talk to a licensed professional about strategies to help reduce your stress, contact us today to schedule an appointment! We look forward to supporting you in your time of need.

Change: the act or instance of making or becoming different.

Charlotte Evans, LPC 

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better

Change: the act or instance of making or becoming different.

Do you ever wonder is there something more, something better, something more challenging or fulfilling out there?

One day this past February, I was having a very unsettled day. My husband and I had divorced almost a year ago, my children were not doing as well as they could be, and my Mother just moved to a nursing home. I had been alone in my private counseling practice for multiple years. I decided to look on a job listing website. Just to look and see what was out there. I really wasn’t looking for a job or a change, just looking.  I came across a dream opportunity in Northwest Arkansas. I thought why not, just apply, I knew I would never get called. It was nice to see what was out there. I felt so stuck and just needed to see if anyone might be interested in me. The next morning… Hello… I was called. What? Me? I was elated than scared. All I could think was OH NO!  I can’t talk to these people, I can’t move, I can’t change my life, I don’t have what it takes, I feel so alone.

What was I afraid of? Fear of Success or Fear of Failure?

I had never packed up and moved somewhere new.  I had been in Jonesboro all my life.  I had dreamt of the day I could make a fresh start.  I was getting that option.  I looked for every possible reason to not make this move. I even in my own fear tried to create problems. So, during my time of making the decision I went from extreme YES, I CAN DO THIS, to a very tearful NO I CAN’T!  Each step along the way during that time was painful. I think I was, at times, trying to sabotage it from the beginning. I procrastinated on calling them back because I was fearful of change. I chose to accept the job opportunity and the move to Rogers. In a short time, I had disrupted my life, my children’s life, my family’s life, and my friend’s life. What have I done? What if I fail? What if I succeed? Many of us go through changes in our lives. Some changes are welcomed and some are not.  Life is about change. 

Why are we so scared of Change? Even though we want to be in control of our own destiny we are intimidated by change.  We somehow let fear control us.  What are we scared of? Years of working with clients I have come up with several reasons why we are so afraid to take that next step. 

Fear of the Unknown: We fear the unknown and it paralysis’ us to the point that we feel safer not doing anything to change. We stay, we settle, we ignore change so we don’t have to feel. We allow our imagination to think of all the negative reasons to not change. We allow fear to keep us stuck because something terrible may happen.

Doubting ourselves: Somewhere in our brain we have this little voice that keeps us doubting ourselves.  It tells us we aren’t good enough, we can’t do something, we won’t be able to handle it or we just don’t deserve it.  For the most part we can control those thoughts but, when we are faced with a change we tend to lean in to these negative thoughts.

Feeling Alone and Worry ourselves: We get so worried about the what if’s that we don’t make any decisions.  We settle for whatever happens. We have regrets when the choice of change slips us by.  We tell ourselves it wasn’t meant to be.  We feel like we are alone in our own decision making. 

No other Option: We look at our situation and not see any way out or any other options.  We stay in a marriage, or a job because change will affect how we live, our family and friends, and financial security. Realistically, will you lose your home, will your family survive, will you be unemployed forever or will you be alone forever?  We allow ourselves to dramatically think of all the reasons we shouldn’t change and we realize we have to stay the same, because we have no other option to move forward, or change. 

The feelings of change: Anxious, Depressed, Grateful, Guilty, Happy, Abandoned, Accomplished, Afraid, Distracted, Resentful, Rejected, Pushed, Uncomfortable, Vulnerable, Nervous, Overwhelmed, Regretful, Fearful, Daring, Cautious and so many more.  Sometimes these feelings are flooded in all at once or in stages and we become overwhelmed. Seeking professional help in understanding and processing these emotions can be very helpful in making a well-informed change that will help you discover the true costs and benefits of the decisions that need to be made.

Have you ever experienced change? Change is a big deal! It helps to talk about it. Knowing what I know I still had to verbalize my feelings and get validation from someone I trusted.  It is overwhelming sometimes to dream big. It can change your life and feeling the change can be a positive decision that creates a new and better normal. 

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”

King Whitney Jr.

Tis the season to be…exhausted???

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.  The holidays bring us special opportunities to come together with our loved ones and create precious memories together.  But with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we can quickly become overwhelmed with the many festivities and commitments the season brings. With a bit of self-care however, you can enjoy the holiday season without overextending yourself!
Remember to rest!
Many times we commit to attend many if not all the holiday events we are invited to.  Suddenly, what should be a joyous time, can feel more like a burden.  You may find it helpful to schedule in some “down” time in between the parties and festivities.  Take this time to rejuvenate yourself.  A few great ways to refuel may include taking a brisk walk, journaling, do stretching exercises, take a power nap, or watch your favorite holiday movie. 
Cheers to your health!
The holidays are traditionally a time of gathering with those we love to share in the spirit of the season. These gatherings aren't complete without endless supplies of baked gooey goods, delectable desserts, and comfort casseroles!  Before you know it, you’re having pecan pie for breakfast and an array of cookies for dinner!  Don’t worry, it’s not too late to find a balance.  Instead of candy, perhaps grab a handful of almonds for a quick protein snack.  Enjoy the scrumptious holiday meals while being mindful of portion control. And burn off some of those extra calories with a walk around the neighborhood with those you love.
Mindfulness Matters!
This special time of year does not come without its share of stress and perhaps a bit of tension.  Using these few easy tips can ensure you will maintain your mental health during the holidays.  Deep breathing exercises are a wonderful way to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, and release toxins from the body.  Remember to “smell the roses” and “blow out the candles” to ensure your breathing is deep and meaningful! 
Pick and Choose!
Avoiding conflict will also aid in reducing stress and lowering any anxiety.  If problems arise, be mindful to collaborate together, rather than attacking one another. Use effective listening skills, and stay solution- focused.  By acknowledging your feelings, setting healthy boundaries, and expressing your needs and desires effectively, your holidays with loved ones can be both enjoyable and meaningful.
Loneliness and Depression?
Lastly, the holidays can often bring up emotions surrounding feelings of loneliness and loss.  One way to feel connected during the holiday season is to volunteer to serve those in your community.  You may enjoy serving others at a holiday luncheon, or pass out gifts to those in need.  Studies show that giving back to others reduces stress, decreases risk of depression, improves your self-esteem, and improves mood! 

From our hearts to yours, have a bless holiday season. May you show yourself kindness and compassion as you create precious memories to last a lifetime.

Talking to Your Children About Violence

Violence – our children are bombarded with it every day, both real and fictional media violence. A mass shooting in a school or local shopping area, a police shooting, bullying, tv, movies and video games – violence surrounds them. It is important to address the issue of violence in our
society with our children.

For parents of children in school, there is no way to prevent them from hearing about the violence that is happening in our country and world. It is important to take the initiative in talking to your children about violence. When preparing for this conversation, learn as much as possible about the impact of violence in our society. You will want to tailor your conversation to the age of your children and to what they already know is happening. Teachers may be discussing current events in school. Your teenagers may be hearing about violent incidents on social media. They may be listening while you listen to the news. As a parent, you need to be asking your children about what they have been hearing in the news, in the classroom or from their friends. Then you may direct the conversation to what concerns or fears your children may be experiencing.

We want our children to feel their world is safe, but they know there is violence everywhere around them. Balance your discussion of the dangers in society with the ways in which they can reduce their chances of experiencing violence. Discuss actions you have taken to keep them safe in your home. What are steps their school has taken to ensure their safety? How can they protect themselves if something happens at home or school?

Media violence has become more graphic. You have several options for dealing with it. Consider limiting the amount of media exposure your children have. Perhaps you may want to
set limits on what and/or how much your children can watch on tv or the video games they can play. Make sure they are age appropriate. Take time to watch programs and movies with your children so you know what they are seeing and hearing. Discuss the subject matter with them. Young children especially have a hard time understanding the difference between reality and the fantasy they see on the screen. Help them understand the difference. Explain why there are things they see on tv, in movies, and in video games that wouldn’t or shouldn’t happen in real life.

These are tough subjects to discuss. It is easy to become overly emotional and angry about the violence that seems to be impacting so much of our lives. But your children need to see you being able to stay calm and in control. This will help your children feel more secure, less anxious, and learn how they too can keep control over their feelings when facing difficult situations.

If violence is affecting your child’s peace of mind despite your discussions, don’t be afraid to seek help for them. Are they showing signs of anxiety, grief, or fear about their safety that isn’t letting up? Perhaps they are experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. Have they displayed a reluctance to go to school or take part in their usual activities? If so, don’t put off seeking professional help.

Why Is It So Hard To Ask For Help?

Feel Better, Live Better
Why Is It So Hard To Ask For Help?
By Tammy Kennedy, LPC, LADAC

Why is it so hard to ask for help…It shouldn’t be, should it? When did it become so hard, anyway? When did that moment in life occur that changed everything so drastically? Suddenly, it wasn’t expected of you, nor was it okay for you, to ask for what you needed anymore. When was that moment when asking for help felt “WRONG”. That may be the very question that brings you into therapy, doing the thing you dare to do – Ask for HELP! In therapeutic circles, we like to call that “reflecting” and “testing boundaries”. Doesn’t that sound better? Of course it does, because the word “help” implies a negative connotation…it implies weakness…it implies vulnerability.
Nobody wants to be viewed as weak or vulnerable. But, “Is vulnerability a weakness…Is asking for help a negative thing?” I see all kinds of people in my practice everyday struggling with difficult life situations that have slammed them to their knees but when I ask them “Who is your go-to- person?” Again, and again, I hear “Nobody”. People struggle alone in their grief…their sadness…their fear…They even struggle alone in their anger. When I ask “Why do you struggle alone…Why don’t you share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust?” Most often, I hear “I don’t want to appear weak.” When I talk to them about trusting someone enough to be vulnerable – enough to share their innermost thoughts; they’re confused, because they view vulnerability as weakness. Brenè Brown tells us that being vulnerable with someone you trust…someone you love, is an act of courage. Trusting someone enough to share your innermost negative thoughts about yourself and the world around you is a very scary thing to do but, that’s where the healing process begins.
In the therapeutic process, we explore past experiences to discover who/what influenced the development of your thoughts/feelings/beliefs about yourself and your connectedness to others. If your core belief about “self” is negative, you may interrelate with others from a “fear-based response” which may be very offensive, aggressive, critical, or even neglectful. When we react from a fear-based response we often push away the very ones we desire to be connected; we act in ways that sabotage any chance we may have of getting our needs met. Our interactions with others are inappropriate and ineffective, so we feel like a failure. This conflict between “what we want/desire” and what we “believe we deserve” invites shame. Shame invites us into a cycle of self-hate, self-sabotage, and self-defeat, denying ourselves any chance of stepping out to claim happiness, joy, and fulfillment. We don’t see a way out of this insane cycle of shame. We can’t ask for help because we don’t believe we deserve it. We’re – stuck.

So here we are, back at the initial question: Why is it so hard to ask for help? I think Brenè Brown got it right: asking for help…trusting others…being vulnerable…is a very courageous act. Are you courageous enough to step out and ask for help? The First step is always the hardest. We will be here to help make each step thereafter, easier.