How to Improve Your Social Skills

How to Improve Your Social Skills

By William Schroeder, LPC

I do a lot of work with clients who identify with difficulty with social skills. Some are on the spectrum and others are more introverted and have overactive brakes when it comes to taking risks socially. I have even had clients describe some awful social situations and bullying which made them averse to interactions outside of connecting to people online. When I see people going through this, it’s extremely rare that they are ever happy being so isolated and it clearly adds to their anxiety and depression symptoms. Studies even show that the touch of someone we care about can reduce the brain’s response to pain.

So, what do you do? You want to connect but past experience has made it feel like trying to surf in a tsunami. Using this analogy, your first step is to go to the beach (or pool) and put a toe in the water. The toe in the water tends to start by switching to a growth mindset. Each person is different but you take small steps towards overcoming the obstacles blocking your path. I had a teenage client who wanted a job and yet he was SUPER anxious about every part of getting this job. He broke it down into steps to overcome his social anxiety. First, he went and drove to the place he wanted to work and stayed in his car but observed what the place was like. The next day he drove back to the potential employer and went inside and checked out the location and what people were like – scanning for friendly elements (people smiling, etc.). A few days later he went online and checked out glassdoor reviews of what the place was like to work at and identified a job that might be comfortable for him. Then he went to the location and ordered some food and ate there. Next, he went and asked if they were hiring. Finally, he talked with a manager and filled out an application online. This process may seem slow, but slow and steady wins the race.

So, step one:

For every month of this year, I want you to pick one thing that you want to do to improve your social skills. And then (this is the hard part) think of it at least once every day (set a reminder in your phone or calendar). Take the challenge and do a small step every day. But don’t worry about all the other things you haven’t worked on in the meantime. One step at a time. I know it might feel like you can’t get there but people accomplish amazing stuff, even with incredible challenges like this blind painter who does portraits, this guy who learns to dance in a year, or this guy who has no limbs and inspires millions around the globe.

Examples (taken from Daniel Wendler):
  • This week, I want to… (Small goals. Examples: start reading social skills books, find a social mentor)
  • In the next month, I want to… (Medium goals. Examples: go to a social event, start therapy)
  • In the next year, I want to… (Big goals. Examples: Go on a date, make a new friend)
  • Social activities I would like to try are…. (what will you do first, by what date)
The hope of all of this is for you to stop limiting yourself from the daily happiness you should enjoy.

The Secret to Maintaining Sexual Desire

The Secret to Maintaining Sexual Desire

by Adam Maurer, LPC

One of the most common issues I help folks address in my work as a couple’s therapist is the secret to maintaining sexual desire in a long-term monogamous relationship. There are many challenges to this endeavor, but the biggest obstacle is dealing with myths about sex. I am here to tell all of you that great sex takes work! Often time folks are petrified that any challenge to the sexual connection means that their loving relationship is somehow “bad.” Relationship issues can impact a couple’s sex life, but it’s not necessarily that simplistic of a cause and effect. Our sexuality is an arena where many parts of ourselves meet, so it’s no wonder why understanding our erotic selves might be challenging. Sexuality in America is unusual because it’s used to sell products, from cars to instant soup, but we rarely teach folks how to explore their sexuality and then communicate about their erotic self with others. So, let’s examine some common myths about sex and ways to challenge them.

One of the biggest myths about sex is that it is a penetrative act and must include orgasm. This limited definition of sex hurts many folks and does not allow for people to appreciate the rich diversity of sexuality. What if the definition of sex was much broader? What if sex was defined within a monogamous relationship as any romantic or erotic activity you’d be uncomfortable to know your partner was doing with someone else? Then sex could include: sexting, flirting, holding hands, massages, intimate emotional connection, Hell…even a date might count as sex. Sexuality is a vast and diverse number of activities. Sex is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. When we honor all the ways there are to express our sexuality we increase the sex in our relationship. The myth of sex being merely penetrative and orgasmic creates lots of heartache for couples. When a partner asks for a sexual connection, and the other person assumes what is expected, this partner might reject the advance just because he or she does not wish to engage in the undefined act. Folks who understand what they really turn themselves on for are better able at communicating with their partner about their desires and longings. This allows people to better negotiate their sexual needs in the moment, and have more sex. A partner might not want to have penetrative sex, perhaps they had a big dinner or don’t want to have a shower, but deep kissing with mutual masturbation might be an option. When the definition of sex is expanded and communicated, sex becomes more regular in a relationship.

Another myth about sex is that when two folks simply love each other then, an erotic connection will just happen naturally until the end of time. This is absolute baloney, and I will tell you why it’s a bunk idea. People change over time! We have physical changes in our bodies, more or less sensation can increase or decrease pleasure. So, what was once an erogenous zone may cease bringing the same amount of pleasure over the years; while new hot spots may develop. Not only do our bodies change over time, but our sexual needs shift too. What sex means to twenty-year-old you might be entirely different than what it means to forty-year-old you. Partly because you’ve learned to have some of your needs or desires fulfilled in other ways. Since people change over time you have to update your partner about shifts in your sexual constellations. American culture doesn’t do a great job at teaching folks how to talk about their sexuality openly. If an essential feature of your relationship is that your partner is the only person you will connect with erotically then you’d better get good at talking about the sex you want to have, or you’re going to be disappointed. Nobody can read your mind, not even your partner of many years. You have to know your sexuality. Share it openly and often to keep your passion burning in your relationship.

The last myth I’ll address in this blog is the notion that more time together will automatically lead to more sex. The issue I have with the idea is that it assumes that merely being in proximity to each other will enhance your sex life when in reality it can hurt the erotic intimacy in a relationship. How do we desire something that we never get a chance to miss? A little space between you and your partner can increase your passion, just because sex is a way to reconnect. I think of it as a favorite piece of jewelry, you might wear it every day, and over time it’s just and a part of you; but misplace it for two weeks and the joy you experience in rediscovering it is astounding. When we give our partners some space to have a life as an individual, we fan the flames of passion for reconnection. We get to rediscover them all over again.

Maintaining sex in a long-term relationship takes work, but there are plenty of resources to help. Here are some books that I recommend to monogamous couples looking to work on their sexual connections:

“Hot Monogamy” by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson

“Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive In Committed Relationships” by Dr. David Schnarch

Talking about these issues with a sex-positive therapist can also be helpful. We have training that focuses on aiding clients in talking about sexuality and relationships. If you need some support in talking about sex in your relationship give us a call today and we can connect you with a skilled counselor. If you liked this blog, check out some of my articles on sex and relationships:

Why Sexting is Good for Relationships

Learn How to Fight Right


Activities to Promote Self-Esteem

Activities to Promote Self-Esteem

Being Wary of Wellness: Activities to Promote Self-Esteem and Healthy Living, Inside and Out

In the last decade, healthy lifestyles and wellness routines have become increasingly popular. Our perpetual inundation with celebrity fitness regiments, who’s eating what, the current essential oils that are in vogue, and kitschy tidbits that people buy into in the name of good health has only intensified in recent years.

Current attitudes about health and fitness are becoming less and less healthy because of the cultural obsession with, and subscription to, fad-based practices that are abandoned as fast as three new ones become the new craze. We’ve come to a point where we’re losing track of ourselves in the incessant journey to make ourselves better. When process eclipses purpose, it’s time to step back and really think about the balance that true meditation teaches.

In a wonderful article called Improving Ourselves to Death, there’s a poignant statement that encapsulates our modern self-improvement obsession:

In our current era of non-stop technological innovation, fuzzy wishful thinking has yielded to the hard doctrine of personal optimization. Self-help gurus need not be charlatans peddling snake oil. Many are psychologists with impressive academic pedigrees and a commitment to scientific methodologies, or tech entrepreneurs with enviable records of success in life and business. What they’re selling is metrics. It’s no longer enough to imagine our way to a better state of body or mind. We must now chart our progress, count our steps, log our sleep rhythms, tweak our diets, record our negative thoughts—then analyze the data, recalibrate, and repeat.

A literal wash, rinse, repeat cycle where we focus on eliminating the bad is a deliberately statistical focus on the negative that hardly notices what’s going well. In the same way a software update focuses on bug fixes and increasing efficiency, so do our personal wellness regiments. Rather than building self-esteem and confidence, we’re debugging our processes in hopes of being the best version of ourselves.

Let’s be clear: you’re not broken. Esteem is a level of respect or admiration for a person; in this case, that person is you. On a daily basis, self-admiration gets picked at by thousands of external forces. Sometimes the damage is noticeable, but most of the time the damage is consistently small enough that it slips past unnoticed, increasing exponentially. The consistently compounding attacks on our self-esteem break down confidence subversively, leaving us shell-shocked, anxious, nervous, and depressed.

In a world that’s a veritable avalanche of “you’re not good enough,” what can we do to silence the outside and bring peace to the inside? It’s not an easy path and it’s something that isn’t learned in 30 seconds of meditation or eating an acai bowl every day. It’s practiced contentment and it starts with you. There are some easy practices you can get into that will help break the software loop of artificial wellness and truly boost your self-esteem.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry, and Balance
One of the most toxic things about the wellness movement is projecting guilt upon things so simple as sometimes overdoing it on a night or a weekend. We’re not saying to abandon your smoothies and quit going to the gym, but remember that there must be a balance. Allow no one to make you feel guilty for enjoying life. You are going to have those nights where you do things in excess but the goal is to think about life in the broader picture of balancing yourself. Have fun but keep it in balance. Don’t let people pressure your lifestyle because it works for them. You’re not subject to anyone’s approval but your own.

Put Your Phone Down
One of the most anxiety-inducing parts of our lives we are attached to most hours of the day: phones. It’s odd enough we even call them phones anymore, because most time is spent on varying forms of social media. Between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, and any of the other platforms that push what everyone else is doing into your face, we’ve been programmed to like, follow, share, and duplicate whatever that supermodel with 2.7 million followers is doing because “omg her whole life is so perfect!”

This habitual practice is an image-based zombification that perpetuates blue screen driven drones who very rarely notice the detrimental effects of mindlessly scrolling and tapping.

Put. It. Down. Limit your phone use. There are apps that will do this for you (ironically). Delete social media or limit your time on it. Don’t sleep with your phone. Not only is the backlight making you sleep poorly, ending your day with the noise of everything else isn’t helping either. Set a time in the evening after which you no longer look at your phone until the next day. Enjoy some mindful living time.

Write It Out
Negative thoughts and low self-esteem will always be lurking. It’s naive to think that a few simple tricks will banish negativity forever. Many people try to silence those thoughts by trying a new diet, working out more, or making themselves busier to drown out the dull hum of negativity in the background. That might work for a time, but the silent times will be deafening.

Keep a journal. A physical paper journal. When the thoughts pop in, write them down and be brutally honest. Don’t sugar coat. Human beings have a tendency to make things appear better than they are (Instagram, anyone?). Have a conversation with yourself when you’re staring at those thoughts on paper and consider what has caused them. Write that down, too. Be even more honest. Over time, you’ll begin to recognize patterns of external and internal negativity and the sources they come from. This isn’t a list of things you’re doing wrong, it’s an exercise in self-honesty. A self-guided noticing of your vulnerabilities, where they might come from, and how you’ll approach them.

See a Therapist
The most positive thing you can do for your mental health is to see a professional. Too many people have a preconceived notion of brokenness associated with therapy. Break yourself of that. They’re trained to listen, learn, and recommend strategies that work to defeat seemingly overwhelming negativities that bog us down.

Part of the honesty from writing things down runs in tandem with seeing a professional therapist. Together, you’re a dynamic team. With honesty and the commitment to true inner self-improvement, we’ll get past the trap of artificial wellness. You’re never alone, so don’t isolate yourself!
There’s No Self-Esteem Summit
Self-esteem isn’t a mountain to be climbed. You’re not defeating external or internal forces against you to get to this imaginary peak where all is well. It’s a gentle, daily practice that calls for inner quiet, true honesty and the commitment to a journey that winds unpredictably through life. Sprinting headlong down that path robs you of the value in the journey and in yourself. Slow down, take time to reflect, and you’ll find yourself joyous even through the rough patches.

Photo by Jonas Verstuyft on Unsplash

Being Yourself is Enough

Being Yourself Is Enough: LGBTQ+ Edition.

By Kyla Winlow, LCSW

“Being enough” is a theme throughout Brené Brown’s books. One quote from both Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfections that always resonates with me is, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It has become a mantra for me in many areas of my life including my identity as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

I often hear people talk about their experience of feeling like they don’t fit into a community. I hear things like, “I am not feminine enough, masculine enough, gay enough,” and the list goes on. Where do these messages come from? Sometimes they come from within the LGBTQ+ community, sometimes from the outside world, and sometimes from us. I grew up feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially not in the LGBTQ+ community.  I often received feedback from people confirming that belief-they would say, “Well, you don’t look gay.” Or “But you’re pretty!” The pretty comment really ruffles my feathers but that’s a whole separate blog post. This led me to explore how I want to express myself to the outside world. Should I only wear flannels (I do love flannels) or can I still wear dresses sometimes? Should I only have short hair?

Should I have a more masculine presentation? Or maybe a more feminine one? Here’s what I have discovered and continue to discover: I am the perfect amount of queer-I am enough. And you are too. Other people’s expectations or understandings of what we should look like are exactly that-their own expectations. YOU get to choose what makes you feel like the most authentic version of yourself. You don’t have to try to fit into any box.

Here are some things that continue to help me settle into and flourish in my identity:

  • Notice. Notice what makes you feel your best. This can change day to day. This is also an opportunity to bring some mindfulness into daily activities: What are you feeling as you get ready for the day? What makes you feel that you are being true to yourself? What are the stories you are telling yourself: Are you making decisions based on what you want or what you think other people expect?
  • Accept. Accept whatever it is that makes you feel your best. This is important. If you feel like your authentic self when you are strutting your stuff in heels and a dress then give yourself permission to accept that piece of you. Again, this can be an opportunity to invite some mindfulness into the moment. One technique I use is pausing to place a hand on my chest, take a deep breath, and offering myself acceptance. “I am enough,” or “I accept this piece of me.”
  • Do It. Do what brings you joy. When you accept yourself for who you are today, in this moment, you allow yourself to be free. And remember, whatever you are doing is enough. You are enough.

If you liked this post, you might also like our post on Tips For Coming Out At Work or So Much Commotion Over Emotions.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash