Voting is important and so are relationships

Scrolling through the news I am reminded of the date. The Presidential election season is upon us. And already, I have reached the point of avoiding Facebook 🙂

As a therapist, I am reminded of the stress that this season often adds to lives. While being reminded of the values we hold dear is nice, we are simultaneously reminded of all we disagree with. I see it’s effects in family relationships. We all have a few outspoken individuals somewhere between family of origin and in-laws. It can make already tense relationships seemingly unbearable!

In graduate school I watched a documentary entitled “Luna.” It was the story of an orca whale off the coast of Vancouver Island who had separate from his pod when he was young. In the story, several researches discuss and speculate the effects of this separation given that orcas travel with the pod they are born into for life. One scientist concluded, “it is one of the ways we know that orcas are intelligent. It takes a lot of work to continue to get along with the same pod for a lifespan.”

It is my hope for America that we can remember it is our ability to work through differences, have compassion for people we disagree with, and to regulate our anger that makes us an intelligent species.

Try four square breathing for example. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4, pause for 4, and repeat. Tricks like this help to keep you from blowing a gasket and saying or doing something that may hurt important relationships.

The Missed Point About Teens and Social Media

It is always encouraging to me when articles like this one hit the web. It is a sign that the the effects of social media are a continued discourse in our society. But these articles frequently miss one important point. The point is that more and more children and teens are spending time alone on social media with no parental involvement. It is not just what social media is displaying, it is that our children are receiving these messages alone and internalizing them. Children are no longer confronted by images on the TV that then can be discussed as a family or even a group of peers. Instead, the information they are digesting is frequently experienced alone.

If your teenage daughter is appearing to lack confidence or becoming more anxious or nervous, try to open up a conversation about the fact that social media is still media. Everyone is projecting what they want you to believe, not how things actually are. There are also a number of great videos on YouTube showing how much models are airbrushed. And keep in mind, problems can seem so much bigger when we are experiencing them alone. By opening up a conversation, you are not only bringing your teen back in touch with reality, but reminding them that they can talk about these experiences, that everyone is impacted by social media.

Pop Psychology

I saw this article titled, Why You Should Never Go Back To Someone Who’s Hurt You by Sophia Wu, from Huffington Post circulating through my Facebook feed. It’s a great example of a common pattern I see as a therapist. This describes what I would call, a pursue withdraw pattern. Both parties are participating in keeping this cycle going as the author points out. The pursuer so infatuated, continues to do so at all costs, and the other continues to withdraw at seemingly just the right moment. The result, sometimes for both parties, are feelings of depression, worthlessness, anxiety, and overall stress.

As a marriage and family therapist, I am most interested in the pattern and a little less interested in the symptoms. While some therapists may be quick to hone in on those difficult feelings of depression or anxiety and how to alleviate them, I see those symptoms as neon signs. They are pointing out to my client that he or she is stuck in a pattern that is not helpful or worse, harmful. Other important parts of themselves are being ignored in strong pursuit of this one person. LIfe is out of balance for this person and the effects are beginning to show.

What should the client do then? Well, I have seen some pretty extreme versions of this. I have seen whole marriages spent in this pattern. But it is never too late to try something different. Yes, it is that simple.

Patterns give therapists and clients many points to evaluate possibilities for change. Patterns can also offer a more playful way to look at these problems. For example, instead of deciding in this very moment whether a person should stay with the withdrawer or leave, what if they just decided not to answer the phone every time the person calls? How might that change the pattern? Or what if they began to fill their time with more people and activities that don’t magically disappear every time they need them?

Take an new art class, go out with some friends, do something to invest in oneself. All of these suggestions serve to change the pattern. They may not fix the pattern immediately, but they help to break up that obsessive focused feeling to do the same thing you have been doing. I firmly believe that though our minds may be inclined to get stuck in these patterns, our minds thrive on change and expanding our options. The small steps listed above could be enough for someone to gain back neglected relationships, self-respect, and give the courage needed to leave that relationship. I have also seen it go the other way, as the pursuer gains more self-respect and courage, the withdrawer feels attracted again. They feel the balance restored in the relationship.

When you tackle a pattern, you never know what can come of it. Sometimes it is far better than you ever imagined.