The Empowerment of a R.E.T.U.R.N.

Once upon a time, there was a 14-year old girl, who was thrilled to have an afternoon of shopping ahead of her at her favorite mall with her best girlfriends.  While her mom was doing errands in that very same mall, the girls were able to have their time and space to celebrate their independence and return some gifts that didn’t fit, or that they didn’t like. (After all, how often are you able to “nail it” when it comes to picking out something that your teen actually likes?) The truth was, the new outfit that the daughter bought for herself and loved, during her last visit to the mall with her best friends using a gift card that she received for her birthday to her favorite store, looked like it would barely fit her 7 year-old sister on a hot summer’s day. (Or even her sister’s doll for that matter). 

Jostled by the abrupt cell phone ring over the music of Jennifer Lopez’s “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” in the otherwise quiet book store, it was the mom’s previously gleeful daughter who sounded incredibly disappointed. Her frustrated daughter explained that she was able to go right up to the cashier to initiate the return of her mico-outfit, and before she knew it, the cashier said that she put the money back on the card and declared, “Next!” to address the next and final person in the line.  Her daughter tried to explain to the cashier that she no longer had the gift card because the purchase wiped out the total balance and she logically threw it out. “Well, there is nothing I can do…I already pressed the button, and it’s too late now,” explained the cashier. “Moooommmm,” the daughter enunciated on the phone while Jlo ironically sang, You think I’m gonna spend your cash (I won’t). Even if you were broke…My love don’t cost a thing.

“I’ll be right there,” the mom said assuredly. Mom departed the bookstore and JLo’s song, as she gracefully and calmly approached the cashier of the empty store upon arriving a few minutes later. Mom reviewed the events with the cashier that led to her daughter’s loss of money. “Perhaps you were incredibly busy, so the transaction was rushed, but…” The young cashier, interrupted, “the store has been slow all day in fact, and there is nothing that I can do, I already pressed the button.” The cashier’s co-worker seemed to nod in agreement. Mom decided to throw in that infamous request, “I’d like to speak with your store manager,” to which the cashier surprisingly replied, “I am the acting store manager today.” The aggravated mom ended up “researching” the phone number and name for the Director of the store’s Headquarters in disbelief that there was absolutely nothing that could be done, since the high price tag of that teeny tiny outfit didn’t exactly correlate with the outfit’s size. Using this as an opportunity to show support and coaching, mom encouraged the daughter to call headquarters, once identifying the appropriate contact information to share what occurred and to find out how to change course even after the all too familiar ‘button,’ was pressed. The mom and her daughter called on speaker phone with the mom in a supportive role and the daughter taking the lead in the conversation.  The Director verified that indeed there were other options; asked for their address in order to send a replacement gift card; apologized for the situation; and, shared appreciation for revealing a wonderful training opportunity. Not only was this a mom-win, but the empowerment of the R.E.T.U.R.N. was also an excellent training opportunity for this fabulous 14-year-old and her “fashionphile” friends. 

R.E.T.U.R.N.

Respond rather than react. This calls for a pause, through taking some deep breaths and observing one’s thoughts. Just because we have a negative thought or feeling, doesn’t mean we need to negatively act on it, particularly not immediately. When you are feeling that something is incredibly unfair, and your are met with someone who isn’t expressing lament in the same way, it gives us an opportunity to take a step back; observe what it is we want; and, figure out a way to calmly communicate our preferences without demanding the action that we want to see. 

Embrace the moment by asking yourself, “what is this an opportunity for?” What can I learn from this? What can I teach others about this? How do I want to conduct myself? Then envision how you want to proceed with those answers. 

Try and try again. Simply ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is that someone will say no, just as you have the right to do, when you are asked for something.  Be resourceful and respectful and know what the limits are, but by all means, try within the appropriate limits. 

Utilize support through a mentor.  When we have at least one person in our lives that we can learn from, we can grow and pay it forward. 

Reflect on what occurred and convey the story in a factual way without including degrading opinions and negative commentary. This objective language provides important credibility when we want someone else to understand our circumstances. It may not guarantee that action is taken in the way we hope it is, but it can certainly increase the chances. 

Navigate a system and empower others rather than always being the one to do it for them.  You can assist others in navigating challenging times, without taking over. The end result is seeing increased confidence in someone else who can then proceed confidently the next time they find themselves in a challenging circumstance. This can certainly be the case when we have the amazingly meaningful task of parenting teens, or whatever interpersonal relationships with which we find ourselves. (N could also stand for No teeny tiny outfits, no matter how cute the teen thinks that they are). 

Michelle Pargman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has worked in the Employee Assistance Program, a work site based counseling resource for employees and their family members. As such, Ms. Pargman is privileged to provide a safe and nonjudgmental space for others to speak their truth. She enjoys the opportunity to collaborate on identifying appropriate and relevant coping skills with individuals, couples, and community and work groups. Ms. Pargman approaches speaking opportunities as a chance to interweave the importance of self-care into whatever topic she is presenting. She is currently in the process of developing online courses for her viewers along with this blog and podcast: https://anchor.fm/michelle-pargman/episodes/Staying-Present-e8r9vh

 

Stove Top Relief — Michelle It Like it Is

For some it may be a fear of public speaking; for some it may be a fear of making a mistake; and, for some it may be a fear of someone coming into their home unexpectedly and perceiving it a mess. An extension of the fear, may be the underlying question, “if someone sees a […]

via Stove Top Relief — Michelle It Like it Is

Stove Top Relief

For some it may be a fear of public speaking; for some it may be a fear of making a mistake; and, for some it may be a fear of someone coming into their home unexpectedly and perceiving it a mess. An extension of the fear, may be the underlying question, “if someone sees a mess, or if I’m exposed for a mistake, then what does that say about me?”

It was a Thursday that had all of the feels of a Monday—the kids and I were delayed on our way out the door. One of the kids was relying on having internet access in the car through a Personal Hotspot that wasn’t reliable. The mixture of disappointment and the adrenaline rush that comes from running late was looming when I suddenly and strongly had that momentary experience where you wonder, “did I turn the stove off?” (FYI: If you have experienced similar questions once you’ve left home, there is a door mat for that: and you can learn more about Kate Kennedy, who invented the remindoormat,  This includes her original one that says, “turn off your curling iron.”).  This looming question was perfectly timed with the spouse being out of town and unable to be the “back-up” checker.  Luckily, I have a wonderful new neighbor whom I was able to contact and ask for help by going into the house to ensure the stove was off. Of course I used the disclaimer for her to “please excuse the mess.”  In that moment, the importance of safety outdid the importance of appearing perfectly tidy, and impeccably clean,  and that felt incredibly freeing. 

In contrast to the earlier disappointment towards the unreliable Personal Hotspot, I was incredibly grateful to experience the reliability of a wonderfully, kind, and helpful neighbor.   And for those that are curious, I received confirmation that the stove was indeed off.  As we remember to turn off the stove, we can also remember these tips that go along with the word S.T.O.V.E.

Stop to consider options and resources. A former colleague of mine, used the acronym Y.A.H.O.O. standing for “You Always Have Other Options.” When we are highly stressed, anxious, or depressed, it’s easy to get into a state of mind where we feel that there are no options. YAHOO reminds us not to believe that myth—but instead, creatively consider other options, even if they don’t seem all that viable. Eventually you will most likely arrive at some choices that are realistic and do-able and increase hopefulness and can potentially relieve some of the intensity.

Take a deep breath or maybe several. (Listen to the Staying Present podcast for more practice).There are so many ways to practice deep breathing, but the results are the same. Deep breathing can help restore our levels of cortisol (that primary stress hormone) back to baseline. So instead of having our insides drenched in cortisol for a prolonged amount of time—which can lead to difficulty in concentration, memory impairment, and sleep disturbance, by practicing even as little as one minute a few times throughout the day, we can teach our bodies to do this in a more efficient, automatic way even at times where you don’t think your stove was left on.

Optimism helps during stressful moments (Remember the 3 Ps –personalization, permanence, and pervasiveness). Professor Martin Seligman has taught that optimism can be learned, in his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. When something troubling happens, we have the power to choose how we explain it to ourselves. Going back to the idea of YAHOO—we have options. We can choose NOT to take it personally. An example of taking it personally might be, “leave it to me, these things only happen to me, I am such an idiot for possibly leaving the stove on, I can’t believe it…how stupid!” We can choose not to see it as a permanent set of errors. An example of permanence might be, “This stuff always happens. It will always happen. I will never be able to just leave the house, something always gets in my way of being on time.” We can choose not to see a troubling event as pervasive. An example is, “this whole day is now ruined because of this!”

Value good neighbors, friends, family, co-workers, bosses, supports, and…reciprocate. By valuing people, we put ourselves in a great position to focus on kindness and other qualities that we want to aspire to and we get the chance to have two-way streets, and reciprocate. Valuing those around us creates increased appreciation, and reminds us not to take the good people in our lives for granted. It may also inspire us to work on those qualities within ourselves that we appreciate in others.

Enjoy what you are fortunate enough to have instead of getting overly focused on what isn’t good enough. We can let ourselves get caught up in disappointment in the things that we don’t have, or get caught up in the fantasy of perfection and appearances. When it comes down to it, when we practice gratitude actively and reflect on what we are thankful for, we give ourselves the opportunity to increase our capacity to feel happiness and joy. 

By the way, when I reached out to my neighbor, I ended up reaching out originally to the “wrong” person—same first name, but someone that was in my phone for the last decade due to a one-time work assignment. So what does that say about me? It says that I’m human…that I’m fallible, and I’m willing and able to own mistakes. I also appreciate my resulting laughter in leaving the wrong person the message, calling them neighbor, when they live at the opposite end of the country.  Thanks to my mistake, for leading me to laugh, which helped reduce my cortisol and adrenaline. My only question now is…What will Friday bring? 

Michelle Pargman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been working in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) field since 1999. Ms. Pargman enjoys facilitating presentations on mental health and emotional wellness-related topics both in-person and online. She enjoys providing helpful tips for daily coping and engaging with audiences nationwide.

 

Bingo Luck and Life

Bingo pic for blog

Ironically, it was twenty-six years to the day of my grandfather’s death—my first major loss and one that hit me like a ton of bricks. It was shocking because we had just seen him merely days before (happy and seemingly healthy). I was able to share with him where I, his oldest granddaughter, was planning to attend college in the fall.  I remember him sharing two pieces of advice—“don’t lend money to friends, and remember that all boys want to do is score.” You can be the judge on whether this is sound advice, I’m just the messenger.

He had actually won the jackpot at Bingo the day he died. He was in the Catskills at his summer place that he shared with my grandmother at a bungalow colony filled with many long-time friends. A place where I got to spend seventeen summer’s worth of visits up until that point. Once he won at Bingo, he had gone around to all of his friends telling them that they should rub him for good luck since he hadn’t won at Bingo like that before. He simply went back to the bungalow, sat down in his chair, and apparently went into cardiac arrest and after resuscitation attempts from the resort’s life guard, he forever rested in peace. Perhaps you can say he was lucky to live his last day on Earth with happiness, humor, and social connections.

Twenty-six years later to the day, I found myself discussing grief and profound loss with multiple people every hour, through the work that I have the privilege and honor to do—holding space, and creating a safe place for others to share their reactions to horrific events that frequently can occur completely out of the blue. I am fortunate to be reminded once again that nothing separates us except for time and circumstance. I found myself repeating some concepts that have been reinforced over the years that I hope provides comfort to you as you read them.  In honor of my beloved grandfather and bingo enthusiasts of all ages, this blog installment will use lessons from B.I.N.G.O.

B: Both. You CAN and WILL have grief and joy at the same time. You can have the good AND the bad. Profound sadness AND happiness.  It doesn’t have to be either/or, all or nothing. You can allow yourself to eat, even though your loved one can no longer do so. You are breathing and as such, get the opportunity to engage in more joyful activities. You can watch a funny show and remember that it is okay that you are laughing in spite of such a tragic event.  You can celebrate holidays and births while also recognizing that it just downright hurts not to have your loved one on the planet.

I: It isn’t personal. Whatever happened, is not about you. Whatever acting out other people are doing that was triggered by this great loss, their actions have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. It is difficult in the moment when someone is spewing their “venom” directly at you, to understand that it isn’t personal, but rather it is about their own fears, insecurities, regrets, and feelings of helplessness.

N: No more “why,” instead try “what now?” Whether the loss or death comes naturally, or by accident, or intentionally, there is simply NOT going to be a good enough reason why it happened. Even though our brains are so equipped to try to figure it out and sometimes can’t rest until there is some sort of conclusive answer. When it comes to grief and loss—there are no good enough answers.

G: G-d doesn’t make the bad things happen—but rather gives us the strength to navigate and get through them when they do. This idea is not intended to be imposed on you, as whomever is reading this may have a variety of beliefs. This concept comes from Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad things Happen to Good People

O: Opposite of comfort. Feelings of comfort may be limited when we are grieving.  We may be comforted by good memories, and for some those may be limited, but feeling sadness and pain, as experienced when grieving, is uncomfortable. However, if we avoid numbing ourselves through things like alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, etc., then we give ourselves the opportunity to move through it.

Grief will wait for us—whether we choose to do it now or in the future, this may be one time we choose not to procrastinate.

Bingo, like life, is full of chance. It isn’t a solo activity and one that builds excitement through the interaction with others. Like life, bingo occurs as random events, every so often our number is called. We aren’t promised a win, but we certainly can enjoy the experience.

Please keep in mind resources that are available to you. A couple of national resources that may have support groups in your area include:

https://www.griefshare.org/

https://www.compassionatefriends.org/

About the Author:  Michelle Pargman is an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), who has worked in the EAP field since 1999. She provides counseling, work-site based support groups, and presentations for schools, community, and businesses on a variety of mental and emotional health and wellness related topics. She appreciates Bingo enthusiasts of all ages; is grateful for her grandfather’s advice; and, for the opportunity to work with people who are experiencing the many ups and downs that life throws our way.

Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade—She’s a Grandma, After All

“Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive.” –Brian Clough

I have been touched by the dying process this past month. At 99 years-old, I had the opportunity to see my grandmother in a state that I never imagined that I would. The reason I never imagined it is because it was in such sharp contrast to how she lived and how she presented herself to the world. Perhaps it is generational, but she always dressed in complete, coordinated outfits and when I had the opportunity to sit with her three weeks ago, it was no different. Her manicured hands held mine.   Although she suddenly became unable to dress herself or move herself, she still requested to be clothed in complete, coordinated outfits. She’s a grandma after all.  

And, as in the case when we are confronting loss, we refrain from being on automatic pilot, and recognize the impact that others make in our lives. We have an opportunity, not only to recognize our gratitude for others, but we get the chance to actually tell them. What a gift to be able to share with someone how much they mean to us, while we and they are still here.

There was nothing left to be said, other than as many “I-love-yous” as time and breath would allow. She appeared to be fully aware of what was going on and had residual energy to communicate a few requests that centered on what remained of her “stuff.” She had been “deleting” things as she had called it for the last several years. She truly was a planner. She planned her funeral and wrote her own eulogy that she read to me a couple of years ago on the phone. My commute home from work was my designated and ritualistic “special Grandma time” when we had most of our conversations over the last several years. She enjoyed an audience and read several things during those phone calls. She would read her lab results that demonstrated impeccable health—with cholesterol numbers and vitamin levels that any doctor would have loved for their patients, regardless of age.

As I stared at my grandmother with her eyes closed, I couldn’t help but imagine what was going on in her mind. She would awaken every so often asking us what time it was. She shared in a faint voice, (which was in such sharp contrast to her usual booming, lively one) that she overheard others in her Assisted Living Facility that were looking at her and whispering to each other that it “wasn’t her time yet.” I concluded that her consistency with asking for the time was her trying to literally figure out when her time was going to be.  She had stopped eating for several days prior to me arriving and I couldn’t help but think how ironic it was, since she had always pushed food on everyone. She’s a grandma after all.

I felt grateful as she lied there seemingly angry at first that this is what her last days had become. She wasn’t dying the way she had lived and it seemed to frankly, anger her. I could understand, as anger is certainly a natural reaction for those that are grieving and she was grieving her own loss.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to know her; to spend time with her; and, to fix her karaoke machine with my former boss and mentor when I introduced them during a business trip.  Who wouldn’t remain friends with a woman in her 90s who loved to start her day with coffee and karaoke? (Perhaps a good idea for a breakfast café). My grandmother loved social connections.  Part of her reading over the phone on my evening commute, were from notes and cards that friends would send her, whether it was for holidays or her birthday.  The beauty of our relationship as a grandparent/grandchild was that it seemed simple to me, void of the potential complexity of parent/child. She wasn’t a disciplinarian and I didn’t feel guilty if I didn’t agree with her opinions, of which she had many. She’s a grandma after all.

I am grateful that I had the chance to be emotionally present, to be one of several voices that tried to provide comfort, and assurance to grandma to allow herself to “let go” and to recognize that she has done everything she could do, and has been everything she could be.  As I sat and looked at my grandmother during my visit, I contemplated about how I think I would be on my deathbed. I thought about what I would care about. My hope is that I care about people, and the authentic relationships that fill me with gratitude.  The truth is that none of us know—we certainly aren’t privy to the circumstances and we truly don’t know what our individual process is going to be, but it helps me to decide where I want to put my energy—since what we focus on grows and what we practice, we typically get better at (unless it is the flute—I used to practice and practice, getting accused of not practicing by the junior high symphonic band teacher—but I digress).

As much as she had lost her appetite prior to my visit, she had a strong desire for oranges. She instinctively knew that she had the energy and taste for sucking on an orange and surely it ended up satisfying her. She may not have ever enjoyed or eaten oranges in her life, or at least none that I could recall, but she certainly was enjoying them in these final days.  When she initially asked for oranges upon my arrival, seeing her in that state, I would have done anything and I ran to try to find the nearest supply of oranges. I went to one grocery store around the corner and couldn’t believe they didn’t have any when I asked the associate. (Apples, peaches, strawberries, but no oranges, and we are in South Florida for goodness sake).  I truly felt like Shirley MacLaine  in Terms of Endearment when she was racing around to find a nurse to administer her adult daughter her pain medicine. “Give my grandmother the orange!!!!” is all I could think about.  After hitting the orange jackpot at Publix, further up the road (where shopping truly is a pleasure), she told me that she wanted me to cut it in quarters. She knew exactly what she wanted and had no qualms about telling me—She’s a grandma after all.

At one point, as she had the orange to her mouth, she said out loud, “I love this.” She even had the insight and awareness to say, that when I see oranges now, I’m going to think about her. At the moment, she said that, she started calling them lemons and therefore, whether it is an orange or lemon, she was certainly correct.

The truth is that I already think of her when I see lemons—because she is someone that I have admired for making lemonade out of lemons. She certainly didn’t have the easiest life and seemed to re-invent herself, while maintaining her essence, after the deaths of two husbands and other hardships.  On a side note, she used to love to drink her water (emphatically with no ice); with squeezed lemons; and, Sweet and Low at restaurants saying each time, “I’m making lemonade,” and then taking several Sweet and Low packets and putting them in her purse for the next time.  She’s a grandma after all.

“Death never comes at the right time, despite what mortals believe. Death always comes like a thief.” –Christopher Pike

Lessons from L.E.M.O.N.S.

  1. Let it go or perhaps more realistically, “Let it be.” We are not our thoughts, Thoughts and feelings are typically fleeting, and not every thought has to mean something–there is a big difference between our thoughts, feelings, and what we choose to do with them. We often times may find ourselves dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings, realizing they may not be the most productive and may not be serving us well. The beauty of it, is that we have the ability to choose and entertain other thoughts, which can lead to negative feelings changing to more positive ones. When we fight and resist, like a beach ball that is submerged in water, it only comes back in our face that much harder. When we let it be, we can be more present, and learn that we aren’t as trapped as we may have originally thought.
  2. Express Empathy. Even though we may not agree with what someone believes; how they conduct themselves; or, what they choose to focus on, we can certainly express empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean agreement, but it does mean to work towards an understanding of what it is like to feel, think, and hold the same attitude, as if we were in another person’s shoes. The as if portion is what draws the imaginary line; reminding us that they aren’t our own shoes; enabling us to have a healthy boundary that separates one person’s feelings from our own. Through empathy, when someone expresses opinions that aren’t our own, or thoughts and feelings that we may have trouble relating to, we aren’t inclined to talk them out of theirs. And, after all, we are typically closest to those we feel are not judging us.
  3. Move forward in your own time. There is no correct timing when it comes to grieving a loss. We all do it in our own unique way. Be gentle with yourself; recognizing that the “stages of grief” introduced by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, are not something that happens necessarily in order; and, may very well take you on a roller coaster ride where you find yourself experiencing multiple feelings, sometimes at the same time. Remember that joy and grief are not mutually exclusive—feeling both is possible, and furthermore, you have every right to do so. (For further exploration, you may be interested in watching this powerful and informative TEDx Talk by Nancy Berns, sociologist at Drake University).  As much as we want to know why bad things happen, we will come up short. There is no good enough nor accurate answer for why—but we can choose to put our energy into what. We can ask ourselves, “What are we going to do about it? or “What now?”
  4. Overbearing is often times unnecessary, but assertiveness is key. Each of the three communication styles: passive, aggressive, and assertive, have a mindset that seems to go along with each. The passive mindset is “I don’t matter, but you do.” The aggressive mindset is “I matter, you don’t.” Often times, if we practice passivity for too long, we start feeling resentful and then we boomerang to its opposite. However, when we strive to practice the more balanced approach of assertiveness, we are enacting the mindset of “I matter, you matter.” There is a time and place for each style. Asking for what you want 100% of the time, may be something worthy of action, since you wouldn’t know unless you asked. When you recognize that others have the ability to say no, just as you do, you may feel a little bit more comfortable with the ask.
  5. Needs versus wants is important to evaluate. We can’t take stuff with us. We can easily get caught up in wanting more stuff; not feeling like we have enough stuff; particularly when we start comparing ourselves with others; or, when we think about what would look good to others. Consider taking time to reflect on what really matters to you. You may find that what matters is far from the things that you are currently putting your energy into, and if that is the case, it is time to reassess where you would rather put your energy and practice that. Recognize the difference between needs and wants. What we say to ourselves and others, is incredibly powerful—be mindful of when you use the term need and figure out if they are just wants in disguise.
  6. Sing karaoke, or find an activity that creates a freedom within your heart and spirit, ideally that you could engage in on-demand, that brings you joy. Incorporate your version of karaoke into each day.

About the Author:  Michelle Pargman is an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), wife, and mother who has worked in the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) field since 1999. She provides counseling, work-site based support groups, and presentations for schools, community, and businesses on a variety of mental and emotional health and wellness related topics. She is grateful for the relationship she had with her grandmother.

 

 

Watch What Happens when we Make Time for Others

Everyone has a story and I value those mindful-moments when I get the chance to listen so intently to someone’s story that I am positively impacted and moved as a result.

For the last couple of years, I have been bringing my family members’ phones to a cell phone repair store.  The remarkable gentleman, who works there, has consistently talked me out of buying things that I don’t need, which propels feelings of eternal appreciation and gratitude. I think to myself, “Now this is a person who has my best interest at heart,” while successfully retaining me as a customer.   The store is not fancy; part of an older strip mall; little lighting; and, is probably about 400 square feet, if that. If one simply judged the store, solely on appearance, they may decide to take their business elsewhere.  However, the sales associate at my fancy phone carrier’s store highly recommended them, and now I am doing the same.

Recently, I got to see firsthand how positively impactful his job is to others and the pride and satisfaction he has for his work.  Let’s face it, our cell phones have become our “everything” where we have developed such a strong reliance and dependence that when they malfunction, we have the potential to feel lost. These lost customers grace his doorway, only to be greeted by his expertise, friendliness, and warmth that exude genuine concern. The best part is that he actually knows what he is doing, while respectfully, being quick to say what his limitations are and redirects people when they can benefit from going elsewhere. He solves problems, gracefully, and eagerly. Customers potentially leave his store with a renewed confidence that their phones have been restored back to a functional state and dare I say a renewed sense of humanity that this honest, genuine, business and high quality customer care, still exists.

I commented to him on what a sense of accomplishment he probably feels at the end of his workday and he shared with me a story that perfectly exemplifies this. You see, this store not only fixes and sells refurbished phones, but also fixes and sells watches. In fact, he shared that he learned about watches way before he knew anything about cell phones. He went on to explain that one day recently, an elderly man and his wife walked in to the store to receive help with their phone. My favorite watch and phone repair person could tell how happy they were and how they truly enjoyed each other’s company. Through a little tinkering, which allowed him to witness the strong bond these two shared, he successfully fixed the phone issue.

The elderly man saw the watches for sale and inquired further about whether he has experience with fixing watches. The remarkable gentleman proceeded to tell him, as he had shared with me, that he has worked on watches long before cell phones and invited the customer to further share his interest.  This customer, proceeded to take out of his pocket, a watch that was given to him as a gift from his previous wife in the 1960s, which hasn’t worked in over a decade. His previous wife was the mother of his children, and as he explained, died way too soon. He grew to love that watch as it represented his beloved wife, whose loss devastated him. He proceeded to tell him that he has taken the watch to different places where he traveled—from Ohio to New York, to watch repair places hopeful that they can get this timepiece back up and running. A piece that represented a beautiful time in his life when he was part of a wonderful relationship that changed the course of his life for the good, since it was with this woman that he had his children who are now adults. He said that time and time again (excuse the pun), he was told that the watch could not be fixed and he was wondering if this watch and phone “miracle worker,” can possibly look at it. In his non-pretentious, quiet, confidence, the employee so intently listened to this man as he shared his story, looked at the watch, and said he would be happy to work on it with no guarantees.

When he took the watch apart, and studied it, he realized what the problem was, and identified the specific part that the watch needed. The problem was that this watch part was discontinued. The watch company went out of business decades ago, and there was no one who carried this part. In his wonderful, captivating, European accent, he shared that he asked himself, “What to do?” He then decided that he would create the part himself with his very own hands. And that is what he did for the next three days, with literal blood, sweat, and tears—he showed me the cuts on his hand. He actually replicated the watch’s missing piece, and sure enough, he installed it, which soon led to the wonderful tick tock of a watch that represented a beautiful chapter in the life of another. He said that when the man returned and saw the working watch, in disbelief,  he proceeded to place it on his wrist and looked at it intently with tears in his eyes, as if he were able to talk to his deceased wife and make a connection with her after all of these years. When asked how much he owed him, his reply was $167 and the man in turn gave him $300 and told him he only wishes he could give him more—that the watch was priceless to him and he left with his head held high after profusely thanking this Mr. Fix-it with such heart.  There were so many ways that this story impacted me, as I reflected on multiple lessons stemming from listening:

Ten Lessons to Watch For:

  1. When we truly make the time to listen to others…a. We allow ourselves to be completely in the present moment (without regretting the past or worrying about the future). b. We give others attention, understanding, respect, and validation that unless you are sociopathic, most of us crave and appreciate. c. We are better equipped to identify what is most important to the person doing the talking, without rehearsing a response, and from there, try to help in any way that we can—even if it isn’t about fixing, sometimes, it is merely about holding space for another soul. (We can’t all be Mr. Fix-its). d. We give ourselves an opportunity to truly connect with someone else. e. The payoff in positive feelings from taking the time and energy can prove extremely positive.
  2. When it comes to work, “find something you love, that you are good at, and that people will pay you for.” — (shared by Rick Titus, LMHC, CAP, during a local presentation he gave entitled, Beyond the Twelve Steps)
  3. Don’t lose hope—“Every day we aren’t in a box is a good day.” – (shared by a beautiful 93- year old gym member, in response to a group of us asking her how she was doing. Determination and perseverance for what is important to us, can help us see things that we really want. Regardless of whether they come to fruition, it is nice to get clear on what is worth our energy to try.
  4. Understanding your strengths and limitations—and putting ego aside in order to get people the help they need, even if your limitations prevent you from doing it yourself—know the resources for which you can refer.
  5. Do your best—whatever that means on any given day. You can’t do more than that.
  6. It is easy to say you will never find love again when a relationship ends. Remember from my previous article, never is synonymous with 100% certain and the only thing that is 100% certain is death. Be mindful and entertain alternative, more realistic thinking when the “never monster” messes with you. Be open to letting others grieve. Especially if it was a former significant other of your current significant other. Their grief for the other is not mutually exclusive of the joy they have when you are together.
  7. Remember to say thank you—it doesn’t have to be through a $133 tip, but whether it is through verbal words, or in writing, thank you goes a long way.
  8. None of us are mind readers, we don’t know what others have been through, even if they appear happy currently—we are all survivors in our own way.
  9. You have choices on where to place your energy. Put it into things that match your values, in addition to those things that invigorate you rather than drain you.
  10. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Keep an open mind to learn more about the people involved before you walk out based on superficial assumptions. Judging may drain you of your time and energy that can be spent on connecting and loving. In the words of Mother Teresa, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

 

About the Author:  Michelle Pargman is an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), wife, and mother who has worked in the EAP field since 1999. She provides counseling, work-site based support groups, and presentations for schools, community, and businesses on a variety of mental and emotional health and wellness related topics. She has a love and enthusiasm for listening to others’ stories, and is grateful for the opportunities to do so.

To Knee or Not to Knee—Word Tools for Staying Classy

pic for blogThe words we use are incredibly powerful. Whether we are talking about the words that we use with ourselves; about ourselves, others, and the world around us; or, the words we choose when interacting with others. We have the power to inflame or comfort ourselves and each other by our word choices.

So much buzz has been made since last week’s events when NFL players took a knee during the National Anthem, in peaceful protest.  We have heard plenty in recent days about “taking a knee.” There’s a term for that (although many terms have been floating around), according to Merriam-Webster, the word genuflect means “to touch the knee to the floor or ground especially in worship.”  There is such a wide variety of reasons of why we would “take a knee.”  During marriage proposals, for example, or when someone gets hurt on my child’s baseball field, the children take a knee out of respect while the adults further address the hurt child’s injuries.  In fact the second part of the dictionary definition for genuflect is “to be humbly obedient or respectful.”  Ironically, the words that have been exchanged to express opposing viewpoints regarding these recent acts have been anything but respectful in many social media interactions.

Beyond social media, how have these differing opinions impacted discussions in your workplace (around the water cooler)? You know… that workplace, where many of us spend the majority of our time (more time than we spend anywhere else) with others that we didn’t necessarily choose to spend this excessive time with, in sometimes very close proximity. Unlike one’s Facebook wall where you have the power to delete or ignore comments with a mere click of a mouse, you can’t click off a co-worker. (There are consequences for “flicking one off” as well). One can argue that there is a mutual responsibility in the workplace for all to feel comfortable. Employees that have a sense of comfort when they enter the office, is not only beneficial on a personal level, but also good for business, as comfort most likely will breed creativity, engagement, and productivity.

In the words of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman, “stay classy” may be an important mantra, particularly in the workplace, but how? This article provides some concrete tools, as it highlights the power of words and how a little awareness may go a long way in the way you not only treat others, but in the way you treat yourself.

Dr. Albert Ellis, clinical psychologist and creator of what is now referred to as “Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT),” (a therapeutic approach and philosophy, developed in 1955) illuminated a very powerful concept. He emphasized that an event in and of itself is not what causes our stress or displeasure. Rather, it is what we tell ourselves about the events, which causes our disturbance.

When you have a thought that includes the words: should, ought, must, always, never, need, and have to, you may want to, in the wise words of Ice Cube, “check yourself before you wreck yourself.” In my own way, I’ll break it down…

Should, ought, and must are all unrealistic demands. There is no proof, nor legal statute that dictates what you or others should, ought, or must think, support, encourage, etc.

Examples of these related thoughts may include but are not limited to “He shouldn’t have posted that.” “She shouldn’t have done that to me.”  “They should have stood.” “You shouldn’t feel that way.” “They shouldn’t have done that.” When we have the “should” directed towards ourselves, like “I shouldn’t have done that,” or “I should have done better,” We can easily become depressed and despondent. When that “should” is directed towards other people, you just became the proud new holder of anger that may be causing you to see red. That is precisely why Albert Ellis cautioned others about “should’ing on ourselves and should’ing on others.” (He was viewed as having quite the potty-mouth back in the 1950s).

Ought and must are the same.  These unrealistic demands that you have no control over.  The REBT Network provides wonderful information that further explains the consequences of must. One of the main categories of “must” beliefs that can drive emotional disturbance and intolerance is the belief that: Other people must do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.

So here is the “thing” about the “right thing.” What is the right thing? As this website outlines, this belief assumes a clear-cut difference between right and wrong. Let’s consider that when it comes to many of the current political arguments—whether it is healthcare or peaceful protests there may not be a right or wrong. There may not be an absolute answer to it all.

Let’s imagine for a minute what it would be like if we were able to truly listen with nonjudgmental responses to those that think differently than we do, and those that make choices of which we don’t necessarily agree.

Just because others do things that we don’t necessarily agree with, doesn’t make them wrong, or less than, or an idiot.

The coping strategy or tool that I’m underlining here, is moving ourselves away from holding unrealistic demands and to invite ourselves to focus on more realistic preferences.

For example: “I’d prefer that others think like me on this issue, but I have no control over it, and the world may be a boring place if we all thought the same. So I’m going to focus on listening to understand others’ viewpoints, without having to be influenced by them.” Let’s face it, opinions are like elbows (or insert other colorful analogies). Everyone has one.

Always and Never—these concepts represent 100% guarantees, and very few things in life are 100%–they say death and taxes, but we can at least agree on death—truly the one absolute. Even when a frustrated and exasperated spouse says to themselves, “he never does ___” “she always ____,” a worthwhile challenge would be to come up with the exception. You are not about to win any arguments, or trigger a positive response when you are accusing someone of always or never doing something.

Need–The only thing we really need is oxygen. We may prefer to feel wanted, and we may prefer others to stand up for the same things that impassion us, but we don’t need it. When we tell ourselves we do, we can potentially react in some seemingly harsh ways because in the moment, it may feel like our survival is on the line—after all, we need them to do the “right thing” or “agree with us.” If we don’t get oxygen, we die.

Have to–I have to deal with these issues,” “I have to bring my parent to the doctor.” “I have to go to this meeting.”  I credit Jon Gordon for my introduction to this shift in thinking where he wisely encourages us to shift our “have to” mind sent to “I get to.” I get to do these things because I live in this country where we are free to have differing opinions. I get to question things. I get to wake up today, breathe, and experience what the day has in store.

In Summary…

Be Mindful of these:                                      Be Open to Inviting these:

Should, ought, must                                       I can accept what I don’t like.

Always/Never                                                   Find the exception.

Need                                                                     Prefer

Have to                                                                Get to

To me, staying classy means increasing frustration tolerance for those with differing opinions.  For those that have read my previous article, you know how fond I am of mnemonic devices, so I leave you with one for CLASSY:

Consider others’ viewpoints without personalizing them. Their views are a result of their experiences, influences, and wiring, as are yours.

Leave the unrealistic demands out of it and practice identifying more realistic preferences.

Accept the gray, recognizing that there may not be a right and wrong in this particular situation.

Show support by listening with nonjudgmental response—after all, we are closest to those that we feel do not judge us.

Share your opinions—you have a right just as others do. (Just like elbows).

Yes AND, which in improv and in life is about starting from an open-minded, respectful place, and recognizing that openness leads to more creativity and progress with ideas that empowers others to add to the discussion.  For more on improv, you may want to check out the great Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv from her book Bossypants.

Whether you try to apply these in the workplace, on social media, or in any personal interactions, please feel free to share which ones, if any, worked best. What are your tools for staying classy?

 

 

About the Author:  Michelle Pargman is an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), wife, and mother who has worked in the EAP field since 1999. She provides counseling, work-site based support groups, and presentations for schools, community, and businesses on a variety of mental and emotional health and wellness related topics… (and is a psychology geek when it comes to her enthusiasm for Albert Ellis, whom she had the pleasure of meeting several years ago, along with her fondness for Corporate improv, Tina Fey, and her wonderful book Bossypants).

 

Don’t Lose It! Tips for Post-Hurricane Times with a Touch of Laughter

The combination of the disruption from the latest hurricane and the fact that schools are closed for the remainder of the week for many of our children, could certainly make conditions ripe for triggering the all-too-familiar thought…  “I’m about to lose it.”

At this point, we’ve been through our pre-hurricane experiences. For some, this meant buying enough non-perishables including cereal on daily trips to the grocery store leading up to the “hunkering down” phase, to make our kitchens look like the set of Seinfeld. For others,  it may have felt like playing “beat the clock” with the laundry and dishwasher for fear of the power going out any minute before throwing in that last afghan on the sofa that hadn’t been washed in a while.

The Upside to Social Media—Social Support.

As the Hurricane was approaching, my witty husband posted that “’Irma’ must be a real person because someone I live with ‘that will remain nameless’ is cleaning as if she we were expecting house guests.” (In case you were wondering, that nameless someone was me). In my defense, the Facebook wall was full of supportive comments—from women agreeing; virtually high-fiving; relating, and, making sense out of the obsessive behavior of cleaning during a highly emotionally charged, anxiety-provoking time. In hindsight, it felt like women in the hurricane’s path were collectively nesting to give birth to a stressful event  that we had a strong sense was going to impact our lives and/or the lives of others for days to come (sound familiar?).  Such virtual high-fiving led to a sense of normalcy. In addition to reaffirming, that you are having normal reactions to an abnormal event, this article is geared to provide concrete ideas and tips to help you navigate through these post-hurricane times.

Therefore, I couldn’t think of a better mnemonic device than D.O.N.T.  L.O.S.E.  I.T. to share the goods.

Donating. Whether you were directly impacted or indirectly impacted with helplessness watching the images play out on TV, you may now be in a position to DO Something. Consider “donating” your time, energy, and/or, money (if you have extra and feel so inclined), to a reputable charity.  Donating even a dollar, or your blood, or your time and energy, might help mitigate the feelings of helplessness.   According to, Jean Chatzky  Financial journalist, Author, and Motivational Speaker, the American Red Cross —is a good option as she stated on the The Hoda Show. Chatzky reminds us to take caution, as she says that during these vulnerable times, scams do exist and suggests Charity Navigator  as a good site to verify charitable organizations.

Offer your help and/or encouragement. Whether it is the offer for air conditioning and a warm shower if you have friends that are still waiting for their power to turn back on, or the offer to help a neighbor, friend, school, religious center, or small business who can benefit from extra hands clearing up fallen limbs—when we find ourselves helpless and out of control, helping others is a quick reminder of the goodness that we bring to the table. I have heard others share their stories that prior to this event, they didn’t know their neighbors’ names, but through this, they have been given an opportunity to connect with others in their neighborhood. Even if it is offering encouraging words, you may not realize the positive impact you can have on someone else. Sometimes, even when we don’t realize someone is having an especially hard moment, reaching out spontaneously, can truly make someone’s day—through your communication, you tangibly demonstrate how much they “matter.” We can all benefit from those reminders from time to time.

Nonjudgmental response. “Your grief is your grief,” “your pain is your pain.” These are comforting phrases that I have heard from others, while, in turn, offering them to others during difficult times.  Whether it is about lost electricity or lost roofs, lost homes, or loss of a pet, or a person—we are not in a competition of,  “whose loss is worse” There may be a thin line or no line at all between judging and reminding. For instance, when someone reminds us that we can survive without our WIFI and that we “should” recognize the abysmal losses that others are facing.  Complaining about “first-world” problems doesn’t necessarily indicate apathy towards others’ more dire straits. The reality is that we have grown accustomed to these things in our daily lives—when they are taken away from us abruptly, through no choice of our own, and we can’t control how and when they will return, it becomes a disorienting blow to our current reality.

Striving to not judge and to simply listen can further connection and demonstrate support. We all need as much support right now as possible.  Let’s center ourselves with the recognition that although we may not be able to relate to the circumstance, we can relate to the feeling—b/c we’ve all had them for different reasons—and going on the premise that feelings aren’t wrong and we have a right to them—may give us inner strength and peace that can help propel us through tough times. We’re imperfect human beings and truth be told, it may be more typical to initially and inwardly judge, but we have choices about expressing our judgment, and there is a choice to RESPOND, whether through social media, telephone calls, e-mails, texts, and let’s not forget good ol’ fashioned in-person contact,  in NON-JUDGMENTAL ways.

Take note of those recommendations and referrals. Now is the time to note who others are recommending to whom, by way of house-related services.  During this time more than ever, we are collectively asking the social media universe who they recommend for fixing our roofs, floors, trees, fences, gutters, lawns, and housecleaning services.  Now is the time to capture those in your notes/contacts for current and/or future reference.

Laugh as often as you can. Use the ability and capacity for laughter during these times; the benefits of which, have been well documented.  (For more information, this Mayo Clinic Article on the Benefits of Laughter outlines the short term and long term benefits of laughter on your organs, stress response, immune system, pain, and overall mood that occurs, in part, due to the release of endorphins).

Enjoy your favorite comedy/comedian on your favorite app (if you have the technology available to do so). One of my favorite comedians is John Mulaney—brilliantly funny, in my humble opinion. Leading up to the hurricane, we introduced our kids to the famous show Law& Order (which seems to reliably air, anytime of day or night), of which they grew instantly hooked—(Side note: of course we make it a rule that a parent has to be watching with them, especially that first scene—and believe me, we monitor their viewing of Law & Order more than we were monitoring the track of the hurricane). As a logical next step, we introduced the kids to John Mulaney’s standup routine on Law&Order—again, brilliantly funny (from his description of the characters, from the judge that allows everything, to the guy that doesn’t stop emptying crates when questioned by homicide detectives, to the NYC bartender who never forgets a customer and the time down to the millisecond in which he served them. For John Mulaney’s actual standup, please enjoy:  Law&Order by John Mulaney (Kids aren’t quite old enough to hear Mulaney’s take on Law & Order SVU) but if you are interested:  Law&Order SVU by John Mulaney

For another belly laugh opportunity (of the non-technology kind), I also highly recommend the board game Beyond Balderdash—I don’t think I have ever laughed harder than the times I have played that game. It is a game of building your skill as a “BS” artist (AKA “Bluffer”)—not necessarily something we all aspire to.  However, it encourages complete creativity and sparks laughter every time. Beyond Balderdash is another thing that we have introduced our children to and have already seen the ROI on both (our children learning more about the legal system through Law & Order and allowing them to flex their creativity muscle with Beyond Balderdash).

The point is we will incorporate laughter however we can, because it is that important for us physically, mentally, and might I add spiritually. I say that because when you are able to experience belly laughs with tears falling down your face especially with others, you feel instantly connected, and those joyful moments become some of the most meaningful.

Operationalize Gratitude. Gratitude has been well researched by the likes of Professors such as Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Martin Seligman.  For more information, you might be interested in: this Article on Gratitude from Harvard Newsletter  There are a few concrete ways we can operationalize gratitude. For example, the Center for Healthy Minds, out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, studied and promotes the technique of 5-3-1 as a way of increasing happiness.

  • 5—Incorporate 5 minutes of meditation each day.
  • 3—Write 3 good things that happen to you every day.
  • 1—Extend 1 act of kindness each day.

Additionally, during the online Power of Positive Summit 2017 presented by Jon Gordon, Author and Speaker ,  JJ Virgin, one of the presenters, promoted the following practice:

G.A.M.

  • G=Gratitude (list at least 3 things/people to whom you are grateful for having in your life)
  • A=Appreciation (think about what you appreciate in this moment)
  • M=Miracles—acknowledge the miracles that you have observed today, (or small wins).

Self-Care. Identify what you can benefit from in the “back-to-basics” category– whether it is more or better sleep; better nutrition; more frequent exercise; saving money; and, ask others to help you with those efforts. Examples may include:

-Suggesting to friends that instead of going out to lunch, to meet up with them for a walk– this can be two-fold—saving your money on said lunch, and getting more physical activity.

-Letting your kids know that you want to work on incorporating more healthy choices into the mix, and bring them to the grocery store to pick out a veggie or fruit that they have never had before or think that is particularly cool to try—and feature one of them as part of a meal.

After this ordeal, we understand that it is important to relax—but this is definitely easier said than done (especially for those who have a hard time “relaxing” on a good day). Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways of slowing down our central nervous system, returning our cortisol (the primary stress hormone) levels to baseline, so we can prepare for the next challenge that life has to offer.  And, deep breathing is free, and could be done anytime and anywhere (if driving, just don’t close your eyes). For more information on ways to deep breathe, you can certainly check out this Article on Breathing as an example of resources that can provide some instruction.  Now more than ever, there are plenty of mental health apps out there to help you get started, including Breath2Relax Breathe2Relax  and it’s free!! You can check out others and their ratings on sites such as: https://adaa.org/finding-help/mobile-apps

Experiment with positive practices. When trying out new behaviors or ideas, it may be helpful to view it as an experiment, since we can’t fail experiments. For instance, the idea of practicing nonjudgmental response may be a worthwhile experiment.  When we are fail-proof we learn to NOT judge ourselves—which is just as impactful on our feelings, thoughts, and actions. Additionally, try experimenting with the practice of gratitude techniques previously mentioned, for a week and see how it impacts your mindset.

I Statements.

Anxious times can lead to anxiety-related feelings, which can lead to acting in plain-old-mean ways, especially towards the ones that we love the most. Often times, it is the last thing that is intended, but when we don’t “name it to tame it” fears come out in some harsh ways, especially towards those with whom we are most comfortable. During these tough times, using “I statements” when expressing yourself is often the best chance you have on reducing the chance of others’ defensive reaction, because you are taking responsibility and ownership on how you are feeling without accusing anyone else of causing you to feel that way or telling someone how they should act, or asking them why they are acting this way. Because let’s face it—no one likes to be accused of “making you act or feel” a certain way, and no one likes being told how they “should be” or being asked “why” they are acting a certain way.  Stressful times call for effective communication and one way to execute this is to take responsibility for the way you are feeling, acting, or thinking in a way that doesn’t blame or attribute behavior to someone else.

Example: Instead of saying, ”You never help me figure things out and it always falls on me to get things done.”  Try:   “I feel worried that we won’t have enough money to pay for the roof repair because of the high deductible, and it would help if I can brainstorm options out loud.” (It’s even better when we are met with someone who can nonjudgmentally listen and doesn’t try to talk us out of our feelings, but those tips may be fodder for a future article).

For further information on using “I statements,” you may be interested in this Article on the Use of “I” Messages

Talk.  Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial. This may relate to the importance of communicating to lenders/creditors. Jean Chatzky suggests calling your mortgage lender/creditors, to give them a heads up as far as what is going on. She states that often times they are willing to work with you and can only do so, IF they know what is going on.  I would also add to contact your cell phone provider if your data is being charged while you have no access to WIFI. There have been providers who have graciously offered data relief during times of outage due to hurricanes, but you won’t know unless you initiate those talks.  And of course, in addition to talking to your positive support system, please don’t hesitate to talk to a professional. If you are not feeling relief, or you feel things are getting worse, do not hesitate to communicate with your health care providers. Contact your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) if you have one, or if your spouse/partner has access to one, see if you would be eligible to access those services as well. You can also access the resource of: 1-800-273-TALK, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which according to their website, “is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7/365.”

So now that your kitchen looks like the Seinfeld set because of all of the cereal/nonperishables you stocked, you might as well watch an episode of Seinfeld (or whatever your “funny” of choice is)  to trigger those endorphins.  What tips do you recommend? Would love to hear about your examples of ways that you have used any of the tips in this article or your own, to get through disruptive times.

Remember: “Don’t Lose It”

  • Donate
  • Offer Help
  • Nonjudgmental response
  • Take note of recommendations and referrals for services through word of mouth.
  • Laughter
  • Operationalize Gratitude
  • Self-Care
  • Experiment
  • I statements—so you don’t act out
  • Talk

About the Author:  Michelle Pargman is an LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), wife, and mother who has worked in the EAP field since 1999. She provides counseling, work-site based support groups, and presentations for schools, community, and businesses on a variety of mental and emotional health and wellness related topics… (and most recently a Law&Order enthusiast, Beyond Balderdash player, with great appreciation for John Mulaney and Seinfeld episodes).