Posted in Uncategorized

Actions Speak Louder than Words

One of the fun perks of having teen clients is getting to hear their unfiltered perspective. Teens and pre-teens can be some of the most scathingly honest individuals, and one of the things that they unfailingly bring up in session is any apparent hypocrisy in the behavior of their caregivers. By the teenage years, our kids have spent over a decade studying us. They know our habits, our values, and our moods. They know what sets us off and can even sometimes tell what our mood is from the sound of our footsteps down the hallway. And they are quick to call their parents out whenever they tell teens to do something that they themselves don’t do.

And every once in a while, I hear a really cringy phrase that they tell me their parents said: Do what I say, not what I do.

But, does that ever work? Does it work to try to teach our kids to the ‘right’ thing rather than to do what we do? I think most of us have known for a long time – since we ourselves were pre-teens – that this kind of parenting isn’t sustainable, and yet we still try to do it in subtle ways all of the time.

@diaryofanhonestmom has a fantastic Instagram reel for “ex-crunchy moms” that highlights the way we sometimes try to do this as parents. Here’s what she says:

“I just want to start this by saying that I have nothing against crunchy moms. In fact, I really respect you and think that it’s great that you put energy into your lifestyle in that way.

But this is for all of the non-crunchy moms who, when you had your first-born, for some reason you thought that was going to happen for you.

Like, you started out with the organic food and the organic diapers and the organic everything and you wore your baby and then you did all the things and were like, “Yeah, we’re doing this, we’re healthy,” even though you still ate big macs all the time and you didn’t live that lifestyle but thought that your baby would live that lifestyle.

Was I the only one who tried to have the organic lifestyle for my baby, but didn’t live it? And how long did it take you to realize…no…this isn’t us?”

If you aren’t doing something for yourself, it’s not realistic to expect that your kids will be different. If you really want to see change in your kids, you have to be willing to invest in that change yourself.  This is true for boundaries, lifestyle, values, and the kinds of relationships you have. You cannot make your kids do what you do or believe what you believe. But you cannot expect them to behave much differently than you behave.

Here are few things to remember when you are trying to create change in your family:

Take the time to do the work. Change takes time and a lot of hard, consistent effort. You may need help, even professional help. Take all of the help you can get.

Be willing to be humble with your kids. Admit when you didn’t live up to the standards you set and demonstrate both the self-compassion to be gentle with yourself and the grit to get up and try again.

Be prepared to fail. Neither change nor growth are linear processes; there will always be setbacks, mistakes, and old patterns that sneak up and sidetrack you. Keep going – you will see the change over time.

Posted in emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, relationships, Uncategorized

Everything’s Not Okay

I was comforting my daughter yesterday. The kids are obsessed with “Beauty and the Beast” and the beast was being exceptionally rude. She was scared and squealed to be picked up and held. I continually soothed her by saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Seems innocuous, right? Well my therapist brain began yelling “BUT SHE’S NOT OKAY! IT WAS SCARY!” True. What I said wasn’t “wrong”, but it also wasn’t completely validating of her experience. I could have told her a few other things. Phrases such as, “I know it’s scary, but I am here to help,” or “It is okay to be scared, you don’t have to look,” or even “It is going to be okay.” 

It seems silly and maybe overkill, however, the more emotions are validated for kids and adults, the more we are able to trust our own feelings. This extreme example can be applied to more impactful instances of emotion validation. Here are few ways people unintentionally invalidate other’s emotions.

PLATITUDES ARE DESIGNED TO SIMPLIFY THE SITUATION

Emotions are complex. As a culture, we don’t do well with complex. We want to understand and conquer. When we don’t understand and cannot control, we get uncomfortable. In the south, everywhere I expect, but especially the south, people want to be polite. Being polite often means saying the right thing at the right time. A “yes ma’am” here, a “may I help you” there, or a “no thank you I don’t want any coffee when secretly I’ve been craving it since I walked in.” 

When someone feels sadness or anger or fear, we are frozen with uncertainty. What needs to be said? Sometimes our words escape our mouths before our brain gives it clearance. Sometimes we don’t recognize our words for what they are, simplification. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Sweet words. There’s some truth. Platitudes always have some truth. However, it fills the silence in a manner that prompts the person to “get over it already” in a “nice” way. That may not be what was intended, but it is often what is communicated. There are way more like:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“Don’t worry, be happy.”

One of the worst that is beginning to be rejected, “boys will be boys.” There are many situations where these phrases will stop someone from expressing their emotions and leave them feeling almost chastised. Silence is better than a platitude. 

POSITIVITY IS DESIGNED TO DIMINISH THE INTENSITY

“It could have been so much worse,” or “look on the bright side” or “at least…” can be an attempt to comfort. So many of these phrases are an attempt to comfort. However, good intentions can still cause harm. 

Processing emotions cannot be rushed. We can encourage someone to skip steps in the healing stages, but it is not helpful. People need to feel their disappointment, grief or even jealousy. Attempting to focus on the positive rather than experience the “negative,” can result in stuffing feelings. 

People can feel shamed by the intensity of their emotions when encouraged to see the “silver lining” in a situation. Once their crisis has passed, they might enjoy discussing the positives that occurred due to the disappointment, but not in the moment. We need to let people feel sadness. 

ENGAGING IN CERTAIN ACTIONS CAN BE DESIGNED TO SILENCE

Have you ever been crying and someone hands you a single tissue? Feels like a “wrap this up” a bit, huh? We can unconsciously send messages that are invalidating. It can be difficult. Feelings matter whether you agree with them or not. Your kid is losing their ever loving mind because their action figure fell apart? It’s trivial to us, but it is something important to them.

We can sigh and quote the reasons they need to pick up their toys (guilty), or we can empathize with how frustrated, disappointed and sad they are. Eventually, we can explore with them how to reduce the risk of their toys breaking, but when they are in the midst of their emotions, is not the time.

Pay attention to body language. It shows if you are waiting to flee the scene or you think their feelings are unimportant. It may be a struggle to understand. However, you have experienced that same emotion, remember the feeling and not the circumstances.

It is difficult to validate emotion that is not your own. Being unsure how to comfort can make us revert to unhelpful responses. However, we need to be aware of our verbal and non verbal cues that are communicated to the person struggling. It is important be present and let the person know that what they feel matters.

If you have been on the receiving end of these invalidations, I’m so sorry. I have been guilty of doing all of these at different times. Other people’s reaction to your feelings does not mean they don’t matter. It doesn’t mean they are unimportant.

Validating together,

Allyson

Posted in Uncategorized

your truth, my truth, The Truth

Have you ever heard people say that there are always three messages whenever you say something?

First, there are the actual words that are being spoken.
Then, there is what the speaker intended the listener to hear.
And finally, there is the message that the listener hears.

I talk about this concept a lot whenever I work couples and families. A silly example that I use a lot is the phrase, “Can you grab me a glass of water?”

Understanding the actual words is simple: an action is being requested by one person from another. But so often, something like “Can you grab me a glass of water,” really means: “Hey – do you care enough about me to grab me a water?”

And then the listener hears a completely different third message, like: “Why are you always nagging me?!”

Both people heard the same words, but the truth of the message was completely different for each of them.

Confusion happens all of the time because of assumptions we make about what other people mean. We each have a uniquely subjective experience of the world, so it’s not surprising that the ways in which we communicate are as varied as we are. For example, how do we compare different experiences of what is ‘hard’ or ‘easy’? Or how can we measure our own experiences of joy, terror, delight, and devastation against those of another person? If we want to understand and to be understood, we can’t simply transfer our definitions onto what people are trying to express.

So, are you a good communicator?

How well do you listen? How curious are you when you aren’t quite sure what another person is saying?

Do you believe the experience of other people when they share with you, or are you skeptical that things are really “that bad.”

When you start a conversation, are you thinking of what to say, or are you actively listening?

What about with your partner? With your kids?

I want to urge you to believe other people.

Believe your kids.

Believe your partner.

Your co-workers.

Your inlaws.

Your dramatic friend.

That person in your church that you don’t get along with.

The family member on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Believing someone does not equate to agreeing with them. You don’t even have to like someone to believe them. The truth is, we all just want our experiences to be validated, heard, and believed. I imagine it’s what you want too. But if we get caught up in who is right or who is wrong, we lose the opportunity for connection.

There’s another common saying about interpersonal conflict that really gets to the heart of this: whenever one person wins, you both lose. When we dismiss another person’s truth and invalidate their experience of the world, we create disconnect. It takes bravery to set yourself aside and enter into another person’s experience of the world, but there is nothing that makes another person feel more seen and loved.

So be brave.

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in Uncategorized

CAN SOMEONE TELL ME IF I’M DOING THIS RIGHT?

Parenting doesn’t come with a performance evaluation. Often, the feedback we receive is how much our kids dislike us when we give them discipline or our own internal voice of “not enough” that makes itself known when we are NOT asking. It can be taxing to do everything within our power to care for our kids and feel as though it is in vain or that it is without reward. 

We love our children. I know you do, because who else reads parenting blogs? No one reviews these things for entertainment. We explore parenting ideas and options to gain some baseline of  okay. When we care about someone, we want to make sure we love them well. How in the world can we know? Few ideas.

ASK

Terrifying? Yes. Helpful? Often. Talk to a co-parent. Talk to a grandparent. Talk to a close friend that sees your parenting. DO NOT ask, a general question about your parenting. That can go wrong so fast. Instead, give some guidelines. What is one thing you see me doing well? It can be so life-giving to have your work noticed. As a society we don’t often encourage one another out of the blue. Prompting is, unfortunately, necessary. 

If you’re in a positive headspace, maybe dare to ask, what is one thing I can work on with my parenting? I need to stress, only ask for criticism if you are in a place to HEAR it. That means, in a frame of mind to recognize the need for growth and not bite the head off of the messenger. This IS a conversation that needs to happen occasionally, but might not be the most helpful when you are feeling the weight of guiding little people into adulthood. 

CONSULT PROFESSIONALS

I am not saying trust all the Instagram posts from moms that seem to have it all together. I am encouraging researching parenting advice presented from people that have credentials. Do all those that have credentials present helpful tips? No. However, taking parenting help, that works for your family, from various sources, can allow you to feel as though you are not parenting in a vacuum. 

Also, personal counseling can help with parenting. Shocker, I know. Working on yourself can give you space to parent out of positive mental health rather than exhausted mental health. When we are healing and we are functioning in a healthy way? It can pass on to our kids. 

SET ONE GOAL

We talk about goal setting ad nauseam on here. It’s because setting expectations out loud, helps a ton. One goal that you feel will make you a better parent. It can be a behavioral chart that spells out behavior and consequence. It can be an intentional bedtime routine. Mine this summer? Getting the kids outside more, even if it means braving the heat. Ugh!

Be measurable about it. That way, you can feel as though something is being accomplished in a medium that has constantly changing goals. Example? I want to take the kids to the park twice a week. Can I do more? Yes. Why not make it more? Two is so manageable that I do not feel overwhelmed by the expectation. Also, share the goal with someone else. They can help encourage you. 

Parenting is so difficult. We never know if we are doing things well. My husband and I joked when our oldest was born that we better start saving for his therapy bills immediately. We will not be perfect. We will make mistakes. But we will continue to work out our love for our kids, everyday of their lives.

Together in this ambiguity,

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in Uncategorized

Excuses and Explanations

Excuses have a terrible reputation.

“Don’t make excuses!”

“There’s no excuse for that.”

“I’m tired of hearing your excuses.”

“You had better have a good excuse!”

“C’mon! Keep going! No excuses!”

 

The real problem with excuses, though is that we often confuse excuses and explanations.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs here, but excuses and explanations are fundamentally different.

Excuses seek to win, while explanations seek to explain.

Excuses usually turn up when we don’t like or understand someone else’s behavior. “There’s no excuse for hurting me like that!” “Ugh, I’m tired of you making excuses not to come.” “Quit making excuses for her behavior.”

We often use excuses to ‘win,’ or override someone’s opposition to our actions. A good example of a ‘good excuse’ is a doctor’s note that excuses a kid from missing school. The doctor’s note makes skipping school, an otherwise unacceptable behavior, acceptable. A child going to the doctor is deemed more important than attending those hours of instruction at school.

And that’s usually the problem we have with excuses: in order to accept someone else’s excuse, we are admitting that their needs were more important than our own. Someone has to win. But this kind of thinking is too black and white for relationships. In any relationship, from friends to co-workers to spouses, when somebody wins…you both lose.

Explanations bridge the gap between two people. Where an excuse seeks to win, an explanation seeks to explain. Most, if not all, of our conflict with others comes from a lack of understanding and/or compassion. We don’t question or need excuses for behavior that seems “normal” or makes sense to us; we already have empathy and understanding. Explanations help give a context for someone’s behavior, opening up the space for new empathy and understanding – even if you still don’t agree with what they did.

Which leads to the next difference:

Excuses close us off from others, while explanations create connection.

Whenever we attempt to excuse our behavior, our greatest concern is avoiding the consequences of our actions. We believe that if we have a ‘good enough’ excuse, then we are justified in both our choices and however those choices affected anyone else.

Explanations, on the other hand, seek explain our intentions and efforts. They open the space for authenticity, vulnerability, and connection. Explanations aren’t about convincing someone else that you were right; they are meant to let the other person in. Explanations are often a response to hearing how we impacted another person, a way to say, “I’m sorry. Can I tell you how that made sense to me? I want you to know I never planned or meant to hurt you.”

Where excuses are motivated by pride, fear, or shame, explanations rely on humility, love, and connection.

Excuses leave us stuck, but explanations help us grow.

When we rely on excuses, we are deciding to accept things as they are and move forward without examining things further. The hurts never get healed, and we don’t take the time to learn from our possible mistakes. When your only option is to accept an excuse or to not, there is very little room for reflection or growth.

When we take the time to really understand what happened and why we did what we did, we create the possibility for change. Context turns the light on and helps us understand what we may have tripped and fallen over, and then move it out of the way. Context helps us to generate compassion both for ourselves and for others.

The most compassionate way for us to live our lives is with the belief that everyone is doing the best that they can at all times, no exceptions. This doesn’t mean excusing or condoning anything that anyone else does. What is does mean, however, is allowing yourself to be curious. To wonder why. To connect. To hold space for the grey area where neither person has to be right and you can both accept the goodness and good intentions of one another.

Holding that space is what empowers me to be a therapist, a wife, a friend, and a mother. It is what keeps bitterness and resentment at bay. It is the space where I choose to set aside my wants and needs long enough to engage another person’s inner world. It’s the space I hold for all of you.

Because everyone is doing the best they can at all times. No exceptions.

Doing my best with you,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in emotion regulation, empathy, home, relationships, siblings

Learning to Navigate Sibling Conflict

Interpersonal conflict in families is unavoidable, especially when it comes to siblings. Contrary to what some of us were taught to believe, the sign of a healthy relationship isn’t the absence of conflict. Good relationships are actually marked the presence of healthy conflict – conflict that involves assertiveness, empathy, and repair.

It is a rare and special thing when two siblings naturally and effortlessly fall into best friendship. If this is the case for your kids, celebrate! For the rest of us, it’s important to remember just how hard it can be to share your life with someone that you didn’t choose, and who, in many cases, is very different than you are.

Handling conflict well doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill that we have to actively teach our kids, just like riding a bike or reading. This requires a delicate balance between teaching and giving them opportunities to learn. A great analogy for to remember when teaching your kids about handling conflict is to think of yourself as a coach and your kids as players on a team.

Look for the skills they already have and build upon them. If you have a particularly empathetic child, help them learn words for their emotions and the emotions of others, and help them learn how to name them in conflict. If you have a child with a good memory, teach them a rhyme to help them remember how to handle conflict. A current favorite in our house goes like this:

“You think what you think,
And I think what I think.
Even if I’m right,
There’s no need for a fight.
I can stand up,
And I can walk away.
Then I can come back,
When I feel more okay.

When coaching kids in conflict, remember that practices are just as, if not more, important than the game. Practice your conflict resolution skills outside of conflict. For example, you can practice deep breathing before bed or talk about where you feel your anger in your body. Or you could practice compromise by letting your kids plan a meal that has to follow certain guidelines (ex: the meal needs a fruit or vegetable, a protein, and a grain). Or you can even roleplay with your child, asking them what they could say or do whenever they feel their anger to help calm down, or if someone hurt their feelings.

As you coach your kids in conflict, remember that you’re practicing for “game time,” so don’t be discouraged when conflict arises. Go into coaching mode when the conflict arises and watch from the sidelines to see how your kids’ skills are progressing. You can limit your intervention more and more as they get better at solving their own problems. Don’t be afraid to let your kids get frustrated and fail as they continue to refine their skills, but try not to let them get to the point of someone getting hurt. Intervene if your kids start to get physical in their confrontation with one another or if one of them appears too upset to be able to calm themselves back down.

For your kids to learn how to do conflict well, they also need good role models. Have you ever seen a kid game mimic a victory dance or move that they learned from watching someone else play a sport? Our kids are always watching, and that includes watching you handle your own conflict. There are certainly discussions that are better to have privately, but it’s good for your kids to see you engage in and repair from conflict. This helps our kids learn that conflict is normal. If you end up displaying messy conflict in front of your kids, it is especially important for you to debrief with them afterwards. Let them see you apologize to the other person, and then talk to them about the things you did and didn’t do well. This step requires a lot of self-awareness and humility, so don’t worry if you don’t do it perfectly. You will all keep learning and growing as time goes on.

Learning to coach well with you,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in back to school, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, social distancing

Reintegrating Children After Covid

There is light at the end of the tunnel. As more people become vaccinated and things are able to open safely, we will reemerge in the world. Parents scheduling more playdates, more time at the playground, kids going back to school in person and (hopefully) the reopening of the Chick-fil-a indoor play-place. However, as these events become the norm after over a year away from constant socialization, we will notice a difference in our children.

They have been isolated from their peers and some small children, like my toddlers, haven’t been around other children on a constant basis since that fated March 2020 lockdown. How can we deal with this fall out, with these unsocialized children that no longer know how to manage peers invading their space? Any progress in sharing that my oldest made in Mother’s Day Out last year seems to have evaporated. Today, there was an epic meltdown because someone else was playing with a toy he wanted at church. Did he ask to share? No. Was the kid antagonizing? No. Were those the only toys? No. However, big emotions come with change. As parents, what do we do?

SET EXPECTATION

It helps to set expectations before going somewhere. “We are going to Lina’s house and we are going to share” or “Malachi is coming here and he is going to play with your toys and you will share with him.” It is important to clearly state the expected behavior. State it in a positive manner, more what you want them to do than what you don’t want them to do.

This can be other expectations, such as, “remember when you share, they take a turn and then you get it back” or “when you want to play with something, ask; and if they aren’t done playing with it, be patient.” It explains what may happen and then sets the expectations of how they can respond. Once the language has been stated, you can remind them throughout the event. “Remember how we talk about how you might need to be patient? Lets find something else to play with.” Once you leave, you can use that same language to praise them for their behavior. “You did a wonderful job sharing and being patient. I am proud of you.” It is important to recognize when they achieve the expectation.

VALIDATE EMOTION

Kids have big emotions. Just like adults. However, as adults we have the ability to understand and rationally explore our feelings. Kids don’t. They actually cannot. Their frontal lobe isn’t fully developed. The frontal lobe helps regulate impulses and consider long term consequences. This part of the brain isn’t fully developed until we are twenty-five years old on average. YALL. That’s around the age some of us started having kids! I digress.

Kids take their cue about the world from you. Their world is changing and in chaos right now. Validate their emotions. I repeat, validate their emotions. Their behavior may be wrong, but their feelings are not. “I know you are frustrated right now, and that’s okay.””I know that hurt your feelings.” One way for children to deal with their emotions is to know that it is okay to feel them. Help them not only know that they are okay, but help them identify their feelings.

When we name how they are expressing themselves as “jealous” or “hurt” or “disappointed,” it begins to build their vocabulary. They are learning from us, their parents. We need to allow them to feel how they feel. Sometimes their intensity may not seem to match the situation. That’s okay. It can mean that they are becoming overwhelmed by their feelings. That leads to the next point:

REPEAT COPING SKILLS TOGETHER

We have written about this idea often. It is so important to teach our kids coping skills and practice them frequently. Kids forget. Heck, I forget why I walked into the kitchen. Why expect kids to remember how to calm themselves down when their feelings are running out of control? When they are in the middle of a tantrum, model taking deep breaths, and sometimes coach them to do it along with you.

It can help to talk about coping skills while setting expectations. “When you don’t want to share when we are at Emma’s house, what can you do?” List different ways of coping, then let them list some too. It is teaching them that coping is part of the social conversation.

A common phrase at our house is, “It’s okay to cry, it is not okay to whine.” It validates the crying, that it is okay to express emotion, and it calls attention to the negative behavior. Then, I remind my child of a coping skill, sometimes in a directive after providing comfort when a tantrum continues. “Go to your room and read one book and then come back.” “Run from here to that tree and then come back.” These ideas teach different ways of coping and give them space to feel how they feel.

HAVE PATIENCE

Kids will always struggle with social skills. They are learning. Reemerging into the world after this massive pandemic is going to be hardest for our children. They have some catching up to do. Do not expect them to do things perfectly. Tantrums are expected. They are kids.

We also need to have patience with ourselves. Sometimes, our kids’ behaviors do not reflect our awesome parenting. Ha! But seriously, just because our kid doesn’t want to share or throws a toy, doesn’t mean we are failing at this parenting thing. But it can feel like it (speaking from experience). Getting back to how things were won’t feel like normal anymore, and that’s okay.

It can also help to encourage each other as parents when the meltdowns occur. The next time you see a Mom or Dad or Grandparent with a kid that has lost their ever loving mind in the grocery store? Give them a smile. Maybe tell them they’re doing a great job as they try to speak to their kid in a calm voice. Encouragement helps.

We can do this. Our kids can do this too.

Allyson

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in Uncategorized

Why Does My Therapist Want to Talk About My Childhood?

If you go to counseling, you can almost guarantee that your therapist is going to ask about your childhood at some point. If you’re confused about how talking about your childhood can help you manage your stress burnout or help with marriage counseling, you’re not the only one. So let’s talk about why your therapist wants to know!

One of the most important reasons a therapist asks about your childhood is find out more about your story. When you see a new counselor or therapist for the first time, they know almost nothing about you. While our experiences shape us all differently, it is undeniable that we ARE shaped by our experiences and our responses to them. By giving your therapist a glimpse into your childhood, you are helping them create a more contextualized and nuanced understanding of your experience and how you view it.

Another reason your therapist may ask about your childhood is because your childhood is where many of the narratives that impact your life today began. You have undoubtedly grown and changed many of your beliefs and responses since childhood. But your childhood is still where you formed your first opinions about yourself, the world, and the meaning of everything in between.

One of the most self-empowering things we can do as an adult is to examine those narratives and decide whether or not we want to keep them. Identifying those early narratives isn’t always easy, but one way that they tend to pop up is in automatic thoughts. An automatic thought is a thought that pops up before we even have time to process what we’ve been asked or what is happening. For example, some of the things you say to yourself – positive or negative – may be internalized narratives that you heard continuously as a child.

We have all internalized countless narratives from our childhood, and the more your therapist knows about your childhood, the more they can help you have more autonomy over the narratives that are constantly influencing our thoughts and choices.

No matter what your childhood story is, I would encourage you to talk to your therapist about your childhood. Some of you may have trauma that you want to work through and others may want to repair relationships with parents or siblings. But even if your memories of your childhood are mostly positive and you have healthy relationships with your family members now, it can still be helpful to talk about your childhood in therapy.

Here’s why:

You experienced life as a child without a fully developed prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps you learn, process new information, and make good choices. So even though you don’t have a temper tantrum when you parents are busy now and you can successfully navigate a fight with your adult friends without crying and whining, the things that caused you emotional distress as a child were still emotionally distressing, even if they seem silly and insignificant as an adult now. And our brains are great at remembering distress, not matter the cause.

When our brains remember distress, they tend to keep reacting to whatever caused the distress until we can use our mature brains to teach our emotional brain that we are safe. For example, a child whose parent always cleaned when they were upset may now get stressed out whenever they clean house as an adult. Their child brain learned that the house getting cleaned meant that they might be shouted at or that their parents just fought, so now as an adult, their adult brain is wired to be prepared for distress whenever it’s time to clean the house.

Examining relationships between our current stressors and the stressors of our childhood can give us a chance to intentionally teach our brains that our distress as a child was real, but that we are now an adult who can keep ourselves safe.  

No matter who you are or who your family is, being a child is hard. So if you have the time and space in counseling, give yourself the gift of talking about your childhood. And if you’ve never been to counseling before and your therapist asks about your childhood in the first session, chances are there’s an excellent reason and you’re on the brink of some good work.

Growing with you,

Selena

Posted in relationships

Helping Weather the Storm

I’m at a loss. A real loss. Numbness has spread through my emotions and I want to curl into the fetal position. Things could be worse, but they could also be so much better.

This week has been a winter wonderland walk through hell. Maybe not hell. But something like being trapped on the “it’s a small world ride” at Disney. Snow blankets the ground, spreading silence and beauty. However, it has brought trials. First, there was so much snow for our southern town that we couldn’t leave the house on unplowed streets. Then, we had rolling blackouts that disoriented me and my kids. The blackouts effected cell reception and texts barely made it from my phone to

my support system. This contributed to me being able to engage very few coping skills. Anxiety, disconnection and darkness swirled around me.

For a bit of relief, we were able to hitch a ride to family’s house for a little bit of electricity and company. After experiencing some relief in my soul, we came home to water spilling out of our front door. We were dripping water to prevent a pipe from bursting resulting in a flooded house. Betrayal by bathtub. So in the moments I was feeling relief from the stress, my home was becoming logged with water.

It has been a struggle. This is on top of being in a new place with a limited support system. However. We have had a few experiences that provided comfort. Small things given to us be our wonderful support system. Here are some ways of supporting people while they are handling crisis.

Be decisive.

Those of us in the midst of the crisis? We often freeze. We get overwhelmed. Making a this or this request? That helps. My sister-in-law texted me as I watched my carpet being surgically removed with an exacto knife. Her words? We have a room for you set up. Not, do you want to stay here or should I set up a room? Just, it’s done.

It gave me relief. I felt taken care of and the need to make a decision was taken. It wasn’t telling me what to do, it was offering me a life preserver.

Show up.

My husband called a friend when we found the water. He drove through the perilous roads, a few towns away, to help. My brother came. He called someone else.

While we were frozen, steps were being taken to care for our home.

Similar to the previous point, not asking, doing. If you’re anything like me, You hate asking for help. Putting people out. But people showing up? You don’t have to say no.

This can be bringing a meal or even a phone call. I had a friend not only call, but insist on finding us a hotel room. No where was open, but still. It was a way of showing up.

It’s the small things.

My brother and his wife are wonderful humans. My brother brought us coffee and they watched our kids to give us a moment. The biggest thing to me? He put on my favorite, calming music. I almost started crying when I heard the first notes.

Before this flooding happened, I was struggling. A small thing? My sister listening and validating my emotions.

The small things are such big things.

An important small thing is empathy. You may not be able to “do” anything, but empathy is a important. When someone feels heard and feels someone recognizes their hardship, it shares the burden. You don’t need to fix or offer advice. Listen. Affirm the struggle.

In the midst of my relatively small crisis, these things have been so helpful. It is hard to know what to do when those you love are struggling. Know that grand gestures aren’t necessary. Be decisive for them, show up and know that small things make a big impact.

Struggling,

Allyson

Ps Since I wrote this post earlier last week, the snow has thawed, but troubles keep coming. Check on your people that have been effected by Winter Storm Uri. We aren’t okay.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Posted in emotion regulation, empathy, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, trauma

Making a Case For…Thinking Your Emotions

Our “worst” or most maladaptive traits are often good and healthy coping mechanisms that have been turned up to such a high volume that they are now interfering with other healthy ways of being. For example, people pleasing as a child may have kept you from getting in trouble at home, but as an adult it may make it difficult to set appropriate boundaries in your relationships.  One maladaptive trait that gets me into trouble is thinking my emotions more than feeling them. In fact, I have a friend who will check in with me by saying, “Are you intellectualizing your emotions again?” Talk about getting called out!

To really simplify things, we process our emotions best whenever we use both the thinking and feeling parts of our brain. Developing a healthy integration of our thinking and feeling is what leads us to healing, while getting lost for too long in one or the other usually results in us getting stuck.

Getting stuck is the last place we want to be with our own emotions. As the resident “over-thinker,” here are some ways to help take a step back when you find yourself getting lost in the feeling:

Look for Patterns

Whenever we’re faced with particularly confusing emotions or responses, a common response is to start to judge ourselves. “Why am I feeling this way? Why is this happening? What’s wrong with me?” If this starts to happen to you, try stepping outside of yourself and taking on the role of the scientist. When scientists have a problem they need to find a solution to, one of the essential steps in finding that solution is collecting data.

The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself questions. What happened right before you felt that way? What happened right after? What were you thinking? What were you feeling? Who else was there and what was said? What time of day did it happen? Try to be as non-judgmental as possible when you’re in this headspace, refraining from naming anything as ‘good’ or ‘bad. The goal is to situate yourself as a scientist who is dispassionately observing.

This doesn’t mean to ignore your emotions, it simply gives you the space to try to logically understand your emotions outside of feeling them, and try to understand more about them.

Everything Makes Sense in Context

Have you ever had trouble regulating yourself after hearing someone else talk about their emotions or opinions? Maybe when they start talking about their political ideology? (This seems to do the trick for many of us!) Thinking can help in this context because, as I think we’ve at least all seen, matching someone else’s emotional intensity rarely makes a situation better.

One of the ways you can use your thinking to diffuse an emotionally intense interaction is to move from a place of primarily feeling to a place of curiosity. Everything that we do, we do because it makes sense to us for some feeling or reason at the time. The same is true for everyone else. If everything makes sense in context, ask yourself why the opinions and reactivity of the other person make sense for them. Curiosity can move us away from an oppositional standpoint towards one of empathy and compassion.

Name It, Don’t Stuff It

There are times when we are all faced with emotions and experiences that have the potential to overwhelm us. I’m talking about those moments when what we’re feeling seems like it has the power to completely shut us down if we give in. Utter grief and sorrow. Shock and despair. The darkest corners of our depression and the frozen moments of anxiety.

It’s in these moments that our power to think emotions can truly come to the rescue, because without intentionally using our thinking, these emotions can get duct taped shut, closed into a box, and shoved into the forgotten places in our mind. These are the emotions we stuff down because we don’t know how to process them and would feel too unsafe feeling them. They are the emotions we stuff in order to survive.

When faced with these kinds of emotions, the first thing you can do is name it. Maybe you know it’s shock, or grief, or sadness. Or maybe you just know that what you’re feeling is overwhelming. Name it. Maybe even say it out loud: “I’m feeling despair right now. It’s really upsetting and I don’t know what to do with it.” Then you can put it in a box, set it on a shelf, and set a reminder to come back to it when you are in a calmer space. This gives your body time to calm down, and even just naming your emotion externalizes it enough to give you some space from it at that moment. Just remember to come back to it when you are feeling safe and calm. Coming back to the emotion later, when you’re feeling safe, will allow you to integrate your thinking and feeling, instead of just getting lost in the overwhelm.

Our bodies, emotions, and experiences are so intimately and intricately intertwined. And while we are all wonderful, we are also all wounded. I urge you to pay attention to both your thinking and feeling, and talk to a counselor if you need help with this. I found a lot of safety in thinking my emotions until I found I wasn’t able to heal fully without all of the feeling. Listen to your feelings. Listen to your brain. Listen to your body. It’s doing the best it can to heal you, so let’s help it along.

Thinking AND feeling with you,

Selena

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.