Are You Codependent?

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Codependency is a learned behavior from watching and imitating family members.  A codependent person is someone who relies on a person, substance, or activity to meet nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. Instead of having a healthy relationship with themselves or having a personal identity, they make someone or something else more important.  A codependent person is primarily dependent on another person’s “dependence” on them and they take on a “caretaker role”.  Over time, their thoughts, feelings, and actions revolve around that other person, substance, or activity and they abandon their relationship with themselves and lose their identity.  Codependency is often referred to as a “relationship addiction” that is one-sided and emotionally destructive.  This codependent style is a dysfunctional way for the codependent to relate to themselves and to others.  Codependency usually goes hand in hand with many addictions.

What are Codependent Relationships?

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A codependent relationship is where either one person is overly dependent on another or two people are overly dependent on each other.  Each person tries to get their core needs met through the other person.  In order for a codependent person to feel good about themselves they need to be needed.  This involves putting their partner’s needs above their own. This sets up the codependent person to remain stagnant in life and not be able to grow into an autonomous, self expressive, and self validating person. Codependents tend to be found in relationships with people who have a drug or alcohol addiction or where the codependent is the primary caregiver of a chronically ill person.  With that said, any person, substance, or activity that a person chooses to be more important than their emotional health, can be called a codependent relationship.  It is scarier for a codependent person to give up their caretaking role than to end their relationship with their partner.  That is how ingrained this dysfunctional behavior is. Often times, a codependent person will unconsciously choose a marriage partner due to not getting their needs met in childhood with the hopes of a second chance at working out their unfinished childhood issues through their partner.  They do this instead of selecting a partner out of mutual love and emotional maturity.

How is Codependency Learned?

 Codependency’s roots begin in childhood.  If you grew up in a dysfunctional family you most likely are codependent.  A dysfunctional family does not acknowledge that problems exist.  They don’t talk about or confront them. Anything that interferes with a child’s progress in growing from absolute dependency of infancy to a healthy adult interdependency predisposes a child to become codependent.  For example: if a baby’s emotional needs are not nourished it will become overly dependent and please others to gain love.  If a parent is overprotective, the child won’t learn to stand on their own feet emotionally and intellectually.  If a parent is perfectionistic, the child learns to please others instead of recognizing its own feelings and needs.  If a parent instills guilt and shame, the child feels selfish for having their personal needs met.  All of these examples leave a child with a lack of: confidence, a healthy sense of personal identity, worth, and self-esteem.

Most children learned in order to be good enough and to be accepted by their parents, they had to deny or repress many of their thoughts, feelings, and needs.  In order to secure this parental bond, they were required to forget about what they really liked, wanted, and needed.  Even to forget who they were.  If they allowed themselves to assert their opinion or needs they were subjected to silent treatment (indirect punishment) or verbally or physically attacked (direct punishment).  In so many words, they were told they were selfish and should feel guilty thinking about themselves and that their needs were somehow wrong.  They distrusted others since their parents took advantage of their dependency needs. So it is only to be expected that once they grew up, that they would have a deep emotional survival program regularly reminding them that in order to be accepted by others, that they had to make their own needs subordinate to others.  They found that this survival program that helped them cope as a child didn’t work anymore but it continued to drive their thoughts and behaviors.  Their behavior was driven by the never met childhood need which is: to be fully, unconditionally accepted by their parents.  The childhood need also includes being able to feel safe and protected, attended to, empathized with, respected, and esteemed.  In a word – “nurtured”.  There is little codependents won’t do to get this kind of acceptance.

Individuals who establish a health sense of self during their developmental years knows who they are as individuals.  They have a good measure of autonomy and are able to engage in appropriate self-care, while also caring for others.  In the face of criticism or failure they are still able to maintain a basic care of self-worth.  They maintain a balance among the stresses and strains of life.  Codependent people have not been able to develop this psychological autonomy and are significantly impaired in their ability to function as healthy individuals.  This creates problems in many areas of their lives.

Codependent Behaviors:

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Before you read this list, it is important to remember that a lot of the behaviors that are listed below are rooted in a person’s childhood and needs that are not met, play out in different ways when a person becomes an adult.  If you find that you have many of these codependent behaviors, the good news is that you can stop being codependent and can lead a happy and healthy life.  It will take work on your part but it can be done. Be sure to see the “Tips For Ending Codependency” right after this section.

  • Driven to be a caretaker or others. A codependent person encourages others to let them be their caretaker or to become indispensable to them in order to eliminate their abandonment issues.  This drive of the codependent to take care of someone is to fulfill their unmet childhood needs. The codependent person comes across as a “helper”, “problem solver”, “decision maker”, or “support person”. They help to the point where they put other people ahead of themselves.  They may feel rejected if the person doesn’t want their help so they continue trying to help them or fix them, when it is clear that the person doesn’t want it.  This behavior is controlling and manipulative.
  • Low self-esteem. A codependent person’s self-esteem depends on validation from others that they take care of.  They can’t approve of themselves.  It is hard for them to be real.  They don’t feel good enough and compare themselves to others.  They become perfectionistic and have a lot of guilt and shame.
  • People pleasing. A codependent person does this to connect with others and to receive approval.  Their responses and actions are conformed to what others want.  This is a form of control and manipulation.
  • Controlling. A codependent person spends a lot of time trying to convince others what to think, feel, and do. This helps them feel safe and secure.  It also limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings.  Codependents need to control others because they need them to behave in a certain way in order to feel okay.  This is manipulative.
  • Over dependency on others. A codependent person needs other people to like them in order to feel ok about themselves.  This is because they are afraid of being rejected and abandoned.  They often feel depressed and lonely when they are by themselves for too long.  They will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order to not be abandoned and this makes it hard for them to end a relationship when it is painful or abusive.  They feel trapped this way.
  • Denial. The codependent person doesn’t face their problems or their fears.  They usually think the problem is due to someone else or a situation.  They keep trying to fix the person or continue complaining.  They deny their feelings and needs.  Because they often don’t know what they are feeling or what their needs are, they will repress them and focus on what the other person is doing instead of looking within.
  • Obsessed with people and relationships. A codependent person spends their time over thinking about other people and relationships.  This is due to their over dependency, anxiety, and fear.  They will anticipate other people’s needs in order to influence their reactions.  For example, if I do action “A” I will get reaction “B”. This is another form of manipulation.  A codependent person may obsess about a mistake they made or might make.  Sometimes they fantasize about how things could be as a way to avoid their pain.
  • Have an exaggerated sense of responsibility. A codependent’s sense of responsibility centers more on the other person’s thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, and desires than their own.  Other people’s attitudes, reactions, and actions govern what they say and do.  Their feelings are tied to another’s behavior.  Their personal values are second guessed, sacrificed, or ignored if they conflict with another.  Due to this sense of responsibility, a codependent person will then make excuses for other people’s behaviors, rescue them from their predicaments, bear their consequences for them, accommodate their unhealthy or irresponsible behavior, or take care of them so they don’t grow up. This allows the person to remain irresponsible, immature, addicted, procrastinating, or in poor health.
  • Poor communication skills. A codependent person cannot communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs to others.  Sometimes they know what they are but they will refrain from communicating them in order to not upset the other person or “rock the boat” due to their fear.  Their communication is dishonest this way since they manipulate the other person to get the response that they want.
  • Disconnected from their inner thoughts, feelings, and needs. A codependent person has protected themselves by disconnecting from significant portions of their inner emotional life and has a hard time knowing what they want.  This leaves them with a weak sense of personal identity.  They fear facing themselves truthfully and risking being true to their own feelings and judgments.  When they are aware of their emotions, what often comes to the surface are painful feelings of emptiness, shame, and anger, rather than their healthy desires and their potential for good judgments.  These healthy desires and good judgments are hidden behind their fear, guilt, and shame.  They look to others instead, for cues to tell them what they should say or what they should do.  They adjust their cues to other’s desires, lose touch with themselves, and feel empty as a result.
  • Poor boundaries. A codependent person has difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries and experiences anxiety in saying “no”. Boundaries are an imaginary line between you and others.  It divides up what is yours and somebody else’s.  This applies to your body, money, belongings, thoughts, feelings, and needs.  Codependent people feel responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings and needs. Healthy people take responsibility for their own feelings and actions.  Boundaries allow us to set limits on how we allow others to treat us.
  • Problems with intimacy. A codependent person loses themselves in others. Healthy intimacy is where two people can be open with each other and can be free to be who they are.  Due to their weak boundaries, the codependent person fears being judged, rejected, or left, and this makes them closed off, withdrawn, and unable to be themselves. They will confuse sex with intimacy.  They also fear that in becoming intimate they may feel smothered or lose their autonomy.  Many times codependents are intimidated or threatened by their spouse or look down on them for being needy or having a problem. They have lack of respect for themselves and for their partner.  They never view their partner as being on equal footing with them.  There is always one person in an up or down position.  Even though codependents desire close relationships to soothe their loneliness and woundedness, they are too busy taking care of others and don’t remain in touch with what is going on inside of them and this makes healthy mutuality and intimacy impossible.
  • Overreacts. A codependent person reacts to everyone’s thoughts and feelings.  If someone says something they disagree with then they believe it or become defensive.  They absorb their words because they have no established boundaries.  With a boundary established, the codependent would realize it was just the person’s opinion and not a reflection on them, and they would not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Alcohol/Drug Use and Other Compulsive Behaviors. Many times a codependent person will look outside of themselves to feel better and will turn to alcohol or drugs and become addicted.  In addition, they might also turn to food, sex, gambling, work holism and other compulsive behaviors.  These addictions and behaviors contribute to a person’s low self-esteem.
  • Do more than their share. A codependent person goes beyond the call of duty to demonstrate their worth and to receive approval from others. This gives them a sense of self and they feel more worthy and less deficient.
  • Plays the victim and blames others. A codependent feels like a victim who is unable to be heard, sympathized with, or understood.  They feel like all of their efforts are taken for granted, they are taken advantage of, and controlled by others.  They blame others for their unhappiness and problems and assume that they have a right to change the person who is making them unhappy.  For example: “If only Mark would get his drinking under control then my life would be better”. This justifies their efforts to fix, help, and control another.  They do not communicate their expectations to their partner and when their partner does not meet their expectations they become resentful and bitter.  This thinking is backward though.  The codependent takes responsibility for their happiness or unhappiness and problems, and their spouse is responsible for their happiness or unhappiness and problems and for changing themselves.
  • Confuses love for pity. A codependent person tends to love people that they can pity and rescue.
  • Struggle with accepting or asking for help.
  • Feels guilty asserting themselves.
  • Doesn’t trust themselves or others.
  • Fears being ignored, abandoned, alone, or rejected.
  • Struggles with adjusting to changes.
  • Is chronically angry.
  • Struggles making decisions.

Questions To Ask Yourself:

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To see if you have any codependency tendencies, ask yourself these questions.  If you find that you’ve answered “yes” to several of them then you might be codependent.

Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?

Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?

Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?

Have you ever lived with someone who belittles you?

Are the opinions of others more important than your own?

Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?

Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?

Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?

Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?

Have you ever felt inadequate?

Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?

Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?

Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?

Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?

Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?

Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority such as the police or your boss?

Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?

Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?

Do you have trouble asking for help?

Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?

Tips For Ending Codependency:

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Break through denial into awareness.  Face your problem with codependency honestly.  Chances are that you have rationalized and justified your codependent style.  For someone who has spent a lifetime using denial to ward off pain, shame, or fear of rejection, and being out of touch with your feelings, this can be a terrifying experience.  In order to break codependent behaviors you must first become aware of them. You will need support from people you can feel safe with and can be emotionally honest with.  This support can come from a Therapist, a friend, or a support group.  Support groups can be helpful since the people in these groups know what it is like to struggle with these specific issues.

Face your childhood issues.  Learn to connect your experiences in childhood to codependent behaviors that you have now in the present.  This involves coming to terms with how you really felt as a child and being honest about your family of origin.  This cannot be an intellectual exercise since codependents learn to cope by disconnecting from their inner emotions.  You may have protected your family for decades and you may feel guilty if you admit you were wounded in childhood.  But you cannot change until you are honest about the negative and positive aspects of your childhood experiences in your family.  This process takes time and is done best in counseling.  Some people have found it helpful to write down all of their feelings and behaviors that they have buried since childhood.  By doing this you will see how you have been impacted by your childhood, what you did to cope as a child, experience less self-blame, and gain more respect and compassion for yourself.  The more you learn about yourself, the more able you will be to relate to others in healthy ways and form more authentic connections.

Detach.  Stop the codependent behaviors of obsessing, controlling, and people pleasing.  Codependents are typically attached to some problem or person or over involved so you must separate yourself from whatever it is you are obsessed with and give up your involvement with trying to change, control, or please someone else.  Let go of the energy you are expending on worrying about others.  Detaching does not mean showing indifference or giving up on your responsibilities, but that you bring attention back to yourself and you become more self-directed and autonomous.  Your actions need to be guided by your own values, feelings, and needs, not someone else’s.

Focus on yourself.  Shift your focus to what makes you feel good and right to create positive change in your life.  Take time to focus on your preferences, likes, dislikes, and things that make you happy and unhappy and find healthy ways to cope with your unhappiness.

Change your self-talk.  The most damaging thing to a person’s self-esteem is the way they talk to themselves.  Change the way you think about yourself and be aware of negative thoughts in your mind.

 Learn to really listen to yourself.  As kids, if our opinion or input never seemed to matter or conflicted with others, chances are that we didn’t value our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, so we denied them.  We grew to distrust ourselves and looked to someone else to validate us.  We need to remember that we may not always be right, but neither are we always wrong.  No one else knows exactly all we know and our insights are important.  Stop apologizing if your opinion conflicts with others and explaining yourself when it is not necessary. We need to start observing what we are thinking and feeling, learn how to communicate this to others, and recognize and value ourselves and our opinions. Take time to periodically stop and ask yourself:

What do I know?

What do I feel?

What do I want?

Once we know what we’re feeling take ownership of them.  Sometimes we don’t know.  But if we rarely know the answers or never stop to consider the questions, it means were out of touch with ourselves.  It’s hard to relate in a meaningful way to others then because we aren’t bringing a perspective of our own to share.  Question your intentions behind your words and actions.  This allows you to understand your own ideas and motives instead of letting other people define them for you.  It helps develop a sense of confidence and self-respect, making it easier to communicate our needs to other people.

Self Acceptance.

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Self acceptance is key to ending codependency.  Before you can change you have to accept reality.  As they say “what you resist, persists”. As you learn more about yourself there will be more limitations and losses to accept.  By accepting reality, it opens the doors of possibility and then change happens. New ideas and energy emerge that were pushed down from you blaming yourself and fighting reality.  There is freedom and serenity that happens.  Self-acceptance means you don’t have to please everyone for fear that they won’t like you.  You honor your needs and unpleasant feelings and are forgiving of yourself and others.  This goodwill toward yourself allows you to be self-reflective without being self-critical.  Your self-esteem and confidence grows and you don’t allow others to abuse you or tell you what to do.  Instead of being manipulating you become more authentic, assertive, and are capable of greater intimacy.

Set healthy boundaries.

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If you set limits with people in your life they will know your boundaries.  It’s knowing where someone ends and where you begin.  With clear and defined boundaries the people around you will know what is ok and what is not ok.  Setting boundaries is also saying no when you need to and not always providing a reason for it.  A lot of times codependents can’t give with good motives since they lack healthy boundaries and a healthy sense of self that is found in emotionally mature people.  They also feel empty inside.  Emotionally mature people set their needs aside for the welfare of others.  Codependents must find a healthy balance between their needs and the needs of others.  Once you set these boundaries, you can give to others from a genuine, caring place, rather than out of fear or duty.

Let others face their consequences and stop blaming yourself.

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Codependent people continually save others from themselves.  It’s not your fault if someone in your life uses drugs or is abusive.  You are not in control of their actions.  Stop blaming yourself for what they do or not do.  You can only control your emotions, reactions, and actions.  If the consequences of their actions are negative it is their fault, not yours.  You are not responsible for correcting their mistakes.  Nor are you to blame for them.  We can’t change what other people do.  We can only change our responses.  This is about giving up your efforts to take other people’s responsibilities so that they can learn to take responsibility for themselves just as you are learning to take responsibility for yourself.  We cannot fix problems that are not ours to fix and all our worrying and obsessing and trying to help only perpetuates the problem.  As long as we are trying to fix someone they don’t need to fix themselves and we don’t have to fix ourself! This may mean saying no.  Learn to recognize when your help is beneficial to another person or when that person needs to fend for themselves.

Don’t try to fix other people’s feelings.  Codependency is where you reflect emotionally whatever the other person is feeling.  If they are up, then you’re up.  If they are down then you’re down.  Learn to separate yourself.  If we don’t feel ok and secure about ourselves then we tend to over rely on other people to do this for us.  If we’re not in touch with our emotions, chances are we’re afraid of our emotions.  And if we’re afraid of our emotions then we most likely will be afraid of other people’s emotions too.  Because a codependent person is afraid of other people’s emotions they will try to snap the person out of it and smooth things over.  There is an important line that we don’t cross to shut others down.  We cross that line when we are uncomfortable with other people’s feelings and we say things like:

 “It’s not that bad”

“Stop crying”

“You should be happy”

What we need to do instead, is to let the person be upset.  We don’t try to calm them down. We don’t try to fix them or get defensive.  Their problem might not be about you.  If it is about you and there is something you can do, then do it.  If it’s not about you, it’s not something you can fix.  Just listen and be there for them.  You don’t have to solve their problem.  Just give the person the space to work it out.

Give no advice.  For many, a codependent’s well being is tied to another person.  We care so much for that person and so little for ourselves that we over focus on them.  Our mind is constantly humming with plans to help that person, change that person, and how that person’s life could be better.  The natural tendency is to offer suggestions to that person on ways they could improve.  Resist the urge.  Unsolicited advice is rarely well received and hardly acted upon.  Before we give advice (no matter how helpful or well intentioned), we should ask ourselves:

What do I need to do for me?

What do I want them to do that I really need to do for myself?

Advice giving puts one person in a position of authority.  The person giving advice communicates to the other: “This is how things really are and this is what you need to do”.  Instead of problem solving together, one person is knowledgeable and dominant and the other is ignorant and subservient.

Ask for no advice.  One of the ways codependent people keep themselves small and others big is to ask for advice.  It is one thing to ask people questions in an effort to gain a broader perspective.  But if you ask people what they think you should do, it changes the dynamic in an unhealthy way.  This applies to professionals as well.  For example, if you ask your Therapist what to do then you are no longer responsible.  If you do what the Therapist tells you to and the results are disastrous, then you will blame your Therapist.  It’s now their responsibility and their fault.  This is your life.  You are responsible to live it and to choose wisely.  The next time you are tempted to ask for advice, stop yourself.  Look within.  Ask yourself: what do I really know to be true? What do I really want?  Sometimes it helps to sleep on it.  Trust that the answer or as much as you need to know of the answer, will become clear. Sometimes things are not clear and we simply must make the next best choice we believe to be the wisest.  Don’t be tempted at this point to seek the false sense of certainty that comes from trading your sense of self for the advice of others.

Gripe at the right time.  Some of us grew up in homes where we didn’t get heard.  If things bothered us we tried to voice them and got shut down.  When this happened we learned to suppress our feelings, minimized how bad something was, or denied there was a problem, and because the problem was never dealt with, it came back in a dysfunctional way later on. Codependent people complain to others about what they felt yesterday, instead of dealing with their feelings right away.  The time to complain is now.  It is important to process your feelings now in order to let them go.  If you hold onto your feelings for too long they will stay inside of you and will become toxic.

Stop telling stories of “what they did to me”.  We tell these stories to get validation and sympathy.  The problem with this is that it keeps you in the victim role and the person who hurt you in the perpetrator role. When we tell stories of what other people did to us, instead of focusing on what we did, what we allowed, and the choices we made, rather than looking at solutions, it reinforces our powerlessness and the dysfunction of the relationship.

Build Healthy Relationships.  Codependents tend to have unrealistic expectations of others.  Get rid of them.  Seek out mature, mutual relationships.  This is the way to intimacy. A mature, mutual relationship is where there are healthy boundaries, neither party is demanding or controlling, and each person communicates honestly their thoughts, feelings, and wishes mutually.  The goal is to become interdependent, rather than codependent in relationships.  This is where each person maintains a clear identity apart from the relationship, has an awareness of their own needs, and is quite able to stand on their own two feet. Every codependent needs relationships where they can work on relating in new and healthier ways.  Stay away from people with poor boundaries who need rescuing.

Take action.

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Insight without action only gets you so far.  In order to grow self-awareness and self-acceptance it must be accompanied by new behavior.  This involves taking risks and venturing outside of your comfort zone.  It may involve speaking up, trying something new, going somewhere alone, setting a boundary, or changing your behaviors in existing relationships.  It also means setting internal boundaries by keeping commitments to yourself and saying no to old habits you want to change.  Instead of expecting others to meet all of your needs and make you happy, you learn to take actions to meet them yourself and do things that give you fulfillment and satisfaction in your life.  Each time you try out a new behavior or take a risk you learn something new about yourself and about your feelings and needs.  You create a stronger sense of yourself, as well as self-confidence and self-esteem.  This is the opposite of codependency which creates fear, depression, and low self-esteem.  Words are actions.  They have power and reflect your self-esteem.  Becoming assertive is a learning process and is perhaps the most powerful tool in becoming healthier.  Assertiveness requires that you know yourself and risk making that public. It entails setting limits.  This is respecting and honoring yourself.  You get to be the author of your own life – what you’ll do and not do and how people will treat you.

Get help.

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There are a variety of community organizations that can help with codependency issues.  You do not have to make these changes alone.

In Conclusion…

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In the end, we are responsible for ourselves and our own happiness.  We all have the right to be our authentic selves and feel secure in who we are as individuals.  This is healthy living and this is freedom.  Stop wrapping your identity and life up in other people and realize that you have so much to offer.  There is no one else like you.  You are one of a kind.  You are special.  You are unique and you have value!  This world is waiting for you to show it who you really are.  So take a chance and step out of this dark place called “codependency” and into the light!  If you struggle with codependency and aren’t sure of the next step to take and need to talk to someone, we are here to help!  Please call us at (810) 299-1472.  Thank you for taking the time to read about this topic today!

References:

Lancer, Darlene. Symptoms of Codependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/

Mentalhealthamerica.net. Co-Dependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency

Seltzer, Leon F. (2014). Codependent or Simply Dependent: What’s the Big Difference? Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201412/codependent-or-simply-dependent-what-s-the-big-difference

Addictions.com. Tips to Help You Stop being Codependent. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.addictions.com/tips-to-help-you-stop-being-codependent/

Lancer, Darlene. Recovery from Codependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/recovery-from-codependency/

Li, Jason T. Overcoming Codependency. Retrieved 2016, from: http://lifecounsel.org/pub_li_overcomingCodependency.html

Puchalski, Anna. Ending Codependency in Relationships: Find And Live Who You Really Are. Retrieved 2016, from: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/ending-codependency-in-relationships-find-and-live-who-you-really-are/

Sexual-sanity.com. Six Keys to Overcoming Codependency and Building Healthy Relationships. Retrieved 2016, from: http://sexual-sanity.com/2012/06/six-keys-to-overcoming-codependence-and-restoring-health-in-relationships-after-addiction/

 

 

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Navigating the Waters of Becoming a Blended Family

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Here’s the scenario. You have met someone.  You’re recently divorced and so are they.  You both have children from your previous marriages.  You want to start a life together because your relationship is getting serious.  This will involve becoming a blended family.  So what can you do to ensure that this new family will be successful and that all people involved will be able to handle the change?  This article will give tips on how to introduce this new person to your children, how your children might feel once you become a blended family, what all children need from their family, and how to make your blended family a successful one.

So What Is A Blended Family? 

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A blended family is when one or both partners were married or in a relationship before and have children from that prior relationship. Both of these people fall in love and decide to marry each other and in turn, form a new blended family that includes children from those prior relationships.

The Realities:

We’re not going to sugar coat this.  Blended families are tough on the new couple and tough on the kids.  To develop good family relationships it takes work and blended families have a lot of adjustments to make.  Some of the realities are:

  • The old family is mourned to make room for the new family.
  • Each person experiences the new blended family differently. A child may start out in their first family as an only child, but now in the blended family has many siblings.  A partner may not have been a parent in the first family and are now thrown into a parenting role for the very first time.
  • Your partner or children may feel uncertain about how these changes will affect their relationships with their spouse or with their parent.
  • Kids may not like their step siblings, like living with them, or get along with them.
  • The kids may not accept the new partner.
  • The kids may constantly compare the new partner to their parent.
  • The new partner may not like the children.
  • Custody arrangements can be complicated and affect family events, birthday parties, and vacations.
  • The ex may be resentful toward the new partner and affect the children negatively.
  • Family traditions may change.
  • It may take a long time for a blended family to begin to feel comfortable and function well together.

Merging two families means merging two different parenting styles, discipline methods, lifestyles, and other things.  To give yourself the best chance of success, it’s important to consider this and start planning on how your blended family is going to function before the marriage even takes place.  Even though it is tempting to marry after finding another person to love again, if you wait and lay solid foundations and give everyone a chance to get used to each other and the idea of marriage, it will definitely pay off in the long run.

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Before Blending Happens – Tips For Introducing The New Partner:

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The relationship is getting serious and now you want to introduce your children to the love of your life.  Tips on how to do this:

  • Do not introduce the new partner right after the separation or divorce. Children need time to adjust to their parents being separated first.  They are also less likely to feel worried that they are being replaced by someone else.  Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another, which can unsettle children.
  • Introduce your children slowly to the new partner.
  • Be sensitive to your child’s reactions. Just because you think your new partner is great doesn’t mean that your children will agree.
  • Tell your ex about your plans before introducing your partner to your children. Offer reassurances to your ex about your partner’s involvement with the children and how important they are to you.
  • If your child doesn’t live with you, they will still need alone time with you without the new partner being present every visit.
  • Make it clear to your children that the new partner is not a substitute parent and that you and your ex will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their lives.
  • Support your children in adapting to the reality of life moving on. If it’s your ex who has the new relationship, be neutral about their partner.  Avoid asking the children questions about the relationship and respect your child’s wishes if they do not want to talk about the new partner.
  • Encourage your ex to speak positively about your partner to your children so that they don’t feel like they have to take sides between the two of you.
  • Find ways to experience real life together. Try to get the kids used to your partner in daily life situations.
  • Establish with your partner how you will parent the children together and make the necessary adjustments BEFORE you remarry. Make sure that you are consistent with things such as rules, chores, discipline, and allowance.  This will help reduce any feelings of frustration and unfairness in children.  It will also help your kids not to become angry and blame your partner for the new changes.

Tips If You’re The New Partner:

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  • Meeting and being involved with your partner’s children can be daunting. You will want to support your partner in their relationship with their children and hopefully get along with them too.  Set aside some special time for you and the child to interact alone. Allow the relationship between the two of you to develop slowly.  Limit your expectations. Don’t expect the child to love you or even like you initially. Aim for a relationship where you respect each other and treat each other fairly. Love and affection take time to develop. Each child is different and they will show you how slow or fast to go as you get to know them. Given enough time, patience, and interest, most children will eventually give you a chance.
  • Stop thinking of the child as “his kid” or “her kid”. You are now a pivotal person in this child’s life.
  • Be prepared to take a back seat when the children are around. Accept that your partner’s first responsibility is to their children.  Your partner can give you their undivided attention when their children are not with you.
  • Don’t criticize, complain, or joke about the other parent in front of the children.
  • Explain to the children that you are not a replacement, just another person who loves them and supports them.
  • Remember that part of being a good parent is having a co-parenting relationship with the other parent. Accept that there will be communication between your partner and their ex about the children.
  • Don’t make your spouse choose between you and their child. Your relationship with your spouse will not suffer if they have a close relationship with their child.  We all have multiple “accounts” from which we draw our love.  There’s a child account that has love in it and there’s an account that has love in it for you as well.  By your spouse loving and nurturing their child, it in no way decreases the balance of love that is in your account.  Both are separate deals.  With that in mind, ask your partner how you can help them nurture their relationship with their child, becoming their number one support system in building and maintaining it.
  • If there are arguments and disagreements between your partner and their ex, remember that there are two sides of a story.

Tips If Your Ex Is The One With A New Partner:

If you are happy for your ex (even relieved) and your children feel the same way, please skip this section!

If you are upset, this is normal.  It can be a big shock to hear that your ex is seeing someone.  You may need to reach out to friends and family for support as you adjust to this new development.  You will probably wonder how the new relationship will affect your children.  Many times a good relationship is established between two parents until a new partner enters the picture.  That is when some conflicts can arise such as:

  • The ex might want the children to spend time with their new partner and the other parent doesn’t.
  • The children might not like the new partner and want to spend more time with the other parent.

 Blending Has Happened:

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So you have married and your new blended family is now in place and not everyone is on board.  Here is a little insight as to how the kids might be feeling:

Jealous – They are used to having their parent all to themselves.

Sadness – They secretly hoped that mom and dad would get back together and now that’s gone.

Insecure – They worry about competing for their parent’s attention.

Frightened – They fear losing their parent to the new partner.

Resentment – This is just another change they have to get used to.

Anxiety about the other parent – Will the other parent feel more alone? Will the other parent mind them liking the new partner?

Age Makes A Difference

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The age of the child determines how they will adjust to a blended family:

For kids under age 10: They are more accepting of adults, they feel competition for parental affection and attention, they may adjust more easily due to the desire for cohesive family relationships, and have more daily needs.

For kids ages 10-14: They may have the most difficulty adjusting, they need additional time to bond before accepting a step parent as a disciplinarian, they do not demonstrate openly their feelings, and they may need more love, support, and attention than younger children.

For teenagers: They may have less involvement in family life, prefer to separate from family while forming their own identity, and still want to feel loved, secure, and important, although they may not express it openly.

All kids need loving and trusting relationships.  In order to establish this type of relationship, you will need to consider their age, gender, and level of development.

Things To Expect By Gender:

  • Girls are often uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from a stepfather.
  • Boys accept a stepfather more easily than girls.
  • Both boys and girls prefer verbal affection (compliments) rather than physical affection (hugs).

All Children Need To Feel In A Family:

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Safe and secure.  They want to be able to count on parents and step parents.  Children of divorce have already experienced people letting them down.  They may not be eager to give second chances to a new step parent.

Loved.  Kids need to see and feel your affection.

Seen and valued.  Kids often feel invisible or unimportant when it comes to decision making in the blended family.  Recognize their role in the family when you make decisions.

Heard and emotionally connected.  By creating an honest and open environment free of judgment, this will help your kids feel heard and emotionally connected to the new step parent.  Show them that you can view the situation from their perspective.

Appreciated and encouraged.  Children of all ages like to feel appreciated for their contributions and respond well to praise and encouragement.

And all children need to have…..

Limits and boundaries.  Children may not think that they need limits, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal to the child that they are unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.  As a new step parent, you shouldn’t step in as the enforcer at first, but work with your spouse to set limits.

What Makes A Successful Blended Family

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Solid marriage.  Without the marriage there is no family.  It’s harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don’t have couple time like most first marriages do. You’ll have to grow and mature in the marriage while parenting. Focus on building a strong marital bond.  This will benefit everyone.  If children see love, respect, and open communication between you and your spouse, they will feel more secure and learn to model these qualities.  Set aside time as a couple by making regular dates.

Open communication.  With open and frequent communication, there are fewer misunderstandings and greater possibilities for connections within the family.

Good relationship with the ex.  Kids will adjust to the blended family more readily if their parents have a good relationship and both are involved in their life.  It’s good to remember that you and your former spouse have not ended your relationship.  Instead you have changed it from an intimate, emotional affiliation to a relationship that’s held together by common goals for your children.  Joining with your ex, unselfishly, putting hurt feelings aside and leaving behind the pain of betrayal or a dysfunctional history, are tremendous gifts to your children.  To be cold, sabotaging, hurtful, or exclusionary with your former spouse is, in some sense, to do the same for your children.

Family routines and traditions. Creating family routines and rituals helps unite family members.  Decide on meaningful family rituals and incorporate at least one into your blended family.

Safe boundaries are established. Discipline can be something that can make or break trust in building a blended family.  A couple should have in place what the role of the step parent is and the children are clear about it.  The step parent may need to take the role of a friend to start, with the biological parent being the disciplinarian until the children have completely bonded with the step parent.  Communicate rules clearly to the children so that everyone is on the same page.

All relationships are respectful.  You can’t insist people will like each other, but you can insist that they treat one another with respect. Parents must show respect to the kids too!  If a family member is ignoring others, trying to be hurtful to others, or withdrawing into themselves, talk to them about how they are feeling and explain that although their feelings are valid, respect is still to be followed in the family.

Arguing is not done in front of the children. If you and your spouse start to argue, decide to sit down at a later time when you are both calmer.  Do not fight in front of the children.  Most likely the kids have already experienced a great deal of parental conflict during the divorce that has shaken them to the core.  When you argue in front of the children you make it worse and you change who they are.  For you the fight is over when it is over.  For your child it doesn’t end.  They don’t see you make up.  They don’t participate in the healing.  They go to bed at night thinking that their parents are fighting because of them.

No favoritism is shown.  Be fair by showing no favoritism.

Children get alone time from their parent.  Spend one quiet time period with your child daily.  Children still need to enjoy “alone” time with each parent.

Ultimatums are not tolerated.  Your kids and your partner may want you to choose between them.  You don’t have to.  Remind them that there’s room for both of them.

Compassion is given for every person’s development.  Members of the family may be at various life stages and have different needs.  They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand this and honor these differences.

The first family is not duplicated.  Trying to make a blended family a replica of the first family can often set up family members for confusion, frustration, and disappointment.  Instead, embrace the differences.

Children living outside of the home feel like family members.  If kids are not living in the home with the new couple and they come to visit, have a special place for them to put their belongings so that they don’t feel like a guest, but feel like a family member instead.

There is room allowed for growth.  After a few years of being blended and with the kids given the right support, everyone in the family should start to feel closer to each other.

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Becoming a blended family has its challenges, but it also has its rewards. If you’re thinking about starting a blended family or you are in the midst of one and need some additional support, we are here to help! Give us a call today at (810) 299-1472.

References:

www.huffingtonpost.com. 9 Strategies For Making A Blended Family Blend. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/28/step-family-blended-family_n_6058890.html

Helpguide.org. Step-Parenting and Blended Families – How to Bond with Stepchildren and Deal with Stepfamily Issues. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/step-parenting-blended-families.htm

theparentconnection.org. New Partners – Different Perspectives. Retrieved 2016, from: http://theparentconnection.org.uk/articles/new-partners-different-perspectives

www.bandbacktogether.com. Blended Families Resources. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.bandbacktogether.com/blended-families-resources/

 

Depression In Kids – It Is More Common Than You Think

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Depression is the most common mental health issue in the United States.  Each year it affects 17 million people from all ages, races, and economic backgrounds.  As many as 1 in every 33 children may have depression; in teens that number may be as high as 1 in 8.  All kid’s struggle from time to time of feeling “down in the dumps”, which is quite normal, but what if your kid continues to feel that way and they aren’t getting any better?  Your child may be depressed.  So what does a parent do to help?  By understanding the nature of depression, getting your child the help that they need, and by offering your support to them, your child’s life can change for the better.

What is Depression?

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Depression isn’t just bad moods.  It’s not just feeling down or sad either.  These feelings are normal in kids, especially during the teen years.  Even when major disappointments happen, these feelings usually ease with time. Kids with depression have described themselves as feeling hopeless about everything or feeling that nothing is worth the effort.  They honestly believe that they are “no good”, that their world is a difficult place, and that they’re helpless to do anything about it.

When a depressive state or mood lingers for a long time – weeks, months, or longer, and limits a person’s ability to function normally, it can be diagnosed as depression.

It’s important to remember that in kids, depression can appear as “bad moods” or irritability that lasts for a long time, even if a child doesn’t acknowledge being sad.

What Causes Depression?

There is not one reason for why people get depressed.  In most cases, it is the result of many factors and this varies from person to person.

Here are some causes of why a person may be depressed:

Low levels of neurotransmitters.

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These are chemicals that carry signals to and from the brain (part of the nervous system) that help a person to feel good.

Genetics.

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Someone with a close relative who has depression may be more likely to have it.

Significant life events.

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Events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, a move to a new area, and even a breakup can bring on symptoms of depression.

Stress.

The teen years are a time of emotional and social turmoil, and things that are difficult for adults to handle can be devastating for teens.

Chronic illness.

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The side effects of infection can bring on depression.

Side effects of medication.

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What Are the Common Types of Depression That Kids Experience?

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The most common types of depression that kids and teenagers experience include: major depression, dysthymia, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder (or manic depression).

Let’s break down each one:

Major Depression: this is a serious condition characterized by a lasting sad mood, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and the inability to feel pleasure or happiness.  Major depression usually interferes with day-to-day functioning like eating and sleeping.  Kids with major depression feel depressed almost every day.  This is a major risk factor for suicidal behavior.

Dysthymia: may be diagnosed if sadness or irritability is not as severe as major depression, but continues for a year or longer.  Kids with dysthymia often feel “down in the dumps”.  They can have low self-esteem, feel hopeless, and can have problems with sleeping and eating.  Dysthymia does not severely interfere with day-to-day functioning, but the “down mood” is a major part of the child’s world.  At least 10% of those with dysthymic disorder develop major depression.

Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood: This disorder is when a person feels more hopeless and sadder than would be expected after a stressful event.  A person feels depressed within 3 months after the event occurred and gets better in 6 months or less.  The person is unable to deal with things at work, at school, and socially, they feel sad and uninterested in things they once enjoyed, have sleep problems, and struggle with concentration and memory.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: This is a mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern.  The disorder is thought to be related to the variation in light exposure that happens in different seasons.  It is mood disturbances (either periods of depression or mania) that begin and end in a particular season.  Depression which starts in winter and subsides when the season ends is the most common.  It’s usually diagnosed after the person has had the same symptoms during the same season for a couple of years.  People with this disorder are more likely to experience lack of energy, sleep too much, overeat, gain weight, and crave carbohydrates.

Bipolar Disorder: this is another type of mood disturbance, marked by episodes of low-energy depression (sadness and hopelessness) and high-energy mania (irritability and explosive temper).  Bipolar disorder affects between 1-2% of children.  More than 2 million adults have bipolar disorder, which often develops in the late teen years and early adulthood.  Researchers believe that kids and teens with bipolar disorder can have a number of additional problems such as: attention deficit disorders, oppositional behavior disorders, and anxiety.

Warning Signs of Depression

Does your child show any of these behaviors?

  • Feels down in the dumps or sad for no reason?
  • Has low energy, feeling unable to do the simplest task?
  • Low self-esteem?
  • Feels hopeless?
  • Doesn’t enjoy the things that used to bring them pleasure?
  • Shows a lack of desire to be with friends or family members?
  • Irritable and angry?
  • Has a lot of anxiety?
  • Unable to concentrate?
  • Has gained noticeable weight or lost it? Failed to gain weight as expected? Too little or too much interest in eating?
  • Sleep habits have significantly changed, such as trouble falling asleep or getting up?
  • Feels guilty?
  • Feels worthless?
  • Aches and pains, even though nothing is physically wrong?
  • A lack of caring about what happens in the future?
  • Uses alcohol or drugs?

If You Think Your Child Is Struggling With Depression:

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Did you recognize any of the above behaviors in your child?  If so, your child may be depressed.  So where do you start?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk with your child about how they are feeling and with others who know your child well. Remember to really listen to what your child tells you and be careful to not dismiss their concerns. Kids who are depressed see the world negatively because their experiences are shaped by their depression.  They may not be able to express themselves and they may act like they don’t want help.
  • Remind your child that you are there to support them. Reassure them over and over again.  Kids with depression need to hear it a lot because they tend to feel unworthy of love and attention.
  • You are not responsible for causing your child’s depression. However, stressful situations can contribute to a child developing long-term depression (i.e. parental separation, divorce, illness, death).
  • Take action! Early detection and diagnosis are key in treating depression. Don’t avoid acting because you hope your child’s depression will go away, you feel guilty, or prefer to solve family problems privately.  The sooner you get your child the help that they need the better!

How To Get Professional Help For Your Child

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The good news is that professionals can help!  Depression can be treated in more than 80% of the people who become depressed.  If you suspect that your child is struggling with depression, first make an appointment to see your family doctor.  The doctor will rule out physical illness first.  If they suspect depression, they may next refer you to either of the following:

  • Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who can make a diagnosis, offer treatment, and prescribe medicine.
  • Psychologist: A health professional who can diagnose and treat depression, but is unable to write prescriptions.
  • Licensed Social Worker: A person who has a degree in Social Work and is qualified to treat childhood depression.

If you visit a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist, they will give your child a complete evaluation and will start them on a treatment plan that most likely will include counseling, medication, or both.  A Psychiatrist can prescribe medication and although it may take a few tries to find the right drug, most people who follow their prescribed regimen eventually begin to feel better.

The important thing is to connect your child with a mental health professional that they feel comfortable with.  If it is not a good fit, keep searching for one that is.  Don’t forget that your child’s teachers, the school guidance counselor, and the school Psychologist are additional people who can be supportive to your child.

How Parents Can Help Their Children

Most parents think it’s their job to ensure the happiness of their kids.  When your child is depressed you may feel guilty because you can’t cheer them up.  You may also think that your child is suffering because of something you did or didn’t do.  This isn’t true.  If you’re struggling with guilt, frustration, or anger, consider counseling for yourself.

Suggestions on ways to be helpful to your child:

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  • Make sure your child takes any prescribed medicines and encourage healthy eating too, as this may help improve mood and outlook.
  • Make sure your child stays active. Physical activity has been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of depression.  Incorporate physical activities, such as bike rides or walks into your family’s routine.
  • Offer your love and support by reminding your child continually that you are there for them and want to hear what they have to say, however unpleasant. Your child might struggle with believing you, but it’s important that you continue to reassure them.
  • Accept the situation and never tell your child to “snap out of it”. Remind yourself that it isn’t laziness causing your child’s inability to get out of bed, complete chores, or do homework.  They simply don’t have the desire or the energy.  However, you can still praise and reward your child for making the extra effort.
  • Call your doctor or a mental health professional if you see signs that your child may be thinking about self-harm. If your child talks about suicide to you or anyone else, or shows warning signs such as giving belongings away and being preoccupied with death, call your doctor or a mental health professional immediately.

Help is just a call away!  If your child is struggling with depression, please contact us today at (810) 299-1472.  The sooner you act, the sooner your child will begin feeling better.

References:

KidsHealth.org. Understanding Depression. Retrieved 2016, from KidsHealth.org: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/understanding-depression.html

BeyondBlue.org. (2015). Types of Depression. Retrieved May 2015, from Beyond Blue.org: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/types-of-depression

SummitMedicalGroup.com. Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood. Retrieved 2016, from www.summitmedicalgroup.com: http://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/adult_health/bha_adjustment_disorder_with_depressed_mood/

 

You’re Getting a Divorce. How Do You Tell The Kids?

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Divorce is hard on kids at any age.  It can be stressful, sad, and confusing.  As a parent you may feel uncertain about how to tell your children that you are getting a divorce and what you should do to support them through it.  There are many ways you can help your children adjust.  Through patience, understanding, reassurance, love, and by listening to them, it will minimize tension in the home and allow them to cope with new circumstances, and by establishing routines, it will show them that they can count on you for stability, structure, and care.  We hope that this article will be helpful in providing simple steps that you can take in talking with your kids, as well as how to help them navigate through such a difficult time and come out of it feeling loved, confident, and secure.

Before You Have The Talk

Before you sit down and talk to your kids, here are some suggestions:

  • Prepare. Anticipate tough questions you might be asked from your children and determine what your responses will be.
  • Present a united front. As much as you can, try to agree in advance with your spouse on how you are going to explain your divorce and stick to it.
  • Make sure you talk to the kids before any living arrangements occur. Plan also to talk to your kids when your spouse is present.

When It Is Time To Tell The Children

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It is important to address the most important points with your children right away, which are:

  • Explain why you are getting the divorce and tell the truth. Your kids are entitled to know why you are getting a divorce, but pick and choose carefully how much you are going to tell them.  Pick something simple and honest to tell them like “We can’t get along anymore.” In general, younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation, where older kids may require more information.  You may need to remind them that while sometimes parents and kids don’t get along, parents and kids don’t stop loving each other or get divorced from each other. Also remember to not blame your spouse and be respectful of them when giving the explanation, even if you’re hurt.
  • Tell them you love them and reassure that you care. Letting your children know that your love for them hasn’t changed is a powerful message.  Tell them you’ll still be caring for them in every way, from fixing their breakfast to helping them with their homework.
  • Talk about changes in general. Acknowledge that some things will be different now and other things will remain the same.  Let them know that together you will deal with the changes that come.
  • Share logistical information. Do tell kids about changes in their living arrangements, school, or activities, but don’t overwhelm them with the details.

If A Child Could Express What They Want From Both Of Their Parents, It Would Go Something Like This…

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  • “I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please write letters, make phone calls, and ask me lots of questions.  When you don’t stay involved I feel like I’m not important and you don’t really love me”.
  • “Please stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other. Try to agree on matters related to me.  When you fight about me, I think that I did something wrong and I feel guilty.”
  • “I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. Please support me and the time that I spend with each of you.  If you act jealous or upset, I feel like I need to take sides and love one parent more than the other.”
  • “Please communicate directly with my other parent so that I don’t have to send messages back and forth.”
  • “When talking about my other parent, please say only nice things, or don’t say anything at all. When you say mean, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side.”
  • “Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I count on my mom and dad to raise me, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems.”

How To Support Your Children After The Talk

For kids, divorce can feel like a loss.  The loss of a parent and the loss of a life they know.  The main ways you can help support them are by:

Listening and Understanding

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  • Notice their moods and encourage them to talk to you and share their feelings.
  • Help them find the words for their feelings. It’s normal for kids to have difficulty expressing themselves.
  • Commit to truly listening to your child’s feelings and acknowledge them. Allow them to be honest with you.  Children might be reluctant to share their true feelings for fear of hurting you.  Let them know that whatever they say is okay.  Try not to get defensive or dismiss their feelings.  If they aren’t able to share their honest feelings, they will have a harder time working through them later on.  Your kids may be feeling sadness, loss, and frustration about things you may have not expected.
  • Show them that you understand what they are telling you.  This will inspire their trust.

Clear Up Misunderstandings

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Many kids believe they had something to do with the divorce, recalling times they argued with their parents, received poor grades, or got in trouble.  In order for them to not believe they are at fault, try these suggestions:

  • Set the record straight. Repeat why you decided to get a divorce.  Sometimes hearing the real reason for your decision can help.
  • Be patient. Kids may seem to “get it” one day and be unsure the next. Treat your child’s confusion or misunderstandings with patience.

Give Reassurance and Love

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Children have a remarkable ability to heal when given the support and love they need.  Your words, actions, and ability to remain consistent are all important tools to reassure your children of your unchanging love. Tips for doing this:

  • Inform them that they will have a relationship with each parent. Tell your kids that even though the physical circumstances of the family unit will change, it will not change their relationships with mom and dad.
  • Things will be okay. Tell them that things won’t always be easy, but that they will work out in the end.  Knowing it will be alright can encourage your kids to give a new situation a chance.
  • Show your child physical affection. Remember to give your child frequent hugs.  This sends them a powerful message that they are loved by you.
  • Be honest. When kids raise concerns or anxieties, respond truthfully.  If you don’t know the answer, say gently that you aren’t sure right now, but you’ll find out and it will be okay.
  • Reiterate that they are not responsible for the divorce.
  • Continue to tell them that you love them.

Provide Stability and Structure

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While it’s good for kids to learn to be flexible, adjusting to many new things at once can be very difficult.  To provide stability and structure:

  • Remember that establishing structure and continuity doesn’t mean that you need rigid schedules or that mom and dad’s routines need to be exactly the same. But creating some regular routines at each household and consistently communicating to your children what to expect will provide your kids with a sense of calm and stability.
  • The benefit of schedules and organization is good for younger children and older children. Kids feel safer and more secure when they know what routines to expect (ex. dinner, then bath, then homework).  By having a set routine, this can set a child’s mind at ease.
  • A routine also means observing rules, giving rewards, and disciplining your children. Resist the temptation to spoil your kids by not enforcing limits or allowing them to break rules because you feel guilty.

Taking Care Of Yourself As A Parent

In order to take care of your kids, you need to take care of yourself first.  The following are ways to do this:

Exercise often and eat a healthy diet.

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Exercise relieves pent up stress and frustration that is common with divorce.  Eating healthy will make you feel better, inside and out.

Keep a journal.

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By writing down your thoughts, feelings, and moods, it can help you release tension, sadness, and anger.  As time passes, you can look back on just how far you have come.

Lean on friends for support.

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It may be tempting to isolate yourself and not want to talk about it, but friends or a support group can be helpful in listening to what you are going through.  By having this support, it will allow you to not feel so overwhelmed and you won’t feel the need to take out your feelings on your children.

Never use your child to fill in as an adult.  Whatever you do, do not talk to your child like you would talk to a friend.

Keep laughing.

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Try to inject humor and play into your life and the lives of your children as much as you can.  It can relieve stress and give you all a break from sadness and anger.

See a Therapist.

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If you are feeling intense anger, fear, grief, shame, or guilt, find a professional Therapist to help you work through those feelings.

Tips For Sharing Joint Custody

Conflict between parents can be very damaging for kids.  It’s crucial not to put your children in the middle of your fights or make them feel like they have to choose between you. The goal is to avoid lasting stress and pain for your kids.  The following tips can save them a lot of heartache:

  • Take it somewhere else. Never argue in front of your children, whether it’s in person or over the phone.  Ask your ex to talk another time, or drop the conversation altogether.
  • Use tact. Refrain from talking with your children about details of their other parent’s behavior.  It’s the oldest rule in the book: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Be nice. Be polite in your interactions with your ex-spouse.  This not only sets a good example for your kids, but can also cause your ex to be gracious in response.
  • Work on it. Make it a priority to develop an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse as soon as possible.  Watching you be friendly with your ex can reassure your children and teach them problem-solving skills as well.

Normal Reactions Kids Have To Divorce:

  • Anger. Your kids may express their anger, rage, and resentment with you and your spouse for destroying their sense of normalcy.
  • Anxiety. It’s natural for children to feel anxious when faced with big changes in their lives.
  • Mild Depression. Sadness about the family’s situation is normal, and sadness coupled with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness is likely to become a mild form of depression.

Some children go through divorce with relatively few problems, while others have a very difficult time.  It’s normal for kids to feel a range of difficult emotions, but time, love, and reassurance should help them to heal and you should see gradual improvement over time.

When To Seek Help For Your Children:

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If things get worse rather than better after several months, it may be a sign that your child is stuck in depression, anxiety, or anger and you may want to seek professional help.  Watch out for these red flags:

  • Sleep problems;
  • Poor concentration;
  • Trouble at school;
  • Drug or alcohol abuse;
  • Self-injury (cutting) or eating disorders;
  • Frequent angry or violent outbursts;
  • Withdrawal from loved ones;
  • Refusal to participate in loved activities.

If your child shows any of these warning signs, please make an appointment with their doctor, teacher, or a professional Therapist.

If you are a parent going through a divorce or have a child who is struggling with it, and you need to talk to someone, please call us today.  Our number is (810) 299-1472.  We have Therapists who can help.

Sources:

Helpguide.org. Children and Divorce, Helping Kids Cope with Separation and Divorce. Retrieved 2016, from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/children-and-divorce.htm

 

Self Harm: What to Know and How to Help

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“It is estimated that about 2 million people in the U.S. injure themselves in some way.  The majority are teenagers or young adults, with young women outnumbering young men.  They are of all races and backgrounds.” (Mentalhealthamerica.net)

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What is Self-Harm?

Self-harm is also known as cutting (self-mutilation), self-injury, and self-abuse.  The behavior is defined as: the intentional, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s self.  The most common practice used by people to self-harm is to cut either their arms or their legs.    Other self-harm behaviors are: scratching, burning, picking scabs or interfering with wound healing, punching self or objects, infecting oneself, inserting objects into body openings, bruising or breaking bones, hair pulling, drinking harmful liquids like bleach or detergent, and others.

Some people are very careful when they self-harm.  They take great care to avoid serious injury or infection by using sterile blades, cleaning their wounds carefully, use bandages, and avoid major blood vessels and muscles. Others who are inexperienced or who escalate emotionally sometimes can severely injure themselves.

Why Does A Person Self-Harm?

It is hard to understand why your loved one would want to harm themselves.  We hope this makes it a little bit clearer.   It’s important to know that people who self-harm have a lot of inner turmoil going on inside of them and they often struggle with feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, self-hatred, emptiness, loneliness, and anxiety.  They do not feel understood by others, and may be fearful of intimate relationships and adult responsibilities.  Many times their feelings cannot be expressed into words so they self-harm instead.  Once they do this, it serves as an emotional release for them and the person feels like they have a sense of control over their body, when everything else in their life feels out of control.  They may also self-harm to distract themselves from the pain of everyday life, cope with stress from family expectations or cope with the realization of their sexuality.

The relief found from self-harm behaviors is only temporary and a person can fall into a self destructive cycle if they don’t get help.  Self-harm behaviors do not help the person get to the root cause of why they self-harm in the first place.

Who Is Most Likely To Self-Harm?

The majority of those who self-harm are teenagers or young adults, with women outnumbering men.  Men are more likely to punch walls than cut, which is the common practice of many who self-harm.  The person who self-harms tends to be from middle to upper class background, is of average to high intelligence, and has low self-esteem.  It was reported that 50% of those who self-harmed claimed that they had experienced physical or sexual abuse during childhood and 90% were discouraged from expressing emotions, especially anger and sadness.

When Do Self-Harm Behaviors Normally Start?

Self-harm behaviors normally start at puberty and behaviors last 5-10 years, and may continue longer without treatment.

Are Some People More At Risk To Self-Harm Than Others?

Self-harm is strongly associated with Borderline Personality Disorder because self-harm is one of nine criteria used to diagnose the disorder.  Individuals who are bipolar, have other personality conditions, or who experience depression, anxiety, manic episodes, or psychosis, may be more likely to commit acts of self-harm than other individuals.  Childhood trauma such as severe abuse or neglect may be a risk factor, and studies show that self-harm is also prevalent in individuals who have an eating disorder.  College students are at a greater risk for self-harm as well.  It was reported that 35% of college students stated that they self-harmed at least once in their lives.

How Much Of The U.S. Population Self-Harms?

Habitual self-injurers make up nearly 1% of the population of the United States.

The Harmful Impact of Social Media

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Despite efforts of Social Media to curb the amount of disturbing material their users’ post online, images of self-harm like “cutting” continue to surface on sites like Instagram and Tumblr.  Although most popular Social Media sites have established policies to handle images that glorify self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders, doing a simple search using any of these key words still brings up pictures of cut wrists and graphic images.  The concern is that if people view these images, it may trigger someone who is inclined to harm themselves. Kids are seeking a connection to normalize their behavior, to make them feel ok about the way they are coping, and Social Media provides that outlet for them.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Pinterest have stated in their “community standards” that self-harm posts are not allowed on their websites.  Still, the sites act only after the images have been posted and even though employees actively police the sites, they still rely significantly on others to report disturbing posts.  Hash tags, used to filter content, aren’t effective at monitoring Social Media sites since many teens find ways to get around commonly used terms.  Hash tags though, are also used to provide resources.  Social Media sites have stated that if you prohibit certain hash tags, then you are preventing people from receiving much needed help.  Some Social Media sites reach out to users directly.  On Tumblr, when a search is done about cutting, a message appears asking “Everything Okay?” and provides a hotline for people to call.  Though there is no data on whether the Internet has exacerbated self-harm, it has helped to normalize the behavior.  In order to help improve this issue, it is suggested that Social Media sites become more proactive in reaching users directly, ban hash tags that promote harmful behavior (i.e. proanorexia), up their community standards, and take down images more quickly.

Are People Suicidal That Self-Harm?

Self-harm behaviors are not the same as suicidal behaviors, though self-harm behaviors can lead to suicide.  People who commit suicide usually don’t see a possible way to end their pain, where people who self-harm are attempting to cope with the world, not desiring to end their lives.  Sometimes though, people who self-harm do become desperate about their lack of self-control and addictive-like natures and may contemplate, threaten, or attempt suicide.  They may also engage in dangerous behaviors such as binge drinking, excessive drug use, or risky, unsafe sex.  Sometimes a person who self-harms is unable to control their injury and dies accidentally.

For people who self-harm, they often feel numb and they use the pain of the self-injury to remind themselves that they are very much alive.  Because self-injurious acts are considered a coping skill, it’s good for the person to learn new coping skills to eliminate the compulsion to harm oneself and reduce the occurrence of suicidal thoughts.

What Triggers A Person Who Self-Harms?

People who self-harm can be triggered by many different things.  Some possible triggers are anger, shame, high-stress situations, or traumatic events.

What Are The Warning Signs To Look For?

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  • Frequent injuries;
  • The person claims to be clumsy in order to explain the injury;
  • Is irritated;
  • Wears concealed clothing not appropriate for the weather (ex. long pants and sleeves in summer);
  • Carries sharp objects in their belongings without an apparent reason;
  • Has low self-esteem;
  • Has difficulty handling their feelings;
  • Has relationship problems;
  • Difficulty functioning at work, school, or home;
  • Prefers to be alone for long periods of time.

What To Do If You Notice Warning Signs

Encouraging your loved one to see a licensed Psychiatrist for an evaluation is the first step.  Self-harm behavior can be a symptom of several psychiatric illnesses like personality disorders (especially Borderline Personality Disorder), Bipolar Disorder (manic depression), major depression, anxiety disorders (especially Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), as well as Schizophrenia.  After a diagnosis is made, the Psychiatrist will recommend a course of treatment to prevent the self-destructive cycle from continuing.

Treatment Available

There are several types of treatment available for those who self-harm.  To be effective in treating self-harm, a combination of treatment is recommended such as: medication, cognitive/behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and supplemental services if needed.  Here is an explanation of the different treatment options available:

Medication.

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Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication is often useful in the management of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and the racing thoughts that may accompany self-harm.

Individual Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy.

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Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy helps individuals understand and manage their destructive thoughts and behaviors.  Contracts, journals, and behavior logs are useful tools for regaining self-control and overcoming the compulsion to self-harm.  Other tools used to prevent future triggers are self-esteem exercises, meditation, mindfulness, and creative expression.  A person will learn in therapy how to develop other coping mechanisms to address their emotional pain.

Interpersonal Therapy.

Individuals can gain insight and skills for developing and maintaining relationships.

Group Therapy.

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Individuals can discuss their condition with others who are going through similar experiences.  This has been shown to be effective.

Partial Therapy.

This includes therapy for 6-12 hours a day.

Self-Relaxation.

Self-relaxation techniques such as hypnosis can be of benefit to some people.

Supplemental Treatment Services.

Sometimes a person needs additional support.  Examples of this would be: help for eating disorders, alcohol/substance abuse, trauma abuse, and family therapy.

Family Therapy.

This can be helpful when an individual self-harms to manage stress that is related to their home life.

Inpatient Hospitalization.

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When behaviors interfere with daily living (work, relationships) and are health or life threatening a specialized self-injury hospital program is recommended.

Self-Harm Coping Suggestions

Below are some coping suggestions that have been recommended by Therapists in the past:

  • Paint, draw, write, or listen to music that expresses the pain or emotion you feel;
  • Write what you feel and then rip up the paper;
  • Take a hot bath or shower;
  • Squeeze ice;
  • Visit a self-help chat room or message board;
  • Exercise;
  • Punch a pillow or mattress.

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Other coping suggestions to try that are not harmful and simulate the cutting sensation are: draw on your body with marker, rub ice on your skin, and snap rubber bands against your arms or legs.

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If you self-harm and need to talk to someone, we are here to help.  Please call our office today and make an appointment with one of our Therapists.  Our number is (810) 299-1472.

References:

Goodtherapy.org. Self-Harm. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.goodtherapy.org: http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/self-harm

USNews.com. Is Social Media Making Self-Harm Worse for Teens? Retrieved 2016, from www.usnews.com: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/05/29/is-social-media-making-self-harm-worse-for-teens

Mentalhealthamerica.net. Self-injury. Retrieved 2016, from www.mentalhealthamerica.net: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/self-injury

 

Eating Disorders – How to Help

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All of us have been there, especially women.   Women look in the mirror and we think “I need to lose weight” or “I look fat” or “I need to go on a diet”.   We compare ourselves to others and wish we could look more like someone who is younger, skinnier, prettier, or has a better body than we do.  Self esteem issues are a normal part of life and self acceptance comes as we get older and mature.  However, for some people, self esteem issues go beyond normal and require professional help.

What is an Eating Disorder?

Many people think that an eating disorder is about food or weight.  It is not.  It is a person’s attempt to deal with emotional and stress related issues.

Eating disorders are extreme eating behaviors.  Examples of these behaviors would be: a person following a rigid diet, binging on food in secret, throwing up after meals, and obsessively counting calories.  Eating disorders are way more complicated than just unhealthy dietary habits. At their core, they involve distorted, self-critical attitudes about food, weight, and body image.  It’s these negative thoughts and feelings that fuel these damaging behaviors.

People with eating disorders use food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions.  Restricting food is used to feel in control.  Overeating is done to soothe sadness, anger, or loneliness.  Purging is used to combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing.  Over time, people with eating disorders lose the ability to see themselves objectively and their obsessions with food and weight dominate over everything in their life.

Myths About Eating Disorders

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Myth #1: You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder.  People with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and most people with eating disorders are average weight or overweight.

Myth #2: Only teenage girls and young women are affected by eating disorders.  While eating disorders are most common in young women in their teens and early twenties, they are found in men and women of all ages.

Myth #3: People with eating disorders are vain.  It’s not vanity that drives people with eating disorders to follow extreme diets and obsess over their bodies, but rather an attempt to deal with feelings of shame, anxiety, and powerlessness.

Myth #4: Eating disorders aren’t really that dangerous.  All eating disorders can lead to irreversible and even life-threatening health problems, such as heart disease, bone loss, stunted growth, infertility, and kidney damage.

Types of Eating Disorders

The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

Here is an explanation of each one:

Anorexia – People who have this disorder starve themselves out of an intense fear of becoming fat.  Despite being underweight or even emaciated, they never believe they’re thin enough.  In addition to restricting calories, they may control their weight with exercise, diet pills, or purging.

Bulimia – This involves a destructive cycle of bingeing and purging.  Following an episode of out-of-control binge eating, people will purge themselves of the extra calories.  In order to avoid weight gain, they vomit, exercise, fast, or take laxatives.

Binge Eating Disorder – People who have this disorder compulsively overeat and rapidly consume thousands of calories in a short period of time.  They are unable to stop eating even when they are uncomfortably full.

Warning Signs of Eating Disorders:

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In the early stages it may be difficult to tell the difference between an eating disorder and normal self-consciousness, weight concerns, or dieting.  As eating disorders progress, the red flags become easier to spot.  A person with an eating disorder will often go to great lengths to hide the problem, so it’s important to know the warning signs, which are:

  • Restricting food or dieting behaviors.

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This is the most obvious one.  The person may frequently skip meals or make excuses to avoid eating (i.e. they had a big meal earlier, they aren’t hungry, they have an upset stomach).  The person may claim to be disgusted by foods that used to be their favorites. Or if they do eat, they take tiny servings, eat only specific low-calorie foods, obsessively count calories, read food labels, and weigh portions.  In an effort to curb appetite, they may also take diet pills, prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, or even illegal drugs such as speed.

  • Bingeing.

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Some people who have eating disorders will eat normally around others, only to binge in secret (usually late at night or in a private spot where they won’t be caught or disturbed).  Warning signs of bingeing include piles of empty food packages and wrappers, cupboards and refrigerators that have been cleaned out, and hidden stashes of high-calorie foods such as desserts and junk food.

  • Purging.

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The person will purge by throwing up, fasting, exercising vigorously, or using diuretics and laxatives.  Common warning signs of purging include disappearing right after a meal or making frequent trips to the bathroom.  If they are vomiting they may run the water to muffle the sound and use mouthwash, breath mints, or perfume to disguise the smell.

  • Altered appearance and a distorted body image.

A person’s appearance can offer clues to an underlying problem. Significant weight loss, rapid weight gain, and constantly fluctuating weight are all possible warning signs.  An altered appearance would be where the person wears baggy clothes or multiple layers in an attempt to hide dramatic weight loss.

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A person may have a distorted body image where they are obsessively preoccupied with their weight and complain about being fat despite having a shrinking frame or they may spend hours in front of a mirror inspecting and criticizing their body.

How To Help

If you notice warning signs, you may feel hesitant to say anything. You may fear that you’re wrong or that you’ll say something to make things worse.  Although it’s difficult to bring it up, don’t let your fear hold you back.  Often times people who have eating disorders are afraid to ask for help and struggle like you, to find a way to start the conversation.  Others have such low self-esteem that they simply don’t feel that they deserve any help.  Eating disorders will only get worse without treatment and the emotional and physical damage can be severe.  The sooner the person gets help, the better their chance of recovery.

Tips In Starting The Conversation

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  • It’s important to communicate your concerns in a loving and non-confrontational way. It will be received much better.
  • Pick a time when you can speak to the person alone.
  • Try to be positive and respectful of their feelings. Avoid critical or accusatory statements.
  • Focus on feelings and relationships, not on food and weight.  Share with them times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating behavior.  Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional help.
  • Do not comment on how they look. The person is already too aware of their body.  Comments about weight or appearance only reinforce their obsession with body image and weight.
  • Make sure you don’t convey any fat prejudice or reinforce their desire to be thin. If they say they feel fat or want to lose weight, don’t say “You’re not fat”. Instead, suggest to them that they might want to take a look at their fears about being fat and what they think they can achieve by being thin.
  • Avoid power struggles about eating. Do not demand they change.  Do not criticize their eating habits.  People with eating disorders are trying to be in control because they don’t feel in control of their life.  Trying to trick or force them to eat will only make things worse.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the person regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat”.  Or, “You are acting irresponsibly”.  Instead, use “I” statements.  For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch”.
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”

They may deny it.  They may be angry and defensive.  That’s ok.  It’s important that you don’t give up!  It may take them time to open up to you and admit that they have a problem.  You can’t force it.  They have to decide to want to get better.  What you can do is offer to be supportive to them by showing them love and compassion.  They will be grateful that someone cares.

Tips for After The Conversation

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You’ve had the conversation and your loved one has confided in you that they have a problem.  So now what?  Aside from offering support to them, the most important thing you can do for them is to encourage treatment.  The longer an eating disorder remains undiagnosed and untreated, the harder it is on the body and the more difficult to overcome, so urge them to see a doctor right away.

A doctor can assess their symptoms, provide an accurate diagnosis, and screen for medical problems that might be involved.  The doctor can also determine if there are co-existing conditions that require treatment such as depression, substance abuse, or if they have an anxiety disorder.

If your friend or family member is hesitant to see a doctor, ask them to just get a physical to put your worries to rest.  You could offer to set up the initial appointment for them or go with them to be supportive.

Children and Eating Disorders

Many times when kids are confronted if they have an eating disorder they will get defensive and angry.  Kids who have eating disorders tend to pull away from friends and keep to themselves, avoiding social events that involve eating food.  If you suspect your child has an eating disorder but they deny anything is wrong, make an appointment with their pediatrician or family doctor. Also ask a school counselor, religious leader, or trusted friend to help.  Often kids find it easier to admit that they have a problem to someone outside of their immediate family.  A doctor will   determine if there are any serious health problems.  If your child is referred to an Eating Disorder Specialist, they are used to dealing with children who refuse to admit that they have a problem and know how to make them feel comfortable talking about their issues.

Tips for Parents

It can be difficult to find out that your child is struggling with an eating disorder.  Here are some tips on how to get your child the help they need:

  • Examine your own attitudes about food, weight, body image, and body size. Think about the way you personally are affected by body-image pressures, and share these with your child.
  • Avoid threats, scare tactics, angry outbursts, and put-downs. Remember that an eating disorder is often a symptom of extreme stress and an attempt to manage emotional pain.  Negative communication will only make it worse.
  • Set consistent limits for your child. For example, know how you will respond when your child wants to skip meals or eat alone, or when they get angry if someone eats their “special” food.
  • Remain firm. Regardless of them telling you that you are not going to “make them eat” or promising to stop the destructive behaviors, you will have to stay attuned to what is happening with your child and you may have to force them to go to the doctor or hospital.
  • Do whatever you can to promote self-esteem in your child through intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to disordered eating.
  • Encourage your child to find healthy ways to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or self-hatred.
  • Remember it’s not your fault. Parents often feel they must take on the responsibility for the eating disorder, which is something they truly have no control over.  Once you accept it is not your fault, you can take action that is not clouded by what you “should” or “could” have done.

How are Eating Disorders Treated?

There are many treatment options for eating disorders.  The right approach for each person depends on their symptoms, issues, strengths, and the severity of the disorder.  To be most effective, treatment for an eating disorder must address both the physical and psychological aspects of the problem.  The goal is to treat any medical or nutritional needs, promote a healthy relationship with food, and teach constructive ways to cope with life and its challenges.

Often, a combination of therapy, nutritional counseling, and group support works best.  In some cases, residential treatment or hospitalization may be necessary. Here is brief explanation of each type of treatment used:

Therapy

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Individual and group therapy can help your loved one explore the issues underlying the eating disorder, improve self-esteem, and learn healthy ways of responding to stress and emotional pain.  It is very important to find a Therapist who is specifically trained for eating disorders.  Family therapy is also effective for dealing with the impact the eating disorder has on the entire family unit.

Nutritional Counseling

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Dieticians and Nutritionists are often involved in the treatment of eating disorders.  They can help your loved one design meal plans, set dietary goals, and achieve a healthy weight.  Nutritional counseling may also involve education about basic nutrition and the health consequences of eating disorders.

Support Groups

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Attending an eating disorder support group can help your loved one feel less alone and ashamed.  Run by peers, rather than professionals, support groups provide a safe environment to share experiences, offer and receive advice, encouragement, and coping strategies.

Residential Treatment

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Residential or hospital-based care may be required when there are severe physical or behavioral problems, such as a resistance to treatment, medical issues that require a doctor’s supervision, or continuing weight loss.

When is Hospitalization Necessary?

The person is:

-Dangerously malnourished;

-Severely depressed or suicidal;

-Suffering from medical complications;

-Getting worse despite treatment.

Recovery

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time.  There are no quick fixes or miracle cures, so it’s important to have patience and compassion for your loved one.  Don’t put unnecessary pressure on them by setting unrealistic goals or demanding progress on your own timetable.  Provide love and encouragement, praise each step they make forward, and be supportive to them with struggles and setbacks.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder and need to talk to someone, we are here to help.  Please call us today at (810) 299-1472 to set up an appointment with one of our Therapists.

Sources:

Helpguide.org. Helping Someone with an Eating Disorder, Advice for Parents, Family Members, and Friends. Retrieved 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/helping-someone-with-an-eating-disorder.htm

 

 

Does Your Child Have Asperger Syndrome?

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All kids go through awkward stages and phases in life, and oftentimes can struggle in social situations.  But what if you notice this happening beyond just a phase?  By answering a few questions below it may show that there may be more going on with your child.

  • Does your child interact poorly in social situations?
  • Does your child obsess a lot?
  • Does your child have odd speech patterns?
  • Does your child have peculiar mannerisms?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, your child may have Asperger Syndrome.

What Is Asperger Syndrome?

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Asperger Syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician, who in 1944 first described a set of behavior patterns that he saw in his patients, who were mostly males.  Asperger noticed that although these boys had normal intelligence and language development, they had severely impaired social skills, were unable to communicate effectively with others, and had poor coordination.

Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological condition.  People who have AS are born with it and have it for life.  As they mature, they may gain new skills, outgrow some of their AS traits, and use their strengths to compensate for their areas of disability.  AS is generally considered a form of autism and is part of a group of conditions called “autism spectrum disorders (ASD)”.  The term “autism spectrum” refers to a range of developmental disabilities and symptoms can appear in different combinations and in varying degrees of severity.  Terms that describe children who fall within the spectrum are “low-functioning”, “high-functioning”, “autistic tendencies”, and “pervasive developmental disorder”.  Kids who have AS share many of the same symptoms as kids who have high-functioning autism.

Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to be affected by AS.  According to the Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the United States, many kids are diagnosed after age 3, with most kids being diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 9.

What Causes It?

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Researchers and mental health experts are still investigating the causes.  Some research points to the possibility of brain abnormalities.  Structural and functional differences in specific areas of the brain have been seen in people who have AS.

Other research indicates that there is a genetic foundation for AS, involving a number of different genes.  In families where a child has AS, one or both biological parents will also have AS, or have AS traits to some degree.  Other relatives in the family might have AS or AS traits as well.  People with AS have reported that their relatives from previous generations were eccentric or quirky, were diagnosed with a mental illness or hospitalized, lived a reclusive life, were chronically unemployed, or married and divorced multiple times.  They also said that they were extremely intelligent, had superior memory, had single-minded focus, were original thinkers, and had unusual interests.  Many of these same relatives were very successful in the areas of engineering, math, writing, composing, philosophy, and other fields.  These relatives, whether quirky, gifted, or both, most likely had AS and were undiagnosed. There seems to be a hereditary component to AS and research indicates that in some cases AS may be associated with other mental health disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Asperger Syndrome is NOT caused by how a person is brought up, so parents should not blame themselves.

Is There A Cure?

Currently, there is no cure for Asperger Syndrome.  Kids who are born with Asperger Syndrome have it for life.  Many people who have AS lead full and happy lives, and the likelihood of them achieving this, is helped through appropriate education, support, and resources.

Symptoms and Behaviors Typical of Asperger Syndrome:

  • Speech is typically scripted, robotic, repetitive, jerky, or unusually fast.
  • Has difficulty knowing what to say or how to behave in social situations, with the tendency to say the “wrong thing”. May appear awkward or rude. Conversations tend to be one sided, long winded, without noticing if the person they are talking to is listening.  Doesn’t understand the give and take of “small talk”.  This is from having a language disorder where they speak literally and don’t know how to use language in a social context.  Shows little eye contact and few facial expressions.
  • Trouble perceiving the intentions and emotions of other people, because they ignore or misinterpret cues such as facial expressions, body language, humor, sarcasm, and vocal intonation and unintentionally upset people due to appearing insensitive to others’ feelings.
  • Highly intelligent.
  • Appears ego centric or self absorbed, odd or eccentric.
  • Has difficulty making friends of the same age. Relates better to adults or younger children.
  • Displays awkward body postures and gestures (may do hand or finger flapping), is clumsy and uncoordinated.
  • Inflexible and resistance to change. Small changes and transitions are upsetting.  Familiar objects, settings, rituals, and routines are preferred.
  • Focuses on a few interests that are time consuming and which cause isolation.
  • Difficulty with “executive functioning”, which is organizing, initiating, analyzing, prioritizing, and completing tasks.
  • Extremely sensitive to light, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. Many people with AS outgrow these sensory issues to some extent as they mature.
  • Focuses on the details and misses the big picture.
  • Feels different, disconnected, and like they don’t “fit in”.
  • Is vulnerable to stress and this can lead to problems such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
  • Lack of common sense.
  • Memorizes information easily, has good grammatical skills and an advanced vocabulary, however struggles with reading, math, and writing.
  • May engage in violent outbursts, self-injurious behaviors, tantrums or meltdowns.
  • Has limited attention span, daydreams when over stimulated.

If You Suspect Your Child Has Asperger Syndrome

If your child shows some of the symptoms and behaviors typical of AS, it’s critical to seek help from your doctor.  The sooner the child gets treatment, the better their future will be.  Early intervention that includes educational and social training, while a child’s brain is still developing, is very important.  Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional or specialist for further evaluation.

Asperger Syndrome can be very difficult to diagnose.  It’s not uncommon for a child to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before a diagnosis of AS is made later.  Children with AS function well in most aspects of life, so it can be easy to attribute their strange behaviors to just being “different”.

If you need to take your child to be evaluated, what should you expect?

When you take your child to a specialist to be evaluated, they will complete a psychosocial evaluation.  The specialist will ask you when your child’s symptoms started, when their motor skills and language patterns developed, and gather information about your child’s personality and behavior (interests and unusual habits), social interactions, and how well they make friends.  In addition, the specialist will complete a psychological evaluation and gather information about your child’s communication skills to determine their strengths and areas of deficiencies.

Treatment for Asperger Syndrome

There isn’t a single type of treatment that is used for everyone.  Behaviors and problems vary from child to child. Depending on what their strengths and deficiencies are, kids may benefit from these types of treatments:

  • Parent education and training.
  • Specialized educational interventions.
  • Social skills training.
  • Language therapy.
  • Sensory integration training for younger kids (performed by an occupational therapist where the child is desensitized to stimuli to which they are overly sensitive).
  • Psychotherapy or behavioral/cognitive therapy for older kids.
  • Medication.

How To Help Your Child In General:

Aspergers-Syndrome-We-Advocate-and-Educate

  • Your child will act differently than other children so the first thing to do is to look into educational or training programs for parents in order to learn how to help them. You are their first teacher and are key to their success.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your child’s disability. Speaking openly about it may help in finding others who are going through the same thing as you and who can be supportive to you.
  • Determine what a tolerable social and physical environment is for your child and provide it.
  • Establish a clear, consistent daily routine, with expectations of behavior and consequences that can be followed at home and at school. This will help reduce your child’s negative behaviors and a daily routine will create stability and comfort for them.  It will also reduce demanding behaviors.  For example, by establishing a set time to give them attention, they are less likely to show aggression in order to get your attention.
  • If you need to make any changes or transitions, give your child plenty of warning ahead of time.
  • Try some behavior modification. You must determine what need the “bad” behavior is fulfilling and then teach your child a replacement behavior that will satisfy the need.
  • Teach your child self-help skills. Teach them to know what they need and the language to ask for it.  This will help them achieve independence.
  • Talk less, slower, calmer and in a clear language that the child can understand.
  • Use kindness and humor for mistakes and enjoy your child’s strengths.
  • Teach new concepts by using your child’s interests.
  • Use visuals to teach your child a problem solving method for when they are stuck.
  • Stress management techniques may be helpful to control anxiety in older kids with AS.
  • As children develop and advance in their relationships with others, your child may struggle to keep up at the same pace and may not be able to stay in friendship groups. They may only be able to participate in special interest groups (i.e. science club).
  • Find a support group so that you get help for yourself and other family members. You can’t help your child if you are not meeting your own emotional and physical needs.  Your community may offer support groups at a local hospital or at a mental health center.
  • Remember that your child is part of a family unit and that their needs should be balanced with those of other family members.

How To Help Your Child At School:

  • Find a program that addresses your child’s specific needs, addresses areas where they are “deficient”, focuses on long-term outcomes, and takes their developmental level into consideration.
  • Once your child is enrolled in school, speak to the school about their special needs.
  • Work with educators on the best way to teach your child and how to make changes to the classroom to help their learning experience. Teachers will want to know about how you manage your child’s behavior, any special routines you’ve established, any interests your child has, and how your child communicates.
  • Inform the school if your child is sensitive to certain sounds, smells, or being touched.
  • Fatigue after school is often a problem for kids with AS and facing homework at the end of the day can be very stressful. You may need to compromise with the school about the learning objectives of homework and what your child actually needs to do.  Since many kids with AS can focus well in some classes (those built on facts), they may not need the repetitive learning tasks that other children need.
  • Be aware that secondary school can be very stressful for children with AS because of the daily challenges of having several different teachers, having to move between classrooms, and having different time tables each day. These changes can cause considerable confusion for someone who is very resistant to change.

Adults In The Workplace

albert einstein

A society designed for and dominated by the neurotypical majority (people who do not have AS) can feel unwelcoming and overwhelming to someone who has AS.  For example, our society places expectations on children at a very young age to “play well with others” and grow up fast.  Society expects adults to work 40-60 hour work weeks under fluorescent lights, attend meetings, work on teams, rapidly absorb oceans of information, and multi-task.  This can pose many problems for a person who has AS.

The good news is that many adults who have AS go on to become successful professors, lawyers, physicians, artists, authors, and educators.  People who have AS have a lot of skills that can help them function well in the workplace.  For example, a person with AS often notices visual details and can remember facts well.  These skills are useful for many professions.  The downside is that a person with AS can become too perfectionistic, too obsessed with details, or has trouble seeing the big picture and can’t complete a project.  Other skills that a person with AS can utilize to their benefit in the workplace are:

  • Normal to very high intelligence.
  • Good verbal skills, including rich vocabularies.
  • Originality and creativity, including a propensity for “thinking outside the box”.
  • Honesty and ingenuity.
  • Strong work ethic, with particular attention to accuracy and quality of work.
  • Special interests that can be tailored toward productive work. Individuals who have intensive knowledge in one or more specific areas can channel their expertise toward new discoveries and creations in their chosen field.
  • Keen senses that allow them to see, hear, or feel subtle changes in the environment that others do not, resulting in phenomenal powers of observation.

With this being said, there is strong evidence that many superstars such as Vincent Van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Albert Einstein, code breaker Alan Turing, and musician Glen Gould all had Asperger Syndrome and your child could be the next superstar!

Many people with AS can function well in most aspects of life, so the condition does not have to prevent your child from succeeding academically or socially.  If you have a child who has Asperger Syndrome and you want to find out how you can help them, we are here for you.  Call (810) 299-1472 today to set up an appointment.

References:

AANE. What is Asperger Syndrome? Retrieved 2016, from http://www.aane.org: http://www.aane.org/about_asperger_syndrome/what_is_asperger_syndrome.html

AANE.  Asperger Syndrome Interventions for Children.  Retrieved 2016, from http://www.aane.org: https://www.aane.org/about_asperger_syndrome/asperger_syndrome_interventions_children.htm

Hutton, Mark. How Parents Can Help Their Aspergers Child: 30 Tips and Strategies. Retrieved  2016, from www.myaspergerschild.com: http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/12/how-parents-can-help-their-aspergers.html

Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Signs and Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome. Retrieved  2016, from http://www.brainbalancecenters.com: http://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2012/02/signs-and-symptoms-of-asperger-syndrome/

KidsHealth.org. Asperger Syndrome. Retrieved 2016, from kidshealth.org: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/brain/asperger.html#

 

 

 

How to Help Your Troubled Teen

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boy

Being a parent is a difficult job, especially if you are parenting a child in their teen years.  When a teen is violent, depressed, abusing alcohol or drugs, or engaging in reckless behavior, a parent can feel lost as to what to do.  You may feel exhausted from staying awake at night worrying about your child and wondering where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing.  You may feel guilt about failing at communicating with them, the endless fights, and how defiant they are.  You may live in fear if your teen has violent mood swings and explosive anger.  While all of these factors may seem overwhelming, there are steps you can take to ease the chaos and help your teen transition into a healthy and happy adult.

Teen rolling her eyes

As teens begin to assert their independence and find their own identity, many go through behavioral changes that can seem bizarre and unpredictable.  Your once sweet, obedient child, who couldn’t bear to be apart from you, now doesn’t want to be seen with you, rolls their eyes at everything you say, and slams the door.  These unfortunately, are the actions of a normal teenager.

When parenting a troubled teen, you’re faced with more challenges.  A troubled teen faces behavioral, emotional, or learning problems beyond the normal teenage issues.  They may repeatedly practice at-risk behaviors such as: violence, skipping school, drinking, drug use, sex, self-harming, shoplifting, and other criminal acts.  Or they may exhibit symptoms of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders.  Negative behavior repeated over and over again can be a sign of underlying trouble.  It’s important to understand what’s normal during adolescent development and what can point to serious problems.

Typical Teen Behavior:

Girl with dyed hair

  • Changes in appearance. Keeping up with fashion is important. They may wear provocative or attention seeking clothing.  They may dye their hair.  Unless your teen wants tattoos, avoid criticizing them.  Save your battles for the big issues. Fashions change and so will your teen.
  • Increased arguments and rebellious behavior. As they seek independence you will frequently butt heads and argue with them.
  • Mood swings. Hormones and developmental changes contribute to these happening on a regular basis, as well as irritable behavior, and them struggling with managing their emotions.
  • Experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Most teens will try alcohol and will smoke a cigarette at some point.  Many will even try marijuana.  Talk to your kids openly about drugs and alcohol.
  • More influenced by friends than parents. Friends become extremely important to teens and can have a great influence on their choices.  As teens focus more on their peers they will withdraw from you.  It may leave you feeling hurt, but it doesn’t mean your teen doesn’t still need your love.

Warning Signs of a Troubled Teen:

Fight happening at school

  • Changing appearance along with problems at school or along with other negative changes in behavior like cutting or extreme weight loss or weight gain.
  • Constant escalation of arguments, violence at home, skipping school, getting in fights, and run-ins with the law. These are all red flags to look out for that go beyond normal teenager rebellion.
  • Rapid changes in personality, falling grades, persistent sadness, anxiety or sleep problems. These could indicate depression, bullying, or another emotional issue.  Take any talk about suicide seriously.
  • Using alcohol and drugs habitually. If it accompanies problems at school or at home it may indicate a substance abuse issue.
  • A sudden change in peer group (especially if the new friends encourage negative behavior) or if your teen is spending too much time alone.
  • Refusing to comply with reasonable rules and boundaries.
  • Avoiding consequences of bad behavior by lying.

If You Identify Any Warning Signs In Your Teen:

Consult a doctor, counselor, or other mental health professional for help in finding appropriate treatment.

How A Teenager Thinks:

Frontal Cortex of brain

Your teenager is wired differently.  A teenager’s brain is still developing and processes information differently than a mature adult’s brain.  The frontal cortex – the part of the brain that is used to manage emotions, make decisions, reason, and control inhibitions, is restructured during the teenage years, while the whole brain does not reach full maturity until about the mid-20’s.  Hormones produced during the physical changes of adolescence can complicate things too.  This doesn’t excuse poor behavior or absolve teens from being accountable, but it may help explain why teens act so impulsively and frustrate parents and teachers with their poor decisions, social anxiety, and rebelliousness.

Anger in Teens:

angry boy

Anger can be a challenging emotion for teens, as it often masks other underlying emotions such as frustration, embarrassment, sadness, hurt, fear, shame or vulnerability.  When teens can’t cope with these feelings they may lash out, putting themselves and others at risk.  Teen boys have difficulty recognizing their feelings, let alone being able to express them or ask for help.

How to help your teen cope with emotions and deal with anger in a more constructive way:

  • Establish rules and consequences. At a time when you and your teen are calm, explain that there is nothing wrong with feeling anger but there are unacceptable ways of expressing it.  If your teen lashes out they will have to face the consequences (i.e. losing privileges).
  • Uncover what’s behind the anger. Is your teen sad or depressed?
  • Be aware of anger warning signs and triggers. A warning sign could be your teen getting headaches and pacing before exploding into a rage.  When teens can identify the warning signs that their temper is starting to boil it allows them a chance to defuse the anger before it gets out of control.
  • Help your teen find healthy ways to relieve anger. Exercise, team sports, hitting a punching bag or a pillow can help relieve tension and anger.  Many teens also use art or writing to creatively express their anger.  Dancing or listening to angry music can provide relief.
  • Give your teen a space to retreat to. All teens when angry, need a place to go to that is safe to cool off.  Don’t follow them or demand apologies or explanations while they are raging.  This will prolong or escalate their anger and may provoke a physical response.
  • Manage your own anger. You can’t help your teen if you lose your temper as well.  As difficult as it is, you have to remain calm and balanced no matter how much your child provokes you.  If you or other people in your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, then your teen will naturally assume that these are appropriate ways to express their anger.

Violence In Teens:

kids playing video games.jpg

Teen violence is a growing problem.  Movies and TV shows glamorize it, many websites promote extremist views that call for violent action, and hours of playing violent video games can desensitize teens to the real world consequences of aggression and violence.  Not every teen exposed to violent content will become violent though, but for a troubled teen who is emotionally damaged or suffering from mental health problems, the consequences can be tragic.

If you’re a parent of a teenage boy who is angry, aggressive, or violent, you may live in constant fear.  Teenage girls get angry as well, but that anger is usually expressed verbally, rather than physically.  Teen boys are more likely to throw objects, kick doors, or punch walls when they are angry.  Some will even direct their rage towards you.  For any parent, especially a single parent, this can be profoundly upsetting and unsettling.  You don’t have to live under the threat of violence.  Everyone has a right to feel physically safe.  If your teen is violent towards you, seek help immediately.  Call a friend, relative, or the police.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child, but the safety of you and your family always comes first.

Warning Signs A Teen May Become Violent:

guy holding a gun

  • Playing with weapons of any kind.
  • Obsessively playing violent video games, watching violent movies, or visiting websites that promote or glorify violence.
  • Threatening or bullying others.
  • Fantasizing about acts of violence they would like to commit.
  • Being violent or cruel to pets or other animals.

Tips On How To Help Your Teen:

Remember that whatever problems your teen is experiencing, it is not a sign that you’ve somehow failed as a parent.  Instead of trying to assign blame for the situation, focus on your teen’s current needs.  The first step to doing this is to find a way to connect with them.  It may be hard to believe, given your child’s anger or indifference towards you, that your teen would want this, but teens still crave love, approval, and acceptance from their parents.  That means you probably have a lot more influence over your teen than you think.  To open the lines of communication try these suggestions:

Tip #1 – CONNECT WITH YOUR TEEN

  1. Be aware of your own stress levels. If you’re angry or upset, now is not the time to communicate with your teen.  Wait until you’re calm before starting a conversation.  You’ll likely need all the patience and positive energy you can muster.
  2. Be there for your teen. You most likely will encounter a sarcastic put down or dismissive gesture if you offer to chat with them over coffee, but it’s important to show them that you are available to them. Insist on sitting down for mealtimes together with no TV or other distractions, and attempt to talk to them then.  Don’t get frustrated if your efforts are greeted with monosyllabic grunts and shrugs and if many of your dinners might be met with silence.  This provides an opportunity for your teen to open up when they are ready.
  3. Find common ground. Trying to discuss your teen’s appearance or clothes can lead to an argument quickly.  You still can find areas of common ground with them.  Fathers and sons often connect over sports and mothers and daughters often connect over gossip or movies.  The objective is not to be your teen’s best friend, but to find common interests that you can discuss peacefully.  Once you’re talking, your teen may feel more comfortable opening up to you about other things.
  4. Listen without judging or giving advice. When your teen opens up to you, it’s important that you listen without judging, mocking, interrupting, criticizing, or offering advice. Your teen wants to feel understood and valued by you so maintain eye contact with them.  If you’re checking your email or looking at your phone, your teen will feel that they aren’t important to you.
  5. Expect rejection. Your attempts to connect may be met with anger, irritation, or other negative reactions.  Stay relaxed and allow your teen space to cool off.  Try again later when you are both calm.  Successfully connecting to your teen will take time and effort.

Tip #2 –  MAKE HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHANGES

  1. Create structure. Teens may scream and argue about rules and discipline or rebel against daily structure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it.  Structure, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes make a teen feel safe and secure.
  2. Reduce screen time. There is a direct relationship between violent TV shows, movies, Internet content, and video games to the violent behavior acted out by teenagers.  Even if your teen isn’t drawn to violent material, too much screen time can still impact brain development.  Limit the time your teen has access to electronic devices, and restrict phone usage after a certain time at night to ensure your child gets enough sleep.
  3. Encourage exercise. Even a little can help ease depression, boost energy and mood, relieve stress, regulate sleep patterns, and improve your teen’s self-esteem. If you struggle getting your teen to do anything but play video games, encourage them to play video games that get them moving.  Encourage your teen to try a sport, join a club or team.
  4. Eat right. Healthy eating can stabilize a teenager’s energy, sharpen their mind, and even out their mood.  Cook more meals at home, eat more fruits and vegetables, and cut back on junk food and soda.
  5. Ensure your teen gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can make teens stressed, moody, irritable, lethargic, and cause problems with weight, memory, concentration, decision making, and immunity from illness.  You might be able to get by on 6 hours a night and still function at work, but your teen needs 8.5-10 hours of sleep a night to be mentally sharp and emotionally balanced.  Encourage better sleep by setting consistent bedtimes, removing TV’s, computers, and other electronic gadgets from your teen’s room.  The light from these electronic devices suppresses melatonin production and stimulates the mind, rather than relaxing it.  Suggest your teen listen to music or audio books at bedtime instead.

Tip #3 – TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The stress of dealing with a teen can take a toll on your health so it’s important to take care of yourself.  That means looking after your emotional and physical needs and managing stress.

  1. Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed.
  2. Don’t go it alone, especially if you’re a single parent. Seek help from friends, relatives, a school counselor, a sports coach, a religious leader, or someone else who has a relationship with your teen.  Organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, and other youth groups can also help provide structure and guidance.
  3. Watch out for signs of depression and anxiety and get professional help if needed.

They don’t call the “teenage years” hard for nothing!  Even though it’s a challenging time for you, this will not last forever.  Your teen needs your love and support now more than ever and when they have it, they will be able to overcome adolescence and mature into a happy and healthy adult.  If you are struggling and need someone to talk to, please call us at 810-299-1472.  We have Therapists who are here to help.

References:

Robinson, Lawrence & Segal, Jeanne, Ph.D. (2015, October). Help for Parents of Troubled Teens, Dealing with Anger, Violence, Delinquency, and Other Teen Behavior Problems. Retrieved from http://www.Helpguide.org: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/teen-issues/helping-troubled-teens.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding Grief and Loss

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Candle

We all experience loss in our lives.  When something or someone precious to us is lost there is a grieving process that happens.  There are all kinds of losses that can make a person grieve, not just losing a loved one.  Some examples of other losses might be losing a job, losing a relationship or losing a cherished dream.  Grief is the natural response to loss and it is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone important to you is taken away.  The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be.

Different types of losses people experience are:

  • Divorce or relationship breakup
  • Loss of health
  • Losing a job
  • Loss of financial stability
  • A miscarriage
  • Retirement
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a cherished dream
  • A loved one’s serious illness
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of safety after a trauma
  • Selling the family home

Even subtle losses can lead to grief. A subtle loss could be moving away from home, graduating from college, or changing jobs.

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience.  How you grieve depends on many factors including: your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss.  The grieving process also takes time and healing happens gradually.  It can’t be forced or hurried and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.  Some people start to feel better in weeks or months and some people feel better after many years.   Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Grief1

Myths and Facts about Grief:

Myth: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run.  For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

Myth: It’s important to “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened or lonely is a normal reaction to loss.  Crying doesn’t mean you are weak.  You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front.  Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

Myth: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one.  Those who don’t cry may feel pain just as deeply as others.  They may simply have other ways of showing it.  It’s important not to criticize someone who handles grief this way, but to respect their way in dealing with it.

Grief

In 1969 Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were originally developed from her studying the feelings of her patients that were facing terminal illness, but over time people have applied them to the feelings of those who have lost a loved one.

The Five Stages of Grief:

1) Denial: “This can’t be happening to me”

2) Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”

3) Bargaining: “Make this not happen and in return I will ____”

4) Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything”

5) Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened”

If you are experiencing any of these stages following a loss it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time.  However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages and that’s okay.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal.  In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages.  If you do go through these stages of grief you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you are supposed to be in.  Kubler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns.  She said in her book of the five stages “they were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.  They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss.  Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Rollercoaster

Grieving is like a roller coaster.  A roller coaster is full of ups and downs and highs and lows.  Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning and the lows may be deeper and longer.  The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss.  Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.  Sometimes a loss triggers a previous loss that the person never dealt with and that can make the present loss more severe and intense, as well as take longer to heal from.

While loss affects people in different ways, many experience the following symptoms when they’re grieving.  Just remember that anything that you experience in the early stages of grief is normal, including feeling like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious beliefs.

Common Symptoms of Grief:

Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss it can be hard to accept what happened.  You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth.  If someone you love has died you may expect him or her to show up, even though you know he or she is gone.

Sadness – Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief.  You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning, or deep loneliness.  You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn’t say or do.  You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (i.e. feeling relieved when the person died after a long, difficult illness).  After a death you may even feel guilty for not doing something to prevent the death, even if there was nothing more you could have done.

Anger – Even if the loss was nobody’s fault, you may feel angry and resentful.  If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, God, the doctors, or even the person who died for abandoning you.  You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears.  You may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure.  You may even have panic attacks.  The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, of facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

Physical Symptoms – We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or weight gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.

Tips for Coping with Grief:

Tip#1: Get Support

The single most important factor in healing from a loss is having the support of other people.  Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it’s important to express them when you’re grieving.  Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry.  Wherever the support comes from accept it, and do not grieve alone.  Connecting to others will help you heal.

Turn to friends and family members.

Friends talking

Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient.  Draw close to loved ones, rather than avoiding them, and accept their assistance.  Oftentimes people want to help but don’t know how to so it’s important that you tell them what you need, whether that is a shoulder to cry on or help with the funeral arrangements.

Draw comfort from your faith.

Cross

If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort it provides.  Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you, such as praying, meditating, or going to church, can offer solace at this difficult time.  If you’re questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious community.

Join a support group.

New support group

Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around.  Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help.  To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers.

Talk to a Therapist or a Grief Counselor.

Person talking to a counselor1

If your grief feels like too much to bear, call a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling.  An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.

Tip#2: Take Care of Yourself:

When you are grieving it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself.  The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves.  Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.

Face your feelings.

You can try to suppress your grief, but you can’t avoid it forever.  In order to heal you have to acknowledge the pain.  Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process.  Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.

Express feelings in a tangible or creative way.

Journaling

Write about your loss in a journal.  If you’ve lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never got to say, make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life, or get involved in a cause or organization that was important to him or her.

Look after your physical health.

Family running

The mind and body are connected.  When you feel good physically, you’ll also feel better emotionally.  Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising.  Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel and don’t tell yourself how to feel either.

Grief2

Your grief is your own and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it”.  Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment.  It’s okay to be angry, to yell at the heavens, to cry or not to cry.  It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you’re ready.

Plan ahead for grief “triggers”.

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Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can awaken memories and feelings.  Be prepared for an emotional wallop and know that it’s completely normal.

Memorial Pages on Social Media

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Memorial pages on Facebook and other social media sites have become popular ways to inform a wide audience of a loved one’s passing and to reach out for support.  However, use caution. Posting sensitive content has its risks.  Memorial pages are often open to anyone with a Facebook account.  People may post inappropriate comments or advice.  Memorial pages can attract Internet trolls.  There have been well publicized cases of strangers posting cruel or abusive messages on Facebook memorial pages.  You can create a closed group on Facebook rather than a public one, where people need to be approved to join the group.

When your Grief doesn’t go away:

It’s normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following a loss.  As time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward.  If you aren’t feeling better over time or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.

Complicated Grief

The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage.  If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief.  Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning.  You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.

Symptoms of Complicated Grief include:

  • Intense longing and yearning for the deceased
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of your loved one
  • Denial of the death or sense of disbelief
  • Imagining that your loved one is alive
  • Searching for the person in familiar places
  • Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one
  • Extreme anger or bitterness over the loss
  • Feeling that life is empty or meaningless

The Difference between Grief and Depression

Distinguishing between grief and depression isn’t always easy as they share many symptoms, but there are ways to tell the difference.  Remember, grief can be a roller coaster.  It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days.  Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process you will have moments of pleasure or happiness.  With depression, on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.

Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief:

  • Intense sense of guilt
  • Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Slow speech and body movements
  • Inability to function at work, home, and/or school
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there

When to Seek Professional Help for Grief:

If you recognize any of the above symptoms of complicated grief or depression, talk to a therapist right away.  Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life threatening health problems, and even suicide.  But treatment can help you get better. Contact a grief counselor or therapist if you:

  • Feel like life isn’t worth living
  • Wish you had died with your loved one
  • Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it
  • Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks
  • Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss
  • Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

Grief is a natural part of life for everyone but for some people it is really difficult to deal with and overcome.  If you are struggling with coping and need to talk to someone, please call one of our Therapists today at 810-299-1472.  They are here to listen and to help.

Sources:

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2015, October). Coping with Grief and Loss, Understanding the Grieving Process. Retrieved from http://www.HelpGuide.org: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm

Bullying – Is it happening to your child?

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We’ve all seen it from our own experiences of going to school.  A kid quickly learns who the popular kids are and who they are not and which side they lean towards.  If you are considered different, kids will find a way to let you know it.  Sometimes that involves teasing, but other times that involves physical threats and physical harm.  Just as damaging to a kid is the bullying that takes place on Social Media.

Besides the different ways a kid can be bullied in this present age, there’s another dynamic happening that most people aren’t aware of.  You have two different kids, the bully and the victim, that are taught how to get their needs met, but carry it out through different behaviors.  The bully is taught that they are accepted by being demanding and then use threatening behavior.  This is their version of “normal” learned at home.  The victim is taught that they are accepted by being quiet and then use passive and non assertive behavior.  This is their version of “normal”.  The problem with this situation is that both kids have not learned how to communicate effectively, nor have they learned how to set appropriate boundaries for themselves.  From this lack of modeling, bullying is more likely to happen.  Unfortunately bullies do seek out the kids that are more passive because they are operating from their version of “normal” and most victims don’t stand up to a bully due to operating from their version of “normal”.

So what is important to remember with all of this? It starts with us as parents.  We are responsible for what we teach our kids and the behaviors that we model in front of them.  Kids are like sponges.  They absorb everything from their home life, their environment, their school life, and being out in the world.  So ask yourself what messages are you sending your kids?  What behaviors are you modeling in front of them?  How can you change the message?  How can you teach your child to communicate effectively and set appropriate boundaries for themselves without the need to threaten another person?

The definition of Bullying is: using superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

This is not good.  This definition of Bullying sends a message that a person can intimidate a person, cause them to be fearful, inflict pain on them, without regarding that person as a human being who should be respected and valued.  If you think about it, bullying can happen in all types of relationships, not just between kids at school.  For example, a spouse can cause fear through intimidation to control another, a boss can create fear in the workplace through intimidating their employees to work harder, a child could threaten their parent emotionally or physically to get their way, or a parent could use fear and intimidation to keep their child in line.  These are all forms of bullying.

I think bullying is another word for manipulation.  Bullying is the manipulation of people and things to achieve the outcome you want, regardless of the damage that is inflicted as a result.  This type of behavior needs to stop.  Again, it starts with us as parents.  We all need to look inside of ourselves to see if we are using fear and intimidation to control our kids or control our loved ones, and if we are, then we need to make an intentional decision to stop these behaviors and change the message that we are sending.  Our kids are the future.  They are the next generation.  Are we going to teach them to communicate well, teach them positive behaviors, to set clear boundaries for themselves, or just teach them to take what they want regardless of the consequences?  Only you can decide that.

Because we could talk about all kinds of bullying, today we are going to focus on bullying of school age children.  Let’s begin.

Bullying is very common in school age children ages 12-18.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than one out of four children had been a recent victim of bullying, with 6th graders the most vulnerable.

First, it’s important to look out for signals from your child that something is wrong.  Ask yourself:

  • Is my child not sleeping?
  • Is my child not enjoying themselves?
  • Is my child reluctant to go to school or refuses to go to school?
  • Has my child demanded some sort of change in a long standing routine, like riding the bus to school or going to the park on Saturdays?
  • Does my child not want to participate in after school activities or play with old friends?
  • Does my child seem hungrier than usual after school? It might be a sign that someone is stealing their lunch money or that they are unwilling to brave the cafeteria at lunchtime.
  • Has my child shown signs of physical distress such as headaches, stomach aches or nausea?
  • Has my child gone to the nurse to avoid class?
  • Has my child’s performance (grades, homework, and attendance) suddenly declined?
  • Does my child act sullen, angry, and frequently wants to be left alone?
  • Does my child use bad language that they don’t normally use?
  • Has my child’s behavior changed after computer time or after a phone call?
  • Has my child asked for more lunch or transportation money without a clear explanation of why it is needed?
  • Does my child have unexplained bruises or injuries?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you know there’s something going on.  That’s an indication to increase the amount of time you’re spending with your child and say to them “You don’t seem happy.  What’s going on?”

Sometimes your child is unhappy due to puberty or other anxieties.  But if you spend time together doing activities your child enjoys then that can be a way to help your child heal as you try to obtain more information.

Second, if you find out that your child is being bullied:

Boy being bullied

Determine the seriousness of the behavior and if it’s being repeated.  On the low end of the spectrum, if another child is sticking out their tongue at your child or acting unfriendly, you may just want to help your child deal with that.  You can tell your child that there are people who enjoy being mean and that’s part of life.  You can also encourage your child to distance themselves from this person.  It is hard for kids to do that though.

In the middle range is name calling.  Ask your child what they’ve already tried before offering advice to them.  Strategize about other approaches they could use and if they don’t work, get the school involved.

Then on the far end of the spectrum is behavior that is “intolerable”. This could include threats of physical harm.  In this case, contact the school immediately! Don’t overreact with your child.  It’s important that parents have a good check on their emotionality before talking to their child.  The problem with showing that emotion is that the child will think that Dad’s blood pressure is going up and won’t tell him the next time or the child worries that Dad will charge in angrily to the school and make things worse.  Kids are afraid to tell.  They worry that parents will go to the other kid’s parents and cause a big stir.  Listen to what your kids are asking for.  It might be to go to a counselor or a teacher or helping the child figure things out.

Tips for when you contact the school:

  1. Don’t overreact when you speak to the school.
  2. Call or email first as a way to diffuse tensions.
  3. Bring a list of exactly what’s been reported by your child. Don’t label it “bullying” and don’t accuse the school of failure.  Go in with the assumption that the school is not aware of what’s going on and that they’ll do their best to fix it.  Don’t alienate people and make them defensive.  If you do this you will risk driving away people who could be your allies.
  4. Praise the school for what they have done during your child’s time there. You might say “I’m surprised this is going on because my child’s experience here has been so positive in this way and this way”.
  5. Ask school officials what they plan to do and when you can expect to hear more details. Then check back to ask what’s been done and to share what you’ve heard from your child.  If the solution isn’t working, ask what else can be done.  Throughout this whole process, take notes so that you have documentation.
  6. Possible solutions: You can ask the school to separate misbehaving kids. There are increases in bullying behavior by the type of kids they hang out with. The school could put them in different classes. You could also ask the school to encourage other kids to spend time with your child as an antidote to the social isolation that can result from bullying.  Other students may stay away from the kid getting picked on or they’re embarrassed that they didn’t do anything to help.  Such isolation can be even more damaging than the bullying.
  7. If the school is unable or unwilling to solve the problem, then approach the school board or Superintendent.

One solution you may expect from the school is increased supervision. A lot of times there is not enough supervision happening during unstructured times during the day such as transitions to and from classes, on playgrounds, during lunch periods, during gym time when kids are changing, etc.

It takes a unified commitment to end the behavior of bullying and targeting one particular child will not work.  It takes focusing change on the whole school wide environment and the classroom climate as well.  It takes parents being very vocal and advocating for their kids.  At the school level it takes parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, cafeteria workers, and janitors and the students having a voice as well, and making a pledge not to bully or tolerate this behavior.

What to take away from all of this:

  1. Talk to your child when you see them behaving differently. Spend time with your child to find out more information.
  2. Ask yourself about what messages you are sending to your child and make adjustments if necessary.
  3. Strategize with your child on how to best handle the situation.
  4. Get the school involved if needed.
  5. Don’t forget to document everything.

If your child is being bullied or if you are in a situation that you are feeling bullied, please contact us at 810-299-1472.  We are here to help.

Sources:

Care.com. (2015). Signs Your Child is a Bully or Being Bullied. Retrieved October 2015, from Care.com: https://www.care.com/a/signs-your-child-is-a-bully-or-being-bullied-1108040658

Schoolfamily.com. (2015). Bullying: How Parents Can Fight Back. Retrieved October 2015, from Schoolfamily.com: http://www.schoolfamily.com/school-family-articles/article/818-bullying-how-parents-fight-back