by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 8, 2020 borderline personality disorder, Bowen Systems theory, healthy relationships, narcissistic personality disorder, Personality disorders, Unhealthy relationships0 comments
People with Personality Disorders Do This In Relationships
Differentiation of Self: Learning to balance Self Needs with the Needs of Others
We can all agree that balance is a key component to healthy living. Sometimes it comes naturally, but more often than not, balance is really hard to maintain. One of the most difficult places to find balance is in our relationships. If we want to find balance, it is worth taking some time to think about the things we are trying to balance between. Being in relationships is like walking a tightrope. There are some people who have a pattern of relating where they have not developed coping strategies that help them work through strong emotions. These people, often personality disordered as defined by their rigidness and complex unhealthy ways of understanding themselves and others, cut off anyone who challenges or counters them. We are constantly balancing between our own individuality on one side, and our desire for a sense of togetherness on the other. Whereas emotionally healthy people welcome differences in others, personality disordered people have not moved beyond the immature way of viewing the world that understands not everyone is the same. Entering into relationships fulfills the human desire for a sense of belonging or togetherness. Once we are in a group or relationship, learning how to navigate around individual differences often proves to be quite difficult. It is easy to succumb to charged situations and react based on emotions rather than a thoughtful choice. ‘Differentiation of Self’ is the ability to interact with others while, at the same time, regulating your own emotions. Think of how narrow your world would become if your default was to run away from every person who you cared about who said or did something you didn’t like. This is however the reality that individuals with borderline personality disorder and sometimes narcissistic personality disorder create.
Think about a disagreement that is currently causing you frustration in one of your close relationships. You probably share commonalities with the person you disagree with, but at the same time your individual differences create tension. What do you do? If you are afraid of creating distance in the relationship you might just blindly agree with the person. You wouldn’t lose your closeness, but you would sacrifice some of your individuality. On the other hand, you could cut the person off emotionally, and distance yourself in the relationship. This would allow you to maintain your independence, but you would lose your closeness and possibly the relationship. Both of these responses are irrational and extreme, a product of all or nothing thinking that are often related to several personality disorders. Neither of these options are really healthy. Each is an escape in reaction to the emotional pressure of disagreement.
Differentiation of self is an idea that describes the ability to regulate your own emotional climate rather than getting drawn in or overwhelmed by the emotions of others. It also has to do with a person’s ability to interact with others without losing their sense of self. This is because a well differentiated person is able to hold the tension between their needs and the needs of others without becoming overwhelmed and acting purely on the strongest emotional push. Someone who is “well differentiated” is able to realize the difference between their own emotions, and the emotions of the people around them. Their choices are thoughtful, taking their emotions into account without being ruled by them. They are able to find peace even in difficult situations and respond thoughtfully in moments of pressure.
Think of individuality and togetherness like two sides of a coin that are distinct, but at the same time inseparable. One side has to do with our concept of self. It is the aspects of our personal life and experience that make us unique and different from others. On the other side, we have a desire to share similarities with others, and to be a part of a group. This is the desire for togetherness, or a sense of belonging. When we are differentiated, we have the ability to enter into a relationship and not lose ourselves. We are able to identify our own emotions and thoughts when responding to tension in a relationship, and we do not react to the emotions of others, but rather intentionally respond. We do not give up ourselves to be with someone, but rather we learn how to truly be ourselves with someone. Learning to regulate our emotions in charged situations is the skill that allows us to hold the balance between our needs and the needs of others. It is a necessary to be able to experience tension in order to have difficult conversations. Healthy relationships rely on our ability to express ourselves in a way that is authentic to ourselves, and at the same time sensitive to others. Being well differentiated protects you from getting uncontrollably pulled in by your own emotions or the emotions of other people. Ultimately, it allows you to enter into relationships fully, in a healthy way, without having to sacrifice your sense of self or losing your own identity.
Differentiation of self develops in our family of origin as we learn how to view ourselves as individuals, but also learn to maintain intimate relationships. It was first described by Murray Bowen, one of the pioneers of family therapy and the founder of Family Systems Theory. He discovered that in a healthy family, members develop the ability to have a sense that “I am my own person, but I am also a part of my family.” Ideally, the family is the place that we learn this skill of balance and integration. In learning about the similarities that unite me to my family members, I am able to have a sense of belonging. In learning about my own uniqueness, interests, and beliefs, I learn that I am also my own person. The challenge of the family is to teach this balance to children and cultivate a balance between our head and our heart. When we don’t learn this balance, we learn instead to be emotionally reactive.
Emotional reactivity is the key distinguishing aspect between people who are well differentiated or poorly differentiated. Differentiation of self is an ideal that we aim for and being aware of how we react to others is the first step in becoming more differentiate. Learning to manage our thoughts and our feelings has a direct result on how we are able to authentically enter into and navigate relationship. If we are not able to differentiate our thoughts from our feelings, then we become vulnerable to being overcome by the pressure of other people, or our own impulses in the present moment.
What can we do about it? None of us are as differentiated as we could be. In fact, even Murray Bowen said that he would not consider himself perfectly differentiated! We can all chose to be dedicated to growing in differentiation. It will benefit us, our friends, our families and especially our close relationships. It is easy to get caught up in the past, or the future, but the only thing we can change is right now. Differentiation begins with thoughtfulness and consideration of the present moment. Why don’t you try to do a quick check in with your emotions? Take a few deep breaths. Just notice, what is it you’re feeling right now? Has there been any strong emotions welling up as you read this post? Just try to notice those feelings, the more aware we are of our feelings, the less likely they are to overwhelm us. By simply paying attention to the present moment we give ourselves the chance to be more differentiated. Next time you are in a frustrating situation with someone try to do the same thing, just notice your feelings. Pay attention to what your emotions are telling you and listen to them while taking a few deep breaths. Rather than reacting to the situation, try to respond thoughtfully after checking in with your emotions. If your knee jerk response is to ‘cut and run’ every time you experience an emotional reaction in a relationship, notice this too and try to adopt healthy self soothing techniques instead of running away from inevitable heightened emotions that come from having close relationships. The key to change is always and only in the present moment. By paying attention to the present moment we allow ourselves to truly enter into what is going on around us, without being swept off our feet. Relationships are difficult and require a lot of work. By paying attention to our emotions, we can learn to enter into relationships in a deeper, more meaningful way. Differentiation of self is what allows us to truly be ourselves in an authentic way, and at the same time meaningfully enter into relationships with others.
By: John Paul Dombrowski- Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg.
Foose, K. (2018, February 07). Differentiation of self through the lens of mindfulness. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/02/differentiation-of-self-through-the-lens-of-mindfulness/
Baney, D., 5, J., 3, O., 28, E., & *, N. (2015, September 14). Differentiation of Self. Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://drbaney.com/category/differentiation-of-self/
Eight Concepts. (2017, November 22). Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: An approach based on Bowen theory. New York: W.W. Norton.
Nichols, M. P., & Davis, S. D. (2019). Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Hoboken: Pearson.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 6, 2020 Self Acceptance Enhancing Exercises, What is Self Esteem In Psychology0 comments
Will I Ever Measure Up?
Do you need to be approved of by others? Do you want to be successful in life? If you
have a heartbeat, the answer is probably yes. But there is a distinct difference between simply
valuing the approval of other people and basing your value on the approval of others. Like most
things in life, the devil is in the details. When we get those details confused, we find ourselves
anxious, distressed, and frustrated. It is our thoughts that cause our feelings, and if we
repeatedly tell ourselves we are not good enough, we are going to experience feelings of
worthlessness! Understanding unconditional self-acceptance can help us to establish a healthy
balance between what we want, and what we need. This post is about understanding how your
thoughts and words drastically affect the way you relate to yourself, and how you can sow the
seeds of unconditional self-acceptance. Unconditional self-acceptance is a dedicated choice to
accept that you are a human being with such uniqueness and complexity that you simply
cannot be given an overall total rating. Accepting this belief paves the way for interior peace
Where does your worth come from? One of the common answers to this question is
that your sense of worth is based on the confidence you have in your ability to accomplish goals
and maintain relationships. We call this self-esteem. Albert Ellis, one of the great American
Psychologists (and a native of Pittsburgh!) actually believed that the idea of self-esteem was
problematic. He once said in a lecture, “Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or
woman because it’s conditional.” If that wasn’t enough, he wrote a whole book called “The
Myth of Self-Esteem,” arguing this point! Self-esteem is too fragile to carry us safely though the
difficulties of life. Self-esteem is based on measuring up to some standard. What happens
when you fall short? What if you have trouble maintaining relationships? Does that mean you
are unworthy? We are all humans here, so it’s only a matter of time before we fall short of our
goals in one way or another! Placing your value in self-esteem is like going out on a big lake in a
paddle boat. As long as the sun is out and the weather is nice, you are in a good place. But as
soon as the conditions change, you find yourself vulnerable, powerless, and unfit to weather
the storm! Self-esteem places human value on a condition, but human value has to be put in
something unconditional. You can’t rate yourself on some measurement or condition. The more
you try the more anxious and distressed you will become! Unconditional self-acceptance is a
refusal to rate your whole self on some measurement, it’s a choice to accept yourself as a
human, even when you don’t like the way you feel, or the things you do. It is simply a
commitment to accept yourself with no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Understanding how and why we try
to rate ourselves can help us to stop this habit that causes us distress.
Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater
We are not taught to value ourselves; we are taught to evaluate ourselves. Placing
generalized ratings on ourselves and others is a lesson taught to us throughout childhood. As
we become socialized, we are told that whether we are good or bad is determined by our
behavior. In school children learn to think, “If I behave well, I am a good kid.” But, “If I behave
badly, I am a bad kid.” This thought develops into the belief,
“It is okay to make judgement about people based on their behavior.” We use this same logic to evaluate ourselves when we
succeed or fail to meet some standard. “If I behave well, I am a good person.” “If I act badly, I
am a bad person.” This kind of thinking is dysfunctional, illogical, and irrational. It is a common
mental mistake that all humans are vulnerable to make. You are not your behavior; you are so
much more. Stop throwing the baby out with the bath water! Stop throwing yourself out
because of your behavior. Humans are so remarkably complex that it is impossible to assign
someone, including yourself, a global rating. Think about one of the behaviors that make it
hard to accept yourself sometimes. Now ask yourself these questions:
Is my HEART that behavior?
Is my MIND that behavior?
Is my BODY that behavior?
Is my SOUL that behavior?
Are ALL my SENSES that behavior?
Are ALL my SENSATIONS that behavior?
Are ALL my THOUGHTS that behavior?
Are ALL my FEELINGS that behavior?
Are ALL my BEHAVIORS that behavior?
Are ALL my MEMORIES that behavior?
You are not a behavior, you are a person. You can rate your behavior, but you can’t rate your
whole self. There is rule called the part-whole fallacy. The rule is, you can’t judge the whole of
something by just one of its parts. If you got a flat tire, would you total the whole car because
one tire was in need of repair? Of course not, but humans have a tendency to do just that, we
assign general value judgments based on one aspect of our humanity. It’s just not rational, and
when you think irrational thoughts it causes emotional distress! You have to learn how to stop
Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Self-Talk
Rational self-talk is the key to developing unconditional self-acceptance. If the interior
conversations you have with yourself is filled with self-defeating, dysfunctional thoughts it is no
wonder that you become distressed! Thoughts cause feelings. If we repeatedly tell ourselves
that we don’t measure up, we will feel and act as if that were true. When we plant seeds of
inferiority in our mind, we reap feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-hate. Feelings of
acceptance do not come from being accepted by others, but instead they come from the belief
that we accept ourselves. Unconditional Self-Acceptance is a belief based on reason. When we
hold this belief, we express it in our thoughts and these thoughts cultivate healthy emotions. It
is the repeated thought of unconditional self-acceptance that constructs a personal interior
climate of peace, self-understanding, personal strength, patience, and authentic self-love.
What does this self-talk look like? Rational thinking is flexible, non-extreme, helpful,
logical, and based on reality. It leads to healthy emotions. Irrational thought on the other hand
is rigid, extreme, illogical, prevents you from attaining your goals, and is not based on reality.
For example, if you bombed a presentation for work, a rational approach would be to say to
yourself, “I did very poorly on my presentation, and now I feel embarrassed. But my value does
come from my ability to present, or the approval of others.” This thought is true, it is based on
what happened and the emotion you feel would be appropriate. You will probably be sad, but
it won’t throw you into a depressive episode. Being irrational you might say, “I did such a bad
job on my presentation, I am worthless.” This type of thinking is self-defeating and will cause
unhealthy feelings of self-criticism and contempt.
We continually reteach ourselves the belief that our worth depends on other people’s
approval or our accomplishments by the things that we say to ourselves. When we think
irrationally, we become extreme. We may take a healthy desire to accomplish something and
amplify it to an extreme demand. We say things like, “I need to send all of my emails today,
and if I don’t then I am no good.” When our demands are not met, we punish ourselves! When
we look at other people we may think, “You must treat me well, and if you don’t you are
horrible person.” Or, we make global evaluations about the world saying, “I must succeed in
life, and if I don’t it is because the world is a terrible place.” Telling ourselves irrational and
rigid demands sets us up for failure and frustration. We take these demands seriously, and if
we don’t live up to them, we make global evaluations about ourselves, others, or the world.
The more we use the words of absolute demands, the more distress we cause ourselves.
Instead of extremes like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘need’, and ‘have to’, try substituting more preferential
language like, ‘I’d like to’, ‘it would be preferable if’, ‘it would be helpful’, ‘it would be best if’, ‘ideally’,
Unconditionally accepting yourself makes all the difference! Next time you feel your mood
shifting or your anxiety mounting, pay attention to your thoughts. Rather than being rigid and
inflexible saying, “I need to send out all these emails today,” try instead being more rational
and say something like “I would really like to send out these emails today, but even if I don’t, I
as a person am ok.” Start repeating the simple phrase, “I am not my behavior.” Or maybe write
a note and stick it on your mirror that says, “My personal worth and value does not depend on
what I do, or the way people treat me. My worth and value is something that I hold within
It can be tempting to try to justify yourself, but you don’t have to. Unconditional self-
acceptance empowers us to be successful and to develop relationships in a healthy way that
encourages self-possession, honors our freedom, and affirms our dignity. Unconditional Self-
acceptance is a way of looking at ourselves that remembers, “I am not my behavior. I am an
unrepeatable, un-ratable, and dignified being. My value does not come from the approval of
others, or the things that I do. My value is inseparable from the fact that I exist. I chose to
accept myself unconditionally.”
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral therapy focus on the way that
our thoughts affect our behavior. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other
emotional disturbance and feel this type of counseling would be a good fit for you, call us at
412-322-2129. We would love to set you up for a counseling session with one of our therapists
trained in Cognitive Behavioral therapy.
Dryden, W., DiGiuseppe, R., & Neenan, M. (2010). A primer on rational emotive behavior
therapy. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Ellis, A. (2006). The myth of self-esteem: How rational emotive behavior therapy can change
your life forever. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Ellis, A., & Doyle, K. A. (2019). How to stubbornly refuse to make yourself miserable about
anything-yes, anything!London: Robinson.
I Am Not My Behavior. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2020, from
By John Paul DombrowskiLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 4, 2020 bowens system theory, triangulation, what is triangulation0 comments
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/
You may have heard the latest celebrity gossip regarding Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s relationship drama. If not, let me catch you up to speed – Jada openly admitted to having an ‘entanglement’ with a much younger man without Will’s consent or knowledge. This abruptly caused a firestorm across the internet with questions and jokes about ‘entanglements’ and what this all really means. Underlying this drama is an important lesson about relationships and specifically, ‘triangulation’ within relationships. An ‘entanglement’ is a form of ‘triangulation’. Triangulation occurs in a relationship when something or someone disrupts the flow of communication or emotions between the couple. Triangulation could be a manipulation tactic by one person in the relationship, but quite often triangulation happens when a relationship is struggling and without people even realizing it is happening or that they are facilitating it. In Will and Jada’s case, her ‘entanglement’ with a third person may have served to evoke strong emotions or bring previous relationship issues to the surface, forcing communication. However, it certainly doesn’t take an affair or an ‘entanglement’ for triangulation to occur.
What is triangulation? Originally, the concept of triangulation came out of Bowen’s Systems Theory which is a theoretical model used by some therapists to understand and explain family dynamics. In families, triangulation occurs when one or both members of a couple pull a child in to be the third point in the triangle. In this scenario, the child absorbs some of the stress of the relationship or acts as a communication device between the couple. This can occur in relationships where the parents are still together, but struggling in the marriage, or when the parents are separated but do not take the necessary steps to communicate while continuing to co-parent. At any rate, triangulation within a family system puts the child in an extremely difficult position.
More recently people have noticed another kind of triangulation within their relationships. Within the context of family and marriage therapy, we see many forms of triangulation, even where the third point isn’t a person at all, but rather technology, and most often a cell phone. Quite often, one or both members of a couple may avoid in-person, direct communication about difficult or sensitive topics and instead rely on technology to do the communicating. For example, one member of the couple may post or interact on social media to passively communicate with their partner. One or both members of a couple may utilize their cell phones as either a conscious or an unconscious distraction device. Or, one or both members of the couple may seek comfort from their cell phone rather than their partner, avoid intimacy to be on their cell phone, or just generally not be emotionally available because they’re on their device instead of present in the relationship. Some studies have shown that just the mere presence of a mobile device, even when it isn’t being used, can detract from face-to-face interactions. Effective communication is essential for a positive relationship and while triangulation doesn’t signify the end of a relationship, it is likely to lead to significant problems.
By: Lauren Aikin-Smith
Audrey Juhasz & Kay Bradford (2016) Mobile Phone Use in Romantic Relationships, Marriage & Family Review, 52:8, 707-721, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2016.1157123
The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. (2020, August 3). Theory. The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. https://thebowencenter.org/
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 13, 2020 exercise for gratitude, hope, Understanding Hope0 comments
When looking for the definition of hope, it’s difficult to find merely one answer. Throughout the history of psychology, there have been numerous attempts to define hope. Hope is a human universal, and being universal, it falls into an interesting paradox; while all people experience hope, each individual’s experience is personal, intimate, and unique. Because there are so many ways to subjectively experience hope, it is useful to have a universal definition that can be implemented across all experiences that call for hope. Positive psychology offers us a lens through which we can view this complex, yet essential, human experience.
Those who have made it out of the depths of despair and difficulty know that hope is much deeper than a simple desire: it is a deep longing in our heart for a better future. An understanding of hope allows us to cultivate better emotional health.
In psychology, hope has been given many definitions. The most comprehensive definition of hope is, ‘‘a process of anticipation that involves the interaction of thinking, acting, feeling, and relating, and is directed toward a future fulfillment that is personally meaningful (Stephenson, 1991).’’ It is not just a feeling, but a system of thoughts, feelings, and actions that bring us into the future while creating that future. Hope is a healthy habit that involves our will and our emotions. Hope can be practiced and developed. We might not always feel the emotion of hope, but these are the times when we truly have to choose to be hopeful.
Charles Richard Snyder developed Hope Theory which defines hope as “the perceived capability to develop pathways to desired goals and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways (Snyder, 2002).” Developing pathways refers metaphorically to the ability to read a map and to find the best route to a destination. Agency refers to the actual desire, driving ability, and confidence needed to reach that location. Taken together, these create a sense of positive future outlook. This concept of hope has been consistently validated by psychological study.
In recent studies in the field of positive psychology, research on hope has blossomed. Christopher Peterson is one of the founders of the movement and he explains, “Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living (Peterson, 2008).” Positive psychology studies human strengths and virtues in order to better understand how we can promote human flourishing. In positive psychology, hope is defined as, “expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about (Parks, Peterson, Seligman, 2004).” Hope is particularly important for human flourishing, and there is a tremendous amount of research to support this concept. In fact, hope has been found to be one of the two-character strengths most associated with life satisfaction and well-being(Gander, Hofmann, Proyer, Ruch, 2019) (Zhang, Chen, 2018) (Martinez-Martini, Ruch, 2014). Hopeful people are less likely to suffer from anxiety or stress disorders (Arnau, Gallagher, 2018) (Long, Gallagher, 2018), and if they do become anxious, those feelings tend not to overwhelm them. Researchers found that in a group of student athletes, higher levels of hope predicted superior classroom achievements. On top of that, hope predicted superior athletic achievements, and did so beyond various psychological states (self-esteem, mood, and confidence), amount of time practiced, and natural athletic talent (Curry, Snyder, Cook, Ruby, Rehm, 1997). Similarly, in a group of first-year law students, researchers found that hope significantly predicted better academic performance. Additionally, the same measures of hope predicted greater life satisfaction at the end of the first semester (Rand, Martin, Shea, 2011). Showing just how much of an impact hope can have on students, a 3-year long study of hope and academic achievement found that hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor Wood, 2010). Individuals high in hope tend to perceive obstacles as less stressful, are quicker to rebound from obstacles, and demonstrate resilience in response to challenging circumstances (Snyder, 2002).
So, what can you do to increase your hope? The answer is short and simple: be grateful. A recent study found that a brief gratitude-related writing intervention significantly improved the participants’ state of hope and happiness. Raising awareness of the good outcomes already present in our lives can uniquely inspire hope for future good outcomes and also make us happier (Witvliet, Richie, Luna, Tongeren, 2018)! The greatest opportunity to foster gratitude is in the present moment. Taking time to be mindful of the unique people, events, and highlights of your day provides an opportunity to step into gratitude.
Having hope is like creating a healthy relationship with the future. It requires thoughtfulness, and at times, a bit of work. It involves being able to identify pathways to achieve our desired future, and the ability to pursue those pathways. Hope is not something that happens to us: it is something that we practice. It is something that we strengthen, develop, and grow. In short, hope is a habit that makes us happy.
If you’d like to cultivate hope today, take a minute to try this exercise. First, think of a hope you have for the future. Now, reflect on a time in your past when you had hoped for an outcome, and your hope was fulfilled. You could do this in your head, on a piece of paper, or on your phone. Write about what you learned through having this past hope fulfilled in your life. As you reflect on this experience of hope, identify and name what you are grateful for and to whom you are grateful (Witvliet, et.al. 2018).
By: John Paul Dombrowski Counseling Intern
Curry, L. A., Snyder, C. R., Cook, D. L., Ruby, B. C., & Rehm, M. (1997). Role of hope in academic and sport achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(6), 1257-1267. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1247
Day, L., Hanson, K., Maltby, J., Proctor, C., & Wood, A. (2010). Hope uniquely predicts objective academic achievement above intelligence, personality, and previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(4), 550-553. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.05.009
Gander, F., Hofmann, J., Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2019). Character strengths – Stability, change, and relationships with well-being changes. Applied Research in Quality of Life. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-018-9690-4
L.J. Long, M.W. Gallagher Hope and posttraumatic stress disorder M.W. Gallagher, S.J. Lopez (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Hope, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2018), pp. 233-242
Martinez-Marti, M. L., & Ruch, W. (2014). Character strengths and well-being across the life span: data from a representative sample of German-speaking adults living in Switzerland. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1253. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01253
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603-619.
Peterson, C. (2008, May 16). What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not? Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not
R.C. Arnau Hope and anxiety M.W. Gallagher, S.J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Hope, Oxford University Press, New York, NY (2018), pp. 233-242
Rand, K. L., Martin, A. D., & Shea, A. M. (2011). Hope, but not optimism, predicts academic performance of law students beyond previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(6), 683-686. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.08.004
Snyder, C. R. (2002). TARGET ARTICLE: Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 249-275. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli1304_01
Stephenson, C. (1991). The concept of hope revisited for nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 16,
Witvliet, C. V., Richie, F. J., Luna, L. M., & Tongeren, D. R. (2018). Gratitude predicts hope and happiness: A two-study assessment of traits and states. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(3), 271-282. doi:10.1080/17439760.2018.1424924
Zhang, Y., & Chen, M. (2018). Character strengths, strengths use, future self-continuity and subjective well-being among Chinese university students. Frontiers in Psychology, 29. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01040Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 29, 2020 therapy in wexford, wexford counseling0 comments
Michelle Parmelee, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is nationally certified, working with clients of all life-stages and cultures in our Wexford Counseling office. From working with children exhibiting behavioral issues in the home or school to working with adults with substance abuse issues in outpatient settings, Michelle offers a wide range of experience. She now hopes to use a Solution-Focused approach to therapy with her clients, addressing problems within a variety of areas, such as Adjustment Disorders that come about from specific stressful situations, to Mood Disorders, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, Substance Abuse, and Relationships.
Michelle offers an individualized, goal-oriented, and strength-based approach with the understanding that each individual or couple has a unique history that has shaped them into who they are in the present. By creating and pursuing SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) goals, Michelle promotes a step-by-step method of helping clients reach a desired outcome in the future!
In addition to her Solution-Focused approach, Michelle also has an interest in psychology and behavior, utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques as a way to guide clients or couples in recognizing the ways in which their thought patterns and behaviors can affect the way that they feel in response to their personal difficulties. By challenging negative thoughts or feelings and modeling new behaviors or ways of thinking instead, Michelle can assist her clients in meeting their objectives and relieving some of life’s daily struggles.
As a certified wellness coach, Michelle utilizes the areas of Wellness using an 8-dimensional tool and assists her clients in identifying how physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, vocational, financial, and environmental factors have been impacted as a result of each client’s presenting concerns and underlying issues. Using a wellness planning tool (WPT) or recognizing changes that need altering in these areas can create a more balanced life for those who are facing personal challenges.
Michelle was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. She continued her education at California University of Pennsylvania, earning her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. While completing her program, she was able to gain experience in a college setting to further develop her skills in helping clients through the difficult transitional stages in life, such as “leaving the nest” and laying the groundwork for internships or entering into a post-graduate career.
Outside of work, Michelle enjoys traveling, playing games, spending time with family and being outside – especially with her dog playing at the park! Michelle has interests in physical fitness and art, which she believes can be useful tools in helping to reduce stress and anxiety.
The name of the game is “change” and the health and well-being of Michelle’s clients are her number one priority! She is eager to play a role in the growth of all clientele at the Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh.
To book an immediate appointment with Michelle, please call our Wexford Counseling Center at 412-314-1909 for an appointment, located at 9404 McKnight Rd Suite 302 Pittsburgh PA 15237 in Arcadia Plaza.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 15, 2020 hypersomnia, insomnia, sleep disorder, sleep hygiene0 comments
Sleep hygiene is a science formulated to help people overcome disrupted rest by removing any barriers that a person might be unknowingly creating that prevent against deep and complete rest. According to the American Sleep foundation, 47% of Americans report poor quality sleep has affected their daily performance in the last month. As mental health counselors know, there is a significant relationship between sleep and well being. Finding solutions for better rest are vital when your health is on the line, research suggests that sleeplessness can accelerate cancer, erode cognitive performance, and it also impacts mental well being in a variety of ways. Did you know that not getting enough rest can activate many mood disorders including bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression? In fact, sleep disruptions are a very common complaint among those who are seeking treatment for mental health disorders. Of course, most people have experienced a sleepless night as a result of a situational challenge or period of stress. There is a lot to lose when it comes to sleep but more than ever so many are so sleep deprived. By now you are likely wondering what you can do to enhance your sleep. This is where sleep hygiene comes into practice. There are some evidence-based ways to help you achieve a more restful state. Simultaneously, there are certain sleep disorders such as parasomnia, insomnia, and hypersomnia which should be ruled out with a medical or mental health counselor.
Know your sleep type! There are two primary types of sleepers, night owls and roosters, night owls are biologically programmed to sleep and wake a little later. Roosters crow at the sun, roosters, will do best to find a job routine that can be done early in the morning. Same goes for night owls, their peak performance will be later in the day. For both of these types of people, constructing a life that honors biology will do a lot for wellness and emotional wellbeing. For example, a rooster shouldn’t take the night shift if they want to feel their best.
Have a good routine- Routine is paramount to having improved quality and quantity of sleep. Find a regular hour in which you can rest. When you achieve a regular schedule, your body will be responding to multiple environmental cues that will help falling asleep and staying asleep easier. You should really be aiming for 7/8 hours per night so plan to go to bed that amount of time before your alarm clock will start buzzing.
Limit screen time at least an hour before bed. Our eyes are brimming with light receptors which are impacted by the screens we look at. When you are reading your email or social media account your brain is getting a large dose of light that signals to wake up! Limit exposure to at least an hour before bed to give your brain a chance to relax.
Spending time outdoors in the morning– The light from the sun helps us to become more alert in the morning giving our bodies higher energy. By maximizing exposure in the early hours we can find our way to relaxation in the evening. If a morning walk is not your thing, some people enjoy ‘sungazing.’
Work out in the am– Multiple studies have shown that working out in the am morning hours does help fitness friends to sleep better in the evening. Interestingly however, having an evening work out has not shown any effect on sleep.
Lengthen your exhale- When using your breath as a relaxation tool, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. It works like this, by lengthening your exhalation to be longer than your inhalation, for example inhale for a count of 6 and exhale for a count of 8, do this 10 times. This small but powerful technique is a potent relaxant as you are attempting to drift off to a deep slumber.
Limit Caffeine- Be mindful of what you are consuming, the half life of caffeine is quite long, if you are drinking caffeinated beverages after 1 or 2 pm, it will still be in your system at 8 or 9pm. Try to limit caffeine to one cup upon waking and the same goes with sugar.
Try Essential Oils- Many people find that a calming essential oil will help them achieve a more relaxed and restful state. Scents such as lavender and chamomile are widely used as a part of night time routines.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 8, 2020 black people and mental health, PTSD in the Black Community0 comments
PTSD in the Black Community
Recent events have some people scared. This makes sense. People are clamoring for change, and tensions are high. Not to mention, the nation is still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that has left millions unemployed and our economy teetering on the edge of a cliff. All of these disasters and injustices have disproportionately affected minorities. Some people will be traumatized by the happenings of today. So in light of that fact, I decided to examine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as it relates to the black community.
Let’s start by describing this mental health disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD as defined by the American Psychological Association is a mental illness and specifically an anxiety disorder where an individual struggles with recovery from witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Unlike the commonly held belief, PTSD is not limited to wartime veterans, and it can manifest due to several different ordeals such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, or even natural disasters. The disorder can last several months to several years, when a person sees, hears, or remembers something that they relate to that event, they are ‘triggered,’ this can happen often and be debilitating for a person who holds or qualifies for the diagnosis of PTSD as triggers can come up often within everyday life leaving them struggling with a feeling that they are back in that traumatizing event. Remember, a trigger is a memories that evokes an extremely intense emotional and physical reaction.
Other symptoms of PTSD often include nightmares and unwanted memories, flashbacks, heightened reactions to otherwise non -threatening stimuli, avoidance of triggering situations, PTSD can even lead to anxiety, depression, and make a person more vulnerable to developing substance abuse. Treatment for PTSD is available in the form of different types of trauma-focused therapy models. Some of these models might include the use of medication to relieve symptoms of PTSD as they allow individuals to work toward a better quality of life.
So how does this relate to the black community? It’s easy to see that the black experience in the United States is rife with traumatic events. From the desperation that arises through the effects of poverty, to the overt systematic racism that permeates our justice system. Minorities are repeatedly traumatized by the witnessing of the murders of innocent men and women. Trauma is experienced when we read about the number of black men in the prison system (many for nonviolent offences). We become anxious every time we see a video of a woman threatening to call the police on citizens minding their own business. But the worst part about it, is that we have been exposed to it over, and over, and over again, allowing the traumatic cycle to continue.
As a member of the black community, I want to emphasize that this trauma is real, and that it’s impact has lasting consequences. If this resonates with you, you’re not alone, and this does not mean you’re weak. This is the result of our community collectively experiencing PTSD. As mentioned earlier, there are resources to help individuals make sense of it all. I want to encourage you to take the steps necessary to take care of yourself, even as we all work to make these sources of trauma a thing of the past. Reach out to your local therapist at Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, as well as to your support groups. Be aware of your triggers and learn positive ways to cope with them. Remember, your voice is your ally, do not stop talking about this!Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 3, 2020 black therapist pittsburgh, microagressions, racism in america, systemic racism, therapy for racism pittsburgh0 comments
Dealing with Microaggressions as a Black Man
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Sandra Bland…these are just a few of the names that come to mind as I write this. These are the names of victims of police brutality and racial injustice. These were unwilling martyrs who fell prey to overt, unabashed, and unadulterated racism. This is a problem, but there is another issue that plagues people of color every day. An unseen layer of racial inequality that exists under our noses: microaggressions.
What is a microaggression, you ask? A microaggression is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.” So when a stranger tells me that they don’t see color, or when someone raves that I am “surprisingly articulate” for a black man, they are using microaggressions, perhaps unknowingly. However minorities also use microaggressions. Phrases like “you sound white,” or being called an ‘oreo’ by peers (black on the outside, white on the inside) have been some of the microaggressions I have experienced from fellow people of color.
I can only speak from my personal experience, and I do not represent all people of color. However I know that when I encounter microaggressions, whether intentional or not, I find myself in a bind. Do I call it out, and risk being “that guy,” or do I brush it off, because at least it’s not as bad as what the victims above suffered? The events of the past week have shown me that silence in the face of microaggressions, only leads to further silence from possible allies when overt racism and racially motivated aggression takes place.
So what is the role of the black man or the person of color when facing microaggressions?
- Call it out for what it is. People may balk at this and respond with phrases such as “I’m not racist,” or “I have black friends,” but the truth remains, microaggressions are a result of racist history, and they are subtle ways of perpetuating negative stereotypes about black people and other minorities.
- Educate those within your circle. It surprises me that in the age of the internet, some people still are not aware of what may constitute a microaggression.
- Better yet, encourage those who are not sure to educate themselves. There are plenty of (free) resources out there for our friends and neighbors to learn and become better allies.
- Take care of yourself. One thing that has been made clear with all of the demonstrations lately, is that collectively, black people are tired. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting to navigate microaggressions, and process the overt racism that takes place in our country every day.
- Talk to someone. We cannot keep this stress bottled up. It helps to speak with a therapist or a trusted friend in order to process what we go through when we encounter microaggressions.
On a final note for everyone reading this, whether you experience microaggressions or not, do not stop talking about this. Talk to family, friends, neighbors, clergy, therapists. Talk, take action, and please take care of yourselves.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 27, 2020 anger management counseling, greensburg counseling0 comments
Managing Displaced Anger During Difficult Times
It has been said that anger is a secondary emotion, triggered by preceding fear, rejection, hurt feelings, humiliation, and sadness. With the current pandemic, restrictions on our daily activities, the uncertainties of our futures and our medical and financial wellbeing, it is no wonder people have been on edge. This disruption has been significant and abrupt. Suddenly, we no longer have the same level of stability in our lives and the need for structure, safety, and predictability has been jeopardized. Everyone has experienced some form of loss, and many are grieving.
Lately, while watching morning news, we hear the retellings of incidents involving explosive anger where someone has violated another physically or verbally. Often, we are seeing these acts in public arenas, on display for anyone to witness, which is telling that we are not coping well as a society. So, what is happening? Has the world gone crazy? Are these the preludes to a hostile, post-apocalyptic dystopia? Likely, no. It’s more probable that people are misplacing or “displacing” their frustrations. Displaced anger or aggression occurs when one is unable to express anger towards the source of provocation so instead, the individual acts out towards others. Often, we are not able to direct our anger toward the actual cause of our fears and frustrations. For example, it would be of no use to air our grievances to the virus itself and we are also unlikely to get our desired response from people who have direct influence over our day to day struggles. So, then many of us are left fearful, anxious, grieving, and frustrated with no say or control over what happens next.
While it’s easy to focus our attention on our lack of control, doing so will only increase these feelings of frustration and helplessness. Despite current limitations, there is still much we have influence on in our lives today. We can choose what type of activities we engage in throughout the day, our diet, exercise, and our sleep hygiene regimen. We have influence over our thoughts and mindset, whether we focus on the negative or we see the positive in situations. We can control what we are watching on television and social media or listening to on the radio or podcasts, all of which impact our outlook and perspective. Those choices effect how we feel and in turn how we cope with our stress.
Even the most Zen of us will displace our anger onto innocent bystanders from time to time. After all, we are human. In these moments, when you feel yourself becoming easily agitated or triggered, take a second, breathe, and identify the real cause of your anger by asking yourself, “What’s really bothering me? Does this make sense?” and even, “Does my emotional reaction match the situation?” Note that if it is something you cannot change, there are still things about the situation or in your life that you do have influence over. Exercise positive self-care practices such as physical activity, being outdoors, reading, listening to music, eating a healthy diet, guided meditations, deep breathing and other stress reducing techniques. These can be thought of as preventative activities to increase your threshold for stress and strengthen emotional resiliency. Be mindful of when you have reached your limit and need to seek additional help or support. Lastly, always remember to T.H.I.N.K. before you speak. Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Choose to be kind.
Andrea Kellman, MS, LPC who provides therapy, marriage, and family counseling services in our Greensburg counseling center.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 21, 2020 self care month, sex therapist, sexual wellness, Uncategorized0 comments
May is Self Care Month! In honor of that, let’s explore a form of self care that might not be the first thing you think of when you think about wellness. When the oxygen masks drop on the plane you always put on your own before helping someone else. This is self-care. The actions you take to keep all dimensions of your own health (physical, emotional, social, spiritual, mental) as strong as possible so that you can continue performing at your peak, whether at home, at work, or in your personal life. The phrase ‘self-care’ has made its rounds in mainstream media and for many people may include a spa day, sleeping in, or saying ‘no’ to certain obligations. However, one activity, self-pleasure or masturbation, has not gotten the credit it deserves as the ultimate form of self-care. Sex therapist Lauren Aikin-Smith from Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh shares her expertise in masturbation as a form of self care.
To start, anyone can masturbate. It isn’t restricted by wealth, gender identity, body shape/size, ability, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. It’s easily adjustable based on your other life factors. For example, you can get it done in a few minutes while the kids are napping or leisurely take up an afternoon if you have the time. It can be done alone or with a partner(s). It’s cost effective and fits every budget. It can fit everyone’s personal style and isn’t limited to just involving the genitals, but may include a bubble bath, rubbing lotion on your body, or even involve other erogenous zones like the ears, scalp, and nipples.
Self-pleasure simultaneously has positive effects on the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions of health. The sensations, relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness that accompany masturbation promote the release of endorphins and oxytocin, even without achieving orgasm. Orgasm is accompanied by a surge of dopamine, activating the brain’s reward pathways. The endorphins and flow of blood throughout the body help release pent up energy, and promote stress and pain relief throughout the body by relieving stress, tension, headaches, and period cramps. Finally, there is a release of serotonin which is responsible for good mood and relaxation and can help promote sleep, another essential aspect of self-care.
Self-pleasure connects the mind and body, and can help you better understand what arouses and turns you on. It can help you recognize how your body responds to touch, sounds, and smells. Over time, you’re able to get a better sense of the sensations and movements that are pleasurable for you, which in turn also promotes body positivity.
Masturbation is empowering. You will never be in control of all aspects of your life, and many times you may feel like you aren’t in control of much at all, but, you can at least be in control of your own pleasure. You don’t need to rely on someone else for pleasure, it can be all your own.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, masturbation is the ultimate form of self-care because through all the craziness of life, it allows for a few moments that are focused solely on nothing other than your own personal gratification. The only way any of us are going to make it through life is by making time for ourselves, for our self-care, and for personal pleasure.
To discuss any sexual or intimate health concerns with one of our licensed counselors or sex therapists, call us at 412-322-2129 for an appointment.Learn More