Looking Back and Looking Forward: Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

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It’s been less than two weeks since we rang in the New Year and already the beginning of the New Year hubbub has died down.  Resolutions have likely been broken and many are back to their old ways. This is one of the many reasons I don’t make resolutions. Instead, I like to reflect on the previous year, warts and all, and see how it can guide me as I move forward into a new year full of possibilities.

Looking back on 2012 I am able to glean some important insights that will undoubtedly help me in 2013. 2012  was by far my hardest year since 2008 (the year my mom passed away). Although I had some exciting highs, such as completing my PhD, I also faced some devastating lows such losing our baby in August and another pregnancy loss which resulted in having surgery to remove one of my fallopian tubes right before Christmas. Also, my husband and I moved to a new state and started new jobs, which has been both exciting and frustrating.

Despite these less than ideal situations, I still have a rather optimistic and positive outlook. The main reason for this is that when I take stock of my life and reflect back on 2012, I realize that the shadows and the brightness of 2012 have taught me a lot and will be an invaluable resource as I move forward into 2013.

In 2013, I will continue to be optimistic about the future and appreciate of what I do have rather than what I don’t.

What I’ve Learned in 2012…

Shit happens | Or as Forest Gump would say “It happens.” Sometimes bad stuff happens, sometimes really bad stuff happens, and regardless of where it is on the “bad stuff” continuum a lot of the time it happens for no reason. In my opinion, it’s not “god’s plan” or “for the better.” No, sometimes crappy stuff just happens and is completely out of our control (unless you’re doing bad stuff that is likely to have negative consequences! In that case, stop (if you can)!)

We can’t always control the lemons life hands us, but we can control how we react to them. In fact, our perception of events and the resources we employ to cope with them determine whether or not we experience stress or plummet into full-blown crisis mode.

Yes, when bad stuff happens it’s easy to throw yourself a pity party and have a fatalistic view of events and feel that nothing ever goes right for you. However, this mind set will get you nowhere fast. I’m not saying to sugarcoat reality, but after giving yourself time to grieve it’s important to glean lessons from your loss and develop a positive plan and outlook as you move forward.

Sure, my heart still breaks when I think about how badly I miss my mom or that I should be holding a baby in my arms in the next few weeks, but I don’t let that stop me from moving forward or appreciating the other wonderful things in my life.

It may be hard at times, but trust me, positive thinking is worth its weight in gold when it comes to your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.

Friendship matters| As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize just how critical good friendships are. The importance of quality friendships was highlighted during 2012.

Throughout the year, I experienced the wonderful generosity, love, and selflessness of good friends; the disinterest, self-centeredness, and disappointment of fair-weather friends; and the joy of connecting with new friends over both highs and lows.

These experiences have taught me that strong friendships are essential. True friends are there for you in the good times and, especially, in the bad times. Good friends sit with you when you cry, ask the tough questions, and are there when life is anything but fun.

Sometimes friends disappoint us and sometimes friends surprise us. I’ve learned to take the disappointing friendships at face value. I no longer try to force a superficial friendship to morph into a meaningful one or to even continue. But more importantly, I’ve learned to cherish the beautiful, strong, and surprising friendships that I have. These friends have made life wonderful, even when I’ve been in the depths of despair. These friends have given me strength, courage, and endless amounts of joy.

In 2013, I will take the wonderful lessons I’ve learned from my treasured friends and let them guide me to being a better friend myself. Thank you, friends.

A good partner makes all the difference | When I started dating my husband I knew I got a good one, and over the years he’s continued to show me just what a great catch he is.

For a couple our age, we’ve been through a lot. However, we always seem to come through the storms as a stronger unit. If we can make it through all we’ve been through, I don’t have a shred of doubt that we’re in this to win it.

In fact, all we’ve been through in 2012 continued to affirm my beliefs about the importance of nurturing both your romance and your friendship. It’s important to make sure the romance doesn’t fade and that you never have to bring sexy back because it’s always been there. As important as maintaining a romantic and affectionate connection with your partner is, it’s also essential to nurture your friendship, because let’s face it, life gets in the way and you better have something more than great bedroom tricks to bring you two together. Although great tricks don’t hurt 😉

In 2012, I learned that true love is the partner you want to make-out with 24/7, the partner who makes you frustrated beyond belief, and the partner who puts his money where his mouth by taking excellent care of you after surgery, including sitting on the toilet talking to you when you take your first post-op shower. Oh, and bonus, this person still wants to make out with you even when they’ve seen you at your worst!

In 2013, I will continue to nurture and maintain my relationships and friendship with my amazing husband.

Enjoy every minute| Although people may say to do it, and although it’s hard to do when we’re in the midst of turmoil,  it is important to appreciate the delicate treasure that is life.

You wake up, you breathe, and you are, hopefully, surrounded by people who love and support you. That is what matters in life. Not the car you drive, the purse you carry, or how many facebook friends you have.

Life is about the everyday moments—the laughter you share with a friend, the kiss from your loved one, the “I love you” from your parent, the little lick from your dog, or the snuggle of from your child—which go by in the blink of an eye.

Relish your days, relish your relationship, relish your life. You only have one, so make it count.

In 2013, you bet your booty I’m making life count!

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We all have probably experienced our share of both joy and heartbreak in 2012. Although sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable, it’s not. You may not climb it in a day or a week, but you can get over those humps (cue Miley Cyrus).

2012 taught me to make sure I take time to appreciate my husband, my friends, and my life.

I’d love to hear what you learned in 2012 and how it will help you as you move forward in 2013. Leave a comment above or send me an email.

Until next time,

Sylvia

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Problematic Relationships?: Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

Whether we like it or not, we all have at least one person in our lives that we kind of can’t stand, yet can’t get rid of. I’ll call this person our PO (problematic other). Maybe it’s a friend we’ve known since childhood, a co-worker we’re on a team with, or a family member that just rubs us the wrong way. Regardless of how we’re connected, this person often makes us question our relationship with him/her time and time again due to their self-centered, stubborn, demanding, outrageous, or ________ (insert your irritation here) antics.

Although it’s easy to say ditch the zero and get with a hero, this isn’t always possible. We often find ourselves glued to certain relationships and people. Family relationships, for instance, are involuntary. In other words, we don’t pick our family and it’s a lot harder to completely cut of ties with kin. Yes, we can become estranged from family members but we will still likely be connected in some way (even if it’s just through shared genes).

Conversely, friendships are what we consider to be voluntary relationships. We pick who we want to be friends with and these relationships are, in theory, easier to leave. However, we sometimes become “stuck” in a friendship for a variety of reasons, such as an interwoven social circle or a long history together.

Other times, our PO has a few redeeming qualities (e.g., fun, spontaneous) or when he or she is on “good” behavior things with the relationship are great. Thus, it’s not always easy or even desirable to cut ties with our PO.

Because we more than likely will have to deal with difficult people (by choice or default) at some point in our lives, and because it’s nearly impossible to change someone, it’s important to know how to change how you respond to your PO.

So, what can you do when enough is enough?! Below are a few strategies from the most indirect to direct. Use one, use none, or use them all as you see fit!

It’s a Matter of Perception: The most indirect thing you can do to deal with your PO is to change how you think about him/her and/or the relationship.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when what we believe and how we behave are at odds. For example, you may value loyalty and compassion in a friend, but find yourself being BFFs with a narcissist. As a result, you feel uncomfortable and are unhappy with the situation.

Since you may not be able to change the behavior of your PO, it’s best to change your perception. A good way to do this is to reframe how you think about the problematic relationship.

If you were expecting a self-centered, disco queen to be a concerned and self-less best-friend, you’re in for a letdown. But, if you reframe the relationship from “close friendship” to “casual/party friendship” then you will reduce your cognitive dissonance and potentially become more satisfied with your relationship because your beliefs and behaviors align.

Additionally, reframing the relationship will let you see and except your friend/partner “as is” rather than holding out hope for something more.

Put Your Foot Down (in the nicest way possible, of course):  One common theme I see when people are dealing with POs is that they often feel they’re being taken advantage of or acting as a doormat. The easiest way to remedy this is to “Just Say No” (to your PO and drugs, too!).

Now for some people this is going to be the most difficult thing to do. Saying “no” implies that you’re not being cooperative, that you are instigating a conflict, or that you may anger the beast that dwells deep within your PO. Yes, it’s scary. But, it’s the only way your will establish boundaries, which will help set the tone for your relationship.

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting you to shout, “No means no!” Instead, you want to casually assert yourself. You may also suggest an alternative to help soften the blow.

For example, if your friend asks to borrow your favorite sweater that your beloved grandmother gave you, tell her “You know what, that was a gift from my grandmother and it’s just too sentimental to loan out. But, I’d be happy to go shopping with you to find a similar one.”

See you got your point across and still come across as delightful! Your PO may only take advantage of you because you make it easy for them. Your “no” will be a speed bump that will make him or her slow down and think twice about steamrolling you.

Speak Up: It’s important to let your PO know what you’re feeling. There is a chance that he/she may be unaware of his or her behavior. Bringing your concerns to your POs attention will allow you to start a dialogue about your relationship. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind when speaking your mind.

First, nobody likes hearing negative things about themselves (Lords know I don’t, just ask my husband!). Giving criticism threatens people’s identity and, as a result, people tend to get very reactive and defensive.

To help counter this, you may wish to start by highlighting something you like about the person, before the inevitable BUT: “I really have a lot of fun with you, but…”

Second, focus on your PO’s behavior not them as a person. When you do introduce that but, makes sure you address a specific behavior, don’t make a general character attack.

Instead of “You’re so self-centered, you always just talk about yourself!”

Try “I’ve noticed that a lot of our conversations seem to focus on what’s going on in your life and I never really get to talk about what’s happening with me.”

Also, don’t forget those handy X-Y-Z statements, which can reduce your PO’s defensiveness.

Third, highlight the costs of the negative behavior and the benefits of changing it. Let your PO know that his/her behavior makes you unhappy or is making you question your relationship. Then emphasize the benefits of changing, such as a stronger relationship.

Finally, make this a dialogue not a monologue. Ask your PO how she/he feels about what you’re saying. Encourage him/her to share his/her thoughts and feelings about the topic and together, brainstorm strategies to remedy the problem.

Reevaluate Your Relationship: If the above strategies don’t work then it really is time to reevaluate your relationship. Research suggests that people prefer to have equitable relationships. In other words, you and your partner are receiving equal outputs. If you’re constantly doing favors for your friend, asking her about her life, and she barely returns the favor, then you’re being under-benefited, which can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, and even resentment. Not a good recipe for a successful relationship.

If you feel that you are under-benefited and you’ve tried the strategies outlined above, then it may be time to cut your losses and end the friendship. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but getting out of a bad and inequitable relationship, be it a platonic, romantic, or familial tie, is far better for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing than staying in a dysfunctional relationship.

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POs are just like BO, they stink! And can really ruin an otherwise pleasurable experience (I’m talking to you guy I stood behind while voting! I digress…). But, with a little work and a lot of communication your PO can go from zero to hero.

Center of the Universe Syndrome: Treating the Narcissist in Your Life

After my parent’s divorce at the age of seven, I went on a bit of a lying spree. I made up lies about any and everything and told them to anyone who would listen. At day camp that summer, I told one counselor that I was the “star” of my Catholic school’s basketball team (Mind you, I can barely dribble a basketball!). During the drive back from a field trip, I rambled on for over an hour about how: “I was the best player,” “everyone wanted to be like me,” “there was no one who compared to me,” and…well, you get the picture. When I finally shut my mouth for more than 10 seconds my camp counselor said, matter of fact, “You know, compliments mean more when they come from someone other than yourself.” Ohhhh, SNAP!

I’ve always remembered that piece of advice/chiding and almost twenty-five years later I typically keep my accomplishments to myself (aside from telling a few close friends and family) and don’t feel the need to toot my own horn. Unfortunately, a lot of other people did not receive this sage advice and are suffering from a serve case of narcissism; or as I like to call it center of the universe syndrome. Unfortunately, social media (e.g., Facebook  twitter) seems to reinforce these tendencies and gives the narcissist’s of the world their own center stage.

After having to hide yet another person on my Facebook news feed due to their nauseating self-promotion, I began to wonder about narcissism, social media, and relationships. Was I just green with envy and that’s why I loathed self-aggrandizing posts and status updates? Was I too reserved and doing myself a disservice by not touting my accolades? Or, was there something fundamentally different about me and my self-promoting counterparts? (And don’t worry, the irony of talking about narcissism on my blog, which I promote through social media, is not lost on me; but, as you’ll see, it’s a vastly different enterprise!)

A few hours of research later, I uncovered information that demystifies these seemingly out of touch with reality individuals and suggestions for helping the non-narcissists and narcissists of the world co-exist, peacefully and humbly.

“I Want to Talk About Me, I Want Talk to About I…”: A Narcissist’s Reality

We commonly think of narcissistic individuals as self-centered. Not only are narcissists self-absorbed, they also demonstrate “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and an exaggerated sense of self,” along with “a pervasive sense of uniqueness and entitlement.” In other words, they think they’re great and expect everyone to not only think the same way, but fawn all over their greatness as well.

Although outsiders tend to think of narcissists as extremely confident individuals brimming with self-esteem, the exact opposite tends to be true. Research suggests that narcissists tend to have lower self-esteem and their self-aggrandizing behavior is one way to get their self-esteem “fix,” albeit temporarily. Social media outlets now allow narcissists to readily stroke their own ego by promoting themselves in a very public way to receive the positive affirmation they so need. Several studies have shown that individuals who are categorized as being narcissistic as well as having low self-esteem tend to check Facebook more frequent throughout the day, post more frequently to Facebook, as well as post more self-promotional content (e.g., status update and photos) than individuals not categorized as narcissistic and with higher self-esteem.

Now, I’m not talking about people who share good news with family and friends, or occasionally boast about their own accomplishments, like completing their first marathon or getting a new job, either in person or on Facebook. Sharing is good. It’s important to share good news within close relationship. In addition, Facebook can be a great way to share good news with people near and far.  Instead, I’m talking about people who have an over-inflated self-concept (e.g., “I’m the best at FILL IN THE BLANK”), think everything they do is the most wonderful thing on the planet, and expect others to be in awe on their awesomeness.

Your Relationship’s Worst Enemy: Your Narcissistic Partner

Unfortunately, narcissism has more detrimental consequences than mere annoyance. As you may know from experience, narcissists make lousy friends and lovers. Although narcissists make new friends easily and have numerous superficial relationships, they’re less successful at maintaining meaningful relationships. In fact, narcissists tend to have minimal interest in developing emotionally close and committed interpersonal relationships. Instead, narcissists often see relationships as a new audience for self-promotion and, not surprisingly, aren’t too interested in what is going on with their partner. Narcissistic partners prefer relationships with people who make them feel superior or will help them climb the social ladder. Additionally, if a relational partner doesn’t stroke the narcissist’s ego, the narcissist has no problem dropping that person like a hot-potato.

In other words, self-centeredness does not a good relationship make.

Tips for Dealing with Someone with Center of the Universe Syndrome

Despite comedic portrayals of narcissists in the media, dealing with a self-absorbed monster in real-life is no laughing matter. Although a lot of people simply cut the big-headed beast loose, others stick it out either voluntarily (despite their faults, there is still something they love about him/her), or involuntarily (the person is a family member or a co-worker).

So, here are a few tips (from the most indirect to direct strategy) you can employ to make your relationship with your narcissist more manageable and, hopefully, more satisfying:

Grin and Bear It: The easiest way to deal with a narcissist (and by easiest, I mean least likely to set the narcissist off) is to grin and bear it. This strategy obviously doesn’t cure center of the universe syndrome, but it may allow you to interact with the person without making the problem worse or yourself crazy.

Unfortunately, there isn’t “hide” button for face-to-face interactions, so when you’re in person, listen to the narcissist’s egotistical rant and smile and nod, while engaging in some meditative breathing. (Seriously, they probably won’t notice you tuned out and you’ll be thankful you’re in your happy place!)

Online, it’s a lot easier. You can hide the narcissist’s status updates or twitter posts. This way you can be blissfully ignorant to their daily musings about how wonderful he/she is. Saving yourself frustration and your relationship even more damage.

Although this strategy is least likely to threaten your relationship, it is the most likely to increase your frustration and resentment. So, you may want to try a more direct, but still subtle approach.

Tone Down, and Ramp Up: Yes, this sounds like a new exercise craze (“Tone Down, Ramp Up” TM), and no, it won’t help you shed any excess weight (although, I think you’re beautiful as is!). But, it may help you save your relationship with your little narcissistic friend.

Tone Down refers to trying to subtly put out your narcissist’s over exuberant fire. Instead of even smiling or nodding in agreement when your narcissist goes on a self-enhancing bender, simply say and do nothing. No verbal reactions, no nonverbal reactions. Now, some narcissists won’t even notice your reaction, but others may.

Now, when you combine this with Ramp Up, you start moving the spotlight off your narcissist and let it shine on you a little bit too. When your narcissist talks about how amazing he/she is at FILL IN THE BLANK, don’t be shy to mention something about yourself. It doesn’t have to be as boastful (don’t get caught up in the passive-aggressive, one-upper trap!), but just enough to let your narcissist know that you’re a competent and admired human as well.

As research suggests, your narcissist may react poorly to this shift and decide he or she would prefer a new, more amenable audience. Or, it could help your problem a bit.  I’m not saying it will eradicate your narcissist’s behavior entirely (this trait is deeply rooted), but it may shift your relational culture, or at the very least, make interactions a bit more tolerable.

Bite the Bullet and Speak Up: In healthy relationships, when partners give one another criticism (in a constructive and positive manner, of course!) it rarely derails the relationship. However, the narcissist is a fragile creature that likes to be adored and admired, not critiqued. So, you should seriously consider the potential aftermath before you decide to explicitly say something. But, if you think that the rewards outweigh the costs then by all means speak up!

No one likes being criticized by their partner, even if your partner has your best interest at heart, and a narcissist will like it even less. Focusing on these strategies might help soften the blow and get real results:

Start with a positive: Don’t dig in right away, start with something you like about the person, and then address your issue. For example, instead of “All you do is talk about yourself! It’s annoying,” try “I love how excited you are to share your accomplishments with me, however, I sometimes feel that we only talk about you…”

Focus on behavior: Although being a narcissist is a trait and not simply a behavior, when you focus on the person he/she will become defensive. However, if you can separate the behavior from the person, he/she may be more open to listening to what you have to say.

Instead of “You’re so narcissistic!” try “Sometimes I notice that you tend to talk about yourself a lot and never really ask about me.”

Also, try to combine this with John Gottman’s famed X-Y-Z statement—“When you do X, in situation Y, it makes me feel Z”—for the most impact. For example, “When you only talk about yourself (X), when we hang out/talk (Y), it makes me feel like you don’t care about me or our relationship (Z).” This statement will help minimize defensiveness and anger, by having you accept responsibility for your feelings (rather than placing blame on your partner) and focuses on specific behaviors in specific situations.

Outline the costs and benefits: Let your narcissist know that there are costs to his/her behavior and benefits to changing it. Perhaps let him/her know that his/her behavior makes you hesitant to pursue/maintain the relationship, or that you avoid talking to him/her because of this behavior. Then let him/her know that changing the behavior will help you have a stronger, more intimate relationship.

Offer help: It’s not enough to say “You suck, now fix it.” Instead, come up with solutions to help your narcissist. Maybe you come up with a signal to use when he/she is getting too self-centered. Or, perhaps you help your narcissist find a therapist who can help him/her work through the issues that have led to this behavior, and provide him/her with concrete skills to change his/her behavior.

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Treating center of the universe syndrome is a difficult and intimidating. However, I fully believe that if the thought of addressing this issue makes your palms sweaty, then it’s probably the right conversation to have. Doing the right thing is usually the hardest thing; but the hardest endeavors have the sweetest rewards.

Until next time,

Sylvia

The Mis(sed) Carriage

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I was never aware of this day until my husband and I, unfortunately, became members of this club. I write about this today not to gain sympathy, but to bring awareness to this very real and painful experience that many people overlook and even ignore. In our culture, grief and negative emotions are avoided. Since my own loss I’ve learned that miscarriage tends to be a four-letter word; people do not like to hear or talk about others’ miscarriages.

Although I recognize that people may avoid this topic because it’s uncomfortable, imagine losing your child, your hopes and dreams, and having no one to turn to or talk to—that’s uncomfortable. Today, I write for all the mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas, and siblings who have suffered this unimaginable heartbreak. This is not only to honor them and their angel babies, but help their social networks learn how they can help them cope with this unbearable heartache.

My Story…

On June 3, 2012 two lines appeared on my home pregnancy test: I was pregnant, again. Given our previous ectopic pregnancy, we were tentative in our excitement even when blood tests indicated things were moving in the right direction. Two weeks later an ultrasound showed a little ball firmly implanted in my uterus, heartbeat and all. At that point, the doctor said my chance of miscarriage was reduced to around 10%. We started to feel some joy.

Even during week 10, when a spotting scare sent us to the emergency room, two ultrasounds showed our little monkey moving and shaking, complete with limbs, nose, and jaw bone. When we heard the heartbeat via Doppler at 12 weeks, we felt reassured—this was going to work, we were going to have our baby.

According to statistics, once you hear the heartbeat through a Doppler your chance of miscarrying is down to 1%. One-percent! Only one person out of 100 goes on to miscarry at that point; surely, we were in the clear. Sadly, one week later, on August 6, 2012, we discovered we were 1 in 100. The odds were never in our favor and we lost our baby. We lost our child, our dreams for the future, our ticket to join the parent club. We were, once again, outsiders looking in.

Because my body didn’t show any signs of miscarrying on its own and I was 12 ½ weeks along, the doctor recommended a D&C. The next afternoon with heavy hearts we made our way to the hospital. Of course, on our way in we saw a family exiting with Baby Girl balloons; oh, irony. During all the hubbub of pre-op, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists fluttered about cheerfully, asking us what brought us to the area, and making polite small talk. I tried my best to play along. Finally, right before I was wheeled off to the operating room, the nurse who was assisting with the procedure kindly whispered to me, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and that is when I lost it. My thin eyelids, swollen from crying through the night before, couldn’t hold back the deluge of tears.

I was only supposed to be under twilight, but eventually they had to put me fully under because I was moving too much. They never said why, but given the doctors tenderness afterwards, I’m guessing my sobs, even while unconscious, got in the way of the procedure. Grief that profound cannot be contained.

In the days and weeks that followed, I learned a lot about not only myself, but others as well. The day we found out about our loss, my first phone call was to my best-friend. I texted her first to prepare her and when I called I tried to ask her how she was doing, but she didn’t let me get away that easily. Instead, she did exactly what I needed her to do, she cried with me and let me sit silently, choking on my own tears. I have never been more grateful for that kind of love and friendship.

Friends sent flowers, cookies, and books that helped them with their losses. Others who came to visit brought us delicious goodies, made us laugh with their goofiness, and distracted us with crazy shenanigans. These friends also let us steer any conversation to our loss, if needed, and when we did, which was often, they simply listened.

Others, however, seemed too uncomfortable with the situation to make a real effort. Although that hurt, we also understood that most people simply do not know what to do or say, so instead of doing the wrong thing they do nothing at all. And instead of telling people what we needed, we waited for people to reach out and silently suffered.

Today, I share my story to shed more light on this taboo topic.  Unlike the loss of a parent or spouse, the loss of a pregnancy does not come with scripts for how to cope. Thus, many of us (the bereaved would-be parents) and family and friends don’t know what to do or say. Below, I offer a few tips to help all of those who suffered a loss and those whose loved ones have suffered a loss, traverse this incredibly uncertain time as best as possible.

Healing After a Loss…

Grieve: You didn’t lose a shoe or your watch, you lost a child, you lost a life. Give yourself time to grieve, time to be sad, time to be angry, time to be numb, time to just be. Even though you may never have met your baby or only knew him or her for a few short hours doesn’t mean you are not entitled to fully grieve the loss of your child.

Be kind to yourself in the days and weeks that follow and do what feels good to you. If lounging around the house feeling blue is what you need, do it. If getting out of town and going on a trip will help, book it.

Also, don’t push yourself to do things that may be emotionally painful. If going to a baby shower or hanging out with a group of friends with children will just hurt too much, pass on the invitation. Your friends will understand that you need to heal.

Talk (if and when you want): Unfortunately, miscarriage is a taboo topic and many people never talk about it. One reason is that some people may feel that a loss is private and may only share their experience with their spouse and a few select friends/family. If other people ask you about your loss and you don’t want to discuss it, feel free to change the subject or give an indirect response.

Other individuals who experience loss want to talk about it but don’t because they want to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable. If you want to talk about your loss, do it. The more you keep silent on this issue, the more taboo it becomes. Plus, once you open up you may find that others have experienced losses too and they can be a great source of comfort.

Bottom line: Share based on your comfort level, not others.

Celebrate your baby:Just because you don’t have a baby in your arms doesn’t mean you have to forget about the life you lost. Celebrating your baby through stories, rituals, or mementos will you help you cope with your loss and celebrate the memory of your little angel.

Whether you plan something special for your due date, or hold a memorial on the day of your loss, do what feels right for you. A necklace with your baby’s birthstone, a framed picture of your ultrasound, or a tree planted in your yard are all wonderful ways to  honor, celebrate, and remember your child.

Helping Loved Ones Heal After a Loss

Ask:Nobody likes to talk about dead babies, I get it. But, you have to. You have to ask your friend how they’re doing. Even if your friend doesn’t want to talk, they’ll always remember whether or not you were there for them when they needed you most.

Also, don’t forget about Dads or the non-pregnant partner. Their grief often gets eclipsed by the mothers’ needs. Ask them how they are coping with the loss.

But, don’t ask “why” or “how”: Do not ask them for details about how they found out, what exactly the doctor said, or if they know why this happened. Someone dealing with a loss probably has many of the same questions you do and none of the answers. Asking questions may, unintentionally, imply some sort of blame or may make your friend feel inadequate for not knowing the answer. If your friend wants to share these details they will, so let them share in their own time.

Also, although you mean well, don’t say things like, “it’s God’s plan” (even if you believe that), that it “will happen if they just relax and stop trying”, “at least you know you can get pregnant,” or “hey, you already have a baby.”

None of this helps or takes away the pain of losing a child. If you don’t know what to say then follow the next tip.

Listen: Often, we feel that we must come up with the perfect thing to say to help our friend feel better or to take away their pain. Although that is a wonderful sentiment, nothing you can say or do can fully relieve their heartache.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, don’t say anything. Just be there to listen to your friend talk. Additionally, if you don’t know what to say let them know that you don’t know what to say, but that you’re thinking of them.

Follow-up: Coping with a loss takes some time. Expected milestones, holidays, and due dates will undoubtedly reignite or intensify your friend’s grief. Check-in during the following weeks and months, especially when your friend would have been reaching certain milestones.

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Experiencing pregnancy loss is never easy. However, taking care of yourself and receiving support from loved ones can make you feel comforted as your heart slowly begins to heal.

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My best friend is married to a guy I can’t really stand. He always belittles me for being a working mom (my friend stays at home), makes me “scrub in” when I enter their house because he doesn’t want his children or house to be exposed to germs, and is constantly injecting his opinions into our conversations.  His behavior is starting to affect my relationship with my friend because I don’t want to go over to her house or be with her when he is around.

Should I talk to my friend and let her know that her husband’s behavior hurts my feelings, or should I let it go for the sake of my friendship?

—-Fed-up Friend

Dear Fed-up: Sometimes our friends marry people we love and consider our own friends, other times they marry knuckleheads that we can’t stand. Your friend loves this knucklehead; so, no matter how close you are, saying something to your friend will cause her to get defensive and distance herself from you (even if she agrees with you!).

Instead of saying something to her and putting her in an awkward position, try to make “girls’ night/day” plans with her when her husband isn’t home, schedule an activity outside of the home, or invite your friend over to your house.

If she insists on including her husband, gently tell her that his behavior makes you uncomfortable and that you prefer to spend time with her without him. Your friend may be well aware of her husband’s obnoxious behavior and understand, or she may stand by her man.

Dear Sylvia: About six months ago a friend of mine moved to town. When she moved here she didn’t know anybody so I always invited her to hang out with me and my girlfriends. Several months have passed and she has made a new group of friends and has basically ditched me! I’m glad she has found friends, but feel a little hurt that I am left in the dust. Should I say something to her or just say sayonara?

—-Blown-off Buddy

Dear Blown-off: Although it’s understandable to feel hurt, your friend may just be in the “honeymoon phase” enjoying her new city and new friends. Try to cut her a little slack and give her time to carve out her own space and identity in her new home. Maybe seeing you with all of your friends made her want to create a group of close buds that she could call her own. So, consider it a compliment!

In the meantime, reach out to her and let her know that you’re glad she’s settling in and that you’d love to see her and catch up. If she continues to ignore you after that take it as your cue to let go and move on. Unfortunately, some friendships come and go. It appears that she came to a new city, you helped her get settled, and now it may be time to go your separate ways. Luckily, you seem to have a great group of pals to go back to!

—Don’t forget to submit your questions to Sylvia Says, answered Thursdays on Just a Squirrel.

The Gift of Friendship

On Saturday two of my very best friends had their first baby. While sitting in the hospital room with my new niece in my arms, talking, and laughing with my husband and the proud new parents I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky we were to share in this incredible moment with our friends, but also the importance of friendship, in general.

Although you probably don’t need research to tell you how important your friends are to your life, evidence shows that friendships are extremely significant social ties that benefit us emotionally, mentally, and physically. Friends keep us from feeling lonely, contribute to our experience of happiness, help us get through tough times by providing social support, and even influence our health behaviors and decisions. A study by Christakis and Fowler, for example, found that if a person had an obese friend, their chance of becoming obese increased by 57%, compared to a 37% chance of becoming obese if their spouse was overweight. How’s that for peer pressure!

In addition, as many of you have most likely experienced firsthand, friends make you laugh. From the inside jokes to the back-and-forth ribbing, friends can make you laugh until your cheeks hurt, and that’s a great thing. Laughter not only benefits your health, it also promotes closeness, especially when you reminisce about relationship stories that made you laugh. My friends and I crack ourselves up every time we relive the day our friend Tim declared that he wasn’t going to let a pulled muscle “ruin his life” and the crazy story we concocted about him overcoming his injury.

For many people friendships supplement and may even replace family ties, making them especially crucial. In addition, long-term friendships are particularly meaningful as friends have often endured life’s joys and heartaches together. Experiencing weddings, vacation adventures, deaths, and births, just to name a few, are experiences that provide friends with a deep understanding and commitment to one another, even when interactions are infrequent.

Although you probably know firsthand the benefits of friendship, you may not always know how to be a good friend. A “good friend” formula doesn’t necessarily exist, but evidence from studies examining the qualities of strong friendships provides some insight into what you can do to be a fabulous friend:

Lead by example. Be the kind of friend you want to be. Want your friend to be compassionate, supportive, and genuinely interested in your life? Then demonstrate those qualities. Don’t expect your friend to be fully invested in your life if you are only half invested in his or hers. You get what you give in life and this is especially true in friendship.

Be supportive. Friends rely on one another for emotional support, so don’t flake when your friend need you most. Try to be empathetic when providing support and focus on your friend’s feelings, not yours or your own experience with his or her problem. Although we may feel like we’re attempting to relate when we say “When this happened to me…” it takes the attention from your friend’s problem and puts it on you. Instead, ask your friend to elaborate on his or her feelings and then validate, don’t judge, his or her emotions.

In addition, sometimes being supportive means being selfless and sacrificing. Maybe you have to cancel plans, reschedule a meeting, or dish out a little dough to help your friend. That’s what true friendship is, unconditional and unfettered support. And, don’t keep a tally. Give support because you want to, not because you want to build up “credits” or make yourself look good.

Know when to be open and when to keep your mouth shut. A hallmark of friendship is honesty. Close friends tell you the truth, even when it hurts. Close friends ask the hard questions and bring up the uncomfortable or emotional topics that others shy away from. Whether it’s telling your friend that she should grow her bangs out because the look she’s been rockin’ isn’t working (thanks, Sharon!) or asking your buddy how he’s feeling after his divorce, friends get to the nitty gritty. Don’t avoid the hard conversations.

However, when you’re close friends with someone you often gain access to a lot of private and personal information. It’s important that you respect your friend’s privacy and don’t pass along private information, unless you gain permission from your friend.

Research shows that loyalty and trust are two important qualities of a strong friendship. Spreading your friend’s private info, even to just a couple of people, is a surefire way to erode trust and weaken your friendship. When in doubt, keep your lips sealed!

This is especially important when it comes to technology. Make sure you get your friend’s permission before making their good, or bad, news (engagement, promotion, break up, etc) your facebook status or latest tweet.

Confront conflict. Like any other relationship, friendships experience conflict. Just like any other relationship, how you manage the conflict is more important than what the conflict is about.

Unfortunately, friends sometimes avoid conflict due to the voluntary nature of friendship. They may feel that their friend will “break up” with them if they tell them how they feel. In my opinion, the sign of a true friendship is being able to bring up issues that bother you and work together to successfully resolve them (or simply discuss them) in a calm and respectful manner.

Diversify.  Don’t put all your eggs in one friendship basket, diversify your friendship investments. Research suggests that people typically have three types of friends: casual, close, and best.

Some friendships stay at work, some remain close despite infrequent contact or distant in spite of frequent contact, and other friendships make you wonder if this person is your long lost twin. Friendships vary in the degree of closeness and it’s important to embrace all the different forms of friendship.

It’s also important that you support and respect your friend’s other friendships. Having a first best-friend, second best-friend, etc. belongs in junior high, so don’t make your friend feel guilty about the quantity or quality of their other friendships.

Although it’s sometimes easy to feel jealous, especially if you feel like someone else is taking your friend away from you, it’s important to understand that different friends meet different needs and it’s possible to be close to several people simultaneously. The five lovely women who served as my bridesmaids, for example, are all fabulous women whom I consider my best-friends. They represent a different part of me and each of our friendships is as unique as they are.

Be flexible. Life is full of change and our friendships need to change with it. It’s important to realize that friendships ebb and flow, sometimes we’re closer than others based on life circumstances. It’s important to be flexible and find new ways to maintain your friendship.

Perhaps a weekly Skype date replaces your weekly lunch date after a geographical move. Or, a weekly phone call replaces daily chats with a friend starting a new job. Change don’t mean the end of a friendship, it just means reinventing it. True friendships can endure change and stand the test of time.

~

Friendships are a truly incredible gift.  And the gift of friendship is what I wish for my new little niece. Frances Rose, I hope you find friends who support you, encourage you, accept you, entertain you, and love you. I hope you find friends who make you laugh at pictures of Elvis at a roadside diner, friends who know you shouldn’t order Chicken Parmesan at restaurants unless that’s what they’re known for, friends that you want to spend an entire weekend with for no other reason than hanging out, and friends who have the same obscure favorite childhood book as you do. Surely, you have that in us.

Until next time,

Sylvia

Giving Thanks…All Year Long!

It seems that everyone, no matter how cool, calm, and collected, tends to become a bit more introspective this time of year. The very name of the holiday challenges us to reflect on all the things we’re grateful for. Although I wholeheartedly support this tradition, I also think gratitude and thanks should be given year round, not just reserved for one day of the year.

Acknowledging, thanking, and appreciating your relational partner, be it a parent, friend, or significant other, on a daily, rather than annual, basis is an important relational maintenance strategy. Relational maintenance is important because it allows you to maintain the very existence of your relationship and helps keep your relationship satisfying.  However, relational maintenance doesn’t refer to grand gestures that we see too often in the movies (when was the last time someone chased you down a New York City block in the rain to make up after a fight? Or, came to pick you up for a date in a limo complete with roses, Cristal, and a little blue box?). Instead, relational maintenance strategies are the everyday things you can do to let your loved one know you care.

Research has outlined several maintenance strategies that are particularly useful. Many of you probably do these already, but if you don’t, well, get crackin!

Strategy 1: Be positive and make interacting pleasant. Sounds pretty obvious, huh? But how often do we treat the ones we love the most the worst? Simply showing affection, doing favors for one another, and being upbeat are just a few ways to enact this strategy. So give that hug or ask your partner if they want another cup of coffee while you’re in the kitchen. Easy, right?!

Strategy 2: Talk AND  listen! As relationships progress, people sometimes stop talking and really listening to their partners. If you think back on the early days of your relationship you probably spent hours talking and listening to one another’s dreams, fears, and feelings about one another. I can remember many hours spent talking about all the things my husband and I loved about one another (Seriously. And, I apologize to anyone who overheard those conversations!).  Although you may not have time to spend arguing over who loves the other one more, you do have time (or you better make it) to continue to share information with one another, listen to one another’s problems without judgment, and talk about your relationship, either what’s bothering you, what you hope for the future, or reflect back on your googly-eyed early days.

Strategy 3: Reassure your partner. Long-term relationship partners tend to get lazy. They think the other person should “just know” that they love them, still find them attractive, or couldn’t imagine their life without them. And while this may very well be true, it also doesn’t hurt to remind your partner of that, either directly or indirectly. Offering support, comfort, or explicitly telling your loved one how you feel are all ways of assuring your partner. Something as simple as sending a “good luck” text before a big interview or letting your partner know that you’re glad they’re in your life will do the trick.

Strategy 4: Balance your time together with some time apart. Engaging in joint activities is crucial for any relationship. Carving out time for one another or developing weekly rituals is one way of engaging in joint activities (I know I look forward to eating take-out and watching Fringe with my husband every Friday night). However, this doesn’t mean being attached at the hip. I once knew a couple who did everything together. You couldn’t talk to one of them, you talked to both. And when you did, they were either holding hands or clinging to each other for dear life. So, it’s important that all relationships have a bit of independence. Plan separate activities with your own friends or just give one another some “me” time. Your relationship will thank you.

Strategy 5: As many yearbook messages say, K.I.T (keep in touch)! Whether or not your sweetie pie travels for work or your best friend lives across the country or just down the street, staying connected is essential. Technology today makes it super easy to stay involved in one another’s lives, even if you’re apart. So send a text, shoot off an email, or pick up the phone and call those important people in your life to let them know that you’re thinking of them, even if you’ll see them in a few hours or days.

If you already do these strategies, keep it up! If not, maybe Thursday is a good time to start. And while you’re at it, start sharing what you’re thankful for with the ones you love. I’ll go first…

I’m thankful for my wonderfully supportive husband who makes me feel like the smartest, prettiest, most loved woman in the world. I’m thankful for my fabulous friends who know how to cheer me up or when to just let me have a little pity party. I’m thankful for my great Dad, who makes me proud to be his daughter. I’m thankful for supportive and inspiring colleagues. I’m thankful for all the readers of this blog and your encouraging feedback. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do what I love for a living. I’m thankful for the little four pound Yorkie who’s curled up on my lap/arm as I type this (although she’s impairing me from reaching half the keyboard!). I’m thankful for my health; I never take for granted the fact that I can jump in the pool or run out my door without giving it a second thought.

And finally, I’m thankful that I had the most amazing mother in the world who instilled in me a sense of family, love, eternal optimism, and gratitude. Even in the face of cancer she was grateful; grateful for another day, grateful for her family and friends, grateful for the amazing people that helped her through her journey. I’m thankful that we engaged in relational maintenance strategies every single day. No sentiment was left unsaid, no “I love you” absent of a reply. And for that, I am thankful; today, Thursday, and always.

Until next time,

Sylvia

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