February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. Dating as a teenager can be exhilarating. Teenagers, for the first time, are exploring the development of romantic relationships with the opposite, or same, gender. These relationships are new, and, like most new activities, can be filled with mistakes. But, there is a big difference between “mistakes” made due to inexperience, and actions which are genuinely warning signs of danger. For example, forgetting to call, being late for a scheduled date, neglecting to “like” a social media post, buying the wrong gift, or missing someone’s sporting event, are all examples of mistakes that are often made due to inexperience. These mistakes can lead to hurt feelings, but when they are not purposeful, they reflect the teenager’s process of learning to meet his or her responsibilities in a dating relationship. Other actions, however, are often more malevolent in nature, and reflect early signs of unhealthy and/or abusive control. For instance, a girlfriend who checks her boyfriend’s phone, without his permission, is demonstrating a lack of respect for her boyfriend’s privacy. This boundary violation frequently has its roots in jealousy and insecurity, and this can lead to, or co-occur with, other disrespectful behavior, such as name-calling, false accusations, and attempts to isolate the dating partner from his friends and family. Early in a relationship, both dating partners often prefer to be alone, with each other, rather than with their group of friends. They are enjoying getting to know one another, and exploring their emotions and the beginnings of a physical relationship. However, this mutual feeling of attraction differs significantly from possessiveness, in which one member of the couple requires that his or her partner spend all of their free time with each other, often through ‘guilt trips’ or denigration of his or her partner’s desire to spend time with others. Possessiveness is not love. Telling others what they can and cannot do, or who they can and cannot spend time with is not love. Unfortunately, when efforts at verbal control are not effective, teenagers who are in unhealthy relationships may become involved in physical fights and violence. Teenagers need to know that it is never okay to inflict physical pain on others out of anger or to get their own way, and it is never a part of a healthy dating relationship. While February is a month that often celebrates loving relationships, it is important to recognize that relationships that repeatedly inflict verbal, emotional, or physical pain are not healthy. And, no, this is not love.
Maybe this time you will be able to. Many people feel that they just don’t have the willpower to keep their resolutions, so they have given up on trying to make changes. This occurs even when people can see ways in which they want to improve their lives. They want to be healthier, eat, drink, or spend less, or be more involved with friends, family, or their community. Making changes is not easy, but it can be done. Psychologists have found that a few guidelines help to simplify the process of change, and make change more achievable. First, set only one clear goal at a time. Establish your motivation for that goal. Do you want to feel better? Have less financial stress? Better relationships with others? Write down your motivation, and remind yourself of this every morning. Second, make a simple plan. If you want to lose weight, for instance, what tempting food will you NOT bring into the house? What stores or websites will you avoid if you are trying to save money? These simple modifications can help you to reach your specific goal. Third, monitor your progress toward your goal. Keep track in an accessible notebook or calendar how you are doing. For example, if you are trying to be in better contact with friends, write down when you have called or texted others. Fourth, reward yourself for the progress you are making, but not in a way that interferes with your goals. If you are trying to lose weight, don’t binge on high calorie food to celebrate a weight loss. Maybe you should treat yourself to a self-care product instead. Finally, seek support for your efforts. Let your friends know that you are trying to make a change. They can assist you in the process, and provide support and encouragement as you reach your goal. Change is hard, but worthwhile. Setting and achieving a small goal may give you the feeling of success you have been hoping for, and provide you with self-pride and increased life satisfaction.
“December is the toughest month of the year. Others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, October, August, and February.” –Mark Twain
Mark Twain may have said it best. Every month can present its difficulties, but, because of idealistic holiday expectations, December may be the toughest time. If you are struggling, here are a few tips to regain your optimism:
1. Avoid social media. We often make comparisons between our real lives and the frozen (frequently posed) images we see on social media. Remember, people rarely post images of themselves during an argument, when they first get up in the morning, or when they are feeling at their worst. The posts which we compare our entire lives to reflect brief, often staged, moments in time. These social comparisons contribute to feelings of sadness and depression at any time of the year, but may have more impact during this time of excessive expectations.
2. Focus upon those parts of your life that are going well. You may be thinking that nothing is going well, but that is rarely true. You may have good friends, a good family, or a good job. You may like where you live. You may have seen a great movie or read a good book. When we are dissatisfied with our lives we tend to focus on the parts that are missing. Make a real or mental list of the accomplishments in your life, and focus on this when you start to feel down.
3. Keep doing those things you enjoy at other times during the year. Maybe you enjoy reading books, baking, exercising, or binge-watching tv shows. Keep doing these things. Don’t feel forced to engage in holiday activities if these activities don’t lift your spirits. In the hectic nature of the month of December, we can lose focus on what works throughout the year to feel better. Make sure you stay involved with activities and people who you enjoy throughout the remainder of the year.
The holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, has arrived. Music, movies, and traditional stories set expectations, that are difficult to ignore, that this time of year will and should be filled with only happiness, love, laughter, and warm family reunions. Radio stations play only holiday music or intersperse holiday music with their traditional programming. Television programming emphasizes the holidays in the story lines of its regular shows, in the content of commercials, and in the movies which are broadcast specifically during this time of year. Retail stores are decorated for the holidays, while holiday music plays in the background. And, the internet continually pops up ads which reflect the holiday theme. It can feel as if there is no escape from the message that this must be the happiest time of the year. But, reality frequently is not in sync with these societal messages. Holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Some individuals feel alone due to the end of a relationship, the death of a family member, or a relocation. Others experience financial stress. For many, the holidays bring up memories of unpleasant past experiences. So, while society pressures people to look forward to this season, many people anticipate this time of year with dread. If you are someone who feels sadness during the holidays, know that this feeling is normal and common. For now, take a break, take a breath, and know that it is okay if you are not looking forward to the coming month. This blog over the next few weeks will provide tips to help you find peace during this time of year and support that you are not alone in your feelings.
Many families are pleased to be returning to a more normal routine… parents are back at work and children are back in school. This routine can feel like a relief. But, for children who struggle in school, and for their families, returning to school can create additional stress. Children report difficulties in school for a variety of reasons. Some students have social difficulties: they feel left out of friendship groups, unable to make and keep friends, shy during interactions in and out of the classroom, or bullied by other students. Other children struggle to succeed academically: they cannot sit still in the classroom, they cannot keep up with classroom instruction, they do not understand their homework, or they do poorly on classroom or standardized tests despite their best efforts to succeed. Parents often feel confused about how to help their children when they see them struggling. Parents also often feel blamed or they blame themselves for their children’s struggles. How can parents help when their children are struggling in school? First, it is important to talk with children in order to understand why school is such a difficult place for them. Are the difficulties social, academic, or behavioral? Parents need to try to understand that their children do not want to create difficulties, and they need their parents to be patient with them. It is important for children to see their parents as on their side, and as a help to them in their struggle to succeed. Next, parents need to evaluate whether they need some assistance managing the difficulties that their children are experiencing. Securing assistance for a child who is struggling in school is akin to seeking assistance from a doctor when your child is ill. Parents do not have to manage academic difficulties on their own. Schools often provide supportive resources within the academic setting which can provide the on-site support and assistance children need. Finally, parents can seek additional help with mental health professionals in the community who are skilled in understanding children’s difficulties, in an out of school, and working with school systems and families to create programs which provide the assistance that children need. School can become a less aversive place for children when difficulties are correctly identified and children and families are provided with adequate support.
Living with the results of a natural disaster can overwhelm many of us. We have practical concerns, such as: What station has gas? What grocery store is open? Do I have to go to work? How will I pay my bills? We also have emotional reactions which reflect the aftermath of the fear we felt before the disaster, and the confusion and concern about how we will pick up the pieces of our lives and return to some sense of normalcy. If we are parents, we are also dealing with the impact of the disaster on our children’s sense of safety and stability. And, we have the practical concern about how our children will be taken care of if their schools are closed for a length of time. Survivors of natural disasters share many common physical reactions. These include: insomnia, distressing dreams, fatigue, appetite changes, headaches, and body aches. Survivors also experience common emotional reactions, which include flashbacks of the event, irritability, grief, a tendency to be easily startled, feeling anxious or helpless, feeling vulnerable, or feeling overwhelmed. People often report difficulty concentrating, increased errors in their work, memory lapses, and a change in work habits. Children also feel fear and anxiety. They may be afraid of injury or death for themselves or family members, fearful that they will be separated from family members, and fearful of losing their home and their pre-disaster life and activities. There are many strategies to help lessen the emotional impact of the stress brought by traumatic events. Exercise, rest, and proper nutrition help bodies physically recover from the effects of a disaster. Talking with others about your experience, spending time with others, and allowing yourself to share your feelings and sense of vulnerability will lessen your beliefs that your reactions are abnormal. Becoming aware of the actions that others are taking to help your community, and you specifically, can help you feel less alone. And taking control of those aspects of the disaster’s aftermath that you can control, will make help you feel more productive and effective in managing your life. Parents can help children to manage their emotions by spending time together as a family, reassuring your child with your words and confident actions, listening as your children discuss their fears and experience, and explaining in simple terms what you know about your community’s recovery from the aftermath of the disaster. It is important for everyone to attempt to return to a normal routine, and to take breaks from managing the immediate needs brought on by the disaster experience. If symptoms linger or worsen, for adults and children, therapy provides a safe place to learn more strategies to manage emotions which interfere with or decrease the quality of your daily life.
How do you know if you should go to therapy? Do you need to be in crisis? Do you have to have more problems than your friends or family? Is participating in psychotherapy a sign that you are weak, or that you’re ‘crazy’? Do you only start therapy if you need medication? The answer to all of these questions, fortunately, is NO. People choose to go to psychotherapy when they realize that they want to feel better, and that they deserve to feel better. Struggling with the stress and pressures of life, whether you are old or young, single or married, employed or searching for work, is draining. We are each like a well. Each time someone comes to a well to draw water, the well becomes more depleted, and loses more of its reserve. Eventually, if that well is not replenished, it is empty, and it is incapable of providing any more water to anyone. We respond in the same way. While we may find joy in our relationships, the obligations we have to our family, friends, coworkers, and jobs are also draining. At times, we feel like we just cannot give anymore to anyone. We may feel irritable, exhausted, or resentful of others’ requests of us. We are just drained. Psychotherapy is a way to replenish yourself, to refill your well. It is a gift you give yourself, a time when you refill yourself through your involvement with your therapist. And it is a time when you learn how to replenish yourself outside of the therapy room. Therapists listen, understand, guide, and support their clients on their life journeys. Should you go to therapy? You should if you believe you deserve to feel better about yourself and happier with your life.
We are all well aware that we develop our native language at an early age through our spoken interactions with our family. But did you realize that you learn a “native language of relationships” through those interactions as well? And, just as you become fluent in your spoken language, you also become fluent in your relationship language, and you “speak” this language in your interactions. Was your family verbally affectionate? Physically affectionate? Who made the decisions in your family? Who did the household chores? Were there loud arguments or quiet disagreements? We all observe and learn these aspects of family life (and more) and our native “relationship language” emerges when we create our own relationships and families. Couples frequently have difficulty navigating disagreements about everyday occurrences because they are speaking different relationship languages. For example, one member of a couple may have been reared in a family in which disagreements occurred through loud boisterous discussions which did not threaten the basic affection family members felt for each other. Another member of the couple may have been reared in a family that did not tolerate animated disagreements, but expected family members to resolve differences quietly and with restraint. This couple may have difficulty navigating expected disagreements because they are talking different relationship languages. As a result, emotional wounds occur and feelings get hurt. It is important to recognize the relationship language that you speak, and to recognize the language of your partner, since none of us were reared in identical families. This knowledge can promote a better understanding among couples and family members, and promote the growth of a more emotionally supportive environment.