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

 

 

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Is life passing you by?

Stress Management

Here are 4 amazing and simple tips to increase your gratitude and create a life you love:

(Because if you are anything like me, you might wonder where the heck your year went, what you did and where you went)

Make a memory box

Buy some nice stationary and some pretty ribbons and write or draw positive events that happen. Store them in a special box, then, review them next New Year’s Eve. It could be a lovely tradition for yourself or for your family. Once a week (or once a month) create time and a space for yourself to add to your box. 

You can take time to decorate your box and really make it special. You could also include ticket stubs, photos, or trinkets from outings.

*Pro-tip: you can also pull them out and look at them any time you are feeling depressed, discouraged, or need a pick-me-up.

Become a photojournalist

Take one photo a day every day for the whole year to document your life experiences.

You can collect these photos in Instagram, Snapchat, or a special photo album on your tablet. Set a reminder in your phone to remind you if you need help remembering. This project will also help you look for the positive things in your life throughout the day as you decide which one photograph you are going to take for that day.

At the end of the year you will have 365 photographs that sum up the good in your life.

*Pro-tip: at the end of the year, load the photos on to Shutterfly (or some other similar website)  and create a keepsake photo book to printed and mailed to you.

Keep a diary

Jot down one positive thing that happens to you each day in a journal. It can be a beautiful paper journal you purchase just for this project, or you could use Evernote (or any similar app). You could write about anything that you consider a positive thing. An amazing book you read, a new outfit, dinner with someone special, a particularly good film you saw, a vacation, a promotion at work, etc. Again, set a reminder in your phone if you need help remembering at first.

*Pro-tip: Review your year. What were the highlights? Times with friends? Times of growth? Times of solitude? Use those insights to create more experiences you will love in the upcoming year.

Create your vision board or bucket list.

Make a list of things you really want to do or have in your life. But, here’s the catch, you have to actually work on doing or getting them. This isn’t about documenting your dreams, it is about turning your dreams into goals. Actively develop a plan for how AND when you will achieve these things on your list.

Include big things like a specific car you have always wanted, getting a specific degree you would like, or a trip to another country. Also include smaller things that you have always wanted as well. Maybe a nearby city you have always wanted to visit, or a day trip to a local winery, a specific restaurant you want to try, stargazing on a new moon, starting that yoga class.

*Pro-tip: you can make these tips circular by using your vision board or bucket list to create opportunities for amazing photo or journal entries and then using your diary to help define what goes on your bucket list. 

Mental health in the workplace

relationships

How we re-create our families in the workplace

Mental health is generally considered a very personal thing. However, aspects of our mental health sometimes collide with our very public work selves. Much more than just depression or anxiety, the mental health umbrella also covers the underlying causes of why we communicate the way we do with one another. Most of the time, our families of origin are the biggest influences in how we communicate.

How our mothers and fathers express anger is the foundation for how we express anger. Sure, as we grow and develop we also learn from teachers, friends, coaches, or even television and other media. But our foundations come from our caregivers. I interact with you the way my family of origin taught me to interact with others; you interact with me the way your family of origin taught you to interact. In this way, we are all carrying around family baggage.

This notion extends to bullying behaviors. If I come from a family that manifests its expressions of anger as bullying, then those behaviors will likely seem normal or natural to me.

Have you ever said something to someone at work and been perplexed because he or she flew off the handle? It can be hard for people who have experienced bullying not to take things personally. People with a history of being bullied may, through no fault of their own, be emotionally fragile. They may get their feelings hurt relatively easily, and in turn they may shut down and become passive or lash out in an aggressive manner. Being bullied is awful, and this possible byproduct is just one of the reasons.

When someone with an aggressive communication style gets his or her first job, coworkers may not initially like the person. This might seem puzzling to the new employee, since he or she isn’t doing or saying anything out of the ordinary. The person may struggle to stay employed or get promoted and not understand why.

Dysfunctional communication styles damage workplace morale and may create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I am sensitive to criticism, I may interpret comments as harsher than they were intended to be. If I react emotionally, my coworkers may feel like they have to “walk on eggshells” around me and may even choose to avoid me. If I notice people avoiding me, it might trigger my sensitivities and cause further alienation.

In my experience working with people who have family-of-origin issues, not only do they often have difficulty fitting in and making friends in the workplace, they typically do not understand why, which only adds to their feelings of frustration, shame, and worthlessness.

According to researchers at King’s College in London, people who experienced bullying in their formative years often drift from job to job, never quite fitting in. Such individuals typically work for less pay, take fewer risks, and apply for fewer promotions. They do not understand that they, personally, are not the problem; their communication styles are the issue, and communication styles can be refined and improved with observation, practice, determination, and perhaps therapy.

Businesses may benefit from periodically consulting with a therapist or conflict coach who provides lunchtime or after-work workshops on topics such as assertive communication, stress management, and team building. Such workshops could lead to improved productivity, reduced workplace burnout, and higher employee retention.

Reference:

Takizawa, R., Maughan, B., and Arseneault, L. (2014). Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence from a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth Cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(7), 777-784. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13101401

Simple positive reinforcement ideas

Uncategorized

There are lots of ways of “doing” positive reinforcement. They can all work if applied consistently; the trick is to find one that you like and sticking with it. If the parent will not follow through, the child certainly will not follow through. Some examples of positive reinforcement:

 

Develop a list of family rules (some prefer the term expectations because it is less confrontational) and write them out together as a family. Every family member gets to contribute to this list. A note here, all expectations should be written as a thing to do and not as things to not do. For example, you would not say, “no yelling” be cause that does not teach what you do expect…it only lists one thing to not do. To re-word it as a positive, the expectation should read, (depending on the age of your child) “talk nicely” or “always use inside voices”. When you have created your list of family expectations, post or hang them somewhere everyone will see them on a daily basis.

 

There are two ways parents can now use this list: to use positive praise only, acknowledge or praise when you notice your child meeting an expectation on the list

~or~

using tokens, change, or a checkbook register (depending on age of child) give them tokens or change for positive behaviors and have child give you token or change for significant negative behaviors. It works best if parent and child develop how much change or how many tokens should represent behaviors so that rewards and punishments and will be seen as fair and expected. This also helps keep the parent honest by not punishing out of anger, which never works.

 

Parents can also develop a to-do list with their child and assign a point value to item. When child completes items on list they are rewarded with points which can be turned in for a variety of activities. If parents choose to use money instead of points for their older children, it can also help teach them the value of money and the importance of saving money for more expensive desired items. This is great because a side effect is teaching patience instead of instant gratification.