The guilt people often experience as they make healthy choices and take steps to heal themselves emotionally, as each step takes them farther away from the dysfunctional people in their lives.
For many hard-working, well-meaning folks, there is no way around it: in order to heal yourself, you must leave someone behind.
Healing from abuse, trauma, or childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is accomplished by taking a series of small steps. As you make healthy changes in yourself and your life, each of these small steps takes you somewhere. You are literally moving forward.
Subtle shifts in your perspective on what happened to you, the sharing of your experience with another person, or the validation of your feelings; as you take these steps, bit by bit, you change.
As you change yourself, you are, in an important way, saving yourself. You may be pulling yourself out of a deep hole that you have shared with some important family or long-time friends. You may be taking steps out of an addiction or a depression or a dysfunctional social system.
Whichever it is, you will probably not be able to save everyone (more on that later in this blog). At some point, you may face a fateful choice. Do I save myself? Is it wrong to do so? What about the people I have shared dysfunction with all these years?
This is the petri dish in which your survivor’s guilt is born....more
Kathleen Notes: This is all about creating healthy boundaries for yourself. For people with CEN, this often feels wrong or selfish.
You’ve probably heard that having dinner together as a family is a good thing for your kids, but you may not realize that it could change your child’s life. Dinner is the best predictor we have of how kids will do in adolescence. The more frequently kids eat dinner with their families, the better they do in school, and the less likely they are to get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide, or become sexually active during high school.
Kathleen Notes: Eat, talk, pray ...and leave electronic devises in the other room, please
Declaring yourself brutally honest is perhaps the easiest way around the “truth/hurt” quandary. It’s essentially a free pass to say what you think or what you feel in the moment you think it or feel it.
Chances are high that you know someone like this, who goes through life unfiltered:
You’re the most thoughtless person I know, Marcy says to her husband Edward.
What made you buy that coat? Jenny says to her friend Lori.
Only an unintelligent person would make that argument, Bill says to his colleague.
Looks like you’ve been eating a few too many cheeseburgers, Grandma Bea says to her grandson.
The upside of brutal honesty is that you seldom have to guess what the brutally honest person is thinking. The downside is that you don’t always want to know what the brutally honest person is thinking.
Brutal honesty hurts people. Long after the “honest one” has had his say, the recipient will be suffering the damages.
There is another way to deal with the conundrums of life. It involves no potshots, far less damage to the recipient, and far less hurt all around. Yet it still communicates the necessary message. It’s called Truth With Compassion....more
Kathleen Notes: Good stuff...I`d call this assertive speaking. What`s that you ask? It`s speaking the truth in love in a way that the other person can understand.
All children can behave in ways that are … not very adorable. Big behaviour can be exhausting and maddening for even the calmest of parents. There’s a good reason for this. Children create their distress in their important adults as a way to share the emotional load when that load gets too heavy. This is how it’s meant to be. In the same way that children weren’t meant to carry big physical loads on their own, they also weren’t meant to carry big emotional loads. Big feelings and bigg behaviour are a call to us for support to help them with that emotional load.
When you are in front of a child with big feelings, whatever you are feeling is likely to be a reflection of what your child is feeling. If you are frustrated, angry, helpless, scared, it’s likely that they are feeling that way too. Every response in you is relevant.
communicate through behaviour, and behind all big behaviour there will
always be a valid need. The need might be for safety, connection, sleep,
food, power and influence, space to do their own thing. We all have
these needs, but children are still developing the capacity to meet them
in ways that aren’t as disruptive for them or the people around them.
This will take a while. The part of the brain that can calm big
feelings, the prefrontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until mid to late
twenties. Of course, as they grow and develop they will expand their
capacity to calm their big feelings, but in the meantime, they will need
lots of co-regulation experiences with us to help them develop strong
neural foundations for this.
Kathleen Notes: The calmer brain has the ability to calm the more excitable brain. First you need to calm yourself, then you can help calm your child. That is co-regulation.
As many as one in 20 kids has sensory integration challenges. What exactly does that mean? Sensory Integration is the process that allows the brain, nervous system and senses (including the tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular systems) to work together to perceive the world, organize and interpret these perceptions, and respond appropriately.
Healthy sensory development in young children helps the brain and nervous system learn to process and integrate the many messages from each of the sensory systems. This process requires activities that stimulate all of the child’s sensory systems, notably including complex movement and messy play. If your child has challenges with Sensory Integration, you probably know it, because you`ve noticed one or more of the following things about your child that seem extreme in comparison to other children or your own experience: ...more
Kathleen Notes: Sensory processing is real and affects both children and adults. We don`t often outgrow it, but we can learn how to manage and cope better.
Intentional parent. It’s a term we often hear yet perhaps not fully recognize and appreciate what it means. Of course I’m an intentional parent, we might think. I’m certainly not doing any of this accidentally.
Intentional parenting really just means having a plan, prioritizing where you put your time and energy. Those priorities then guide your day-to-day decision-making and what commitments you make.
Should we go on this trip? Should I accept that job even though it means I’ll have less time with my family? Should we buy that used van instead of a new one? Should I work out or go home and take my daughter for a run? As I face these sorts of decisions everyday, I’m always reminded of two inescapable truths: First, time is a precious resource that we never can get back. Secondly, the seemingly small day-to-day decisions we make directly shape our years and ultimately the course of our lives.
To be an intentional parent means recognizing that time with our kids is precious and limited, and that there is a long-lasting impact to how we decide to use that time....more
Kathleen Notes: Childhood lasts such a short time and it`s your opportunity to guide and teach your kids. The best way to do that is the power of your relationship.
When I married my husband, Robbie, his favorite time to introduce some “romance” was in the middle of a fight. I think he thought his gestures would stop the fumes coming out my ears. It didn’t work.
Years later, we still struggle with our understanding of what romance is. I continually remind him that sitting together on the couch with the television news broadcasting, while he surfs social media and I piddle with my newest hobby, does not add up to “quality time.” He can’t understand why that many hours in the same vicinity doesn’t count for something. And he’s not alone.
Recently, a man named Don* contacted me about an article I wrote on romance. His wife, too, had been disappointed with him, even though he felt he paid her hours of attention. And since they both started working from home, he was spending more time with her than ever before. He thought that was sufficient. But when he wanted to go hunting or fishing with friends, she was hurt.
Both Don and my husband have come to their wit’s end trying to figure out how to make us women happy. After talking with them and a few exasperated wives, I’m convinced romance has acquired a case of mistaken identity. Neither husband nor wife really knows what romance is. They just know when they haven’t had it. It’s especially frustrating when there has been a lot of talking, but nothing seems to change.
This is where husbands and wives often miss each other—how does one define “romance”? You can talk about an issue all day, but unless you have the same definition, no one comes to a real understanding....more
Kathleen Notes: I sticking point for many couples and a topic around much miscommunication. This article helps clear things up a bit.
To answer this question, yes, it is okay to argue in front of kids some of the time. It can actually be good for them. But the kind of argument you’re having and how you communicate your thoughts and feelings makes a BIG difference.
If arguments happen frequently or they are hostile, physical, aggressive, or include stonewalling, silent treatment, or insults, it can definitely be harmful to children. Children who are exposed to this type of conflict will often become anxious, distressed, sad, angry, and depressed. These feelings result in sleep disturbances, poor performance at school, and difficulty focusing. In the longer term, these kids may become unable to manage conflict and form healthy adult relationships.
Children learn to manage conflict by observing how the adults in
their life manage disagreements and strong emotions. What I love most
about the Gottman approach to conflict is that the goal is not to
resolve conflict, but to regulate it. We may not all leave the situation
with the exact outcome we wanted, but we will feel heard, have the
opportunity to feel our feelings, understand both sides, and come to an
agreement that you brainstormed together and is acceptable to both
parties. These are the key ingredients to modeling healthy conflict.
Kathleen Notes: If you`re resolving conflict well it`s good for the kids to see how it`s done. If not, why not get some help and learn how to? It`s a win-win.
The battle of the sexes probably started as far back as Adam and Eve. Actually, the battle probably ensued when Eve first asked Adam to take out the apple core. Regardless of how long the battle has been raging, you can still put me on record as saying how glad I am there are differences between the genders. My wife, Erin, has gifts that complement mine, and I adore her femininity.
However, I’m not keen on celebrating some endless joust with Sir Testosterone vying for victory over Lady Estrogen. A healthy marriage does involve conflict — fighting even — but the resolution should be to strengthen the union, not to knock a spouse off his or her mount so the hand-to-hand combat is easier next time.
Marriage is a battle, but not against your spouse. It’s a war against our sin nature. Every marriage has a mortal enemy, a mighty nemesis named selfishness....
....As I struggled with the difficult realities of marriage, I let discontent weigh down my soul. Erin struggled even more than I did. Depression and anxiety threatened to suffocate her. At that time in my life, immaturity and pride kept me from taking responsibility for our problems, so Erin sought counseling alone.
We were losing the war in our home....more
Kathleen Notes: Your spouse is NOT your enemy. However, you DO have some real enemies...the world, Satan and your own sinful nature. Only God can help...
I’ve dropped my daughter off thousands of times. From kindergarten through college, each milestone brought its own unique mix of sadness, excitement, and terror. But as difficult as those moments were, I could always take comfort in knowing they would be over. Eventually, the bell would ring, the class would end, and she’d come back to me.
This time was different. For the first time, I didn’t know when I’d see my daughter again.
My wife and I did our best to be positive as we carried boxes into her apartment and helped her put dishes away. We knew our adult child was ready for the challenge, but I wasn’t sure I was.
As we watched her wave goodbye from the staircase railing, a sea of regrets streamed down my face. Our time was up. Had I done enough?
For better or for worse, her decisions are hers to make and consequences hers to bear. If she makes mistakes—and she will—it isn’t a reflection of us or our parenting ability. Likewise, if she succeeds, we can’t pat ourselves on the back. Her success is hers.
Good or bad, it’s on her now.
But parenting an adult child is new territory for us. So here are five ways we’re learning not to be toxic parents....more
Kathleen Notes: As our children become adults we parents have to change how we interact with them. We benefit from forming an adult relationship with our adult children.
Savannah and Sam are arguing again. It’s all too familiar. Sam’s an extrovert. Newly vaccinated, he wants Savannah to go with him to an outdoor gathering this weekend. People energize him. Savannah’s the introvert. She wants to curl up at home with a good book and be cozy, just the two of them. They visited this conflict before the pandemic, and now they’re at it again. They know that as mature adults, they will need to compromise—just as they know they’re going to fail at it one more time....
...Why didn’t their attempts at compromise work? Both tried to persuade the other of the benefits in their own position. Both did not want the other to be unhappy.
From a purely logical viewpoint, their compromise solution should be pretty straightforward. This couple should sometimes go out together and sometimes stay home. They only have to figure out whose turn it is this time.
But it didn’t work. Nor is this breakdown uncommon. Why does compromise fail for so many couples?
Kathleen Notes: Great article, read on to see more and learn about the "Two ovals exercise"
Recently I took my kids to a theme park. Thinking my six-year-old daughter was ready for roller coasters, I brought her on one with me. She wasn’t ready. From the moment we clicked our seat belts, she was terrified. So I threw my arms around her and told her I had her. I kept repeating those words throughout the ride and told her she was safe with me.
One of the key jobs for a parent is to create a safe and stable environment for the kids. When they feel safe, they have the freedom to grow, test boundaries, and explore. Otherwise, they are consumed by fear and anxiety. Here are 10 ways to make your children feel secure....more
Kathleen Notes: Children who feel secure are much more likely to trust and listen to your guidance.
If I’d listened to my maternal instincts, I would’ve told my children that they’re beautiful. But, instead, I thought back to that one paragraph about how it might be “damaging” to say such things to your daughters, and so I refrained.
That is, until one day when one of my gorgeous daughters (I say that without apology now) asked me, honestly, and even wistfully, “Do you think I’m pretty, Mom?”
Oh, child, that you would even have to ask…or worry. “Of course you’re lovely! You’re so beautiful in every way!”
This question led to a long-overdue heart-to-heart conversation that afternoon. We talked about beauty—both inside and out—and what it looks like for a young woman. Because, trust me, I never want her to be in doubt again if I can help it.
So never mind that latest popular parenting article or post. Rather, I’d encourage you to tell your daughter how truly beautiful (and smart, kind, interesting, etc.) you believe her to be. She needs to hear these things, especially from a loving parent who can better see it than anyone else....
Kathleen Notes: Our kiddos need to hear this from the adults who love them the most.
I wish I could tell you that this was an anomaly, but sadly, in a world where the average adult in the U.S. spends 11 hours and 27 minutes per day interacting with media, there’s not a lot of time left for face-to-face interaction. The fact is, most of us spend far more time staring at screens than we do with our spouse.
It’s not that screens are bad. Tech can be a lot of fun in a marriage: enjoying entertainment media together, reaching out to a loved one across the country or sharing a reading plan in a Bible app, commenting to each other about what we learned.
Screens can also enhance relationships. Ask the wife who’s home alone for nine months while her husband is deployed overseas. Praise God for FaceTime! Tech can be a huge benefit.
But it can also be a huge distraction.
Many of us might be quick to dismiss this realization. After all, it’s kids who let their phones become a distraction, not us … right?
Common Sense Media released a study about families and their devices revealing that 69% of parents feel their kids are distracted by their mobile devices more than once each day. But that same study revealed some interesting things about us — the adults in the home:
So, is it too bold to point out that if half of us feel distracted by our mobile devices, admit we spend too much time on those devices and even feel addicted to those devices … chances are that one of the two of you in your marriage struggle with this?...more
Kathleen Notes: We have more "communication" than ever but far less connection. Read on to find out what "phubbing" is...
Often at night, I came into Mom and Dad’s room and found them praying together. Or reading the Bible together. They knew that “unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Mom told me one day, “Only with Christ at the center of our marriage, at the center of our home, at the center of everything we do, can we experience the greatest joy and fulfillment possible.” My wife and I have made a commitment to read the Bible and pray together before we go to sleep each night. We haven’t always achieved that goal. In fact, sometimes we have gone through weeks of neglecting it altogether. But when we follow through on this simple commitment, it can make a world of difference in our marriage. For one thing, I find it very difficult to read passages like Colossians 3:12-14 aloud to my wife without it having a dramatic effect on the way l treat her.
It is Christ alone who gives us the power to love others in this way.
Believe me, ours is not a perfect marriage. But I am far richer when I remember the three “Cs” of a great marriage: Communication. Commitment. Christ....more
Kathleen Notes: This is how to do it...
As mothers, we already have an innate instance to snuggle our babies. But did you know that every time you hug your kids, you’re helping their brains develop?
When babies are born, all of their brain cells, called neurons, are in place, but there are very few connections between these cells. New learning occurs when these connections are formed between neurons. When babies take in new information through their senses and experiences, these connections happen. When a baby is adequately stimulated, these connections occur at a rate of one million per second. On the other hand, these connections do not happen when a baby does not get adequate stimulation and exposure to experiences throughout their first few years of life. The chance to build these connections could be lost forever.
Age zero to three is the critical period for these connections to take place. This is the time of “neural plasticity” when the neural pathways, or connections between the cells, also called synapses, occur. After this critical period, the brain is not as plastic or “changeable,” and the connections do not happen at such a fast rate. It becomes harder to create these connections and allow for new learning at such a rapid rate....more
Kathleen Notes: Hug those kids!!! Bonus: it`s good for you, too!
I think we have all been there. Your kids are playing together and then one of them lets out a blood-curdling scream. You run over to investigate and learn that Johnny hit Sally — all over a toy he wanted to play with. After making sure everyone is unharmed, your mind shifts to behavior modification and how to discipline your kids.
Often, there are several basic ways of handling these kinds of conflicts with kids. The first can be to try and determine who had the toy first and justly return the toy to its original operator. A second option would be to try and encourage the kids to be better at sharing. Or another option altogether would be to take the toy away and tell the children that since they cannot “play nice” they do not need to play at all.
Whether your default reaction to disciplining your kids is one of the ones listed above or not, I think the general tendency is to try and end the chaos as quickly as possible. And if you can do it without additional tears and screaming ?— even better.
But have you ever thought about how God would want you to handle that situation? How would he want you to teach discipline to your kids in that moment? Have you ever evaluated your own goals during a scenario like that? What if we were to stop and scan the scriptures for advice on parenting? One of the themes that would stick out is that God is concerned about the state of our hearts, rather than simply behavior modification. Therefore, it follows that we should care about hearts too....more
Kathleen Notes: Behavior is about what is in the heart and a battle for the mind. If we can look at it that way, what could change?
When my husband and I married, we mutually designated yours truly as CFO. And every month, my heart rate accelerated as I reconciled our poverty-line income with a pile of tilting receipts.
I’d procrastinate, which is unusual for me (unless you consider my love/mostly hate relationship with math). I despised worrying about every expenditure. Guardianship burdened me; I loathed playing the killjoy if my exhausted husband wanted to catch a movie. I hated fighting about money.
Yes, I kept us in the black. But several years and a Dave Ramsey program later, my husband took the helm, likely rescuing me from a heart attack at thirty. Turns out he has a natural gift for financial planning. With a trustworthy, agreed-upon plan in place, financial stress evaporated. And every time he mentions he’s working on our finances, I fall in love a little more.
I tell you this because resolving our tension around money wasn’t actually about the money. Author Sheila Heen reports that 18 months following their win, UK lottery winners were roughly as happy or unhappy as before.
Spoiler alert: The core of your money problems wouldn’t actually be solved if you had more....more
Kathleen Notes: Great article...what we argue about is rarely what is truly the problem..
Every parent knows arsenic hour, when hunger, homework, and exhaustion merge into one big emotional accident waiting to happen. One obvious reason that kids have meltdowns at the end of the day is that they`re hungry and tired, whether they`ve been home with you or out at school. But there`s another reason. After having spent the day apart, your child feels disconnected from you. He may not show you that he wants to connect, or even know it, but feeling disconnected makes him feel anxious. Until he reconnects, he`ll let you know how alone he feels by acting cranky and uncooperative.
There`s another reason that kids who are at daycare or school all day lose it when they`re reunited with you. It`s hard work for little people to keep it together all day in the face of all those developmental challenges, disappointments and rules. All day, they store up big feelings they can`t process, waiting to be safe with Mom or Dad to let those emotions fly. This is true even if they love daycare or school and beg you to pick them up later. It may be fun, but navigating all those people is still stressful.
So the minute they see you, their "executive self" relaxes, and their "baby self" comes out to seek comfort. If you don`t know what`s happening, this can totally ruin your evening. But if you`re ready to be emotionally present for your child and can focus on connecting with them, you`ll stave off some meltdowns and set a pleasant tone for the evening. It all starts with you. Here`s how.
Kathleen Notes: If you`ve experienced this, no description is necessary. Making it better is totally possible!!
“You and Dad are definitely way more strict that most of my friend’s parents,” my teen son informed us one day as we were telling him to get off his Xbox and join us for dinner.
My husband and I gave each other a high five as we passed each other in the kitchen.
The teen boy simply rolled his eyes at us.
Yes, my husband and I are “strict” at least by today’s standards.
And you know what, we’re proud of it!
When most of us raising kids today were young back in the 80’s, or as my daughter likes to say, way back “In the 1900’s”, having strict parents meant a child was being subjected to something just shy of child abuse....
....We’re a product of 80’s parenting.
Our parents were never mean or cruel. Sure they yelled from time to time, but they loved us and we knew it. They also didn’t make us the center of their worlds.
The family schedule didn’t revolve solely around our activities. They left us with babysitters and went out most weekends. And they had zero guilt using the world “no” as a full sentence.
We spent plenty of days from sundown to sunset outside climbing trees and riding bikes, but there were also many hours wasted playing Space Invaders on our Atari or watching MTV.
For the most part, our parents didn’t micro-manage our time....more
Kathleen Notes: Thanks to my adult daughter for finding this article. She clearly survived my 80`s parenting and is an awesome parent in her own right!
Between psychology, medical science, and neuroscience, we have never known so much about the human mind. Recently I’ve been amazed at the number and quality of studies that are showing us the amount of pure power our brains have; powers that are truly amazing. Powers that change the meaning of the old phrase, “put your mind to it.”...
.....As a psychologist whose business is helping people change, I am not surprised by these findings. Every day I see people harness their brain powers to make profound changes in their personalities, their relationships, and their lives....more
Physical touch and other displays of love and affection between spouses speak volumes to small watching eyes. Little eyes that are paying close attention and taking down mental notes for themselves someday. Hugs, kisses, holding hands, and being touchy-feely are all wonderful things for parents to do to love each other in front of their children. Why, you ask?
Here are 5 reasons why parents should flirt in front of their kids....more
When Lisa and I stay in a hotel room together, she likes me to lock the metal bar on top. Even if someone could get the door opened, they would be stopped by the metal bar. The extra security device makes her feel safe. I’m much laxer about sliding the bar over when I’m alone, but when we’re together, I do my best to remember it.
I had one of those (I believe) God moments a few months ago when, after sliding the metal bar over, I realized how what could signal safety to Lisa could signal terror to wives in abusive relationships. The thought of being in a locked room, with a metal bar keeping anybody from getting in, could be a threat if they thought their husband might do them harm.
It was chilling to realize on a spiritual level that the very thing that provides a sense of safety in one relationship could create panic in another one.
Two good reminders came out of this God moment:...more
As parents we want, more than anything, to do right by our children. We know that the way we treat our children matters.
But parenting is probably the most complex role any of us will ever have in our lives, and few of us enter parenthood fully equipped to meet all our children’s needs.
Especially when it comes to their emotional ones.
In truth, the way a child is treated emotionally by his parents determines how he’ll treat himself as an adult. For example, a child who does not receive enough realistic, heartfelt acknowledgment from his parents for his accomplishments may grow up with low self-esteem and little confidence in his own abilities.
You probably love your child “all the way to the moon and back,” as the classic children’s book says. But love simply isn’t enough. Because if you don’t attend enough to your child’s emotions, your child will feel ignored on some level, no matter how much attention you pay to him in other ways.
Emotions are literally a part of your child’s physiology. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who he is. So noticing and responding to your child’s feelings is the deepest, most personal way for you to say, “I love you.”...more
We all crave those close moments with our children that make our hearts melt. Connection is as essential to us parents as it is to our children, because that`s what makes parenting worth all the sacrifices.
That connection is also the only reason children willingly follow our rules. Kids who feel strongly connected to their parents WANT to cooperate, if they can. They`ll still act like kids, which means their emotions will sometimes overwhelm their still-growing prefrontal cortex. But when they trust us to understand, to be on their side, they`re motivated to follow our lead when they can.
Researchers remind us that we need five positive interactions to every negative interaction to keep any relationship healthy. And since we spend so much time guiding -- aka correcting, reminding, scolding, criticizing, nagging, and yelling -- it`s important to make sure we spend five times as much time in positive connection.
Some psychologists think values are impossible to teach, and it is certainly true that telling kids to be more honest, or diligent, or considerate, doesn’t work any better than telling adults to be. But if values are impossible to teach, they are too important to leave to chance.
In recent years, some schools have tried to add moral development to their curriculum. But schools have a tough time teaching kids values because they intervene too late, not to mention in too much isolation from the rest of the child’s life. Worse yet, they are often at odds with what the child is learning at home about values.
Because the truth, of course, is that we do teach values to kids, daily, every minute of their lives. The question isn’t whether to teach values, only WHAT we are teaching.
The way children learn values, simply put, is by observing what you do, and drawing conclusions about what you think is important in life. Regardless of what you consciously teach them, your children will emerge from childhood with clear views on what their parents really value, and with a well developed value system of their own....more
Each week I will collect and reflect on 5 to 10 relevant articles about important topics like parenting, marriage, relationships, and families. Within these topics I will address the challenges and joys, struggles and solutions from a Positive and Strengths-based approach. I am a strong believer in the power of relationships to grow, nurture and heal the human mind and spirit. I hope you find one or two of these articles useful for your practice, classroom or household. My opinions are open to discussion and even disagreement, as they are intended to facilitate the sharing of multiple thoughts and ideas! This publication is offered by In the Moment Child and Family Therapy, LLC, a Ministry of Resurrection Lutheran Church (WELS) in Verona and Monroe, Wisconsin.
I would really enjoy hearing your feedback if you care to give it at Kathleen@inthemomenttherapy.com
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