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I am a psychologist who has been in private practice for over 15 years in Bryn Mawr, PA-Western Suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. I have a special interest in issues affecting women.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Letting go of life's little stressors


Letting go is hard. We can all relate to having “one of those days” filled with unexpected disappointments and stressors, like last-minute changes to our schedule, a missed appointment, conflicts with family, friends or co-workers, or a plan that didn’t work out like we had hoped. But acknowledging the anger, frustration and sadness, caused by these minor everyday disappointments and stressors is very important and necessary for letting go.  

Holding on to negative feelings for too long can wreak havoc on our relationships and overall life. Pent-up emotions can take their toll on us emotionally and physically—it contributes to anxiety and mood disorders, obsessive- compulsive disorders and substance abuse.  A number of studies have also found a correlation between chronic stress and an increased risk in cardiac disease, high-blood pressure and some cancers.  

There’s no doubt that letting go is hard since it means accepting the reality that many events in life are beyond our control. Understanding and accepting what we cannot change verses what we can change or re-negotiate in our daily life is crucial for being able to let go of the small stuff. 

Below are five tips to help you cultivate the art of letting go of life’s daily disappointments and stressors:
  • Acknowledge your feelings: No matter how minor a disappointment or stressor may seem to you, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings. Calling a friend or relative to let off some steam can quickly reduce the intensity of anger, frustration and sadness. Small stressors that go unacknowledged and unexpressed pile up and, at some point, begin to take their toll.
  • Put the disappointment into perspective: Putting some degree of emotional distance between yourself and the circumstance can help. Ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend facing this problem?” “Would the event seem minor or moderate?” Putting things into perspective helps with gaining an understanding about whether or not your emotional reaction is helpful or necessary.
  • Be patient with yourself: Acknowledging our feelings is work and can be emotionally draining, especially if it’s something new and unfamiliar to you.  Developing self-compassion takes time and patience. It’s an adaptive and necessary skill to have in order to lead a happier and healthier life.  
  • Stick with it—it will be worth it. Find ways to quickly reduce your stress and anxiety: Find a stress reduction method that works for you. Mindfulness meditation, yoga and deep breathing have all been shown to be effective stress-reducing techniques
  • Talk with a professional: Getting easily angry and harboring resentments makes living life harder than it ought to be. It’s usually a sign that a deeper issue needs to be addressed. Exploring underlying issues and learning how to talk about feelings helps can make letting go possible—and easier.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Stop the cycle of self-sabotage

If you often find that, despite good intentions, your efforts are often backfiring, you may be unknowingly using self-sabotaging tactics and engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors.
Self-sabotaging behaviors are made up of a complex set of actions and thoughts that ruin our good intentions and negatively affect our relationships, employment, health, quality of life and emotional well-being. These self-sabotaging behaviors are usually learned in childhood through example and by modeling, and it is not uncommon for these behaviors to be passed down from one generation to the next.
It’s important to understand that since self-sabotaging behaviors are initially reinforced, in the short-term they allow temporary relief from feelings of anxiety and stress by means of avoidance, but in the long-term they lead to chronic depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, poor interpersonal relationships, un-actualized life goals and stifles potential.
Examples of self-sabotaging behaviors and thoughts are:
  • Agreeing to commitments and tasks that you’d like to say no to
  • Procrastinating
  • Neglecting your physical health (e.g., a poor diet, lack of exercise, abusing alcohol)
  • Frequently lying to people in order to avoid a conflict
  • Being impulsive with actions and feelings
  • Believing and needed to always be right
  • Not finishing projects or tasks you’ve started
  • Focusing only on the negative aspects of your life or yourself
Although self-sabotaging behaviors can be difficult to let go of, it is not impossible. Instead, replace self-sabotaging behaviors with helpful, positive behaviors and thoughts.
Below are a few strategies to help you get out of the self-sabotage trap:
  • Acknowledge that you engage in self-sabotaging behaviors and thoughts. The first step in addressing any issue is to acknowledge it. Acknowledging our struggles allows us to take personal responsibility for them and makes us aware that it is within our power to make life real and lasting changes.
  • Identify when you most often use self-sabotaging tactics. Write down specific situations where you recognize you use self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. Identify the feelings you’re avoiding by using self-sabotaging tactics such as anxiety, fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or avoiding a conflict.
  • Have a plan for challenging times. Take the time to brainstorm with a trusted friend, family member or a mental health professional in order to find alternative ways of responding to future challenging situations. It’s difficult for most people to think clearly when they are feeling anxious or stressed. Being prepared with healthy tactics when facing a challenging situation improves your chances for making changes.
  • Seek professional help. Self-sabotage behaviors are complex and being able to actually change them may need the help of a professional. Together, exploring the underlying causes of one’s self-destructive behaviors can bring about the insights needed for lasting change and for leading a rewarding and enriched life.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Failure to launch: Adult children living at home and how to help them


According to the most recent US Census Bureau report, 24 million adults ages 18–34 are still living at home with their parents. This could be for a variety of reasons—economic hardship, a difficult housing market, a competitive career landscape—but, whatever the reason, the truth is clear: it’s becoming more commonplace and acceptable to call your parents roommates.
While it may be more acceptable, this trend can lead to some unhealthy behavior. For some adult children living at home, the duration of their stay can be considered emotionally unhealthy and mean they have a “failure to launch.”
This term, failure to launch, describes the phenomenon of adult children remaining highly dependent upon their parents after college and beyond. The psychological and systematic factors underlying the failure to launch are complex and multifaceted.
It’s not uncommon for young adults navigating adult responsibilities to suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and deep-seated feelings of isolation. Emotional issues often do not express themselves until late adolescence or young adulthood. Additionally, learning issues that were not detected earlier can also contribute to the underlying causes of an adult child’s struggle with functioning independently and autonomously.
But, at its core, failure to launch signifies a young adult’s struggle with his or her ability to be autonomous and to function independently from his/her parents.
Dr. Eli R. Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University recommends the following strategies for parents of adult children who find themselves in a failure to launch situation to steer their child toward autonomy and independence:

Don’t be judgmental of yourself or your dependent adult child

Too often, parents and/or their overly dependent adult children are labeled as being lazy, selfish or overly indulgent. These types of remarks and criticism only bring about deeper feelings of shame, depression, isolation and anxiety for parents and children. In actuality, failure to launch is a multi-faceted and complicated situation.

Be compassionate with your child

It’s important to recognize that your dependent adult child likely is not enjoying their lack of autonomy independence. Ultimately, it is painful for anyone to watch their peers move on with their lives by starting careers, being in mature relationships and living independently. Understand that your child is likely not happy to be living at home, either.

Decrease accommodating behaviors that enable your child’s dependence

Some parents of dependent children continue to do all their laundry, cook their meals and clean their bedrooms. These behaviors may actually enable your child’s dependency upon you. Set up small goals aimed at helping your dependent child take on more personal responsibility for themselves. For example, expect them to prepare their own dinner, keep their room clean and pay a household utility bill if possible.

Don’t keep it secret

Keeping your and your child’s living situation a secret may intensify feelings of shame and failure. At some point in our lives, we all struggle. It’s important to appreciate our difficult times, not view them as something we are ashamed of. Seek support from family and friends about your situation

Get a mental health evaluation, for issues like depression and anxiety

It’s not uncommon for mental health issues to exhibit themselves in late adolescence or young adulthood. Some learning issues are not detected during a child’s high school years because of parental involvement and teacher supervision. So, it’s not uncommon for learning issues to become more apparent in situations where there are significant academic and organizational demands and little supervision.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Five Tips For Breaking Old Habits

     Whether you want to stop biting your nails, quit smoking or even just start showing up early to events instead of late, the willingness to break ‘bad’ habits is admirable. But, as so many of us know too well, it can also be difficult.
     For most of us, the idea of changing old habits feels impossible because they often feel beyond our control. That’s because habits are formed by a set of behaviors that are repeated over and over again. Once a habit is formed—whether it is good or bad—it can be hard to break because the behaviors that we repeat the most are ingrained into our neural pathways. Deeply ingrained behaviors (habits) are formed early in our life and are influenced by our early childhood experiences and environments.
     But the good news is that—with repetition, practice, focus and commitment—new habits can be formed and maintained.
     To form these new habits, you first need an understanding and awareness of the habit you want to break. This allows us to make lasting change, and can lead to insights about what emotional impact our habits have on ourselves and others, as well as in what environments we are most likely to practice these habits.
     Once you have an understanding and awareness of these factors, here are some other tips to help you break old habits and develop new ones:

Start small

Habits are complex behaviors and require complex solutions, so focus on changing them one at a time.
For example, rather than saying, “Starting tomorrow, I’ll start exercising every day,” say “I’ll go to an exercise class on Wednesday.”
As you find success with each small goal, gradually increase them in an effort to meet your ultimate goal.

Seek to understand your habit

People want to change habits that are damaging—either emotionally or physically—to themselves or others. But these patterns persist, in part, because harmful behavior is rewarded in some way.
For example, procrastinating—in the short term—wards off the anxiety related to a task that requires your attention. Our brain immediately processes that reward of not feeling anxious. In order to break this habit, it requires the individual to develop the capacity to tolerate feeling a manageable amount of anxiety in order to learn that procrastinating actually causes a greater degree of anxiety in the long term.

Examine the context of your habit

Identify the situational and emotional triggers associated with the habit you want to change. This will help you with understanding the goal of your habit.
For example, many habits are formed as a means of coping with anxiety, anger or even boredom. Once you’re able to accurately identify the emotional needs the habit is trying to satisfy, you can then work on developing ways to satisfy your emotional needs with adaptive and healthy behaviors.

Regression is normal

It’s common to return to our old habits even when we’re working hard to change them. Learn to be compassionate with yourself when you make a mistake.

Seek professional help

Change is hard, especially when you’re working to change behaviors that have been a part of you for a long time.
Getting assistance from a professional can help with gaining a deeper understanding of the behavior you want to change and why the behavior originally developed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Put self-love first this February

February is a month to celebrate one of our most treasured relationships: our romantic one. Most psychologists will agree that being loved and being able to love is crucial to our happiness. A famous quote by Sigmund Freud states: “Love and work…work and love. That’s all there is.”
But for many, the finding love causes a great deal of frustration and unhappiness. And what about self-love and its significance to our happiness?  Whether you’re single, happily in a relationship, or in a complicated one, it’s a loving relationship with ourselves that sets the foundation for all of our other relationships and is the secret to having fulfilling ones, too.

What is self-love?

Self-love is not the same as being narcissistic or selfish. Rather, it means having a positive regard for your own well-being and happiness. When we adopt an attitude of self-love we have higher levels of self-esteem, we’re less critical and harsh with ourselves when we make mistakes, and we’re able to celebrate our positive qualities and accept our negative ones.  In addition, a major benefit to learning to loving ourselves is that we are more likely to have fulfilling and healthy intimate relationships.
During the month of February, and on Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to celebrate loving yourself. Below are a few suggestions for making February the month for cultivating self-love:
  • Learn to be compassionate with yourself.  For many, it’s more natural to be compassionate towards friends and family than it is towards ourselves. Work on eliminating critical and harsh self-talk. Imagining what you would say to a friend in the same situation should help with developing skills for positive self-talk.
  • Enjoy time alone. Whether it be taking a walk in the park, going out for a nice meal, or seeing a great movie, learning to enjoy your own company and doing activities you enjoy when you're alone is crucial for cultivating self-love.
  • Make a list of the characteristics you like about yourself. Too often, we get caught up with only thinking about what it is we don’t like about ourselves and what we wish we could change. For most of us, recognizing and appreciating our positive qualities takes effort and practice. Set aside time to read this list daily.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. No matter how big or small our successes or accomplishments are, it’s important to feel worthy of celebrating them. Celebrating our accomplishments reinforces our acknowledgement and integration of our positive qualities.
  • Allow yourself to ask for help when needed. We all need help when life gets challenging and when we feel overwhelmed. Most of life’s challenges can’t be tackled alone. Allowing yourself to seek help from a trusted friend or professional reflects self-love. Asking for help is an important way to take care of ourselves.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples, and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Pause before posting: The benefits of not oversharing on social media

For most of us, social media is the main means of communicating with friends and family. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that eight in ten Americans have a Facebook profile and, of these users, 32 percent have an Instagram account and 24 percent have a Twitter account.
These numbers show no sign of slowing down; in fact, they indicate a five percent growth from the previous year. We’re now more likely to hear news about our friends’ and families’ lives online than we are in-person.
Minding our virtual relationships and crafting our online personas and reputation is a relatively new way to interact with others we know and those we don’t. What is considered to be socially appropriate behavior for our online relationships really is no different than it is for our real life ones.
Paying attention to the ways in which we interact online, what we share, and the quality of our virtual relationships is important, as they have a real impact on our lives and mental health.
Sharing the ups and downs of our lives with close friends and family is the glue that binds our relationships and what makes them strong. It is equally important to navigate our online relationships with the same level of care with which we navigate our real life relationships—perhaps to an even greater level, as social media lacks a personal connection. Says Paul Booth, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago: “Our interactions on social media tend to be weak ties—that is we don’t feel personally connected to the people on the other end of our communication as we do when face-to-face.”
This is important to keep in mind when we have the drive to post intimate or sensitive information about ourselves or lives. In the end, our relationships are meant to make us feel good and cultivating healthy relationships both in real life and online are important.
Below are some tips for navigating online posting and communication.

Don’t post when you’re feeling emotional

At one time or another, we have all said and done things in anger that we later regretted and wished we could take back. These things are harder to take back when they are published online. When we’re in the heat of the moment, going rogue on social media usually isn’t the best idea. We’ve all seen conflicts play out on social media and the result is rarely a resolution. Instead, it is hurtful and insulting comments and rhetoric that ultimately leaves one feeling hurt, defensive and misunderstood.
Instead of quickly responding to a friend’s comment you take issue with, consciously take a break from social media in order to give yourself the proper time and space to process your feelings and collect your thoughts before posting a response.

Use private messaging to resolve conflicts

If you feel you need to speak up or respond to a friend’s post you take offense to, engage in a phone call or in-person conversation before taking your grievance public.
Directly sorting out conflicts is the best approach. Reducing your discussion to just those involved in the original conflict reduces the chances of pulling others into the mix which can make matter worse.

Prepare yourself for negative responses

Before engaging in a public discourse, ask yourself: “Am I prepared to receive a barrage of negative responses?” If you think negative feedback and comments will make you feel upset or angry, hold off on posting. Instead, consider calling or texting a friend to talk through your feelings.

Protect your privacy

It’s important to keep in mind that our social networks—and the comments that we make on them—are easier to find than ever.
It’s become a common practice for employers or universities to search a prospective applicant’s or student’s social media profiles and, in these cases, it’s not just our relationships that suffer from oversharing but our opportunities, too. Make it a habit to only share private and sensitive information face-to-face or by phone.

Be aware of social media overload and Internet addiction

Compulsive Internet use is defined by excessive Internet use resulting in difficulty maintaining daily responsibilities or normal daily function. Although this is not an officially recognized disorder, internet overuse and its effects on our emotional well-being is being widely researched.
Some of the symptoms associated with compulsive Internet use include poor concentration, emotional detachment and shutdown, and withdrawal symptoms similar to that of substance use withdrawal have been reported. Being aware of the potentially negative consequences of too much time spent online is an important part of cultivating a healthy balance between our online relationships and real life ones.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Let’s be honest: we’ve all done things that we’re ashamed of. Shame is a universal human emotion. Social psychologists say that a healthy dose of shame, when rightfully felt, is crucial to our survival. It keeps us on track for behaving in “socially appropriate” ways so we maintain our relationships and repair them when necessary.
However, chronic and unnecessary feelings of self-directed shame can be exhausting and paralyzing. Shame of this kind is typically rooted in deep-seated feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and defectiveness and the degree to which these shameful feelings are felt usually do not match the reality of the situation that caused them in the first place.
It’s important to know the difference between feelings of shame and feelings of guilt. Guilt reflects emotions related to doing something wrong or bad, whereas shame reflects feeling fundamentally bad about yourself regardless of the situation or circumstance. Those struggling with deep-seated feelings of shame tend to withdrawal and hide from the world, only to be left feeling even lonelier and rejected.
Overcoming shame and rebuilding self-esteem and self-love takes time and patience—but it can be done. Below are a few strategies that could help get you started.

Practice self-compassion

We are more likely to be critical of ourselves when we feel shame, but harsh self-talk only intensifies our shameful feelings and is in no way helpful. Practicing self-compassion is a good way to stop shameful feelings from spiraling out of control. Practice self-compassion daily by treating yourself as you would a friend, with a focus on developing an inner dialogue that is kind, caring, and loving.

Avoid situations and people that trigger feelings of shame

Work on being able to identify situations in which you feel shame and, when possible, avoid them. There may be people in our lives that we notice reinforce or trigger our feelings of shame. When this happens it is usually a warning sign of a dysfunctional relationship. Seeking marital or family counseling should be helpful with addressing dysfunctional dynamics and teaching new ways of relating that foster love, respect and compassion.

Avoid heaping on unnecessary layers of shame

We all experience feelings of shame. After all, we’re only human. Give yourself the permission to feel shame when you feel it. Avoid heaping more amounts of hurt and shame onto yourself by being harsh and self-critical about your feelings in the first place. When we accept our feeling we stop fighting against them and therefore giving ourselves the emotional space to begin the work of understanding and addressing the underlying causes of our shame.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital and Lankenau Medical Center.