Category Archives: Mental Health

Perfectionism vs Excellence

We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.”  But what actually happens to us when we don’t produce something perfect? Striving for excellence is a healthy way of life, but striving for perfection can leave us and our loved ones feeling like failures. Perfectionism is a trap that our society leads us in trying to attain, but forever unable to achieve. The aspiration to be perfect leads to increased stress, anxiety, depression and many unmet expectations.  

What is the biggest difference between perfectionism and excellence? Perfectionism leaves a person constantly striving to reach an ideal that cannot be obtained and one that doesn’t actually even exist. Excellence is putting your best effort into everything you do, and that is something that is completely attainable. 

Perfectionism causes us to compare ourselves to others who are not in the same age bracket, stage of life, or place in life, and often leaves us feeling inadequate. Those feelings of inadequacy lead to decreased feelings of self-worth and increased negative self talk. The only fair comparison to make in life is to compare ourselves to who we used to be, and to use that as motivation to move closer to where we desire to be.

Living a life of perfectionism leaves us feeling “less than” in most areas of life, and causes us to take on a negative point of view. Perfectionism is not only a self-imposed problem, but living a life of trying to be perfect can harm those around us. Constantly talking about where we feel we don’t measure up, especially in front of our children, can leave them feeling like they are not enough if they aren’t living up to the same standards we are setting for ourselves. This can cause our children to also feel that they never measure up even if we’re telling them we’re happy with their best efforts. If we are constantly complaining that our best isn’t good enough, they learn to feel the same about their best. What we need to do is change that script and say things like, “I know I did the very best I could on this, and I hope others can see that as well.” By no longer saying things like, “I know I really messed that up, I don’t even know why they asked me to do it in the first place,” we can lead a less frustrating life, and be a better example to those who are watching us and listening to what we are saying.

It is always a good thing to strive for excellence in all that we do. If we can train ourselves to be satisfied with our best effort and what that effort produces, then we can lead more fulfilled, satisfied lives, and be a more positive example to those that are watching. So I encourage you, don’t try to be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. Do your best in all that you do, and be satisfied with knowing that you gave it your all!

Dawn DiQuattro, MA, LMFT has been practicing for five years and recently joined Hurley Counseling. She specializes in children, adolescents, and families. She offers after school and weekend appointments to best meet the needs of her clients.

She’s just doing it for attention

 A child has begun cutting their own skin. Perhaps this is your child or maybe you have heard of one of your child’s peers”cutting.”    I frequently meet with children and adult’s alike who self injure.  Usually, this happens when one uses a sharp object such as a knife or razor blade to cut their skin.   So, why would someone do this?  What is this all about?  Are they just doing it for attention?

Yes and No.

When I answer ” yes” to this question, it’s conditional about the location and the severity of the cut or self injury.  Typically, superficial  cuts (think briar scratch or cat scratch) on the lower wrists or forearms that are visible and not hidden are “asking to be seen.”     So, do we ignore the cuts?  Should parents and peers respond with eye rolls and comments like “you are just trying to get attention?”   No! Unless the goal is to harm their self esteem, create shame, and increase the likelihood their cutting becomes more serious and hidden from those who can help.  

Instead, caring parents, adults and peers want to consider why a child would choose self harm as a means of getting attention.  The chief concernis why a child would take such drastic measures to have parents or peers focus on them.  Answers to this question include confusion with how to cope with emotions, poor relational skills, uncertainity of self-worth,  depression, anxiety and loneliness.

When I answer “No” to this question, cuts are generally located on the upper thighs,  stomach and areas that are easily hidden from others.     Cuts in these locations are typically more severe, create an open wound, scabbing and scarring.  People who cut in these locations define their cutting as an act of deliberately harming their body but without the intent of suicide. 

The following are typical descriptions of why they do this:

  • “I feel a release when I cut.”
  • “It takes away my anger.”
  • “It’s addictive.”
  • “I can focus on the physical pain instead of my reality.”

Despite reports of the momentary sense of calm and release of tension, people who cut consistently report guilt, shame and return of painful emotions.  This cycle mimics that of an alcoholic/drug addict.  Instead of the drug of choice muting the pain, the cutting does the work but only temporarily and never without additional physical and emotional harm.  

Self Injury does not have to be a life-long struggle.   Appropriate mental health treatment is effective and can not only extinguish the destructive coping mechanism  but also enrich a person’s life with comforting and healing coping styles that instill self-confidence and peace. 

By all means, give tender and direct attention to anyone who cuts by expressing concern and directing them to appropriate mental health treatment .

Leigh Hurley

Leigh Hurley, MA, LPC has been a therapist for over 10 years. She is a dedicated advocate for children and teens.

New feature on Website

Andrew Hurley

Andrew Hurley, LPC

Ever wonder what your therapist is reading?

We are pleased to introduce a new page on our website : Andrew’s List.  It is a place where we will feature what Andrew is reading and what he likes to recommend. An example is this article on Treating someone with Asperger’s. Andrew recommends this book Boundaries to many clients.

So if you are looking for something to read or just curious about what Andrew is reading, stop by the page and take a look.
Continue reading

How to Survive Family During the Holidays

The Holidays


The holidays are rapidly approaching. This means family gatherings, parties, visits and stress. Here are some tips to make those interactions positive, healthy, and more enjoyable.

Don’t:

Conflictual Issues

  • Do you have a conflict with a family member that is unresolved?  If it can wait (and it probably can), then wait to address it.  Don’t use the holidays as an opportunity to address it.
  • If you rarely see each other, is it necessary to address at all? 
  • Focusing on tension affects everyone else negatively, not just the people with issues. 
  • If you use gatherings as opportunities to force confrontation, don’t be surprised if in the future scheduling conflicts arise.  Bringing others into your conflict will decrease the likelihood of working through it positively.  People become more stubborn when their pride gets involved. 

Defensive or Hostile Comments

  • Recognize that when you feel like you just “have to” say something in response, it’s a pretty reliable sign that you should be quiet.
  •  When angry or defensive (which are often close to the same feeling), you are less likely respond deliberately or thoughtfully.  The more urgent it seems to “set the record straight” or take a jab at the other person, the more likely you are to escalate the conflict.
  • In a discussion, every time either person makes a hostile or defensive remark, the odds of a positive outcome decrease by 50%.  If you go back and forth that way three times, the likelihood of the relationship improving is less than 2%. 

Do:

Small Doses

  • Does the length of your visit tend to drain or overwhelm you?  Does the idea of sitting in a vacation house or relatives’ home for hours make your skin crawl?  Small doses can be easier to manage. 
  • Give yourself time to breaks.  Plan several things you can do on your own, with your spouse, or with a friend to get time away when it’s needed. 
  • Offering to run errands for them will discourage negative responses.  It’s more difficult to complain about someone helping you than it is if they are taking time for themselves. 

Tagging Out

  • Do you often get stuck in conversations you hate?  Do you get stuck spending time with particular people you struggle to get along with? 
  • Come up with a way to subtly let your spouse know you would like them to help you get out of a conversation or being the focus of family members. 
  • Your spouse probably doesn’t mind running interference for you, and would much prefer rescuing you to your falling into a bad mood.  For instance, any reference to the neighbor would work. 

“Did you remember to give the Ann (the neighbor) the key before weleft?” 

“Did Ann get a hold of you the other day?”

Preemptively Directing to Positive

  •  Does a relative manage to consistently push the conversation into negative or conflictual subjects?  Do you feel stuck in activities you find miserable? 
  • Think ahead of time about positive subjects and activities you can steer them into to preempt or redirect negative topics or activities. 
  • There’s probably some family history that you don’t know, or maybe some subject you’d genuinely be interested in learning about from them.  Take the conversation there. 
  • If you don’t like sitting and talking until awkwardness hits, go for a walk or do something active. 

Deflecting and Redirecting

  • Do you have intrusive relatives who make the most of pressing for information you don’t want to give or wanting to review all the things they don’t like about you (or someone else)? 
  • As interesting as you are, most people find themselves more interesting.  Try responding to an uncomfortable question by not responding, and abruptly “remembering” that really exciting thing you wanted to ask them about themselves.  The recent achievement, purchase, relationship, etc. 
  • Often, they’d rather receive attention and praise than attack someone else (that can always wait till later). 

“Hi,thanks for deciding your family is important this year and”–“Oh yeah, I’vebeen waiting to ask you how you (got the promotion, found the new spouse, shotthat huge deer, found that cool vacation house)!  That’s awesome!”

Sandwiching

  • Does the relative react negatively to being told no or setting boundaries?  Do they relentlessly pressure you to follow their opinion? 
  • Try noting their “concern” for you appreciatively, stating what your decision/position is, and thank them for having taken the time to think about you. 
  • A positive-negative-positive statement is harder to be offended by than just stating the negative.  If they took the time to think about it, you must be important to them!

“You aren’t strict enough with your kids, they just walk all over you.”

“Huh, you’re really worried about how they treat me.  I’m fine with the way they relate to me.  I appreciate your taking the time to thinkabout it.  It’s nice to know you want usto get along well.”

                -rinse and repeat

Caution:  It’s easy to come across as sarcastic, so being genuine is important!

Reflecting and Growing

  • If nothing else, experience handling difficult people and relationships is an opportunity to try out different, hopefully more effective skills. 
  • If you consistently dislike a situation, reflect on your usual response and try something else.  
  • Paying attention to what gets under your skin is a way to identify what in yourself could use some attention.  We reflexively react when we perceive danger.  Threats are not just physical. 
  • Our identity, beliefs, and priorities can be threatened as well, and the reaction tends to be very similar.  Paying attention to your own reaction creates an alternative to getting lost in the reaction and acting without intention. 
  • Ethan Hawley said, “The only person offended by being called a son of a bitch is one who’s not sure about his mother, but how do you insult Albert Einstein?” 
  • Why are you impacted by that particular person in that specific way?  What are you trying to make happen, or trying to keep from happening?  Internal reactions can be hard to put into words, but if you can’t articulate them, you probably don’t understand them.
  • If relatives at gatherings regularly get you upset, they are giving you lots of opportunities to figure the reactions out.  If nothing else, you can learn about who you are and what’s important to you. 
Andrew Hurley
Andrew Hurley

Andrew Hurley has spent the last 15 years as a lpc, specializing in marriage and family therapy, addiction and holistic therapy. He is a veteran of 20 years of martial family holiday events and visits. Hurley Counseling is in Mobile and Fairhope serving adolescents, adults and families. �

Facts and Good News about Depression

 

close up photography of woman wearing red and black scarf

Photo by Roman Carey on Pexels.com

According to a Gallup and Sharecare poll in 2017, 18% of the American population has been professionally diagnosed as depressed.  To get an idea how common depression is, work absenteeism due to depression costs employers more than $23 billion per year.  Depression is a common condition for which people seek therapy. It often goes unrecognized and/or is misunderstood.   It’s more than just being sad; it changes physiological and neurological functioning.  Sadness can be a symptom of depression but isn’t the defining feature.  Most depressive symptoms are physical, not emotional.

  • Sleep disturbance
  • poor memory/concentration
  • Appetite change
  • Irritability
  • Not enjoying activities/relationships

 

People with depression frequently see a Doctor to address the physical components of depression (for example, tiredness, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties) without recognizing depression is the root cause or a second medical issue to be directly addressed to alleviate. Physicians can miss depression in patients and focus on physical symptoms. Additionally, there is huge overlap between depression, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and other physical conditions.

There is a biological predisposition to depression but it doesn’t necessarily activate unless the right experiences/circumstances in life occur.  (Similarly, alcoholism involves a genetic predisposition, but if the individual doesn’t ever drink, it can’t be activated).  Besides the biological component, depression can result from being under stress for a prolonged period or other circumstances.

There are ways to reduce depression:

  • Therapy
  • Medication
  • Exercise (See our previous blog on exercise and depression 9/6/2018)
  • Diet
  • Meditation/breathing exercises

 

Depression tends to “feed” on itself.  The effects of depression make it hard for the sufferer to take the steps that would combat the depression.  This is an example of how depression could feed itself.  One  symptom of depression is lack of motivation, which can make it difficult to make behavioral changes that are helpful.  Having social support is important when making these changes.  Unfortunately, another symptom of depression is social withdrawal, creating another obstacle for a person with depression to reach out to others.  When depressed, a person can feel worthless, leading them to feel as though others would be burdened by them or see them as a waste of time.

If I feel worthless, I’m unlikely to engage others.  Decreased engagement in relationship increases a sense of isolation, which increases the sense of worthlessness.  Depressed people are not choosing to be depressed, and often spend lots of time criticizing themselves for not “snapping out of it,” which can fuel a sense of hopelessness.  When people feel worthless, isolated, and hopeless, their sense of life being meaningful can get lost.  The different symptoms of depression work together and can keep a person stuck and confused about what to do.

Depression is a medical condition.  The brain functioning of a depressed person is markedly different from someone who is not depressed.  FMRI’s (real time viewing of brain functioning) shows clearly that non-depressed people have objectively different activity than depressed people.  There are changes in the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals used by the brain) produced by a depressed person vs. a non-depressed person.  When someone has been depressed for somewhere around 6 months, the brain adjusts to stop wasting energy producing chemicals that it doesn’t use.  A person at that point is likely to need an antidepressant to have the raw materials to function in a non-depressed way.  (Anti -depressants prevent the brain from reabsorbing neurotransmitters, which forces increased levels of them to be available-imagine closing a drain so water will build up in a sink.)  Antidepressants do not create a dependency on artificial substances, they increase the amount of naturally created chemicals in the brain.  Doctors will usually ask patients to stay on medication for about a year, so that the brain will adjust once again to producing normal levels of the chemicals a non-depressed person has.  A person can stop taking medication at any time, but they must be sure to taper off of them.  Stopping taking medication abruptly can lead to a reoccurrence of depression of greater intensity than it was before medication.  That does not happen when medication dosages are tapered.  It can be done in a week or two typically.  Another unhelpful tendency people have is to stop taking medication once they feel better, not realizing that the improvement is supported by the medication, and they can drop back into depression.

The good news – It’s very treatable.  For roughly 4 out of 5 persons with depression, first time treatment is successful.    When it is treated from the multiple directions as mentioned above, successful treatment occurs more rapidly. There are a few cases of depression which are treatment resistant. Therapy is not a never-ending process.  Both the patient and therapist should clearly understand and agree on the goals they are working towards, what the steps are to get there, and how they will know when work is complete.

Here are some therapy goals:

  1. Establish behaviors that prevent depression from reoccurring.
  2. Adjust inaccurate thoughts and perceptions.
  3. Identify any unmet interpersonal needs and find healthy ways to address them.

If you think you may have depression, there are many free depression screens available online.  The Beck Depression Inventory II is a very commonly used screen (http://www.bmc.org).  Looking at diagnostic criteria for depression and see if symptoms describe your experience may be beneficial. Asking a family member or friend if they recognize any of the symptoms in you is another option.  The vast majority of the time treatment is effective.  For a person suffering with depression that can be hard to believe, but it is true.