Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.
January 1, 2023
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/
November 12, 2022
Is it hard to remember the happy times with your “good” kid amidst the increasing distancing, disdain, disrespect, or downright volatility of your teenager? Take heart if this is your current experience because you’re most definitely not alone. What’s most important is how you interpret these changes and the ways in which you respond to your teen. Much of this behavior is age appropriate. The most important thing you can do is remember this is a phase. Don’t take it personally but keep them accountable.
Let me repeat that: don’t take it personally but keep your teenager accountable for their behavior.
The truth of the matter is that your teen is experiencing a chaotic time and some will navigate these difficult waters better than others. Think back on your own adolescence: would you want to go back to that, again! Hormones are raging, friends are changing (daily), school is becoming more complex—academically and socially—and the innate desire and need to individuate (be one’s own person) may well be pushing your teen to break away from his/her safety net – the family. A death, divorce, marriage, geographic move are only a few examples that may add another layer of complexity to your teen’s life. How to balance respecting your teen’s burgeoning desire for greater privacy and individuality and establishing parameters that maintain his/her safety and a respectful and cooperative atmosphere in your home is tricky to say the least. Indeed, it is an ongoing process. Equally important is the need to be watchful for signs of “acting in” manifested as isolation, depression, and anxiety.
The following are some guidelines for dealing with everyday teen challenges:
Connect with Your Teen
Despite the struggles between you and your teen, your ability to maintain a loving connection is critical if you are to have any kind of influence over him or her. Develop a ritual of checking in with your teen at the end of every day—it could be over dinner, in their room, driving home, or during an activity your teen likes. Let them know it was a difficult and confusing period of your life. Avoid asking your teen questions that require one word answers. Ask them HOW their day went: what was fun about it and what was stressful. Briefly let them know what was difficult about your day. Address changes in mood and behavior in your teen by remarking on the fact that they don’t seem themselves and you’re concerned. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to chat about that may be bothering them. If your offer to talk is rebuffed, don’t take it personally. Just let your teen know that if they want to talk at a later time, you’re available, and you love them. Yes, continue to tell your prickly teenager that you love them and affirm as many positive behaviors as possible (even the littlest things). This is vitally important as teenage-hood is typically a time when teens feel that all their parents do is pick on them.
Rude Behaviour – Formulate a Response Plan
Develop a spoken mantra such as, “We’re respectful to one another in our family” and model it as frequently as you are able. Should your teen act out or try to suck you into a power struggle, refuse to accept the invitation. Just because your teen wants to argue a point, doesn’t mean that you need to comply, and getting into a shouting match with a yelling teen is a losing battle as it only fuels the emotional fire and demonstrates your loss of control. There is nothing wrong with letting your teen know you are angry at their behavior and need time to cool off before you can speak with them about what has transpired and decide what consequences will follow. The key here is to address the behavior. Your teen’s anger or rudeness does not mean he/she is bad, lazy, etc., and labeling your teen in this way is damaging to their self esteem. It’s the behavior that is unacceptable.
Formulate a plan that has appropriate consequences and that match poor behavior or broken rules. Keep in mind that consequences are NOT meant to make your teen feel powerless. Rather they are to 1) set limits; 2) motivate your teen to do something different; and 3) help him/her not to repeat the behavior. For example, you tell your teen she isn’t going out with her friends until she’s straightened up her room. She verbally abuses you by calling you a derogatory name. Name calling is verbal abuse and should not be tolerated. A consequence could be that she’s grounded in her room until she writes you a letter of apology for cursing at you and tells you how she will deal with the situation differently if it occurs in the future.
When What You’re Doing Isn’t Working
If your teen appears distressed or anxious over a prolonged period of time or your strategies aren’t working, visit your pediatrician to have your teen medically assessed and meet with your teen’s school counselor to discuss any school issues they can shed light on. Poor behavior is almost always paired with poor grades. You may also want to consider joining a parent group and consulting with a psychotherapist for yourself and for your teen.
September 14, 2022
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.