Friday, June 8, 2018

I Feel Like No One Understands...

Have you ever been in a unique and challenging situation that caused you to feel like no one really understood what you were going through? Just about everyone has had that feeling at one time or another. One of the beautiful things about group therapy is that being involved in a cohesive group program provides an opportunity for group members to share their individual experiences with others who can respond with empathy.

Besides love and compassion, empathy is one of the most powerful factors when it comes to connecting with other human beings in a positive manner. Empathy involves shared thoughts, feelings and attitudes, even when personal experiences and backgrounds may be different. Empathy is like a bridge that connects one person to another through identification and understanding.

Three quick but key points for showing and experiencing empathy: Empathy comes more naturally to some people than others. Here are a few things to focus on when showing empathy:

Suspend interpersonal judgement – When empathizing with another person, judging that person’s actions can get in the way of understanding. Temporarily forget about whether or not you agree or disagree with what that person did when trying to empathize.

Focus on their heart and mind, not your own – When showing empathy, forget about how you imagine that you would think and feel in that person’s situation based on your experience and focus more on how that individual must have thought and felt from their perspective (which may be completely different than how you would feel in the same situation)

Imaginatively get into the other person’s world – Allow the other person’s point of view, circumstances and experiences to take you out of your own head and into their world, seeing and feeling things from their point of view and frame of reference as best that you can imagine

Showing Empathy Group Exercise:

Think about the title of this page: “I feel like no one understands…” Take a few minutes to think about a situation in your life which can be difficult to understand. Take turns sharing your situation one person at a time and allow your group members to try to show you empathy by responding according to the following rules for listeners:

Listen, but:
  • Don't give advice
  • Do not focus on whether you agree or disagree
  • Do not explain how you think the situation could have been handled differently
  • Try to respond with empathy and understanding

free addiction and mental health tools and information

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Accountability: Are You Meeting the Challenge?

Accountability and You: Are You Meeting the Challenge?

What exactly does it mean to be accountable?

Accountable: adj. – The obligation of an individual to account for his/her activities, accept responsibility for them and to disclose the results in a transparent manner – ( 

In simple terms, being accountable involves:

> Accepting responsibility for your actions

> Being answerable for the outcomes

> Taking ownership of your mistakes

Being accountable usually doesn’t come easy for anyone and it takes practice. However, learning to be accountable is highly beneficial and with time anyone can improve. Consider the following:

Accountability is closely linked with enhancing the following positive life benefits:

Successful relationships
Achievement of goals

To put it in perspective, think of the kind of person who you would want as a leader – Wouldn’t you want that person to be accountable for his or her actions? If you were assembling a team of some kind, wouldn’t you desire the members of that team to all be accountable? Accountability leads to success

Avoiding accountability by making excuses, blaming, lying, etc. is taking the short term easy way out when a problem arises. Facing your problems, mistakes, and challenges by being accountable is a path toward long term success.

Opening thoughts for self-examination: Which way do you lean when it comes to accountability?

> Point fingers or provide answers?
> Work hard or whine?
> Accept or accuse?
> Face the facts or flee?
> Confront challenges or criticize?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Use Your Brain and Not Your Pain

What we say and what we do, especially in the heat of an emotionally charged moment, can usually be traced back to originate from one of two figurative areas: From our “brain” or from our “pain”*. Consider the following:

Our Brain – This is the metaphorical part of our consciousness that can put aside emotion to instead use rational and reasonable thinking. Decisions and actions are then based on a combination of sound judgment, reason, logic and good sense.

Our Pain – This symbolizes our personal collection of emotionally-charged memories of how we were mistreated, abused, hurt, frightened, cheated, tricked or taken advantage of in the past. This can be especially hard to ignore when the pain comes from a deep emotional scar or when the painful wound is still “open” (e.g. has not healed yet)

Surely you are already aware of the value of thinking before reacting and it is likely that you have been instructed to think before you speak since childhood. However, the question is, are you putting this into practice, especially in difficult, impassioned, or emotionally sensitive situations? It can be a challenge. Consider a few common ways to recognize if your thoughts and actions are coming more from your “brain” or more from your “pain”

Know Yourself…Questions for Discussion:

Did anything in the above chart stand out to you personally? What are some of your strengths and challenges?

When it comes to emotional pain, what are some of your sensitive areas? (Think about things that can trigger you)

Discuss and share as a group: What is helpful to you personally when it comes to successfully managing your emotions in a positive way, even when you may be feeling triggered?

*This concept of “brain vs. pain” is being presented in a very basic and brief format as a simplified tool for decision making when facing stress or conflict particularly when coping with a substance use or mental health issue. Similar expanded and more detailed versions of this concept our outlined and explained in greater detail in several therapeutic approaches such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and others.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Strategy List for Families Dealing with a Loved One’s Substance Use Issue

There are no easy answers. If anyone tells you they have a simple solution don’t listen to them.  Change is challenging. (Consider yourself, for example – is change easy for you?)

Ø Positive change is derived from a combination of insight, internal motivation and external motivation. These factors often change with time so you may need to adapt your approach

Ø Every human has free will (whether we like it or not, acceptance of this is important)

Ø There is HOPE – Part of your mission should be to hold on to hope and remain a source of hope (often in combination with a lot of patience) – Believe in the capacity for change in your loved one

Keeping a positive focus is better than relying primarily on negatively focused strategies – (Often easier said than done because of all of the emotions involved)

Ø Nagging is ineffective. Nagging is often a dysfunctional outlet for the frustrated family member but does little for the individual who is struggling with addiction

Ø “Tough Love” has a time and place – It is often not a first line tactic but to be used more as a last resort. (The “nuclear” option)

Ø “FBI tactics” alone are not enough – Staying alert is fine but focusing entirely on staying “one step ahead” is often a losing proposition when dealing with addiction. No matter how hard you try, you will be fooled on occasion and valuable energy can be wasted on surveillance and spying

Ø Honesty is essential and means a lot more than using deception or trickery. If you expect honesty, then model it yourself for your family member. You lose credibility and trust when you lie

Ø “Use your brain and not your pain” – As difficult as it can be, do your best to remain reasonable, rational, using sound judgement, rather than lashing out emotionally. Help one another with this

Ø Try to be proactive rather than reactive – Clear concise warnings of expectations ahead of time can make difficult decisions much easier later. Avoid overly repetitious warnings which can mirror nagging. Follow through on warnings when needed

Ø The saying is true: “Trust has to be earned – Trust is a lot like managing a bank account with “deposits” and “withdrawals” – Allow trust to be earned with time even when it can be scary to let go

Ø Behavior and attitude are the best measures of progress – Stay alert to subtle changes either way (but avoid nagging about them). Notice, recognize and praise the positive that you see

Ø Do not undervalue the power of encouragement – Sow sincere “seeds” of encouragement which may sprout with time. Emphasize the positive even when it seems small – Praise is powerful

Sometimes there is more – If someone is “holding on” to their substance use, often they may not let go until they see something else better to reach out for. *But they have to want it

Ø Coexisting issues often play a role – Mental health, trauma, and other issues can be a huge part of the puzzle – Or not – Sometimes addiction is just addiction

Family should be as united as possible – Communicate, work together, and avoid undermining each other. Be there to provide checks and balances for each other as it is easy to get caught up in emotions and pain. Remember self-care and caring for one another. Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself

For a printable version of this on - CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Garbages and Gardens - Attitude Made Simple

Attitude: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards” (

The following is a simple, two-phase strategy toward developing and maintaining a positive attitude, (provided of course that you want to have a positive attitude – some people choose to like their negative attitude which is another problem unto itself)
If you want to have a positive attitude you should regularly “throw away” what isn’t good for you. Because we are human and imperfect, negative aspects of attitude can pop up at any time. People with a positive attitude have mastered the art of eliminating the thoughts that can transform a good attitude into a bad one. Everyone has negative thoughts at some point so it is critical to be able to know what thoughts are potentially dangerous to our outlook and attitude and then to quickly throw those negative thoughts in the garbage, like the trash that they are.
As one would expect, the next key component of maintaining a positive attitude is identifying and then nurturing the positive thoughts that sustain a positive mindset and viewpoint. The most important thing about positive thoughts is that they have to be meaningful to you. If thinking positive thoughts does not come naturally to you, then similar to growing a garden of flowers, you may need to plant, seed, fertilize, water and cultivate positive thoughts in order to help them “bloom” in your current state of mind.
The following questions will open discussion about attitude followed by further group activities afterward:

Attitude Self-Assessment
How would you rate your overall attitude in life?

When you are struggling with your attitude, what does it look like to yourself and to others?

What can trigger a negative shift in attitude for you?

What are some challenges when it comes to your overall outlook and attitude in life today?

What are some areas in which you have made improvement when it comes to your attitude?

How do you look, act and feel when you are able to keep a positive attitude?

Who or what can help you maintain and sustain a positive attitude?

What do you think that you may still need to work on in these areas?

Friday, March 16, 2018

Forgive, Live and Love


When you feel you need it and cannot get it the pain can be so great.

But when you owe it and don't want to give it away, the struggle can be even more damaging

Forgiveness is a topic that will never go away, not in this world. In substance use treatment the topic of forgiveness is guaranteed to come up sooner or later. This is especially true after you start digging deeper into the hurt, trauma, resentment and pain that often can help start or sustain an addiction in many lives.
Forgiveness by itself is not the answer but it certainly can be a huge part of the equation. Resentment, which is the polar opposite of forgiveness, is one of the ugliest human emotions that serves no positive purpose. To let go of and release resentment out of the proverbial heart can be likened cutting out the cancer from one’s afflicted flesh. All of this can be easier said, than done as forgiveness does not always come easy. Forgiveness can be challenging especially when the pain that was experienced cuts very deep, but forgiveness is certainly worth it. Resentment is pain, whereas forgiveness is healing.

In order to start too open up personally about this important topic please discuss the following statements which are presented in a “True or False” format. (Give your best answers based on your personal thoughts, insight, feelings and experiences)

Make your best estimate of yourself by answering the following statements: True or False – Then explain why:
Forgiveness comes easy to me most of the time…
I can think of someone or something that I resent in my life right now…
Overall, for the most part I am a pretty loving person…
There are some good people in my life who have forgiven me…
I can be vengeful or vindictive…
I want people to suffer for what they’ve done to me…
I would rather just let it go when I feel myself holding on to anger for too long…
I am proud to say that I do have any enemies…
I sometimes obsess over my feelings when someone disappoints me…
I am willing to make personal sacrifices to keep peace with others…
I often cannot let it slide when someone insults me even if it was an accident…
I find it hard to resist arguing with others who say things I find offensive or ignorant…
I find that overall I am pretty tolerant and accepting of others…
I can readily accept it and move on when someone apologizes…
It is easy for me to apologize when I am wrong…
I need to work on resentment…
I need to work on forgiveness…

Friday, March 2, 2018

Opening the Door

OPENING THE DOOR - “What a shame, you’re not living up to your potential!”” – Have you ever heard those harrowing words spoken in your direction before? It can be annoying when things are going well yet it can be even more frustrating when you know that those words may be true. For just about anyone alive it is so important to remain open to the idea of continuous self-improvement. It is so critical for everyone to recognize and believe in their true potential. Otherwise, to ignore the possibilities in front of you and to give up on your dreams can lead to a state of standing still, stagnation and eventual misery. Even worse, if we don’t make a continuous effort to move forward in life then it can lead to an endless cycle of going in circles, repeating the same old mistakes over and over and at times adding in some new ones. Instead, change is good, provided that we are pointed in a positive direction toward valuable long term goals.

Realizing Potential

When it comes to falling short of living up to our potential, there can be a tendency to make excuses and rationalizations. Life can surely be very hard and there are often multiple unfair situations and challenges many of us are facing. Moving forward and getting out of a rut can seem like an impossible task. Nevertheless, with the right mindset we can make things better. It happens all the time and there are so many real life examples of people who overcame the stumbling blocks that life may have placed along their path. If you are struggling, why not strive to be one of those examples of people who beat the odds to be the best you can be in spite of whatever may seem like it is in the way.  

Living up to your potential – Group exercise:

Directions: Read and discuss the following brief thoughts and inspirational sayings about unlocking your potential. There are two ways that a group can do this exercise.

1      Read through the entire list as a group one quote at a time and pause after each one to discuss each quote as an entire group. Or:

2    Cut out all the quotes into paper strips and randomly hand each group member a strip of paper with one of the quotes. Going around the group one by one, discuss and give your viewpoint on the motivational thought that you were given.

Whichever way the group discusses the list below, as it is being discussed each person should take note of what may have that stood out as personally relevant or meaningful.

Simple Thoughts & Quotes about Realizing Potential –
“Do not let the memories of your past limit the potential of your future. There are no limits to what you can achieve on your journey through life, except in your mind.” ― Roy T. Bennett

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential” – Liane Cordes

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” ― William Faulkner

“You learn something valuable from all of the significant events and people, but you never touch your true potential until you challenge yourself to go beyond imposed limitations.” ― Roy T. Bennett

“The choices you make now, the people you surround yourself with, they all have the potential to affect your life, even who you are, forever.” ― Sarah Dessen

“Potential has a shelf life.” ― Margaret Atwood

“You can dance in the storm. Don't wait for the rain to be over before because it might take too long. You can do it now. Wherever you are, right now, you can start, right now; this very moment.” ― Israelmore Ayivor

“Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today.” ― Tim Fargo

“Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential.” ― Stephen R. Covey

“It isn't where you came from; it's where you're going that counts.” ― Ella Fitzgerald

“You must decide if you are going to rob the world or bless it with the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you.” ― Myles Munroe

“People who repeatedly attack your confidence and self-esteem are quite aware of your potential, even if you are not.” ― Wayne Gerard Trotman

“Everybody's got the potential for great good and great wrong in them, but it's the
choices we make that define who we really are.” ― 
Charles de Lint

“Give time, give space to sprout your potential. Awaken the beauty of your heart – the beauty of your spirit. There are infinite possibilities.” ― Amit Ray

“Stop lying to yourself. When we deny our own truth, we deny our own potential.” ― Steve Maraboli

“Believe in yourself, your abilities and your own potential. Never let self-doubt hold you captive. You are worthy of all that you dream of and hope for.” ― Roy Bennett

“You‘ve been given the innate power to shape your life.” ― Steve Maraboli

“The possibility of the dream gives strength.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

“It takes drive and focus to move from potential to reality.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

“Most of us are capable of more than we believe.” ― Nathaniel Branden

“Your life is important. Honor it. Fight for your highest possibilities.” ― Nathaniel Branden

“Refuse to become a victim of your circumstances and give a lift to your potentials each and every day against the wish of any obstacle you encounter!” ― Israelmore Ayivor

“We are treasure chests with more jewels inside than we can imagine.” ― Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

“With a decision and a defined purpose, you can begin work.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

“Anxiety does not make a future situation turn out better if anything it stops you from reaching your highest potential. Relax and live in the present, not the future.” ― Avina Celeste

Which thoughts and quotes 
stood out to you personally and why?

For a printable version of this with extended group activities: