Isolation

Isolation and Infidelity

In my practice, I don’t only see people whose partner has strayed from the relationship. I also see the person who has found a connection with someone who isn’t their primary partner.

The person who is on the receiving end of infidelity in a relationship can find himself or herself struggling. I also have compassion for the person who has betrayed their partner. It can be hard to be you, too. It is hard to be the person that society has dubbed “the cheater”. So many people even utter the word with disdain.

But “cheater” isn’t always someone skulking around in the dark of night, tiptoeing out of the house while everyone else is sleeping. Many people reflexively envisage this person to be male. That is not always the case. While percentages of women participating in infidelity has grown over the years, women often feel a double standard – that men are expected to stray but people assume that women who engage in the same behavior are considered “less than” or branded with ugly and derogatory names.

The one who has relationships or flings with someone other than their primary partner is indistinguishable from you or me. They are usually respectable, law-abiding citizens. The neighborhood gentleman who shovels the walkway of his elderly neighbor or the warm and caring woman who works in your child’s daycare center. It’s the guy who fixes your car, the mom who volunteers at a food bank. It could even be your best friend or sibling. Or your girlfriend. Or the husband with whom you celebrated your 25th wedding anniversary on a spectacular cruise in the Caribbean.

The life of someone who is seeing someone else is one of secrets, half-truths, omissions. Most of us have a differing comfort level with how we function in these various states.

You didn’t set out to let it get so far out of control, but you almost feel too far in to start cleaning up the damage. You might feel terrible about it. You might feel nothing about it. You might feel numb. If you were able to talk about it, you might discover your feelings. And that may scare you.

I recognize that you may not have told anyone. That not one soul knows about the person who replies to your texts after she puts her kids to bed. Or the guy you meet up with when your boyfriend thinks you are staying late at the office.

You are out there. And despite what society or your friends or your faith might think, you deserve as much compassion and humanity as anyone else.  I also understand how alone and isolated you feel at times.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please contact me at cmgsnyder@gmail.com or 201-248-5552. My office is located in Livingston, NJ.

Why I Don’t See Couples

Whenever people discover that I specialize in working with infidelity, I think it makes sense that I’d see couples and help them repair their relationships.

For a number of years, I did work with couples, many of whom were dealing with the aftermath of an infidelity revelation. Over time, I began to realize that not everyone – on either end of the infidelity situation – may want to engage in couples counseling. I have found that there is great benefit of working with individuals because it allows us to truly drill down into their personal histories and gain insight on their own behavior.

Before I go on, I will emphasize that I do believe in couples therapy and it can be a very helpful tool. There are many layers to the issues that clients deal with and, therefore, many ways to address these things. Couples therapy can be an opportunity for a spouse or partner to share a space where they can tune in to each other and listen and hopefully, be heard. If you have arrived at my website wishing to access couples therapy, please send me a message (christine@snyderlcsw.com) and I could make a referral to someone who can better serve you.

So as I mentioned, there are some scenarios where clients might find individual therapy beneficial, depending on whether they have been unfaithful or whether they have been betrayed.

The person who has been unfaithful
In terms of the person who has been unfaithful in the relationship, there can be some factors at play that make couples therapy somewhat counterproductive. There is so much gray area in infidelity situations that these are only a small portion of situations where clients find themselves struggling.
* A person who is unfaithful may be involved with someone that has caused them to feel uncertain about continuing their primary relationship. They may find that this person provides them something their partner may be lacking and they are not sure they want to terminate this relationship.
* Perhaps they had wanted to terminate their primary relationship and entering into an affair with someone allowed them to transition out of the relationship. For some clients, it is easier (nothing is ever easy in infidelity, though) to tell a partner that they are cheating rather than tell them they no longer love them.
* They might also be in the process of breaking up with their affair partner and are struggling with the loss of that person from their life. In some occasions, people have long relationships with affair partners and it can be difficult to cope with the void that a breakup would cause. Sometimes people who are dealing with this loss do not find couples therapy helpful because they know their spouse does not want to know or hear how much they miss their girlfriend.
* This person may also feel exhausted by keeping secrets and I am the only person in the world with whom they’ve shared their secret.

I’d also say that it’s hard for some people to accept that someone involved in a transgression should be shown any compassion. On this, I have to strongly state that I do not feel that way. My job is not to shame or to pass judgment. I recognize that in some areas of your life, you may be struggling. Just because you are having an affair does not necessarily mean you are having the time of your life. Or maybe you are and you don’t feel guilty about it. It isn’t my position to correct your behavior. What you decide to do is up to you and I am here to support you and help you understand yourself better so that you can decide what direction to take.

The person who has been betrayed
It is not universally the case that the person whose spouse has gone outside the relationship wants to work on the relationship. It seems that there’s a societal expectation that if your spouse has cheated, you call a couples therapist and you both get to work on mending the hurt. But sometimes it isn’t that clear-cut. Here are some occasions where people who have been betrayed may find value in individual counseling:
* The person may be so hurt and distraught that they can barely communicate with the partner who hurt them, let alone be in the same small room together with a therapist. There is a possibility that they may come together for counseling at some point, but some people feel the need to process a hurt like this on their own with a therapist.
* The person who has been betrayed may have wanted to terminate this relationship and they would like to speak with a therapist to process whether to work on the relationship or end it. They also may come in with some existing insights such as their understanding of why they stayed in an unsatisfying relationship and they’d like to work on changing that characteristic.
* They might also have had a history of anxiety or depression and they have had difficulty managing the symptoms alone. A crisis such as a revelation that their partner has gone outside the relationship may need to be handled first before processing the direction of their relationship.
* As a result of discovering their spouse has been having an affair, they realize they have been cheated on in prior relationships and have a desire to understand why this has happened to them. Sometimes people recall in the course of therapy that one of their parents may have had a history of infidelity which affected them in their own relationships.

If you find yourself in any of these situations and would like to explore the possibility of working with me, please reach out to me at christine@snyderlcsw.com. My office is located in Livingston, NJ.

Cheating on Business Trips

Cheating happens on business trips. There are countless reasons why people do so, in the same way that there are countless reasons why people commit infidelity in general.  I contributed some quotes and other background material to this article and I hope it provides some useful information.

The Scientific Reason Spouses Cheat on Business Trips

One minor detail I’d like to clarify, though. The author states that I see couples, but currently I do not. I have found in the last few years that infidelity isn’t always just a “couple” problem. No matter which end of infidelity we find ourselves, we appear in our relationships carrying a whole lifetime of emotional stuff with us. Not just from our childhood and upbringing. Realistically, most people have had a number of prior long-term relationships or marriages before entering their current relationship. Examining how we as individuals behave in relationships is a valuable tool. And bringing a newly informed self into our relationship can change the entire dynamic between us.

The author of the article asked some very insightful questions that I wish she could have included some of my comments. Infidelity on business trips has historically been something people believed only men do. But with the growth of opportunity for women professionally, they’ve also been required to travel for work, which in turn, has increased the frequency of infidelity among women on business trips.

The communication I had with the author also made me think even more about the experience of infidelity in males, considering that the website the article appears on is targeted toward men. Gender is a complicated subject these days, but I think sometimes men are also under more stress than we give them credit for. While it is a known fact that women feel maxed out with various duties, men struggle with these issues also. Where it can become problematic is that men don’t always feel comfortable expressing how they feel – to themselves, to other men, or to their partners. Women often wish their husbands would open up, but they might not know how to react or feel if their husbands cried in front of them. As I said before, the reasons for infidelity are countless, but there are occasions where men cite feeling misunderstood or stifled emotionally as contributing factors.

I also can hear the partners of men saying, “but I do the right things and he never opens up” and this goes back to my commentary about couples therapy.  There is absolutely a value in couples therapy when certain behavioral or communication patterns get stuck in a loop and couples find they are having the same argument every time they argue.  Couples therapy can be a wonderful arena to help both parties recognize their contributions and to understand how best to help each other, while being guided by a skilled therapist in the room.

Sue Johnson, a well-respected researcher in the field of couples and developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy, likens relationships to a dance.  (Sidebar is that she is an amateur tango dancer and uses the metaphors of dance to inform her work.)  Relationships with partners we’ve known for awhile have predictable dance moves.  If I say this, I know he’s going to get upset and walk out the door.  Or if he says that to me, we both know I am shutting down.  We know the sore spots of the other person.  Sometimes we go right for the jugular and we say the thing we know will cause the shutdown or the walkout.  And sometimes, we have no awareness that something we thought was innocuous throws our partner into a tailspin.  Either way, if we want to stop the conflict and deepen the intimacy of the relationship, we need to – as Sue Johnson would say – change the music.  Learn the patterns that can help her open up or help him to stop walking out the door.  And in situations like this, there is a great value in participating in couples therapy.

There’s so much more to be said about these things and I will expound on these topics in the future.  I just wanted to share this article with you.

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Infidelity and Sliding Door Moments

Infidelity and Sliding Doors Moments

The focus of my practice is working with individuals who are affected by infidelity. I don’t just work only with infidelity, but over the years I find that almost everyone has some connection to it, even on the periphery.

Infidelity affects the trajectory of our relationships. Whether we just discovered it. Whether it just happened. If it is currently happening. Or it happened to us decades ago. Maybe our parents did it to each other. Perhaps you are doing it or it’s being done to you. Not complicated at all, right? The sheer complexity is often misunderstood until it hits your life.

On top of that, we need to remember that just because someone does it, it doesn’t make them a serial killer. Or a sociopath or a narcissist. Do those people do these things? Sure. Chances are, though, the loved one in your life is not any of those things. And neither are you.

What is both fascinating and confounding about infidelity is there is not just one cause. There is no black or white answer. Trying to understand it is like crumpling up your ear buds in a bag and then attempting to untangle them. Figuring it out – the why and the how-do-we-fix-it – can be trial and error. And there is not just one way to do it.

The work of John Gottman is well respected in the field of human relationships. I admit that I am not incredibly versed on his work, but I came across a theory of his that attempts to explain why relationships break down. Or at least why a relationship might become fertile ground for an affair.

John Gottman says that relationships are comprised of “sliding door moments” – little opportunities to connect your hearts with each other. From Gottman’s perspective, there are the moments and then there is the decision of whether to engage or not.

A few years ago, I came across a story he told about his marriage in one of his books. It’s really stuck with me. I can relate and I bet you can, too. One evening as he was going to bed, he looked forward to curling up with a book. As he passed his wife, he noticed she was brushing her hair with a sad look on her face.

In this moment, he said, he needed to make a choice: to ask her why she looked sad or to decide that he didn’t want to get involved.

For our purposes, it doesn’t matter what he chose. The Gottmans have been married for several decades and are both renowned couples therapists so I’m assuming that they tune into their relationship.

Do you?

Are you tuned in enough to your partner to notice what they might be feeling? You might say, “well, he won’t talk to me.” Maybe you’ve encountered sliding door moments where you chose not to engage so he stopped volunteering information to you.

Many people think “working on our relationship” means BIG stuff. BIG vacations. BIG date nights. BIG conversations. Have you ever heard someone said, “She knows I love her because I send her flowers every week”?

While these things are great, it’s not what it’s all about. I’ll wager that if you took away all of the BIG, and you still liked each other, you’re doing something right. If you found that you couldn’t stand each other without the things, that says something, too.

It is widely agreed upon that our intimate relationships aren’t simply built on heavy conversations where we sit on our sofas for hours and flesh it out with each other. Those moments do matter. I see relationships like a brick wall: without the mortar in between, the wall would crumble. We need the mortar of everyday life together to fortify the structure. The little glances and cuddles and inside jokes you share make a difference. You may go to fancy restaurants or fabulous trips with your spouse and post it all on social media. But if she is ignoring the shift in your emotional barometer or you aren’t making the time to ask how his day is, the mortar needs a bit of thickening.

How does this factor into infidelity? It’s not a perfect fit necessarily, but in many cases, infidelity occurs when the connection dissipates. Some people report that they sought another relationship because the other person provided some degree of intimacy they couldn’t get in their primary relationship.

I could probably write myself into a rabbit hole about the causes. But if you’ve been in a relationship where one of you diverted your attention into another, I wonder what your experience with Gottman’s “sliding door moments” was. Put yourself in John Gottman’s shoes for a moment. In your relationship, did you engage or curl into bed with your book? I also recognize that these aren’t scientific or quantitative answers nor are our relationships necessarily founded on data. But engaging with each other affects the overall quality.

If you chose the book instead of inquiring over the sad look, could your sad-feeling partner resist the high school flame who has been sending her Facebook messages, telling her how beautiful she is? In most occasions, infidelity does start out this simple and evolves. Most people do not go looking for it. Could people say no to the advances of someone? Sure. But saying yes carries an electrical charge that men and women and everyone in between has found thrilling since the beginning of time.

Most of us desire the thrill we got from our partner when we first got together. And I think many of us think that if we maintain that state, our partner will never want to stray. Again, I cannot offer definitive answers other than “it depends”.
But I do know that choosing to engage with your spouse yields far greater results than the alternative. The book will always be there to be read tomorrow night.

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Can “The Bachelor” Help Us Keep Relationships in Perspective?

I get a lot of grief for watching The Bachelor.  In fairness, this year is the first time I’ve watched it for maybe fifteen years.  It’s crazy to think it’s been on that long.  I’ve always thought it’s sort of ridiculous and I find myself apologizing for watching it.  Or trying to offset my viewing of it by reading some super-literary tome.  I spend so much time apologizing for watching this show, but I also realize that no one ever apologizes for watching things like, I don’t know…sports.  My apologies to you sports fans.  It’s not something I have ever gotten into.

I find that keeping in touch with pop culture helps me as a therapist.  Not because these things are real life, but because million of people watch shows, read books, or listen to podcasts.  And chances are, sometimes the content of them strikes a chord with people and it might come up in session.

While The Bachelor is completely manufactured, it conjures up fantasies we often have about falling in love or finding “The One” or meeting our “Soul Mate”.  Inevitably, when I talk to my friends or colleagues about the show, little things might pop up about our own relationships, past or present.  How we found our partner, what we first fought about, or how we left someone who wasn’t right for us.

Last night, during “The Most Dramatic Bachelor Finale Ever!”, The Bachelor gave out his final rose.  Groan…I cannot believe I am even typing this cheese-ball stuff on my professional website!  Apparently, whatever happened has never happened before and there are one or more episodes now tacked on to the end of the season.  But alas, the show is coming to an end and I’ve suffered through (well, secretly, don’t we all sort of love it?) the confessional commentary of all the girls in the house tittering about each other and about how perfect they are for The Bachelor.  I realized last week that even though we all know it’s just a show, it can distort what we think or expect from relationships.  So here are a few thoughts I’ve had based on what I’ve seen:

  • You are enough.  It’s sometimes heartbreaking to watch the girl who is rejected by The Bachelor as she’s weeping in the back seat of a limousine, being chauffeured back to her regular life.  There are almost always tears, but quite frequently, a girl may sob and exclaim, “I wasn’t enough for him!” or “What’s wrong with me?”  I realize that these comments are made during a particularly sensitive moment, but a lot of people express that when a relationships ends.  No matter whether it’s a TV one or a real life one.  On some level, many people invest so much into falling in love or being swept away that they lose a sense of themselves.  For some, the end of a relationship is an attack on who they are and what they stand for.  Many people think that it’s impossible to love another without loving yourself first.  If you think that you as a human being are not enough, maybe that requires some investigation on your part.  Getting more in touch with who you are and what you truly need and desire may prevent you from repeating patterns in relationships.  And if you find that you’re happy being you and you thrive in many areas of your life and relationships, then perhaps this relationship was not the right one for you.
  • It’s just a TV show, not real life.  Some viewers mistakenly believe that the people on the show have a whirlwind romance, get a marriage proposal, and live happily ever after.  I can’t definitively say how these relationships work out because I don’t really watch this show with any regularity.  There are a handful of people who got married and stayed together, but most of these relationships fail to continue.  Recently I heard a contestant on an interview and she said that over the course of several weeks, even if you had been on several dates with the bachelor, you don’t spend more than a total of four hours with The Bachelor.  So that’s what I mean about this being not real life.  Making a decision about proposing or accepting a marriage proposal – or even saying “I love you” – based on spending a few hours with someone and sharing your most beautiful moments with millions of television views is not real.  A healthy relationship is about connecting in many ways, not only when you’re traveling to Paris or Lake Tahoe or Tuscany.
  • Even beautiful people get rejected.  Many people say, “If only I were more attractive/in better shape/thinner/had longer hair/had nicer clothes, I would find someone.”  Appearance is only part of the puzzle and no matter how attractive you are, you will likely experience rejection.  Attractiveness is not an armor that shields people from pain.  No matter what people look like, most everyone will suffer some form of adversity in their lives.  What can be attractive is not necessarily your appearance, but how you’ve managed to weather various storms in your life.

So now that the final rose has been given, it’s off to find the next little escape from reality.  Something tells me the next season of The Bachelor will be more of the same:  thirty attractive women looking for a marriage proposal after about four hours of dates!

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Pregnancy-Related Mental Health Concerns

This weekend, a story about a mother who had not seen a doctor for four months postpartum made the rounds on social media.  The woman stated, in a lengthy Facebook post, that her doctor cancelled her appointments three times and by the time she finally had an appointment, she was suffering from postpartum depression.  She reported that when she arrived, she was seen by a nurse practitioner who called the police to escort her to the emergency room.

What motivated me to write about this story is that there was a breakdown in a system somewhere.  The author of the post stated her belief that the healthcare system is broken.  There are certainly flaws in healthcare, like there are in every system and as mental health professionals, we strive to mend those gaps as much as we are able.  Depression and anxiety related to pregnancy and childbirth are more widely talked about:  by doctors, in mainstream books and articles about women’s health, and in pop culture.  Many states have created initiatives to require doctors and medical facilities to screen and provide information about it, too.

No system is perfect so just as you educate yourself about pregnancy and create a birth plan, preparing for the possibility of a pregnancy-related mood disorder should be considered.  If you have a pediatrician and a lactation consultant in place before your baby comes, why not consider having a referral for a therapist who specializes in perinatal mood disorders handy just in case?

There are things you can do to ensure that you are properly cared for during your pregnancy and thereafter.

  • Discuss mental health with your partner.  Hormonal changes during pregnancy and afterward can affect your mood.  It’s important to be open with your partner when you are not feeling like yourself, if you are struggling, or if you feel like harming yourself.  Come up with a game plan about how your partner can advocate for you in the event you are not feeling well.  That can mean calling your doctor and/or other important members of your support system to get you proper help.
  • Acknowledge that getting help does not mean you are weak, a bad mother, or a failure.  Many women fear they will appear weak if they are struggling.  Sometimes, women fear the judgment of other mothers, too. “Help” also doesn’t necessarily mean “medication”.  Your medical provider can help you decide what is the best course of action for you.
  • Tap into your support system.  In addition to your partner, who do you go to when you have a problem or need help with something?  This may include your parents, siblings, or close friends.  Discuss with them how to proceed if they notice that you are acting differently (including depressed mood, statements about maybe the family being better off without you, increased crying, excessive worrying, desire to isolate) and decide with them how to go about getting a medical or mental health professional involved.
  • Bring up the subject of mental health with your doctor if he/she has not done so already.  Most doctors are increasingly more comfortable discussing mental health with patients and they may have additional resources for you.
  • You don’t have to stay with your doctor.  I had so many questions about the mother I mentioned earlier, in terms of who her doctor was.  Did they have a good rapport?  Was this doctor canceling appointments on her during the pregnancy?  Changing doctors may feel like one more thing on your plate during pregnancy, but if you are not getting the care you need and deserve, why stay with that person?
  • Take advantage of a nurse case manager if your insurance company has one to follow you through your pregnancy.  Some insurance companies will have a nurse call you on a regular basis if you’ve had mental health needs in the past or various conditions during pregnancy.  In these cases, the case manager will almost always screen you for depression and will help you locate a therapist or psychiatrist to help you.  They can also help you make these appointments if you are unable to do so.
  • Insurance companies are not always the enemy.  Most providers and consumers will moan and groan about the restrictions placed upon them, but they can be used to gain access to better treatment.  Surely, some are better than others, but all insurance companies have a telephone number for member services.  I wonder if the outcome would have been different if someone in this mother’s support system (it would have likely had to be her husband because he’d have access to their pertinent insurance information) could have called the insurance company for advice on how to help her when she needed care and her medical provider repeatedly canceled her appointment.
  • File a complaint with the patient relations department of the hospital or healthcare system where your doctor is.  The mother in the Facebook post indicated she is not taking legal action in this case (though I’m not sure why she wouldn’t, given that she believed she was treated poorly).  If a medical provider works for a group and the provider dropped the ball on something, the group can get involved with helping the provider to improve their services. Your voice can make a difference by helping another mother avoid further bad experiences.

One of the best resources for pregnancy-related mental health issues is Postpartum Support International.  Their website is full of wonderful information as well as direct support in the form of a weekly chat for mothers and fathers and a non-urgent hotline for questions.  Being prepared can help you get the care you need.

If you are interested in the possibility of working with me, please contact me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Exhausted

3 Ways to Avoid Becoming Exhausted

Exhausted, overwhelmed, depleted, stressed out.  When people ask you how you are, is this what you really want to say?

A recent episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday featured an author with a lot of experience with all of those feelings.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s just O and a guest, plugging a book about spirituality or self-help, sitting in Oprah’s backyard. The typical format is 1) person explains their book, 2) person reveals crisis point that inspired the book, and 3) what viewers should do (in addition to buying aforementioned book!) to avoid being like them.

Recently it hit me that all of these shows, at their core, are exactly the same.

The episode that caught my attention featured a woman I knew nothing about. Author Shauna Niequist sat with Oprah to discuss her new book called Present over Perfect.  I enjoyed listening to her discuss how to handle being pulled in many directions. It occurred to me that her A-ha Moment, Oprah-speak for “revelation”, is no different from the crisis that strikes all these authors. For Shauna Niequist, her particular A-ha Moment occurred while she snorkeled in Hawaii with her eight year-old son.  She indicated that, leading up to this trip, she was preoccupied with being busy.  She avoided silence because of what she might find if she tuned into her self.  The experience of being underwater where all she heard was her own inner voice led to Shauna’s commitment to change.

For many of us, it’s hard to comprehend how someone who seemingly has it all could lose her way.  But her interview conveyed that in spite of her material comfort, her feeling exhausted and overwhelmed are familiar to many of us.  In one of the opening exchanges between Shauna and Oprah, the author said that if you sat around a table with your peers and discussed what means the most in your life, every single person would say their family. And yet, she says, that’s not really where we are focusing our time. The focus is diverted from the connection of loved ones to all the areas that lead to the house/vacations/cars, etc.

All this is not to say that we need to give up all the trappings of comfort. I find my balance by living a life that tends to be somewhat minimalist (and stay tuned because I promise someday to write about one of the best films in recent years: Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things from 2015). Would I love all the travels and fancy restaurant meals and cars? Sure. But our connections with others go astray when our priorities lie in our pursuit of material possessions. Sadly, a lot of people find themselves where Shauna is, often after something traumatic has happened: death of a loved one, loss of a job, when diagnosed with a serious illness, or when faced with a relationship hardship such as infidelity.

Because I’m only going by what the author said on the show with Oprah, I took a quick whirl around Shauna’s website and read through a few of her articles. Every one of them indicated a shortcoming on her part, coupled with a commitment to do better.  And all of these shortcomings involve her being too exhausted to focus on what truly matters to her.  This can certainly be the stuff of marketing (i.e., All these women need to stay frazzled so I can continue selling books!), but if it’s not about the marketing, how do we get ourselves off this carousel where we deceive ourselves into thinking that we do not have time to go to dinner with our girlfriends or jump into a pile of leaves with our children or snuggle with our spouse?

Another thing that Shauna mentioned in this episode is that when she was an adolescent, she witnessed her mother experience a similar sort of re-awakening. Shauna’s father was a well-known pastor and the whole family was committed to working in the church. This is by no means a criticism of Shauna, because these are such universal stories, but if she saw her mother needing to slow down and smell the roses, why did Shauna grow up and fall into the same thorny situation?  We have a responsibility to ourselves to avoid falling into this trap as well as a responsibility to children or those whom we influence to help them see that value cannot be found in an exhausting rat race.

After seeing this show, I kept wondering how we can avoid having the blur that led to the “Shauna Snorkeling Moment” in the first place? Why do we always seem to need the pain of a rock bottom or tragedy to get up and take action?

Three questions to ask yourself that can help you find what truly matters:

  • Who is influencing you? We are all influenced by someone.  Do you have an image of the woman or man you wish you were? Think of what you like to wear.  If you dress a certain way, what does it say about you? Would it say you were a worldly person who really has their act together? What about what you drive or how you decorate your home? What are you trying to portray to the world? Do you really want to put up the massive holiday display on your lawn or do you secretly just want to have a bigger one than your neighbors’?  Think of the massive amount of energy that you are expending on the external aspects of your life.

 

  • What would you be willing to give up to get some of your life back? You spend hours driving to various specialty grocery stores for the ingredients you need for some fabulous dessert you saw on Pinterest. Pretty sure that your guests will still love you if you scaled back on your creations.  You drive your kiddo all over the place to expensive activities in the hopes of him getting a scholarship to college…but he’s only six.  Is it possible to dial your life down a little bit?

 

  • Is it truly necessary to stand out? What about simply being ordinary? Maybe it’s okay to have an average-paying job you love and buy groceries at Shop-Rite instead of Whole Paycheck…I mean, Whole Foods. Drive the Honda instead of the Lexus. Go to Knoebels instead of Disney World. People will still love you and if they don’t, that says a lot about the relationship you had with that person.

In closing, I had this amazingly articulate summary, expounding on the need to extract every last juicy ounce out of life.  But I erased it all.  I don’t think anyone could say it better than this guy:

Ferris Bueller:  Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.

 

To discuss the possibility of working with me, please call 201-248-5552 or drop me a line at christine@snyderlcsw.com.

 

Infidelity Is Not a Laughing Matter

Stage Light

A number of years ago, I felt the need to bust past some creative blocks and signed up for some classes at the People’s Improv Theater in New York. Improv is what comedy giants like Tina Fey and Steve Carell credit for enhancing their performance.

Classes consist of various exercises and games. A suggestion is made by the instructor and someone creates a character and scenario based around it. Others join in, creating a spontaneous, organic scene that usually borders on absurdity but is accepted by the participants as reality.

The first thing you’re taught in an improv class is to say yes. To agree to whatever reality is drawn up in a scene. Your partner says you’re researchers in a lab with monkeys…so be it. The second thing you learn is to agree to that and then add on. In improv, it’s referred to as “Yes, and…” You’re researchers in a lab with monkeys…and the monkeys get out…and the lab is also on fire…and the fireman just served you divorce papers. You just go with whatever reality unfolds before you – no matter how outrageous.

I recently purchased an inexpensive banner from the dollar bin in Target. It’s bright blue with a glittery gold speech bubble that says, “Heck yes.” What I love about it is that it reminded me how necessary it is to open ourselves up to the possibilities of the world, in the same way that I learned to say “Yes, and…” in improv class a decade ago. I get how ridiculously cheesy and therapist-y of me to say something like that. You may even be rolling your eyes at the idiocy of talking about improv when people’s worlds are crashing down. Maybe it’s a stretch, but there can be value in changing up our perspective a little bit. I’m not generally one who sees the world through rose-colored glasses nor do I see the complexities of my clients’ lives in such a superficial manner.

What I’m trying to say is that we can’t get through adulthood without getting knocked around the ring every so often (or what feels like all the damned time). If we don’t respond to the punches, we get steamrolled. The bulk of my practice involves working with individuals and couples who have issues with infidelity and I realize that the choices are to get knocked out or come out swinging.

Saying “Yes, and…” can seem like a condescending way to approach infidelity, but that is not my intent. Looking at it through this lens allows you to confront some of the pain in your life that perhaps you suspected or knew anyway. Maybe you didn’t want to engage in conflict or stand up for yourself or acknowledge that you’ve had some unmet needs over the years. Saying “Yes, and…” allows us to say “this is the worst thing I’ve ever been through, but maybe it’s best for us both to move on.” It also might allow us the possibility to say, “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of, but I want to make things right with my wife.”

There are no cut-and-dry answers in situations where a partner has engaged in another relationship, even when people have committed to working it out. But sometimes the first step is just to say yes. And then commit to working through however things unfold.

If you are dealing with an infidelity issue and would like to explore the possibility of us working together, please email me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Imposter Syndrome: Who Do I Think I Am?

Masks

Did you ever have the feeling that the lights will come up, the curtain will rise, and the whole world will see you for the fraud you really are? I don’t know you, but chances are, if you’ve clicked on an article about imposter syndrome, you probably aren’t really a fraud. You’re likely someone who takes seriously your work, achievements, and your position in the world. You will do anything to avoid the sting of not being taken seriously…including convincing yourself that you’re a fraud.

Sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that we live as if we are on stage. Every aspect of our lives involves playing a role. At home, we can be more casual with some of these roles, but once we enter the public – such as our workplace – we are often required to put on a costume and act out specific roles in order to earn a paycheck. Through the lens of the person-as-actor, those of us who struggle with imposter syndrome fear our disguise – that of Super Parent, All-Put-Together Bank Executive, Well-Rehearsed Musician – will be torn off.

So…what do we do? Battling imposter syndrome takes practice and, furthermore, usually involves adjusting your thinking.

Celebrate your successes. Take an objective look at how you got where you are and discard the temptation to slather on the judgment. Why did your boss ask you to take on these added responsibilities? What made the executives upstairs select you to make that presentation? What reason did your agent send you to that audition? Only look at the good stuff and go no further. Is it possible that someone selected you because you are reliable?  And that you’re super easy to work with?

Avoid the temptation to go full-on imposter syndrome. When was the last time that fear of exposure overwhelmed you?  We often believe that imposter syndrome comes on without a warning, but if you slowed down the tape, you’d see where you started going down the rabbit hole. Did you find yourself lose sleep because you panicked about what the next day would bring you? Could preparation for a presentation or audition help you sleep a little easier?  Sometimes it’s tempting to just go along with it and say, “See, I knew I wasn’t worthy of anything good in my life.” Find ways to make things easier for yourself instead of putting yourself through the discomfort of worrying about being a fraud.

You are not alone. Admitting to a trusted colleague that you battle imposter syndrome might be helpful. You might find that they also struggle and could help you to see that you’re not the only one who fears the mask will be torn off. There’s also power in being vulnerable with another person. Vulnerability does not equal weakness.

Sometimes considering how we received credit in our family-of-origin pinpoints where imposter syndrome resides in you. We learned that to celebrate our successes was the same as being pompous. This can lead to discomfort in taking pride in our accomplishments. Did you find that you only got attention when you scored goals or achieved scholarships? In some families, love feels contingent upon achieving something.  That could get pretty confusing, too. A skilled therapist could help you untie some of these knots.  You may become more comfortable in your roles and you may tear away some of the barriers to your success.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

Creativity Can Save Your Life

A common complaint that clients bring into therapy is that their work lacks creativity. Some people feel trapped in their jobs due to the need to provide for their families.   It may also be to determine how to feel better about going to the same job day after day.  The ongoing emptiness of a miserable job can lead to anxiety and depression.  Unfulfilling work can cause looming dread on Sundays, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.  In extreme cases, some people have expressed that ending their lives would be a better alternative than their current position.

When clients present their work complaints to me, we often explore how they found their way into their current career. I may ask them to consider some of these possible scenarios:

  • Does this career field now feel stale?
  • Did this work opportunity feel like an obligation?
  • Did a loved one deter you from pursuing an artistic endeavor?

A book that I often recommend to clients is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s a fantastic read, especially for those who feel drawn to artistic pursuits. This is not a how-to manual about leaving your job and suddenly becoming an artist, composer, cupcake creator, or master basket weaver. Cameron believes that each one of us is a creative being, no matter what we do for a living. Even if you consider your job routine or mundane, following the steps in the book may help you approach certain tasks in new and innovative ways.

The book consists of twelve chapters, inspired by Ms. Cameron’s success using a 12-step program to conquer her alcohol addiction. Each chapter involves a topic designed to help restore one’s inherent creativity. There is a weekly reading on a specific topic, such as recovering a sense of connection, abundance, and strength. There are exercises at the end of each chapter that ask you to recall things like what you did for fun as a child or how creativity was viewed in your home.

The author believes that, due to various factors, people’s creativity becomes “blocked” and they may be unable to express themselves freely. We may have grown up with a tyrannical parent who discounted our artistic abilities or had a teacher who made some unfortunate comments about a project we labored over. We may feel paralyzed by these attitudes and by investing the energy in the program, we might find the power to crush the voice of our inner critic.

This is not your run-of-the-mill self-help book because of the process.  The magic happens for readers of The Artist’s Way when they regularly engage in the two main requirements of the book: 1) Morning Pages and 2) Artist Dates.

Morning Pages consist of three pages of long-hand writing every morning. The idea is to write whatever comes to mind, without the structure of proper grammar or punctuation. There is even value if you only write “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be writing” over and over again.  It is basically draining your brain out every morning and leaving it on the paper. The book recommends that readers keep these pages to themselves, for now.  Writing like this can help you connect with the thoughts that reside under the surface of your psyche.

The book also recommends making quality time for yourself to engage in some creative activity such as visiting a museum or taking in a concert. The Artist Date inspires creativity. The author writes that people find the desire to discover new creative or artistic activities.  Or they felt motivated to pick up an instrument they had set aside years ago, for example.

There is great value in reading this book on your own, but it can also be useful in a group setting with others experiencing similar challenges. Some of the exercises require digging into your past to explore the roots of the obstacles to self-expression. Encountering some of these memories might be upsetting.  Working through them with a trained professional may result in a renewed sense of satisfaction with your work.

If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me, you can reach me at christine@snyderlcsw.com.  My practice is located in Livingston, New Jersey.