The Stories we tell!

We all have a story, and most of us want to tell it.  Many people think therapy is all about telling their story.  They often come in thinking that emotional vomiting will create happiness.  If that were the case, we wouldn’t need a therapist as our friends would be perfect,  we tell them our stories all the time. 

Have you looked at your stories?  Have you looked at who you tell your stories to, the tone, and the direction?  Are your stories told to get pity?  Are they told to entertain?  What is the goal of your stories?  Have you ever thought about what you want people to hear when you tell your story?  When you tell of your abuse, do you wish for people to hear your pain?   Or do you want them to hear the story to distract from your pain?

One of the problems with stories, is that when told often enough, or when a similar theme is told enough, they lose their meaning.  Even more, they lose their value.  In the end, a story is only words anyway.  Either written or spoken, the story is still only words.

If I am not careful I can get lost in the story as well.  I get lost in trying to solve the problem of the story, and get lost from the true problem.  In reality, stories create a distraction.  Telling our story is a good way to move us from the pain and difficulties we truly feel.  There is a value in the story.  It helps us share, communicate, and remember that we aren’t alone in our pain.  Therapeutically it helps set a stage, though once the stage is set, it is time to get down to the dirty work.

It isn’t the story that matters, it is where the story takes you.  Remember, for every person there is a new response to an event.  There tends to be patterns overall, but what sets one person up to be angry and bitter sets another up to be despondent and depressed.  What do you keep from the story?  Do you keep the lesson, the joy, the pain?  It is important to get to what’s at the heart of the story.  When the story starts distracting from the true meaning and keeps you from moving forward, then it is time to loose the story.

Work to keep the story from distracting you from the true meaning.  Stories have value, there is no question in that.  It is important to keep from getting lost in the story, to keep the story from allowing you to find the true message and meaning, and to keep you from finding peace.

I am who I am, and you are who you are, wait…who are we?

“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose


I don’t know who I am.  Have you ever found yourself saying those words? Generally when I hear those words it isn’t because of a lack of identity, it is because a lack of liking the identity they think they have. The definitions the person has set around himself or herself is that they are unlikeable and un-loveable to the extreme. It isn’t that sometimes they do things that aren’t that loveable, or that they make mistakes, but that they, as a whole, aren’t loveable.


How do you define who someone is? How do you create a definition about who you are yourself? The truth is we are never always a specific trait. I am at times kind and loving. I am at times strong and confident. At other times I am none of these things. My goal is to be a strong confident kind loving woman. I have clients and friends that at times are hurtful angry people. At times I am a hurtful, angry person. These things to not define any of us, or put us in a box that says “this is who we are”. At any time any of us can be anything we want to be.


When we put ourselves in a box with a label, that is generally who we will be. If we decide we are un-loveable, hurtful, angry, weak or any other number of painful descriptions, that is who we will be. If we put someone else in a box and label it as “that is who they are” then even when they aren’t we will see them as being that way.


When we put a person, a group of people, or ourselves in to a box with a label and a definition we do a disservice. No person or group of people is always one thing. That label and definition keeps us from seeing the rest of ourselves, the people around us, or even groups of people, and seeing whom else they can be. It keeps us from seeing all of who we can be. We don’t fit in boxes, so let go of the one you’ve placed yourself in, let go of the labels others have given you, and be the you that you want to be. Let go of the labels and definitions you’ve given others and see them for all of who they can be.

Rewards and Punishment part 2

Punishment is using a consequence of some sort to stop or decrease a behavior.  People who speed (and are caught) are initially punished with fines, defensive driving, a raise in insurance, etc.  Two incidents of this punishment was sufficient to keep me from speeding  (well, more than 5 mph over).  Had it not been ( and I had been caught again) I would be subject to loosing my license, loosing my insurance, and multiple other consequences all the way up to jail.  Punishment and fear of punishment for the crime of speeding is enough to make me careful about my speed, though I would prefer at times to go much faster.  We have several means to punish those that break laws in our society, and if our values and morals don’t keep us from breaking these laws, society hopes that a desire to avoid the punishment will.


The problem with punishment is that it often requires fear to be effective preventativly, and fear can be overcome with the right motivators. If we are angry enough, or hurt enough fear goes right out of the window, especially if the behavior that is going to be punished is rewarding enough.  There also has to be a belief that they will be caught in order for punishment to work, and if you are training a kid or a animal (or a spouse) the likelihood that you will be there when the behavior is committed is unlikely at times.


The punishment also has to have meaning.  As a kid my mom would ground me to my room for an evening.  Since I love to read and had oodles of books an evening in my room was of little to no consequence to me.  There was little to no fear of this punishment and it rarely changed my behavior.  Lucky for my mom I was a pretty good kid in general.  For several people in prison, prison has little to no meaning as a punishment.  For some it is seen as a badge of honor to be sent to prison, and for some it is seen as a means of survival.  For some it just isn’t a sufficient punishment to deter them from committing the crime.

Punishment must be enforceable.  This means that if you ground your kids, you’re grounded too.  If you ground your kids and you leave, your kids aren’t going to comply with being grounded.


When used incorrectly punishments have little to no effect and can actually make behaviors worse.  Incorrectly used punishments confuse and frustrate both animals and people, and often create only bitterness and anger.  A good example of this is the incorrect usage of “Time Out “.  Time outs are used to remove a child (young children and toddlers) from a behavior that is incorrect, giving them time to pull their behavior in to check ultimately returning to the activity (not the negative behavior though).  It can also be used to give parents a moment to manage their anger before consequences (punishments) are put in to place. Time out’s are used instead as the punishment itself.  The time out should be used as a quick “whoops!” to redirect the behavior, not to eliminate the behavior.  Punishment is then implemented after the time out, such as losing the toy they were playing with, or saying they are sorry to the playmate.


It is also necessary to know the difference between a threat and a warning.  Threats often just breed resentment.  Warnings are very different than threats. A threat is a plan to use verbal or physical violence if a behavior is continued.  A threat is also a plan that isn’t carried out.  A warning is a marker of a behavior with a notice of a consequence that will follow if the behavior is continued.  For example a threat is “You keep that up you’re gonna get it!”.  A warning is “It isn’t OK to take your sister’s toys.  If you take another toy play time is over”.

Punishments need to fit the crime and need to have meaning to the one being punished.  Taking away a cell phone because your teen cursed at you is an example of the punishment not fitting the crime.  Charging kiddo a quarter every time he curses,  or refusing to comply with requests made while cursing is an appropriate punishment.  I once worked with a family that used a belt to consequence a child because she wouldn’t wear a jacket.  This is another case of the punishment not fitting the crime.


Don’t read this and assume I believe that negative behaviors don’t need consequences.  When consequences are used correctly they teach what is OK and what isn’t to children that are still learning.  With adults consequences can deter. We get in to trouble though when we want a behavior to increase (such as cleaning a room) and we use punishment only.  Remember, punishment is to decrease a behavior.  We have to supply positive reinforcement to get the behavior we want.


Try to avoid punishing in anger as then the meaning is lost, especially as it is harder to set a reasonable punishment.  Punishments should create an understanding that the behavior was wrong, not that the punisher is a jerk.  This can be difficult when you are directly in the situation.  You enter a room to find that your kid just colored the walls with crayon and you’re probably going to get a little steamed.  At this point you are the one that needs the time out, the time away from the situation to regroup and come back in a healthy way.  When you are calm you can set a realistic punishment such a losing the crayons for the rest of the day and helping to clean the walls.


Some of the best punishments are natural consequences of a behavior.  When I was 8 I broke a neighbor’s window playing with a ball.  I had to tell the neighbor what I did, and do work to earn money to help pay for the window.  I was more careful when playing with a ball the next time.  We ultimately want to teach kids that there are natural consequences for their actions.  I don’t need to punish my kid for not wearing a jacket on a cold day, I just look at her when she complains (well, and with my sense of humor tell her how warm and toasty I am in my jacket).  I don’t need to punish my kid for not bathing or brushing their teeth, their peers will make it clear that kiddo isn’t accepted if they stink.  I don’t have to yell or switch my kid for a broken window, I need to make them pay for it themselves.  If they actually get in trouble with the law, I sponsor them as they move through the system, but the court system will punish them sufficiently for me as long as I don’t rescue them.


Punishment is only effective when used as an adjunct to positive reinforcement.  Used alone you will set both yourself and your trainee up for failure.   When you find yourself resorting to punishment frequently you will find that you are angry a great deal of the time.  When this happens you should probably take a step back, take a deep breath, and re-evaluate what you are doing that isn’t working.  Notice I said What YOU are doing, not what your trainee is doing.  Rigidity, should’s and must’s are your downfall when doing behavior modification and only sets you up for frustration.  It is better to find a behavior that you want to increase and reward that as much as possible than to punish everything you don’t want.

Rewards and punishment part 1

We always have things we want from other people or animals.  The best way to get someone to change their behavior or give us what we want is to give them something nice when they do what you want.  We all have heard “You get more flies with honey than with vinegar”, and that is very true with people.   Rewards are much more successful at changing a behavior than punishment is.

Very basic positive reinforcement is about catching the behavior you want and giving a reward of some kind; attention, food, objects, when it is done.  Positive reinforcement is about specificity and timing. I have to make sure my rewards are actually rewarding, and I have to make sure it really is a good time to train. This means knowing your trainee, if your girlfriend doesn’t like jewelry, then buying her a braclet when she doesn’t what you want won’t mean much because it doesn’t give her the brain “zing” that makes her want to do the behavior again. If you’re in the middle of a stressful time, it may not be the best idea to train your partner to give you more massages (or even to do the dishes). The training is about catching the behavior when it happens and rewarding it. Not 30 seconds later, not the next day, but when it happens.


When teaching a dog to sit he gets a reward every time his but hits the floor. This is when things get tricky, I have to make sure the bottom actually hits the floor, because in the case of my dog it will sit about three inches above the floor, and that isn’t want I want.  I can’t wait for 30 seconds after it hits the floor because by then he has moved on and won’t understand what it is getting rewarded for.  I need to be specific in my goals and my rewards.  If I don’t catch the sitting or I punish it, I will confuse the dog and set myself back.  The thing to remember about training is if the trainee isn’t getting trained it is the trainer’s fault, not the trainee.  If my dog isn’t learning what I want it to learn, it is because I am not teaching correctly, not because the dog is bad. I’m not catching the behavior correctly, I’m not using something that the dog finds rewarding, I’m training at a bad time, whatever.

When you have a large goal it is often best to use shaping.  Shaping is reinforcing behaviors that move your dog, cat, or person closer to doing what you want through the concept of “successive approximations”.  This comes when you have a large goal you are trying to work toward, and you break it down to smaller goals and using positive reinforcement to reward each lesser goal when it is met.  Think of the game “Hot and Cold”.  The “hot” is the reward, letting your subject know when he is moving in the right direction.  The “Cold” the equivalent of “whoops!, nope that isn’t what I want, try again!”.  The “Cold” is not punishment, but giving the message in neither a positive or negative manner that isn’t what I want.   For example:  Teaching my dog the “beg” command (sitting back on his haunches with his front paws in the air).  Because he is a lab and bigger dogs don’t do this easily, I had to start small.  In the very beginning I would reward him every time he lifted both of his paws off the ground.  Then as he became more comfortable with that level he had to lift his paws higher and higher to get the reward.  If at any point he hit the ultimate goal or begging I would “jackpot” him, and make the reward large to know that he did something I liked.  As he moved forward to the goal he stopped getting rewarded for doing the lesser goals. If he missed the goal he would hear me say “whoops!” as a marker that he didn’t do what I want, without punishing him.


The above example can be used for potty training a dog, potty training a kid, or ever training your partner to give you massages more often. For example;  If your goal is to get your partner to give you more back-rubs, When your partner puts his hand on your shoulder or on your back you can smile at him, say “It feels good when you touch me”, etc. Once he realizes (consciously or not) that you’re nicer to him when he touches your back, he will touch your back more. Then you let go of the reward until he is actually lightly rubbing your back. Once he does that more often, you let go of the reward until he massages with pressure.   When you have him rubbing your back regularly, always reply with at least a “thank you” or “I really enjoyed that” as a small reward, and at times give a bigger reward to keep the motivation up.

The key is using the reward consistently at the beginning until the behavior is understood. Until it is understood that a reward is possible either the task isn’t understood, or it is undesirable enough that it is avoided. After the task is understood, or trained enough you can slowly remove the reward, randomizing when it is given. The use of random rewards (never knowing when a reward is going to be given) is the single best way to encourage a behavior.   This is why gambling is so addictive.  It uses a reward or the possibility of a reward and randomly gives smaller rewards to encourage us to work harder for a big one.  Once it is understood that a reward is possible often the trainee will work twice as hard for the reward.

Don’t ever remove the reward completely or you will extinct (allow the behavior to die) what you just “trained”.  When training something like cleaning of rooms for children (when it is a new expectation), start with them something small, such as putting laundry in the bin.  Every time they do so, they get a reward.  As they move forward toward keeping a cleaner room, start only rewarding for doing most, then all of what you expect.  At this stage it is important to avoid using punishment as much as you can, as it will set your progress back.

The use of food as a reward should be used sparingly, as well as physical rewards. The reason for this is simple; especially with children the use of food or objects as a reward externalizes the reward system so that kids loose the ability to find intrinsic rewards through success, as well as the possibility that food rewards can be a cause of obesity. Verbal rewards actually still release the “happy” chemicals in the brain the same as money  or food can, and teaches that rewards don’t have to be physical (today it seems that the younger generations are only in something for what they can get out of it, they don’t care for the accomplishment. I personally find this rather annoying).


You can also use rewards and punishment to train yourself. I personally hate unloading the dishwasher. If I get a small reward after I do it, maybe just a small piece of chocolate, I will be more willing to do something I don’t like to do because I enjoy the reward. There is an alarm clock that will take $10 out of your account and give it to a fund that you hate every time you hit snooze. If you’re a Democrat, think of giving $10 to the Repulican National Party or the Coch brothers every time you hit snooze. Talk about a punishment.    Giving yourself little rewards of a small (you did catch the word small, right? Not 30 minutes) abreak on FaceBook, or a small piece of chocolate or a nice massage when you reach a goal then you get the “zing” and will want to meet the goal again.

Parents argue that they don’t want to give rewards for behaviors that a kid should be doing anyway.  There are two parts to the response to this.  First; they aren’t doing it in the first place and punishment is used to teach people to avoid something, and thus is not good when you want to teach them to do something.  Second; We as adults get rewarded for doing what is expected all the time in the form of a paycheck.  It is an expected reward, but a reward none-the-less.   Final rewards once a behavior is learned can be in the form of an allowance, thus “payment” for work completed.  When teaching something that isn’t being done already, if you want it to work you need to use rewards, plain and simple.

As working through the “training” of your partner, child, employee or dog remember: patience is key.  In the above example of teaching my dog to “beg” it took about three months to get the complete behavior.  It was incredibly important to “catch” the behavior I wanted and reward it, even when I wasn’t specifically asking for it.  If I missed him offering the behavior it confused him as to what I wanted and he would take longer to learn.  In the example of teaching a child to clean his room, if he at any time he picks up his plate after dinner, picks up his room, cleans more than you expect make sure to “catch” him and reward the behavior.  Believe me, he will notice if you don’t and begin to wonder why he should bother.  This is not an easy fix, or a quick process but if you stick with it you will find that results last longer and you will overall be happier with yourself and your child, dog, partner etc.

Welcome to the new My Broken Child!

For those of you that are faithful readers, I apologize for the quick transition.  If there is something you would like to find that you can’t, shoot me a quick email and I’ll make sure it is available.  There will be a few hic-ups as I transition and learn the new system so I thank you for your patience!

Getting people to change

Have you ever wished your husband would give you more back-rubs, or your children would pick up their clothes when asked?  Do you wish you had the well-behaved dog that you see on TV?  The trick is basic behavior modification.  Dog trainers know this, Casinos know it, even your kids know it, though they don’t KNOW they have this knowledge.

Behavior modification (or operant conditioning) is using positive and negative reinforcement, extinction, and punishment to alter behaviors.  I have discussed Extinction in a previous post.  In the next couple of posts I will go more in to detail about positive and negative reinforcement, and punishment.  These techniques work on most living, thinking beings including people, dogs
and cats (yes cats), fish, etc. These techniques can even work on yourself.

Negative and Positive reinforcement are both used to increased a behavior. Positive reinforcement is using a reward to encourage the behavior to continue.  This can be anything from a physical treat or money to verbal praise and attention.  Negative reinforcement is the removal of negative or painful stimulus to increase behavior, though this is often confused for punishment due to the word “negative”. Punishment is a consequence of some sort for behavior to try and keep it from happening it again. For behavior modification techniques to work you need to have a good grasp of what you really want. It is helps if your partner also has the same goal.   Make sure your goal for your spouse, child, pet etc. is realistic.  Asking them to change who they truly are is not going to work.  An example I often use is my Labrador Retriever.  He is a large dog, and while some dogs are capable of learning to do a back-flip, Labs aren’t one of them.  If I set a goal for him of learning to do a back-flip I will end up disappointed and he will be frustrated.  Once you really know what you want, ask your higher power to grant you patience, as you are goig to need it. You are going to need to have a strong willingness to work without giving up for a while (months even).  These are proven techniques to change behavior, but they are not a quick fix.

An additional reference that I use in my practice and send people to buy is  Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog.  She goes in to greater detail about these techniques and goes in to practical applications. I will also go in to more detain about how to go about positive reinforcement and punishment in the next couple of posts.


The Theory of Why

As we grow, we learn to develop theories about other’s behavior based on our past knowledge and experiences. Children and people with Autism struggle with this concept, but in general, as we grow we begin to work out what to expect of the world and of others. We begin to work out future actions, reactions and motivations using information we have gained from what we have and what others have done in the past.


Through it is part of how we work to manage our environment, the trying to figure out future actions and the “why” can get us in trouble.   It is the thinking error of mindreading. Whenever you utter the words “they did this because”, or “you were going to do …” there is an assumption. There is an assumption that we can understand what they are planning to do in the future, that we understand their motivations and desires based on past actions.. We take a conglomeration of experiences with others and start to guess the next move or motivations. Where this gets tricky is we take our experiences with our mom and put how she would react on any mom figure in our lives, such as teachers and female bosses. We take how our past partners acted and reacted and begin to guess reactions and motivations of our current partners. As many of you know this will definitely get you in to a good deal of trouble.

On a conceptual level we understand that our experiences are our own, and no one knows what it is like to walk in our shoes. In fact, most people get offended with the words “I know how you feel”. At the same time, when we look at another person’s behavior we frequently process the “why” of what they are doing through our own experiences, forgetting that they don’t know what we know, and vice versa. When we struggle with our partners and our friends, often it is because we have assumed that they understand our mindset and point of view, and are very intentionally doing a behavior to hurt, anger, or undermine us. Very rarely this can be the case, but in general our partners and friends are acting in such a way to take care of themselves without the intent of hurting us. This is when differentiation (knowing where my partner stops and where I begins) becomes of up-most importance.


Part of life is being able to understand life from someone else’s point of view. It ultimately keeps us from being selfish. We learn how to do this about the age of 4. At this time we start a running compilation of how people act in an effort to understand how they will act in the future. This can cause us problems when we assume someone will act in a certain way and they don’t, or we assume that someone is acting in a certain way for a specific reason, and they aren’t. Ultimately we have to remember that each person is individual with their own history of experiences and understandings of the world. When we get frustrated with what someone is doing, before jumping to the why, identify your own feelings and what you want so you can communicate that effectively. Then, without throwing judgment or your own theories out as to the why, let them tell you. It can keep you out of a heap of trouble!



Wisdom, happiness and courage

“Wisdom, Happiness, and Courage are not waiting somewhere out beyond sight at the end of a straight line; they’re part of a continuous cycle that begins right here. They’re not only the ending, but the beginning as well.”
Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

So many people in life seem to be searching. They seem to be searching for meaning, contentment, fulfillment. People look for these things outside of themselves. The best place to look is inside.

Opening the wisdom, happiness and courage that are stored in our heart requires digging through the protections we have put in place. One of the first steps to Fulfillment and happiness is to tap in to our own center, where our courage lies. Another step once we learn how to tap in to our own beauty is to share our energy with those hurting the most. Each person deserves happiness. Each person has wisdom, happiness and courage within them. The circle is finding the center within ourselves, and then helping others.

Believing in the beauty within

We come in to this world with an infinite ability to love. Life then happens, either opening us or wearing on us and creating scars.  We live through so many different experiences, some grand and some painful.  They all teach us lessons, some in loving ourselves and others, and some in how the world can be a cold dark place. 

Children do not enter this world bad, they enter it as pure beings of light and love.  Then life comes and encourages that light to shine, or begins to cover it up to protect it.  At no point does life experience ever extinguish that light. In an effort to protect ourselves our own souls can work to keep that light safe by covering it up, burying it, or guarding it with so many walls that it takes quite a bit of work to uncover it. 


Uncovering the light does not mean opening ourselves to the world without barriers, as the world can be a dark place at times.It does mean learning which barriers to keep, and how to meet our needs for love and light in healthy ways, even when the world can seem dark.  It means believing that our beauty will stay strong and true as long as we stay true to it. 


The beauty within never abandons us.  It is always there, we only have to do the work to uncover it.  The work can be painful and difficult as we sort through experiences that we frequently wish we had left in the past.  When we do we give up anger, bitterness, and hatred.  We open ourselves to connection, love and beauty.We just have to believe. 

Giving: How much is too much?

Life is about boundaries. I saw a quote on Facebook that I have included in my arsenal as a therapist: The givers have to set boundaries because the takers never will. Our center, our pure loving soul needs to have boundaries to be safe. If we let it be completely open and vulnerable, the takers will do their best to snuff out our light. These boundaries need to be permeable though. When we build them too high, too thick, we lock out love and happiness.

We all are trying to find love and happiness. We learn from our environment and our personality different ways to find them. Some of us find happiness and feel love when taking care of others and giving of ourselves. Unfortunately some find happiness by taking what others are willing, and sometimes unwilling to give. These are people that we have to have boundaries against. Even if motivations are pure, it is easy to take advantage of someone that is willing to give. Which means that for those of us that give, it is easy to be taken advantage of, too easy to lose ourselves when we forget to take care of ourselves.

In both situations, motivations pure and otherwise, boundaries come down to staying true to ourselves. When looking at taking care of others, we have to know what we want for ourselves, then decide if we want to take care of the other person over our own needs or wants. It is difficult at times to know for sure what we want for ourselves. An example I see very often is when one partner asks the other what they want for dinner. “Hey honey, what would you like for dinner?” I got that question tonight. I wanted Freebirds or Chipotle. For years I played a game; before I thought about what I wanted, I tried to figure out what the other person would want. I didn’t want to suggest something that the other person may not want but would feel obligated to go to just because I wanted it. I didn’t give the other person credit enough to have their own boundaries and ability to speak up for themselves. I no longer play that game.

We are responsible for knowing what our own needs and wants are, along with meeting the need to help others. We can feed our souls by helping and taking care of others, and at the same time we have to make sure we are taken care of. That means sometimes putting ourselves above others, even those that I care about, even when my instinct is to help them. This is what I mean by boundaries. It is always my responsibility to make sure that I am acting within my values, needs and principles. If someone else’s needs or wants are counter to our needs, values or principles, we have to make sure to take care of ourselves.

We are all looking for happiness and love, along with getting out needs met. We are social beings, and at times we will use others to help us along the way. Not every person that is using us will be trying to hurt us, it does mean that sometimes even with good intentions we can be violated by others. We have to make sure that we have our boundaries in place so that we are taken care of. If I trust in others to take care of themselves, then I allow myself the freedom to take care of me. I am the one person that is with me from birth until death, everyone and everything else will come and go in my lifetime. If I don’t make sure I am taken care of, then who will?