If You’re Saying These 5 Things, You’re Hurting Your Kid

If You’re Saying These 5 Things, You’re Hurting Your Kid

in www.psychcentral.com

I am on the corner of 72nd and First Avenue, standing next to a father and a little boy about six or seven. He is wearing a baseball uniform, and carrying a bat, and weeping uncontrollably. The father’s voice is loud and abrasive: “How many times do I have to tell you to keep your eye on the ball? Don’t you ever listen?” The boy is snuffling, trying to contain himself. The light changes and then I hear the father’s final salvo: “And stop being such a crybaby.”

I decide that grabbing that father by the shoulders and stopping him in his tracks is probably not a smart move and would only make matters worse, but you have to believe that I wanted to.

What I witnessed is verbal aggression. This experience involved a father but unattuned mothers do it all the time and unloving mothers do it 24/7. Our culture is way too tolerant when it comes to words, especially when a parent uses them. “Oh, he’s just trying to help his son toughen up a bit, “we say collectively, “The world is a hard place.” Or “You do have to keep your eye on the ball, after all. Is there a nice way of delivering criticism?” Actually, there is.

Language that shames, marginalizes, or dismisses a child’s thoughts and feelings is abusive. Science is very clear on how those abusive messages are internalized—they become self-criticism, the habit of mind that ascribes missteps or failures to fixed character traits in yourself, rather than circumstances—and how they change the developing brain.

Way too often, verbal aggression is rationalized or justified as discipline or a necessary corrective but that is a lie, pure and simple. Following are five phrases that actually inflict emotional damage, hinder normal development, and make a child more vulnerable to impaired mental health, along with the reasons why.

1.Why can’t you be more like…

Children are exquisitely sensitive to differential treatment and the work done by Judy Dunn and Robert Plomin on siblings shows that witnessing differential treatment of a brother or sister makes more of a lasting impression on a child than the love he or she receives directly from a parent. Keep in mind, too, that humans are hardwired to react more strongly to negative events and that our memories of painful moments are stored in a different part of the brain and are more accessible than positive ones.

While a mother or father may feel that it’s helpful to set up a possible role model for a child with this sentence, it’s actually not. Pointing out the ways in which a child is less than another child—it could be a sibling, a cousin, a neighbor’s kid, anyone—is hurtful and demeaning, not inspirational.

2.You always…

This is phrase is aggressive when it’s used with another adult but invokes fear and often hopelessness when aimed at a child by a figure of authority. It’s destructive because it makes whatever criticism is being leveled highly personal and delivers a general indictment of a child’s personality and character. I’m not saying that kids don’t need to be reprimanded from time to time but keep it specific to whatever’s at hand. If something gets lost or damaged—as inevitably will happen—it’s one thing to tell a child to try to be more careful and another to launch into a litany of his or her failings as in “You’re always so clumsy and you never pay attention to anything because you’re always off in a dream world. How about trying to be a member of this family for once, instead of a slob?”

3. You’re too sensitive

Having grown up hearing this 24/7, I am especially sensitive—yes, the phrasing is deliberate—to mothers and fathers using these words to marginalize, dismiss, or deny a child’s emotional or intellectual reaction to being hurt. This phrase is a key component of blame-shifting in dysfunctional relationships, whether they are between a parent and child or two adults. Of course, the former is much more damaging because the child is very likely to take you at your word and believe that it must be her fault that she’s feeling hurt or that she’s wrong to interpret your words and actions as she does. The damage this criticism causes is enormous and sometimes life-long because it makes the daughter or son distrust her or his perceptions. It’s a close cousin of gaslighting.

3.It’s no big deal

Whatever the “it” is—a missed opportunity, something that makes the child sad or disappointed or anything else—this is not reassurance but a way of marginalizing what she is feeling. It’s one thing to reassure a child that she will feel better about what’s happened in a few days when it’s not as immediate and she’s had time to process her hurt but it’s quite another to undercut her reaction by dismissing what happened or telling her that “it really wasn’t important.” The point is that it was important to her. There’s a fine line here that parents—who are, after all, the folks in charge—need to pay attention to.

5. You’re a ….

Shaming a child is not okay so calling her or him a name—crybaby, wuss, coward, weakling, snotnose, weirdo, pig, brat—must and should always be off-limits and is highly abusive, plain and simple. So are words that mock a child’s appearance such as calling her fat or ugly. You’re the adult and how angry and frustrated you were in the moment doesn’t change how your child was affected. Own up to your own loss of control and apologize. That’s the bottom line.

No one likes to talk about how much power a parent has over a child or the small world a daughter or son inhabits. But where there is power, there is always the possibility of the abuse of that power. Forget the old “sticks and stones” thing because words matter and, yes, they inflict as much or perhaps even more damage than physical blows. Don’t justify or rationalize; just cut these phrases out of your working vocabulary for the sake of your child and, additionally, your own.

Visit me on Facebook:http://www.Facebook.com/PegStreepAuthor

Photo by Katie Chase. Copyright Free. Unsplash.com

Dunn, Judy and Robert Plomin. Separate Lives: Why Children Are So Different. New York: Basic Books, 1990.

Overcoming the Cage of Irrational FEARS

By Dr. April Brown


Caged of Irrational Fears

Have you ever had big dreams and goals?  Of course you have… So where are you now in relation to your big dreams and goals? If you are not moving toward them, then somehow you got distracted.  Many times, we lose focus because FEAR wants to battle with us.  FEAR can have you so stuck in cage that when the doors (opportunities) open you become too anxious to leave.  In fact, FEAR may tell you “Don’t try”, “You can’t do that”, “You will fail again,” or worse “You are worthless.”  When you hear these things, then you are dealing with IRRATIONAL FEARS.  Should you just be stuck and listen to IRRATIONAL FEARS talk to you that way?  NO WAY!!!


Get Up, Get Out of Your Cage, and Take Action!!!


Here are 5 Quick Tips to Help You Overcome Irrational Fears


  1. Strengthen Your Mindset – Only let positive self-talk enter your mind. Divorce any negatively in your mind. You tell yourself – “You can do it.”, “Don’t give up.”, “I believe in you.”, and most importantly – “You are worth it.”
  2. Write out your goals, the plans to get your goals, any obstacles you can imagine, and all your resources. Then match your obstacles with your resources.
  3. Post your goals and plans somewhere that you can see them everyday
  4. Find someone who can make you accountable to your goals and who believes in you. If you have no one, then you must also play that role and be your own cheerleader.
  5. Finally take a jump toward your goal and have the faith that no matter what you will reach your goals one day.



7 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

7 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence By Leslie Santana from www.Psycentral.com
~ 2 min read
improve your emotional intelligenceHoward Gardner argued that instead of intelligence being a single ability, humans have the ability to develop multiple intelligences, nine to be exact. Some people have a natural proficiency in emotional or interpersonal intelligence; others have difficulty with this. Although this article focuses on one type of intelligence, I suggest for each reader to practice personal insight and assess himself or herself on every intelligence scale.


1. Opening the door

Emotions are like visitors that knock on your door on any given day and leave once they have gotten what they have came for. Emotional development starts by opening the door and allowing those emotions in. Part of coping with distress involves allowing the emotions entry instead of ignoring the knock on the door.

2. Releasing all judgments

This is where our societal norms come into play and interfere with our healthy development of emotional intelligence. All emotions are equally important. Because they are equally important and vital to each person, they are neither better nor worse emotions. Society emphasizes happiness and discourages any anger or sad emotions. Unfortunately, this causes an imbalance in each person and contributes to distress.

All emotions should be focused on equally as experiencing all emotions equally contributes to a balanced psyche. To illustrate, take a look at the duality of the ying yang circle.

3. Emotional insight

This, for me, is my favorite part of the therapeutic process and is really the driving force in recovery. Emotional insight is each individual’s unique experience of every emotion throughout his or her life. It’s like a library of memories that begins at birth.

Part of developing emotional insight consists of recognizing what events trigger certain emotions and why. It consists of recognizing what emotions visit you the most, what emotion you have the most difficulty experiencing, and what emotions are encouraged and discouraged in your nuclear family and culture.

4.Disentangling emotions

Emotions are so complex that they get enmeshed with other emotions, other people, and cognitions. The feeling of love can get enmeshed with feelings of disappointment. Most commonly, feelings of sadness manifest themselves as anger.

People, too, can enmesh emotions with each other. For example, an individual can transfer anger to his or her partner causing an unhealthy cycle of resentment. A mother might overcompensate feelings of disappointment to a child and thus cause the child to develop unresolved issues as well.

Lastly, emotions can also become enmeshed with core beliefs. This statement is a good example of tangled beliefs and emotions: “ I feel like everyone thinks I’m a joke.” No feelings were actually described here and this statement is actually a distorted cognition. A disentangled statement would be something like this: “My belief that people think I am a joke causes me to have feelings of sadness and disappointment.” An individual who masters this skill is able to not be affected by the emotions of others and can separate emotions from each other and from cognitions.

5. Practicing compassion

To say the least, emotions are complex. They are not easy to balance and can be tough to experience. Be compassionate towards yourself and others when emotions are at play.

6. Closing the door

This is probably one of the trickier parts of emotional intelligence and can shed some light on how an individual comes to develop mental illness, such as depression. If you begin by ignoring the emotion, it becomes more difficult to find peace with the emotion once you have allowed it in. This is why it is important to start from the beginning.

It is also important to remember that just because an emotion knocks on your door, doesn’t mean you need to act on it. Allow yourself to listen to what the emotion is teaching you about yourself. Closing the door to anger, contempt, and sadness is difficult so it is important to realize when you could use some outside help.

7. Connecting the dots

Developing emotional intelligence is an active intervention that requires constant attention but gets stronger with practice. In connecting the dots, you begin by opening the door to your visiting emotion, releasing all judgments of that emotion, understanding your personal experience of that emotion, developing compassion for yourself and others, and closing the door to that emotion.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child

Calming Anxious Children – 37 Techniques

From Psych Central

~ 12 min read


37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child

Imagine, you are driving in the car. You look in the rearview mirror and see your child trying to shrink into her seat.

What’s wrong?” you ask.

“I don’t want to go to the birthday party.”

“But you’ve been excited all week. There will be cake and games and a bounce house. You love all of those things,” you try to reason.

“But I can’t go. There will be lots of people there I don’t know. No one will play with me. My tummy hurts.”

Sound familiar? As a parent of an anxious child, you might regularly find yourself in situations where no matter what you try, what effort you make, what compassion you offer, or what love you exude, nothing seems to help quash the worry that is affecting your little one’s everyday interactions.

In my work with anxious children, I have found it tremendously beneficial for both parents and kids to have a toolkit full of coping skills from which to choose. As you know, every child is different and some of the tools described below will resonate more than others. When you pick one to work with, please try it at least two to three times before making a judgment on whether it suits your child and family.

Here are 37 techniques to calm an anxious child:

Anxiety relief for children GoZen 37 Techniques

Write it out

  1. Write it out and then throw it out—In a study published in Psychological Science, people were asked to write what they liked or disliked about their bodies. One group of people kept the paper and checked it for errors, whereas the other group of people physically discarded the paper their thoughts were written on. The physical act of discarding the paper helped them discard the thoughts mentally, too. Next time your child is anxious, have her write her thoughts on a paper and then physically throw the paper out. Chances are, her perspective will begin to change as soon as the paper hits the trash can.
  2. Journal about worries—Researchers at Harvard found that writing about a stressful event for 15 minutes, for four consecutive days, can lessen the anxiety a person feels about that event. Although the person may initially feel more anxiety about the stressor, eventually the effects of writing about anxious events relieved anxious symptoms for up to six months after the exercise. Make journaling about anxious thoughts a habit with your child.
  3. Create “worry time”—In the movie Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara often says, “I can’t think about that now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” A similar concept works for anxious children. Set aside a designated “worry time” for 10-15 minutes on a daily basis. Choose the same time each day and the same spot and allow your child to write down his worries without worrying about what actually constitutes a worry. When the time is up, have him drop the worries in a box, say goodbye to them, and move on to a new activity. When your child begins to feel anxious, remind him that it isn’t “worry time” yet, but reassure him that there will be time to review his anxiety later.
  4. Write a letter to yourself—Dr. Kristen Neff, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and a pioneer in the field of self-compassion, created anexercise where people were asked to write a letter as though they were not experiencing stress or anxiety but rather their best friends were. From this exercise they were able to examine themselves and their situation objectively and apply a level of compassion to themselves that they often reserve for other people. Next time your child feels anxious, have them write a letter that begins “Dear Me” and then ask them to continue writing in the voice of their best friend (real or imaginary).

Have a debate (with yourself)

  1. Talk to your worry—Personification of a worry allows children to feel as though they have control over it. By giving anxiety a face and a name, the logical brain takes over and begins to place limitations on the stressor. For young children, you can create a worry doll or character for them that represents worry. Next time a worried thought arises, have your child try to teach the doll why they shouldn’t worry. As an example, check outWiddle the Worrier.
  2. Recognize that thoughts are notoriously inaccurate—Psychologist Aaron Beck developed a theory in behavioral therapy known as “cognitive distortions.” Simply put, these are messages our minds tell us that are simply untrue. When we help our children recognize these distortions, we can begin to help them break them down and replace them with truths. Read through and use this list as a reference with your child. Depending on their age, change the language for greater accessibility.
  • Jumping to conclusions: judging a situation based on assumptions as opposed to definitive facts
  • Mental filtering: paying attention to the negative details in a situation while ignoring the positive
  • Magnifying: magnifying negative aspects in a situation
  • Minimizing: minimizing positive aspects in a situation
  • Personalizing: assuming the blame for problems even when you are not primarily responsible
  • Externalizing: pushing the blame for problems onto others even when you are primarily responsible
  • Overgeneralizing: concluding that one bad incident will lead to a repeated pattern of defeat
  • Emotional reasoning: assuming your negative emotions translate into reality, or confusing feelings with facts

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - Self-Soothe - GoZen


  1. Give yourself a hug—Physical touch releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream. The next time your child feels anxious, have her stop and give herself a warm hug. She can hug herself discreetly by folding her arms and squeezing her body in a comforting way.
  2. Rub your ears—For thousands of years, Chinese acupuncturists have used needles to stimulate various points in a person’s ears to treat stress and anxiety. Similar benefits are available to your child simply by having him apply pressure to many of these same points. Have him begin by lightly tracing the outline of his outer ear several times. Then using gentle pressure, have him place his thumbs on the back of his ears and his forefingers on the front. Have him count to five and then move his finger and thumb downward to a point just below where they started. Have your child repeat the process until he has squeezed both earlobes for five seconds each.
  3. Hold your own hand—Remember the safety you felt when you held your parent’s hand as you crossed the street? As it turns out, hand-holding has both psychological and physiological benefits. In one study, researchers found that hand-holding during surgery helped patients control their physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. Have your child clasp her hands together, fingers intertwined, until the feelings of anxiety begin to fade.


Understand worry

  1. Understand the origin of worry—Anxiety and worry have biological purposes in the human body. Once upon a time, anxiety was what kept our hunter and gatherer relatives safely alert while they searched for food. Even today, worry and anxiety keep us from making mistakes that will compromise our safety. Help your child understand that worry and anxiety are common feelings and that he gets into trouble only when his brain sounds the alarm and he does not allow logical thoughts to calm him down.
  2. Learn about the physical symptoms of worry—We often think of anxiety as a mental state. What we don’t think about is how worry creates physical symptoms as well. Cortisol and adrenaline, two of the body’s main stress hormones, are produced at a rapid rate when we experience anxiety. These are the “fight or flight” hormones that prepare our bodies to either fight or run from something dangerous. Our heart rates increase, and our breathing gets fast and shallow; we sweat, and we may even experience nausea and diarrhea. However, once your child is familiar with the physical symptoms of anxiety, he can recognize them as anxiety and use any of the strategies in this article rather than worry that he is sick.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen - Understand Worry

Use your body

  1. Stretch—A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics showed that children who practice yoga not only experience the uplifting benefits of exercise but also maintain those benefits long after they are done with their practice. Even if you or your child is unfamiliar with yoga poses, the process of slow, methodical stretching can provide many of the same benefits.
  2. Push against a wall—For some children, trying to breathe deeply or relax through meditation only causes more anxiety. “Am I doing this right? Everyone thinks I’m crazy. I forgot to breathe that time.” The act of physically tensing the muscles will create a counterbalancing release when they are relaxed, resulting in the relaxation more passive methods may not provide. Have your child push against the wall with all of her might, taking great care to use the muscles in her arms, legs, back, and stomach to try to move the wall. Have her hold for a count of 10 and then breathe deeply for a count of 10, repeating three times.
  3. Practice chopping wood—In yoga, the Wood Chopper Pose releases tension and stress in the muscles by simulating the hard labor of chopping wood. Have your child stand tall with his legs wide and arms straight above as though he is holding an ax. Have him inhale and, with the full force of his body, swing the imaginary ax as though he is chopping wood and simultaneously exhale a “ha.” Repeat.
  4. Try progressive muscle relaxation—This relaxation exercise includes two simple steps: (1) Systematically tense specific muscle groups, such as your head, neck, and shoulders etc., and then (2) Release the tension and notice how you feel when you release each muscle group. Have your child practice by tensing the muscles in her face as tightly as she can and then releasing the tension. Here is a great script for kids (pdf).
  5. Use the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)EFT combines tapping acupressure points in the body with verbalizing positive affirmations. Using his fingertips, have your child gently but firmly tap the top of his head, his eyebrows, under his eyes, under his nose, his chin, his collarbone, and his wrists while saying positive things about his situation. The idea is that the body’s natural electromagnetic energy is activated and associated with positive affirmations, thereby reducing anxiety.
  6. Strike a power pose—Anxiety makes your child want to physically shrink. However, research has shown that holding a powerful pose for just two minutes can boost feelings of self-confidence and power. Have your child pose like her favorite superhero, with her hands on her hips, ready for battle, or strike a pose like a boss leaning over a table to drive a point home, hands planted on the table top.
  7. Sweat it out—Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our bodies. Exercise that is more intense than your child’s normal physical activity level can actually reduce his body’s physical response to anxiety.
  8. Fall into Child’s Pose—Have your child assume the Child’s Pose, a pose in yoga that is done by kneeling on the floor and bringing the body to rest on the knees in the fetal position. The arms are either brought to the sides of the legs or stretched out over the head, palms on the floor.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen - DisconnectToReconnect

Disconnect to reconnect

  1. Do a tech detox—Studies show that modern technology is adversely correlated to sleep and stress—especially in young adults. Challenge your child to spend a week without video game systems or smartphones, and encourage her to be more creative with her time.
  2. Walk in nature—A Stanford study showed that exposure to green spaces has a positive cognitive effect on school children. Going for a walk in nature allows your child to reconnect with tangible, physical objects; calms his mind; and helps his logical brain to take over for his anxious brain.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen - BefriendWater

Befriend water

  1. Drink more water—Although dehydration rarely causes anxiety on its own, because our brains are 85% water, it can certainly make its symptoms worse. Make sure your child is getting adequate amounts of water in a day. The basic rule of thumb is to drink one-half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight. So if your child weighs 50 pounds, he should drink 25 to 50 ounces of water every day.
  2. Take a cold or hot bath—Hydrotherapy has been used for centuries in natural medicine to promote health and prevent disease. Just 10 minutes in a warm or cool bath can have profound effects on the levels of anxiety your child is experiencing.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen - PracticeMindfulness

Practice mindfulness

  1. Observe your “train of thoughts”—Have your child imagine her anxious thoughts are like trains coming into a busy station. Sometimes they will slow down and pass by, and at other times they will stop at the station for a while. If the anxious thought stops at the station, have your child practice breathing slowly and deeply until the train pulls out of the station. As it fades, have your child “watch” as the train pulls away. This exercise teaches children that they don’t have to react to every thought that occurs to them. Some thoughts they can simply acknowledge and allow to leave without acting on them.
  2. Practice a five-by-five meditation—Have your child use each of his five senses to name five things he experiences with that sense. Again, this exercise roots your child in things that are actually happening rather than in things that mayhappen or could happen that are causing him to worry.
  3. Focus on your breath—The natural biological response to anxiety is to breathe shallowly and quickly. Focusing on breathing slowly and deeply will mitigate many of the body’s stress responses.
  4. Tune in with a body scan—Have your child close her eyes and check in with all of the parts of her body. Have her talk to each part and ask how it feels and if there is anything wrong. Then have her invite it to relax while she checks in with the other parts. This animation can be a fun way to practice a body scan meditation with your child.
  5. Practice cognitive defusion—The process of cognitive defusion separates the reaction your child is having from the event. It gives your child a chance to think about the stressor separately from his reaction to that stressor. Have your child talk about his feelings of anxiety as though his mind is a separate person. He might say something like “My mind does not want to go to the party, so it is making my stomach hurt.” By disconnecting the two, he can then talk to his mind as though it is a person and re-create his internal dialogue.

Have an anxious child? Join us for a LIVE, webinar-style online masterclass Thursday, July 14th @ 1pm EDT: 9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try – grab a spot here.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen -


  1. Listen to music—It is challenging for your child to feel anxious when she is dancing to her favorite song. Crank up the tunes and sing along! Here is aloving-kindness meditation set to dance music you can listen to with your child.
  2. Listen to stories—Avid readers know how difficult it is to pry themselves away from a good book. Listening to audio books can help your child get lost in an imaginary world where anxiety and worry do not exist or are put into their proper perspective.
  3. Listen to guided meditations—Guided meditations are designed to be soothing to your child and help him relax by presenting images for his mind’s eye to focus on rather than focusing on the stressor.
  4. Listen to the uplifting words of another—Often, anxiety is rooted in a negative internal monologue. Have your child listen to your uplifting words or those of someone else to restructure that monologue into positive affirmations of herself.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen - HelpSomeoneElse

Help someone else

  1. Volunteer—Researchers have long shown that “helper’s high” happens when people volunteer to help others without any expectation of compensation. Whether your child is helping a younger sibling do math homework or helping your neighbor weed her flower bed, volunteering is an easy way to alleviate his feelings of stress or anxiety.
  2. Be a friend and give someone else advice—Sometimes the advice we give others is really meant for ourselves. Encourage your child to tell you how you should react to a situation similar to what your child might be experiencing anxiety over. If she is worried about giving a presentation in class, have her tell you how to get over your anxiety about a work presentation. The same techniques your child is teaching you will come into play when she is faced with a similar situation.
  3. Turn your focus outward—Anxiety would have your child believe that he is the only one who has ever experienced worry or stress in a certain situation. In reality, many of his peers are likely experiencing the same feelings of worry. Encourage your child to find someone who may look nervous and talk to her or him about how she or he is feeling. By discussing his anxiety with his peers, your child will discover that he is notthe only one to feel worry.

37 Techniques to Calm an Anxious Child - GoZen - Embrace

Embrace the worry

  1. Know that this too shall pass—One of the greatest lies the anxious brain tells your child is that she will feel anxious forever. Physiologically, it is impossible to maintain a high level of arousal for longer than several minutes. Invite your child to sit by you, and read a story or simply watch the world go by until the feelings of anxiety start to fade away. It sounds simple, but acknowledging that the “fight or flight” response won’t last forever gives it less power when your child begins to feel its effects.
  2. Worrying is part of our humanity—Anxiety, stress, and worry are all part of what makes us human. These biological and psychological responses are designed to keep us safe in situations we are not familiar with. Reassure your child that there is nothing wrong with feeling anxiety, that it simply alerts his body so that he can be on the lookout for danger.


5 Ways to Grow Together When Depression Enters a Relationship

Couple Embrace Hug Rain Affection

No one teaches us how to navigate a relationship when mental illness enters the equation.

I recently read a Washington Post article by a woman whose relationship was torn apart while she and her partner tried to deal with his depression.

My personal take is that the author simply wasn’t equipped to deal with a partner coping with depression. Most of us aren’t.

Last year when I plunged into a depressive episode, my partner was at a loss. He had never dealt with this and wanted so badly to help, but had no idea what to do.

What It’s Like Inside The Psychological Purgatory of Depression

We went looking for books and found there were very few out there, and what currently does exist approaches the topic in a “you vs. your partner and his or her depression” way. We weren’t comfortable with that, and set out to find a different approach — a way that would give him insight into my experience and allow him to support me, while giving him what he needed as well.

Our experiment worked!

Check out YourTango for relationship advice

Sure we hit bumps along the road, but in the end I felt loved, supported, and understood in a way I never had during a depressive episode, and he felt like he knew what was going on — a big deal in this situation — and was equipped to deal with it.

Our experience inspired this list of 5 ways to grow together rather than apart when navigating through depressive episodes with your partner:

1. Get On Your Partner’s Team

Another common advice mode that makes my blood boil is one I call the “broken and lucky” model.

It operates on the notion that the not-depressed partner is wonderful and selfless for standing by the partner with depression.

The message to partners dealing with depression is there’s obviously something inherently wrong with them (they are broken) that could justifiably make a “normal” person not want them. They should therefore feel so lucky their partner is generously taking them on — ergo, broken and lucky.

This unhealthy model only results in anger, resentment, and destroyed relationships.

To avoid this, remember your partner doesn’t want to be clinically depressed any more than you do (in fact, he or she probably wants it even less than you).

Instead of acting as adversaries, get on each other’s team.

This means trying to follow each other’s lead. Listening more than you talk. Trusting each other. Believing your partner when he or she describes their symptoms. Learning about what depression is. Meeting your partner where he or she is. Recognizing your partner isn’t his or her diagnosis. Being open to communicating differently.

Clearly, it means a lot of things.

Getting on your partner’s team is making the mental leap from thinking of your partner as someone who “has depression” to recognizing symptoms of depression as they show up in your partner and being able to ask informed questions when they do.

To get started, check out How To Help Someone With Depression by Steven Skoczen. It’s probably my favorite thing anyone has ever written on the topic.

2. Create a Common Language

Those individuals dealing with depression are living in a whole different world. Getting angry at them for not showing up for you the same way they did before a depressive episode struck is like getting mad at your dog for not being ice cream —–futile, frustrating, and kind of mean.

To continue engaging in a relationship you need to start speaking the same language and, as we’ve already established, your partner can’t speak yours right now.

One of the first things I taught my partner was the Spoon Theory. Created by Christine Miserandino (who I consider the patron saint of folks with chronic invisible ailments), the Spoon Theory gave my partner a concrete understanding of my limited physical, mental, and emotional resources, as well as a simple language with which to ask about them.

The other resource that we found most helpful in understanding the unique language around depression was, well, a video game! Seriously!

When I first played Depression Quest, I wept because I’d never felt so understood.

When my partner first played it, he called me, sounding shaken. He asked if it was accurate, if that’s really how it felt. I told him yes, and he admitted that depression was so much harder, scarier, and more frustrating than it looks from the outside. The word “dystopian” may even have been used…

Is Depression Quest’s story universal? No. Does it describe everyone’s depression? No.

Depression looks different from person to person and even from episode to episode, but I have never seen anything else evoke the feelings of depression the way that game does.

3. Let Each Other Know It’s OK to Be Wherever You Each Are — Often

Depression can turn us into people who don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. It can make us a person who gets angry easily. It can make us cry a lot…all the standard things people picture when they think “depression.”

What we don’t talk about as often is the excessive guilt and shame, which can both be a big part of the depression package.

When your partner feels like her or she is ruining your plans, not fun to be around, crying yet again, both may kick in.

Let your partner know that wherever he or she is at is okay and you still love and support your partner. Then repeat. A lot.

When your partner texts that he or she doesn’t want to go to the concert after all, a reply as simple as “I’ll miss you but I totally get it. Do you need me to bring you anything before I go?” makes all the difference in the world, because it lets your partner know it really is okay to be wherever he or she is.

20 Things You MUST Accept For Your Relationship To Succeed

4. Take Responsibility for Your Own Social Life

Jumping off that last one — sometimes your partner won’t want to go places when you do, and that’s okay.

We live in a world that is really intense about the whole “couples must do everything together” thing. I really don’t get this.

I was lucky heading into my last episode of depression, because I am an introvert in a long distance relationship with a pretty intense extrovert, so we were already used to socializing separately. However, for many people the “I can’t go places without my partner” mentality puts extra strain on relationships that involve someone dealing with depression.

This is especially true for partners who live together. It’s a recipe for resentment if the choice comes down to one of you forcing yourself to brave social events you don’t have the emotional capacity for or the other skipping events to stay home with while growing more and more resentful of missing out yet again.

The solution here is so simple, though: take responsibility for your own social life.

Don’t make everything you do contingent on whether or not your partner does it, wants to do it, or can commit to the plan three months in advance. (Spoiler alert: if someone is dealing with depression, he or she probably can’t).

Make the plans you want to make, let your partner know he or she is welcome to join but wherever your partner is, is okay (remember?), and then go have a social life.

This may sound like I’m telling you to go out and leave your depressed partner behind, but actually, I’m suggesting you simply take the social pressure off your partner by letting him or her know he or she is not responsible for your social happiness. You can still exist out in the world even if your partner is not up to it right now.

You may need to discuss this idea with your partner if separate socializing is new for you, but ultimately, this can lift a whole lot of strain off of you both of you and give you each much-needed self-care time.

5. Find a Support System for Yourself

This is a lot of work for one person and you are doing some serious heavy lifting in this relationship.

What about when you need to vent?

What about when you need someone to be your soft landing place and during a period of time when your partner just CANNOT do it?

How do you stop that from filling you with frustration and resentment?

Make sure you have your own support network. Hopefully your partner has a therapist, and you may want to consider one for yourself. Or maybe you have a really strong network of family and/or friends you can talk to. Maybe there’s just one person in your life who really gets it, or who even doesn’t understand it at all but with whom you can shut off you brain and do something else entirely.

Make sure you’re getting support too, because you need it, you deserve it, and no matter how much your partner may want to provide it for you, depression can make it near-impossible for him or her to do so at times.

Overall, when it comes to navigating depression together, think about what will make you each stronger. These ideas are all about standing in solidarity with your partner, validating your partner when he or she feels vulnerable, and ensuring support for yourself.

When we talk about depression and relationships, we tend to talk about frustration, anger, and confusion. I firmly believe getting on the same page with one another can remedy a whole lot of that, because I believe people have more capacity for empathy and mutual support than we give them credit for.

In short, I know you BOTH can do this.

This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 5 Things You MUST Do If Your Partner Suffers From Depression.

3 Things You Might Be Neglecting in Your Relationship — and Tips to Help

Neglecting relationships and helpful tips

things you might be neglecting in your relationshipAll relationships require care and tending. Anything that you want to thrive does. But in the midst of our fast-paced days and family obligations, we may neglect the very actions that are essential to building a beautiful union. Or maybe we miss these vital components because we never knew about them in the first place. After all, so many of us aren’t taught how to have healthy relationships. For instance, we assume that we’re listening to our spouses because, well, we can hear them. But hearing someone’s words and understanding them are two very different things.

Below are three things you might be neglecting to do in your relationship — along with some helpful suggestions from Shelly Hummel, LMFT, a Gottman certified therapist who has worked with couples for 18 years.

You might be neglecting to appreciate each other 

How often do you thank your partner or tell her (or him) you appreciate her? How often do you greet her in the morning or when you walk in the door? Most of the time we don’t just neglect to be kind. But we forget good manners and common courtesy, even with the people we love most.

And yet, according to John Gottman, Ph.D, couples in happy marriages had a ratio of 20 positive interactions to 1 negative interaction. As Hummel said, “that is 20 compliments to one complaint.” A number that might surprise you.

You can create positive interactions by expressing your appreciation to your partner. Hummel shared these examples: You might compliment your spouse’s great traits: “You are so good with the kids. They are lucky to have you as their father.” You might thank them for their help: “Thank you for picking up the dry cleaning. That saved me a lot of time today.”

Appreciating each other strengthens your friendship and intimacy, Hummel said. It also adds money to your “emotional bank account.” “This account needs to be as full as it can be when the inevitable happens, and the two of you have a conflict.”

You might be neglecting to really listen to each other 

“Most people listen to respond, instead of listening to understand,” Hummel said. That is, as our spouse is talking, we’re not focusing on what he’s saying. We are formulating our response. We are formulating our argument, figuring out the points we want to challenge and gathering our evidence. When we hear something we disagree with or that triggers anger, we automatically get defensive.

Instead, Hummel encouraged readers “to postpone your agenda while your spouse is venting, complaining and yes, even nagging.” Hummel suggested getting curious and asking questions. Try to better understand your partner’s perspective. This doesn’t mean you agree with him. It means that you want to know what it’s like to be walking in his shoes.

“We’ve all had arguments that are so tangential that we can’t even remember what we were fighting about,” Hummel said. “This occurs because, in the end, we are really fighting about not feeling heard or understood.” And all of us want to be understood and validated.

You might be neglecting to fight fair

Many people assume that couples in happy relationships don’t fight. But that’s not true. In fact, “happy couples fight just as much and about the same things as unhappy couples, Hummel said. But there is a difference: It’s how they fight. Gottman found that couples whose conflicts regularly feature “The Four Horsemen” are at risk for divorce. These are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.

Hummel suggested accepting that discord is part of every marriage and learning to eliminate those four elements when you fight. In this piece on The Gottman Relationship Blog, writer Ellie Lisitsa shares antidotes to the four horsemen.

For instance, she writes that criticism is telling your partner: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.” The antidote is saying: “I’m feeling left out by our talk tonight. Can we please talk about my day?”

Defensiveness is saying: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late, it’s your fault.” The antidote is taking responsibility for your part. Here it’s saying: “Well, part of this is my problem, I need to think more about time.”

Contempt is everything from being sarcastic to rolling your eyes to spewing insults. The antidote is Hummel’s first tip: Regularly show your partner appreciation and respect.

Stonewalling is physically or emotionally withdrawing from the conversation. This piece shares suggestions on what to do when you’re the one who stonewalls or when your partner does.

Some of these tips are easier to implement than others. But either way, they’re certainly worth it. All relationships need work. And that’s a good thing. Because that’s when you as an individual and your relationship as a whole grow and flourish.


What Self-Love Might Look Like for You

What Self-Love Might Look Like for You

The Number 1 Relationship Killer

#1 Relationship Killer & Therapy Can Help

Couple fighting

#1 Relationship Killer & Therapy Can Help

By Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.
~ 3 min read
When there’s a problem in a relationship, couples try to talk about it. If they can talk about in a way that resolves the problem, all is well. If they can’t talk about it in a way that resolves the problem, all is not well.

When they can’t talk about the problem successfully, it is usually because of one thing. They are trying to win. Wanting to win causes them to argue about the problem rather than discussing it in a calm and objective manner. They have a need to be right. The need to win is the one thing that is most likely to destroy a relationship.
“It’s you,” one partner will say to the other. “You are the cause of the problem. You just can’t see it.”

“No, it’s you,” the other partner will respond. “You’re wrong and you don’t want to admit it. All my friends agree with me.”

The need to win (the need to be right) is an aspect of narcissism. Narcissism is an outgrowth of insecurity. The more insecure we are, the more we need to compensate for that insecurity. We compensate by erecting a defensive shell. That defensive shell wants to protect us from being wrong, because being wrong would mean, in our unconscious mind, we are a total failure as a human being. Being right means we are successful; we are a human being who knows what is right and what is wrong.

Invariably when couples come to me for therapy, this is the underlying problem. It is an easy problem to detect. As soon as I hear them arguing in my office it becomes apparent. You might think that all I would need to do to help them solve the problem is to tell them that they are trying to win and this is the main obstacle to their having a successful relationship. But it is not that easy. They may respond, “Yes, you’re right, I’m trying to win,” but a week later they are arguing the same way. They are still trying to win. It is deeply ingrained in their character.

10 Rules for Friendly Fighting for Couples

By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.
~ 4 min read

For some people, this is a truly radical idea: There is no need to fight with your partner. Ever. Accusations, recriminations, character assassination, threats, name-calling, and cursing, whether delivered at top volume or with a quiet sarcastic sneer, damage a relationship, often irrevocably. Nobody needs to be a monster or to be treated monstrously. Nobody who yells will ever be heard. In the heat of a moment, it is always a choice whether to go for a run or run your partner down.

On the other hand, no two people in the world, no matter how made for each other they feel, will ever agree about everything at all times. (It would be quite boring if they did.) Couples do need to be able to negotiate differences. They do need to have room for constructive criticism. They do need a way to assert opinions and to disagree. And they do need to have a way to express intense feelings (that the other person may not understand or support) without feeling that they will be judged as lacking for doing so.

A healthy relationship requires knowing the skills necessary for “friendly fighting” — dealing with conflict respectfully and working together to find a workable solution. Friendly fighting means working out differences that matter. It means engaging passionately about things we feel passionate about, without resorting to hurting one another. It helps us let off steam without getting burned. Friendly fighting lets us “fight” and still stay friends.

Couples in mature, healthy relationships seem intuitively to understand the notion of friendly fighting. Some people have been fortunate enough to grow up in families where their parents modeled how to disagree without being disagreeable. Others were so horrified by the way their folks treated each other that they refuse to repeat the behavior in their own relationships. Most couples, though, learn the art of friendly fighting by working it out together and supporting each other in staying in close relationship even when differences mystify, frustrate, and upset them. Most come up with stated or unstated rules for engagement that are surprisingly similar.

Below are some tips to ensure that conflicts will strengthen your marriage instead of harm it.

Ten rules for friendly fighting: or how to ensure that conflicts will strengthen your marriage instead of harm it.

  1. Embrace conflict. There is no need to fear it. Conflict is normal, even healthy. Differences between you mean that there are things you can learn from each other. Often conflict shows us where we can or need to grow.
  2. Go after the issue, not each other. Friendly fighting sticks with the issue. Neither party resorts to name calling or character assassination. It’s enough to deal with the problem without adding the new problem of hurting each other’s feelings.
  3. Listen respectfully. When people feel strongly about something, it’s only fair to hear them out. Respectful listening means acknowledging their feelings, either verbally or through focused attention. It means never telling someone that he or she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It means saving your point of view until after you’ve let the other person know you understand that they feel intensely about the subject, even if you don’t quite get it.
  4. Talk softly. The louder someone yells, the less likely they are to be heard. Even if your partner yells, there’s no need to yell back. Taking the volume down makes it possible for people to start focusing on the issues instead of reacting to the noise.
  5. Get curious, not defensive. Defending yourself, whether by vehemently protesting your innocence or rightness or by turning the tables and attacking, escalates the fight. Instead of upping the ante, ask for more information, details, and examples. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint. When you meet a complaint with curiosity, you make room for understanding.
  6. Ask for specifics. Global statements that include the words “always” and “never” almost always get you nowhere and never are true. When your partner has complaints, ask to move from global comments of exasperation to specific examples so you can understand exactly what he or she is talking about. When you have complaints, do your best to give your partner examples to work with.
  7. Find points of agreement. There almost always are parts of a conflict that can be points of agreement. Finding common ground, even if it’s agreeing that there is a problem, is an important start to finding a common solution.
  8. Look for options. Fighting ends when cooperation begins. Asking politely for suggestions or alternatives invites collaboration. Careful consideration of options shows respect. Offering alternatives of your own shows that you also are willing to try something new.
  9. Make concessions. Small concessions can turn the situation around. If you give a little, it makes room for the other person to make concessions too. Small concessions lead to larger compromises. Compromise doesn’t have to mean that you’re meeting each other exactly 50-50. Sometimes it’s a 60-40 or even 80-20 agreement. This isn’t about scorekeeping. It’s about finding a solution that is workable for both of you.
  10. Make peace. An elderly friend who has been married for 68 years tells me that she and her husband made a rule on their wedding day never to go to bed angry. They agreed from the outset that the relationship is more important than winning arguments. Sometimes this meant they stayed up very, very late until they came to a workable compromise. Sometimes it meant that one or the other of them decided the issue wasn’t really important enough to lose sleepover. Since they both value the marriage, neither one gave in or gave up most of the time. When one did give in or give up, the other showed appreciation and made a peace offering of his or her own. These folks still love each other after 68 years of the inevitable conflicts that come with living with another person. They are probably onto something.

More Ways to Manage Racing Thoughts

Check out this great blog on managing racing thoughts by Tartakovsky and if you need assistance with managing your thoughts, please feel free to contact me.

Yesterday, I shared some suggestions from Sarahjoy Marsh’s book Hunger, Hope & Healing for decelerating racing thoughts and calming our minds and bodies. Because racing thoughts can steal our enjoyment. They can follow us into bed and onto the couch. They can boost our anxiety and sink our mood.

Today, I’m sharing other suggestions, because there are so many great tools out there. Most of the below tips are meditations or based on mindfulness, as these are powerful in creating calm and helping us refocus.

  • Listen to this “leaves on the stream” meditation. I love what the speaker says about the meditation’s purpose: “to notice a shift of looking from your thoughts to looking at your thoughts.” Because we don’t need to control or change our thoughts. We can simply observe them as they come and go naturally.
  • Think of your racing thoughts as a movie you’re watching.
  • Start narrating your every step. That is, to yourself, say exactly what you’re doing. For instance, if you’re trying to relax on the couch, you might say: “Right now, I’m sitting on the couch. I’m looking at the TV. I’m having a hard time concentrating on what I’m watching. My right arm is moving to the left to wrap a blanket over my entire body…” and so on.
  • Listen to this 18-minute meditation, which features bells, waves washing ashore and instructions to breathe in deeply and exhale fully.
  • Start doodling your racing thoughts. As the thoughts are swirling around your mind, draw them. Avoid writing down these thoughts or any words in general. Instead sketch shapes, patterns or any other images that arise as you’re observing your thoughts.
  • Read something really, really boring. Maybe this is a manual for your fridge or names in the phone book (remember those? :)).
  • Listen to classical music. Or listen to your favorite songs, and sing along.
  • Try this breathing meditation for slowing down and cultivating stillness.
  • Pick one thing to look at. Just one thing. Set your timer for 5 minutes and stare at it. Study it. This might be anything from a magazine to a print on your wall.
  • Make yourself something to eat that requires multiple steps, which really can be anything. Pause, and take the time to smell what you’re making. Focus your attention on your hands as they’re chopping or filling a pot with water. Pretend you’re making a food video, and every little step counts. Make it as conscious and deliberate as possible.
  • Watch a funny film or YouTube videos of your favorite comedian.
  • Picture yourself in the middle of a beautiful field. Your racing thoughts are thought bubbles, which surround you and more keep popping up. Picture yourself putting these thought bubbles in a huge box, and locking it up. Or picture the thought bubbles as balloons, which you pop with a needle one by one. As you do, they transform into beautiful splatters of paint. Create any visualization that works for you. You can even write the visualization down or record yourself saying it. Return to your visualization whenever your racing thoughts reappear.
  • Practice one of these three meditations for helping you calm your mind so you can fall asleep.

Racing thoughts are bothersome. They’re overwhelming. They’re frustrating. It’s easy to get caught up in the cycle, and the tapes your head is replaying.

However, know that you can stop the tapes or at least slow them down. You don’t have to join your thoughts on the highway as they race each other. You can find an exit and a quiet place to rest.

In some cases, the techniques you try on your own may not work. That’s OK. It might mean you need to see a therapist (especially if you’re struggling regularly). This way you can receive one-on-one support that specifically addresses your concerns. (You might start your searchhere.)