COPING SOLUTIONS - ARTICLES
COPING SOLUTIONS - Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.

ARTICLES ON RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION TO ALCOHOL AND/OR DRUGS

1. The Process of Recovery
The essence of addiction to alcohol and/or drugs is a loss of control over the use of the substance.  This loss of control leads to unmanageability in a person's life.  Addiction results in physical, psychological, behavioral, spiritual, and social problems. The good news is that recovery from addiction is possible although not easy.  Recovery from addiction involves more than just not using the substance.  It involves making a multitude of changes in one's thinking and behavior.  The first step in the process of recovery from addiction is becoming aware that one has a problem with alcohol and/or drugs.  Unfortunately, many addicts never develop this awareness and consequently never stop drinking and/or using drugs.  Usually, the awareness that one has a substance abuse problem gradually increases as the problems caused by the addiction increase.  The next step in the process of recovery is for the addict to realize that something must be done to correct the problem.  Ideally, the addict's awareness of having a substance abuse problem and realization that something must be done to correct the problem will lead the addict to choose abstinence from the substance which is the third step in the process of recovery.  After the addict has chosen abstinence as the goal, the next step in the process of recovery is to formulate a plan for achieving abstinence.  The next step in the process of recovery is to implement the plan for achieving abstinence.  Initially, the addict usually does not formulate an adequate plan for achieving abstinence, but as the addict continues to pursue recovery he or she has the opportunity to realize that a better plan is required in order to be successful.  After the initial plan for achieving abstinence is implemented, the next step in the process of recovery is to evaluate how well the recovery plan is working.  To the extent that the chosen recovery plan is not working, the recovering addict should revise the recovery plan which is another step in the process of recovery.  The process of evaluating the effectiveness of the recovery plan and then revising the recovery plan should continue until the recovering addict achieves long-term abstinence.  In fact, the last step in the process of recovery is for the addict to implement a successful plan for achieving total permanent abstinence.  Unfortunately, some addicts pursuing recovery never complete this last step.  However, it is important to note that even if a given addict who is attempting to achieve recovery never achieves total permanent abstinence from the substance of choice then this addict will nevertheless be much better off than the addict who never tries to achieve recovery.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.  

2. Abstinence
After the addict begins to understand that the use of the substance has caused significant problems and that something must be done to correct the problem, the usual response is for the addict to try to control the use of the substance.  However, the addict will find it impossible to accomplish this goal.  The attempt to accomplish this goal indicates that the addict fails to understand the nature of addiction and the severity of his or her substance abuse problem.  The essence of addiction or substance dependence is a loss of control over the use of the substance and once a person becomes dependent on a given substance the controlled use of the substance is an unachievable and misguided goal.  Many addicts spend the rest of their lives attempting, without success, to control the use of their substance of choice and while doing so they will continue to experience problems caused by the abuse of the substance.  The appropriate and recommended goal for addicts is abstinence from the substance.  Initially, abstinence is usually not an acceptable goal for the addict who has begun to realize that the use of the substance is causing problems and has begun to realize that something must be done to correct the problem.  Many of these addicts eventually develop the understanding that abstinence is the appropriate goal but many of them never will achieve abstinence.  Making abstinence the goal is the third step in the process of recovery.  Understanding by the addict that the use of the substance has caused significant problems is the first step and understanding that something must be done to correct the problem is the second step.  Making abstinence the goal does not guarantee that the recovering addict will accomplish it but making this the goal is part of the recovery process for those addicts who eventually do achieve a complete recovery from addiction.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

3. Working a Program of Recovery
I have worked full-time as a clinical psychologist for thirty years and during this time I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of people addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.  Based on my experience with thousands of recovering addicts, I have been very impressed with the value of working a program of recovery in a self-help recovery organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous as an effective method for abstaining from alcohol and/or drugs.  In fact, if an addict would ask me what single most important recommendation I could make to help him or her maintain long-term abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs, then I would say work a program of recovery in a self-help recovery organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.  Working a program of recovery involves more that simply attending multiple self-help recovery meetings on a weekly basis.  Working a program of recovery involves the following:

1. Attending multiple self-help recovery meetings on a weekly basis.
2. Obtaining, reading, and studying the basic text of the self-help recovery
organization such as the Alcoholics Anonymous "Big Book" or the Narcotics 
Anonymous "Blue Book."
3. Learning and working the self-help recovery organization's Twelve Steps.
4. Getting and using a sponsor in the self-help recovery organization.
5. Learning and practicing the self-help recovery organization's many strategies for achieving recovery and preventing relapse. 
6. Developing and using a Higher Power.

If a person sincerely works a program of recovery from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs as outlined above, then he or she will definitely increase his or her probability of achieving long-term abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs.  More generally, if a person sincerely works a program of recovery from addiction to alcohol and/or drugs as outlined above, then he or she will become a much healthier person psychologically.  In fact, working a program of recovery as outlined above can actually enable an addict to become healthier psychologically than he or she would have been had he or she never become addicted to alcohol and/or drugs in the first place.  C
opyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

4. Goal Setting for Recovery
Many people have never learned the value of setting goals.  Without goals, we are likely to make limited progress in life.  Living without goals is like sailing a ship without a rudder.  The ship will be directionless.  A lack of goals can result in us moving in a negative direction.  Goals give us direction in life and positive goals give us a positive direction.  For the person addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, the recommended overall recovery goal should be total permanent abstinence from alcohol and drugs.  To achieve this overall recovery goal, it is recommended that the following more specific recovery goals should be established by every recovering addict:

1. Developing and using a chemical-free support system.
2. Identifying and getting more involved in chemical-free activities.
3. Learning and using relapse prevention strategies.

It is extremely important that the recovering addict develop and use a chemical-free support system because to achieve recovery the addict should minimize the degree to which he or she associates with users and should maximize the degree to which he or she associates with people who are supportive of recovery.  Simply put, associating with users will make relapse more likely and associating with people who are supportive of recovery will make abstaining more likely.  It is also extremely important that the recovering addict identify and get more involved in chemical-free activities which is true for a variety of reasons.  First, when an addict stops drinking and/or stops using drugs he or she will have a lot of free time which needs to be put to good use to avoid boredom which could cause the addict to return to drinking and/or using drugs.  Second, the recovering addict should avoid activities which he or she associates with using alcohol and/or drugs that could trigger a craving to use.  Third, the recovering addict should engage in chemical-free activities in order to create new chemical-free habits and to generate positive emotional chemical-free experiences that will help the recovering addict continue to abstain from alcohol and/or drugs.  Recovering from alcohol dependence and/or drug dependence is far from easy and to achieve it the recovering addict needs to learn and use specific strategies for preventing a return to drinking and/or drugging.  Relapse prevention needs to include learning and using strategies for overcoming cravings for alcohol and/or drugs which every recovering addict will face and which have the potential for triggering the recovering addict to return to drinking and/or drugging.  Relapse prevention also needs to include learning and using drink and drug refusal skills.  In summary, total permanent abstinence from alcohol and drugs is the recommended goal for the addict.  In order to achieve total permanent abstinence from alcohol and drugs, the recovering addict should develop and use a chemical-free support system, identify and get more involved in chemical-free activities, and learn and use relapse prevention strategies.  
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

5. Developing Spirituality
Long-term abuse of alcohol and/or drugs results in deeply ingrained selfishness.  The essence of selfishness is a "me-orientation" which takes the position that "my wants and needs are the priorities".  Selfishness perpetuates the abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.  Anything that helps the recovering addict decrease selfishness will help the addict in his or her recovery.  Developing spirituality decreases selfishness and thus is a recommended strategy for achieving recovery.  Spirituality is defined here as thinking and behaving in a manner consistent with the view that something "greater than oneself" exists.  This definition of spirituality does not require that a person believe in God although a belief in God is compatible with it.  Spirituality will result in a certain amount of humility which is an ingredient for a successful recovery from active addiction to alcohol and/or drugs.  Self-help recovery organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous encourage recovering addicts to develop and use a "Higher Power" which is a spiritual concept and is of tremendous value to recovering addicts.  A Higher Power can be anything viewed as being greater than oneself that helps the recovering addict abstain from alcohol and/or drugs.  An addict's Higher Power could be God, a church group, a self-help recovery group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, a sponsor, a therapy group, a family, a loved one, or a multitude of other possibilities.  Thus, for the addict who wants to increase his or her probability of achieving recovery, it is recommended that he or she develop a spiritual perspective, identify and use a Higher Power, and become humble.  More generally, developing a spiritual perspective, identifying and using a Higher Power, and becoming humble are recommended coping strategies for everyone including people who are not addicted.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.


ARTICLES ON ADAPTIVE COPING
1. Adaptive Coping
I define coping as how a person responds to a problem.  There are many possible ways to cope with a given problem.  Some are positive or adaptive and others are negative or maladaptive.  The challenge for each of us, when we are faced with any given problem, is to choose the healthiest way to respond.  The highest level of mental health functioning is achieved when a person uses the most adaptive strategies for coping.  On the other hand, a relatively lower level of mental health functioning is exhibited when a person uses maladaptive coping strategies.  Coping is a cognitive behavioral process.  Healthy coping strategies and skills can be learned and can be improved through practice.  Whether or not a person develops his or her coping strategies and skills is largely dependent on the degree to which the person is willing to work on accomplishing this goal.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

2. Overcoming Negative Emotions
Everyone wants to feel good emotionally but achieving this goal on a regular basis is extremely difficult.  Everything has a cause and a negative feeling or emotion is no exception.  Negative emotion can be caused by each of the following:

1. Physical dysfunction
2. Negative stress
3. Negative or maladaptive thinking
4. Negative or maladaptive behavior

The role of physical functioning, stress, thinking, and behavior in causing negative emotion will be examined briefly.  Physical problems can cause negative feelings.  For example, a chemical imbalance in the brain can cause depression.  Other examples include hyperthyroidism causing anxiety and chronic alcoholism causing depression directly due to biological factors.  Biological factors can directly cause anger in addition to anxiety and depression.  A negative stressor can also cause negative emotion.  A negative stressor can cause a person to experience depression, anxiety, or anger.  The way a person thinks can also cause depression, anxiety, or anger.  The relationship is that negative or maladaptive thinking causes negative emotions.  Depression, anxiety, or anger can also be caused by negative behavior.  In order to improve how one feels emotionally, a person can make changes in one of the four causes of negative emotion, namely, physical functioning, stress, thinking, and behavior.  Taking good care of one's body is one way to emotionally feel as good as possible.  Eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, and getting an adequate amount of exercise are ways of taking good care of one's body and thus feeling good emotionally.  In order to feel as good emotionally as possible, avoiding the abuse of alcohol and abstaining from illicit drugs are recommended biological strategies.  Taking psychiatric medication is a biological strategy for overcoming negative emotions that is used by many.  Effectively managing stress is a second strategy for overcoming negative emotion.  Some negative stressors can be eliminated and there are times when eliminating a negative stressor is the recommended strategy for feeling better emotionally.  Many negative stressors in life cannot be eliminated and when this is the case or when eliminating a negative stressor is not recommended, then the next best thing to do is to manage the given negative stressor as well as possible.  The third strategy for overcoming negative emotion is to eliminate confused and maladaptive thinking.  The natural human tendency is to think negatively which is why so many people are unhappy.  However, it is possible to learn adaptive ways of thinking and by doing so a person can make progress in overcoming negative emotion.  The fourth strategy for overcoming negative emotion is to behave in adaptive or positive ways.  Adaptive behavior includes developing and using one's social support network and identifying and getting more involved in positive activities.  Being assertive, as opposed to being passive (defined here as not taking care of oneself) or being aggressive (defined here as hurting others without justification), is a recommended strategy for overcoming negative emotion and for feeling good emotionally.  In short, taking good care of one's body, effectively managing stress, and thinking and behaving in adaptive ways will decrease negative emotion and will increase positive feelings.  Making positive changes in how one cares for one's body, manages stress, thinks, and behaves is not easy but with effort and practice can be done.  The results in terms of decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive feelings make it worth the effort. Co
pyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

3. Support System
A fundamental and very important strategy for adaptive coping is developing and using a healthy support system.  Life is full of challenges and a well-developed support system helps us get through the rough times and is there to celebrate the good times.  Supportive friends and relatives help us put things in perspective and can offer some excellent suggestions for effective problem solving.  They serve as a sounding board that allows us to ventilate which everyone needs to do.  They make us feel needed which is positive for everyone to feel.  They provide us with the opportunity to help others and we benefit when we help others.  It is beneficial to us to have supportive people with whom we can do fun and relaxing activities that rejuvenate us.  Developing a healthy support system requires effort.  We need to assertively reach out to others.  In order to motivate others to reach out and support us, we need to take the initiative to reach out and support others.  Not everyone will respond positively to our initiatives.  This should be expected and we should not allow this to upset us.  If we reach out and support enough other people, then at least some of them will respond positively.  The people who respond positively to our initiatives and the people who take the initiative to reach out and support us are the people with whom we should pursue further involvement.  Pursuing this strategy over time will enable a person to develop a healthy support system.  In order to maintain our relationships with the people in our support system, we need to nurture the relationships and consistently prove ourselves over time to be trustworthy and dependable to these people.  In summary, each of us can benefit greatly from having a healthy support system, assertively reaching out and supporting others will help us develop our support system, and nurturing our relationships with people in our support system on an ongoing basis is necessary to maintain our support system.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved. 

4. Problem Solving
Everyone faces challenges in life.  Problem solving is a method for adaptively coping with challenges.  Problem solving methodology includes the following steps:

1. Define the problem.
2. Identify a multitude of possible solutions for the problem.
3. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each possible solution.
4. Pick the best possible solution.
5. Implement the best possible solution.
6. Evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented solution.
7. Repeat steps 1 through 6 again if necessary.

After awareness that a problem exists has been developed, the first problem solving step is to define the problem which means developing a good understanding of the nature of the problem.  Describing the nature of the problem in writing on a piece of paper can be helpful.  The second problem solving step is to identify a multitude of possible solutions for the problem.  This important step involves creatively thinking of ways to solve the problem.  Brainstorming is used during this step.  Any solution having even limited potential for solving the problem should be included.  This is not the time to be critical.  It can be helpful to list the potential solutions on a piece of paper.  The third problem solving step is evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each possible solution.  It can be helpful to list the advantages and disadvantages (positives and negatives or pros and cons) of each possible solution on a piece of paper.  The fourth problem solving step is to choose the best possible solution.  This involves making a judgment as to which solution is the best considering the advantages and disadvantages of each solution along with a consideration of the problem situation and who is going to implement the solution.  It can be helpful to assign a plus or minus relative numerical value to each advantage and disadvantage which can be combined to give a summary score for each possible solution.  Assuming that a higher score means a relatively more positive solution, then the solution having the highest summary score would be considered to be the best of the compared possible solutions using this methodology.  The fifth step is to implement the best possible solution.  The sixth step is to evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented solution.  Sometimes implementing the best possible solution will completely solve the problem but at other times it will not.  If the degree of the remaining problem justifies exerting continued effort in an attempt to completely solve the problem, then steps 1 through 6 should be repeated.  Repeating steps 1 through 6 is the seventh problem solving step.  At some point in the problem solving process, it may become apparent that the problem cannot be completely solved.  If the problem cannot be completely solved or eliminated, then an option for adaptively coping with this situation would be to develop acceptance. 
Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

5. Goal Setting 
Many people have never learned the value of setting goals.  Without goals, we are likely to make limited progress in life.  Living without goals is like sailing a ship without a rudder.  The ship will be directionless.  A lack of goals can result in moving in a negative direction.  Goals give us direction in life and positive goals give us a positive direction.  The choice of goals is a very personal decision.  Each person is responsible for setting his or her own goals.  We are much more likely to work hard on accomplishing goals that we set for ourselves as opposed to goals set for us by others.  Goals should be challenging to motivate us to work hard on achieving them but they should be achievable.  Among others, we can set goals for ourselves in the following areas:

1. Physical (for example, diet and exercise)
2. Family
3. Housing
4. Social
5. Educational
6. Occupational
7. Financial
8. Spiritual
9. Recreational

Once a challenging but achievable goal is established in a given area, the next step is making a realistic plan for achieving the goal.  Objective outcome criteria should be established which can be used to determine whether or not a given goal is achieved.  A benefit of having a goal for a given area is that it can motivate us to work hard on accomplishing the goal.  Once a goal for a given area is achieved, a new goal for the area can be formulated if indicated and desired.  An advantage of setting goals is that we will feel good emotionally and increase our self-esteem after we make progress on accomplishing a goal.  In summary, setting positive goals in the main areas of our lives will give us a positive direction in life.  Goals should be challenging but achievable.  Setting challenging but achievable goals will motivate us to work hard on accomplishing the good things in life.  Goals should be revised on an ongoing 
basis as indicated.  We will feel good emotionally and increase our self-esteem after we make progress on accomplishing our goals.  C
opyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

6. Reasons for Not Committing Suicide
Many people think somewhat seriously about committing suicide at least once during their lives.  Few of them commit suicide.  Committing suicide is an abnormal behavior.  Everyone is born with a very strong will to live.  The will to live is extremely hard to shut down which happens when a person commits suicide.  When people become suicidal, it is usually because they are experiencing a high level of psychological pain combined with a high level of hopelessness.  Given this, two strategies I use to help suicidal people choose to not commit suicide include helping them decrease their psychological pain and increase their hopefulness.  Additionally, I try to help them identify their reasons for living and reasons for not committing suicide which can help them choose to not commit suicide.  A reason for not committing suicide is that relatives and friends are devastated by suicide.  When a person commits suicide, the suicide is extremely hurtful to the person's mother, father, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, and friends.  The loved ones of someone who commits suicide feel shock, depression, and grief, often feel guilty about not preventing the suicide, and sometimes feel quite angry with the person who committed suicide.  Sparing relatives and friends this terrible experience is a reason for not committing suicide.  Another reason for not committing suicide is that God does not want people to commit suicide.  God wants people to turn to God for strength in their time of need and doing this could help the suicidal person immensely.  Christianity teaches that people should find meaning in their suffering which is an argument against suicide.  For those believing in the afterlife, there is the question of how suicide would be evaluated in the afterlife.  This is another reason for not committing suicide.  Being highly suicidal is a temporary experience.  With the appropriate professional help, a suicidal person can improve to the point that he or she feels much better and is glad to be alive which are reasons for not committing suicide.  Life is a miracle.  Each of us is extremely fortunate to have been born and living provides each of us with wonderful opportunities which are reasons for not committing suicide.  Committing suicide is a negative example of how to respond to life's problems and makes it more likely that others would commit suicide including parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends.  These are reasons for not committing suicide.  I believe it makes sense for a suicidal person to try every possible good alternative to suicide before actually committing suicide.  This is because suicide is final and some good alternative to suicide could make the person happy and glad to be alive.  It would be especially tragic were the suicidal person to have the potential for finding such a good alternative but then never finding it due to committing suicide first.  One good alternative to suicide is devoting one's life to a worthy cause such as helping sick, homeless, and/or hungry children.  Once a person commits suicide his or her life is over and no one benefits from the person's actions again.  Thus, the person and everyone else loses out.  Devoting one's life to a worthy cause instead of committing suicide allows the person to turn a negative (suicidal state) into a positive (helping others) which has obvious value.  Additionally, it is quite likely that the suicidal person will find meaning in helping others and as a result will experience life as being more positive and be glad he or she did not commit suicide.  There are a multitude of reasons for not committing suicide and the challenge for the suicidal person is to find the reasons for living which will keep him or her alive.  Every suicidal person should get immediate mental health treatment to help him or her avoid the terrible tragedy of suicide.  Obviously, I support living and am against suicide.  I hope that this article will help suicidal people choose to live instead of die and will help everyone who comes into contact with a suicidal person.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

7. Healthy Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is an extremely important concept in the mental health field.  In my opinion, a person must have healthy self-esteem in order to be truly healthy and happy from the psychological point of view.  Unfortunately, many people don't have healthy self-esteem.  Self-esteem can be defined in many ways.  I define self-esteem as how much a person values himself or herself.  That is, self-esteem is how a person thinks about himself or herself.  Self-esteem affects how a person feels and behaves.  Healthy self-esteem results in positive feelings about the self and positive behavior.  A person has healthy self-esteem when he or she views the self as having intrinsic value or worth.  Additionally, a person with healthy self-esteem views everyone else as having intrinsic value or worth too.  A person with healthy self-esteem thinks "I'm okay" or "I'm a good person" and "you have value or worth as a person too."  You might ask what justifies my view that each person has intrinsic value or worth.  There are many ways to answer this question.  My justification for the view that each person has intrinsic value or worth is that I choose to define it this way.  In my opinion, this is the most adaptive or functional way to view self and others.  Furthermore, I would add that viewing self and others as having intrinsic value or worth is consistent with the teachings of Christianity, the Constitution of the United States, and the assumptions of democracy.  A person with low self-esteem thinks "I'm not okay" or "I'm a bad person."  Low self-esteem results in negative feelings (for example, depression and anxiety) and negative behavior.  In my work as a clinical psychologist, most of the people I see have low self-esteem.  A multitude of factors can cause low self-esteem.  Some of these factors include being the victim of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, thinking in negative, maladaptive, or dysfunctional ways, and behaving in negative, maladaptive, or dysfunctional ways.  Chronically abusing alcohol and/or drugs will usually cause a person to have low self-esteem.  Extremely low self-esteem can cause a person to attempt suicide.  Healthy self-esteem does not include thinking that one has more intrinsic value or worth than others.  Thinking that one has more intrinsic value or worth than others is what I refer to as pathologically high self-esteem, is unhealthy, and can cause a person to behave in an arrogant manner, treat others badly, and get into conflicts with others in addition to causing other major problems.  Thinking that one has more intrinsic value or worth than others can cause racism and physical assaultiveness.  For people with low self-esteem, the goal is for them to increase their self-esteem to a healthy level.  For people with excessively and maladaptively or dysfunctionally high self-esteem, the goal is for them to lower their self-esteem to a healthy level.  In order to intentionally change for the better in life, having the awareness that things need to be improved and exerting much effort are required.  People with low self-esteem can increase their self-esteem by increasing their perceptions of their intrinsic value or worth, lowering their expectations for themselves, developing and practicing spirituality, and engaging in a multitude of positive behaviors consistent with the view that they have intrinsic value or worth.  One of the best ways for a person with low self-esteem to increase his or her self-esteem is to help others and is a frequently recommended strategy.  People with low self-esteem usually want to increase their self-esteem but people with excessively and maladaptively or dysfunctionally high self-esteem usually don't want to lower their self-esteem to a healthy level.  If and when a person with excessively and maladaptively or dysfunctionally high self-esteem wants to lower his or her self-esteem to a healthy level then it can be done by modifying perceptions of the intrinsic value or worth of self and others, humbling oneself, developing and practicing spirituality, getting to really know less fortunate people, empathizing with less fortunate people, and helping and serving less fortunate people.  Modifying one's self-esteem is not easy.  However, the good news is that having awareness of a need for improving self-esteem, knowing the appropriate goals for self-esteem development, knowing how to improve one's self-esteem, having motivation to improve one's self-esteem, and working on improving one's self-esteem will usually enable a person to develop improved self-esteem.  Developing a healthier level of self-esteem can help a person make progress towards achieving the goals of improved psychological health and increased happiness.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.


ARTICLES ON IMPROVING RELATIONSHIPS
1. Assertiveness
A person can be passive, aggressive, or assertive.  Passivity is defined here as not taking care of oneself.  Passive people have low self-esteem and let others take advantage of them.  They tend to experience negative emotions especially anxiety and depression.  They also experience anger after they realize that others have taken advantage of them.  Many people are very passive.  Aggression is defined here as verbally and/or physically assaulting another person without justification.  Aggressive people are self-centered and have low frustration tolerance.  They tend to have low self-esteem or inflated self-esteem.  They hurt others which causes others to retaliate against them verbally and/or physically.  They are angry a lot.  Many people are aggressive on a regular basis.  Assertiveness is defined here as pursuing getting one's needs and wants met in a manner that takes the needs and wants of others into consideration.  Assertive people are aware of their needs and wants.  They have healthy self-esteem and feel good emotionally.  They tend to get their needs and 
wants met and have good interactions with others.  Others respond positively to them. Assertiveness is healthy and recommended whereas passivity and aggressiveness are unhealthy and not recommended.  Most people are generally assertive but then at times behave in passive and/or aggressive ways.  Being assertive while consistently avoiding being passive and/or aggressive is the highest level of psychological and interpersonal functioning and should be everyone's goal.  Each day provides an opportunity to work on being relatively more assertive, less passive, and less aggressive and I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity.  The benefits of experiencing improved self-esteem and positive interactions with others, feeling good emotionally, and getting one's needs and wants met will make the time spent well worth the effort.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

2. Relationship Strategies and Skills
Having good interpersonal relationships results in a multitude of positive outcomes including but not limited to experiencing increased meaning in life, feeling connected, getting emotional support, and feeling good emotionally.  It could be said that one's relationships with others is one of the most important parts of life.  Unfortunately, many people have a lot of problems in their relationships with others which results in a multitude of negative outcomes.  Thus, for a person who wants to have the best life possible, which would include every rational person, the goal should be to have the best possible relationships with others.  Healthy relationship strategies and skills can be learned and developed through practice.  It is in everyone's best interest to learn and use the most advanced relationship strategies and skills.  Most people learn relationship strategies and skills from their relatives, teachers, and friends while they are growing up and from their relatives, co-workers, and friends in adulthood.  Given the substantial benefits of positive relationships for individuals, couples, families, and society it is remarkable that there is not more emphasis put on learning and using healthy relationship strategies and skills.  Given the substantial interpersonal problems that many people have in couple relationships, families, communities, and society it is clear that many people should work more on learning and using healthy relationship strategies and skills.  Given that there is no such thing as perfection, the truth of the matter is that everyone can make progress in using more advanced relationship strategies and skills.  The benefits of learning and using more advanced relationship strategies and skills are well worth the effort for everyone.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved. 

3. Win-Win Relationships
A win-win relationship occurs when each person in a relationship has a positive experience and gets his or her needs met in the relationship.  A win-lose relationship occurs when one person gets his or her needs met in a relationship but the other 
person does not.  A lose-lose relationship occurs when both people do not have a positive experience in the relationship and do not get their needs met in the relationship.  Many relationships in the world today are either win-lose or lose-lose 
and in these interactions one or more of the people involved will not experience 
positive outcomes.  When a person wants to get the most out of life, he or she should attempt to create a win-win relationship in each of his or her interactions.  This is 
because having as many win-win relationships as possible will result in the best 
outcomes including happiness and will minimize the problems experienced due to relationship dysfunction.  It is important to note that one person attempting to 
create a win-win relationship in a given interaction does not guarantee that it will occur.  This is because it takes two people to create a win-win relationship.  If one of the people in an interaction works to prevent a win-win relationship from happening then it will not occur.  We cannot control other adults but we can control ourselves. Each person can and should take personal responsibility for working on attempting to 
create a win-win relationship in every interaction.  Doing this will increase the degree to which a person will experience the "good life."  Sometimes it is possible to 
positively influence a person who is not trying to achieve a win-win relationship in a given interaction such that the person begins to work on achieving a win-win 
relationship but this often does not occur.  C
opyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

4. Back to the Basics
In today's world, many husbands and wives are extremely busy earning a living and raising the children.  As the years pass, the partners in a marriage can eventually be living parallel but separate lives.  In such a marriage, the partners live in the same residence but don't communicate much, don't spend much time together doing 
positive couple activities, and don't feel close to each other.  They feel lonely despite being married and living with a spouse.  They doubt themselves and question their marital relationship.  This level of relating will usually eventually cause much 
conflict in a marriage.  Usually one of the partners in such a marital situation will be more upset about it than the other and often the upset partner will suggest getting into marital counseling.  In marital counseling, the underlying causes of such a marital problem are relatively easily identified.  The solution is for the partners to first 
become aware of the underlying problem, second recognize the need for more 
ongoing communication and involvement in positive couple activities, and third 
increase the amount of time spent engaging in ongoing communication and positive couple activities.  Implementing these changes requires making a commitment to change, exerting effort, and creating new habits but the benefits of implementing these changes are worthwhile in terms of greatly increasing marital and personal 
satisfaction.  C
opyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

5. Effective Listening
Effective listening is an extremely important interpersonal skill to have for developing and maintaining healthy relationships including healthy marital relationships.  Everyone wants to be listened to and this applies to the husband and wife in a marriage.  In today's extremely busy world, many husbands and wives view their spouses as consistently not listening to them and this perception is unhealthy in a marriage.  In order for listening to occur in a marriage, both partners must make themselves available for conversation and this is an area for improvement in many marriages.  Spouses should spend some time on a daily basis for some private conversation during which each spouse shares and each spouse listens.  Effective listening requires paying attention to the person doing the sharing.  The listener should look at the person sharing during the conversation including engaging in much ongoing eye contact.  Effective listening involves focusing on what the person doing the sharing is saying and thinking about what the person is saying during the conversation.  Communicating that one is listening by giving feedback about what the person has said and/or by asking questions about what has been said is part of effective listening.  When a person feels listened to, he or she will feel respected and is more likely to respond positively to the listener even if the listener does not agree with what the person doing the sharing has said.  Everyone who wants to have the best possible relationships with others including with one's spouse should strive to be an effective listener.  The benefits of effective listening, which is an ingredient for the development and maintenance of high quality interpersonal relationships including healthy marital relationships, make it worth the effort required to become an effective listener.  In summary, effective listening is an important interpersonal skill to have and use in relationships including in marriage.  In order for listening to occur, the spouses in a marriage should make themselves available for some private conversation on a daily basis.  Effective listening involves looking at the person doing the talking, paying attention to the person doing the talking, focusing on and thinking about what is being said, and communicating to the person doing the talking that active listening is occurring by giving feedback about what is being said and/or by asking questions about what is being said.  Effective listening will result in many benefits in interpersonal relationships including marriage.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

6. Speaking Up
In every love relationship, the time comes when one's partner will say or do something that the other partner perceives as being significantly offensive.  When this occurs, the partner perceiving what has been said or done to be significantly offensive has a choice.  He or she can choose to talk to his or her partner about the situation in an attempt to improve it or can choose to not talk to his or her partner about the situation and to ignore what was said or done in the hope that the behavior will never occur again.  Often the latter choice is made in love relationships because the partner who has taken offense is afraid of being rejected if he or she talks about what he or she found offensive.  Choosing to not talk about the situation is a passive choice and is a step towards becoming co-dependent.  If the choice is made to not discuss the situation, then this will make it more likely that the partner will repeat the behavior which was found to be offensive.  As the offended partner continues to not discuss the offensive behavior and as the other partner continues to engage in the offensive behavior, the more co-dependent the offended partner will become.  Co-dependence is a negative psychological condition whereby a person allows himself or herself to be repeatedly abused by another person which results in the abused person experiencing a decrease in self-esteem, experiencing an increase in depression, anxiety, and anger, and becoming more dependent on the abuser.  As the offended partner continues to not discuss the offensive behavior, the more angry the offended partner is likely to become which could result in the offended partner eventually exploding and subsequently verbally and/or physically abusing the other partner which is an aggressive and inappropriate response.  The recommended response when one's partner says or does something that one finds significantly offensive is to assertively, rationally, and calmly talk about the offensive behavior with the goal being to effectively problem solve relevant to the behavior such that both partners are satisfied with the outcome.  One possible outcome is for the offended partner to modify his or her unrealistic expectations about the behavior such that this partner no longer is offended by the words or actions.  Another possible outcome is for the partner engaging in the offensive behavior to modify his or her behavior such that he or she no longer engages in the offensive behavior.  It is possible that the person engaging in the offensive behavior will reject the partner who assertively addresses the offensive behavior and it is even possible that the partner engaging in the offensive behavior will terminate the relationship after being assertively confronted about the offensive behavior.  If one or both of these occur, then the partner who assertively addresses the offensive behavior is better off finding out sooner than later that one or both of these will occur.  If the partner engaging in the offensive behavior rejects the other partner for assertively addressing the offensive behavior, then the partner who assertively addressed the offensive behavior should evaluate the viability of the relationship.  If the partner engaging in the offensive behavior terminates the relationship after the other partner assertively addresses the offensive behavior, then it is quite possible that the partner who assertively addressed the offensive behavior is better off being out of the relationship.  Copyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

7. Aspects of Healthy Communication
Significant others in a long-term committed love relationship want to be happy in their relationship.  In order to be truly happy for the long haul in a long-term committed love relationship it is essential that the two significant others engage in healthy communication.  Unhealthy, maladaptive, dysfunctional, or negative communication is usually at least part of the cause when significant others have a problem in their love relationship.  People are not born having healthy communication skills.  Many people learn unhealthy communication methods while growing up in dysfunctional families and then use these same unhealthy communication methods with their significant others in their love relationships which damages and at times ruins their love relationships.  Healthy communication skills have to be learned and often unhealthy communication methods have to be unlearned.  In order to have healthy communication significant others need to have healthy attitudes about oneself, their significant other, their relationship, and the communication process.  Healthy communication is facilitated between significant others when each person has healthy self-esteem and views the other person as having intrinsic value or worth as a person.  It is critical for the two significant others in a long-term committed love relationship to remember that each person cannot behave in a totally independent manner and to remember that the two are interdependent on each other.  That is, it is critical for the two significant others in a long-term committed love relationship to take the other person's needs and wants into consideration and to try to make mutually satisfying decisions relevant to the important issues in the relationship.  Healthy communication between two significant others requires awareness, focus, effort, and practice.  It is important for the two significant others in a long-term committed love relationship to view their communication with each other as a way to improve their relationship and as an indication of the quality of their relationship.  Each significant other should be 
committed to communicating in positive ways in order to improve the quality of the relationship.  Each significant other should be aware that communicating in negative ways will offend the other person and that repeatedly communicating in negative ways will damage if not eventually ruin the relationship.  At one level of analysis, the goal of communication between two significant others can be viewed as solving problems.  Communication between two significant others can be viewed as an attempt to find a mutually satisfactory problem solving outcome.  If the two significant others in a long-term committed love relationship truly understand the importance of communicating with each other in healthy ways and then work hard on communicating with each other in healthy ways then it is likely that the two will improve the quality of their love relationship which will increase the probability that their relationship will last.  Co
pyright © 2012 by Stephen T. Skiffington, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

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