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Developing Self-Esteem: One Thought at a Time

Developing Self-Esteem: One Thought at a Time

Do You Know How Awesome You Are?

Hey, let’s try something. Can you name 3 things that you LOVE about yourself? 

You don’t have to grab a piece of paper or pull up your Notes app. Just take a moment, close your eyes, and answer that question for yourself in your mind.

How did it feel to do that?

Now think about how easy it is for you to describe the wonderful things about someone else in your life. Someone you love, admire, or even only know superficially. For many people, it is a little more complicated to do that for themselves

Some people can rattle off a long list of their best qualities and accomplishments. Some can confidently name a few. I was working with a client recently who felt extremely uncomfortable identifying even one. 

When I asked her to do this exercise, she puzzled over it for a while before settling on one. But then came a flood of uncertainty, and she began to doubt whether it was true or not. She tried a few more times but ultimately she gave up on the entire exercise, feeling frustrated and disingenuous. 

This was someone who is highly intelligent, extremely kind, a hard worker, and truly lovely inside and out. She struggled with perfectionism in her work, insecurity in her relationships, and a lot of anxiety. We worked together to tackle those issues, and found that ultimately they all stemmed from her low self-esteem.

Recognize Your Narratives

The narratives we construct about ourselves are informed by our early experiences, our caregivers, our teachers, our friends, the media, and society at large. As we grow up, we are constantly bombarded with messages and belief systems about the world around us, and we quickly learn to internalize them. Recognize that some of the thoughts you have about yourself are part of deeper, more subconscious narratives you hold, and may not actually be the whole truth. 

For example, if you’re in the dating world, you may be experiencing various forms of rejection on a regular basis. A bad date can lead to thoughts like, “I acted like an idiot!”, “I can’t believe I said that, I’m so stupid!”, “I’m ugly!”. It’s important to recognize that thoughts like these are your brain cherry-picking through all the potential thoughts you could have about that situation in order to feed into those constructed narratives that you hold about yourself. In this case, it may be a deeper narrative of “I’m not loveable”.

Reflecting, journaling, and doing growth work through therapy or coaching are some ways to learn to recognize these thought patterns and the deeper narratives you are holding on to. They are usually so ingrained and instinctual that we have to make a real effort to even notice that they are present. 

Learn How to Thought-Stop

Thought-stopping is a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) technique that I teach many of my clients who struggle with anxiety. Once you have done the work of recognizing the untrue or harmful narratives you hold about yourself, the goal is to learn to stop the thoughts that feed them further. 

I like to describe this as a muscle: Just as you need to continually do strength training work to keep your biceps strong, you need to strengthen your thought-stopping muscle in order for it to be effective. 

The basic idea is to bring more awareness to those moments when you have an unhelpful or harmful thought, like “I’m an idiot!”, and quickly perform a stopping exercise. This can be simply saying “Stop!” to yourself, or even a physical action like snapping a rubber band on your wrist. The goal is to develop awareness of the thought patterns, and to stop the tendency of letting harmful thoughts spiral into anxiety or continue to feed that unhelpful narrative. 

I like to think of thought-stopping as a protective measure to keep that harmful self-narrative from cementing further. It’s good practice to develop more awareness of your thought patterns and to feel more in control of your thoughts and anxiety. However, to develop self-esteem, we also have to do some deeper work to challenge these narratives we hold about ourselves.

Challenge, Re-Frame, and Practice Self-Compassion

While thought-stopping is a great practice to have in your toolbox for managing anxiety and spiraling self-criticism, we also want to make a deliberate effort to challenge some of those harmful narratives we hold about ourselves. Taking time and space to really look at what we think about ourselves, where it comes from, and how to re-frame some of those beliefs with more compassion is a vital part of building self-esteem. 

For example, with the dating situation, listing the ways in which you are a desirable partner and truly allowing yourself to look at where you tend to dismiss the positives and highlight the negatives. A supportive therapist or coach can be a helpful person to do this with, because we often find it hard to recognize when we are being unfair on ourselves or engaging in black-and-white thinking.

If you’ve read this far, you are probably someone who is looking to boost their self-esteem and are ready to make some changes in your life. One actionable tip I have for you may be one you’ve heard before: talk to yourself as you would talk to a close friend who is going through something difficult. 

Would you be harsh or overly critical with this friend when they make mistakes? When someone says something rude to them on a date? When someone talks down to them at work? When they are feeling anxious or fearful of tackling a challenge in their life? Just as you are capable of being a kind, compassionate and supportive friend, you are capable of developing your own self-esteem and gaining more success and happiness in so many more areas of your life.

Remember that exercise we started with? Try incorporating it into your life as a 5 minute practice. Maybe in the evening, before you go to bed, as a way to wind down and reflect. Or maybe in a 5 minute break in the middle of your busy day, when you’ve been on the go and have already had a thousand thoughts that you have not yet brought awareness to. Take a few minutes to breathe, check in on your thoughts, reframe anything that you need to, and remind yourself that you are trying your best, and you are worthy. 

Developing self-esteem is not easy. It takes a lot of energy, patience, perseverance, and support to be able to do some of the work I’ve laid out here. But it can be hugely gratifying to be able to live with less self-doubt, less anxiety, more purpose, more confidence, and a stronger sense of how kickass you are!

All the best, 
Sharmishtha Gupta, Ed.M., M.A.

Sharmishtha Gupta, Ed.M, M.A., is a warm, validating counselor and coach who can help you uncover your strengths, get clear about who you are, heal your spirit, and attain the highest and best in yourself and your relationships.

Let’s  Talk

The Power of Decluttering

The Power of Decluttering

Release Your Stuff + Rediscover Yourself

DECLUTTER YOUR LIFE: Do you ever feel oppressed by all the stuff you’re hanging on to? Is it hard to get organized, and stay organized? Do you feel like your life is crammed full of obligations, relationships, things — even a career — that no longer fits the person you’ve grown into?

Intentionally getting clear about who you are NOW, and where you want to go with your life can help you cut through all the clutter and develop an environment and a lifestyle that feels satisfying and congruent with the best parts of you.

How Decluttering Improves Your Life

Releasing things that no longer fit the person you’ve grown into helps you on so many levels. Not only is it much easier to get (and stay!) organized when you have fewer things in your life; the act of purging can help you re-evaluate what is most important to you and get increased clarity about your values. [More: How to Find Your Purpose in Life]

Every time you intentionally release something from your life, you are essentially asking yourself, “Is this object / relationship / commitment congruent with the person I am growing into?” If the answer is no, it gives you the confidence to let go of it, and consciously make space for what you DO want in your life.

Where to Start Decluttering

This is the perfect time of year to get organized and declutter. The back-to-school season naturally brings an energy of newness and regeneration. However, “declutter paralysis” is also a thing that can prevent you from decluttering your home. Many people feel genuinely overwhelmed at the prospect of decluttering their homes, and their lives. Part of this may be due to the actual work involved in going through everything, but often, decluttering feels so stressful because of the emotional attachments we have to objects and circumstances.

The trick to intentional decluttering is not actually hauling out all the stuff and sorting it into keep or release boxes. The key to decluttering and getting organized is internal: Sorting through your values, core beliefs and emotional attachments must come first. Then, the actual purging part is much easier because you know what to do.

Decluttering Podcast With a Decluttering Expert!

True, meaningful decluttering goes much deeper than just cleaning out a closet. Decluttering, and maintaining a values-based lifestyle is an exercise in personal clarity and evolution. To help YOU along your journey of renewal and growth I’ve invited decluttering expert Olivia Heine to join me on the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

If you’re looking for some decluttering inspiration, you’ll definitely want to listen to this episode. We’re discussing:

  • How decluttering your life can lead to emotional growth and healing
  • How to get clarity about your self and your life goals, so that you know what to keep and what to let go of
  • How to use the process of decluttering as a vehicle that can actually help you process unfinished emotional business from the past
  • Why releasing physical possessions is often the first step in making positive changes in other parts of your life
  • How to deal with tricky emotions (like guilt) that make it hard to let go of things
  • How to declutter your life, your relationships, your career, and your time
  • How the practice of decluttering helps you feel more confident and empowered
  • How holding space in your life for the things that ARE important to you helps you create the life you want
  • How to maintain an organized, selective lifestyle long-term
  • And more!

So much good stuff to share with you. Olivia and I hope this discussion helps YOU get clear about who you are, what you want…. and what it’s time to release!

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby & Olivia Heine (@declutteredintentions)

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

The Power of Decluttering

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Josh Woodward, “Release”

Enjoy This Episode?

Please Rate, Review and Share The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast!

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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How to Love Yourself, Unconditionally

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Do You Need Therapy or Life Coaching?

Do You Need Therapy or Life Coaching?

Which Path is Right For You?

THERAPY OR COACHING? If you’re seriously considering getting involved in some personal growth work, you may have wondered whether therapy or life coaching would be the best path for you. There is a lot of confusion about the differences between therapy and life coaching. In all honesty, there is a great deal of overlap. There are also important differences between them. Educating yourself about the similarities and differences can help you choose the path that will be most genuinely helpful for you in accomplishing your personal goals.

Advice From a Therapist Who is Also a Life Coach

 I have both a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate in counseling, and have been a therapist and marriage counselor in Denver for over a decade. About five years ago I also went through a life coaching program and became a board certified life coach too. These days, I practice both therapy and life coaching, (as well as couples therapy and relationship coaching) and have spent a lot of time educating people about the similarities, and the difference between the two approaches. [Read all about “The Difference Between Counseling and Coaching.”]

First, let’s talk about the similarities between counseling and coaching.

The Similarities Between Therapy and Life Coaching

Therapy / Counseling (generally interchangeable terms) and life coaching have many things in common. The success of either therapy or life coaching are largely dependent on having a positive, strong relationship with your coach or therapist. Both therapy and coaching create a safe place for you to discuss your concerns, and your hopes for your life. 

Whether you’re in therapy or coaching (with a well trained coach, at least) you’ll experience:

  • Focused attention on you and your concerns, and time and space to talk through your thoughts and feelings in order to achieve clarity and new awarenesses about yourself
  • The opportunity to discover new ways of thinking and behaving that will help you grow
  • Encouragement, and the positive regard of your therapist or your coach

Both approaches can be very effective in helping people get unstuck, and move forward in their lives. However, there are also many differences between therapy and life coaching. While both of them can be helpful, both approaches can have serious limitations for helping people with certain kinds of issues and goals.

The Problem With Therapy

For example, while therapy can be an extremely powerful and life changing experience for some people, therapy can be a huge waste of time and money for others. In fact, “therapy refugees” come into our practice all the time feeling incredibly frustrated and put-off by their previous experiences in traditional therapy.

Specifically, many mental health therapists are extremely “non-directive” meaning that they do not guide the sessions, offer specific input or challenge clients; rather, they allow clients the time and space to talk (and talk, and talk) confident that, eventually, people will arrive at their own conclusions about the right answers for them. Under the surface, traditionally trained therapists believe that people are being healed through the experience of having a positive relationship with their non-judgmental therapist, and by having the opportunity to make contact with and express their feelings. This type of therapy can be extremely helpful to people who have had traumatic life experiences, and who have been abused.

All of this is wonderful, under the right circumstances (and certainly, exploring thoughts and feelings is part of great coaching as well). However, many people seeking meaningful personal growth work don’t need someone to “hold their space,” re-parent them emotionally, or help them “work through feelings.” Life coaching clients generally already have positive relationships with friends, loving parents, and supportive people in their lives. They don’t have deep trauma to work through. They are ready to make actual, positive changes in their lives, and looking for answers and action. They want guidance, they want tools, they want strategies, and they want to take action and get different results in their lives and their relationships.  Life coaching will give them that.

Traditional talk therapy is, by design, gentle and slow. This is a good thing for people who are hurting, and in need of a safe space to work through hard things. But for people who could benefit more from coaching, traditional therapists often seem kind of checked out. A traditional therapist may not challenge you or offer any feedback or guidance, and will wait for you to “find your own answers.” This can feel so annoying for people who are ready to dig in and take action.

People seeking life coaching are not looking for a new best friend. They want the personal growth equivalent of a car-mechanic who can tell them what’s not working, and how to get better results in their lives and in their relationships. For these people, therapy is often an expensive, unproductive waste of time. For people seeking positive change, life coaching, career coaching, or relationship coaching will be a much more satisfying experience. 

Furthermore, “psychotherapy” is behavioral healthcare. Therapy (the kind that is covered by health insurance) is seen by the medical community as medically necessary treatment for a mental health diagnosis. When you’re in “therapy” the assumption is that you’re dealing with a disorder that you’re seeking treatment for: Anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, etc. If you’ve ever used insurance to cover the costs of therapy, your therapist has given you a diagnosis and then submitted medical claims saying that they are treating you for a psychiatric condition. That’s how health insurance works.

In contrast, many many people (our clients, anyway) who are looking for “therapy” aren’t reaching out because they have a mental health condition. They don’t have anxiety, they don’t have depression, and they’re not seeking to heal from a difficult past. They just want to evolve, grow personally, improve their relationships, gain self-awareness and self-confidence, and feel like they’re growing into the person they want to be… not “recover.”

If you’re trying to do this work with a traditional therapist who’s framing your normal personal growth work as evidence of a “disordered,” it’s demoralizing and not helpful. When you’re trying to simply improve yourself, have better relationships, and feel happier, last thing you need is to connect with a therapist who makes you feel like (and believes) that there is something wrong with you. In contrast, life coaching and relationship coaching assumes that you’re simply a normal person having normal life experiences, hoping to attain goals or get different outcomes for yourself and your relationships. You’re not sick, you’re not disordered, you’re simply dissatisfied and wanting more for yourself.

Coaching provides feedback, guidance, new ideas, and always guides you towards action. The first stage of great coaching involves creating clarity about what you want. Then we identify the obstacles (internal and external) standing in between you and your desired reality. Then you develop strategies and an action plan to begin having new experiences and creating positive change. Your coach is your accountability partner, your cheerleader, your guide and your co-collaborator. Together, you’ll look at what’s working, what isn’t, and where to fine tune your process as you go. Over time you’ll not just learn and grow, but create real-world changes that you can feel great about.

The Problem With Coaching

Life coaching, career coaching and relationship coaching are fantastic, effective vehicles for personal growth and positive change, for people who are able to make use of them. However, coaching isn’t always a great strategy, especially when deeper things need to be addressed and resolved first.

In fact, coaching strategies are not going to be helpful at all for people who need to heal and grow before they can start making big changes in their lives. If you attempt life coaching when you have more serious underlying issues, life coaching can actually make you feel worse. Why? Because when you have depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use problems, or other underlying mental health issues, you cannot make good use of coaching strategies. The feelings are too strong; they’re like a tidal wave wiping out your good intentions. 

In order for action oriented positive change to occur, you must first heal from these conditions. This takes time, and specialized skills and experience of an excellent therapist who knows how to help you resolve the underlying mental health conditions that will always sabotage your attempts to take positive action. 

For example, we often have people reach out to us interested in life coaching. However, sometimes, through our interviewing process and assessment process (and because of the fact that all our life coaches are mental health professionals, and know enough to tell the difference) we become aware that the issues they’re describing are actually consistent with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression or PTSD. People really want to make positive changes, but life coaching strategies are not going to be enough to move the needle. They’re feeling so badly on the inside, that they just can’t follow through. In these cases, we suggest that they engage in therapy in order to heal first, and then come back into life coaching when they’re ready to move forward.

And really, mental health issues are common. National statistics show that at any given time one in five Americans are struggling with mild to moderate mental health symptoms. One in twenty-five American adults, annually, will experience a mental illness episode that is severe enough to impact daily functioning. Over their lifetime, nearly half of all Americans will meet criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition.

Mental health issues are real. They are common. They are treatable. However, it requires specialized education, training and experience to identify and correctly diagnose mental health symptoms (as different from dissatisfaction due to life circumstances). There are also very specific types of evidence-based therapy that work best for different conditions. Many mental health practitioners spend years and years educating themselves, attending trainings and seeking out consultation with other mental health experts to ensure they are providing the highest quality treatment in their area of expertise, like trauma, depression, anxiety disorders and more. 

Because of this, the biggest risk of coaching is to get involved with someone who is simply a life coach, who does not have the education, training or experience to recognize when mental health issues will sabotage coaching. (Much less the ability to help you resolve these foundational issues first). At best, a “life coach” may have attended a 1 to 9 month certificate program… maybe. If you’re lucky.

Not-so-fun-fact: Life coaching is not a recognized, regulated or licensed profession. There are zero educational requirements to be a life coach and absolutely anyone can roll out of bed one day, decide to be a life coach, and start taking clients. There is no required education to be a life coach. You don’t need a high school diploma, you don’t need to meet ethical standards, and there is no regulatory agency overseeing life coaches. You just start introducing yourself as a life coach.

Your weird next door neighbor who’s always offering unsolicited advice might decide that he’s really smart and has lots of great life experience and wisdom, and that he’d be a great life coach.  He can put together a little website one afternoon and be in business. 

As a mental health professional as well as a board certified coach who actually did go through a very involved, accredited coach training program (which was offered online, and which I zoomed through in about 6 weeks), I find this thought to be extremely frightening. Imagine that a person with legitimate clinical issues such as depressionanxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. reaches out to a random, completely untrained “life coach” for help? At best, they risk wasting months and years of ever-worsening (and sometimes life-threatening) symptoms without the effective treatments that will set them free. At worst, it ends tragically.

While mental health conditions are treatable, if left untreated they can become life-threatening. They can also ruin relationships, destroy families, and tank careers. If you have a mental health condition it is vital that you get involved in evidence-based therapy with someone who has the skill and experience to help you. 

Relationship coaches are often times even more dubious, in my experience. Really: Someone can say, “Well I’m smart and I’ve been married five times so I know a lot about relationships and I can help people with theirs!” They set up a website and start taking clients.

In contrast, a licensed marriage and family therapist will spend years in graduate school learning about general counseling and mental health, PLUS many courses on family systems and assessment, relational dynamics, family therapies, methods and theory into couples and fa therapy. THEN they have supervised practicums, internships, and generally spend several years post-graduation working under the supervision of a licensed marriage and family therapist. THEN they have to accumulate thousands of clinical hours and pass a difficult national exam. Only then will they be a licensed marriage and family therapist themselves.

And even for licensed marriage and family therapists with all that education and experience… couples counseling can still be extremely challenging. What we know from research into couples and family therapy is that couples often delay couples counseling or relationship coaching until their relationships are feeling very difficult — they may even be on the brink of divorce.

Imagine some poor couple, who is on the brink of divorce, reaching out to a self-proclaimed “relationship coach” who doesn’t even know enough to know what they don’t know about how to help? That couple will likely wind up divorcing, thinking “Welp, we did everything we could do — we even tried a relationship coach, so our relationship must have been beyond repair!”  How sad to think that that same couple, if working with a true relationship expert, could have had a very different outcome. 

However, the general consumer doesn’t know this. That is why I’m taking the time to explain these differences to you! As a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed psychologist who also happens to be a certified coach and a relationship coach, I feel that it is my obligation to educate the public around these types of things so that you can make educated, well informed decisions about the best option for you. 

I’d also like to add that, when you’re feeling frustrated with your life and hoping for change, it can be difficult to know which path is the right one for you. Many people ask, “Do I need life coaching or therapy?” Unless you have a master’s degree in counseling and can spot the difference between a mental health condition and a personal growth issue, it can be very challenging to know which approach is going to work for you. To help cut through the confusion I’ve put together a free, online quiz. Take it by clicking the link below and answering a few questions.

I hope that it helps you learn about yourself, and which option will be most effective in helping you move forward.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Do You Need Therapy, or Life Coaching? Take the Quiz.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

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How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

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Four Tips To Inspire Change

Four Tips To Inspire Change

Take Action Today

It’s always the right time to make positive changes in your life. When I think about the times I’ve felt most inspired to make changes was when I was sick of my current behavior. I tell my life coaching clients often that the pain of staying the same has to outweigh the pain of change. So why is it so hard to begin the process and stay the course? We lack inspiration and healthy habits that keep us focused and seeing results. Here are four tips that you can incorporate into your daily routine to keep you moving forward.

Take Daily Time To Dream 

Take 5 minutes per day, say 3 times per week to start. Just journal or allow yourself to let your mind wander to bigger things. What does it feel like to step off the plane and see that destination you’ve been wanting to visit your whole life? See yourself in the mirror with that amazing dress you saw last week. Do you picture a board room with all faces fixed on you as you deliver a kick-ass presentation? Whatever it is, picture every detail using all 5 senses. Your brain can’t differentiate if it’s your imagination or if it is actually happening. That means you can enjoy all the pleasure hormones running through your system without having to do anything but dream. 

Remove Barriers

If you’re anything like me, you have a long to-do list always breathing down your neck. I am an expert procrastinator and I will wait to do something until I absolutely have to. This drains so much mental energy. It’s there, you know it is, and you’re not doing anything about it. Write down all the things rolling through you mind that have to get done and start with the easiest, less complicated thing first. I love checking things off my list. It helps me feel like I’m making progress. You get your power back when you start accomplishing small tasks that usually steal your joy, energy, and present mindedness. 

Set Daily Intentions

I took on this new discipline and I LOVE it! I get out my journal for 2 minutes at the beginning of the day and write “I’m intending to do ___ today”. I then list out all the things I want to accomplish that day. It may be as simple as drinking 4 bottles of water or putting together an outline for a book. I write things on there that I know I can do (easy) and one or two more challenging items to push me forward. 

Empowerment Journal

At the end of the night, I write myself a love letter. I know, cheesy, but it works! I tell myself how much I accomplished, and the things I did that I’m proud of. I write about being inspired and my focus, as well as the moments that I loved about the day. Many of us need verbal affirmation of the things we do, and we often hardly get it. You can do this for yourself and it will change you to your core. There is nothing more inspiring than being your own cheerleader. You’ll then feel more inspired to cheer others on instead of focusing on what others are doing that you’re not or have that you don’t. 

Nothing changes unless you change the things you do daily. Do you have a daily practice that keeps you focused and intentional? Share it with us in the comments section! 

Kindly, 
Sonya Jensen M.A., LMFT

Sonya Jensen, M.A., LMFT is a kind, effective marriage counselor, couples therapist, premarital counselor, dating coach, life coach, and breakup counselor, who is devoted to helping you create the life and love you want.

Let’s  Talk

Read More By Sonya Below!

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How to Make Real and Lasting Change, Right Now.

How to Make Real and Lasting Change, Right Now.

The Season of Transformation

Did you know that right now is possibly the best time you’ll have all year to make real and lasting change in your life? That’s not hyperbole. In my experience as a therapist, life coach, marriage counselor, and fellow traveler on this journey of life, I have noticed that this season — the annual transition from summer to fall — is often when people are feeling most intrinsically motivated, and most able to make real and lasting change in their lives.

Perhaps it’s a natural itch to get back to work after the languid summer season, particularly if you’ve done a good job of relaxing well. Perhaps it’s a lifetime of major life transitions in the form of back to school experiences. For whatever reason, now is the time when you’re ready to cultivate fresh new energy in your life and plant the seeds of a new chapter. Whether it’s your career, your clutter, your personal habits, or your how you spend your time that is begging for re-evaluation, the time is ripe to sweep out the old and usher in the new.

On this episode of The Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I’m going to be teaching you four crucial steps to practice as you harness the natural, transformational power of this season and use it to affect real and lasting change in your life. You’ll learn how to access your self awareness, create intentional change, get deeper access to your core values, and make changes that last.

Here’s to your liberation!

Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Make Real and Lasting Change... Right Now

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Enjoyed This Episode?

Please Rate and Review, and Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast!

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let’s  Talk

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Developing Self-Esteem: One Thought at a Time

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How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

Are You A Good Listener?

Listening with intent and genuine interest is a skill that, unfortunately, most of us are not born with. This skill is what ultimately builds connection and develops a reassurance in our relationships (romantic, platonic, and professional!). Did you know that most toxic relationship issues (no matter what the topic) come from a disconnect in communication? It’s true! As a Couples Counselor, I have worked with many couples who are going through these exact same disconnects in their relationship, and I want to offer you practical listening skills that you can practice to become a better, more effective listener.

The wonderful thing about diversity is that we all come from unique backgrounds. These different backgrounds make up different cultures, values, and ideals we hold as individuals. However, when you bring two (often very different) people together, there sometimes is a sort of tug-of-war into whose values are more authentic and which ideals the relationship will hold. Since we all have distinct and very personal views of “right and wrong”, this makes hearing other opinions often challenging.

Listening to your partner without judgment is essential to building connection, rebuilding trust, and fostering an environment where a relationship can grow and thrive! We all want to be heard, and when we aren’t we feel as though our emotions and needs are often overlooked. Not listening to your partner can result in power struggles, negative behaviors, resentment, and ultimately…separation.

You don’t want to wait for things to “just get better” in your relationship, because they won’t without intentionally taking the steps for improvement (both personally and as a couple). The good news is, you can start today! Here are six practical and mindful ways that you can improve your listening skills while making yourself a more responsive and connected partner.

TAKE BEING RIGHT OR WRONG OUT OF THE EQUATION

Your values are no better or worse than your partner’s values. An active listener will work hard not to judge his or her partner’s emotions.

Needs and emotions are never “correct” or “incorrect” they simply just are. Discussions that lead to black and white thinking, right or wrong, are usually about asserting control. Control then leads to blame, anger, and resentment, not connection. A partner who feels judged or is “wrong” in an argument will feel invalidated and unheard. A listener’s job is to listen, not judge. If a listener intends to hear and not control, then the result is better connection.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE ALL THE TIME

Our culture has taught us the fallacy that a healthy couple never disagrees or gets into arguments. In reality, many healthy couples disagree about important topics regarding their relationship, and no couple will ever agree entirely about everything.

Authentic listening comes from hearing and validating ideas you don’t agree with, as this shows respect for your partner. The goal is to listen and accept, and not necessarily agree, which can lead to the compromise that’s needed for couples to navigate difficult times and topics together.

REMOVE DISTRACTIONS FROM THE CONVERSATION

For most of us, this means putting the cell phone down, turning off the TV, or walking away from the computer screen. Non-verbal cues are incredibly important as a listener. If you are distracted and disengaged, then clearly you cannot validate your partner (who may feel they’re talking to a figurative wall).

To get even more real with your partner, use non-verbal cues such as touch, eye contact, and body language(as well as the verbal cue of vocal tone). These cues are what babies learn in their early development to feel safe. These same cues will calm an adult’s limbic system – allowing more safety in sharing emotions and needs. Your non-verbal cues of acceptance and security are not just a crucial listening skill, but also a critical skill for building any relationship.

CONTINUALLY PRACTICE EMPATHY

Empathy is being able to understand another person’s experience, and it’s the opposite of judgment. Your partner’s emotions and needs are real and often come from painful, deep experiences. Just as you have your own needs and emotions based off of your experiences, so does your partner.

Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes to feel and understand their pain, or access your pain and examine how you’ve dealt with it. Everyone at some point will experience a difficult situation or circumstance, your partner included, and showing empathy and understanding will allow for more in-depth conversations and connection between the two of you.

LISTEN FULLY BEFORE FORMULATING A RESPONSE

Few behaviors invalidate more quickly than interrupting. Interrupting usually involves fear or a lack of emotional safety on the listener’s part. This behavior, however, will cause your partner to believe that you feel your opinion has more validity than theirs. Try not to rehearse a response in your head while your partner is sharing, as that disengages you from empathy and feeling what your partner is trying to share with you. Let the conversation happen organically and without distraction or interruption of preplanned responses (that could ultimately cause more pain than healing).

VALIDATE YOUR PARTNER

Many of my clients in couple’s counseling have revealed to me that feeling unheard is one of their biggest triggers to pain and anger.  So how do you show your partner that you genuinely have heard their emotions and needs?

One way that has been proven to be effective is to repeat (in your own words) what you think you heard your partner say to you, and to ask if you heard them correctly. Be careful not to infer your interpretations into what your partner said, as those may be incorrect and invalidating – simply repeat what you heard. If you don’t get everything, that’s okay! You can ask your partner to repeat what you may have missed. This is even more effective when using your non-verbal cues for safety.

IT TAKES PRACTICE…

Listening can be a difficult skill to learn, and you won’t perfect this skill in just one conversation. If you continue to practice these six steps to improve your listening skills you will see improvement overtime (and it will get easier and more natural too!).

Self-care and general happiness are also tied to helping with the development of listening skills, as well as therapeutic techniques such as thought stopping and grounding activities. However, those who have suffered from trauma may have difficulty accessing these skills, and individual therapy to process and heal from the trauma may be needed to listen safely and with compassion. It’s true, listening can be difficult, but the rewards of being able to do so are numerous: clarity, understanding, emotional honesty, and better connection. You have the power to make changes with your listening skills and to show your partner that you can take that next step and truly hear them with empathy and understanding!

All the best,
Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC

Seth Bender, M.A., LMFTC is a marriage counselor, therapist, and life coach who helps people create deeper relationships, heal from difficult life experiences, and increase their confidence. His warm, non-judgmental approach makes it safe to discover new things about yourself, and take positive action to change your life.

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How To Enhance Your Listening Skills & Improve Your Relationship

Listening with the intent to talk with your partner versus talking at your partner is a skill that we all need in order to build better connection with our significant other. Here are six tips from a marriage counselor that you can start practicing today to improve your listening skills! Read More

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