With today being a Monday, my hope is that we can all find a way to work on our thoughts, behavior, and feelings to make this a positive day and week! Have a positive week!
I often make a social media post, on Mondays, in an attempt to start us off on a positive note for the week. I do this because Mondays are the start of the work week and a lot of us begin our week on Monday. I hope to encourage people to shift their thinking, from negative to positive, and set some positive intentions for a good week. But what does all this mean, really?
The roots of my psychotherapy training and beliefs are in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Simplified, this means our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. If we think something negatively, we will behave negatively, and we will experience negative emotions. If I am thinking, “I can’t do anything right or this week is going to suck,” I am going to feel down, frustrated, and negative. My behavior will reflect this. I may withdraw be short with others or act irritably.
The CBT theory says if we change one of these things: thoughts, behavior, or feelings will follow. If I work hard to tell myself, “I made a mistake this morning, but the rest of the day and week will be positive,” I will feel more positively, and my actions will be more positive with others and myself. Or, if I go to the gym or go for a long walk outside (behavior) this has the high potential to improve my mood and turn my thoughts to the positive.
There are even techniques to change your mood/feelings. I will share one DBT skill called Half Smile. The idea is to force a smile, even if it is just a half smile like the Mona Lisa. Doing this activates the start of a positive feedback loop of happiness. When we smile, we contract our smiling muscles, this causes a signal to fire back to the brain which stimulates our reward system and increases our level of endorphins (happy hormones). In other words, when our brain feels happy, we smile; when we smile, our brain feels happier. Using the Half Smile technique stimulates our happy hormones and will in turn lead to positive thoughts and a better mood.
When I talk about setting a positive intention for a good week, I am suggesting using positive affirmations, meditating on a positive week ahead, or simply telling yourself the week will be a good one. By doing this we can adjust ourselves from a negative mind set to a positive one.
With today being a Monday, my hope is that we can all find a way to work on our thoughts, behavior, and feelings to make this a positive day and week! Have a positive week!
Who do you trust? Who is closest to you? Who do you keep at an arm’s length? Do you have trust issues from being hurt in the past? Do you trust too easily?
The Circles of Trust exercise is one of my favorites. I like to look at this exercise for myself and I love to use it in my office with clients. You can do it at home too!
The Circles of Trust have three circles, an inner, middle, and outer. If you draw them on paper you can do the exercise. Here is what the circles will look like:
Begin by filling in the inner circle. The most inner circle is for the people you are closest to; the ones you know will always be there for you and the ones you can trust fully. Next, fill in your middle circle. This circle is for those you are close to but are a bit tentative about trusting fully. It would be normal to have a new friend, who you really like, in this circle. These are your close people but not your inner tribe people.
Next, fill in the outer circle with acquaintances. People in your life you like but don’t know well enough to trust. Finally, beyond this circle are the people in your life who you absolutely don’t trust and perhaps, don’t like (we all have those people in our lives).
Above is an example of a completed Circles of Trust exercise. This person has a healthy diagram. She has a few people in the inner circle and is happy with that. Other people may have more people in there. If there are one or less the person may need another person int here in case something happens with that one person who is ultimately trusted.
I have done this exercise with people who have absolutely no one to put in their inner circle. Usually these are individuals who have a childhood history of being hurt by those they were supposed to trust (parents, peers, etc.). These are the people who doubt others and have a hard time getting close and intimate with anyone because of their inability to trust others. In therapy, with these individuals, we work on finding some support people to trust. Living without anyone in your inner circle is lonely and unhealthy.
Some people may trust far too easily. These people may have difficulty with boundaries and let people into their inner circle too easily. A person who trusts too easily will end up trusting the wrong people, revealing personal, intimate secrets to someone who shouldn’t have been in their inner circle. When this happens trusting the wrong person may lead to betrayal later leaving the person questioning what happened and why they were feeling so hurt and betrayed. With people who trust too easily we work on developing and keeping healthy boundaries with others and learning who fits into which circle.
By having clients complete this exercise we can then interpret the circles and look for trust issues to work on or can even explain some of the interpersonal difficulties the person may be experiencing. Using exercises such as this one is informative and interesting. Try completing the Circles for yourself and let me know what you think.
Melissa Muller MA, LMHC
In your core do you believe you are worthless, can’t do anything right, or are unlovable? Are you worried someone may find out these things are true about you? Do you spend time finding ways to prove these beliefs are true?
We all have beliefs about ourselves that we developed in childhood. Some may be positive, and some may be negative depending on events that took place during our formative years. Negative core beliefs are negative thinking patterns that have roots in the past. A child who had a happy childhood, with few traumatic experiences, will see the themselves in a positive light. This person may have positive self esteem and positive core beliefs such as; “I am lovable” “I can be successful”. An individual who may have experienced verbal abuse or a lack of having needs met for one reason or another may have negative core beliefs such as; “Because my mother said awful things to me they must be true” or “There must be something wrong with me for my father to have treated me like that”, “ I never do anything right”.
When a child is young and not having his or her needs met or is being abused emotionally, physically, or sexually the child looks for reasons to explain this treatment. The child mind is not mature enough to understand the issue is with the adult. This child instead assigns the blame to himself. “I deserve to be treated this way because there is something wrong with me” or “I am unlovable and that is why Mommy treats me this way”.
If a child is bullied, abused, has learning disabilities, or experiences trauma the fault is usually attributed to himself. This is where negative core beliefs are developed. Carried into adulthood these self-beliefs remain buried deep and the individual looks for evidence to prove them true.
Another relationship just ended for Melanie. She can not seem to hold on to partners. They always leave her. Melanie attributes this to her being unlovable and having something wrong with her. “Things never work out for me,” she tells herself. The feelings of hurt and shame are so strong because they go back to the way Melanie was treated as a child and the resulting beliefs, she formed about herself. She experienced the loss of a father and a stepfather as a child.
Melanie goes through life believing she isn’t good enough and people will always leave her. This was the reason she came up with when she lost two Daddies. No one told her the real reasons. Due to these beliefs she acts as if these things are true perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy that people leave her and then they do.
Melanie does not consciously cause people to leave her. Her behavior presents as if she believes she is less than, unlovable, and not good enough. She tends to attract partners who are not healthy and end up treating her as if she is unlovable causing Melanie to have more evidence that her beliefs about herself are true.
Nick’s mother constantly told him he was doing everything wrong, that he was stupid, and he would never succeed. This began in elementary school and continued through high school. Nick is now married. Every time his wife criticizes him, or he makes a minor mistake at work he beats himself up inside. He tells himself, “You are stupid. You can’t do anything right.” Nick is constantly finding evidence that proves these beliefs about himself are true.
Look at this list of negative core beliefs and identify the ones you believe to be true about yourself.
Maintaining these negative core beliefs contributes to many psychological issues including; emotional distress, low self-esteem, relationship problems, depression, and anxiety.
As an adult there are ways to correct your negative core beliefs.
Relationships are hard work! I like to compare them to a garden with weeds. If you don’t take the time to pull the weeds the garden becomes overgrown with them and you won’t have a beautiful garden. Relationships are the same. They need to be tended to on a regular basis. If couples don’t take the time to care for the relationship it will not be a healthy one. I’ve learned this lesson in my own marriage!
Teaching couple’s some basic skills, watching them learn and utilize them is rewarding. Couples can improve their relationships with some minor tweaks and some relationship care. Gottman teaches a set of skills for improving our marriages and partnerships. I teach these skills and talk a lot about Gottman’s techniques and theory on lasting relationships with couples in my office.
Here is a handout on some of Gottman's ideas:
What areas do you and your partner need to work on?
Another concept Gottman talks about is the Four Horseman. These are four negative and unhealthy ways couples may communicate with each other. Gottman actually predicts if you use some of them the relationship won't last. Do you use any of these unhealthy communication styles in your relationship?
Gottman’s Four Horseman of the Apocalypse
The first step to change is recognizing the problem. Once you identify the dysfunctional patterns in your relationship you can work to change them and experience a more healthy and rewarding relationship!
If you want to read the book that explains these concepts more in-depth here it is!
It is difficult for all working mothers (and fathers) to find a balance between home and work. This includes me. While I was raising kids, I was first in school and then working full time. When I was in graduate school, I had young children. I was at the library, at school, or at home. The home balance was the minimal one. My son was in Kindergarten. One day he came home crying because I had forgotten it was Crazy Hat Day at school. He had been the only one without a hat because I was so focused on school that I had completely forgotten to help him with a hat. I was crushed. How could I have let something so important to him slip? I remember being in Supervision, at school, and telling my Supervisor this story while I cried. I was looking for some empathy. She looked at me and said, “I was always one of those people who was able to study, be on the phone, and breast feed at the same time”. No sympathy or empathy there. Was I the only one who struggled to find a balance as a woman and mother?
For years I worked seven days a week and was on call 2 hours a day. During this time, I also had a house full of kids. At the end of the day, after giving at work all day, I would come home and have noting left to give. All at home wanted something from me. My patience was thin, and I was always exhausted. I tried to get up early and have time to myself. I tried to exercise daily and to take care of myself. There were times I would go for a drive after work to decompress and switch gears from the day before returning home hoping this would give me energy. None of this seemed to help. I still arrived home and had no balance between home and work. Home suffered.
Now that I have an empty nest, I feel more balanced. This is sad. Did I need to have an empty nest to find the balance? I asked my kids if they had sensed this when they were at home. I was told I was a good Mom who worked a lot, but they understood and felt like it helped them to develop a healthy work ethic. I sure hope this is true.
In the present I take time every morning to go for a walk or run, to go to an exercise class, to be sure I have plenty of time for self-care so I can give both at work and to all the people in my personal life. THe above photo is one I took at sunrise, this week, on my morning self-care walk. I do feel good! I do feel balanced!
In my office I tell women who feel unbalanced to be sure to take time for self-care no matter how they fit it in. When they tell you on an airplane to put your oxygen mask on first and then assist your children what they mean is you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. This is very true. You will burn out and run out of steam if you are constantly giving to others and not to yourself.
Now that I have finally found the right balance, I encourage others to do the same or to look at ways they can make the balance more even. Positive vibes to you to be able to do so!
We turned to a local expert for the inside track on kids and technology.
Since 2000, Melissa Muller of Well Spring Counseling and Health has been working with children, adolescents, and families. So she’s been right in the middle of the ever-expanding world of technology and its new challenges. As our culture changes and technology becomes more and more a constant part of our lives, Melissa offered some advice in our August/September issue on fostering a healthy relationship between you, your kids, and their devices. Hoping to learn a little more? Here’s the rest of our interview.
St. Augustine Social: Do you have any age-related guidelines for when a child should have access to technology (whether that’s access to yours or buying them something of their own)?
Melissa Muller: There most definitely should be limits on children’s screen times. Technology has changed our world! It is unavoidable today that our children will use technology, but they do need to have some guidance in the tech habits they will develop. Kids need and expect structure and limits. This is an important area to be sure limits are set. There should be different limits for different ages.
Children birth to two years old do not need any technology. Screens at this age should be limited to talking to family on FaceTime or video. Developmentally, children at this age are working on social development and healthy attachments. When children of this age are not connected to technology, they have more time to play, explore the world around them, and develop healthy attachments to others. Instead of screen time read to them, do projects, or explore using all their senses.
Want to read the full Article?
Click on the link below:
I love this photo because it can represent all the resentments we carry as “rocks”. How full is your basket of “rocks” or resentments? If your basket is full and you are holding onto a lot of resentments it will affect your mood, relationships and mental health. I suggest we work to let go of our resentments thus emptying our heavy loads and improving our lives.
I am often asked how to do this. These are some suggestions:
By letting go of the “rocks” you are holding onto, your load will become lighter and more positive. If you need help with this seek outside support in a friend or mental health therapist.
Have you experienced infidelity in your relationship? You are not alone as infidelity is a common occurrence in relationships. Statistics show that approximately a quarter of relationships experience infidelity. It occurs in all types of relationships: heterosexual, same sex, young adults and older adults too. In fact, a study by Wolfinger showed Americans age 55 and up are more likely to have extramarital affairs than adults younger than 55.
In a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior it was reported if an individual cheated in a prior relationship, he or she is three times more likely to cheat in a second relationship compared to people who report no infidelity. Also, if an individual has been cheated on in a previous relationship it is two times more likely a second partner will cheat on that individual.
What are the reasons leading to infidelity? There are a variety of reasons why people cheat. Some reasons:
Needs Not Being Met:
It is common in relationships for one reason or another for the partners to cease meeting the other’s needs. Perhaps they get so busy with work, kids, school, or other situations that they fail to come together and connect as a couple. They begin to grow apart and do not pay attention to their partner’s needs. Perhaps they stop connecting and become lonely in the relationship. It then becomes easy to connect with someone outside the relationship.
Lack of Communication:
When couples cease communicating with each other or do not have healthy communication patterns deep thoughts and emotions are not effectively discussed with one another. Lack of positive communication or positive reinforcement in a relationship makes it easy to hear the positives from someone else. Lack of communication may also lead to not getting one’s needs met.
When there is a loss between a couple, a loss of a child, a loss of a family member, loss due to serious situations such as loss of financial means each partner may grieve or handle loss differently. One may withdraw and become depressed while the other may seek support outside the relationship because the partner is unavailable. Sometimes seeking support can lead to infidelity when the griever becomes too close to the support person.
Sometimes a partner may seek intimacy outside of the relationship as a form of revenge for a partner’s infidelity or other form of betrayal. There are some individuals who will not feel OK in the relationship until the score is evened following infidelity.
Sexual Addiction or Love:
When an individual has a sexual or love addiction infidelity may be rampant. Until the cycle of addiction is broken and managed the infidelities will continue. The issues run deeper than the partnership for the inflicted partner. This is rarely solved without outside intervention. In this case both members of the couple will need intensive counseling.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse:
Any form of substance use/abuse may lead to impulsive or poor decision making which can include sexual infidelity.
There are several types of infidelities including Out the Door and physical or emotional. Sometimes infidelities happen without the individual realizing her or she has crossed the line.
Out The Door:
Perhaps an individual has fallen out of love with a partner and doesn't know how to leave so is unfaithful with the idea he or she doesn't care if he/she is caught or is secretly hoping to be caught to have an excuse to leave the relationship.
Emotional affairs may start innocently. Two people begin to text each other innocuously. The texts grow more frequent and more intimate. An individual may begin to feel good from the texts and believe unmet needs in the primary relationship are being met with this other person. People may believe because they are not having sex the relationship is friend to friend. The line is crossed when intimate details are shared with someone other than the partner. This is infidelity, an affair. People tend to think texting or other social media communication is not considered infidelity because there is no sex involved. However, sometimes emotional affairs can be more damaging than sexual affairs because an emotional bond is developed. Sometimes these types of affairs will lead into a sexual affair. 45% of men and 35% of women admit to having had an emotional affair.
Sexual infidelities may be the result of different causes. As stated above, an emotional affair may eventually become sexual. Some individuals may actively seek out sexual affairs through social media, ads, or on dating sites. Some may start a sexual affair with someone at work or with someone from their circle of friends.
Can relationships survive infidelity?
The short answer is YES! If both partners are committed to rebuilding the relationship it can survive and even become stronger. In my practice I follow these steps to help couples heal. If the cause of the infidelity is a sexual or love addiction, both partners will need individual counseling. In this case the treatment looks very different.
1. The affair must be terminated. If it is allowed to continue while the couple attempts to repair their relationship it is guaranteed to be unsuccessful. When an affair continues there are three people in the relationship and unless it is a polyamorous relationship (more than two people in a relationship with all agreeing to the dynamic) this is a set up for failure.
2. Once the affair is ended the offending partner must take full responsibility for the infidelity. If this is not happening, and the individual is blaming his or her partner this is considered Gaslighting. Honesty and taking responsibility are key ingredients for the repair process, without this healing will be impossible.
3. The hurting partner may want details of the infidelities. Before these are disclosed, the hurting partner is encouraged to think about the information he or she wants to hear. Once it is told it can never be unheard and may cause more problems for this individual. The hurting partner is encouraged to think about this before insisting on details.
4. Unless there is a sexual addiction there are most likely problems in the relationship that predate the infidelities. These must be identified but without placing any blame on the hurting partner. No matter how bad the relationship issues were it is the unfaithful partner who holds the responsibility for having made the choice to cheat.
Once the issues in the relationship have been identified the repair and healing process can take place. This is achieved through a variety of ways and individualized for each couple.
Once these issues are repaired it will be important for the couple to maintain the changes and tend to their relationship to make it affair proof. Relationship care needs to be done daily. Relationships are like gardens. If not tended to they will become overgrown with weeds.
It is always important to consider the issues with both partners as they will be jointly struggling from this experience. The unfaithful partner may have given up someone whom he or she has developed feelings for. The hurting partner may show symptoms similar to someone who has experienced a trauma including; flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance towards the unfaithful partner, inability to sleep, anxiety, and trust issues. All these issues will need to be addressed and mitigated.
Relationships can and do become stronger following infidelities but there is a lot of work that must go into the repair effort. If the couple is willing to work hard the end result can be a much stronger bond.
A few good books to help you following infidelity are listed below.
This is something a client of mine wrote and sent to me following therapy.
"Throughout the years I have learned the importance of trusting in yourself & your abilities. If you full heartedly believe that you are already living your dream the universe will believe it too. This is a concept I firmly believe in although It took me awhile to learn and understand it.
Growing up my dreams were bigger than the town I grew up in. In my heart I always knew I wanted to be successful. Although I had an extremely supportive family, I can’t say the same for many of the peers who surrounded me. I was often teased, misunderstood, and doubted. I’d be lying if I told you that those people never affected me. They did, very much so. I went through times of pain, depression, and anxiety because of those people. But I truly believe those times were necessary, because without those hard times I wouldn’t be the strong woman I am today.
Whatever it is you are going after or going through you must understand that nothing is insurmountable. There will always be obstacles in life, there may even be times that you feel the lowest you have ever felt. NO matter what life throws at you you must look forward, continue working hard, and trust in yourself.
People tend to give advice based on their own experiences, feelings, and fears. Take other’s advice with a grain of salt because at the end of the day, in your gut, you know what is best for you and it is Your Journey Not Theirs.
Some things that have helped me achieve my goals that I encourage everyone to do;
Have you heard of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)? DBT is a type of therapy meant to help people with mood disorders, impulsive behavior, or negative patterns of behaviors such as self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Perhaps you have difficulty thinking and responding rationally and tend to respond overly emotionally? Maybe you don't think things through and respond with behavior you regret later? DBT is a skill-based model in which the DBT skills are taught and intended to be used to manage strong moods or negative behaviors. Maybe you have difficulty responding to people rationally and tend to respond overly emotional or you tend to blow up at those you love too often. Perhaps you struggle with self-harm or suicidal behavior.
DBT helps individuals learn to identify the triggers that are causing them difficulties and to use the skills to help you cope to avoid the past negative patterns. DBT helps with emotional regulation, distress tolerance, acceptance of situations, and mindfulness (being in the present moment without judgement).
A few of the skills are explained below. For the purpose of this blog a few skills are all there is time for. If you are interested in learning more of them reach out to me or to someone else who can teach them to you.
Distract with ACCEPTS – This skill helps with Distress Tolerance. The purpose is to help to manage or distract from unpleasant emotions. The acronyms help to remember the skill.
Ride the Wave – This is another Distress Tolerance Skill to help manage strong emotions.
Think about being in the ocean and having a big wave wash over you. What happens next? The wave washes over you and then dissipates. It is the same thing with strong emotions. Picture a strong emotion washing over you and eventually washing back out like the wave. If we recognize that strong emotions will eventually dissipate, we can Ride the Wave of the emotion until it washes back out. Knowing the emotion won’t last forever helps with this skill.
Jeff had times where he felt so sad following his wife’s death that he wanted to check out of life. By understanding the sadness comes and goes he learned to Ride the Wave when he felt overwhelmingly sad. This helped him to be in the sadness and to know that it would be worse at times and better at other times. With this knowledge, he was able to avoid self-harm.
Radical Acceptance - Are you suffering because of situations you cannot change? Do you have something from the past you are having difficulty letting go of?
Radical means complete and total. Acceptance is accepting life can be worth living even with pain. If we do not acknowledge and deal with our pain it will turn into a life of suffering. Pain + Non-acceptance equals suffering. Here lies the key to this skill. Saying yes to and accepting the reality of a situation, no matter how painful, is Radical Acceptance.
Lindsey’s husband left her for another woman five years ago. When with friends she continues to talk about how angry she is, how much pain she is in, and what she wants to do to get back at her ex-husband and his new wife. She is angry daily. The situation is horribly painful. If Lindsey were to Radically Accept that her husband is gone and the situation happened, she would be able to let go and move forward.
Try these skills at home today! They work. If you are interested in learning more DBT skills reach out to me or to someone else who can teach them to you. I currently run a DBT group for teens but also use DBT in individual therapy for adolescents and adults.
A lot of us use negative styles of thinking, or distorted thinking patterns. These distorted thinking patterns can be a major factor in both depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Using negative thinking patterns certainly will cause you pain and problems in life. These thoughts are picked up early in life and become habits in our thinking. Negative thinking is connected to negative emotions and negative behavior. These patterns are destructive and insidious in your life. They are probably causing you emotional pain, problems with others and are making you feel terrible! Did you know that by correcting them you can feel better?
Look at this sheet and identify which ones you are using. If you discover that you are using a lot of them work to correct them. Working to replace the negative patterns with positive ones will bring more positivity and happiness to your life!
Why is this world filled with so much hate? Why do we wake up to continual, horrific news daily? What can I do to make this world a better place? These are questions I ask myself daily. My children ask me why the world is as it is. In my office I have clients coming in asking me the same questions and/or bringing in their pain and tragedies that are taking place in their lives. I have friends grieving the losses of their children or partners. What can I do to make the world a better place? It is normal in this abnormal world to have feelings of powerlessness and fear. By doing something we can. within our close world, we may be able to make a difference.
If we each ask ourselves, “What is something I can do today to make the world a brighter place?” Then follow through and do it perhaps there can be a small difference?
· Paying for the person’s drink in line behind you at the coffee shop
· Asking an elderly or sick neighbor if they need anything at the store
· Volunteering at the local homeless shelter
· Or a local children’s home
· Becoming a Big Sister or Brother through Big Brothers and Sisters (they always need Bigs)
· Becoming a foster parent
These are small things close to home that can make a difference in the world.
Did you know Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers was created by a mother grieving the loss of her child by a drunk driver? Sometimes grief can be channeled into positivity and into helping others but only when the grieving process has reached the point of being able to be present to help others.
In my life I have been just as frustrated, saddened, and scared about the state of the world. My husband and I do what we can for others in need such as having raised our children and foster children, continually offering help to our children’s friends, taking in sick or needy animals, asking neighbors in need what we can do for them or reaching out to hurting friends. We have tried to create our home as loving, positive, and open for anyone in need and will always keep the door open to our friends, family, and neighbors in need.
I wish I had better answers. I wish the world were a more positive and loving place. I promise to do my part to continue to be kind and loving to all those in my path. My hope is that each of us will also be able to do the same on a smaller, equal, or greater level.
Do you have kids, adolescents, or others in your life who cold use a positivity boost or do you need one yourself?
When my kids and foster kids were in the house I would often sneak into their bathrooms and post positive post-it-note messages on their bathroom mirrors. This helped boost self-esteem, promoted positivity, and let them know they were loved. I also give this for homework assignments to clients who may need a positivity boost or are working on feeling better about themselves. You can do the same thing!
Either write notes to yourself or to those you love and leave them where they will be read several times a day. The bathroom mirror is a great place because the notes are seen often. I have individuals read the note and acknowledge it every time they are looking in the mirror. Dry erase markers or lipstick also work well on bathroom mirrors.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into my bathroom one night and found many, many of these positive notes written by all my children while I was out! It felt wonderful to know I was loved and to know that this positive note writing also taught my kids to reciprocate positivity and to show love to others!
I challenge you to do this positivity post-it-note messages for yourself or others today!
I recently read Nadine Burke Harris’ (MD) book "The Deepest Well Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity." I found this an extraordinary and important book for anyone who has been affected by trauma, whether themselves, their children, or for caretakers of children who have experienced trauma.
Ms. Burke Harris is a pediatrician who opened a clinic in a low socioeconomic area of San Francisco. In her patients she began to observe a pattern between adversity and a biological connection. She was seeing a significant amount of her patients presenting with abnormal development or disease. She began to suspect that trauma was the underlying cause of these issues. In her book Ms. Burke Harris finds proof for her suspicions and lays out a treatment plan for these children and adults.
In twenty years of practice I have also noticed many commonalities in people who have untreated trauma. Johnny was a seven year old boy who was being raised by his grandfather. His mother was addicted to drugs and in the time that he had lived with her he had been witness to many things a child shouldn’t see. He was then separated from his mother at age four and has not seen her since. He was brought to see me because of behavioral issues in the home and at school. His Grandfather was at his wits end trying to manage Johnny. He was hitting, kicking, and refusing to follow instructions at both home and school. He had been kicked out of several extra-curricular activities. Bedtime was the biggest problem. He never seemed to sleep. His teacher was sure he had Attention Deficit behavior with Hyperactivity (ADHD) and wanted to refer him for medication.
Sally was a young adult who came to me when the Doctors told her they could find no medical cause for her ongoing stomach issues and panic attacks she had been having for several years. She had tried many ways to treat her issues but had not had any success.
The tool Ms. Burke Harris uses to assess for childhood adversity is called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire or the ACE. This simple, ten item questionnaire, asks about stressful events of abuse and neglect that may have affected the individual’s health and well-being as a child and into adulthood. A numerical score is given. (Feel free to take the assessment yourself below.) A score of one or more indicates the probability the individual may struggle with health, behavior, stress, or difficulties with social and emotional growth into adulthood. Examples of symptoms include but are not limited to; syndromes, diseases, depression, anxiety, hair loss, growth issues, asthma, eczema, ADHD, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping.
I use this assessment with my clients, children and adults, as an indicator of the roots of their ongoing struggles for which no root cause has been identified. This serves as an illustration for the client and a road map for both of us.
I had Johnny’s grandfather complete the ACE for Johnny. Johnny had a high score, meaning, he had experienced many traumatic experiences in his young life. His behavior was a result of his traumatic and untreated experiences. I explained this to his grandfather, who was a Military Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The grandfather stated, “Now I understand, he is like me!”
Sally also scored high on The ACE. I explained to her how her body and brain were holding onto the traumatic memories and converting them to issues in the body. Her trauma was being held onto and was being expressed through panic attacks and stomach issues. Sally had PTSD.
In the book six critical areas for treatment and self-care are outlined:
I explained the six areas to Johnny, his grandfather, and Sally. We assessed for what areas they needed to better incorporate into their lives. This became the treatment plan in therapy. Johnny has done very well and has graduated from therapy with me. His grandfather keeps in touch and sticks to the six areas of self-care for both Johnny and himself. Sally is also doing well and has become significantly more aware of herself, her body, and her past.
If you have chronic, unexplained illness or if someone close to you does, I recommend reading "The Deepest Well." It is an extremely insightful read!
Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Questionnaire Finding your ACE Score
While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:
1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often...Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?
Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
Yes or No
If yes enter 1 ________
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often... Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?
Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
Yes or No
If yes enter 1 ________
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever... Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?
Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you?
If yes enter 1 ________
4. Did you often feel that... No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?
Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
If yes enter 1 ________
5. Did you often feel that... You didn't have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you?
Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the Doctor if you needed it?
If yes enter 1 ________
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
If yes enter 1 ________
7. Was your mother or stepmother often... Pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?
Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard?
Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
If yes enter 1 ________
8. Did you live with anyone who was... A problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?
If yes enter 1 ________
9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill
did a household member attempt suicide?
If yes enter 1 ________
10. Did a household member go to prison?
If yes enter 1 ________
Now add up your “Yes” answers: _____
__ This is your ACE Score
The higher your child's or your ACE score is the higher risk there is for social, emotional, behavioral, and/or physical health issues. Left untreated the problems will increase. Seeking professional help for a high ACE score is always recommended.
I spend my days, in my office, working with people to shift their thinking from negative to positive. I try to live the positive mind philosophy in my personal life but I can also struggle with it. Here is a great example of how I implement the shift in my personal life.
I have been an active and regular exerciser most of my life. I always avoided yoga because I assumed it wasn’t fast enough for me or wasn’t a hard-enough workout. I had been a runner for years. I tried yoga a couple of times when a friend encouraged me, in Ketchikan Alaska, and found my beliefs about it not being for me to be true.
When I came to St Augustine I became friends with a woman, Karen, who is excellent at yoga. I decided to try it again. This time my assumptions were wrong! I was introduced to Jules, who is a Kick A#! yoga instructor. Throw any beliefs about yoga being too easy or too slow out the window when you attend her class. When I began I could barely hold the Down Dog, which Jules had us do what seemed like 500 times during the hour. By the end of the hour my wrists were aching, I was a sweaty mess, and I was exhausted. However, I was relaxed and calm, something I was not normally so this was a positive. I continued to attend Jules’ class, twice a week, and have been for the last two years.
You may be wondering, “Melissa, you must be really good at Yoga by now”. Actually, I am not…YET…. but I have made a ton of progress. My wrists do not ache at the end of what still seems like 500 Downward Dogs. I am still sweaty but more importantly, I am calm, relaxed, and refocused after each class.
For some reason I always have trouble with balance. Jules does a significant amount of poses which are focused on good balance. (Think Tree Pose with different twists and turns.)
Try as I might but a lot of the time I can’t hold the balance pose until Jules ends it. Previously I would focus on telling myself “You probably won’t be able to hold the pose but try”. Or “My balance sucks”. Sure enough, when telling myself these negative based thoughts I would fall out of the balancing pose quickly. At some point I had a talk with myself, “Melissa, you preach positivity and positive thought to all your clients, all of the time and now you aren’t doing it”. At that point I began to tell myself, when in a balancing pose, “You can do it” over and over. Wow! A shift in my thinking from negative to positive and I was holding the poses longer! I was practicing what I preached and it worked!
There is a plethora of new information on childhood trauma being the root of so many physical and mental issues. Studies show practicing yoga or meditation is a sure way to calm the overactive alarm system in our brains. I recommend it often for my clients. I now know, personally, the benefits of relaxing and quieting the mind and I recommend you all try it.
Two years into yoga I have improved but am still stuck on trying for that consistent Head Stand. With my own and Jules’ positive encouragement I know I will get there soon. What I have learned from Yoga is to not assume my beliefs are true. Ask or try new situations before assuming. Shift your thinking from negative to positive and be your own cheerleader. You may surprise yourself and enlighten your life!
Positive thinking will make your life better. Studies show that encouraging a positive mind can decrease stress, create a greater sense of well being, and improve your health by creating a stronger resistance to the common cold, by reducing the risk of coronary artery disease and by allowing easier breathing for those with lung diseases. Studies also show that thinking positively can generate better coping skills and contribute to more fulfilling relationships.
Our thoughts, feelings, and behavior all affect each other. If we think negatively, we don’t feel as good about ourselves and our world, and our behavior will reflect that. If I tell myself I’m worthless and no one likes me, I am sure to feel depressed and might withdraw from others, perhaps even isolating myself at home. But if we think positively our feelings and behavior will follow. If I tell myself I have a lot to offer, I will feel happier and may want to interact more with others.
Nine negative thinking patterns, or mistaken ways of thinking, have been identified that are commonly used. Most of us lean on at least one on a daily basis while others are consumed by all nine every day.
I challenge you to read the list below and circle the negative thinking patterns that you use in your daily life. You may be surprised by the faulty ways your thoughts are sabotaging you.
How many did you circle?
The good news is it is entirely possible for you to rectify your negative thinking. Focus on being aware of when you use them. Work hard to change them. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help assist you in changing your thought patterns, your emotional reactions, and your behavioral impulses. A cognitive behavioral therapist will point out your negative thought patterns and redirect them towards the positive, thereby improving your feelings, your behavior, and your life.
This flower (and three others) bloomed on a plant in my home today. Isn't it lovely? What is something small you can find to reflect positive today?
Today is Monday (again) so let's set our intentions to positive for a good week. Here are some ideas to help you remain in a positive frame of mind this week.
This maybe a bit after-the-fact but always helpful!
I recently lost my Step-Father and Father within a month of each other. There has been a lot of grieving and a lot of sadness in my family. I understand the holidays can be and will be hard for my family this year. We will surround ourselves with love and attempt to find some joy in this first holiday season without our loved ones.
There are many among us who will also be sad and have a difficult time this holiday season. The loss of loved ones is one reason for this sadness. There are also may among us who are suffering due to losses, injuries, sickness, poverty, war, hate crimes, dysfunctional or non-present family and a plethora of other reasons.
Grieve and Recognize Your Emotions:
Stress, depression and sadness are common at this time of year. If you are feeling any of these it’s OK and healthy to recognize your feelings and attempt to manage them. It is normal to feel sadness and grief. Recognize your emotions and allow yourself to experience emotions. Crying is healing. I see many people who tell me they don’t want to cry or don’t think it is OK to cry. If we weren’t made to cry why do we have tears? Go ahead and cry if you need to and then remember to care for yourself. Strong emotions rollover us and eventually dissipate. Remember this.
The stages of grief are; Denial, bargaining “if only I had”, anger, sadness, acceptance. The stages ae not sequential and each stage can be revisited at any time.
If your family is dysfunctional or negative and you have to be with them over the holidays remember, you can’t change them or control how they act. However, you can control your reactions and interactions with them. Put up your boundaries and stick to them. If someone treats you negatively create some space or some inner peace in your reaction to them.
Although you may feel like curling into a ball and hiding from the world this will actually make you feel worse and more alone. Call a friend or family member. If you feel alone and as though you don’t have anyone to call, go to a support meeting, find somewhere to volunteer, go and listen to some live music. Studies show being with others can move us out of our negative place.
Find Some Positive Quotes or Positive Energy on The Internet:
Gather positive quotes and take pictures of them on your phone or use sticky notes to post them on your bathroom mirror. When one of my children or foster children was sad or depressed I would sneak into their bathroom and put sticky notes with positive quotes or messages to that child all over the mirror. Do this for yourself! Watch a positive individual or motivational speaker on the Internet.
I always repeat to: REMEMBER TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! This is so important. Without self-care we can’t be there for ourselves or for anyone else. Exercise, get a massage, take a bubble bath, meditate, spend time with your pets. Whatever makes you feel good and is healthy, do it!
Avoid negative behaviors such as over using substances, self-mutilation or anything else that may be self-sabotaging. Work hard to replace negative behaviors with healthy ones.
Talk to a Professional:
If you have tried all these things and still feel horrible or unable to face the holiday season talk to a professional. I am always here to help.
Addiction to Pornography is a real problem in this country. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not identify this as a diagnosable issue the number of people I see in my office, presenting with the issue of not being able to manage their pornography viewing, makes it a very real clinical issue for treatment. I describe it as being a problem when an individual excessively views, downloads, or seeks out pornography. For this individual pornography is causing problems in family life, relationships, work, or school. When it becomes so unmanageable that the individual withdraws from other areas of life there is a problem The main relationship becomes one with pornography making him or her unavailable in their relationships.
Sadly, our children are being exposed to pornography at the average age of 11, usually before they have been sexualized. I have seen children as young as ten who have pornography related issues. Chlidren first view porn when peers show it to them, when an adult is viewing porn with a child in the vicintiy, or when the child stumbles upon it while on the Internet. When a child is exposed to porn before they are ready to be sexualized they develop an unhealthy and unrealistic view of sexuality. Intimacy with a person becomes next to impossible.
Once the brain has been exposed to porn it actively seeks more of it. The effects of pornography on the brain are similar to the effects alcohol or drugs have on the brain. Pornography feeds the pleasure parts of the brain making the individual crave more.
Viewing pornography becomes a release from life's daily stressors. It becomes an unhealthy way of coping with the world. It allows the individual to escape overwhelming emotions in the same way alcohol, drugs, eating disordered behaviors, and gambling become unhealthy and addictive coping skills. The problem grows when the individual acts impulsively and compulsively to view porn.
Addiction to pornography can exist alone or with other sexual acting out behaviors. The brain becomes desensitized to the images being viewed leading the individual to seek more hard core, fantasy driven images. The individual can become highly involved in this fantasy world leading to seeking out prostitutes, threesomes, bestiality and more and more. When the individual attempts to bring this into the bedroom, within a relationship, it can be distressing for the partner.
Common problems that may develop with porn addiction are: