How Adult ADHD Affects Relationships

How Adult ADHD Affects Relationships

Perhaps since the start of the pandemic, you have found yourself arguing more with your partner about the dishes and general cleanliness. During the pandemic, arguments between couples increased as more were working from home. This creates close proximity 24/7, and that can get draining and tiresome for anyone. If however, you and/or your partner have ADHD, you might have found little things like a sink full of dishes to be unbearable, and this problem is not likely to let up now that people are starting to return to the office. Once you see it, you can’t UNSEE it, and realizing how messy or forgetful you or your partner are on a daily basis may be a problem that persists well beyond the reaches of the dreaded COVID lockdown. If you suspect that you or your honey may have ADHD, here are some sneaky patterns that couples coping with this illness may fall into.

  1. The ADHD person forgets to do chores, and the non-ADHD person starts to get resentful. From the ADHD perspective, they simply forgot to do a task that you asked them to do. This is due to executive functioning being impaired in those who live with ADHD. Executive functioning includes things like working (short term) memory. For example, a person with ADHD will often forget where they put their keys or phone, but they will have no issues remembering what you said about an interesting topic 3 years ago. From the neurotypical perspective, the ADHD person forgot to do this particular task….AGAIN. They may also think “their memory seems to work fine in other situations, why isn’t it working for this simple thing? They are just making up excuses and being lazy!” This can lead to feelings of resentment in both parties. The ADHD person feels attacked and criticized for what they deem something small, and the neurotypical hates having to feel like the parent when it comes to household chores and responsibilities.
  2. The ADHD person is also very sensitive to criticism. This is due to those with ADHD often being raised in households with parents who did not know or understand how to help their child, or who may not have had access to resources. The average child with ADHD receives three times the amount of negative messages than a neurotypical child. This creates rejection sensitivity, which may lead the person with ADHD to not respond to any kind of feedback well. They may perceive feedback as an attack, and may get very emotional over perceived criticism. This makes it difficult to have a constructive and problem solving conversation with someone with this disorder.
  3. Individuals with ADHD also may wear their heart on their sleeve, especially if they struggle with the impulsive subtype of ADHD. Emotional regulation and impulse control are affected by this disorder, which often looks like the ADHD person blowing off steam or even having full blown meltdowns over stress and responsibilities. This can cause partners of those with ADHD to feel anxious and unable predict when the ADHD person might explode or go into meltdown mode. As humans, we like consistency, and we like to be able to regularly predict how we will be treated by our partners. For those partnered with ADHD individuals, this security can be hard to come by if their partner’s ADHD and mood regulation symptoms have gone untreated.

While these symptoms may be difficult for those in long term relationships to cope with and manage, it is not impossible. There are five things that a person with ADHD needs to help them be successful, and those are praise, acknowledgment, games, growth mindset, and positive acceptance. Stay tuned for my next blog post when I talk about how to implement these things into your neurodivergent relationship! Also, for more tips on managing ADHD in romantic partnerships, check out this book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/ADHD-Us-Couples-Loving-Living/dp/1647397057

The Four F’s of Trauma Response: How They Can Mess Up Our Relationships

The Four F’s of Trauma Response: How They Can Mess Up Our Relationships

Fight. Flight. Freeze. You have probably heard about the first three F’s of trauma response. These responses get activated during stressful events, and they help us survive. Not only do these responses help humans survive, these responses help animals survive as well. When an antelope is about to be attacked by a lion, stress hormones flood the antelope’s body to help increase his speed so he is able to flee and escape with his life (flight). A male lion defends his territory against other males by using the fight response. Chickens are known to go into shock when being attacked by another animal (freeze). These trauma responses have been studied for a long time now, but the fourth trauma response, fawn, has only recently been studied, and seems to be unique to humans. Fawning in humans involves gaining the affection of an abuser in order to survive. Fawning is the mechanism at play in Stockholm syndrome when victims fall in love with their attacker or kidnapper. The fawn response is how we have come to better understand the unofficial diagnosis of Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD and The Four F’s of Trauma Response has been written about extensively by Pete Walker in his book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma” (click link to purchase on Amazon). Unlike traditional PTSD, Complex PTSD is the result of experiencing long-term, daily trauma such as hearing parents argue or become violent on a daily basis, or being emotionally or physically abused for the majority of your formative years. Complex PTSD has been linked to a number of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc. It is no surprise then that the four F’s of trauma response can mess up your relationships in significant ways. Here is how.

Fight: Individuals who use this trauma response as their primary coping mechanism may tend to be argumentative and aggressive. They may even be defensive and always on guard, looking for an opportunity to make their voice and opinions heard. Individuals with this coping style may compulsively feel the need to be “top dog” or dominant in most social situations. Their fight response can also translate into physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse. They have a “me against the world” or “my way or the highway” attitude. People who use this response (which it is important to note that using this response is not necessarily voluntary, it is automatic) could very much benefit from mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness helps slow down the cycle of thinking, feeling, and then acting. A Netflix documentary called “The Mind Explained” shows inmates convicted of violent crimes participating in mindfulness meditation. The inmates reported being able to control their words and actions more once they are triggered, and therefore had a greater chance of not being convicted again once released from prison. A couple where one individual is abusive would be able to slow down and think before reacting and harming their partner if they were to practice mindfulness daily.

Flight: This response can look somewhat different in humans than it does in animals. While we may not be running from lions, tigers, and bears these days, there are other stressors in our daily lives that may trigger a flight response. Some examples include bills, financial worries, an argument with your significant other just to name a few. In humans, the flight response can be a literal running away, like moving to another country, or it can be constant busyness. Workaholism can be linked to the flight response, as those who engage in this type of coping often report feeling a sort of numbing out by staying busy. This can leave their partners feeling neglected, and it can leave relationship problems unresolved for a long time due to sheer avoidance. In addition to mindfulness, individuals who engage in the flight response would be wise to make sure they are balancing their work and home lives, as well as using deliberate good communication with their partners without fleeing.

Freeze: This response is when an individual is able to numb out or “change the emotional channel” in their brains. I have seen individuals who freeze in my therapy office. I will think we are getting somewhere, or that we are on the verge of an emotional breakthrough. They will then simply blink and the emotion in the room changes, and they change the subject and move on. This is not advantageous to these individuals, as healing requires an emotional catharsis in order to take place. These individuals may not allow for negative or sad emotions anywhere in their lives, which results in them not really being able to feel at all. The thing about emotions is that they demand to be felt, and if you cut off one emotion, you cut them all off. So someone who shuts down sadness will not be able to feel joy either. Individuals with this trauma response can also release the same chemicals in their body that help calm animals when death is imminent. These chemicals are sedating, and freeze users can call upon them when they are triggered. This can cause their partners to feel as if they don’t realty know the person using the freeze response. The freeze response eliminates authenticity. Freeze users will also turn to screens as a way to numb out; you will often see their heads in their phones, watching TV, or on the computer. This is another means of changing the emotional channel. In order to heal, freeze users need to learn to feel their emotions, which can suddenly emerge with brute force. Doing so in a safe environment, such as therapy, is often the best course of action, as sometimes emotions they have been repressing can result in increased suicidal thoughts, which a therapist can help them manage and heal.

Fawn: The fawn response is the mechanism used in Stockholm syndrome, which was originally coined to explain what happened when those who were kidnapped would fall in love with their captors. In relationships, this is responsible for why battered women (or men) often stay with their abusers. Their bodies get flooded with the love hormone, oxytocin when they are around their abusers. This causes the abused to fall in love in order to increase chances of survival. The biological function of this is to also inspire love in the abuser, so that they are less likely to be abusive. This often isn’t the case, however, and many go on being abused for years, stuck in this cycle. People who use this response are also chronic people pleasers. They may even change aspects of their personality depending on what the situation warrants, or depending on who they are associating with at the time. Even in healthy relationships the fawn response can be used, leaving partners to feel unsure of what their partner really wants or needs. Fawn users can wake up one day and realize that their life isn’t really what they wanted at all, which can come as a shock to their partner in a healthy relationship. The fawn user can really benefit from mindful time spent alone. During this alone time, it is important that the fawn user pays attention to what stimuli brings them happiness, joy, and inspiration, as well as what brings them discomfort, disgust, ambivalence, or boredom. Fawn users are often very out of touch with their feelings, preferring instead to focus on the feelings and wants of others. They often confuse these feelings and wants of others as their own. Alone time can help them get more in tune with themselves, which is the key to recovery.

The four Fs of trauma response can range from mild to severe. While in moderation they can be useful, it is in excess that they cause trouble. We can also run into trouble when we favor one response over the others, and use that response for all situations, even when it is inappropriate or unhelpful to do so. They can mess up our relationships because they are automatic responses that take on a life of their own. Recovery from these trauma responses takes time and willingness to look at one’s self honestly. Therapy is a great place to begin this healing process. I am now talking in-person or teletherapy clients in the state of Nevada. Email me at julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com to start our conversation about your recovery today.

A Sex Coach and Mental Health Therapist’s Take on the new Netflix show “Sex/Life” (spoiler alert)

A Sex Coach and Mental Health Therapist’s Take on the new Netflix show “Sex/Life” (spoiler alert)

Trigger warning: this article mentions rape/assault. If you are struggling with the aftermath of rape or assault, contact a qualified therapist to help you! You are not alone, and recovery from this type of trauma is possible!* If you are like most Americans living through the pandemic, you have probably spent a lot more time watching Netflix and other media streaming services in the past two years. The numbers confirm this: at the height of the pandemic, Netflix had more than doubled their price per share due to most people being stuck at home watching TV. One of the most popular shows in 2021 has been “Sex/Life”, with over 67 million views since it was released this past May. While the show was entertaining and albeit, titillating at times, this therapist is somewhat troubled that a show this popular potentially spread such a negative view of sex, marriage, and the kink/fetish/polyam community. Let’s take a look at what the show got right and what the show got very very wrong.

What the show got right: To its credit, the writers of this show did attempt to address some pretty difficult topics about love, marriage, and sexuality. These topics are rarely talked about in broader society, although they are far from foreign. The show highlights some of the difficulties of maintaining one’s sexuality while child rearing. For example, Billie, the main character, struggles with boredom in her marriage and then one day runs into her ex, who she still has unfinished business with. This leads Billie to try to escape the demands of her life (kids, judgmental friends, lackluster sex with her husband) by fantasizing about the sex she used to have with her ex. According to the Gottman’s in their book “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for A Lifetime of Love” it is normal for couples to experience their greatest period of relationship dissatisfaction when they begin to have children. With each subsequent child, studies have shown that the unhappiness grows. It is understandable and quite normal for people to fantasize about times when it was easier to prioritize sex. It is also normal to experience lack of sexual interest, or low desire from time to time in a marriage regardless of whether or not you have children. It is just too easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget to incorporate sexuality. Think about it: when you were dating your spouse, you spent a lot of time pampering yourself and getting ready to impress them on dates. You maybe spent more time apart, adding fuel to the excitement about seeing them. These are the types of behaviors that foster the relational climate that leads to sex. Part of recapturing that sexy relational climate is to start taking care of yourself in the same ways you did when you were dating. Unfortunately, our culture does not do very well at encouraging couples to have separate time, as we are not overly community oriented as a society. Our community is our spouse, especially since being quarantined due to the pandemic. It is a lot of pressure for ONE person to meet all of our needs, and yet this is becoming more and more how our society is.

What the show got wrong: Do a quick google search about this show. Most reviews from professionals are negative. Why? The first thing that came out of my mouth after I finished the season was, “Wow, this is probably going to cause a lot of marital fights!” The show attempts to suggest polyamory or non traditional monogamy as an alternative option to getting stuck in the hum drum of a marriage with kids. In the show, Billie wants the stability and safety that her husband and family provide, but she also wants the excitement and chemistry that her unstable relationship with her ex had. This is a common issue that comes up with the couples I work with. First off, this CAN be a great option for some couples, but both partners have to be on board. There has to be something in this type of arrangement that BOTH partners can see themselves benefitting from. Second, this type of arrangement needs to move slowly. There needs to be deliberate research done by all parties involved, and there needs to be a lot of communication. There also needs to be a willingness by both partners to express their true feelings and desires, and this can take time and therapy to cultivate. In the show, Billie fantasizes about the type of life in which she has her cake and eats it too, and ultimately she chooses it for herself without first having a conversation with her husband. The show ends on that note, which gives viewers who may have similar ideals a bad example.

The second issue with the show is its handling (or mishandling) over the topic of consent. Granted, this is a loaded topic and one that is difficult to do well on television, however more responsibility clearly could have been taken by the writers of the show. One example occurs when Billie is trying to rekindle things with her husband. They are attempting to have sex in the car, but Billie isn’t feeling it. She tells her husband that she would like him to stop, or that she is uncomfortable, and he keeps going, saying “I’m almost done.” The writers of the show don’t address the non consent, and then the show goes on to show even more nonconsensual experiences! This is troubling because many women have been raised, particularly in religious cultures, that they are to please their husbands sexually, no matter what. Women are trained to keep men sexually satisfied in order to avoid abandonment, but never are they taught to value their own pleasure. Furthermore, the show missed a teachable moment about how consent must be ENTHUSIASTIC. This means that both partners engaging in sexual activity are looking for emotional queues in their partner that may indicate if the sex is being enjoyed or not. This enjoyment (or lack thereof) may be verbal or nonverbal, but it is important that those engaging in sex are are aware that consent is not just the absence of a “no”.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of rape or assault, reach out to a therapist today. Going through this can be so isolating, but you don’t have to do this alone! Send me an e-mail to start our conversation about your recovery! julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com

Let’s Talk About Sexual Desire

Let’s Talk About Sexual Desire

In light of my recent move to Las Vegas, I wanted to talk about something that is near and dear to Sin City: SEX! Starting in October, I will be hosting an online women’s sexual health group (with potential to move to in-person once I secure a location, and once things are less Covid-y). To kick off the launch of this group I want to talk about one of the issues that frequently comes up when it comes to women’s sexuality: sexual desire. Before we talk about desire, it is important to define some key terms. Desire is the mental WANTING to have sex. Many women often lament about having low sexual desire. Those afflicted say things to me like, “I want to WANT to have sex” or “my partner doesn’t understand the art of foreplay, and I am not about it.” By contrast, arousal is the physical response we may (or may not!) experience in response to sexual stimuli. It is vitally important that we understand that physical arousal does NOT equal sexual desire. In this article we will break down just some of the possible culprits of low sexual desire, and we will discuss some possible solutions so you can get back to enjoying your sex life.

Culprit #1: There is no foreplay. The reason this is important comes down to what is known as Responsive versus Spontaneous sexual desire. Spontaneous sexual desire is what you see all of the time in popular media such as movies, TV shows, porn, etc. Spontaneous desire is what happens when you’re walking down the street and suddenly-BAM-you feel like having sex. This type of desire, according to top sex researcher Emily Nagoski, PhD. is like being struck by lighting. Spontaneous desire comes on quickly and for seemingly no reason (there are reasons, but they often fly under the radar, and we will get to that in a second). This is most often experienced by biological males, according to research, although there are definitely some women who fit this description as well. By contrast, responsive desire comes on much more slowly. This type of sexual desire is most commonly associated with biological females. The most common metaphor used likens responsive desire to a convection oven, whereas spontaneous desire is more like a microwave. Responsive desire is slower to warm up, and various stimuli (such as a crying baby, a bad smell, or feeling anxious about the way your body looks) can shut this type of desire down quickly.

Solution: The first solution is to communicate turn ons and turn offs with your partner as honestly as possible. Does it bother you that your partner is sweaty from working outside when trying to initiate sex? Talk to your partner about cleaning up before sex. Does deep/stimulating conversation get you in the mood? Try starting with the article “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” and discuss these over dinner multiple nights a week. Do you need more clitoral stimulation before having penetrative sex? Try noticing what creates a sexual response in you, no matter how small. Keep a list of these things and communicate them to your partner and brainstorm ideas of increasing these turn ons in your relationship. Keep a list of turn offs, and try to reduce these as much as possible. It is about “turning off the offs” and “turning on the ons”. Remember, foreplay can look different to each couple, and it is often a combination of mental, physical, and emotional stimulation when it comes to responsive sexual desire.

Culprit #2: You have unresolved (sexual) trauma. Trauma impacts every facet of our lives: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. You might be in a safe and loving relationship but experiencing flashbacks or trauma reminders with your current partner. This can be quite distressing, and even more so when we don’t understand why this is happening to us! We might be trying to get our sexy groove on with our current partner, only to be triggered moments later. The most common scenario I see in my practice is individuals being triggered by the way their partner initiates sex. It feels like pressure to the previously traumatized person, and this reminds that traumatized individual of a time they were perhaps coerced. Optimal sexual functioning understandably shuts down at that point.

Solution: Couples/sex and trauma therapy is the first line of defense here. Trauma can be so complex and affect us in so many ways that it is nearly impossible to resolve sexual trauma without the help of a therapist. In addition to this, work on slowing things waaaaay down with your partner. Not all sexual and intimate contact must involve penetration. Focus on touch/cuddling/caressing and notice what feels good. At no point should there be any pressure from the non-traumatized person to move forward. Look up sensate focus. This is a somatic, or bodily approach to help individuals heal from sexual trauma.

Culprit #3: Your emotional relationship with your partner has been neglected. This can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps you or your partner is not well versed in talking about feelings. Maybe talking about feelings growing up was discouraged. Perhaps you or your partner have been through something traumatic, and you don’t know how to talk about it. Maybe one or both of you copes by shutting down emotionally. Maybe your emotional energy is being occupied by stress or major life changes. Whatever the reason, it is important to learn to communicate about feelings, regardless of what our culture may tell you. Our BRAIN is actually the largest sex organ in the body. Arousal starts there, and if emotional needs are not being met or communicated, it makes sense that sexual arousal might be hard to come by.

Solution: Check out the emotions wheel, a quick google search will do. The emotions wheel is modeled off of the color wheel. Each emotion correlates to a different “shade” of color. For example, deep crimson is rage, whereas a light orangey red might be annoyance. It is important to learn to accurately communicate these emotions, because this helps others be able to accurately identify and empathize with our emotional experience. For many responsive desire types, feeling seen and understood is an important piece of the puzzle to sexual desire.

Culprit #4: You and/or your partner are not comfortable discussing sex. This is understandable given the culture we live in. We live in a culture that are “perverts in private and saints in public”. Everyone is seemingly obsessed with sex, but nobody talks about it in ways that are helpful and informative. If you are like me, your sex education may have even sounded like, “Abstinence is the only way. If you have sex, God will strike you down and you’ll have a horrible and broken marriage. And you will get chlamydia and die! But if you have to be a failure and have sex, don’t forget to use a condom.” This message is obviously problematic for reasons that are too many to list in this article, AND it fails to talk about how sex can be a pleasurable, fun, and bonding experience.

Solution: First, get comfortable naming your body parts. So many people are uncomfortable just saying the words “penis” or “vagina”, even with their long term partners! Being able to describe what you like or dislike in explicit detail is essential to having increased sexual desire. How can your partner know that you want him to “lick your clitoris” if you can’t get the words out? Often times, people will wait until the heat of the moment to talk about what they like or dislike, and this can lead to disaster and even trauma. As a society and as individuals we HAVE to get comfortable talking about this stuff.

The Bottom Line: Human sexuality is much more complex than media, porn, and your friends may have you to believe. Low desire is multi-faceted and often takes a relationship with a trained sexuality and mental health professional to help uncover your reasons for low sexual desire. If you are reading this, I want you to know that your sexual desire CAN increase, and you CAN enjoy the sexual part of yourself. If you or someone you know is struggling with low desire, reach out to me at julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com to schedule an individual appointment. Inquiries about the women’s sexual health group can also be sent to the same e-mail.

How Childhood Neglect Can Lead to Commitment Issues in Adulthood

How Childhood Neglect Can Lead to Commitment Issues in Adulthood

We have all heard the saying: “Once a cheater, always a cheater”. Commitment issues can come in many forms. For some, they avoid intimacy by breaking things off before the relationship’s honeymoon phase ends. Some only date and hookup casually and make that known on their Tinder accounts. Others have simultaneous affairs once married. According to renowned sex and relationship therapist Esther Perel, affairs are more common than one might think: one third of marriages end in divorce because of an affair. As harsh as these figures may seem, how many of us take the time to understand what causes these commitment issues? As a culture we are quick to write these people off as “monsters”; but what if the problem is much more complex than that? Esther Perel writes that an affair is “a window into the crevices of the human heart”. As we all know, each human heart is unique, and understanding the nuance in each affair takes a willingness to listen and understand for which most individuals do not have the patience. The same is true for the commitment-phobic; we write them off as “players” or “f*ckboys” for men, and the ever popular “slut” for women. People are so much more than the labels we ascribe to them. As it turns out, trauma is often the answer for the plethora of human behaviors that cause us to scratch our heads.

In childhood, we gain much of our understanding about love from observing our parents. Our minds are little sponges soaking in information such as: Will my needs get met? Who is responsible for taking care of me? Are my parents happy? What is love? Do my parents love me? Do my parents love each other? Am I safe? Are Mom and Dad safe? From a young age, our minds are creating a template of the answers to these questions. How these questions are answered determine how we view love as adults.

If we experienced emotional neglect, our needs for love, protection, guidance, affection, and so on were not met. We either take a detached view such as: “Whatever. I can fend for myself. This is just how it is.” This view is commonly seen in those with avoidant attachment styles. In these individuals, the need for connection is still there; however, avoidantly attached individuals downplay the importance of these connections and play up the importance of independence. Alternatively, some people become anxious as a result of their upbringing, with views like: “What if I’m forever alone? What if my relationship becomes like what I saw with Mom and Dad? What if my partner neglects me or doesn’t meet my needs and I get stuck in an unhappy marriage?” Anxiously attached individuals become preoccupied with making sure that their needs get met. They are sensitive to the slightest change in their connection to others, and they magnify their dependence on their partners. Some individuals have what is called anxious-avoidant attachment. These individuals are rare, and the combination of these two attachment styles can cause the afflicted to lash out violently against their partners. For a good example of how this plays out, watch the scene in “Good Will Hunting” with Robin Williams and Matt Damon where Will (Damon) lashes out at his girlfriend (played by Minnie Driver) for asking him to move cross country with her. She declares her love, and Damon shoves her violently against the wall and yells in her face. He sabotages the relationship because he wants to prove to his girlfriend (and to himself) how unworthy of love he is. While not all examples are as extreme as Will’s these are some of the questions and attitudes that prevail amongst the unfaithful and the commitment phobic, and they are a direct result of how we were raised, if our needs were met, and if we saw our parents’ needs being met.

It is possible to fear being loved. We fear what we do not understand, and if we were severely neglected in childhood, being loved is so unfamiliar that it can seem scary. While not everyone reacts in as extreme of a fashion as Will (Damon) when they fear being loved, people do sabotage relationships in a number of ways. In addition to the examples I listed in the first paragraph, people self-sabotage by only being the most attracted to partners who are unavailable or uninterested in them. This insures that they never have to face the fear of the closeness they desire. Some will become anxious and leave a relationship when it seems too similar to their parents’ marriage. Others will stay locked in a marriage where it is clear that they will never get their needs met; “It’s just how relationships are” they will tell themselves.

While what I am writing may seem quite bleak, there are a number of solutions for individuals who seek to rectify this problem for themselves and their loved ones. Experiencing a positive and empathetic relationship with a therapist can be the first step in healing some of these childhood wounds. From there, individuals are free to explore what relationship structures might work for them. Some are able, with much trepidation, to commit to a secure and loving relationship with their partners, while talking through their fears first with a therapist, and then with their loved one. Others choose a more open-structured relationship while working through these fears in therapy. One of my greatest joys is helping individuals and couples find the love they truly seek and deserve. Over time, I have seen individuals learn to embrace intimacy and vulnerability with all the messy things that entails. People eventually learn different messages from those they were raised to believe. They learn: I am worthy of love. I can have the love I seek. Connection is important. Vulnerability is strength. There are people who will meet my needs if only I am brave enough to discover what those are and ask.

If you or a loved one struggles to form and maintain secure attachments, shoot me an e-mail at julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com. I would love to hear your story! From there we can schedule an initial appointment to see how therapy can help you find the love you seek. Alternatively, I am offering an e-course on all things relationship (click here). If you struggle with commitment, I highly recommend the Early Stages of Dating and Next Level mini courses. These courses will help you attract healthy partners, build trust with others, have vulnerable conversations, and help you learn set boundaries.

How To Self Love (On Valentine’s Day)

How To Self Love (On Valentine’s Day)

Hey, hey! I know I am a day late, but better late than never to talk about being single on Valentine’s Day! After all, people celebrate this holiday sometimes the week after the official Valentine’s “date” in order to get a reservation for a massage or fancy dinner. As a single person, you can celebrate this holiday, too. Valentine’s Day is about love, and YOU are the most important person that you can love. You read that right. By loving yourself, it better equips you to love others.

I remember my last single Valentine’s Day, because it was the one that I realized that I was worth investing in. I got my first tattoo that day, a symbol representing the importance of self-love. I also spent that day with a friend and treated myself to a nice dinner with cheesecake for dessert. This Valentine’s Day was important for me, because in the past I’d given too much to my partners in past dating relationships. This Valentine’s Day taught me to put myself first. I met my now husband a few months later, and I think we might have missed each other if it weren’t for this important mental shift that I made. Here are some tips for how to love yourself, not just on Valentine’s Day, but on other days as well.

  1. Treat yourself to a nice dinner. You don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to do this. I know many singles who are terrified to eat by themselves out in public, but it can actually be very liberating. It also enables you to seem more approachable, and who knows, perhaps you will meet someone the old fashioned way of them approaching you… and them being totally not creepy (because for some reason, meeting someone in public and asking for their number is creepy nowadays with the dawn of online dating being the norm). Don’t get me wrong, there are creepy people out there, but someone approaching you to say hi doesn’t automatically put them in that camp. And if nothing else, even better, you get to enjoy that dang cheesecake!
  2. Make a journal entry…or seven. Time to dust off that old writing journal from college or high school. Journaling not only helps you track moods such as depression and anxiety, it can help reduce symptoms as well. Journaling can also help you get in touch with what is important to you in the moment. It can be a good place to vent. Start by making a list of journal prompts such as “5 Goals I Want to Accomplish This Year”, “How I Am Feeling Right Now”, “Dating Mistakes of the Past”, or “What I Have Liked About Past Partners”. These types of entries can help you take stock of your life, something that is very important to do before committing your life to someone (if that is your eventual goal).
  3. Make that appointment you have been putting off. Go to the hair salon. Get that tattoo! Get your nails done (yes, men can love mani/pedis as well)! By taking care of your grooming needs, you are signaling to your brain that YOU are important.
  4. Send some love to the other important people in your life. Yes, this is an act of self-care, because we need community. We are built for it. Invest in people whom you have no romantic interest in at all. Invite another single person over, or have a video chat if that helps you feel more comfortable during pandemic times.
  5. Check out moore-vulnerability-counseling.teachable.com . There are several e-courses that you can take to help promote self-awareness and relationship growth. Check out my mini courses that can help you learn your MBTI or Enneagram, or take stock of your past dating patterns with the Past Dating Patterns Assessment. Learn to have difficult conversations about sexuality, family, boundaries, and more! This e-course will prepare you for dating ahead of time. When you are ready, you will be a pro.
An E-Course to Seriously Help Up Your Dating Game

An E-Course to Seriously Help Up Your Dating Game

Hello peeps! I have some exciting news about a new e-course that I have developed over the past several months. I am getting ready to release The New Romantics: Dating 101 this weekend. If you are unsure if this course is for you, take the following quiz to find out.

Is “The New Romantics” For Me?: A Quiz

  1. I have struggled with dating in the past, and I am scared of getting hurt again.
    True
    False

2. I am not sure what qualities I need to look for in order to date partners with long-term potential.
True
False

3. I am still exploring aspects of my sexuality, which makes it hard to find and/or commit to partners who will suit me.
True
False

4. I don’t feel like I know who I am, let alone what to look for in a romantic partner.
True
False

5. I seem to keep being the most attracted to people who end up abandoning me or hurting me in some way.
True
False

6. I am thinking about marrying my current partner, but I am having some doubts.
True
False

7. I am married, but I feel as if my partner and I are not communicating well.
True
False

8. There are topics that I do not feel that I can discuss with my partner without help.
True
False

9. I have no idea how to meet people using social media, dating apps, Skype dates, etc. I am clueless when it comes to technology.
True
False

10. I want to know what dating sites will attract the kind of partnership I am seeking.
True
False

11. I struggle with social anxiety, and it can be hard for me to meet potential matches in-person.
True
False

12. I struggle with being too passive, or with being too aggressive with others. This has led to relationship problems.
True
False

13. I am interested in learning about MBTI, The Enneagram, or other assessments to learn about myself and potential matches.
True
False

14. I have low self-esteem and this prevents me from putting myself out there to date.
True
False

15. I have almost no dating experience to speak of, but would love to get started. I am just unsure of how.
True
False

Should you purchase this e-course? Results:
Between 8-15 “True” Responses: YES! This e-course would be perfect for you. You can learn to be more assertive, communicate about getting your needs met, discuss difficult topics with your dates with ease, and have better dating experiences that lead to long term partnerships.
Between 3-8 “True” Responses: A Definite Maybe. Perhaps you would like to wait until you are in a dating relationship to make this purchase. Subscribe to this blog and keep watching for promos in order to get a better idea of what this e-course can offer you.
-Less than 3 “True” Responses: Probably not the best course for you. Keep watching for promos and announcements about mini courses that will be available for purchase in mid to late 2021.

If you are still unsure, check out my e-course page to preview this course: http://moore-vulnerability-counseling.teachable.com/p/the-new-romantics-dating-101

Blue Christmas: Coping With Depression During The Holiday Season

Blue Christmas: Coping With Depression During The Holiday Season

The holidays are often a joyful time for many. There are family gatherings to look forward to, lights, religious ceremonies, good food, and the spirit of giving. Then comes along 2020 and hijacks most of those plans. It comes as no surprise that this year depression levels are spiking more than ever around the holidays. Due to the pandemic, individuals and families are being forced to make tough choices: do we visit family and quarantine before and after, do we get together in a smaller group and wear masks, or do we forgo the celebration altogether? Many are choosing to stay home for Christmas in order to help stop the spread of the virus. This-combined with lessening sunlight, cold temperatures, and all too often grief over the loss of a loved one are combining to form a particularly nasty cocktail of seasonal depression this year. Read on to find some tips on how to beat this blue Christmas.

Recognize that you are not alone. Even though it might not seem like it, many people are with you in feeling extra sad this year. Can’t see family? Pick up the phone or Skype them in order to connect. Whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one, are social distancing to keep yourselves and others healthy, or just feeling your yearly seasonal depression, having human contact has been shown to lift our spirits.

Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do. Maybe this means that you plan a meal for yourself and/or your household. Maybe you can create a new tradition that you can share with others next year. Try cooking a meal that you have never cooked before. Skype your family. Try incorporating a new game into your holiday tradition. By focusing on the positive possibilities, you are training your mind to practice gratitude. Gratitude is just that: a practice. It does not always come naturally, especially if you battle depression, but it can be learned. No matter how bleak things seem, there is always something to be grateful for.

Take time to grieve. In contrast to the above point, it is equally -if not more- important to take time to grieve the loss of loved ones. December through February every year has the highest death toll. This can make the holidays a painful reminder of someone you have lost. Remember grief is like a fingerprint. It will look different for every individual, but the basics of grieving are anger, sadness, meaning making, and acceptance. If you need to cry, it is more than okay to do so! I encourage my clients to cry a lot, because it can be cathartic and healing. Since birth, crying has been a sign that we are alive! Crying for the loss of a loved one shows just how important that person was to you. Some people also like to share memories about the departed person; although grief is individual, sharing the burden of it together is a bonding and healing experience. Some people like to take time and write a letter to the person they are missing. Don’t be discouraged if you grieve this person every year-grief tends to work this way. It comes in waves, and although you might not be triggered as often as before, it can hurt just as much as when the loss was still fresh when you are triggered. It can actually be impossible to feel true joy unless you allow yourself to experience your full range of emotions. Feel what you feel, honor the lost person.

Focus on movement. The connection between mental health and exercise has been documented many times; so why is it so hard to keep in the routine? Depression can certainly be de-motivating, but so can repetitively doing an action that you loathe. Find a workout or way to get moving that you actually enjoy, and focus on consistency, not intensity. So instead of running on a treadmill and sweating for an hour, hating every second of your life-try dance, yoga, lifting, free weights, or anything else! Even if you do 15 minutes of movement a day, if you do this consistently, not only will you notice a change physically, you’ll notice a change mentally as well. Try to focus on the enjoyment of the movement, not the potential weight loss, tightening of muscle, or whatever it is you are trying to get out of the workout. Those things will only come if you stay consistent through enjoying what you are doing.

Talk to a therapist. This last one is obvious, given my profession, but many people never think to contact a therapist about grief. This is because the only way through grief is to feel, and many people want a solution to make the feelings go away. Having a safe relationship with a therapist you trust can help you get to certain emotions that might have been hard to access before. You may find yourself talking about things you never thought you could, and this can be relieving in and of itself. Therapists can also provide suggestions for coping and tools for working through the grief process yourself as well.

As always, if you need someone to talk to about grief or anything else, get in contact with me via julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com

Joyous Holidays!

Why Politics is Personal

Why Politics is Personal

As a therapist, I view it as part of my job to look at issues from all sides. This is because the issues that bring clients in for therapy rarely have a simple answer; life is not black and white. When I had a brief stint on the debate team in undergrad, I learned that there is truth on both sides of an argument, and that the solution to any given problem often lies in the middle, or as a combination of the two sides. Seeing the middle ground has become increasingly more difficult as our political climate has become more disrespectful, hateful, and polarized. I have been longing to write something about politics for quite some time now. The topic permeates all of my discussions with clients; not only this, but with the growing tension politically, it has been a hot topic among my family members and myself as well. I have typed several drafts, only to start, hit backspace, backspace, backspace, and then finally, DELETE. As a therapist, writer, woman, and human being, I fear that by not writing about politics what I do write will become more and more irrelevant. It feels almost disrespectful to not address this topic in some fashion. So: why is the topic of politics such a hard topic for most of us? Why is it so emotionally charged? Why are families and friendships suddenly being torn apart? In this article, I will attempt to answer these questions, keeping in mind that my expertise is in psychology, and that I do not have all the answers.

Reason #1: People are naturally driven to identify with groups. This feeds our (very healthy!) desire to meet our needs for love and belonging. This becomes problematic when people value being accepted over personal values or serving the greater good. This strong desire to feel accepted is what causes people to join cults and “drink the Kool-aid” so to speak. Community is a human need that we all have, and especially now since community can be hard to come by.

Reason #2: People form their political opinions based off of personal experiences. As a cis-gender, white, female, my experience does not even come close to capturing the totality of the human experience. I can recognize that I have no idea what it is like to be a person of color. I can sympathize with the experience, and those I care about have lived it, but I will never fully understand. As a therapist I choose to believe when people tell me that someone or something is hurting them. It would be preposterous for a client to tell me, “I lost my father in a car accident” and for me to say, “Well he should have been wearing a seat belt” or “Maybe he shouldn’t have been driving at night without his glasses.” Are those things true? Maybe…but there is still no telling whether or not him changing those things about his driving could have prevented his death. Most importantly, in situations where someone is telling you about what hurts them, it is best to empathize. That split second between when someone tells you something vulnerable like “I’m being oppressed” or “I feel rejected and afraid of losing my rights due to my identity”…take a second to think about how to empathize/sympathize instead of thinking about how to be “right” (which is so subjective anyway). After our lives are over, we will NOT be remembered for how right we were. We WILL be remembered for the relationships we built and for being there for people in their most vulnerable times. Make that split second be about relationship.

Reason #3: We are often drawn to what is familiar, not necessarily what is healthy or helpful. If someone grew up in a household with a punitive parent, they are going to be drawn to political leaders and ideologies that reflect that worldview. This worldview may alienate people from their lives, but perhaps this is something they are used to, especially if this pattern has persisted throughout their lifespan. In addition, there is an entire political ideology and people within it who have had similar punitive experiences. If someone grew up in a home where their parents were manipulative, it might be harder to see the signs of manipulation and gaslighting in a political leader because it just feels normal. Identification of this subconscious attraction to unhealthy patterns can take people many years to grapple with, if they ever do it at all. Therapy is a good place to look at subconscious patterns that repeat themselves over and over again (shameless plug). In therapy people can learn how to identify safe and healthy behaviors in others, and associate themselves with those people instead. The old saying “you can’t change who you are around, but you can change WHO you are around” applies here.

Reason #4: I know this one is probably the most unsavory, but it is an undeniable fact that many people take mental shortcuts when it comes to thinking critically. Many people align with political parties because it is what their parents taught them. The reasoning usually goes like this: “Well I respect my Dad, and he thinks xyz about blah blah political party; therefore, I think xyz about blah blah party also! Blah blah party must be respectable too.” This is usually a logical fallacy of the youthful, one that many grow out of once they leave home, gain a sense of independence, and experience life for themselves. Most youth leave home, question the values and parenting skills of their upbringing, and finally come to their own conclusions. If I have said it once, I will say it a million more times: there is no such thing as perfect parenting. If your kids are critically thinking, they will find something wrong. Yay! Rejoice! (Side note: The kiddos will also be able to have a healthy and adult conversation with you about it if you have done your job well). Furthermore, many academic institutions teach critical thinking skills, but unfortunately not everyone has access nor the desire to engage in this type of discourse.

Reason #5: “Black and White Thinking” (also known as “All or Nothing Thinking”) provides people with a sense of certainty and safety. During these increasingly uncertain times, people are clinging to political extremes as a means to feel secure. This type of thinking is most prevalent in those who grew up in households where there was much instability and/or abuse. Certainty gives those with anxiety and past trauma an inner sense of calm. We all can engage in black and white thinking to a certain degree at times (examples: “she’s a good person”, “he cut me off in traffic and is a bad person”, “that there is a bad therapist”) but in its extreme forms, black and white thinking can be detrimental. The extreme form of this type of thinking is known as splitting, as in splitting a person as “all good” or “all bad” based on their behaviors, thoughts, actions, feelings, etc. I could write an entire article on splitting alone, so if you are not familiar with it, do a google search for “psychological splitting”.

Reason #6: Different generations can have wildly different experiences of life. These experiences are unique, varied, and all are equally important. Towards the end of our life, we will go through a stage which Erik Erikson calls the “Ego Integrity vs. Despair” stage. This stage begins at around 65 years old, and it is when we evaluate if our lives were meaningful and contributed to the greater good (ego integrity), or if we caused a lot of harm and destruction (despair). Those in despair can handle this difficult emotion in a number of different ways such as denial, aggression, depression, so on and so forth. While it is not okay to lash out at younger generations and feel bitter and resentful at us for changing things so much, it is also important for younger generations to understand perhaps where some of this is coming from. The world would be a vastly better place if we could all learn to understand each other better and empathize. That being said, I want to be clear that empathy does not necessarily equal close relationship. There are some wounds that are too deep to move beyond in a relationship, and while we can learn to empathize with the one doing the wounding, it does not mean we need to accept or tolerate it. Sometimes learning to empathize with a harmful person is more about our own ability to forgive and move on than it is on repairing the relationship.

In conclusion, I have listed some possible theories on why this topic is so hard to breach on Facebook (insert eye roll), let alone at the family dinner table. Someone’s political identity is often deeply ingrained as part of who someone is, and as we have seen, these beliefs can take years or decades to change if they ever do at all. I may not know everything about this topic, but what I do know is that we are getting nowhere by posting our opinions on Facebook, hoping that the one family member will see it and change their mind. I have never personally seen this happen. Where change will occur is within relationship and within the individual through grueling and often tiresome education and self-reflection.