Few phrases will cause such an immediate, intense, almost visceral reaction from me as, “You’re so strong!” It’s a phrase that I have heard countless times over the last few years. On the surface, it sounds like a compliment that I possess the ability to hold and manage more than you would expect, and I work to receive this message as the one the sender is trying to convey. What it feels like the person is saying is that they are unable to deal with my sadness, grief, frustration, anger, or whatever emotion, and they need me to be strong because the emotions make them uncomfortable. I’m left feeling alone and dismissed.
In the early days of grief, the feelings of being overwhelmed with the “business” of death can feel paralyzing. Often, there are seemingly endless tasks that need to be completed within a very short amount of time. Sadly, most of these tasks require the next of kin, so that leaves the people that are in the midst of intense shock, grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, or whatever mishmash of emotions to navigate yet another emotional load; it can feel like too much.
The feeling of being alone is scary. Navigating really strong emotions without support and guidance is treacherous, we might make decisions or take actions that are counter to our actual needs because of the disorientation that strong emotions can evoke. So what can we do, as the person in the midst of a seemingly never ending emotional storm and as the person watching someone we care about struggle to fight the onslaught of emotional waves? Be there, be present, and be willing to listen. You can’t take away their pain for them, you can be that safe place where they don’t have to pretend to be “ok” or “fine”.
Providing people with the chance to not be strong, to be authentic and genuine with the feelings they are experiencing, no matter what those may be, can be just the thing that we all need to do truly develop that strength. If you are struggling finding that internal strength to deal with loss or grief, or just need that safe place to discover your strength consider reaching out to a therapist. You are strong! We can help you think it, feel it, and believe it!
For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even function.
Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries, fears, anxieties).
When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds, do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back?
Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses, regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.
How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment.
The past has passed.
The future is not yet here.
All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness.
By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without judgment.
This is mindfulness.
We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness.
Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.
Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking us into the past or future).
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment.
It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~ without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and have the opportunity to start again.
We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this.
Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when worries flooded our minds.
If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental discourse).
Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that previously took us away.
Sometimes, in conservative cultures, there is sexual shame attached to the usage of pornography. Listen in to hear the brain science behind pornography use, as well as how to navigate the topic of pornography as a couple, family, and society. Visit the link below or listen on your favorite podcast platform.
LGBTQIA youth face unique mental health challenges as they struggle to reconcile their faith, sexual identity, or gender identity. If you are a parent of an LGBTQIA youth moving towards accepting your child’s identity, I would like to share a few thoughts. In this blog post, I will discuss the importance of familial support to LGBTQIA youth. Then, I will share simple, practical actions to support your child through this moment.
LGBTQIA youth who question their identity hide who they truly are for fear of being rejected by their families. LGBTQIA youth worry about hurting their parents and family members who believe that being gay is immoral and sinful. But when LGBTQIA youth hide their identities, they pay a high cost. It undermines their self-esteem and self-worth. New research shows that families and caregivers significantly influence their LGBTQIA youth’s risk and well-being. The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition reports that LGBTQIA teens who experience family rejection are eight times more likely to die by suicide than LGBTQIA teens accepted by family. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that LGBTQIA teens who are rejected by their families are six times more likely to have high levels of depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and three times more likely to be at increased risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Conversely, studies show that LGBTQIA youth who are accepted by their families experience overall physical and emotional health. It also helps them to develop higher self-esteem and value their inherent sense of worthiness. Furthermore, LGBTQIA youth accepted by their families are less likely to be depressed, use illegal drugs, or attempt suicide. Family acceptance also helps LGBTQIA youth create healthy beliefs about their life outcome. They believe that they will be happy, productive, and have a good life with family support. If you are motivated to support your child through this acceptance journey, but unsure what to do, you are not alone.
Finally, parents, you may be struggling with your emotions, and that’s ok and normal. However, it is critical to emphasize that parents’ or caregivers’ actions and words have a powerful impact on their children’s well-being. If you’d like to foster a more supportive environment for a LGBTQIA child or teen, here are a few things you can do.
Show love and affection. LGBTQIA youth worry about being loved by their parents or caregivers. The question that they may be asking themselves is, “Am I loved? Am I lovable?” Don’t hesitate to tell your child, “I love you.” Also, show your child displays of physical affection. These actions will promote a secure attachment between you and your child.
Reach out and listen Your child may interpret long periods of silence as a sign of anger. It will feel uncomfortable to talk about your teens’ sexual orientation or sexual identity but reach out to talk to them about their experiences. Listen to what they have to say and respond with empathy.
Happy future Parents, accepting your LGBTQIA youth allow them to envision a happy future as an LGBTQIA adult. A positive narrative about the future is essential to counteract isolation, hopelessness, risky behaviors, and suicide ideation.
Stand up for your child. Remember, as a parent, your words are powerful. Through your journey and your child’s journey, you may hear some negative comments from families and friends. When you hear these negative comments, it is an opportunity to practice courage and let others know that you will not accept insults, teasing, or discrimination against your child. Insist that family members and friends treat your child with respect or rethink the very definition of family and friends.
When you know better, do better. As human beings, we are always evolving and growing. As parents, we also make mistakes. Do not try to be perfect but try to be human. American poet Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Parents, your LGBTQIA child needs your love. They are afraid and worried that you might never love them. They need a secure attachment bond to become physically and emotionally healthy adults.
References: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 21). LGBT Youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm.
Sanders, R., & Fields, E. L. Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Youth. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-for-parents-of- lgbtq-youth.
We have many internal and external resources available to us when anxiety becomes overwhelming. We can typically recognize an unhelpful anxious thought because it often starts with some variation of “What if…” and or is predicting negative events that are possible but incredibly unlikely. In this post, I will briefly outline some of the internal and external resources that can be extremely effective in confronting and managing anxiety.
1) Talking back to and Challenging Anxious Thoughts:
Anxiety is like an annoying know-it-all and overly critical boss; it constantly points out what might go wrong or what it thinks you didn’t do right, and it is usually flat out wrong! When we talk back to or challenge anxious thoughts with phrases like, “I’m allowed to make mistakes!” or “I’m enough as I am!” and “You don’t know everything!” we are bossing back our anxiety and taking charge.
2) Past Successes:
What difficulties have you overcome in the past? How did you do that? What did you learn about yourself? Anxiety likes to make us forget or discount all the challenges we have overcome in the past. But, as we stack up our past successes, we are reminded of just how capable we really are, no matter what anxiety says.
3) Problem Solving Skills, Creativity/Imagination:
Clearly you have gotten yourself this far in life, which means you have solved literally thousands of problems. Life throws curve balls at us regularly, and it is our creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills that help us work through them. When anxiety says things like, “What if you get sick?” We can say back to anxiety, “Then I will rest, get lots of fluids and take care of myself. I know what to do when I am sick.”
Some problems and concerns are outside of our experience and skill set to solve. Who do you have in your life that you could go to for help? Make a list of people in each arena of your life that you feel comfortable approaching and asking for help. For example, who at work can help you when you have questions or problems? When you are at school, who is most likely to have the information you need? Our external resources include people in our support systems, people who know us and care about our well-being and are invested in our success: parents, teachers, friends, family members, coaches and teammates, therapists etc.
When anxious thoughts and feelings begin to escalate, start by recognizing these feelings for what they are, ANXIETY, and then access your internal and external resources to challenge and talk back to your anxiety.
Whether it is hardships from the pandemic, civil unrest, political discourse, loss of a loved one, fear of the future, or many other aspects of life, it sometimes may feel there is no end in sight to the pain that life can sometimes bring. Finding continued hope through the burdens of daily life can often feel daunting, uncertain, and just out of reach. Through the recent year, many people may have found themselves uttering these simple words either to another or to themselves:
Ex: “ I would like to… but I don’t want to get my hopes up”…
While the simple rhetoric is often over looked, the profound impact on our lives is not to be underestimated.
Hope: “ (A belief that things can be better than what they are”) is one of the most powerful aspects of human life. The instillment of hope can offer peace in a moment of chaos; comfort in a moment of fear; and courage in a moment of despair. The loss of hope, or (hopelessness) often results in a person loss of will to live.
Maybe this past year you have found yourself not planning, not hoping out of fear of disappointment. Maybe you have felt lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. Maybe you have lost a family member or loved one and need to find a way to some how keep moving forward. The joy of hope is that it is accessible to all who seek it, and is found all around us. May I offer 3 principles of Resiliency to help you increase your hope, and in turn, increase your ability to manage hard times in your life.
We commit to the challenge ahead of us. We commit to the strength, the endurance, and the help needed to survive. Asking for help is not weakness. Everybody in life needs help. Most of all we commit to not let our burden consume us, destroy us, or allow us to lose our selves in the process. We tell ourselves, “ no matter what happens, I will be ok”.
A main source for unmanageability and discourse is caused by trying to control things that are out of our ability to control. Learning to let go of what is out of your ability to control, and having the courage to do something about what you can control can drastically reduce the out of control feeling life can bring.
Much of the research about resiliency and hardiness speaks to how we choose to look at a situation. Some are financial, others physical, some trauma, others mental health related. Challenge, adversity, and pain are essential to provide opportunities for growth. Seeing our problems through a lens of opportunity rather than suffering can help provided a new perspective of hope that will allow us to face our trials with gratitude.
Symbols of hope can often provide something that reminds us to have hope in a moment we need it. Find something that inspires you, makes you feel happy, or gives you courage to keep moving forward. Symbols of Hope include:
A favorite quote,
A person you look up to
A deity, religion, or spirituality practice
Surround yourself with little things that bring hope into your life. As we move into a new year I am reminded of a statement from Viktor Frankel:
“ We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
Frankl, V. E. (2006). The meaning of life. In Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy (p. 108). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
In my own experience, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time avoiding a normal and healthy human experience – having emotions. As a therapist, I encourage my clients to connect to their emotions. I am a firm believer that you cannot give away what you do not have. With that being said, I am on my own journey to connect with myself and others more deeply. Learning to manage emotions, vulnerability, and honesty are essential skills learned at home. Growing up, I was not taught these skills. I have spent my adult years learning how to experience and process emotions with healthy expression. There are many different ways one can learn to manage emotions and identify feelings.
Family therapy is an excellent approach. It is common for families to fall into dysfunctional communication patterns with each other. Typically, people fall into these traps to avoid feeling. This can feel more comfortable in the moment; however, it is not beneficial to the person or the family in the long run. Facing emotions and connecting with others can feel scary and uncomfortable. It does not always look pretty and can be messy. Having a therapist guide the process can make it more tolerable and give family members greater insight into what is not working and to what is working in the family system.
Below are examples of dysfunctional communication techniques that families fall into instead of being honest with one another. All of these communication techniques are ways to avoid emotions and confrontation. When I learned to identify these patterns, I discovered I was also missing out on connection, love, and intimacy with my family members and other loved ones. This awareness has helped improve my relationship with myself and others. As you read through these examples, I encourage you to ask yourself if you identify with any of these patterns. If so, then ask yourself, “what am I missing out on in my relationships?”. When a therapist asked me these questions, it struck a chord within me, and I realized some things needed to change. I hope this can be a good start for whoever needs to read this, as it was to me.
The Blame Game
Failure to take accountability for one’s actions and emotions leading to the inability to validate another person’s experience.
Sister: “My feelings were hurt when you yelled at me”
Brother: “I reacted like that because you egged me on”
Defending oneself instead of finding a middle ground.
Partner (1): “I do not like the way you made our bed. It needs to be done this way.”
Partner (2): “I was trying to help; I knew you would be busy this morning”.
Partner (1): “Thanks, but it’s not done the way I like it.”
Changing the Game
Deflecting from the issue or question.
Caregiver: “I told you that your room needs to be cleaned before you can go to the movies with your friends”
Child: “Jane hasn’t cleaned her room and she is out with her friends”
Playing the nice guy
Making other people feel comfortable at the risk of your own beliefs, values, and/or needs.
An example of this would be a mom that confided her young adult child about her fight with his dad. The child listens and comforts his mom even though he feels uncomfortable and now feels pressured to take sides.
Talking about someone when they are not present instead of direct confrontation.
Brother: “Mary is always fighting with mom and getting her way because mom is scared of her”.
Sister: “Yeah, it’s annoying and mom just lets it slide”.
Most couples get married in their twenties. In Utah, the statistics show marriages occur in their early twenties, or even late teens for some women. Research suggests our beliefs change over our lifespan, including our religious and spiritual convictions. No matter the reason, it is extremely common for one partner (or both) to change their religious views over time. Because religious beliefs in Utah (primarily members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) require strict adherence, stress from a spouse questioning or leaving the faith can create tension and pressure on the relationship.
The irony is, LDS theology promotes the importance of the family, yet, when such stressors encumber the relationship, it’s the marriage that suffers at the hand of obedience or compliance. Many couples experience a form of betrayal, fear, or disruption of intimacy and connectedness. Some of my clients report the grief of losing the assurance of their eternal marriage, feeling the risk of an affair, substance use changes or experimentation, or other unwanted behaviors.
A faith transition, however, isn’t a predictor of the failure of the relationship. With time, support, and tools, couples often unify and strengthen their relationship. Couples find shared values and bond by moving into a space of curiosity, openness, and acceptance while also validating and “holding space” for their partner.
Wasatch Family Therapy is hosting a group for five couples currently struggling with a mixed-faith marriage. Group meetings occur each Wednesday starting March 3rd at our new address in Sandy. Couples will need to be interviewed (to make sure it’s a good fit) and will need to pay half upfront; the remainder billed after the eight sessions. Sessions are $75 per couple per session. This group will be a “process group”, where couples participate interactively learning about each other. The group will be facility lead by Jeff Lundgren, ACMHC, who works with many couples and mixed-faith marriages and families.
If you want to participate, please contact us at 801-944-4555.
This is the season of goals and change. Goals can be wonderful benchmarks to help navigate us toward the life we want. However, goals can sometimes lead us into rigid thinking, frustration, and shame when we aren’t connected to the value, or “why,” behind those goals. 2020 has taught us that the unexpected happens, and circumstances can change quite rapidly and drastically. However, even amidst uncertainty and change, you can continue to move in a direction that aligns with your core values. When obstacles beyond your control prevent a desired goal from occurring, it is possible to pivot and continue in the direction of the value connected to that goal in new, and possibly, unforeseen ways.
A helpful exercise is to sit down and journal all the values that matter to you. Some examples of these values are: curiosity, resilience, spirituality, love, empathy, safety, compassion, growth, learning, spontaneity, joy, humor, creativity, grace, flexibility, and so many more. As you review your listed values, I encourage you to narrow those values to your top three, and then, choose a top value to focus on for this year if one stands out to you. This will help guide decisions that arise throughout the year, as you return to your core value of focus, when navigating the nuances of life.
Goal Driven Life
I want to run a marathon.
I want to go on a vacation with my family this year.
I will complete my degree.
I want to stop yelling in my home
Value Driven Life
I will value health and determination
I will value adventure and connection with my family.
I will value education and lifelong learning.
I will value safety, connection, and mindfulness.
If you would like help focusing on the values that drive your life, please call 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment.