I have been thinking about common messages that I talk about in session. A huge one is “quit being okay.” People try to put on a brave face, keep it together,or struggle through when facing difficult circumstances. While its admirable and at times necessary, this is a survival mode. It is not what getting better looks like.
Culturally, we hold a little bit of a distorted value. We admire seeing someone who struggling through something and doing it gracefully. We say “she is really doing well with it” or even “she is having such faith in view of this trial”. If our life is in a mess, we should be in a mess. Not continuously hysterical or non-functioning but sad, angry, hurt, lonely. There are certainly times in our life, we must feel these negative feelings. To not feel these is to be unhealthy. (Please note the vast difference between feeling something and acting on the feeling.) You won’t stay in this place forever. If you don’t allow yourself to ever stop here, you will keep carrying these feelings with you.
We will all have times during which we are not okay and we shouldn’t try to be. Yes, in front of our kids, when around acquaintances or on the job, we might need to keep it together. The road to being better always goes through being worse first. Life gets harder so that we rise to the challenge, so that we reach out for help, so that we question ourselves and so that we are shaken enough to let go of good/bad things to reach for something better. If you are currently overwhelmed, give yourself permission to not be okay. To cry. To think irrationally. To be angry. To have no motivation. It is through this season, you come through the other side to something better.
Quit being okay, so you can be better.
I keep hearing a similar story too often. Someone goes to repeated appointments, has multiple tests, sees different doctors until finally someone talks with them about their mental and emotional health. Culturally, we forget or discount that our mental and emotional health impacts our physical health. If you feel sick to your stomach then the problem is in your stomach, right? It’s worth reiterating about what mental health problems feel like physically.
- constantly tired
- no energy
- trouble sleeping
- trouble staying asleep
- physical pain or soreness
- lack of sexual desire, decrease in sexual performance
- weight changes, changes in eating habits
- trouble focusing, poor concentration
- nausea/stomach pain (upset stomach in children)
- IBS symptoms
- sore muscles, back or neck pain
- weight changes, changes in eating habits
- jaw pain, grinding teeth
- heart palpitations, feel like you are having a heart attack
- feel like you are going to die
- light-headed/dizzy, fainting
- can’t catch your breath
It’s important to note that you are not making up your physical symptoms or just not being ‘tough enough’. For example, most people genuinely thought they were having a heart attack or are dying when they have their first panic attack. Physically, your heart is racing, you can’t catch your breath, and you are about to pass out. You aren’t making that up and simply calming down isn’t an option. Mental health issues are medical problems because it effects the whole body.
Certainty these symptoms can have purely physical origins. If the root is emotional or mental though, medications will only treat the symptoms and will not change the underlying condition. Therapy is needed to ultimately resolve these symptoms. Hopefully, we will all get better at recognizing and treating the actual problem.
Here are some book recommendations from my summer reading thus far:
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Development. By Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
A common mistake that parents make is not understanding how differently children think than adults. This book helps parents understand how the brain develops, how it communicates across different parts of the brain and how to understand children’s behavior in light of their brain development. Good reading and easily application for parents of elementary age children. My favorite chapters are chapters 2
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace who you are. By Brene Brown
Brene Brown’s work is very popular in the psychology/self help field now. Her primary job as a researcher gives her books support and are not just a packaging of her own personal ideas. The Gifts of Imperfection would be a good read for someone struggling with self-esteem, perfectionism, over-pleasing others or anxiety.
Daring Greatly: How to Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we live, love, parent and lead. By Brene Brown
Most people are not seeking out a book on how to be more vulnerable but Daring Greatly is a good recommendation for those who struggle to connect in relationships. I like chapter 4 the most.
My daughter is doing great with the toddler stage of establishing independence and autonomy. At least, that’s what I say on a good day. On a trying day, I might say she is stubborn and opinionated. She has recently assumed command of picking out her own clothes. I had to check myself the other day, when this was her outfit:
Initially, I didn’t want her to wear that. I asked myself why?
Me: “Because I don’t want people to think I dressed her like that.”
Analyzing Me: I am sure it is evident to others that she picked out her clothes but why do I care what other people think?
Me: “Because I want them to think she looks cute.”
This is where the gears grinned to a halt in my head. I wanted to her to dress in a way that appealed to others. If I told her that she couldn’t wear that outfit (aside from the fit changing would create), I would be sowing the idea of your appearance should please others. Or even worse, you should dress in a way that makes yourself attractive to other people. Yuck!
This is not at all the message I want to be subtly ingraining in her. I learned that if I am not careful I will unconsciously start her off seeking other people’s approval and discounting her own opinions and choices. So now most days she wears what she wants – as long as it matches the weather outside and the needs of the occasion. Much to her dismay, I still have not let her go out wearing her Snow White costume but she did get to wear her pink tutu. Someday we will get to the idea of matching and coordinating colors.
More importantly though, I am trying to be sensitive to the subtle messages she receives. Not long after this, we were at the mall and I saw there was a perfume poster with a naked women with her arms folded across her chest. At her age, I didn’t have to address this one yet. When she is older, we will have to talk about why you see ads mostly with naked women and not men, why neither is okay, what is beautiful and how you show your beauty.
So in hopes of a strong self image in the future, who knows what you will spot her wearing today. I will be proud of her choice and be happy to have one less battle to fight.
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
- I like this book because it is short enough to read a 1-2 sittings and is very easy to apply to your relationships.
Divorce Busting: A step by step approach to making your marriage loving again by Michele Weiner-Davis.
- The first part of the book might be a little slow but the second half has some great applications for struggling relationships.
Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson.
- Dr. Johnson has developed a very successful method of couples therapy, the model I most often use with couples. Her self help book is an in depth read which can give couples a new understanding and direction for their relationship.
10 Great Dates Before You Say I Do by David & Claudia Arp and Curt & Natelle Brown.
- A great book to help couples prepare for marriage. Each chapter focuses on an important topics for premarital couples and has sections to complete individually and to talk through as a couple.
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by Dr. John Gottman.
- Gottman focuses on the often ignored or misunderstood role of emotions and emotional development. His techniques have been validated by research.
Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Edward Runkel.
- Scream Free focuses on how parents can change what is going wrong by learning how to control how they respond to their children.
Parenting with Love & Logic by Foster Cline and Tim Fay.
- This is a parenting classic. Love and Logic’s approach is understandable, easy to apply and the book gives lots of examples. Also look for their adapted versions for teens and young children.
How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen & How to Listen so Your Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
- Another classic in the parenting self help field. This book provides a wealth of examples on how to apply their ideas to daily situations.
Forgiving the Devil by Terry Hargrave
- A great book if you have been hurt by a loved one or had a long standing damaged relationship. Focuses on forgiveness, moving forward, and rebuilding relationships.
30 Day Love Detox by Dr. Wendy Walsh
- A good book about dating for modern singles. Walsh uses a lot of research and an evolutionary biology perspective to support her conclusions. I might take a different stance on some issues but I believe it is very helpful for singles who are navigating new dating scene that has changed vastly.
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
- A classic book for women about handling relationship, where the root of bad relationship patterns come from and how to change yourself.
With new year in full force, you might have considered whether counseling should be part of your new year’s resolutions. Many people question whether they should go or if therapy will help.
Here are some questions to hep you decide what is right for you:
- How long have you been trying to stop, change or struggle with the issue?
- If its been longer than a few months, then you have likely tried all that you know to do to solve it and counseling could likely help.
- How many times have you tried to stop or change what is happening with limited to no success?
- More than 2 previous attempts might indicate outside help is needed.
- Have other people mentioned that you should get counseling?
- As much as we don’t want to admit it, sometimes others can see issues in our life better than we can.
- Have you thought that you should go and then talked yourself out of it?
- Call and make an appointment before the change your mind again.
- What will this year be like if things don’t change?
- Don’t risk things getting worse!
- How often is this problem an issue and how severe is it when it is?
- If it is a weekly problem or if it totally disrupts your life and your day when it happens, counseling is likely indicated.
- Have you thought that you should go?
In short, if you are questioning whether to go or not I would recommend going. If you are unsure, commit to yourself to go for about 4 sessions to see if it helps. If people come in early, often they can experience a lot of relief in just a few sessions. Usually, the longer you wait the worse the problem gets and more intensive work will be needed (although its never too late).
2014 is a great year make changes.
|Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell
A few days before Thanksgiving you are probably picturing what your day will look like. I think its safe to say that most of us won’t look like Norman Rockwell’s version.
I’ve been thinking a lot of how thankfulness and grace are related or how it needs to be. (grace = unmerited favor, giving good to be people when they don’t deserve it.) When it comes to our families, I think we have to embrace a degree of grace to be thankful. To be thankful for what our family is, we must find a way to have grace for what they are not. Grace for what our parents weren’t to us. Grace for decisions that our kids made that we don’t agree with. Grace for conversations that were never had or for stinging words said.
As Americans, we have really high expectations for everything. We expect the best and believe that we deserve it. We need to be better at accepting things that aren’t perfect. The truth is that all families have failures and hurts. To be normal is to be imperfect.
I don’t mean that we should ignore hurts from our families. Its not possible and its definitely not helpful. Its finding a way for hurt and love to coexist. In your case, there might have been much more hurt than love and that should be addressed maybe with your family or with a counselor. If you are going to continue to have a relationship with those who have hurt you, you must find a way to value something about them or that relationship. Otherwise, all you will have is the hurt.
When that “oh no” moment happens, remember that this is just how family gatherings work when there are imperfect people involved. I hope we can have grace for that, maybe address it in our best adult manner, and strive for better next year.
An anxious mind is a powerful force. It was spin and swirl thoughts, worries, and fears around at a mighty pace and handicap your ability to focus, make decisions and be at peace The most common initial strategies for dealing with anxiety I use are: 1. accept that you are anxious. 2. manage your thoughts.
Accept that you are anxious.
This might initially sound counter-intuitive. People often try not to be anxious or to ignore that they are worried. This results in the equivalent of ignoring a bear in your living room. If you are anxious, then you ARE anxious. It is wasted energy to try not to be anxious when you already are.
Manage your thoughts.
Anxious thoughts are like a wayward pilot on auto-pilot. You don’t intend to be worrying or be thinking about things but you just find yourself doing it. We must take the plane off of auto-pilot and learn to steer manually. You can steer straight into the thoughts and worries or you can steer clear of these issues.
To dive straight in, spend some time purposely thinking about your worries and concerns. I strongly recommend you do this by writing out your thoughts. First, identify one worry and write everything associated with that worry. While doing this, you will identify another worry. Write it in the margin and write about it after finishing the first worry. Do this process until you have written through what is on your mind. Don’t try to be logical or fix your worries as you write. Just write down your thoughts.
When you are finished you might find that the process of writing it down, alleviated your concern. If you still feel anxious, reread it. Are your fears realistic? Proportional to the situation? Is situation changeable? What’s the repeated theme of your anxiety? Is there a core fear?
Option two in managing your thoughts is purposeful distraction. When you catch your mind on anxious auto-pilot, tell yourself to stop those thoughts. For example: I am not going to think about that now, I have already thought about all of it. I am not going to think about it now, I will think through it all tonight. I have already thought about all of it, I just have to focus on ______. Switch over to different thoughts (i.e. favorite memories, plans for this weekend, what task you need to do next) or a new activity that requires more focus. The anxious thoughts will probably creep back in. Every time you find it there again, you have to tell yourself to stop and switch over again.
Keeping a calm mind is difficult and requires focused effort. You have to work with your anxiousness regularly to keep it in check. The goal isn’t not to worry but to worry in control and in proportion.
How do you keep a high octane culture from changing your household? Two main principles: go back to the basics and focus on keeping your calm.
When starting therapy with children, most therapist will start with the basics:
— Is the kiddo getting enough sleep?
— What development changes are going on?
— Do you have an established, predictable routine?
— Do parents and children have fun, positive time together?
— Is there a consistent plan for discipline? Does that plan work?
A lot of family therapy is re-establishing the basics of discipline, positive time together, conflict resolution and communication. Often when things gets stressful and problems arise, we overcompensate and overreact and make the problem worse. Shoring up the basics of your family helps remove the stress of the unknown and of change for kids. It can not be emphasized enough how sensitive children are to change and to ongoing tension. Even if they don’t know what is going on, they feel it and their behavior will show it.
My easiest recommendation for families dealing with stress, change or conflict is to sit and play with your child for 20 minutes. Give your kids an opportunity to reconnect with you. YOU are what makes them feel normal and stable. Parents are a child’s attachment base which means when they feel stressed, uncertain, or anxious, they need your presence to feel calm again. Give their your presence by giving their play your full attention (sit on the floor, turn off the TV, put the phone away). Follow their lead in play and don’t add your ideas unless asked.
Focus on Keeping Yourself Calm.
It goes without saying that children will be trying to your patience. How you respond is just as important if not more than what your response is. Yelling a perfectly crafted logical consequence to your child will have no impact. Your child will be focused on your reaction instead of focusing on their wrong actions. So let’s debunk some myths that cause us to lose our calm.
Must respond immediately. Often parents feel the need to respond to their children immediately when they misbehave. If you have to chose between responding promptly or responding calmly: choose calm.
Must always have it together. No one is level headed enough to respond to everything our children throw at us at all hours of the day and night with the most logical, calm head on our shoulders. If you have been worn to the end of your rope, feel free to give yourself a time-out. A person has their quota of “no”, tantrums, whining, arguments, and attitude she can effectively respond to without a break.
Must always have the right answer. Kids can really surprise you with how they manage to misbehave. You can’t expect yourself to have the appropriate response primed at all times. You might have to think over how to respond. For example, what’s the logical consequence for giving the cat a haircut?
Must go with first response. Often our initial impulse is often the wrong impulse. The right response often requires a greater calmness and thought than we have in the moment. Allow yourself to walk away for a minute. Also our children need to see us model how to regulate ourselves in stressful situations so they will learn to do it too.