Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
For 5 years when I first started my work as a Psychologist, I worked for Family Services in West Vancouver where I focused on dysfunctional families referred through the public school system, police and probation.
I thought of these kids as “BC’s best” and mostly they were hopeful, resilient, and crafty and making the best out of some tough and tense circumstances at home and at school. They were also hard to handle – it was easy for me to talk with them as they got to skip school to “go see the shrink.” I remember one parent who asked if I knew of a monastery in Africa where he could send his 16-year old son. (Didn’t know of one.)
Some of the parents were excellent in loving and guiding their kids and some were clearly working out their own difficulties in marriage and life through their offspring. Some of these kids became the “Identified Problems” of the greater family tension.
Along the way, I worked up some principles for parents living with teens. These days I am having a resurgence of parents seeking help with their kids and I thought this list might make some sense to some. If nothing else, it might help parents remember what they hoped for when they were teens.
So for parents, in random order as it occurs to me…
— Be careful about criticism of anything. Even when you think you are only making a comment, it may well be experienced as another of a long list of judgments.
— Focus on your teen’s emotions. Kids “naturally” emotionally reason and this can seem illogical to you as a parent.
— Think about what depression looks like in a teen. Sometimes it is in withdrawal and sometimes it is in acting out aggressively. When your child is acting hurt and harmed, wonder about how his inner life is going.
— Say as little as possible and especially about your own experience, unless asked. When kids talk they want to talk and not listen to your thoughts.
— Don’t believe in “teachable” moments. Let your kid talk without your interruption.
— Ask questions that can be answered. Questions like, “Do you want to suggest with me 3 or 4 ideas from which you can choose?”
— Experiment in thinking in non-absolutes. If you have a 70% good relationship with your kids, then celebrate that. Don’t overly prod and provoke the 30% that is not the best.
Okay, that’s enough for today. In fact, that’s probably enough for a few days. I will post a few other ideas in a bit.
Monday, August 4th, 2014
I recently had an awkward experience where my cafe manager caught a glimpse of my forearms and thought I had been in a recent accident. She held my wrist and glanced at the row of keloid scars and said ‘my dear, did you scratch yourself?’ I just shrugged and responded ‘no, those have always been there’ and went to fix the milk stand. I think we were both kind of embarrassed.
There isn’t really a social etiquette for this type of thing yet, it’s like goiters and nose jobs, the unwritten code is that although you can see it is not proper to address it.
It’s not a secret whatsoever that I’ve had a long battle with self harm. My arms tell that story. Too often I let the scars speak for me, because it’s easier to have people accept or reject me upon appearance than it is to actually risk talking about it. Because, like everyone else: I am afraid. I have cultivated a well honed persona that makes me appear outgoing, braised, and unaffected by stares of others. However, to this day I cannot utter the words ‘cutter’ ‘self harm’ or ‘stitches’ without having my stomach drop with shame.
Thanks Stella for writing. I admire you dear one. (Uncle Paddy)
Sunday, April 13th, 2014
When I am confused or worried, I want someone to listen without rushing or concluding or pronouncing. It irritates me when someone dismisses me with “look on the bright side,” or for those theologically persuaded, “God is doing something good.” I don’t want to be equally dismissive, so I look for the “giver’s” good intent and try to not take it deeply. What do you do?
Empathy is the ability to know and experience the consolations and desolations of another. It is a spiritual discipline, a social skill and a profound respect; it is a relationship and a friendship that matters deeply.
Empathy is not sympathy where the “giver” feels good about the giving. It is not solution focused, or panacea finding, or conversation concluding. Sympathy is a reactive protection from getting involved. It is limbic un-thoughtfulness.
I want you to watch a lovely 3 minute cartoon on what empathy is, what caring is. Brene Brown is the speaker with the words behind the drawings. To hear more of what she has to say, look at “The Power of Vulnerability.” Want to see even more? Check out her genius TED talk.
Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.
It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.
Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.
Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.
1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?
Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.