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Getting in the right mind

Follow this link to enjoy a great podcast from Hidden Brain about the tug of war in our own heads. Right brain versus left brain.

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Moral illness versus mental illness

Post-mass murder via single shooter gunman—this is not a place any of us wanted to be at so soon after Las Vegas and Orlando. Or ever again. Politicians are skillfully stepping over the gun debate and pointing fingers at “mental illness” as the culprit.

Much good could come from this red herring argument. If Lisa Murkowski wants to seek an increase in federal funding to support mental health care in Alaska, then maybe people will no longer have to wait 4-6 months for an appointment at Fairbanks Community Mental Health Center.

It is doubtful, however, that improving mental healthcare funding will decrease increasing acts of violence in our nation suggestive that the real problem facing America is “moral illness.”

Morals are defined as a person’s standards of behavior/beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable to do.

We are living in a time where many lines are being crossed and not just in mass shootings. Cyber bulling. Revenge porn. Angry memes. Embarrassing gifs. There are a lot of people choosing to do things that violate the Golden Rule. How is it that so many people are accepting unbecoming and violent conduct in themselves and in others?

The article linked below debunks mental illness as a causative factor, and suggests that as a correlational factor it is not that significant. In fact, it points to one of the largest correlates of these shootings—social isolation. For people who live emotionally secluded lives, it’s probably a lot easier to cross lines because they have no way of knowing how off their moral compasses really are.

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Direct pay versus third party pay

When starting up Headwaters Wellness and Counseling, the question of “To Empanel or Not To Empanel” with insurance companies weighed heavy.

On the one hand, becoming empaneled would ease the initial financial burden for clients, who would not have to up front the cost of counseling. This was a compelling factor, because when we are struggling emotionally, it’s a relief to not have to factor in finances. Unfortunately, this benefit can be short-term, especially once clients get the EOP that says they have not met their deductible and must pay for service in full.

The other hand of empaneling is that to do so would require a not-so-subtle shift of attention from counseling to the business of counseling.

Empaneling with third-party payees subjects licensed professional counselors to receiving wildly different compensations for the same service. Ethically, a counselor must abide by standards to provide the same best service possible for each client, but insurers get to choose how much to compensate this service. These rates vary wildly. A counselor cannot counsel less for the client whose company pays 50-75% of what other insurers pay.

Having a direct pay counseling practice allows for more focused attention to clients. Direct pay can keep client numbers down, which can enhance the quality of care provided. Headwaters has chosen a direct pay fee structure to help its focus remain on counseling, and not business.

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I’m Sorry, But…

Have you ever been apologized to, but it didn’t settle things for you? In fact, you may have left the interaction feeling weirdly at fault or basically just worse off. Possibly even pissed off?

If so, what likely happened was you were not apologized to at all. Rather you heard a justification or a defense. In other words, your concerns went invalidated.

“I’m sorry, but” are the words that start a justification likely used unwittingly as a defense. No matter what words follow the “but,” they likely were intended to mitigate fault or blame. Examples are “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know” or “I’m sorry, but you should have told me.”

“I’m sorry you think that,” are the words suggesting your thinking is off. No one likes to hear that, especially because the person uttering this is implying he thinks more accurately about the situation. Behaviorally, saying this falls in the category of contempt, which the marriage experts John and Julie Gottman cite as the most toxic in a relationship.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” are the words that imply whatever you are feeling is wrong or that you are being overly emotional. These words rarely make people feel understood, because these words divide and don’t connect people. This is sad, because emotion is the glue the binds. These words are an emotional solvent. A Gojo of the heart.

Maybe what needs to happen is we need to leave the words “I’m sorry” at the curbside.

Wouldn’t you prefer to hear “I’m apologize my actions had this impact on you. I don’t want you have to experience this impact anymore and I will make changes so it doesn’t happen again.”

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You Made Me Mad!

Have you ever uttered these words? Have you ever heard these words?

Let’s check in with what Eleanor Roosevelt thought on this matter:

·         “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

·         “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

·         “The most important think in any relationship is not what you get but what you give.”

This woman had amazing insight and awareness. We are lucky to live in her shadow. But still yet, we fail to take full responsibility for the emotions we constantly experience.

Mark Manson, the author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck,” touches on the same sentiments. He teases out the complicated concept of responsibility from fault. He explains that no matter what the other person does, we have to take responsibility for our emotional response. Therefore, no one can make us mad. Which is a fault statement. We make ourselves mad. True responsibility statement.

But, as Eleanor pointed out above, sometimes we over estimate others’ actions being based on us, rather than on them and their needs. In psychology this is called False Attribution Error, where we assume others’ actions are a reflection on us. Others’ actions are ALWAYS a reflection on them.

Can we give effective feedback to the people we care most about? Can we tell them how we respond emotionally to their actions, without acting it out? This is was Eleanor is talking about in terms of giving more than getting. Are we informing our partners of our most tender needs? Or, are we stuck thinking that they are trying to be hurtful?

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The 40 Hour Fast


Fasting is all the rage these days. People fast for weight loss, spiritual reasons, or that blood draw the next day (not even coffee next morning!).

Many of us are doing the 40 hour fast. And we don’t even realize it. But we kind of do, too.

Do you find yourself incapable of getting to work on time?

Do you find yourself compulsively checking job listing sites rather than completing THAT report?

Do you make every day casual Friday?

You might be on the 40 Hour Fast.

The 40 Hour Fast is when we’re going to a job that does not feed our soul. Therefore, our soul is on the fast. Life is supposed to be full of meaning, but we find no meaning at work.

So let’s talk why work may be bereft of meaning?

Poor Leadership: When we have a boss who can’t understand us or effectively support us, we are fasting. This can happen even when we love the work we do. If the workplace lacks understanding and cohesion, the meaning of what we do gets quickly corrupted.

Golden Handcuffs: Some people feel stuck because they can’t make the same money any place else. Or they feel stuck because they can’t quit the health insurance that supports the family. Or they fear the leap into a completely unknown field.

Opportunity Knocks: We got into a career path out of chance opportunities offered to us, without intentional career strategizing. When doors open, we take them. But if we only go the route of the doors opening rather than knocking on certain doors, we may wind up feeling stuck.

Let’s talk what we can do.

  1. Be intentional. Know that you’re fasting and accept it for what it is. Right now, work doesn’t excite or motivate you. That is okay. Not every moment has be brimming with meaning, does it?
  2. Focus on the good that comes of the fast. If the products are keeping family safe and sound, that’s not all that bad, is it? If you’re still helping people, that’s better than a stick in the eye.
  3. All fasts are temporary. Keep that in mind. What helps a faster, is knowing when they can break the fast. If you are on the 40 hour fast, it breaks on your drive home. Turn up the radio and celebrate the fast end.
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No, That’s Not Okay

Pondering People Pleasing

My friend recently revealed to me that she is a people pleaser. It shocked me. She’s outgoing, dynamic and highly energetic. Usually I think of people pleasers as invisible. She’s the opposite of that, but guilt of disappointing others paralyzes her ability to say no or to say no without apologies. I recall now her gushing regrets or unresponded texts as something very familiar. 

Since the big reveal, I started to notice other people pleasers nearby. I realize I had never paid attention to how prevalent it is, especially for woman, to one down their needs. What is more disturbing is how much I go along with it.

It is easy to pick out the people pleaser in the workplace. They’re the ones unable to disagree with the boss. They are the ones always bringing in donuts and working obscene late hours. They’re easy to pick out because the people pleasing is not buffered by the like and acceptance that comes in closer relationships.

My friend is determined to change her people pleasing. She’s committed to saying “thank you” if someone points out a flaw or gives her feedback. She’s committing to saying “no thank you” to refuse an invitation. She realizes that saying anything but “thank you” in those situations would just be a means to off gas her guilt for letting someone down. She also realizes it flips the focus and the energy of the conversation onto her.  Because, once she says I’m sorry, what will she hear? “No, that’s okay,” right? Notice how knee-jerk a response it is.  She is determined to start saying, “Thanks, but no.” Thanks is the more accurate response, right? An invitation is a gift, right. Why do people pleasers perceive invitations as obligations?

Her determination to change inspires me. Anyone who knows me would say I am no people pleaser. That’s not my problem. My problem is I have enabled people pleasers in my life, by blindly going along with back-burnering their needs. I’m dedicating myself 3 new ways of responding to the people pleasers in my life. 

1.      I will no longer accept “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” when I’ve asked my people pleasing friend where she wants to go to lunch.

2.      I will correct people when they assume I’m apologizing when I’m just stating a fact, such as when I say, “I ski slow” and hear, “No that’s okay.” My close friends know objectively how slow I do ski.

3.      When I hear “I’m sorry’’ for something a person has no accountability over, I will request a clarification, as in “sorry for what.” When I hear “I’m sorry” for something a person does have accountability over, I will make sure to say clearly, “I accept your apology.”

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Managing our Mindfulness

By Laura Volmert, MA and Liz Pawelko, MA, LPC

“Mindfulness” has worked its way into our cultural conversation recently, but what does it really mean?

Some people associate it with meditation or with body/mind practices like yoga or Tai Chi. Others see it as a fuzzy concept promoted by advertisers and talk show hosts.

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that new research shows can have a powerful effect on our modern lives. Mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness without judgment that enhances our attention, body awareness, and emotional reality

Mindfulness is what all Fairbanksans do the moment we have to cross an icy parking lot to get to our car. We slow our thinking about everything else and we connect with our body. Strides shorten, feet fall firmly beneath our center of gravity and paces slow accordingly. That mindful movement keeps us the present moment, which keeps us upright in that parking lot.

There are many mindfulness practices, one of the most basic being attention to the breath.

Few of us focus mindfully on our own breathing, even though our respiratory system is a first responder to strong emotion and stress in our environment. Our breathing can be full and robust during times of relaxation, yet short and rapid when we need to act fast.

Take a moment now to consider how full your breathing may be. Notice how the inhales and exhales may be in or out of balance. If you try to breathe more fully, what do you experience?

Many people struggle to adopt fuller, more relaxed breathing because it feels like they just cannot inhale any more deeply. Tightened stomach and chest muscles could be the culprits, as these are also frequent cues to nearby stress.

Another approach to mindful breathing is to focus on exhaling. Think about a potato in a car tailpipe. It cuts off the exhaust escape route, which prevents air intake and the engine stalls out. Let’s apply this to our lungs. Try focusing on allowing as much of the carbon dioxide out of your lungs on the next exhale and notice the follow-up inhale deepen.

Mindful breathing allows us to manage our breathing for intentional and active relaxation. Our central nervous system responds and eases the rest of our body into a state of awareness without unnecessary action or emotion.

With mindfulness practices, we experience the actual moment at hand, not the moment we wish were in. As a result our emotional realities feel more manageable and more meaningful.