Doing Life Together

hug-1315552_1920I’ve heard so many stories of hurt related to family cut off in my 25 years of being a family therapist. The person who cuts off is offended and angry.  And the cut off family usually desire contact and relationship.

Cut off is especially difficult around the holidays. Even though the cut off member is still alive, grief is felt and often triggered at holidays or special events. The person’s absence is more noticeable during times we celebrate with family.

There is a powerlessness associated with family members who cuts off. You can’t talk about issues, resolve problems or even begin a conversation when someone refuses to interact with you. There is no opportunity for reconciliation.

Some  reasons people cut off from family members is due to abuse, violence and active substance abuse. In those cases, the abusive person’s behavior is preventing a relationship. Until the abuser takes responsibility, gets help and makes changes, cut off is a safety response. This type of cut off is understandable. No one should put themselves in danger.

But other reasons have to do with value differences, mental illness, betrayal, and personality problems. These can create a divide so great that one party refuses to deal with the problem at hand or won’t acknowledge any responsibility for their part of the emotional distance.

When cut off is about differences of opinion or unresolved conflict, family members owe it to each other to try and work on the relationships. And while this process can be difficult, I have seen remarkable changes in families who pursue therapy or reconcile on their own.

Usually reconciliation begins with each party acknowledging their part of the divide. Then apologies are made and forgiveness is offered. Strategies to reconnect in healthier ways need to be discussed and agreed upon. Maybe some topics of conversation are off limits because they become too volatile. Or maybe there are areas you agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

Reconciliation does require an evaluation of your own behavior. Is being right worth losing a relationship? Is your pride standing in the way of saying you are sorry? Have you been critical? Do you constantly bring up the past, etc.? Perhaps new boundaries need to be established.

Whatever the hurt or wound, can it be repaired and the bond re-established? In my experience, reconciliation is possible when family members exercise forgiveness and begin to talk and work through their problems rather than avoid. Perhaps this Christmas season, family reconciliation is the gift to give.


to-do-list-749304_1280Do you have a To Do list? Does it make you anxious or feel guilty? Does it seem that you will never get it done?

If so, you are thinking about your To Do list in the wrong way. A To Do list should not be used as a way to measure your success or failure.

It shouldn’t be a club that you beat yourself up over because you didn’t finish the list. Yet, so many people make their lists and then  feel guilty that they don’t accomplish the list.
Instead, think of the list differently. A To Do list is a reminder list. The purpose is to lose the guilt–to use the list as a way to remember tasks and what needs to be done. Writing it down should take the item off your mind so that you don’t forget. This is supposed to lessen anxiety.

Then, take a red pen or marker and mark through those items on the list that you do manage to accomplish. Focus on what you have accomplished versus what is left on the list. A red lined item is a success!

Sometimes it helps to put a time frame on the items remaining on the list, but if you do this, you have to be realistic–can you accomplish those items during that time? Guilt often comes from unrealistic expectations and trying to accomplish too much in too short a time.

The idea behind a time frame is to set priorities. So another approach is to number the items in order of importance. Some people like to do the easy things first. This provides a sense of accomplishment and motivation to complete the list. For others, tackling the hardest part of the list first provides that feeling of “I can do this!”

Whichever approach works for you, how you think about the list will make or break your guilt. The To Do list is there to remind, not condemn you. It’s a time management tool, not a grade as to your worth or success in life. Change your mindset towards the To Do list and you will lose the guilt.

homework-1815899_1920Question: Our 7-year-old son isn’t persistent and struggles to finish things he begins. He easily gives up. My husband doesn’t think this is an issue, but I disagree and would like my husband to require him to stick to things more. My husband takes a hands-off approach. Can you help with this?

Persistence is a trait that most parents want to see developed in their children. We know from research that persistent children are less likely to be delinquent and more likely to be engaged in school. This is good and an advantage to give to our children.

We also know dads are key. A study in the Journal of Early Adolescence concludes that dads matter when it comes to developing persistence. Brigham Young University researchers studied children from two-parent families and found that a dad’s parenting style, more so than a mom’s, influenced persistence in children. Specifically, dads who used an authoritative parenting style influenced their kids in a positive way when it comes to persistence.

Authoritative parenting is characterized by a warm style of lovingly listening, but also providing rules and structure. Rules are explained and autonomy is encouraged. So there is a nice balance between loving and accountability. Every child needs a listening dad who sets structure and provides accountability in a way that is authoritative and loving. This approach, when it comes to supporting your children to stay in the game and reach the end goal, is an important role to play.

So yes, he needs to change from a passive style to an authoritative style of parenting that helps your son be more persistent and develop a stick-to-it-ness.


frustrated-1169941_1920Everyone has stress, but is there a point that tips the scales and moves us from stress to burnout? The answer is, YES, and you can probably look back and say, “I know when that happened.” Usually, it has to do with when your health begins to suffer.

We all need a little stress inoculation-short bouts of stress that help us increase our efficiency and better focus on tasks at hand. But too many stress bouts that  go on and on can lead to burnout and physical problems. Burnout involves physical and emotional exhaustion. It builds up over time, but when it hits, it is devastating and takes time to recover.

The tipping point is chronic stress. It will eventually deplete you. So take a look at how you have handled stress in the past. Do you have management strategies? Can you regulate the stress and move forward? More importantly, the way you think of stress matters. Think of it positively and you will do better.

It is the holding on and allowing stress to linger long term that creates problems. Much of this has to do with your thoughts. If you distort your thinking by staying negative and focusing on the potential effects of what can go wrong, you will hold on to stress. Instead, use stress to push you forward, then let it go.

If you feel exhausted, begin to hate your job, find yourself being cynical and disillusioned, start thinking burnout. You’ve probably hit the tipping point. Evaluate your situation. What can you change? Adjust your attitude and find someone to support you. Perhaps it is time to find an outlet for stress–a habit, passion, interest. The point is, do something to make changes!


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