When going home hurts

Stress Management

The holiday season is in full swing.

In the United States, Thanksgiving through the New Year is a magical time of year for family, love, friends, and celebrating life. Hanukkah started last night and Christmas is tomorrow. Everywhere I look, I see holiday lights, candy canes, Santas, and other festive decorations.

For those of us who were raised in abusive or neglectful homes, this time of year can be very stressful and confusing. We feel nostalgic for a childhood we never had (but saw in all of those Christmas movies). We have a hope that this year will be different. This phone call home will go smoothly. This time so and so will be nice to us.

To make it more confusing, many people who were raised in abusive homes would not identify themselves as survivors of abuse. This is mainly because there are different types of abuse.

Physical abuse includes:

  • punching, shaking, kicking, pinching, hair pulling and many other terrible examples.

Sexual abuse includes:

  • unwanted touching anywhere that is typically covered by a swim suit or underwear. Sexual abuse also includes being forced to watch others engage in sexual acts against our will.

Emotional abuse is:

  • when people try to break our spirits by calling us names like “stupid”, “worthless”, a “mistake”, “fatty”, and even worse. Emotional abuse leads to feelings of shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, and anger. Emotional abuse is often not recognized as often as it should.

Physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse can all cause life-long problems, but especially when they are inflicted on us by the very people who are supposed to love us and keep us safe. Some of us continue to live and interact with our families on a regular basis and some of us have to make the decision each year whether or not we want to go home for the holidays.

Part of us really wants to go home. Part of us wants that love and validation that we have never been given. The other part of us already knows it will, in all likelihood, not happen that way yet we go home anyway, out of duty. Because during the holidays, that’s what you do, the holidays are all about family after all.

How do I fix myself?

I recommend developing coping skills first and foremost. You cannot dig into all of the deep pain of a broken childhood without having coping skills already in place. A mental health professional can help you learn, practice, and use these skills correctly.

Coping skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Yoga
  • Using music effectively
  • Exercise
  • Hiking
  • Reading particular books
  • Meditation
  • Learning to use and guide your thoughts and imagination
  • Guided Imagery
  • Support groups

 

 

Could you or should you?

Stress Management

Choice and judgement go hand in hand

I woke up with a memory from my past life this morning. I was still in a very strict evangelical religion and we were doing an icebreaker at the beginning of a small group study. The icebreaker that particular night was, “If you could be any crayon in the box, which one would you be?”.

 

I said that I would be the crayon that has different colors in one crayon. This was actually a pretty telling answer for me because I have always felt like I don’t really belong to any one group of people. I have always had trouble fitting in and I was trying to express that I have a loud side and a creative side and a thoughtful side etc.

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The pastor’s wife got very irritated with me and said I was cheating. Cheating. Because my answer didn’t fit into the one-color crayon idea she had in her head, I was cheating. She said I was wrong, I was cheating, and I had to pick another crayon.

I find that we do that to one another in life all the time. People do not have ideas or opinions we have so we think they are wrong or bad or broken. And, most of the time, we do not even realize we are doing it. We use words like “should” “must” or “have to” to express our ideas or preferences as if they are fact or as if there is only one way to do something.

So, what do we do?

Well, knowing we all do it and that we are not intentionally trying to be jerks (most of the time) helps. But, it is not enough.

While I believe in and encourage non-violent language and “verbal judo”, I’m not usually one who advocates for trigger-warnings or safe-spaces because, let’s face it, we all have to adapt and get by in the real world.

What I mean is that while it is nice to be aware of our own language and how we speak to each other, we cannot “police” the language of other people, so the work is best done on ourselves.

I work with people who want to learn improved communication skills. I help people learn the difference between “coulds” and “shoulds” in order to be better life partners, better co-workers, and better parents. I help clients see their world from other points of view and help them to learn the difference between their musts and their possibilities.

I also work with highly sensitive people and empaths who want to improve their stress management skills. Clients learn to have better boundaries and how to not take the ideas and opinions of others as facts and criticisms.

Learning to agree to disagree in a world that is constantly trying to put us in black and white boxes is a skill we all benefit from having.

Come to think of it, maybe a better answer to my crayon icebreaker should have been white, since the color white is in fact all colors of the rainbow in one.

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Caregiver stress

Uncategorized

Caring for others can be stressful. Whether we are caring for children:

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Or aging parents (and grandparents):

 

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Or a mentally ill or disabled family member:

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It sometimes feels as if there aren’t enough hours in the day. And, despite our best intentions we get worn down by our responsibilities and we find ourselves getting annoyed with those we are caring for.  Then we feel guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed for being angry with people we love. 

I am here to tell you that you are not alone. An estimated 65 million people are caregivers to mentally ill or developmentally delayed family members in the USA alone. And there is hope. 

  • Learn what resources are available to you. There could be respite services available through your county or day care facilities.
  • Regardless of which age group you are caring for, get some education regarding developmental expectations, or in the case of mental illness, learning which symptoms to expect can help relieve your stress.
  • Self-care is hugely important. Do something everyday just for yourself. Get a massage or go for a walk, or take a hot bath, read a book, watch one favorite tv show or movie, go out for a meal, etc.
  • Be realistic in your expectations and have small goals.
  • Support groups are wonderful. They provide you with others who can truly “get” what you are going through and you will feel less isolated.
  • In some cases, short-term therapy can be beneficial, either for yourself or for your family. Short-term therapy can help you get a handle on your emotions, help you develop realistic goals, and help you develop healthy boundaries.