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 coparenting, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, motherhood, parenting, relationships, selfcompassion

Parenting While Pregnant

WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT PREGNANCY

We are pregnant. We are pregnant! It’s an exciting reality. We have talked about expanding our family often and knew we wanted to grow beyond our two kiddos. After prayer and conversations, we were able to conceive. That sounds so simple. To be honest, despite my PCOS diagnosis, fertility issues is not one of my symptoms. Before I explore my struggles parenting while pregnant, I want to acknowledge those that DO struggle. Struggle with getting pregnant, struggle with carrying a pregnancy to term, struggle with grief over loss, struggle with waiting in an adoption journey. With all the ways science and culture has moved forward in having babies, it doesn’t change the reality of the emotions present when others are able to announce a new life when you’re trying so hard to experience that reality.

In this post I want to chronicle some difficulties I am having during pregnancy. I explore this not to complain, not to minimize this miracle. I disclose to help others that really dislike the glorious reality of being pregnant not feel so alone. Being pregnant is a privilege. Not everyone is able to have this experience. However, it CAN be difficult. It is okay to be discouraged or disgruntled or miserable even while being grateful for what is to come.

That is my life. I love my kids. I love having them. However, I do NOT enjoy pregnancy. It seems that each subsequent pregnancy has different stresses. With Gideon, the nausea was so overwhelming that medicine was necessary to make it through the day. I did not have hyperemesis gravidarum, but it was still miserable. With Keaton, it was fatigue. Parenting a toddler and working part time added to the hormonal exhaustion. Then we come to this baby. There is some nausea, there is some fatigue, but ,oh man, are there mood swings.

You know who this effects the most? My kids. I have lost my mind around their behavior more times than I would like to admit. There have been many talks and many apologies. My kids and my husband endure my irritability, my sadness and my anxiety. I hate it. I do not like to feel out of control. Sometimes, my usual coping skills are unhelpful and it drives me crazy. I preach and preach to people about knowing the coping skills that are helpful to them and here I am, not being able to utilize any! It’s obnoxious.

My oldest has since started school. Let me tell you, homework time is, whew, I don’t have a word. He’s silly. He’s all over the place. Wanna know why? He’s FIVE! Knowing this, I still get so so frustrated. Then, I get more and more frustrated with myself. Ya’ll. Hormones are very irrational things. Here are a few things that I need to tell myself as well as communicate to others in an effort to help.

BE VOCAL ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE

I lash out sometimes. I am not proud of it. Usually my husband gets the brunt. I will be angry…sometimes for no reason (thanks Mrs. Hormone). Then, I will find some small thing he did that could be the reason for my emotions. I will then explain that his actions are the cause of my feelings. Yikes, right? Poor man.

Usually, about 5 or sometimes 20 minutes into this tirade and trading of lovely information, I will realize that my words do not make sense. I think on all the positive things he’s done and all the things I am grateful to him for. I then recognize that what I am feeling has nothing to do with him. At this point, no matter who is the recipient of my frustration, I experience embarrassment. I realize that it has nothing to do with them. It is my own emotion that has overruled sanity.

The conversation usually involves me apologizing. It involves me acknowledging all the positive things he has done and then something unhelpful, it involved me berating myself. That leads to my next point.

APOLOGIZE, REPAIR, AND MOVE ON

I do not do this well. I feel as though I need to batter myself internally a bit to ensure I don’t treat someone in an unkind way again. Does it help? Nope. I fail again and hurt feelings again. It instead creates distance in the relationship. It puts up walls. In holding onto my anger at myself, it becomes about me rather than that person.

Having a self flagellation session can cause the person whose feelings I’ve hurt work to make ME feel better. That is very unhealthy. It almost steals their space to experience their anger or their hurt. It is so unhelpful and can be so damaging.

Acknowledge the negative behavior, apologize, and seek to repair the relationship. That may be by giving them space or even listening to how your actions hurt them without providing a defense. It is super humbling, but also super healing.

TAKE A MOMENT

Sometimes, I need to take a moment. I need to lay down and get space from people. It seems weird to type, because I LOVE people. If I could run all my errands and do all my everything with someone chatting along with me, that’d be great. However, no one needs to be around a “cranky pants.” Taking time can be more for other’s benefit than for me.

When it’s a moment from my kids, I can give them paper to color, allow them to video chat with my mother-in-law or *gasp* put on a TV show. Taking my moment is way more beneficial than doing any yelling. They’re kids. They are supposed to make mistakes, spill everything, and try my patience. Parenting is so lovingly refining.

Those struggling to parent while pregnant, I see you. I am you. It is okay to have difficulty staying calm with all the changes and all the hormones coursing through your body. It does not mean that you don’t love your kids. It does not mean that you aren’t grateful for your pregnancy. Remember, anything worth doing has it’s battles.

Making it, maybe?

Allyson

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 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 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.

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, coparenting, empathy, grief, parenting, relationships, trauma, Uncategorized, values

Confronting Communication in this controversial world

“Do you even have a brain?” may be an overarching sentiment throughout today’s dialogue. The tone of the home is often found within the culture of the outside world. In these times, the overwhelming atmosphere of polarization is seeping into our families. Politics, COVID precautions, parenting, and so many other issues have become divisive rather than topics for discussion. 

Navigating these subjects with our spouses can be very difficult. The tendency is to become reactive, condescending and dismissive. This can cause small fights to become point-making episodes that will erode the relationship.

Here are a few options to consider when disagreements arise:

LISTENING VS. LITIGATING 

When we believe something strongly, we often have a list of relevant arguments on file in our brains. (Or is that just me?) We know the common attempts to refute our thoughts and the best rebuttal. A conversation becomes more like a trial for certain ideas. 

That is not how communication with our spouse needs to function. We need to listen, not only for the words they are speaking, but for what is below the surface. We know this person. We have dedicated our lives to being “one flesh” and molding our wills into a compatible force. When something triggers deep emotion, it is normally about something much more. What is that underlying fear or hurt they are attempting to outrun, out-reason or out-act? Listen deeper than the argument that you deem idiotic or shortsighted. 

Some insistences that wearing masks are ridiculous might stem from the panic response the body creates when feeling trapped. What trauma are they experiencing? Is it about more than just their decision that wearing masks “isn’t for them.” Often, when we are able to listen beyond the words and enter into their world, we can speak to the core issue rather than the surface defense.

RESPONDING VS. REACTING

As previously explored, look beyond what is said. This is easier said than done. How come? We also have underlying reasons for our reactions. It can help to evaluate our own stances and the reasoning behind them. 

This way, we are able to hear what is said without our own filters. These filters may color our partner’s arguments with more meaning than they intend. As an example, have you been frustrated at your spouse’s suggestion that they may not get the COVID vaccine? Are you simultaneously grieving an elderly loved one? Consider the connection between these two seemingly unrelated events.  

The words spoken are not what causes the emotion, it is the history we contend with in our own minds. When we understand our worldview, our own traumas and why we feel how we feel, we can respond with more calm than if we react to our own underlying histories. When we know ourselves, we can also share where our passion comes from. Bringing the cause of emotion into the conversation allows understanding. 

A great method to begin this conversation can be using “I” statements. This is a format often taught in counseling as a means to express difficult ideas. “I feel __________, when you _________, because _______________ . Next time, I would like if you would ____________ .”

This can be “I feel unheard, when you complain about COVID restrictions, because I am still grieving over losing my Grandmother. Next time, I would like if you would acknowledge my emotion as valid.”

ASKING VS. ASSUMING

Part of the “love verses” in scripture that is read at weddings and quoted ad nauseam in 1 Corinthians 13 is that love “always trusts.” (verse 7) It believes the best. When we assume that the other person is intelligent, caring, and wants the world to be a better place, we can ask questions without an ulterior motive. 

Questions can be healing or very damaging. When done with an agenda, or in an attempt to shame or manipulate someone, it can harm. However, when we seek to really know the answer of the question we ask, we can begin to communicate. 

Attempt to start on a level playing field. Ask what you do not understand. Ask without condescension and without agenda. Ask to know what is going on in your spouses mind. Seek to understand their perspective. 

Another way to find common ground, a way that helps me and is in line with my belief system, is making prayer part of the equation. When I pray to understand my spouse, pray to hear what he says, pray for compassion for him and pray to be able to communicate my own thoughts, I find that things go better. I am able to shed my defensive walls and make my hurts more exposed. It becomes more of a place of trust and I am able to approach with humility. 

All of these ideas make one assumption, however. They assume that you and your spouse are seeking to be a team, partners. These points do not work when one or both of you are attempting to have control or manipulate one another. If that is the case, I would recommend finding a marriage counselor to help balance the dynamic in the relationship to be in a healthier place.

I know this season is difficult. Tensions are high and passions run hot. It is possible to disagree and come to some type of compromise. However, this depends on your ability to approach your spouse with empathy and understanding. When you understand the “why” behind their “what”, the core of the issue can be discussed without hiding behind current issues. This gives birth to a new kind of intimacy – one where mutual respect and knowledge pave the way to better comprehension. 

Listening and evaluating,

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 back to school, comfortzone, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, empathy, goals, grief, home, loneliness, motherhood, parenting, relationships, summer, Uncategorized, unprepared, values

Ch-ch-changes

Change is always inevitable. As the saying goes, “the only thing constant is change.” That is more true in these tumultuous times than ever. As I type this post, I sit in a home with unpacked boxes and blank walls. During the craziness of a pandemic, my family has moved across state lines. More unsettled emotions and more disruption to routine await my children. 

It is important to focus on ways to support our children and give them stability amidst uncertain times. As we have previously discussed, their emotions are weaving through anxiety, grief, and confusion. The presentation of these feelings may come out sideways, but there is no question that they are struggling. School is uncertain and friendships are suffering from lack of time together. Here are a few ways to ensure our kids have what they need.

SET EXPECTATIONS EACH DAY

A way to reduce anxiety is to give the most information possible. As they wake up or join you for breakfast, remind them of everything on the agenda that day. It can include having a FaceTime date with a friend or relative, going to pick up groceries, spending time doing online school or even going on a walk. A few activities that you plan for the day or need them to accomplish, stated in a few bullet points. 

This can allow them to have a method for marking the days. As days run together it can become distressing for a child that is used to lots of activity. If it is possible, plan the day with your child and allow them to insert a few items they would like to do or need to do. This can provide some feelings of control. 

CREATE A SAFE SPACE 

My son is a fan of enclosed spaces. Give him a tent or box and he enjoys himself. Having somewhere a child feels safe can go a long way to aiding their adjustment to change. This can be a corner of the house where they can listen to music, read or draw. Having their own space, again gives them feelings of control and a place to turn when life seems out of control. 

Understanding their need for familiar things, and providing them time to seek out the comfort, you are validating their emotions and coping. It sets a healthy precedent for enduring upheaval later in life. It is also helpful to have a place of your own. Modeling healthy behavior aids in kids engaging that behavior. 

SPEND INTENTIONAL TIME TOGETHER

How often this is possible, depends on your life stage. Working from home with school age children having to do distance learning? Maybe once a week. However, setting up some activity to do with your son or daughter can give them the extra attention they need. This does not need to be finishing a thousand piece puzzle and hours of work. It can be reading together, coloring together or building a blanket fort. 

Kids love experiencing fun with their parents. They love finding ways to do things they know their parents are enjoying alongside them. It builds a foundation of security that lasts during times of uncertainty. Knowing that they have a way to connect with the most important people in their lives.

USE FEELING WORDS OFTEN

We spent the last two months focused on feeling words. On why they are important, how to cope and how to identify them. Revisit those if needed, its never a bad idea. Using feeling words when you are experiencing an emotion as well as identifying their emotions can give your relationships a common language. 

Some examples are: “Oh, I see you are so frustrated.” “I am really angry that, that car cut me off. Please give me a minute to listen to music to calm down.” “I am a little confused about what is going on right now, it can be scary”. “It is ok to be overwhelmed with all the change.” One of the phrases I use to most is, “It is ok to cry, but not whine. It is ok to be disappointed.” All of these comments allow for emotional intelligence, modeling and beginning conversations. The more emotions are discussed, the less scary they are for little ones. 

Change makes parenting difficult. It pulls and tangles our emotions and then we have to help our emotionally developing little ones navigate it as well. This season, that seems to last forever, is a tricky one. It begs for relief and we beg for stability. Let us find ways to be that stability for our children so they are able to cope effectively. 

Growing through change,

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.