Months 3 and 4
The third book the budding book club read was too long to
delve into in just on month. We read The 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to
Chaos by Jordan Peterson. Before this choice was made, we didn’t know that
there has been some controversy around this author. Some said he is sexist, but
I honestly didn’t investigate the concerns and just wanted to listen (in my
case) with an open mind. Dr. Peterson is a professor of Psychology in Canada
(no I am not going to give you his resume), and formerly of Harvard. He is
originally from some small town or city in Canada where it gets really cold and
miserable for more than half the year.
Anyway, he came up with a list of 12 Rules that people
should live by and filled in the chapters with anecdotes and examples from his
life, his friends’ lives, examples from contributors to his list that he
elicited from an online forum. He made some pretty convincing arguments and
showed himself to be a bit of an overachieving philosopher: someone who could
really be interesting at dinner parties, but also someone who made you ready to
go home as soon as dessert was finished. At least for me, someone who gets over
stimulated easily in social situations. Your brain will get full quickly. This
is why it took my group two months to digest it all. If being able to digest
all of it was even possible.
The rules have interesting titles such as: Stand up straight
with your shoulders back; Do not let your children do anything that makes you
dislike them; Tell the truth or at least don't lie; Be precise in your speech. Certainly
good advice and the stories add a lot of richness that illustrate why these
concepts are important to living a good life. It was difficult arguing with
many of these although I have heard some criticisms about his views on gender.
Having been someone who needed a lot more caretaking after having children than
I got, I agreed. When you are the one having children, it is up to your partner
to step up and fill in where you are unable – though temporarily – so you do
not also have to take care of your partner who feels set aside upon the arrival
of a baby. It just made sense to me and I might feel differently had I adopted
a baby and wasn’t in the vulnerable post partum state of mind and body many
Many concepts were complex and I know of several moments
where I thought Dr. Peterson’s concepts intersected with Brene Brown’s and I
thought, “a whole other book could be written at this point,” but more
information kept coming to me and the thought came and left. I may go back to
it, and see if I still think so after more reading. There is also a more in
depth discussion of The Book of Genesis than I ever had in college that was a
completely different take on the story of creation. Mind blown. Being allowed a
glimpse into the way someone thinks who is a thinker, researcher, lecturer, for
a living is fascinating for me, an observer of people on a close up basis. He
does, however, read his own audio book, and let’s just say that not everyone
has a good voice for dictating. He has a bit of an accent, being Canadian, and
can sound like a big old nerd. However, knowing it is his voice lending itself
to his ideas gives it a flow I have found hired voice actors don’t always
provide when reading more technical material.
In short, following, integrating and living these rules will
help humans live a less chaotic life. The book club continues to work on being
people who stand tall, pet cats, being good listeners, letting kids take
reasonable risks to become independent.
General Rating - A
On April 10, 2018, the Personal Development/Self Improvement
book club met to discuss our second pick – The
Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. I did have some
reservations about the title, knowing that the women (so far, only women) were
going to have to say the F-word repeatedly… it turned out to be just fine. During
my local advertising of the meeting, there was more “buzz” in our neighborhood
social media. People would chime in that they felt they needed this idea in
their lives, and others who had read the book were enthusiastic about the
choice. In my role of facilitator, I would read the book in advance before I
proposed it to the group, and I was surprised about this one. We (or I, I
should say) originally thought we would talk about Braving the Wilderness
exclusively, but after two meetings, we got bored. We were hungrier than that,
Mark Manson was a blogger, freelancer, “influencer” if you
will, online. He spent a lot of time in his youth traveling, womanizing, and
appearing to do very little, if you ask me. Yet by the end of his adventures,
he was able to tie in all of his experiences into a simple philosophy of not
letting everything drive you insane with worry (The “Feedback Loop from Hell.”
Sounds about right). People use the expression “I have no more f*cks to give,”
ad nauseum, but do they understand what it is to truly let go of all of the
petty worries that come our way? We want to worry about important things, that
we have some control over, that have meaning. It’s not a book that tells us to
freeload and do nothing all day, as some might imagine from the title. It’s
deeper than that. For one thing, it helped me not judge a title quite so quickly.
We all have great lessons from our growing up, and adult experiences. He was a
kid who seemed to be on the road to self-destruction at one point. It’s easy to
write off someone young who looks like they don’t care, yet most of the kids we
think of – and we all know someone – are struggling, and haven’t had the
support they needed, and are responding to stress.
What was nice, is that after reading Braving, then this book, there were some parallels to take note of,
such as needing connection in difficult times, and we were also able to talk
about ways we used some of the new ideas and skills in our lives. The women began
to share more personal information, and were given and able to give support. We
could point out the ways in which we were letting petty worries get in our way,
and cheer the times we were not. Also similar to Braving, is the idea of standing out – and being who you are, not
the way society, peers or family want you to be. We have to make choices about what is important to us that
align with our personal value system.
These days are tough and stressful, and if we all expend our
energy on things that aren’t important while ignoring things we can do
something about, we’ll all just implode. And if you don’t have control or the
ability to save the world, find the thing you can do about it – even something
that seems very small. We can pare down the BS and building up the value,
Rating given by Book Club - A
Last year, I started a book club. Yes, I know, very un-interesting
of me. However, I had been inspired to start this club due to Brene Brown’s
book “Braving the Wilderness” that I read about a month before the first
meeting was held. The idea was also a way for me to try to meet new friends,
since I work an an independent practitioner with no day to day coworkers. The
book club was dubbed The Personal Development Book Club in my community and has
had a nice core group of women for a little over a year now. Braving the
Wilderness poses the challenge to people to truly be themselves, hold on to
their beliefs, even if they are not in the majority opinion in the crowd they
happen to find themselves in. This can mean finding yourself in a hostile environment,
or finding yourself left completely alone and ostracized from your community
based on your expressed beliefs. The fear of this happening also keeps the
status quo nice and strong, which in turn keeps many people quiet and complacent
instead of speaking up.
I had recently found myself holding different beliefs from
those around me – I am an East Coast Liberal (woot woot) who grew up in a pretty
diverse neighborhood and City (New York) with little affluence or buffering
from the harsh reality of poverty and crime. My friends were White, Jewish,
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Black, Dominican and Puerto Rican, Cuban, you name it. I have seen how social programs, multi
cultural public schools and curriculums, scholarships, gun buy-back programs
and access to cultural experiences can bring a child out of the cycle of
poverty and make a dream a reality. However, when I moved to Colorado, I found
a much less diverse population, less diversity in political opinions and a more
traditionally “conservative” viewpoint. I stood out when I spoke up.
I am perfectly comfortable with this, I am diplomatic to be
sure, but I don’t back down if someone gets offended and tells me I’m wrong. I
also don’t go looking for a fight; I simply “speak truth to bullshit,” as Brene
puts it. If you think immigrants are crossing the border to come to live in
your house, I will ask how many times this has happened to you or your loved
ones. I already know the answer.
What I wanted to do with my book club, is to help others
sort through the moments in life they have felt on their own and empower people
to embrace their role and comfort in The Wilderness. I knew that in order to accomplish
this, we all needed support from one another and some analysis of those defining
moments to try to change. A person can read all the self help books in the world
and never be a different person. They could quote all the authors they wanted and
never be a different person. Having others to listen to you, speak truth to
your bullshit, give you honest feedback and a plan for the next opportunity, is
priceless. In the group, I am the only therapist, but it is not group therapy.
A therapist can also do these things in a mental health setting. People willing
and able to try make the difference.
In short, I highly recommend this book. It is well written
and research based. Brene Brown doesn’t just throw out a word like “belonging”
or even “love” without creating a questionnaire, holding a focus group, coding
and analyzing data and then presenting a formal definition. As far as self help
books go, that is also priceless. Many books also use real data to support
their assertions, but not all. Every month we post the date and book to the
neighborhood and hope for a few new faces. The book club read a different book
and got together to discuss the concepts and how they can be applied to life. I
will usually print out some questions I find online, sometimes from the authors
themselves and sometimes from other book club sites. And as book clubs go,
there is plenty of talk about our lives, eating and sipping wine, and forming
After working with a particular child for a short while I found myself re-creating the same exercises in session that I've done with many kids in the past. I thought, I should just make this child a book that we put all these worksheets in. But then something better popped into my head: the work we were doing could help a lot of kids.
Below I pasted in the introduction to my book, and I cite The Kempe Center for much of the framework. I don't understand why this content has not become standardized to all mental health training. It can be used in so many situation with so many clients. It was designed to treat sexually abusive youth, initially. But it is truly universal. It should be viral. Teachers should know these skills as well. So please consider using this with your client caseload - each child should have a book of their own to document their progress and ability to self-regulate and plan for their own safety. You can find it on Amazon.com and search "Preventing and Treating Abusive Behaviors: A Workbook for Children and Teens.
This workbook is a mixture of various exercises and treatment concepts that I use in my work with children and adolescents in therapy. It is based on the principles of Perpetration Prevention developed by the Kempe Center, in Denver, Colorado. I was trained by Gail Ryan, MA to teach others how to address sexual behaviors in children and teens including problem behaviors and abusive behaviors. Over time it became clear that these concepts can be applied to a number of situations where children’s behaviors become abusive. The concept is simplified as “Abuse is Abuse” meaning if someone is doing harm to another person, an animal, to property, or themselves, it is still abusive behavior and needs to stop. We do this by teaching children the goals of Communication, Empathy and Accountability. We also do not want to diminish the needs of the child engaging in problem behaviors. Therefore, we use many of the exercises to explore identity, assets versus risks, what their high-risk cycle looks like leading up to their abusive behaviors. Children still need to learn pro-social behavior and make friends in typical environments despite having experienced or exposed to violence, trauma, and loss. The table on the following page outlines the types of abuse we wish to stop and ultimately prevent.
A cautionary note to parents: This book is ideally used within a therapeutic relationship. If your child is engaging in problematic behaviors, especially sexually abusive behaviors, please seek professional help. This book can be used in conjunction with a multi-disciplinary treatment team for the management of sexually abusive behaviors. A professional will have the background to utilize these concepts to their fullest benefit.
The High-Risk Cycle exercise introduces the concept of a Trigger – something seen more and more often in the media. However, it is more than a place, or subject in our case. We want children and teens to identify the emotion associated with the triggering topic or event. Some examples are:
Not feeling liked, valued; feeling policed; feeling left out or rejected; feeling unsafe; afraid; feeling unheard or misunderstood; being mistaken, falsely accused or assumed guilty, feeling jealous, feeling uncomfortable with compliments or comments on appearance.
When a parent or caregiver is aware of situations that are potential triggers for their child, they can mitigate the child’s risks by observing and addressing the issues directly and as quickly as possible. Remember that if your child had a trauma, it is not a predictor of future behavior. Having plenty of normal activities and interactions can balance out their development. That is what the scale activity is meant to achieve. Children and Teens often feel that they will not be able to change their destinies, even if they have experienced consequences of their behaviors. It is critical that they believe in themselves.
In the exercise about their body, children and teens can learn to identify where they hold onto their anxieties and other emotions. Some hold tension in their throats, or trapezoid muscles, others may get stomach aches. This tuning in helps children and teens connect back to their physical selves and create the mind-body connection that is important in mindfulness practice, and not relying on dissociation to cope with difficult feelings.
Of course, there is more that can help your child engage in self-discovery and healing.
I hope you find this workbook useful for your kids and your clients! I believe it has been needed for a long while!
I checked in with a friend of mine recently and she said she was "okay but still searching for the meaning of life." I responded, "that's a given, the search never ends, does it?" She responded in a way that suggested I knew what the meaning of life is and I needed to share my secrets. So why just tell her when I could tell a whole bunch of people at once?
I used to think the meaning of life was a search for love - true love. I was young then. So... very... young. But as I grew older and I had more and more life experience under my belt, that goal changed. The goal kept changing. Why? Because I met the goals. I was growing, learning, evolving, gathering, every day of my life. What good would it be to hold onto something that was years behind me as a goal? Like goals, meaning is what we make of our experiences, and what we crave above all else. And when we find it - will it be enough? Will it fill that empty space inside us that we can't define with any words?
That depends. You'll know when you get there, right? It's different for everyone, because we're not robots. Some want money and derive meaning by making money. Go ahead and roll your eyes, but that means it's not Your Meaning. Some want to see their kids be successful and happy, some find meaning in music or art, some find meaning in friendships and relationships. There is no Meaning Of Life, in other words, for everyone. There is no old man on the mountaintop who holds the secrets and riddles you to get the answer out of him. I also think that once you stop searching, and settle into a life where days melt together and you hardly feel the will to live, you need to get back to your search. Actively.
You may need help getting up and getting motivated to do this. I have been facilitating a book club this year for Self-Help books. I never read very many before but I find them, well, helpful. None of them promise a 3 step program to making all your dreams come true. They offer inspiration, advice, philosophies, research findings and stories of experience. Starting there on your new journey could be right for you. If you think you are too deep into your funk, finding a therapist might be the right first step. I know, you don't want to do that. It's embarrassing, and they make you talk about your past and your pain. It's hard work to look at all the things that have been holding you down. It's also very freeing. You might find that you can finally move forward. And when you can move who knows where you will go?
My friend and I are both going on 50 years old, in the next couple of years (she's older than me nah nah nah nah nah). So neither of us can expect to find meaning in the same things we might have found meaning in when we were going on 20. When we were 20 and in college together, we were just trying to get our papers written, meet boys, and not gain the Freshman Fifteen. I tell my kids that college sounds stressful, but it's the best time of your life; in the best of circumstances of course. No real bills to pay, away from home, but still tethered safely, time to learn and time to play. There will be no other time like that. So meanings change. We get jobs and have families to support and have to fix the car when it breaks down and take care of our older parents.
It's not about being famous or doing something "amazing" with our lives. Being ordinary or average isn't the worst outcome we can have. We watch our friends have kids, we watch our kids grow up, we go on vacation either to a resort or in a tent. We can make meaning out of all of that ordinariness if we want, little by little every day. With some bigger pushes in between. So what do you want? What do you value? Who are the people you need around you? Is there anything holding you down that you are avoiding dealing with? Be introspective, question your world, notice things, learn new things, talk to people you might not otherwise talk to, get out of your safe box. The meaning will be there.
It's spring here in Colorado and I have been very busy with so much - just not blogging. So... I had better write something, right? Well, I am seeing and getting a lot of questions about something that therapists used to refer to as "Axis II issues," when we had that sneaking suspicion that there was more going on than simple depression or anxiety. Axis II refers to a disability, such as a cognitive delay that compounds mental health issues. Axis I is the primary mental health issue, Axis III is the medical concerns or diagnoses, Axis for is the level of stress, and Axis V is the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score. Zero means your dead, 100 is frankly impossible. Most people who come in for therapy fall between a 45 (outpatient level) and 65.
Many years ago I took a training with Dr. Greg Lester who lives here in Colorado. I saw him teach in New York and I have since been to a keynote speech he did at a local conference. The title of this post is from the manual I still keep from that first training. Someone with a personality disorder can make us feel like we are crazy. The DSM IV and prior (the big psychiatric "bible") used to break down personality disorders by type and title - the immature types, the anxious types etc. The DSM V, the most current publication, just lumps them into Personality Disorder. Similar to how the authors renamed autism and put it all under one title - Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
The aforementioned training was probably the most useful one I had ever attended. It broke down all of the types and behaviors, gave clear examples -mostly using TV and film characterizations, and how to treat and manage these clients, and perhaps even "cure" them of these dysfunctional patterns of interacting with others.
People who have personality disorders create drama. Drama is used a lot when we find ourselves talking about disagreements we might have with people, or sometimes even just referring to someone who has strong feelings. Clinically, drama is the creation of issues that are not initially present. The person might take on a role of victim and seek help. However when the help is not given or not viewed at helpful, they switch roles. They then take on the role of persecutor or rescuer. This switch of drama creation is the hallmark of every type of personality disorder. People who come into treatment who say they do not respond to any treatments or "always" have felt a certain way most likely also have a personality disorder. The clinician often needs to draw upon their own feelings for information - does this client make you anxious? Or angry? Do they attempt to bait you into discussions, redirect you, confuse you? These are big indicators that it is NOT you. If you are a family member, your feelings will also guide you. It's helpful to recognize these behaviors and most importantly, NOT engage with them.
This last part is extremely difficult to do. We as social creatures are hard wired to engage in debates, justify ourselves, become defensive, and want to make things work out for the best. When you are being led around through another's drama, you will feel crazy.
When someone is smart, it is harder to manage this, as a therapist. Often the treatment looks one sided. The client simply talks and talks while the therapist does not engage. This will be a very different experience for the client as most friends, relatives, and anyone else who comes into contact with them will naturally engage, defend, justify, argue. They will suddenly find themselves in a new territory that forces them to use other skills. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a good modality for this - the clients learn about mindfulness, what boundaries are, general social skills. Once the client becomes genuine, an engagement can happen. This is the real person after all, undefended and wanting to make a real connection despite how frightening that can be. When clients are lower functioning and very disabled by trauma and a resulting personality disorder, setting limits, learning skills of daily living and problem solving are essential.
There isn't a complete explanation of how these behaviors and traits come to be. Sometimes there is abuse, and the personality developed as a way to survive childhood. Sometimes it is a general lack of being held accountable for many years, the narcissist believes he or she is special, perhaps because they were always told this and that they could do no wrong.
Some examples of TV and film characters with Personality Disorders (just for fun) and might help you, if you are a clinician, learning to be one or just curious:
Sheldon - The Big Bang Theory (schizoid)
Hugh Grant - About a Boy (schizoid)
Nicole Kidman - To Die For (narcissistic)
Pheobe - Friends (schizzotypal)
The entire cast of Amelie (paranoid, avoidant, histrionic, borderline etc)
Mary Tyler Moore - Ordinary People (obsessive compulsive)
Michael B. Jordan - Black Panther (anti-social)
Mel Gibson - Conspiracy Theory (paranoid)
I've been asking a lot of clients and friends about their new year's resolutions. I'm not looking for the usual "I want to lose 20lbs" answers. I don't want typical. I want real and doable goals to accomplish.
Let's face it, 2017 was hard, harder than anyone expected after the Hell that was 2016. I know a lot of you are not expecting 2018 to be a banner year for a happy, stress free string of successes. Most of us are just hoping to still draw oxygen a year from now with a roof over our heads. I know, a bleak outlook, but I am realistic if anything.
There are a lot of realms in life that could use a little push. Including coming up with ideas for "resolutions". So I am going to offer a list of potential areas in your life and mine where some improvement could take place:
a. Buy only necessary items. Food, shampoo, cat litter and the like. Use only the money you have in your account to reduce credit card spending. If you have significant debt, pay back as much as you can afford each month. Review any automatic charges - memberships you don't use, etc.
b. If you must buy something that is usually more expensive, check your local neighborhood sale pages. Someone may be selling what you need. The money goes right into the pocket of someone who will put that money to better use.
c. Keep a daily expense tracker - either on paper or in your phone/tablet. This will help you stick with your budget and know where your money is actually going.
a. Meet at least one friend per month for coffee, lunch, jog, or just a walk at lunchtime. Connect in real time, face to face. No phones allowed.
b. If you find that your social life is taking over every other responsibility, take one day each weekend to get all of your chores done. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping. Then you can go out and be the little butterfly you are stress free.
a. Exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes. This really shouldn't be an optional item. It is one of the most important things you can do for your health, along with NOT SMOKING.
b. Eat clean - no junk food, fast food, soda, sugary drinks. Eat more fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and fish, beans, whole grains. Drink a lot of water. You'll feel better almost instantly. Get support from friends and peers who are also trying to do this. Pack lunch to work each morning so you aren't tempted to go to The Golden Arches. This doesn't have to be about pounds lost, if you want to quantify improved health, get your blood work done now, and again in a year.
c. Cut back on alcohol. If you think you need to do this, then you probably do. Alcohol might be tasty and fun but it goes straight to the gut with empty calories, and probably some other unhealthy choices along the way.
a. Depending on your profession, you may have to do some learning to maintain your job, or certifications. Learning doesn't have to be a chore, if you have some flexibility, then find a class or training that makes you excited to go.
b. Read a book, article, blog post, watch a video, a month on the topic of your profession. Keep a list of what you have read and what you learned.
c. If you have thought about a career change, now is a good time to look into your choices. What will it cost? Is it right for you? How long will it take to make the switch?
5. Mental Health
a. I wouldn't be a good therapist if I didn't bring this up. Be honest with yourself. Has your anxiety, depression, drinking, anger, gotten in the way of enjoying the things you usually enjoy? Your relationships? Your environment? Your job? It's a good time to find a friendly neighborhood therapist and work through some of the barriers that are keeping you from living life to the fullest. You deserve to.
b. Like many people this year, there was a lot of anger. Make a resolution to get politically involved, join a campaign for a candidate you support, write to your current elected officials. Run for office if you have what it takes. Confront the things that are making you angry but have open dialogues with people to find solutions.
6. Dreams... My favorite.
a. Keep a list of things you have always wanted to do. Ride a motorcycle, skydive, scuba dive, travel to Japan, adopt a pet. What would it take for you to accomplish one of these this year? With money saved (above) could you afford one of these things? Could you start planning to do one or more of these things in the next 5 years? Just because it's a dream doesn't mean it can't be done ever. Just maybe not right this instant. That's what a goal is - something to reach for, over time, and many steps to take. Make a vision board to keep you focused on it - cut out magazine photos of Ireland and put $5 in a jar every pay day. You can get there.
Along with looking forward, take stock of what is behind you in the last 12 months. You probably accomplished more than you realize, even if your old list isn't all checked off. I personally had a few ideas fall flat, but there were other good surprises that made up for it. It's important not to overlook those, after all. What is the saying about the best laid plans are paved with good intentions? That's all you really need: the will to move ahead.
Jul 8, 2017
The theme lately with several of my clients seems to be communication. I find myself saying similar things over and over to many of them, including with my online clients. Naturally that means a blog post is warranted!
Communication is the ability to send and receive messages clearly. The message’s intent is known to both/all parties involved. Messages can be verbal, non-verbal/physical and/or written. We communicate with dots and dashes, sign language, hundreds of spoken and written languages, flags, smoke, electronic or in person. Somehow, we still misunderstand one another! How is that possible?
Wife: Do you think you could take out the trash for me?
Trash does not go out. Why?
Wife asks if Husband CAN take out the trash. Yes, he can. Will he? When? It’s not clear.
Mother: (to loud child) the baby is sleeping.
Child continues to be loud.
Mother: What did I tell you? Sssh.
Child: You said, “the baby is sleeping.”
Mother did not tell the child to be quiet, only that the baby was sleeping. Child did not receive the correct message.
These are very basic examples of how a communication can be misunderstood. What we need are better skills at getting our needs and wants recognized and met. When we are born, the only way to communicate is by crying and other cues. Parents must learn to read these cues to meet the baby’s needs. Adults who are in the child’s life are usually the ones who set the example of what communication looks like in a family, and that child will go out into the world using that style: good, bad or downright ugly.
This is the message receiver’s role. It’s the parent who figures out a certain cry means hunger in the infant. It’s the spouse who is hearing his/her partner tell them about their day. You don’t talk during this part, other than some “uh-huhs” and “oh yeah, then whats”. Your mind may be racing through what happened in your day, or thinking about what to cook for dinner. You’ll miss a lot if you do that. Stephen Covey said that we don’t “listen to understand, we listen to respond,” and that causes a lot of breakdowns. If someone comes to you and says they need to talk, you stop what you are doing, and you look at them and you wait. And you listen quietly.
If you don’t understand something, ask. “Hang on, didn’t you say…?” or “I’m not sure what you mean by…?” Let them clarify what they’re trying to tell you. Active listening is another skill that can sound goofy if not done sincerely. “Let me tell you what I heard, so I know I’m understanding this…” And you repeat back what they said. This gives the other person a chance to clear up any part of the message that is confusing or incorrect.
LISTENING TO TEENS and KIDS
This is a trickier thing to do. Your teen may need your help and the last thing you want to do is say you’ll listen and then interrupt or have a massive (angry, upset, sad, worried) response to what they told you. Use the skills above, if you can’t keep it together, take a break! Go to the bathroom, splash water on your face. How you react to them is going to make or break your relationship. They want their parents love, attention, acceptance more than anything in the world. I don’t care if you don’t believe me, they do.
You have something heavy on your mind. You really want to talk to someone about it. Maybe you want advice but you also think you know how to work out the problem. You need someone to bounce it off of. So you ask your (insert your person here). First, ask, “Hey I was wondering if I could talk to you about something important. Is now a good time?” If it is not a good time, set a time or let them finish up a task they were working on. This is now the setting and you have the floor.
Now a good listener will help you clarify what you’re trying to say, but usually it’s helpful to begin with an “I message.” This puts the speaker in the forefront, especially if this is a confrontation. The structure is: I feel (EMOTION) when you (BEHAVIOR) because (RESULT). “Honey, I feel frustrated when you don’t take out the trash because we keep missing the trash pick up.” Chances are, the receiver of this message has noticed trash piling up and starting to smell bad. There is a consequence that has already happened and they know they have some responsibility in this. Then the speaker has an opportunity: “help me figure out a solution for this.” They’ve just invited the listener to engage in problem solving. There is no blame being placed on the listener, there is no disrespect or hurt feelings.
There are good texts out there with a lot more advice on how to have difficult conversations, like Crucial Conversations. They are geared toward kids, teens and adults of typical and specialized needs and cultures. I want to stress how important it is to work on being clear, calm and respectful when communicating with others. Imagine how much kinder a world we could be living in if everyone made the effort to listen better and speak with clarity and respect? Pass this along and maybe – just maybe – this could be the start of something beautiful.
I’ve been avoiding writing recently, I admit, because
when I sit down to write something about mental health (that will speak to my
ideal client and bring them in for therapy), something happens in the world that
rocks me. It angers me. Muslim bans, Neo-Nazi’s and “free speech,” kneeling as
protest, useless and greedy government officials, election tampering, the growing
disparity between the rich and the poor, the attempt at healthcare repeal every
three months, hunger, disaster responding, violence, mass murder, assault
weapons. I could go on and on, and that is just in the United States. These things
are not subjects for typical mental health blogs. Writing on those topics,
anxiety, depression, parenting, feels pretty superficial these days because the
problems are so much bigger than the individual’s reaction to the above current
events. How can I help someone be less anxious or depressed aka feel safe and
happy in such a world?
So I am going to begin with what I hear a lot in
sessions. I hear a lot of what we are calling Privilege.
a special right, advantage, or immunity
granted or available only to a particular person or group of people: education
is a right, not a privilege
synonyms: advantage, benefit, prerogative,
entitlement, right, concession, freedom, liberty
grant a privilege or privileges to: English
inheritance law privileged the eldest son
I am speaking to the
concept of having an advantage. Being
white gives you an advantage, as does being a male. It does not mean you have
grown up with money. Obviously there are fewer and fewer people in that
category so let’s not try to argue that point right now. Money is of course a
concrete privilege, it doesn’t make you happy but it can solve a lot of
problems. When I was a girl at PS 75, I was in a mixed community of white,
Hispanic, African American, Jewish people. I was not wealthy, so when one of my
African American friends asked if my barrettes was “real” as in “real gold,” I
was confused. Why would I have real gold barrettes when I basically wore the
same two pairs of jeans every other day? When I think about that now, I realize
that they saw me as having an advantage, as having access to something that
they did not. Why? You guessed it, I am white. And yes, I am privileged. My
parents have advanced degrees, we had complicated books on the shelves, art on
the walls, I traveled to visit my grandparents over the summers. The list goes
Now it is clear that
while men have been feeling quite attacked on this subject as so many don’t
feel like they’ve been privileged at all. Many are poor, undereducated, unable
to make ends meet to support their families. Where they don’t realize they have
been privileged: They can go for a 6AM run without being stopped by police
because they’re “acting suspicious.” They aren’t racially profiled when they go
for a drive. They aren’t sexually assaulted and told they shouldn’t have been
jogging – in shorts – at 6AM. This list also goes on.
Laws have not been
enacted to keep white people out of home ownership, or moving into certain
neighborhoods or joining private clubs. Or drinking from a public water
fountain, or using a public bathroom. It is not so long ago that these things
were a reality in this country. We know where some of the most outspoken civil
rights leaders are today – if they are not already dead/murdered. But where are
the people who so passionately protested integration? They didn’t just
disappear into obscurity. They became police officers, lawyers, members of
government, the Attorney General. They used their privilege to undermine every
layer of society. Slavery has not ended, it only looks different now (an
entirely different subject but Google Industrial
Prison Complex if you want more information).
The concept of being “woke”
is about being educated about how all of these factors have led to the current
situation and working to stop it. Working
toward a real model of equality. However, it is hard to be Woke when every part
of this culture is trying to convince you that it’s all okay exactly the way it
is. They want white people to say, “it’s all too much, I can’t anymore…” and it
is your Privilege to say that, because for the most part, you can. You don’t
have to worry about being shot by police for reaching for your license and
registration. No one asks you where you are from or tells you to back to where you are from. You don’t have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime. You
feel safe. Putting yourself on the line is scary and has absolutely had
consequences for some, but you, white person, are what is going to make the difference
in the long run.
As a therapist, I am
going to challenge you on these issues. I will correct you when you repeat
myths of how immigrants are coming to the US and signing up for welfare.
Therapeutically, it’s not my place to do this, but I feel I have some
obligation to challenge you. If you’re not ready for this challenge, we aren’t
going to be a good match to work together. I’m okay with that.
I am occasionally sought out by friends, relatives and colleagues because of my experience in working with children in therapy, what normal development looks like vs a concern, child welfare issues, reporting child abuse. I am happy to help and enjoy following the stories that are brought to me to see how they resolved over time.
Someone I know well called to ask my opinion recently. She was concerned that her early teenaged son had been be-friended by an adult male. She knows this person but discovered that the two of them had been having an ongoing daily back and forth conversation via email. Only when the youth had been invited out to an event with him did he have to ask his mother for permission.
What she found out is that this person works at the youth's school, has held events for students outside of the school's purvue and had requested all of the student's personal email addresses. Her son also admitted to the daily messages and defended them, saying he was glad to have found a friend who is supportive and wanted to be trusted. My friend was surprised at this pushback but realized that the adult male was likely responsible. I gently said, "It sounds like he's being groomed," and I could hear the relief in her voice. No, you're not crazy.
When your child is being groomed, the parents are as well. The person wants to gain your trust, and often they are in a position of trust. When they begin to test that trust, you begin to question yourself - which explains the relief my friend felt. They will make you think you are crazy and a terrible person for ever thinking such things about them. In a nutshell there are stages of grooming, the following are the most agreed upon:
1. Targeting the victim. My friend's son was among many until it appeared he was responsive to the adult. He wants and enjoys attention and struggles with friendships.
2. Gaining the victim's trust. This adult most likely has written, you are growing up now, you can make decisions for yourself. You don't always have to ask or tell your parents everything.
3. Filling a need. I can take you places you can't go on your own, that your parents won't let you.
4. Isolating the victim. I'm your friend, they are not your friends. Only I can do xyz for you.
5. Sexualizing the relationship. It is not believed that this took place for my friend's son but that would be the next goal for the adult.
6. Maintaining control. Keeping the victim from disclosing, using threats and other coercion.
My friend was right to pay attention to her raised hackles. She is angry that a seed has been planted that had already worn away at her relationship with her son. She asked me for some "magic words" to say to her son since she was not feeling clear-headed enough to verbalize something to him that would be understood fully. So here is what I sent:
been trying to find the right words to explain to you why I am so worried about
you right now. It isn't anything that you've done but it may be because you
believe that the adults in your life are safe. I want that to
be true -but recently when it came to my attention that you had an ongoing
relationship with an adult it raised a red flag for me. There are
some adults who don't believe that they are crossing a boundary when they
befriend someone much younger than themselves. This
person is probably telling you that you were getting older now and that your
mom and dad are probably over protective and they don't trust you yet; but you have good instincts and good StreetSmarts and you don't need to tell
them everything. When someone tells you things like that there's a word for it-
it's not the same as manipulation. When an adult is making an effort to
prepare you for more to come in that relationship -it's called grooming. They
put themselves in your life as a person who is the only one who understands you
and at the same time they drive a wedge between you and the adults who really
care for you and will protect you. That way they will be the only person you
have to go to for help/ advice and that is when you will be most
are some adults who do not believe that a physical relationship with the child
is wrong. I pray to God that nothing of that nature has happened at this point.
But I am genuinely concerned that the objective of your friend is to do you
saying that- I know you're upset. I know you feel that you can protect
yourself. I'm here to tell you that you cannot possibly protect yourself. These
adults are extremely skilled at what they do. You need a safe adult to help
you. I am
going to need every written communication that you have had with him and I need
you to now block his email address so that he can no longer contact you. I need
your word that you will not disobey me on this. It
is for your safety and your protection and it is because I love you very much
and I would do anything to keep you from harm.
Most parents' first instinct is probably more raw - we want to lay down the law right off the bat. "You better not ever ever see that guy or write to that guy again," with a lot of cursing perhaps thrown in.
The thing is, it will harm the parental relationship. The teen will likely push back even harder. "He said you were going to do/say that!" and then you have more secrecy to be concerned about. It is best to approach it within the context of your close and loving relationship. Spend some time building on that with some quality time and attention. Follow up on the information, make a report to the police if there is more to the story, and then keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground.