Posted in anger, boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, goals, parenting, relationships, selfcare, trauma, values

I’m Sorry I Hurt Your Feelings by the Boundary I Set, You Psychopath

Okay, so that might not be the best way to respond to someone. Name calling is generally considered unhelpful. However, this can be the heartfelt cry of many people attempting to hold boundaries within unhealthy relationships. It is actually a phrase I heard someone wish to utilize recently. Establishing boundaries when a relationship has a close association or has persisted for a number of years, can be difficult. How do you create the boundary? How do you communicate it? The hardest, how do you hold the boundary when there is the inevitable pushback? All these questions are important to consider. Boundaries are necessary, the are important and they are a way to protect yourself and others.

HOW DO YOU CREATE THE BOUNDARY?

I have always known boundaries were important. However, few things increased my insistence on boundaries quite like becoming a mom. I’m in the camp that holds better boundaries for others than for myself. I know, I know, I’m working on it.

You know a boundary needs to be set by internal warning signs. Do you feel hurt and confused? Do you sense a threat? Fight, flight or freeze kick in? That lets you know a boundary was crossed. We hold unconscious boundaries within ourselves that can be difficult to identify. These standards can be solidified when we evaluate the event that occurred and what value was violated. This can range from a tone someone takes with you to physical abuse or aggression. Having this spectrum can make things a little gray. It does not help that the most chronic boundary violators can be very skilled at gaslighting. Gaslighting is the method of convincing someone that how they feel is invalid and wrong.

When you are continually leaving a situation or person feeling out of sorts and “always wrong” it might be a good idea to process the events with someone objective. It needs to be someone that can remain dis-engaged emotionally and does not play devils advocate, nor jump to your defense. Someone that can listen and remain detached. They can help identify the value breached and create a reasonable boundary. This can include not interacting with them until they can take responsibility for their behavior or even leaving the situation when they breach the boundary. This can be leaving the room or even the location where they are.

HOW DO YOU COMMUNICATE IT?

Here is an example of identifying when a boundary needs to be set. Sometimes a loved one can be feeling anxious or frustrated and they turn all their emotion into the way they speak to you. Ouch, right? The value violated is respect. You may let it slide once or twice. However, it can be helpful to calmly say, “Please do not take your frustration out on me,” or “please talk to me in a kinder way.” Responding in a non-combative manner is helpful because it is more difficult for the other person to continue in their behavior. Read difficult, not impossible. If the pattern continues, the script can become more assertive. This can be saying, “If you continue to speak to me this way, I will leave.”

If patterns are repeated in a relationship, having one or two phrases identified that can be used in these situations is crucial. You may sound like a broken record, but the calm repeating of a phrase can defuse a situation. Who will continue arguing with someone that doesn’t change their words or escalate in emotions? It takes away the confrontation, fight or acquiescence the person may be looking for.

HOW DO YOU HOLD A BOUNDARY?

Boundaries are hard. They force change in a relationship. Any time there’s a shift, the relationship acts like a rubber band. You create distance due to the change, the other person either adapts or the relationship snaps. A severed relationship is painful. We, as humans, have an aversion to pain. Maybe that’s just me? The status quo is sometimes comfortable, even if it causes us pain.

However, boundaries are never an unloving or unhelpful addition to a relationship. A healthy relationship is one where boundaries are expressed and accepted. When two people’s values in treatment collide, it might not be the best to continue that friendship. This can range from one person wanting to gain all their emotionally validation from one person (read unhealthy) or refusing to engage in a nonreciprocal relationship.

The best way to hold a boundary is having a predetermined consequence to continual violation of the boundary. It helps to have an outside consultant to come up with this as well. The confidant can be a mental health professional, a mentor or a level headed friend. It needs to be firm, but also proportional. This can be, as stated before, leaving a room or a place when someone violated that boundary. It can be cutting a type of contact, such as texting, phone calls, etc for a predetermined set time. It can even be cutting all contact for a certain amount of time. It helps to have a set time table. It ensures that there is a possibility for reengagement, in non-abuse cases, and allows the option for growth.

Most importantly, then you must, MUST, hold the consequence. If it is a consequence “without teeth” the chronic behavior will not change. It must be enforceable and enforced. Have others that help keep you accountable to the consequence.

Remember, when it is hard, that your values are worth upholding. Insisting that others treat you with respect is important and contributes to how you feel about yourself. It can be a helpful model for your children, your friends and your family. It can serve as a reminder to people in your life that they, also, are worth holding boundaries.

Posted in boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, grief, isolation, Jealousy, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion, siblings, therapy, trauma, values

Three Things to Learn From Encanto

As many parents know, the world of Encanto has enveloped reality. The music plays constantly, the kids enact scenes and scold one another from mentioning Bruno. One thing to know, I’m not a huge fan of animated movies. I loved them as a kid, but as an adult I’d rather an action movie. However, this movie surprised me. I was unaware of many themes that presented themselves. The therapist and parent within me was hooked from the first few verses of “Surface Pressure” and as more evolved, I was excited for the progression of the story. There’s much to learn from examining this movie related to mental health. Here are a few lessons to glean from this wonderful movie.

“Give it to your sister, your sister’s older / Give her all the heavy things we can’t shoulder / Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?”

Your talent or “gift” does not need to be your identifier. Each character is presented based on their gift. It appeared that they have settled into their role within the community and family system. However, it begins to become clear that they are exhausted by the constant expectations. The pressure is intense and robs them of exploring other aspects of their personality.

It can be comforting to put ourselves in a box. A clearly outlined identity. We know where we fit within ourselves and the world. It can be uncomfortable to be okay with unclear boundaries and expectations. It is comforting to be known for one particular characteristic. The reason stereotypes are common, is it is easier to stick someone with a label than take the time to get to know the whole person.

Unfortunately this can be true of ourselves, or even the person we projected to others. We worry that we will be judged or rejected. However, being a complete person with quirks and weaknesses, is reality. You are known for baking? It is okay to bring a store bought cake when you’re tired. Usually the friend that listens? It is acceptable to need someone to listen to YOU too. Learning to break out of the norm can be difficult and scary. However, you are worth it and the world needs all that you are, not just a portion.

“We don’t talk about Bruno”

Having family secrets are harmful. You know that family “thing” that no one talks about? It is unhelpful and actually harmful to your family. It can be anything from someone’s past, a mental health struggle, addiction or a whole estranged member of the family. Just because the family didn’t talk about Bruno did not mean his absence left the family unmarked. The unspoken aspects of a family will actually be the most harmful.

When words are unsaid, they hold too much power. Power to divide, power to grow into lies that cause damage. Families internalize what is unspoken. It can create a whole range of trauma and veiled problems. This is explored in detail by Mark Wolynn in It Didn’t Start with You. It is called “transgenerational trauma” in the field of counseling. This leads to the next point.

“And I’m sorry I held on too tight / Just so afraid I’d lose you too”

Grief and all kinds of trauma can be harmful down generations if unresolved. Abuela silenced her emotions. She silenced her fear. She walled herself off as a matriarch with noble goals for her family and did not have attachment to the next generations. The members of her family became lauded only for their outward actions. She was a victim of trauma and wounded deeply. It not only effected her interactions with the world, it effected how those that loved her felt about themselves.

Experiencing a traumatic event is not your fault. However, how you cope with it IS your responsibility. Numbing and refusing to acknowledge what you view as weakness, is not helping anyone. It harms the future. Relationships cannot coexist in a healthy way with unresolved trauma. It can spread like a disease and weaken all bonds. Please seek help. For you, and generations to come.

Media can be so helpful to explain difficult lessons in a nonthreatening manner. The elements of stories in general allow us to learn from character’s failures and how to overcome obstacles. We watch movies for entertainment and that is okay. However, sometimes the themes are so universal and important we need to examine them to understand the world in a healthy way.

Always learning,

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 boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, therapy, trauma

How Do I Talk to My Kids About…My Mental Illness

“I love Nonna. Nonna is always calm and kind…not like you mom.”

Nonna is the name my kids use for my mother-in-law and those were the words my child was whispering to me as I was tucking him into bed one night. I knew that on a different day those words would have cut right through me, but that night was different. That night, I agreed with him.

I was at a low point that night. I didn’t recognize myself as a parent: I was yelling, irritable, and struggling to delight in my relationship with them. In short, I wasn’t okay. But I had been diagnosed with PTSD just a few days earlier and was finally able to see my actions through a lens that made my behavior make sense.

If you are coping with a mental illness and have a diagnosis, you have every right to keep that information to yourself. If, however, you find your mental illness affecting your relationship with your children, here are a few ways of talking about it that may help.

View Your Diagnosis As An Explanation, Not An Excuse

That night, as my son told me how much he didn’t like me, I knew the reason for my behavior. I understood enough about PTSD to understand that what had happened during the day made sense, including my behavior. But I also knew that I had really hurt my child’s feelings and that there was no excuse for taking my emotions out on my kids. Having a diagnosis can help contextualize your actions, but it is not a free pass for not addressing the consequences of your actions. Mistakes that you make as a result of mental illness are still mistakes.

When your mental illness affects your relationship with your kids, it’s okay to let them know what’s happening. First, wait for everyone to be in a calm space, then repair with your kids. Talk about the role your mental health played in your behavior, and apologize, empathize, and connect. It can also be helpful to tell you kids what you are doing/will do to change your behavior, such as talk to a doctor/counselor, keep taking your medicine, or make sure you get enough sleep.

Externalize Your Mental Illness

With mental illness, it can be really difficult to separate the person from the symptoms. Before a diagnosis, many people agonize about their symptoms and their difficulty managing them. It can be hard to keep away negative self-talk like, “I’m just not good enough,” “What’s wrong with me,” or “I’m such a bad/sad/angry/crazy/terrible person.” Creating a separation, or externalizing the problem, can help keep people separate from their symptoms.

You can use externalization with your kids by explaining what is going on with your mental health. For example, you may have promised your kids a trip to the park, but your social anxiety has become so severe that day that you can no longer go. It’s natural to feel guilty in that moment, but getting stuck in this kind of thinking is likely to lead to greater anxiety. Instead, you can try explaining to your kids that you are having a hard time with your anxiety and need to stay home.

You don’t have to use the word “anxiety”; you can call it whatever feels right for you and your kids’ maturity level. And your kids may not understand – they will have their own emotions to manage at the disappointment. By using externalization and saying that “the anxiety” is making it hard to go, you can help maintain the connection between you and your children. Instead of “Mom won’t let us go,” you change the narrative to, “Mom’s anxiety won’t let us go.” It’s a subtle shift, but it opens up the opportunity for compassion from your kids and for you to attend to your kids emotions.

Model A Balance Between Self-Control and Self-Compassion

One of the possible benefits of sharing about your mental health – whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or not – is setting an example of balancing self-control and self-compassion. Coping successfully with any mental health struggle requires both self-compassion and self-control, and it is an example that many of our kids will need. Recent studies estimate that up to 25% of adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders, so that means that even if anxiety doesn’t affect your kids, it will likely affect one of their close friends.

As much as you are able to, model and narrate how you cope with your mental health struggles. Explain that you are doing deep breathing to help keep a panic attack at bay. Talk about how you go to therapy because it helps make your depression feel better. After an outburst of PTSD anger, let you kids know that you are going to sit and sip a cup of coffee alone in order to calm down your body. Allow yourself to be disappointed that you can’t get out of bed that day, and show your kids how your treat that struggle with compassion rather than self-criticism. You won’t always get it perfect, but it is powerful to show your kids that while you cannot control your symptoms, you can often work hard to better manage them.

There are definitely times in my work as a therapist where labels and diagnoses appear to do more harm than good. Other times, like that evening with my son, a diagnosis is the best tool you have. I told him that my brain was having trouble staying calm because it had gotten hurt. I empathized that it was hard to have a “mad mom” and told him how sorry I was about using my angry voice so much that day. I sat and listened to what had made him sad or mad, and then asked if he wanted a hug. I then told him that I would keep taking my medicine for my hurt brain and keep talking to my doctor to try to get better. Being open about my mental health turned what could have been a wound in our relationship into a moment of connection.  

We will never be able to hide our imperfections from our kids. Think about ways you can normalize struggling with mental health with your kids and let us know what you come up with!

Talking it out with you,

Selena

An Important Note:

Stigma against mental illness is real. I’ve met people who keep their struggles and diagnoses a secret from as many people as possible out of fear and others who have been ostracized from their families for living openly with their diagnoses. The stressors that result from the stigma can range from minor (being embarrassed that someone saw your medication) to extreme (fear of being cut off or becoming the object of derision in your family or other social group). Only you fully know the costs and benefits of being open about a diagnosis or mental illness, and I encourage you to do what you believe is best for you. And remember, if you need to talk therapy is always confidential.

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 boundaries, emotion regulation, empathy, home, motherhood, parenting, relationships, Uncategorized

What do I say to my kid, when love seems to hurt

My husband stood holding down my son as he screamed, “Mom! You’re hurting me!” We were both sweating and crying. He was squirming and probably thinking I was terrible, because (in his mind) I was the one causing him harm. Was I torturing my son? No. He had a splinter. Attacking a constantly moving hand with tweezers while your victim, I mean patient, struggles is horrible.

I needed to take out the splinter, causing a small amount of pain, to avoid him experiencing more lasting and damaging pain. As parents, we have to endure this phenomenon of being the “bad guy,” who is actually protecting them, very often. Causing your child pain is the worst part of parenting, whether it is for their health, consequences to teach appropriate behavior, or saying “no” when they demand you say “yes.” Remembering that sometimes their immediate discomfort, or sometimes pain, at our hand is an investment in their development as a kind, persevering member of society is important. Here are a few more thoughts.

CREATE EXPECTATIONS BEFORE EVENTS OCCUR

One boundary we will set with our children, as did my parents with me, is limited homes where sleepovers are allowed. It can make kids scream and cry and sometimes feel left out. However, with my husband’s, who is also a therapist, and my experiences with clients we are very intentional about our children being in vulnerable positions with people we do not know well.

We will not wait until the sleepover fever of elementary school days begin to share our boundary with our children. Whenever sleepovers are mentioned in books, life or movies, it is going to be a constant conversation. This way, it is seen as a known expectation and not as a punishment or “trying to ruin their life” as some teens dramatically insist of their parents.

As children get older, it can also be helpful to share the reasons behind the boundary. It needs to be age appropriate, but this can help avoid the recipe for defiance and dishonesty resulting from an authoritarian response of, “because I said so!” When children know there are boundaries and that those boundaries are intentional, it can be easier for them to accept them.

FIND YOUR VALUE OUTSIDE OF YOUR CHILDREN’S OPINION OF YOU

The more you parent, the more you will receive all types of resistance from your children. They will not like you at times throughout their childhood and teenage years. We love our kids and want everyday to be one where they know their needs are met and greet us every moment with hugs. However, more often we will be on the receiving end of an “I don’t like you” or “go away.” With toddlers, their dislike is sometimes communicated through the silent treatment or their preference for the other caregiver. Our emotional needs will NEVER be met by our children. I repeat, our emotional needs will NEVER be met by our children. If we look to them to be our comfort or validation, it will cause major problems.

Children know when someone’s expectations of them is too much. They cannot be our supports and it does harm them. They may sense our distress at times, and that is ok. We need to have other ways to receive comfort. Our children need to know that whether they are a jerk to us, or not, our relationship with them is unchanging.

When our kids do not meet our emotional or physical expectations, such as being unkind, disobedient, or uncooperative, it is important to treat them with continued care. There is no need for silent treatment or no passive aggressive comments. Do not withhold loving actions, be sure to speak to them with kindness, and give them consequences when they misbehave. These actions will be the greatest lesson they will learn. They are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions.

ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO EXPERIENCE CONSEQUENCES

The biggest indicator I have seen of a child’s future, is how their parents handle their failures. This can be failure to comply with parental rules, school expectations, or even laws. Parents want their children to have a happy life, free of pain and difficulty. If we intervene to rescue our kids, they will never take responsibility for themselves.

In these situations, the dialogue will become strenuous. It will become more difficult to persevere when they beg for “help.” However, if we begin the cycle of keeping them out of “trouble” when their actions are deserving of the “trouble,” they will begin to experience entitlement.

Did they forget to turn in an assignment? Allow them to receive the low mark. Did their tardiness become excessive and they miss out on a field trip? Do not talk the teacher into “letting it go.” When they have earned the punishment, it is our job to help them cope, not help them avoid.

Remind them of their actions and their knowledge of the consequence. Allow them to be frustrated, disappointed, devastated, or angry. They may insist you betrayed them, or they hate you, but their immediate discomfort will protect them from a pattern of dishonesty. Speak to them in a loving manner, do not withdraw your love due to their actions. Persevere.

Perseverance is the mantra of parenthood. There is nothing easy about loving and guiding children into adulthood. Frequently, our love will be their “enemy” and we will experience the backlash. However, it is re-breaking the bone so that it might heal well.

Persevering alongside,

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 anger, boundaries, emotion regulation, grief, home, isolation, Jealousy, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships

What Do I Say to My Kid When…..I Have Emotions

We have moved recently. My husband preceded the family to our new home and I was left to manage two kids, a dog, a PUPPY (see the grimace), pack a house, transfer my clients, and say goodbye to my closest family and friends. Cue the overwhelmed, head in the pillow, scream. Handling life, especially when it is complicated (like always), can be difficult. There were moments of crying from the sheer immensity of the task ahead.

Trying to navigate the world of emotions while parenting, can cause us to either stuff feelings or lean on our children for support. Neither are healthy for them or us. It is important for children to see emotions and notice positive coping skills. They do not need to live in a “safe” world where Mom and Dad are never frustrated, sad, anxious or angry. They also do not have shoulders big enough to help carry our burdens. How can we find a balance?

COMMUNICATE IN AN AGE APPROPRIATE MANNER

It is important to be honest with our children. They see more than we would like to admit and experience the atmosphere of our homes. Our faces tell them when we are having difficulty with our day or our situation. If they ask about our tears and we insist that nothing is wrong, we not only lie to them, we invalidate emotions in general. 

It is important to give age appropriate responses. This could be saying, “I am really sad and I miss my friends back home” rather than “I am lonely because I do not have friends.” The simple version does not overwhelm little ones with the big emotions and does not give them a problem they need to “fix”, i.e. no friends.  As kids get older, the words can be more complex, but it is vital to keep them from feeling as though they have to change your circumstances or make your feel better. This bleeds into the next point.

MODEL APPROPRIATE COPING SKILLS

As I spilled the millionth item in my kitchen, I grunted in frustration and then took some deep breaths to avoid screaming or hitting my counter. You know who that impacted the most? My son. He was able to witness Mom using deep breathing to calm down just like she encourages him to do all the time. 

It helps to call attention to the use of positive or negative coping. I admit, I yell at my kids sometimes. I hate that I do it. I do not want to do it. But it slips out. The fact that I yell is less impactful, than the fact that I apologize. I tell my kids I am sorry and I reflect on the negative coping that I utilized. This helps to normalize the mistakes of negative coping and recognize that there are better methods to dealing with emotions.

SEEK APPROPRIATE SUPPORT

It can be tempting to utilize children as emotional gas stations. We are sad and need a hug? Ask a child. We need some affirmations? Ask a child. However, that is a manipulation of the parent/child relationship. They do not exist for our emotional fulfillment. When we begin to rely on them, we fail them as parents and we cease to be a healthy place for them.

We need to have others that we can rely on. A spouse is an important confidant. However, there needs to be at least one more. When you are fighting with your spouse? You need to have some you call. Ideally, it is someone that can remain objective, someone that has no ulterior motives and someone that can help be both encourager and devil’s advocate. Someone that is trustworthy. Complaining about your spouse to the co-worker you secretly find attractive? Maybe not the best idea. Processing disagreements with a person that can provide sound counsel and keep things confidential? Much better.

It can be hard to find reciprocal relationships where support is provided. If you are in a more isolated stage and no one can be reached by phone? It is ok to use a professional. It is why mental health professionals are so helpful. Utilize someone that is trained to explore your difficult emotions, rather than using your child as that sounding board while they are still children. 

Emotions are natural. Emotions are necessary. Recognizing emotions and navigating them well, is a skill that we must impart as parents. When we are struggling, it can be so difficult to parent with healthy boundaries through that process. However, being able to see a parent struggle, cope and emerge on the other side of hard things, can set a child up for not only a stronger internal identity, but ensure they experience an atmosphere of stability. 

Emoting all the time,

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 anger, boundaries, comfortzone, emotion regulation, relationships, trauma, Uncategorized, values

ANGER IS NOT AN OVERREACTION

We live in a time consumed with anger. In light of the recent events, we need to evaluate the underlying causes of anger and it’s purpose, because when we see the expression of anger we only see one part of a much larger and more complex story. It is crucial to place anger within it’s bigger context so that it can be heard, processed and acted upon. Consider how you respond when your children ask about anger and in particular current events. Are you missing part of the story?

Anger has long been associated with many negative characteristics. These characteristics, such as, evil, out of control, unmanageable, or overreacting have created some damaging results. This can cause us to dismiss or disregard anger. As stated in previous posts, emotions are a “check engine light”. Rather than dismissing anger, we must pay closer attention.

 Anger has been placed in it’s own containment chamber and is often categorized as something “wrong”. It can be a scary emotion to experience, whether you are the angry party or are facing someone that is angry. It is vital that we do not teach our children that anger is unacceptable.

Even when we do try to dismiss it, anger has a habit of bubbling to the surface. Anger is considered a secondary emotion. This means that the underlying causes are hurt, fear, and/ or disappointment. These feelings are often considered “weak” and uncomfortable. It is important to pay attention to events and words that trigger anger, because it can expose a deeper wound that needs to be addressed. It can be easier to rationalize away hurt or disappointment, but when anger explodes, it requires some attention. Pay attention to when you are angry and explore what primary emotion you may be attempting to suppress.

Anger has long classified and harmfully stereotyped, a particular community, more than any other, within our country. A dear friend of mine shared her perspective, as a member of BIPOC community, in these words:

The Great Awakening

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” -Emma Lazarus

Martin Luther King Jr. has been propped up as the ideal African American after which black people are expected to model their behavior when in protest to how black lives are valued in the United States of America and all over the world. We have seen some protests that are not so peaceful as it comes a time when people enduring being ignored for so long and eventually have to speak in the language of the oppressive force as freedom is hardly ever given. It is taken.

A new age has dawned in which so much information is now available about our past so that we fully understand all the contributing factors as to why so called “black” people have fallen so low in society. The very idea that we are labeled “black” is symbolic of us being robbed of a nation, our own language, knowing our exact family lineage/history, etc. The anger that so many are witnessing throughout the black community today is the result of centuries of feeling and knowing that we were never really completely free-whether it be psychologically, economically, etc., compared to many other non-blacks within our society.

I am thankful an awakening has initiated, first of all among black people who are starting to think about how to improve our own lives, which in the past has been impeded by racist Jim Crow laws deliberately meant to keep us in the lowest tier of society while using psychological warfare with phrases such as, “pull yourself up from your bootstraps”- Boot straps that were stolen and burned in the past (Research Black Wall Street- Tulsa, OK-Greenwood and Rosewood).

When I am asked what allies can do to help during this awakening, I am often at a loss for words. The racial disparity which has existed for centuries and that is now being widely acknowledged, is woven into the fabric of this nation and is literally the foundation of it. Black people need a break to think, to organize and to be restored so to speak. How this happens, I am not sure, as many black people have been conditioned to remain in survival mode. It will take some powerful force to restore us and lots of mental work. Allies acknowledging this and speaking up for the agenda to restore black people is a great first step, while black people also make a strong commitment to improvement.

Be compassionate during these times, listen without judgement, ask questions, and/or do your own research when you don’t understand something, be “anti-racist” and not just “not racist”. These are just the first few steps of many to understanding and repairing a system that has been broken from the start. I have faith that we will figure it out, the anger will subside as the healing/restoration starts. However, the anger we see today is very transformative and as we consciously organize our goals for reformation, hopefully that anger is channeled constructively to build a more peaceful and inclusive world for our future generations.

-Tyquencia “Ty” Hal (Allyson’s good friend since 2005 😊 )

Anger prompts change. This is an unfortunate truth. Calm words and appeals are often ignored. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but the exploding engine receives the most immediate care. Our society has become a master at ignoring the uncomfortable. In response, as individuals, we often stick to our corner of sameness and avoid the tension that change prompts.

Change is not easy. It requires sacrifices. Those that fight the hardest are those that experience anger at their current situation. Anger can be fuel that propels someone into confrontations they have avoided with attempts to pacify. Confrontations can be positive, if both parties are willing to listen. An angry person, that is able to remain civil, will often be heard above a passive, peaceful voice.

We want our children to be catalyst for change, to have their voice heard, to be warriors. Don’t we? If that is your hope for your child, you need to teach anger, encourage anger, but model and teach it’s appropriate use. Anger can be something powerful, harnessed for good. We could all use a little more spark sometimes.

Sparking,

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 boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, motherhood, parenting, therapy

I’ve Got A Feeling…or two, or three…

Back in March, Tiffany wrote an excellent post about checking in with your emotions. She beautifully described emotions as “a check-engine light for the soul,” and we figured that now is the perfect time for a tune-up. For the next several weeks, we will be checking in with one emotion each week with strategies for both parents and kids to help with identifying emotions, coping with them, and working through them.

As we dive into the world of emotions, I wanted to start us out with a word about the importance of talking to your kids about emotions.

The ideal balance is to have both high expectations AND high responsiveness in our parenting. One without the other is unbalanced (and we will all be unbalanced from time to time), but talking about emotions with our kids is just as important as teaching them discipline and boundaries.

Here are just a few reasons why we should talk to our kids about emotions:

1 – One day your kids will be grown-ups with their own grown-up emotions.

We spend a lot of time and effort making sure our kids know the things they need to know to be successful adults. We teach them math, manners, finances, and French. But knowing how to talk about, cope with, and regulate emotions is arguably the most important tool for success in the adult world. We need emotional regulation to cope with our adult relationships, adult stressors, and adult workplaces. And just like with any other skill, the sooner our kids start working on it, the more practice they will have and the better chances they will have to excel in it.

2 – Emotions help kids self-soothe.

Emotions can be big and powerful, and they can even be frightening whenever they seem to ‘take control.’ Being able to name emotions and the ways they make your kids’ bodies feel not only normalizes what is happening, but it also empowers them to talk about what they are experiencing and take appropriate action.

3 – Emotional health is critical for physical health.

If emotions aren’t processed and regulated, then they can manifest as health problems. Just like a lack of emotional regulation can lead to health problems in adults, the same can result in physical problems for kids too. This can includes symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, or weakened immune system function.

4 – Talking about emotions with our kids give us a chance to connect.

Talking to and teaching our kids about emotions can be hard and exhausting. It can also create more connection with our kids. Whenever we engage with our kids on an emotional level, we have more opportunities for compassion, empathy, and connection.

In the coming weeks, I want to begin by challenging you to become more aware of your own emotions. Here is an emotion wheel to get you started. Our kids are studying us all of the time, so the best way to start the conversation about emotions with you kids is to start leading by example.

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.

Posted in boundaries, coparenting, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, home, isolation, motherhood, parenting, relationships, screen time, summer, therapy, values

A Sea of Screens

We have all witnessed the impact of too much screen time on our own mood and on our children.  We have heard about the importance of limiting our screen time, but often times we haven’t seen the specifics of what screen time limitations should look like or the detrimental effects of too much screen time.  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time that we have all been required to be on our screens more than normal (and may have streamed an extra show or seven for ourselves or our children) the need for a screen detox is inevitable. It may be helpful to explore together just what our screen hygiene looks like and how we can change it to increase digital wellness.  

Averaging 7.5 hours of screen time per day, 8 to 18 year olds often suffer many difficulties due to steep overuse of screens.  The developmental impact appears to be most determined not by what screens are doing to alter brain development, but rather by what we are missing when we spend our time engulfed in the sea of media.  Sequestered in our homes, we neglect the rich benefits of outdoor green space which calms our nervous system and strengthens our attention span.  The constant hue of blue light short-circuits our circadian rhythm as we shield ourselves from the sun.  Exercise and its many benefits are traded for the slothful rhythm of autoplay, creating fertile ground for anxiety, insomnia, depression, and hyperactivity.  Emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and our ability to understand cause and effect are all stunted when we and our children don’t enjoy the fruits of imaginative, free play and movement.  Empathy, connection, and love are hampered when we substitute media for real embrace and eye to eye connection.

In the midst of a global pandemic, a temporary increase in screen time is to be expected.  For many of us, it’s the only way we have made it through the day with any semblance of sanity!  But however alluring the call to the sea of screens, we must return to the shore of digital wellness.  Unfortunately, we can often feel lost at sea, with no way to find our way back.  So what can we do?  Here are some helpful guidelines to get us started, as well as some additional resources to promote digital wellness in our homes:

  1. Limit screen time for adults and children in the home.
  2. Curate our use of media, opting only for those things we enjoy and avoiding pointless browsing/binge watching. 
  3. Assign times and spaces that screens are and are not allowed (ex: no screens at dinnertime and after 9:00pm or no screens or phones in bedrooms).
  4. Use software to protect children from inappropriate material. 
  5. Model healthy screen usage for your children.
  6. Decrease screen time slowly as you work toward healthier limitations
  7. Consider a 24 hour “screen sabbath” once per week, when screens are off-limits. 

Detoxing from our screen dependence will not be fun.  But it is necessary if we are to enjoy and fully embrace the life, real life, that’s right in front of us.

Tiffany Raley, M.A.

References:

Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018, May 1). Retrieved May 17, 2020, from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx

Infographics – Screen Time vs. Lean Time. (2018, January 29). Retrieved May 17, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/multimedia/infographics/getmoving.html

Posted in boundaries, counseling, motherhood

Comparisons and Boundaries

As a parent, do you ever find yourself ‘on repeat?’ In this season of parenting, one of the things my husband and I find ourselves saying over and over again is “This is a tool, not a toy.” We are trying to teach our toddlers the differences in how to treat different things. Toys are things that you can play with (for the most part) however and whenever you want. Tools, on the other hand, are things that you have to learn and respect the rules of if you want the privilege of using them.

Tools, when used properly, enhance our lives in hundreds of little ways throughout the day. However, when we misuse tools, they can oftentimes become dangerous. One tool that can be especially helpful when setting up boundaries is comparison.

Comparison gets a bad rap, especially during the holidays. There is a scene from Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas where Betty Lou Who takes out all of the lights from their house, even from their refrigerator, in an attempt to have the best light display. But to her dismay, Martha May Whovier whips out an even more spectacular light display leading Betty to be disappointed that once again she will be outdone out by Martha May. This is what comparison feels like too often during the holidays. Whose tree has the best decorations? Which family has the cutest matching pajamas or best Christmas card? How much money is your friend, brother, neighbor, etc spending on Christmas? Will your kid be the only one not getting a certain toy for Christmas? Have you done enough holiday themed activities? Have you created enough magic?  

This kind of comparison, the image-focused, materialistic, competitive kind of comparison, can be truly detrimental. It can lead to feelings of failure and symptoms of anxiety and depression. But this kind of comparison is just one way that the tool of comparison can be used. When used well, comparison has the potential to lead us towards renewed growth and can help us explore new perspectives.

Compare Yourself to Your Past Self

You are not the same person that you were last year. You have grown and changed. Recognize your growth and celebrate it. Had a bad year? Take time to look back on how resilient you have been. You have survived. You have endured. Change takes a lot of time, patience, and compassion for the person you were at the beginning of the process. Sometimes change can feel like trying to watch your hair grow. You may find that you have grown more than you thought when you take the time to compare yourself with who you were last year (or last week, or 10 years ago, etc. etc.). Your boundaries may still not be where you want them to be, or you may feel terrible at enforcing them, but allow yourself to take a step back and put your progress into perspective.

Compare Yourself to People Whose Values You Admire

It is always good to have people in your life who you admire or who inspire you. Find people whose values are the same as yours, but who have more or different kinds of life experiences than you. This doesn’t just apply to parenting, but to marriage, careers, ministry, and art as well. Comparing yourself to people who have the same values as you can be incredibly helpful for problem-solving, especially with your boundaries. This kind of comparison allows you to discover how others handled the same or similar problems and you can benefit from the experience and wisdom that they have gained in their own attempts to establish and keep good boundaries.

Compare Yourself to People Who Are Nothing Like You

There is a term in sociology called ethnocentrism. It is the belief that your own culture is better than any other culture. Almost every culture has traces of ethnocentrism and it serves a very important purpose of creating social solidarity, pride, traditions, and a feeling of belonging. When creating and managing your boundaries, it is important to remember that you are likely looking at your life with some traces of ethnocentrism. In other words, you may think that you have figured out the best way to mother, raise a family, balance work and family time, etc. If you want to continue to grow, find people who live life differently than you do and try to find out why. Be curious and open-minded and discover the things that they do that they think are best. By exposing yourself to different ideas and developing compassion and understanding for others who choose to live differently than you, you will be able to more objectively evaluate your own boundary choices and continue towards more holistic growth.

We all wish you a Merry Christmas,

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 boundaries, counseling, emotion regulation, home, motherhood, parenting, trauma, Uncategorized, values

Boundaries Have No Age Requirement

Our children deserve to have a voice in some boundaries. This does not include no vegetables or whether they are able to handle many hours of screen time. However, they are individuals with thoughts and feelings. It is important to consider the boundaries they need to establish for themselves. Here are a few.

WHO THEY TOUCH AND HOW THEY TOUCH

It can be complicated to allow children power over these boundaries, especially in the south. Everyone hugs and the older generation expects kisses. To allow a child to forgo this tradition may cause some raised eyebrows. It can be seen as rude or impolite to refuse to give their Great Aunt, that they have met once, a long hug. Consider our expectations of our children. We expect them to have control over their fidgeting, rolling of the eyes and tone of their voice, but often do not allow them to have control over situations their bodies are placed in. 

This does not need to be a prolonged conversation or one that leaves them vulnerable to criticism. As their parents, we can set the expectation that they will have a say. Our family gives the suggestion of a “hug or a high-five” with every person in our children’s lives. Therefore, they know they have a choice and are able to respond to our instructions to give one or the other. The other person hears our promoting and knows we do not insist our children give hugs, no matter the relation. 

HOW LONG THEY ENGAGE IN AN ACTIVITY

Our children tell us more with their behavior, than with their mouths. No matter the age, we can tell when they are reaching their “meltdown danger zone”. The words get whinier and the legs are more susceptible to collapsing out from under them in dramatic retaliation. These signs tell us our children are done. Without words, they are asking to be given less stimulating time to collect themselves.

  They let us know when it is time to leave the playdate, time to go home from the party, time to exit Chick-fil-a in a football hold flight to the car. It can be inconvenient at times, but parenting is about sacrifice. Their little brains and bodies can stay engaged or active only so long until they need a break or change of scenery. 

HOW THEY FEEL

It can be very tempting to try and control the emotions expressed by our children. We do not think it is valid to be angry that we would not allow them to lay on the floor next to the toilet. We do not think it is valid that they are devastated that we will not allow them to eat the dog’s food. We may not think is is valid that our teen thinks their life is ending because they cannot see their boyfriend/ girlfriend for one day. Children do not always make sense. Teens do not always make sense.

  But feelings are never wrong. Let me restate that: feelings are never wrong. They can be expressed in disobedient, disrespectful or harmful ways. However, they are not wrong. They may have an intensity that we do not believe matches the situation, but they are not wrong. People are allowed to feel how they feel and have someone see, hear and acknowledge their feelings. When we do this, we are teaching them that they have value and they are allowed to feel, how they feel.

Boundaries are tricky. When we allow people to adhere to their own boundaries, we reinforce our belief in their validity as individuals. Kids do not always want what is best for themselves or know what some boundaries need to be, that is where parenting comes in. Our children know themselves and have their own experiences. The parents responsibility is to teach them how to mature into healthy, engaged members of society. This requires us to treat them as such in an age appropriate manner. Children are allowed to have boundaries. It is important that adults listen to children and respect their boundaries.

Learning together,

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.