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How to help someone who is grieving 1

Grief can be all consuming. It can be a feeling of intense sorrow, agonizing pain, a terrible heartache or even emptiness that just does not go away. In such times when people really need others is when they mostly find themselves isolated. It is not that close friends and relatives do not want to help. They do not know how to help.

In the following article, Sheryl Sandberg speaks about finding her way back to normal and the best way to be there for someone who’s going through a hard time.

An Introduction: Two years ago, life was good for Sheryl Sandberg. The Facebook senior executive and mother of two had a best-selling book (Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead) and she and her husband, Dave Goldberg, decided to take a vacation. But on that vacation, Goldberg collapsed at the gym from heart failure and died. He was 47 years old.Sandberg went through a period of darkness after her husband’s death. She turned to professionals and friends for help getting through it, and now she’s written a book with one of those professionals, psychologist Adam Grant. It’s called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

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On how the people around her reacted to her loss

My interactions before — I would drop my kids off at school and, you know, the parents and I would all wave to each other; show up at work and everyone would chit chat. A lot of that just stopped and people kind of looked at me like I was a ghost. And I think they were so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they hardly said anything at all.

And it’s not just death which does this, it’s really all forms of adversity. You want to silence a room? Get diagnosed with cancer. You know, have someone in your family go to prison. Lose a job. Sexual assault. These things are uncomfortable, and because they’re uncomfortable people are often afraid of saying the wrong thing and often say nothing at all, and then we have this huge elephant in a room following us around. And one of the reasons I wrote the book and am launching OptionB.org is that the problem with that is that we then don’t help each other when we most need that help, and I think that’s when we can most come together.

On the best way to be there someone who’s going through a hard time

I used to say, when someone was going through something hard, “Is there anything I can do?” And I meant it, I meant it kindly. But the problem is … that kind of shifts the burden to the person you’re offering the help to to figure out what they need. And when I was on the other side of that question, I didn’t know how to answer it. Is there anything you can do? Well, can you make Father’s Day go away so I don’t have to live through it every year? No.

Rather than offer to do something, it’s often better to do anything. Just do something specific. My wonderful friends … tragically lost a son and they spent many months in a hospital before that. And one of his friends texted him and said, “What do you not want on a burger?” Not, “Do you want dinner?” Another friend texted and said, “I’m in the lobby of your hospital for an hour for a hug whether you come down or not.” Just show up.

Now, there’s no one way to grieve and not everyone will want the same thing. So the best approach is really ask people. Say, “I know you’re going through something terrible. I’m coming over with dinner tonight. Is that OK?”

On how to build resilience

The most important thing you can do to build resilience is find gratitude. And it’s completely counter intuitive, right? I lost my husband and I would have thought that what you want to do in that situation is try to come up with any positive thought you can. But one day [Option B co-author Adam Grant] said to me, “You should think about how things could be worse.” And I looked at him like he was crazy. I’m like, “Worse? Well? Are you kidding?” And he said, “Dave could have had that same cardiac arrhythmia driving your children.” Right? I mean sock it to the gut. Never occurred to me I could have lost all three. And the second you say that, you’re “I’m good. My kids are alive.”

On giving herself permission to be happy after her husband died

About four months after Dave died, I went to a friend’s child’s bar mitzvah and I got on the dance floor with an old high school friend and danced to a song I love. And then a minute in, I just started crying. A lot. On the dance floor. He had to kind of take me outside. And I didn’t really know what was wrong, and then I realized I felt OK. For one minute. I danced and felt happy for a minute, and then immediately the guilt just flooded into my body. How can I feel OK when Dave is gone? And what I realized is that it’s not just overcoming the grief and it’s not just overcoming the isolation; it’s giving ourselves permission to feel happy.

My brother-in-law, Dave’s only sibling, did this for me in such a beautiful way. He called me one day and he was crying, I could hear it in his voice. And he said, “All Dave ever wanted was for you and your children to be happy. Don’t take that away from him in death.” And it still was hard to let myself laugh, to let myself find joy, but I realized I had to work at it. I had to give myself permission. And I knew I needed to do it because everyone said if I didn’t find a way to be happy my kids could never be happy. …

One of the suggestions Adam made to me is write down three moments of joy before you go to bed. And it’s the New Year’s resolution I’ve kept by far the longest. … The thing about happiness is I think sometimes we’re waiting for the big stuff to be happy. … But happiness isn’t always the big things. Happiness is actually the little things, the little moments that make up our day. And in the face of Dave’s death, the big thing was not getting better, and it’s still not better. So if I wait for that to get better to feel any happiness I’m never gonna feel it.

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Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


Why does it hurt to be a client in Psychotherapy?

One of the most common myths that I debunk for my clients is that psychotherapy is not just about coming to sessions regularly and talking about their problems. Some of the sessions can be really hard – both for the client and myself (the therapist). Pushing a client slowly outside their comfort zone can be a slippery slope. At the same time it is discomforting for an individual to face things they have been avoiding or defending against  feeling their own pain for a long time. Is it then necessary to stretch limits in therapy sessions?

A recent discussion on social network Quora comes to mind. I am sharing the point of view of Dr. Anita Sanz who is a clinical psychologist in USA. You can read the full discussion here.

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These are good questions. Why does therapy hurt? Why don’t clients feel better when they are in therapy?

Physical Therapy for the Body

One way to think about it is to consider how physical therapy is used to help physical problems. Some people see physical therapists after a trauma like a car accident or after they have “yanked their back out.”

They may work with a physical therapist in a rehabilitation center or outpatient clinic to regain their former physical capabilities, to help prevent long-term physical problems that can happen as a result of how the body tries to adapt to injuries, and to help them achieve complete physical independence.

Sometimes physical therapy is prescribed to deal with a chronic or progressive physical condition like arthritis or degenerative disc disease…not because the PT is going to heal or “cure” the problem, but to help the person learn ways to lessen symptoms and keep what mobility and range of movement they can in spite of the disorder.

Psychotherapy is PT for the Non-Body

Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the “non-body” parts of you.

It can help a person after a traumatic childhood or after an immediate crisis to heal and be able to function normally.

It can help a person to correct dysfunctions and achieve their full potential cognitively, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and in their community.

It can help a person who has a mental health diagnosis that must be managed for a lifetime (chronic depression, bipolar disorder, addictions are a few) to learn ways to cope with their disorders better.

The goal may not be a “cure,” but to learn how to manage the disorder and get the best quality of life possible living with the disorder.

Does Good Therapy Have to Hurt?

If you’ve ever come back from a physical therapy appointment and not been sore, like you’ve been pushed past a limit you’d rather not have gone past, then you’re likely not going to get much out of your physical therapy.

In psychotherapy, you have to push beyond what feels comfortable to change. Growth, change, and healing depend upon stretching beyond the norm you’ve been limiting yourself to either because you’re in pain, you’re afraid, or you don’t know what to do to make any positive change.

Out of Your Comfort Zone

So, yeah, the short answer is that unless you are willing to feel at least some discomfort, get into some feelings that you normally don’t want to feel, talk about things that you don’t normally talk about…therapy probably isn’t going to help you much.

But a good therapist is not going to help you unpack all of your emotional stuff and then leave you to pick up the pieces at the end of a session and carry on. He or she will carefully assess how much time there is to get into certain issues and topics, will pace interventions appropriately, and teach you ways to manage the additional discomfort that therapy can bring up.

But Good Therapy is Like PT, not Massage

Good psychotherapy should be like good physical therapy. You should feel challenged and stretched emotionally, but not so much that it’s causing more damage.

It should not be as gentle and soothing as a relaxing massage…because as good as that may feel, it’s not therapeutic enough to create the kind of change you’re looking for.

You should be asked questions you don’t want to answer.
You should be told things you don’t really want to hear.
But you should experience a safe space to be who you are.

Therapy should be just challenging enough that afterwards you find yourself thinking differently, questioning yourself or old outdated modes of perception, being more aware of your feelings, your wants, your needs,
your dreams, and your goals, and practicing new ways of thinking and behaving in your life that you are learning.

In short, it should be creating the right environment for change, for growth, and for healing.

It should be the kind of hurt that heals.

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Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


What are you waiting for? 4 steps to begin taking bold action

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to move past the indecision standstill with bold action

We are often at crossroads in life – not sure where to go, which path to take. We spend hours (sometimes weeks and months) contemplating the best route to success. And then, sometimes, we get stuck. We get in limbo – unable to move and/or process. We often think about what will happen if we make a wrong decision. But have you given a thought on what may happen if you don’t make a decision at all?

Today I am sharing an article by Dr. Carolyn Rubenstein who is a clinical psychologist. She gives simple reasoning and methods to get you going.

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“Good decisions, bad decisions, at least you’re making decisions” was the sage advice I once received.  At the time, I thought it was crazy.  Who wants to make bad decisions?  But over time, I’ve learned that indecision can often be worse.  Indecision and uncertainty can be dangerous, as the ability to analyze two sides of a problem and draw a timely conclusion are crucial, especially in the interconnected world we live in today.

An anonymous quote reads, “Indecision is the graveyard of good intention.”  I challenge you to think about how this applies to you.  Do you feel that fear, or a sense of helplessness, stands in your way between where you are now and where you want to be? If you do, ask yourself WHY. Utilize the question of “WHY?” to get to the root of your inaction. It may take five or more why’s to break down the amorphous uncertainty, but without doing so, you remain exactly where you were, without any clue as to what your next step should be. Asking yourself “why?” clarifies what is standing between you and your bold action. This questioning process won’t take the action for you, but it will provide you with a greater certainty and a sense of control towards your next step.

Why do we find ourselves at this standstill?

Because we have become comfortable — finding ourselves standing still in our comfort zones. Quite simply, our comfort zone is an easy place to be. We retreat to our comfort zones to feel a sense of ease and certainty. We know what to do within it. We know how to excel. Why question what works for us? Sometimes we shouldn’t; however, when this place of retreat becomes a blockade between what our essential selves want, then we must challenge the status quo. But challenging the status quo isn’t fun. As a result, we may overstay our welcome in the comfort zone.

Without realizing it, from that function of comfort, comes the desolate and uninspiring interim. Most ironically, this period of waiting is a very uncomfortable place to be.  I often don’t notice that I’m waiting – standing rigid in my comfort zone.  I trick myself into believing there is a good reason that I’m waiting for something external to happen.  It is in this ambivalence that action seems to become a fantasy… a world away.  Taking that leap of faith in yourself is scary, yet necessary.

Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Begin taking bold action.

The action itself is not what we fear – it is our thoughts that are restraining. Break free from those thoughts and move towards action. Soon enough, small steps will become the equivalent of a giant leap toward the creative, the passionate, the driven, and the anew. Use these four steps to aid yourself in the process of revitalization.

1. Ask yourself tough questions. What is the cost of inaction? Create a “why not?” list and ask yourself if the benefits outweigh these negative thoughts. Think about the consequences of the status quo internally and externally.

2. Accept rational accountability. Decide to change your inaction and make yourself accountable for both your actions and inaction. I grew up learning that there are actions of commission and acts of omission. We are equally responsible for what we do and don’t do.

3. Follow your own advice. If a friend were in the same scenario, what advice would you give him or her? Taking a step back from the problem or scenario might help you gain objectivity. Sometimes being too entrenched can cloud our judgment.

4. Always listen to your intuition. Do a gut check and gauge what the heart and mind can’t. Remember that this requires little thinking… What’s your first reaction? How do you viscerally respond to what’s going on? If you have strong feelings, listen to them.

The bold action that you take doesn’t have to be anything grandiose; it can merely be a step away from ambivalence and inactivity. We may not always get our decisions “right,” but there is something both beautiful and powerful about taking action. What are you waiting for?

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Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


A powerful two step process to get rid of unwanted anger 1

Anger is a hugely misunderstood emotion. It is often attributed to personality factors and sometimes to no reasons at all – “I don’t know why he/she gets so angry! There isn’t any reason to react this way!“. Anger works on the same cause-effect model that most emotions follow. So anger may seem illogical but is never unexplained.

Today I am sharing an article by Dr. Leon Seltzer who is a psychologist, author and trainer. This write-up not only explains the most common reasons (or gains for which) to get angry, but also gives a detailed description of ways in which anger can be modulated.

Adding a side-note based on my experience in helping people manage their anger: Relaxation techniques are underrated, and just like anger misunderstood. These techniques need to be practiced in solitude for at least two weeks before they can be used in a provoking situation. Often such a technique is combined with a soothing affirmation like “Be calm” or “Relax”. This helps in developing a mental cue that can be then used to calm the body instantly in a difficult situation. Similarly, reassessment of the situation helps only if we get in the habit of doing it everyday. Trying these techniques without practice is like sitting in a car for the first time and trying to drive.

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When—without warning—something provokes your anger, you may struggle not to succumb to it. Since what typically makes you mad is feeling powerless in the face of what seems unfair, your anger is mostly an attempt at a “quick fix” to right the balance. It’s as though you’re raising a fist in protest, proclaiming that you’re not going to capitulate to such injustice.

There are, however, a multitude of problems related to this immediate, push-back reaction of anger. And probably the key one is that almost never does it resolve the issue that gave rise to it. Such reactive anger is probably best understood as self-defeating. As David Burns, the author of the seminal self-help book Feeling Good, observes: if, realistically, acting on your anger is to make any sense, it needs to meet two criteria—which, in almost every case, is frankly impossible. That is, your anger must:

  • be directed toward a person who has intentionally (and needlessly) behaved in a hurtful way toward you; and
  • be beneficial or advantageous to you (i.e., assist you in achieving a desired goal).

I think you’ll agree that only rarely can you claim that your anger is both warranted and helpful, whether to yourself or the relationship.

So let me offer you a two-step alternative to abandoning your better judgment and giving in to the temptation of anger—one that should neutralize your anger in seconds. Or, when you’re really angry, in minutes.

But keep in mind that you must really want to execute these steps, be sufficiently motivated to perform them. Which means overcoming more unconscious resistance than you might ever have imagined. Because there are many immediate “advantages” of anger that can interfere with your resolve, I’ll suggest a few of them that might interfere with your employing this powerful method to rid yourself of counter-productive anger. That is, in the short-term, anger:

  • can offer you the instant “reward” of feeling morally superior to whomever, or whatever, you’re angry at—and this “justified” sense of righteousness (or self-righteousness) can actually bolster a somewhat shaky self-image;
  • can help you defend against an underlying anxiety, or general sense of vulnerability—for the adrenaline rush of anger (however superficially) may help you feel empowered;
  • can protect you from experiencing an underlying depression, or deep sense of loneliness or alienation—for, after all, your anger does enable you to stay “engaged” with the other person);
  • can restore in you some semblance of control when, in your momentary frustration, you may suddenly feel out of control; and
  • can help you, through intimidating the other person(s), get your way with them (and here, I won’t even begin to enumerate anger’s negative longer-term effects on relationships!).

If you struggle implementing the two-step process described below, these immediate “advantages” are probably what are getting in the way, and precisely what you may need to better realize—and work through.

So much for caveats. Here are the two steps—call them my “double-R technique for anger control”:

(1)  RELAX  As much as anger is the emotion that prepares your entire body for fight (vs. fear-inspired flight), you must find a way of discharging this non-productive “fighting energy” before you do anything else. You need to know that, to “do battle,” experiencing significant anger automatically activates every muscle group and organ in your body. Broadly defined, all anger is a reaction to some perceived threat, so it naturally serves as the body’s evolutionary cue to ready itself for combat. Thus mobilized for immediate—and impulsive—action, any “stalling” reflectiveness would be a handicap. So anger affects your thinking quite as powerfully as it does your body.

Given the legal and ethical constraints of modern civilization, it’s extremely unlikely that when you get mad you’ll go in for the kill and physically assault your boss, wife, husband, etc. But since anger readies your mind (not just your body) for battle, once the emotion overcomes you and you’ve lost the ability to objectively assess the situation, it’s quite likely that you’ll verbally attack the other person. For at this point, your thinking is no longer driven by your more evolved, rational neocortex (or “new brain”), but your much more primitive, survival-oriented, simple-minded midbrain (as in, “Me right, you wrong!”or “Me good, you bad!”). In this childlike, regressed mental state, all you can think of is having been disregarded, falsely accused, disrespected, distrusted, devalued, cheated, discriminated against, violated, and so on. And—self-righteously—feeling so wronged, what you crave is revenge. Instant revenge. It’s as though, moralistically speaking, only through attacking the other person can you bring them “to justice.”

Because your thinking is now exaggerated or distorted, if you’re to retrieve any emotional equilibrium—–so you can re-evaluate the situation from a more reasonable, adult perspective—you’ll need first to find some way of settling yourself down. That is, the initial step in this 2-step protocol is to calm your upset body. Only then can you focus on the second step of calming your upset mind.

Hopefully, you’ve already discovered a way to relax yourself—whether through deep, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing; some form of meditation; listening to tranquilizing music; visualization or guided imagery; self-hypnosis; acupressure; yoga; or any of the many other relaxation techniques available. But if you don’ t have a ready way of calming yourself, it’s essential that you learn one. For instance, you might look up breathing exercises on the Web, and teach yourself the one that feels most appropriate for you. Then practice it diligently till you can use it to relax at will.

Or, if you’ve got a good visual imagination, picture yourself lying on the beach, walking in the forest, floating on a cloud, leaning against a tree next to a serene lake—or whatever scene you associate with relaxation. And take the time to experience your body reacting to the calming cues “embodied” in the scene you choose. For example, on a private beach, you might fantasize seeing the panoramic beauty of your surroundings; smelling the fresh salt air; hearing the surf hit the shore, or the sea gulls squawking overhead; feeling (tactilely) the warmth of the sun and the mild breeze tickling your bare skin, and the grainy sand slipping through your fingers; etc. Be sure to bring as many of your senses into play as possible. For your body really can’t tell the difference between what’s actual and what’s well-imagined.

But keep in mind that any method you can successfully employ to cool yourself down and reduce your level of physiological arousal—even if it’s nothing more than taking a deep breath (preferably, with eyes closed) and slowly, slowly letting it out—will do just fine. The main thing is that rather than vehemently ventilating your frustrations, you buy yourself some time and engage in a form of self-soothing that, indirectly, will significantly reduce the intensity of your anger.

And if, finally, you’re unable to relax yourself through any of the many “body-quieting” methods available, try vigorous exercise to (non-violently) release the physical tension resulting from your charged-up, angry feelings. Such efforts should allow you to loosen up—both in body and mind—so that you’ll feel calmer and be able to think more clearly.

2. RE-ASSESS  By which I mean get yourself to look at the situation that provoked you from a different, more positive, perspective. I can hardly overemphasize that your anger primarily derives from your negative appraisal of what happened. Alter that outlook and the emotion tied to it must change also. So ask yourself questions like:

  • Did he (or she) really mean what I think I heard them say? Am I assuming something that needs to be verified?
  • Is this situation as terrible as it feels right now? Am I possibly exaggerating its significance? taking it too seriously?
  • Is my notion of this person’s being unfair to me more a reflection of my self-interested bias than the other person’s trying to take advantage of me? Are their interests or concerns maybe just as important, and legitimate, to them as mine are to me [i.e., do all you can to challenge your possible self-righteousness in the matter]?
  • Can I re-focus my attention on what I actually like about this person—and stop focusing exclusively on this particular behavior, which clearly I don’t like?
  • What’s the concrete evidence that he (or she) intentionally wanted to antagonize, hurt, or humiliate me? Am I taking this more personally than warranted?
  • Can I see this situation from the other person’s point of view (i.e., try to understand their motives more empathically)?
  • Might this person’s hard-to-take criticism have some rational basis to it? Is there something I can learn from it that, ultimately, might help me?
  • Is it possible I was misunderstood? Is it maybe my fault that the person failed to “get” what I was trying to communicate, and so reacted negatively to me? And if they’re just “dense,” do I really want to blame them for this?
  • Am I maybe taking what this person said too literally? Might they simply be kidding around—and it’s really my own insecurities or self-doubt that’s making me upset?
  • If this person really is being inconsiderate, mean, or nasty to me, have I also seen them act this way toward others? Can I remind myself that basically this is their problem, not mine—and that I’m much better off simply not taking what they say to heart?

I could probably list another 50 (or 500!) questions to ask yourself when your vulnerability buttons are getting pushed. But hopefully, these self-talk examples will suffice. Since your anger didn’t stem from the situation itself, but the negative meaning, interpretation, or evaluation you ascribed to it, you need to consider alternate ways of perceiving whatever provoked you. In almost every case I think you’ll find that a more level-headed, “measured” assessment of what triggered your anger will help eliminate it.

And with less anger in your life, you’re likely to feel far more relaxed, and happier too. Just don’t ever forget that external events are just that—something external to you—until, that is, you decide, internally, to react to them. Constantly remind yourself that no one other than yourself has the power to make you angry. For, in the end, this “warlike” emotion is something that’s created in your own mind.

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Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


What happens to children when parents fight 1

Children soak up everything they see, feel, and hear. Parents may believe they are giving their children all the love they need, but they send a conflicting message when they fail to reconcile their own relationships with their partnersWhen parents argue excessively and for too long, it can leave children feeling insecure and fearful. Even if it’s not the parents’ intention to cause harm, ongoing conflict can threaten a child’s sense of safety. Truth be told, parents forget that children are vulnerable to feeling in the middle between their parents’ arguments. High parental conflict can send them into high alert. As a result, children may have difficulty sleeping, concentrating on school or social activities; or be plagued with fear and anxiety about their future.

Today I am sharing an article by Dr. Diana Divecha who is a developmental psychologist and research affiliate with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. The article combines a lot of ongoing research on the topic and gives a new understanding to couples’ fights.

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When I was a child, my parents’ fights could suck the oxygen out of a room. My mother verbally lashed my father, broke jam jars, and made outlandish threats. Her outbursts froze me in my tracks. When my father fled to work, the garage, or the woods, I felt unprotected. Years later, when my husband and I decided to have children, I resolved never to fight in front of them.

“Children are like emotional Geiger counters,” says E. Mark Cummings, psychologist at Notre Dame University, who, along with colleagues, has published hundreds of papers over twenty years on the subject. Kids pay close attention to their parents’ emotions for information about how safe they are in the family, Cummings says. When parents are destructive, the collateral damage to kids can last a lifetime.

As a developmental psychologist I knew that marital quarreling was inevitable but I also knew that there had to be a better way to handle it. Cummings confirms: “Conflict is a normal part of everyday experience, so it’s not whether parents fight that is important.  It’s how the conflict is expressed and resolved, and especially how it makes children feel that has important consequences for children.” Watching some kinds of conflicts can even be good for kids—when children see their parents resolve difficult problems, Cummings says, they can grow up better off.

What is destructive conflict?

In their book Marital Conflict and Children: An Emotional Security Perspective, Cummings and colleague Patrick Davies from the University of Rochester identify the kinds of destructive tactics that parents use with each other that harm children: verbal aggression like name-calling, insults, and threats of abandonment; physical aggression like hitting and pushing; silent tactics like avoidance, walking out, sulking or withdrawing; or even capitulation—giving in that might look like a solution but isn’t a true one.

When parents repeatedly use hostile strategies with each other, some children can become distraught, worried, anxious and hopeless. Others may react outwardly with anger, becoming aggressive and developing behavior problems at home and at school. Children can develop sleep disturbances and health problems like headaches and stomachaches, or they may get sick frequently. Their stress can interfere with their ability to pay attention and create learning and academic problems at school. Most children raised in environments of destructive conflict have problems forming healthy, balanced relationships with their peers. Even sibling relationships are adversely affected—they can become overinvolved and overprotective of each other, or distant and disengaged.

Some research suggests that children as young as six months register their parents’ distress. Studies that follow children over a long period of time show that children who were insecure in kindergarten because of their parents’ conflicts were more likely to have adjustment problems in the seventh grade. A recent study showed that even 19-year-olds remained sensitive to parental conflict. Contrary to what one might hope, “Kids don’t get used to it,” says Cummings.

In 2002, researchers Rena Repetti, Shelley Taylor, and Teresa Seeman at UCLA looked at 47 studies that linked children’s experiences in risky family environments to later issues in adulthood. They found that those who grew up in homes with high levels of conflict had more physical health problems, emotional problems, and social problems later in life compared to control groups. As adults, they were more likely to report vascular and immune problems, depression and emotional reactivity, substance dependency, loneliness, and problems with intimacy.

Some parents may think that they can avoid impacting their children by giving in, or capitulating, to end an argument. But that’s not an effective tactic. “We did a study on that,” Cummings said. According to parents’ records of their fights at home and their children’s reactions, kids’ emotional responses to capitulation are “not positive.” Nonverbal anger and “stonewalling”—refusing to communicate or cooperate—are especially problematic.

“Our studies have shown that the long-term effects of parental withdrawal are actually more disturbing to kids’ adjustment [than open conflict],” says Cummings. Why? “Kids understand hostility,” he explains, “it tells them what’s going on and they can work with that. But when parents withdraw and become emotionally unavailable, kids don’t know what’s going on. They just know things are wrong. We’re seeing over time, that withdrawal is actually a worse trajectory for kids. And it’s harder on marital relationships too.”

Kids are sophisticated conflict analysts; the degree to which they detect emotion is much more refined than parents might guess. “When parents go behind closed doors and come out acting like they worked it out, the kids can detect that,” says Cummings. They’ll see you’re pretending. And pretending is actually worse in some ways. As a couple, you can’t resolve a fight you’re not acknowledging you’re having. Kids will know it, you’ll know it, but nothing will be made in terms of progress.”

On the other hand, he says, “When parents go behind closed doors and are not angry when they come out, the kids infer that things are worked out. Kids can tell the difference between a resolution that’s been forced versus one that’s resolved with positive emotion, and it matters.”

How do researchers study conflict?

Researchers use several methods to see how parents’ conflicts affect their children, in the home and in the laboratory. At home, parents are trained to keep records or diaries of their fights, including when they fought, what they fought about, the strategies they used, and how they thought their children reacted. In the laboratory, parents are recorded while discussing a difficult topic, and their strategies are analyzed.  Children are shown videotapes of adults’ or even their own parents’ conflicts and are asked about their reactions: How would you feel if your parents did that; how would you describe what your parents are doing? Some studies also gather information from teachers, school records, or even record children’s physiological responses while watching a videotape of adults or their own parents fighting.

In a remarkable 20-year old study of interparental conflict and children’s stress, anthropologists Mark Flinn and Barry England analyzed samples of the stress hormone cortisol, taken from children in an entire village on the east coast of the island of Dominica in the Caribbean. Children who lived with parents who constantly quarreled and fought had higher average cortisol levels than children who lived in more peaceful families.  As a result, they frequently became tired and ill, they played less, and slept poorly. Overall, children did not ever habituate, or “get used to,” the family stress. In contrast, when children experienced particularly calm or affectionate contact, their cortisol decreased. Both animal and human studies show that chronic activation of the stress response can change the architecture of a developing brain: turning on or off genes that regulate stress; damaging the hippocampus which can lead to impairments in learning and memory as well as the stress response; and interfering with myelination of the brain which affects the quality of nerve signal transmission.

The long-term protection of constructive conflict

“Some types of conflicts are not disturbing to kids, and kids actually benefit from it,” says Cummings. When parents have mild to moderate conflict that involves support and compromise and positive emotions, children develop better social skills and self-esteem, enjoy increased emotional security, develop better relationships with parents, do better in school and have fewer psychological problems.

“When kids witness a fight and see the parents resolving it, they’re actually happier than they were before they saw it,” says Cummings. “It reassures kids that parents can work things through. We know this by the feelings they show, what they say, and their behavior—they run off and play. Constructive conflict is associated with better outcomes over time.”

Even if parents don’t completely resolve the problem but find a partial solution, kids will do fine. “Compromise is best, but we have a whole lot of studies that show that kids benefit from any progress toward resolution,” says Cummings.

Fighting escalates when partners become parents.

According to family therapist Sheri Glucoft Wong, of Berkeley, California, just having children creates more conflicts, even for couples who were doing well before they became parents. “When kids show up, there’s less time to get more done,” she says. “All of a sudden you’re not as patient, not as flexible, and it feels like there’s more at stake. People who make that adjustment successfully talk about it. They make the implicit explicit. Have compassion,” she adds.

What do parents fight about?

“I’ve been doing family therapy for four decades, and digital issues have really, really added new challenges to families,” says Glucoft Wong. “How much screen time is okay, can kids text in the car, expectations about immediate connectivity, and resentment when someone doesn’t return a call right away. Couples’ relationship time is diminished because partners are spending more time interacting with online relationships, dinnertime conversations are interrupted to fact-check, and entertainment is constantly available. There is a whole new etiquette to work out.”

“Roommate issues” are the second big category, according to Glucoft Wong: who does what, when; comings and goings; sleeping times and arrangements, and carving out time for the parents to connect with each other. And finally, there are the usual issues of money, in-laws, friends, values, parenting, discipline, and roles.

Should parents work out their conflicts in front of their kids?

Both researcher Cummings and therapist Glucoft Wong are circumspect. Cummings: “You should be careful about the fights you have in front of your kids. What our research is showing is that parents tend to have worse fights in front of their kids. They’re unable to regulate themselves.”

Glucoft Wong’s philosophy is that home is a training ground for real life: “Little eyes are watching, and little ears are listening,” she says.

Both Cummings and Glucoft Wong agree that children can benefit if parents manage conflict well. “Parents should model real life…at its best,” says Glucoft Wong. “Let them overhear how people work things out and negotiate and compromise.”  But both agree that some content is best kept private. Discussions about sex or other tender issues are more respectfully conducted without an audience. Glucoft Wong encourages parents to get the help they need to learn to communicate better—from parenting programs, from books, or from a therapist.

My own parents’ conflict no longer has the hold on me that it once did, thanks to careful work and a loving marriage of my own of thirty years. Our two daughters are now in their twenties and forming partnerships of their own, and I hope that the lessons of their childhood hold. When they were preschoolers and interrupted our disagreements with concern, my husband and I would smile and reassure them with our special code: I held my thumb and  finger an inch apart and reminded them that the fight was this big, but that the love was this big – and I held my arms wide open.

Tips for Resolving Conflict

Glucoft Wong shares her top five tips to help parents resolve conflict, maintain a loving relationship, and role-model effective problem-solving for children:

  1. Lead with empathy: Open the dialog by first letting the other person know that you see them, you get them, and you can put yourself in their shoes. Example: “I know it must be hard to leave work….”
  2. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best intentions and help yourself remember that you love each other by adding an endearment. Example: “I know you didn’t mean to team up with the kids against me, Sweetheart….”
  3. Remember that you’re on the same team. Deal with issues by laying all the cards on the table and looking at them together to solve a dilemma rather than digging in on opposing sides. Then problem-solve with one another. That way you both “own” the solution.
  4. Constructive criticism only works when your partner can do something about what happened. If the deadline for soccer signup was already missed, remedy the current situation as best as possible and talk about how to do it better next time. Blaming won’t fix anything that’s already happened.
  5. Anything that needs to be said can be said with kindness. Disapproval, disappointment, exasperation—all can be handled better with kindness.
<<Excerpt Ends>>

Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


How to quiet your own harsh internal critic 1

Compassion towards self is one of the most helpful coping tools. An individual practicing self-compassion can not only overcome stress more easily, they are usually more calm, resilient and empathetic towards others. Needless to say, children benefit immensely from parents who can master this art. Today’s newsletter is an attempt to explain the concept and basics of self-compassion.

<<Excerpt Begins>> by Carrie Wilkens, psychologist and author

Have you ever said to yourself, “I shouldn’t be so mad about this,” “I should be able to handle this and it’s pathetic that I can’t,” or “I can’t handle feeling so lost,” or “I should be able to just get over this and move on.” These statements may be all too familiar if you are someone who feels upset, scared or angry when you have negative or painful feelings (i.e., when you suffer).

Unfortunately, when your harsh internal critic charges after you during times of vulnerability or suffering, it tends to amplify the pain associated with living life. And the increased pain can create an even stronger desire to avoid your pain and suffering all together. It’s not uncommon for people turn to drugs, alcohol, food, spending, sex, isolating and a variety of other strategies in an attempt to get away from emotional or physical pain. The reality is that these strategies bring problems of their own (physical dependency, poor health, debt, loneliness etc), leading to a spiral of suffering that can seem never ending.

Suffering as an aspect of life experienced by all humans, and when you embrace this concept, you can start to find some self-compassion instead of judgement or criticism (something you don’t really need when you are suffering!!). Self-compassion involves noticing your suffering (e.g., becoming aware of shame, sadness, stress, anger, etc.) and practicing self-kindness during these painful moments.

By practicing self-compassion when experiencing suffering, you can learn to be with it and care for yourself instead of potentially causing yourself even more suffering. Practicing kindness toward oneself is an important element of self-care. It contributes to the “oxygen” you need to manage difficult situations and to deal with the pains of life in a healthier manner.

The following exercises are borrowed from the work of one of the leading researchers on the benefits of self-compassion, psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff. As you engage in these exercises notice any judgments that may arise (e.g., “What’s the point of this?” “This is not going to work”, “This is silly”, etc.). As with any other new skill we try for the first time, the practice of self-compassion may feel strange at first. With practice, these exercises will begin to feel more natural. Hang in there and practice despite the initial awkwardness because your effort will likely be rewarded. Research demonstrates self-compassion to be associated with higher levels of wellbeing. The more you practice the better. Begin incorporating these skills into your daily life so that you feel more fully prepared to practice them when you are in the midst of a difficult situation.

Self-Compassion through words.

Mantra: Create and memorize 3 statements that reflect an attitude of self-compassion. Practice reciting these thoughts during difficult moments.

Sample Mantra:

  • I’m having a really hard time right now.
  • This is part of being human.
  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.

Work to recognize the presence of suffering.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • This is a moment of suffering.
  • I’m having a really hard time right now.
  • It’s painful for me to feel this now.

Remind yourself that we all face painful experiences.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • Suffering is a part of life.
  • Everyone feels this way sometimes.
  • This is part of being human.

Express intention of kindness toward yourself.

Choose one of the following or create your own

  • May I be kind to myself in this moment.
  • May I hold my pain with tenderness.
  • May I be gentle and understanding with myself.
<<Excerpt Ends>>
<<Excerpt Begins>> by Ms. Lori Deschene, author and founder (Tiny Buddha)

If you’re also looking to increase your capacity for self-soothing so you can depend less on validation from others, you may find these ideas helpful:

1. Make a “you” section in your daily gratitude journal.

Of course, this assumes you already keep a gratitude journal to recognize and celebrate all the good things in your day. If you don’t, you can still take a few minutes every day to give yourself some credit.

Note down the things you’ve done well, the choices you’ve made that you’re proud of, the progress you’ve made, and even the things that required no action at all—for example, the time you gave yourself to simply be.

When you regularly praise yourself, self-validation becomes a habit you can depend on when you need it the most.

2. Before seeking external validation, ask yourself, “What do I hope that person tells me?” Then tell it to yourself.

Odds are, you aren’t always looking for someone’s advice or opinion when you come to them with a painful story. You’re looking for them to confirm you didn’t do anything wrong—or if you did, that you’re not a bad person for it.

Essentially, you’re looking for someone else to see the best in you and believe in you. Give yourself what you’re seeking from them before making that call. Then by all means, make it if you want to.

The goal isn’t to stop reaching out to others. It’s to be there for yourself.

The words you want to hear from someone else will be far more powerful if you fully believe what they’re saying.

3. Recognize when you’re judging your feelings.

If you’re in the habit of feeling bad about feeling down or insecure, or generally having emotional reactions to emotions, you will inevitably end up feeling stuck and helpless.

Get in the habit of telling yourself, “I have a right to feel how I feel.” This will help you understand your feelings and work through them much more easily, because you won’t be so deeply embedded in negativity about yourself.

Once you’ve accepted your feelings, you’ll then be free to seek support for the actual problem—not your self-judgment about having to deal with it.

4. See yourself as the parent to the child version of you.

I know this one might sound odd—bear with me! Many of us didn’t receive the type of love, support, and kindness we needed growing up, and this may have taught us to treat ourselves harshly and critically.

When you’re looking for that warm, fuzzy feeling that emerges when someone you trust tells you, “Everything is going to be okay,” imagine yourself saying it to your younger self.

Picture that little kid who tried so hard, meant no harm, and just wanted to be loved and cherished. This will likely help in deflating your self-criticism and fill you a genuine sense of compassion for yourself.

Once again, this doesn’t need to be an alternative to seeking compassion from others; it just provides a secure foundation from which you’ll be better able to receive that.

5. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “What do I need right now?”

Oftentimes, when we’re feeling down on ourselves, we feel a (sometimes subconscious) desire to punish ourselves. When we reject or deprive ourselves in this way, we exacerbate our feelings, because we then feel bad about two things: the original incident and the pain we’re causing ourselves.

If you’re feeling down, or down on yourself, ask yourself: “What does my body need? What does my mind need? What does my spirit need?” Or otherwise expressed: What will make you feel better, more stable, healthier, and more balanced?

You may find that you need to take a walk to feel more energized, take a nap to feel better rested, practice deep breathing to clear your head, or drink some water to hydrate yourself.

This is validating yourself in action. Whenever you address your needs, you reinforce to yourself that they are important, regardless of whatever you did or didn’t do previously.

One more thing has helped me tremendously in validating myself: accepting that it’s okay to need reminders like these. There was a time when I saw this as something shameful—an indication that other people who seemed self-assured were somehow better than me.

I wondered why self-kindness didn’t always come instinctively. But when I stopped judging myself, I remembered all the experiences that helped shape my critical inner voice. It wasn’t a sign of weakness that I needed to put in some effort; it was a sign of strength that I was willing to do it.

It’s one of life’s great ironies, that it feels so natural to feel bad about feeling bad. All this does is keep us stuck. When we stop blaming ourselves for having room to grow, we’re free to focus our energy on doing it.

<<Excerpt Ends>>

Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


10 habits of mentally strong people 1

Sharing an article by Dr. Travis Bradberry. Dr. Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart. He has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review

<<Article Begins>>Despite West Point Military Academy’s rigorous selection process, one in five students drop out by graduation day. A sizeable number leave the summer before freshman year, when cadets go through a rigorous program called “Beast.” Beast consists of extreme physical, mental, and social challenges that are designed to test candidates’ perseverance.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth conducted a study in which she sought to determine which cadets would make it through the Beast program. The rigorous interviews and testing that cadets went through to get into West Point in the first place told Angela that IQ and talent weren’t the deciding factors.

So, Angela developed her own test to determine which cadets had the mental strength to conquer the Beast. She called it the “Grit Scale,” and it was a highly accurate predictor of cadet success. The Grit Scale measures mental strength, which is that unique combination of passion, tenacity, and stamina that enables you to stick with your goals until they become a reality.

To increase your mental strength, you simply need to change your outlook. When hard times hit, people with mental strength suffer just as much as everyone else. The difference is that they understand that life’s challenging moments offer valuable lessons. In the end, it’s these tough lessons that build the strength you need to succeed.

Developing mental strength is all about habitually doing the things that no one else is willing to do. If you aren’t doing the following things on a regular basis, you should be, for these are the habits that mentally strong people rely on.

1. You have to fight when you already feel defeated. A reporter once asked Muhammad Ali how many sit-ups he does every day. He responded, “I don’t count my sit-ups, I only start counting when it starts hurting, when I feel pain, cause that’s when it really matters.” The same applies to success in the workplace. You always have two choices when things begin to get tough: you can either overcome an obstacle and grow in the process or let it beat you. Humans are creatures of habit. If you quit when things get tough, it gets that much easier to quit the next time. On the other hand, if you force yourself to push through a challenge, the strength begins to grow in you.

2. You have to delay gratification. There was a famous Stanford experiment in which an administrator left a child in a room with a marshmallow for 15 minutes. Before leaving, the experimenter told the child that she was welcome to eat it, but if she waited until he returned without eating it, she would get a second marshmallow. The children that were able to wait until the experimenter returned experienced better outcomes in life, including higher SAT scores, greater career success, and even lower body mass indexes. The point is that delay of gratification and patience are essential to success. People with mental strength know that results only materialize when you put in the time and forego instant gratification.

3. You have to make mistakes, look like an idiot, and try again—without even flinching.In a recent study at the College of William and Mary, researchers interviewed over 800 entrepreneurs and found that the most successful among them tend to have two critical things in common: they’re terrible at imagining failure and they tend not to care what other people think of them. In other words, the most successful entrepreneurs put no time or energy into stressing about their failures as they see failure as a small and necessary step in the process of reaching their goals.

4. You have to keep your emotions in check. Negative emotions challenge your mental strength every step of the way. While it’s impossible not to feel your emotions, it’s completely under your power to manage them effectively and to keep yourself in control of them. When you let your emotions overtake your ability to think clearly, it’s easy to lose your resolve. A bad mood can make you lash out or stray from your chosen direction just as easily as a good mood can make you overconfident and impulsive.

5. You have to make the calls you’re afraid to make. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do because we know they’re for the best in the long-run: fire someone, cold-call a stranger, pull an all-nighter to get the company server back up, or scrap a project and start over. It’s easy to let the looming challenge paralyze you, but the most successful people know that in these moments, the best thing they can do is to get started right away. Every moment spent dreading the task subtracts time and energy from actually getting it done. People that learn to habitually make the tough calls stand out like flamingos in a flock of seagulls.

6. You have to trust your gut. There’s a fine line between trusting your gut and being impulsive. Trusting your gut is a matter of looking at decisions from every possible angle, and when the facts don’t present a clear alternative, you believe in your ability to make the right decision; you go with what looks and feels right.

7. You have to lead when no one else follows. It’s easy to set a direction and to believe in yourself when you have support, but the true test of strength is how well you maintain your resolve when nobody else believes in what you’re doing. People with mental strength believe in themselves no matter what, and they stay the course until they win people over to their ways of thinking.

8. You have to focus on the details even when it makes your mind numbNothing tests your mental strength like mind-numbing details, especially when you’re tired. The more people with mental strength are challenged, the more they dig in and welcome that challenge, and numbers and details are no exception to this.

9. You have to be kind to people who are rude to you. When people treat you poorly, it’s tempting to stoop to their level and return the favor. People with mental strength don’t allow others to walk all over them, but that doesn’t mean they’re rude to them, either. Instead, they treat rude and cruel people with the same kindness they extend to everyone else, because they don’t allow another person’s negativity to bring them down.

10. You have to be accountable for your actions, no matter what. People are far more likely to remember how you dealt with a problem than they are to recall how you created it in the first place. By holding yourself accountable, even when making excuses is an option, you show that you care about results more than your image or ego.

Bringing It All Together

Mental strength is as rare as it is important. The good news is that any of us can get stronger with a little extra focus and effort.
<<Article Ends>>

Hope you enjoyed reading this article 🙂


What nobody tells you about self-care 1

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans” – Allen Saunders

Isn’t that true? Life rarely goes in the direction we plan to steer it in. We have to constantly match rhythm with the changes and uncertainties that jump out at us. After a lot of struggle and adapting we usually settle right back into a comfortable place. During these times it is hard enough to cope with all that’s going on, forget taking care of ourselves and things or people that matter. And before we realize, the damage is already done. Today’s article is for all of us struggling to keep our heads above water, written by Ms. Mawiyah Patten who also writes on www.themighty.com

You can read the full article here.

If this article in some way spoke to you, and you think it might to others as well, please consider sharing it with them.

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Teenage Smoking – Challenges and Intervention

Today’s article is written by Ms. Parmeet Soni, who works at Mental Health Foundation, Kolkata as a Clinical Psychologist & Consultant in Social Care.

I received the most interesting response from a young teen when he heard I would be posting a write up on teenage smoking. He retorted back saying, ‘The world has larger problems! Why don’t you think of filing a PIL with the government regarding a more important issue?’

This really got me thinking.
1. Does this kid have his life more sorted than I have?
2. Should I pull a Raghav Mandava on him or, recommend Allen Carr’s book.
3. How do I make my tough critic here realize this is not such a ‘non issue’ to bail out?

Clearly, the anti smoking campaigns have failed miserably at addressing this issue. Far from building awareness among the youth, ‘Mukesh’, the protagonist of the anti tobacco campaign, has become the artistic expression for creative parodies on You Tube.

So how does one address this?
• If you quiz a teen on the harmful effects of smoking, they might provide you more accurate statistics than you have on the death rates due to smoking in comparison to other illness’ or accidents.
• If you try and make the argument stronger by focusing on the varying stages of smoking from experimentation to getting dependent on it. They are quick to point out they smoke because they like to and can stop whenever they want to.

This is exactly why it is important to talk about teenage smoking. Because like my young critic here, many other smokers are very effective at providing themselves and others rational arguments to continue with this ‘habit’. Most believe that it is within their control and they can quit smoking whenever they feel like.

To all such users I recommend a 2 week experiment to know this habit better:
For two weeks every time you feel like smoking do not give in to this ‘habit’. If you find yourself feeling a sudden urge to smoke and it is difficult for you to resist especially when around other smokers. This issue is beyond habit. This is you experiencing craving for nicotine which is a highly addictive substance present in cigarettes.

Nicotine alters the balance of two chemicals, called dopamine and noradrenaline, in your brain. When nicotine changes the levels of these chemicals, your mood and concentration levels change. Many smokers find this enjoyable. The changes happen very quickly. When you inhale the nicotine, it immediately rushes to your brain, where it produces feelings of pleasure and reduces stress and anxiety. This is why many smokers enjoy the nicotine rush and become dependent on it. The more you smoke, the more your brain becomes used to the nicotine. This means you have to smoke more to get the same effect. When you stop smoking, the loss of nicotine changes the levels of dopamine and noradrenaline. This can make you feel anxious, depressed and irritable. It’s normal to crave nicotine when you quit, as smoking provides an immediate fix to these unpleasant feelings. (reference: NHS Why is smoking addictive?)

Research indicates pharmacological intervention, Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT’s) along with cognitive and behavioural interventions prove to be effective in management of both craving and withdrawals one faces while trying to quit smoking, which often leads to relapse.

But, before one reaches the point of intervention the most important factor is ‘readiness’ to change. Parents would point out that the teens are often not motivated and easily influenced by peers. Psychologists would tell you that the child at this stage of development is experiencing ‘identity crisis’ and their brain is more analytical than ever.

To be more effective in getting outcomes in smoking cessation, building a relatable peer group would be step one in addressing the issue. Schools could participate by holding debates and bringing in self advocates who could discuss their personal struggles with smoking and build insight among the teens. These small steps could help initiate a dialogue, break certain myths and taboos around smoking. Adults in the child’s environment, for example parent who smoke could try leading by example.

If this article in some way spoke to you, and you think it might to others as well, please consider sharing it with them.

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How to avoid being psychologically destroyed by your newsfeed 4

Today I am sharing an article by Ann Douglas. This article aims to help combat the stress of constantly being bombarded with bad news in our newsfeed. She shares some strategies to bring hope and peace in our lives in such times of turmoil.

Here’s the link to the article: How to avoid being psychologically destroyed by your newsfeed

If this article in some way spoke to you, and you think it might to others as well, please consider sharing it with them.

You can follow more reflections by Chrysalys on Facebook and Google+.