By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
Any seeds of a plan I had to write about this month’s word, “Dream” never fully reached a concrete idea. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could come up with something appropriate at all. Like most people right now, my mind has been occupied, working to process all the information on COVID-19, generally, and secondarily, how it has been shaping our day to day lives and experiences.
In discussions and processing with friends, family, co-workers, and also clients, I realized I have much the same feeling as I did during and following 9-11. It feels like an eerie dream, where many things are just like “normal” and yet so many things are not. Opinions may differ, but each of us is being affected in some way, whether directly or indirectly. Even if you may are not personally stockpiling, your run to the store for everyday items might leave you wanting. If you are more concerned about the spread, your interactions with those who are not might leave you angry or frustrated.
There are valid concerns on multiple levels even if for different reasons, and we are all unsure of what is next and what makes sense to focus on right now. We counselors are aware of our role (we are not medical doctors, lawyers, or disease experts) while we also acknowledge the trustworthiness we develop in our therapeutic relationships. Though we may not be able to provide answers, we are available to help our clients navigate through the changing landscape. Remember, emotional health and well-being are significant pieces to overall health.
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
In a retro move, harking back to my 6th grade Toastmasters days, I will begin with a dictionary definition of our word today: succeed. Succeed means to achieve the desired aim or result. A “success” is a person who achieves the desired aim or result.
Unfortunately, many of us are guided by vague metrics of success framed by everyone but ourselves. Yet, despite the dubious input placed upon us, our self-esteem often hinges on those definitions. Consider the circular nature of this thought process: “To be worthy of esteem I must be successful. Yet I don’t deserve success because I am not worthy.” We are now in a Catch-22.
Luckily there are ways out of this trap. I often utilize a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tool of Defining Terms to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns. Defining Terms aims to remove the vagueness from the automatic thoughts to provide a way forward rather than just around and around again. Thus, asking yourself how you specifically define what success means to you. Admittedly, discovering that personalized definition is also a journey. It can be a difficult one to navigate.
To end much the way I began, I would like to share a quote from one of my colleagues, Robin Switzer, Ed.D., LPC, NCC: “This might not give me answers but it gives me more questions to ask”.
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
For myself, and I think many others, the holiday season and ringing in the new year often turn into great points for reflection. This time of year contains “the best” and “the worst”, leading to an “it’s complicated” overall vibe. With that in mind, I decided to write about “kindness”. I observe that as we all reflect on increasing our kindness, we may also find ourselves tinged with resentments, worries, and many other “not kind” feelings.
Do you find yourself giving kindly but not seeing kindness in return? Do you perhaps feel like others “take my kindness for weakness”? Do you feel taken advantage of or the nice person that always finishes last? If so, then I propose gifting yourself the intention toward improved boundary setting. Setting good boundaries can influence every area of your life. It can be, itself, a resolution, or something that supports all your others.
Consider you would like to set an intention to exercise more. What gets in the way? Time, money, work? Boundaries can help you defeat those barriers. Sound easier said than done? You are absolutely right! My clients are well aware I never pretend doing this work will merely be following a step by step guide. In fact, this WILL be difficult, feelings will come up (especially the ones we don’t like feeling), and pushback IS likely – at first. However, if you can overcome those icky, difficult things, you will find yourself being more in control of your life.
Setting boundaries around kindness, like setting boundaries around most anything, breaks into two contributors. First, the “you” part. Second, the “them” part. I ask you to consider how focusing on “them” changing has worked for you so far. I’m guessing it hasn’t. So, I ask you to consider the “you” part. That’s the part we have control over and can most influence.
If you are feeling up in arms right now, I understand. You may have heard plenty before that you ‘should’, “get over it,” or realize, “that’s just how they are”, or stop “making it a big deal”. That’s not what I propose at all. In fact, the first part of examining your end is to provide validation to yourself for what you feel. It makes sense to feel frustrated if you give a gift and aren’t thanked for it. It makes sense to feel sad that no one remembered your anniversary. It makes sense to be bummed if a friend can’t hang out when you wanted. Those are all valid feelings for such situations. Maybe other people don’t get those same feelings for those same situations, but everyone is different. You aren’t “feeling it wrong”. Neither are they. Your feelings are valid.
After acknowledging and validating your feelings investigate what role you might be playing in the situation. Kindness is tricky. Try to consider what you, personally, find kindness to be. Is it really being “nice” no matter what? Is it giving of yourself to someone only if they ‘deserve’ it? Is it an action or just a way of being? You may realize kindness is not giving just to get, nor is it giving in to what others want/demand from us. Especially during the holidays, we might need to adjust our thoughts away from kindness being what we deem “fair”. Do we really need to spend the exact same amount on every family member to be kind? Do we need to give and give in order to be consider kind people?
Perhaps you can give yourself permission to no longer send a card or a gift to someone who never thanks you. Perhaps you can change your thinking and decide the feeling of giving is enough for you even without a thanks. Perhaps you demonstrate kindness to yourself and remove yourself from obligations you and others don’t actually enjoy. Consider how looking at your rules around kindness either help or hurt you. They are YOUR rules so maybe changing them to feel better is worth the discomfort of making adjustments?
What feelings arise for you when considering setting boundaries? Do you have any tips for others on changing the kindness mindset? I would love to hear your thoughts!
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
I am often inspired personally and professionally when I have the honor of partnering with clients on their journeys. Many clients utilize tools available outside their therapy sessions and bring that insight into their work with me. I feel reinvigorated by such insights. They surprise, challenge, or reinforce ideas in a new way.
Many times, people ask me whether or not they are “the only one” who thinks, feels, or acts a certain way. While people’s experiences are unique and particular to them, there are common themes of struggle. One of those common themes relates to “health”.
As mental health professionals, we seek to guide clients on their journeys toward their self-determined goals. Again, there may be common themes, but clients decide on and ultimately own what defines their personal mental ‘health’.
Like many people, I often feel torn between the all or nothing of health. I truly believe in being body positive and finding happiness in all our forms. I fight those inner voices that try to tell me I have to look and act like this or that. My brain often balks at expectations, evoking my contrarian nature. This is useful in noticing and leaving toxic environments. It has also allowed me to engage in perspective taking with others. It has helped me fight the stereotypes which are damaging to my self-esteem.
I can easily empathize with clients struggling with that pendulum experience. Through conversations with clients, I realize that like many others struggling with the ideas of “being healthy” I have set myself up for failure. By telling myself that “healthy” was my goal rather than an outcome of setting and reaching actionable goals, I was never going to get anywhere.
Unfortunately, most of us have practiced the negative automatic thoughts that contribute to us never actually “feeling” we are “healthy”. If we don’t clearly define the goals that dictate a positive feedback loop then it is always looming, undefined and unreachable.
A re-arrangement occurred to me on my way to the office. The more helpful statements would be “I want to feel healthy. This is defined to me by lower cholesterol, an increase in muscle tone, and life activity endurance (aka go up a few flights of stairs and still be breathing). I can achieve those goals by setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed “S.M.A.R.T” goals. With an actionable plan I can outwardly measure my progress. It becomes easier to see challenges to meeting those as problems to be solved instead of failures of my character.”
How many of you notice setting outcomes instead of goals? How are you working on being your version of “healthy”?
Over the last few months, I have encouraged myself to adapt, grow, and be flexible. One of my core copings skills has always been humor. So many people in my life have made an impact on what makes me laugh - though I would have to point to my father as the biggest influence. I never thought of humor as a way to cope as I was growing up; I just enjoyed that it was fun. Now I see how it brought me closer to my dad and helped me feel loved by him. The more I can laugh with someone, the more connected I tend to feel. I see this in myself and my relationship with my fiancé. He makes me laugh and I absolutely love it! I enjoy the funny in others and always hope they enjoy the funny in me. I think it is one of the most amazing compliments to give and receive.
Though the content of my counseling sessions with clients is serious, I find humor is helpful to many. Sometimes humor can be a way to deflect. However, beneath the sarcasm, passive aggressiveness, or self-deprecation is at least an expression of something worth discussing. I suppose I would rather have a client share with an edge of humor than not share at all. In the dreary, dark, and monotonous experience of many mental health issues, humor can create a bit of lightness and space. Very often clients will use humor to mock their illness as a way to more concretely divide themselves from that illness. Moving from using self-deprecation as an expression of negative thoughts of self to negative thoughts about their symptoms allows people to create more separation between who they are and what illness they have.
Our feelings provide guiding information about our experience, helping us navigate through life. Feeling annoyed, angry, or hurt is often an indication we need to set different boundaries. Laughing at “dark” themes is a way to cope with difficult subjects. I challenge the notion that someone is “too emotional”. While there can be inappropriate BEHAVIOR associated with feelings, the feelings themselves are valid and important. I welcome all the emotions into the therapeutic process.
Given this, I love the relatability of therapy memes. Do you have any favorites?
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
Consider your immediate reaction to change. So often, we identify that we “don’t like” or “do well with” change. Upon reflection, probably not all change (graduations, marriage, promotions), but rather to unexpected changes. Digging a bit further, we might identify our dislike really comes from our fear of the unknown, that our experiences could become more difficult than we currently find them. Of course, change IS inevitable and the only way we grow.
In the past, I thought the ideas of “seeing challenges as opportunities” and adopting a “growth mindset” were for other people, but not for me. Those type of people were excited and/or comfortable about change. I certainly didn’t feel so comfortable to seek out new challenges. My challenges at the time seemed more than enough already. I had no drive for “growth” when I felt I was struggling.
Eventually, I have seen that I was limiting my creativity and experiences to what I saw others doing. My “growth mindset” doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Where I am and where I’m going are unique to me as they are to you. Sometimes, growing means doing less, slowing down, learning to move outside of the current perspective into something different. We can grow just as much when we observe, listen, and think as we can when we do, perform, or provide. We can grow inside our comfort zones, not only out of them.
Balance is achievable in a variety of ways. Yes, decreasing the “negative” will work, but so will increasing the “positive”. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, consider applying yourself toward your strengths getting stronger not just to eliminate your “weaknesses”. My own journey continues down the path of validating, accepting, and exploring what is already there rather than reaching for what’s not. If I’m being honest, I AM one of those “other people” now.
I hope this might serve as inspiration for you to find YOUR way.
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
In choosing to theme my blogs based on the words atop the doors of each space in Sandhill, I anticipated some would be more challenging than others. The truth is, each topic comes differently than I expect. I often start on one when inspiration strikes from somewhere else. “Flexible” was one I thought would elude my notice until the end of the series; however, recent events pushed me headlong into examining my own flexibility.
Throughout my own life and into my career, I’ve created work for myself in the area of learning to “improvise, adapt, and overcome” the challenges of change. However, like most people, finding peace within it can be a challenge. While I am able to self-reflect and dissect the “reasons” behind my uneasiness, the bigger challenge is to know what, if anything, to do about it. When I find myself in such a place, I often reflect on my work with clients.
I try to help clients move away from black and white concepts like “right” and “wrong” to be replaced with “helpful” or “unhelpful”. If we believe something is “right” we may continue using/doing it even when it doesn’t serve us well. On the other hand, if we believe something is “wrong” we may never try it, and miss out on something helpful. Thus, I encourage the use of asking, “is it working?” instead.
It isn’t always easy to move away from our ideal scenarios, comfortable behaviors, automatic thoughts, and familiar feelings; however, flexibility can lead to creative and positive results. After all, therapy is a process of listening, examining, processing and reflecting, creating room for positive adjustments. Perhaps your situation IS working for you and the fear is that change will make things WORSE. Challenge that fear with the fact your odds are equal in the chance of getting something BETTER! Reflect on the times where things didn’t work out just the way you hoped/anticipated. Was it the end of one thing, yet the beginning of another? Certain types of change can be difficult, but remember you have survived change every time you’ve faced it—a 100% success rate!
Is it scary? Yes. Difficult, yes. Do-able? YES! Therefore, I’m striving forward with a flexible mindset to embrace, rather than fear, the upcoming changes in my life. I hope you will consider joining me on this journey in whatever way makes the most sense to you.
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
At the end of my first session with clients, I typically recommend an increase in self-care. I emphasize the importance of demonstrating love to one’s brain. This is often difficult when one’s brain is attacked by negativity. Individuals struggle, sometimes, to know how to show care when feeling so bad. I suggest doing more of the things you like, even if those things don’t seem “productive”. While meditation, hot bubble baths, manicures, and fitness are great ways to meet this self-care, sometimes such activities are too far out of our reach. So, binge-watch television without guilt, eat your favorite meal, and yes, sleep, if you want. Though it can be scary, or seem like “giving in”, doing so can often help us begin to heal.
When we are so used to giving to others, the transition toward giving to oneself can be difficult. All too often, I hear “It’s selfish” when I recommend increased self-care. Yes, giving more to yourself may take away from what you typically devote to others. However, when we run ourselves on empty, we aren’t providing quality effort. If we push ourselves into burn out, always helping others who want us, then we won’t be available to anyone who might need us (especially ourselves). This call to self-care, first, is often exemplified using the airplane oxygen mask model: put your own on, then help others.
I think it’s so important to challenge the thought that we are being “selfish”. When we give to ourselves what we need, we are not taking from others. Consider a scale with giving on one end and taking on the other. Self-care lies just in the middle, not with taking or “selfish”. When we provide for our own needs, we are giving to ourselves what is ours, not taking from others what is theirs. The give and take of relationships inevitably lead to an ebb and flow of mutual benefits. Those who care for us, respect us, and want good for us, do not wish for us to give beyond our means.
If you find it too hard to do this for yourself, then do it for those who care about you, watch you, and emulate you. Be the example of health and appropriate self-care and of balanced relationships. How will you demonstrate self-care to your brain? Personally, I love a good nap!
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
Most, if not all of my clients, have heard me discuss the difference between “being” and “doing”. We are human beings, not human doings, after all. In conversation, the question usually comes in “What do you do?” more often than “Who are you?”. This doing is often what we use to define and present ourselves to the world: writer, singer, lawyer, counselor, mother, employee, etc. While nothing is wrong with these labels, using them as our only way to define ourselves can be. For example, what happens when your primary function of doing is no longer needed? Or if you become unable to do because of mental or physical health issues? Or perhaps what you do stops feeding your spirit?
Without a definition to tell ourselves and others what we do, we may lose our sense of value and self-esteem in who we are. Without identity we often feel lost, searching for our place in the world. While the labels for our actions can shift and change with time, our sense of self and value stay with us. The question becomes how can we be who we are outside of what we do?
I often see how living outside of one’s authenticity can create negative experiences and unwanted emotional states. Perhaps when a job or relationship is no longer a good fit, we try to mold ourselves into someone else but only find we are more and more miserable. To spend some time working to listen to our needs, boundaries, and values can help us live more authentically. It isn’t always easy to just be but we owe it to ourselves to know who we are in order to live our best lives.
So, take a few minutes to get to know yourself a bit more deeply. Think on what makes you, you. What is important to you? Are you living according to those priorities? Are your actions in line with your authentic self? How will you introduce yourself or ask about others differently with this in mind? Please share in the comments section. I would love to know more about you as you are.
By Jennifer Eulberg, MA, LPC
Sandhill offices are named with words above each door. Some included are laugh, play, be, courage, believe, and gratitude. I feel inspired by these words, taking moments here and there to contemplate how they each fit into my life.
When I first began my journey as an Independent Contractor with Sandhill, the main office I used was “Gratitude”. It was a perfect match for what I felt in joining the practice and starting a new life in the St. Louis area. Gratitude is something I practice for my own health and well-being and encourage its use to friends, family, and clients. I believe it is an honor to be a safe and comfortable place for people to share their intimate thoughts and feelings. I am grateful to those who have placed such trust in me. I treasure the opportunity to be a part of their journey.
Gratitude is a powerful tool; however, it is sometimes used in unhealthy ways. Does this sound familiar? “You should be grateful!” or “I have it better than most people, I need to be grateful and get over this.” These statements may be intended in a helpful way but the benefit isn’t there.
When we experience difficulties, our brain is processing and thinking about those struggles. Sometimes these thoughts are toward problem solving, sometimes they are related to disbelief, confusion, frustration and many others. We can often start to think hurtful things about ourselves. Those hurtful thoughts don’t usually lead to problem solving but just more hurtful thoughts.
Instead of an OR approach, I recommend an AND approach. For example, rather than saying to yourself, “I can feel upset OR I can feel grateful,” try saying, “I can feel upset AND grateful.” Feeling pain and struggling doesn’t mean you lack gratitude, it just means you are feeling pain and struggling too. Sometimes our brains get stuck in our struggle, our dislike of ourselves, and a belief that the world is out to get us. When we hurt, it is so difficult to turn things around. Perhaps adopting the “AND” approach can be a small step toward your healing.
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!