Thursday, December 22, 2016

Moving Past Ugly Christmas Sweaters

By: Dwight Bain, LMHC

Did you know this is the hap-happiest time of the year for some people, but also the saddest time for others? That is because the holiday season is literally like a magnifying glass to expand the emotions a person is already experiencing. If your year has gone well, this is an incredible time of rejoicing and celebration. However, if your year has gone like it has for many people you have magnified grief, loss or loneliness. Feeling down over the holidays is normal, but can become overwhelming very quickly. The continual exposure to people who seem to be having the best time of their lives, or the television specials with picture perfect families having the best time ever can leave a person feeling empty inside.

If you, or someone you love is missing the Christmas Spirit, know you are not alone. Relationship loss, job changes, or business downturns can leave someone feeling intense negative emotions. Here are five ways to move from the stress of Ugly Christmas Sweater weather to find a place of greater significance.

1. Volunteer more
There are wonderful charities who reach out to the most desperate in our community every day of the year. However it's easy to forget the fact they need high levels of volunteer hours to function. Want to find more joy? Get involved in groups that make a difference by volunteering with wonderful groups like the Christian Service Center, or Christian Help 

2. Give more
You may have seen the bell-ringers of the Salvation Army in front of your local grocery store, and if so I hope you dug deep to drop in a few dollars for one of my favorite charities that helps people after crisis events in their lives. to find out more and how you can get involved.

3. Connect more
There are groups to support just about every possible loss or change in a persons life. In fact over two thousand are listed at Resource Point, so you can find places to grow through challenging times together with the support of trained professionals who have time and resources to help.

4. Talk more
If you or someone you care for is hurting and feeling deep loss, it is so very important to let other people know. Consider reaching out to people in your family, friends, coworkers or neighbors so you aren't going through this season alone. Simply answering honestly when someone asks "how are you doing?' can spark a conversation to open up the dialogue between you and people who may be more interested in helping you than you could imagine.

5. Write more
If you don't have money for presents and are feeling sad about it, there is a more powerful way to move past Ugly Christmas Sweaters to powerful Christmas letters is to write down how you feel about someone and then print it out to read and give to that person in your life. Reading your deepest feelings to someone you care about will change you and change them. It is a very sentimental way to open the hearts between two people and is worth far more than money.

I hope you are counting more blessings than problems this Christmas season, but if there is more sadness than celebration try each of these options to replace the sadness with joy. Finding the real meaning of Christmas through generous living, will always lead to generous giving and that is a gift that will last the whole year long.

About the Author - Dwight Bain helps people rewrite their story through creative change as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Life Coach. Follow him across all social platforms @DwightBain

10 Ways to Beat the Holiday Stress

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC, NCC

Instead of the song lyric “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” holidays can be ‘the most stressful time of the year.’  With all there is to do (gifting, decorating, and baking), places to go (cocktail parties, family gatherings, and school recitals), and people to see (friends, family and colleagues), life can feel overwhelming. Here are ten ways to reduce the exhaustion:
1.      Simplify. It is often the addition of things, people, and activities to an already busy life which turns the holidays into a hectic mess. Instead plan for the interruption by setting aside blocks of time without an activity planned. Any task such as cleaning out the garage that can be diverted till after the New Year should be eliminated from the schedule.
2.    Clarify. This is not the time to do activities or travel to see family without wanting to do it. If there is no desire, the event should be avoided. Don’t add to the schedule anything for which is designed to please others at the expense of personal energy.
3.    Participate. Allow each family member to choose an activity or meal that they want. No matter how young or old the person is, the gesture will be much appreciated and can reduce family tension.
4.    Create. This is less about making something and more about allowing the imagination to flow over the wonder of the season. Use this time to pull something from the images conjured that can be done in the present. It could be a trip to warmer or colder weather, ice skating outdoors, or trying out a new set of recipes.
5.     Smell. Interestingly enough, one of the best ways to increase relaxation and reduce the side effects of stress is to breath in an appealing scent. Perhaps this is why the latest craze is the essential oils, scented candles, and aroma therapy. Finding a fragrance that is appealing might take some effort but it can bring about almost instant relaxation.
6.    Reflect. What does this season mean to you? What is important about it and who is most important? Make the answers to these questions be the intentional focus of the holidays instead of the distraction of stuff, malls, traffic, and meaningless events.
7.     Balance. With everything going on this time of year, it is easy to forget the basics. Don’t forget to exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and take vitamins. These things are even more important now when the routine is a bit frantic.
8.    Rejuvenate. Extroverts draw their energy from others while introverts require alone time to rejuvenate. When things are busy, this need for restoring energy levels is even stronger. While one hour of alone time or friend time may work the rest of the year, two is probably needed now.
9.    Absorb. Nature tends to be the great equalizer in resetting emotions, thoughts, and senses. Take a few minutes every day to absorb the outdoors regardless of the weather. Just pausing to look at a tree can be extremely beneficial during this time.
10.  Silence. This should not be reserved for the movie theatre. A few moments of silence can bring a sense of peace and contentment. Use this time to be aware of emotions that rise to the surface and release any negativity.

The holidays can bring out the best and worst in most people.  This year, give yourself and other family members the best stress free version.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Managing Grief Through the Holiday Season

By: Nancy Tikunoff, IMH
Ah, the holiday season is upon us. The celebrations of life and love with family and friends are ushered in from the harried pace of life with the Thanksgiving respite and much feasting. Close on its heels the attention turns to the Christmas season which, again, is closely associated with family, community and relationships. The merrymaking continues till the end of the year with one last hoorah for closing out the year and ringing in a new one. Again, times replete with gatherings of those we love who are an integral part of our lives.
But then something so unexpected (or maybe expected but nevertheless dreaded) occurs, an event that seems so out of keeping with the laughter, joy, activities and traditions that define the holiday season for us. The accident no one saw coming. The sudden, unexpected illness or a long-term battle with aging finally ends  omeone we love dies or it’s the anniversary of the death of someone that we love and miss dearly. They are no longer here to participate in all those things we enjoyed and found comfort in doing together at this season. All too quickly, what was a time of excitement, great memories and forward-looking good times has become lackluster at best and agonizing at its worst. All of a sudden, the beautiful turning colors of the fall leaves now just look like something that used to be alive, green leaves that have now died. The first chill in the air seems much colder than it used to be. The twinkling lights almost seem to be tears instead of bright, cheery decorations on the tree. Death has shown up uninvited and unwanted at a most inopportune time.

One of the most heart-rending experiences that I ever had was working with a Survivors of Suicide support group during the holiday season. I remember one person in particular had lost an adult child a few days earlier to a violent suicide. Her pain was so wrenching that she reminded me of the biblical story of Job, who sat mute, unable to even speak for a week due to his overwhelming, crushing pain. As much as she desired to sleep throughout the entire holiday season and be awakened when it was all over, she couldn’t. When a tragedy occurs, we must acknowledge that it has happened because life won’t let us do otherwise. Bereavement is a normal response to the death of someone we care about with feelings of sadness, tears and crying being appropriate reactions. Our beloved has transitioned to another address and we cannot bring them back or change the timing of their departure. Because the world doesn’t stop for us, even though it seems like it surely should, we have to keep moving even if it’s at a very slow pace. How does one survive the death or death anniversary of a beloved that has died during the holiday season? Here are a few ideas that hopefully will ease your journey through the holiday season, if not your pain.

Self-care is key.
You are vulnerable and it is time to handle yourself with care. Prepare as much as you are able to for going through all that the season entails. Activate your support system (family, friends, church members, neighbors, grief support groups) and call on them.
Being around family and friends
Pace yourself. Plan some time alone but also some time with others. A balance of both will probably meet your needs best.
Don’t be caught off guard if you are subjected to insensitive remarks or misguided actions of others. For example, people may treat you differently because your situation causes them discomfort. Your loss has reminded them of the uncomfortable fact that we are all vulnerable to loss just like you were.
If you were a couple, you may now find other couples uncomfortable sitting with you or inviting you to outings.
Plan to take your own vehicle. That way you can leave when you’ve had enough.
Arrange with the host/hostess beforehand a place you can go to be alone if you become overwhelmed.
Communicate your desires to guests. If it’s okay to sit in “his/her chair” invite others to do so. If you want to talk about the deceased, say so or do so.
Acknowledge the deceased’s missed absence; that there’s an empty place at the table this year but they will always be an important part of your life.
Initiate an activity to remember the beloved – have guests share a favorite memory of them or light a candle in their honor.
You have the option to do things differently this year – it’s okay to do so.
In making decisions about holiday decorating, do whatever you need or don’t need to do. If he/she always put up the tree and you just can’t bring yourself to get it out of storage, you don’t have to. Keep it simple by downsizing - maybe a table top tree will suffice this year. Families including grandchildren can respect your sadness and lack of desire to celebrate. If they don’t understand, most of them will give you grace and be able to get past it because of their love and respect for you. Your heart is broken and it’s okay to let that show.
The same rule applies for the expected traditional holiday meal that everyone is accustomed to enjoying. There’s no rule that says you can’t change things up this year – have the guests bring dishes instead of you doing all the cooking. Order the meal and have it prepared from a local grocery store or catering service. Create a new tradition this year – have Mexican or Italian food if it takes the sting out of the meal tradition for you. If family insists on having the usual decorations and meal preparation, then ask them to take care of it for you because you are not up to it.
Honor the deceased person.
There are a multitude of ways to incorporate the honored memory of the deceased into holiday celebrations.
- Attend a memorial. Many community agencies (funeral homes, hospice, hospital, churches) now offer annual remembrance services to honor deceased loved ones.
- Gift a donation in memory of your beloved rather than give gifts to each other.
- Create a tree ornament with “message gifts” that the loved one would have given if they were alive. For example, a small note inside an ornament that says “From John to Kim. I give you my love this year and wish you joy and happiness for the New Year. Always, John.”
Dose your grief.
Allow yourself to fully cry and grieve for 10 minutes during your day then go back to your activities. Feeling and experiencing the pain of grief is necessary for a complete healing; however the pain can be titrated or doled out in manageable pieces so that you are not constantly overwhelmed. While you don’t always have control over when emotions come crashing in, often times, you can. Take advantage of those times.
When Grief Goes Astray
Some types of death increase the pain of the loss because of the nature of the death. Situations such as death by suicide or homicide that involve the legal system or multiple losses at once in an accident or over a short period of time can complicate a person’s grief process. In addition, the sudden or violent nature of a loved one’s death can rock our world to the core. Bereavement is a normal response to a valued loss. However, if a grieving person finds that they are experiencing a deepening depression or wracked with unrelenting guilt or shame it is time to seek out professional assistance. Counseling and coaching will provide tools that can help you rediscover your equilibrium in life.

Some helpful resource links for you: (has a section regarding loss of pets) in military deaths/survivors)

About Nancy:  Having experienced a deep grief experience early in life as a result of the sudden, unexpected death of my boyfriend in a vehicle-train accident during the holiday season, I know the deep, prolonged sorrow that the death of a beloved can bring with the added pain of having it occur during the holidays. As such, I feel compassion for others of all ages who are on the grieving journey and I advocate for the bereaved to care for themselves well and allow their healing to take place at their own pace. If you find that you need professional assistance in your grief process, I would be privileged to assist you.
Nancy is a Registered Nurse, a Professional Life Coach and a therapist. She holds a Master’s Degree in Health and Wellness and a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing as well as a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling. Please contact Nancy by email to make an appointment at: or by calling 407-647-7005. You can read Nancy’s biography at under Blogs.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

5 Tips for Tackling your Spouse’s Narcissistic Family

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC, NCC

There are some days when the thought of knocking down a relative or in-law seems tempting. This is especially true following an unforeseen passive-aggressive personal attack. But if this person is a narcissist, they seem to have the resilience of a linebacker who takes the blow just to bounce back up again with even more determination to dominate the next time.
Winning in such an environment feels like a lost cause. Many happily settle for flying under the radar so as to avoid the attacks all together. Or they retaliate with similar passive-aggressive remarks in a game of tit-for-tat. Some even plow through the initial casual remarks with quick aggressive jabs designed to attack first.
Unfortunately all of these are usually met with heavy resistance from the other family members or worse yet a spouse. This can create an environment of isolation and turn the family gathering into them versus me atmosphere. Of course, this is the intent of the narcissist because it accomplished two things: allows the narcissist to remain the center of attention and allows them to play the victim when needed.

But, there is a better way. Here are five suggestions for surviving the next family event:

1.       Do pre-planning. Every winning team knows that one of the key ingredients to being successful is to understand your opponent. Families, both functional and dysfunctional, have a rhythm. Take a moment to step outside of a past gathering and make observations about how the family makes decisions, talks and treats each other and outsiders, has fun, negotiates, and determines who is in charge. What is important to the family: values, morality, religion, logic, feelings, or connection? This is not about finger pointing or trying to alienate one person or idea regardless of the dysfunction. Rather it is about information gathering.
2.      Form a strategy. Timing is everything. Just because a strategy did not work in the past, it does not mean that it won’t work in the future. Be open to all strategies and carefully select the best one depending on the nature of the event and the participants. For instance, in a large family gathering when the conversation gets dicey, ask the narcissist a question about themselves. This simple redirection will keep the person asking the question in good graces and redirect any unwanted negative attention. By doing so some reading on narcissism and understanding what makes them tick, several strategies can be formulated.
3.      Gather the team. The team might be a spouse, kids, or other safe relatives that see the narcissism for what it is. Don’t bother trying to enlighten the non-believers for now, family gatherings are not the place for indoctrination. Rather be intentional in the strategy phase to formulate a plan which gently exposes the narcissism. This is planting a seed for the future upon which more information will be layered for the non-believers. With the team, devise a boundary that can be easily agreed upon and reinforced when overstepped. Then logically share this boundary with the non-believer before the event. Everyone being on the same page in advance will increase chances of success.
4.      Work the plan. It might be necessary during the function to remind the team of the plan. In the case of a boundary being set, one person will have to courageously confront the narcissist when it is violated. Always do this in private first; embarrassing the narcissist in front of others will result in an immediate attack. Prior to the confrontation, inform the team that the boundary has been exceeded so they are ready to provide support after the altercation. This removes the narcissist’s ability to gather support afterwards. Be prepared for a bit of sulking from the narcissist when they realize that others are supporting the boundary and offer a compliment as an olive branch. This will endear the team towards the boundary setting mentality even more and reduce any level of discomfort.
5.      Evaluate the situation. Immediately following the event, review what worked and what didn’t before small bits of valuable information are lost. These nuggets include observations of body language, any eye rolling, withdrawing of a family member, negative self-talk, blatant lies, manipulative behavior, or multiple references to feeling guilty. It might be easier to select one family member at a time and review their spoken and unspoken behavior. This information can be used for recruiting more team members or placing them clearly in the narcissistic camp. Remember this is not about conversion; everyone must come into realization in their own time. Being patient with other’s timing demonstrates love.

While it may seem like this is a lot of work, and it is in the beginning, in the end it is worth the effort. Thinking long-term commitment rather than short-term alliance maintains a healthy perspective and a hopeful outcome.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

19 Reasons for Chronic Underperformance

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC, NCC
By the mid-40’s certain aspects of a person’s personality become very apparent. One of these things is work productivity. While there can be socioeconomic reasons for underperformance, after twenty years, a person is able to rise above even the most difficult of times. There is a warning however, being productive and being successful are not the same, so this not about accomplishment.
Nor is this about a teenager or someone in their twenties. For them, underperformance may simply be lack of motivation or inspiration. But by a mid-age, some things should have been resolved. Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development identifies Generativity vs. Stagnation during this period which can result in a mid-life crisis. So this is intentionally about a person who is still underperforming or in the stagnation stage by mid-age. Here are some of the possible reasons:
1.       Entitlement. Many wrongly believe that just because they are a certain age that this demands a higher level, salary, or position professionally. The attitude of “I deserve more,” can actually deplete motivation.
2.      Arrogance. Repeated arrogance in the work environment especially with the wrong person, like a superior, does not result in promotions. This might actually cause a boss to believe that the person needs a dose of humility by not being promoted.
3.      Addiction. Sometimes the addiction is apparent and sometimes it is hidden. But addicts routinely underperform below their level of ability. This provides justification to abuse their drug of choice.
4.      Victimization. “The world is out to get me” is a fruitless mentality. To others listening to the axiom, this sounds like the person wants to play the role of victim or better yet martyr. This alienates a person from anyone who might be in a position to help.
5.      Fantasy. They see themselves as a hidden hero just waiting for the right opportunity to shine. This manifests in routinely holding themselves back for some hidden mission, just in case they need their superpower strength.
6.      Passive-aggressive. They never really achieved their ideal job and therefore passive-aggressively underperform. It is a type of demonstration to the world that if they had gotten to where they wanted, things would be different. In reality, they are only harming themselves.
7.      Prideful. Allows pride to get in the way by saying that certain jobs are beneath them and therefore will not do them at all. This is similar to the old saying, “Shooting yourself in the foot.”
8.      Antagonistic. Sometimes it is as simple as not playing (working) nicely with co-workers. Being critical or nagging of co-workers does not create a positive work environment. No one likes to work with a sour person.
9.      Belligerence. They are routinely combative or argumentative at work which creates a hostile work environment. May not even be aware they are putting off such negative energy, even when it is addressed, they blame others.
10.   Denial. Refuses to accept responsibility for the things they have done wrong. They blame others for their poor behavior and overlook ways they could have contributed to a problem.
11.    Worrier. Obsesses with details to the point they drive others crazy about things that are irrelevant. Nit-picks things, people, and arguments apart to the point of exhausting everyone around.
12.   Myopic. Refuses to see the big picture and instead focuses on things solely from their viewpoint. They do not see things from other’s point of view which includes superiors, co-workers, suppliers, and customers
13.   Superior. They believe they have more authority, power, or influence then they do. This frequently results in overstepping boundaries and misjudging the social environment in the workplace.
14.   Stagnant. They refuse to grow or continue to grow professionally or personally. Instead, they stay still and expect others to change around them. There is no additional advanced degree, continuing education, or job specific training.
15.   Negativity. No one likes a constant critic at work or someone who is routinely negative. The problem is that faked positivity is almost as bad as negativity. It takes effort but even in the most difficult of work environment, there is something that can be seen as positive.
16.   Disloyal. Demands loyalty from others but does not reciprocate. This is particularity damaging when the people are subordinates or co-workers. Loyalty should not be reserved just for superiors.
17.   Ungratefulness. Is not thankful for the things they have, instead they constantly want or demand more. This can be tiring for superiors who might have their own limitations to navigate.
18.   Depression. Long-term undiagnosed or treated depression can manifest in underperformance. Getting treatment can improve the attitude, boost energy levels, and stabilize the down turns.
19.   Perfectionism. Some professions demand perfectionism (surgeons, pilots, and engineers), others do not (sales, management, and diplomacy). A perfectionist in an environment that does not value it will become frustrated and inefficient.

If this sounds familiar, try working on one of these items at a time. Doing too many at once may cause even more shut down. This can be improved, it’s not too late.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Secret Facade of the Vulnerable Narcissist

by: Christine Hammond, LMHC, NCC

At first, they seem so quiet and unobtrusive; a refreshing break from the normal banter of one-up-man-ship that frequently dominates an initial conversation. But then the sly remarks characteristic of inattentiveness began, along with a victimization mentality where the whole world is out to get them, and a hypersensitivity to unintentional disparaging comments. The switch is so dramatic that it is hardly noticeable until it becomes unnerving.
The narcissistic qualities of a vulnerable narcissist (VN) are masked by helplessness, emotionality, and reticent behavior. They are not dissimilar to covert or introverted narcissists which fly far under the grandiose radar of a typical narcissist. Here are some signs of a VN:

·         They are typically highly sensitive people to the extreme level. Only their feelings have significance or importance, not another’s. Instead of using their sensitivity to understand and meet the needs of others, they take offense to the slightest emotional reaction, personalize other person’s feelings, and ultimately make it all about them.

·         Just like the grandiose narcissists (GN), VNs like to be considered a perfectionist in their area of specialty. However, while GNs will insist they are perfect and believe others see them that way, VNs believe they are perfect but others fail to see them that way.
·         The VN is similar to the emotional up and downs of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) but without the self-harming behavior that is characteristic of BPD. VNs might threaten to self-harm as in intimidation tactic but usually do not follow through.
·         There is no healthy way to question the emotions and subsequent responses of a VN as they are always right. Even when the emotion is out of proportion to the event, it still cannot be examined for any fault.
·         VNs are more prone to depression because the reality of their life doesn’t meet the fantasy life they feel entitled to receive. This inconsistency might cause them to quit jobs without any regard for the consequences of the decision because the work place does not live up to their expectations.
·         The victim card is routinely played to justify actions that others may see as disconcerting. Typical statements include: “Everyone is out to get me because I’m better than them,” or “This is not my fault but someone else fault.”
·         One of the other interesting characteristics of a VN is their classic passive-aggressive behavior. They typically will ignore a person as punishment for not doing what they were told, not looking good enough, or not being as smart as they are.
·         Similar to BPD, VNs are plagued by chronic feelings of emptiness. However, unlike BPDs who try to fill the void with new and exciting relationships, VNs become more introverted. This withdraw is because no one will ever be good enough to engage in an intimate relationship. The fantasy person is non-existent.
·         The massive insecurity at the root of narcissism is covered with silence instead of grandiose behavior. In fact, they are extremely judgmental of anyone who displays pretentious, flamboyant, or lavish behaviors.
·         Unlike GNs, VNs ae very talented in using false humility and shallow apologies to get what they want. However, when pressed, even they will agree that they don’t mean it and will even blame the other person’s weakness for having to apologize in the first place.
·         Because of the complete lack of intimate relationships, VNs may do better with on-line relationships than face-to-face. This allows the VN to maintain the illusory relationship as being more significant than it is.
·         Instead of being charming like the GNs, VNs act aloft, smug, disinterested, bored, condescending, inattentive, and judgmental around others. They use this tactic to draw others in without having to engage in a real conversation.

Don’t let a VN fool you into thinking that they are unlike the GN counterparts. They actually have far more in common and are very capable of narcissistic behavior. It is just done is a sneaky manner.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.