Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Grind Part 18 - Simple Questions During Complex Challenges


VIDEO INTRO - https://youtu.be/tYHgX8y2noY

As we all know, certain life situations can make life feel overwhelming. However, the goal is to keep grinding forward even when times are tough, and circumstances are complicated. One way to help reframe challenging and complex situations that we may face is to break things down in simple terms. An effective way to do this is to carefully think about simple, strength-based questions in the face of stifling self-statements. This is probably best explained by considering some examples.

…When faced with a complicated, overwhelming situation we may thing to ourselves thoughts such as:

“I can’t do this.”

“I don’t see a way out of this.”

“I don’t have the resources needed to solve this problem (money, time, etc.)”

“I have no idea what I am doing.”

“I’m all alone facing this.”


There are many more examples of things someone may say when overwhelmed but these are just a few to illustrate the point of this exercise. That point is that when we find ourselves in these situations making these kinds of statements, it can be extremely helpful to pause, step back, and ask ourselves simple, strengths-based questions. Consider the same examples above with corresponding simple, strength-based questions.

Overwhelming Thought

Simple, Strengths-Based Question

“I can’t do this.”



“I don’t see a way out of this”



“I don’t have the resources needed to solve this problem (money, time, etc.)”



“I have no idea what I am doing”



“I’m all alone facing this”












There are three empty rows for a reason. Think of a few more things that people may say when they are facing an overwhelming and complex challenge, then try to come up with the simple, strengths-based question that would correspond to that.


Finally, as a group take turns thinking about some overwhelming of a real life situations people are facing where they may need some help and encouragement.  Then do the following:

1.    Identify negative overwhelming thoughts.

2.    Come up with simple strengths-based question.

3.    Finally, come up with some ANSWERS for the simple strengths-based question.



1.    Overwhelming thought - “I can’t stop drinking.”


2.    Simple, strengths-based question: “What can I do?”


3.    ANSWERS from group discussion:

a.    I can attend an outpatient program.

b.    I can try an AA meeting.

c.    I can get a book about quitting drinking and read it.

d.    I can get all of the alcohol out of my house.

e.    I can take a different way home, so I don’t pass the liquor store

Now try it a group. Ask some people to volunteer to allow the group to discuss one of their problems.


In conclusion, negative thoughts can happen. However, we can still move forward in a positive way if we just give ourselves permission to try to make some small moves forward by reframing overwhelming thoughts with simple strengths based questions that we can answer.



Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Group Share Battle




Intro:  This is a game to get people talking about what is important in their lives and then hopefully in their personal change process and recovery. This isn’t really a “battle” but group members are required to “fire” guesses at each other to see if they can “hit” the target with their guesses about one another. (Something like the old board game “Battleship” if anyone remembers is) – What is most important is that this game opens up some positive discussion about what important things that are needed to make progress in the process of positive change especially when dealing with substance use and mental health issues.


Pregame - Everyone in the group should get a copy of the game grid on the next page. Take some time to look it over either individually or as a group. Group members should select the best answer from column A, B, or C and:   circle one answer for each row – Take your time as this is probably the hardest part of the game but once it’s over, it gets easier –It may be easier to read through it as a group, so everyone understands. (Counselor’s discretion)


Start the game: Select an order to go in so that everyone can get some turns in. When it is someone’s turn, they should “fire” on someone else’s game board by trying to guess another group member’s answer for any topic on the list. For example, someone’s in group (Named Jules) turn may sound something like:


  • Jules says - “Nicole (other group member) I think you answered B for Insight and Self Awareness.”


In this example Nicole should look at her grid and if she did circle B for that row (Insight and Self Awareness) then she would say “Hit” and place an X over that row on her grid. If Jules guessed wrong Nicole would say “Miss” but still don’t tell anyone the correct answer


Then the turn is over and the next person in order should go and repeat this process, “firing” a guess at another person in the group attempting to make an accurate “hit.”


Continue this until the group has had enough, there is no real end but try to make sure people have had a fair number of turns.


There are some additional rules to follow:


The same group member should not be “fired upon” two turns in a row. (Try to move around the room to be fair rather than picking on one person repeatedly)


Smart bombs - Everyone in the group gets one “Smart Bomb” which is an automatic hit – When using smart bomb just say tell the group you are firing a smart bomb and then pick a topic and ask another group member for their answer for that topic and the selected group member should share their answer(A, B, or C)  and automatically X it off their grid – (Smart bombs cannot miss they always hit the target)


BRAND NEW PEOPLE (If it is someone’s first day in group) they get 3 smart bombs.  


NEW PEOPLE – If someone is in their 3rd group or less (first week in IOP) – They get 2 smart bombs.


Make sure to do the discussion at the end which is the most important part (therapeutically speaking)


Have fun!



 After game brief review: How did you do? – Did you take a lot of hits on your grid? (Did others seem to know you well or not) - Did you feel like you did well at guessing other people’s answers?

 More in depth therapeutic discussion:


Ø Go through the topics in the grid and allow people in the group to share their answers. (Keep it open ended; everyone does not need to share just people who want too, but everyone is welcome too) – Remember that these topics are important factors for success in recovery.




Ø Discuss how each topic area is important to the positive change process?




Ø Finally:


o   Which areas are you doing well with today?




o   Which topic areas are you focusing on improving in your life today?




Bonus question (Optional but a way to end on a positive note) – What is one thing that you appreciate about being a part of this group?





Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Healthy Life - Healthy Relationships

Healthy Life – Healthy Relationships




Intro – Relationships tend to be parallel with one’s lifestyle. For example, when a person is active in misusing substances, relationships tend to go downhill. The same is true when things may not be going well with mental health for an extended period: relationships may also be strained as well. To the contrary, when changing for the better, part of the change process involves working on improving relationships. This may include:


Ending negative relationships – For example, someone working on substance use issues may work on cutting off associations with others still in the substance using lifestyle. For anyone making life changes, there may be people we need to distance ourselves from in order to make positive changes in ourselves.


Repairing existing relationships – Substance use and mental health issues can lead to conflicts, isolation, neglect, and many other relationship issues. With family, friends, and loved ones there may need to be some “repairs” made as part of the long-term recovery or positive change process.


Seek and establish new relationships – Support is needed for sustained recovery, positive change, and progress related to substance use and mental health issues. This may require finding new people to talk to who can also provide encouragement, a listening ear, and a healthy outlet for socialization.


Part 1 – Ending Negative Relationships

Social media is filled with memes that say something to the degree of “if someone is not good for you, cut them off” - These messages can be popular, but life is often not that easy. It is an oversimplification to just cut people off because there are some interpersonal problems. For example, it’s often not so easy to just ignore some close family members just because relationships are strained, especially when we live with them or interact with them often. The same is true with romantic relationships especially marriage or other commitments, particularly when children are involved. There may be a time to leave but it is not a decision to make impulsively or hastily.  When considering mental health and substance use recovery, it can be necessary to distance oneself or cut off some relationships that are highly “toxic” or extremely unhealthy. Talk to a counselor for help with these challenging choices. While thinking about some of your more challenging relationships consider some of these toxic relationship traits:


Aspects of “Toxic” Relationships 

Violence or Abuse – There simply is no place for violence or abuse of any kind (Physical or Sexual) in any relationship. Emotional abuse may be harder to identify and define but it can be just as damaging or worse.



Deception and Lying – If someone is acting the way they should be acting in a relationship, there should be nothing to lie about.  When a person hides who they really are, is that prevents the trust needed to be truly close. When you never know what the truth is in a relationship, this can impact your own stability.



Control and Jealousy – When a person attempts to “micromanage” or worse: manipulate your life, that stems from another’s deep insecurities which makes for difficult times in a relationship. This destroys trust.



Criticism and Put Downs – Your partner should be someone who builds you up, supports, and encourages you to be the best person you can be. When someone does the opposite and puts you down, insults you and actively works toward breaking your spirit this can be very problematic and hurtful.

Disrespect and Lack of Empathy – Healthy relationships are built on mutual understanding and respect. When someone consistently fails to respect you and does not make an effort to try to understand your views, beliefs, and values then the relationship is not going to grow.



Disloyalty and Mistrust – Your partners should be someone you can trust. There should not be any form of “double life” where there is part of a person you see, and part that you don’t really know about. Also if someone chronically won’t trust you and is constantly questioning your motives and actions or spying on you then that is another sign of toxic insecurity which is very damaging in relationships.



One Way Relationships – It is not a good sign if a relationship is drastically unbalanced and there is one “giver” and one “taker” – A relationship does not need to be exactly 50/50 across the board as one partner may do more in one area and the other partner may excel in other ways. When one partner is extremely selfish and self-centered and the other is taken advantage of causing an imbalance, it’s a problem. (When one partner is sick or disabled in a relationship, then that is a different situation as one person may accept a caretaker role)



Dependency and Rescuing – When one person in a relationship is losing control of their life and the other person falls into the role of constant rescuer, this can be a very unhealthy and destructive relationship pattern that can get worse and worse with time. Resentment may follow.



Part 2 – Repairing Existing Relationships


Relationships can be improved by adding or repairing the following “building blocks” of healthy relationships shown in the wall diagram. These healthy building blocks are also important for the next section: Finding new relationships.


Even when are problems, many relationships are worth working on. This is especially true with deeper relationships and commitments where is worth putting in some time and effort to attempt to make repairs, if possible  (provided it is a safe environment – when there is violence or other immediate safety concerns, then safety of self and children should be considered first) Should you decide to work on a relationship, often it can be improved by working on the following “building blocks” of healthy relationships. We cannot change other people, so when it comes to relationships that are worth working on, we can start with working on ourselves and our own reactions to situations. At the same time, we can enhance our skills for effectively communicating our needs with our relationship partners.


All of these building blocks are important and helpful, but consider which ones particularly stand out to you as qualities that you need to focus on when it comes to improving your current relationships:


Again it is worth repeating: You can’t change other people but you can change yourself – So, starting with yourself first, which areas from the “Building Blocks” do you need to work on?



Next, which areas can you develop a plan to discuss with your current relationship partner?



Finally, who and what can help you and your relationship partner to build these qualities? Be creative and remember this process takes time.

[Click to expand]

Part 3 - Finding new relationships.


Consider the following “new” things to add to life to increase the likelihood of finding new relationships:


New values bring new priorities – When making positive lifestyle changes our priorities change. For example, changing substance use habits should change our values. When looking for new healthy relationships and friendships, it is important to allow our new positive values and priorities to guide our search.



New places to look: Granted there are people with problems everywhere, there are still some places that have a higher likelihood for finding a more mentally and emotionally healthy friend or partner than others. For example, which is better a bar or a bookstore? A party or a park? A club or a community meeting? With this in mind, what are some more positive new places you may try to go to try to meet new people?



New things to try: There may be hobbies and interests that you might like if you give them a chance. These hobbies can open the door to meeting new people with similar interests. What comes to mind?



New ways to get involved: Getting off the sidelines and being active can open the doorway to meeting people. If you are part of a group or meeting can you speak up more or attempt to increase participation? Also. volunteer work, joining interest groups and clubs and actively participating, for example, can create more social opportunities.



New perspectives on what you already have – Do you know someone who seems like they may be a potential friend (like a coworker or someone else you see around who seems interesting and stable?) Consider asking that person to get a cup of coffee or do something together, which can be a way of making new social contacts. Also, if you have existing friends who go places and know people whom you have not gotten to know, can you work with your existing social group to meet some friends of your friends? What can you try?



New skills to work on – In order to build the confidence needed to make friends and find new relationships, it may require establishing and practicing social skills. There is an “art” to starting and maintain conversations. Learning to overcome fear and social anxiety may also be needed for relationship building as well as assertiveness skills and understanding healthy social boundaries. Therapy is a great place to work on these skills.




Closing Discussion: Making Practical Application


This exercise covered a lot of information. What are some specific and practical things from the exercise and group discussion that you are going to work on to enhance relationships? (Try to come up with 3 or 4)













Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Relationships: The Cycle of Over-functioning, Guilt, and Resentment


The Cycle of Over-functioning, Guilt, and Resentment  

Link to video introduction: https://youtu.be/z2zvEjGJoAc

Intro: Not everyone will be able to fully identify with the cycle of emotions, behaviors and reactions presented here, however there are people who will fully understand this common pattern for certain personality types. Review and discuss the cycle below as a group. Start with Over-functioning and then go around clockwise reviewing each stage. Group members should openly discuss what they can identify with at each stage:


Have you ever experienced all or part of this repetitive life cycle?

Breaking the Cycle of Over-functioning, Guilt, and Resentment


Below are some things to work on in the process of self-improvement to break this stressful and often painful cycle. Many of these areas can be addressed in therapy or in support groups:


Set boundaries and limits – Identify and learn when to say when. Helping others, selflessness, generosity, and giving are all good qualities but it can be important to know when we are doing more than we handle or giving more than we have to give.  Prevent feeling resentment by learning where to draw the line, before resentment kicks in. It can be important to recognize when we are being used by others or taken advantage of.


Assertive communication – Learn how to effectively protect your boundaries and limits by saying “no” respectfully and honestly. It is essential to learn how to communicate our own feelings, needs, and our own limitations. This can be done calmly and respectfully through the use of assertive communication skills.


Self Esteem – Working on self-esteem and self-worth can be very important in preventing people-pleasing. Part of this process can be to learn to use coping skills to avoid faulty thinking such as: “I have to do for people so they will like me” or “When I say no, I feel like a bad person” or “I need people’s constant approval and appreciation to feel loved.”


Inappropriate Guilt – There are times when it is okay to say no without feeling guilty. Feelings of inappropriate guilt can fuel the negative cycle being discussed in this exercise.  


Break the “Addiction” to Appreciation – Sometimes the need to feel appreciated can be like a drug which can become compulsive. Helping others because we care about them is admirable but helping others primarily so that people will like and appreciate us can become unhealthy. Like with any addiction, things can spiral out of control. When people fail to show appreciation, this can fuel resentment as discussed in this cycle.


Healthy Outlets and Coping Skills and Self Care– When we develop our set of useful coping skills, supports, and positive ways to channel emotions and to care for our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs, then it becomes easier to cope with do the other things on this list like building self-esteem, setting limits, communicating assertively and coping with guilt.


Reevaluate Relationships – It can be important and helpful to self-reflect and ask oneself is various individuals in our lives may be exploiting, taking advantage, or being a “user”. There can be “one-way” relationships with some people where one person is the taker, and the other person is primarily a giver which is simply not fair. It can be helpful to evaluate which relationships are not worth maintaining any longer for the sake of our own mental health. Some relationships we may elect to hold on too (like family) but then focusing on setting limits and assertiveness becomes even more important in changing the negative dynamics of these types of relationships.



What do you need to work on? DISCUSS – (Keep in mind all of these issues are good to discuss with a therapist if that is available)