Archive for January, 2013

Understanding Anger in the Aftermath of Trauma and Disaster

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

“Is Anyone Else Angry?”

anger and traumaTrauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.

Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.

  • You are not alone if you feel angry about what has happened.
  • Essentially you are suffering. The problem is that when anger persists–it obscures everything else.
  • The ability to make meaning of it and redirect it, keeps it from holding you back and taking more from you.

Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.

Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response

It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.

The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.

  • We blow up at the relatives who keep asking if everything is starting to get easier.
  • We storm off the line that feels too long at Starbucks.
  • We find ourselves fighting over everything with our partner.
  • We are driving faster and yelling more than usual.

Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.

One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …


The Sandwich Generation: Surviving Emotional Challenges

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

sandwich generationIf you have ever been on the way to visit your son at college when you get a call that your parent has fallen—You know about the Sandwich Generation.

If you and your wife have just arranged for your Mom to move in when your daughter asks if she, her husband and their dog can return home for just a month—You know about the Sandwich Generation.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent. Dubbed the “ sandwich generation” this ever-increasing group of baby boomers is caring for the needs of family members on both sides.

  • Most will tell you they would never give up the opportunity to care for their loved ones.
  • Most will also agree–This is no easy task!

While dealing with the demands of time, finances, medical appointments, school schedules, transportation, food choices and insurances forms is no small feat, it is often dealing with the emotions inherent in this dual caring that presents the greatest challenges.

Understanding some of these emotional challenges offers some Sandwich Generation Survival Techniques.

The Emotional Challenges

Legacy Dynamics

  • For most people their closest genetic connections, their major source of identity, their earliest experience of attachment and their greatest fear of loss involve their parents and their children.
  • As such, with either group, the wish to please and the fear of judgment is very high.
  • When the care of both groups is needed at the same time, the stakes are higher and the stress on the caregiver, much greater.
  • Given the historical pull and unconscious stirrings, many in the sandwich generations have a far more difficult time saying “No” to an aging parent or adult child than to a spouse with whom they have a clearer adult relationship.

Being in The Middle of the Sandwich

Adding to the strain, the sandwich generation is “ in the middle” in literal and emotional ways. Often they actually are subject to judgment from both sides. It is no coincidence that these folks are often very similar – They do say traits …


How To Tell The Kids About Divorce? An Ongoing Parenting Process

Monday, January 7th, 2013

tell kids about divorcePerhaps even more difficult than the realization that a marriage is ending, is the realization that the children must be told.

Regardless of how different a couple’s views may be on what did or didn’t happen in their marriage, most agree that the children need to be spared as much disruption and distress as possible.

Accordingly, most will follow the recommendations of experts to tell the children together in words suitable to their comprehension level–that Mom and Dad will be separating; that they are loved by both Mom and Dad; that they are not to blame; that sometimes Moms and Dads realize that they are no longer happy together; that some things will change but lots of things will stay the same; that Mom and Dad will still be there for them; that everyone will try to talk about changes so that everyone can feel ok….

Since there are no perfect words to make the loss of the familiar family context sound great to a child, adolescent or young adult, it is worth recognizing that “ telling the children” is only the start of an ongoing parenting process that needs to keep unfolding after the first sit-down takes place.

As you take on this parenting process, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

It’s Not Just What You Say—It’s What You Do.

Be prepared to be ignored, rebuffed or heartbroken by your child’s initial response. Much like adults who are told about something that will change their lives–the initial reactions of children may well be their best attempt to cope.

  • Some young ones will say nothing and simply go play.
  • Some school age kids will burst into tears, or voice worry that everything in their life like school friends, sports, and the bus stop will now be lost.
  • Some teens will begin blaming one or both parents.
  • Some college age kids will validate the decision, “ It’s about time!”

Being patient, voicing understanding, allowing time, validating feelings, or just being a compassionate presence (to a little one who goes off to play alone or a teen who needs a …


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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