Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.
September 14, 2019
While the divorce rate dropped 18% between 2008 and 2016 and is currently around 32%, divorced individuals meeting new partners continue to come together with their children and attempt to “blend” families. Though best intention may be at the heart of the desire to bring two families together, successful outcomes seem few and far between (with more anecdotal than hard research data available). As a therapist who does work in the area of grief and bereavement and has a blended family, I feel the complications in trying to unite two families are mostly tied to themes of loss.
The potential pitfalls that blended families will have to navigate are complex. Here are the top 10:
- Conflict over differing boundaries – what is and isn’t okay in each family.
- Confusion and anger about differing rules and consequences.
- Loss related to the definitive ending of a child’s original family constellation is triggered (children usually hold out hope that biological parents may unite).
- For children to embrace a stepparent may feel like a violation of loyalty to the child’s biological parent.
- For children whose parents have been divorced for some time, the introduction of a new spouse may feel like another loss and bring up fear that they will be loved less (children tend to think of love as finite). Anxiety and depression may manifest.
- Sharing of one’s home, personal belongings, community space, bedroom may trigger anger and further feelings of loss for children.
- Children may feel pulled in many ways in terms of their role as they go back and forth between biological parents and try to navigate different households.
- Parents may struggle to form attachments with their step children and stepchildren may struggle to form attachments with their stepparents.
- Relationships with ex-wives and ex-husband’s take on another degree of complexity for adults that affect the children.
- Financial equity of all children may be especially difficult when ex- spouses are involved.
My goal in highlighting these difficulties is not to deter people from attempting to blend families. The blending of families can benefit children in many positive ways and provide stability and a healthy environment that was previously missing from their lives. However, what most families fail to do is enter counseling prior to blending in an effort to anticipate and resolve many of the issues above, which may be further complicated by children’s ages, ethnicity, and cultural and religious factors. Instead, couples forge ahead hoping that love and patience will be enough.
Hopefully, this blog will help adults have a deeper understanding of the potential issues that may arise. If you’re contemplating blending your family, I encourage you to work with a mental health professional who has experience in this area and who can help guide you and your loved ones in a way that will support the best possible outcome for everybody. Anticipating issues, talking them through, and figuring how to handle them before they arise is key.
Reference: University of Maryland; The Coming Divorce Decline, Philip Cowen, https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/h2sk6/
August 13, 2019
If you think trauma or an adverse event is interfering with your choices and what you want for your life, I’m glad you tuned in. Unfortunately, the concept of trauma is widely misunderstood in the general population. This is because most of us think of trauma as some catastrophic event, like falling off a cliff, being a victim of acute physical violence or witnessing a murder (secondary trauma). Yes, these are all events that could very well induce trauma for a participant; however, there is also what therapists often refer to as trauma with a small T. This can be related to adverse events that are often enduring — like a child’s experience of divorce in the family, school bullying, the emotional disconnect of a parent, growing up in an environment where there is constant fighting, criticism, addiction, illness, to name a few. Sadly, many people are oblivious of the long-term effects on adults of this second type of trauma, which can be critically debilitating and result in poor self esteem, lack of boundaries, fear of confrontation, addictive disorders, and much more. A third type of trauma is transgenerational trauma. This is trauma that is believed to have been transferred from the first generation of trauma survivors to the second and further generations through post-traumatic stress disorder mechanisms.
Research by leading experts in the field indicates that the treatment of trauma is more complex than previously thought. No longer are clinicians encouraged to have clients tell “the whole story” since it’s now believed that this may further re-traumatize the individual.
As a clinician who often works with clients suffering from both major and “small” trauma, I’m trained in EMDR—eye movement desensitization reprocessing—a leading recognized protocol to help heal trauma. According to the world health organization, EMDR is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are the result of unprocessed memories. The treatment involves standardized procedures that include 1) focusing simultaneously on spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations and 2) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements. EMDR aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive beliefs related to the traumatic or adverse event without going into detailed descriptions of the event.
In my own EMDR training and in my utilization of the protocol with clients, I’m impressed with the results, and I’m finding most individuals experience good outcomes. Of course, like any intervention, EMDR may be more effective for one person than another and it’s one of several potential approaches to help clients. It’s also imperative to ensure the client has strong skills/resources to stabilize themselves when addressing memories or events that induce a high degree of reactivity. As you might expect, EMDR is frequently used to reduce PTSD symptoms.
For more information: https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
January 13, 2019
Ghosting is one of the sad phenomena that has evolved out of our 21st-century technology. I’m sure some of you reading this are regrettably acquainted with it. For those who aren’t, essentially, if I’m ghosted by someone — without any explanation he/she shuts down all form of communication. The ultimate “silent treatment,” it’s as though I no longer exist. As a psychotherapist, I find myself working with a number of clients experiencing being ghosted—usually but not always in the context of romantic relationships. Client statements include: “The pain is tangible and overwhelming. I feel discarded. It’s hard to trust my judgment of people after this.”
Sadly, “ghosting” has become a trending passive-aggressive and emotionally abusive tactic to avoid sitting face-to-face with someone or even speaking with them by telephone to end a friendship or romantic relationship. In a society that is increasingly pain phobic, by refusing the other party a chance to express emotion and to be heard we have found yet another way to avoid discomfort.
Since today so many relationships are dependent on technology via texting, phone, and social media, to find oneself blocked from contact from a person one deeply cares for can be devastating. Imagine if you showed up as usual at your place of employment and the doors were locked, your entry card no longer functioned, and your boss wouldn’t talk to you or give you an explanation as to why you were fired. The powerlessness, humiliation, fear, grief, and outrage you would feel is understandable. Ghosting someone isn’t much different from that.
Ghosting vs. Boundaries
I’d like to make clear that I’m all for having good boundaries. If someone is treating us in a way that feels abusive, overwhelming, or causes us to fear for our safety, and we feel that the only way to set a boundary is to prevent them from communicating with us, such action is reasonable and justifiable and I don’t believe falls into the definition of ghosting.
Why it Hurts so Much
Essentially, the victim of ghosting most frequently is left to work through a psychological grieving process similar to how we experience the death of a loved one. If they are not supported to process their experience, the “loss” can leave victims with emotional scars, injured self-esteem, and may affect them in future relationships. Clients I see state they feel disrespected, shamed, powerless, and a sense of having being abandoned.
How to recover from being Ghosted
People’s actions are always a reflection of their own emotional scars. Someone who ghosts is afraid of emotions—theirs and yours; furthermore, either they don’t understand how their behavior impacts you or they just don’t care. Whichever it is, know that the ghoster doesn’t have the ability to have a mature healthy relationship and nothing you do can change that. Find help to support yourself as you navigate the difficult task of letting that person go and learn more about yourself from the experience. Most importantly, don’t let someone’s poor treatment of you rob you of your vulnerability and desire for loving connection. Focus on things that make you happy and recognize you may feel angry, sad, and afraid – all normal reflections of mourning. Keep your heart open, surround yourself with people you trust to care about you, and know you have a respect and integrity that person did not. Most importantly, as you move forward in life, be mindful that the conversations required to end relationships will always be difficult and may provoke considerable anxiety. However, speaking our truth builds important strengths that we as human beings can nurture—honor, self-respect, kindness, and courage—values we need now more than at any time in our history.