An individual’s problems with adjustment can be more clearly understood in the context of his/her interaction with others. Because we define ourselves in relation to other people, we know the ‘sense of self’‘ is constantly being created through those interactions. This is especially true when you take into consideration that person’s patterns of connection with loved ones. When love is expressed and accepted, it is the logical antidote to the helplessness and the sense of being disconnected and betrayed, which are at the core of countless traumatic experiences. Studies (1) show that, when a spouse is included in the treatment for anxiety, rates raised from 42% of therapeutic success (in individual therapy) to almost double, at 82% of success when both spouses are involved. It is only sensible then to make the most out of this healing element in everyone’s life (relationships) and use it as part of the treatment of trauma.
Healthy close relationships have been linked to resilience in combat situations, to the ability to cope with chronic stress and illness, and even to immune system competence. Because many traumas are marked by violations of human connections, the relationship with one’s life-partner is powerfully corrective, but it is often overlooked by health professionals as an active source of healing. Therapists who work with couples and families endeavor to create more positive connections between family members / husband and wife, where wounds can be healed utilizing those relationships as therapeutic catalysts. If you or someone you know is struggling from a traumatic experience or living with anxiety and needs healing, call (or fill out the online form) today. You CAN take the first step towards a healthier and fuller life.
(1) Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors, by Susan Johnson
Parents play an important role in helping children cope with disturbing events. Since kids are still developing their ability to self-regulate, us parents serve as a critical regulating support, not just by modeling through our own self regulation but also by scaffolding and resourcing our child’s emotional regulatory system. This is because healthy connection with another human being helps us all regulate in moments of stress, no matter how old we are. The older the child is, the broader that regulatory system becomes, because their social network expands. The truth is, however, that parents remain one of the most powerful regulation resources for their child for life (even into teenage years).
Having that in mind, here are some tips on how to help your child process difficult news that have sadly become too frequent in today’s world:
1. How young is too young? Talk to your kids from preschool age on – the degree to what you share depends on the age of your child, but it is important to talk to them because they are likely to hear about it from friends at school or hear it in the news you have been watching. They should get the facts from you.
2. Avoid allowing the TV news to permeate your home environment for a long period of time – even if you are curious about the latest find, the news outlets usually replay what you already know repeatedly, which is not helpful for anyone watching. Instead of informing you and your children, this fosters anxiety. Monitor screen time – images can be very graphic, and can lead to feeling overwhelmed.
3. The younger the child is, the harder for him or her to express with words what is going on inside – ask your preschool child to draw his or her thoughts and ask them to share what the picture means to them. This will help them organize their internal processes as well as ‘share their load’ of worries with you, which helps them down-regulate.
4. Do not dismiss it if your child talks about being worried – what they need is for their experience to be heard and understood by someone, and it is especially important that parents receive and ‘get it’. Show that you do understand their fear, and assure them of your connection with them. Not to emphasize they should be afraid, but to let them know you understand what they are feeling (most likely, you are feeling the same way).
5. Turn their attention towards hope to offset any overwhelming sense of fear – When talking about the news, it is important to point out that there were many people who were willing to do good and help, in the face of someone’s evil act.
6. Help them have a sense of control as opposed to helplessness – Events like this can bring a feeling of powerlessness. It is helpful to ask your children if they want to do something to help those who suffered so they don’t feel alone. There is always something we can do and even small acts like praying or lighting a candle, but it is also possible to reach out through writing a letter, sending a care package or even doing random acts of kindness in honor of those victims. Being able to take a positive action in the face of such tragic events helps both children and adults move on.
The most important thing is that these are key moments of connection with our children, and even though a parent may feel like there are not many words they can say, starting that dialogue with your children is of paramount importance.
Today I watched the excellent video Selfie that is part of Dove’s #BeautyIs campaign, read a great blog post about a mom’s love for her C-Section scars, and I started thinking about how the low view a lot of people have of themselves impacts them and their children. Once I became a parent, I quickly realized that my children are learning from me from my actions and words – all. the. time. So it happened to me, what happens to a lot of people: I wanted to become a better person because I am now a mom, including in my private choices – and more specifically in my self-talk. When a parent speaks up about rejecting something in themselves, it tells their children that they should also be on the lookout to find their own flaws in order to denounce them as well. In a personal example, at the age of 42 (almost 43!) I have never rejected or felt ashamed of my age, and I believe that is due to my mother’s attitude towards her own age when I was growing up. As a little girl, I always noticed how she would start saying that she was ___ years old right at the beginning of each year, even though her birthday isn’t until mid August. Like a little kid that is proud of being older, she was always self-proclaiming her next age, never the other way around. I believe it is because I learned to love my age from her attitude towards it that I never had the desire to “stay forever” at 29 or 39, or any other age other than my current one. This is an invaluable inheritance I am excited to pass on to our 3 kids. In other areas, I did (and still do) discover self deprecating thoughts that I have continuously worked on – changing for the sake my own quality of life, as well as for our children’s. The thing about not accepting a part of yourself is that it puts you in a place where you desire a different reality, often unattainable. Statements like “I wish my nose wasn’t so big” or “my hair is horrible” or “if I could only look like ___ (insert celebrity or friend’s name)” only leads to hoping to be someone else, making joy or happiness nearly impossible. Many times, those negative perceptions are due to a distorted ‘lens’ through which we see ourselves. By proxy, parents who engage in such talk are leading their children to follow the same self-inflicting practice, perpetuating this cycle. Many times parents believe that children will only be affected if words are directed at them or if it is the children who are being talked about. Although this is one way for kids to build a their narrative, it is also true that they will learn to see and understand the world (and themselves) through the example of how their parents do it. It is the emotional equivalent to growing up exposed to toxic substances: the body and mind are forming in an environment that puts them at a deficit, something they have to always fight against, as opposed to a head start in life most parents hope to give their kids.
A better way to approach yourself and the world is to appreciate what makes you, you. Embrace your scars, your unique features, your personality traits. Help your kids learn by shifting your paradigm from judging your appearance to aspiring to always grow – while accepting who you are. If there’s opportunity for growth, then seek growth by taking actions that will take you there, but do not bad-talk yourself. If you would like to be healthier, embrace a healthier lifestyle, but do not bully yourself for (for example) ‘looking fat’. Look at yourself as you would your own child, and your words will become more loving, accepting, supporting and encouraging. Children raised by parents who practice this way of living tend to grow up looking at themselves likewise, appreciating their uniqueness and approaching their life with proactive engagement. Today, I challenge the reader and myself to scan inward and outward conversations that could be sabotaging your (and your children’s) bid for joy.