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 relationships, selfcare, selfcompassion, values

But it’s Always Been This Way

As humans, we enjoy the familiar. It can reduce anxiety to know what to expect. The predictable can become monotonous, but ultimately change is difficult.

Change often forces introspection and evaluation. We don’t usually like that. It means having to analyze and examine what works versus what is comfortable. Another word for unchanging can be tradition. As the holidays approach, tradition is a word that is thrown around often. Now, I am a person that love tradition. I thrive on having something that has meaning because it has history. However, it is good to explore whether certain things are accepted because they have value, or changing is too hard. Here are a few ways to evaluate that idea. It can be applied to the job that you know you hate, but it’s too hard to find something else. It can be a relationship that is unhealthy, but having to force confrontation is too uncomfortable. Whatever the situation, it needs to be said that just because it has “always been this way,” does not mean it has to continue.

HOW DOES IT EFFECT OTHERS?

Observation. Most people have to tell themselves to observe. Consider how others behave. Attempt to gauge their emotions. I know we are not mind readers, but body language can tell you a lot.

Not only examining others in the situation is important, but also examining your own reaction. We (and I may just mean me) can be so aware of other’s feelings and experiences that we forget to check in with ourselves. Something occurs routinely, because we don’t want to rock the boat. How do you feel about it? How do you feel when the situation or interaction is over? Fatigued? On edge? That may be a sign that something needs to change. An example could be who hosts Thanksgiving. Do you host every year and find yourself experiencing resentment? Maybe it’s time to ask for help or to let someone else take over for a season.

WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO CHANGE?

The idea of changing the hosting of Thanksgiving? Did that cause anxiety? Where did that come from? Sometimes people are so entrenched in their roles in families or friend groups that stepping outside of that role can feel stressful. We are not what we do, but that concept isn’t really communicated in the world in which we live. Our value is not from what we provide for others. Are you always the friend that is the sounding board and struggle to find your own board? Might be time for something different. 

Identifying our emotions is difficult. We usually oscillate between happy, mad or sad. However, there are so many other feelings that can explain what is going on internally so much more clearly! Do you feel devalued or excited or content? We don’t use descriptive, feeling words, because they aren’t in our usual vocabulary. It’s okay to print out a list of emotions and go from there. Once the feelings are identified, it can help with the evaluation. 

WHAT IS NEEDED?

As people, we stink at asking for what we need. That’s why we are so good at manipulation. The idea stings because it’s true.  Look at toddlers. They learn how to fake cry for attention at early ages. They learn how to behave to get what they need. However, once we develop language capability, we don’t translate the idea. How often have you been feeling sad and asked specifically for a hug? Or needed to have a difficult conversation about someone hurting your feelings, so you gave them some passive aggressive clues that you were upset? Guilty. 

When we need things to change for someone else, for a place or for ourselves, we need to communicate. Communication that will probably lead to confrontation is my least favorite. I’d rather stuff my emotions (great job, therapist!) or flat out ignore my feelings to avoid effecting someone else’s feelings negatively. You know what? I need to “adult up,” and you do too. 

Change is hard. Evaluation is necessary. Just because something has “always been this way,” whether it is relationship dynamics, work environment or expectations, does not mean it has to or should continue forever. Look outside yourself, look into yourself and find what is necessary for things to move toward a healthy place. It’s not fun. It is not easy. However, your life is worth it.

Facing confrontation with hesitation,

Allyson 

Posted in adolescents, relationships

Secrets, Secrets

Navigating your child’s transition from adolescence to adulthood is complicated. One of the most complicated questions we face involves trying to navigate what is your responsibility, and what is theirs. Gone are the clearer-cut days of knowing when it is time for you to let your kid brush their own teeth, make their own bed, or even help make dinner. Older adolescence is fraught with much more complicated variations of this question. How much independence do they need to grow, and how much can you handle giving them while also remaining sane? To what degree should we let our child fail? Then, there’s the question I want to talk about today: how do we empower our adolescent children to be safe in their relationships and friendships when the other person is in crisis?

If you’re anything like me, you love hearing when kids overshare. I get really tickled when I hear little kids share really private and personal stories about their family members, and they have no idea the lines they just crossed. Although we may hear less of it directly, this is still happening in your child’s adolescent friendships. Kids tell their friends about the domestic violence at their home. Your child overhears someone talking about their dad’s excessive drinking. Someone texts your child that they are considering killing themselves.

The kind of connection and comradery that is built in the landscape of adolescence is almost unparalleled, so it is unsurprising that some of the most difficult, disturbing, and deviant experiences kids have get shared with their friends. Sharing stories and keeping secrets does, in fact, build trust like few other things can. As our kids start learning how to have more emotionally mature relationships with other people, we want them to learn how to be trustworthy friends. This means that we don’t want them to have to share everything they hear with us. But where is the line between secrets your child should keep, and secrets that they need to share, even when it could risk their friendship?

Distinguish between different kinds of danger

Our kids are going to keep secrets from us. When our kids our little, we teach them to tell us anything someone asks them to keep secret. We do this to protect them, and to keep them from falling prey to a dangerous situation. But as our kids mature, they start to understand some of the nuances between “good” secrets and “bad” secrets. It’s easier for our children to understand that it’s okay to keep the name of their friend’s crush a secret or to promise never to tell anyone else that they saw their friend shoot snot out of their nose when they sneezed. These are generally harmless secrets.

It may even be easy for your child to know when they have to tell someone about what they have heard, such as if their friend has been abused or assaulted, or if they know that someone is planning to harm themselves or others. But what about the more complicated secrets? The “in-between” secrets?

“You have to promise not to tell my mom and dad that I’m smoking pot. It would get so much worse for me at home if they knew.”

“I don’t know how to not feel depressed. Sometimes when I cut, I feel a little better. But you have to promise not to tell so that no one makes me stop.”

“I gave our other friend my anti-depressants. I don’t need them anymore, and her parents refuse to let her go to therapy. If they ever found out, they would ground her forever and she’d never get help.”

These are complicated situations even for adults to navigate, and we have to equip our kids to not have to navigate them alone. One way to do this is to keep an open conversation about okay and not okay secrets. Whenever I see adolescents in therapy, their parents and I talk about secret-keeping. They agree that my sessions with their kids can be secret, but first I promise them that I will let them know if I ever find out that their child is engaging in a dangerous behavior. I tell the parents that I will immediately inform them of immediately dangerous behavior, such as plans and intent to commit suicide, using hard drugs, or having unprotected sex. I then draw a line and say that if their child tells me they are engaging in risky, but not immediately threatening behavior, like superficial self-harm or vaping, I will give their child a two week grace period to tell their parents on their own and then I will check in to make sure they were informed. I distinguish between safe and unsafe secrets, and even outline when immediate action is required.

You don’t need to have this formal of a conversation with your child and their friends, but I do think that this kind of distinction between different kinds of secrets and different levels of danger are important to make. One way to help encourage your kids to share dangerous secrets is to help them understand that sometimes getting an adult involved is the most loving thing they can do for their friend. Yes, there are always possible nuances and exceptions. There are, in fact, some situations where children are put at more risk by sharing their secrets, such as in the case of children living in abusive homes. But no child should hold the weight of that kind of secret squarely on their shoulders. It is not our child’s responsibility to have to protect their friend from that kind of danger; an adult needs to take the responsibility for them.

Be sensitive to the risks of your child

When you describe the different kinds of secrets that are okay to keep and need to be shared, it’s important to remember the real risks of both sharing and keeping secrets. Sometimes, a friend will appreciate a secret told at the right time in order to ensure their safety. Other times, our kids know that they are making the very real choice between making sure their friend is safe and keeping the friendship. If your child ever finds themselves in a situation in which they have to betray the trust of a friend in order to keep them safe, they will need your support. Be sure to talk about your child’s friend with concern and respect. Yes, they may be doing something stupid, but save the judgment for later. Your first job is to be a trustworthy space for your kids to come to. And even better, enlist another adult in your life and name them as “the other safe adult.” Maybe this is a cool uncle or neighbor. It doesn’t really matter, as long as both you and your teen find this adult to be trustworthy and safe. Talking about secrets early and often will help them know that you are there for them and are willing to help them walk through the muddy waters with them. Risking a friendship is serious business for our kids, so take their concerns seriously. Relational death can feel just as scary as actual physical danger.

It is important for you, the parent, to do some work as well. Do you know what would you do if your child told you that their friend was about to commit suicide, take drugs, or go steal a car?  If not, take some time to consider your options. You can ask your child what their ideas are as well so that they can be involved in the decision making, but it will help if you have an idea of who you would call or how you might address the situation.

It’s scary when our children start to encounter very real adult-sized problems, and evaluating secrets is one of those problems. If we are not a safe place for them to come to, they end up trying to solve these problems alone. Our children should never have to feel fully responsible for keeping another teen safe. It is our responsibility to communicate to our children that we are ready and willing to share in or shoulder that responsibility for them.

Growing alongside,

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 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 relationships

Helping Weather the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

Be decisive.

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

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

Show up.

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

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

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

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

It’s the small things.

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

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

The small things are such big things.

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

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

Struggling,

Allyson

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

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

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

Making a Case For…Thinking Your Emotions

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

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

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

Look for Patterns

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

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

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

Everything Makes Sense in Context

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

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

Name It, Don’t Stuff It

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

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

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

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

Thinking AND feeling with you,

Selena

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

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.