Chicago Center For Psychotherapy

“It is not what happens to you; it is what you do about it that makes the difference.” W. Mitchell

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Words of Wisdom About “Leftovers” From a Rock Icon

From Bruce Springsteen’s interview in Esquire about growing up with a schizophrenic father and his own agitated depression.

All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier … much heavier,” he said. “With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. … Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I’ve become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree. Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment will be in tears.”

So, consider making one of your New Year’s resolutions this year to invest in yourself by sorting your baggage 🙂


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What is Somatic Experiencing® (SE)?


Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is an exciting style of therapy now offered by the Chicago Center for Psychotherapy. Here are answers to some common questions about Somatic Experiencing® to help familiarize you with what happens in a session and, to learn what kind of clients benefit from this type of therapy. Is SE right for you? Read on!

What is Somatic Experiencing®?

“The Somatic Experiencing® method is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders” ( By teaching the nervous system to move smoothly between states of rest and activation, clients are able to experience and learn to tolerate their anxiety, depression or trauma symptoms and then return to a healthy baseline (rather than getting “stuck” in a cycle of anxiety or depression).

I thought therapy was about talking

The body often holds the answers to what type of healing we need, and using SE can help translate those signals in order to learn what is needed to heal the body. Although we certainly still talk during Somatic Experiencing sessions, SE is different from traditional talk therapy because there is an emphasis on bringing clients’ physical experiences into the room as well.

 What happens in a SE session?

SE sessions are customized to the state of the nervous system that a client comes in with. Perhaps you are familiar with the terms fight, flight, and freeze. These states show up in specific ways in the body (based on factors such as muscle tone, micro-movements of the face, eye contact, etc.).

In a session, the therapist regularly assesses which of those “states” your nervous system is in and helps you shift your nervous system from a sense of threat to a resting state. For example, if someone comes in with a lot of flight activation (restless, anxious, concerned…), sessions will center around allowing the charge of that activation to release. This will naturally allow the body to regulate itself back to a settled, baseline state.

 Even though you may only go through a few cycles of activation (fight/flight/freeze) and deactivation (coming down into a resting state) throughout a session, once the body recognizes that it can handle going from a charged state to a settled state, it will start to generalize and will be able to do that in the real world as well.

 I’ve heard you use this term “regulation,” but I’m not sure what that is. What is regulation and how will it benefit me?

I’m sure you don’t need instruction on how to get stressed out, but occasionally, we lose sight of how to actually allow ourselves to relax! Somatic Experiencing works to teach your system how to regulate itself – meaning that the nervous system can flow smoothly between appropriate states of activation and settling.

When you are in a nervous system state of regulation, you have access to feelings of curiosity, sociability, and openness. Another major benefit of accessing a state of regulation is that the physical body is able to rest on a deeper level when it needs to. This means that working towards regulation can support immune health, cell repair, and digestion.

I’ve got some trauma that I know is there, but when I “go there,” things tend to get worse…

One of the guiding principles of SE work is that practitioners “titrate” the amount of stimulation that occurs, meaning that we add a little bit of “charge” at a time. The therapist continuously checks to make sure that your system is able to handle what you are working on and making sure you stay in the range of what you can handle. Over time, you will work to grow your capacity to handle the charge in your system, but sessions do not aim to “flood” you with more than you have the resources to handle.

 Do I need to be in touch with my body to do Somatic Experiencing?

While the SE work often leads to increased connection with your body, being able to do so is by no means a prerequisite for doing the work. In fact, much of the work that occurs during a therapy session is a process of you and the therapist learning to decode your body’s unique set of signals. Most clients leave sessions feeling more in touch with their bodies and with a better understanding of how to take care of their nervous systems.

Who is SE good for?

SE is appropriate for anyone who is interested in gaining some insight into (and maybe even some control over!) their stress responses. It works particularly well with anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue. If you have a question about whether or not SE would be an appropriate fit for something you are working on, please feel free to contact Sara Moskowitz at

I’d love some more resources!

Here is a YouTube video of Peter Levine, the founder of SE, explaining some of the principles behind it. For more on the results of SE, here is a link to many peer reviewed articles on Somatic Experiencing®. If you’re interested in understanding more about each of the three states that your nervous system can be in, see below for a great resource created by Ruby Jo Walker, LCSW that explains the characteristics of each state.


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root chakra
The root chakra is responsible for feelings of survival, safety, and security. It is located at the base of the spine. The closest chakra to the earth, our root chakra creates our foundation. The root chakra is commonly associated with physical safety, but other forms of stability (such as financial security and physical health) fall under this chakra as well.

Of the seven chakras, the root chakra is the first to develop and forms during the first 12 months of life. Though it can be influenced by traumatic events that occur in adulthood, the root chakra is often most strongly influenced by formative experiences in our youth.

  • If someone is brought up in a world that is safe and secure, their root chakra learns to interpret the world as a generally safe and secure place. This generally leads to a balanced root chakra, and the person often has good health, is able to relax, and feels comfortable in their own skin.
  • If someone is brought up in a world where they are not provided a stable base (for example, if we experience abandonment, malnourishment, abuse, birth trauma or neglect), we grow up believing our world is not safe and secure. This may lead to an imbalanced root chakra.

Characteristics of Root Chakra Imbalance

Although it sounds ideal to have “too much” safety and security, an excessive root chakra occurs when the root chakra overcompensates for an early experience, lacking in safety. People with an excessive root chakra become fixated on acquiring security. They are often reluctant to change, and may feel or appear heavy and sluggish. They often have rigid boundaries and focus on routines and financial achievement in order to cultivate a sense of safety.

A deficiency in the root chakra will leave someone feeling ungrounded and fearful. People with deficient root chakras will often be anxious and withdrawn. Because the root chakra is also responsible for financial security, someone with a root chakra deficiency may find themselves with perpetual financial difficulties. They may not feel “real” or grounded in their bodies.

Balancing the Root Chakra

There are countless ways to balance the root chakra, and can be tailored to your personal preference. Take a look at the list below and see if you find two or three exercises that appeal to you:

  • Any activity involving physical movement can be restorative for the root chakra.
  • Yoga and gentle exercise can be helpful for learning how to safely inhabit the body.
  • Touch related therapy, such as massage.
  • Since earth is the element associated with the root chakra, spending time in nature can be helpful.
  • If you can’t get outside, try bringing reminders of nature into your home (I suggest making your phone background a scene that brings you peace, and making it a habit to take a couple deep breaths while opening the screen whenever you open up your phone).
  • Even playing nature sounds in the background of your home may bring you some peace.
  • If you’re interested in meditation, you can also visualize your root chakra actually growing “roots” into the earth. Imagine pulling the sensation of safety up through the roots and imagine it filling your whole body.
  • Experiment with repeating the phases “it is safe for me to be here,” or “I am supported” while feeling the sensation of your feet on the ground.
    • If you struggle to sit still, you can reflect on these phrases while drawing or writing them out.
  • Wearing the color red (the color most frequently associated with the root chakra) can serve as a reminder to tune into your root chakra and take a few moments to feel grounded.
  • Journaling or reflecting on your feelings about your physical and financial safety may give you some insight into your own relationship with your root chakra.

If you feel stuck or the task of grounding becomes overwhelming at any point, I encourage you to reach out to a trusted professional who can walk you through the process.

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Subtle Energy & The Chakra System

This blog entry will focus on the chakra system – an Eastern approach to organizing the subtle energy of the body. The concept of “subtle energy” in itself may seem foreign and abstract, and is often best explained experientially. I invite you to read this blog with curiosity and see if you can find links to where you witness energy and your chakra system in your daily life.

One way to sense your energy is by thinking about a time where something made your heart “swell” with pride or joy. The ineffable, but undoubtedly present sensation that your heart fills with is exactly the energy that this article will be discussing. The subtle energy present in our bodies can be organized into 7 main “energy centers”, called chakras.

 “Like feelings or ideas, [chakras] cannot be held like a physical object, yet they have a strong effect upon the body as they express the embodiment of spiritual energy on the physical plane… Just as the emotions can and do affect our breathing, heart rate, and metabolism, the activities in the various chakras influence our glandular processes, body shape, chronic physical ailments, thoughts, and behavior” – Anodea Judith

All seven chakras work together to receive and process the different energies that we encounter throughout our lives. Each chakra has a primary function – for example, the throat chakra is typically associated with self-expression. Every chakra also correlates with a major endocrine gland and a nerve plexus in the body. The chakras are represented through symbols, pictures, and even different sounds throughout Eastern traditions (see the image below for the placement and color for each chakra).


Why are chakras important?

You can think of attending to your chakras as a way to “check in” with different aspects of your mind and body. Ideally, energy is balanced evenly throughout all seven chakras of the body, although it is possible for energy to temporarily concentrate at specific chakras based on certain external events. An example of shifting energy between chakras is if someone is unable to feel safety in their environment. They may compensate by finding security in living in their imagination, instead. In this case, energy has shifted from the root chakra up toward the third eye chakras. When too much or too little energy is distributed at a particular chakra, the chakra is considered to be “excessive” or “deficient,” respectively. Imbalance in a particular chakra, if long-term, can lead to mental or physical disease. Oftentimes, one can find relief from these ailments by restoring balance to the affected chakras.

Can I feel my chakras?

Chances are that you’ve probably already had an awareness of at least one of your chakras. For example, have you ever felt something well up in your throat when you have tried to hold back tears? If so, you’ve experienced an excessive amount of energy in the throat chakra. Oftentimes, our bodies self-regulate and balance our chakras on their own (I would imagine that, after venting to a friend or having a good cry, your throat went back to “normal”). With dedicated attention over time, you can learn to sense your chakras more frequently and learn how to balance them intentionally.

What can I do to stay balanced?

There are many ways to work with the chakras (exercise, meditation, art, and therapy, to name a few…). The specific method used to balance your energy depends on which chakra you are working on. Each article in this series will discuss the physical and psychological components of a different chakra, and will provide balancing techniques for you to try out. I suggest experimenting with different approaches until you find what resonates with you, and of course, I welcome any questions or comments that you may have about the chakra system and its relation to psychotherapy.

Stay tuned for the following blogs:

  1. Chakra One: Root (Safety)
  2. Chakra Two: Sacral (Feeling)
  3. Chakra Three: Solar Plexus (Will)
  4. Chakra Four: Heart (Love)
  5. Chakra Five: Throat (Communication)
  6. Chakra Six: Third Eye (Awareness/Intuition)
  7. Chakra Seven: Crown (Spirituality/Connection)

Sara Moskowitz, MA, LSW
Chicago Center for Psychotherapy, LLC
180 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 605, Chicago, IL  60601
137 N. Oak Park Avenue, Suite 327, Oak Park, IL 60301
Phone: 862-812-6133
FAX: 708.848.2876

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Emotions As Signals

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. ~Author Unknown

We are under a lot of pressure to navigate and control our emotions. We are told to express our emotions fully, but also to focus on the positive. But what happens when we are feeling our emotions fully, but they are “negative”? With these mixed messages, it’s no wonder that people cover up or run away from their feelings.

The truth is, we are never going to get rid of sadness, or hurt, or anger. But we can change the way that we approach those emotions when they – inevitably – come up. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher and author, writes:

Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

There’s a basic procedure for harnessing the power of our emotions:

  1. The first step is to learn how to identify your emotions. Where and how do they live in your body? What behaviors or actions do you take when a particular emotion comes up for you?
  2. Once you have identified them, approach your emotions as an opportunity for learning. What is the message or “call to action” that they are trying to communicate to you? You can channel the emotion, which may not necessarily be pleasant, into something that brings you a sense of fulfillment. Staying present to an emotion, though certainly uncomfortable at times, is often what is needed to help it fade away.

Here are a couple of common “negative” emotions, and suggestions for how to interpret their signals, and how to use them as an opportunity for growth:

  • Anger is an uncomfortable emotion for many people – particularly because we live in a society that links anger with stories of fear and violence. Next time anger comes up for you, instead of pushing it down, try to stay present in the anger, but try interpreting the “call” that anger brings as a simple signal to you that one of your boundaries has been crossed. Perhaps someone did something that didn’t align with your values, or you overextended yourself and now are feeling resentful.
  • Often, guilt can be a signal from your body to let you know that you have not lived up to one of your own standards. According to Anodea Judith, guilt “allows us to examine our behavior before, during or after our actions.” When you notice guilt arise in your body, view it as an opportunity to identify which of your standards have been violated. You may find that you are holding yourself to an unrealistic expectation and, once you realize that, you can simply allow the guilt to fade away. You may also face the hard truth that you did make some sort of mistake, and can then take appropriate action to make amends.
  • Sadness, though uncomfortable, is often present to let us know that there is something to be learned from the outcome of a certain situation. Perhaps you have experienced a rupture in one of your relationships, or something didn’t go the way you expected. Try to identify the “dream” behind the sadness – what were you aiming for, and what is important to you? Identifying the values that are motivating your sadness can help you clarify, and eventually move in the direction of, your goals.

Remember that the process of interpreting your emotions is not always enjoyable – you may come face to face with sensations and truths that you have been avoiding. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, or are not sure what to do next, you can always consult a therapist who can help guide you through your process.

When you are willing to embrace the entire spectrum of your emotions, you will be on the path to lead a richer, fuller and more meaningful life.

Sara Moskowitz, MA, LSW
Chicago Center for Psychotherapy, LLC
180 N. Michigan Avenue, Ste 605, Chicago, IL 60601
137 N. Oak Park Avenue, Ste 400, Oak Park, IL 60301
Phone: 862.812.6133


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Forgiveness Is a Gift You Can Give Yourself

As some of you may know, the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is this week. Yom Kippur literally means “Day of Atonement,” and it is a solemn day of fasting and penitence. Almost every religion has a similar period of atonement, and I thought it would be a good time to think about not just making amends for our own offenses, but also considering forgiving others for their misdeeds, whether they have acknowledged or apologized for them, or not.

Many of us worry that offering forgiveness is a sign of weakness.

 Merriam-Webster defines weakness as the “inability to withstand attack or wounding.” But, if we are considering forgiveness, then by definition, we have already withstood wounding and pain, and rather, we are considering releasing that pain – an act of great strength and courage.

Others worry that by forgiving we are giving the offender a “free pass.”

 What do we care if we give the other a “free pass?” How does that hurt us in any way? In my mind, we are missing the point. Forgiveness is not about the other person at all, but about releasing our own pain, and liberating our hearts to feel love and connection.

Forgiveness happens inside the person doing the forgiving. It heals our pain and resentment before it does anything for the person we forgive; they might never know about it. The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes.

A friend forwarded me a beautiful piece on forgiveness that talks about this messy notion of justice – that it feels impossible to forgive someone if we know what they did to us is not right, and that it would not be fair to “let them off the hook.” This essay was written by Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman, co-founder of the Orot Center for Jewish Learning (described as a home for mindful learning and practice).

“Last week, I was in the car running errands, listening to NPR, when StoryCorps came on the air, the segment which shares a snippet of a precious conversation recorded between 2 family members or friends. This particular morning, the conversation was one with Terri Roberts, the mother of a man who, ten years ago, barricaded himself inside a one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania and opened fire, killing 5 young schoolgirls and injuring 5 others before killing himself. In the recorded interview, Terri remembers the day of the shooting when she discovered that the shooter had been her own son. But she focuses on the private funeral that they had for him. 

She says: ‘As we walked to the gravesite, we saw 30-40 Amish start coming out from the side of the graveyard. They surrounded us like a crescent. Love just emanated from them.’ In the wake of this horrific tragedy, in the days after losing their own precious children, the Amish community chose to build a story of forgiveness, reaching out towards the parents of their children’s killer with love.

I sat there in the car crying. Inspired. Moved. And honestly wondering, how does one forgive in such a situation? On the heels of such unimaginable grief, when you have just lost your child, how is it possible to reshape the contours of your heart and actively cultivate forgiveness, even in the absence of justice? 

 In my own experience, standing up on Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of Atonement, like Lent), speaking my personal wrongdoings aloud, and pledging to give more attention to these challenging areas of myself – all of that is easier than turning to another person who has wounded me deeply and offering him or her true and complete forgiveness of spirit. A forgiveness that is a real release of that past hurt.  I believe that we all have those places within that are holding pain, pain that we have come to attribute to the actions of another person. Maybe we feel like we let it go years ago, but know, in truth, that it still resides within us. We still carry it.

 Why is forgiving another so difficult? David Whyte, Irish poet and philosopher, writes: ‘Forgiveness is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws you closer to its source.’

 It is hard because if we really intend to move towards forgiving another, we must turn towards that original place of hurt. We have to summon up that moment, the experience when we felt betrayed, abandoned, disappointed, when raw harm was inflicted on us. We need to look it in the eyes and not flinch. We have to welcome that pain back into our lives and sit next to it. And when we do that, our first human inclination is often to go straight to the realm of justice. When we do not forgive, it is often because we feel wronged. Forgiveness becomes embedded in our notion of justice. We know that what was done to us was not right, and we get attached to what is right and what is wrong. They don’t deserve our forgiveness. They didn’t earn it. It was not and is not fair. Why should I forgive her? Justice is a strong but messy impulse. Forgiveness, I believe, can mean loosening our grasp on justice in order to move towards love (emphasis added).

Can you loosen your grasp on justice to move towards healing and love?

Still others argue that it is impossible to forgive because it means we must forget the wrongs that were done to us.  

 Again, this way of thinking is missing the point. Renowned couple’s therapist, Michele Weiner-Davis writes that: “Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. You will probably always remember the particular injustice(s) that drove you into your corner. But what will happen is that when you forgive, the intense emotions associated with the event(s) begin to fade. You will feel happier, lighter, more loving.” As illustrated in this classic Buddhist teaching, forgiving, whether we forget the misdeeds or not, allows us to release our own burdens.

 Two monks on a journey came to a raging river. There they saw a woman in distress. She needed to cross the river, but she was afraid she was not strong enough to fight the current. Without thought, one of the monks took her on his back and carried her across the river and put her on the dry ground. She thanked him profusely. When both monks were across and continuing on their way, the one monk berated the other: “we are not supposed to touch women – you have broken your vows”. The monk continued on and on in this fashion. The monk who had carried the woman across walked silently, but finally remarked: “I already set the woman down on the river bank, but you are still carrying her.” Forgiving does not mean forgetting, it sometimes just means putting down a burden and letting it go.

Aren’t you ready to release some of your burdens?

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, and it is a decision you make.

Couples therapist, Michele Weiner-Davis, writes that “lack of forgiveness imprisons you. It takes its toll on your physical and emotional health. It keeps you stuck in the deepest of relationship ruts.… No matter how justified you feel about your point of view regarding your partner’s insensitive behavior, you still are miserable. You can’t feel joy because you’re too busy being angry or feeling disappointed….Letting go of resentment can set you free. It can bring more love and happiness into your life. It opens the door to intimacy and connection. It makes you feel whole. Forgiving others takes strength, particularly when you feel wronged, but the fortitude required to forgive pales in comparison to the energy necessary to maintain a sizable grudge….Just keep in mind that forgiveness isn’t a feeling. It is a decision. You decide that you are going to start tomorrow with a clean slate. Even if it isn’t easy, you make the determination that the alternative is even harder, and that you are going to do what you must to begin creating a more positive future. So promise yourself, that no matter what the reason, you will not go another day blaming your partner and feeling lonely. Make peace. Make up. Make love.”

I challenge each of you to find some time, on one of these exquisitely beautiful fall weekends, to quiet your ego and your need for justice, to release some of your burdens and liberate your heart by looking for the strength and courage to take at least one step towards forgiveness and love.

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You Can Actually Live Happily Ever After

Did you know that kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a relationship?

Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages (Psychologist Ty Tashiro, The Science of Happily Ever After).  So, how can you ensure that your relationship is healthy and happy?

  1. Be a “Master, Not a Disaster” (Psychologist John Gottman)

Masters meet their partner’s needs 9 times out of 10 by responding to their emotional “bids,” while Disasters only respond 3 times out of 10. For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird. The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” (showing interest – “Hey, that’s a cool bird honey”) or “turning away” (“Hmmm” while continuing to watch TV) from her husband. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that. Action: Begin to notice/identify your partner’s emotional bids and attempt to respond to most of them.

  1. Change your Habit of Mind (Psychologist John Gottman)

In happy relationships, partners “scan” for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. In unhappy relationships, partners scan for their partners’ mistakes. Action: Begin your day with the intention of scanning for things to appreciate about your partner – make a practice of telling each other at the end of each day a few things you are grateful for in the partner that day. See my earlier blog on the PDG Couples tool.

  1. Lose the Contempt (Psychologist John Gottman)

Contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart. Stop scanning for what your partner is doing wrong and criticizing him/her. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. Action: Pause and check your words before they come out of your mouth, using the Buddhist’s Three Gates of speech: Are they true? Are they necessary? And are they kind? If they are not all 3, reconsider. See my earlier blog on using the Stop Reacting Tool.

  1. Practice Kindness.

This can mean practicing small acts of generosity, like buying each other little gifts or giving one another back rubs every now and then. But, it also means being generous about your partner’s intentions. For example, an angry wife may assume that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down. Or say a wife is running late to dinner (again), and the husband assumes that she doesn’t value him enough to show up to their date on time after he took the trouble to make a reservation and leave work early so that they could spend a romantic evening together. But it turns out that the wife was running late because she stopped by a store to pick him up a gift for their special night out. “A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even if it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.” (Psychologist Ty Tashiro). Action: See my earlier blog on Caring Behaviors.

  1. Show Genuine Interest in Your Partner’s Joys.

How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship (Psychological researcher Shelly Gable). “Active constructive” responding is associated with higher relationship quality and more intimacy between partners. For example, if your partner tells you that she was just accepted to her top choice med school, you could respond in a number of ways:

  • By just ignoring her,
  • By acknowledging her in a half-hearted way while texting – “that’s great babe,”
  • By diminishing the news: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!,”or
  • By wholeheartedly engaging in an active constructive manner: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”
  • Action: Take the time to listen to your partner and then open your heart and let the natural joy emerge.

You can read the entire article at: