This is Us - Leave and Cleave

In Season 2 Episode 1 of This is Us the triplets are celebrating their 37th birthday. Since Sophie isn’t able to come in to town to spend time with Kevin, Kevin ends up hanging out with Kate and Toby. Instead of Kevin feeling like the third wheel, Toby is the one who feels out of place. The two get into a long conversation about their role in Kate’s life. This is an interesting dynamic since Kevin is Kate’s brother and not her father, but the same concept still remains. As Kate is getting closer and closer to Toby with thoughts of marriage in the background, she must make the decision to cut some of the ties she has with Kevin and connect more with Toby.

It is very common for people to avoid this change. Marriage rocks the boat in families in all sorts of ways and in attempts to avoid excessive rocking it can be tempting to keep things the same and continue to to go to our family of origin for support, advice, and connection instead of our significant other or spouse. In order to have a healthy relationship this switch must occur. Now, there is no reason to cut your family out of your life completely, but the person of priority needs to change. The first person you call when you get really good or really bad news shouldn’t be your mom anymore, but your spouse. The person whose advice you follow more than anyone else’s shouldn’t be your dad, but your spouse. While in the past your parents may have held some responsibility in helping you make financial decisions, job changes, living arrangements etc, this is no longer their responsibility. This is a difficult change to make (if it has been your normal) because you’re working against a dynamic that has been there for your entire life, but is well worth the hassle. 

Your parents’ feelings will be hurt. Don’t let this stop you. You are not responsible for their emotions. As long as you are making this switch as respectfully as possible, you are doing your part. It will take both of you time to get used to the change. Your relationship with your spouse and parents will be healthier if you’re willing to put in the work. 

When Kate is able to make a decision about her audition based on what she thinks is best, not what her brother OR her boyfriend thinks she should do, she is functioning at her healthiest. As Toby and Kevin continue to talk through their different roles in Kate’s life they will feel more confident that each of them has Kate’s best interest in mind and will trust the other to make good decisions when it comes to her.

Some things to consider:

1. Have you made the jump to be more connected to your spouse than you are your parents?

2. How might you create some patterns or traditions that encourage a commitment to your spouse instead of going to your parents first? 

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This is Us - Fear of Failure 

In Season 2 Episode 2 we watch Beth and Randall try to make a decision about starting the foster care process. Usually quite the “go-getter”, Randall seems to drag his feet on completing the application. Naturally, Beth gets frustrated with her husband only to learn more about him from Kevin. Kevin tells Beth that the only decision Randall has ever made where he didn’t know what the outcome would be was asking Beth out on a date. Kevin describes how difficult it must be for Randall to make a decision like this for their family without knowing what might happen. Of course, this information is very heart warming for Beth because she realizes that she was worth the risk for Randall and can now see how big of decision foster care is for him.

Fear of failure is something that keeps a lot of people from doing things that could turn out to be worth it. Whether it’s applying for a promotion at work, ending a unhealthy relationship, or maybe even starting the healing process through counseling, people avoid good things because the decision feels too risky. Think of how much Randall would have missed out on if he let his tendency to avoid risky situations keep him from talking to Beth. 

There is also so much to learn from failure. If we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to fail we won’t learn what we want to do differently next time, or how we want to grow as a person. Staying in the current position at work, in that unhealthy relationship, or in your current emotional state keeps you stuck. Change is risky, but worth it. If we can redefine failure then not as much is at stake. The problem comes when we connect having a failure with being a failure. Just because something doesn’t work out perfectly doesn’t mean that our identity is Failure. Beth refusing a date with Randall wouldn’t have made him a failure, but a brave guy who took a chance on a girl he was interested in. Not getting the promotion at work wouldn’t make you a failure, but a person looking for their next opportunity who now has more information about what the interview process is like. Ending an unhealthy relationship doesn’t mean you are a failure at relationships, but that you learned enough about the person you were dating to know you didn’t want to continue the relationship. When we are able to disconnect the way situations turn out from who we see ourselves to be we make room for taking risks in life. 

Some things to consider:

1. In what areas of life have you let the fear of failure hold you back?

2. How might you take a first step towards a risky choice you’ve been avoiding? 

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6 Summer Mood Boosters

We all have different reactions to different seasons, especially here in Texas in the summer months. According to a study published in Emotion in 2011, there are four distinct types of people when it comes to weather and mood:
● Summer Lovers (better mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
● Unaffected (weak associations between weather and mood)
● Summer Haters (worse mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
● Rain Haters (particularly bad mood on rainy days)
Ten percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder experience an increase in symptoms in the summer. If you are one of them or just find yourself feeling irritable this time of year, here are a few mood Boosters to help you tolerate these months:
1. Be around people- It’s tempting to isolate and stay away from others when it’s hot but isolation contributes to depression. Get out there!
2. Stay on your sleep schedule- stay consistent and stay rested.
3. Hydrate- dehydration leads to low amino acid counts, which can contribute to depression.
Drink up!
4. Eat Mood boosting foods- eat for nutrition and hunger instead of emotional or boredom voids.
5. Find a body of water- being outside in nature is a natural tranquilizer.
6. Try something new- Find a new hobby, restaurant, hike, or activity-what better time than the summer?

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Manipulation in a Relationship

We all hear the buzzword manipulation being thrown around these days, but what does it really mean? Manipulation means 'to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage.'  Being in a manipulative relationship can feel like you're being controlled, trapped, and alone. Manipulation can be hard to spot so let's take a deeper look at how this could manifest itself in a relationship.

  1. Bullying- this is a more obvious sign of manipulation where you often have to do tasks for this person, even if you don’t want to or it's unfair, because the consequence of not doing them will be large.
  2. Are you never in control? Does your partner get to go to his social gatherings, the restaurants he chooses, and the vacations he decides? Is your partner the one that is always calling the shots and taking control of your life? After all, manipulation is all about control.
  3. Push and Pull-- Does he say demeaning things to you, leave the house, then send you a text message saying he's at the pound looking at the puppies you wanted? Those acts that quickly pull you back in and keep you around are some of the most dangerous elements of manipulation.
  4. Does he use your love against you? Asking you to do things for him and saying "if you really loved me" you would.
  5. Does your partner play the victim? Does every fight end with you apologizing and feelings like an awful person?
  6. Threats- does he threaten you saying he would hurt himself if you leave him?
  7. Gaslighting- does your partner make you feel like you are going crazy? Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where the person makes you think you are losing your mind, forgetting details, saying things, and twisting your words.

If you resonate with any of these, please seek out friends, family, or a professional to help you process the health and wellness of your relationship.

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This Is Us - Behind the Scenes

It is common for an adult child of an alcoholic to have the desire to raise his or her family in a completely different way than they were raised. Sometimes alcohol or other addictions grab hold of them and sometimes they don’t, but almost always the adult child of an alcoholic falls into traps they probably didn’t even know were there. There is much more than alcohol at work in a family with an alcoholic. We see this happen in two generations in This is Us. Obviously Jack had zero desire to create the same family he was raised in. We see him try really hard to create a healthy family and be a good dad, and in a lot of ways he is successful. But, alcohol still gets a hold of him in some seasons of life. We then watch the same thing happen for Kevin. Early on he is ashamed of his dad’s struggle and then we watch him try to use some of the same coping strategies that Jack used, like working with his hands to avoid his addiction. But again, addiction grabs a hold of him as well.

There are four rules that are often kept in the home of an alcoholic (or really a dysfunctional family in general) that lead to the cycle of being sucked into addiction. 

1. Don’t talk

2. Don’t feel

3. Don’t trust anyone outside the family

4. Always make this family look good

In Season 2 episode 4 we watch Kevin struggle with all four of these rules. He has re-injured himself on the set of his movie and he is reminded of his football accident. He thinks about how proud he made his dad and we see Jack giving him a pep talk at an even earlier age to resist the urge to scratch his chicken pox. Kevin decides he needs to be tough, push past the pain, and get back out there. 

Kevin doesn’t talk about his injury or the pain that he is experiencing. He stuffs it down and tries to be stronger than the pain. He sees pain as weakness and thinks if he admits that he is in pain he will be letting people down. 

Kevin doesn’t let himself feel. He denies his emotions surrounding the pain as well. It would be natural to feel frustration that he had experienced the same injury that brought so much disappointment to his life already. He probably felt a lot of sadness due to the loss of time and experience. He may have felt fear that he would have to be cut out of the movie. We don’t see him let himself experience any of this. 

Kevin doesn’t trust people outside his family. He lets Kate and Toby see him in pain but he isn’t honest with anyone else. He isn’t honest with the other people on set nor his doctors about his previous injury. He down plays his pain to try to get back out there and keep filming. He doesn’t believe that people will have his best interest in mind if he really lets them in.

Kevin is dedicated to making the family look good. We see that first through football. He is very aware of how proud he makes his dad and he wants to make him even prouder. Now that he has been given a second chance in acting he has poured all the same energy into this movie. There is no room for mistakes because of everything that is on the line for him.

Following all of these rules makes life more difficult that it needs to be. When we don’t talk, issues don’t get resolved. When we don’t feel, we stuff emotional energy inside of us which causes depression and anxiety. When we don’t trust, we don’t have others to lean on. When we are dedicated to making the family look good above all of these other rules are kicked into high gear. Kevin’s life, as well as Jack’s would have been very different if he broke these rules.

Some things to consider:

1. Which of these rules did you follow as a child? How did that impact your life growing up?

2. Which of these rules do you currently have the tendency to keep? How could you break this rule on purpose?

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What’s Love Got To Do With It? 

Have you ever thought, “My partner just doesn’t get me” or “I’m trying to show him/her I care” or the even more frustrating, “Nothing I do is ever noticed”? Many times our efforts to show our partner we love them seem to either be ignored or under appreciated. This can lead to bitterness, lack of pursuit, and often indifference.

The expression, “Work smarter not harder,” can be very apropos in that your efforts may not need to be more in quantity rather just different. We are all wired with unique personalities and what Dr. Gary Chapman has dubbed love languages. What may be an act of love to you, may be just an act of kindness for your partner. The five love languages are listed here:

Quality Time - this language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention.

Acts of Service - for these people, actions speak louder than words.

Physical Touch - to this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch.

Words of Affirmation - this language uses words to affirm other people.

Receiving Gifts - for some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.

You may be able to peg both yourself and your partner just from reading this list. If so, actively find ways to intentionally serve your partner in their love language. If you are not aware of either your love language or your partner’s, here is a quiz to help http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/. Once you are aware, dialogue about what acts each of you would find more loving. That may be more nonsexual physical contact, quality face to face interactions, helping with dishes and laundry, creating small gifts, or even a few encouraging comments. Share specifics and be open to and appreciative of your partner’s efforts. Over time you may find that what felt like frivolous efforts become true investments in your partner’s heart. 

 

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The Stigma of Mental Health

The definition of 'stigma' is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person so it's no question as to why this definition is often used when talking about people with mental health issues. Social stigma is often the most associated with mental illness as it has to do with discriminating against a person or type of people. Many studies have been done to suggest that this social stigma is a result of three (false) beliefs: people with mental health issues are dangerous, mental health issues are self- induced, and people with mental health issues are hard to talk to. The difficulty with a stigma is that it's an overgeneralization and we all know that whenever you try to generalize an entier group of people, it's inaccurate. Most of us either know a loved one that struggles with mental illness or have struggled ourselves, so we need to keep working to fight these false beliefs and social stigmas in order to give each person an opportunity to break out of their chains and become the person they want to be.

So, what can we do about this? 

1. We need to first TALK about it, share about vulnerabilities, process our mental health struggles, be open about our counseling, medication, and treatment options with those we feel safe with. It doesn't make us weak to share that we are working to be the best version of yourself.  

2. Get involved in an organization that is actively working to fight against this stigma. NAMI is a good place to start.

 https://www.nami.org/stigmafree

Remember, we all have our struggles and the more secretive we are, the more shameful we become. Be honest and open, ask questions, and educate those around you about the truths of mental health in our community.

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This is Us - Secrets Breed Sickness

In several episodes of This is Us we see Randall impacted by the secrets Rebecca kept from him about his birth father, William. We see him ask difficult questions about where he came from, desire to spend time with other black families, and then in his teenage years put out an add in the newspaper trying to find either of his birth parents. I have to wonder if these unanswered questions played into the anxiety that we watch Randall struggle with throughout his life. 

Rebecca’s secret seems to impact Randall the most when he finally meets William and without searching, stumbles across a letter from Rebecca in William’s apartment. This is when the lie takes shape for Randall. He doesn’t know who to trust or what is real. These heroes of parents he had looked up to his entire life were now connected to a lie that kept him from answering burning questions about his origin. In trying to keep Randall close to her, Rebecca’s lie resulting in Randall pulling away from her for several months. 

This is the way family secret often work. Whether it’s a birth story, an affair, a crime, or an addiction, family secrets impact the family even if the family members don’t know the secret. Emotions are wrapped up in all of the scenarios and as humans we aren’t able to successfully ignore our emotions. Without fully knowing it, the family members who are in the dark experience the guilt, sadness, anger, hurt surrounding the secret. Either they come up with their own reason these emotions are present in their family or they go searching for answers. The point is, secrets end up hurting the family. In an effort to protect and move forward families often find themselves in a bigger mess trying to keep the secrets. While coming clean and telling secrets is often painful at first it usually comes with better results than the secret coming to the surface on it’s own.  

Obviously this doesn’t mean that EVERYONE knows EVERYTHING. There is an appropriate amount of information for children to know and not everyone needs to know all the details of everyone else’s life. The problem occurs when rituals form surrounding keeping secrets and unknowing family members get wrapped up in these rituals. If you have to tell a lie to avoid sharing a secret this is most likely a red flag signaling work needs to be done here.

If Rebecca would have been honest with Randall from the beginning they still would have had to had some tough conversations. Randall still may have been upset that Rebecca made the decision to keep him disconnected from his birth father. But, trust would still be there. He wouldn’t see this information as something he uncovered on his own that was kept from him on purpose. He would have been able to process this information out in the open with help from his parents. I believe things would have been really different for Randall has this conversation happened early on in life. 

Some Things to Consider:

1. Are there any family secrets that exist in your family? What steps could you take to share that secret with a safe family member?

2. Are there family secrets you’ve discovered that you have been hurt by? What might you need to do in order to process this new information? 

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Trees and Acknowledgement

When a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? I remember when I first heard this question. I was taking Philosophy as one of my elective classes. The argument was, if no one was there to hear and perceive it, was a sound made? Today, I happen to be contemplating it yet once again. As a therapist, I now see a different perspective. I am not concerned whether a sound was made or not, but rather, was it validated and acknowledged when it fell.

As I practice in the counseling field, I am constantly brought back to the understanding that acknowledgement is a very powerful tool. It says: “I am aware of you. I acknowledge your presence. I see you as you are and it’s okay. You are okay.” There is no judgment. Acknowledgement not only strengthens a relationship but also allows the other person to be herself or himself without fear of repercussion...in anyway. It is the foundation of honesty and trust. 

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Illnesses: Cancer vs. Mental Health

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, have you heard of it? 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, have you heard of it? Chances are you have because not only is this commonly talked about but you see pink ribbons everywhere, see NFL players wearing pink cleats or sweat bands, and the commercials and billboards will remind you if all else fails.  

So, what's the difference? Breast cancer is something you are diagnosed with and even though you may not have ensured you got a mammogram every year, there's a widely acceptable belief that cancer is non-discriminatory, there's no way to prevent it, and there's no way to totally cure it. It's unpredictable and it's an illness that no matter how healthy you are, it just might choose you. When someone has an illness we often send cards, flowers, cook meals, maybe show up to the hospital, and often feel horrible for the pain and suffering they are going through; because they didn't choose it, cancer chose them and that's such a tragedy. If you asked someone who has breast cancer if they would rid their body of it if they could, they'd probably say yes, right? But instead, they go to doctors appointments and wait anxiously for treatment to work. They aren't powerless or helpless completely, yet they are on a road to recovery that involves many other factors than just their own control and power.  

Depression would fall under the category of Mental Health as a Mental Illness, so why is this illness treated so different than the illness of cancer? Why do many people still believe that depression is a "mind over matter", " you could have prevented this" " pull yourself together, this is just weakness", "just keep going, it's not that hard" sort of illness? Mental Illness is a cancer-like sickness that pervades the mind, body, and spirit. It is unpredictable, doesn't matter how much money you make, how great your family is, or what you look like. It doesn't always have a trigger or reason and sometimes it takes months to find something that helps heal it. If you asked someone with depression if they would cure it themselves if they could, most would say absolutely. But instead, they go to doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists waiting anxiously for the sickness to stop spreading into their life. They aren't completely powerless or helpless, yet they are not the only one that can solve it. Just like cancer, there may be some things the person could have done to prevent the likelihood of getting it--so why in the mental health world we blame the patient for their illness but not the patient for their cancer? Why do we too often run away from these individuals in our life instead of showing up to the hospital or their home with flowers and a card and never giving up on them?  

Many mental illnesses are treatable and manageable with the right care, concern, and knowledge. Understanding and treating mental health as an illness is the first step in this process. Check back in a few days to continue this conversation as to why it can be so hard to view both illnesses in the same way.

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