Tag Archives: therapy

What is Hope, and How Is it Related to Well-Being?

When you think of people who have lost hope, you probably think about clients who struggle to get out of bed, stop caring for themselves, and may even give up the will to live. Actually, this can be a misrepresentation of hope. Most often in therapy, a lack of hope occurs when clients collide with the future and feel stuck and cannot become who and what they want to be. In essence, the stress, anxiety, trauma, and sadness about their collision with the future leave them hopeless, believing there is no or limited hope. Therapists must remember that hopelessness is not a permanent situation with no solution. For most people, losing hope is a temporary state of mind or being that occurs when things do not go as expected, and they feel stuck.

Cultivate Hope and Engagement in Your Life, from Positive Psychology – The Hope Series

Feeling Hopeless?

Many clients find themselves feeling hopeless. They could not envision themselves reaching their idealized vision of the future. Let’s take a look at the stories of several people participating in my research studies:

  • Sally is a single mother who works multiple jobs to make ends meet. She felt overwhelmed, wondered how her actions could make a difference, and eventually lost hope. The therapist helped Sally envision a future in which she combined the skills she gained in her jobs to develop a great resume and get a high-paying job that she loves.
  • Jason was having difficulties achieving his educational goals. He encountered many challenges and obstacles and started feeling like giving up. Because Jason felt like he could never get to where he wanted, he began to lose hope. The therapist helped Jason positively envision a successful future by setting goals to find a more meaningful major, taking control of his study habits, and finding a tutor.     
  • After spending years caring for her elderly parents, Lakesha found that she was profoundly tense, snapped at people around her, suffered from physical symptoms of chronic stress, and lacked sufficient methods of self-care. She felt helpless and hopeless to move forward. The therapist helped Lakesha explore possibilities leading to her ideal future and assisted her in developing a sense of optimism.
  • LeBron lost his life partner and felt depressed. A massive part of his self-identity was tied up in this relationship. He felt stuck, and he began to feel hopeless. The therapist helped LeBron activate hope by understanding the positive, motivating aspects of change and transitions. The therapist helped LeBron generate optimism, visualize the future LeBron, and remain flexible and open to the many possibilities and opportunities.

As you can see, people lose hope for all sorts of reasons. Feeling hopeless is a natural, universal response to personal and social events that impact life. While all people experience many ups and downs, some can recover more quickly than others. These people have hope.

What is Hope?

We have talked about hope, but what exactly is hope? Putting your finger on what constitutes hope is difficult because it is such an abstract concept. The dictionary defines hope as a feeling of positive expectation and the belief that something great will happen in the future. This definition, however, conjures up crossing your fingers and engaging in wishful thinking. Hope is much more. Being hopeful is about remaining positive, focused, and goal-oriented until achieving a desired future.

Why is hope so important? How does hope manifest itself in your life? Hope is powerful in many ways:

  • Hope is that feeling that keeps clients going and gives them something to live for.
  • Hope is critical when clients are dealing with chronic stress, life problems, and challenges.
  • Hope helps clients maintain resilience in the face of obstacles.
  • Hope helps propel clients toward goals, even when things seem stressful or uncertain.
  • Hope provides a positive vision of all of life’s possibilities, a plan to make this vision a reality, and the practical tools to look forward to a better future.
  • Hope helps clients remain committed to their goals and motivated to take action toward achieving them.
  • Hope gives clients a reason to continue fighting and believe that their current circumstances will improve despite the unpredictable nature of human existence.
  • Most importantly, hope reduces stress and builds resilience to cope.

When your clients feel hopeless, they need help learning to cultivate significant levels of hope to build resilience, move forward, and find a life filled with possibilities. While hope is undoubtedly a personal experience that can be challenging to define, hope’s value and optimistic impact on human life are widely recognized and difficult to ignore.

Written by John J. Liptak, Ed.D.


Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the 3-to-1 ratio that will change your life. New York, NY: Harmony.

Leutenberg, E.R.A., & Liptak, J.J. (2016). The journey to transcendence teen workbook. Bohemia, NY: Bureau for At-Risk Youth.

Rorty, R. (2022).  What can we hope for?: Essays on politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Snyder, C.R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. Los Angeles, CA: Free Press.

Worthington, E. (2005). Hope-focused marriage counseling: A guide to brief therapy. Westmont, IL: IVP Academic.

Managing Hope to Build Resilience and Overcome Stress

Hope-based resilience helps people overcome stress. Stress is the biggest obstacle that people experience. In a recent American Psychological Association* survey, the researchers found the following statistics about stress:

  • 80% of all people surveyed have experienced physical symptoms of stress.
  • 48% of people have suffered from sleep disorders due to prolonged exposure to stress.
  • 33% of the population considers their stress level to be extremely high.
  • 70% of employees experience stress at work so much that they are unhappy doing their jobs.

What is Hope Management Theory?

While most therapists work to help people manage stress and its ancillary emotions (i.e., anger, anxiety, sadness), Hope Management Theory suggests that hope is a natural way to build hope-based resilience and overcome the effects of stress. The following are some of the central beliefs of a Hope Management Theory approach: 

  • Hope is the most potent, positive, universal human emotion, characterized by intense feelings of motivation, optimism, and elevated mood about the future. Therefore, people need to manage the positive components of hope like they similarly manage the negative aspects of stress.
  • Feelings are more robust than thoughts and behaviors, thus they create thought patterns and direct behavioral routines.
  • Hope functions as a self-motivator, influencer, and inner driver to help people experience positive stress and flourish.
  • Hope is the best way to build natural hope-based resilience coping skills.
  • Hope not only builds resilience, but it also operates as a natural antidote to stress (and its subsequent problems, including trauma, anxiety, and sadness). 
  • As hope increases, resilience and positive stress increase, and negative stress decreases.

All people have stressful collisions with the future. The intensity of these collisions determines how much stress people experience. This negative stress harms emotional, psychological, and physical health and wellness. Rather than manage stress and its ancillary issues (anger, anxiety, sadness, etc.), people can take a positive approach by managing and enhancing their levels of hope to generate enough positive stress (eustress) to overcome the effects of negative stress (distress). Positive stress, or eustress, is beneficial stress that motivates people by providing a meaningful, positive challenge.

Discover and Create Meaning in Your Life workbook cover
Discover and Create Meaning in Your Life from Positive Psychology – The Hope Series

Application of The Hope Management Theory:

People can cultivate “hope on steroids” to generate positive stress, build a shield of resilience, and eventually eliminate negative stress:

  1. Activate Hope (Trigger the emotion of hope by understanding change and transitions, remaining optimistic, visualizing the future you, and being flexible and opening your mind to possibilities.)
  2. Make Hope a Habit (Engage in hopeful actions and build “Hope Habits” by creating a map of your vision, developing meaning and purpose for goals, and utilizing flow to maintain hope.)
  3. Maintain Hope (Make hope a lifestyle by maintaining positive stress over a lifetime, generating resilience in the face of obstacles, finding ways to integrate hope into your lifestyle, and sustaining self-care.)

Therapists can use the workbooks from Positive Psychology – The Hope Series written by Dr. Michelle Scallon and Dr. John Liptak, currently being published by Whole Person Associates, to ensure hope becomes a habit. The five workbooks are:

Discover and Create Meaning in Your Life

Generate a Sense of Accomplishment in Your Life

Maintain Positive, Healthy Relationships in Your Life

Regain Control in Your Life

Cultivate Hope and Engagement in your Life

In conclusion, hope is the most intense emotion people generate, and the feelings associated with hope must be triggered, managed, enhanced, and maintained. When people are able to develop it in all aspects of their lives, hope becomes an antidote to stress and a way to build a protective shield of resilience. 

Written by John J. Liptak, Ed.D.

*APA (2023). Stress in America 2023: A nation grappling with psychological impacts of collective trauma. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2023/11/psychological-impacts-collective-trauma

Animal Assisted Therapy – How Animals Help Humans Heal

Animal Assisted Therapy Works!

My dog at work

Those of us who own pets know they make us happy. But a growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can also make us healthy, or healthier. Animal assisted therapy is gaining more impetus every day.

That helps explain the increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.

What, exactly, is animal therapy? According to the Mayo Clinic,  “Animal assisted therapy is a broad term that includes animal assisted therapy and other animal assisted activities.” Animal assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:

  • Children having dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

And it’s not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Animals also can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviors in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking. (From Mayo Clinic Consumer Health Retrieved 2-10-2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342?pg=2.)

Take Viola, or Vi for short. The NPR website tells us her story  in an article entitled “Pet Therapy: How Animals And Humans Heal Each Other” by Julie Rovner: (Julie is now with Kaiser Health News.)

The retired guide dog is the resident canine at the Children’s Innhttp://www.aubreyhfine.com/faithful-companion/ on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Families stay there when their children are undergoing experimental therapies at NIH.

Vi, a chunky yellow Labrador retriever with a perpetually wagging tail, greets families as they come downstairs in the morning and as they return from treatment in the afternoon. She can even be “checked out” for a walk around the bucolic NIH grounds.

Thelma Balmaceda, age, 4, [loves to] pet Viola, the resident canine at the Children’s Inn on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Families stay at the inn when their children are undergoing experimental therapies at NIH.

“There really isn’t a day when she (Vi) doesn’t brighten the spirits of a kid at the Inn. And an adult. And a staff member,” says Meredith Daly, the inn’s spokeswoman.

But Vi may well be doing more than just bringing smiles to the faces of stressed-out parents and children. Dogs like Vi have helped launch an entirely new field of medical research over the past three decades.

Aubrey Fine, a clinical psychologist and professor at California State Polytechnic University says that use of animals in medicine dates back to Egyptian times where dogs and serpents were often symbols of powerful healers.  “One could even look at Florence Nightingale recognizing that animals provided a level of social support in the institutional care of the mentally ill,” says Fine, who has written several books on the human-animal bond, including his latest  “Our Faithful Companions: Exploring the Essence of Our Kinship with Animals.”

But it was only in the late 1970s at a conference in Dundee, Scotland researchers started to uncover the scientific underpinnings for that bond. In a study published in October of 1988 authors Vormbrock and Grossberg reported “Results revealed that (a) subjects’ BP levels were lowest during dog petting, higher while talking to the dog, and highest while talking to the experimenter and (b) subjects’ heart rates were lower while talking or touching the dog and higher while both touching and talking to the dog.”

Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, explains that interaction with animals can increase our level of oxytocin, the renowned “feel good” hormone.

“That is very beneficial for us,” Johnson said. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting. Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier.”

But Johnson says it may also have longer-term human health benefits. “Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier.” From an article by Laurel Johnson to downloaded on Feb. 9, 2016 from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/07/29/pets-as-therapy/.

Johnson is now working on a new project with likely benefits for dogs and humans. Military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are providing shelter dogs with basic obedience training.

And while it’s still early in the research, she says, one thing is pretty clear: “Helping the animals is helping the veterans to readjust to being at home.”

Animals act as therapists themselves or facilitate therapy — even when they’re not dogs or cats. For example, psychologist Fine, who works with troubled children, uses dogs in his practice — and also a cockatoo and even a bearded dragon named Tweedle.

“One of the things that we have always know is that the animals help a clinician go under the radar of a child’s consciousness, because the child is much more at ease and seems to be much more willing to reveal,” he says.

Horses have also become popular therapists for people with disabilities. “The beauty of the horse is that it can be therapeutic in so many different ways,” says Breeanna Bornhorst, executive director of the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program in Clifton, Va. “Some of our riders might benefit from the connection and the relationship-building with the horse and with their environment. Other riders maybe will benefit physically, from the movements, and build that core strength, and body awareness and muscle memory.”

Card Decks for Therapy Sessions

Using Card Decks in Therapy Sessions

Ester Leutenbergby Ester Leutenberg

Liven up your groups and teach by doing: use cards decks with open-ended questions. Integrating knowledge while playing a card game! WPA’s cards correspond with our teen or adult mental health books.

These unique cards can be used in a variety of ways with groups exploring one or all of the corresponding books’ topics or on their own. Specific cards can be used in conjunction with identified pages, groups of cards can be used to address the theme of a section in the book or all the cards can be used to explore the overall concept of the topic. Individual cards can be selected to begin a specific session or used as an activity during a predetermined intervention.  The group facilitator may wish to pre-select cards on a specific subject choosing those that are most appropriate for the members within that particular group session.  The facilitator can also encourage participants to select the topic of discussion and then select the appropriate cards.

Group Arrangement – Group members can be seated in a circle with group facilitator holding the cards or around a table with cards placed in the middle of table.  If group members have a difficult time with verbal communication offer options like writing answers on paper prior to sharing.  You can be creative in establishing a safe environment for sharing.

Number of Participants – Recommended group size is 4-14 to allow all members the opportunity to share and interact with each other.  If there is a larger group you may consider breaking into smaller groups for sharing.  Upon returning to the larger group ask each small group to share what they learned from their small group discussion.

Format of the Cards – The cards are written to address each of the sections of the corresponding book.  While some cards could be used to address a specific concept on a given page, the majority are written to initiate conversation around thMental Health and Life Skills Card Deckse concept of the section.  Numbers on the bottom right corner of the cards correspond to the corresponding section of the book.

Activity Suggestions – The use of the cards is limited only by the creativity of the group leader.  The unique quality of the corresponding cards is you may use a section of cards to discuss a specific topic or all of the cards to discuss the topic of each book  as a larger concept. The follow is the most traditional manner using cards for group facilitation.  Group interaction and personal disclosure can be enhanced by using cards to begin a group session, tackle a difficult subject in the core of group process or to create a thoughtful closure.

Prior to using the cards set the group framework. To maintain a safe atmosphere highly encourage participants to share but to not force them to respond.  Options may be to ask the participant if they would like to select another card or tell them you will give them more time to think and you will come back to them later.

  1. Introduce the subject of the group, (example: “Relationships”) and discuss the predetermined goals for the group session.
  2. Pass the deck of cards to your left or right and ask the group participant to select a card from the pile, read the card silently, and think about their answer.  Then ask participant to read the card out loud and share their answer with the group.
  3. Continue passing the deck, repeating the process until all members have had a chance to respond to a card.
  4. Some of the cards might lend themselves to being passed around with everyone responding or reading it out loud and asking for volunteers.
  5. It is often beneficial for the facilitator to be part of the group and also select a card.  It may be helpful if they select first to set the example and expectation that everyone can share or just be intermingled within the group sharing.

Process – The magic of card decks is that processing happens through the answering of the questions so a formal processing session after using the cards is often unnecessary.  However, if ensuring that the group intent is being communicated asking a few general questions to the group may be beneficial.

  1. What is one thing you learned about_____(the topic identified -example: Stress)
  2. What is one thing you learned from another group member about…(coping with Stress)?
  3. What is something you learned about yourself?
  4. What is a topic you would like to explore?
  5. What is a goal you could set for yourself that reflects something discussed in this session?


  • While the cards are most often used for group facilitation keep in mind they can also be extremely helpful in individual sessions when establishing a therapeutic relationship or initiating conversation.
  • The cards can be used as great journal questions or a Theme-for-the-Day.

Cards encourage thinking, getting in touch with feelings and communications.

Children can overcome abuse, deal with trauma

Victims of sexual assault struggle

In recent articles (http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com) I’ve covered how vulnerable children are lured into sex-trafficking due to their desperation. S/he’s:
· Likely running away from an abusive home, therefore homeless;
· Alone and frightened;
· Just a kid.
A seemingly protective man, and sometimes a woman, offers to protect them. What would you do?

Beyond predatory traffickers/pimps who are preying on vulnerable kids, there’s a sad reality that makes them more vulnerable to this nightmare: early and repetitive childhood sexual trauma.

Sexual abuse harms victims’ mental, emotional, spiritual and physical development. The following description is adapted from “Childhood and Adult Sexual Victimization” by Parson, Brett and Brett.

A victim of repetitive childhood sexual abuse undergoes damage to her still-developing personality. The abuse shatters her very spirit, which is much more difficult to heal than mental and physical damage.

“Mind, body, and spirit” implies that spirit is part of the total self. Rather, spirit permeates all. It represents her essence. It holds the fabric of the self together. Spirit:
· Provides her with a healthy self-centeredness: a sense of her unique self;
· Is the natural belief that her self is her priceless, personal possession, worthy of protection and respect;

Sexual assaults devastate his spirit and self-respect. His natural social tendencies are haunted by constant vulnerability, resulting in blameless availability for adult abuse. The child goes from being spirit-filled and alive to essence-defused and empty. The degraded self may be drained of most traces of feeling human.

Contributing immeasurably to the child’s helplessness is the blaming the child for the incest while the adult denies responsibility. The abuse is committed on someone who is least able to protect himself from immoral adult power.

After repetitive abuse the child’s changed view of self is the essence of his stress. He’s robbed of his free will, spontaneity, and autonomy. His patterns of perceiving, trusting, and acting are drastically altered based on many secrets too terrible to face. He’s forced into secrecy with threats of exposure, abandonment, fear of repeated sexual injuries, and further humiliation. He’s constantly wary around adults.

He’s forced to grow up fast, learning how to survive. To survive he navigates his dangerous terrain through hyper-vigilance to adult mood and behavioral cues of impending abuse. He maneuvers around them. He de-activates the mines before they explode through good behavior and an appeasing manner to avert adult depravity. Running away becomes a viable option.

His spirit dims; her laughter is extinguished. Their environment is a place where no joy, hope, and love are allowed to flourish. There’s only emotional and spiritual darkness, helplessness, and buried rage to be resurrected at a later time, and unleashed suddenly on unsuspecting targets, including the self.

They live in a persistent state of stress-induced burnout due to near-constant paranoid expectations of attacks. Being chronically revved-up is akin to living in an internal police state.

What’s profoundly remarkable is that these children find a way to survive. Their strength and ingenuity are integral parts of trauma therapy, which can help. To find trauma therapists in our area go to http://www.mhaswfl.org/.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at https://wholeperson.com/x-selfhelp/selfhelp.html#Anchor-Let-11481.

Understanding Self-Concept

Kicking Your Stress HabitsAnother part of your belief system is your self-concept. These are subjective ideas that are stuck in your head about yourself. Self-concept includes ideas about your limitations, abilities, appearance, emotional resources, your place in the world, potential, and even your worthiness. These alter your everyday choices and model the way you think. As an example, you may think you’re a lousy public speaker, but it turns out you’re really great. You, however, believe you’re no good at addressing a group, so you turn down an opportunity to speak at a conference even though it could do wonders for your career. You doubt your own ability so you opt out, and limit your potential.

Self-concept begins in childhood and is reinforced throughout your life based on your experiences. Perceptions about your own worth are very slow to change, even with a lot of positive reinforcement. When your self-concept isn’t in sync with reality you will feel distress. Others will have expectations and beliefs about you with which you are uncomfortable. You will constantly feel  as though you’re not prepared for situations like the conference. How stressed would you be if you had to give a speech anyway and you had no trust in your abilities?

  • Do you often feel as though you’re out of place?
  • Have you begun to realize some of your perceptions don’t match reality?

Stress: A Matter of Perception

Stress can be caused by events, which will produce different reactions in each of us. Events are not good or bad within themselves, but our needs and experiences add context to them. The personal lens that we see events through can make them stressful.

Every day you face events that you either see as threatening or non-threatening. Which one it is depends on the perception habits you’ve learned.  These are learned from a young age; you absorb them from people around you. If your parents fought about money, you’re likely to feel finances are stressful. There are many factors that change your perceptions growing up, like your peers, your geographic location, economic status, etc. If you judge an event as threatening, you’ll feel distress. Your unique perceptions change the amount of threat from an event; seeing a large dog may not threaten you at all, but may cause distress for your friend who was bitten by a dog. The amount of distress from an event will change, depending on the level of value you place on what’s being threatened. Maybe you don’t feel threatened by having to miss going out with friends for a work function. But if it were your best friend’s birthday you were missing for work, you would probably feel bad. Perception habits are hard to change, but being aware of them can help you reduce your distress.

  • What kind of perception habits do you have?

Kicking Your Stress Habits

Assess your emotions before a confrontation

Let Your Body WinYou swear you’re prepared to speak calmly and professionally to a coworker you believe is intentionally sabotaging you. But the second you open your mouth to say something, BAM! you’re practically yelling at him! The first moments of an encounter set the stage for the entire conversation and you know you’ve blown it. But how can you control your aggression?

Use advice from the great book, “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)

Defensive emotions once engaged are difficult to turn off. And the more defensive you are the more convinced you are that you’re right, giving more fuel to your emotions. If you’ve blown it you may want to apologize and arrange to talk later after you privately take responsibility for your emotions. Here’s how.

Last week I wrote about the book’s advice to identify the other person’s behavior and ask yourself why s/he is behaving that way. Your answer is what actually causes your emotions, not the other person’s behavior. It’s vital to understand this so you can move beyond your defensiveness.

For example, you and I are working on a project together. I discover that you’ve met privately with our boss. Plus, when we both attend meetings you “hog” the time, making it seem like you’re in charge of the project, which you’re not.

“Why” do I think you’re hogging the limelight and excluding me from meetings? My answer: “Because you want all of the credit.” Doesn’t this assumption fuel my anger and resentment?

But just because I believe this doesn’t make it true. If my “why” answer is defensive and judgmental, which it is, I need to identify your behaviors and the facts of the situation before speaking to you.
* Fact/behavior: you had two meetings with the boss that I wasn’t notified of so couldn’t attend. You didn’t inform me later either.
* Fact/behavior: when we presented our idea together you spoke for several minutes while I spoke far less.

Separating the facts and your behaviors from my assumption that you want all of the credit balances me emotionally. I feel more in the driver’s seat of my own life, which decreases my stress therefore my defensiveness. I can assertively speak to you by using this formula:
1. State the facts from my point of view;
2. My interpretation of their meaning;
3. How I feel about it;
4. Ask if I understand correctly.

E.g., “Tom, you didn’t inform me of the meetings you had privately with the boss. This makes me think excluding me was intentional. I felt resentment and was hurt by this. Was I purposefully excluded and if so, why?”

Substituting my assumptions (“hogging” and “wanting all the credit”) with the facts of the situation including your behavior plus using this formula to address my concerns can help balance me so I’m less likely to become instantly defensive.

Next week we’ll look at additional ideas to improve your ability to handle your “crucial conversations.”

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Anger may be an emotional castle built on sand

The Importance of Crucial Conversations
Jacquelyn Ferguson, MS

Do you avoid difficult workplace (or personal) conversations where you fear the outcome will be uncomfortable? If so, read “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (McGraw-Hill, 2002.)

According to these authors an organization’s effectiveness is strongly determined by its employees’ willingness to have crucial conversations. They found in the worst organizations poor performers are ignored then transferred. In good organizations supervisors eventually handle problem situations. In high performing organizations’ employees willingly and effectively speak to someone who fails to deliver on promises. Everyone is held accountable regardless of their level.

Difficult conversations usually trigger your stress cycle; therefore defensive behavior (my words not theirs,) bring out your worst behavior (their words). What’s your worst behavior? It’s not pretty, is it? You’d probably be as embarrassed as I to have people you respect see you behave that way.

To move beyond your automatic, defensive reactions and your worst behavior determine what – or whom – is actually causing your problem. Is it really that co-worker who aggravates you so, or might it your own interpretation of that person?

I’ve frequently written about how negative judgments of others trigger your worst behavior. These authors approach this formula differently, which may help you see that your own interpretations determine your emotional reactions and behavior.

Their advice is to ask yourself why the other person is behaving as he is. A simple example from a program I recently presented, “Collaborative Communication.” During our lunch break an attendee had to wait a long time at a Subway shop where there was only one employee working. He was doing his best and actually, according to my attendee, was doing quite well. He waited on four people at a time, taking each sandwich through the same steps together. All four customers had to wait for all four sandwiches to be made together.

Upon his return to our classroom, my attendee explained his own impatience was because the employee was disorganized (negative judgment). In my attendee’s mind, it was the employee’s disorganization that made the attendee impatient. Another attendee offered a different perspective. She suggested that the Subway employee probably didn’t want to take off and put on his plastic gloves repeatedly, so he made multiple sandwiches together. My attendee thought this seemed a likely explanation and said he probably wouldn’t have been impatient if he’d looked at it that way.

In other words, the label “disorganized” is what caused the attendee to become impatient, not the Subway employee’s system.

Who drives you the most nuts? Why is that person doing what he’s doing? Your explanation, your “why,” triggers your emotions therefore you reaction. The other person doesn’t make you feel as you do, therefore cannot be responsible for your reaction.

To have an important conversation that you’re now avoiding, prepare for it by asking yourself, “What’s your problem person’s behavior and why is he acting that way?” Next week I’ll address how to handle your negative why.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

To be happy consider strengths

Live, appreciate your strong suits
By Jacquelyn Ferguson, MSJacquelyn Ferguson

Dr. Martin Seligman, University of PA author of “Authentic Happiness” and a Positive Psychology pioneer, says happiness is strongly enhanced by three factors:
* Feeling better about your past;
* Thinking more optimistically about your future;
* Experiencing more contentment in the present.

To be happier in the moment Seligman advises you to avoid shortcuts to happiness: sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating hot fudge sundaes, having sex, or watching spectator sports. These pleasures give you upticks in happiness but fade quickly.

It’s much better to seek gratifications, which are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They involve thinking and require stretching your skills to improve.

Gratifications will bring you greater ongoing happiness when they are an expression of your signature strengths. (Take Seligman’s VIA Strengths Survey @ www.authentichappiness.org to discover your own.) All of these strengths are very positive. Living your life expressing your top five or so makes you much happier – so much so that you can stop focusing on fixing what’s supposedly wrong with you. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? These strengths include:

Wisdom and Knowledge: Courage:

Curiosity Valor
Love of learning Perseverance
Judgment Integrity
Social intelligence

Humanity and Love: Justice:

Kindness Citizenship
Loving Fairness

Temperance: Transcendence:

Self-control Appreciation of beauty
Prudence Gratitude
Humility Hope

For example, my top five strengths identified by taking his assessment two years ago and again recently, are:
* Integrity;
* Curiosity;
* Zest;
* Loving;
* Gratitude;

These strengths have strongly influenced my choices, thereby my happiness.

  • Integrity: Hopefully those who know me well would say that I have integrity. Just a small example is that lying is virtually impossible for me. I also deliver what I promise, etc.
  • Curiosity: I love my work and have great curiosity in all the workshop and speech topics I present (not to mention this column.) In fact, I won’t present topics that don’t interest me.
    * Zest: Researching areas that fascinate me gives me great zest or energy and passion for presenting information to others.
  • Loving: I’m fortunate to have a wonderful husband and great friends and family. Throughout my entire life I’ve had abundant loving relationships.
  • Gratitude: All of my life I’ve been a very grateful person, which is an effective buffer against depression, according to Seligman.
  • I truly have a great life; and not because of money or possessions nor quick pleasures – although I do love watching MN Vikings’ games. My happiness and contentment come from living what is to me an interesting life; one of my own choosing and designing, therefore authentic.

Identify your own signature strengths by taking Seligman’s assessment, then figure out how you already live these and consciously appreciate that. Seek even greater happiness by looking for additional ways to express your strengths. If authentic happiness is your goal, living your strengths is your strategy.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

How to become more optimistic about future

Can I learn to be Optimistic?
By Jacquelyn Ferguson MS

Would more money, a nicer house or better health make you more content? Are these the same things that satisfy happier people, too? If not, what can we learn from them to become happier ourselves?

The Positive Psychology movement finds that you’ll get the most bang for your happiness buck by changing how you:
* Feel about your past
* Think about your future
* Experience your present

So let’s look to your future.

Future-oriented positive emotions include:
* Optimism
* Faith
* Hope
* Trust

You must be fairly optimistic for these emotions to augment your happiness. Optimism is hope about your prospects. In these tough times it’s more difficult to remain hopeful, yet many do.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the University of PA pioneer of Positive Psychology, author of “Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness,” and world renown optimism/pessimism researcher, has shown through extensive research that optimists and pessimists interpret events very differently. Pessimists are more realistic but optimists are more resilient, healthier and may live longer, and are better at work and in sports.

Seligman has narrowed down becoming more optimistic to changing how you explain why good and bad things happen to you through two dimensions of your “Explanatory Style:”
* Permanence versus temporary: for how long do you give up?
* Pervasiveness – universal versus specific: how much of your life is affected by events?

Permanence vs. temporary: Pessimists see causes of bad events as permanent, such as not getting a job interviewed for – “I’m all washed up.”

Optimists use temporary terminology to explain “I wasn’t on for that interview.”

Whose stress lasts longer? Who’s going to give up more easily? Being washed up sounds very permanent.

Pessimists also use expansive and exaggerated words like “always” and “never” such as “I’ll never get a job.”

Optimists use “sometimes” and “lately” such as “I’ve had some bad interviews lately.”

Opposite terminology is used when something good happens.

Pessimists use temporary terminology to explain why something good happened – “I’m lucky to get this job.”

Optimist use permanent causes for good events – “I’m the best candidate for this job.”

The second dimension of your Explanatory Style is Pervasive: how much of your life is affected by an event?

For bad events pessimists explain with universal terms and may feel helpless in multiple areas of their lives, like not getting the job:
* “I’m such a loser.”

Optimists use specific explanations and limit any helplessness to the bad event – “I wasn’t feeling well that day.”
Who is more resilient for the next interview?

Pessimists use specific reasons to explain why something good happened – “I got the job because I’m good at math.”

Optimists use universal reasons – “I got the job because I’m smart.”

So, to become more optimistic and happier about your future explain bad events with temporary and specific causes and good events with permanent and universal ones.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.LetYourBodyWin.gif

Relabeling – Another Angle on Stress

Relabeling – A positive coping skill
From Kicking Your Stress Habits
By Donald A. Tubesing, PhD, MDiv.

You wake up. You’re in a good mood for a Monday. You get ready for work and head out the door. Three hours later, your head is on your desk and you want to go back to bed. What went wrong?  You may not realize you assigned an event a good or bad value until you find yourself stressed and wondering that very question. What did go wrong? Thinking back, you see that you started feeling stressed when a friend you work with walked by without saying hello. After that, you started feeling gloomy.

So, you’re feeling threatened because you fear that you’ve lost the respect of a friend. In this situation, you can try relabeling—looking at an event from another, more positive point of view. Rather than instantly jump to the conclusion she was ignoring you, think about other reasons she may not have noticed you. Maybe she was on the phone, or had a headache. When you’ve calmed down, you can asked her about it. Most likely, there was no actual threat, and relabeling can help you calm down enough to see that.

Relabeling is not always right. While you can relabel some situations, don’t relabel getting mugged as meeting someone new.  When you identify a threat, you will know it; use the adrenaline boost from the stress to get out of the situation, or fix it.

Kicking Your Stress Habits Cover

Negative Coping Skills

Negative Coping Skills
From Kicking Your Stress Habits
By Donald A. Tubesing, PhD, MDiv

How do you handle stress? The different ways we tackle stress are called coping skills. There are two kinds of these skills. Positive skills are ones that energize you, like exercising or laughing with a friend. The other set are negative skills that leave you feeling worse, like drinking or ignoring your stress.

Say you react to stress by turning a blind eye to it. You will end up drained from all the effort you’re putting into ignoring your stress. This only makes you feel worse, leaving you with even less energy. See the pattern? You have less energy and you still haven’t solved your problem. The drained feeling you get from stress can lead to illness—up to 90% are caused by stress alone! Can you imagine being sick 90% less? Consistent stress can cause peptic ulcers, chronic headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure, and even heart disease. Thinking about that alone is downright stressful!  On the other hand, if you choose a positive coping skill, you will regain energy rather than just spending it. Then you have more energy to put into things you enjoy, which will help you relax even more. This is also a pattern, but an infinitely better one.

  • What kind of coping skills do you have?
  • Are they positive or negative?
  • Have they changed over the years?

~For more information on this subject, click here.

Kicking Your Stress Habits Cover

Emotional Masks Exercise

Emotion Masks
by Amy Nuelk
An activity for sharing feelings when a child loses a loved one
From Children and Stress by Marty Loy

Emotions and feelings are an integral part of everyday life. When children lose a loved one, they may feel very sad or even angry about the situation. This activity is designed to allow children to recall memories they have about a recently deceased loved one through
story telling and discussion with others who are experiencing a similar situation.

After participating in Emotion Masks, children will be able to:
• Openly discuss memories they have about a lost loved one .
• Effectively relieve stress children may be feeling as a result of the death of a loved one.
• Recognize that others in similar situations may be experiencing the same emotions.

TIME 30–45 minutes

Old magazines, scissors, glue, paper plates (3 per child), Popsicle sticks.
The children are asked to recall three different emotions. Have them look through
magazines and cut out pictures that illustrate each of the three emotions. Each picture is
glued to one of the three paper plates, which will become emotion masks. The children
are invited to share a personal story or experience they had with the deceased loved one
that involves each of the three emotions.
1. Each child receives three paper plates and three Popsicle sticks
2. The children look through magazines and find a picture that portrays each of three
distinct emotions (For example: anger, sadness, joy, etc.)
3. Glue each picture to a paper plate and glue a Popsicle stick to the back of each plate
4. The children are invited to share each of their emotion masks and discuss why each
emotion was chosen. They can also describe an experience they had with the deceased
loved one that included that emotion (For example: “I was always really happy when
Grandma and I used to bake chocolate chip cookies together.”)
5. Allow time for participants to engage in discussion with others.

• What did you learn by participating in this activity?
• Describe how you feel today about the memories you shared with your loved one.
• Who, if anybody, do you talk to during times when you are experiencing
emotions related to losing your loved one?
• Discuss how you could help a friend cope with losing a loved one.

If you’re interested in more exercises from the book Children & Stress by author Marty Loy, PHD, click here.

Children and Stress

Depression more common now

Effort-driven rewards are more meaningful than short-term pleasures
By Jacquelyn Ferguson, MS

Isn’t it odd that depression in America increased along with our affluence? Shouldn’t it work the other way around? Is there something in our relatively prosperous lifestyle that’s an actual cause of depression?

The pioneer of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, described two studies conducted in the 1970s in which people of different generations reported on their lifetime episodes of depression.

One might assume that the older generation would have more incidents of depression because of experiencing far more hardships from the Great Depression and two world wars, not to mention having lived longer.

But the opposite was true. Younger people were much more likely to have experienced depression. In fact, one study found that those born in the middle third of the 20th century were ten times more likely to suffer from major depression than those born in the first third of the century.

Here are two reasons that may help explain.

Lifestyle differences: older generations were far more physically active than younger ones. Think about some differences:

  •  Today it’s throw-away diapers; yesterday it was cloth diapers that were soaked and washed;
  •  Today you buy microwavable, ready-to-eat meals; yesterday, they grew, hunted, and prepared their own food;
  •  Etc.

Why might modern life along with its hi-tech gizmos, cars and microwaves be part of the soaring rate of depression? What might we have lost when we went from labor-intensive lifestyles to our sedentary ones?

“Our brains are programmed to derive deep satisfaction and pleasure when our physical effort produces something tangible,” says neuroscientist and psychologist Kelly Lambert, writing in Scientific American Mind (and author of “Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist’s Hands-on Approach to Activating Your Brain’s Healing Power, 2008.) She calls our ancestors’ hard work “effort-driven rewards.” They had greater appreciation of their efforts producing their necessities, which very importantly gave them a greater perception of control, more positive emotions and maybe protection against depression.

Other social scientists have suggested a contributor to the greater affluence/higher depression formula has to do with modern humans taking short-cuts to happiness. With increased disposable income and leisure time we bought more things (note the past tense) that brought us pleasure. But pleasures are short term enjoyments. They are sensory experiences accompanied by strong emotions (ecstasy, orgasm, thrills, delight,) like eating your favorite foods, sex or watching spectator sports. Investing more energy into pleasures gives you frequent upticks in happiness, but they fade quickly.

It turns out that we’re happier and less depressed when we seek gratifications. These are activities you do for the sake of doing them. They:

  • Involve thinking;
  • Are an expression of your strengths;
  • Stretch your skills to improve;
  • Are often considered “flow” activities;
  • Gratifications also lead to an increase in important, positive emotion boosting neurochemical releases which improves mood.

Consider fighting the blues and depression by seeking fewer short-term pleasures and more meaningful gratifications. Next week I’ll address identifying your strengths that are at the core of these gratifications.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book by clicking here. 

Let Your Body Win

What is Stress?

What is Stress
From Kicking Your Stress Habits
By Donald A. Tubesing, PhD. MDiv.

When you think of stress, what comes to mind? A deadline, some bad news, a hectic schedule? What about a party, a promotion or a holiday with family? These events are stressors that create the physical and mental feelings we all know too well — the anxious grinding in the pit of your stomach, the headaches, the moments of panic. Stress is more than a negative force. In fact, good stress can be a boost to help you overcome challengers and meet goals. Positive stress, called eustress, can add some excitement to your day and help you focus.

While life would be pretty dull without any stress, too much bad stress is destructive. This is distress — what you’re feeling when you’re stretched too thin or something traumatic happens. Both good and bad stresses are part of daily life. As Donald Tubesing puts it in his book, Kicking Your Stress Habits, we are all like violin strings; each of us needs a little tension to make music, but not so much that we snap. Each of us has to find a balance to be happy and healthy. What kind of stress adds zest to your life? What bogs you down? And how do you know when it’s too much? These are questions you can find out for yourself with just a little thought and time.

Kicking Your Stress Habits Cover

Fun Five-Minute Stress Breaks

Stress Breaks – Quick and Fun
By Leigh Anne Jasheway

Have you ever eaten a frozen dinner without thawing it out first?  The last time you had your blood pressure measured, did the cuff explode?  Are there teethmarks in your steering wheel?  Is Tums® your favorite pizza topping?  Then you just might be over-stressed!

Chances are if you’re a woman and you’re still alive, you’ve got more stress in your life than you need.  But you probably don’t have a lot of time to manage it either.  If you’ve ever fast-forwarded through a relaxation CD, you know what I mean.  What you need are quick, easy, and FUN stress breaks you can squeeze in between your family, your job, your social commitments, and that nice long coma you’ve scheduled instead of a vacation.

Try some of these:

1.      Stop on the way home from work and read funny greeting cards.  There are so many different types of humor in greeting cards, you’re bound to get a quick laugh – and laughter is one of the best ways to release your stress and move on.

2.      Give the family pet a rubdown from ears to tail.  Studies show that not only will your blood pressure and heart rate slow down, so will your pet’s!

3.      Keep a gel-pack in the freezer and when the tension of the day shows up in your neck, tell it to chill out!

4.      Prune an unruly plant.  If you can’t control your boss or your kids, at least you can get a plant to behave!

5.      Burn a candle in a scent that soothes, like vanilla or chocolate chip.  If burning a candle isn’t advisable (if you’re in the car, for example, and might start a fire on your dashboard), spritz a room freshener in the same scent.

6.      Get a coloring book and color outside the lines.  And always ask for your own crayons at restaurants that offer them to the kids.

7.      Take a walk around the block and see how many things make you laugh.

8.      Clean out one drawer in your house.  You’ll get a sense of accomplishment and no matter what else went wrong today, you can at least feel slightly more organized!

9.      Write a love letter to one of your kids to stick in his or her lunch.  Turning your mind to the delightful things about your family instead of the crazy-making things can help you feel less overwhelmed.

10.  Grab a jar of Play-Doh or some modeling clay and squish it through your fingers.  Imagine you’re squeezing the stress right out of your day.  It works for young children!

11.  Start a “Best Things” journal.  Every day, write down the best thing that happened to you all day.  It doesn’t matter how big or small; the idea is to focus on the positive and let go of some of your negative energy.

12.  Use a lip balm or stick scented with relaxing essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, and green tea.  Or one that just makes you smile – try chocolate or bubble gum (you can find some at Chocolate-sensations.com or Adorebeauty.com)

13.  Close your eyes and visualize yourself in a moment when you laughed so hard you couldn’t stop, like that time you walked down the hall with the toilet seat cover tucked in your pantyhose.  You’ll probably get a good laugh again just thinking about the moment.

14.  Teach your kids your favorite childhood game.  It’s hard to stay focused on the problems of the day when you’re playing Red Rover or Twister™.

15.  Sing in the shower.  Singing is a great way to release tension and letting the water wash away your cares at the same time doubles the stress-managing impact.  Besides with the water running your kids won’t be able to complain about your version of Girls Just Want to Have Fun!

16.  On your next break at work, swap neck and shoulder massages with a co-worker.  If you work at home, do it with a neighbor or one of the kids.

17.  Talk in a softer voice.  Don’t whisper because that will actually strain your vocal chords.  But if you talk softly (no big stick needed), studies have found that you’ll actually feel calmer and less anxious.  That’s one of the reasons we feel more peaceful when talking to a baby or a puppy – our tone of voice affects our heart rate and sense of well-being.

18.  Keep a book of funny stories or jokes nearby so when the stress hits the fan, you can laugh it off.  You might want to check out a book by Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck, Bill Cosby, or moi, or a book of cartoons such as The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbs, Stone Soup, etc. from the library to get started.Don't Get Mad Get Funny cover

19.  Repot a plant.  There’s something grounding about putting your fingers in dirt.  Ask your dog.

20.  Write your five, ten, or fifty biggest worries on giant marshmallows and invite your friends to have a “snowball” fight.

21.  Make it a family tradition to have each member of the family tell you a funny joke at dinner every night.  Not only will everyone get a chance to lighten up, but by encouraging your kids’ senses of humor, you’ll be helping them develop good stress management skills for the future.

22.  Hula hoop or jump rope.  You’ll get a quick burst of exercise – which will help produce endorphins and make you feel better all over – and you’ll get in touch with your inner child too.  You remember her, right?

23.  Put today’s biggest stressor on a sheet of paper in big red letters.  Then run the page through your shredder.  As it gets ripped apart, imagine the stressor itself disappearing.

24.  Update the photos you keep on your desk or on the fireplace mantel.  Searching for just the right photos will bring back happy memories and the break will help slow down the hectic pace of your day.

25.  Have some milk and cookies.  If you can squeeze in another ten minute, have a nap too.

26.  Get the whole family to play the board game, Don’t Make Me Laugh (available at Areyougame.com).  I dare you not to forget your troubles while you play.

27.  Go barefoot.  Feeling the grass between your toes or even the fuzzy carpet tickling your arches will help take your mind off your troubles for a few minutes.

28.  Have your teenager teach you the latest dance craze.  Try to be a good student and not break up laughing halfway through the lesson.

29.  Start a list of good excuses for saying “No” the next time you really want to.  “I’m sorry, I’m having the ficus tree neutered.” “The voices in the head have been grounded.”  “I’m trying to be LESS popular.”

30.  Soak your feet in Mr. Bubble.

Trying to fit stress management into your day doesn’t have to stress you out.  If you try some of these tips, you’ll be calmer and better able to cope with your life.

© 2007 Leigh Anne Jasheway. Used by permission. Go to her site here. 

For more from author Leigh Anne Jasheway, click here.

 Are you Playing With Me  DontGetMadGetFunny

You can control your instinct to be controlling

Control Freak?
By Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S.

Are you a control freak? If so, what do you think drives your behavior?
* Fear of loss of control so you compensate by exerting excessive control? Like micromanaging employees (next week’s topic).
* See your spouse and kids as a reflection on you so you demand perfection from them by telling them how to act and look?
* Or you’re convinced that you’re the best person to be in charge because you know the most (which can include the first two, also)?

You may be quick to let others know how to better handle their emotions or their life in general. You find fault in others and you’re convinced their lives would improve if they’d just take your well-informed advice. After all, you wouldn’t give advice about things you’re uninformed about now would you?

Can you tell when someone doesn’t appreciate your superior knowledge and competence? Do you dish out your advice anyway? Can you just not help yourself?

To add insult to injury you’re probably frustratingly right so often! Darn!

Instead of attempting to completely stop advising others you might have greater success by mitigating your usual approach. Rather than blurting out your counsel, preface it by saying, “I have some information that can help you, if you’re interested.” This gives the other person the control to say yes or no.

You could also light-heartedly admit to those who are typically on the receiving end of your unsolicited guidance that you know you have this tendency and your intent is truly to help. Develop an agreed upon word or better yet a nonverbal signal that the other person gives you that says “stop,” to which you agree to stop immediately.

Here are some other ways you can temper your controlling tendency:
* Consider: if someone were to give you unsolicited and excessive advice how would you react? Defensively? If so, what makes you think others enjoy yours? Try saying nothing for a couple of weeks and notice if some don’t come to you asking for your opinion! They want to be in control, too.
* Before criticizing or giving advice deep breathe a couple of times while asking yourself, “Is my advice important enough to risk any potential relationship fall-out?”
* Identify your area of expertise and who would benefit from it. Perhaps a volunteer program needs your know-how. Share your knowledge with them.

If you’re on the receiving end of a control freak you can also diminish the negative impact. Instead of reacting with automatic hostility and resistance channel your control freak’s energy. If he sticks his nose into something you’re working on invite him to help with part of it. Or head him off at the pass. Invite his input before he offers it. At least it gives you some control.

Whatever the control freak’s motivation, consider giving her a break. She can’t bother you if you don’t allow her to. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Nor can a control freak stress you without your consent.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.

Let Your Body Win

Let go of need to control and you’ll let go of stress

Let Go of the Need to Control
By Jacquelyn Ferguson

Believing you have insufficient control is one definition of stress, like the office worker whose knuckle cracking colleague drives her nuts or the parent who becomes angry over the children’s messy rooms.

The employee blames her colleague for keeping her from concentrating thereby assumes he’s causing her stress. The paradox is that the bulk of her stress is her fixation on wanting him to stop his irritating habit.

We all tend to want to control those who bother us. But that’s our stress. Get it? Instead, for example, the parents must stop wasting their time wishing their kids were tidier and change their approach. They could impose logical consequences if their rooms remain messy, which is within the parents’ control.

Given this, then, control freaks must live highly stressful lives! They often attempt to control people and situations that are inherently beyond their control, thus the paradox.

But we’re all control freaks one degree to another. Like passive people who loathe taking the initiative and exercise their control by associating with those who are more than happy to take charge.

Who’s your control freak? Someone who tells you how to live your life or spend your money? These unwanted authorities can be irritating to those on the receiving end if not downright intimidating.

Could these control freaks be acting out their own fear of the unknown, as Pasadena psychologist Ryan Howes contends? Their unsolicited advice is an attempt to combat their feelings of powerlessness like not being able to prevent an accident if the driver does something wrong. Psychologist Steven Reiss of Ohio State University says, “The backseat driver is an individual who has a strong need to feel influence, and they’re always looking for ways to express that need.”

Where does this need for control come from? “If you grew up in an environment that was kind of chaotic, it’s almost a defensive sort of reaction,” says Jerry Burger, Santa Clara University social psychologist. “We’ve seen this in homes where a parent has an alcohol problem, for example – those children develop a need for control themselves.”

Other control freaks can trace their tendency to a specific, traumatizing life event, like mine: eye surgery at the tender age of 2 ½ after which I was tied to the crib 24 hours a day minus the 15 minutes of relief when my parents were allowed to visit. At some level of awareness I made an unconscious decision to never be out of control again!

Decades ago I worked very hard to diminish my need to control others. What helped was accepting and acknowledging what’s within my control and what’s beyond. Everything about everybody – their personalities, tendencies, habits – are beyond my control. If I want a different outcome with someone I must change my approach. For example, I could assertively ask the person to change. Or I could tolerate what they’re doing. But if my goal in changing me is to get them to change I’m still barking up a stressful tree; more on this next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple.

Are You A Life-O-Sucter?

by Leigh Anne Jasheway

Life-O-Sucter, it’s a new word for an old problem: someone who sucks the life out of everyone he or she comes in contact with every day. Unfortunately, just as  vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror, most Life-O-Sucters (abbreviated LLS) can’t see their own bad habits. Take this simple quiz to see if you’ve developed any of the symptoms and to learn what you can do to avoid turning into full-fledged LLS.

1.         If a friend tells you how bad her day has been, what is your usual reaction:
a.         You listen to her without judgment.
b.         You offer her a shoulder to cry on.
c.         You tell her how much worse your day was – in vivid gory detail.

If you answered “c,” you might be a Life-O-Sucter. LLS like all attention to be on them all the time, even in one-on-one interactions. It’s like they’re playing a game called “My Life Is Worse Than Yours!”  If someone has a bad day at work, the LLS has had a bad month or year at work; if someone has a fender bender on the way to the store, the LLS has a brush with death on the freeway. There’s no sob story a LLS can’t top.

If you find the words “You think that’s bad? Listen to this,” frequently fly from your mouth, you might as well get yourself a cape and fangs. Or you could change your behavior by making a list of alternative phrases to use in these situations. Phrases such as:
I’m so sorry this happened to you.
No wonder you’re (exhausted, frustrated, angry, etc.)
Is there anything I can do to help?

It won’t be easy to stop yourself from jumping in with all the horrible things that have ever happened to you, but if you keep using the list, you’ll find this monstrous habit will soon be defeated.

2.         Which of the following words apply to you:
a.         Drama Queen
b.         Hypochondriac
c.         High-maintenance
d.         None of the above

If you answered “a,” “b,” or “c,” you may be a Life-O-Sucter. Drama Queens, hypochondriacs, and high-maintenance people are all overly-involved in their own lives and can’t usually find the time to be a positive force for others. And if their lives aren’t dramatic enough, they create drama – for example, thinking every bump and bruise is cancer or every friend who’s late to lunch has either been killed on the way there or has dumped them.

One of the best ways to stop creating drama where there is none is to help someone else whose life really is rife with stress and drama. Volunteering with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, visiting kids with cancer in the hospital, or helping an illiterate adult learn to read will help convince you that your life is pretty good. And by helping others out, you put positive energy into the universe instead of negative.

3.       Compared to five years ago, do you have:
a.       More good friends.
b.      About the same number of good friends.
c.       Fewer good friends.

If you answered “C”, you may be a LLS. Eventually Life-O-Sucters lose their friends. Who really wants to stay in a friendship with someone who always one-ups you, never lets you have any attention, and whines more than a puppy left home alone for the first time?  Being friends with a Life-O-Sucter is like being friends with a leach – it’s exhausting, draining, and sooner or later you can’t wait to shake them off!

The best way to reach out to friends who’ve gotten fed up and moved on is to apologize and tell them you want to change your ways. Admit that you haven’t been the easiest person to have as a friend and ask for help to do a better job. Chances they’ll have plenty of advice; all you have to do is be humble enough to listen. To show you’re serious, bring a pencil and paper and take notes!
4.         When chatting with someone on the phone, do you usually:
a.         Hang up as soon as you’re done with what you have to say.
b.         Wait until the other person is finished talking before hanging up.
c.         Hang up at a mutually-agreed upon point in the conversation.

If you answered “a,” you may be a Life-O-Sucter. LLS think that when they’ve finished saying what they have to say, the conversation is over. If you’re always the first to hang up and people have actually asked you why you always slam the phone down in the middle of their sentences, ring-ring, it’s the Life-O-Sucter clue phone!

A visual reminder may be needed to change this bad habit. Print out the question, “What else is new with you” on a sheet of labels and apply one to each phone in the house (and your cell phone too, if there’s room!)  Tell yourself you’re not allowed to hang up on anyone without having asked the question at least once.

5.         When it comes to face-to-face interactions, phone conversations, or Instant Messaging, do you:
a.         Let other people do most of the talking.
b.         Hold up your half.
c.         Monopolize most of the time.

If you answered “c,” you may be a LLS. If the people around you are always starting thoughts, but never completing them, you either hang around with very forgetful people, or they never get a chance to finish what they start because you constantly interrupt them. Life-O-Sucters believe that whatever’s running through their head is more important than anything anyone else has to say.

The best way to stop this bad habit is to let your friends and relatives know you realize you have a problem and ask them to let you know when you’re interrupting them by using a unique code phrase like “Fuzzy bunny slippers” or “Brad Pitt.”  Anything that will get your attention and stop you mid-thought will work. And if you choose a fun phrase, it will help you keep a lighter perspective while you change.

6.         Do you usually see the glass:
a.         Half full.
b.         Half empty.
c.         Completely empty, dirty, and you have to wash it.

Again, “c” is the Life-O-Sucting answer. Choosing the most negative perspective on life (and it IS a choice) is one of the classic symptoms of being a Life-O-Sucter. If you’re always negative, the only way your relationships work is that other people are putting positive energy out there to feed you. Eventually, they just get exhausted.

Some people keep a gratitude journal to remind themselves of the good things in their lives. I recommend keeping a “Gratitude List” on your refrigerator, right next to the grocery list. Every time you think of something good in your life, jot it down on the fridge where you will see it every time you’re in the kitchen. Regular reminders that your life is good overall can help you overcome the negativity fiend.

7.         Look closely at your face in the mirror. Which do you have more of:
a.         Frown lines
b.         Laugh lines

If you answered “a,” you may be a LLS. Over the years, Life-O-Sucters tend to develop something I call Irritable Scowl Syndrome. You’ve seen it on people’s faces, maybe even your own. It’s that permanent look of annoyance and irritability right between the eyebrows. It’s no wonder Botox is so popular!

Changing this LLS symptom is relatively easy because you can fake a smile and it will boost your mood, no matter how you really feel.  Since it’s really hard to smile and frown at the same time, you get at two-for one bonus. And, not only will you feel better, but those around you will feel more positive when you’re around. Not bad for a Life-O-Sucter!

If you’ve noticed lately that people run screaming from the room when you come in or light torches and try to run you out of town, try a few of these tips. Because nobody vants to be a Life-O-Sucter!

Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant, M.P.H. has been helping people learn to use their funny bones, their smile muscles, and their optimism to have a better life for fourteen years. She is a nationally-recognized keynote speaker, author of fifteen books, and winner of the 2003 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Award. Visit her website at www.accidentalcomic.com.

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