Toddlers and Self-Control: A Survival Guide for Parents

Picking up the remote after you’ve told your child not to touch it five times in 10 minutes. Slapping a friend who took the last train off the table at child care—right after she agreed with you that ‘hands are not for hitting.’ Running directly into the ocean after you’ve clearly explained that he can’t go in the water without an adult. These are typical toddler moments that all come down to one thing: self-control, and the lack of it.

Why do young children have so little self-control? The part of the brain responsible for exerting control over the emotional, impulsive part of the brain is not well-developed in children under 3. This is why toddlers are much more likely to act on their desires, such as yanking a toy out of a friend’s hand, rather than saying to themselves, “I really want that toy, but it’s not right to grab, so I am going to go find myself another toy.”

In fact, Tuning In, ZERO TO THREE’s national Parent Survey, found that parents’ expectations of their toddlers often outpace what toddlers are actually able to do when it comes to self-control. When parents were asked at what age children have the ability to resist doing something that parents have forbidden:

  • 56 percent of parents said children could do this before age three (including 18 percent of parents who believed children possessed this ability by six months of age)
  • 44 percent of parents said children could do this at age three years or older

Children don’t actually develop this kind of self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age, and even then they still need a lot of help managing their emotions and impulses.

It’s not surprising so many parents have an ‘expectation gap,’ especially with so many 2-year-olds who are so verbal and able to repeat many of the rules parents have laid out. It can be very confusing. But being able to repeat a rule or expectation is not the same as being able to follow it.

Life with your little one will be (hopefully) much less maddening when your expectations for her are in line with her abilities. It can be a relief to know that your child is acting his age; that he needs help to learn to manage his impulses, and that he is not “misbehaving,” or purposefully trying to drive you crazy, as much as it feels that way. Here are some ideas for nurturing self-control:

1. Recognize that it’s not easy being a toddler.

There are an awful lot of things toddlers need to do that they don’t want to do, like getting in the car seat, stopping play to take a nap when they are NOT tired, or sharing their treasures. Let your child know you understand: “You are really disappointed that we can’t go to the playground today.” “You are mad that I won’t let you have ice cream before dinner. I totally get that.” “You are so frustrated with that train—it is so hard to make it stay on the track.” Giving your child the words to describe his feelings is the first step toward helping him manage his emotions and develop self-control.

2. Play games that require impulse control.

Color one side of a paper plate red and the other green, and play some “stop and go” games. For example, when you are outside playing, your child runs toward you until you put up the red sign. Then she runs again when the sign is green. Play “freeze dance” with music. When the music is on, your child dances; when you stop it, she has to freeze. Read books about children who get angry or have tantrums, and talk about how to handle these big feelings. Use your child’s pretend play as an opportunity to teach self-control. When a stuffed animal gets really mad or does something it shouldn’t, problem-solve how ‘Mr. Bear’ might deal with the challenge he’s facing.

3. Make a plan for how to help your child cope with experiences that are especially hard for your child.

Some toddlers have a hard time with transitions, while others have a hard time at birthday parties or adjusting to large group experiences. Think about what situations tend to trigger challenging behavior from your child. Making small adjustments to family routines (like re-thinking taking your toddler to the toy store after a bad night’s sleep) can help to reduce challenging behaviors, with more ‘Yesses’ and fewer ‘Nos’.

4. Set appropriate limits with natural consequences.

Even though your child may not be able to follow a rule yet, it is still important to set expectations. The key is to take a teaching and guiding approach with clear and natural consequences. Stay calm and explain the rule (“No throwing toys. If you throw the truck, I will have to put it away for 5 minutes”). If your child tests the limit, which is to be expected, calmly implement the consequence. Through everyday interactions like these, children develop the brain connections they need to master the skill of self-control.

5. Take your own temperature.

As a parent, you have a lot of power. Your child is taking his cues from you when it comes to managing emotions. Learning to manage and make sense of your own feelings—and getting help when you need it (and we all do)—is the best way to help your child develop self-control. Responding thoughtfully, rather than reacting, is one important way that parents make the difference in how their young children are learning and growing.

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1603-toddlers-and-self-control-a-survival-guide-for-parents

Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?

Teaching may be one of the most difficult jobs in the world, with expectations and demands coming from all sides. Teachers juggle content standards, the social and emotional needs of students, behavior, and often trauma, but they also are the first line of defense when students have mental health problems. Paying attention to all these elements helps create a well-run, high functioning classroom, but dealing with all of them well — often in overcrowded classrooms — can feel completely overwhelming.

To make it worse, most teachers are given very little training on how to detect mental health disorders in students. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five children has or will have a severe mental health disorder, so the lack of training is a huge disservice to teachers who are likely to encounter these issues in their students.

In an article published by The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey combines her personal experience dealing with mental health issues in the classroom with research on how teachers might be better prepared. She points out that often teachers aren’t even aware of mental health practices used by other staff in the building where they work. She writes:

As an increasing number of schools roll out evidence-based mental-health programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), teaching that promotes appropriate student behavior by proactively defining, teaching, and supporting positive student conduct, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools, programs aimed at reducing the effects of trauma on children’s emotional and academic well-being, educators need to be at least minimally conversant in the terminology, methods, and thinking behind these strategies. These programs provide strategies that can be highly effective, but only if the teachers tasked with implementing them are sufficiently trained in the basics of mental-health interventions and treatment.

Some teachers may feel this type of preparation is not their job, but it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior, and how a teacher handles those situations affects the learning of every child in the classroom. If the teacher’s job is to teach the whole child, mental well-being and support is part of the description.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/the-failing-first-line-of-defense/504485/

What Really Happens in a Therapy Session

When you take your car to the car mechanic, you know what’s going to happen: Your car will get repaired.

When you break a bone and visit your doctor, you know what’s going to happen: Your bone will be set in a splint or cast and eventually heal.

But when you make an appointment to see a therapist, do you know what’s going to happen? Many people aren’t quite certain. Will you just talk? Will you have to discuss your childhood? Will you be “hypnotized?” And what’s the “point” of seeing a therapist, anyway? Why not just talk to a friend?

There is a great deal of uncertainty in our society about what actually happens during a therapy session, what types of issues and problems are suitable for therapy, and what benefits a therapy session can provide. I’d like to address a few typical questions—and misconceptions—about what therapy is, what it isn’t, and how it really works.

Q: Do I have to be “sick” or “disturbed” to go see a therapist?
A: No. Thinking that one has to be “seriously disturbed” in order to see a therapist is a myth.

While some therapists do specialize in severe emotional disturbances—including schizophrenia or suicidal thoughts—many focus on simply helping clients work through far more typical, everyday challenges like mapping out a career change, improving parenting skills, strengthening stressmanagement skills, or navigating a divorce. Just as some physicians specialize in curing life-threatening illnesses, while others treat “everyday” illnesses like flus, coughs, and colds, psychotherapists can serve a wide range of clients with a range of needs and goals, too.

In fact, most of my clients are successful, high-achieving people who are quite healthy, overall. Most are challenged by a specific, personal goal—like losing weight, creating more work-life balance, finding ways to parent more effectively, or feeling anxious about dating again after a rough break up.

Q: How can I choose the right therapist for my goal/situation?
A: Choosing a therapist is like choosing any other service provider—it’s a good idea to visit the practitioner’s website, and read client testimonials or reviews (if they have any—many do not, for confidentiality reasons). It’s also good to ask friends and family members, or your physician, for referrals (and of course, check to see who is covered in your health insurance network).

If you are hoping to work on a specific issue—overeating, smoking, making a career change—try to find a therapist with expertise in that area. Many list their specialties or areas of focus on their websites. There are therapists who specialize in relationship issues, parenting issues, anger management, weight issues, or sexuality—pretty much any issue, goal, or situation you can imagine. If you’re not sure about someone’s expertise, just call them and ask. If they can’t be of assistance with your issue, they may be able to refer you to someone who can.

Q: What actually happens during a therapy session?
A: Each session is, essentially, a problem-solving session. You describe your current situation, and your feelings about it, and then the therapist uses their expertise to assist you in trying to resolve that problem so you can move closer to having the life you wish to have.

At the beginning of a session, the therapist typically invites you to share what’s been going on in your life, what’s on your mind, what’s bothering you, or whether there are any goals you’d like to discuss. You’ll be invited to speak openly. The therapist will listen and may take notes as you speak; some, like myself, take notes after a session. You won’t be criticized, interrupted or judged as you speak. Your conversation will be kept in the strictest confidentiality. This is a special, unique type of conversation in which you can say exactly what you feel—total honesty—without worrying that you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings, damage a relationship, or be penalized in any way. Anything you want—or need—to say is OK.

Some therapists (like myself) may give clients some homework to complete after a session. That homework might be to set up an online dating profile and reach out for a first date, or to exercise three times a week. It may be to spend some time each day pounding a pillow to safely release pent-up emotions, make a nightly journal entry, or any number of “steps” and “challenges” relevant to your goals. During your next session, you might share your progress and address any areas where you got frustrated, stuck, or off-track.

Of course, every therapist is different, every client is unique, and every therapist-client relationship is distinct as well—which means that there is nouniversal description of a therapy session. Some therapists employ dream interpretation in their work. Others bring music or art therapy into their work. Others incorporate hypnotherapy, life coachingmeditationvisualization, or role-playing exercises to “rehearse” challenging conversations. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, regardless of their approach, a therapist will listen without judgment and help clients try to find solutions to the challenges they face.

Q: Will I have to talk about my childhood?
A: Not necessarily. Many people think that visiting a therapist means digging up old skeletons from your childhood, or talking about how awful your mother was, etc. That is a myth. What you talk about during a therapy session will largely depend on your unique situation and goals. And depending on your goals, you may not actually talk about your past that much. The focus of your therapy is as likely to be your present-day reality and the future that you wish to create.

That being said, if you REALLY do NOT want to discuss your childhood, the intensity of your desire NOT to talk about it might suggest that you should! When people have strong negative emotions—about their childhood or any other topic—it’s typically worth doing some excavating to figure out why that is. Whatever is causing them to feel such strong emotions about the past is more than likely impacting their present-day life in some way, too.

Q: How long will I have to go to therapy?
A: This varies from person to person. I’ve had clients who booked one session, we worked out their issue(s), and they were all set: They marched out and didn’t need a follow-up session. Sometimes, one brave, honest conversation is really all you need.

Other clients have booked sessions with me over a period of several weeks or months, focusing on one issue, resolving that issue, then perhaps moving on to a different challenge. Then there are other clients who I’ve been working with for some time—they appreciate having a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly “check-in.” They may share their feelings, sharpen their life skills as needed, or perhaps enjoy a deeply nourishing guided meditation or hypnotherapy experience to de-stress. As one client put it, “Every two weeks when I meet with you, I leave your office feeling like you pressed my reset button.”

Therapy is really about whatever a client needs—a one-time conversation, a temporary source of support during a life transition, or an ongoing experience to optimize health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.


Q: Is meeting with a therapist over the phone—or through video chat—just as effective as meeting in person?
A: That depends on your personality and preferences. In the state of Hawaii, where I live, at least one insurer that I know of covers doing therapy virtually via video chat (like Skype or Facetime). This makes it a convenient option for people. Many of my clients do enjoy having some, or all, of their sessions via video chat because it means they don’t have to take time out of their busy schedules to drive, park, and so on. They can just close their bedroom or office door, pick up the phone or log in, and away we go—very convenient.

Where feasible, I suggest trying out both ways—do a traditional, in-person therapy session and then try a video session—and see which format is the best fit for you.

Q: Why see a therapist? Why not just talk to a friend or someone in my family?
A: If you are blessed with caring, supportive family members and friends, by all means, share your feelings, goals, and dreams with those people. They are a big part of your support network, and their insights and encouragement can be very helpful. However, people who already know you might not always be completely objective when listening to you. For example, you may want to change your career, and you confess this dream to your wife. She may want to support you 100%, and try her very best to do so, but she may also be dealing with emotions of her own—such as anxietyabout how a career shift will change your lives, not to mention your income. These emotions could make it difficult for her to listen and support you objectively.

This is why working with a therapist can be so valuable. It’s a unique opportunity to share everything you’re feeling, and everything you want to create, without anyone interrupting you, imposing his or her own anxieties onto the conversation, or telling you that you’re “wrong” or that you “can’t.”

A therapy session is a space where you don’t have to worry about hurting anyone else’s feelings—you can be totally honest. It also means you have the potential to solve problems faster and with greater success. In the long run, that’s better for you and everyone else involved in your life, too.

To sum it up:
Therapy is a valuable tool that can help you to solve problems, set and achieve goals, improve your communication skills, or teach you new ways to track your emotions and keep your stress levels in check. It can help you to build the life, career, and relationship that you want. Does everybody needit? No. But if you are curious about working with a therapist, that curiosity is worth pursuing. Consider setting up one or two sessions, keep an open mind, and see how things unfold. You have very little to lose and, potentially, a lot of clarity, self-understanding, and long-lasting happiness to gain.

Suzanne Gelb, Ph.D., J.D, is a clinical psychologist and life coach. She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be: Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back—no matter what has happened in the past. Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TimeForbesNewsweekThe Huffington PostNBC‘s TodayThe Daily LovePositively Positive, and much more. Step into her virtual office, explore her blog, book a session, or sign up to receive a free meditation and her writings on health, happiness and self-respect.

When Teens Bully Themselves

Teens have long used phones and the internet to tease and even torture one another, but research increasingly reveals that a surprising number use social media to post, send, or share demeaning messages about themselves.

In a sample of more than 5,000 American students between the ages of 12 and 17, about 6 percent said they had anonymously posted something “mean” about themselves online, according to a report in the Journal of Adolescent Health by cyberbullying researchers Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja. This behavior correlates with depression, identification as a sexual minority, previous exposure to bullying, and with physical self-harm.

Like other forms of self-harm, deriding oneself online is a way to vent and relieve negative emotions, says Ellen Selkie, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the University of Michigan. Yet digital self-harm is often quite public, and the survey study found that seeking attention or a reaction were among the reasons participants gave for such message sharing. Adolescence is a time when peers become particularly important, Selkie explains, and posting self-critical content could be a way for teens to see whether others stand up for them or endorse the cruel comments.

How should adults respond? “There is no silver bullet, and each child and family and situation is different,” explains Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Get emergency help if harm to a child seems imminent, she advises. Mental-health professionals can screen for mood disorders and seek to uncover the motivation behind the behavior.

Otherwise, parents might initiate a conversation by mentioning what they noticed of the behavior and using gentle prompts to gather a sense of what happened. Empathy and careful listening—even a brief story of a time when the parent felt similarly—can help move the conversation forward.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201803/when-teens-bully-themselves

Raising Children With Mental Illness

By Melinda Cook | Oct. 05, 2018

 

My kids are all adopted from foster care. I got my girls when they were five and six, and my son came when he was seven. They all came from abusive or neglectful pasts and have struggled with their mental health since before they first stood on my doorstep. And before you ask: Yes, I had been fully prepped on their family histories before I adopted them.

My son’s official diagnosis is Disruptive and Dysregulated Mood Disorder with PTSD flashbacks. He has a family history of schizophrenia and had been severely abused by his birth family. Last year, a prank pulled on him by another boy triggered horrible memories that my son’s mind had locked away. Now, he hallucinates. He dissociates. He hears voices.

I remember sitting in a counselor’s office, staring intently at a picture on the wall as my son told the counselor about the voices he heard and the things he saw that I knew didn’t exist. My son talked about a hand that came over our car and a shadow that came out of his bedroom wall. I tried so hard to concentrate on the picture so I wouldn’t cry. It didn’t work. When the tears began to roll down my face, I was careful not to make a sound. The counselor noticed, so he spoke reassuringly to me, “A lot of things can make a person see things that are not there.”

My son explained how hard it is for him to determine that these things aren’t real, because they feel real to him. He just wanted them to stop. The counselor thanked my son for telling him about what happened and told him he believed him. We went from the counselor’s office to the psychiatrist’s office, where my son had to tell the story again. I never realized how tired you can get from just listening. I was exhausted, and nothing was even happening to me.

Sometimes, I try to imagine what my son is going through, and I wonder if I could get up the next day if I were him. I honestly don’t know. My children are the strongest people I know. They keep going, despite anything and everything that tries to stop them. And I do my very best to help as their mother.

Lessons To Follow

Raising children with mental health conditions is challenging. Patience can wear thin, because you want your child to do the things you need them to do. Frustration can leak into your communication. Walls can go up. Instead of loving each other, you feel like you’re at war.

When I really examined my frustrations, I noticed a lot of my anger came from a place of shame. I wanted my kids to act “appropriately” in public. When they didn’t, I would get frustrated. I cared more about what others thought of me than what my children thought of me—but that was getting my family nowhere. It especially wasn’t helping my children and their recovery.

If you’re a parent raising children with mental illness, I want more than anything for you not to make the same mistakes I made. So here are some of the most crucial lessons I’ve learned about supporting a child experiencing mental illness:

• A diagnosis provides a roadmap to recovery. How can you start on a journey if you don’t know your first step? Understanding your child’s diagnosis is critical. This knowledge can help you find ways to cope. For example, my son went through psychological testing after his

first suicide attempt. His symptoms had impaired his thinking so much that he lost three grade levels of reading comprehension. That was crushing to hear, since we had spent several years working to overcome his reading disability. But having him tested gave us a game plan.

• Open communication is key.  Make sure you’re not shutting off communication before you give your child a chance to explain how they feel. Don’t come to any conversation with the idea that you already know all the answers or how to fix everything. If we took all the energy we initially spend as parents trying to “fix” our children who live with mental illness and instead focused that energy on understanding them, we would get them the right help faster. It’s amazing the answers you can get and the solutions you can come up with together if you first start conversations with respect and empathy.

• Care for yourself, too.  It’s called self-care. When I first heard about it, I laughed. When do I have time for that? I’m a single parent. I work all day and then my kids need me. But what kind of “me” do they need? A healthy one, a happy one, a supportive one. So, plan time for yourself. Find an outlet. Find support. I love walking, blasting music when I drive by myself, writing, painting, gardening and anything that reminds me I am alive. I now know that the best parents are like flight attendants: If we hit rough patch and the oxygen masks drop, put your own mask on first before you help anyone else.

• A family crisis plan is crucial.  I learned in NAMI Family-to-Family that a mental health crisis plan needs to be in place before your family is in crisis. So, on a calm day, I asked each of my kids what we should we do if we have another mental health crisis. Their responses, to this day, are some of the most insightful and caring suggestions I have ever heard. My oldest daughter wanted consequences for someone not following family rules or hurting others. My middle daughter wanted us to “talk things out if things get bad.” My son’s contribution was that he wanted everyone to be kind. It’s funny; as parents, we have the answers if we just ask questions and listen.

Be The Reason Your Child Gets Help

Acceptance is the first step for a person’s mental health recovery. Self-acceptance is important, but just as important is receiving acceptance from loved ones. Accepting your child’s condition doesn’t mean that you aren’t scared. It just means that you see the problem for what it is—not the person as being the problem. We must accept and believe our loved ones to start getting them help. If we don’t, we run the risk of being the reason they don’t get help.

We can’t discount or ignore our loved ones’ thoughts, feelings and behaviors just because we don’t understand them or wish they were different. We have to do better than that. We need to seek to understand their reality. We need to truly listen to what they say. Do not listen to speak or refute, but listen to understand.

As parents, we must be open. We must be open to all there is to learn—even when something scares us. If we are open, then those living with mental illness (including our own children) have a chance. How many people are out there right now feeling alone, struggling with the fear of rejection from the ones they love because they hear voices or see hallucinations? How many are alone and feeling lost, but are more afraid of losing the ones they love than dealing with their mental anguish?

I remember thinking how simple and matter-of-fact my son’s counselor was when he said those three simple words, “I believe you.” I also remember how relieved my son seemed after he heard them. Odds are, your children won’t go to a counselor when they first feel something isn’t quite right. They’ll come to you. So please, stay open and believe them. Believe them so they don’t have to be alone. Believe them so they can get help. Believing may save their lives.

 

Melinda Cook is a 43-year-old single parent of three. Before she became a foster mother, she worked for a shelter for abused women and children. She is now a Certified Family Support Partner through the Department of Health and Welfare for The Family Resource Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a local counseling company. She began writing about her son’s experiences to help others and writes a blog at myfamilyunbottled.weebly.com.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/Raising-Children-with-Mental-Illness

We Want You Here

By Laura Greenstein | Sep. 24, 2018

 

Sometimes life can feel like a burden. It can feel like each day is a challenge. As if making it to your bed at the end of the day is like reaching the finish line of a long race. It can feel as if each interaction is a struggle. As if you only have a limited amount of oxygen, and each word you speak is a drain on your supply.

For those of you who have ever thought about suicide, you know this feeling all too well.

But you should know that you are so strong.

You’re strong for still being here even when your thoughts tell you that being alive isn’t worth the pain. You are strong for carrying the weight of it all on your shoulders for so long. For carrying it by yourself even while thinking you were alone in the way you feel—even while believing that no one and nothing out there could take off some of the weight.

But you should know that you are not alone.

We are a whole community of people who understand what you’re facing. And more than anything, we want to help you. You don’t have to go through this alone. We want you to ask us for help. We want to help you carry that heavy weight because we understand what it’s like to burden it alone. We may not know exactly what you’re facing, but we understand what it’s like to feel hopeless.

But you should know that there is hope.

There are resources. There is help. There is support. There is time. Time that forces everything to change. You may not feel okay today, but that is okay. The awful way you feel is not permanent. You may feel like you can’t bear the pain any longer, you may feel like you don’t have it in you to reach out for help, but you are stronger than you know, and we believe in you.

And you should know that you are worth it.

You are worthy. You are important. Your life is important. You deserve a place on this planet, and we deserve to have you with us.

And you should know that you are an inspiration. 

You have faced more than many can fathom and yet here you stand. Your strength is a source of hope for those who feel the same as you do. Not only should you feel comfortable telling us about your darkest moments, but we want to hear it.

And you should know there is no shame in your story.

To feel shame is, unfortunately, part of our experience. But it is not fair. It is not fair to yourself. Because the way you feel is not your fault. You should never blame yourself for your darkness. Your darkness if a part of your story, and we accept you.

More than anything, you should know that we want you here.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI. 

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2018/We-Want-You-Here

The Power To Create Change Comes From Within

By Katherine Ponte, BA, JD, MBA, NYCPS-P, CPRP | Oct. 24, 2018

 

Stigma is a shield created by society, made up of misunderstanding and fear of mental illness. When we look away from someone behaving erratically or “strangely” on the street, that’s the fear society ingrains in us. Perhaps we’re scared to consider the possibility that the same could happen to us; that we might be shunned by society, too.

The shield of stigma also stops us from seeking help for our own mental health. When faced with a stressful life event or emotional challenges, we might carry the hurt or confusion inside. Perhaps we avoid facing a potential diagnosis, so our illness only grows worse. Stigma facilitates mental illness turning into the “monster” it doesn’t have to be.

Social perceptions need to change. However, stigma is so deeply rooted in societal norms that it can take a long time to eradicate. And people like me, people living with mental illness, can’t wait on society to change. We need to live now. In fact, we need to be pioneers.

Our Experience Combats Stigma

First, we need to overcome our own belief in society’s fears. This requires finding hope, and specifically recognizing the possibility of recovery. Recovery from mental illness is living a full and productive life with mental illness. With this mindset, we can take ownership of our condition and live a fulfilling life. This can be one of the most powerful forces for change.

Stories of living fully with mental illness can help reshape society’s bias. They also provide inspiration and guidance for other people living with mental illness. This is the power of peer support and sharing lived experience. It creates a cycle of more people finding recovery, and then in turn, society seeing more positive examples of people living well with mental illness. Society needs to see what life with mental illness can and should be—a life of possibility, not a life sentence.

Our Experience Inspires Others

When people share their mental health journeys, it also helps set our own expectations. Recovery is hard and there is no smooth path to get there. It’s also not a cure, it requires continuous patience, discipline and determination. There will be stumbles and uncertainties along the way. This is the reality of mental illness. That’s why relatable, real-life examples are so valuable.

Knowing that others are going through similar challenges can help us build resilience. The result is self-empowerment by the example of others. We, the mental health community, rely less on the image society projects upon us, and instead focus on the image reflected to us by our peers. This is the power from within ourselves and our community.

I believe that this type of person-driven recovery has been overlooked as a way to combat social stigma. It’s become so ingrained that not even people with mental illness think recovery is possible. Too many of us allow society’s fears to become our own. Together, we can reverse the vicious cycle of stigma and instead, power the virtuous cycle of hope and recovery.

 

Katherine Ponte is a Mental Health Advocate and Entrepreneur. She is the founder of ForLikeMinds, the first online peer-based support community dedicated to people living with or supporting someone with mental illness and is in recovery from Bipolar I Disorder. She is on the NAMI New York City Board of Directors.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/The-Power-to-Create-Change-Comes-from-Within

The Problem With Yelling

“The problem with verbal abuse is there is no evidence,” Marta shared. She came for help with a long-standing depression.

“What do you mean, lack of evidence?” I asked her.

“When people are physically or sexually abused, it’s concrete and real. But verbal abuse is amorphous. I feel like if I told someone I was verbally abused, they’d think I was just complaining about being yelled at,” Marta explained.

“It’s much more than that,” I validated.

“The problem is no one can see my scars.” She knew intuitively that her depressionanxietyand deep-seated insecurity were wounds that stemmed from the verbal abuse she endured as a child.

“I wish I was beaten,” Marta shared on more than one occasion. “I’d feel more legitimate.”

Her statement was haunting and brought tears to my eyes.

Verbal abuse is so much more than getting scolded. Marta told me that there were many reasons her mother’s tirades were traumatizing:

  • The loud volume of her voice
  • The shrill tone of her voice
  • The dead look in her eyes
  • The critical, disdainful and scornful facial expression that made Marta feel hated
  • The long duration—sometimes her mother yelled for hours
  • The names and insults—you’re spoiled, disgusting and wretched
  • The unpredictability of that “flip of the switch” that turned her mother into someone else
  • And, perhaps worst of all, the abandonment

Being frequently yelled at changes the mind, brain and body in a multitude of ways including increasing the activity of the amygdala (the emotional brain), increasing stress hormones in the blood stream, increasing muscular tension and more. Being frequently yelled at as children changes how we think and feel about ourselves even after we become adults and leave home. That’s because the brain wires according to our experiences—we literally hear our parents’ voices yelling at us in our heads even when they’re not there.

Attachment and infant-mother research confirms what we all intuitively know: Humans do better when they feel safe and consistently loved, which means, among other things, being treated with respect. What is news to many of us is that we are born with fully matured, hard-wired, core emotions like sadness, fear and anger. And when fear, for example, is repeatedly triggered by a harsh environment, like one where there is a lot of yelling, automatic physical and emotional reactions occur that cause traumatic stress to a child. The stress in their little brains and bodies increases from anything that makes them feel attacked, including loud voices, angry voices, angry eyes, dismissive gestures and more.

Children do better when they are calm. The calmer and more connected the caregiver, the calmer and more secure the childAnd the healthier it is for the child’s brain and body. Knowing this, here are some things all parents can remember to help young brains develop well, by ensuring our children feel safe and secure.

  • Know that children have very real emotional needs that need proper tending. In general, the more these needs are met, the easier it will be for the child to be resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
  • Learning about core emotions will help your child successfully manage emotions.
  • You can affect your child’s self-esteem by being kind, compassionate and curious about their mind and world.
  • When a break in the relationship occurs, as often happens during conflicts, try to repair the emotional connection with your child as soon as possible.
  • You can help your child feel safe and secure by allowing them to separate from you and become their own person. Then welcoming them back with love and connection even when you are angry or disappointed in their behaviors.

When you’re a parent, it’s not easy to control your temper or realize when you’ve crossed the line into verbal abuse. There is a slippery slope between being a strict disciplinarian and traumatizing a young brain. A little awareness goes a long way. Being aware of one’s behavior, listening to our tone of voice and choice of words and watching our body language will keep us in check. Little children, who can act tough, defiant or even indifferent to our actions, are still vulnerable to trauma.

Our own childhood experiences—wonderful, horrible and everything in between—need to be remembered and honored. And we can all strive to help ourselves and our families evolve for the better: to increase the best, gentle experiences we received as children and reduce the painful ones. Marta, for example, worked hard to recover from her abuse. She strove to develop compassion for herself and self-soothe her distress, both necessary but challenging parts of healing.

Several years into our work together, Marta came in following a distressing weekend and shared an amazing experience. A fight with her mother had left her reeling: “I told myself, my distress will soon pass and I’ll be okay. I named, validated and felt the sadness in my body as I gave myself compassion. After I spent time with my feelings, I took a walk through the park and looked at nature. I felt better.”

Proud of the way she could now self-soothe, I said, “What a wonderful mother you were to yourself.”

 

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, is the author of It’s Not Always Depression (Random House & Penguin UK)a book which teaches both the general public and psychotherapists about emotions and how to work with them to feel better. She received her BA in biochemistry from Wesleyan University and an MSW from Fordham University. She is a certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor. She has published articles in The New York Times and professional journals. Hendel was also the Mental Health Consultant on AMC’s Mad Men. She lives in New York City. For more information and free resources for mental health visit: https://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com/

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2018/The-Problem-with-Yelling

Don’t Get Crushed by Anxiety

Have you ever felt hesitant about approaching someone you met eyes with? Or felt nervous talking to someone you’re interested in? Or felt a knot in your stomach while finding the courage to ask someone on a date? Most likely, you’ve experienced at least one—or maybe all—of these feelings, because anxiety and dating are a difficult pair to separate.

Dating enhances several of our deepest fears: rejection, being judged, getting emotionally wounded. It can be challenging to overcome these fears and put yourself out there. In fact, our dating culture has shaped itself around these fears in an attempt to make the process of dating “easier.” But in many ways, this evolution has made dating more complicated and anxiety-inducing than ever. Take, for example:

Meeting People Online

Many online websites and apps have been created so people can screen potential suitors before ever having to physically meet them. For those who engage in online dating, there is a multitude of new concerns to contend with: Is this person real or are they just “catfishing” (using a fake profile)? How are they going to perceive me based on my profile? What questions can I ask to get to know them? This is all before the anxiety of actually meeting the person.

Knowing “The Rules”

It has become the norm to refrain from showing too much interest in someone you’re getting to know. This standard has produced a set of unspoken “rules” for any person engaging in modern dating culture. Some of these rules include:

  • Don’t double text (i.e. send an additional text before the person responds to your first text). This makes you seem too eager.
  • Don’t call someone. This will likely be met with distaste and confusion because phone calls are essentially obsolete.
  • Don’t respond immediately to a text message. This makes it seem like you were sitting around waiting for them to text you.
  • Don’t “like” any old posts or photos on their social media. Otherwise, they will know you were “Facebook stalking” them, or intently monitoring or looking through their Facebook updates or history.
  • Don’t let them see you typing for too long on systems that show the other person when you are typing a message (e.g. iMessage, Facebook Messenger, etc.). Then they will know you were putting a lot of thought into saying the perfect thing.

If someone breaks these rules, they are typically perceived as desperate and unattractive. So if we like someone, we have to bury it away. It’s almost a competition of who can be less interested. How can our pride be hurt if our attitude is: “Oh I wasn’t really that into you anyway”?

Dealing With “Trendy” Rejections

The way people reject those they are casually dating is constantly changing based on what’s “in.” For a while, the trend was “ghosting,” or abruptly ignoring the person on every channel of communication. This causes the person rejected to anxiously wonder when the other person will respond and what they did so wrong. Similarly, there is also the “slow fade,” which is the same thing, except more drawn-out.

As if those trends weren’t bad enough, there’s a new one coined “breadcrumbing,” which is not being interested in someone, but continuing to lead them on. People who do this are trying to keep a person interested while they seek out other options.

How Can We Make This Easier?

With all these challenges (and more), it’s important to maintain your mental health when trying to connect with someone. And it’s important to remember that dating isn’t hopeless—even if you experience a mental health condition that makes it even harder. Here are a few things you can do to reduce your anxiety while dating:

️ Accept Yourself First

As cliché as it sounds, it is essential to love yourself and be happy with who you are before you add another person to the mix. A lot of dating anxiety happens because of insecurities within ourselves. Learning to be content and fulfilled while single before looking for a relationship is extremely helpful towards dating in a healthy way. When your happiness isn’t dependent on your search, you won’t put as much pressure on the situation or feel as anxious about every person you meet.

“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.” – Robert Holden 

️ Be You Always

Once you have accepted yourself, you will feel comfortable being open and honest about who you are. You will respect yourself and won’t waste your time playing the usual games to pique someone’s interest. If someone doesn’t like you or the fact that you are open with your feelings, then they’re not the type of person you should be with anyways.

️ Dismiss Exaggerated Thoughts

Thoughts that rev up anxious thoughts need to be either ignored or thought through in a logical way. For example: “I’ll be alone forever” is not a rational thought. Yes, you may have to wait to find someone, but most likely, you will not be alone for the entirety of your life. Being able to recognize that a thought is exaggerated can be helpful in minimizing your anxiety.

️ Know It’s Okay to Feel Anxious

It’s okay to feel nervous, awkward and uncomfortable when first meeting someone. And it’s also okay to tell them that when you meet them—chances are they feel the same way. After all, it’s human nature to feel nervous at the prospect of finding a partner.

 

Laura Greenstein is a communications coordinator at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/April-2017/Don-t-Get-Crushed-by-Anxiety

You’ll Be Happier If You Let Yourself Feel Bad

There’s a moment in Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray when the title character declares war on his feelings: “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions,” Dorian says. “I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” Basil Hallward, the artist who had painted Dorian’s portrait, becomes fearful of his subject’s newfound aggression: “You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you,” he says. But Dorian, in the throes of an existential crises, isn’t listening; he wants control, most especially over how he feels.

It’s not an uncommon desire. In fact, it may be a near-universal one. With varying levels of success, we try to hold on to good emotions and ward off the bad ones — but research suggests that those efforts, at least when it comes to negative feelings, may be misplaced.

For many, accepting our negative emotions appears counterproductive, especially because it gets in the way of what motivates us. Our negative emotions can act as catalysts and adrenaline boosts — nervousness in the face of a closing deadline, for instance, might help push you to finish your task on time. Often, though, people don’t use their negative emotions so productively; instead, many tend to get stuck in their negativity, spiraling downwards. It’s hard to accept your emotions — both positive and negative — and let them pass by. Dorian Gray certainly never could.

But studies have shown that the ability to embrace your negative feelings can provide a slew of benefits. Those who accept all their emotions without judgment tend to be less likely to ruminate on negativity, less likely to try to suppress mental experiences (which can backfire by amplifying these experiences), and less likely to experience negative “meta-emotional reactions,” like feeling upset about feeling upset. Or, as the authors of a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology put it: “When people accept (versus judge) their mental experiences, those experiences run their natural — and relatively short-lived — course, rather than being exacerbated.”

This latest study, led by University of Toronto assistant psychology professor Brett Ford, explored the link between one’s acceptance of negativity and one’s well-being. The researchers first set out to discover if and how the acceptance of negativity benefits psychological health, and whether this kind of acceptance works for everyone across socioeconomic, gender, and racial divides. Around 1,000 study subjects filled out surveys about their mindfulness, life satisfaction, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and the number of stressful events they’d been through over the course of their lives.

Ford and her colleagues found that those who accepted their negative feelings were, on average, also more psychologically healthy. They also found that the factor most strongly linked to participants’ well-being wasn’t a low-stress life — rather, it was the capacity to accept life’s difficulties and one’s own negative feelings nonjudgmentally.

On the face of it, this is a counterintuitive idea. A person with, say, no medical or financial issues — someone who should theoretically have low stress — ought to have greater well-being than a poorer, less healthy person who’s working 70 hours a week. And yet if the latter person is better at accepting the negative experiences that come with his objectively more difficult life, this study suggests, she may be happier than the person who has fewer stressors in life.

In order to further prove this apparent paradox, the researchers recruited 160 women, half of whom had experienced a life stressor “of at least moderate impact” within the past six months, to complete a neutral task (watching a movie clip) and then a stressful task (giving a three-minute video-recorded speech on their job qualifications in front of an audience). During both tasks, the women rated their own emotional experiences; once again, Ford found that the people who were more accepting of their negative mental states reported less intense negative feelings.

Finally, to test their findings with a more diverse set of participants, Ford and her colleagues had 222 men and women complete diary entries every night for two straight weeks, making note each night of the stressful events they’d experienced during the day. Some reported particularly high-stress moments, like receiving a phone call from a son in prison, while others had mostly mild stressors, like low-key arguments with a romantic partner. For each entry, participants also rated the extent to which they felt 12 negative emotions: sad, hopeless, lonely, distressed, angry, irritable, hostile, anxious, worried, nervous, ashamed, and guilty.

Once again, acceptance was associated with greater psychological health, but with an added layer of nuance: The correlations showed that accepting negative situations was not associated with increased psychological health. Rather, it was the acceptance of one’s state of mind that came from negative situations that best indicated psychological well-being.

Taken together, Ford says, the results across all three experiments “underscore the broad relevance of acceptance as a useful tool for many people.”

“The overall take-home message is that emotions are naturally short-lived experiences,” she says, and if we let them wash over us instead of trying to push them away, “these emotional experiences would actually pass relatively quickly.”

Still, opening your arms to all your negative feelings is easier said than done in a culture where happiness is considered a virtue. We tend to valorize the pursuit of positivity, while ignoring or dismissing the importance of a well-rounded emotional experience. Happiness, the thinking still often goes, is the absence of negativity rather than the acceptance of it. But the research says otherwise — you can’t always control your emotions, but you can control how you respond to them. Sometimes it’s best to let yourself feel okay about feeling bad.

By 

https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/youll-be-happier-if-you-let-yourself-feel-bad.html