Best Way to Communicate Issues

Dr. John Gottman’s describes one way to communicate difficult feelings within a couple is by utilizing what he calls the slow start up. I have found the process also helpful within families, with children, in the workplace, and amongst friends. Gottman believes it is all about the way we begin verbalizing our feelings and needs.

Now we all have found ourselves in situations where we approach our partners “guns” firing in all directions. Usually the person responds defensively with criticism, real contempt, defensiveness or they stonewall us. I think we can all recall where we have been on both sides of this type of argument.

I support Gottmans’s belief that if you begin communicating your needs in a “soft” way the message is better received. Describe the situation neutrally, using “I” statements and state what we need — not what we are NOT getting. That is like stab in the heart.

So: Say what you are feeling

Describe the problem neutrally — but don’t blame the other person

Say what you need

Ready to try it out?

Reclaiming Parental Authority with your Adolescent

Dr. Ron Taffel’s recent book Breaking through to Teens explores I think an important new way to change a parent’s communication and relationship pattern with their adolescent. I continue to see in my practice the ongoing struggle parents have with setting and holding limits with their adolescents. We have all heard it before — adolescents challenging curfews, refusing to turn in homework at school or go to school, and hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Often I see parents who are held hostage, by their own fear to show their true authority. Parents often report if they hold the line and take away the phone, etc… their adolescent won’t talk to them again, will become more oppositional etc… Taffel believes that parents really need to first identify what they are really afraid of in order to really develop an authentic authority within your family.Some parents report they have fears that their teen won’t go to college if they are not doing well in school, or will die in a car accident or will be harmed if out past their curfew.

By sharing these fears with your teen, Taffel believe that you express your authentic self — thus showing teens you have feelings/fears too. Parents are then seen as less of the rule maker, but more a 3 dimensional self. A real person with feelings. Shocking I know. A teen may be more willing then to share their fears with you.

Adolescents have fears as well — some very intense — but often they worry about their standing “online”, how they are in “second family” — their friends and their academic success. The second family — their peer group — is very important to adolescents.

What usually happens in families is an ineffective pattern develops around the two fears. This pattern does not solve any issues and can actually damage the relationship. By identifying the pattern, talking about fears, where they originated, a new dance can be constructed and a relationship saved. In therapy, I help teens and their families understand where the family is stuck. This is the difficult part, but necessary to seeing where the communication is ineffective. I agree with Taffel that parents should talk about rules with adolescents, but with the addition of expressing feelings and fears behind them. Parents might be surprised at the outcome.

A Picky Eater to a Food Explorer

You know the kid. He is the one that when out orders plain white pasta, milk, plain bread — maybe chicken nuggets, occasionally the pizza — but little red sauce. If this is your child you probably heard advice from outsiders such as “he’ll grow out of it” or “she will eat when she is hungry”. Researchers and authors from Duke University say without the right balance of encouragement to try new foods, they won’t grow out of it and will be at risk for an increase of anxiety around eating.

As a parent of a picky eater, I have found some luck in using the method of “Food Chaining” – a method described by Dr. Mark Fishbein. With this method you slowly introduce foods that are similar to the textures and tastes that your child already enjoys. So if your child does love peanut butter, add some on crackers, mini toasts, maybe even an apple. I used this idea with pasta. Knowing that my son enjoyed pasta — plain but also liked pizza, I made the pasta he liked but put a little sauce on his plate for him to dip the pasta in at his choosing. That is important too — you have to offer the new food with positive encouragement for trying something different.

Overtime, he began asking for the sauce to be mixed in with his pasta. As this worked for my son, I encouraged him to be a food explorer for a month. We drew a fork on the calendar every time he tried something new – even if he did not like it or even spit it out in the trashcan. He received a reward at the end of the week for four weeks. We saw remarkable changes at home and at school. He even brags about it now.

Your child does not even have to eat the food to be an explorer. He or she can just count the many different apples at the store or help you plan a dinner together. The premise behind all of this is to stop the power struggle and replace it with a different relationship with food. This allows your child to have some control over their exploration of food, decreasing anxiety, and making eating more fun for them and your whole family.

Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers: Engulfing and Ignoring Moms

Have you ever wondered if you relationship with your mother was different from other women? When did you first notice this? Was your relationship balanced? Was she fully attuned to what YOU wanted for your life? Most narcissistic parents either over parent or severely under parent according to Karyl McBride author of “Will I Ever Be Good Enough”. The result is a daughter with a poor self-image and insecurities. Often daughters who have unmet emotional needs continue to go back to their mothers in hope that maybe this time they WILL get their needs met. Daughters are then met with the same unhealthy dynamic and never gain their love and respect.

I agree with McBride that one of the ways to a healthy separation from your mother and your emergence into adulthood would be to fully understand what type of mother you have currently. She believes there is two types of mothers – the ”engulfing mother smothers” or the ”ignoring mother” — sometimes a combination of both.

The engulfing mother tries to dominate and control every part of her daughter’s life sometimes actually making her daughter’s life her own life.There is no room for this girl to separate, have her own ideas, thoughts and she never makes decisions for herself. The daughter is merely an extension of the mother.

The ignoring mother usually provides no guidance and support. The daughters were taught that their feelings were not important or relevant.Sometimes these girls grow up deprived of food and shelter and are more likely to even experience physical and sexual abuse.

McBride also believes that moms can alter back and forth between the different types. In my practice, I have seen this quite a bit. Sometimes, two girls in the family were treated very differently. Mom could have been the engulfing mom with one daughter and ignoring of the other.

Part of one’s recovery from being a Daughter of Narcissistic mom, is clarifying what type of mother your mother was growing up. This will allow you to decide what boundaries and limits you can chose to place now. The next step is examining how your mother became the parent that she is today.What was her environment like growing up? What needs did she not get met for herself? In answering some of these questions, your pain may not go away. It is possible though that your sadness and grief could be replaced with some empathy for your mother. This change could really aid in your own recovery.

Washington Post Article : Holiday Gift Giving Dilemmas

When Parents Differ on Holiday Gift Giving

Even as the Halloween candy remains on the aisles, the holiday season approaches and the present ”dilemma” comes to a head. Parents can differ greatly on what they want to GIVE and RECEIVE at this time. Many parents in our area have already begun changing the traditional gift giving even at their own child’s birthdays and family celebrations. Instead of the child receiving gifts, guests are asked to bring food donations for a local shelter.

What do you do though when the season for holiday ”giving” rolls around and your spouse has very different ideas (mom wants to donate to charity; dad wants to head to Target)? The best solution is to allow flexibility where you both meet in the middle of the road (even if you think you are right ’ as I am always).

I tell parents to strategize this difficult dilemma by breaking this process up into 3 parts:

  • Recipient list and Budget
  • Communicating Gift Giving Vision
  • Negotiation

The goal is to find common ground at each step and set the stage for future holiday gift giving discussions.

Each parent must first think individually about WHO they are buying for this year including coworkers, family friends, teachers, etc. Create a list and then decide what the BUDGET is for these acts of generosity. Disagree on a dollar amount? Meet in the middle.

Now each person must reveal their own gift giving VISION. Identifying and expressing your own vision is very important to effective negotiation. Perhaps this season’s vision is based on fond childhood memories, anxiously waiting and finally receiving the long awaited gift. Maybe it is the desire to extend your family’s blessings and give to others as way to model for your children. Take turns verbalizing this vision, quietly listen to your partner, and reflect back what you are hearing ’even if you don’t agree. Active listening lessens defenses and creates the opportunity for meeting in the middle.

During the NEGOTIATION phase, tease out any similar gift giving themes, ideas and visions. Identify ways that you and your partner might combine each other’s gift ideas. Can you still buy at the local toy store while also purchasing toys and clothing for a local needy family? Discuss ways to involve the children in the process and create a future gift giving template (maybe each year the children determine a different place to donate their time to a charitable cause). Strategizing early in the holiday season around different gift giving ideas will lessen family stress and support the special spirit in giving.

Postpartum Depression in Women

”I am supposed to be so happy — why am I not?”

Having a new baby can often be difficult for women when they are first home with their child. At a time when mothers believe they should be excited and happy over the birth of their child, some report being miserable, sad, and regretful- – struggling with Postpartum Depression (PPD). Postpartum Support of Virginia (2011) reports most common PPD symptoms as:

  • regrets having a baby
  • having trouble sleeping, even when baby sleeps
  • thinks her family would be better off without her
  • fears leaving the house or being alone
  • isolates herself from friends and family
  • has unexplained anger or irritability
  • fears she might harm herself or her baby
  • has trouble coping with daily tasks
  • has difficulty concentrating or making simple decisions
  • feels ”out of control”
  • feels guilty for feeling this way

Some root causes of this depression are the result of hormone fluctuations after giving birth, the decrease in amount of sleep a new mom receives, isolation, a history of depression prior to pregnancy or birth of baby, the birth experience, and any concerns related to the baby — feeding issues, colic, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit experience, etc. These symptoms can be very overwhelming at times and difficult for spouses and partners to understand. Getting help as soon as possible is very important.

Some steps to cope with this illness include getting enough sleep (up to 5 hours a night), having a healthy diet — including 64 oz. of water if you are breast feeding, and etting regular exercise. Ask for help from outside family and friends to assist with laundry, food shopping, and childcare. Sometimes writing in a journal can help process some of the difficult feelings that you may be having. Lastly, consult a mental health professional who can support you with more coping strategies. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in hearing about more ways to treat Postpartum Depression.

Women and their Mothers

When in the first session I hear a client say she feels unlovable, empty, never really good enough, and is lacking in self-confidence, I begin to wonder about her relationship with her mother.

As a mother of three children myself, I know that it is unreasonable to believe that a mother must be perfect all the time. We just have to be good enough. We will make mistakes. Some women though grew up in homes where nothing was EVER good enough for their mothers.

  • Did you grow up with a mother who was overly concerned about what others thought of her?
  • Was she only invested in your triumphs when they reflected on her as a good mother?
  • Did your mother go from a depressed mood to being egoistical?
  • Is it difficult – even now- to tell her no?
  • Did you find yourself making decisions as a child and later as an adult, based on what SHE wanted and not you?
  • Did your mother compete with you?
  • Did you feel as though you needed to take care of her emotional needs growing up?
  • Do you find yourself having this same relationship with your own children?

I work with many women who are exploring and healing their past and present relationships with their mothers. The description above details some characteristics of what is called a Narcissistic Personality. I help such daughters with my extended training and being a paneled therapist with Dr. Karyl McBride, author of ”Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers”.

Dr.McBride describes in her book ways to heal the ”unmothered child.” This process allows you the choice to change your present day relationships and to stop the narcissism from continuing in you.

To recover, McBride believes, is to accept your mother’s limitations, reframe some of your mother’s negative messages, and begin having a relationship in a healthier way- on your terms, as your new self (McBride, 2008). It can be a difficult process, but with great possibilities.

Are you ready to begin?

Social Anxiety in Adolescent Girl

”I just wanted to order a hamburger, but I was too scared to even tell the waitress my order. My eyes began to water, my heart was racing, my face was beet red, and my throat was closing up. I just shook my head no ’meaning nothing for me today.”

That was one moment in the day of a life of a 15 year old girl struggling with a form of a phobia called social phobia or social anxiety. Often adolescents, who suffer from this type of anxiety, experience the above difficulty, as well as the fear of raising their hand in class, making spontaneous conversations with peers or new friends, making presentations in school, joining a new sport or social clubs, and more. Sometimes their physical symptoms can even lead to panic attacks.

According to the ADAA (Anxiety Disorder Association of America)

  • About 15 million American adults have social anxiety disorder
  • Typical age of onset: 13 years old
  • 36 percent of people with social anxiety disorder report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help

When asking about beginning a conversation with someone, socially anxious adolescent girls state they worry they won’t know what to say and then they will embarrass themselves.

It sounds trivial but it is not for those experiencing this type of anxiety. This fear and anxiety is so overwhelming that they resort to retreating, having few friends, and limited social experiences. The small number of social experiences they do participate in are ONLY with those who they know very well.

There are many ways to approach coping with social anxiety. I often begin with encouraging an increase in awareness of the different types of feelings one is experiencing at that time of their flooding worries.

Where in their body are they feeling these overwhelming physical sensations?

What is exactly happening?

How long is this occurring?

What situations are you most triggered?

Having this awareness of the different sensations and feelings that are occurring, when, and the duration, often allows individuals some control and allows us to begin to create achievable goals.

After one can understand and name what is happening, it is time to develop coping strategies to handle these intense feelings and transition back into the social world. I often use a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT) and Exposure Therapy as a way to nurture this new skill set in adolescents.

CBT focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns. Exposure therapy is where a person is gradually exposed to a feared situation or object, learning to become less fearful over time.

I also teach girls to employ other ways to cope with the uncomfortable, scary feelings (either through ways of relaxing, visualization, or the introduction of grounding objects). These techniques distract the brain and prevent the flooding of too many intense feelings.

Small exposures over time combined with awareness and challenging negative thoughts help lessen this type of anxiety. If you or someone you know is struggling with social anxiety, contact a mental health professional today to gain more information and insight on ways cope.