Category Archives: The Therapist is in
Articles and information I normally give to clients, in presentations or as answers to frequently asked questions.
“Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke,
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.”
These are some of the lyrics to A Day in the Life by The Beatles and written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon in 1967. Even back then the essence of a life on fast forward was established. If that was fast forward, today we are in hyper-speed. People are burning out, relationships and families suffering and our best friend is sometimes Facebook.
People often ask me how to balance all the crazy movement in their lives. They have too many responsibilities for too many things or too many places to be, without enough time to get there. Perhaps, not enough time to finish projects either at home or at work. The list could go on. Any crisis or transition in life upsets the apple cart and chaos happens.
My answer, altered a bit per person, is basically the same. Easy to tell you, yes I know, but developing these with practice into your way of thinking will ease your troubled mind and fatigued body.
Here is what I tell them:
Pay ATTENTION, be AWARE, have ACCEPTANCE
Pay attention to you. What are you doing and why? What is driving you to have the schedule or responsibilities you have? Are you a person who can’t say no to something? Are you trying to impress anyone, a parent, a boss, a significant other? Are you afraid of the consequences if you slow down? Are you over compensating for something else or trying to give your kids things you never had and believe they must have? Are you caught up in the idea of more means better? What drives you? What behaviors are you doing because of that drive? Is it realistic and healthy or is it killing you?
Be aware. Notice the behaviors you do over and over and get negative results. You stay up too late and can’t get motivated in the morning for example. Are you a creative, right brained person trying to fit into a left brained system without tools to help you compensate? Do you always get a double espresso and curse yourself for feeling jittery and snapping at people? Do you sign the kids up for too many activities and fine you live in your car and everyone is always exhausted? Do you believe you have a crystal ball or can mind read and try to base your decisions on faulty logic? We all have mindless behaviors. Behaviors we do all the time that cause us more harm than good. Be aware of them. Take a few moments every day (doesn’t have to be long) and mindfully explore a different, better way of doing something. Also, be aware that everything you think, feel and do are because of you and not someone else. Take total responsibility for your actions.
Have acceptance. Accept this is who you currently are and this is your life. It is yours of your making. Even if things have happened to you that have shaped your life, it is still yours. Accept what you can’t change and strategize a way to make the best of what you have. Harping, complaining, griping and gossiping are all maladaptive, often harmful behaviors. They typically accomplish nothing but more negativity and skewed realities. Remember the Salem witch trials?
Stop judging yourself or others for mistakes, thoughts of should have, ought to, must, have to, bad, good, stupid, idiot are all judgment words with lots of power. You don’t need them. They don’t help you or anyone else. All they do is add negativity and weight to your already haired life. You have a problem, accept it and be proactive in solving it to the best of your ability with what you have at this moment. This moment is all you have. The next moment may not be here. It’s now or never. You don’t like what someone else is doing, let it go. Getting angry and yelling at the driver ahead of you for going slow is your problem not theirs. Yelling at them won’t correct the fact that your behavior made time so tight an incident will flip your apple cart.
In essence, what I try to teach is to be mindful not mindless. Celebrate each moment. Find something good in everything even if on the surface, even if it’s not evident. If concentration camp survivors and prisoners of war can find enough positive thoughts to keep them sane, so can you.
Take five minutes today and sit someplace quiet, preferably with nature. Observe with your eyes, ears, nose and skin. Really pay attention to the stillness in the storm of our current society. Believe it or not, it is possible to have degrees if not complete stillness in our culture. You have to want it, look for it within you by becoming aware of who you are and what you want. Deciding what is really important to you. Be aware of the conflict between what you really want and what you are doing. Accept this is who you are and what your life is like now and start to strategize to make mindful decisions about it.
It’s your life and your responsibility. Own it, live it. Life is short and no one can take it with them.
ATTENTION, AWARENESS, ACCEPTANCE, BE MINDFUL NOT MINDLESS, LET IT GO
I have heard it said the death begets death. Put another way, when you’re grieving or helping someone who is grieving; passed deaths, funerals and aftermaths come flooding forward.
This is also the case for severe trauma. Experiences with other’s traumas provoke strong memories and features of one’s own trauma. For this reason, I often tell my clients who are dealing with severe traumas, to avoid news broadcasts and closely monitor television shows and movies before watching (if possible). This helps prevent suddenly finding themselves in a virtual situation similar enough to what they experienced to cause problems.
Until you know what your trauma triggers are this is shaky ground. It would be easy to say, I experienced child abuse; therefore, I won’t watch things that show or discus this topic. Since the mind is like a 4-D movie camera recording during a traumatic event, the obvious might not be so obvious.
For example: The well groomed newscaster presented three horrific events; the remains of 11 dead bodies found in Ohio killed by a serial killer; a Toyota’s accelerator got stuck and the car accelerated to 100 miles an hour, killing the driver when it hit a tree; a woman was thrown from a roller coaster at Six Flags Amusement Park in Texas and died on impact.
In which of these stories would a person with severe trauma experience the most triggers? It’s a person by person answer. It may not be the most heinous which grabs the person. It will be the one that elicits the most triggers from that 4-D movie reel in their head.
In my own case, as I have PTSD, the story that grabbed me was the story at the amusement park. I’ve never been thrown from a roller coaster, in fact I love coasters. So why would this story grab me?
In my case, it had to do with something I and many people with PTDS develop. It’s the fear or guilt of having a good time. In my case, it is fear. My life experiences have taught my brain that as soon as life calms down and starts to look normal, something horrific is coming around the corner. It’s something I’ve had to actively evaluate and be aware of for many years.
So, who in those news stories was having the most fun when something horrible happened? Yep, it was the woman, vacationing with her family and then ejected from the coaster to her death. What made this situation worse, the news reporter stated when the coaster pulled out of the platform the woman realized her lap bar wasn’t closed properly and there was nothing anyone did or could do once the coaster left the platform to help her.
This brings about three more common traits of people with PTSD. These are the feelings of helplessness, inability to escape and sudden realization of impending serious harm or death. The other two news stories probably contained these elements as well; however, this third story compounded all three elements. If the woman had been my age, that might add a fourth component. If instead of on a coaster, she was in a situation similar to what I experienced, that would add another component. The more components are involved than the stronger the reaction tends to be.
So you see it’s complicated when you or a loved one is learning to live with PTSD. Part of this learning is in understanding how the brain processes trauma and what triggers are hard wired to respond. As the person and their family learn these, the next steps are learning to compensate for reactions, lesson reactions and know your limitations. Most of all never stop exploring and never give up.
If you do get triggered, this protocol will be useful.
- Ground yourself. Do a mental check. Where are you? Who is with you? Are you safe? Your brain needs some external impute from you to circumvent the need to protect you from the danger it perceives you are currently under or about to experience. Telling yourself things like, I’m in my living room, there are green curtains on the window, I’m drinking Lemon Zinger tea may seem silly, but they tell your brain you are not in that place where trauma originally occurred.
- It’s okay to be triggered. Being triggered is a horrendous feeling, especially if it leads to physical, emotional or visual flashbacks. Once you have calmed your mind and body down. Do not, I repeat, do not chastise yourself for having been triggered in the first place. What you experienced was strong enough to provoke the same response in you everyone experiences when they try to put their hand in fire. The brain knows how to keep you safe. Triggers are the mechanisms the brain uses to screen for fires.
- Be an investigative reporter. Logging down what you were doing or watching when you were triggered, any information about how you reacted feelings after the fact are invaluable. Over time, you will see patterns. Perhaps, it’s anything that sounds like explosions or the smell of curry. Even if you and another person experienced the exact same trauma at the same time, your log will be as unique to you as your finger print. Don’t be afraid of finding the patterns.
- Bring your information to someone who can help you. It is typically best to work with someone knowledgeable about trauma reactions when processing and learning to live with triggering events and information. Take your log and your insight with you. You know you and your traumatic event(s) better than anyone. No counselor or therapist is a savior. They are only another human being with training that is there to help. Find someone you trust and become partners in your quest to living healthily with PTSD.
When Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick wrote the lines: To the last, I grapple with thee; from the hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee, he was writing about a man’s obsessive pursuit to concur an internal demon triggered by an external sea monster. Is living with PTSD any different?
I see books all the time about the five types of relationship killers. It’s ashamed we stop at five because naming the top five may not hit on the bumps in a relationship. If you look at a lot of the social and psychological data on relationships, the list looks more like this. (Note these are not in order of most damaging to least. There is no way to do that as each entry has its own dimensions and they differ couple to couple).
- Communication issues
- Dependency vs independency
- Ineffective problem solving or arguments
- Changes in sexual desire
- Affairs/one night stands/porn/excessive flirting
- Life Stress: job/unemployment/death/chronic illness/sudden illness/mental illness/increase in responsibilities/aging/moving/life style changes
- Taking the other for granted
- Rushing into a phase in the relationship too quickly: weddings/babies/retirement
- Lack of trust
- Lack of Intimacy: feeling like you have to hide who you are due to fear of being unlovable/ no physical intimacy (touching)/ feeling like you have to be someone else to be loved
- Lack of care: feeling like you are uncared for or your partner does not understand you
- Judgementalism: feeling like you are always scrutinized, you can’t do anything right or being perfectionist and believing you can’t do anything right.
- Tests: partner sets up little tests to see if you pass and are worthy of trust/love
- Unrealistic expectations: if this is love, why am I so miserable – expecting partner to meet or fix your inner emptiness or meet unrealistic expectations or fantasies
- Lack of contributions in household, family responsibilities
- Raising kids
- Comfort levels
- Different goals in life
- Step parenting
- Mistakes: shutting down due to fear of making a mistake, making things worse
- Living in the past
In the next couple weeks, I’m going to address each of these risks and discus them in more detail. In the mean time, what is important to know is that while these can range in metaphor as a splinter, dagger or serial stabbing.
What one couple sees as a serial stabbing another might see as a splinter. Why the difference and which couple is going to ride the wave and come out feeling connected? The quick and easy answer is in fluidity and desire to the commitment.
Fluidity means the ability to bend and not brake, to see the whole picture and not hyper-focus on one detail. Think about your relationship as a porcelain bowl, for example. If you drop the bowl into a swimming pool full of water, it will get wet, but most likely will stay intact. If you drop it in the sand, depending on the height you drop it; it might stay intact or crack. If you drop it on concrete – it’s shattered – almost every time.
There are ways to make you more mindful – more fluid. Keep in mind, however, that you are only one person in a relationship. The strongest relationships have fluidity in both partners.
Until next time….
It’s been about two months since I last wrote. The Restless Wanderer was traveling for three weeks and came back with a fairly significant upper respiratory infection. This rolled into creating a Halloween display for 800 children, making a video for a reunion party, and doing a major rewrite on a manuscript. Now, here it is two weeks before Thanksgiving and I’m wondering where the year went.
About three months ago I was interviewed for a local magazine asking how to deal with holiday stress. The reporter asked the usual questions that I think anybody can find the answers to if they look under a leaf. Eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise. I think the top piece of advice would be WATCH YOUR EXPECTATIONS. The first part of watching your expectations is to understand what you’re doing and why. That brings us to a mini history lesson.
The topic is Thanksgiving. Do you know why we celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you know why you celebrate Thanksgiving the way you do?
According to the book, Thanksgiving: The biography of American Holiday, the original holiday, in 1620, lasted three days and consisted of fasting, humility, prayer and a feast on the last day.
Prior to this, it was common tradition to set aside a day for giving thanks to God. There were days for giving thanks (Thanksgiving) in all the first colonies, in Native American traditions and in Europe. Standards or protocols for how to give thanks and when varied.
In school, thanksgiving teaches us about the English settlement called the Massachusetts Bay Colony, now known as Plimouth (yes that is the correct spelling) and about the Pilgrims. I think the average American believes we celebrate thanksgiving to commemorate the goodwill between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims the first winter in 1621. I wonder how many realize it started out as a somber religious experience.
According to Plimouth Plantation historians, the holiday was ratified by the Constitutional Congress but the date varied state by state. When the Civil War broke out, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to help reunite the country. He actually wanted two thanksgivings a year; one in remembrance for Gettysburg to be held the third Thursday in November and the other a more general occasion. The day was designed as a day for praying for the orphans, widows and aid for our war torn country. There was no special meal or tradition.
We can thank Franklin D. Roosevelt for deciding the date of Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, you can say he is also the father of Black Friday. He tied Thanksgiving to the traditional Christmas season so there could be more Christmas shopping which would help the economy. The year was 1941.
The time between Lincoln and Roosevelt in how we celebrated Thanksgiving is not very clear to me. It does look like in the north, people started having large family dinners and many in the south had no idea about the holiday. I think what people did, how they did it and what they ate was very much individualized.
Wait a minute, what about all those decorations with Pilgrims and Indians and all the things we learned in school about Thanksgiving? According to Plymouth Plantation historians, that storyline started in the early 1900s. Why then? They claim it had something to do with two manuscripts that increased people’s interest in Plymouth (our modern spelling), Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag Indians.
The American school system chose to use Thanksgiving as a time to teach American freedom and citizenship to children. By the 20th century we had a set culinary expectation of what Thanksgiving required. In 1943 Norman Rockwell gave us his famous painting entitled, Freedom from Want, and the ideal Thanksgiving tradition was carved in stone.
Now you know the rest of the story. Or do you? I know our Thanksgiving usually consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, corn, green bean casserole, rolls and pumpkin pie. My mother used to add sauerkraut, harvard or pickled beets, red cabbage and lima beans. Depending on where you live in the country, this list varies. But what did the Pilgrims eat?
According to a special on the History Channel their diet was a little different. They would have had things like cod, lobster, eels, oysters, clams, eagles, partridges, ducks, swans, geese, turkey, deer, wheat flour, Indian corn, pumpkins, carrots, grapes, beans, peas, onions, lettuce, chestnuts, walnuts and acorns. All of it lovingly prepared with seasonings from liverwort, parsnips, olive oil, and currants. Yum!
Next we look at how our own histories mixed with the national holiday. The result is your expectation of what Thanksgiving is and what it looks like.
So what’s on your table? And how much is on your table? Why did you choose the music, the decorations, the amount and type of food for Thanksgiving?
Is it a badge of honor to say you ate so much you have to unbuckle your pants? Is it worth having a meltdown if the rolls are slightly burnt? Do you have to do all the work or do you delegate?
How much of your holiday do you allow to happen vs. you trying to control it?
Are you responsible if someone doesn’t like your food or is not having a good time? Is the final revile of the Thanksgiving dinner and your sense of self worth tided together? If something happens and the entire meal is ruined, can you still rejoice because you have family and friends gathered together?
These are important questions that help you examine the things you do to prepare and implement Thanksgiving. You alone are in charge of what you think, what you do and how you feel.
The more fluid you are, the less stress you will feel.
Being more fluid means you’re going with the flow. When something happens, it might be disappointing but not catastrophic. The fluid person knows this, expects issues to happen and rolls with the punches.
It’s very easy during the holidays to get wrapped up and twisted in what the media shows us, our families and what our holidays should look like. We often assume every other family is having a Norman Rockwell picture. We forget the media has an agenda and also that nobody’s life is perfect.
So, if your Thanksgiving is not what you remembered when you were a child or you’re not able to provide the Thanksgiving dinner you would like to for your family, don’t sweat it. More than likely, your memories of what was or your dreams of what could be are seen through either rosy or blue tinted glasses. While it’s good to have expectations, goals and plans to make the day a memorable one, remember, you’re only human and your family will love you unconditionally; even if you’ve burned the turkey or dropped the green bean casserole on the floor and have to remake it. If you have a dysfunctional family, the kind that grumbles, argues, complains about everything and never gets along, your dinner unfortunately, is not going to change any of that. Work on that the rest of the 364 days of the year.
Last point: If mom or Aunt Busybody scrutinizes what you’re trying to accomplish and you feel like no matter what you do it’s not good enough, that’s not about you but about them. Give it back to them as a present. Don’t feel bad, don’t suck in the venom, keep telling yourself it’s not about them. Enjoy your day. Enjoy your family and friends. Live in the moment. Happy Thanksgiving!
Did you ever wonder if people living in third world countries sit around wondering what life would be like if….. (fill in blank here)? Is attempting to design our lives something that all humans contemplate or is it a manifestation of our society? Are we bred or designed to think in terms of what if?
I think the first time I was introduced to the concept of, there might be something better out there, happened when I saw Cinderella as a little girl. You know the story, the down and out princess, abused by her stepmother and stepsisters dreaming of someone to love her and take her away from the hell.
Then there was Casper the Friendly Ghost. He was the child ghost harassed by his emotionally abusive uncles and longing for acceptance and love. I think if I really put my mind to it, I could name hundreds of characters or media sources depicting the theme, there must be something better out there.
In every case I can think of, the lead character gets to a point where they can’t take it anymore and attempts to force a change hoping for the better. But what is better and how do we decide when what we have is not good enough?
In my counseling practice I have seen people who appear happy living in relationships and in environments plagued with difficulties. On the flip-side, I’ve seen miserable people in what looks like great relationships or having more than enough money to live very comfortable. Where does the difference come from?
I’m sure you have heard the saying, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you are one of the billions of people thinking or searching for the, there must be something better, this probably seems infuriating. It got me wondering. If everyone lived by that saying, where would the world be? Is the act of making lemonade a kin to fight the good fight or accept and learn to live with lemonade?
All these questions are important because depending on your beliefs, this maybe the only opportunity to live your life. Are you going to buy into the somewhere out there life is better or things are great just the way they are? Of course there is any combination of both options that people vacillate between.
How many divorces occur because there might be something better? How many wars fought because owning someone else’s land, people or forcing your way of life on another group of people might make life better? Only to have that something better happen and be startled that the something better is not that better after all. Note I am not talking about people in abusive relationships.
The idea of, let’s get back to the good ole days is another example of this phenomena. I saw a book in the Smithsonian American History Museum entitled, The Good Old Days They Were Terrible!, by Otto Bettmann. It asserts that the concept of the good old days is a myth, a trick of the mind. If you look at the reality of our history, personal, national and global, he’s right.
I think this backward looking fantasy is not much different then, there might be something better out there, which is forward wishing. In both cases the person has judged their current life as not acceptable. How does this serve us, help us?
When I was in Northern Africa, I didn’t hear people saying things like, I’m an anchovy fisherman now but one day …… Maybe they were hoping for a different future or desiring a glossed over remembrance of a life long ago and I was not made privy to their desires.
I have friends who spent a couple weeks in Haiti. When they came back they were overcome with the positive, spirit-focused, mind-set of the people. Was this a representation of a select group of people, an outward expression designed to show outsiders or a genuine way of viewing the reality of their national and personal situation?
The ultimate question is who ends up with the least regrets at the end of life? The person searching, planning, acting in hope for something better or the person accepting and finding reasons in the here and now to be happy.
Happy does not necessarily equate to lack of regret or does it? Perhaps the real; key is not whether to search or accept but the mind set accompanying both
Can a person accept and “be” happy for the life they have and still search for something better? That almost sounds impossible, impractical. In my mind the act of being happy equals contentment. And if I’m content than I forget the future or pondering if there is something out there better?
I’m happy, content, but what if there is something better? Maybe better does not bring more happiness but a richer experience. Someone who says, I have a million dollars and I feel happy. I’m going to spend a great percentage in this helping people in need and that enriches my happiness. This is a very altruistic goal as opposed to the self centered thinking of Cinderella who was looking out for her own needs.
We all decide what will and won’t make us happy. Sometimes we are realistic and other times there is no pleasing. There will always be people who are never happy with certain elements in their lives. The will fault their fate, themselves or blame someone else.
I usually hear people make comments such as, if only so and so would do such and such, I would be happy.
I have also seen people attempt to go against who they are and against their desires and needs in an attempt to make another person happy. It typically doesn’t work. Why, because the other person is seeking change in someone else to make themselves happy instead of taking responsibility for their own happiness.
Thoughts of if only I had a better job, a better car, improved health than life would be better. I would be happier. There is no difference in any of these scenarios. They are externally focused. What if you are never able to have improved health or a better job? Are you destined to never be happy, content with a well lived life?
Are these thoughts byproducts of modern industrial society? A product of bombardment with advertizing telling us what we should have, what our spouse should look like, behave like, what the definition of success is? The birth of the internet and the six-hundred channels on a TV brings many of us further still from the realities of healthy human interaction to obsessive, unhealthy, unrealistic expectations.
How can a person navigate through all the sewage to find contentment, happiness? How do we balance what can’t be, what should not be, what might be with what is? How do we set up that reality check to keep ourselves headed in the direction of happiness, contentment and a life well lived? However you define that?
Do you make lemonade dreams for a better tomorrow? What do you do when you are told, sorry, the life you wanted is out of stock? You decide, it’s your life.
The headline read: Toddlers found Amid Bloodbath. Four-year-old Amy and two-year-old Abbey (not their real names), had witnessed the murder/suicide of their parents. The girls were rescued a day later playing around their dead parents. The police were able to place the children with extended family thought they could cope. They were wrong.
Amy, once toilet-trained, started soiled her pants on a regular basis. Abbey started sucking her thumb and refused to leave her sister’s side. For reasons no one could understand, the two would suddenly become enraged and on one occasion Amy lunged at her uncle (the current guardian) with a kitchen knife lacerating his leg. Both girls asked frequently, when their parents were coming back. Amy on occasion, would become nauseated and vomit when she would walk in and see her aunt preparing raw meat for dinner. Neither girl slept well and night terrors accompanied with screams that woke the entire house occurred weekly. When they played, the themes were often violent with toys being destroyed and their behaviors escalating into physical fights between them. Abbey refused to be held, would cry a lot and bite herself. Amy refused to play with other children and her daycare provider said she sometimes resembled a trapped animal that lashed out when you tried to come near her.
Their home placement quickly became jeopardized as the already distraught family was not prepared for, nor did they understand, what was occurring. The result, the children ended up in foster care, with a family that had wonderful intentions but was not properly trained on what to expect from traumatized children, how to help them and how to cope.
From the family’s perspective the children should have been relieved and happy to be in a loving, caring environment. They became very confused and angered with the girl’s behavior did not match what they expected. They returned the children to the county for another placement. This happened several times before the girls ended up with a specialized foster care family who already had four special needs children.
The girls were seen by multiple counselors/therapists and doctors. Many of which did not have specialized training in helping children who have been traumatized. By the time the girls were ready to go to middle school, they were separated, living in different homes (the fifth for Amy and the eighth for Abbey), were promiscuous, hard to handle, occasionally heavily drugged by well-meaning doctors and their school performance was very poor with frequent suspensions.
This is a horrendous story. It is horrendous because the children experienced such a horror. Worse because no one knew information to help understand the natural reactions the children were having as a result of the events they experienced. By the time I got the case, years of compounded stress and trauma had to be unraveled.
There is an old myth that children are very resilient that they bounce back from adversity better than adults. Notice I said myth. Children are just as traumatized and reactive as adults to traumatic events. Children, however, often present different then their adult counterparts.
To the unaware adult, the child is acting out, being obstinate, not reacting to the events. The child typically is not able to sit down and tell you or debrief the events the way an adult can. Depending on their age, children are not able to verbally process the events and their meaning due to limited cognitive development. For example, children do not have a concrete understanding of death as being final until around age ten.
The case with Amy and Abbey is extreme; however, traumas do occur frequently to children. Divorce, child and domestic abuse, school bullying, parents who are involved in severe drug and alcohol abuse, deaths or serious illness in the family, loss of income of a parent, moving to a new school and home. All these and many more are examples of events that are very stressful and at times traumatic enough to cause severe reactions in a child.
It is important to anyone with a child who has or is currently stressful and/or traumatic or who work with children to understand the nature of trauma on a child to learn ways children express and process these events.
The brain acts like a movie camera during a traumatic event. It will record the images, sounds, smells and touch feelings associated with it. This occurs so the brain can figure out how to react for protection. Integrate this into the person to make sense of the event. How to self protect if it happens again or try to prevent it from happening again. The behaviors you see in a child are the outward manifestations of these attempts.
Here are some of the behaviors you may find in children coping with extreme stress and or trauma in their life.
- Children will typically digress in their developmental levels (forget learned behaviors like toilet training, talk babyish, need stuffed animals to sleep, night lights, want more cuddle time, forget how to do skills learned in school)
- Nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking, refusing to go to bed or sleep.
- Refusing to eat, over eating, nauseated at certain foods, craving certain foods such as feel good foods, wanting a pacifier or bottle fed.
- Refusing to go to the bathroom, soiling their clothing, smearing feces, obsessive masturbating.
- Aggressive or violent behaviors, crying spells and tantrums.
- A drop in school performance, decrease in grades, acting out in school, not wanting to go to school.
- Moodiness, bursts of anger, crying spells, moppyness, laughing inappropriately, pulling out hair, twirling hair, pulling out eye lashes or eye brows, hurting themselves on purpose, clumsiness or accident prone.
- Flashbacks (experiencing the trauma event as if it is currently happening), responding to things that remind them of events (the blood of raw meat for someone who witnessed a bloody event).
- Promiscuousness, early involvement with smoking, drugs and alcohol, deviant behaviors, abuse of others, abuse of self, disrespect for adults or specific adults.
If extreme stresses or a traumatic event happens to your family, your child or a child in your care, note these reactions. Do not assume the child will manage without help. It is better to act as if need is eminent then to ignore the potential as behaviors of a child’s distress may not show up right away. It may take days or weeks to show. There are times where the child appears to do well and after they reach a more developed cognitive ability (the older they get) their mind will once again address what they experience and this is when you may see behaviors develop. The sooner the child is able to get help, the better things will be for them.
Use the services of school counselors, professional counselors/therapists (make sure they are trained in childhood trauma if trauma is the issue), a doctor’s care maybe necessary as well. Learn all you can about how severe stress and trauma affects children and incorporate this for the children in your care. If you are also a part of the extreme stress or trauma, remember that you are also struggling on various levels. Take care of yourself.
Extreme stress and trauma can occur in anyone’s life. Be prepared if you have or work with children. Know the signs and how to get help. The emotional health and well being of a child may depend on it.
(Video is Tom the Turtle teaches about Stress Perseverance)
I met a woman the other day who’d told me she was ready to divorce her husband. They had only been married for two years. I asked her why she was making this decision and she said he was acting peculiar. What does peculiar look like?
She said when they first got married he would come home from work and spend time with her. These days, he comes home late or would call from work to tell her he was going out with friends or doing community volunteer work.
I asked her if there was legitimate reason for him to work late. She said yes the reasons for his work lateness were valid. She didn’t suspect he was being unfaithful.
What was his relationship with his after-work buddies? Were they old friends or new people in his life? If they were old friends, did he go out with them frequently before they got married?
She answered, that before they got married he regularly went out with his friends after work or spent time volunteering at various organizations. She married a man who gets a lot of satisfaction and relaxation by being social. After they got married he slowed down his out the home activities. Now he had resumed to pre-marriage arrangements.
I asked if she was a social person. She said no, she was more of a homebody. Going out with people was more stress than something she enjoyed. These days, she much preferred staying home cuddling up with a good book or watching television. When they were dating, she used to force herself to go out, to be social. These days it was too much for her to do.
She said she enjoyed helping others and was proud of her husband for his involvement in the community. She just wished he’d spend more time with her. I asked if there were any stresses in their lives other than the current relationship issues. She didn’t think they had any until we talked about stress and what stresses are.
A stress is something in your environment that convinces your body to react as though it’s in danger. It can be simple things such as new responsibilities at work, changes in your schedule, or ever stimulation such as overcrowding, too much light, too much noise.
Stress can be good, bad or neutral. Think of Christmas or thanksgiving. Times that most people consider family time, happy time. They are; however, very stressful because of extra responsibilities, financial burdens and demands from society and our families.
I think everyone is familiar with bad stress. We know from the get-go that what we are experiencing does not feel good and we do not see any benefits. That stress quickly causes headaches, muscle tension, irritability and anxiety. Sometimes they even anger.
Neutral stress typically has the slowest in reactions unless multiple stresses combine. I often say an example of neutral stress might be going to the grocery store and picking out pickles. It’s not a matter of life and death deciding on which pickle to buy. Still, depending on your frame of mind, looking at all those shelves of pickles can become daunting and stressful especially if you are in a hurry.
So getting back to the woman I met, she said yes there were stresses that were new. She mentioned that the stepson moved into the home five months ago. He and the family were having a hard time adjusting. She also mentioned that her elderly father had developed Alzheimer’s and she didn’t know how she would take care of him. Her mother was deceased and she was an only child. One top of that she reiterated that both she and her husband had increased stress at work. Those are definitely very high stresses.
I was shopping at the local grocery when I overheard a couple arguing. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop; however, their volume made hearing easy. The gist of their conversation had similar rings to the woman I met earlier. In this case it was the man complaining that his significant other was spending too much time away from home. He went into a long litany of stresses that he had to deal with by himself. Stresses such as sick kids, a neighbor who is troublesome, stresses of work and work on the house with no money to fix it. She yelled back about all the stresses of her life. She stormed about having too much responsibility in the mornings, stepchild not respecting her, her job being difficult and feeling like she had no support from him.
Regardless of any other issues in their relationship, this was clearly another case of a couple responding to the increase in stress in their lives. Relationships are like trees. When the storm of stress hits it will either bend or snap. All relationships experience stress. You can’t avoid it.
If you start out with the great relationship, increased stress will still put a strain on that relationship. If you have a mediocre or poor relationship increased stress will make the road will be much rockier and possibly snap the relationship.
The severity of the stress, the couple’s support system and how well they communicate will help determine how strong and healthy their relationship will be after the storm. Therefore, I always tell people they should have stress inoculation.
Each person handles threats in a different way. You may remember being taught that people either flee, fight, freeze or flop. Stress is experienced in the brain as a threat.
Two people in the same situation may react completely differently than the next. One person in the relationship may need to take more walks or go out with friends more often. This person is fleeing. They need to escaping the situation, even if only temporarily. Going for walks or out with friends is a lot more desirable then leaving the relationship. That thought is a flee-from-stress thought. They literally feel if they don’t flee they will be unable to tolerate the situation.
Another person may start arguments, having tantrums, start physical fights when they are stressed. They may tell you they feel they’re up against the wall and need to react this way to protect themselves. There really is no physical danger or need for protection, but their biology and past learning convinces them otherwise. These people are the fighters.
The next person will do nothing. They may literally stand and shut down in front of you. These people become quiet, withdrawn and can’t handle having confrontations. The more upsetting the stress around them the more they shut down. These people are the freezers.
The last way a person can respond to stress is to flop. Flopping literally means the person falls down or faints. I don’t see this much as a reaction to severe stress except in situations of sudden stress such as unexpected death or other extreme, emotional shocks.
I believe adrenaline fatigue is an example of flopping when a person experiences a long term stressful environment. It manifests as extreme fatigue sometimes debilitating and the person can’t function. In time the body wears down and the person gets sick more often and in severe cases can cause or speed the rate of heart disease and death.
So how can a person stress inoculate?
Step one: remember stress happens it’s only a matter of when and what kind.
Step two: know how you react to stress. Are you a flopper, the fleer, a fighter, or someone who freezes?
Step three: if you’re in a relationship, which of these reactions does your significant other use?
Step four: acknowledge and accept that the way your significant other reacts does not have to be the way you react.
Step five: develop good communication before stress hits. If you’re already in the stress boat, take a timeout away from home in neutral territory where you can discuss the stress and how it affects each of you.
Step six: do not bring other parties into your conflict. This is not about he said, she said, he’s bad, she’s bad, I’m right, they’re wrong. It’s about coping when you’re not your best or when loved ones are not at their best
Step seven: do not make any life changing decisions while under extreme stress unless absolutely necessary. You’re not in your normal thinking mind. You’re in survival mode and the part of your brain that deals with rational thinking has taken a side seat to your primitive survival brain.
Step eight: focus your thinking on elements in your life that currently give you joy. There is no such thing as not having joy. Joy is a way of looking at elements in your life that bring peace, appreciation, good healthy feelings if viewed in a positive light. Find it and make it significant.
Step nine: this too shall pass. The outcome of a stressful event may not be positive but the events unfolding are moving in time as you are. You’ll either make decisions for change to get in a better place or the events will change and there will be release.
Step 10: after riding that storm of stress, sit down and evaluate how you reacted and how you both reacted as a team. What worked, what needs tweaked and what needs changed to prepare for the next round.
In the end I’d like to think that most people want their relationships to be healthy, happy and supportive. Remember you are team. Even if you didn’t say the words, for better or worse, as part of a marriage ceremony or you have a committed relationship of any kind, the intent is implied. If your relationship starts looking rocky, do a stress evaluation for both of you. Do it together. Remember, this too shall pass.
I went to the Goodwill store looking for a lamp to re-purpose. I really enjoy combing through flea-markets and second-hand shops to find elements of objects discarded to make something new. Something I create to be meaningful or purposeful to me.
I found a lamp, bought it. That afternoon I water colored the shade in hues of green. I realized, this object transformation was symbolic of my life and what I help others do – Re-purpose their lives. Life will always give reasons to step back and ask questions like: What the hell just happened? Why did this happen to me? What am I going to do now? Who am I as a result of this? Re-purposing helps bring answers to those questions.
My journey with Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) catapulted me into demanding answers to those questions. I didn’t think I could function without them. Luckily, a person does not have to endure severe traumas demanding immediate attention. Anyone can have a desire, a spark to find their authentic self and live a fuller, happier, more balanced life.
People change slowly over time being enhanced or torn down by life’s challenges. Most appear to view this change as outside themselves. They don’t care or they fear looking inward and asking the hard questions. Finding the answers and stepping out into the great unknown. They accept life as it is. The result is often bitterness, anger and depression. This does not have to be. Life happens, yes, but what you do with it makes all the difference in the world – your world.
Re-purposing takes time and usually happens in stages. As a person learns more about them self and the universe around them, there is an aha moment. My experience is that this is followed by a stewing process. The mind soaks in the information and applies it to everything it knows. The person acts on their new awareness and then it hits.
New questions arise! Well, if that’s true, then what about this situation? Why did I act that way when I could have done this? What else have I believed about life that suddenly is not true? What is truth? The questions become less about the person and more about the world, the universe and the spiritual.
It might be helpful to look at the journey in terms of cooking or food. At first, it probably seems similar to peeling off layers of an onion. I picked onion because pealing an onion can bring tears and at times not very pleasant. Thoughts and memories, who we have become over time has built around our core like the layers surrounding the core of the onion. The larger the onion, the more changes, adaptations or layers a person has developed.
There should come a time when a person can see beyond the onion metaphor and see layers as welcome opportunities for re-purposing, bringing enrichment to their lives. Life’s journey now becomes more like layers of string cheese, baklava, lasagna, or some other pleasant concoction you can think of. Not as threatening or uncomfortable if done in moderation. It is good to note, that even with pleasant or desired elements of change, too much too soon can cause distress. I really would not recommend sitting down and eating en entire family size lasagna! All things should be done in moderation, which includes re-purposing.
After a while, the person may no longer find total enrichment and the questions asked of the self changes again. Using the cooking metaphor, questions might revolve around the concern, how can I improve on this recipe? The types of questions are as vast as the grains of rice in a box of Minute Rice.
Re-purposing time varies from person to person. Some only strive for feeling slightly better, like putting on a band-aid and waiting. Others, like me, spend a lifetime joyfully exploring, learning and becoming. At this point in my journey, the questions are no longer the ones stated above. Some of my current questions are: Where do I go from here? What does this say about me? How can I turn this into something good for myself and others?
My lamp is now painted, trimmed and assembled. Another human-made element re-purposed for a new beginning, a new life. Aren’t all our experiences in some way, human-made? It’s up to us to do the re-purposing to make our lives the best they can be.
I offer a challenge to you. Start re-purposing your life. The results are worth the journey. Below I offer some first steps to get you started. If you would like some help, you can check out my e-mail counseling/coaching services. If you are in the area, make an appointment or attend a class. Have a great journey!
First Steps to Start Re-purposing Your Life:
1. Get a notebook or journal.
2. List as many qualities about yourself as you can think of. Ask others for their impute. What do you think/feel about your list?
3. List things, people or events where you feel/felt: 1) happy: 2) accomplished: 3) loved: 4) experienced freedom: 5) had fun. Are there any areas where you had a hard time listing things? Some needs that you are falling short in having fulfilled?
4. What movies, characters, TV shows, music, artists, books do you relate to? Why?
5. Make a timeline of your life – the goods, bads, neutrals, accomplishments, regrets. Why did you label these in the categories you placed them? Example: Why is difficulty in 3rd grade math a good thing?
6. Answer the statement: If I had a magic wand, my life would look like… (be specific). Why would you want the elements you picked?
7. List and evaluate areas of your life where you feel out of balance or unhappy. Why do feel this way about this area? (Try to be inward focused and not “because he made me…”)
8. Ask yourself, what role do you play in number 7? We always play a role, even if it is not doing anything.
9. Continue to ask yourself, what do I really want? (see my blog, Life’s Little Instruction Manual, Healthy Relationships Part 4)
10. Review everything you have written. See if you are starting to understand who you really are, how you got here, the role you play, and where your life is unbalanced. You can’t formulate any goals on making improvements without this base-level structure.
Congratulations on taking the first steps in re-purposing your life. Job well done! Drop me a comment and let me know how it’s going!