The Language of Inclusion

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The language of inclusion is about two three–letter words: “but” and “and.” In grammatical terms, they are called conjunctions. They bridge two clauses of a single sentence together. In communication (and negotiation), these words are subtle manipulators of exclusion or inclusion. Generally speaking, “but” excludes, denies, discounts or in some way rejects the previous clause. For example, the statement “she is a very productive employee but she can be a bit demanding” is subtly different than “she is a very productive employee and she can be a bit demanding.” In the first example, the “but” tends to convey a negation of the first clause of the sentence in favor of the second clause of the sentence. In the next example, the “and” tends to convey an inclusion of the first clause along with the second clause.

Take another example: “Yes I understand you need to meet with me before tomorrow’s meeting but my schedule is packed full” vs. “I Yes I understand you need to meet with me before tomorrow’s meeting and my schedule is packed full.” In this example, by using “and” instead of “but” the speaker not only avoids negating the initial clause but also conveys to the listener that his/her concerns about needing to meet are acknowledged.

Using “and” is also a much softer way to say no. For example, the typical “yes, but” can easily be replaced with “yes, and.” For example, the request “We need to purchase new computers” can be responded to with “yes I know, but we can’t until next year” or “yes I know, and we can’t until next year.” The “and” does not negate the “yes” whereas the “but” does tend to convey a sense of canceling out that which preceded the “but.”

The use of “but” is extraordinarily common. In fact, few people actually recognize the subtle influence of using but. If you were to consciously attempt to change “but” to “and” in your speaking, you will notice how odd it feels. It is a worthwhile exercise if for no other reason than to become more comfortable with the ability to switch from one to the other. However, there can be a more important reason: using “and” instead of “but” can positively influence dialogue. When using “and” instead of “but” there is a sense of inclusion and acceptance even if the conclusion is a denial or refusal.

Try it out over the next several days. Listen to others’ sentences and when you hear “but” change it in your own mind to “and.” Then, start listening to your own sentences. When you hear yourself about to say “but” change it to “and” but remember one thing…oops…and remember one thing…you do have some choices in life….

Love and Boundaries

silhouetted couple at sunset


Love And Boundaries

We tend to think of love as an all encompassing, overwhelming, positive feeling. We say, “I love you” and think that solves all our conflicts and arguments with our partner. During the initial stages of love, often referred to as an infatuation phase, boundaries are melted and dissolve away. We enter into the realms of the other person’s reality. We merge together. Our life becomes theirs, theirs ours. We lose ourselves. We become one. It’s a wonderful, marvelous feeling. For a while. At some point, we want ourselves back. We begin to erect some boundaries. The relationship appears to be pulling apart. Arguments and conflicts occur. We say “I love you” in hopes of remaining merged with the other person.

Love is not a static state. It is a process. There are stages. For love to endure between a couple, each person needs to maintain their individuality. The merging and melting of individuality in the initial stages is certainly important for bonding and building attachment. However, subsequent stages of love require each person to develop as an individual. When a love relationship smothers individuality, it becomes toxic. A healthy adult love relationship that has passed the infatuation stage will come to acknowledge, honor and respect the individuality of the partner. That individuality will, by definition, have a set of boundaries. Individuality and boundaries go together like a designated territory and fences. Of course, that territory has gateways in and out. It is not a secluded territory. But, it is a sovereign territory.

There are many examples wherein love and boundaries co-exist quite well. Parents love their children by establishing clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Children feel this love as consistency, structure and safety. Husband and wife may show their love of each other through respecting their partner’s idiosyncrasies, without trying to bend or alter them to meet their own needs. Teachers, managers, parents, friends, therapists and other roles we may take, can show love through boundaries in what is referred to as ‘tough love.’

Tough love is simply firmness. Too often love can be wimpy, weak, wishy- washy. Tough love is direct, clear, and concise. Tough love sets specific boundaries of behavior. Tough love is not violent, nor based in anger. Tough love is based on genuine caring. When a parent expresses tough love through vehement exhortations about not running into the street, it is based on the welfare of the child. When two lovers absolutely insist on no telephone contact during work hours for professional reasons, that is based on the welfare of the relationship. It is okay to be tough and firm when establishing and maintaining boundaries, if needed. An enduring love relationship without boundaries is like a glass of water without the glass….there is no shape, no form, no container. Love needs boundaries to have definition in much the same way children need structure to feel safe.

Unfortunately, as children our boundaries are often violated. Later in life we may have little or no respect for boundaries. A child who is spanked repeatedly while being told ‘this is for you own good; I’m only doing this because I love you’ will develop a belief that love = violation of boundaries or love = pain. When two people who have such beliefs get together, domestic violence is not uncommon. There may be expectations to violate boundaries as a way of demonstrating love. One or both partners may provoke such behaviors to verify that there is ‘love.’

Love takes many forms from the romantic and erotic to the familial and filial to the spiritual and altruistic. In every case, individual boundaries are going to play some role, more or less. Even if they are exceedingly minimized during some period, long standing, enduring love between two people will accept, honor and respect individual boundaries which themselves are not fixed in stone, do adjust over time and can be one of the more important considerations in a love relationship.

About Online Counseling

sacred lotus flower

About Online Counseling

Online counseling is a relatively new therapeutic service. There are many advantages over the traditional in-person face-to-face therapeutic sessions offered in just about every community. And, of course, there are some cons. As the technology has developed, online counseling has also grown expanding from simple email based therapeutic communication to also include chat, pc-to-pc telephone sessions and even web-cam based live video sessions. Online counseling is, obviously, dependent on the computer and the Internet.

Online counseling is also dependent upon Internet service providers as a computer attached to the Internet is useless without being connected to the phone or cable lines. With the ever decreasing cost of high end computers and the very reasonable cost of getting hooked up, more and more people are online. Shopping, banking, research, game playing and communication via computer are as common as driving to the local store. Increasingly, online counseling and therapy is also becoming a norm.

This article will outline some of the pros and cons of online counseling, also referred to as e-therapy or distance learning. But first, a little bit about how it works.

Basic online counseling entails a client writing out their problem, whatever it might be, and sending that information through email to an online counselor or therapist who then replies within a day or two. Or, a professional counselor and a client may communicate via live chat/instant messaging, in real time. Telephone is also an option, as is video webcam conferencing, which is the most immediate and ‘full feature’ platform available.



The Pros
The greatest advantage of online counseling is the convenience. Traditional therapy requires that the client go to an office. Appointments are generally during working hours which means a person must leave their work, drive to another location in the town or city, find a place to park, attend the session and then return to their work. Although the therapy session may only last 50 minutes, the total time may be a couple of hours, or more. Online counseling takes place in the comfort of one’s own home on one’s own schedule. With wireless technology now available, online counseling can take place just about anywhere.

Online counseling is generally less expensive than traditional in-person face-to-face counseling. Regular counseling or therapy sessions can cost anywhere from $65 to $120 or more per hour. But, in many cases, the client can choose the length of time, rather than a pre-determined 50-minute hour. In some cases, the charge is by-the-minute allowing a client to pay only for time used, whether that time is 10 minutes or 110 minutes.

Another significant advantage of online counseling is anonymity. Clients can be much more forthcoming knowing they are not being observed and scrutinized. Self disclosure and honesty tends to occur more rapidly in online counseling because of anonymity.Individuals who are shy, have social anxieties or have transportation limitations can comfortably access therapeutic intervention via online counseling.

Some people express themselves much better in writing than they do in person. For such people, online email and chat based counseling offers a perfect avenue for discussing their problems with a professional counselor. For those who prefer talking, the telephone is readily available. For those who would like to simulate an office visit without leaving home, video webcam counseling is the perfect solution.

Online counseling emails can be read and re-read allowing for review weeks or even months after the actual session. Chat usually has a transcript that can be saved and reviewed at a later date. Telephone and video webcam typically do not have transcripts.


The Cons
Online email and chat based counseling is void of all visual and vocal cues and clues such as posture, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, rate of speech and volume, which often provide a great deal of information.

Online counseling requires a computer and Internet access as well as the ability to use a keyboard. Although reading is also an important requirement, there are software programs available which can translate the printed word into the spoken word.

Online counseling services often require payment in advance for an intangible service from an unknown professional who may not meet the client’s needs. However, a prospective client should have the ability to check credentials of the professional counselor prior initiating services.

Online counseling cannot address certain issues such as crisis or severe mental illness.

Online counselors are unfamiliar with the client’s community and the local resources available which makes it impossible to make referrals to local services.

Online counseling is Internet based, and the Internet, like any bank, is susceptible to breaches. Absolute confidentiality, despite full privacy and confidentiality, cannot be 100% guaranteed. Encryption is available to help ensure privacy.

Clearly, online counseling can be a useful therapeutic resource for some people. It is certainly a service which will continue to expand along with technology. As people’s lives become increasingly complex and harried, the need for counseling will likely also increase. The many pros of online counseling make it a very appealing alternative to traditional therapy.

A Philosophical Antidote for Anxiety

crater lake

A philosophical antidote for anxiety. Anxiety is a symptom of a thought process that is fundamentally based on a philosophy of life. Everybody has a philosophy of life though it may not be conscious, and it may not be genuine. That is, it may be a world-view internalized as a child from the surrounding adults. If a child hears “life sucks” enough, then that child internalizes a world view that… life sucks…

One of the more common philosophical underpinnings of anxiety is that things don’t work out; that little problems are big, unsolvable dilemmas; that small obstacles are huge, insurmountable blockages and that the smallest mistake made is equivalent to the largest failure ever committed, by anyone. These philosophical underpinnings generally manifest as ‘catastrophizing’ thought patterns. If you thought a catastrophe was about to occur, you too would be anxious. However, a catastrophe is, in fact, not about to occur, despite our internalized dialogue to the contrary.

Perfectionism is another philosophical underpinning, which generates anxiety. If we are about to approach a task such as, say, a public presentation, and we believe any mistake is a sign of failure, then a lot of energy goes into preventing that failure from happening, which manifests as anxiety. It should be noted that physiologically, anxiety and excitement are almost identical. The only difference between the two is that with anxiety, we anticipate negative outcomes and with excitement we anticipate positive outcomes.

We think in words and pictures; those words and pictures are not so much based upon what we are experiencing or anticipating in the world but rather how we interpret and translate, i.e., how we filter, that experience or anticipation through our philosophical lens. If we believe that little problems are big headaches, difficult to handle and which can easily become evidence of our lack of skill and capacity, we tend to become very anxious. If we believe big problems are challenges that can be an opportunity to exercise our creative problem solving skills and make us feel competent, we tend to have very little anxiety, and bit more excitement.

Anxiety can actually be a pathway to begin examining our internalized thought patterns and our fundamental philosophy of life, or world-view. Sometimes, anxiety is normal and natural. For example, if you were driving at night, in a heavy rainstorm, with lots of traffic, a bit of anxiety would be helpful. It would keep you alert and aware of potential dangers. Excessive anxiety in such a situation could actually increase the danger and risk of an accident. That excessive anxiety could be arising from internal dialogue and mental pictures of catastrophe, based on a philosophical world view that…. life sucks, that insurmountable obstacles occur, that huge unsolvable problems are inevitable or that “the sky is going to fall!”

When irrational anxiety arises, it requires rational, logical thinking to counter it. This kind of thinking is often referred to as evidentiary or scientific thinking. We need to look objectively at what is going on in the situation, as well as our own competencies and capacities. We need to override the catastrophizing thoughts with evidence to the contrary. Our philosophical world view, built up and maintained by our history of internal dialogue and mental pictures may be deeply entrenched; we may be emotionally attached to it and actually believe it is “the truth.”

In fact, our world-view is not the truth; it is simply what we have been taught to think about the world in which we live. Growing up is, in part, letting go of our childish world-view and adopting a more realistic, adult oriented philosophy of life. As stated in 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things.” An argument could be made that excessive and irrational anxiety is a childish thing. We can grow up. We can change. We can build a sound philosophy of life not based on childhood experiences and catastrophizing or perfectionism but rather based on our potential, our capacities and our competencies. As the great American psychologist William James said: “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”

Three Brains, Two Choices: Some Thoughts on Decision Making

Kaenae Peninsula

One moment. A fraction of a second. That’s all it takes to make a decision when all three brains are in agreement. You’ve experienced it yourself, many times. You’re about to walk across the street and see a car coming and you stop. You slam on the breaks of your car to prevent yourself from hitting the car in front of you. You see the child about to touch a hot stove. You act. Immediately. A decision is made. Sometimes, however, decisions don’t happen quickly. They take some time. There may be competing interests, lack of information, conflicting emotions about what course of action to take. And sometimes, decisions though not rapid, are made with relative ease and without much obstruction or confusion. And, of course, there is indecision, which invariably ends as there is tremendous energy, and intelligence, behind decision making. So, indecision doesn’t last too long even if it is some external situation or circumstance which prompts the decision to be made.

All decisions can be broken down to one of two choices. Even the most complicated decisions one makes are predicated on the first of two choices: yes or no — do it or don’t do it, proceed or don’t proceed, green light or red light. Depending on which choice is made, sequential decisions and actions are built. For example, the decision to eat dinner is first a yes or a no and from there, assuming it is a yes, decisions about time of dinner, place of dinner, content of dinner, etc, etc…can take place. If the decision is no, then a whole different sequence of decisions and actions emerge. In some respect, we are constantly making decisions throughout the day.

Decision making involves all three of our brains. To say we have three brains is somewhat misleading…but, it is also somewhat accurate. Certainly the brain operates as a whole unit. It is an incredibly complex system of neuro-chemical, bio-electrical program structures. However, there are three recognized general areas and functions of the brain. What is often referred to as the reptilian brain or the animal brain is here referred to as the Biological Brain. It is the core of the brain and the brain stem. Here is found the seat of our most basic physical functions and drives. It is this part of the brain that is considered to be “hard wired.” That is, the program structures which regulate behaviors arising out of this part of the brain are pretty well fixed; breathing, digestion, circulation and survival instincts would fall into this category. On top of and surrounding the Biological Brain is the Emotional Brain. Here we find, of course, the seat of our emotions. These program structures are less fixed and more “plastic” meaning that adaptation to relatively current situations is not only possible but feasible and often necessary. But, this part of the brain does generally not adapt rapidly. Months and sometimes years are required to notice changes in our emotional life. Experiences of depression, social anxiety, traumatic stress and irrational fears would fall into this category. The outermost brain, and the newest in terms of evolutionary development, is the Social Brain. Often referred to as the neocortex, this is the most “plastic” area of the brain, the most capable of learning and adapting and changing. This part of the brain can, and often does, change in the blink of an eye. This part of the brain is the seat of reason, logic, language, sequential thinking and planning. It is capable of mathematical formulations, symbolism and abstract art. And, here too we find two highly developed hemispheres with their respective functions. The left and right hemispheres of the brain have distinctive functions and are inctricately connected and coordinated by a part of the brain called the Corpus Callosum.

The Social Brain can become easily swayed by the Emotional Brain and often decisions which one knows are not reasonable or logical, are made anyway. The energy, the intensity and power of the Emotional Brain, overrides that of the Social Brain. The Biological Brain too can become colored by the Emotional Brain. The basic drive to eat food for nourishment can be, and often is, directed towards “junk” for purely emotional reasons. It doesn’t take a lot to see that most of the decisions in the world today, individually and collectively, are made predominantly from or colored by the Emotional Brain.

All three brains are highly active and intimately involved in decision making. Just about every decision involves, to some degree or another, basic, emotional and social…intelligence. For certainly we consider the brain the seat of intelligence, at whatever level it might be operating. The next time you make a decision, consider it in terms of your basic biological needs, your individual and psychological emotional needs and, your social needs. And, just as you will make one of two choices, to do this or not, so keep an eye open for those two choices you make throughout each and every day.