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How to Talk to Your White Kids about Power and Privilege

As a therapist who works primarily with sexual issues, I know that there are topics that don’t get discussed much in homes, likely due to the uncomfortable nature of those conversations. The irony is, these topics are uncomfortable because we don’t talk about them often enough. A topic I have noticed many families neglect is power and privilege.

This certainly applies in the work I do surrounding sex. It applies in teaching our children how not to exploit younger or less able-bodied children. It applies to dating and peer relationships for teens. It applies to our role as a parent to our children. It applies to gender and it most certainly applies to race.

Here are some things you can do to help your children grow up as kind, aware, and accepting humans. We need to do more than say, “All people are created equal.”, and then go about our day feeling like we did the right thing. It isn’t enough.

  1. Acknowledge your own privilege. You can’t teach your children something you don’t understand. If you find yourself saying things like, “All lives matter,” take the opportunity to educate yourself on the subject. You can be sure that if there is a large group of people with a lot of energy surrounding a topic, there is something real there. If you don’t understand it and feel defensive about it, rather than criticizing it, learn about it. I recommend the book, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin Diangelo. This is a good start.
  2. Teach your children that the way they see the world isn’t necessarily the way the world IS. We so quickly take our very limited view as truth. This doesn’t help our children in life, or in the quest for kindness and equality. If your children see primarily white people everywhere they go, help them understand that this is privilege. There is a reason they don’t see black or brown people where they are, and it is power and privilege that those people don’t share. Teach your children alternative views of the world. Expose them to other people’s experiences and truths and treat those experiences as valid and real.
  3. Show your children the things they have simply because of what color they are and where they live. One of the biggest challenges here is that privilege by its very nature is invisible to us. We don’t have to look at the things that work for us inherently, and so we are usually blind to them. The luxury of privilege is that we can ignore the things that oppressed people are painfully aware of. I hear so often, “I worked hard for everything I have.” I believe most people work hard for what they have, but there are some things we have just because of who we are, what we look like, and where we are, that we did not have to work for. It is true that some people in society have to work much harder for the same things other people had to work much less for. This is privilege and oppression at work.
  4. Model for your children how to use their privilege to benefit those who don’t have it. A person with more privilege needs to use that privilege to make changes toward equality. This comes back to the hard work topic. The oppressed have to work so much harder to achieve equality. They can’t and shouldn’t be doing it alone. Those is a place of privilege need to use it to make these changes at a quicker rate. What do your children learn from watching you? Do they learn that different rules apply to higher and lower power parties (parents and children)? Do they learn that the one with the most power gets the say simply because they have the most power? Or do they know that everyone in the family, community, and world matters the exact same and so do their voices? Are you open to influence from your children even though they are smaller and less experienced than you? Reassess how you model power dynamics in your home. Children who grow up feeling overpowered relish in the day they get a turn in the seat of power and domination.

I meet with hundreds of students and clients on a yearly basis from all different walks of life. What I have found in all these deeply intimate and connected conversations and interactions is that we on a basic human level are remarkably similar. We all want to be loved, accepted and treated fairly. We want the same for our children and loved ones. Let’s lay down the defenses and model kindness and humility for our children so they can do better than we have.

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Flexible Thinking Part 2: Flexible Thinking and Mental Health

In my last post, Flexible Thinking Part 1, I reviewed what flexible thinking is and its benefits. Over the last few months, we have all been “thrown in the deep end” of flexible thinking as the COVID-19 pandemic has required us to make adjustments. Flexible thinking, or the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations, helped us transition to distance learning, working, shopping, and socializing. 

In this post, I briefly highlight how flexible thinking can improve and help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety:

  • Depression tells us things will never change and reduces hope for the future. Flexible thinking applied to depression recognizes the opportunity each day and, in each situation, to do something different and breaks down negative feedback loops.
  • Anxiety feeds on possible, but unlikely, scenarios playing out in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Flexible thinking reminds anxious minds they have the resources around and within them to solve current and future problems and to create solutions to those problems. In short, flexible thinking focuses on “possibilities rather than deficiencies.”

What can we do to increase and improve our mental flexibility? 

Engaging in mindfulness activities, (think deep breathing, meditation and guided imagery) yoga, aerobics and relaxation techniques have all been shown to increase executive functions and mental flexibility. Research has also shown we can also enable flexible thinking through positive affect (positive emotions such as cheerfulness, pride and energy and their expression), openness to experience and self-control.

As we consistently engage in flexible thinking, we can have more control over our thoughts and responses, reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, frustration and stress, meet our goals and successfully navigate the changing circumstances in our everyday lives and interpersonal relationships. 

Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC

Reference:

Kashdan, T. B., & Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical psychology review30(7), 865-878.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-inner-life-students/202003/flexibility-in-the-midst-crisis

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Flexible Thinking Part 1: Make and keep friends, romantic partners, and your job

What is Flexible Thinking?

Running a social skills group for kids ages 7-11 has taught me a lot about the benefits of flexible thinking. Flexible thinking in kids produces turn taking, transitioning smoothly to new activities, and the ability to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations.

Flexible thinking in adults also enables mental, emotional, and behavioral adaptability. It is the ability to consider situations from multiple perspectives, include context clues to inform decision making, manage rising emotional responses in appropriate ways, problem solve, and balance and prioritize competing desires and goals. Flexible thinking also allows for spontaneity in our romantic relationships that can increase excitement and deepen connection.

Flexible thinking looks like letting someone else pick the restaurant for dinner, cancelling plans to be with a friend or spouse who’s had a difficult day, finding solutions to problems instead of ruminating on the endless escalating spiral of “what if…” scenarios, truly listening to understand what others are saying, and not telling your boss what you really think of them when they take credit for your work during the company meeting.

Inflexible or rigid thinking in adults is often manifest in all or nothing (Black and White) perspectives and doesn’t allow for nuances and mitigating circumstances. Doing something because, “That’s how we have always done it” is an example of rigid thinking. Other examples include not listening to other’s ideas, struggling to consider the feelings and experiences of others, and obliviousness to opportunities around us because we are locked into our self-appointed expectations, rules or ideas about how something is “supposed to be.”

There is a popular Huffington Post article (“Reasons my son is crying will crack you up!”) that is unknowingly highlighting inflexible and rigid thinking. In each of these pictures, the child is having an emotional meltdown because they are stuck on one thought and the associated feeling so deeply, they become overwhelmed, abandon all reason and rebuff efforts to console them; for example, “He wouldn’t fit through the doggy door. Note the open-door right beside him.” With toddlers and adults alike, inflexible thinking can lead to unhelpful and stressful situations.

As a caution, let’s be clear that not all rigid thinking is unhelpful. There are areas in life that being inflexible is necessary and protective. With regards to physical safety and personal and emotional boundaries, it is advantageous to be rigid.

Application

We all have times where we utilize both flexible and rigid thinking, the important part is to identify where we, as adults, teens or kids, could benefit from more flexible thinking.

  • Is there an issue with your friends or spouse that keeps coming up, how could you change your perspective or response in the situation to increase connection with that person?
  • What could be a different way to address the issue? What about that issue is the real problem?
  • Could any of these same questions be applied to work relationships and circumstances?

You need to be a pipe cleaner.

Here is a visual way to conceptualize flexible thinking. During one of my first weeks running the aforementioned social skills group I came across an activity highlighting the importance of and difference between flexible and rigid thinking using a popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner and a piece of yarn.

  • A popsicle stick is sturdy but rigid. Attempts to bend the popsicle stick typically result in it breaking. Not helpful. 
  • Pipe cleaners are soft and fuzzy on the outside, come in multiple colors, bend easily, hold their shape and have sturdy wire in the middle: the creative options are endless. They are so adaptable they can bend to whatever the situation requires while maintaining their inner core (read: personal values and goals).
  • A piece of yarn can barely hold any shape at all, it’s too flexible. It can’t stand up for itself or hold a boundary and can be easily manipulated with no resistance.

Thinking like a pipe cleaner allows flexibility, adjusting, shifting, adapting and changing as needed without compromising our values. What areas in your life are you like a pipe cleaner? Are there some relationships, situations or events where you are more like a popsicle stick? Which of these scenarios or people would benefit from you being more like a pipe cleaner?

Look for Flexible Thinking Part 2: Mental Health, where I will review how flexible thinking impacts and effects our mental health.

Emerald Robertson, M.S.Ed., ACMHC, NCC

Reference:

Halloran, J. (2015, February 9). Teaching flexibility to kids. https://www.encourageplay.com/blog/being-flexible

Khoo, I. (2015, April 29). ‘Reasons my son is crying’ will crack you up. Huffington Post Canada. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/04/29/toddlers-crying_n_7033472.html

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“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Anything that is human is mentionable and anything mentionable can be more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know we are not alone.” – Fred Rogers

I love this quote from Mr. Rogers; it is the epitome of what I believe as a therapist and strive to achieve with my clients. We are all human and we have immense capacity for handling emotions, but sometimes those emotions feel completely and utterly overwhelming. Having a person that we can trust can make those emotions feel more manageable and we might, just maybe, even be able to talk about them more openly.

 We all want to feel like we matter and that someone cares about us; that is a universal human desire. No one wants to feel like they are all alone in this life, but often that is a feeling that we experience. How do we combat those feelings of being alone, isolated, not heard, or not cared for? Connection. Connection to someone or something that allows us to feel seen, heard, and understood. Connection requires vulnerability and vulnerability can be scary. Let’s be honest, we have all probably experienced a situation that we chose to bury, ignore, or deny an emotion rather than risk being hurt by being vulnerable and sharing.

Many of us grew up with Mr. Rogers as our introduction into learning about feelings. He didn’t shy away from talking about the hard topics either: death, divorce, pain, rage, and anger all featured on his show aimed at children. His forthright presentation of issues that we, as human beings, all struggle with was not typical for the time where children were, largely, encouraged to be seen and not heard. How refreshing to help children, and the adults that we became, to learn to recognize, identify, and name the emotions that we were feeling and that it was ok to be scared, it’s human. And if it’s human, then it’s mentionable and manageable with a little help from our friends in the neighborhood. In the words of Mr. Rogers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Henley, Y., Saraf, P., Turtletaub, M., Holzer, L. (Producers), & Heller, M. (Director). (2019) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood [Motion Picture]. United States: Tristar Pictures.

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The Power of Humility

In my work with people from all walks of life and circumstances, the one thing I have found to be true in every case is that humility always aids in healthier interactions and higher quality relationships. Another observation, is that humility is not very easy to come by. We, as human beings, kind of stink at this humility thing.

So, what is this humility thing? Well, in my personal and very unofficial definition it means not viewing yourself (or anyone for that matter) as better than anyone else. It is throwing out the right vs wrong, better or worse than mentality. I think that the following two beliefs are an essential first step in maintaining humility.

  1. Remember that every single human being on this earth has had and will have an entirely unique experience. None of us can have the exact same experiences and views as someone else.
  2. Each one of those unique human experiences and vantage points are valid.

Not only do these beliefs lay the ground work for much kinder and constructive interactions, but it will ease you of the stress that comes from expectations to be right or better than. Humility might sound like this:

“I think it is like this, but I could be mistaken.”

“I want to try this, and I would love to hear what you would like to try.”

“Can you tell me what that is like for you?”

“I was mistaken.”

“I am sorry about the pain you are feeling due to my choice. Will you tell me more about it?”

       I challenge you to incorporate even one of these phrases into your conversations, perhaps with someone you haven’t been getting along with very well, and see how the relationship improves. Even if you don’t find the outcome you were looking for, kindness and softness are never wasted.

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We Need Others

Human beings are social creatures and need connection. Psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have suggested many reasons for why we need connection.  These reasons include: providing for physical and emotional needs, creating tribal safety, invoking social and economic efficiency, and offering structure for human development.

As I’ve explored this topic, I find our need for others is multifaceted. In mental health, there are overlapping influences, often termed the biopsychosocial model of health. This phonetic amalgamation promotes the importance of three overarching schools of thought: (1) our biology, (2) our thoughts and emotions, and (3) our social environment. Our social connections are no small matter. We experience social connection with family, friends, church relationships, clubs, and work situations.

One reason I feel we need others, is to create affirmation and validation for our life journey. As children, we look to authority figures for validation. At first, this person is usually a parent or guardian. When we enter our adolescence, we turn to friends. As adults, we may seek approval from peers, or authority figures such as church leaders, a spouse, or a boss at work. Marriage relationships uniquely create opportunities for seeking intimate affirmation and validation. As a therapist, I see couples desiring validation if they are “enough,” or if they are “doing things right.” These bids for validation are expressed in a variety of scenarios in the kitchen to the bedroom.

Eventually, we arrive at a place where self-confidence eclipses the need to seek validation from others.  When this occurs, we help support others, and our self-esteem is self-sufficient.  I don’t think this process is a bad thing. Instead, I feel the understanding we gain is helpful and includes three important concepts.

First, as other people bid for validation from us, we should feel complimented, as we are now a companion in their healing journey. Affirming another is an opportunity to support and honor the path and choices others make in a way that creates self-awareness and growth, confidence, and security while allowing for a space of safety.

Second, we need to know how hurtful rejection can be for those who seek for an affirming voice from us. As children, we are often told “no,” “don’t,” or “you cannot.” Usually, these commands are barked from parents who want to protect their children. However, as a conscience being willing to aid in the healing journey of others, an affirming voice such as “you can,” “you’ve got this,” or “I trust you,” is more effective.

Third, understanding your attachment style, or the attachment style of others can assist in explaining how validation and affirmation are expressed.  An assessment of how you engage with others can aid you and those you love to help establish securely attached relationships.  For example, some people will anxiously seek for attention, and others pull back when things get messy, avoiding receiving the needed help the connection brings.

As humans, we connect with others for a variety of meaningful ways. Seeking affirmation and validation is a human characteristic that moves people toward a place of self-confidence. We start by trusting the voices of others we trust, and then we move to trust our internal voice.  We do these in elaborate dances that deserve our attention and our nonjudgmental observation.

If you or a loved one needs help in understanding or seeking validation, please give me a call at 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment today.

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Repairing and Building Closer Relationships Through Play Therapy

https://kutv.com/features/fresh-living/clair-mellenthin-repairing-and-building-closer-relationships-through-play-therapy

Please follow the link above to view Clair Mellenthin’s segment with KUTV on Repairing and building closer relationships through Play Therapy.

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My Kids Are All in School….Now What?

It’s a story I hear about all of the time in my personal and professional life. “My last child is going to kindergarten, or first grade. Yay!! I’m going to have so much more time for other things!” And inevitably, a month later, I hear a very different story. “I don’t quite know who I am anymore. Or what I want to do with my time.” A lot of these women have been stay at home mothers, or work part time, while they have young children. Once the children are in school, their life changes quite drastically. They have more time to focus on themselves and their own interests. While this sounds like a time of liberation, a lot of women find it to be a time of high anxiety. 

For years, society has taught women that their primary, and sometimes only, role is to be a mother. Whether you subscribe to this mentality or not, it is very present in our society. Therefore, a lot of women take that role on as their only sense of self. As a mother, sometimes I find myself getting lost in child rearing. I have to remind myself that while I love being a mother and it is important to me, I can still have interests and passions outside of that realm.  This realization comes to light quickly when all of your children are attending school full time. So, to all of the mothers who are sending their youngest off to kindergarten/first grade, or to the mothers of young children that need to revisit who they are I challenge you to answer the following five questions.

  1. What do I like to do for fun?
  2. What do I do for self care that reenergizes me?
  3. What relationships would I like to strengthen?
  4. Do I want to go back to work, or work more?
  5. Other than being a mom what do I want to be known for in my life?

These questions can help guide you to some career choices, as well as just things you can do for yourself when you have the time. If you are having a difficult time defining who you are, and who you want to become in the future come into therapy. Working with women to find their inner strength is something I love to do! Good luck as your kiddos head off to school.  I’ll be at Wasatch Family Therapy with lots of congratulations and the tissues. 

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On Going Kids Social Skills Group

Wasatch Family Therapy is excited to announce this school year’s social skills group. This group is opened ended allowing kids to come into the group throughout the school year. There is a six session commitment, but children can stay longer, if needed. Groups are $50 per session, due at the time of the group. Please contact us at 801-944-4555 to register for the group.

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50 Wise Ways To De-Stress Your Life

People have many reasons for why their life is so stressful. Why they can’t de-stress. 
Why they feel so out-of-control. Why they believe it will just never change.

While many reasons exist, my experience is that people have three key reasons why they can’t seem
to de-stress their lives. Here are a few to think about.

1) My life is too complicated to change!
 
I’ve heard this reason or derivations of this excuse many times. Whether it’s multi-tasking a crazy schedule
or simply feeling there is nothing I can change, this line of reasoning hamstrings us.

2) Life never gives me a darn break!
 
While this reason sounds similar to number 1, it’s actually quite different. Whether it’s a mom who is
exhausted by their 3 kids or a dad trying to close that important deal to support their family, it’s exhausting.
By the way, these roles can be switched and aren’t gender exclusive. The point is, we need to SEEK a break in
our lives.

3) Stress keeps me young!
 
I’ve spoken with people who have told me that stress is “motivating” or that stress keeps me
“involved in life.” And yes, even that it “keeps me young.” The latter has been spoken with a knowing
chagrinned glance that it actually isn’t helping. Which actually begs the question of “how well is that working for
you?” The reality is, it simply is NOT helping.

Ideas That Work!

Here are 50 wise and proven ways to de-stress your lives (Hint: The hard part is actually making the time, not
in doing them!)
 
Read
Garden
Movies
Hike
Piano
Affection
Backpack
New outfit
Vacation
Work (job) less
Bucket list
Friends
Work out
Increase Intimacy
Get away
Spirituality
Sex
Travel
Education
Walk
Step back
Make Love
Change careers
Re-connect
Healthy Emotions
Trail Run
Date
Flower Garden
Exercise
Religion
Journal
Volunteer
Arts
Ski
Creativity
Crafts
Mountains
Yoga
Rock Climbing
Symphony
The Mighty 5
Bear Lake
Sunset
Opera
Sunrise
Thunder
The Beach
Work smarter
Self-care
Alone time
Switch it up!

There are easily 50 more ideas to add to this list. However, that’s not the point, i.e., to add more stress. The critical
point is that unless we make changes and do more for ourselves, we suffer. We’ll just experience more and more stress
that just simply perpetuates itself. That. Makes. No. Sense!
 
What makes perfect sense is choosing several of the items from my list and just doing them. Hiking is amazing in the
Wasatch. Watching a summer movie rocks. Journaling is helpful. Reading a book energizing!
 
And, I can (almost) guarantee that your stress level will drop. You will want to do more for yourself. Become fiercely loyal
to it!!!

Michael Boman, LCSW has 20 years experience in helping people de-stress and reconnect. Reach out to him at 801.944.4555,
if you feel this blog has moved you to want to take back your life.
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