Family Generational Trauma
If you haven’t read the book by Mark Wolynn, ‘It didn’t start with you,’ I would recommend it more than any other book I’ve ever read. The book is about trauma, how it’s genetically passed down through generations, and how we may resolve it. I don’t necessarily subscribe to every specific thing he says in the book and how to go about resolving it. What I really like about the book is the research and education on how trauma is passed down through generations. I think every human should read this book. It helped me understand and have empathy for my own family issues as well as helped me become a better therapist.
I know some of the trauma within my family tree, but I’m sure I have no clue about everything that has happened. This book helped me in my own resolution that while we do make choices in how we manage the trauma in our lives, it helps to have empathy for those who came before us and didn’t have the knowledge about trauma, counseling, and psychology that we have today. The book helped me understand myself better and the things I have suffered because of generational trauma. No amount of trauma gives anyone a license to be abusive. What I do understand is that abuse may manifest because of trauma. We have to look not only at our family tree, but at the relationships, traumatic experiences, and mental health history of our families to really understand ourselves.
I know it didn’t start with me, but passing along trauma to future generations will stop with me. – Stacy Hixon
Abusers Aren’t Family
Our culture often forces the idea that because we’re biologically related that we “have” to have a relationship with someone. I think that’s a very unsafe, unhealthy, and dysfunctional way of thinking. Let me ask you this, what if a person who is an adult now had parents who were abusive, or a sibling, grandparent, aunt, or uncle? Would you still think that adults should still have a relationship with a person who was abusive to them? Why?
When we find out that there’s domestic violence in a home, we often say we would encourage a person to leave their spouse if they were being abused. If the spouse left their abuser, would you then encourage them to have a relationship with the abuser? Probably not, so why would you encourage someone to have a relationship with someone who abused them just because there is a biological relation?
“Because you’re family” should never, never, never be a reason to expose yourself to an abuser even if the abuse has ceased. If you do not want to have a relationship with them, please don’t let society tell you to trigger your PTSD in an unsafe environment with an abuser – PERIOD!
If a family member abused you, DO NOT take your children around them! I see cycles of family abuse continue because “they’re your family” manipulates people into thinking they have to have a relationship with an abuser.
Look, I know it can be confusing because they are your family. The abuse didn’t happen 100% of the time, so sometimes we rationalize the situation making it seem like we’re at fault for what happened or making excuses for the abuser. You can still care for a family member who abused you and not have a relationship with them. You can love someone who abused you and not have a relationship with them. You have to keep yourself safe by honoring and making yourself a priority.
For example, in my own family, there are a few people with whom I have a relationship because they are safe for me. I have had to set very hard boundaries with several people in my family as they are incredibly abusive. I tolerated their abuse for years and finally realized that if I was protecting my daughter from them, why wouldn’t I protect myself from them!
For years I tried to encourage and support those family members to grow and heal. I have set myself as modeling healthy behavior for others. I give those abusive family members a choice of being functional with me or continuing their dysfunction without me. If I expect my daughter to set healthy boundaries for herself, I have to show her how by doing it myself.
I have grieved for those family members. I have worked through my own trauma in therapy. I have healed my inner child. I am still very sad that my daughter didn’t have the family experience of grandparents, aunts, and cousins that I had. The truth is my family of origin is fractured and broken. They chose to never heal themselves, grow, and create functional lives. I chose to set boundaries and found healing and growth. I am proud that I have a healthy and functional marriage and a healthy and functional relationship with my adult daughter. I have a chosen family and they love and support me in ways I never knew were possible.
I won’t tell you it’s easy. I will tell you it hurts and it is very difficult to become estranged from your family, but it’s such a relief to be free of the abuse. Before we judge anyone for not having a relationship with family, be mindful that it may be detrimental to have a relationship with people who have abused them. Oftentimes, if we don’t sever ties, the abuse continues. We have to learn to stop shaming someone for protecting themselves from toxic abuse.
There are various theories regarding family dysfunction in the field of psychology and counseling. Understanding the dysfunction in families not only helps us understand potential outcomes for each child, but also the possible backgrounds of the parents. Moreover, understanding the dysfunction in a family helps us also understand the way the parents and siblings interact with each other and therefore; the root of problems within the dysfunctional family dynamic. This is the first installment on family systems.
Family Bullying Theory
Unfortunately, most of us grow up learning about dysfunction within the family that we grew up with or our family of origin. Those cycles of dysfunction started somewhere and end up repeating with each generation until someone decides to stop the cycles. That process usually looks like a lot of therapy, healing, and growing as an individual. In turn, with trying to focus on a functional family system, oftentimes the person who stops the cycle is ostracised by the family members who choose to continue the dysfunctional cycles.
Definition of family bullying theory: This theory posits that it is a form of domestic violence that may occur between marital partners, parents, children, and/or siblings. Bullying is present when one individual, assumes power, degrades, abuses, and controls the other person or persons. The goal of the bully is to thwart power over the family members through control, manipulation, vindictiveness, etc.
Forms of Family Bullying: Bear in mind, that the abuser may use any or all of the following forms of abuse.
- Psychological torment – “This may consist of constant criticism for real or imagined infractions, usually of minor importance, consistently blaming the victim at any opportunity, and refusing to value and appreciate the individual. As well as including emotional and verbal abuse (to undermine self-esteem and confidence), intimidation, and humiliation. This type of abuse is perhaps the most damaging in the long term; it may lead to withdrawal, depression, antisocial behaviors, and the emotional abuse of others later in life” (Addington, et. al., 2022).
- Social abuse – “The bully will isolate the victim from socially interacting with friends and family. It may take the form of preventing the victim from leaving the home, forbidding phone use, verbally degrading the victim in front of others, not allowing contact with others or making the victim accountable for his/her whereabouts at all times. This can lead to fear of others and to psychological dependence upon the family bully” (Addington, et. al., 2022).
- Financial abuse – “The bully takes complete control of the finances—their own and the victim’s—in order to completely control the situation. This may include depriving the victim of money necessary for survival on a daily and long-term basis” (Addington, et. al., 2022).
- Sexual abuse – “This includes sexual assault, rape, and accusations of infidelity by the bully toward the victim. Long-term consequences may include sexual dysfunction in later life, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, and suicide” (Addington, et. al., 2022).
- Physical abuse – ” The bully uses threats, assault resulting in injury, beatings with the hands or other objects, or any attempt to control, hurt, or intimidate the victim. Damage or destruction of property should also be included in this category. Child victims of physical abuse bear not only physical indicators of that abuse but emotional scarring as well. In many cases performance at school is affected adversely, language development may be impaired, and the child may have difficulty nurturing healthy relationships with peers” (Addington, et. al., 2022).
- Manipulation – The bully uses pitting family members against one another, the bully is able to keep everyone off balance, which gives the bully the control they continually seek. The bully derives satisfaction and even pleasure from starting arguments which leads to hostility and other forms of destructive behavior while at the same time doing their best to remove themselves from the conflict. Emotional manipulation—making people feel guilty about their actions, opinions, or beliefs—is employed as well. Elderly family members as well as the very young are quite vulnerable to this form of exploitation. Gossip spreading and innuendo about other members of the family by the bully is used as a form of harassment and control. This serves to undermine and isolate the bully’s intended victim(s). This also leads to an environment of hostility and distrust in which the bully may rise to the top in order to appear to be above reproach and the hero of the day” (Addington, et. al., 2022).
Characteristics of the family Bully: Family bullies often appear to the outer world as friendly, charming, and charismatic. They will project their shortcomings onto their victims. The projection allows them to avoid their own reality regarding themselves. The projection often manifests as blaming, criticizing, gossiping, slandering, and defaming the victim. The bully likes to keep the focus of the “bad person” off of themselves and is often the purveyor of “truth” for outing the victim, but in reality, they are blaming the victim for their own behavior. Other characteristics of the bully are listed below.
- Highly verbal
- Emotionally immature
- Sexually immature
- Incapable of intimacy
- Attention seeking
- Quick to misinterpret the actions or language of others – Reactive
- Highly defensive
- Given to extreme mood swings
- Masterful at lying and believable
Etiology of the Family Bully:
The majority of family bullies experienced authoritarian parenting, which was harsh, and physically punitive. Parents who are overly controlling, dominate, shame, and humiliate their children, which may often create bullies in later life. Parents who interact aggressively and are abusive toward one another model these behaviors for their children who may later manifest the same conduct. “Children model the same behaviors they see at home” (Addington, et. al., 2022). In essence, the negative cycle of dysfunctional behavior often trickles over to areas, such as school and friendships. This family environment leads to anxiety, depression, and potentially antisocial behavior. Siblings from this type of environment will often victimize each other as well.
Children who didn’t bond with their parents, are neglected, abused, or from a volatile and dysfunctional upbringing experience a great deal of stress due to the lack of predictability. On the opposite end of the spectrum, children who are raised in extremely permissive homes often resort to bullying tactics to gain a semblance of control and stability. Either way, the problems trickle into other areas of life, such as school, work, and their own families. This issue is very cyclic.
Many of the bullies in the family lack empathy for those they are victimizing. The victims experience trauma in the forms of physical, psychological, and emotional to the point that the traumatic manifestations are used to further bully the victims. The destructive need for control is what drives the bully into pressing and dominating other family members. This type of family dynamic is incredibly toxic and destructive.
Family Types in the Bullying System:
- The Brick Wall – This type of family system is concerned with order, control, obedience, and a hierarchy of power. This family dynamic teaches the children that one must navigate life through intimidation and must thwart control over “subordinates.” Physical violence and, threats are taught by modeling behavior that is the only way to interact with others.
- The Jellyfish – This family system fails to provide structure and focus and operates within a laissez-faire environment. There are two types of families in the Jellyfish family.
- 1. The parents are focused on pleasing their children and fail in providing rules. The child is left to self-parent. This child has never been led and believes that they must work for what they want and if they do not get what they want, they may resort to bullying, possibly a sibling, parent, or others. In this family dynamic, the child becomes the bully.
- 2. In the second type of Jellyfish family, the parents are again focused on pleasing their children by assuming all responsibilities for their children. This environment results in raising “mama’s boys or girls,” which allows the child to be vulnerable to intimidation by other children and later adults. In this family system, the child is the victim in multiple areas of life and most likely grows up to continue to be victimized.
- The Backbone – This family system allows for consistent control and an opportunity for discovery. Children in this family dynamic learn through consistency in rules and appropriate punishment. The parents lead by example and empower their children by respecting themselves and others. This family dynamic holds open communication, empathy, and care for all family members. This type of family is the least likely to be bullied or bully others.
Effects of a Family Bullying System:
- The victim may fear that the aggression from the bully may escalate
- The victim may feel terror and incredibly vulnerable
- The victim may feel guilty for the abuse and for not stopping it
- The victim may grieve for the family they deserve and for personal losses
- The victim may have conflicting feelings toward parents or other family members
- The victim may fear abandonment, the unknown, or personal injury
- The victim may feel angry about the violence and chaos in their lives
- The victim is more likely to experience depression, anxiety, helplessness, and powerless
- The victim may feel shame and embarrassment about events and dynamics at home
- The victim often believes that they are responsible
- The victim may blame others for their own behavior
- Some victims may believe that it is acceptable to bully others to get what they want
- The victim doesn’t know how to ask for what they need or want
- The victim learns not to trust others
- The victim may have a very rigid belief about what it means to be a man, a woman, a husband, or a wife
- The victim may become an overachiever or underachiever
- The victim may refuse to go to school
- The victim often shows more concern for others than for self often becoming codependent
- The victim may become exceptionally aggressive or passive
- The victim may the bed or have nightmares
- The victim may become excessively attention-seeking or shy and withdrawn
- The victim may exhibit ‘‘out of control’’ behavior
- The victim may have turbulent relationships
- The victim is often reactive, having poor conflict resolution and anger management skills
- The victim may become excessively involved in social activities
- The victim may become passive or bully their peers
- The victims often become victimized again or victimize others in exploitative relationships either as perpetrators or victim
- The victims may exhibit playing with peers in an exceedingly rough manner
- The victim may experience headaches, stomachaches, etc.
- The victim may become anxious and have a short attention span
- The victim may exhibit being more tired or lethargic
- The victim may regress in developmental tasks
- The victim may seem desensitized to pain
- The victim may engage in high-risk play and activities, abusing or mutilating themselves
For individuals who become the bully, studies show that they are six times more likely to commit violent crimes than those who are non-bullies. Moreover, children who bully often grow up to be bullies who provoke fear in their partners, children, coworkers, and the community at large. Research suggests that children by the age of seven years old, who exhibit this type of antisocial behavior, are perpetrators of domestic violence against their partners, and children, and often predict the tendency toward more serious legal offenses.
Adult victims of family bullies also may manifest such symptoms as:
- Clinical depression
- Gastric problems
- Unspecified aches and pains
- Loss of self-esteem
- Relationship problems
- Drug and alcohol abuse
Results of Bullying – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
It is common for the victims of bullying to show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This mental health disorder occurs as the victim is not able to escape the bullying or may not realize they can leave the situation.
The experiences of the victim will include humiliation, rejection, betrayal, emotional abuse, physical abuse, loss of control, and disempowerment. The victim will exhibit in tandem with other mental health struggles, such as depression, possible drug, and alcohol use, short-term memory loss, emotional numbness, and loss of concentration. It is also a common component for victims to be linked to job loss, crime, family disharmony, divorce, ineffective parenting, and the possible inability to nurture or sustain effective interpersonal relationships. The physical manifestations of victims often result in dizziness, headaches, digestive problems, angina, insomnia, and auto-immune disorders.
Traits of the Bully:
- A larger body build
- Antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy
- Lack of negative natural consequences or punishments
In regard to the bully and victim dynamic, there are always “bystanders” who play their own role in the abuse. These bystanders are rarely innocent and contribute to perpetuating the abuse on the victim.
“Researchers have suggested that there are six different types of bystanders, all with a different dynamics” (Addington, et. al., 2022):
- The bully rules through violence and intimidation.
- Followers or henchmen are not initiators of the bullying, but they do nothing to stop it or help the victim.
- Supporters enjoy observing the bullying but do not take part in it or help the victim.
- Disengaged onlookers assert that the bullying of someone else is not their concern.
- Possible defenders believe that the target of the bullying activity should be defended.
- Defenders. Those unique individuals who actually attempt to help the victim of the bully (and his followers/henchmen). Although popular media may contradict the reality, in cases of bullying there exist few defenders.
The bully in the family intends to humiliate and control the life of the victim. While bullying is complex, it saturates American society and extends from the family to other areas of our culture. The consequences of bullying primarily affect the victim as he or she experiences both short and long term consequences. The victim may experience psychological distress, mental and physical illnesses, interference in one’s ability to participate in school, low self-esteem, depression and the potential to become a victim of abuse by romantic partners, friends, adult children, and in the work place.
Bullying behavior is often overlooked and ignored in American society unless someone openly becomes a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or is murdered. The norms of our society must change to rid ourselves of this insidious and destructive behavior that destroys humans and who experience inflicts life long struggles.
Addington, L. A., et al. (2022). Family Bullying. Website. http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/crime/domestic-violence/family-bullying
Show me a family that is not dysfunctional. As we are human, we are flawed and imperfect. It’s absolutely humanly impossible to be 100% functional. We may be striving for living and interact in functional ways, but no human is perfect. Let’s talk about family dysfunction.
Definition of Family Dysfunction:
Any condition that inhibits the healthy function of a family.
While most families have seasons of dysfunction, there are many families that are 100% dysfunctional. The etiology of family dysfunction may stem from trauma, cycles of family dysfunction, mental illness, physical illness, death, ill-equipped parenting, stress, and financial issues, just to name a few.
Functions of a Healthy Family:
While healthy families aren’t perfect, there may be tension, misunderstandings, anger, yelling, and arguing sometimes compared to the dysfunctional family where chaos and conflict is consistent. Other aspects of a functional family are as follows:
- Emotional expression without retaliation
- Family cohesiveness and inclusivity are the foundations of the family dynamic.
- Rules are consistent and expectations are realistic, flexible, and adapt to the needs of each individual and changing situations.
- Quality time may be requested freely and is not a luxury, but a recognized necessity.
- Each family member is supported and encouraged to pursue their own interests.
- Boundaries are taught, set, and respected.
- There is no fear of verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual retaliation or abuse.
- Respect is given to each family member regardless of age, reciprocated, and taught with kindness.
- Parents protect their children as well as provide nurturing and meet the emotional and physical needs of all children in the home.
- Mistakes are allowed and used as learning experiences, and perfection is taught as unattainable, unrealistic, and inappropriate for humans.
- Children are taught that emotions are normal and there is an appropriate and safe space for them.
Causes of Family Dysfunction:
Common dynamics that create and manifest family dysfunction are as follows:
- Abusive parents
- Strict, controlling, or authoritarian parent
- The permissive parent
- Mentally or physically chronically ill or disabled parents or family members
- Unfortunate life events
- Family values, culture, and ethnicity
- Insecure nature of family attachments
- Dynamics of the previous dysfunctional generations
- Systemic instability
- Absent parent
- Substance use or addicted parent
Signs of a Dysfunctional Family:
- Lack of: empathy, respect, boundaries
- Borrowing or destroying the property of others without permission
- Invading personal privacy without permission
- Extreme conflict and/or hostility to the point of verbal and physical assault
- Role reversal of the parents and children
- Family isolation from extended family and friends
- Secrecy, denial, rigid rules, and religion used to control
- Perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of children beyond their age-appropriate skills. development, and abilities.
- Emotional and verbal abuse, criticism, contempt, and blaming each other
- A parent or children are being denied their voice to have their own opinions and be accepted for who they are
- Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, CPTSD, etc
- Weaponizing the children to use against each other as parents
- Conditional love and support
- Low self-esteem, judgmental of themselves and others
- Repressed Feelings
- Uneasy around authority figures
- Need for approval
- Feeling anxious or hypersensitive in situations with others’ anger
- More attracted to other highly dysfunctional individuals
- Irresponsible or Hyper-responsible to the point of codependency
- Guilt over self-care
- Difficulty in expressing inner child feelings
- Dependent personality w/irrational fears of abandonment
- Hopelessness and helplessness
- Difficulty in intimate relationships to the point of lacking trust and feeling insecure as well as repressing one’s own needs and desires
- Promiscus and attention seeking
- Difficulty completing tasks, a strong need to be in control, implusive tendencies
The Dysfunctional Family
Types of Dysfunctional Families:
- Chronic Conflict Family – This family dynamic exists when the family members are consistently in conflict and do not work to resolve it. This family type is very harmful as it leaves the wounds to fester, causes damage to a child’s neurochemistry, breeds insecurity, stress, loss of attachment, and creates resentment and bitterness.
- Pathological Family – This family is primarily caused when a parent or parents exhibits a diagnosable severe psychological mental health issue and or substance use/addiction. The children assume the roles of responsibility, which manifests in the cyclical family dysfunctional cycles.
- Chaotic Family – This family type expresses that the parents are not very present or lack adequate parenting, so the children are neglected or not well looked after. There is no consistency in this family nor are there any rules. The children become the parental figures. There are unstable attachments and a lack of security for the children. The dysfunctional cycles may continue into the future with secondary abuse and neglect.
- Dominant – Submissive Family – In this family type, there is one parent who rules the home and family through control and never takes into consideration the feelings of the other family members. Most often, the other parent is depressed, angry, and soft. The children as well are unhappy as their needs are not considered nor do they have a voice.
- Emotionally Distant Family – This family type lacks affection, warmth, and emotional intimacy, and breeds unstable attachments. The children become repressed and are often confused about their identity and lack self-esteem.
Dysfunctional Family Roles:
- The good child, family hero or peacekeeper – The child who assumes the parental roles to mediate and reduce conflict. This child fears family collapse and expresses unconscious anxiety.
- The problem child, rebel, or deviant – This child attracts attention to themselves and keeps the family distracted managing their behavior.
- The scapegoat, or the black sheep – This child gets blamed for the family dysfunction and are often pitted against the other children. They are often labeled as “mentally ill,” overly sensitive, and over-reactive.
- The lost child – This child is quiet and who feels invisible to the family.
- The mascot or clown – This child diverts attention away from the dysfunction through humor, comedy, or acting silly.
- The opportunist – This child manipulates the other member’s faults to get what they want.
Every family has dysfunction, but there is a spectrum of dysfunction. The more dysfunctional a family, the more difficult it is for each individual to heal and overcome the dysfunction, but it’s not impossible.
Following are some ways to work through family dysfunction:
- Ruling out or receiving a proper psychiatric diagnosis
- Obtaining psychiatric interventions, such as medication
- Obtaining individual licensed counseling
- Joining support groups
- Building a community of supporters
- Creating a support network of 3 emotionally safe individuals
- Taking classes on anger management, emotional regulation, etc
- Reading self-help books
- Obtaining trauma informed therapies, such as polyvagal work, EMDR, etc.
The dysfunctional family consists of a lot of different moving parts that end up causing a lot of trauma to the many victims of this abusive cycle. To heal from this generational trauma, it helps to understand the roles of each family member. Keep in mind that sometimes the roles are only held by one individual, sometimes there is more than one person that shares a role, and sometimes people change roles throughout the family span.
- Primary Dysfunctional Individual or Abuser – First, we will start with the primary dysfunctional individual This is usually a parent, sometimes a teen or adult child, and is frequently the primary abuser who may or may not also participate in addictive behaviors. This individual’s behaviors are out of control and they are usually preoccupied with anything but focusing on being a healthy and functional role model. They exhibit grandiosity, which is someone who acts prideful and egotistical to impress others, but deep down they really are full of self-pity, self-hatred, shame, guilt, and repressed anger. They will never admit that there is a problem with them or their family because then they would have to change. The only way this person will change is if they first admit they have a problem and allow professional help.
- Enabler – Second, we have the enabler. The enabler is usually a parent, but sometimes may be an older child. They are often the secondary abuser in the family dynamic. The enabler rescues the primary and takes care of them. This enabling allows the primary abuser to continue their abuse and oftentimes addiction. They function out of fear, anger, emotional pain, guilt, and shame. They are often a secondary abuser either through enabling abuse or participating in it. This person will only change if they stop denying there is anything wrong and seek professional help.
- Hero – The first child role we have is the family hero. This person is a perfectionist and cannot be wrong. They are often very hard on themselves, striving to be a perfect person. They rarely get positive attention from their family, but thrive on attention their perfectionism gains them from school and work. They enjoy getting awards and degrees. They have a fear of failing or being controlled. The family, while usually exceptionally hard on this child, feels they aren’t so bad as a family because this child is successful. They family hero enjoys feeling powerful through their accomplishments and in adulthood may become a workaholic, suffer from physical illnesses, are controlling, rigid, rulebound, serious, prideful, and shameless. This person will change if they seek professional help to heal from their trauma, learn to set boundaries, as well as become comfortable and accept that they are flawed.
- Clown – The second family role is the clown. This child hides their pain with humor as they are afraid and feel inadequate. They are usually very funny, and will behave in any way that gains them a laugh, they are often cute, but immature. This child brings much needed comic relief to the family, but helps the family stay in denial by avoiding the dysfunction. As an adult, this person will continue to hold in their trauma and let it build as they allow others to control them, they are a follower and immature. This person will change if they seek professional help to allow themselves to process and express their pent up feelings. They can learn to use laughter in a way that is healing and therapeutic. They can learn to be more independent with their thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, decisions, and behaviors. This healing process will allow maturity and growth.
- Lost Child – The lost child is often ignored, quiet, invisible, loves animals, material possessions, artistic, and sometimes has learning challenges. This child has frozen feelings that they cannot express and are often lonely. The family believes that they don’t have to worry about this child, but they are so wrong. As an adult, this person won’t share their opinions, doesn’t feel needed and is more likley to die early because they don’t believe they matter. This person can heal by getting professional help in learning that theat they are talented, creative, wise, a good listener, and building connections with other people who are safe for them.
- Scapegoat – The scapegoat is a child who is perceived as “bad.” They are impulsive, never good enough, the black sheep of the family and they never feel that they fit in. They are often hurt, rejected, full of shame and feel like a loser. The family is sometimes falsely brought together to “fix” the scapegoat. The other family members feel better about themselves because they perceive the scapegoat as “bad.” They can avoid their own bad behaviors by focusing on and blaming the scapegoat. As an adult, this person may have addictions or unhealthy habits, they are sometimes in trouble with the law, they may be promiscuous and have a chip on their shoulder. They often continue to play the role in their job and in romantic relationships by constantly causing drama and problems. This person can heal with professional help if they can learn to feel good about themselves, learn appropriate risk-taking, and realize their strengths.
As I said, some people may overlap in the roles, share roles with other family members, or change roles throughout their life span. When we seek professional help, we learn to understand our trauma and how it has affected us. In learning to heal that trauma, we will build our self-esteem, learn to love ourselves, and learn to set healthy boundaries. When we heal, we explore healthier relationships and practice in more mentally functional ways to manage and cope. If we don’t heal our trauma from these dysfunctional family systems, we will continue the cycle through generations in our own children and grandchildren. The cycle will continue until someone decides that it stops with them!
Family Sexual Abuse
This is probably one of the most difficult topics to talk about. Not only is it an area I work with in my counseling experience, but there is also a history of this in my family of origin and extended family as well.
Most family sex abuse goes unreported because “it’s family.” Many children are not believed because “your brother wouldn’t do that.” I understand that family sex abuse is so horrific that it’s very difficult to wrap our heads around. Let that anyone would perpetrate this on another human let alone a family member especially, a child. I also often hear that the parents knew, the grandparents knew, someone knew and did nothing. It’s the dirty family secret that most people pretend doesn’t exist, so the victim is not only victimized by the person who abused them but the entire family for not protecting them and keeping the secret.
Statistics show that 30% of all sexual abuse perpetrated on children is by a family member. Again, this is probably grossly underreported, so realistically I estimate it is probably closer to 50% or more based on my experience as a counselor. Another disturbing trend that has been underreported in the past is sexual abuse perpetrated by female adults. In my counseling experience, female sex abusers are at least 50% as prevalent as male perpetrators.
Women are primary caregivers, so we often think of women as less likely to commit crimes like these. In addition, children often do not know the difference between sexual abuse and physical caregiving, so since mothers are responsible for the majority of physical care, children often do not know what is happening to them. To expand on the innocence of children, many people don’t even realize they have been sexually abused until they are in therapy and working through difficult trauma when they remember the events. It’s actually fairly common to not recognize that you’ve been sexually abused as a child until much later into adulthood. Another aspect of keeping the secret is shame and embarrassment. The victim is never, never at fault for what happened to them. There is nothing any person can do to deserve being abused in any way shape or form.
Another common occurrence that people don’t consider is family members who are children sexually abusing other children. Sibling and cousin sexual abuse is unfortunately very common. There is a difference between natural curiosity and knowing the difference between inappropriate touching.
I have family members, friends, and clients who are too afraid to tell or are shamed into silence. I am an advocate for stopping the cycles of abuse in families, especially sexual abuse. If a child tells you they were touched, DO SOMETHING! You are culpable for the abuse if you did nothing.
Go to the police. There will be forensic interviews by specialists who focus on working in these areas of the law. There also may be forensics exams as well. I understand that sometimes the police do nothing, but if they are a family member, you can go to family court and get restraining orders. Report it to child services if it’s a minor relative. If you are under age 14 in Texas, you have until age 32 to report the abuse. I recognize that it could be retraumatizing to go through the legal process, but it may save others from being sexually abused, too. Also, protect your children! If you know a family member has been accused of this, keep the kids away! I don’t mean take the kids around the pedophile and sit in the room with them and your children, I’m saying do not even allow your children anywhere near them. If you do, you are culpable! Get counseling for the child. There is nothing worse than unresolved trauma, especially of this type. I see it every single day. 80% of my clients report sexual abuse in their families. Do not ever try to encourage a family member to have a relationship with any sexual abuser in the family. In fact, encourage them to sever ties with that person as everyone in the family should, or you’re as guilty as the abuser for keeping the secret.
If I can encourage every human regardless of age to know the signs of grooming, watch people around children even if they are family. Educate yourself about this issue. Don’t force yours or any children to spend time with anyone they don’t want to and ask them if a family member makes them uncomfortable. Don’t force your children to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to. Let them have consent over their own body even with you. Teach your children about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Build a healthy relationship with your child, so they feel safe talking with you about everything. Be familiar with the national registry of sexual predators. Sadly, most predators work in fields with children, so we have to be hypervigilant. Report everything even if they’re family. Let’s not only stop the cycle of family sexual abuse, but sexual abuse – period!
There are a lot of pedophiles who have not been discovered yet, so let’s make that our mission, to get every child predator far, far away from our children!
Family estrangement is a difficult concept for many people to comprehend. Most individuals who are estranged from their families wish it could be different. We often become estranged from family members who are abusive in one way or another, or who are dysfunctional and unhealthy for us to have contact with.
As a therapist, I do not suggest to anyone that they become estranged from a family member. I will recommend to them that if they cannot live with themselves if something happened to that person, then they need to consider estrangement very carefully.
On the other hand, if that is what a client has chosen for themselves, I will support any decisions they make. I believe that my clients are well capable of making their own informed decisions.
Try to remember that it’s a privilege to be in your life, not a birthright. People deserve the privilege of being in your life by the way they actively show love to you. Otherwise, if they choose to be abusive and dysfunctional, they can do it without you. The idea that “they’re your family” is a very destructive ideology rooted in control and abuse.
You get to choose the people in your life, so make sure you choose wisely.
Animals and Mental health
Losing a Pet
Grief is one of the most painful experiences a human must experience. Anything we lose may cause grievous feelings. It may be something as small as our favorite pen or it may be something as difficult as losing a pet.
Pets are so amazing. They often fill emotional needs that we have never had met by other humans. They are unconditionally loving. They sense when we’re upset and comfort us. They help relieve our anxiety. They keep us active. They give us purpose.
We lost our pet dog, Peach in March. It was absolutely devastating. We initially let our daughter adopt Peach when my husband was legally adopting our daughter. Peach was 11 and after our daughter moved out on her own, Peach was my constant companion. She kept me company during the pandemic when my husband was working so much and I was very depressed. Peach was there for me, comforting me, keeping me busy, cuddling me. Losing Peach happened very suddenly. She had a disease that was undetected.
Losing Peach was absolutely devastating. We cried and cried and cried. My husband, daughter and I held each other and cried some more. A lot of people diminish when someone loses a pet. I can tell you that it is as painful as losing a human a person is close to. The grief is so tremendous that my heart physically felt pain. We miss Peach so much. We often share funny stories about her, which makes us smile with a pang of grief.
We did get a puppy, Elli Ruth. We’ve had her for a few months and she is the absolute cutest little puppy. She has definitely given me purpose again and filled my heart with joy. She doesn’t replace Peach, but she does bring light into our lives that went dim when we lost Peachy.
The point of this post is please respect a person’s grief when they lose a pet. Validate their experience by being supportive and letting them know you’re thinking of them. Ask them how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can do to help them through this difficult time. Let’s honor and respect the feelings of all humans even if we may not understand.
Parenting and Children
My Ideas on Parenting
I often say that parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world! I am the mother of 1 amazing human. I have to say though, that it has not always been easy. She’s 22 now and we have a wonderful relationship that I am so thankful for. My daughter and I have worked very hard on our relationship to attain what it is now. I went to counseling when she was 2 years old to learn to be a better parent. She and I went together when she was a teen to learn how to communicate better and work through some difficulties. It was a great experience for both of us and it laid a solid foundation for the relationship we have now. I know I’m not a perfect mom and my daughter is not a perfect child, but we are awesome!
As a parent, as a counselor, some of the best ways I like to guide other parents are the following:
Have difficult conversations with your children. Set boundaries and within the safety of those parameters, let them make “safe” mistakes that will not be life-altering, but have enough of a consequence that they learn from it.
Model the behavior you want your children to mirror. They watch everything you do, they don’t so much listen, but they are always watching your words, your interactions with others, and your behaviors.
If you want them to do something, make sure you SHOW them how! Show them what respect looks like by the way you respect them. Show them how you want them to do the dishes, clean their room, take a bath, do their hair, get dressed, etc.
- Praise them and affirm them for what they’re doing right. We often only voice what they do wrong, which leads them to feel that they will never do anything right and can lead to perfectionism. As humans, we love positive rewards. If you tell them what they’re doing right, the praise raises those feel good chemicals in the brain, so we want to do more of what will help us get that praise.
- Learn healthier ways to communicate with your children by learning how.
- Show them healthy coping skills and emotional regulation by learning those tools yourself.
- Around the age of 11 years old, get them started in counseling, so they have a non-biased person they can talk with, without judgement, and professional guidance. Have a mental well check every year just like we do with physical well checks.
- Teach your child conflict resolution by letting them work through conflicts with others including you.
- Let your child know that humans cry and it’s okay to cry.
- NEVER dispariage your child’s feelings, thoughts, or ideas. Don’t talk down to your child. Don’t stonewall them by not allowing them the safe space to share their feelings. Do not criticise your child, but instead teach them healthier and more functional ways. Do not use contemptuous tones with your child, use kind and loving tone and language. Let your child know that feelings aren’t right or wrong, good or bad. All feelings are valid.
- Learn from your child by being the parent they need, not the parent you wish you had.
- Help your child understand why you make some of the choices you do. Help them realize that you’re not trying to ruin their life by saying “no.” Explain to them, so they can understand and learn to think critically and make sound decisions.
- Answer every question they have, even if you’re tired. It’s okay to tell them you want to think about something first and come back to them with an answer later.
- Don’t try to mold and shape your child into who you want them to be, they’re already the human they are meant to be. Help them build their confidence and self-esteem by embracing and encouraging their unique gifts and abilities.
- Help them by creating a routine, a schedule, and setting healthy boundaries.
- Choose your battles. If it doesn’t matter in 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 months, or 5 years, then it doesn’t matter and isn’t worth anyone’s energy in having conflict over it.
- Help your child learn that all humans come in different shapes and sizes. Our DNA is the major factor in the way we look. Help them learn to love themselves, and how to care for themselves by proper nutrition and exercise.
- When your child turns about 17, start working on detaching from being the full-time parent. Be there when they need you, but it’s time to start focusing on letting go, which is SO hard! I counsel many adults of all ages who struggle with parents who still want to parent and control their lives. That will benefit no one. Realize that you did a great job as a parent and taught your child what they need. If they come to you for guidance, then by all means, help them, but don’t insert yourself in their life unless you see something abusive or very unhealthy.
Mental Health in America
In my perspective, the biggest problem in America today is the mental health epidemic. The extreme effects of neglecting our mental health as a society are mass shootings and sex trafficking to name just two. The lack of mental health awareness and care is so profound in America that we are seeing terrifying effects and it will only get worse if we do not start reforming this area of society. In my mind, mental health is the foundation on which society is built.
First of all, every human being has mental health. You have it, I have it, all humans have it. Mental illness and mental health struggles arise when this aspect of our humanness has been neglected for far too long. There is so much stigma that still exists about mental health in 2022 that it should enrage all of us. I hear far too often from my clients, with ages ranging from teens to older adults and races including all People of Color, Asian, Hispanic, and Arabian, that their families do not believe in mental health. They often share with me that they are the first in their family to seek mental health care and are breaking the cycles of dysfunction and abuse. The sad truth of the matter is, that every human needs to be in therapy. Every human needs to have a psychiatric evaluation at some point in their lifetime. Reports show that about 20% of the population experiences mental health struggles or mental illness. My theory is that 100% of the population has at some point in their lives struggled with their mental health or with mental illness.
If we lived in a society that encouraged and practiced functional and healthy mental experiences, we would possibly eradicate or come close to eradicating abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, robbery, burglary, incest, mass shootings, addiction, sex-trafficking, racism, bigotry, and possibly war.
Imagine a world where we learn that humans have feelings that are pleasant and unpleasant and that all feelings are valid. We learn from a young age, and it is not only encouraged in our communities, but also schools to develop skills of emotional regulation, communication, and conflict resolution. That we confront trauma and hold ourselves accountable for our behaviors and choices. Where we learn to live and let live. To love and respect each other because we are all the human race. Where we practice empathy and compassion without opinion or judgement. A place where we encourage and support each other instead of tearing each other down. Where we recognize our triggers and projections, cope with and manage those feelings instead of projecting them on to innocent others. Where there is no shame or embarrassment because we struggle with our mental health. A place where we love and accept the flaws in ourselves and others, but also do not weaponize our vulnerabilities against each other.
Why are we not encouraging this? Why are we not creating this? Why are we not working toward this as a collective whole?
I commend those who are breaking cycles and working on their mental health. I am one privileged person not only as I am born, but also to work with those at the forefront of striving for mental health and wellness. We are breaking generations of dysfunction and trauma. We are advocating to stop the stigma and educate others. Thank you to those who allow me to help them to grow and heal from traumas and genetics that have been passed down through centuries of dysfunction.
Social Media and Self-Diagnosing
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. This is kind of a rant – I’ll forewarn you.
I’m an avid TikTok and Instagram watcher. I love to learn about people and their uniqueness. The one consistent pattern I have noticed is many of the “experts” on social media do not have the credentials to back up their claims. Yesterday, I was talking with my psych physician assistant and she told me that because of TikTok, a lot of her patients now think they have autism, but they do not.
I also see a lot of “advice” about symptoms of various mental health issues. Let me be clear, symptoms are as unique as the individual who has them.
We all may have varying degrees of traits of everything, but that doesn’t warrant a clinical diagnosis. For example, everyone has traits of narcissism, traits of anxiety, ADHD, compulsions, obsessiveness, impulsiveness, introversion, extraversion, a conscience, etc, but unless a psych professional with a sound medical degree and license to practice does not diagnose YOU personally, on a clinical level – then YOU DON’T HAVE IT!
That is all.
Coping and Managing Emotions and Behavior
Coping and Managing
Some of the most difficult things we try to cope with are anxiety, stress, and “negative” emotions. The majority of us never learn that we are human and it’s okay to feel uncomfortable emotions. We often try to suppress those emotions because we don’t like the way they feel. We also often encourage others to suppress those difficult emotions because we’re uncomfortable with the unpleasant feelings of others.
We are told that we “shouldn’t” feel certain ways – mad, sad, depressed, anxious, stressed, grievous, or anything else that doesn’t feel good. We’re taught to suppress these emotions, but that doesn’t help. The only thing it does is causes more distress and could potentially lead to more stress issues. We should not hold in uncomfortable and difficult emotions, we have to let them out and feel them. It’s normal and human to feel emotions, both good and bad.
Let’s set the record straight once and for all. Feelings are feelings. They’re not good or bad, right or right. They exist as a monitoring system for our brains to let us know when something is out of balance. If there was something wrong with your car would you ignore it? If you do your car eventually stops working properly or at all. That’s essentially what happens with us if we suppress emotions. Our emotional regulatory system gets off balance or stops working at all through dissociation or feelings of apathy. When we learn appropriate coping and management skills, we can rebalance our psyche to keep our emotional regulation intact.
There are a lot of resources online to help us through the toughest of times. A great resource tool I have found is the attachment below, but there are many other resources. A couple more is a free class through Yale called “Managing Emotions in Times of Uncertainty and Stress.” In addition, is also through Yale and free called, “The Science of Well-Being.”
Here is an attachment to help navigate how to process and work through difficult and uncomfortable emotions.
Men’s Mental Health
Johnny Depp won his case for my husband, for me, for my friends, my mother, my brother, my niece, my great-nieces, and great-nephews, my sister, my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins, my clients, and anyone who has ever suffered from domestic violence.
My husband and I have both had abusive childhoods and previous abusive relationships. It’s common that people who have been abused in childhood will often end up in abusive relationships as adults. If we don’t stop the cycle, it may continue for generations.
After watching my mother and younger brother be brutally abused by my step-father, I never thought I’d find myself in my own abusive relationship, but that’s what happened from 1996 to 2000. It was at the level that the police were heavily involved, I had 7 restraining orders, and was environmentally and cyber stalked for well over 20 years. There are not enough laws put in place for victims to prevent, protect, or keep them safe. If I had the money of Johnny Depp, I would not have been mixed up in criminal and family courts for so long. Most of us don’t have his money to fight against it, but as you see, that didn’t prevent the abuse from happening. It only gave him redemption in civil court years after the fact. Abuse doesn’t discriminate.
There are similarities in people who abuse. They have very high traits of narcissism. I’m sure if receiving a psych eval, they would be diagnosable with a personality disorder. I am not saying that a personality disorder makes someone violent, I’m just stating this is a common trait of abusers. NOTHING gives any person license to abuse another human. People who abuse are less likely to function in a healthy manner of conscience, accountability, or being introspective enough to realize their behavior is criminal. Many victims of abusers also suffer from mental health issues as well, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, or other diagnosable struggles. These mental health issues may consist of co-dependency, caregiving, guilt, people-pleasing, abandonment fears, or anxious attachment.
The issue in our society is that mental health is not the focus. We should be receiving mental health care from the time we are very young throughout our life span. Every human has mental health. Whether it’s diagnosable or not, every human struggles with issues related to mental health throughout the lifespan. If we address these things from birth, we would prevent so much abuse and dysfunction in our society.
One of the biggest issues I see within couples and family dynamics is ineffective
communication. Effective communication is one of the most essential skills that we need to master for healthy relationships. We often learn dysfunctional communication in our family of origin and we rarely learn to change those unhealthy behaviors. Below is a guideline that I utilize in therapy with my client to help overcome dysfunctional and unhealthy communication styles. Please feel free to download a copy for yourself at the end of the post. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.
Try to remember that the goal in any relationship is effective communication. Effective communication consists of all individuals feeling heard, seen, validated and understood with empathy and without judgement.
Some key concepts to remember when we are communicating:
- Feelings are not facts
- Feelings are not good or bad
- Feelings are not right or wrong, they are different and that’s okay
- ALL feelings are valid
- The goal of conflict is resolution
- In regard to conflict there is no right person or wrong person
- The goal of conflict is to negotiate and come to a compromise that everyone is okay with
- Conflict is productive
- Conflict is not yelling, screaming, or hurtful
- Be gentle and kind with our words and tone of voice.
- No attacks
- No threats
- Do not judge
- No smirking
- No eye rolling
- No sighing
- No shrugging
- Be interested in what others are saying.
- Maintain eye contact
- Do not interrupt
- Validate the other person and the way they feel.
- Try to understand other perspectives by putting yourself in another’s shoes
- Show empathy for the other’s feelings
- Body language is also important.
- Try to stay lighthearted and smile
- Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset.
Are you truly angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.
- Discuss one issue at a time.
“You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.
- No degrading language.
Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is forgotten.
- Use “I” Statements
Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them. “I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take responsibility for your feelings (no, you can’t say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”).
- Take turns talking.
This can be tough, but be careful not to interrupt. If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer allowing 1 minute for each person to speak without interruption. Don’t spend your partner’s minute thinking about what you want to say. Listen to hear, not to reply.
- No stonewalling.
Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to retreat into your shell and refuse to speak. This refusal to communicate is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset. If you absolutely cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out. Agree to resume the discussion later.
- No yelling.
Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse.
Take a time-out if things get too heated.
In a perfect world we would all follow these rules 100% of the time, but it just doesn’t work like that. If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem after everyone has cooled down.
- Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
There isn’t always a perfect answer to an argument. Life is just too messy for that. Do your best to come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides). If you can’t come to a compromise, merely understanding can help soothe negative feelings.
When a person feels that they are being blamed—whether rightly or wrongly—it’s common that they respond with defensiveness. “I” statements are a simple way of speaking that will help you avoid this trap by reducing feelings of blame. A good “I” statement takes responsibility for one’s own feelings, while tactfully describing a problem.
“I feel (emotion word) when (explanation).”
“I feel…” must be followed with an emotion word, such as “angry”, “hurt”, or “worried”. ✔ Careful wording won’t help if your voice still sounds blaming. Use a soft and even tone. ✔ In your explanation, gently describe how the other person’s actions affect you.
Blaming “You can’t keep coming home so late! It’s so inconsiderate.” “I” Statement “I feel worried when you come home late. I can’t even sleep.” Blaming “You never call me. I guess we just won’t talk anymore.” “I” Statement “I feel hurt when you go so long without calling. I’m afraid you don’t care.”
Scenario A friend always cancels plans at the last minute. Recently, you were waiting for them at a restaurant, when they called to say they couldn’t make it. “I” Statement Scenario You are working on a group project, and one member is not completing their portion. You have repeatedly had to finish their work. “I” Statement Scenario Your boss keeps dumping new work on you, with little instruction, and not enough time. Despite working overtime, you’re weeks behind. “I” Statement
Active Listening Communication Skill
Active Listening: Treating listening as an active process, rather than a passive one. This means participating in conversation, rather than acting as an audience. Active listeners show they are listening, encourage sharing, and strive to understand the speaker.
Show You’re Listening: Put away distractions. Watching TV, using your phone, or doing other things while listening sends the message that the speaker’s words are not important. Putting away distractions allows you to focus on the conversation and help the speaker feel heard.
Use verbal and nonverbal communication: Body language and short verbal cues that match the speaker’s affect (e.g. responding excitedly if the speaker is excited) show interest and empathy.
Verbal: “mm-hmm” / “uh-huh” “that’s interesting” “that makes sense” “I understand” Nonverbal: nodding in agreement reacting to emotional content (e.g. smiling) eye contact
Encourage Sharing: Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that encourage elaboration, rather than “yes” or “no” responses. Open-ended questions tell the speaker you are listening, and you want to learn more.
- “What is it like to ____?”
- “How did you feel when ____?”
- “Can you tell me more about ____?”
- “How do you ____?”
- “What do you like about ____?”
- “What are your thoughts about ____?”
Use reflections: In your own words, summarize the speaker’s most important points. Be sure to include emotional content, even if it was only communicated through tone or body language.
Speaker: I’ve been having a hard time at work. There’s way too much to do and I can’t keep up. My boss is frustrated that everything isn’t done, but I can’t help it.
Listener: It sounds like you’re doing your best to keep up, but there’s too much work. That sounds stressful!
Strive to Understand: Be present. Listening means paying attention to body language, tone, and verbal content. Focus your attention on listening, instead of other mental distractions, such as what you want to say next. When possible, save sensitive conversations for a quiet time with few distractions.
Listen with an open mind. Your job is to understand the speaker’s point of view, even if you don’t agree. Avoid forming opinions and making judgments until you fully understand their perspective.
Using a technique called reflection can quickly help you become a better listener. When reflecting, you will repeat back what someone has just said to you, but in your own words. This shows that you didn’t just hear the other person, but you are trying to understand them.
Reflecting what another person says can feel funny at first. You might think the other person will be annoyed at you for repeating them. However, when used correctly, reflections receive a positive reaction and drive a conversation forward. Here’s an example:
- Speaker: “I get so angry when you spend so much money without telling me. We’re trying to save for a house!”
- Listener: “We’re working hard to save for a house, so it’s really frustrating when it seems like I don’t care.”
The tone of voice you use for reflections is important. Use a tone that comes across as a statement, with a bit of uncertainty. Your goal is to express: “I think this is what you’re telling me, but correct me if I’m wrong.” Your reflections don’t have to be perfect. If the other person corrects you, that’s good! Now you have a better understanding of what they’re trying to say.
Try to reflect emotions, even if the person you’re listening to didn’t clearly describe them. You may be able to pick up on how they feel by their tone of voice or body language.
Switch up your phrasing, or your reflections will start to sound forced. Try some of these: • “I hear you saying that…”
- “It sounds like you feel…”
- “You’re telling me that…”
Focus on reflecting the main point. Don’t worry too much about all the little details, especially if the speaker had a lot to say.
Practice: “I was in a bad mood yesterday because work has been so stressful. I just can’t keep up with everything I have to do.”
Reflection: “I feel like I’m doing all of the work around the house. I need you to help me clean and do the dishes more often.”
“I’ve been worried when you don’t answer your phone. I always think something might’ve happened to you.”
“I don’t understand what she wants from me. First she says she wants one thing, then another.”
Focus on the problem, not the person: When a disagreement turns to personal insults, raised voices, or mocking tones, the conversation is no longer productive. Be careful to focus on the problem without placing blame on your partner. If a disagreement becomes personal, you should pause the conversation.
Use reflective listening: Oftentimes during arguments we focus on getting our own point across rather than listening to our partner. Before responding to your partner, restate what they have said to you in your own words. Continue this process until your partner agrees that you understand. Next, share your side. Your partner should reflect back your ideas in their own words until they too understand. Using this technique will help both individuals feel listened to and understood, even if you disagree.
Use “I” statements: When sharing a concern, begin your sentence with “I”. For example: “I feel hurt when you don’t tell me you’ll be late”. With this sentence format we show that we are taking responsibility for our own emotion rather than blaming our partner. The alternative sentence—“You never tell me when you’re going to be late”—will often cause a partner to become defensive.
Know when to take a time-out: When you and your partner are becoming argumentative, insulting, or aggressive, it’s a good idea to take a time-out. Have a plan in place so you or your partner can call for a break when needed. Spend some time doing something alone that you find relaxing. When you’ve both calmed down, you and your partner can return to solving the problem. Be sure that you do return—it isn’t a good idea to leave these issues unaddressed.
Work toward a resolution: Disagreement is a normal part of a relationship. If it becomes clear that you and your partner will not agree, focus on a resolution instead. Try to find a compromise that benefits both individuals. Ask yourself if this disagreement really matters to your relationship, and let yourself move on if not.
Unhelpful things we do when communicating
The Four Horsemen
The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. Luckily, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.
All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.
And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.
The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.
- Criticism – Verbally attacking, name calling, putting the other person or their character down
- Gentle startup – Use “I” statements, reflective listening, and talk about your feelings.
- Contempt – Attacking the other person’s sense of self with the intention of insult or verbal abuse.
- Build a culture of appreciation – Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and find gratitude for positive actions.
- Defensiveness – Victimizing yourself of a perceived attack and reversing the blame.
- Take responsibility for yourself – Hold yourself for your behavior, accept your partner’s perspective, and apologize for your wrongdoing.
- Stonewalling – Withdrawing to avoid conflict and convey disapproval, distance, and separation.
- Physiological self-soothing – Take a break and spend some time doing something soothing and distracting.
The Antidotes by Ellie Lisitsa
- The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up
A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.
To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?
- Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”
- Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”
Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.
The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect
Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.
The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!
Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.
- Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)
- Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”
The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.
Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.
The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility
Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.
Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.
- Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”
- Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”
By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.
The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing
Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.
In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.
What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.
Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:
- “Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”
- “Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”
If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.
So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.
Relational Emotional Needs
Oftentimes we are dissatisfied in our relationships and we don’t know why exactly. We all have needs emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Do you know what your relational needs are?
Below is an assessment and scoring sheet for relational needs. Whether you are an individual or in a romantic partnership, this assessment will help you realize what are your relational needs and even further break down within the need, what’s important to you.
When our relational cup is filled by our partner, family, friends, and co-workers, and community, we are content and feel loved in all of our relationships. While we need to fill our cup by giving to ourselves first. All relationships are giving to others and taking some to refill ourselves!
Watch Your Tone
One of the most prominent aspects I notice when working with couples and families is the way they speak to each other. We profess to love these people the most, but why doesn’t it sound like it? The tone of voice we use, the words we choose, and the way we deliver them are all components of communication where a lot of humans fail.
For example, if I said to my husband, “You never take out the trash!” It would probably create defensiveness in him, especially if I said it in a sharp tone. On the other hand, if I said in a calm and even tone, “Hey babe, when you have time, could you please take out the trash? I bet that would be far better received. Say each out loud to yourself and think about which way you would prefer to receive communication.
Another aspect of communication is the way we present a statement. When we start out with, “you…,” that automatically puts the other person in defense mode. But when we ask a question or state, “I feel…,” it’s much better received. For example, “I feel hurt when you forgot my birthday.” Or “Did you realize that it seems like you flirt and that’s hurtful to me?”
If you feel compelled to yell at someone, put them down, or speak down to them, there’s one resolution for that – DON”T! Wait until you calm down, and think about what is bothering you regarding the situation. Process and observe your feelings. Write down your thoughts. You may even want to practice what you will say in a mirror. When you are calm, then talk to the other person. It’s okay to think about it for 30 minutes, hours, or even a couple of days. But if it’s still bothering you, please say something. Ignoring or suppressing something that bothers you only builds up inside of us and comes boiling out in a very negative way. If we don’t address things as they happen, they build up and over time we eventually explode like a volcano.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t threaten things that you have no intention of doing. Threats only create resentment and bitterness.
Always focus on resolutions and options when you’re communicating. Right and wrong are social constructs based on perspectives. Talk about options, negotiate, and compromise. There will probably not be a perfect outcome for both individuals, so negotiation and compromise are essential. Stop trying to fight about who is right and who is wrong – that will never end!
My final thought is if you are thinking it, say it in a kind way. We cannot read each other’s minds, so don’t try to insert your thoughts into another person’s mind. Ask questions if you aren’t clear about what they mean. Be kind to those you say you love!
Every human has feelings. As I often tell my clients, feelings aren’t right, wrong, good or bad. Feelings exist like they air, they have a purpose. We need air to breathe, to survive, to live. Feelings help us navigate our environment, help us choose behaviors and interact in our relationships. All feelings are necessary and healthy.
Most people have that mindset that we must avoid uncomfortable feelings, such as sadness, rejection, disappointment, grief, etc. We often try to avoid these feelings because we think if we’re happy all of the time that life will be great! Realistically, that’s not true. That’s actually called suppression when we avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings.
We live in a culture that encourages suppression and dysfunction. From religious perspectives of having a weak or broken spirit, messages in media and music, “Don’t worry be happy,” we are encouraged to believe that any feeling other than happiness, joy, excitement, or elation are bad. The truth is, if we don’t allow ourselves to become comfortable with processing and appropriately expressing uncomfortable emotions, we become a person who has poor emotional regulation. When we have poor emotional regulation, we will often be reactive to our strong emotions and lash out at others. Some people may even refer to it as having “anger issues.”
The truth is, we have feelings we have not allowed ourselves to feel and process yet. We have feelings that we have not set free yet. When we feel an intense feeling, we need to acknowledge it. We need to observe it, as it it were sitting beside us. We need to be introspective to explore why we had such an intensity when that feeling surfaced. We need to consider where we feel the feeling inside of our body. We need to sift through the possibilities that it could be a trigger from a painful experience in the past. We need to identify what is the painful experience and allow the feeling to exist.
Working Through Difficult and Uncomfortable Emotions
Negative or dark emotions are probably the most difficult to think about, let alone accept. Our culture has conditioned us to believe that we should deny or repress our negative emotions. The contrary is true though. It is absolutely imperative that we not only acknowledge our uncomfortable and difficult emotions, but that we also accept them. This is one of the most important aspects of coping.
The desire to avoid what’s uncomfortable and seek what feels good is part of human nature. The downside to avoiding uncomfortable emotions—rather than accepting them—only increases our psychological distress, inflexibility, anxiety, and depression, diminishing our well-being.
Suppressing our difficult and uncomfortable emotions often leads to using very unhealthy ways to cope with our distress, such as food, sex, drugs alcohol, or other unhealthy coping mechanism. The use of these unhealthy coping mechanisms then leads to suppressing that we are using these destructive things to cope with our distress, which in turn causes more distress.
Research suggests that when we turn toward our feelings, we are less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors. When we turn toward our physical pain, we are less likely to be trapped in cycles of chronic pain. When we turn toward our sadness, we are less likely to be stuck in depression. When we turn toward our anxiety, we are less likely to be paralyzed by it and can find it easier to bear.
Learning to embrace uncomfortable emotions brings a significant reduction in our anxiety, it also lends us the ability to experience the joys of life more fully with a growing trust in our abilities to cope with life’s challenges. A very positive outcome from dealing with difficult emotions is that we can heal.
If we want to live more fully and be our most authentic selves, we need to turn towards our pain by not pushing it down or pushing it away. We often wonder, what will help us get there? The tools of mindfulness, acceptance, nonjudgement, self-comfort and self-soothing are paramount to coping and healing.
In starting to develop this practice, try to start with emotions that are not too intense. We might want to first learn this skill with our therapist, especially for more intense emotions. Here’s what this involves.
Developing a willingness to recognize and acknowledge our difficult emotions
Imagine looking around and we see someone we know. We wave and observe them. We invite the person to sit with us, but we don’t hold their hand, or put our arm around them. We also don’t judge them. We observe. We make small talk with them. When they’re ready to leave, they depart us. We wave goodbye. That’s how we must learn to treat our difficult and uncomfortable emotions.
It may even be helpful to picture our emotions as having a color, shape, or form. We may even envision our emotions as cartoon characters or an emoji, allowing our inner child to observe the emotion, too. Part of the practice is simply to acknowledge and accept the feelings that manifest, just as they are.
This is a new experience for most people. Who wants to feel our uncomfortable and difficult feelings? Who wants to feel sad or angry? When we let our feelings arrive, and observe them from a bit of a distance, we can take a curious look and explore what is there.
Be curious about our feelings
Mindfully observing what we are feeling may help us cope with feelings that exist. It may be useful to name our feelings (Oh, that’s hurt; that’s jealousy; that’s anger) because, as simple as this sounds, we often don’t pay attention to the nuances of what we are feeling; consequently, important information gets lost along the way. Labeling our distressing emotions gives us a way of validating our inner experience, but it has the added benefit of dialing down their intensity.
It may also be beneficial to see our emotional “visitors” as temporary guests. Adding the phrase “in this moment” to a statement like “I am feeling stress, anger, or hurt” will help us observe what is present without feeling overwhelmed.
Other things we might say to ourselves may include:
- Where do I feel the feeling in my body?
- If this feeling could talk, what would it say?
- What does this feeling need?
Being curious about our feelings rather than fearful or rejecting them provides a better lens for understanding our feelings.
- Feel a feeling
- Identify what is the feeling
- Acknowledge the feeling
- Observe the feeling
- Observe the feeling, do not attach to the feeling, don’t pull it close, don’t push it away
- Allow it to exist in it’s own space
- Do not judge ourselves for feeling the feeling
- Sit with it until it dissipates
- Let it go
Give yourself the gift of empathy
Besides pushing away uncomfortable feelings, many of us have been conditioned to judge our emotions in negative ways. We’ve learned that if we show sadness, it’s a sign of weakness. We may have been convinced that we are a bad person if we feel anger or jealousy. We’ve been told that we should “move on” when we experience loss. When we come face to face with difficult emotions, we often tell ourselves that there’s something wrong with us.
When we practice mindfulness in combination with self-compassion, we recognize that we are all human. We will learn to ponder the fact that we all suffer as human beings. Cultivating self-compassion is linked to psychological well-being.
To practice self-compassion, imagine sitting with a good friend who is suffering and think about how we might extend a gesture of compassion. What would our body language be like? How might we listen? What sensations would we feel in our hearts?
Now picture that person extending compassion towards us. What might that person say to us or do? What words would we find comforting or soothing?
Chances are, another person would not be telling us to “get over it”, or that “we shouldn’t feel this way”. They might say, “that sounds really difficult. I’m here for you” or perhaps they might simply give us a hug, or pat us.
When we learn to sit mindfully with our own emotions, and bring compassion to whatever we are experiencing, it’s as if we have become that caring friend, sitting with ourselves. Learning to be there for ourselves, through the positive moments as well as the painful ones, can be tremendously healing.
While embracing our dark emotions takes courage and practice, using this practice allows us to open a gift on the other side. Each time we practice being with our difficult emotions, we grow better coping skills. We learn to trust in our capacity to handle our experiences, develop resilience for moving through life’s challenges, and find ways to pursue what truly matters. Each of us has the power to face the difficult and uncomfortable.
Goals of difficult and uncomfortable emotions:
- Acknowledging and identifying my feelings
- Observe and accept the reality of my feelings and thoughts.
- Allow my feelings to exist and not puush my them away or down
- I will not pull my feeling toward me by trying to control them
- I am accepting these feelings exist because of a trigger I felt
- I will allow my feeling to exist until they dissipate
- I am replacing the pain with healing
- I will comfort and soothe myself
Radical acceptance is the ability to completely accept our feelings and thoughts about something uncomfortable and difficult. Below are steps that go more in depth to what radical acceptance means.
What is radical acceptance?
- Radical means all the way, complete and total.
- It is accepting what is in your mind, heart, and body.
- It is when you stop fighting reality, stop feeling angry, bitter, resentful, or victimized because the reality is not the way you want it.
What has to be accepted?
- Reality is as it is, meaning the facts are the facts whether we like them or not.
- We cannot control reality, we cannot control facts, so we have to accept that they are what they are.
- Everything has a cause, even things that are difficult and uncomfortable.
- Life is worth living even if it’s not always pleasant or fun.
- Repressing or trying to control reality doesn’t change it.
- We cannot change or control reality, so we have to accept it as it is.
- Pain cannot be avoided.
- Rejecting reality turns pain into suffering.
- Refusing to accept reality keeps us stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger, sadness, shame, resentment, and victimization.
- Acceptance may lead to emotional discomfort and difficulty, but it is followed by a deep calm and peace.
- The path out of difficult feelings is being uncomfortable.
- By refusing to be uncomfortable, we suppress the difficult emotions that lead to our misery
What Radical Acceptance is NOT!
● It is not trying to seek approval
● It is not seeking compassion
● It is not seeking love
● It is not remaining passive
● It is not remaining the same, being stuck
● It is not repression or denial
Factors that may interfere with acceptance:
- We don’t want to feel the difficult feelings or be uncomfortable, but we need to accept.
- We believe that if we accept our difficult feelings that we’re approving of the trigger, that nothing will change, but the truth is that we’re healing, growing, and moving forward.
- Difficult emotions are uncomfortable, such as sadness, anger, range, shame, or guilt.
- Accepting our emotions about the entire situation will help you heal and move forward.
- The weight that is released is incredible when we accept our feelings instead of trying to control or fight them.
How to Practice:
Learning to feel and accept our difficult emotions by being uncomfortable is incredibly releasing.
What are you really upset over?
- Write down why you believe you are feeling down.
- Comfort and soothe yourself while feeling down.
What are the thoughts running through your mind?
- Write down your thoughts surrounding the issue.
- You may even talk outloud to yourself about your thoughts in processing them, or journal about them.
- Do not judge yourself for your thoughts.
What emotion(s) is behind those thoughts?
- Write down what you are trying to identify the emotions that are entangled with the thoughts and the root of feeling down.
- Acknowledge your feeling(s).
- Observe your feelings.
- Allow your feelings to exist in their own space as not good or bad.
- Do not judge yourself for your feelings.
What are you pushing away and/or trying to control?
- Write down what you think you are pushing away and trying to control.
- Sit with your thoughts as you process your feelings and desire to control or push them away.
Why do you think you are trying to control or push those thoughts and feelings away?
- Write down why.
- Sit with your ideas of why you think you are trying to control/push away your feelings and thoughts.
- Observe that you are trying to control or suppress your thoughts because you don’t want to be uncomfortable by feeling the difficult feelings.
- Remind yourself that you are choosing to hold on to the feeling by trying to control or suppress your discomfort.
- Remind yourself that by allowing the feeling to come to the surface, it will eventually leave because you’re no longer trying to hold on to or control it.
- Allow yourself to feel the emotion rising to the surface in your body, feel your body getting lighter as the emotion rises, and feel your body release and relieved as the emotion leaves your body.
Accepting things we want to control is a choice. The choice to accept it does not mean that we will instantly feel better or different, but it is a step toward healing.
- I want to observe that I am not accepting by exploring whether I feel anger, bitterness, irritation, or victimizing by thinking, “why me?” “why do things always happen to me?” “this isn’t fair!”
- I will make a commitment to accept reality as it is.
- I am going to continue to practice acceptance until I feel a change within myself toward accepting what makes me uncomfortable.
- I will develop a plan for catching myself in the future when I resist accepting something.
Allowing our bodies to cope with being uncomfortable
Our bodies communicate with our brains? Our body and mind are connected, so our body’s actions send signals to our brains. The following is a productive coping skill to help our bodies cope with uncomfortable feelings.
Relax your face from the top of your head to your chin and jaw
- Let go of each facial muscle including your forehead, brows, eyes, cheeks, mouth, and tongue.
- If you have difficulty relaxing these muscles, try tensing them first then relaxing them. A tense smile may tell your brain that you’re hiding feelings and wearing a mask.
Let both corners of your lips turn slightly upward.
- It’s not necessary for others to see this.
- A half smile is slightly upturned lips with a relaxed face.
- Remember that your facial expressions communicate to your brain and connect to your body.
- Try to adopt a serene facial expression.
- Drop your arms from your shoulders and keep them straight or bent slightly at the elbows.
- With your hands unclenched, turn your hands outward with thumbs out to your sides, palms up, fingers relaxed.
- Place your hands on your lap or thighs.
- With hands unclenched, turn hands outward, palms up and fingers relaxed.
- Arms by your sides, hands unclenched, palms up, fingers relaxed.
Deep Breathing: Repeat as many times as needed to feel calm
- Inhale for 4 seconds allowing your abdomen to expand
- Exhale for 4 seconds allowing your abdomen to decrease
- Inhale for 4 seconds allowing your abdomen to expand
- Exhale for 4 seconds allowing your abdomen to decrease
Inner Child Healing
The majority of us did not grow up in functional homes with parents who knew how to give us the love and nurturing that we needed. When we don’t get what we need as children, especially during the first five years, we often grow up with struggling how to feel loved, valued, worthy, and a many other things. I’m not blaming our parents, many of them grew up with their own issues and just didn’t know that they needed healing themselves. (The accompanying documents are at the end of the post.)
Our Inner Child
Healing our inner child is imperative to healthy adult functioning as the majority of us have a wounded little child inside that is longing to be accepted, loved, and respected. There is another component to inner child healing and that is the societal issues that exist. We often don’t know how to comfort and soothe ourselves as adults or that we even should be comforting and soothing ourselves. We often try to fill the deficiency of those needs by external fulfillment, such as drinking, unhealthy relationships, drugs, meaningless sex, shopping, or other unhealthy behaviors. We will never find externally what we need to heal internally.
Think about our culture, we give babies things to quiet them, such as pacifiers, blankets, and stuffed animals, but at a certain age, we take them away and don’t give our children anything to replace those things that brought them comfort and soothing. Then, we get upset when our children no longer have a means to self-soothe or comfort when their feelings are intense.
Self Comforting and Self Soothing
There’s so much more that goes into this, but I’d have to write a novel to cover everything, so I’ll cover this today. When our children get upset and have very big feelings, we punish them! What?! Yes, think about it. When you were a child and you were upset about something, were you ever told to “stop crying or you’d get a spanking,” etc? Sadly, too many of us can answer yes to this question. It is our parent’s fault because they didn’t know better ways to parent, but at the same time, a lot of people don’t know how to find the resources to learn better ways. So, here we are having to heal that inner child inside of us.
I am attaching a short workbook that I often use with my clients to facilitate the inner child healing process. When working with clients to address inner child wounds, I start with the Genogram. I often describe it as a relational family tree. It is a family tree that highlights relationship patterns, such as marriage, divorce, mental health issues, relational issues, etc. This gives us a literal visual of our family of origin and the relationship patterns that often repeat themselves throughout generations if we don’t heal ourselves.
When working through the genogram, I also write down any generational family trauma, such as race because many races experienced atrocities. This is relevant because of generational trauma, which I will cover in another post. I also write down individual traumatic events that each individual experienced. That is relevant as it affects the way the person functions in their life and relationships.
The Trauma Timeline
After the client and I create their genogram, we then work on a timeline of the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. We often need to heal and nurture the inner child in regard to each traumatic event they have experienced. This gives us almost a step-by-step guide of where we need to start.
Healing Our Inner Child
Finally, we start working through the Inner Child Healing Workbook, which allows us to heal that wounded child inside of us. We get to give them the love and acceptance they did not receive as a child. We get to soothe them, comfort them, and let them know they are safe and they will never be in danger again. That hurting child inside us will always be protected.
Is this an easy process? Absolutely not! The process of healing our inner child can dredge up some painful experiences we may not remember in our subconscious. The process may get worse before it gets better, but the outcome will be worth every moment of the difficult process. We come out of the experience as more mentally healthy and functional individuals. It is so worth it!
The Shadow Self
An area of counseling I like to work in is called Shadow Work Theory.
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”
— Carl Jung, Aion (1951)
I have recently been working on my own shadow self. I have realized that there are very dark parts inside of me that are reservoirs of malignant pain from childhood trauma. I have been embarrassed to admit to myself that this darkness is there because I thought if I accepted its existence that it would mean I am like my family of origin. What I realize is my family of origin is the reason that darkness exists. I recognized that I have to give this dark pain a place to be free. I started finding ways to express these very deep, painful, dark feelings. It has been the most amazing experience! I feel lighter and freer than I have in – maybe ever. I feel empowered that I do have the capacity to allow all of the deep pockets of myself to heal from the emotional pain I’ve experienced in my life.
For more information on the shadow self and shadow work, check out this article. If you have any questions about shadow work, please feel free to email the LifeWise Team at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am often asked to recommend books for clients. Here is a list of books that I use in my practice and find very helpful to use with clients.
- It Didn’t Start With You
- When the Body Keeps the Score
- The Complex PTSD Workbook
- Codependent No More
- Codependent No More Workbook
- Boundaries (Religious based)
- Boundaries Workbook (Religious based)
- Intimate Encounters (Religious based)
- Positive Discipline
- Healthy Religion
- When He’s Married to Mom
- Your Erroneous Zones
- Books about narcissistic parents and ex’s