Mirela Bitkowski

Lonely? Tired of Trying to Find Love? – Individual Relationship Counseling Can Help

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

If you’re like many people, you may have assumed that relationship counseling is reserved only for those already in a relationship. Although relationship counseling is typically focused on couples, it is beneficial for single people, as well!

You have a unique history of romantic relationships; perhaps you have a list of simmered out flames, ghosting stories, or even a romantic void.

No matter your situation, individual relationship counseling can help uncover some of the layers and wrinkles that may be preventing you from finding love.

Here’s the scoop on how individual relationship counseling may be helpful for you.

What Is Individual Relationship Counseling?

Individual relationship counseling tackles the concept of relationships using a two-fold approach. In addition to examining how you relate to others, this method also looks at the relationship you have with yourself.

The relationship you have with yourself tends to set the standard for your other relationships. In short, it’s ultra-important! Individual relationship counseling gives your self-identity, self-compassion, and self-esteem plenty of time on center stage.

Individual relationship counseling helps to map toxic patterns and identify old wounds, rooting back as deep as childhood. Plus, this type of counseling promotes a deeper understanding of human interactions and why you do the things you do in relationships.

How Can Individual Relationship Counseling Help You Find Love?

Counseling has the potential to uncover a lot of mystery in your relationship patterns and habits. It may even answer lifelong questions to help you find solutions to your relationship hold-ups.

Encourages Self-Love

Counseling helps promote a deep love and respect for yourself. The more you learn about yourself, the more you acknowledge and embrace your core values. As a result, you begin to develop an authentic love for who you are.

Respecting and valuing yourself is an unrivaled healer and can do wonders for your other relationships, too.

Examines Relationship Patterns

Individual relationship counseling takes a magnifying glass to your relationships, not just romantic interests and previous partners, but with other important people in your life, as well. Rather than pointing out what you’ve done wrong or how you’ve failed, it simply identifies patterns.

People can unknowingly sabotage their romantic relationships because of painful inner wounds that are getting in the way. These wounds can be difficult to spot and nurture back to health on your own.

Talking to trusted friends or family members, or an experienced counselor, can help you spot areas in your life that need to recover from past hurts. This type of inner healing supports vulnerability in your life, which is a fundamental characteristic of healthy romantic relationships.

Establishes Good Relational Habits

As well as identifying patterns in relationships, individual relationship counseling helps to establish good relational habits in your life. These positive habits trickle down throughout your entire life, impacting all your relationships.

Relational habits may include communication skills, intimacy rituals, goal-setting, self-expression, fighting fairly, etc. When you display these valued traits, you begin to attract the right kind of people to you.

When Should You Seek Individual Relationship Counseling?

Many people believe that counseling is only beneficial when things in an existing relationship are bad—rock bottom kind of bad. However, there is no reason to wait for that! Take control of how you want to be in a relationship that’s healthy for you.

It may be that you have trouble attracting the right kind of partner. Perhaps, you don’t know what you truly want in a potential mate. It could be that someone really hurt you in the past and you are having trouble moving forward.

The reasons are endless for feeling unhappy with your current relationship status. The good news is that you don’t have to remain lonely or unhappy. Be proactive! Read books and articles on good relationships, notice couples whose relationships you admire and ask them how they make it work, or seek the help of a relationship counselor who can walk with you in your journey of self-discovery.

By exploring topics such as what a healthy relationship is, and learning more about what you want in a relationship, you are setting your heart and mind on the right course to find love.



Are you ready to find more satisfaction and happiness in your relationships? If the answer is yes, Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern can help. To schedule an appointment with Mirela, give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.



EMDR: When It Works Well and What It's Like

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

More than three decades ago, therapist and researcher Dr. Francine Shapiro, developed a type of trauma therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.  The therapy was born from an observation she made walking in a park one day. Shapiro noticed that moving her eyes appeared to decrease negative emotions associated with certain bad memories.

She combined other therapeutic components with eye movement and developed the researched and validated therapeutic protocol that is used today. EMDR therapy is a useful treatment for the after-effects of trauma and other negative life experiences.

 When EMDR Works Well

EMDR works well when your brain finds an experience (or set of experiences) too overwhelming and interferes with or limits your ability to function in, and enjoy, your daily life.

Do you avoid, ignore, or harmfully cope with a past event or interaction? EMDR can help you reset how you accept and deal with the associated recollections and feelings.

The key idea behind this type of therapy is that our brains work optimally via an “adaptive information processing system,” much like that of computer mainframe or network. In this way, our memories, visual perceptions, emotions, and sensations are linked together.

In essence, our mental “computers” help us adapt during trying circumstances. It gets us through bad experiences by making a connection to our stored information that explains the situation and soothes our upset. Unfortunately, a traumatic occurrence can short-circuit that mental ability. Trauma is often a “processor virus” that crashes our brain’s adaptive operations.

EMDR essentially debugs that internal processing system.

What EMDR is Like

The key to EMDR treatment working well is rooted in a procedure called “bi-lateral stimulation.”

For instance, a therapist might move their hand or an object from side-to-side in front of you, instructing you to follow it with your eyes. At the same time, targeting a disturbing memory or trigger. Bilateral eye movements (or other external stimuli like taps or tones) help integrate, reprocess the way your brain has processed the experience.

EMDR has been proven to create new associations, allowing you to access the memories in a more adaptive way. You can remember, learn, and grow from the experiences without feeling emotionally wounded or held back by them.

In addition, EMDR has proven itself to be a more desirable and effective mode of therapy for the following reasons too:

  • EMDR treatment approaches anxiety differently. Rather than trying to overcome trauma exposure or trigger desensitization, EMDR ‘re-wires’ how your brain perceives the past as opposed to numbing you to triggers.

  • EMDR is a “less talk, more action” approach. Sometimes continually talking about a negative experience is problematic. Other therapy methods may feel overwhelming or hinder the pace of treatment. EMDR addresses memories in a more specific manner.

  • EMDR generally consumes less time. Some therapies which require group work or homework. EMDR is an in-session approach. Aside from a possible journal (to personally record progress), very little is required on your own.

Who to Seek for EMDR Treatment?

Only trained mental health professionals provide EMDR therapy. A trained EMDR therapist has undertaken at a minimum, basic EMDR training and consultation. Many EMDR trained therapists continue their training by attending advanced classes addressing the use of EMDR in specific cases, such as anxiety, substance abuse, migraine headaches, PTSD, complex trauma, and dissociative disorders, to name only a few. Therapists can also become certified EMDR providers by meeting required benchmarks of case consultations and supervision.

Are you are suffering from persistent negative emotions? Does discomfort related to a difficult past event, relationship, or trauma in your past get in your way often?

EMDR may be worth investigating.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Mirela is trained in EMDR therapy and can use it to help you work through complex trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and beyond. If you are curious if EMDR therapy is right for you, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.


6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority This Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Resolution #1: “Make Your Relationships A Priority”

From New Year’s Eve forward, we tend to jump into a myriad of resolutions and goal setting activities that fuel to-do lists, which may grow exponentially throughout the year. Resolutions focused on relationships, sadly, tend to get the least amount of attention.

Where do your relationships factor in your list of priorities? After the gifting and gathering of the holidays, do you find they get pushed further and further down the line? How many times have you felt guilty, stressed, or dissatisfied by the diminishing quality of your relationships as time goes by?

If you don’t have a solid plan to guide you to make your relationships a priority, you may end up giving the least attention to those you care for the most. You can avoid taking those you love for granted by checking in routinely, keeping communication flowing, and scheduling time together.

How do we do all that and reverse the inclination to put relationships on the back burner? Let’s see:

Try these 6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority Year Round

1. Keep Communication Curious, Central, and Commit to it Daily

No relationship grows if interest and meaningful discussion stagnate. Healthy communication honors and facilitates deeper connections.

The people you care about need to hear from you, sense your interest, and believe that you are eager to know what they think and feel on a regular basis. They want to know that you are interested in what’s going on in their world. When they are sure they belong to your tribe, they are more likely to engage routinely and reciprocate your interest. In time, your relationships will naturally flourish.

2. Cut Down on Digital Distractions

There are so many conveniences and technologies pulling us away from each other. Despite their promises to provide time for the important things in life, social media, emails, and gaming often get in the way of our real-life connections.

Though it’s easy to think we’re connecting, we’re just distracting ourselves from the more personal investment of face-to-face relationships. Why not power down completely or use your phone to plan a real-world meet-up?

3. Pursue Passion & Develop Deeper Intimacy

As it pertains to your romantic partner, it’s vital that you pay special attention to waning affection and any sign of “roommate syndrome.” Use your new year calendar to schedule time together, plan vacations, and block out special celebrations.

Talk to your partner, allow them to share their ideas of intimacy. You may be surprised at what makes them feel closest to you.

4. Make Gathering and Goodwill a Year-round Activity

Simply put, this is a call to get together! Resist the automatic claim that you don’t have time to gather with friends or loved ones. Plan simple gatherings both at your home and away:

  • Welcome people in for your brand of hospitality when they least expect it. It doesn’t matter if it is a four-course meal or game nights with chips and dip.

  • Suggest dining out at a favorite deli, museum outings, nature hikes, or field trips to local tourist traps. Just make the invitation and follow through.

Experiencing life with people helps relationships grow and produces more memories and opportunities to know each other in various ways.

5. Don’t Forget the “Little” Things

There really are no small gestures in a relationship--especially your most cherished relationships. The daily ritual of “I love you” and a forehead kiss is gold to a spouse. A silly card in your child’s lunchbox communicates support and belonging. A photo sent to your great aunt via snail mail says you cared enough to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Grand gestures and gifts are wonderful, but thoughtful attempts to stay connected often mean much more.

The take away here? Do your best to listen, to stay on top of birthdays, and to take note of special needs or life changes.  List favorite things and possible gift ideas for loved ones throughout the year. Soon, your mindful, considerate actions will draw others closer and deepen your bonds.

6. Appreciate and Celebrate

Most of all, attempting to make your relationships a priority means understanding how much they enrich your life. If certain individuals in your life are high priority people, they deserve to know it and feel it. Show appreciation as often as you can. Celebrate who they are and your relationship with them. You owe it to yourself to feel the joy of sharing your appreciation and receiving their gratitude in return.

What’s Next?

Why not start the new year with the intention to continue to build and maintain your important relationships, and to begin improving your relationships with family and friends you may have neglected?

Prioritizing relationships may then seem less like something you have to resolve to do every new year and more like a natural, evolving part of your daily life.

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If you’re ready to make your relationships a priority and move toward increasing closeness and connections in your life, I would like to help.  Please contact me at (512) 270-4883 ext. 103 or request an appointment with me on the RCC Austin Scheduling page so we can discuss how to cooperatively achieve your relationship goals as quickly and effectively as possible. I look forward to hearing from you.

Which Love Language is Your Partner's? Why It Matters That You Master It

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

According to author, Gary Chapman, there are five love languages for couples; five primary ways individuals demonstrate their love for one another.

Although his theory isn’t based on scientific research, it is backed by more than 30 years of anecdotal evidence from Chapman’s experience as a marriage and couples counselor.

Chapman identifies the following love languages:

1.       Receiving Gifts

2.       Quality Time

3.       Words of Affirmation

4.       Physical Touch

5.       Acts of Service

In Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, he outlines ways to decipher the individual language both you and your partner speak. Believing that these languages are embedded within each person at a young age, he’s confident they hold the key to developing healthy relationships.

What does this all mean for you? How can you tell which love language your partner speaks? What is your own love language? Furthermore, why is it important?

How to Identify Your Partner’s Love Language

Learning another ‘language’ is one thing but identifying the language and understanding it is completely different. Here are some tips on how to home in on the love languages you and your partner speak.

Look for Excitement

Observe your partner in everyday activities. Is there something that really makes them smile? Do they get excited over a certain behavior or action of another person? Can you tell when something is genuinely meaningful to them?

For example, one partner got as exuberant as a child every time their partner brought home fresh donuts on Saturday mornings. Or, consider the partner who consistently let out a sigh of relief and relaxed as the couple held hands.

These tiny moments are clues into which love language your partner speaks. Take these moments and connect the dots back to the love language.

Pinpoint What Upsets Them

As you observe what is meaningful to your partner, remember to look at the negative responses, as well.

Take note of the behavior and situations that upset them. Listen for a theme in their complaining or frustrating moments.

For example, one partner was easily upset when a device would interrupt the conversation. In this case, it may be worth considering Quality Time as their love language.

Why Your Partner’s Love Language Matters

More than simply “getting along,” here are two important reasons to learn which love language your partner speaks.

Establishes Guidelines in the Relationship

Relationships work better with guidelines to clarify each partner’s needs and personal boundaries.

Without guidelines, you and your partner have no map to give you direction on how to show your love in a way that has meaning to the other. It’s a situation where neither of you know how to show the other love.

Furthermore, no matter how hard you try to express your love, your partner may not even understand what you’re trying to do. They may even misinterpret your action as having some other motive.

These types of misunderstandings could easily cause rifts in your relationship.

Keep Their “Emotional Tank” Full

According to Chapman, the most vital reason for learning which love language your partner speaks is to avoid their emotional gas tank becoming empty.

Close relationships and even casual human interactions—at the office, in the home, in line at the store, etc.—they all require a certain amount of emotional energy. When a person gives and gives without having their emotional gas tank replenished, burnout can happen.

Think of a vehicle sputtering to the side of the road, all out of fuel.

As a couple, you each have the responsibility of keeping not only your own tank full, but also your partner’s.

Another way to think of this concept is as if you’re making deposits into what John Gottman calls an emotional bank account. When the account is kept full, your partner is at maximum emotional strength.

Nurturing a relationship can be tricky. Furthermore, it’s no small feat to pinpoint which love language makes sense to your partner, and then speak it! However, with attunement and intention, you can definitely learn.



Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern is a couples therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you’d like help in strengthening the connection between you and your partner, and learn more about “love languages” in your relationship, please contact Mirela by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.


Top 10 Self-Care Tips to Take You Into the New Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

As the new year begins, many people start thinking about New Year’s goals and resolutions, or how they can better themselves in the months ahead.

Focusing on taking better care of yourself can make it easier to complete the other goals that are important to you.

Follow these 10 self-care tips as you enter the new year, and you’ll undoubtedly see how much easier it will be to keep up with your plans and goals for the new year and feel great while doing it.

1. Find a Support System

Everyone needs a strong support system in life, no matter what they’re going through. Whether this year has been rough for you, or you just need a group of people you can depend on when you’re feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to reach out for support when needed. You don’t have to go through anything alone!

2. Be Physically Active

You don’t need to have a weight loss resolution to have a reason to hit the gym. Being physically active can help with so many different things—strength, mood, and confidence, to name a few!

Keep in mind that being physically active doesn’t necessarily mean getting a gym membership. Do something that you enjoy to make sure you’ll stick with it. It could be something as simple as an evening walk or joining a dance class. Get moving, and you’ll feel more energized.

3. Be More Compassionate

Being more compassionate toward yourself and others is a great character trait that will not only help you to feel better but will easily rub off on others, too.

When you show compassion and empathy, even when it’s difficult to do so, you’ll feel satisfied and fulfilled.

4. Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is inevitable in today’s world, but it shouldn’t completely take over your life. Too much stress can lead to things like anxiety and depression.

While you may not be able to eliminate stress from your life completely, think about which self-care tips you can implement to reduce your stress levels. Deep breathing exercises and meditation are great options that can help to combat stress each day.

5. Get More Sleep

An important part of self-care is getting more sleep. As a society in general, most of us aren’t getting the sleep we need. 

Getting adequate, restful sleep each night will help to give you energy, ease anxiety, reduce stress, and keep you healthier. Do whatever you can to create a calm, relaxing sleep space for yourself, and commit to going to bed 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you typically do.

6. Strengthen Relationships – In Person!

Social media is great for keeping in touch with people and staying connected to friends and family you may not get to see as frequently as you would like.

Even so, strive to strengthen your in-person relationships in the new year. Talking to someone face- to-face will make you feel less isolated, and you might be surprised at how different that person’s life looks (and how your own life looks) when it’s not filtered through a Facebook or Instagram post.

7. Put Down Your Phone

Speaking of more real-world interaction, try to ditch technology more often. Smartphones can be great resources for many things, but they’re also extremely distracting.

By staying off your phone at work, you can be more productive during the day. By putting it away at home, you can focus your attention on your spouse, your children, and even yourself. The less you’re on your phone, the more you can be in the present moment, which can help to reduce stress.

8. Let Go of Negativity

It isn’t always easy to let go of things – especially things that have been holding us down. However, letting go of the negative things in your life, or things you can’t control, will allow you to feel a sense of peace and freedom.

Whether it’s certain people, a specific situation, or something else that’s out of your control, it’s important to put it behind you in the coming year. By prioritizing self-care tips that help you do that, you’ll likely notice your negativity and stress levels go down.

9. Speak Positively To Yourself

A big part of self-care is positive self-talk. You might think it sounds silly at first but think about the things you tell yourself daily. Chances are, you “talk” to yourself more than you realize.

Unfortunately, many people only focus on the negative things they tell themselves. Maybe you tell yourself you’re not good enough, smart enough, etc. Try to turn that negative self-talk into something positive. By speaking positivity into your life, you can build your confidence and self-esteem. Soon, that will carry over into other areas of your life.

10. Take Time to Reflect

It may not always feel like it, but you’re constantly growing and learning. Now that the last year has come to an end and you’re entering a new 12-month period, think about everything you’ve experienced and what you’ve learned. Think about how much you’ve grown from this point last year.

You can take those reflections with you into the new year, acknowledging areas where you can continue to grow, and accepting the fact that you’re getting stronger all the time.

The more you choose to value yourself and practice these self-care tips, the better this year (and many years to come) can be.



Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Mirela works with both couples and individuals to overcome challenging moments and move toward a purposeful and fulfilling path. For help creating more positive changes in your life, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

3 Key Reasons Healthy Communication Builds Stronger Families


By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Communication is key.

We’ve all heard this phrase more than a few times regarding relationships with our significant others, but it’s important to remember that communication can help strengthen our families as well.

We don’t always give communication the credit it deserves, but it only makes sense that communicating the right way can lessen conflict and strengthen bonds in any relationship, including your relationship with your spouse, your parents, and even your kids.

If you’re still wondering why healthy communication is so crucial for a strong, stable family, here are three powerful reasons.

1. Promotes Calm Conversations

If someone in your family has difficulty expressing themselves, it can lead to a lot of turmoil. Emotions run high quickly, and when not properly expressed, can cause a lot of frustration, arguments, and tension within your family. This is especially problematic when it comes to kids because it can cause them to act out in several negative ways.

Healthy communication involves listening – really listening.

When someone (especially a child) knows you’re actively listening to them, they’re more likely to calm down. That makes it easier for them to express themselves in a relaxed and more detailed manner.

If something is bothering them, it will be much easier for you to get to the root of the issue when they feel calm and comfortable with your keen listening habits.

Starting this practice when your kids are very young can help them develop healthy communication habits of their own as they grow. Not only does that allow you to get to the source of stressful issues faster, but it promotes calm communication in the future. If someone in your family knows you’ve taken the time to listen to them and appreciate what they have to say, they’ll likely do the same for you when you have something important to share.

2. Builds Trust

When you communicate effectively with your family, you’re actively working on building trust.

It’s so easy for trust to be broken, especially when it comes to children. Making an effort to practice healthy communication habits will encourage your kids to trust you. As a result, they’ll be more likely to come to you when something is on their mind.

As your children age, the practices you taught them when they were young can make a huge difference in how they handle things and the choices they make in their lives going forward.

Don’t just save your strong communication skills for your kids though, because communicating also builds trust in your relationship with your partner!

You and your partner should be on the same page when it comes to each other’s communication styles. You should also agree on how you communicate with your kids to appear as cohesive parenting team.When you both understand how important healthy communication really is, you can put more effort into strengthening your family unit.

3. You Become a Role Model

When you do encourage healthy communication within your family, you’re setting an example for everyone else. Of course this includes your kids, but it also encourages your partner and even members of your extended family to do the same.

Talking to your family about how to practice healthier communication habits is a great place to start, but you’ll get more out of it by also practicing these habits yourself.

In fact, you might be surprised at just how quickly your actions and the way you interact with your family start to rub off on others.

It’s not always easy to effectively communicate. It takes effort and practice to make it a habit. But, if you’re willing to put in the work and encourage your family to do the same, you’ll find that your family will stay stronger than ever.

That can make a huge difference in times of chaos and stress. 



Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on communication, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Don't Agree? Can't Relate? How You Can Gain More Empathy For Others

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Are you having trouble relating to others? Understanding your partner and other loved ones? Communicating with your coworkers? Have you started to wonder whether you might be the common denominator in your relationship misunderstandings?

Every relationship comes with its unique set of challenges but relating to others shouldn’t feel foreign. Cultivating more empathy will enhance your relationships and encourage you to forge strong connections with other people. Use the following tools to increase your empathy levels and build successful relationships.

Immerse yourself in fiction

Immersing yourself in fictional stories can be incredibly beneficial in cultivating more empathy. Reading books and watching television shows or movies allow us to explore the lives of others. When we embark on these fictional journeys, we form attachments to characters, begin to see the world through their eyes, and walk a while in their shoes. Engaging in the fictional lives of characters is almost like practicing for “the real thing” – the more you cultivate your imagination, the more you cultivate your ability to empathize.

Practice active listening

Do you find yourself listening just to solve an immediate problem? Does partner accuse you of constantly interrupting or cutting them off? Do you hear this from your friends and family, too? This might be because you don’t give them the opportunity to fully express themselves.

When we don’t truly listen to another person, it’s impossible to empathize with them. Next time you find yourself in an argument or discussion with a loved one, practice listening without interruption. To gain full comprehension, repeat back to them what you understand about their wants and needs. You can resolve conflict more efficiently and build stronger connections when you listen for understanding.

Don’t shy away from curiosity  

Don’t be scared to ask questions when you meet new people, or to obtain a deeper understanding of someone you already feel close to. The more you inquire about the people you meet, the more easily you’ll see things from a variety of perspectives. Being curious decreases judgment while increasing empathy.

Step outside of your comfort zone

The more places you visit, the more people you’ll meet. The more questions you ask, the more expansive your worldview will be. Try stepping outside of your comfort zone and helping people you wouldn’t normally find yourself interacting with.

Instead of living inside of your own bubble, step into a new environment and devote your energy to another person. Remember that, ultimately, we all carry biases, and that it’s important to question them. Challenge these biases to empathize more with one another.

Empathy takes practice, and while some of us carry this trait more naturally than others, we can all benefit from cultivating it.  

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on developing empathy, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Always Ranting and Reacting? How to Ensure More Effective Communication in Your Relationships

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA,

While effective communication may come easily for some, it is far more difficult for others.

What about you?

Does it seem that communicating with others is increasingly difficult and disrespectful? Do your disagreements feel less like interacting and more like overreacting? Are your rants making their way into your everyday conversations more and more?

You’re not alone. Communication can be tough for many of us, especially when our emotions take over.

What gets in the way?

Communication is often complex because the way information is shared varies from person to person, depending on a variety of factors. The unique nature of our relationships, our family of origin, our pasts, our circumstances, our communication styles, as well as our emotional needs, impact how we communicate. Moreover, a lot of this happens under the surface, in split seconds, without our awareness. And maybe, too often, adversely affects what we say and how we say it.

Learning to be a more effective, compassionate, and respectful communicator might be one of the best investments you make in yourself.

Finding ways to tune into your own issues and needs while employing proven, effective communication tools is vital. You can fulfill your need to be heard and understood while capably influencing and engaging the people in your life.

So, instead of unproductively ranting or overreacting, consider using these communication tools:

Be an active listener

Effective communication is a two-way street; you can’t be a good communicator by insisting on being the only one speaking. You need to find a happy medium of give and take in a conversation.

Finding a way to really tune in is crucial because listening demonstrates respect and self-control. It honors the other person’s point of view and their right to speak without being dismissed, interrupted, or shut down.

However, be aware, active listening is not quietly waiting to speak. Active listening is not simply hearing the other person’s words. Active listening is not formulating your response while the other person talks. It means ensuring you understand the message the other person is trying to relay.

Active listening involves hearing the import of what is being communicated to you, asking questions for clarity (not debate), summarizing what you think they mean, and asking if you have the correct understanding before responding with your own thoughts.

Focus on your nonverbal communication

What you don’t say is just as important as what you do, so it’s important that your actions and behaviors match your words. Try to establish rapport and connection with your body. Lean in, look at the person speaking in an interested and open manner, relax your body, nod in understanding.

Avoid rolling your eyes, shrugging, and folding your arms. These communicate disrespect, disinterest, or even disdain. Communication is meant to connect not create distance. Be careful to show that you want to do more than make your own point. Signal that you are willing to be fully present and engaged physically and mentally.

Take responsibility for your reactions

Effective communicators are responsive rather than reactive. Take charge of the way you behave and reply to others. Don’t allow someone else’s differing, offensive, defensive, or divisive position to determine your ability to communicate well.

You own your responses and you are responsible for your reactions. When you practice self-control and mindful awareness you can slow down the temptation to react without thinking.  If you’re feeling attacked or overwhelmed, it’s okay to take a step back from the conversation and temper your response with introspection. Then, reconvene when you feel emotionally grounded and able to hear and share effectively.

Be clear and concise

When you state your needs, it’s crucial to be as straightforward as possible. Do your best to leave little room for interpretation so that the other person thoroughly understands your intentions. If you’re having a difficult conversation, it can be intimidating to state your needs with this much vulnerability. However, misunderstanding can keep you and your conversation partner from ensuring your needs are met and impede vulnerability in future interactions.

Just as you would want the whole truth when you’re listening, do all you can to present the full picture when you’re speaking.

Agree with the feelings, if not the perceived facts

It’s not your responsibility to agree with everything that’s presented to you in a conversation. Conflict happens. You and your friend, sibling, parent, spouse, co-worker, etc. won’t always see eye-to-eye. That is totally okay. Instead of agreeing with the facts, try relating to the feelings.

For instance, you don’t have to sanction their conclusions, but you should try to understand the feelings and emotions. You don’t have to agree with the position of your partner, family, friends, or co-workers, but simply try to understand and voice compassion. You may share similar feelings of concern with the topic being discussed. Start there.

The factors contributing to your opinions don’t have to be agreed upon, but normal, human feelings can provide common ground.

Effective communication is vital for a happier, more connected life.

If you don’t feel confident in the way you communicate with others, you can take steps that can lead to more effective communication skills. Read books or watch videos on effective communication and improving listening skills. Join a group that works to improve speaking and leadership skills. Or, seek guidance from a professional who can help you uncover your communication weaknesses and support you as you learn new tools and skills for effective communication in all your relationships.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on communication, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Overwhelmed By Personal Loss? 5 Ways To Help Ease The Pain

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

We often associate personal loss with the death of a loved one. Grief, however, is not confined solely to death. A health crisis, career change, a home sale, or the termination of a relationship or marriage– there are numerous pieces of life, that, through the progression of time, we might eventually lose.

Grieving the parts of life that we once loved and cherished is painful, and the steps we take towards recovery may be very similar to the grieving process of losing a loved one.

Whether it was anticipated or not, don’t diminish the loss you’re experiencing. Instead, use the following five ways to help cope and ease the pain of your personal loss.

1.   Be patient

It’s important that you give yourself the time and space to grieve. There’s no time limit for how long you should feel sad, nor is there a schedule for when you should be experiencing particular emotions. This is a normal time to undergo a wide range of emotions, so try not to judge yourself for feeling the way you do. This is a tough and transitional time, as you may be encountering something foreign for the very first time; remember to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.

2.   Express and share your feelings

Having a support group of close friends and family members is crucial during trying times. Keeping your feelings bottled up will only be harmful to you, in both the short term as well as the long run. You don’t need to share your struggle with coworkers or surface-level friends, but it will be beneficial to confide in those you trust.

You may also consider reaching out to a professional. Getting in touch with a therapist is often beneficial. This doesn’t have to be a life-long commitment, but it is helpful to process your feelings with a professional during such times.

3.   Find a positive rather than a negative outlet

Experiencing personal loss elicits a surplus of negative feelings. Thus, it’s crucial that you discover a way to cope with these emotions. Some people turn to drinking, smoking, drugs, gambling, or compulsive shopping as a form of relief or distraction, but each of these activities only masks the problem and could eventually lead to an addiction. Instead of turning to one of these, seek healthier options. Journaling, exercising, and practicing self-care are all good alternatives to negative coping mechanisms.

4.   Don’t hold onto regret

Ruminating on thoughts like “I should’ve been more communicative in my marriage,” or “I wish I had gone to the doctor sooner,” won’t change the outcome of your current situation. Of course, you can use what you’ve experienced as a learning opportunity moving forward, but don’t hold onto it as a form of self-punishment. There is nothing you can do to change the past, so instead, try to focus on the future.

5.   Make plans for the future

There is a mourning period for every personal loss, and, as mentioned earlier, it’s important to remain patient during this time. It’s also important, however, to remember that with time, the pain will ease. You will not be in this negative or low emotional state forever. To remind yourself of your potential, positive future, try taking small steps. Look forward to what the future might have in store.

Keep in mind that with change comes growth. It’s okay to look to something better ahead. For instance, if divorce or financial loss requires you to sell your home, get excited about decorating your new one and making it all yours. Explore the new area where you’re going to live; find new restaurants, coffee shops, hiking trails, etc. Allow yourself to be excited about the future without forgetting about the past.

If you’re struggling with a personal loss, remember that recovery and healing with the help of a therapist or a support group can be a valuable part of your process. Hold onto the hope that, with time and the proper coping skills, you can find relief and move ahead with cherished memories and lessons learned.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help navigating personal loss in your life, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Silence Your Inner Critic: 6 Ways to Stop Beating Yourself Up!

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

“You can’t do anything right!”

“You’ll never be able to do that.”

“What makes YOU so special?”

To some extent, we’re all familiar with this voice inside our head, the one that tells us we’re not good enough, undeserving, etc.

If you’re sick of listening to the abuse, silence your inner critic. Use these six ways to stop beating yourself up:

1. Identify the thoughts

The first step in combatting anything is to become aware of it. Some of us are so used to hearing our inner critic that we have trouble distinguishing between that voice and what’s actually true. Notice the thoughts that cross your mind and document the negative, self-patronizing ones; write them down if you need to! Once you realize which voice is your inner critic, you can then work on challenging what it has to say. It’s important to remember that your inner critic is a manifestation of your negative belief systems; it’s not an accurate representation of who you are.

2. Use balanced statements

Our inner critic LOVES to generalize, which is dangerous because it usually leads to catastrophic thinking. If we make one mistake, our inner critic can find a way to turn that into a character flaw. For instance, if you mess up on a work assignment, pay attention to your response. Is it something along the lines of “I mess everything up; I can’t ever get anything right?" If so, try challenging that thought and making the statement more balanced. Change your thought to “I have some great strengths as well as some weaknesses. It’s okay to mess up sometimes. After all, I’m only human.” You don’t have to go to the far end of the spectrum and praise yourself after you’ve messed up to silence your inner critic. Still, you need to be self-compassionate and understanding.

3. Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend

While it might sound cliché, talking to yourself the way you would talk to a friend actually works. Once you’ve identified the voice of your inner critic, imagine saying those things to a friend. Would you ever call your loved ones lazy, unmotivated, not good enough, stupid, or anything else that deprecating? No, because not only is it unkind and rude, it’s untrue. So, when you begin to beat yourself up, picture yourself speaking to a friend instead.

4. Practice self-care

The best way to treat yourself like a friend is to act like one. Prove to yourself that you’re worthy of love and attention by practicing self-care. Make time every day to do at least one thing you love. Buy yourself that book you’ve been wanting, take time for exercise, watch an episode of your favorite television show, pick up dessert from your local bakery, just because. When you take care of your soul, mind, and body, they take care of you in return.

5. Don’t ruminate

Everyone makes mistakes, but instead of dwelling on them, it’s crucial that you focus on the next best thing. There’s nothing good that will come from sitting around and reimagining a situation or conversation repeatedly. Fix what you can and move on from what you can’t. Silence your inner critic by practicing self-care and distracting yourself from the negative thoughts.

6. Go to therapy

While each of us has an inner critic, some are louder than others. This can be for a variety of reasons – a history of depression and anxiety, a difficult childhood, emotionally abusive family members, or simply from repetitively listening to your inner critic. Sometimes people’s inner critics are so intertwined with themselves that they can’t differentiate the harmful voice. There’s no shame in seeking professional help from a therapist in order help combat this.

You don’t have to live life according to your inner critic. It takes time, but by practicing the six steps above, you can learn to silence your inner critic.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on developing love for the self, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.