Bella Vida Therapy

Molly Papp, MS, MPH, CSAT, LMFT #88196

Bella Vida Therapy

Molly Papp, LMFT

You deserve a beautiful life

Sex, intimacy, and relationship therapy

To Fight or Not to Fight?

How many of us grew up in a house full of arguing and screaming? What about those who lived in silent awkwardness when mom and dad weren't speaking? Then there are the adults from healthy households. This article is not for you! Today I'm addressing two different types of arguing styles: the fighters and runners. Fighters are those who grew up accustomed to arguing and confrontation. This includes those who were physically or emotionally abused, and those who were just plain old yelled at. People who are used to this style of communication thrive on the conflict because it's what is their normal. They even get frustrated when their partners shut down or refuse to talk about things because it's against everything they know. Runners are those who totally avoid conflict altogether. Often they come from homes where they were neglected or witnessed a lot of silent anger, aka anger that was never spoken about but still felt like an invisible smoke in the air. As a result, when they are in relationships they will do ANYTHING to avoid actually talking about problems. Usually they will avoid, deny or simply lie about any feelings to stuff down possible conflict. 

The problem with both these arguing styles is that they are 1. entirely opposite 2. both ineffective in resolving conflict. 3. terribly mismatched. So what's a guy (or gal) to do when they find themselves in a relationship with someone who is a runner when they're a fighter? Is the relationship doomed? Not necessarily. It just takes a lot of healthy communication to get to the point where the runner feels safe to share their feelings with the fighter and the fighter can remain calm enough to discuss things without getting angry. Trust me, this does not come easy. But fear not! There is hope for a mismatched relationship. While I do recommend couples and possibly individual therapy, I understand not everyone will be on board for that. So as a cheat sheet, below are a few things that are ESSENTIAL in bridging the gap between both dysfunctional styles:

  • Fighters: Do not, I repeat DO NOT react in anger if your partner comes to you with a complaint or concern. Take a deep breath, listen, and then share how what they said made you feel. Start with your feelings- not a defensive remark. Really listen to their words. Remember it takes a lot for runners to share their feelings, so don't make it harder by being mad or yelling. Doing so will only make them stuff down their feelings again. There will be slips when you get angry and short. That's okay; it takes time to practice being calm and not reacting negatively. But if you are able to make your (runner) partner feel safe enough to share how they feel, they will continue to do so and your relationship will only improve.
  • Runners: Stop stuffing your emotions down. What you feel and think matters. Look for a good time to talk. Don't do it when your (fighter) partner is tired, hungry, frustrated already or intoxicated. When they are relaxed and in a good mood, that is the time to share. Remember the Mary Poppins method: spoonful of sugar (You are such an amazing boyfriend and I appreciate how hard you work to provide for us), then medicine (I would really love if you and I spent more time together). Elaborate on how you feel (I feel sad when we don't get to be together that often) and end with a request (It would make me really happy if you made time for a date night once a week). Remember you deserve to ask for things! You are in the relationship as well. Nothing ever gets resolved if you keep your mouth shut. Speak honestly but gently.

Hopefully these tips will help the runners and fighters out there. For those who learned these skills in functional, healthy homes- good for you! I would say the other 90% of the population could stand to practice these techniques during every argument they have with their mates. I myself (a runner) used to stuff my emotions down and never shared them with my husband. That was incredibly destructive to our relationship because he never knew how I truly felt. I would appease him to avoid conflict. Once I was able to share how his anger made me very hesitant to share things, he listened and things totally changed. Today I feel safe enough to communicate my feelings and he is able to not get frustrated when I do so. Timing is still everything; I don't bring things up after he's had a long, stressful day at work. But the freedom of being able to be open with how you feel in relationship is priceless. I realized arguing is necessary- it's how conflicts get resolved. No "fighting" or "running" needed.

Look In The Mirror to Change Your Relationship, Your Life, Your Future

I find my clients seeking relationship help are divided into 3 categories:

1. Used-to-be happy couples who have hit a rough spot and need help communicating

2. Unhappy, on-the-brink of breaking up couples that are holding on by a thread

3. Single people who are dating, lonely and looking for love

The thing that these three types of clients have in common is usually a pattern of pain. They are in pain now, and don't know how to make things feel better. Often they are seeking a partner to fix it. The thing is, no person can make us happy and care for us if we aren't able to first do it for ourselves. One may argue that there are healthy women or men in relationships with negative partners (alcoholics, abusers, etc). That may be true, but what doesn't make sense is that it's not really healthy to be in that type of relationship. When one person is off, then the other feels the effects. Sick attracts sick. So if one partner has an problem, then the other will either suffer the consequences (codependency, denial, an addiction of their own) or resentment will build and either seep our slowly or one day explode.

The reason we are often alone, even when in a marriage, is because we first don't address our own problems. It's easy to blame and put all the hurt on the obviously 'wrong' person. However, in doing this we rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, we focus on the things we cannot control instead of the things we can. Only you are in control of your own life. Not your husband, not your girlfriend, not your mom...YOU. The healthier we become as individuals, the healthier the people we choose to be in our lives will be. Why? Because when we value who we are, other people will too.

An example of what I like to refer to as this "pain paradox" involved a couple coming in to therapy for sex addiction. The husband had committed multiple affairs on his wife, and it was only until he was caught by his wife that he entered recovery and completely changed his life over the course of 3 years. Before the affair, his wife had never addressed her own sexual abuse trauma, and used the affairs to focus all of the marital strife on her husband. She had every right to be angry, but her pain would never go away if she never looked at her own issues with sexuality. Once she began therapy for her part in the marriage she reclaimed her own life. She began taking time for herself instead of engaging in a codependent focus on only her husband and kids. She joined a women's group, took steps to learn about her own sexuality, and began to find love for herself.

The point is, every relationship is a system. If you're married or dating someone, you two feed off of each others energy. When one person changes, the other will either change with them or get left behind. If you're single, there is a way to attract positive people into your life so you don't get sucked into caring for someone who cannot care for themselves. Often these people will draw you in with charm, charisma and 'love.' But look for signs of unhealthiness. Look at if that person does what you do for yourself. Do they take care of themselves? No one is perfect, but large areas: money, job, hobbies, family, health are crucial to talk about and observe. Red flags exist for a reason. We are attracted to pain often because we either think we deserve it or feel safe when we are the 'better one' in the relationship. Don't settle for company over loneliness. If you first take care of yourself you will be much more able to spot those that do not. Look in the mirror and realize your worth. Your life will only get better. 

 

 

'Cause I Gotta Have Faith

When I was a little girl, my mom bribed me with donuts to get me to go to church every other Sunday. I would usually spend the hour drawing pictures to give to the reverend, so not much sunk in. To this day I can't remember many stories beyond the the whole Jesus is the son of God thing. But what I do recall is the overall message: be a good person. That was pretty much it, at least that was the message in the old-fashioned Methodist church my mom dragged me to.

Years later, as a slightly rebellious and very depressed teenager, I gave up on the idea of God altogether. It seemed so ridiculous. So you're telling me there's this bearded man in the sky who arbitrarily saves people while letting others die? Oh, and he can see your every move? Not creepy at all to a 14-year old girl...Plus, add in the fact that I thought many religions advocate excluding people or harming them in the name of God? Sign me up! (insert sarcastic teenager voice here)

My agnostic attitude continued into my 20s. I visited a few new-age churches but the whole raising your hands in the air while listening to Christian rock was not my jam. I met a few really sweet people who tried to "save" me also, which only dissuaded me more. Looking back, I can see that my faith-less attitude was more a reflection of the anger I had from unresolved painful childhood experiences. I didn't have faith because all I could see was my own unhappy perspective.

One day, I had a friend explain me that spirituality isn't the same as religion. You can be spiritual without going to church every week or praying. That spoke to me. At the same time, I was getting tired of feeling lost in my life. I felt like I could never trust myself and the past still weighed heavily on my soul. I kept doing things that I didn't want to, that hurt others, all because I didn't really trust (or love) who I was. I was spiritually bankrupt.

Today, I have realized that for me, I need to believe in something more. That there is a force out there that has my back, that is guiding me, that makes me feel less alone. I think I need this because I've always felt lonely as an introvert and a shy person. But maybe I'm not really alone. Maybe there is something out there. And maybe there isn't. No one really knows until death comes knocking at your door.

Recently, I went through a scary personal experience that left me searching anywhere and everywhere for hope. I craved relief from the pain. So I started praying and went back to church. Only this time, I paid attention. I got the same message (be a good person), but what really stuck with me was how I felt: better. Maybe that's all God is: something to help us appreciate the good things in life and feel comfort during the bad ones. That is what God is for me. It could be (and probably is) something different for you. And that's okay. That's what makes us all unique.

At 30 years old, I will continue to attend church and raise my soon-to-be-born son with a faith. But when he's old enough to understand things for himself, he may choose something completely different. And that is totally fine and 100% up to him. But I will continue the donut tradition. That's a non-negotiable.

How Movies Lie About Relationships

When I was an awkward teenage girl, I was addicted to "rom-coms," aka romantic comedies. They showed dating as so much fun! First you'd meet a drop-dead gorgeous guy who saw past your shy exterior and asked you out on a date. Then you'd spend all day and night laughing and drinking wine at fancy restaurants with perfect outfits while you stared into each others eyes. Flash forward to a few dates later with passionate kissing, love-making and breakfast in bed. 
It all seemed so carefree and exciting. But it also was (and is) a fantasy. When I actually began dating for real, I realized that all the rom-com movies I had watched had brainwashed me into thinking that relationships were all about champagne and looking good. The reality is a lot messier. But also deeper and more beautiful. To help out all of those out there still struggling with finding "The One" (another lie), I've compiled a list of ways movies/books/media tricks us into falling for the fantasy.

1. No one makes out at 6am before brushing their teeth or using the restroom. Morning breath is real and unfortunately gross for everyone.

2. People usually take turns paying after the relationship has turned to "exclusive" status. Sorry ladies, but expecting him to pay 100% is just not fair. It's 2016, not 1950.

3. Real couples fight, talk about it (aka healthy communication), and then make-up. They usually don't fight and then either have passionate make-up sex or break up for good without ever talking about the problem.

4. People have body odor, pit stains, lipstick on their teeth, dandruff, dry skin, stains on their clothes, and a million other body-related normal things. Actors and actresses have a team of 100 people to make sure they look perfect before they go on-screen. The rest of us are bound to have embarrassing things happen to us on a date.

5. Women have periods. And have to pee a lot usually too. So do men! And they fart and stink up the bathroom as well. Let's face it, life is messy and gross sometimes. 

6. Romantic comedies almost always have a happy ending. In real life, the majority of our romantic relationships will end. But all of those failed relationships teach us how to act, what we like (and don't), and above all, make us really appreciate when we do find a good match.

7. Real people are not plastic-surgery perfected supermodels. Real people have curves, rolls, body hair, cellulite, stretch marks, moles, and all sorts of 'blemishes.' Letting go of that search for the most handsome man or most beautiful woman is all part of realizing the superficial fantasy is standing in your way of finding someone you can actually laugh with and are attracted to.

8. Unlike "The Bachelor," in relationships people talk about practical things and their dreams. Sometimes you'll have a 20-minute conversation with your wife about what diapers are the best brand to buy or whose turn it is to do the dishes. Other times you'll cry together about your dad who passed away or the time you lost your beloved family pet. Movies and TV show us pretty people who spend that time gazing into each others eyes and talking about how much they both LOVE kittens and Mexican food- wow a perfect match! (insert sarcasm here) No wonder those 'relationships' end after the 6-week contract minimum, or after the credits end.

This list could go on and on, but what I want to pass on is something I wish I had learned when I was that lonely, date-less 16-year old: real people have faults and that's okay. It's even a good thing! I love laughing at how my husband and I both would rather watch Netflix and eat leftovers than go out. I love his so-called flaws, because they make mine okay too. Acceptance is what is real love is about, not perfection. And that's much better than a perfect Hollywood ending.

How Learning Appreciation Will Change Your Life

Yesterday was a rough day for me. I had a difficult time with hearing constructive criticism from some of my clients. Driving home, I was pissed. Not only is it hard for me to hear anything negative, but it's especially hard when you feel like you did your best and it still wasn't good enough. I wanted to drown my feelings in a pint of Ben and Jerry's and vent to my husband for a half hour.

But on my irritated drive home, while I was muttering to myself in the car, I looked over and what I saw completely changed my outlook. There was a man on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, barely getting by. He obviously had a rougher day than me, and likely a much harder life. I didn't feel pity for him, but instead saw the truth of the situation. And the reality of my life hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, bitching about getting "less than glowing" comments (that are probably true, which is why I was so triggered by them), and this man cannot even walk. Really? I can't complain about 20 minutes of criticism when I have so much to be grateful for.

I think we all can relate to having a bad day and many of us have experienced not-so-positive feedback from our bosses, colleagues, or for my therapist friends out there, our clients. It sucks to hear that stuff. But let's be real, we live in America, many of us have shelter, a job, food, use of our limbs, and a full life of friends and family. We don't really have that much to complain about compared to millions (actually probably more like billions) of humans that get by on so much less, and are happy! Perspective is everything.

The point is that true growth is hard. It hurts our egos to hear what we need to improve on. But if we take our pride out of the equation and look at the bigger picture, it's clear that there are always things to feel grateful for. That perspective will save you a whole lot of anger. Instead of ruminating on things that go wrong, learn from what you did or didn't do, and move on. Open your eyes to the fact that life isn't always easy or beautiful, but looking it at with negativity will only keep you bitter and stuck. Who wants to live like that?

So today is a new day and I have let go of the anger I felt by being confronted with some hard truths by my clients. I want to thank the universe for showing me that I have a million things to feel appreciative for, and so do you. No matter what goes wrong (death, illness, loss, pain), there is always something to feel grateful for. Even the little things like the smell of your morning coffee, the way your dog looks at you with undying devotion, or getting a text from your best friend. Those are the moments we tend to overlook but also make life so sweet.

It may take some reaching at times when you feel so low that you feel you will never smile again. But that appreciation will change your life. Make it a daily practice to remind yourself of what you feel grateful for. I do it before I go to bed, as I'm saying my prayers. You can do it on your drive to work or maybe while you brush your teeth. For the couples out there, it can be incredibly bonding to share what you appreciate about each other.

Of course there will be times when we all will get angry or defensive. That's okay! After you give yourself time to be mad, look around you. Look at the bigger picture. It's amazing how that frustration will lessen if you simply appreciate other parts of your life.

Five Essential Strategies to Keep You Healthy and Out of Therapy!

In my work as a mental health therapist, the overall goal is to stop seeing my clients. That may sound weird but I don't want my clients to have to see me. I want them to learn how to be happy and healthy on their own. In addition to helping clients process buried trauma and resolve problems such as depression and anxiety, my job is to teach them the daily living skills that they can practice to keep them off my couch.

 

To that end, there are five major areas that I notice clients tend to neglect the most: sleep, food, exercise, friends and hobbies. Below I will briefly explain how if you just take the time to nurture these parts of your life, not only will you have a lesser chance of experiencing depression and anxiety, but studies have shown you'll live longer and will report increased happiness as well.

 

1. Sleep. We all need to sleep. The amount varies based on your body, but get to know the amount of hours you need to sleep to feel your best. Then try hard to meet that number on a nightly basis. It may mean turning off the Netflix an hour earlier, but it will pay off in increased health and well-being.

We all are crankier, less productive and more likely to eat junk when we are sleep-deprived. Who wants to live like that?

 

2. Food. This is hard because we can all easily eat our feelings. Plus, with our busy lives, fast food is just easier (and sometimes cheaper) than meal-prepping every night for 2 hours. But if you eat crap on a consistent basis you will not only feel gross, your body will show the damage as well. Food can either be the quickest form of medicine or the slowest form of poison. Notice how you feel after a healthy lunch (awake, energized) versus how you feel after a greasy burger (tired, bogged down).

 

3. Exercise. Move you body on a daily basis. Walking counts! Most of us spend how many hours either sitting at a desk or in traffic (or both)? That sedentary lifestyle not only degrades your body, but it has lasting effects on your mood too. Daily exercise (in any form that you semi-like) is crucial to keeping depression and anxiety at bay. Plus it helps you look good too, which affects your self-esteem in a positive way.

 

4. Friends. No man is an island. We all need friends to connect with. Introverts, extroverts, it doesn't matter. Especially if you are not in a relationship (but even if you are), you need people to talk to, vent to, laugh with. Friends pick us up when we are down and accept us for who we are. Life is lonely without people to do things with.

 

5. Hobbies. Like the great Jack Nicholson once said in The Shining, 'All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!' Life is not all about work. We all need to have fun and do the things we used to do when we were kids and didn't HAVE to work to survive. What did you used to do as a kid? Baseball, art, writing? When was the last time you did that? Hobbies keep us young and make life worth living. Don't use the old "I don't have time" excuse. Do you have time to watch TV? Go on Facebook? Then you have time to do something you love.

 

This list is short but it really is important. So you don't have to pay me (or anyone else) for therapy, practice these 5 strategies on a daily basis to keep the blues at bay. When you take care of yourself, your mind and body will repay you.