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Taking Time for Yourself

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Over the years, I have seen many people come in for therapy to work on feeling happier.  They are sad, struggling in relationships, recovering from divorce or struggling with parenting.  Yet, in their struggles they have forgotten about themselves.  Their focus has been outward on relationships and pressures, but stopping, turning attention inward, and nurturing themselves has been overlooked.  Without properly nurturing ourselves, we run out of fuel faster, leaving us with nothing to give.  We also may run into difficulty genuinely feeling good about others if we have forgotten how to feel good about ourselves, or have allotted no time for ourselves, hence causing friction in our relationships.

Take for example, the case of Julia, a thirty-something mother who works part-time and has two young children.  Her states that her marriage is good, although both she and her husband seem to always be busy or exhausted and in recent years have had very little time to devote to their relationship.  Julia is feeling sad and lonely, in spite of the constant time spent with her children or work.  She also is feeling anxious, worrying excessively about her health or her children’s health.  After spending some time hearing about her frustrations, I ask her how she spends her “alone time” and how she feels about that time, and about herself.  Not surprisingly, Julia really has to think about it.  She has no “alone time” and really has taken little to no time to consider how she feels about who she was before her life became so busy, who she has become, or who she wants to be.  She has lost touch with herself and her feelings of individuality.  In doing so, she has also lost some enjoyment of the simple pleasures that life offers.

At our very core is the need to love ourselves and enjoy our journey.  Enjoyment doesn’t always mean “fun,” but often means simply finding time for peace and contentment.  It can be as simple as a sense of satisfaction for a job well done or taking pleasure in a beautiful sunny day.  Without this, our mood can become dark or overwhelmed, triggering anxiety or depression.  If any of these feelings ring true for you, here are some ways you can break the cycle of self-neglect:

  •  Take action right away when you become aware of having overlooked yourself.  It is much easier to get back to feeling good if you make some changes early on, rather than letting the bad feelings affect relationships.
  • Make it a habit to spend at least 20 minutes alone each day doing something you enjoy.  It could be exercising, soaking in a hot bath, reading a book, or working on a craft.  As long as you enjoy it, and do not feel demands from others when doing it, then it can be extremely helpful in allowing you to regroup and center yourself.
  • Try not to judge yourself.  This is a hard one, as judging comes so naturally for most of us, particularly in this competitive society.  Nevertheless, particularly during your alone time,  allow your thoughts and feelings to flow without judgment of whether they are good are bad, productive or unproductive.  Thoughts and feelings just happen, and, at times, it is good to let them float in and out of your soul just like the clouds passing through the sky.
  • Try to be your own best parent.  How would you compliment your child for a job well done? Try to do the same for yourself.  The same thing holds true for consoling.  If you have had a bad day, comfort yourself with kind words or by wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and relaxing.  It is healthy to nurture ourselves and love ourselves just as we would our child.
  • Be open to accepting that you are human and will make mistakes.  By accepting your shortcomings, making amends, and moving on, you are carrying less weight and are more apt to forgive others.  This goes a long way towards contributing to happiness.

Remember that finding joy in life is often about taking pleasure in the small things and about loving yourself.  Setting aside time to be still and listen to the voice inside is a habit worth nurturing, and is one that can lead to satisfaction and peace both within yourself and in your relationships.


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC




Learning to Manage Difficult Emotions

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We’ve all had those moments in life when we become so enraged we feel we could explode, or so upset we want to spread our misery to those around us.  However, if we don’t effectively manage those extreme feelings, the destruction we cause can be the source of much regret.  Take for example a woman who becomes increasingly irritated with her husband for arriving home late from work several days in a row.  Although she says nothing for several weeks, she eventually lets it all out in a huge explosion, citing everything he has done wrong during the course of the last few years.  She is threatening divorce, feeling there is just no hope for the marriage, feeling unheard.  After the hostility subsides, she is aware she has alienated her husband as a result of the attack, and has completely lost the focus of what initially irritated her.  She feels guilty and angry towards herself for acting that way and blowing things out of proportion.  Her husband is now focused on her attack as opposed to what he did to upset her, and she is then even more adamant that the next time she will not say anything and keep it to herself.  The destructive cycle continues.

The difficulty in handling emotions comes when we confuse “managing” our feelings with “suppressing” our feelings.  Feelings just happen.  They aren’t right or wrong, good or bad.  But, the way we choose to act on those sensations is something to evaluate.  We can voice our sentiments productively or destructively; and, therein we find the problem, or the solution.

When we suppress our feelings, or believe we should suppress our feelings, the negative emotions build.  We become more frustrated, more irritated, feel less understood and more isolated.  The feelings can morph into theories of victimization and helplessness.  We become a volcano that is ready to spew or one that has already exploded.  This can lead to the attitude of great remorse, and subsequent guilt, which in turn begins the cycle all over again.  On the other hand, if we allow our emotions to rule us, acting on every impulse, we often suffer the same consequences:  shame, isolation and frustration.  So how can we learn to balance our emotions with logic in an effort to productively cope with difficult feelings while still allowing ourselves to experience frustration, anger, sadness or other complex moods?  The following are a few tips to help you learn to make the most out the ever-changing climate of emotions:

  •  When you feel strong emotions, articulate what they are.  Do you feel sad?  Frustrated? Angry?  How would you describe the feeling? Write down what you feel.
  • Think to past experiences of expressing this emotion.  What has worked well, and what has not.  Let experience guide you.
  • Go for a walk, get involved in another activity, and then reassess your feelings later.  Many times, you will find the issue at hand wasn’t really that important and your anger, sadness, irritation has subsided.
  • Speak about your feelings using “I statements.”  “I feel angry, sad, etc.”
  • Set clear boundaries.  Sometimes people are afraid to set clear boundaries for themselves because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings.  Yet when those unspoken boundaries are violated, they are angry, sad or hurt and act with hostility towards the other.  Rather than create such animosity, feel confident in articulating your boundaries as long as you are clear, confident, and calm when explaining them.
  • Think in terms of what you can control—yourself.  Trying to behave in a way that will get your partner or friend to do what you want is completely unproductive.  They will always have the freedom to choose their actions, as will you.  What you can do is express yourself, and your choices for how you choose to conduct your life.  You have the choice to stay in a relationship in which the other person’s choices are not in keeping with yours, or to not be in such a relationship.  However, controlling their choices and their behavior will be difficult, if not impossible.
  • Remember that emotions are like the weather: they are guaranteed to change.

There are many tactics for handling difficult emotions.  It is important to allow yourself the freedom to feel them, yet it also good to be careful to strike a balance between feeling and expressing them productively.  Part of the richness of life comes from the variety of experiences we have, both easy and difficult, good and bad.  All of these experiences and their affiliated emotions are the dynamics from which we learn and grow.  Each time we confidently and thoughtfully express ourselves, we grow in maturity and self-esteem.  As with anything, only through practice can we improve on the skill, but it is worth the effort as we learn to recognize our own inner strength!


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC


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Have you ever been in an argument with someone and brought up an offense from ten years prior?  Maybe it is an offense you bring up regularly during arguments to remind them of the hurt they caused you.  If so, you are not alone.  Often one of the biggest hurdles in relationships is the difficulty for one or both people to forgive the other for past transgressions, be they large or small.  Many believe that by forgiving the other, they are condoning what was done to them.  They feel that by doing so they will be opening themselves up to future injury of the same nature if they let their partner or friend “off the hook.” Other times, they use the reminder to serve as a motivator to get the other person to feel remorse or to work harder at pleasing them.   Unfortunately, though, this tactic seldom works. The good news is that there is another way to handle the anger and resentment of past offenses.  The option is forgiveness.

By forgiving someone we are letting go of the grudge we carry.  We are saying that although we do not agree with what was done, and we may even resent it, we realize that we are all human and make mistakes.  We are reflecting on ourselves, assessing our own mistakes and acknowledging our own imperfections. We are making a conscious choice to let go of the negative feelings onto which we are holding. This is a benefit to the relationship and to our health.  It is a reflection of our own maturity and ego-strength.  Forgiveness can be freeing, liberating and empowering to the one doing the forgiving, as well as to the person being forgiven.

All that said, there are also times when, although we may forgive, we realize that the relationship may be irreparably damaged.  An example of this is with infidelity.  Some relationships are able to work through it, learn from it, and go on without further incident.  However, for others, infidelity is not something they choose to withstand.  It becomes an insurmountable hurdle and the relationship ends.  Yet, even though a transgression may be the catalyst for the end of the relationship, there is still the choice that someone can make to forgive the other. This may take time, and  is not a sign of condoning or feeling good about the end of the relationship or the way that you were wounded.  Nevertheless, finding a way to let go of the hurt and anger can be a tremendously valuable step in the healing process, and without it, the wounds may go on to affect them in future relationships and personal growth.  Nevertheless, there are some wounds that are harder to get past than others.  When it is a challenge to forgive, here are some things to think about that may help:

  • Have you had a chance to grieve the injury?  For example, if you just found out about an affair, it is unrealistic to think that you would immediately move into the mode of forgiveness.  As a matter of fact, it will likely take many months or years to achieve.  It is important to take time to nurse your wounds and grieve the loss.  However, it is a wonderful mark of closure to let go of the anger and forgive, regardless of whether or not the relationship was able to be salvaged.
  • Consider your own mistakes.  How have you hurt others?  Can you remember a time when someone forgave you and you were humbled by it?  Give consideration to paying it forward and granting forgiveness for the sake of the other, and for the sake of yourself.
  • Remind yourself that you are not agreeing with the transgression.  Forgiveness is about letting go.

Working toward forgiveness can be a stimulus for much of our own introspection and self-growth.  Nevertheless, it is certainly easier said than done.  It is important to remember that we do not have control of the events that happen to us or the choices that others make. However, we do have a choice, in any event, as to how we would like to handle our own behavior.  We can choose to let reeling from a wound become the driving force behind our future choices; or, we can make a conscious choice to let go of the weight of anger, leave the grudge in the past, and hence, forgive.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Enjoying the Season of Giving

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“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” –Maya Angelou 

The season of giving is here, yet it has become a society that seems to place so much emphasis on giving big gifts, giving expensive gifts, that  often people feel that they can’t keep up, and therefore have nothing meaningful to give.  Remember that gift giving should come from the heart.  It’s not about how flashy a gift is, it is about the thought behind it.  If you are looking for ways to show someone how much you care about them, while staying true to a small budget, here are some things to consider:

  • First of all, remember the gifts that have meant the most to you.  Most likely, they were gifts that someone put a lot of thought into, regardless of what the gift itself really was.
  • Think about what the recipient loves.  Do you share special memories with this person?  Could you create a photo album or collage of some of those memories?
  • Maybe the gift of time is what they would like the most.  Consider setting aside a special evening or afternoon to spend with the recipient.  You could go for a stroll in a park or watch a movie together at home.  Maybe you could spend an afternoon baking.  Whatever it is, think about what the other person needs- not in terms of things, but in terms of your time and attention.
  • Let your creative juices flow!  Write a poem, paint a picture, make an ornament.  Whatever you do, if it something that shows your effort and creativity, it will make the recipient smile—and most certainly warm their heart!

Enjoying this time of year does not need to be expensive.  However, it should be a time when you reflect on those that you love and consider ways to show them.  Remember that the best gifts come from the heart, and you will reap the benefits too by feeling good about the time you put into doing something kind for the special people in your life!


Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Managing Grief During the Holidays

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The holiday season can be a particularly challenging time for people who are coping with the loss of a loved one. Trying to find ways to endure the sadness often creates feelings of depression, lack of motivation, and disinterest in being around others. However, there are ways to allow your love for that special person to help make this time even more meaningful and to let it become a celebration of their life, even if only in some small gesture.

• Create a tradition in honor of their memory. Light a candle each night of the holiday season in their honor, or host an open house each year at this time that you consider to be in their memory. Maybe you could bake their favorite cookies each year during the holidays or have a special meal that they loved.

• Make it a habit to remember the positives that they put into this world and say a word of thanks for them.

• Give a gift to a child in need knowing in your heart that it is in honor of your loved one.

• There are some beautiful children’s books written about love and loss that are wonderful to read, regardless of your age. One in particular is The Invisible String, written by Patrice Karst. It is a story that serves to remind us all that we are all connected to those we love, be they near or far, living or deceased. Reading a comforting book like that can also ease the pain during the difficult holiday time.

When grieving, try to be proactive with your feelings. Think of things that you can do to honor the positive memories you have of them and celebrate the life they lived. Most of all, don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone about how you are feeling. Grief is an extremely painful emotion, but it is also something from which we can grow, learn and love.

Making New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

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So it’s just about that time of year again when we begin to contemplate what we will promise to improve in our lives as a way of ringing in the New Year.  Yes, it’s time to decide on a New Year’s Resolution.  For many of us, we can’t even recall our previous resolutions, let alone claim to have been successful at accomplishing them.  So, how do we go about making a sincere resolution that will be lasting, achievable, meaningful and not just another empty promise?  Here is a list of the top ten ways to make sure this year your resolution becomes the springboard for many other satisfying accomplishments throughout the year:

  1. Consider first what is meaningful to you as opposed to what is meaningful to others.  For example, trying to lose weight because someone keeps telling you that you should is not going to be as motivating as trying to lose weight because you value health and fitness and want to spend more time incorporating that into your life.
  2. Set realistic expectations.  Don’t set yourself up for failure by striving for the unachievable.   Using words like “never” or “always” are unrealistic.  For example, saying you’ll never eat chocolate again?  Probably not going to happen!
  3. Develop a plan for achieving the resolution.  What are the steps you need to take to change the behavior, or begin striving for your goal?  Chart out the steps, and take it one step at a time.
  4. Set short-term and long-term goals to reach.  What is the first small goal that you need to reach in order to attain the greater goal?  One day of healthy eating? One week of working out at the gym? What about a day of remembering to be thankful for the blessings in your life?
  5. Reward yourself for the small accomplishments.  When you reach each of the short-term goals, how will you reward yourself?  Simply recognizing that you did well at practicing self-discipline is excellent motivation for the next step in your plan!
  6. Don’t give up if you mess up.  Mistakes will happen!  You’ll forget to work on your goal for a day—or a week!  But, don’t give up!  As soon as you realize your oversight, begin again working toward your resolution.  Change doesn’t happen overnight!
  7. Remember that breaking a habit (or changing a behavior) begins by simply noticing when you are not doing things the way you had hoped.  Just catching yourself (even after the fact) is an important step in the process.
  8. Put a note somewhere you will see each morning to remind yourself about the goal you are working towards.  Start the day by remembering what you are hoping to achieve that day.
  9. Tell others about your resolution.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  By telling others what you are working on, you are more likely to strive to achieve the goal.   Better yet, tell a close friend or your partner, and ask them to provide you with encouragement.
  10. Expect to succeed at reaching your goal!  Think optimistically and take your goals seriously!  You can succeed at accomplishing your New Year’s Resolution or any other goals that you set!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Learning from our Mistakes

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The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.– John Dewey                                                                                                                            

        I think most people would agree, it is impossible to get through life without making mistakes; mistakes in judgment, mistakes in planning, mistakes in delivery.  We may start out with the best intentions, only to realize the mess we have created or the disappointment we have suffered. Nevertheless, it is those mistakes from which we learn and grow.  How many people can remember being in their youth thinking that when they reached the age of 21, they would know everything they needed to know for the journey of life? They would be an adult and have it all figured out.  For most people, it doesn’t take many years of adulthood to figure out that they were wrong and still have so much to learn. 

        Life has a way of gifting us with surprises and sometimes throwing us curve balls.  We frequently need to regroup and take stock in our choices and values, often making very difficult decisions along the way. We are constantly evolving.  I often think to myself, If only I knew then, what I know now.   Experiences are the teachers and we are the students. Being open to the evolution of our thoughts keeps us open to the possibility in other’s thoughts as well, recognizing the opportunity to learn from them.  Think how often people say, if only I had known. We all learn as we get older and have new experiences.  To regret what we didn’t know when we were younger is fruitless. Yet, to learn from our mistakes is not only productive, but it is the only way to grow.  There is no point we reach at which we are done learning and changing.  Rather than living a life focused on regret, we have the opportunity to choose a life of awareness whereby we are willing to look at our mistakes and continuously shape and improve ourselves.  We have the opportunity to enjoy the journey of our own evolution!

        Consider:  What were some of the turning points in your life where you made a poor choice or behaved in a way that caused you or others pain? What were some difficult circumstances in your life that you had to overcome?  Give some thought to these chapters of your life and consider what specifics you learned from those experiences.  How are you different today because of those struggles?  Building on these insights, consider what strengths you possess that helped you through those struggles.  Be proud of how you’ve grown!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC