Finding Heart and Soul Connection In A Barn

I found my heart and soul connection in a barn.

      Hear this post on Therapy Chat Podcast  !

  Hear this post on Therapy Chat Podcast!

Note: this was originally published in 2016 and updated with information on the June 2018 2 day Authentic Self Retreat I'm hosting with Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW in Lexington, Kentucky. Register here! 

Yesterday I had a new experience which was a game-changer for me. I've been saying for at least 10 years that I want to take horseback riding lessons. I talked about it on an episode of Therapy Chat earlier this year, vowing that I would make it happen.

 Image credit: Eduard Syslynskyy/Shutterstock

Image credit: Eduard Syslynskyy/Shutterstock

I've ridden a horse maybe 5 times in my whole life, all between the ages of 10-13 years old. For a time I was obsessed with them, as many children are. I grew up in the city but close enough to rural areas that there was one horse farm many of us knew to visit. 

Recently as I've learned more about equine-assisted therapy and the benefits of spending times with horses, I've become determined to increase the amount of time I spend with horses. I'm now 44 years old and my body has changed quite a bit since I was 13. I think it's safe to say that my heart hasn't changed much, if at all, though, as I learned through this experience. 

Before I tell you what happened, let me give you some information from Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association, also known as EAGALA. From their website, www.eagala.org:

 

 

How Does Equine-Assisted Learning and Growth Work?

  • Horses are bigger and stronger than us. They are powerful creatures, and being around them can feel intimidating, which creates an opportunity to get up close and personal with our fears.

  • Like humans, horses are social creatures who live in herds. They have a social hierarchy in terms of how they relate to one another in the herd. Working on how we relate to horses is a way to work on how we relate to other humans and ourselves.

  • Because horses are prey animals, they rely on non-verbal cues to stay alive. Their lives depend on accurately reading these cues. Humans are predators. Yet for some reason horses are willing to interact with us anyway, if we let them know we are safe.

  • Horses know when what we are saying and doing don't match what we are feeling and sensing, even though we might not know. They reflect back to us what we are feeling and sensing, or the incongruence between our feelings, sensations, words and actions, even (especially) when it's outside of our conscious awareness.

The Shadow...Again?

Horses can bring our Shadow to our awareness. Yes, the Shadow again. As a wise person told me, once the Shadow is out in the light you can't ignore it anymore. I am finding this to be true again and again.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out these episodes of Therapy Chat podcast: Episode 53; Episode 38 with Renee Beck, LMFT; Episode 40 with Lourdes Viado, MFT, PhD; Episode 42 with Keri Nola.

So this is what happened yesterday. I went to a workshop on learning with horses. I gathered in a barn with a group of two other women, the instructor and the horse trainer. I really didn't know what to expect, because I haven't done anything like this before, although I have heard about it from fellow therapists. The whole experience was on the ground, not on the horses. 

We were introduced to two horses, a darker colored one and a lighter colored one. I felt super vulnerable and nervous. I wanted to know what to do and not to do, and how, and what was going to happen. I told myself to sit with the discomfort, knowing that this is where growth happens. Part of me wanted to relax, be in the moment, let go and see what happened. Part of me wanted to know, to check whether or not I was doing it right, if I was okay, to understand, to know why. These parts of myself battled for that entire two hour period. 

When we walked up to each horse I had lots of thoughts. I wondered how to touch the horse, if it was okay to touch him, and whether he would hurt me. I was acutely aware of how large and heavy he was, and that he could kick me, bite me or step on me if he felt like it. Then, I went a little deeper into my emotions. I suspected that he didn't like me. I felt self-conscious about being uncomfortable and worried who could tell. I was pretty sure he could tell, though he didn't say anything. I felt his soft, velvety coat and tangled mane. I noticed that he was beautiful and he looked like he had been through some things. I decided maybe he wasn't judging me as harshly as I was judging myself. This all happened in a span of maybe 2 minutes. Feeling a little softer toward myself, I approached the other horse.

One of the other women was standing with the horse, and I felt protective toward her time with him. I held my hand out to him, wondering if he was okay with me petting his nose. He gently nuzzled my hand. I didn't know if this was what they always do, or if he liked my touch. I awkwardly stood there for a few seconds, continuing to let him smell my hand and nuzzle it.

Then something surprising happened. He tilted his head toward me and sort of snuggled up to my neck. I don't even know what to call it. Immediately, tears sprang to my eyes. I felt seen and understood, probably better understood by the horse than I was understanding myself, at least in that moment. I had the strange experience of a felt sense - when you just know something that is coming from within. Your inner wisdom, your soul, your wisest self, whatever you want to call it, it tells you something from within yourself. It's more than just a thought. The felt sense told me "he knows I'm sad."

 Image credit: Melory/Shutterstock

Image credit: Melory/Shutterstock

One of the reasons it was weird is because I hadn't known I was sad until that moment. I felt apologetic toward the other woman standing there, because the horse was giving me more attention, and because I was fighting back tears, which is pretty uncomfortable any time, but especially in front of a stranger. At the same time, I was incredibly grateful to the horse. 

As Brené Brown says, "Vulnerability is courage."

All of that happened in the first 30 minutes of this experience. After that we alternated between activities with the horses and seated in chairs. But more strange things happened. During the time we were seated in our chairs as a group, the horses were free to roam this indoor space. 

We were talking and I was continuing my struggle between the parts of myself that wanted to avoid the discomfort of this new experience and the parts that were trying to be open and let it unfold. I'll point out that while this experience was new, that struggle is not. In fact, it is quite familiar, if I'm honest.

I practice mindfulness by checking in with myself many times throughout a given day. I notice what I am thinking, what I am feeling, what my body is holding. I frequently ask myself what I need, or what my body wants me to know. There is always an answer, if I listen. What I often notice is this struggle to know, to have the answers. It is something that pops up when I am in situations where I feel unsure. It is an attempt to avoid discomfort. I don't do it consciously, it is a defense that I'm sure developed quite early. I know I was always praised for being smart. This quality is one that I never doubted I had, and I received much attention, love and acceptance around being smart when I was a child.  

I felt very uncomfortable quite a lot of the time during childhood, so this defense (it's called intellectualization) served me very well back then and it has helped me many times since. But it does get in the way. I'm grateful for my intelligence, yet I need to ask the part of myself that wants to know to step aside quite frequently so I can stay in the moment. It's okay to be curious, as long it doesn't take me away from the current moment. 

The Most Powerful Moment

So now I'll get back to the most powerful part of the experience in the barn. After the horse snuggled up against me, while we were sitting in the chairs as a group, the horses moved around the barn. Slowly they moved toward us. Eventually, both horses came to stand behind me. While we talked, one by one they slowly crept forward until both horses were standing with their heads over me. I wish I had a picture, because to the others in the group I must have looked funny with one horse's head coming over one shoulder and the other horses's head coming over my other shoulder. They kind of crossed their heads in front of me.

It was so strange, with a result that I couldn't see the other group participants. The group leader noted that the horses could have stood anywhere they wanted, and for some reason they chose to stand over me that way. They remained that way until we stood to do another activity, and then when we returned to sitting, they did it again, just as gradually as the first time. I can't really say what happened, other than the horses knew I needed something. But that can't be all because I'm sure the other group members were having their own emotional experiences in their seats. Yet the horses gravitated to me.

I think the leader was suggesting that they knew I needed either comfort, protection or something. She didn't come right out and say it (I think she wanted me to figure it out myself). All I know is I was in love with these horses. I felt like they got me. I felt like we had a connection. I am laughing as I write these words, but I really mean it, and I still feel that way, even though more than 24 hours have passed. In fact, I've had more experiences of self discovery (what I like to call shifts) since doing that. I am eager to do more work with horses and see what happens. It was truly a magical experience.

Why Am I Sharing This?

 Image credit: Rob Strok/Canva

Image credit: Rob Strok/Canva

You might be wondering why I'm sharing this. There are a few reasons. First, I want to document this magical experience for myself. Also, I want people to know that spending time with horses can be incredibly powerful, almost unbelievably so. Some things you just have to experience for yourself, and I hope this article will encourage some of you who are reading to try Equine Assisted Learning and Growth. Lastly, I'm sharing this because it's important as a therapist that I live the way I encourage my clients to do. I've been on a journey of personal growth - intentionally only for the past two years, but probably for my whole life.  

I believe we never stop growing and learning (unless we refuse to try), and that we must continue pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, because that is where growth happens.

I can't take my clients anywhere that I haven't been. The more I allow myself to be vulnerable and expose myself to new experiences allowing me a deeper connection with myself, the more capable I become of walking alongside my clients as they are on that journey. I have seen this to be true, and I know as my connection with myself deepens my skill as a therapist will deepen as well. 

Next week I'm taking time to venture deeply inward as I spend time with an intuitive coach in California to reflect on the direction of my business in the year ahead and do more Shadow work (gulp!). This will also be a reunion with some beautiful souls who live across the country and I am so honored that I will be spending time with them there. More is ahead, as I head to the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York in November for a retreat with horses and fellow therapists and other healers. I can't freakin' wait. Honestly, I have been bitten by the horse bug now and I can't wait for my next opportunity to spend time among these amazing creatures. And yes, I am still planning to take horseback riding lessons. It will happen! I'm currently exploring various locations to learn with horses in a different way. That will be a new arena (literally!) for me. I know what Brené Brown means when she talks about Daring Greatly. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out her book by that name.

So that is the story of how I found my heart and soul connection, with two horses and with myself, yesterday in a barn. I hope it somehow inspired you to get more connected with yourself. Let me know in the comments!

If you're interested in walking together on your journey of personal growth, and you live near Baltimore, Maryland, get in touch with me. You can also follow my musings on social media. You'll find me on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. And don't forget my podcast, Therapy Chat

And, if you would like to have your own experience of deep connection with yourself and with horses, join Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW and I in Lexington, Kentucky June 1-2, 2018 for a retreat combining The Daring Way™ with relational equine assisted learning. Get all the details and register before May 10, 2018 for best pricing! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Trauma

*The names and characters in this article represent a composite of people I have know personally and professionally. No real person is represented in this article, which is intended for educational purposes.*

When Your Partner Doesn't Understand Your Trauma

 Image credit: Canva

Image credit: Canva

Michael can't understand it. He just doesn't get what is going on with his wife of over 25 years, Amy. Michael is concerned about her and wondering when she is going to "get over" the childhood physical and sexual abuse she went through years ago.  He really just wants her to be okay. And honestly, he's sick of her trauma symptoms affecting her, him and their children. He's not sure how much longer he can take it. 

Why can't she just get over it?

To be fair, Michael doesn't realize that Amy's mood and behavior are related to her childhood trauma. He just knows that despite years of therapy with various therapists, she sometimes becomes deeply depressed and can't seem to get off the couch for days. Other times the smallest thing will seem to trigger her becoming highly anxious, which can turn into controlling behavior towards himself and the kids. She will sometimes go shopping, overspending with abandon even though they have agreed to stop running up credit card debt - then she hides it from him and acts like she is afraid he will hurt her when he receives the credit card bill. Although he does get really frustrated when this happens, it bothers him that she feels afraid of him at times, because he feels he would never harm her, and he never has gotten physical with her in more than 25 years. He also suspects she may be binging and purging, but they don't talk about it. He's afraid to bring it up and he suspects she would deny it if he asked.. Although she takes medication, her mood swings are still pretty unpredictable and he's never really sure whether he is going to come home from work and find the smiling, got-it-together wife he married; or the disorganized, scattered, overwhelmed and controlling woman she sometimes becomes; or the sad, crying woman he barely recognizes who just wants to sleep as much as possible. He doesn't know how to help her.

"She's Changed."

All Michael knows is that Amy has changed.  He knew when they got married that she had a "difficult" childhood. He also saw how resilient Amy was then. Despite being abused throughout her childhood she had finished college and started a great career before they married. Although she spoke openly about having experienced that abuse, it didn't seem to have a negative impact on her then. Other than acknowledging that it happened, she didn't really talk about it. And he didn't really want to talk about it - then or now - because just the thought of what she went through, particularly the sexual abuse, horrifies him.  He's not sure if the physical abuse was really all that bad, or why it affects her so much. He wonders if she is really trying in therapy, or whether she somehow is doing all this just for attention.

Michael isn't sure how to deal with the emotions that come up for him when Amy is not okay. It reminds him of how he felt responsible for taking care of his mother after his dad died when he was 10. He would often come home from school and his mom would be sitting in the dark on the sofa in her bathrobe. He found himself needing to be adult-like to take care of her, and he was kind of on his own to take care of himself and his younger brother too. He was so relieved to get away from that unhappy childhood, to go to college and start his career, but sometimes he wonders if he married someone he will always have to take care of too. The burden of handling Amy's emotional needs feels very heavy and familiar to Michael. He feels sad, hopeless and discouraged.

 Image credit: Canva

Image credit: Canva

She feels disconnected.

Amy, too, was overjoyed to leave her abusive family behind to marry Michael. She thought things would be so much better once she got away from her controlling, abusive father and her passive mother who was mostly focused on pretending everything was perfect. And things were so much better! She loved her career, she and Michael got along great, and she was very happy to raise her three beautiful children. However, when her third child, little Megan, turned 5 years old Amy started having flashbacks to the abuse that her father inflicted on her as a little girl. A part of her had always felt that she was somehow responsible for the sexual abuse and deserving of the beatings. But seeing her sweet, innocent little Megan, a bright, inquisitive kindergartner, she pictured herself as a little girl and wondered whether it was really true that an innocent child could ever be deserving of being harmed the way her father had harmed her. These thoughts were so sad and overwhelming she tried to push them away. Sometimes she was successful, but other times, particularly in the Spring, she was overwhelmed with fear and worry that something bad would happen to Megan or her two sons. She is bothered by nightmares, trouble sleeping and physical symptoms like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a feeling that someone is watching her which makes her skin crawl. Sometimes she suddenly vomits, just out of the blue, and she never knows when a panic attack is coming. Much of the time she feels like she is going through the motions of life. She feels disconnected from her neighbors and the other moms in her community. She describes herself as "on the outside looking in" to her life. She doesn't work outside the home now, and she's not sure if she ever will again. Most of the time she feels like she is barely holding it together. She wishes Michael were more empathetic and supportive of what she's going through but he doesn't seem to understand why she can't just "put the past behind her." She feels alone and disconnected from him, and wonders what happened to the happy newlyweds they once were. She is sad and worried about the way she feels, but she doesn't know what to do about it.

The Truth Is, They Are Both Struggling

This dynamic is all too common and I hear stories from both sides of the relationship described above in my office every day. Many of my clients are women like Amy who feel deeply ashamed that they are still affected by the abuse from their childhood years. And others are men like Michael who wonder if they can handle the emotional burden of their partner's PTSD. Regardless of gender, both Amy and Michael could be any one of us. They both feel alone and don't know how to reach the other partner.

Whether you can relate to Amy's feelings or Michael's, it's helpful to understand a few things. 

Three Things to Remember:

1. You are not alone. Whether you are the person who experienced childhood trauma or the person who loves them, what you are feeling is common. Many people are affected by childhood trauma. It is so much more common than most of us realize. Click here to learn more about the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) and the prevalence of childhood trauma. 

2.  Trauma survivors aren't trying to be difficult. They are actually just trying to feel normal. In the scenario I described above, both Amy and Michael are affected by childhood trauma, though neither of them understands the effects in depth. Amy could be described as the "identified patient" - she's the one who is seen as having a problem and needing help. And she does need help. She is suffering so much. Amy's trauma is that she was physically and sexually abused by an adult (her father) whom she trusted to take care of her and keep her safe. Her mother was unable to protect her and pretended nothing was wrong. So both of her primary caregivers, whom she depended on for safety and protection, let her down. She is affected by a loss of attachment as well as the effects of the abuse.

But Amy's not the only one in this example who needs help. Michael, too, experienced childhood trauma. His father died when he was only ten, and in her grief his mother was unable to attend to Michael's emotional needs. Instead, in order to be safe, Michael had to take care of his mom's emotional needs, and his own needs were ignored. He also had a younger brother to look out for. So Michael experienced a loss of attachment when neither of his parents was available to take care of his emotional needs, as well as the trauma of his dad's sudden death.  It's no wonder that Amy and Michael were drawn to each other, because they both had unresolved pain they were trying to escape when they met. However, Michael's role as a caregiver in his family may have helped him feel comfortable marrying someone who he perceived as having gone through something terrible (without realizing how he himself was affected by his own trauma). Both Amy and Michael were young when they met, and they were both doing the best they could. They both wanted to be okay, and they were trying to be okay together. For a while they were, but the effects of trauma always pop up just when you least expect them. Neither Amy nor Michael is able to be a support for the other, because they are both affected by their own childhood trauma. They can both benefit from counseling with a skilled trauma therapist.

3. Trauma therapy can help. The reason Amy has been in and out of therapy for 10 years without experiencing relief from her trauma symptoms is that she hasn't had the right kind of therapy. 9 times out of 10, my clients with extensive trauma histories will tell me that their previous therapists never explained trauma to them or told them that their symptoms could be related to trauma. Why? The therapists probably didn't know. Trauma is still a newer field of study, although its effects have been documented for years.  Understanding that your symptoms are caused by trauma helps take an overwhelming set of symptoms that are seemingly unrelated and offers hope and clarity. You begin to recognize that you developed these coping methods (like dissociation, comfort eating, compulsive shopping, depression, anxiety) because of the effects of trauma, and not because there is something wrong with you. 

Can You Relate?

You may be wondering if you are an Amy or a Michael. I can't answer that for you, but here are some symptoms which may indicate that you are affected by childhood trauma. 

If you have had some kind of disturbing experience in childhood that has always bothered you, for example:

  • Loss of a primary caregiver
  • Any unwanted sexual experience
  • Any sexual experience you were too young to understand
  • Witnessing violence, whether it happened to you, your caregiver or another family member
  • Feeling that no one understood you, no one cared about you, or that you were abandoned, unwanted, or unloved
  • Being bullied
  • Receiving physical punishment, including spanking, beating, whipping, or being physically abused or harmed by an adult when you were a child
  • Having a parent or primary caregiver who abused alcohol or drugs
     

These are just a few examples of situations that could be traumatic in childhood. Read this article for more, and consider taking the ACES quiz as well. 

So if you have some kind of childhood experience you think might have been traumatic AND you have some of these symptoms:

  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares, sleep paralysis
  • Feeling numb, detached, zoning out, trouble concentrating, easily distracted, losing time
  • Memory issues - feeling forgetful, being disorganized
  • Feeling a nagging sense that there is just something wrong with you, something that makes you different from everyone else
  • Feeling like you are on the outside looking in
  • Trouble feeling close with other people, trust issues, feeling suspicious of other people's motives, thoughts like "no one can be trusted" and a feeling that it's you against the world
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, need to maintain control at all times, rigidity, need for order
  • Feeling mistrustful of your partner, feeling judgmental and critical of others and yourself
  • Body image issues, physical symptoms like chronic pain, stomach issues, migraines, 
  • Sexual problems - lack of interest in sex, shame related to sex
  • Constantly on high alert, watchful, vigilant, can't relax - you hate it when someone comes up behind you and touches your shoulder or stands too close to you

You might be affected by childhood trauma. No article can substitute for talking with a qualified therapist. If you are wondering if you are affected by childhood trauma, talk to a therapist. You can usually speak to them by phone before scheduling an appointment to make sure they feel qualified to help with the issue that affects you. 

Here are some resources for finding a qualified trauma therapist:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

ISSTD

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute

EMDRIA

Sidran Institute

Somatic Experiencing Institute

RAINN

And here are some suggestions for further reading and learning:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

In the Realm Of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

ACES Primer (video)

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of trauma on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. Whether you are directly affected by childhood trauma or it is a problem for someone you love, therapy can help. You don't have to keep suffering.  The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes - trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. I am one of them. If you're in the Baltimore area of Maryland, I would love to talk about how we can work together to help you feel better. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can also contact me directly through my website at this link. Or visit my website to learn about how I work with trauma. 

I hope this article was helpful to you. If it was, please share and/or leave a comment below! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Sources:

ACES Primer video found here: http://www.acesconnection.com/g/resource-center/blog/resource-list-aces-videos

ACES Quiz found here: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

What Is Trauma? Maybe Not What You Think.

What is trauma? Maybe not what you think.

When you hear the word "trauma," what do you think of? If you're like most people, you probably imagine that people experience the effects of trauma after a plane crash, surviving a fire, a major car accident, or participating in military combat. It's true that all of those things can cause someone to experience trauma symptoms, but there are many other traumatic experiences which are more common in the general population that we don't always recognize as being traumatic.

I must point out, though, that I have talked to many people who have survived house fires or military combat. Most often when I describe that these experiences - which you and I can pretty much agree, can we not, are considered by most people to be experiences fitting the definition of trauma - could have been traumatic, the person sitting with me in the therapy room will say, "I don't really think of it as traumatic. I mean, so many people have been through much worse." 

There is a reason why that statement is so interesting, which I'll explain in a minute so bear with me.

Going back to my first point, that there are many traumatic experiences which are more common to most of us than plane crashes and military combat. Some may be more common than others. Tell me, have any of these things ever happened to you? 

  • The loss of someone dear to you
  • Witnessing violence and feeling helpless to do anything about it
  • Any unwanted sexual touching
  • Being hit or hurt as punishment
  • Feeling unsafe in your home
  • Feeling unsafe in your community
  • Being afraid of being physically hurt by one of your family members
  • Being bullied in your family, at school or in your community

Some other types of trauma are more common

When it comes to sexual violence - my definition is ANY unwanted touching of your sexual body parts - or any touching of your private areas that you felt powerless to stop - it is so much more common than most people realize. For example, one out of five women has experienced some kind of unwanted sexual touching. Look around. If you are female, and there are 4 women nearby, one of you has probably experienced unwanted sexual touching. Most of us don't even identify many of these experiences as sexual assault because they happen so often to us and people we know that we think it's normal. But thinking it's normal doesn't mean you are unaffected by such experiences. By the way, if you're having trouble believing that statistic you can go here for reference. To understand more about childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault at any age, listen to my podcast episodes on the subject. 

do I have trauma

Speaking of violence, intimate partner violence is another common cause of trauma. Children who witness domestic violence in their homes often become adults who are in abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence includes pushing and shoving; the larger, stronger or more aggressive partner using the threat of violence to intimidate and control the smaller or less aggressive partner; and can also include controlling one partner's whereabouts, isolating them from their friends and other sources of support. Children often feel they need to intervene to protect one parent when there is domestic violence in the home. When children feel responsible for protecting adults, they are doing so to help themselves feel safe. If the adults are not safe the kids are not safe. You can find more information on intimate partner violence at this link

I talked about a character from the show "Mad Men" and how he exhibits the symptoms of trauma but doesn't realize it in Episode 54 of my podcast. Listen here.

I talked about how children watch adults to find out if they are safe in this podcast episode.

Physical violence is another confusing experience which we often struggle to characterize as being traumatic. There are many ways children can experience physical violence in childhood under the umbrella of punishment. I know several people in my personal life who were hit by their parents - with wooden spoons, hairbrushes, belts, brooms - and laughingly tell of running away from their parents or putting a book in their pants to avoid the pain. Ask any of these people if that was a traumatic experience and they will likely tell you that they deserved it because they were mischievous kids. But children depend on their parents for love and protection. It is a very confusing message that the person you trust to keep you safe also hits you and hurts you to teach you to behave properly. That was common in the 1960's and before, but we now know hitting children does not make them behave better.  In fact, it often increases undesired behavior. It is hard to admit that your parent did something that harmed you, and since a child depends on their parent being benevolent in order to feel safe in the world, the child tells him/herself that s/he is the bad one. In reality, parents who used physical punishment often believed they were doing what was right, and certainly what was done to them, in most cases. However, I have heard far too many stories of the parent hitting the child with an object until the object broke, or using a wooden spoon of just the right size and shape to hurt the most, to deny that sometimes the parent's anger was running the show in those situations. Listen to my podcast interview with Eric Greene of 1 Awesome Dad on peaceful parenting.

Another common but often overlooked experience which causes trauma is called Childhood Emotional Neglect. This term, which was coined by Dr. Jonice Webb, refers to experiences in childhood of not having your emotional needs met by the adults who took care of you. It could be because your parent grew up with their own emotional needs unmet, so they didn't know how to meet yours. It could be because they were depressed, or affected by substance abuse, or chronically ill, or taking care of a family member who was chronically ill, or they may have been physically absent for a variety of reasons. Listen to my interview with Dr. Jonice Webb on Childhood Emotional Neglect here.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is a type of attachment trauma. For more about attachment trauma, listen to my podcast interview with Amy Sugeno here.

How does trauma make us feel?

I specialize in working with people who have experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect, sexual assault, witnessing domestic violence in childhood as well as physical abuse in childhood. I mentioned earlier in this article that it is interesting that people who have lived through house fires or military combat often say "I don't think of it as traumatic, because so many other people have been through much worse."  Guess what. My clients who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused say the same thing. Another thing they often say is "it wasn't that bad because I had a roof over my head, I never went hungry and I had clean clothes to wear." It's great that your basic needs were met, but emotional needs are important too. 

trauma makes us feel alone

Trauma makes you think what you went through isn't that bad. But there is a part of you that knows that it was very hurtful. That part might be an inner voice that says "you deserved the abuse because you were a bad kid." Now here is adult me responding to that. There is nothing you could have done as a child that warrants you being kicked, slapped, punched, whipped, hit with a hairbrush, forced to participate in sexual activity before you were old enough to understand what was happening, called stupid, told you were worthless, beaten with a broom - whatever it was. Children are small and powerless. The adults in their lives should not hurt them. And that voice inside that tells you your pain isn't real, or isn't worthy of being addressed (or maybe that you are too screwed up to be helped) is not accurate. 

Okay, so I realize I have experienced trauma - now what? 

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of trauma on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. You can feel better than you believed possible. The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes - trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. I am one of them. If you're in the Baltimore area of Maryland, I would love to talk about how we can work together to help you feel better. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can also contact me directly through my website at this link. Or visit my website to learn about how I work with trauma. 

If you are not in Maryland (or if you are and you don't want to work with me), you can find a therapist specializing in trauma through these resources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

ISSTD

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute

EMDRIA

Sidran Institute

Somatic Experiencing Institute

RAINN

 

Sources:

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://www.mcasa.org/_mcasaWeb/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/National-SA-Prevalence-Updated1.pdf

National Network to End Domestic Violence. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://nnedv.org/downloads/Policy/AD14/AD14_DVSA_Factsheet.pdf

University of Texas. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: https://news.utexas.edu/2016/04/25/risks-of-harm-from-spanking-confirmed-by-researchers

Cornell University. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/parenting/parents/upload/Spanking-Research-Brief.pdf

 

 

 

Four Reasons People Hate Mother's Day.

Mother's Day Can Be Tough! 

This is an updated version of a blog post I published last year on Mother's Day. I added links to a few podcast recordings from Therapy Chat and an updated guided meditation link.

Click here to listen to this blog post on my podcast!

As another Mother's Day approaches, you may be feeling a little less than enthusiastic about the big day. No need to feel guilty if it doesn't feel joyful to you. You're not alone! Most of my clients and a good number of my friends share that they have mixed feelings about Mother's Day too. This post is for all of you out there who hate the second Sunday in May for whatever reason. And there can be lots of reasons! 

 Write here...

Write here...

There are so many reasons why people find negative emotions coming up near Mother's Day. Here are some that I hear frequently, along with a few suggestions for dealing with these feelings. Feel free to share any ideas I missed in the comments below. 

4 reasons why people say they hate Mother's Day:

"I hate Mother's Day because my mom's not here. Mother's Day reminds me how much I miss her and makes me wish I could tell her one more time how much I love her."

Maybe you were close with your mom and she passed away. Or maybe you weren't as close as you wanted to be, and her death left a lot of unresolved feelings about the relationship. You might feel the loss even more acutely on Mother's Day, even if her death was a long time ago. Maybe you were adopted and you want to connect with your birth mother. The marketing of Mother's Day means you see and hear commercials which tug at your heartstrings. Be gentle with yourself, knowing that you are sad about her loss. Allow yourself to feel your feelings on this tough day. Ask yourself what you can do in remembrance or to honor her. Think about what would make you feel nurtured, and do that, whether it's lying on the sofa wrapped in a cozy blanket watching Steel Magnolias, or going roller skating with your best friend, or cuddling with a puppy at the local animal shelter. Maybe your most special friends or family are not nearby. Can you call, video chat or text them? I'm sure you know what makes you feel loved and taken care of. Do that!  

  Click on the image above to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat! You can also visit iTunes to leave a rating and review,  and subscribe to Therapy Chat so you can get the newest episodes delivered as soon as they're published!

Click on the image above to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat! You can also visit iTunes to leave a rating and review,  and subscribe to Therapy Chat so you can get the newest episodes delivered as soon as they're published!

"Mother's Day is hard for me because I have always wanted to be a mom and I'm dealing with infertility."

Infertility can feel very isolating, especially if your friends and family members are getting pregnant and having babies, and you have miscarried or had trouble conceiving. Even if you have made the decision not to have children, or you have delivered a baby or adopted after experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, Mother's Day can stir up a lot of mixed feelings. Many people say they feel no one understands what they're going through. It might be helpful to spend this day doing something that feels comforting to you. Don't worry about what other people are posting on social media today. Honor your own experience in a way that feels right to you. Are you part of a support group, in person or online? If not, would you like to find one? The National Infertility Association has a list of helplines and support groups as well as a number of other resources on its website. Through The Heart has ideas for coping on its website. 

"I feel sad seeing everyone's Facebook posts saying they love their moms so much, and my mom was never there for me emotionally when I was a child. We still don't have a good relationship. I am mad at her for not taking better care of me."

I specialize in working with people who have experienced some kind of abuse or neglect in childhood. Therefore, many of my clients find Mother's Day triggers their trauma symptoms. Our culture places such importance of the mother role! Many people who are disappointed in their relationships with their moms also feel guilty about having those feelings. It is okay to feel however you feel about your mom. You do not have to pretend your relationship with her is different from how it truly is just because of Mother's Day. Here's a podcast episode I did on being estranged from important loved ones you may find helpful.

This is a good time to do what makes you feel special. If you have a partner, letting that person know this is a tough day for you and asking for extra support can be helpful. You can nurture yourself, even if you were not nurtured as a child. If you need extra support with this, therapy can be helpful. Here's a podcast episode on how childhood emotional neglect can make us feel as if we have a "fatal flaw" making us unlovable.

"I am a single mother and no one supports me on Mother's Day or any other time of the year." 

Mother's Day might feel just like any other day if you have little kids and no partner to make sure that you are celebrated on this day. I'll add it might be just like any other day, with an extra dose of resentment about feeling overworked and unappreciated. Once again, I recommend you try to do what you can to take care of you. Your kids will understand everything you do for them when they're older, but for now, they don't get it. Reaching out to a friend who is also a single mom could be helpful. Maybe it would feel nice for you and your kids to get together with a mom friend and her kids. While the kids play you can provide one another with moral support.  Or maybe you can take your kids to the park, so they can play while you get a bit of respite. Do you have any family or friends who would be willing to watch the kids so you can do something that makes you feel special on Sunday?  

A couple more things that might help:

I have two more recommendations that might make the day easier if you struggle on Mother's Day. First, it might be wise to avoid social media that day and the day after. Just like on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day is a notorious day to catch a bad case of comparison-itis when you see what your friends on social media are posting. There will be "perfect" family photos, flowers, and many photos of the fabulous brunches that someone's wonderful spouse or kids treated them to on Mother's Day. I'm not taking anything away from your friends and the wonderful Mother's Day experience they want to share on social media, but if you know this is going to be tough for you, it might help to just not look that Sunday and Monday.

My second recommendation is to try this meditation if you need a little Loving-Kindness (Metta) in your life.

To begin, sit comfortably on a chair or meditation cushion, with your feet on the floor or legs crossed. Sit up tall and breathe deeply for three inhales and three exhales. Bring your awareness to your heart and try to recall loving feelings from someone who made you feel nurtured. Slowly repeat these words:

  Click on the image to visit my website where you can listen to and download two free guided meditations. 

Click on the image to visit my website where you can listen to and download two free guided meditations. 

May I be safe.

May I be happy.

May I be kind to myself.

May I be free of suffering. 

Notice what feelings arise. You may feel the loving kindness spread over your body. You may also notice that sadness or anger are felt. Do not try to push these feelings away, but just notice them. If you can allow yourself to feel them you might find that they pass. Continue taking deep breaths in and out, and just notice how you feel. There is no right or wrong way to feel. This simple practice can be done for a minute or two, or for longer if you wish. It is up to you. 

I hope the meditation I have described above will offer some comfort, even if you hate Mother's Day. If you'd like more guided meditations, Here is a link to two free meditations on my website. 

If you have a reason for hating Mother's Day that I didn't mention, please comment below! I'd also love to hear of any other ideas you may know of that are helpful in getting through Mother's Day if it's a hard day for you. And please remember that you are not alone.

With loving kindness,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

If you liked this post, please feel free to follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to read my latest e-mail newsletter. Click here if you'd like to receive my newsletter in your e-mail. And if you are interested in working with me in therapy or attending one of my workshops, groups or intensives, click here to contact me or give me a call at (443) 510-1048. I'd love to hear from you! 

Mom and baby cat Mother's Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

National Infertility Association (2015). Support groups list. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.resolve.org/support/support-group/support-groups-list.html

Through the Heart (2015). Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from http://throughtheheart.org/

 

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 25: What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 25 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 25 OF THERAPY CHAT!

Welcome! My guest for Episode 25 of Therapy Chat is Dr. Jonice Webb, a clinical psychologist and blogger for Psych Central. She’s the author of the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. We’ll delve into this topic and its impact in our society today. Listen to Episode 25 by clicking here or on the image at right.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • The definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect: a parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs
  • This is different from physical neglect and abuse.
  • In her private practice, Dr. Webb kept seeing clients with the same patterns.
  • She has identified 12 different types of parenting styles that lead to Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  • Children who experience may grow into parents with the same communication patternsif CEN isn't identified and addressed.
  • Dr. Webb has developed a questionnaire, designed for adults, to determine if you’ve been affected by this CEN.
  • Her book gives case examples of parent-child dynamics leading to CEN.
  • She explains how to overcome CEN. 
  • Dr. Webb wants to put together CEU trainings for therapists who want to work with this specialty, but first, she wants to complete a research project to compile results.
  • She has a special offer for therapists working with clients who struggle due to Childhood Emotional Neglect. Listen in to hear it!
  • Contact Dr. Webb at www.emotionalneglect.com or email her at jwebbphd@rcn.com. Sign up for her newsletter on her website and check out her blog at Psych Central!

It was great hearing Dr. Webb share her knowledge about Childhood Emotional Neglect! If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now in some areas). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, Instagram & Google+. If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Is Shame Stopping You From Apologizing?

Say You're Sorry: Don't Let Shame Stop You!

A guest post from Ruth Spalding, LMSW

Recently I've talked about the pain we can experience when an important relationship falls apart (read and listen here) and considered whether or not forgiveness is necessary (read and listen here). Today I invited my colleague, Ruth Spalding, LMSW, who practices in Traverse City, Michigan to explain the role of shame in our reluctance to apologize when we do something that is out of alignment with our values. 

I've been wanting to write this post ever since reading Amy Poehler's Yes Please memoir. In it, she talks about how she really screwed up and waited a very long time to apologize. She goes into detail about what makes a good apology and for the most part I agree with her. So here are the steps to apologizing like you mean it.  

Mean It

Shame paralyzes motivates defensiveness

A lot of times when we screw up we're mad at ourselves but don't want to be. So we direct that anger at other things, maybe what we see as our excuse for our mistake. Maybe we squash it down. Either way, we usually have to really look at ourselves and what we've done. And we have to accept it so that we can get in touch with our healthy regret instead of toxic shame. Healthy regret motivates us to apologize. Shame paralyzes us and motivates us to act defensively. 

Say You're Sorry

Sounds simple, right? “I'm sorry.” That's a complete sentence. You should have a sentence like that when you apologize. If you're more of a formal person you can say “I apologize” or “I deeply regret...” If you have neglected step 1 then step 2 will be pointless because it will sound insincere. You actually don't have to say much. As long as you mean what you say it will have a powerful impact. 

Identify the Problem

Name what you did that you regret. Do not say you're sorry about someone's feelings. Their feelings are valid and do not require an apology. The hurtful actions are what require the apology. If you “don't know” what you did wrong you need to go back to step one. It's actually okay to be confused about this, we often make mistakes in a haze of strong emotions and then have difficulty rationally sorting through it. We can be really good at denial and hiding our shame and this might be preventing you from getting in touch with feeling regret for what you've done. The good news is that with some introspection you can figure out what you did wrong, but it might take some time and painful honesty.  

Do not justify, excuse, rationalize or minimize what you did. No explanation is going to reduce the other person's pain as much as a genuine apology. Shame makes us not want to exist. Regret makes us want to stop doing bad things.

Shame vs regret

Make Amends

If it's applicable, try to make up for what you've done. Did you destroy someone's furniture while partying too hard? Offer to pay to have it fixed. Of course, there are situation in which it's hard to “make it up” since the damage done isn't easily repaired. You can always say you'll make it up anyway you can but please refer to step one before you do. If you've followed all the previous steps, when you're called to make amends, you'll do so genuinely.  

Don't Ask For Forgiveness

I've seen other folks recommend this when apologizing. I don't because the apology is not about you. It's really about repairing the rupture you caused. Focusing on how you feel, what you need, is not a healthy frame for an apology. If they want to forgive you, they can, but don't ask them for that or pressure them in anyway. If they decide to forgive you, they will have given you a great gift that will probably help you feel better about the situation, but such a gift must be freely given.

Never Do It Again

For some offenses, this is easier said than done. But you should really try to stop the problematic behavior that caused issues in the first place. This might require a better understanding of your own patterns of behavior and internal dynamics that led to the problem, or it might be very straightforward. 

If you're struggling with repeating hurtful behavior, a therapist can help you move away from toxic shame toward a healthier mindset. Apologizing when you've screwed up is the biggest credibility boost you can ever get. Owning your mistakes is so highly respected because most people understand how difficult it is to do. Grappling with your defenses so you can apologize and really mean it is tough. That kind of self-awareness shows through to all that you do. Saying you're sorry is a big opportunity to show commitment to integrity, love, honesty and compassion.

I'm Ruth Spalding, a therapist, trauma guru, and LGBTQ advocate. I love to help burnt out healers find their healthy spark again and guide black sheep to their own awesome herd so they're no longer left out. My private practice, Live Well Counseling LLC, is based in Traverse City, Michigan. If you want to read more blog entries by me or learn more about what I do visit my website. 

Thanks, Ruth, for your guest post! Readers, do you agree with Ruth's suggestions for a good apology? Please share your comments and ideas below!

And as always, for more of what I'm doing, you can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

And to listen to The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast you can click here!  You can also listen on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play. Please download, subscribe and consider leaving a review on iTunes if you like it! 


The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma

The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma - A Public Health Issue Which Is Preventable

On Episode 19 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I talked about a subject which is extremely important to me. It is an issue I talk about every day in my psychotherapy practice, as I specialize in helping people who have experienced childhood trauma. Many of us have experienced traumatic events in childhood and think "that was a long time ago, I should be over it by now," or "it happened before I was old enough to remember so it can't be affecting me so many years later." But whether or not we consciously remember traumatic events, they can still affect us. 

 

 

Click here to listen to this discussion in podcast form on Therapy Chat (formerly known as the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast)!

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

And these effects are not only emotional - although the truth is that childhood trauma can have long-lasting emotional effects, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yes, you read that correctly - PTSD, which we usually associate with veterans who have experienced combat, can be caused by experiencing childhood trauma too. 

In additional to the emotional effects of childhood trauma, a large study has found a connection between childhood trauma and physical ailments as well. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (also known as ACES), which was conducted beginning in 1987, found that people who had experienced childhood trauma had higher rates of suicide, mental health problems, addiction, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, lung disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses contributing to shortened lifespan than people who had not experienced childhood trauma.

The study also illuminated the fact that childhood trauma is much more common than most people realize. Sixty-four percent of adults have at least one traumatic event in their childhood history, according to the study. 

I'm passionate about intervening as early as possible to help people who have experienced traumatic events in childhood, which is why I decided early on to work with children as well as adults. It is never too late to work on healing childhood trauma, but the earlier the better. 

If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in healing trauma click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

To listen to Therapy Chat, where I discuss trauma as well as mindfulness, psychotherapy, worthiness, perfectionism, self compassion and many related subjects, click here! Please consider subscribing on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or Google Play if you like it!

Sources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from:http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

 

Connecting With Your Own Needs: Vulnerability in Action

Connecting With Your Own Needs: Vulnerability in Action An Interview with Dr. Agnes Wainman, the Self Care Activist

Recently I was fortunate that Dr. Agnes Wainman of London Psychological Services in Ontario, Canada - also known as The Self Care Activist - allowed me to interview her about self care for The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. 

Agnes and I had an interesting (and funny, in my opinion) interview in which we discussed society's unreasonable, unrealistic and unattainable expectations of women which encourage us to neglect our own needs and see self care as indulgent. We talked about how social media can make our relationships with our children, our partners, our friends and ourselves more difficult than they need to be. Agnes shared her own journey from "burned out to blissed out" as a mother of newborn twins and doctoral student and the lessons she learned about vulnerability and authentic connection. She shocked me by telling me what Canada does to support new mothers! 

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #16 WITH DR. AGNES WAINMAN

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #16 WITH DR. AGNES WAINMAN

Click on the image to listen to Episode 16 of the podcast and if you'd like to hear more of what Agnes has to say, check out her website: www.londonps.ca or visit her YouTube channel where she shares tips and tricks to incorporate self care into your life.  

What did you think of this episode? I'd love to hear your comments! You can also rate and review the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. And if you'd like to hear more from me you can sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me  on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

3 Strategies to Survive the Holidays & Thrive All Year

3 Holiday Survival Strategies to Help You Thrive All Year Long

Greetings! In Episode 12 of The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast (click here to listen) I discussed reasons why the holidays are hard for many of us. Rather than being the most joyful time of the year, November through February is often the most stressful time of the year. If that resonates for you, then keep reading. I'm going to give you three easy strategies for surviving the holidays which you can use every day. 

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and light, but memories of loved ones who aren't there can bring painful emotions to the surface. Feelings of loss related to wishing for a happier childhood frequently arise at this time of year.

And for those of us who experienced feeling unwanted, abandoned, ignored, overlooked, or not (good/pretty/smart/successful/loved/rich/thin...fill in the blank)  _______ enough in our childhood and teenage years, gathering with family can be more painful than fun. Unspoken resentment and unresolved tension interfere with the closeness and loving warmth we wish for. Read on below to learn how to get through it with your sense of well-being intact.

Survive and Thrive This Holiday Season!

Holiday Survival Strategies:

It's a stressful time of year for many reasons, but to get through it feeling connected to your values, in control and emotionally safe, these three strategies can help.

1. Set Boundaries.

Do you know what it means to set boundaries? The best way I know to explain boundaries is this: Setting boundaries means defining what is okay and what is not okay for you. Here's how it works:

For example, let's say you always gather with your extended family at your mother's house for Christmas. You want to go because it's your family tradition and it's the only time your whole family gathers together. However, your relationship with your mother is strained and you feel uncomfortable being around her. She wasn't really there for you emotionally when you were little and you aren't close with her now. She is critical of you to your face and talks about you negatively behind your back to your siblings. Furthermore, things usually get ugly after dinner when people have been drinking and the sarcastic remarks, passive-aggressive comments and criticism start coming out. Last year you and your uncle got into a huge argument and it hasn't been addressed since you stormed out that night.

Survive the holidays and thrive all year

You plan to attend this annual ritual this year as always, but you're having mixed emotions. Part of you is hoping that this year will be different, that your mom will be kind and loving toward you and that you and your uncle will get along better. But another part of you is feeling really anxious about going, with the dread increasing daily. You feel you have only two options: go and be miserable or stay home and feel guilty. Here's how to set boundaries:  

First, ask yourself what you need. This can be difficult if you usually make decisions based on what other people need and want, rather than your own thoughts and feelings. Consider that you have many options to choose from, and pick one that feels right to you. You may decide to stay home and not attend the gathering at all. Or maybe you would prefer to go, but not hang around after dinner when things start getting wild. Would it feel better to talk to your uncle beforehand and clear the air about what happened last year? Maybe you'd like to talk to your mom about visiting her on a different day around the holidays, when there is less stress and tension. You can choose how you want to show up - literally and figuratively - for this event. Let your own thoughts and feelings be your guide. It may be helpful to discuss your feelings with a trusted friend or journal about it. Once you've come up with a plan for how you want to deal with the issue of attending the family gathering, talk to your mom about your plans. Let her know what you will be doing this year by speaking directly and without anger. If setting boundaries is new for you, it may be helpful to practice saying this in a mirror so you can feel more confident. And if this is a new communication style within your family your mom may balk at hearing that your plans are different from the usual tradition. That doesn't mean you are wrong to speak up for what you need. Communicating directly and speaking your truth in a loving way is not wrong. In fact, it's because you love your family (and yourself) that you want to find a way to attend an important event that feels right for you, so you and your can family enjoy being together.  This is true year round, not only during the holidays.

2. Manage Your Expectations.

As mentioned above, sometimes we have ideas about how we hope things are going to be when we interact with our families. We have these ideas even though we've had decades of experience interacting with family members, and the communication may not have changed over all those years. So there's a fantasy of how you want things to be, and then there is the reality of how it's more likely to go. Knowing this, it can be helpful to anticipate issues which might arise and plan for how you will deal with them if they happen.

For example, although you wish your mom would be kind, loving and supportive toward you this Christmas, the reality is that she doesn't communicate that way (even if she has those feelings on the inside). You can't control her behavior. What can you control? Anticipating what might trigger you during the visit helps you plan ahead, which allows you to feel more in control. For one thing, you can plan for how you might address it if your mother is critical of you.  On the other hand, if you are caught up in the fantasy of this idealized, perfect family visit, that criticism feels more hurtful because you're surprised and disappointed that things didn't go the way you hoped they would.

Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast

This is also a chance to set boundaries. Ask yourself what you need. What would you like to tell your mom about what is okay and what is not okay with you? Maybe you decide that when she begins criticizing you, you will leave. You can also try ignoring her or changing the subject when the criticism starts. Or you can address it with her directly. How you go about it is up to you, but you have the right to set boundaries with your family so you can feel emotionally safe. Especially if your family of origin was abusive, you owe it to yourself and to your children, if you have them, to set boundaries. Children are stuck in these family conflicts with little to no power over what happens. They're depending on you to keep them safe.

Maybe Uncle Freddie gets drunk every year at dinner and begins yelling at his daughter, your cousin Annie. As much as you hate seeing him do this every year, you feel powerless to do anything about it. Again, you can't control his behavior, but knowing that this is likely to happen you can plan for how you will handle it. It is okay to leave the room when you feel uncomfortable, and you can be as direct as you like in explaining your reason for doing so. When others are behaving inappropriately or abusively you don't owe them an explanation, but you can still excuse yourself without being hurtful if you've anticipated what might come up and how you'll handle it. Setting boundaries with love can help you maintain the relationships you value without feeling as if you are tolerating being mistreated. Once again, managing your expectations about your interactions with family members is something you can do year round. 

3. Practice Self Care. 

Self care is another concept which we often hear about but don't always understand. Self care means treating yourself the way you'd treat someone you love. So you don't have to subject yourself to doing what you've always done for the holidays if you don't enjoy it. What would make you feel good during this time of year? This can be a good time to catch up on rest and relaxation. If it's a particularly sad, painful time for you, allowing yourself to feel your emotions and finding ways to comfort yourself can help. As suggested above, ask yourself what you need. Tune into what your body and mind are telling you and let that be your guide. 

Do you give yourself time to feel your feelings, or are you more likely to push through and try to ignore feelings which may get in the way of you completing everything on your to-do list? Practicing self care can be as simple as making time to eat when you are hungry, rather than skipping meals in favor of attending to other responsibilities. Stopping work to go to the bathroom is an act of self care. Getting enough sleep at night is part of a self care practice. Setting boundaries, moving your body daily, taking time to read for pleasure, listening to music, walking in nature, soaking in a hot bath, meditation, spending time doing things you love - all of these are examples of self care. What does self care look like for you? 

I write frequently about self care and talk about it on The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. Here are several articles I've written on this subject.

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Therapists Share Their Self Care Tips 

Rethinking Self Care

How Self Care Helps Me Succeed In Business

Using Self Care to Nourish Your Soul and Fall In Love With Yourself

Self Care Apps Recommended by Therapists

Using Self Care to Prevent Burnout

Hopefully these will help you understand why you deserve to make self care an important part of your routine. And if the sadness you feel this time of year is not going away, consider getting in touch with me (if you're in Maryland) or another therapist to get started feeling better. You might be surprised how much better you can feel.

If you’d like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me onTwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

I wish you peace this holiday and a joyful New Year!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

Update: As of March 4, 2016, the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast has a new name: Therapy Chat! It's still found in the same locations online - my website, as well as iTunes, Stitcher and (soon) Google Play.  So when you listen to the podcast episode attached to this article, don't be confused! 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

There have been a lot of horrible things in the news lately. There was another mass shooting just yesterday. Terrible things are always happening: violence, hatred, fear, oppression...they all seem to go together, don't they? Is this inevitable?

These are scary times.

Scary things are going on. We're more aware than ever before of our shared humanity. Has it gotten worse or was it always like this? Globalization is bringing our world together. Our young people are growing up learning that people all over the world share the same feelings. We all want to be safe and free. 

I remember when I was a child of about 9 reading a short news article in our local paper. It said that a large number of people - maybe 1000, or 10,000 or even 100,000 - had died when a landslide happened in East Asia. I wondered at this story, feeling sad and scared. I was reassured by an adult who told me that it was nature's way of correcting the overpopulation in that country. Those humans who died were individuals with their own stories, their own hopes and dreams, just like me. Their lives mattered. But in that time, we were so detached from a reality of life different from our own here in the U.S. that it could seem as if people in faraway places we never saw were not actually humans like ourselves. Those people who lost their lives were not "others." That concept creates an artificial distance between us. Distancing ourselves from others' pain can help us feel safer, but it also creates disconnection.

Those people who died that day, and everyone who has died before and since, regardless of geographic location, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, skin color, hair color, eye color, language or any other characteristic wanted safety, belonging, connection and control over their own lives just like you and I. 

Now, thanks to global 24-hour news and the internet, we can see the devastation and pain when an earthquake or tsunami destroys a town, or when flooding or tornadoes hit and people lose shelter and suffer injury or death. We see the humanity of those who are affected. We witness their pain and loss, and we can feel empathy for them and gratitude that we were not directly impacted. But it can feel like too much.

Sometimes it feels like too much.

It's too painful. Watching and reading news of terrorist attacks around the world is so painful. We may want and need to turn away because the pain is too much for us to bear. We begin to fear that we may be at risk of experiencing this same pain and loss. What if terrorists attack here? How will we be safe? How can we keep our loved ones safe?

Please know, if you have trauma, such stories can trigger trauma symptoms which can sneak up on you. Not sure if you might have trauma? Read this post.

I talk about this often with my clients.  Suddenly you have a general sense of unease which becomes a feeling of being unsafe. Next thing you know you've switched into autopilot, survival mode. When you're in this mode you're usually not consciously aware of it. So check in with yourself: Am I absentmindedly checking Facebook? Obsessively checking e-mail? Wanting to micromanage my kids or my spouse? Suddenly forgetting about self care? Feeling stuck, immobilized? Click here for a short body scan mindfulness exercise to help you get centered and grounded in your body. 

I'm scared! What can I do?

So why do these bad things happen? The world's problems are so complex. Are the natural disasters caused by climate change? Well, if so, what can be done about that? Some are saying our planet isn't going to survive unless something changes. It's a terrifying thought! What can be done to protect the Earth for our children's children? It can feel hopeless. I see the feeling of powerlessness to effect change as the result of our overwhelming anxiety and fear. In other words, although it may feel like a hopeless situation and you may feel powerless to make a difference, that is not reality. You can take action if you want to change the way the world is.  As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has!"  That's one of my very favorite quotes. 

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

Using the example of climate change, if you feel worried about it, ask yourself what one small change you can make that will have a ripple effect. Can you teach your children not to litter? Can you make a change in what you consume? Can you donate old clothing instead of throwing it out? Post a Facebook status that raises awareness of the problem? Make a donation to an organization that is working to address the problem? Volunteer to pick up litter on a road in your town one Saturday? 

Many of us are feeling fear and a sense of helplessness from the violence we see and hear about. Most recently the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris this month have created fear that we won't be able to stay safe. With so much anger, hatred, violence and talk of vengeance, are these problems ever going to get better? And will we be safe? 

  Image copyright Laura   Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

I'll quote Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Our discussion about terrorism and violence in general tends to be overly simplistic. We break it down into "good guys" and "bad guys." There are no good guys and bad guys! There is just us! We can do good things and we can do bad things. 

We look at people who do bad things with disgust and wonder how they can be so cruel. Are they just bad people? Maybe they were born bad. How can they hurt others and seemingly not care? How can they be so heartless? It would seem that people who commit acts of terrorism actually take pleasure in hurting others, torturing them and seeing them suffer. This is incomprehensible to most of us.

Yet some voices call loudly for vengeance, saying the only way to solve the problem of terrorism, to keep us - the good guys - safe, is to blow 'em up! Nuke 'em off the face of the earth! Or capture them and torture them until they admit who their leaders are so we can kill them! Harsh, yes, but they deserve it for what they've done to the good guys! Bad guys deserve what they get! We hear a lot of bloodthirsty cries for justice - swift and deadly. I'll be clear that these are not my views. I feel that anyone who hurts someone else should be held accountable with a justice process that is fairly and evenly administered. However, violence begets violence. If we react with vengeance instead of understanding the cause of the behavior and addressing that, we do not resolve the problem. 

Often people who use violence and vengeance to express their pain use their interpretation of religious directives to justify hateful and destructive behavior toward various groups based on ethnicity or culture. We, the good guys, know this is wrong. But Xenophobia (defined as fear of what is strange or different) tends to be our knee-jerk reaction. How is that any different from the attitudes driving terrorists? 

Then what's the answer? Or is it hopeless?

The opposite of this hatred and fear is empathy and compassion. What if we believe that the people who commit acts of terrorism and violence are human beings like ourselves who feel justified in their actions? What if they think their behavior is justified because of their own desire for vengeance related to some hurt and pain they feel? What if we could look at the conditions that create whole groups of people who fear and hate other groups of people and address the underlying causes? I know that sounds complicated but it really isn't as hard as it seems. 

Sociologists and other human behavior researchers have been studying the causes and solutions to these issues for years. What if we looked at the causes of violence, oppression, racism, misogyny and actually addressed the underlying reasons for those attitudes and behaviors? What if we looked at each other as fellow humans, regardless of what makes us different from one another? Could we live more peacefully, feeling safer and having more freedom and ease if we were able to consider that everyone else is doing their best in a given moment? I'm no better than you and you're no better than me. What if we are all equally worthy of love, acceptance and approval? Because, whether or not we believe it, it's actually true. As humans, no one is better, and no one is less than another. How might things be if we lived this way?

Wanting everything to be okay

As for feeling that we need to have some reassurance that we will stay safe and that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love, we don't get that. There is none. Bad things will happen. We will hurt. And we will get through them and we can be okay. 

I used to believe that a good life is one in which I would always be happy, or at least content, and nothing bad would happen to me. I still want to believe that I can get through life feeling safe from pain and most importantly, that I won't lose the people I love. I don't know if any of you have felt this way. I know I'm not alone in the feeling. But I don't feel this way because it's how life is, or how it's supposed to be.

I feel this particularly deeply because of the fact that in my early years I did experience loss of people who were most important to me. It took a long time for me to process how these losses affected me. So the worry about losing the most important people in my life comes from that early experience. Now that I know that and now that I've processed the pain of that loss, I can live in the reality that nothing is certain. No matter what I do, there is really no way to insulate myself from the possibility that I might lose the people I love. 

In some small ways, my children growing up can be an experience of loss. It's a process of losing the close connection we've had their entire lives. It is tempting to try to hold on to them in a way that prevents them from becoming independent adults, to serve my own desire to feel connected and loved. But that's actually not healthy for them or for me. Being conscious of that feeling of wanting to keep them close to fulfill my own needs keeps me in check, and I set boundaries on my role in their lives to create a healthy relationship. Setting boundaries (defined as what's okay and what's not okay with me) isn't just a one time thing. As we all grow, the boundaries are re-drawn. The relationship isn't static, so the boundaries must change too. 

So how do we live with the reality that we can't possibly prevent every bad thing from happening, no matter what we do? How do we go through life and be okay, even when something bad can happen that might take us by surprise? Well, one way to do it is to live your life worrying about every possible risk and taking steps to avoid it. I wouldn't recommend this strategy since it could eventually make you feel afraid to leave the house with no one wanting to be around you because you worry so much you make everyone else nervous. 

 Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Another option is to pretend everything is fine even though inside you're dreading the moment when everything falls apart. This strategy often leads to feeling disconnected from yourself because you get so good at ignoring that constant worry that you don't really know how you feel anymore. People who do this will sometimes say, "I don't know who I am anymore. What do I like? I have no idea." Those of us who do this frequently find ourselves taking temporary comfort in numbing out through watching TV, becoming absorbed in social media, binge watching DVDs, compulsively eating, shopping, using sex, gambling or substance abuse to escape. But does it make you feel safe? Not really. There will be loss. You will suffer at points. It's the human experience.

Getting grounded 

So what does help? How can we go through life trying to be okay if we can't be 100% sure that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love? For me, two things have helped. First, healing from the traumatic experiences of my life by working for much of my adult life (starting at age 29) to process my trauma from those early losses I mentioned and other painful experiences has helped me to feel much safer in the world. The second part of my healing, and I share this in hopes that it will help you too, is implementing a self care practice.

Being grounded means being in the present moment, in your body, here and now. From what I've experienced personally and witnessed in others, any regular practice which makes you feel grounded is key to being present in your body, mindfully aware. I can say unequivocally that when I feel grounded and centered in my body I feel safe and I'm not worried about anything happening to me or the people I love.  I wrote a blog post about getting grounded when trauma symptoms are triggered. It, and the graphic above, explain basic grounding techniques. Click here to read the post.

Here and now. This moment is literally all we have. We truly cannot know what's going to happen next, in any area of our lives. Having control is only an illusion. I saw a beautiful quote by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe which read, "I say to the moment: 'stay now! You are so beautiful!'" But do we really stop and appreciate the moments of happiness we experience? I've found myself in the middle of a joyful moment worrying when it's going to end rather than just being. Have you ever done that?

Finding gratitude

So how can you feel okay, knowing there is no guarantee of what will happen next? Well, let me ask you - are you safe right now? Can you be okay in this moment? Check in with yourself. What are you feeling? What are the emotions? The thoughts? What body sensations do you notice? What do you hear? How is your breathing? Can you experience gratitude for this moment that you're allowing yourself right now, just to feel how you are? Can you be okay right now, even if everything is not okay? Right now you're safe. In this moment, there is nothing you have to do or be other than just being you. 

Right now, as you are, without changing anything about yourself, you are enough. See if you can take a deep breath and just let that wash over you. You don't have to do anything else right now besides just be. This is the only moment. There is nothing to think about that happened before, and nothing to think about doing next. There is this moment, right now. Just breathe into it. And as you are doing this, just being, ask yourself if there is anything you can feel gratitude for right now. Sometimes when we feel really good it can be a feeling of gratitude for how well things are going. And if there are some things which aren't going so well, or things you're worried about, see if you can find anything that you can feel gratitude for. 

In any moment, as worried and stuck as I might feel, if I try I can always find something to experience gratitude for. When I feel critical of my body or discouraged with myself for getting out of my regular workout routine, I can experience a feeling of gratitude that it's not too late, that my body is strong and I don't have any health problems at the moment to prevent me from being able to go ahead and do something active like stretch, take my dog for a walk, do yoga or go to the gym. 

Sometimes it's simply helpful to notice that right now, in this moment, I and the people I love are all okay. No one is hurt or sick and we all love each other. That can help me stay grounded and present instead of worrying what if something bad happens?  Another practice I find helpful is listening to guided meditations. Click here for a guided meditation I recorded to help with grounding, gratitude and creating a sense of safety for yourself and the world. 

Thanks for reading my longer-than-usual post.  I hope you found it useful in these scary times. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you.

If you’d like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

3 Reasons You Might Not Be Feeling It During the Holidays

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" But not for everyone.

 

It's that time of year again, late November. Time for holiday cheer in all of its forms. It starts with everything pumpkin spice followed by turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, lights, wreaths, peppermint mocha, evergreen trees and family gatherings. At the tail end of the season you have  New Year's parties and resolutions for the year ahead.

Holiday cheer

For some of us, this is a time of year to look forward to with excitement and joy. We envision happy reunions with loved ones who live nearby and those who don't visit as often. Everyone is laughing, enjoying time together, feeling gratitude, contentment and peace. There are parties to attend, heartfelt gifts to give and receive, special traditions and family celebrations which have been repeated year after year. 

Not everyone is feeling the love, though. For many of us, the holidays are quite the opposite. My clients often share that the holidays are the most difficult time of year. Why? I will give you three good reasons below. In my next two posts I will talk about ways to survive, and even thrive during what can be a tough time for so many of us. Read on below to find out why my clients say that the holidays can be the most stressful times of the year, rather than the most joyful. If you've ever felt the holidays are more challenging than fun, tune in to the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast to hear strategies for making this time of year more bearable! You can listen to the podcast episode on this topic by clicking on the image below. 

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE ON THE PODCAST 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE ON THE PODCAST 


1. You want to feel excited about the holidays, but you can't be with the people you love. 

Holidays can feel lonely
  • You may have lost someone you love in the past year. The first everything without them is hard, but the holidays seem to hit particularly hard. It might feel like you are just going through the motions. Even if their loss is not new, you're reminded of the pain of missing them every holiday.
  • Maybe this is your first Thanksgiving or [insert the winter holiday you celebrate] since an important long term relationship ended. Being suddenly single at the family gathering can feel like you have all eyes on you as you try to act normal and hope no one will ask about why you and your ex aren't together anymore.
  • Perhaps you can't be with your family, and it just doesn't feel right celebrating the holidays away from the people you love. Whether you're a deployed military member or the family left back home, it's hard to be away from the people you love at the holidays. Sometimes geographical distance just makes it too hard to visit at the time of the year which is, let's face it, the most expensive and stressful time for air travel. You may have limited time off from work and spending those precious days hustling through airports or driving on congested roadways for a short visit, only to turn around and do it again to get back home, may be less than appealing.
  • Maybe you're divorced and dreading dividing holiday time with the kids between you and your ex-spouse. 
  • You might be local, but you're staffing the hospital, fire or police station, mobile crisis team or other 24/7 job so your co-workers can be home with their families. While you love your job, it does put a damper on holiday celebrations. Don't forget to take care of yourself - helpers need help too! 

 

 

2.  Trying to create the "perfect" holiday is stressing you out! 

  • Consumerism is at an all time high during the holidays. We all know that stores have started putting up Christmas displays sometimes even before Halloween. Black Friday, the annual shopping day after Thanksgiving that supposedly offers the best sales has creeped into Thanksgiving, and there have been a lot of complaints about intruding on this annual holiday and forcing retail store employees to miss their families' celebrations.
  • You may feel pressure to find the "perfect" gift for everyone on your list. You worry about finding the right combination of thoughtful and affordable for each person and your list is growing year after year! 
  • You feel the "proper" way to celebrate the holidays is to decorate your house just so. This means putting up lights outside, decorating with wreaths, electric candles in the windows, and setting just the right festive tone. It has to look better than everyone else's house, and can't be the same as what you did last year. This is expensive, time consuming and can be stressful for you and anyone who is helping you with all of this setup. 
  • The holidays can put a huge strain on finances! When you add up the costs of greeting cards, postage, home decorations, holiday meals for large numbers of people, buying the right outfit for each holiday party you attend, alcohol and travel, you have quite a large amount above your usual monthly budget. And for many of us, there is no extra pay in the months of November and December to cover these expenses. 
  • You're putting pressure on yourself to create perfect holiday memories. Buying children expensive gifts can be a way that parents try to ensure their kids' happiness. If your financial situation is strained you may find yourself comparing the number of gifts you're giving your children for Christmas or Hanukkah with what other families are doing and feeling you come up short. This can cause a lot of shame at this time of year.  If you put too much pressure on yourself to create a "perfect" family, click here! 

3.  You can't stand getting together with your family of origin.

 Feeling alone? Left out in the cold?

Feeling alone? Left out in the cold?

  • If you had a less-than-happy childhood, those feelings frequently come to a head at this time of year. When gathering with extended family, unresolved and unspoken issues can be the elephant in the room. No one is willing to talk about it, but everyone knows it's there - Tommy and Joey don't get along, and Mom and Dad keep trying to get them to spend time together. Or Uncle Fred is creepy and everyone feels uncomfortable around him, but no one feels like they can speak up. There are secret alliances and certain people being kept in the dark to avoid upsetting anyone. The kids, who can usually sense what's really going on, may act out, feeling the stress and tension that is palpable while the adults seem oblivious.
  • Some family members may think of family gatherings as a time to pretend to be one big happy family, while others are just waiting for the chance to air their grievances. Or maybe everyone is pretending to be happy through clenched teeth, but once the alcohol starts flowing people are saying what they really think. Longstanding jealousy and resentment between siblings tends to show up in these situations. Part of us is hoping to have that perfect holiday that we think everyone else enjoys, while another part of us is dreading seeing these people again.  

We get the message that we are supposed to love the holiday season, but for those who feel disappointment and grief over what's missing, it can be overwhelming. If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in getting through the holidays click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

I'll write more about getting through the holidays soon and I'm planning to host some workshops on self care during this festive and stressful time of year. Get in touch with me if you'd like more info on that!

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

And to listen to The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast you can click here!  Please consider leaving a review on iTunes if you like it!

Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C




Think You Might Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Do you have Seasonal Affective Disorder or are you simply sad? 

I often hear from clients that the winter months are hard. A common statement is, "I think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder." Seasonal Affective Disorder refers to having less energy and increased depressive symptoms at certain times of year, particularly during the Fall and Winter months. It is thought that less sunlight during the winter interrupts the body's cicadian rhythms and causes changes in Serotonin and Melatonin levels, causing mood changes and sleep issues. You can find more detailed information about the definition, causes, risk factors and treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder by visiting the Mayo Clinic website

Much has been written about Seasonal Affective Disorder. I invite you to consider another possible cause for this seasonal sadness. Trauma anniversaries can cause intense feelings at certain times of the year. A trauma anniversary is the date that something traumatic happened in your life. I will explain more below.

winter tree

Susan felt that her symptoms were completely unexplainable and unpredictable, but when talking in more depth about the story of her childhood and the loss of her mother, she revealed that her mother died on May 31. She also pointed out that she never had a chance to grieve her mother's death since she was too busy trying to survive in an abusive home without her only protector. Her father was not attuned to her emotional needs and he lacked the ability to cope with his own grief. 

Susan's annual experience of overwhelming depression in June makes sense when you consider that her mother died at the end of May, so that incredible pain she experienced throughout the month of June 28 years ago, when she was 12, was never processed. Trauma is held in the body, and feelings which are outside of our conscious awareness can show up seemingly at random. You can learn more about this by reading Bessel van der Kolk's book "The Body Keeps The Score," Peter Levine's "In An Unspoken Voice,"  Babette Rothschild's "The Body Remembers," and many other books on the subject of trauma and the body.

Considering whether there is any explanation which may relate to prior traumatic experiences helps us take back control of our own wellbeing.  Susan's body was reminding her every June of the deeply painful loss of her mother. She struggled all year with depression, which is common for survivors of childhood abuse, and in June it became unbearable every year. Susan was able to break this annual cycle and take back control of her emotional and physical health by working with a therapist specializing in trauma. She was able to process these traumatic experiences and she felt better than she had ever thought possible.

*Susan is not a real person. Her story is a composite of many stories clients have shared about their trauma anniversaries. 


This is by no means a comprehensive list of traumatic experiences. If you believe you have experienced trauma, and you are ready to start the healing process, find a qualified therapist who has specialized training in trauma. As difficult as it may be to begin therapy for trauma, it is so worthwhile to find out that you can feel better than you ever thought you could. I know this is true because I have personally witnessed that transformation. 

If you don't have trauma and you really do have Seasonal Affective Disorder, the article I cited above recommends getting more sunlight, taking a vacation to a sunny place (heck yeah!) and/or trying therapy or medication. If you're not sure, talk to a helping professional, whether your primary care doctor or a therapist. 


Susan's Story

Susan* had experienced depression throughout her adult life. Despite taking medication faithfully, she found herself being hospitalized for inpatient psychiatric treatment once a year -always in June - and she lived in fear of when her next depressive episode would cause this disruption in her life. When Susan was a little girl her father was an alcoholic. Her mother tried to protect her from his rage but when her dad was drinking, he often physically and sexually abused Susan. When Susan was twelve her mother died suddenly, and Susan was left alone with her father, who continued to abuse her until she was able to move out on her own at 18. The effects of her traumatic childhood continued to haunt Susan when I met her at age 40. She explained that she felt sad much of the time and her pain would build throughout the year, until in June she would have a breakdown and end up in the hospital because of suicidal thoughts. 

morning light
sunny winter light

So Do I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder or Trauma? 

So before you assume that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, ask yourself whether there is a certain date or specific month that is especially difficult for you. Is there any event you can recall which happened at that time of year which might relate to your feelings about this? Have you experienced trauma? It's not always as obvious as we think. Some situations which can cause trauma include:

  • Loss of a parent or other primary caregiver during childhood
  • Sudden, violent or traumatic death of a loved one or close friend
  • Witnessing domestic violence in childhood or being in a physically violent relationship
  • Growing up feeling that your emotional needs weren't met, that no one was there for you
  • Experiencing physical abuse, including being "spanked" with a belt or other object, or being hit in any way when you were a child, even if you don't consider it abusive
  • Being bullied
  • Any unwanted sexual contact, from touching to intercourse without your consent or when you were incapacitated in some way
Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

If you'd like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my newsletter! I send e-mails every so often when I have something to say, and I definitely won't overwhelm your inbox. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest and Google+. I have a weekly podcast which you can listen to here.

Source: 

Author Unknown. (2015) Retrieved on November 10, 2015 from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047

 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Forgiveness: Is It Necessary for Healing?

Forgiveness: Is It Necessary for Healing?

I recently attended a beautiful healing retreat in San Diego. I have been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. While reflecting during the retreat I realized that I've been holding on to some resentment that has been a barrier to my relationships with important people in my life. As painful as it is to have this barrier in those relationships, I realize that it is actually creating a barrier to my own relationship with myself as well. Self-forgiveness is a key factor in being able to forgive anyone else. Taking the time to reflect helped me see that and let go of that old stuff, and as a result, I feel better and I'm relating differently to the important people in my life.

This subject frequently comes up in my therapy sessions with adults who have experienced childhood abuse, neglect, or other traumas. It's also a popular theme in our culture. Click on the image to the right to listen to Episode #10 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on forgiveness.In it, I discuss the concept of forgiveness and offer some thoughts on the role of forgiveness in the healing process. I also offer resources for forgiving in a way that is authentic and true. Here's a summary of what I said in the podcast:

In the last episode of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast, I asked whether you'd ever had a loss of relationship with someone with whom you were formerly very close. Something happened which led you to decide that you do not want to communicate with this person anymore. Or maybe you are setting boundaries around the role they have in your life because continuing to be close after what happened feels too painful. 

I raised the point that our culture tells us, both through religion and our popular culture, that forgiveness is a requirement for healing. But what if the person hasn't asked for your forgiveness? What if they deny that they did anything wrong? What if they have passed away, and you will never have the discussion about how their actions hurt you? What if they have apologized in a way that feels hollow? Is forgiveness really about the person who did wrong or about the person who has been hurt? Is it for your healing or theirs? Or the healing of the relationship?

Healing childhood trauma involves allowing oneself to feel the painful emotions we may have been avoiding, consciously or unconsciously.  Before jumping to forgiveness it is important to acknowledge these painful emotions. Self-compassion is extremely helpful to healing these hurts and moving the process of forgiveness forward. I offer resources for increasing self compassion in the podcast.  

Researcher Kristin Neff, PhD has researched and written extensively on the subject of self compassion. I highly recommend her book, "Self Compassion," and her website: http://www.selfcompassion.org/ to facilitate healing and allow forgiveness of yourself and those who have hurt you. 

If you're in the Baltimore area and looking for a therapist to begin or continue your journey of healing childhood trauma, get in touch with me at (443) 510-1048 or laura@laurareaganlcswc.com to talk about how I can help. See below for places to get more of what I have to say. 

Find me on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Google +You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here.  Check out my website, www.laurareaganlcswc.com for information on upcoming workshopsgroups and retreats. I'd love to talk about how we can work together!  

 

                       What does asking for forgiveness look like?

                     What does asking for forgiveness look like?


  Click on the image to listen to the podcast episode on forgiveness.

Click on the image to listen to the podcast episode on forgiveness.

  Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Podcaster, Consultant

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Podcaster, Consultant

Mourning the Loss of An Important Relationship

Is there someone in your life with whom you used to be close, but you are no longer on speaking terms? Or maybe you still talk, but rather than the close connection you used to have, things feel strained between you. There is so much unsaid that the tension is palpable. The holidays are coming, and challenging family relationships often come to a head at this time of year. 

In my psychotherapy practice I work with adults who feel worthless, despite success and high achievement in their professional lives. They have everything anyone could want - great jobs, wonderful spouses, children who seem to have it all together...they are the envy of their friends and neighbors.  For many of these clients pain from childhood hurts continues to be a barrier to having close relationships with their families of origin, even into their 40's and 50's. 

I'm not talking about being upset because your big sister wouldn't let you ride her bike, but deeper hurts, like childhood abuse. I'm talking about feeling as a child that your needs weren't being metFeeling like you never mattered, and you may still question whether you are lovable because of it. Deep, painful emotions. Despite trying to "just get over it" and "put the past behind you" as people often advise, these feelings aren't getting better.

Read on below!

In this episode of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I talk about the issue of being estranged from someone who used to be so important in your life, whether it is a parent, sibling or friend. Most people who experience the loss of those important relationships feel hurt by the estrangement, even though they may try to avoid thinking about it. In the podcast I talk about some of these feelings and offer some journal prompts to help get to the bottom of what is really felt inside.

Our society tells us forgiveness is key to feeling better in these situations. However, I think sometimes we rush to claim that we have forgiven someone for hurting us without acknowledging to ourselves how hurt we really feel. It's the "right thing to do." But I question whether true forgiveness is possible without first healing the hurt. My next podcast episode will discuss forgiveness in more detail. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your feedback. Have you had this type of rupture in one of your important relationships? Were you able to resolve it? 

Therapy can help if you are struggling to heal from the hurt of a broken relationship with important people. If you're in Maryland, get in touch with me via e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com, by phone at (443) 510-1048 or send me a message through my website.    

Want to know more? Find me on FacebookTwitterPinterest andGoogle +You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here.  Check out my website,www.laurareaganlcswc.com for information on upcoming workshopsgroups and retreats. I'd love to talk about how we can work together!  

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Click on the image above to listen to the podcast episode. 


For more episodes, click on the image above. If you like what you hear, please consider subscribing and leaving an honest review on iTunes! 

 

 Laura Reagan, LCSW-C 

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C 

When You Can't Let Go Of Your Adult Child

Growing Up Is Hard To Do: When You Can't Let Go Of Your College-Aged Child

To Listen to Part 1 on the podcast click here.

Click here to read Part 1 on the blog. 

Letting Go, Part 2 - When You Can't Let Go 

You did it! You successfully launched your adult child. He or she was admitted to the college of his or her dreams and is on the way to a great four years of making lifelong friends, expanding horizons and learning everything he or she will need to know to start a great career or go to grad school. After dropping your child at college, it's your turn to sit back and relax knowing your work is done and your kid, who is now growing up, is ready to take it from here. Time for getting back to being you, instead of feeling like your only purpose in life is raising children. 

There's just one problem. While your child said goodbye and seemingly hasn't looked back, you cried the whole way home and you haven't slept for days. You find yourself having panic attacks when you think about your child living without you there to help. Your child seems to feel ready for this transition, but you? Not so much.

Or maybe that's not you. Maybe you're not crying yourself to sleep in your child's bed every night, but you're dealing with the other extreme. You don't feel much of anything. You've lost your appetite and you feel nauseous most of the time. You have unexplained headaches, feel tired all day long but can't sleep at night, and you're obsessed with texting and calling your child to find out how he or she is doing.  You and your spouse don't seem to have much to talk about, and you when you do try to talk to one another, it frequently ends in an argument. You're not interested in socializing with friends or doing anything, really, except finding out what is really going on with your college-aged kid. Like, obsessing about it. Like, you can't get anything done at work because you're wondering how your child is and what he or she is doing at college.  Or you are home with a long to-do list but you find yourself on Facebook or watching TV all day and ending the day feeling no more accomplished than when you started. You're drinking more alcohol than usual, your exercise routine is long forgotten, and you feel like you don't know who you are anymore

Losing Your Identity As An Individual

When your child is away at college

When raising children has been our focus for eighteen years or more, parents can feel as if we have lost our identity as individuals once the children leave the nest. In fact, we may not even know who we are anymore. Throwing all of your emotional and mental resources into being a wonderful parent to your child feels fine until the child begins the normal developmental process of beginning to individuate - separating from childhood and moving toward independent adulthood - and he or she needs you less and less. That means you have done your job well! But it can be very painful for the parent to let go. It might feel like - if my child doesn't need me the same way anymore, what is my purpose? These existential questions might seem cliché but when you're experiencing this, it can bring about a very real sense of aimlessness, hopelessness and despair. 

You don't have to feel this way. 

In part 3 of this series on Letting Go I will talk about issues from our past which can interfere with a "clean break" when our kids leave the nest. For now, know that you don't have to settle for feeling like this. Talk to a trusted friend, especially if you know someone else whose child is away at college. Talking to parents who have been through it can be helpful. If you tend to compare yourself to your friends, and they never let down the facade that everything is perfect, you might want to talk to an objective outsider. A therapist can help you process and move through these feelings.

Here's a hint. If it feels this way now, you will probably have a hard time as your child moves through each milestone of his or her adult life, and it will be easier for your child and for you - short term and long term -  if you address what you're feeling. The goal is to raise a well-adjusted adult who is able to have happy, secure relationships. If you want this for your child, it's important to let go. And if letting go is too hard, you have some feelings which deserve your attention. Attending to our own needs is easier said than done when we've spent the past 18 or more years putting our own needs last. But it's not too late to focus on what you want and need.

Working With Me 

There are several ways you can work with me if you're having trouble letting go. We can do individual psychotherapy if you can come to my office in the Baltimore area. You can attend one of my in person workshops or retreats. I can also offer coaching to help you develop a self care plan. You'll learn techniques to take care of your emotional and physical wellbeing and these coaching consultations are available either in personal or virtually. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com if you'd like to discuss getting started. 

If you need psychotherapy outside of Maryland, I urge you to find someone you connect with and trust to help you with these feelings. It's better for you and for your child if you can let go and allow him or her to become an adult. You will be there if he or she needs you, but you will be allowing him or her to live and learn, just like  you did.  Your child will be okay, and you can be too.

I'm also on social media on FacebookTwitterPinterest,  and Google +You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here. 

Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Your Relationship Is Ending - Do You Know Your Rights?

Your Relationship Is Ending - Do You Know Your Rights?

My Interview With Evan Koslow, Esquire, Maryland Family Law Attorney

 

Earlier this year I was lucky to score an interview with my colleague, Evan Koslow of Koslow Law Firm in Annapolis, Maryland.  Evan is one of those people who is so kind and caring that he makes people feel more comfortable while they are involved in stressful life transitions, such as being involved with the courts for separation, divorce and custody.  I'm honored that he allowed me to interview him for the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast.

Our conversation was focused on the ways a family law attorney can help someone know their rights when ending a relationship, whether marriage or the end of a relationship between two people who have children together.  Evan is both an attorney and a mediator, so he is able to help people with legal representation or mediation (but not both). He explains this in more detail in the podcast interview, which you can hear by clicking on the image below.

 Click to listen to my interview with Family Law Attorney Evan Koslow on the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast!

Click to listen to my interview with Family Law Attorney Evan Koslow on the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast!

In our interview Evan explains some considerations which are specific to same-sex relationships. Those of you who live outside of our state may not know that Maryland voters approved same-sex marriage in 2012, before the Supreme Court's decision this year which made it legal throughout the U.S.  This interview was recorded before that historic decision.

One of the things I appreciate about Evan is that he understands how painful legal action to end relationships can be for everyone involved. Children can be particularly affected. I know from my former job as a paralegal and in my experience as a psychotherapist that emotions run high when families are going through divorce or custody proceedings. Evan's perspective is that it is best for all involved to amicably resolve these cases if it is possible to do so. Of course, he will go to court and advocate for his client's rights when needed, but he knows how much more stressful that can be for all parties.

If you'd like to get in touch with Evan to talk about your Maryland family law case, his website is: www.koslowlawfirm.com. You will find all of his contact information there including his phone number, e-mail and where to find him on social media.

If you're dealing with the pain of a relationship ending, therapy can be helpful. I can help you work through your feelings in this painful time.  Feel free to contact me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or by phone at (443) 510-1048. I'm also on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google +. You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here. 

 

It's Easier Not to Care - Or Is It?

Feelings are hard.

Tomorrow is going to be hard. I'm having my dog euthanized.

I'm so sad about this but I know it's time.

I don't want to do this! As tears stream down my face I'm thinking, "I don't want to deal with this. I don't want to deal with this!" 

Why have a pet when you know they will die at some point? I mean, why did I even open up my heart to a new puppy 11 years ago, when I knew I would eventually have to say goodbye? I'm remembering when we had to put down our other dog (10 years ago). It was so sad, definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And now we are doing it again tomorrow, and this time our kids are old enough to understand. Crap. I don't want to feel these feelings!

This is part of life. Part of love. Life is not just the happy times, or even the neutral times when we are just chugging along - not really happy or sad. Life is filled with ups and downs. Overall, I've noticed it's more ups than downs. But the downs stand out more! 

Can I just not feel this?

This is hard. I wish I didn't have to feel this and that I could protect my family from having to feel this. Tomorrow is going to be SO HARD. Not having our dog anymore is going to be so sad. 

Part of me would prefer to pretend this isn't happening. Part of me would like to look online for puppies to adopt through a rescue organization and pretend my dog is already gone. You know that scene in the movie "American Beauty" when Annette Bening's character cries and screams for about 10 seconds and then fixes her makeup and acts like nothing happened? Part of me wants to do that. 

I want to numb my feelings. The problem is, as Brené Brown says, "We cannot selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light." 

Numb the Dark and You Numb the Light - Brené Brown

It's not possible to truly enjoy the companionship of your dog or cat (or your people) if you avoid opening your heart to him or her. When you do open your heart you can have countless hours of fun and mutual companionship with your pet over his or her lifespan. But the price you pay for opening your heart is that you must feel the pain of loss at some point.

Love hurts.

Isn't that true of all of our relationships? We never know when they'll be lost, but at some point they will. One of the people in the relationship will die and the other will experience loss. We never know when this will happen, but at some point it will. Wouldn't be easier just to keep our hearts closed off, protected, guarded by barbed wire, and never let anyone in? 

Well, yes, easier...if you don't mind feeling alone and lonely for your whole life. But we humans aren't made for that. We are social creatures and we need connection to survive, beginning at birth. The key to tolerating the pain of loss is the make sure to enjoy the good moments, really feel them and experience gratitude for them. And even in the neutral moments, can you find something to be grateful for? There is always something. It helps make the ups of life stand out as much as the downs.

So I will do this hard thing tomorrow. I will treasure my last hours with my dog, whom I love, and tomorrow I will take her to the vet so she will not suffer anymore. I don't want to do it and I wish I didn't have to. But I will. And I will open up my heart to another puppy (maybe two!) because it's worth it. I choose to feel because that's what life is.

"Carry on, warrior."

This morning I discovered that Glennon Doyle, Melton author of "Carry On Warrior," has a TED Talk. I have followed her blog, Momastery, but I haven't read her book yet. I watched the TED Talk today and - full disclosure - I cried through the whole thing. Maybe I'm just extra raw because I'm saying goodbye to my dog tomorrow, but I'm sharing it here because I feel pretty sure you will find it meaningful too. 

I think I need to read Glennon's book. It might take my mind off of being sad (or I will cry more - a win/win situation). I'd love to know what you think of the video and of this post in general. Please comment below!

And if you believe that risking heartbreak in the pursuit of connection is worthwhile, you'll probably want to read more of my posts. If you want support in opening your heart, get in touch with me by phone (443-510-1048), e-mail (laurareaganlcswc@gmail.com); or click "Work With Me" on my website to discover what I offer that can be of help to you.

Vulnerability Is Courage

I'm a psychotherapist, consultant, clinical supervisor and Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator. And a mother, wife, sister and friend. Although it was uncomfortable to do so, I made this video to tell you about my work offering The Daring Way™. As you will see, it's not a fancy, glossy, high production value video. It's just me. Therapists are just people who want to help people. We have specialized training in helping people with emotional pain and we can use our own experiences of struggle to relate to the suffering of others. And we are regular people. 

I want you to know that I offer The Daring Way™, based on the research of Brené Brown, because this model has changed my life. That's a big statement! In fact, before reading Brené Brown's books I probably wouldn't have said that out loud for fear that people would have thought my statement was stupid. That's exactly the point of this article. When I attended The Daring Way™ training, I was able to experience the model myself, and it changed me both personally and professionally. I've written more about how Brené Brown's work has changed me, and you can read it here

If you want to live a life that feels more authentic and build deep, meaningful connections with the important people in your life, The Daring Way™ might be a good fit for you. I'm offering this model in the Baltimore Annapolis area and I invite you to get in touch with me if you want to know more. 

(Click here for information on my upcoming weekend intensive. Early Bird Registration Discount ends June 15th!)

So although it felt vulnerable to make this video, I posted it anyway. It's what Brené Brown calls an "Arena Moment" in her book Daring Greatly. I posted the video even though:

  • I don't look perfect. (You're going to find that out sometime...might as well be now!)
  • I filmed it myself on my iPad - it's not glossy and professional-looking.
  • I don't sound as "smooth" and "cool" as I'd probably like to. 

And I like myself anyway! In fact, I'm an expert in the work I do and anyone who decides to work with me is going to see my imperfections eventually. I could try to present you with some kind of mask to make you like me more...but it would show through because I'd be playing a role instead of being authentic. How safe would you feel in a therapy session with a therapist who is hiding behind a mask of "being the expert" and trying to hide his/her imperfections from you? 

As Brené Brown says, "I am imperfect and I am enough." I am, and so are you. So even though I've said a lot about myself, this isn't really about me. It's about you. 

Do you want to show up and be seen as your true self? Are you ready to take off your mask and see what happens when you connect with other people from a place of authenticity? The Daring Women Weekend Intensive takes place July 17, 18 and 19, 2015. You can save $50 on the cost if you register by June 15th! The group is limited to six women and participants will be screened to ensure a good fit with the group. You can find all the details on this special intensive, the only one I'm planning for this year, at this link.  And if you're not ready to try a group setting, I use the model in my work with individuals and couples as well. To get started, give me a call at (443) 510-1048 or send me an e-mail at laurareaganlcswc@gmail.com to talk about how we can work together using The Daring Way™. 

If you want to read more of what I share, you can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, and sign up for my e-mail newsletter (I won't spam you). 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Vulnerability Is Courage - Brené Brown
 

May is Mental Health Month!

Happy Mental Health Month! I think many of us can't relate to the words "Mental Health" as we associate them with negative images we have seen and heard on TV and in the movies. Do you have a loved one who has had a mental health problem? I do. If you don't, then that means neither you, nor anyone you care about has ever struggled with anxiety or depression, or experienced a traumatic event. Most of us have. I certainly have. 

Mental Health is a positive term, actually. Think about it - what if May was Physical Health Month? That sounds nice, doesn't it? Well, our bodies and minds are functioning at their best when we are experiencing mental and physical wellness. And there's a connection between our physical health and our mental health, because our mind, body and spirit all interact to make us the individual beings that we are.

Mental Health Month for 2015 is focused on recognizing when one needs help before the symptoms become so severe as to require intensive interaction, such as hospitalization. What does this mean to you and me? To me, it means three things.

Understand the effects of traumatic events.

I think my purpose in life is to help people who have experienced trauma and spread the word about the effects of trauma. Despite extensive research on the prevalence of childhood trauma and its effects on the physical and emotional well-being of humans throughout the lifespan, it seems that most people don't recognize the importance of addressing the effects of trauma. I feel sad about the amount of suffering so many of us endure before realizing that it doesn't have to be this way. If you've experienced a traumatic event, help is available! I've seen the positive outcomes for people who have participated in trauma-focused therapy. 

Practice Self Care

This is one of my favorite subjects, and I've begun a blog series on the topic. You can read the articles I've written thus far here. The key is to treat yourself as you would someone you love. It sounds very simple, but for many of us, it is easier said than done. In general, women in our culture are raised to take care of others, and men are raised to suppress their feelings. Our culture doesn't encourage us to take care of ourselves, but it is the only way to truly take care of anyone else. Check out what Brené Brown said about this on Oprah's Lifeclass. 

Know When To Seek Professional Help

Do you know the signs that a mental health problem is serious enough to require professional help? Many people are uncomfortable asking for help due to the stigma of mental health. This can contribute to waiting to seek help until we feel completely overwhelmed. Here's a link to a page listing symptoms of various types of mental health disorders.  There's no shame in admitting that you've reached the limits of how well you are able to manage a problem on your own. We all have these moments at times. I view therapy as a part of being well throughout the lifespan. There have been times when I have needed professional help to move through some difficult times, and I'm not ashamed to say so! Without this help I wouldn't be where I am today, in a position to help others.   If you think you might have a mental health disorder, here's a simple screening tool which can help you identify whether you'd benefit from professional assistance.   Here is a link to find help, wherever you are. 

I hope you'll join me in challenging the stigma of asking for help. It is truly a sign of strength to admit that a problem has grown past your ability to handle it alone. Please share this post to show your support for ending stigma! If you choose to share it on social media, please use the hashtag #B4Stage4. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

May is Mental Health Month! #B4Stage4


Sources:

Burke, N.B. (2015, February 17). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk 

Mental Health America (n.d.). Mental health screening tools. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Mental health by the numbers. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

Harpo, Inc. (n.d.). Oprah's Lifeclass: are you judging those who ask for help? Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Dr-Brene-Brown-on-Judging-Those-Who-Ask-for-Help-Video#

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (n.d.). How to get help. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/ 

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (n.d.). What to look for. Retrieved on May 2, 2015 from: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/index.html

Self Care Blog Series Round Up

To make it easier for you to find the series of articles on self care I've collected them on this page. I will add to the list as new articles are posted. 

Rethinking Self Care 

Therapists Share Their Self Care Tips

Self Care Apps Recommended By Therapists 

Self Care is Essential for Health

 

Feel free to share these if you think someone you know will benefit, and post them on social media! You can also follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. I look forward to connecting with you! To talk about working together in therapy contact me at (443) 510-1048 or by clicking here to send me a message.