Moving Forward Instead of Moving On

“Just move on, forget about it, get over it.”- we’ve all heard these words from someone and sometimes that someone even has good intentions.  The trouble is, regardless of good intentions, it’s hurtful and invalidating to someone who has gone through a hard life experience.  Moving on from an event that has impacted, altered, or changed us can often feel like an impossible task.  To some, moving on can feel like we are forgetting, forgetting an experience, or forgetting a loved one we always wanted to remember.  Also, maybe we don’t to forget- maybe it feels good to remember the person or experience no matter how hurtful it feels. 

The good news is, we can move forward with healing, time, counseling, and more without having to move on and forget.  Moving forward suggests that we remember our past, integrate it into our present, feel at peace with the way our past informs our present, and can ultimately talk or think about our past in a way that feels safe to us.  Moving ON suggests that we are turning our past OFF, but we don’t have to.  Ultimately, our emotions need to be felt and dealt with in order to move forward.  While this is counterintuitive to what we often hear from others, remember the power of your words when someone you love is going through a hard time.

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT PORNOGRAPHY

At this point the average age of an individual at their first exposure to pornography is during their early adolescence or early teen years. At this time the brain is learning it’s first expressions of sexual desire and coping with new demands of life. There’s a combination of factors which contribute to the amount and frequency of pornography viewing by each individual, so if your child is viewing pornography it doesn’t mean they’ll become a full-blown addict. Understandably, though, you’ll want to take some steps and engage them in conversation. It’s important to remember shame and fear often accompany pornography viewing. Your child has a developing brain which doesn’t understand how pornography viewing is shaping his or her brain structure thereby shaping brain function thereby shaping personality, attachment, emotional regulation, etc. They didn’t click a certain link with the intention of creating a compulsory behavior, or with knowledge of statistics on pornography viewing. When you’re speaking with them and confronting them keep in mind the developmental stage their brain is in.

The adolescent brain is drawn to novelty and is often impulsive. Their minds also can’t think logically, linearly through a situation the same way an adult mind can. That being said, here a few tips about having a conversation with your child about pornography.

  • Listen first. Ask about their feelings and thoughts before viewing, during viewing, and after viewing. If their talking goes off the topic of pornography, keep listening. Problems at school or at home may be connected. If you’re not listening, your child may jump to the conclusion that you’re not interested in their experience.
  • It may be helpful to have a conversation while engaging in some other activity. Playing an
    uncomplicated game or working together on a project allows for your child to focus in on the
    activity if feelings of shame or other negative feelings become too intense. Then when they’re ready they can re-engage in conversation.
  • Communicate and brainstorm with your child about steps to take to block and limit access to pornography. Online software such as Covenant Eyes can be helpful. Another resource is
    XXXchurch.com.
  • If the viewing persists, consider speaking to a therapist.

Codependency

Codependency seems to be a hot topic right now in the counseling world. But often we talk about codependency as a condition we have instead of a set of choices we make.

“A codependent person is one who lets another person’s behavior affect him or her and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” (Melody Beattie in Codependent No More

Years ago “codependent relationship” was only used to describe the relationship between an alcoholic and their family. Now, studies are showing that codependency can take place in relationships where one person has any type of dependency. This dependency could be on drugs, sex, food, work, gambling, perfectionism, etc. This means codependency is way more common than we originally thought. It is important to address the codependent tendencies in your relationships for you to be a healthy individual.

Why the Codependent Stays

It’s obvious that life with an alcoholic, gambler, drug addict, sex addict etc etc, would have its issues. From the outside it may be confusing why the codependent remains in a relationship with the dependent. The secret is, the codependent is just as addicted, but on something entirely different, something you wouldn’t normally think of. The codependent is addicted to being the hero, their desire to “fix it”, making others happy, and saying “yes”. The codependent is a people pleaser to the extreme. What makes this even more of a problem is the fact that the time and energy that the codependent spends on taking care of others keeps them from taking care of themselves (kinda like picking bugs off someone else's tail). The codependent is often intimidated by the idea of paying attention to what they are thinking and feeling. They take care of others in order to avoid their own emotions, dreams, hopes, and desires. This often leads to issues with the codependent not knowing who they are.  

WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN CONFLICT?

If you’re in a relationship (any relationship….so all of you), then you’re no stranger to conflict. Big and small they arise, and it often seems as if the way we interact in them is similar time after time. In fact, if we describe the way we interact we can usually describe the patterns in terms that capture the majority of our and our partners conflictual interactions with each other.

In Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight, she provides a formula for describing a couple’s behaviors in those intense moments. It looks like this:

The more I ______________, the more you _____________, and the more you ___________ the more I ____________.

The sentence is meant to illustrate the cyclical nature of our behaviors. In men, the number one conflict pattern is to avoid. This may be physical, mental, or emotional avoidance, or all three. One of the ways Johnson describes this avoidance is a pattern of numbing out. The person feels overwhelmed and numbs out, which communicates a lack of presence to the other person.

So an example statement may read:

The more I numb out and stare at the ground, the more you ask a bunch of questions to get a response out of me, and the more you ask a bunch of questions to get a response out of me, the more I numb out and stare at the ground. And round and round we go. Weeeee!!!

The problem with this merry-go-round is it isn’t so merry. It’s a cyclical dynamic which creates more frustration, loneliness, confusion, and resentment between two people. It also convinces the people trapped in it’s whirlwind the other person is the enemy here. What a destructive force! Really in a relationship, the two people are on the same team and the cyclical dynamic is the enemy.

This cycle won’t end itself. You’ve got to do something different and step off the hamster wheel. One way to do that is to practice using the above sentence with your partner and to name your cycle. I’ve heard all sorts of names from couples. Merry-go-round, hamster wheel, vortex of destruction, the alley-cat, and others with much stronger language. Having awareness of how each of you contribute to the cycle and naming it are two tactics to help you get out of it once it begins. This doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start. A start which can help you talk about the underlying issues and not get caught up in destructive behaviors.

What’s your go to behavior in intense conflict?

What emotions do conflicts create in you?

What message do you think your partner hears when you engage in your conflict behavior?

What emotions do you think they feel besides anger?

What would you name your cycle?

Self-Care

Before takeoff, a flight attendant will inform the cabin of all procedures should an emergency occur. The common instruction goes something like this, “In the event we lose cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you…. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” This simple instruction is packed with truth about how we should operate in a stressful, energy draining society.

It is vital to our overall health to take proper care of ourselves first so that we can be fully equipped to take care of responsibilities to work and others. Taking time each day to meet your own needs allows for longevity and availability. Below are a few suggestions of ways to “put on your mask first” so that you can assist others.

·      Set clear boundaries between work and personal time

·      Unplug for at least an hour a day

·      Do some form of meditation or deep breathing

·      Enjoy something humorous; laughter is great medicine

·      Get at least 15 minutes of fresh air and sun

·      List off 10 things you are thankful for

·      Get your blood pumping whether it be formal exercise or squats/stairs at the office

·      Positively affirm yourself by either asking for affirmation or reminding yourself of past affirmations

·      Ask for help even if you “could” do it on your own

·      Engage daily with at least one person who is life giving and encouraging

·      Find an opportunity to engage in something you are good at each week

·      Plan a trip or getaway just for fun

As you begin to implement change, be encouraged by the words of American writer Brian Andreas, “There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by my self.”

Combatting Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating. We all do it.  It’s when we are feeling stressed after a hard exam, or angry at our spouse, or when that meeting went better than expected and we deserve the extra giant bowl of ice cream.  While coping with emotions through excessive eating or restricted eating is common in our society, it is not a healthy and effective coping skill to deal with our feelings and stressors. It sure is easy to agree with that when you are sitting there reading this, but a lot harder to remember when you are in the pantry fuming, I know. 

 

One of the first steps to acknowledging and combatting emotional eating is Mindfulness.  Practicing mindfulness when you are eating something enjoyable; truly tasting it, experiencing the texture of it, acknowledging the nourishment it gives your body, will help you practice mindful eating when you are hungry instead of scarfing down empty calories to aid your soul.  The next step when you are in that emotional state is to remember that Mindfulness and to Reflect on your thoughts and feelings in that moment.  Do you want that extra three slices of cake that you will hate yourself for eating after you do?  Stop and think for two minutes about it, if you still want it after that, go for it.  Thirdly, this takes practice, just like anything that involves thoughtfulness and self-control.  Start small and be patient with yourself.  There can be freedom in our eating choices, but it takes Mindfulness, Reflection, and Practice. 

 

 

WE ARE WIRED FOR COMMUNITY

Tribes. Villages. Families. Communities. The words can be interchangeable. Whichever word you use, the impact remains significant. If we want to grow we need others.

Human beings are wired for community at a neuronal level. If our neurons don’t interact with other neurons they undergo a process called apoptosis, or neuron death. When they do interact they thrive and work together. Neurons that fire together, wire together and help to create neuronal pathways in our brain. Our experiences help to shape which neurons fire and wire together. In a way experience = biology. Experience shapes brain structure, brain structure influences brain function, and brain function shapes attachment, personality, emotional regulation and more. The community of neurons a person has in their brain literally shapes everything about them.


Like our neurons, we need community. It’s only in community that we’ll thrive. Consider how important community is from the beginning of our lives. As infants we’re completely helpless. We need parents to keep us alive. This isn’t just about milk and formula, though. Community is more than physical nourishment, it’s emotional and relational. Infants need touch to survive. Decades back, workers in orphanages were instructed not to touch the residing infants unless it couldn’t be avoided. The thinking here was limited touch would limit the transmission of disease and the infant death rate, fairly high at the time, would decrease. Babies were fed adequate amounts, changed, and given opportunity to get the needed amount of sleep. What workers, and later researchers, observed was that infants still died. They discovered these young children needed touch to live. In our early lives so much contributes to the connection between mother and child (and fathers as well). Eye contact creates attachment, skin to skin contact while breast feeding increases mood in mothers and helps to develop positive feelings toward the infant. Ever wonder why a babies head smells good seemingly all the time? Yeah, me too. Specialized scent glands secrete pheromones which make a baby’s perspiration pleasing to us. That’s crazy. It seems everything about our physiology points us towards attachment, connection and community.
These processes continue into adolescence and adulthood. The need never leaves. We don’t self-actualize above a need for attachment and community. In fact we tend to carry figures from our past and present around with us as mental models. Even when others aren’t present they’re with us internally. We become a constellation of our relationships, healthy and unhealthy. And these relationships change us whether we want them to or not. We become like who we spend time with. This is great news, really. It means if I want to be a healthier person, then I can surround myself with healthy people. Of course, it also means if I’m not paying attention to who I spend time with, I can also become more dysfunctional. Not all people are good for me. That doesn’t necessarily mean those people are bad people, but it means they’re not going to be internalized in a way which is helpful for me. They’re not someone I want in my constellation. I want people in my constellation who influence me (consciously and unconsciously), who will push me towards growth, health, and community.


Who are you spending time with? What do you want to cultivate in your life? Who do you know who can help you move towards those things? Who are some of the people in your constellation? You’re also in a relationship with yourself. It’s important to make that relationship healthy as well. How can your relationship with yourself be more healthy?

Anxiety Management 101

I once had a client who often experienced the catastrophic fear that she would be a homeless hooker if something “went wrong.” This may seem rather out there, but to her it was a very real concern that was interfering with her ability to self regulate, sleep, process stressors, be assertive and set healthy boundaries with responsibility. 

Anxiety is something that will always exist and can actually be helpful in certain circumstances. But when it gets overwhelming, we need to first name the fear and speak truth to ourselves about reality. Identify if it a hypothetical problem or a current problem. For my client is was hypothetical. She had to actively remind herself that she had never been homeless before, she had decent savings, supportive community, and was very capable of getting another job in her field.

Other tools for managing anxiety include exercise, participating in enjoyable hobbies and meditation/prayer. Allow yourself some “me time” each day to relax, increase serotonin, laugh, or enjoy a fun activity. Giving yourself over to the positive experiences in life will in turn decrease the amount of negative self-talk that can lead to catastrophic thinking. Also externalize your feelings, as we tend to act the way we identify ourselves. Avoid labeling yourself “an anxious person” but rather claim that you are a person learning to manage anxiety.

 If you feel your anxiety has become too overwhelming, reach out to a mental health professional that will help normalize your situation and give tools and voice to the overcomer in you. 

My Spouse is an Alcoholic

Being married to an alcoholic can be an emotional ride.  Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use disorder, is characterized by an addiction to alcohol through dependency, tolerance, or compulsion to use.  Being married to someone who is an alcoholic can feel frustrating, confusing, or complicated.  They may fear for their safety, children, or marital satisfaction.   People who are married to someone who struggles with alcohol use may feel that they are powerless.  However, here are some practical steps you can take to seek help for your loved one and yourself:

1.      Prepare to Approach-  Rehearse what you can say to your spouse so you are prepared.  Try not to shame, blame, or guilt them. 

2.     Be Honest with yourself and your spouse- it’s natural to make excuses for your spouse, enable, or minimize- which can lead to co-dependency.  Look at yourself in the mirror and be honest about what you’re feeling and what your spouse is doing.

3.     Seek help for yourself- seek emotional support for what you’re going through.  This can be individual counseling, support groups for spouses, or personal means. 

4.     Commit to change- whether this is boundaries you are setting, following through on your desires, or allowing your spouse to experience the consequences of their behaviors.

INTIMACY IN MARRIAGE

While research shows that married couples have more sex and are happier than their single counterparts, it’s not uncommon to have a married couple in session express frustration about intimacy in marriage. Intimacy, which I remember hearing a professor define as “into me you see”, is about much more than the sexual relationship. Consider the following example:

A husband and wife spend an entire day together. They have brunch together, spend some time walking, playing, and talking at their favorite park, and end the day at a romantic restaurant with wine and dessert. When they return home the wife goes to the bedroom and slips into her pajamas. The husband was expecting something entirely different, feels frustrated, and retreats to the couch with a beer.


Often spouses have different ways their ‘intimacy tanks’ are filled, and the sexual drive of spouses is rarely the same. In the example above the husband has a higher sexual drive (not always the case) and by the end of the night viewed everything that happened earlier in the day as foreplay. Brunch, the park, talking, dinner, wine, enjoying each other’s company…all foreplay. The wife has a lower sexual drive (again, not always the case in marriages) and her intimacy tank is full after a day filled with her spouse’s company. She’s content to put on something more comfortable (literally) and call it a night. Usually for the spouse with a higher sexual drive, sex equals intimacy. For the spouse with the lower sexual drive, typically sex does not equal intimacy. All of the activities of the day are what fills the intimacy tank.

Intimacy is about being known. To be intimate, even within marriage, is a vulnerable thing. Sharing fears, joys, anxieties, pleasures, sadness, anger, and even excitement with another takes courage. I often encourage couples to talk more about intimacy in their marriage, including the sexual relationship. Only the topic of money causes more conflict in marriages than sex, and yet sex is probably the least discussed topic in marital relationships.

How do you do this? I just highlighted how risky it can be to be vulnerable and intimate. Start by inviting your spouse to talk more. Maybe you need a certain time and place set aside for this type of conversation. Maybe you need to put down your cell phone and turn off the tv, check that, you definitely need to put down your cell phone and turn off your tv. Also ask better questions. Stop asking your spouse yes or no questions. Stop asking “How are you?” If you ask the same questions over and over, you’ll get the same answers over and over. Instead ask questions which invite your spouse to discuss their emotions about intimacy. “What are you afraid of in our marriage?”, “When did you feel sad today?”, “When did you feel proud of yourself?”, “Tell me about a time you really enjoyed sex in our marriage.” As you both feel a little more secure, I imagine the questions can become more focused on your intimacy and sexual relationship.