Archive for the ‘blog’ Category

Can Being a Pet Owner Help Prepare You for Parenthood?

Can being a pet owner help prepare you for parenthood? I was recently asked that question for an article on Romper entitled “The One Surprising Benefit Of Having Pets Will Make You Adopt A Dog ASAP”.  While I would never advise someone to get a pet so they can prepare for parenthood, I have seen that people who’ve owned pets before becoming parents have learned some valuable things about being a mother or father. And while the job of parent and pet owner have distinct differences, there are some similarities that may surprise you.

Article The Good Men Project: Men, Electric Shock, Feelings



Here is my most recent guest post for The Good Men Project, Preferring Electric Shock to the Shock of Being Alone. A recent study by psychologist Timothy Wilson and his colleagues at U.Va. showed results that 67% of male participants choose to engage in electric shock versus be with their own thoughts. Upon hearing the results of this study I began to think about the men I have seen in my practice and their relationship to their feelings and thoughts, as well as to how this study might impact couples. Find my thoughts here: Article The Good Men Project: Men, Electric Shock, Feelings

World Cup and Memories of Youth


My new article in Elephant Journal has posted. Read how the World Cup opens up our emotional and physical memories of our youth. Paying attention can be a change for growth and change.

Parenting After An Affair


While a marriage might stop after an affair, if the couple has children parenting together doesn’t. Kids In The House asked me to talk about the subject of parenting and infidelity. Staying together after an affair

Elephant Journal Article Posted


Today Elephant Journal posted my article Language of Love: For Yourself. There are specific vocabulary you can stop to using to increase kindness to yourself and more tolerance for your imperfections. Read the article to learn more.

Recognizing the Subtle Anxiety Attack

recognize anxiety attacks

While anxiety is a necessity for people to some extent, heightened anxious systems cause physical damage and impact life choices, making it important that they don’t go untreated. The problem is, is that symptoms associated with anxiety attacks can be subtle, making them difficult to recognize and causing them to go untreated for years.

The existence and physical responses of the extreme panic attack are well known, TV and movies have shown us pretty accurately what a panic attack can look like. Difficulty breathing, pain in the chest, dizziness, and fear of death, are all symptoms of a panic attack. However what’s a bit misleading from the typical portrayal is that most of the time these symptoms do not manifest themselves in the extreme form. The person bent over, needing to sit down, unable to leave the house are a form of an anxiety attack. However, anxiety attacks can contain more subtle signs, like being light headed, having shallow breath, spacing out, disconnecting from the physical sensations in the body, or imaging that something bad could happen. All of these things are also the result of too much anxiety, or a system overload.

A continuous experience of the more subtle symptoms isn’t good, research shows anxiety slowly harms our system, they are linked to heart disease and physical injury such as shoulder and neck pain. But they also guide our behaviors, causing us to eat less or more, increasing our alcohol or drug use, or causing us to isolate and shy away from relationships.

The other falseness about anxiety attacks is that something concrete must happen before an attack. So in this case A happened so of course B (the attack) happened. But this isn’t how it works, usually. Often times there is no clue as to what triggers these subtle attack, so we don’t recognize that we are having one. The absence of a trigger combined with subtle symptoms makes it hard to identify something is happening.

But recognizing the physical symptoms and seeking professional help is powerful, and can be life changing. While change isn’t always easy it isn’t impossible. So I encourage you to pay attention to your body’s subtle clues and if you are managing a lot of stress to reach out for support. Seeing a professional can help you by recognizing the subtle anxiety attack. Recognizing attacks can give you the sense of control needed to stop them and live more presently in the moment.

When Workplace Competition Gets Out Of Hand

workplace competetion

Competition in the workplace is common; in fact competition everywhere is a normality. But, there is a line where competition threatens productivity and is no longer a helpful resource, this is when workplace competition gets out of hand. It is well known that competition is a behavior connected to envy. Envy or the emotional experience of longing what someone else is or has, is one of the most difficult natural human emotions. When we feel envy we feel threatened, which is exactly why it’s easier to activate defenses to cope against envy than to feel envy itself. Some people’s envy causes them to shut down, and causes depressive states, but for others it makes them competitive. Competition, which is a manic defense, causes people to continue to climb the ladder to the top. Focusing on what else they need to obtain, and minimizing their achievements.

In the US culture we pride ourselves on being able to move up, this experience feeds the tendency to mask envy by continuing to move into the newest, better direction. Frankly it’s exhausting and stressful. And it’s so normalized that many times people aren’t aware of what they are doing. But doing this behavior is very hurtful, as it is usually combined with an unconscious feeling of “I am less than that person”. Bringing ourselves down in connection to others is not productive and is a catalyst for anxiety and depression.

If competition is active in the workplace it means that so is envy and so is what I call “the one up and one down experience”.  One person is elevated to an idealized height, and one person is lowered to be inferior. Both positions are not real, since what is, is that people are good at some things and bad at others. Yet for most, this grey zone is very hard to manage.

So imagine a place where at any moment you can feel like you are flying high or could feel like you are the worst. It feels very out of control and increases emotional reactivity. Worst of all its unspoken, so people usually feel crazy which causes them to want to quit or causes them to act in ways they would rather not. They engage in game playing of sorts to try to hold on to the “up” position because the “down” feels so hard. But this quest is impossible, and makes mistakes and normal miscommunication feel impossible.

In order to combat workplace completion, one must first recognize that it is there. Secondly, it’s helpful to look at the workplace in a family systems model. Who represents the father? Who represents the mother? Who is doing what to get approval? How does “mother” or “father” react to this? Do they enjoy this role, and thus encourage the competition? Which person do I feel more competitive with and why? Do they remind me of someone in my own family such as a sibling or cousin? What is my “down” place, where do I get this perception of myself and how would I like to feel instead?  While these questions can feel odd to someone who doesn’t usually think in this way, learning to do so can be very helpful in gaining perspective and a sense of control.

Managing Your Perfectionism During the Holidays

Heightened emotions make the holidays a challenging time. A range of intense feelings occur at once, joy and happiness can simultaneously exist with sadness and frustration. Having multiple feeling states is not always easy; it increases stress and self-hurting defenses. One hurtful defense often experienced during the holidays is perfectionism. Perfectionism is the motivation to have things done “the best”, not “the best way possible”, but “the best”. This makes perfectionism a goal that is impossible to meet, setting us up for hard thoughts down the road like failure. So here are 5 things you can do to tackle your perfectionism during the holiday.

1. Recognize its happening. Like with anything, insight is an important part of feeling free. You first have to see it in yourself before you can take action.
2. Remember that stress and perfectionism are linked. The more stress you have the more perfect things will have to be.
3. Watch for the growing list, as the perfectionism grows so does the “to do” list. All of a sudden you don’t just need wrapping paper, but you need an exact color, and bows, and a specific type of gift tag. These details will increase your anxiety.
4. Force yourself to stop. When in the store and you feel like your house absolutely needs this or your dinner table absolutely needs that, stop yourself. Take a deep breath; ask yourself what is motivating you in that moment. The need for perfectionism is probably connected to something deeper.
5. Walk away. When you feel that need for more because things aren’t just right, walk away and take a break. Leave the store, go sit in the car, go read a book, take a nap. Allow yourself a break so you can think about it later, reassess the situation, and make an informed decision.

Anxiety can feel like it’s taking over, doing these things can help you slow yourself down so you don’t feed it. Managing your perfectionism during the holidays will help you be present more in the moment and enjoy yourself more. Don’t let it slip by on you, do these things so you can relax, enjoy yourself, and have the memories of holidays past.

Halloween Memories and Fears

Halloween fears

Halloween is right around the corner, and is inescapable for most children and adults. While it certainly is a time for kids, more and more Halloween has become an adult holiday. This interest from adults changes the holidays drastically, and makes things scarier for children. Children will encounter monsters, ghosts, and ghouls; and whether it is the first time or the fifth, children will get scared.  Here are seven things you can do to help your child have a good experience on Halloween in order to build positive memories.

  1. Practice gradual desensitization. Expose your child to masks, decorations, and make up gradually so they can learn at a slow pace that these things are not real.
  2. Allow them to play and touch items connected to Halloween. This will help them understand that Halloween is about pretend, and that the makeup and masks actually have people behind them, and are not monsters.
  3. Model behavior. Children learn a lot by watching the people closest to them, modeling that Halloween is fun and talking about what part you like will help your child understand it more clearly.
  4. Create a controlled environment. Start to create a dark space in your house and have your child use flashlights to familiarize them with the dark. Bring the Halloween decorations and masks into the room so they can see what they look like at night in a controlled environment.
  5. Talk about fears. Encourage your child to talk about their fears, ask questions, and listen carefully to what they are saying.
  6. Don’t force it. While you might be very excited to celebrate Halloween with your child, don’t force them if they aren’t ready. Doing so could impact the joy of Halloween for years to come.
  7. Process Halloween after the holiday. Children often need to continue playing and acting out what they experience in order to process the information. Just because the date has passed doesn’t mean that you should put all the Halloween decorations away immediately.

Halloween Memories and Fears

9/11 Giving Back and Emotionally Remembering

Maybe find a clever card to thank your local station firefighters.

In 2010 congress declared September 11th the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Each year hundreds remember the tragedy of 9/11, where they were when they experienced the tragedy, images seen, people lost, and lives changed. Therapists have known for years about the “anniversary date” phenomena. Our physical and emotional systems remember dates and times of year where difficult things happened. While cognitively we might have forgotten, or would like too, our systems will not. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, agitation, irritability, and overwhelm increase during a month or time of year that was particularly difficult. A child who was abused during the fall season will show signs of stress as an adult each fall. The same is true of all of us that witnessed the fall of the twin towers and the attack on the pentagon. While some where closer to others, all were impacted and our systems experienced dread, fear, and mourning. Congress did a great thing 2010, and while it may feel small to some, it’s helpful to all. By giving back on this day we combat the loss of control our system felt and is reminded of each year. We can take action, we can in a productive way channel our emotions. So today make a moment for yourself to do something, even if its small. It will help you feel more grounded. Because through remembering and action we feel power.

Patricia O’Laughlin, licensed therapist and Art Therapist, providing EMDR and therapy to individuals, couples, teens, and adults. Silver Lake/Los Feliz, Los Angeles. or (323)761-2221.