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21
Jul

Attachment & Relationships

Trust issues…where do they come from?  Yes, it’s certainly possible that family and intimate relationship experiences can cause heart-break and mistrust.  For instance, enduring your parents’ divorce, seeing your mother as unfaithful or your father as a “rolling stone,” and you yourself, being cheated on by a long-time spouse or partner – all of these experiences can cause us to keep up an emotional guard in relationships, doubt the fidelity and genuineness of others, or avoid intimacy altogether.  But what about those of us who do not have such profound and obvious experiences?  Where does the inability to trust come from if we’re never modeled or ‘taught’ to be weary of others?

Attachment Theory provides a possible explanation to these queries.  This theory describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans, which is determined as early as infancy.  The most important principle of Attachment Theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development.  Attachment is the affectionate tie between two people and this bond becomes internally representative of how young children will form relationships in adulthood.  In other words, this initial relationship between self and others serves as a “blueprint” for all future relationships.

The attachment bond can be broken in many ways, with the most obvious being physical and sexual abuse; however, physical and emotional neglect can also be detrimental to future relationships.  For instance, a child frequently left crying, wet, or hungry, or who is not comforted when in physical pain, must learn to comfort or sooth himself, and possibly, develop an inability to trust those whom they love the most.  Another example is an infant child who smiles at his or her mother, or reaches for a hug, but does not receive reciprocation may develop a lack of empathy for others and have difficulty forming lasting relationships in their later life.  They may lack genuine affection with others, be inconsiderate or conscious of others’ needs, or be suspicious of a partners’ affection. 

The core of one’s relational problems may be his or her attachment style and history.  Therefore, in some cases, what may seem like a need for couple’s counseling may actually be more of an issue for individual counseling.  The deeply-seated and suppressed needs can be met, emotional damage can be healed, and relationships can become lasting. 

21
Jul

Childhood Stress. Really? Really.

As adults, we have hundreds of sources for stress: in our homes, in our jobs, in society, financially, relationally, physically, mentally, and the list goes on and on.  It’s easy to discuss with friends the “problem of the week” or with colleagues “what’s wrong with the world today.”  Oftentimes, we don’t consider that children have these same sources for stress.  In fact, many of us reminisce about childhood being “easy” and free of responsibilities.  In my clinical experience, however, that has not been the case for many children and adolescents.  Due to disregarded stressors (external and internal), many youth present with psychological issues or conditions, including disruptive and defiant behaviors, ADHD, depression, anxiety, social problems, low self-esteem, substance abuse, learning or academic difficulties, and sexual behavior problems.  External stressors can occur within the family (i.e., separation, changes and/or disorganization, loss, finances), peers (i.e., bullying, loss, assimilation), school (i.e., success and expectations, child/teacher relationship, learning limitations), and community (i.e., social pressures, violence, media).  Internal sources for stress might include hunger, pain, physical sensitivities (to noise, temperature change, crowding, etc.), fatigue, over- and under-stimulation, psychological conditions, and physical disabilities. 

A main difference with adult verses child stress, is that adults have had years of learning coping mechanisms to manage their stress (some positive, some not-so-positive), whereas children are not so fortunate.  Due to cognitive limitations, children generally rely on previously learned behaviors to diminish the stress (i.e., crying, temper tantrums, asking questions, being withdrawn, thumb sucking).  However, this may lead to a negative cycle whereas symptoms remain, become enhanced, and/or transfer to other problems – especially if the child is disciplined for the “inappropriate” behavior.   Here are some signs to look for if your child or adolescent may be experiencing external or internal stressors: crying, sweating palms, tantrums or aggressive outbursts, headaches and stomachaches, toileting accidents, sleep disturbances, sadness, avoidance, excessive shyness, hypervigilance, excessive worry, “freezing up” in social situations, seemingly obsessive interests in objects or routines, excessive clinging, inattentiveness, or hyperactivity. 

So, as a parent, what do you do?  First, it’s important to know what NOT to do…Do not assume that your child can or will cope in the same manner you do.  Then what?  1. Appropriately prepare the child and help them anticipate the stressor (if and when possible).  2. Provide the child with an age-appropriate and friendly environment where they feel supported to play out or express their concerns.  3. Help the child identify various coping strategies, including relaxation techniques, artistic expression, and positive self-talk skills (i.e., “I can do this”).  4.  Help the child recognize, name, accept, and express their feelings appropriately.  Many child and adolescent therapists can offer these tools, this special type of environment, and provide other recommendations for helping children cope with stress.  Also, in some cases, psychological testing may be necessary to fully understand the nature and impact of external and internal stressors. 

27
Jun

The Many Faces of ADHD

Simply understanding Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a disorder of inattention and/or hyperactivity is not enough.  While on internship in Chicago (2009), my very-insightful supervisor, Dr. Gene Carroccia, helped me to better understand this complex disorder.  The following are just a few important aspects of the brain-functioning condition called ADHD:

ADHD is a motivation or boredom disorder.  People with ADHD are usually not motivated to do things except what they are interested in at the moment.  If they are interested in something then they can do it for long periods.  This is confusing for parents and teachers because they will see the ADHD person persisting with things they like, but then struggling with chores, following rules, and homework.  Dr. Carroccia explains that ADHD people often appear as lazy, selfish, insensitive, and self-centered because they pay more attention to things that are new, highly stimulating, or interesting, and struggle with things that are routine, ordinary, boring, or tedious (such as schoolwork, chores, lectures).

ADHD is an organization disorder.  ADHD people often are quite messy and disorganized.  Dr. Carroccia posits that, most people with normal brains take for granted their ability to be organized and follow steps to complete everyday tasks, like cleaning a room, doing homework, or doing a project.  They have trouble starting a project or activity, remaining focused, and persisting in the small tasks in order to complete the entire task.  Because of this problem, ADHD people are notorious procrastinators and will also struggle to maintain things in neat or orderly ways.

ADHD is a frustration disorder.  People with ADHD can appear angry, but it is often really frustration.  ADHD people often have frustration tolerance problems, meaning they do not tolerate frustration as well as others their age.  When things don’t go their way or when they are told to do things they do not want to do, they can become frustrated.  When frustrated they can have temper tantrums or outbursts where they yell, cry, scream, or say mean things.

ADHD is a self-control disorder.  Because some ADHD people have impulsivity, they have a harder time controlling their actions.  They do and say things without thinking about the consequences of their behaviors, and this can cause them to be rude and get into trouble.  They have serious self-control problems, and struggle with the ability to stop, think, inhibit, plan, and then act, as well as to continue doing things while other distracting things are occurring.

ADHD is a time-disorder.  They often have time management problems due to having difficulties with planning ahead and anticipating negative outcomes from their behavior.  They lose track of time more easily and are often late for things.

ADHD is not a common sense condition and may appear strange to parents, teachers, spouses, and co-workers who have not been educated about ADHD.  For more information on this disorder or to schedule a psychological evaluation to help identify if ADHD is present in your child, spouse, or you, contact Fresh Start today!

19
Jun

Love & Communication

When we think back to past, failed relationships, it’s easy to attribute blame to the –ex, negative circumstances, and/or poor timing.  Oftentimes these memories are long-lasting and impact subsequent relationships.  It is clear that we are all different people, with different life influences, different values and beliefs, and different coping mechanisms.  Couples’ differences are generally the cause of degenerating or failed relationships.  In considering ALL the differences couples may have, the misinterpretation or inconsistencies of one’s love language is also imperative to understand.

What is a love language?  Author Gary Chapman stresses the importance of being able to express love to your partner in a way that he or she can understand. He calls this type of communicating, love languages.  He posits that there are 5 main love languages that we speak: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch.  Imagine your attempt to communicate love in a relationship, but you speak it in Spanish and your partner speaks it in German.  More specifically, imagine that, throughout childhood and adolescence, love was communicated to you through physical touch (e.g., hugs, kisses, pats on the back) and your partner’s was through receiving gifts (e.g., flowers, new clothes, money).  Then, in your adult relationship, a gift may be meaningless when all you want is to be held.  For your partner, a passionate kiss could be misconstrued, if he or she is expecting a token or gift that represents love.  Though you’re genuine in your communication and you strongly desire to convey, “I love you and I’m committed to you,” your partner hears a foreign language and may rely on your actions to do the communicating.

Without understanding each other’s love language, an individual’s actions or lack thereof, can be misconstrued or disregarded.   After years of unhappiness, arguments, and dissatisfaction, many couple’s counselors often find that the problem isn’t love, it’s the love language.   Amongst many valuable reasons, counseling is an opportunity for individuals and couples to build healthy and long-lasting relationships.  Not only can counseling help clients understand their and their partner’s love language, it also can help protect against the consequences of these languages not being understood or respected.  These might include anxiety, depression, anger, arguments, and even, divorce.   It is a worthwhile investment to help couples navigate life and love in a healthy way.

For more information on love languages, read Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (2004).

10
May

Mental + Spiritual + Physical

When I think about total body wellness, I consider the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.  However, in the most health fields, including psychology, the focus is generally on the mind and the body.  Some people focus solely on physical health and believe that exercise and nutrition are “it” and if they look and feel good physically, all is well.  However, what happens when these same individuals experience a bout of depression, anxiety about a career decision, have significant relationship problems, or lack a sense of purpose in life?  The thought of seeking mental health or spiritual guidance may not even cross their mind.  In other cases, a person may understand the value of psychotherapy and feel secure in their spirituality; however, have poor eating and exercise habits, or never seek treatment for chronic aches and pain.  These individuals may endure physical issues that still hinder their overall well-being and actually prolong some symptoms of anxiety or depression.

The connection between the mind, body, and spirit is not one to be disregarded and given that the spirit component is oftentimes the most disregarded, I thought it’d be worth it to research actual statistics of the impact of spirituality and religion.  According to Dr. Harold Koenig (Duke University Medical Center), people who attend religious services at least once a week are 46 percent less likely to die from poor physical health habits (i.e., smoking).  Apparently, these individuals benefit from many things, including the social networks they form, the encouragement they receive, and the peace of understanding the power of God.  Some smaller studies have also shown that people who attend religious services or identify themselves as spiritual beings, experience lower levels of depression and anxiety, have better physical health (i.e., lower blood pressure, fewer strokes), say they generally feel healthier, and engage in less risky behaviors (i.e., alcohol consumption, smoking).  A strong sense of spirituality also improves one’s coping abilities for daily stressors.

The purpose of all of this is not to say, “Go to church and you’ll feel great.”  It’s simply to encourage you to consider the mind, body, AND spirit when focusing on total body wellness.  Physical health consists of taking care of our bodies with nutrition, consistent exercise, and routine medical examinations.  Mental health includes our cognitive and emotional well-being, and for many, may require improved coping skills, relaxation training, or other psychological or therapeutic intervention.  Spiritual health may consist of prayer, meditation, exploring your life’s purpose with a spiritual guide, and/or attending a church or synagogue to develop positive morals, ethics, and values.   Overall, focusing exclusively on one area of health may be the very reason we feel emptiness, inadequacies, and self-doubt, or endure ongoing health problems.

My hope is that this blog will be helpful to you on your life’s journey.  As you proceed, keep this quote by Joe Lewis in mind: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”