Why is My Child Harming Themselves!?

Self- injury is a scary and confusing reality for many parents of teenagers in today’s world and it’s natural to yearn for explanations as to WHY.  Self-injury has been a documented medical issue since the 1870s but research began in the 1980s as to explain it’s causes, implications, and reasons.  It’s important to know that no two people self-injury for the same reasons but here are some of the most common explanations, and no, they are not doing it just for attention.

1.     Distract themselves, alter the focus of their attention, or regain control over their minds when experiencing pressing, unavoidable and overwhelming feelings or thoughts.

2.     Release tension associated with strong emotions or overwhelming thoughts.

3.     Feel something physical when they are otherwise dissociated and numb.

4.     Express themselves or communicate and/or document strong emotions they are feeling and cannot otherwise articulate.

5.     Punish themselves.

6.     Experience a temporary but intense feeling of euphoria that occurs in the immediate aftermath of self-harm

As you can see, self-injury is a serious, yet treatable, issue that many young people experiment with and experience today.  If your child is engaging in cutting, burning, biting, ingesting items, or other forms of self-injury, remember that there is hope as they are often self-injuring to self-sooth other emotions that are overwhelming.  Read the next blog post for suggestions as to how to help your child overcome self-injurious behavior.          

 

 

Kimberly Presley, MSW, LCSW

To learn more about self-injury, visit the Taylor Counseling Group Blog.

For Questions and Scheduling:

Please call 214-530-0021

Or email us at info@taylorcounselinggroup.com

HOW CAN I HELP IMPROVE MY CHILD’S SELF-ESTEEM?

It’s common for parents to want to assist their child in feeling good about themselves, loving themselves, and being proud of who they are. Most parents believe that praising their child for every big or little accomplishment is helping reach that goal. Contrary to common belief, that is not the most helpful technique. Below are some tips that can impact your child’s sense of self in a positive way:

  1. Stop Over-Praising: When we praise for every little thing, the praise is “cheapened” and the child learns that perhaps the parent didn’t believe they could do it in the first place.
  2. Step back– children need to know that the parent believes in them. When the parent is hovering over their life, the child gets the message that they can’t do any of it on their own.
  3. Allow the child to take healthy risks- taking risks, failing, and trying again builds self-esteem.
  4. Let the child make their own choices– allow them space to decide.
  5. Allow the child to problem solve– let them try to figure out the problem before the parent steps in to give the answer.
  6. Allow them to pursue their passions– and help them stick to it even when it’s hard.
  7. And when they fail? Remind them that your love is unconditional and help them work through the failure to set new goals.

For Questions and Scheduling:

Please call 214-530-0021

Or email us at info@taylorcounselinggroup.com

THE NEVER ENDING CYCLE

For those stuck in the midst of recurrent pornography use, visits to exotic massage parlors, strip clubs, or one night stands the redundancy can be maddening. Many individuals have made promises to themselves, to others, and to God that this was the last time. They’ll write the date down or pick a ‘special day’ (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries, holidays) as the marker for a new life. For a time willpower is enough and they keep promises and abstain from the old habits. Life feels lighter and fresh. As mentioned in the first sentence, however, these problems are recurrent. Soon the preoccupation begins and the thoughts and urges are all encompassing. The day is spent thinking about urges, setting up the conditions, and then participating in the behavior the person was so desperate to avoid. This is followed by the all too familiar feelings of shame, despair, and desperation. This is the never ending cycle of addiction.

In his book Out of the Shadows, Patrick Carnes summarizes the addictive cycle in this way:

  • Preoccupation: the trance or mood wherein the addicts’ minds are completely engrossed with thoughts of sex. This mental state creates an obsessive search for sexual stimulation.
  • Ritualization: the addicts’ own special routines that lead up to the sexual behavior. The ritual intensifies the preoccupation, adding arousal and excitement.
  • Compulsive Sexual Behavior: the actual sexual act, which is the end goal of the preoccupation and ritualization. Sexual addicts are unable to control or stop this behavior.
  • Despair: the feeling of utter hopelessness addicts have about their behavior and their powerlessness.

Four steps complete the cycle. Ritualization intensifies preoccupation by adding arousal and excitement. Compulsive Sexual Behavior intensifies Ritualization by releasing large amounts of dopamine (pleasure hormone) and training the brain to return to the same process and source for pleasure, comfort, and escape next time the individual feels stress. Despair is the result of the behavior, the lowest step of all. The cyclical nature of the steps begins again as preoccupation rescues the person from their despair.

If this goes on long enough in life, relationships, career, and lifestyle are all effected. The result is a feeling of isolation as the person experiences deep shame and despair about their continual participation in the cycle and failure to stop.

Isolation ends as soon as it’s shared. The first step to ending the never ending cycle is to enter into healthy, supportive relationship. Therapy or group therapy are great options. So are 12 step groups such as SA, SAA, and Celebrate Recovery (CR). Utilized together, these options are even more effective.

THE EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY

It’s so common. Patient after patient discusses their pornography use. Most bring it up in conversation the first time while avoiding eye contact. In a softer than normal voice they’ll first admit they look at porn, and then they’ll begin to hesitantly detail their viewing. Very rarely do I encounter someone who doesn’t feel shame about using pornography. Many can identify tangible ways it’s affected their life and relationships. Others express extreme fear of being found out.

According to a survey conducted by the Barna Group in the U.S. in 2014, 79% of men and 76% of women aged 18-30 say they viewed pornography at least once a month. In that same age group, 63% of men and 21% of women say they viewed pornography several times a week. Use of pornography isn’t exclusive to this age group, 50-68 year olds were represented in the same survey. For men, 49% viewed at least once a month. For women, 4% reported viewing porn at least once a month. If so many look then what’s the big deal?

Pornography viewing releases dopamine in the brain. This actually occurs in any type of sexual stimulation. Since dopamine supplies a sense of pleasure, it’s release trains the brain to return to the same source to get more of it. In the context of a marriage relationship, this release of pleasure inducing dopamine can be a force helping partners return to each other for sexual pleasure. Pornography points the individual back to porn. If viewed for long periods of time, surges of dopamine can create an unnatural high in the brain eventually leading to fatigue. Once fatigued, the brain limits it’s release of dopamine, leaving the individual wanting more but unable to reach satisfaction. At this point the brain has become desensitized.

Desensitization is a result of an individual’s brain reacting to the dopamine dump induced by pornography viewing. In his book, Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel explains that experiences shape brain structure. Brain structure, in turn, shapes brain function. He states:

“Although genetic information also determines fundamental aspects of brain anatomy, our experiences are what create the unique connections and mold the basic structure of each individual’s brain.”

Said in a different way, experience is biology. This is scary when we think about the process of becoming desensitized to pornography use. The continual experience of viewing pornography has actually shaped brain structure, which has shaped brain function. Pornography shapes who an individual is.

In an E-book titled Your Brain on Porn created by Covenant Eyes, there is identified 5 tangible ways porn effects the brain. The article references a study from the 1980’s conducted by Dr. Dolf Zillman and Dr. Jennings Bryant. Their research found:

  1. Watching porn decreases our sexual satisfaction
  2. Watching porn disconnects us from our real relationships
  3. Watching porn lowers our view of women
  4. Watching porn desensitizes us to cruelty
  5. Watching porn makes us want to watch more porn

Those are some powerful effects. Perhaps the scariest part is how the study defined “Massive exposure group”. This group consisted of people exposed to 5 hours of porn over a 6 week period! With the accessibility to pornography at an all time high, what would a study of this kind conducted in 2016 reveal?

Pornography is damaging and addicting. If you struggle with pornography use I hope you’ll consider how much it’s effecting your life and relationships. I hope you’ll consider seeking out and asking for help from others committed to walking with you in your journey to freedom from addiction. Support groups, accountability partners, and therapy can all be helpful. Taylor Counseling Group is conducting a therapy group focused on recovery from pornography. If you’d like more information please contact us at (214) 530-0021.

DOES ROMANCE REALLY FADE?

Often in marriage therapy it’s common for a couple to come in with complaints of decreased intimacy, less frequent sex, loss of loving feelings, and overall lower levels of connection. These complaints are often wrapped up in surface level accusations, and the couple is familiar with the “dance” that ensues when the issues are brought up. This can be so defeating for each spouse as they feel as if they get nowhere in discussion. Getting bogged down in communication about frustrating events, and never quite getting to deeper, more hidden issues is a common experience.

So, why is it so hard to dive beneath the surface level problems and communicate on a level that addresses our real fears about intimacy? In his book Can Love Last?, Stephen A. Mitchell discusses the ways couples degrade romance in their relationship. It’s a common view that romance and loving feelings fade with time in long-lasting relationships, as the reality of bills, careers, and children take hold. Mitchell argues, however, that romance doesn’t fade, but that spouses intentionally and unintentionally degrade it with their actions. By doing so the familiar, perhaps dull stability of the relationship is kept intact. One of the ways this is accomplished is through the creation of unhelpful habits in relation to our spouse. Mitchell suggests that habituation can be a defense, a protective degradation against the vulnerability of being known in romantic love.

It’s risky to be known, perhaps more so in a committed, marital relationship than anywhere else. The large amount of extra-marital affairs and pornography use in our culture seem to point in that direction. It would be understandable if a reader looked at the last sentence and thought “aren’t affairs and pornography more risky than a sexual relationship inside a marriage?” To be certain there’s risk in the extreme damage that can be done by each, but to participate in the moment requires far less risk. Rarely do partners in an affair have the history and deep emotional connection of spouses, and pornography will literally be whatever the viewer wants it to be. There will never be rejection. There is no risk. In a committed relationship there is vulnerability and potential for injury. It makes sense then that spouses may be protecting themselves from hurt and degrading romance and intimacy, the very things which require risk, in their marriage.

Thinking about limited intimacy and romance in relationship in this way is a complete 180 for many. It requires each spouse to look at how they contribute to the co-creation of fading romance. Again, from Mitchell:

“When patients complain of dead and lifeless marriages, it is often possible to show them how precious the deadness is to them, how carefully maintained and insisted upon, how the very mechanical, totally predictable quality of lovemaking serves as a bulwark against the dread of surprise and unpredictability. Thus ‘secure attachment’ is not a terribly useful model of mutual, adult romantic love, except in its fantasy, illusory, security-bolstering dimensions. Love, by its very nature is not secure; we keep wanting to make it so.”

What ways do you protect yourself from risk in your marriage? Do any of your habits inhibit romance and connection? Do you fear being seen and known by your spouse? I hope you’ll speak with your spouse about your answers to these questions. The conversation certainly wouldn’t be predictable.

A NEW WAY TO LOOK AT INTERRUPTIONS

I have a picture of my son after he’s just finished eating strawberries and beets. I know, what a combination. It’s all over his face. In his nose, on his chin, smeared across his cheeks, staining his bib, in his ear. That last location baffles me. The point is he is covered with strawberries and beets. He’s a complete mess. Yet, he’s smiling. And it’s not just a regular smile, it’s a “I love life” or maybe “I love beets”, eyes shining, face lit up smile.

This picture reminds me of several things. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously. It reminds me life is messy. It reminds me few things actually turn out as I planned them. It reminds me messes are fun. Mostly it reminds me interruptions are life. Interruptions aren’t distractions from my work and life, they are my work and life. 

This is a shift from my normal, automatic mode of operating. In the moments when I’m not paying attention to the now I become more concerned with check lists, completion of goals, and the pursuit of my own accomplishments. I miss out on so much of life happening in front of me. Interruptions are viewed negatively. When I shift, though, interruptions become opportunities to encounter others. To connect, be known, empathize, and stay curious about the world and the people in it. The shift encourages me to live more congruently and authentically. Which in turn produces more excitement about goals and meaning.

The food spread across my son’s face and hands is quite the interruption to my idealized schedule, and it would be so easy to feel annoyed and try to push through the meal and clean him up as quickly as possible. I know this because I’ve had that reaction before. The interruption is also an invitation to play, though. To wonder at the finger painting art he’s created on his food tray. To empathize with his excitement about experiencing a new food for the first time. To get wrapped up in how fun it is to be with another person and to enjoy inefficiency together. Those other tasks will be there still when the moment passes, but this moment will soon be gone.

What would you pay more attention to if you viewed interruptions this way? Which interruptions give your life deeper meaning? What would you notice more often if you looked for it?

Help! I am Having Trouble Sleeping

Help! I am Having Trouble Sleeping

We all need our sleep on a regular basis to function.  Trouble sleeping can be due to a variety of things but most among those most common are anxiety, stress, depression, changes in environment, less than comfortable sleeping arrangement, medical or psychological issues, or unhealthy bedtime or daytime habits

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE

Most of us can recall learning about point of view in English class. In writing, it is defined as the narrator’s position in relation to the story being told. Many would not claim the label of writer, but in actuality we are all writers of our own stories. We take events and information from our past and present, position in society and family as well as stories told to us and about us to concoct a first person narrative.

The fascinating and good news about being your own writer is you can change the narrative at any point. What happened in the past does not have to foreshadow our future. We are free at any point in the present to shift our perspective and rewrite our story.

Here are a few practical steps to aid in the rewriting process:

  • Choose to focus on the positive – In life the proverbial glass will never be completely empty or completely full. Learn to acknowledge what’s in life that is making it full no matter where the meniscus currently lies.
  • Forgive yourself – While reflecting on poor choices we have made and how to improve ourselves is important and constructive, carrying around shameand guilt about them is not. In order to move on, we need to allow ourselves the freedom to learn and grow from mistakes rather than be held back and stunted by the weight of them.
  • Change the way you view “failure” – Thomas Edison tried out thousands of different versions of the light bulb and every single one failed before he invented the right one. His comment: “I have not failed. I’ve simply found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
  • Embrace the funny in life – Humor fosters acceptance of our humanness.

Allow yourself to laugh at past behaviors and thoughts and look forward to more comical acts in your story that have to be written. Everyone enjoys a good comedy now and then. 

For Questions and Scheduling:

Please call 214-530-0021

Or email us at info@taylorcounselinggroup.com

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE A FAMILY MEMBER WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS

Have you ever noticed how tricky dealing with family can be? Whether it’s your parents, siblings, children, extended family, or in-laws there’s a lot to navigate in the relationship. Remain in any relationship long enough and you’ll experience hurt and loss. You’ll probably also experience healing, but that takes more work and vulnerability, and isn’t as natural and easy as hurting each other.

So, family relationships are tricky. Now, add to that mental illness and the relationship can become even more complicated. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) about 1 out of 5 adults experience mental illness in a given year, about 1 in 5 children aged 13 18 will experience a mental disorder at some point in their life, and of the adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition, only 41% received treatment in the past year. It’s safe to say you’ll interact with an individual with a mental health disorder in some close relationship. Perhaps for you, it will be in a familial relationship. Many people with mental health issues have a clear understanding of what they need from themselves, their treatment providers, and family members to maintain health. Others have a more difficult time understanding this and being able to communicate it. So if someone close to you has a mental illness what should you do?

While there’s no blueprint to cover all issues or individuals, here are a few suggestions:

1) Practice empathy. This person didn’t ask for a certain condition and is probably more frustrated, stressed, afraid, and anxious about symptoms and effects of the condition than you are. Their life is impacted in ways yours isn’t.

2) Gather information for yourself. Careful with this one, the internet is full of opinions which may not be relevant for you or your family member. Ask a mental health professional about the disorder, or for a book on the topic. If the family member is willing, perhaps you could join them at a psychiatric or therapeutic session to gain more understanding. Remember, if you attend it’s still not your session. You’re the guest.

3) Enter into your own therapy. Therapy isn’t just for someone facing a debilitating disorder. Therapy can be a great avenue for you to process and discover different ways to manage your own emotional reactions to the family member. It can also be a place where you learn new communication and coping skills.

4) Understand your role. It can be so difficult to sit back and watch as someone you care about makes decisions you think are unwise. Remember though, you can’t force someone to change. There’s a fine line between encouragement and disempowering someone by telling them what to do. This is another area your own therapy can be helpful.

THE TOXIC SHAME CYCLE

I believe that most emotional issues can be boiled down to shame. Shame involves the core of who we are, who we see ourselves to be, and who we think others think we are. When we know how shame works, we are on our way to fighting through what is called the toxic shame cycle. Depending on your story you may have started off in life as “super human”. We get acknowledgment for the things we do, and attach our worth to how perfect we can be. For awhile, this works. Maybe you were able to get good grades in school, impress those around you, and perform well at work and please your boss. But, eventually life becomes too much to reach perfection in every area. Instead of simply recognizing that you are human and can’t meet this expectation for perfection you, instead, start to see yourself as sub human. Because your worth was wrapped up in how well you could perform you now believe you aren’t worth anything. You may think things like, “I don’t have what it takes”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I’m unlovable”. Eventually, you’re able to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, out of the pit of self pity and start performing, perfecting, and producing again. Round and round the cycle goes until you can’t take it anymore and reach out for help.

The only way out of this cycle is to learn that you are human and begin to set human expectations for yourself. This means you have responsibilities but it’s okay to make mistakes, have emotions, express needs, and fail sometimes. You must also learn to expose your shame. The thoughts we have about ourselves, what our failure says about who we are, and all those things we think make us less than, all grow in the dark. Once you’ve said it out loud in the presence of a safe person, shame starts to dissipate. But the work doesn’t stop there. When shame has made it’s mark it can take years to erase those thoughts that come natural. With the help of a therapist and supportive friends or family it is possible to rewrite the script and put an end to the toxic shame cycle.

For Questions and Scheduling:

Please call 214-530-0021

Or email us at info@taylorcounselinggroup.com