If you seek wisdom, learn from history. While each of us carries our own set of unique strengths, we are largely all the same. Human nature is not very complicated: we gravitate toward pleasure and we avoid pain when possible. If we are placed in the same historical scenario, we will often respond the way someone before us did.
Our nature is demonstrated in the themes and cycles found in history. Wisdom from the past is relevant to the future, generally speaking. And even though it might be hard to decode what some of our predecessors were saying, the value of the wisdom we will receive is worth the price of the struggle. In my experience, reading historical classics has caused a few brow furrows and has required slower reading and longer reflection time. What I have gained is insight, strength, and encouragement.
There is an expanding of the mind that happens when you try something new, even if you are bad at it. Reading Confucius was challenging. It took me about 6 months to get through it. I read 2 pages at a time and then let it rest on my nightstand while the jumbled thoughts lingered in my mind. While I have not made sense of it all, some of my confusion was clarified and I have learned.
Here are some quotes I enjoyed.
"A gentleman avoids seeking to satisfy his appetite to the full when he eats and avoids seeking comfort when he is at home. He is diligent in deed and cautious in word, and he associates with possessors of the Way and is put right by them. He may simply be said to be fond of learning."
(Stretch yourself by doing uncomfortable things)
"Those who understand a thing are not equal to those who are fond of it, and those who are fond of it are not equal to those who delight in it."
"When I walk with two others, I always receive instruction from them. I select their good qualities and copy them, and improve on their bad qualities."
"One does not worry about the fact that other people do not appreciate one. One worries about not appreciating other people."
"Not to talk with people although they can be talked with is to waste people. To talk with people although they can't be talked with is to waste words. A man of understanding does not waste people, but he also does not waste words."
"Gentlemen do not promote someone because of what he says, and do not reject what is said because of who said it."
Family or Government:
"If you lead them by means of government and keep order among them by means of punishments, the people are without conscience in evading them. If you lead them by means of virtue and keep order among them by means of ritual, they have a conscience and moreover will submit."
"'What action does one take so that the people will be obedient?' Master Kong replied saying: 'If you promote the straight and set them above the crooked, then the people will be obedient. If you promote the crooked and set them above the straight, then the people will not be obedient.'"
"If you oversee them with dignity, they will be respectful. If you are dutiful towards your parents and kind to your children, then they will be loyal. If you promote the good and instruct the incompetent, then they will be encouraged."
"In ritual it is better to be frugal rather than lavish, but in mourning it is better to be sorrowful rather than unmoved."
"Even in the mist of eating coarse rice and drinking water and using a bent arm for a pillow happiness is surely to be found; riches and honours acquired by unrighteous means are to me like the floating clouds."
"There are three things which the gentleman guards against; in the time of his youth, when his vital powers have not yet settled down, he is on his guard in matters of sex; when he reaches the prime of life and his vital powers have just attained consistency, he is on his guard in matters of contention; and when he becomes old and his vital powers have declined, he is on his guard in matters of acquisition."
Go ahead, give that old, challenging classic book a try- you know the one that is on your shelf to impress yourself or your guests. Make the classic your friend, and there is no better company to keep.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
1190 Marsh Street, San Luis Obispo, CA
As much fun as the holiday season can be, it can be equally stressful and emotional. Returning to your family home, even thinking about returning to your home, can cause heightened blood pressure and eye twitches. Even when there is a lot of love and there are many positive activities, deep, dark emotions can bubble up to the surface.
Most of us can be proud of our development into adulthood. We have come a long way from our childhood. We are sophisticated, wise and mature. But somehow, when we visit parents and siblings, the gravity of going home sucks us into a vortex and we become our former selves; we become 16 again. Our old vulnerabilities surface and we become reactive. As dysfunctional as this phenomenon is, it is normal. In fact, the "vortex" is probably working on all members of the family simultaneously. I'll bet you think your other family members are always this immature, but chances are they are more mature and charming when they are not in family gatherings as well.
Family system experts explain that there are unseen forces that pressure us to keep the status quo in the family. Even though time may go by and people may change, when the family gets back together it's business as usual. We fall back into old, outdated roles and ways of relating. Lifelong rivalries, grudges, and cliches play out.
But they don't have to...
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
1190 Marsh Street, San Luis Obispo, CA
The teenage brain is a mystery to most of us. We don't understand teens.
Dan Siegel, M.D. is the current authority on the brain and relationships. He authored Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. It is an amazing book and a must read.
Teens do stupid things because their brain is bored most of the time. Additionally, when they do something pleasurable their brains give them an extra 'high' and this makes the pleasure they are experiencing much more compelling. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain responsible for pleasure and reward. Dr. Siegel says, "the baseline level of dopamine [in a teen's brain] is lower but its release in response to experience is higher, which can explain why teens may report a feeling of being "bored" unless they are engaging in some stimulating and novel activities." Although risky, it is good that teens seek novelty and adventure as they are expected to venture out and try many new things in life. To keep the your teen from finding thrill in the wrong places, be sure to provide your teen(s) with plenty of healthy, thrill seeking activities. River rafting, swimming in the ocean, traveling, learning a new skill, laser tag or paint-balling, or operating a new piece of equipment like a tractor, golf cart or car can provide a sense of adventure with less risk than drugs or sex. If teens do not adequate stimulation, he or she may become withdrawn and shut down or may be drawn to risky behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, and sex.
Also note that a pruning of unused neural connections happens between age 11 and 13. That means if you have a special skill (such as music or a sport) you want your teen to learn, it is best to have them practice it before adolescence. Otherwise, the neurons will be cut out. And rebuilding them in adulthood is much harder. Trust me, I've been trying to learn Spanish for 7 years now but I am making little head way! Seize the day; adolescence is a last ditch effort to get these neural networks in place.
Teens are emotional and aggressive because their brains often bypass the prefrontal cortex, which uses reasoning. A research experiment showed a neutral face to adults and teens. The adult brains simply showed flow of thought. For teens, the emotion center, became activated. "The result for teens can be an inner conviction that even another person's neutral response or a bump in the hallway can be interpreted as intentional, and a teen may respond with an irritated remark even if the look or bump was completely innocent." Sound familiar? Now you know why: their brains are sending intense messages of emotion and perceived aggression.
So what is helpful?
Teens need their drive for innovation and creation to be honored. This does not mean setting no limits. "It means acknowledging the intention behind the actions." Teens have good intentions. Make sure you give those intentions their due credit.
Time in, that is time listening to your own thoughts, feelings and body, causes your brain to grow more integrative fibers that create your ability to regulate emotions, attention, thinking, sense of well-being, and connection to others. This is the cure for the woes of teenage-hood. You can find mindfulness, meditations, and ways to be present in the moment, or ideas for time with nature online or in this book. A teen should take time to exercise his or her brain.
Focused learning without digital distractions is also important. Put away the ipods, tablets, and cell phones while studying. Focused attention is important work for the brain.
"Don't do it" doesn't work. Instead promote a positive value your teen already has. For example, an anti-smoking campaign tried something new. Instead of intimidating teens into saying "no" they focused on "being strong in the face of manipulative adults out to get rich." Did it work? You bet. The next time you attempt to set a limit with a teen, try encouraging a value they already possess instead. Common values for teens are independence, not being manipulated by adults, creativity and adventure,
Most of all, remember to respect the drastic changes happening in the teenage mind. Calling teens "out of their minds," "crazy," or "hormonal" is disrespectful and unhelpful. These mental changes are useful adaptations for their future success. As Dan Siegel puts it "We are moving out of our old minds and into new ones as adolescents, and our adolescent mind is full of positive power and the potential for creativity. And this power is something we all need to honor. The key as an adolescent or as an adult is to tap into that potential and help cultivate that power."
To cultivating the mind,
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
Downtown San Luis Obispo and downtown Atascadero, California
Pain is part of the human experience.
While pain is clearly felt in the body, some consider it an emotion. Aristotle referred to it as a "passion for the soul." How we feel, express, deal with pain greatly depends on our interpretation of it. Our attitude and beliefs about pain largely stem from our cultural experiences growing up.
This week I read a research article called "The Intersection of Pain and Culture", by NetCE, which takes a look at what research is saying about pain and how our cultural heritage can change our experience with pain. With an estimated 20% of adults experiencing pain every year, and since one out of ten adults is diagnosed with chronic pain, we need to start paying attention. Likely you know of a co-worker, family member, friend, or acquaintance whose life is affected on a daily basis by pain. By exploring this topic I hope you gain better insight into your own expression of pain and learn to recognize appropriate responses to the pain of others.
Which culture you come from affects not only the way you talk about pain, but also how you feel it. For example, studies show Mexican-Americans often believe that it is their duty to their family, community, and God to endure pain stoically. "Some patients may feel that pain is bestowed by God and/or is part of familial or societal obligations." In this light, pain can be seen as a test of faith or loyalty to God.
In another study, African-American and Hispanic participants demonstrated lower pain tolerance to cold and heat compared to their White counterparts. Not surprisingly, the coldest portions of the globe are dominated by White groups.
Some studies show how the stress of acculturation can increase one's sensitivity to pain. Just imagine, you feel physical pain stronger and more often when trying to adapt to a new culture or perhaps dealing with racism. This is not something most people know about, but it can affect many, many people.
Individualistic cultures, such as Americans, tend to emphasize their ability to makes changes around them; thus, they are more likely to use coping strategies aimed at trying to change their environment or to withdraw into themselves. On the other hand, collectivist cultures tend to emphasize control given to others, thus utilizing more passive coping strategies such as prayer.
The terms we use to describe pain are influenced by culture as well. While many cultures use the words "pain," "ache," and "hurt," the same words often convey a differing level of pain intensity for different groups. Some groups have many descriptions. The Cantonese Chinese who use 597 different pain descriptors. Others use more vivid imagery like some Native Americans tribes, which may use terms such as "stretching," "throbbing," "pulling," "hot lava," "freezing," "sparks," and "electric shocks." It is important to listen to the language others use and explore their meaning, as interpretations can be different.
Now let's take a look at our own expressions of pain. Let's start by considering these questions:
1) When you were a child, how did those who cared for you react when you were in pain?
2) How did they expect you to behave when you had a minor injury?
3) How did they encourage you to cope when you had severe pain?
4) How did they encourage you to behave during an injection or procedure?
5) When those who cared for you as a child were in pain, how did they react?
6) What words did they use to describe the pain?
7) How did they cope with their pain?
8) Do you tend to follow their example?
Now let's think about how you currently express pain:
1) What painful experiences have you had as an adult?
2) How did you express (or not express) your pain?
3) Did the pain cause you fear? What were you afraid of?
4) How did you cope with the pain?
5) How did you want others to react while you were in pain?
I find it good practice to reflect on one's own reactions to pain in order to move forward with more self-awareness and better choices. When we remain strangers to ourselves, we live our lives on autopilot. We lack direction and satisfaction. Socrates once said "An unexamined life is not worth living." Take a look at your relationship to pain. You never know how it can change you.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
San Luis Obispo and Atascadero, California
Ever been in an accident or know someone who has? Perhaps you know someone whose life continues to be affected by an incident as if, at a pivotal point, their life traveled a different trajectory. Old aches may seem not go away no matter what the doctors try. Fear, panic, and avoidance of situations once were considered normal or enjoyable take a grip. Irritability or timidness overtake even the calmest, most confident personalities. A discomfort in the body can become so familiar over time that it is accepted as the new norm since the accident.
No matter how long it has been since the accident, healing can happen. Dr. Heller in Crash Course: A Self-healing Guide to Auto Accident Trauma & Recovery gives a guide on how to heal emotionally and physically from an accident. The approaches presented are consistent with my knowledge about healing trauma and I would consider this an excellent book on accident trauma. If doing the work solo is too challenging, seek a professional counselor who can help you through the body work needed to reach your goals.
To better understand trauma, let's take a closer look at how nature deals with accidents: The animal kingdom has recovery down pat. Ever watch a bird hit a window or a deer get hit by a car? The bird will fly at rapid speed head-on into a pane of glass, drop to the ground where it will stay for a few moments, and lay motionless, as though it were struck dead on impact. And then a most remarkable thing happens: it twitches and shakes, it slowly turns its head, stretches out each wing, assesses for damage, and then proceeds on to the inspecting the functionality of the rest of the body. Then if all is well, the bird flies or runs off as if nothing happened. Check it out on youtube if you haven't seen this in real life. Here is a video to give you an idea. Unfortunately most people, as in this youtube video, disrupt the natural healing process by moving the stunned bird, or in this case putting the bird in a bag, so you are unable to see the intermediate steps, but it gives you a rough idea.
We are no different than the bird or deer. When we are in an accident, Dr. Heller says, "There is a burst of adrenaline and other biochemical reactions and the body is ready for action. When it's totally overwhelmed or blocked the body freezes, trapping all that mobilized survival energy. That undischarged survival energy in the nervous system, we believe, is the source of most of the symptoms commonly recognized as PTSD." When our bodies are unable to discharge of this energy and recalibrate itself, you typically end up with a nervous system where the switch is stuck on "on" (anxious, hyperactive, panic, rage, elated) or stuck on "off "(depressed, disconnected, deadness, exhausted).
No matter how much time has lapsed since the accident, undischarged survival energy can be released. Withstanding the effects of permanent injuries, life can go back to normal. Pains can cease and personalities can go back to their previous functioning. Crash Course shows you how this can be accomplished or can help you seek a professional to guide you through.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
Downtown San Luis Obispo and Atascadero, California
Why does your child lie, steal, defy, incessantly chatter, cling, or whine?
The answer is simpler than you may think: Children misbehave because they are stressed. When something is alarming, their brain is stuck reacting to fear rather than responding normally. It feels like life-or-death for the child, resulting in dysregulated behaviors.
Parents often wonder, "What was he thinking? He knows better. He must be doing this on purpose." The truth is, the child is not thinking at all, but merely reacting unconsciously. The solution is not doling out consequences, but rather helping your child return to regulation. Bryan Post in his book The Great BehaviorBreakdown, explains how to respond to misbehaving children in a way that helps them feel safe, thus eliminating negative behaviors.
Containment means eliminating extra sensory input. Often this looks like turning down the music, walking out of a store, sitting on a parent's lap, or closing eyes. Positive feedback loop is a fancy way of saying, make it feel safe and enjoyable. When the child is full of negativity, hold on to a calm, regulated, demeanor. Be positive, low key, and non-threatening. Eventually the child will give in to your invitation to stay near until he or she feels safe enough to go back and play.
I have used Bryan Post's approach for years while working with adoptive and foster children. For kids with trauma, his techniques work when nothing else does.
Next time your child is misbehaving, see the reaction as fear rather than anger. It will change the way you respond, change your child's behaviors, and transform your relationship.
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
Downtown San Luis Obispo and Atascadero, California
Do you ever feel like you are not meeting your potential? Do you feel like you are driven by moodiness, distractions, and an inner whirlwind that can only be satisfied when you focus on something equally intense and exciting? Most of you will respond, "Not really," but quite a few of you will say, "You just described me to a 'T'."
Most people believe you outgrow ADHD but the truth is most do not. In fact, only 1/3 of children with ADHD grow out of it, while the other 2/3's continue to live with its affects. Many adults do not realize they suffer from ADHD until they find themselves seeking treatment for their child.
If you think you might have ADHD, if you know someone with ADHD, or if you work with children, it would be prudent to educate yourself a bit on the topic. A good place to start is, Driven to Distraction, an oldie but goodie on ADHD, created by two psychiatrists who know what they are talking about because they have ADHD as well.
Most people think of hyperactive children who are bouncing off walls, blurting out poorly timed comments, and failing at school when they think of ADHD. While some of that may be true, there is another side to it - a beautiful side, in my opinion.
Because people with ADHD have brains that work differently, they have a variety of strengths that can propel them into success in the information age. Their minds are prepped for rapid information input and they can focus intensely for periods of time. People with ADHD often have high energy and are very hard workers. While this focus and intensity may wax and wane, when they are able to pull it together, they can create brilliant pieces of work. Many famous inventors, such as Thomas Edison, are thought to have had ADHD.
Another strength of the ADHD mind is an extraordinary ability to have intuition about their surroundings. While their minds may not be able to sort through all the information coming at them, they are able to get a little piece of almost everything. They often have intuitions or "gut feelings" that can be quite accurate. Dr. Hallowell put it well when he said, "They can be highly imaginative and empathic, closely attuned to the moods and thoughts of the people around them, even as they are missing most of the words that are being said."
ADHD minds are also highly creative. Because their minds jump around and seek novel simulation, they are idea hotspots. Albert Einstein, Edgar Allan Poe, and Salvador Dali are a few examples. I know I go to my ADHD-minded friends when I need an idea -- or a few thousand of them. :)
While many folks with ADHD are highly intelligent and quite charismatic, they also struggle. They struggle to keep their jobs, fulfill their potential, keep relationships afloat, and stay satisfied within the humdrum of an ordinary life. There are many tips in Driven By Distraction on how to structure an ADHD mind for success. For some, meditation, exercise, a life coach, and tips on structuring one's life is sufficient to harness the mind. About 85% of adults with ADHD can be helped dramatically with medication. Medication can help focus the mind, calm the storm inside, and help one attune to people around them. What medications do not do "should be mentioned to clear up common misconceptions. [Medications] do not 'drug up' or cloud the sensorium of the individual taking them. They are not addictive in the doses prescribed for ADD. They do not take away the creativity or 'special something' so many people with ADD possess." As a therapist, I have seen many clients experience great relief when beginning medication treatment in combination with therapy. If you suspect you may have an ADHD mind, seek professional help to get a clear diagnosis and treatment to improve your life.
And for everyone else, the next time you are dismissed because of ADHD or bombarded by the presence of ADHD, remember, "People with ADD [now called ADHD] do look out the windows. They do not stay on track. They stray. But they also see new things or find new ways to see the old things. They are not just the tuned-out of this world; they are also tuned in, often to the fresh and the new. They are often the inventors and the innovators, the movers and the doers."
Enjoy the ADHD mind, and seek help when needed to channel it's genius.
Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT
Located downtown San Luis Obispo and Atascadero.
I've been an erratic reader during the past few weeks of the current heat wave. I've started and stopped reading several books; I even nearly finished one, but lost it. In spite of that, I finally found a wonderful book on love.
The Truth About Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How You Can Make it Last Forever, by Pat Love Ed.D., speaks simple truths about long-term romantic relationships. Her advice is practical and informative and it leaves you feeling fairly normal despite your imperfect love.
Most of us head into love without any information. In the media we see examples of hot sex and obsessive infatuation, leaving us to guess about what happens next. Ever notice how the story usually ends when the couple finally gets together? It's as if Hollywood doesn't even know what couples do after the first phase of love.
Unfortunately, many of us look at challenges in our relationships as a sign that were not "meant for each other" or we worry that we are headed for divorce if we are both not head-over-heals in-love all the time. This simply, is not true. Here is what happens after infatuation.
Since real love is ever changing and maturing over time, it's important to know developmentally where your relationship is. Here are the typical phases of monogamous love:
Stage 1 Infatuation:
When you first fall in love, your brain is on an amphetamine-like, neurotransmitter high, a high so powerful "that scientists now believe that the euphoria of infatuation is a bona fide, altered state of consciousness." Although it would be nice if we could choose who we were attracted to, we actually have little control over it.
Who you fall for depends on a few factors. There has to be an immune system match, meaning that a child produced by the two of you would be able to fight off most diseases. There is also the random chance of you crossing paths. Not much to it! Of course, you may be off put by someone's personality or physical appearance, but as long as he or she is not too repulsive or annoying you'll probably find yourself attracted to that person. This is why you can be in love with one person and still be attracted to someone else. There are many matches for you out there!
When you find yourself in the throws of love, be cautious. The definition of infatuation is:
1. Lacking sound judgment; foolish
2. Being completely carried away by foolish or shallow love or affection
3. Drawing conclusions from insufficient information
Now that scientists can watch a brain in action through imaging, they can see there is reduced activity in the frontal lobe, the part of the brain necessary for planning, organization, and impulse control, during infatuation. People in this phase have selective memories and often make excuses for the short-comings of their partner. Basically, you're a bit stupid when you're falling in love. You can expect this high to last somewhere between 6 to 18 months. Unfortunately that's just long enough for many couples to marry, start a family, and then realize their partner is not who they thought they were.
While this phase is fun and has a great role in attraction and pro-creation, it is a bad criterion for marriage on its own. One study found that couples who started with high intensity romantic bliss were particularly prone to divorce because such intensity is too hard to maintain. A hot flame burns out fast; a low burn stays for the long haul. Whether your relationship started off hot or luke-warm, looking forward to the next phase can help keep you moving together through the journey of love.
Stage 2 Post-Rapture:
Eventually the infatuation fades and what is left is a reality check, a lull in the relationship. Your brain has habituated itself to the love high and then you find yourself left on your own. You're in the relationship with no chemical help. This becomes a natural time to start focusing back on the part of your life you probably neglected while falling in love. You begin to notice that the two of you don't see eye to eye on everything. The once endearing habits of your partner start to become annoying. You don't feel like giving because you don't seem to get as much in return. You sense your partner is starting to pull away from you. And, worst of all, "you no longer give the benefit of the doubt; instead you jump to negative conclusions."
Even though this lull is a normal phase of love, many people give up saying, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." And they leave in search of more infatuation. But Dr. Love (I know, ironically, her name is actually Love) says this is not a chance to break up, it's a chance to break through!
Here are 3 suggestions of things you can do to weather the Post-Rapture stage:
1) You no longer have the love cocktail inspiring you to be considerate, so you now simply have to motivate yourself without your infatuation. Your relationship will reap the wonderful benefits of kind acts, despite what motivates it. Be kind. Even if it's not coming naturally, act kind. If you want to feel romantic, be romantic.
2) Nature's libido boost has also worn off. Your sex drive now defaults back to your natural state, which is dictated by your hormones, not by your attraction or your love towards your partner. Know that a drop in libido is normal, but here is what you can do about it.
Have sex anyway. It's good for you. Sex releases a hormone that bonds you to your partner. Keep a healthy perspective on what is best for you, but also consider what is best for your relationship. Do what it takes to maintain a healthy attitude about sex. Make it a priority; communicate your sexual needs; and be willing to give and receive sex as a gift.
3) Write down 3 things negative traits about your partner. Then ask yourself, "How do these traits show up in me?" If you can't answer that question, ask your partner. He or she will gladly point them out to you.
When you see characteristics in your partner you don't like, take ownership of them. Then work on the negative characteristics within yourself. Most often the things that irritate us about another are things we don't like about ourselves.
At the very least, ask yourself what you can learn from your companion's "negative traits." Often we react harshly to the very traits in others we have a hard time achieving in ourselves. For example, if your husband has too many friends, perhaps you yourself could benefit from developing some new friendships.
Stage 3 Discovery: Information Gathering:
Now, with infatuation out of the way and the shock of the lull passed, the two of you can move on with real life. You will be able to see your partner's strengths and weaknesses with more clarity, assess life more clearly, and have time to get to know yourself better. If your needs aren't getting met in the relationship, learn to ask for what you need. If your requests are not being met, check yourself to make sure you are being clear, respectful, and specific. Check in with your partner about his or her needs. Your needs and your partner's needs are ever changing, so your clear communications and improved behaviors will need to be re-evaluated regularly.
When partners are not taking an honest look at their own needs, are not making appropriate requests for their needs to be met, and are not adjusting their behaviors to meet each other's needs, then problems arise. There will be "misbehaviors" in the form of criticism, withdrawal, defensiveness, and contempt. If you feel you are stuck on a negative image of your partner due to past issues, therapy can often help you overcome those barriers. Once you get adept at communicating and course adjusting, you and your partner will be able to negotiate changing roles, defining love, and building trust. All along the way your love will mature and deepen.
Stage 4 Connection:
An important part of connection is commitment -commitment to your partner, but also commitment to your relationship. Staying together because you feel forced or trapped will not generate love. Focusing on the positive, giving assurance of your love and commitment to your partner, talking about the future, and commemorating your anniversary will generate love.
Showing your commitment can be as simple as having sex when you're not in the mood, eating a snack when you want real food, watching a love story instead of playing a game, talking about your relationship when you prefer to sleep, or trying something different when you prefer to do stay in a familiar routine. Love stays strong through simple, consistent actions.
"True love has stood the test of time. It has weathered many storms and come through some rough times. It has proven itself strong enough to withstand periods of neglect due to other commitments. It is a love that can find sexual attraction not only in a young supple body, but in one that is wrinkled and showing age spots. True love has ripened with commitment and shows up in the privacy of everyday life in the little acts of kindness and intimate gestures." - Pat Love
Hang in there and put the effort in to cultivate true love-- it's more than worth it!
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
Downtown San Luis Obispo and Downtown Atascadero
Cutting, burning, or picking at oneself is something many teen girls (and sometimes boys) get ensnared by. It's a dangerous addiction used to escape an unpleasant reality. Even though thoughts of suicide are often present, the majority of teens who cut do it for the effect it has on their body, not as an attempt to end their life. Many self-cutting teens describe their experience as so compelling that they forget about everything else. Some get an endorphin rush as well. It becomes a habit as a way to deal with emotions. And if you think you'd know if your teen cuts, guess again! It is very hard to tell if someone cuts or self-harms. Teens are very, very good at hiding it. Even the most vigilant parents get duped. Unfortunately, once the habit is established it is very hard to stop.
Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens Who Cut & Self-Injure, by Dr. Shapiro, is a good supplement for teens who enjoy journaling and are currently in therapy. In this post I will share some tips from the workbook as well as some suggestions based on my experience working with teens who self-injure.
Numero Uno: Safety Plan!!!
No matter how small the cut, your teen is demonstrating that she needs help. Talk with your teen about what life stressors she is escaping and set up counseling with a professional.
Set up a safety plan. Talk with your teen about her motivation to stop the cutting. Try to get her to commit to not cut for a certain number of days to buy some time before you can arrange counseling. Have her remove the objects she uses to hurt herself. Offer some alternative ways to relax or release tension. Let her know she will have urges. Then make plans- A, B, C, D, and E- on how to respond in order to let those urges pass. Often, teens simply need to distract themselves on the phone with a friend or get busy with a project. If that doesn't work, she could call a family member to chat about anything to keep her mind off the cutting. If that person is not available, the plan could be to go for a walk or some other activity. You may want to have a code word to communicate when an urge is coming on. Whatever the plan, make sure your teen agrees that the plan will be helpful, the plan is clear, and be sure to review it often.
Numero Dos: Learn Coping Skills
You can teach your teen to try these out: going for a walk, journaling, deep breathing, medication, yoga, hot bath, guided visualization, going out in nature, dancing, sports, hanging with friends, running, letter writing (even if you don't intend to send them), massage, reading, gardening, or building. Make a menu with your teen of coping skills to pull her out of a stressful situation or when she just needs some self-care. Display this "menu" somewhere that it can be seen often. Your teen can also learn more coping skills in therapy.
Numero Tres: Awareness
Learn to notice when an urge comes. What happens right before the urge? What triggers it? Observe patterns of urges. Do they follow certain situations or occur at a certain time of day? Determine when your teen most likely will self-injure. These insights can be explored in therapy to help process the root cause of the distress, which will contribute to a healthier solution for your teen. Gaining self-awareness is crucial in learning to overcome addictions and will help individuals get on a path to wellness.
If you or someone you know hurts themselves to try to feel better, please let them know you care and try to get them the help they need.
If someone is suicidal, they can always call SLO Hotline at (800) 783-0607. They are available 24/7.
Although self-injury if difficult to stop, I have seen many teens successfully overcome it. Often all they need is to know there is hope and help is on the way.
Take care of yourself,
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
Downtown San Luis Obispo and Atascadero, California
Having one career for your whole life is getting rare. Not only are people leaving past careers to start a new one, but often they are juggling more than one at a time. The new workforce generation brings new values and new rules. Bosses are becoming more flexible, allowing their employees to work out of the office and to have alternative schedules and leaves of absences. In the past, changing employers and having gaps in work experience were like sins on a resume. Now these fluctuations are more tolerated and excusable. With this new freedom comes more opportunity to find a career balance that fits you. Author Gail Sheehy supports the idea of having multiple careers, "A single fixed identity is a liability today. It only makes people more vulnerable to sudden changes in economic conditions. The most successful and healthy among us now develop multiple identities, managed simultaneously, to be called upon as conditions of change. Recent research also suggests that developing multiple identities is one of the best buffers we can erect against mental and physical illness."
Marci Alboher describes how to effectively manage a life of multiple careers in, One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success. Although I wouldn't say this is a great read, it does have some good tips and resources that are helpful for working people.
How to Find Your Slash Career:
Sometimes "finding your passions" requires slowing down, removing yourself from the fast track life, and playing around a bit. You may start up many projects or volunteer jobs before anything solidifies. This is normal and simply part of the process. Slowly down doesn't have to mean quitting your day job. A vacation, reducing hours at work, or passing up opportunities for promotion may be enough to open up time and energy to new endeavors. The key is providing enough space for something new to begin. Having a slash career involves comfort with new beginnings because a career is always changing and building upon itself.
Slash careers are for seeking fulfillment and not financial gain. One man mentioned is a Rabbi by day and a Comedian by night. A former lawyer transitioned into producing films and continues to use her law skills when dealing with contracts. One man runs a non-profit business while holding his job as a computer programer.
Getting Your Employer to Work With You:
Some careers lend themselves to slash careers better than others. If your presence in the office is interpreted as a direct reflection of your devotion and contribution to your job, then having other jobs will be seen as a threat. One woman decided to keep her interest in film production a secret from her law firm because she feared it may cause her to lose a chance of becoming partner. On the other hand, web designing is a side career than can go with almost anything. Teaching also provides a steady schedule which lends itself nicely to summer and evening endeavors. Many computer based jobs can be done remotely and on your own schedule.
Turn your handicaps into advantages. One mother had to bring her infant with her to a job interview where she demonstrated her multitasking abilities by reviewing the company's marketing strategy while changing a diaper. More employers are open to reduced work schedules and flexible hours as long as a win-win situation can be negotiated. Time away from the office means less overhead for the company and since a turn over costs about 1.5 times your salary, your employer is motivated to keep you around.
Some employers worry that moonlighting means you'll be exhausted and underperform, but often the opposite happens. By adding another role, you reinvigorate the old. Although you may be working more hours than before, each role represents a different part of your self, causing balance and satisfaction in your life. In my own life, I look forward to my days in the office as a part-time Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. By the time I come home I am eager to transition to my main job of being a mom. Each each of these careers compliments and strengthens the other.
Since being a parent and working any job is a slash career, Working Mother Magazine is a great resource for any working parent. They have a "100 Best Companies for Families" list that ranks companies on factors such as time off, benefits, and childcare.
Each of us is multifaceted, with a variety of strengths and talents. No one thing defines us. Since we ourselves are a moving, changing piece of art, so are the roles we play. By allowing time for multiple identities, you allow yourself to be truer to who you really are. Don't peg hole yourself. Be who you are, even if being yourself forms some unique combinations.
Take care from a Mother/Therapist/Educator/Blog Writer,
Stephanie Patterson, M.S., LMFT
Downtown San Luis Obispo and Downtown Atascadero, Ca