had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Rosenblatt LMFT, a relationship expert with a proven track record of enhancing, fortifying, and stabilizing relationships in crisis. Her goal is to move individuals into the driver’s seat of their own lives through utilization of evidence-based, solution-focused custom-designed therapeutic interventions. Driven by her passion for introspection and personal growth, Lily is a model of compassion and keen insight and is committed to navigating clients away from their self-limiting beliefs and toward a true understanding of who they are, what they want and how to get it. Lily currently works and lives in Fort Lauderdale with her husband of 42 years. In addition to her private practice, she conducts workshops and lectures on marriage, parenting and mindfulness.
With the holiday season almost over, many people have been visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?
‘Difficult’ is a negotiable construct. In a dynamic relationship, there will always be ‘difficult’ issues. That’s just a way of saying it’s uncomfortable, it’s tricky, maybe frustrating, even exasperating. But that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.
The key in healthy relationships is that confronting challenging terrain may feel SCARY, but it’s not UNSAFE to express our scary feelings.
We (both) know language is constructed carefully; we steer clear of heavy weaponry to get our points across; we’re there together to heal, not hurt, solve not conquer.
Unhealthy is when you’re driven to ‘tiptoe’ around minefields. Poisonous is when it is literally treacherous — like a toxic wasteland with warning signs admonishing you to GET OUT, UNSAFE ENVIRONMENT! If that’s how it feels, then that’s likely what it is.
Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. What advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?
In my practice, I find the single biggest predictor for success in anything relational is planning and preparing. So if I know the characters that will be sitting around the table and I have a pretty solid history with each, I can do a good job of formulating my mindset and my intentions. What are my best hopes to accomplish? Is it just surviving the evening or changing an old dynamic? The goal becomes the benchmark for my actions/behavior throughout the evening.
If my goal is to not get triggered, no matter what, I plan accordingly — creating ‘pause’ moments, taking deep breaths, redirecting my attention, generating an unchangeable, unflappable response (like a smile and nod) for every trigger comment. If my objective is dynamic change, I can strategize a welcoming approach — leaning in, asking curiosity questions, full body listening. Whatever the goal, I must set specific expectations ONLY FOR MYSELF without any anticipation for a specific outcome. As I like to say, expectations are only premeditated resentments.
We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?
There really is no such thing as ‘handling a toxic family member.’ It’s really all and only about ‘handling’ myself. The only person in the room over whom I have agency is me. That means I must handle MY behavior — acting with the highest integrity no matter what (no screaming back when I’m yelled at). And that means handling MY self-imposed boundaries — establishing, honoring and creating consequences for boundary crossing. For example, “I’m really happy to answer you when you speak to me respectfully.”
Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?
I do this all the time.
My focus in therapy is having clients take personal responsibility for their part in every human interaction.
That means finding and activating their highest self while simultaneously finding their own voice. When you combine those two fundamental principles, you’ve created an empowered individual who trusts themselves and is never ‘tricked’ into handing their power or control over to someone else.
Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although gatherings are only a few times a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?
As with any project, before creating a strategy you must have a goal. This approach accommodates the outcome desired, not the other way round.
Let’s assume the goal is to create a personal oasis of calm no matter what over-tart cranberry relish or lethal language is thrown across the table.
1. Acknowledge the situation by naming what you know. “Sister Janet charges ahead with her own agenda with no regard for collateral damage.”
2. Power-up. Don’t identify as the victim; take responsibility for your actions and the things you can control and let go of those things you can’t, such as other peoples’ actions and behaviors. “Look outside, become a victim; look inside become a master.”
3. Identify and enforce healthy boundaries. Don’t allow yourself to be disrespected or bullied and make sure you do the same for others.
4. Stay attuned to your emotional and physical triggers. If the heat is up and the tension is rising, don’t try to speak. You are officially in your ‘emotional brain’ and there are too many neurochemicals getting in the way of clearheaded thought, let alone speech. Step away from the table, person and situation. Take a few long, slow breaths. Learn how to create an internal ‘pause’ button.
5. Discover and deepen self-directed compassion. Be that tender friend to yourself that you are to others. Self-compassion means treating yourself with kindness and care,especially when you’re struggling most. It means steering clear of critical self-judgment.
What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?
I have so many favorites and I actually grab quotes to utilize as therapeutic interventions all the time because they pack so much power into just a few small words.
“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life” — Susan David
I like to say: It’s not about the size of the storm; it’s about the best umbrella.
Our work is not to try and create a life devoid of pain and challenge; it’s about erecting resilience.
If you could inspire a movement or a change in mental wellness, what would it be? How can people support you in this mission?
It would be to teach and integrate Mindfulness Practice into every curriculum, every workplace and every government institution in the world! (Yes, the world!) Mindfulness practice, when applied and practiced daily, absolutely changes the way you relate to yourself, express yourself, and connect with your environment and everyone with whom you come into contact. At the risk of sounding like a fanatic, I have personally witnessed, over the last ten years, the extreme transformation that takes place in those who sustain the practice. The results are directly proportionate to the length of time practiced. It’s quite something to witness!
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