Could You Be Suffering from the Summertime Blues?

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

file1691345353992Summer is in full swing and all around you, people seem to be enjoying themselves. Happy to be outdoors, puttering in the garden, reading cheesy novels, going to the beach or nearby parks for picnics. Not only do you not get it, you feel worse just seeing their rosy complexions. Like Scrooge at Christmas, you want to scream “Baaaah humbug!” but nobody wants to hear your complaints.

Or perhaps it’s not you but one of your kids or your mate who is cranky and out of sorts. What’s going on? It may be a bad case of the summertime blues.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Might Be the Problem

Most people, if they even know about SAD, think of it as a type of depression that occurs each year in the winter–especially in places with long winter nights and little sunshine. Like other forms of depression, SAD occurs more often in women than in men and can first occur either in adolescence or adulthood.

file0001006380164What many people, including psychotherapists, do not know is that a small but significant percentage of people have recurrent bouts of depression every year in the summer. While the winter blues typically make people withdrawn and lethargic, craving carbohydrates, oversleeping and overeating, the effects of summer depression are the opposite.

In the summer version of SAD, people get agitated, anxious, and irritable, struggling to get enough sleep. Since they also lose their appetite, they often lose weight. As with other depressions, they can struggle with suicidal thoughts.

No one knows exactly why summer affects people in these ways, but there seems to be three ways the season triggers symptoms. Some people are the most bothered by excessive sunlight, others by excessive heat, and a third cause is the disruption of the daily body cycles called circadian rhythms.

file801343155029Bipolar Disorder Might Be the Problem

Another cause of increased problems in the summer can be due to bipolar disorder. Too much light exposure can provoke mania in the same way that too little light can bring on bouts of depression. In fact, hospitalizations for mania peak in the summer months. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Bipolar 1, it makes sense to be on the lookout for signs of mania. For those with Bipolar 2, summer can bring on hypomanic episodes or a less severe form of mania.

In either case, the symptoms to watch out for include increased levels of agitation and hyperactivity; a persistently elevated, extra happy mood; rapid thoughts and speech, with increased talking more than usual; an increase in sexual desire; an increase in daily activity. Other warning signs might be the desire to go out every night, drink excessively or use drugs, spend too much money, make new friends, or start new activities.

These symptoms, especially as they are ramping up, can be difficult to spot. Why? Because they look like the way everyone else is happily enjoying the summer months. And also, for those used to being depressed, feeling a bit hypomanic is like a breath of fresh air until things careen out of control.

images-2Increased Stresses Might Be the Problem

The first two explanations involve very real, biological conditions that affect millions of people each summer. There are many others who struggle more in the summer because of stresses brought about by the season. One problem has to do with what our expectations are for ourselves or our families.

One possibility is that you had great expectations for how wonderful summer was going to be and, unfortunately, it is just turning out to be like the rest of the days of the year. If you are like most Americans, you don’t get the summer off of work and with the kids out of school, there is more than ever to be done at home.

Many parents worry about money because summers can be expensive. If you’re a working parent–which most people in America are–you may have to fork over lots of money to summer camps or babysitters to keep your kids occupied while on the job. On top of that, the kids often add to the stress.

With less structure, many kids fight more with siblings and complain about boredom or about being forced to go to camp when all they want to do is “hang out” (translate “get into trouble” thinks the parent) with their friends. Tensions rise especially on hot muggy days or when parents don’t get enough down time for themselves.

Another trigger for summertime blues can be caused by body image issues. As the temperature climbs, many people–both adults and children and teens most of all–feel terribly self-conscious about their bodies. If you don’t feel comfortable in shorts or a bathing suit, summers can be painfully long. Since many summer events revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations out of embarrassment.

file0001465805005What Can You Do with the Summertime Blues?

If you or a loved one suffer from SAD, bipolar disorder, or depression, it is always best to get whatever professional help you need, and to get social support and daily structures in place. If you’ve had depression or mania before, you probably already have learned that having a reliable routine is often key to staving off symptoms. Check out this blog to get more ideas.

Just because it is summer, don’t throw bedtimes and wake-up times out the window. Everyone–adults and kids alike–does better with life’s inevitable stresses when we get enough sleep, exercise and regular meals. If you are parents, don’t abandon date nights or time with friends just because it’s summer.

Try to have reasonable expectations of yourself and your loved ones. There is nothing wrong with you if you find summer MORE difficult than the school year and don’t be afraid to say so. Just knowing that you are not alone can be the first step toward reclaiming your sanity. Allow yourself some regular baaah humbugs and scream out a bit of your frustration while file000908406355swimming underwater in the pool. It might even help to count the days until Labor Day when the kids go back to school and life returns to “normal”.

If all else fails, put any one of the many versions of the great old song, “Summertime Blues,” on your iPod, crank up the music and sing along. There’s good reason this 1958 song has been covered by bands from the Beach Boys to Alan Jackson to Springsteen. Even Alvin and the Chipmunks chirped it out.



The Aftermath of the Isla Vista Massacre: What Can Be Learned

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

imagesThe tragedy in Isla Vista has left my precious Santa Barbara community—and the nation—reeling. The senseless violence, claiming the lives of innocent young people, has stimulated many different conversations…Conversations about mental illness, about more stringent gun control laws, about violence against women, about inappropriate parenting and the rise of narcissism.

No one, myself included, wants to accept that we are utterly powerless, and that the rising tide of mass murders cannot be stopped. We should all be asking ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues, our communities and our government officials—what can we learn from Isla Vista, from Newtown, from Aurora, from Columbine?

Is there anything we can do to prevent this kind of violence in the future? Even if we only make a dent in the numbers, we will have made a difference. There will not be one answer or a quick fix. Hopefully, we will respond on many levels.

The Mental Illness Issue

When stories about mass murder break, spotlights are often focused on mental illness. Experts and armchair therapists alike weigh in on possible diagnoses, lack of adequate or appropriate treatment, and decry the culpability of parents, psychiatrists, and an underfunded mental health system. Although an important part of the story, it is only one piece of the larger puzzle.

images-2What are the dangers of limiting ourselves to the conclusion that these crimes are the result of improperly treated mental illness? One negative outcome is that we further stigmatize all forms of mental illness—including the many diagnoses that have no significant correlation with violence at all.

For example, in the case of the I.V. massacre, the perpetrator was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. What most of the reporters failed to mention was that people with Asperger’s or other autism spectrum disorders are not typically violent. In fact, people suffering from these and other mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

In the absence of more complete and accurate information about mental disorders–putting horrific crimes like this into a broader context–we increase levels of fear in our culture about all those who are challenged or appear different. This increase in fear and prejudice can further isolate the very people who need more of our attention or more community resources to ensure their and our health and safety.

The Issue of Violence and Guns

Let’s start with the facts…most violent crimes are not committed by the mentally ill at all. When this issue was highlighted after the Aurora movie theater shooting, Time magazine reported that “looking at the rates of violent crime overall — homicide, for instance — the best estimate is that 5% to 10% of murders are committed by people with mental illness.”

file8011255018400Here’s the tragic (although not high drama) everyday-decades-long-REAL news:

Most violence in America is perpetrated against family members, partners, friends and neighbors—not strangers. From 1993 to 2008, among homicides reported to the FBI for which the victim-offender relationship was known, between 73% and 79% of homicides were committed by offenders known to the victims.

According to recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice, between 1993 and 2011, around 70% of all homicides and less than 10% of all nonfatal violent crimes were committed with guns. Most crimes of gun violence are committed by young men, ages 18 to 24. Issues of mental illness emerge as more significant in mass murders. However, in the past, the NRA has opposed backgrounds checks even for those diagnosed as severely mentally ill with a history of violence. Are we perhaps ready to do something different now?

file5631341282243Even though we have the highest rates of imprisoning people in the world, America has not solved the problem of violent crime. If both sides of the political fence really wanted to curtail violent crime, America would follow the lead of Australia and pass significant gun control laws to protect us from each other.

Passed in 1996 after a mass shooting left 35 dead in Tasmania, Australia’s law banned semiautomatic and automatic rifles and also established a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons. Not only have homicide rates since gone down but suicide fatalities were lowered enormously as a result of gun control.

Given that homicide and suicide are the second and third leading causes of death among teens aged 15 to 19, this is a public health issue of enormous significance. Each day in America, 5 children or teens commit suicide and 7 children or teens are killed by guns. What might happen if this statistic was featured every day on the nightly news?

file000623936896The Issue of Violence Against Women

In the aftermath of the killer’s 140 page “manifesto” and his multiple YouTube and Facebook rants, millions of women have been publicly sharing their experiences with sexism, violence and misogyny. They are being joined by men  on Twitter, in blogs, and in op-eds around the country.

In response to outcry about the killer’s premeditated violence and hateful rant towards women, the Twitter response #NotAllMen began to surface. In a collective display of female protest, #Yes All Women was born. Here is a taste of the ongoing conversation…

#NotAllMen are murderers and rapists! (Most women of course know this already).

Here is a tiny sample of responses…

#YesAllWomen when the cops ask me “What were you wearing?” when I reported an attack and attempted rape.

#YesAllWomen because the odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067, while a woman’s odds of being sexually assaulted are 1 in 6. And being afraid of sharks is seen as rational while being cautious of men is sexist and “bitchy”.

#NotAllMen are the same but #YesAllWomen live in fear of not knowing the difference between a genuinely nice guy and a potential attacker.

file000244831962Although some of the conversation has included angry and misogynistic rants, thousands of men are adding their voices of solidarity to the conversation. Author Neil Gaiman wrote, “The hashtag NotAllWomen is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathize & try to understand & know I never entirely will.”

Or, in the words of New York Times writer, Charles Blow, “Fighting sexism and misogyny isn’t just women’s work.” It will take men joining in the battle. Yes, all men. Given the magnitude of the oppression of women worldwide, this conversation might start to break down barriers between men and women, raising awareness globally through social media.

Violence Grows with Income Inequality

I’d like to add one more thread for reflection. There is building evidence that as the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, violence becomes more and more commonplace. Measuring the level of income inequality may turn out to a better predictor of violence than almost anything else we can think of.

file9711283703792Harvard’s Ichiro Kawachi, M.D. and psychologist Bruce Kennedy discuss this and other issues in The Health of Nations: Why Inequality is Harmful to Your Health. Their much lauded book examines a number of indicators of health, on which the U.S. is slipping, contending that our “consumption cancer” has led to many of our most serious problems, including the rise of violent crime.

With more people working longer and longer hours, we spend less time with families and friends. These factors lead, they argue, to higher rates of violent crime and incarceration, to weakened social bonds and to the outsourcing of the care of our children. We all know the adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” but where have all our villages gone?

file000443155139Let’s Keep These Conversations Going

What can each of us do, starting today, to make the world a kinder, safer place for our families? These are conversations that we need to keep on having until we see evidence of change for the better.

If more and more people ask the hard questions and we practice more compassionate listening, with representation from all political persuasions, races, genders, ages and social classes, perhaps then, and only then, will the I.V. tragedy and all the other senseless mass crimes have served a broader purpose. To engender hope for a more peaceful future, we must rebuild our communities and stand up against the fear and hatred that so readily lead to violence.

Let’s keep the difficult, deeper conversations going this time.

 



How to Eliminate Envy & Practice Empathy

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

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The White family overwhelms my office with noise and activity from the first moment they arrive for family therapy. The three boys, aged 6, 10, and 13, immediately begin to argue over who sits where.

Pouncing on one another’s laps, they push and poke. The youngest one screams as though he has been mortally wounded. Mom and Dad make a feeble attempt to create order out of chaos but they are clearly outnumbered.

Is this normal sibling rivalry? (After all, boys will be boys). Almost anyone who grew up with siblings, particularly those fairly close in age, will not have trouble imagining this scene or one like it.

Didn’t you fight over who got to sit in the front seat of the car (before the laws changed), who decided what channel the TV would be on, or who got first dibs at the dinner table? Or was it about who mom loved best?

Sibling Rivalry is Normal–and Annoyingimages-1

I’ve listened to so many couples arguing about whether or not their kids are normal…

“It’s way too much!” insists Sylvia. “They might kill each other.” Her husband Sam rolls his eyes. “You never had brothers–girls are different!”

The parents sounded like two kids fighting over the rules of a game. The truth is–no one knows just how much is normal since it depends on the “rules” that silently govern each family.

Depending on your culture, your ethnicity, your gender, your age, the size of your family, and the rules of the family you grew up in, what seems inappropriate or out of control to one family can seem funny or like normal bickering to another.

That being said, one of the most frequent complaints I hear from parents is about the incessant fighting between the kids. If the conflict in your family is driving you crazy, perhaps it’s time to turn the volume down to the extent that you can. The first step is to understand what all the fighting is for.

imagesThe Roots of Envy

Envy is the feeling we get when we want what someone else has. The Webster dictionary describes it as a “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” This feeling can range from mild and occasional to chronic and all-consuming.

The roots of envy begin with the family for the simple reason that babies and children need the care and feeding from adults in order to survive. Beyond basic survival, human beings also desire love and attention.

If we grow up feeling like we “got enough” (what’s enough, really?) positive attention, touch, food, protection, time, love…then we grow up less likely to be consumed with envy. If we grew up feeling deprived of many of our fundamental needs, then envy is often more pronounced.

The Positive Side of Envyimages-4

Our bodies and minds are built to help us survive and thrive. When the body is hungry or thirsty, it propels us to seek food and water. The same is true for psychological and emotional needs. The positive side of envy is the yearning for something more or something better.

It is the desire to reach the bottle or the toy that pushes the baby to crawl and the desire to explore that makes us stand and walk. As we get older, we learn by comparing ourselves to others and model what we see our parents, siblings or peers do. A little bit of envy is a great motivator. If you believe that you can get what you want by trying harder, then envy can provide the proverbial kick in the butt. It can help us save money, lose weight, or practice good manners.

images-2Obsessive Envy is a Symptom

“As iron is eaten by rust, so are the envious consumed by envy.” -Antisthenes

But too much envy can destroy relationships. I’ve seen families who treat each other like enemies–lying, cheating, backstabbing, gossiping, spreading rumors about each other. Then there are those who no longer speak to one another.

Parental envy also flares up in many families. Envious parents angrily insist that their children have it too easy. One mother sneered when she told me her daughter “was born with a silver spoon in her mouth”. Instead of being proud of her daughter’s graduation from college, she was burning with jealousy because she had to work at a tedious job to help support her disabled parents.

Envy couples the feeling of disappointment and longing with the belief that “IT’S NOT FAIR!” The envious person struggles to come to terms with the fact that someone else has the beauty, power, talent, wealth (fill in the blank….) that he or she craves.

Eliminate Envy for Your Own Sakefile4801310649783

Unsurprisingly, psychological research reveals that envy decreases life satisfaction and well-being. Envy is closely correlated with depression, and the hostility it breeds can literally make us sick and unhappy. Initially feeling deprived or victimized as a child can lead to an adult feeling victimized by the world.

When we are unable to accept that life often dishes out good things to “bad” people and bad things to the “good” ones then envy is the symptom of deeply held resentment. Recognizing this as a universal dilemma, all the world’s religions have addressed the subject of envy.

As the essayist Joseph Epstein noted, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all. Sloth may not seem that enjoyable, nor anger either, but giving way to deep laziness has its pleasures, and the expression of anger entails a release that is not without its small delights.” Envy pains the person who secretly feels its burning bitterness.

Tips to Substitute Empathy for Envyimages-3

If you are a parent…

If you are wanting to be less envious yourself…

  • Remind yourself that envy will only make you more bitter and angry, sickening you.
  • Notice when the thought “it’s not fair” pops in. Gently remind yourself that life isn’t always fair.
  • Following the guidance of “The Serenity Prayer”, make a list of what you can change and what you can’t. Focus on what action you can take to get more of what you want. Focus on acceptance for the parts that cannot change.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal listing 3 or 4 things each day that you are grateful for.
  • When you find yourself comparing yourself to someone you envy, remind yourself that you really have no idea about what lurks beneath the surface in that person’s life. All human beings-rich or poor-face inevitable losses.
  • Remember that we are all in the same boat together in this voyage called life. Empathy brings us together and envy tears us apart.

 

 

 



Depressed? 6 Tips to Help Find Your Soul

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

file000623936896Ashley burst into tears within a few moments of sitting down in my office. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I have a loving husband and two precious children. I work out a lot and I eat well–at least most of the time. I have really great girlfriends although I never get enough time with them. I just don’t know who I am any more…and I don’t know where I lost myself.”

It didn’t take long for Ashley and I to uncover the source of her despair. Like so many of us, the noisiness of all the external demands of life had drowned out the needs of Ashley’s inner voice. She was taking quite good care of herself on the outside but simultaneously ignoring her emotional vulnerability, her desire for quiet alone time, and her connection to her soul.

Are You Tending Your Own Garden?Hummingbird

One of the most important lessons I have had to learn (often the hard way)–and continue to teach the many parents who come for counseling–is how important it is to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others. I often use the metaphor of a garden because even the most beautiful garden, if left unattended, will eventually wither and die.

Just as plants need water, healthy soil and regular weeding, so do budding humans need care and attention in order to thrive. Perhaps this seems obvious (as truth often does), but most of us get so caught up in taking care of the kids, the house, the job and all the other responsibilities of daily life that we simply forget ourselves or run out of time to listen to the crying of our soul’s deep inner longings.

file0001304805699What About Your Inner World?

“Scarcity of self value cannot be remedied by money, recognition, affection, attention or influence.” ~Gary Zukav

Most of us know by now–and are constantly reminded by self-help literature and blogs–that we need to tend to our physical bodies in order to remain strong, healthy and happy. We know that we should get regular exercise, eat well, and sleep eight hours a night. Many people are unable to accomplish this due to the incessant demands of work and family, but physical self-care is at least on our radar.

But this is only half of what it takes to feel happy. The rest is an inside job. If we do not truly love ourselves and make time to listen to the small quiet voice within, we can look good on the outside but feel empty, depressed or at worst, remain full of self-loathing. What can we do to water our deepest roots?

file0001631987134Ways to Deepen Your Connection to Self

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~Jean Shinoda Bolen

Tip #1: Slow down long enough to savor sweet moments rather than rushing to the next thing to do.

Find a time each day when you can create a ritual of listening within. Think of a time when you are alone if only for five or ten minutes. This is going to be your daily check-in time. Create a sanctuary in your home or backyard or nearby park where you can find quiet or listen to the sounds of nature. Ask yourself in these quiet moments, what nourishes my soul?

file0001465805005Tip #2: Notice what is going on in your body.

Take a few deep breaths and allow the daily residue of tension to flow out of your body as you breathe into your belly. Are you hungry or full? Do you need to stretch out some muscles? Thank your body for helping you get through your busy day. Ask yourself, what does my body need to feel more alive?

Tip #3: Notice what you are feeling and allow your feelings to emerge without judging them.

Often, when we get in touch with ourselves after being out of touch, we feel “worse” before we begin to feel better. This is because we have spent so much time attuned to the outer world that our feelings have often built up inside and are ready to be released. Allow yourself to cry if you need to. Lean into your feelings rather than shoving them away. Ask yourself, what are my feelings telling me about what I need to feel more peaceful?

file000745356389“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Tip #4: Take a moment each day to acknowledge your accomplishments and appreciate yourself for all that you are and all that you are trying to be.

When you hear the self-critical voice that reprimands you for everything you are NOT doing, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can, and that no one ever gets it all done. Although it is much easier to feel good about yourself when your outside world is in order, our ultimate goal is not to be a human doing but a kind and loving human being. Notice and appreciate yourself for any small steps in the right direction.

photo copyTip #5: Start a journal to keep track of your inner process.

Make this learning process something that you enjoy rather than a chore. Ask yourself questions to get to know what is going on deep inside you. Allow the answers to your questions to emerge over time. You might find answers in dreams, embedded in a book that you are reading, through prayer or meditation, or through signs you see in nature. Cherish the answers even when they scare you. Be patient when the answers don’t come right away. Keep track of who you are becoming.

file451264266022Tip #6: Imagine that your soul, your deepest essence, is a secret garden.

What does your garden look like now? What do you want it to look like a year from now or five years from now? What colors do you cherish? What birds and animals come to your sanctuary? What changes do the seasons bring? Is it sculptured and tidy or wild and overgrown?

Begin today to build this garden in your imagination. This is your safe haven, your place of quiet, your deep inner world. There is no other garden like it in the whole world. Nothing in the outer world has the capacity to affect it. It is always there even when you get to busy to visit. It will always be there…waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



6 Tips for Breaking the Blame Barrier

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHardly a day ever goes by when I don’t hear someone blaming someone for something. It is one of the most common–and one of the most frustrating patterns that confront couples and families. Blame can destroy a good marriage, wreak havoc on our friendships, and put innocent kids in the middle of their parents’ arguments.

Not only are families besieged by this destructive pattern, the whole culture is mired in it. We blame the President; the Democrats blame the Republicans and vice versa; women blame men; consumers blame companies; patients blame their doctors. The dance goes on and on all around us. Is there any way to break through the blame barrier and why should we even attempt to do so?

file0001915505944Here’s what it sounds like? Sound familiar?

  • “You never listen to me. If you had just listened, you would have remembered what time we were meeting.”
  • “You started that whole thing with your brother. One of you always gets hurt when you rough house like that.”
  • “If you stopped nagging me all the time, I would want to ask you for a date night.”

So Why Do We Blame Others?

file000390505026If blaming is so universal, there must be some reason for it. In fact, there are loads of reasons to blame someone else for things that go wrong.

We actually believe that we are right. Since the time human beings lived together in tribes and villages, there had to be laws to govern our behavior. Rules and laws are typically black and white with a right and a wrong answer. You are guilty or not guilty of a crime. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, we simply apply this black and white reasoning (whether or not it is helpful or endearing) to our partner or child’s behavior.

We are blind to our side of an interaction. Most all of us are trained to see the world in a linear sequence: A causes B. In order to survive, we had to learn about the nature of cause and effect. If I poke the dog, he will bite me. If you put your finger in the fire, it will burn you. In our relationships, we see the other person as causing our behavior or reaction. We can be fully unaware of the look on our face that pushed the other person’s button. The blame game is a circular sequence. Both people are simultaneously the cause and the effect of the destructive pattern.

file801343155029We know that we are part of the problem but are too scared, hurt or angry to admit it. Although we all know the expression “It takes two to tango,” it takes strength and courage to admit when we have messed up. Sometimes people continue to blame because they do not feel safe being vulnerable and open.

We have gotten into a bad habit which we have practiced for years. We have all seen so much blame tossed around in our culture and endlessly modeled in the media, that it is a wonder that anyone knows how to break through the blame barrier. On top of this, if we grew up in a household with lots of criticism or shaming, then the habit of criticism and defensiveness, attack and counterattack, looks normal.

file1641270046741So Why Break the Blame Barrier?

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.” -Katherine Hepburn

Even if you somehow imagine that the blame game is working for you, your partner or child might tell you otherwise. Here are some of the reasons to stop and desist before blame erodes the positive feelings in your family…

You can feel close again. Although I certainly understand the desire to be close AND be right, they happen to be mutually exclusive options. When I hold on to the belief that I am right (and you are wrong), my self-righteousness is readily apparent to my loved one whether I know it or not.

file7281249918714You can move from the role of victim to the role of lead actor or actress in your life saga. As Kathryn Hepburn so wisely pointed out, the only part of the dance that we can change is our part. This is the often dreaded fourth step in 12-step programs (taking your own inventory not someone else’s) and is step one in breaking the blame barrier.

When you blame someone else, it casts you in the role of their victim. It is far more self-empowering to take responsibility for your part in the deadly sequence. (Here’s a blog about the downside of trying to change your partner instead of yourself).

You can learn much more about yourself and your loved ones. If you remain convinced that you are right and he is wrong then you are unlikely to be open to discovering what lies behind the hurtful behavior. If you move off of blame, you can become more like a detective and less like a judge.

file000502923682How Can I Break Through the Blame Barrier?

“Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” -Chinese Proverb

If you want to stop this destructive pattern, the first step is to make it your clear intention to do so. Ideally, you and your partner will agree to work towards this goal together. If not, you can still change your part (remembering it takes two to tango). The longer the pattern has persisted, the more time and practice it will take to break the habit so be patient. (More tips on changing habits here).

When you notice that you are starting to criticize and blame, here are some things to remember:

  • Tip #1: Ask yourself: Do I want to be right or to be close–I can’t have both.file2891267272952

  • Tip #2: Give your partner or child the benefit of the doubt. Imagine the other person is doing their best and isn’t trying to hurt you or do or say the wrong thing.

  • Tip #3: Cultivate curiosity rather than assuming what someone else is thinking or feeling. Inquire about what might be going on for the other person that is causing them to respond in such a manner.

  • Tip #4: Be quiet and take a few deep breaths so that you don’t get reactive.

  • Tip #5: Take a break from the discussion. Have a word that you both use when one of you notices the blame game creeping up on you.

  • Tip #6: Remember that you love each other. To err is so very human. Practice apologizing and forgiving over and over as long as it takes to get good at it.

One of my favorite mantras comes from the peace activists, Thich Nhat Hanh, who breaks the barrier peacefully and with great compassion. His advice is: “No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

 

 

 

 

 



10 Tips to Manage Stress More Effectively

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA—Countless research studies have underscored how anxiety and depression correlate significantly with an individual’s sense of control or lack of control over his or her own destiny. The same thing is true when it comes to stress.

In fact, given our mortality combined with our lack of control over so much of life, stress goes hand in hand with being human. Although we can’t make all our stresses disappear with a magic wand, we can learn to cope more effectively with stress so it doesn’t kill us.

(Although don’t all of us secretly long for a fairy godmother or a genie who will grant us three wishes and remove all the suffering in the world? I know I do).

Stress is a complicated process that affects us on every level–physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Because of this, we need a holistic approach to build our resilience. It is best to work with all four levels but start wherever you know you are weakest, and build your stress-proof muscles one day at a time. Until the fairy godmother comes around, here are some lifelong practices that will help immunize you against stress.

_DSC4245Stress & the Body

Stress stimulates our fight/flight response, sending the signal to our bodies that we need to run for the hills or turn and face a threatening attacker. Our bodies rush with adrenaline and our heart rate quickens. What are the best tools to help the body recover?

Tip #1: Practice deep breathing and get regular exercise. The fastest way to calm down your nervous system is with your breath. Learn how to breathe from your belly. This is taught in yoga, in voice lessons, in self-hypnosis, and in instructional videos on line. No one thinks twice about brushing their teeth every day. If you practice self-relaxation or meditation for ten minutes twice a day for the rest of your life, you will be more able to remember how to calm your emotions when you need to do so quickly.

file451264266022It is especially helpful to get aerobic exercise because you can simultaneously breathe deeply and work out the aftereffects of stress on your body. That being said, even walking briskly, climbing stairs instead of the elevator or dancing in your living room count.

Tip #2: Spend time outdoors in nature. Numerous studies have proven that nature heals. Kids learn more in schools that have regular outdoor activities and hospital patients heal faster when they can look out windows and see natural landscapes. Even a short walk on the beach, lazing in your backyard, or sitting on a park bench will do the trick.

Tip #3: Eat healthy meals with people you love. Too many people turn to bad food habits when stressed, either eating junk food or too much food for the comfort, or missing meals for lack of time. Fill your shelves and refrigerator with healthy alternatives so you won’t be tempted, and pack protein snacks that you can take with you to work or when pressed for time.

file0001052648856Stress & the Mind

Cognitive therapy teaches people how to question their fearful, negative beliefs and to substitute them with more accurate, less stress-inducing beliefs, and these tools have been widely shown in the laboratory to be effective in altering the nature of our negative emotional responses.

Tip #4: Don’t take things that other people do or say (or fail to do or say) personally. A good mantra to reinforce this perspective is, “It’s not about me!” This is easy in principle but often difficult in practice especially with those closest to us who seem to be pushing our buttons deliberately.

file000935340585If you need reminders about learning how to respond when your buttons get pushed, check out this blog. Remind yourself that everyone else is stressed out too, struggling to regulate their emotions and often failing miserably.

Tip #5: Don’t sweat the small stuff–and realize that almost everything we get hyped up over is pretty small. My personal practice is to run my worries by the life-or-death question. For example, I hit traffic and am upset that I am going to be late for work. I ask myself if this is a life-or-death issue. The answer is almost always no, whereas driving like a madwoman to get to work on time could become life-threatening quite easily.

Tip #6: Stop complaining. Every time that we complain about something–one of the most common being the weather–we bring all things negative to the mind. Since our minds naturally associate things together, when we start on a negative train of thought, worries and fears can escalate. If you are a parent, try singing “Shake It Out and Dance” with your kids (or even by yourself if you are young at heart).

file4171335316332Stress & Emotions

Unfortunately, cognitive techniques often fail miserably. The reason why is that even mild stress can derail the ability of someone to use these otherwise effective weapons when they most need them–in real life. Because of this, we need to understand how negative emotions such as anger, fear, and grief, as well as stressful lifestyles so common in today’s families exert very powerful influences on our ability to return to a calm state, even when we have taught them cognitive behavioral skills.

Tip #7: Cry when you need to and learn how to work with your anger in non-destructive ways. Working effectively with our emotions is a book in itself. The short version is that it helps alleviate stress to allow ourselves to feel our feelings AND to learn to put them into perspective.

Tip #8: Laugh your way to health and happiness. Given how many adults turn to screen time for rest and relaxation, make sure you don’t stress yourself even further by only watching dark movies, upsetting news stories, or violent video games. Find books, movies, friends and activities that help you lighten your load.

file181242267901Stress & Spirit

Tip #9: Practice turning blame and self-pity into empathy and compassion, both for yourself and for others. The use of blame rarely generates a positive outcome or facilitates closeness and connection. If you typically beat yourself up, remember that mistakes are opportunities to learn and that you are a work in progress.

file000139584327Reach out to others for love and support. Or find someone who is even more stressed than you and provide a helping hand or shoulder to cry on. A spiritual perspective is sometimes the best or only comfort through dark and difficult times.

Tip #10: Find the silver lining in any cloud. One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate some form of spiritual or religious practice and philosophy into your life. Reading ten minutes each day–whether you choose the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, wisdom from the Dalai Llama or any other positive life philosophy–can help bring hope and perspective into your life. Add in prayer, meditation or silent contemplation.

Change Takes Time

If you take on this challenge–practicing healthy forms of stress reduction on a daily basis–your life will slowly but surely take on a different light. Change will not happen over night, and you may forget these tips when you are really under fire. But if you are anything like me, you will be a bit calmer and more unflappable a year from now. You may even be able to teach your fairy godmother a thing or two!

 



Stressed to the Limit. No End in Sight.

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

file891237402521“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” -Alvin Toffler

I received a call from a distressed mother last week asking if her whole family could come to see me. “I’m really worried,” she explained. “Every one of us in the family is completely stressed out, and we need to find out how to cope better.”

I am used to getting calls when someone is suffering from any of a number of symptoms-illness and loss, depression and anxiety, addictions, behavioral problems in children and teens, communication breakdowns in couples–but these days more and more calls simply describe unmanageable stress as the presenting problem. What is going on?

Signs of Stress in the Familyfile0001987619617

  • Do you or your loved ones have trouble sleeping?
  • Do you lack your usual patience?
  • Are members of your family irritable, grumpy or unhappy?
  • Do you have symptoms of tension–headaches, stomach aches, neck and shoulder problems?
  • Is there never enough time to do what you want to do or even to get things done?

If you answered a resounding yes to most of these questions, you are certainly not alone. Recent studies not only in America but across the world indicate that far too many people are suffering from the excessive demands of modern life. Stressed to the limit with no end in sight.

Causes of Stress in the Family

file0001246104116Not that much of this is really escapable. Stress is woven into the fabric of life. In days of yore, the stresses may have been different and were certainly less talked about.

Stress has been studied since the 1950′s by medical doctors as well as psychologists and social scientists. Whenever circumstances put more physical or psychological demands on an individual than that person can handle, stress is the inevitable response. When pressures mount up, the body’s natural fight or flight mechanism goes into high gear.

Stress is most likely to occur whenever the demands put on us are intense, the amount of control we feel over the demands is low and the support we need is unavailable or limited. For many adults all over the world, this formula is part of daily life and stress becomes a constant companion.

Recent Study Shows Teens More Stressed Out Than We Knew

file000935340585The American Psychological Association has been looking at reported levels of stress in America since 2007. The average adult gives themselves a score of 5.1 on a scale of 10. Not too bad until you hear that 42% report stress increasing, and that most believe that closer to a score of 3 would be healthy. The sources of stress are what you might expect. Money and work top the list.

Even though most agree that stress management is important, few set aside the time they need to manage stress, and when they do, 62% of adults use screen time to manage stress. That means they surf the net or go online, watch two or more hours of TV or movies daily, play video games, and visit social media sites. That doesn’t sound very relaxing to me.

However the news of the day was that our teenagers are even more stressed out than the adults are. “We assumed that teens experience stress, but what was surprising was that it was so high compared to adults,” said Norman Anderson, chief executive of the APA. “In adulthood there are work pressures, family pressures and economic pressures, but adolescents still reported higher levels of stress.”

Study of Stress Around the World

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the global impact of all forms of stress (work-related stress, home stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder) as a “silent epidemic”. In their research, called the Global Burden of Disease Survey, it is estimated that by the year 2020, depression and anxiety disorders, including stress-related mental health conditions, will be second only to heart disease in the breadth of the disabilities they will include.

Not only does stress make family life miserable, it costs a great deal economically as well–work days lost, a heavy use of medical services, higher levels of impairment of employees, diminished productivity and job satisfaction. Disabilities from stress are as significant as those caused by workplace accidents or common medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis.

file9541282977224Women and Girls are in Trouble

Almost every study shows that women are even more stressed out than men. This was even true in the APA study of American teenagers reported above.

It is only conjecture whether women and girls are more sensitive to the effects of stress and pressure, are better self-reporters, or indeed suffer more than boys or men in the same environment. Or perhaps when it comes to adult women, they are stressed by the multiple demands placed on them, caring for children or aging parents, at the same time as doing jobs outside the home.

Women in Diverse Economic ConditionsUnknown

It goes without saying that women in parts of the world lacking food and clean water are subjected to levels of stress unfathomable to the average American. But how does America compare to other developed countries around the globe?

The Nielsen Women of Tomorrow Study surveyed 6500 women in 21 countries in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa and North America, a sample representative of 60% of the world’s population and nearly 80% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). What they found was that women living in countries with emerging economies (like India, Mexico or Russia) are even more stressed than those of us in developed economies (like France, USA, or file1871264468042Italy).

No End In Sight

Now you know that you are not alone. Stress has become an embedded feature in our modern world. Is there anything we can do about it? Fortunately, the answer is yes. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for my next blog to find out how….

 



We Are Only As Sick as Our Secrets

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

file1801281015946“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also–if you love them enough.”  -George Washington Carver

I’ve been a psychotherapist for over thirty years. I have long ago lost count of just how many of my clients have commented–sometimes with appreciation, other times with disbelief–on how they don’t know how I do what I do. How can I possibly listen to so many terrible stories, they wonder. These comments invariably emerge after a patient has shared a deep dark secret.

I reply with my genuine feelings–I am constantly grateful and feel deeply privileged to do what I do. Although I do hear horrible stories at times–those of violence and pain, rife with injustices and betrayals–I also bear witness to the healing that can come when people reveal certain secrets about themselves or their loved ones that they thought they had to carry alone.

arguing with teenWhy Do We Keep Secrets from Others?

People keep secrets for a variety of reasons that are not necessarily good or bad. Each individual, family, and culture has spoken and unspoken rules about privacy vs. transparency. I am not suggesting that it is better to tell everyone everything.

But there are some secrets that become toxic when not revealed to anyone, ever. Underneath toxic secrets there is some fear that keeps that person from opening up. Sometimes the fear is justified but often it is misplaced, magnified or completely false. What are some of the reasons all of us keep information buried inside even when we desperately want to tell someone?

  • We keep secrets because we are afraid of being rejected by others.
  • We keep secrets because telling the truth will make us appear sick, weak, or inadequate.
  • We keep secrets to protect ourselves.
  • We keep secrets to protect others that we love.
  • We keep secrets to keep from getting into trouble with others or with the law.
  • We keep secrets to avoid feeling painful feelings such as rage, terror, grief, guilt or shame.
  • We keep secrets because of loyalty.
  • We keep secrets because we have been threatened with some punishment if we tell.
  • We keep secrets from ourselves when the secret is out of character for the person we want to be.

file2711283980668What Are Some of the Secrets I’ve Been Told? 

Lots about sex. Even though it seems like sex should be easy to talk about in this day and age, it is still an area where most people feel uncomfortable revealing themselves. Revealing past and present affairs happens a lot in therapy.

Most people have complicated feelings and inhibitions about what goes on behind bedroom doors or what fantasies play out inside them. (No wonder Fifty Shades of Gray became such a bestseller.) I’ve been told secrets about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and sexual addiction from clients who trusted me.

Equally frightening for some to reveal are facts about the absence of sex such as a lack of sexual desire, inability to orgasm, or long term celibate marriages.

file0001679856317Money. I’ve been told secrets about how much money a person has and others about just how much they have lost or gambled away. Add to that illegal acts such as bribery or embezzlement…using money for power and privilege, or buying things secretly without the permission or knowledge of a spouse.

Stealing money. Hiding it. Secrets about money are sometimes more difficult to reveal than those about sex.

Violence. I am often the first person to hear about sexual abuse, incest, or rape. Or stories of the horrors of war from combat veterans. Or domestic violence, gang crime, child abuse. I am more likely to hear stories of victimization since all my clients come to see me voluntarily.

I am always relieved when someone confesses to me their own violence to others. This is the first step that is necessary to go from denial to empathy to eventually taking responsibility for one’s actions.

file000557708328Addiction. Almost any form of addiction brings secrets and lies along with it. Add to that all the eating disorders. Since addictions are often driven by shame, acknowledging their existence begins the process of emotional detox. AA is built on this.

Illness and disabilities. Given that I’m a psychotherapist, I sort of assume that every family has some member of their extended family with a past or current diagnosis of depression, anxiety, OCD or ADHD. So what’s the problem with sharing this? The truth is that although mental illness is out of the closet far more than ever before, it still scares many people to share the painful reality.

Surprisingly, even physical issues are often kept submerged. In some families, it is taken as a sign of weakness to complain of pain or sickness. Confessing to chronic, potentially disabling illness can be very difficult for some. Here’s some illnesses that I was only told about only after a client trusted me: fibromyalgia, MS, Parkinson’s, cancer, herpes, HIV positive, chronic pain.

IMG_5787Why Tell Someone Anyway?

As they say in AA, you are only as sick as your secrets. Holding on to them can often bring even more stress, isolation, and self-doubt. Revealing them, often first to a psychotherapist or spiritual advisor, can be an enormous relief.

One of my favorite metaphors about burying toxic secrets (and the guilt and shame that accompany them) is that it is like constantly carrying around a backpack filled with rocks. It takes an enormous amount of energy to keep hauling them around.

In an unforgettable scene in the 1986 film, The Mission, Robert de Niro climbs up a huge mountain with a backpack loaded with his heavy armor and sword to do penance for being a slave trader and for the murder of his brother. Even when the Jesuit priest pleads with him to let them go, De Niro picks them back up and carries his burden up the steep and dangerous mountain they are climbing. When he finally lays down his bag of burdens, he sobs in deep remorse. And I sobbed with him.

What rocks do you carry around in your backpack? Do you really need to keep dragging them around with you? Or are you ready to take the first or the second or the next scary step of self-disclosure, sharing secrets that may lighten your load and facilitate your healing….

 



Confronting Your Ghosts of the Past: How to Assess Your Relationship

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

file000925566270“In every conceivable manner, the family is the link to our past, the bridge to our future.” -Alex Haley

If you were one of the lucky people, raised in a happy loving family, you’ve most likely emerged with many of the skills and strengths necessary to form lasting healthy relationships…and you are probably NOT reading this blog right now.

Unfortunately, far too many people were raised by parents filled with good intentions but plagued by bad, sometimes destructive habits from their own childhood upbringing. These ghosts of the past, if not recognized, can haunt our families.

Our histories pack a powerful punch when we’ve buried (or tried to bury) old feelings as a way of avoiding the pain associated with them. Unfortunately, the unfinished business from our childhood and previous relationships also tends to get projected onto and then played out with our partner and/or our children. It is sad but true that the people we love the most in the world become the unwitting victims of this process.

file0001018506529How and Why Do Our Rational Brains Go Off Line?

Our emotional brains allowed us to survive as a species. We had to learn–and then be able to respond very quickly–about what or whom to approach and when to run like hell. Memories, especially ones with strong emotions, get wired into our brains without our awareness. Events that remind us of an emotionally charged experience from the past then trigger the same thoughts, feelings and body memories.

The emotional mind reacts to the present as if the past event were happening again. The combat veteran who leaps into the closet at the sound of a door slamming is instantly back on the streets of Iraq running for cover. Luckily, most people don’t suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a severe syndrome now widely publicized and better understood. But our brains are wired the same. Every one of us has our “emotional triggers” or “buttons” that move our emotions to the foreground and our clear thinking gets derailed.

shadowWhat Can We Do About Our Emotional Hot Spots?

Although getting our buttons pushed can be unpleasant, the good news is that if we bring awareness to the painful aspects of our past, we can begin to exert more conscious control over our reactivity. I have addressed more about this process in a blog dedicated to just this topic. Another way to rise above our past conditioning is to take an honest look at what skills we have and what we might be missing.

The reason that my psychologist husband and I co-wrote our book, How’s Your Family Really Doing was to put resources and information directly into the hands of interested consumers–including all the people who would never seek professional help. In our therapy practice, as we gave couples and parents specific tools for how to get along better and bring out the best in each other, we kept getting the same feedback: “Why didn’t we get taught these things in high school? Therapists echoed, “Why didn’t we learn this in graduate school?”

What are the 10 Keys?

Burrowing through piles of professional literature and drawing on personal and professional experience, we assembled the ten keys to a happy, loving family. Decades of research have demonstrated that families can successfully achieve the task of raising children who are able to live independently and establish harmonious relationships of their own. The first step is to take an honest look at how you are doing on these dimensions.

file0001792779106 Here’s a quick look at the necessary ingredients for healthy relationships:

  • Key #1 Talking and Listening
  • Key #2 Expressing Feelings
  • Key #3 Adapting to Change
  • Key #4 Sharing Time Together
  • Key #5 Who’s In Charge
  • Key #6 Closeness and Distance
  • Key #7 Accepting Differences
  • Key #8 Seeing the Positive
  • Key #9 Effective Problem-Solving
  • Key #10 Parenting Together

DSCN6714Assessing Strengths and Problem Areas of the Family You Grew Up In

Once you have determined how you are doing with each of the ten keys in the present moment, it is time to uncover how the past has impacted your present relationships. Sometimes we have been determined to parent our kids differently than how we were parented–and we have succeeded. At other times, the negative patterning persists.

In addition to befriending our emotional hot spots, doing a thorough assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of our family of origin (the name given to the family or families we grew up in) can pinpoint the tools we are lacking. Just as a medical doctor would not begin treatment until after a thorough examination, the first step towards improving your relationships is to take a closer look both at your strengths and at the places that could use some attention and work.

PicCollage copy 2One of the most common stumbling blocks to building loving relationships is often our experiences growing up. Since we rarely meet and marry someone whose childhood upbringing is the same as our own, our strengths and weaknesses can rub each other the wrong way. It can be extremely enlightening for both members of a couple to do The Family of Origin Assessment, and then to talk about your differences and similarities.

The next step is to develop an action plan for change. How’s Your Family Really Doing? also offers practical tips and tools for each key as well as an annotated bibliography describing dozens of self-help resources currently available. Once you know where to focus—and know that change is possible—you are well on your way to creating a happy loving family of your own.

 

 

 

 



Drowning in Love: What’s Too Much of a Good Thing?

By Debra Manchester MacMannis, LCSW

_MG_0606Definitions of smothering love: To express your love for someone too much; to cover someone or something completely; to insulate, to overwhelm.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs around. Especially here, especially now, in our rapidly moving, constantly changing modern world. Most parents seek out this job willingly and joyfully with the best of intentions. Doesn’t everyone want to raise happy healthy children who grow up into competent independent adults? Of course. So what goes wrong?

It is easy to pick out the parents who are not doing their jobs. These are the parents who have too many problems of their own to contend with–like substance abuse, severe untreated mental illness, domestic violence or highly conflictual marriages, inadequate physical and emotional resources–so that they are clearly unable to provide the nurturing and supervision that all children need. Anyone can understand why children raised in unsafe and chaotic environments are at risk for developing emotional or behavioral problems.

But what about the kids who come from loving homes with well-meaning parents who shower their kids with attention, affection, guidance and opportunities of all kinds. Can you ever love a child too much? Probably not. Can you smother a child with too much love and attention? Yes indeed.

file9541282977224Children (And Adults) Need Both Closeness and Distance

Parents today are far better informed about the importance of forming strong secure attachments with their infants. Babies need to know that their caregivers will meet not only their survival needs but their needs for touch, empathy, and connection. But with every passing year, children also need the freedom to explore independently in order to develop a sense of autonomy.

Finding the balance between the two is an exquisite dance of moving apart and then moving together again, like breathing in and breathing out, stepping forward and stepping back, leaning in and letting go. In my experience as a family therapist, I am seeing more and more parents struggling with the desire for too much closeness, and as a result producing kids–particularly teens and young adults–drowning in parental “love”.

In one highly publicized study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies by Holly Schiffrin and her team, young college students with hovering “helicopter” parents experienced their parents as controlling and undermining rather than supportive. Too much parental involvement was correlated with higher levels of anxiety and depression as well as decreased satisfaction with life. The overprotected students saw themselves as less competent and less able to function autonomously. The lower the sense of autonomy, the more the evidence of depression.

file0002105504188College counselors have names for these kids: crispies and teacups. The “crispies” are the college freshmen who arrive completely burned out from years of constant attention to achievement via AP classes, hundreds of volunteer hours, sports teams, and parental pressure to get into the best school. The “teacups” are so fragile that they break with the slightest stress.

These kids, suddenly on their own, without the muscles built up by independence and personal responsibility through childhood, often make bad choices regarding alcohol, drugs or sexual relationships once away from hovering parents. Many bomb out their freshman year. When I see these families in counseling, the parents are shell-shocked and confused. How did this happen when we loved our child so much?

What Are the Some Signs of Too Much Parental Involvement?

  • You are not letting your kids fail and learn from their mistakes._DSC2330
  • You are not letting your kids do things for themselves.
  • You are trying to be more of a friend than a parent.
  • You don’t want your kids to be angry at you so you fail to set boundaries and stick to them.
  • You are doing your child’s homework.
  • You are doing things for your teen that they can do for themselves: laundry, getting places, schoolwork, college applications.
  • You are more emotionally connected with your child than with your spouse or other adults.
  • Your sense of self comes from your child’s accomplishments rather than your own.

Loving Without Smothering

file6401280970192If you see some of the telltale signs of that you are an over-involved parent in the list above, here are some tips to help you create a more healthy balance of closeness and distance in your relationship. Another question to ask yourself: how many times a day do you find yourself worried about one or all of your kids? Although parenting is a tough job, it shouldn’t be all consuming.

Tip #1: Remember that the goal of parenting is to foster independence and competency. If you are too close, your teen will have to push you away even harder so find ways to let go little by little with each passing year. Think about what your kid will have to be able to do to be fully independent. Start teaching those skills and attitudes now.

Tip #2: Teach your child how to work by allowing them to complete tasks on their own according to their age and ability. If you have done too many things for your child and not allowed him or her to struggle, then you are not teaching one of the basics. Adult life is not all fun and games–and work itself can be difficult, boring even, but give us a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Tip #3: Praise effort not intelligence. Not everyone can get A’s, win gold medals, or get promoted. In order to help your child develop competency, learn self-mastery and build the muscles necessary for adulthood, parents need to focus on effort more than outcomes.

IMG_5787Tip #4: Allow your child to experience pain, loss, and failures in order to develop resilience. If you cushion your child’s life too much, and solve problems for them, you deprive them of the opportunity of learning from natural consequences. If children can learn how to handle difficult situations when they are young, they will be stronger, realistic and more resourceful as adults.

Another definition of smothering is what we do to put out a fire. If you want to love your child AND keep the fire of that child’s passion, desire for freedom, curiosity and uniqueness burning brightly, take a step back and a deep breath. Love is also about letting go.

 

 

 

 

 



 
How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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