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Archive for the ‘Emotions/Moods’ Category

When Your Children Have Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Diane Ramirez/Today’s Christian Woman

Keeping your stressed marriage healthy

After 35 years of marriage, serious thoughts of divorcing my husband took me by surprise.

I never thought I would ever consider leaving James, as divorce is contrary to our Christian values. But when our contention over difficulties with our adult children escalated, I started to entertain thoughts of separation, and so did he.

Let me be real with you. I suffer with depression; it runs through my genes. Our son is diagnosed with mixed bipolar disorder, and our adopted daughter suffers with severe separation anxiety. Throw in a spouse who is an A-type personality, and you have a recipe for conflict.

The crisis peaked when our youngest daughter moved back home with an infant and a 5-year-old. Her husband was deployed overseas. Not only was she experiencing debilitating separation anxiety, she was making unhealthy choices and spending much of her time with old friends. Her checking out caused a lot of clashes. My mental and physical health disintegrated. Many times I had to leave our home for days just to get rest, as she expected me to pick up the slack of caring for her kids.

I felt alone, fatigued, and mad that my husband was not there for me. I discovered, through our many “talks,” that he didn’t like the way I was acting. He wondered why I couldn’t rise above the madness. He didn’t grasp the emotional and physical strain of day-to-day life at home because he escaped by going to work, school, or other activities away from us.

Differences Can Create Wedges

In a crisis, it’s typical to want to escape. The mayhem created by constant appeals for help from both of our adult children created a vacuum in our relationship. This is how my husband described it on our blog, “Not Losing Heart”:

“[My wife] seemed to have a different understanding than I at first. Our beliefs were at odds and it was putting a wedge between us. I believed that if our children would do this or that, or do things my way, they would get it right. When my wife challenged my thinking, I became angrier inside. I felt she was coddling them.”

A wedge is a good way to describe what can happen to a marriage when mental illness raises its ugly head. Parents tend to think a change in a child’s behavior is due to the normal developmental challenges of adolescence. Disagreements on what causes these behaviors or what should be done can create a wedge. These differences are even more apparent when dealing with an adult child who should be living independently.

A wedge creates a gap and a gap can create a chasm if a couple will not stop and assess what is happening. It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that mental illness causes.

In our marriage, these factors created our wedge:

  • We had different perspectives on solutions. My husband wanted our children to be more independent. He wanted a “quick fix”; I wanted to nurture and stay engaged with them. Both of us felt we were supporting them, but with totally different styles.
  • Our communication broke down. A difference of opinions is expected, but when those opinions keep a couple from reaching a solution, anger, anxiousness, frustration, and loneliness set in. It’s like a tug-of-war over who is right. Each is working against the other, and it’s exhausting.
  • We neglected our marriage. When we were caught up in our separate whirlwinds of emotion, focusing on our marriage was impossible. Resentment, snapping at each other, and being easily annoyed were a few indicators that we had lost touch with each other. Our relationship suffered.
  • Our emotional responses were different. My husband withdrew to escape the chaos and stuffed his emotions. I resented him for his lack of involvement and became overcome with sorrow and depression, which affected my physical health.

What happened to our desire to live as one in Christ? To allow the Lord to live through us, to be a godly wife and husband? The unexpected super-storm sucked away our purpose as a Christian couple, because we let down our guard. We prayed, but we each had choices to make about where we were going.

As you contend with the difficulties surrounding a child with a brain disorder, there is no “easy button” to push. The truth is, it will feel like pushing a 10-ton boulder up a slippery slope. Perseverance is a key. And awareness of what is happening can be a catalyst in the meeting of the minds.

“Should Haves” to Do Now

My husband and I are healing now, thank God. In looking back, we discovered our “should haves”—a little late, perhaps, but still in time to save our marriage and to shrink the gaps developed by our ever-increasing differences. I’m including them here for you, to help your marriage stay healthy while you weather the storm of your adult or young child’s life with mental illness.

  • Acknowledge you and your spouse are on different wavelengths. You might find more clarity if you write down what you think are the points of disagreement concerning your child.
  • Seek help. Find a trusted counselor to help mediate your differences.
  • Be honest with how you feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong.
  • Respect how your spouse feels, even though it may upset you. (This is not easy.) And don’t make assumptions about the ways he/she is reacting.
  • Make up your minds that your relationship is a priority no matter what is happening around you. Set boundaries, which can guide you in which crises really demand your time.
  • Talk and listen. Don’t assume your partner is wrong in his or her assessment of the situation.
  • Get a diagnosis for your child, or if he or she is an adult, encourage the adult child to get a diagnosis. Knowledge is power.
  • Most important, educate yourselves on what that diagnosis means for your child (adult or not) and for your family.
  • Don’t forget humor; it really helps.
  • Above all, give each other grace to work through the crisis. God has a separate timetable for each of us. He makes all things beautiful in his time.

Again I’ll quote my husband: “I remember when my wife began to look for information and searched the Internet, the library, and any resource she could find, and then shared that information with me. Something clicked inside. To our relief, we eventually found NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness). It was as though someone had thrown me a lifeline and given me the tools to make a difference in the life of our children, my marriage, and others. My wife and I needed to be on the same page as it came to giving compassion and finding empathy for what they were going through. She needed my support and I needed hers.”

It is my hope and prayer that if you’re in the kind of upheaval my husband and I experienced, these suggestions will aid you in getting a grip much sooner and arrive at the place where you can support each other.

Don’t forget love. Love is the ultimate ingredient to stepping outside yourself. Love and perseverance will rekindle your marriage and reestablish your bond—keeping your connection intact no matter the how fierce the raging storm mental illness can cause.

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Diane Ramirez is a freelance writer, wife, mother of three adult children, and grandmother of five. She volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), co-facilitating a support group and the NAMI Basic classes for parents, and she blogs about this topic at NotLosingHeart.com.

 

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4 Ways Emotional Neglect From Your Childhood Can Harm Your Relationships

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

One of the most difficult things about growing up with your feelings ignored (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN) is the way it affects your relationships once you have grown up.

When you grow up in an emotionally neglectful family, your feelings are not responded to enough by your parents. From your parents’ lack of response, you learn a secret lesson that lives deeply and unseen within you for the rest of your life. You learn that your emotions are not useful, and don’t matter.

Children who grow up this way do not learn how to value, understand, or use their own emotions. Instead, they may spend their entire adult lives running from their own feelings, or trying to push them away.

Among all the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect, two pack the biggest punch when it comes to your ability to connect with others.

  1. It leaves you disconnected from your emotions.
  2. It leaves you lacking some essential skills that you need. 

Like an invisible rain cloud, your CEN hangs over your adult life, coloring your world gray, and robbing you of richness and color, energy and connection. Imagine the effect this has on your ability to be close and comfortable with the right people, in the right way.

As you read the 4 effects below, I ask you to keep two very important things in mind. First, you did not choose to grow up emotionally neglected, so none of this is your fault. Second, all 4 of these effects have to do with the wall that disconnects you from your emotions, and your skills. That wall can be taken down, and you can learn the skills. It can all be fixed!

4 Ways CEN Affects Your Relationships

  • It makes them more confusing than they should be

To successfully manage any kind of relationship, it’s very important to have enough emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to know what you are feeling and why, manage your feelings, and talk about them with the other person, if needed. If you have all those skills, you can use them to understand what is going on with you, and you can also use them to read what the other person is feeling, and why. Then you can respond appropriately, as needed.

How your CEN interferes: If your feelings were not validated as important when you were growing up, you likely missed the “Emotion Training” that you were supposed to receive from your parents. Now relationships, especially your own feelings and actions, as well as other people’s feelings and behaviors, can seem like a puzzle for you. It’s hard to cope with a problem in a relationship when you can’t quite see it or understand it.

  • It drives you apart from the other person

Going through your life without enough emotional intelligence has another very impactful effect: it makes you feel unequipped to handle conflicts. This naturally makes you fearful of encountering problems in your relationships, and this is a fear that you must cope with. The most common way for folks with CEN to cope is to simply avoid conflicts altogether. If you have CEN and you are reading this, you may think that’s a pretty good solution to the problem. But it’s not.

How your CEN interferes: Avoiding conflict requires you to push your own feelings underground, and also ignore any signs of hurt or anger from the other person. What happens to feelings that are pushed away or ignored? They grow. They grow and they grow, and drive a wedge between you and the other person. You will drift farther and farther away from each other, and you may not even realize it is happening.

  • It keeps them superficial

Relationships of all kinds thrive on feelings: both positive and negative, believe it or not. Talking about difficult things with someone builds trust. Working through a conflict with someone builds understanding. Giving and receiving emotional support builds warmth and care. And all of those mix together to provide any relationship its depth. 

How your CEN interferes: When emotions are not addressed or dealt with enough in a relationship, not enough richness or depth gets a chance to develop. This leaves your relationships more shallow than they should be, which makes them far less rewarding. You are experiencing your relationships in grayscale, when you should be living them in rich and stimulating colors.

  • It makes them less interesting

Emotion is the ingredient that keeps relationships interesting. To understand why, think of every movie you’ve ever enjoyed, and you’ll realize that every single one made you feel something. All feelings, both positive and negative, are stimulating. They provide us with fuel and zest and zeal. They motivate us, drive us, and move us.

How your CEN interferes: When you don’t have proper access to your emotions, you aren’t able to put them into your relationships. You likely hold back on topics that could be bonding and stimulating or upsetting to other people. For example, you may convey a deeply painful story by relaying only the events and facts. You may not be able to experience the emotional aspects of a story your friend is telling. This can make your time spent together uninteresting, or maybe even boring. Not just for you, but also for the person you are with.

What To Do

I know you may be feeling daunted after reading about the obstacles above. But I want you to know that you should actually be hopeful! All these years, you’ve been experiencing your relationships in a dulled way, without fully realizing what you were missing. But now you know what’s wrong, and that your Childhood Emotional Neglect can be addressed and healed. You can break down the wall that blocks you from your feelings, and learn the emotion skills you missed. It takes perseverance and work, yes.

But your family will thank you, your partner will thank you, and your children will grow up happier and healthier. That is a win win win on every level.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is often invisible and unmemorable, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, Take The Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

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To learn how to heal the effects of Emotional Neglect in your relationships, see my new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

God’s Ministry of Disappointment

SOURCE:  Amena Brown/Christianity Today

In pain and confusion, I’m finding that God is, indeed, close to the brokenhearted.

I thought I’d be pregnant by now.

Full stop. Hard return.

I will sit a few minutes after writing that sentence. I want to highlight and delete. I want to press backspace, as if a button on my laptop can keep that sentence from being true. I imagined my mid-30s differently. I thought my guest room would be a baby room. I thought I would have smiled at my baby shower by now, gentle hand on a round belly. I thought by this time, I’d have a calendar full of playdates and plenty of funny kid stories to tell.

Instead, it’s just my husband and me. This isn’t a bad thing. This is in fact enough. My husband and I are a family. Having a child doesn’t start our family. These are the things I tell myself when people whose manners exist somewhere between well-meaning and none of your business search the torso of my shirts with their eyes, trying to discern if I am hiding a pregnant belly from them. These are the things I remind myself of when enduring conversations that start off as small talk and turn to the dangerous territory of statements that stab you right between your heart and your unanswered prayers.

“Are you pregnant yet? Are you trying?” they ask, followed by intrusive suggestions and weird home remedies. “Don’t wait too long,” they say, as if we are waiting this long because we want to. “Have you thought about adopting?” they say, followed by a story of a random couple who adopted a child and then surprisingly had a biological child. As if we haven’t walked beside our friends as they journey in the honor of adoption, as if adoption is a consolation prize or busy work while we wait for the “real thing,” as if adoption should only be plan B.

Mostly we smile. Nod. Change the subject. Sometimes we get angry and frustrated and not so polite. We don’t tell anyone how these conversations make us cry when we are alone. How we hold our breath until the awkward conversation is over, until the dinner has finished and the plates have been wiped clean. We say less and less. We don’t even make comments about the future children we dream to have. We realize we are too fragile for the pointed questions and the oversimplifications.

A journey through heartbreak

I ask myself all sorts of things. Does true womanhood really hinge on a woman’s ability to become a mother? Why do I hold myself to this ticking biological clock and some ridiculous social media standard that says I should have children by now? Is my identity wrapped in checking off some arbitrary list of achievements? Does my life not matter if I am not married with kids, with a certain income bracket, with a house in a certain neighborhood, with a list of ways to describe my cool life to people I meet at parties?

Our journey to one day having children has not been blissful, innocent, joyous, or as easy as I expected it to be. It has been a journey of loss, heartbreak, delay, doctor appointments, test results, delays, stress, frustration, more appointments, more delays. Hope seems to be a liability too expensive to carry in the face of so much disappointment.

My relationship to God and my feelings about prayer became tumultuous. I found myself wincing in my faith, praying cautiously because I don’t want to deal with asking God for something when I think he will disappoint me. How do I keep going to God and asking when it seems like his consistent answer is no or wait? How do I keep believing the God who says no or wait when he knows how much that no or wait hurts me? How do I believe that God actually has my best interests at heart?

I spent the first year of this journey saying things like, “We are not these people. We are not the people who watch all of our friends around us get pregnant and have babies while we have no idea when it will happen for us.” I learned there is no such thing as “these people.” We don’t get to choose. Everyone carries a load; we don’t get to say what load, how we’ll carry it, when we’ll get it, or how long it will last.

The painful truth

I grew up as a church teen in the 1990s. In my church context, it was an age of believing the gospel could be connected to prosperity, that in the name of Jesus we could not only find love and peace, but also Benzes, McMansions, future husbands (also known as Boaz), future wives (also known as Proverbs 31 women), land, larger paychecks, and awesome shoes. Whether you named it and claimed it or marched around it six times in silence and the seventh time while blasting your loud trumpet, believing these things would bring you the answers to miraculous prayers became a way of life.

Sometimes I watched those prayers work. I watched people of faith pray for the sick, and the sick were healed. I watched church members move into houses the lender had nearly laughed them out the door for attempting to buy. I watched Boazes and Proverbs 31 women find each other, marry, and have pretty babies. So for years, I assumed this was the walk of faith. You see something you want, you pray and ask God, and you quote God’s Word that applies to said request. You focus your positive thinking on the fact that God is powerful enough to answer and that he will do all in his power and with his unlimited resources to fulfill your request.

Then I grew up. I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.

What do you assume about a God who does this? He must be mean, cold, distant, unloving, inconsiderate. He must be more human and less holy, right? He must care about other people more than he cares about you. He must not see how hard you’ve tried to be good/honest/righteous.

Sometimes God is the great leader in the ministry of your disappointment. Sometimes you don’t get the job you prayed for. Sometimes the Boaz/Proverbs 31 woman you thought you were supposed to marry doesn’t even want a second date. Sometimes you want a Benz and you can only afford a hoopty. Sometimes God allows you to be disappointed. Sometimes you learn through tears, heartache, anger, and frustration that God is not a yes person.

God is near

I didn’t want to write my story this way. I wanted to have a happy sitcom ending. I wanted to be able to tell you this story from the lofty place of prayers answered. I wanted to spend a short time telling you this hard time we had and spend most of the time telling you the amazing story of how that all changed. But I’m not there yet. I don’t know when I will be. I don’t know if I will be.

Some people said this would be a season, and maybe it is, but it hasn’t ended yet. It’s gone on longer than I thought I had the strength to walk. Sometimes I get so weary all I can muster in prayer is “God, help me.” And sometimes no words come, and I trust he hears the things my soul wants to say when it hurts too much to gather the words to express.

I’m learning to accept this mystery of God. There are many things about God I will come to know or understand, and there is plenty I will never know, never understand, never be able to put words to. I’m learning the truth of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” This means that when my pain hurts me deeply, God understands, God listens, God is near.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could predict the future. One of the limits of humanity is knowing only exactly what we know right now, right where we are. One thing I want my soul to remember is that life isn’t always good, humans aren’t always good, but God is good. Always.

I don’t say that because it’s convenient. I don’t say it to silence the frustrations, doubts, and questions. I say it because our tears and frustrations and doubts and hurt feelings and anger matter to God. I say it because I know how scary hope can be when you’ve lived with disappointment so long. I say it because I’m living every day trying to hold the tension of fully trusting in a God my humanity will never completely understand. As I sit in that tension, my heart still wants to believe in the God whose love is found in prosperity and poverty, in answers and in questions, in disappointment and in miracles.


Taken from How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown.

 

Spurgeon Can Help Your Depression

SOURCE:   Brian Albert/The Spurgeon Center

The fact that you are reading this article indicates with a high degree of certainty that you have been depressed. If this is the case, you should be encouraged to know that you are not alone. The one we dub the “Prince of Preachers” was just that because he was also the “Prince of Pain.” When articulating his own depression, Charles Spurgeon spoke with brazen clarity:

“The worst cloud of all is deep depression of spirit.”

“The worst ill in the world is a depressed spirit.”

“Of all things in the world to be, dreaded despair is the chief.”

“Depression is . . . the shadow of death.”

“Depression is . . . my horror of great darkness.”

These were not mere pithy, little sayings doled out to be quotable. Rather, they were forged in a lifetime of brute experience. From the age of fifteen to his death in 1892, Spurgeon was never fully liberated from “Giant Despair.”

Overcoming Extreme Heaviness

In his sermon “Our Leader Through the Darkness,” Spurgeon provided his understanding of depression, which is crucial in grasping his spirituality and our own despondencies. He asked his congregation, “Do you know what exceeding heaviness means?” (“Exceeding heaviness” was a Victorian label for depression). Spurgeon took his grasp of despondency one step further by linking the malady with spirituality. Spurgeon said, “depression of spirit” is “deep” when “accompanied with the loss of the light of God’s countenance.”

Depression was not merely “dullness, inertia, pessimism, and deep unhappiness,” as many of his Victorian counterparts believed. To be depressed, according to Spurgeon, was to feel God’s presence removed from life, which led to “extreme heaviness.”

For Spurgeon, Jesus was the “nearest, dearest, closest, most intense and most enduring relationship that can be imagined.” He consistently proclaimed that the “essence of spirituality is found in Jesus.” Little wonder, then, that Spurgeon declared, “To be forsaken of God is the worst ill that the most melancholy saint ever dreams of.” He chose the same superlative to describe depression. The worst ill is “to be depressed of spirit” and “to be forsaken of God.”

The “Whys” of Life and the “Prince of Peace”

In the heat of history’s darkest day, Jesus also understood what it felt like to be forsaken by God. On the cross, the “Prince of Peace” took our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and became the “Prince of Pain.” Jesus broke the afternoon silence with a scream that Spurgeon called “the bottomless cry.” Jesus asked, “Why . . . me?”

The “whys” of life stump us. They are often the core question in our depression.

“Why did my baby die?”

“Why did a maniac fire into a crowd of people?”

“Why does Planned Parenthood prosper?”

“Why did I get cancer?”

“Why does my ministry languish?”

Jesus and Spurgeon take the “whys” one step further and recall Christ’s dying words, “God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

When depression intrudes into our lives, we want to know why. We want to know why a particular circumstance has caused our malady. Spurgeon and Jesus both experienced depression because they believed God had forsaken them. And this, above all, was a “prelude to hell,” one that was completely “unendurable.”

Yet Jesus, our Prince, took hell for us. Spurgeon’s struggle with depression is more closely linked to Jesus’s depression than we initially conceived. Perhaps that’s why Spurgeon was called the “Prince of Preachers,” because he knew the “Prince of Pain.”

An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

SOURCE:  Sanya Pelini/Parent Co.

We are all born with emotions, but not all those emotions are pre-wired into our brains. Kids are born with emotional reactions such as crying, frustration, hunger, and pain. But they learn about other emotions as they grow older.

There is no general consensus about the emotions that are in-built verses those learned from emotional, social, and cultural contexts. It is widely accepted, however, that the eight primary in-built emotions are anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame. These are reflected in different variations. For instance, resentment and violence often stem from anger, and anxiety is often associated with fear.

Secondary emotions are always linked to these eight primary emotions and reflect our emotional reaction to specific feelings. These emotions are learned from our experiences. For example, a child who has been punished because of a meltdown might feel anxious the next time she gets angry. A child who has been ridiculed for expressing fear might feel shame the next time he gets scared.

In other words, how we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.

Emotional invalidation prevents kids from learning how to manage their emotions. When we teach kids to identify their emotions, we give them a framework that helps explain how they feel, which makes it easier for them to deal with those emotions in a socially appropriate way.

The emotions children experience vary depending on age:

Infants

Infants are essentially guided by emotions pre-wired into their brains. For instance, toddler cries are usually an attempt to avoid unpleasant stimuli or to move towards pleasant stimuli (food, touch, hugs).

Evidence suggests that, in the first six months, infants are capable of experiencing and responding to distress by adopting self-soothing behavior such as sucking. Other studies have found that toddlers develop self-regulation skills in infancy and are able to approach or avoid situations depending on their emotional impact.

How you can help

A recent study suggests that “listening to recordings of play songs can maintain six- to nine-month-old infants in a relatively contented or neutral state considerably longer than recordings of infant-directed or adult-directed speech.”

The study explains that multimodal singing is more effective than maternal speech for calming highly aroused 10-month-old infants. It also suggests that play songs (“The Wheels on the Bus” for instance) are more effective than lullabies at reducing distress.

Toddlers

By the time they turn one, infants gain an awareness that parents can help them regulate their emotions.

As they grow out of the infancy stage, toddlers begin to understand that certain emotions are associated with certain situations. A number of studies suggest that fear is the most difficult emotion for toddlers. At this age, parents can begin using age-appropriate approaches to talk to kids about emotions and encourage them to name those emotions.

By the time they turn two, kids are able to adopt strategies to deal with difficult emotions. For instance, they are able to distance themselves from the things that upset them.

How you can help

Situation selection, modification, and distraction are the best strategies to help kids deal with anger and fear at this age, according to one study. In other words, helping toddlers avoid distressing situations or distracting them from those situations is one of the most effective emotion-regulation strategies.

As they grow older, toddlers can be taught to handle those situations by themselves. Indeed, they are capable of understanding different emotions and of learning different self-regulation methods that can help them deal with difficult situations. Providing toddlers with an appropriate framework can help them learn how to manage those emotions by themselves.

Naming emotions also helps toddlers learn that emotions are normal. Every day opportunities provide occasions to talk to kids about emotions: “He sure looks angry.” “Why do you think he looks so sad?”

Toddlers also learn about managing their emotions by watching us.

Childhood

Kids experience many emotions during the childhood years. Many secondary emotions come into play at this age as a child’s emotions are either validated or invalidated, influencing future emotional reactions.

Children are able to understand and differentiate appropriate from inappropriate emotional expressions, but they still find it hard to express their emotions, especially if they haven’t learned to identify and name them.

How you can help

Emotion regulation is not just about expressing emotions in a socially appropriate manner. It is a three-phase process that involves teaching children to identify emotions, helping them identify what triggers those emotions, and teaching them to manage those emotions by themselves. When we teach kids that their emotions are valid, we help them view what they feel as normal and manageable.

Modeling appropriate behavior is also important during the childhood years. The best way to teach your child to react to anger appropriately is to show her how. Evidence suggests that kids pick up our emotions, and that those exposed to many negative emotions are more likely to struggle.

Ultimately, helping kids manage their emotions begins by validating those emotions and providing an environment in which they feel safe to express them. As several studies have shown, kids who feel safe are more likely to develop and use appropriate emotion regulation skills to deal with difficult feelings.

How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts

SOURCE:  Renee Jain, Contributor/The Huffington Post

All kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not innocuous.

“I didn’t get invited to Julie’s party… I’m such a loser.”

“I missed the bus… nothing ever goes my way.”

“My science teacher wants to see me… I must be in trouble.”

These are the thoughts of a high school student named James. You wouldn’t know it from his thoughts, but James is actually pretty popular and gets decent grades.

Unfortunately, in the face of adversity, James makes a common error; he falls into what I like to call “thought holes.” Thought holes, or cognitive distortions, are skewed perceptions of reality. They are negative interpretations of a situation based on poor assumptions. For James, thought holes cause intense emotional distress.

Here’s the thing, all kids blow things out of proportion or jump to conclusions at times, but consistently distorting reality is not innocuous. Studies show self-defeating thoughts (i.e., “I’m a loser”) can trigger self-defeating emotions (i.e., pain, anxiety, malaise) that, in turn, cause self-defeating actions (i.e., acting out, skipping school). Left unchecked, this tendency can also lead to more severe conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

Fortunately, in a few steps, we can teach teens how to fill in their thought holes. It’s time to ditch the idea of positive thinking and introduce the tool of accurate thinking. The lesson begins with an understanding of what causes inaccurate thinking in the first place.

We Create Our Own (Often Distorted) Reality

One person walks down a busy street and notices graffiti on the wall, dirt on the pavement and a couple fighting. Another person walks down the same street and notices a refreshing breeze, an ice cream cart and a smile from a stranger. We each absorb select scenes in our environment through which we interpret a situation. In essence, we create our own reality by that to which we give attention.

Why don’t we just interpret situations based on all of the information? It’s not possible; there are simply too many stimuli to process. In fact, the subconscious mind can absorb 20 million bits of information through the five senses in a mere second. Data is then filtered down so that the conscious mind focuses on only 7 to 40 bits. This is a mental shortcut.

Shortcuts keep us sane by preventing sensory overload. Shortcuts help us judge situations quickly. Shortcuts also, however, leave us vulnerable to errors in perception. Because we perceive reality based on a tiny sliver of information, if that information is unbalanced (e.g., ignores the positive and focuses on the negative), we are left with a skewed perception of reality, or a thought hole.

Eight Common Thought Holes

Not only are we susceptible to errors in thinking, but we also tend to make the same errors over and over again. Seminal work by psychologist Aaron Beck, often referred to as the father of cognitive therapy, and his former student, David Burns, uncovered several common thought holes as seen below.

  • Jumping to conclusions: judging a situation based on assumptions as opposed to definitive facts
  • Mental filtering: paying attention to the negative details in a situation while ignoring the positive
  • Magnifying: magnifying negative aspects in a situation
  • Minimizing: minimizing positive aspects in a situation
  • Personalizing: assuming the blame for problems even when you are not primarily responsible
  • Externalizing: pushing the blame for problems onto others even when you are primarily responsible
  • Overgeneralizing: concluding that one bad incident will lead to a repeated pattern of defeat
  • Emotional reasoning: assuming your negative emotions translate into reality, or confusing feelings with facts

Going from Distorted Thinking to Accurate Thinking

Once teens understand why they fall into thought holes and that several common ones exist, they are ready to start filling them in by trying a method developed by GoZen! called the 3Cs:

  • Check for common thought holes
  • Collect evidence to paint an accurate picture
  • Challenge the original thoughts

Let’s run through the 3Cs using James as an example. James was recently asked by his science teacher to chat after class. He immediately thought, “I must be in trouble,” and began to feel distressed. Using the 3Cs, James should first check to see if he had fallen into one of the common thought holes. Based on the list above, it seems he jumped to a conclusion.

James’s next step is to collect as much data or evidence as possible to create a more accurate picture of the situation. His evidence may look something like the following statements:

“I usually get good grades in science class.”

“Teachers sometimes ask you to chat after class when something is wrong.”

“I’ve never been in trouble before.”

“The science teacher didn’t seem upset when he asked me to chat.”

With all the evidence at hand, James can now challenge his original thought. The best (and most entertaining) way to do this is for James to have a debate with himself.

On one side is the James who believes he is in big trouble with his science teacher; on the other side is the James who believes that nothing is really wrong. James could use the evidence he collected to duke it out with himself! In the end, this type of self-disputation increases accurate thinking and improves emotional well-being.

Let’s teach our teens that thoughts, even distorted ones, affect their emotional well-being. Let’s teach them to forget positive thinking and try accurate thinking instead. Above all, let’s teach our teens that they have the power to choose their thoughts.

As the pioneering psychologist and philosopher, William James, once said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

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