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

ANGER IS NOT AN OVERREACTION

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sparking,

Allyson

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

Posted in comfortzone, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, goals, grief, isolation, motherhood, parenting, relationships, social distancing, therapy, trauma, values

Hitting Reset

None are excused from the challenges of this season.  The wealthy, the healthy, the married, the single, the successful, and the impoverished are collectively walking through one of, if not the most challenging time in a generation.  Increased weight lays on the shoulders of those in leadership positions as they seek to determine the best course for those in their sphere.  For those special people that call themselves educators; grief, uncertainty, and adaptability demand their attention.  For those medical personnel that are the very ones that fight this pandemic daily; anxiety, exhaustion, and caregiver burnout run thick in their presence.  For the parents that can’t find a moment to themselves and are struggling to meet the umpteen needs that arise within an hour, the mundane, insecurity, and human weakness call for one to expend every last drop of energy and patience. For the single person at home, face-to-face human connection has ceased altogether.  Though in many different forms, this pandemic has brought a halt to our preferences and routines that once helped us lead the life we desired and valued.

Just four and a half months ago we walked into 2020, pondering, discussing, and naming what he hoped or expected the year would have in store for us.  Some of us chose a specific word, goals, and desires for how we hoped this year would look different.  We identified some ways we wanted to take initiative in our lives and shape our lives to align with our values, priorities, and desires.

The current pandemic infuses our homes with tension and our hearts with grief. But for those willing to see, this time brings with it the gift of perspective. It is a magnifying glass for our lives, so to speak, to help us better appraise what is most dear to us, what is most challenging to us, and what is creeping in unwarranted and stealing precious moments from us.  Insight that we did not have just a few months ago has been given.  Complacency and busyness no longer plague our society and hinder our growth.  Our busyness has ceased, our culture has shifted, and we have this small moment in time to evaluate our values and priorities and implement some necessary changes to lead the intentional, value-driven life we desire to lead.  In assessing our different areas of development (physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational), what are the areas that need evaluation with your newly gifted magnifying glass?

Have you found yourself in a cycle of over-eating, emotion-eating, slothfulness, or maybe just a few too many alcoholic beverages?  Do you have a sense that your emotional health and strategies for coping could improve?  Have you put off spiritual disciplines or seeking Christ altogether because of a past hurt or because it’s just not convenient?  Have you had a hard time taking control of your spending, Starbucks attendance, or seeking therapy in retail?  Have you noticed that your relationships are rocky, your friendships are surface-level, or your parenting could use some attention?  

Yeah? Me too.  Never has your social calendar been so free that you can focus more on your exercise routine.  Never has your insight been so clear on what flusters you the most.  Rarely is it so apparent that the world offers little and Christ is the only hope.  There are few opportunities to curb your shopping and eating out habits.  And there is no better time to commit to authenticity, break through the painful patterns, and create beautiful community.

This season brings, along with it’s pain and grief, an opportunity to hit the reset button.  It won’t be easy to align your days to how you imagined and desired them to be long ago when you chose the path that you are currently on.  Mamas, in the midst of the trials, grief, and fear, I challenge you to use this opportunity to improve in the areas you long to be stronger.

Walking the path and pressing “reset” with you,

Tiffany Raley, M.A.

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

Boundaries Have No Age Requirement

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

WHO THEY TOUCH AND HOW THEY TOUCH

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

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

HOW LONG THEY ENGAGE IN AN ACTIVITY

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

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

HOW THEY FEEL

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

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

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

Learning together,

Allyson

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

Posted in counseling, motherhood, parenting, trauma

The Trauma Mama

I’m really excited to introduce this week’s guest author. Jessie Howell lives in Pensacola, FL and has been fostering with her husband, Taran, for 10 years. She’s a mom of 7 amazing kiddos, 2 of whom are biological, 3 have been adopted, and 2 are currently in foster care. Jessie and Taran have fostered over 100 children and Jessie teaches parenting classes in their community. Jessie also does work as a behavioral consultant, observing parents and children in their homes and working with them to help create a more functional home environment. I hope you are as impacted by her words as I have been. – Selena

As a foster mom for the last 10 years I have been able to serve trauma babies, children, teens and their parents. All of them are trying to navigate their lives and break the cycles of trauma.  It is an honor and a burden.  Each child brings up new challenges and new discoveries about myself.  I have sat in trainings, read books, listened to Ted Talks, talked to therapists and gone to counseling.  There are things that make today so much easier than when I began 10 years ago and there are still things that take my breath away the very same as our first experience. If you are a foster parent, an adoptive parent, a parent of children with special needs this blog is for you.  When I think about the biggest obstacle I have faced as a trauma mom personally it was the isolation.  The times I sat and cried alone grieving for children and the abuse they experienced. 

There have always been people in my corner, but to even let them in is hard.  When I meet with parents and hear their stories, isolation is always a theme. Today I want you to know that you are not alone.  The behaviors you see, the unmet expectations you experience, the life adjustments that feel like no one else in the world is having to make, in those things, you are not alone.  There is a community that sees you.  There is a whole community that is coming up for air and then plunging back into the depths of despair to live with their loved ones and meet them where they are.  My prayer is that this post will bring you comfort, peace, and a sense of community that is so hard to find and feel in the trenches of trauma. 

My two oldest sons recently went on a trip to a summer camp.  When they returned,  I started the normal drilling them of their questions, as any mom would do.  As I listened to one share all the funny stories another sat quiet in the backseat, finally I asked more specific questions.  I found out that on this trip he had been alone.  He sat alone at meals, walked around alone, played games with the adults because the other kids weren’t playing with him. I was heart-broken and angry.  This child is fun, kind, creative, athletic, and so much more.  How could he be so alone in the midst of so many kids and so many activities that demand community? This led to me examining my life deeper, how can I be in the midst of so many people and activities that demand community and still be alone? 

            We cannot heal from our own trauma or help others heal from trauma alone.  We can surround ourselves with people, but if we do not have a strong sense of belonging and love we are still alone. We have to be on both the giving end of love and the receiving end to fully experience it. It is easy to be busy with people and be alone.  I also know that statistics say that 80 % of families that have trauma children or children with special needs will stop going to church or quit all social clubs after the first year….80%.  I have to believe this is because we go to all these places and still feel alone.  This is one of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown:

            You, my dear friends, are too important to quit on community.  You belong in community.  You are loved.  The way you love is a beautiful example. One time when talking to a fellow trauma mama about doing community she said “Jessie, I just couldn’t show up one more time with cookies from Publix while everyone walked in with their homemade desserts.” As hard as it is to believe, let me tell you: no one else cares about the cookies.  We didn’t care if she brought anything.  She brings enough to the table just by showing up.  If you are in a season of store brought cookies, (or if even that sounds like a struggle) keep showing up.  You belong in community.  Your community doesn’t care about your cookies, and if they do, find a different community.  You are more important.  You love others well.  Come be loved on.  Belong to your community.  The definition of belong is “to be specifically placed” I am telling you find your place to be specifically placed.  Choose to not believe the lie that you don’t belong.  Come to these beautiful places that talk about trauma and see that you are not alone. 

            We ask our foster children to let us meet them right where they are.  The beauty and strength it requires to be exposed and to accept the love right where you are is hard for anyone.  Trauma has taught us (and those we serve) to depend on no one, but healing comes in the moments of belonging.  Maybe today the idea of re-learning how to live in community, as a parent of trauma kids or even dealing with your own trauma, sounds exhausting. 

            The truth that I hope you hear is that things will not get better, healing will not happen, we cannot teach our kids how to be fully loved and belong without living the example.  It doesn’t have to be a big community.  The community isn’t going to be perfect at loving you and your family all the time.  The community you choose is the one that you will keep showing up to, the one that you can be fully you at.  If you haven’t found that, start online.  You are too important to not live in community.  Your trauma children need an example of showing up with store bought cookies and greasy pants.  A full life comes in loving others, being loved and belonging.    Start today by showing up, go back to the friends you left and start again.  Start here by believing you are not alone and others are ready to walk with you on this journey. 

Jessie Howell

Posted in counseling, emotion regulation, home, isolation, parenting, trauma, Uncategorized

Don’t Let it Go

Behavior is a greater indication of a child’s emotional state than the words that come out of their mouths. An almost knee-jerk reaction to “how was your day” is often “good”. Similar to our daily interactions with others of “how are you” and the anticipated response of “good.” As adults, we struggle to put the status of our heart into words, and kids have a more difficult time. 

As most parents can attest, the movie Frozen has wormed its way into the singing mouths of our children. Watching the movie for the millionth time, it became clear how the two main characters react in opposite ways to their trauma. These two expressions of turmoil identify many warning signs that your child may be dealing with internal struggles. 

As Selena wrote in “Trauma 101, “Warfare, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and other “big” events are often described as big “T” trauma. Little “t” trauma, such as grief, neglect, bullying, and many others are less often associated with the longer-term and severe side effects of trauma, but repeated exposure to little “t” trauma can be just as impactful as experiencing big “T” trauma.” Trauma can mean a variety of experiences. There is no need to catalogue all the possible “traumas” your child may be dealing with when these behaviors surface. However, it can allow you to have more intentional conversations with your child. 

ANNA

Spoiler alert! Be aware that I am going to address a major plot twist in the movie! Hans is not a good guy. He addresses Anna’s behavior that is a primary indicator of trauma. Hans tells Anna that she was, “so desperate for love, you were willing to marry me, just like that!” Throughout the movie, Anna engages in attention seeking behaviors and is very easily drawn in by a stranger professing affection. 

When children begin acting out in attention seeking manners, we often react negatively. Understandably, their attempts to manipulate our focus can be difficult to respond to in a positive manner. However, their behavior is asking for approval and affection. Trauma targets the core of a person. It converts feelings of confidence and contentment into anxiety and desperation. 

This may look like constant attempts to show off in an area they feel confident or in extreme cases, trying to sabotage attention or affection given to someone else. It can be difficult to keep their behavior in perspective. It is not a control tactic as adults might seek to control. It is a means to receive affirmation and love. 

ELSA

Irritation and isolation are often behaviors that drive us to anger. “Why won’t you talk to me?” or
“Why are you being so mean,” can be frequent internal dialogue responses to our children. It seems as though you are the punching bag for their daily explosions. However, this is a call for understanding. The way children treat their parents, can often be an indication of how they feel about themselves. When children struggle with self-hate, it translates to negative treatment of their parents. 

Elsa responds to her fear by keeping away, and lashing out at, the one person that is seeking to care for her. In the same way our children react to our attempts to reach them. This does not mean we need to leave them on their own. It can be tempting to leave the slammed door shut or let time pass into morning without reengagement. 

For more information visit this website: https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/recognizing-and-treating-child-traumatic-stress

NOT LETTING IT GO

It is important to carefully address these behaviors. Something to consider is following the acronym ASK.

A- Acknowledge that something difficult occurred 

S- Sympathize with their emotion and struggle

K- Know that you cannot and do not need to fix it

Utilizing statements rather than questions can be a way to bypass their reactive behavior. Statements can include, “I know you are struggling right now”, “I love you no matter what happened today”, or “I am on your side”. These can address the questions they are asking themselves without their need to verbalize the concerns. 

Identifying the emotion for your child can be very healing and helpful. As adults we can struggle to articulate our emotions beyond angry, happy or sad. We have many more years and exposure to more vocabulary than our kids. This targets the cause of the behavior rather than the symptom. They will feel seen and heard. The core desire of any person.

You cannot “fix” a trauma. It is something that has left a scar. The scar will heal, preventative measures can be taken to defend against infection, but nothing will make it magically disappear. Walking with your child through the trauma will be the best way you can help. Keep in mind that some big “T” or even little “t” traumas may need professional help as prevention of infection. That is ok. It does not make you a “bad parent” it means you are doing what is necessary for the health of your child. 

Thawing the ice together,

Allyson Pitre

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.