Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.
January 5, 2020
Where we put our focus may lengthen our lifespan
Growing research suggests a “cup half full” philosophy may improve our physical and emotional health and even our life expectancy.
One of the largest such studies out of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from 70,000 women who answered questions about how they viewed their future. Data analysis showed that women who scored higher on the optimism scale were significantly less likely to die from several major causes of death over an eight-year period, compared with women who scored lower. Numerous other studies duplicate these findings—indicating that to promote our optimal health and wellbeing it pays to be optimistic. (link below)
5 Simple Ways to Embrace a more Positive Perspective
Tune in to gratitude
Where you put your focus grows. Put a jar in your kitchen or somewhere visible. Think about something you’re grateful for that happened that day or a good memory and write it on a slip of paper that goes in the jar. This can be your own jar or The Family jar. Watch it fill up.
Tune out the negative
When you find yourself habitually focusing on negative situations or possible negative future events, stop that train of thought, acknowledge your negative thinking with curiosity and choose to turn to something that you enjoy – go for a walk, call a friend, turn on favorite music that you know lifts your spirits. Note – this may take persistence and practice.
Tune in to self care
Self care is not about being selfish but about being responsible for our bodies and minds. That means eating healthy, getting exercise, ensuring we get regular sleep, reaching out for help when we need it. It also means having fun!
Tune in to self compassion
Practice becoming more aware of the critic within you that may try to beat you up with overly high expectations. Be your best champion and show yourself forgiveness when you make mistakes.
Tune in to your local community
If you have time, look to make a small positive change in your neighborhood and feel a greater sense of belonging. It could be helping a neighbor, volunteering, baking cookies for a charity drive. Esteemable acts build self esteem and to be positive we need to have healthy self esteem.
Tune in to mindfulness
Mindfulness is akin to awareness of the present moment. Nature is particularly powerful as a means of tuning in to everyday miracles. Watch the sun set or rise, smell the roses in your garden, sit by the ocean, star gaze. When we purposely focus on the present moment and feel it fully, we nurture our capacity to deal with stressful events.
Harvard Study: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/optimism-premature-death-women/
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/