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 PittsburghJuly 10, 2019 why its important to take care of your mental health0 comments
This Is Why its important to take care of your mental health
By: Melissa Howard
One in five American adults experiences some form of a mental disorder each year, yet only 25 percent feel that others show them any compassion due to the negative stereotypes often associated with mental health disorders. Sadly, this can prevent individuals from getting proper treatment, or disclosing their condition in the workplace for fear of losing their job. Matters can become even more complicated if someone is dealing with persistent and irrational fears, otherwise known as paranoia, or general anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is like a proverbial vice in that it causes stress and prevents one from carrying on with daily activities. To an outsider, these individuals appear high-strung, neurotic, and perfectionist because of their anxious personalities. Researchers have concluded that this behavior is caused by a dysfunction in parts of the brain responsible for dealing with fear, emotion, and memory.
While medication and psychotherapy are two of the top ways to control the side effects, self-care is equally as important for maintaining mental and physical health in the present and in the future. Here are some ways to make conscious, daily efforts to nurture your own well-being.
Banish Any Bad Habits
Whether it’s cigarettes, binge drinking, or experimenting with drugs, your entire being is compromised by bad habits. It’s only logical, as when you’re feeling poor physically, it’s going to affect the way you feel mentally, too. First, determine whether the monkey on your back is too heavy for you to lift off on your own. If so, seek the necessary treatment, such as rehab or a nicotine patch. Of course, this is easier said than done, but in many cases, it’s a matter of life or death. Consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member if you’re scared about next steps — it’s likely that they’ve already noticed something is wrong.
Learn To Become More Present
Being paranoid can conjure up irrational thoughts like thinking about dying in a natural disaster or losing a job. Taking up yoga can help you be more present while feeling grounded and getting a grasp on reality. In fact, doctors are actually recommending it as a complementary, holistic therapy. The gentle poses and breathwork from a vinyassa yoga class have been known to improve sleep, and reduce panic attacks and overall anxiety levels, not to mention it’s a great practice for building strength, increasing flexibility, and improving balance. The average cost of a yoga class ranges from $12 to $16, but prices go down if you pay for multiple sessions.
Set Aside Time to Get Organized
Getting organized and keeping your house clean, believe it or not, can go a long way toward improving your mental health. Not only can organizing your possessions help reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep you get each night, but it can also reduce the symptoms of depression and help you become more productive. Once you have everything organized, consider bringing in a maid service to give your home a good deep cleaning, which is a surprisingly affordable option. For example, in Pittsburgh, a one-time cleaning will run you between $93 and $204, depending on the size of your property.
Embrace Alone Time
While you don’t want to isolate yourself, taking advantage of having ‘alone time’ can be beneficial for one’s mental health. Not only can it help you to focus on self-help, but it also boosts creativity, increases productivity, allows you to explore personal interests, and provides a sense of empowerment. Taking time for yourself also makes it easier to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, preparing a healthy meal, and exercising. When you learn how to be comfortable with yourself, the easier it is to be confident in social situations.
Don’t worry about the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Instead, establish a supportive network who understands that life can sometimes be challenging for you. For some, family and friends are enough of a support system, but others may be more comfortable adding a network of like-minded individuals into the mix. Talk to your doctor about getting a referral for a local support group in your area — you may need to try a couple of different ones out to find the right fit. You need not feel the pressure to participate. Sometimes, just listening to others share similar stories, concerns, and successes are enough.
Photo Credit: PixabayLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 28, 2018 how to reach your goal, new years resolution0 comments
Live Your Best Life, How to Slay anything in 2019.
New year, new you? Well, maybe, whether you will be a wistful dreamer or a winning achiever of your New Year’s resolution really dwindles down to this; ‘How do you mentally prepare yourself for the process of change?’ We all look forward to the prospect of a new year, we start off with a fantastically shiny hope, we can do anything with these next 365 days of our life. Yet, for all of this hope and enthusiasm, why do the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail in the first month? We can explain some of these failed resolutions by applying the theory of behavioral psychology. We wellness warriors, trudging onward to 2019, sails full with the winds of enthusiasm, need to be sure we are beginning our voyage with the right motivations, or we just might end up deflated and completely off course. If we have an internally damaging way of nurturing our New Year’s whispers of inspiration, we can rest assured our achievements will fall as flat as the last sip of kombucha that lines our almost empty cup. Our counselors have worked together to create a sequence of effective pieces of psychological advice which will kick-start any of your New Year’s wellness goals.
Get real with yourself, meaning where are you right now and where do you want to be?
This is about stepping away from the potential delusions of your thinking and recognizing where you are, honestly. If you are an echoing scream away from your goal, it is going to take some time to get there. Using weight as one example, if you are currently 300 lbs, and you aspire to weigh in at 150 lbs, it will take many years and much effort for you to arrive at that destination. Maybe you want to start with making an appointment with a personal trainer and a nutritionist or a dietitian. Another example might be that you want to have better boundaries with other people in your life. Be ‘real’ about while jotting down your list. It takes gusto and strength to record your truth about areas for growth such as your inability to say ‘no’ to others and the amount of inexplicable guilt that you feel when you attempt to draw boundaries. Yet it is by insight that we can make great progress toward our goals.
The second part of this sequence is that after you examine where you are and where you would like to be, your goals must be broken down into achievable units. We humans don’t do well with goals that are too large. If for instance you want to write a book this year, instead of focusing on the larger goal of completing the whole text you will do best by focusing on small goals daily. Writing 500 words a day is a well achievable micro goal that will inch you toward the end result. Why does this work? According to Psyche Study, ‘Behavioral psychology defines the mechanism of ‘shaping’ to describe the slow process of behavioral change where we are rewarded for each step toward reaching the final goal.’ We nudge ourselves toward the finish line. In the process of shaping these small changes, we feel empowered by the daily act of achieving our successes instead of potentially losing focus if our overarching goal is so big that the reward for making it there is too far off.
Give yourself rewards
There is a long standing debate and research query which examines whether punishment or reward is better to help us change our behavior. According to recent research from Harvard Business Review, if you are going to maintain the enthusiasm and hope that is driving your desired progress towards change, you must create rewards for yourself. In this particular study, it was noted that punishment, and the fear that it evokes, can cause people to ‘freeze’ instead of act. Think about the proverbial deer in the headlights. Again, with reference to behavioral psychology and the field of human learning and behavior, humans and animals are more inspired by positive reinforcement than punishment. We move toward what is pleasurable, especially if the reward is well timed to be given right after reaching each small segment of our goal. That means that when we have that internal voice which tells us we are slugs because we didn’t reach our goal, we are not helping our situation. It is the promise of something that is rewarding which really propels us to go harder and longer in the journey to ‘live our best life.’
What is it that you are planning to work on for your New Year goal? Always first ask yourself this, we all want to achieve things but are you ready to put in the work to achieve your goal? If the answer is yes, move onward and use this as a template to assess your goals and move yourself one step closer to where you want to be!
In relation to your goal, where are you now?
What do you hope to achieve, what is your long term goal?
Break the above mentioned goal into daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
How can you reward yourself on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy year of wellness,
Harvard Business Review, What Motivates Employees More, Rewards or Punishments? https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments
Psychestudy, Online Journal on human behavior and psychology. What is shaping behavior? https://www.psychestudy.com/behavioral/learning-memory/operant-conditioning/what-is-shaping-behaviorLearn More
by Stephanie McCrackenOctober 26, 2015 counseling, educational, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, wellness, wisdom0 comments
“What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?”
This is a quote on a magnet which hangs neatly on my refrigerator. This quote changed my life. Fate isn’t something we just wake up and experience as easily as the first cup of coffee makes its molten ascent out of the carafe, smooth and steady. Embracing my ambition to become a psychotherapist was not always written in the stars. The act of becoming presents road blocks, brick walls, doors slammed in the face, the slaying of a few dragons, encountering some villains, all in a day’s work when we are attempting to become the best version of our self. I was afraid to fail.
Many years ago, I was on a fast track to earning a degree in English Writing with a Minor in English Literature. It was in an honors literature course that I encountered Sigmund Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. I was hooked, immediately changing my major to devote my academic trajectory and the rest of my life to studying and practicing counseling psychology. It started off very well, the theories and interpretation all came to me fluidly and I was thrilled at the prospect of embodying this calling.
The University of Pittsburgh, where I was studying, has an excellent and rigorous Psychology program, where degrees are offered as a Bachelor’s of Science. Subtle but vastly significant differences that translate to very heavy upper level mathematics courses, calculus and statistics, trigonometry. Any of the psychology baccalaureates from the university are very well prepared to become researchers, quantifying and perpetuating the latest science in the field. I have been plagued with math anxiety for my entire life, even basic mathematics courses becoming source for struggle in high school. Quite a dichotomy from the experiences of studying in my social sciences or English courses where a deep understanding of concepts would simply flow to me. Numbers terrified me, but I wanted it, I wanted the degree, I wanted to learn more about papa Freud and his procession of disciples, I wanted to do this every day. Never falling victim to fear, I enter business calculus, two weeks of lectures and each day I departed while suffocating tears behind the ever growing lump in my throat. I withdrew from the course and resigned myself to not being good enough to enter the field. “Leave it behind, you aren’t good at math and you never were!” Hearing all of those self-berating thoughts which are eager to leap out and from the shadows, the stop signs, the yield signs, the take a u-turn! I switched back to English writing, still something I loved to do, no there would be no therapy couch, no exploration of the unconscious. This was where I would settle for less than what I wanted out of fear and a sense of inadequacy. Life went on as it always does, we stuff down our displaced dreams, we move on to be productive, to succeed someplace that doesn’t provoke our fears too much, we choose that which is low risk, “this is sensible” we tell ourselves, “you can’t do this” fear says.
A couple of years later, walking down the aisle of Whole Foods, I saw that magnet, “What would you do today if your weren’t afraid to fail?” Before I could formulate the whole thought each fiber in me knew, If I weren’t afraid to fail, I would study psychology, and study psychology is exactly what I did. Reentering those math courses and working harder than I ever had to work to achieve success at anything, attending every study group, showing up to class early and staying late, by blood and sweat I did it, and all of that hard work didn’t just gain me a pass but I “A”ced all of those stats courses and made it through the program to graduate with honors. Now math isn’t even so scary any more, I have come to appreciate some of its applications when it comes to the field of psychology.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? What would it be? Where do you feel a sense of defeat? Would you ask the girl out on a date? Would you tackle an addiction? Would you learn how to fly a plane? Would you write the next great American novel? Work on your marriage? Back pack Europe? Learn to prepare the perfect Indian Curry? Become fluent in Chinese? Put an end to some defeating or depressing pattern in your life? Start coping with your anxiety? Learn to fly and airplane? Cope with Depression? Work on your start up company? What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? By this time you may be wondering, how do you get over this fear of failure, we have an answer for that too, you don’t, the most successful among us have failed a hundred times but have gotten back up one hundred and one, and that is what makes all of the difference!
We hope our humble magnets’ question is as resonant with you as it is for us!
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Nicole Monteleone MA, LPC, NCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Counseling and Wellness Center Pittsburgh
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh PA 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenNovember 19, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, wisdom0 comments
Perception and Encountering The True Self
Perception is the realization of the effect that a vantage point has upon the quality and content of thought. There are sects of psychology which map out human consciousness, a design to thought and feeling. An ever complex diagram which points to the id, the ego, or in other realms the observing ego, and still others such as gestalts, figures, and the foreground. There psychological unity to recognize that we want to name and understand this very act of understanding, as grandiose as this quest may be. Imagine the possibilities to go on a fantastic adventure by literally stepping inside of the human mind, or are you in there? Or do we only imagine that we are inside of ourselves yet entirely mystified and misled by thoughts and feelings? Inside of your mind what kinds of structures would we see beyond the biological anatomy, what is this fabric of your consciousness?
Entering into the nature of our consciousness is an exquisite endeavor, beyond things like our defense mechanisms and ornate or ordinary persona, we may find something else entirely. Yet many of us live our daily life with such a distorted vision of reality. According to Carl Jung “an encounter with the true self is like an encounter with god.” Why, you may ask is this such a special and unparalleled act? Well to really know the true self requires that we do very deep excavation, in the recovery of our true self beneath layers of defenses and processing through our fallible ego lays a piece that our core. It is often hard to discern that piece when even our own thinking is a construct which is churned about after being milled through anxiety limiting and mighty defenses and shadoscapes. It is not as though defense mechanisms are such a terrible thing, in many cases they are often protective, they order and mask, limiting chaos and pain of being. Yet as a truth seeker, it is this encounter with the deepest parts of being which is my manifest mission. When the true self becomes visible, then we may decide to make some changes, we very well may need to stop from turning and running away from the way that we distort the world to maintain a sense of self, or avoid intimacy, or prevent the reliving of trauma, the multitudinous functions of thought. The prize when encountering this true self is that we then may be freer to choose alternate ways of responding to ourselves and others.
What is your perspective? Choosing terrain exerts entirely different experience upon whether you’re looking down to the glittering river while meandering on foot across a bridge. Yet then consider the difference when on a boat and floating past the bridge from beneath the looming beams, then one is able to notice the rusting nails from beneath the structure, crying out “hello” and hear the booming echo of your speaking voice. What a difference perspective makes, with thought and perspective it’s not where you go but how you get there as we people of Pittsburgh and beyond converge and live dispersed on meridians about these three rivers. To what are you attenuated as frolicking about life’s journey?
In happiness and wholeness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Nicole Monteleone MA, LPC, NBCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenSeptember 23, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, mindfulness, psychology, psychotherapy0 comments
Tight Hugs I Like; A Psychotherapists Musings
It could be risky to admit this but here it goes anyway, I judge people, in social settings I categorize to such a grand degree, some may say I can hardly help myself. You see, I rank people based on how they hug. When it comes to hugs, they are certainly not all the same. For example, my grandmother, she was a woman who knew how to wallop out a good old-fashioned, full on, closed-arm, hug. Of course she was blessed with a constitution of advantages being a billowy woman who with her puffy arms was capable of ensconcing me in a way that warmly emitted rapture. When I am meeting, enjoying, and connecting, I always cherish most those folks who know how to put extra endurance on the squeeze, those are my people the kind, warm, close, hug-loving people.
Hugs are kind of like the word “love” in regards to the way we have come to dole them out socially. We hug upon meeting and greeting, at every social and familial function, it’s inextricably woven into the fabric of our social essence yet I wonder if the more that we do it, the less care we pause to exert that extra “umph” into its meaning and effort, somehow causing it to lose its magical luster. Like the carelessly tossed “love you” which punctuates the end of conversations over iPhones and peppered unto friendly discourses. The whole thing makes me melancholy, myself being a women known to exhibit a propensity for intensities of passion, I know that the altitudes of love are not unleashed when we lube up every good bye with “luv you.” My fiancé and I have a rule between us that we only say those words when we are superbly overcome with loves sentiments and can offer proper tone and intimations to its grander meaning and I think hugs should be the same.
We can enter a discussion into the mounting scientific evidence which identifies oxytocin and other alchemical neurochemicals and their vast proliferation upon the synapse during human contact, a full 20 second hug ranks best in stress relief, bonding, relationship healing, it’s sort of like a love serum. Yet I really only need to think about the mutually enveloping sensation provoked upon a tight, warm, and long hug and I already know- this is the sweet spot, this is indeed where the magic happens; tight hugs I like.
Perhaps we best know the tight hug by its inverse, the dowdy anticlimax of the one-armed, limited contact encounter, this is the person who offers one limp and paltry arm to the embrace, their hand barely grazing the others back. Sort of like its phony cousin, the air-kiss, quite popular in Europe and Hollywood. These pseudo-signs of affectionate encounter make me wonder “Good gracious Darling!!! Why are we even bothering with a hug?!” Perhaps these people are better temperamentally suited for handshakes or high fives, which is simply fine but please don’t spoil the hug. Still there are others who fumblingly attempt the hug with a gapping distance between their bodies, as they lean in with their chest, their hand taps upon their would-be comrades back. I watch imagining that fluttering hand so close to a warm embrace yet the hand will not rest nor envelop their friend, they will not anchor them down, pulling friends nor acquaintances in, ever missing the full embrace. I sigh watching their leaning chests and tapping hands, saddened by what I imagine to be their trembling fear of connection.
Perhaps I am a romantic as somewhere in my heart of hearts I know that maybe some of us are destined to be less than adequate huggers, the ecstasy of a limb-locked, enduring hug is not something that one can enjoy with everyone. The dreamer in me is helpless to float upon imaginary visions of a world teeming with propensities towards deep, soul-strewn connection, flowery displays of oozing, syrupy, love. Where we hug it out in the market place with arms firmly enveloping the neck, with chests pressing chest, body rocked embraces like pillars of hope amidst the coffee shops and promenades. Can you imagine such a place, an earth where we envelop each other more freely and shamelessly, where hugs mean something and the tight vibration of muscles grid locked around each other thrumming into the hollows of our insides, where we move into the distances, stomping out those numbing chasms and we commence upon celebration of full bodies connections. Tight hugs I like.
Exuding robust love,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh pa 15233
412-322-2129 [contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]Learn More
by Stephanie McCrackenSeptember 4, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, elephant journal, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy, wisdom0 comments
As written by us and featured in Elephant Journal http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/09/serenaded-by-fire-dancing-with-anger-a-psychotherapists-musings-stephanie-mccracken/
Experiencing and acting upon anger, despite its steeping potentials, is often shrouded in uncertainty and even guilt or shame, causing many people to attempt its subterranean burial. Due to cultural and early childhood learning, anger is only given an opportunity to only to be exhumed by accessing deeper levels of consciousness. This cultural urging to truncate human richness towards the effort of appearing uni-dimensional, saccharine and serene may be especially felt by woman, “be a good girl” they say. Despite valiant efforts to remain superiorly cool, even the most grandiose attempt to dismiss anger will result in its manifestation in less healthy manners. Perhaps you are a person who has been accused of yelling or other frenetic outburst to which you adamantly deny, then this reflection may resonate with your unconscious yearning for wholeness and serve as an impetus towards allowing some of the disavowed aggression to lovingly bubble forth.
In the range of the human emotional experience, anger is a vital, valid, and often in containment of a message. Anger is alphabetically close to danger but this too means that anger has a protective function. Whether the sensation of anger propels our action to ensconce and protect the rainforest from loggers or our child from the grips of a bully, anger is an activating emotion. On a cellular level when anger erupts we will likely notice an acceleration of heart rate, pupil dilation, vasodilation, all similar to panic and anxiety these would have allowed us to evolve in our prehistoric forms by seeing better, running harder, and accessing our reserve of strength. For some this is a rapid and temporarily irreversible ascension which will require some time spent self-soothing to reenter the terrestrial atmosphere. In fact, within couples therapy and marriage counseling it is noted that divergent conflict resolution needs are a common theme, it becomes essential to understand what yours is and how it interacts with those around you with the aim of growing towards health and balance.
It is not only relationships which may benefit from a better relationship with anger, modern science supports that repeatedly experiencing activating emotions renders a tantamount physical and emotional bill. Such as the case of the “type A personality” those with the monumental drive to make the world one conquest are also often noted to linger on the precipice of fiery anger. This puts them at continued risk for heart disease, hypertension, and additionally the social cost that can come for those that motion in a perpetually haughty dance with angers tempo. Allow us to admit just this one thing, whether it be culturally or from our families many of us learn, to our detriment, that there is something dangerous or forbidden about the outward expression of anger. Perhaps it is that we will be consumed by experiencing it or act out in a way that is unacceptable, which may lead to repression of the feeling thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy as those things we wish to bury almost always evidence themselves in more dramatic and unexpected ways. Provided that we recognize and utilize our emotions in a productive and socially responsible manner, angers energy has the potential to become a beneficial driving force!
From Repression to Expression With heightened and hot emotions like anger there may be some cultural and personal sentiments which discourage the human experience by placing an added layer of shame, guilt, or doubt upon the expression of negative feelings, even if done in the most appropriate and effective of manners. The real challenge may be in encouraging a person who practices repression that they are even experiencing such feelings, particularly if they have learned from an early age that the expression of such feelings is unsafe as we see with victims of trauma and abuse.
Unveiling The Masking of Anger The multitude of colors and ensembles with which anger is known to present itself can be bewildering. From the exceedingly calm demeanor which may only display a mild tightening of the area around the lips, to the full out adult temper tantrum and there are even those who utilize passive aggression to make their inner world become evident, anger is indeed a human universal as much as some may wish to dismiss its being.
In recognizing aggressive and animalistic impulses we seek to nurture a healthy degree of fire, without being dominated by unconscious aggression. Even for the good girl, the journey towards wholeness and mindfulness will require that we first prioritize a relationship with our inner self to begin to recognize our anger, respect the sensation and then work within the pause between thought/feeling and action to formulate an appropriate response to anger. Some questions that you may want to ask of yourself- What happens for our internal sanctum as the heart thrums faster and the embers flicker towards rising heat? Do we trust our ability to communicate effectively in a hot state or are we the kind of person who needs a cooling off period to navigate a high level of frustration? When was the last time that you expressed anger and what emotions come up for you as you consider your expression of this human sensation? The point is that provided we are being mindful and authentic we are best honoring ourselves and our bountifully rich human experience.
In robust wholeness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Psychotherapist offering Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233Learn More
by Stephanie McCrackenAugust 26, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, elephant journal, marriage counseling, psychology, psychotherapy0 comments
Written by us and as featured in Elephant Journal
elephantjournal.com/2014/09/ how-to-work-through-guilt-a- psychotherapists-musings- stephanie-mccracken/
Guilt. Certainly we all know that haunting sensation.
Even the most conscientious and heroic among us will experience guilt from time to time.
Those living a socially mindful life often can’t escape the sensation of guilt. Concern enters when we perceive ourselves as having erred in a grandiose manner—sometimes this results in reactions coursing from the deepest parts of our psyche.
Human thought and emotion become duplicitous as we note that the mind, always churning ephemerally, mechanically is able to dole out doses of guilt for thoughts which are repressed and lying dormant, deep in the layers of the unconscious.
When guilt and regret lay unconscious it often has deleterious effects on our psyches. We self-defeat, isolate, lose sleep and sometimes exhibit melancholic or anxious tendencies. Yet, within the symptoms often lie the opportunity for the cure.
Guilt is a Mechanism of the good guys and girls.
There is evidence suggesting that people who feel the most guilt are the most highly morally conscious.
Consider a priest who, despite living beyond reproach, perpetually contemplates whether he is performing enough service for human kind. “Is God pleased by my actions?” He may ruminate with guilt because he only offered five hours of his time to children’s literacy last week.
In this sense, guilt is a cursory sensation meant to guide our moral compass toward a better outcome for the next time life offers us a choice. For example, you have left your dog for eight hours without a walk and fresh water while you are out with friends for the afternoon. Or you haven’t called your grandmother in a couple of weeks to say hello.
These examples would likely elicit some measure of guilt which would guide our human impulses to change our behavior and do better in the future to bypass guilt’s irritating sensations.
Guilt Symbolizes Growing Wisdom.
Barring the possibility that we were born without any sort of moral compass—typically clinicians label this one of the primary makings of a sociopath—let’s assume that we are like most, delicately hearty mortal creatures who will inevitably make guilt inducing errors, great and minute, within this life.
Certain segments of life’s timeline are founded upon the knowledge that errors are to be made so that we can, in the words of Maya Angelou “know better and do better.”
Consider the teen years spent squealing and careening into adulthood with our lapses of budding judgment in hand. Teens are often experimental with cliques, manner of dress, maybe are even rebellious with rules, saying and behaving in ways with parents that later churn up a bit of guilt. Yet the forbidden memories become a product of our mounting wisdom guiding us toward a safe and stable path.
Self-compassion releases guilt.
Sometimes we set out, cloaked in the armor of our best intentions, cradled with the assurance that we are acting toward the best good for others and ourselves, yet later we discover that we have made a terrible mistake.
Provided we make it forward to a new day, we evolve with altered perceptions as those well intentioned choices become shrouded in a fog of regret. How do we deal with these scenarios? How do we make peace with and move beyond the pain of guilt?
These are worthwhile questions as we unravel the layers to subjectivity.
Picture this: Tina enters therapy as a recently married woman who is struggling with depression. It becomes evident that her husband is increasingly abusive, but she retreats into self-blame about the growing violence.
Through many sessions, Tina shares that she was previously married to John for five years. She says one day they were driving to a picnic at the east end of town and Tina was a bit upset because John had picked Tina up an hour late. Tina and John quibble while making their way to the barbeque. John turns to Tina who is staring out the window and says, “I am sorry, I really hope…”
He never finishes his sentence. A car comes swerving into their lane hitting them head on. He dies immediately.
Tina survives on life support but quickly remembers the fateful day as she reemerges. In addition to her grief she is frozen by the inexplicable guilt that if she had not been brooding he would still be alive.
Through growing insight into her unresolved feelings as well as self-compassion, Tina begins to nurture choices which lead her away from depression and towards greater peace.
The key to living a good life is to not become so consumed with our cloak of shame that we miss out on the opportunity to continue our evolution.
We must learn from our mistakes yet not become crippled in the negative self-outlook which comes from realizing that we have erred in judgment. Regrets can be a fluctuating foe. Courage and a wealth of internal resources to glimpse within are required to traverse the innards of thought by understanding and accepting our limited human capacity for perfection.
It is within the conscious processing of regret that we encounter the opportunity to garner wisdom. We are here to learn from life’s inevitable lessons.
We can never be expected to know it all from the outset.
In health and wholeness,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Offering Psychotherapy/and Marriage Counseling
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenApril 30, 2014 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy0 comments
Who among us has not suffered from feelings of anxiety at some point in his or her life, it is common enough to be among the more often seen symptoms which bring an individual into a therapist’s office. Even for the most staunchly healthy psyches anxiety is a typical benchmark which exists in a range of degrees within the human emotive process. Depending upon you as the individual and the technical approach of your clinician you may be offered a multitude of conflicting remedies to intervene upon that which is ailing you.
There are the wildly popular pharmacological interventions such as Xanax or Valium, while widely popular these interventions do nothing to examine the “how’s” or “why’s” of an anxious feeling. These interventions assume that an increased cardiovascular response, heightened worry, tense muscles, sleepless nights, feelings of agitation are all in the physical realm yet quite mysterious. Indeed anxiety in its more insidious form is a grave health concern so it is with accolades that I note the vast number of humans seeking treatment to escape its grips. There is something inexplicably disconcerting about the hyper arousal of anxiety which compels one towards a greater risk for many other issues health issues such as addictions, depression, coronary heart disease, even eroding the erectile function of both the male and female, to name but a few.
Most of us recognize that there are yet other forms of anxiety which are our “bon amie,” the kind which compels our actions for good causes such as self and social betterment. Without a touch of anxiety one may hit the snooze button each and every morning and drop out of society all together. Yet for our purposes we will consider the more sinister form with its wanton undesirability which causes many to seek its avoidance at all costs. There are vastly varied approaches within the medical community in terms of treatment of anxiety, there are folk remedies, homeopathic remedies, new age methods, each with their unique utility. Yet most all of these interventions lavish attention upon the amelioration of physical symptoms but may from sheer neglect, fail to examine the psychological underpinnings of anxiety itself. For those who do experience the necessity of utilizing anti-anxiety medication it is an empirically validated fact that the best therapeutic outcomes exists for individuals who make use of psychotherapeutic settings simultaneously. It is within the psychotherapeutic setting that the focus is cast specifically upon the unique psychology which may be breeding and offering sustenance to an overabundance of anxiety. Allow the remainder of this small essay to offer a rudimentary overview of some of the more typical sources of psychological anxiety.
Significant Life Changes
This form of anxiety is a reaction to some looming occurrence which has skated its way across your horizon, it may be adaptive and is completely natural. Many of us thrive upon constancy, as much as this tendency is at odds with the nature of the universe, inevitably we experience some anxiety while changing jobs, graduating, marrying, divorcing etc. While it is normal to exhibit some emotional reaction to such transitions be mindful to give extra care to yourself even during those joyous transitions. For any anxious feeling that continues to gnaw at your innards, give yourself some time to thoroughly examine all of your thoughts surrounding the (fill in blank) transition. This reflection affords the opportunity to hone in on any ways your emotional self may be beckoning you towards a closer look at something that your conscious awareness is not seeing completely.
The more that we attempt to repress our emotional experience the more that they tend to rupture forth in greatly unmanageable ways. Perhaps you are a product of early learning which valued emotional repression and lack of expressiveness. In some way you may have learned early or later in life that it is dangerous or taboo to talk about feelings or even notice that they exist for you, yet the vast and unstoppable torrent of the feeling state will not be escaped. This form of anxiety or panic urges the person towards understanding and experiencing of inner awareness and emotional expression.
The exactitude and finite nature of time is stated by some to be the source of all anxiety. What is it that you will you do with your precious earthly allowance? By becoming more aware of lapsing time, acknowledging that life proffers beauteous opportunity, love, and abundance still too, how will you cope with mounting defeats, losses, and unrealized potentials? Ones highest hope is to make father time ones friend, utilizing our human energies to compel feats which contribute to human progress. For you that may mean many things, to raise a family, build computer software, tend the forest, love deeply, the myriad meanings for the human riddle.
For some of us it is alarming to consider doing something that risks ones perceived control over ones surroundings. That could mean riding in an airplane, making interpersonal changes like developing new relationships, people are the ultimate unknown variables full of competing needs and possibilities. Will you be able to extend the risk of letting go of the known order to enjoy the potentials?
While this is in no way an exhaustive exploration of that powerful human indicator named anxiety it is something that may compel one to begin to relate to it in a slightly different manner. Perhaps it is time to consider its possibilities, its latent messages, it may one with greater respect for behoove one to not simply extinguish an anxious feeling with a pill or an exercise but to sit with it, even for just a moment, entering its heart palpating, dizzying sensation, in reverential respect for its utility and possibility as an psychic indicator. There is an understanding that in most cases, under the layers of any symptom are a fortunate beckoning towards the best version of yourself, the unrelinquishable layers of consciousness which insist that ideals will be felt and known.
In good health and energy,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Ave
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
*This article does not intend to diagnose, treat, or in any way address an anxiety disorder or supplant psychological or medical advice. This is intended for your consideration only.
by Stephanie McCrackenMarch 19, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, marriage counseling, sexuality, Uncategorized0 comments
As a psychotherapist who offers marriage counseling, affairs and their aftermath are sometimes ironed out amidst my office couch. Both parts of the couple struggle to make sense of the betrayal and its costs, they often seek a professional to find the answers to questions such as; should we stay together, should we separate, will our relationship ever be “normal,” (whatever version that may be for you), again. For both of the lovers there are painful truths to identify, the person who was cheating must come to terms with his or her guilt and the person who was victimized by the cheating may wonder if it is acceptable to forgive or if this somehow means that they are weak or foolish. While the answers to all of the many questions are highly complex, completely personal, and entirely up to you, if the affair has been ended and both lovers actively choose to stay there are abundant ways that you will both be able to enjoy the effects of an enhanced love bond! Here are some of the reasons why your love can rebound from an affair and be even closer and more intimate than before, provided that you both are willing and able to put in the time and work to make some big changes through the healing process.
- The affair itself is a symptom of a greater and deeper underlying problem. That problem could be anything from one of the partners acting upon impulses from narcissism, entitlement, and or sex addiction, or that there are some deficits in the relational component. For example, when the relationship is stuck in a pattern of withholding, and or criticism, when it is lacking in warmth, passion, communication and sometimes this causes one of the parties to conclude that she or he should look outside of the commitment to fill certain interpersonal needs. The affair must be understood as a symptom but also, if it addressed successfully, within every problem is an opportunity for the solution to be uncovered. Now you are free to explore the solution to the underlying issue.
- The time after the affair has been disclosed or discovered will be hallmarked by raw and real interaction, this kind of communication facilitates rebuilding. Obviously there will be a serious mourning phase caused by shattered trust and therefor many questions about who, what, when, where, and why. You both must be honest about what exactly is transpiring during this time. As the anguish ebbs allow the new to emerge. This honest and direct communication will feel refreshing as most often during an affair the communication had been stifled, the newfound open honesty will feel refreshing and serve as a great reminder to understand all of the ways that each partner was turning away from true intimate interaction previously.
- Your relationship will never be the same again and that very well could be a good thing considering the path to the affair is likely paved by anguish and deceit. Like a home that is being rebuilt there will be new walls and windows for the relationship, walls between the person who was conducting the affair and the man or woman who was facilitating the cheating, as well as shiny and new windows of transparency between the love partners. The windows should be framed in the light of honesty, openness, you may even want to place a chair nearby for reflective time, and renovations take time, work, and are not for the faint of heart!
To close and to be repetitive, the person who was having the affair must be completely honest and know that trust may not be given immediately or for a very long time to come. A message for the person who suffered the betrayal- recognize that you are healing within the cycle of grief. From anguish, anger, disbelief and all the way around you must place your long term intentions upon your healing and forgiveness for the cheating spouse. Keep your eyes on the prize however as if it is in your will, you both will eventually move beyond this troubling time and into a better relationship which will someday be capable of casting meaning upon this day when you are suffering the effect of the human misgivings of betrayal.
Sharing in happiness and love,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh
Pa 15233 Suite 100