By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
I believe that one of the most important things a parent can do for their child is to help them build their resilience. As people, our lives can be challenging and difficult at times and I think that resiliency is the key factor in improving our ability to deal with whatever life might throw our way. As I have suggested in previous blog posts (like last week’s, which is a prequel to this post and can be found here), many of our current society beliefs and norms actually relate to reduced resiliency for all of us. This includes our focus on happiness above all else, the dramatic impact of the mass media in our lives, our general disconnect from each other, and the anxiety created through news coverage of negative event after negative event.
At times when any of us sit back and reflect on our culture, it might seem like there is a dreary future and I definitely relate to that feeling. However, I also see so much positive change and growth in the people I work with and in our culture as a whole. The mindfulness movement, focus on personal growth, and increased acceptance of each other as people lead me to feel more optimistic and hopeful about our ability to change direction and head down emotionally healthier paths.
As many of you know from reading my blogs or knowing me personally, I strongly believe in the influence of language in shaping the way we see the world and ourselves. As such, for this blog, I will focus on specific ways to talk with your child to increase resilience.
The cornerstone in using language to build resilience is to first approach situations with empathy and caring and validate your child’s feelings. Then assist the child/teen in finding a solution to the situation if there is one. If there is not, it can be a great example of a time to change the way we think about the situation to feel or cope better. Another key part in using language to build resilience is through the interpersonal connection of being in the situation together, you want to let the child know that they are not alone and that you can help by providing support or ideas.
Some examples of phrases that promote resiliency are the following:
The key things to try and avoid are doing things that exacerbate your child/teen’s fears or negative reaction to a situation. These are reactions like the following:
All or Nothing Patterns:
These are just some ideas of ways to use language to help your child build their ability to cope with difficult life events and have healthier emotional regulation skills. Please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child, teen psychotherapist, adult or marriage and family counseling San in Diego.
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As many of you may know, I was recently interviewed by ABC News to comment on the trend that occurred in response to Zayn leaving the group, One Direction. Fans were cutting themselves and demonstrating their wounds publicly utilizing the hashtag, #Cut4Zayn on social media. Some posts even suggested to others to do the same because then Zayn would come back to the group. (If you did not catch the story and very small role I played, check it out here). Since so much of my interview was cut out from the story, I thought it would be nice to cover this topic in a blog post!
The more that I reflected on this particular scenario and the overall topic of self-harm, the more I felt strongly that instead of posting about more typical topics around cutting (how to stop people from doing it, what to do if your teen is cutting, etc) I wanted to have a discussion of WHY this might be happening so frequently and in such a dramatic, public way. Please keep in mind that this is mainly my opinion, which is based on what I see in my office and in our culture but not on specific, measured, scientific facts necessarily.
This topic also ties in with some of my fundamental beliefs about why people are feeling so stressed, anxious, unhappy, and disconnected because I think many people are cutting for exactly those reasons. While I might come off as entirely elderly during this post, I’m kind of okay with that! As I have gotten older, particularly given the work I do, I have gained such an appreciation for simpler times (which I would categorize my childhood in as I grew up prior to the internet in the 80s).
Here we go! The following is a summary about some factors I see as influencing Americans mental health and leading us to feel generally unhappy, disconnected, anxious, and stressed and which also could lead people into self-harming.
The Happiness Obsession: This is my way of saying that we are all SO focused on being happy all the time that I believe people are losing their ability to understand, accept, and tolerate discomfort and the less pleasant emotions. I covered this topic in another blog post as well (feel free to read that here) but in essence, I think that particularly younger individuals have an expectation of being happy and excited all the time. This is so entirely unrealistic that it is the definition of an unreachable goal but so many people may not realize this, which creates feelings of isolation and anger that THEY are not happy, since everyone else must be. After all, that’s what TV shows (well, happiness or complete and total DRAMA but that’s another topic). This also reduces our capacity to regulate ourselves through less pleasant emotions and situations, which can lead to cutting behavior.
General disconnection through mass media overload: I should preface this section by saying that I generally have a love-hate relationship with the media. While I love some great/terrible reality TV, I am also highly concerned about the impact TV, movies, the Internet, social media have on us as human beings. I believe that our expectations are so driven by what we see on the Internet that they are entirely skewed. I even find myself falling into this trap and thinking, well they have time for that (on my favorite show), why don’t I? While I mediate this thought by reminding myself that I live in reality and not a made-up world on TV, I can imagine how hard that is to do for someone who is younger, less mature, and likely to be less educated about how the media impacts our perceptions.
There is also the factor of how much time we spend connecting with other people in inauthentic ways, such as through social media or even texting. I find it concerning that so many of the teens I work with do not communicate with their friends verbally apart from occasionally at school. Most things are communicated through some sort of electronic source, which I believe reduces our ability to connect in an authentic way where we feel connected and heard by the other person. Plus, anything in writing could be misinterpreted, saved, and even used against someone and as such, many people are less likely to be truly vulnerable in writing. I believe that connection and vulnerability are so important in developing emotional resilience as well as shame resilience and without face-to-face communication, we are all lacking these skills to some extent.
Expectation of Perfection: Failure has somehow become such a dirty word in our culture. The sad thing to me is that so much of our learning comes from our failures and being open enough to try something different but we are all so consumed with being perfect and doing things “right” that we are often afraid to try something new. In many ways I do think our culture has forgotten that it is hard work, failure, and perseverance that drives success, not doing everything right all the time. I see parents often trying to help their children avoid any sense of failure, which unfortunately only leads to them never developing the resiliency to deal with failure and recover from it. This is particularly concerning to me because I do think this is a huge risk factor for self-injury as well. A shame spiral so quickly develops when we feel ashamed for our mistakes and can spin all the way down to being completely worthless, ashamed, and terrible which could certainly lead someone to feel like harming themselves in one way or another.
All of these factors lead to reduced emotional resiliency and regulation skills, which are key factors in developing healthy relationships and coping skills. My next blog will discuss ways to help facilitate resiliency in kids and teens. Stay tuned!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Let me know what you think in the comments section or feel free to send me an email.
Please contact me regarding any issues around child or psychotherapy for teens in San Diego CA.
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Until last Wednesday (4/8/15) I had not heard about the recent very alarming trend of fans of One Direction cutting themselves in response to Zayn’s departure from the group. I was shocked to hear this and even more shocked to hear this on my voicemail from a local ABC news reporter asking for me to comment as a child psychologist… My initial reaction was actually something along the lines of being terrified. Terrified that I would let my fear get in the way of an amazing opportunity to have my voice heard in the field. Terrified that my voice was not quite good enough to be heard at all. Terrified that I would say yes but terrified that I would say no. What a mix of emotions!
When I decided to launch my solo private practice at the end of 2014, I told myself that I would do things that were scary and just “lean in” to them. While I am a very social person now, I was very shy as a child and I still tend to shy away from new things and avoid situations that cause me discomfort… Like talking to new people, posting blogs, putting my thoughts and opinions out there for people to possibly critique, public speaking is certainly on the list! I’ve been following the mantra of “just say yes” for the past few months, which is certainly working well in making some amazing new personal and professional connections and growing my business. Though other events and situations have challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, this is the first time that I feel that I have been really put to the test. Sitting there on Wednesday, I was so tempted to just ignore the call, call the reporter back the next day (which would likely to be too late), or to make up a million excuses as to why I just CAN’T possibly be the person he was looking for. Oh, did I mention, I tend to underestimate myself? Despite this flurry of emotion and insecurity, the important part that I want to share is that I was able to lean into my discomfort, complete the interview, and was actually quoted in the 11:00 news!
The interesting part of the whole experience is that I was such a mix of emotion: disbelief (me? Are you sure you want me?), excitement and pride (the news!), and continued anxiety and fear that I would somehow be misquoted or look ridiculous. This experience provided me with such a great opportunity not only to face some of my fears (am I good enough? My voice sounds like a child! People will laugh and critique me behind my back!) but to also work through some of my perfectionism. I knew that if I agreed to do the interview I would have ZERO control over the content chosen or how exactly it was put together. That is pretty tough for me as a controlling perfectionist but I felt the outcome was worth the risk. I spent the evening waiting for the news thinking of many things that could go wrong as well as just feeling so proud of myself for my ability to engage in something that was terrifying on so many very deep levels.
When I finally saw the news clip, it was so brief and cut down that it was a slight bit of a letdown but still very exciting! Do I love the quotes taken from my 10-15 minutes of comments, not really. However, I know that my thoughts about it are likely very different from others and am working hard not to critique anything about how it came out but to just focus on my excitement about the experience and building my professional confidence. With that approach and years of working through my insecurities, I am feeling confident and proud as I sit and reflect on this experience. It’s truly amazing to see that when we allow ourselves to flourish and really LEAN into our discomfort, the discomfort can start to fall away and amazing things happen.
My question this week to any of you would be this: how can you lean into something this week? How can you push yourself to say yes to your discomfort?
Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for my next blog post in this series, which will talk more specifically about the topic of self-injury, partially in the context of this One Direction incident.
Feel free to contact me regarding any issues around counseling for teens in San Diego CA.
If you would like to check out the video or text version of the news story that Erica contributed to, please click here!
This is the first guest blog here at Thrive! We are so excited to share Sarah's blog with our followers. Sarah is a fantastic therapist and works in similar capacities as I do and this post includes some really helpful information about how to increase your child's vocabulary around emotion. Sarah's information is at the bottom of the post if you would like to read more of her blogs!
By: Sarah Leitschuh, MA, LMFT
I often talk to parents about being open to having their children express their emotions (feelings) through means other than words. Art, music and play are just a few of the powerful ways in which children communicate and share their emotions with us. I have learned so much about how children understand the world by just playing with them. Having said that, there are many reasons why it is valuable to help children build a feelings vocabulary and comfort in discussing their emotions.
The Benefits of Building Your Child’s Feelings Vocabulary
How Do We Help Children Build a Strong Feelings Vocabulary?
Short answer: We help children develop a feelings vocabulary by incorporating discussion about emotions into our daily interactions with them.
Longer Answer: (Including some ideas to try!)
We help children develop a feelings vocabulary by frequently exposing them to discussions of emotions. There are many ways that we can incorporate discussion of emotions into our daily interactions. Here are some possibilities to consider:
Do you have other ideas that you use to help children build their feelings vocabulary? If so, feel free to share your ideas in the comment section.
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"Watch your thoughts,
They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
They become character;
It becomes your destiny."