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Write Your Life Story

Write Your Life Story

I want to talk here about why you or another person might want to write your life story, or at least start writing some stories from your life.  But first.  When I started thinking about writing this article, two movie scenes came to my mind immediately.  One is from Shall We Dance, with Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere as the lead actors.  The clip of this scene is here with this post, to the right.  She’s talking about why people get married, but what she says is also important about why a person would even want to “tell their story,” and that is to have a witness to their life.  She says, “Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.” (at approximately 43 seconds)

The second scene is from the movie Bridges of Madison County, with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood as the lead actors.  In this, Meryl Streep has written journals that her children find after she has died.  A quote from her journal is this:

“… as one gets older, one’s fears subside. What becomes more and more important is to be known — known for all that you were during this brief stay. How sad it seems to me to leave this earth without those you love the most ever really knowing who you were. It’s easy for a mother to love her children no matter what — it’s something that just happens. I don’t know if it’s as simple for children. You’re all so busy being angry at us for raising you wrong. But I thought it was important to give you that chance. To give you the opportunity to love me for all that I was…”

These ideas of having a person witness your life and of being really known by another person, I think are the main things that prompt a person to want to write or share their life story in some way.   I also see other aspects of the healing that takes place when a person goes through this process.

Some therapists, like me, use ideas from narrative therapy in our work with clients.

The main idea that I use from this is that we all have a “story” we are saying to ourselves about our life.  This can include stories about events that happen to us and around us, people in our lives, and about ourselves.  That story is our narrative and it is all about what things mean, what we think, our opinions, our sensitivities, what is important to us, and so much more.  

That story is always changing, too.  As we mature, experience personal growth, and learn new things, we also understand new and different things about our experiences, the people in our life, and ourselves.  The way you talk to yourself about something that happened to you when you were ten years old is very different now than it was at ten.  

So telling our story is important in the way it helps us feel known by people we care about in our lives, and it is also important in changing the story we say to our own self.  

These two reasons are why I feel so strongly that telling our story, and the way we tell this story, can have tremendous healing for a person.  For some, if you don’t do this in some way, you lose the opportunity to incorporate the more mature and insightful things learned along the way in life.  And when you allow the story to change and evolve with those more mature and insightful perspectives, it can bring healing.

What are some ways you might do this?

  • You could choose to write your life story in a very traditional way – get some journal books and start writing.  If you are like me and things need to be orderly and linear (go ahead and laugh, I am), then start organizing your journal(s) by what makes the most sense to you: segment out by decade, or by major life events, or by areas of life (family of origin, friendships, work/career, life partner and family, hobbies/interests, etc.).
  • You can do this in a very informal way, by talking to people you care about and sharing what is important to you without recording it in any way.  This is obviously by far the simplest and kind of a “default” approach.
  • You could make audio recordings of yourself telling stories from your life, or have a family member help you.
  • You could hire an interviewer/autobiographer to facilitate discussions with you and make audio recordings of these discussions.  This may be a very beneficial approach for two reasons: 1) you may have trouble thinking of more to add about a particular story and the interviewer can prompt you with questions; 2) the interviewer can give you topics or prompts periodically to get you thinking ahead of the interview and as a result, there is more material than there might have been otherwise; 3) when you are telling a story to someone you don’t know, often you will include more about that story than if you are telling it to a family member – we tend to leave out some details when we know the person already knows the story and it feels silly to repeat those details, while you won’t leave them out if you know the person hasn’t heard it before.
  • You can record video of yourself telling stories from your life.
  • You can get many books about writing your life story, take classes on this, or find information on the Internet to find more ideas.
  • You can use other technological tools to help you – there are many resources on the Internet such as journaling apps.  For me personally, I have found the service offered at StoryWorth (https://www.storyworth.com/) to be very easy to use and their approach keeps me engaged in the process.  Each week you receive a writing prompt, and you go to their website to write about it.  This happens for a year and then you have the option to have StoryWorth create a hardback book of your stories.  You can add photos, too.  I also love that I can share stories along the way with family and friends using email.

One thought I have about the healing that can happen when you write your life story is that often, parts of that story change.  Events, people, and your view of yourself can begin to shift to different meanings or fit together in a different way.  In this process, people find themselves able to forgive when they couldn’t before, or they realize there was a good reason to end a friendship because that person wasn’t healthy for them to be around, or they remember all the ways that they actually did do good work at a job they had even though their boss gave them bad performance reviews.   

Not only can you feel like you are really known by the people you care about, reviewing the parts of your life in this way can bring peace of mind and a deeper appreciation and understanding of yourself.

Parental Alienation – What Can You Do?

Parental Alienation – What Can You Do?

If you are reading this, or attending our workshop on parental alienation, you are experiencing one of the most painful and difficult situations a parent can be in.  We hope to give you strength, hope and strategies to help you deal with this situation, as well as helping your children the best you can to deal with it, and even potentially help your kids begin to see what is happening to them and their relationship with you.  The strategies recommended in this workshop are designed for when you have contact with your children.  If you do not have contact at this time, you won’t be able to use these ideas until a later time when you hopefully DO have contact with your kids.

What is Parental Alienation?

Let’s first be clear on what we mean by parental alienation (PA). There is a lot of misinformation in books and on the Internet about what this is.  In addition, there are some experts in this field with opposing views about PA, which can leave anyone confused about what it is and what it isn’t.   For the purposes of this workshop, when we talk about PA we are talking about one parent’s systematic efforts to turn your children against you.  This is often for the purpose of punishing you by destroying your relationship with your children.  It may also be for other purposes, such as financial gain.  It is called PA when there is no valid reasonfor the children to be kept from you.  Valid reasons might be neglect or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. However, when a parent does not exhibit harmful behavior towards a child and yet the other parent attempts to persuade the children that they do not want a relationship with the “targeted parent,” we call it parental alienation.

 

Although there are a lot of theories that offer definitions and criteria, those specifics are not useful in this workshop and we don’t ascribe to any theory or another.   Instead, our purpose is to provide you with some things you can do.   There is very little you can control when you are the alienated parent, but our workshop focuses on the things you can control.

Areas you cannot control:

·      The other parent’s behavior and statements

·      Your children’s reactions to the other parent’s persuasiveness

·      Other people’s reactions to the other parent’s behavior/statements

·      Decisions of the courts, attorneys, and other professionals in your children’s life

 

When it comes right down to it, the only thing you CAN control…is YOU. This might seem like a very small thing.  It can make a very big difference though, long term.  Even though this seems like a small thing, you simply can’t control anything else.  There is no point in putting energy towards the things you can’t control.  Yes, you still need to do your best to protect yourself and your children – but the more matter-of-fact you are about the things you can’t control, the less emotional energy you give towards those things. And that is important. Save that emotional energy for the things we are going to talk about next.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

When we have worked with alienated parents, we have suggested that you remember the 4 C’sÓ in every interaction you have with your children.  We go into more detail on each of these below:

·      Stay calm no matter what and during all the time you have with your children

·      All that you say and do is designed to foster connectionwith your children

·      Create an environment to develop critical thinking skills in your children

·      Be as consistentin all of these things as humanly possible

 

Calm

You want it to always feel relaxed and just plain good during the time you and your child are together.  This sounds very simple, right?  But if you’ve been the targeted parent for any length of time, the PA you see happening makes your blood boil.  Do all you can to not let your children sense these strong emotions.  

That means that not only do you express your anger, frustration, despair, disappointment, anger, fear, sadness, anger, etc. somewhere else and some other time than when you are with your children – it also means that you need to actually try to compartmentalize these feelings until another time. Children sense our moods, they are very good at emotionally attuning with their parents and do this with little conscious effort.   It might help you shield them from your emotions if you remind yourself that this is not your child’s fault, and the best thing you can do about the situation right this second is to be calm, kind and loving with your child. 

Having said all that, we realize this is not always possible to do. You will slip up and that’s okay.   You will also get better at this with practice and as you begin to see that your efforts can make a difference.

Connection

Although this can feel similar to remaining calm, it is just as important to also seek connection with your child whenever you are together.   Here are a few ideas about what we mean:

  • At times when your child has said something hurtful towards you, or rejected you, never ever stop trying to connect.
  • When you want to explain what you see happening so they will “get it,” attempt to simply love him or her instead and express your love for him or her in a positive way.
  • Tell your children, often, that youlove them no matter what. (At times it is also important to tell them that you know they love you, too)
  • When you have an opportunity to simply bewith your child, do it. Tell them it feels good to just spend time with them, no matter what you are doing.
  • Talk about how much you appreciate memories you have together, traditions you have together, qualities in your child that you enjoy. Recalling loving and positive times with your child shows them you value those moments and it also reminds them of how they felt at that time, which only serves to counteract the negative emotions your ex is trying to foster in them.

These efforts can pay off.  Any action you take towards connecting with your child is going to feel good. You want to avoid negative reactions of course, and always remember that if you do, it supports what they hear from the other parent.  Keep your focus on these four areas to help yourself avoid the negative reactions.

Critical Thinking Skills

Your child is under a powerful influence of persuasion and manipulation. It is important to remember how powerful the influence is, and remember that whatever age your children are, they do not yet have the critical thinking skills of an adult so they are not equipped to resist persuasion and manipulation very well.  Naturally, the younger they are, the less able they are to resist. 

Perhaps even more important than this is the fact that you and the child’s other parent are supposed to be the people your child can trust the most. But they are now in a situation that basically requires them to choose which one of you they cannot trust.   Think about that. The environment your child is now in requires them to accept that one of the two people that are the closest to them can’t be trusted.  This creates a terrible sense of insecurity.   It is betrayal.  This in turn complicates their ability to develop critical thinking skills. 

You can’t simply tell your child that the other parent is lying, and you can’t rush cognitive development either.  But you can definitely create an environment for your children to build critical thinking skills as well as they possible can at their age. 

For our purposes here, when we are talking about critical thinking skills, we are talking about your child’s ability to use logic and reasoning to discern what is or is not true about people.  You might also think of this as your child’s ability to figure out what commercials and ads are trying to accomplish, why salespersons might say things they do, or your child’s ability to determine if someone is using persuasion/manipulation to achieve a hidden motive.

The primary idea behind this is that you want to help your child build these skills so that he or she figures out on their ownwhat the other parent is doing.  Combined with the other three C’s, you will be doing your best to overcome the other parents’ efforts to alienate you from your children.

Here is what you do:  You watch for those “teachable” moments with your child.  You are watching for moments to teach them these critical thinking skills.  There is no way to predict when these moments come, so you have to be on alert for them.  And for the most part, you can’t create these situations.  Here are some places and examples of where you can find opportunities to teach these skills:

  • News – notice when the writer/speaker has a bias about what they are reporting on – this gives you an opportunity to say something like, “there are usually two sides to a story, I wonder what people who think (the opposite viewpoint) would say about this topic,” and get a conversation going about.
  • Commercials/Ads/Salespeople – any sales situation whether it be at your doorstep or an ad in a magazine is a chance to talk about the motivation behind the ad or pitch.You can even take advantage of the standee of a celebrity your child likes, that is prominently placed in the store to get their attention, and why sellers use something like this.
  • TV/movie scenarios – situations where we as the audience realize when a character is trying to manipulate others in some way is an opportunity to ask your child how the person being “tricked” could figure out what is happening.
  • Friendships – your child’s own friendships or school acquaintances are often a great source of situations that you can use to foster critical thinking – friends that use another person to get in with more popular people, friends that only are nice when they gain something, and friends that are super nice to the teacher so they can stay the teacher’s favorite are some examples.
  • Believing what someone tells you – if it is too good to be true, it isn’t true; truth isn’t always black or white and this is a very important concept to watch for – people sometimes have different opinions/beliefs, sometimes people remember situations differently because of what they were paying most attention to, and sometimes people believe things without having seen or heard actual evidence of it (you want to teach your child to seek out evidence they actually see or hear, and to be skeptical when they haven’t witnessed something directly).
  • Clickbait on social media – point out the words that get a person to click on an article and help your child notice how words that are heavy with emotion make you want to click on something more.

Obviously, you use scenarios that are age appropriate and have conversations that are age appropriate.  You probably won’t be watching the news with very young children but high school aged kids have current events assignments and are also developing their opinions about world events, as an example. 

It is even better if you can make this a game or fun. 

Another big plus is when they can easily relate to the topic or the people involved. 

In some of these situations, you may be able to use the scientific method. Kids start learning about this in elementary school and the idea of having a question, forming a hypothesis, observing evidence and drawing a conclusion applies to many things in life.  At times, you can simply say some form of the question, “What’s the evidence?” to get your child thinking, being discerning, and being skeptical.

Keep a couple of things in mind to guide you:

  • Ask more questions than anything else – let your child do the talking and thinking, and figure things out on their own, if possible keep your comments to prompts only. Sometimes it is hard to wait while they figure out something but it is so much more valuable for them to come to a conclusion themselves.  Be aware though that if it seems they aren’t going to figure it out, go ahead and tell them.  Remember, you want all your moments with your child to feel good, so don’t push it to where your child becomes frustrated with you. 
  • Always give your child verbal AND non-verbal messages that you trust their ability to figure things out.
  • Don’t overdo it!!
  • Never use their other parent in examples!!
  • Your kids are likely to be much smarter and savvy about things than you give them credit for – they notice more than you think they do.

These skills are essential to being successful in life as an adult. Any development in this area is good for your child regardless of the situation you are in with PA happening. This is a great concept to remember if your child were to get so good at it that they figure out what you are doing!

Consistency

You want to be as consistent with each of the three areas above as humanly possible.  Sometimes you will slip up.  Every targeted parent has done it.  Well…every parent has done it.   Strive for consistency as much as possible.   

Along with consistently staying calm, striving for connection, and teaching critical thinking skills, simply being consistent as a parent builds trust and that in turn fosters attachment.  The more consistent you are in how you behave, the rules you set, the way you respond to positive and negative experiences, how well you keep promises to your kids – the results are that your children get a clear message that you are “there” for them, they matter to you, you care about the relationship you have with them, and you make them a priority. 

These 4 C’s are “long game” parenting.   You are creating a strong foundation moment-by-moment, and striving for a lasting secure attachment with your child.  For more about attachment, you might find this article on parent-child attachment interesting:

https://www.parentmap.com/article/the-four-ss-of-parenting-dan-siegels-whole-brain-child

Don’t Forget Your Child’s Perspective

It is very normal of you if you are sometimes angry with your child for treating you this way. 

However.

Always remember that this is not your child’s fault.  They are under a powerful influence!  We can’t emphasize this enough – a parent has a tremendous amount of influence, even on teenagers who are starting to venture out in the world with all the influences they will find there.  

Along with your child being under a powerful influence, young children are not developmentally ready to fully understand what is happening. Please try very hard not to take your child’s behavior towards you personally.  If you have read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, you know that one of the agreements he talks about in this book is “Don’t take anything personally.”  This general statement absolutely is a good rule to follow in life, but especially important when dealing with your own child who is participating in alienating you.

When you are faced with a difficult situation with your ex influencing your child, and your child is asking you a direct question – when you answer, either make it about your child or ask the child what he or she thinks. For example:

If you child tells you that she isn’t going to come with you on your parenting time today, don’t say, “I have a right to my time with you, and the courts say you have to.”  Instead, say, “I know you aren’t feeling like it today, but it is important for every child to have time with both of their parents to help them be the best people they can be.  So that’s why your mom/dad and I set things up the way we did.” 

If you child asks you if you took money from your ex, don’t react with anger and say something like, “Did he/she tell you that?  I can’t believe it!  I’m going to take care of this right now.”  This will create fear in your child, and they will stop talking to you and asking you these questions!  You wantyour child to keep asking you these questions and talking to you about their concerns.  Instead, say, “Huh, that must be confusing to you to hear something like that.  What do you think?  Does it sound like something I would do?”   Your child might still say hurtful things in response to your questions. Stay calm.  Remember, the other parent is a powerful influence for them and this is not your child’s fault.  Simply say something like, “I’m sad that you think that way of me, but I want you to know I didn’t do that and I won’t lie to you about anything.”   Whenever possible, speak only about your child, or about yourself, and not about the other parent.

Reacting in these ways allows you to stand up for yourself, without falling into the same badmouthing behavior that your ex is doing.   The idea that truth isn’t always black or white will also be a useful one when you are responding to direct questions from your child, or learning they have heard something from your ex that is a lie, exaggeration, etc.  Explaining that you and your ex see a situation differently is a way to stand up for yourself, not badmouth the child’s other parent, and also demonstrate this concept. 

If you are succeeding with this, your child will keep asking questions and testing out their concerns with you.  Eventually you are likely to get questions about why your ex is behaving this way.  You are going to get mad at this moment.  Stay calm.  Remember your child loves their other parent, and the more compassion you can respond with, the better.  It is okay to say you don’t know, suggest your child ask that parent, or to say that sometimes people see things very differently from one another.

There is likely to come a day when your child feels an astounding amount of guilt and shame for the way he or she has treated you.  You always, always, always want to give them an “out” and a way back to you, and you always want them to know that you understand/understood the influence they were under.

For You

Please don’t overlook the importance of finding ways to take care of you throughout the time when your ex is attempting to alienate you and your children.  Self-care is so under-rated.  Seriously! Please do two types of self care for yourself to allow you to keep coping as effectively as you can: One, build up your “in the moment” coping skills such as: Deep breathing, count to ten, listen to music, or grounding yourself (see below); and two, have a toolbox of several “long term” coping skills you are doing on a regular basis such as:  Working out, engaging in a hobby, or spending regular time with people who are supportive of you.

There are several apps available that are outstanding for self-care/relaxation, some of our favorites are: Insight Timer, Virtual Toolbox, Relaxation Melodies, and Pzizz.

You can find more information on self-care by visiting the following link:

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/self-help-resources/

At the top of this page, you’ll find a link to our self-care handout we have created.   The handout includes a section on boundaries, which is a significant part of taking care of yourself, too.  Also on that page above, you’ll find various resources we have found helpful, and note that there are a few at the bottom of the page on boundaries.

Grounding yourself:  This is an exercise we teach people for calming yourself.  It is simply a quiet moment you can do with your eyes open or closed, it can be as long or as quick as you like, and can bring you into a somewhat mindful state fairly easily.  You simply notice and observe what you are sensing, in the moment, right where you are.  Ask yourself:  What do I hear? What do I see?  What do I feel on my skin? (i.e. what are you touching, how warm/cold is it, is there a breeze, etc.)  What do I smell?  And possibly, what do I taste?  The process of going from one to another along with being very present is an effective method of calming yourself.

Resources

Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, Amy L. Baker and Paul Fine

Parental Alienation Meetup Group – Denver, CO – monthly presentations on various topics all related to PA, run by Phillip Hendrix.

http://www.familyaccessfightingforchildrensrights.org– site run by Elaine Cobb, if you aren’t already on her mailing list, get on it.  She has a lot of good information on the site and has monthly conference calls with experts in the field. 

The 4 C’s  or The 4 C’s Against Parental Alienation are copyrighted ideas developed by Catherine Wilson, LPC and Barbara Sheehan-Zeidler, LPC.

If you prefer to have this information in pdf form, please click here:  ParentalAlienation.pdf

Help for Family and Friends of A Person Dealing With Addiction

One of the most frequent things we hear from people who have someone in their family or a friend who is struggling with addiction is, “How do I help this person?”  Or… “How do I get them to stop?”  We’ll start with some things to understand first, and then talk about what you can do to help yourself and the person you care about.

What is Addiction?

This is a tough thing to talk about because there are so many perspectives about addiction.  It can really get confusing.  Our view is that if a person continues with the activity even though it causes problems in any area of life, it could be considered addiction, and we help people with that.

Areas of life might be:

·      Physical Health

·      Intimate Relationship

·      Family Relationships or Functioning

·      Financial Health

·      Career/Job/School

·      Friend Relationships

·      Social Activities/Fun/Play

 

 

Addictions might be:

·      Alcohol

·      Cigarettes

·     Opioids/Painkillers

·      Heroin/Narcotics

·      Cocaine

·      Marijuana

·      Gambling

·      Some sexual behaviors

·      Eating

·      Video gaming

·      Internet

·     Meth/Methamphetamine

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

There are at least these three important things to do when you are in this type of situation:

Coping and Self Care Activities

Taking good care of yourself is one of the three most important things you can do when you have someone close to you dealing with addiction.   It is very stressful so it is important to pace yourself (know your limits), and also make sure that you are doing things you enjoy as often as you can and as often as it’s reasonable.  Keep things in a balanced place in life as much as you are able – you need time to build your energy up because living with addiction is a big drain on your energy level.  

At the link below, we have several self-help resources.  Near the top of that page is a link to a self-care handout that we use with clients and this has many different activities people do for self-care.  Please take a look and hopefully at least a few of these ideas or resources will appeal to you.

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/self-help-resources/

Boundaries and Control

Being close to someone with a destructive addiction often brings painful situations and experiences into your life, as well as the person dealing with the addiction.   It causes a lot of angst when bad things happen because of things outside of your control.   Having strong boundaries is as important as taking good care of yourself.  Keep it clear for yourself on what are appropriate boundaries with consequences, and when your “limits” become controlling behavior. 

A good idea to guide you is to remember that when you are controlling you are trying to alter someone else’s behavior and it becomes about them.  When you have boundaries, they are intended to protect you and help you get your needs met and so, boundaries are about you.

Here are some examples of boundary setting versus controlling behavior:

Boundaries                                                         Control

“No, that isn’t okay with me”                              “You have to stop that”

It is assertive                                                      It is manipulative

Defines how I will be treated                              Coercion, attempting to force a change

Based in caring for yourself and the other         Based in fear and insecurity

You always know the other has a choice           You are trying to make them change

Asking for what I need                                       Can become a debate about who is right/wrong

Codependency and enabling are terms often used to refer to the behavior of someone in your situation.  Some of the resources and context around these terms is helpful – and sometimes it can feel shaming as if you are being blamed for “allowing” the addictive behavior to continue in your loved one.  If you can use resources about codependency and enabling to strengthen your own boundaries and sense of empowerment, that is great! Take care not to let it influence you to feel responsible for the addict’s behavior.  That person’s behavior and choices are not because of something you have done or didn’t do.

Offer Help – If It Is Wanted

The third thing you can do to help someone who is struggling with addiction is to express your concern for that person and offer information you have found if they are willing to receive it.   It’s important that boundaries are respected in both directions.  You can’t make a person deal with an addiction, that person must choose. 

In the medical and mental health fields, we continue to learn more about addiction and in particular, about the effect addiction has on a person’s brain.   Addiction can override a person’s rational thought and many of us have seen this happen right in front of our eyes.  It is important to remember that sometimes an addiction becomes bigger than willpower, love, or the desire to change. 

Options in Treatment and Recovery

Self-help and doing it on your own – Using resources such as self-help books or other media, or plain old will power is one way that people get into recovery and many can be successful at it.  Some self-help books are listed below in the resources section.

Support groups – The most well-known addiction support group is “AA” or a “12 step program” such as Alcoholics Anonymous.   The 12 steps in these programs guide support groups when they meet and provide a framework to work towards recovery. Most of the time there is a religious component.

There are other support groups or “formats” for support such as:

              * SMART Recovery                            * Celebrate Recovery

              * Moderation Management                 * Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

              * Women for Sobriety                         * LifeRing Secular Recovery

Note that at least 12 step programs and SMART Recovery both have resources for family and friends of someone who is dealing with addiction.   In the various 12 step programs, there are support group meetings that you will find as “Al-Anon,” (alcohol) “Nar-Anon,” (narcotics) etc. based on the type of addiction.  SMART Recovery has resources on their website (https://www.smartrecovery.org) under “Start Here” and then click “Family and Friends.”

Outpatient counseling – This is the type of support we provide here at LifePaths and is typically weekly appointments with a counselor trained in addictions and supporting someone through recovery.   It may be more or less frequent appointments based on where a person is in the recovery process, or other life circumstances.

Intensive outpatient program (IOP) – Several locations around the Denver metro area offer IOPs, which are often a couple of weeks and several hours each of the weekdays during those weeks.  People can participate in individual counseling, group counseling, support groups and other activities to support recovery after the program ended.

Inpatient/rehabilitation/recovery facilities – These are longer term treatment centers of various lengths of time and usually people who attend these programs are there during the day and nights for the length of the program, sometimes with outings approved by staff to spend time with family away from the facility for a few hours at a time when a person is near the end of their program. 

We encourage you to thoroughly understand any type of treatment support you are considering; get a referral from someone you trust; and speak with professionals about treatment approach, requirements, insurance coverage, credibility, and other concerns.  For instance, a program called Narconon has some Colorado locations and appears to be similar to other addiction treatment facilities, however it is actually a Church of Scientology organization and their treatment approach follows principles of their church.  You want to be certain that the approach will be a good fit.

Resources

https://www.smartrecovery.org

The Mind-Body Workbook for Addiction, by Stanley H. Block, PhD., Carolyn Bryant Block, and Guy DuPlessis, MA

Phoenix Multisport – This is a local gym that is free for people in recovery.  A variety of classes and equipment AND a supportive community as well.  They are in the downtown Denver area.  http://thephoenix.org

https://www.al-anon.org

 http://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/locations/childrens-program-aurora – Children’s Program at Betty Ford Center (children ages 7-12)

There are a few more resources on addiction at the following link, as well as resources on many other topics as well.

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/self-help-resources/

If you prefer, here is a copy of this information in a pdf document:  Helping a Loved One With Addiction

Racial Trauma and Counseling

Racial Trauma and Counseling

Over the past year, I have been having an increasing number of conversations with other counselors about racial trauma.  Thankfully there are many therapists who are starting to pay close attention to the depth of racial trauma as well as pay attention to what we need to do as therapists to help people who have had to deal with this, and NOT create further trauma in counseling by our own ignorance.

 

A colleague has started an important resource, which is a therapist directory designed with a strong emphasis on inclusiveness.  Jeff Guenther screens therapists with an eye towards putting only therapists on this directory who are open and accepting of all people.  I am grateful to be a part of his directory and include the great counselors we have here at LifePaths as well.  

I’ve also contributed to the content on his site, with an article that describes part of my own journey as a white woman, and realizations about how deep racial issues go.  I wrote “Becky? Who, ME?” a while back, and Jeff published it earlier this week.

Cathy Wilson, LPC ACS, Director of LifePaths Counseling Center

How Do I Stop My Road Rage?

How Do I Stop My Road Rage?

Some Unusual Ideas To Help When You Are Angry Driving

If you search for ideas about how to “stop my road rage” you will find several articles about this with ideas such as do some deep breathing, set the cruise control, or to always act as if someone is with you.  I found many great ideas when I searched to see what is already out there.

The ideas I talk about below though, are a little unusual.  And, keep in mind that they are intended for those of us that fall into a middle-of-the-road category when it comes to getting angry behind the wheel – we get irritated, we probably swear, we might even throw out some hand signals but we aren’t about to hurt someone.  If you get THAT angry, please talk to a counselor and find ways to help yourself feel less angry.  Life is precious, always be safe.

These ideas have come from many discussions with clients and friends and family.  This is a serious topic, but sometimes it helps to take a less serious approach to a problem.  And hey, each of these ideas has worked for at least one person, and if you can use it or adapt an idea to work for you, that is a great thing!

Humor and Imagination

Humor is a fantastic coping skill.  For lots of people, including me, it can lighten up a situation and help you manage anxiety, depression, stress, and yes, even anger.  Using your imagination can be a great coping skill, too, and both can be used in multiple ways while driving to reduce feeling so angry.  And these are simple and allow you to keep your attention on your driving

Here are a few ideas:

Drawing from my love of Harry Potter, my favorite idea is to get yourself a wand.  I am not encouraging anyone to use this as a weapon in any way but instead to make yourself laugh and lighten a tense moment by imagining yourself casting a spell or hex.  If another driver does something that upsets you, imagine you have the ability to cast a banishing spell to get that person far away from you.  Or you might choose to say “Riddikulus!!” and imagine the person transformed into something hilarious, and well, ridiculous.  If you are also a Harry Potter fan, I’m sure you can imagine many other ways to use this idea!  A note of caution from the person who has used this many times, keep your wand below the windows – you don’t want your actions to be misinterpreted as actually having a weapon.  

Remember Cruella DeVille?   For some reason, that image of her driving has stuck with me all these years since I first saw 101 Dalmatians.  And when I get angry behind the wheel, sometimes I would remember that image, and of course, laugh.  At some point I started using it on purpose to settle myself down.  She was so extreme in that scene, teeth gritted, hair flying and wild eyes!  Once you are laughing it can really help you remember that there is no reason for you to be so extremely upset in that moment, either.

Change Your Thinking

Emotion comes from how we perceive a situation.  The anger people feel when driving is a result of what your thoughts and beliefs are about what is happening.  Whether you call it perception, opinion, belief, or even judgment, if it is strong it is going to result in strong emotion, too.

I have found that if I change what I am thinking about a driving moment, I can immediately change how I am feeling.  

For instance, we hear a lot about texting, talking on the phone while driving and other forms of distracted driving.  It is very easy to automatically assume that this is what is happening with another driver when we notice a problem.  It’s important to remember that this isn’t always the case.  

Anger is a very distinct physical feeling to me, and I use this as my cue or reminder to rethink what is happening.  When I feel it, I think “I don’t REALLY know what is happening for that person right now.” And then I list off possibilities – they may be a student driver (which reminds me that I was learning once and to give them a lot of space); they may be terribly upset about something (you never know what another person is going through, right?).  In a moment like this, if you can imagine more possibilities about what is going on for that person than your first assumption, you can probably reduce your level of anger, too.

There is a certain amount of anonymity in driving, and this often means that we behave in ways that we never would if we were face to face with that person.  Changing your thinking, or using humor and imagination can help you to moderate how you are feeling, so you can act more like your true self…and not like Cruella DeVille. 

 

 

 

Sacrifice and Service

Sacrifice and Service

Sacrifice and Service of US Military Men and Women

With today being Memorial Day, I am not only thinking of the sacrifices of so many men and women who have served in our military, I am also thinking of one particular person’s willingness to serve her country – my daughter. The point of this holiday is to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died serving in the military. My daughter will be coming home soon, and there are too many who will never get to do that. I have a tremendous amount of respect, sorrow, and gratitude for this. I also have seen many smaller sacrifices our military service men and women make. I know I couldn’t possibly capture all of what this means here in a blog post, but read on for a tiny glimpse into what life is like for our military and their families, from the perspective of one sailor’s mom.

I think we are all aware of these things on some level, but now that I’ve been closer to the experience, I have a whole new appreciation for the details of what each of these means:

They leave their home and loved ones.

Almost four years ago, I attended her Navy basic training graduation. We didn’t have a clear idea of what was in store for the next four years – for her or for us back home. We were not thinking about sacrifices – we were excited and hopeful.

There are no words to describe how fantastic it was to see that door opening, knowing that in seconds I was going to see her march in, and be able to give her a big hug very soon. For her, she had not only been away from home, friends, family and all that was familiar – she had been immersed in a whole new life full of hard work, no privacy, some sailor puking at any given time, pain, and lack of sleep.

Over the next four years she would go on two deployments and have countless additional days at sea for training and testing exercises. In port, days are long and the work is tedious. At sea, days are long, busy, and aircraft are launching off and landing back on the carrier at all hours. All through this – she missed a lot of special events like graduations, weddings, birthdays, and holidays. And constantly missed everyone back home. Yes, there are bright moments too like receiving a care package, or getting a day of liberty in a foreign port. But none of this takes away from being homesick and being away from people you love.

Difficult living conditions.

I had the great fortune to do what’s called a Tiger Cruise, which is when family members can live on the ship with their sailors for the last leg of a deployment, usually for a week or two. Mine was from Hawaii to San Diego a few years ago. It is a fantastic experience and also is an in-your-face look at how they live on deployments. I absolutely know there are worse conditions for soldiers and marines. But sailors don’t have it easy at all.

How in the world do the big guys fit in the racks to sleep? There wasn’t enough room for me to turn over easily and I nearly fell out of mine in the middle of the night the first night. The rack I slept in was about three and a half feet above the floor, and it was comedy in action watching me get in or out. The pallet can barely be called that at about four inches thick. I have no idea how those sailors do it on seven to eight month deployments.

It is amazing to see how well space is utilized on a Navy ship, but this also means that there is very little room for a sailor’s personal space–either for your stuff or your body. Tight quarters mean that tempers can flare pretty easily, especially near the end of a deployment. I have gained a whole new respect for how being in the military means you must be able to organize your self and your stuff and be able to function with the absolute minimum. The limited space also means there is simply very little room for comfort.

In port, the barracks are not much better!

On top of having to live like this, every sailor I’ve talked to simply took these things in stride. Yes, they complain sometimes and yes, they can get irritated with the conditions. But they also accept them and deal with it, and often they laugh about it. When asked about the living conditions, the response I heard most often was something like, “Hey, it is what it is.”

Not-so-great food.

This probably falls under “difficult living conditions” but I felt it deserved its own separate place in this list. I can’t imagine the level of effort that goes into keeping enough food on a carrier to feed 5,000 sailors, or what goes into getting it prepared three times a day. I never thought about this before I saw it in action. And as you might expect, the quality suffers a bit. When I was on the ship for a week, neither I nor any of the visiting family members I spent time with expected great food, and it wasn’t. We knew this was a working Navy ship, not Carnival Cruise Lines. But apparently they brought better food on board for the Tiger Cruise, and you would have thought we were having the best food in all our lives to hear the sailors talk about how great it was.

They are in harm’s way.

Every single person in the military knows that he or she may be called on to make that ultimate sacrifice. They know it every day, and willingly put themselves in harm’s way. I have to say that it has astonished me when I’ve asked any soldier, sailor, marine or airman about this. Without exception, every single one I have asked has brushed it off as if they are embarrassed to acknowledge how important this is. It isn’t living in denial, and it doesn’t seem like fear either. It is humility. And acceptance that this is what they committed to. This is part of why we call them heroes.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

I hope that my own gratitude for our military members’ sacrifices comes across here. If you are feeling this, too, you might be wondering what you can do to show it.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a care package – many military support organizations have occasional “packing parties,” especially as it gets close to the holiday season. If you are interested in learning more about this, give me a call and I’m happy to talk about it! Getting a package means a lot, especially on long deployments.
  • Say thank you – to any military service person you meet. They appreciate hearing it.
  • Contribute to an organization that serves the military community such as Give An Hour, or Wounded Warrior Project.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments, noticed I missed something important, or have a question.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have served, or are serving now.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

What we can learn from Taylor Swift about self esteem and living life for all it’s worth.

What we can learn from Taylor Swift about self esteem and living life for all it’s worth.

Taylor Swift is definitely known for writing songs with a message. Her latest, “Shake It Off,” immediately struck me – it has a powerful message that goes right along with a lot of things I talk about with clients who are dealing with self esteem and self worth issues.

Did you hear the same messages I did?

When your self esteem is low, it is hard to be yourself. You might worry about what other people think, partly because you don’t think much of yourself to begin with. So why would anyone else?

Working on self esteem (and self worth) usually involves changing beliefs you have about yourself and about life itself. Through this you begin to appreciate and accept both positive and negative qualities you have.

To start with, here is a link to the video for Shake It Off in case you haven’t already seen it:

 

 

I love her spirit! And I think these lyrics carry some important messages:

Don’t worry so much about what other people think or say, be yourself. If you think about the people in your life that are important to you, are there one or two that you can really be yourself with? Doesn’t this feel great? What if you could do that all the time or at least most of the time anywhere you are? Taylor says, “haters gonna hate…” and this says to me that people will think what they will and that is THEIR problem, and you don’t have to make it yours.

There are lots of things about ourselves people don’t know. Sure, you don’t share everything about yourself with others. Why should you? You get to decide what people are allowed to know when it comes to who you are. So, if others don’t understand and then criticize you, does their opinion matter? No way. Because you know the whole truth about yourself, and you are the only one that really matters.

Things happen in life, keep on going. Sometimes life doesn’t exactly go the way you want. You make mistakes sometimes. And even when you don’t, sometimes events or situations in life aren’t very happy. Just shake it off! You don’t have to let this stop you from being who you are or appreciating who you are.

Try different things and you don’t have to be perfect! In her video, she’s trying several different types of dancing. Sometimes she’s doing it well, sometimes not so much! Through it all though her unique spirit and personality shine through. Does it matter whether she does it perfectly? No! She is having a great time, no matter what she does. She is making the most out of life. If you can find ways to do this for yourself it brings joy, and contentment, and well-being. And, people are drawn to you when you can really be yourself and enjoy life – this let’s your unique gifts shine through.

Enjoy life – we only get one shot at this. Why waste time getting down on ourselves when we could be enjoying life? If you are getting down about what others are saying, you are missing out on enjoying life when you do that, too.

I saw her in concert last year during her Red Tour. I loved it that she spent a few minutes in between songs to talk to her fans about being yourself, shaking off the things people say, and shaking off your mistakes. One unspoken message in those moments (and through her writing and interviews) is “I have to figure out how to deal with this stuff just like you do.”

If she can shake it off, you can too.

What do you think?

by Catherine Wilson LPC

Self Esteem

Self Esteem

The subject of self esteem comes up fairly often in counseling sessions, but lately it has come up a lot more than usual.

It is one of the best topics to discuss… there are so many things that influence self esteem, and so many components to consider. And simply having a discussion about self esteem brings it to our awareness, which often leaves a person with a sense of improvement (or at least a little more positive view) than before.

It can be a daunting task to “improve low self esteem” and many people struggle with where to start. I thought it may be helpful to talk here about the most common topics that come up and how those relate to feeling more positive about one’s sense of self.

Be Yourself – This is one of those ideas that is extremely easy to say, and not always so easy to do. How many reasons do you think people can come up with to avoid revealing their true thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, personality, etc. etc.?? Yes, there are a LOT. But if you can be at peace with who you are and be able to share that uniqueness with others, it can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our experience here in this life. This idea always brings Brené Brown to mind, and her most recent book titled Daring Greatly. In her light-hearted yet direct style, she encourages each of us to take that risk to show our true selves and see how much more rich and beautiful the relationship in our lives can be.

In a recent YouTube exploration of this topic, I came across the music video for Sara Bareilles’ song, Brave. The lyrics in this song emphasize this exact same thing, and what a beautiful way to demonstrate it.

You might enjoy this Sara Bareilles too:

 

Live Your Values – Each of us has this unique set of values, of varying importance, that is a part of the person as an individual. One of the things that makes my work as a counselor so meaningful and important to me is the honor I feel when people allow me into their world, to share in their own unique individuality.

The values I’m talking about can vary a lot but the most common ones I talk with people about are honesty, self control, optimism, kindness, courage, integrity, and open-mindedness.

We run into problems though as human beings when we make choices that do NOT coincide with our values. None of us are perfect, right? But we try. And when we feel like we are falling short, our self esteem can take a hit, we feel shame or guilt, we fall into depression or anxiety, and more.

When I say “live your values,” what I’m getting at is if you are not happy with choices you’ve made, simply start now to make choices that you are happy with. One moment and one choice at a time, start to move closer to living your values, whatever those are. Each choice may feel small but each one brings you closer to showing with your actions who you really are.

Understand the Influences in Your Life – The most important areas of influence on self esteem come from family, friends, and society. When we are children, our family has the most influence. A child who is given unconditional love learns to love himself or herself unconditionally as well. As we mature, our friends begin to have more influence and peer pressure, bullying, social media, school performance, how we dress, and so much more begin to become a significant part of how we define the thing we all “me.”

And then there is society. I equate this to some extent with our media, and I could go on and on about the effect our media has on a person’s sense of self, body image, how we should act as a man or as a woman, and so much more. But that is probably a blog post all by itself! My point in this is that if we can understand the multiple influences on self esteem and how this relates to how I define “me,” we can overcome negative influences and strengthen the positive ones. We can decide what is true and what is not true for…”me.”

Acceptance – each of us has aspects of our self that we like and some we don’t like. If you can get to a place where you accept ALL of who you are, there is peace and well-being and a sense of self-worth.

I hope these ideas have given you some things to think about. I’d love to hear thoughts on how this relates to you, or thoughts you have that expand on self esteem.

Trauma In Female Veterans

Trauma In Female Veterans

PsychCentral posts a number of great articles but this one, see link below, about female veterans abuse caught my eye.

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2013/09/the-newest-face-of-trauma-female-veterans/

Blog post photo credit from source link above.

The article cites some startling statistics on sexual assault against women in the military. What really got me though is that the young woman portrayed in the article saw horrific things while deployed in Afghanistan, was in a vehicle that was struck by an IED, but the trauma that was most difficult for her was the sexual assault by her commanding officer that she couldn’t talk about. She felt she couldn’t talk about this because of an enduring atmosphere in the military that blames the victim and discourages reporting.

This is sad of course, and I know officially the military is trying to change this. A social problem as big as this often feels hopeless and it leaves you wishing you could do something while you also believe that nothing you do will make a difference.

I’m really going to ask the question though anyway. What could you do? I’m interested in your thoughts on this but I’m also going to add a few ideas as well.

If you are a counselor like me, you could sign up to provide pro bono therapy at http://www.giveanhour.org. Check them out, they are a great organization. As a counselor, this may give you an opportunity to make a difference, one person at a time. It may be someone who was the victim of a sexual assault. It may even be a perpetrator, consumed by guilt or shame.

Any of us could make a difference – one person at a time.

One “thank you” to a veteran or person active in the military.

One moment when you can vocalize support in some way for victims of sexual assault in the military to speak out.

One offer of support to someone you know who is or has been in the military, whatever that support may be…a listening ear, an acknowledgment of a job well done, or ??

by Catherine Wilson MA LPC NCC

Building Self Confidence

Building Self Confidence

Building Self-Confidence Skills

I recently ran across a YouTube video the other day about building self-confidence.

I love TED talks – they are usually about 15-20 minutes and are delivered by speakers who are considered an authority on the topic they are discussing. Dr. Ivan Joseph makes a couple of great points in this talk.

One of these is that repetition is necessary to build self-confidence.

No one just decides one day to have it, you have to practice and take steps to create it. It is a skill!

The second is that self-talk is extremely important.

You need to make a conscious effort to eliminate negative self-talk and create more positive self-talk for yourself.

I hope you enjoy it too!