Psych Central

Free Yourself Free From Anger, Hurt and Resentment

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

There’s an old parable large__12801641634about how to catch a monkey.

The story goes that if you want to catch a monkey, you put a hole in a coconut, and inside the hole you put some nuts or fruit. You tie the coconut to a tree and wait.

A hungry monkey will put his hand down the hole and grab the fruit or nuts in his fist. When he attempts to take his fist out of the hole, he finds that his fist is too big.

The legend states that the monkey becomes trapped, not because of the coconut, but because of his unwillingness to let go.

The metaphorical coconut trap is something that everyone deals with.

Do you hold on to times people have hurt you in the past? Are your feelings still hurt from painful words that were said to you? Or do you continue to agonize over times when you have messed up? Is letting go of your own mistakes difficult?

There are two people in a row boat, each one with an oar. One person feels hurt or angry, and they stop a rowing, while their partner keeps at it.

The boat moves in a circle, going nowhere.

The anger, frustration, and pain people experience keeps them from working together to move forward.

These tightly kept feelings don’t do any good. They don’t change the past, and when acted upon they do not change anyone else.

They merely keep you stuck.

Another trap that keeps people from feeling free is regret over what they did or didn’t do in life.

It’s like a cage, where they feel like they’re interacting with the world, but they’re being held back. It may feel safe to hide under anger or resentment. But the reality is that this cage keeps a person from  participating in and enjoying life.

Most people don’t even realize what it is that’s keeping them from moving forward.

They may blame their unhappiness on their bad luck or how other people treated them. Or perhaps they may understand their own role in the situation. They understand by holding on to their anger and hurt is like poison. They know they’re trapped by it, but they feel powerless. They hold on to their hurt and pain as if it’s the most important thing in the world.

For some people, holding on to their anger or pain becomes the center of their lives. It becomes the scapegoat for everything wrong, for all the missed opportunities in their life.

Most people greatly underestimate the amount of control they have over themselves. When children are young, they have a very difficult time managing their feelings. However, as people  mature, they gain the ability to recognize their feelings and decide what to do with them.

If you are holding on to a deep sense of anger, what can you do to find reconciliation?

The first step is to realize that what you’re holding on to is not helpful and is something you want to change. Then you can begin to figure out how you can get to a place of peace.

Do you need to talk your feelings out with a friend or therapist? Do you need to write a letter or have a conversation? Is it enough to decide in your mind that you don’t want to hang on to the negativity, or do you need to do something physical?

Once you are able to let go of these emotions, once you let go of the fruit or open up the cage door, you will have a sense of freedom that you never imagined.

 

Photo from Shutterstock



How Memorized Words Improve Your Life

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_154578533I was always the kid who memorized things.

When I was younger, it was the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson that I cherished. I would spend many afternoons swinging and reciting The Swing.

More often than not I would have one poem or another running through my head as I played in the woods or the creek or climbed trees. Children’s poems have a wonderful sense of rhythm and rhyme that made them easy to learn and entertaining to recite.

As I grew older my memory engulfed songs and lyrics. I always had words floating around in my head. The lyrics were a constant commentary to what was happening. If you were to ask me what music was playing in my mind, you would learn how I was feeling, what I was thinking about.

In Jr. High we had to memorize Shakespeare. Soon, quotes from Romeo and Juliet were jumping off my lips with a wonderful frequency. I challenged myself to learn Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven.

As an adult, nearly all those poems, songs, and quotes are still there. When my best friend died while she was in college, my mind went to the words of sorrow and grief, and provided me a focus for my mourning. As I put my young daughter to sleep, I sing songs I learned as a child from my mother.

I can look up a quote in seconds on my phone. Endless literature is at my fingertips 24 hours a day. It may seem as if memorization has no place in our day and age.

But I’ve found that when I’m in the midst of grief or sorrow, or trying to calm a tired child, or even trying to get my mind out of a sad or angry place, that my mind turns to the words I know by heart. Like a psalm or mantra, they center me.

The phrases that I’ve deliberately filed away in my head are always there. I use them to focus, to be distracted, to find peace and to laugh.

My mind struggles with some types of memory; I have difficulty remembering faces and names. I may be the only adult who has still not memorized the times tables. I’ve had to have gym locks cut off because I forgot their combination in less than an hour. But words…words stick with me. Words have transform me.

My memories are recorded on Facebook and thousands of unprinted photos on my Mac. But what I’ve memorized stands on its own. It lends a cadence to my life.

Memorize what you love, be it songs or poetry or a loved one’s words.

Learning things ‘by heart’ still matters, because while your smart phone may get dropped in the bathtub, or your computer might crash, what you have placed in the vast vaults of your mind will not fail you.

photo from Shutterstock

 

 

 

 



Talking With Children About Death

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_167842937A close friend of your child dies unexpectedly in a horrific car crash. An aunt loses her battle with cancer. The beloved cat has to be put to sleep. A parent is diagnosed with a terminal disease.

All these are examples of ways children can encounter death for the first time.

A child’s first experience of death often comes when a pet dies. For many children, losing a beloved animal can be the most intense sadness they have felt. It’s important for parents to take a child’s feelings on this seriously, and allow them to grieve how they need to.

Depending on your child’s age, experts suggest different ways of talking about death with your child.

For the very youngest of children, from infancy up to around three years old, kids cannot understand what it means to die, but they still feel the loss. For this age, focus on providing safety and comfort and love. Use simple terms to explain the death.

Preschool children may act out their emotions. Some kids become withdrawn. Others act out and become angry or destructive, or have mood swings. Children might have stomach aches or not feel good. Again, provide support and love. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings if they are able to. At this age, children may begin to draw about their emotions.

School age children have a better understanding of death. You want to be as honest as you can. If you have a belief in the afterlife, your child may find it comforting to think that their friend who died is in heaven. If the idea of life after death is not something you believe in, it’s fine to say that we just don’t know what happens after we die or that we simply don’t exist anymore. Help them find comfort in remembering their friend or loved one. Some kids find it helpful to plant a flower or tree as a reminder of the person who died.

Teenagers may react in both childish ways and adult ways. If your teen processes things verbally, he or she may need to discuss the death over and over again. Listen to them without judgement. Others may withdraw to their rooms, play loud music, or become unusually angry. As with younger kids, encourage them to verbalize what they’re feeling.

As a parent, you want to protect your children from difficult feelings and experiences. It can feel awful to watch your child grieve someone he or she loved. As someone to whom your child looks up to, you have the ability to gently guide them through this experience.

Each person grieves in their own way. Try and give your child the freedom to express their feelings of loss, but also a space for silence. It’s okay if they don’t want to talk right away. Let them know that you are ready to hear when they want to share.

If you are grieving yourself, consider reaching out to others for support, for both you and your child. Often children slip into the role of emotional caregiver. This role reversal can be detrimental to a child’s well-being. And if, at any time, you’re concerned about your child’s grief, seek help from a therapist or counselor. They can advise you on what is normal and what may need to be looked at more closely.

Talking with a child through their first experience with mourning can be challenging. You won’t have all the answers.

The most important thing you as a parent can do is to be present for your child. They will find comfort knowing that you are there to listen, to explain, and to validate their feelings.

This blog provishutterstock_11952625des a broad overview of this subject, and there are numerous excellent resources available on helping children grieve. Here are two of them.

http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/griefwar.pdf

http://www.pdhealth.mil/wot/downloads/helping%20a%20child%20cope%20with%20loss%20and%20grief.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo from Shutterstock

photo from Shutterstock



Transform Your Inner Critic

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_133427858Your inner critic.

Everyone has one.

Most people want to shut up, destroy, annihilate, or otherwise quiet that voice in their head that says things like, that was a stupid thing to say, or you look so fat today, you’re dumb, you’ll never get anywhere in life. I’m sure you can add your own.

Your inner critic is the voice that monitors your every act, word, and thought.

When it’s out of control, your inner critic can rule your life and ruin your self esteem. It can fill your mind with fears and worse case scenarios.

But what would happen if instead of trying to shut your inner critic up, you would listen to it? I don’t mean listen as in taking its words as true. I mean listen as hear what it’s saying, think about it, and then make your own decision whether or not to believe it.

What would it be like if you viewed your inner critic not in the sense of negative critical messages that should be dismissed, but as a cautious voice that can be helpful if its understood?

How it works is this; your inner critic makes a remark like, “You’re going to mess up this presentation.” So instead of just dwelling on the negative thinking and giving it power, you spend a couple of minutes critically thinking about it. How would I mess up the performance? Is that something that could realistically happen? If so, what can I do to fix it?

You can view your inner critic as  a negative force weighing down on you, or it can be a tool that you use to discern your strengths and weaknesses.

There are two crucial points here.

The first is that your inner critic is neither good nor bad. It points out your insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s kind of like a coach. Sometimes it can have valid points, and sometimes it makes mountains out of mole hills.

The second is that the more thought and attention you give to a particular idea or internal message, the more power you imbue it with. Dwelling or ruminating on fears is draining and can make you paralyzed with fear.

People often want to categorize their inner voice as a bad thing or a good thing. It’s like the image of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Fortunately, this is not the case.

The voice in our head that monitors what we’re doing is not good or bad. It’s  just a very observant piece of ourselves whose power is determined on what we listen to and dwell on.

As you listen to your inner critic today, try and hear what it’s really saying. Where is the truth? What is coming out of a place of fear or insecurity? How can you use it to grow?

One thing I’ve learned over the years as a therapist is that the world is anything but black and white. Often the things we run away from are the very things that can teach us the most.

 

Photo from Shutterstock



When Your Teen is Being Bullied: 5 Things Parents Need to Know

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_74330686No parent wants to find out that their child is being bullied. Yet this is a situation in which many parents find themselves, and it can be incredibly scary and confusing.

Teens are bullied over the same thing generation after generation: physical differences such as weight, acne and facial features, speech differences, mental abilities/disabilities.

Teens get bullied verbally, physically (tripping down the hall, book bumping), and through writing.

One significant difference that teens face now is the vast amount of technology available, which has changed the dynamic of bullying behavior.

Teens are attacked through social media such as Facebook, text messages are sent, photos are sent and become viral in seconds. Sexting is not uncommon.

When you were a teenager, pictures were physical. Notes were on paper. And while rumors could get around quickly, they were not recorded forever on the world wide web.

As a parent of a teen, you can make a difference when your child is being bullied.

Here are 5 things that all parents of teens need to know.

  1. When your child says they are being picked on or bullied, believe them. Your teen may act confident and happy while in your presence, but at school she may behave differently.
  2. Take action. This may be meeting with school administrators and being an advocate for your child. It may be getting him counseling. It may be brainstorming with him about ways to stand up to others if he feels comfortable with this.
  3. Know your school’s policy, and hold them to it. More than once I’ve had to write or meet with school administrators to advocate for a student. It is not your child’s job to ignore the bullies; gaining strength to deal with bullying behaviors may be something to be worked on but the school has a duty to protect your teen and make school a safe place. This could mean changing schedules, having a teen who is hurting your son or daughter attend counseling sessions, or discipline for them.
  4. Talk to your child about how she feels. Does she think about dying? Is she hurting herself? Who are her friends?
  5. Bullying can be a very serious problem for teens. A teenager’s brain is not fully developed, and what is happening now seems like it will happen forever. They feel as if the strong emotions they feel now will always be there. It is hard, if not impossible, for them to imagine a different way of being. So when they feel like they have no friends and people are spreading horrible rumors about them, they can’t believe an adult life where this is not true. So when they say they feel like their life is over, listen to them. Get them professional help.

Being a teenager has never been easy, but teens today have a set of struggles that are unique to their generation. Trying to explain to a 10 year old that a picture he posts on the internet may never ever go away is difficult. It’s our job as parents to do what we can to help them make it through these years.

We can’t protect our children from everything, but what we can do is be aware, be available, and be an advocate for them in these tumultuous years.

 

Photo from Shutterstock

 



Making the Most of Marriage/Relationship Counseling

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_151609376People seek marriage or relationship therapy for many reasons.

For some people, it’s because of a crisis, such as infidelity, job loss, illness or accidents.

Others come in because they feel distant and want to grow closer, or they seek counseling before they marry to sort out any difficulties and ensure that they’re ready for life together.

Some couples simply know that something feels wrong but they don’t know what, and they want to fix it.

But once you and your partner have decided to seek counseling, how do you make the most of it? Here are six things to consider.

Continue reading… »



The Importance of Connection, Part 2: Making a Difference in Someone’s Life Will Make a Difference in Yours

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

Humans are all about community. By connecting with others, we find support, meaning, reassurance, and joy. Even the healthiest among us feels lonely and isolated at times. For those who struggle with physical or mental disabilities, the isolation can feel even greater.

How to people do it?

Continue reading… »



The Newest Face of Trauma: Female Veterans

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_133609661

“Jessica” (pseudonym) was 18 years old when she enlisted in the Army. She was trained as a mechanic, and enjoyed what she did.

The Army provided her the family she didn’t have at home and a sense of belonging and stability. At the time, the United States was not engaged in a war. A year later, this would change.

Jessica was sent to Afghanistan. While there, she was injured when the truck she was driving hit an IED. After her body healed, and she continued in her unit. Like all service people who serve in a war, Jessica saw and experienced many horrific things.

After her time in Afghanistan ended and she was back in the US, Jessica’s body wasn’t the same. She had an undiagnosed TBI (traumatic brain injury) from the IED. She had intense mood swings. She couldn’t concentrate. She had nightmares nearly every night.

These were all problems that Jessica felt like she could talk about with other veterans, friends and family. Things like TBI and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) have become well known and understood.

What Jessica didn’t feel like she could talk about was the rape by her commanding officer, the very person in the chain of command she was expected to report sexual assault to, and who she looked up to like a father.

Continue reading… »



The Importance of Connection, Part 1: How to Get and Stay Connected

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW
Everyone needs to feel connected.

Everyone needs to feel connected.

When I first became a bird owner, I noticed that my cockatiel Sunshine would only eat when someone was near her.

Most birds are flock animals; they rely on the members of their community for companionship, safety, and parenting.

In the wild, Sunshine would only eat with her flock members there to watch out for her.

Like many other animals, humans have an inborn need for community that is crucial to not only our survival but also to our mental health and happiness.

Not everyone needs 40 friends, but everyone needs someone they can rely on to help them through the harshness of life.

WHAT KEEPS US FROM BEING CONNECTED TO OTHERS?

  • For some people, it’s depression. One of the key signs of depression is withdrawing from social situations. People who become depressed turn down invitations, fail to show up to gatherings, and limit phone calls and visits with friends.
  • Other times, it can be a change in life — a move, divorce, death in the family, or illness. Many adults I’ve spoken to have said that when they graduated from high school or college they found they had a hard time making new friends in the ‘adult’ or working world.
  • Many people are so afraid of rejection that they stay away from getting close to others.

    Continue reading… »



Bad Relationship Advice: Our Top 10 List

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW

shutterstock_127212401

There is a lot of relationship advice out there; friends, family, and coworkers are willing and eager to share their thoughts.

Over the years, I’ve heard and read some awful pieces of advice.

Here are the worst of them.

10. If you love her enough, you can get her to change.

  • ANY advice that has ‘change’ in it is bad news. You can’t make anyone change, and if you expect them to you’ll be met not only with resistance and frustration, but failure.

9. No one will ever love you as much as he does.

  • This is a phrase that is often used to keep an individual in an abusive relationship. Love comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It might be true that no one will ever love you exactly like someone else,  you will be loved again. Don’t allow this bad advice to keep you stuck in a harmful relationship.

    Continue reading… »



 
 

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