Choosing the Problem You Want to Solve During a Parenting Moment

A while back my son came home from school and began telling a convoluted story of how he
“chose” to go to the principal’s office at school so he could calm his emotions and behaviors. As
he was telling me this story, an email from his teacher arrived detailing how he had struggled to
regulate his emotions during recess and was sent to the principal’s office for kicking a peer. I
found myself in a parenting moment where I had to decide: what is the problem that I need to
solve?

As parents, there are so many teaching styles to choose from and so many teachable moments
that occur. In this case, I could focus on the lie my son told me. I could also elect to focus on the
behavior of kicking his friend by giving a lecture about how bad it is to hurt others, but I know he
understands this family value. The problem that I needed to solve and the option I decided to
focus on was what I want him to do differently next time. Specifically, how he is going to repair
a relationship he might have broken.

Later at the end of dinner, I let my son know we needed to have a quick 10 minute talk.
Immediately, he looked at me with eyes full of guilt, but I reassured him that he was not in
trouble and we simply just needed to talk. He asked if he could play for 5 minutes first before
our conversation, so I set a timer. Once the timer went off, I made sure my son was comfortable
while having this uncomfortable conversation with me, so I grabbed him a small snack. We
spoke about the incident at school and knowing he was not in trouble he gave me more details
of what led up to losing his temper and how he let his anger take over. After asking him how he
was feeling now, he responded that he was nervous to see his friend again. To avoid this
happening in the future, we discussed how he needs to react when he starts to lose his temper.
His idea was to ask his friends to take a break or go get a drink of water. Knowing we had set
up a good plan for the future, we both decided that the best thing I could do to help him in the
moment was send his plan to his teacher so they could follow up together in the morning.
But you may ask, what did he learn from this? He isn’t even in trouble? Where is his
consequence? To which I point you back to my parenting focus, “what I want him to do
differently next time and how he is going to repair a relationship he might have broken”.

In his conversation with me, he came up with a plan on his own of how he would like to regulate
his emotions the next time an incident like this occurs. When a person, regardless of age,
makes a plan, they are more likely to follow that plan over one that was given to them. He also
decided on his own that he wanted to write an apology note to his friend. In essence, he gave
himself a consequence, but more importantly, he took accountability for his actions. He did not
need me to force him to apologize; instead, he felt genuine remorse and fixed what he broke.
He also learned that his parents are a safe place to talk about his mistakes and problem-solve
ways to work through that mistake. This is so important because he is a human being and
human beings make mistakes.

The next time a parenting moment emerges for you, take a moment and decide the problem you
want to solve with your child. Create a safe space where you and your child can stay
emotionally regulated and work through the problem together. I bet you will be pleasantly
surprised how much your child is already taking in and working through their mistakes on their
own.

Christina can be reached by phone at 630.718.0717, ext. 215 or
email christina@fvinstitute.com. For immediate assistance to schedule
an appointment, please connect with one of our Client Care Specialists
at 630.718.0717, ext. 240.

When You Feel Overwhelmed and Unmotivated

At times it may seem necessary to put off doing things we categorize as unpleasant, difficult, painful, time consuming, or relatively unimportant. In many situations “holding off” on an activity can prove to be more beneficial than problematic. We may consciously decide to delay the execution of a task when we know more time will be available. In this type of circumstance, putting a responsibility “on hold” will yield better results.

Procrastination, on the other hand is consistently delaying responsibilities that should be completed. This is an automatic behavior that can govern how one lives, works, and interacts with people. While procrastination is often joked about, it is no laughing matter. Many have suffered unpleasant consequences in their relationships, school, and work. Often times, people find themselves overwhelmed, frustrated, depressed, and anxious if they are unsuccessful in changing their procrastination tendencies. People also may begin buying into labels that they are “lazy” and “unmotivated” which further encourages procrastination in other area of their lives.

There is hope for overcoming this daunting habit! Here are some deeper insights into the behavior of procrastination.

• Procrastination is rewarding. Unpleasant feelings associated with a task diminish if the task is avoided, bringing a rewarding sense of relief. Later, one may rush to complete their avoided task at the last minute and face criticism from others about their choice to avoid the task. These are negative consequences associated with putting a task off. We experience these negative consequences separately from the initial choice of delaying something. Since we tend to experience the immediacy of the reward from putting off that task as separate from the consequence, it is the reward that builds the habit.

• When someone occasionally puts off doing something, they weigh the pros and cons of doing so, and are cognizant of the justification of their choice. In contrast, when someone procrastinates, it tends to be done habitually. Many times procrastinating is used to avoid feelings associated with the task. Procrastination is automatic, like a habit, it is done without conscious reflection.

• Procrastination comes in many forms, a simple behavior with complex and diverse triggers.

A.) Criticism or Perfectionism- The fear one may face of being criticized by others if they don’t do something perfectly.
B.) Overwhelmed – The task is perceived as overwhelming, often because it’s unfamiliar.
C.) Fear or Pain – The task involves some form or fear of pain, perhaps physical, emotional, or psychological that the individual would rather not face.
D.) Resentment- When asked to do something, the individual may feel they can’t control the situation, for example putting off filing taxes. The act of putting the item off is how one exerts control.

Do you want to break this habit? Here are some questions and suggestions that may help.

What are the feelings I have associated with the task? Keeping a procrastination log can be an effective tool that can help you be aware of the start of the procrastination cycle. Write down the feelings related to tasks that you have a tendency to avoid.

What is the immediate pay off for procrastinating? Record in the journal your initial feelings. Did doing something else make you feel more empowered or less anxious?

What did I do in place of the unpleasant task? This activity is often a reward in and of itself.

What are the long-term consequences of putting a task off? Log the after-effects of avoiding a responsibility. This helps to better tie the negative consequences to the habit.

With many habits that you seek to change, having someone to support you in this endeavor can be incredibly beneficial. This person may be a friend, family member, co-worker, significant other, therapist or life coach. This individual should provide support without labeling or criticizing you as you work through understanding and changing your habits. Having an individual to help you through can speed the process along and helps you build back your self-esteem and confidence.

Additional Reading:

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Making the Most of Our Life Transitions

Worry, Worry

Stress and Anxiety Disorders

Safety After Trauma

Have you experienced trauma in your life and now find yourself struggling to feel safe?  How do I feel safe in my world again? How do I feel safe in my own skin again?  How are the people I love to stay safe from harm?  These are a few of the many questions that may come across your mind.  Following trauma, safety is undoubtedly important and needed.

Let’s review some steps and ideas to build safety following a trauma….

Stay Grounded:

You may find that you have a difficult time being present, staying in the moment.  You may find yourself ‘checking out’ in order to avoid things that remind you of your trauma.   Do you ever feel as though you are just spinning or jumping from one thought to the next? The following are some suggestions on how to stay grounded and present:

  • Use your 5 senses:  take some time to identify what you are seeing/smelling/tasting/hearing and feeling in a given moment.  Focus on your five senses and all that comes with them and notice your focus change.
  • Spend a set amount of time in meditation.
  • Plant your feet firmly into the ground and take time to feel – notice the difference it makes when your feet are literally in the ground.
  • Go for a walk and be aware of your movements with each step you take.
  • Plan a day to spend with a friend and ask your friend to be sure you stay engaged.
  • Change your daily routine a bit.

Remember, safety comes in different forms:

Physical safety says that your body is not in danger.  To ensure physical safety, you need to pay attention to your environment, learn signals and remove yourself from situations that do not feel safe.  Mental safety says that your thoughts and beliefs will guide you in a safe direction.  Increase your self-awareness.  What are your thoughts and beliefs telling you about safety?  Emotional safety says that you are aware of your feelings and intuition and these will alert you when you are in danger.  Lastly, spiritual safety will develop when you learn to trust in your Higher Power and allow those beliefs to guide you toward safe choices.

Assess your Safety:

How safe do you feel: in your home, at work, in your relationships, within yourself?

Create a Safe Place:

Creating a safe place for yourself can be done in many ways; here are some ideas:

  • Through visualization- in your mind create a place that feels safe to you.  This can be a place you have been that feels safe or an imaginary place you create in your mind.  Create all the details in your mind: colors, shapes, smells, etc.   Allow yourself to go to this place when you are feeling unsafe or distressed, allow this place to ground you.
  • Through art- draw a picture of your safe place.   Don’t worry about artistic ability; it is more important how the picture makes you feel!
  • Through mindfulness and relaxation- Pursue techniques as modes to feel safe within yourself.

Do not doubt your desire to feel safe.  You are right in meeting this need!

Self-Care: A Catalyst for Positive Growth

Self-care: we hear those buzz words often nowadays, but what do they really mean? Bubble baths, pedicures, Netflix binges, and comfort foods? Maybe sometimes, but when it comes to using self-care as a tool for actually experiencing an increased sense of contentment in your life, there’s more to it than that.

Many of us see engaging in self-care activities as a way to escape from the stress of daily life; little “treats” we deserve in order to counteract the parts of life that are difficult, painful, or arduous. Others see those activities as too indulgent, or they simply feel undeserving of the respite. But what if there’s an entirely different perspective? What if self-care isn’t about escaping your reality through instant gratification, but it’s about creating a life you don’t feel the need to escape from? That self-care isn’t the same as self-indulgence (and it isn’t rooted in judgment), but that it’s a responsible form of self- compassion that can be used to propel you towards your personal goals? Sure, sometimes self-care might look like a long afternoon nap, or a spa day, or a meal of your favorite foods–but it may just as easily look like sitting down to finally tackle your budget so that you can begin to pay off your debts.  Or like making a salad when you’re craving fast food because that choice is aligned with your hope to improve your physical health, or declining a social invitation because you’ve been feeling stressed and need the opportunity for downtime at home. It’s less about trying to band-aid the current feelings of stress with something enjoyable, and more about consistently making choices that add feelings of peace, joy, and contentment to your life. Self-compassion expert and author Dr. Kristin Neff describes it well, “Self-compassion involves turning towards what I’m experiencing with care, whereas self-indulgence involves turning away from what I’m feeling, often in an attempt to try to feel better.”

So the next time you feel your stress levels peaking, take a moment to stop and consider the parts of your life that hold the most meaning and impact–and respond to yourself with kindness, intention, and action.

Lauren Keppel, LCSW

Lauren Keppel can be reached by phone at 630.718.0717, ext. 239 or email lauren@fvinstitute.com. For immediate assistance to schedule an appointment, please connect with one of our Client Care Specialists at 630.718.0717, ext. 240.

Drug and Alcohol Use Warning Signs

Many of the parents I have worked with over the years have all said the same thing, “I should have known! I thought something was off.” Substance abuse can often appear to be other things; stress, depression, anxiety, bullying. Teenagers who are using drugs and alcohol will do whatever it takes to keep being able to drink or use drugs. There may be an increase in secretive behaviors such as lying, manipulating, and hiding which allows them to continue their drug use. They could be putting locks on their social media or phone devices so parents can not gain access not due to privacy. They may be keeping their bedrooms off limits so their parents are unable to find things within them and use the excuse of privacy.

Since mood swings and unpredictable behavior are frequent occurrences for teenagers, parents may find it difficult to spot signs of alcohol and drug abuse or mistake it for something else. If you notice any of the warning signs below ask your teenager if they are using drugs or alcohol. It’s important to be supportive vs. accusing during this time. If you still have concerns that your teenager may be using, give them a drug test. If they refuse you can bring them into the doctor’s office for a drug test administered by a doctor. Most drugs do not stay in the system for over 72 hours except marijuana which can last up to 30 days if used daily.

If someone is recently sober a relapse may look similar to drug abuse. A relapse usually starts before the actual use of the drug or alcohol. The first changes occur within the teenagers thinking. If addictive thinking creeps back in behavioral changes are next to come. Parents may see old using behaviors come back such as lying, secretive behaviors, and manipulation. There are physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms that parents can look for to determine if their child may be using drugs or alcohol or has had a relapse.

Physical Symptoms

  • Sweating
  • Pale color with dark circles under their eyes
  • A decrease in personal grooming
  • Eyes that are bloodshot
  • Change in pupil size
  • Sudden weight change loss or gain
  • Impaired coordination, injuries, accidents or bruises
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Getting in trouble at school, skipping class, drop in grades
  • Hostile and uncooperative; frequently breaks the rules
  • Decreased motivation to do school work or chores
  • Relationships with family members have deteriorated
  • Hanging around with a new group of friends
  • Grades have slipped, and his or her school attendance is irregular
  • Lost interest in hobbies, sports, and other favorite activities
  • Eating or sleeping patterns have changed; he or she is up at night and sleeps during the day
  • Has a hard time concentrating or listening
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and drug-related lifestyle in music, clothing and paraphernalia
  • Missing money, valuables, prescription or non prescription drugs, borrowing and stealing money
  • Having large amounts of money on them without a job
  • Acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors

Psychological Symptoms

  • Unexplained, confusing change in personality and/or attitude
  • Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts, or rage
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, for no reason
  • Increase in depressive symptoms

If you are noticing any of the symptoms above there are other things to consider. If you have been noticing missing money from your purse or wallet or items missing from the house. Parents should be searching their teenager’s room if they have suspicions they may be using drugs or alcohol. Parents should also search the house for drug paraphernalia such as pipes, bags of seeds, rolling papers, empty bottles in the bedroom, cold medication boxes, baggies of pills etc as these items are sometimes hidden even outside the house in the yard or garage. Some parents will say after the fact I kept having to buy new whip cream or other inhalants but didn’t understand why it kept running out. Or they thought they had left over medication from a surgery or cold medicine in the cabinet but now it’s missing. Individually these incidents could be ignored but together they can show signs of a larger problem.

Teenagers will often use excuses when parents question their motives or whereabouts to throw them off. Some of the most commonly used excuses are listed below.

Excuses Teenagers Use to Avoid Accountability:

  • The drug test is wrong.
  • I was keeping/holding it for a friend.
  • A drink got spilled on me.
  • I just had one drink – I didn’t know it had alcohol in it.
  • That smell is my new perfume / incense /air freshener.
  • I was in a car where others were smoking not me.
  • All my friends are doing it, it’s normal.
  • It’s only alcohol – at least I don’t do drugs.
  • It’s only marijuana – at least I don’t do heroin.
  • I just tried it once and I’ll never do it again.
  • It’s normal to experiment when you’re a teenager.
  • My eyes are bothering me. I probably have allergies.
  • I’m just tired.
  • At least I don’t drink and drive. I’m being responsible.
  • My friends are allowed to do this why can’t I?
  • I’m doing better than all of my friends.
  • It’s not like when you were young – it’s a different time.

Parent’s it’s important to be vigilant and hold your children accountable. Heavier drug use and addictions begin with alcohol and marijuana use. If you suspect something may be going on follow you gut and gather more information.

Additional Resources:

https://fvinstitute.com/services/child-and-teen-counseling/
https://fvinstitute.com/is-a-moody-teen-a-sign-teen-drug-use/
https://fvinstitute.com/teen-depressed-just-moody/
https://fvinstitute.com/is-my-child-over-committed-to-sports/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/using-thought-defusion-cope-teenage-anxiety/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/school-refusal/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/5-tips-blended-families/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/tips-raise-self-esteem-teens/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/reasons-girls-bully-ways-help-teen-harsh-realities-teenage-girl/

The Reasons Why Girls Bully and Ways to Help your Teen: The harsh realities of being a teenage girl

Many of the parents I have worked with over the years have all said the same thing, “I should have known! I thought something was off.” Substance abuse can often appear to be other things; stress, depression, anxiety, bullying. Teenagers who are using drugs and alcohol will do whatever it takes to keep being able to drink or use drugs. There may be an increase in secretive behaviors such as lying, manipulating, and hiding which allows them to continue their drug use. They could be putting locks on their social media or phone devices so parents can not gain access not due to privacy. They may be keeping their bedrooms off limits so their parents are unable to find things within them and use the excuse of privacy.

Since mood swings and unpredictable behavior are frequent occurrences for teenagers, parents may find it difficult to spot signs of alcohol and drug abuse or mistake it for something else. If you notice any of the warning signs below ask your teenager if they are using drugs or alcohol. It’s important to be supportive vs. accusing during this time. If you still have concerns that your teenager may be using, give them a drug test. If they refuse you can bring them into the doctor’s office for a drug test administered by a doctor. Most drugs do not stay in the system for over 72 hours except marijuana which can last up to 30 days if used daily.

If someone is recently sober a relapse may look similar to drug abuse. A relapse usually starts before the actual use of the drug or alcohol. The first changes occur within the teenagers thinking. If addictive thinking creeps back in behavioral changes are next to come. Parents may see old using behaviors come back such as lying, secretive behaviors, and manipulation. There are physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms that parents can look for to determine if their child may be using drugs or alcohol or has had a relapse.

Physical Symptoms

  • Sweating
  • Pale color with dark circles under their eyes
  • A decrease in personal grooming
  • Eyes that are bloodshot
  • Change in pupil size
  • Sudden weight change loss or gain
  • Impaired coordination, injuries, accidents or bruises
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Getting in trouble at school, skipping class, drop in grades
  • Hostile and uncooperative; frequently breaks the rules
  • Decreased motivation to do school work or chores
  • Relationships with family members have deteriorated
  • Hanging around with a new group of friends
  • Grades have slipped, and his or her school attendance is irregular
  • Lost interest in hobbies, sports, and other favorite activities
  • Eating or sleeping patterns have changed; he or she is up at night and sleeps during the day
  • Has a hard time concentrating or listening
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and drug-related lifestyle in music, clothing and paraphernalia
  • Missing money, valuables, prescription or non prescription drugs, borrowing and stealing money
  • Having large amounts of money on them without a job
  • Acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors

Psychological Symptoms

  • Unexplained, confusing change in personality and/or attitude
  • Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts, or rage
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, for no reason
  • Increase in depressive symptoms

If you are noticing any of the symptoms above there are other things to consider. If you have been noticing missing money from your purse or wallet or items missing from the house. Parents should be searching their teenager’s room if they have suspicions they may be using drugs or alcohol. Parents should also search the house for drug paraphernalia such as pipes, bags of seeds, rolling papers, empty bottles in the bedroom, cold medication boxes, baggies of pills etc as these items are sometimes hidden even outside the house in the yard or garage. Some parents will say after the fact I kept having to buy new whip cream or other inhalants but didn’t understand why it kept running out. Or they thought they had left over medication from a surgery or cold medicine in the cabinet but now it’s missing. Individually these incidents could be ignored but together they can show signs of a larger problem.

Teenagers will often use excuses when parents question their motives or whereabouts to throw them off. Some of the most commonly used excuses are listed below.

Excuses Teenagers Use to Avoid Accountability:

  • The drug test is wrong.
  • I was keeping/holding it for a friend.
  • A drink got spilled on me.
  • I just had one drink – I didn’t know it had alcohol in it.
  • That smell is my new perfume / incense /air freshener.
  • I was in a car where others were smoking not me.
  • All my friends are doing it, it’s normal.
  • It’s only alcohol – at least I don’t do drugs.
  • It’s only marijuana – at least I don’t do heroin.
  • I just tried it once and I’ll never do it again.
  • It’s normal to experiment when you’re a teenager.
  • My eyes are bothering me. I probably have allergies.
  • I’m just tired.
  • At least I don’t drink and drive. I’m being responsible.
  • My friends are allowed to do this why can’t I?
  • I’m doing better than all of my friends.
  • It’s not like when you were young – it’s a different time.

Parent’s it’s important to be vigilant and hold your children accountable. Heavier drug use and addictions begin with alcohol and marijuana use. If you suspect something may be going on follow you gut and gather more information.

Additional Resources:

https://fvinstitute.com/services/child-and-teen-counseling/
https://fvinstitute.com/is-a-moody-teen-a-sign-teen-drug-use/
https://fvinstitute.com/teen-depressed-just-moody/
https://fvinstitute.com/is-my-child-over-committed-to-sports/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/using-thought-defusion-cope-teenage-anxiety/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/school-refusal/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/5-tips-blended-families/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/tips-raise-self-esteem-teens/
https://fvinstitute.com/article/reasons-girls-bully-ways-help-teen-harsh-realities-teenage-girl/

One Absolutely Necessary Ingredient for a Great Relationship that No One Talks About

by Dr. Laura Bokar, LMFT, LCPC, ACS

We have all read many articles and books about relationships. Most of them state that in order to have a great relationship we need to communicate better, actively listen, go out on dates, put the phones away, make the relationship a priority over children, have sex, laugh, try new things, etc.  Yes, these are all important to maintain a healthy relationship. Yet the recipe list is presented as if, when done over a period of time, a relationship will simply improve. It will for that period of time, but the human tendency is to revert back to old habits. The recipe list is essential for a healthy relationship but will be difficult to sustain without adding one necessary ingredient.

What is the ingredient that could change everything?  This one ingredient is essential to building a more authentic relationship which may seem obvious but isn’t. The one absolutely necessary ingredient for a great relationship that no one talks about is the need to understand. Yes, the need to understand.  How does this important factor get missed when people talk about relationships? When we are learning anything new, what do we typically do? We google information, purchase a book on Amazon, talk to those who appear to be in great relationships and we obsess about it. We do all of this to help us understand.  Without understanding, we most likely won’t know how it works, what it needs, how to take care of it, and most likely won’t invest much time with it after we have it. If we don’t understand our significant other, then how will we know what they need and how to love them?

I was working with a couple where the wife, Sarah, was raised in a very loud, angry and verbally abusive family.  Matt, her husband, was also raised in a loud family but for a different reason. He was one of four boys who all loved watching sports together.  They would get very excited and also frustrated over games on TV. When Sarah and Matt married, they did not know much about each other’s history growing up. So when Matt would yell and scream at the football games, Sarah would become very frightened and leave exit the room. Matt was confused because he wanted Sarah to watch the games with him just like at home with all his brothers. It was not until Matt and Sarah had a conversation that a new understanding was developed. Sarah would become scared when Matt raised his voice because it felt like she was back home being verbally abused. Even though Matt was yelling and swearing at the football players and not Sarah, she could not separate the two. Once Matt understood how his behavior affected Sarah, he wanted to change and not hurt his wife. Once Sarah understood Matt’s history she wanted to work at staying in the room and watch the game with him. Both had a new understanding of the situation and both wanted to change to create a closer connection.

Sometimes when couples argue they tend to hear a word or tone that triggers an emotion.  They do not look to understand the emotion that is behind the words. For example, there are many times in a therapy session when one partner will state how angry they are at the other partner.  When I hear the word angry, I understand on a more vulnerable or primal level, that means hurt or sad. When someone becomes angry they do not want to be vulnerable. Anger is safer and creates distance. However, the true desire is to have their partner know and understand how hurt they really are.

In your significant relationship as well as any meaningful relationship, it is important to learn about the other person and understand their needs and desires.  It is also important to be curious about their past, including relationships with their parents. We need to take time to understand who they are, what makes them feel loved, happy, sad, scared, excited, depressed and all the other emotions we experience.  In other words, if we do not get to truly know and understand them, we will not know how to love them. Be curious about the people you love and care about – it will help keep a healthy relationship alive.

Taking the “Thanks” out of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings that we may be thankful for.  This is one day year that gives extra special attention to our ability to be thankful and grateful.  Take a moment to read an important article posted on Psychology Today written by psychologist, Robert L. Leahy.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anxiety-files/201311/every-day-is-thanksgiving

In this article, Robert Leahy discusses our ability to be thankful every day.  In fact, many of us express thanks and gratitude on a regular basis and do not realize we are doing so.  Giving thanks every day also enables you to find a positive aspect of each day.  This can help combat negative, depressive thinking.  Expressing gratitude every day can also build a general sense of happiness and confidence.

Take some simple steps to improve your ability to be thankful daily:

  • First, be more mindful! You may already be doing this and not realize it.
  • Notice patterns of negative thoughts, are they overwhelming you? If so, attempt to challenge them and replace them with a positive.
  • Start and end each day with a positive thought; particularly something good that happened that day.
  • End each day with gratitude; what are you grateful for today?
  • Share your thanks with others, modeling for others can encourage them to do the same.

So let your holiday kick-start a new season of “Thanks” and gratitude!

Thanksgiving 2

Grieving – Our Heartfelt Response to a Major Loss

 

Grieving comes to most of us at some point in our lives. In fact, statistics show that each person can expect to experience the loss of a loved one once every nine to thirteen years. The resulting sadness may be the most painful of life’s experiences. Because it is painful, however, our eventual adaptation to the loss can bring meaning and integrity to our lives – and this, ultimately, is a gift to us from the one we have lost. It is a reminder to us that the circle is unbroken.

Our ability to adapt to loss is an important feature of the course of our lives. Change can instigate growth. Loss can give rise to gain. If we do not grieve the loss, however, it may drain us of energy and interfere with our living fully in the present. If we are not able to mourn at all, we may spend our lives under the spell of old issues and past relationships – living in the past and failing to connect with the experiences of the present.

Grieving is a process of experiencing our reactions to loss. It is similar to mourning. The term bereavement means the state, not the process, of suffering from a loss. Normal grieving is an expected part of the process of recuperating from a loss. The intensity of the process comes as a surprise to most people – and for many, it becomes one of their most significant life experiences. People have their own individual grief responses. No two people will experience the process in the same way.

The first reaction to the loss of a loved one, even when the loss is expected, is usually a sense of disbelief, shock, numbness, and bewilderment. The survivor may experience a period of denial in which the reality of the loss is put out of mind. This reaction provides the person some time to prepare to deal with the inevitable pain.

The feeling of numbness then turns to intense suffering. The person feels empty. There are constant reminders of the one who has been lost. There may be periods of increased energy and anxiety followed by times of deep sadness, lethargy, and fatigue. There may be a period of prolonged despair as the person slowly begins to accept the loss. The one who grieves may find it difficult to feel pleasure and it may seem easier most of the time to avoid other people. The bereaved may dream repeatedly about the lost loved one – or hear their voice or even actually see them. The grieving survivor may adopt some mannerisms of the one who has left.

Sadness may be interspersed with times of intense anger. Many of us have difficulty expressing anger toward one who has died. (However, anger enters into most of our relationships, and the relationship with the one who has died does continue, though changed, even after death.) We may reproach ourselves for not doing enough to prevent the death or for having treated the deceased badly in the past. The grieving person may become irritable and quarrelsome – and may interpret signs of goodwill from others as messages of rejection. Normal stressors may become triggers that set off periods of deep anger.

Physical symptoms commonly accompany grief. These include weakness, sleep disturbance, a change in appetite, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, back pain, gastric reflux, or heart palpitations.

Some people may show a “flight into health,” as if the loss were behind them and they had started to move on again. This pattern occurs frequently, especially in a society which encourages quick fixes, even though the complete resolution of the grief process can take up to two or three years. To shorten the process by pretending that it has been completed is to invite a prolongation of the symptoms.

Suggestions for Experiencing Grief

All of us grieve in different ways, depending on the circumstances of the death, our own personal characteristics, and the meanings attached to the death by those left behind. Nonetheless, there are some specific actions that most of us can take to complete the process in a way that allows us to move on, eventually, to a whole and meaningful life again.

– Allow yourself to grieve and feel the depth of your loss. Grieving is hard work. We may feel that we should be “strong” and hold in our emotions, that happy thoughts and feelings are the only way to get through a trying time. This approach, however, makes it very difficult to complete the process of grieving. It is important to accept the reality of the loss. The person who died is gone and will not return. This fact must be accepted in order for the grief process to continue. Try to understand why the death occurred and the events that led to death. Give yourself permission to feel and think about whatever comes up regarding your loss. If happy thoughts and feelings come your way, allow them to happen. Similarly, if dreadful pain, sadness, and anxiety show up when tears turn to uncontrollable sobs, give in to these temporary feelings. Embrace your sadness, know it, and make it your own. If it is difficult to open yourself to these feelings, it may help to make a personal commitment to complete the grief process. Vow to yourself that for your own benefit, for the good of others in your life and for your future happiness, that you need to get through your loss completely and in a healthy way. This means opening yourself up to all of your feelings and thoughts, both positive and negative, and letting them happen.

– Accept the help of others and let them know what you need. Don’t try to do it alone. This is the cardinal rule in grief work. Isolation is bad for most people, and it is especially harmful to a person who is grieving. Research shows that people who have social support complete the grieving process better than those who try it in isolation. Social support should be available to you during the entire grieving process, but especially initially after the death. Find people who can be trusted absolutely and can listen well. We need to share the intense thoughts and feelings that we experience when we are alone. It is during the time of grieving that many people look for the help of a professional therapist who is likely better prepared than most to empathize with you and guide the process productively. Other people give you a sense of security and reality when your life has been turned upside down by the loss of a loved one. Accepting the help of others during mourning is not a sign of weakness. It simply means that you can allow yourself to be comforted during a rough period, and this will contribute to your strength later. Sometimes other people may not know what you need, even if their intentions are good. In this case, it is important to educate them. If they say the wrong things, let them know. If there are specific things that you need, tell them. Assertiveness may be difficult during grieving because you have little energy, but clear communication is essential to getting your needs met.

– Be realistic in processing your grief. Read up on grief work or talk to a therapist who can describe the grief process. Understand what you are trying to accomplish, and realize that your pain will subside in time. There is a clear goal in sight. Understand what this death means to you and what issues it brings up for you. The loss may be there always, but you can come to understand it and feel comfortable with yourself in time. Accept the fact that you will have some reactions during the process which you may not like – angry blowups, ignoring other people, moodiness. Expect your loss to dredge up intense emotions, although these feelings will pass in time. Your way of grieving is particular to you and your individual loss. It is not helpful to blame or to be blamed for the unique way each of us grieves. Don’t let the personal judgments of others determine how or to what degree you should grieve. Your grieving is your own.

– Find ways to express your feelings. The expression of emotion is one of the most important aspects of the grieving process. Each of us has different ways of expressing feelings. Some of us talk about them, while others prefer to write them in a journal or physically act out the feelings (pounding a pillow or punching bag, running, or dancing). Look for trusted and nonjudgmental people in your support system who are able to hear you talk at length, cry until you can’t anymore, and review your experiences with the deceased. Expressing your feelings is a crucial part of the grief experience.

– Submit to the grief process and take care of your needs. Even though grieving is hard work, and we may prefer to avoid it, there is no way around it. There is a major disruption in your life when a loved one dies and this entails a period of re-adjustment. Here are some real-life concerns to keep in mind during the grief process.

•Give yourself some quiet time alone. Find a good balance between being around others and giving yourself some solitude so that you can reflect on your loss and process your feelings.

•Allow yourself to have some breaks from your grief. Grieving is difficult. As in any hard job, you need a break from it from time to time. Go out and try to have a good time with friends. Read a good book. Lose yourself in a good movie.

•If possible, avoid making long-term decisions. Times of crisis decrease our ability to make rational decisions. Put decisions off until things have settled down to a more stable pattern.

•Take care of your health. Grief is a time of high physical risk. Even though it may be difficult, try to get some physical exercise, even if it is only a daily walk. Maintain a nutritious diet, but don’t avoid indulging in special treats occasionally since self-nurturing is important during the process. Above all, avoid alcohol and drugs during this time. They may provide a temporary feeling of relief, but your goal should focus on grieving productively, not avoiding it.

Grieving is a very personal experience and one of our most painful to endure. It is also a journey into the depths of our lives that can ultimately reveal our strength of character.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.” – William Shakespeare (Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3)

SOME THOUGHTS ON GRIEVING

– Losses are a fact of life.

– Every relationship is only temporary.

– I need to be as aware as possible of what is happening.

– I will not always feel the way I do now.

– Tears are a sign of strength, not weakness.

– My loved one would want me to get on with life again.

– I am willing to give this all the time it takes.

– I need to do a lot of talking and crying – as much as it takes.

– My loved one’s departure allows me to find out more about who I am.

– My life has been disrupted, and now I will work to get it back on track again.

– I need to share my experience with other human beings.

– My grieving is my own – I, and not others, will determine what form it takes.

– Nobody else can take this life journey for me.

– I will be happy again.

4 Solid Predictors of a Relationship in Trouble

Did you know whether our marriage would survive? It’s a question couples have often asked me after they have experienced a positive change in their relationship. I think it is an interesting question.  However, if I were to allow myself to predict an outcome, I would be doing our profession a disservice.

I believe in the process of therapy and that change is possible! I have observed when couples identify where they learned much of their behavior patterns. It serves as an awakening and an opportunity for them to decide to do things differently. I hold the belief that when couples do the necessary work, their relationship can be stronger than before therapy. But it is important for me to state, when abuse (of any kind), addictions, affairs or agendas are present these behaviors need to be assessed for severity, then addressed and eliminated for a relationship to be healthy.

When a relationship is in severe trouble there are four communication styles that The Gottman Institute research identifies as predictors that a relationship will end.  John Gottman calls them The Four Horsemen – Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.

  1. Criticism is distinctly different than stating a complaint. It is an attack on the partner’s character, with the intent to harm. It is crucial to learn the difference between complaining and criticizing.
  2. Contempt is treating the other with disrespect, ridicule, name-calling, and sarcasm. Its intention is to make one feel worthless. Contempt is the single predictor of divorce. This communication style needs to be addressed and eliminated.
  3. Defensiveness is typically a response to criticism. It happens when a partner feels wrongly accused and finds excuses. The intent is to get the partner to back off. Defensiveness is necessary at times but, when used in a stressful situation, may increase the conflict.
  4. Stonewalling is typically a response to contempt. The partner stops listening and responding. They back off or shut down from any interactions with their partner. The intent is to avoid addressing a difficult issue. It is crucial during this time to recognize the behavior, ask for a break, and return with a more open attitude.

I write about the Four Horsemen because they are the most common indicators that therapists use to identify a relationship in trouble. These communication styles are not difficult for therapists to identify when working with a couple and yet they can be the most challenging to change. Fortunately, when a couple comes in wanting to improve their relationship and does what is necessary to change, they can create a new relationship.

 

 

Dr. Laura L. Bokar                  LMFT, LCPC, ACS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Laura Bokar can be reached by phone at 630.718.0717, ext. 202 or email drlaura@fvinstitute.com. For immediate assistance to schedule an appointment, please connect with one of our Client Care Specialists at 630.718.0717, ext.240.

 

Resource: The Gottman Institute